Tuesday, July 29, 2008

21 (Robert Luketic, 2008) D+

Robert Luketic needs to stick with romantic comedies. Legally Blonde and Monster in Law are both smarter than average rom coms with impressive comedic performances that still make me laugh the 10th time I watch them. 21, Luketic's first foray away from that genre, is an absolutely grotesque, 99 cent version of Ocean's 11 with unavoidable cliches, awful acting and a putrid script. Jim Sturgess (you might recognize him from Across the Universe and The Other Boleyn Girl) plays a freakishly smart MIT student who can't afford his tuition for Harvard Medical School. He meets a professor (Kevin Spacey) who teaches him to play Black Jack and count cards so, along with a couple of other students, they can make an assload of money in Vegas every weekend. Sturgess does his best with the role, but you know the trajectory of his character from the first 30 seconds: he will go from naive, to out of control in about 30 minutes and then will realize his mistakes and redeem himself just in time. The way Kevin Spacey's character chews him out after losing $200,000 is completely ridiculous; this was the only time Sturgess had done this and he completely goes apeshit while the other douchebag (the one who had been kicked out) had apparently done it quite a few more times before getting kicked to the curb for doing something else completely. Instead of Spacey, I would have rather liked to see Robert Downey, Jr. in this role. I think he could have played up the funniness better with his dry wit and he can be quite a bit intimidating if you give him the chance.

Crumb (Terry Zwigoff, 1994) B

An all-around interesting documentary about underground comic book artist Robert Crumb. I heard that the main appeal of this documentary was not Crumb's work per se, but, instead, Crumb's crazy ass family. Call me the product of a strange family myself, but I simply didn't find them that dysfunctional or bat shit crazy. I will give in that they're a little odd and the one brother who meditates on a bed of nails was slightly disturbing. It's just that their childhood didn't seem that unusual to me as far as the 1950's go (the father was absent mentally, slightly abusive and got into long verbal arguments with the mother...that's out of the ordinary how?). I actually find Crumb as a nice companion piece to Herzog's Grizzly Man; two documentaries about offbeat, slightly megalomaniac men who have a hard time dealing with the real world.

Week End (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967) B-

On the DVD cover for this film, one critic described Week End as Godard's version of hell and there's no way I can possibly disagree with that assessment. There's a long scene that takes place about 20-30 minutes in which the main couple are rudely passing cars during a traffic jam and for about 10 minutes all we hear is the loud honking of car horns. The scene, which, I must add, was seen after a long day in which I dealt with car troubles, made me both queasy and gave me a headache; it certainly felt like hell to me. Even if Week End is too terribly uncomfortable for me to ever see again, I'm glad Godard went all out in making this experience as hellish as possible. This decision shows real balls and makes the film that much more interesting. I do love Godard's fascination with violence here in all the images of horrific car crashes and the unscrupulous main couple's constant comments to each other about how much they want each other dead. I also loved the individual scenes in which the wife, after their car gets wrecked in a huge crash, screams bloody murder about her Hermes scarf and the one in which the couple try to steal a car from a singing Jean-Pierre Leaud. The only thing I truly hated about Week End was the constant political monologues he gives to random characters that seem to go on for forever. I felt that there must have been a more creative way for Godard to mix them in with the rest of the film.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Mamma Mia! (Phyllida Lloyd, 2008) D

Full-length rant here.

Penelope (Mark Palansky, 2008) C

Everything about Mark Palansky's modern day fairytale Penelope, especially coming after the enormous success of Enchanted, seems unbearably average and ordinary. The film isn't bad per se-- the story is appropriately simple and child-like, the actors got their respective jobs done and received their paychecks, the special effects are Tim Burton-lite-- but is so inoffensive in it's refusal to take a point of view. The advertisements for Penelope really ruined whatever surprise the film had in story by showing Ricci's pig nose, but director Palansky does an even worse job of leading up to it. The unnecessary narration from Ricci reveals that she has a pig nose and then expects us to act surprised when it is shown a couple of scenes later. Ricci and dreamboat James McAvoy are merely adequate as the two lovers while Reese Witherspoon, whose tiny role really only amounts to nothing more than a cameo, is clearly having fun playing this fast-talking, "bad girl," but the miscasting is too obvious to even take seriously and Witherspoon just can't let loose and have fun. There's a short scene between her and the bar owner at Penelope's wedding when they're apparently supposed to be improvising about how they think the wedding is supposed to go down that plays really awkwardly because Witherspoon just can't get in the silliness.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Tom Jones (Tony Richardson, 1963) C- (x2)

