The Night Out: Underworld: Rise of The Lycans (2009), or The Wrestler Was In Theaters And I Saw THIS?

31 01 2009
Even Bill Nighy is tired of this series. He cant even stand up for the poster

Even Bill Nighy is tired of this series. He can't even stand up for the poster

Hello, all. Well, it was an interesting day at my house. Me and my movie partner, the gorgeous Bren, had just frolicked from our respective jobs. We were ready to relax on our 48 hour reprieve from labor. We were deliberating on the movie we would see, citing the fact that we are both pumped to see all the Oscar-nominated films while they are in theaters, when a sudden bout of indecision gripped us. Paralyzed with inactive fluids, we sat unwilling to budge until we could decide on a movie. A big problem for us lay in the fact that many of the Oscar noms are being played at AMC close by, but AMC is the dirtiest, most depressing theater in town. They could make a theater with 12 screens built from human bones and it would not be nearly as uncomfortable as AMC. If I were rating theaters right now, and I just may in the future, I would give the AMC Willowbrook 24 4 disgusting, stained, and smelly movie theater seats out of 10. You’ve been warned, AMC. My legions of fans are now onto you, and they will crush you with the impunity of a stampede.

So anyway, that theater was momentarily out of the question, but we still wanted to see a film. So we deliberated for hours, it seemed. Bren was not interested in Slumdog Millionaire which was playing close by. We were interested in seeing The Wrestler, but AMC, the only theater near us showing it, put a stop to that. And many of the others that I ever so wanted to see were playing far away, and at that point it was not a promising proposition. But I still wanted to see a movie. Have you ever had the feeling that doing what you wanted was just going to be more hassle than enjoyment? That feeling lingered in the air for a while. But, damn it I wanted to see a movie!!

Bren said to me, “I hunger, lover. Let us avaunt with haste that we may partake with good cheer.” (That is verbatim what she said to me; why would I lie?). But we could not make up our minds where we wanted to go or what we wanted to see. Our minds were sapped from the day’s long journey into night. So we looked around at our side of town and checked off theater after theater until we decided upon the movie theater closest to us, the Studio Movie Grill literally across the street from us. I never understood the name of Studio Movie Grill, by the way. They’re three different concepts thrown together to make a title, and one of them does not even make sense. It is a movie theater that serves food, so I understand the “Movie” and “Grill” part, but “Studio”? How so? Do they make their own claymation short films as well? Do they shoot amateur porn in the back alley? It sounds like when the Japanese try to market American things for their own people but they don’t care how it sounds as long as it sounds American. “Wa doko desu ka HAPPY BURGER FOOD! Ohaiyo!” So thanks, Studio Movie Grill, for turning me into Andy Rooney for a second there.

Anyway, out of all the movies playing there that we had not already seen, pickings were slim. And for the time bracket we were shooting for, it was between Paul Blart: Mall Cop (Oops, just threw up in my mouth a little from typing that), The Uninvited (Ehhhhhh…), or Underworld: Rise of The Lycans. And out of those three, we at least had seen the other Underworld movies, so we had some history with the series. Plus, if I see Kevin James’s chubby face insisting to me how funny his fat ass is just one more time, I’m going to find the person closest to me and just start swinging. So, the choice was made. I wanted to see a damn movie and I did see a damn movie.

But I’m sure you’re wondering why I keep spouting off anecdotes and not reviewing the movie. Well, sadly, that was the most exciting part of the movie for me. Seriously. I had more fun deciding which movie to go see than I did watching the movie. You want to know what my experience watching this movie was all about? Blue filters. That’s right. Blue camera filters. The thing that piqued my interest the most from this whole scenario was how everything that was shot looked through a Kool-Aid Berry Blast Super Blue Filter. Naked Attractive People (patent pending), dungeons, castles, daytime; everything looks like it might just be blueberry flavored. That seems to be the theme of this series, and I cannot fault them for it, but it is an odd artistic choice to use for nearly every single shot.

You want the plot? Basically, in medieval times, Vampires are a ruling class and werewolves, aka Lycans, are slaves. Treated like animals because most werewolves cannot change back to human form, they are hunted like dogs. One Lycan however, named Lucian, is born with the amazing ability to change at will, and is cared for by the leader of the vampires. The movie follows his life from slavery into freedom, from love into heartache, from victim to avenger. Watch the first Underworld movie. They actually give a good Cliffs Notes version of this that explains everything. That is the problem with this movie. It was completely unnecessary. It does not cover any new ground. It does not open up any new information for the fan or casual viewer alike. You are watching a longer version of the explanation of Lucian’s character that we already know and understand. They add virtually nothing to the mythology. It was almost as if just showing these characters and their first meetings with one another would carry the entire emotional weight of the film.

Michael Sheen is decent as Lucian, and he might have been better if he had been given more to work with. Bill Nighy chews more scenery than Bela Lugosi here as Viktor, leader of the vampires. He constantly gets pissed off in this film and at one point I thought he was actually going to explode. Imagine punching your dad in the gut, but when he yelled at you he could only scream out four or five exclamations from a word bank. Here, Nighy is given “MONSTROSITY!”, “LYCAN!”, “MY DAUGHTER!”, and “TRAITOR!”. I like to call these little moments “Nigh-gasms” because they are a blast and a half to watch.

Other than that, I got nothing. This movie seeped out of my head like a fever, and now it’s almost gone altogether. If you like stylized action and violence, mixed with faux-gothic tendencies and tons of theatrical posturing, this is the movie for you. For everyone else, drive to a theater that’s playing something non-vampiric. You’ll be glad you did. I give Underworld: Rise of The Lycans 3 1/2 Happy Burger Foods out of 10.

