Wednesday, December 30, 2009

#405: Dirty Dancing (1987)

Director: Emile Ardolino
Cast: Jennifer Grey & Patrick Swayze

On a family vacation at a resort in the Catskills, Baby Houseman strays from her family when she hears the undulating sounds of Rock 'n Roll in an area for staff only. She'd never seen dancing like it, and her eyes are particularly struck by the professional dancer at the resort, Johnny. When Johnny's dance partner falls ill, she becomes Johnny's only hope for some of his gigs, though she can't dance for the life of her. He coaches her over the next few days, while their emotions grow more and more apparent to each other (though they were quite clear from the beginning of the film for the audience!).

The biggest problem with this film is predictability. Of course Baby's father will be against the idea of her being with the greasy-looking guy that has no future in law or medicine. Of course Baby will stay by his side no matter what. And of course, there will be a huge scene at the end in which she dances with Johnny in front of a crowd, and the two win over her father's heart.

What this film does have is some great dances. Baby's education in dance is thoroughly believable. Her starting steps are pretty awful, but not so awful that it looks staged. The audience learns with her some of the basics of ballroom dance, and by the end she's ready to be on Dancing With The Stars. Of course, Swayze's dancing is flawless.

Not much else to say. Mr. Swayze, you will be missed.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Voted #2 Must See Movie of all time by listeners of Capital FM in London.
  • The film was re-released in 1997 solely due to a petition led by late-night talk show host Conan O'Brien in which he asked viewers to send letters calling for the film's re-release. When exhibitors finally agreed, O'Brien joked that he actually didn't like the movie all that much.
  • In the scene where Johnny and Baby are practicing dancing, and she keeps laughing when he runs his arm down hers, it was not part of the scene, she was actually laughing and his frustration was genuine. They left it because it was effective. Her falling over in this scene was unplanned too.
  • The lake practice scene was filmed at Lake Lure in the mountains of North Carolina in October. There are no close-ups because the actors were so cold that their lips were blue.

#406: Iron Man (2008)

Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow & Jeff Bridges

Tony Stark is a genius, engineering all of the top weaponry used in the US military forces. And he's not even a nerd! When not working in his underground laboratory in his Malibu mansion, he's mackin' it with the ladies. This routine takes a major hit, however, when he is abducted by terrorists in Afghanistan. The terrorists demand that he builds one of his killer gadgets (in a literal sense). Instead, Stark secretly builds a suit of robotic armor with the aid of a fellow hostage. He escapes the cavern prison, but his armor is destroyed in the process. After his rescue, he builds another suit. When Stark learns that his company has been supplying the terrorists with weapons without his knowledge, Stark puts his new toy to good use, jetting to Afghanistan to disarm the enemy.

One moment stuck out to me in this movie more than anything, and it happens to be the very last line. So if you haven't see it, prepare yourself for a spoiler right off the bat. As Stark prepares for a press conference, his personal assistant and love interest Pepper Potts gives all the information Stark needs to know about his false alibi to keep his identity as the Iron Man a secret. When he goes out there, however, he gives up the pretense and says bluntly "I'm Iron Man."

This departs from every other comic hero that has been brought to the screen. Being so forward about it makes Stark way more bad-ass than any other superhero to date. While Batman and Spiderman continue their with their emo behavior, Superman is simply an alien who just wants to be a dork. And while the X-Men are publicly known, they are all assisting each other in gang-like fashion. Stark is all alone (Stark Naked to the elements?? Yuk yuk yuk...), and he simply doesn't give a damn.

Aside from that, the film is just a great time. While it can be classified as just-another-blockbuster, it was 100% bad ass.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • The script was not completely prepared when filming began, since the filmmakers were more focused on the story and the action, so the dialogue was mostly ad-libbed throughout filming; Jon Favreau acknowledged this made the film feel more natural. Some scenes were shot with two cameras to capture lines improvised on the spot; Robert Downey Jr. would ask for many takes of one scene since he wanted to try something new.Gwyneth Paltrow, on the other hand, had a difficult time trying to match Downey with a suitable line, as she never knew what he would say.
  • During the highway battle with Iron Monger, a building can be seen in the background with a Roxxon logo. In the Marvel Universe, Roxxon is a notorious conglomerate known for illegal activities, agents of which were responsible of the death of Stark's parents.
  • According to Paul Bettany, he did not know which film he was working on; he merely did the job as a favor for Jon Favreau, whom he worked with on Wimbledon (2004).

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

#407: The Jungle Book (1967)

Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
Cast: Bruce Reitherman, Phil Harris & Sebastian Cabot

Mowgli was a boy brought up by a pack of wolves in the jungles of India, living peacefully among the animals until rumors begin that he is sought to be killed by the tiger Shere Khan. The panther Bagheera attempts to return Mowgli to the human village, but on the way Mowgli befriends the carefree bear, Baloo. Mowgli is determined to continue his life in the jungle, despite his encounters with Kaa, the malicious python, as well as King Louie and the apes who are determined to learn the ways of man from Mowgli.

This film has a huge historical significance. It was the last film produced by Walt Disney himself, and was released after his death. Upon his death, the future of the animation division of Disney Studios was in jeopardy, and only the success of The Jungle Book the animators that they wouldn't be laid off.

Another historically significant bit of information on The Jungle Book is the animation process itself. The process of xerography (basically, Xeroxing images instead of hand-drawing frame by frame) was first used in 101 Dalmatians (1961) out of sheer necessity due to the number of images of dalmatians needed. The process was continued to be used throughout the 60's, which was terrible news for the animation crew at the studio. This film began combining both xerography and traditional animation, bringing back a more classic visual aspect to the film than some other Disney films of the time.

The characters of the film are enormously representative of the lifestyles and viewpoints of the 1960's. There's Bagheera, the straight-laced and fatherly character; Baloo, the beatnik bear who can't live as plainly as Bagheera; there's the vultures, who clearly represent The Beatles (and were originally planned to be voiced by them - see the Trivia section below). And then... there's the apes, a clearly racist entry into the character list, which I'll describe more in a moment.

The soundtrack has some of Disney's best... and some of Disney's worst. The most memorable song of the film is "Bear Necessities", which went on to be nominated for Best Song at the Oscars (but lost out to "Talk to the Animals" from Doctor Dolittle). On the other end of the spectrum is Louis Prima's "I Wanna Be Like You". The song is sung by the King of the Apes who hopes to learn how to create fire with the aid of Mowgli. It's a sad thought that Disney was so certain that African-Americans would never be equal to whites that he set it into his final film in song. The song is actually featured on a article titled The 9 Most Racist Disney Characters.

