Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Most Disappointing Films of the 2000's, pt. 2

 Missed the first part of M's list? Read it here.

8. 10,000 BC (2008)
Laugh if you must, but the previews for Roland Emmerich's epic prehistory action flick were totally cool, showcasing a mix of woolly mammoths and beautiful prehistoric scenery mixed with stylized action. Although it's not a bad B movie, it's not the great one it could have been, had Emmerich made an attempt at fleshing out the story and cut out the overabundance of villages and people you meet along the way. Instead, he choose to throw in everyone but the kitchen sink, many of which logically couldn't have existed at the time, and muddied up the narrative.

7. Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
Maybe it was the re-shoots that dumbed everything down to make it less scary for children. Maybe it was the chore of turning a 250 word picture book into a two hour movie. Maybe it was the pressure. But despite its cinematic beauty (and it is one of the most beautiful, lyrical looking films out there), Wild Things was one of the biggest disappointments of the decade, the plot forced and drawn out, the characters awkwardly developed into half modernized shadows. Read M's review here, and Wilde.Dash's here.

6. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
Although director David Fincher's heart was in the right place, he couldn't pull Benjamin Button out of the murky waters of sentimentality. Although the film definitely has its moments of stunning beauty and heart (enough to get it a spot on Wilde.Dash's list of underrated movies of the decade), it falls victim to its own preciousness and overly lofty performances by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Read M's review here.

5. 500 of Days of Summer (2009)
This was going to be the rom com/dramedy I'd been waiting all 25 years of my existence for. With a stellar, darling cast and a creative storytelling method, how could it fail? But instead of being the cool, interesting person worth launching a 1,000 ships for, Summer was a empty doppelganger of any poser hipster girl shopping at Urban Outfitters. She was mean, she was vapid, and maybe that was the point, but somehow it didn't translate into anything over 15 minutes. Read M's review here, Wilde.Dash's review here.  

4. Public Enemies (2009)
Wilde.Dash and I had been talking about this movie for months. Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard in a John Dillinger biopic directed by Michael Mann in a realistic style? Yes, it was going to be amazing. But Mann's gritty style combined with Depp and Bale's detached performances kept the audience at arms length, making it nearly impossible to care about a character that Mann kept telling (not showing) the audience to love. Depp seemed to try to do something with Dillinger, but reportedly had to tone himself down due to creative differences while Bale seemed to have given up entirely on a character he could have done so many different things with. The emotions were superficial, the film lackluster and unable to find its narrative heart. Read Wilde.Dash's review here.

3. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
I am a huge X-Men fan, forever attached to the first two films directed by Bryan Singer. Singer abandoned the X3 project for the equally disappointing Superman Returns, leaving Brett Ratner with his sloppy seconds; and that's how the film feels. It's hard to make me hate anything involving the X-Men, but Ratner easily succeeds, killing off major characters, adding too many villains, and removing any character development or sincerity. The actors hardly put in any effort, just as disappointed as the audience. Again, it's hard to believe that anybody could screw up a such a simple formula so badly.

2. Spider-man 3 (2007)
Sam Raimi's first two Spider-man movies are total classics, particularly Spider-man 2 which relaunched the superhero craze in Hollywood and proved that there were quality stories and characters to be told from the comic book world. I was ecstatic to see the third film, convinced that Raimi could do no wrong. Spider-man 3, however, threw all notions of quality out the window, adding in nearly every villain in the Spiderman canon into a horribly convoluted plot, and turning the character of Peter Parker into a strange angsty drama kid. The biggest faux pas? Rewriting the history of events that occurred in the other two films. What were you thinking Sam Raimi?

1. Apocalypto (2006)
The first half of Mel Gibson's film is utterly striking and unique, a window into an alien, historical culture that is fascinating and horrifying, so tense it's impossible to look away. While this first half is one of the most interesting and best films ever created, the last half is one of the biggest disappointments ever recorded. Here, Gibson abandons the interesting mythology he created, abandons the fascinating world he gave us a glimpse into, and sets his hero on a lengthy journey to save his wife that seems focused more on unique torture methods than story development. Mirroring the worst of the Saw movies, the film loses all steam and becomes utterly predictable and boring, a complete 180 from the impressive film it started out as.

The Most Disappointing Films of the 2000's, pt. 1

You prepare yourself, sometimes months, for a film that promises to be great. Maybe it gets stellar reviews. Maybe, it has Avatar level hype, or maybe it's just something you hold close to your heart. You get to the theater early, racing around long lines and gaggles of tweens to get the best seats, smiling at your friends with glee as the film starts. But half way through you find yourself grimacing. Are you serious? What the hell happened? How could something like this go wrong? How could anyone mess up something with such a solid formula? Unfortunately, the last decade was full of stories that could have been great, could have been legendary, but just….weren’t.

