Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Everyone else had left campus, the dorms had closed, it was almost Christmas, but there I was stuck at work. Knowing no one would be coming into an obscure art gallery in the middle of a blizzard, I popped in one of my favourite Christmas movies (and favourite movies in general) to alleviate my doldrums. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a twisted, complex, and hilarious mystery/action flick that is just incredibly fun to watch. Small-time New York thief Harry Lockhart (the forever handsome Robert Downey, Jr) accidentally lands himself in Los Angeles for a screen test. At a jumpin' party he's set up with private investigator and film consultant Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) to help improve his acting.

There he also runs into his high school crush and failing actress Harmony Faith Lane (Michelle Monaghan) but ends up on her bad side after hooking up with her friend. While on a stakeout of a cabin in the woods, Perry and Harry witness a girl's body being dumped into a lake, and find they were spotted by the unknown killers when they try to frame Harry for her murder. Meanwhile Harmony believes her sister was killed, and, mistakenly believing Harry to be a PI, hires him to solve her murder. Now the three of them are embroiled in a multiple murder mystery that eerily mirrors Harry's and Harmony's favourite books as kids, the Johnny Gossamer detective novels, all set against the bawdy hedonism of those involved in the movie industry.

This movie is freaking awesome in every single way possible. The dialogue is some of the funniest, most quotable I have ever heard ("I don't think you'd know where to put food at, if you didn't flap your mouth so much. Yes, I think you're stupid"; "Wow, I feel sore. I mean physically sore, not like a guy who's angry in a movie from the 1950's"). Robert Downey, Jr is at his snarkiest, mumbliest, and adorable best. He also narrates- one of my favourite things in films- with wit and silliness and forthrightness which really add to the enjoyment of the movie as well as understanding. Val Kilmer, whom I usually haven't particularly liked, is sharp and not over the top as a gay character. Michelle Monaghan is funny and beautiful, and surprisingly badass at parts.

The plot, partially based on a Michael Shayne detective story, pulls you in: a legitimately complex, fast-paced, and interesting mystery alongside the non-stop humor. There's torture, boobs, gun fights, satire, and even some magic tricks (illusions). It keeps viewers on their toes the entire time, whipping up unexpected twists at multiple turns. For me it's one of those movies that never gets old- I could watch these guys do their thing over and over and still be exceptionally entertained. I can quote it with my friends (or to myself) every day and it remains funny. There are so many little moments or lines that I often forget, so there's usually something fresh to see whenever I watch it. I pretty much can't say anything more except that this is one of the best movies, so go see it already.



Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Before Tom Hanks romanced Meg Ryan through emails or Van Johnson sang and sent letters to Judy Garland, James Stewart was charming his way into a secret written relationship with Margaret Sullavan in The Shop Around the Corner. Alfred Kralik (Stewart) is the head clerk at the small leather goods shop of Matuschek and Company located in Budapest. He's always had a great relationship with Mr Matuschek (Frank Morgan), but lately his boss has been oddly cold toward him. It's Christmastime and a new clerk named Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) is hired after a display of impressive salesmanship. She and Kralik are at odds since their very first meeting, and it only seems to worsen as they work more together.

Kralik reveals to his good friend and coworker Pirovitch (Felix Bressart) that he's been exchanging letters anonymously with a remarkable and intelligent woman who had placed an ad in the personals desiring a pen pal with which to talk about intellectual and cultural subjects (Kralik saw this as a cheap alternative to buying an encyclopedia). He falls in love with her over the course of several letters and eventually they set up a meeting, but Kralik sends Pirovitch in to make sure she isn't too pretty or too plain, only to find out that the woman waiting for him is Klara. Kralik is pretty torn between the real-life woman who hates him and the one on paper who loves him, and endeavors to establish better relations with Klara without telling her he's the mystery man. Meanwhile Mr Matuschek's depression and cruel behavior intensifies and no one knows why. But by Christmas, everyone at the shop comes together and makes their own happy endings.

This is a leisurely paced, multi-layered and engrossing love story and character study. It's witty and funny, but unlike a lot of comedic romances it successfully weaves in more serious issues of trust and loneliness. Stewart and Sullavan are marvelous as the leads, with fantastic and sharp conversations and unlikely chemistry. Klara is smart and independent but not cold, while Kralik is kind and a little dopey but clever. The supporting cast is funny and endearing, especially Felix Bressart. It's all shot with a softness and simplicity fitting for the theatre-based dialogue and action. The Budapest location sometimes feels a little off, with the obvious American-ness of the leads and varying accents of the others, but I think it's good the filmmakers stayed true to the play's original setting.

The Shop Around the Corner is a simple movie about regular people. No one is particularly glamorous, no one has too much or too little money, and no one is without flaws. It's relatable and charming without being over the top. Parts are surprisingly depressing, but I think that makes it well-rounded instead of overly sappy or shallow. Sometimes it can be a little slow, but that's not detrimental to the plot overall. Additionally, this movie features one of my favorite endings ever. The final scene with Klara and Kralik is just written and paced exquisitely. It's just a really wonderful movie.


My original artwork for this film is for sale.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Dumb and Dumber (1994)

For some reason this movie is a certain fellow's Christmas tradition, and I hadn't seen it since I was a kid, so I settled down for a viewing of something I wasn't certain I'd still like now that I had become so very mature. Written and directed by the Farrelly brothers, Dumb And Dumber finds clueless but well-meaning idiot roommates Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) and Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels) out of work and out of money. On his last day as a limo driver, Lloyd falls in love with Mary Swanson (Lauren Holly), who leaves her suitcase at the airport as ransom money to the people who kidnapped her husband. Lloyd thinks she's forgotten it and grabs it before they do, then convinces Harry to accompany him on a road trip to Aspen to return it to her. So now some bad guys with guns are after the duo, thinking them cunning rival criminals.