Certainly an interesting film to look back on for the first time since childhood, though not one of Disney's best as far as I'm concerned.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Her role as Winifred the Elephant (Colonel Hathi's mate) was the last film role for Verna Felton, before her death in December 1966. Her first role in an animated Disney film was also that of an elephant: she was The Elephant Matriarch in Dumbo (1941).
  • According to Elsie Kipling Baimbridge, Rudyard Kipling's daughter, "Mowgli" is pronounced "MAU-glee", not "MOH-glee". She reportedly never forgave Walt Disney for the gaffe.
  • The xerographic system, which had been used since One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), was further refined to combine both Xeroxed cels with hand inked details. For example, while the basic animation on the village girl at the end of the movie was with Xeroxed cels, her mouth was inked by hand. The backgrounds also moved back towards the more traditional look of earlier films.
  • The Vultures were originally going to be voiced by The Beatles. The band's manager, Brian Epstein, approached the Disney studios about having The Beatles appear in the film, and Disney had his animators create the Vultures specifically to be voiced by the band. But when Epstein took the idea to the Beatles, John Lennon vetoed the idea, and told Epstein to tell Disney he should hire Elvis Presley instead. The look of The Vultures, with their mop-top haircuts and Liverpool voices, are a homage to The Beatles.
  • Kaa's song "Trust in me" was originally written for Mary Poppins (1964) as "Land of sand" but not used.

Monday, December 28, 2009

#408: Zelig (1983)

Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Woody Allen & Mia Farrow

Have you ever known somebody who changes their personality to blend in with different cliques? Well, you've never met somebody who does it as well as Leonard Zelig. Not only does Zelig put on the personality and speech of the people he associates with, but his physical appearance morphs into something similar as well. Physicians are stumped by his abnormality, but Dr. Eudora Nesbitt Fletcher is certain that the base of his ability is psychological.

I'll start with the praise. Woody Allen has always somehow walked a line between being incredibly ahead of his time while presenting his material from the Old Days (-- at least this has been true until his more recent films, which have departed from the time period he used to treasure so much). What brings him ahead of the rest of the crowd is twofold in Zelig.

As always, he has come up with some ridiculous scenarios that somehow wouldn't be all that surprising in the real world. For example, Zelig's ability to blend in with any crowd is immediately exploited by advertising agencies. The second, and most obvious way he is ahead of his time is his use of historical footage of famous characters and perfectly places his own image into the scene. This same technique was used about a decade later in Forrest Gump, and the technique even then was considered remarkable. But Forrest Gump didn't place the most blatantly Jewish film icon into a clip from a speech by Hitler.

Unfortunately, I've found that Zelig has one horrible problem. Woody found one great joke.. and dragged it on for an entire film without really going anywhere. This brings its greatness down a notch, leaving it somewhere between one of his classics like Radio Days and - oh, I don't know - Corky Romano. Okay, that was harsh, but you get the idea.

I give it a B.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Mae Questel, the voice of Betty Boop from 1931 to 1989 is the voice of Helen Kanesinging "Chameleon Days".
  • To create authenticity, the production used actual lenses, cameras and sound equipment from the 1920s, and used the exact same lighting that would have been done. In addition, 'Gordon Willis' took the exposed negatives to the shower, and stomped on them.
  • In 2007, Italian psychologists discovered a rare form of brain damage which affects its victims much like Zelig's condition (without, of course, the accompanying physical transformations). Researcher Giovannina Conchiglia and associates have proposed the name "Zelig-like Syndrome" for the disorder, because of the parallels to the film.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

#409: Men in Black (1997)

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Cast: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones & Linda Fiorentino

NYPD Agent James Darrel Edwards III encounters a very odd person of interest who warns him that the world will end. Soon after, while being interrogated about the incident, a man named K walks into his cell, changing his life as he knows it. He is inducted into the organization called the Men in Black. His new job is to keep secret the knowledge of extraterrestrial life in the USA, particularly in Manhattan. The job gets risky when a farmer from upstate is killed by an alien 'bug', and his body is used as a disguise in his efforts to destroy the universe.

The special effects in this flick are great, partially because of how absolutely ridiculous they got. The designers of the aliens were not asked to create one monster, but loads of them in various shapes and sizes, and many of them in ludicrous disguises. Sonnenfeld clearly had a ball finding as much about New York to poke fun at, which really makes this film a gem.

The plot is a little bit fuzzy, but let's face it: this is a summer blockbuster, not a Best Film nominee. The acting is on the good side - nothing phenomenal, due to its lack of depth. But, Will Smith is at his best here, Tommy Lee Jones puts on a great straight-face with a touch of sadness towards the end, and Linda Fiorentino has a similar role to her leading spot in Dogma, Bethany. It's unfortunate that Fiorentino's career never really took hold, apparently due to a lack of variation in her character - but she puts on a great business-like, cynical, independent woman.

Watch it for a good laugh and a good dose of action.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • During the shoot, there was a script revision which changed the role of the 'Universe' in the movie. Fortunately, some creative tricks could be used to avoid having to re-shoot several scenes. For instance, the dialogue between Rosenberg and the tall man in the diner was originally in English (and they were adversaries), but their lines were simply dubbed in an alien language that could be subtitled with the desired explanation. New lines were also written for Frank, the talking dog, whose scenes had to go through post-production anyway. Director Barry Sonnenfeld could be heard on the DVD bonus material jokingly advising fellow directors to include a talking dog into every movie, which makes it easy to change the plot while filming.
  • After Linda Fiorentino "won" her role in Men in Black in a poker game with director Barry Sonnenfeld, he warned her that she would not be in any nude scenes.
  • The MIB headquarters are located in the ventilation tower of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, which connects Manhattan with Brooklyn.
  • David Schwimmer was asked to play the role of J before Will Smith, but turned it down.

#410: A Hard Day's Night (1964)

Director: Richard Lester
Cast: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison & Ringo Starr

Beatlemania has spread across the globe in 1964, and the unpretentious and would-be low-key members of the band are faced with crazed fans and reporters asking inane questions, as well as performances to put on, and downtime in between. All the while, Paul is asked to watch over his grandfather, whose senility brings him through adventures of his own.

