Archive for December, 2008

Review: ‘Australia’

December 18, 2008

Baz Luhrmann’s first film since 2001’s Moulin Rouge! has all the trappings of a sure-fire hit, with its attractive leads, money shots of rugged landscapes and immaculately designed sets and costumes.  But something in Australia is missing, but after sitting in the theater for nearly three hours, I don’t care what.

What’s it about? I’m not 100% sure, because for the first half of the movie I couldn’t understand what all these Aussies were saying.  (Like the superb Irish film Once, this one needs subtitles even though it’s in English.)  But this is what I gather: Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) is a rich British prude who comes to Faraway Downs, her husband’s money pit of of a ranch in the Australian Outback, to sell the property and bring her husband home.  Upon arrival she discovers her husband has been murdered, supposedly by an Aboriginal mystic named King George (David Gulpill).  It turns out that the ranch could actually turn a profit, should Sarah  be able to get her 1500 head of cattle to Darwin.

With the help of the rough and tumble Drover (Hugh Jackman, in full romance novel cover mode), Sarah and her hired help (including Nullah (Brandon Walters), the 10-year old half-white/half-aboriginal grandson of King George) drive the cattle across the unforgiving Outback.

Just when you think the movie’s over, however, there is an enitrely different story that drags on for the last hour: Japan bombs Darwin, and Sarah, Drover and Nullah are separated and–SPOILER ALERT–reunited in the end.

What’s good about it? Walters gives a fine performance, and there’s some beautiful cinematography.

What’s bad about it? Well, there’s not a lot that is bad per se (barring the fact that the movie is far too overlong), it’s just that there really isn’t anything great about it.  Australia reportedly cost $130 to make; when a movie costs that much, it should knock my socks off.  I am sad to report that my socks stayed on my feet the whole time.

The film feels like a glossed-up remake of 1985’s Out of Africa (one of my favorite films), but lacks any real dramatic weight.  Australia is cinematic cotton candy; Out of Africa is meat and potatoes.

Perfect for: Swoony Hugh Jackman fans.

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Netflix this: ‘The Nativity Story’

December 14, 2008

I must confess: I planned on liking this movie before I even saw it.  As a Christian and as a movie addict, The Nativity Story seemed like the right amalgamation of spirituality and cinema.  I was in the mood to watch an uplifting film about the Christmas story, especially since I tried to watch the abismal Rankin-Bass special Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey the other day.  (Bastardizing Santa and Rudolph is one thing, but stay away fom the birth of Jesus.)

I shied away from The Nativity Story because when it was released theatrically in 2006 it got lousy reviews (Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer has it at 38%) and it only grossed about $44 million worldwide.  Quite a pitiful sum, when you consider that the target audience is all of Christendom (that’s a lot of people).  So I added it to my Netflix queue, wanting to get into the Christmas spirit in a medium that speaks to me.  (I’m not big on candy canes or tacky sweaters.)

It could be my innate bias towards such a film, but I found The Nativity Story to be a compelling and, yes, moving  portrayal of a story I’ve heard and read numerous times.  This is a film where you know what’s going to happen.  The key is to enjoy the journey of how they arrive at the final destination.

What’s it about? Regardless of your faith or your devotion to it, there’s a pretty good chance you know the gist of the story.  Set in the year before Christ’s birth, Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is told in a vision that she’ll give birth to a child that will be the Messiah the prophets have proclaimed would redeem the people of Israel.  Pretty controversial, considering that her betrothed husband Joseph (Otto Isaac) is still her betrothed (read: they haven’t consummated the marriage).  Despite persecution and King Herrod’s (Ciaran Hinds) constant attempts to locate the prophecied Messiah.  Add some shepherds and the three wise men, and you’ve got yourself The Nativity Story.

What’s good about it? This is one of those films where you can tell that meticulous research was put into this film.  You get a sense of the everyday life of living in Nazareth.  You get a better understanding of the political climate.  You have a little more context for why people did what they did back then.  There’s attention to detail and there’s sense of scope from seeing a studio-funded production.  And at a hour and forty-one minutes, The Nativity Story doesn’t overstay its welcome.

