Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Weekly Preview: Week of Nov. 24, 2008

Let's face it: I'm broke. I don't have enough money to see very many movies. On top of that, I don't have a car, so I can't get to movies easily unless my friends are going. This makes it difficult to review 1, let alone all, of the movies coming out any given week. So in this feature, "Weekly Preview", I'll preview all of the films coming out this week, give their current Rotten Tomatoes score, what I think based off of word of mouth and the trailer, and more. I'll also list them in the order of my excitement, from the one I'm least likely to try to see, to the one I'm most likely to try to see. Enjoy.

Four Christmases

(Dir. Seth Gordon)
[Wide Release]

Plot: Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon play a couple who attempt to ditch their families at Christmas, but get stuck there nevertheless. Because both of their parents are divorced, they must visit all four of their families. Hilarity ensues.

My Excitement Level (1-10): 2
Why?: As much as I love Vince & Reese, they both deserve better than what looks to be two hours of material we've seen before and done better. The "jokes" look to be of the "punched in the crotch" variety, and Lord knows we need more of those.

Current RT: 26%

Transporter 3

(Dir. Olivier Megaton)
[Wide Release]

Plot: Shoot. Blow Up. Bang, bang. Jason Statham.

My Excitement Level (1-10): 4
Why?: At the very least, it could be entertaining. Even though Statham picks crappy movies (The Bank Job, War, anything he's been in), some of them can be worth watching merely for the popcorn value, but I'm not expecting anything on the level of the action greats (Blade II, etc.).

Current RT: 35%


(Dir. Baz Luhrmann)
[Wide Release]

Plot: Set in the titular country, on the brink of WWII, Nicole Kidman plays a wealthy English socialite who needs help from a not-so-wealthy local (Hugh Jackman) in order to keep her land, or something like that. Basically, it's a giant war/romace epic set in Australia during WWII.

My Excitement Level: 6.5
Why?: At first I was looking forward to this film a ton, based on the beautiful shots from the trailer. However, even the reviews that agree that the film is beautiful say that that's about all the film has to offer. I'm not a huge fan of either actor, but Kidman can be great when she wants to be. Also, the film length has me a tad concerned.

Current RT: 51%


(Dir. Gus Van Zant)
[Limited Release]

Plot: The film follows Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office. Sean Penn plays Milk, surrounded by an impressive cast (James Franco, Josh Brolin, etc.), as he gains public popularity and changes the face of the gay rights movement.

My Excitement Level: 9
Why?: While the film seems a little conventional, I'd much prefer that to a confusing experiment like Van Zant's Paranoid Park, however good it was. Sean Penn looks great in it, as do Brolin, Franco, Emilie Hirsh, and others. Also, with Propsition 8 so fresh in my mind, it'll be nice to see how far the movement has come.

Current RT: 92%

Friday, October 24, 2008

Invasions of the Body Snatchers: 1956 v. 1978

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the 1956 version, is heralded as one of the greatest B-movies of all time, mostly for the fact that the only B aspect of it was being the second picture played at a double feature. Don Seigel, the director, could have fooled anybody by claiming this was the first film played, which it ended up being. The acting is fantastic, the story enticing, and the themes explored are both creepy and subtle.

The same greatness cannot be claimed by the '78 version. While Donald Sutherland is very good in the lead role, he has nothing on Kevin McCarthy, whose cameo in the remake was one of the film's highlights. The remake takes a much less subtle approach at its creatures. While the first film viewed those who have had their bodies snatched as humans who can simply not display emotion, the remake features stony characters, whose wail is anything but chilling.

The point of the subtlety in the original film was to exemplify how emotion is taken for granted by those who do not love. Love was a resonant theme of the first film, but fear seems to take an unwarranted precedence in the remake. In the first film, only those who truly love someone can tell when they have changed. Whether it be a son or a niece, it takes someone close to the victim to understand their loss of emotion. In the remake, it's quite obvious when one is snatched. They become unrecognizable in attitude and behavior. Also, they scream like annoying banshees. I don't quite understand who thought the screaming would be a good idea, but it does little to add and much to detract.

