I Couldn’t Afford To Send Myself To Cannes, So Instead I’m Watching The MTV Movie Awards! Somebody Please Beat Me To Death!

31 05 2009

So, the most unimportant movie award ceremony of the year is going on right now. The MTV Movie Awards is happening as we speak, and for some unspeakable reason, I’m watching it. What’s wrong with me? Am I high? I didn’t talk about Cannes this year at all on this site, and you probably thought to yourself, “Why?”. Of course I love those international and independent pictures, and of course I love to think when I’m watching a movie. But I’m also broke, so I couldn’t go. And I really didn’t want to regurgitate any info from any other sources of news that actually went there, as you could just go to that news outlet and reward them for their hard work instead of my lazy cut-and-pasting. So, hopefully, if I make it all the way to December 31st on my quest to review a movie a day, the world will pitch in and just send me a ticket in the mail for 2010. But until that day, I’m watching the MTV Movie Awards.

If anyone has any thoughts on this exercise in celebrity masturbation (hosted by Andy Samberg!!!), please post them and tell me about it. I’ll watch this whole thing through, for some deeply unknowable purpose, so I’ll know what you’re talking about if you wanna gush on who is the cutest celebrity there or who gives the worst presentation (My vote is for the vitriolic Megan Fox), feel free to do so. I’m trying to be interactive at Cinematronica, so get in on the most talked about but least important awards show in the world. And how unimportant is this awards show? Just, please, please no Robert Pattinson gushing. If I ask one thing on this website, I ask for the simple kindness of a night with a little less Pattinson in my life…

The Night Out: Up (2009), or Something Warm And Fond

31 05 2009

Another day, another lovely weekend, another movie. Up, Pixar’s newest heartwarmer, shows the company’s willingness to take some risks. Featuring a cast of hitherto unknowns anchored by veteran voice actor Ed Asner, a script that features family movie taboos like death, loneliness, and broken households, as well as a premise that’s not instantly toy-friendly, Pixar is really bending the envelope of what is considered “appropriate for the whole family”. And I mean that in the best way, because if any niche in the movie industry needs a kick in the pants, it’s the family section.

It’s a breathtaking story about finding the important things in life before it’s too late. Carl and Ellie, in their youth, dreamed of taking a wondrous journey to the lost South American vistas of Paradise Falls. It was the thing that brought them together in their youth, and it was a dream that stayed with them their entire lives. But life gets in the way, as it often does, and they kept postponing the trip well into their old age, to the point that by the time they were elderly, they still had not gone on their adventure. Carl, remembering the joy they had felt in their adolescence when they talked about it, decides to buy some plane tickets to South America to begin the voyage they had always dreamed of. But, alas, Ellie would not see the day when they would make it to Paradise Falls. She fell ill and passed away shortly after he bought the tickets. Carl, devastated, decides that he ought to have the adventure for both of them, so he spends all of one night blowing up helium balloons until he has enough to lift his house!!! So off he sails from North to South America, in search of adventure and a place to set down his house right next to Paradise Falls. Little does he know that he unwittingly picked up a hitchhiker in the form of a Boy Scout hoping to assist an elderly person still on his front porch!!!

The film is extremely heartfelt. I haven’t felt so good during a family film since the LAST Pixar film, WALL-E. Up is a simple story about finding what’s right in front of your eyes, the thrill of discovery giving way to the thrill of being with the one you’re with. I liked this movie a lot, and with the love of my life, the amazing Bren, right next to me, I got a little teary-eyed thinking about us growing old with one another. Carl and Ellie have that timeless love, the kind of love that exists only very rarely, where one partner is all you need to get by your entire life. It’s beautiful just how much they mean to each other, and it made me want, more than ever, to stay by the one I love and care for her the rest of my days.

But it’s not all sappy old couples and weepy moments! This movie is exhilarating. The action abounds after the 30 minute mark. When Carl and his goofy Boy Scout sidekick start exploring the wilderness of South America (with Carl’s floating house in tow!), they run into all kinds of fun and excitement. Talking dogs who hate squirrels (“SQUIRREL!”), rare birds, and mad explorers inhabit the magical Paradise Falls, and there’s enough cool stuff to keep your tot (or tots) occupied through this ecstatic little picture. I recommend seeing it in 3-D. Why? Well, why the hell not!?!? It’s 3-D! Don’t be such a fuddy-duddy that you can’t enjoy the simple pleasure of things popping out at you on the big screen!

