Monday, July 31, 2006

The Velvet Goldmine

Velvet Goldmine: Okay, so this one is tough to give a straight out review, so I'll just lay out a few points for you.

A. I don't mind the non-linear storyline, or the sometimes bizarre ways of telling the tale, but seriously, the scene done with Ken dolls was just a little more than I could take.

B. The way the stories were told and interwoven with the story of the journalist who's listening to them was great.

C. I thought most of the acting was quite impressive, but was disappointed by the performance of Jonathon Rhys-Myers as Brian Slade--I thought he was rather flat and emotionless, and that bothered me until I realized that maybe that's the POINT...Brian Slade was never real. He was just sort of this reflection of those around him, and they all projected what they were looking for onto him. So maybe JR-M is in fact a BRILLIANT actor instead of--as I originally thought--amazingly awful.

D. Ewan McGregor was awe-inspiring. The man is never hesitant to drop trou and show off his light-saber (which, by the way, was more impressive here than we were led to believe in The Pillow Book.) His character, Curt Wild, was probably my favorite, just because that particular archetype is a soft spot of mine--the valiantly odd, secretly desperately needy punk-rock boy. I mean, Slade was so pathetic I was uninterested, but Wild? Oh yeah, I probably wouldn't kick him out of bed. Particularly during that part where he's covered in lube and glitter.

E. The make-up and costuming was stunning...with the notable exception of Christian Bale's flashback wig. My GOD, did they dig that thing out of the trash bin behind a cheap drag club or something? It was so distractingly bad that I couldn't even enjoy his masturbation scene...the first time I watched it. ;)

F. Eddie Izzard in men's clothing! The man has a knack for playing douchebags, I have to say.

G. There are not many female characters in this movie, and the few there are seem to be drawn as mostly bitches. Then again, the movie is not about women, but the relationships that exist between men, and between those men and the music. I have to say I thought Toni Collette was kind of wasted in her role, but then again, what little she has to do she does very well.

H. This movie is not for everyone. However, it's full of interesting visuals, rocking music, and hot man candy. If that's your thing, this is your film.

The Warriors

The Warriors: For a cult film from 1979, this didn't feel nearly as dated as it should have. I'm guessing that could be because it's almost more of a fantasy than it is a "realistic" film. Part of that comes from the intro likening the story to a Greek epic, and also the use of what look like rotoscoped "comic" panels to transition between scenes. Basically, it's about this gang in New York called the Warriors who go to this big gang meeting way down in the Bronx, and after something unexpected happens, have to make their way all the way back to their home turf of Coney Island, dodging and fighting both other gangs and the cops. Each of the gangs in the movie have these wild costumes and identities, the most interesting being the Baseball Furies (whom I assume come from the part of the Bronx that's home to the baseball field.) They're these guys wearing baseball uniforms with this crazy sort of Kiss-type make-up who fight with baseball bats (using them sort of like samurai swords) and don't speak, adding to the comic-ness of the film. The acting is surprisingly good, considering that pretty much no one in it had ever been in a movie before. If I had to compare it to something, I think I'd say it's a little bit like O Brother Where Art Thou? surprisingly. I mean, there's these guys on this journey, and there's distractions and fights, and they split off, and some get lost and some get killed, and you're sitting there pulling for them to make it. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and suggest that you film nerds check it out, since it's apparently a cult classic with some pretty nifty cinematic moments to it. The making-of on the DVD is also fascinating--they talk a lot about shooting on location in New York at night, and about the difficulties of dealing with the ACTUAL gangs who inhabited the area. As a sort of odd sidenote, the way I first heard about this movie was that the video game was recently released (only, you know, 27 years later) and X-Play really liked it.

Gosford Park

Gosford Park: Yes, I know I just watched this one last weekend, but the DVD arrived and I just had to watch it again with subtitles so I could figure out what was going on. Amazing what you miss when the sound is dying! It's actually kind of better the second time, because once you know what's going on, you notice a lot of little clues earlier on in the movie. It's well-plotted, well-acted, and apparently accurate as far as the household running goes. They had a making-of on the DVD and explained that they brought in three people who'd actually worked in service during the 30s and 40s, and had them check things for accuracy. It was kind of cute how much the 80yr olds were digging working with the actors. But yeah, the movie is still entertaining and interesting and I enjoyed it immensely. This is recommeded for anyone who enjoys British period movies (Minnesota Mama and Shalom Go Bragh, I am looking at you here) or murder mysteries.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Featuring Keanu Reeves, bloodied schoolgirls, and zombies!

