Posts Tagged ‘based on a book

12
Oct
10

Will You Logoff for ‘Social Network’?

If only logging on to Facebook was this compelling…

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Rooney Mara, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Rashida Jones and Justin Timberlake. Directed by David Fincher. Based on the book “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich

If this review is read in the far future… you know, the one with the flying cars, jetpacks, and teleportation devices just like “Star Trek,” I wonder how we’ll look back at applications such as Twitter and the current ultimate networking platform, Facebook. Will we look upon these days and reminisce about wasting time on Mafia Wars or Farmville just as others wax laconic about Tetris and Mine Sweeper? Will Facebook concede its crown just as MySpace did? How archaic will “tagging” photos or creating groups like We Graduated High School So Why Are You Still Living In It? seem passe? To lean on the cliché only time will tell and who knows? Maybe I’ll get a chuckle out of reading this review.

At first the choice to helm a movie about culture current technological fad may seem odd. David Fincher. The guy who directed “Seven,” “The Game,” “Fight Club,” “Panic Room,” “Zodiac,” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” If you look at his resume he’s the perfect candidate for the job: the man knows his technology. He’s Robert Zemeckis with a socio-political message wrapped in the veneer of a mystery. The conspiracy inside “The Game” showed that anyone and anything could be reached and turned against someone. “Fight Club” used technology not only for effects but to emphasize its effects on masculinity. Jodie Foster found herself trapped inside a high-security box fighting for her survival in “Panic Room.” In “Zodiac” Fincher used technology to recreate the San Fran area in the Seventies as well as aging Brad Pitt backwards in “Benjamin Button.” And now the spotlight is shown on our electronic fascination with “Social Network.”

Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) is a computer student at Harvard. With a certain nebbish nature he talks a mile-a-minute on a timeline the solely exists inside his head which makes him difficult to deal with or relate to. Any moment he shares with someone appears spent before he even starts it. One night his girlfriend Erica Albright (Mara) breaks up with him because she can’t stand him anymore. Pissed-off and drunk he returns to his dorm room and blogs about his ex-girlfriend, complaining about the size of her breasts and comparing her with farm animals. With the help of his best friend/roommate Eduardo Saverin (Mazzello) he creates a program which takes all the pictures of the women on Harvard and makes a “Hot or Not” website where people can vote as pictures of women are pitted against others. Within four hours the website gets over 22,000 hits and shuts down the Harvard server.

The Harvard review board brings Zuckerberg up on Code of Conduct charges to which he seemingly doesn’t care. The guy is technologically smarter than every person in the room and has no qualms about letting them know. He’s put on academic probation and left to his own devices. Upon hearing of this in the student newspaper Zuckerberg is confronted by Divya Narendra (Minghella) and the Winklevoss Twins Cameron and Tyler (Armie Hammer, technically playing both roles) who found out about his website and want him to help create a student dating website for them. What’s in it for him? Re-establishing his Harvard “image.” From this Zuckerberg begins stirring an idea around in his head…

“Relationship status.” That’s the key ingredient Zuckerberg and Eduardo need to create their website, thefacebook. Within moments Zuckerberg finishes the programming and sits back. And waits.

Like a “viral web hit” people begin logging on and joining up. The duo don’t know what they have on their hands. Mark wants to keep it free and expand the technology while Eduardo wants to monetize it so it can begin paying for itself. Steadily the amount of members increase as they broaden who can join (because you need an “.edu” address to be a member) to other colleges. It even goes overseas. Meanwhile the guys with the prestigious rowing club try pursuing litigation saying that Zuckerberg stole their idea.

Enter Sean Parker (Timberlake). He created Napster and sat in the middle of multiple lawsuits while living the party lifestyle. Sean has ideas and against Eduardo’s better judgment has sway on Mark. He convinces Mark to move out to California so they can take “thefacebook” global because Sean has contacts. He’s setting up meetings. He’s getting Zuckerberg networked. Meanwhile, Eduardo is back in New York running around, seemingly hopelessly, trying to get funding for the website.

And therein lies what the movie is about: more than Facebook, more than money, it’s about the destruction of a friendship. It’s about two men who shared a vision in the beginning only for each to find out who the other was too late. Eduardo is sold on the idea and wants to keep a certain amount of control on it while Mark wants to play “Civilization” with social networking. Piece by piece Eduardo is sold out by Mark and Sean finally ending up suing Mark.

