Wednesday, May 30, 2007

28 Days Later...

Also on my old site, I found this review for 28 Days Later...which further illuminates my criticisms of its sequel, 28 Weeks Later...

"Sergeant Farrell: Well, I think Bills got a point. If you look at the whole life of the planet, know, man, has only been around for a few blinks of the eye. So if the infection wipes us all out, that is a return to normality.

Zombie movies are littered with excess. Thats part of why we like them. I don't know if anyone ever considered breaking the horror and intensity of the genre down to a personal level before Alex Garland (original novel of The Beach) wrote 28 Days Later and handed it over to director Danny Boyle to make it come alive.

The startling ideas: 1) The zombies are not the undead, but rather are very much alive and infected by a virus transmitted through the infected's blood and saliva. 2) The characters are as rich and as important to the story as the action. 3) The action starts in a medical testing facility where animal rights activists free lab monkeys infected with the virus (called the rage virus for effect). 4) After the mayhem and setup in the testing facility, the story quickly jumps to 28 days later. Manchester is burning and all of England is scattered with wrecked vehicles, loose paper blowing in the wind, and dead bodies. This is striking because every other movie would have been written with the story smack dab in the middle of the outbreak and chaos.

Instead, it picks up when a bicycle courier named Jim (the wonderful Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma in an empty hospital room. As he slowly walks through the disheveled hospital and out into the even more ruined streets, the viewer sees the damage as Jim sees it. He, unlike us, has no idea what caused all the wreckage and decay. The atmospheric rock soundtrack rises as his realization of the extent of the terror rises until it culminates with the discovery of a missing persons kiosk in the middle of the city covered with fading and worn photos and desperate messages. After discovering the first of the many infected zombies throughout the film inside a very frightening church, he meets up with two survivors, Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley) who save his life and inform him of the carnage that ensued in the previous 28 days.

In a normal zombie movie, you kill off all the zombies, losing some of your rag tag crew along the way. In 28 Days Later, you just try to survive. That leads to the discovery of Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns) hiding out in a tiny apartment. Frank found a radio message from the army saying the answer to infection was in Manchester. Bickering and bonding leads them to Manchester, where a small group of soldiers waits for women to repopulate the earth.

It's insane, but it all makes sense. People clamor for survival when they see normality slip through their fingers. They change. They do things they wouldn't do otherwise. They kill to live.

All the intensity you can wrap into a tiny independent UK movie is in 28 Days Later. It features great performances from Murphy, Harris, and Gleeson and ushers in the return of Boyle (The Beach, Trainspotting) as a visionary director. What impresses the most is the restraint when any other filmmaker would have started a barrage of action. Apparently, Boyle and his writer Garland know that scares come from raging savages and the promise of loneliness in equal amounts.

I want to write the whole thing down, to share the gem of a movie I found last March, but you ought to experience it on your own. Just watch it. Leave a light on.


The Matrix: Revolutions

I found this old review I did for The Matrix: Revolutions on my old site, and it still holds true to my feelings today. I know it's long, but the rantings of a mad man tend to be.

"The Matrix: Revolutions spoils the achievements of the first two films in the franchise and squanders potential that few films could rival.
The first film could stand alone as its own film, but the promises of more amazing special effects and complex storytelling was enough to get audiences salivating for more. Rarely have audiences been so thrilled as they were by the combination of action, philosophy, science fiction, and a new breed of special effects that would spawn a new generation of copycat filmmakers.
The Matrix: Reloaded was a film overwhelmed with constant action set pieces. The action soon overcame the storytelling to dominate the film. Still, it took the movie goer back to that same unchartered territory that the first film introduced us to. It also contained the single best car chase that I have ever witnessed, an eighteen minute action extravaganza peaking with a martial arts fight on a moving semi. The film also promised better things to come, signified with its "to be continued"-like ending that had audiences divided.
I loved Reloaded for a good long while. It had produced adrenaline in my body like no other film has. The thrill ride was constant and exhilerating. Then the third film, The Matrix: Revolutions, surfaced.
I could ignore the negative musing of fans after seeing the second film because I knew that film served as a second chapter in a three chapter story. They would soon see how necessary Reloaded was in order to bring about the end of the series. I have to say, crow never tasted this bad before.
The Matrix: Revolutions is a terribly disappointing piece of work. Repetition and missteps by the directors and writers, the Wachowski brothers, ended up sinking the franchise.
Where Reloaded left off, Neo was stuck in a coma, existing somewhere between the matrix and the machine world. Bane, who had been assimilated by Agent Smith, had tripped an EMP that rendered a whole series of ships defenseless against an onslaught of sentinals. Meanwhile, sentinals approached Zion and there were preparations being made to protect it. Neo had found out that he was only one of a whole series of Ones, but he chose to follow a dangerous path when he went into the matrix to save Trinity.
The story set up for Revolutions had great potential. Sadly, that potential was never realized. Instead, the Wachowskis gave us another excuse to dislike sequels.
Two main problems surfaced in the last film that ultimately proved to be more than it could overcome.
1) Agent Smith became a cartoon. He soon only delivered slow, drawn out syllables for catch phrases and neurotic exposition. He no longer was menacing as he so ably was in the first film. The second film hinted at the direction the character would eventually follow, but I never expected it to get so bad.
2) Elementary storytelling became the means of exposition most often used. Things created in the first film, such as the familiar "come and get it" motion of the hand by Morpheus and Neo, resurface again in the final film. It doesn't take a brilliant storyteller to reincorporate story elements that he or she created. But doing so in such a flashy, knowing manner shows little insight into how to finish an epic storyline.
The final battle between Neo and Agent Smith seemd entirely stale because it had been done better and without noticable effort in the first two films. By Revolutions, the battle seemd old and boring by comparison to the other excellent fights we were treated to in the first two films. While I watched Neo and Agent Smith repeatedly run into or punch each other, thus creating massive shock waves, I couldn't help but ask myself, "Is this what I've been waiting for? Is this the climax the other films deserve?" The answers ended up being "no" and "no."
The film managed to take the three lead characters and make them completely boring. The actors and actress who played them must have sensed this because they seem to be sleepwalking through their parts.
Morpheus used to be a Yoda with attitude. Then he was just a stock character left to experience some minor story devices. Gone was his enigmatic qualities evidenced in the first two films. In its place was someone we knew everything about and didn't care to know anymore of.
He was my favorite character of the series, but Revolutions gives him nothing to work with. Even when his dream is realized, when he experiences something he has longed anf fought for, he's not flush with unsurmountable joy like I would have expected. He merely strolls through his final scenes like the office dullard.
Morpheus has become a pawn whereas he had started as a King or at least a Knight on the Wachowski chess board.
Trinity is now only a love interest who serves the purpose of giving Neo some dramatic moments. She was very much a simple character in Reloaded as well, but I could not have predicted how one-note she would end up. The saucy, leatherclad Trinity who got some mojos working in the first film saw her quality disipate in the second film. In the third film, she's just there. Everything that she's supposed to be struggling for comes easy. Either it comes too fast or not fast enough. That trait is one she shares with the entire film.
Neo was a prototype hero for the ages. How could you not root for him? He was going to save an entire nation. He was going to "free our minds." Then he became a pathetic pawn, used as a game piece by the machines and the mysterious Oracle and Architect. You stop caring about him about the point in the movie when he no longer commands sympathy.
A major player in the Matrix world loses his or her life, but what should be a shattering event soon becomes a unbelievably lengthy monologue delivered with soap opera panache. It was the beginning of the end, but I was already done with it.
That having been said, the film does contain high-quality special effects. But I don't see movies for great special effects. I want the whole package, a movie that is good from A to Z. Revolutions made the series stop somewhere between I and O. Go figure.