I've never read the source novel by Henry Fielding (and I probably never will) but I suspect that, as with many novel to film adaptations, the screenwriters had a tough time condensing multiple story lines and subplots and a myriad of characters into a two hour film. Tom Jones feels oddly disconnected to me because none of the subplots seem to add up and are often dropped without a moment's notice. Plus, Richardson's stale British New Wave tricks, which I'm sure were positively retro-chic back in 1963, feel completely dated. I also couldn't get over how misogynistic the whole film was. Tom is allowed to roam the countryside, fucking whoever he wants, but someone like Molly is considered a slut for doing the same. It simply isn't right, especially when I'd rather be following these fascinating women instead of Tom. Albert Finney's casting here is a complete mystery since he isn't exactly the type of good-looker that would turn the ladies' heads nor does he really do anything interesting with the role. If nothing else, I would really love to see the women get more material to work with-- Susannah York especially, who was so good in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and definitely could have handled more oomph to her tireless romantic lead.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Be Kind Rewind (Michel Gondry, 2008) C

Gondry has a great concept here somewhere buried underneath Be Kind Rewind, but the execution of said concept is extremely poor. The film should have focused more on the making of these "sweded" movies and less on the uninteresting backstory of Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) trying to save his video story and the weird friendship between Jerry (Jack Black) and Mike (Mos Def). Nothing about Be Kind Rewind is especially bad, per se, just completely disappointing. How is it the director of such visual and poetic masterpieces like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep not take advantage of the opportunities presented here. If he couldn't get lost in the silliness and fun of the sweded movies, then how is the audience supposed to care about anything going on on-screen? Let's just hope that this was one slip-up in the repetoire of Gondry and not the first sign of him showing his limitations.

Picture This! (Stephen Herek, 2008) C-

I must admit that I was nervous viewing Picture This!, my beloved Ashley Tisdale's first film after the wild success of the HSM movies. Would she be as good of an actress as I thought she was in HSM2? Would Picture This! give her something to do comedically or would the script and/or direction let her down majorly? The answer to the first question: a definitive YES. If nothing else, Picture This! proves that La Tisdale is a complete natural on screen and can make anything, and I do mean anything, funny. The answer to the second question: kinda. The beginning of Picture This! is rather predictable-- loser Mandy (La Tisdale) is in love with hott jock Drew Patterson and eventually gets him to notice how great she is after rescuing her when she nearly drowns-- and, after some gooey romantic crap was thrown in, I wanted to barf right then and there. Eventually, however, a clever comedic situation straight out of a Buster Keaton short emerges (kicking and screaming, I might add, since the screenwriters try their damnedest to hide it underneath teenage movie cliches and shitty romantic situations) and nearly saves the picture. After finding out about Mandy and Drew, her overprotective father grounds her- on the day of Drew's big party! To get out of the house, Mandy lies about having to study with a friend and her father only lets her go on the condition that he'll call every 30 minutes and she needs to prove, using her brand new video cell phone, that she's at her friend's house every time. Well, of course she's not going over to study and is instead getting ready for the party. So the next 45 minutes of screen time is spent with Mandy trying to fool her father while at the mall, at a battle of the bands concert, driving in her car and a few other various situations. This is where La Tisdale truly shines, proving her skills as a comedienne are top-notch. Why doesn't someone give her a role in a proper film instead of forcing her to slum it in this kind of dreck? The ending of this film is horribly shody, complete with a weird chanting from the mean girls trying to keep Mandy from the party that ends up with the Regina George vomiting for no reason and the most fucked up prom queen ceremony that was so surreal it should have been in a David Lynch film, and nearly destroys those precious 45 or so minutes of comedic genius.

The Music Man (Morton DaCosta, 1962) D+

Egad, this movie is painful. I'm not going to say that DaCosta's adaptation of The Music Man is the problem here since most of the trouble spots stem from the actual story itself. The people are complete caricatures, the jokes are hokey at best and the film is way too long to be stabilized on the one joke. By the 45 minute mark, I thought the townspeople deserved to be swindled because they were so stupid. Seriously, they were so retarded I swear I caught some of them with drool hanging off their chin; I don't know how they function in the real world. I understand that all musicals are fantasies by nature, but there are times when the suspension of disbelief is too great to bear. The only brightside are the Meredith Wilson songs up through "76 Trombones." I thought they were original and creative enough to keep me interested even when the story was leaving me numb (seriously, how could no one seen that juvenile delinquent put that firecracker behind the presenters at the 4th of July meeting? He wasn't exactly subtle or anything). After "76 Trombones," the songs got progressively worse and that's when the film became nearly unwatchable.

