American Psycho (2000)

Should I see it?
No.

American Psycho

Mary Harmon (I Shot Andy Warhol) directs this adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' sanguine yuppie classic with some flair. It's a tough adaptation to pull off, the "hero" is a emotionally vacant killer and the ironically superficial elements of the story simply don't translate to film well. Rich, successful, psychotic Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), without any humor, dissects the finer points of Huey Lewis and the News as if he's describing the artistic heights of Beethoven. On film, this delicious piece of irony fails to makes its point and is frittered away. Many of the elements of the story meet this fate. Harmon gets points for trying but the film overall feels disjointed. With the jarring violence, the movie is further set off pace. By the time the story's twist comes into play the film is fatigued and Harmon seems rushed to get to the final payoff. To be fair, Harmon does well dealing with the passive scenes where yuppies are shown in the natural habitat. In particular in a scene where Bateman and his colleagues have a quiet competition to see who has the most impressive business card. Each man explains the qualities of his business card and proudly slides one out on a table. Each one out-doing the next. Harmon does well tying their masculinity to the competition and properly showing their reactions when they win or lose as the cards are displayed. She doesn't fare as well with the more psychotic portions of the story, which is probably a compliment. The way she builds and then displays the violence is a bit clumsy. The violence is presented in an over-managed, deliberate way that keeps it from being thoughtful or titillating. It's just happens. There is one thing I know about on-screen violence - it should never ever just happen and then go away. It always needs context and emotional payoff. This movie offers neither with its killings.

Bale gives a good performance and handles his off-kilter character, never letting him get too overarching. But his good work is mired in a film that simply doesn't work.


Related Reviews:
Serial killer movies
Mr. Brooks (2007)
L'Empire des loups “Empire of the Wolves" (2005)


Other Critic's Reviews:
Cinephiles
The Flick Filosopher

Minutegate

First, this whole Minutegate deal is a joke. Ol' Roger wrote what may be his most famous review after he walked out of a movie after eight minutes and then posted a critique of the film. There's been plenty of breathless criticisms of Ebert's choice to do this, most with snobby claims about fairness and giving the artist his due. Eventually the old guy caved in on the subject. We're all kidding ourselves. It is not the critic's job to be mindful of the artist's feelings or give them the benefit of the doubt. I do not need to sit through another Uwe Boll or Eli Roth movie to know what he's about. We see countless of movies, of which 90% seriously stink. You get to a point where you can tell what's coming and what is worth the effort and what is not. Most directors are corporate hacks who offer as much artistry as the kid down at Burger King slinging fries. Don't give me these artistic platitudes.

Should a critic try their best to sit through a whole film? Absolutely. Not out of deference to the "artist" but for their readers. No matter how crappy a film is, someone is going to like it. You need to write for them as well. Sitting through a bad movie is also usually a learning experience for most film geeks. Why does it stink so bad? What went wrong? These can be fascinating questions when faced with a piece of trash.

Have I ever walked out of a film? Plenty of times. Have I ever walked out of a film and reviewed it? Yep, Vanity Fair. Unlike Ebert, I don't feel bad about criticising something before seeing the whole product (although his eight minutes is extreme). I don't need to finish a banana doused in vinegar to know the whole thing tastes bad. Presumptively, the reason I review films, and more importantly, that people actually read my reviews, is because I know what I'm talking about and can back up any claims I make in my posts. To pretend as if all films deserve attention is bunk. As long as the critic admits they walked out in as clear language as possible, they should be able to do so and write about it. The fact that they were induced to go do something else is an important element of the review. A potential audience member should know if a film is likely to do this to them.

One other thing, in his apology Ebert ponders "Should I have sent it in to the paper? I wish I hadn't. As many comments have pointed out, I was harming the chances of a small indie film. From the very beginning," Are you kidding? Its not the critic's job to keep from harming anyone. It is their job to tell the truth. If the truth is that the film was a bore and you were compelled to move on then that's the way things go. The Indies should not be treated with kid gloves, if for no other reason, they tend to be young and maybe a swift kick in the shin will get them to make better movies later on. Worrying about "harming the chances of a small indie film" is more offensive to me than reviewing a film you didn't sit all the way through.

In the end, critics are derivative creatures. We're cultural traffic cops and nothing more. All of this pretence is shallow nonsense. Ebert is the best in his field, I say this knowing that his taste in film is seriously suspect. He's given rise to modern film criticism and is responsible for all of those pesky online losers, present company included, who have run the stodgy newspaper review guys out the door. We need to have standards but we also need to have some common sense as well.

Movie Watching Tip: Don't Shy Away From Subtitles

This is pretty much a post for my fellow American.

Listen, just because a movie is in a foreign language doesn't mean it's goofy, stuffy and/or stupid anymore than it means it's smart, important and meaningful. Like English-language films, foreign language movies come in all styles - some great, many pathetic. Let the movie dictate if you'll watch it, not if it has subtitles or not. If you deny any movie because of subtitles you're missing some sincerely great cinema.

If nothing else, please never respond with "yeah, I don't watch movies to read em'." Saying that makes you look like a complete dolt, and a belligerent one at that.

Patton (1970)

Should I see it?
Yes.

Patton

It's a cliche to say that an actor was born to play a role. In the case of this production, it is clear George C. Scott was uniquely equipped to play the tough-willed, iconic general. His performance is so commanding it stands as one of the great performances in cinema history. He is so believable in the role that the famous image of him standing before the giant American flag exclaiming that "I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country." is the image most people today connect with the name Patton more than the actual man.

