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.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

#426: Enduring Love (2004)

Director: Roger Michell
Cast: Daniel Craig, Rhys Ifans & Samantha Morton

Lovers Joe and Claire are enjoying a day out in the sun, having a picnic in a field outside of Oxford. Their time together is interrupted suddenly when a hot air balloons descends from the sky, one of its passengers dangling from the basket being dragged along the field. Joe, and others who witness the crash from the road, run after the balloon and bring it to a halt. However, before the man's young son gets out, the balloon takes off again with Joe and the other helpers holding on. One by one, the helpers let go of the basket, while one holds on too long. The men watch the balloon drift away, and finally the last man falls down to his death. Joe is traumatized by what he witnesses and can't seem to let it go. Soon after, one of the helpers calls his flat. This man, Jed, tells Joe that there is something they must discuss. When they meet, Jed is very off-putting, never stating quite what he means to say. Joe soon finds himself struggling to disentangle himself from Jed, as well as the balloon accident.

In my view, the genre of this film itself alters completely about halfway through. In the beginning, it posed moral questions to the audience. Who is at fault for the man's death? Why did the man hold on for so long? Halfway through, though, we seem to forget all of this as all of a sudden we find ourselves in the midst of a thriller. Personally, I feel that this is just a bad decision to make, and I suppose I must blame Ian McEwan, author of the novel. There's no question that this simply wasn't his best novel (though I haven't read it myself).

Aside from that, this film is quite well done. The cinematography is phenomenal, especially the scene of the balloon accident. The acting is very good, as well. Daniel Craig flawlessly portrays the devolution of a man's character after a traumatic experience.

The reaction to the film seems to be mixed. Among the audience, many have criticized the film as negatively portraying both the mentally troubled as well as homosexuals. I have to agree, I found that there was absolutely no sympathy for our antagonist, which I believe is simply something that shouldn't be done aside from evil maniacs in fantasy stories.

Overall, I'm pretty ambivalent.

No Fun Trivia, once again, folks. IMDB is failing on us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

#427: Spring in a Small Town (1948)

(Original Title: Xiao Cheng Zhi Chun)
Director: Mu Fei
Cast: Wei Wei, Yu Shi, Wei Li, Hongmei Zhang & Chaoming Cui

Surprise! No trailer found, but you can watch the full film for free! Sorry, embedding doesn't seem to work. But! Free movie!

Soon after WWII, Yuwen finds herself living unhappily with her ill husband Liyan. Also living at their formerly exquisite house are Liyan's sister known simply as Meimei (Mandarin for 'little sister') and their servant, Lao Huang. Yuwen gets a shock one day when her old sweetheart named Zhichen arrives to visit Liyan, Zhichen's old schoolmate, a fact that Yuwen never knew. She soon realizes that she is still in love with Zhichen, while Liyan hopes for Yuwen to play matchmaker for Zhichen and Meimei.

This film was originally released just a year before the Communist Revolution. Before the film could make a name for itself, the Communists banned the film for being counter-revolutionary, and it was doomed to be lost forever. Luckily, the '80s brought a renaissance of Chinese cinema, leading to the film's rediscovery. Since then, Spring in a Small Town has been hailed as the greatest Chinese film of all time.

I'm not gonna lie, I don't see the big deal about this film. Yes, it demonstrates a feeling of a world lost to a joyless post-war depression, but there doesn't seem to be much in style or content that stood out to me at all. And to be completely honest, the audio quality completely ticked me off. Every time the narration comes in, you can hear the microphone turn on by the initiation of scratchy annoyance.

I read a fellow film blogger's analysis of this, and he completely adored it. I wouldn't mind if somebody could convince me to see this film in a better light. Because right now, I'd take Crouching Tiger over this for Best Chinese Film Ever any day.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Voted the best Chinese-language film of all time by the Hong Kong Film Academy in 2004.
  • Voted the best Chinese-language film of all time by the Hong Kong Film Critics Society in 2002.

