Archive for April, 2010

Alice In Wonderland

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Tim Burton will never turn out a movie where people drawl in monotones among blank, white rooms and thank god for that. Sadly, this effort is quite a bit more Sleepy Hollow than it is Edward Scissorhands. I would have loved this movie when I was 11, but it takes more than killer costumes and hair to earn my ardor nowadays. Oh, and the outfits and the hair are magnificent; I wanted to pet Mia Wasikowska’s hair and dresses so much it was distracting. I did for once enjoy the 3-D (I was wearing my glasses instead of my contacts, and it was a different type of 3-D glasses, so not sure where to lay the blame but I dug it); it’s a good mix of things popping out at you ostentatiously and the background deepening subtly. If visuals were all a movie needed, this thing would be on the Oscar shortlist. But, turns out, you actually need a story and characterizations that are compelling, even if your name is Tim Burton…

What I found most surprisingly about this movie was how bad several of the acting performances were! Crispin Glover, sweetheart, I am looking at you most pointedly. He appears in movies so rarely (or at least, movies I see) that I get over-excited for a minute when I do find him on the big screen. After the initial 30 seconds of Glovershock wore off, I was dismayed to find him not good in any way.  Well, there was a moment where he tries to put the moves on Alice that just about made my skin crawl off my body and under the theater chair, bravo, but for the most part he just stunk. I expected a little more from a varsity letterman.

Anne Hathaway, as well – some great facial expressions and high notes, but ultimately a one-dimensional performance further hampered by terrible, distracting makeup. Helena Bonham Carter actually imbues her character with some depth and sparkle, and pretty much all of the voice actors are superb (although, really, Christopher Lee as the Jabberwock? Is it a requirement that all evil things be voiced by him?). Johnny Depp grabs your attention as always, but I couldn’t figure out where he was going with his accent. I’m fairly sure his accent fluctuated with the moods and intentions of his character, but I didn’t care enough to think about it long enough to figure it out. Which is really the main problem with the whole show – I couldn’t have given two shits about any of it. All the characters are flat and unengaging, and the plot is far too simple to take so long. It slogs along with so little verve that The Mad Hatter’s crazy freaky dance at the end, when there’s meant to be a celebration, is just plain creepy and jarring. This is Alice In Fucking Wonderland, people, we should be sitting here with smiles on our faces and laughter in our fucking hearts!

Quite pretty, though, and not nearly as bad as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, so there you go.

Repo Men

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This movie blows. It makes very little sense, and although its tone and pacing are consistent throughout (at least it isn’t choppy), it is slow and boring. I started spacing out like a 3rd grader in church – DURING A FIGHT SCENE. The “twists” are obvious and mostly lame. Most of the characters’ motivations are totally opaque – I have to wonder how much of this is poor filmmaking, and how much is crap source material. Jude Law is an artificial organ reposesser, until an accident lands him with an overpriced artificial ticker and he has a CHANGE of HEART – literally!!  HA HA HA! GET IT?!   It feels like it’s an adaptation of a terrible pulp sci-fi novel ripped off from Philip K. Dick – I liked this movie better when it was called Minority Report and was coherent and compelling.  Jesus Christ, this movie is an insult.

Alice Braga is pretty good, and I’m interested in seeing her in the new Predator reboot, and that is pretty much all the good I have to say about this movie.

Ghost Dog, how could you?!


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They should really change the title to “Hit Girl” and be done with it. Chloe Grace Moretz is somethin’ else – that little girl has a way with a stunt wire. I want there to be a movie of just Moretz and Eliza Dushku beating the shit out of people. They’re both just so natural with their fight scenes, it’s a thing of beauty (to clarify, Dushku isn’t in this movie; she’s just the best ladyfighter I happen to have seen).

I have it on good authority that for the most part, this movie is utterly UNfaithful to the comic, which is a pity because from what I hear, the comic’s story is much, much darker and more compelling. Luckily, for once I have not had the movie ruined because I haven’t read the comics yet!

