Sunday, January 27, 2013

Film Journal: Week Ending 1/27/2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Jackson, 2012) **** (A)

So it's probably best at the start to admit that I'm not capable of approaching this objectively, given how hard I managed to nerd out on Tolkien in my early formative years (thinking 8-14 here), and how utterly successful Jackson was from 2001-2003 at realizing on screen most of what drew me to the material. So, though I can totally see what people are talking about when they find Jackson's hobbity films overstuffed, overlong, over-portentous, far too interested in fiddling around with extraneous junk and singing dwarves, I just can't feel it. See, that's the stuff I really love. Is this a four-star movie to me if I hadn't read the novels with near psychotic obsession in the mid eighties? Maybe. Probably not. But I did, and so they are. If you disagree with me, just indulge me my blind spot. The point of Tolkien is losing yourself in a world, and, for better or worse, that's what Jackson does. I don't know if Jackson 'gets' Tolkien, but he certainly 'gets' him in  exactly the way I always did as a kid, and I guess I can't ever fault him for that. I think it's safe to say that whatever you thought of the LOTR movies is exactly how you'll feel about this.

THE HOBBIT is an odd duck, in that most film adaptations disappoint because they leave out the reader's favorite bits from the novel, but Part 1 of this series puts in bits that never made the novel. Most of this isn't Jackson's invention. Because of the Tolkien's copious notes and appendices, there's a lot of information surrounding the text of what was basically a children's novel, giving Jackson a wealth of extra lore upon which to draw. Much of this apocryphal source material lends added epic meaning to the narrative that is otherwise lost. I was fairly skeptical about the plans to turn a thin book into a trilogy, but if they're taking it in this direction, I think I can live with it. I'm guessing that the next installment will, for example, show us exactly why Gandalf decides to abandon Bilbo Bag-Of-Donuts and the Sunshine Band right before they're about to enter the most dangerous place in all of Middle Earth, which is more than the novel ever did.

There are, of course, some key Jackson 'value-adds', most in the areas of enhanced action (a massive Gandalf & Dwarves vs. All The Goblins) and character design (the Great Goblin should get that goiter under a CAT scan, stat), which are arguably unnecessary but probably valuable when it comes to translating page to Big Goddam Action Movie.

As always with Tolkien by way of Jackson, the primary characters are well-cast and well-acted. Freeman is a fine choice to play the fussy little man with a spine of steel. Andy Serkis shows up near the end, reprising Gollum, once again the character with the most depth and pathos. Ian McKellen is Gandalf like a mahfah, which is officially a good thing. Only about six of the thirteen dwarves register as recognizable characters, but since this count bests Tolkien by about two dwarves, it's better not to fuss. Balin in particular is well-realized, but Bifur scores some surprise points, even if he is overshadowed by his own hat. (Speaking of dwarf fashion, now that I think of it, I think there is a "Dwarf or Hipster?" online quiz that needs to be made.)

Note: This movie features a man with a lot of bird poop in his hair. A LOT of bird poop. It's worth mentioning.

Looper (Rian Johnson, 2012) ***1/2 (A-)

Most movies suffer from a lack of good ideas; this one seems almost overstuffed with them. The setup (quantum hit-men) would be enough to carry a decent sci-fi flick, but director Rian Johnson (who after this and BRICK is now on my "don't-miss-this-director's-movies" list) uses the setup as a way to create one of the most intriguing premises of recent years. And THEN he effectively leverages that premise, not as an end to itself, but as a springboard to jump us into still another premise, conjuring AKIRA by way of BACK TO THE FUTURE. Um, sort of.

LOOPER makes such effective and startling uses of time-travel possibilities that it ultimately doesn't matter (or at least it doesn't matter much) that the mechanic doesn't make much sense. Example: during the "missing fingers" sequence, it probably doesn't follow that slicing parts off of young Seth would cause those parts to disappear off of old Seth, since at a certain point (probably after the first finger) it's unlikely that the vivisected version of young Seth would still be somebody who would try to run in the first place, and certainly if the finger trick works, then simply killing young Seth would simply make their problem-fugitive disappear (which, in fact, we later discover is the case). And I don't care a bit, because HOLY SHIT was that scene an effective little horror set-piece. Nor does it probably follow that Abe (a fantastically schlubby Jeff Daniels) would care about preserving the timeline in little ways represented by unclosed loops, given that he's effectively running an organized crime syndicate that probably didn't occur until he came from the future and started it (though it occurs me that, despite the fact there's nothing in the 'text' of the movie making this explicit, you could probably craft a fan-theory that the real reason the Rainmaker started closing the loops was so that action hero Bruce Willis would come back and shut down Abe's operation, which MUST be screwing things up down the line). And . . . well. It goes on.