See you tomorrow, where we dig in for another surprise film. Is it a surprise, or am I still being indecisive? Find out next time!

PSA: The Duchess (2008), or Adventures In Extreme Mismarketing

30 01 2009
Period Drama PASSION

Now Keira, what we want in this scene is Period Drama PASSION!

Bonjour, mon amies! Welcome to another installment of the PSA, my own Public Service Announcement, letting you in on what I have found to be good, and what I have found to be, um, not so good. Now, before we get to the review, let me just say something about period pieces, in particular Elizabethan, Georgian, or Regency Era dramas. I have watched  number of these and I have come to the conclusion that they are indeed a mixed bag. It seems that half of the time they are interesting and pose some merit to the art, and the other half of the time they are limp costume dramas with no bite whatsoever. Movies like The Libertine and The Patriot are prime examples of this emptiness within the genre, as if just putting on an elaborate gown and having an arranged marriage is all one needs to do to woo the audience. Which, incidentally, is the crux of the latest period piece we are discussing today, Saul Dibb’s The Duchess.

The film recounts the scandalous historic figure Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire. It begins with her arranged marriage to the Duke of Devonshire at the ripe old age of 17. She is a wild, independent spirit who at heart is still just a girl. The Duke of Devonshire, on the other hand, is the devil. He has no humor, no compassion, no warm human qualities. The only thing he has going for him as a person is that he is extremely rich and he is portrayed by Ralph Fiennes. Their marriage is rocky and was doomed from the start, but the Duke has no problems with that as long as his wife produces a male heir. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be happening. She produces heirs, but only inferior, penis-less heirs that go by the name of ‘woman’. The Duke is not the least bit pleased. Nor is he pleased by the new vices she has picked up in her new position of power, namely gambling, high fashion, and politics. For in the world of politics, she falls in love with a charming young politician bucking for the position of Prime Minister named Charles Grey. And love does not fit into the Duke’s plans anywhere. Can the Duchess sate her passion in this harsh Georgian climate? Will the Duke find out about his Duchess’s young love? Is there anyone Georgiana can turn to in this world so cold towards the second sex?

Now, if you have seen the commercials or checked out the 1000-mile tall billboard they placed on the moon for this picture (I can see it every night from outside my window), you’ll know that this was marketed as a period drama about a woman who challenged the rules, broke with tradition. All over the television spots I remember seeing a story about an empowered woman making her mark on history, and that sounded pretty good to me. So while I was not aware of this character’s historical background (Georgian era is not my forté), I was interested in taking this crash course and diving in head first. Looking back on it, I wish I had done my research more closely.

This is a phenomenon that happens all the time in Hollywood that someone needs to address. I will start a tally and begin to call this industry syndrome Marketing For Dummies. The Duchess of Devonshire was an undeniably strong woman who earned her place in history not only her beauty and her sense of fashion, but by the daring way she edged her way into the boys club of politics. Keira Knightley’s Duchess is a growling but ultimately submissive cur who takes what scraps the world deems fit to give her. I am almost appalled by the way she portrays this intriguing aristocrat with almost none of the backbone that her real-life facsimile had. The Duke is an empty metaphor for a callous world, and I am fine with Ralph Fiennes performance as a quirky, evil Duke with no scruples about what he does. It probably did not even require an actor of Fiennes’s caliber to fill this position, but I digress. Keira Knightley is the one that confuses me. This was not what I was promised in my giant billboard.

Perhaps it is a mixture of vague direction (Saul Dibb is a rookie director) and two vastly different screenwriters working on the same script (Jeffrey Hatcher works mostly with the stage, and Anders Thomas Jensen is kind of Danish) but the character of the Duchess of Devonshire presented here is deeply unsatisfying. I cannot like her. She is almost repellent to me. I know women had very little to no say in this day and age, but some of the things this woman has to put up with would make someone real seeth through the teeth and bite someone’s neck like a bear. Keira Knightley just sits around like a limp hot dog and pouts. The real Duchess I don’t think was so flacid. It was very disconcerting.

The cinematography is great. There are some really good shots here for the techies. The color is rich and as usual the time is impeccably evoked by the costume and set design. I cannot believe some of the locales used by this movie. The mansions are peerless, and make you realize just what made the impoverished so damn mad all the time. They had to walk home to their hovels and shanties looking at palaces that had a hundred lavish empty rooms.

But in the end I cannot get over the main character being so unlikeable for me. It was soul-crushing to watch her. And I cannot put this all on Mrs. Knightley because I am not aware of how things were on-set. And maybe I am over-reacting, but watching this movie again I still culd feel nothing but contempt at the fake, desolate woman this film had chunked at me. If you feel differently, leave a comment. I am up for discussion anytime. Until then, I give The Duchess 4 1000-mile tall billboards out of 10.

See you tomorrow for a surprise, folks!! What will it be tomorrow!!!! I can’t wait!!!!!!!

The Big Sleep (1946), or Marlowe In Spades

29 01 2009
Lauren Becalls voice might just be huskier than Bogarts

Lauren Bacall's voice might just be huskier than Bogart's

Well, folks, another classic here today for all you film snobs like me and for all you lovers of good cinema, like you. The Big Sleep might be one of the best examples of film noir America ever produced. It was big, it was bold, it was the film the U.S. wanted all their films to be like; dark, funny, classy and racy. This one is a true classic, and it is actually in the National Film Registry after the Library of Congress deemed it culturally significant. That, I think, is a big deal.

