Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The 5 Best & Worst Scorsese Films

I had planned to write an editorial piece on Martin Scorsese for the LAMBs in the Director's Chair series but time was not on my side this month. Still here are my picks for the best and worst Scorsese films:

The Best

The King of Comedy
I am not sure why this film does not get more love from the general public. In my opinion this is a hidden gem in Martin Scorsese's large canon of work.

Raging Bull
Still one of the best sports related films ever made. I remember first seeing this on the big screen at age 13 or so. The film was playing at one of the old historic theatres downtown as part of a Scorsese double bill. Even at a young age this film blew me away.

Taxi Driver
I came close to placing either After Hours or The Last Waltz here, but ultimately went with Driver. The film has been quoted to death so it does not have the same replay value as some of the other ones on the list. Still every once and a while it is good to revisit the dark mind of Travis Bickle.

You knew this would appear on the list somewhere. With the exception of The Godfather series, ever other gangster film gets compared to this cinematic classic.

The Departed
I was tempted to put Mean Street in this spot but figured I needed a break from the Scorsese/De Niro pairing. I loved Infernal Affairs and I really like how Scorsese remade the film. Since I have not seen Shutter Island yet, hope to catch it in the next week or so, I would say this is the best film of his films with Leonardo Dicaprio.

The Worst

Gangs of New York
The beginning of the Scorsese/DiCaprio era also coincided with the tail end of Scorsese’s decade long “Give Me an Oscar” push. Daniel Day-Lewis’ Bill the Butcher is the only reason to watch this bloated mess.

The Age of Innocence
Love the casting, found the film to be rather dull on the whole. It also did not help that this came out when Ismail Merchant and  James Ivory were still at the top of their game.  There are far better period piece romances out there.

The cinematography is fantastic but the film just did not live up to my expectation.

The Aviator
See Gangs of New York comments minus Daniel Day-Lewis. DiCaprio gives a good performance in the film but I walked away learning nothing new, or interesting, about Howard Hughes. To see a biopic done right go back up to Raging Bull.

I like it better when it was called Goodfellas...

Monday, April 26, 2010

My Parisian Love Never Developed

From Paris with Love

James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is the personal aide to U.S. Ambassador in France. Despite being good at his job, Reece dreams of becoming a secret agent. One day James finally gets the break he is hoping for when his boss orders him to drive an American agent, Charlie Wax (John Travolta), around the city. If Reece can successfully pull this task off, not to mention survive Wax’s shoot first ask questions later style, he will become a true agent. Unfortunately for Reece, Wax’s unorthodox methods may cause him to rethink the whole secret agent entirely. As the two men travel around Paris dismantling a drug ring, they stumble upon a terrorist plot that may just cost James Reece everything he holds dear. That is, of course, if Charlie Wax does not kill him first.

On the surface From Paris with Love had all the makings of a great “guilty pleasure” action picture. First you have Luc Besson, the man behind action cinema classics such as La Femme Nikita and Leon: The Professional, overseeing the production as producer. Add director Pierre Morel whose last film, Taken, was my top guilty pleasure picture of 2009. Finally, sprinkle in a little over-the-top John Travolta and you have yourself a rather tasty dish.

Sadly, and somewhat surprisingly, the ingredients never melt into a satisfying meal. The question then becomes who is to blame? The answer to which is not quite as simple. Luc Besson and Pierre Morel have proven, with their work on District 13, they can offer up action packed junk food that will fill you for several hours. The action in From Paris with Love, though uninventive at times, pretty much delivers fights and explosions you expect it to. The one of the good things about Morel’s movies is that he takes time to actually show the hand-to-hand combat. Instead of opting for fast paced cut scenes like many directors working today.