And while there are a lot of dramatic holes to fill with a movie based on scripture, screenwriter Mike Rich does a good job of developing the relationship between Mary and Joseph.  If anything this movie is the story of how they fell in love.  It added a nice human touch to a story so immersed in the divine.

This is the type of film I want to watch every year and make it part of my family’s tradition.

What’s bad about it? I wanted to like this film, so I don’t have much to say here.

Perfect for: Anyone needing a detox from innocuous Christmas tv specials or made-for-tv movies.  Oh, and the 2 billion Christians on earth.

DVD Review: ‘Gremlins’ – Yes, I’m blogging about ‘Gremlins.’

December 11, 2008

I have a love-hate relationship with Gremlins.  It’s a stupid movie.  I know this.  Yet, for some reason I cannot help but enjoy watching this movie.  Perhaps my affinity for Gremlins stems from not being allowed to see it when it was released in theaters.  I was seven, and the commericals (and the above trailer) refrained from actually showing what the fiendish critters looked like, which meant I didn’t think it would be that scary.

My parents wouldn’t let me see it, although my uncle (who, being a mere eight years older than me, was more like an older brother than an uncle) told me all about the movie.  The closest I came to actually seeing it was owning a t-shirt with Gizmo on it.  So yeah, not that close.  I don’t remember when I did, in fact, watch Gremlins, but I remember I loved it.  (I was twelve when Gremlins 2 came out, and I saw it twice in the theater.  Jealous?)

I had been waiting for quite some time to buy Gremlins, but never felt right about paying actual money for it.  Then Target had it on sale for $4, and that’s very close to no money, so I bought it.  And I’m happy/sad to say, I’ve enjoyed watching it again.

What seven year-old WOULDNT want to see this?

What seven year-old WOULDN'T want to see this?

What’s it about? Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) is a putz-ish bank teller whose dad is a putz-ish inventor.  Dad goes on a business trip and brings home a critter called a Mogwai named Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel–yes, that Howie Mandel).  There are some rules to follow when keeping a Mogwai: 1) keep it out of bright light; 2) don’t get it wet; 3) don’t feed it after midnight.

Billy accidentally spills water on Gizmo, which causes the little critter to reproduce asexually.  So now Billy owns five Mogwai.  The putz.  Then he accidentally feeds all of them (except Gizmo)  after midnight, which causes them to turn into little monsters who wreak havoc on the entire town.  Smooth move, Peltzer!

What’s good about it? The scene where Billy’s mother (Frances Lee McCain) is home alone with the Gremlins is effectively scary.  And gory!  (This film, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, prompted the MPAA to introduce the PG-13 rating.)

The film walks the fine line between dopey comedy and tepid horror, but does so with such panache, you can’t help but accidentally watch the whole movie.  And the final showdown between Stripe, the head Gremlin, and Billy is enjoyable, if for no other reason than to see Stripe shoot Billy with a crossbow.

What’s bad about it? It’s silly and gross.  (This may also be a good thing.   But I’m not the boss of you, so make up your own mind.)

Perfect for: I have no idea.

This is funny: ‘Don’t I Know You?’

December 11, 2008

I don’t find a lot of web videos that funny.  But I stumbled upon this a few weeks ago and can’t stop recommending friends to check it out.  So here, friends.  Check it out.

Netflix this: ‘Edward Scissorhands’

December 9, 2008

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Hulu – Edward Scissorhands: A Good As…“, posted with vodpod

Aside from the occasional cold, I don’t get sick very often.  But last week I was violently ill.  I spent a lot of time in bed.  Watching movies.  It was simultaneously terrible and awesome.

