Archive for August, 2008

DVD Review: ‘Persepolis’

August 24, 2008

Persepolis is the feature film version of Marjane Satrapi’s two-volume autobiographical graphic novels of the same name.  It’s received a bunch of awards and was nominated at this year’s Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature (Ratatouille won).  It’s a crazy mix of politics and culture, with incredible animation and some genuinely funny moments.  It’s not “Netflix This”-worthy, but for those looking for something fresh and irreverent, Persepolis is worth a look.

What’s it about?  Marjane Satrapi is a rambunctious eight year-old living in Tehran, Iran during the cultural revolution of 1978.  Her parents are politically active and oppose the Shah.  But when the country switches from a monarchy to a Islamic theocracy, things for the Satrapis family go from not great to really not great.

The family endures the Iran-Iraq war and finds ways to quietly protest the ruling government’s extremism (like attending a secret party where alcohol is served and buying forbidden music like Bee Gees and Iron Maiden from street vendors).

Things keep getting worse, so Marjane’s parents send her to Vienna to go to school.  It is on her own that Marjane embraces western decadence and slowly loses her Iranian identity.

As a young twenty-something, Marjane returns to Iran, only to find she doesn’t belong there any more than she did in Europe.  The end.

What’s good about it?  This sounds like a downer of a film, but the movie is scattered with some hilarious moments.  It’s weird, quirky, funny and honest. The mostly black and white animation is a revelation–gorgeous, at times somber, but always effective.  The film is subtitled in French, but don’t worry–there is an English-language track on the DVD so you can watch the film without subtitles.

What’s bad about it?  Just because it’s animated doesn’t mean it’s family-friendly.  There is a fair share of violent content and sexual situations that may turn off those looking for something that’s appropriate for all ages.  

The film is autobiographical, which means the story doesn’t have a traditional narrative.  Like most biopics, this one is Stuff Happening (see Ray, Ali or Walk the Line).

Perfect for: Animation buffs, foreign film enthusiasts.

Advertisements

My new guilty pleasure is ‘Incredible.’

August 20, 2008

So The Incredible Hulk has become my new favorite movie. It’s a guilty pleasure, but not in the sense that the film is so bad it’s good (like how I feel about the first Alien vs. Predator). While the film will never be mistaken for Best Movie Ever, it wasn’t boring like the 2003 original and walked away with pretty good reviews overall (RottenTomatoes.com has its freshness at 67%–not bad for a remake/sequel that no one was clamoring for). Still, everybody (including me) knows that The Dark Knight and Iron Man are better films. But Incredible Hulk has become my new favorite, even though there are candidates with better qualifications who deserve the coveted spot. I feel guilty in the sense that I’ve let something not completely deserving of my cinematic affection get the best of me.

I’m not even a Hulk fan. I can count on two fingers the Hulk comics I read as a kid. I never watched the 70’s TV show. I always thought he was kind of a boring character. So why has The Incredible Hulk won me over?

I think I like Incredible Hulk for a variety of reasons.

It has great pacing. How Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) becomes the Hulk is explained in the opening credits. This isn’t an origin story where we have to wait until halfway through the movie to get to the good stuff. The good stuff is already here. (I’m not saying that Iron Man and Batman Begins aren’t entertaining because they take their time building up to when the main character becomes the hero. I’m simply saying that the IH filmmakers keep things moving from the get go.)

It’s filled with ridiculous science jibba-jabba. Biological experiments! Gamma radiation! Crazy dialysis! I find all the science-y stuff in this film highly amusing. It’s not grounded in reality by any stretch of the imagination, but it seems like so much fun. Any world where LIv Tyler is a biology professor is fine by me.

Edward Norton is great as Bruce Banner. He’s such a tiny little dude, skinny and kinda’ frail, that the dichotomy of him turning into a big green monster (albeit a CG one) works for me. I’ve never been a big Ed Norton fan, but in this film I find him just as believable as Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne or Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark. (Sorry Brandon Routh. Your Clark Kent was pretty weak.) Banner’s yearning to be with his girl is the real dramatic pull in this film, and even when they finally reunite, a happy ending is nowhere in sight.

At the end of the day, I love watching things destroy stuff. This year I’ve seen my fair share of quiet, heartfelt films with dramatic heft (Bella, Under the Same Moon, Sweetland), and I’ve liked them all. But I love, love, love watching stuff get blown up, torn apart and smashed into bits. Needless to say, Incredible Hulk delivers.