But I still did not have my world rocked, although I did enjoy it. I got a little bored and distracted every time Hit Girl wasn’t in a scene, and I was not impressed with Nic Cage (I’m sure he thought his Adam West impression was hilarious, but I found it pointless). Still, everyone is sweet and Matthew Vaughn, the director, has always had a great feel for the emotional range of violence – sometimes it’s light and awesome or funny, sometimes it’s upsetting and sad or scary. Aaron Johnson brings the right mix of naiveté and horrified gumption. Although, seriously, slapping a pair of glasses on a pretty person does not magically render them Nerdy And Unattractive – have we learned nothing from Superman? McLovin does a nice job, although I’m beginning to consider him a one-trick pony. Mark Strong and his snaggletooth continue to be a consistently competent go-to villain (can’t wait to see him as Sinestro in Green Lantern) – also, his stereotypical Italian mob accent is delightful.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go start penning my screenplay for Chloe and Eliza Fuck Shit Up: 3D.


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I don’t actually like Ben Stiller very much, just in general. I usually find him creepy and angry and strangely square-headed. Apparently, I’m supposed to find him charming and adorable and hilariously funny, so sometimes I don’t enjoy his movies because their premise rests on the audience assuming that he is charming, adorable, and hilarious.

In Greenberg, I am meant to think he’s creepy and angry (he’s gotten very skinny, so his head isn’t so square, so replace “square-headed” with “jutting-collarboned”). So although I don’t necessarily like him better, at least there is no cognitive dissonance to contend with. I do need to make the point that Ben Stiller playing a dude struggling with mental illness/emotional problems isn’t really any different  from Ben Stiller in, say, Meet The Fockers, and that shit is way less funny if you imagine your hilarious protagonist as needing serious in-patient treatment. But I digress…

This is probably a bit of an L.A. movie, in that everyone is pretty dull and detached, and no one really likes anybody else; they’d all be assholes if they could be bothered to try harder. What the fuck is it with that? Is everybody in L.A. autistic or have some kind of pragmatic language disorder? Or do those sorts of people gather together around filmmakers like fruit flies on bananas, so that’s what makes it onscreen? I’ve been wondering this since L.A. Story. Fictional people in New York all seem to have coherent thoughts and look other people in the eye, even while flipping them off and punching strangers in the face. But I digress again…

The girl in this, Greta Gerwig is undeniably adorable, although so dissociative and dense that I started to think she had some kind of  intellectual disability. Rhys Ifans, scruffy and cuddly as ever, seemed to be the only person who could focus his eyes. The tertiary cast is carefully selected from the best of Showtime’s series.

So anyway, this movie is fairly aimless and awkward, but clearly intentionally so, and watching Greenberg alternately try to succeed and try to fail at personal relationships is oddly compelling, even though you’re not really sure where it’s going. There are vaguely humorous moments, but it’s not meant to be funny-funny.

The ending, however, is unexpectedly light and undramatic yet cathartic.  I felt actually pretty positive about Greenberg and his struggles at the end, like he didn’t waste my time or his. But ultimately, I’d suggest re-watching Garden State instead.

There is an ailing dog in this movie, and just as a PSA I want you to know that nothing bad happens to him (because I personally worried the whole movie long).


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I’ve been trying to figure out what went wrong with this movie…it’s almost like the script was translated from the French by Babelfish. The story is fairly simple, and should be almost foolproof, yet somehow everything comes out wrong. Important pieces of information are glossed over or omitted, and almost all of the “twists” are easy to figure out when they give you 2 hours with not much else happening to think on it. When it’s all over, if you pick out the plot, it’s not bad at all. The implementation, the direction, needed a much stronger hand. I believe what they were going for was the terror of being in space and not knowing what’s going on, but they couldn’t strike the right balance between giving enough information so that the audience can give a crap and follow your narrative, and giving so much that your scenes lose forward momentum.

The makeup and sets are top-notch. The Scary Monsters are each very unique and realistic, and if perhaps the creature design is really derivative, I’m willing to grant a pass for doing it well.  The sets are nice, too – I like a spaceship that looks more like a fishing freighter than a Mac Genius Bar. Really, the whole thing is like a fucked-up homage to Alien, which I didn’t mind a bit.

The cast, tiny though it is, is largely phenomenal. Ben Foster, holy crap…this guy eats tin cans and bleeds orphan’s tears in every damn movie he’s in. He is amazing. Dennis Quaid is sadly cast rather beyond his reach here, but you get the sense that his role was trimmed down to just the essentials so they could get back to more Ben Foster. The rest of the Red Shirts are much more natural and compelling than they really need to be and really class up the joint.

I would say one might enjoy this movie more if one were drinking, but with the dark blue filter and aimless narrative, you’d be out like a light in the first half hour. Just go rent Sunshine instead, for well-done Creepy Space Mystery With Monsters (although without the awkward happy ending).

