Thursday, November 27, 2003
3 posts in a week. I haven't done that for a long time. I still have two more to go. Those just may be up before Monday, but I won't promise anything, because I know how that usually goes. Enjoy the new reading. Go see some movies this weekend!
The Singing Detective
Review by Jon Waterman
Dan Dark writes pulp mystery stories about a man who sings in a club by night and works as a detective by later night. It’s possible that someone wants his story for a feature film. However, Dan must find a way to write again. He suffers from severe psoriasis that has left him hospitalized for months and his hands stuck in a clenched position. Unable to put his thoughts down, Dan begins to hallucinate and mix reality with his ever-evolving novel.
The thing that struck me hardest and wowed me the most about this film was the way it was shot. Director Keith Gordon and cinematographer Tom Richmond combine their talents to work out meaningful stylistic differences between the narratives. For the hospital shots, the whites are overblown and everything is meant to look bright and clean and sterile. While inside the detective story, the frame is a pool of black exposing only the people involved and using stagy, minimal set dressing. When Dan regresses to his past, the film takes on a warmer, more blistery feel. Occasionally the styles combine, letting the conscientious viewer know what they are truly watching.
What would a movie called “The Singing Detective” be without musical numbers? Nothing. So, throughout the film, Robert Downey Jr. (Dark) lip synchs classic songs from the 1950s. The dancing and the choreography were not as memorable as it could have been, but I appreciated the stage look of it all more here than I did in “Chicago.” Maybe that’s because this movie had some non-stage moments as well. The musical numbers are still fun and can even provide a nice little break from what could have become a slightly monotonous back and forth.
The other truly standout aspect of the film was the acting. RD2 had to emote a range of thoughts and feelings without being able to really move his body. From what I remember, he even sparingly moved his eyes unless it seemed appropriate. Obviously a very difficult performance to execute and he does it well. Robin Wright Penn does a fine job as well and I would have loved it if more time was spent with Adrien Brody’s thug character. Mel Gibson (who looks a lot like Robin Williams’ character in “One Hour Photo”) also shines as the more toned down, raspy psychiatrist that provides Dark’s know-it-all personality with new things to think about.
This movie is not for everyone, but if what I’ve described so far sounds even mildly interesting, then go out there and give it a shot. You’ll be treated to great acting and wonderful cinematography, but the storyline leaves a little to be desired. Overall though, it’s a fun movie and not a fluff movie. That alone is a film worth seeing.
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
Check back later for more reviews. For now, enjoy the Matrix Revolutions review. Perhaps I was too lenient...
The Matrix Revolutions
Review by Jon Waterman
Neo is back with his raggedy-clothed buddies to defeat the massive armies of mechanical squids and keep the human race alive. Can he do it? Is he the one? What will happen to the real and fabricated societies?
At last, the final chapter has come and gone. Hopefully, most of the talk about how great this series is will end. Let me just reaffirm right off the bat that I am not a fan of the trilogy and found the third installment to easily be the worst.
Never mind that the conclusion to the whole saga held little weight in the overall effect of the trilogy, let’s get down to good old fashioned story telling. The Final two parts seemed to be very stream of consciousness. It’s as if the writer/directors (The Wachowski brothers) said, “Ok…now what?” and put their thoughts down on paper and filmed it. I know this isn’t true, but there are many elements of the story that are constructed so poorly that it’s hard to believe much more thought was put into the script than a student puts into a term paper written on the bus ride to school.
For instance, the war that ensues between man and machine was thrown at our face. There was a lot of talk in the second film about it happening, but there was little build up in this part. All of a sudden we’re seeing thousands of horribly CG’d tentacles flooding the screen and hundreds of horribly CG’d sit-in machine guns firing back at them. The result is several overly long, non-exciting scenes filled with some of the worst visual effects seen this year.
In fact, “overly long” can be used to describe the movie in general. Everything was drawn out to laughable extents. The horrible, seemingly improvised dialogue got on my nerves and made me laugh aloud. When Agent Smith starts talking about the meaning behind the placement of a tray of cookies, you know the movie has gone off the deep end in it’s attempts to be profound.