If you eliminate Besson and Morel, then the axe would fall on John Travolta but even picking on him is too easy. Sure Travolta is not at that outrageous, but entertaining, level that he was in John Woo’s flicks, Face Off and Broken Arrow; but I will say that Travolta did not have much to work here to begin with. I think both Travolta and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are victims of Adi Hasak’s awfully dull screenplay. I understand that you do not go into this type of film expecting an outstanding plot. Majority of the time you merely hope for at least a decent tale to justify all the butt-kicking. Unfortunately Hasak blunders the one element that is basic to all action comedies, and buddy flicks in general, which is to figure out who is the straight man and who is the comic relief.

If you look at films like Beverly Hills Cop, The French Connection, Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour, District 13, etc. they all have various degrees of this. One partner will always be slightly more wisecracking than the other. One partner is more of a “badass” than the other and so forth. The annoying thing about From Paris with Love is that Charlie Wax often tries to be everything rolled into one. Adi Hasak spent so much time ensuring that Charlie Wax has all the best lines that he never really develops the character of James Reece properly. Reece goes from straight arrow at the beginning to bumbling sidekick for the bulk of the movie. By time Reece reaches the point where he must make a crucial decision, you have lost interest in both Reece and the film as a whole.

Speaking of Reece’s decision towards the end, this is a perfect example of a good plot device wasted. While I liked idea of the twist, in theory, it ultimately falls flat as there is nothing in the story that sustains it. Things are revealed then forgotten about for another twenty minutes. In order for the climax to have any resonance whatsoever Hasak needed to build up certain characters far more than what we are given. Although this might be asking for too much from a film that cannot even get the basic components of a buddy action film right.

Movie Marketing Monday

Grown Ups

Despite my love for Salma Hayek, I refused to be tricked into seeing this formulaic comedy. I wish Adam Sandler would do more dramatic roles, or even quirky romantic comedies like Punch Drunk Love.

The Other Guys

This seems to be the better of the two comedies featured today. I hated Step Brothers but I must admit The Other Guys peak my interests a little. The film has the potential of being either really funny or just plain awful. I expect Will Ferrell to do his same old shtick but I am hoping Mark Wahlberg, Samuel L. Jackson, and Dwayne Johnson can provide the big laughs.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Recycled Material Cannot Mend Broken Embraces

Broken Embraces

For many directors, and audience members, there is a fine line between showing your appreciation for other’s works and overindulging in it. This is why so many people have issue with Quentin Tarantino’s films. Depending on the viewer, the originality in Tarantino’s productions can be loss amongst all his numerous winks and nods to specific genres. Pedro Almodóvar is another director, similar to Tarantino, who constantly injects his film with various references to films he love. The majority of which can be found in classic films from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Yet unlike Tarantino, Almodóvar has been more subtle about his approach, and many would say, more successful as well. Still, even a master like Pedro can fall into the realm of overindulgence as is the case with his film Broken Embraces.

Mateo Blanco and Harry Caine (Llíus Homar) share more than just a love for movies and writing. In fact they share the same body. Things are complicated even further by the fact that Mateo Blanco died fourteen years earlier. Despite Harry Caine’s, and his producing partner Judit (Blanco Portillo), best attempts to keep the circumstances surrounding Mateo’s death secret; the emergence of a young director, Ray X (Ruében Ochandiano), threatens to blow everything out of the water. Both Harry and Judit are forced to confront issues regarding Mateo’s affair with a wannabe actress named Lena (Penélope Cruz). Lena’s beauty is enough to make even the strongest man weak. Anyone lucky enough to have Lena, like Mateo and wealthy business man Ernesto (José Luis Gómez), find it extremely hard to let her go.

The thing about Broken Embraces is that the majority of it feels like a mishmash of scenes taken from better films. Heck, Almodóvar even lifts...err...reworks a scene from his own superior film, Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. While part of me was happy to see Cruz’s take on the film’s particular scene; the nostalgic moment did not enhance anything to Embraces overall plot. The film would still reach the same levels had it not been included.

