Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Thin Man

Dashiell Hammett essentially wrote only five novels, but three of my favorite movies are based on his work, including this one.  The Thin Man is one of the best dialogue-based movies you will ever see and it is still extremely entertaining, despite having been released in 1934.  To put that in perspective, please consider that the following all happened in 1934:
  • Lou Gehrig won the Triple Crown and was not the American League MVP in baseball.
  • The Chicago White Sox finished 47 games back in the American League.  Wow.
  • John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Bonnie and Clyde all died.
  • Persia changed its name to Iran.
  • The first Three Stooges short film was released.
  • Adolf Hitler became the Fuhrer of Germany.
  • Leonard Cohen, Ralph Nader, and Sparky Anderson were born, none of whom were ever young.
Until I watched this movie, I was under the impression that no true classic movies were made until at least 1939, but The Thin Man proved me wrong.

Nick and Nora Charles are quick-witted, hard-drinking socialites in New York for Christmas.  Nick (William Powell) was a detective before marrying Nora (Myrna Loy), but now he spends his time amusing her and running her father's business.  An old client of Nick's, Claude Wynant, has gone missing and his girlfriend has turned up murdered.  Wynant's daughter, Dorothy (Maureen O'Sullivan), manages to drag Nick into the investigation.  There are a lot of reasons for Wynant to have left New York; his girlfriend was stealing from him, his ex-wife (Minna Gombell) milked him for money at every opportunity, his ex-wife's boyfriend (Cesar Romero) lived off the money he gave his estranged family, and his son had a creepy Elektra complex.  Clearly, a lot of people have their own reasons for Wynant to stay on the lam or to turn himself in to the police or to turn up dead.  In the process of solving the case (that shouldn't be a spoiler), Nick manages to get shot, knock out his wife, unite lovers, end relationships, and solve three murders (maybe more...there's a lot of people to keep track of), all while pleasantly buzzed from habitual drinking.

This film was only the first Thin Man movie; its success led to five sequels, all with "Thin Man" included in their titles.  Nick Charles is not the titular character, though.  In a bit of throwaway dialogue (that acts as a clue to the case), Nick refers to Claude Wynant as a thin man.  Nevertheless, Nick was identified as the thin man by the movie going public, so the title stuck throughout the series.

The plot to this film is decent, but nothing spectacular.  It's a layered mystery, where one answer leads to another puzzle, which leads to another puzzle, ad nauseam.  The story and director W.S. Van Dyke both do a good job keeping the pace brisk.  This movie has dozens of characters and plot twists, but does not really demand much comprehension.  This movie is more of a ride than something you want to puzzle out for yourself.  That would be a problem with most mystery movies, but the mystery is logical and clever for those who choose to pay close attention; this movie doesn't demand your analytical mind, though, to enjoy it.

The dialogue is what separates this film from so many others.  The screenplay from Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett is smart, funny, and --- most of all --- fast.  The only movie I have ever seen that has faster dialogue with this much quality is His Girl Friday, which had the benefit of Cary Grant, so it's an unfair fight to begin with.  This script, though, has more explicit flirting and outright affection, even if it is pretty sarcastic.  The first time I watched this, I thought it was decently funny, but I missed a lot of the lines because I didn't hear them, or was trying to figure out the last joke.  Sure, there are little easy jokes that anyone can catch, but there are a lot of language jokes as well.  Not everyone out there is an English major, I know, but my favorite jokes are the ones that come from misunderstandings of vocabulary.  "I heard you were shot five times in the tabloids.  It's not true; he didn't come anywhere near my tabloids," is a good snapshot of the movie's dialogue.  Now just imagine every other line being like that, and you'll have a pretty good idea of why I like this so much.

Of course, the dialogue would just be noteworthy, were it not for the truly great work from William Powell and Myrna Loy.  Powell steals the show with his wit and charm.  It is rare to see an actor enjoying himself this much in a role.  I also appreciate the quality of his drunk acting; as a child, I just assumed that all adults hiccuped and stumbled around while a trombone played in the background for effect.  Most movies play up the overacting drunk for comic relief.  Powell manages to appear subtly tipsy for the entire film, only occasionally delving into the stereotype.  Loy is able to match Powell's intensity and dialogue delivery in every scene. It's a shame that she was not nominated for an Oscar for her work because I think hers is one of the smarter and stronger female leads in early Hollywood.  The rest of the actors are fine, but they are just playing broad, usually comical, characters.  Their role is simply to show up and be commented on by Powell and Loy, and they do it well.

This is a fun movie, and one with replay value since you definitely won't catch every funny line the first time through.  The movie's pace keeps up with the dialogue, but can get a bit confusing at times; a lot of the supporting characters in Hammett's novel didn't do much speaking, so those characters are sometimes interchangeable on the big screen.  Van Dyke does a good job making sure that the dialogue doesn't fall flat, but he spends all his effort on the humor, and probably not enough attention on the plot.  It's okay, though.  The film is a little uneven because of that and is a little dated (not bad for being over seventy years old), but I absolutely love it.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Manhunter is at a bit of a disadvantage with modern viewers.  While it was the first Thomas Harris novel to reach the big screen, it does not feature Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Leckor (not Lecter, as in the later films).  This was remedied when the movie was remade taking the source novel's name of Red Dragon.  That remake was a star-studded spectacle, even though it was clearly just an excuse to get Hopkins into the Lecter role one more time.  Because of Hopkins' success with the Lecter role, this movie has been unfairly overlooked.  While it is dated, this movie stands on its own well enough.

Manhunter is the story of Will Graham (William Petersen), a former profiler for the FBI.  His former coworker, Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina), approaches Graham with a serial killer case; Graham wants nothing to do with the work, but Crawford convinces him that the case is a ticking clock (the killer operates on a lunar cycle, so they know how much time they have) and Graham unhappily submits.  Graham is unquestionably the focus in this movie and is on the screen for the better part of the first half.  He approaches criminal profiling like method actors approach their roles; he takes the facts and then tries to get in the killer's head.  With this insight, he is able to follow their logic and, theoretically, catch them.  This killer, dubbed the Tooth Fairy, is harder to predict than most.  Graham has difficulty finding connections between the victims, so he turns to a criminal for help.  Graham's last case was that of Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox), who was both a psychiatrist adviser to Graham and the serial killer that Graham was hunting; Graham discovered Lecktor's secret and led to his capture, but not before Lecktor nearly killed him.  Meanwhile, Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan) is the Tooth Fairy killer.  However, he manages to fall in love with a blind woman, Reba (Joan Allen), at work.  Her confidence and straightforward manner puts him at ease, since he is socially awkward and is self conscious of his repaired cleft lip.  Unfortunately, Dollarhyde is a psycho-killer and Graham is practically psychic, so this movie can't end well for everybody.

This is not a movie without its problems.  The production values definitely indicate that this was made in the eighties.  The title is just silly; the producers decided not to call it "Red Dragon" (partially) because it doesn't have any karate.  Toward the end of the movie, when Dollarhyde is reveling in his serial killer persona, he turns on Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Godda-Da-Vita" to frighten his girlfriend.  Unless she has a fear of organ music, he made a poor choice.  The movie's ending strays significantly away from the book's, which isn't necessarily a problem.  The ending is very physical, where the rest of the movie is psychological; the ending is abrupt because of this.

There are a lot of good things about this movie, though.  I liked William Petersen's performance; he seemed genuinely disturbed as he figured out what and why the Tooth Fairy did his work.  Some of his lines seemed a little unnatural, but I think that suits a character that can put himself in the mental shoes of killers.  Brian Cox does a decent job as Hannibal Lecktor, but he made the character seem more human; making him more approachable and understandable, though, makes his aloofness seem pettier.  My overall impression was that Hannibal was a fairly intelligent, snotty jerk --- not necessarily a monster.  Tom Noonan, on the other hand, was very effective as the Tooth Fairy.  Maybe it's because this movie does not give nearly as much background to his character as Red Dragon does, but he is socially awkward, abrupt, unsympathetic, and genuinely creepy.  Unfortunately, when he assumes his killer persona, he wears what appears to be pantyhose over half of his head.  While a little weird, it's also a little funny.  The other actors (basically Dennis Farina, Joan Allen, and Stephen Lang) play their parts well enough.

Michael Mann directed and wrote the screenplay to this film.  That means that this movie is a little long, has abrupt violence, and a gratuitous sex scene.  I think he did a pretty good job with the actors in this movie; Cox and Petersen do pretty well and Noonan (who is not a good actor) was impressive.  This movie is a lot less graphic than both the book and the remake, which I liked better than having Graham flash back to murders that he is imagining.  I disagree with the choice to omit all references to the Red Dragon from this movie; a lot of Dollarhyde's dialogue is based off of the ideas of William Blake, and ignoring the painting, tattoos and everything else made his dialogue more nonsensical.  I really didn't like much of Graham's monologuing, but it got absolutely terrible toward the film's climax.

In the end, the odd creative choices led to an ending that didn't match the tone of the film as a whole.  I liked several aspects of the movie, but it was occasionally awkward to watch.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

Who doesn't love a good heist movie?  It's one of the rare occasions where you are actually supposed to root for the bad guy.  The thieves are always charming and clever, and usually are irresistible to the opposite sex.  What's not to like?  Unfortunately, these generalizations only hold up when the movie's heist is clever.  When heist movies get too gritty or too plausible (I'm pretty sure even I can rob a bank as effectively as they did in Dog Day Afternoon), it is usually because the actual heist was done in a thuggish manner.  The Thomas Crown Affair is an odd movie because it aims for the whimsical charm of the best heist movies, but the heist itself is actually pretty boring.

