Friday, December 30, 2005
Awesome. This is probably the best movie I've seen all year.
I think the reason I didn't care to see this movie when it came out is because of the title. Something about it just doesn't appeal to me. It makes the movie sound like a romantic comedy or some kind of love story. It is a love story at times, but that element is not the most important element. The main focus is boxing and the Great Depression.
The Depression has become an era we probably don't think possible in these days of irrational exuberance. Probably about 45 minutes of the movie shows Braddock, a down and out fighter who lost his boxing license, trying to get a day's work at the docks. The men would gather outside the gate and hope to get picked by the manager. After a couple of fights that Braddock won on his comeback, the manager pulls him aside and asks him if he was the guy mentioned in the paper. Braddock says he was. Then the manager says, "Well, good job, now go get back to work [moving bags of goods for pennies on the dollar]."
The Depression seems unimaginable, but this movie does an amazing job of showing us what it was like. Braddock had made pretty good money as a boxer before 1929, and then lost it all in stocks to the point where he couldn't pay the electricity bill.
However, as with all docudramas, we again are wondering how much of the story told is really true. The first thing I wondered was whether Russell Crowe is considerably wimpier than the real James J. Braddock. The answer is no. Actually Russell Crowe is probably more buff than this guy was.
I think this movie's main issue with the truth is around Max Baer. First of all, his physique: the actor who played him was huge compared to Crowe. In actuality, Baer does not look that much bigger than Braddock did. He was about 10lbs heavier. Nearby is a picture of their fight.
Note another thing about this picture that isn't obvious in the movie: the Star of David on Baer's shorts. Let's not forget that Baer had defeated Hitler's boy Max Schmeling in Yankee Stadium -- and wore the Star of David when he did it. He swore to wear it in every fight thereafter. However, it's bizarrely missing from this movie (apparently it is there, but so imperceptible as to not be there).
Baer is made out to be a happy killer because he killed Frankie Campbell in the ring--but actually he was very upset about it.
Baer is clearly the most misrepresented thing about the film, I'd say to the point where the filmmakers should be ashamed for demonizing him.
More on the true story of Baer and this movie:
Finally, it should be noted that this movie demonstrates something we've completely lost in the United States: boxing as a real sport. Boxing is pretty amazing to watch and to listen to, and in the days of yore, it represented a cultural and ethnic phenomenon. Can you imagine witnessing Baer, with a Star of David on his shorts, defeating Hitler's boxer Max Schmeling? Or Joe Louis doing the same thing? Boxing was a sport that went far beyond the ring in those days. It represented a battle, with a group of people identifying with and rooting for one of their own. Boxing has gone far, far away from that. Today it is just an illusion that makes Pay Per View money from poor slobs that are hoping for a meaningful boxing match, of which the 1930s seemed to have an endless number.
Rating: Good/Good... but the historical accuracy could use some work. Probably worth seeing on film if you still can.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Blockbuster was never competing against Netflix. They were competing against Hollywood's new overlord (to be revealed shortly). Blockbuster has tried desperately to keep themselves from sailing down the abyss in the face of technology. They changed their late fees, tried mail-in rentals like Netflix, and have tried rental subscriptions at their brick-and-mortar locations. None of these has helped in a rental market that's headed into negative territory. Right now, the only product Blockbuster has that people can't really rent somewhere else are video games, and hopefully that will change someday.
On the other side of this coin, Netflix will eventually turn out to be a blip in history. They may be around for a long time, and they'll continue to serve the needs of people who are looking for obscure DVDs, or just watch a lot of movies and want to do so on a budget. They may be even able to be profitable long into the future with that model. I would not be surprised if we eventually see movie studios desperately claw to make their own version of Netflix to fend of the monster.
That monster is Comcast.
And you thought Google was the juggarnaut of the future? Comcast will soon have put Blockbuster under and have TV networks, studios, distributors... everyone in entertainment under their thumb. And why is that? Many reasons.
For one, they've perfected DIVX. Remember the DVD format that self destructs after 24 hours and had people screaming? No one wanted to buy something that self destructs. However, Comcast has come out with a product that essentially does exactly that and WILL have customers. It's their On Demand service.
My first exposure to On Demand was pretty piss-poor. That was about a year ago, I watched "Elf" with Will Farrell. I thought the compression was horrible, the controls had an annoying delay in them, and of course the cable box UI was terrible. A lot has changed since then. Their cable box is much, much better than before. Much faster, and the UI isn't terrible. The controls are a tad more responsive, though will always have some delay compared to a local playback device since On Demand is actually streaming from the central office. But, most improved is the compression. I was watching I, Robot on On Demand earlier and it looked as good as a DVD or from HBO.
My theory is that the first company that truly gets On Demand out there and popularized will destroy everybody. Technically speaking, Comcast is already there in some markets (I'm trying it out in Illinois), now they just need to expand the content. With enough content, On Demand can make Tivo irrelevant. It can make internet broadcasting irrelevant -- who wants to download WMVs when you can watch on your TV with your typical cable box? Oh, and movie rentals? Pay Per View had already made going to Blockbuster a chore, but with On Demand you can forget it. As their library of content expands, you won't need to ever go anywhere to get your hands on that old movie -- and that's good bye to Netflix (though I believe a fringe element of movie viewers will keep them going for a while).
And finally, Hollywood. We've already figured out that no one gives a crap to see movies in the theater anymore. We've got HD sets that are better looking than most screens these days. We've got surround sound we can adjust to our own preference rather than being blown away. Now all we need is a decent way to get movies to the HD sets.
