Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Elizabeth the Golden Age movie poster

 

I’ll have to gang up with the general critical consensus around Elizabeth: The Golden Age, best summed up as: Cate Blanchett is astounding, as usual (yawn – the Academy Award nomination was virtually assured before the cameras rolled), but the movie is a disappointing sequel to a powerful original.

Oh, and did I mention that Cate is great? Oh yeah, you don’t need me to say that.

Cate Blanchette in Elizabeth the Golden AgeCate is great; what else is new?

The cinematography is lovely but the editing a little choppy for a timeline that spans so much time. The staging is somewhat less than epic; even large CG set pieces like the Pirates of the Caribbean-style sea battle between the English and Spanish armadas seem under-staffed by background actors. A typical line of dialog, quoting from memory, is the dashing Sir Walter Raleigh killing two cliches with one stone with a humdinger like “We’re only human; we do what we can.”

Clive Owen as Sir Walter Raleigh in Elizabeth the Golden AgeSir Walter Raleigh sails away from the Kraken

Erm, that’s about it. I’ll try to think of something smarter to say about the next one.


Official movie site: www.elizabeththegoldenage.net

Buy the DVD from Amazon and kick back a few pennies to me.

Across the Universe

Across the Universe movie poster

I believe I’m in the minority opinion here, but I really liked Across the Universe. Already loving the songs of the Beatles and the films of Julie Taymor, perhaps I’m predisposed. Taymor rounds up all the usual suspects from the Lennon & McCartney oeuvre: Lucy, Jude, Maxwell (as in “Silver Hammer”), Jo Jo (from “Get Back”), Sadie, Prudence… even the Blue Meanies from Yellow Submarine kick up their heels as Mr. Kite’s Rockettes. But unless I missed them in the crush, Rocky and Rita didn’t make the cut.

At two plus hours, Across the Universe may in fact be too much of a good thing. The Beatles wrote a great many wonderful love songs, but even these canonical classics can seem a little redundant when strung together in a series, illustrated by Jena Malone & Jim Sturgess swooning over each other over and over.

Jena Malone in Across the UniverseChris Cunningham & Portishead called & asked for their fish tank back

The best sequences are the weirdest, especially the “She’s So Heavy” number which resembles something out of Alan Parker’s cracked Pink Floyd The Wall. But sometimes the interpretations are ruined by being a little too literal; the “Revolution” sequence starts out great with Jude trying to sway a radical revolutionary group away from violent protest (“But when you talk about destruction / Brother you know that you can count me out”), but he predictably points at a portrait of Chairman Mao right on cue.

Across the UniverseShe’s so heavy, indeed

Topped off with cameos by Salma Hayak (times five) and Bono in a rare dramatic role as a sort of Timothy Leary figure (sporting an entertainingly loony American accent modeled, at least to my ears, after Dennis Hoppper), this rumored-to-be-troubled production can be a little overwhelming and redundant, but it’s really something to see.


Official movie site: www.sonypictures.com/movies/acrosstheuniverse

Buy the DVD from Amazon and kick back a few pennies to me.

The Illusionist

The Illusionist

 

The Illusionist perhaps suffers from being released in proximity to The Prestige, a far superior period piece sharing the use of magic as a storytelling conceit. However, The Illusionist has two strong assets to point out:

  • The cinematography is truly beautiful, comprised of sepia images (seemlingly projected by oil lamp) and old-school iris out transitions. These are no doubt digital approximations of the real thing, but lovely (and less distracting than it sounds) nonetheless. In a brief moment of meta-commentary, the solution to a magic trick is deconstructed on screen as involving an early movie camera.
  • As if Paul Giamatti still needed to prove anything after his recent run of top-shelf performances, he is extraordinary here; not merely content to affect a realistic Viennese accent, he transforms the entire timbre of his voice.

The Matador

The Matador movie poster

 

Full of suspenseful set-pieces involving assassination, The Matador is a genre film on the surface. It’s actually more of a character piece about one man about to pay the price for a lifetime of being a pathological loner (paradoxically, while indulging his lusts in every other way imaginable), and another grasping at his last chance to save both his professional and family lives.

Pierce Brosnin lets it rip as Julian Noble, a sleezebag assassin with a Magnum P.I. mustache. Interestingly, he frequently boasts of his bisexuality, but we only see him having sex onscreen with women. The is-he-or-isn’t-he ambiguity actually comes into play regarding an imporant plot point resolved near the very end of the film. Even better, the plot informs character, which is something of a rarity.

Hope Davis’ character defies cliché by enjoying a genuinely sexual relationship with her husband, but is also more openly seduced (in a platonic manner) by the exotic allure of an assassin. Perhaps Julian has lost any James Bond-like sexual allure he may have had, but discovers he can make people like him by simply revealing what he does for a living.