The Joy Luck Club (Wayne Wang, 1993) A-

The Joy Luck Club has a couple of minor problems, mainly in it's transitions from story to story and the overall depressing nature of each of the stories, but how can you quibble when such a fascinating story about the life of Chinese immigrant mothers and their Americanized daughters is being told and there's an ensemble cast so on the top of its game it's incredible to witness? I've never read the original novel, but I've heard it's nearly unfilmable, so you have got to give credit to the screenwriters who carefully adapted the novel and made it nearly completely cinematic. The cast is so good it's hard to choose favorites, but I have to say the best in show were Tsai Chin and Tamlyn Tomita as Lindo and Waverly, respectively. Not only was their story the most universal (to me, anyways) but their handing of the final scene at the hairdresser was impeccably done-- it could have come off corny, but it came out completely touching and emotionally honest. And that final scene between June and the twins made me sad and happy at the same time-- if I was more emotional, I probably would have cried during that scene.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Interiors (Woody Allen, 1978) A (x2)

The first time I saw Interiors I generally liked it but didn't think it was anywhere near the realm of Annie Hall. The second time, however, I was absolutely caught up in it and couldn't take my eyes off the mesmerizing images unfolding before me. I think it would take a few more viewings to definitively grasp what Allen is aiming for and eventually I will take the time to write something more in depth about this film. Let me first say that the muted, empty art direction and lifeless costumes were absolutely perfect. The sparse decorations and simple colors beautifully reflect what is going on in the lives of Eve (Geraldine Page) and her daughters Renata (Diane Keaton) and Joey (Mary Beth Hurt). Geraldine Page and Maureen Stapleton, as the girls' father's second wife, were nominated for Oscars and while Stapleton's was infinitely deserved-- she adds color and touches of humor that juxtapose magnificently with the coldness of the rest of the family-- Page, for me, just seemed somewhat miscast. She was good, but I think most of that was due in part to Allen's dialogue and not from what Page was doing as actress: Page's Eve is all cold, vacuous stares and not much else. Much better, in my estimation, were Diane Keaton, who knocked me out with her presence and sharp contrast from the previous year's Annie Hall, and Mary Beth Hurt, who I suspect was taking on the Woody Allen role but does it much better than Allen ever could have.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Thousand Clowns (Fred Coe, 1965) B (x2)

A fun, if slightly annoying, film about a middle-aged bachelor (Jason Robards) who is taking care of his nephew (Barry Gordon) after his sister dumped him at his place seven years previously. Two social service agents (William Daniels and Barbara Harris) show up at his place and tell him that he needs to turn his deadbeat ways around to keep his nephew. All in all, A Thousand Clowns is a very sweet film that was obviously influenced 60's British cinema (not exactly my favorite film movement) but still manages not to get caught up in those empty stylistics and develops a meaningful story about the relationship between Robards, Gordon and Harris. My only major complaint is that towards the middle I grew sick of Robards constant whining about not getting a job, how it's not for him and blah blah blah. He was too douchy during these moments and couldn't make me care one way or another if he actually got to keep the kid or not. Thankfully, the screenplay tones it down and he much more likable towards the end.

Craig's Wife (Dorothy Arzner, 1936) B+

Fascinating film about a woman (Rosalind Russell) so cold and obsessed with her home that over the course of 24 hours she manages to drive out her entire family and all of the servants. The most interesting thing about Craig's Wife is the fact that neither Russell nor Arzner tried to tone down Harriet's coldness or make her more likable: a brave choice indeed since this was one of Columbia's "tent pole" pictures of 1936 and supposed to appeal as many people as possible. Russell was a bit stiff in her early scenes, but she got in to the role as soon she got back to the house. I was most impressed by the way she uses her impeccable comedic timing for this drama. That look she gave when she noticed that the vase of roses was on her piano was nearly as frightening as Faye Dunaway's look when she first notices the wire hangers in the closet.

