Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Meet the Spartans

This movie is at number one right. Honestly, look it up. It made over $18 million this past weekend, narrowly edging out the new Rambo movie. I really don't know how to respond to this. I truly hoped that this movie would slip by completely undetected. Instead it dove into the market making a decent January box office splash.

The only thing (in my eyes at least) that is worse than a genre parody, is a genre parody that pokes fun at one movie. In this case, Meet the Spartans retells the story of 300 which terrible comedic timing and stale pop cultural references. It wasn't even an original plot, it was the exact same story, without even the names changed.

Meet the Spartans is filled with such refreshing references as Paris Hilton, Brittany Spears, and American Idol. I can't believe how original they are. The only thing that would make this movie even more relevant is a Weakest Link joke. Every time there was actually an opportunity to create a genuinely funny moment, it completely fell flat. The famed "This is Sparta!" line that sold 300 is done completely straight forward. The only catch is that Leonidis spends the next 5 minutes pushing various people into the pit of death.

The over-the-top ultra violent excess of 300 could certainly warrant parody. The only moment featuring half intelligent observational humor was the comment "Enough with this video game style violence." Or the one truly funny moment in the movie:

"Behold my massive army."
"But that's just a blue screen."
"Idiot, it's a visual effect. We're going to put the army in later. It'll be really impressive."

That sort humor that lampoons the original really would work well. Instead, most of the movie is filled with dated pop culture, the homo erotic Spartan references, and the obligatory bodily functions. I wish they would stop making movies like this, but if they keep going to number one, that's not going to happen any time soon.


Sunday, January 27, 2008


This is a high-tech version of any of the torture movies, though it is more akin to Silence of the Lambs than the Saw franchise. Don't get me wrong, I'm not putting this at all on the same playing field as Silence of the Lambs, I'm just saying it's more along that vein, being about the investigators more than the victims.

Diane Lane plays Jennifer Marsh, an FBI agent investigating cyber-terrorism. She stumbles across a site streaming the deaths of a man's murder victims. It's rigged so that the more people who visit the site, the faster the person dies. From the beginning this seems to be an utterly absurd premise, though it is interesting taking the individual claustrophobia of Saw or Hostel, and broadcasting it to the whole world. So Marsh and her colleagues now have to find out who this is, and how to stop him.

Now I don't know much about computers, so I can't really attest to how accurate anything in this movie is, but some of it just sounded kind of unbelievable. A completely untraceable website that's being seen by millions of people? And the funniest line in the movie: "He hacked into my car's computer." Whether it's able to be done or not, the movie did not convince me. The part I did like, however, was that the breakthroughs in the investigation were done through very low-tech means. In a CSI world where technology is king, this was kind of refreshing.

There were a couple of scenes that really drove home the Silence of the Lambs comparison. Agents sitting around trying to connect seemingly impossibly related points. Unfortunately this time the reached the conclusion of a completely idiotic motivation. I almost starting getting into the movie, because there were some genuinely thrilling moments (a camera appearing outside of Marsh's house). As everything starts to wrap up at the end, though, it all starts to fall apart.

This could be an interesting commentary on free speech, and the power of the internet, but it's really just a scary movie. It could also have been an interesting gritty psychological thriller, but the whole high tech nature of it kind of prevents that. It's tough to bring together the grimy nature of the serial killer and the polished gloss of the cyber-world. It was a nice attempt, and succeeded at a few things, but overall it really didn't work.


Friday, January 25, 2008

The Bucket List

I want to like this movie, and part of me does. The part of me that loves everything Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson does anyway. The part of me that judges movies purely on their own merit doesn't like this movie. I suppose I'll be able to find some sort of compromise between these two halves.

This is sort of a cross between Grumpy Old Men, and Shawshank Redemption. Jack Nicholson plays Edward Cole, a billionaire tycoon who develops cancer, and has to stay at the very hospital he owns (feeling the wrath of his own cost-cutting). He gets put in a room with terminal patient, Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman). The two form an unlikely bond as they develop "the bucket list," or the list of things to do before they die. This takes them on worldwide tour, visiting everything from the pyramids to France.

Of course the two of them learn more about themselves in this short time than in the entire rest of their lives. Edward questions whether he's had a positive or negative impact on this world, and Carter has to decide which is more important, his adventures, or his family. The chemistry between them is what is reminiscent of Grumpy Old Men, and the Shawshank aspect comes in with Freeman's inner monologue musings. Unfortunately, neither character really has anything interesting to say, though just listening to Nicholson and Freeman talk is nothing short of an enjoyable experience.

Everything in this movie is just contrived. I found myself saying half of the lines before they did. And other lines that were intended to be poignant were really just kind of random. Rob Reiner has had a mixed career for me. I have to give him credit, he's done more than his fair share of wonderful movies (Spinal Tap, Misery, Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, the list just goes on), but he's also had his share of crap (North, Alex and Emma, Rumor Has It).

Some parts are just too absurd for its own good. The two of them go skydiving and race-car driving? And just a few scenes before Carter's catheter comes loose? Something about that just a tad bit too far fetched. I can understand the point of the characters not accepting their limitations, but honestly- taking race cars off jumps?