15. Pathfinder (2007)
Video game movies are rarely classy, well done affairs, but Pathfinder had such an interesting premise, I thought it might be something different, putting a lost Viking child that was raised by Native Americans up against his Viking ancestors. Boy was I wrong. Lacking all character development and a plot, it relies entirely on its action scenes which also lack creativity and anything remotely intriguing, leaving a boring, shell of a movie behind that earned a mere 11% over at rottentomatoes.

14. The Village (2004)
Although I don't really mind it now, I remember holding great animosity towards M. Night Shyamalan's The Village. Before it's plot twist, it's genuinely beautiful and haunting, the ambiguity of its monsters and plots frightening. But once Shyamalan springs his usual trap, everything feels disappointing and gimmicky. I'm not sure that turning it directly into a horror movie would have made it that much more effecting or interesting, but it doesn't quite sit right when lined up with Shyamalan's continued SURPRISE! I GOT YOU! habits.

13. The DaVinci Code (2006)
Dan Brown's original novel soared in terms of plot, but lacked in actual writing quality, a perfect combo for any filmmaker looking to score big with a film translation. Enter Ron Howard, who managed to turn The DaVinci Code into one of the most boring action films on record. At nearly two and half hours, the film drags on and on, additionally belabored by melodramatic dialog reminiscent of a Scooby Doo episode. Luckily, Howard learned from his mistakes and made the sequel Angels and Demons into something remotely action packed and at least fun to watch.

12. Twilight (2008)
Speaking of cheesy translations... Twilight should have been the easiest film to get right. Regardless of what you created, every fan would inevitably fall over backwards to see it multiple times, and the source material wasn't exactly difficult to figure out. There was no excuse. And yet director Catherine Hardwicke, who had a decent track record did just that, producing arguably one of the worst, and cheesiest films ever made. From the wooden acting, to the painful sparkling vampires (something better left to the imagination), Summit was lucky to have such unconditional fan love and thankfully bagged Hardwicke for the infinitely better sequel directed by Chris Weitz. Read M's review of New Moon here.

11. Superman Returns (2006)
Bryan Singer sacrificed his X-Men franchise for the Superman one with disappointing results. His  revamp was very pretty, and fairly well cast with great effects, but contained one fatal flaw that brought down the entire movie; Singer chose to focus on Superman. Superman isn't the interesting part of the last son of Krypton, Clark Kent is. Kent is where you get the romance, the giggles, and the heart. Leaving him behind to concentrate on the only invincible guy in the universe just makes things boring. Add in a poorly developed story line involving a bastard child and zero chemistry between the romantic and leads and you get a slight snooze fest. Decent enough, but not what it should have been.

10. Alexander (2004)
I suppose the casting of Colin Farrell as Alexander the Great should have tipped me off, but regardless, I was excited by the chance to see one of the most epic stories in history on the big screen by the biopic master himself, Oliver Stone. And while Stone's film is beautiful, it's also preachy to an absurd level, and horribly miscast. Farrell tries his best and it almost works but is held down by his truly awful dye job. In addition, his attempt to look passionately in love with Jared Leto's Hephaistion plays out like an awkward middle school drama lab retelling. Angelina Jolie is equally annoying and miscast, leaving you wondering why it was so hard for Stone to translate this classic story without making it cheesy.

9. Up in the Air (2009)
Although I was skeptical about Jason Reitman's newest release, I saw how well it was received, how much the critics liked it (even Wilde.Dash) and became pretty pumped to see what he had lined up after the hilarity of Thank You For Smoking and the decent Juno. But without the humor of Smoking, without the sweet sincerity of Juno, and without any innovation but a lot of trite nonsense for the unemployed, Up in the Air left me sorely disappointed. Read M's review here, and Wilde. Dash's here.

Part 2 continues here...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

25 Underrated/Overlooked Movies of the 2000's pt 2: 16-25

The second and final part of my short list. It was tough, and i went back and forth on some worthy films. But in the end i decided that these were the ones most deserving of the underrated/overlooked title.
16. Ginger Snaps (2000): Two suicide-obsessed sisters learn that being a teenager can be more difficult than ever imagined when one is bitten by a werewolf and begins to drift away and change in more ways than one. Ginger Snaps does an amazing job addressing female adolescence and the rifts that growing older and apart can create while also being a truly effective horror comedy. Before the untapped lust of Twilight, Ginger Snaps was taking your angst and alienation and devouring it. Whole. The tragedy is that so few have seen the film.