The film begins with a series of split-screen shots of men in suits doing things at approximately the same time in about the same location.  One frame follows a man making a phone call at a pay phone, another frame follows another man as he walks to his designated spot, another frame follows a third man, etc.  The split-screens show five men (including Jack Weston and a young Yaphet Kotto) calling in to a central contact and eventually each man shows up at a bank.  They each do their part and rob the bank.  Sure, limiting the amount of knowledge each criminal had of the crime is smart from a planning perspective, but the heist itself is basically just a stickup.  When it is all over, the proceeds are left in a cemetery trash can, where they are picked up by the mastermind, Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen).  He goes home and laughs out loud.  I'm pretty sure that there is an entire script page devoted to him laughing to himself.  Of course, no crime goes uninvestigated.  Well, bank robberies don't, anyway.  There is a detective attached to the case, but he is inconsequential to this story.  Instead, Vicki Anderson (Faye Dunaway), an investigator for the bank's insurance company, is Crown's main antagonist.  Although "antagonist" is a strong term for a character that is essentially a love interest with an edge.  Crown is a wealthy businessman that has no need (well, little need) for the $2 million-plus that he helped steal.  He spends his time desperately seeking diversions, whether they are with polo ponies, dune buggies, glider planes, or beautiful women.  Vicki decides that he is the perfect candidate for masterminding a bank robbery through what I can only describe as a series of Jeff Goldblum-esque intuitive leaps.  She never second guesses herself and decides to meet Crown socially.  Despite the fact that Vicki openly admits to Crown that she is investigating him for the robbery, the two begin a passionate affair.  The bulk of the film centers on how they metaphorically circle and seduce each other, with the theft acting as the elephant in the room.  The two clearly care for each other, but Crown can never feel safe with Vicki, unless she gives him some sort of proof that she is not after the stolen money, since she get's a percentage of anything recovered.  All he needs is a plan...

Obviously, from this synopsis, The Thomas Crown Affair is not your typical heist movie.  The focus is on the tension between the two leads, playing characters that obviously cannot trust each other but are just as obviously attracted to each other.  It's an interesting concept for a film; rarely does a movie begin with such an elaborately shot sequence and have that event play a secondary role in the plot.  The tension is definitely present on-screen.  Dunaway and McQueen are attractive, charismatic actors at their physical peak, and director Norman Jewison spends a lot of time having the camera focus on their chemistry.

While the filmmaker's intent is clear, that does not mean that this movie succeeded in its goal.  In highlighting the sexual tension between the two leads, this film goes to sometimes ridiculous lengths.  One of the more famous scenes from this film is the scene where they play chess, using the chess pieces as sexual metaphors.  Not subtle metaphors, mind you.  To give you an example, there is a point where Dunaway is literally stroking the bishop.  I have a hard time believing that McQueen could have seen that and not giggled, just a little bit.  This scene gives way to a sequence of the two kissing heavily and...other leisure activities.  From a technical perspective, these scenes are very well done.  They are just a soundtrack change away from fitting in an Austin Powers movie, though.  We're talking some seriously heavy-handed stuff here.  I get it.  They're horny.  Let's move on, already.

The soundtrack is a bizarre product of the times.  There are extended periods that are absolutely silent, and these do a good job ratcheting up the tension.  But then the music kicks in.  I've never been a big fan of the Oscar-winning theme to this movie, "The Windmills of Your Mind," but it just feels grossly inappropriate whenever it pops up in this film.  The cadence is odd and the music does not match the tone of the rest of the score.  Yes, I'm sure it sounded better in the 60s, but that doesn't mean it has to feel anachronistic now.

The biggest problem I have with this film is the crime.  I was a little disappointed when I realized that the heist was not the focus of this film, but I got over that pretty quickly.  I find it a little difficult to sympathize with a character that organizes an armed bank robbery out of boredom, though.  Doesn't that kind of make him the anti-Batman?  The guy didn't even participate in the robbery, so the adrenaline rush excuse doesn't even work in this case.  Boo hoo, you're rich and bored.  Give me your money, or pay bums to fight, or torture tourists a la Hostel.  I don't care what you do, just don't demand my sympathy.  You know what happened when I complained to my parents about being bored?  I was given chores.  Suck it, Crown.

The thing that surprised me most about this movie was how completely unnecessary the split-screen theft scenes were.  I like artsy cinematography, but it needs to serve a purpose.  This just overcomplicated a fairly straightforward crime.  I think that is representative of the movie as a whole.  There is a lot of stylish cinematography and a lot of chemistry between Dunaway and McQueen, but it doesn't really serve a purpose.  With different lead actors, this movie would be a godawful mess of pretentious art without the acting chops to back it up.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Dark Blue

Even if you haven't seen Dark Blue, believe me, you are already familiar with it.  This is a good cop/bad cop tale with an experienced cop/rookie cop dynamic to it.  If that sounds like a blend of Tango and Cash and Training Day, it should.  If that sounds like an unlikely recipe for awesomeness, that should, too.

The movie opens with Sergeant Eldon Perry (Kurt Russell) pacing in a hotel room, seemingly coming to a decision, and leaving with a shotgun.  The movie flashes back to five days earlier; I find that especially informative as a viewer, because now I know that Sgt. Perry will just five short days.  The suspense is killing me!  What did he decide?!?  He decided to start the actual movie with a convenience store robbery; two thugs (Dash Mihok and rapper Kurupt) appear to be trying to steal the cash register, but in reality are looking for a secret safe.  In the process, these two thugs kill four people and wound one.  Meanwhile, Detective Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman) is across town, defending his use of deadly force to a police board; Sgt. Perry, Keough's partner, backs up his story and they leave with Keough being exonerated.  In and after the hearing, we meet two important characters.  The first is the Assistant Police chief Arthur Holland (Ving Rhames), who is very suspicious of the shooting and is connected to talks about cleaning up the police department.  The other is Jack Van Meter (the undeniably Irish Brendan Gleeson), Keough and Perry's superior.  In private, Van Meter cuts through the crap with his subordinates and we learn that Perry did the shooting that Keough is accused of; apparently, Keough didn't have the guts to shoot another human, so Perry did the dirty work for him.  It is more or less explicitly stated that Van Meter and Perry are the type of cops that will plant evidence to convict someone they believe is guilty, but only if they can save the taxpayers money by staging an "escape attempt" that turned fatal.  Van Meter is a dirty cop, and the convenience store shooting was ordered by him.  While Perry and Keough figure out who committed the murders, Van Meter flat out tells them to choose another pair of perpetrators to blame for the crime --- and make sure that they don't make it to trial.  Yikes.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out where this story is going.  Perry stays loyal to Van Meter, but Keough is new and is confused and disillusioned with his superiors.  Eventually, that disillusionment leads to Keough to agree to help Arthur Holland in his quest to catch crooked cops.

While the story is fairly stock, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the acting.  While this isn't Kurt Russell's best work, it is always nice to see him play someone with an edge.  So much of the time, it feels like he is trying to coast on his Disney-era boyish goo looks and Overboard-era Supermullet, but he can play bad when he want to, and he does so with charm.  Here, he plays a cop that is clearly a bad guy, but at the same time, he still appears to be someone's fun drinking buddy.  Ving Rhames, sadly, is not given much to do here, but he delivers when he gets the chance.  I always like seeing Rhames in scenes that require him to stare down other characters.  I know I would look away from angry Ving, wouldn't you?  Brendan Gleeson was also pretty good here.  He usually plays characters that are much more virtuous, but I liked him as a complete bastard here.  Scott Speedman probably had the most difficult role in this movie, since it was the most emotionally diverse; unfortunately, his role required more than he could deliver.  Aside from possibly playing Scott Stapp in a Creed biopic, I have no use for Speedman as an actor.

The story was equally hit and miss.  Yes, the plot was fairly derivative, but it made a great choice by being set in the days before the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, with the film's climax and the acquittal of the LA police officers involved in the King beating occurring on the same day.  In retrospect, it's an obvious time and locational choice for a movie about police corruption, but it's the only film I've seen that takes advantage of the obvious story parallels.  The story manages to veer away from this tense situation by inserting not one, not two, but three subplots about the love lives of these policemen.  None of these stories is particularly interesting, despite a solid performance by Lolita Davidovich as Perry's wife.  I found both Michael Michele and Khandi Alexander to be underwhelming, at best, and annoying, at worst, as the women in Holland and Keough's lives.  On the other hand, the screenwriter David Ayer's dialogue is pretty good, as are the parts of the story that deal with crime and corruption.  The film takes a noticeable turn for the worse after Kurt Russell's character reaches a turning point; Russell does a good job with his character's progression, but the overall film suffers at his expense.  Director Ron Shelton doesn't try and do much of anything fancy in this movie, opting to let the LA riots do a lot of the work for him.  I am disappointed in Michael Michele and Scott Speedman's performances, though, because they could have really made this movie work.  Neither is a particularly accomplished actor, so Shelton needed to do a better job guiding their performances to mediocrity (or even better).