The second major difference between the two is the setting. The first film takes place in a small town, Santa Mira, while the remake is located in San Fransisco. The earlier film takes a good chunk of time showing how Dr. Miles Bennell (McCarthy) knows most of the people in the town. This makes the later scenes more filled with desperation and a much stronger emotional punch. These are people he knows and sees every day, changed, never to return. In the later film, Bennell (Sutherland) and Driscoll (Brooke Adams) live in a big city where it already seems dirty enough that these aliens are unneeded. Sure, maybe the message is that these aliens are cleaning up the earth, but that theme doesn't have near the emotional power of the first film. When Driscoll in the remake says that her city has changed, it doesn't mean near as much as when Bennell, in the first film, notices all the people he knew and loved have changed.

The second movies goes for stark realism, while the original knows that if you have an absurd topic, you need to attack with a level of absurdity, or scenes will occur where "real" people talk about aliens and such and sound like idiots, as is what happens in the '78 version.

But I am too harsh. The '78 version does do some things right. Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum (Jack Bellicic) are both very good, especially the former. Veronica Cartwright (Nancy, Jack's wife) is excellent despite some annoying, non-body-snatched screaming in earlier scenes. Also, the film is very well shot, and the story movies along at a solid pace. Sadly, however, the good does not outweigh the bad, and the film ends up a major dud. The Invasion, last year's attempt at a remake was not supposed to be anywhere near good, and I hope that means the attempts are over. The original is a sci-fi classic, a study in psychological terror and despair. Let's leave it alone, or at least attempt to bring back the subtle creepiness dare we try again.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956): A
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978): C

My Apologies

I have not posted in quite a bit, and for that, I am sorry. I have been busy, but not busy enough to excuse myself from my work (not my work). I think part of the reason is I set my bar too high. I am going to aim to get 1 news post every day, musings on some films I see, and full on reviews of other films.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hathaway & Carter Are Burton's Queens

Source: THR

Yesterday it was del Toro, today it's Tim Burton; directors with beautifully original visions taking classic books, and updating their film version. For del Toro, it's The Hobbit which will have to have to struggle to be worse than the cartoon version. For Burton, it's an update of Alice in Wonderland; his version "will use a combination of live action and performance-capture technology" to tell the story famously brought to the screen in the Disney classic (one of my favorite Disney films). And, like Toro, news has recently come out that proves that this movie will kick even more ass than previously imagined. Two of the greatest actresses working today, Anne Hathaway & Helena Bonham Carter have signed on:

"Hathaway is playing the White Queen, a benevolent monarch who is deposed and banished by her sister, the Red Queen (Carter), who has an affinity for crying out, "Off with their heads!" The White Queen needs Alice to slay a creature known as the Bandersnatch."

I think Carter is perfect for the Red Queen. I can completely imagine her shrieking the classic line with such evil it may even give me nightmares. And Hathaway has apparently proven her brilliance recently (damn you Rachel Getting Married for not playing in Chicago), so it will be exciting to see her in what should be a brilliantly fantastic film. Plus, Burton has experience updating classic kids movies. While Charlie and the Chocolate Factory may not have touched the original (few kids movies can), it was still fantastic. Also, this news comes after we learned that Depp will be playing the Mad Hatter. Hopefully this won't hurt the chances of Depp playing The Riddler in Batman 3, which I know is just a rumor, but it's one I'm hoping for.

Audience Commentary: I thought Hathaway did fantastic on SNL; your thoughts on her hosting gig?