17. The Dreamers (2003): The ick factor with Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers is a little on the high end. An American student (Michael Pitt) goes to Paris to study in the late 60's, falls in love with film, and enters into a friendship with a pair of French siblings (Eva Green and Louis Garrel) who pull him into a semi-reclusive world of hijinks and incestuous behavior. It earned its NC-17 rating with a couple cringe worthy sex sequences, but on the whole it drifts closer to art than porn. The relationships are founded on an intense cinephilia and desire to escape from the political tumult of 1968 Paris, and they verge uncomfortably on innocent at times as their peers march in the streets. Strange and beautiful, The Dreamers boasts a cast without fear and a director capable of tying up the right elements and making sure he doesn't completely cross the barriers of bad taste.

18. Peter Pan (2003): I'll own up to not having seen this in a couple years, but when last i did i was amazed at how thoroughly beautiful and emotionally complex this live action adaptation managed to be. As much as i love the Disney version, this is the film that comes closest to the original text. It's dark, unflinchingly conquering all the small hurdles the story involves, the deaths of characters, the growing up really involved in leaving the nursery, the palpable emotion involved in a serious crush. The result is a dense, multi-layered film that is as much for adults as it is suitable for kids. As Wendy, Rachel Hurd-Wood embodies her character and gives us someone experiencing a very real push-pull between the adult world and the security of the nursery. Gorgeous and tragic, this film is better than you could imagine and a stunning technical achievement.

19. Angel-A (2005): For some inexplicable reason, in this decade Luc Besson (The Professional) got all obsessed with making those Minimoys movies and only made this one live action work. Angel-A, a French comedy-fantasy, is sort of patently absurd. Andre (Jamel Debbouze) is a failed small time criminal with a lot of debt, when he attempts to end it all by throwing himself into the Seine he is saved by a mysterious lady who takes him on a whirlwind journey to getting his life back together. Yes, yes, the film deals in weird notions of guardian angels and protectors who look like giant supermodels (Rie Rasmussen), but it's shot in glorious black and white and the saccharine is sacrificed to style. While some would argue the plot is also sacrificed, and the story clunky and heavy-handed, i say Angel-A was really a surprisingly enjoyable entertainment that moved swiftly. If you can suspend your disbelief and get over the fantastical elements, it's a fun little film.

20. Brideshead Revisited (2008): Alright, it's not as good as the book. It's also not as thorough as the 1981 miniseries. If you can forgive it its clouded focus (the way it shifts from Sebastian and Charles to Charles and Julia, the bare bones of the religious debate), the film functions autonomously as a lush, truly romantic variation on its source material. It's hard not to fall in love with Matthew Goode in this film, and harder still not to be swept away by the rich, eccentric glory of these bright young things in their beautiful world. During this entire film i sat with a Liz Lemon voiceover in my head going: "i want to go to there".

21. Shoot 'em Up (2007): High energy, brutal, and short. Shoot 'em Up feels like director Michael Davis put the entire action film genre into a juicer and bled it dry for one 80-minute adrenaline rush. This film has everything you could possibly want from an actioner: graphic violence, a massive body count, a joke-cracking hero (Clive Owen), a smarmy villain (Paul Giamatti), ridiculous moral complications, and a surplus of the impossible. Upon its release it got slammed by audiences as being a festival of expletives and gun porn. I don't know what they were expecting, but the title tells you exactly what you're walking into, and exactly the devil-may-care tone the film adopts. It's great fun that never stops to even consider taking itself too seriously.

22. Synecdoche, NY (2008): Repeatedly shunned as pretentious drivel, i'm beginning to think that what a person takes away from this film says something about the person. I saw this as a beautiful movie worthy of repeat viewings. Like all of Charlie Kaufman's work, it teeters on the brink of science fiction and madness, using abstraction ultimately to present something that is simply human. This is a film about life in the broadest sense of the term, and because of that, many may find the scope a little overwhelming. In depicting so much, the viewer is forced to filter it into so little, but the pieces are all there. Relationships, decisions, dreams, worries, neurosis, bodily limitations, birth, death, loneliness, this is a movie where everything happens and what the viewer sees determines their own personal experience (in this way, it actually mirrors the assumed intention of Caden's dramatic project). Apart from that, however, I'd argue this is definitely a worthwhile meta-narrative. The acting is great on the whole, there's an undercurrent of quirky humor, and the art direction is fantastic. As Kaufman's first film in the director's chair this is a very impressive (and highly ambitious) effort. One day, when all talk of its lofty intentions has died down, film geeks will covet this movie and wonder how it was ever so ignored.
23. Son of Rambow (2007): When i saw this i thought it would be a sleeper hit for sure, the kind of movie that spreads via word of mouth and winds up playing in the theaters for a couple months. To my surprise, it failed to catch on in the states. It's a shame. Son of Rambow is a pitch perfect, exuberantly innocent comedy that blends 80's nostalgia, coming of age, and the most awesome French Exchange Student ever with the greatest of ease. Sweet and inspired, though it may be filled with child actors, it's a legitimately sophisticated comedy definitely bent towards adults.