Johnson effectively hand waves the quantum inconsistencies (a character even dismisses such discussions as just "making diagrams with straws") by framing it mainly as a way to set up its nested Russian dolls of existential hypotheticals. It's only in the final moments that you realize the central importance of the early scenes showing the future's desperate economic disparity, and the way they play into questions of social accountability, personal selfishness, and the futility of burning the future to try to make the present a little brighter. Typically with a movie with these genre elements the pleasure is in watching the temporal plot elements fall into place with a satisfying click (think 12 MONKEYS). With this one, it's not the plot: the pleasure is in watching the themes play the same trick.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Yates, 2007) ** (C)

Totally adequate screen adaptation that basically suffers from having as source material a 900-page novel and a fan base that wants to see all of it. It's inevitable that the whole thing seems both overstuffed and over-rushed. Really, in the post-SOPRANOS world of LOST and BREAKING BAD, etc., these sorts of properties would probably be best served by seven seasons of 8-10 episodes each. Even that wouldn't change the fact that this is one of the weaker storylines, with Darth Voldemort after a MacGuffin of little real weight, plot-wise, and a conflict that essentially boils down to bad press for Harry (dour) and Dumbledore (distant). The production quality is gloomy but evocative, and there are the usual murderers row of Britain's finest thespians (Smith, Rickman, Gleeson, Fines, etc., etc., etc.) keeping things professional, but the movie only pops when pure unctuous evil Delores Umbrage trots on screen (Imelda Staunton does fine work bringing Rowling's most horrible character to life), all pink self-satisfied sadism and giggles, and a short but intense duel between Voldemort and Dumbledore that actually for the first time (in book or film) made wizarding duels seem more awe-inspiring than silly to me.

Quiddich is a ridiculous sport. There is mercifully no Quiddich in this movie; nevertheless it needs to be said.

The Artist (Hazanavicious, 2011) **1/2 (B-)

Stylish but ultimately thin gruel, this movie appears to have coasted to an Oscar bonanza on the merits of gorgeous cinematography and a sporadically-breached commitment to its 'silent movie' gimmick. (I presume the cute doggie didn't hurt.) Not to suggest that it's bad; quite the contrary, I'd classify it as 'breezy fun.' It's solidly made, very pretty to look at, and I feel like a Grinch not gushing for a movie that managed to be popular AND shot in black and white (yay!) WITH a sense of composition and lighting (yay!) AND experiments with aspect ratio (sure!) AND silent film (yay! or at least, OK!). The only problem is that 'breezy fun' is all it is. Some movies are buoyed into timelessness by their awards, others sink beneath the weight. Call it the "Gladiator? Really?" syndrome. I suspect this will be one of the latter (Example: I probably focus here a bit more on what I don't like than I would have if I wasn't aware that I was dealing with work that is mysteriously one of the most lionized films of the past several years).

Inch wide and inch deep, THE ARTIST manages to be enjoyable and pretty as pertains to whatever is on screen at that moment, and that's about it. Commenting variously on old Hollywood, the rise of the talkies, the displacement of classic silent stars, it tries but never quite manages to find anything trenchant to say about them (the plot does superficially conjure SINGING IN THE RAIN, not the best movie to put in people's heads, comparison-wise, particularly if you're going climax with a big dance number). Neither does it create characters that seem like more than placeholders for ideas. Dujardin is, you guessed it, 'breezy fun', but he never seems like he's playing somebody psychologically real. That's not a prerequisite for a great performance in a great movie, unless that movie finally decides, as does this one, it wants to be a character study with a suicidal dark night of the soul. Until he gets saved, "Timmy's Trapped Down The Well" style, by the doggie. It's that sort of movie. Upstaged by a pooch and its own pretty surface.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Cuaron, 2003) *** (B+)

Without question the most enjoyable of the series I've seen so far (I've watched the first five), largely based on a hugely improved art design and overall aesthetic. Hogwarts at last seems tangibly real instead of a place that was generated in an XBox 360, which makes a huge difference when you're trying to suspend your disbelief and enter a magical world of twee British magic. Also, I suspect, my positive reaction to this movie was the result of my desperate relief at being released, hostage-style, from two consecutive Christopher Columbus films that I watched on purpose – Columbus-to-CuarĂ³n  may represent the single biggest directorial upshift in franchise movie history, and part of me wishes that he'd stuck with the series a bit longer, but then again, he had to go make CHILDREN OF MEN, so I suppose it's important to keep things in perspective. The principals are noticeably more seasoned performers their third time out, Maggie Smith is doing Maggie Smith things, Alan Rickman is doing Alan Rickman things, Michael Gambon is a superior Dumbledore to Richard Harris, if only because Gambon captures the character's playfulness, and also wasn't 96% dead during filming (too soon?). It's just not debatable that this one of the stronger books in the series, which helps. It's a happy confluence of good material meeting strong collaborators to make a rare thing: a big franchise tent-pole movie that has rewachability.

Quiddich is a ridiculous sport. That's not part of this review, but I really need to say it.

Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007) *** (B)

This movie is cute when it's not trying to be cute, and clever when it's not trying to be clever, and neither when it's trying to be either. Perhaps it's like a teenager in that way; in any event, somewhere in the rather difficult-to-swallow ersatz urban dictionary Diablo Cody cooks up, some genuine and surprising character moments can be found. I particularly found myself intrigued by Jason Bateman's adopting husband, who plays the sort of creep that is immediately believable but not usually portrayed in movies – or at least his brand of arrested-development (shout-out!) solipsism is usually played for laughs rather than understood as creepy.  Ellen Page was rightly praised for finding the fear that obviously would be lurking behind Juno's no-nonsense exterior without signposting it. Simmons and Janney are also stand-outs as the parents: concerned, engaged, supportive, but not consumed only with the concerns of their kid. The film economically suggests for them lives outside of the 'parent' role and a sort of believable detachment that you see in some real-life parents (good and bad) but not usually in movie parents.

