Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Whatever Happened To...?

Edward Furlong

If you are serious horror fan, than you probably already know the answer to today’s question. It turns out Edward Furlong has been keeping himself busy the last few years by making a slew of horror flicks. Most have ended up going straight to DVD but that does not seem to be slowing Furlong down. Personally I thought, after T2 and Little Odessa, Edward’s career would have taking off much more than it has. While Edward Furlong might not be a name that can open up a major film on his own; one would at least think he would be getting decent supporting roles at the least.




Career Highlights: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991); American History X (1998); A Home of Our Own (1993); Little Odessa (1994); Before and After (1996)

Low Points: Pecker (1998); Detroit Rock City (1999); Pet Cemetery II (1992); American Heart (1992); Brainscan (1994)

Last Seen On The Big Screen: Detroit Rock City (1999)

Where You Will See Him Again: The Green Hornet with Seth Rogen

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pitch the LAMB: All the Old Showstoppers

The following is my submission for this month’s Pitch the LAMB. The theme for this month is buddy flicks. Yes my pitch is a bit silly, but sometimes even I get in the mood for fluff.


All the Old Showstoppers

Cast:
Suzette – Sarah Polley
Leslie – Fabrizio Filippio
Hasuzo – Ken Jeong
Cedric – Dave Chapelle
No Thy Ene-Miis – Justin Long, Anna Faris
Levi – Seth Rogen

Leslie and Suzette, the duo behind the struggling Canadian band Fool’s Winter, have been on tour for the last six months promoting their self-released debut “Do We Say Eh?” Despite the duos passion for performing, they have yet to grow any real sort of following. Their agent, Cedric, has been booking them gigs in rundown country bars and biker bars. Neither of which is an ideal place to showcase Fool’s Winter’s unique blend hip hop/indie-rock. After living in a cramped van for months, not to mention having beer thrown in their face on a nightly basis, it looks like Leslie and Suzette’s friendship might finally be reaching its breaking point.

One night, while blowing the dust off their CD’s at the merchandising table, Suzette is approached by a man, Hasuzo, who claims to represent a major Japanese record label. Hasuzo is looking for a band to be the opening act for an upcoming U2 show in Osaka. There is one catch though, any band who agrees to take the opening act gig must live in Osaka for a month and have their experiences filmed for a future reality show. Suzette immediately jumps at the chance to expand the bands audience, but Leslie is hesitant at first due to the television show aspect. Suzette pleads for Leslie to sign the contract by proclaiming”you owe me! Remember that time in Oshawa? You do not want to know what I had to do to get us the money to replace your guitar.” Guilt riding, Leslie agrees to sign Hasuzo’s papers as he figures the trip might be the break they need. As he signs the documents Suzette tries to ease his mind by stating “the show will only be aired in Japan. Really, who’s going to know? ”

A few days later Leslie and Suzette arrive in Japan and are mesmerized by the beauty of the country. When they arrive at the house, which Hasuzo has provided for them, they are surprised by how massive it is. Yet after an hour in the house, Leslie starts to notice some strange things occurring. “I think the walls are moving…this room was not here before” he remarks to Suzette. It soon becomes apparent to both Leslie and Suzette that the house is in fact one massive soundstage for an elaborate Japanese game show. As the duo makes their way through the funhouse-styled maze, which features booby traps around ever corner, they come across four other bands that are also competing for the coveted opening act spot.

As the competition heats up, and the traps get hilariously more outlandish, Leslie and Suzette’s ten year friendship is put to the ultimate test. Instead of crumbling to the pressure, they find a way to overcome every adversity that Hasuzo, and rival band No Thy Ene-Miis, try to throw at them. In the end, Fool’s Winter find their way out of the house mere seconds after No Thy Ene-Miis. Hasuzo congratulates both bands for finishing the game. He announces that No Thy Ene-Miis will be the opening act for U2…a new extreme game show Hasuzo is producing. Hasuzo then hands Leslie and Suzette check for five hundred thousand dollars stating that it is their runners-up prize. Suzette politely thanks Hasuzo before surprising him with a swift punching him in the face. The film ends with the game show becoming an international hit over the internet; causing Leslie and Suzette’s band to gain a huge fan base. Cedric is fired and the band’s new agent, Levi, gets them booked at all the major music festivals. As the final credits role, the “You Two” sign is flashing over head and No Thy Ene-Miis is shown trying to play their instruments in a cage fully of overly aggressive monkeys

Monday, June 28, 2010

Meaty Year Bliss for Carnivore Lovers

Year of the Carnivore


I remember watching a documentary about Canadian cinema were one participant commented about the perception that Canadian’s only make films that are either artsy or about sex. While not an artsy film, I highly doubt Sook-Yin Lee’s Year of the Carnivore will be changing people’s views about sex in Canadian cinema any time soon.

Sammy Smalls (Cristin Milioti) works as an undercover security guard at a local grocery store. When she is not catching shoplifters in the act for her boss (Will Sasso), she is pining over the neighbourhood busker, Eugene (Mark Rendall). After sharing a passionate night together, Sammy is shocked to learn that Eugene no longer wants a relationship with her. What is the reason for Eugene’s sudden change? According to Eugene it is due to Sammy’s lack of skill in bed. Since Eugene refuses to help her improve her sexual technique, Sammy sets out to gain sexual experience by any means necessary.

Year of the Carnivore is a funny and thought provoking look at human connection and the loneliness that we all have. According Lee, married couples are not excluded from this sense of alienation. In fact, the married couples in the film are worse off than Sammy in most cases. Whether it is the young couple with twin babies, or the couple who have been together for 25 years, married folks have lost both the passion in the bedroom and the basic art of communication altogether.