Grindhouse: Planet Terror (Robert Rodriguez, 2007) B+

After seeing Rodriguez's half of Grindhouse, entitled Planet Terror, I've come to the conclusion that a grindhouse film is the heterosexual equivalent of a camp film like Strait-Jacket or What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. I loved the cheesy aesthetics that Rodriguez took deliberate care in making Planet Terror as grindhouse-y as possible, from the random jump cuts, the scratchy film, Rose McGowan with a machine gun for a leg (!!) and the whole "missing reel" segment (that end result was simply hilarious: how the hell did that house catch on fire?). If Planet Terror doesn't feel like a "good" film should in, that's the point. The brilliance is in the lengths Rodriguez went to recreating this sub-genre of film which isn't supposed to feel like anything being made today.

Camp Rock (Matthew Diamond, 2008) F

Full-length rant here.

The Paradine Case (Alfred Hitchcock, 1947) D

If Alfred Hitchcock's name hadn't appeared in the credits, I might have never guessed that he was the director behind this utter mess. Gregory Peck is way too young and entirely miscast as the barrister defending bad girl Alida Valli (doing a horrible imitation of Garbo) of murdering her husband. I never bought the fact that he was in love with Valli (a fact upon which most of the screenplay hinders on) since they had absolutely no chemistry whatsoever. Speaking of the screenplay, it's a pretty lousy one to begin with. The courtroom scenes seem to drag on and on with repetitive dialogue and long, winded monologues about the relationship between Valli and her dead husband's valet (Louis Jourdan). Just because you constantly switch back and forth between the "they love each other/they hate each other" facet of Valli and Jourdan's relationship doesn't make it dramatic or even interesting; get to the fucking point already. And what the fuck was up with Ethel Barrymore's performance here? How in the hell did she get nominated for that two-scene performance in which she stammers, coughs and recoils in fear of her husband (Charles Laughton, as sturdy and reliable as ever)? There was no acting going on in that performance- just a couple of dumb tricks that any half-ass actress could have done.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Roma (Federico Fellini, 1972) C-

Fellini, along with Bergman, Lynch and Coppola after The Godfather, is one of those directors who I probably should like a lot more than I actually do. True, he's done some very inventive things as a director and I respect him greatly. But, more often than not, I just don't understand what the fuck Fellini is doing or trying to say half the time. In Roma, I was with Fellini during the first half hour- a nice recollection of his younger years and what Rome meant to him at the time which is an obvious precursor to his well-received Amarcord two years later- but after that I was totally confused. Out of nowhere, Fellini turns the cameras on the people shooting the movie, narrating his various discussions with random people who told him what they wanted Roma to say about Rome, and it just goes downhill from there. There's a scene involving rowdy people in a low-end vaudeville hall that was meant to contrast with a section about current music, but that section never appears. Then there's a random scene involving people digging a subway and coming across a lost mural in a hidden catacomb that left me scratching my head. The ultimate in weirdness has to be that fashion show with priests and nuns modeling the latest habits and robes. I have no idea what was going on there. It wouldn't have been so bad, but it just went on and on for at least 10 minutes. The scene could have been interesting in a different film, but what exactly is saying about Rome? All in all, a potentially good film is ruined by Fellini's desire to go so overboard that no one knows what the hell his point is anymore.

WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008) A-

Finally- an American animated film that matches the visual beauty and poetry of Hayao Miyazaki's best work. I had my doubts going in (how are they going to make a story about the only robot left on Earth interesting?) but from the first thrilling minutes, all of my fears were put to rest. Seeing the lonely WALL-E wander around a deserted Earth, compacting garbage into small cubes and building enormous skyscrapers with them, made my heart ache for the poor little thing. All he wants is someone to hold hands with, but the only companion around is a little cockroach who follows him around. Then, the lovely robot Eve comes from the sky and WALL-E sees a potential companion in her. At first, Eve is rather cold towards him, but she eventually comes around and a relationship starts to build between the two. Unfortunately for WALL-E though, he shows her a plant he has found and she immediately snatches it and shuts off, waiting for a space ship to come bring her back to where she came from. WALL-E doesn't understand why she shuts off, but when they come back for Eve, he chases after her, not wanting to lose the only things he has ever felt connected to. The romance between the two robots- whether on Earth or in the space station that the two travel to- is one of the most pure and beautiful I've seen since maybe the silent era. This realization got me thinking: romances just work better when the two leads don't speak too much. I mean, which is more convincing- a couple who keeps repeating "I love you" over and over again (as they do in Wuthering Heights) or a couple who only needs to use their eyes and faces to communicate the same thoughts. My favorite scene in the entire film is when WALL-E and Eve are outside the space station, playing around in the vast emptiness of space, having fun and loving their time together. Even if the conclusion comes about too quickly and the science behind the plot is a little elementary (then again, this is aimed towards children), the central romance between WALL-E and Eve and Stanton's beautiful world that he has created is reason enough to see this film.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dragon Seed (Jack Conway and Harold S. Bucquet, 1944) B-

