Tuesday, July 29, 2008

TIM BURTON'S BATMAN NEVER INSPIRED SUCH DOMESTIC TERROR!

My, my.... look at what the mania behind The Dark Knight hath wrought:

From The Smoking Gun:

(CLICK TO ENLARGE)
My favorite thing about that police report is that the transcriber typed Night instead of Knight, implying that just maybe there was at least one person in America who went untouched by the film's 56-month marketing campaign.

Monday, July 28, 2008

FRIDAY THE 13TH TRAILER

Somebody at Comic-Con went all ghetto bootleg and recorded the sneak trailer for next year's Friday the 13th remake. Here it is:




I don't know. I really have little reaction to this. I didn't grow up watching horror films so I don't have that nostalgic buzz, nor do I ever care to see another Marcus Nispel film after watching his remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre...

... but of course I'm gonna see it! DUH!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

STEP BROTHERS

As insisted upon by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, Step Brothers is the final chapter to their "Middle-Aged Man Trilogy". It concludes what began in Anchorman and Talladega Nights : The Ricky Bobby Story, which incidentally began a new breed of loyal and obsessive scene quoters for both of those films. (I have two pals who can't make it through a day of e-mails without getting off an Anchorman reference. The cutest part is that they know I've only seen the movie once - and don't know the quotes like they do - yet they still send them to me thinking it's just hilarious!).

But the difference between Step Brothers and the two films before it is that Brennan (Farrell) and Dale (Reilly) aren't caricatures the way Ron Burgundy and Ricky Bobby are. In fact, Step Brothers flirts with becoming Will Ferrell's most profound comedy because it speaks to the phenomenon of post-70's man children, adults arrested in adolescence because of the well-intentioned privileges piled upon them by hard working parents.

Dale unironically wears tucked in Return of the Jedi and Bruce Lee t-shirts, sports a Heavy Metal poster on his wall, and worships the gaudy Neil Pert-style drum kit in the guest room. Brennan appreciates the radio hits of Bonnie Raitt, collects samurai swords, and gets sexual release from cable TV aerobics instructors.

Where Anchorman and Talladega Nights simply set out to lampoon two types of recognizable industries, Step Brothers gets at something that resembles a social comedy. But then... there is a problem. And that problem is director Adam McKay. It's special to see Dale's train wreck of a first kiss and Brennan asking his therapist for domestic living tips instead of emotional advice, but then McKay counters that with his same ol' tired jabs at suburbia (an Outback Steakhouse joke, and a SUV joke) and the white-male corporate world (the characters of Brennan's upper class brother and his meat head sidekick are just plain dumb). These missteps make you wonder : is McKay even aware of the opportunity he has in front of him?

It would serve Ferrell well to find a director who can balance his mild-to-madcap humor with a little punctuating sincerity. While not your typical Ferrell comedy, that moment in Stranger Than Fiction where he serenades Maggie Gyllenhaal to the tune of Wreckless Eric's "(I'd Go The) Whole Wide World" is not only a scene stopper, but a moment that reveals something extraordinary about a character we knew little about up to that point. Same goes for a scene in Winter Passing where Ferrell, an aspiring musician, conquers stage fright in front of his crush, Zooey Deschanel. In comparison, Brennan singing opera in Step Brothers is mostly played as a goof, undercut even more when it's followed by some additional juvenile misfires by McKay.

Still, watching Reilly and Ferrell riff low-brow on innumerable wiener & ball jokes should satisfy that unguarded goober in all of us.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

THE DARK KNIGHT

***Not sure why, but it seems that at least 2 comments disappeared from this post. I'm trying to find out from Blogger why this happened. I didn't want anyone to think I was deleting comments.***


The bursting $300 million dollar - in less than two weeks - popularity of The Dark Knight isn't surprising. In fact, it's the perfect film to serve as the centerpiece for the 2008 summer season. It signifies where we're at in film culture: a place were sadism sells (it's replaced sex), nihilism rules (it's replaced rebellion), and gutter cinematography is cool (it's replaced spectacle).

If you thought people over rated Peter Jackson's LOTR trilogy, then the hyperbole surrounding The Dark Knight will spin you towards the exit doors. Even critics who should know better are calling it "audacious", "a gold standard", a "symphony". This is proof that our standards have lowered.

The Dark Knight also solidifies how disinterested Christopher Nolan continues to be in communicating with his audience. Like Tony Scott exploiting the pain of Hurricane Katrina victims in his dreadful Deja Vu, Nolan taps the pain and panic of New Yorkers during 9/11 and clumsily tries to fold it into a soft-headed critique of our government's intrusive power grab. In contrast, superior filmmakers like Oliver Stone and Steven Spielberg have used their own fictional films (World Trade Center and War Of The Worlds) to invoke the anxiety and fear Americans felt on that day and used it to create compassionate, empathetic art.

