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Moviefest Royale

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I probably should have waited until my Netflix copy of Battle Royale II arrived, because really, 2 movies do not a moviefest make. But I was so pleased by the purely unintentional coincidence that I couldn't help myself. After having misplaced my copy of Battle Royale for some months, I happened to find it on Friday, shortly after receiving a copy of Casino Royale. And thus was born;

Moviefest Royale!!
Battle RoyaleCasino Royale

Now, you might be saying to yourself that surely these two movies--the most recent Bond reboot on one hand and on the other, a somewhat obscure Japanese post-apocalyptic exploitation movie--cannot have enough in common beyond their names to be yoked together into a seamless movie experience. Ahh, there you would be wrong:

Although this may be the first time ever that Judi Dench and Beat Takeshi have appeared in the same sentence, both operate behind the scenes, and neither is completely in control over the events that take place. Only one dies, however.

Both movies involve scenes with unconventional bladed weapons--sickle (BR) and machete (CR)

Both movies have major characters with facial scars, although I would have to admit that the motivations driving Kawada and Le Chiffre appear to be a little different.

Much of the action in both movies takes place on islands--England and the Bahamas (CR), and the abandoned deathmatch island in BR. To be fair, there are no "danger zones" strictly speaking in CR.

In both movies, characters have an alarmingly easy time hacking the government's computer and information systems.

Perhaps most importantly, in each movie, damn near everyone dies.

And now, you may have revised your earlier opinion, and be wondering how it is that the people who brought us Battle Royale haven't sued the makers of Casino Royale for copyright infringement. (First they'd have to go after the WWE, whose latest Steve Austin vehicle probably could have been called Battle Royale 3.) There are a couple of crucial differences. The subtitles in BR are atrocious, making the movie a little more surreal than it might otherwise be. To my knowledge, there's no poker in BR. And there's no crazyperky introductory video in CR, nor dream sequences featuring basketball and/or walks on the beach with ice cream. And only one of the two, as far as I know, has been compared to Clockwork Orange.

But don't take my word for it. Watch them both yourselves.

The IMDB, if I remember correctly, has started up some tech that allows people to "play" movie seasons in the same way that fantasy football works for the NFL. It's too early to start picking movies for next year, but if I could drop a little money on a movie, I'd place my bet on the Dark Materials trilogy, the movies based on Philip Pullman's books.

I just found out that my birthday next year is on Pullman Eve, the day before The Golden Compass is coming out. Looks like a strong cast (Lord Asriel makes a lot more sense, all of a sudden), and if they do it right, it should be a lot of fun.

As for me, I'm trying to gear up for the annual holiday pilgrimage, so expect pretty light blogging over the next couple of weeks.

A Scanner Darkly

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poster for A Scanner DarklyThe centerpiece of this evening's Guys' Night Out, other than an Uno's pizza that left us feeling well and truly stuffed, was Richard Linklater's latest, his rotoscoped adaptation of the PK Dick novel, A Scanner Darkly (IMDB). It's an interesting little movie, and the first sign of that was that our local megaplex tucked it away in one of their three downstairs screens, the ones reserved for smaller audiences a more intimate viewing experience. To be fair, it was larger (slightly) than my 1-bedroom apartment. Anyways.

I can't really talk too much about the movie without spoiling it, so I'll abstain from too many specifics. Like a lot of Linklater's work, SD is a mix of genres--when it works it works, and when it fails, it feels jumbled. There were spots that didn't work as well as they maybe could have, but generally they were places where Linklater was relying on either audience knowledge or sophistication. In some ways, the movie worked a lot like a graphic novel, and specifically the way that you must often fill in the gaps between panels. Particularly with the ending of the movie, there's a fair amount of extrapolation that has to take place, but there are places throughout where this is also true. That's going to be the source of some criticism from expositiophiles, but I didn't find it all that troublesome. And in fact, it was a welcome break from some of the truly crappy, overly expositional dialogue that appears in standard Hollywood fare.

