Tuesday, July 20, 2004
Two in one day. I'm all caught up now. That means I have to run out and catch some new movies. I, Robot is looking like a possibility. Also, coming up I'll take a look at an independent documentary called Breakfast with Hunter. If you like Hunter S. Thompson or if you've heard of him -- or really, even if you havent -- come back and see what I have to say about the film. For now, check out the reviews for the big summer hits Spider-Man 2 and Anchorman.
Review by Jon Waterman
Even though Green Goblin is out of the picture, Peter Parker has little time to relax. He’s still spending time as the city’s under-appreciated superhero Spiderman. Sure, he’s taking care of smaller fish, but they need to be fried, too. In the meantime, he has to find a way to make end’s meet and pay rent. Also, there’s college to worry about. And to top it all off, a new super villain is created when Dr. Octavius’ fusion experiment goes awry. He’s left with four mechanical limbs with minds of their own and a desire to prove the world wrong. Just another day for Peter, the nerd turned hero.
You just gotta love summer movies, especially when they are legitimately entertaining. So many of the giant blockbusters think a bunch of special effects and a loose story line is all you need to wow a crowd (*ahem* “The Day After Tomorrow” *ahem*). Where “Spidey Dos” differs is in the care for details and the attention spent on developing actual characters, complete with personality and actual human emotions (batteries not included, playsets sold separately). Here we see Parker (played by Tobey Maguire) trying to come to grips with his identity. He’s comfortable as a masked avenger, but struggles to find his place as a normal college age kid with a job and social life. Even the villains are portrayed as likeable people who just happen to be victims of circumstances somewhat beyond their control. Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus (although I don’t know if that name is really even said in the film – if so, I bet it was just once) was a great person to watch and even though I knew he was going to turn bad, I didn’t want him to. I felt sorry for the bad guy. How many summer movies can honestly make you say that?
But with the good comes the bad. Once again, I must confess my dislike of Kirsten Dunst. She has yet to offer anything more than eye candy when on the screen, and I don’t particularly enjoy the candy either. Maybe that’s why they felt they needed to dowse her shirt again. The plot takes a while to come to any type of worthy starting point. The character expansion and development I mentioned is a good thing, but the situations that are brought up during these early scenes are forgotten and have no resolution. I think it would have been worth it to close off a couple of the tiny side stories that aren’t important for a third film. The whole rent/landlord (and his daughter) thing seemed very much worthless aside from a lame joke involving the community bathroom. There has to be a good way to tie it all together so that these sequences have more weight in terms of furthering the plot rather than just enhancing it.
Then there are the special effects. Is it just me or do they look worse this time around. I think the costume is a brighter shade of red and pops out more than it used to, but that makes it look more cartoony. Also, they seem to substitute a digital Spiderman whenever possible, even when he’s not flying through semis or past helicopters for no good reason. By not using humans in the suits to the fullest potential, they take away just that much more magic from it all. It wasn’t a problem in the first film, so I don’t know why the digital effects were so overused here. I got bored and disappointed with the action scenes very quickly because of that.
The film does take a little while to really get rolling, but once it does, it’s fun to watch and actually shows some depth. Director Sam Raimi has done it again. How does it compare to the first “Spider-Man” you may ask? Well, I’d have to say it’s pretty much just as good. The effects are worse, and the action isn’t as intense or prominent. However, the characters continue to grow and newsman J. Jonah Jameson is back. If you haven’t already, see the first before heading to the theater, because this sequel is very much a continuation and you may not get the same impact out of it all without that primer. It’s not just a good summer movie; it’s a good movie. How can you go wrong?
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Review by Jon Waterman
Ron Burgundy is a man above men. He’s the top rated news anchor in San Diego. The women throw themselves at him and he has the perfect life. Then, she walks in. Veronica Corningstone is hired as a female reporter and the on-camera personalities are livid. In this male dominated workplace, an intelligent woman threatens everything they’ve built at their station and their livelihood.