The plot has always been infamously confusing, so just a brief overview. Private dick Phillip Marlowe, a real “hard-boiled detective”, has been called to the extravagant house of retired General Sternwood. He needs some help with some gambling debts owed by his younger daughter Carmen. More precisely, he needs them dealt with discreetly without having to resort to going to the police. Marlowe accepts, but has a sneaking suspicion that he has another reason for his services, namely to find his younger friend and bodyguard Brian Regan. The general’s eldest daughter Vivian, a feisty sexpot and recent divorcée, confronts him with this, but he is already miles ahead of her. This intrigues her, and her feisty attitude intrigues him. Thus ensues the veiled sexual banter. But nothing is as it seems around this family, he soon realizes. And not long after that, what starts out as a simple case of reputation blackmail becomes a complex web of murder and lies, and as the bodies start piling up Marlowe seems to be next on the list. Can he get himself out of the web and still unravel the mystery of this mysterious family?

Nobody is really too concerned with the plot, although it is based on the novel of the same name by Raymond Chandler and written for the screen by William Faulkner (!!). Nobody is really too interested either with the character of Phillip Marlowe, who has been serialized with other actors playing him in different movies for years. He’s a great guy in a clutch, and this movie has him in spades, but you don’t go to a picture show to see him exclusively. What everyone is interested in is the chemistry between Marlowe and Vivian, aka Bogart and Bacall. The duo, married in real life at the time, were electrifying both on and off the screen with their roller-coaster relationship. Watching them is like watching a real couple in real love bantering at the speed of real emotional comfort. It is fun to watch them trade off dialog like kisses. Bacall is such a femme fatale she might not be healthy in large doses. And Bogart is the most unlikely leading man in history. Not particularly handsome, tall, or physically fit, Bogart was all about presence. In his presence, even a mediocre performance seems suave and debonair. Even when he wasn’t trying, even when he was drunk or hung-over (which, after reading up on Bogart,was a common occurrence), his presence as an actor blows all that out the window.

Howard Hawks was a visionary and a no-nonsense artist that seemed more like a working stiff than a director, and this was one of his many films deemed culturally significant by the Library of Congress. He was one of the greatest of the classic Hollywood filmmakers, but he never received the recognition that John Ford and Cecil B. DeMille enjoyed. Well, here at Cinematronica, we appreciate Howard Hawks and his contributions to this amazing medium. Look forward later in the year to a Howard Hawks Week.

Oh, and Martha Vickers! Martha Vickers as Carmen, the younger Sternwood daughter, actually knocks Bacall down a few pegs with her performance. I wouldn’t say she totally blows her away, but she is clearly the victor in the battle of sex appeal. Watch her closely. Rumor has it that Bacall’s agent actually told Howard Hawks to re-shoot the movie to make Bacall look better. And Hawks caved due to pressure from the studio! It was unfair, and Vickers’s career withered up shortly after this, but I still feel that she deserved more credit on this movie for her small but wonderful role.

So a great classic from grand old Hollywood that needs to be either visited or revisited by young and old alike. Great performances abound, especially from one of the hardest working directors of the age. I have to call mulligan on the lopsided story, which, although nobody is really interested in it, is thrust in your face from all the dialog going on. But a very good show by very good performers (again, keep an eye out for Howard Hawks on this site). I give The Big Sleep 8 1/2 sloppy drunk Humphrey Bogarts out of 10.

See you tomorrow, for another PSA, where we take a look at The Duchess!

Double Dragon (1994), or This IS The 90’s!

28 01 2009
Oh, man. This movie is so nostalgic I think Im turning into a 7 year old

Oh, man. This movie is so nostalgic I think I'm turning into a 7 year old!

Well, everyone, it’s the end of 90’s Week, as voted by you, the people. It could have been 80’s Week, it could have been 00’s Week, it could have been 20’s Week. But, no. You have expressed yourself in the most American way possible; with a cheap internet poll. With all the outpouring of support for this, I might try to make this a monthly occurrence. Let it be known throughout the land that I am a generous internet kingpin, and I respect your opinions, my people. So I felt I had to end this with a bang. And so I scoured the continents, grasping the farthest corners of the earth for the most 90’s-ist of all movies. And I do believe after years of searching that I have found it. This has everything; the clothes, the hair, the 90’s rad-guitar soundtrack accompaniment, and Allysa Milano! I can’t even appropriately explain how fitting this movie is of it’s decade. It is beyond mere words. To minimize my embarrassment due to the impotence of my words, I will only say that this movie is for the 90’s what The Last Dragon is for the 80’s.

Double Dragon… Where have I heard that title before? Is that an entrée at my local Thai buffet? A musky body wash that leaves you smelling like a monitor lizard? The special “massage” I can get for $95 downtown at Madam Chin’s Spa? Why, no! It’s a popular NES video game from the late 80’s! It’s a standard punch-up where you control twin brothers named Jimmy and Billy and kick the asses of anyone in your way to save the girl and kill the boss. If you’re a fan of the story of the game series, well… I am so sorry. This has nothing really to do with any of that.

So, okay, it is the not too distant future. A mysterious figure named Koga Shuko desires a mysterious medallion that claims mysterious world-conquering powers. His grasp extends all over the world, and when he hears of the medallion being in China he sends a group of ninjas after it. His men find the medallion’s protectors, kill them, but find that only half of the medallion rests there. Meanwhile, after the big earthquake of 2007 (remember that one?) Los Angeles is in ruins. The city, now named ‘New Angeles’, is slow to recover. The street gangs are stronger than ever, to the point that the LAPD has made a truce with them that the police will keep the peace during the day but after nightfall the gangs will keep their own peace. Billy and Jimmy are two teenage brothers living in New Angeles trying to keep their noses clean amidst all the post-apocalyptic scum-baggery going on around them. Guided by their caretaker, the lovely Satori, the two brothers use their martial arts skills to win money in tournaments. One night, they all find themselves out on the street after nightfall and run into a gang. One of the members sees an article of jewelry on Satori that looks rather interesting; it is the missing half of the medallion. After Billy and Jimmy outwit them and escape, the leader of the gang reports to his boss, who is of course Koga Shuko. Will Shuko find the brothers and beat the medallion out of them? Or will the brothers persevere and defeat Shuko, all the while learning more and more about the mysterious medallion emblazoned with twin dragons that has fallen into their grasp?