But Nolan is like fellow opportunist Paul Greengrass, taking real-life tragedy and crafting nouveau action passages out of it. Sitting through this two and a half hour dreck (Nolan's attempt at an epic...) simply reinforces the outlandishness of the UK Guardian's recent comparison of Nolan to Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock.

Once the The Dark Knight starts, Nolan wastes little time before setting us up for another of his dreary dystopian dream lands. The Joker stands on the corner opposite from the bank he's about to rob, holding a dirty, mopey clown mask. Nolan's camera calmly adores it like the blank, soulless world view he subscribes to. In fact, Heath Ledger's overall interpretation of The Joker isn't far from modern cinemas other nihilistic, self-righteous killers John Doe (from Se7en) & Jigsaw (from Saw). Sadly, film goers have latched onto these creeps as some kind of band of iconic anti-heroes who preach ugly truths while on their (and our) way to hell.

Nolan gives The Joker his moment when a henchman gets greedy about his share of the stolen loot. In an act of self-sacrifice, The Joker burns his own half and waxes anti-capitalistic about the ills of money; it's his "right on!" moment. The scene is sure to excite charged-up bobos who feign outrage at this type of soporific money-is-evil message only because they already have enough in their bank accounts to grant them the free time to go on-and-on pretending like they actually hate it.

But it is The Dark Knight's veiled brutality that truly disgusts. To score that crucial PG-13 rating, Nolan calculated his cutaways in a method that kept his film safe enough for the kiddos yet sick enough for blood lusting fan boys to get all giggly over. When The Joker forces three hoods into a battle-to-the-death match with only a broken pool cue as a weapon, it's as appalling as a Rob Zombie murder sequence. Not showing the action doesn't hide the tendency. It's simply softcore sadism.

Like most hacks, the violence and action staged by Nolan simply exists to illicit reactions of "whoa!" and "cool" from the audience (to hacks, that is a sign of success). "That was so awesome!", a guy in front of me said when Eric Roberts' character fell from a roof and snapped his ankles in a cracking close-up.

Ten years ago The Dark Knight would have been dismissed as a rehash of The Crow. How soon we forget, these days, and how quickly we forgive poor film making. Having a dry period of quality doesn't mean you need to prop up paper monuments in the meantime. Wait it out. The cycle will refresh itself.

In the meantime, send Christopher Nolan some e-mails asking...

WHY SO SADISTIC???

Friday, July 25, 2008

IN A PERFECT WORLD...

... I would get my chance to program a weeks worth of films at a local theater in my town.

Due to the magic of the world wide web, I have been given that opportunity by Piper over at Lazy Eye Theater.

Here are the rules:

---
1) Choose 12 Films to be featured. They could be random selections or part of a greater theme. Whatever you want.

2) Explain why you chose the films.

3) Link back to Lazy Eye Theatre so I can have hundreds of links and I can take those links and spread them all out on the bed and then roll around in them.

4) The people selected then have to turn around and select 5 more people.
---
Nice and clean, right?

Here goes my fantasy...

Since one of my favorite things to do is go to bat or stand-up for movies that I feel are either underappreciated and/or have gone unnoticed, I would use my power to try and sell the audience on why they should relearn to love these movies:


MONDAY - TUESDAY
Stuck On You (2004)
The Ringer (2006)



WEDNESDAY - THURSDAY
Grace Is Gone (2007)
Tracks (1977)



FRIDAY - SATURDAY
Where The Heart Is (1990)
The Brothers Solomon (2007)


SUNDAY - MONDAY
Linda Linda Linda (2005)
Akeelah and The Bee (2006)



TUESDAY - WEDNEDAY

Black & White (1999)
Storytelling (2001)



THURSDAY - FRIDAY

The Clock (1945)
The Long Day Closes (1992)

REMEMBER TO GO OVER TO LAZY EYE THEATER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

AVENGE OF THE NERDS

You know... it's really a shame when Star Wars nerds feel they must resort to PETA-style ambush tactics on next-gen Batman nerds. Behind that mask, that poor kid is probably crying.

And what's up with the pregnant, or just fat, storm trooper? Please don't tell me that he/she is doubling that ammunition belt as a fanny pack.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I GUESS I JUST WASN'T MADE FOR THESE TIMES

***EXCLUSIVE UPDATE!!!***
(see below)


=


Is that the best Hollywood can do?!?!

George Cukor must be rolling his eyes in his grave.

Check the change in tagline too...

From the 1939 version : It's All About Men!

to

The 2008 version: It's all about ... The Women

God... does that mean the filmmakers behind this version don't even get the joke behind the original tagline??? Have they even seen the original!?!?
------
UPDATE
Upon growing frustration, TRACTOR FACTS sent a correspondent out to the home of Meg Ryan to find out if even she had seen the original 1939 version of The Women.