Magnolia Poems


"What is that, Jimmy?
What is that?
I'm asking you that."
Why am I in a circus
I want no part in?
I am not happy with any of this,
But I stuck with it to make you,
Happy enough to get through.
And right now that's not good enough.
I deserve more than content applause
And second-rate patronizing.
I reserve my right to be a kid.
I'm ready to take flight
Into the rain.
It's worth getting wet
Just to get out.


"The book says,
'We might be through with the past,
but the past ain't through with us.'"
It catches up with you.
It sinks its hooks into you.
It is a cancer and it make's its home.
My past,
The darker corner,
Contains family betrayal
By stealing innocence
And keeping secrets
I forget except in my sleeping nightmares.
And I am not what I seem,
Not to most of the world.
But she knows me,
And that's why she screams each time she sees me.


"No, it is not dangerous to confuse children with angels."
No, it's not that way.
It cannot be.
Don't ask me to agree with you.
I may be drunk,
But you,
You may be more lost than me
Trapped on the end of the bar
On your pedestal or barstool.
I know what I want and I'm trying to get it.
I'll right my teeth and right my life.
All for the man behind the metal teeth
Behind the bar
Staring at me like I'm wrong to be alive.
He'll see me as better after the truth,
When I tell him "I love you."


"Now that I've met you,
would you object to never seeing me again?"
It might be better for each of us
To skip past the trouble we could get in.
If you knew me like I know myself,
You would leave.
And I don't know that I could handle the strain.
You are good,
The best kind of man.
Get out now while your last memory is this:
This first and last kiss.
I need you and I could be with you,
But I could not live with myself
If I messed you up.
And I would.
I always do.
"So just...
Give up."


"I am quietly judging you."
You words do not go unheard.
I pretend to die inside
So I can see inside your lies.
But all you say are truths,
And they make me hate you.
I do.
I hate you.
I need you to know that
Without saying so.
Who can you be
To say these things to me?
Who are you,
Self-righteous bitch?
And who do you think I am?
You think you know who I am?
My dear Gwenovier,
You are not mistaken,
Just wrong to think you know all.

Chad Betz on Little Children and Children of Men

My friend Chad Betz posted this on his xanga a while ago, and it was so insightful and well-written that I shall include it here.

Whisper Slurry: Little Children of Men

ah, the hopes of humanism.

weirdly, there's been a movement in recent cinema where fatalism has been appropriated by humanist ideology for the purpose of aggrandizing the humanist dream of complete self-actualization. it probably didn't start with American Beauty, but that's a good touchstone. these are films that recognize the depravity of man, yet use that depravity as a catalyst which pushes characters to navigate everything from the dirty underground of suburbia to a dystopian wasteland in an effort to escape themselves. and they somehow, almost magically, succeed. humanity is the inhuman scourge, but humanity is also the superhuman savior, and in humanity we ultimately trust.

philosophically, it's illogical. or naive. the dead cannot save themselves. it's that basic tenet that forces me to accept my own Christianity. i know the magnitude of my own degradation, and it is absolute, and the only thing that can give me new life is for absolute purity, absolute wholeness and light, to sacrifice itself on my part. absolute purity does not exist within man; how these films can spend two hours depicting that truth and yet somehow ignore it at the same time is beyond me.

