Monday, November 30, 2009
When Mr. Fox steals one too many times, three vengeful farmers endeavor to rid their land of him and his family
It seems that it is only a matter of time before every last word that Roald Dahl ever penned has been adapted for the silver screen, and with varying results. Fantastic Mr. Fox is really a blend of these results, a series of layers presenting everything from genius to annoyance.
There's an ingenuity to the adaptation of this story that can't be ignored. Obviously, first it had to be extended, which I think was done in a relevant (if not labored) way. And the choice to further personify the characters, especially to the degree at which it is done, was brilliant one. This allows the characters to be a bit more complicated than in the original story, which lends itself to extending the story in the first place, and might allow a deeper connection to the characters if I didn't hate them.
And there in lays "the rub". The problem isn't the choice to further personify the characters, the problem is the choice to let Wes Anderson do the personifying. I'm sure this statement might see my name slandered over more than one iced soy mocha frappacino, but in my opinion Wes Anderson is one of the most over-rated film makers I've ever come across. His stylized cinematography is something I've really come to enjoy, however it seems that's the only thing. Apparently stocking your films full of inhumanly awkward, shallow characters who's selfishness makes them so unsympathetic that by the middle of the movie you could careless what happens to them at the end is exactly what people my age find funny and poignant... Which I guess means I'm secretly forty.
This movie is a well put together and uniquely adapted adventure with yet another set of Anderson's standard characters, which overshadows all the ingenuity and creates a sense of repetition not helped at all by the "here we go again" performances offered by George Clooney and Jason Schwartzman. There are, of course, moments of genuine comedy sprinkled throughout the film- but more often they are null or odd spaces that Anderson's followers have trained themselves to laugh at.
Where Mr. Fox was originally a character able to garner sympathy through the necessity of his actions, he is now simply an egotist who deserves to be chased. This simple tweak unraveled the quaint draw of the original story- and though the space it left definitely could have been filled, Anderson's script was not up to the task. Fans of his work will find little not to love in Fantastic Mr. Fox, but your average every once in a while movie-goer may find themselves nudging their companion and asking: "Was that supposed to be funny?"
Reel Deal Recommends:
Solaris: Still everyday George Clooney, just everyday George Clooney in a mesmerizing movie.
Rushmore: Jason Schwartzman in the only Wes Anderson movie I enjoy.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
I had (what I'm going to assume was) a Twilight fan post a comment on one of my most recent posts. After reading my Review of New Moon (again I'm assuming) they posted, simply: "Whats your problem with Twilight?!". I found this very surprising given the way I approached my review of that film. I declared myself from the outset as someone who wasn't familiar with the books. Then preceded to give- really the only review I could give.
Even though I unabashedly say that this film has flaws, the review certainly wasn't a pan. I went to great lengths to say that while at times this film faltered, it also had it's high points. I even went on to say that this particular installment has shown me the potential in the series. I am perfectly willing to like it, I just don't yet. So I really don't see how one could assume I have a "problem" with the entire series from that.
But there's more. You see I feel as though I have to make a confession now. I wonder if the angry poster (let's call them twihard17 from here on in) didn't some how have a bit of insight, because there is a certain something that really gets on my nerves about this series so far. Something that I purposefully left out of my review, an action which I now spitefully regret.
So even though I'm thoroughly convinced that you are an agressive fan-boy, twihard17, who assumes that anyone who doesn't revere your beloved franchise as much as you do is just being closed minded (or is just plain stupid)- I'm going to go ahead and answer the question anyway. My problem with Twilight is the character Bella.
Bella is an emotionally spineless character. Without her man she slumps over, unable to support herself. Indeed the only things she seems to be able to do without her beloved Edward there to carry her through are A.) chase him, and B.) find another man to take his place. In the entirety of New Moon she has only one line that even hints at emotional independence, and it is quickly undone by everything she does in the remainder of the film. I find it sad that in a medium with such a serious lack of female main characters at all, let alone strong ones, this series would be so popular, and have such a weak heroine. I find it scary that a property as revered by teen-age girls as Twilight showcases such a blatantly dependant girl as it's lead.
