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The other movie I saw at the DC Film Fest, I Just Didn’t Do It is a film by Masayuki Suo, the guy behind Shall we dansu?, the Japanese movie which would be remade as Shall We Dance? By the way, Shall We Dance is a surprisingly decent movie, considering it is about ballroom dancing. It has a pretty great cast (Richard Gere, Bobby Cannavale, Nick Cannon, Susan Sarandon, Jennifer Lopez et al). So shut up.

I Just Didn’t Do It is an indictment of the Japanese court system, but also partially of Japanese culture. It tells the story of a 20-something guy accused (wrongly?) of groping a schoolgirl on the train, a too-prevalent act that ends with an alarming 99 percent conviction rate in the courts, leading most charged with the crime to pay a fine and stay a few days in jail.

There are a few interesting characters along the way, and the story is probably worth telling, but ultimately the movie just drags on too long. Probably a half hour could have been cut without really losing anything other than a few subplots that went nowhere. And it would have added to the surprising lack of tension.

I also saw this movie with John, and we both remarked on the newbishness (yes, I went there) of the audience. It was as if they hadn’t seen a movie before, but because it was a movie in a film festival, they felt obliged to cover for it by laughing 30 seconds after a joke or loudly remarking on incredibly stupid things a few beats after a comment would have been appropriate (not that comments were appropriate, but where they would have been if it had been more of a participatory movie).

Also, strangely, while watching the movie, I couldn’t help but notice Brian furiously taking notes.

What? Look, I really tried, and I almost made it, but it is a movie about getting in trouble for groping Japanese schoolgirls. The joke had to be made. It just had to.

Trailer after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

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Well, I got about a month behind on my reviews, and now I can barely remember these movies. So here are some quick hits to clear out the backlog.

La Zona was the first movie I saw at the DC Film Fest. It was in Spanish, which is my sworn enemy, but I still found it quite entertaining. So, you know how there are nice parts of cities and then crowded, rundown, dirty parts of cities (at least until they become cool and become a nice part)? Imagine an entire city that’s poorly off, save for one heavily fenced-off zone (I’m assuming that’s La Zona, but again, I passed Spanish based entirely on my rugged good looks) that looks roughly like your average upper middle class neighborhood.

There’s a power outage, three riffraff youths manage to make it over to La Zona, a few people die, and one of the youths ends up trapped, desperately trying to get back as he’s stridently hunted. We get a little Lord of the Flies/civilization vs. nature action as the select citizens in La Zona attempt to prevent the police from disrupting their world by taking matters into their own hands.

Not a perfect summary, but close enough. John said something along the lines of how the plot ripped off like four Twilight Zone episodes. Maybe more like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but still, the point is both valid and works in the movie’s favor, I’d argue. It is a fascinating study and constantly entertaining. The movie does run a little thin at points, but it is definitely worth a look. Also, I’d be a poor IB student if I didn’t mention the similarities to Durrenmatt’s The Visit. Which I thought was pretty great.

Also, the movie co-stars Javier Bardem’s brother. Who I actually enjoyed. Trailer after jump: Read the rest of this entry »

As I’ll mention over and over again (like I’m Nelly and Tim McGraw!), I think Philip K. Dick writes near-perfect stories. Really, M. Night Shyamalan writes like a poor man’s Philip K. Dick. Their stories have a similar structure, and tend to have a similar portrayal of reality. It is just that Philip K. tends to have sharper twists, and warmer stories. It also interesting to note the range of directors who have tried their hand at Philip K. Dick movies. Ridley Scott, Paul Verhoeven, Steven Spielberg, John Woo, and Richard Linklater have all directed adaptations. Their movies, along by those done by perhaps lesser lights, have achieved varying levels of success. Where “success” is naturally defined as how much I like a movie. Here’s how I’d rank them:

8. Next

I don’t what anyone says, Nic Cage is great. And Jessica Biel is quite lovely, if a tad overrated. But they have negative chemistry in this clunker of a movie. Uninteresting throughout the movie, the climax is totally unsatisfying. It does get some points for that cool scene with lots of Nicholas Cages. We’ll ignore the fact this was directed by a Bond director.

7. Blade Runner

I fell asleep five different times when attempting to watch this movie on three different occasions. And I tend to have trouble sleeping. There are certainly intriguing idea in the movie/story, but the film is horribly boring.