Harry and Lloyd bumble across the country in a van dressed up as a dog and then later on a tiny motorcycle/moped contraption. They somehow make it to Aspen and end up cracking open the case and using most of the money for a hotel suite and new clothes (they replace the bills with IOU's). They track down Mary, but Lloyd is nervous around her and sends Harry to set up a meeting. Naturally Harry starts to fall for her, and she finds his goofiness and ineptitude cute, so Harry secretly goes on a date with her while sending Lloyd to wait in a bar. When Lloyd realizes his woman is being romanced by his best buddy, their friendship becomes strained and he sabotages Harry's advances. Eventually the kidnappers and the FBI catch up with Harry and Lloyd and everything is worked out hurray.

Um so I'm not the biggest fan of Jim Carrey. When I was a kid I remember finding his movies very funny but I think it was partially due to that cool grown-up feeling you get from watching PG-13 movies at age 9. Now I find his persona pretty annoying. That being said, he was ok in this movie, and greatly aided by the presence of the always-likable Jeff Daniels. Once you get over the stupidity of the plot and general ineptitude of the characters, it has a lot of very funny and silly moments. I didn't really like Lloyd's character because he was so selfish it made him unsympathetic. Jeff Daniels was adorable and goofy and had good chemistry with Jim Carrey, making their scenes together worth it. I guess I don't really have much to say about the movie overall. It's enjoyable and funny but too dumb to be particularly memorable. It's probably more for Jim Carrey fans though.


Addendum: I just remembered I had a pretty bad tummy ache while I was watching this, which may have affected my enjoyment of the film. Just putting that out there.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Brazil (1985)

After my housemate expressed interest in futuristic dystopian movies, I immediately prescribed Brazil, one of my absolute favourite movies. I have a lot to say about it. Remaining Terry Gilliam's greatest and best-known work, it deals with bureaucracy, terrorism, insurgency, and love on a grand scale. Somewhere in the 20th century, a typo leads to an arrest warrant for Archibald Buttle, shoe repair operative, to be issued instead of one for Harry Tuttle, heating engineer. This one incident sparks a chain of events escalating in one man's rebellion against England's totalitarian bureaucratic government. In a role written just for him the incomparable Jonathan Pryce plays Sam Lowry, an unmotivated but highly capable employee of the Bureau of Records, who dreams of rescuing a beautiful blonde (Kim Greist) from robotic captors while he toils away at his thankless job.

By following Sam around, Gilliam establishes a detailed and technologically complex satirical world, inundated with myriad official forms, plastic surgery, government surveillance, and sporadic terrorist bombings. Sam must reimburse the family for Buttle's wrongful arrest, and while visiting their apartment he glimpses the girl from his dreams, Jill Layton, and works desperately to find her again. He accepts a promotion engineered by his socially active and conniving mother (Katherine Helmond) so that he can access Jill's file with the help of upper-level interrogator and old school chum Jack Lint (Michael Palin), but she shows up at his office building in an attempt to locate her neighbor Mr Buttle. Under the pretense of arresting her as a suspected terrorist, Sam persuades her to drive away in her awesome tank-like delivery truck and tries to convince her he's trustworthy. She cautiously lets him hang out while she runs a mission, and eventually grows to trust him.

Sam's apartment is unlivable due to a takeover by government repairmen (Bob Hoskins and Derrick O'Connor) after he'd secretly allowed rogue heating engineer Harry Tuttle (Robert De Niro) to fix his air conditioning. Therefore he hides Jill in his mother's apartment (she's on holiday with her plastic surgeon) while he hacks into a high-level office computer to delete Jill from the system. However, the inner workings of the government, while convoluted by forms and middle men, are nevertheless highly effective at getting wanted men and women, and Sam and Jill's rebellious bliss can't last long.

doesn't this set-up look just like Cerebro?God, I love this movie. It's complex and often nonsensical and hilarious and frightening and surreal and so many other things all at once. Of course my first point of ardor is its visuals: epically scaled, brushed with deep greys and foggy lighting. The sets are richly detailed, filled with retro-futuristic gadgetry, interwoven ducts, and office supplies. Sam's dream sequences range from his winged form dipping in and out of bright clouds to fighting a towering metal samurai in a dark alley. The final twenty minutes delve into a surreal and harrowing state of mind that has remained one of my favourite sequences ever filmed. Helping the visuals along is the fantastic score by Michael Kamen, based around Ary Barroso's "Aquarela do Brasil".

The characters and performances are extraordinary. Naturally Jonathan Pryce is perfect as Sam, earnest, unassuming, funny, and a little schlumpy: an endearing and unlikely romantic hero. Michael Palin, Robert De Niro, and Katherine Helmond get less screen time but are still incredibly memorable. Co-writer Charles McKeown is hilarious as Sam's paranoid office neighbor Harvey Lime, while Ian Holm is adorable as his inept boss Mr Kurtzmann. Every character stands out in some way- not even the smallest part fades into the background (Sheila Reid, in her only speaking scene, screaming "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH HIS BODY?" is one of the most affecting parts of the film). You can easily see the care writers Gilliam, McKeown, and Tom Stoppard placed in writing these roles; this is a satire, but that doesn't make its characters any less rounded or significant.

