Wednesday, April 28, 2004
I must say that in my four years attending "Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival," I have questioned what he really means by "overlooked." This year, there was no question. I recognized many of the film titles, but for the first time in my Ebert Fest experience, I had not seen a single film that he was showing, other than Buster Keaton's "The General," which had The Alloy Orchestra providing the score, so really it's kind of like a new film. 12 films, and I hadn't seen one of them. And they weren't that obscure, just simply overlooked.
Over the next week or two, please tune in for all of my reviews, and my full coverage of the festival, including panel discussions. I have plenty to say about this years Fest!
Thursday, April 22, 2004
I am here at "Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival" and we were treated a great 70mm presentation of Lawrence of Arabia tonight. I am very excited about the panel discussions tomorrow, so expect a write up on those, and a review of "Lawrence."
Friday, April 16, 2004
Well, I didn't get back to the reviews that last week after all. Other things came up that needed to be taken care of. I'm back today with a look at The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. Up next I have reviews for The Laramie Project, Party Monster, The Ladykillers and the new Dawn of the Dead. I may escape to check out a movie or two this weekend as well. Keep on coming back, there's plenty to cover.
The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra
Review by Jon Waterman
Scientist Dr. Paul Armstrong and his wife head out to a secluded mountainous area to search for a fallen meteor. Itís believed that this object from space is made up of ďAtmosphereum.Ē This rare, but powerful element will aid him greatly in his scientific research. Meanwhile, Dr. Roger Fleming is searching for the lost skeleton of Cadavra cave in these mountains. He hopes to bring it to life by using atmosphereum, what else. Meanwhile, two aliens, Kro-Bar and Lattis, have crash landed on Earth in this same region. The only thing that can give their ship power so they can leave is of course atmosphereum. Oh, and also, thereís a freakish human-eating monster on the loose.
Here we have a spoof of 1950s and 60s sci-fi/horror B-movies. Writer, director and lead actor Larry Blamire pokes fun at everything he possibly can, from the acting and dialogue to the storyline and plot to the music and costuming. Hitting every aspect of a genre is one key in creating a decent spoof. The other key is to make sure it all works. Iíd say there are about one and a half keys in this movie.
The acting is horrendously monotone and flaccid, but it seems to lack a certain choppiness thatís usually associated with bad acting. The unnatural pauses arenít there, and in a sense this is good, because it can get very old, very quickly. However incorporating a little bit of every type of bad acting would aid the cause. The dialogue is the best part of the whole thing. Itís terribly repetitious yet extremely non-specific. We never know what Dr. Armstrong will do with the meteor once he has it, only that it will help him with his science. Nothing technical is explained fully or well. It reinforces that this script (were it an actual 50s horror movie) was written very quickly by some random guy on the lot with no expertise or desire to research. The storyline and plot are just as loose and seemingly pulled from thin air or by combining several formulas. The stupidity of the script is the brilliance of the film, and this is where you will laugh the most. You donít need to be a connoisseur of the genre to appreciate some of the humor. There are many lines in here that are legitimately funny on their own. I donít think the movie would have been nearly as good or successful were it not for this.
On the technical side, things could have been handled better (and sometimes worse). The movie was shot on a digital camera in black and white. Sometimes when the scenes shift, the coloring shifts drastically as well. The black and white takes on a purple tint and then goes back to grayscale. Itís very off-putting, especially in the quicker cuts. I donít think this was a meaningful decision on the directorís part, but rather a very noticeable mistake. Also, in the editing, I would have liked to see some jump cuts. Iím sure movies from that era didnít use the most prestigious editors and mistakes occurred every once in a while. It all seemed edited a bit too cleanly and I would have liked a few continuity errors scattered in every once in a while. But the monster looked great and completely non-menacing. The skeleton was fun to watch (strings and all), but his half-way good acting should have been controlled like his body parts were.
