Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Movie Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings

Having seen the midnight showing of The Fellowship of the Ring last night, I'm running on about three hours sleep and I haven't had much time to collect my thoughts, so bear with me.

First off, it was fantastic. I'm thinking about listing the things that impressed me most, but that would be every element that went into this film, so I'll just name a few.

First: the pacing. Not counting the amazing prologue--with its holy-shit-inducing shots of mass hand-to-hand battling--the story starts out like a little pebble, bouncing down a gentle snowy slope. Hobbiton, the Shire, Bilbo's party, the approach of the Black Riders. The pebble starts gathering snow, the slope gets a bit steeper, this thing's rolling now. Bree, Weathertop, Rivendell. Gathering speed, getting bigger still. At Rivendell, we slow down a bit. Fellowship formed. They're on their way. Then the mountains. Then the mines. Holy shit, the mines. Ho-ly-mutha-fuckin-shit. This thing is now truckin'. Then Galadriel's forest. Slows down a little again. And then it's balls out to the climax.

Two: The acting. Not a bad performance out of anyone. Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean--all outstanding. Ian McKellen? I saw no Ian McKellen. Only Gandalf. He is tremendous.

Three: Middle-Earth. I've read it in other reviews, so I'm gonna steal it and write it here as well: It's like Peter Jackson found the real Middle-Earth, with its Shire, its Elven hideaways, its quaint villages, and just put a camera down and filmed it. You can see thousands of years of history in everything--buildings, caves, costumes, weapons. The movie both met and managed to exceed my imagination, the way I pictured it when I read the books.

Fourth: The heart. Sure, this is a fairy tale special effects extravaganza. But it's got depth, soul and heart. Something that is so lacking in the cookie-cutter, pre-fab blockbusters being churned out like clockwork. This film takes the time to show you not only the adventures and monsters and battles, but also the small moments between the characters. Frodo and Bilbo. Aragorn and Arwen. Even a brief but wonderfully human moment with Boromir teaching the Hobbits some basic swordplay. That's it--it has humanity. So by the end, you really give a shit what has happened and what will happen to these characters.

Is it a pure adaptation of Tolkien's book? Of course not. Scenes and characters are omitted. Some characters are given a little less or-like Arwen-a little more to do, strictly for economical purposes. But where the adaptation hits the mark with flawless precision is in nailing the soul of the book. The core themes and vibe. They're there. It's definitely Middle-Earth. That's definitely Gandalf and Frodo and Aragorn, without question.

Is it the OhmyGodit'sthebestmovieI'veeverseeninmyentirelife? I can't tell you. I don't have a best movie. I love so many of them. But it's up there among my favorites, yes. I need to see it again. At a decent hour. In a theater that is slightly cooler than the 115 degree temperature at which last night's theater was kept. I was extremely uncomfortable and shifty because of the heat. But the last thing I was going to do was to get up during the movie and complain. I didn't want to miss anything.

Other reactions: a girl I saw it with had never read the books, and was completely unfamiliar with the story. As the film faded out, she turned and said, "Oh my God, does Frodo make it?!" This one guy sitting next to me (not with me), turned to his group and said: "*Scoff* (really, you could hear him actually scoff) Well, that was a three-hour train wreck." Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but his was wrong. Jaded, no-magic-left-in-his-heart motherfucker.

The Fellowship of the Ring is the shit, and without qualification, the best movie I've seen in this year--perhaps the last few years.

Monday, August 13, 2001

Movie Review: The Others

Despite being in an audience almost as bad as the one with which I saw The Sixth Sense, I managed to enjoy The Others, a creepy, moody, slow-building ghost story. Grace (Nicole Kidman) and her two children, Anne and Nicholas (Alakina Mann, James Bentley), live in a big ol' house in the Channel Islands in 1945. Grace's house servants mysteriously take off in the middle of the night. Luckily, or oddly, three folks show up at the door looking for work as servants. Hmmm. Grace hires them, and creepiness ensues. Anne starts claiming she sees other people in the house. Then everyone starts hearing noises. Then... well... things get really scary.

Like I said, the movie is slow to build. For those with tiny little attention spans--much like my audience of people who most likely got sold out of American Pie 2 and bought a ticket for The Others since they were already at the theater anyway--this movie is not for you. I find that the quiet, slow development makes the scary parts all the more scary. It even worked with these numskulls in the crowd, too. Alejandro Amenabar's directing is great: it takes its time, but not in a self-indulgent way. The cinematography by Javier Aquirresarobe is superb: constant candlelight and the occasional daylight dripping through thick curtains (the children are photosensitive, deathly allergic to bright light). Also well done was the sound design, with its echoed whispers and creaking and bumps-in-the-night.

