Archive for May, 2010

Del Toro backs out of The Hobbit

To my personal disappointment, Guillermo Del Toro, the wonderful director of the Hellboy movies and Pan’s Labyrinth has stepped down from directing the two movies that would make up a new adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Read the full article at Empire. http://www.empireonline.com/news/feed.asp?NID=28016

Prince of Persia (2.5 of 4)

Prince of Persia is an adaptation of a series of popular video games. And frankly, a pretty good one at that. Having played the games to familiarity I found the film true to what I expected. Many of the trademark video-game stunts of Dastan, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, come to life and look better than they ever did in the games. The arrow climbing trick, all the parkour/free-running, the sword-play and even the villains combat styles were all familiar to me, and certainly would be to a bigger gamer.

The movie has weaknesses all over the place, a plot not really interesting enough for the time it takes to explain is a serious problem. The story may work in a video game, but in a movie finding a dagger and redoing things becomes monotonous. This boring sands of time storyline is almost rescued by a romance between the beautiful princess Tamina, played by Gemma Arterton, and Dastan. 

Both Dastan and Tamina have good chemistry on-screen. Probably because they’re not anything new, and as familiar characters it’s easier to accept the growth that their “relationship” makes at the furious pace it does. I actually thought some of the worst acting came from Ben Kingsley, his menace was too pronounced too early. If the twist of his character hadn’t been so noticable maybe it would have been a better paced movie, and the plot would have moved quicker to the third act.

Pacing is a problem Newell has with a lot of his movies (Four Weddings and a Funeral & Mona Lisa Smile). Still, I liked the film. I laughed throughout, thanks to Gyllenhaal and Alfred Molina who I think played a Californian.  The action was solid, fast enough to not look staged and slow enough to see, and the effects looked cool.

But overall I think I’d still rather be Dastan than watch him. I would have given a straight 3 of 4 if the action had been a slight bit sillier. More Indiana Jones and less Tomb Raider. But I digress.

The Mark of Cain (3 of 4)

Netflix Instant Play  

  The first murder every committed was when Cain murdered his brother Abel. Cain was a farmer; Abel was a shepherd. God approved of Abel’s sacrifice and disapproved of Cain’s. Cain was jealous and angry and killed his only brother. When confronted by God Cain responded: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” In a feeble attempt to hide his terrible sin from an omnipotent God. God put a mark on Cain so that he would be known everywhere he went as a murderer and regarded as an outcast. 

 And that’s just a breakdown of the title.    

 This powerful documentary explores the world of Russian prison tattoos from the many different perspectives of various criminals. Covering generations from the beginning of WWII through 2000 when the film was made, it depicts a convoluted image of regret, shame and ultimately a destroyed society.  

 As a historical prison documentary this should not be surprising as a depressing film. What will surprise you is the incredible eloquence of the prisoners. No one person is the focus of the film, all of their identities are less important than their criminal records. However, their faces and weary eyes speak of shame beyond even their shocking articulacy. 

The documentary really does everything it should. It is short, which I love (short movies get bonus points from me). Yet it doesn’t glimpse at things. It stares. The Mark of Cain slides a little off-track at points as a tattoo themed pieced, but it’s for the sake of pointing out the prisons injustices. Things like four years for murder and ten for theft; with over-crowded cells and months of solitary confinement, of course the food is mentioned and the list goes on.   

It’s not an easy film to watch, it has some horrible things in it. But it’s fascinating to see the group of people living with “The Mark of Cain.” Some wear it proudly as a right of passage on the way to becoming a “Godfather” type figure, others a shame so strong they’ve burned it off with cigarette butts and cut it away with butcher knives.

Dennis Hopper dies at 74

Dennis Hopper, actor/director/producer, died today.

I’m saddened by this. This has been a rough memorial day weekend for hollywood. First Gary Coleman and now Hopper.

I have always liked Hopper. Easy Rider and Apocalypse Now were highlight performances of his for me.

I’ll be praying for both of their families.

Rest in peace.

7 Suburban Movies to Prove Something’s Wrong with Suburbia

In no particular order, and full of spoilers:

1. The Chumscrubber (Arie Posin)

               What’s wrong with the picture? Well to start, suburban kids don’t mind kidnapping or being kidnapped. The neighbors are those strange friendly types who seem concerned, but really just want their casserole dish back. And a counter-top mountain of vitamins and prescription drugs turn a suicidal young man into a heroic real-life adaptation of his favorite video game game character. Did I mention the mayor is spiritually obsessed with dolphins and a car wreck sends a kid airborne–in slow motion? There is so much happening in this movie that a trip to the ghetto would be relaxing.     

2. American Beauty (Sam Mendes)

             It might be easier to start with what’s not wrong with suburban life as depicted through this movie. It has infidelity, murder, inter-family betrayal, distrust and dishonesty, socially inept children, immature parents, mature drug dealers, peeping toms, and a Nazi plate collection. With the tag line: “Look closer.” The movie really shows you have to do just that to see any kind of American Beauty. Again, the hero defines his world-view in his last thoughts before dying.