Enter Comcast. Blu-Ray or HD-DVD are at least six months out from being in people's hands and are years away from being widespread. However, today, Comcast can take any movie, get an HDCAM or D5 HD transfer of it, upload it to their server, and have it in your hands tomorrow via On Demand. They completely control the prerecorded HD market today--and will until a new format can rise to challenge them. If this continues, Comcast could easily control virtually all distribution of HD content. That would mean they'd essentially be the world's largest theater owner. That would mean they'd have more power to dictate what movies are made, play on their channels, and how they get marketed than possibly any theater owner ever.
For those not familiar with the movie business, the distributors actually market their movies to theater owners at a conference called Showest. It's as important for the studios that theater owners will show the movie as it is for people to show up at the theater. Sometimes, not as much as it probably should, theater owners vote with their feet and won't show a movie the studios want them to.
Now imagine Comcast controls a massive distribution channel for HD--larger than all theater chains in the US. Theaters sold 1.578b tickets in 2002 (most ever was that year). In 2004, Comcast had 500m On Demand views (incl. lots of free ones, I'm sure). This year, they expect to exceed 1b On Demands. In short, a service that's merely 2 years old has already reached 66% of all movie tickets sold in the US in its best year. One word: pwned.
That's bad news for theater owners, because movie studios would love to have a distribution channel like Comcast -- high definition films that aren't easily crackable by hackers like DVDJon, expire in 24 hours, and can reach 60m people (20m homes) at the touch of a button. No more having to wring their hands over digital distribution to theaters. I wouldn't be surprised if, in the next 5 years, we see a high-end, full-length feature movie get released on HD via On Demand at the same time as theaters. And of course Comcast drives what movie that would be... since their distribution is more powerful than the theaters.
Oh, and one more thing... SBC should look out too. I haven't been on a cable modem yet that doesn't get at least twice the performance of my DSL. The theory is that the switching on DSL is better, but I honestly haven't seen it. Cable providers have everything invested in data, really, when you think about it. It just makes sense that they have to keep performance up.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Once you understand this, it helps you interpret the bald-faced lies that Hollywood makes when commenting on box office numbers.
From BoxOfficeMojo: "I think the industry and the media did not understand how a three hour movie performs," said Marc Shmuger, vice chairman of Universal. "Take Lord of the Rings out because that comes with the Tolkien nuts, and there aren't any examples. It's not surprising that we didn't understand it. As crazy as it is, the only one you can point to is Titanic. [King Kong] is writing its own pattern."
No, actually Shmuger, the highest grossing movie of all time (in adjusted dollars) was FOUR hours long. It was called 'Gone with the Wind,' maybe you've heard of it?
Epics sell slowly. We know this. That's why Titanic did the numbers it did, it was an epic (sad, but true). Star wars (the first three) - Epic. Raiders of the Lost Ark - Epic. Obviously, from all of the hype, Universal is desperate for King Kong to be an epic. But you have to wonder if it is ultimately in the same category as Every Which Way But Loose or Bedtime for Bonzo.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Shows two things.
a) Someone at Universal is so fired right now.
b) No amount of hype can stop Hollywood from slipping into the abyss.
I bought this movie on PPV on a whim because of the aforementioned "actress", as well as my hope that someday, somehow, someone will make another good horror movie. I'm talking about the classics like Rosemary's Baby, The Thing, The Shining or The Exorcist. These movies (and of course all of Carpenter's work) are what made horror my favorite genre.
Little did I know that Paris Hilton is also in this movie. Ugh, they're never going to get another Rosemary's Baby with that kind of casting.
Here's a short list of what's wrong with today's horror movies.
- Horror = The OC. Ever since Scream and I know what you did last summer, all of these movies have had casts straight from Fox and The WB with soundtracks that are trying to sell WEA's recently signed platinum-selling teen angst shill band. What ever happened to getting unknown bad actors for horror movies that have no plot, like, for example, all of the Friday the 13th movies? What ever happened to soundtracks that were actually spooky? We can only count on Carpenter to give us those scores anymore.
- Horror = Slasher. Not one of these recent horror movies avoids any opportunity to use extreme gore. This House of Wax remake makes Friday the 13th look like cutting a into a juicy rare steak in terms of gore.
- No tension. The only kind of tension they can create in these movies is stupidity. During this movie, I was yelling at Elisa "Goddamnit, don't go upstairs you fool!"
- Special effects. Seriously, special effects mostly ruin horror movies. Scary is things before you see them. Don't you people get it yet?
- Talented, brain dead directors. These guys have all of the visual abilities you can possibly imagine. This movie had incredible visuals in it. Too bad they were wasted on this movie. Why would an aspiring, obviously visually talented, director take on a piece of shit like this? Look where it got him, he's going to direct "Goal! 2". Nice job.
The only recent horror movie I'd say was in the realm of the classics was The Ring. If you haven't seen that, you should absolutely rent that instead of watching something like this craptacular movie.
One more time... Elisha Cuthbert, fire your agent!
Rating: Bad/Bad. If you accidentally turn it on HBO or something, get some emergency eye wash as soon as possible.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
When you figure that it costs more to see a movie now more than ever, and this movie cost $200m+ to make, this does not bode well for Hollywood. After all the hype about how this movie would be as big as Titanic, maybe I'm not the only one out there who doesn't care to pay $10 to see a remake of a remake. I hated the 1976 version anyway. It's a dumb, boring story. Sorry guys!
I'd much rather see "V for Vendetta" -- why they hell aren't they releasing it before March?
(edit) ... I thought my King Bomb headline was original, but then I read this article, where he suggests a few other snappy headlines for King Kong failure:
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
I'm a huge fan of the Madchester music movement. Name off some of my favorite acts from the 80s and early 90s and they're all in this group: The Farm, Charlatans, 808 State, Happy Mondays, James, Smiths, New Order, and, of course, the Stone Roses. When I was working at a record store in 1991, I begged my boss to let me have "Electronic" (the joint venture between Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr) the night before it was supposed to be on shelves. Of course, I loved it at the time, and now I recognize that album as the marker of a end of a great era of music (Amazon calls the disc a "two-man Manchester supergroup" -- that ought to tell you something).