It's almost worth it just to see Freeman and Nicholson together. There was a little added bit os sentimentality with two of America's finest actors opposite each other- especially because they're both over seventy. In the back of my mind I couldn't help but feel sad about that dark day when we lose these two. I'm sure that wasn't the point of the movie, but it did help to draw me in. If you want a good old fashioned buddy picture with two fantastic actors, see the Bucket List. But I strongly recommend you wait for video, because as good as they are, acting will not carry a bad script.


Across the Universe

I know I'm a little late with this one, as it came out in October, but I feel I had to put in my two cents. If I recall correctly, this movie got some rather good reviews (I even put it on my top 20 for the remainder of the year). After watching it, however, I was sorely disappointed. It's almost as if they took a good idea, and stitched it together with a mediocre plot. The idea, of course, is remaking several dozen Beatles songs, and use them to form the foundation of a modern musical. The problem is that this was done too deliberately, and with these songs that everybody knows, you can't take the movie seriously.

Jim Sturgess stars as Jude, a dockworker from Liverpool who travels to America to find his estranged father. One there, he meets Max (Joe Anderson) and his sister, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). Jude and Max move in together, and Jude falls in love with Lucy. Everybody's relationships are strained when Max gets drafted to go to Vietnam. Lucy joins a radical anti-war group, and Jude struggles with his personal demons. During all of this, they're friends Sadie and Jo-Jo (if you haven't figured it out yet, everyone's named after a Beatles song. Prudence and Rita are also found) are in a band together with their own problems.

Most of the side characters didn't contribute much to the over-all plot of the movie. They mostly have the dual function of conveying the voice of the time, and as a vehicle for more songs. In fact, even the main characters are pretty weak. There's almost nothing hidden within any of them. This may be the drawback of having all of your characters singing everything their feeling.

The music is great, and the musical numbers are interesting. The arrangements vary in everything from fully orchestrated opuses, to acoustic ballads. Many of the numbers are of course accompanied by complicated choreography. As bizarre as many of these were, they were all basically entertaining. The problem with this concept is that the music drives the story, instead of reflecting it. Every scene was written around a song, and stitching together a career of songs into a plot, is not the same as writing a good story.

The love story and the romantic interest might have actually worked, but none of the details seem to mesh into anything coherent. A scene with a traveling circus to the tune of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite," or a scene with soldiers carrying the Statue of Liberty while singing "She's So Heavy," or Max in a military hospital singing "Happiness is a Warm Gun" with Salma Hayek parading around him in a nurse's uniform. Many of the songs were even incorporated in laughably literal ways. Jude screams "All right!" over and over again to some people at the end of "Revolution." All of these take the dark nature of the plot, and just completely lose it.

It's a shame when someone is so dead set on a concept that they drown in it. Across the Universe is not even close to the sum of its parts. Julie Taymore is a very ample director (she was behind Frida). The problem was simply that she was so caught up in making everything fit the concept, the quality took a back seat. When a concept musical like this is done right, it can be very effective. Moulin Rouge is one of my favorite movies of all time, because Baz Luhrmann how to be subtle with an idea, instead of beating us over the head with it. The best thing to come from Across the Universe is, of course, the music. Even though I don't want to see it again, I do want to buy the soundtrack.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Oscar Nominations

I will say that for the most part, I am rather pleased. There were some surprises that I really appreciated.

Performance by an actor in a leading role

George Clooney in "Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.)
Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax)
Johnny Depp in "Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (DreamWorks and Warner Bros., Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount)
Tommy Lee Jones in "In the Valley of Elah" (Warner Independent)
Viggo Mortensen in "Eastern Promises" (Focus Features)

Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Casey Affleck in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (Warner Bros.)
Javier Bardem in "No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage)
Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Charlie Wilson's War" (Universal)
Hal Holbrook in "Into the Wild" (Paramount Vantage and River Road Entertainment)
Tom Wilkinson in "Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.)

Performance by an actress in a leading role
Cate Blanchett in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" (Universal)
Julie Christie in "Away from Her" (Lionsgate)
Marion Cotillard in "La Vie en Rose" (Picturehouse)
Laura Linney in "The Savages" (Fox Searchlight)
Ellen Page in "Juno" (Fox Searchlight)

Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Cate Blanchett in "I'm Not There" (The Weinstein Company)
Ruby Dee in "American Gangster" (Universal)
Saoirse Ronan in "Atonement" (Focus Features)
Amy Ryan in "Gone Baby Gone" (Miramax)
Tilda Swinton in "Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.)

Best animated feature film of the year
"Persepolis" (Sony Pictures Classics): Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud
"Ratatouille" (Walt Disney): Brad Bird
"Surf's Up" (Sony Pictures Releasing): Ash Brannon and Chris Buck

Achievement in art direction
"American Gangster" (Universal): Art Direction: Arthur Max; Set Decoration: Beth A. Rubino
"Atonement" (Focus Features): Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
"The Golden Compass" (New Line in association with Ingenious Film Partners): Art Direction: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
"Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (DreamWorks and Warner Bros., Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount): Art Direction: Dante Ferretti; Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo
"There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax): Art Direction: Jack Fisk; Set Decoration: Jim Erickson

Achievement in cinematography
"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (Warner Bros.): Roger Deakins
"Atonement" (Focus Features): Seamus McGarvey
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (Miramax/Pathé Renn): Janusz Kaminski
"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage): Roger Deakins
"There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax): Robert Elswit