But... before we could reach the door, an angry Ryan came out dropping F-bombs and referring to our blog in a number of unflattering and colorful ways ... "FU*K-TOR FACTS!" ... "TRACTOR FA*S!". [NOTE: We don't condone these offensive terms, we just believe in the public's right to news... you know?]

Anyway... luckily our camera guy kept rolling...

... and captured this:

Later, we found her incoherent and alone and dirty at a bus station:


We offered Ms. Ryan a ride home, but she insisted that she was fine and mumbled that "Russell's comin' to get me...".

As in Russell Crowe?!?

Sheesh... get over it Meg. He doesn't love you anymore. Still... we wished her well, and left a cell phone number if she changed her mind on that ride.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

ON DVD : THE MACHINE GIRL

Our introduction to Ami, "the machine girl", is through a ground-level camera shot between her legs and underneath her prep-school skirt. From here you'd expect that we'd be own our way to another male pleasing, post-Gogo Yubari pussy power flick.

But, in fact, The Machine Girl's violence isn't sexualized at all. Every kill - whether on the side of good or evil - is in defense of family. Ami's parents committed suicide after being framed for murder, and her brother was killed by a yakuza's son. What follows isn't simply vengeance, but schoolyard justice. The prep-school uniform isn't there to titillate barely legal fantasies, but to serve as a reminder of Ami's stolen innocence and frozen-in-time adolescence.

Acceptable as that set-up is, director Noboru Iguchi struggles to land an emotional punch or sustain any type of relatable language during the expository scenes. His forte obviously lies in crafting set-pieces and action around rubber hose & prosthetic limb special effects. Resting somewhere in between the splatter of Edgar Wright, Tom Savini, and Peter Jackson, Iguchi belongs to that slapstick segment of extreme gore. Further, he nails the aesthetic of Manga-core better than Tarantino did in Kill Bill vol. 1 (QT couldn't help but Americanize it).

Tetsuo : The Iron Man is an obvious touchstone here. But unlike that masterwork, Iguchi fails to follow its barely-over-an-hour time frame and power-drill kinetics of the cinematography. Tetsuo was that rare film, a work so completely aware of its singular strength that it eschewed any plot conventions that may have threatened to dilute it. (Coincidentally, Tetsuo's Shinya Tsukamoto has failed to follow his own standard as well, struggling to put out anything as winning ever since.)

Ultimately, The Machine Girl is another successful strike in the war to take back gore from the French-sadists and their American frat-boy brothers. Near film's end, Iguchi inserts some chainsaw play for one of his sideline characters. The blood sprays that follow are cathartic clownishness, and the scene helps to wipe out the crew cut fascist-feminism of Haute Tension's switchblade sister, Marie, that horror hounds still champion as some type of modern horror icon. It's time for me to write some Ami v. Marie fan fiction, put it in a wish jar, toss it in the Pacific ocean and watch it sail across the sea.

Monday, July 21, 2008

JASON STATHAM'S HEAD

Awwww yeaaaah!

Crank 2
is gonna be awesome!

Suck it, Christopher Nolan....

Sunday, July 20, 2008

MAMMA MIA!

Of all the poor - terrible movies that Merryl Streep's been in (Rendition, The Hours, The Devil Wears Prada, Postcards From the Edge, Silkwood,...) most of them remain tolerable because of her performance. Mamma Mia! is no different. In fact, were it not for Streep - and the cotton-soft charm of Colin Firth - Mamma Mia! would be the worst film of the year to date. But lor-dee, did the clueless acting of Christine Baranski and Julie Walters ever do its damnedest to weight Streep's ankles and anchor her to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.

However, the fault for this claptrap truly lies at the feet of first time theater-turned-film director, Phyllida Lloyd. Lloyd may be a very fine theater artist, I have no idea, but behind camera she's like Jewel writing poetry, Eddie Murphy singing R & B, Janeane Garofalo talking politics, or Helen Hunt attempting anything. This is no more polite a term to describe the damage Lloyd does to the valuable film stock burning inside her expensive cameras than murder (perhaps "rape" or "molestation" ... but, arguably, those are worse).

Now, before you brush me aside as just another male who uses the term "chick flick" to marginalize the cinema of sensitive women everywhere simply searching for that lightest of lovely entertainment, consider that I've recently gone to bat for the likes of Enchanted, Why Did I Get Married?, In The Land of Women, Waitress, and Mad Money. And if you question my allegiance to the genre of musicals, then perhaps one day we'll share a dressing room and I can show you the tattoo of Vincente Minnelli that I have inked across my heart.

No. What cripples Mamma Mia! is what cripples any old movie that's been directed and edited by a monkey and/or blind person. I imagine cinematographers and choreographers the world over will be appalled after seeing the opportunity that is wasted by Lloyd and crew during the "Dancing Queen" sequence.