Honestly, I liked Kurt Russell, Ving Rhames and Brendan Gleeson.  If these guys wanted to make another cop movie, I'd totally be there to watch it.  I thought the framing device (opening the film with Russell in a hotel, which is just a snippet of a scenes toward the film's end) was clumsy and completely failed in its attempt to establish suspense.  The subplots only slowed this movie down, and at almost two hours, it could have used some trimming.  At its core, there is a good story about police and corruption buried here.  It would only take some editing and a fourth halfway decent lead actor to make that happen, neither of which Dark Blue had the benefit of.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Casting Angelina Jolie in a comic book movie is so obvious, I can't believe that it took until 2008 for somebody to make it happen.  She's already played the physically (and proportionally) impossible part of Lara Croft, so why not take on the world of anti-gravity breasts and zipperless spandex unitards that is comic books?  It's not like they're going to take away her Oscar; Halle Berry already proved that with Catwoman.  So why not have a little mindless fun, right?

Wanted is a comic book adaptation, but the property is not a long-established one, so the story is new to most viewers.  Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) plays an average Joe living a below-average life.  He hates his job, he hates his boss, he hates his girlfriend, he hates his best friend (who is sleeping with his girlfriend), he hates the father that left him as an infant, and he hates the panic attacks he gets when any of these irritate him more than usual.  One day, Fox (Jolie) arrives and tells Wesley that his life is in danger and that his late father (David O'Hara) was a super-powered assassin.  It takes a cross-town shootout and car chase to make that seem plausible, but it works.  Fox takes Wesley to The Fraternity, an ancient secret society of assassins.  The group's head, Sloan (Morgan Freeman), explains that Wesley must assume the mantle of his father and avenge him, or Wesley will surely be killed by his father's assassin, Cross (Thomas Kretschmann).  Naturally, this takes some convincing.  In one of the movie's more memorable moments, Wesley is given a gun (for the first time) and told to shoot the wings off of some flies --- or he will be dead in thirty seconds.  Wesley begins to panic and the world slows down for a few moments, until he shoots.  Surprisingly (well, not really.  It's a movie.  But it would be surprising if you were Wesley), he has shot the wings off.  It turns out that Wesley's panic attacks were the misunderstood symptom of his body rushing extraordinary amounts of blood and adrenaline to his brain.  This superhuman ability can make Wesley able to move faster and notice more than average humans.  I guess that's a little more plausible than a radioactive spider bite.  This ability and natural talent are why Wesley is uniquely qualified to be the man who takes Cross out.

After a brief detour to quit his job and knock out his best friend, Wesley begins to train in earnest.  He is trained in marksmanship by the Gunsmith (successful rapper and emotionless actor Common), knives by the Butcher, how to take punishment by the Repairman, explosives by the Exterminator (Konstantin Khabenskiy), and the assassin life in general by Fox.  One of the important lessons in The Fraternity is the secret of the Loom of Fate.  This loom stitches a fabric that hides a binary code in the missed stitches.  The code spells out names, and The Fraternity kills the people whose names are stitched by the loom.  Yes, that's right...these international super-powered assassins are taking their cues from a magic loom.  Fox justifies this by saying that Fate wants these people dead, so if you "kill one, and maybe save a thousand."  Maybe.  Wesley is eventually experienced enough to take on Cross, but that just starts a whole new set of problems for Wesley.

The acting in this movie is pretty good for an action movie.  James McAvoy handles the lead role well, transforming from wuss to bad-ass in less than two hours, but still maintaining his charm.  He's a little whiny for the first bit of the film, but that has more to do with the character and the writing than his acting.  Angelina Jolie plays a supporting role in the movie, but it's a pretty big supporting role.  Her job here is basically to look sexy and cool, so it's not exactly her most demanding work.  Still, she look comfortable as an action star and plays the exasperated instructor to McAvoy well.  Morgan Freeman gets a rare opportunity to indulge his bad boy side as the leader of the assassins, but he is still playing his typical wise man role.  In other words, he's Morgan Freeman (which is awesome) and gets to swear in this movie.  Konstantin Khabenskiy makes his English-language debut after working with director Timur Bekmambetov on several Russian-language films (including the excellent Nightwatch).  He is just the adorable Russian guy here, but he's likable.  Terrence Stamp makes a brief appearance, and his presence exudes a sense of calm cool to a movie that is all about big and loud.  Sure, he deadpans all his dialogue, but it suits his character.  The rest of the cast turns in decent, but not particularly noteworthy performances, with the exception of Common, who still hasn't convinced me that he should act.

Visually, this film is amazing.  I remember being nervous about the film after watching the previews, but the special effects looked great in the context of the film.  Timur Bekmambetov has a gift for stunning visuals, but this movie is especially impressive.  The man can direct action, too, which is a big plus.  I think this movie's greatest strength is the variety of the action sequences.  There are a lot of shoot-out scenes (which makes sense, given Wesley's character), but they offer a lot of small but important variations.  As the film goes on, Wesley plays a larger and more impressive part in these scenes, until the inevitable huge shoot-'em-up ending.  It was interesting how some fairly subtle clues about Wesley's father are laid out in early action scenes, too.  Heck, I'm even okay with the ridiculousness of the "curved bullet" idea that is so central to most of these scenes.  Aside from the shoot-outs, though, there are a lot of other high quality action scenes.  The driving stunts are far beyond over-the-top, but their ridiculousness actually fits the action in the movie.  And there's some knife fights.  That's always a plus. 

Wanted is adapted from the comic of the same name by Mark Millar, who also wrote Kick-Ass.  This movie takes only the very basic principle of the comic and then makes its own story from there.  That's not a bad move on the screenwriter's part; the comic has Wesley and The Fraternity as super-villains, so there is no true hero to the story.  This script tries to show some heart and does a great job making these characters far more sympathetic than they are in the source material.  That makes this a rare exception, where the Hollywood version of something is far more palatable than the original material.  Of course, the whole "bending bullets" and Loom of Fate thing are absolutely ridiculous additions.  The magic loom is particularly stupid and I am amazed that some screenwriter came up with that as a story element.  It's even more amazing that the idea made the final cut of the film.  The clumsiness with that aspect of the writing (how do we make assassins look like good guys?  Two words: magic loom!) adds quite a bit of lameness to the movie, but it's not a fatal flaw.  Like the comic that it is based on, Wanted was never about the story so much as it was about the ain't-it-cool moments.  In that regard, this movie definitely succeeds.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

House of the Dead

Movies that are based on video games are not usually very good.  Double DragonSuper Mario BrosStreet Fighter These are movies that make you shake with self-loathing after watching them, because you know you would have enjoyed yourself more if you had just sat in a bathtub filled with butterscotch pudding and ate raw bacon all day.  Again.  House of the Dead makes those movie watching experiences seem like viewing Citizen Kane while getting a body massage.

The first clue that this movie will unabashedly suck?  Clint Howard gets third billing.  Yeah.  This guy:
When you make Ron Howard look like a Chippendale's dancer by comparison, you know you're ugly.  Well, let's not pick on a guy for being less than pretty.  Ugly people often make positive contributions to society, right?  Ron Perlman and Willem Dafoe are good examples of this.  Maybe Clint will turn in a surprise break-out supporting role in this movie.  Let's see...Clint's costume is a Gordon's fisherman outfit with a hook hand.  Not a good sign.

Maybe the story is better.  It takes place off the coast of Oregon on the Isla de Muerte, which translates into "Island of the Dead."  Apparently, this is an educational film, because I didn't know that the Spanish had ever colonized, named, or even visited any part of the Pacific Northwest.  No wonder the British could never find the Isla de Muerte in Pirates of the Caribbean --- they were looking in the wrong ocean!  A group of roughly college-age kids are trying to get the the Island of the Dead for a rave.  Unfortunately, they missed the last boat leaving for the island and are forced to charter a boat (the one that Clint Howard works on) owned by Victor Kirk (Jurgen Prochnow); yes, that means that he is called Captain Kirk, and yes, the script notices that hilarious joke.  The boat gets them to the rave a little late, but it is still daylight, which makes me wonder how awesome this rave was if it was outdoors and started around lunchtime.  Aren't raves supposed to have deafening levels of music and trippy light shows?  How does that translate well into an island setting?  I guess I'm just not a raver.  The kids show up to the rave site, only to find it absolutely deserted, with a lot of the tents and equipment knocked over.  How you respond to a deserted party where many people went to great lengths to attend indicates the type of person you are.  Do you...
  • A) look around and conclude that the party doesn't start until you walk in!
  • B) say, "He-e-e-y, Scoob, looks like we got a mystery on our hands!" 
  • C) decide that, despite the total lack of blood, that something very wrong has happened here and needs investigating!
  • D) thank God that there is still lots of beer left in the kegs!
  • E) go home as fast as you can, THE END.
Well...?  What kind of person are you?  Here's the answer key: (A) - a mangy, scabby whore and/or a Marmaduke fan (B) - a typical stoner and/or Casey Kasem (C) - a horror movie idiot and/or an insurance liability (D) - alcoholic and/or a frequent user of the term "Dude" (E) - a survivor.  The only correct answer is E, but this group splits between C and D.    Stupid rave kids.  

