Saturday, July 25, 2009
Director David Yates [who joined the series with Film #5] continues his streak of adapting J.K. Rowling's wildly popular Harry Potter series with the sixth (and penultimate, taking Deathly Hallows as one entity, though it's being split in two for 2010-11) entry in the franchise. Here, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his maturing buds Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint & Emma Watson) find themselves embroiled once more in the conflict between the wizarding world and its mortal enemy, Lord Voldemort (an unseen Ralph Fiennes, who appears elsewhere in the series). New potions master Horace Slughorn (an always-effervescent Jim Broadbent) takes up a post at Hogwarts as suspicions loom about shifty Professor Snape (Alan Rickman, effortlessly ominous). But Harry's main focus is taken up by Headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and his quest to learn Voldemort's past in order to finally defeat him.
I won't bother with comparisons to the book - other online commentators have nobly taken up that gauntlet (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Potter_and_the_Half-Blood_Prince_(film)#Differences_from_the_book for a fairly comprehensive overview) - mostly because the book was so long ago I can recall only the most significant plot details. Suffice it to say that Yates's adaptation seems to stand on its own as a creative work, indebted to the source material but not slavishly so. Instead, the globe-like burden of carrying the film rests on the Atlas-shoulders of the cast, particularly our three young'uns, who all do an able job of growing into the roles and comfortably becoming the characters. (Watch out for typecasting, kids.) Radcliffe is fine as the lead, oscillating comfortably between dramatic moodiness and comic levity. Grint is a sight as the goofy one of the bunch, looking lovelorn like nobody's business, and Watson might as well be a young Keira Knightley (props to my grandmother for spotting that one) for all the talent she's got. Perhaps the standout in the youth cast - already getting plenty of media attention - is Tom Felton, who as Draco Malfoy is charged with converting his character from a prototypical schoolyard bully into a real potential menace with more demons than Dementors hiding in his closet. He does more brooding in an hour than Christian Bale does on a good day, and he does it well, keeping a terrific air of mystery surrounding his character (for the novel's novices, that is). The adult cast isn't slouching, either; Broadbent is a fantastic pick for favoritism-prone Slughorn, Rickman is glorious as always, and Gambon continues to create his own weighty Dumbledore as distinct from the late Richard Harris's more aloof and endearing one. (It's a shame, though, that the filmmakers didn't choose Peter O'Toole as Harris's replacement.)
That said, the film is, simply put, a little long. At 2.5+ hours, the film can afford to take its time with the mythology surrounding a Horcrux or the backstories of characters like Voldemort or the mysterious "Half-Blood Prince" (whose potions book falls into Harry's hands), but the movie also gets bogged down in a lot of angsty teenage romance, humorously awkward but somewhat gregarious in its omnipresence. It's as if we want to grab the characters by the school-spirit scarves and give them a good shaking until they finally agree to snog [British for "kiss"] the lad or lass of their fancy. (Oh, yes, there's a great deal of snogging and preparing to snog.) Everyone does a fine job eliciting laughs with the awkward situations of teenage adulation - particularly Grint, whose sloppy grin only gets more uneven when he's duped into taking a potent love potion - but there is such a thing as "too much of a good thing."
But the film does fine work with the unspoken. Yates is a master of my favorite cinematic technique: visual language - that is, letting the film speak for itself without clumsy narration or heavyhanded dialogue addressing what's being depicted. Watch carefully as Yates directs Felton into the Room of Requirement and toward a mysterious cabinet; take note of how Yates uses cuts between Felton's expression and the apples and birds he puts into the cabinet, and be sure to pay attention when Yates cuts away from Hogwarts and into a shop in Diagon [or is it Knockturn? I myself can't keep all the mythology straight.] Alley. Without saying a word, the film masterfully tells us everything we need to know. I for one am glad Yates is staying on to finish out the franchise with a two-part adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, since he's proven here that he can handle weighty source material while still churning out a film that's fun for newcomers.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is rated "PG for scary images, some violence, language and mild sensuality." Spells and their occasionally bloody after-effects, as well as a few creepy creatures and a looming sense of peril at every turn (including one spectacular jump moment near the film's climax), could be objectionable as far as "scary images [and] some violence" are concerned. The snogging in this film ("mild sensuality") isn't much to write home about, though it dominates a lot of the main characters' focus.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
If there's one thing comics fans can agree on, it's that Moore's 1985-6 classic (illustrated lovingly by Dave Gibbons) is almost gospel as far as funny books are concerned. If there's a second thing we (because I'm one of you) can all agree on, it's that the film adaptation - from the "visionary" director of 3oo (itself a filmed version of Frank Miller's Spartan text) is highly divisive; you love it, or you hate it, but there's no middle ground. Of all the people I know who saw the film and read the book, I'm the only one who liked it. (Uninitiated folk who hadn't read the book, like my father, liked the film, too.) With the director's cut released on DVD now, I'm pleased to say that I like Watchmen a little bit more now.
For those who haven't read Moore's seminal book (and, really, you should), Watchmen takes place in a dystopian 1985 where Nixon is still president, where America won the Vietnam War, and where superheroes existed but have been forced to retire. The film begins with the murder of one of those retired masked avengers, The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, pitch-perfect at laughing in the face of life's absurd joke). Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley, who I'd like to see get an Oscar nod for his spectacular performance), the last vigilante, believes there's a conspiracy afoot and tries to warn Night Owl (Patrick Wilson), Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman), and Dr. Manhattan (a CGI'd Billy Crudup, who keeps his Mastercard voice), who initially doubt his theory. An assassination attempt on Adrian "Ozymandias" Veidt (Matthew Goode) and worsening tensions at home and in the heating-up Cold War quickly change the heroes' perspectives, forcing some out of retirement and to a cataclysmic, now-classic climax.
It's impossible to talk about the film as if the director's cut didn't exist, because this is the Watchmen you should see. Though it runs three hours long, the director's cut patches up the flaws of the theatrical release - wooden acting, poor pacing, and a streamlined yet loosey-goosily-loyal treatment of the source material - even if it doesn't restore Moore's fishy ending (it's a pun, not a knock on the man from Northampton). Akerman didn't strike me as particularly solid in the theatrical cut, but she's at worst serviceable and at best complex in the new version. Crudup brings plenty of emotional depth to the seemingly withdrawn Manhattan, Wilson is his standard schleppy self (a perfect fit for Dan Dreiberg, the ultimate schmuck), and Goode - though he's not given much in the film to work with - does a more than decent job of wrestling with his great powers and his greater responsibility to the planet.
The stand-out in the cast - Morgan aside - is Haley, who is so far 2009's Heath Ledger as far as outstanding performances go. Haley completely becomes Rorschach, inhabiting everything from his posture to his gravelly voiceover - and, after Adaptation., anyone who can make me enjoy narration and isn't named Morgan Freeman is doing a lot of heavy lifting. (Of course, to remove the iconic narration from the source material would here be criminal, especially when it contains such fanboy-giddy lines like, "The city screams like an abbatoir full of retarded children.") Haley does a great job with the mask on, but once the inkblot face is removed he unleashes a range of facial twitches and verbal tics that will probably get snubbed by the snooty Academy.