Achievement in costume design
"Across the Universe" (Sony Pictures Releasing) Albert Wolsky
"Atonement" (Focus Features) Jacqueline Durran
"Elizabeth: The Golden Age" (Universal) Alexandra Byrne
"La Vie en Rose" (Picturehouse) Marit Allen
"Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (DreamWorks and Warner Bros., Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount) Colleen Atwood

Achievement in directing
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (Miramax/Pathé Renn), Julian Schnabel
"Juno" (Fox Searchlight), Jason Reitman
"Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.), Tony Gilroy
"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage), Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
"There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax), Paul Thomas Anderson

Best documentary feature
"No End in Sight" (Magnolia Pictures) A Representational Pictures Production: Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
"Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience" (The Documentary Group) A Documentary Group Production: Richard E. Robbins
"Sicko" (Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company) A Dog Eat Dog Films Production: Michael Moore and Meghan O'Hara
"Taxi to the Dark Side" (THINKFilm) An X-Ray Production: Alex Gibney and Eva Orner
"War/Dance" (THINKFilm) A Shine Global and Fine Films Production: Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine

Best documentary short subject
"Freeheld" A Lieutenant Films Production: Cynthia Wade and Vanessa Roth
"La Corona (The Crown)" A Runaway Films and Vega Films Production: Amanda Micheli and Isabel Vega
"Salim Baba" A Ropa Vieja Films and Paradox Smoke Production: Tim Sternberg and Francisco Bello
"Sari's Mother" (Cinema Guild) A Daylight Factory Production: James Longley

Achievement in film editing
"The Bourne Ultimatum" (Universal): Christopher Rouse
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (Miramax/Pathé Renn): Juliette Welfling
"Into the Wild" (Paramount Vantage and River Road Entertainment): Jay Cassidy
"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage) Roderick Jaynes
"There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax): Dylan Tichenor

Best foreign language film of the year
"Beaufort" Israel
"The Counterfeiters" Austria
"Katyn" Poland
"Mongol" Kazakhstan
"12" Russia

Achievement in makeup
"La Vie en Rose" (Picturehouse) Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald
"Norbit" (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount): Rick Baker and Kazuhiro Tsuji
"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" (Walt Disney): Ve Neill and Martin Samuel

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)
"Atonement" (Focus Features) Dario Marianelli
"The Kite Runner" (DreamWorks, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment and Participant Productions, Distributed by Paramount Classics): Alberto Iglesias
"Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.) James Newton Howard
"Ratatouille" (Walt Disney) Michael Giacchino
"3:10 to Yuma" (Lionsgate) Marco Beltrami

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)
"Falling Slowly" from "Once" (Fox Searchlight) Music and Lyric by Glen Hansard and: Marketa Irglova
"Happy Working Song" from "Enchanted" (Walt Disney): Music by Alan Menken; Lyric by Stephen Schwartz
"Raise It Up" from "August Rush" (Warner Bros.): Nominees to be determined
"So Close" from "Enchanted" (Walt Disney): Music by Alan Menken; Lyric by Stephen Schwartz
"That's How You Know" from "Enchanted" (Walt Disney): Music by Alan Menken; Lyric by Stephen Schwartz

Best motion picture of the year
"Atonement" (Focus Features) A Working Title Production: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Paul Webster, Producers
"Juno" (Fox Searchlight) A Dancing Elk Pictures, LLC Production: Lianne Halfon, Mason Novick and Russell Smith, Producers
"Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.) A Clayton Productions, LLC Production: Sydney Pollack, Jennifer Fox and Kerry Orent, Producers
"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage) A Scott Rudin/Mike Zoss Production: Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
"There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax) A JoAnne Sellar/Ghoulardi Film Company Production: JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Lupi, Producers

Best animated short film
"I Met the Walrus" A Kids & Explosions Production: Josh Raskin
"Madame Tutli-Putli" (National Film Board of Canada) A National Film Board of Canada Production Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski
"Même Les Pigeons Vont au Paradis (Even Pigeons Go to Heaven)" (Premium Films) A BUF Compagnie Production Samuel Tourneux and Simon Vanesse
"My Love (Moya Lyubov)" (Channel One Russia) A Dago-Film Studio, Channel One Russia and Dentsu Tec Production Alexander Petrov
"Peter & the Wolf" (BreakThru Films) A BreakThru Films/Se-ma-for Studios Production Suzie Templeton and Hugh Welchman

Best live action short film
"At Night" A Zentropa Entertainments 10 Production: Christian E. Christiansen and Louise Vesth
"Il Supplente (The Substitute)" (Sky Cinema Italia) A Frame by Frame Italia Production: Andrea Jublin
"Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets)" (Premium Films) A Karé Production: Philippe Pollet-Villard
"Tanghi Argentini" (Premium Films) An Another Dimension of an Idea Production: Guido Thys and Anja Daelemans
"The Tonto Woman" A Knucklehead, Little Mo and Rose Hackney Barber Production: Daniel Barber and Matthew Brown

Achievement in sound editing
"The Bourne Ultimatum" (Universal): Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg
"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage): Skip Lievsay
"Ratatouille" (Walt Disney): Randy Thom and Michael Silvers
"There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax): Matthew Wood
"Transformers" (DreamWorks and Paramount in association with Hasbro): Ethan Van der Ryn and Mike Hopkins