Still, that dialogue tries way too hard, and it's to the movie's detriment. Otherwise-believable people should be given believable things to say. Poor Rainn WIlson's opening "that's one doodle that can't be undid, home-skillet" scene is excruciating, and I don't think it's entirely his fault, because I can't imagine any actor being able to take those words and make them sound as if a human being would say it. That said, his caffeinated precision is exactly what the scene didn't need. (The Coens can get away with this sort of linguistic enhancement from colorful weirdos, but they are wizards.)  It takes a while for this movie to recover from such contrivance. It's to its credit that it ultimately does.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Time-Delayed Oscars: In The Year 2000

Wow, it's been a while, hasn't it?  There's a good reason. Holy crap, these take a long time to write up. Let's see if I can pull off one every couple weeks.

Remember the deal? Once upon a time I read that my best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who heard that Matt Damon had said they ought to wait 10 years before giving out the Oscars, because that's the minimum amount of time necessary for hype to fade and consensus to coalesce around quality.  Sure, sometimes the awards get it right, but on the other hand, Rocky has a Best Picture statue and Network doesn't, so I think you see the point I'm making here. Suffice it to say, I think Mr. Damon is on to something.

Back in the olden days, when we hadn't even heard of The King's Peach and online poker was plentiful, organic and free range, I ran down the Time-Delayed Oscars of the 1990s. Decisions were made. Proclamations proclaimed.

Time to do it again. Sticking to the 10 year rules, I reckon it's time to do the years 2000-2003. Then, maybe, the eighties. I've added a (+) to movies whose profile is on the rise, a (-) to movies with profiles on the wane, and an (=) for the ones who are in a sort of holding pattern.

As a reminder, this is how I think a jury of Oscar-voting peers would vote. I make my own preferences clear but separate.

Let's start with the year 2000, which I think we can all agree was a pretty grim year for movies.

[Updated because I don't know the difference between the 2002 zombie movie 28 DAYS LATER and the Sandra Bullock flick 28 DAYS. Thanks, Dugglebogey. And, crap.]

Gladiator's gonna gladiate.
The Notables & Quotables

28 Days (+): The king-daddy of the "fast zombie" movie, Danny Boyle's gritty flick still packs a wallop. Some of the freakiest moments of the entire genre come courtesy of these flickering lights and daytime horrors. Sort of ignored when it was released (I remember it as a modest hit, but nothing like a great, genre-influencing movie), it's now sprouted legs and now throws a mighty long shadow. I really like this movie.Um, Sandra Bullock movie that wasn't good and nobody watches anymore. 28 DAYS LATER is a 2002 movie. Never mind.

Almost Famous (=): Introduced the world to Kate Hudson, which seemed like a good idea at the time. Don't judge us, America. We were young. Still a re-watchable cable staple, if not a beloved classic. The last successful Cameron Crowe movie (perhaps coincidentally, also the last good Cameron Crowe movie). Podcast fans can keep their eyes peeled for "Lock the gates!"  Everybody else can watch for strong performances, "I am a Golden God!", and the Tiny Dancer sing-along. (Note: I only thought this was OK at the time, so that's probably coloring my analysis.)
American Psycho (+): May have gained more cred than any other movie on this list. Written off at the time for its excesses, its classic status is pretty well assured. Contains the performance that paroled Christian Bale from child actor movie jail in the most ferocious way possible.  In a weird way, it's sort of the reverse stepchild of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which I hated as a comedy until I realized it was a horror movie, American Psycho took chunks of my psyche as a horror film until I realized it's the blackest of comedies. It's a carnivorous hate letter to materialism, and people are still talking about it today.

Bamboozled (+): One of Spike Lee's most flawed movies, which is probably saying something, but also one of the ones that has had one of the greatest effects of all his filmography, actually bringing some visibilty to Hollywood's long history of propagating harmful sterotypes.

Best In Show (+): The best-loved of Christopher Guest's mockumentaries (if it's not Waiting for Guffman). It's certainly my favorite, particularly for Fred Willard's absolutely bananas turn as a blinkered, idiotic, yammering dog show commentator.  I think this movie has become legitimately beloved over the years. It certainly has done so for me.

Battle Royale(+): Have you heard that The Hunger Games totally ripped this movie off? You do if you ever read comments on Hunger Games reviews. Semi-famously, this is Quentin Tarantino's favorite movie of the aughts. So it's got that going for it.
Cast Away(-): Hanks. Volleyball. FedEx. Remembered now mainly for (1) containing one of Tom Hanks' better performances, and certainly one of his showiest; (2) Wilson, a product placement that achieved icon status; (3) spawning Survivor, which spawned LOST, which spawned about 607,800 words from me.