Todd Field makes surprisingly moral films. with In the Bedroom, he attacked murder, violence, hate. with Little Children, it's sexual deviancy and adultery that bear the brut of his ire. he attempts to paint the reality of these issues (few cinematic murders have as much impact as the one in In the Bedroom), but there's an undeniable moralist bent that determines the plot and the actions of his characters. In the Bedroom, when all is said and done, is not a great film. it's a short story bloated to feature length, and its structure is a little suspect, but it felt singular in its attention to acting details (Field himself an actor) and in its willingness to let key scenes really breathe. however, in that the film condemns its characters actions without clearly offering an alternative (a shot of a town steeple almost seems incidental), it's a serious movie that feels a little too dour. and i'm not saying that these characters must turn to God, but they turn to themselves and find nothing. which, i guess, is a truthful conclusion in its own right, even if it won't be winning any feel-good awards.

unfortunately, contrivances overwhelm authenticity on Field's follow-up. with all kinds of cute storytelling gimmicks and a narrator that sounds straight out of NFL's Greatest Games, Little Children plays less like the meticulously rendered modern chamber drama that was In The Bedroom and more like Desperate Housewives for the art house crowd -- or the biggest (anti)spiritual successor to American Beauty yet. again, the movie runs long, and this time with some completely unnecessary story tangents. it's fairly entertaining and involving for being your run-of-the-mill infidelithriller pulp, and i admire the way Field treats sexual deviancy and adultery as, at their cores, being immoral not because of their illegality in the eyes of state or social mores, but because they are behaviors which often hurt "the ones we love" and are mindful only of self-gratification. unlike the more ambiguous In the Bedroom, though, these characters manage to shake themselves out of their wayward mindsets. in almost every case, their epiphanies are less than satisfying. one character changes because he receives a note that tells him to "be a good boy." Kate Winslet's character realizes she should love her daughter more. a neighborhood watchdog/ex-cop feels guilty about the death of an elderly woman. Patrick Wilson goes skateboarding. again, it's refreshing how Field treats the idea of "love" as a decision that his characters must actively make in order to redeem themselves, but to my mind divine love, agape love, is the only thing that could affect these reactions in characters who are so entrenched in what they feel and want. of course, agape love could be manifest through the events that the film depicts, but it doesn't add up that way, especially not when Wilson's character apparently only needed some kind of thrill trip to make him feel vital and alive again.

far more aesthetically impressive and viscerally gripping, Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men is no less disappointing in terms of what it promises and yet how trapped it is by adhering to humanism, by carefully avoiding.the idea that salvation must come from something which is external to humanity. the title itself almost feels like a riff on the idea that Jesus was son of God and son of Man. for Cuaron and novelist P.D. James, all that's needed is the latter, the sons and daughters of Man, the hope that future mankind will improve upon its present self. i've heard some of the film's defenders among the Christian left state that the film's filled with religious imagery, but it seems clear to me that Cuaron is appropriating that imagery for the purpose of imbuing the film's humanism with the sort of mythic import and grandeur found naturally in religious mysticism while at the same time making a mockery of that which it emulates. the pregnant girl in Children of Men tells Theo (Clive Owen) that she's a virgin, Theo gapes for a moment, and then she says she's just kidding and the audience enjoys a laugh at the thought of such a thing as an immaculate conception. this, however, doesn't stop Cuaron from romanticizing and stain-glassing his own humanist worldview, even in the face of all the terrible things he shows humans doing to each other. P.S. i haven't seen anyone argue that the name of Clive's character has any allegory to it, probably because they realize the implications that'd have for Malcolm Jamal Warner. but if you do want to take his name as allegorical, let's consider the function his character fulfills in the film and what happens to him in the end. yeeeahhh.

i'm gonna go ahead and indulge in some more standard criticism here, for i do want to recommend that all of you check out at least a matinee of Children of Men. it needs to be seen in the theater. and why? well...

Children of Men is stunning stuff for various reasons, if not for the reasons that really count in the long run. Cuaron focuses so intensely on manufacturing a filmic social realism for the sci-fi setup, most everything else is neglected or communicated via the standard moments of levity or sappy score cues. the film's got detail, visual chutzpah, and versimilitude out the ass (and a fat fistful of pathos), it just has very little in the way of strong character development (almost all of it is delivered through expositional dialogue) or intricate storytelling (basically, it's a dystopian road movie) or engaging philosophy (amounts to a dictation: "have faith in humanity"). i'd like to think that Cuaron's balancing of hopelessness with hope works better than it does, but i can't assign too much import to moments like the one where the fighting resumes, because if i do, where does that leave the picture? it'd be rendered as conceptually indecisive as something like Munich.

this is, however, the best post-SPR Spielberg movie that Spielberg didn't make. for whatever's that worth.

the two major action takes, the car sequence and the climactic pursuit sequence, are awe-inspiring. both are marred by some minor glitches and factual errors (e.g. the way the car's windshield dissolves -- laminated glass doesn't behave like that), but are nonetheless an elevation of film manipulation techniques that started around the time of a seamless, unnoticeable digital edit job in Contact. to echo what others have said, this is what Spielberg could have done with his WotW car scene if he wasn't too busy showing off: using the advancements in film technology to suck the audience into a sense of reality in situations so intense the reality is heightened, becoming both dizzyingly dynamic and suffocatingly claustrophobic. Spielberg missed the mark because he went too flamboyant with the camera moves, swung us too far around the point of his characters' perspective, and so lost a grip on the presence of the scene. i mean, Saving Private Ryan isn't exactly a good movie, but it does have some very good scenes in it, and the greatness of the beach sequence lies in Spielberg coming up with a shooting method that turns a fantastically staged action setpiece into something more than that, something grueling, something that the viewer experiences. he did that by having the steadicam operator adopt a continuous perspective at the very center of the action, to the point where the action even affects the camera, but avoids the implication of a narrative first person (which would obstruct the first person of the audience) and the risk of the action becoming unintelligible chaos by using his established characters as spatial and emotional anchors. he tried to push that a step farther with the digital editing in WotW, but he went too far and the flashy camera became too loosely tethered to the characters. we didn't feel trapped with them. Cuaron avoids that mistake. he fixes us right there in the car, and he doesn't let us out until he lets Theo out.