The story is admittedly complicated and confusing, and sometimes it seems like Gilliam assumed a certain amount of knowledge in his audience impossibly gained prior to viewing. However, I've found that the more I watch it, the more I understand or appreciate, so really it's an advantage. There are little lines or scenes that seem throwaway but turn out to be important later, and you only realize after the third or fourth viewing. For me, one of the marks of a great movie is its re-watchability factor.

Brazil has everything I could want in a dystopian comedy/drama set in England (yes, it is inspired by 1984, but really so much better). I love pretty much everything about it, and my love for it grows each time I watch it. Now, be warned there are multiple versions of the movie, but I have only seen the Director's Cut, aka the correct version. Other cuts of it have a happier ending or just a shorter running time (the director's cut is 142 min), but after the debacle they put Gilliam through I wouldn't count them at all. Film for the Soul has been doing a focus on Brazil, and has a lot of the historical background that I don't feel like writing about (you have suffered through my words enough on this day) and some detailed interpretation. It's really interesting, so check it out!

5/5 (the first one!)

"Brazil"- Geoff Muldaur (after countless listens I eventually figured out how to play this on my tenor sax! It was an example of Progress.)


Mister Lonely (2007)

Having seen/experienced/regretted Gummo, I am wayyyyy cautious about Harmony Korine. But the premise of Mister Lonely was way too good to pass up. A down-and-out and poetically-inclined Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna) living in Paris but knowing no French meets a friendly Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Samantha Morton) while entertaining at a nursing home. She convinces him to move to Scotland, where she and several other impersonators have established a haven where "everyone is famous" at a fairly isolated castle. Its inhabitants farm and raise sheep while they build a large theater in the hopes that audiences will rush in to see their celebrity-impersonating performances. Michael is instantly smitten with Marilyn, but she's married to asshole Charlie Chaplin (Denis Lavant) and they have a daughter, Shirley Temple (Esme Creed-Miles, Morton's actual daughter).

Other members of the little commune include Madonna (Melita Morgon, actual Madonna impersonater), Abraham Lincoln (Richard Strange), and The Pope (James Fox). And for some annoyingly unexplained reason, Little Red Riding Hood (Rachel Korine, his wife). Unlike the harmonious, playful paradise Marilyn envisions, there are numerous problems ranging from their sheep falling prey to a fatal disease, lack of public interest in their stage show, and general tensions between all of the impersonators. Michael and Marilyn try to keep things peaceful but a lot of the strains run too deep. It doesn't help that her marriage is frightfully abusive and no one is doing anything about it. Though Michael is happy just to have found a place where he can fit in, he has trouble maintaining an illusion of prosperity and happiness in the midst of this turmoil, and everything is pretty tragic.

Parallel to this tale is a seemingly unrelated story about powder blue nuns from Panama who are led by Father Umbrillo (Werner Herzog, who, I can tell you right now, thankfully didn't try to shoot anyone). After an accident in which a nun miraculously survives a deathly plunge, they are convinced that God wants them all to jump out of planes. So they do. I assume it's like some multi-layered metaphor about faith and the price of doing something good for the wrong reasons but really it was just an excuse for Korine to throw in some pretty shots of robed figures flying through the air and fill up the time since the plot was thin.

Yeah so I had some problems with this movie. I was disappointed with the direction Korine took the concept. I guess I hoped it'd be more about their identity crises and connections to celebrities and personaly histories. But it seems Korine's main goal in filmmaking is less on character and plot development than on loosely connected scenes detailing scattered events. That's ok for him, but his style just isn't really my thing. It's not that I need plot or development (I dug Slacker, for example), I just don't get anything special out of his version. A wealth of presumably interesting characters are introduced at once, and then barely do anything interesting for the rest of the film. The whole celebrity impersonator thing almost didn't matter. And the whole side plot with the nuns was interesting, but dragged out and seemingly unnecessary.

That being said, it had its redeeming qualities. Diego Luna and Samantha Morton were both adorable, and I definitely felt for their characters. Their performances really made the movie. I also enjoyed the shots of the falling nuns, which made for some really interesting and (to me at least) unique visuals. The soundtrack was fun as well, with lots of laid back, old-timey tunes. And surprisingly I found the ending very affecting, despite lackluster development. The concept is original and engaging to a point, but the slow-moving plot and non sequitors are not for the casual film-goer. To be sure it's more accessible and enjoyable than Korine's other films (as far as I can tell), but all together it's not as good as it could have been.



Friday, December 26, 2008

Milk (2008)

I admit I didn't know much about Harvey Milk prior to seeing this film, so I'm unable to comment on its accuracy. The story begins on the eve of closeted businessman Harvey's 40th birthday, when he picks up Scott Smith (James Franco) in a New York subway station, who soon moves with him to San Francisco, where they open a camera store and live a more "out" life. Harvey is soon established "the mayor of Castro Street", which had become a haven for homosexuals and various activists in the midst of frequent aggression against gay men and women. Motivated by this sense of community, Harvey decides to run for city supervisor. Defeated the first time, he runs again and again and loses by a little less each time. The crowd of aides and campaign supporters constantly surrounding Harvey makes it hard for Scott to spend time with him, and eventually he grows sick of the whole arrangement.

