Monthly Archives: July 2010

Weekend movies?

So, dear readers … are you planning to watch any movies this weekend? If so, what are you going to see? We’ve got Barbarella and Camelot in their little red envelopes waiting for us … it remains to be seen if we manage to get through them, though!

Happy Friday!

Happy Birthday!

A very happy birthday to Christopher Nolan! Thanks for mostly excellent films and really cool original ideas, good sir. Keep it up … find a new villain for Batman III!

Retrospective: The Dark Knight

So, as we all know, Christopher Nolan’s Inception is a smash hit. Box office winner, solid reviews, strong word of mouth … nearly everyone loves it, myself included. It was worth the hype. Some of that hype, accordingly, revolved around lots of us talking about Nolan’s films to date; we came up with our top five lists (slightly silly for someone with only 5-6 credits to begin with, but that’s ok), and so on. And in so doing, it has come to light, again, that while I do consider myself a Nolan fan, I am very, very strongly in the anti-Dark Knight camp. Yes, I know, it’s a very small camp. Regardless. I thought that movie was terrible. I was beyond disappointed. And the question has long been why? Why did I find it to be a waste of my $14.50, or however much I spent to see it in the theater on a Friday night? Well, the moment has come. I am going to attempt to tell you. Aren’t you excited? I know you are.

Let’s start with the circumstances leading up to Nolan’s Batman #2. First of all, I really like Batman. He’s one of my favorite superheroes. I’m not a comic book person, per se, but I know enough to get by, and so, I was really excited to learn that Nolan was going to be behind the reboots. I really loved Batman Begins. Christian Bale was excellent, I was very excited to be introduced to a new, fantastically creepy villain (Cillian Murphy as The Scarecrow), and it was just a solid movie. I didn’t even have that many complaints about Katie Holmes. So, in the beginning, I was as excited as everyone else about the follow-up. It had all the earmarks of being excellent, even if I was a tiny bit bored by the prospect of The Joker, again. No problems with Heath Ledger, but I just liked having a new, slightly more obscure villain and thought we should stick with that. However. I’m excited. Still with me?

Everyone knows what happens next. Hollywood, as is sometimes the case, lost a very talented and well-liked young actor in the form of Mr. Ledger. It happens, it’s sad and shocking, yes. What happened in the wake of this tragedy, though, was something that I still find completely distasteful. Whether intentionally or not, the powers-that-be behind Ledger’s last finished project (that being TDK) began to use the massive buzz behind their star’s death to generate buzz about their film. It just kept going! Nobody could talk about the impending Batman sequel without talking about Ledger, his performance, and death. So that’s my first point. You could say that I signed off a month or so before the film came out, disgusted when even the stars (Gary Oldman, I remember) seemed to be using the death of a colleague to garner an interview.

However. I’m still excited. So are you! And we all go, on opening night, to see the film. Hurrah!

Ok. It’s Batman. Batman is dark. Batman … doesn’t really have a sense of humor. He’s a tortured, angsty soul. I get that. However. A movie, particularly a comic book movie, in my opinion, should still be at least somewhat entertaining. And this just wasn’t. I was bored. I was restless. It was way too long, I thought that the plot was very messy and jumped around too much, and overall, I thought it was just too busy. There was the Joker, and there was Batman being angsty, and there was Maggie Gyllenhaal dating someone else (I think? Oh right, Aaron Eckhart.), and there was just waaay too much exposition happening for all of those plot lines and that’s all before we even really GET to Aaron Eckhart, who ended up becoming Two-Face three-fourths of the way through the movie. Seriously? I am a pro at keeping hold of multiple threads at one time, but this just wasn’t even fun. I must’ve thought to myself at least 5 times “Ugh. Could we just leave?” and the reason we didn’t is that each of those five times I thought “Nah, I’ll just stick it out. It’s got to be close to over by now.” But no. It just kept going and going. And going.

So there was that. Additionally, I need sympathetic characters, and there were none. Bruce Wayne can be played for a bit of sympathy and human pain, but he wasn’t here. And really, since the only characters of any real note this time around were Batman and the Joker (more here in a sec), that just wasn’t saying much. Honestly? I found Harvey Dent to be the most sympathetic. Until, you know, the three-hour mark.