the issue is, then, are we invested in the characters in these scenes because they are characters that deserve our investment, or are we invested because we're watching to see how they'll ever escape these hellish single takes? i'll tell you one thing, at least in the case of the character Miriam (atrociously acted by Pam Ferris), it's definitely the latter. and the whole time i was just rooting for her to bite the bullet. for a related aside: Little Children uses the digital editing trick in place of cross dissolves in a time passage montage. which is okay, i guess, because i hate cross dissolves, but this came off like something you'd see in a car commercial. filmmaking tools can't just be used well, they have to be used with purpose.

back to the philosophical rigamarole, one might say, "so, then, betz, what are you asking for? televangelism?"

of course not. i guess i just wish that artists wouldn't be afraid of their own inclination towards spirituality, because i think that inclination's very evident in films like Little Children and Children of Men, but these movies show Field and Cuaron fighting with that inclination every step of the way, or trying to create a new "spirituality" that abnegates the necessary role of the supernatural. so that's what it comes down to. and it comes down to Pan's Labyrinth not getting here soon enough.

Posted 1/13/2007 "

Royal Tenenbaums Poem


Margot was a runaway
Determined to stay away from home.
She sat in the tub at times
Flipping channels on the TV set with her toes.
Smoking out of the corner of her mouth.
Blowing fabrications into the fan.
Leaving her bearded man
To rendezvous with her novelist boyfriend.
So she sulked and walked in slow motion
Seeming too tired to smile
While Nico talked in a husky tune
So her brother could swoon and depress into death.
Love twisted out of blood,
Too important to screw with.

Wonder Boys Poem


James was a boy,
Depressed and lonely.
Happy to go with Tripp
Riding in cars getting high
Enough to eat the box.
Incredible doughnuts.
He stood in the snow
With a quiet voice
Too sad to fake apathy
Telling tall tales about penny arcades in Baltimore.
Taking time to lean his head back against the bar booth
Finishing lines to stories he overheard.
Shouting slurred "knapsack"s into a pretty girl's ears
While she took measures to help him walk.
And he shot the mutt.
Memorized the suicides.
And he's one in a million,
The best writer since The Arsonist's Daughter.
Writing stories about prize fighters and Love Parades,
Earning accolades that come in the form
Of the best professor calling at the top of his lungs
For the lonely and sad student to "take a bow, James!"

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Further Thoughts about The Color of Money

I was thinking...maybe Fast Eddie was prideful at the end of the movie. It was a different kind of pride than when he was broken by Forest Whitaker's character. This kind of pride included integrity (forfeiting after playing a fixed match) and character much like the character Fast Eddie said he had gained during the final scene of The Hustler. But he had pride nonetheless. I won't fight that assertion any longer.

The Color of Money

The Color of Money is gold. No kidding. The Hustler is better, but The Color of Money gives its predecessor a run for its money.

The melodrama of the first is toned back. Scorsese puts together a great cast, minus the big pro Cruise battles at a pool hall and in the tournament. When I first saw The Color of Money, I resisted liking it. Paul Newman won his only Best Actor Oscar for the film, and part of me was just bitter he didn't get it for Cool Hand Luke and The Hustler. But Newman deserved his Oscar. His Fast Eddie Felson is older, but not necessarily wiser. He still is suceptible to the rush of the pursuit of the perfect pool shot and knowing you're the best player out there. Newman again shows the rise and fall of pride. But he learns how to pick himself up again. And that's where wisdom gained comes from.

Cruise is great as a player even more cocky and talented than Fast Eddie, if that's possible. When I first saw the movie, I thought his performance was too "out there," too over the top. But it fits. It actually fits. His Vince is over the top, a ball of egotistical energy. His black T-shirt with his name in big white letters across the chest is splendid. It captures the character's drive - to be front and center all the time. I want a "Vince" t-shirt for myself.

Mary Elizabeth Mastriantonio is a spit fire gal with a manipulative streak. Her three way mental match between Vince and Fast Eddie provides most of the drama. She's good and so young. It's weird to think that not too long after she was Ed Harris' wife in The Abyss, still a spit fire, but somehow so much older than in The Color of Money.

Drawbacks: The film's score. I get what soundtracks do. They set the time. They let us know when and where we are. That's why the music in the pool halls and bars works. However, the obvious 80s music pulses throughout the score in driving scenes and the like. I've always thought that a score should be timeless, well mostly timeless. I can't imagine how old Run Lola Run's score will sound in 20 years. Another drawback was short and bitter. Scorsese chooses to slow down to a freeze frame when a newly reinvigorated Fast Eddie leaps out of a swimming pool's water. I get it. He's back. Born anew. Good idea. Poor execution. The short break bumped me from the story. It's corny. Old men bursting out of pools with deep, loud breaths don't really work on a dramatic level for me.

I watched this movie a third time with Andrew Siragusa and my brother. They said they liked the movie because it took a different approach to the ending. They said that instead of the usual change-for-the-better story arc, Fast Eddie Felson and Vince remain approximately the same throughout the film. There are obvious times when each could have turned a corner and gone in a different direction, but they don't take it.

