Archive for May, 2010

Roman’s Extended Holiday

I don’t understand why many people in Hollywood keep trying to defend Roman Polanski.  Yes, he’s under house-arrest in Switzerland, but it seems like too little too late.  The man is a pedophile.  Another woman has come forward claiming to be a victim.

Are people in Hollywood so desparate for "talent" that they’re willing to excuse behavior like this?  That’s not right.

Regardless of what anyone thinks about FoxNews, their online "Entertainment" section is one of the best that I’ve seen.  They come up with some interesting and innovative things, e.g.:

This is a short slideshow of previous Robin Hood "hits and misses."  I have to say, I agree with what they say about the ones I’ve seen…

All mistakes aren’t bad!

Sometimes I order movies and miniseries through interlibrary loan.  It’s like a slower version of Netflix.

One of my friends told me I should watch the 2004 BBC miniseries "North & South," which is based on the Elizabeth Gaskell novel of the same title.  So I put in a request at the library.  I received a miniseries titled "North & South."  However, the one I got was the 1985 miniseries based on the John Jakes novel set in the Civil War era.

I thought, "Okay, interesting."  And of course, since I love history, I took it home and am in the process of watching it. (I did put in another request for the series I originally ordered.)

The 80s series I’m watching is somewhat like a glorified Civil War soap opera, but it has a lot of interesting people in it.  People like Patrick Swayze, Elizabeth Taylor, David Ogden Stiers, and Kirstie Alley.  Quite a collection!

It’s interesting to watch, if only because I find the Civil War era fascinating.

King Cameron strikes again

Since it recently came out on DVD and BluRay, and since I’ve had some people ask my opinion of this movie, I’m going to review it.  So here goes.

James Cameron. Avatar. A movie that was eagerly anticipated and has been consistently praised by many. Who cares what I think about it? Well, I do, for one, since sitting in the theater watching the nearly three hours of Avatar left me slightly nauseated and bad-tempered. And no, I did not watch it in 3-D.  (If I had, I almost certainly would have gotten sick.)

The movie is beautiful, although the lushness of the jungle can feel oppressing at times. The special effects were amazing.  There were moments that looked or felt false, but considering the visual scope of the movie some leeway is definitely allowable.

I think it was about halfway through the movie (I felt like I lost track of time while watching the movie, as though I were in isolation) that something a former professor said occurred to me. This was a man who understood cinema to a depth that I hope to be able to attain someday: I think he watched everything. He had seen the range from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" to everything Alfred Hitchcock. Anyway, he said that a movie could have the best of everything–effects, music, actors, setting, costume–but if it didn’t have a good story or plot, it was nothing.

Even most people that like the movie say it is lacking in plot. Lacking is a kind way of putting it.  In the heat of the moment, after leaving the theater, I told someone that Avatar was one giant cliche from beginning to end. That might be a bit of a stretch, since Cameron manages to use a number of cliches. "Going native?" check; evil outsiders taking over indigenous people? check; big bad industrial corporations? check; evil military? check; ‘scout’ sent in to infiltrate group turning on those who sent him? check; pantheism? check; noble savages? check. And the list goes on.

A cliche can be turned around and made interesting and new, and maybe Cameron was trying to do that by setting his story on a alien planet in the future. But it really didn’t work, since his story was predictable and his dialog was sometimes mind-numbingly painful. The whole idea felt set in stone, as if it were a preconceived notion, rehashing of old ideas. Oh, wait, it was.

There were no surprises in Avatar, as there are in another movie, The Book of Eli. That movie also takes ideas that have been done before (post-apocalypse survivors and a quest to help humankind), but the Hughes brothers manage to make their story innovative and fresh, and even throw in a surprising twist or two.

Would I recommend Avatar, even if only for the special effects? Keep in mind the professor I quoted earlier; if it doesn’t have a plot, it’s nothing. So if you feel like spending your time and money for three hours of nothing, by all means, go for it. I wouldn’t recommend it though, since it nearly made me ill.

A Tale of Two Comedies

It is a truth universally acknowledged that not all comedies are created equal.  Comedy is probably one of the hardest type of story to get right.