The characters have amazing depth, even for a Pixar film. Russell, the Boy Scout, actually comes from a broken home (!!!), and crazier than that, the father isn’t one of those doting, heroic single fathers either! He’s actually kind of aloof!!! It’s something else to witness, and you know you’ve seen something special when you go into a theater and watch ANIMATED characters have more real moments that most live-action family movies ever have. Carl is, of course, the main emotional draw for me. He’s not a grump because he’s an old man. He’s a grump because his wife just died!!! You would be a grump, too! And voiced by professional grump Ed Asner, the drama really comes through when you hear him break down a couple times. It’s quite sad to hear it in his voice. But through it all, he still has some great moments of fun ans good cheer, and I thoroughly enjoyed his transformation throughout the movie from grieving grump to the ol’ softie we all knew Ed Asner would be in real life.

Take your kids to see this one for the 3-D, and take your significant other for the sappy love moments. It’s an expectedly well-animated emotional story, more than I thought a flick about a floating house could be. It has a little something for every one; comedy (the talking dogs, especially the alpha male!), drama (the timeless love of Carl and Ellie), and action (a battle on top of a flying zeppelin). What more do you need out of a family movie? It even doles out a bonus with some of the more serious real-life issues that Russell and Carl face, so what are you waiting for? I give Up 9 SQUIRRELS! out of 10. Check it out!!!

Tomorrow I’m going to be Walking Tall with Joe Don Baker! Wish me luck.

The Night Out: Drag Me To Hell (2009), or Horr-edy? Or Is It Comed-or?

30 05 2009

Sam Raimi takes a deep and puncturing stab at the horror genre again, after over 20 years out of the game. After his last horror film, Evil Dead 2, came out in 1987, he made an action adventure series out of the franchise with Army of Darkness and took nearly two decades experimenting with huge budgets and more earthbound plots. But 2009 has seen the return of a horror director to the genre that made him who he is, and I think that the world is a better place indeed for the film he has released this week, Drag Me To Hell. It’s ridiculous, mercilessly cheap with its scares, and not even that frightening, but Sam Raimi is a master of horror not because of what he does within the confines of the genre, but rather what he does outside of the myopic box of horror, blending styles and shifting tones, that makes him special.

It’s a really simple plot, and from the immense ad campaign rushing headlong into us through our TV screens and computer monitors, you probably know all about it already. A young woman, Christine, working at a bank, bucking for an assistant manager job at her branch, is told she has to make some tough decisions with loans to win the position. One day, a haggard old gypsy woman comes in to her office, asking for a third extension on her house loan. Trying to make the tough decisions, Christine denies her request in order to impress her boss. Unwittingly, though, she invoked the ire of a gypsy WITCH, who curses her soul to be taken by a horrific demon called the Lamia. She has three days to dispel the curse, or else she will be dragged to Hell by the beast to be punished eternally for her sin of loan extension denial. She will turn to desperate measures to rid herself of this curse, including fortune readings, seances, animal sacrifices (!!!!), and more, but will it be enough to save her soul?

Well, where to start? It’s not so much of a horror as much as it is a horror-comedy. It’s very reminiscent of Evil Dead‘s brand of slapstick gross-out horror, kind of a terror via hilarity. Raimi’s signature style of switching gears mid-movie (or mid-scene) is in full swing, and it really works when it comes to making an engaging, entertaining scene. If you’re looking to be genuinely creeped out, there are some moments here and there that inspire a little something, but nothing that anyone should avoid for fear of scarring their impressionable teens or their impressionable spouses (it’s PG-13; what’d you expect?)

I was never genuinely scared; startled, constantly, but never scared. That’s right; we’re back to this old song and dance again. I won’t go into the whole “Boo scare Vs. Real Scare” diatribe again today, but I will say that Sam Raimi is not only a repeat offender, he is on the BOO!!! Most Wanted List as far as I am concerned. Every couple minutes he gets something or someone to jump out at the camera like a Jack-in-the-box. It’s a little lazy, and it left a bitter taste in my mouth. On the other hand, I commend him for using the use of focus to disorient. I found myself intrigued by the implementation of foreground and background as two different dimensions, two different levels in which to scare and surprise. It’s right there in front of everyone’s noses, but nobody really uses that as much as they should.

