Friday, December 31, 2010

Land of the Lost

Land of the Lost This one's due back at the library really soon, so I made myself sit through it. It wasn't too difficult. The film contained some truly amusing images and Anna Friel (a favorite since Pushing Daisies). The movie was funny on much the same lines as The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra but where Lost Skeleton mocks with pure and pointed satire, Land of the Lost upped the budget, and lost the cult value.

The script contained the obligatory sex jokes, but not to a nauseating extent, just enough to titillate the teens. It also contained some really funny moments, such as A Chorus Line, and a well-placed walnut. It was refreshing to see a CGI T-rex upstage Will Ferrell.

Ferrell's humor and lines leaned toward the slightly overdone, but his comic timing still impressed me. Anna Friel seemed unfortunately to be playing second-fiddle. I can't be certain of her real lead potential, since she seems so often to be hiding behind her leading men. The third and fourth main characters were simply pointless comic relief, and deserve little mention here. Both battled for superior unremarkableness.

I'd recommend this film only if you have a sense of humor, and a strong forgiveness instinct. Otherwise, pass. I'm sure you can find something more worthwhile on. Like the Disney Channel.

Hackers

Hackers Because it was expiring tomorrow, I thought I'd just check it out. I'm actually pretty glad I did. Although this film takes blatant advantage of several simple facts unknown to non-users back in the nineties, the sequences most unrealistic are also strictly symbolic. The movie doesn't just fill in the boring blanks with nonsense, but they don't explain that it's symbolism either, leaving those familiar with computers to scoff and roll their eyes. To them I say, "It's a movie. Get over yourselves." It's the film equivalent of impressionism. It's not at all interested in reflecting reality, but certainly engaged in capturing how the eye reflects a kind of reality.

The director paced this film differently than I'm used to. It wasn't necessarily boring, but it didn't follow the same threat/climax pattern we see in most techno-action stories. I felt that it benefited from this evenness, but sadly, not at the box office.

Jonny Lee Miller I have already admired for his performance in Emma, and even back when this film was made (1995), he did not disappoint me. Angelina Jolie played just another Angelina Jolie character. It's difficult to take her seriously when you can't stop looking at her huge lips, which is probably an audience failing, but one she has certainly taken advantage of.

The other major supporting cast played their roles quite well. Their quirky, semi-confidence worked well as a group, reminding us constantly that these were just high-school kids with high-school insecurities in well over their oily heads. Honestly, I recommend you give this film a chance, if you have the simple ability to separate art from life. If not, get back to work, all ye little men in grey suits.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Laws of Attraction

Laws of Attraction The scene of Parker Posy having sex on a giant oak dining table must have remained burned into my unconscious since I first saw this film years ago. I'd forgotten all about it until just the other night. The film as a whole must have been entirely unmemorable, and yet when I'd finished, it seemed unforgettable. The resolution was much more satisfying than the usually bitchy-businesswoman flick. Julianne Moore's character actually softened several times, like Amy Adams's character in Leap Year, which she more than half resembled. As Moore's character toddled, dragging her suitcase on wheels, down the Irish road after the beat-up, rented car I even muttered "Is it your own self, Louis" and "Throw it in the wash, it'll be grand."

Pierce Brosnan played a delightfully soft role here, with real emotional passion, and yet his character showed that lawyer zing only available to really successful jackasses. His character came across as nuanced and complex, complementing Moore's more predictable, and yet scintillating between moments. Moore manages to give her character softness and strength, a real challenge when the trend is toward strength and strength, and free consequence-less choices, and permissible infidelity.

The Merry Widow

Merry Widow [VHS] With beautiful music, and some truly wonderful dance scenes filmed with creativity and a great eye for everything but color, this film captured my imagination. The story is classic, with no real twists or turns, although a few moments made me flinch.

This film was made in a time when Hollywood was just starting to become aware of its own race issues. The gypsy woman is obviously a caucasian in blackface, and Fernando Lamas is hispanic, but playing a character from a small, Germanic or French-speaking country. His voice is lovely, though, and I don't think they could have improved on it, although they might have made Marshovia nearer Spain or Portugal (or even South America).