Did you catch all that? Let me grab my breath… *gasp* Okay. So, with that said, this movie is obviously geared towards a younger audience. I actually mentioned this movie briefly in my Whale Rider review, citing it as a film that was packaged for my 7 to 10 year old self. Watching this, it becomes very apparent that most “grown-ups” are clueless here. The fate of the world is put into the hands of children and teens, who, although in real life would shiver and fall to the ground when faced with such a grave decision, are more than up to the task here and actually shame all of the adults who ever tried to deal with the problem with their puny adult prowess.

Let’s face it, this movie sucks. For kids, for adults, for zygotes. It’s a lame adaptation of a game made by people who knew what they were doing but thought that name recognition and totally dope computer graphics would carry the endeavor. The soundtrack is comprised of totally wicked guitar licks and vague ominous tones that don’t exactly get my blood going. The costume design is incomprehensible. I can’t even understand what they were thinking. You’ll just have to see it to believe it. Paul Dini wrote the screenplay for fuck’s sake! THE Paul Dini! He is so good! And this screenplay is trash! Imagine if Sir Laurence Olivier, somewhere between Marathon Man and A Bridge Too Far, had starred in a hard-core porn. That is the level of confusion that plagues me with Dini.

The actors are simply ridiculous. Allysa Milano is a tough, street-wise teen who is slightly endearing. She gets a free pass for all the horrible, saggy 90’s outfits she had to wear because that was the cool thing to do, but try not to laugh in her face if she ever brings that stuff out nowadays. Scott Wolf  and Mark Dacascos are respectively Billy and Jimmy. They make the video game look subtle and nuanced comparatively. Their chemistry is pretty bland, and I was not a fan of them and their “hilarious” dysfunctional in-fighting. But maybe this was a career harbinger for them, because Scott has since fizzled out in Hollywood and Mark is screaming the names of cooking ingredients at audiences as The Chairman on Iron Chef America! “Today’s special ingredient is…EMBARRASSMENT!”

Robert Patrick is Koga Shuko. I bet you thought maybe it was Sonny Chiba or Sho Kosugi or someone less… white. But no! Robert Patrick, with his first high profile post-T2 role, sports a bleach-blond flat-top(!!!) as Koga Shuko. Oh, by the way from now on I’m changing my name from Eric to Shigehiro Ozawa. That doesn’t sound strange to you, does it?

I know you think I may have overly high standards and that I’m picking unnecessarily on a movie which came and went in theaters innocently enough and has ceased to cause America further misery. But this was a taste of what every kid went to see back in the 90’s. Most movies were just like this; low on thought and interesting plot situations, high on action and special effects. I never had an option for movies like Whale Rider, and instead was spoon-fed this tripe. And if someone has to go up onto a cross for this fact, it might as well be a spectacular offender. I will say that I found this one to be terribly unintentionally funny, not laughing at any of the comedic cues but instead laughing at the more dramatic moments. So if you think Southland Tales was funny, you are in for a treat with this one. Other than that, be prepared for a 90 minute 90’s groan-fest. I give Double Dragon 3 bleach-blond flat-tops out of 10.

That’s it for 90’s Week! See you tomorrow, where we talk about The Big Sleep. Until then!

Scream (1996), or Don’t Look Behind You! It’s A Horror Movie Geek!

27 01 2009
Do You Like Scary Movies? ...Oh, you dont? Well, I guess nevermind then...

"Do You Like Scary Movies? ...Oh, you don't? Well, I guess nevermind then..."

90’s Week returns with a vengeance, like a screaming phoenix wearing flannel and ripped jeans. I know you missed it. Well, here I am with the first entry of a slasher into our 365-movie project. I think a lot of us have seen this one. Scream was one of the biggest horror movies of the 90’s, and it completely revitalized its own stagnant genre. Nobody was interested in a tired rehash of the same old slasher formula: teenagers having fun+underage drinking+making whoopee+big unbalanced guy+brutal arsenal of weaponry=OWWWW! Great formula, and I certainly hadn’t tired of it, but it might have been time for a 90’s makeover for the kids and teens. And what is the one thing 90’s kids and teens were best at? If you said being ultra-snarky and too hip for their own skin, you’re right!

The fact is that this movie’s structure is really more of a murder mystery than a slasher. A teenager named Casey is brutally murdered by a sadistic killer who calls her before he kills her and asks her horror trivia (on a cell phone! Probably the first time one has been used as a major plot device! It’s a big, clunky one too; it must weigh at least 5 pounds!!!). Weird, huh? Well, forget about that first teenager. We never see her again. Fuck it. Let’s start this movie over again. A teenager named Sidney is attacked one night on the anniversary of her mother’s own death. Her attacker is the same fellow with the same modus operandi; he calls her, taunts her, then attacks. She survives, but it seems like more and more people around her keep dying. They’re all being murdered by the same horrible person in a black robe and a mask contorted into a permanent scream. She thinks she might know who did it, but the evidence keeps thwarting her at every turn. Can she uncover the killer’s identity before he kills again, before she is next to die?

The story is intriguing for it being about a bunch of dumb teenagers. There are all sorts of twists and turns, red-herrings and McGuffins, and a surprise ending. But what everyone really remembers about this one is the fact that it was self-aware. That’s right. All of the characters had seen horror movies before. One character is even a horror movie fanatic. Everyone makes references to Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street, and even The Thing With Two Heads. Everyone understands the rules of the horror genre, and the dialog is actually pretty funny with that knowledge.