ABBA's most iconic pop moment, "Dancing Queen" is a song whose huge chorus can lift any jaded dolt from a frown and fresh into the imagined carefree evening of a seventeen year old experiencing euphoria on the dance floor. "Night is young and the music's high/ With a bit of rock music, everything is fine". It's a sin when a filmmaker ignores such basic universal wisdom and chooses to shoot a bland sequence of lifeless fiftysomethings hopping around an island, playing candy-ass air guitar solos, and high-fiving each other in the water.

If you really wanna enjoy ABBA's music alongside some clued-in imagery, watch Madonna's video for "Hung Up" or go out and rent Muriel's Wedding again. Or, if you've got the time, round up friends, family, lovers and make your own home video to the ABBA smash of your choosing. It's sure to contain more passion that a single second of Mamma Mia!.

S.O.S. .... S.O.S. ... S.O.S.!!!

Friday, July 18, 2008

ON DVD : TRAFIC

From Mr. Hulot's Holiday in 1953 to Trafic in 1971, Jacques Tati made four films that - when connected like dots - form a rectangle of cinema about the extravagance and efficiencies of post-World War II consumerism and leisure. Unlike today's soapbox documentaries and feel-bad Hollywood message films, Tati's social comedies don't alienate because there is a genuine compassion in his observations alongside the satire (remember when satire was fun instead of bruising???) and critical sneer.

Indeed, Tati doesn't leave himself out-of-range either, casting his own long, lanky body as the main character Monsieur Hulot. Through non-verbal physical comedy and from behind the wide lens of a colorful camera, Tati lampoons the modern-life as much as he admires it.

What was brilliant about the creation of Mr. Hulot is that it allowed Tati to audaciously access a variety of social spheres, classes, and locations within the time frame of one film, covering up any jumpy or out-of-place scenarios. There is never really plot to a Tati film, just wandering curiosity. And Mr. Hulot serves as that perfect pinball plot device weaving in-and-out of social settings, sometimes unacknowledged by the accompanying characters on screen, simply acting as thread to connect the humor, ideas, and observations that came before it.

Trafic sets itself within the world of the modern automobile industry. Like in Playtime, Tati has his eye on an evolving - sometimes to the point of absurdity - architecture, but the focus here is primarily on movement.

From drawing board, to factory line, to car show platform, there is a big machine pumping at so many parts per minute that the humanity between the cracks often goes unnoticed. For instance, it's humorous to to Tati that humans can be physically separated by no less 5 feet, yet, because of the confines of their own cars, feel secure enough to shove their fingers up their noses. Or, that thousands of people converge on a convention center opening and closing hoods & trunks simultaneously as if it were some horribly disjointed symphony of clanks and clunks.

But it's the smaller moments that resonate (especially upon second viewing): A foreman stares at the swinging arms of a long-haired, twentysomething worker as if he's just had an epiphany about the work ethic of France's future; the rhythm of windshield wipers on various cars mimicing the personality of the occupant(s) inside of them; and, most bizarrely, the gas station where cars drive-in and fill-up by receiving a bust of a historical figure from the attendant.

While not as visually sophisticated as Playtime, or as lovably screwy as M. Hulot's Holiday, Trafic feels like a measured hour and a half wrap-up to the films that came before it.

At Trafic's end, Mr. Hulot finally gets to work the umbrella he's been toting around all these years. After a day of failure and disappointment, a rain descends on Amsterdam, complimenting the mood. Yet, Mr. Hulot, under cover and with woman under arm, walks upright and smiley through the downpour. It's as if this bumbling, nervous, mess of a man has finally figured out life, or, maybe he's just decided to stop worrying and love the modern world.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

ON THAT RECENT PIC OF HELEN MIRREN ON VACATION


(CLICK TO ENLARGE!)

Paul McCartney wrote "will you still feed me when I'm sixty-four?". Well, Helen Mirren is 63, and if she were to ask me that question the answer would be a double-entendre'd unqualified YES!

Granted, I have a thing for older women. Not usually ones that are older than my mother, but Helen Mirren is just gorgeous, right? She joins Charlotte Rampling in hottest women over the age of 60 category. (They'd better watch out too, b/c at age 55 Isabelle Hupert is nipping their heals. To me, she's hotter than both).

Have you seen Shadowboxer where Cuba Gooding Jr. makes love to Helen Mirren and it's totally sexy???

I can't believe the director of Ray gets to have sex with her! HUH!?! She could totally score a Michael Cera or Mark Wahlberg.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"YOUR PROTECTOR" - FLEET FOXES

Like their new millennium Sub Pop brethren, newish buzz band Fleet Foxes are sure to have a handful of their songs popping up in movies, movie trailers, the falling action sequence in cops/forensics/detective TV dramas, and/or commercials in the near future. Deservedly so.

"Your Protector" has the greatest odds of being that first song to branch off and inevitably start giving you associations to M & M's or Kyra Sedgwik when you hear it own its own. Here's why:

1. Once the song gets passed its moody intro, its chorus and verses have a full-on Ennio Morricone gallup to them, not to mention the Italian's light orchestral type of arrangement hanging about it. (Someone more familiar with Scott Walker may want to confirm my suspicions that there are some of his grand vista cinematic soundscapes going on here as well.)