The costumer should be congratulated. Lana Turner's dresses were impeccable.

Enthusiasm about the story itself requires belief in the "reformed rake" plot, which has never been a strong point for me. I prefer a nice, upstanding nerd.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Top Ten Television - SiR Style

I haven't watched many movies lately, but I've got quite a list waiting for me to get to, once the holidays are over and I'm done re-taking the GRE (I didn't realize they expired. Lucky me). In the meantime, television has been my distraction of choice, and here are my favorite distractions this year (I mean, except my typewriter, of course) ("Opry calls it multi-tasking"). Since I don't have any actual satellite, cable, or air television, I catch all of these shows LEGALLY online, streaming on the Wii, or by ordering the discs.

10. The Pretender
The Pretender - The Complete First Season I watched this show briefly as a kid, and thought it ended pretty intriguingly, so I decided to give it another try, via hulu.com. I imagine it didn't win many awards, but for fluffy time-killing, it works just fine. Michael Weiss's acting does get a bit tedious, but I'm hoping he warms up in later seasons. The thing I find fascinating about this story, like most of the things I watch, is the villain. Miss Parker started in the pilot episode as a two-dimensional, mustachio-twisting Snidely, but it's not just the bunnies; even knowing exactly where she's going, I'm interested in how she gets there. And I like watching anorexic b****es get their comeuppance.

9. Fringe
Olivia I've actually caught up on this show. J. J. Abrams typically complicates the story (here too), but he does have some refreshing twists. The characters are amusing, which I find is an essential aspect to my interest. Plus, I like science-fiction, and romance.

8. Jonathan Creek
Jonathan Creek - Season OneQuite a shift from the "romance" idea, actually, this show has an extraordinarily simple premise: a clumsy nerd who designs magic tricks solves locked-room mysteries at the urging of a quirky/pushy journalist. It's another in a longish string of specialist murder mystery shows, like Rosemary and Thyme, the pair of quirky gardeners who solve plant-related mysteries. I like this one, though, simply because it's usually good for a giggle. Plus, I like seeing how things work.

7. Criminal Minds
Criminal Minds - The Second Season I like psychology. I love mysteries. This show is just a bit more grown-up than the juvenile procedural dramas I'm used to, but I find it refreshing, in small doses. I have to say, I'm going to miss Mandy Patinkin but from what I can tell, the show recovers without any trouble, so we'll see.

6. Lie to Me
Lie to Me: Season Two Introducing another in the series of sociopathic Brits, this show, based on a series of articles in the New Yorker that I actually did read, still manages to bring out some real issues. Recently, we've been given permission by a character with a more sensible eye to see the main character, Cal Lightman, from a more realistic perspective, but he still manages to maintain his hero status, however tainted, unlike House.

5. The Good Guys
New! Yay! This show NEEDS to keep going! It reminds me of Psych in its unconventionality and humor, as well as its retro/nostalgia thing, which obviously goes back a bit further than Psych's exuberant youth. It shows up the comparison show in several ways, though. Firstly, I prefer Collin Hanks as an actor. Secondly, I really like Jonathan Frakes's directing. Thirdly, the main character hasn't turned into a jerk. Yet. It's hilarious. Check it out.

4. Nero Wolfe
Nero Wolfe: The Complete Classic Whodunit Series I just discovered this delightful mystery series starring Timothy Hutton (a particular favorite of mine, ever since Made in Heaven). I can't believe I haven't been watching it already. It's set in the fifties, and really captures that overwhelming sense of denial that so characterized the age. I love Archie as a character, although (just like the books) I still don't quite understand his thing with women, or how it's relevant.

3. Leverage
The Morning After JobTimothy Hutton again, with a colorful cast ranging from mediocre to stunning. The characters are criminals with varied specialties who band together to help worthy underdogs and victims against other kinds of criminals. It's very Italian Job, but much less selfish.

