Thursday, January 28, 2010

#11-Being John Malkovich (1999)

Being John Malkovich

Remember awhile back when I was reviewing the film Synechdoche, New York? I absouloutly loved that movie, and I gave most of the credit to writer/director Charlie Kaufman. Remember how I said that I hope to be reviewing more of his films as the time goes on? Well here is another! His first big picture was Being John Malkovich. It was originally quite a small film, with a very impressive cast, which includes: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Cathrine Keener, and of course, John Malkovich. The film is very fun, very quick, and sure to make you question your own sanity. Unlike Synechdoche, this film is not also directed by Kaufman, this one is directed by Spike Jonze, who would go on to direct another Kaufman film, and Where The Wild Things Are.

What did I tell you? Charlie Kaufman is one of the most original minds in Hollywood today. Being John Malkovich is about a struggling puppeteer, who, in lack of a demand for pupetts, gets a job on the 7th and a half floor of a large office building. While here, he finds a small door in his office, which, once crawled through, leads you inside John Malkovich. Seeing in great detail what this could mean for him, and his stuggling family, him and a co-worker hatch an plan to sell trips into John Malkovich for $200 a pop.

First off, let me tell you that this film is led by an allstar cast. All of whom perform marvelously here. I am usually not a very big John Cusack fan, or haven't been lately, but he does excellenty here. He pulls off his role quite well, and even does an interesting job with some wacky hair, and outfits. Neither am I a fan of Cameron Diaz, (with some exceptions), but she does excellently here as well, as a pet obsessed young woman. Cathrine Keener was even nominated for an Oscar for her performance here, and it is certainly deserved. And then of course there is John Malkovich, who I always love, and her sure does an excellent job playing himself, granted a very fictionalized version, but himself nonetheless.

"What happens when a man goes into his own head?"

Though Spike Jonze also got nominated for an Academy Award for his directing on the film, I still feel that at this point, he hadn't fully developed his craft quite yet, which he is now, nearly flawless at. The film seemed very strange in length. I still cannot tell whether this film was too long, or too short, because it has very odd pacing. It just seemed to end rather ubruptly. Granted, I still think this is one of the few films that ends nearly perfectly, it just wraps up, too quickly, I suppose it is.

Charlie Kaufman is always excellent at what he does, as I have praised before. And this is no different. Though Being John Malkovich is not my favorite film he has done, it is still an amazing piece of cinema. While most of Kaufman's works are fantasy grounded in reality, this one seems mostly fantasy. Don't get me wrong the film is still deeply rooted in human nature and existence, but you won't realize that until after the fact. As Synechdoche, was one of his darker films, Malkovich, is one of his lighter.

As you can tell, I really like this movie, Being John Malkovich is a great whimsical adventure to be enjoyed by all who care to enjoy it. Watch it as a fantasy, watch it as a drama, however you watch it, just be sure to watch it. Let the message, the acting, the story, the lighting, the editing (which is excellent), the music, the direction, and all the other factors seep into you, so you can truly enjoy this amazing piece in movie history. It breaks the fourth wall, it acts as if there are multiple dimensions to a single one, it is just a lot of fun.

I Give Being John Malkovich A:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

#10-Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes. Well, hasn't your face been shy of the spotlight for quite some time now, eh? I'm sure that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is actually quite happy about that, after seeing my creation thrashed about numerous times by various people, a break would be nice after awhile. Why did you have to go and ruin it Guy Ritchie? Mr. Holmes does have an interesting history though, Conan Doyle published four novels and fifty-six short stories that featured the character, he was then used, and re-created by various other authors, the stories were then adapted into fourty-one episodes of the classic series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. But then, in 1985, Steven Speilberg and Barry Levinson tried to adapt Holmes for a new audience in, The Young Sherlock Holmes. The project was a failure and was lost and forgotten about forever. Now, both Sherlock Holmes and direct Guy Ritchie have spotty track-records, is there anyway for this film to stay afloat?

