Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Movies To See List - October

Better late than never. :)

(7th) Good Night, and Good Luck - He may be a pretty boy, but there's an impressive brain and artistic vision beneath George Clooney's salt-and-pepper locks. This is his second directing effort, and it's another true story. Black and white, this time. With Robert Downey, Jr.

(7th) In Her Shoes - Curtis Hanson directing a "chick-flick"? *strokes chin thoughtfully*

(7th) Waiting... - Okay, my better judgement tells me this is not a film worth seeing. However, having worked a long time in food service, I feel dutybound to watch it, just to see if they got anything right about that experience.

(7th) Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit: Doesn't the title just draw you in immediately, like a guy in a dark alley asking if you want some crack?

(14th) Domino - I really hated the trailer for this. ("My name is Domino Harvey. I am a bounty hunter.") But it still looks interesting.

(14th) Elizabethtown - Cameron Crowe *fangirlsOMG*!!!!1!one Ahem, okay. So, even if it didn't star Orlando "I'm too beautiful to be allowed" Bloom, I would still be dying to see this. Crowe has a way of characterization and storytelling that makes you feel like you know his characters. He's like the new Billy Wilder. I'll see anything he makes.

(14th) The Fog - I'm wary about remakes, especially horror remakes and most especially horror remakes where the original is something by a legend like John Carpenter. The filmmakers claim they're going for more story with this one, which can be a good or a bad thing. Here's hoping the title sequence is shorter than the original, at least.

(14th) Where the Truth Lies - It's directed by Atom Egoyan, who is a genius, and it stars Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon. The novel on which it is based was written by that guy who wrote and sang the "Pina Colada" song, but I'll forgive him that, since the novel itself is great. And if that doesn't sell you a ticket, I have three words for you. Colin. Firth. Three-way.

(21st) Stay - Trailer is supa-creepy. It's an interesting change of pace for Marc "Finding Neverland" Forster, too. Also, Ewan McGregor - mmmmmmm...

(28th) Prime - I like the premise. I love Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman. And how cool is it that the actor who plays the love interest was cast while on a reality show about a struggling actor?

(28th) The Weather Man - Okay, Nicholas Cage annoys me. But I think this will be one of those cool, quirky family dramedies.

Monday, October 17, 2005


This is not really a movie for everyone. I'm not even sure it's a movie for me. But I'm sure it's a cinematic work of art. Critics who are into structure and formula will tell you that the movie is too long, that it drags in a lot of places and has several scenes that have no apparent point. But that's incidental, I think. Crowe's films - the great ones - are like symphonies, with various melodic themes, not all of which have to be connected to each other. They're celebrations of life and interpersonal relationships. And my, oh my, is there some wonderful music (literally) to be heard.

Ultimately, Elizabethtown is not as good as what I think is Crowe's masterpiece, Almost Famous. But it really doesn't matter. This isn't the kind of movie you can go through with a red Sharpie, saying "story doesn't make sense here", "acting's bad here", "I don't buy Bloom as a guy with problems this big", and "what the heck is Susan Sarandon doing tap-dancing at her husband's funeral?" The experience of the film is pretty much summed up in the climax scene - the road trip that Drew finally takes with his father (or what's left of him, anyway), with a very detailed and planned map from his Love Interest, complete with programming on CDs. This "very unique map" is the film in a nutshell. It tells you where to go, what to do, and pushes your buttons with specific music to tell you what to feel about it. You're along for the ride. Some people might find that kind of film experience unacceptable, but when the ride is as good as Elizabethtown, you really should just sit back, roll the window down, and let it blow your hair all around. And don't forget to crank up the stereo.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Oliver Twist

I haven't seen the musical "Oliver!" in quite some time, and I've never read Dickens' novel, but I really enjoyed this movie. It has one of my favorite credit sequences - not that flashy, but it really makes you feel like you're walking into the pages of a Dickens novel. And Rachel Portman is one of my all-time favorite film composers. Her score for this film is not quite up there with Emma and Cider House Rules, but it has an excellent main theme that very much represents Oliver's character.