It’s pure escapism. Watching Incredible Hulk means giving myself permission to not have to think about all the things going on in my life. I’ve got a full plate (hence the more sporadic postings than in previous months), and at times I feel a little overwhelmed with my responsibilities. I’m glad I can spend two hours without worrying about deadlines and homework.

The film has plot holes and at times feels like important things were cut out to keep the film at a decent running time. But I don’t care. Dark Knight may be the best movie I’ve seen this year, but Incredible Hulk is the most fun I’ve had at the movies of late. (Yes, I know in my review of Incredible Hulk I said that Iron Man had the edge in terms of fun-ness. I have since changed my mind.)

I’ve shared my guilty pleasure; what’s yours?

DVD Review: ‘Sweet Land’

August 12, 2008

Sweet Land is one of those films that takes its time telling a story. I don’t mean that as a bad thing, either.

Reminiscent of Kevin Costner’s 2003 film Open Range (yes, he’s made at least one good movie in the last ten years), Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa (albeit on a much smaller scale) and Willa Cather’s novel My Antonia, Sweet Land is a pastoral love song to director Ali Selim’s Midwestern heritage. It’s a beautiful, touching film, simply told; it doesn’t worry about its running time (don’t worry, it’s under two hours).

What’s it about? The film takes place in 1920’s Minnesota. Inge (Elizabeth Reaser, The Family Stone) has finally made it from Germany to the US, arranged to be married to Olaf (Tim Guinee, who could pass as Nathan Fillion’s brother). From the train station to the chapel, Olaf and best friend Frandson (Alan Cumming) discover that Inge is not Scandinavian (as was originally thought). This seemingly inconsequential detail has massive ripples amongst the rural Minnesotans of Scandanavian descent.

When they arrive at the chapel, Minister Sorrensen (John Heard, Home Alone) discovers she’s German AND that she doesn’t have the proper documentation to even be in the US.

So Inge lives with Frandson, his wife Brownie (Alex Kingston, ER) and their nine kids. It’s not exactly what Inge expected, but hey, she’s the first to get the bath water.

Indifferent to what the townspeople might think, Inge begins living in Olaf’s house–she gets the bedroom, Olaf sleeps in the barn. This is when the film gets interesting: for a PG-rated film, you can cut the sexual tension with a knife. Their slow progression towards husband and wife is the true heart of this film, as we see them weave their everyday lives with each other.

What’s good about it? A great performance from Reaser, who in the film speaks German and Norwegian with impressive fluency. Guinee is superb as the hard-working farmer who leaves feeling emotion to others. And a tender performance by Lois Smith as Inge in her 70’s bookends the film.

This is a film about honoring one’s heritage. It’s about hard work, and refusing to be defined by the prejudices of others.

What’s bad about it? Some may view Sweet Land as having a liberal bent (big business and religion are the bad guys here). And, like I said ealier, the film moves at its own pace. Which means if you’re looking for something with breakneck pacing, you’re out of luck.

Perfect for: fans of traditional love stories.

Best. Trailers. Ever.

August 6, 2008

I often express my frustration with trailers. It’s not that the trailer itself sucks, it’s that sometimes after I see the advertised film I realize that the best parts were in the trailer. I feel let down.

I don’t blame the people who make trailers. Their job is to get people excited about the movie. And I’ll admit that in my career in film marketing I have on more than one occasion made a movie seem more awesome than it really is. (But in my defense, sometimes I didn’t have much to work with. Ah, independent film.)

So what, you may ask, do I think is a good trailer? Here are five examples in no particular order. (Keep in mind that my love for these trailers may not correlate with my love for the actual film.)

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA

Vodpod videos no longer available.

This is a FANTASTIC trailer! In three minutes, you know everything you need to know. We are introduced to the main characters (and the important supporting ones) and we know the setup. I wish more films took this approach to marketing their films.

STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE

Vodpod videos no longer available.

This trailer was released Thanksgiving 1998. Anticipation was high for the first Star Wars film in 16 years and…well, at least the trailer is good. It invokes a sense of wonder like the original Star Wars film did: what you’re seeing in something new and exciting. We also didn’t know who or what Jar Jar Binks was. Ignorance was bliss.

CHARLIE’S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE

This is one of those trailers that is really cool because all the shots work so well for a trailer but don’t necessarily work in the finished product (because they seem to be made for a trailer). It’s loud and fun and has LOTS of edits. This trailer probably took three years off the editor’s life.

THE INCREDIBLES

This teaser was shown in front of Finding Nemo. It sets up the premise–superhero back in action–so simply. It’s funny and accurately sells the movie even though none of this footage ended up in the actual film.