Let's begin with the story of the film, which is my main flaw. This movie is, obviously, suppose to be a mystery, which it is, and mysteries, in all forms, whether it be film, television, novel, whatever, they are suppose to give the viewer, or reader, clues along the way to help them figure out the mystery. Sherlock Holmes doesn't. It seems that the main story itself gets pushed aside for brawly action sequences, and scenes of Holmes and Watson puttering back and forth with each other. Don't get me wrong, the mystery is cleary layed out, for us, they say, this happened, whodunnit? But they don't allow us to guess who exactly it is. The film then wraps up very quickly (and annoyingly) leaving the door completely open for a sequel (which I'm sure it'll have)

Now, above me I mention "Holmes and Watson puttering with each other." And though that may sound like a complaint, I actually felt that it was one of the better parts of the movie. Robert Downy Jr. and Jude Law give excellent performances. I typically like Downy Jr. and this movie is no exception, he is doing his typical thing, with some funny nuances, and kind of a drunken appeal, and it works like it did in Iron Man. However, I always approach a Law film with caution, he did however greatly surprise me though, being serious enough to be the responsible one, but being silly enough to keep up with Sherlock. The only problem I had in the acting department was Rachel McAdams, and usually, I like McAdams, not good, not bad, but passable. Here she just didn't know what to do. Whether this is attributed to her or the direction, I do not know.

Guy Ritchie is still developing his life as a director. He is not a great director by any means, but he is a decent one at least. He throws his typical flair and style into the film, and as much as I like it, and as cool as it is, it just doesn't seem to fit into a film set in the 19th century. Speaking of the 19th centure, all the costumes, and buildings and make up looks fantasic in the movie. Everything is realistic and nice to look at. There is even quite a funny bit that deals with a false noes that was one of my favorites.

As much as I am putting the film down it still was a fun experience. It's an action movie, granted an action mystery, and the action is done well. The special effects are not Avatar by anymeans, but it's easy to make something we don't know look real, it's harder to make something we know look real when it's not. Trains crashing through docks and buildings, we can imagine that. Blue people jumping on dragon birds, not so much. The film also had some cool sound design, when bullets whiz past characters heads, we have a temporary silence followed by a ringing before sound is restored to us.

And really, Sherlock Holmes wasn't that bad of a film. Granted it's not as good as, maybe, District 9 or Avatar, it's still a nice little hold-over until something like Iron Man 2, or Kick-Ass comes along. The story was dull, and boring, and didn't follow Doyle tradition at all. While that kind of bugged me, it wasn't anything to bad. The acting was mostly good by everyone involved, it's fun to listen to Holmes and Watson sqwable back and forth to each other. Guy Ritchie does a decent job directing, as he usually does, with nothing special, or particularly bad. The art direction is lovely, and gives everything a dark, grungy, feel, we are also treated to some pretty nice special effects to boot!
I Give Sherlock Holmes A:

Sunday, January 17, 2010

#9-World's Greatest Dad (2009)

World's Greatest Dad

Despite it's fun loving poster, the fact that it stars Robin Williams, and Daryl Sabara from Spy Kids, and has a family-friendly PG title, World's Greatest Dad is definatly not for kids, and whole-heartedly deserves it's R rating. Written and directed by raunchy stand-up comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, this film should get a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, it probably won't, and if it does, it won't win, but it should. Goldthwait and Williams are longtime friends, and even did stand-up together for a few years. After Goldthwait dropped out of that kind of comedy bussiness, he went into his own. Writing and directing adult comedies. Most of which are unheard of, his titles include: Shakes The Clown, Sleeping Dogs Lie, and this film. And after watching this, you'll really want to see his others.

The story, as mentioned above is very original. Robin Williams plays a school-teacher named Lance, who happens to be teaching a failing poetry class, which is soon to be canceled due to the schools lack of budget. Though he is a teacher, he really wants to be a writer, he has written five whole novels, none of which have been published. He also happens to have, quite possible, the worst son ever, Kyle. He is obnoxious, foul-mouthed, annoying, crude, and addicted to pornography. Lance is currently dating a much younger woman, who Kyle highly dissaproves of. But then, something happens, something I won't spoil here. But something that will change Lance's writing career forever.

I simply loved the writing here by Goldthwait. The film does go to low ground in it's terms of comedy, with puke, fart, and mastarbation jokes, but, somehow, they are all pulled off masterfully. And, after these crude moments pass, the film always rises above the standard comedy bar to bring you some truly great stuff. This is adult humor, both in the sense that children shouldn't see it, and in the sense, that children wouldn't get it. the film is however, very, very dark, and had me close to tears at some points. In fact, while it plays out like a comedy, it is, on it's true side, a very sad drama.