I would recommend this movie to anyone who is a fan of ďMystery Science Theater 3000Ē as it virtually accomplishes the same goal. It makes fun of the genre while embracing its charm. However, even if you get bored with the spoofing, there are some bad aspects to the movie that would allow you to make fun of it as well. No matter how you choose to look at it, donít expect high art. Expect a B-Movie. If you do, then youíll laugh and have a good time and come out happy.
Sunday, April 04, 2004
It's been a busy week, but today is review day. I'm chiming in with FIVE new reviews. So, please enjoy my look at Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Dreamers, Starsky & Hutch, the recent Oscar nominated documentary My Architect and the semi-recent documentary Spellbound. Check back later this week for more...hopefully.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Review by Jon Waterman
Joel is unhappy with Clementine. Clementine is unhappy with Joel. Both of them feel it would probably be better if they never even met. Well, now, thanks to Lacuna, Inc., that feeling can become a reality. Thereís a new procedure that will erase memories. So, if you no longer want to remember someone from your past, you can. Clementine gets the procedure done which spurs Joel to do the same. Joel starts to have doubts and tries to stop the process from the inside out.
Music video director Michel Gondry takes the helm of this quirky piece and gives it his unique touch. Those familiar with his videos may be less impressed with what they see on the screen. It offers little in terms of new techniques from this inventive man. The music videos are mind-boggling in nature and structure as he floods the frame with sensory overload and defiance of logic during very long, dynamic shots. In the film, he does virtually the same thing, but I guess it just seems expected here. For those who have not seen his previous work, this technique will seem new, fresh and exciting. Secretly, I was hoping for more. Itís a bigger production and I was hoping for a bigger mind-blower. It may seem like Iím bashing his directing and his style and Iím really not. It works extremely well within this particular film and I couldnít possibly see the movie being done any other way.
If the directorís name doesnít get you excited about the movie, then what if I mention the writer: Charlie Kaufman. Heís the man behind ďAdaptation.Ē and ďBeing John Malkovich.Ē If you enjoyed either of those two, then youíll probably be of the right mindset to enjoy this one as well. He does a wonderful job with the subject matter. He avoids all of the scientific jargon and focuses on the relationships. He deals with how people would react after the process has taken place and with how strong the mind is. All of Kaufmanís scripts are incredibly intelligent and show evidence that a deeper issue has been thought about and incorporated. His dialogue is fantastic. Itís clever and witty and fluid. And of course the ending knocked me down with how good it was.
The subject may be difficult for some people to handle. Itís a film about relationships taken to an extreme. Thereís a lot of pain and emotionality involved. Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey do a wonderful job as the leads in conveying those feelings. Winslet looks out of place to start but quickly absorbs into the character. The acting isnít phenomenal, but itís still well above average. In fact, thatís probably the phrase I would use to describe the film as a whole: Not phenomenal, but well above average. I would definitely recommend this movie to anyone interested in visually interesting directors, genre-challenging writers or both. I bet this line has been used by dozens of critics already, butÖyou wonít forget it.
Review by Jon Waterman
An American student studies in Paris. He frequents the local movie house not only because he has no friends in this foreign country, but also to further his love of cinema. Two other regulars, brother and sister, notice him and befriend him. Their sanctuary gets shut down as the student riots of 1968 commence. With no other place to go, they stay inside and get to know each other and form a bond unlike any other, but is it getting to be too much and too close?
This is a film that embraces film. It increases the audienceís awareness of the medium in multiple ways. To start, the three leads immerse themselves in what they watch. They play games and test each otherís knowledge. The audience is shown clips of the referenced films to show us how obscure they are and how picture perfect they recreate the scenes. Iíd be surprised if seeing their passion on the screen doesnít spark some interest in classic cinema. Also, because film is such an integral part of their lives, we become more aware of what we see on the screen. Being conscious of the camera and the lighting does not detract from the experience. Instead, it aids in the understanding of the characters and reinforces the brilliance of itself. Itís a film that embraces film, but a movie pushes away from conventional movie tactics.