The cast is a bunch of pretty-boys and pretty-girls who never went on to do much work I was interested in, but if you’re a fan of Skeet Ulrich and David Arquette, this is the film for you. The star, Neve Campbell, was someone I really expected to go places, but she hasn’t done a whole hell of a lot and that is a shame. But here she performs admirably, which is more than I can say for Matthew Lillard and Courtney Cox. But it’s a horror movie; what did you expect?

John Carpenter is one of the greatest horror directors of all time.

Seriously, that’s all I have to say about that. He’s amazing. I’ll save my long, drawn-out fangasm about him for later.

The main drawback for me is that for a horror movie, there are no characters I can honestly say I would be upset about if they died. You should always save one person you care about at the end so that it matters if they are hurt. As an audience, we want to pull for somebody, even if they do not make it. I like nobody here. I couldn’t even name more than a few characters. Sure, it’s a horror movie and they’re expendable, but everybody I like they set up to kill in a matter of moments. It’s not fair and its almost not fun. Especially because the main cast is so snarky and self-assured and pompous and young that, if anything, it makes you want to kill them yourself.

But still, all in all, a good show. Great director+good script+lame cast=decent. I won’t dwell on this one too much because everyone who hasn’t seen it should discover this one for themselves and everyone who has seen it has seen it about 50 times and doesn’t want to be bothered with it again. So a good 90’s flick if you are a fan of the horror genre, and an important one if you follow the genre’s history as it revitalized the waning sub-genre of slashers. I give Scream 7 5-pound cell phones out of 10.

Tomorrow’s the last day of 90’s Week, folks! I got a surprise for you! Don’t peek until tomorrow!

The Night Out: Revolutionary Road (2008), or Living In Hell

26 01 2009
Having to live with yourself...

Having to live with yourself...

Hey, folks! Now, I know what you’re thinking. Where’s my review of Tank Girl? No White Men Can’t Jump? This is 90’s Week, man! And I want service with a smile, too! Well, pal, I understand your desperate need for an Encino Man review, but, damn it, I had to pull a Night Out as well. And I certainly couldn’t watch a movie from the 90’s there. Anyway, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with my review today, because of its timeliness. You see, today’s film is an Oscar nominee this year. It was a front-runner during the Golden Globes for a number of awards but lost most of them with the exception of Kate Winslet, who won for Best Actress. I thought with all the buzz around this film more nominations would have come at the Academy Awards this year, but surprisingly they had less. Winslet is not even nominated for Revolutionary Road for Best Actress (She is for another Night Out movie though; The Reader! Natch!). So, watching it seemingly depreciate from the Globes to the Oscars, I knew I would have to see this movie. And am I ever glad I did.

Frank and April Wheeler are a young couple in 1955 who live on Revolutionary Road, a comfy road in a comfy suburb in a comfy town in Connecticut. They have seemingly bought into the American Dream of security, stability and safety. Frank is a salesman, and April is a homemaker. They have two children, and their house is very idyllic. Everything is fine on the surface. But on the inside, their marriage is breaking off at the seams. Frank hates his job, and April hates the life they’ve made on Revolutionary Road. Their dreams have fallen apart: April wanted to be an actress and Frank wanted to live in Paris. And partly because of that, they have seemingly blamed each other, which leads to bitter, bitter arguments. On Frank’s 30’th birthday, though, April has an idea that might break the spell the suburbs have cast on them; they will move to Paris, just like Frank always wanted. She tells Frank about moving, but he is skeptical. He is tied so deeply to the system, he can no longer imagine a life where he is nothing more than a breadwinner and a slave to the corporate elite. April eventually changes his mind, but it soon becomes a question of for how long…

This was a wonderful experience to go through. I have rarely had a more enjoyable time at the movies. I went in the cloudy Sunday afternoon with a moderate audience to the Rave Theater, or the Yorktown 15, in Houston, TX. I had movie nachos for the first time (not bad if you’re used to Rico’s cheese sauce) which was odd considering the dire subject matter of the movie, and I was with my lady love, Bren, who not only takes me for who I am but also frequents this site. Thanks for the movie, my love! It was just a good day to be alive for me, and while this has nothing to do with the movie, I just wanted to let everyone know how this film was just a cherry on top of the day I had.

Anyway, this is a great movie. One of the best of 2008, although I saw it in 2009. Based on the novel by Richard Yates of the same name, this one soars and swoops like few others. The soundtrack by Thomas Newman is made of a number of wistful orchestral tunes that are soaked with regret. It is great. A must-buy for soundtrack aficionados! Sam Mendes knows how to paint a picture of desperation (American Beauty was his first film!), and I have to commend him for his bravery in this one. He has to direct his wife, Kate Winslet, to do some sexual scenes with other men, and while it is tastefully done it must be an awkward thing to do. So bravo, Sam! And he really does do an excellent job. You can feel the ache in some of these people that will never, ever go away. These characters are wounded by life, but they don’t have enough blood in their veins to make a mess. It is great direction, and if he keeps up work like this I will be a lifelong Sam Mendes fan.

April and Frank Wheeler are played by Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio respectively. Oh, Mrs. Winslet, what am I going to do with you? I already fawned over you in my review of The Reader. What else can I say? You are a credit to your craft, and everyone needs to have a little Kate Winslet in their movies (except The Life of David Gale; what the hell was that all about?). Mr. DiCaprio, you’ve been no slouch yourself. Rarely will you see such a relationship on screen. I don’t want to give anything away, but it is more intense that anything else you are likely to see this year.