Up In The Air

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I admit to being really put off by Hollywood hype; it’s really best if I get to the movie ahead of the hype, or else wait several months until nobody gives a care anymore. So I did go see this movie somewhat reluctantly. I did enjoy it, did find it a meaningful and exceptionally well-done film, and do feel considerably more positive about every single person associated with it (especially Jason Reitman and the cinematographer).

What I did not do was feel very involved or emotionally invested in the movie or its characters – ultimately, that’s a testament to the filmmaker’s prowess, because as our protagonist lives his life at a affectionate remove from other people, so I experienced his story at that same affectionate remove. Excellent movie that did not impact or stay with me at all.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

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I was curious how Wes Anderson would make an animated children’s movie, and the answer is very clear: exactly the way he makes all his movies. If you don’t like his movies, if you find them painfully awkward and self-consciously weird, you probably will not like this because, first and foremost, it’s a Wes Anderson flick. If you are fond of his films in all their geeky hipster glory, you will clap your hands like giddy schoolgirl at this one.

The stop-motion animation is a bit choppy and strange, and I say that as a devotee of the art form. It’s something about the knees that just isn’t right, but the urge to reach out and touch the animals surely means something is being done well. The dialog is snappy and adorably quirky, and the whole thing is just a super fun time. Where does George Clooney get off being charming and attractive when he isn’t even on the screen?!


Sherlock Holmes

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When a movie’s trailer features an underclothed Robert Downey Junior, I think it’s fair to assume that is a movie I will enjoy very much. This film is so much fun! RDJ is perhaps not capable of sucking, and as always gives his character a depth and complexity that isn’t even required. My firm conviction about superheroes is that, were they real, they would not be okay, emotionally speaking; they would be damaged and conflicted and perhaps not very nice at all, because I don’t really believe you can excel (or be motivated to) to that intense a degree without lacking significantly in other areas. A person, no matter how fictional, would not want to give up healthy, satisfying relationships and lifestyles if they were able to have them, in my considered opinion. So these are the superheroes I find most compelling and realistic, and Sherlock Holmes is most definitely a superhero.

The digitally recreated Victorian London is a dirty, smoggy wonder so glorious and historically accurate it does actually wreck my suspension of disbelief. Jude Law as trusty Watson is terrific and sharp and seemingly accepting of the obvious homoerotic undertones to the literature’s greatest bromance. I have one complaint, and that complaint’s name is Rachel McAdams. She isn’t given much to do, sadly, and so this part requires an actress who can telegraph intelligence and force of spirit, and McAdams cannot do that. You’re left wondering what Holmes could possibly see in her and not really buying that she is some kind of criminal mastermind. Somebody more…Cate Blanchettish would have fared better.

The plot is suitably labyrinthine and exciting, and it’s very important that you not think too hard about it. Guy Ritchie’s movies generally move at a breakneck speed, this being no exception, and for once I actually found that a liability. It is literally dizzying at times how quickly it moves, and it seems to be upsetting poor Watson. There is a delightful visual trick introduced in the beginning, whereby we see Holmes choreographing a fight in his head in slow motion immediately before it takes place, mentally ticking off the best moves and most likely outcomes to engineer success, which then gives way to the fight scene in real time, mere seconds. It’s the best use of slow-mo I’ve seen in, oh, ever and also makes Holmes’s fighting ability much more realistic and fascinating. It’s only used a couple of times, though, and I did really want to see more of it.

All in all, a terrific good time that may not plump up your brain cells, but you won’t fall asleep.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor)

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I call the ridiculously compelling and addictive trilogy of Swedish mystery novels this movie is based on “Swedish crack”, so it goes without saying that I’m going to be very hard on this adaptation. I try hard, but ultimately I can’t usually get the book out of my head while I’m watching a movie. How much I like a movie adaptation is directly proportional to how faithfully it serves the spirit of the source material, and although I may support changes to the narrative or characters, I do notice every. single. departure from the text and that can mess with my suspension of disbelief. Even more so than usual, I am totally unable to see how this movie would hit a viewer unfamiliar with the book. I am blinded by my particular devotion to the novel, so consider this a review for those who are already hooked on the Swedish crack, and skip it if you are not.

This movie is, by and large, almost slavishly faithful to the book. The opening scene of the movie is a meticulous reproduction of the opening scene of the book, for instance. Much of the dense background of the story is elucidated in a well-done montage that covers a lot of ground very quickly. The cinematography is quite excellent, as well, although I had hoped to see more of Stockholm. My only criticisms come down to the individual performances, and certain aspects of the editing, and how I don’t feel they are true to the spirit of the source.