2. The chorus is scene-ready for a moment of I'm-walking-outta- here-with-courage-and-my-head-held-high. What instantly comes to mind is Ewen McGregor walking along to "Born Slippy" in Trainspotting and Reese Witherspoon's fu*k-you-I'm-outta-here exit in Cruel Intentions to "Bitter Sweet Symphony".

3. The lyrics are a mini screenplay:

She left a week to roam
Your protector's coming home
Keep your secrets with you
Safe from the outside

You walk along the stream
Your head caught in a waking dream
Your protector's coming home (coming home)

As you lay to die beside me, baby
I'm the one in the shootin' game
Would you wait for me,
the other one,
would you wait for me?

You run with the devil (2x)

Tell your brother to be good
Tell your sister not to go
Tell your mother not to wait
Tell your father I was good

As you lay to die beside me, baby
I'm the one in the shootin' game
Would you wait for me,
the other one,
would you wait for me?

I like to picture Raquel Welch and Jim Brown in 100 Rifles, but you can take your pick from any spaghetti western B-movie (is that redundant???).


Monday, July 14, 2008

HOLY LEAPING HYPERBOLE, BATMAN!

Stanley Kubrick chuckling at the rubrics

The Guardian UK on Christopher Nolan:

---
There's no news yet of what Nolan intends to work on next and whether his beloved Howard Hughes biopic will ever get made, or even the state of his putative Ruth Rendell project. One thing we can be sure of is that Nolan is here to stay and comparisons with both Hitchcock and Kubrick are not far from the mark. (Guardian)
---

Uh... yes, they are. The are really damn far from the mark.

In fact, I would hope, that after reading that this past weekend, Nolan quickly felt the need to write a letter to the editor and have them retract such a specious statement.

Chris Nolan may have a made an entertaining film or two here and there (along with the bland and dreary Insomnia and Batman Begins) but to come out slinging comparisons to Kubrick and Hitchcock on the back of a guy that is still searching for his first great film is just cuckoo.

WHY SO STUPID????

Sunday, July 13, 2008

JELLYFISH

Jellyfish is an Israeli slice-of-life movie so harmless that it feels kinda creepy to say anything critical about it. It's a first feature, and for a first feature it's fine in terms of command, light humor, and breeziness in ricocheting between three plot pieces.

But what's lacking is a strong acknowledgment of setting. Unlike My Blueberry Nights, where Wong Kar-wai makes the skies of Brooklyn, Memphis, and Las Vegas as vivid as his women, Jellyfish stays too glued to its characters, not allowing the audience to bring in a visual context. This is evident when the characters move through the streets of Tel Aviv yet the camera stays planted on the actors in close-ups and medium shots.

Batya (the gorgeous Sarah Adler - it's only a matter of time before Hollywood comes calling...) is the center of the film. She's an unsure twentysomething constantly getting left behind by everyone around her: her boyfriend moves out; the landlord scutters down the stairs when she turns her back; her dad is a deadbeat playboy; a homeless child she takes in runs away. All of this has given Batya trust issues and driven her to accept that she doesn't "believe in development" when it comes to relationships.

Jellyfish's plot is rounded out by a just-married couple having to cancel their honeymoon plans due to a broken-ankle accident by the bride (they must now spend their post wedding days at a hotel full of annoying noises), and an immigrant Filipino nanny-nurse that struggles with the decision she made to leave her son back home while she makes money in Tel Aviv.

Co-director Etgar Keret is acclaimed and known for his short stories. Because of that, it makes sense that he and co-director/wife Shira Geffen may yet lack the cinematic instincts of telling a story through images versus ink and paper. Watching Jellyfish, it's as if Keret is a bit cautious and unsure of himself in a new medium. He clings to his characters (i.e. what he knows) in a effort to feel comfortable instead of trying new things. If anything, perhaps the experience was a humbling one for Keret & Geffen, and next time they'll come out lenses blazing.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

HELLBOY II : THE GOLDEN ARMY

Here's a riddle...

If you put 150-200 sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and/or comic book nerds in a room at one time, how long will it take before one of the nerds brings up Bruce Campbell? 16 minutes.

I was lucky enough to get into an advanced screening of Hellboy II : The Golden Army tonight and, after the Q & A began, that was the amount of time that expired before a guy stood up and asked Guillermo Del Toro if Campbell would be playing Lobster Johnson (??) in Hellboy III. [NOTE: BTW, I love nerds. I use the term in an affectionate way. I consider myself one, just of a different type.]