Before I wrap up, a small note. The only big award someone from Revolutionary Road is nominated for by the Academy is Best Supporting Actor. A relative no-name, Michael Shannon is his name, and from the movies I have seen for the Oscar bid, he deserves that award 100%. I’m so sorry, Heath Ledger, but after seeing this man’s performance I honestly hope you lose for Best Supporting (even though I know you won’t). Shannon plays a mentally disturbed neighbor of the Wheelers who has lost his entire life to his mental condition, and now has no reason to perform the social niceties that you or I perform every day. he is honest, he is disturbing, and he pours a lot into what amounts to a fifteen-minute performance. I’ve rarely had such a knee-jerk reaction to an actor before, and even though it is not a popular decision, I would give the Oscar to Shannon over Ledger’s admittedly deserving role in The Dark Knight. Watch this movie and immediately tell me otherwise. I do not think it can be done without some deliberation.

So run, don’t walk, to see this one! It is a movie that hits on a very emotional level. If you can handle some deep, soul searching drama about the deepest recesses of the human spirit, this is a movie for you. The inevitable question will arise of which movie I think Winslet deserved her Oscar nomination for, this or The Reader, and I think that as long as she wins something this year it doesn’t really matter. But if I were in the Academy (think about it, Hollywood…), I would still give it to her for The Reader.  Why? It’s apples and oranges. I happen to feel though that it is the hardest to play a morally ambiguous character, and The Reader’s Hanna Schmitz was more ambiguous than any person I have seen on the screen in a long while. So there you go. But as movies, I feel personally that they are equals, and that they should both have been nominated. Therefore, I give Revolutionary Road 9 1/2 comfy suburbs out of 10! A high recommendation!

See you tomorrow, folks, where we continue 90′ Week with Scream!

Singles (1992), or Hey, You Look Familiar! Are You In Soundgarden?

25 01 2009
Every time I see this poster, my eyes lock on Matt Dillons string-bean legs!

Every time I see this poster, my eyes lock on Matt Dillon's string-bean legs!

90’s Week continues, everyone! The week where I dig out the best and worst the decade has to offer. Today we take a trip to the heart of Generation X. Today we bust straight into the soul of Seattle like a homemade shank on a prison hit’s jugular vein. Today I present Singles.

Hey, remember the grunge era? Remember when bands like Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, and that other band Dave Grohl used to drum for pumped out songs on the radio that people actually cared about? Songs that were about fierce independence and unwillingness to be sold out to the highest bidder? When bands had something more to say than “buy my T-shirt”? When music felt like it could change the world all over again in the face of mass consumerism, greed, and social tyranny? No, you don’t remember any of that? Well, it was probably before your time. But still, it happened. The early 90’s were a great time for music, art, and culture. Singles, however, is a veiled Trojan horse for the scene it portrays. Because within this film made at the height of the grunge movement are the seeds of that scene’s destruction.

Singles is a romantic comedy centered around the lives of a few young Seattlans (I’ve checked. That is how you describe people from Seattle) mostly living in the same apartment complex. Janet Livermore is the lovestruck neighbor of Cliff, a grunge rocker who is barely there as a human being. He is aloof to everyone, but that doesn’t seem to phase Janet. She tries her damndest amidst his wild partying and philandering ways. Meanwhile, Linda is a good girl who has her act together but has terrible luck with men. They’re always loving then leaving. But right when she isn’t looking for anything, Steve comes along. They are perfect for each other because they are both emotionally difficult and they both have friends that give them lackluster romantic advice. They go back and forth a lot. Will anyone in this town find love? And if they do, will it be with the right person?

This being a romantic comedy, there isn’t much plot, and that’s fine as long as there’s substance to all the dialog being dished out. The problem is that there isn’t much of either of those. These people have very little substance to them at all. I do not feel much of anything for these people. Worse yet, I think this was probably a very realistic mirror by director Cameron Crowe towards Generation X. And that is why I think the grunge revolution failed. Their movement had no substance. Inside, many of these poets and rockers were empty consumers who were only against selling out as long as it did not mean that they would go hungry. It is a sad thing to say for me, being a big fan of grunge as far back as Mother Love Bone and Mudhoney, but many of the people who inherited the music from these bands lost sight of what it was they were doing. That is why grunge is dead and that is why Fall Out Boy runs rampant through the streets like a hundred-ton ten-headed mongrel. Thanks, guys!

Hey, Eric! This is a movie site! Not a fucking music lamentation thread! Get your head out of your ass! Well, rude gentleman I made up for the sake of refutation, there is a point to all this. Because this is one of the few movies where the soundtrack is more famous than the actual movie. Everyone is on this thing: Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Mudhoney, Paul Westerburg of The Replacements, The Screaming Trees; everybody! It’s a great soundtrack, and I recommend giving it a listen.

And if that’s not enough, there are cameos out the wazoo! Soundgarden and Alice In Chains both play as themselves on stage! Cliff the rocker has a band called Citizen Dick which is actually just Pearl Jam! Tim Burton in a rare on-screen appearance as a counter clerk! Eric Stoltz as a mime who talks! Loudly! It’s pretty fun.

But that really doesn’t save the movie that much. Cameron Crowe still had a lot to learn about screenwriting back then, not to mention pacing. As an artist, he has grown since, but this is by no means a highlight. I still appreciate his musical taste, though, so feel free to send me a mix tape in the mail, Cameron! The actors put in very little, but I am not sure whether that was grunge ennui or lack of interest with the characters, so that one is a gimme. It just seems like people were so concerned with being cool, that they forgot to be good. Kyra Sedgwick, or Linda in the movie, in particular never seems to act in anything. She just struts her sickly skinny posterior into a movie and hope that nobody notices she’s just a defective Julia Roberts clone.