I made the choice to leave this out of the review because, even though I felt very strongly about it, I questioned whether saying all of this was really relevant to a review of the movie. I see now the answer is: When I review a movie, I'm not only reviewing how it tells it's story but the quality of said story. In my opinion these observations about the character Bella are not just artistic license, but a genuine fault of the story, and as such, my responsibility to bring to light.
So to all (read: both) of my readers, I apologise for failing you here, but please know it won't happen again, just as it has not happened before; I have learned a valuable lesson. And to Twihard17, where ever you are, thank you for showing me the error of my ways- even if it was a complete accident. And in the future, if you have any more zealotry-inspired accusations for me, at least deliver them as more coherent and flushed out thoughts, that I may respond more poignantly. Or better still, become a follower of the blog; as all opinions are welcome here at The Reel Deal.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
In fear that he's dangerous for her, Edward vows to leave Bella forever. In her grief she turns to anything she can find, including Jacob who offers a simpler life. But as Jacob's secrets come to light, and with Victoria still craving revenge , simplicity is the last thing she finds.
As someone with no familiarity with the book series, and who hated the '08's Twilight with a vengeance, I have to say I was in no rush to see this newest installment. But, because of the fan of the preternatural that lives in me (and Watcher X and I's blatant curiosity), I knew I would be going to see it eventually. And now that I have, I have to say it wasn't all bad.
But it still has it's fair share. The worst of which being the acting. Maybe it's the age of the main players in the cast, but every once in a while things tend to turn rigid. This can be very distracting, and takes away from the few opposing moments when you really feel some chemistry on screen. Overall you get grey performances- which are somehow enough to move the movie along.
A welcome addition to the Roster of leads this time around is the character Jacob, played by 17 year-old actor Taylor Lautner. Lautner has the body of an olympian, and the face of a 14 year-old- which causes mental conundrum I like to call the "A.C. Slater" complex. On screen, Lautner is obviously the youngest cast member as his performance seems to waiver the most. I will say when he's on he is truly on, unfortunately when he's off he seems very forced. Either way, it's nice to see a Native American lead that's not wearing a head-dress.
Though New Moon seems to stutter and stumble at times it does have it's merits, and it's strongest attributes come through in it's quietest moments. There are some truly beautiful moments of cinematography when the teenage melodrama manages to get out of its way, and I think future ventures would do well to remember that.
Watcher X says: Team Jacob for sure!
So now let's go through the Isit list, a new tool for reviewing movies that belong to a series.
Is it better than the first one?
Almost without exception, though that's not very hard. Call it a new director, call it a cast that's another year older, call it blind luck, but a lot of the most annoyingly "teen" aspects have been removed- a lot but not all. Gone is Kristen Stewart's tendency to deliver every other line as though mid-climax. And The main lover's romance is a bit more down to earth this time around... well for a vampire romance at least.
There seems to have been a bit more subtlety added when dealing with the preternatural characters (no more soaring through the trees sequences!) which I consider a lynch pin in movies like this. Unfortunately the sparkling remains, but I guess it's not fair to expect that to go anywhere.
Is it a good sequel?
Yes. While in the end I felt as though we hadn't gotten very far from where we left off, New Moon does a lot of expanding on characters, and does it in a way that keeps you from getting bored.
Is it worth a third movie?
This one's hard to say from here. New Moon is a strong sequel but still only a decent movie. Decent, however, is a huge step up from god awful- which is exactly what the first movie was. I will say this: if the third movie improves on the second as much as the second improved on the first, then I might actually find myself looking forward to the fourth. As apposed to the pure curiosity that brought me to this one. I suppose time will tell.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
No matter how much you may like or dislike the franchise, Twilight had made a place for itself long before the first movie ever debuted. And now that the first movie has come and cemented the saga 's place in pop culture- ignoring it is a bit, well- ignorant. We both know that New Moon is going to leaving a smoking crater where the box office once was (and indeed already has, I just read that it set a new midnight showing record last night) so- glittery or no- these vampire's don't seem to be going anywhere. To maintain a movie blog and not mention these films would be just plain dishonest.