Although sex is the catalyst for the story, it is rarely shown in a pleasurable light. In on scene Eugene has a bored look on his face while taking part in a threesome. Throughout the film Sook-Yin reminds us that, on a daily basis, we over analyze sex which in turn takes the fun out of it. As a society, we spends so much time talking about sex, selling sex, and looking to have sex; yet in reality people rarely act on their impulses. It is our inhibitions, and overall our lack of true connections, that leads to nothing but regret years later.

After starring in the controversial film Shortbus, and directing a few shorts, Sook-Yin Lee makes her feature length directorial debut with Year of the Carnivore. As a director Sook-Yin shows a lot of promise. Sure the themes of the movie may not be new but Lee makes them fresh again with her smartly written script. The dialogue in the film is both comical and charming. Sook-Yin also displays a good understanding on how to get the most from her actors. Besides Lee, a lot of the film’s success is due to the hilarious performance by Cristin Milioti in the role of Sammy. Milioti, who has great physical comedic timing, convincingly conveys both Sammy’s quirky awkwardness and her womanly awakening. Her performance always manages to avoid the realm of farce. Year of the Carnivore could have easily been a formulaic romantic comedy but instead it turned out to be one of those pleasant surprises.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Fricassee Five Friday: Tom Cruise

Spiced Just Right




Magnolia

A guy jumps on a couch once and the people instantly forget that he has the ability to deliver great performances. So for those who think Cruise is all big budget fluff and tabloid fodder let me bring your attention to one of my favourite characters, Frank T.J. MacKey, in my all-time favourite movie. Though Cruise was nominated for an Oscar, for best supporting, he lost out to Michael Caine’s work in The Cider House Rules. Personally I think Cruise’s performance will be the one out of the two that most people will remember in ten years.


Interview with the Vampire

Interview with the Vampire and Collateral provided Cruise the opportunity to play the villain; something he should do more of. While I like Collateral slightly more than this film, Cruise had to overcome much more adversity here. It cannot be easy for an actor when the author of the novel being adapting, in this case Anne Rice, publicly slams you for being cast in the lead role. Luckily Tom got the last laugh as Rice had to eat some humble pie and acknowledge that he was fantastic in the role.


Top Gun

Part of me wanted to include The Firm, or “See Tom Run” as I like to call it, on this list as I really liked that film. Any movie that makes Tom Cruise deathly afraid of the Quaker Oats pitchman, aka Wilford Brimely, deserves the token guilty pleasure spot on the list. Still if I had to choose between The Firm and the pure popcorn fun that is Top Gun, it will be fighter jets all the way. Cocky and arrogant characters fit Tom well, see Jerry Maguire, Collateral, and Magnolia for further examples of this.


The Last Samurai

Yes this film is in the same “white savior” vein of Dances with Wolves, Avatar, and countless other movies of its ilk. Regardless, I really like this film. Many of the movie’s best moments come from the interactions between Ken Wantanabe and Cruise’s character. Tom’s samurai may not have been as cool as Toshirô Mifune’s or Forest Whitaker’s, but he did a good job nonetheless.


Minority Report

The reason films such as A Few Good Men, Rain Man, The Outsiders, and Jerry Maguire did not make the list is due to the fact that Cruise’s supporting casts are the real stars of the show. Chances are your fondest memories of those films are scenes involving NichoIson, Hoffman, Howell, and Gooding Jr. The same thing almost happens in Minority Report as Samantha Morton gives her usual great performance. Though, at the end of the day, it is the pairing of Cruise and Spielberg that keep this film moving a top speed. I still think Minority Report runs twenty minutes too long but otherwise I enjoyed Cruise first real foray into the world of Science Fiction.



Layoff the Cheese



Vanilla Sky

Considering that I am a big fan of the original film, Abre Los Ojos, my views might be a bit biased. Honestly I had no problem with Cruise in this movie. What ruined this picture for me was Cameron Crowe’s need to over explain things instead of letting the audience figure things out for themselves. It was as if Crowe, or maybe the studio, had no faith in the audience’s intelligence.


Far and Away

Reason # 45 why spouses should not work together! I could have easily substituted Days of Thunder in here as I was not fond of that film either. Far and Away was by far the worst of the two films. The interesting thing is Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman have no on screen chemistry whatsoever. What about Eyes Wide Shut you say? Well the majority of that film is about Cruise’s solo journey. The times they are together on screen, Kidman is the one doing all the heavy lifting.


Mission Impossible II

I literally walked out of the theater at the end of the film unable to remember on significant thing that happened in this movie. MI2 felt like an extremely watered down version of a John Woo film, and that is saying a lot if you consider that Hard Target and Broken Arrow were more entertaining than this film.


Legend

As I commented on another blog’s review of this film, I always think of Ladyhawk whenever someone talks about this film. I think deep down I wish Legend was more Ladyhawk and less…well…Legend. Somewhere Matthew Broderick is pumping his fist victoriously.