Harvey presses on with the help of new campaign manager Anne Kronenberg (Allison Pill) and the adorable Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch), and finally secures a seat as supervisor opposite conservative family man Dan White (Josh Brolin). Harvey tries to get White's support for a gay rights ordinance, but their relationship becomes very tense. He also struggles against the homophobic spewings of zealot Anita Bryant and legislator John Briggs, who are trying to pass Proposition 6, a law banning openly gay teachers and their supporters from working in public schools. The film culminates in the final decision and ensuing assassination (this is not a spoiler; it's history).

I thought this was a really interesting portrayal of a larger-than-life political figure, dedicated and likable but flawed in many ways. It was a little stilted organizationally, as it tried to cover a lot of ground story-wise while weaving in a very large number of minor characters. But it's tough, I'm sure, to know which things to focus on and what to leave out while still feeling true to the historical subject. Penn's narration helped bridge gaps but also felt forced. I liked the performances, especially James Franco, Emile Hirsch, and Josh Brolin. I'd only ever seen Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (I know, weird right? Where have I been?), so I didn't really have any positive or negative expectations of him as I know a lot of people did for this role. I thought he did a good job with it; I wasn't blown away but I found Harvey relatable and sincere and I can only assume the characterization was fairly realistic, based on the amount of research Dustin Lance Black put in to write the script.

Overall the film proved to be moving and engaging, treating its subject with respect and care. The focus on Prop 6 and religious zealots' homophobia felt all too topical after Prop 8's downfall last month. I'm glad a man like Harvey Milk can receive a fitting tribute that can reach so many people without the attention being moved away from his homosexuality or his politics. The other film adaptation in the works (maybe it's not anymore though), based on The Mayor of Castro Street, was more focused on White's trial and the so-called "Twinkie defense" that got him only manslaughter charges. Because Milk's actions as a politician were so entwined with who he was as a person, the film did well to combine his personal relationships and campaign/legislative work into one story. Even though most viewers will know the ending going in, Milk will still inspire and captivate them on the strength of an admirable and unique public figure.



Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Top Five: One Day Movies

Yeah so I guess the top 5 feature isn't going to be a weekly thing like I sort of said earlier, just whenever I feel like doing it. Now here I am with another theme! Movies that take place in one day (or about one day- sometimes there's bleed over into the next morning). I love the whole concept of life-altering events (falling in love, losing something suddenly, having an adventure, etc) happening in so short a time because it seems pretty unreal to me. I have never had one single day in which enough interesting things happened that it could make a movie. Most of these seem to be teen-oriented comedies. Weird. I feel like I'm forgetting a major one so let me know what your favourites are!

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
So much about the simultaneous strains and joys of high school are encapsulated in one righteous dude's day off. It's just a really enjoyable film with one of the most likable characters I've ever seen on screen, and some rad musical sequences.

Mallrats (1995)
On the same morning two friends are dumped by their girlfriends, so they spend the rest of the day at the mall trying to win them back while dealing with a lot of wacky characters. A simple premise that is very well-suited to Kevin Smith's brand of smut- and pop culture-driven dialogue and soft spot for New Jersey (we love our malls here, man). Clerks I and II are rad one day movies of his, as well.

Can't Hardly Wait (1998)
I feel like this one is often overlooked, despite being a very funny and engaging movie as well as a spot-the-90's-teen-actor-themed drinking game waiting to happen. Weaving together multiple stories of horny graduates attending a major party, it mixes together all sorts of character types and silly scenarios, sight gags and missed connections, along with good music and tons of quotable dialogue.

Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
It's the last day of summer camp, and a multitude of kooky characters are running around trying to get shit done (hook-ups, marriages, outings, talent shows, training montages, etc). Featuring many members of The State as well as Elizabeth Banks, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Rudd, Molly Shannon, and (always a reason to watch anything) Janeane Garofalo. Hilarious and star-studded!

Superbad (2007)
Just watched this recently so it's on my mind and therefore on the list. With three weeks to graduation, BFFL's Seth and Evan are intent on getting laid before college. They're on a mission to get alcohol for a party that night, which they believe will ultimately decide their "summer girlfriend" fates. It's stupid but pretty funny.

Honorable Mentions
12 Angry Men (1957)
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Empire Records
(1995) ...the more I think about this one the more I wonder if it should be in the top 5. So many things wrong with it, yet I'll probably love it forever.
10 Items or Less (2006)

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (2008)


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Doubt (2008)

With such a stellar cast and niche setting, it was pretty clear that Doubt, directed and adapted from the play by John Patrick Shanley, would be more about the performances than the story or direction. It's 1964, and no-nonsense principal Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) runs the St Nicholas School in the Bronx with no room for error or fun. Shy, young history teacher Sister James (Amy Adams) tries to give a compassionate hand to the students but finds herself thwarted by Sr Aloysius' intense morality and self-righteousness. New pastor Father Flynn is trying to shake things up and bring the parish into the modern age, taking care to be friendlier with students and parents, and raising suspicions in Sr Aloysius. He takes special interest in the school's one black student Donald Miller (Joseph Foster), acting as a protector from possible abuse from the other children. One day Fr Flynn sends for Donald during Sr James' class, and when the boy returns he seems distressed and has alcohol on his breath.