Some of them opt to wander around the island in the dark (because it got dark all of a sudden), while some decide to stay behind and have sex in a random tent.  Not to be overly prudish, but isn't that kind of what got Goldilocks in trouble?  "Somebody's been sleeping in my bed and...eeewww!!!"  In accordance with the Horror Movie Ethics Code of 1978, those lusty young adults that partake in premarital sex and/or abuse drugs are the first to die, so zombie-ish creatures attack the tent-sex girl and drag her body away, while the tent-sex guy is off peeing in the woods.  I wonder if the National Park Service has statistics for how often peeing on trees saves lives.  As this is happening, the others find a shack in the woods and decide to check it out.  After all, is there anything more inviting at night in an unfamiliar place than a dilapidated shack?  Or maybe this the titular House of the Dead?  Actually, no.  It's the place where the remaining original ravers took refuge, including the main character.  That's right...the main character has not even made an appearance in the movie so far.  The only reason you know it's the main character is because he delivered an ominous monologue (in the past and present tense) at the beginning of the film and gave brief insights into the other characters, so the script didn't have to waste time developing them.  Anyway, these ravers explain that zombies attacked the rave (killing future television actress Erica Durance) and suggest leaving the island on Captain Kirk's boat.  The rest of the movie has the kids trying to leave the island and fighting the zombies.

Obviously, this is a movie where several normal people try to kill zombies to save their own lives.  How can that possibly go wrong?  Well, for starters, you need cool zombies.  The zombies in House of the Dead are not your typical zombies.  They switch between the shuffling, moaning, classic movie zombies and the running zombies of 28 Days Later.  Oh, and then there are the water zombies.  Apparently, some zombies just spend their freetime just chillin' in the water by the island's only dock, waiting for some suckers to try and leave by boat.  Or, maybe all the zombies go to the dock to wash up after a messy kill.  That would explain the complete lack of blood anywhere on the island after the zombies attack.  That prissiness would also explain why the zombies seem to die, no matter where you shoot, punch or kick them.  This is a rare zombie movie where the headshot is hard to find.  I can't remember any, but sometimes I lose my short term memory after a trauma like this.

So the zombies aren't classic zombies, or even remotely cool.  This is based on a video game, so action is the key.  So how is the action?  It sucks.  Sucks.  It sucks worse than a kid that had a Novocaine shot to the lips and then tried to drink a thick milkshake through a coffee stirrer.  I would like to pause and congratulate myself for a great "sucking" analogy that was not vulgar; that brings my score up to Brian: 1, Rest of the World: presumably several million.  Here's a hint to the quality of this movie's action: despite dozens of explosions, the same result is seen every time --- some dude flying through the air in front of the explosion, flailing his arms.  And yet, the majority of the budget was clearly spent on the action.  Well, at least a few key scenes.  You will notice a few shots that suddenly jump into a low-rent version of The Matrix's bullet time, where everything freezes around an actor and the camera does a quick 360-degree spin around them.  That might sound totally awesome, but that's because I'm a damn poet; it is random, pointless, and doesn't even look that good.  And if you just couldn't get enough of those bullet time shots, don't worry --- when characters die, their character has another bullet time 360 spin, but this time, they aren't shooting zombies and just look sad.  Aww.

If you decide against following my (and probably your doctor's) advice and watch this movie, you might notice some symptoms of hallucination.  Don't worry.  Those two-to-three second jarring interruptions to your concentration are not actually your brain trying to punish you for watching this movie.  That will come later.  No, those interruptions to the film are actually snippets of somebody playing the House of the Dead arcade game.  The snippets do not have a direct correlation to anything in the movie; the environment and action in the game is completely independent of that in the film.  I would like to point out that the game footage includes instructions for a second player to insert quarters and press start to play.  I realize that this movie had a small budget, but a second player would have cost maybe five bucks.  It's not like they bought the arcade console; they probably just took a video camera down to Dave & Buster's.  Five dollars.  That's all it takes to make a crappy idea to insert video game footage in a movie look like it's not a cheap crappy idea to insert video game footage in a movie.

Sadly, one of the most redeeming features for this movie comes as bonus material with the DVD case.  The DVD insert has a character breakdown page, listing each character's position within the group (leader, scout, etc.) and their weapon of choice.  Hilariously, the brains of the group (according to the insert) is described as a moron by the main character.  Oh, and I'm pretty sure several of the weapons of choice aren't used by those characters in the movie.

That is the highlight of the movie for me, and it's not even a part of the movie.  How did this celluloid abomination get made, you ask?  Thank the Germans.  There is (or at least, there was in 2003) a law that allowed Germans to finance movies as a tax write-off; if the movies made money, then the investors had to pay tax on the profits, bu if it tanked, they got the entire investment written off.  Uwe Boll, you are a terrible director, but a brilliant man.  But this...this is a bad, bad, bad movie.  It's not even funny-bad.  This is, without a doubt in my mind, the most poorly made movie in the past decade to have widespread theatrical release.  Please.  Don't watch it.  

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Anatomy of a Murder

The courtroom drama is a hard sell for some moviegoers.  That's understandable.  The plot usually moves slowly, there is little or no action, and the movies are cerebral by their nature (unless we're talking about John Grisham adaptations, which I'm not going to get into right now).  They tend to be predictable, kind of like a sports movie, to the point where you are pretty sure which side will win; hmm...will the slick team of we-give-lawyers-a-bad-name lawyers from the big city win, or will the earnest, hard-working, and a little naive local guy pull it out?  And you just know the closing arguments from the bad guys are going to be talking about the technically legal thing to do, but the good guys will make an emotional appeal to the jury and audience.  I don't mean to imply that all courtroom dramas are predictable and terrible, but it is a genre that has gotten a bit stale in recent times.

Anatomy of a Murder, now over sixty years old, is a phenomenal example of how good courtroom dramas can be and shows how well intelligent film-making can stand the test of time.  This film tells the story of Paul Biegler (James Stewart), a former Upper Peninsula Michigan district attorney that (after losing re-election) spends his time fishing and hanging out with his alcoholic colleague Parnell (Arthur O'Connell).  Yes, he's still a lawyer, but he tends to fish during office hours and regards the law as more of a hobby than anything else.  He reluctantly agrees to consider taking a case, if only to pay his secretary's paycheck.  The case is the defense of Lt. Manion (Ben Gazzara), who is being accused of the first-degree murder of a local tavern owner, Barney Quill.  The question is not whether or not Manion killed Quill; Manion freely admits to the killing, but says that he only did it after learning that Quill had raped his wife.  Since "I was real mad" isn't the best murder defense, Biegler has some work on his hands.  Moreover, Biegler will not be defending the case against the local district attorney.  The DA will be co-heading the case with a big city lawyer, the Assistant State's Attorney General, Claude Dancer (George C. Scott).  Dancer is much smarter than the local DA, and a lot meaner in the courtroom.  So, we have the typical local, small-time lawyer against a hot shot, and we have a case that the local guy should clearly lose.  It sounds pretty typical, I know.

The subject matter is one of the distinctive features in this film.  For being 1959, including rape in a movie was a pretty big deal.  They managed it pretty well, too; it wasn't glossed over, but it wasn't presented in excruciating detail.  For the times, though, this was very explicit.  I don't think that the movie would have been helped, even a little bit, by a more explicit explanation of the rape, either, so to say that this film handled the subject matter then as well as it could be handled today is saying something.  I will admit that there are some sexual aspects of the movie that have gotten quaint over time.  For one, the word "panties" elicits outright laughter from the adult onlookers.  For another, Laura Manion (Lee Remick) is accused of dressing provocatively (because that would excuse rape, obviously), but provocative in 1959 has absolutely no resemblance to provocative in 2010.  Still, it is kind of cute seeing James Stewart being distracted by a pretty girl in clothes that scandalously cling to her body.  Gasp.

Another unusual aspect of this film is its moral ambiguity.  From the start, neither Beigler nor the audience believe that Lt. Manion did anything but murder a man because he was angry.  Beigler takes the case though, but only after all but spelling out to Manion that he should feign temporary insanity.  That's a little shady, I guess, but it is the only argument that can win the defense's case, so it's understandable.  Manion isn't a nice guy, though; Laura Manion opened the movie with a black eye that Manion gave her.  There is a very plausible argument that Manion killed Barney Quill for having consensual sex with Laura.  Beigler figures this out, but does his best to get Manion acquitted anyway.  This is pretty realistic, of course, but this honesty is almost unheard of in Hollywood movies.

Perhaps the most unusual thing about this film is the closing arguments.  Specifically, the complete lack thereof.  That's right, this courtroom drama omits the emotional closing arguments.  The movie does not need them, but it is a surprising absence nonetheless.

This movie is not star-studded, but the acting is very good.  James Stewart is charming, of course, and is always fun to watch when he plays an intelligent character.  I don't know what it is exactly, but there is something about his laid-back drawl and his crafty eyes that just makes him fun to watch in roles like this.  George C. Scott is another perennially fun actor to watch, and he does not disappoint here.  Part of his job here is to be Stewart's opposite, and he fills the role admirably; where Stewart is soft and slow, Scott is loud and quick.  The rest of the cast is less stellar, but they play their parts well enough.  Ben Gazzara does not do a great job showing layers of emotion, but he does succeed in portraying a character that has anger bubbling under the face he shows the world.  Lee Remick's role has a surprising amount of depth to it, and she does a pretty good job capturing anger, confusion, immaturity, shame, and fear in the limited time she has on screen.  She's not a great actress, but this was undoubtedly her best performance.  Arthur O'Connell, while likable as the hard-drinking legal eagle, was less convincing; part of this is due to a script that has him give up years of drinking cold turkey with little or no consequences, but he doesn't play a great drunk, either.  On the other hand, Joseph Welch did a very good job as the judge, and casting him was an inspired choice; he is more famously known as the lawyer that asked Joseph McCarthy if he had "no sense of decency."