This is not to say that Broken Embraces is an awful film... it is just a disappointing one. It plays more like comfort food than it does a truly satisfying meal. It is as if Almodóvar got so caught up in making a Hitchcockian film that he opted to just recycle his already well used plot devices to save time. All the classic Pedro Almodóvar themes (e.g. secrets, paternity issues, forbidden love, murder, etc.) are on display but they never excite the way you would expect it them to. The bulk of the film centers on a mystery fourteen years in the past. Unfortunately the mystery is one that will easily be solved by anyone who is familiar with Almodóvar’s previous works. It also does not help that he lays on the melodrama extra thick for this outing.

Granted even an average Almodóvar film, such as this, is still more engaging than the best works of lesser directors. The cast try their best to raise the film to the levels we have come to expect from Pedro. Penélope Cruz and Ruében Ochandiano are especially good in their respective roles. Yet even the performances can only go so far. Broken Embraces is a serviceable trip down memory lane for Almodóvar lovers but it hardly rivals his best works (i.e. All About My Mother, Volver, Talk to Her). If anything the film left made me want to revisit Almodóvar’s earlier films, such as Woman on the Verge, Live Flesh, Matador, etc., which were far more satisfying than this film.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Movie Marketing Monday


Marmaduke is an unfunny comic strip that I routinely avoid on a daily basis. So I guess it is fitting that I plan to avoid the movie adaptation as well. Speaking of adaptations, is there really no books left for Hollywood to adapt? Does this mean a Family Circus movie is coming down the pipeline?

The Kids Are Alright

Finally a new film from Lisa Cholodenko! This looks to be her most mainstream film to date. The fact that Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo are in the film is an added bonus.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Can You Dig It? Roasted LAMB

Some quick LAMB links for you today:

The latest edition of Pitch the LAMB is out. This edition asks bloggers to come up with plot ideas for the Slasher genre.

LAMB Casting is re-casting the film The Color Purple. Be sure to vote for which casting choice you like the best.

The LAMB Acting School 101 on Johnny Depp is now up. See what other bloggers think of Depp and his various films.

Stump the LAMBs is testing your knowledge of the film The Fugitive. Deadline to enter is April 24, 2010.

Lastly, submissions are still being accepted for the LAMBS in the Director’s Chair # 7 on Martin Scorsese. Please make a point to submit any articles or reviews you may have on Scorsese’s larger body of work. Deadline for submissions is April 27, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

Not Much To Buy At The Joneses' Home Sale

The Joneses

I recently read an article on people who stand in line for hours to purchase the new Apple Ipad…only so that they can destroy it. They claim to be making a statement but, by paying for the product, are those customers really rebelling against the system? The idea of fighting against consumerism is at the heart of Derrick Borte’s The Joneses.

The arrival of Kate (Demi Moore) and Mike Jones (David Duchovny), along with their kids Jenn (Amber Heard) and Mick (Ben Hollingsworth), in an upscale suburban neighborhood causes quite a stir amongst the residents. Living in a lavish house, with all the cutting edge clothing and gadgets, it is easy to see why The Joneses quickly become the toast of the town. It seems everyone, especially neighbors Larry (Gary Cole) and Summer (Glenne Headley), want to emulate Joneses lifestyle. Despite their seemingly perfect exterior, the Joneses may not be the ideal family they appear to be.

The Joneses is one of those films that work best if you go in not knowing too much. While writer/director Derrick Borte creates a brilliant premise, he unfortunately fumbles with the overall delivery. The film wants to be both a satire on consumerism and a romantic comedy, the latter of which is what ultimately hurts the film.

Since Borte must continually keep the romantic subtext flowing, The Joneses never reaches the biting satirical level that it really should. This is a shame since both Cole and Headley steal every scene they are in. The odd thing about The Joneses is that the film itself plays like one long product placement commercial. Maybe this is Borte’s way of emphasizing how easily it is for us to be swayed by marketing. Still, it is tough to take Duchovny’s speech, on our constant obsession with things, seriously when every other moment you are being shown the latest Audi vehicles.