Honestly, any deeper meaning that one could grab from this whole trilogy can really only be found in the first movie where they introduce an interesting and slightly fresh notion. After that, it just seems like they got stuck in the fervor and had to do something with it.
All in all, it’s the same weird shot composition, the same incredibly awful acting and less fighting that is less exhilarating all wrapped up into one annoying and idiotic long piece of eye candy that leaves a bad taste.
It’s truly hard to imagine that such anticipation surrounded this movie. One would think that considering how lackluster the sequel was, more people would avoid the third part. It probably goes without saying, but the movie assumes you’ve seen the first two, so if you haven’t…you won’t exactly be lost, but you’ll enjoy it less (if that’s possible). Well, anyways. If you’re a diehard fan, then you’ve probably already seen the film and will write me an angry email. If you haven’t bothered to check it out yet, don’t. Let someone else rent the video and then fast-forward to any substance.
Monday, November 24, 2003
Wow. I posted! How about that. Well. If I have more time later on this week, I'll start to bring you Matrix Revolutions, The Singing Detective, School of Rock and Die Mommie Die. How does that sound to all of you? And who knows what all I'll see next. Check back often.
Review by Jon Waterman
The film tells the story of Harvey Pekar. He’s a average Joe that works a boring average day job every day to come back home to his modest, less than average home. Inspired by his friends in the comic book business, such as Robert Crumb, he decides to write a picture book of his own. He writes about his life and about the little things that usually go on unnoticed. The concept becomes an underground hit and soon Harvey is becoming more famous. What will happen to his average life now?
Directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini take the bio pic to another level. First to be noticed is the usage of the comic book panels. “American Splendor” easily accomplishes the integration of the formats with such grace that “The Hulk” is left dumbfounded. The opening sequence places live action inside the panels and then pans over to a drawn Harvey giving background information and then back to live action and so on. What makes this style work is the fluidity of it all. Comic books are meant to be read in a certain order. “The Hulk” just threw an assault of panels on the screen at one time, all of them busy and all trying to be equally important. Here, the use of the technique is minimal, purposeful and structured.
Another way the bio pic genre is modified is by using the subject matter so prominently. Most of the time, if people involved are alive, they’re thrown in as cameo roles somewhere, later to be revealed in the DVD commentary. What this film does is interlace the narrative with footage of the interview sessions. We get a feel of what Harvey’s personality is truly like and can more accurately (or perhaps more harshly) judge Paul Giamatti’s rendition of him. This also allows blurring to occur. Harvey appeared on Letterman several times in his life. Instead of hiring a Letterman double to play off of Paul, they use our knowledge of what Harvey looks like and play the clip of the actual incident. It makes it much more real and much more believable and much more interesting to watch.
All of this helps the movie stand out and truly be better than most out there. In fact, if it weren’t for the styles and the mixtures of real and pretend, the film wouldn’t be half as effective. This is true, for one, because it would seem some of the characterization is off. Not as much with Harvey, but more in Toby, a self-proclaimed nerdy coworker. Judah Friedlander, who plays Toby, is a comedian and it seemed as if he was putting too much of the comic touch onto this person. Toby appeared to be too cartoony. And then the real Toby was shown and it all made sense.
Even if the film was put together more conventionally, it would still be worthwhile. The acting is incredible. Everyone stays true to the spirit of the character and blasts the screen with emotion. The script (by the directors) is gripping and very funny at the same time. The film is filled with great Jazz music that adds to the mood of the picture and takes you deeper into Harvey’s personality and feelings. The only real complaint I have is with the overabundance of extreme rack focus shots. There’s only so many times I can see incredibly blurry blobs of light and shadow form some type of sharp image.
It is true. Harvey is an everyman-like hero. His life is run of the mill for the most part. However, the story of how he translates this into art is far from boring. The directors, like Harvey, know that if conventions are broken, then ears will perk up. Let them perk. You won’t be sorry.
