Monthly Archives: September 2011

Review: Crash (2004)

Much has been made of 2004’s Crash, mostly because a lot of people think that it was undeserving of the Oscar for Best Picture. I haven’t seen Brokeback Mountain, which was apparently the front-runner, but looking at the candidates that year overall, I’d say it was sort of a low-key year for nominees, and probably could’ve been anybody’s game. Personally? I think Munich was better, but that’s all in the past now, isn’t it?

None of that is to say that I thought Crash wasn’t a good movie, because I did. It’s a really intense ensemble piece dealing with racism in present-day Los Angeles. Written and directed by Paul Haggis, the cast includes Sandra Bullock, Brendan Fraser, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Ryan Phillipe, Terrence Howard, Thandie Newton, and Michael Pena. A series of random events tie all of these different people together, while addressing the varied aspects of dealing with race-relations. Each of the characters, at some point, finds himself (or herself) on either side of that divide. Los Angeles being one of the most diverse places in the country, we see white characters, black characters, Asian characters, Hispanic characters, and Middle Eastern characters who are all struggling to make their way in a world that is truly dog-eat-dog.

One thing Crash has going for it is its outstanding cast. Everyone turns in a good performance, even though it’s definitely an ensemble piece, and there’s not actually as much “high drama” as one might expect. Of slightly more importance, though, is the feel of the movie. The tone has a quiet, slow-burning intensity, heightened by the manner in which the film jumps from vignette to vignette, showing us short clips of the characters’ lives. The way in which Haggis shows us instances of racism (or negative reactions to racism) are sometimes subtle and sometimes not. The real message comes from the moments in which he reminds us that nothing is really as simple and clear-cut as it seems. Someone who behaves badly one minute may behave heroically the next, or vice versa. The ideas of racism are, unfortunately, tied up in our culture, so that race becomes a card to be played under the right circumstances. Judgements made based on the color of someone’s skin or how we behave are not limited to people of different cultures; sometimes they can come from our own flesh and blood. There are no good guys and bad guys; only people who do good or ill depending on the circumstances in which they find themselves.

All in all, Crash is a little inconsistent. It’s a bit hard to follow at times, and it ends somewhat abruptly. I think as an audience, we are inclined to prefer stories that are tied up neatly with a bow at the end, unless we are already anticipating a sequel. Crash is a bit like real life in that way, ending on an ambiguous note. We don’t feel that anyone has necessarily learned their lesson or changed; they’ve just been through another day, is all. Still, I found the movie to be very thought-provoking, and its treatment of the subject matter gained import from being set in the present day, and without a lot of judgement or moralizing. Definitely not a feel-good movie, although it has its moments. Whether or not anyone thinks it “deserved” its Best Oscar designation, I think it’s still a worthy film, and I’d recommend it.

Favorite Film Pirates

Apparently, it’s Pirate Week here at BOM. Despite my annoyance with International Talk Like a Pirate Day, it has motivated not one, but two posts! I suppose that this one was partly helped along as well by discussions of Johnny Depp. Just so you know? Captain Jack Sparrow will not be making an appearance on this list. Sorry.

It seems as though we’ve always had a fascination with pirates. They lead, on the surface, a pretty “romantic” existence: world travel, gold and jewels, a life of crime. Sometimes I have to remind myself that they were probably actually a dirty, disease-ridden, unpleasant bunch. These pirates, however, are a talented and often quite handsome bunch. Check them out, or walk the plank!

Robert De Niro as Captain Shakespeare (Stardust, 2007)

Captain Shakespeare is the meanest, roughest, toughest pirate out there … as far as you know. A lot of people had complaints about De Niro’s performance in this fantastic movie, but I’m here to tell you that they are mostly smoking crack. He is completely perfect, and an absolute joy to watch. He just seems to be having so much fun! I know, I know, he’s the Robert De Niro, and all, but who says the greats can’t be silly every now and then? Besides, Stardust is a much better movie than, say, Analyze This or those Meet the Parents movies. Bleh.