Based on all of this Madchester fanaticism in my history, I had been dying to see 24 Hour Party People. This movie is the story of Tony Wilson, the founder of Factory Records and the Hacienda nightclub, both of which were instrumental in putting Manchester on the map.
I came in thinking I'd love this movie -- and I did, to a point. More on where that point is in a second.
The movie starts off with Tony (Steve Coogan) doing one of those quaint news stories for a local TV station -- this one about hanggliding. He jumps off a hill, glides around, then crashes a few times. At the end of the story, when he's off the air, he turns towards the "real" camera, and spouts off about how this whole scene is symbolic, relating it to that of Icarus. He then mentions that "if you don't know who Icarus is, you should read more."
Ok, hopefully this will be the only time in history the names "Tony Wilson" and "Icarus" are ever uttered in the same paragraph. Tony: you have nothing on Icarus. He's a famous myth, you're a guy who lucked out enough to record albums with Joy Division. But this is just one indication of how this movie wants to represent the era they depict.
The problem with representing genius, either on film or print, is that the moment of genius is usually only about 0.5 seconds long. The results of that spark might last for years, but the actual moment of genius is pretty brief. In this film, they tried to tell us the spark is a concert that the Sex Pistols played in Manchester. I find it hard to believe the Sex Pistols can inspire anything, but, ok, I can buy that a bunch of guys were inspired to form bands because of seeing an SP show. Being inspired and the "spark" are two different things.
The spark of genius for the Madchester movement wasn't recorded in this film: it's when Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris got together to form a band called Warsaw and started making up songs. We didn't see this, and it would have been hard to show us anyway. Instead, our first introduction to Warsaw is Ian Curtis walking up to Tony Wilson and calling him a "c---", then those guys getting up on stage and playing "Digital". So I'm left wondering if the actual spark doesn't get enough representation, instead too much being placed on the Sex Pistols.
Still, I was pretty blown away by the first half of the movie, which depicts the aforementioned SP concert and Warsaw gig, Warsaw recording some songs for Factory Records, renaming themselves to Joy Division, playing some shows, etc..
The point at which this movie falls apart, and I hope I'm not giving anything away here, is when Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis kills himself in 1980. Anyway, Joy Division's 45 minutes in this film are a representative of that spark of genius that created Madchester, and are worth watching.
It's the last hour that's not as great. After the suicide, we get the rise of the Hacienda, Happy Mondays, and the eventual fall of Factory Records. While I always can find the antics of Shaun Ryder to be humorous--and I occasionally like listening to the Mondays' music--but the last thing in the world I think of the Happy Mondays is that they represent some great movement in music. Tony, narrating often, explains to us how the Hacienda was never profitable, but was the start of the DJ movement and raves. Of course, many DJs might take a different stance on that claim (Grandmaster Flash comes to mind). Plus, I don't know about you, but I also don't think raves represent anything novel. Maybe I'm too old.
If you couldn't tell from the above, I think this movie takes itself far too seriously. The real problem with the second half of the movie is that while the first half was representing something that was truly genius, you're having one pulled over on you in this second half. Partying and baggy pants are fads, not genius. Half of those bands that I mentioned are derivative either from each other or earlier bands (Stone Roses and Led Zeppelin much?). I say that with the Stone Roses being one of my favorites ever by the way. The most interesting thing you'll take from the second half is wondering how anyone could be so stupid as to give Shaun Ryder $200K to record an album on an island halfway around the world (that cash went up in smoke of all kinds, of course).
Rating: Good/Good -- A GOOD CABLE MOVIE
(Ratings note: each movie is rated as it really was compared to how the filmmaker wanted it to be. Examples:
Good/Good movie: American Beauty
Bad/Good movie: Forrest Gump
Good/Bad movie: Evil Dead 2
Bad/Bad movie: Nothing But Trouble)
Saturday, November 26, 2005
Actually, I'm really surprised that so many friends told me this was a great movie. There was absolutely no plot. I was glad that they got it started so quickly -- the aliens attack in like the first 20 minutes -- but then you quickly realize there's not much to do after that. This movie wants to be Signs (2002) so badly. In that light, it's frightening that Spielberg, with 30 years experience in this genre, can't even begin to muster the talent that Shyamalan demonstrated in Signs. I just watched Close Encounters on Friday... man, that was such a better movie than this. Stevie, what happened?
First of all, Spielberg has to start by firing Janusz Kaminski. This guy did frickin' amazing work on Schindler's List. That was arguably one of the best shot movies ever. And I'd actually argue that some of his work since then was cool too -- like Saving Private Ryan. But oh my god, can this guy get over the Dior Filter or what!? It's so overused, and it has no place in War of the Worlds. It's obvious he has no original ideas for photography anymore. I seriously hope that Spielberg finds a better DP after this movie -- this movie was partially ruined by his style, I'm not kidding.
Second, the effects here mostly don't work. You know, I've held back on criticizing VFX for many years because I worked in that industry but I gotta let loose on this movie. Sure, there are a few hero shots that are really awesome. They nailed those. But most of the "awesome" effects in the movie had nothing to do with technical capability... they had to do with concept. A big scene of tripods moving around, the freeway getting destroyed, things like that. You go "wow" just because it looks cool, and are willing to ignore the blurry edge glow around the main character. Guys, drop the edge glow and that "mix the background onto the character" idea... seriously, they looks like ass. Also, there seemed to be a ton of mismatched grain on this movie, which is really scary that I can point out watching it on an 8 year old 27" Trinitron.
