In Uncategorized on May 28, 2011 at 11:12 PM
Movie #216 Rat Race
(2001, US, d. Jerry Zucker)
One of my favorite comedies of all time, Rat Race has all the right ingredients and the perfect recipe. It features an all-star cast (what I mean by that is B through D list) of hilarious comedians with a great concept: A bunch of people from Las Vegas are selected to participate in a race to get to Silver City, New Mexico. The first one there wins 2 million dollars. Though not as fun as an actual scavenger hunt (something It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World has on this film), it’s the actual characters that make this movie a real gem. Written by Andy Breckman, producer of the show Monk, Rat Race is a testament to the fact that interesting characters in wacky situations makes for great comedy. The best part about the film is that he gives every single character a tangible desire, which obviously plays out humorously. We have a dysfunctional family, each of member of which wants to go to Las Vegas for a different reason, may it be gambling, relaxing, or David Copperfield. We have the narcoleptic drifter who just wants to have fun. We have the football ref the nation is angry at. We have two cons. We have a mother and daughter who are meeting for the first time. We have an angry ex-girlfriend. We have a lawyer with huge aspirations, etc.. Now put all these people in a race to the death and see what happens. It’s a wonderful formula that takes you from the deserts of Nevada to Hitler fandom museums to bullet trains to helicopters to I Love Lucy buses to a Nazi car to broken hot air balloons to stray horses to ambulances to rocket cars. It’s one hell of a ride and though it requires a lot more suspension of disbelief post-9/11, still keeps you laughing the whole way through.
In Uncategorized on May 28, 2011 at 2:28 AM
Movie #215 The Others
(2001, US, d. Alejandro Amenabar)
This is one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen, and I knew the ending going in. It’s hard to talk a lot about The Others because the premise it is based on is so paper thin, if I were to give even a little information away, the ending could be ruined. Basically, it’s a haunted house story about a mother (played by Nicole Kidman) after WWII who lives alone with her son and daughter in a sprawling mansion somewhere in the UK. Soon, the kids begin to claim there are ‘0thers’ who inhabit the house and desire it themselves. I don’t want to even compare it the other film it’s a lot like, because connecting those two films will also ruin the ending, but I feel I must. So be warned: SPOILERS FOLLOW. The Others is a lot like M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, not only from a plot standpoint but also stylistically. Amenabar never wants to show the audience anything until the last possible moment. A single moment is dragged on for nearly 20 minutes in this film, such as to the point where you can’t take it anymore from fear or – let’s face it – boredom. For me, it was the former. I was so freaking scared watching this film that I had to go on Wikipedia and read it’s ending. I was so freaking scared watching this film that I had to pause multiple times and just do something else. I was so scared watching this film I moved it from the home TV to my laptop, where the screen wasn’t even fully maximized. I was so scared watching this film that near the climax, I was watching from an angle so I wouldn’t get freaked out too much. This is coming from a guy who doesn’t care for scary films. Though other critics may disagree, I think Amenabar’s style here works. Though at times, it does make you feel a little bored (a compliment to M. Night Shyamalan who, with the exact same task, managed to intrigue audiences the whole way through), The Others is a great film bolstered by the unusually strong performance for a genre film. Nicole Kidman puts in so much gut and life into this widow and believes in everything that she says that the audience can’t help but invest in her character. If you haven’t seen this film, watch it. That is, if you think you can handle it.
In Uncategorized on May 28, 2011 at 12:35 AM
Movie #214 Alfie
(2004, US/UK, d. Charles Shyer)
Alfie‘s charm requires that it knows exactly what charm is. Unfortunately, though, it’s definition is far off. The biggest problem with this ‘romantic comedy’ is that the main character isn’t charming at all. Somehow, the filmmakers were able to completely distance me from the protagonist. I almost hated Jude Law in this, and that takes a lot of work. There’s something about successful bachelors who are into style and nice cars wooing women into bed. Audiences like that. But even they have a certain moral code about them. Something that allows us to root for them, regardless of their vices. Alfie throws all of those out the window. I don’t know if it was just me, but rooting for a poor limo driver, who somehow manages to only care about fashion, sleep with literally anybody that wants to sleep with him isn’t enjoyable. It made me dislike the character. From there, regardless of the story and how much Shyer tried to bring back the charm of the original Michael Caine 60’s version of the film, this movie was doomed. When Alfie sleeps with his best friend’s girlfriend, it was all over for me. Regardless of the arc he was to go through, Alfie’s sins were beyond redemption. For a movie that relied on our belief that this guy was cool and everything the average man wanted to be, it had failed miserably. Another thing this film tries to bring is a lot of sequences and music from the original, none of which work. Featuring a jazzy score to characterize the steamy, random sex life of Alfie (to borrow a couple lines from another movie about single life in the Big Apple Hitch) and a few montages done through still frames, Alfie just adds one piece of crap on top of another until the untrained eye looks at it and thinks it may be modern art. Be warned though: it’s just a pile of garbage.