So I've decide to post a Five!! Inspired by the story arc anyone half paying attention knew was coming about 15 minutes into the first film. Lovable losers is dedicated to all the male characters that are just as handsome, just as smart, just as interesting, and often even more devoted than guys they inevitably come in second to. It's also my male answer to Beautiful Ugly Girls, as you'll usually find these two character architypes in the same movies (and because I felt a little sexist). So, without further ado here is my list:
The Loser: Lon Hammond Jr.
The Winner: Noah Calhoun
The Movie: The Notebook
We'll start with a straight forward pick to get the ball rolling. Lon lost the girl because he was honest, dependable, and had a decent haircut- things everybody knows will scare off any self respecting hottie. Maybe if he'd been off banging his dead best friends wife too, Noah wouldn't have been able to get an edge on him. But Lon was to busy actually being there for Allie and proposing, actually trying to build a life together... you know all the boring stuff.
The Lesson: Actions speak louder than words, gifts speak louder than actions, and a free house speaks loudest of all.
The Loser: Dr. Manhatten
The winner: Dan Dreiberg (Nite Owl)
The Movie: Watchmen
Far be it for me to put down a woman who can't say no to a man who looks like Patrick Wilson, but I don't think I really have to list all the things Doc had to offer. Sure he can be a bit stiff, but how do you complain about the one thing a guy can't do when he can do everything else! You ask me, a girl willing to let a tiny thing like a guy leaving the galaxy stop her doesn't deserve such a catch.
The Lesson: Ladies dig pants.
The Loser: Alfred Ludlow
The winner: Tristan Ludlow
The Movie: Legneds of the Fall
This pick may seem a bit off since in the end she marries Alfred, but let's take a closer look. There's the marriage sure, but she chooses Tristan first, only marrying Alfred when Tristan dissapears and continues to want him long after she says "I do." And let's not forget that when career jerk Tristan comes back she's still in love him (though married) and sneaks chances to see him. Then, as if that's not enough- she kills herself when she can't handle the fact that Tristan's moved on. So who's the real winner here?
The Lesson: There's nothing more irresistable than an uncaring jackass.
The Loser: Chuck Noland
The winner: Gary Lovett
The Movie: Cast Away
Here's one that as much as you root for the loser, there was no other way for things to go. We may have wanted Chuck to fight for Kelly, but we also knew he would have had to break up her family to win. And doing that would undo the "Lovable" part of "Lovable Loser".
The Lesson: Sometimes you just have to take your ball and go home.
The Loser: Johnny 5
The Winner: Newton Crosby
The Movie: Short Circuit
He's not just interested in learning more about you, he's absolutely excited to. He craves input! Not to mention he's caring, willing to change, and has treads for feet. Also, Johnny 5 is alive- something nobody can know for sure about Steve Gutenberg these days... Johnny has an armor piercing shoulder mounted laser cannon for pete's sake! Unless your the Predator, you can't really top that. And we all know Predator is way to into his career to even think about right now. The Lesson: Never trust Steve Gutenberg.
Have any lovable losers you swear by? Let me know! Unless it's Duckie... Five!! out.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Two families struggle to survive, and a scientist working with the government races to sustain humanity, as devastation envelopes the world.
Civilization is standing on the precipice yet again, and surprise surprise- it's Roland Emmerich's fault. As disaster movies go, it's ambitious. In Independence Day it was the world's major cities. The stakes got upped with The Day After Tomorrow, with the entire northern hemisphere being put to the screws. But on the irreversible devastation scale, 2012 out does them all. Unfortunately, that is pretty much the only difference between director Roland Emmerich's newest nigh apocalyptic outing and the ones that came before. That and the fact that it doesn't have the word "Day" in the title.
The problem isn't that it's a bad or poorly done movie, the problem is that by now we've all got the formula down. It starts with picture perfect sunny days and a divorced couple. Then we watch the only guy who truly understands what's happening get ignored while explaining it. We'll spend the next 10-20 minutes (increasing with each new release) watching all hell break loose. Then take a breather while the president talks about it dramatically.