I agree on the one hand. Vince doesn't change dramatically. If anything, he's more cocky, hardened to the world. But Fast Eddie definitely changes. At the beginning of the film, he's been out of the game for twenty plus years. He watches from a far with a yearning for the fast life again, hustling hustlers for their cash and pride. But he does it by proxy through Vince. He changes. He fights back. He joins the fray, putting himself back into the game. And he has to overcome his pride. It's easy to say he doesn't in fact overcome it. After all, the film ends with him cockily slamming the cue ball into the other balls at the end of the table, saying "I'm back." But I think the tell tale sign that he has in fact overcome his pride comes just prior to this moment. He basically admits that Vince is better than him, and may beat him time after time again, but he won't bail. He can win one. Until he does, he'll take the losses and get right back in the mix to get his win. He's "back" because he learned his lesson. Pride in pool will get you bad if you let it. It took his love away from him in The Hustler. It left him in The Color of Money (schooled by a young hustler played by Forest Whitaker), but he can keep going. He's smarter. Finally, he's wiser. In the end, he wants to teach Vince the lesson he learned. Maybe with some bitterness involved, but still that wisdom that makes Felson better even if Vince has more talent.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Some Kind of Wonderful

My biggest complaint with Some Kind of Wonderful is that it's really just Pretty in Pink with a change in genders and ending. The rest is basically the same. I don't really want to argue with the film's fans, but the comparison is easily made. A misfit with good grades and growing pains (Ringwald in PIP, Eric Stoltz in SKOW) falls for a popular kid (Andrew McCarthy in PIP, Lea Thompson in SKOW) with popular friends that don't approve. All the while, the misfit's best friend (Jon Cryer in PIP, Mary Stuart Masterson in SKOW), also a misfit, is in love with them. The misfit ends up with one of them, but the end result flips from one film to the other.

The difference is I didn't care about the characters nearly as much as I did in PIP. As much as I like Stoltz, I couldn't root for him as much as I should have. I didn't care who he ended up with. I didn't care that he told his dad that “I don't want your life” (go Varsity Blues). He seemed nice enough, but the whole “stick up for yourself” thing never reached a satisfying end. It was just a mess. Lesson: to stick up for yourself, get your friends to threaten your enemies.

Pluses: Elias Koteas as a punk high schooler. He's funny. Candace Cameron (D.J. Tanner herself) as Stoltz's precocious little sister. She's funny.



Casablanca is a classic for a reason. It is well written and well acted. It's fun and dramatic at the same time. Bogart basically plays the Bogart persona, but that's okay because Bogart is cool. The real thrill is the script. It is full of all these famous lines, but they are truly lines that deliver upon their promises. The film is truly satisfying as entertainment. But real skill is obviously involved in the staging of all this intrigue and character development.

My big complaint is the flashback of Elsa and Rick's romance in Paris. It's the worst acted scene of the film and only takes me out of the incredibly interesting present. I understand that the flashback sets up much of the background of both Rick and Elsa's current personalities, but the execution of the scene is just too much of a bump for me. This, along with the place in the present the flashback occurs, takes me out of the story too much.

But a classic is a classic and no amount of my nitpicking is really going to blemish a film deserving of that designation. Casablanca is just such a film.


Killing Zoe

I felt this intense need to see Killing Zoe. It was unexplained. It came fast and serious. I had to see it. My best guess is I wanted to see Eric Stoltz in an edgy movie. I loved the guy in Kicking and Screaming (see that at all costs) and enjoyed him in Mr. Jealousy. But I vaguely remembered him playing the drug dealer in Pulp Fiction and being very, very good at it. So I really, really wanted to see Killing Zoe.

Killing Zoe is directed by Roger Avary, co-writer of Pulp Fiction. That's right! Tarantino didn't do it alone! Avary also directed Rules of Attraction, which I liked and thought improved upon the book it was based upon. So I had hopes for Killing Zoe.

It started off well. There was a strange love scene between Stoltz and Julie Delpy followed by a conversation that was well written. Then Eric entered and the movie lost me. The movie's charm vacated the premises.

My first complaint is that the drugged out trip through the city goes on for way too long. I know what the director was trying to do. He wanted to give hints that Anglade's Eric was not the way Stoltz's Zed remembered him. He was worse. Scarier. Unpredictable. He did it. He just took way too long to do it.

What followed can best be described as a heist gone wrong, but it never really had the edge or suspense of what it attempted to portray. The only character I could really root for was Julie Delpy's, and she was hardly in it. Ditto for Eric Stoltz, although he is arguably the main character. Stoltz does his best, but the movie ends up being a bit of a mess just like Eric, played by Jean-Hugues Anglade. Anglade chews the scenery a bit, but he does get to be part of the film's best moment, when his crazed character snaps a burst of light out of the air.

I was debating myself as to whether what I was watching was actually okay or not for most of the movie. If the film had pulled off a great ending, all would have been forgiven. But the final climax doesn't really satisfy. Some attempts at clever dialogue don't fit with the mess at the end and really detract from any sense of real suspense. And Stoltz just gets the shit beat out of him. Honestly, I just wanted him to do the same to Eric (Anglade's character, not Stoltz).


Pretty in Pink

Pretty in Pink is good John Hughes, not grand John Hughes like the Breakfast Club. But good is...well, good. Part of the reason I like Hughes is he writes complicated teenagers. Complicated “villains”...not so much. James Spader delivers a one-note performance as the popular, rich jerk. But he does it so well, I can't really complain.

Molly Ringwald is so good in Hughes movies that I wonder how she fell so far off the map. She's no Meryl Streep, to be sure, but she always played her roles well in her Hughes films. My guess is her talent didn't mature enough to play adult roles. That and adults probably weren't willing to see her in “their” movies.