Monday, November 16, 2009

#428: The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974)

Original Title: Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle (Eng: Every Man for Himself and God Against All)
Director: Werner Herzog
Cast: Bruno S., Walter Ladengast & Brigitte Mira

SURPRISE! Starz has been kind enough to post the full video on YouTube! If you're interested, here's the link:

Kaspar Hauser appeared on the streets of Nuremberg in 1828. Nobody knew him. He carried a bible in one hand, an anonymous note in the other. He was unable to walk properly, and the only words he could speak were, "horse!", "don't know", and "I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was". The townspeople took care of him, teaching him to walk, speak, and other ways of civilization. When he was able, he explained that he had spent his whole life in a small room, being fed through a hole in the door. His unseen captor spoke only rarely. Years later, Hauser was attacked with a knife. He claimed he recognized his attacker's voice as his captor from his previous life. After another few years, Hauser was attacked again, fatally stabbed.

Oh, and this is a true story.

Nobody ever learned the true story behind Hauser. Many of his benefactors in Nuremberg complained that Hauser was a compulsive liar, and doubted his claims of being held in confinement. His speedy learning process hinted at this as well. Even his death is doubted - many believe he was trying to prolong the publicity he had come to know so well by stabbing himself.

Herzog decided to ignore all of that in his film. The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser tells the tale of the boy from his own point of view. Instead of detailing the actual events with accuracy, Herzog uses the famous tale to question the conventions of society. Hauser is constantly baffled by conventional behaviors. For example, he asks why women can "only knit and cook". He is also completely repulsed when he is showcased one evening by an upper-class Englishman who hopes to adopt Hauser - most likely to flaunt his possession of such an enigma.

The strangest part of the film by far is the casting. Herzog decided not to cast a teenager for Hauser, which would have been appropriate. Instead, he cast 42-year-old Bruno S., the street performer and son of a prostitute. Bruno's life was (and continues to be, to this day,) a difficult one. After his mother died early in Bruno's life, he became what the Nazis called an ausschusskinder, or discarded child - a term no longer used in Germany. These children were sent to psychiatric clinics where the Nazis performed experiments. Bruno's state of mind has always been questionable, which has led to controversy whether he knew what he was doing with Herzog, and whether Herzog took advantage of Bruno's state of mind.

Ebert described this film as 'lyrical', which is as precise of a description as you will come to find. It isn't fantastic acting or even remarkable visually, but the storytelling is thought-provoking, seeing the world from the eyes of somebody who had never experienced it before.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • No trivia available :( But at least you have the whole movie linked above!

#429: Danger: Diabolik (1968)

Director: Mario Bava
Cast: John Phillip Law, Marisa Mell, Michel Piccoli & Adolfo Celi

A super criminal with the code name 'Diabolik' is capable of stealing millions as easily as a blink of an eye. He does it all for his girlfriend, Eva Kant. The chaos and anarchy he stirs up has gotten people fired from the government for their inability to stop Diabolik's crimes. Inspector Ginko realizes he needs help from people on the other side of society, bribing crime lord Ralph Valmont to help him capture Diabolik.

I'm at a loss for words on this one. At first, I shrugged this one off as a campy 60's comic-to-film. The music by Morricone is insane, with trumpets and saxophones blaring over cymbals crashing and sitars wailing -- with the occasional cutesy bassoon solo. The color and camerawork are performed to be as dynamic as possible. And the strangest thing I noticed was its lack of dialogue. I wouldn't be surprised if Diabolik had a running total of about 15 lines.

I decided to research a bit beyond RottenTomatoes, Wikipedia and IMDB on this one, because some people are just crazy for this film. This article from blogger DVD Savant helped me to understand a bit better why this film has become a bit of a cult classic. Of course this film is dated - it's a comic super villain story from the 60's, what should I have expected?

The color and angles are a fantastic way of going about making the film closer to the comic book. In fact, Tim Burton cited director Mario Bava as one of his greatest influences, which many people lead to believe that this film was an influence on the Batman films. Rather than dialogue, this film focuses on visuals, which is exactly what comic books are all about. And it's undeniable that some of these visuals will stick in your mind, especially its iconic image of Diabolik making love to Eva on a rotating bed absolutely littered in cash.