So if you are a die-hard fan of the grunge era and the Seattle music and culture scene, give this one a whirl. Although if you are I’m sure you’ve seen it by now, so forget it. Romantic comedy fans might also give this one a chance, but this is not even very good at that. I do not put much stock into this movie. I think it is vapid and shallow, and the stupid, stupid smart hipster people in this movie remind me a lot of Twilight without the vampires or the skinny jeans. I cannot relate to this culture any more than I can relate to people nowadays, so maybe things haven’t changed much. But at least this one has fun cameos to look out for, while Twilight only had the end credits to look out for (burn!). I give Singles 5 1/2 loudmouth mimes out of 10!

See you tomorrow, where we take a break from 90’s Week and go out to see Revolutionary Road! A bona-fide Oscar nominee. Oooohhhh!

Oscar Opinions? Anybody Got ‘Em?

24 01 2009

All right. The 2009 Academy Award nominees have been announced and you can find them all here. I know I’m slow to get to the discussion, but I’m a work-horse. I have things to do, folks. Get off my back!!!

But what do you guys think? Do you think Revolutionary Road was robbed? Are you glad The Dark Knight is walking away with mostly technical awards? Do you think Mickey Rourke should get the award for Best Hideous Actor? Let me know? Let others know. Lots of surprises this year, so leave a comment for intellectual purposes. Thanks!

PSA: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), or Dinner And A Movie With Jar-Jar

24 01 2009
Lucass triumphant 1999 return!!!

Lucas's "triumphant" 1999 return!!!

All right everyone! Now, as you know, it’s 90’s Week here on the old Cinematronica, but what you probably do not know is that today I am not doing a movie I neither hate nor love. This is a special PSA about cinematic integrity. Sometimes you have to stand your ground on issues like this. And this might start a wildfire, a maelstrom of rage, but a man has to stand up for what he believes in. And here is a universal truth that I know to be true: Star Wars Episode I was a good movie. It was not a great movie, or one that the fans really wanted, but it was a good movie.

Now why am I standing up for George Lucas, you may ask. Mark my words, I am no Lucas Apologist or some stark-raving fanboy. Hell, I am only about a 7 on the Star Wars Love-O-Meter. The fact is though that this movie was dumped on, big time, by 16 years worth of unrealistic expectations. Ever since 1983, when the original trilogy Star Wars films began their march toward home video, people gazed longingly upon the ivory spire that was Skywalker Ranch, hoping to hear word from George that something else would be done with the mythology. Lucas slowly recoiled from the art of making movies and especially after the end of the Indiana Jones trilogy, it seemed as if there would be no way to raise him off of his lazy ass. But in the early to mid 90’s, mutterings of a prequel trilogy surfaced again after long being buried. People were even more excited about the idea after the 1997 re-release of the original trilogy in theaters (excited about the prequel trilogy; nobody like the ’97 re-release). And eventually, 22 years after he had been in the director’s chair, Lucas himself rode in on a white chariot to save the day, albeit 16 years late. Everyone was ecstatic about the movies. Opening night was electric on May 19, 1999. Children, women, and full-grown men were giddy with anticipation. It was a wild night. I was there. We all rushed for the theater the second the velvet ropes were lifted from the  door, with no more patience left to us. It was so much fun, but we all know what happened next…

“My forgotten, da Bosses will do terrible tings to me TERRRRRIIIIBBBLE is me going back der!”

– The Honorable Jar-Jar Binks

All right, there are many plot points here involving intergalactic secession, the Jedi Knights, and a queen in distress, but the prequel saga revolves around the rise and fall of a man named Anakin Skywalker (I am not explaining the original trilogy of films. Neither of us want that, do we?) It’s the one plot worth mentioning because it is the only really compelling one. In Episode I, we meet him as a child on the desert planet of Tatooine. He and his mother are slaves, indentured by a greedy flying creature named Wotto. He is a pilot whiz-kid, he is amazing with machines, and he is an all-around good kid. One day, he meets a group of strange people from off-planet who say they need to get off Tatooine ASAP. Their ship was damaged in a battle and they need repairs badly. Two of them are Jedi Knights, the peacekeepers of the Galactic Republic. One, Qui-Gon Jinn, is a master and the other, Obi-Wan Kenobi, is an apprentice. They are escorting the Queen of a planet called Naboo to the Galactic Senate in Coruscant, and they need to arrive there immediately before they are captured by their pursuers, a Trade Federation that wants the Queen dead and a mysterious dark Jedi. Anakin is curious about the world outside of Tatooine, and especially the Jedi Knights who wield a power called the Force that allows them to do amazing things. The relationship he forms with the two Jedi start him on a path far from Tatooine, far from anything he ever imagined. Oh, and there’s a really annoying alien character named Jar-Jar Binks who-a-talka-like-dees. He is loud and really quite awful.

(I know there’s a lot more to cover, but the problem is that I do not want to spend the whole time explaining the entire mythology. Let’s just leave it at that.)

Okay, you say. Sounds good. I’m interested. But, oh wait. What about all this, and this, and this, and this? Jesus Christ, man! If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that people didn’t like this movie! Well, friend, that is a very educated guess. People hated this movie with a passion. Hate it with every fiber of their being. As I despise Nicolas ‘Douchebag’ Cage, so some people despise Phantom ‘Jar-Jar’ Menace. This is where, if you look online enough, the phrase “George Lucas raped my childhood!” came from. Seriously.