COMEDIAN

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant!

Musings on ‘The Dark Knight’

August 4, 2008

So I saw The Dark Knight again, which brings my tally to three.  What a great movie.  I’ve had some thoughts regarding the film, which I’d like to share.

1. I’m happy that The Dark Knight has crossed the $400 million box office mark in record time.  I’ve always been a DC kid, so the fact that the biggest movie of the year was not a Marvel film makes me smile.  Iron Man was fun, Incredible Hulk was good, but Batman–the best superhero of them all–still kicks butt.  The Dark Knight is the perfect marriage of quality and cross-promotion; it’s a hugely commercial piece that doesn’t insult audiences’ intelligence.  (In fact, it wasn’t until the second viewing that I fully understood the plot.)

2. If the powers that be feel the Joker should return for the third film, Johnny Depp should play him.  Who else has the chops, credibility and fan base to take on such an iconic character?  Depp can play any type of character, be it Ed Wood (cross-dressing D-list director!), Jack Sparrow (fey swashbuckler!), Willy Wonka (creepy chocolatier!) or Sweeney Todd (homicidal barber!).  He could make the Joker his own without having to impersonate Heath Ledger.  And people would come see him, either out of curiosity (how’s he going to pull of the Joker?) and/or loyalty (I’ll see him in anything!)  

3. I’d love to see the Riddler as the next villain.  A lot of Batman’s enemies wouldn’t be that believable in Christopher Nolan’s Gotham City.  The Penquin?  No way.  Poison Ivy?  Uh-uh.  Bane?  Yeah, maybe.  Catwoman?  Possibly, although the cats-ressurrect-lonely-cat-loving-spinster-who’s-actually-really-hot mythology used in Batman Returns and the dreadful Halle Berry movie would have to go.  Riddler seems like the only fully plausible villain.

4. I hope Robin never EVER shows up in subsequent films.  I’ve always had a hard time with Robin.  It’s creepy that a single billionaire like Bruce Wayne would live with a kid.  It’s also not very sensical to have Batman fight crime with a kid sidekick, especially in Nolan’s ultraviolent Gotham.  And why the hell is his name Robin?  

I’m done.

DVD Review: ‘War of the Worlds’

August 4, 2008

War of the Worlds is a counterpoint to Independence Day.  Both films have aliens coming down to earth.  Both have aliens destroying humanity.  And both films have humans winning out in the end.  (Oops!  Did I just spoil two movies that  have been out forever?  My bad.)  Where War of the Worlds differs in its scope. Independence Day is this big ensemble piece with storylines all over the place.  War of the Worlds focuses on one family’s encounter with the Big Bad Aliens.

You’d think that the combo of Steven Spielberg as director and Tom Cruise as Tom Cruise would result in an awesome movie–after all, it worked really, really well in 2002’s Minority Report.  But you’d be mistaken.  There are a lot of genuinely eerie (and some downright unnerving) moments in War of the Worlds, but for some reason, the parts (Spielberg, Cruise, scary stuff) don’t make a good whole.

What’s it about? Ray Ferrier (Cruise) is a working-class (weekend) dad whose kids don’t like or know him (and vice versa).  Weird stuff happens close to Ray’s house (wind blowing, lightning striking), so naturally he decides to see what’s going on in the neighborhood.  It turns out aliens have been buried underneath the ground for who knows how long, waiting for the right moment to attack us.  (The lightning was the signal for them to start vaporising!)

Mass pandemonium erupts.  Ray’s teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) wants to fight the aliens (although he has no weapon and, as far as we know, no military training).  His daughter, Rachel (Dakota Fanning, the Child Actress), wants to go home to Boston and be with Mom (Miranda Otto).  A brief stop in Tim Robbins’ cellar doesn’t make things any better (and is one of the film’s more chilling sequences).

Real Spoiler Alert! So the aliens die because on a microbial level they can’t handle earth’s atmosphere…or water…or infatuation with Brangelina.  Which, in some ways, is refreshing–there’s no Tom Cruise saving the day–but on the other hand, you’re left a little underwhelmed.  Really?  Microbes save the day?  That’s it?

What’s good about it? When the aliens kick our trash, it’s pretty intense.

What’s bad about it? Tom Cruise is miscast.  I don’t for a second believe he’s a working-class guy.  He’s TOM CRUISE.  He can play spies, lawyers, politicians, or any professional who clears at least $100K annually.  But he can’t play regular people.  Bruce Willis or Hugh Jackman would have been a far greater choice.

Perfect for: catching it on TNT when you’re doing your ironing.