Christine, played by Alison Lohman, channels Ash as she maneuvers her way through the mysteries of the curse. She’s imperfect but strong, and willing to do anything to rid herself of the burden of the gypsy’s spell. Her run-ins with the gypsy woman throughout the film are numerous and hilarious. She hates that woman! With one-liners like “I beat you, you old bitch!”, and Choke on it, bitch!”, she is really put out by this whole curse thing, and their many encounters are always entertaining.

An Indian mystic guides her through this whole ordeal, whom Christine met by chance at a palm reading session, but, and you might pick up on this as much as I did and find it hilarious, he is not one of those altruistic spiritual men who is willing to save this poor young soul free of charge. The palm reading alone is worth $60!!! And when someone is found who willing to help her with this problem, that person asks for $10,000!!! What the fuck? That never happens in movies, and if it weren’t for all the ghostly apparitions throughout the movie, I would likely have thought the whole curse thing to be a huge con. I like it, though, and it makes me laugh to see all the mumbo-jumbo bullshit artists shown as what they are in real life; out for a buck.

And a notice to all gypsies, or Romani as it were: DO NOT WATCH THIS MOVIE!!! You will find yourself put out by more stereotypes than you will know what to do with. They’re seemingly innocent, but so are any number of stereotypes from the past that we now look upon with shame and remorse. Not ALL Eastern European people of Romani descent are mystics, conjurers, and smarmy greaseball prostitutes, but you don’t see anything to the contrary in the film. So I would skip this movie if I were you, my Romani friends. And, for the record, when I say the word “gypped” at a grocery store, I recognize it is in poor taste and I am working on it, so in the meantime, please do not curse me and my family to burn in Hell for all eternity.

It’s a fun movie that people need to get behind. It’s not perfect, and it’s slightly offensive if you are of the many tribes of the proud Romani people, but I think that this movie is pretty damn good, and I am glad to welcome Raimi back into the fold after going his own way for so long. It’s very engaging, funny, well-made, and incredibly breezy. I had a great time, so what are YOU waiting for? Check it out tomorrow! I give Drag Me To Hell 8 $10,000 psychic bills out of 10.

Tomorrow I will either watch the new computer-animated film Up or the dyspeptic Joe Don Baker in Walking Tall. Come back then for my final decision!!!

PSA: The Dark Crystal (1982), or The Hero In The Puppet Case

29 05 2009

As I said, I’m a sucker for the fantasy picture. But did you also know that I’m a sucker for puppets, as well? That’s right; ever since Thunderbirds came hurtling onto my TV screen in my youth, I was always interested in puppetry of both the marionette and hand variety, and the creation of an entire movie with them. Good thing I wasn’t the only one (otherwise, I would have had to shoot my own puppet movies in the basement), because a man named Jim Henson stepped out of the ether and saved the world with his puppet mastery in the 70s and 80s. With wunderkind protegee Frank Oz in tow, he created characters, places, and entirely new dimensions with his love of the medium. In the beginning of his career, it was all about comedy, and the different ways puppets could make us laugh. But Henson had other plans for puppets, who had always taken on the role of the comedians and the fools. Henson envisioned in his lifetime dreamscapes where his puppetry and his uncanny knack for creature creation collided to make simple stories about morality epic adventures of fantastic proportions. Today’s film, The Dark Crystal, was the start of a new era for Henson, an era where puppets would not only make us laugh, but they would also make us think, make us feel, make us dream.

The world of The Dark Crystal is vast, and encompasses the thousand year history of the world of Thra. It is a diverse world full of strange creatures and wondrous environments. Our hero, the enigmatic Jen, must save his village, and eventually the world, from the power of the hideous Skeksies, a cruel race set on bending the world of Thra to their unjust will. To stop the Skeksies from destroying the place, Jen is sent on a mission to restore the Crystal of Truth, a crystal placed on Thra to balance the world and ensure the health of all lifeforms. But long ago, the Crystal was cracked, and has since become the Dark Crystal. Now order has slowly spiraled into chaos, and Jen must venture off into the heart of the Skeksies’ territory with the missing shard in hand to restore balance. What future lies in store for the imperiled world of Thra and all of its inhabitants?