Thursday, November 20, 2003
It's been a while. I don't know how to keep my promises, do I? Well...sorry to everyone waiting for my latest review. Here it is, finally. It may be a little while before I get my next ones up, due to the end of the semester crunch and time away from the computer, but I'll try my best. Check back soon.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
Review by Jon Waterman
Back in the 70s some teenagers heading to a concert pick up a hitchhiker. The disheveled girl tries to tell them something but eventually gives in to her mind and shoots herself. When the teens look for help, they’re met with a lot of run around and eventually find themselves running around trying to escape. It seems there’s a chainsaw wielding murderer on the loose and this isolated town is his home turf.
Now, in order to properly critique the film, one must completely dispense of the fact that it is a remake. For people who haven’t seen the original in a while or perhaps never, this isn’t too hard to do. Diehard horror fans may have a much tougher time digesting the movie as they most likely thoroughly enjoy the film made back in 1974. Since, currently, I fit into the first group…here we go.
The movie begins as a “documentary.” It shows some police footage of the house and the narrator tells us about the case. After this we’re taken to the main narrative. The main purpose of the opening sequence is 1) to give a feel for the style of the movie and 2) to create a base for suspense right away. Instead of letting characters get developed before dropping in scares, the grainy and contrasty look of the opening implants unease in the audience. Both devises prove to be effective, however, the general discomfort doesn’t carry through like it should. The film loses momentum when it should be there most. Only when the police footage returns at the end does the sensation return, but by that point it’s too little too late.
The story seems to drag ever so slightly. I didn’t really like that all of the adults were such horrible figures. Perhaps I’m getting old, but creating such a clear-cut division between the teens and adults (especially in authoritative positions) seemed a bit much. I understand the fear involved with saying it’s inspired by a true story, but the story of Ed Gein was hacked to shreds more than the kids in this film. The script was obviously retooled and Hollywood-ized to give it some extra punch. Once again, it just wasn’t all there.
I’m not saying the movie is bad. But it isn’t great. The acting is remarkably good…for a horror flick. Also, I enjoyed the way it was shot. I thought the use of color and lighting complimented each other nicely (which follows the trend of beautiful yet mediocre movies – especially in horror). But after all the analyzing is said and done, it’s still a remake. It still should not have been made, because there is a film out on the video shelves right now that most would agree surpasses this retelling. Go ahead and rent that one instead.
Monday, November 10, 2003
Ok. No excuses. I've just been lazy this time. I promise to have at least the Texas Chainsaw review up by the end of the week. I also have American Splendor and Matrix Revolutions to chime in on as well. Keep checking back. You never know when I just may post.
House of the Dead
Review by Jon Waterman
Off on a deserted island somewhere lies the most awesomest rave party probably ever! So all these post-college kinda-too-old-to-be-searching-for-a-killer-rave kids pay some dude to take them to the giant event on his boat. It takes some convincing, because the captain knows something they don’t. The island is inhabited by zombies. Everyone at the party is now dead, yet walking around and wanting to make everyone else dead as well. Can these near 30 year-old teens find a way out without the help of Scooby Doo?
Everything about this movie was ridiculous to an amazingly large extent. I’ll start slow and work my way up.
The acting and the script were horrendous. I’d even say they were scarier than the film itself. The movie is full of a bunch of no-names that now have no chance at getting more parts. Clint Howard is also in it, proving that his camp value lasts about ten seconds. No one even comes close to speaking naturally. I can’t imagine how acting could be this bad. The only thing that could logically explain the bad performances all around would be if they were like that on purpose. It’s relatively evident that this is not the case, though.
Of course, the script was totally laughable. It starts off with over-acted, lamely written narration about how they never should have gone there. If only they knew. I don’t really know the game the film’s based on, but the explanation of how the zombies came to be didn’t work. Back in the 1600s or something like that, a guy went crazy and started doing experiments on dead bodies so he could figure out a way to live forever. Why it had to be set on a Spanish Armada-like ship, I have no idea. It could have just as easily been more modern. Did they think adding age would add class or credibility? Let’s hope not.
Let’s move on to the fight scenes. Not only were they long and boring, but they were too involved. Each non-dead character got his/her own little matrix wraparound sequence. That was about 6 or 7 characters. The novelty was over before it even happened, but perhaps it was in their contracts. You could pretty much tell that they didn’t spend much money on makeup. They had people in plain clothes walking around and staggering in the background, and if they were a certain distance away, they got no special work done. It was pathetic. A quick way to put more people on screen and make the movie look bigger than it was. Ok, and after one of the supporting people dies, thus ending a giant zombie shooting sequence, we were treated to a two or three minute flashback recalling the fight we just saw with absolutely no new footage. So dumb and way too long.