Of course when he's done there's even more destruction. Then a brave few make their stand, where in there's even more destruction and death, an outrageous and over the top joke, at least one act of self sacrifice (sometimes these two come at once "In the words of my generation...!") and the divorce fences get mended through acts of heroism. And somewhere in there at least one (though rarely limited to one) father and son pair learn that they really do appreciate one another.
I understand that movies of a certain genre often end up having certain things in common, but this is something more. I have to say for me it's getting old. I (nor anyone else I would hope) go into these movies with any hope of truly being moved, but even so- knowing the pattern kills a lot of the fun. I am reminded of my growing disdain for Tim Burton's work. But where he uses the same pallets for each movie, Emmerich uses the same emotional set pieces. Though in his defence, Emmerich is still doing much better than Burton as that the bulk of these "repeat offenses" only apply to his disaster movies.
John Cusack brings his trade mark sarcasm to the pot, which is always enjoyable- but the real stand out performance comes from Chiwetel Ejiofor (your pronunciation is as good as mine). Here's an actor I've been watching for a while, and I'm glad to see him as a leading man. His character is full to the gills with sentiment, but he does well with it anyway. In the end I think the lack of brilliant performances comes more from the material than the talent. Watching this movie it's obvious that the focus is on the destruction, not the characters.
I don't mean to get overly aggressive here, but I think the point is valid. 2012 is porn for disaster junkies. An enjoyable adventure through the end of civilization, I just think that it could use a little more focus on the human element of the story. How will we care whether humanity survives if we don't care about any of the people fighting to be the ones left. Not to mention that it's awfully hard to sit patiently through two and a half hours of brutal apocalypse sustained only on eye candy. That's a long time to spend watching the world end, no matter how good it looks while it's doing it.
The Real Deal Recommends:
Identity: For a spectacular film starring Cusack and Amanda Peet.
Serenity: What? A chance to plug Chiwetel Ejiofor and Firefly? Score!
A young family is offered the chance to bail themselves out of financial trouble. All they have to do is press a mysterious button, brought to them be an even more mysterious stranger, and they'll receive one million dollars, but somewhere someone they don't know will die.
Yet another review I'm really having trouble getting started. The words are escaping me, though I chase them with all my strength and speed. So instead of going straight after it, I'm going to try a sort of end run. If this counts as me being a bad reviewer- guilty as charged.
There are people who dismiss the adaptation of books right off the bat. As most often this is the case in terms of movies- I feel it's relevant. "It can never be as good as the book!" they say. "They cut that great scene where..." they holler. But it is my personal belief that anyone who feels this way is missing the point. The movie is not supposed to be the book. Often times they attempt to tell the same story, or expand on what was already written (more on that in a moment), but cinema is a completely different art form.
Saying that one must be exactly like the other is like dismissing a 3rd graders detailed rendition of the Mona Lisa because they did it with finger paint. "Well that doesn't look the same as Davinci's little Billy/Cindy. And you really should have used canvas, construction paper doesn't capture her presence." Your missing the point, and there for missing the joy. If you come to the movie expecting the book you will be disappointed, and what's worse, you'll deserve it.
As I said before, sometimes the movie attempts to tell the same story but within the boundaries of it's medium. Sometimes it tries to tell the same story, and also tries to update it as well. Sometimes it tries to take the source material and expand on it. Sometimes it tries to do all of this. And sometimes, it fails miserably. But this is no reason to discount the attempt straight out of the gate. I think a successful adaptation does a little of all of these things. It retells, updates, and expands on the source material- keeping the main themes alive while making sure it stays relevant and enjoyable. A great example of this is Zack Snyder's 2007 treatment of 300 (bare with me).
Anyone who's familiar with the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley (Yes, I think she deserves to be credited. No, I don't know why nobody ever does) knows that if it had been translated directly to a script it would have been around 35 minutes long. So Snyder and company sat down and built on the story to make it feature length, and update it a bit in terms of making the players a little more 3 dimensional, especially the Queen. But here's the key, they did so while adhering to the overall themes and mood of the source material. Obviously 300 was enjoyable but wasn't the greatest movie of my generation, but it pulled off the difficult balancing act that is pleasing to fans of the book, and yet remaining accessible to any who were unfamiliar with it. And thus proved that movie rights are not a death sentence.