For a quiet, intelligent ghost story, I highly recommend The Others. Bring a change of underwear.

Friday, August 3, 2001

The Rules of Man

  1. Any Man who brings a camera to a bachelor party may be legally killed and eaten by his fellow partygoers.
  2. Under no circumstances may two men share an umbrella.
  3. It is ok for a man to cry under the following circumstances:
    1. When a heroic dog dies to save its master
    2. The moment Angelina Jolie starts unbuttoning her blouse
    3. After wrecking your boss' Ferrari
    4. One hour, 12 minutes, 37 seconds into The Crying Game
    5. When your Date is using her teeth
  4. Unless he murdered someone in your family, you must bail a friend out of jail within 12 hours.
  5. Acceptable excuse for not helping a friend move
    1. Your legs have been severed in a freak threshing accident
  6. Acceptable excuse for not helping a friend of a friend move:
    1. You'd rather stay home and watch speed buggy reruns
  7. If you've known a guy for more than 24 hours, his sister is off limits forever, unless you actually marry her.
  8. The minimum amount of time you have to wait for a guy who's running late is 5 minutes. Maximum waiting time: 6 minutes. For a girl, you have to wait 10 minutes for every point of hotness she scores on the classic 1-10scale.
  9. Bitching about the brand of free beer in a buddy's fridge is forbidden. Gripe at will if the temperature is unsuitable.
  10. No man shall ever be required to buy a birthday present for another man.(In fact, even remembering your buddy's birthday is strictly optional.)
  11. On a road trip, the strongest bladder determines pit stops, not theweakest.
  12. While your girlfriend must bond with your buddies' girlfriends within 30 minutes of meeting them, you are not required to make nice with her galpals' significant dick-heads--- low level sports bonding is all the law requires(sorry ladies, it's called a double standard because it's twice as true).
  13. Unless you have signed a lucrative endorsement contract, do not appear in public wearing more than one swoosh.
  14. When stumbling upon other guys watching a sporting event, you may always ask the score of the game in progress, but you may never ask who's playing.
  15. You may flatulate in front of a woman only after you have brought her to climax. If you trap her head under the covers for the purpose of flatulent entertainment, she's officially your girlfriend.
  16. It is permissible to quaff a fruity chick drink only when you're sunning on a tropical beach....and it's delivered by a topless supermodel...and it's free.
  17. Only in situations of Moral and/or Ass peril are you allowed to kick another guy in the nuts.
  18. Unless you're in prison, never fight naked.
  19. Friends don't let friends wear Speedos. Ever. Issue closed.
  20. If a man's zipper is down, that's his problem---you didn't see nothin'.
  21. Women who claim to "love to watch sports" must be treated as spies until they demonstrate knowledge of the game and the ability to pick a buffalo wing clean.
  22. You must offer heartfelt and public condolences over the death of a girlfriend's cat, even if it was you who secretly set it on fire and threw it into a ceiling fan.
  23. A man in the company of a hot, suggestively dressed woman must remain sober enough to fight.
  24. Never hesitate to reach for the last beer or the last slice of pizza, but not both. That's just plain mean.
  25. If you complement a guy on his six-pack, you'd better be talking about his choice of beer.
  26. Never join your girlfriend or wife in dissing a buddy of yours, except if she's withholding sex pending your response.
  27. Phrases that may not be uttered to another man while lifting weights:
    1. Yeah, Baby, Push it!
    2. C'mon, give me one more! Harder!
    3. Another set and we can hit the showers!
    4. Nice Ass, Are you a Sagittarius?
  28. Never talk to a man in a bathroom unless you are on equal footing: both urinating, both waiting in line, etc. For all other situations, an almost imperceptible nod is all the conversation you need.
  29. Never allow a conversation with a woman to go on longer than you are able to have sex with her. Keep a stopwatch by the phone; Hang up if necessary.
  30. When a buddy is trying to hook up, you may sabotage him only in a manner that gives you no chance of getting laid either.
  31. You cannot rat out a coworker who shows up at work with a massive hangover. You may however hide the aspirin, smear his chair with limburger cheese, turn the brightness dial all the way down so he thinks his monitor is broken, and have him paged over the loudspeaker every seven minutes.
  32. The morning after you and a babe who was formerly "just a friend" have carnal drunken monkey sex, the fact that you're feeling weird and guilty is no reason not to nail her again before the discussion about what a big mistake it was.
  33. Always split aces and eights. No arguments.

