Archive for April, 2010

A new take on a classic?

As promised (whether you want it or not), here is a little review of the the new BBC miniseries Emma.  One might wonder why people are still making adaptations of Emma, since a number of them have been done already.  Not only does Austen seem to be gaining in popularity, however, but some of the adaptations of her books were done in the ’70s and ’80s (or earlier) and seem very dated.

I do have to say, however, that this new miniseries is still not as good as the 1996 version of Emma–I’m talking about the A&E version and not about the one with Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma.  Perhaps the reason for the superiority of the 1996 A&E version is the screenwriter, Andrew Davies.  He seems to be able to capture the essence of novels, even when he has to seriously condense them.

There were moments in the new miniseries when I felt like the actors were acting.  Well, of course they were, but their movements, speech, and actions often felt too studied and prepared.  There were genuine moments as well (most of them from Michael Gambon), but the main characters too often fell into "acting" rather than "reacting."

So I’m still where I was before I watched the new Emma: Kate Beckinsale is the best Emma Woodhouse and Mark Strong is the best George Knightley.  They engage in Austen’s dialog and dance through Davies’ screenplay with a charm that can’t be matched.

An “old” review

The Eagle Eye That Doth Supply
What are some of the deep-seating, sometimes irrational, fears that plague mankind, possibly especially Americans? Being wrongfully accused of a heinous crime (or crimes), life-threatening technological malfunctions, and terrorism. Eagle Eye (2008), directed by D.J. Caruso, contains facets of all of these fears. Also at the heart of the movie is the struggle to maintain independence and to gain respect.
The movie opens with an American military attack on a suspected terrorist gathering. The U.S. Defense Secretary advises the President not to attack, but the President overrides his advice. The entire attack is directed cleanly from behind-the-scenes through the use of an automated airplane that can use both surveillance and munitions. Other than just setting the tone for the movie, this scene has importance. It is the proverbial ‘gun in Act I.’
The plot of this movie is relatively simple: a young man, Jerry Shaw, returns to his apartment to find it full of illegal materials—explosives, fake passports, illegal firearms—and receives a phone call from an unknown woman telling him to flee the premises because the FBI are coming. Jerry doesn’t listen and ends up being interrogated. The unknown woman helps him escape, and he is picked up by another strange woman in a car, who is also being directed by the same unknown voice. Both Jerry and Rachel Holloman, the young woman, are coerced into cooperating with the unknown woman. Although Jerry and Rachel do not know, or trust, each other, they are forced into working together.
Of course, the FBI, led by Agent Thomas Morgan, continues to pursue them. Morgan begins to realize, however, that these two people do not have the power to orchestrate some of the extreme measures used to accomplish some of their ‘tasks.’ There is something greater at work here.
One of the joys of this movie is its minimalism. Even though Caruso avails himself of modern technology in filming intense flight scenes, Eagle Eye is not cluttered with unnecessary plot-points or grotesquely overdone action scenes. The movie is centered on the characters: how are they going to react to the situation at hand, given their different roles in life and experience of the world? Although viewers can unravel the plot before it is laid out for them, the answer to the riddle is neither unnecessarily clocked in devious plot-maneuverings, or so thinly disguised as to make the story passé.
Of course, the major part of any movie is the casting. If viewers cannot relate to the protagonist(s), they may lose interest at once. The casting for Eagle Eye was perhaps inspired. None of the characters seemed out of place. Shia LaBeouf, who portrayed Jerry Shaw, his recently gained attention, perhaps especially since playing opposite Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. LaBeouf has both the charm and the ability to carry the lead role. He can toss off natural dialogue when necessary, and also ‘speak’ with nothing more than his facial expression when that is called for. LaBeouf is a rising star, perhaps outshone by others of greater name, fame, or beauty, but I have a feeling LaBeouf will last. There is a permanence about him, an agreeable every-day feeling. But do not underestimate him—he is an actor who has grown in every role I have seen him in.
Michelle Monaghan, who plays Rachel Holloman, was less familiar to me. However, she was good, more importantly believable, in her part. She portrayed the necessary confused emotions, while pressing through to the inevitable conclusion. Billy Bob Thornton adds his gruff acting to the movie in his portrayal of FBI Agent Thomas Morgan. I confess that I do not have any particular fondness for Mr. Thornton. Perhaps because his characters (or his acting) always seems either overly ‘tough-guy’ or too unbelievable vulnerable. In Eagle Eye, however, Thornton fits. He becomes Morgan. His reactions to the situations he faces are natural and often humorous. As Morgan, he seems both jaded by his job and impatient to get to the bottom of whatever problem lies in front of him. In other words, he seems human and not a parody of someone’s idea of human nature.
Another interesting casting choice was Michael Chiklis as Defense Secretary Callister. Chiklis subsumes his stereotypical raging machoism to become an over-taxed public official, charged with making heavy decisions. He shows a vulnerability that is touching and believable.
Eagle Eye is a good, clean action/adventure movie. It interesting, entertaining, and frighteningly believable. It shows some of humanities deepest fears and our ability to rise above seemingly impossible situations to do what we know to be right, no matter what the cost.