Monday, October 6, 2008

WWI + The Hobbit = del Toro Rules

Source: ComingSoon

You can tell Guillermo del Toro is a brilliant filmmaker because to build hype for his films, he merely needs to let them exist. Of course, it helps when the film you're hyping is based off of one of the biggest books of all time, and a prequel to the most epic film trilogy since the original Star Wars. The Hobbit will be great, not only because I love the book and del Toro, but because he seems to get it. Listen, I loved The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. I thought it was loads of fun. Great performances, beautiful sets, etc. However, Jackson didn't seem to completely get what it all meant. That's why it helps when del Toro comes out and says the following:

"I find you have to discipline yourself to write in the morning, and then watch and read in the afternoons stuff that seems relevant, even in a tangential way. For example, reading or watching World War I documentaries or books that I think inform 'The Hobbit,' strangely enough, because I believe it is a book born out of Tolkien's generation's experience with World War I and the disappointment of being in that field and seeing all those values kind of collapse. I think it's a turning point that you need to familiarize yourself with."

It seems that Toro completely gets it. He's putting in the time and research (not saying Jackson didn't). I think these films (they're splitting it into two movies) will have the epic proportions of Lord of the Rings, but the sheer brilliance and vision of Pan's Labyrinth. It also helps that Pan was also using mythical creatures as an allegory for war (in that case, it was the Spanish Civil
War) and it was one of thebest films of the year. I have extremely high hopes for this project.

Audience Commentary: Which Hellboy? I or II?

Why "Chihuahua"s Scare Me Not

Many are troubled by the #1 film at the box office this week, Beverly Hills Chihuahua. I see where these people come from. It is upsetting that good films (such as the severely underrated Flash of Genius) recieve poor Box Office due to lame films (thought, to be fair, I did not see BHC, but most people seem upset at it's success). And I completely agree in cases such as Disaster Movie, Bangkok Dangerous or Meet the Spartans. But BHC is different. The people who Flash of Genius aims for are not the same as the people BHC aims for. The latter aims for children, that former for adults. The problem with kids movies is not that they can't be done well, as Pixar proves time after time that they can be the most brilliant films out there. However, they come along much less often. So, it makes sense that if a kid sees a movie with talking dogs, they will say "Yes, please". And guess what? I was raised on those movies. But I grew out of them. Just because you see these pieces of crap as a kid does not mean those bad tastes carry over. A parent, no matter how big of a snob, would be asinine to refuse to take their kid to a movie because it didn't look good. If your kid really wants to go see this thing, you can rest assured that part of the reason they want to go is because they love the theater. And that's great! Take them to the theater whenever a kid movie comes out (if you have the time and money). Instead of being a snob, let them develop their own taste for movies. Loving movies is so much more important than loving good movies. I'm a snob, and I'll be the first to tell you this.

Now, I must expand on a point a introduced a second ago. While these movies making money do not trouble me, movies such as Disaster Movie do, because it holds back careers. By rewarding shit filmmakers, they can create more and more shit, instead of letting geniuses come in and take over. I know movie taste is subjective, but seriously. The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and Pineapple Express proved that movies can be big, enjoyable and brilliant. There are no more excuses.

But let me return to my original point for a final word, a word of hope. Sure, BHC topped the Box Office, but guess what? If it had opened anywhere near Wall-E, it would have been demolished. Not only would Pixar's masterpiece beat it, but, because there was a better alternative, few people would have seen BHC at all. The kids would be happy with Wall-E, and have no need to see that shit. I will bet you that Bolt, if it's half as good as it looks, will do much better than BHC, because it will not only have kids dragging their parents, but it will have film buff parents dragging their kids.

Review: Flash of Genius

The newest in a long line of great movies with awful ad campaigns is Flash of Genius. The trailers sell this film to be another true-story inspirational tale. At the end of this film, one feels anything but inspiration. Flash is the story of a man so stubborn that he drives everything away to gain something which was never worth it in the first place. Greg Kinnear brilliantly plays Bob Kearns, the inventor of the intermittent windshield wipers. When he presents his invention to Ford, they steal his creation and give him zero credit. Knowing that he is responsible for this technological advancement drives Kearns insane, and he becomes so obsessed with getting Ford to admit what they’ve done, that he drives his caring family away. Lauren Graham plays his wife who never stops loving Bob; she just can’t take his obsession anymore. The final act of the film takes place in a courtroom, featuring understated speeches and performances, where most directors would place yelling and unrealistically fiery speeches. The final shot shows that Kearns may have won a battle, but he lost the war.