The trailers don’t do this one justice. If you think you’ve seen all the good jokes from watching the previews, think again. Unlike most comedies, this one delivers line after line, rapid fire. Even the stuff you did see from the ads is funny, now that it’s put in more of a context. The script combines several comedic approaches that work on multiple levels.
First, on the more subdued (not to be confused with subtle) side of things, is the satirical look at the newscasting culture of the 70s. Everyone has great names like Brick Tamland, weather, or Champ Kind, sports. My personal favorite is the rugged, yet identifiable Wes Mantooth. They have their own catch phrases, like “Whammy” and “Stay classy, San Diego.” Each station vies for the top spot in the ratings and will do anything to get it, including a balls-out street war, complete with casualties. That brings us easily into the not so subdued wacky antics portion of the script, which allows anything to happen at any time for one reason – because it’s funny. Few comedies can pull this off without throwing the audience out of the picture. Here, the randomness is built up to in some fashion or another and is utilized to keep the “haha” ball rolling after a string of other jokes.
There are plenty of straight jokes in here as well. Besides the visual gags and the satirical undertones, the dialogue keeps delivering great material virtually non-stop. Writers, and former “Saturday Night Live” buddies, Adam McKay (also the director) and Will Ferrell (also playing Ron Burgundy) fine-tuned the script so that it hits time and time again. As if that weren’t enough, there has to be plenty of improvisation amongst the talented cast. Playing anchors are Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, Ferrell, Vince Vaughn and lastly (and certainly least) David Koechner. Their boss is the fantastic Fred Willard. There’s just something about David that just doesn’t strike me as being funny. Perhaps he tries too hard or maybe he never gets the good lines, but whatever it is, he’s deadwood. Other than that, these guys are hilarious. Will can be hit or miss depending on what the film or character is. “Elf” for example did not properly showcase his abilities. Here, he’s amazing. McKay made a great decision in letting the cast loose to see what may pop out of their mouths. This freedom to create on the spot makes the movie even better.
The movie surprised me. The trailers made me think it’d be good for a few laughs, but I was rolling until the lights came up. In fact, there are several scenes in the previews that don’t make the final cut, so if you didn’t like what you say, it may not even be in there. No matter what, I can safely say this is the funniest movie I’ve seen in a long time. Stay classy, filmbrats.
Tuesday, July 13, 2004
It's been nearly a decade since the preceding film was released, yet a worthy sequel has resulted. Man, Ethan Hawke is starting to look old. Anyways...enjoy the review.
Review by Jon Waterman
Nine years ago on a train ride through Europe, Jesse met the most incredible woman he’s ever met before. Celine was a great and intelligent conversationalist who mixed with him well, no matter what they threw at each other. They spent one unforgettable night together talking virtually non-stop about everything and anything. But then Jesse had to leave. They made plans to meet again in six months, without exchanging any other form of contact information. It didn’t happen. Now, Jesse is in France with his new book, which tells of the encounter in a more or less fictional way. Celine stops by and the start back where they left off.
Just in case you never saw “Before Sunrise,” the film incorporates some clips from it near the beginning to help recap the story thus far. Normally, this tactic is kind of lame and unnecessary, but since there has been nine years in between films it works. It also works because it encapsulates the emotions and moments into convenient memory flashes. They show how this experience has been deeply ingrained into their minds.
The two meet outside the bookstore that Jesse’s tour is visiting and the conversations begin. They talk about several different topics, but mostly about that night and their stance on relationships. Given the circumstances, the feel is more confrontational and there’s a slightly bitter overtone to the whole thing. But no awkward pauses arise and it all moves very fluidly and rapidly. A little too rapidly. I wanted there to be more dialogue between them. I wanted to see them explore each other all over again like they once did. But it didn’t really happen.
This time around, the film takes on a more conventional editing approach. The characters are in motion a lot and the camera does track with them quite frequently, but gone are the days of single shot scenes. It was sort of sad to see that this style wasn’t repeated and it took a little bit of the magic away for me. Another less magical aspect was Julie Delpy (Celine). She just wasn’t as natural with her delivery here as she once was or as Ethan Hawke (Jesse) still is. As a result, the conversation is less conversational and seems more scripted (which it is – penned by the two stars and director Richard Linklater).