2. The Middleman
The Middleman: The Complete Series"Campy" is the word. I really liked it, though. It lasted just long enough to round out the story in a bit of a flurry, but I really did like the quirky, super-hero-style adventures, the gizmos and doodads, the cute guy (also a regular on Lie to Me), and the quick dialogue and pop-culture references. The art isn't bad either.

And finally, my top pick for 2010. . .

1. Wonderfalls
Wonderfalls - The Complete Series I really related, although I found myself envying the main character's trailer and social life. Remember, 2010 is the year I started working in retail, too. Incidentally, "Mouth Breather" will become a regular on Eureka, as Fargo. This show has the spark of true creativity. It's honestly original, and it involves some really deep and truly realistic relationships, although they're mixed with the usual amusing, plot-pushing twists. Watch it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Watching the Detectives

Watching the Detectives Featuring what must potentially be Cillian Murphy's bare backside, this film walked a thin line between brilliantly amusing and marginally pointless. I adored all the movie references (and I recommend the '59 Body Snatchers), and despite what that might say about me, I don't at all feel the need to run around wreaking havoc on any kind of level whatsoever.

The envelope it came in described the female character as  "femme fatale" - most likely to compare her to the noir films referenced so often, but she wasn't nearly so sinister. Technically, yes, she got the "hero" in trouble (some pretty deep trouble, if you consider it realistically), but the entirety of the plot did not include any larger events, murders, artificial inflations of that kind, etc. It was simply (or complexly?) a romance between a sedentary nerd and a marginally abusive lunatic, both of whom were fairly brilliantly acted, but don't tell Cillian; he'll get a swollen head.

The images in great moments really boil down to the knot-hole in a fence, Lucy Liu's continuously more exposed chest, and the aforementioned backside. None of these images really strike the imagination, or pretend the epic. Perhaps one image of Violet sitting on the floor of the DVD store and swapping discs sticks in any sort of meaningful way.

Still trying to decide on amusing or pointless. I'll get back to you.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Rough Magic

Rough Magic The contrast between sex and romance in this film amazed me. Strong elements of real emotional romance made strong appearances and held the plot together well, and yet throughout the whole thing, in the ending especially, the director reduces that potentially epic romance to its most crass. I felt disappointed.

Russell Crowe impressed me significantly. His performance, though obviously not the focal point of the film, showed real skill and nuance. Bridget Fonda was adequate, though not at all impressive. I always enjoy watching her anyway, for some reason, even knowing that she's simply not as good as her name makes her sound.

The magic in the movie had the same problem as the romance, in a kind of profound parallel. Although it had the potential (with a slightly higher budget, I must assume) to sweep the audience off it's feet, like the romance, it was reduced to a sausage and a ring. [insert naughty joke here].

The camera work irritated me. The filming locations were nice, though.

Truly, I liked watching Russell Crowe in a dramedy. I like this lighter stuff much better than all his posing, and I think it's because as an actor, his expressions and style are really quite intense, and look better in relief than wallowing in his natural morbidity.
I honestly do recommend this film, if only for the curiosity. Just remember to hit the lights after she drops her last handkerchief.

Incidentally, you might be interested in Ebert's review.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