Monday, July 23, 2001

Movie Review: Made

It's impossible to write about Made without mentioning Swingers. Both are written by Jon Favreau. (He also directs the former, while Doug Liman (Go) directed the latter). Both star Favreau and Vince Vaughn. Swingers is about love and dating in the world of L.A. nightlife, while Made is about... well, it's not about much, but it's the story of two guys who become low-level thugs for Max the Mafia boss (Peter Falk) and are given a task to prove their worth.

Swingers is one of those movies that you either get and love, or you don't get and hate. I know both kinds of people. Made is a little more accessible. Mafia movies, given their history, are a little more easy to swallow than movies about the young, fast-talking, swing-dancing L.A. set. Bobby (Favreau) is an aspiring boxer who works construction jobs by day and acts as driver/bodyguard for his stripper girlfriend (Famke Janssen) by night, both in the employ of Max the mafia boss. Max decides to give Bobby a shot at a better position within his business, sending him to New York to perform a "drop." Bobby convinces the reluctant Max to let his lifelong friend Ricky (Vaughn) come along. Max gets Bobby to "vouch" for him. For those that don't know what that means: if Ricky fucks up, Bobby will be held responsible. The issue is, Ricky is, well, a fuck-up. Hilarity ensues. Really. I wasn't being sarcastic: hilarity does ensue. For all-out laughs, Made has Swingers beat.

My problem with the movie is its lack of about. Moreso than Swingers, there is a plot, a story-line, a Point A-to-Point B. But with the addition of plot, there seems to be a sacrifice of deeper characterization and overall theme. Is it about friendship? I guess. Is it about finding one's path? A little bit. Is it about taking responsibility? Maybe. I'm just not definite on any of these things.

Nevertheless, I was entertained. The dialogue is smart and fast. Vaughn is a riot. Music is cool. The movie is hilarious. Here's some algebra:

(Swingers + mafia + more laughs) - depth = Made

Go. Enjoy. Despite its shortcomings, it's better than most of the crap out there!

Movie Review: Ghost World

Have you ever seen a movie that you really loved that you can't describe to someone, other than to say you really loved it? That's the dilemma I have with Ghost World. It's one of those slices-of-life movies: no clear objectives, no action sequences, no villains, no problems to solve. Well, there are problems to solve, I guess, but nothing like obtaining mystical triangles or escaping dinosaur-infested islands.

Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) have just graduated high school. They were the ones in school that were on the fringe: not losers, but not popular, just the cynical outsiders who liked to be on the outside, just so they can look at everyone else and mock their normalcy, banality and conformity. So they graduate. No college in their plans, they decide to get jobs and get an apartment together. The problem: Enid is far less motivated to do so than Rebecca. The more Rebecca embraces growing up and earning a living and joining society, the more Enid rebels and clings to those outsider values.

Along the way, in a bit of a cruel prank, they meet Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a lonely, socially awkward self-proclaimed dork who collects old records. Enid immediately identifies with and befriends him, and they start spending a lot of time together. When Seymour begins dating a "normal" woman, Enid again feels threatened and is confronted by the fear of losing yet another friend to that world. And that's it, really. It's about growing up, finding yourself, relationships, and friendships. And it's also really, really funny.

If you're after "THE THRILL RIDE OF THE SUMMER!!!" this ain't it. But I can't recommend this enough to people who appreciate this sort of thing.

Friday, July 20, 2001

Movie Review: Jurassic Park III

Hmmm. I just saw this last night, so bear with me while I collect my thoughts. I think I liked it alright. But that's the thing, really. It's just one of those movies that you say, "Yeah, it was alright." Is that enough? Sure, if it's only 92 minutes of your time, which this one was.

The plot (maybe some spoilers, but this isn't "who shot JFK"): A couple of distraught parents, the Kirbys (William H. Macy, Tea Leoni), enlist--or rather, dupe--Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and his young paleontology ward, Billy (Alessandro Nivola), in helping them find their son, Eric (Trevor Morgan, who I recognized instantly as Tommy Tammisimo from The Sixth Sense), who disappeared on the island 8 weeks ago, due to a freak parasailing crash (I know).

Anyway, that's the excuse this time for stunts, special effects, and some new dinosaurs we've never seen before. Why is the primary goal of most sequels to offer "something we've never seen before"? I always thought that a sequel's job was to advance the story and characters from the first movie (a la Godfather Part 2 or T2 or The Empire Strikes Back). If they happen to offer "something you've never seen before," well, that's just a bonus. But whatever. I'm digressing, as usual.

