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Monthly Archives: July 2010

Once upon a time, in a Hollywood far away,

There was a filmmaker named Tim Burton, who wanted to get paid

It didn’t seem that long ago that Tim was not so shallow and trite

There was a time when his works burst with enthusiasm, but were just a little slight

Many moons ago, when Tim was young, enthusiastic and new

He made films that people could love, and the man himself could be compared to few

He made a gleeful film with Pee Wee and gave us back a moody Batman,

He made Christmas a musical nightmare and gave the world that loveable Scissorhand’s

His films had vision, heart, despair and other qualities which abound

But slowly his films became lazy and tired, they began to fester and flop around

A movie about aliens didn’t pan out and his film with apes was total trash

His film at the chocolate factory was uniquely terrible, something akin to a terrible rash

With his inventiveness vanishing and his spark somehow drained

His works became rote and tiresome, of the ass a large pain

This brings us to his newest, Alice and her trip to Wonderland

A CGI craptastrophy, devoid of purpose and horribly bland

With a chest full of money and his alter ego Johnny in tow

Tim’s crafted nothing but a big, bloated, candy colored, CGI show

Armed with a script as dull as old pencil lead,

The story slogs forward like a zombie, freshly dead

All the dialogue’s flat, not a line spoke worth saying

But no one seemed to care as long as Warner Brothers was paying

Lewis Carroll’s playful witticisms have been exorcised like a pesky itch

Scared that as if something smart or clever were uttered the audience might bitch

A young, pretty, doe eyed actress is Alice, trotting across the screen

But she’s little more than a prop, there’s nothing for her to do in any one scene

She seems meditative most times, a flutter to her demeanor occasionally sneaking in

But she’s often upstaged and overshadowed by her motley crew of CGI kin

On hand is the Cheshire Cat, Tweedle Dum, Tweedle Dee and a caterpillar which smokes

But Depp’s Mad Hatter is the reason people are in the theater holding $9 Cokes

But Depp can do nothing with the mad man in a hat

He’s lost with no direction to go, his character like a pancake under a steamroller, quite flat

Depp showed up to put on his freaky white face, loopy green eyes and zany looking suit,

But on the page nothing is written, there’s no character to play, so why give a hoot?

The story ends with a boring battle, having Alice slay an ugly, freaky beast

But for any viewer still in the room, they’d have zoned out an hour ago, at least

Tim the director stands behind his camera, counts his cash, and listlessly films away

But for all involved, especially Tim, this feels like just another payday

More often than not Tim the director has begun to phone it in

Making movies that no one likes or remembers, doomed to line the cinematic dust bin

With each passing disaster Tim slides further down the directorial scale

His new works, time after time, coming up fail.

Next time Tim drops another worthless, cinematic blight

Don’t say you weren’t warned, the man makes nothing but shite.

Summer Hours – A well-intentioned, highly acclaimed French drama from 2008.  Three adult children cope with the loss of their mother, but more importantly, they have to determine what to do with the extensive art collection she’s left behind.  The movie has small moments that work and it gradually touches on themes and emotional gestures that viewers can take something from; valuing the things which decendents leave you, don’t discard the past quickly, etc.  But at its core it’s a movie that never boils, or even tries to.  “Summer” is content to make our protagonists all nice, pleaseant, amiable family members.  No one does anything terrible or selfish to one another and all parties avoid high drama or grand theatrics.  In short, it is dull.  It’s the kind of emotionally understated, high minded, art house, psuedo drama critics love to worship, while slightly less hoity types begin to navel gaze after a while.  Gaze into my navel I did.  It isn’t bad and it isn’t a painful sit, but after the third or fourth conversation about the importance of desks, vases and artwork, it starts to feel static.  I don’t need lurid theatrics, but at least some not so civil disagreements would’ve livened things up a bit.
Hunger – Some movies are made with the mindset that those viewing it already know something, or even a lot, about the subject matter.  “Hunger” is about IRA prisoner Bobby Sands and his hunger strike in a British prison in 1981 and a great deal of the film plays out before this becomes apparent.  “Hunger” begins by following the strange and forboding morning routine of an English prison guard.  It then moves onto the lives of two incarcerated  IRA prisoners and their hellish existence in Maze prison which consist of routine beatings and humilations at the hands of British guards.  Then roughly halfway through, these characters are dropeed and the film shifts its focus over to Sands and his hunger strike.  Sands organizes a the strike in which he becomes the first of dozens of prisoners to protest for political rights through self-inflicted starvation.  He then proceeds to starve to death.  That’s the movie in a nutshell.  Fans of unapologetic realism in cinema will likely champion “Hunger.”  It’s a film that’s always easy to respect but equally hard to watch.  The movie has no interest in cheap sentiment or overblown politics.  Though it’s tale is a worthy one, this viewer felt as if great gaps of story were missing.  The only thing I know about Sands is that he was a politcal prisoner, he was poorly treated in prison and that he starved himself to death.  Adding to this sensation of sparsity is a near total lack of dialogue. With the exception of an impressive 17 minute, unedited scene in the middle of the film, there’s virtually no conversation between anyone.  Director and co-screenwriter Steve McQueen has been sparse to a fault.