I appreciated the question, because it was at that moment that I realized why I've never liked a Guillermo Del Toro film. His intentions are those of a populist, but his films always bear the mark of exclusivity. Where Del Toro's cup runneth over in terms of imagination, design, and concept, his is a quarter full when it comes to understanding the foibles, sensitivities, and motives of humanity. (This could explain the awkward, muddied, and somewhat pessimistic ending of Hellboy II.)

It's a shame, because Hellboy II has elements of what is sorely missing within the limp comic book movie franchises of today (save The Incredible Hulk, perhaps...). Namely, it's fun. There's also puppetry; creatures you can reach out and touch. If anything, Hellboy II feels fresh because it lives. In fact, there is a sequence in a "troll market" that feels almost revelatory in its special effects realism. I suspect this film is exactly what Star Wars fans were craving from Lucas with his prequel trilogy.

I haven't seen the original Hellboy, but according to Del Toro, it doesn't matter... Hellboy II exists on its own. The setting is modern times, but centuries ago humans and mutants signed a truce after wars of high casualties. Centuries later, humans are wrecking the Earth and the mutants have been marginalized. A rogue mutant goes revolutionary and intends to unleash the now dormant golden army on humanity to take the world back. That's it. The rest is Del Toro unleashed: a fun boy in a toy shop with a big budget to play with. If that's your thing then you're probably in for a treat.

Personally, and for all of his personable jolliness, I sense a bitterness in Del Toro. In this way, he is not unlike Hellboy himself. In the film's first sequence we see a wide-eyed 7-year old Hellboy watching TV, brushing his teeth, and grinning at a bedtime story at the knee of father figure John Hurt. Flash forward to Hellboy as adult and we see a cynical cigar chomper, a short-fused thug, a creature who feels unappreciated for his work. In comparison, Del Toro's films feel like that of a jaded man child. Each time innocence peers out its head, a whack-a-mallet beats it back.

This was true of Pan's Labyrinth. For all its wonder, it left me with a feeling of contempt. For all the praise of it being a fairy tail for adults, it was ultimately a rejection of escapism through imagination. I don't doubt that Guillermo Del Toro has a big heart, I just wish he would open it up.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

BEEN THINKIN' ABOUT YOU : COLIN FARRELL

Colin Farrell has been in my dvd player twice in the last three weeks playing almost the exact same character in two average to below average films.

In Woody Allen's underrated but-still-kind-of-not-that-good Cassandra's Dream, he plays a blue collar Londoner that turns suicidal after murdering somebody.

And in the I'm-still-not-that-sure-how-I-feel-about-it-yet In Bruges, Farrell plays a hitman that turns suicidal after killing a praying child.


Average fare... yet I can't get his performances out of my mind...


Because of his alleged tryst with Britney Spears, People magazine good looks, and a sex tape scandal, Farrell was kinda brushed aside early-on as a young model-type that only got acting gigs because of his looks. Perhaps that was the case, but truth is, I've never seen him in a film where I felt his performance was less than excellent (ok, so maybe he's a bit dull in The Recruit):

He's fun in Daredevil and Minority Report...

Great in Phone Booth, The New World, and Ask The Dust...

And makes the material better in In Bruges and Cassandra's Dream...

****
P.S. When Brendan Gleeson hits the pavement in In Bruges, it shook me up pretty badly. Like BAD. Also, Ralph Fiennes should do more comedy.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

ON DVD : MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS

Brian DePalma once said that he loves to shoot beautiful women. In contrast, Wong Kar-Wai loves to shoot women because he thinks they're beautiful. Yes, he's photographed some of the loveliest faces in Hong Kong cinema - and now, with My Blueberry Nights, some of America's - but there is an adoring interest behind Kar-Wai's lens that gets at feminine beauty much more deeply than just a basic appreciation of a shapely physique:

The way Faye Wong dances to pop music in Chungking Express, the way Maggie Cheung descends the stairs in In The Mood For Love, the way Ziyi Zhang crosses her legs in 2046. Through these physical poses, Wong Kar-Wai's actresses express universal emotions that would only be cheapened with the assistance of dialogue. The image that stays with me most after watching My Blueberry Nights is Norah Jones scooting up to a juke box for security after a gun is pulled out by a patron in her bar.

Norah Jones is Wong Kar-Wai's muse in this, his first English language love story. Her dark hair, dark eyes, and red lips blend in with the rest of the ornately lit sets and flawless designs. Actors in a Kar-Wai scene are as crucial to the filming as the tint of painted writing on a window or the glare off of wet pavement.

Like the lukewarm critical response to last year's The Darjeeling Limited, the equally ho-hum reviews for My Blueberry Nights is a telltale sign for where most of our movie experts have their heads. Like Terrence Malick's The New World, My Blueberry Nights (as well as the equally beguiling 2046...) strikes me as the purest of cinema. These are movies that still have the cinematic power to blow you over even with the sound turned off.