Maybe I'm being overly harsh. I think it's because I, for one, am very tired of spectacle effects movies. This probably has a lot to do with Hollywood's downfall. How about some kick ass movies with effects that just make the story work for a change? Check out Kung Fu Hustle, which a couple buddies made me watch the other night. Those effects aren't technically great, but you don't care. They're great for the story.
Third, I still don't understand how they ended up defeating the aliens. It's always so obvious in these kinds of movies that they have to defeat the aliens, right? But I watched this movie and still have no idea how they did it. How lame.
Fourth, I made the mistake of buying this DVD before seeing the movie. Last time I'm doing that, my friends. Fifth, I accidentally bought it full screen. So it was a complete waste of money.
Sixth, Tom Cruise. Tom CRUISE. Ugh.
Rating: Bad/Good - Seriously, take my advice, wait until it's on HBO. I'm not sure why I spent $15 on this DVD. I wish I could return it.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Batman Begins harks back to the days of the first movie, though this time it takes the noir feeling and makes it more serious. Forgetting about the deranged days where Warner Brothers thought hiring Joel Schumacher was a good idea, they hired a far more competent director and writer than Burton in Chris Nolan. This guy seems like he can't lose when it comes to making quality movies.
However, there's something missing from Batman Begins: a desire to see it again. This is the only thing that plagues Nolan's work. Once I saw Memento, I had no need or desire to see it again. For comic book movies, creating this feeling in the audience isn't just desirable, it's necessary. Comic book movies are generally aimed towards a more narrow audience than, say, Titanic, so you've gotta cash in on repeat business. Compare this to the X-Men movies that Bryan Singer put together. After seeing those, I basically wanted to stay for the next showing. WB struck gold by having him direct Superman Returns. In fact, basically every movie Singer has ever done made me want to watch it again, starting with The Usual Suspects, of course.
The casting is decent, not great. For one thing, I just can't take any movie with Michael Caine very seriously anymore. Also, for all of the press Katie Holmes created for herself last summer to publicize this movie, she is almost invisible in Batman Begins. Furthermore, she's 26 and still looks 13. She should be left to doing teenager movies and shows, her acting isn't that great anyway.
And remember how everyone complained about Michael Keaton being Batman? Everyone was like "What's up with that?" Actually, it might have been Burton's most brilliant move. Keaton is a normal looking guy in real life. To think he's Batman is really strange, and that's what's perfect about it. Anyway, considering how many people complained about Keaton, what's up with every actor since him doing exactly the same schtick when playing Batman? Christian Bale is neither better nor worse than Keaton, Clooney or Kilmer, he's just the same.
Rating: Good/Good, rent it (don't buy it) on DVD.
Saturday, October 15, 2005
Premise is that a guy named Earl (Jason Lee) believes that he needs to live a more karmic life to make his life suck less. Carson Daly mentioned karma on TV while Earl was drugged up in the hospital after being hit by a car. This inspired Earl to makes a long list of all of the people he has wronged in his life and things he's done wrong, with the intention to correct all of them. After correcting one of these on the list in the pilot episode, he wins the lottery, which reinforces his belief in karma.
This show is getting funnier with every episode. The most recent was one where Earl needed to correct a lie he had his brother Randy tell to a woman he was once dating: that Earl had died. This was Earl's easy way out of a painful relationship (the woman speaks in baby-speak) without hurting her feelings.
Like other new comedies (Arrested Development, Malcolm in the Middle), Earl goes against the traditional three-cameras-on-a-stage format that sitcoms used for 50 years. It is instead shot with a single camera with a lot of location shooting -- making it more expensive to produce. They keep their locations to a minimum in this show, so I'm hoping the show doesn't have the fate of Arrested Development. If you've seen AD this year, they unfortunately have had to cut their budget way back. All of the characters end up being in the same room a lot, and the scenes just aren't as funny as they were for the last couple seasons. Earl doesn't suffer from this as much because Earl is the star of the show, and mostly we follow him around.
Jason Lee is awesome in this show, but the other characters are amazing as well. Randy, Earl's brother, is played brilliantly by Ethan Suplee. Jaime Pressly, who I never thought of as a major acting force in our world, does a great job in the show as Earl's ex. My favorite auxilary character is "Crabman" (played by Eddie Steeples) who's stuck in the middle between Earl and his ex.
This is a Good/Good show, highly recommended if you're looking for some hilarious entertainment.
This is especially timely because TV is now better than movies. Think about it. Hollywood wants you to pay $10 to see some rehashed craptacular movie like Dukes of Hazzard. Or let's say you pay the bare minimum to see a movie: $4 on Pay-Per-View. That's 2 hours of entertainment for $2. Now let's say you like 6 hours a week of TV shows and pay $50 for cable or satellite per month. That's $2.08 per hour of entertainment. Considering that generally these TV shows are more interesting than most movies out there, that's a hellofa deal.
And hey, if you get HBO, you'll see all of those shitty movies eventually.
Ok, so coming up... some reviews of TV shows.
Saturday, September 17, 2005
Problem with suspense movies is that they usually violate the premise of suspense as stated by the master. As Hitchcock's Bomb Theory goes, you show a bomb under a table. The audience knows the bomb is going to go off at some point, but the characters sitting at the table don't. For all of that time, the audience is in suspense. Here's the kicker, the bomb can never go off. If it does, you just piss off the audience.
The way suspense works in this movie is like an episode of Law and Order, CSI or House. Part of the story is missing and you just want to find out what the heck is going on. Then some character comes along halfway through the show and fills in a detail that someone should have been able to figure out 45 minutes before they did. After watching enough of these shows I've gotten annoyed with this, so I was slightly annoyed with this movie.