24. Down With Love (2003): I am so sick of defending this film. For every person who sees its merits, there seem to be at least three or four who just didn't get the vein in which this movie was made and loaded it up with a bunch of 'Renee Zellweger overacts too much' and 'this is the cheesiest movie i've ever seen' bullshit. Give me a break people. Really. My instructions: 1. Go watch some real Doris Day/Rock Hudson sex comedies (Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back), 2. Then watch this. If you can't handle the former, you're not meant to endure the latter. If you appreciate the cloying, prim-and-proper innuendos and pastel shades of the real deal, however, you'll find much to enjoy and laugh about in Down With Love. The 2003 film is a pitch-perfect return to and spoof on of those 60's romantic comedies. It gets it all right and does so with a camp flourish that makes this like an injection of pure sugar. Yes, ok, i love this movie. There's no reason not to. Its very existence is all done in good fun.

25. Cashback (2006): Did you see this movie? No? Why? You hadn't heard of it? Ok, now you have. Go watch it. You need to be convinced? Alright. How about if i tell you it's an extended version of a 2004 Oscar nominated short film (same director, same short at the core)? What about if i tell you it's a slanted comedy/romance (not the same as romantic comedy) that deals with art, insomnia, wage slaving, and college? Also, it's quite pretty to look at and smart as well. Basically, what i'm trying to tell you is that if you're in your teens or twenties this is one of those movies that might be your new favorite but you haven't seen it yet because no one has handed it to you and said some pretentious Donnie Darko nonsense about how much it will change your life. I mean, it won't change your life. But it really is a fantastic diversion.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Late Night Trailers: Clash of the Titans

I admit it. I'm one of those girls that fell in love with Sam Worthington after Avatar. But before I ever witnessed the beauty of Worthington's motion captured blue features, I loved the old Clash of the Titans movie, despite its hilarious, dated depravity. I am excited for this updated version, even if the trailer seems to be falling into Robin Hood territory, all superficial heavy rock score and flames. But who doesn't want to watch a glowing Liam Neeson say, "Release the Kraken!"

Love: Sherlock Holmes

The truth is, I'd be lying if i claimed not to have enjoyed Sherlock Holmes. It's a tad smarter than your average action adventure story and features the genuinely charismatic Robert Downey Jr. spinning a new, very convincing take on Arthur Conan Doyle's old character. I'd also say it's director Guy Ritchie's first successful film since Snatch, and that it pulls off glorious things with its Victorian London setting. Oh yes, i enjoyed it. I liked it quite a bit. It plays on a whole run of things that appeal to me and i am truly a sucker for protagonists who happen to be eccentric rakish geniuses. I'd even go so far as to say that when the sequel comes out (and there will surely be a sequel) i will certainly run out to watch it. Then i'd go one step further and say that though it appears to be a departure from the novels and stories, it's not really so far away, and i can't really say i didn't ever know (though i can't recall if it's actually in the text) somewhere in the back of my mind that Sherlock had to be fairly decent at self-defense. If you need to stop here, i'll let you. I don't see any reason why you shouldn't see Sherlock Holmes, it's perfectly alright. It's just, you know, i'd also be lying if i pretended that it was actually something great.
The film, like all of Guy Ritchie's movies, is a tad on the long side and a bit meandering. Holmes and Watson (Jude Law) are in pursuit of Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), a man who may or may not possess supernatural powers. On the way, however, the film takes its time building up a comedic bromance between Sherlock and the soon to be married Dr. Watson and striking up a convoluted chemistry between the dissolute detective and the only girl to ever get the better of him: Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams). Of the two of these, i'd say the former works the best, they're a regular Odd Couple and the mix of Holmes's bitter possessiveness and Watson's conflicted sense of responsibility creates a great forum for banter and Downey Jr.'s trademark twitchy likability. The latter, the real romantic entanglement, seems forced, a ploy to get a pretty woman into an otherwise male dominated movie. The McAdams subplot, at the end of the day, probably does little more than add about twenty or so minutes to to an already long film and attempt to prove that Downey's devil-may-care Holmes isn't actually in love with Watson (though i can almost guarantee slash fiction will argue otherwise). Irene Adler, then, is where we feel the 'hand of the author', which is in this case perhaps the hand of the studio. She's a cool customer, but I'd argue that in the world of Sherlock Holmes, the introduction of Adler into the first film of something so obviously gearing up for a franchise just isn't accomplishing that much (other than being a beard, she was only in one story for chrissakes).
Character is the main draw here. Robert Downey Jr. puts in a truly memorable performance and makes an iconic character his own. Jude Law is more fun than he's been in a long time. Personally, i could probably handle a whole film made up entirely of Sherlock being batty, snippy, and strung out at 221b Baker Street while Watson the mother hen pops in with commentary and exasperated glances. It would be good fun. This film, of course, is fun as well, just don't think too hard about the twisty, endless pursuit of the Dan Brown-esque plotline.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