Cary Elwes as the Dread Pirate Roberts (The Princess Bride, 1987)

Duh. About the time I started paying attention to good-looking guys, here came The Princess Bride. Cary Elwes was IT back in the day, amirite, ladies? He was so smooth, and suave, and we already knew how handsome he was under that mask. Plus, he died and came back to life to rescue his lady-love. He gave piracy some class, and looked impossibly dashing doing it. That summer, I successfully led a bid for Movie Night at camp to feature The Princess Bride over Dirty Dancing, insisting that all those Patrick Swayze fans didn’t know what they were missing. And you know what? After it was over, most of them agreed with me.

Gene Kelly as Serafin (The Pirate, 1948)

Ok, so Serafin is not really a pirate. He’s actually a wandering minstrel who poses as legendary pirate Macoco in order to impress the girl with whom he’s fallen in love, played by Judy Garland. But still, he’s Gene Kelly, so naturally he succeeds in his goal, bringing Macoco to life with virility and swagger. Given the opportunity to use his physicality as a means of characterization, Kelly is going to get it right every time, and it’s the dance scenes that make the movie. The Pirate is not the best in either the Kelly or the Garland catalogue, but it’s a must-see for fans of either star.

Kevin Kline as The Pirate King (The Pirates of Penzance, 1983)

This little-known adaptation of the Gilbert & Sullivan musical is a fun romp, boasting some other big names (Linda Ronstadt, Angela Lansbury) in addition to the fabulous Kevin Kline. He really sets the tone for the entire production, capturing the pomp and braggadocio of the Pirate King while still managing to be properly ridiculous. And he totally rocks that puffy shirt look. It is, as they say, a glorious thing.

Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa (Pirates of the Caribbean, 2003-2011)

Captain Jack, you say? Ha! Captain Barbossa is the proper pirate here. First of all, Geoffrey Rush is a brilliant actor, and it’s always fun to see brilliant actors cut loose and have a little fun. Second of all, I think that Barbossa is just a much better pirate. He’s got some menace, some bravado, and his own, special brand of lunacy. And he doesn’t wear guyliner. Plus, I mean, Captain Jack is really kind of incompetent. Who would you rather sail with? All in all, as the series has gone on (and on, and on …) I’ve heard more and more from audiences about how it’s Rush who steals the show. That doesn’t surprise me one bit, frankly. From his very first scene, Barbossa was the pirate to look out for.

And now, tell me … who’s your favorite pirate? I know there are some more tars* worthy of mention out there. You know, besides that one guy.

*Note: “Tar” is another term for “sailor”. So I’m not missing an S. Hey, you’ve learned something today! It’s an educational blog!

Update: Need more pirates? Check out these obscure favorites over at Fencing.Net!

Trailer: The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Ahoy! Today be International Talk Like a Pirate Day, ye scurvy dogs …

Yeah, no, sorry. Can’t do it. I guess I’m just getting old, but I find most internet phenomenon to be kind of ridiculous, and Talk Like a Pirate Day is no exception.

It is, however, an excellent excuse to post a trailer that I saw a little while back, and then forgot about, despite it being A. based upon a reeeeally funny series of strange little books, and B. totally awesome.  The voice cast is top-notch, featuring Hugh Grant, Salma Hayek, and Jeremy Piven, and, well, it just looks really silly and fun.

Don’t you think?

Open letter to Johnny Depp

Dear Mr. Depp,

Enough already. We get it. You’re a weird, quirky guy. You prefer to work with other weird, quirky individuals. You play weird, quirky characters. That’s pretty cool, for the most part. I mean, you’ve made a very successful Hollywood career for yourself. You’ve dabbled in nearly every kind of genre available, you’ve made a lot of money, people swoon in your presence, and all of that.