So this weekend I watched three movies (and a bunch of random chunks of other things and the new Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares and the new episode of Psych and some other stuff).

1. River's Edge: This was made in the eighties, back when Keanu Reeves was still rocking that totally sexy Ted hair. Basically, this high school guy kills his girlfriend, and his friends are all pretty apathetic except for Crispin Glover who thinks it's kind of a rad adventure and Keanu, who seems a bit uncomforable with it. It's not really a very good movie, since most of the characters are two dimensional at best, and John's reasons for strangling Jamie are never fully explained. Dennis Hopper plays a mentally unstable recluse pretty well (not much of a stretch, since I feel as though Dennis Hopper may in fact be a mentally unstable recluse.) I suppose it's some sort message about the state of youth in America, but I really wasn't at all impressed.................well, except with Keanu Reeves, who--while not a tremendous actor--was SEXY AS HELL.

2. Battle Royale: This is a Japanese flick, and it was my first real venture into their cinematic oeuvre, and it was sort of strange. I definitely can see the style that Quentin Tarantino "liberally borrowed" for his Kill Bill movies. This particular film takes place in the future--apparently the youth have gotten so out of control that every year they send a whole class of ninth graders to battle each other to the death (not that I really understand how that helps...) So basically it's a bit like 'Lord of the Flies,' except instead of trying to survive, the point is for all the kids to slaughter each other. It was gory and bloody and godawful, but there was something about it that kept me glued to the screen. While there was an ungodly amount of violence, there was also a certain amount of personal interplay going on between the characters. It was fascinating to watch the moral shifts, the emergence of completely unexpected character traits, and the way these things both merged and collided to form totally believe interplay. All the actors were quite good, and if you take into account that most of them were only about 14 or 15, they're unbelievable. If you can't handle graphic violence (I'm talking axe-to-the-head, tossing-severed-heads-around, brain-splattering, blood-geysering balls-to-the-wall graphic violence being perpetrated on/by children) this probably isn't for you. If you are one of those people who can't handle subtitles, this isn't for you. However, I really dug it and recommend it. It sort of makes you think.

3. Hide and Creep: Okay, so let me first say that this is not a "good" film. For those of you who are film majors and are insanely attuned to things like camera angles, light sources, and not seeing the occasional boom mike enter the frame--this film is not for you. For those of you who can manage to just go with a premise and enjoy something for what it's worth--you might want to try and catch this one. I found it on the Sci-Fi channel, and it's sort of what I imagine Kevin Smith might have ended up if he'd decided to make Sean of the Dead set in the south instead of Clerks. As I said, the production is not stellar, or even within shouting distance of stellar. Some of the background actors are not very convincing. And the zombies...are atrocious. Seriously, they look like what would happen if I got a little make-up kit at CVS and decided to be a zombie for Halloween. HOWEVER! At it's heart, this is kind of a clever little film. The premise is that somehow (it's never actually explained) a UFO begins an RC problem (RC stands for "reanimated corpses," and that's government agent speak for "zombies") in the small Alabama town of Thorsby. The main character is a very likeable slacker named Chuck who owns the local video store. There are many hilarious moments--one of which involving a post-it note and a zombie body left me giggling uncontrollably--and there is some very clever dialogue. The main characters were at least competant at acting, and were generally sympathetic. After I saw the film, I did a little research and found that the movie had been produced by a very small production company out of Birmingham called Crewless (their only movie thus far, probably explaining the low-budgetude of the production). I suspect that we may be hearing more from this group, and I personally look forward to it.

4. Bad Girls: Bad movie. Too bad, because I really like Drew Barrymore and Mary Stuart Masterson. Unfortunately, I loathe Andie MacDowell with the firey passion of a thousand suns. I think she is currently the worst actress ever, and I hate her even more than I hate Dame Judi Dench. The plot of this didn't really make much sense, and some of the acting was pretty painful, but unlike Hide and Creep there was no cleverness to make up for it, just a bunch of explosions. If you want to see a lame western from that time period, try Young Guns. It's at least full of cute boys and doesn't rely on "sisters doin' it for themselves" warm fuzzies to carry it.

That's all for now--next on my Netflix queue is The Warriors so I'll let you know how that is, as well as anything else I find that catches my fancy.

