Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Play time

I've been in Maryland on vacation and also entertaining guests. So I haven't had much of a chance to watch movies or blog about them. But enough about me.

While in Maryland I saw a few movies in part and one movie in its entirety. That movie was Toy Story 3. I paid the $30 for Dan and I to see it in IMAX 3D, and I was impressed. I haven't seen a 3D movie worth the admission price since Up. The 3D is done well, not gimmicky, and moves smoothly.
As for story and acting, I had assumed that the Toy Story franchise would have lost some steam in the third installment, but I was pleasantly surprised.
The best part about this movie is that it breaks away from the previous two movies' plot of "toys attempting to get home have crazy adventure". Granted, there's still a crazy adventure and they are trying to get home, but this film is darker and more mature than the previous two. Here, the toys don't know if they have a home to get back to. Andy is all grown up and going off to college. Like Andy, the toys must go beyond the safety of Andy's bedroom to find their rightful place in the world. It's refreshing, provocative, and surprisingly mature.
All of the Toy Story movies wax philosophical about what a toy is. A source of fun, a comfort, a loyal friend- but 3 raises the question of what should happen when an owner out-grows their toys? Woody and the other toys have so strongly identified as "Andy's toys" that they struggle finding a new purpose for themselves now that their time with Andy is at an end. This is where the story gets dark, but this is a Disney flick, so there is a light at the end of the tunnel. A few moments are so poignant that you forget you're watching animated plastic playthings.
Visually, it's all so colorful and stunning. The humans are cartoonish but believable. The environments are rich and deeply detailed. *SPOILER* The dump scenes are particularly lifelike and breathtakingly beautiful simply because we know every grimy speck of dirt and the hellfire of the incinerator were created with incredibly attention to detail.

The performances are strong, as always. It makes you wonder why Tim Allen doesn't do more, and why Tom Hanks hasn't starred in a comedy for so long. Michael Keaton is amazing as Ken. Ah. Maz. Ing. If I had to pick a stand-out performance in this strong ensemble, its Keaton all the way. He steals every scene he's in. Hollywood, give us more Michael Keaton. We thank you in advance. And if Barbie sounds familiar to you it's because Jodi Benson also voiced The Little Mermaid, Ariel.

I also saw parts of Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, which was so incoherent and unwatchable that I was glad that I didn't pay to see it. And I'm not linking to it either. If you want to seek out this movie, suit yourself, but I won't help you.
Seriously, Jerry Bruckheimer, how do you screw up two movies about robots from space that turn into cars and airplanes and shoot at each other? Robots are awesome. Space is awesome. Cars and airplanes are generally awesome. Shoot outs are awesome. I thought it would be impossible to take such an awesome concept and make it suck.. But you did. How? You stick Shania TheBeef in there as some meaningless wimpy meat-bag that we're supposed to care about, and make the far-more-interesting, inter-planetary, laser-shooting, sentient robots secondary characters. If I have to choose between robots from space that turn into cars and airplanes and some twerpy privileged suburban white kid, I'm going to choose the robots and hope they vaporize that kid and his silly first-world, cry-baby problems. The franchise is called "Transformers" not "Awkward Adolescent White Boy". We're there for the robots. We don't need a human to identify with, especially if that human is going to be so unforgivably vanilla. The robots are sentient beings, we're supposed to identify with them! That's the magic of Transformers: Robots with souls and emotions that we sympathize and empathize with who just happen to also wield incredible powers! Like Superman, but made of metal. Would they make a Superman movie and have the main protagonist be someone other than Superman? You have entirely missed the point of the original cartoon series!
Stay the hell away from Thundercats, Jerry Bruckheimer!

Then, as if to remind me what a real movie is like, Heartbreak Ridge was on AMC. Clint Eastwood as a hard-drinking, war-hardened drill sergeant, a troop of rag-tag marine recruits in ridiculously short-shorts, and the tale of how he whips them into shape just in time for them all to be put on the front lines. What's not to like? It's like Stripes meets Full Metal Jacket. Watch this movie. Key scene: Eastwood kicking the crap out of a guy twice his size.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Fearless Vampire Killers

A title so good I didn't want to think of a different one to headline my review. So let's sink our teeth into Roman Polanksi's The Fearless Vampire Killers. (Yeah, I went there.)

This was an odd movie. They don't make movies like this anymore. It's an absurdist comedy. Part camp, part live action cartoon, part satire. It tells the story of an old professor, called crazy for his belief and study of vampires, and his sole assistant/disciple (played by Polanksi). They have been called to a small village somewhere in Eastern Europe to investigate rumors of vampires, which turn out to be very very true.