Thanks, also, to Wong Kar-Wai for reviving David Strathairn and getting him to shake-off the boo-boo stigma he got from that wooden performance in Good Night, and Good Luck. George Clooney shut off the character in Strathairn's odd, downy face in that silly hagiographic flick of his by forcing him into caricature mode. (Can you really blame Strathairn? Clooney asked him to deify a news man... a bonkers request.) In My Blueberry Nights, Strathairn's heartbroken performance as a bar regular and police officer in Nashville brings to mind Harry Dean Stanton's in Paris, TX. Wong Kar-Wai makes him human again.

Slowly it sneaks up on you that My Blueberry Nights is a road movie that connects to that romantic notion we all have about a self-cleansing road trip. Elizabeth (Jones) falls for Jeremy (Jude Law) following a messy break-up, but instead of risking him as a rebound she cuts herself free for a year only keeping in contact with him via unaddressed postcards. (At each new temporary destination, her name fragments off into Lizzie, Beth, and Betty before becoming one again as Elizabeth when the voyage comes full circle.) When Elizabeth returns to NYC the kiss she shares with Jeremy is like a perfect yin and yang embrace or infinity symbol photographed from above. Sure, she'll take another slice of blueberry pie, but more importantly, she's now secured her own personal blueberry knight.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

HANCOCK

If Iron Man's Tony Stark (a.k.a. Tony Snark) is the guilt-ridden superhero, then Hancock's John Hancock is the apathetic one. Roll awake at midday like a slacker; brush off personal hygiene and manners like they're archaic bourgeois tenets; drink two bottles worth because life ain't worth sh*t: these are the rules that Hancock lives by. Both superheroes fit well into Generation Whatever's forever unimpressed world view. Throw in James McAvoy's Wesley from the comic book inspired Wanted, and 2008 is the year of the smarmy knight in shining armor.

Will Smith plays John Hancock, a reluctant superman that doesn’t cling to props like capes, helmets, or masks to prove his outstanding abilities. He fights crime in Los Angeles, so his well-intentioned yet poorly executed deeds land him on TMZ-type gossip shows and gotcha clips on YouTube. If you stare at him too long he'll "break his foot off in your ass", and one of his favorite super powers is shoving heads into rectums. (A tactic he threatens once, and makes good on another time shifting Hancock into full on Wayans brother territory, but dumber.) Hancock also suffers from some sort of amnesia, unable to remember his life prior to 1928. Who was he? Where did he come from? Is he the only of his kind? But instead of brooding, he hits the liquor.

By choosing to shoot in a shaky hand-held style, director Peter Berg aims for semi-realism in Hancock. This was fine in The Kingdom and Friday Night Lights because the settings were small-town Texas, and tension-heavy Riyadh. But in Hancock, this technique is off-putting and showy for no reason. It doesn't irritate the eyes as much as a Paul Greengrass massacre, but it may make you feel bad for being so hard on the likes of Tony Scott and Antoine Fuqua.

Overall, Berg's stylistic decisions keep Hancock in line with the current trend of superhero films that strive to make the audience feel like the on-screen superguy is just like one of us. This year, only Edward Norton’s and Louis Leterrier's The Incredible Hulk has flirted with transferring the cartoonish, other-wordly comic book fantasia to something else spectacular on screen.

But what's most disappointing about Hancock is Peter Berg and writers Vince Gillian and Vincent Ngo's sidelining of any subplot that acknowledges Hancock's blackness. In fact, we are only teased with it by discovering that Hancock's amnesia came from a severe beating he received while on a date with a white woman in 1928. The implied lynching is glossed over, missing an opportunity to give Hancock a little human lining among the previous 80 minutes of shoddiness. Elsewhere, the filmmakers simply pander to the audience's expectations of what a black superhero would be like, playing Ludacris's "Move Bitch" and the theme song to Sanford and Son as the soundtrack to Hancock's rescue missions. The only time Hancock's heroism gets the serious superhero treatment is after he's been reformed from his previous jivin' ways.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

(FINALLY!) ON DVD : DEREK JARMAN'S "BLUE"

Has there ever been a more poignant directorial swan song in cinema than Derek Jarman's Blue?

I suppose the legend behind it rivals that of a broken down & dying John Huston pushing through the latter stages of life in order finish The Dead. But, no. "Legend" is too disrespectful a word. Derek Jarman died of AIDS, and prior to his death he lost his sight due to eye lesions. What a cruel joke that a director with such visual flair and pop would lose his ability to see. But in the way others turn their illnesses into charitable opportunities, Jarman persisted and turned his into art.
I caught myself looking at shoes in a shop window. I thought of going in and buying a pair, but stopped myself. The shoes I am wearing at the moment should be sufficient to walk me out of life.
For those unfamiliar, Blue is 76 minutes of a blue screen with Jarman reading over it. Nothing more. The experience is like witnessing the circle of film complete its cycle from the days of just images without sound to finally just sound without images. And while it may seem like a chore to stare at a blue screen for a hour and fifteen minutes, it isn't. Blue is hypnotic and soothing, and - if you can believe it - moves along at a quick pace.