Although you can't really speak of the acting in a movie where there's such heavy direction, Downey and Harrelson (and even Cochrane, although he's a little more caricatured) definitely steal the show from Keanu, who's appropriately cast here (if never approvingly), and Ryder. Downey, for me, after this movie and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, has almost become a class of actor unto himself. There aren't a lot of people I'd rather watch on the screen more than him right now.

I've heard that the Dick estate really liked this movie, and I can't blame them. It's a much "smaller" movie than, say, Pirates, which in its second week was being advertised, aggressively, as the "cultural phenomenon of the year." I liked Pirates, but the things about it I didn't like were all of the little Hollywood touches, and that kind of crap is absent from SD. It's a really faithfully executed adaptation of one of Dick's most personal books, and the bar against which future adaptations should be measured. If you're not bothered by scifi or by visual experimentation, then this is a full price movie, I think.

PC2: Dead Man's Chest

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My reward for completing round 1 of the tenure process, the compilation of materials for outside reviewers, was to get myself down to the local megaplex to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (IMDB). And get there I did. And see it I did.

The first movie was something of a surprise to me. Basing a movie on a circa 1970s amusement park ride did not strike me as a particularly interesting strategy, I must confess. But I saw the movie, and was really pleasantly surprised by it. It's hard to find the right balance among all the different elements, and the first movie really seemed to manage it nicely.

That said, it was hard not to go to the second one with high expectations. I've seen split reviews--some say it wasn't as good as the first, other say it was better--and I would have to place myself in the former camp. It's enough like the first one that lots and lots of people will enjoy it, but at a number of different places in the movie, I kept getting the feeling that Verbinski was working from a list of characters, situations, and touches that worked in the first movie, and saying to himself, "Now I need to do the same thing, only more!" In other words, it was almost too much like the first movie for me to think that it was as good, since so much of it felt derived from it.

Which isn't to say that there weren't some fun parts, some rollicking action, some Sparrowesque amorality, and killer effects. All of that is as true of this movie as it was of the first. But there are places where the "just like the first only more!" strategy kept me from immersing, and that was unfortunate. For example, the movie is simultaneously more graphically violent and more cartoonish in places--neither is necessarily bad, but both together work against any kind of consistency.

Ah well. It was a strong matinee, and for a lot of people, worth full price, I suspect. It wasn't quite as good as I'd hoped it would be, but that'll teach me to expect so much. I'll still see the third one on the big screen.

That's all.

It's not magic; it's just shiny

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Perhaps the fact that I didn't rush right to my computer this past weekend and throw up a gargantuan review of Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm (IMDB) will give you some hint as to my thoughts about it. The thing about BG is that I really, really wanted to like it, much more than I did. Gilliam is one of my favorite directors--I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt, even for his so-called 'flops.' I have a lot of respect for any filmmaker who can break through the haze of mediocrity where most of Hollywood lives and breathes.

That being said, it's hard for me to be anything other than ambivalent about Brothers Grimm. The concept is a pretty good one--the brothers are, in fact, cynical guys who prey upon the gullibility of their contemporaries, recreating all sorts of witches, monsters, and villains so that they can take money from towns for "banishing" them. Much like "Shakespeare in Love" or even the Shrek franchise, the idea is that the movie is meant to be allusive, rewarding our ability to spot all the various references to well-worn fairy tales that pop up throughout. There are some really clever moments, and some dark moments as well, both of which are hallmarks to my mind of Gilliam's work.

At the same time, the movie felt pretty unsustained to me. I've seen reviews that claim that the plot is spotty, but I didn't find that to be the case at all. What I ended up with was that it felt like there were three or four different directions that the basic premise could have been taken in this movie, and all of them are attempted almost equally, to the overall detriment of the whole picture. Matt Damon is tolerable, and I'm appreciating more and more Peter Stormare's ability and comic timing. Jonathan Pryce and Heath Ledger, though, were both distracting at best (particularly the garble that was Ledger's "accent"), and Lena Headey's performance seemed to veer close to Keira Knightley's turn in Pirates of the Caribbean at times.