As I noted before, this film doesn't really look like any other Polanksi film I've seen. It really is cartoonish, exaggerated makeup, costumes, colors, camera angles. Perhaps the most interesting thing is the use of a fast-forward special effect that gives the illusion of the characters moving at incredible speeds. This is used when people run, ride sleds, and other very physical actions. This is an effect used in many old silent vampire or horror movies, and old silent comedies. So it gives a nod to both these genres in an intriguing way. It is pretty funny, and the way everything is so over-the-top makes it borderline brilliant. It cleverly mocks religion and humans' futile attempts to understand or control the supernatural. I especially loved the scene involving Polanski's character's encounter with a male vampire who is blatantly trying to seduce him.

This is the movie that introduced Polanski to his late wife Sharon Tate. They actually didn't get along at first because he's a perfectionist and she was a new-comer to films so she required many takes to get the scenes right. But, they ended up falling for each other anyway. She's very funny in this movie, reminded me so much of Ilsa in Young Frankenstein- which was so clearly inspired by The Fearless Vampire Killers. She has a charming girl-next-door vibe in spite of her incredible beauty. She clearly would have gone on to great things had she not been brutally murdered.

Be sure to see the restored version. The original theatrical release was butchered by the studio and the editors to the point where Polanski was furious. The restored version has better pacing and lets the comedic performances shine through.

If you're sick of the neo-vampire date rape fetish genre of Twilight, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, etc. Then this movie is the perfect roasted clove of garlic for you.

-- Noel
Sent from my T-Mobile Sidekick®


You can now see an alphabetical index of the movies I've reviewed here by clicking on the link above "Index of Movies I've Reviewed". Nifty, eh?


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Twist the night away

If you're like me, you spent many a day as a child watching family movies in front of the living room television.
It's those early life experiences that form your relationship with movies. Many of my favorite films are the same ones I watched while sitting on the carpet and eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with my brother. My mom or dad would sit on the couch, ready to answer my questions and comfort me if the movie took a sad or scary turn. The movies selected were always of good quality for what they were, and my brother and I would sit rapt while taking them in. These movies are like old family friends who remind me of the happy simple days of my childhood. There were the Disney classics, the golden age of hollywood staples, and of course, musicals. One of our favorites was Oliver! Because of the fun songs and the young protagonist, and the one and only Artful Dodger. (Has there ever been a more fantastic name for a literary character? It's an identity in itself!)

So when I heard that Roman Polanski was directing a big screen adaptation of Charles Dickens' much-loved and much-adapted book, I was wary. Then I heard Ben Kingsley was cast as Fagin, so I began to hope. I was not disappointed.
Polanski's devotion to set design, costume design and casting brings Dickens' story to life in a way that delights the senses. The worlds of the underbelly of London- the orphanage, Fagin's lair, etc.- are perfectly gritty and grimy in all the right ways. They stand in stark contrast to the elegance of the Brownlows, as they should. The income gap is half the story. Much of the design was inspired by engravings of old London, and the ste was so large Polanski rode a scooter to get around in it.

Polanski also explicitly made this movie for his children to enjoy. It holds close to the plot of the book and doesn't spare much of the violence, but it is still incredibly entertaining and family-friendly. While it may be disturbing to them, it's important for kids to know that many children had- and still have- to endure life on the streets. It lets them know how lucky they are. And seeing as though Polanski himself had to make his way without his parents during WWII, there is no sugar coating. This flm is a little darker than most adaptations, but not unecessarily so.
The acting is good, not a weak link in the cast and it's all very believable, and yet it still has that storybook quality. The bad guys are bad, the good guys are good, Fagin is both creepy and endearing, and all the poor people doing what they have to get by have hearts of gold.

In short, this movie was everything I wanted it to be and nothing I didn't want it to be. It didn't try to re-invent the wheel. Much like The Lord of The Rings trilogy, it built on our collective idea of what the characters looked like and sounded like, influenced by- but not stealing from- the adaptations that preceeded it. Yet, it was it's own film, it can easily stand on its own. It was panned by critics as merely satisfactory. I disagree. Did we really want a big re-booted Oliver Twist? No! Dickens is one of those authors that so clearly creates characters that have a life of their own. We know what they look like, sound like and act like, and they belong to all of us. You need to let them shine through, you can't go wrapping them up in your own ideas or it's going to spoil it for everyone.
Watch this movie and get in touch with your inner child, or your real child. It has all the makings of a classic.

-- Noel
Sent from my T-Mobile Sidekick®