Stunts: good. Special effects: dinosaurs looked ok, not as good as first two, and some of the matte work is blech (particularly the parasailing sequences (yes, there's more than one)). Story: whatever. Characters: don't care. But, like I said, it's only 92 minutes. Another half hour of it, and I would've been annoyed. But given its length, a couple of neat action sequences, and one very inspired use of a ringing satellite phone, it's... alright. But I'm too forgiving. Not a very good reviewer, I suppose, movie whore that I am. You go see it and decide... but I'm sure your reaction will be: eh.

Monday, July 16, 2001

Movie Review: The Score

More and more, I am learning to appreciate movies that take their time. Maybe because nowadays they are so rare. The few recent examples I can think of are Unbreakable, The Sixth Sense, and, surprisingly, The X-Men. Most other movies are always in such a rush to impress. It's like they've decided that because kids (everyone's favorite demographic) watch MTV, they have a short attention span, and they cater to it with reckless abandon, ignoring things like character development and pacing. They have only one pace: fast. I remember learning in screenwriting class that an action sequence is more exciting if it follows a slower-paced segment. Maybe I'm turning into a fogey, but most movies today are non-stop. It's cool, and they are fun, but it leaves you (or me, at least) feeling empty.

What am I getting at? What am I talking about? I don't remember.

Oh, wait. The Score. That's my point. The Score is a movie that takes its time. It establishes its characters: Robert De Niro as a professional thief who is just about to retire; Marlon Brando as the guy offering him one final, yes, score. And Edward Norton as an up-and-coming thief who is smart and kicks ass. It establishes place: Montreal. It establishes tone: serious, but slightly comedic. And it slowly builds, and builds, and builds.

Without giving anything away, Norton and De Niro are different generations of thief united for a job set up by Brando. De Niro is, of course, the consummate professional: patient, thoughtful, strong moral compass. Norton, although very clever, is the brash upstart: untrusting, more cutthroat, less scrupulous. So what's going to happen? Will they pull it off? I'm not telling. It's way too much fun trying to figure it out.

Well-shot and directed. An extremely tight, well-written script (some people said it was too slow. I didn't think so. Regardless, it never fails to engage your attention. All in all, my second favorite movie so far this summer. (My first being Moulin Rouge, of which I didn't write a review. Apologies. Trust me, it's good.)

Thursday, July 12, 2001

Movie Review: A.I.

So much potential. So many great ideas. Amazing performances, especially by Osment, who manages to carry this 2 1/2 hour beast on his tiny little shoulders. Such a great look. All of it wasted.

I found A.I. slow, cold and clinical. In a word, it was very Kubrick. I know I'm suppose to love and revere the great Stanley Kubrick, and while I appreciate his talents as an artist, his contributions to the world of film, and his ability to make people think, frankly his movies bore the ever-lovin' shit outta me. I'm glad they exist, I understand why people like them, but I absolutely can't stand most of them.

People are complaining that A.I. is too much Spielberg, not enough Kubrick. My personal opinion is the opposite. As much as I wanted to, I could not emotionally connect to anything in this film, much like 2001, or Clockwork Orange, or (especially) Barry "Snoozefest" Lyndon.

David is a robot who loves, and wants nothing more than to have his love returned by his mother. The theme is love. Emotion. So why didn't I care? It wasn't for lack of good performances. It was the detached style in which it was filmed. I was forced into the role of objective observer. I hate that. When I see a movie, and again this is my personal opinion, I want to be manipulated. Art is manipulation. Whether it is an altered perspective or unique use of color in a painting, or lines in a drawing directing your sightline to a particular subject, or a specific chord progression in a piece of music, or a precisely worded, stirring monologue in a play--art needs to reach in and grab you and fuck with your insides. Why didn't A.I. do this? Yeah, it was a thing that made me go "hmmm". Yeah, it was visually and aurally amazing. Yeah, I had to sleep on it and think about the ideas. But where was the heart? This kid wants to be loved by his mother. How pure and simple and wonderful a theme. Why isn't this touching? Easy: Kubrick. Or rather Spielberg's emulation of Kubrick.

To this day, E.T. makes me weep like a baby. Every time. When that little rubber spacegoblin tells Elliott, "I'll be right here," and his finger lights up, and the score swells, I fucking lose it. That film is the primary reason I am still paying off a $100,000 education based on watching and making movies. And it's as shamelessly manipulative as they come. A lot of people resent that, and feel that filmmakers are cheating in some way by deliberately tugging on heartstrings. I understand that, but I disagree. All art needs to be manipulative in one way or another.