The director's cut is a more loyal adaptation of Moore's work (again, ending notwithstanding), reintegrating a lot of the book's smaller moments and taking the time to build an entirely new world. Extended scenes with Nixon (though the actor portraying Tricky Dick isn't as talented as Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon) as well as amped-up flashbacks (especially Akerman's) and extended conversations (as with Dr. Malcolm Long) create the sense that this three hour epic is just that - a huge-in-scope undertaking. What's most welcome in the 24 new minutes of footage is some more material with Stephen McHattie's Hollis "Nite Owl I" Mason, whose life - and death - are finally given the sadly nostalgic treatment the book afforded him; with this comes more Carla Gugino, too, as Silk Spectre's fame-crazed dramatic stage mom, who is less compelling and perhaps a bit too showy. At three hours, the film can now relax and breathe for a second (the theatrical cut suffered a bit from over-exposition - a necessary evil with such weighty material - while the original climax seemed rushed and frenetic), giving fanboys and newcomers alike the chance to really watch the Watchmen.
And by the end, you'll forget all about that dang squid, anyway.
Watchmen is rated "R for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language." The director's cut is slightly grittier, but both edits feature gory close-ups of extreme violence, including vaporizations of people, street fights, and the hacking and sawing of several gory body parts. While Dr. Manhattan is almost exclusively naked (and blue - we see everything), other sexual content includes one sex scene with nudity and one abortive one without, as well as discussion of adultery, rape (an attempted rape is shown), erectile dysfunction (treated humorously), and sex as placation. Language consists of several F-bombs tossed around lightly.
Note: the director's cut includes neither Tales of the Black Freighter nor Under the Hood. These are still available separately, though a flyer inside the DVD case teases of an "Ultimate Collector's Edition" 5-disc set coming in December, which will contain both side-features. For my money, though, the film is stronger with these as separate bonus features than as part of the film proper, and so I recommend eschewing the 5-disc splurge set and sticking with two separate discs.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
On my way to reviewing all the Pixar films, a head cold and a lack of enthusiasm led me to skip over A Bug's Life (coming soon, I promise) and hop right on over to Toy Story 2, which I fondly remembered as a fantastic film but hadn't seen since its theatrical release. Fortunately, the film is still as shiny as Buzz Lightyear's laser beam and genuinely touching, to boot.
Where the first film dealt with the basic rules of the Toy Story world (toys animating when their owners aren't looking) and Buzz Lightyear's identity crisis, the second film puts the dramatic onus on Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks), who finds out he's a rare collectible toy with an exhibit in Tokyo just waiting for his presence. Buzz (Tim Allen, delightfully bombastic as ever) leads the rest of the toys on a rescue mission to save Woody from the thieving clutches of collector Al (a wonderfully skeevy Wayne "Newman" Knight) before it's too late.
The script here is positively brilliant, lifting visual cues and plot points from the first Toy Story and turning them on their respective heads. If Buzz did something in Toy Story, Woody does it in Toy Story 2. Now if that sounds like lazy writing, it very well could have been were it not for the clever and fun way in which the modestly familiar plot is delivered. In addition to revisiting territory covered in Toy Story, Toy Story 2 adds a great deal to the franchise's mythology, including a supporting cast for Woody - featuring Joan Cusack as yodeling cowgirl Jessie and an adorably Harpo Marxist trusty steed named Bullseye - as well as the introduction of the Evil Emperor Zurg, around whom are centered some of my favorite scenes of the film. (The film's opener, pittting Buzz against Zurg in the latter's stronghold, is spectacular but takes a backseat to Zurg's superb revelation: "No, Buzz, I am your father!")With all of the same voice cast returning from the first film, there's little to cover that hasn't already been said in my previous review. Hanks and Allen are still fine choices (Allen still coming out on top, especially when drawing subtle distinctions between Buzz and Utility Belt Buzz), and the supporting cast - especially Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head and Wallace Shawn as Rex - shines. I've praised Knight, and Cusack's all right (though Jessie tugs at every heartstring when Sarah McLachlan sings "When Somebody Loved Me," a moving piece about being forgotten by someone who loved you), but Kelsey Grammer and his gravitas-laden voice is solid as Stinky Pete the Prospector. And let's not forget a charming cameo by Robert Goulet, who sings "You've Got a Friend in Me."
But what makes the film positively glitter is the fact that the filmmakers love making movies - and it shows. Between loving allusions (Star Wars sounds pepper the effects library) and downright good filmmaking, the whole movie carries with it an atmosphere of self-enjoyment and nostalgic appreciation for "the good ole days." That, I suppose, is what makes the film most abundantly rewatchable - if you want to remember the good ole days, the best way to do that is with a film that does exactly that.
Ride like the wind, Bullseye! On to Toy Story 3 with no reservations!
Toy Story 2 is still rated G.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Right off the bat this movie looks like a clunker. For all intents and purposes, it seems to be a painful combination between John Tucker Must Die and I Know What You Did Last Summer. It's also apparently a remake, which adds mega points to the creativity factor. There's some seriously inspired casting in this film - Rumer Willis is pretty much my favorite actress ever. And if anyone epitomizes versatility in Hollywood today, it's Audrina Patridge. Who could forget her stellar turns as "Herself," "Herself," and "Herself/Host"? Poor Carrie Fisher. Her career really seems to have dried up in the wake of that one episode of 30 Rock.
Can we take a moment to acknowledge the downright clumsy and improbable nature of the plot? No, I'm not talking about the killer being resurrected from the grave; that I can handle. No, I'm talking about the train of thought running through the punk'd young man's head: "I think my girlfriend might only be pretending to be dead. I'd better check by ramming this tire iron right through her midsection." I was howling with glee when that happened in the theater, and it had nothing to do with the fact that Audrina wasn't going to be in the trailer anymore. I love when movies are predicated on an entirely ludicrous scenario like this one.
Sorority Row looks like a real clunker, without any redeeming value like all the rest of the drudge that studios slather on between Blockbuster Season and Oscar Season. September 11, 2009: I think I'll be pledging to some other movie.
The plotline of toy rivalry competing for the affections of owner Andy is the stuff of the animated Hollywood bible by this point, but for those of you just tuning in: Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks) is Andy's favorite toy... until birthday gift Buzz Lightyear of Star Command (Tim Allen) upsets the delicate balance in the playroom. When a plan to recoup Andy's affections goes awry, Woodyd finds himself and Buzz fighting for their toy lives - literally, if vicious neighbor Sid has anything to say about it.
The visuals aren't as polished as later Pixar ventures (see WALL-E if you want photorealism), but the fanciful nature of the animation helps give Toy Story that "toys come alive" feel that warms our hearts. What does an even better job at bringing the film to life is a stellar voice cast that perfectly matches each character's appearance and personality. American favorite Tom Hanks is a knockout as Woody, capturing all of the sheriff's emotions (running the gamut from beloved leader to childhood favorite to dawning jealousy) and good-ole-boy charm without missing a beat. And, though I've become a huge Don Rickles fan (he voices Mr. Potato Head) in the intervening years since '95, the real star in the voice cast is Tim Allen, who comfortably dons Buzz Lightyear like a spacesuit and takes risks by flirting with an overly bombastic performance in order to fully capture the mildly delusional toy's bravado.