Disappointingly, the movie ends rather cheesily, with Julian finding some humanity deep inside his depravity.

Blazing Saddles

Blazing Saddles movie poster

 

Unfortunately, Blazing Saddles is not nearly as funny as I remember from my childhood. I recall the infamous bean-induced fart sequnce being a veritable symphony of bad taste; alas, the real thing is just a minute or so long at most. But it turns wonderfully crazy near the end, finally becoming funny as the cast crashes postmodern-style into another movie set and an actor shouts “Piss on you, I’m working for Mel Brooks!”

Gene Wilder proves his range by gives the polar opposite performance than in Young Frankenstein and The Producers. Stoned mellow, he graciously supports star Cleavon Little. Still, Wilder gets to wrap up the picture by kicking up his heels (still munching the popcorn from their movie date) and confessing his longing to ride off into the sunset with Sheriff Bart.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Pirates of the Carribean Dead Man's Chest movie poster

 

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is a healthy dose of frivolous fun; I don’t care what the critics are saying. I could do without Orlando Bloom’s cardboard performance and Keira Knightly’s CGI bosoms, but that’s not what the movie is about. As with the first installment, watch it for Johnny Depp’s fresh one-of-a-kind reinterpretation of the age-old Hollywood stock character, the pirate rogue. The first film had an extra layer of enjoyment as one could sense Depp must have been truly mystifying the Disney studio heads. By now surely they’re in on the joke and were more willing to let him rip, but it’s still a truly strange performance.

That may sound like a positive review, but it still only gets three stars since it’s by no means a great movie and certainly won’t stand the test of time like, say, Cars.

Coachella

Coachella

 

I don’t normally review music dvds in this blog, but since Coachella received a theatrical release in Europe, I thought it deserved a mention. It’s a rare concert film that is as interested in the concertgoers and the character of the event itself as in simply capturing the performances.

Favorite moments: Thom Yorke actually smiling before Radiohead rips into Planet Telex, the unexpected sight of a crowd grooving to Squarepusher’s difficult arrhythmic beats, The Flaming Lips’ furry freakout, and The Polyphonic Spree joyously heralding the sun Sunday morning. Scariest moments: Iggy Pop’s return of the living dead, and Fischerspooner dressing up in fright wigs and fishnet speedos.

Superman Returns

Superman Returns movie poster

 

It’s probably my own fault for buying into the hype, but Superman Returns left me cold. There’s not a lot of drama implicit in the story of an omnipotent alien from another planet, and I just can’t buy the “god walks among us” metaphors. Spider-Man is a real, troubled human being burdened with great responsibility; Batman is a human being wracked with guilt and obsessed with revenge; Daredevil is a literally broken man overcompensating for far more than just his disability. With Superman, it’s just plain hard to relate to an alien, even if he suffers such petty human problems as unrequited love.

An obvious point of conflict is conspicuously absent: instead of any jealousy or anger from Richard White (James “Cyclops” Marsden), he simply acquieses to his romantic rival. It’s more like Superman to be above & beyond mere mortal jealousy; what makes White so noble? Perhaps he’s intimidated by Superman’s sheer potency. Just as the character is defined by nepotism (he’s the Daily Planet’s editor-in-chief’s son), Marsden is Bryan Singer’s X-Man star who was conspicuously erased very early in Brett Ratner’s X3. Hmm…

Another disappointment: whereas Spider-Man 2 exuded a strong sense of New York, Superman Return’s fictional Metropolis is a blank, generic city without character. It’s a timeless locale – the present, yet nostalgic – where when a superhero returns from across the galaxy to save them, the citizens all run out and buy newspapers.

As for the cast, Parker Posey wins for best screen presence. While Kevin Spacey gurns, hams, and scenery-chomps, she scores laughs with mere looks on her face. There was a lot of concern over the casting of a relatively inexperienced former soap star for the lead, but I thought Brandon Routh was just fine. Kate Bosworth (made up to look like Rachel McAdams), however, is was too young to be plausible as a star journalist with a five-year-old kid, and to be at all appealing to (yes I have to say it again) an omnipotent alien from another planet. Points detracted for dull, overhyped outtakes of Marlon Brando’s mumbled improv bullshit, and shafting screen legend Eva Marie Saint with about 5 minutes of screen time.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang movie poster

 

Even if the marketing hadn’t trumpeted the dramatic return of burnt-out Hollywood high-concept screenwriter Shane Black, it’d be painfully obvious Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a movie crafted specifically for the audience he practically created with his Lethal Weapon quadrilogy. The all-over-the-place plot leaves a few threads dangling (What happened to the whole Michelle Monaghan femme fatale setup? Was it too obvious to be anything other than a red herring?), but that’s not really what matters; the movie is exactly what what Hollywood execs and critics alike mean when they use the belabored cliché "a ride that you either get on or you don’t."