And Mark has no initial worries about the place he’s found himself in: the middle of two lawsuits. One is against the person who used to be his best friend while the other is against the brothers who hired him to do their website. Mark can be labeled “cold and indifferent” without pause or difficulty. That’s as deep as he goes…

Fincher weaves the tale back and forth between Mark’s and Eduardo’s testimonies as well as those of the Winklevoss. It’s an intriguing tale. It’s compelling. Think “Aviator” for computer nerds. While you may not get a full view on who Zuckerberg really is the actions speak for themselves. One of the best lines to illustrate this arrives at the very end when Rishad Jones says, “You’re not an asshole, but you’re trying so hard to be.” Apropos.

The question that comes to mind: is this the TRUE story of the founding of Facebook? I haven’t read the book and therefore cannot say. It’s a movie so I’m sure a good chunk is embellished but I also believe that several events did occur; I just can’t say which ones. But more importantly: what does Zuckerberg think of all this?

I did enjoy the movie overall. If it were any director other than Fincher I may have decided against seeing it but Fincher is one of the better storytellers of my generation. The guy can make the bland provocative. Aside from the technological aspect Fincher called up industrial rock artist Trent Reznor and had him do the soundtrack (Fincher had done several Nine Inch Nails videos) and the result works. While Eisenberg, Timberlake, and Garfield give good performances of their characters since I have not really seen their real-life versions I can’t speak to how accurate they were.

My grade: B+

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08
Jul
10

“Kick-Ass” and Take Names

Or was that ass-kicked?

Starring Aaron Johnson, Clark Duke, Evan Peters, Lyndsy Fonseca, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, Chloe Moretz, and Nicolas Cage. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Based on the comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.

I will say it over and over again: I’m not a huge fan of the superhero genre. For every good superhero movie (“Superman,” “Batman,” “Spider-Man”) there are the less-than-stellar attempts at bringing others to the silver screen (“Daredevil,” “Hulk”) as well as attempts to resurrect a franchise (“Superman Returns,” “The Incredible Hulk”). And let’s not forget the made-up/not so renown ones (“Blankman,” “Steele”). I’m writing this on the eve of “Iron Man 2,” which I suspect will be the popcorn blockbuster that the first entirely was and that’s fine with me.

“Kick-Ass” is based on a darker graphic novel and follows Dave Lizewski, your Peter Parker-ish high school quintessential 98+ pound weakling. He’s in love with the beautiful but impossible to have Katie Deauxma (Fonseca). His two best friends Marty (Duke) and Todd (Peters) hang out with him each day at Atomic Comics. Dave’s life is the epitome of boring and mundane: he goes to school, his dad goes to work, they eat the same brand knock-off cereal, etc. In short, blah.

Out of this stagnation comes a twisted idea: what if he became a superhero, like in the comic books? His friends dismiss it saying that it would be crazy. Unless a person happened to be like Batman or whoever else why would anyone want to do it? Again, crazy idea. But not for Dave…

Hopping on the Net he orders a green with yellow trim wetsuit and some batons. He adopts the name Kick-Ass and in the beginning he’s more the reverse: his ass gets kicked. He has no fighting skills or training or cache of money to rely on. This doesn’t deter him because he has the one thing that superheroes need: a heart. After an attempt to thwart carjackers leaves him bleeding from a stab wound, as well as getting hit by a car, he emerges from the hospital with enough metal inside him to rival Wolverine. This clinches his idea of becoming a superhero.

Enter the main bad guy, lumber supplier and drug kingpin Frank D’Amico (Strong). After a deal goes bad Kick-Ass is to blame and becomes his personal center of revenge. The kingpin’s son, Chris (Mintz-Plasse), concocts a plan to get close to Kick-Ass by becoming a superhero himself.

Kick-Ass finds allies in Hit Girl (Moretz) and Big Daddy (Cage). Big Daddy had been a cop who refused to bend to D’Amico and became framed. Sent to prison for five years his then wife OD’d on drugs but lived long enough to give birth to their daughter, Mindy. Mindy and father become reunited after he’s released whereby she becomes Hit Girl and he Big Daddy. Their mission: bring down D’Amico.

I’ll leave the story description there because let’s face it: you’ve seen the plot points before. What makes this movie differ from the rest is that it knows the source material that came before it and plays to the audience. Dave narrates the film with that “I’m telling you but you should probably already figure it out” sense of sarcasm. He knows that he doesn’t have the Batman story of revenge, or the Spider-Man story of being bitten by a radioactive spider. He knows and comes to terms with the fact that superheroes grace comic books for a reason: they are in an alternate reality. By finding his own humanity he does manage to become a superhero which is just as good.