Both Billy Crystal (turning down the part of Buzz, a move he'd later regret and atone for by voicing Mike in Monsters, Inc.) and Mattel (who withheld Barbie from the film, expecting a flop) didn't think Pixar could dream the impossible dream of a computer-animated film, instead believing the digital wunderkinds to be tilting at windmills. But what makes the film a first-rate success isn't just the pretty pictures and soothing sounds (including a downright touching soundtrack from Randy Newman). It's the story, a solid piece of writing that speaks to every generation who beholds it (well, except for Andy Rooney, I'd bet). There's enough in here for kids and adults to appreciate, and they'd better appreciate it because Toy Story is better crafted than a lot of other pictures out there today. The script is expansive, creating a new world with new rules (especially appertaining to when toys can and cannot animate themselves) in a brilliantly digestible manner. And it's touching, too, tugging at those heartstrings right before reawakening the kid you adults thought you'd put away with the rest of the bricabrac in your toybox.
Food for thought: where's Andy's father?
Toy Story, not surprisingly, is rated G, though a few younger viewers might be perturbed by discussion of toy homicide, particularly within Sid's yard. Sid is one of the creepiest characters ever animated, and his army of Frankensteinian toys may give the faint at heart the willies.
You know it's a good trailer when you get chills running up your arm even though there's barely anything substantive on the screen.
Hi, folks. The trailer we're looking at today is from a sequel that everyone's been waiting around for: Toy Story 3. It's easy to take for granted the significance of the Toy Story franchise and the Pixar geniuses behind it, but it's also saying something extremely important to note that this trailer feels like a breath of fresh air amid trailers for remakes and bad horror pictures. And in less than two minutes, it's even more noteworthy that nothing happens in this trailer.
That's the genius of this trailer. All we have to do is hear the bouncing melody of Randy Newman's new classic "You've Got A Friend in Me" and see the characters file past the screen with their voices ringing nostalgia in our ears (good to hear that most of the cast is back!), and most of us have already preordered our tickets for Toy Story 3. The folks at Pixar have done it again.
Though there's no plot detail here, what I've managed to unearth is that the film seems to be about Andy growing up and leaving Woody and Buzz behind. With all the cast back in tow, Michael Keaton joins on as Ken (yes, that Ken), and the film is making its big-screen debut in Disney Digital 3-D (trust me, that's worth the extra price of admission) on June 18, 2010.
[In preparation, stay tuned for a tour de review through the Pixar catalogue. Their two most recent ventures, WALL-E and Up, are already posted, so we'll be starting at the beginning, with 1995's Toy Story.]
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Saturday, July 11, 2009
After Juno, I'll take a look at pretty much anything Diablo Cody does; as a writer, it's nice to see one of the group making it big, especially when the script is pretty clever. And I'll admit that I'm a big fan of Amanda Seyfried, so much so that I sat through the first season of Veronica Mars and even uncomplainingly rented Mamma Mia! Yeah, that's dedication. (Loved you in Mean Girls, Amanda.)
I put both of the trailers up here not because two of the prettiest girls in Hollywood - haven't forgotten you, Meg, how could I? - appear. It's because of the quiet riot behind the scenes which led to a red-band trailer after a few folks thought the official studio trailer didn't do the film justice. It's also because this is such a quirky concept that two trailers really capture the enormity of the quirk.
Looks like this is a fairly straightforward concept. "Jennifer is evil. I mean, really evil." Okay, folks, I'll bite. (Ooh, and I wasn't even going for the pun!) I'm expecting a lot of chick fights from this one, as well as cannibalism, possession, and maybe even lesbians? I feel like The Blues Brothers - this mall's got everything, even another eclectic Juno-esque soundtrack.
Done correctly, Jennifer's Body could be this generation's Evil Dead - campy horror with enough comedy and clever scripting to shake a chainsaw at. Done incorrectly, we could be looking at another horror clunker, the kind we've all gotten to know too well. Either way, I'm willing to give this one a shot. Who knows? This could do for Megan Fox what The Wrestler did for Mickey Rourke.
Jennifer's Body slams into theaters on September 18. Don't talk with your mouth full. (In fact, don't talk at all in theaters. I hate that.)
It took me all of a week to devour the 550+ pages of Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34, a top-notch work of nonfiction by Bryan Burroughs. The book focuses on a curious time in American history, when Bonnie & Clyde, the Barkers, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and Alvin Karpis were headlining the criminal culture - all at the same time. (Think about that: all these "yeggs" running around in the same two years.) At that moment in history, J. Edgar Hoover proposed converting the Bureau of Investigation into a more powerful organization, which would come to be known as the FBI.
The movie limits its scope somewhat, focusing primarily on the escapades of Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and the FBI's pursuit, led by Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) and bureaucratic brass Hoover (Billy "Dr. Manhattan" Crudup). Following Dillinger from an early prison break through his romance with Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard) and up to the fateful night at the Biograph Theater. Mann's film is a curious mix of docudrama, gangster/G-man combat, and ruminations on mythologized figures - never quite sure what it wants to be.
The Burroughs book was exactly the same, its principal ambition to set the record straight and postmodernly demythologize the criminal figures dominating our cultural imagination. Yet Burroughs has nearly 600 pages to meander through the story. Mann's got two hours, which he uses to hit the high notes of the Dillinger-Purvis battle though the movie suffers from some heavy Hollywood romanticization. I don't want to be one of those "The book was much better than the movie" people (thank you, Jim Gaffigan, for identifying those irksome folks), and I'd hate to be the kind of guy who nitpicks and condemns the movie for failing to depict verbatim the source material on the screen. Remember, I'm the guy who was okay with the new Watchmen ending (Moore's original ending being something of a grail among literature). But whether you bring it into the theater with you or come out looking for it, make sure you get your mitts on a copy of the source material.
The good news is that Depp and Bale are sterling as ever, though Bale turns it down a notch and wisely allows the picture to be Depp/Dillinger's. Depp is as good as he's ever been, albeit somewhat restrained, with the perfect balance of charisma and anxiety. Crudup simmers as Hoover, suggesting with furrowed brow and impatient staccato delivery the depth of his desire (explored at length in the book) to be a powerful law agency. And Cotillard is drop dead gorgeous (something the real-life Frechette couldn't exactly claim), though a little empty in key points with her native accent slipping through at distracting moments; we can see clearly, though, what Dillinger sees in her - the chemistry between the two is touching, charming, and completely believable.
The film tries to tell all of these stories in a way that only an epic could. This is a very good movie, but like Brokeback Mountain it could have been great. Mann's direction is fine, especially in shoot-outs and heists, but the screenplay (as aforementioned) is a little confused (and, I speculate, could be confusing for novices of G-man lore). There's just something a little bit off besides the sour historical notes. It just doesn't break a whole lot of new ground; it's like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford mixed with The FBI Story. The documentary feel of the film does exactly what it sets out to do, albeit with a little unnecessary Hollywood glitter sprinkled on. With another half hour to tell the stories more fully, Public Enemies could have been great.
As it stands, it's very good. (Keep reading for a fuller analysis, for those interested, of diversions from fact.)
Public Enemies, predictably, is rated "R for gangster violence and some language." The violence pervades the movie, with blood and guts following almost every gunshot in the film. Language didn't seem too bad to me, but maybe I'm saltier than I'd like to admit.