Achievement in sound mixing
"The Bourne Ultimatum" (Universal) Scott Millan, David Parker and Kirk Francis
"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage): Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter Kurland
"Ratatouille" (Walt Disney): Randy Thom, Michael Semanick and Doc Kane
"3:10 to Yuma" (Lionsgate): Paul Massey, David Giammarco and Jim Stuebe
"Transformers" (DreamWorks and Paramount in association with Hasbro): Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell and Peter J. Devlin

Achievement in visual effects
"The Golden Compass" (New Line in association with Ingenious Film Partners): Michael Fink, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris and Trevor Wood
"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" (Walt Disney): John Knoll, Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson and John Frazier
"Transformers" (DreamWorks and Paramount in association with Hasbro): Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Russell Earl and John Frazier

Adapted screenplay
"Atonement" (Focus Features), Screenplay by Christopher Hampton
"Away from Her" (Lionsgate), Written by Sarah Polley
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (Miramax/Pathé Renn), Screenplay by Ronald Harwood
"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage), Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
"There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax), Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson

Original screenplay
"Juno" (Fox Searchlight), Written by Diablo Cody
"Lars and the Real Girl" (MGM), Written by Nancy Oliver
"Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.), Written by Tony Gilroy
"Ratatouille" (Walt Disney), Screenplay by Brad Bird; Story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco, Brad Bird
"The Savages" (Fox Searchlight), Written by Tamara Jenkins

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Heath Ledger 1979-2008

Wow, that's all I can say.

Full story here

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mad Money

This is actually a rather entertaining blend between a women's bonding, and a heist movie. It's by no means a great movie, but it doesn't delude itself into being one. A lot of what happens doesn't make a whole lot a sense, and it feels like it was written by someone who didn't put too much thought into the heist aspect of it. Regardless, it was still kind of cute.

Diane Keaton stars as Bridget, who's husband Don (Ted Danson) was recently laid off. To make money she gets a job working at the federal reserve doing custodial work. Here she devises a plan to steal lots and lots of money that is scheduled to be destroyed. She recruits Nina (Queen Latifah) and Jackie (Katie Holmes), two other employees to help her pull of her scheme. Of course, they get addicted to the crime and the money, and take it too far.

I hate to say that the novelty of this was that it was women pulling off a heist, but they really did play that up. It was clear that none of them had any previous criminal experience, so they had to rely on simple ingenuity to work out their plan. Even though it seemed to be conveniently easy for them to accomplish the theft, it still seemed empowering to put them in a seat of being criminal masterminds.

The chemistry between them sparkled at moments, but fell flat at others. I really like Queen Latifah, and Diane Keaton is one of the greats (despite some poor movie choices). Katie Holmes, however, played the part of the free spirited dunce a bit too much. She seemed perpetually clueless throughout, except for her gut "feelings." Keaton and Latifah, however, gradually began to show their arc. If it weren't for the need to have three people in the ensemble, the movie wouldn't have lost anything without Holmes' character.

The story itself was of course a little far fetched, but you don't go to a movie like this expecting realism. The movie's greatest assets were clearly Latifah and Keaton. Even Ted Danson despite an oddly stoic acceptance to his wife's life of crime, seemed to mesh well into the cast. It's a pleasure watching them act. The movie won't gain anything more than a fun matinée or a video rental, but it also won't go down as one of the many movies I'd wish to forget.


27 Dresses

I was clearly not the target audience for this movie, so I suppose I shouldn't judge it too harshly. It's generic romantic comedy, and it doesn't try to be anything more than that. 27 Dresses essentially rehashes the same story we've all seen a thousand times before.

Katherine Heigl (Knocked Up, Grey's Anatomy) stars as Jane, perennial bridesmaid- 27 times to be exact. She's settled into a nice routine 0f romantic denial until her 28th wedding- her younger sister's (Malin Akerman). She is marrying George (Edward Burns), Jane's boss and the man she's secretly in love with. So now Jane has to help plan the wedding between her sister and the man she's in love with. Sound like any other movie you've ever seen? Maybe a mediocre Jeniffer Lopez comedy? This time however, another wrench is thrown into the machine. Kevin (James Marsden) a cynical wedding journalist forms an unlikely relationship with Jane which causes her to doubt her role perpetually playing second fiddle.

This movie was completely phoned in. I didn't feel any chemistry between any of the characters. I didn't even find myself carrying about any of the characters. All they did was whine, and moan, and overreact to everything. And a scene with Jane and Kevin butchering the lyrics to Bennie and the Jets in bar was not charming- it was just painful. There's not much to say about this movie. No aspect of it was memorable- even among romantic comedies. It makes me wonder if you can't bring something new to a story, why even attempt it?


Friday, January 18, 2008


It's always interesting to see how a movie with a completely revolutionary marketing strategy pans out. The Blair Witch Project did it with great success in 1999, whereas Snakes on a Plane failed miserably at it in 2006. I suspect Cloverfield will be quite the successful movie. The first teasers were released with Transformers last summer, and the name of the movie was never even indicated until November. This mystery automatically created a flurry on internet message boards with wild speculations. JJ Abrahms (producer of Lost, Alias, and several other highly successful TV shows ) led a titillating advertising campaign of phony websites, and clues, while leaving fans to spread the word. It worked. I was incredibly excited to see it.