The adoring weird friend is a common character in Hughes' world, and Jon Cryer delivers a fine performance as Ducky.

I also liked Harry Dean Stanton as Ringwald's dad. The guy's a pro, never playing down to genre that usually didn't let the adult performers shine.

As a writer, Hughes always made a real effort to show how teenagers can be smart, complicated people who we can all relate to. He showed complexity in social classes that often gets glossed over for stereotypes. The guy was good. I miss him. The rumor was that he wrote Maid in Manhattan. If so, I cry. But the guy needs to jump back in and do the teenager thing. Because even if the 80s soundtracks and vocabulary of its main characters must be changed, the issues are still there. And teenage movies can be good again.

My major complaint: The end feels incredibly rushed. All the problems seem to fix themselves in one big whirlwind. The film had earned a better constructed ending.


Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society is great. It's not perfect, but I cannot really deny it is great. Robin William's performance as an unconventional teacher at a prestigious prep school is ripe for poking fun at, but it is also very good. But the big draw is the crop of burgeoning talent from the young cast. Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles, Robert Sean Leonard, and Gale Hansen (among others) shine as students encouraged to seize the day by Williams and a display case full of alumni. By now, the amazing teacher inspires students subgenre is well established and tired. But it feels fresh in Dead Poets Society. Rather than heart-string pulling at the hands of directors and screenwriters, I felt the story and performances really did the heavy lifting here. The ending is one of my favorites.

Detractions: 1) Running through the snow after the death looks wonderful, but rings false when one character emotionally tries to console another. 2) That score. It doesn't really hold up well to time. It has that heavy feeling late 80s. It's instantly recognizable. But I cringe slightly when I think of its sound during big scenes. 3)The actor who played Cameron was bad. I liked him in Way of the Gun when he was older, but he stuck out like a sore thumb here.



I've been watching quite a few noir films lately. I've noticed a convention of the genre worth noting. There's usually a protagonist looking for something. What they actually find usually ends up to be much more than they had imagined. That's the case with Laura. I like the movie. I just wish I hadn't seen it right after I watched The Third Man because any movie after that would pale in comparison. Laura has some good performances and some wonderfully sharp dialogue, but it isn't as tight of a plot or production as The Maltese Falcon was. The hero and heroine's chemistry was obvious, which helped string me along, but the hero's love obsession never felt real. The guy kind of leaped head first without any real reason or motivation. None of what he (and we as the audience through his investigation) learned was enough to get anybody that hot and bothered about a “dame.”


The Third Man

The Third Man is one of the best movies I have ever seen. Unlike the initial over- admiration that eventually turns into general acceptance of a job well done that seems to plague my movie critiques, I foresee a long love affair with The Third Man. Style out the wazoo. Those camera angles. That lighting. Orson Welles underplaying it for a change. One of the best endings ever. I think it's all there, preserved for those of us waiting to see an old film that truly stands the test of time. The cinematography alone makes the film one of the best cinema has to offer.



Grindhouse is a blast. It's entertainment without substance. Don't let anyone tell you different. But it is fun...a lot of fun.

Death Proof has been the film of this double feature to receive most of the accolades, but I must say I enjoyed Planet Terror more. It embraced its unique ridiculousness and the ridiculousness of its genre, having fun with corny dialogue, fluff love stories, and blood and guts galore. I should say that I could stomach the gore in Planet Terror because, unlike 28 Weeks Later, it was over-the-top, unbelievable, almost cartoonish. Disgusting, yes, to say the least, but never beyond a level of obvious zany-gore. Bubbling faces make me squirm, but, oddly, they also make me laugh.

Death Proof's ending was the best of the two and really saved that film for me. I really laughed my face off. But the dialogue blandness of the film never was very fun for me. I love Tarantino. I love his dialogue. I could listen to his characters talk about foot massages and European fast food for a long time, but there is no real cleverness in the words Death Proof's characters share for the majority of the film. It's just...talking. And for a double feature that definitely seems to want to entertain, that's not good. Still, the actresses are capable, even when they say nothing. Rosario Dawson should be the star of a new Tarantino where she, you know, gets to say or do something worthwhile. The car chases are good.

I saw the whole thing for a buck at the local dollar theater and it was a steal. The package was presented with a fun bit of retro cool, though the fake trailers before and in between the two features weren't very good.

Side Note: Kurt Russell cannot act. Even when he is expected to act badly, as he must have been in Death Proof, he still fails to hit any sort of skill note. He's tone deaf when it comes to talent. (Still, Tombstone Kurt Russell is better than any other Russell).

Grindhouse: ***
Death Proof: **1/2
Planer Terror: ***

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Omen (2006)

Well, I recommend this movie almost soley because it scared me. It can actually be quite corny at times.

Julia Stiles is terrible in the film whenever she speaks (so when her jaw is wired shut, she's swell). Liev Schreiber delivers a solid performance. I'll admit the kid playing Damien scared me, but I can't really praise his one-note performance. The kid merely hangs out looking silently creepy (with some occasional freak outs). The director really doesn't show much skill in guiding his cast. Unless he wanted simple performances from everyone but ole Liev.

Most of the scares are built on religious reality, so atheists need not shiver from anticipation. I, however, felt chills in my bones for most of the second half of this movie.

Unintentional laughs - a beheading, Mia Farrow crazy (jumping on backs and swinging things at cars)


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Alien Resurrection

Alien Resurrection, thou hast failed. Oh, boy, thou really hast failed. This movie is ridiculous – how does Ripley show off her new found hyrid abilities? Through a round of tough gal basketball tricks of course. Not just basketball, but basketball on a court on a the future...with Ron Perlman...who's a space pirate. Tah-dah! Thou stinks.