Which brings me to my point. We have seen that it is difficult but possible to take a book and make it a movie without sacrificing the story told there in or the quality of the movie. Which means that the makers of The Box have absolutely no excuse for what the it did to Richard Matheson's short story "Button, Button" -about the divides that can grow between two people, even if they sleep in the same bed. The first forty-five minutes or so of this movie is the Twilight Zone episode based on the same story, and once it's off that track it spins out into oblivion like an unfortunate astronaut. And like the same, once all attempts at rescue have been exhausted you have no choice but to either watch it hurtle towards it's fate, or shield your eyes and cry.
Gone is the emotional core of the short story. instead of focusing on our couple and their emotional journey, we are informed very early on that they are nothing but flies caught in an increasingly elaborate and ridiculous web. Only the web has not been spun by a meticulous and patient spider as one might assume, because I can't imagine such a skilled creature would create something so full of loose ends and meaningless (and sometimes confusing) strands. Case and point: At one point we're told that the mysterious stranger heals eight times faster than a normal human. 'Really?' I thought to myself. 'Than how exactly do you explain the fact that a third of his face is gone? Oh wait, you don't.'
Nothing about this movie works. The performances are decent at best, the special effects are good but completely out of place, and the cinematography is completely without ambition. One could make the argument that it's going for a 70's feel, but if that's true than again, why are all the special effects there? This movie just rattled round and round in my head after I saw it. I grimace when I think about it, and try to forgive myself for not just walking out.
I have a soft place in my heart for James Marsden. 1.) Because he's handsome, and 2.) Because anyone who can make Cyclops and interesting character to me can't be all bad. But even so- it's not nearly enough to save The Box. Short stories and books can become great movies, I've seen it- I know it can be done. But this just isn't one of them. It lumbers and drools like a half tranquilized animal. If anything, it's a case study on what NOT to do with your adaptation. A wise person once said: "If you can't be a good example, be a horrible warning." Consider yourself warned.
Real Deal Recommends:
X2: Easily the best X-men movie, and currently my favorite place to see James Marsden.
Friday, November 13, 2009
So I guess it just comes down to me then. I was simply unimpressed. I am perfectly willing to agree that the movie is uber quotable ("Ru-Fi-OOOO!") but that and a few other clever moments (plus Julia Roberts' gams) does not a great movie make. If it weren't for a spectacular performance from Dustin Hoffman ("Bad Form!") I would say there is nothing remarkable about the entire thing. Yes, Robin Williams is funny, but not in any way that you can't get from any of his other movies.
Monday, November 9, 2009
On the eve of his execution, a convicted grave-robber recounts his odd supernatural encounters.
There are some movies that you just can't feel 100% about. For all that you might have loved about them, there's one thing that takes away from the over all experience- much like how I felt about Law Abiding Citizen. This is a case of the exact opposite; for all that your unimpressed with about the movie there's that one thing that really works- and keeps you from being able to completely hate it. And that one thing for I Sell the Dead is the cinematography.
I harbor no illusions about being a trail blazer on this subject, considering it won a Vision Award for that very same thing, but still- I call 'em lik I see 'em. And this one deserves the call. The scenes transfer are at least interesting, and at most beautifully done. I watched sequences like the the telling of Cornelius Murphy's upbringing with a smile on my face. But as enjoyable as this one attribute may be, it couldn't save the rest of the film.
If the cinematogrophy was moist and tender, the rest of this movie was dry as a mouthful of sand. Aside from two mostly enjoyable leads (Dominic Managhan as Aurthor and Larry Fessenden as Willie) the cast stirred no real emotions in me. Characters it seems like I was supposed to be interested in died without so much as a batted eyelash- and most of the ones that lived were utterly ignorable. Ron Perlman's performance feels as though he'd read the script the first day of shooting, but then again, listening to him struggle with an (on again, off again) Irish accent was so entertaining it of makes up for it.