Chocolat (-): This was nominated for Best Picture for some reason. I have nothing else to say about it.
Code Unknown (=):  Likely the most obscure movie on this list (I admit I've not seen it yet, though I'm looking forward to rectifying that), but I'm including it because Michael Haenke is (rather unpredictably, given the confrontational nature of his work) becoming more and more prominent and admired, and this was one of his first movies to get serious critical attention.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon(-): My favorite movie of 2000, at the time at least (I haven't revisited in quite a while, but I remember it being gorgeous and compelling, and I loved the fights). I wouldn't have predicted this, but it seems to have faded considerably. I thought it would be considered a gold-plated classic by now, but perhaps critical opinion is docking it points for standing on the shoulders of an already-established genre. Or maybe it's not as good as I remember. It's been a while.
Dancer In The Dark (=): Lars von Trier is an odd one, but not as odd as Bjork. Together they made one of the most histrionic examples of miserablism into something that transcends into heart-rending tragedy; I succumb despite myself. Bjork's odd stream-of-consiousness songs work perfectly for her blind character's warped worldview. Until Melancholia this was certainly the director's most beautiful movie.
Erin Brokovich (-): Nominated for Best Picture. Won Julia Roberts a golden boy. Does anybody watch it anymore? Does anybody want to?
Gladiator (-): The official Best Picture of the year 2000. Probably one of the more Academy-embarrassing winners of the last few decades (alongside Braveheart, with which it shares a lot of similar qualities). Could be the proof-of-concept for Time Delayed Oscars, really. The thing is, it's OK. It's not terrible. But it's basically a big handsome dumb action movie with a pseudo-historical setting, top-shelf actors to lend a patina of respectability, a little bit of good CGI, and a little bit of bad CGI. It's an enjoyable enough spectacle, but about as worthy of a Best Picture as Pirates of the Caribbean.
In The Mood For Love (+): I'm guessing this is pretty obscure, but Wong Kar Wei's quiet love story quietly started showing up near the top of multiple critic's "Best of Decade" lists as 2010 drew to a close. I'm guessing ITMFL's profile is going to keep growing.
Memento (+): Christopher Nolan's debut, and probably still his best to date, an existential pretzel. The premise is one of the cleverest in years, but it's the execution that rockets this one to all-time status, turning a modern noir into a far deeper philosophical mind-bender.  Now that Nolan is a Hollywood God, Memento's a small movie whose strengths are unlikely to be forgotten.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (+): The Coens are in the Kubrick zone at this point, by which I mean that all of their movies are going to at least merit consideration. O Brother isn't my favorite, but the music is top-notch, and Clooney in goof mode is fantastic. It's one of the better comic performances of the year.

Pitch Black (=): Jump-started the whole Vin Diesel thing, but it shouldn't be blamed for that. A memorable B-grade monster flick.
Pollock (-): A decent biopic with strong performances, but I remember this primarily for one of the most laugh-out-loud bad pieces of dialogue ever, which I still quote to friends when the moment calls for it: "You've done it, Pollock. You've broken right through." It actually won a supporting Oscar for co-lead Marcia Gay Harden, the utterer of that line, and I think she deserved it just for surviving the saying of it. Ed Harris is a beast in this, as well.
Requiem For A Dream (-):As anti-drug screed, this is about the most heavy-handed propaganda imaginable, but it's also a master class in stylized montage and empathetic evokation of nightmare imagery. Clint Mansell's industrial score plays no small part in the sickness, but its Ellen Burstyn's aging pill-popper who sells the quease in the strongest of the four druggie threads.
Sexy Beast (+):Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

No! No! No! NonononononononononononononoNO!
Shadow Of The Vampire (=): Willem Dafoe is some kind of arch-fiend. I don't know how he got where he got to play Max Schreck. I don't want to know.
Snatch (+): On the rise since it was released to mixed, mainly confused reviews. It's an exercise in pure style, true. It's pretty much the exact same movie as Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, also true. It's still worth it. It's fun. As Brad Pitt's Pikey would say, "Marlmle flan bahley funt mable rang ding fuddle flan, brotha, nambletree?"
Traffic (-):This won Best Director and Best Supporting Actor, and probably came close to winning Best Picture. It was a well-directed, handsome sort of movie with plenty of good performances by veteran character actors. I think it's pretty decent, but it's pretty good like maybe putting 12 episodes of The Wire into a 2-hour sack would be. I could be wrong, but I think it's barely remembered these days. Let's ask the common Time-Delayed Oscars question: Is anybody still watching this? In twenty years, will it still be watched?
Unbreakable (+): M. Night Shyamalan has really taken a nose-dive, in no small part because of his insistance on writing his own scripts (as far as screenwriting goes, he' excellent visual stylist) and especially his bizarre fixation on putting an increasingly-ludicrous twist into every single movie. The twist is definitely the weakest part of this superhero origin story, but unless I'm mistaken, this has surpassed The Sixth Sense as the best-remembered effort from the director whose name I have to look up every time I need to spell it. Moody, dark, slow-paced, but very effective, as long as you shut it off with a minute to go.
X-Men (+): A credible start to a healthy franchise. Arguably the first strike in the modern golden age of super-heroing movies. Halle Berry providing us with the worst delivery of a Joss Whedon joke ever caught on film. And introducing Huge Ackmen.
Yi Yi: A One And A Two (+): This is also pretty obscure to the larger market, but looms large in best-of-decade critics polls. I'm guessing that, much like In The Mood For Love, it earns an ongoing reputation as years go by.
You Can Count On Me (+): A critical darling in 2000 that got shut out and is still highly-regarded, primarily on the basis of strong lead performances (both Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo came to prominance) and the contributions of writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, who has been wandering in the wilderness ever since his follow-up, Margaret, was all but stripped from him. This one is a sleeper.

And The Time-Delayed Oscars Go To. . .