MASH

M*A*S*H (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) Obscure. Obscured. Obscuring. MASH seemed blurry, unnecessarily complicated, and difficult to unpick, like some three-pound knot entirely in thread. I had an extremely difficult time understanding the significance of several of the shots - even to the point where some of them seemed like abstract photography, without the innate art value.
This film has undisputed cultural significance for the seventies, and the career of the director, but thematically, several elements emerge as gallingly un-PC. The sexism specifically appalled. It really sort of explains bra-burning, which I never quite understood.
Again, just like in Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry I find myself sympathizing with the obvious antagonists. Major Hoolihan may have been written as a ridiculous and limited character, but the indignities she suffered at the hands of her co-workers could never be justified, even to protest a war. And when she acts justifiably hysterical, she is ignored by her superiors, and mocked by the camera. I truly felt sorry for her, and for a moment, I hated the men as they sat and laughed, confident that their violent voyeurism would be applauded.
If the creators of this film mean wartime attrocities to explain the behavior of these three seriously unhinged figures, they do little to link the two. Although a few images of blood and injury appear, they don't seem to mean anything to the rest of the film, as if two films were spliced together almost randomly. None of the events in the operating room seem to influence the dangerous hijinx outside it, which means they can't justify it either.
I found the scene sequence involving the Bud Cort character and Major Burns (avenged by Trapper) particularly significant, and remarkably lucid. The rest, however, skidded and jerked past, leaving a tangled mass of significant obscurity.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Widescreen Edition)Clearly Harry Potter is much less whiny in this film than in the book. I didn't absolutely hate him. I thought it was actually sympathetically played, and surprisingly, well-played. I didn't enjoy hating Imelda Staunton, whose acting has always impressed, which was a switch, since I thoroughly enjoyed hating David Tennant in the previous film, and I'm an immortal Whovian.

I love Luna.

The director did very well distilling a complex story into a couple of hours. Die-hards will naturally complain that their favorite scenes were left out. I don't recall watching Harry and Cho make out in the film more than that first kiss (although I admit, Nanowrimo distracted me), which is certainly a blessing. We get it. All of the facts included in the film make sense in the realm of the film. I can only imagine the nightmare that would have been for a conscientious director.

The effects were a bit confusing, which I think was the idea. Crisp wizard battling might have become a bit too ambitious. Sirius deserved more time, and more mourning, but I think the director needed to mitigate the stifling depression that enshrouds the piece as a whole. I'm sorry that non-readers don't understand everything that happens around that door, but as it is, it made enough sense to be getting on with, as I mentioned before.

I'm wasting words. Back to Nanowrimo.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Widescreen Edition) (Harry Potter 4) Just a sidenote, I think "chalice" is a better word than "goblet," especially in this context.

This movie actually made me laugh more than the others. I'm glad. I need a light note before I launch into The Order of the Phoenix tonight.

Goblet of Fire definitely pivots the entire series. Up until this film, the series has been light, and adolescent. From this point on, from Cedric's death, it's all misery and allegory. It's a difficult note for a film to end on, and it certainly showed the strain. The ending didn't even seem bitter-sweet; it wasn't deep enough for that. It felt. . . empty, like the director was in shock when he filmed it. Like the audience was when they watched. The colorfulness of the wizarding world no longer seemed cheerful and wondrous, but turned into something a little more Tim Burton (or Edward Gorey) than the audience perhaps expected. It's dark Disney. It's a twisted childhood.

I remember loving the flying scenes, and being grateful they weren't too CGIed. I hated the time-travel thing.

Must write. OotP later.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Carolina Moon

Carolina Moon Apparently I've got a thing for Claire Forlani, but she keeps getting stuck in all these unfortunate movies, playing the same character. Still, I'm going to blame the directors and/or writers. I think the only movie Ms. Forlani really stands out in is The Medallion with Jackie Chan. Loved that one!

Anyway, this film is necessarily more romance than thriller, although it had its intense elements as well. The chemistry between characters/actors really impressed me. I think the moment I found out it was based on a book by Nora Robers, I knew where it was going, and sort of tried to ignore the inevitability of it all. I knew whodunnit by the second scene, and I HATE figuring it out. I go out of my way to NOT figure it out, but it sort of thumped me on the head early on anyway.

Unless you're in the mood for a pretty intense romance (or you're Miriam), skip this one. I don't even care what rottentomatoes gave this film.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lady in White

The Lady in White
I actually recognized several actors from this film. For an indy, this film gets a passing grade, although I'd hate to see it on a curve up against big studio films. The plot was regrettably predictable. I admire the periodicity of the thing, though. The crew caught the fifties pretty well. See it only as a curiosity, not for any real criticism. (incidentally, this film rated a whopping 78% on the tomatometer. I can't really see why, unless the film gets a bonus for being indy).