But here’s the thing, Mr. Depp: Aren’t you the teensiest bit bored yet? Because I sure am, and while I’ve never been a massive fan, I definitely have been one, since 21 Jump Street, even. I do think that you’re a talented actor, and that you’re reasonably nice to look at. But this weird, quirky thing you’ve got going? Well, it’s getting old.

I do have to admit that the way in which you’ve managed to stay consistent is really fascinating. As I said earlier, you’ve dabbled in many genres along the way, and somehow you’ve been weird and quirky in all of them. For instance, being a handsome guy in Hollywood, you’ve done your fair share of what could most easily be termed romantic comedies, but they’re all a little bit unusual. I’m talking about things like Benny & Joon, Edward Scissorhands, and Chocolat (a favorite). They’re mostly humorous, certainly romantic, and not the normal fare. You’ve also done action (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Tourist), kid’s fare, both animated and live-action (Willy Wonka, Alice in Wonderland, Rango, The Corpse Bride), and even a musical (Sweeney Todd); all the while still pulling off being weird and quirky. It’s really quite an achievement, and I don’t mean to downplay that at all, but it’s just … would it kill you to do something normal?

When I think of all those movies, most of which I’ve seen, the ones I like best really do have less quirkiness going on. Chocolat is probably my favorite of your performances, and I think one of the best films you’ve done overall is Finding Neverland. Yes, you’re playing a bit of an eccentric character (J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan), but for the most part, that’s a nice, solid bit of not-too-heavy drama. And it’s great! You even got nominated for an Oscar, without being half as weird as you were in Sweeney Todd or Pirates of the Caribbean. So clearly, you are capable of being moderately normal, and even being convincing. And that’s ok. It’s fine to be normal sometimes. Some might even say healthy.

I theorize that the reason for your career trajectory is that you are averse to being considered “mainstream”. And I get that, absolutely. I am totally cool with indie films, and with breaking new ground, and all of that. But I’m going to let you in on something that I’ve noticed, Johnny. You don’t mind if I call you Johnny, do you? Here’s the thing. Since 2003, when Pirates was released, you’ve been the king of kook. You are the go-to guy for characters that are weird or fey or otherworldly. And in that way, I hate to tell you this, but you have become sort of mainstream. You’re the mainstream weird guy. Don’t believe me? Tell me this: what film are you working on right now? And with whom? Ohh, right. A remake of Dark Shadows, a “gothic soap opera” from the late sixties and early seventies, in which the lead character (that’d be you) is a vampire. This illustrates my point perfectly. Vampires are a big thing right now, right? They’re mainstream. And so naturally, Hollywood folks across the board want to get in on this action, but you, needing to do it in the most quirky way possible, opt to play Barnabas Collins. And hmm, who’s directing this feature again? C’mon, don’t be shy … oh, that’s right … Tim Burton. Only the weirdest, kookiest, quirkiest A-list director in circulation. Do you see what I’m getting at here? I think you do.

I’m trying to break it to you gently, Johnny, but the gist of this discussion is that I think you’ve become a cartoon character. You’re really, really famous, which would be the end goal for a lot of people, but I guess my idealistic viewpoint is that, at the end of the day, the actors who really feel successful are the ones who’ve had a full career. They’ve tried everything, failed at some and succeeded at others, and they’ve done things on their own terms. Put another way, the best actors are quite often those who are considered most versatile. Talk to your fellow pirate, Geoffrey Rush. Sure, he has a great time playing Captain Barbossa, but then he turns around and does something like The King’s Speech, in which he was brilliant. And which won Best Picture, in case you missed that. He’s also pretty quirky, but sometimes he puts away the crazy hair and the crazy accents, and he just delivers flawless performances. I think that could be something for you to aspire to, Johnny Depp. I think you could do it. You don’t have to quit putting on scary make-up and being creepy. I promise. You could just do some other stuff sometimes. You could call … I dunno, David Fincher instead of Tim Burton. Fincher’s still kind of weird, so it wouldn’t be that big a stretch for you. Baby steps, and all.