While these small things could be considered disappointments, the film cannot. Where “Before Sunset” accurately expressed the wonder and elation of meeting someone new and taking risks, “Before Sunrise” realistically shows the second chance opportunity with the one that got away. It’s the ability to connect with the audience through these universal, yet personal emotional situations that truly make these films stand out. The conversations are still fun to listen to and rather insightful and introspective. I was also pleasantly surprised with the ending. It just made the whole film experience that much more beautiful.
Monday, July 12, 2004
Hi everyone. I'm back after a week or so off. I had to head out of town, but I'm here all week to hopefully get caught up. I still have to write about Before Sunset and a movie I caught this Saturday called Anchorman. You won't want to miss it.
Review by Jon Waterman
Napoleon Dynamite is that kid you made fun of at school. He’s goofy looking, awkward and always compensating in verbal exaggerations what he lacks in physical appearance. In a small Idaho town, his outcast setting is more pronounced and only finds a friend when a new student, a shy Mexican kid named Pedro, comes to school. Together they’ll try to enrich each other’s lives and do the unthinkable – gain the acceptance of their peers.
I’m sort of simplifying the main storyline here, because there isn’t much of a plot throughout the majority of the film. Near the end a clearer conflict presents itself, but it’s hardly the thread holding the film together. The movie chronicles Napoleon as he goes through a certain period of his life. We get the impression that it has been pretty similar up to now and that it will be virtually identical afterwards. We don’t need a concrete A to B structure to get interested in what happens to our hero, because he’s interesting enough.
Napoleon is a quirky high school student who stashes tater tots in a pouch on his leg, doodles fake animals and still plays tetherball (alone). Everyone around him adds their own eccentricities to the mix. His live at home brother surfs the internet talking to babes and sells plastic food storage with their uncle, the wannabe football star. They all give great performances – in part, because they all do the same thing. What makes the movie is the reaction shot. Jon Heder as Napoleon constantly has a blank or dazed look on his face. Even if he’s angry, the volume goes up, but the teeth exposing, open-mouth gaze remains. Efren Ramirez as Pedro does the same, as does Aaron Ruell as Kip, the brother. On the other end, the jock proves he’s the antithesis of Dynamite by giving overly exaggerated, comical reactions. If the dialogue doesn’t make you laugh, the simple reactions probably will.
But the dialogue is good, too. It’s just as unconventional as the characters that speak them. This is one of those quotable films that film geeks will quickly embrace. Even standard exclamations like “Sweet” or “awesome” take on the personality of the speaker. The comic delivery is dead on and its pretty amazing that most of these actors are making their debuts.
This film screams of a quick cult following. It has the same charm in characterization and cinematography that a film like “Rushmore” had. The great acting of the cast and the funny script come together in a fantastic first film by Jared Hess (directed and co-wrote with Jerusha Hess). I look forward to seeing their next effort. Not everyone will understand the appeal of neither the rather unorthodox storyline nor the oddball characters. Both pretty much won me over from the start.
Tuesday, July 06, 2004
It's been over a week since I've seen it and it feels like this review will take over a week to read. Propaganda this film is not. Those hesitant to watch it, please give it a shot and let me know what you think. I'll be back sometime with my reviews for Napoleon Dynamite and Before Sunset. Come on back.
Review by Jon Waterman
This film documents some of the events of the past three and a half years that occurred under the United States’ current president, George W. Bush. It focuses on the tragic terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 and more importantly, Bush’s responses to them including the following war in Iraq. The movie attempts to show how the Bush family is linked to the bin Laden family (Osama perpetrated the attacks on our nation) and how they all stand/stood to gain from the resulting war.