25 Underrated/Overlooked Movies of the 2000's pt 1: 1-15

You can probably sense it, right? The 'best of the decade' list that's coming your way in the next couple weeks. Yeah. It's coming. Be prepared. M. and I are busy debating and arguing over the phone about which films really deserve spots on the list, so if nothing else, know that we've gotten all sorts of anal retentive and obsessive about it. Yet, before we reach that point, I have been working on a list of the 25 films that i feel just haven't gotten the attention they deserve during this decade. Some of them have been ignored. Some misunderstood. Some received a horrible backlash. Some, i sense, will magically be transformed into noteworthy Criterion releases in the decades to come. Some, believe it or not, are even on the master list of Love & Squalor's best of the decade. Yet, i have chosen these to defend. These are the movies that for one reason or another, i championed in the face of adversity (life is hard). Thus, i present to you: Wilde.Dash's list of the 25 most grievously underrated/overlooked films of the oughts.
1. Josie and the Pussycats (2001): If you're scoffing as you read this, you either haven't seen the movie, or you're looking at it from the wrong angle. At the dawn of the 21st century, the music scene was made up almost entirely of pop tarts and pre-fabricated commercial groups made by svengalis like Lou Pearlman. You couldn't turn around without hearing another song that sounded like the last or seeing another new girl singer with the same navel-revealing sequined crop top as the one who topped the charts last week. Out of that atmosphere arose Josie and the Pussycats, a film which seemed easy to lump in as a prime offender in these times. It was fully branded, bright and fluffy, and produced (in a way) to feed off of these very trends. Yet, for anyone willing to take the time to read between the glittery lines, it was also 100% satire - and an incredibly effective one at that. Under the guise of a brainless teen film, Josie attacks materialism, corporate slime, and music film cliches. Josie is a modern nightmare; it cheerfully presents an exaggerated portrait of our world: a world in which everything is defined via logo and each individual is a target for advertisers. Plus, it has a fabulous pop-rock soundtrack and a cast featuring Rosario Dawson, Alan Cumming, and Parker Posey, among others.

2. The Fountain (2006): Darren Aronofsky's passion project and one hell of an emotional roller coaster. The Fountain is an intellectual's tearjerker. The film is beautiful and uncompromising in its focus and presentation. Aronofsky built a confined epic, a love story spanning 1000 years that feels impossibly intimate and heavily personal. It builds up metaphysical presence within an ultimately very simple tale of dying too young and the challenges therein and was received with a mix of disdain and misunderstanding it did not deserve. The film is gorgeous, the puzzling bits are a surface representation of basic emotional conflict, the feelings it elicits are remarkably powerful. I don't think i'll ever forget going to see this in a completely empty theater on a chilly day a few years back. I was the only one there, and i don't think i could move until the credits were over.

3. The Libertine (2004): I have yet to meet anyone who enjoyed The Libertine. This is a true story. Yet, i also haven't met many people who have actually seen The Libertine, or who made it to the film's conclusion upon starting it. As a period piece it does what few period pieces ever do: present the period without excessive romanticization. It's a vile, crooked, repugnant piece of work that looks as though it was shot by candlelight and feels as though it was conceived without any need to appeal to an audience. For those who do not know, The Libertine follows the decay of John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, a very literal libertine prone to all the sexual excess and bold face blasphemy thus entailed. When i saw this film, most of the theater walked out, one person announced loudly "this movie sucks" as the movie dragged on unnecessarily. Yet, in spite of the rather dull filth, the film is due for reappraisal. As Wilmot, quirky Johnny Depp channels something that feels unexpected and startlingly decrepit. His performance is remarkable and stands as testimony to the fact that Depp really does take on each role as intensely as the next. It's not a hero's tale, it's a rogue's swan song and an extensive study of an obscene character that simply does not concern itself with likability. It's fascinating. A wholly unique piece of work the traits of which place it beyond any established plot towards the building of a repellent, witty swaggering devil.