One of the films I watched was Edward Scissorhands, which I had first seen eighteen years ago in the theater.  (And no, I wasn’t a little kid.  But yes, I had to be driven to the theater to see it.)  I’ve loved the film ever since.  But have you ever forgotten how much you actually love a movie?  Such was my experience with Tim Burton’s 1990 film.

edwardposter1What’s it about? A man-made oddity named Edward (Johnny Depp) lives in a mansion on a hill, above the mysterious world known as Suburbia.  When local Avon representative Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest, in what is probably her best non-Woody Allen film role) comes knocking, Edward is whisked away into a world of identical-looking houses, perfectly manicured lawns, bowling on TV, and desperate housewives.  Peg’s husband Bill (Alan Arkin) takes to Edward like he’s one of the family (which means being agreeable if not slightly despondent).  Edward’s “specialness” comes home is hands made of scissors, which the ladies of Suburbia, led by queen bee Joyce (Kathy Baker), are enfatuated with.  His talent for making cool shrubbery morphs into crazy wild dog haircuts and then into bizarre hairstyles that all the ladies love.

Edward pines for Bill and Peg’s daughter Kim (Winona Ryder), but doesn’t know how to vent his frustrations with his unrequited love.  It’s not long that the one-two punch of Kim’s jerkface boyfriend Jim (Anthony Michael Hall) and the gossipy housewives being to take their toll on Edward.

What’s good about it? Tim Burton is, first and foremost, a director who puts style above everything else, and Edward Scissorhands is no exception.  Visually, it’s a marvel–from the big abandoned Mansion (which is more of Burton’s trademark) to the pastel-colored blandness of the suburban landscape.  Acting-wise, this is one of Burton’s best films.  Danny Elfman’s score is iconic–music from Scissorhands was used in trailers for years afterward.  Wiest, Arkin and Baker give wonderful performances as people trapped in a bland and empty word and they don’t even know it.  But the film really belongs to Depp, who, with this film, established himself as an actor willing to take creative risks (and we all know how that story panned out).

What’s bad about it? There are a few gaping plot holes, but you don’t watch a Tim Burton film looking for 100% coherence (Planet of the Apes, anyone?).  It’s all style over substance, but what style!

Perfect for: Johnny Depp and Tim Burton fans.

Review: ‘Rachel Getting Married’ – One of the Best of 2008

December 9, 2008

I love the tagline in the trailer for Rachel Getting Married:  “This is not your family.  But it is your family.”   I love it because the family portrayed in the film is nothing like my own, yet I identified with these people so strongly.  Jonathan Demme’s first narrative feature since 2004’s The Manchurian Candidate is a testament to the power of family, and no matter how much you sometimes can’t stand the people you’re born with, they’re yours, and you’re theirs.

What’s it about? Rachel Getting Married is a story of a young woman who tries to make right so many wrongs, and still can’t forgive herself for her drug-induced negligence that led to a terrible accident years before.Kym (Anne Hathaway), a former model, checks out of rehab for the weekend to attend her sister Rachel’s (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding to Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe).  Kym’s one of those unpredictable hurricane types who can’t help but to storm through people’s lives and leave nothing but a path of destruction.   Amid numerous guests who parade around the house all weekend, the family does its best to keep the airing of dirty laundry to a minimum, but Kym has a way of bringing out the hurt in others (and not always intentionally, either).

What’s good about it? Demme’s film is shot like Lars Von Trier’s 2000 film Dancer in the Dark–hand-held camera work with long takes (similar to the Dogme style of films), with performances so raw you’d swear you are, in fact, watching a documentary.

Anne Hathaway’s performance is more than an attempt to shed her Disney princess/safe romantic comedy persona; it’s an actual, Oscar-worthy performance that gives me hope that down the road fthat she’ll take on other diverse and convincing roles.

Also Oscar-worthy is DeWitt’s performance of the titular sister, who’s had to suffer in silence while Kym’s antics sucked all the energy from their parents and doesn’t want her sister to ruin her wedding.

Hathaway and DeWitt execute that sisterly bond with the utmost precision–they love and resent each other simultaneously.

This is one of those films that makes you realize how important family is.  You didn’t choose these people, and sometimes, if you weren’t related you might never have associated with them at all.  But that’s the  the blessing/challenge of family: to connect, to love and to be there for each other.

What’s bad about it? There’s some language and a very brief sex scene.

Perfect for: fans of The Family Stone.