"Hmmmmmm . . .looks like a mountain."
Best Picture

Real List
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Erin Brockovitch


Today's List
American Psycho
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
In The Mood For Love
You Can Count On Me

My pick: MementoProbable Winner: Memento

OK, let's  break these down.  First the movies that were actually nominated in 2000. Chocolat is such a trifle it's as though it never happened. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is probably the only movie good enough to be re-nominated, and even that might just be my own pro-CTHD finger on the scales. Erin Brockovich? I never saw this, but you know what I never hear? "Oh man, you never saw Erin Brockovich?? You have GOT to see it!" That's what I never hear. Gladiator is actually good enough to still be remembered. It's big dumb fun. It's not one of the five best movies of the year, though, and I think we've all come to grips with that now. Traffic is something that I think you'd probably like if you watched it again. But you're not going to, are you? Didn't think so.

So let's take a look at the real movies of 2000. American Psycho is now seen as one of the blackest of black satires, a horror comedy (horomedy? comorror? Sometimes words don't portmanteu like they oughta) bloodbath that's transcended its controversial source material. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon remains gorgeous, iconic, and thrilling, and not-at-all-silly-I-hope-if-I-watch-it-again. Most years there's a rather obscure art-house entry championed by critics that makes it into the winner's circle. In The Mood For Love fits the bill, and though I can't speak with much authority (having not seen it), based on the glowing decade-end retrospectives I read, you've probably not heard the last of this one. Memento is slowly building consensus as a masterpiece, and more on it shortly. Finally, You Can Count On Me has become a beloved acting/screenwriting showcase, though if I'm wrong about one movie on this list, it's probably YCCOM (I'd guess Best In Show or 28 Days Later would fill in if so – I can't quite believe that Almost Famous has gained steam since it failed to score 12 years ago).

"This picture proves that my haircut was an inside job. Subscribe to my
YouTube channel for full video evidence."
Now, I loved Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.In 2000, it was my favorite movie of 2000. But Memento . . . Memento looms. Um, SPOILERS, YOU DUMMIES WHO WOULD COMPLAIN ABOUT SPOILERS ON A 12-YEAR OLD MOVIE. For most of its running time, it's "merely" an expertly crafted puzzle, in which you first attempt to simultaneously orient yourself within serially-amnesiac Leonard's frame of reference, as well as the forward/backward structure of the film itself; in which you next attempt to piece together the mystery that Leonard is trying to solve, namely the answer to the question "who killed his wife and left him in this condition?"; and in which finally you come, whether slowly or quickly, to the realization that there can't possibly be any answer to the questions Leonard seeks. It's something like a miracle that we come to the realization at essentially the exact same time as Leonard, that he himself is the originator and curator of the delusions which shape his worldview, and as we reach that realization, we see Leonard make the conscious decision to eschew truth in favor of fiction. It's a devastating and sympathetic portrait of the human situation. Aware, curious, entirely limited in perspective, and occasionally aware of just how limited. It's also a perfectly-toned noir, so if you don't care about the philosophical implications, you'll still have a good time at the movies.

Memento is the Best Picture of 2000. Moreover, I think this is now recognized. I bet it would win today.

Best Actor

Christian Bale is my pick. In retrospect, he's probably made to play the far-too-intense fellow with a charisma that makes you worry a little bit about your own safety when you're around him. But this is a movie that could not have worked without the button-down insanity he delivers, a quality even scarier when he's playing Dr. Jeckyl than when he lets Dr. Hyde get out the axe. Or the chainsaw. People say they had this reaction to Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector, but I still haven't entirely recovered from Christian Bale in this thing. 

Honorable mention to real-world winner Russell Crowe (who really was key to making this silly movie a monster hit and a critical darling), Guy Pierce, Ed Harris, and especially George Clooney, who was bona fide (and the gol-durned pater-familias).

Best Actress

Laura Linney. This is a guess. I don't actually have a strong opinion on this one. Julia Roberts won pretty much everything in her path for Erin Brockovich this year, and for all I know it was well-deserved. Perhaps  she'd still win. However, my sense is that Linney's performance has displayed staying power, while Roberts, no longer Queen of Hollywood®, wouldn't be honored now.

Honorable mention to Bjork (that's right, Bjork) and Zhang Zyi.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Singing the song of Angry Dawn

I should note that I am a Les Miz super fan. I saw it on Broadway as a teenager and I've seen it, on stage, in whole or part, about thirty times since then, including a viewing in London. I had the cassette tapes of the Symphonic version (took up both sides of four tapes). I've had the CDs (three) and, of course, now I have them on my ipod. I also have the Broadway and London cast recordings, but the Symphonic is my favorite. I also own the PBS airing. So... yeah Les Miz SUPER FAN number 24601. See what I did there?

I wrote a post once about how much I love this musical (and the book) but I can't find it to link to it... sadface. Anyway, I was very excited about this new musical version. (I love love LOVE Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman.)
I avoided any news or reviews about it because I didn't want to prejudge anything. As we walked over, Petitedov said she thought I was going to hate it.

The theater was PACKED, which was surprising for a Saturday afternoon showing WEEKS after the movie came out, so I thought this was a good sign. Clearly people had returned to see it more than once!

The theater got dark and the familiar chords of Look Down started...oh man... oh man... oh man....