This movie did not win any Oscars, but was nominated for seven.  The more prominent categories included Best Picture, Best Actor (Stewart), Best Supporting Actor (Scott), Best Supporting Actor (O'Connell), Best Cinematography (Black-and-White category), and Best Adapted Screenplay.  You might notice that Otto Preminger was not nominated for his direction in this film, which is odd, considering that the cinematography was.  I don't find anything particularly interesting with Preminger's direction, but he was a major force in making the picture (he produced the movie), so I think he made a deliberate decision to approach the direction as straightforward as he could.  Obviously, it worked out quite well.  He also made the decision to give this film a jazz soundtrack, performed by Duke Ellington's orchestra, which was possibly the first major motion picture to devote the soundtrack solely to jazz.  It's not a huge part of the movie, but I think it gives Stewart's character an added dimension that helps explain how he is able to think outside the box so well.

Anatomy of a Murder, when it begins, does not reach out and grab you.  It is a well-constructed film that builds itself up over time.  Rarely do I enjoy courtroom dramas so much, and this is a movie that follows the case for the entire film.  There are no threats against Beigler's family, or any love interests.  This is a movie about a trial, and that's all.  For my money though, it is the best trial movie ever.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Monty Python's Life of Brian

After watching this movie again, it struck me how funny it is that Monty Python's Life of Brian is not heretical. When you hear the premise, you naturally assume it is going to be offensive; it tells the story of Brian, who --- while born on the same day as Jesus (so remember his birthday this year!) --- is mistaken for the messiah, but wants nothing to do with it.  The film is actually very nice to Jesus, instead making fun of Biblical movies and organized religion.  Still, the subject matter was controversial enough for the original production company to back out only days before production began.  Luckily, George Harrison opted to nearly bankrupt himself to produce the film, just because it sounded like the only way he would get to see the movie.  Just further proof that the Beatles were awesome.

Normally, I would write a brief plot synopsis and note who played who in the movie, but it's not terribly useful with Monty Python movies.  Even assuming that the plot needs explaining (Brian, the not-messiah, follows a similar story arc to Jesus), what am I going to tell you?  That I found Graham Chapman convincing as Brian, but not as Biggus Dickus?  Or that I liked the proto-feminism of Eric Idle in his Stan/Loretta role?  No, I think I'll pass on all that.  Let me just say that this is the most linear plot of any Python movie, and the one that has the least amount of where-the-hell-did-that-come-from randomness.  That might sound odd, considering that this is a Biblical parody that has an alien UFO, but it is the truth.  Also, this movie had their best production values, thanks largely to their recycling of sets from Jesus of Nazareth.

This movie is notable for the best Python acting to date.  Graham Chapman, an alcoholic, actually stopped drinking for his role as the title character, which helped his comedic timing immeasurably.  While Chapman certainly was not a great actor, he was the most honest actor in the group and (in my humble opinion) also the group's best straight man.  That is not to say that John Cleese is anything but brilliant here (I suspect he handled a lot of the writing), but those two seemed to have the biggest personalities in Monty Python and I think the movie was better served with Chapman playing the relatively straight role and Cleese doing whatever madness popped into his head.  This is one of Eric Idle's better movies, too, with several memorable characters, not the least of whom is the one that sings "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life" while crucified at the end of the film.  Michael Palin is also good, as usual, and both Terry Gilliam (who had shockingly little to animate in this movie) and Terry Jones have their moments, too.  As usual, with the Pythons playing multiple roles of either gender, there are precious few non-Python actors, with only Sue Jones-Davies deserving recognition for her unexpected (and a bit uncomfortable) full frontal nudity scene.

Beyond that, the only important question is whether this movie is funny or not.  Simply put, the answer is "yes, very."  This movie appeals to the traditional Python fanatic, the casual dabbler in English wit, and even clueless fans of broad American humor.  After all, just because the movie is pretty smart doesn't mean that the jokes aren't really stupid.  If you have never seen this movie, I would categorize the humor as such:
  • Funnier than most Mel Brooks movies (particularly History of the World, Part 1)
  • Less random than Family Guy
  • Better than a Lisa or Marge episode of The Simpsons
  • Less depressing than Judd Apataw movies
  • Smarter than Adam Sandler movies, but not as smart as his producers
  • Slightly less funny than National Treasure
Comedies don't usually age well, but there is something timeless about Monty Python's silliness that shows us just how funny movies can be.  And, when thinking about this film, please bear in mind that Brian is not the messiah; he is a very naughty boy.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

From Paris With Love

John Travolta has been nominated for two Oscars for Best Actor; these nominations accompanied his biggest successes, Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction.  I mention this because I appreciate Travolta in those movies.  At his best, Travolta exudes a casual cool that makes even a disco movie fun to watch.  I also mention this because it is hard to recognize that talent in most of his movies.  Travolta has a tendency to split his acting chops; either he is trying too hard to be serious, or he chews on scenery like a bad dog when he is trying to play a bad-ass.  From Paris With Love is definitely one of the latter occasions, and spraying him with water won't help.

James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is the personal aide to the US Ambassador in France, but he is secretly a low-level gopher for the CIA.  After several menial jobs, he is given a serious one; he is to help Charlie Wax (John Travolta) with whatever his mission is.  The mission never really gets much clearer than that, I'm afraid.  This is partly due to a poor script, and partly because Wax tends to lie to Reece.  At first, it appears to be a politically motivated series of drug busts, but Wax later claims that it has everything to do with terrorists.  I'm sure many terrorists get their money from drugs, but I doubt that the Asian mobs have many dealings with Islamic terrorists.  It assumes a level of cooperation between secretive brotherhoods that I find unlikely at best and insulting to my intelligence at worst.  Reece doesn't do a whole lot except react to Wax's bad-assery.  There are many instances of this, as Wax kills about thirty people in this movie, without pondering repercussions or worrying about innocents.  Wax isn't really a good guy so much as he is a weapon that has been sicced on his enemies.  As the movie progresses, Reece becomes more involved in the action and more confident in his life-or-death choices.  Eventually, he follows his own instincts instead of Wax's, and is proved right; that means that he is the only person between a group of people and death by terrorists.

If the story sounds vaguely familiar, it should.  This is just another slight tweak on the traditional buddy cop flick formula; as best exemplified in Lethal Weapon, there is one crazy-dangerous guy and one by-the-book type, only here the by-the-books type is also completely inexperienced.  Changing just that small experiential dynamic hurts this movie a lot.  Reece is relegated to doing next to nothing but complain for about an hour of the movie, while Wax does his thing.  If they had similar levels of experience (although, doesn't the boring cop usually have more experience?), then Reece could justify arguing with Wax, but he just keeps taking the craziness with a passivity that is similar to fraternity hazing.  Reece may not like what Wax is doing to/with him, but he's got to deal with it or else he'll never be part of the club.  This also has the side effect of making Wax's decisions seem like the only correct decisions.  There is a brief scene involving the French police and a bomb that tries to balance that a little, but it is nowhere near effective enough.

It's sad that this movie came from such excellent action movie stock.  Luc Besson is a great action movie writer, with credits ranging from Leon: The Professional to The Transporter, to Taken, to the best French language action movie ever, District 13.  Director Pierre Morel has only two other movie credits, but they are the excellent District 13 and Taken.  Given that information, I would assume this movie would be completely awesome.

Instead, we end up with a fairly generic template and John Travolta overacting.  I'm not complaining about that, mind you.  I actually enjoyed a decent amount of Travolta in this film.  If you paired him up with a suitable villain, like a drugged up Nicholas Cage or a 1990s Gary Oldman role, this movie could be a guilty pleasure.  Instead, nobody tries to match Travolta's energy and the story ends up feeling limp.  A big part of this is the fault of Jonathan Rhys Meyers.  He underacts in a movie that has absolutely zero use for subtlety, and his character's cleverness fails to jibe with his character's naivety.  That is partially the writer's fault, but his acting is so distinct between his clever self and his over-his-head-in-trouble self that it just detracts from the film as a whole.

There is, not surprisingly, a lot of action in this movie.  Some of it looks pretty good, I'll admit.  Most of it apparently caters to Travolta's age and fitness level, though.  I'm almost 100% certain that he does not have more than three seconds of continuous action footage in this movie.  It's edited well and looks pretty good, but after a while I noticed that there were no establishing shots or zoom outs to show that the actors actually worked out for their roles.  That's not a huge problem for me, but it stands in stark contrast with the parcour-crazy Besson/Morel collaboration, District 13.  That may be an unfair comparison, but I am very surprised that the same creative team was involved in both.