However, the writer and director do turn things around on you a few times in an interesting fashion. The movie starts at the end of the story, with Thora Birch's character wandering down a street all bloodied and limping. Then they work their way back by way of her being interviewed by a psychologist (Embeth Davitz). About 45 minutes in, the story takes a big turn (note Law and Order reference), but there's still enough to keep you interested for the last hour.
The end pissed me off though. I hate endings that piss me off. Hitchcock understood his audience more than modern directors. We're there to get entertained, not to get angry.
Again, all movies are 30 minutes too long and this movie is no exception. When will editors and directors learn we don't give a shit about half the things they want to film in a fancy way?
One more thing, Thora Birch really can't act. This movie proves it. Keira Knightley out-acts her in this movie. That's probably the worst insult I could ever throw her way.
Other than those nitpicks, it actually held my attention for the most part. It's a Good Bad movie, worth watching on TMC or Showtime, etc..
I won't write a lengthy review about it, but two things about this movie that I noticed while watching it again this morning.
If you don't know, this movie is about a rigged quiz show in the 50's called "Twenty-One". First thing is I've realized what makes this movie great is how it makes viewers root for the "bad guy". Many movies have tried to make viewers root or feel sympathetic for the bad guy just by portraying them as a sympathetic character. Actually, two of the movies also up for best picture in 1994 were like this: Pulp Fiction and Shawshank Redemption.
Viewers don't root for Charlie Van Doren (Ralph Finnes) because the movie is set up like those others. He's actually a pretty snotty jackass. Viewers end up rooting for Charlie in some ways because of his father. His father is an educated, honest poet who can barely handle the pressure of watching his son on the game show. Redford, who directed this movie, perfectly weaves more and more of the father into this picture as the inevitable becomes clear: Charlie's going to get busted. I think it's a brilliant way to navigate the story and make the viewer feel tension about the show being revealed as a fraud. Also, some of the dialogue involving the father is excellent. A great script all around.
The other thing I wanted to mention about this movie. What does it have in common with the following other movies:
- Pulp Fiction
- Shawshank Redemption
- Four Weddings and a Funeral
All four were nominated for best picture that year. And all four were beat out by the Bad Good piece of crap called "Forrest Gump." The Oscars are such a scam, kinda like this movie depicts of game shows.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
I can tell you exactly why I didn't like it that first time I saw it:
- Too much chasing around.
- Has one of those "set up for the sequel" endings. Trust me, there won't be one.
Rating: Bad, Bad, though a few scenes are actually pretty good. See the Exorcist if you're in the mood for a possession movie.
Friday, August 12, 2005
For about 75 of this movie's 100 minutes, it's actually pretty good. And then... and then... it takes a turn for the cliche. The result of this movie is one of the oldest horror movie cliches in the book. The characters end up being a parody of a horror movie parody.
Now, let me take a second here to ask "What's up with Dakota Fanning"? This girl was 10 when the made this movie, but she seems like she's about 65. Her character is pretty freaky and effective, but frankly, I don't think it's that hard to help kids seem like they can act. If you want to make them spooky, have them whisper. If you want to make them seem intelligent, have them keep quiet. Shyamalan's direction of Haley Joel Osment is perfected evidence of these concepts -- whereas A.I., which required normal non-whispering speech, revealed Osment to be just another kid actor.
One of the most redeeming things in the movie is the location. Upstate New York in the late fall/early winter is one of the most beautiful locations -- I admit I have bias here. I spent a lot of time in that area and I have a lot of nostalgia for it. Anyway, they try to use this location to make the movie more creepy, which I don't think works very well.
Other Highlights: Elisabeth Shue and Famke Janssen
Rating: It's a mediocre Good, Bad(tm) movie -- only because of the first 75% of the movie. If you like the genre, it's worth watching on cable. I watched it on PPV and would want at least some of my $4 back.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
I haven't seen Million Dollar Baby, but I'm ready to place bets that it's better than this movie. On the other hand, the Oscars are filled with movies that are completely forgettable. Can you tell me who won best picture 3 years ago? (I had to look it up... it was Chicago, which was so bad I couldn't even watch it on an airplane).
The Aviator was nominated for exactly two reasons:
- Scorsese has been repeatedly left in the cold by Oscar and once again they wanted to build him up and knock him down.
- ANY, I repeat, any movie that further glamorizes Hollywood, tells Hollywood lore, or is somehow Hollywood insider junk will end up being nominated.
The Aviator turns out to be almost three hours of DiCaprio acting a bit nuts. The problem with this movie, as it is with most docu-dramas, is that you don't know where reality ends and fiction begins. I find a lot of the scenes unbelievable. How could someone so detatched be so successful in life? The only scene that had any redeeming qualities to it was the Senatorial Inquisition that Hughes faced in the late 40s. Almost everything else seemed to be explaining his life to us.
Example: Pan Am's Juan Trippe (played by Alec Baldwin), comes to Hughes in an effort to acquire TWA. In the lengthy dialogue spoken through a door (effective, though boring), Trippe basically lays out all of the reasons Hughes must sell. He goes through the entire situation of the shareholders, the share prices of the two companies, loans, etc..
Now, do you really think this is what was spoken between Trippe and Hughes? Of course not. This is a fabricated replica of a private conversation, mostly structured to let the audience know what the hell is going on. Imagine 2-3 hours of that and you basically have The Aviator.
Again, like many docu-dramas, you come out thinking a History Channel documentary would have been far more interesting than something this fictional with big-name actors. Their acting was pretty good, considering they had very little to work with, and Scorsese pretty much mailed this one in.
By the way, this is a perfect example to demonstrate my rating system. There are four types of movies.
- Good, good - the producers intended to make an excellent movie and it turned out good as well. Most movies are intended to be excellent so most good movies fit in here. Examples include Pulp Fiction, Goodfellas, Diner, Schindler's List, Unforgiven, The Shawshank Redemption.