Focus Dawn... stop playing count the black people...TWO... I SAID STOP IT!!
I'm singing along (silently, I'm not a dick) when suddenly, there is Russell Crowe and...wait... I thought I was singing silently, but he sounds just like I do when I sing (To wit: GOD AWFUL) AND THEY'VE CHANGED THE WORDS???!?!?!
Okay... breathe.... it's fine. Maybe they just had to shorten it. This is fine...calm dow...ooh another black guy!

I settle back in.

This is not how Valjean ends up breaking his parole! GAH! AND THERE'S NO TALKING!!


Horror steadily takes over.
Okay, so *spoiler alert* Fantine (Hathaway) is a single mother who comes to ruin after selling all her possessions, her hair AND THEN becoming a prostitute. In this movie, FOR SOME DAMN HELL ASS REASON, they ALSO have her sell HER TEETH! WHHHAAATTTT????

I thought Hathwaway was great, she did "I Dreamed a Dream" as well as I've ever heard it, but I'd already turned on the movie and was in full on snark mode. AND THERE WAS STILL TWO AND A HALF HOURS TO GO!

Not only did these dumb ass hacks add teeth selling and ridiculous Benny Hill Javert/Val Jean chase scenes *EYEROLL* THEY WROTE A NEW SONG!! A GROSS PEDOPHILIAC SONG FROM VAL JEAN TO COSETTE IN THE BACK OF A CARRIAGE!

Okay, so seriously, WHAT IN THE ENTIRE FUCK?!?!?!
I would have left here, instead, I watched them butcher the entire second half. Where they give Marius a rich grandfather to disappoint O_O AND have Eponine stealing love letters O_o AND *VOMIT*

BLLAARRRGGHHH, I realize much of this is nitpicking, and I tried to imagine watching the movie without my decades of Les Miz knowledge. However, I could still not get around the fact that they hired a dude who couldn't sing to star in a musical that was three hours long.

UN. For. Giv. Able.
I wanted to cheer the dam that bashed in Javert's skull! STAND UP AND CHEER!! I meeannnn.... HONESTLY. (Later, Angela was like "yeah, I was so glad he was dead... but then they had all the dead people come back to sing some more!)

So, since I can't get past that, I also convict them for crimes against the score, the assasination of the character of Eponine-- they RUIN her death by making it seem like she's gotten her comeuppance for keeping Marius and Cosette apart, when she does EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE. *THROWS MUSKETS*



OH AND the sideburns on Valjean just made me think "Wolverine" the whole time. NO BUENO.

(Borat and Tim Whatshisname's wife were okay, but besides Anne Hathaway, the casting was off -- Marius has a weird face and Cosette's eyes are too big and I was terrified that Wolverine was going to claw everyone and Eponine wasn't tragic enough.)


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Paracinema 18 On Sale Now

Happy new year, lovers of film and/or chaw. Wanted to pass along some news regarding the new issue of an independently produced film magazine, Paracinema, in which your humble scribbler has a contribution.

For several years Paracinema has been covering a wide range of non-mainstream cinematic fare -- e.g., cult/indie titles, horror, sci-fi, exploitation, underground film and b-movies, and more. Rather than reviews, the magazine tends to focus on in-depth analyses and interviews (accompanied by cool full color photos, natch).

The newest issue -- No. 18 (December 2012) -- again features an diverse collection of essays. Here’s the line-up:

  • Speed Racer: The Art of Absurdity (Patrick Smith)
  • In a Lonely Place and the Shadow of Serial Crime (Samm Deighan)
  • Now Read the Movie: Chronicle as Young Adult Literature (C. Rachel Katz)
  • That Movie About the Giant Turtle and the Girl with Glowing Green Eyes (Todd Garbarini)
  • Norman Mailer’s Underground Trilogy (Brett Taylor)
  • The Goriest Film You Never Saw (Jose Cruz)
  • Lost Video Archive: Aerobicide & Death Spa (Seth Goodkind)
  • Marriage Bites: Lesbian Vampires and the Failure of Heterosexuality in Daughters of Darkness (Erin Wiegand)
  • “When Single Shines the Triple Sun”: Duality and Self Discovery in The Dark Crystal (Christine Makepeace)
  • Freedom in Filmmaking: Universal’s Indie Experiment (Martin Harris)
  • 3D’s Use and Potential in Today’s Cinematic Landscape (Caleb McCandless)
  • Last Words: ...And I Feel Fine. (S. Patrick Gallagher)

    My contribution on “Universal’s Indie Experiment” focuses on an interesting idea pursued by Universal during the early 1970s. In the wake of Easy Rider’s surprise box office success, the big studio began its own “youth division” -- kind of a boutique department, if you will -- from which they hoped to produce their own low budget quasi-“indie” films, and perhaps realize another commercial bonanza like Easy Rider on the cheap.

    They gave several relatively new and/or unproven directors budgets of $1 million or less and basically let them make their films freely without any fiddling from the studio. A number of interesting films resulted, though nearly all did especially poorly in terms of attracting audiences. In the article I focus on five of them -- Taking Off, The Hired Hand, The Last Movie, Silent Running, and American Graffiti -- only the last of which was commercially successful (and how!).

    Anyhow, that’s just my contribution -- as you can see from the contents, there’s a lot else of interest in Issue 18. You can find the magazine on newsstands throughout the U.S. It’s also available by mail order via the Paracinema website -- just seven bucks (with free shipping!).