The film itself is a joy to watch. The competitive urges of the Allies' military upper echelon is a great conflict to watch and plays against Patton's personal/public turmoils perfectly. Patton brutish style and undeniable brilliance getting caught in a world of public perception and media is prophetic of the issues facing our military today. They have a tough job to do and a media waiting in the wings waiting to complain about how it gets done. Patton's inability to change his nature in light of the alternating tastes of his time and the frustration he faces at every turn makes this one of more engaging biographies put to screen. The real man was as big as depicted, usually the subject of a biography has to be punched up a little and their conflicts buttressed to give them more life. In Patton's case, his overbearing personality and his thick-headed belligerence is large enough to fill the whole movie.

One of the elements of the film that is often overlooked is Karl Malden's understated performance as Patton's contemporary General Bradley. Malden's calmer tone contrasts the bombastic theatrics Scott provides and acts as the anchor to the story. He deserves credit for a masterful supporting performance that assisted in creating the environment in which Scott could work. Without Malden's even presence, Scott's blasting characterization would have clearly become clownish. Malden's Bradley levels their scenes out and humanizes the larger-than-life Patton.

This is one of my movies that you simple have to see once before you die. It is a great example of how epic cinema can get and how, when done properly, how film can be used to its fullest effect.


Related Reviews:
Biographies
Control (2007)
John Adams (2008)


Other Critic's Reviews:
Flick Filosopher
DVD Beaver


Movie Trailer: Last Chance Harvey

A nice, comfortable, timid movie about a screw-up who finds love...or something like that. Not my cup of tea but maybe you'll find something worthwhile. It has Emma Thompson, so there's at least one upside.




Screenwriter: Joel Hopkins
Director: Joel Hopkins
Actors: Dustin Hoffman (The Graduate), Emma Thompson (Wit), Kathy Baker (All the King's Men) and James Brolin (The Amityville Horror)

Movie Trailer: Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

Y'know, for a movie about vampires and we. rewolves, they're taking themselves a little too seriously.

To be honest, the first Underworld movie was a good piece of thoughtless, filler (Spike TV has to get their weekend programming from someplace). The second one at least had some good design work. This one? Well, something stinks and I don't think its all the undead guys running around.





Screenwriters: Danny McBride (Underworld), Dirk Blackm(an (Outlander) and Howard McCain (Outlander)Director: Patrick TatopoulosActors: Rhona Mitra (Doomsday), Michael Sheen (The Queen), Bill Nighy (Underworld: Evolution) and Shane Brolly (Room 6)

The Signal (2007)

Should I see it?
No.


Short Review: This is a film about a broadcast signal that makes those who hear it irritable and irrational - so does the movie.


This is a very odd film. Three filmmakers (David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry) co-write and direct a movie broken into three parts. Upon viewing it is obvious each man handled his own part of the film and they seamed them together in the end. This multiple directors each taking a segment isn't new (see Four Rooms for example) but it is the reason why this is such a strange movie. I do not know which director handled which of the three segments of the movie so as I go forward please forgive my inability to give credit or scorn to the rightful target.

The film is very simple, it is a stock zombie movie structure. The twist is that instead of a world full of flesh eating undead, the population is turned into frantic psychotics. A signal is heard and seen over all broadcast signals. Once a person pays attention to the signal it "replaces the thoughts in their head". Okay, great premise, it turns the zombie genre in a new way and has space for some good social commentary. The opening third of the film is very well done. Its not brilliant but it is notably good. The opening gives us an atmospheric and compelling story that promises good things to come. The dialog is strong, the plotting of the scenes is carefully measured. I found myself doing something I don't do too often watching horror movies anymore, enjoying the film. The acting is likewise strong. The young actors, given some good scenes, do well with their work. The standout is Justin Welborn as Ben, the lover of young wife Mya (Anessa Ramsey). Welborn proves to be a solid lead and gives the film much of its gravity. His intense presence grounds the film, in particular when it careens off course. I expect to see him more. I'd tag him as a performer with strong potential. Ramsey seems to struggle a little in her role, not because she's not a capable actress but because its obvious young men wrote her role. Mya is thinly written when compared to the male characters. Her dialog is passive and common and her motives are compulsory instead of naturally developing.

Following the wondfully constructed first segment, the other two segments are an incredible disaster. Particularily the middle segment. The film goes from being a haunting psychological work to being a campy, hack-fest. Where the first segment had tension and an interesting set-up, the second descends into a sophmoric, and horribly written dance of studpity. Black comedy is difficult to pull off and in the hands of someone who is so clearly a) not talented and b) devoid of any humor or sense of irony, it becomes embarassing.

The final segment attempts to regain some ground but the film is sent so far afield by the inept second segment (honestly, whoever handled that, please leave the field of filmmaking) they are unable to get their footing. The final segment's has two main flaws. The first is that it is far too blunt with its gore, we don't actually NEED to see someone have their head crushed, you can imply it. The second flaw, and this is the more serious issue, its boring. The dialog is forced, the direction of the narrative is over managed and the "surprise" ending is laughable.

Overall, if the person who was in charge of the first segment handled the whole production, I would most likely be telling you right now that I just watched one of the better horror movies ever made. As it is, I watched a solid twenty minutes of film followed by amatuer night.


Related Reviews:
Zombie movies
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Other Critic's Reviews:
ReelViews
The Critical Critics

Movie Recommendations #10: Documentaries

Most people avoid documentaries like the plague. Here's a few that aren't dry, dissertations about Mexican, lesbian farmers during the Dust Bowl or a hyperventilating Bush-Lied-Kids-Died bedwetting session. You can actually enjoy (or at least respect) these films.


King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

In many ways, this is one of the better documentaries I've seen in recent years. I know its strange to say that about a movie about geeks fighting for the world record score in Donkey Kong. Many may consider this to be a frivolous movie about frivolous people. In some ways this is true, again, at it's core its just about losers attaching their self identity to their ability to score fantastically high scores on a 1980's arcade game. The arguments, conniving and shed tears in this movie are anchored in human stupidity - then again so are most things we strive after. All of this drama is perfectly captured. This odd, real life story is strangely compelling and is absolutely worth checking out.


Born Into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids (2004)

This documentary exposes the tragic lives of the lost children found in the back street brothels in Calcutta. These children live in squalor, disease and pestilence, and with the soul numbing knowledge that their lives are already committed to prostitution. The kids live amongst the lines upon lines of whores and their johns in the dingy urban streets. The girls who grow up in this area know they are next ones in the line to sell their bodies once they reach age.

Filmmakers Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman manage a deeper level of documentary with this exquisite film. Since a Westerner running around with a camera is not welcome in the ghetto, the couple is unable to shoot much of the footage themselves. In order to get the stories of this earthbound hellhole out to the rest of the world, they devise a great idea: they give the children of the neighborhood cameras and training on how to use them. The children know those who reside in the area and can get access to this world as it truly exists. Much of this film is constructed from the children’s pictures of the sex slaves, drugs addicts and trash that populate this awful place.

This is one of the best documentaries I've ever seen.


Murderball (2005)

This is a terrific documentary. Showing the personalities and personal politics involved in the full-contact wheelchair rugby team at the Paralympic Games, this movie not only serves to teach about quadriplegic life but how to play sports overall. The thing that struck me was how athletic these guys are, not in their physicality - but in their minds. Sports is more than just about physical achievement, there is a strong psychological and emotional value to it as well. This film expresses this beautifully.

Movie Trailer: Gran Torino

The man is almost 79 years old and he still play the tough guy.

Looks like pretty straight forward stuff. Clint as growling curmudgeon is always a safe pick.






Screenwriter: Nick Schenk
Director: Clint Eastwood (Flags of Our Fathers)
Actors: Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry)

The Fugitive (1993)

Should I see it?
Yes.



A solid thriller that is very comfortable in it's own shoes. It doesn't try to be more than a by-the-numbers thriller. The script is perfectly lean and direct. This the strength of the film, it is unencumbered by notions of being an important work and focuses on being an entertaining on.

Critics fawning over Tommy Lee Jones' performance is a little over-the-top, he's not exactly performing Hamlet as Marshal Samuel Gerard. Gerard is a well written character and Jones is a custom fit in the role but he's not recreating the wheel. Jones does carry much of the film and his driving performance does raise the production up. Opposite him, the film's intended star, Harrison Ford provides enough of his Indiana Jones mugging techniques (read tricks) to make this a fun watch. This was made back in the day when he could still perform a fight sequence without looking like an over-the-hill grandpa reliving his glory days.

If you haven't seen this yet it is good enough to hunt down and watch. If you have seen it before it has enough life in it to sustain multiple viewings. It's one of those movies that has enough going on to give back to the audience over time. You won't be disappointed and may just be surprised how well it has held up over the years.



Related Reviews:
Harrison Ford movies
Clear and Present Danger (1994)
Firewall (2006)


Other Critic's Reviews:
Christian Spotlight on the Movies
Popcorn Pictures


Movie Watching Tip: Remakes and Restarts

There are a slew of remakes and restarts that are planned: Labyrinth, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Meatballs, Short Circuit, Dirty Dozen, Footloose, Jesus Christ Superstar, Clash of the Titans, Child's Play, Highlander, Sharkey's Machine, Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill, Robocop, Conan, The Warriors, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Knight Rider, Magnum P.I., The Seven Samurai, Escape from New York, The Jericho Mile, Death Wish, Porky's, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, The Birds, Rififi, The Last House on the Left, Hellraser, Friday the 13th, and on and on...

Ignore all of these, almost all of these are cheap attempts to play to the amnesiac generation coming up today who are too young to remember VHS tapes. A majority of these films weren't worth making a first time. The fact that utter crap like Short Circuit and Death Wish are even in consideration for being redone is evidence of how corrupt our culture has become. The decay of post-modern self-referential entertainment combined with investment safety obsessed corporation oversight has stagnated our culture to the point that our arts are in atrophy.

Here's a tip to everyone who wants better movies - if we don't go see this nonsense they will stop making it.

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)

Should I see it?
No.


Short Review:
Apparently, Satan’s latest ploy is to bore us into complacency.


Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist

Thanks to some rather stupid executive decision making, there were two separate films made to be the prequel to the horror classic The Exorcist. This version was the first to be completed. The story is this: director Paul Schrader handed this rendition of the story to the heads of Morgan Creek. Upon seeing a mature, risky film, the brain trust over at Morgan Creek decided that it was not commercial enough for their needs. After all, this film was thoughtful and made for adults. These geniuses decided to forgo the re-shooting of key scenes, re-editing of others and decided to throw everything out. In a further move of pristine intelligence and marketing brilliance, the suits at Morgan Creek canned Schrader and hired Hollywood’s used car salesman Renny “I never met a film I couldn’t ruin” Harlan. They brought Harlin on to remake the whole darn thing. Dropping Schrader for Harlin is like dropping Lawrence Oliver for Carrot Top. Sure, they can both put on a show but…

While not a marvel, this movie is still rather solid. Unlike the Harlin version, which is more cartoon than movie, this film takes itself and its subject matter seriously. In addition, unlike Harlin’s version, this film is watchable.

Stellan Skarsgård plays the young Father Merrin with a troubled, haunted intensity that captivates the screen. Skarsgård is very strong in this role, (he should be since he had to play it twice.) His Father Merrin is a fully realized character that speaks to the spiritual conflict Schrader attempts to explore with this story. The rest of the cast is passable but nothing special. They all orbit around Skarsgård's brooding performance.

Regardless of Skarsgård's work, this film doesn't capture the essence of the original piece. I believe the story itself is to blame for the film ultimately not succeeding. The evil in this film doesn’t emanate from a tangible source. It is more of a haunting than a possession story. Father Mirren is not confronted by the nemesis in physical form until the final third of the film. This means Mirren spends most of the movie sulking about as we wait for the inevitable possession scene to take place. This is where The Exorcist wins. Regan, the possessed girl in the original film, is a physical manifestation of evil. We had something to sink our collective movie watching teeth into. The use of a suggestive possession in this film is interesting and should have been explored in a novel, not on screen. This is a movie, we like to see things move.

The issues of the missing nemesis aside, this film delves into sin in a way that few other films have ever tried. There are two scenes in the film that are quite striking. We are shown Father Mirren during World War II where he is forced into his own brand of Sophie’s Choice. The residual guilt he feels from this terrible time in his life (I won’t go into details as to not ruin the movie) is the breeding ground from which Satan plies his wares against the Father in later life. There are some wonderful discussions and glimpses into sin and how one reacts to sin can lead one to the embrace of darkness. This film deserves great credit for doing something Hollywood steadfastly has refused to do, to take evil seriously.

Overall, this is a far superior film to the other prequel, which was released last year to an appropriate dead silence. Schrader’s version is a film made by a serious filmmaker trying to do what he was paid to do, entertain and inform on the human condition. This film fails on the first charge and succeeds on the second.


Related Reviews:
The Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)


Other Critic's Reviews:
Arrow in the Head
Roger Ebert


Movie Trailer: Marley & Me

Looks like cutesy, sentimental, nonsense. Then again, its directed by David Frankel (Band of Brothers) who has surprised me before. Then again, it's Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston...

On the scatological front, the trailer does manage to squeeze in one pee and one poop joke. Usually the marketers try to limit themselves to one or the other. Going with both? Not a good sign. Not that I'm saying if they went with just one we'd be cool.





Screenwriters: Scott Frank (Flight of the Phoenix) and Don Roos (Single White Female)
Director: David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada)
Actors: Jennifer Aniston (Derailed), Owen Wilson (Wedding Crashers), Alan Arkin (Catch-22) and Haley Bennett (The Haunting of Molly Hartley)

Movie Trailer: 17 Again

Yet another kid/adult transformation movie, and it doesn't look like its going to be a good one. Skip this pap and go rent 13 Going on 30 - yes, its a chick flick but its one that doesn't hurt too bad.





Screenwriters: Jason Filardi (Bringing Down the House)
Director: Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down)
Actors: Matthew Perry (The Whole Nine Yards), Zac Efron (Hairspray), Thomas Lennon (Reno 911!: Miami), Leslie Mann (Knocked Up), Michelle Trachtenberg and Nicole Sullivan

Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)

Should I see it?
No.


Short Review:
The scariest thing about this horror movie is that it was released.


Exorcist: The Beginning

To be fair, this film had one hard time getting made. The project began with John Frankenheimer as director. He died in 2002. Then Paul Schrader (yes, they actually handed it over to the screenwriter of The Last Temptation of Christ) took over and was canned. Finally, the producers, having shown their great judgment decided to one-up themselves and bring on Renny "I’m a Hack, Everyone In The Industry Knows I’m A Hack" Harlin to remake the film. With all of that, there is no way this film is any good – it isn’t.

Here’s the deal, the reason the first movie is so successful is because it made the story plausible. This film is so disjointed and unrealized it can barely stand on its own. Then again, Renny Harlin, the used car salesman of Hollywood, is known for making spectacular disasters such as Nightmare On Elm Street IV and Die Hard II. Like the demon of the Exorcist films, Renny intrudes into unwitting films and contorts them into unseemly abominations. The difference is that it’s the audiences that are left with the spinning heads and green vomit.

This movie is not all bad. It has some well-choreographed sequences and the first act is pretty solid. The movie hits a wall with its juvenile concepts of demonic possession. The possessed person in this film is a parody of the original. It truly is almost laughable. All of the weak points that make this film not work return to the concept of believability.

The word is that Paul Schrader had made a complete film before being dumped from the project. Then Renny made this pathetic effort. This other version, the Schrader version, of the film is apparently going to be released to fulfill some contractual obligation. We can all look forward to that release since we know he couldn’t do a worse job.


Related Reviews:
Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)


Other Critic's Reviews:
PopMatters
Film Threat



The Exorcist (1973)

Should I see it?
Yes.

The Exorcist

This movie is easily the best horror movie of all time. A young priest, haunted by doubt and personal turmoil joins with an older priest to exorcise an adolescent girl, possessed by a demon. The demonic portions of the film are overplayed at times, the spinning head and spewing pea soup is a bit much, but overall William Friedkin handles his subject matter with a masterful hand. Horror works best if the filmmaker takes the subject seriously and grounds it in reality. In this case, Friedkin succeeds because he has respect for the theological aspects of the story and doesn't handle them with a smirk but with some reverence. He clearly understands that if you're going to propose possession than you have to seriously acknowledge that God exists and is the only answer to the conflict.


Strong performances from Max Von Sydow, Ellen Burstyn and Jason Miller make the most of the script penned by William Peter Blatty and Friedkin does well to capture their work.


This isn't a film for everyone. People easily frightened may want to avoid the movie. Those sensitive over the topic of possession may also want to pass this one up.

As a quick kick in the short loins to my atheist friends. If you're a slack-jawed atheist you may also want to see something else because, well, if you're really an atheist then this movie will be a stupid thing for you to watch. You can't tell me you don't believe in God but then turn around and get frightened by demon possession. It would be akin to me having a irrational fear of unicorns. I've had atheists try to tell me they thought this was a scary movie. Yeah? I guess I'd be scared too if I was unconsciously acknowledging the existence of God while still consciously denying him.


Related Reviews:
Exorcism movies
Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)



Other Critic's Reviews:
Christian Spotlight on the Movies
FilmHead



Movie Trailer: Watchmen (Trailer #2)

Click below to view the most recent trailer for Watchmen. I still have no idea how they're going to be able to make this into a coherent movie but it makes for one heck of an ad campaign.

Right now, this is the top of my can't wait to see list.


I showed this trailer to my long-suffering wife. When it was done she sat there and blinked.

LSW: "When is this opening?"
Me: "Uh, March..."
LSW: "I'm busy."





Return to the movie trailers page


Click on the poster to view the original trailer


For the record, "graphic novels" are still just punched up comic books.


Screenwriter: David Hayter (X-Men) and Alex Tse
Director: Zack Snyder (300)
Actors: Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Kabluey), Malin Akerman (Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle), Billy Crudup (Big Fish), Jackie Earle Haley (Semi-Pro), Patrick Wilson (Hard Candy), and Matt Frewer


Movie Trailer: Cleopatra

The biggest, loudest, gaudiest and more decadent of all Hollywood films. Famous for being the movie that nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox, this epic of all epics that in it's longest released for is four hours long is an ode to excess. With the swooning Elizabeth Taylor and boozy Richard Burton at the front this movie hasn't dated well. In the end, this movie is a bloated spectacle of remarkable scale which means that it is a curiosity. You can try to watch it if you dare but chances are you'll never make it the full four hours.

Yeah, I said four hours.

Don't feel like suffering for that long? Try out the trailer below, it will give you a glimpse of the grandiose film without having to sit through Burton slurring his lines.





Screenwriter: Joseph L. Mankiewicz (The Honey Pot), Ranald MacDougall (Man on Fire) and Sidney Buchman (A Song to Remember)
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Sleuth), Rouben Mamoulian (Porgy & Bess) and Darryl F. Zanuck (The Longest Day)
Actors: Elizabeth Taylor (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), Richard Burton (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold), Rex Harrison (The Kingfisher), Martin Landau (Ed Wood), Roddy MacDowell (The Glass Harp), Hume Cronyn (Marvin's Room) and Carroll O'Connor (Kelly's Heroes)

The Carnival of Cinema: Episode 98: Blogdocks Saints

Welcome to the Carnival of Cinema. Each week we display the best film-related posts from around the world. Let's see what's out.

For the second week in a row we have a cornucopia of opinion.


Starting us off is Gregory McNamee from BRITANNICA BLOG. Over at the repository of all things smart, Mr. McNamee offers a post on political films you might want to catch this election season.

Wha? No Animal Farm?

For another political film post check out Sean Kelly's review of W. over at SEAN KELLY ON MOVIES. He also takes a shot at Passchendaele a film only released in Canada at this time.


If you weren't blessed with the brains to make up your own mind, I say borrow some other guy's noggin.

Remember those aliens from the pilot of Star Trek, the one's with the bulbous, pulsating brains? That's how I see Gracchi over at WESTMINSTER WISDOM. Want smart movie reviews written about movies you probably haven't seen? You've found the mother lode here. This week there are reviews of the old documenary Farewell Topsails and the regular ol' movie Life to the Scaffold.


From the real smart to the incredibly stupid (speaking to the movie, not the reviewer).

Donkeysosa of POINTLESS BANTER lists the five scenes that ruined Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It's a little like listing the five items that smell the worst at a New Jersey landfill.


Continuing with our excursion into the cinéma du stupide...


High School Musical 3: Senior Year is out there and people are paying money to see it. MANNY THE MOVIE GUY has seen it and has a video movie review of the threequel.


Moving along, we take a look back at a film starring Reese Witherspoon and her razor-sharp chin.

Is Just Like Heaven another hollow chick flick? I have no idea. Someone who has an idea is Keira of LOVE ROMANCE PASSION.


Missy thought Pathology missed. Putting aside Pathology, Anatomy is her flick d'jour. Is Anatomy worth the effort of sitting and staring at it? Go find out, click over to OBSERVATIONS FROM MISSY'S WINDOW.


Next, Greg Laden heaps praise on Bill Mahr's Religulous on GREG LADEN'S BLOG.


"WALL-E is a return to the original promise of animation as the driving force behind cinema." At least that's what HRAG VARTANIAN says


If you're getting a little tired of all of the reviews, Zee has some commentary - not a review - commentary on the new film Blindness. If you're intersted in reading her non-review commentary go over to her site ZEE SAYS=FILM ADDICT + TEEN LIBRARIAN.


To bring things to a close this week, Tamika Murray of PJS AND A MOVIE warms us up for the Halloween season by posting about two different witch-related films from the 1980's, Teen Witch and The Worst Witch.


UPDATE: We have a late entry this week. Jean Brunet was kind enough to send over his review of the new film Pride & Glory. Check out the review on his site SIZZLING POPCORN.


...and CUT!…and PRINT!


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Previous Carnival editions:
Carnival of Cinema: Episode 57
Carnival of Cinema: Episode 58
Carnival of Cinema: Episode 59
Carnival of Cinema: Episode 60

Monster (2003)

Should I see it?
No.

Monster

Before I dig into the movie itself, I had to acknowledge that Charlize Theron does give a notable performance as serial killer Aileen Wuornos. It's not that she uglied-up and gained weight for the role. Her performance itself is strikingly good. I've often complained that some performers can be too good looking to be taken seriously. Their good looks are distracting and set them too far apart from the average person that having them in a common role doesn't jive - for a good example of this check out Theron in North Country. She looks exactly like what she is in that role, a model dressed up like a plebe. In this role, she buries her attractiveness and makes much out of the opportunity her mask offers. I suspect the ability to distract from her looks was one of the compelling reasons for her to take the role in the first place. Alright, I'm off on a tangent - she does a great job, noted.

The film itself is a detestable thing. Aileen Wuornos, a dim-witted serial killer, gets a sympathetic biography complete with A-List starlets. The film follows Wuornos' exploits as she carries out her crimes and drags her lesbian lover Selby (Christina Ricci) down with her. Writer/Director Patty Jenkins clearly intends on humanizing the most famous female serial killer of all time. She goes out of her way to show Wuornos, not as a gutter level whore/vicious killer but a psychologically damaged result of male sexual abuse. Jenkins' Wuornos is first and foremost a victim, a victim who strikes out in the only way she knows how, by killing other people. Now, Jenkins isn't a moron, she knows that she can't just lay out Wuornos as a product of our society and then ignore the fact the woman brutally murdered a whole bunch of men. She tries to soften her point-of-view by either making her victims out to be brutish abusers or by quickly trying to establish their humanity before their snuffed out. One of Wuornos' victims desperately explains his disabled wife can't pleasure him and he holds up a picture of his wheelchair bound spouse. This may be a factual display, I don't know, but just the same Jenkin's inclusion of it in the film and how it is presented is as manipulative as having the man cuddle a sad eyed puppy just before he's killed.

The story overall is a bumpy ride. Jenkins establishes Wuornos as a victim rather effectively, but also too forcefully. Theron's performance glosses over much of Jenkins' over directing however. The film runs into trouble when Wuornos begins to commit murders and her relationship with Selby hits the skids. When the two eventually hit the road, the film has lost much of its potency and we're left with two completely unlikable misfits arguing. These two do not make for interesting theater. Selby is a thin character, a quiet sociopath who blends into the backdrops. Christina Ricci doesn't have much to work with and seems to flounder in the role. Her results are flat and amount to little more than whining her lines and sulking. When contrasted with Theron teetering on overacting, Ricci seems to disappear altogether.

Finally, I have to mention that this film has a hilarious bit of anti-Christan bile slapped right in the middle of the story. Selby's overbearing mother is, of course, a Christian - because as we all know by now all overbearing, spiteful people are of the faith. Jenkins' couldn't have made a bigger prop if she had the role played by a cardboard cutout of Pat Robertson. What's funny about this ludicrously written part is that Jenkins', not satisfied with sticking to the run-of-the-mill Christian bigotry, Jenkins actually has the woman belch out the n-word like she's cursed with racist Tourettes. She hurriedly combines Christianity with racism and then moves on as if to say "alright, we've seen enough of this, you get the point - her mother is a Christian (who are racist by the way) and that's what screwed her up. What's interesting is that the film shows the Christian mother in poorer light that the drug abusing, murdering prostitute. At least the conniving whore gets excuses made for her behavior.

Overall, this movie seeks to justify the actions of a serial killer. Defenders will say I'm wrong and point out that the movie doesn't support her decision to kill all those men. The point here is that Jenkins and company decided to make a movie explaining this woman, and they try to get us to sympathize with her miserable life. Aileen Wuornos had a rough life to be certain, but so have a lot of people, and some worse than her. To come down on the side of the murderer, any murderer is wrong. The only reason they did it is because they believe they could score some neo-feminists points about societal abuse. What's truly pathetic, I'd go as far as to say it's horrifying, is that these idiots don't see past their urge to "express themselves" to see that the woman they so eagerly display in a wheelchair to "humanize" her dead husband has to live now knowing they made a movie glorifying his murderer and they used her disability in part to do it.

Like I said, detestable.


Related Reviews:
Serial killer movies
Mr. Brooks (2007)
L'Empire des loups “Empire of the Wolves" (2005)


Other Critic's Reviews:
Film Jerk
Movie Gazette

Movie Watching Tip: You Don't Have to See Everything

Marketing for movies is everywhere. Go online, you see ads for movies. Turn on the TV and you're confronted by trailers. Turn on the nightly news and you hear about the latest box office scores. It's all a part of the marketing machines. This continual barrage selling the latest releases in the cinema and on DVD can blind some people to what's really important. You don't have to see every film that comes out. Even the critically acclaimed ones, you don't have to see them. Often people are compelled to consume what is put out there in a desperate search to be entertained or because it's just what they do. Most movies aren't worth seeing. Consider sometime how many hours you've wasted watching movies you knew were going to stink before you sat down. Life is short, as a heart patient I know, don't let marketers or perhaps a lazy moment lure you into wasting time on movies that stink.

M (1931)

Should I see it?
Yes.


Short Review:
This is one of the few times you’ll enjoy when a mob of Germans overreacts to a societal problem.

Fritz Lang's M

This classic German film from Fritz Lang (Metropolis) is truly timeless. The story tells of a hunt for a brutal pedophile played brilliantly by Peter Lorre. Most people know Lorre as the frog-eyed, sweaty guy from Casablanca or The Maltese Falcon. My Geddy Lee loving brother-in-law would know him from being portrayed in Looney Tunes (that’s Lorre being portrayed – not my Geddy Lee loving brother-in-law.) The police have difficulty finding the elusive murderer and begin to disrupt organized crime’s business across the city. Before too long, the gangs of underground criminals join the manhunt.

Lorre’s portrayal will stay with you. He gives us one the great screen villains of all time and cinema’s first serial killer. Even with his jerky, stylized performance, Lorre is still better than most modern actors in similar roles.

One of the most striking things about the film, given it is over seventy-five years old, is how the complaints about justice and the courts are the same as we are hearing from America today. It is a little unnerving when you realize that these complaints are coming from pre-Nazi German citizens, which makes one wonder about the where our country is headed today.

The film establishes the serial killer genre but it's not just about showcasing a creepy character. Lang focuses a majority of the film on the hunt for the elusive child killer. The combining forces of the police and the underground, along with the general citizenry is where Lang hangs his narrative. What is interesting is to take the brooding visuals of this film and consider them against the Nazi propaganda from the same era (Triumph of the Will was released just four years later). The Germany of this film is a secretive, oppressive shadow world where the darkness of the world is all-consuming. Lang seems to be showing the horrible, building evil of the country before the Nazi propagandists could sweep it all under the rug woven by Goebbels and company.

This is a great film not only because it is just simply a well-done suspenseful police drama but also because of it's historical significance, giving an artist's view of a place and time on the edge of destruction.


Related Reviews:

Other classics of note
Phantom of The Opera (1925)
Stagecoach (1939)


Other Critic's Reviews:

Roger Ebert
Classic Movie Guide



Shane (1953)

Should I see it?
Absolutely.

Shane

A tired gunfighter Shane (Alan Ladd) arrives on a farm and decides to settle down with a small family (Van Heflin and Jean Arthur). He quickly becomes embroiled in the conflict between the husband and a vindictive cattle rancher Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer). The story follows a predictable trajectory, Shane attempts to avoid the conflict but is forced to protect himself and the settlers as Ryker's crew steps up their attacks. The whole situation leads to violence, which in turn means Shane must move on. There's no surprise in the plot. What is strange is that Shane himself seems resigned to the unfurling of the plot, as if he knows what is coming. He seems like he's cursed with the situation as if this happens everywhere he goes. This sense of predestined conflict hangs over the whole story.

Director George Stevens makes this a strange film in many respects. The way the tale is told is simplistic but carries a deeper message of sacrifice. Shane is clearly a Christ figure, one of the most striking ones put to film. His dealing with evil on behalf of the settlers has an epic feel to it despite of it's small scale. The hero himself is atypical. Roger Ebert points out that he looks a "tad precious" and he is right. Alan Ladd is a leading man, but one made for romatic leads, not brawling. His casting is an inspired choice. Ladd's slight frame combined with his character's casual bravery shows the character's inner strength, a will that the snarling villains do not retain. Another element that is striking about this film is how it's filmed. The rich colors and picturesque sets looks like a dream, a memory of the child Joey, son of the farmers who idolizes the gunfighter. The dreamy vibe of the film gives it a unique flavor that makes it stand out against all other Westerns.

This is a simple film but it is also a great one. The surprising lack of gunplay considering the whole movie openly promises to lead up to a violent conclusion. Stevens wisely avoids making a spectacle of the violence and treats it with a respectful tone not normally seen in Westerns. He also relies heavy on the tension between characters to drive his story. While his story is very simple, his execution is layered and complicated. He shows brilliantly that clever plot twists don't make a great film, strong storytelling does.


Related Reviews:
Westerns
The Tin Star (1957)
The Shootist (1976)


Other Critic's Reviews:
Decent Films Guide
Roger Ebert

Casablanca (1943)

Should I see it?
Yes, today. Drop what you're doing and see it now.

Casablanca

What are you still doing here? I'm serious, go watch it.

This is one of the few films that will clearly exist for generations to come. It will be held as an example of cinema long after cinema, as we know it, has disappeared. It is not only a near perfect film, it is also one of the most approachable movies ever made. It offers such a wide banquet of emotion and plot elements that everyone should be able to find something they will appreciate about the film.

Reciting the plot seems a little redundant, it's feels a little like summarizing Hamlet, you should already know the story. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is a self-centered American expatriate who runs the successful Rick's Cafe under the shadow of Nazi occupation. Rick's former lover, the beautiful Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), arrives with her resistance leader husband Victor Laslow (Paul Henreid), they're looking for two papers of transit so they can escape capture. Closing in on the couple is Captain Renault (Claude Rains), a puppet of the Nazi government. Rick and Ilsa are forced to confront their lingering feelings and troubled past as the authorities close in.

There are few films that even compete with this masterwork. The entire cast displays one of the best collection of performances available on film. Even supporting cast members offers a number of memorable perfermances. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman are absolutely enthralling in the leads as the conflicted lovers Rick and Ilsa. This is arguably the strongest example of on screen chemistry ever put to film. Put their chemistry together with one of the tightest, most quotable scripts ever written (penned by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch), this film is one of the rare works that everyone should experience. Life is short, this is one of the pleasures of this Earth you should endulge in at least once.


Related Reviews:
Humphrey Bogart movies
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
High Sierra (1941)


Other Critic's Reviews:
Celluloid Heroes
Roger Ebert

Movie Recommendations #9: Sci-Fi Movies

Looking for a good sci-fi flick that doesn't involve superheroes or monstrous, acid bleeding aliens? Here's three picks I think you should consider.


The Stalker (1979)

Andrei Tarkovsky's classic science fiction film is a patient, atmospheric film about three men who journey to a forbidden, remote place where an mystical presence known as "The Room". This is in an abandoned area call "The Zone" where all dreams come true. The men, led by one called "Stalker" carefully cross through the Zone.

The plot doesn't sound like much but this is a rich film. Please note, it is very slow moving, Tarkovsky's eye hangs on to scenes and settings far longer than other directors would dare. His apparent lingering shots are deceptive, at first they may seem intrusive and unnecessary but his shots and editing make this a intimate movie, allowing us to catch the details and feel of his scenes. This is a unique film, I can't say I have seen anything else like it. But again, be warned, this is not for everyone, you have to be able to sit for long stretches to make it through the whole thing.


Highlander (1986)

Yes, it hasn't dated well and good chunks of the production are silly and unfortunate. The central premise, there's a breed of immortals living among us who have been battling with each other for generations in order for there to only be one left who will take on some kind of savior role, is interesting. The logical flaws in the premise are well avoided and director Russell Mulcahy (Resident Evil: Extinction) smartly depends on the flashy sword fighting and historic settings to disguise the idiocy of his plot.

While the film as a whole is a hollow but enjoyable mess, but the film's main flaw, lead actor Christopher Lambert is just awful. His lifeless performance drags his parts of the production down and he has the elocution of Keith Richards with a mouthful of peanut butter. It's always a little hard to struggle with a movie where it's hard to understand the lead, then again, I'm a little silly that way. Why would I recommend a movie where there's serious logic issues and the lead sounds like he's speaking his own made up language? As a whole, and taken on its own terms, this is still a fun, albeit stupid flick. The areas where it fails are made up for in personality and simple action. Not much of a recommendation I know, but a recommendation it is.


Primer (2004)

Former math student/engineer Shane Carruth put together this award winning film on a $7,000.00. Carruth has made one of the most interesting sci-fi films in a decade. Unfortunately, he has also made one of the most confusing as well. This time-travel movie gives us non-geeks a look into what these misfits do when no one is watching. On one level it is incredibly interesting watching these guys perform their marvelous acts of geekery. On the other, I had no idea what the heck they were saying the whole time.

There is much to recommend this movie, it is smartly laid out and darn interesting. It is slow and some audiences who want flash and bang in their movies may balk at the lazy pace.

The Jacket (2005)

Should I see it?
No.


Short Review:
This is a time-travel movie. After watching it, I wanted to travel back in time to when I decided to rent it and kick myself in the shins.

The Jacket

Being upset that this movie isn’t any good is like being upset after not winning the lottery. The odds were rather low from the onset.

All one needs to do is take a gander at the cast list: Adrian Brody (The Pianist, Summer of Sam, The Thin Red Line,) Jennifer Jason Leigh (In The Cut, eXistenZ, The Anniversary Party) and Minnesota native Kelly Lynch (Mr. Magoo, Joe Somebody, Virtousity.) Some actors seem compelled to align themselves with haughty, heady films that are so consumed with being important they wind up being meaningless. These three cover dozens of bad movies like it was specially their job to make these yawn fests.

Brody and Leigh are given respect in the industry as being great “independent” actors. Wha? These two play themselves in every role they touch. There’s no great acting going on here. Brody does his doe eyed, quiet guy thing and Leigh does her “I’m smart but horribly messed up” thing no matter the role. As actors they are neither compelling nor welcoming. Given their track records you’d think they’d have to prove their worth. As it is, after a while actors get a kind of tenure. It doesn’t matter how shoddy and unsuccessful their body of work actually is, it is imaginary aura of importance that gets them by. In my opinion, if you have made five empirically horrible movies, you should have to resign from making them altogether.

To actually talk about this movie directly, it is a boring mess. It has some interesting visual elements but so does my computer’s screen saver. It doesn’t mean I want to spend a hundred minutes staring at it? The storyline about a man who through isolation therapy he receives in a asylum sees his own death in a few days time, is surprisingly without tension or reason. There's some efforts to be creepy but these elements are so obtuse they distract from the floundering dialog and thin characters. Across the board, this movie wants to be more than what it is, a haphazard psychological thriller with no thrills.

I’m sure you haven’t even heard of this movie and you’re best off keeping it that way. If you’ve condemned yourself to seeing this waste of time take efforts to not pay full price, you’d only be hurting yourself.


Related Reviews:
Adrien Brody movies
King Kong (2005)
Hollywoodland (2006)


Other Critic's Reviews:
PopMatters
Chocking on Popcorn



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