I had some hope for the movie even though I had heard it was bad. Joss Whedon wrote it. I liked both Buffy and Firefly. I certainly love his work on the Astonishing X-Men comic title. But his script sucks. Or maybe the acting sucks. Methinks both suck. Immensely.

Perlman fails to be a believable human being once again. I hadn't noticed how awkward Winona Ryder can be at times, but that is on display during her performance in Alien Resurrection. I like her, but I'm starting to think she isn't the strong talent I once thought she was. More charisma than talent, perhaps. Weaver is laughable the whole time, the tough woman shtick is old and tired in Alien Resurrection, mostly because the dialogue is so bad. But Weaver doesn't exactly rise above her lines either.

It was the least exciting “exciting” movie I have seen in a long time. It did succeed at being really gross, though. Way to go, lackluster movie. All the crunching, slimy, exhaling wheezing made me cringe as usual when watching an Alien movie. But the thrill was gone. In its place was a mistake of a movie masquerading as entertainment. “Boo!” I say, sir. “Boo!”


Edward Scissorhands

Hurray for Tim Burton! He did it! He won me over once and for all. The director has failed me several times – the laughable Planet of the Apes remake, Big Fish (gets worse every new time I see it, though still recommended for casual fun), etc.. Then I saw Ed Wood last December. That was a thrilling movie. I had a great feeling after watching that movie. I had the same great feeling as the credits after Edward Scissorhands began to run.

Edward Scissorhands was such a treat after having just watched Alien Resurrection. The lift in spirits was so big because they had been so low. Scissorhands is a sweet, melancholy “fable” (as Winona Ryder said in the featurette on the DVD). It captures the feeling of teenage angst in someone who appears impossible to relate to. The outsider mentality is ever present. Besides the theme of being not only the new kid, but also the weird kid, the film lightly skewers suburbia with its fake people and air of goodness.

The movie is funny, too. Hijinks ensue. Well-written hijinks minus the familiar The O.C. plink, plink, plunk of the keyboard.

I couldn't really have predicted what would have happened just by the premise and DVD cover. The film takes a interesting approach to fantasy, placing its eerie hero within the confines of the pristine suburb of Nameless Town. What follows sticks closely to what could have been a great Hughes' teen comedy of the 80's, but infuses it with wonder and pathos (though you gotta love the pathos of Hughes' best films). In fact, frequent Hughes' favorite Anthony Michael Hall appears as a high school jerk.

The performances are mostly all noteworthy. I was surprised to see how much Johnny Depp could do with so little dialogue. The performance never really breaks for air. He lives in the pale skin and makes it real for the audience. Big props should be given to Alan Arkin and Dianne Wiest for their portrayals of genuinely pleasant suburban parents. I loved all the advice and lessons Arkin tried to hand out to Edward. Funny stuff. Listening to him treat Edward as a son was funny to watch. Needless to say, there was no family resemblance. Zing!

Winona Ryder mostly rescued herself from my wrath after her deplorable performance in Alien Resurrection. Again, I was aware of her awkwardness as an actress, but I like the woman. She did solid work in Scissorhands, playing the John Hughesesque popular dream girl with more depth than her pretty face seems to suggest.

The music by Danny Elfman was much appreciated as well. An eerie loveliness, much a kin to Eward Scissorhands himself, was communicated through the score. I loved the ahhhh's of the choir.

Bravo for the ending. Sweetly sad. Much loved.


The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon was a really fun movie to watch. The dialogue is quick and sharp, full of phrasings not used in everyday life, but ever present in the noir genre. The Maltese Falcon screams noir, but does so in a calm, cool manner. I am not personally one who subscribes to the Bogart is a god form of a parasocial relationship. He's always been a relic of the classic era that I have distanced from myself over recent years. But he is good, no, very good, in The Maltese Falcon. I never thought of the man as being capable of cool, but he is so cool that sheep count him (yo, Mamet).

The Femme Fatale, the gun heavy, and the mysterious man behind it all (in this case, “The Fat Man”) are all present. Twists and turns abound. Loyalties change as quickly as the words shoot out of Bogart's mouth. Truth be told, the film shows some age. It fits perfectly with the genre and the time of its release, but the slow pacing and long revelatory speeches don't generally happen or work well in modern films. Indeed, attention spans must have been longer 60 odd years ago. That having been said, I was interested in this film the whole way through, though the final payoff was not as big as I had anticipated or hoped for.

Side note: it was fun to see all the references Brick (2005) had made to The Maltese Falcon. There are several homages in Rian Johnson's film. The long-short-long-short horn signal was the same as a knocking signal in The Maltese Falcon. A conversation with the Principal in Brick held the same spirit as a conversation with the D.A. In The Maltese Falcon. There were others as well.

So, The Maltese Falcon was fun. I loved the script's crackling dialogue and Bogart's performance. I wish the payoff had been better. But it still gets a big recommendation from me. That's saying a lot because I don't usually tout the merits of older films. So, take heart, readers.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Reign Over Me

Well, it's pretty good. It falters after a court scene.

Sandler doesn't really receive much love (financially) from his usually supportive fans, but he has some real chops (please, please, please check out Punch Drunk Love). He uses a little kid voice in Reign Over Me, which can be annoying, especially in a emotional scene at a therapist's office. But his interactions with the other lead, Don Cheadle, are good. The two play well off each other. Cheadle doesn't have the showy role, that's left to Sandler. But I appreciate Cheadle's performance more because it's more nuanced, less of a one step dance.