Sr James goes to Sr Aloysius with the incident, fearful of her reaction but more fearful for the child. When Fr Flynn is confronted about it, he denies any unsavory allegations and maintains that he was helping Donald out with a personal problem regarding his dipping into the communal wine. Sr James is fairly easily convinced, ready to see the good in everyone, but Sr Aloysius has been set in her opinion of Fr Flynn and endeavors by herself to save Donald from assumed sexual abuse. She talks to his mother (Viola Davis), who is so desperate for her son to do well in school and make it to college that she is willing to turn a blind eye to any non-academic setbacks. Sr Aloysius is determined to see Fr Flynn re-assigned to another church so that she can continue to rule St Nicholas School in her way, resorting to some underhanded tactics in her quest for rectitude.

The story is very sparse, and the direction similarly so. The setting is bleak and cold and snowy, populated by black-swarthed clergy members and budding kids living in fear of their principal. Shanley directed a lot of the film like a play, smitten with his own dialogue and staging. What actually happens isn't that important- the central mystery is never conclusively solved nor would I expect it to be. The focus is on one woman's unwavering sense of God-given righteousness. Due to the minimalist plot and lesser attention to visuals, the bulk of the work falls on the actors. This is a clear showcase of Hoffman's, Adams', Davis', and Streep's talents, filled with fiery declamations and cool stares. Every conversation is heightened by the actors' seeming goal to one-up each other. It's fun to watch, but also a little tiring. Streep is naturally the major pull of the cast, intensifying every scene she's in (which is most). Hoffman is laid back but strong while Amy Adams is soft-spoken but captivating. Overall it's an interesting character and ethical study but a little slow and not particularly engrossing. However, the performances are top-notch and definitely worth seeing.



Sunday, December 21, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

It seems this movie is getting a multitude of positive remarks for a reason! It was so good! Based on the book Q and A by Vikas Swarup, Slumdog Millionaire weaves together multiple time periods to detail one young man's life from the slums of Mumbai to the hot seat of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is an 18-year-old assistant/tea-bringer (chai-wallah) for a phone company who has somehow managed to make it to the final question on the show. During a day-long break before the last round, he is interrogated by a police inspector (Irfan Khan) on suspicion of cheating. As they relive the show question by question, Jamal's backstory unfolds and we learn exactly how he knew the answers. He started life in the slums with just his mother and older brother Salim. After falling victim to an anti-Muslim attack on his town when he is a boy, he and Salim flee and live in a trash dump for a while with fellow refugee Latika. They are soon picked up by a ruthless modern-day Fagin named Maman, who uses children to beg for him. He picks Selim to be his child-beating "dog" and pushes him to be hard and cold, while Latika and Jamal become closer and protective of each other.

Eventually the brothers escape but are forced to leave Latika behind. They become con artists for several years until Jamal convinces Salim to seriously search for Latika, who they find was now working for Maman as a dancer with "virginal" appeal. After rescuing her, Jamal is separated from the other two, and moves on to work for the phone company. He is reunited with Latika (now grown as Freida Pinto) a seemingly final time, but discovers that both she and Salim are trapped in crime lord Javed's (Mahesh Manjrekar) organization and unable (or too scared) to get out. Jamal sees Latika's favourite show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, as his last chance to make an appeal to her to get away from her miserable life and be with him.

Though the whole "torture/interrogation because maybe he cheated on a tv show" thing seemed a bit much, it was a perfect high-intensity situation to expound Jamal's unique and thrilling story. I was surprised by how intrigued I was by the plot alone- not only was it novel and fascinating, but it was told in such an interesting way that it was hard not to be sucked in by the back-and-forth between the interrogation, tv show, and flashbacks. It's just a really great concept to explore someone's life through random trivia questions. The actors were all wonderful, and the three ages of Jamal especially: the endearing Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, precocious Tanay Chheda, and sincere Dev Patel. Danny Boyle made great use of his child actors, most of whom were inexperienced, eliciting honest performances without straying into over-sappiness.

I'm surprised this is being called a "feel-good" movie. Though it has a happy ending, the journey to that conclusion is rough and violent, full of loss and fear. Also a lot of chasing (Danny Boyle is always trying to show us how good he is at filming running scenes with good music). The music, incidentally, is swell, with several well-placed MIA tracks and a lovely original score by AR Rahman. One thing I think is too bad, but unrelated to how much I like the film, is that the co-director Loveleen Tandan seems to barely be acknowledged in most reviews. It's always "Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire". Not a big thing, but I wonder how much she did for the movie and what sort of trademarks or ideas she may have contributed, especially considering Boyle's critically hit-and-miss track record. Anyway it's a fairly magnificent film overall: engaging, at once heart-breaking and heart-warming, and a really well-told story of survival, love, and destiny.



Friday, December 19, 2008

Superbad (2007)

I guess I hadn't seen this movie in a while! I had forgotten how much I enjoy it. After re-watching the entire series of Arrested Development for the umpteenth time I was jonesing for more Michael Cera and Superbad really hit the spot. With a fantastic script penned by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg when they were teenagers, the movie follows best friends Evan (Michael Cera) and Seth (Jonah Hill) on one of their last days of high school. The separation they'll experience as they go to different colleges is weighing on both their minds but neither will admit it, and instead spend most of their time talking about porn, girls, or sex. Seth's crush Jules (Emma Stone) is having a party that night and after learning their friend Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) got a fake ID, he promises to get the alcohol for her. The guys see this as an opportunity to hook up (not necessarily the having sex kind, more like making out? maybe? at least I hope so...) with the ladies they dig (Evan has the hots for Becca [Martha MacIsaac] and Fogell's got his eye on Nicola [Aviva]). Thus the fairly simple premise of "get beer for the party, score with the lady" is set up, but luckily the story goes into a lot more than encouraging one night stands.