There are four main characters in the film. Thereís the American boy Matthew (Michael Pitt), the sister Isabelle (Eva Green in her debut), the brother Theo (Louis Garrel) and the camera. Director Bernardo Bertolucci (ďLast Tango in ParisĒ) does a great job in keeping everyoneís curiosity level high. The camera acts as a shier version of Matthewís character during the first part of the film. When he walks down the hall, the camera follows. It goes where he does, but only after heís already been there. As Matthewís inhibitions drop, so do the cameraís and we are let in to their world. In addition, the lighting enhances the mood. The shadows that cut across their face and bodies reinforce their emotions. It is masterful filmmaking.
What I enjoyed most about the movie was the relationships between the three. Writer Gilbert Adair has created incredibly complex human beings and placed them in a two-hour movie. There is no way an audience can fully understand one of these people even separately before the film ends, let alone all threeÖlet alone all three of them together. The inner workings of the ways in which they relate are unusual and fascinating to watch. By the end, you still get a sense of completion as far as the story goes, but itís impossible to get closure on everything youíve seen. Itís an unusual way to go about things. Not everything is explained or rationalized. I feel this works very well. It makes these characters more real and more tangible. More human.
This film is amazing. Itís incredibly smart and well thought out. Its structure could have been tightened some, but itís still enthralling. The emotional impact doesnít truly resonate, because itís more like watching a train wreck. However, it is a wonderful piece of cinema and its NC-17 rating should not detract anyone (besides children) from seeing this fantastic movie.
Starsky & Hutch
Review by Jon Waterman
Play-it-by-the-book cop David Starsky is getting a new partner in the do-whatever-Ďcuz-Iím-laid-back cop Ken Hutchinson (Hutch to you). This mismatched pair has to find a way to work together and solve a murder. If theyíre lucky, they may also make one of the biggest drug busts in history. If theyíre really lucky, they may just make us laugh, too.
That last one is tougher than you may think. We got some big comedic stars in Ben Stiller (Starsky), Owen Wilson (Hutch) and Will Ferrell. There are also lesser known, but nonetheless talented comedians Matt Walsh, Patton Oswalt and Judah Friedlander in bit roles and underused. Lastly there is Todd Phillips directing. Heís also done the very funny ďRoad TripĒ and the less successful, yet still popular ďOld School.Ē With all of this comic gold laying around, youíd think theyíd be able to shape it into something more valuable. The movie is mildly funny.
There are two extendedly funny periods in the film. One is the ďDo ItĒ character that Starsky creates to go undercover. The other is with Will Ferrellís character in the prison. Normally, Ferrell is pretty hit or miss, so itís nice that he was able to hit this time. The rest of the gags werenít that great. Stiller is now establishing himself as the goofy, physical comedian and itís getting old. Phillips tries to make us laugh by dragging scenes out until theyíre funny, but it doesnít work.
I know itís a no-brainer comedy, but some of the scenes have no purpose at all. Thereís a part where Hutch goes to meet up Huggy Bear (played nicely by Snoop Dogg) and nothing happens. Itís an excuse for jokes. Nothing furthers the plot or the story. Maybe, if I had laughed, I would look the other way, but it was dead space. A lot of the film ended up being dead space. The dance scene? Not really funny. It was alright, but Iíd be okay without it.
Now, I havenít seen the television series this movie is ďbased on.Ē For all I know, there could be tons of references to things that happened during the showís run. But, it appeared to me that it wasnít so much paying homage to the original show as it was paying homage to Todd Phillips. He brings back a lot of the same cast members and even references his past movies a couple times. I suppose itís nice to put that kind of thing in for the fans or something, but choose a different movie. Donít put it in one with an actual history, because then it just looks like youíre full of yourself.
Is seeing this movie worth it? Probably not. Maybe if youíre a huge fan of one of the actors. Otherwise, Iíd stay awake. Itís mediocre comedy, which is starting to make me think that ďRoad TripĒ may have been a fluke.