"Jose stop. You didn't write that. That's a Queen/Bowie song. Under Pressure."

Both Robin Williams and Daryl Sabara give amazing performances as Father and Son respectivly. Daryl Sabara strayed away from his Spy Kid roots with this film. His actions are almost as terrible as his mouth, but, as much as you hate him, you probably laugh with him the most. I love Robin Williams. Just as a rule, but I have been doubting his ability the last few years. He certainly has proved me wrong. Much like Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine, Will Ferrel in Stranger Than Fiction, and Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love, Robin Williams is simply best when he is serious. His comedies are fun to watch, he is good at being, goofy, zany, and wacked out, but he is even better, playing a person.

Goldthwait directed and shot this film nearly pitch-perfect. Each scene goes exactly how it should, the characters interact realisticly and he has a very nice ear for music. In fact, the only flaw that I had with this film was the ending. For a movie that is all about lies, mess-ups, and dysfunction, it has a pretty easy-going closed book ending, the stops the film very ubruptly. As much as I hate to say it, this film would have gotten a five out of five had it not been for the ending.

Overall, World's Greatest Dad, is one of the greatest films of the year, that unfoutanetly no one has really heard of, except people, who want to hear about things like this. The acting, story direction, music, and everything else came together for a nice little package from a great new voice in the Hollywood writing industry. Both Robin Williams and Daryl Sabara break out of their shells, and perform excellently, and hopefully, find a new genre to continue work in. The film is dark, funny, sad, and you'll come out of it telling your friends "Robin Williams is naked, and that's not the weird part." Unfourtanetly for the film, the ending was too nice, and too complete, and did hinder the experinence, if only slightly.

I Give World's Greatest Dad A:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

#8-Inglorious Basterds (2009)

Inglourious Basterds

The latest film from influential American writer-director Quentin Tarantino, comes with the very provocative title of Inglorius Basterds. Now the title alone leaves a lot of ground to cover, to live up to a title of that quality takes some skill, but my trust was in Tarantino from the beggining. Now, I am a fan of Tarantino's other works. Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, the list can go on. The films are notable for the outstanding camera work, dialouge and acting that he makes sure to keep in for his fans, and fans of film in general. His movies usually tend to be omages to film genres that have come to pass, and are usually not expored by todays Hollywood controled cinema. Tarantino certainly has the writing chops for his films, they are all very unique, and stand out against so many films that are the same. While Tarantino used to be an independent film maker, the success of Kill Bill, and an already very heavy cult staus propelled him into new found stardome. Upon hearing about this film coming out, and being his first REAL film since Kill Bill, I was a little suspicious that he may have fallen into the trap of typical filmmaking. But boy, did he ever prove me wrong.

Inglourius Basterds was in the writing process nearly as long as Avatar. Tarantino had started the work before, and during the filming of Pulp Fiction, back in 1995. However, he was halted from the project, from having a little writers block, as well as him and Uma Thurman creating the character of The Bride while on set. So Tarantino pushed aside his WWII film in favor of Kill Bill. He was stopped once again during writing to work on his half of Grindhouse, Death Proof. And that is when Inglorious Basterds finally came to fruition. Nearly 14 years after the original idea.

The plot of this film is very fun. The plot follows the Basterds who are sent into Nazi occupied France as civilains. The find, kill, and scalp the Nazi's they find, and leave the bodies behind. While the film was advertised as only following the Basterds, we also have the plot of Shoshanna, whose theatre has been selected by the Nazi party to have the premiere of a film. And she, is Jewish. There is also another plot thread, that I wish to not spoil here.

"Sound good?"

As always, I really enjoyed Tarantino's writing. Not only his dialouge, but his writing in general. I actually heard the interesting idea yesterday, that Inglorious Basterds could easily be turned into a stage production, as many scenes are very lengthy and take place in single rooms. On the topic of lengthy scenes, this movie is two and a half hours long, which may turn some people off, but please, stick with it, this kind of film needs attention, as it is so great, yet very underused.