The harmony in the film is Jarman's readings. There is a precise timing and rhythm to it. Just like a stand-up comic or a classical storyteller, there is structure. Most of what is spoken describes the somewhat linear time line that the director spent in various hospitals. In and out of these tales are memories, elegies to dead friends, poetry, random observations, news clips, chanting, and song that gives punctuation but also fill spaces.
Karl killed himself - how did he do it? I never asked. It seemed incidental. What did it matter if he swigged prussic acid or shot himself in the eye. Maybe he dived into the streets from high up in the cloud lapped skyscrapers. The nurse explains the implant. You mix the drugs and drip yourself once a day. The drugs are kept in a small fridge they give you. Can you imagine travelling around with that? The metal implant will set the bomb detector off in airports, and I can just see myself travelling to Berlin with a fridge under my arm.
I wish I could sync up Jarman's voice to accompany his words that I am pasting in this post. By simply throwing them up there I'm doing him a slight injustice. They need to be heard, not read. And, I think, in that way, Jarman is asking us to relearn the way we watch movies. Deceptive in its presentation, Blue requires interaction from the viewer. It's like a clean slate or mind enema for those of us who have seen so many movies that we've forgotten how to watch movies.

It's fitting then that Blue finally got it's DVD release smack dab in the middle of the summer blockbuster season where, too often, people go to theater to zone out rather than tune in. Sometimes spending time with the most basic elements of an art is the clearest way back to remembering how to appreciate it.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

WTF?!? : THE ROBOCOP PAMPHLET

Hey, now I'm just some dude with his wife and his cat in an apartment in Texas, but I at least thought I was hip to the ways suits in Hollywood sell movie ideas to each other... and pamphlets wasn't one that I had in mind.

Yep. Supposedly, one of the ways MGM is trying to attract investors for its projected 2010 remake of Robocop is through one of those fold-y paper things you find at rest stops along the highway.

Okay. But couldn't they have at least generated a better cover for the pamphlet than the above? Dude just looks like a model with some super futuristic sunglasses on. I mean look how full his lips are. Is he gonna kiss me or arrest me?

But the best part of the pamphlet is the flip side (CLICK TO ENLARGE)...

And, I mean, how is this done?

In Hollywood will you just regularly find these underneath your windshield wiper when you walk to your car back from lunch like most of us would find a promo card for a rave or the newest pizza joint?

I can just imagine Lindsay Lohan getting in her car, driving down Sunset Blvd., and then noticing a pamphlet for the Back To The Future remake flapping in the wind. Then she gets all pissed and turns the wipers on, even squirting wiper fluid on there in hopes to dislodge it before yelling at Samantha Ronson to try and grab it, but then they just giving up and doing coke lines off of some of the vinyl Samantha has in her bag...

I mean, do the residents in Beverly Hills and Malibu walk to the front of their homes and find fliers for The Shining remake jammed into the crease of the door and rubber-banded onto their doorknobs? Is this how it goes down? Say it ain't so, Li-Lo.

Weirdness.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

HE'S FITNA MAKE A SEQUEL

Dutch politician turned iFilm pseudo-movie maker Geert Wilders (you know, you never see he and Jonathan Couette in the same room at the same time...) has had a busy day...

FIRST, he announced that there will be a sequel to Fitna, the anti-Koran online-only short film that caused much less outrage than expected. Well, "much less" meaning: no fatwas against school teachers, nuns being shot, or embassies burned down. However, there was still the condemnation.

Which brings us to TWO. Wilders, today, was also cleared from having to face charges of "inciting hatred". Unsurprisingly, this didn't send happy feelings through the halls at the OIC (Organisation of the Islamic Conference) in Riyadh. No. In fact, they were "deeply annoyed":

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"The decision ... encourages and supports the irresponsible defamatory style followed by some media outlets and instigates feelings of hatred, animosity and antipathy towards Muslims," the Saudi Arabia-based OIC, said in a statement.
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Sorry Riyadh... until you allow women to drive, how 'bout steering clear of the comments on "hatred, animosity, and antipathy", okay? (NOTE: Supposedly - and that is a big 'ol SUP-POS-ED-LY - the driving band may finally be lifted this year.)

But that didn't stop the other kingdom - the Lil' Kingdom - of Jordon from charging Wilders with blasphemy

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"He will be given 15 days to comply, otherwise, an arrest warrant might be issued through the Interpol." (Islam Online)
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Pffft. Ewww.... Interpol!! Interpol's been threatening me over VHS dubbing for years now and I'm still fine.

But the best was from the Iranian government backed news source Press TV. In their story about Wilder escaping charges in The Netherlands, they attach the below picture:

Ah yes... nothing like protesters outraged over the incitement of hatred and violence while holding picket signs that show Wilder's face with fangs, a target, a two guns pointed at it.