As for the historical issue, the film's principal "sin" is the romanticization of the Dillinger/Frechette... well, romance. Burroughs doesn't provide the sort of Hollywood "enduring love, never forgotten" subplot the film does, suggesting instead that Dillinger really did eventually let Frechette go. The film also curiously puts the closing act of Purvis's FBI career - the death of Pretty Boy Floyd - in the first reel of the film. Doubtless this is to gussy up Purvis's somewhat lackluster talents as an investigator; the book documents quite a few flubs on Purvis's part while the movie paints him as a more able G-man than perhaps he deserves credit. Like the film, Purvis was good - perhaps very good - but not great. The film also embellishes a Frank Nitti connection with Dillinger's eventual death.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
If there's one thing Sacha Baron Cohen does really well, it's create a character so involved, complex, and immersive that no one seems to know he's acting. Ali G and Borat are perhaps the Superman and Batman, which makes Bruno the Wonder Woman of his "big three" characters.
Bruno would like it that way. He's probably got the wonder-corset in his closet.
Cohen's mock-docs are as polarizing as Michael Bay movies - you love them or you revile them. I've been a fan since I discovered Da Ali G Show on HBO late one night, though Bruno was never really one of my favorites. The character's very esoteric, pushing lines in a way that Borat only approached; Borat never really interviewed the naive Middle Easterners he lampooned, as Bruno does with the bigwigs of the fashion industry. What's spectacular about these films isn't just the situations Cohen gets himself into and how quick on his feet he is in reacting to them, but we love seeing the reactions of people he encounters. There's plenty of this in the trailer, with Ron Paul, a (mostly) pixellated hookup, and angry audience members who are less than amused by Bruno's antics.
I like how this trailer does a similar thing to what Jackie Brown's trailers did - feature praise for the previous film (Borat, Pulp Fiction) while turning the self-applause on its head by giving us something different than what we might expect. What's for dang sure is that this one looks just as funny as Borat, redeeming in some ways the character of Bruno for me.
And I love the casual nature with which Bruno replies, "Zat is such a Samantha thing to say."
Bruno ist bin in theaters July 10.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
There are moments when I sit on my throne and say, "Cinema King, it's time to find a Cinema Queen. Someone to enjoy these movies with." Then I see trailers for films like The Ugly Truth and I realize just why it's good to be single. Remember what I said on June 30 about choosing my reviewing materials? The Ugly Truth is exactly the kind of movie I was referring to when I mentioned movies I know I won't like.
In short, I think the guy at 0:22 said it best when he said, "Oh, dear God."
What's wrong with Gerard Butler? First P.S. I Love You and now this? Isn't this the guy who kicked someone into a bottomless pit while shouting 2007's biggest catchphrase? Now he's playing second fiddle to that talentless blonde so-and-so who trashed the writers who she all but conceded helped her win her Grey's Anatomy trophy? (I'll admit that, as a writer, I'm still smarting over her self-important proclamation that the writers of her doctor drama didn't give her good material.) There's a certain charm that Butler has as the miogynistic TV star here, but it's obfuscated by Heigl's irritating presence.
And is there any question in anyone's mind how this movie's going to end? I've seen a sum total of two edited minutes of this film, and I'm already qualified to give a play-by-play that would make John Madden green with envy. The word "insipid" comes to mind. "Predictable," too. Thank God I'm single.
Men in committed relationships will start making excuses on July 24 when The Ugly Truth plops into theaters.
Monday, July 6, 2009
Other than turning over the reins of the highly successful Batman franchise to the guy who does these Lego trailers (he's called Keshen8 over on YouTube), there's a lot of ways to do another Batman film that could possibly live up to the mantle of The Dark Knight. Since there are literally scads of ideas floating around on the Internet - and since I'm one of the most devout disciples of the Caped Crusader in my circle of amigos - I thought I'd chip in my two cents. Call me, Christopher Nolan; we'll chat.
Shadow of the Bat
The third film would focus on the theme of loneliness. Here we'd take inspiration from Loeb's Dark Victory (as beautifully illustrated by Tim Sale) and from his Hush storyline (with Jim Lee's astounding artwork). The film would explore how Batman and Commissioner Gordon have become lonely without being able to depend on each other. Introduce a slimy deputy of the mayor who's on hand at the MCU to ensure that Gordon doesn't collaborate with Batman. Gordon's loneliness at work is compounded when his wife leaves him (something that happens in the comics), so we may even want to make this mayoral spy Sarah Essen, Gordon's eventual second wife.
The film's major contribution to the franchise would be the introduction of Robin, who needn't be as young as Loeb/Sale depict him but who would be ideally suited to represent and eventually cure Batman's loneliness. Dark Victory proved, despite Nolan's repeated avowals that Robin has no place in his franchise, that The Boy Wonder can and does work with a dark detective like Batman. We'd stick to Robin's main origin as Dick Grayson, with the acrobats but remove the Schumacher influence of placing Two-Face at the crime. Make it a last grab from the mob and Boss Zucco to keep Gotham before the freaks take over.
Enter the freaks - Catwoman and The Mad Hatter. We'll use Catwoman as Hush depicted her - a sensual love interest for Batman, who he mulls trusting since she's an anti-hero more than an outright villain. In Hush, Bruce even reveals his identity to Catwoman, but we don't need to go that far. The point of Catwoman being in the film would be to show that Batman needs someone he can trust - beyond just Alfred and Lucius, who have to be in the movie because I love Michael Caine & Morgan Freeman.
With The Mad Hatter, we'll depict him as a societal loner, a pedophile with an Alice complex who is the dark mirror of Batman's loneliness, muttering lines from the Lewis Carroll works (he thinks, for example, that Batman is the Jabberwock). At some point, The Mad Hatter kidnaps Gordon's daughter - or maybe the mayor's - thinking she's Alice, and the good guys have to turn to Batman, knowing that he's the hero they deserve. Using the child's mind that Robin has, Batman tracks The Mad Hatter down and apprehends him, reconciling himself with the city.
At the end of the film, a la the ending of Hush, Catwoman says something that happens to be a line from Alice - "Oh my claws and whiskers!" Batman, unsure that he can trust her, pushes her away, leaving her free to be a villain or ambiguous love interest in a future film. Robin joins Batman's team, and the Dynamic Duo is born.
Untitled Fourth Batman Project
I haven't come up with a name for my proposed fourth Batman film, mostly because The Dynamic Duo is too cartoonish, but I kind of like Streets of Gotham even though it suggests this is more about cops than the caped crusaders.
All I have on this one right now is Brittany Murphy for Harley Quinn. If she frees her Mistah J, he can don the Red Hood outfit and fall into a vat of acid, emerging as a different actor (Daniel Day-Lewis can be a renegade psycho). I'd love to see Johnny Depp as The Riddler, especially if he takes a cue from his Hush incarnation. The Riddler could kill Mr. Reese, because Batman's identity is a great riddle and only The Riddler deserves to know the answer - on his own. Or, we could utilize Paul Dini's characterization of The Riddler as a pop private investigator. Throw in Philip Seymour Hoffman as The Penguin - he must own a nightclub and not actually be a penguin like Danny DeVito's interpretation - and/or Ben Kingsley as Mr. Freeze.
Call me, Christopher Nolan; we'll chat.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
The DC Universe line of animated pictures continues to hit the high notes, at least as far as ambition is concerned. First they decided to adapt the storyline that killed Superman, then they sought for a tie-in with The Dark Knight, then they attempted to conquer a Wonder Woman origin, all with a Darwyn Cooke adaptation somewhere in between. Now, one of the undisputed masters of comicdom (in my humble opinion) is getting his storyarc from the comic book Superman/Batman adapted for this line of sterling animated pictures.