  • Short Reviews!

    From, like a year of watching movies.


    Cute. Great for kids, and perfectly tolerable for adults. Goes kind of where you expect it to.

    Despicable Me 
    Lots of fun, good laughs, incredibly cute. Been on my shelf for a year, glad I finally opened it.

    Good Disney movie. Not so great Pixar movie. If you have a daughter, she should probably watch it.

    Rise of the Guardians
    Surprisingly good. Figured it would be a ho-hum holiday piece, but had some nice darkness and a good kid's tale.

    Not Cartoons!

    Les Miserables
    I can't say it sucked... but it wasn't good. Give Hathaway her Oscar though. Shame, cuz I love the musical.

    Stories We Tell
    Lovely bit of documentary film-making about family secrets from Sarah Polley, who just continues to impress as a director. See also:  Take This Waltz, which I think reviewed last year.

    Pitch Perfect
    No, seriously, it was good. Total fluff, but enjoyable fluff. Also, Anna Kendrick.

    Your Sister's Sister
    Touching look at grief and love and family and conflict... at a cottage.

    The Cabin in the Woods
    C'mon, you know this is good already. But it really does need the Cabin in the Woods song from Evil Dead: The Musical.

    21 Jump Street
    Did I do this one already? Plenty fun. Needs more Offerman.

    Moonrise Kingdom
    I like Wes Anderson films more with every new one. This apparently makes me backwards.

    It's Spielberg, and it's REALLY good.

    Dear sweet baby jeebus, please give me back my time wasted on this crap.

    Snow White and the Huntsman
    Better than I thought. Very pretty. Not as good as...

    Mirror Mirror
    Yes, the Julia Roberts one - horribly advertised. Much better than expected. Darkly comic, sometimes just dark.

    Rock of Ages
    Crap, crap, crap.

    Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
    Very nice. I do like unavoidable doomsday pieces. That English chick was good.

    The Amazing Spider-Man
    Not as good as the 2nd one. Or maybe the 1st. Better than the 3rd.

    The Dark Knight Rises
    Shut up about the gigantic plot holes and nonsense. This was a great film.

    The Avengers

    Premium Rush
    Umm.. Bike couriers in NYC. Basically urban bike stunt porn. Still, fun way to kill time on the airplane.

    2 Days in New York
    I liked it more than 2 Days in Paris. Delpy is always fun, and it's always good to see Chris Rock try drama, although some stuff didn't work.

    The blonde from Don't Trust the B... (Dreama Walker) stars in the basically verbatim retelling of that time some creep called a McDonald's and made them do terrible things to an employee. All kinds of uncomfortable, which is the point.

    Great movie until the last 20 minutes or so where Affleck totally Hollywood's the story into crap. Also, Canadian arguments about historical veracity. Also also, no Grey Cup champions.

    Holy Motors
    Basically a master class in makeup and character acting. There's a reason the critics love this, but it won't be nominated for any Oscars because the Academy sucks.

    BONDY! Sooooo bondy. Loved it. First time I liked Craig as Bond. Then again, I skipped the Quantum of Solace, so maybe he was great in that.

    That covers most of 'em. Except for the ones I forgot.

    Wednesday, January 2, 2013

    The world didn't end January reviews!

    So, another month of these, eh? Don't blame me, it's not Mayan fault. HAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA I've been working on that forever, practically since LAST YEAR! HAHAHAHAHAHHAAHHAHHAHHHAHAHAAHAH


    I am SO funny.

    Anyhoo... *whistles* LET'S BEGIN!

    Rock of Ages
    This movie was AWESOME! At Astin Toe said he didn't like, At Astin Toe clearly does not like good things. I bet he doesn't even KNOW how to make chocolate chip cookies with not too many chocolate chips. HMPH Rock of Ages has rock music and pop music and there's big star names and dancing and magical negroes who save blond girls from the street and gets them on the pole....MA-GIK!

    Magic Mike
    But NOT as MA-GIK as Magic Mike, because... DUH, Magic Mike's got MA-GIK RIGHT THERE IN THE TITLE!! DUUUUUDDDEEEEE. This movie is a glorious triumph of ab muscles and hip shaking and booty poppin! Bravo, Tatum guy, BRAVO! This movie is near perfection, it could stand for a bit of editing --- there was way too much blah blah blahing with shirts and pants and the "love story" with the girl should be axed. This is about the love of a man for his body oils. And dancing. DANCING. It's about the ART, man! THE ART!

    Lola Versus
    This movie about a woman who turns 29 and has her life flipped upside down when her fiancee calls off their wedding and her best guy friend admits to having feelings for her is terrific! Like, at first, you're all "ugh whiny hipster twenty something white women...NOOOO," but the dialogue is snappy and funny. The cast is phenomenal, the lead girl is like a better Chloe Sevigny-- who, INEXPLICABLY, gets all these accolades for having sex with her boyfriend on film -- isn't that just a porn star?? Hmm.... it's gonna turn out that the lead girl is in fact Chloe Sevigny, isn't it? I'm not checking. Nobody tell me. BOOO. Anyway, great flick! Actually, the guy leads are a bit bland.

    Red Lights
    The first thirty minutes of this movie were so dark and mysterious and promising that you will sit through the next 95 minutes. But those 95 are so cliched and dumb and lame and predictable, you will be angry and leave your house in the middle of a blizzard to mail it back to Netflix because under NO circumstances did you want to be trapped with that piece of shit movie in your house.