Dragon Seed, in my never ending quest to see every Oscar nominated picture in the Top 6 categories, is one I've been subconsciously avoiding for years now. Why? Because of the fact that my beloved Katharine Hepburn- unmistakable New England accent and all- plays a Chinese peasant in so-called "yellow face." Seeing various publicity stills made my stomach turn at its offensiveness. In the past couple weeks though, I manned up, taped this film and, lo and behold, imagine my surprise when I watched it a couple of nights ago that it's actually not that bad. In fact, it's quite good. Ignore the obvious yellow face and squirm-inducing makeup and you'll find that Dragon Seed tells quite a fascinating story about the Japanese invasion of China. Made during World War II, I find it interesting how well the film parallels what was happening in Europe concerning the invasion of the Nazis. The Japanese invaders in Dragon Seed don't work with the peasants to set up a government or even ask for their input- instead they take over everything, treat the conquered like shit and force them to take sides with a "you're either with us or against us" policy. The most interesting thing I see in this parallel is the Wu Lien character, played by Akim Tamiroff, and his decision to support the Japanese so he can live comfortably and not scrounging for food like the rest of his family. He sees what they are doing and knows it is wrong, but yet he says that it doesn't concern him and he needs to protect his own interests. Wu Lien constantly fears for his life and knows that one slip up will cause him to be killed by the Japanese. Boy, that sounds vaguely familiar. Thankfully, Katharine Hepburn doesn't hog the screen much here and thank the Lord since she's pretty much a bore here, spouting off academic nonsense and speaking in a horrible monotone. The real stars are Walter Huston and the Oscar-nominated Aline MacMahon as the parents trying to hold their family together while trying to adapt to the new China. MacMahon especially earned her nomination for that scene in which she holds Hepburn's new grandchild after the death of the rest of them.

In Bruges (Martin McDonagh, 2008) A-

With In Bruges, McDonagh takes a tricky, overused subgenre- the remorseful hitman looking for redemption- combines it with the equally difficult dark comedy subgenre, switches between them mercilessly and at the drop of a hat and still makes it work. And not only does he make it work, it's simply one of the most original and fascinating films I've seen in awhile. Colin Farrell has never been this good- even in his Tigerland breakthrough- or more likable. He was funny when he needed to be (and boy was he- during some of his line readings and facial expressions I haven't laughed that hard during any other movie this year) and frighteningly serious and remorseful at other points of the script. The only thing I didn't buy was the fact that he was supposed to have trouble getting women. Riiiiiiight. Women are blinding themselves willingly just so they won't have to look at him. In the context of everything though, that's only a minor quibble. Co-star Brendan Gleeson was also equally fantastic, but probably won't get the same critical praise because he's not as big of a star. And Ralph Fiennes is hilarious as the foul-mouthed boss trying to teach Farrell a lesson.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Fanny (Joshua Logan, 1961) C

A perfectly respectable and watchable romance in the "star-crossed lovers" vein, even though I'd hardly call it worthy of the Best Picture nomination it received in 1961. It's appropriately epic and audience-catering as most Best Picture nominees of the time were. My problem is that I just can't find anything interesting to even say about it. Nothing about Fanny stirred any passion in me whatsoever; it's hardly a classic, but I've seen far worse films in my time. The performances were amusing, especially the interplay between Boyer and Chevalier, although I've seen each of the cast members do better work elsewhere.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Christine (John Carpenter, 1983) D+

Christine is, for all intensive purposes, an awful film. Its trashy, illogical and campy beyond belief, but its also quite a bit of fun and an easy way to spend a couple of hours. The first half sets up an interesting concept that could only work in a horror film- a car who gets jealous of her owner's girlfriend- and executes it as well as possible. Just when you think you're falling for it, however, you suddenly realize that it's a car that's killing people and it becomes ridiculous all over again. And that ending was the most anti-climactic and boring I've ever seen. Christine circles Leigh and the bulldozer that Dennis is driving for like two minutes straight- and it's not even suspenseful or anything. Just tedious. I also hated Arnie's transformation from nerd to cool dude. In the first scene, he's so blind without his glasses that he can't see them two feet in front of his face when the bullies knock them to the ground. Ten minutes later, his vision is so perfect without his glasses he can drive his car. What the fuck? Where's the explanation for that? Arnie's toast, just before the ending when he and Dennis are drinking a beer together in the car (that is so 80's), had me and my friend cracking up for about five minutes straight. In a serious and completely overdramatic tone of voice, he says, "A toast...to death!" Isn't that the absolutely worst thing you could toast to (besides flesh-eating bacteria, I guess)?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak, 1946) B