My thoughts? I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. When Nicholson in “Batman,” exclaimed, “What this town needs is an enema,” he may as well have been talking about the superhero genre. After knowing the backstories to every-other Marvel or DC character and knowing the story arcs, we’ve become so accustomed to how the story is supposed to play out that all we can do is venture whether or not this set of characters did it well.

And these do. Kick-Ass goes from being the high school dork to superhero sensation. He befriends others trying to help the cause. He fights the bad guy and wins. And, there’s the offspring of a future nemesis.

Aside from this, “Kick-Ass” is a film I would suggest to young filmmaker wannabes/gonnabes because there are so many styles put into this film. Director Matthew Vaughn’s debut movie was “Layer Cake,” but this plays closer to “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels,” and “Snatch,” both movies he produced with Guy Ritchie. For those who miss the sense of humor those movies had in Ritchie’s current work check this one out; you’ll find the person it came from. Whether the movie plays like Ang Lee’s “Hulk,” or like “A Scanner Darkly,” or even like a video game, it keeps you on your toes for what to expect. It may not be the greatest achievement in film but I can liken it to “Kill Bill Vol. 1” in terms of mashing together various styles.

Aaron Johnson does a great job at being the high school dork-come-superhero with heart and I expect that he’ll get a lot more work because of it. I’m not going to guess what his range is but he played the part perfectly. Nic Cage does an interesting turn as Big Daddy, a Batman wannabe down to his lookalike custom and Adam West-pregnant pausing sentences.

The real thing about this movie is Mindy/Hit Girl. She’s twelve, cusses worse than a sailor, and could out-John Woo any situation. A lethal killing machine that hasn’t even gotten to high school yet. I’ve heard friends say that this is controversial in other cities and maybe they’re talking about it here. But hey guys: it’s just a movie. Sit back, relax, and try to have fun watching it.

I wish I could recommend this to everybody but I know that tastes vary and that there will be a lot of people offended by this one. So I’ll recommend this one to those who love superhero movies, those who like them, and those who are all about satire.

My grade: B+

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com

09
Jun
10

“Alice in Wonderland’s” Queen Trumps the Mad Hatter

Parable or allegory?

Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, and Crispin Glover. Directed by Tim Burton. Based on the books “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll.

NOTE: I watched this in Disney Digital 3-D.

I’ve never been a big “Alice in Wonderland” fan. I know the gist of the story: girl follows a white rabbit into a hole and enters a strange land inhabited by the translucent Cheshire Cat, the insane Mad Hatter, befuddled twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum, March Hare, blue hookah-smoking Absolem the caterpillar, and the Queen of Hearts with the signature phrase: “Off with their heads!” That’s as much as I remember.

As of late there has been a lot of discussion about Alice’s adventures and whether or not it was really kid story material. Granted the initial novel was written over a hundred years ago, and yes times have changed, but what was the story about? The current consensus is that it’s a weird tale of a girl running into even weirder characters, moving from event to event. Tim Burton saw this challenge and decided to give his own spin and story structure to Carroll’s famous characters.

When this tale begins, Alice is four years old and confesses to her father that she’s been having a weird dream filled with these various characters. Her father reassures her that even though she may be mad/bonkers/off of her head, some of the best are a little mad.

It’s now fifteen years later and Alice’s father has recently passed. Alice (Wasikowska) is now nineteen years of age and being taken by her mother (unknowingly) to an engagement party. Hamish Ascot (Leo Bill) is a red-headed Lord with digestive problems who plans to propose to Alice. Everyone at the party knows that he plans on asking for her hand in marriage at the gazebo. Hamish has title and money and in interest of those times, Alice would be a fool not to accept. Her only other option is to wait and end up like her Aunt Imogene (Frances de la Tour), a woman physically in account but mentally in her own world, forever waiting for her prince to come. Standing at the gazebo, Hamish on his knees proposing, Alice is emotionally overwhelmed and runs away, chasing after the white rabbit and falling into a hole.

After getting past the “cake makes you bigger, potion makes you smalle” debacle, Alice enters Wonderland and finds a weird wasteland that unfolds. She’s escorted by the chubby, dimwitted twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum (voiced by Matt Lucas) and the White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen) to Absolem, a blue caterpillar smoking a hookah. The White Rabbit swears that she’s the correct Alice and Absolem replies that she’s not quite Alice yet. The Oraculum,” a scroll detailing the chronological history of all events regarding Alice, is produced and Alice is foretold to be the one who will save Underland by slaying the Jabberwocky, the Red Queen’s dragon.