The advertisements for this DVD claim that this is the "coolest Travolta since Pulp Fiction."  That's a blatant lie.  His character in From Paris... is clearly more derivative of his "Yeah, ain't it cool" character from Broken Arrow than his Jackrabbit Slims-loving character from Pulp Fiction.  The sad thing is that Travolta is by far the best thing about this movie, despite some pretty lame lines and less than legit action sequences.  The plot here is poor and unnecessarily convoluted (I didn't even bother discussing that mess), but Travolta is entertaining enough to make it watchable.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Leap Year

I would like to take the time to point out the colorization of this movie poster.  If you can't get a good look at the actors' eyes, check it out the next time you're at Best Buy or Target or wherever.  Their eyes are glowing.  Seriously, zoom in to the picture.  This guy's eyes look either completely photoshopped, or he is about to ask where the Keymaster is.  Either way, it is bad news for this movie; either it is cheap enough to use terrible photo editing, or it is trying to draw comparisons to Ghostbusters.  It's a lose-lose situation.

The title Leap Year refers to the Irish tradition that allows women to propose marriage to men on February 29th.  So, I suppose that this movie should have been called February 29th or Leap Year Day.  Fun fact: the actual Leap Year marriage tradition in the English-speaking world isn't necessarily limited to Ireland or that particular day; the whole year is wide open for proposals.  That way, desperate women have a whole year to impose their will upon their unwilling boyfriends.

Anna (Amy Adams) is super successful and is enjoying a high class Boston lifestyle, with fancy clothes, rich friends, and a cardiologist boyfriend, Jeremy (Adam Scott).  It doesn't matter that her job has less redeeming social value than a crack dealer, her friends are bitter and shallow, or that her boyfriend is self-centered and shows off heart surgery pictures during dinner.  You're supposed to like Anna and sympathize with her problem.  What problem, you ask?  Well, Jeremy was spotted leaving a fancy jewelry shop, so Anna and her friend (Kaitlin Olson) freak out like those commercials where they say "He went to JARED!"  Well, Jeremy and Anna have a special dinner date planned for the night before he has to leave for Dublin, Ireland for a cardiologist conference; Anna assumes that he will propose, but instead, he gives her really nice diamond earrings.  Bastard.  After he has left for Dublin, Anna reflects on something her father told her (John Lithgow, whose two or three minute performance earned him fourth billing in the credits); in Ireland, women can propose to men on February 29th.  And, as you might have guessed, this film takes place during a Leap Year.  The next Leap Year is in 2012, so I suppose that this movie could be seen as a glimpse into our future.  I'm afraid it's neither a romantic nor comedic future.

Anna decides to fly to Dublin right away, but her flight is diverted to Wales because of poor weather conditions.  No planes are flying, and she has to get to Dublin by tomorrow (more on that later), so she charters a small fishing boat.  I didn't notice her trying to rent a car, though.  The ocean waters are too rough to reach Dublin, so Anna is dropped off in Quaint Irish Town, Ireland, which has only one restaurant, one hotel and one taxi service, all of which are run by Declan (Matthew Goode).  Declan is a little ornery, but who wouldn't be?  Anna comes in, is cranky about her whole Leap Year situation, and basically insults his town, tavern, and hotel within minutes of meeting him.  After some hilarious hijinks (it turns out that Anna --- get this --- is a little clumsy and doesn't respect other people's property!  Guffaw!), Declan agrees to take Anna to Dublin for a fee (his tavern is in financial trouble).  Again, hijinks ensue, and Anna accidentally causes Declan's car to crash into a shallow lake.  It will take a day for the tow truck to get the car out, so Anna decides to find another modes of transportation.  Declan follows because, somehow, that qualifies as taking her to Dublin.  Along the way, the two squabble constantly.  You have never seen such a poorly matched couple..unless you're married!  Bada-BING!  And yet...Declan gets in a fight for Anna and expresses sympathy for the fact that her dad is unreliable.  And Anna, in a moment of true mutual understanding, pukes on Declan's shoes.  It's a romantic comedy, so this odd couple will obviously fall in love, but what will happen when Anna finally gets to Dublin and sees Jeremy again?

I disguise this fact pretty well, I know, but I am not a huge romantic comedy fan.  That doesn't mean that I can't like them, I just tend not to because I find them insulting to my intelligence and incredibly not funny.  In all fairness, Leap Year is not god awful.  Amy Adams is able to pull off naive and bubbly any day of the week, and having her as the main character makes sense for a rom-com.  I wouldn't say that her comedic talents are fantastic, but she does play a good straight woman for others to joke around.  She's a likable actress and, when given the right character, she can be fun to watch.  Matthew Goode has some leading man potential; he's reasonably handsome and has an Irish brogue, which the ladies tend to like.  His emotional scenes are subtle, which is nice (although repeated: close your eyes and!).  He doesn't immediately appear to be a romantic good guy, so he can get away with playing a bit of a scoundrel, which is a nice change for this genre.

...And that's all the good I can say about this movie.  The premise is ridiculous.  Let's just ignore the accuracy of the tradition this movie describes.  What we are left with is a female lead that is desperate enough to commit to a trans-Atlantic flight to propose to her man.  If the character was portrayed as strong-willed and independent, that would work.  Anna, unfortunately, defines herself by her possessions; she has so many things, but nothing is really important to her.  She doesn't have much of a backstory because she's a fairly shallow character.  A character that is driven by the desire to possess is not romantic or funny; they are desperate and sad.  Do you want a hint that this is a bad premise?  Both Amy Adams and Matthew Goode have lines where they ridicule the Leap Day tradition.  When you have a stupid idea for a movie, you need to be pretty damn funny to make fun of yourself, otherwise you are just pointing out the flaws in your movie. 

Worse than the stupid premise are the Bostonian characters.  We are clearly meant to connect to Anna, to feel her pain throughout.  When she doesn't get proposed to, the audience is expected to feel sorry for her.  Maybe I'm just a guy, but getting nice jewelry doesn't elicit sympathy from me.  I understand that she was let down, but they made this out to be as bad as if her fiance slept with her twin sister.  Her fiance, Jeremy, is supposed to be annoying (so we can root for Matthew Goode), but he's really obnoxious.  Obnoxious to the point of me not liking Anna for dating him.  Everyone is Boston is shown to be petty, selfish and shallow.  Yes, this makes it important for her to go to Ireland --- I get it--- but it's boring, lazy writing that is without the benefit of charm.  Why should I care about Anna, a shallow, somewhat ditzy, desperate woman with nothing of value except a charming smile?  Leap Year doesn't ever give you a reason.

I don't even want to bother with the Irish characters.  It turns out that most of them have been trapped in a limerick for a few decades and are just now getting out and about.  On the bright side, there were no leprechauns.  Although Warwick Davis could have added a much needed twist to this story...hmm...I smell sequel!  And what was with the time frame in this movie?  Anna has to get to Dublin today when she's in the airport, but she spends one night a Declan's inn, one night at a bed and breakfast, and hangs out at a wedding for an entire day.  Oh, and it's still in time for Leap Year Day.  If she's this uptight, Anna is a stone cold bitch.  I don't think that's what the writers mean to convey; I think they just assumed that the audience's frontal lobe would have turned to tapioca halfway through the film and they could get away with minor problems like time being an important plot device for this movie.

In a word: ugh.  I'll give credit where it's due to the two leads (despite Adams' terrible character), but it's nowhere near enough to make this watchable.  Director Anand Tucker deserves some credit for their chemistry (and lack thereof), but he undoubtedly should get the majority of the blame for the horrible supporting roles and predictable story.  Then again, I'm a guy, so take this with a grain of well-argued salt.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Silence of the Lambs

Anthony Hopkins holds the record for least amount of screen time in an Academy Award-winning Best Actor role for his part as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.  That's not a terribly obscure factoid, but it's worth pointing out because Hopkins really steals the show in his sixteen minutes on screen.  Why do I bring this up?  Well, despite Hopkins' scene-stealing performance, the movie isn't about Hannibal Lecter.  It's not even about chasing down serial killers.  It's about Clarice Starling.  "What?  A girl?"  No, really.

Clarice (Jodie Foster) is an FBI agent-in-training that gets the opportunity to tag along with one of her instructors, Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), as part of an FBI task force.  The task force is focusing on an ongoing hunt for a serial killer that the FBI has nicknamed Buffalo Bill because he skins his victims.  Using it-takes-a-thief logic, Crawford sends Clarice to a maximum security mental facility to pick the brain of the incarcerated serial killer, Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, hoping that she can persuade Lecter to give his undoubtedly intelligent input on the case.  The film spends some time checking up on Buffalo Bill and his latest soon-to-be victim, but the bulk of the film is spent on Clarice decoding Lecter's input and investigating those leads.  Once she is assigned to Lecter duty, Clarice's time in the big leagues with the task force seems done.  Of course, that is only until her intelligence (and Lecter's help) leads her to the killer without any back-up.

In some ways, this film is a common horror/thriller.  The climax is essentially a cat-and-mouse game, one not terribly different from what has come before it.  Buffalo Bill's tendencies are taken from real-life serial killer M.O.'s (Ted Bundy and Ed Gein, most notably), so his horrific work is also somewhat familiar.  Heck, this isn't even the first movie to feature Hannibal Lecter, although the role was played by Brian Cox in Manhunter.  So what makes this movie so special?  It is only the third movie to have swept the major Academy Award categories (Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director - Jonathan Demme, Best Actor - Anthony Hopkins, and Best Actress - Jodie Foster), so there is clearly something that separates this film from the many others that it superficially resembles.