The best way I can pseudo-analyze this one is by comparing it to my previous post on Elvis's Jailhouse Rock (1957). Only seven years had passed, and the change is astonishing. Elvis did not play himself, but instead took on the character Vince Everett. His personality today would be easily defined as emo, with an aggressive behavior and a sad outlook on life. He discovers his own unique way of singing, bringing him to worldwide fame.

And then, only a few years later, the Beatles come along. They are all-out joyful, and their voices are completely natural. Their singing doesn't come across as pretentious at all - they are practically sending an invitation to you to sing along, and anyone can do it. While Elvis was trained how to answer questions from the press, the Beatles were 100% original in their speech.

As far as entertainment value, I wasn't enthralled. Though it of course was all comedic, the Beatles are such a monument in music history that I can't help but watch this film as anything but a historical gem.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • The people chasing The Beatles into the train at the beginning of the film are real fans.
  • When shooting began, The Beatles had not yet joined the British actor's union. They were hastily inducted on the set with Wilfrid Brambellproposing their membership, and Norman Rossington seconding the motion.
  • Ringo was praised for his solo scene at the riverside as a forlorn soul. However, his expression in that scene was actually the result of being severely hung over after a previous night of heavy drinking.
  • The constant mention of Paul's grandfather being "very clean" are references to actor Wilfrid Brambell playing a rag and bone man in"Steptoe and Son" (1962), featuring the catch-phrase, "You dirty old man." "Steptoe and Son" (1962) was remade in the USA as "Sanford and Son" (1972).
  • The first movie ever put out on DVD, it was issued as a single disc. It was later reissued as a two-disc DVD.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

#411: Spiderman 2 (2004)

Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco & Alfred Molina

Spiderman returns to the big screen, swinging into combat against a machine-gone-wild, transforming inventor Dr. Otto Octavius into the evil Doc Ock. Meanwhile, Pete continues to struggle in his relationships with the lovely Mary Jane Watson, as well as continuing to conceal the fact that he had killed the father of his best friend, Harry.

Sorry it's taken me so long to write this one, but there really isn't a whole lot to say about these blockbusters. The fight sequences are great - but nowadays, most are, so that's not a whole lot to say about a film.

The acting is mediocre - Tobey isn't at his finest here, Dunst is at her average (which is equivalent to her best, from what I've seen), and Franco is fine. And I'm still surprised that Molina took this role - he seems to have been making some fine films until this one came out, and I haven't really seen him since.

But to top it all off, Spiderman is unmasked to the public in this film. Peter seems not to care whatsoever if he's found out, standing on top of buildings with his mask off, saving runaway trains with his mask off... it just doesn't fit with the story. Lame lame lame.

Eh, it's only a film to see on the big screen, nothing more.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Tobey Maguire's participation was in doubt at one point because he was suffering severe back pains. Jake Gyllenhaal, was lined up to play Spider-Man and had already begun preparation, but Maguire decided to take part after all. However, according to the DVD commentary, the "My back!" joke after Peter falls from the roof was purely coincidental, as it was written into the script before Maguire's problem arose.
  • Danny Elfman, who did the film score (for this and several other films by Sam Raimi) had some sort of falling out with the director during the course of this film, and has been quoted saying "To see such a profound negative change in a human being was almost enough to make me feel like I didn't want to make films anymore." He has stated that they'll never work together again.
  • The phone number on Peter's helmet for Joe's Pizzeria is to a real NY Pizza place. 212-366-1182. Evidently they love the publicity.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

#412: Heathers (1988)

Director: Michael Lehmann
Cast: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk & Kim Walker

Heather, Heather, Veronica and Heather are the girls at Westerburg High that all the guys want to be with and all the girls want to be. Except, one of them doesn't want to be a part of their clique anymore. When Veronica meets J.D., a dangerous and mysterious bad-ass lurking in the corner of the cafeteria, he convinces her to kill the lead Heather and make it look like a suicide. Afterwards, the murders posed as suicides continue as the social hierarchy of the school adapts to the changes being made.

This... was weird. There were a few hysterical lines in the script, which I'll give a few examples of later, but aside from that, the overall atmosphere in the film is kind of disturbing. Maybe I'm not well-adjusted to watching dark comedies, but there are a few moments in the film when I'm genuinely freaked out.

I also didn't think much of any of the acting. Particularly of Christian Slater, who seemed to be nearly mimicking Jack Nicholson (who he credits as his 'inspiration' for the role). I said this to my sister while watching, and I'll say it again: Christian Slater is one of the strangest teen icons to grace the silver screen.

The appeal for this film is its uniqueness. Filmmakers are afraid to make dark comedies with such disturbing material if they're aimed at younger audiences. Lehmann not only mocks high school drama, but he mocks high school suicides and bomb threats.

I'll just conclude by stating bluntly, in case you haven't figured it out, I wasn't enthralled. But before I go, some examples of fine script-writing from the film.

Veronica Sawyer: All we want is to be treated like human beings, not to be experimented on like guinea pigs or patronized like bunny rabbits.
Veronica's Dad: I don't patronize bunny rabbits.

Officer Milner: My God, suicide. Why?
Officer McCord: [holds up bottle of mineral water found next to one of the bodies] Does *this* answer your question?
Officer Milner: [appalled] Oh man! They were fags?

J.D.: [after killing Heather] What are we gonna tell the cops? "Fuck it if she can't take a joke, Sarge".
Veronica Sawyer: The cops? This is my life. Oh, my God. I'll have to send my S.A.T. scores to San Quentin instead of Stanford.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB)
  • At the beginning of the film Heather Chandler asks Heather Duke "did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?" The actress who played Heather Chandler, Kim Walker later died of a brain tumor.
  • Mid-1990's-era ska/punk band Edna's Goldfish named their song "Veronica Sawyer" after the main character in Heathers. The song's theme of alienation among suburban teenagers reflects the themes of the movie. Reel Big Fish covered the song on their 2009 album "Fame, Fortune and Fornication."
  • Two stars of the movie died at an early age: Jeremy Applegate (Peter Dawson, whose character prays he will never commit suicide) committed suicide with a shotgun on March 23, 2000, and Kim Walker (Heather Chandler, who had the line "Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?") died of a brain tumor on March 6, 2001.
  • SPOILER: J.D. tricks Veronica into killing the jocks by claiming to use "ich luge" bullets, which he claims only pierce the skin. "Ich lüge" is German for "I'm lying".