War of the Worlds

Remember when I praised the Cruise/Spielberg pairing a few minutes ago…well here is where things get tricky. The first half of this film is actually pretty good. One of my favourite scenes comes when the frantic mob tries to steal Tom’s car not realizing, or caring, that his daughter is still in there. Unfortunately the rest of the film never lives up to the atmosphere that the beginning sets up. I won’t even get into how the Boston elite somehow avoid a world-wide catastrophe!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Say It Ain’t So Sanjuro


Sanjuro

When the Chamberlain and his family are kidnapped, nine samurai’s from his clan plot to rescue him. Fortunately for the young men, Sanjuro (Toshirô Mifune) just happens to be hanging out in their house (literally) and advises them that a greater scheme is at hand. Sanjuro believes that the Superintendant is responsible for all of this and offers to aide them in their quest to save the Chamberlain. Before Sanjuro and the nine samurai can free the Chamberlain they must figure out how to defeat Hanbei (Tatsuya Nakadai), the samurai in charge of governing the Superintendant’s soldiers

After being wowed by Yojimbo I was hoping for a similar high out of Akira Kurosawa’s follow-up Sanjuro. As any drug addict can attest, chasing that repeat high often leads to more harm than good. After witnessing Yojimbo’s offbeat blend of action and humour I was rather excited to revisit the world of that loveable ronin, Sanjuro. Sadly Sanjuro’s world now suffers from a case of overpopulation. Instead of sitting back and enjoying the wonderful way Sanjuro’s mind works, I was forced to endure several uninteresting supporting characters. At times the movie feels like Sanjuro and the Nine Dwarfs. When the nine other warriors are not whining about wanting to save the Chamberlain, they are constantly disobeying all of Sanjuro’s suggestions. There are only so many times I can watch the same scenes play out.

It is even more infuriating when you consider that Sanjuro has already established himself as “the man” within the first act of the film.I do not know about the rest of you, but if a mysterious ronin appears inside my house and tells me that I have been set up. I might be a bit skeptical at first. Yet if it turns out that he was right about set up, and then proceeds to save my life by taking on twenty to thirty men by himself!!! I would be the first person by his side with a pen and paper in hand ready to take notes.


It also does not help matters that Sanjuro is now dealing with issues of guilt. After an official’s wife comments that Sanjuro is like a shining sword (i.e. always in use) compared to all the best swords which remain in their covering; we see a drastic change in Sanjuro. He begins to feel deep remorse for having to take a person’s life and no longer wants to be viewed as the cool killer. I am all for growth in characters but, for this type of film, the change should fit the essence of the character. It was already established in the first movie that Sanjuro is a caring person whose vanity gets the better of him at times. Did the character really need to go the “why did you make me kill him” route?

It is at this moment where the shine Sanjuro had in Yojimbo slowly begins to dull a bit. It is similar to watching the Star Wars prequels and finding out that the evil Darth Vader, the most fearsome guy in the galaxy, is really just a boy with a broken heart. While I still like the character of Sanjuro on the whole, I wish he had been in a better film than this. Like many sequels, before and after it, Sanjuro does not match its predecessor. While Toshirô Mifune valiantly tries his best to repeat the magic he had in the first film, it is the abundance of useless supporting players that hold his character, and the film, from reaching those heights once again.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tremors

Just experienced a tremor here in Toronto...how long before the media blames the G20 Summit for this?


Whatever Happened To...?

Fairuza Balk

Today’s selection was suggested by Mike, of You Talking To Me?, in last week’s comment section. Naturally I jumped at the chance to highlight Ms. Balk as she always had a Gina Gershon-type vibe for me. That is to say I could see her playing the tough chick, as easily as I can see her pouring her heart out in a romantic lead. Fairuza is often remembered for her role in The Craft, yet she has been in far better films than that. While she has been stuck doing a lot of voice over work lately, as well as bit parts here and there, one can only hope that someone (I am looking at you Rebecca Miller) writes a script that will truly highlight Fariuza Balk’s talent.




Career Highlights: Valmont (1989); American History X (1998); Personal Velocity (2002); Gas, Food, Lodging (1992); The Craft (1996); Almost Famous (2000); The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

Low Points: The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996); American Perfekt (1997); Return to Oz (1985); The Waterboy (1998); Deuces Wild (2002)

Last Seen On The Big Screen: The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

Where You Will See Her Next?: In Thicker which also stars Guy Pearce and John Goodman

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Good Woody Hard To Forget

Toy Story 3



Andy (John Morris) is getting ready to head off to college and is forced to decide what to do with all his childhood toys. Although Andy intends to store most of them in the attic, a mix up causes Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and the rest of the gang to end up in the Sunnyside Daycare facility. At first the daycare looks like heaven on earth for the toys. They are warmly greeted by Lotso (Ned Beatty), who seemingly is the head of all the Sunnyside toys, and there are tons of kids to play with the toys. Even the possibility of romance arises as discarded Barbie (Jodi Benson) meets Ken (Michael Keaton). While most of the toys seem to enjoy their new surroundings, Woody is determined to get back to Andy. It is only after setting out to find Andy that Woody discovers Lotso may not be as friendly as he appears. With his friends in danger, Woody must figure out a way to save his pals and get back to Andy’s house before it is too late.

What is left to say about a movie that almost every professional movie critic and blogger has already said for me? I think Andy summed it up perfectly at the end of the Toy Story 3 when he somberly says “thanks guys.”

Thank you Toy Story 3 for offering up yet another engaging buddy film that never felt forced. Not for a minute. The movie features two distinct, and fully realized, story arcs that allowed both Woody and Buzz to continue the growth established in the previous two films. Woody’s arc leads the film into in a much darker place than the other films. Even though the main characters are toys Toy Story 3 offers a lot of food for thought in regards to death and the longevity of friendship. It is touching to witness Woody struggles with issues of mortality while still trying to maintain a brave face amongst his friends.


Director Lee Unkrich smartly balances the more somber mood of Woody’s adventure with Buzz’s more comedic arc. What I like about the Buzz Lightyear segments are that they never resort to cheap gags. Unkrich ensures that the humour is always grounded and often ties back into the allusions to Buzz’s love life. Another thing that is noticeable about Buzz’s arc is that it provides a platform for all the supporting characters to have their moments in sun. Unlike many film out right now, there is not one supporting character that feels out of place. Jesse, Rex, Hamm and the Potato Heads have become such an essential part to the Toy Story universe. Toy Story 3 would have felt odd without them.