I am not saying A.I. is an exception. The story manipulates like nobody's business. I mean, come on, they resurrect the mother at the end for just one day so that David can finally hear her say, "I love you" and thus complete his journey. The End. But it's filmed in such a cold and detached way that I couldn't care, no matter how much I wanted to -- and that is so not Spielberg's style (I could sense him fighting it now and then--particularly with Teddy and Gigolo Joe). You can get away with movies that don't make you care as long as they are fast-paced, action-packed or funny (that's why I kinda like Strangelove and Spartacus), but with a long, slow, sprawling drama, if the audience doesn't care, it is death. It ultimately amounts to a colossal waste of time. And I didn't care.

(And don't get me started on the ending with the bizarro Robots O' the Future. The first ending, trapped under the ferris wheel for all eternity, would have been best.)

Monday, June 18, 2001

Medical Terms for Rednecks

Artery......................The study of paintings.
Benign......................What you be after you be eight.
Bacteria....................Back door to cafeteria.
Barium......................What doctors do when patients die.
Cesarean Section............A neighborhood in Rome.
Catscan.....................Searching for Kitty.
Cauterize...................Made eye contact with her.
Colic.......................A sheep dog.
Coma........................A punctuation mark.
D&C.........................Where Washington is.
Dilate......................To live long.
Enema.......................Not a friend.
Fester......................Quicker than someone else.
Fibula......................A small lie.
Genital.....................Non-Jewish person.
G.I.Series..................World Series of military baseball.
Hangnail....................What you hang your coat on.
Impotent....................Distinguished, well known.
Labor Pain..................Getting hurt at work.
Medical Staff...............A Doctor's cane.
Morbid......................A higher offer than I bid.
Nitrates....................Cheaper than day rates.
Node........................I knew it.
Outpatient..................A person who has fainted.
Pap Smear...................A fatherhood test.
Pelvis......................Second cousin to Elvis.
Post Operative..............A letter carrier.
Recovery Room...............Place to do upholstery.
Rectum......................Darn near killed him.
Secretion...................Hiding something
Seizure.....................Roman emperor.
Tablet......................A small table.
Terminal Illness............Getting sick at the airport.
Tumor.......................More than one.
Urine.......................Opposite of you're out
Varicose....................Near by

Thursday, April 5, 2001

Movie Review: Spy Kids

Boy, I sure am lazy when it comes to writing these few and far between movie reviews. It's because I'm not paid to do this, really. I don't have any assignments or deadlines to worry about. I don't think very many people read these anyway. I guess the main reason I don't write that many reviews is that I typically only review movies to which I have a strong reaction, either positive or negative. Which brings me to Spy Kids.

It's hard to write about Spy Kids without evoking the whole "previous movie formula" thing (e.g. "Speed = Die Hard + bus", etc.). Therefore, I will try to get through this review without mentioning The Matrix, Home Alone, or Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Whoops. Which is not to say these comparisons are not complimentary. They are. Spy Kids has cool Matrix-style action sequences, with Home Alone's energy and exuberance and Willy Wonka's eerie, psychedelic creepiness.

I don't really go into plot stuff in these reviews, and I'm sure you know enough from the previews: Two kids have to save their spy parents who have been kidnapped by a kooky villain. 'Nuff said.

It all boils down to this: for two hours, I felt like I was 10 years old again. If I really were 10, Spy Kids would be my favorite movie of all time. It has everything a little kid could possibly wish for: kid empowerment, awesome gadgets, stunts, weird monsters, and two kids doing the coolest stuff imaginable: flying with jetpacks and mini-rocket-planes, a boat that transforms into a submarine, a microwave that can turn a lump of compressed food into a McDonald's meal, um, what else? There's so much cool shit crammed into this movie that I'm getting excited all over again.

The kids (Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara) are great (no mugging). The story is appropriately silly. Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino (who starred opposite Pauly Shore in the vastly underrated Son-In-Law) are cool, and not overused, as the spy parents, and Alan Cumming and Tony Shaloub are super-creepy as the villains. The character and set designs are, um--running out of adjectives here--let's say far-out. My one complaint is about the special effects: while the ideas were brilliant, I felt they could have used another $10 million or so to make them more fully realized.

I'll try to write more reviews. It's really up to Hollywood to put out more awesome movies as well as more complete shit. Also, I'm lazy.