6. Screamers

It stars Peter Weller, so that’s a plus. If you squint really hard, you can kinda see some very vague outlines of the plot of Battlestar Galactica. But you’ll also see why Battlestar Galactica works as a series and wouldn’t as a movie. The plot is thin, and the twists are sadly telegraphed, due to lack of other options presented. To wit, the trailer gives away basically the entire movie. It does get marks for having an incredibly creepy kid.

5. A Scanner Darkly

I recently proffered my thoughts on this one. Again, the rotoscoping is rather amazing, but the story just isn’t as interesting as it should be. And The Twist doesn’t have the impact of a good Philip K. Dick twist.

4. Impostor

Released the first week of 2002, Impostor and Screamers may be the two little known movies on this list. It has a rather stellar cast which includes Gary Sinise, Madeleine Stowe, Mekhi Phifer, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Tony Shalhoub. And if you think a movie with the latter two isn’t worth watching, you haven’t been paying attention. While Impostor does have some of the flaws found in movies adapted from short stories, I think it does a good job capturing the feel of Philip K. Dick’s world. The alienation, the eternal question of what it means to be human. And the ending is pretty solid.

3. Minority Report

Minority Report is a really good movie. It has the best special effects of any Philip K. Dick film, but they are used to support an interesting story. The standard Philip K. Dick tropes of “What is reality?” and “Is there such a thing as too much technology” really shine through. The only knocks might be that it gets a bit saggy during its long run time, and it is maybe a little bit too glossy.

2. Paycheck

Ben Affleck gets a bum rap as an actor. There, I said it. And Paycheck is underappreciated. I might even argue it improved upon the short story. And, come on, Aaron Eckhart and Paul Giamatti! The plot is really interesting. Future you tells you to take these twelve tchotchkes and use them to save the world. We again see Dick’s warning of the danger of technology, but also his genius, as it applies to what would happen if we could know the future. And we get to puzzle out the riddle of each object.

1. Total Recall

Well, obviously. This competition was over before it started. Total Recall has a basically perfect blend of action, humor, campiness, commentary, sexiness, Philip K. Dickosity, and Schwarzenegger. I can’t hope to top I-Mockery’s post about it, though. Total Recall is just an amazing movie. And the ending will blow your mind.

I know we’re supposed to hate Uwe Boll. Of course, that’s probably just going to bias me in his favor, given my general taste in movies. In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale was the first Uwe Boll joint I had the pleasure of watching. And really, I don’t see what the fuss is about. ItNotK:ADST was a perfectly decent movie. There are plenty of better movies to watch, but the film is certainly watchable.

The screenplay of In the Name of the King, by Doug Taylor (based on a story by him, Jason Rappaport and Dan Stroncak) tells a relatively standard fantasy story. In the interest of full disclosure, my two least favorite genres may be documentary and fantasy. Sue me. Jason Statham plays a farmer (named Farmer!) seeking revenge who ultimately teams up with the King’s army to defeat an evil sorcerer-villain-type and his army of bad guys.

The movie’s cast is most impressive. Jason Statham is the lead, and he’s perfect serviceable as the reserved hero who just wants to protect his family but is destined for so much more. Ron Perlman plays his gruff, talkative friend who kicks a$$. Which is just about the ideal role for him, obviously. John Rhys-Davies is a poor man’s Merlin, and I’m a fan of his, though I think he could have been more of a presence in the film. Matthew Lillard plays the King’s idiotic semi-evil nephew who wants to usurp the throne. Which, again, is pitch perfect casting. Also want to mention Brian J. White, who doesn’t have an especially meaty character, but imdb says his first role was in The MatchMaker (uncredited) and he was also in Brick, so I have to show him some love.

And then, oh man, and then Burt Reynolds as the King. Which is exactly as ridiculous as you are picturing. Finally, Ray Liotta as the evil sorcerer. In my mind, I put Ray Liotta as sort of the evil Keanu Reeves. Because Keanu Reeves isn’t actually capable of playing a real human being. He doesn’t talk like people talk, and if you ever take a second to watch, he doesn’t seem to walk like people walk. Which, don’t get me wrong, doesn’t mean I don’t like him. Because he can be great. But I’d describe Ray Liotta similarly, except that he’s flat out creepy.

The women of the movie are all quite attractive: LeeLee Sobieski as Rhys-Davies’ well-meaning daughter who gets screwed by Ray Liotta and wants to fight in the army, Claire Forlani as Farmer’s wife, and Kristanna Loken as the leader of a group of peace-loving forest-dwellers. And I’ll offer significant props to Boll and Taylor for making them all mostly-essential to the plot, generally strong characters. Possibly the most frustrating/impressive part of it all is how tastefully dressed all three remain during the entire movie.