Hanging on by fingernails…

This has been a crazy busy week.  I promise to post review(s) soon.  Provided I don’t blow away, that is.

I still haven’t seen Crazy Heart.  Now that it’s out for rent, my only excuse is that I haven’t had time.

Just got my hands on the newest miniseries version of Emma.  I haven’t watched it yet.  I’m still disappointed that they choose a blonde.  Just because Alicia Silverstone was blonde in Clueless does not mean that Emma is really supposed to be blonde!  But I digress.  More to come on Emma.

I’m looking forward to the new Robin Hood movie, even though I think Russell Crowe is an odd choice for Robin Hood.  And I’m almost starting to get annoyed with Mark Strong being cast as all the Hollywood villains.  Almost.  He’s such a good actor that it’s always a pleasure to see him, even if he is playing someone evil.  I’m a big fan of Strong’s excellent diction.  Did anyone else notice that even though he played a lower-class British thug in RocknRolla, every word he spoke was clear and understandable?  It must be the theatre training.

I find it surprising how many of Henry James’s novels and stories have been made into movies.  James is not known for happy or easy endings, which seems to be Hollywood’s forte.  However, his stories have a depth and interest that seems to keep drawing people in.  Perhaps it’s also because he wrote about the conflicts between Europeans and Americans.  And who knows? Maybe James was attempting to be the "American answer" to Anthony Trollope.

Death and pie, oh my!

So.  I watched the first season of "Pushing Daisies."  At first, I was sort of put off by the campy voice-over narrator.  However, I kept watching, and either they toned him down a bit or I got used to his cheesy voice.

The premise of the show might seem random and even morbid: a man can bring people back to life again, but he can only let them live for a minute before he has to ‘put them back to death.’  The show isn’t morbid, though.  It’s actually quite humorous.  Lee Pace as Ned, aka The Pie-Maker, is able to play a sweet, bufuddled person–a kind man who "talks" to dead people in order to get justice for their murders.  Or to get reward money to satisfy his self-appointed partner, private eye Emerson Cod, played by Chi McBride.

The plot is thickened by Ned’s determined employee, Olive Snook–played wonderfully by Kristin Chenoweth–who has a puppyish devotion to Ned.  Further complications ensue when Ned "brings back" his childhood sweetheart, Charlotte "Chuck" Charles, played by doe-eyed Anna Friel.

"Pushing Daisies" might get a little saccharine at times, but Emerson Cod (McBride) is always on hand to throw the right amount of caustic humor into the mix to even things out.  In fact, he was probably my favorite character from the show, even though there is something appealing about Lee Pace as the hapless Ned.

I enjoyed "Pushing Daisies" and will probably watch the second season when I get a chance.

Kick-A**? or not too kick-a**?

I enjoy spoof movies.  Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Get Smart, and The Producers are excellent movies.  So I enjoyed the ‘spoofing movies made about comic book heroes’ aspect of Kick-Ass.

However, that was about all I enjoyed in the movie.  Yes, there were some quite funny moments when "normal" people tried to be heroic.  And although many of Nicholas Cage’s lines bordered on campy, he was able to deliver them well enough to make them funny.  Or maybe it was just his "redneck" moustache and psuedo-Batman outfit.

I was actually rather disturbed by the rest of the movie.  I found it vulgar and graphically gory.  But perhaps the most disturbing part was the character of Mindy Macready, aka Hit-Girl, the eleven-year-old daughter of Damon Macready (Nicholas Cage), aka Big Daddy.  Hit-Girl sort of steals the show, and she is amusing and appealing.  But she’s also vulgar, cold-blooded, and conscienceless.  There is a scene where she kills off a number of heavily armed men, and the action looks almost like some video games.  Could this not even further blur the line between fantasy "killing" and reality for some people?