4. Marie Antoinette (2006): Panned by critics, French and American alike, Marie Antoinette has been unfairly dismissed for its juxtaposition of 1980's and 1780's excess. I swear, though, that if you're hung up on the pop-punk soundtrack and that glimpse of Converse sneakers, your focus is too narrow. This is not a biopic. I'm sorry you won't have the privilege of watching the young queen's head roll (it's disappointing, i know). Instead, what you will find if you care to look is a spectacularly ornate, candy filtered dream. Sofia Coppola has strung together a brilliant tableaux of moments to build a fabulously odd teen film that captures the essence of a fantasy. What it might feel like, what it might be like, the awkwardness and spectacular greed that might be involved with being a teenage royal. Kirsten Dunst is strangely dazzling, Jason Schwartzman is cardboard, deadpan, and believable. Even if it's a bastardization of history, the action and emotion are matched perfectly to the soundtrack and romanticized beyond all logical comprehension. It's an untraditional epic, a swooning work of cinema loaded with striking images that are truly something to behold.

5. Watchmen: The Director's Cut (2009): I covered this earlier in the year, and i stand by it. Remember: Watchmen is one of my absolute favorite literary works and i assert i have the proper level of nerd clearance to say yay or nay. Alan Moore's work is near impossible to film. It's densely layered, has multiple primary characters, a very specific universe, temporal leaps, and its own isolated moral code. It was a huge risk that Zack Snyder was willing to take. It's also, in comparison to most graphic novel adaptations, hugely successful. The attention to detail is phenomenal, and for every single instance that's missing, dozens more have been painstakingly included. Every second is visually slick as hell, and overall the film's heroes and antiheroes are closely matched to the apathetic, jaded personas i'd always envisioned them as having. It's cold and bleak. It should be. One day, after the initial nerd backlash has passed, this film will be recognized as an undeniably well-done adaptation.

6. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2005): Speaking of unfilmable, Michael Winterbottom decided to try and tackle Laurence Sterne's convoluted comic novel Tristram Shandy and created something that's as under appreciated as it is brilliant. If you follow the text literally, Tristram Shandy is most certainly unfilmable. A big, thick 18th century work that fails to arrive at its protagonist's birth in spite of its hundreds of pages, it has been dubbed "postmodern before there was any modern to be post about" and indeed it is. Winterbottom, wisely, then, avoided literal adaptation and instead shot a bizarre comedy chronicling the production of a Shandy adaptation that is never completed. Remarkably, however, it manages to fit in all of the most memorable moments, as well as the overall good humor and sparkling wit, of the text. Steve Coogan plays Steve Coogan. Rob Brydon plays Rob Brydon. The film banters, bickers, and alludes its way into any literary nerd's heart with remarkable ease. It's hysterical...undoubtedly one of my favorite comedies of the decade, and one that only grows funnier with each repeat viewing.

7. Domino (2005): I can't defend this unless you're willing to surrender yourself to the ride. Based lightly on the life story of deceased British fashion model turned bounty hunter Domino Harvey (played here by Keira Knightley, looking a bit like a glammed up twelve year old boy), Tony Scott’s ‘biopic’ is maddening, pulsating, and positively chaotic. Here is a film so full of its own energy that its inertia blows through the end credits.It’s filmed dazzlingly, with bright kinetic tints and hues and dizzying shots that make filth and grime seem the height of cool. This is stylization to the extreme, with text popping up for emphasis of phrases, echoing narration, and driving repetitive beats. Scott slices up the film and lets it fly by so fast it could induce an epileptic fit. It’s a total raucous train wreck. An electric, destructive, cracked out train wreck. Yet, it's fabulous, an action film that constructs its own action via its editing and feels like an experience as you sit and slowly go insane. It does to your nervous system what it does to its characters, puts them through the wringer and tests their limits. If it sounds unpleasant, it sort of is.

8. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008): It went from being one of the most anticipated of 2008 to one of the biggest disappointments. In spite of its Oscar nominations, the backlash that immediately followed David Fincher's whimsical love story through time was phenomenally widespread. It has been attacked and abused on all counts "it's too precious," "too long," "too much like a magical Forrest Gump." Alright.  Yes.  It's a little precious. The accents are a bit thick and silly sentimentality runs rampant. The Hurricane Katrina tie-in didn't need to be there, I'll agree. But, those are the only concessions you'll get from me. Otherwise, i sense Benjamin Button will persevere and one day be dug up as an example of a turn of the century throw back to a simpler time. It's a gorgeously spun adult fairy tale of love, loss, and life that affects a distance in its telling that allows its characters to become magical ciphers that are not quite human, but feel as humans do.

9. Snow Cake (2006): For the life of me, i have no idea how this little film was ignored by so many people. The synopsis is a little disconcerting: indie melodrama centered around the odd bonds formed between an autistic mother (Sigourney Weaver) and the man (Alan Rickman) who feels partially responsible for the car crash that killed her daughter. Yet, the film sits above playing on pathos and sympathies. Snow Cake is a remarkably successful little story with fully dimensional characters brought to life by seasoned actors, and more than enough humor to keep its otherwise downer plot almost completely at bay. With a bigger budget and different actors i believe Snow Cake would have been nearly impossible to endure, yet, instead it was one of the biggest surprises of the last few years.

10. Black Snake Moan (2006): If you were deterred by the man-chains-up-nymphomaniacal- woman-in-his-house-in-an-attempt-to-cure-her plot, you missed out on one hell of a good time. At its roots, Black Snake Moan is something of a moralist exploitation film. It thrives off of a gritty, absurdly cliche rendering of a deep South filled with Bible thumpers, Tennessee Williams spitfire arguments, and hot hot heat. It's a tad misogynist, yes, but the film is saved as much by the comic energy of its characters (portrayed with fervor by Christina Ricci and Samuel L. Jackson) as it is the frank boldness of its endeavors. There ain't any other films quite like this that manage to transform something this insulting into something so entertaining. It's trashy and ridiculous, but it works...and in 2006, it was a wholly original breath of cinematic fresh air with a steady rhythm and pulp feel that stripped it of its raunchiness and revealed something uncomfortably close to charming.

11. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004): I know you think it sucks. I know you think it's lame. It's nonsense. A piece of celluloid candy floss with some cardboard green screen acting and overdone special effects. Yet, i can't help but love it for its complete lack of pretension. Sky Captain is a throwback to the adventure films of the 1930's filled with newspaper men, trench coats, aviators and feuding leads who deal in wry puns. In another time, it would have qualified as an instant classic and we would have clung to its cheesiness as a part of the package, now it's simply too guileless to seem at all credible. That's the beauty of it, that it is an idealized science-fiction fantasy of another era that does not cater to anything other than a childlike sense of wonder.

12. Julia (2008): Julia is a sprawling, twisted tale of intrigue and alcoholism starring the one and only Tilda Swinton in a remarkably transcendent performance. Swinton plays the titular character, a morally decrepit woman who drifts from night to night under the influence and who finds herself wrapped up in a kidnapping and extortion scheme proposed by her desperate neighbor (Kate del Castillo). The story progresses with a believably boozy logic, jumping with the illogical progression and dangerous recklessness of someone with nothing much to lose. Julia is an engrossing film that dazzles even as it appalls, and is the perfect point of argument for proving that Swinton is being underused (to the extreme) in her high-profile Hollywood roles. This is a little film with an epic scope, and one that's accessible and accolade worthy. I have no idea why it didn't receive a wide theatrical release. Seriously. I could rave for hours about Tilda Swinton's iconoclastic acting skills and how much i basically adore her, but i suggest you watch for yourself

13. Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (2006): Just one of Nicole Kidman's strange little indie turns between high profile roles, this one sat between Bewitched and The Invasion as an example of Kidman overload. The film itself, though, is in actuality something of an enigma. Director Steven Shainberg (Secretary) dismisses the facts surrounding photographer Diane Arbus's real life and manufactures an existence that feels like the work she produced instead of what was happening behind the lens. The result is a haunting and magnetic glimpse into a richly textured world. I applaud it for its endeavors. In her art, Arbus sought to capture a freakish other-side of humanity, her real-life may not be reflected in Shainberg's interpretation, but her spirit is. Facts be damned, this is how you do an artist's biopic.