The film had me in its corner most of the way through, but lost me in that court room scene. All the contrivances that could be included were included. The scenes that followed mostly rang false, but the positive experience I had prior to that turning point still earns a recommendation from me.

One of the things I really loved about the movie (prior to the court scene) was how everybody wanted to fix Sandler's troubled character. He had an obvious problem that needed addressing, but the film really nailed how difficult it can be for a person to change (then it blows it after the court scene). The frustration and concern of loved ones felt real.

Damn that court scene.

*** (I struggle with this rating because it's better than 28 Weeks Later, but worse than Barcelona, but I'm not going to go as far as to give it a **3/4 rating. That's a bit picky.)

Metropolitan, Barcelona (aka Whit Stillman is neat)

Metropolitan (written and directed by Whit Stillman)

I caught Metropolitan with one of my professors, then watched Barcelona immediately after. First, Metropolitan. Swell movie. It was right up my alley - talky characters with little to do. In truth, the characters rarely did anything other than sit around in nice duds and talk each other's ears off. And they did so with such sharp dialogue. An example: "Playing strip poker with an exhibitionist somehow takes the challenge away."

I liked that Stillman let little events, seemingly minute occurences of tiny revelations during the many conversations, shape the characters and move the plot (although Metropolitan is most certainly not a plot-driven film) toward its conclusion.

Midway through the film, my professor said he actually only liked one of the characters, although he had affection for many of them. This was well said, I think, because most of the characters are self-centered snobs. However, I had a different reaction to them. I loved 'em. I was charmed by their flaws, especially Christopher Eigeman's Nick (discover him, I beg you). It was such a fun mix of stuck up oblivious (though they thought themselves to be very knowledgeable) youngins.

Again, the dialogue is sharp. The acting, not always so much. The film was independently made and many of the performers have not gone on to successful careers. In fact, some have not acted since. So, the acting can be rough at times. But the charm and charisma of the film is always there.

Barcelona (Stillman's handywork again)

This film was made after Metropolitan. Much of Stillman's skill is still present. The film is more polished. The overall level of acting is improved. Eigeman is again present and plays a similar character to Nick from Metropolitan (much to my delight). Taylor Nichols (Charlie in Metropolitan) returns as well. The two play cousins and the film centers on their interactions. The dialogue is still sharp and in abundance. An example: "You are far weirder than someone merely into S&M. At least they have a tradition. We have some idea what S&M is about. There's movies and books about it. But so far as I know, there is nothing to explain the way you are."

Rather than focusing on little occurances like Metropolitan did, Barcelona slowly builds an atmosphere of tension between the natives and Eigeman and Nichols' two Americans abroad. It leads to a major climax - a major event that changed the feeling of the film. It was then that I faltered in my enjoyment of the film. The sharp dialogue was still present. But the not so subtle (not at all) immediate rise in the stakes was too jarring for me. I thought I had figured Stillman out - less if more. But he used a serious event to change the mood of the film and it really caught me off guard. The film did return to its earlier tone, but I found it difficult to return to the high level of enjoyment.

Barcelona: ***
Metropolitan: ****

More Eigeman films: Mr. Jealousy, Kicking and Screaming (identical characters, still great)

28 Weeks Later...

28 Weeks Later forgot everything that made its predecessor so special and exciting. I say "exciting" in reference to its innovations and creativity. The second copies the style of the first, but moves into more gore, less character (while there are many more actors than the first), and big set pieces. The writing feels very clunky at times. The conversational tone of the first is left behind for military speak and odd interaction between the two children and anyone they come in contact with. A reoccurring infected (zombie) got under my skin in a very bothersome way. On the plus side: there are some chilling scenes. A journey through a dark subway station littered with dead and only a first person view of night vision for the audience built great suspense and genuine scares. A chase in the beginning (seen in the trailer) where Robert Carlyle races away from a horde of very fast, snarling, slobbering infected is thrilling. But that may be the biggest problem I had with the film: other than these two excellent suspenseful and scary scenes, the film fell into the “Bump in the Silence” scares. Quiet followed by jarring music and movement or sound was prevalent. The slowly building and well designed chilling atmosphere of the first film is all but missing from its sequel.

Side note: It is unfair for me to make this complaint, but I must for my own benefit. The characters…oh, the characters…well, what’s the big deal about the two kids, heck, the soldiers, the dad, the mom? Don’t get me wrong; I was rooting for them. Rather than investing myself in characters and genuinely caring about them as I had in the superior 28 Days Later, I was only rooting for the heroes in 28 Weeks Later because they were children, alive, human, and in trouble. I never got to know the characters at all. Any attempt to make the characters accessible was shoddy and primarily failed. I can easily chalk the lack of character development up to the constraints of the plot. Conversations about home and the horror of it all can’t really happen when you’re running for your life the entire (well, most of it) movie. But I missed it, the character development.

Side note 2: The gore was a problem for me as well. I realize this is just a personal reaction to the film element. Others may have watched the first and thought, “WTF, man! Where’s the guts, the blood? More! More!” Indeed, the genre currently demands buckets. However, one of the things that helped the first film work so well for me was the simplicity of the “action/horror” scenes – intense, but not over the top. In 28 Weeks Later, the gore is featured, stressed, put front and center in the “action/horror” scenes. The peak of the gore was a helicopter scene that one of my friends loved, but made me cringe from the ridiculous, indulgent nature of the end result. “Really?” I asked myself. “They really just did that?” In that way, I think the filmmakers achieved one of their goals. But I could have used some more atmosphere – like the subway scene – and less gore.

A repeat viewing made do wonders for my reaction to the film with new lowered expectations (they were very, very high).