No, folks, the Jeph Loeb-penned tale has nothing to do with the similarly-titled Dillinger/Purvis biopic starring Johnny Depp and Christian "Batman" Bale. Rather, this is a team-up story about Batman and Superman. The graphic novel, also titled Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, takes place in the closing days of Lex Luthor's first term as U.S. President. When scientists spot a Kryptonite meteor hurtling toward Earth, Luthor declares the meteor is hunting Superman, blames the big blue boy scout, and puts out a bounty - answered by supervillains and superheroes alike. Superman and Batman team up for a few good slugfests as well as a final showdown with Luthor that sets the stages for the Infinite Crisis storyline.
The animation here looks like a continuation of the Timm-verse style of animation with an interesting mix of Ed McGuinness (the illustrator on the Public Enemies issues) thrown in for source fidelity. It seems, based on their track record, that the DCU line will stay pretty faithful to the source material, since a lot of characters (Silver Banshee and Katana, for example) and concepts (the Superman/Batman flying robot) show up in this brief trailer. I'm certain not everything will stay in the story - the subplot about Metallo potentially being the murderer of Thomas and Martha Wayne, admittedly one of Loeb's missteps in the story which he whitewashes by the end - but I'd certainly hope the creators of the DCU adaptation stay true to the surprising revelation about the Kryptonite meteor, revealed in Volume 2 of Loeb's run on Superman/Batman (sequel?). [Spoilers: the meteor is actually a spaceship, carrying Kal-El's cousin Kara Zor-El - Supergirl - to Earth from Krypton!]
I'm sure I'll be seeing this film, but it's a little esoteric of a choice for the animators, who must know that their audience is comprised of diehard Loeb fans. Just make sure you do this one right, folks; I'd hate for another Superman: Doomsday slipshod adaptation.
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is landing some time in the fall of 2009 - I'll keep you posted.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Now, I'm a guy of simple tastes. I enjoy The Dark Knight (no surprise), but some readers may be surprised that I'm also a big fan of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. Naturally I've heard the rumors about the "Dark Side of the Rainbow," an effect experienced when watching The Wizard of Oz in tandem with Pink Floyd's album.
I think you see where this is going. One night, I elected to see if there truly was a Dark Knight of the Moon. Many of my friends have asked whether the experiment was a success - I've never divulged the truth of what went on that night... until now. Was Christopher Nolan influenced by the Pink Floyd album? Is it all a coincidence? Is snychronicity (the unconscious phenomenon of pairing sound with sight) legitimate?
This is the set-up I used, since syncing your A/V will be important with getting the same results I did. Essentially, I set up my laptop right next to my DVD player. With Dark Side of the Moon on repeat and The Dark Knight on pause at 0:00:00, I hit play on both at the same time. Unfortunately, I didn't record timestamps, but I took copious notes, which I here replicate. Quotation marks on the left indicate song lyrics.
And here... we... go.
Speak to Me/Breathe (the bank robbery)
- The first cash register sound, distant in the background, comes over the blue foggy Bat.
- Helicopter sounds accompany the first, aerial shot of the film.
- Just as the drum snare hits, one of the clowns fires his gun across the roof.
- The jump out of the window matches the swoon of the guitar.
- In tune with a drum beat, one of the clowns opens the alarm panel.
- "Don't be afraid" - one of the goons is shot.
- "Leave" - as another goon runs downstairs.
- "Run" as a clown is shot by the bank manager.
On the Run (the robbery, cont'd)
- Joker looks over his shoulder as we change tracks.
- The bank robbery, as goons start turning on each other, becomes more macabre when scored to "On the Run."
- "Gone tomorrow" - Joker runs to the front of the bus.
Time (Scarecrow scene - Harvey in court)
- Scarecrow exits his van and throws up his hands just as the clocks begin to chime.
- The shooting Batman advances with the first note of the song.
- A new twang enters as the Tumbler arrives.
- In sync with the beat, the word "loiter" appears and flashes on the panel inside the Tumbler.
- Batman sinks into the van as another note twangs.
- "Digging away" - Batman contemplates jumping over the edge.
- Batman falls onto the van as a lyric ends.
- "Show you the way" - the Batmobile closes as Batman tries to show the pretenders the error of their ways.
- "One day you find" - Gordon sees Batman in the vault.
- Guitar slides down as Alfred enters the new Batcave.
- "Older" - Alfred grimaces at Bruce's mention of a "big dog"
- "Closer to death" - Bruce laughs, as he often does, in the face of death and limitation.
- "Quiet desperation" - Bruce looks longingly at Rachel on the monitor.
- "I like to be here when I can" - Harvey enters the courtroom.
- "iron bell" - Harvey flips his quarter.
- "to their knees" - All rise in the courtroom.
The Great Gig in the Sky (Harvey in court, cont'd - board meeting)
- This track begins exactly as Harvey steps up to question Rossi.
- The guitar twangs as Harvey shows the affadavit to Rossi.
- Harvey punches Rossi in time with another twang.
- "Not afraid of dying" - Harvey holds the gun.
- Wailing begins as Rachel takes Harvey's hand.
- The music mellows as Gordon admits, "...I'd be working alone."
- The piano slows (about 3:30 into the track) over a sleeping Bruce Wayne.
Money (double date - Joker's date with the mob)
- The cash register cha-chings as Rachel leans forward in a restaurant filled with and owned by the wealthy. (I got chills at this moment.)
- "Do-goody bull--" - Harvey says he'll be Gotham's protector "If I'm up to it."
- Saxes come in as the mobsters walk through the metal detector.
- The guitar scales down and stops as Joker enters the kitchen.
- The guitar makes a p-wop sound as Joker executes his magic trick - "It's gone!"
- "Money" - Joker throws up his hands.
- "Root of all evil" - Joker calmly adjusts his hair.
Us and Them (Joker's date, cont'd - grabbing Lau)
- The organ begins as Joker shows his card and exits.
- "Us" - as Bruce and Lucius exit the elevator.
- "After all" - Bruce looks up and Lucius smiles.
- The song has an echo effect, just like the room Bruce and Lucius are in.
- "Not what we would choose" - Bruce says he "wouldn't want to make things too easy"
- "Gen'ral" - Harvey and Rachel see the newspaper clipping at the theater.
- "Black" - we see Bruce's boat, which is partially black.
- "Up" - Gambol looks up to see who's coming into his pool hall.
- The piano comes in over Joker's "Why so serious?" monologue.
- "Sharp shock" - "Let's put a smile on that face!"
- A sax wails mournfully as Gambol falls.
- The music crescendoes as the scene changes to Hong Kong.
- "Down" - Lucius puts his mobile down in the building.
- "It can't be helped" - Lucius says "Of course" when he hands over his mobile.
- "Deny" - Lau stands up and protests his innocence.
- "Out of the way" - Lucius walks past the guard who tries to detain him.
Any Colour You Like (grabbing Lau, cont'd)
- ...not as much with this track.
- The track switches as Lucius hands his cell device to Bruce.
- The guitar moves up and down as the camera swings up and down around buildings.
- The monitors flicker in sync with a guitar twang.
Brain Damage (grabbing Lau, cont'd - the mob in court)
- Batman flies out of the window in sync with the second line of the song.
- "in the hall" - something happens here, but I can't read my notes.
- "And if" - "Enjoy your time in County."
- A laugh on the song comes in as Rachel smiles and says "That's great."