14. Speed Racer (2008): With Speed Racer, the Wachowski Brothers went the route less traveled, instead of revamping a childhood favorite into something of substance, they merely polished up the old product so it sparkled. You might not respect the old animation, you may even have been disappointed that the live action version wasn't transformed into a franchise endeavor, but the Wachowski's built their homage carefully and executed it beautifully. Speed Racer is a seriously underrated movie for children. That's really the key. It's kid-friendly in humor and appearance and not the movie one has come to expect from Hollywood actioners like the Wachowski's. The film is a living cartoon that subscribes to the family values and bright, poppy action of its source material. As such, it's a remarkable achievement that is exciting and a delight to behold.

15. Tropic Thunder (2008): In many ways, this doesn't qualify as underrated or overlooked at all. Many people saw it. It was rather hyped. It received strange award nominations and critical acclaim. Yet, in the real world, most people i've met harbor a general ill-will towards this film that i can't quite figure out. I'm with the established critics on this one, Tropic Thunder is a fantastic satire that deftly attacks war as Hollywood commodity. It spares no expense as it travels to meet its goals. Brutal violence, really risky segues into discussions on race, mental handicap, and homosexuality, gross sight gags involving a heavily made-up Tom Cruise. You're thinking as you're laughing. You might merely be thinking 'this is wrong', and it is, you're right, but it's so wrong it's right and that's the mark of a solid comedy. The laughter is a nervous one, the situations awkward at best, the film as smart as it is sophomoric, but when you add the pieces together they create something that's really quite valid.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Late Night Trailers: Inception

Inception has been one of Christopher Nolan's most secretive projects, the actors involved some of the only information that's been released. The trailer is equally as ambiguous, but begins to reveal some of the storyline, which is based off of poems Nolan wrote during 5th grade. Nolan has yet to fail in his moving making, and Inception seems to have the makings to be one of his best, and most interesting.

Love: Youth In Revolt

My love for Michael Cera was a bit like my eighth grade boyfriend. I enjoyed being around him, I thought he was pretty funny, but I never quite took him seriously. I wasn't really gonna marry that guy, but I would sit next to him on the bus and maybe even admit to holding his hand. But Cera, the quintessential hipster wimp of Arrested Development fame, has finally earned his throng of fans and some major comedic cred with his newest role as Nick Twisp/Francois Dillinger in Youth in Revolt, based on the lengthy novel by C.D. Payne.

Nick is a typical Cera standby. He's awkward and quiet, but also smart, his intelligence present in the tiny quips mumbled under his breath. His home life consists of a set of divorced parents; a mother (Jean Smart, again proving how underrated she is) who falls in love with any man that stumbles into her path, and a deadbeat but kind father (Steve Buscemi) married to a woman just a few years older than Nick. He spends most of his time studying up on love and working towards losing his virginity with little success, a problem that becomes suddenly evident when he meets true love Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday). That's when the movie transforms into something entirely new, original, and even more hilarious.

Sheeni is the daughter of ultra conservative, organ playing Christian parents who live in the only two-story trailer in the trailer park that Nick moves near. She listens to French records and dreams of running away to Paris with French husband Francois, a figment of her imagination. Frustrated with his inability to make his relationship with Sheeni a reality, Nick internalizes her dream, and develops the alternate persona Francois, who smokes and dresses like a mod Frenchmen, easily woos the ladies, and doesn't take no for an answer.

Cera as Francois is entirely and yet paradoxically subtlety different from his usual push-over character, of Nick. His performance is not a direct caricature, but perfectly formed to be both believable and laugh out loud ridiculous. Sheeni is equally well crafted, newcomer Portia Doubleday playing her with just the right amount of annoying teenager and heartbreaking dreamer, making her instantly relatable to the target audience for the film (yes, that includes me and my hipster ways). She's the girl I wanted in so many other movies like 500 Days of Summer. For once, I felt like this one might be worth all the trouble that our hero goes through.

And the trouble in this movie is the best part. Whether Francois is breaking records over his knee or getting Nick and his new found British Indian friend (Adhir Kalyan) laid at a boarding school where everything is taught in French, the laughter never stops and always remains unique and surprisingly sincere. Justin Long, who seems to be taking on minor yet hysterical character parts (as a gay porn star in Zac and Miri Make a Porno, and recently in Old Dogs as a boy scout leader) is also a gem here as Sheeni's stoner brother.
Youth in Revolt is like Urban Outfitters before it was mainstream, commercialized, and a part of everyone's wardrobe. It feels different, smarter, and special without taking itself too seriously. There's enough heart and hilarity here to last multiple movie nights, the inventive spin on the usual coming of age story comforting in its familiarity and fun its surprises. And ladies (and Gents)? Be prepared to really fall in love with Cera who has finally taken his first step from hipster man-child, to grown up comic gold. 
Look for Youth in Revolt nation wide starting January 8th, 2010

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