I'm afraid Nanowrimo is going to cut my entries short for November, but fortunately, I don't see any really important films on my queue for a while, so it shouldn't make a difference. Stephen, I promise to make an exception for any Harry Potter films I see.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Two-Disc Special Edition) (Harry Potter 3)The third of this series reminded me quite forcefully why I dread these stories. Bad things happen. We're talking endless misery bad things. I HATE stories like this. And honestly, the occasional light moment doesn't really make up for it. This movie bodes very ill for the remaining five. I almost stopped watching entirely halfway through.

I thought Black was a character that could certainly have been better developed, but I understand the time constraints in film-making (as well as half a dozen directors who ignore them entirely).

I hope I make it.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Widescreen Edition) Dobby frustrated me extremely, as he did in the books. The child-acting was still pretty stinky, but making some improvements. It felt odd to have Ginny, the center, play so little part leading up, although I suppose that would be something of a giveaway. Unfortunately, as it is, it seems like the writer couldn't make up her mind who she should finally make the culprit, although making her an innocent seems to be a clever move.

I loved Moaning Myrtle. I thought the Basilisk was clumsily done.

This film was neither as funny, nor awe-inspiring as the first, but good enough to be getting on with.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Full Screen Edition) (Harry Potter 1) I recently began re-watching the Harry Potter films to so I could finally catch up. I'm afraid I have only seen up through film number four. My little brothers convinced me I was missing out, although I distinctly remember the books being agonizing.

I found the first film noticeably well-done for a children's film. Although the acting made me cringe several times (I had already known Daniel Radcliffe to be a terrible child-actor, after having seen him in David Copperfield), it didn't really spoil the movie, as the adult acting and the special effects really were a thoroughly amusing ride.

I think conceptually, this first film is the most amazing for the wonder it produces as a distressed young boy learns that he is special. Although I still have moral issues with creating any kind of idealistic fantasy in which children are not born equal (see "Percy Jackson"), I got over it for this movie.

Cool Air

The H.P. Lovecraft Collection, Vol. 1: Cool Air
I have always had a fascination for Lovecraft, and this indy film captured his style and periodicity quite well. Although no high tech special effects were even attempted, the camera work held the suspense and horror with remarkable veracity.
The acting was nothing noteworthy, but all of it was perfectly adequate to hold the audience.

And how am I supposed to draw attention to a film for being perfectly adequate? Lovecraft afficionados and true horror fans will certainly be interested already, and anyone else would be ill-equipped to appreciate the work.

How 'bout this? It's only forty-five minutes long - the length of a current television episode. I'd recommend investing the time.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Nicholas Nickleby

Nicholas Nickleby Anne Hathaway managed not to ruin this particular film, but only because she wasn't in it. Although I never really found Madeleine at all sympathetic, this iteration was as unobtrusive, even in her acting, as Dickens wrote her. I liked it. It didn't scream "I'M FAKE!"
.
James D'Arcy as Nicholas managed his role quite well, although I'm afraid I compare him at moments unfavorably with the RSC giant Roger Rees. Where Rees played Nicholas as one truly headstrong, if not outright violent, D'Arcy underplays that part of his written character and so comes off as just slightly misunderstood.

The director amped up the violence and sexuality of this film to reflect our no-longer-Victorian times. I'm not sure how I feel about it, but I understood completely. It did not detract from the film as a whole, but rather supplemented interpretations for a current audience who may not fully sympathize otherwise.

This version seemed a little abrupt. I felt that perhaps they should have extended this project (and the funding, I suppose) and developed Nicholas's life as an actor more fully. Cutting that out does seem to somehow diminish what little development he might make, as an essentially static character. I also missed the sympathetic light around the fallen character of Lord Verisopht. The producer seems to have cast him as the stereotypical chinless wonder, stuttering and scoliatic, where he might have been a briefly tragic hero, echoing somewhat the favorite A Tale of Two Cities. 


Despite the foreshortening, this version has captured my interest. I appreciated it, and hope more viewers will give it a chance.