Meanwhile, we meet the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), a small tyrant with a giant, heart-shaped head of red that has a moat filled with the heads of the beheaded including her husband, the former King. The Knave (Crispin Glover) is her right-hand man. He’s incredibly tall with a scar across his face and a heart-shaped eye patch that changes from black to red. After retrieving the Oraculum, he commissions a bloodhound named Bayard (voiced by Timothy Spall) to find Alice. Alice must evade the Knave and slay the Jabberwocky, along the way befriending the Mad Hatter (Depp), March Hare (voiced by Paul Whitehouse), and Mallymkun the Dormouse (voiced by Barbara Windsor). She must also get the Vorpal Sword and conquer the dragon, Jabberwocky.

But the real question is: does it live up to the hype?

If not for the fact that this is based on books whose characters have permeated pop culture history (“White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane, anyone), probably not. If not for the fact that Johnny Depp is in it, probably not. If not for the fact that Tim Burton directed it, probably not. If one were to take out any of these three crucial elements, the film would’ve suffered. All three, and no one would have bothered to go see it.

Which brings me to say that as it lays, “Alice in Wonderland” is a good movie. Not great, but good enough. There’s a solid structure to the story going on which plays as either a parable or an allegory; you be the judge. The characters Alice meets in Underland are abstract caricatures of those back in the real world and just like the real world, Underland is forcing Alice to grow up; no more living life on her own terms of what she does or doesn’t want to do.

As noted in the title, the Queen of Hearts (Helena Bonham Carter) really sets this movie moreso than Depp. Depp is an interestingly complex Mad Hatter, sure enough, but this film really rests on the tyranny of the Queen of Hearts and in that department, Carter delivers. The Queen is more of a brat than a bitch per se which makes sense in Alice’s world.

On a filmmaking level this movie probably harkens more to “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” There is a level of kid-friendliness to it, mixed with Burton’s grasp of visual desolation, but underneath it all is a heroine who needs to come to bat in order to save the world/grow up. On a visual level it’s not “Avatar” nor is it meant to be, but Burton does a well-enough job mixing live action green-screen technology and CG characters.

One problem I had with the film was The White Queen (Hathaway). Imagine if Arwen from “Lord of the Rings” danced around prim and proper and was shot with a creme-colored filter. I have heard that the White Queen was supposed to be as mad as the Red Queen but not show it, and that’s acceptable, but the character just didn’t work for me; she seemed to belong more to Middle Earth.

The other problem I had with the film was in the final act, and there are two: first, the Mad Hatter is supposed to do a dance better than anyone else. He does a funky jig (infused with some hip hop music) that just looks too goofy for any seriousness. Then again, I might be taking it too seriously. The second problem is that attention is diverted from Alice trying to slay the dragon to the battle between the White and Red Queen’s armies. This was unneeded, seeing as the movie was about Alice learning to grow up and take responsibility as opposed to two sides waiting eternally for some prophetic day when both will battle for sole control of wherever.

One final note: my favorite character was the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry). Great, cool character that was well done.

TRIVIA: Christopher Lee does the voice of the Jabberwocky. And for those who didn’t know, Lewis Carroll wrote that, too.

My grade: B

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com

07
Jun
10

A Medical Credit Crunch and Its “Repo Men”

I wonder what they charge for a spleen.

Starring Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, Alice Braga, and Liev Schreiber. Directed by Miguel Sapochnik. Based on the book “The Repossession Mambo” by Eric Garcia

Some movies really do sound like good ideas. In our current economic situation, and with passing of the healthcare bill, and with previous mentions of a “medical FICA” score, a movie like “Repo Men” seems to have more than a grain of truth to it. What would happen if in the future you could buy a new heart/liver/lung/etc.? What would then happen of you ran behind on your payments and repo men actually came to take away said organ? And what happens if a repo man himself had these things happen to him?

Such is the premise for “Repo Men,” the latest and (not so) greatest sci-fi movie since “Surrogates” (itself based on a graphic novel). Here’s the thing: the premise is good, but the execution… not so much. Imagine “Blade Runner” without the noir or “Brazil” without Gilliam’s humor or ambition. Someone once stated that science fiction was supposed to be dramatic elements with a hint of techno-do. The problem here is that the technology, and the premise, are far more interesting than the dramatic elements.