I watched two comedies; one that received little attention and one that everyone’s been talking about. The first was The Invention of Lying starring (and co-authored and directed by) Ricky Gervais. The premise: what would happen–in a society where not only can people not lie, they seem compelled to say whatever’s in their head–when one man ‘evolves’ the ability to lie? Ricky Gervais is Mark Bellison, the first liar. The interesting thing is that, while he does use his ability for his own gain, he seems to use it just as much to help others. The movie is strange, but I think there are two main things that make it work. One is the depiction of things that we take for granted; such as, what would advertisements and movies be like in a society where no one lies? The second is Gervais. There is something both charming and vulnerable about him that makes the character of Mark Bellison believable. In particular, there is a touching scene with Bellison and his mother, where Bellison invents an elaborate story to comfort his mother. The Invention of Lying contains some rather typical vulgar British humor, but it is still an interesting view of what people would be like if they had to tell the truth. Contrary to what some people think, it is not always a pretty picture.

The second comedy I watched was the surprise hit The Hangover. Although I did not seem to find this movie as funny as most people, I did see the charm and humor in it. What I didn’t like was the complete accepting (to the point of embracing) the whole "boys will be boys" idea, as if it is not only normal but right for men to go out and behave poorly the night before their wedding. There was also a lot of very crude humor, which it seems impossible to get away from any more.  However, the movie is still funny. What is nice is that the story is told in segments, as the friends figure out one more piece of the night at a time (since they wake up with absolutely no memory of what happened the night before). Zach Galifianakis deserved the acclaim he received for his role as the bride’s brother, Alan Garner. He is probably the best part of the movie (although there is something ridiculously funny about watching three grown men get tazed). The Hangover probably received all the attention it did because it is a level above many of the other comedies we see today (Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler movies). It is worth watching, but I still don’t think it’s an excellent movie.

Since Iron Man was such a hit, Iron Man 2 is bound to be initially popular because it brings back the same main characters.

Many sequels don’t have much to sell, so they jam them full of action and ignore plot holes.  Iron Man 2, however, takes an interesting, contemplative turn.  Of course there’s action!  It wouldn’t be a story about Iron Man without it.  The action and special effects are superbly done.  And of course, Tony Stark still hides his true feelings under his ironically charming glib, narcissistic facade.  Robert Downey, Jr. is again able to bring such a paradox to life.

Also returning in Iron Man 2 is Gwyneth Paltrow as the long-suffering Pepper Potts and, the director Jon Favreau as Hogan, and the voice of Paul Bettany as the voice of Jarvis.  I wish I could say that Terrence Howard returned as Lt. Col. Rhodes, but he was replaced with Don Cheadle.  By the end of the movie, I was reconciled (mostly) to Cheadle as Rhodey, but at first it was rather dissonant.

And then were the new characters, particularly Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko, Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman, and Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer.  For me, the only one that seemed out of place was Rourke.  Are we really supposed to believe that he’s Russian?  I didn’t buy it.  Rockwell was much more believable as a second-class entrepreneur desperate to prove himself.  But I digress.

Anyone and everyone who enjoyed Iron Man should enjoy Iron Man 2.  It has the same type of witty dialog, excellent action scenes, and interesting (if muddled) relationships.  I certainly enjoyed it!  And yes, they did leave it sufficiently open for another movie…

I will post a review of Iron Man 2 soon.  I’m trying to formulate my thoughts, but the inclement weather is distracting me.

I’m planning on going to the 12:01 showing of Iron Man 2.  Good times.  Robert Downey, Jr. has certainly improved in more recent years.  One thing I’m not looking forward to is the replacement of Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle.  Oh well.

It seems half of action movies today are based on comic books.  They range between ridiculous–4: Rise of the Silver Surfer–and quite excellent–Spider-Man.

Somewhere in between is a movie like The Losers.  The plot is rather common–a group of operatives are betrayed and left for dead.  They figure the only way to get their lives back is to confront the man who betrayed them.  He is, so they’re told, under tighter security than the President.

What makes this movie is not the plot.  It’s the random collection of operatives.  My favorites were Jensen, the "techie," and Pooch, the "driver."  They add necessary humor to the somewhat mundane plot.

What annoyed me–mostly because this trend is becoming more prevalent–is the obvious leaving open of the plot for a sequel.  Oh well, right?

Am I the only one that’s a little weirded out by the choice of Russell Crowe to play Robin Hood in the upcoming movie Robin Hood?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Crowe will do an excellent job.  And yet, he seems sort of…wrong for the part.  That doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to seeing the movie.  I do think, however, that Mel Brooks has the best Robin Hood movie to date.