My Architect: A Sonís Journey
Review by Jon Waterman
Louis I. Kahn was a visionary. His architectural creations were more than just buildings; they were works of art. He took great care and pride in his designs. Unfortunately, he also took great care and pride in designing his lives. He had three of them. When he wasnít burying himself in his work, he would spend time with one of his three families, while the other two sat idly by just a few miles away. The film tries to discover who Louis Kahn truly was.
The documentary is told through the eyes of his only son, Nathaniel, who was kept a secret. I had my doubts at first, thinking that family was too close to the subject and most likely not professional enough in terms of filmmaking to do a good job. However, I was proven wrong. The narration was a little dry, but he shows great talent in all other arenas. He is a great interviewer and extracts intriguing and amazing reactions from everyone. Honestly, every single interview is rock solid and insightful. He doesnít just interview a couple people. We hear from famous architects, other family members, employees of Kahnís company, people who hired him, people who hated him and people that work inside the buildings he created. The result is we get a picture of his father as fleshed out as can be within the movieís timeframe.
Aside from interviewing, Nathaniel proves he knows how to make a great film. There are plenty of shots of his fatherís buildings. He doesnít just grab the highlights. Instead he shows how the whole building is a highlight. Whenever possible, he leaves the camera steady and does a time lapse to show the beauty in the structure at different times of day. They arenít just eye-candy, either. Each one has a specific reason and added functionality that comes with the artistic side. Thereís some great match action sequences and great coverage for a low-budget documentary shot on film. In addition to the original footage there is also a lot of archival material mixed in. We get to know Louis through interviews and seminars and news pieces made about him. It helps us to learn about Louis through his own eyes and how and why his mind worked differently from the rest.
The music that was used shows tribute and appreciation of Kahn without any hidden resentment. I think that theme carries throughout the film. Itís more about honoring the visionary, but also showing that not everyone is what he or she seems to be on the surface. The buildings may look fancy or interesting, but what you donít see is the hard work needed to make it look so flawless. The film is all about perspective. As the title indicates (minus the secondary part), itís about the man as everyone sees him. Many saw him as a genius. Some saw him as a penniless failure that died in debt. A few of them saw him as part of their family. No matter what you see him as, you should see him in this movie and make up your own mind.
Review by Jon Waterman
This documentary follows eight young hopefuls as they compete in the 1999 National Spelling Bee. They come from all over the country. They study hard and spell harder and harder words to get to the finals in Washington DC. Some may not make it to the ESPN telecast of the later rounds. Out of those that do make it to the televised rounds, only one can be crowned the winner. Pick your favorite, try to remain seated and enjoy the ride.
First-time director Jeffrey Blitz finds some great kids to work with. Many people have this stereotypical view of what a spelling bee contestant must be like. They are usually nerdy, social outcasts and unusually intelligent. The movie doesnít do much to dispel this theory (no pun intended), but instead it goes further. Each of the eight kids is remarkably intelligent and they do seem to fit into the nerdy, social outcast category as well. But they are definitely individuals with their own unique personalities and approaches to school, life and the contest. These kids seem relatively comfortable with the camera and they all interview well. I mentioned picking a favorite earlier and itís very easy to do just that.
The movie is edited well, too. Editor Yana Gorskaya knows how to build suspense on an event that took place three years ago. Granted the audiences are probably not the same and so few people know who won going in to see this, but Yana still does a good job of it. There are times when the speller is given a word and then as they mull it over in their head, we cut to an interview talking about what the competition means and how they hope they win, but donít expect to or what place they think theyíll finish in. Even though they claim that winning isnít the only thing, they still want to give it their best shot. It builds up the sympathy and plays with your emotions (especially if the kid is your favorite). Then we see him or her spell. And unless you know the outcome beforehand, there really is no way to know what will happen. This technique is used several times. Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they donít. It takes the predictability out of the movie and puts the excitement and fun right in the forefront.
I would hope that this movie would get kids excited or interested in spelling. I would hope that this movie would get adults excited or interested about watching future competitions on television. Do I think either will happen? Not really. If nothing else, I hope people do see this movie. Itís funny. Itís captivating. And itís a winner.