P.S.: I WILL be getting to my Summer TV recommendations very soon, I promise.

Friday, July 7, 2006

The Caustic Critic's Movie Explo!

I have been watching a lot of movies lately. I have discovered a nifty feature of the cable which allows me to scroll through just the movie listings, choosing the movies I want to DVR with ease.
Not great for my social life, but excellent for my movie watching.

1. Two Mules for Sister Sara - A great 1970 western featuring a typically feisty Shirley MacLaine, Clint Eastwood during that 15 seconds he was attractive, some rad explosions, and an unexpected twist at the end. Highly recommended.

2. The Jubilee Trail -- I must admit that I'm partial to this one not because it's particularly good, but because I own the book it's based on and love it. It does have some nice strong female characters--rarities in 1950s westerns. The book (of the same title, written by Gwen Bristow) is much better though, and includes a lot more of the history of California's entry to the USA. A little predictable but not unpleasant.

3. The Guns of Fort Petticoat -- Another 50s western (I have to admit, I kind of love westerns.) An AWOL Union soldier holes up with a bunch of women in a Texas mission during the Civil War and fights off renegade Indians. Another tough woman movie. Corny but amusing.

4. The Ballad of Josie -- I have to say that Doris Day westerns always disappoint me (my basis of comparison being both this film and the more charming but equally disappointing Calamity Jane). She starts off as this strong female character determined to accomplish something, and she accomplishes it, only to find that what REALLY makes her happy is a nice man and a pretty dress. Boooo. Interesting fact I learned: women in Wyoming actually had to give UP the vote when the state joined the US.

5. Stop or My Mom Will Shoot -- Yes, I know this is trash. Yes, I am aware that most of my loyal readers would rather jam a rusty fork coated in salt into both their eyes rather than watch it. That said, I liked it. I really have this deep-seated enjoyment of Stallone doing comedy. There is something about his hulking form, pervasive head-cold voice, and marginally mobile face that is hilarious to me. This one is not nearly as good as Demolition Man or Tango & Cash but it's an acceptable way to kill 90 minutes.

6. O Brother, Where Art Thou? -- I personally wasn't particularly interested in this one, but The Boyfriend is crazy about bluegrass music, so I gave it a try. It turned out to be surprisingly good. It's certainly no Big Lebowski, and I am still on the fence as to how I feel about George Clooney, but it wasn't bad. I actually enjoyed the music a lot, and I found it cinematically impressive if nothing else. Supposedly this is based on Homer's 'Odyssey' but unfortunately I never read that when it was assigned to me so I wouldn't know.

7. The Poseidon Adventure (Original Version) -- Pretty good for a disaster movie. I'm very partial to films in which a bunch of mismatched characters are forced to band together and conquer something, so this one definitely appealled to me. Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine were both excellent, but I have to say Shelly Winters really stole the show. The special effects weren't great, but they were acceptable, and on the whole I enjoyed it. In any case, it was good to see such an iconic movie, and now I'll know what to expect when I see the remake.

8. King Arthur -- Another kick-ass woman! Great to see Gwenivere slicing people up and running around punching everyone instead of weeping in a corner someplace. Kiera Knightly seems to have a knack for this type of role, and I say let her keep playing them. Clive Owen is quite good as Arthur, and I was impressed with the performances of all the secondary characters as well. It's an interesting historical perspective on the Arthurian legend which I appreciated. Not to mention some totally rad battle scenes.

9. Broken Trail -- This is another western, but in my defense it is new. It's a TNT original, and it wasn't bad. Two ranchers running horses up to Wyoming meet and rescue a group of Chinese girls who were sold into sexual slavery. The cultural awkwardness as well as the danger the men face from the girls' frustrated buyers make for an interesting tale, though I thought perhaps a little less time should have been spent on sweeping cinematic views of high country scenery and a little more into character development or smooth story progression. The Chinese women were difficult to differentiate, the story was jumpy, and the cowboys could have had considerably more depth. Probably should have been a mini-series instead of a two-part movie.