#413: Finding Nemo (2003)

Directors: Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich
Cast: Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres & Alexander Gould

Marlin is a father who is extremely cautious over the safety of his son, Nemo, after Nemo’s mother was attacked while expecting multiple children. Nemo was the only one to survive the attack. On Nemo’s first day of school, Marlin anxiously watches the class head off on a field trip. After discovering that the class is exploring the dangerous ‘drop-off’, Marlin chases after them, only to witness Nemo get kidnapped. With the aid of Dory, who suffers short-term memory loss, Marlin hunts down the kidnappers and plans to save Nemo before he’s flushed down the toilet.

Oh, did I not mention? Nemo’s a fish.

Needless to say, this film covers some pretty intense material for a kids movie. With Marlin’s back story being given immediately is shocking for adults let alone kids, and the emotional roller coaster he endures is remarkably deep. Not gonna lie, this is the one cartoon that can give me shivers.

The animation for Finding Nemo surpasses all of Pixar’s films to date. That’s right, even WALL-E. There was just so much to work with, from the anatomy of many species of underwater life to the light coming through the water. The opening scenes are absolutely dazzling, and the quality never fails throughout.

The voice acting is also extraordinary. Albert Brooks, though he has admitted that he didn’t enjoy making this film, gives a wonderful tenderness to Marlin. But the star voice actor of the film, no doubt, is Ellen DeGeneres. Dory could have been one of the most irritating characters of all times, but Ellen just made her fun, care-free, and extremely loving.

And the music! Thomas Newman at his best. It’s unfortunate that this Newman has been put to the side for so many years to make room for his cousin Randy, though the tides are turning, with such huge titles under his belt as WALL-E, Revolutionary Road, Jarhead, Cinderella Man and The Good German.

Accessible for adults, kids, and everything in between. Absolutely wonderful.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

  • The seagulls ("Mine, mine") were modeled after the penguins in the claymation Wallace and Gromit short Wallace & Gromit in The Wrong Trousers (1993).
  • Afraid that kids would try releasing their pet fish by flushing them down a drain, a company that manufactures equipment used by water filtration and sewage treatment plants released a warning the Thursday after the film came out saying that, even though drains do eventually reach the ocean, before it got there the water would go through equipment which breaks down solids, and went on to say that in real life the movie would more appropriately be called "Grinding Nemo".
  • As "research" the key figures of the production crew had to get SCUBA certification and go to the Great Barrier Reef on the insistence of John Lasseter.
  • 'Bruce' the great white shark was named after 'Bruce' the animatronic great white that was used in making the movie Jaws (1975).

Friday, December 4, 2009

#414: The Double Life of Veronique (1991)

Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Cast: Irène Jacob

(Sorry about the bad quality on the trailer, it's the only version I could find that doesn't suck.)

Have you ever felt like you somehow aren't quite complete? And I don't mean that in the sense of the search for a soulmate. I mean, you felt like you yourself are somehow in two different places at once. Well, Véronique of Paris has felt that way her whole life, and Weronika of Krakow would be able to tell her why. Weronika was walking along Market Square in Krakow when she sees herself boarding a bus full of tourists.

I wish I could give more to the synopsis. This movie is brilliant, but there's really no way to put it into words. Even though I could say that not much happens in the plot, I can't deny that my eyes were glued to the TV. The feeling evoked from the film is absolutely haunting - and that's a word I use sparsely ( -- it's also one of my favorite words!).

Through Irène Jacob's performance, the audience is put into a constant state of unease. We are immediately in league with Véronique and can sense every nuance of her emotional state, and everyone else is a mystery. There are even characters that we see multiple times, watching Véronique, and we never learn who it is that's watching her.

I would normally be ashamed of myself to leave the post here, but reading other reviews, I know that this is one of the hardest films to write about. I could sit here for weeks trying to come up with something without success. All I can say is, this is a beautiful movie that instills feelings in me that no other film has. Will certainly be looking up more of Kieslowski's works.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Kieslowski originally wanted Andie MacDowell to play Veronique.
  • The text sung by Weronika in the Concert is actually the beginning of the second Chant of Dante's Paradiso: "O voi che siete in piccioletta barca, desiderosi d'ascoltar, seguiti dietro al mio legno che cantando varca, Non vi mettete in pelago, ché forse, perdendo me, rimarreste smarriti. L'acqua ch'io prendo giá mai non si corse; Minerva spira è conducemi Appollo, è nove Muse mi dimostran l'Orse." Dante, Paradiso, II, 1-9.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

#415: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Director: George A. Romero
Cast: David Emge, Ken Foree, Gaylen Ross & Scott H Reiniger

Soon after the events depicted in Night of the Living Dead, pandemonium has spread across the country. At a television station in Philadelphia, reporters have few facts to report on the cause of the reanimation of the dead. The traffic helicopter pilot, Stephen, decides to hijack his chopper and flee the city with his girlfriend, Francine. They soon encounter two SWAT team members, Roger and Peter, who are clearing out tenement buildings of the undead whose former families kept their bodies in the basement. The four find refuge in a barricaded shopping mall, awaiting for the day when it is safe to go leave the building.

This movie's got nothing on the original Night of the Living Dead. Romero toys with his work, making everything seem a-okay until somebody's head is blown off. It's never quite clear how comedic he intended the film to be, and it doesn't seem all that serious at all. Comparing this to Night of the Living Dead, where there is absolutely no hope left for the survivors, this film was a let down to me.

Only mediocre acting, horrible choices of music (which never help depict what should be dread), not such a great script... the only good thing was the depiction of disembowelment. I promise, my review (which I wrote last night) for Night of the Living Dead will be more positive.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Tom Savini chose a friend to play the helicopter zombie because he was notorious for having a low forehead.
  • Tom Savini used the same dummy throughout the course of filming. During that time it was blown up, burnt, shot, and beaten, among other things.
  • While writing the script for Night of the Living Dead (1968), George A. Romero and John A. Russo contemplated how they should have the zombies destroyed. Co-star and makeup artist Marilyn Eastman joked that they could throw pies into their faces. This is undoubtedly the basis for the pie fight scene in this film.
  • Director George A. Romero has said several times that David Emge's zombie walk is his favorite out of all the Dead movies. He has even gone on to go on to say that the performance is worthy of Lon Chaney.
  • SPOILER: Real cow intestines were used in the scene where Sledge (Taso N. Stavrakis) gets his guts ripped out. Tom Savini said that he lived near a slaughterhouse and that's how he got the idea to do the effect.