A rather fascinating and creepy murder mystery done in the style of a film noir. The Spiral Staircase is about Helen, a mute servant (the underrated Dorothy McGuire) who everyone she works for is concerned that she'll be the next target of a murderer who goes after women with disabilities. The beginning gave me chills, especially when Helen is walking up to her employer's mansion and in the shadows you see a man moving around, getting ready to attack her. Just when he lunges she rushes into the mansion and you breathe a sigh of relief. A couple of minutes later though, when you see Helen walking around the house, you find the same man lurking in the shadows and your heart races again. The film quiets down for a bit, veering off into the world of melodrama. I just wish there had been a couple more hints in between then and when you discover who the murderer is (which is, admittedly, pretty obvious). Dorothy McGuire isn't given much to do in the beginning since Siodmak almost refuses to give her any close ups to let her act with her eyes, but towards the end she really shines. The terror and rising desperation is frightening to watch. At first, I was ambivalent towards Ethel Barrymore's performance- her first of two nominations acting in a bed- but eventually she won me over. Some of those sideways glances she gave McGuire were even creepier than the actual murderer. Barrymore probably only got the nomination because of her legendary status, but, for most the part, it was a worthy nomination.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Killing Fields (Roland Joffe, 1984) C-

I had high hopes for this one, really I did. Unfortunately, everything about The Killing Fields seemed emotionally disconnected, especially during the times when it really needed to rely on that, and besides that, more often than not, I had no idea what was going on. The first 30 minutes were totally confusing as Sydney (Sam Waterson) and Pran (Dr. Haing S. Ngor) ran from place to place in Cambodia, taking pictures and getting news stories. The screenplay didn't help, because it didn't explain what they were doing well enough and it also got repetitious after awhile. Most of the film consisted of the same three scenes over and over again: (1) Sydney and Pran go to some place to write an article (2) Some catastrophe (military coup, taken hostage, etc) happens and they are forced to stay (3) Sydney and Pran, using their smarts, eventually get out of the situation by the skin of their teeth. Pran's eventual escape still remains a mystery to me because I have no idea how he left the prison camp (was that what he was in?) or who that guy who got Pran to speak French was and what purpose he served (how did he get that American money and map?) I seriously have no idea what the Academy was thinking when they nominated this for so many awards in 1984. The Best Picture nomination is vaguely understandable (quality aside, it is a heartwarming film about friendship and survival and all that bullshit) but Waterson should have been embarrassed that his nomination caused Steve Martin to be denied one for All of Me. Nothing about the performance points in the direction that he was required to act. He yells, he talks with Pran, he gets emotional, he misses his friend....that's about all that goes on here. Any mildly competent actor could have pulled off this performance. Ngor's nomination (and eventual win) can be partly justified- that last hour does belong to him- but, again, nothing really required him to act that much. All he has to do is wear that same stone-face and recite some lines in broken English.

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Vittorio De Sica, 1964) C+

Separately, the three short films that compromise Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow would be considered great films in their own right. Together, bundled up in one larger film, they don't work as well. Why? Because, as a whole, we are supposed to find the connections between the three stories and understand why they were placed together. Unfortunately, the only connection that exists between them is the superficial fact that Italian sex symbols Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni play the leads. The first segment, Adelina, lets its one joke run on a bit too long but its joke is quite humorous. Anna, the best of the three, works so amazingly because it suggests and hints at the relationship between Mastroianni and Loren rather than come right out and say and that ending is flat out genius. The third story, Mara, is the silliest of the two- hooker Loren and client Mastroianni must help stop a seminary student from leaving to go in the Foreign Legion- but it's a quite a bit of fun, Mastroianni has never been sillier (although Too Bad She's Bad is pretty close) and Loren's striptease was legendary. I wish these three short films had been released separately instead of lumped together in this film so I could possibly enjoy them more and make a stronger case for the film as a whole

Adelina C+; Anna A-; Mara B

Charlie Bartlett (Jon Poll, 2008) D+

Yet another film that started promising but quickly turned to shit mostly due to an awful screenplay. I thought the opening was great- charming, witty and exquisitely well-handed by Anton Yelchin and Hope Davis. Then, Yelchin's Charlie went off to public high school and it went downhill from there. I can't exactly pinpoint where I started to grow bored with the whole thing but eventually I just wanted the film to end. The screenplay is basically full of subplots with no main plot to guide them. And the abrupt changes in tone seem to suggest that the writer didn't know if they were going for a dark comedy or a slight teenage dramedy or what ever else. It's such a shame because the cast is pretty damn good: Yelchin, at least until the very end, guides his Charlie Bartlett well through the tedium of the script and he very nearly emerges a symbol of teenagedom today; Davis is as droll as ever as Charlie's mother, giving a fine comedic performance from a character that isn't given much to do besides be a kooky mother; Robert Downey, Jr., for most of the movie, is completely wasted since the screenwriter obviously didn't know what to do with his character (it isn't until the very end when he gets some good dialogue to work with that Downey is actually able to do something with his character).

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Definitely, Maybe (Adam Brooks, 2008) C-

Definitely, Maybe has the beginnings of a very good romantic comedy. Unfortunately, there isn't enough imagination to sustain the greatness. Will (Ryan Reynolds) is in the process of getting divorced and his young daughter (Abigail Breslin) wants to hear the story her parent's relationship. Will doesn't want to tell her, believing the story too long and complicated for her, but after much persistence, he relents and shares the story with her. Basically, the story revolves around Will's relationships with three women: Emily (Elizabeth Banks), April (Isla Fisher) and Summer (Rachel Weisz). What I loved about the beginning was the fact that it kept going back and forth between the past and the present and Breslin was given the ability to comment on each of the women and what was happening. After awhile, though, the film stays stuck in the past, leaving out Breslin's hilarious commentary, and loses all pretense of being a comedy since nothing is even remotely "ha ha" funny. The 110 minute run time is simply too long to sustain the flimsy premise and by the last half-hour Definitely, Maybe becomes tedious to the point that I wanted to turn it off. Two other things I hated: (1) Breslin's (who's talent lies in portraying an ordinary kid) character being turned in to a smarter-than-the-parents, pretentious, Dakota Fanning type and (2) The utter disregard the costume designer had for dressing the actors in 90's fashion. Watch The Player again and you'll see that men weren't wearing those types of suits in '92. And the women's costumes were even more laughable because they were straight out of today and nothing about them resembled the 90's at all. It would be like doing a film about the 80's business world and not dressing the women in sport coats with shoulder pads. If you're going to set a film in the past. have the decency to get the clothes right. Besides Breslin, the shining star of Definitely, Maybe has to be Isla Fisher. I loved her in Wedding Crashers and here she proved that wasn't a fluke. She's still a little kooky, but she turns it down from that movie and crafts it so it fits her character here. Fisher could have phoned it in like Weisz and Banks, but that was some fine acting going on there.

The Triplets of Belleville (Sylvain Chomet, 2003) D-

This movie is so awful, so painful, so poorly executed that it's almost indescribable. I sat there for 80 minutes just waiting for something interesting to happen or for a plot point to be explained and carried out and couldn't believe it when absolutely none of that happened. The film gets points for trying something different- almost no dialogue is spoken during the course of the movie- but there needed to be songs or title cards or something that shaped the plot and spelled out what was happening. The Triplets of Belleville is about a bicyclist who is kidnapped and his grandmother who, with the help of a group of elderly musical sisters, track him down and rescue him, but we are never told why the bicyclist is kidnapped or how the grandmother knows who the kidnapper is when she sees him in the nightclub. And that preposterous car chase at the end made me want to stab toothpicks in my eyes and lick a frogsicle; I understand it's a cartoon but those cars flipped over way too easily and the escape was nearly anti-climactic. After witnessing this horrific mess of a film, I can't believe this was so widely acclaimed back in 2003- more proof that sometimes movie critics are pretentious jerk-offs.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Caesar and Cleopatra (Gabriel Pascal, 1946) B-

Forget the MGM-lite spectacle and Pascal's tedious and uncinematic direction: the real reason to see Caesar and Cleopatra is for Claude Rains' and Vivien Leigh's dynamic performances. Just when you think you've seen it all from these two, they surprise you yet again with the depth of their skills. Rains makes his Caesar instantly likeable and charms us into understanding why Cleopatra falls under his spell. He acts as a sort of Henry Higgins, transforming the demure and innocent Cleopatra into the glamorous, authoritative Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. The beginning of Leigh's performance is a little strange. Seeing her as a naive waif after Scarlett O'Hara was a bit of a shock. It isn't until Caesar takes her under his wing, when she starts combining the naivity with the hardness of the older woman, that it becomes a full fledged performance. The way she combines these polar opposites and switches them on and off at the drop of a hat is astounding.