I would also like to say thank the film for finding a way to sell Happy Meal without ever comprising the integrality of the main product. Are you taking notes Shrek? Whether it is the references to classic films such as Escape from Alcatraz and The Great Escape, or the reflective moments that will leave your eyes a little misty by the end, Toy Story 3 just gets better as the film goes on. Even in its final installment the Toy Story series continues to be a reminder that you can make big budget films that tell good stories, are full of action and humour, and feature well rounded characters.

If I had to make a complaint about the film, it would be that Pixar opted to go the 3D route yet again. Similar to Up, Toy Story 3 really does not need the 3D gimmick at all. I would have been impacted the exact same way had the film been done in 2D, the only real difference is I would have few bucks more in my pocket. Still, the loss of three extra dollars is minor considering how much the Toy Story franchise has given me back in return. So thanks again guys, it has been a fun ride and I am sad to see you go.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Movie Marketing Monday

Middle Men

Since they are making a movie based on the rise of Facebook/Social Networking; it makes sense that a film about the guys who found a way to sell porn over the internet would arrive in theaters first.





Takers

Although Idris Elba and Matt Dillon are in this film, I cannot shake the feeling that this is the poor man’s version of Heat.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Fricassee Five Friday: Tom Hanks

Spiced Just Right


Toy Story 2
Toy Story 2 is one of my all time favourite Pixar flicks. In my opinion it is the definitive moment when Pixar proved that they were here to stay. Toy Story 2 reminded us that great animation and strong stories are both needed to make a successful animated feature.

Big
This film still holds up well, it takes me back to my youth when I see it. Seriously, who did not want to be in that keyboard playing scene?

Forrest Gump
It was hard to exclude Philadelphia from this list but there simply was not enough room. Out of Hanks’ two Oscar winning performances, Forrest Gump is the film that has the greater replay value.

A League of Their Own
“There is no crying in baseball” A classic line that I have said to myself many times on the softball field. Tom Hanks gives a great performance in this film while still allowing his female co-stars to shine as well.

Saving Private Ryan
Here is another example of too many quality films and not enough space for them all. Not only is Saving Private Ryan a great war movie, it also help to pave the way for both Band of Brothers and The Pacific.


Lay Off The Cheese



The Bonfire of the Vanities
I have seen this film a few times and I still cannot figure what they were trying to achieve? The film does not work as a dark comedy, it is too light to be a serious drama, and none of the characters are likeable to begin with.

Joe Versus the Volcano
Remember when Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan were the brief face of romantic comedies? Sure they have great chemistry together but it did not really meld perfectly until Sleepless in Seattle. Joe was just too silly to work any level.

The Polar Express
I never understood the love that this film received from both critics and movie goers. The animation did not reach the level of realism it strived for; and the story was as engaging as you would hope from a Christmas tale. No matter how hard the studio tries, The Polar Express is not going to be considered a holiday classic in my books. I would rather watch A Christmas Story than this film any day.

That Thing You Do!
Tom Hanks feature film directorial debut had its moment but was ultimately a rather forgettable film.

Turner & Hooch
Before mall cops were all the rage, Hollywood had a fascination with lawmen and their dogs. Both Turner & Hooch and K-9 were released in the same year and both were erased from my mind a year later. If I had to choose one over the other I would pick K-9; but that is the equivalent on picking being punched in the face over being kicked in the groin.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Yo, Jimbo Is One Sly Dude.

Yojimbo

Not too long ago A Life in an Equinox: A Movie Lover’s Journal held an Akira Kurosawa blogathon in honour of the late director’s birthday. Until recently my only experience with Kurosawa has been my VHS copy of Seven Samurai. Akira Kurosawa was always one of those directors who is so well loved that I was never in a rush to see the rest of his works. I figured his films would always be in demand so I would not have any problems find his full canon of work. Recently I decided to pull a few Kurosawa films, Yojimbo and Sanjuro, out of the purgatory that is my long list of “must see films” and finally watch them.

Yojimbo follows the adventures of a wandering samurai, Sanjuro (Toshirô Mifune), who finds himself in the middle of a gang war in a small village. On one side is the gang led by Sebei (Seizaburô Kawazu) who controls the brothel and the silk industry; the other gang is led by Ushitora (Kyû Sazanka) who produces the towns’ sake. Sanjuro, seizing up the situation, sets out to play the gangs off each other by offering his services as a bodyguard to both sides. Sanjuro thinks he has things all figured out but the arrival of pistol-packing Unosuke (Tatsuya Nakadai) will throw a deadly wrinkle into his plans.

The first thing that struck me about Yojimbo was how much humour there was in the film. Early on Akira Kurosawa establishes the fact that both gangs are more bark than actual bite. This not only allows Sanjuro to calculate the situation quickly, but it also provides Kurosawa with an avenue to run wild from a comedic standpoint. Several characters, such as the coffin maker and the official, serve no other purpose than to increase the level of humour even further. There are a few moments when Yojimbo veers dangerously close to bordering on slapstick comedy but Kurosawa always finds a way to reign things back in.





Part of the reason Kurosawa is able to maintain control is due to the wonderful lead character Sanjuro. There is rarely a moment when Sanjuro does not bring a smile to the viewer’s face. There have been many drifters in the history of cinema but few have been as enjoyable as Sanjuro is. Whether he is displaying his swordsmanship, eavesdropping on conversations, or riling up the local restaurant owner, Sanjuro’s charisma is always at the forefront. You can always see the glee in his face when is devilish schemes unfold. What makes Sanjuro a great character is that for all his strengths he still has glaring weaknesses that keep him, and the film, grounded in reality.