Monday, November 30, 2009

#416: Bad Taste (1987)

Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Terry Potter, Pete O'Herne, Craig Smith, Mike Minett & Peter Jackson

Have you ever wondered why there's never been a movie about aliens invading a small town in New Zealand, killing the inhabitants to sell at intergalactic fast food restaurants? You have no need to wonder anymore, because it's already been made. Five men are all that's left of the small town of Kaihoro to fend off the extraterrestrial invaders, and one of them is slowly losing his mind. Or, rather, his brain.

This movie comes off in every way as a homemade movie. And that's because it is. It's really easy to bash this film - the acting sucks, the camerawork is extremely shoddy, and there's nothing to brag about with its effects. But looking at it from the perspective that it really was made by Peter Jackson piece by piece, with a cheap camera and props handmade, it's pretty impressive.

However, you really need to have a certain (ahem... bad?) taste to enjoy this. Blood squirting everywhere at every possible moment, brains getting squished, aliens being sliced in half... you get the idea.


Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Director Peter Jackson shot the film on weekends over a four-year period with friends playing the lead roles. Jackson funded most of the film himself until towards the end of the shoot when the New Zealand Film Commission gave him money to finish his project after being impressed with what he'd already produced. There was never a script for the movie; each scene was filmed from ideas the director had come up with during the week.
  • Peter Jackson made all masks in his mother's kitchen. The heads of the aliens are bent backwards because otherwise they wouldn't fit in the oven where the latex was hardened.
  • The "firearms" in the film are all non-functional replicas made by Peter Jackson. For example, what appears to be a WWII Sterling submachine gun is actually a length of aluminum pipe, a handle made from Fimo, and a piece of wood to stand in for the ammunition magazine. The actors shook the props to simulate recoil, and the muzzle flashes were added in post-production.
  • The name of the town 'Kaihoro' under attack is a Maori word that can be translated as either "Food Town" or "Fast Food" - Kai meaning Food, and Horo meaning Village and also Quickly, depending on the context.

#417: Lords of Dogtown (2005)

Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Cast: Victor Rasuk, John Robinson & Emile Hirsch

Three friends, Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta and Jay Adams, have to find a new sport to replace surfing when the waves stop coming to the pier. Because of the draught that year in the 1970s, pools were emptied. Tony, Stacy and Jay take up skateboarding, eventually becoming some of the first members of the group called The Z-Boys. Soon afterwards, the three become famous in the skating world, but the fame brings the three on separate paths.

This true story is depicted with brilliance, giving an incredible sense of the culture in Venice, California. The colors are so bright, nearly bleached by the sun. I honestly felt like I was going to need to put on sun block just by watching this film.

I honestly thought the acting was good - and nothing more. However, Heath Ledger is praised like woah for this film. He plays the creator of Z-Boys, Skip Engblom, who worked at a surf board shop until the draught, and who acts as the boys' manager until he proves himself unable to carry out the task. His character was incredibly flamboyant, but this is said to be a perfect description of the real Skip Engblom. It's hard to believe some of the characters from California actually exist.

If you have any interest at all in skating and the punk/skater culture that was brought about by the Z-Boys, this movie is a must-see. I'd recommend it for anyone into sports films.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Many parts of the dilapidated pier set (e.g. the big dipper) were added using CGI to keep costs down. However, the derelict ferris wheel was real and had been purchased on eBay for a few thousand dollars.
  • While filming a scene in an empty pool, director Catherine Hardwicke fell and was knocked unconscious for two minutes. Many of the cast and crew thought she had died. When she came to, the pro-skaters there said "Now you know how it feels. Welcome to the club."
  • To prepare for his role as young Jay Adams, Emile Hirsch flew to Hawaii to spend time with Jay Adams who had just been released from jail for assault and drug charges and had just gotten married.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

#418: V for Vendetta (2005)

Director: James McTeigue
Cast: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving & Stephen Rea

After the fall of the United States, England is taking extraordinary measures to maintain civility. All people of non-English (and non-hetero) background have become outcasts. A curfew is set, but young Evey needs to visit her friend Deitrich and risks it. She is soon stopped in an alley by two threatening corrupt policemen. She is saved by a stranger in a Guy Fawkes mask presenting himself as "V". He brings her to the top of a building to hear what he calls a concert, which turns out to be the bombing of the Old Bailey, with the 1812 Overture blasted through the streets through the government's city-wide PA system.

Evey becomes the target of the government, being caught on CCTV. At her office, the TVs stop their normal broadcast, and Evey sees V once again on the screen. He announces that the government must be stopped, and calls for the people of England to march on Parliament on Guy Fawkes Day in one year to bomb the building, as Guy Fawkes planned centuries ago. When the broadcast is over, government officials enter Evey's office. She narrowly evades their 'black bags', being saved once again by V, who brings her back to his underground hiding place. Meanwhile, Inspector Finch discovers disturbing information while investigating V's past, leading him to doubt everything he led to believe about the government he serves.

There is no doubt that this is Natalie Portman's best performance of her career. Her emotional breakdown is remarkable, and I've never seen somebody cry more convincingly on screen. I would really love to see her in a slasher flick - she would definitely add a huge sense of dread through her absolute terror.

The representation of Britain in this film is absolutely disturbing, especially due to how believable it all is. The use of CCTV all over London in real life is already considered highly invasive, though there's no end of its use in sight. The election of BNP members to the EU Council is also a step towards the London represented in the film, with their discrimination against non-English peoples.

This film has hit home for Americans as well as the British. Though most Americans can't relate to the issues going on abroad, this film is probably the first to really push on the possibility that the fall of the World Trade Center could have been planned by the US Government itself. Of course, this will probably never be proven, but this film shows how and why it could have been done.

It's clear that this film did something right. How many Americans do you think knew who Guy Fawkes even was before this film came out? And how many Facebook statuses did you see this year on November 5 reading "remember, remember the fifth of November"?The film deserves its wide recognition, and I hope McTeigue keeps his career going (though his second, very recent film release - Ninja Assassin - isn't getting much praise).