The movie begins with Remy (Law) in someone’s apartment. The guy gets home with a hot blond woman, they start getting hot and heavy, and that’s when Remy introduces himself. Using his stun gun he disables both of them then quickly suits up to do some quick surgery to remove one of the guy’s organs. He claims that it’s “just a job.”

Which is what he continues telling himself, reiterating it over a few beers with buddy Jake (Whitaker). Remy narrates the fact that if you run behind on your car or house payments, the bank takes them but if you run behind on organ payments, that’s his job. The company he works for gets people to sign up for a new, state-of-the-art organ at 19% interest and if you fall behind… well, Remy and Jake are two of the best at knocking on your door and collecting.

Problems ensue with the fact that Remy’s wife Carol (Carice van Houten) isn’t too thrilled with her husband’s job and wants him to go into sales. Remy has a problem with this because it means that his pay will be cut in half and Jake doesn’t want to lose his best friend/partner who he’s known since 4th grade when he kicked Remy’s ass on the school playground. During an outdoor cookout Jake pulls a job in front of Remy’s house, collecting a kidney from a guy taking a cab ride, and Carol is quickly upset and takes their son Peter away. Remy decides to talk with his boss and take a sales job, but does one last “pink slip.”

He awakes in the hospital. Apparently the defibrillator he used to “shock” the heart of a musician with money problems short-circuited and knocked Remy out. Now he lays in a hospital bed with a new artificial, top-of-the-line heart. He doesn’t want it but the longer it stays in the more he grows accustomed to it. Jake and him hit the streets again to collect on some pink slips and he has… problems. He can’t do it. Going from collector to potential collectee client is not what he had in mind and his attitude towards it all changes. He falls behind on payments and leaves it all behind to become like those he hunted.

Meeting and saving Beth (Braga) he finds that she’s opposite of him: her heart is real but the rest of her body is made from replacement parts from other companies and countries. Meanwhile, back at the company ranch, their boss Frank (Schreiber) gives Jake the assignment of finding Remy and collecting his heart. Jake at first refuses but after breaking in and threatening Frank, he has no choice. The movie goes into action as Remy and Beth evade Jake while trying to find a way to get their accounts closed.

What a statement on the credit industry, if not a slightly muddled one. There are several problems with the film which are not just limited to the fact that it comes after a same-themed movie called “Repo! A Genetic Opera.” While I have not seen the “genetic opera” I can say that while the premise for both is intriguing, there’s a squeamish factor to the two; namely, opening someone’s skin and pulling out an organ, Not my idea of a fun time and I squirmed every time I saw it in the theatre (and yes, I know the organs and blood are all fake… it’s just the thought of it happening).

The main problem: structure. The beginning narration leads to a feeling that the character is ruminating on his job and that maybe there’s a social statement involved. Maybe. I’m all about sci-fi social statements (see: “District 9”). And “Repo Men” could’ve a wake-up slap in the face for the modern moviegoer in the same vein as “Fight Club” was a wake-up call against commercialism. It could’ve been. Instead, director Miguel Sapochnik gives up that idea once Remy is on the run and opts instead for action sequences which, while degrading the concept of it all, actually improves the movie because the beginning is so… muddled.

Which brings me to another point: without the core concept of organ repossession, I wouldn’t have made it through the first 30 minutes. I could’ve really cared less about Remy and Jake because their characters do exactly what you think they would do and there’s nothing really interesting about them. After Remy goes “off the reserve” he becomes interesting, but that takes a while. Forest Whitaker as Jake is okay and let’s face it: doesn’t Whitaker play the same “best friend” he’s always played? I’m not a big fan of Schreiber and in this one he looks like he’s cashing a check. He may have been.

There’s one last thing: there’s a difference between homage and building a movie based off of scenes one loves from other science fiction movies. “Blade Runner” was a big influence on this (as noted in the overhead blimps advertising, etc.). There are a few others the movie harkens back to but I can’t think of them except to say that the end was seemingly “stolen” from “Brazil” (director’s cut). If you’ve seen it and you watch the movie, you’ll know what I mean.

This is the type of movie that ends up relegated to cable where those who watch it will go, “It’s not bad.” It wasn’t overly great either but if you find yourself stuck in a snowstorm and it’s the only thing on, at least enjoy the concept.

My grade: C

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com

03
Mar
10

Marty’s Take on Hitch has Mixed Results

Please Observe “Andrea’s Law.”