Ten Word or Less Review: Bad dog.

Remaking classic Universal horror films has become a Hollywood habit on par with heroin addiction.  It’s disgusting and awful and no good for anyone but they just keep doing it because they think they have to.  “The Invisible Man” became a shitty Chevy Chase movie.  And then an even shittier Kevin Bacon film.  “Frankenstein” was morphed into Robert DeNiro caked in prosthetic face parts.  “The Mummy” quickly deteriorated into a joke franchise for Brendan Fraser to headline.  Somewhere the creature from the Black Lagoon is hiding in his swamp, begging to be forgotten.  That brings us to the poor tale of “The Wolfman.”  Bearing all the tell tale signs of a production gone typically wrong, Universal’s own remake of its golden age classic slogs through the motions, a movie slowly choking itself with tediousness and rote action from its opening moments.

Benicio Del Toro steps into the fur worn long ago by Lon Chaney, our cursed protagonist Lawrence, the poor soul destined to become the ravenous Wolfman of the title.  After years away from home working with the theater, Lawrence returns home to discover that his brother has been murdered in gruesome fashion.  His father, Anthony Hopkins, is a reclusive loner who spends his nights pining for his long dead wife of years ago.  Around them the town’s folk are living in fear of a savage beast who has returned after a long absence to slaughter them without mercy.  Gypsy’s are blamed, taverns are inhabited, ominous things are muttered, people are ripped to shreds, etc.  This new Wolfman has a bad case of fleas.

With a much troubled and storied production; late director changes, editing issues, numerous release delays, “The Wolfman” feels like a movie stripped of personality and point.  It lacks the old fashioned, theatrical opulence of Coppola’s “Dracula”, the Hammer inspired atmosphere Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow”, or even the rank and intentional stupidity of something as awful as “Van Helsing.”  It has no vigor, charm, depth or purpose.  Nary an individual characteristic can be rooted out of the whole thing.  It doesn’t even bother to insult the intelligence in any grand way.  It’s simply a cold movie that feels as if it was created out of a financial obligation, not passion.

Headlining “Wolfman” is Del Toro, an unobvious choice for a Victorian age horror film.  Looking to hide his Hispanic origins with low lighting and make up, Del Toro’s face looks pasty, lumpy and sick, as if it could start to gross moss on it at any moment.  He looks deflated an unmotivated every single minute he’s on screen.  Whatever originally drew him and other talent to the project has clearly been shot away in a hail of studio mandated bullets.  Del Toro reeks of an actor fulfilling an obligation and nothing more.  He establishes no chemistry with perfunctory/mandatory love interest Emily Blunt.  Blunt practically disappears into the background of the scenery with nothing notable to do or say.  Hugo Weaving shows up for some reason but he has no real part to play.  If he were removed completely nothing noteworthy would alter.  Usual scene stealer Anthony Hopkins looks like he’s thinking about hamming it up, but stops short, deciding not to waste the effort on this doomed project.

Eleventh hour director Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer) shoots and assembles the movie professionally, but he can’t bring to life what has already been repeatedly run over.  He’s a taxidermist, hired to stuff and mount road kill.  The only saving grace of the whole endeavor is a well financed production and top of the line make up effects.  Rick Baker’s work is a real treat and the integration of practical and CGI effects are impressive.  The transformation scenes are a brief bit of enjoyment and surprise.  It’s quite clear that great expense and fuss were lavished on all technical parts of the production, but it’s all meaningless window dressing.  An immaculate, handmade prom dress being worn on a lifeless body.

“The Wolfman” stands as another sad example of Hollywood tinkering gone wrong.  What was supposed to be a dark, revisionist telling of a classic horror story became a listless, hand in your chin, smirk inducing piece of shit.  We can hope that someone, somewhere gleamed a small amount of insight from this experience and learned that making movies via committee is not making movies at all.  But considering Hollywood didn’t learn that the first 896 times it happened, chances are it didn’t happen here.  Stay in your swamp Black Lagoon creature.

Ten Word or Less Review:  Not great, but miles better than expected.

As slightly above average as it may be, we should probably stop and give thanks to “Predators.”  The spine snatching beastie has had a rough go of it lately.  Its own franchise abandoned two decades ago, our favorite mandibled, alien badass was shuffled off into a misguided grudge match with the Alien franchise and the results were something only dips could love.  No offense to any dips in the room.  Stuck in a rut with nowhere to go, hack director Robert Rodriguez grabbed the attention of Fox and has now done his low budget best to breathe life into this misused franchise.  Handing directorial duties off to not-so-notable director Antol Nimrod (Armored), the two have managed to slap together a decent, functioning monster movie that doesn’t rankle or annoy.  It may not be the blistering work of action mayhem many had foolishly hoped for, but it’s a step in the right direction.