So what do you say, Johnny? How about giving everyone a break, and doing something interesting for a change? And by interesting, I mean “different from the last umpteen films you’ve done.” I really don’t think it’d go that badly. You might be surprised. You might have fun. You might even like it! And don’t worry-I’m sure Tim and Helena will still be your friends. They’ll understand. Everyone needs to shake things up every now and then. In the meantime, my best to the family, and do say hi to Mr. Rush for me, won’t you? He’s one of my favorites.

Quite sincerely,


NEWS FLASH: My prayers may have been heard!!

Give me a second … I’m trying to calm down. Ok. So. There’s been talk of a big-screen adaptation of the hit musical Les Miserables floating around for a while, and I’ve mostly been ignoring it in the hopes that it wasn’t true. The reason why is that I love the musical (and the novel on which it’s based), and the stories keep talking about how the film will star Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. Now, I understand that they are both singers and blah blah blah. But I really don’t enjoy Jackman, and I don’t think he has the acting chops to take on Valjean, and I think Hathaway is too young (and too big a star) to play Fantine (which is actually a fairly small role). So, I’ve been grumbling about all this news, regardless of the fact that Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) is attached to direct. As a matter of fact, I said to my brother just last week that the only way they would get me interested in the project would be if they had the brilliance (IMO) to cast Russell Crowe as Javert.

YOU GUYS, HE’S IN TALKS. RUSSELL CROWE IS IN TALKS TO PLAY JAVERT, who is one of the best ambiguously villainous characters EVER. Also, if it’s a musical, HE WILL SING. I am so excited I don’t know what to tell you. Seriously, this is the best movie news of the year. And if you know how much I dislike Hugh Jackman, to say that I would automatically be excited about this movie and would see it on opening night is a really huge deal. But back to Crowe: I have long said that he needed to play more villains. Javert is a great character, an increasingly tortured soul, who really requires a focused and nuanced actor who can sink his teeth into the role. I’ve also expressed a desire to see him do a musical, and Javert’s got one of the best songs in the show. Yes, Russell Crowe does sing. In fact, he’s done a bit of stage musical work himself, and has long had a band going. I don’t normally think much of their music, but I do think he’s got an excellent voice, and he can totally do this. PLEASE LET HIM DO THIS.

So yeah. I am hugely excited about this development. But! That’s not all that’s being reported today. Supposedly, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham-Carter are also eyeing the project. This is also excellent news. The report I read conjectured that HBC would be playing Madame Thenardier, which I think is a safe assumption, and I would further be willing to bet that Mr. Rush would likely be playing the Master of the House himself.

Did you get that I’m excited about this suddenly? It’s an amazing turn-around. But what about you? Are you a fan of the musical? Do you agree with my casting of Javert? Would you be as excited as I to see this film, even with the inclusion of the Smarminator??

Musical Moment

Having just learned that today is International Literacy Day, I couldn’t let the occasion pass by without a post. Seriously, folks … reading is one of the best things ever. Pick up a book today! (/librarian)

Obviously, the choice of musical is The Music Man, since the heroine is, in fact, a librarian. Just to shake things up a little, though, I’m not going to share “Marian the Librarian” with you. No, instead we’re going with “Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little.” The reason why is because I absolutely LOVE the manner of contempt in which the town ladies utter some of the great names of literature: Chaucer! Rabelais! Baaaalzac! So, enjoy!

The movie: The Music Man (1962)
The song: Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little

Six favorite children’s movies (adapted from books), plus a future favorite?