A lot of the humor in Kick-Ass is juvenile, vulgar humor.  It is funny, to an extent, but it’s the kind of humor that glories in someone else’s pain or humiliation.  In other words, it is a type of narcissistic humor.  Since I’m already disturbed by the amount of narcissism that seems to be accepted, even promoted, this movie shouldn’t have come as a surprise.  But it still did, and not in a good way.

However, there was a sort of appeal to Aaron Johnson, who played Dave Lizewski, aka Kick-Ass.  Lizewski honestly seemed to want to help others, even if he was misguided and untrained.  Yet that’s not enough of a positive for me to be able to recommend this movie to others.

I consider myself to be a movie aficionado, yet there are days when I do not understand society’s obsession with actors and other celebrities.  How many people really care whether or not Britney Spears has hair extensions? or whether or not John Mayer is still single?  Does this reality TV star make more money that than one?  Are Brad and Angelina going to stay together?  Is Tom Cruise really crazy?

You know, I think such obsession is the reason people like Tiger Woods and Jesse James got into such trouble.  Am I saying they are victims? NO!  They need to take responsibility for their actions.  However, when one is constantly under scrutiny and is tempted with things ‘ordinary’ people may not be, I’m sure it’s hard to resist.  Does it make such poor behavior right or acceptable?  No, it’s wrong and it sets a bad example for kids who might want to emulate that person.

However, it doesn’t help that people troll through tabloids and revel in scandal and sensational news.  It’s a form of escapism, sure, but so is reading a book or watching a movie.  Let these people lives their lives in peace, as much as possible.  Would you want a camera crew following you around all your life?

Both Steve Carell and Tina Fey have become popular in recent years, and for good reason.  They are able to do comedy without relying on ridiculous pratfalls and borderline vulgarity. Because of this, I was curious to see what Date Night would be like.

Date Night is driven by the witty humor of both actors, and is a giant step above many of the "comedies" of recent years.  Phil and Claire Foster, played by Carell and Fey, are a normal couple who encounter trouble in a proverbial "wrong place-wrong time" situation.  The hilarity of the movie comes from how they try to extricate themselves from the situation.  They alternately have freak-out moments and moments of almost criminal brilliance.  It was particularly hilarious seeing them pretend to be "the people" of a celebrity.

While there are a few unbelievable moments, it is quite good as a whole.  The comedy never lags, the witticisms continue, and the acting is good.  Date Night is an excellent movie–it is simultaneously cleaner and more humorous than many recent comedies.  It showcases the abilities of both Carell and Fey, and manages to tell a good story at the same time.

There is something about Robert DeNiro.  He is one of those actors willing–and able–to change his appearance and or character to play a part (e.g. Leonard Lowe in Awakenings and Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull).

DeNiro excels in the 2009 movie Everybody’s Fine.  The viewer knows from early on that something is wrong, but the impetus of the movie is how DeNiro’s character, Frank Goode, will come to the realization that his children’s lives are not "fine."  He has to look past their excuses to find out what the issues really are.  Their reason for not always being honest?  "We don’t want you to worry."

Along with the family ‘issues,’ Frank Goode is also a retiree who has recently lost his wife.  He seems compelled to talk to strangers about his life, as if to make sure he isn’t invisible in the fast-paced world that is carrying on just fine without him.

Everybody’s Fine is a well-done movie, sometimes brutal in its unkindness, yet full of believable redemption.  And the acting is excellent.

Every time I go to a store recently, I see the ‘Sandra Bullock scandal’ being dragged through the tabloids.  The poor woman, what a catastrophe.  Just remember, we love you, Sandra!

Thinking about Sandra Bullock makes me remember her Oscar win in March.  I wrote an entire ‘review’ of the Oscars, which you can read (if you wish) here:

I still haven’t seen Crazy Heart, which is starting to make me a little…crazy?  Jeff Bridges is an amazing actor, so I figure the movie can’t be all bad.  In fact, many say it’s quite the opposite.  I will share my opinion once I see it.

Someone recommended that I watch "Pushing Daisies," which is interesting because I’ve been wanting to watch it.

It’s always wonderful to discuss "Fawlty Towers" with someone who’s seen it and thinks it’s funny.  On the other hand, if I try to describe it to someone who hasn’t seen it, I usually end up sounding like a bit of an idiot.  So I usually end with, "John Cleese really is funny! No, hilarious!"