A part of the reason this film never hit it as big in America as it did in Europe is the American focus on both dialogue and special effects. It took me a few minutes to figure that one out, but it's true. Nearly all films coming out of America are focused on special effects (take a look at any blockbuster for evidence) or dialogue (take a look at the Academy Awards last year: Doubt, Revolutionary Road, The Reader). It seems that European audiences have more of an eye for visuals and the artistic merit of film, which has come across through this film. While Diabolik became a classic in Europe, trailers in America focused on gadgetry and (limited) dialogue, which just wasn't the film's fortes, leading to limited theatrical releases and negative reviews.

It's an interesting film to see from a historical perspective, but far too outdated for my tastes. A lot of people say it's a great, fun film to watch even today, so give it a chance if you're interested in the psychadelic, super-suave crime scene.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • The movie is based on "Diabolik", one of the longest running - and most successful - Italian comic strips. It was created by Angela Giussani and Luciana Giussani, two Milan sisters who built a small and very profitable publishing empire out of the "King of Terror"'s success. In the paper version, "Diabolik" is much more sinister than its cinematic counterpart - he's a criminal fighting evil with evil, often resorting to murder to "punish" the evildoers he meets. The movie was made assuming some knowledge of the comic strip, thus explaining the negative reaction it gets outside Italy.
  • DIABOLIK was designed by producer Dino De Laurentiis (later responsible for the infamously mammoth remakes of KING KONG and HURRICANE), and enabled Bava to work with a much larger budget ($3,000,000) and a more prestigious cast than he was accustomed to, but he remained true to his principles, relying on imagination rather than money, and brought the film in massively under budget at a mere $400,000. De Laurentiis was so thrilled, in fact, that he offered Bava the opportunity to make a sequel with the left over money, but Bava had by then tired of working with the producer and decided to pass.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

#430: Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Kurt Russell, Dennis Dun, Kim Cattrall, Carter Wong & James Hong

A gamble held in San Francisco's Chinatown doesn't end well for Wang, who owes trucker Jack Burton over $2000. He doesn't have the money on him, but a girl he met and is in love with does. The girl is coming to California today from China - she's the only Chinese girl with green eyes he's ever met. Jack drives Wang to meet her at the airport. At the terminal, a woman catches his eye. Before you know it, some ninja-style gangsters are attacking Jack, kidnapping Wang's love. On the chase, Jack and Wang are caught in a street fight between two Chinese gangs -- whose fight gets interrupted by sorcerers using "Chinese Black Magic". The adventure that ensues just gets crazier and crazier, involving ninjas, myths and monsters, never failing to surprise you.

This movie is AWESOME. From what I gather, people in our generation are pretty much oblivious to this film aside from its title. And there's absolutely no reason why this should be so. It's The Goonies for adults! I kept thinking to myself, I usually go for Kung Fu movies when I'm home sick - but this would be the absolute perfect flick for a day in. It has everything, from kung fu to comedy to everything else in between.

John Carpenter has directed two films that are still widely known, those being this and Halloween. What I've already written about Halloween that made the film so remarkable is that he created an entirely new style of thriller. What makes Big Trouble so genius is how ahead of its time it was - despite how dated it looks. The blend of genres is a very early example of its kind, later evolving into the likes of the Rush Hour films. Also, the decision to have Jack as the "hero" is a jab at stereotypical casting, having the strong and brash male taking the center stage. However, Jack is completely out of his element, while his "sidekick" Wang has everything needed for an action film hero, though he constantly gets shoved to the side.

Despite its sheer awesomeness, the movie didn't hit it big when it reached theaters. It only grossed $11.1m, less than half of the film's budget of $25m. The critics also didn't seem to quite understand the satire in the film, complaining that there was no character development. The negative feedback ended up turning Carpenter off of the Hollywood scene, continuing his career exclusively in independent films. However, since its sad start, the film has become a cult classic, reaching up to 84% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The plot is absolutely absurd, but it really just doesn't matter when you're having as much fun as you certainly will when you're watching this. If this post doesn't convince you to go see this, keep in mind that this is the first film I bought online after watching it for the blog. It was just that good. If you want to make a movie party of it with me, just let me know - I will certainly be willing!