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Natalie Portman looked forward to shaving her head totally bald for the role of Evey Hammond during the torture scenes, stating that she has wanted to do it for a long time. For the shaving scene, the crew and the shaving guys had only one take to do it.
  • The Houses of Parliament destroyed in the film are not the same buildings which Guy Fawkes planned to destroy in 1605. The original Parliament buildings were destroyed in a fire in 1834. The current buildings are built on the same site and took 30 years to build, finishing in 1870. They were largely destroyed again in World War Two and rebuilt to the original design in the late 1940s.
  • The scenes near the end that take place in an abandoned London Underground station were actually filmed at Aldwych, a branch from the Piccadilly line that was closed in 1994. The branch still has its tracks and current rails, allowing an operational train to be used in the scene.
  • V's pseudonym, "Rookwood", is the last name of another conspirator at the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, as are the names of Rookwood's friends "Percy" and "Keyes".
  • In the original graphic novel, V's cause was anarchy, not freedom. Alan Moore was specifically and harshly critical of the movie for changing what he called the "anarchy vs. fascism" structure of his graphic novel into what he saw as an exploration of "American neo-liberalism vs. American neo-conservatism" that should have been thusly set in the U.S. instead of Britain.
  • The name Evey is pronounced EV, with E being the fifth letter of the alphabet, V being five in Latin and Y being the 25th letter (5 squared)
  • On a clock that has an hour hand and a minute hand, the time 11:05 makes a V. These two numbers, 11 and 5, where 11 is November, and 5 is the day of November, spell out: the fifth of November. "Remember, remember the 5th of November."
  • The building used for the wide-angle shot of Evey on the balcony actually exists, although certain architectural details were digitally modified. It is located at 1 Cornhill, London, and is just across the street from the Bank of England.
  • All of V's dialogue was recorded via ADR. Initially, a mask was designed with a small microphone inside it and another mike was designed to sit along the hair line of actor Hugo Weaving, but neither worked very well.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

#419: Days of Heaven (1978)

Director: Terrence Malick
Cast: Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard & Linda Manz

To get away from the cops after accidentally murdering his boss at the steel mill, Bill hops on a train with his lover, Abby, and his kid sister, Linda. They travel across the country from Chicago to Texas, where they find jobs in the field of a large farm. To avoid rumors that could lead to Bill's history, he claims that Abby is his sister. When Bill overhears the rich farm owner speaking with his doctor, he discovers that the farmer will die within a year from a disease. Bill convinces Abby to marry the farmer so they can have a share of his fortune in the near future. Things get out of hand, however, when Abby begins to fall in love with the farmer... and the farmer's health doesn't seem to be deteriorating.

The cinematography is incredible in this film. Every shot could belong in a magazine, and it's hard to take your eyes off the screen. If only the same thing were true for your ears.

Ennio Morricone was praised for this score. I don't really think it's deserved - though it's possible its because of being a music student alum. The film starts with Aquarium from Saint-Sæns' Carnival of the Animals. Throughout the film, the music alternates between this and Morricone's score of variations on the Saint-Sæns. With so much iconic American scenery featured throughout the film, I found it inappropriate to use so much music from France, and even worse, such a well-known piece of music. There doesn't seem to be any meaning behind its use to justify the choice, so I don't understand why Morricone didn't write his own themes, or at least chose a theme a little less recognizable.

Also, the narration made me cringe. The film is narrated by Linda, the kid sister. Her voice is tainted with a cringe-worthy Chicagoan accent. Not only did I not want to be told a story by an obnoxious sounding 12-year-old, but I couldn't even understand a whole lot of what she was blabbering about. The fact that her narration has been praised, calling her role 'haunting', completely mystifies me.

Not particularly impressed. Aside from the photography.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • After filming for a short time, Terrence Malick threw out the script altogether and filmed for a close to a year allowing the actors to "find the story" for the film as they went along.
  • The shot of locusts ascending to the sky was shot in reverse with the helicopter crew throwing peanut shells down, and actors walking backwards.
  • Cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who got an "additional photography" credit in the film, complained to Roger Ebert that more than half of the footage was shot by him.

Monday, November 23, 2009

#420: Jerry Maguire (1996)

Director: Cameron Crowe
Cast: Tom Cruise, Renée Zellweger & Cuba Gooding Jr.

Jerry Maguire is one of the top sports agents in his firm. He's rolling in the dough, keeping his romantic life active and never committal, and doesn't even really need to try too hard to get it all done. But one night, out of the blue, he looks at his life and realizes how repulsive it is. He puts all his thoughts to paper, writing a personal mission statement in which he places morals over moolah. He distributes it to the entire company, and before he changes his mind the place is roaring with applause... except for his boss. He's fired on the spot. He calls all of his clients begging for them to stay with him, but only two stay on his side. Also on his side is single mom Dorothy Boyd, from the finance department, who has fallen head over heels for Jerry.

In all honesty, I wasn't looking forward to watching this. I mean, it has Tom Cruise - that's a bad sign. But the fact of the matter is, this is a great movie. Probably among the top 10 of the 90's (I sense a list will be made soon...). Part of its greatness is in the casting. This role IS Tom Cruise. There's even bits of insanity thrown in. Cuba Gooding, Jr. is also at the top of his game in the film, earning him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. And of course there's Ms. Zellweger, whose character is among the most charming roles of hers that I've seen.

It's also not possible to review this film without mentioning its catchphrases. Having never seen the film, I never knew where some of these lines came from, and was surprised just how many this film has.

The plot is a nice twist for the sport film genre, focusing on the work put off the field rather than the games themselves. All of the characters have much more depth in them than in the standard sport film as well, pulling you in much more for the final game we witness.

My only problem? The fact that I saw a skit on SNL before I saw the film. Renée Zellweger was hosting, and parodied a scene with Dorothy and her son. In the skit, the son was played by Chris Farley, wearing extremely large glasses and holding a gargantuan juice box. Sitting on Zellweger's lap. I just couldn't watch scenes with Dorothy and her son the way I was intended to. I wish I could find the video on YouTube, but I can't.