“Fahrenheit 9/11” is the latest work of one of the most revered and despised documentary filmmakers in history, Michael Moore. This effort is quite a bit different from his previous fare. Moore, normally a prominent on-screen figure, takes a backseat to the presentation and emotions of the piece. His voice is heard throughout the interview process and carries the narration offering his compassion and contempt accordingly. The film became less about him promoting a specific agenda and more about letting the facts lead the way and the people involved tell their side of it all. This isn’t to say that Moore doesn’t voice his own personal opinion. Of course he does. You can’t make a film of any type without putting some bias in there of one kind or another. But he doesn’t pretend to hide it. Moore instead presents the facts of the matter showing undeniable proof of the actions that Bush and his administration and his business partners took during this time of crises and then infers to the audience what he believes is the real motivation behind said actions. He does so in a logical, and thus, convincing way.
I do have some problems with the way things were handled (as I usually do with filmmakers as in-your-face as Michael). Moore does show up in his trademark cap-wearing glory for a couple of segments that bring about the goofiness satirical stunts that brought him such notoriety in his early days. In one, he drives an ice cream truck using the intercom to read bills to the legislators. The other, he confronts senators to get them to sign their kids up for the war. This is what I have trouble with. The audience I saw this with was eating it all up, but honestly, (and this is Moore’s point) what grown man or woman would sign up their children for the war? These children are at least eighteen years old and up and so are legal adults who are fully capable of enlisting themselves. I don’t know if any parent has ever signed a child up for military service. Sure, they’ve encouraged it for various reasons, but to actually sign the paper for them seems too far-fetched. I wouldn’t think such a signature would even be legal.
So, there are times when his appearance is unwarranted and rather bogus and there are other times when it’s greatly needed and the lack of it seems harsh. When talking to a fellow Flint, Michigan native who lost her son in Iraq, he lets the emotions of it all overwhelm her while he quietly stays behind the camera. I remember in “Bowling for Columbine” when the Michigan principal began to cry, Moore consoled her in any way he could. There was no hug. There was just the unbearable sight of a broken mother. The scenes were quite effective and pulled at the heartstrings, but were still a bit overdone and time consuming. Also time consuming, yet fascinating was the credit sequence in which the key players are preparing for television as if they are actors readying for their performances. I would have liked to see subtitles showing who each individual was, but hey, it was still a nice opening.
The other major complaint is that the facts were good, but there should have been more of them. He did a very nice job of revealing information that isn’t/wasn’t widely known otherwise. He’s always been good at that. But if he’s truly targeting the non-voters or those teetering in the middle, he should inform theses masses the best he can. After all, he should know that a lot of people don’t watch the news or read the papers like they should. It wouldn’t hurt to repeat some “common knowledge” items to further his points. He shows the link between Bush and bin Laden families, but only tells us that the war in Iraq was pointless. There are plenty of sources out there that could work to his benefit (including the 9/11 Commission) to disprove the link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida and to disprove the key assumption (read “knowledge”) that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. You can hear this from any news source as of late, but it honestly can’t hurt to add ten minutes to the film and incorporate these findings as well.
If Moore were to do this, his film would be a great historical film that nicely chronicles (in part) the time in which we are living now. As it stands, it’s a glorified investigative news report gussied up as a documentary. It’s this close to being a timeless work – and I may be proven wrong about that opinion – but instead becomes pertinent and viewable only prior to the November 2004 elections. It’ll go in the record books and it will be remembered, but I seriously doubt anyone watching it a few years or decades down the line will understand what all the fuss was about. The film is still very effective and proves its points and gets the crowd riled up in a good way, but to be truly great (instead of really good), it needed to explain more of the situation and rely less on assumption of key knowledge – especially if you’re trying to educate viewers.
If you see this in the theatre, and you probably should, expect to hear a lot of clapping. This film received more applause than “Seabiscuit” and several midnight screenings of any popular franchise movie combined. For the most part, it’s well deserved. Michael Moore’s arguments are nicely crafted and seemingly very logical. Once again, his research is top notch and eye opening. It’s a less typical Moore film, but still greatly resembles his formula. It all results in a worthwhile documentary that people of all political inclinations should watch. Then take that next step and inform yourselves further and make up your own mind. That’s what America’s all about.