Adam prompted me to see the movie, and he made some very good points concerning the special effects, so I’ll leave off that discussion, in the hopes he picks it up in the comments or in a post. The battle scenes were generally awesome, though they did seem a bit awkward. They didn’t feel entirely necessary, though. As if they had been shoehorned into the story, which was disappointing.

As I mentioned, the story is standard, though marginally engaging. Some of the intrigues and disparate storylines coming together could probably have been tightened up. Ultimately, I think you are likely to come out of In the Name of the King with exactly what you were expecting. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Trailer after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

I can’t decide if this makes me a bad person, but after watching Logan’s Run, what stuck in my head was that Michael York is one of the least masculine leading men I’ve ever seen. Pictures don’t do it justice, but here’s one, and here’s another. And hey, more power to the 1970s for not forcing their leading men to be super macho.

Written by David Zelag Goodman in an adaptation of a book by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, Logan’s Run takes The Who’s plea “I hope I die before I get old” quite seriously. Set in a future where the planet has been ravaged, humanity survives by living in a giant domed city. But the dome is only so big, thus there needs to be some sort of population control. Upon turning 30, citizens take place in a bizarre, trippy ceremony/spectacle ending in death. But people are OK with this, because, hey, that’s just how things are. The few who try to escape are known as “runners”. Logan (Michael York) is a “sandman”, a person charged with stopping said runners. Logan eventually ends up running (hence the title), and taking a chick along for the ride (Jenny Agutter).

Certainly an interesting idea. Like too many 70s movies, though, Logan’s Run rather quickly becomes tedious and stays that way. The film runs just under two hours and it really feels like a half hour could have been chopped off without losing anything. Alternatively, a stronger film would have used the time to flesh out this version of utopia. Instead, we are left with only a vague concept of the futuristic society and its workings. Which is sad, because things like the all-knowing computer, Box (the totally ridiculous evil robot), and the totally sweet service that teleports hot chicks (generally) willing to have no strings attached sex to your room at the push of a button just aren’t given the time they so richly deserve.

My opening point aside, I actually think Michael York works here. There’s pretty much no way he’d get cast in the role today. Jenny Agutter is your typical female co-star. She’s a surprisingly strong character, though, for those who care about such things. And she does win an award for least convincing reason to disrobe (non-porn division). That’s another nice thing about the 70s. Nudity was strongly encouraged. That’s the version of history I choose to believe, at any rate. Richard Jordan is decent as the friend/company man, but he’s apparently the grandson of Learned Hand, so that’s awesome. Peter Ustinov shows up. As does Farrah Fawcett, in a completely unnecessary role. And yet, it is Farrah Fawcett. Working her into a movie was never a bad call.

The movie was nominated for two Oscars, Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography (Ernest Laszlo). It also was given a special achievement award for visual effects. And yes, the special effects look about 30 years old, but they are pretty cool.

Logan’s Run may be worth a viewing for its place in the scifi canon, but I’m not really sure it stands on its own. It doesn’t have a sense of humor or a sense of urgency. It doesn’t seem to be a particularly meaningful parable, and it doesn’t have a particularly gripping ending.

Trailer after the jump. I love old trailers. Read the rest of this entry »

I’m aiming to get a list of some sort up on Mondays. Since I’ve finally watched ten movies released this year, here’s my first top ten movies of the year list. I could see the argument that The Counterfeiters should count as last year because of the Oscars, but let’s face it, it shouldn’t. Also, I really loved Rambo. I can’t help but think that those who didn’t don’t understand the core of what an action movie should be. Or, at the very least, have wildly different expectations about actions movies than I do.

Broadly speaking, the first four belong in a tier, then the next four, then then last two.

  1. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
  2. Rambo
  3. In Bruges
  4. Iron Man
  5. Run Fatboy Run
  6. The Promotion
  7. The Counterfeiters
  8. How She Move
  9. The Bank Job
  10. 21

So, I may have borne The Holiday some ill will because it screwed me a little in an early Fantasy Moguls league. What? A Nancy Meyers movie at the holidays with Kate Winslet. It should have been gold! But a year and a half later, I probably have that out of my system. Mostly.