- "Lock the door" - Gordon decides to keep Lau in the MCU.
- "No one seems..." - Maroni frowns.
- "Dark side of the moon" - Maroni throws his napkin onto the table.
- There's a laugh on the CD as Judge Surillo throws the Joker card away.
Eclipse (mayor's office, cont'd)
- "All that you feel" - Mayor kicks out the cops.
- "Everyone you meet" - The fake Batman hits the window
- The album fades to silence over Joker's prisoner video.
There's always some question of whether synchronicity stops with the first run-through of the album, but I decided to keep going with the album on loop to a) see if it worked, and b) finish the movie. Hey, I'm a fan.
Speak to Me/Breathe (the fundraiser)
- The first cash register clinks as Harvey and Rachel enter the affluent fundraiser.
- Breath starts as Harvey asks about "psychotic ex-boyfriends."
- The guitar twangs as Bruce and his three girls enter the party.
- It twangs again as Bruce says "I believe in Harvey Dent" and spreads his hands.
- "Breathe in the air" - applause for Harvey.
- "Don't be afraid to care" - Rachel joins Bruce on the balcony.
- "Run" - Harvey comes to the balcony.
On the Run (Joker strikes)
- The track switches as Gordon enters Loeb's office.
- The music swirls as the Joker cards fall to the ground from the explosion.
- "Ha ha!" - Gordon realizes how The Joker plans to kill Loeb and shouts "No!"
Time (Joker crashes the party - Reese's blackmail)
- Clocks chime as Joker asks "Is it the scars?"
- The clanging clocks and eerie rototom match the tone of Joker's next autobiographical speech.
- A twang as Joker pats Rachel's cheek.
- A perfect note matches Joker dropping Rachel from the window.
- "Digging away" - Batman deploys his cape, in vain.
- "Dull day" - the lethargic cabbie sips at his coffee.
- "Waiting ... show you the way" - Gordon and Stephens are waiting for Harvey to show them the way to a successful prosecution.
- "Behind you" - Harvey tosses Lau a flak vest.
- The guitar solo matches up almost perfectly with Alfred's story about Burma.
- "Come up behind you" - a swirl around the rooftop on which Batman's perched.
- "Closer to death" - Patrick Harvey and Richard Dent are found dead.
- "Quiet" - Gordon evicts Ramirez from the crime scene.
- "Home" - Gordon finds the obituary for the mayor.
- The music fades as Reese begins to speak to Lucius
The Great Gig in the Sky (Reese's blackmail - Loeb's funeral)
- "I'm not afraid to die" - Reese unveils his blackmail scheme.
- The wailing begins as Reese returns his evidence and says "J... keep that."
- The wailing fades as Bruce exits the cave on his bike.
- The tempo of the track slows over the funeral scenes...
- ...but the wailing returns when we see the tied-up cops - just as the Joker theme creeps back in, too.
Money (Loeb's funeral, cont'd - interrogating Schiff)
- The cash register clinks as Schiff is shot and falls down.
- The guitar comes in as Stephens feels for a pulse on Gordon.
- "Money" - a close-up of Schiff's "Rachel Dawes" badge.
- "hit the gas" - Harvey revs the ambulance's engine.
- "bullsh-t" - Maroni sasses his girlfriend.
- The sax enters as Batman beats the thugs in the club.
- The guitar tempo changes as Harvey hangs up on Rachel.
- The guitar falls as Batman picks up the now-fallen Maroni.
- "Money" - cut to Batman, who catches Harvey's lucky coin.
Us and Them (interrogating Schiff, cont'd - the Slaughter truck)
- The organ comes in as Bruce mourns the "blood on my hands."
- A mournful sax wails as Bruce and Alfred close the cave.
- "Me and you" - Harvey speaks, and Rachel is watching him.
- "Black" - show the cops...
- "and blue" - Harvey speaking.
- "Who is who?" - much to Bruce's surprise, Harvey reveals he is the Batman.
- "Up" - Rachel looks up to Alfred.
- "Down" - Alfred nods down.
- "Hey" - Harvey kisses Rachel.
- The drum slams, and Joker fires a shotgun.
- "Down" - the convoy is ordered to "divert down."
- "Fighting" - Joker's truck crashes into the SWAT van.
- "Out of the way" - Joker opens the side door on his truck.
Any Colour You Like (convoy attack)
- Again, a difficult track to find results with.
- The guitar twangs as the Tumbler jumps in the air.
Brain Damage (convoy attack, cont'd)
- The track switches as we cut to the kids play-shooting at cars.
- "on the grass" - The helicopter falls
- "on the grass" (again) - the van hits the fallen helicopter
- "on the path" - Batman drives through the subway station.
- "Head explodes" - the truck flips over.
- "Dark foreboding..." - Batman turns his Batpod around.
- A laugh, as the Joker stumbles to his feet.
- "Thunder in your ear" - Batman's cowl zaps Joker's goon.
- "See you" - Harvey sees Gordon for the first time.
- Another laugh as Harvey gets into Wuertz's car.
Eclipse (Joker in jail)
- The track switches as the mayor comes to the MCU.
- "Everyone you meet" - Gordon sees his wife again.
- The track fades to silence as Gordon realizes that Harvey is missing.
Here the album cycled around for a third time, starting over during the Joker interrogation scene. At this point, the synchronized moments came fewer and farther between, proving not as satisfying as the first half of the film.
Speak to Me/Breathe (Joker's interrogation)
- Batman slams Joker's head and hits his fist in sync with the album's beats.
- Joker cackles in sync with a guitar twang.
- "Breathe" - "...freak..."
- "While you fly" - Joker talks about the way Batman "threw yourself" after Rachel.
On the Run (Joker's interrogation, cont'd - 250 52nd Street)
- The track switches as Batman blocks the door to the interrogation room.
- "On the Run" spirals during the chaotic chase scene.
- The guitar slams as the oil drum falls and spills.
Time (250 52nd Street - Harvey Two-Face)
- The clocks chime as Joker rolls his eyes and smacks his lips (downright spooky).
- "The moments that make up a dull day" - Rachel blows up.
- "Digging around" - Harvey rolls on the ground, aflame.
- "English way" - Alfred admits the British "burned the forest down."
- "thought... to say" - Alfred's story ends abruptly with a cut.
- "When I can" - the coin is scarred.
The Great Gig in the Sky (Harvey Two-Face, cont'd - burning money)
- The mournful elegaic tone of the track matches Gordon's mood with the hospitalized Harvey.
- The track wails exactly as Harvey reveals his now-scarred face for the first time.
- The track softly wails over the burning money.
Money (saving Reese - Nurse Joker)
- The cash register cha-chings as the Lamborghini appears, but this wasn't as good as the other cash register moments.
- "Make a stash" - the cop exits the hospital to find a bus for Harvey.
- "Money" - the Lamborghini again.
- The drum sounds in time with Nurse Joker's silenced gunshot.
- "So they say" - Joker points to Harvey.
- "Crusin' for a bruisin'" - The Lamborghini is wrecked.
Us and Them (Nurse Joker, cont'd - Maroni's luck)
- The organ sounds as Nurse Joker toddles out of the hospital.
- The sax wails as the hospital explodes.
- "Not what we would choose to do" - Lucius sees the machine.
- "round and round" - Harvey's coin spins and falls.
- "Down" - Maroni enters his limo.
Any Colour You Like (the ferries)
- Guitar twang as the boxes for the detonators are opened.