    The Watch
    Umm... this movie wasn't bad. I do remember laughing. The plot of neighborhood watchmen discovering a hostile alien nest under their local Costco is... um... possible? I dunno. It didn't suck, but I wouldn't watch it again.

    Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
    This movie is great! I wouldn't exactly call it a "romantic comedy," but Steve Carrell is pitch perfect and the British girl lead is also great. The plot is basically, that a meteor or something is going to crash into earth and so people face living out the last 60 days of their lives. There's looting. And fleeing. It's good.

    This movie is terrible. It's worse than terrible. This movie is probably why Whitney drowned herself in a hotel bathtub. Her assistant was like "here's the final cut of Sparkle Ms. Houston" and she was all "cool, thanks Janice, I'll just watch it on my Mac Book Pro now." And then she drowned herself. That is, of course, mere speculation. It's possible that she did a whole bunch of drugs during the last half of the movie AND THEN drowned herself. BLECH!

    Hope Springs
    This movie was DEEE-PRESSING. Seriously, I almost stopped watching it twice because Meryl Streep just breaks your gotdamn heart with one look. She's so good. They should rename the Oscar's "The Streeps" and just give her alluluhdem! Tommy Lee Jones does his typical grumpy old man schtick, but it's cool cause he plays a grumpy old man trying to understand why his wife of thirty years is seemingly suddenly so unhappy. They go to Steve Carrell for therapy. And no it's not "ha ha funny." Carrell's career has really taken a pleasant sharp left turn away from his stupid 40 year old Virgin days. Anyway, it's good, if you can survive the first 98% you do get to a happy ending for the wife. But maaaaannn. Hide the sharp objects.

    That's My Boy
    So, you know, if you think rape and child abuse could possibly be funny, I guess this is the movie for you. Adam Sandler and new Adam Sandler give it the old college try. Spoiler alert: It's terrible.

    Brothers Grimm I'm not sure if Heath Ledger ever got an Oscar, but if he did, this movie has to be the worst movie in the world starring two Oscar winners. If he did not, then it's just a bad bad movie. BAD.  

    The Queen of Versailles This documentary about Jackie and David Siegel, who set out to build the largest single family home in America -- two years before the bottom falls out of the market -- is AMAZING! David Siegel himself calls it a "riches to rags story," and you kinda follow the family from their halcyon days of hosting beauty pageant contestants and private planes to public school and dead animals (PROVING my long held theory that if you have pets, you're not poor.) David is a damn hell ass monster, but Jackie is likeable and sympathetic, you will be rooting for her... sorta.

    Red Hook Summer
    This movie is very long and weird and random. At times it feels like a home movie trying to be a real movie -- like what my theater troupe would do every summer in junior high school and the random Spike Lee cameos reviving his pizza delivering "Mookie" character, just adds to the feeling that this isn't a "proper movie," but sketches or something. I hated it for a good 96 minutes. The story about a preppy, vegan Atlanta teen being dropped off by his mom for a summer with grandpa in Red Hook is weird. Evidently, the two male relatives have never met, the boy breaksdown about his dad's death in Afghanistan and the grandfather is like "oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know." Huh? How do you not find out your daughter's husband is dead? Why have you never met your grandkid. You sorta get a shocking answer in the last fifth of the movie... but then the movie is just over. It's weird. Did I say weird? Also, I could have done without the random clips of the Knicks, now that I'm a Nets fan and I hate the Knicks.

    Vampire's Kiss
    WHAT. THE. FUCK? No words. I have no idea what I watched. I think Nicolas Cage raped and murdered women. And he was crazy or he wasn't and he was a vampire or there was a bat. THE FUCK IF I KNOW. Run. Run away.

    All Good Things
    Sigh... the countdown to breaking up with Ryan Gosling begins. This movie, loosely based on the true story of a socialite who vanished and then her husband went unsuspected for twenty years until a nosy DA reopens the case, sounds way better than it is. This flick was downright boring. And when you've got three real life murders to work with... THAT IS UNACCEPTABLE!

    Sunset Boulevard
    I have been saying the line "I'm ready for my closeup" for almost thirty years... because I am and always have been a drama queen, however, not until watching this movie did I learn where it came from. This movie is sad. And weird. But mostly sad. Don't grow old, don't die young. Tough message that.

    3 Women
    Julius Goat gave this movie an A. Julius Goat gave Wreck It Ralph a B. Julius Goat hates the English alphabet.

    The Invisible War
    This is a documentary about rape, sexual abuse and assault in the American military. It also chronicles the culture of tolerance and inept policing that makes the incidence of these crimes alarmingly high for our servicepeople. I was appalled. I mean, the Tailhook scandal was seemingly about "sexual harassment" which is bad enough, but the systematic rug sweeping of brutal rapes by OFFICERS who are then promoted over and over again! UGH! *breaks computer screen*

    Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
    VinNay picked this movie about a small Finnish hunting town that faces a rash of bizarre crimes one December. He was very scared and cried and said "I want my mommy" a lot. I was totally cool though and completely enjoyed this funny, scary, clever Christmas-ish story.

    Demi Moore is hot. Soundtrack was great. Um... I guess that's about it, since the plot was artarded and the acting was terrrible.