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, and Michelle Williams. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Based on the book by Dennis Lehane

Ask any film aficionado about Scorsese and they’ll talk about “Mean Streets,” “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas,” “Casino,” “Gangs of New York,” and “The Departed.” He’s known for biographical movies (“Goodfellas,” “Raging Bull,” “The Aviator”) as well as music-related ones (“Shine a Light,” “No Direction Home,” “The Last Waltz”) Scorsese is a legendary filmmaker who has carved out a niche for himself with his gritty portrayals of gangsters, made men, New York, Boston, and any and all points in-between that the criminal underbelly has a piece of but for all his glory he’s not exempt from making a few forgettable films (“Bringing Out the Dead”). “Shutter Island” will wind up in that pile.

And it’s not that I’m against any director trying to artistically grow or evolve within their medium. On the contrary, I fully support that. The problem here is that Scorsese is making a film that competes in the genre of mystery/suspense/thriller that already has a legendary king (Alfred Hitchcock) and it’s not so much that he can’t go for the crown but truth be told, there are better contenders. Brad Anderson (“Session 9,” “The Machinist,” “Transsiberian”) and Christopher Nolan (“Insomnia,” “Memento,” “The Prestige”) are both examples of filmmakers who are masters of the genre. I can appreciate Scorsese’s entry into it and while he is better than, say, M. Night Shamma-Lamma-Ding-Dong, he’s still a far cry from the two mentioned above.

Andrea’s Law of Island Watching: any movie title including the word “island” is suspicious. Only TV show titles can get away with this. E.g. “Fantasy Island”.

“Shutter Island” is the third movie to be based on a Dennis Lehane novel (“Mystic River,” and “Gone Baby Gone” being the other two) and stars Leonardo DiCapro as the main protagonist, Federal Marshal Ted Daniels. When the movie begins it’s 1954 and Daniels is seasick on a long ferry ride to Ashecliffe Hospital, a mental institution located on an island which houses an old Civil War fort. Daniels has a new partner, Chuck Aule (Ruffalo), who contends that Ted is “legendary.” Ted gives Chuck the lowdown.

A woman named Rachel Soledad disappeared –literally vanished- from her cell. No one knows what happened and the Feds were contacted. Daniels picked up the assignment. Soledad is “dangerous” because she murdered her three children by drowning them in a lake. The police found her in her home with the three children sitting around the table as she was eating. Yeah, bizarre.

Ted and Chuck get to the island and have to surrender their firearms before getting the five-cent tour. Guys in Wing A, girls in Wing B, and the most dangerous of all are in Wing C, the old fort building complete with electric fence and lighthouse. They’re introduced to Dr. Cawley (Kingsley) who professes to want to “help” people over giving them pills, electroshock therapy, or lobotomies. Later that night they meet the other head doctor Naehring (Sydow). Deep inside, Daniels is steaming.

As it all progresses, we learn more about Ted Daniels. He was a soldier in World War II and was there when they captured the Dachau concentration camp. He watched as the Commandant died on the floor from a suicide attempt made slow by screwing-up. He helped to line-up Germans at the camp and mass execute them. Upon returning home he began drinking and distanced his wife (Williams). She died from smoke inhalation when an arsonist named Laeddis set their place on fire. These are the facts as he, and we, know them.

But strange things are afoot at the Ashecliffe Hospital. Ted and Chuck try interviewing the orderlies and no one knows how Rachel escaped; Ted feels that she had to have help. During an interview with one of the patients she grabs his notebook and scrawls RUN. He knows that something’s up and believes that everyone’ story has been coached. Cawley won’t give up personnel records. After finding a scrap of paper that says “The Rule of 4” and “Who is 67?” Ted wants to get back to the mainland and file his report that his investigation has been impeded.

But wait. A hurricane hits the island and everything goes haywire. Ted begins to see visions of his dead wife who instructs him as to what to do. He also has migraine headaches. Chuck and him go to check out Wing C where he runs into George Noyce (Jackie Earle Haley) who tells him that he’s a “rat in a maze” and not to pay attention to the visions of his dead wife. Making their way back to the main building they find out that Rachel has returned to her cell. Case closed… or is it? The world around Ted Daniels begins to unravel as he questions himself, his sanity, the visions, and even his new partner as he investigates the disappearance of Rachel Soledad and what it means while he tries to “blow the top off” what’s going on at Ashecliffe Hospital.