It's always fun going to a movie on opening night. The theater is always packed, and it's always a rowdy crowd. It was like that with Grindhouse, 300, Pirates of the Caribbean, and probably most of all with The Return of the King. Cloverfield was no exception. In fact, there were near riots when the projector stopped working for about 20 minutes mid way through). All the hype and all the anticipation turned a rather generic movie into a very enjoyable experience.

Honestly, there's nothing special about the movie. It's unique in that it is entirely shot from a hand-held digital camera. It was of course shot in high definition, but then degraded to look like it was done with a consumer product (from experience, the visual effects would have been impossible to do otherwise). The plot of the story is simple. Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) is leaving for a job in Japan, so his brother Jason (Mike Vogel) Jason's girlfriend, Lilly (Jessica Lucas), and Rob's friend, Hud (T.J. Miller) are throwing him a going away party. Hud is given the task of documenting it. In the midst of the party, something seems to rock the building, we see explosions, and the decapitated head of the Statue of Liberty. Clearly something is attacking the city. In the midst of the chaos and attempted evacuation, Rob sets off to find Beth (Odette Yustman) the only person he cares about. Jason, Hud, Lilly, and Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), who functions as a romantic foil for Hud, join him in his search. This leads to them making their way through battle-torn streets, abandoned neighborhoods, and even subway tunnels.

The movie is presented in a documentary style. Obviously nobody was fooled into this actually happened like the Blair Witch Project, but the opening sequence claiming that this tape was recovered from a secure government site indicated that things did not bode well for our heroes, or New York in general. The hand-held approach created an incredibly intimate and realistic style for the movie. The 1998 Godzilla remake was so bad because it was all flash and glitz. Cloverfield has some wonderful effects, but it's much more effective in what it doesn't show. The shots of the tail of the monster, or the reaction shots of the soldiers firing at it, or even just the trail of destruction were far more powerful than when they showed the monster in its entirety. I can understand why they did that as little as possible.

It's difficult to present a story over the course of one night. The film makers need to somehow draw you into these characters and make you care about them, and yet not simply tell you their back story. Director, Mark Reeves, essentially does this in the early party scenes, setting up the relationships between the characters. This is done pretty clumsily, creating some stilted and awkwardly written conversations. But it is a monster movie, so don't expect Shakespeare.

The thing that shocked me most about this movie was that it only cost $30 million. This is nothing compared to the $130 million of the similarly themed Godzilla, or the $250 million price-tag for Spider-Man 3. How they were able to create this movie with such a small budget, I can't possibly imagine. Clearly they were able to keep their budget down by using relatively unknown actors. This also helped the story in that the audience finds it easier to be drawn into everyday characters than say...Tom Cruise. But how they were able to essentially destroy New York City for $30 million just astounds me.

The story is, of course, incredibly weak. And I found myself almost being mad Rob for putting others in danger for a rather selfish, guilt-ridden reason. The movie is also filled with some laughably absurd lines Hud to keep the mood light. Don't worry, I won't spoil any of them here, because they are truly the gems of the movie. It's still just a monster movie, though. Abrahms said that he wanted to create a uniquely American monster, but it just seemed like any other monster to me. The best parts were before you knew what it looked like. I don't know if they could have pulled off an entire movie without actually showing the creature (or if movie goers would have rebelled). It would have been really nice to see them try.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

There Will Be Blood

I need to reassess my Oscar predictions. I think There Will Be Blood could be one of the front-runners, and I certainly think that Daniel Day Lewis deserves the best actor win. Paul Thomas Anderson hasn't had a major film since 2002's Punch Drunk Love (which is one of my favorite movies of the decade). He returns in full force with this adaption of the Upton Sinclair novel Oil!. The movie fully captures the essence of the greed and corruption that follows wherever oil is found. As Lewis's character put it "I am an oil man, and I am a family man." Clearly, however, you cant be both.

Lewis portrays Daniel Plainview, a self made oil businessman who will claw his way to the top any way possible with his son, H.W. (Dillon Freasier, and Russal Havard when he's older). The two make their money swindling ranch owners out the oil beneath their properties. This all changes when they come across Eli Sunday (Paul Dano). He is the young preacher at a local church and does not want his father to sell their property for less than it's worth. As the movie progresses we find out he is no better than Plainview and is just as much a charlatan- except he peddles God instead of oil.

The characters in this movie are dense with layers. Plainview is a borderline nihilist, not liking a single person he comes across. He looks at other people simply as a way for him to get what he wants- and this may include his own son. Sunday is a phenomenal character, and Dano is a phenomenal actor. He portrays the preacher with such fervor that it's almost scary. Then it's slowly revealed through his random bouts of anger and misdealing that he's not all he seems to be. Dano plays this change so subtly that it doesn't immediately jump out at you. Not bad considering stories that he only had four days to prepare for the role.

The story is as dirty as the oil drenched characters. All of these people will do anything to make money off others. Drilling, siphoning off oil, scamming, dealing with union oil, and even murder are all common practices. Everything leads up to the violent climax that's actually a little difficult to watch. My only complaint is that it was almost three hours long. This is a little on the long side, no matter how good the movie is. Especially in this movie where the plot should not have taken three hours to develop. Some of the scenes ended up being a little redundant. It doesn't get boring, though, because Anderson throws everything he can into making these characters as realistic as possible.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

One Year anniversary

Today marks the one year anniversary of the Film Elitist. It lasted about 51 weeks longer than I expected.

Monday, January 14, 2008

El Orfanato

In his follow-up to Pan's Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro proves once again that he is a master of imagination and visual wonder. The only catch? He didn't direct this time, just produced. He banked on newcomer Juan Antonio Bayona to helm the project, which proved to be wise. He captured the same visual scope of Pan's Labyrinth, but instead created a more traditional thriller. The Orphanage walks a thin line between a drama and a horror movie.

Belen Rueda plays Laura, a woman who grew up in an orphanage. As an adult she returned there with her husband, Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and adopted son Simon (Roger Princep), to open a home for special needs children. Strange things start happening when Simon begins to make invisible friends- friends from Laura's past. Things get stranger when Simon goes missing, and Laura begins to believe what he was seeing. Giving in to this madness, however, may be the only way to find her son.

Sometimes it's difficult to analyze the performances in a foreign language film. You're focused on the subtitles so you don't get all the subtle nuances of the performers. The good movies (The Orphanage included) somehow manage to make you forget that you are reading, and you almost begin to understand what they are saying. Princep gives a fantastically creepy performance, and Rueda is powerful. Cayo's character, Carlos, however, is a little flat, resting on an upsetting indifference towards everything that's going on around him.

The movie is much scarier than Pan's Labyrinth, but a much easier scare as well. It relies on some stilted scare tactics (dark shapes moving in front of the camera, etc), and a motif of creaking sounds and children's voices. I found myself tense for the entire movie, sort of like a Spanish language The Shining. Normally I would appreciate this, but there was much more here than just a scary movie. There were some very emotional parts that were over-shadowed because I knew something scary was going to happen. Beneath all these thrilling moments there is the story of Laura's undying love Simon, her desire to find him at any cost, and her need to make peace with her past. These were powerful, but were buried because you can't focus on this when something is standing in the dark corners in every shot.

It's interesting to see the visual magnificence tied to the rather dark story-line. Everything is big and gray, making the characters themselves seem very small. Everything, the visuals and the sounds, contribute to making this a sad movie. Don't worry, it's not nearly as sad as the ending of Pan's Labyrinth, and except for one scene, not nearly as graphic either.


Golden Globe Winners

Best film (drama): Atonement

Best film (musical or comedy): Sweeney Todd

Best director – film: Julian Schnabel - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Best actor (drama): Daniel Day Lewis - There Will Be Blood

Best actress (drama): Julie Christie - Away from Her

Best actor (musical or comedy): Johnny Depp - Sweeney Todd

Best actress (musical or comedy) : Marion Cotillard - La Vie en Rose

Best supporting actor: Javier Bardem - No Country for Old Men

Best supporting actress: Cate Blanchett - I'm Not There

Best foreign language film: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (France and US)

Best animated feature film:

Best screenplay: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen - No Country for Old Men

Best original score: Dario Marianelli - Atonement

Best original song: Guaranteed - Into the Wild

Best series (drama): Mad Men
Best series (musical or comedy): Extras
Best mini-series or film made for TV: Longford
Best actor (drama): Jon Hamm - Mad Men
Best actor (musical or comedy): David Duchovny - Californication
Best actor (mini-series or film made for TV): Jim Broadbent - Longford
Best actress (drama): Glenn Close - Damages
Best actress (musical or comedy): Tina Fey - 30 Rock
Best actress (mini-series or film made for TV): Queen Latifah - Life Support
Best supporting actor (mini-series or film made for TV): Jeremy Piven - Entourage
Best supporting actress (mini-series or film made for TV): Samantha Morton - Longford

Not exactly (or at all) as I had predicted. We'll see how the Oscars shape up.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

One Missed Call

This is the worst Japanese remake yet- yes, it's even worse than Pulse. The original, "Chakusin ari" spawned 2 sequels, a made for TV movie, and now the American remake. Bare in mind, this was all within five years. I hope Chakusin ari was better than One Missed Call, because I could not imagine this piece of horror dung leading to sequels and remakes.

It takes advantage of that new-fangled technology- the cell phone. The premise is simple. You get a phone call and hear your own death. The catch is that the phone calls are coming from other characters- after they are already deceased. The voice mails are dated from the future, signifying the day and time when the recipients will die. So in essence, dead characters are calling (via the future) and leaving voice mails of the deaths of the people they are calling. I hope it's not just me, but none of this adds up. It's like there's just no concept of any sort of continuity.

Let's add into this muddled a mess a detective (played by Edward Burns) dead set on believing this supernatural nonsense that he does everything he can to protect the main character, Beth Raymond (Shannyn Sossaman), from...her phone. Wait, it gets even better. Let's also throw in an exorcism on national television.

One Missed Call follows the Japanese tradition of the vengeful spirit. This theme was tackled so well in Ju On and Ringu (The Grudge and The Ring). Apparently spirits don't adapt very well to technology. I think that this may have been one of the difficult aspects of this movie. In the Ring, the spirit travels via a VHS tape- a medium already out of date by the time the movie was made. This made spirit seem older and creepier. With these spirits zipping around through cell-phones, it loses this mystique.