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • The Chinese characters in the main title translate to "Evil Spirits Make a Big Scene in Little Spiritual State".
  • According to John Carpenter and Kurt Russell in the DVD Commentary, the story was originally written as a western but Carpenter decided to set it during modern times. They even mention that instead of Jack Burton's truck being stolen, it was originally his horse.
  • The Mortal Kombat characters Shang Tsung and Raiden were inspired by the characters of David Lo Pan and the 'Storm' called Lightning, respectively.
  • The rivalry between the Chang Sing and Wing Kong Tongs is analogous to the famous rivalry between the Hip Sing and On Leong Tongs (even the names rhyme) in early 20th century New York.

Friday, November 13, 2009

#431: Electra Glide in Blue (1973)

Director: James William Guercio
Cast: Robert Blake, Billy Green Bush, Mitch Ryan, Jeannine Riley & Elisha Cook Jr.

John Wintergreen, a cop with an altitude deficiency, has been on his bike in the desert pulling over speedsters for a good long while. John's got a good heart, which is a commodity in this area where most cops have a superiority complex. John's desperate to move on in his career and become a homicide detective, but never gets the opportunity, until he finds a body in a hut one day. A reclusive man had been shot in the chest, and the detective waves it off as suicide. John uses this event as a way to boost his career, all while hiding the fact that he had slept with his partner's girlfriend.

Ugh. UGH. This film was pretty terrible. The script was one of the worst things I have ever heard. Each character just talks for hours on end without much dialogue at all. The acting is overdone by everyone except Robert Blake (as John Wintergreen). All this could probably be blamed on director J.W. Guercio. This was Guercio's directorial debut... and finale. Considering he'd won 36 Grammys with bands Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears, he probably should've stuck to his guns and stayed in the music business.

The story had some promise. The question of whether the case was a suicide or homicide is never really answered, leaving us to speculate that John had taken advantage of the unknown circumstances and unfairly pinned somebody as the murderer. We can also speculate whether this action was conscious or unconscious. The problem with the story? I don't think many people really care. And with no conclusion at the end, it doesn't really matter.

There are some huge fans of this film, saying it's one of the best motorcycle films in history. Considering how during the chase scenes I felt like I was watching a bad drivers ed movie, I'm going to have to disagree.

If you like film... you probably shouldn't see this movie.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • First time director James William Guercio wanted the great Conrad L. Hall to photograph this film, but it was not in the budget. Guercio reduced his own salary to one dollar so he could secure Hall as the cinematographer.
  • The cover for the LP-soundtrack of this movie consists of one large picture, showing 7 tall Motor Officers and 1 short one (Robert Blake). Exactly the same picture is hanging on the wall of the office of captain Frank Furillo (Daniel Travanti) in the TV-series "Hill Street Blues".
  • Bassist and lead vocalist for the group "Chicago", Peter Cetera, plays a character named "Bob Zemko". A real actor who plays a bit part is also in the cast. His actual name was Bob Zemko. He died a year after making this, his only film.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

#432: X-2: X-Men United (2003)

Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen ...

The President of the United States is attacked by a mutant seeking equality for his kind. The X-Men are searching for the unknown mutant. During their search, the Academy is attacked by a military force being controlled by William Stryker, a figure from Wolverine's muddled past.

Great cast, amazing special effects. I don't really know what else to say about another Blockbuster hit, aside from the fact that this is the first of the X-Men films where the morals become very apparent. It's most obvious in a scene at Iceman's home, when his parents ask "Can't you try not being a mutant?"

I'm quickly coming to realize that blockbusters are fun and all.. but I'd rather just save them for the big screen when I'm looking for some entertainment. Luckily for me, I've got a while until the next big blockbusters pop up on the list (#411).