  

  

3. Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly)

             Nothing wrong here. Just a talking bunny rabbit from the future’s past warning a psychologically disturbed teen about the end of the world on a golf-course. (Wait…what?) It sounds strange but it will make more sense once he travels back in time through his chest jelly and lodges a hand axe into a bronze sculpture at his school before committing arson and exposing a child pornographer. I’m beginning to see a pattern here. Hero learns ethical message and dies to save his family. This time in a much more cinematic way, a detached jet engine falling through the ceiling by means of carefully calculated “coincidence”. Thanks for keeping us all safe, Donnie.        

  

4. Dawn of the Dead (Zack Snyder)

            What could be more suburban than the local mall? Add in a large undead horde and a multicultural group of suburban townies trapped in said mall and you’ve got the fourth movie on my list. Despite the obvious communication problems and inhumane treatment among the group, they have to deal with their Saturday morning shopping crowd gone ravenous. At least they’re in the mall and not their suburban house (I Am Legend?). And right when everything looks okay, guess who dies? Trick question, the whole cast turns undead on an island they manage to escape to. If you haven’t seen this, you need to. 

  

  

  

5. Home Alone (Chris Columbus)

                  It is Christmas time in Chicago and time for a family vacation to France. Woopsy, they left a kid in the Chicago-land suburb. Luckily for Macaulay Culkin this is a family comedy, and he doesn’t die in the end. But he is forced to deal with two suburban thieves, Harry and Marv, via any means possible. The movie that made household booby traps okay.     

  

6. Edward Scissorhands (Tim Burton) 

            Why does a suburban neighborhood have to be near a city? Why not at the foot of a creepy mountain topped with a creepy mansion inhabited by an even creepier half-robotic-recluse-hairdresser? It’s suburban gold because of the gossiping housewives, the manicured lawns, and the IDENTICAL houses. At least Ed is merely chased back to his mansion and not murdered. It is a love story after-all.      

  

7. A Serious Man (Joel & Ethan Coen)

              The Jewish suburbanite movie. For the educated, it’s a contemporary story of Job. A cheating wife calmly talking of divorce, a 20×30′ blackboard of college mathematics, a lonely and attractive sun-bathing neighbor woman, a stoned son at his Bar Mitzvah, a message from God in a man’s teeth, a brother’s tax evasion, the FBI, and a man desperately trying to be serious. The movie that asks how far you will go to do what’s good, and then waits for the end to ask if it was worth it. Larry, the lead, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, dies at the end. Either by some disease–his doctor breaks the news over the phone, how nice of him, right?–or by a tornado that would kill everyone if the movie didn’t cut to black in wonderful Coen style.

Runner’s up:

Revolutionary Road (The “I’m too good for this” suburbia)

The Bonnie Situation (Scene from Pulp Fiction–the “gangster” suburbia)

Toy Story (The “child” suburbia)

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What’d I miss? What suburban movie is your favorite? Did you notice how many of these films end in death? Leave me your thoughts, I’d love to read ‘em.

Another good Iron Man 2 review…

Check out Trunkman’s review of Iron Man 2. Longer and less angry than my own. I enjoyed the read.

http://thetrunkman.wordpress.com/2010/05/

The Best Movies of the Year Since 2005

One for each year starting with 2009 and working backward.

2009: Up in the Air (Jason Reitman)

Why: Because with an incredible cast, an underrated and upcoming director, and a story perfectly timed for the moment our country was and still is enduring (economic and spiritual depression), Up in the Air showed us all that contentment and purpose are not found at the end of our own desires.

 

  

 2008: WALL-E (Andrew Stanton)    

Why: Even though 2008 was a great year for movies of every genre and style (a certain Dark Knight and Wrestler) WALL-E quite literally broke my heart, as an allegorical story of humanity and technology. WALL-E is the best film of the year–only by a circuit–because it overcomes its biggest drawback of being an animated child’s film. It transcended its medium’s capabilities and depicted a danger that is all too close to reality–fully wired and yet disconnected people who are unable  to see the natural beauty beyond their own screens and devices.

2007: Into the Wild (Sean Penn) 

Why: Because it captures the heart of an adventurer and of youth while wisely cautioning against the abandonment of responsibility and respect and love for people. Phenomenal acting permeates the entire film. It is driven by purposeful characters, dialogue, and decision.

 

2006: The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)

Why: I know, I know, this is the same year as The Departed. But Germany takes the title for 2006’s best film. Just watch it. It’s funny, it’s clever, it’s patient, it’s involving. It’s everything you could want in a movie. Great cast and story. Truly shows how hard it is to make the “good decision” when those around you pressure otherwise. Bad company (Nazi’s) corrupts good morals (Secret Police) and it’s movie gold.  

2005: Good Night, and Good Luck. (George Clooney)

Why: Seamless editing. Brilliant direction and pacing, perfectly cast and acted. This is a movie for people who like movies. It does the essential elements perfectly and the rest is, well, history. I’m moved by the story of Murrow, a newsman who fights a senator for his nation. And after he’s saved them, they forget. Did I mention the editing? Okay.