I will say that The Joneses is one of those moves, similar to Up in the Air, that will benefit greatly from its timely release. The world is still trying to get out of the recession and, now more than ever, companies are trying their best to get ever last consumer dollar. If Borte had gone for a more cutting satire The Joneses could have easily been one of the better films of the year. As it stands, you will leave The Joneses slightly disappointed and with a desire to buy something.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Movie Marketing Monday

Movie Marketing Monday looks at the movie trailers and/or posters that caught my eye recently.


Angelina Jolie in a summer action flick. Do I really need to say more?

The Expendables

Yes this movie looks bad, but just take a moment to think about the casting. Where else are you going to see Stallone, Li, Statham, Willis, Lungdren, Rouke, and Arnold in the same film? If only they could have gotten Van Damme in the film...

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Top 5 Wedding Films

As I will officially be handing in my bachelor card on Saturday, and keeping with this week’s marriage theme, today I will look at some of my favorite wedding related films.

Top 5 Wedding Films

Muriel’s Wedding
This film introduced me to the wonderful talents of Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths. The picture works on several different levels: it is a tale about friendship, a romantic comedy, and a great underdog story. Muriel’s Wedding also helped to make ABBA relevant again…though I am still on the fence as to whether or not that was a good thing.

The Best Man
Underrated gem in my opinion. Yes The Best Man has a few melodramatic moments in it, but nothing as bad as what you find in most Tyler Perry’s films. Despite its minor flaws, you cannot deny the overall charm of the film. Plus, I absolutely loved the casting in the film.

Rachel’s Getting Married
Some may be surprised to see this include in the list. Personally, I think the list would be bare without it. The rawness of the performances hits you like an emotional punch to the stomach. Yet there is a truth to the family dynamics, which makes this a film a must see. Weddings and funerals bring out the best and worst in families, and Rachel’s Getting Married is proof of this. Still, sometimes you need to see the worst before you can appreciate best of what family has to offer.

Four Weddings and a Funeral
You knew this had to make the list. I will take this film over the likes of Father of the Bride any day. Rowan Atkinson’s cameo alone is worth the price of admission. One of the few romantic comedies that will still have me laughing after multiple viewings.


Monsoon Wedding
Mira Nair’s film holds special significance from me. 2001 was the very first year I went to TIFF. After the events of September 11, 2001, there was an air of uncertainty at the film festival (would they cancel the rest of the festival?) and within the world in general (would there be more attacks?). The TIFF organizers decided to continue the festival; and Monsoon Wedding happened to be my 9 am movie on September 12, 2001. This joyous film was exactly the medicine we all needed to lift our spirits. It is a simple, but effective, reminder of the beauty that love and family bring to the world.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Top 5 Films To Avoid Before Saying "I Do"

As I am getting married this coming weekend, the rest of this week’s posts will have a wedding related theme.  Today I will look at some films that you should not watch on the eve of your wedding.

Top 5 Films To Avoid Before Saying "I Do":

Runaway Bride – I am still waiting for a runaway groom film to be made, although something tells me it will not have the same appeal with the ladies like this film did. Regardless, there is nothing more embarrassing than being ditched at the altar last minute.

The War of the Roses – Sure it has got a happy ending of sorts, not to mention that it is pretty funny as well, but you should probably wait until after the Honeymoon to revisit The Roses’ bitter divorce battle.

Husbands and Wives – Really, I could have chosen any Woody Allen film as many of his works deal with the demise of relationships and finding new love. Personally I really liked this film but, in the context of this list, realizing that you have married the wrong person may not be the best thing to watch before you say “I do.”

Little Children – Another film that I absolutely love. Unfortunately the film's view on suburban life, thought spot on at times, hardly gets you in the mood to spend a lifetime with someone. On any other day this film would be a must see though.

Revolutionary Road – Is it wrong that I totally see where Leo’s character is coming from in the film? I think that is a debate for another day though… Similar to Little Children, which also features Kate Winslet, this film details the horrors of suburban life and marriage. Yet unlike Little Children, where the various couples are miserable from the beginning, Revolutionary Road documents the couple’s journey from happiness to misery. Plus the repercussions in Revolutionary Road are far more damaging.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Movie Marketing Monday

Movie Marketing Monday looks at the movie trailers and/or posters that caught my eye recently.