Kate Winslet is a British newspaper reporter who still hasn’t gotten over a relationship she had with a co-worker (Rufus Sewell) three years ago. Upon finding he’s engaged, she decides needs to escape. Cameron Diaz plays an expert movie trailer designer (which, OK, is kinda cool) living in Hollywood who has a bad breakup with her boyfriend (Ed Burns) and decides she needs to escape. They go online and swap houses for two weeks. When Kate gets to Hollywood, she runs into an old screenwriter (Eli Wallach) who becomes her friend and meets a movie score composer (Jack Back) and his girlfriend (Shannyn Sossamon), who have a rocky relationship. When Cameron get to England, she meets Kate’s brother (Jude Law).

That’s more backstory than I like to give, but I do it to make a point. That right there is, basically, the entire movie. There’s the barest of tension or arc. There are maybe three critical moments in the movie, none of which feel gut-wrenching. Meyers’s script is otherwise fluid and generally moves along, but I suppose I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is clever. The problem wasn’t that the movie was predictable (not that I usually find that a problem), it was that there wasn’t even anything to predict, really. The trailer voiceovers that popped in every so often for Diaz’s character were a neat quirk. I might have liked to see the device mirrored for Winslet, or the playfulness permeate a bit more throughout, but that’s a very minor dispute.

The actors are generally solid. Kate Winslet can’t help but be awesome. I’m not opposed to Cameron Diaz. I think she does slapstick very well, for example. Not sure she adds much here. Jude Law is as devilishly handsome as always. Basically same as Alfie, only with no topless Sienna Miller (What? That’s an important fact!). I’m a fan of Jack Black taking on more serious roles. I don’t think this one is a perfect fit, but it definitely works. Shannyn Sossamon in the movie for long, but I’ve been swooning for her since 40 Days and 40 Nights, and nothing has changed on that front.

But the star, in my book, is Eli Wallach (The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, among a million different awesome things, including a guest shot on Studio 60). He’s always been a haunting character actor, and it is good to see nothing has changed in his old age. Wallach’s character is a refreshing take on comic relief and one of the movie’s few high points.

There are a few really awesome bit parts. John Krasinski has about 30 seconds of screen time as one of Diaz’s assistants. Dustin Hoffman gets kinda meta in a cameo. And James Franco and Lindsay Lohan show up as…well…I won’t ruin it, but it relates to Diaz’s job, and it is pretty hilarious.

I will say I have a friend whose opinion I generally trust, and who generally has a similar taste me in movies such as these did enjoy the movie. Which won’t get me to change my opinion, but perhaps those of the female ilk might find ways to appreciate the movie, ways that I just couldn’t. She made a really excellent point about the movie, something I didn’t catch (shocking, right?). But it only really makes sense to anyone who has seen the movie, and I can’t imagine anyone reading this has. I’ll share in the comments, if there is popular demand.

Trailer after the jump. And it reminds me that the movie has the goofiest IM chat since You’ve Got Mail. Read the rest of this entry »

I won’t give this one the full treatment. Just wanted to say that the references to Nintendo games are pretty much right in the sweet spot for my generation, so the movie is worth a look for that, if nothing else (Ninja Gaiden! Double Dragon!). In some ways, this is a perfect bridge from the 80s to 90s. The plot, in its barest form, is nothing short of ridiculous, but there’s an appealing blend of hokiness (Beau Bridges getting addicted to Nintendo, for example) and seriousness. The film is both a long-form commercial for Nintendo and a sparse, gripping, family drama. That may be the innate beauty of The Wizard, it is, ultimately, a serious movie that doesn’t take itself seriously. Yeah, there are plenty of cliches, like the bumbling evil guy or the nonsensical video game competition with an absurd host (and really, did the filmmakers think no one would notice the scoring announcements wouldn’t sync up with the visuals?) and bizarre scoring conventions. But that’s almost to be expected.

The cast is awesome. Christian Slater! Fred Savage! Beau Bridges! Luke Edwards plays the creepy kid who is a video game savant pretty well. Frank McRae is awesome. McRae, if you don’t know him by name, was the teacher in the opening of Red Dawn and Sharkey from License to Kill. So yeah, he rocks. And then there’s Jenny Lewis. Who is fantastic in the movie. One of the most striking things about the movie, to me, was how they dealt with her character’s sexuality, since Lewis was about twelve when the movie was filmed, and her character was probably meant to be right around that age. For the most part, she’s completely desexualized, assuming the role of mother figure to her little band, ostensibly partially in an effort to fill her own void from the mothering influence she never had in her own life. Not that mothers can’t be sexualized, they just aren’t in this sort of 80s movie, where the focus is on the kids and the parents are there to present some sort of obstacle for the kids. There is one scene, though, where in a last ditch effort to avoid the bad guy, she’s in a casino and screams out that he inappropriately touched her. And you can tell it is an 80s movie, because people immediately swarm around him, allowing Jenny Lewis to leave without anyone noticing. Now, I’m skeptical a movie today gets away with that (or even attempts it), just as I’m skeptical that the role wouldn’t be given to an eighteen year old (or someone playing eighteen, at least).