While the trailer for the movie exhibited signs of being “horrifying,” “creepy,” or even “scary,” the film is more about tension and surreality. The film starts off like it’s of the “haunted house/DON’T GO IN THERE” genre; you know, the formula where the movie protagonists go against clear, common sense logic and enter the realm of evil with no guarantee of return of return. By the end of the film it’s more of an “Eyes Wide Shut”/”this is all for your psychological benefit”-thing.

I’m not going to give away the ending of the film directly (although I kinda already have) but I will say that Scorsese does present the truth of what happened not in montage, but in the full sequence so I will give kudos for that. DiCaprio and everyone involved do well enough with what they’re given but surreal filmmaking is –again- not Scorsese’s strongpoint. As for trying to be like Hitchcock… well, Scorsese can build-up the suspense and action but there’s something lost in the translation.

The film sits at “okay.” Not great and nothing I would go watch again in a hurry. If you decide to check it out, I suggest matinee price at most. As I walked out of the theater several groups of people who saw it gathered and talked about it, so at least Marty gave them something to talk about, even if there was a lot of grumbling and mixed reactions.

My grade: C

25
Feb
10

Movie Review: Youth in Revolt

I know this because Francois knows this…

Starring Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Jean Smart, Steve Buscemi, Zach Galifianakis, Fred Willard, Justin Long, and Ray Liotta. Directed by Miguel Arteta. Based on the book, “Youth in Revolt: the Adventures of Nick Twisp” by C.D. Payne

Meet Nick Twisp (Cera), certified and bona fide wuss. His unemployed mother Estelle (Smart) lives off the child support checks of his dad, George (Buscemi) and shacks up with any guy who will look her direction; the guy she’s currently with is Jerry (Galifianakis), a trucker and habitual liar. Nick’s dad is doing the midlife crisis-thing; he drives a BMW and his live-in girlfriend Lacey (Ari Graynor) is young, hot, and blonde.

Nick is a sixteen-year-old sitting in a sea of sexual stagnation. He’s the “nice guy” when all the attractive girls are looking for macho jerks. His record collection contains jazz love songs and would love for Frank Sinatra to be played once a day. French films are his specialty; at the video store he was renting a copy of Fellini’s “La Strada.” In short, there’s no way he’s going to get laid and even he knows that. His only solace is the fact that his friend Lefty (Erik Knudsen) isn’t getting any and his weird neighbor Mr. Ferguson (Willard) is too busy being a political activist.

Fate intervenes in the form of three sailors who show up with a 70s clunker they paid Jerry $900 for. The car blew up a few blocks down the road and they found a banana peel in the engine; they’re pissed and they want their money back. Upon Nick relaying the info Jerry decides to take them on vacation with the new Cadillac he just bought (with the sailors’ $900).

Cut to Ukiah. Jerry is borrowing a friend’s place (read: decrepit trailer) by the beach. Upon return from the showerhouse Nick meets Sheeni Saunders, a girl his age. She takes to Nick’s awkwardness and finds it cute. Showing Nick around her home he finds out that her dad is a lawyer and both are majorly Christian. Nick finds that Sheeni wants to move to France but really wants to travel the world. By the end his vacation, Nick is in love and must find a way to get back to Ukiah.

Enter Francois Dillinger. The Tyler Durden to his Jack; the devil on his shoulder. Francois wears a light blue long-sleeved shirt and white pants, smokes cigarettes, and acts like the badass Nick wishes he was. Through a series of events involving the Cadillac and a POS trailer Jerry bought, Francois sets a business on fire. Nick’s mom’s new love interest Officer Lance Wescott (Liotta) suggests getting Nick out of town so it’s back up to Ukiah.

But everything doesn’t go as swimmingly as possible. Sheeni’s parents know what’s happened and send her to a private, all French-speaking school. Her better-than-you well-to-do boyfriend Trent (Jonathan B. Wright) is also switching to the school. Sitting in Ukiah with newfound friend Vijay Joshi (Adhir Kalyan), the two hatch a plot to meet up with her to bring her back. When the police here of Nick’s location, he tries to keep the tailspin under control in the ultimate hope of getting laid before going to Juvenile Hall.

I liked the movie and it was funnier than I thought it would be. Let me address some questions up front: is it funny? Yes, far funnier than you would think although it may not be for everyone. This is designed more for “emo”/indie likings as opposed to having a strong, male character presence (that I don’t think Cera could pull of just yet). Is it funnier than the trailers? Yes. There are moments in the film, specific for it, that are laugh-out-loud funnier than what you see in the previews.