One of the primary differences is the story's focus.  So often, movies of this type boil down the story to one cop and one criminal gunning for each other.  Here, more so than in Thomas Harris' novel of the same name, the focus is on Clarice's experience on the case.  It is not about how she solves the case, but her complete experience.  Yes, her experience is surrounded by one major case, but her experience is so much more than just the case; I cannot think of another movie where an officer of the law character is not completely defined by their case, which makes this a very unique approach.  You can notice this from the clever use of the cameras (it often assumes her point-of-view), but the script is just as responsible for this.  The opening credits have Clarice running through a training obstacle course; this course is not important to the story, so the only reason to show it is to let the audience learn something about her character.  First off, she's a woman surrounded by men that smirk as they see her struggle.  More importantly, though, she works through her troubles and appears to be succeeding.  Instead of treating this as an ensemble cast, the choice to stick with Clarice is really what makes it stand out.  That choice is why the relationship between Clarice and Hannibal is so compelling and that is why the climactic scenes are effective and creepy.  Following Clarice around so closely makes her readily identifiable, likable, and impressive.  This almost never happens with female leads in these genres, and her gender plays a part in what makes this movie so noteworthy.  Jodie Foster does a great job with this unique role; she is understated an earnest, both of which are essential for making this character work.

Demme's direction is fantastic here, as well.  There are a lot of good uses of music and lighting and there are ongoing themes and symbols (I can't be the only one who keeps noticing red, white and blue all over the place in this film) and there are clear parallels between Clarice's journey to meet Hannibal and when she chases Buffalo Bill.  As someone who notices (or, at least, tries to notice) the subtle things that directors do, I cannot express how much of a treat it is to see so much done so well here.  That is enough to deserve acclaim, but that doesn't even cover his work with the actors.  Do you know how easily the first Hannibal scene could have been overacted?  Yes, the actor is ultimately the one doing the heavy lifting with the part, but the director decides what a good idea is and what makes the final cut.  Sometimes that means just getting out of the actors' way.  Whatever the case in this movie, Demme did a great job of getting the best work from his cast and using it well.

The supporting cast is good here, despite most of the roles being cameos.  Scott Glenn is decent in his role as Clarice's superior; he comes off as condescending and confident, which are probably the right traits for his character to exude.  Ted Levine is frightening and a little funny as Buffalo Bill.  Levine has a deep voice, but it seems to croak out of him here, making his disturbing acts seem all the more unnatural.  I have always believed that Levine gets short changed when people discuss this film because the focus is (justifiably) on Anthony Hopkins' performance, but the movie would have felt uneven if Levine was not able to construct a movie monster of his own.  Anthony Heald has a knack for playing pompous jerks, and this is one of his best roles.  His petty antics amidst a serious criminal investigation ring true, and the closing scene with him always makes me smile, despite the serious context.  The rest of the cast is made up of primarily television actors, but they don't distract from the more important roles at all, which is a feat unto itself.

And then there is Anthony Hopkins' performance.  One of the big reasons this film works is because Hopkins was able to live up to the film building up to his character.  The elaborate check in process in his Baltimore prison, the enormous cage when he is in Washington, DC, the face mask --- all of these make Lecter seem terrifying before you even get a chance for Hopkins to act.  Now, picture Gene Hackman (who nearly played the part) saying "Good evening, Clarice."  It just doesn't feel right.  Almost any other take on the character would have been a let down, given the reactions that the other characters have to Lecter.  It's not difficult to believe that Anthony Hopkins can convincingly play an intelligent character (he's got a British accent --- the work is half done for him already), but the type of intelligence he displays here is ingenious.  Instead of playing Lecter as a psychopath, or even as a less funny version of the Joker, Hopkins plays the character so cold and calculating that he seems almost mechanical (Perhaps even War Games-ish?) at times.  The unblinking stare he gives Clarice only reinforces his lack of humanity and his analytical prowess.  And then, out of nowhere, he'll make a wry comment about Senator Martin's shoes.  Lecter's coldness is what makes him frightening, but his ability to charm (even when he's insulting someone) is what makes him dangerous.  Hopkins did a fantastic job balancing the two tendencies, which lends a plausibility to the relationship he and Jodie Foster build together.

It's rare to find a film that can balance directorial voice, high quality acting, and a story that the masses readily embrace.  Any one of those qualities is enough to make a movie recommendable.  This film goes above and beyond.  It is disturbing, yet artfully done.  The acting is honest and empowering, but also frightening.  The story is familiar, and yet distinct.  Yes, the one thing you remember about the movie is undoubtedly Hopkins being creepy, but this movie is so much deeper than that, and so much more rewarding.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Shoot 'Em Up

Rarely do you know exactly how much you will like a movie within the first five minutes.  Sure, it occasionally happens, but it's still noteworthy.  Some people will undoubtedly love this movie, while just as many people will absolutely hate it.  Here's the acid test: about two or three minutes into the movie, Clive Owen's character stabs a man through the eye with a carrot, killing him; Owen's one-liner follow-up is "Eat your vegetables."  If that doesn't sound like the start to an amazing movie, there's the door.  See ya.

For the rest of us, Shoot 'Em Up delivers in almost every possible way.  I sometimes complain about movies that have all-encompassing titles that the films do not live up to.  Not here.  Shoot 'Em Up is exactly what you think it is, a very violent movie with very little plot or character development.  The deaths come in bunches, are violent, and are often creative.  Some might say that the movie is not realistic enough, that the movie often wanders into being just plain silly.  Well, here is a viral video that was used to tie into the film's promotion:

Do you really think the filmmakers care is their action movie is bordering on the ridiculous?

There is a plot to this movie, believe it or not.  Smith (Clive Owen) is sitting on a street bench when a pregnant woman runs by, sobbing.  She is followed by a gun-toting tough-looking guy, who says, "You're dead, bitch! [to Smith] What the hell you looking at?"  Smith doesn't get up to follow the woman so much as he gets up to punish the guy for annoying him.  Smith kills the man, but a larger group shows up immediately after, so Smith tries to protect himself and the pregnant woman, who has just gone into labor.  Smith manages to deliver the baby, kill six or eight bad guys, and severs the umbilical cord with a well-aimed gunshot.  More bad guys show up, and it begins again.  The new mother dies this time around, but Smith manages to keep the baby, kill some more guys, and escape.  Thinking logically, Smith goes to the only food source for the baby that he can think of.  Enfamil?  Similac?  You're getting closer...lactating prostitutes?  Bingo!  Smith imposes on DQ (a perfect character name for Monica Bellucci) to feed the baby while he figures out how to keep the baby from getting killed.  Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti) is the leader of the gun thugs, and he's a pretty smart guy, so he is able to keep finding Smith, DQ and the baby.  Repeat ad nauseum.

This is truly a stupid movie.  It's absolutely ridiculous.  There is no way around that.  Most action movies would try and boost the testosterone in the movie with tough-guy cliches and nonsensical one-liners (remember in Predator?  Hey Jesse Ventura, you're bleeding!  "I ain't got time to bleed."  Oh, okay...wait, what?) to try and show how serious they are, but this movie is more than happy to embrace the ridiculousness of the action and plot.  For instance, Smith has an ongoing conversation throughout the film, where he rants about what he hates (which is mostly everything).  Whatever it is that he hates, I promise you this...he will shoot it momentarily.  Guys with ponytails, people who slurp coffee, or whatever, they will all get a bullet from Smith.  The dialogue is chock full of goofy, filthy, and sometimes stupid lines. Hertz is the source for a lot of these, like when he asks why a gun is better than a wife --- because you can put a silencer on a gun!  Ba-DUM-bum.  There are a LOT of lines like that.  You would think that it would be irritating, but Giamatti and Owen deliver the lines with the perfect amount of conviction and timing; I found it hard not to react to even the most eye-roll worthy lines.

The acting is a little campy, but everyone is clearly having a good time.  Clive Owen is his typical charming self, despite the fact that Smith is not charming at all.  Giamatti gets to play a relatively tough guy in this film, which is a big change from his normal everyman roles.  I thought he did a very good job as the smart, wise-cracking boss.  Monica Bellucci is pretty solid here, able to deliver some good lines and act as the straight man to a lot of Smith's rants.  Sure, she's in the movie because the role demands a busty actress, but she is able to hold her own and (surprisingly and a little distractingly) avoids nudity.  The rest of the cast does a good job of getting in the way of bullets.

As for the direction, well...this is definitely the highest profile work that writer/director Michael Davis has done to date (although he did co-write Double Dragon, which ought to count for...absolutely nothing).  I am willing to give Davis the benefit of the doubt and give him substantial credit for the fact that this movie doesn't suck.  It really should be terrible, but it is just so over the top that even Nicholas Cage would say "That's a bit much."  The whole movie just has such a loose, fun feel to it that I have a hard time taking anyone who dislikes it seriously.

There is something to be said for movies that know exactly what they are.  This was never going to win a Best Picture Oscar; it's a fun, dumb, blow stuff up flick.  Shoot 'Em Up embraces that status and does almost everything right (some of those one-liners are bad, though) for the type of movie it is.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


You aren't going to find the words "smart" and "blaxploitation" in the same sentence too often.  There's a good reason for this.  Blaxploitation films were made quickly and cheaply, with little time spent on the writing, directing, or editing of the films.  Coffy is actually one of the better blaxploitation films, but it obviously suffers from a low budget and terrible script.  Many blaxploitation staples are present here, so pull out your scorecard and check 'em off...
  • Black drug dealers/pimps
  • The white man trying to keep the black man down
  • Gratuitous nudity
  • Funk beats and waka-chicka guitars
  • Soundtrack songs that explain the plot
  • Racist white villains
Yep, all present and accounted for!  Of course, with all those qualities present in the movie, it can't be that bad, can it?