I really liked the fact that Kurosawa makes Sanjuro vulnerable on several levels. Despite being a caring individual deep down, Sanjuro is always concerned with maintaining his image as coldhearted killer. When you really look at the character of Sanjuro it becomes apparent that his pride is his greatest weakness. If you really think about it, Sanjuro has no reason to even interfere with the gang battle in the first place. He merely intervenes for the fun of it. Sanjuro loves the fact that he is always the smartest guy in the room. There comes a point in the second act when Sanjuro has too much control over events in the town. Kurosawa shows that Sanjuro is too smart for his own good; and it is his overall arrogance that leads to his abrupt downfall.

It is aspects like these which help Yojimbo to live up to all the acclaim it has received over the years. Thanks to Toshirô Mifune’s great performance as Sanjuro, the film proved to be more enjoyable than I had anticipated it would be. The only thing I have left to ponder is why I took so long to see it?



Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Whatever Happened To...?

Mira Sorvino

It seems that Mira Sorvino’s name will always be linked with the dreaded “Oscar Curse.” The way I see it, if Marisa Tomei can shake of the shackles of the alleged curse than there is no reason why Sorvino cannot do the same. Sure Mira has been working steadily over the last few years but she is not getting the same caliber roles that she received in the early 90’s




Career Highlights: Mighty Aphrodite (1995); Barcelona (1994); The Grey Zone (2001); Blue in the Face (1995); Summer of Sam (1999); Quiz Show (1994); Beautiful Girls (1996); Mimic (1997);

Low Points: At First Sight (1999); The Final Cut (2004); The Replacement Killers (1998); Free Money (1998); Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion (1997);

Last Seen On The Big Screen: Reservation Road (2007)

Where You Will See Her Again: Multiple Sarcasms with Timothy Hutton; and Waska with Jeremy Piven

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Holidays In Rome A Royal Treat

Roman Holiday

I have a tendency to rifle through other people’s DVD collections upon first visiting their home. My wife claims that I am “judging” individuals based on the type of movies they watch. The truth is I have a genuine curiosity of what type of films people enjoy. Considering that my small collection of DVDs includes titles that would make many scratch their head, I am the last person to cast stones. Another reason I enjoy going through other people’s collection is that I often discover new, to me, films to see.

When I came across a copy of Roman Holiday at a friend’s place recently, she was shocked that I had never seen, let alone heard of, a film that she considered a “classic.” While I try to see as many films as I can, I will be the first to admit that there are a slew of films, classics and otherwise, that I have yet to see. Frankly it would take me an entire lifetime to catch up on all the ones I missed. Fortunately my friend was willing to assist me in my ongoing film education by loaning me her copy of the film. (Thanks again, Mel!)

Directed by William Wyler, Roman Holiday tells the tale of a princess, Ann (Audrey Hepburn), who is fed up with the dullness of Royal protocol. Ann is suppose to be on a European tour but her Royal duties have left her little time to actual explore the world outside. One night Ann sneaks out her hotel and runs into Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), an American report whose in Rome to interview the princess. Not recognizing Ann at first, Joe is more concerned with getting the young woman off the cold and dangerous streets. Once Joe realizes who Ann really is, the allure of getting an exclusive story becomes too great to pass up. With Ann wanting nothing more than to experience Rome like an average tourist would; Joe tries his best to keep his true motives secret. He even enlists his photographer pal, Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert), to discreetly capture Ann’s exploration on film. As Ann and Joe spend the day together feelings start to develop. Joe is forced to question whether getting the story is more important than following his heart.


Roman Holiday follows the timeless formula in which relationships are formed based on secrets and lies; and characters incite comedic mishaps while attempting to keep their secrets hidden. One of the most enjoyable scenes in the entire movie comes when Joe tries to convince his boss, Mr. Hennessy (Hartley Power), that he was at the press interview with the princess. Mr. Hennessy already knows that the interview with the press was cancelled, yet he relishes in the fact that he has caught Joe in a lie that is getting bigger by the moment. It is in this scene where Gregory Peck’s comedic timing shines. For me this scene edges out Joe’s drink spilling encounter with Irving for funniest moment of the film.

As fairytale romantic comedies go, Peck is everything you would expect from a leading man in this type of film. He gets to play broad comedy as well as being the suave gentlemen. The relationship between Joe and Ann is fascinating despite the pairings obvious differences. Unlike Peck, Hepburn does not get that many scenes were she can really let loose comedic wise. With the exception of a few moments here and there, Hepburn is forced to stick to the confines of what you would expect from a princess.

Despite this, Audrey Hepburn still manages to bring some nice dimensions to her character. The strength in Hepburn’s performance lies in her ability to say so much through mere facial gestures. There is a wonderful moment towards the end when certain secrets are revealed and Ann must not break character in front of the press. Hepburn goes through so many emotions in that one scene. Speaking of the ending, I will merely say that the film ends the way I hoped it would. If the film had been made in more recent times, I doubt it would provided such a satisfying finale. While Roman Holiday is a fairly traditional romantic comedy in terms of plot, the performances are what raise this film above its modern day contemporaries.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Movie Marketing Monday

[Rec] 2

While I have seen Quarantine, I have yet to see the original film, [Rec], it was based on. Judging by the sweet [Rec] 2 trailer, I need to find a copy of the first film ASAP.





Mortal Kombat: Rebirth

This short was made as a test film for the studio to reconsider rebooting the Mortal Kombat franchise. I must admit, I am kind of intrigued by the slightly more realistic approach.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Fricassee Five Friday: Liam Neeson


Spiced Just Right




Kinsey
A biopic not only needs to tell a good story, but it should also inspire you to learn more about the subject. This film did just that. Sadly Neeson got snubbed when the Oscar nominations rolled around that year.