It’s all about flashy, sensationalistic filmmaking. The worst crime that this film perpetrated against the viewing public was using screenshots from the video game it’s based on. At first, a flash of the game would be used to transition scenes. Near the end, game screens showing zombies getting shot took the place of showing zombies dying on film. The audience was even treated to a screen that said “Reload.” Now, to an extent, it’s okay to recognize the medium a film came from. "The Hulk almost" got it right with their comic book panels. But this just…words can’t describe how wrong it is. Director Uwe Boll is working on two more video game movies as well. Ugh.
There’s a reason few critics took this one on. I’m sure that no advanced screening was held and most people realized there were better things to watch by the time it came out. When I saw this gem, there were ten people in the theatre. A group of five friends walked out halfway through. By the end, everyone that stayed was openly joking about the film. Strangers were bonding over the crap on the screen. It was a fierce competition, but this one broke into my top 5 worst films of all time. I can’t wait to hear the DVD commentary rationalizing this one.
Wednesday, November 05, 2003
Alright. I'm back. I know it's been a while again. I'll try not to make a habit of the two week break, especially when I have reviews to work on. I should have House of the Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre up sometime tomorrow and from there I'll be working on bringing you American Splendor and the final chapter in the Matrix trilogy...as well as possibly the first. So come on back and check it all out. You don't want to miss it.
Kill Bill Vol. 1
Review by Jon Waterman
A bride is shot on her wedding day. It had been planned long before this moment. A group of highly skilled assassins left the newly married assassin for dead. However, no one made sure. Now she’s out for revenge and looking to get rid of everyone that tried to get rid of her. Ultimately, her goal is to find the man that shot her in the head. She wants to…Kill Bill.
Two things stand out more than anything else in this film. First is the wide variety of visual techniques. Second is the overabundance of blood and all the violence that comes along with it. Let’s get right into it.
Writer/Director Quentin Tarantino provides an array of styles to create an interesting, yet confusing tapestry of homages. Included are sequences in black and white, silhouette and animated. Of course, there are also flashbacks. Maybe I’m admitting I’m dumb, but I didn’t understand why the switch over was necessary. They all looked amazing, but other than that, motivation behind bringing in a new style wasn’t as clear. Did he think we were going to get bored? Was it to cover some expenses? Was it just to acknowledge more influences? I don’t know.
The main look of the film is a bright and vibrant one full of rich, solid colors and detail shown virtually everywhere on the screen. Very rarely, if at all did I see a pure black. Even the back corners in shadows showed detail. On the other hand, though, nearly every shot made a point to include a blown out white spot or light. Overexposing and allowing hot spots to show seems to be a growing trend these days. It’s more of a subtle maneuver here, but still noticeable.
The fight scenes worked well. The action was clear-cut (no pun intended) and the action never lingered. It was sensationalistic and over-the-top, but that’s the appeal of it. Most action sequences take themselves too seriously. This is marketed as a martial arts revenge picture. One has to expect to see unrealistic fights. This one happened to include a throw back to the days of cheesy blood effects and produced gallons and gallons of it. Fake limbs and fun abound. Something else I found interesting about the fight scenes is that occasionally they would play out without the use of music. This very well could be another reference to this genre, but I liked how the intensity of it played out when there was no beat to guide the audience.
The story is very simplistic and all I can really say is that I hope it gets more fleshed out in the second episode. There’s really nothing to hold onto besides watching her go from fight to fight. Also, the acting is not as good all the time. There’s a scene in the beginning between Uma Thurman and Vivica A. Fox that was just absolutely painful. I’m sure one could argue this is a style choice, too, but it was only ear-coveringly bad during this one scene in the kitchen.
The film left a lot to be desired. By this I mean the second Volume. The time spent in the theatre went by quickly and it would not have been hard to watch the entire series in one sitting. The fights were fun and the look of the film was great. This one is worth seeing on the big screen if possible to get the full effect.