A Hole in the Head (Frank Capra, 1959) D

I'm not going to lie- I'm a huge fan of Frank Capra. For some reason, his cheesy, unashamedly uplifting "Capracorn" styles work on this little ole cynic. This, combined with the fact that this film boasts a magnificent cast including Frank Sinatra, Edward G. Robinson, Thelma Ritter, Eleanor Parker and Carolyn Jones, should have assured A Hole in the Head greatness. Imagine my surprise when it didn't. A Hole in the Head tells the story of a widowed owner of a sleazy hotel (Frank Sinatra) with a son who he loves more than anything. He's behind on his mortgage payments and about to get thrown out so he tries to get money from his rich brother (Edward G. Robinson) and his wife (Thelma Ritter). They tell him that they'll give him the money if he'll settle down and marry a woman they set him up with (Eleanor Parker). A Hole in the Head is supposed to play like a comedy- the problem is that none of the jokes are even funny (I take that back, one is: Thelma Ritter's line reading at the end "I don't understand...they're so poor and so happy!"). The repeated gag of Robinson falling back on the low chair wasn't funny the first time, so why would I need to see it repeated five or six times? Frank Sinatra was never the greatest actor (even in his most acclaimed performances in From Here to Eternity and The Man With the Golden Arm something was missing), but A Hole in the Head reveals his limitations. He is the last actor I would have picked to play the father; his tough, man's man persona doesn't fit well into the role (I would have rather seen someone like Rock Hudson in the role). A Hole in the Head, in the end, completely wastes the aforementioned dream cast. The actressexual in me loves Ritter, Parker and Jones the most here, but they really aren't given much to do; it's Sinatra and that annoying kid's show unfortunately. Random rant: that "High Hopes" sequence was one of the most awkwardly handled musical scenes I've ever seen. I can suspend disbelief if the entire film is a musical, but it makes absolutely no sense when you have one musical number in a two hour movie.

Desire Under the Elms (Delbert Mann, 1958) C-

I'm not familiar with the original play by Eugene O'Neill that Desire Under the Elms is based on, but I believe that it deserves a far better treatment than what Mann delivers here. The story- a young man lusting after his aged father's hot new wife and their ensuing battle over the land they live on- should have interested me more, but writer Irwin Shaw and director Delbert Mann completely butcher the power of it by not bothering to adapt the play cinematically. The film looks as if it was shot from the audience point of view with absolutely no imagination: you can obviously tell how the different scenes are set up in the stage production. The scenery looks so shoddy and cheap that it could have been knocked over with a breath of air. Burl Ives basically does his whole Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Big Daddy schtick that comes across as hammy beyond belief this time. Sophia Loren is good, but not quite at her Two Women peak. Anthony Perkins, however, proves here that he was a good actor before Psycho and that it wasn't just a fluke. It's no Norman Bates but it's quite a fine performance.

Love Affair (Leo McCarey, 1939) B (x2)

Leo McCarey's Love Affair has the makings of one of the Great American Romances, but ultimately ends up just short of its lofty intentions. The main culprit here is the general uneveness of the screenplay and McCarey's direction. The film starts off fantastically with a charming introduction between Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne that's every bit as witty as anything in McCarey's earlier The Awful Truth. It completely sucked me in and left me wondering if I had underrated this film the last time I saw it. Then the film lost me when Boyer takes Dunne to meet his grand-mere Janou (Maria Ouspenskaya). The whole sequence doesn't really fit in with anything and those final lines between the two women which go something like "I can't walk very far. I have to stop at the edge of my sanctuary." "Well, thanks for letting me trespass into your little world." was super cringe-worthy. Just when I was ready to write the film off completely, Boyer and Dunne suck me back in with their chemistry back on the boat. It's a glorious couple of minutes, but then they are forced to split up again and McCarey can't seem to maintain the same momentum when they are apart. The next 20 minutes were decent, if not exactly noteworthy, which lead to a fantastic finale. The dialogue is a little over-written, but Boyer and Dunne are careful not to overdo anything. They keep the emotions grounded in reality, making their reunion all the more affecting.