10. Dawn of the Dead (Remake) -- Not sure why I thought it would be a good idea to watch this, as zombie movies give me the heebie-jeebies. Since I DVR'd it, I managed to fast forward through most of the really gory gross parts. The performances were acceptable, and there were still a couple points that really creeped me out. I won't give it away, but the bloody whiteboard gave me an extremely nasty turn. I ahve to admit, one of my main thoughts was "Doesn't this mall have a leather store? 'Cause if it were me, and I was thinking about venturing across the parking lot or wherever, I'd want to be outfitted in head-to-toe bike leathers or something. Not that they'd be a LOT of protection, but something that's designed to protect your skin from asphalt at 30mph should offer at least a little resistance to zombie teeth." Not a bad flick--probably attracts me for the same reasons I described re: The Poseidon Adventure.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A Letter to CBS

Dear CBS,
Please stop putting your characters into comas. On three of my favorite shows on your network, three characters were all in comas this week. CSI, in fact, has two of their three homicide detectives (Brass of Vegas and Flack [the HOTTEST of the CSI crews] of NYC) are currently in potentially lethal comas. Also Gibbs of NCIS was in a coma, though he came out of it only to retire. Did you suddenly decide these actors were too expensive? Did they all suddenly decide they wanted to quit and have movie careers (frankly, only one of the three has a possibility there, and previously his only real film role was as the goalie in 'Miracle')? What is the DEAL? Look, finale season is stressful enough, what with all the VERY TENSE DRAMATIC DRAMA and the knowing that I have to wait until fall (FALL!) for the resumption of good television. The least you could do is stop fucking killing people left and right. Thank you.
P.S. I am VERY displeased with the results of Survivor. Aras sucks.

Monday, March 27, 2006

"Psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them!" - Thoughts on Tarantino

"I don't care how crazy they are--psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them." - Seth Gecko
You know, I've tried really hard to like Quentin Tarantino movies, but I just can't do it. They're all full of maddening pop culture references and blood geysers and self-referential crap. So far I've seen 'Pulp Fiction,' 'True Romance,' 'Kill Bill (1 & 2),' and 'From Dusk Til Dawn.' People keep telling me I have to see the other one--'Reservoir Dogs'?--but I'm thinking I'll pass.
The only one I like is 'True Romance,' and I think I like that one because Tarantino neither directed nor acted in it.
It's sort of the way I feel about Kevin Costner. I didn't mind him so much when he was just an actor. I mean, 'Dances With Wolves' was okay. It's when he started being actor/director/producer/dancing girl Costner that it became a problem.
Or maybe the reason I don't like Tarantino's films is that (with the exception of Alabama and Clarence in 'TR') most of the characters are tremendously unlikable. I always feel that they're not "real" people--just characters waiting with heady anticipation to say their lines and upstage everyone else with just how crude and hilaaaaaaarious they can be. Or to cut someone's arm off. Whichever.
Frankly, if I want pop-culture riddled dialogue, toilet humor, and deranged violence, I'll just watch Kevin Smith's 'Dogma.' It's about a hundred times better.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The House on Haunted Hill (re-make)

Yesterday I watched another re-make (a much more satisfying one, I must say.) I ordered the 1999 re-make of The House on Haunted Hill from Amazon, and sat down to watch it when I got home from work. Now, I must admit that I have never seen the original, so I had no real basis of comparison. However, I will say that the movie pretty much scared the shit out of me, and that's a good thing. I'd probably rank it right alongside Thirteen Ghosts (the remake with Tony Shaloub) and The Frighteners as far as scary movies go. I think to appreciate movies like this, you have to be able to set aside the thinking adult part of your brain and watch with your kid brain--the part of your brain that doesn't consider things like "How are they affording this?" or "Are they REALLY that stupid?" The movie was set in a 1930s era abandoned insane asylum, so right off you've got the super-creepy going on, and the building they used was fantastic. The lead characters were played by Taye Diggs and Ali Larter (Final Destination) and both of them did a great job being sympathetic, but still multi-dimensional. Less well-played were the other members of the ensemble cast. I'm not saying they were bad, just...not as good. Geoffrey Rush played the Vincent Price-like Mr. Price complete with dinky mustache. As usually happens when Rush is allowed any freedom, he immediately began munching the scenery, and didn't stop until the end--luckily, that was sort of what his character was all about, and he was funny, so it wasn't unpleasant. Peter Gallegher and Famke Jansson couldn't act their way out of a paper bag with flashlights and machetes, so I wasn't too disappointed by their wooden performances. Chris Kattan was...Chris Kattan. He was still kind of annoying, but you could tell he was trying really really hard to tone it down. The special effects were fairly impressive (and even more entertaining if you get the DVD and watch the extras featuring the director's explanations of how they were done) and I have to say they definitely managed to keep up a mood of tension and suspense throughout. Mind you, the plot is a bit scattered and it's clear that if you're looking for true character development, you've come to the wrong place. But if you just want to be creeped out and spooked, I recommend this one. (And as I mentioned before, the extras are pretty good. There are a lot of explanations from the director on how various effects were achieved, and also a featurette on adapting the movie from the original William Castle version that's pretty interesting.)