Knight & Day

Mr. & Mrs. Smith this film is not. Regardless Tom Cruise back in action mode, and Cameron Diaz back in comedy mode, is a good start.

Solitary Man

Michael Douglas seems to be making a huge comeback with Wall Street and Solitary Man coming out within months of each other. This film has a Wonder Boys vibe to it, which is not a bad thing at all. Love the casting for this one.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Ninja's Assassination Averted Due to Dull Blade

Ninja Assassin

Dear Marvel,

How have you been? I see you just signed Chris Evans to be the new Captain America. As an avid Cap reader I am still not quite sure how I feel about the choice. I know you are thinking about the long-term Avengers franchise but I always pictured Captain America being played by someone closer to Robert Downey Jr.'s age. I just can see the Human Torch...err...Chris Evans giving orders to a much older Iron Man. Oh well, I am getting off topic...the reason I am writing you is because I would like to pitch a movie idea to you. I think it is time you seriously think about making an Immortal Iron Fist movie. Now I understand that Iron Fist is a fringe character; but so was Blade and look how successful that franchise was for you. Plus Iron Fist would be a far more interesting character than the Ant-Man movie you are currently making.

The idea for an Iron Fist movie came to me when I was watching John McTeigue's film Ninja Assassin. I will not bore you with all the plot details as the title pretty much tells you all you need to know. Raizo (Rain) is trained to be a ninja assassin from a very young age. After the girl he loves is killed by the Ozunu clan, the same clan that trained him, Raizo teams up with agent Mika Coretti (Naomie Harris) in hopes of bringing down the ninja organization for good.

While Ninja Assassin has its moments, I could not help but think how much better the film would have been if it had the gripping story arcs and character depth that can be found in superior works like Iron Fist. If you really think about it, with the films over-the-top action sequences and relentless gore factor, Ninja Assassin feels like a comic book movie more than it does a martial arts film. Which is not surprising considering that J. Michael Straczynski , who wrote Clint Eastwood's Changeling as well as the recent Thor comic reboot, was one of the writers behind Assassin. Now I am not saying that you bring Straczynski into the fold if you do take me up on my suggestion. I believe that Ed Brubaker, who wrote the first Immortal Iron Fist story arc, should be in charge of adapting the material. Though I would suggest that you use several of the elements that worked well in Ninja Assassin.

The first thing I would keep is the way McTeigue had the ninjas spawning out of the shadows and communicating in whispers. Not only was this a cool touch, but it also created a creepy atmosphere at the same time. When you consider how large the Ozunu clan is, there are times when you genuinely wonder if the characters will make it out alive. I also like that the film actually had a villain that was more than just a figurehead for evil. Lord Ozunu (Sho Kosugi) dishes out the lethal blows with such ease that you secretly hope he will come out on top. Sure the overall ending is poor but at least the final fight scene provided some creative moments. The last positive thing I would use from this film is Naomie Harris, who would make a perfect Missy Knight by the way, as she seemed to be the only credible actor in the entire cast.

Feel free to scrap everything else. If Ninja Assassin is supposed to be Rain's big Hollywood coming out party, then he may not want to blow out the candles just yet. There is very little in the film that sells Rain as a plausible leading man. While he does show brief flashes of charisma, the lack of a proper script really exposes the limitations of his range as an actor. This is probably why the film relies so heavily on the excessive death sequences. Sure the opening scene was fun to watch but after awhile you realize that there are only so many decapitations a person can sit through before it gets stale.

As mindless entertainment Ninja Assassin is passable at best. Yet it lacks an engaging story, like the ones in the Immortal Iron Fist comics, to keep you interested after the twentieth limb goes flying across the screen. Anyways, the ball is now in your court Marvel. You can make an Iron Fist movie and rake in a Blade-style haul. Or you can sit by and watch lesser works like Ninja Assassin steal the comic-style martial arts market.

Your pal,