When Fogell (aka McLovin, according to his new fake ID) goes to purchase the alcohol, he is attacked by a thief, prompting the arrival of the worst/best (depending on your position) cops ever, Officers Slater (Bill Hader) and Michaels (Seth Rogen). They take McLovin out for a night on the town, irreverent cop-style, and it is a smashing time with a lot of drinking! Meanwhile Seth and Evan, believing Fogell was arrested, set out to get the alcohol on their own, winding up at a grown-up party with crazy Joe Lo Truglio where they attempt to steal beer without getting killed by the violently-minded party guests. Eventually, of course, everyone ends up at Jules' party but I'll let you watch it and find out for yourselves how the boys' respective trysts go down.

Though laced with a simple enough premise, this movie is full of tons of crazy stuff, from penis drawings to shooting a car that is on fire to running really fast to eighty-dollar bills. The characters often refer to past occurrences, true to the nature of an 8-year friendship between teenagers. The situations are always unexpected (at least to me), making it fresh and funny and just a good time. Almost every line is quotable (though definitely not family-friendly), if you can keep up with the sharp, quick dialogue that feels pretty true though a little too good for real life.

The cast is excellent, of course, with great chemistry between Michael Cera and Jonah Hill- and since their friendship is central to the entire film, it is pretty important that it be believable. I love the cop characters the most though- hot damn somebody give Bill Hader his own movie already! The ladies are cute too, and unlike in so many high-school movies, they actually look 18-ish. Emma Stone is very likable and her Jules comes off as intelligent-sounding and down to earth, which is always appreciated in a female character (though it's unlikely she'd want to date Seth). Furthermore, the music is RAD and (can I say it?) funky fresh. Dig the soundtrack, a great mix of 70's tunes and original compositions by Lyle Workman. It has two awesome musical sequences: the opening credits and Michael Cera singing "These Eyes" (below).


"Too Hot to Stop"- The Bar Kays
"Funk McLovin"- Lyle Workman

These eyes cry every night! Foooor youuuu.


Kung Pow: Enter the Fist (2002)

You should all go into this review with the knowledge that I think this movie is very funny. That was your warning. In Kung Pow: Enter the Fist, director/writer/star edits footage from the Chinese kung-fu movie Hu hao shuang xing (Tiger & Crane Fists) of 1976, inserts himself and various other actors into it, and dubs over the entire film himself. It's a pretty impressive feat, and surprisingly well-done, effects-wise. Oedekerk plays a man with incomparable fighting abilities and a special physical mark that identifies him as "The Chosen One". He spends a lot of time training with Master Tang so that he can fight resident badass Master Pain, who is imbued with mad powers and seems to have no weakness. The Chosen One fights various bad guys and suffers various setbacks while starting up a romance with curly-cued and noise-making Ling. Eventually he unravels a plot that goes much higher than Master Pain, and must defeat a whole new enemy.

So the plot obviously isn't much, but that's definitely not the point. The entire movie is chock-full of anachronistic sight-gags, fun with off-sync dubbing, repetitive dialogue, and over-the-top fight choreography. General silliness abounds. You can see it was made with great care, inserted with a lot of funny details that aren't always noticed the first time around. It's the kind of movie that I wouldn't watch all the time, but get a kick out of like once a year. My main criticism is that the first scene, where a baby fights Master Pain, and the scene in which Chosen fights a cow are not really funny, more annoying, yet they were the ones advertised the most, making Kung Pow seem stupider than it is. It's not exceptionally intelligent comedy, but it's generally innovative and most of the humor comes from the silly and unexpected dialogue and not slapstick fighting. If you're in the mood for something that doesn't require much thinking but is surprisingly funny, go for it. Personally, I'm still hoping for a sequel.



Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

What better way to celebrate the completion of my Armenian art paper and last German test than to view my favourite stop motion musical? The Nightmare Before Christmas is set in the fantastical town of Halloween, where every kind of frightening being resides. They spend most of their days planning the next Halloween celebration until the day arrives, after which they start planning again for next year. Jack Skellington, generally held to be the scariest, most wonderful resident, feels tired of doing the same thing every day and wishes for a way to escape his routine. One Halloween night he walks deep into the woods and discovers a grove of trees with oddly-shaped doors. He opens the one shaped like a Christmas tree and plunges into a new world of snow, smiles, joy, and presents.

Amazed and exhilarated by the prospect of a different kind of life, he brings back various objects he finds there and tries to scientifically understand "this Christmas thing" until ultimately deciding to take on the holiday himself and make some Halloweeny improvements. He plans to don the suit of "Sandy Claws" and travel into the human world delivering terrifying presents forged by the monsters, witches, and ghouls of Halloweentown. Sally, a sewn-together mad scientist's creation and the only sensible person in the entire populace, fears Jack's plan will end in grief and does her best to sabotage the Christmas preparations. Unfortunately, Jack is pretty clueless, so he kidnaps Sandy, who ends up locked up with the Oogie Boogie Man, and flies into the real world with his deadly toys only to face the consequences of human weaponry. Will Jack learn his lesson and save Christmas?!