Where was I? Oh yes, the Joker. All we heard about for months was Ledger’s brilliant performance. Amazing. Ground-breaking. Superlative after superlative. Wanna hear my adjective? One-note. Oh look. He’s crazy, and not even scary crazy. He’s kind of twitchy. He’s got that extremely distracting tongue thing. Brilliant. Amazing. This is what beat Robert Downey, Jr.’s amazing disappearance in Tropic Thunder out of a Best Supporting Oscar? Oh right. The guy died after making the movie. I’m sorry. I was very, very shocked and saddened when I heard about Heath Ledger. But I still believe, and will always believe, that he won that Oscar for that reason, rather than for his performance. Sometimes, I’m a harsh person. I really do sincerely apologize.

Are you still with me, despite the invective? I apologize for that too, but you wanted to know why I didn’t like this movie, so I’m trying to convey to you exactly how much I didn’t like it. It was partially all the hype, yes, but mostly it was that I truly felt that as a film, it came nowhere near to living up to that hype. It needed editing. Lots of it. It needed to not try to cram in a second villain (who was wasted) in the last act. The movie could have successfully ended with the event that created that villain (no spoilers here!), and we could have had a good sequel, focusing on a different villain. That would have been fun. I like Aaron Eckhart. He’s a good actor. It could have worked, is what I’m saying. But anyway. I’m going to finish up now.

I just realized this the other day. This, to me, is the ultimate problem with the movie.

It’s a comic book movie. It should be fun, maybe elicit a little bit of empathy. I’m not saying the characters don’t need to be well-rounded, believeable, people. I love the Iron Man movies, and a big part of why is RDJ’s ability to make Tony Stark a real and sympathetic human being. But here’s the thing. With my comic book movies, I guess I’m just not that interested in the big, deep, dark meaning. I did not need that long, drawn-out conversation between Batman and the Joker about how there’s a psychopathic villain in all of us, and that the world needs a Joker just as much as it needs a Batman. We all KNOW that. It is contrived and too, too meta to have the villain tell us so. Never mind that he’s spent nearly three hours teasing us with the secret of his “origins,” and then that’s all we get. It’s not even that I’m interested, so much, in the whys and wherefores of villainy. They’re comic-book bad guys. They’re just crazy. It’s what they do. I didn’t need the angst. Maybe I’m too old for it. Maybe I’m too jaded. It’s not that I was too stupid to get it, though, or that my mind doesn’t work that way … I have an English degree, for pete’s sake. We love our meanings. It just did not work for me here.

And so, I stumbled out of the theater, completely confused as to why this movie was being hailed as the best thing since sliced bread. I wondered what I had missed. I wondered, as I do in such cases, if I had somehow seen a different movie than everyone else. And as the weeks and months went by, and the roar became more deafening, I still didn’t get it. And I still don’t. And if it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll just stay that way, and hope for something better with the next installment.

Furious Love update

Apparently, a few days ago Liz Taylor “took to Twitter” (as one does) to basically declare that there would be a movie made out of this dual biography “over her dead body”. So, perhaps Russell Crowe starring as Richard Burton will still only happen in my dreams. Ah, well…

And another thing…

Just a momentary blip because this news is floating all over the place today and it annoys the bejesus out of me.

1. Why is it necessary to “reboot” every stupid franchise under the sun?
2. Why, after having “rebooted,” do we then feel the need to recycle all the same characters over again, with different actors, blah blah blah?

Comic book movies, I’m looking at you. The buzz amongst the so-inclined today is about the villain for the third installment of the new Batman movies. Now, I have a post in the works about why I think The Dark Knight sucked (yes, sucked), but let’s put that aside for a minute. I really liked Batman Begins. I’m a Christopher Nolan fan, I think Christian Bale does a fine job, and I thought it was a good movie. But what I particularly liked was Cillian Murphy as The Scarecrow. I thought he was scary as all get-out, and I was just so excited/intrigued to see a Batman villain that I had never heard of before. I get that there are the main ones: The Joker, The Penguin, Catwoman, and so on, but … they’re comic books. Aren’t there a zillion baddies? Plenty to go around, you’d think. In the earlier incarnation of Batman we even got down to Poison Ivy at some point. Enough with the same old bad guys. The fact of the matter is that nobody will ever be as good as everyone who played those main bad guys in the original, camptastic Batman movie. Which, if you haven’t seen, please go Netflix it immediately. I’m talking about Lee Meriwether, Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith (man, Burgess Meredith!), and Frank Gorshin. ESPECIALLY Frank Gorshin. Yes, I get that we’re trying to be all angsty and 21st century and dark and meaningful with our comic book movies these days, and I don’t care. Leave these guys alone. Especially The Riddler.

To be fair, I thought Jim Carrey did a reasonable job of filling in, even if the rest of the whichever Schumacher tragedy that was was a mess. However, I wanted to pull my hair out a while back when the buzz was that Johnny Depp would be playing The Riddler, next go-round. Ugh. So sick of Johnny Depp being weird. So now, thanks to Inception, we are all but certain that The Riddler will be the villain next time, and that he will be played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Now then. Inasmuch as I like any actors under the age of thirty, I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I have even seen G.I. Joe. But no. Just…no. There have got to be some more villains. And if not, well, maybe it’s time to write some new ones. Or!! Hold on to your hats, ’cause this is gonna be a shocking suggestion…you ready? MAKE A MOVIE BASED ON AN ORIGINAL CONCEPT, WITH NEW AND INTERESTING CHARACTERS.

Yeah, I know. I’m a real revolutionary. Call the FBI. Sheesh.


A hero for the other half.

When you think of Angelina Jolie, there’s just so much to choose from. That face! Those lips! The family! Brad Pitt! You might even think that she’s a decent actress, given her Oscar-winning turn in Girl, Interrupted, or more recent performances that have garnered critical praise. What do I think? Angelina Jolie, action star.

It all started with the two Lara Croft movies. I am an unabashed fan. I love a good popcorn flick, and that’s exactly what those two are, although the first is far superior. Jolie totally sells the action side, and she does it without ever breaking that sexy, feminine stride. For this, she is my hero. Next was Mr. & Mrs. Smith, which gets more press these days for bringing together two of the prettiest people in Hollywood, or for the string of copycat movies that followed. And then there was Wanted. Again, unabashed fan. It’s funny, because I don’t really like violence, generally speaking, but man! That movie was one heckuva ride, wasn’t it? So much fun! James McAvoy, bemuscled, didn’t hurt either. But to me, that movie belonged to Angelina. And I started thinking … wow. An actress who is absolutely a bad-ass action hero.

That’s a little bit of an unusual concept, really. Action heroes have almost always been men. When they are women, it’s usually for one or two pictures, like Linda Hamilton in The Terminator movies (mainly the second) or Sigourney Weaver in the Alien franchise. You can’t say that those women went on to build careers as action heroes, even if they were, in some ways, the precursors to Angie. Not that she’s making a career out of such fare, either. But the thing is…she could. She’s highly bankable: men want to be with her, women want to be her; and as such, she usually manages to get hold of a higher class of script/project. All of the previously-mentioned films have turned a profit, some of them quite handily. I know she likes to bust out the high drama every now and then, but if you ask me, this is her niche. She has enough acting ability to sell whatever she’s doing, she’s got the physicality to do crazy stunts (which she does, in fact, quite often do herself), and if all else fails? Well, just look at her. I know, I know, women are more than their looks. But that’s another reason I like Jolie. She never comes off as a bimbo. There’s a brain functioning behind all that, and you can normally see it, even if she’s fighting off a killer robot or something. She saves the guy, sometimes. Awesome.

So why bring all this up now? Because the next installment of Angelina Jolie: Action Hero opens this weekend in the form of Salt. In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the trailer:

This is being called, amongst other things, “Bourne with Boobs”. Which, you know what? Is totally fine with me. Because she is going to rock it. There are several interesting facts about this movie, that bear mentioning, and have relevance to my argument that Ms. Jolie is, perhaps, the premier female action star of our time, or will be, with a few more movies under her belt. Salt, the character, was originally Edwin Salt, rather than Evelyn. Tom Cruise was attached. He backed out. Supposedly, other male stars were approached, but somehow, it became a vehicle for Angelina Jolie. I really think this speaks to her bankability that the producers, etc. thought they could pull this off. I doubt seriously that anyone would think that they could they change the main character in a normally male-dominated genre picture to a woman, without using someone as big as Angelina Jolie. And you know what? I think it’s going to work. I think that it’s even possible that more people will want to see it because it has a female star … it makes it a little bit less of the usual Bond/Bourne rehash. Just enough difference, in watching a woman shoot at people out of a car window, and so on.

I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing it over the weekend. Never mind that’s it’s Angelina – Liev Schrieber and Chiwetel Ejiofor are not a supporting cast to sneer at, ever. Advance reviews are decent. I’ve no doubt they’ll go down a little, but let’s be serious. How many action flicks ever rank that highly on Metacritic? Everyone loves a good popcorn flick, right? You don’t go see it because it’s smart or has an interesting or intelligent script. Let us all remember that Inception is unusual for “summer blockbuster” fare. So. The reviews will be so-so, it will make plenty of money, and everyone will have a fun summer movie to go see.

And me? I get to go check out my favorite action star. Win!

Furious Love

Alright, alright. I am forced to comment on this. A recent book (which is on my list, but I haven’t read it yet) entitled Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century, chronicles the story of, well, the marriage of the century. Taylor and Burton were both huge stars, and the ups and downs of their relationship would put just about any tabloid celebrity today to shame. And of course, now there’s talk of a movie, with appropriately huge names being rumored to star. In contention, supposedly, for La Liz, are Angelina Jolie and Catherine Zeta-Jones. My take? Advantage, CZJ. And for Burton? Three names: Clive Owen, Colin Farrell, and Russell Crowe.

Ahem. I know what you’re thinking, and I have no real references to vouch for my ability to keep biases in check, so I’m not going to dissuade anyone here, probably. However, I think that Crowe is a simply brilliant idea for Burton. There are no other current big-name actors who would match the physicality (Burton and Crowe were/are both shortish and stocky, rugger-types) and intensity that exemplified Burton. I do say this having not yet seen any of Burton’s films, but that will be rectified shortly. There’s one problem, though, and it’s not necessarily a small one. Russell Crowe is 45 years old, people. Make-up is good these days, but I guess I wonder about the extent to which they will want someone younger to portray Burton in his heydey. In Crowe’s favor are the facts that Burton lived extremely hard, and died when he was only 58. But still. Even I have to admit that the age factor is a bit problematic. Which is really too bad, because again, I think it’s a tremendous notion.

As far as I can tell, all of the talk surrounding this project is in extremely early stages. It’ll be interesting to see what happens, but somehow … I don’t have a lot of optimism. The other two notions, Clive Owen and Colin Farrell, are not, IMO, good options. I really like both of them as actors, but I tend to hope for at least a little accuracy in matters of casting, and I don’t see either of them as a good fit for the look/feel of Mr. Burton.

Stay tuned…

Review: The Lion in Winter (1968)

Anthony Harvey’s period drama, The Lion in Winter, is, in a word, all about the ACTING. Yes, that’s acting in all caps. For a reason. Led by the formidable Peter O’Toole, this film boasts an impressive line-up, with Katharine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, and Timothy Dalton ably backing up Mr. O’Toole. Nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Actor and Actress for O’Toole and Hepburn (she won), this film is now perhaps a little dated, but still extremely impressive if one is at all interested in seeing great performances.

Based on a play by James Goldman (who also adapted it to the screen), The Lion in Winter tells the (largely fictitious) story of King Henry II’s 1183 Christmas Court, held at Chinon. In attendance are Henry’s three remaining sons: Richard (Hopkins), Geoffrey, and John (John Castle and Nigel Terry, both excellent), along with his estranged wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Hepburn), his lovely young mistress, Alais (Jane Merrow), and her half-brother, King Philip of France (Dalton, revelatory). The gist of the plot is that Henry is old, and should be naming a successor while making sure he stays in the political good graces of France. What ensues is a sometimes-baffling array of double- and triple-crossing by Henry, Eleanor, their sons, and King Philip. John is Henry’s favorite, but, as the youngest, he should not be considered for the crown (and indeed, would be a poor choice). Richard is Eleanor’s favorite in addition to being strong, savvy, and warlike, while Geoffrey is oft-forgotten, but easily the most clever of the three. He spends his time aligning himself with whoever appears most likely to win at any given point in time. Meanwhile, it has been determined that Alais is relegated to the role of mere pawn, and will be forced to marry whoever succeeds to the throne. Everyone, it seems, has their own agenda, and no-one is above offering anything, or harming anyone, in order to be on the winning side. The film views like a roller coaster of ups and downs, highs and lows, and in the end, nothing is even decided.