Don't worry about the movie not making much rational sense- the characters do a fine job of saying exactly what they're thinking, and exactly what's happening. Watch it with your eyes closed and you won't miss a thing. And even if you have trouble following it, that's okay too. The last fifteen minutes throw any resemblance of reality out the window as the movie descends into idiotic randomness. I will say one good thing about the movie, though. The ring-tone they used was creepy as hell. I need to get it.


Friday, January 4, 2008

Year end roundup

I meant to do this...well...before the new year, but I wasn't exactly sure what to write about- so I'm a little late. As it is, I'm completely making this up as I go along.

I guess standard would be to talk about the best and worst of the year. Now, there are still a number of movies I haven't seen, so this clearly isn't definitive- and as always, I appreciate comments.

The Best:

I'm certainly not in the minority on this category. No Country For Old Men is certainly near the top for me. Though I haven't seen it yet, There Will Be Blood looks promising to be one of the best. One movie I know that won't get any consideration, but would put up there among the best is Once. As for the actual best picture of the year, I'd have to point to American Gangster. It just features everything that one comes to expect out of a best picture movie.

As for acting, I'm terrible in this category. All I can say is that I felt Don Cheadle hands down gave the best performance of the year.

When it comes to comedy, Judd Apatow owned 2007. Knocked Up was one of the funniest movies of the year, and Superbad was the absolute funniest movie I have seen so far this decade. It's a shame Walk Hard was so bad.

I saw a number of interesting documentaries. The First Saturday in May about the Kentucky Derby was very interesting. But for the best documentaries is would be a battle between Jonestown: The Life and Death of the People's Temple (the terrifying piece on Jim Jones) and The King Of Kong (the Donkey Kong documentary making nerdy cool).

The best animation of the year will go to Ratatouille is only because of Pixar's slight last year. Bee Movie and The Simpsons Movie, however were also rather good- much better than Shrek 3. The best animation of the year, however, is Persepolis- a French animation about a young Iranian girl.

The Worst:

Not much to say about this. I've only given away four 0/5's ever. These were Black Christmas, The Hitcher, Daddy Day Camp, and Bratz. All four of these were among the worst of the year (even though Black Christmas was actually last year). Close in the running, however, would also be Captivity and 30 Days of Night.

As for next year, there are certain movies I am rather excited about. I've bought into all the hype about Cloverfield, and am going to be there with bells on. In February will be Michel Gondry's new comedy: Be Kind Rewind. The Summer will bring us the new Indiana Jones movie, the next Chronicles of Narnia installment, and the high budget Speed Racer and Iron Man. None of these seem to thrill me too much. What does thrill me, however, is Wall-E (obviously cause it's Pixar) and The Dark Knight. For my dark horse pick, I must choose The Brothers Bloom. This movie about con-men, starring Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, and Mark Ruffalo, is writer/director Rian Johnson's follow-up to Brick (possibly my favorite movie of 2005).

There you have it, my quick recap of 2007, and my outlook on 2008.


Juno finally came to Savannah, so I made sure to catch the first showing. It's already garnered quite a buzz, being nominated for 3 Golden globes (movie, screenplay, and actress). Though it was quite good, I don't think it'll have the same success of last year's Little Miss Sunshine, or the painfully long lasting cultural integration of Napoleon Dynamite.

Juno is the story of a pregnant high-school student, giving up the child for adoption. It was advertised as a dark comedy, but don't be misled by this. Though it was filled with a wide array of funny lines, the vast majority of the characters are in general very sad. The jokes are delivered in a manner trying to deal with a hopeless situation. As the saying goes- if you don't laugh, you'd cry.

Ellen Page stars as the movie's title character. I have been a fan of hers since I saw her in Hard Candy 3 years ago. She's played an unlikely sexual predator, an X-man, and now in the most realistic role, a pregnant teenager. Her character seems to struggle with being an unpopular high-school student, dealing with issues far above her maturity level, and trying to retain a bit of edge. Throw into this volatile mixture the hormones of pregnancy, her relationships with the father, her parents, and the adoptive family, and her attempts understand what love actually is- you get an incredibly complicated character.

The rest of the cast is filled with a collection of some of my favorite actors. Michael Cerra is Paul Bleeker, the father. He had a surprisingly small role in the movie, disappearing almost entirely in the second act. Cerra's Arrested Development co-star Jason Bateman and Jenifer Garner play the adoptive parents. On the surface they appear to be happy suburban yuppies, but as the movie progresses, we're introduced to the problems that even they have. Finally, Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons play Juno's father and stepmother. They round out the interesting triumvirate of relationships in the movie. They have to, of course, deal with Juno.

Despite being a rather dark subject, with rather depressed characters, there are some funny parts. One of the highlights was Juno's mother berating the ultra-sound technician (a pivotal turning point in their relationship). The problem, however, is that the script was so meticulously crafted, much of it doesn't sound realistic at all. A prime example of this is Rain Wilson's mini-mart managing character shown in the trailers. His lines seemed more Judd Apatow than this more serious movie. Despite the scripted dialog, Page manages to make it seems natural for her character.

The only issues I had with the acting was that many of Juno's lines were delivered in a Napoleon Dynamite inspired deadpan, "I don't give a crap", gravelly voiced manner. If you don't follow, just wait til you see the scene with Juno and Paul's lab partners. I swore I was watching Jon Heder. This method of acting has been done to death by this point, and doesn't really enhance anything. Fortunately Garner's earnest performance, Bateman's morally ambiguous role, and Page's sad vibrato make up for these scripted shortcomings.