This is a funny, incredibly imaginative, and really beautiful film. I looove Danny Elfman's score, and am ready to sing along to any of it at any time (especially "Kidnap the Sandy Claws"). The story and characters are interesting and really well-designed. Mostly I am completely engaged by the animation- so detailed, so gorgeous, so ahhhh! Director Henry Selick has created an easily believable landscape of rolling hills and tipsy buildings reminiscent of a gloomy Dr. Seuss painting. The figures and settings are intricate and thought-out to the point of obsession- I'm captivated by these myriad little moments: the uncurling of the hill as Jack walks down, the snap of the thread as Sally bites it, water streaming down the fountain. It's inspiring, really, and makes me more and more excited for the animation in Selick's upcoming Coraline.

In the end this is a great, dark fantasy for children, teenagers, adults, or whoever. The story is creative, especially compared to a lot of other schlock out there in crappy "family" films. I'm unsure if part of the reason I love it is due to experiencing it first as a kid, giving it that nostalgia factor of many Disney movies. I'd like to think any grown person could enjoy it too even if they hadn't seen it as a kid, but I can't be certain. Watch it and decide for yourself! I haven't seen the new 3-D version (I'm still living off the VHS version I got a decade ago) but I guess it's good, too?


"What's This?"
"Kidnap the Sandy Claws"
"Sally's Song"

"Sally's Song"- Fiona Apple version from the special edition soundtrack, which mostly has sucky covers and this good one


Shock Treatment (1981)

This is one of those movies for which I, due to a scary unknown reason, develop a deep obsession and watch, watch, re-watch, sing along to, buy the soundtrack of, and then watch again. Wow that sentence is convoluted. Oh well. This was another of my "Oh my god I have a paper to write, let me have something familiar and musical on while I work" movies. Also this post will be a media extravaganza so get ready!

Shock Treatment is a sort of sequel, sort of equal to 1975's The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with different actors playing old roles and old actors playing new ones. The entire town of Denton ("The Home of Happiness") has been transformed into a television station (in a way), with the majority of the population living in theater seats, lots of other people involved in reality television shows, and various machinations happening on and off screen. Brad (Cliff De Majors) and Janet (Jessica Harper), now married, are slotted to appear on a marriage counseling show hosted by blind Bert Schnick (Barry Humphriese aka Dame Edna). Due to being "an emotional cripple", Brad gets sent to a mental hospital, part of the "Dentonvale" TV program, run by Cosmo (Richard O'Brien) and Nation (Patricia Quinn) McKinley. Janet feels sorry she let him get taken away but believes it will help save their marriage. Her parents (Darlene Johnson and Manning Redwood) try to console her, reminding her that because Brad is adopted she should have been prepared to possibly inherit craziness.

After being propositioned by the powerful fast food magnate Farley Flavors (Cliff De Young) to be his new TV show's it girl, Janet teams up with Cosmo, Nation, and Bert to become the most highly-rated star on D-TV. Meanwhile Betty Hapshatt (Ruby Wax), who has long since divorced Ralph (Jeremy Newson, the only actor to return to his original role)- remember their wedding at the opening of Rocky Horror?- is now a talk show host. Along with sociologist Oliver Wright (Charles Gray), she tries to unwrap the supposed conspiracy at the root of D-TV and Brad's wrongful hospitalization, since Janet has gone mad with fame and it seems there's no one to help him get out or stop Farley from gaining complete control of Denton. It's really Janet's story for the most part, so until she's able to stay true to herself and defend Brad, who knows what bad things will happen!

So please don't ask me why I am so obsessed with this movie, as I will never really know. Its plot is confusing and often doesn't make sense, the characters are silly, its nowhere near as fun and quotable as RHPS, but by golly I love it. The music is (maybe) better than RHPS, and the musical sequences are done really well. "Lullaby" was shot in one take, sliding the camera from window to window outside of Dentonvale. "Duel Duet" (below) is one of my favourite songs/musical scenes ever. Often the actors sing to the camera to maintain the idea of their lives being filmed, which was a cool element to add, I think. Pretty much every song is as awesome as the next, with the added benefit of having lead actors who can actually sing (there's nothing wrong with Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick in RHPS, they just didn't have trained voices). The color schemes and costumes are slightly surreal and highly saturated, along with an inventive set design. I love the concept, imagined before the dawn of mainstream reality TV like The Real World; Richard O'Brien really shows his interest in American consumerism and celebrity.

The performances are great, especially Cliff De Young, who is amazing in the duel role of Brad and Farley. I didn't even realize they were the same actor for a while, since he has given them such distinct characterizations and singing styles. And of course the old team of Richard O'Brien, Patricia Quinn, and Nell Campbell, with the addition of Rik Mayall and Barry Humphries, are swell as the Dentonvale staff. I like the idea of the RHPS actors coming back in different roles, as it really adds to the sequel-or-equal question raised by many fans. I'd say it's a sequel, since Janet's mother expresses relief that Brad didn't "turn out like that Slipstreami boy", who was found naked with several men, in (I believe) a reference to the possibility of Brad being gay after his experiences with Frank. Also the fact that they're married now, and that Betty and Ralph are divorced, clearly puts it in later time. Anyway in the end it's a very enjoyable and nonsensical film, but somehow addicting- maybe because the music is so good? Unclear. Watch it if you're a Rocky Horror fan or dig campy and silly but well-done musicals.


"Bitchin' in the Kitchen"
"Little Black Dress"
"Duel Duet"

"Shock Treatment"

"Duel Duet" (There is a spoiler here so watch out if you care about that sort of thing.)