But let’s be adults here (even you, David). Was the movie so bad? I found a lot of interesting things watching it again. The music, obviously, was Williams-tastic. The special effects were great for the time, and they hold up surprisingly well for 1999. Obi-Wan Kenobi, played by Ewan McGregor, does a great job as an apprentice who only wishes to please his master. And Jake Lloyd as young Anakin Skywalker is the real gem for me. His story is always a slightly tragic one. He was a slave, damnit! Even when he’s happy, he still has that tinge of ennui that doesn’t necessarily come from the actor but from the strong writing of a character. Yes, strong writing. I said it. At least for Anakin.

The movie’s real downfall is how safe it plays. It is a totally kid-friendly movie, and I guess that’s okay (go watch Hannah Montana, kids. Get the fuck out of Star Wars!) , but I can’t stand how goofy some of the action sequences go. It turns from a serious galactic battle to the breakfast machine from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. It never feels like there’s anything at stake, either. A Trade Federation dispute? Really? That’s like writing a fourth Lord of The Rings movie about Samwise Gamgee fighting with his neighbors over the municipality’s water supply! No on cares! If you’re going to make a movie for kids, at least have the chutzpah to think big within your own mythology.

So come on. The movie isn’t that bad. It’s not as bad as you think. I just watched it. When was the last time you watched it? When you were incensed with disappointment from your own over-wrought anticipation? Well, we were all upset, but how could we not be? We waited 16 years for an installment that had almost nothing to do with most of the characters we had grown attached to. It was destiny, if you believe in all that. I recommend watching it again, wiping those kid-smudges off your lenses. You might enjoy it, and it might get you watching the other two prequel installments. It’s not a great movie, it’s just okay. And maybe that’s why you were so disappointed because the first trilogy was so great. But the only one “raping your childhood” is you, my friend. I give Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 6 1/2 meesa-yousa-talka-like-a-deesa out of 10.

See you tomorrow for a surprise flick! Don’t anticipate too much while I’m gone!

The Remains of The Day (1993), or Merchant-Ivory’s Glimmering Jewel

23 01 2009
Loyalty And Desire

Loyalty And Desire

Greetings, everyone! Welcome to 90’s week! But before we tear into the review, I would just like to explain the production company that is Merchant Ivory. In the early sixties, James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, a director and a producer respectively, started a partnership that would change everything about film. They were going to do something more amazing than either of them would have imagined; they would make movies smart again. You see, Merchant Ivory films, since their inception, have been the caviar of the film industry, the standard of excellence. Their movies have become a staple in the art-house experience, and not one of their films have failed to work on a more intellectual level than your average film. Their scripts come from literature, not a joke on the back of a napkin. Their stable of actors include Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, not Verne Troyer Brigitte Nielsen. They are wonderful films all, and I wish I had more time to do a full post on why Merchant Ivory is so good, but for now I will just say that they make films the way more films should be made. And, arguably, one of their most famous films is today’s selection for 90′ week, The Remains of The Day, starring the aforementioned Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.

It is the 1950’s in a sleepy English manor. Mr. Stevens is the butler of Darlington Hall, the aforementioned mansion, which is unoccupied and soon to be sold to a retired American senator. As the preparations begin to accommodate the new owner, Stevens receives a letter from a one Miss Kenton. Miss Kenton also used to work at the manor twenty years prior, when the manor was active under its former owner the Lord Darlington. Back then, before the second World War, she was a maid who worked with Stevens, and the two worked together very closely. Stevens is introduced as a cold, emotionless man with little regard for anything or anyone that does not involve his duties and his loyalty to Lord Darlington. During their years together, Miss Kenton tries to warm him to her, enamoured with the silent, dutiful man. But Stevens is so distant. He does not feel anything. All he can do is serve. No matter what Miss Kenton does, she cannot break through his barriers, and so after one final clash with him, she leaves with another man. They had not seen each other since. But with this letter, could there be one final chance at love for these two? Can Stevens change who he is, after the throes of regret regarding a life spent in servitude?

James Ivory is an artisan director. Everything he does is crafted in such a way that makes you notice just how much talent he has. I consider him to be the peacock of the art-house film; a modest one at that, oxymoronically. Another technical whiz, the filters on the camera reflect a self-confined, claustrophobic life lived in an enormous house. The music, deservedly, was nominated for an Academy Award. It is the soundtrack to Stevens’s life; tight, proper, and appropriate at all times. The screenplay was written by long-time collaborator of Merchant-Ivory, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, and it holds up very well, as usual, to the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. She really captures the literary mind in a movie, and I enjoyed that immensely as a reader.

Do I even need to say it? Well, I’m going to: Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson are wondrous. They are such a tragic couple, they steal the show away from all the other artistic aspects of this film. Some of the scenes they have are so well crafted. When she tells him how afraid she is to be alone and he looks at her and tells her, “You mean a great deal to this house”, it breaks your heart because you know they want to be together but he was just too far away from everyone, even himself, to say anything. Wonderful performances all around, including a meager role for the late Christopher Reeves as the American senator, Mr. Lewis.

And one thing that really captures the period and the mood are the sets. An amalgam of many different English mansions, Darlington Manor is so huge, so lush and splendorous that you’ll actually believe that, of course, almost nobody lives there. it is almost another character, the house; it eats people alive, emotions and all.

All together, a great showing for the Merchant-Ivory team. This one captivates me with its self-imposed loneliness. It’s a reminder to us all to not only love, but admit to our love. And it is also a great example of 90’s art-house, although some of the more independent, feistier films are much darker and abstract. But if you are a sucker for classical story structure, period pieces, or just dead-on performances, you have come to the right place. I hope you are as deeply touched as I was. I give The Remains of The Day 9 emotionally inhibited butlers out of 10. A high recommendation!

Tomorrow we go back to a time not very long ago in a galaxy not very far away at all. Could you guess from those awful and corny clues what the next movie might be? Well, if you said Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, congratulations: you are not living under a rock!