Batman Begins
There is a common perception that avid comic book readers are never satisfied by comic-to-film adaptations. Personally this is not the case when dicussing Batman Begins. There is not a single thing I would change in this film.

Schindler’s List
There are several times in the film when Neeson’s co-stars steal his thunder. Regardless he gives a great performance throughout. It is hard to not be moved by this great film.

Taken
Okay calling it one of his best may be a bit of a stretch. Truth be told I could easily have placed Breakfast on Pluto in this spot.  Still, I have an odd love for Taken. It is a guilty pleasure that entertained me far more than most of the big budget movies released in that year.

Rob Roy
Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange were great in this film. Unfortunately Rob Roy had the bad luck of being released mere weeks apart from Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. We all know how that turned out.


Lay Off The Cheese



Kingdom of Heaven
I actually watched this film over the course of three separate viewings. I kept falling asleep at different parts each time. Kingdom of Heave is my version of NyQuil.

The Haunting
When the only positive thing a person can say about a movie is “it has Catherine Zeta-Jones playing the sexy lesbian”, as friend once said to me, you know the it is garbage. I avoided the The Haunting when it was in theatres, but I made the mistake of renting it on video. Either way it was a no win situation.

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
Is it wrong that I think Qui-Gon Jinn showed more life in the Lego Star Wars video game? I cannot even blame Liam for this film. All the acting in the film, as well as the story, had to take a backseat to the visuals.

Nell
This is one of those films that probably worked well on the stage but as a film it was painful to sit through.

K-19: The Widowmaker
While I was not expecting something as memorable as Das Boot, I was hoping it would at least entertain me. Frankly I found The Hunt for Red October and Crimson Tide to be better films than this one.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Itchy & Scratchy Effect

Mike over at You Talking To Me? recently wrote a great piece on “Where’s The Airship Movies” These are films that really serve no other purpose than to have as many explosions as possible on the screen. The article is a follow up to his commentary on “Chocolate Bar Movies,” films that satisfy for a while but are quickly forgotten.

If you would permit me to piggyback on Mike’s piece for a moment, I would like to throw in my own personal phrase into the ”Filmic Measures” lexicon: “The Itchy & Scratchy Effect.” This when you have a character, by all indications is a normal human being, who refuse to die no matter what you do to them. The characters always lives long enough for the hero, or heroine, to utter some sort of ”Hasta La Vista”-style line, though not as good as Arnold’s catchphrase, before they strike the final blow.

Now this is by no means a new trend these types of scenes play out all the time and could easily qualify under Mike’s “Chocolate Bar Movies” heading. Yet the reason I call it “The Itchy & Scratchy Effect” is because I am always reminded the “Itchy and Scratchy Land” episode of television show The Simpsons. The episode is a spoof of Jurassic Park and action films in general. Though I use the terminology more in relation to thrillers and horror flicks but I digress. In the episode two distinct moments standout, the first being a conversation below that Marge has with a local park guard.  The discussion is in regards to the absurdity of the violence and how the characters unrealistically manage to survive:


Guard: Here at Itchy and Scratchy Land, we're just as concerned with violence as you are. That's why we're always careful to show the consequences of deadly mayhem, so that we may educate as well as horrify.

Marge: When do you show the consequences? On TV, that mouse pulled out that cat's lungs and played them like a bagpipe, but in the next scene, the cat was breathing comfortably.

Guard: Just like in real life.


The second point that I always remember, and often quote, comes when Bart destroys the robotic mouse, Itchy. Bart uses the flash on his camera to disrupt the robot’s circuits. Before killing the mouse Bart states “Hey, mouse. Say, ‘Cheese’ ” The line is brilliantly followed up with Bart commenting on the fact that “With a dry, cool with like that, I could be an action hero.” Seconds later Homer is saying the exact same thing. Showing how the final strike always needs to be added by some defining comment.

Having recently watched both The Stepfather and Orphan I was again reminded by how often and, at times, how absurdly “The Itchy & Scratchy Effect” is used. The Stepfather is not a good movie but I had fun watching it. Part of the enjoyment came from the fact that my co-worker and I (the movie was shown at our office…long story) were playing the “is he dead yet game?” during the screening. Basically something would happen, say the evil stepfather getting stabbed in the neck, and I would joke that the movie is over knowing full well that my co-worker would say “not yet, the cut does not look deep enough”. We both knew that it would take at least more things that happen before the evil stepfather meets his doom… but you get the picture.

While I found Orphan to be light years better than The Stepfather it still falls victim to “The Itchy & Scratchy Effect” towards the end. Somehow disturbed little Esther, who is four foot nothing and maybe sixty pounds wet, miraculously survives various things in a way that can only happen in movies. The last twenty minutes of film build up to the moment where Vera Farmiga’s Kate can finally proclaim “I am not your [bleeping] Mother!”, thus completing “The Itchy & Scratchy Effect.”

As I mentioned before this is nothing new, “The Itchy and Scratchy Effect” has been around for ages and it will continue for many more years to come. It is something that I have come to expect from certain genres. I am sure everyone has their own individual phrase for it. Yet every time I see these types of scenes happen in a movie, I am fondly reminded of those two great satirical moments that The Simpson’s offered up.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Whatever Happened To...?

I was going to select Ralph Macchio as today's subject. Unfortunately I overdosed on the various Karate Kid movies last weekend (seriously there was a marathon on every single day!). So today I will focus on an actress whose life on the big screen could use a jolt.