“Predators” is a collection of rights and wrongs.  For everything it gets right it missteps somewhere else.  But the things it gets right are solid advantages while its mistakes are mostly nick picky in nature.  The best thing “Predators” does is to cast real actors in its leads.  It would’ve been simple to take the “AVP’ route and cast a bunch of borderline and unknown faces at bargain basement prices.  Instead Oscar winner Adrian Brody steps into the genre field to play an unnamed mercenary dropped onto the alien planet to be hunted.  His character rises above routine movie badass by being a smartly written, unapologetic realist.  The most common problem with movies such as these is that the audience is already privy to what’s happening; all the while our primary characters spend half the movie learning what we already know.  Brody’s character is written with an intuitive nature and he figures out the crux of what’s up quickly, sparing the audience patience in the process.  Laurence Fishburne drops in for a wacked out, scene stealing cameo clearly meant for Schwarzenegger.  The rest of the cast, including Topher Grace and Alice Braga, is rounded out with mostly unknowns, but no one feels out of place or poorly served by the material.  This very decent and game cast takes up most of the screen time, leaving the Predators of the title in a surprisingly background role.  Those still hoping for a movie strictly about our skull hunting aliens will have to wait for one more round.

The worst thing “Predators” does is lack a truly original element to call its own. Rodriguez and Nimrod have shoehorned in too many nods to the original “Predator” film without establishing enough of an identity of its own.  It doesn’t even have the excessive, hair brained, sleaziness of “Predator 2.”  “Predators” is just another retread of the same scenario, albeit a decent retread.  There should’ve been a point where this feature distinguished itself from its precursors and gone its own way, but it never quite happens.  It’s also undermined from time to time by some questionable screenplay decisions.  Without spoiling anything, one character is privy to information which they should in no way know, another involves a wildly mistimed character reveal.  None of these problems are deal breakers, but they nag.

The best way to enjoy “Predators” is to think about it lightly and appreciate that it isn’t an unmitigated screwing of the pooch.  Pull the threads at it if you must but you’ll eventually have taken apart the whole thing, leaving yourself a little pile of spines and skulls.  Let the nagging, unanswered questions slide, of which there are tons, and enjoy it for what it is, a movie about a bunch of psycho killers dropped on an alien world to be hunted and killed by bigger, uglier psycho killers.  Epic drama this will never be and that’s okay.  Though the ending does promise a sequel, I’m not so sure we should press our luck.  We got one watchable movie out of the deal, something tells me a second go around is unwise.

Brothers (2009) – Jake Gyllenhal, Tobey Maguire and Natalie Portman all turn in strong work for this low key work.  It’s the kind of small scale human drama that Hollywood is becoming increasingly hesitant to make.  Gyllenhal is the black sheep brother who steps up to take on family responsibility after Maguire’s character, a marine, is reported killed in Afghanistan.  In actuality he’s captured by Taliban forces and tortured.  He returns home months later, a broken man on the verge of madness.  “Brothers” doesn’t aim for Oscar level histrionics and that makes for a nice change.  It’s not a film out to change to world, just tell a compelling story and tell it well.  Director Jim Sheridan’s steady hand and restrained style let’s it succeed on both counts.  The screen play feels a little too sparse but the performances of the primaries fill it out in the places it needs attention with believable chemistry and skill.

Tetro (2009) – Francis Ford Coppola has decided to spend his senior years making small scale, independent efforts which appeal to his senses and adhere to visions as a director.  That all sounds respectable and admirable but someone needs to tell Francis that he needs to remember a few things about structure, pacing and character.  “Tetro” tells the story of a young American reuniting with his long lost brother who ran off a decade before.  The older brother has become a reclusive, mope, obsessed with his demons and keeping everyone away.  Though filmed with a lovingly immaculate black and white palate, Coppola sends his story teetering this way and that, never in focus enough to make it feel consequential or even mildly interesting.  It’s a shame.  Coppola still has a wonderful eye for photography, he simply lacks the discipline required to make his narrative work.

Fires on the Plain (1959) – In 1956 Kon Ichikawa directed the humanistic masterpiece “The Burmese Harp”.  That was film filled with empathy towards the human experience in war time and stands as an unarguable classic.  Three years later Ichikawa returned to the subject of Japanese soldiers during World War II in “Fires on the Plain.”  As far removed from the theme of human compassion as possible, “Fires” follows a ragged soldier as he’s dismissed from his unit so he can go back to the hospital, if they don’t take him he’s ordered to blow himself up.  The soldier spends the duration wondering the island attempting to eek out an existence as food is sparse, fellow soldiers are resorting to cannibalism and American’s are slowly appearing everywhere.  The movie is a difficult sit.  It feels one note, the misery never lets up, and our soldier never develops a personality we can feel for.  It’s an experience that leaves one feeling emotionally depleted and stomped on.  Fans of classic Japanese cinema, war movies or downer cinema in general will find a lot to like, but it’s not something to jump into lightly.