I find plays that have been adapted into films fascinating in that they either work brilliantly, or don’t work at all. This one works quite well, but is clear in its origins, being almost entirely driven by dialogue, requiring very few set pieces or costume changes, and with a few scenes thrown in where action most likely took place off-screen on stage. The dialogue is blistering and makes it very hard to adjust the sound accordingly – everyone is either shouting or whispering. And what shouting/whispering!

As previously mentioned, this film is all about the performances. Hepburn is absolutely riveting as the aging queen, fighting a losing battle with time (although Eleanor would go on to survive not only Henry, but Richard as well) and recognizing that she must rely more and more on her cunning, as those weapons usually given to a woman (beauty, sex appeal, etc.) are no longer hers to control. Hopkins, in an early role, plays Richard with stolid assurance. He knows he’s the best choice to take on the crown, and is secure in his abilities as a military leader to back up his claims if need be. Timothy Dalton, also in an extremely early role, nearly steals the show as the oily King Philip. There’s one memorable scene where Philip essentially shifts from side to side to side, all in the blink of an eye, and with each of the allies he’s lately joined and then abandoned hidden somewhere in the room, listening on. Really tremendous. However, the film belongs, from beginning to end, to Peter O’Toole. As the aging King Henry, he shifts effortlessly from towering presence to decaying man. He knows his days are numbered, but he also knows that he is in almost complete control, and that none of these people will dare cross him in the ultimate manner. I actually spent a fair amount of time thinking, “Wow, why do none of these people just assassinate him?” but when it finally comes to that, the panic and fear written on the faces of those with just such an opportunity tells you everything you need to know. This man is the KING, and he is to be feared, even when outnumbered and without hope. I’m looking forward to seeing O’Toole play Henry again in Becket alongside Richard Burton. It’ll be interesting to compare the characterizations.

All in all, I really enjoyed this movie. I am partial to character-driven stories with good acting, and The Lion in Winter is nothing if not character-driven, with past, present, and future A-list actors, all at the top of their game. It’s a definite recommend to anyone who wants to see a good show, fans of good acting, or fans of any of the leads.

Quick tip

I totally failed this week, but I promise to try and get a review of The Lion in Winter up ASAP.

However, I’m going to take a moment here, because this is all I’m going to say about it. Trying to review it just won’t work for me, but : Dude. Inception? Awesome.

Seriously. This is Nolan back on the good stuff. All you people that think The Dark Knight is good? No, no. You clearly need to understand what Nolan is capable of when he’s functioning on better, original ideas. Go see this one. Seriously.

That is all. Get thee to a movie theater. It’s cool in there!

Trailer: Inception

I realize I’m maybe a little behind the bandwagon, but that’s because it takes me longer to get worked up/excited about things. As such, I’ve known about Inception for a while, but am just now starting to get a little stoked, since it comes out this weekend. Check the trailer:

Dude. First of all, I’m a reasonably big Christopher Nolan fan, except for The Dark Knight. Yeah yeah yeah, sue me. I thought it was a big unholy mess. But Memento, Insomnia (was ok), The Prestige? Good stuff. And look at that cast! I’m not a DiCaprio fan, but when he’s joined by Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy, and Tom Hardy (Handsome Bob from Rocknrolla, worth a watch!), well, sign me up. I’ve been reasonably meh about new movies this year so far, having seen only two in the theatres (guess which two, go on…it won’t be hard.), but I’m definitely planning a trip to the movies this weekend. Unless A.O. Scott says it sucks. And you?