Grade: A-

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Letter To: SNL, On Jon Hamm

I know Saturday Night Live is a TV show, and Jon Hamm is most famous for the beyond brilliant Mad Men, which is currently the best show on TV. But, I really want to write this, and so I’ll use the fact that Hamm is in The Day the Earth Stood Still remake (which I will see mostly for him) as an excuse:

Dear SNL,
I love you. I watch you every week, and understand that most of the time your skits aren’t funny. You normally have 2-3 gems, and then a couple amusing ones. Weekend Update is pretty consistently great, the only part of the show that is. I appreciate that it is difficult to write a lot of great skits in one week, but you have a duty. Because the freakin’ amazing Jon Hamm is hosting your show in three weeks, you start now. Start coming up with great skits NOW! Not that I don’t love Anne Hathaway or Josh Brolin, but Jon Hamm needs to prove his comedic chops, which I know he has from late night interviews and such. So please, SNL, start writing some brilliant skits now, so Hamm is not let down.

'Australia' Trailer.2

The African Queen, the 1951 classic, followed a lowly dirty man (Humphrey Bogart) and a socialite (Kathrine Hepburn) during WWI, as they turn a tiny boat into a warship. While the new Australia may not have the warship, it definitely has a Queen vibe, but on a grander scale. But, regardless of its similarities to TCM staples, it looks freakin’ amazing. There’s everything you could want in a movie; romance, action, bigness, Nicole Kidman in a not-sucky movie (hopefully). It’s hard to imagine this film not being awesome.

'Australia' Exclusive Video: "Defy"

Top Ten Films of All Time

  1. “Fargo”
  2. “Taxi Driver”
  3. “12 Angry Men”
  4. “Singin’ In the Rain”
  5. “The Thin Man”
  6. “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”
  7. “No Country for Old Men”
  8. “Reservoir Dogs”
  9. "Donnie Darko"
  10. "Paths of Glory"

A Welcome

This is the umpteenth blog I’ve tried to begin, but given this has the best name, I assume it has the best chance of survival. I’m also focusing my view; I’ve tried to do blogs on all of entertainment, but now I will stick to movies. Every Saturday (or around then) I will make a post about music, books and TV Shows you should check out.

But back to movies. The name of course comes from what may be the best movie of all time, “Fargo”. It is in hot contention with “Taxi Driver”. My first ‘real’ post will be my Top Ten of All Time List, but I must give this warning: I am hideously behind in my film education. I have not seen “The Godfather”. I have not seen “Goodfellas”. I have not seen “Fight Club”, nor “Pulp Fiction”. There are a million holes which I have to fill, but here is the silver lining. You will have the opportunity to follow me through my film education! I will try and post a review for each movie I watch, but if I see too many a week, I may do a summary post every weekend. This way, you can see what holes I’m closing and which I still have left. Also, every year, I will not only post my Top Ten of the year, but also a Revised Top Ten of All Time.

There will be features and reviews and news. I will try and do at least one movie review a week, and at least one DVD review. This will difficult, given my small budget, but I will attempt it. I will try to make 2-3 posts per day on movie news items. I will also have “neat” features. Once a month I will ‘write a letter’ to a celebrity who needs to learn a lesson for two (something tells me Dane Cook will get at least 10). Another feature will be called “Flashback”. I’m excited about this one. I will begin next year with 1992 (my birth year) and watch a movie that came out that week of that year. This will be bi-weekly at first (therefor the film can be from either of the two weeks), but it may become weekly eventually. Finally, I will do some sort of DVD round-up every Tuesday, because I quite like those.

Also, I will be seeing 5 films at the Chicago Film Festival (hopefully they will be: “Happy-Go-Lucky”, “Wendy & Lucy”, “The Good, The Bad, and the Weird”, “The Wrestler” and “A Christmas Tale”). I will then review these movies on the blog.

So please, stay. Hopefully you will enjoy what you see, and if not, then…