There’s also romantic tension between Fred Savage and Jenny Lewis, and I found their relationship rather poignant. They are two twelve year olds with no money or assets shepherding a nine year old on a road trip to California because “California” is the only thing he says (that and his frequent attempts to walk there alone have landed him in a home for mentally disturbed kids, from which Fred Savage springs him). Perhaps their struggle to persevere coupled with that age’s awkward method of courting isn’t anything new, though I might argue it is a particularly tender balance of puppy love and a marriage. But I think the evolution of their relationship on the journey contrasted their reversion to normal kids once everything has been set right, or at least as right as it can be, is very interesting. Just great bombastic 80s naivete, in my opinion, that these kids can grow so much as people, well beyond what kids their age “should” have to deal with, when facing these hardships; but once they’ve restored things to their natural order, they too are restored to the normal lives of twelve year olds.

I should probably stop talking about twelve year old girls before I become Brian. What? You really didn’t think that joke was coming? My point, or at least my intended point, is that The Wizard actually has some depth. Am I alone on that point? Would even David Chisolm, who wrote the screenplay, back me up? Beats me. Maybe. But I honestly think the movie is worth seeing on its own merits, not just because it introduced the world to Super Mario Bros. 3.

Presented without comment (to give the others their fair cracks at it), here are the summer blockbusters to which each of us is most looking forward:

Adam

  • Dark Knight
  • Indiana Jones 4
  • Iron Man

Brian

  • Indiana Jones 4
  • Dark Knight
  • Tropic Thunder

Jared

  • Dark Knight
  • Mamma Mia!
  • Pineapple Express

John

  • Wall-E
  • Indiana Jones 4
  • Tropic Thunder

I’m a bit of a Philip K. Dick nut. His ability to weave consistently fresh sci-fi tales (stories which really don’t belong to be pigeonholed as “merely science fiction”) is unparalleled. And any fans of twists have to credit him as one of the masters. I think his stories generally have transferred really well to the big screen (with any luck, they’ll continue to do so), for a variety of reasons, but ultimately because he always paints an intriguing landscape, but one sparse enough to allow the filmmaker to breathe.

A Scanner Darkly, though, I find to be one of his lesser works. Maybe it got too personal. Whatever the reason, the plot just doesn’t seem as crisp as some of his other novels and stories. Of course, his depiction of the future is as poignant as ever. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a Philip K. Dick work. So while I have all kinds of respect for the movie, it was hampered a bit by the source material. That said, I don’t think Richard Linklater helps his cause. The story he carves out is probably not how I would have interpreted the novel.

The story, really, isn’t worth getting into. Not too far into the future, a certain drug has devastated large portion of the country’s population, but no one can prove who is manufacturing the drug. A Scanner Darkly relates how one cop (Keanu Reeves) goes undercover, as a druggie, in an attempt to learn more. As Keanu starts using, his sense of reality becomes skewed.

A Scanner Darkly, as probably goes without saying, is notable for its use of rotoscoping. I have mixed feelings about it. It does end up looking really awesome. But it only really seemed useful for a few scenes. First and foremost was the scramble suit (here’s a description). I cannot fathom how they’d successfully pull off the scramble suit with a regular live action movie, so perhaps the scramble suit validates the technology.

Reeves, Woody Harrelson, and Robert Downey, Jr. acting together feels like some sort of dream. They could set up a traveling show consisting solely of them having a normal conversation and I’d go see it. And call me crazy, but I think Winona Ryder holds her own with the group.

So where does that leave us? A rather beautiful movie that seems unfulfilling. It may be worth seeing just for the rotoscoping, and the actors will keep you engaged. But I think the story may have been better adapted as a television series, with someone better fleshing out Dick’s ideas. Because there are some really interesting nuggets in there, but A Scanner Darkly doesn’t consistently capitalize on them.

Trailer after the jump.
Read the rest of this entry »

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