In Uncategorized on May 27, 2011 at 9:16 PM
Movie #213 Collapse
(2009, US, d. Chris Smith)
There’s not much to analyze about the documentary from a filmmaking perspective. Borrowing a lot of style and technique from Errol Morris, Collapse is pretty much a few shots of one guy talking, supplemented by the occasional image or video. That guy, though, is what makes the movie. His name is Michael Ruppert, and he’s known in the media as the biggest conspiracy theorist around. Had I known that before I’d seen the film, I might have reacted differently, but still – the points he makes here are so scary, I’m still thinking about them a week and a half later. Collapse deals with the concept of “peak oil” – basically that the world (according to a certain graph I can’t remember the name of) has passed the highest point of oil production possible. We are now on the decline of this slope, and rising oil prices only prove it. Ruppert’s almost end-of-the-world theory he propones in this documentary is scary, because he leads up to it with small, believable points that culminate in him saying something like “and that’s why the world is going to reach an infrastructure meltdown in the next few years”. To be honest, I had to research counterarguments to this film just to set my mind at ease. I highly recommend watching this film, just to allow your brain to chew over some interesting and quite compelling stuff. It’s a very scary film. But in a real sense, if you know what I mean. Watching the documentary is also an interesting character study of the lonely, so genuine he seems crazy at times Michael Ruppert.
In Uncategorized on May 27, 2011 at 8:31 PM
Movie #212 The Emperor’s Club
(2002, US, d. Michael Hoffman)
Perhaps it was because I attended a very small private school at the age (graduating class of 8). Perhaps it is because I have very little positive sentiment (apart from to the teachers) about the institution. But either way, the second half of this film failed for me. But let’s get started from the first. The first half of The Emperor’s Club is an example of writing brilliance. We are introduced to a teacher with a weird last name for a movie – William Hundert (played with confidence by Kevin Kline) – who teaches at a very prestigious private institution: St. Benedicts Academy for Boys. Their primary goal is to mold these individuals, most of whom come from very well-off families, to be the leaders in the world they were meant to be. At this school, though, is a competition. It tackles European history and the top three minds of the class compete. It is the highest honor, apart from graduating, one can leave the school with: to be crowned “Mr. Julius Caesar”. The film introduces us to “the class”, including the very young then-unknown stars Paul Dano, Jesse Eisenberg, Emile Hirsch, and even Patrick Dempsey. Emile Hirsch plays Sedgewick Bell, son of a senator and catalyst for the film’s events. After arriving at the school mid-quarter and being personally looked after by Mr. Hundert, Bell is given the honor of competing for the Mr. Julius Caesar crown – an honor not rightfully his, for Mr. Hundert had to eliminate another deserving student’s position to secure Bell’s. And then the unexpected happens: Bell cheats in the competition. The Emperor’s Club starts off like the usual teacher/motivational story but then turns into something different. It is not the story of how a regular teacher becomes extraordinary. Rather, it is the story of an extraordinary teacher who fails his students. Years later, Mr. Hundert is invited to Bell’s house, where Bell wants to stage a more legitimate rematch. Whether Bell redeems himself here is something I won’t give away, but as far as the first half of the film goes – we care for nearly every character, the moments are genuine, and there is real tension to carry us through. The second half of this film, or the rematch, is where it all falls apart. It is not because of the actual events that were going on, which were actually kind of intriguing, but simply due to the plausibility that so much value could have been placed on a competition when looked upon in hindsight, couldn’t have mattered at all. Again, perhaps it was because I went to a similar institution, not in grandeur but in size and scope. Overall, though, The Emperor’s Club is a surprisingly fresh take on the teacher genre and doing so, becomes quite moving as well.
In Uncategorized on May 26, 2011 at 9:09 PM
Movie #211 Blue Velvet
(1986, US, d. David Lynch)
It’s always a treat to watch a film from an auteur who has a truly unique perspective of the world. The little town in America we are witness to in Blue Velvet, though on the surface a regular town, is one of the strangest places film can take us. Nothing is what it appears to be and everything that simply is isn’t what is assumed. It’s a weird movie – but it’s one of those movies that you literally can’t take your eyes off of until the final credits start to roll. There is something trancing about this film, something hypnotizing, something so creepy in its innocence, you must finish it. Kyle MacLachlan plays Jeffrey Beaumont, a high school graduate who finds a severed human ear in the middle of a field and begins a personal investigation of the matter. The images Lynch shows us here are not images we’ve ever seen before. Perhaps, part of the appeal is experiencing a strange high of sexuality, perversity, and violence that we haven’t experienced in anywhere but adult theaters. Perhaps, it is the mystery – which works on a very film noir level. The characters are wacky and insane – Dennis Hopper plays one of the cruelest, scariest villains to be put on celluloid. But at the same time, the film works on a comedic level. It challenges us to not accept what is going on at face value and instead laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. That’s my take on it, at least. I’m sure no two people have identical opinions about this film. Blue Velvet takes you on a riveting and original journey into the dark spots of Happy Town, America. It exposes us to naive romances and gritty, perverse sexuality. It revels in its depiction of a calm police force and the raw violence of actuality. It is a film about irony and taking audiences for a ride. One of the best films in the MAD Challenge, Blue Velvet is a powerhouse of a film.