The film is a bit bleaker than I remember "Oliver!" being, and it feels much more Dickensian. And it does the smart thing by not actually making Oliver the main character - at least that's the way I saw it. Oliver, of course, is not a very interesting hero, per se. The real star of the film is 19th Century London herself. And the characters revolve around her. But Oliver, and perhaps Nancy even more, give the film its heart. While Barney Clark is a cute Oliver, I think the real gem of the piece is Leanne Rowe as Nancy. That's as it's meant to be, I suppose, from what I've heard of the novel.

Perhaps the highest praise I can give the film is that it never felt like an adaptation. I can't remember once thinking that maybe I'd understand something better if I had read the book. It was an excellent story in and of itself, and nothing felt tacked on or stuck in just because it was in the original work. This movie is probably out of the theaters by now, but if you can still catch it, it's quite good.

A History of Violence

I had high hopes for this movie, which is perhaps why I was so disappointed in it. The good part of it is that it makes you care about the main characters enough that you're really gutted by the way things turn out. But in a way it feels like a big cheat. Because from the moment of revelation onward, it feels like a completely different movie. There's no satisfying reversal or even a decent explanation as to why or how Tom came to be where he is at that point.

The movie does, however, have the only instance of the infamous "69" that I can ever remember seeing in a movie. So, um, yay for that, I guess.

Oh! I did like one thing about it. I thought the subplot with Tom's son was pretty great. And Ashton Holmes played it really well. Great tension between he and Viggo, and I enjoyed the stuff between him and the letter jacket jerks. That was the only part that I felt made me think as much as the film wanted me to.

The worst part, though? William Hurt as the mafia boss. Seriously, it's baaaaaaad. Like Hermione-howling-like-a-werewolf bad. Perhaps worse. My face was in a perpetual cringe the entire time he was on screen. It was like watching James Lipton try to be a gangsta. GAH! He's a talented actor, but everyone has roles they just should not be allowed to play because it's just not right.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Ph34r the Power of the Editor and Composer

The writer builds the framework, the director sets up the shots, and the actors bring the story to life. But the people who quite possibly wield the most influence over the finished film are the editor and the film's composer/music supervisor. Just look at these three entries in a recent competition a post-production house organized in which assistant editors were challenged to "re-cut" trailers from different movies to make them seem like different movies.

West Side Story
The Shining (*winner*)

The West Side Story one is a bit of a cheat, because the editor has added things to the film clips, but The Shining one is AWESOME!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Battle Royale

This is not a new film. The first I ever heard of it was when Harry Knowles listed it second only to Fellowship of the Ring as his favorite film of 2001. And this ten months after having seen it. Battle Royale is one of the most amazing, disturbing, and profound pieces of film you're ever likely to see.

The premise alone is deeply unsettling. A group of 42 junior high students are taken to an island and forced to kill each other off, one by one, until only one of them is left. They are each given a bag with rations and a weapon - weapons ranging in usefulness from a pair of binoculars to a machine gun (too bad if you get the short end of the stick). They are fashioned with special collars around their necks that keep track of their vital signs and location. If anyone tries to remove their collar, it explodes. If, at the end of three days, there is more than one child left alive, all of the collars explode.

There is very little set-up as to who the children are or what they've done to deserve this. We're only left to guess about that. But we get to know the children over the course of the battle. They're not all problem cases - they were chosen by lot to go to the island. They seem to be a fairly random sampling of the various personalities at their school. There are some flashbacks to several characters' lives at home and/or school. But we get to know who they are through their actions on the island. Some of them resort to suicide rather than participate in the game, some ruthlessly kill the other children (even their friends) in order to stay alive, and others band together to try and figure a way out of the situation.

Something that I feel adds to the horror of the film is that the children are all played by children. These aren't twentysomethings playing 12 and 13 year olds. These are actual kids. And seeing them dropped into this nightmare, as well as seeing them fight it out in true Darwinist fashion, is absolutely terrifying.

This film was never released in the US, for reasons that are fairly obvious, but you can catch it on DVD if you feel up to it. This is a specific kind of satire, in the manner of Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal. Nothing in the movie plays for laughs. It's all very real and serious. The deaths are shocking and you really feel something for all of the kids - not only when they are killed, but for the survivors who have to hear the names of their schoolmates who have died announced on loudspeakers and who are left to deal with unspeakable choices. Definitely not a film for everyone, but it's certainly worth checking out if you think you can stand it.