- Bad, Good - the producers intended to make an A-list movie and it turned out really sappy, cheesy and bad, yet is widely thought to be good. The king of all examples for this type is Forrest Gump.
- Good, Bad - the producers intended to make a "B" movie and it turned out really awesome. Cult classics are in this category: Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, Evil Dead 2, John Carpenter's The Thing.
- Bad, Bad - The worst of the worst usually end up here: Nothing But Trouble (possibly the worst movie of all time), White Noise, Police Academy 5, Skyscraper (starring Anna Nicole Smith).
Sunday, July 31, 2005
Guess what? That skepticism was right.
This is yet another one of those movies where a bunch of big name actors (Julianne Moore, Gary Sinise, Anthony Edwards) somehow end up in a movie that should be showing on the Sci-Fi channel starring Bruce Campbell (nothing against BCam, of course, I love that guy). I don't know much about how actors' salaries work out, but in the case of a movie like this, I've got to guess that it works something like:
- Gary Sinise wants to do cheap-ass arthouse flick.
- Studio says, "Hey Gary Sinise, we know you're into doing cheap-ass arthouse movies, but we all need to make a living somehow. What if we quintupled the size of that money bag if you do this chintsy horror flick as well"
- Gary: "Well sure!"
Back to "The Forgotten." After reading the Tivo blurb ("Woman [Julianne Moore] has psychologist [Gary Sinise] tell her dead child never existed"), you basically figure there are three ways this can end up: (a) She's nuts, (b) There's some kind of trickery/government plot going on, or (c) supernatural.
Actually, I won't give too much away, but it ends up being all three. And there are a couple of awesome surprises that you won't ever see coming (the third time they try to surprise you, it's old hat by then). This movie comes in at almost exactly an hour and a half.. and in my firm believe that all movies are too long, this movie is too long. It had basically 60 minutes of material -- it probably would have been a pretty kick-ass episode of the X-files. As 90 minutes, it just ends up being dull.
So thank god I saw it on Starz! It's worth watching if you're semi-interested. On the other hand, this movie's missing something that Boogie Nights delivered on: there's not nearly enough nudity coming from Julianne Moore's corner. I wish she had played a psycho woman who's missing her child and loved to take her clothes off.
Monday, July 11, 2005
Today's entry of his in Slate describes the hedge fund technique Hollywood has set up to work with investors.
Sunday, July 03, 2005
- Man who wasn't there
- Intolerable Cruelty
They're consecutive movies created by the Coen brothers that didn't quite live up to their past work.My question: what's up with the Coens? Since "O Brother," they just haven't blown me away. It's almost as if they've started to believe the thing that made their prior movies great was the quirkiness, not the story. Ladykillers is a decent movie by anyone else's standard. By the standard of the Coens, it's absolute shit.
Another consecutive movie streak to mull over:
- The Hudsucker Proxy
- The Big Lebowski
- O Brother, Where Art Thou
Four of the greatest movies ever made. So what the hell happened?
I think the Coens decided that quaint things like weirdos in the South were what made their movies great. Ladykillers tries desperately to be "O Brother", but fails where the first one excelled. The movie ends up being a lot of talk, not much story, and not much humor.
Oh, and a word about the original (which I haven't seen, of course). The original movie had Alec Guiness and Peter Sellers. I'm sorry, but just based on paper alone, if you're remaking a comedy with those two great actors in it, you should have your head checked.
For one thing, this movie has no idea what era it's supposed to be in. Unlike "O Brother," which clearly understood its era, this movie has some characters that think they're in the 20s, some in the 40s, and some in the 2000s. Instead of being quirky, it's just dumb. I think "Intolerable Cruelty" actually suffered from this a bit. I liked that movie better than Ladykillers, but the movie wanted so desperately to be a romantic comedy of the 40s/50s that it didn't work out.
The thing that makes Fargo great--as well as Hudsucker and Lebowski and every movie they did before Man Who Wasn't There--is that the characters are portrayed with seriousness and honesty. The characters in every movie they've done since that point have been to ridicule. About 15 minutes into this movie, E said "Is this the freak's Ocean's Eleven or what?" Exactly. The Coens classically make their characters one-dimensional and humorous. The problem with this movie is that the characters are so one dimensional that it's just annoying, not funny.
Rating: If you get past the first 20 minutes, there are a few funny things.
Friday, July 01, 2005
Wow. Watching this makes me realize I am a true sucker for supernatural type movies. I say that in the present tense because I'm starting this review about 10 minutes into the movie. So welcome to the first Live Review on Joel Schumacher Sucks -- writing the review as the movie unfolds. Stay tuned.
Anyway, I say "true sucker" because that's how obvious it is that I spent 4 bucks I shouldn't have to watch this on PPV -- but hey, at least I saved $6 by not seeing it in the theater.
Before watching it, I knew "White Noise" was about getting messages from the dead through the static on untuned radios and shit like that. I pretty much thought Keaton's character would just be listening to the radio one day and hear a message from her. But actually, something just happened in this movie that I really liked. He hears from some dude who says he's been getting the electronic messages. Now this makes more sense in reality. No one comes up with this on their own, it takes some nutball to plant the seed in a sane person that they're receiving messages through the static on their radio.
Oooo -- he just received a mysterious call from his wife's cell phone. Why didn't he answer to dispel the mystery here? Instead he runs home to see her cell phone is turned off. Then he receives another call from her cell phone! When he answers, it's static on the line!
So, as usual, they've taken some phenomenon that regular people believe in and made it even more ridiculous than it's treated in real life. Did I mention that at the start of this movie, they had some quote from Thomas Edison about recording the dead? That's how you legitimatize something dumb, you take a quote from someone famous and smart and make it sound like it actually proves they believed in it.