Coffy (Pam Grier) is a nurse whose young sister got hooked on drugs (heroin, I think) and is now mostly comatose.  Coffy handles the situation the best she can; she pretends to be a junkie willing to exchange sex for drugs and shoots her sister's dealer in the face with a shotgun.  All's well that ends well, right?  Actually, the movie keeps going for another eighty minutes because Coffy keeps finding new bad guys to kill.  To track down the baddies, Coffy does the most sensible thing she can do: she poses as a high class Jamaican prostitute, just to get time alone with the men she holds responsible for the local drug trade.  That doesn't always work well; she spends almost a third of the movie in captivity after she fails to kill a white kingpin.  Overall, though, her strategy works pretty well.

This isn't a movie that would translate well into a book.  Writer/director Jack Hill's script was pretty bad at the time and hasn't aged well in the last 30+ years.  Luckily, a lot of its jive talk has gone from cool to lame and is now in the humorously quaint category, so it's actually kind of fun to hear nowadays.  To give you an example of some of the quality writing here, ask yourself what you would do to disguise yourself as a Jamaican prostitute.  Was your answer "Just add 'mon' to the end of all my sentences"?  If it was, you missed your calling writing blaxploitation screenplays.

The movie obviously has a low budget, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  While Coffy's weapon of choice is a shotgun, you see precious little blood, even when she shoots a man in a swimming pool.  And the guys she shoots in the crotch...well, it's probably better that they didn't have the money to show that.  I actually think Coffy does a good job with the action, despite the low budget.  While seeing some fake blood would have made the movie a little better, it wouldn't have made a huge difference overall; the key was Coffy having a kick-ass attitude, which Grier definitely delivers.

I have a few unanswered questions after viewing this film.  Sid Haig's character is an enforcer for a drug kingpin.  He is supposed to take Coffy out somewhere, give her an overdose, and leave her to die.  Instead, he injects her with the drugs (actually, it's sugar that Coffy swapped for the drugs.  Shh!!!  Don't tell Sid!) and then tries to have consensual sex with her.  That's right.  He's preparing to have sex with a woman that might die during the act.  Eww.  I mean, classy.

And what's with the bad guy that is wearing glasses, but one of the lenses is blackened out?  I'm not stupid, I get that the dude is missing an eye, but he's missing out on an amazing opportunity that totally would have been boss in the 1970s.  He should have worn a monocle and an eye patch.  I swear, I'm not a Hollywood stylist, but sometimes I get inspiration.

Look, the movie's not very good.  The dialogue is terrible, the acting is amateurish and the direction is nonexistent.  And yet, the first half of the movie is pretty entertaining.  Pam Grier is a sassy woman and there is a lot of violence and a lot of gratuitous nudity.  Sure, the movie gets boring for the 30 or 40 minutes where it delivers all of its exposition, but that's a relatively small price to pay.  The awesomeness of Pam Grier more or less cancels out the awfulness of the rest of the movie.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Shutter Island

It's difficult to write about a thriller or mystery movie because nobody wants to be That Guy who reveals that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's Keyser Soze.  This presents me with a challenge: to ramble on at length without being That Guy.  I think I can manage that, but this is a mystery movie, so it has a twist.  That's as much of a spoiler as I'm going to give you.

Adapted from Dennis Lehane's best-selling book of the same name, Shutter Island has more than a few similarities to Lehane's Mystic River.  Boy, that Lehane has a tough life; a best-selling author who gets his books optioned into movies that are directed by some of the most talented directors in the world.  You would think he'd write happier tales.  Anyway, both Mystic River and Shutter Island are mysteries that rely heavily on their characters' secrets to reach their logical conclusion.

Here, we have Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), a US Marshall that volunteered for a case that would give him an excuse to poke around Shutter Island, a maximum security mental hospital for the criminally insane.  On the ferry ride to the island, Daniels meets his new partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), and they enter the facility together.  They are ostensibly there to investigate the disappearance of Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer), a patient --- not a prisoner! --- that managed to escape the facility, despite a locked door, barred windows, no shoes, rugged terrain, and several guards stationed throughout the building.  That doesn't sound like an inside job at all, does it?  Rachel was incarcerated for drowning her three children.  The real reason for Daniels' visit is to learn the fate of Andrew Laeddis (Elias Koteas), the pyromaniac that burned down Daniels' home with his wife (Michelle Williams) inside.  Laeddis was assigned to the facility after going to jail, but his paper trail ended on Shutter Island...but no one admits to knowing him.  Once inside the facility, Daniels and Chuck meet Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), a practitioner of humane treatment for the mentally ill, and Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow), a member of the old-school of psychiatric treatment that prefers lobotomy over patience.

From the start of the investigation, nothing goes Daniels' way.  The facility guards refuse him entrance while armed, so he has to give up his gun.  He asks for files that are clearly commonsense ways for him to get the essential information he needs, but he is blocked by the facility's bureaucracy at every turn.  He lost his cigarettes before the boat arrived at the island, and is forced to bum smokes from his new partner.  Orderlies and nurses are sarcastic and generally less than helpful.  The patients he interviews appear coached and seem afraid when he questions them about Andrew Laeddis.  When he faces the truth that the doctors are refusing to aid his case, Daniels can't even leave the island because a hurricane is on its way.  With nothing else to do, Daniels continues his investigation.  Clearly, there is some secret that is being covered up, and he is determined to discover that truth.  He eventually meets with an old informant (Jackie Earle Haley) that is now confined in the most violent ward of the facility, who seems to confirm Daniels' greatest fear; Daniels can uncover the truth behind the island and blow the lid off the whole conspiracy, or he can find out what happened to Andrew Laeddis.  He cannot do both.  The question is what is more important to Daniels: uncovering a terrible truth for the world to see, or finding (killing?) the man responsible for the death of his wife?

Martin Scorsese's direction really stands out in this film, particularly because of Daniels' dreams.  Daniels is suffering from a string of nightmares, hallucinations and waking dreams that are reminding him of his late wife and the Dachau concentration camp that he helped liberate in World War II.  In the dream world, identities are transposed, but the emotions are not.  Memories are shown, but they are spliced with his own subconscious.  At times, the imagery is a little trippy, like when his cigarette briefly smokes in reverse.  Other times, it is sad, as when his wife becomes ash in his arms while he professes his love for her.  And yet other times are the stuff of nightmares, with Holocaust children accusing him of not doing enough to save them.  Scorsese is given free reign to use a lot of symbolism in these scenes, and he throws a lot at the viewer.  In a lot of Scorsese films, he makes good use of camera angles and general cinematography to imply moods or hint at his characters' frame of mind.  He does that in Shutter Island, as well, but he has a lot more freedom to get creative, thanks to the dream scenes.

As far as acting goes, it is all pretty much above board.  Leonardo DiCaprio is consistently good, and working so frequently with Scorsese seems to have taught him the value of subtlety and nuance.  I'm not saying that he was ever an over-actor, but there are a lot of little things he does with his character that I appreciate, from the hunched shoulders and bold stance to the frequent (but not horribly obvious) reminders of his character's tendency for migraine headaches.  DiCaprio carries this movie on his own, but there are a lot of good supporting cast members that briefly pop up.  Mark Ruffalo does a pretty good job as the junior partner and his compassion shows through consistently.  Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow both play their parts well, but what else would you expect from two respected actors?  Ted Levine has a very brief, but frightening, cameo as the facility warden.  Jackie Earle Haley appears to be having a career renaissance playing disturbed characters, and that pleasant trend continues here with some of the more curious wound makeup I have seen in a while.  Michelle Williams was impressive in her small supporting role and was used effectively.  The rest of the cast (including Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, and John Carroll Lynch) is good too, but perhaps not as attention-grabbing.

Even with good direction and good acting, a mystery movie can still be underwhelming if the mystery is no good.  I really liked the story in Shutter Island, even though I was not particularly surprised by the ending.  Normally, if I guess the ending to a mystery correctly, it bothers me a bit.  Here, though, Scorsese drops a lot of hints that flesh out the story and the characters.  While one side effect of those choices was a less than surprising answer to the mystery, it was also satisfying because the twist made sense.  You still might not guess the ending correctly (or, at least, not entirely correctly), but you won't feel as if the end came out of left field.  Since the movie spent so much time on Daniels' subconscious mind, the mystery really takes a back seat to that as the primary plot propeller.  As such, the surprise-worthiness of the ending turned out to be a lot less important than I thought it would be.

This is the sort of film that college students love to write about.  It has excellent direction with a lot of stylistic choices and meaningful symbolism and imagery.  After the movie, you can revisit scenes in your head (or just re-watch the scenes on your DVD) and pick out important details that you missed the first time through.  This is a movie that I expect to be better the second time I watch it because being fully informed of the story will allow me to understand many of the scenes from a different angle next time.  While I completely understand anyone who enjoyed the movie less because the mystery's answer was a little predictable, I thoroughly enjoyed the story, acting and the film as a whole the first time through, and look forward to a repeat viewing.  I may be a little artsy fartsy with movies sometimes, but I appreciate good craftsmanship when I see it.