I don't know. I'd like to believe that the movie is a good one that's just suffered because of my high expectations, but I think that it's more the case that Gilliam felt those expectations and tried to meet all of them at once. The result is a movie that I have a hard time recommending beyond matinee prices, honestly.

That is all.

Broken Flowers

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It will be interesting, I'm sure, to see the various reviews for Broken Flowers (IMDB)--my guess is that they'll split pretty evenly among people who like Jarmusch's films and those who don't. Since I'm a member of the former group, here's why you should see this movie.

The rhythm of the movie is at times painfully slow, fighting against the same inertia that has overtaken Murray's life in the movie. There are places, many of them, that almost beg for a quicker cut to another scene or angle, and I have to think that Jarmusch is imposing this pace on us. In some ways, it reminds me of Paul Auster's work, the way that it reminds us of our own insistence on locating meaning where none may exist. There are a bunch of narrative connections that the movie allows us (and Murray and Wright) to draw, and the pace of the movie encourages us to "figure it out" in ways that are often misleading.

So yes, it is an unsatisfying movie on some levels. For me, this meant thinking about the very desire for satisfaction, a desire that Wright's character embodies and for which Murray's character almost serves as an antithesis. The movie is less about solving its central mystery and more about all the ways that we build our lives in order to avoid solving mysteries in general. The funny thing about this is that it's a movie that really prefigures its own critique. Someone will tell you, "It's slow. It's boring. Nothing really happens." And when they do, you'll know which of the characters that person identified with.

Me? I liked it quite a bit, and I flatter myself into thinking that it got me thinking about life in precisely the way it was meant to.

That's all.


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Nope, not yet. Every time I get to thinking that I might go and see it, I flip on the tv and see Chewie (& the whole gang by the end of the commercial) whoring for one of the cell providers, Yoda whoring for Diet Pepsi, Darth Vader whoring for BK, etc. Hell, Toyota's even got Phil Jackson dressing up as Obi-Wan. For someone who's as reportedly as controlling as Papa G, he's clearly pulled out all the stops in an effort to (a) make all of the money in the world before it's over, and (b) ruin any sort of integrity the saga once held. Oh wait, that's right. Pod races. He's still clearly trying to make all the money he can, though. Hell, I could probably get Boba Fett, or Wedge at least, to pose with me for $20 at this point.

Maybe, I'll ease out of hiatus by, once a day, posting the funniest lines I can find:

The general opinion of “Revenge of the Sith” seems to be that it marks a distinct improvement on the last two episodes, “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones.” True, but only in the same way that dying from natural causes is preferable to crucifixion.

That's from the New Yorker, and the review as a whole has put me back on the fence. I know that it won't be worth full price, although it might have been Wednesday night had I just gone to make fun of the costumed. But now I'm torn about shelling out matinee price, too.


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A little TV on in the background this afternoon, and at one point, I am urged to rush out so that I can "Own this Oscar-winning movie on DVD today!" The movie in question is Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. I didn't see it, but I might want to--I've got nothing against it per se. And yet, across the screen in small print as I hear this exhortation, I learn that LSSUE won the Oscar for Best Makeup.

I don't object to Academy Awards that reward the hard work of all the people behind the scenes--it takes a village to make a movie. But c'mon. How far are we away from the day when some studio literally hires some guy named Oscar, whose job it is to "nominate" movies for something meaningless, so that every movie they advertise is "Oscar-nominated"? If the studios are hiring the same marketing flacks responsible for telling us about the varying amounts of flavor present in the largely flavorless bottles of water that pass for American beer, then it shouldn't be too much longer.

That is all.



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