Even with all this, the real let down is the story. The premise is incredibly interesting but not much is done with it. This movie is the spiritual successor to a short film called The Resurrection Apprentice, which I admit I have never seen. But after finishing I Sell the Dead I must say it can't have been to much of an expansion as it still felt like a short story rather than a novel. I find myself wishing the story itself had been undertaken with as much flare as the cinematography. As it is it feels as though it was shot as a series of shorts and then sewn together.
The remarkable is out weighed by the completely unremarkable in this cleverly inspired but drably executed comedy. Believe me, it's no more fun for me to say than it is for you to hear, but the truth is the truth. I'd say it's worth a viewing anyway; maybe you'll disagree and have a wonderful time with it. It could be I'm being too hard on the poor movie but- oh well. If I am than I'm too hard on every movie, and am therefore being fare.
Reel Deal Recommends:
Lost: The first and second (A.K.A. the Good) seasons with Dominic as Charlie.
Alas I've not seen Larry Fessenden in a major role in any other movies. I looked him up on IMDB and apparently he's in The Brave One, which I don't remember him in. And even if I did, I would never recommend that movie to anyone.
A reporter in search of a story he can use to validate himself stumbles across a man claiming to be a member of a secret military group of mental warriors, and who is obviously less then sane. But, as he follows the man on his latest "mission", the reporter finds that the man proves stranger and stranger- and more and more interesting.
Shortly after I saw the spectacular film Good Night, and Good Luck it came to my attention that the man who co-wrote it also played the comic relief character Arpid in The Scorpion King (if you don't know why that's funny I can't explain it). It was at this point that I decided Grant Heslov was someone worth watching. And his most recent directorial release The Men Who Stare at Goats proves my claim. It also suggests that he may have a thing for unusually long titles.
With a cast of heavy hitters this movie must be a bit intimidating to anyone looking to dismiss it out of the gate. All big names are in their proven comedy elements: Bridges is the chemically altered philosopher, Spacey is the smug antagonist, and McGregor is the hilariously uninformed straight man. I've said for a while that George Clooney only has two modes: the "Cool Guy", and the "Quirky Cool Guy". With This role he shows his acting chops and stretches himself into a new realm: the "Zany Cool Guy". Along with all that sarcasm must come praise however- because it works.
We are introduced to Lyn Cassidy (Clooney) and immediately let in on the secret that he might be off his rocker. As the movie progresses we become more and more sure of this and one more fact: what he's saying makes sense. The entire story unfolds on one lynch pin thought process: "Just because I'm crazy, doesn't mean I'm wrong." The words Cassidy uses to explain how he sees the world may sound silly, but by the end you agree that they're also accurate.
Nearly every comedic nugget in this movie comes from that dark, mysterious land called irony. You laugh because it's so odd and because it sounds just about right. At one point two sets of rival private security companies (that's mercenaries in layman's terms) have a shoot out on a crowded city street- each believing the other to be terrorists who fired first, and you laugh because it's ridiculous- and because it's uncomfortably believable. Maybe that's the term I'm looking for here. The Men Who Stare at Goats is both hilariously out there, and uncomfortably believable.
Although the talkative pair of high school girls next to me in the theater seemed to feel otherwise, this is a solid, enjoyable movie that left me chuckling. It is full of, at times Cohen-esque, humor and strangely emotional moments that go as quickly as they come. I enjoyed it for the fact that it made me laugh but thoughtfully so, and for it's resisting the urge to conclude the story with heaps of sentiment. And conversely, I hated it for getting "More than A Feeling" stuck in my head for the rest of the weekend.
And in case your wondering: Yes. I did laugh each and every time the word "Jedi" was mentioned near McGregor. And No. I'm not ashamed that it never got old to me.
Reel Deal Recommends:
Good Night, and Good Luck: Great movie directed by Clooney and co-written by Clooney and Grant Heslov.
Arlington Road: Jeff Bridges leads this mind blowing thriller that not enough people saw.
Stay: An interesting psychological drama starring Ewan "You'll Always Be Obi-Wan to Me" McGregor.
The Scorpion King: Because then you'll think it's funny too.