Geena Davis



Career Highlights: The Fly (1986); Thelma & Louise (1991); A League of Their Own (1992); Beetle Juice (1988); Tootsie (1982); Fletch (1985); The Accidental Tourist (1988); Earth Girls are Easy (1988).

Low Points: Cutthroat Island (1995); Hero (1992); The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), Speechless (1994); Angie (1994); Quick Change (1991); Transylvania 6-5000 (1985); Stuart Little (1999).

Last Seen On The Big Screen: Stuart Little 2 (2002)

Where You Will See Her Again: Your guess is as good as mine. Ms. Davis has been stuck on the small screen for a few years now. She is the same age as Joan Allen, so clearly there is still time to stage a comeback of sorts.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Orphan Slashes Adoption Rate One Parent At A Time

Orphan


The thing I like about horror films is the way they test our moral fibre. Not only do they provide bone chilling scares, but horror flicks also remind us of how desensitized we have become as a society. I was reminded of this fact when I watched Jaume Collet-Serra's film Orphan.

Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John Coleman (Peter Sarsgaard) have seen their marriage go through some trying times. After dealing with alcoholism, infidelity, and the death of an unborn child, the Coleman's have come out stronger than ever...or so they think. Unbeknownst to the couple, their relationship is about to be tested again when they decide to adopt a child. After being wooed at the local orphanage by a nine-year-old Estonian girl, Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), the Coleman's believe their life is now complete. As time goes on, Kate begins to see a darker side to Esther. A side that may cost the Coleman's, and their two biological children, their lives.

There comes a moment in the last act where I thought to myself "oh no, they better not take it there..." This was mere minutes before a major plot point was revealed. It was like the film heard me speaking through the television set and then offered up a scene to quell my fears. I could not help but breakout into a laughter. My laughter had nothing to do with the major revelation; it was all about my own warped limits.

Up to that point I had no problems with everything else I had witnessed. Bloody nightmare sequence at the beginning? Fine with me. Young girl being pushed off the high playground set? She had it coming. Someone being bludgeoned over the head? Rolled right off my back. Yet one allusion to a improper situation and all of a sudden I am up in arms.



Compared to Collet-Serra's last stab at horror, 2005's House of Wax, Orphan is a quite tame in the gore department. There are a few disgusting moments but nothing as excessive as what Wax had to offer. Though the lack of gore may put off some hardcore horror fans, the restraint that Jaume uses in Orphan actually works to the pictures benefit. It also shows that Jaume Collet-Serra is growing as a director.

At times Orphan plays like the film The Good Son. It spends a lot of time developing the characters, though the payoff is never as satisfying as you would hope. Orphan does have several things going in its favour though. Vera Famiga is good as the mother who uses the adoption as a means to abolish previous sins. Her scenes with Peter Sarsgaard work well in regards to establishing the history of their relationship. They were times when I found Sarsgaard's character to annoying at times. Mainly in the sense that he is a little too blinded by Esther's charm. He never doubts her for a minute, even when all signs say he should. This element, and the longer than needed running time, keep Orphan from being a memorable horror film. While it will entertain for a few hours, the only thing truly lasting about Orphan is the reminder of how lapse our personal limits are at times.


Monday, June 07, 2010

Movie Marketing Monday

Gulliver’s Travels

How many times will they keep going back to this book? It seems like every few years a new version is being made.




Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

The end is near for the Potter series. I can hear studio execs crying as I type this. Keep in mind that they are using hundred dollar bills to dab their tears, so do not feel too sorry for them.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Fricassee Five Friday: Owen Wilson

The Best

The Royal Tenenbaums
I have expressed my love for this film in the past, so I will not dwell on it today.

Wedding Crashers
So many scenes in this film still make me laugh five years later. Personally I find that Vaughn/Wilson is a far better pairing than Stiller/Wilson

The Darjeeling Limited
I realized today that I only truly enjoy Owen Wilson when he is paired with Wes Anderson. Minus the three non-Anderson films in this section, there is not much that he has done on his own that I have really liked.

Permanent Midnight
I was tempted to place another Wes Anderson flick here but opted for Midnight. An underrated film in my opinion, the performances were all well done. The film is at least worth a rental if you have not seen it.

Shanghai Noon
Ah Rush Hour in the Wild West. It was not original by any means but I did enjoy the chemistry that Wilson and Chan had. Similar to the Matrix, I will pretend that they never made a sequel to this film.



The Worst

The Big Bounce
Wow this film was awful. I do not even know where to begin… The sad part is that I was actually looking forward to this film based on the casting alone. I will never ever get that time back.

Starsky & Hutch
Reason # 24 why Hollywood needs to stop remaking television shows

Zoolander
Many of my close friends love this movie and I cannot fathom why. I think I smirked once through the entire picture. I just did not find it funny at all. I have been tempted to sit through this film again on several occasions to figure out what the fuss is all about. Yet I refuse to put myself through that torture again.

I Spy
Reason # 15 why Hollywood needs to stop remaking television shows

You, Me, and Dupree
On second thought, maybe Zoolander is not so bad after all. Compared to this film, Zoolander is practically Masterpiece Theatre. Not as bad as The Big Bounce, but pretty darn close.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Crazy As It Seems, My Heart Was Not Into It

Crazy Heart


There is nothing worse than being indifferent to a film. Regardless of whether you love or hate a particular picture, the fact that it elicits a passionate response out of you is still better than nothing at all. It has been a long time since I really had that blasé feeling, and I was surprised it took Crazy Heart, a film that received high critical praise, to reawaken that mundane feeling.