Noomi Rapace is a thing to behold in this role, and it was a hard, hard role to fill. She could not possibly look the part more, and is incredibly authentic in it. That said, she has missed (or was forced to miss) what I feel is a central element of the character. Lisbeth Salander is a vividly compelling character, but only if you know her. To strangers or the untrustworthy, she comes off as at the very least stupid and weird, more likely actually developmentally challenged in some way. At the heart of why she is often victimized is that at first glance (or even second and third), she seems like an easy target: a strange little retard who couldn’t possibly fight back but doesn’t inspire sympathy in others.  Of course, this belies an inner steely bad-ass genius, but the whole point is that almost no one knows that, and that’s the way she likes it. Noomi Rapace has a full handle on the bad-ass, but plays Salander like that at all times, so that it doesn’t much make sense when she’s continually underestimated and attacked.

As an extension of that, I found that many scenes were reworked in a way that I felt minimized Salander’s capability and calm, and depicted her as much more the victim than she was written. This is a woman who always gives more than she gets in a fight, but this director shows her getting mugged by teenagers on the subway (in the book, it’s one person, and she kicks him in the motherfucking HEAD). I’m guessing the director wants us to feel more immediate sympathy for a character that, as written, definitely does not want our sympathy. The real sympathy she engages is more because, as the audience, we want to be in her inner circle because she’s infinitely more awesome than we could ever be, and maybe if we feel protective or fond of this fictional character, we somehow can claim a piece of that badassery.

The dude who plays Michael Blomkvist, our protagonist, is so forgettable that I can’t even be bothered to look up his name. This character is supposed to be rakish and intelligent, rumpled yet still attractive and charming enough to literally nail every single female character in the book and still have you enjoying his company and never thinking less of him. This actor, to quote a better writer than I, has a face like  a catcher’s mitt,  and absolutely no pizazz. I’m not completely certain he even has a penis. The director eliminates most of Blomkvist’s conquests, although a moment’s reflection suggests that Movie Blomkvist can pretty much only land autistic rape victims. Did Stellan Skarsgård want too much money?

Complaints aside, this adaptation is very faithful, and ultimately the story itself is so taut and compelling that even its missteps are lost in the flow. Much has been made of the fairly graphic rape scenes in the movie, but really, those scenes are fairly tame compared to the book. The whole picture was somewhat awkward and I might go so far as to accuse the director of ham-fistedness, which makes me apprehensive of the coming American remake by the same man, but all in all I am forced to admit it’s pretty goddamn good.

The Wolfman

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I dig monster movies, if done well, and I feel I’m fairly generous when it comes to my definition of “well”. I have special love for monster movies that are serious, but my heart is big enough for gory, goofy extravaganzas. I was stupid excited about this movie. Every time I saw a trailer for it, I would frantically grab at my husband if he were unfortunate enough to be in reach, out of my mind with excitement. I love werewolves like Tom Cruise loves pretending to be straight! Unlike my predilection for post-apocalypse movies, however, werewolf movies are almost never any good. An American Werewolf In London, that’s about it (and even that is mostly borne aloft by Griffin Dunne’s peevish hilarity and Rick Baker’s effects genius, only slightly dated). But Benecio Del Toro! And Anthony Hopkins! A Victorian werewolf story, you say? With a blue filter? Sign me up!!

Alas…something went terribly wrong in the making of this movie, and not in any of the places I expected. Firstly, the super-hot and usually dedicated Del Toro swung wide of the mark here. His acting is really pretty terrible. He is stiff, but not in a Victorian way – in a reading-off-cue-cards way. All the British actors somehow seem to make their dialog poetic and earnest, but Benecio phones it in. I read that although a producer, he had some major disagreements with the director who was brought in to replace his first pick, specifically about the nature of his character. In retrospect, it feels as though he lost his own suspension of disbelief, and ultimately torpedoed the whole picture. This pains me, because I do normally love every thing he does and believe that Benecio Del Toro is made of rainbows and marzipan.

There are, however, two reasons that this movie was not a total waste of my time. The first is Anthony Hopkins, who devours the scenery so perfectly and commands every single scene he’s in with such delicious force that he nearly redeems the whole project. The second reason is the unexpectedly and perfectly over-the-top gore. This may in fact be a negative point to many people, but if you can realistically decapitate something with shameless glee, you have my heart.