Great film. Don't pass up on it because a crazy man has the title role.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Cameron Crowe has stated that Jerry's memo/mission statement was directly influenced by Jeffrey Katzenberg's tirade after leaving Disney.
  • Tom Cruise did not remember that Bonnie Hunt was in Rain Man (1988). At first he thought she was joking when she said they had worked together before.
  • Renée Zellweger admitted that the day she was cast in this film, it had been so long since she had worked that when she went to an ATM, she did not have enough of a balance to make a withdrawal.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

#421: Lethal Weapon (1987)

Director: Richard Donner
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey & Mitch Ryan

Two cops are put together to solve the latest case. One is Sgt. Roger Murtaugh, a family man who has just had his 50th birthday, and is concerned about the grey hairs growing on his chin. The other is Sgt. Martin Riggs, whose mental stability has been in question ever since his girlfriend died in a car crash. The two are caught in shootouts, hostage scenarios - the whole works - but you never quite know if Sgt. Riggs is going to just snap.

The two unlikely cops becoming buddies storyline is completely overdone. There are two pieces of information that make this film just a step up from the rest. First off, nobody's sure what Riggs's next moves will be, being the mullet-headed loose cannon that he is. Secondly, the storyline that unravels with the case is actually easy to follow, and overall makes sense - a feature that doesn't present itself often enough in shooter films.

There's no great filmmaking asides from the good characters and plot. All I've got to say is that Richard Donner knows how to pick a script (The Omen, Superman, Superman II, The Goonies, Scrooged, Radio Flyer, Conspiracy Theory...).

Oh! And how could I forget. If you ever want to see Mel Gibson playing a character almost as crazy as himself in real life, with a mullet, and bare-assed... this is the film for you.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • One sequence shows a theatre marquee advertising The Lost Boys (1987), a film Richard Donner was producing at the time.
  • Franco Zeffirelli reportedly decided to offer Mel Gibson the role of Hamlet after seeing his suicide contemplation scene in this film.
  • According to a June 2007 Vanity Fair article, Bruce Willis was considered for the Riggs role.

#422: A Man Escaped (1956)

(Original Title: Un condamné à mort s'est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut)
Director: Robert Bresson
Cast: François Leterrier, Charles Le Clainche, Maurice Beerblock & Jacques Ertaud

In April of 1943, French resistance member André Devigny was arrested by the German authorities and brought to prison in Lyon. In his cell, nothing but escape was on his mind. Using the bare furnishings inside his cell, he conceived a plan - but has to carry it out before August 28, the day set for his execution.

The film is designed for the viewer to be forced to endure just a glimpse of the patience and determination required to even stay sane while detained in such horrible conditions. We grow an understanding of how much we overlook the opportunity to treasure the smallest of things, taking full advantage of their uses. Much of the success of this film is thanks to the advice from the man himself, André Devigny, who gave many details of his travails to director Robert Bresson. The film gets even more credibility by having a majority of the piece filmed inside the actual prison, Fort Montluc.

The minimal use of music, script or even visual detail gives a sense of dread to this film, leading us to have just the slightest of ideas of the horrendous state of affairs in Occupied France.

You should most certainly watch this film, considered one of the classics of French cinema. Even Paul Dano agrees with me.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Bresson insisted on complete authenticity. Original author Andre Devigny served as adviser on the film, which was actually shot in the same Montluc prison where he was incarcerated. Devigny also loaned Bresson the ropes and hooks he had used in his escape.
  • After seeing the film, Jean-Luc Godard said that Bresson was "to French cinema what Mozart is to German music and Dostoevsky is to Russian literature".
  • Robert Bresson himself had been a prisoner of war during WWII.
  • The first film of Bresson's where he used a completely non-professional cast.

Friday, November 20, 2009

#423: Kill Bill, Vol. II (2004)

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen & Daryl Hannah

(Contains spoiler from Kill Bill, Vol I ... if you haven't seen that, I don't know what's wrong with you)

The Bride continues her quest for revenge. Having dispatched O-Ren Ishii and Vernita Green, she is set to finish off the rest of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad: Elle Driver, Budd, and - most importantly - Bill. The twist (as discovered in Vol. I)? She never learned that the child she was holding when she was attacked at the Twin Pines Chapel was still alive.

What sets this film apart from all other 'sequels' is that it in fact is not a sequel. Kill Bill was originally written as one solitary film, but it ended up simply too long. Tarantino did not have the story simply continue through this film. Tarantino has described the two films as the first volume drawing outlines for the characters, but the second volume fills in the lines.

The characters in the story have much more substance in this film. We finally see the tender side of The Bride, as well as an unexpected tenderness in Bill. We also see more of the interactions between Bill, Bud and Elle.

The script is one worth study. The lines aren't written as if they were being told in the real world. They sound more like they are lines being told from a story around a campfire (hopefully voiced by David Carradine). The script - as well as other aspects of the film - gives homage to classics from both Spaghetti Westerns and Kung-Fu flicks. Many of the songs throughout the film are borrowed from Spaghetti Westerns, and many of the characters are drawn directly from classic Kung-Fu films.

The cinematography, like Vol. I, continues to dazzle the audience, but in a completely different way. Leaving the pristine settings of Vernita's house in Pasadena and O-Ren Ishii's Tokyo joint, we find ourselves getting gritty out west, setting kung-fu fights in the confines of a trailer, as well as at the gritty resting place of the unknown character of Paula Schultz.

The film is completely different than its predecessor, but there have never been two films that complement each other so well, leading to sheer awesomeness. If you've never seen these films, I really recommend that you get yourselves on Netflix immediately.