From a technical standpoint, the film is very nice as well. The pacing is even, the effects are nice, the costumes are very much from that era, and the sets are well constructed. I would also like to point out that this movie does feature a typical Tarantino soundtrack, that consists of Western tunes, and pop/punk ballads. I always love the music in his films, it gives the scenes a sense of, urgency, and his credits, which typically have nothing going on in the background, are always fun to watch for the music. Also worth note, this like many Tarantino films, a very violent, and very bloody.

The acting in this film is great by nearly everyone involved. Brad Pitt does an excellent job as Lt. Aldo Rain. I was a bit skeptical upon hearing about his casting, but was greatly surprised. Christoph Waltz, who plays the Jew Hunter, is the best villian since Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, and the supporting cast does great as well. The only acting problem was in Eli Roth. I know he's friends with Quentin, and he's a great director, but he can't act.

Overall, as you can tell, I really enjoyed this movie. And, while it doesn't quite recive a 5/5 (which I save for my Best Picture, made me cry films) it certainly gets very close. The direction is great as always. It's fun to listen to the characters talk, the techincal lighting and pacing is nice, and both Brad Pitt and Christoph Waltz should at least get Oscar nods for their preformances. I just loved this movie, and it is another to add to Tarantino's long line of success's.

I Give Inglorious Basterds A:


Saturday, January 2, 2010

#7-Carriers (2009)


Never heard of this movie? It's not foregin. It's not idependent. It was however realesed straight to DVD, despite my over-zealous excitment for it after I saw the trailer. It takes the simple, classic premise of some sort of an airborne toxin floating through the air, killing people. BUT, it has changed it up, because these people don't turn into zombies. It's an interesting premise, but I'll get into that later. This movie was a semi-big budget horror film, with some semi-known TV stars taking up the lead roles. The movie was produced by the subsideray of Paramount, Paramount Vantage, the company never made any plans to realese it in theatres, it kept on getting pushed back, and pushed back, until they finally just realesed it straight-to-DVD, where I rented, I'm actually really glad I didn't see it in theatres, because it would have cost me $4 more to see it. Yeah, it wasn't too good.

Carriers tells the story of four friends traveling around the country together, after an airborne toxin has let all hell break loose. We have two brothers, the older brothers girlfriend, and the younger brothers crush. Along the way, we learn that there are more people who have survived the infection. Some of them are just trying to survive, others are looters, going around looking for anything they can. Carriers is an infected movie. Not a zombie movie. The people do not turn into zombies after dying of the contagin, they simply die, and then the disease spreads along. While its not really that original, it was a nice twist on the classic zombie tale, well, not zombie, but you know.

This is where Carriers succeeds. In an interesting, somewhat original story. That is almost the only place where it succeeds. While the idea may be interesting, that does not mean that it was pulled off well. It was almost completely ruined by mostly annoying characters, and anti-climatic, cliche, and overused situations and scenarios. While most of the characters are annoying, and un-original, some are new, and inventive, so I also give the film points for that.

The acting here is shallow and inconsistent. Annoying characters and bad actors are a terrible combination, especially in a movie like this. Usually, I'm less inclined to complain about the acting in a horror movie, compared to a drama, where characters carry the story. But this film was just plain old bad. The group of characters we follow for most of the film consits of Lou Taylor Pucci, Chris Pine(of Star Trek, who is one of the better roles), Piper Perabo, and Emily Van Camp. The only saving grace is a small supporting role by Christopher Meloni, who in my opinion, is always pretty decent.

"Really, it's only a bruise."

Aside from the main aspect of Carriers, its a very nice film from a techincal standpoing. The movie doesn't use too many special effects, and still looks very nice. Upon first seeing the desert wasteland, it's a lot like watching 28 Days Later, and seeing the rundown London. The cinematography, lighting, and music were nice enough for a movie in general, but for a horror film really stood out.

This film was written and directed by Alex and David Pastor, while I can't say that I have full trust in their abilities, the next time they realese a movie, I will definatly RENT it, as I feel that they really have potential, that wasn't on display here. The direction was decent, and it felt very smooth, not like there was two seperate minds directing. The writing wasn't too good however, the dialouge was average, and you already know how I felt about the rest of it.

Carriers is an interesting little horror film, with a inticing, yet, sadly, not very good story, with annoying characters and bad acting. However, a few original characters and some interesting techiniques behind the camera make it stay ahead above most, but that cannot entirely save this film. For as much as I was looking forward to Carriers, I was dissapointed.

I Give Carriers A: