Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Out of this world

Last night, much to my delight, I found that Alien was available free On Demand from TCM on Comcast.
And much to my shock and horror, I found that Dan had never seen Ridley Scott's otherworldly masterpiece.
So, we watched it.
Dan said "I really don't like sci-fi movies."
To call Alien "sci-fi" is to call the Mona Lisa "a painting".
Every single shot in the movie is a work of art. They storyboard-ed the hell out of this movie. Hired H.R. Giger to design the aliens and the alien set pieces. And Scott uses the alien in the same way Spielberg used the shark in Jaws. The less the audience sees it, the more terrifying it is, and the less you notice that it's just a really tall
guy in a costume. And it borrows the same horrifying concept of Jaws:
the creature has millions of years of evolution on its side, you have only your wits and a crew that you cannot trust.
The screenplay is brilliant. Not a word is uttered that isn't completely necessary.
The pacing is perfection. Slow and steady at first, and building the tension until you're watching through your fingers and dreading the inevitable jump.
J'taime, Alien. J'taime.

-- Noel
Sent from my T-Mobile SidekickA?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Like a rock

RocknRolla is the 5th feature film from director Guy Ritchie. Like the others, he wrote this one too.
Unfortunately, unlike Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, RocknRolla just doesn't work.
The other two films give us some nice charcter development prior to the caper plot. RocknRolla starts in with a ceaseless narration from a charcter and throws you headfirst into the caper plot. Instead of being interesting, it's annoying. You have no reason to be interested in the caper going down if you have no emotional investment with the characters. I'd love to blame this on Mark Strong, the actor who does the narration as the character Archie, but I can't. Morgan Freeman could be doing the narrating, it still wouldn't stop anyone from thinking "wait, what? this movie just started! who are these people? and why am I supposed to care?" There's no one to blame there is the writer and the editor.
And somehow, the frenetic pace in the beginning doesn't stop the movie from having slow points. The timing is very uneven, and the plot lacks the same hilarious wit Ritchie's other films had in abundance.
However, the dialogue is good, and the acting is very good. The characters are even quite good, once you actually get to know them about halfway through the movie. Mark Strong was, by far, the stand-out character.
Unfortunately, the plot is just too muddled. It's like five pounds of meat stuffed into a two pound sausage casing. It still tastes okay, but it's not satisfying.

And I saw Alice in Wonderland last night. It made me sad. Sad because Tim Burton keeps making the same mistakes. Sad because the acting was so wonderful, but the dialogue and plot was terrible. Sad because, I love the stories about Alice, and I really never thought to myself "Gee, I sure wish there was a sequel to Through the Looking Glass that changed the motives of all the characters and stole several plot points from the original works."
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Tim Burton, yet again, tried to fix something that wasn't broken. The same way he tried to fix Planet of the Apes and Sweeney Todd. The end results are always so utterly disappinting precisely because you can see their potential, and how far the project fell from acheiving that potential. Burton now lacks any will power, he cannot hold back. It's strange to see that when Tarantino, as evidenced by Inglourious Basterds (see last post), has learned how to hold back and his films seem more sophisticated because of it. Sweeney Todd was almost there, I thought maybe Burton was going back to a healthy creative place, but instead he's gone in the other direction full-speed.
You'll like Burton's Alice in Wonderland if you think classics can be improved upon. I, unfortunately, do not.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Glory glory!

Oh, Quentin Tarantino, let's cut the pretense, shall we?
I love your movies, and your movies love me back by being kick-ass.

Inglourious Basterds is one of the most entertaining films of recent memory. Sadly, we don't get a lot of bang for our buck these days at the ol' cinema. Movies get all brainy on us and forget how to be fun. Or they're so concerned with being fun that they have no brain, or heart.
Inglourious Basterds has brains, heart, charm, and a whole load of blood.
If you're looking for a historical re-enactment, go elsewhere. Rent Saving Private Ryan or Letters from Iwo Jima. This movie isn't interested with being historically accurate. It's interested in telling a great story, one that unfortunately isn't true.
A group of allied soldiers have been sent behind enemy lines in World War II. Their secret mission is simple: kill Nazis. But, kill them in a way that will scare the living hell out of the entire Nazi army.
Meanwhile, in France, the lone survivor of a Jewish family murdered by the SS is living in hiding as a cinema owner. The opportunity for revenge comes knocking.
The casting and acting are spot-on. Everyone. Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Til Schweiger, all turn in stellar acting. Even Mike Myers (of Austin Powers, not Halloween) gives a stunning performance.
While watching the movie, all I could think was "Tarantino should have done Indiana Jones 4", because this seemed like the perfect follow-up to the Last Crusade. Unapologetically cavalier Nazi killing (on a scale that's more cathartic hindsight than anything else), dynamite chemistry, a sense of humor, and a heart so big to can feel it beating through the screen.
Now, like all Tarantino films, it has graphic violence. But, for the first time, Tarantino uses the graphic violence in such a sophisticated way that it doesn't seem needlessly bloody. Every drop of blood spilled feels needed. It's war. Dirty, violent, personal war. And it is inglorious.
What surprised me was the cinema sub-plot which was virtually absent from all the marketing done for the film. It was, I felt, a much stronger selling point. Maybe execs thought another woman-seeks-revenge movie from Tarantino would feel redundant? Who knows? But they missed out on a huge audience demographic.
This was the first "new" movie I've seen this year that actually exceeded my expectations, precisely because the sub-plot was totally unexpected, and so well done.
Tarantino is really coming into his own. His next film will bring home Best Picture.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to watch it again!

P.S. If you haven't seen Grindhouse, you really, really need to. Eli Roth worked as a director on it, along with Rob Zombie, Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. They set out to make B horror movies like they used to be. Only these are so much better, because stunt and effects techonology is so much better. Death Proof features Zoe Bell, who did the majority of Uma Thurman's stunts in Kill Bill. To see someone doing their own stunts, and such extreme stunts gets your adrenaline pumping. They are also very empowering to women, as Tarantino's work often is. Maybe that's why I love it so much? Chicks kick ass!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Das Boot

Kinky Boots is the kind of movie you'll like if you enjoyed The Full Monty, Calendar Girls, and Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
So I just loved it. It was recommended to me by my mother, who is very hard to please when it comes to movies. She's the type of person who'll notice if that wine glass the person is holding changes fullness from shot to shot. She also can't stand plot holes. When she tells me to watch something, I listen.
Kinky Boots is a delightfully fun movie, and a true story, about an old fashioned English shoe manufacturer that must choose to evolve or die when the world of mens' footwear starts to value low price over quality. A muse is found in an unlikely place.
The acting is really well done and the casting is just perfect. No one looks too glamorous to be working in a shoe factory. All no-name actors here. That helps you really get lost in the story.
This movie is also about changing minds and about adapting what life has given us into what we want, or at least something close to what we
Fun colors and great costumes pepper the film. Yet another case of a talented costume designer that pegged both the frumpy factory workers and the Milan fashion scene, yet was looked over because they didn't do a period drama.
I don't know what it is about this type of British movie that's so appealing. Is it the quirky humor? The way the laughs are balanced out with a few tearful confessions? Or maybe it's just the whole you've-got-to-be-kidding-I-can't-believe-this-really-happened element?
I don't really care. If I'm looking for a good way to pass a rainy afternoon, a movie like Kinky Boots will do the trick every time.
-- Noel
Sent from my T-Mobile Sidekick

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Push the button

[REC] is the refreshing type of horror movie. It's not using some tired concept that's been splashed across the screen a thousand times.
It's like The Blair Witch Project and The Andromeda Strain had a beautiful Spanish baby.

This film builds suspense like a good horror movie should. Jumps are around each corner, but well spaced. Exit options are slowly eliminated one by one, and people are dying off one by one. Desperation and claustrophobia seep in. And to quote dead men of Dunharrow: "The way is shut..."

A reporter and her camera man are accompanying a fire department crew on a call to document what a normal shift is like for them. This shift ends up being as far away from normal as possible.

The monster in this film is so incredibly disturbing. I could hardly stand to watch it. So utterly horrifying.

Costumes, lighting, set design and direction are all really coherent. This look slike a real place full of real people. The acting is good, not stellar, but it's a horror film. Manuela Velasco, who plays Angela the reporter, is very very good. She's not a scream queen, girlfriend has chops. And I usually can't stand women in horror films.

There is, of course, a virtual shot-for-shot remake of this movie called Quarantine that was made by the Hollywood machine. I can never understand why they do that. It's either because they're too cheap to release the foreign language original in US theaters, or they think that the US public won't go see a film with subtitles. Even though we all know it's not true.
Yet time and time again, the Americanized version gets it all wrong. The acting is terrible, the plot is dumbed-down and bogged down with needles explanations. Hollywood's never seen a great horror film they felt they couldn't make more mainstream. And they fail to see that it's the very things that make the movie not mainstream are what make it great. People don't want the same old horror movie over and over again. We want something different, something fresh, something that's not just scary, but horrifying.
[REC] is exactly that.

My next review will be Forrest Gump. Should I be brutally honest or forgivingly critical?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I had heard good things about A Serious Man, and being a huge Coen brothers fan, I knew I'd enjoy it. Now, I hadn't planned on watching it Saturday, but it seems I was destined to. I watched Raising Arizona while I cleaned my apartment and The Big Lebowski had been haunting me last week in the form of this amazing t-shirt.
Then, as Dan and I sat on the couch that night, wondering what to watch, Comcast was bragging about all the Oscar nominees it was featuring On Demand. Precious hadn't come out yet, so we chose A Serious Man.

What a great movie. Philosophical to the core. This is a movie that dares us to ask "Why?" and is then bold enough not to give us an answer. The humor and tragedy are momentous. And even though it's set in the '60s, it seems entirely relevent in  these tough and uncertain times.
The Coens are at the peak of their game. They have become a well-oiled, great movie making machine. I think what sets them apart is the way every movie is somehow like nothing you've seen before. Surreal in parts, painfully realistic in others, and always making you think. The art direction, casting and use of camera angles are also consistently brilliant in their films. This one is no exception.

This movie pulls a clever trick, because while the character is trying to figure out why these things are happening, you yourself are trying to figure out why the Coens believe they're happening, but just like whatever higher power may be orchestrating the universe, they're not giving anything away.
Your own personal faith and philosophies will color your opinion on the big "Why?"
I know this because the reviewers vary in their answers to the "Why?"

Larry is a physics professor and family man. His life begins to unravel around him. He wants to know why.
The Coens give us many possiblitites: God is teaching him, God is punishing him, it's blind luck, it's a matter of physics, it's for no reason at all.

I believe the reason this film is so haunting and powerful because it really does present the reality of that last possibility. Perhaps there is no reason or rhyme. Perhaps it's all chaos. Maybe no matter how good we are or how hard we try, bad things will still happen to us.

The beginning quote says it all. "Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you." Rashi.

What's the most simple explanation? God? Physics? Luck? Fate? Or is the most simple explanation that there is no explanation?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Most predictable Oscars ever.

I've got to say, I'm a little disappointed. Meryl was robbed. I guess I
just like to be surprised now and then. I'm really not surprised by any
of the winners. As of Saturday, I felt like I knew who would win. I was
just holding out for anyone other than Sandra Bullock to win.
What the hell was that dance routine all about? For all it's acrobatics,
it was incredibly dull.
My favorite award: Best Makeup going to Star Trek.
Unlike other Star Trek movies, the makeup look in Abrahms' reboot was
entirely cohesive. While the characters weren't from the same planet,
they certainly were from the same time period. Modern, retro, classic.
Reviews on A Serious Man, Kinky Boots, [REC], and Forrest Gump coming
-- Noel
Sent from my T-Mobile SidekickA?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Come on get happy!

I had a busy week, thus no posting. I shall compensate now.

I watched Happiness which almost every person I mentioned it to said "I can't believe you haven't seen it." Then they would proceed to tell me how much it disturbed them. Flattery will get you everywhere.
It was the first NetFlix movie that Dan insisted I not watch without him, because he really liked it when he saw it the first time.
So, I knew going in that this movie would make an impression. And, boy, did it ever.
This movie is un-fucking-believably good. I don't throw around a compliment like that. It treads the thin line between humorous and horrific better than any other movie I've ever seen. Ever. Genius casting and every cast member delivers an amazing performance. A script that is funny, sweet, sad, hilarious, disturbing, real and yet so surreal. Set and costume design that is flawless. This is a world you could get lost in, but you don't want to be there. In this world, happiness is fleeting and elusive. It's hard to find, in unlikely places, and impossible to hold on to. A mirror for the real world.
Catherine Manheim's the hidden jewel of this movie. It was her scene that made me laugh the hardest, and the chemistry between her and Phillip Seymour Hoffman is delicious. Jon Lovitz is also incredible.
I wish every movie could be like this one. Unforgettably brilliant. Familiar, yet like nothing you've seen before.
It deifnes dark comedy. 50 years from now, this movie will be a classic.

I also re-watched Moulin Rouge. It's one of those movies, like American Pie and The Matrix, where every time I see it, I like it a little less. The first time I saw it, I was blown away. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before. The visual experience alone was overwhelming. Subsequent viewings make me focus less on the lush visuals and more on the plot, acting, and music. All of which, while better than most movies, I feel could have been better. I've seen better from Nicole Kidman. I also noticed a gaping plot hole that I never noticed before: prior to the moment when he declares that he doesn't "like people touching my things!", the Duke isn't evil. To the contrary, he sees Satine and falls in love, exactly as Christian does. He then attempts wooing her, and she acts enamored with him. Of course he's upset when he finds out she's lying to him and having an affair. Of course he doesn't want the woman he love to be a prostitute anymore. Why does that make him evil? Granted, it doesn't exactly excuse his violence towards Satine in the end, but it was a different time and she was a prostitute.
They could have worked in some source of evil-ness. Like that his fortune came from using child-labor, or that he abused other prostitutes.
That bothers me. I like my villains to have some evil meat on their nasty bones. For an operatic movie, you need an operatic villain. The Duke was lacking. Especially when in La Traviata, the opera upon which the movie is loosely based, the thing keeping the lovers apart is the fact that a former prostitute, no matter how highly paid, cannot be accepted in polite society. Violetta tells Alfredo she doesn't love him so that she won't bring shame upon his family, especially when she will die soon and they will not. A social death is worse than a real death in that society. That's some heart-breaking material right there. Much better than some effeminate, control-freak duke.

I've got lots more movies lined up and I promise I'll be adding to the "See" list. Bear with me.