Cera is definitely in his element here with the character Nick feeling somewhat like Paulie Bleeker from “Juno.” Both are awkward, sensitive, aware of their surroundings (with deep cynicism), and do not have any clue as to how to act/re-act to women. Bleeker went into sex casually while Nick beats himself up trying to get to it.

The rest of the cast do well enough and Portia Doubleday holds her own. Justin Long shows up as Sheeni’s druggie brother Paul (who ends up running off with Lacey). M. Emmet Walsh plays Sheeni’s father. Steve Buscemi (where has he been?) and a few others show up just to be a part of it. Really, this movie is more for Portia and Michael.

My only complaint about this movie is that I’m not a huge fan of animation and certain segments of this movie “wrapped up” events via animation. Some of it was funny but again, not a big fan.

Do I recommend this one? If you’re of the emo/nerd/geek/indie variety of person, yes. Would I recommend full price? I recommend matinee initially but if there’s nothing else to be watched, sure.

My grade: B

30
Dec
09

Movie Review: Invictus

Go rugby!

Starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Based on the book “Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation,” by John Carlin

1995. A man trying to keep a country united during change. A rugby team given the charge of going all the way to the World Cup. Adversity. Perseverance. And yet, there was something missing.

Story (and history for those not in the know): Nelson Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist who was released from prison after 27 years in 1990. He began campaigning for reconciliation, trying to achieve a balance between races. He ran for election and governed as President of South Africa from 1994-1999. To this day he offers his opinions on political topics and is a celebrated elder statesman.

The movie begins –roughly- with Mandela (Freeman) taking power. With blacks in South Africa able to vote alongside whites for the first time, Mandela has been chosen President. Several of the whites, fearing for themselves and/or their jobs, start to leave the Presidential office when Mandela has a meeting and tells them that if they want to leave they can go but if they want to stay and help, it would be a great service to their country.

Rugby is the national sport and the current team, the South African Springboks, leave something to be desired in terms of winning. Team Captain Francois Pienaar (Damon) has come under a lot of heat for not winning and the local community votes to change the team name, colors, etc. Mandela intervenes and persuades them to reverse the decision.

Mandela calls for a meeting with Pienaar and instills in him the idea of taking the Springboks all the way to the World Cup. With the whole country, if not the world, watching South Africa and its rugby team, will Mandela’s hopes pay off?

Director Clint Eastwood softens the line between politics and sports in tackling the subject matter. The movie is as much about a man fighting the effects of apartheid and unifying a racially torn nation as it is places hope in a team that blacks and whites don’t want to root for, but both sides need to. The country focuses on this one team which no one believes has a shot of going all the way.

What I just described sounds great on paper, even compelling, and the book may be great (I’ve not read it) but the movie seems to feel flat. Maybe it’s out sense of “film programming” in the way that we want our heroes, our teams, to overcome adversity in terms that we can relate to, or for them to go through the ups and downs as they reach the prize. Here the most confrontational anything gets is when Mandela’s bodyguards have white Presidential bodyguards that they have to accept and work with. Aside from stares and shrugs, that’s it. As for the Springboks it’s more about media scrutiny and the fact that they are given the task of winning for South Africa, which no one seems to have a big problem with; again, more short scenes but no one character feels drowned or over-burdened with the responsibility of answering the call.

And maybe Eastwood wasn’t going for that; maybe he just wanted to tell the simple, yet incredible, story of a team that brought a country together. He did just that but it didn’t feel incredible, just something that was going to happen anyway.

I also had problems with Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela. Both are iconic in their respective fields, entertainment and politics, but should one icon be played by another? I read that the only person Mandela saw as able to play him was Freeman and that’s the first person who signed-on to the movie but… it’s difficult to see Freeman as humble. He’s played cops/detectives, God, a Civil War soldier, etc. but I just had problems seeing past the actor as the being the public figure.

Lack of character development may have been the culprit. Pienaar, the team’s captain, comes from a well-to-do white South African family that has a live-in maid and has a beautiful girlfriend (Marguerite Wheatley). The only thing the guy has to do is show up and get his team into shape for the World Cup. No esteem issues, no drugs, no otherwise erroneous or law-breaking behavior or flaws; just rugby.

As for what the title has to do with anything: while in prison Mandela found a poem called “Invictus,” which was originally written by William Ernest Henley in 1875. Invictus means “unconquerable” in Latin. Briefly, I’ll post the last of the poem:

“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”

Otherwise it’s a good movie. Not great but an interesting “snapshot” of a certain time and place.

My grade: B-