Oh, and read some of the trivia below, there's some pretty cool stuff.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • The chapter "Yuki's Revenge" was cut from filming to accommodate a new chapter, "Massacre at Two Pines" that details the attack on The Bride. An outline of the chapter was to have Yuki Yubari, Gogo's sister seek vengeance on the Bride for killing her sister, Yuki was to be played by Kou Shibasaki who co-stared with Chiaki Kuriyama (who plays Gogo in Vol.1) in the Japanese movie Batoru rowaiaru (2000).
  • The reason that The Bride no longer has the "Pussy Wagon" in Vol. 2 is because in the original script that included the character of Yuki Yubari, Go-Go's sister, Yuki had destroyed it soon after the killing of Vernita Green.
  • The character Pai Mei appears in several Shaw Bros Kung Fu films from the 1970s-80s including Hong Wending san po bai lian jiao (1980) (Clan of the White Lotus). Pai Mei means "White Eyebrow". Ironically, Gordon Liu (Chia Hui Liu), who stars as Pai Mei in this film, starred as the protagonist in Clan of the White Lotus and fought Pat Mei/Bak Mei (played by legendary Shaw Brothers studio actor Lo Lieh).
  • Quentin Tarantino originally intended to only have Pai Mei's lips speaking Cantonese, while his voice would be in English, imitating a bad dub job. Tarantino was going to provide the voice himself. In the end, Tarantino abandoned this idea and Pai Mei's voice is that of the actor, Chia Hui Liu.
  • The Bride never actually says anything to Budd.
  • Robert Rodriguez scored this movie for $1. Quentin Tarantino said he would repay him by directing a segment of Rodriguez's project Sin City (2005) for $1.
  • Bill's apartment in Mexico is number 101, the same as Neo's in The Matrix (1999). The fights in both films were choreographed by Woo-ping Yuen. In addition, room 101 is a reference to George Orwell's "1984", the room where the thing you fear most resides.
  • In the scene where Uma Thurman is being buried alive, the master shot has the pickup's headlights illuminating the graveyard. On the right of the screen, the exhumed body's gnarled hand casts a bunny-shaped shadow on its coffin.

#424: To Have and Have Not (1944)

Director: Howard Hawks
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan, Marcel Dalio & Dan Seymour

Just after the fall of France thanks to Vichy, the French Caribbean suffered under the new regime, though it often was overlooked. To Have and Have Not sets its tale in Martinique in 1940. American fisherman Harry Morgan (Bogart) finds himself in a pickle, trying to avoid allying himself with either the Vichy government or the French resistance.

This film is probably best known for one line, carried out by Lauren Bacall: "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? Just put your lips together, and blow." To Have and Have Not was Bacall's first role in a film, at the tender age of 19. And I'm surely not the only one to say, but my, girls just don't mature the same way as they used to. She has one of the most sultry voices you'll get from the leading ladies of the '40s. It comes as no surprise, then, that this is also the film in which Humphrey Bogart fell in love with her, leading to a marriage (despite the 25-year age difference).

The music by William Lava and Franz Waxman is phenomenal, particularly the songs performed on screen by Hoagy Carmichael. Carmichael has an incredibly impressive resume - take a look at his IMDB profile and glance at some of the songs he's written that have been used in films for decades.

Now here's the beef. I found this film to be pretty much identical to Casablanca. They both feature Bogart in a role where he's stuck in the middle of riots between the Vichy gendarmes and the French resistance in an exotic landscape, where he meets a beautiful and intriguing girl. The strange thing about this is that the story has been completely altered from the original novel by Hemingway to actually reproduce what had been done in Casablanca intentionally. Who does that!?

Still, the film is hailed as one of Bogart's finest, with a 100% rating on RottenTomatoes. I don't agree with it - it's certainly not as good as Casablanca... but it's still a very good, classic film.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall fell in love during production. Director Howard Hawks afterward said that it was actually Bacall's character Marie that Bogart had fallen for, "so she had to keep playing it the rest of her life." However, it has also been said that Hawks - who was something of a womanizer, and who had a fling withDolores Moran during the shooting of the film - was jealous and frustrated that Bacall had fallen for Bogart and not for Hawks himself.
  • The setting was shifted to Martinique because the Office of Inter-American Affairs would not have allowed export of a film showing smuggling and insurrection in Cuba.
  • The most famous scene in To Have and Have Not (1944) is undoubtedly the "you know how to whistle" dialog sequence. It was not written by Ernest Hemingway, Jules Furthman or William Faulkner, but by Howard Hawks. Hawks wrote the scene as a screen test for Bacall, with no real intention that it would necessarily end up in the film. The test was shot with Warner Bros. contract player John Ridgelyacting opposite Bacall. The Warners staff, of course, agreed to star Bacall in the film based on the test, and Hawks thought the scene was so strong he asked Faulkner to work it into one of his later drafts of the shooting script.
  • The screenplay was rewritten to boost Slim's role to take advantage of the public interest in the real life romance between Lauren Bacalland Humphrey Bogart.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

#425: Wonder Boys (2000)

Director: Curtis Hanson
Cast: Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Robert Downey Jr., Katie Holmes & Frances McDormand

Prof. Grady Tripp has been struggling to complete his second publication, which colleague Terry Crabtree has been anticipating to read for the past seven years. Upon Terry's arrival with his tuba-playing transvestite girlfriend, Prof. Tripp evades Terry's questions on the book. Tripp is also going through a divorce while sleeping with the married chancellor, who has suspicions about student Hannah Green, who is renting a room from Prof. Tripp. While Tripp may be struggling for inspiration for his book, student James Leer certainly isn't. A troubled youth, Leer has just finished writing his first novel, despite his troubles at home.

I'm surprised this film hasn't become better known. It's gotten many great reviews, though not that many seats taken in the audience.

The greatest thing about this movie is its mellow attitude towards some crazy events. With sex, drugs and transvestites (sorry, not that much rock-n-roll in this flick), you would expect some wacky, over-the-top characters yelling and screaming. Instead, the events are portrayed in a way that seems much more plausible on the university campus. Everyone takes these events in stride, focusing on what's most important at the end. In this case, that end is the publication of a great book.

Great performances are made by all, particularly Robert Downey Jr. His character could so easily have been absolutely over-the-top, but his nonchalance makes the character superb.

Oh, and the music is pretty fantastic as well. I hadn't known beforehand, it actually won an Oscar for Best Song with Bob Dylan's 'Things Have Changed'.

I'd definitely recommend this to anyone who wants a fun but relaxing time.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • All key scenes feature a bridge in the background, either one of the bridges of Pittsburgh, or on a painting.
  • The film was originally released in February of 2000 to almost universal praise (especially for the performance of Michael Douglas) but with very little fanfare. Paramount, the film's distributor, decided to re-release the film that November with a different marketing campaign that highlighted its strong supporting cast, and hopes that it would garner some Oscar nominations, despite Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Friedman's acknowledgment that no studio had ever successfully re-released a picture that initially flopped.
  • Bearing in mind the film's interest in Marilyn Monroe, the character of Miss Antonia Sloviak - a tuba-playing transvestite - may be a nod to Monroe's film Some Like It Hot (1959), in which two men disguise themselves as women and pose as members of an all-female band. (One of the men was played by Tony Curtis, which may have been the inspiration for Antonia's real name Tony.)