You know, if I were trapped in some house of horrors, you can bet the last thing I'd do is prance down into the super-super-creepy basement with a mere penlight all by myself. Instead, I'd have my butt planted sqare in front of the front door, and I'd be clinging on to whomever I could get ahold of.

I think this may indicate that I am in fact a coward...or that I have common sense. I guess it depends on how you look at it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I've also seen some movies lately, which I have been meaning to talk about. The Boyfriend and I finally got arond to watching the re-make of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and as much as I wish I could say I liked it...I can't. It's not that it was necessarily bad, or that I think there was anything special wrong with it. I simply think the original film was so unique that a re-make can't begin to hold a candle to it. The Boyfriend found it particularly upsetting because he is a big fan of the original. He spent the whole movie comparing this version to the original and pointing out the differences. I personally try not to that when watching re-makes--I like to try and keep in mind that this is a new movie, with a new director, new cast, and new direction. Unfortunately, I wasn't especially thrilled with the new direction. There were parts that I enjoyed. While I wasn't entirely enamored with Johnny Depp's portrayal of Wonka, he had his totally hilarious moments. Some of his clipped one-liners or throw-aways had me giggling aloud as I watched. (My favorite scene, in fact, involved a throw-away joke that tied back to the beginning of the film. When the children arrive, there is a dancing, singing, audio-animatronic puppet display, similar to the 'It's a Small World' ride at Disneyworld. As the intro show comes to the end, the dancing dolls catch fire, and the whole thing grinds to a draggy, creepy, flaming halt, and is all but forgotten. However, later on, as they're touring the factory, Wonka takes them through a hospital looking room, and says "This is the Wonka Doll and Puppet Burn Hospital. It was added very recently." and then they walk out. I laughed my ass off--I love details like that.) I was also very impressed by the special effects; obviously, there are things that can be done today with special effects that hadn't even been thought of when the original film was made. Violet's en-blueberry-ment, the trained squirrels in the nut room, the lovely chocolate room, the functions of the great glass elevator--all these things looked stunning. The downside was that some of the changes were not for the better. The whole subplot with Wonka's childhood was just kind of annoying. And the Oompa-Loompas all being the same guy was lame. The biggest issue I had with it, though (and I'm pretty sure The Boyfriend agreed) was the overall outlook of the film. In the original, Gene Wilder plays Willy Wonka as a genius who remains a hermit because he is so busy creating that people just get in his way and slow him down--he can deal with people, he just doesn't want to. On the other hand, there's Tim Burton's version of Willy Wonka (as played by Johnny Depp.) Burton's Wonka is UNABLE to interact with people--he isn't locking everyone else out...he's locked himself IN. I suppose this was to be expected, since every single Tim Burton movie ever is basically the same. The lonely and misundestood hero existing in his beautiful, intricate inner world is Burton's calling card, and while I guess technically it works here, it just doesn't resonate with me in this particular circumstance. The difference in point of view of the main character colors how the entire rest of the film plays out, and for me, this particular interpretation didn't work. I'm not saying you shouldn't see it, but I'm saying you really shouldn't expect too much.

Monday, January 9, 2006

To Brokeback or Not to Brokeback...

So I'm still debating about whether I'm going to go see 'Brokeback Mountain' or not.
On the one hand, I want to be supportive of innovative, original, genre-twisting, stupid-Christian-fundie-riling cinema.
On the other hand, I hate going to see movies that have had too much hype. I just end up feeling like a lemming.
On one hand, I don't want to see it because I KNOW it ends badly (there's no other possible way for it to end, really) and it's going to make me all teary and weepy and pathetic.
On the other hand, the near irresistable and drool-inducing siren song of most probably naked Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, who are probably worth a few tears and feeling a bit like a lemming.
Decisions, decisions.

CBR11 #4:Pretending to Care - The Pretenders (Cemetery Girl #1) by Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden

I wanted to like this, but...I just didn't. I don't know if it was too short, or whether it would have more appeal for a YA audience...