Ok, I'm thinking there's got to be a plot somewhere in here. I'm going to take a guess that his dead wife is trying to tell him that someone actually murdered her. I'm going to guess it's the guy who Michael Keaton (an architect), is making a building for. Let's see what happens.
A few hours after the movie ends...
Ok, so I was too depressed for having spent $4 on this movie to continue the live review. However, I was pretty close on the plot. He discovers that his dead wife is trying to tell him about accidents that are happening to people she had contact with. There was someone perpetrating murders--I won't give away who (I was wrong, but close)--but they were doing it because the ghostly voices told them to.
This movie really reminded me of The Mothman Prophecies (remember "Chaaapstiiick?"). The original book reported on how this crazy Mothman appears near disasters. The movie takes one of those real life disasters and makes it ridiculous. Similarly, this movie takes this EVP thing that some people believe in and makes it ridiculous. When "White Noise" was being advertised, they were pushing it with this website (http://www.aaevp.com/). If I was serious about this EVP thing, I would have been embarrassed by this movie. It makes them all look like nuts (which they are, but at least they're probably not as nuts as the movie portrays).
Oh, probably lamest thing in this movie was the cheesy piano music whenever he thought of his wife. What a craptacular idea... cheery music whenever he thinks of his wife. How not-cliche.
Anyway, what I've realized is that I should write some EVP analysis software and sell it to these bozos.
Rating: USA Up All Night movie at best.
- Maria Bello is hot
- Hollywood will remake an obscure B movie from the mid-70s long before they create any original new content.
- In spite of (2), remaking John Carpenter flicks can yield something pretty good.
I do NOT agree with the main comment on IDMB about this movie (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0398712/). It is not a typical action film. Whoever made this movie understands what Carpenter is about, and has remade this movie true to the spirit of his films.
Granted, I actually haven't seen the original "Precinct 13," which is shocking considering I'm probably Carpenter's biggest fan ever. This movie sounds pretty different than the original. However, as I've often said, "John Carpenter is the last working man's director in Hollywood," and it appears the creators of this remake understand him. Carpenter loves to blur the lines between people and things society has demonized (mostly drugs) vs. what we should consider truly evil -- things like oppressive authorities and random psycho killers (symbolizing totalitarians, of course). The junkie with a gun becomes your best friend when Michael Myers is outside the door trying to kill you, for example. That's the genius of Carpenter.
Rest assured, I'll be waxing poetic about Carpenter on this blog a lot in the future, so let's get to this movie.
It's very well done. When Precinct 13 comes under siege, the cops inside have to join forces with their prisoners to fight them off. I was pretty surprised at the amount of violence shown in this movie. I know that sounds weird, but I was expecting mild A-Team type violence. Instead of just seeing the end of a gun barrel or a shot and a person drop out of frame, we see a lot of execution-style shootings. Though pretty much everyone who gets shot and killed gets a single shot in the middle of the forehead, which is kind of the milder way to tell you "They are dead." One thing they do to try to reduce the feeling of violence is put the guys perpetrating the siege in combat uniforms with helmets and masks. It's a bit less human to see those guys get shot.
Missing from this remake is that Carpenter Trademarked feeling of desolation. If you've ever seen "The Thing", you know what I'm talking about. But he also has achieved this feeling in the middle of cities, like in "Prince of Darkness"... a church in the middle of Los Angeles! While the snowstorm in this movie really helps give you that feeling, the filmmakers felt the need to add visual effects (a long pullback from the remote Precinct to show it alone in the snowstorm) to reinforce a feeling of desolation that just comes naturally to Carpenter.
They got a pretty good number of recognizable actors in this. Though I'm not sure how people can take Ethan Hawke very seriously as a cop that has a depression and drug problem. I do like Maria Bello (obviously) as the very OCD police shrink. Gabriel Byrne plays his typical brooding Usual Suspects-like character. Ja Rule is pretty good and John Leguizamo is at his least annoying. Larry Fishburne--sorry, LAURENCE--steals the show as the arch-criminal Marion Bishop.
My rating: if you like action movies that have a bunch of misfits ganging together to fight the oppressive authority during a snowstorm in Detroit -- which I like very much -- then it's definitely worth a look on DVD or PPV.
Saturday, June 18, 2005
- Die Hard
- Hunt For Red October
Is that insane or what? That's a trilogy for the ages right there. I really don't need to say much about these movies; if you have any love for good action movies, you've surely seen them all several times. Only directors like Hitchcock, Kubrick, Spielberg have a similar number of consecutive classics as John McTiernan.For me, it all started with Jesse The Body's chain gun. When I was 14 years old, I thought that M60 that Jesse The Body was hauling around in Predator was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. "I ain't got time to bleed" -- yeah, that's about where it all started for John McTiernan entering my moviegoing experience.
Plus, with the exception of Raiders of the Lost Ark--my favorite movie of all time--Hunt For Red October is the only movie I've seen more than 3 times in the theater (Hunt for Red October: 4 times). Why even bother making a submarine movie again after Hunt for Red October and Das Boot? Crimson Tide, a good movie of its own right, was nothing compared to either of these two.
McTiernan simply created three movies in a row that ended up in the collective conciousness overnight. That's hard to do.
So how did McTiernan go from great action movie director ever to guy-you've-never-heard-of? I think he got a bad rap for "Last Action Hero". I thought this movie was hilarious, but it got called "The Worst Movie Of All Time" at the time. It is, in fact, one of the few big movies that ever lost significant money in Hollywood, which is a very difficult thing to pull off. I'm sure Hollywood exiled him after that. After all, who wants the guy who can't be packaged up to be sold to a studio after "Last Action Hero"
Anyway, John McTiernan, great underrated director. You've seen his movies, now you know his name.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
5. "Charlie's Angels"
Crispin Glover vs. Lucy Liu, Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz
Ok, to be honest, there's no way this fight would be here if it wasn't Crispin Glover. You may remember him showing off his Karate moves on Letterman once upon a time, which makes this fight even funnier. Above is a picture of him letting out a high pitched scream as he attacks.
4. "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World"
Jonathan Winters vs. Arnold Stang and Marvin Kaplan
If you haven't seen the 3 hour epic madcap comedy "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World", you should, and you should take a few minutes to watch this scene twice. Jonathan Winters's character destroys a gas station with his bare hands in this fight. Seriously, the first time I saw it, I could not breathe from laughter.
3. "Happy Gilmore"
Bob Barker vs. Adam Sandler
Duh. And this is has one of the most classic one-liners in all of comedy history ("The price is wrong, bitch!")
2. "Raiders of the Lost Ark"
Harrison Ford vs. That Sword Guy
I guess this should be called the funniest non fight. The story is that Harrison Ford was sick that day, so they decided to make it a comic moment rather than a big fight. The payoff is a surprising, hilarious moment (the first time you see it).
1. "They Live"
Roddy Piper vs. Keith David
"I'm not putting on those sunglasses"
This is clearly the most hilarious fight in film history. It's over 7 minutes long and involves the two men fighting in an alley over Keith David's character putting on some sunglasses that allows Roddy to see the aliens among us all. This film was made at the height of the WWF craze, so a lot of pro-wrestling moves work their way in there. Some say that they just kept going because Carpenter never told them to stop. Either way, they created, by far, the most classic fight in film history.
Let's see another pic:
"The Girl Next Door" is one of those movies.
The only reason this movie got made is because Elisha Cuthbert somehow signed up to be on it. Her agent should be fired immediately. Whoever read the script for her and decided it would be a good move her in career obviously has a crack habit and should be fired.
Actually, the problem with the movie isn't the concept. The concept could be pretty funny... a dorky kid starts going out with a porn star that moves in next door. Hey, "Risky Business" was essentially the same thing and that movie was ok.
The problem with this movie is that it's one of the most mean-spirited movies I've ever seen. There's possibly one legitimate laugh in the whole thing. The rest is really... just... mean.
It's hard to describe what I'm talking about with this. I think Ebert might have said this about the movie when he reviewed it and it just stuck in my brain. The girl's porn director comes into the movie and it's really all downhill from there. He's a mean guy, but not comically mean, just mean. The situations with him in it just make your skin crawl instead of giving you a laugh. But who doesn't laugh when thinking of "Guido the Killer Pimp" from Risky Business? The filmmakers here missed out on making a characture here instead of a character.
Speaking of Risky Business, it's obvious that a lot of movies these days are inspired by John Hughes/80's type teenager movies (though Risky Business is not a Hughes movie). As A.O. Scott once credited, he's the least recognized, yet most influential, director of our time. The Girl Next Door is also inspired by John Hughes movies, except for one major difference: it's not funny.
Rating: it will piss you off even to watch for free on cable (which is how I watched it).
Sunday, June 05, 2005
This is the only Hitchcock movie to win best picture. One of the things that makes this movie great is Lawrence Olivier's performance as Max DeWinter. Supposedly, he despised Joan Fontaine in real life and used this in his performance... seems to have worked. The best part of the film is when the camera works its way around an empty room as Olivier describes a scene. Check it out.
4. Rear Window
Not much to add to that, since I'm sure you've seen it. As far as Hitchcock movies starring Jimmy Stewart, I think this movie runs circles around Vertigo.
This used to be higher on my list but has slipped a little. Hitchcock has Grant and Bergman in the same film here, which I think gives one of his best results ever. Rumor has it that Hitchcock was investigated after this movie came out because it has some discussion of an atomic bomb, before the bomb was actually completed. What to watch for: a great crane shot that comes all the way over a party, down to a key in Bergman's hand.
2. Shadow of a Doubt
As a friend of mine once said, this is Hitchcock's most subversive film. I agree with that. Joseph Cotten plays Uncle Charlie spectacularly, and the rest of the cast does well too. Hume Cronyn's bit part in this movie is one of my favorite characters in all of Hitchcock. If the first five minutes of this movie don't lock your interest, I'll give you a rebate.
1. North by Northwest
Textbook. Besides Psycho, of course this is Hitchcock's most referenced movie. This might be Hitch's longest movie, but the script is interesting enough to keep the audience going. Cary Grant delivers some extreme hilarity as well. The scenes to watch are the restaurant at the beginning, the crop duster (of course), the auction house and Mt. Rushmore (of course). My favorite part of the crop duster attack is when he's waiting around on the side of the road. You think one of those cars is going to do a drive-by with machine gun and just take him out.... but it's a crazy crop duster that comes and gets him! Genius. I wish I had seen this movie in the theater originally, without knowing the crop duster was coming.
Let's review some of her lines in this movie:
- "James! Don't leave me!" (In burning elevator scene)
- "James! Where are you going!?" (Burning elevator scene)
- "James!" (When driving fire truck)
- "James!" (In loving tone, as menacing blimp comes behind her)
- "James! James!" (On Golden Gate Bridge)
- "James! Look Out!" (on golden gate bridge)
Generally, I guess this movie really sucks except for the Paris chase scene. Somehow the Russians are supposed to be involved, and what's up with this horse auction? The bad guys are morons. They drive around in a blimp, yeah, that won't attract any attention. The Nazi doctor has a great line at the end when he can't get a handle on a lit bundle of dynamite: "Neh! Neh! Neh! Neh!". Some evil Nazi genius doctor huh, can't even throw a bunch of TNT out the window of a blimp? Dumbass.