Categories
2 Stars Movies

Fantastic Four

Fantastic FourDid they learn nothing from Spider-Man 2, clearly the pinnacle of the superhero genre (and I will fight a Marvel Team-Up with anybody that dares disagree with me)? FF is an aggressively stupid series of one missed opportunity after another. It just narrowly escapes one star by making me laugh a handful of times.

And another thing. Jessica Alba’s glasses don’t help her pull off a line like “The space cloud has fundamentally altered our DNA!”

Categories
3 Stars Movies

King Kong (1933)

King KongThe original King Kong gets points for being so drenched with subtext you can swim in it. But whenever Kong isn’t on screen it’s dreadful.

Categories
5 Stars Movies

Welcome to Sarajevo

Welcome to SarajevoAn excellent merging of the political with the fictional by Michael Winterbottom.

Categories
3 Stars Movies

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the DeadFor most of it, I thought for sure Shaun of the Dead was a four-starrer, but it lost its way at some point. I’m not sure exactly of the transition point, but I felt that the tone had changed too drastically by the time the characters were trapped in the pub (in other words, I had stopped laughing). Until that point, I was totally loving it, particularly a newscaster’s description of the zombies as “shambolic.” It became a bit nasty and grim (sons blowing their undead mum’s brains out), and then veered back to whimsy at the end. But all that said, it’s remarkable that despite all the humor, satire, and melodrama, it’s still an honest-to-goodness zombie movie.

Did you spot the virtually wordless cameo by Arthur De- I mean, Martin Freeman?

Categories
4 Stars Movies

Mirrormask

MirrormaskAn utterly gorgeous collaboration between Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman, who are so good together that I admit to a little disappointment when they work apart.

I especially recommend reading the screenplay; one of the few scripts I’ve ever read that stands on its own.

Categories
3 Stars Movies

Tarnation

TarnationGod, I want to jump out a window. I sandwiched a movie as innocuous as Willy Wonka inbetween this recent run of major movie bummers: Tarnation, Kurt & Courtney, Sid & Nancy, 11’09″01, Downfall… but it didn’t amount to much more than a breather. Let’s see… are there any Care Bear DVDs on Netflix I can use to balance out the movies I’ve been watching recently that feature grief, despair, holocaust, addiction, abuse, and terrorism?

Categories
3 Stars Movies

Sid & Nancy

Sid & NancyAnd now to raise the gander of another friend. Sorry, Kevin, but I’m still not much of an Alex Cox fan and found this one a little hard to digest.

But no doubt, Gary Oldman is superb (the degree to which he disappears into roles is actually a bit scary – did anybody besides me not even recognize him in Hannibal and The Contender until the end credits rolled?). And some of the dialogue is choice: “What’s happened to Jonny?” “Johnny got beat up by fascists.”

Maybe like Kurt & Courtney, my Punk Appreciation Deficiency Syndrome colored my response the film.

Categories
3 Stars Movies

11’09″01 – September 11

A series of short films inspired by or in reaction to 9/11 made by directors from nearly every continent.

At first, I thought for sure I would be giving this one more than three stars, but the quality of the short films takes a steep dive after the first two. The first in particular, by Iranian filmmaker Samira Makhmalbaf, is excellent. It opens on an entire Afghanistan village emptying their well in order to manufacture bricks to build shelters for when the US will bomb them. A female schoolteacher rounds up all the children and attempts to explain to them what happened in New York, and why the Americans are about to kill them. Step one: try to illustrate the concept of a skyscraper.

The short from Egypt is quite bad, and almost laughable (dig the ghost of a buff American Marine killed in Beruit, walking out of the ocean, soaking wet and topless). And unfortunately, Sean Penn’s contribution was over-edited into oblivion. But a late high point is Ken Loach’s documentary about the US-instigated overthrow of Chile’s democratically-elected government on… wait for it… September 11, 1973!

And a bit of trivia: Mira Nair’s short was written by an old roommate I had back in film school.

Categories
3 Stars Movies

Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory

Ever know you’ve seen a movie, but can’t really remember it? So after seeing the Tim Burton remake, I decided to put the original on my Netflix queue because I just couldn’t spark the brain cells that contained my recollections of it.

This is the first of two posts that are bound to upset friends… this one will surely hurt the feelings of H the Mean Teacher. First I come down hard on Nirvana, and now I am ambivalent about one of her favorite movies! For that I’m sorry, but I think I can mitigate the damage by briefly explaining my rating system.