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

  • Professor Xavier's wheelchair from the first movie was bought by a lawyer (who also works for the same law firm as Patrick Stewart's attorney). When production began, the studio realized they had no chair anymore, so the lawyer rented it back to the studio - as Stewart said in an interview - "for a significant sum".
  • The fight between Wolverine and Yuriko took three weeks to film.
  • When Wolverine is in the kitchen in Bobby Drake's parents' house, and he is surprised by the cat, he lets it lick his claws - seemingly a very cute moment. But if you listen closely when he hears someone come in and retracts his claws, you hear the sound effect of Wolverine's claws extending (if you listen closely, you can tell the difference, as the retracting sound is the same as the extending sound, but played in reverse), and then the cat crying out. This was an unintentional moment of comedy which was going to but cut but the last minute decision was made to leave it in.
  • On "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" (1992), Hugh Jackman related a story about something that happened during the filming of the Weapon X flashback scene: while he was filming the corridor run (in which he is nude and backlit), he turned the corner and saw the female cast members, including James Marsden's mother, waiting for him, hooting and waving dollar bills.
  • The ice wall separating Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Stryker (Brian Cox) in the mansion scene where they meet for the "first time" was real ice and weighed 3,500 lbs.
  • When Jean is hearing people's thoughts in the Science Museum, one of them is "To the shelter!" This line was said by one of the Secret Service during Nightcrawler's attack on the Oval Office in the previous scene, thus adding/alluding to Jean's growing psychic abilities. Other lines Jean hears are "No!" shouted by Wolverine when he later is separated from General Stryker by Iceman's wall of ice and "They're gonna kill him." which is what Rogue later says to Iceman and Pyro in the tunnel pleading for them to go back and help Wolverine.

Monday, November 9, 2009

#433: Good Will Hunting (1997)

Director: Gus Van Sant
Cast: Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Minnie Driver, Ben Affleck & Stellan Skarsgård

At MIT, a professor posts an equation on a blackboard in the hallway which took years for the professor to solve. He assures the class that anyone who can solve it by the year's end is a genius. Somebody does in fact solve the equation, and only days after it is posted: Will Hunting, a custodian in the building who is under parole. The professor makes a deal with the court to have them release Will, under two conditions: he studies mathematics personally with the professor, and he undergoes therapy to reason out his previous criminal record.

Good Will Hunting is best known for putting Matt Damon and Ben Affleck into the spotlight. True, they had appeared in several films prior to this film (both in Chasing Amy, and Damon had the lead role in The Rainmaker), but this film confirmed their viability as greats in the film industry. This is one of two scripts the two had co-written, the second being Gerry, which was released to mixed reviews.

I don't think I'm alone in stating that Matt Damon is much more talented than Affleck, who paradoxically seems to have taken Hollywood to his head. Damon was able to demonstrate a great array of emotions in this film, which I consider to be one of his two best roles to date (the other being the title role in The Talented Mr. Ripley). Affleck, on the other hand, merely shows his ability to put on a Boston accent in this film.

This is the first role I've ever seen for Minnie Driver in which I was genuinely impressed. True, my knowledge of her roles are extremely limited (Grosse Pointe Blank, The Phantom of the Opera and... ahem... Ella Enchanted). This film makes me want to see more of what she's got to offer. One of the scenes between her and Damon was the most dramatic in the film, as far as I'm concerned, and she pulled it off flawlessly.

Of course, Robin Williams is as great as ever. Though since 1996, I just can't see him in any film without imagining him as Mrs. Doubtfire. Kinda spoils the effect.

But really, what makes this film so great is the writing, especially coming from two writers who we never knew could write before. The script is not only quite genuine, representing Cambridge, Massachusetts accurately, but it's also extremely smart (in both the mathematics talk - which, however, could be all b.s. as far as I know - and psychologically). Kudos to Damon and Affleck.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Director Gus Van Sant at one point asked Matt Damon and Ben Affleck to rewrite the script so that Chuckie is killed in a construction accident. Damon and Affleck protested, but reluctantly wrote the scene in. After Van Sant read it, he agreed that it was a terrible idea.
  • The scene where Sean and Will are in his office, and Sean starts talking about his dead wife and her farting antics. These lines were ad-libbed by Robin Williams, which is probably why Matt Damon is laughing so hard. If you watch the scene carefully you can notice the camera shaking, probably due to the cameraman laughing as well.