I recently read 2008 Caldecott winner The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick, which is a gorgeous historical novel for children. It’s sort of half text and half illustration, and it’s just a really lovely and interesting book. It’s also about to be a major motion picture, directed by (of all people) Martin Scorsese. Yes! A kid’s movie! It looks beautiful, and has a bang-up cast. Take a look:

It looks great, if a bit different from the novel, but that’s how adaptations go, right? Anyway, it got me to thinking about children’s movies, and about some of my favorites in particular. I realized after a while that most of those are adapted from kid’s books. I know, total shocker. And so, five of my favorite kid’s movies adapted from books. I have to admit that the list is a little old, but well, it’s been a while since I was a kid. I tried to include some more recent selections, but mostly I’m interested to hear what your favorites are. I had to narrow my list down, so I know that there are dozens of great movies/books that are not represented here. Check these out (in no particular order), and then weigh in!

Mary Poppins (1964)

Please. Mary Poppins is on everyone’s list, I would hope. This movie made a star out of Julie Andrews, and has been delighting children (and adults) for nearly 40 years now. I remember well my mom bringing it home, and insisting to me and my brothers that we’d love it. We were highly skeptical, and sat down grumbling. As soon as the credits started to roll, we turned around, looked at Mom, and said “Can we watch it again?” You might not have known that the story of the magical nanny is based upon a series of children’s books by P.L. Travers. I haven’t read any of them, but they sound fantastically imaginative … maybe I’ll check them out when my daughter’s old enough to care that we’re reading to her, eh?

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

This surprise animated hit is a truly delightful film. It bears little resemblance to the book of the same name (again part of a series) by Cressida Cowell, but I have to imagine that it got the feel of the characters and the stories right. The film boasts an impressive voice cast and some really stunning animation, and a sequel is due out in 2014. You can read my review of the movie here, and if you haven’t seen it yet, I still highly recommend it.

The Harry Potter franchise (2001-2011)

For the past ten years, audiences have flocked to see J.K. Rowling’s amazing world of witches and wizards come to life. The three young stars (Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint) will likely be famous for the rest of their lives, and their supporting cast was pretty much everyone who is anyone in British acting circles. Through several different directors, all with different visions, these movies have managed to remain hugely successful, and the grand finale this summer was a fitting end to the franchise as a whole. I don’t think any list of kid’s books-turned-movies would be complete without them.

The Sword in the Stone (1963)

This is possibly one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s just perfect. It’s based on the novel by T.H. White, which is part of a larger series about the life and times of King Arthur. The Sword in the Stone is about Arthur as a boy growing up and not really knowing who he will become. He encounters Merlin the Magician, who takes it upon himself to educate the boy who will become king of all England. There are fun adventures and animated animals (I love Archimedes!) and some good songs, too. After all, it is Disney. I might need to go home and watch this, now. Seriously, love.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

You may be surprised to learn that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is by Ian Fleming. Yes, that Ian Fleming. It’s the story of two children, their father (a somewhat-failed inventor), and a magical car. The film version stars Dick Van Dyke and is a joyous and colorful musical. It’s another one my brothers and I loved as children, and, like Mary Poppins, it’s on my shelves today. I think I probably know all the songs by heart, and my favorite scene is when they invade the castle disguised as toys. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Watch the movie!

Black Arrow (1985)

I was unable to find a good picture from this last movie. Black Arrow is based on a novel by Robert Louis Stevenson (best known for Treasure Island, probably), and is about two young people caught in the midst of the War of the Roses in England. The movie was made by Disney, and IMDb says that it was made for television, although we always rented it from the local video store. It breaks my heart, but it’s not available on DVD at all, and seems pretty hard to find even on VHS. It’s a great dramatic movie, though, with some good action, a fiery heroine, and some excellent acting, courtesy of Donald Pleasence and Oliver Reed. Maybe if I can drum up enough interest in it, we can write to Disney and ask them for a DVD release, eh? Seriously, it’s so good.

That’s my list! There are so many other movies I could have included, but I tried to stick with ones that are near and dear to my heart. Yes, I suppose this list ages me a little, but that’s ok. I’m sure I will be up-to-date on all the latest kid’s movies in the next 10 years or so, and then maybe I’ll revisit this list. But for now, tell me: Which are your favorites?