In a word, it’s subjective. I’m not trying to be a film critic (or rather, what a film critic ought to be, in a perfect world), whose job it is to evaluate a film’s quality and achievement in light of a deep knowledge of world cinema and then leaven it with a personal perspective. Rather, my ratings are the inverse: the personal response first, and then a consideration of the movie’s history and general critical consensus. I wouldn’t necessarily give an acknowledged classic a high rating if I personally didn’t care for it.

So, I gave this one 3 stars even though it enjoys a cult following that will no doubt gang up on me on the street and pelt me with Everlasting Gobstoppers while chanting the “Oompa Loompa” theme tune. I did like the bit where Wonka spookily intones “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” I could swear that has been sampled in some electronica track, although can’t for the life of me remember which. Sounds like something The Orb would seize on, but I’m not sure. Anyone? (an aside: The Future Sound of London sampled the movie dialogue “Everybody on line… Lookin’ good,” and for some reason I always mentally associated it with Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest. Until one day, I’m watching Aliens… and there it is, out of the mouth of a colonial marine.)

Sorry to add insult to injury, Mean Teacher, but I also must say here that I unexpectedly loved the Tim Burton remake.

Categories
3 Stars Movies

Don’t leave Earth without Garth Jennings’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Yes, officer, I’d like to file a report. You see, I’m being threatened. I received word that If I don’t actually start writing stuff in my blog, I’m going to have my virtual pants pulled down in front of at least half a dozen complete strangers with well-tended blogs. Or is that if I DO actually start writing stuff… oh, I’m confused. Wait! Officer, where are you going? Oh well, I’ll just get on with a sentence or two about this DVD I just saw, and hope I remembered to put on presentable underthings this morning.

I’m one of THOSE people, you know the ones… while the rest of my peers obsessed over Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica, I had my head stuck in Doctor Who and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I would drop my Nerf football or Legos every Saturday afternoon at 3 to run inside and catch Doctor Who on PBS. And for some unscheduled Brit-sci-fi fun, my collection (complete but always far from mint) of Douglas Adams paperbacks always waited for me.

So for me and my ilk, 2005 looked to be a great year — not only was Doctor Who regenerated (seemingly out of nowhere, when there was no hope to be had even by the most blindly optimistic of fans) by none other than the BBC itself, somebody at Disney (Disney?!) finally threw up their hands and actually made that Hitchhiker’s script that had been kicking around Hollywood for decades (not an exaggeration). Surely, some of my geek brethren must have grown up and scored jobs in the entertainment industry.

Not having been broadcast anywhere on this side of the planet, I’ve only managed to see less than half of the new Doctor Who season thanks to the wonders of internet piracy. I’m here to say that it is pure, glorious, totally-different-and-yet-somehow-still-Who. But Hitchhiker’s? It’s a bit of a mess, I’m afraid. As a lifelong fan, it’s a bit surprising to find myself wishing the film was MORE mainstream. It’s hard to imagine anybody who had not read and reread the book (or at least already appreciative of some Monty Python-style humor) not being totally and completely bewildered by the whole production.

Some of the casting is so perfect as to be impossible to imagine otherwise: the voices of Alan Rickman and Stephen Fry, and wotsisname from The Office was surely born to play the definitive Arthur Dent. But as much as I like Mos Def, it has to be said he’s a mumbler (huh? what’d he say?). The filmmakers had the right idea to go for practical effects as often as possible, including some much-missed old skool puppet work from the Jim Henson Company, but it sometimes just doesn’t sit right paired with off-the-shelf-pow-zoom-blow-your-mind-just-like-the-last-blockbuster-you-saw-this-summer CGI.

I reread the book for the first time in years, and it struck me that the whole thing is actually quite short, focused, and satisfying. It shouldn’t have been too hard to fashion it into a movie, but evidently the producers (and Adams himself, who co-wrote the screenplay) felt otherwise, quickly abandoning the plot specifics of the novel. But if the aim is to create an easily-digested summer blockbuster story, why (just for example) introduce a seemingly significant character who incapacitates a major character, who then promptly drops out of the story and the situation is never resolved? And the whole business about Zaphod’s brain would make no sense at all to anyone who isn’t a Hitchhiker’s expert (I wouldn’t have understood it myself if I hadn’t reread the book so recently).

Anyway, I could go on but it’s late and I need to charge my iPod and myself (i.e. go to sleep). So I’m going to take my pants off anyway! Ha!