After being upstaged by his former partner, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), former country star Otis “Bad” Blake (Jeff Bridges) is reduced to playing local bars and bowling alleys. Addicted to the bottle Blake can no longer find the ability to write new songs. While performing a show in Santa Fe, Bad Blake meets and falls for a local reporter, Jane (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Through Jane, and her four-year old son, Bad Blake experiences apart of life that he has neglected for so long. Yet can Bad Blake truly make a new life with Jane? Or will the temptations of alcohol be too great?

The funny thing about Crazy Heart is that it seems to go out of its way to defuse any form of actual tension. For example, the first act of the film alludes to the bitter relationship between Bad Blake and Tommy Sweet. Clearly something really terrible must have happened to sour their relationship. Yet when Tommy Sweet finally dares to show his face it becomes apparent that the whole issue is nothing more than a minor squabble. Tommy pretty much attempts to make amends within the first five minutes of being around Blake. There is never that moment where you question Tommy’s motives or loyalties. You never wonder if Bad Blake will ever be able to work with Tommy again. The tension is defused faster than you can blink.



Come to think of it, Crazy Heart is nothing more than a bunch of little moments that always find a way of being wrapped up with a neat little bow. If you eliminate the Tommy Sweet subplot, then all that is left is the Bad Blake’s alcoholism; and how it affects his relationship with Jane. Unfortunately, neither of these subplots can even muster up a faint spark. The whole deadbeat dad arc has been done better in numerous other films. Plus his plight with alcoholism comes off a little too Hallmark movie of the month for my liking. The defining moment that finally sends Bad Blake to rehab is, in my opinion, more a statement about Jane’s parenting than it is about Blake’s addiction to the bottle. I am not making excuses for his actions, I merely saw the moment coming early on based on how the role of Jane is written.

The character of Jane is nothing more than a quick device to get Bad’s character from point A to B. As much I love Maggie Gyllenhaal as an actress, I could not help but wonder why she was cast in this film. Jane is such a poorly constructed character that the role did not fit Gyllenhaal’s style at all. There were moments when I wondered if she was merely channelling her old Sherrybaby character. When Jane is not being forgotten for large chunks of the film, she randomly falls into long stretches where she acts like a naive school girl. It is hard to believe that she is even a journalist at times.

Crazy Heart is not a great film, nor is it a bad film, it is just there. The only thing that keeps Crazy Heart afloat is Jeff Bridge’s performance. Was it Oscar worthy? That is a tough call. He does carry the entire film on his back and is quite good. Yet I can think of at least three other performances from last year that left more of a lasting impression than this.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Whatever Happened To?

Thora Birch

The fact that Mena Suvari ended up having the better post American Beauty career ahead of Wes Bentley and Thora Birch is shocking. I have nothing against Suvari personally, I just cannot fathom why Thora Birch is not a bigger name right now. She was consistently good as a child actor and now is the point where her career should really be taking off. Clearly Birch has been a good luck charm for many actors/actresses whom have worked with her. Keira Knightly, Elijah Wood, Scarlett Johannson, Christina Ricci, Gaby Hoffman, and Mena Suvari have all had decent careers since working with Thora. It would be great to see Ms. Birch doing some quality indie films again.  Maybe even a few big budget projects sprinkled in as well. 


Career Highlights: Ghost World (2001); American Beauty (1999); Clear and Present Danger (1994);Paradise (1991); Patriot Games (1992); Silver City (2004); Alaska (1996)

Low Points: The Hole (2001); Dungeons and Dragons (2000); Now and Then (1995); Hocus Pocus (1993); Monkey Trouble (1994)

Last Seen On The Big Screen: Silver City (2004)

Where You Will See Her Again: Crossmaglen with Claire Forlani

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Can I Supersize My Micmacs Combo?

Micmacs


Recently I have been thinking a lot about my experiences at TIFF (aka The Toronto International Film Festival) over the last 9 years. I may even compile a reflective piece on the various years I attended for a future blog post. One of the catalysts for my nostalgic trip down memory lane is the release of my favourite film from the 2009 TIFF, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Micmacs.

Bazil’s (Dany Boon) life is turned upside down after a drive-by-shooting leaves a bullet lodged in his head. Homeless, and aimlessly roaming the streets of Paris, Bazil stumbles upon an eccentric cast of characters who invite him to join their makeshift squatter family. With the help of his newfound friends, Bazil devises a scheme to get revenge on the two weapons manufacturers that have caused the collapse of his old way of life.

Finishing second runner-up for TIFF’s people choice award in 2009, which was won by Precious, Micmacs is truly a crowd-pleaser. Jean-Pierre Jeunet brings his whimsical imagination, previously displayed in films such as Delicatessen and Amelie, to the caper movie genre. Despite the subject matter, which centers on makers of weapons of mass destruction, Jeunet is not really interested in making a grand political statement. Micmac’s main goal is to entertain and, as far as screwball comedies go, it succeeds on several levels.


Similar to how Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle turned the martial arts genre into an outlandish farce, Jean-Pierre Jeunet brings that same Looney Toons style of comedy to his heist films. Though you cheer on Bazil his motives, in the grand scheme of things, are not really that important. Micmacs is all about watching this small ragtag bunch of eccentrics trying to execute Bazil’s elaborate and deceptive plan.

One of the highlights for me was watching Dany Boon’s physical comedic timing. Boon’s performance helps Micmac’s achieve the Chuck Jones level of insanity that it strives for. The romantic subtext in this film is nowhere near as engaging as Amelie but, to be honest, it only plays a minor role in the story anyways. Micmacs may not have the emotional resonance of some of Jeunet’s other films, but this no reason to let this film pass you by. There will be few films this year that offers more laughs, and overall fun, than Micmac does.