Monday, December 15, 2008

Research Paper Double Feature: Call Me Madam (1953) and Wonder Man (1945)

vera-ellen, you were so young!Ok so I'm a college student, right? Which means around this time of year I've got papers to write! And tests to take! Therefore I have been a bit lax in my movie-viewing. However, during paper-writing distress I often turn to familiar musicals to help me through such trying times. They're good to have in the background. So whilst working through my Armenian art research, I had a double feature of Call Me Madam and Wonder Man, both linked by the fabulous Vera-Ellen (above). Also be careful, I got a little crazy with the screencap feature...

vera-ellen and donald o'connorFirst up was Call Me Madam, probably my favourite Donald O'Connor film (I don't think of Singin' in the Rain as "his" film). Inspired by the story of Perle Mesta's appointment and adapted from the Broadway musical, it's got Ethel Merman expertly belting and sassing her way through the role of Sally Adams, a beloved rich Washington socialite and widow, famous for her generosity and splashy parties. Through her powerful contacts (including President Harry Truman), she lands the position of ambassador to the fictional grand duchy of Lictenburg, a place she knows nothing about and has no real business being in. She knows only that they are in serious debt and will request a large loan from the US, and that she must turn them down "stern, but diplomatic." Young news reporter Kenneth Gibson (Donald O'Connor, looking utterly adorable in large red-framed glasses) tags along after proving his usefulness as a knowledgable press attache, general protocol advisor, and awesome guy to pal around with.

ethel merman doesn't mind a trainAfter they get to Lichtenburg, of course it becomes a double love story with Sally falling for General Cosmo Constantine (George Sanders) and Kenneth super-falling for Princess Maria (Vera-Ellen). Sally spends her time pissing off chief of protocol Pemberton Maxwell (Billy De Wolfe) and trying to get over her feelings for Cosmo, whom she believes is only wooing her to snag the American loan. Meanwhile Kenneth recklessly pursues the princess, who is in the middle of engagement negotiations with another country's prince and cannot interact with private citizens. It's sad! But then love triumphs over all! As does diplomacy! There's a lot of singing and dancing in there too, thanks to Irving Berlin's fantastic score and the stars' incredible talents.

best duet, part 2I always find myself surprised by how genuinely funny this movie is. Of course the musical performances are top notch, the dancing superb, the accents varying, and the costumes elaborate, but legitimately comedic? My goodness. Ethel Merman has a lot of great one-liners or side comments, plus I laugh out loud every single time she shouts "Well hello Harry!" when Truman calls her. Donald O'Connor is perfect, as always, in an understated (well, except for that wonderful drunk scene) role that compliments her brashness very well. In fact I think one of my favorite things about this movie isn't the romantic relationships, but the awesome friendship between Kenneth and Sally. They do one of the best duets ever for "You're Just In Love". And obviously Vera-Ellen is dancing and dancing to her heart's content with flowy skirts and a vaguely Eastern European, prim accent. Adorable.

donald o'connor looks so much better than you think anyone can with glasses like theseThis is a film I never get tired of, and it pretty much suits every mood. It's simple and entertaining but not unintelligent. It's playfully satirical, and though much reference is made to American politics and how the US has to help out poor little Lichtenburg, the fictional country is treated with respect for the most part. They stay strong culturally despite outside influences and even Sally, "the most American American", realizes her way is not always the best way and that she is pretty ignorant about other cultures. Basically, I guess, just see this movie if you want an extremely enjoyable musical, a radiant cast, or if you just want to see one of the main reasons Donald O'Connor was my first really big celebrity crush (he is still pretty high up there).


danny kayeOk so next up was Wonder Man, one of my favorite Danny Kaye vehicles, and also one of his hard-to-find early films with Virginia Mayo. He stars in a duel role as the intellectual (he's so smart he writes with both hands! Gee whiz!), taciturn Edwin Dingle and his estranged twin, zany nightclub performer Buzzy Bellew. While Edwin is working on a comprehensive anthology work at his local library, he is gradually romanced by the sultry and kind librarian Ellen (Virginia Mayo). His brother is killed after volunteering to serve as a witness against gangster Ten Grand Jackson (Steve Cochran), but he soon appears in spirit form to his twin. Buzzy has mad ghostly powers and uses them to sort of control Edwin, whose body he intends to use to keep on living and land Ten Grand a conviction. Edwin tries to resist him and go back to a confused Ellen, but ends up getting entangled with Buzzy's nightclub act and his fiancee Midge (a very young, almost unrecognizable Vera-Ellen in her first film role). Wackiness and puzzlement and chases ensue, of course, but finally Edwin is able to stumble his way through Buzzy's mess, testify against Ten Grand, and maybe even get the girl!

virginia mayo is so incredibly gorgeousSo this movie is basically just a really fun and silly time with a truly excellent performance by Danny Kaye (though nothing is new there). Love the dual role thing. Love Virginia Mayo doing anything, though I mostly know her from the films she did with Kaye. Love "So In Love" with Vera-Ellen rocking her custom shoes that mix point and tap styles so she can still show off her dance skills in a non-musical movie (there are two musical numbers and they are within the nightclub setting). I get pretty uncomfortable during the early dance sequence that relies a lot on condescending fascination with primitive island cultures, but I promise after that it is a laid back, enjoyable movie! It even won an Oscar for its visual effects- cool transparency things happen due to Buzzy's intangibility, also they do a very good job having Danny Kaye talk to himself. I don't think it's on DVD unfortunately (I have a seemingly bootleg copy I got used on Amazon) but it appears the whole movie is on youtube, if you're interested.

danny kaye is arguing with danny kaye. wacky!