Brain Damage (finding Ramirez)
- Track switches as Barbara Gordon picks up the phone.
- "Thunder in your ear" - Gordon's wife shouts that "He has the kids!"
Eclipse (in the Pruitt Building)
- "All that you see" - Batman uses his sonar to see it all.
Fourth and final repeat cycle.
Speak to Me/Breathe (the ferries, cont'd)
- Batman confronts Joker as a heart beats on the album.
- We switch to "Breathe" as the criminal lumbers over to the warden on the bad ferry.
- A guitar twang as we zoom in on a clock.
- "Cry" - Joker dramatically announces, "Here... we... go."
On the Run (Joker's upside down)
- This scene is positively eerie between the frenetic soundtrack and the disoriented Joker.
Time (Harvey and Gordon's family)
- The clocks chime as Harvey menaces "just the person you love most."
- "Show you the way" - Harvey flips the coin for himself so that the coin will show him his way.
- "But it's sinking" - everything starts to fall apart when Gordon realizes what Batman is asking of him.
The Great Gig in the Sky (a dark knight)
- The track switches as Batman runs off.
- The wailing starts just as the credits announce "Directed by Christopher Nolan."
Friday, July 3, 2009
I love you, Voiceover Guy. I missed you. That said, I think my strongest reaction to this trailer is, "Michael Cera's not in this?" This seems right up his alley, considering this looks to be Superbad (which I loved) with Petrarchan overtones.
Other than that, this seems like another fairly generic "last night of high school" party-venture films we've been seeing a lot of lately, and sadly this doesn't look like it's going to be much better. The Beth Cooper character, stunning though Ms. Panettiere almost always is, seems empty in parts and confusing in most other parts. I didn't feel any enthusiasm when she said "I'll have to let you live," and I'm completely mystified by her character's sudden playful turn to romantic interest in the lead character. But wait, it's a rehash of the "my boyfriend's a jerk and I just realized it" plotline I can never really buy.
That said, there are a few giggles here, but not enough to make me buy a ticket. Rent it, as the two Bens might say (Lord forgive me for invoking their name).
I Love You, Beth Cooper professes its love in theaters on July 10.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
(This article has been seen in several forms over the years since its inception, so I present here a unified and re-conceived version of the Marxism argument.)In preparation for a segment on my radio show, I had an opportunity to revisit High School Musical 2 and was struck by a few things - the overt sexual tension between the lines, the certain braveness behind wearing an argyle cap, and (of most importance to this article) the less than subtle Marxist influences. That this is a highly Marxist narrative shouldn't come as too much of a surprise; Newsies was nothing less than socialist propaganda, but that's not for here.
Essentially the film depicts the struggle between the bourgeoisie - represented by the Evans family and their country club 'means of production' - and the proletariat - as represented by the working-stiff Wildcats. That the Evanses are the upper class almost goes without saying; Sharpay and Ryan are the elitist of the elite, possessing flashy clothes and flashier cars. The Evans parents are no different as the holders of the means of production; Daddy's first appearance finds him landing on a golf course in a helicopter, bragging about having "built the course *and* hold(ing) the record," while Mom splits her time between yoga lessons and guacamole face wraps. As for controlling the means of production, Sharpay and her parents are in full control of the hiring and firing of the Wildcats working this summer, free to decide the fates of the working class on a whim.
The Wildcats, then, are the incontrovertible proletariat, working for a living. Yet the work experience is not as glorious as they may have anticipated. Before joining the working class, the Wildcats are free: Troy and Chad practice hoops, Gabriella has an array of self-improvement activities on the docket, and Kelsi is free to "grow, write music, grow." Once the proles join the workforce, things are ignominious. "How did we get from the top of the world to the bottom of the heap?" asks Chad in a crushing moment of class oppression. The work experience is hell, riddled with "rags instead of riches / and all these dirty dishes" and near-abductions to trippy musical numbers where the workers are captive to Sharpay's twisted imagination. Fulton attempts to persuade as many of them to quit as possible, at the behest of Sharpay.
Troy is the focal point through which Sharpay's oppression is channeled. Sharpay "has more moves than an octopus in a wrestling match," and she wraps her tentacles around the proletariat in a struggle to oppress. In an attempt to control Troy - her interests are decidedly not romantic - Sharpay is willing to press her stiletto heel firmly on the throat of the proletariat. And step she does; Sharpay tries to keep the staff and working class from participating in the Star Dazzle talent show by forcing them to labor in the kitchens as servants to the snobs who will attend the show.
Enter Ryan Evans, slowly coming around to the plight of the working class. Ryan, over the course of the second film, becomes marginalized by his sister's attempts to seduce Troy (it might be best to ignore Freudian suggestions of jealousy for this article, at least). Abandoned, Ryan sells his tiki warrior costume on the internet and so shirks the garishly sequined pizazz of the bourgeoisie. Now alone, a social outcast - shunned by his sister and eschewed by the proles who see him only as "Sharpay's poodle" - Ryan fortuitously comes across Gabriella and Taylor (the workers) in a golf cart. He dejectedly tells them he wasn't invited to the staff (worker) baseball game, but Gabriella bubbly declares, "Everyone's invited!" "We're all in this together" here begins to take on a socialist meaning. What exactly are we all in together? Answer: Opposition to - and revolution against - the tyranny of the bourgeoisie.
Slowly a class revolution is building. Ryan teaches the Wildcats a new dance number for use in the talent show (this is, of course, before Sharpay sabotages the show) and trains them to beat the upper class at their own game. The upper class is Sharpay here, certainly, but the upper class is also represented by Tina's "tap dancing epic" and her "tippity tappity toes," as well as a dismal sock puppet act. The bourgeoisie come off talentless, excepting of course Sharpay's acts, which always seem to be superlatively entertaining.
The ultimate class upheaval and demolition of the proletariat-betrayal propagated by Troy comes when he refuses to participate in Sharpay's 'duet.' Appearing in average casual wear - and not the bedazzling number worn by Sharpay - Troy highlights the class disparity between them, suggesting that such a match would not work and deciding that his "place is washing dishes" with the workers. Sharpay is devastated, and her act crumbles. The happily ever after ending comes when caddy Troy and lifeguard Gabriella are reunited in the song "Everyday," a celebration of the novel experience and of the workers who band together, arm in arm, to sing the chorus.
The film's final number, "All for One," is the pinnacle of class revolution; the club pool, limited only to the members of this creme-de-la-creme elitist country club, now bears a sign "Staff Pool Party - All In!" The Wildcats finally get to have their day in the sun, languishing not in the kitchen but living it up in lounge chairs. "Everybody jump in!" the song croons, "Everybody, one for all / And all for one!" The upper class club members are nowhere in sight; the proletariat has taken over the country club. Even the bourgeoisie Sharpay has come over to the side of the working class. There are no thoughts of making money or of class distinction; this is a worker's paradise. The means of production are controlled, the bourgeoisie is eradicated or assimiliated, and the workers rule the day.
A reasonable objection to this point has been raised: this is a proletariat pool party, not a proletariat pool. A temporary suspension of power does not a revolution make. This is a valid argument, one that I find difficult to counter. However, I do not feel that ownership of the swimming pool compromises my overall reading of the film as a Marxist critique of society. The pool party, though not a complete overthrow of the social system, still represents a significant overhaul of the status quo (which the first film has already taught us to reject). The staff, previously banned outright from the pool, now has some freedom to use the pool - exclusively so, with nary a bourgeoisie (save the Evans, who have already joined the proletariat revolution). The workers of the world - or at least Albuquerque - have united, but the full revolution is still imminent. Perhaps in a future film? With the support of the Evans twins and the power gained from the demi-coup of the second film, the future seems bright.
After all, "we're all in this together."
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
I can't say how giggly it makes me to type "Johnny Depp" and "Christian Bale" in the same sentence. I can't say how much these two trailers - especially the first one - make me smile. I can't say how sorry I am that I'll be out of town and will have to miss opening day for this one by about two weeks.
That said, Michael Mann's true-story-biopic of the highly public rivalry between John Dillinger (Depp) and Melvin Purvis (Bale) is getting a whole lot of play, not just for the fact that Depp traveled to Crown Point, Indiana, to film in the actual prison from which Dillinger escaped (spoilers?). It's a powerhouse duo (accompanied, I'll concede, by recent Oscar winner Marion Cotillard) that is guaranteed to excite filmgoers. The potential for greatness here is high, and with a stellar cast and director (as well as the riveting true story behind it all) it's difficult to imagine it won't succeed.
This is how a trailer should be done - capturing in a heartbeat both the main personalities and the main conflict between them, all without giving away too much. The second trailer (as second trailers do) reveals a bit more of the plot, but since this is a true story fronted by A-listers it's doubtful anyone's buying a ticket solely for the twists and turns of the story.
Public Enemies holds up theaters on July 1.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
This bears investigation. Let us then as statisticians evaluate the factual merit of this claim. Of 77 posts tagged as "movie reviews" (thank you, Blogger), I would only describe 16 as more than 50% negative. (Movies that I halfheartedly enjoyed I evaluated on a case-by-case basis and decided from there.) That leaves 61 positive reviews on this site - a 79% ratio -- almost 4 out of 5 reviews.
So the claim that the majority of reviews on this site are positive has merit. We could now turn to the claim of "too many good reviews." Are there too many good reviews on this site? Is 80% too much? Unfortunately, I can't seem to find a ratio for the reviews of Roger Ebert (a reviewer with whom I have been known to disagree but whose writings I still very much respect), so we don't quite have a barometer. "Too much" is perhaps too subjective a term for me to properly evaluate here, so let us leave it to your discretion. If 80% of my reviews being positive ones perturbs you, I can point you in the direction of some snarkier blogs.
However, let me first offer some explanation as to why the majority of my reviews are positive. For a review to emerge as a positive one, two things must occur. The reviewer must have enjoyed the film, and the reviewer must be able to articulate that enjoyment in the form of a clear and entertaining piece of prose that may best bear the term "review." I attempt always to fulfill the second of these requirements, providing content that I hope my readers enjoy (do you?) while satisfying my own desires as a writer. The first one is a little more difficult to do. I can't always guarantee that I'll like a movie before I go into it. But I frequently can.
That's where Mr. Ebert and I are doing different jobs. Yes, we're both movie reviewers (though I am The Cinema King, he is far more prolific and popular), but he has the means, opportunity, and in some ways the responsibility to see far more movies than I do. Where I have 77 reviews on my site, Rotten Tomatoes registers an excess of 6200 reviews from Camp Ebert. Therefore, his potential for writing negative reviews is exponentially greater than my own. He's literally written thousands more reviews than I have (he's also been doing it for longer, but the nascency of this blog isn't something I can get nostalgic about just yet).
There's a final difference between Sir Ebert and myself: choice. I don't mean to imply that he has no volition in his capacity as reviewer (potentially apocryphal stories have him walking out of the cinema), but I think it's safe to say that I - standing in front of the shelf in a rental store or a library or media emporium - have a bit more freedom in which movies I watch and review. That's why the uneven quantitative comparison between us. My greater freedom of choice is a double-edged sword. Unlike Mr. Ebert, I never get invited to preview screenings (save for a pre-midnight show of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End on one of my more unforgettable birthdays), and so my reviews are frequently less than timely; the fact that 15 posts on this site are tagged with a decade before 2000 is testament to the fact that timeliness isn't one of my chief concerns.
However, greater powers of selection in moviegoing allows me to weed out movies I know I won't like, such as The Ugly Truth (watch out for a Trailer Park post on that stinker coming soon). Since I can choose the films I review, I can limit my scope to films I'm dying to see (Michael Mann's Heat was viewed days before I resumed my reviewing enterprise, and it met with my approval and a query as to just how influential it was for Nolan on The Dark Knight) or to films that I'm sort of lukewarm about seeing. I won't spend my time watching a movie I know I won't enjoy when I could be watching one I will. That's perhaps the greatest reason for the 80% approval rating on this site: choice.
I hope that clears up any thoughts on my being too enthusiastic of a film fan. Admittedly, I have some "guilty pleasures" - at my place of employment, I'm still being chided for enjoying Hairspray and Sweeney Todd more than No Country for Old Men (even if I'm starting to recant that position) - but that's the beauty of reviews. In the words of the great Dennis Miller, "Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong."
Monday, June 29, 2009
For starters, I'm reviewing the second trailer for this video, though I'll be taking for granted a slight familiarity with the first trailer (and that one's embedded at the bottom of this post).
We've been waiting since Kill Bill for the next Quentin Tarantino movie (okay, Grindhouse fans, Death Proof counts) and here it is. We've been hearing about Inglourious Basterds (back when it was spelled Inglorious Bastards) for some time now, and I was just about to relegate it into the dead pool where The Vega Brothers currently tends bar. Thankfully, Tarantino managed to get his script put together and filmed in time for the 2009 movie season.
This one looks like what every Tarantino fan loves - kitsch, violence, and hyperstylized dialogue. Furthermore, Brad Pitt devotees will probably have much to enjoy when it comes to his distinctive characterization of Lt. Aldo Ray (an interesting combination, one reviewer has noticed, of Cary Grant and Foghorn Leghorn), whose every movement is in step with a unique character - the kind for which Tarantino is best known.
Inglourious Basterds probably isn't landmark cinema, but it looks like it'll be a lot of fun. Plus, Mike Meyers is doing an accent again, and Hitler is wearing a cape. Like I said, a lot of fun.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Second confession: I actually liked HSM 3 (to use ‘Wildcat’ shorthand).Coming from a guy whose favorite movie of all time is Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (followed closely by Martin Scorsese’s The Departed), that may come as a bit of a shock. So I suppose a third confession is in order: I’m actually a fan of the franchise.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
"There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. ... We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical."
Ever since we at The Cinema King imported all the Trailer Park posts into one cozy little home,
we noticed something curious had changed in the interim. YouTube was posting widescreen trailers, but our humble little abode wasn't cut out for the beauty of a widescreen, higher-def video. Back in the days when Trailer Park lived on its own, videos were still fairly compact and fit comfortably in the niche provided by the good folks at Blogger. Not so anymore.
Fortunately, after hours of poring over code and tips from other bloggers, we've adapted. We've spread our wings, and we're now broadcasting in astonishing widescreen with more content, more video, and more of the benign reign of The Cinema King. Now you can enjoy all your favorite Trailer Park reviews without compromising the horizontal integrity of the trailers - because, let's be real, all the good stuff happens on that side of the screen anyway.
"We repeat, there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind" of The Cinema King ...to you!