In Uncategorized on May 26, 2011 at 8:54 PM
Movie #210 Takers
(2010, US, d. John Luessenhop)
Takers is a film that starts out with some promise, but then becomes everything you would have hoped it wouldn’t be. On one hand you have the incredible talents of Idris Elba and Matt Dillon. On the other, you have a bunch of rappers trying to break into the film industry. Apart from a script that exists purely to highlight how badass T.I. or Chris Brown can be, there is nothing to mention here. Elba plays the only likeable character in this film – not because of the way he was written (atrociously) but because of the way he was played. Even Dillon seems wasted as the cliched cop with a divorce on his hands. The opening heist is ridiculous and the movie doesn’t stop there. None of their plans are inspired and any sane person can smell set-up the whole way through. Sure, these guys have #swag and look cool in their suits and convertibles and pool party threesomes, but apart from the glitz and the glamor, nothing is being done here. The direction is flawed, and the script is completely laughable. If you know movies at all, you can call the functions of every single side character, from the rookie cop partner to the drug-addicted sister of Elba’s character. And don’t even get me started on one of the most ridiculous and nonsensical endings of all time. The motive here was simple: look cool. But unfortunately, screenwriters have to realize that ‘cool’ needs to come from ‘good’ first. And that is an area Takers does not capitalize on.
In Uncategorized on May 26, 2011 at 5:48 PM
Movie #209 Winchester ’73
(1950, US, d. Anthony Mann)
I’ve only seen a handful of Westerns but every one of them I’ve managed to love. This film is no different. It’s running time is short and sweet but it manages to get a lot done in those few minutes. Jimmy Stewart plays Lin McAdam, a man on a hunt to capture ‘Dutch Henry’ Brown (played by Stephen McNally). On the way, Stewart manages to win a rifle. But the Winchester ’73 is not just any rifle. It’s the most coveted, expensive, accurate, and manly rifle that exists. Everyone wants it. It’s a great little story. Almost like what Madame De… did for a tale of a few earrings, Mann creates a geo-trail story of a gun, though this film did release a few years earlier. McAdam must make the decision to find the gun or continue to search for Mr. Brown, who’s relation to McAdam is only explained in the last minute of the film. It’s a classic MacGuffin set-up, but one that keeps you wondering rather than dismissing a flimsy storyline. Anchored by solid acting (and featuring a bit part by the then non-star Tony Curtis), Winchester ’73 is a very enjoyable ride through Kansas, from Dodge City and onwards.
In Uncategorized on May 26, 2011 at 5:34 PM
Movie #208 Groundhog Day
(1993, US, d. Harold Ramis)
Relying completely on the likes of Bill Murray and a tight script, Groundhog Day delivers a surprisingly high amount of legitimate laughs for an “old” comedy. One of the best written films of that decade, still used in screenwriting classes as an example, the film follows every formulaic device possible, except it does it with flair. Every character is unique – our protagonist (Bill Murray) is barely likable but hilarious. The premise is original. A weatherman gets having to repeat the same day (Groundhog Day in Pennsylvania) over and over again until he learns to change something. The set-ups are numerous, but every single one of them is paid off. And, the sarcasm is just brilliant. For the first time in my life, I can see why Bill Murray is a star. Nothing up to this point has convinced me, but in Groundhog Day, he is really something special. Even the funny bit parts don’t compare to him. Written by Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin, the best part of the film is that they managed to get the audience to like the most unlikable person on the planet. Murray’s character is mean, sarcastic, completely selfish, and expects things to go his way all the time. But every decision he makes in his repetition of the same day is something the audience has thought he should do at some point. Though completely unrelatable, every decision he makes is rational and grounded (get it?). It’s just a great character study out of something that didn’t have to be at all.But again, bottom line: it’s just funny.
In Uncategorized on May 26, 2011 at 5:21 PM
Movie #207 Poltergeist
(1982, US, d. Tobe Hooper)
Steven Spielberg had a lot to do with this movie, though he often goes uncredited. He has a a story credit and producer’s credit, but rumor has it he practically directed this film as well. I had heard a lot of good things going into this film – that it was one of the scariest films of all time. And coming from Spielberg, I had to believe that. The biggest problem with this film, though, is that it never manages to settle in a single tone. A lot of the film was funny, but then jokes started to come out of the horror and I didn’t know if it was intentional. The acting at times was magnificent and the next scene, the same actors would be delivering their lines in the most melodramatic ways. The film relies a lot upon creating a similar atmosphere as ET did. We have a neighborhood everyone likes, neighbors the audience likes, a school, etc… But that whole ‘Spielbergian’ element only sabotages the film. It feels a lot like he can’t make his mind up about whether he wants this film to be a sentimental film about family or a horror flick about things that come out of your TV. Perhaps, it’s just that my taste for horror has evolved – This film did make an impact in people’s minds upon original release and it does continue to inspire so many modern horror films, the most obvious homage being this year’s Insidious. Poltergeist is a strange film. What starts off as a horror movie becomes something else which becomes something else which becomes something else, never settling in a single tone – the first great task any auteur must try and accomplish. And from there, it becomes really hard to buy into.