Thursday, January 3, 2008

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

It's a shame Judd Apatow had to close 2007 on this rather sour note. Walk Hard reunited Apatow with director/writer Jake Kasdan (The TV Set). Unfortunately after a string of amazing hits this year (Knocked Up, Superbad) and some of the funniest movies over the past several years (40 Year Old Virgin, Ron Burgundy) Walk Hard is just an uninspired parody piece worthy of the "(Insert Genre) Movie" series.

Walk Hard is essentially a straight up parody of the musical biopic. It lampoons everything from Ray to the Doors. Mostly, however, it takes on Walk the Line- the Johnny Cash movie. John C. Reilly stars as Dewey Cox, a country musician who dabbles in about every musical genre while fighting the demons from his childhood. It closely parallels the actual Johnny Cash story, having Cox wrestle with infidelity, drugs, and a disapproving family. The movie may have been better if it hadn't taken the easy route of obvious parody.

The cast is exemplary. Reilly has a long resume of supporting roles, but it felt like he was just trying to channel Will Ferrel this time. Jenna Fisher stars as Darlene (the June Carter character). She hasn't made the best choices in movie roles (Slither, The Brothers Solomon, Blades of Glory) but she can really do no wrong in my eyes. The rest of the cast includes Tim Meadows and Chris Parnell as his band mates, Harold Ramis as a Jewish producer, Frankie Muniz as Buddy Holly, Jack White as Elvis, and Jason Schwartzman, Paul Rudd, Justin Long, and Jack Black as the Beatles. It even includes cameos by Eddie Vedder, Jewel, Lye Lovett, Jackson Browne, and the Temptations. Wow, that is lot of big names in this movie. Somehow it just doesn't add up the sum of its parts. Not even close.

Some parts of the movie were indeed funny. The scene with the Beatles was incredibly funny, complete with Yellow Submarine inspired acid trip. And the scenes with Elvis and Buddy Holly were also very entertaining. Unfortunately for every one of these genuinely funny moments, there were far to many that fell flat. Walk Hard being sampled by a rapper named Lil' Nutzzak? That's right, they wanted to package Cox and Lil' Nutzzak together. Far too many jokes based on his name.

The music was actually really good. Much like Spinal Tap created some truly catchy songs, Walk Hard definitely deserves the best original song nomination it's getting for the Golden Globes. This is a soundtrack I would even consider getting, as it provides a little taste of parody in all kinds of musical styles. Unfortunately, none of this makes the movie live up any where close to Apatow's other movies. He should stick with his original comedies and leave the parody to Jason Friedberg, who's probably working on Scary Movie 5, or Epic Move 2 by this point. Fortunately another string of promising movies by Apatow awaits in 2008.


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Alvin and the Chipmunks

This movie was actually better than I was expecting. Even with visual effects master Rhythm and Hues taking care of the animated characters, I was not anticipating too much to come from Tim Hill (director of the reprehensible Garfield 2). I was pleasantly surprised with the Chipmunks. The animals were done with much more care, and I even enjoyed the plot a little.

Jason Lee stars as Dave Seville, a struggling songwriter struggling to find his niche. His problems are solved when he comes across three talking (and singing ) chipmunks. They proceed to simultaneously save Dave's career, and dismantle his life. Much to his chagrin, Dave begins to fall for Alvin (Justin Long), Theodore (Jesse McCarthy), and Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler), and think of them as family. Things go awry, however, when their representative from the record company, the villainous Ian (David Cross) manipulates the chipmunks to his own benefit. Don't worry, I didn't give anything away. You can see this coming within the first ten minutes.

This is, of course, a children's movie, so don't expect much in the way of plot or character development. But surprisingly, you don't have to sit through an hour and a half of awful, awful gags. The previews did not do a fair job marketing this movie. Those made it seem like the premise of the movie was "ha ha, they're chipmunks and they're acting like people." You begin to not even think of them as chipmunks, but as children. This is in part due to the focus places more them as characters, and in part due to the wonderful animation.

The horribly modulated voice acting was the part of the movie that really started to bug me. One thing that remained true to the original chipmunks was the painfully high pitched voices. Dennis DeYoung would be jealous. I don't suppose it would have been right to update the voices when they're already making them a sort of boy band. I just wish they could have been done better.

I found myself debating back and forth about whether they made the right decision about combining live action and animation, or whether it should have been done with pure animation. I think it could have been better with pure animation (god knows Underdog would have been) but they did a fairly decent job seamlessly incorporating the animation into the live action. Part of it may have been because they made the chipmunks look more like actual chipmunks than cartoons (as opposed to the bright orange blob that was Garfield).

I'm always amazed at how the perennially crude David Cross gets cast in family friendly movies. I laugh at every role he plays, though. Come to think of it, Jason Lee, nor Justin Long seem like logical choices for their respective roles. Lee plays the role really straight forward without investing too much in his performance. He's really not the star of the show, and you don't go into children's movies expecting award winning performances anyway. And as for the other three, they're voices are so heavily altered the performances are kind of lost.

This movie isn't a marvelous movie by any stretch of the imagination. It doesn't try to be. Nor is the worst of its kind. It's a mildly fun, well animated children's movie. That's all it is, and don't expect anything more.