This one brought a tear to my eye. It’s really quite wonderful in its simplicity. It’s about a quest to save the world from evil, and who doesn’t want to do that? You know, anyone can make a fantasy story involving a quest, but only Jim Henson could immerse one in the world enough to make one genuinely care about it. I actually fear for the world of Thra. It’s so beautiful, that I would not be unmoved to see it disappear. From the magic of the High Hill Observatory, to the majesty of the Castle of The Crystal, it has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

And the characters, completely created out of puppetry techniques, are simply amazing for 1982. The motions and fluidity achieved by using puppets is sheer magic. It gets me every time. Everybody has their favorite race or favorite puppet in the series. What’s yours? Mine are the Landstriders. I love their faces; they look so sympathetic to me, like I just lost a $20 bill and he knows exactly how I feel. But everyone has this mystical, timeless look to them in The Dark Crystal. It could have been made in 2182 as far as my eyes are concerned, because these puppets are awesome, these effects are astonishing, and I really enjoy this vision of the endless struggle betwixt good and evil.

It’s something deep within me that enjoys watching the virtuous hero flirt with the deadly and the dangerous, only to come out more fervent than ever before. Perhaps it’s the perpetual boy in me who always thinks that good and evil is black and white, and there are no gray areas in the world. But Jim Henson was a boy once, too, and he felt that same rush of watching someone come out of a hive of villainy unscathed and chaste. It’ll always get me in the end, and considering how good this movie is, can you really blame me for getting so into it? I like this film a lot, and I think that you will too. I give The Dark Crystal 9 Skeksies out of 10! Go watch it!!!

Tomorrow I watch a surprise movie. Why is it a surprise? Because I don’t know what I’m gonna watch yet!!! Give me a day, and I’ll get back to ya!

Grease (1978), or Good, But Not ELECTRIFYIN’!

28 05 2009

In the annals of Broadway musicals turned into musical films, one movie stands head, shoulders, and poodle skirt above the rest. Yes, Grease is a legendary musical film that even snags in people that have never seen the movie (we’ve all heard at least one song; don’t be so macho!) It’s sold millions of records, memorabilia, tapes, CDs, DVDs, and Halloween costumes throughout its nearly 30 years of existence, and its accomplishments are certainly impressive. But is it really that good? Is it really that good for you? Well, it really depends on your taste. If you’re a big fan of musicals, it doesn’t matter what I say, because you already own the movie, the album, and the pair of panties Olivia Newton-John wore on set during the “Summer Nights” sequence. But if you can be objective, bear with me for a second.

Now, earlier in the week, I took a little movie from the video store called Repo! The Genetic Opera. It was a kitschy affair, but what really should have mattered was the music, which I had forgotten (!!!) by the time I was ready to write the review, so it received poor marks from me. Grease, with music written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, does not really have that problem. Well, unless the music is written by the Bee Gees. Yes, this was 1978, so by martial decree, the opening theme had to be made by the biggest band in the world (for a year and a half). The songs, other than that stinker of an opening song, are catchy, and they are pretty good all in all. The highlights are, of course, “Summer Nights”, “Greased Lightning”, and “You’re The One That I Want”. Other surprisingly fun tracks are “Beauty School Dropout” and “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee”. I had a lot of fun with the last two, because they were sung by the unsung heroes of the film, Rizzo and Frenchy. If you haven’t seen the film, watch it just for these delightful characters who have more interesting things to say than the main characters themselves.

Which brings me to my main and really only gripe with the film. The two leads turn me off in the most drastic way. Olivia Newton-John is Sandra Dee, the Australian foreign exchange student, who grates on me like a meat grinder. She preens like a peacock and struts around like she is the greatest thing since Sliced Bread: The Musical. It really nags on me, especially since most of the girls in Rydell High turn me on more than Olivia Newton-John. And, of course, where John Travolta goes, mediocrity soon follows. Here, as rebel greaser Danny Zuko, he sings like his penis is on fire, a giddy mix of horror and delight. During “Greased Lightning”, I think he has an orgasm on the car, but I can’t be sure. It’s off-putting in the most literal sense, in that I had to turn the movie off a couple of times to get away from Travolta’s mug.

The supporting cast is good though. Jeff Conaway, before he was a drug-addled mess, was actually pretty good as Kenickie, Zuko’s friend. He brings a verve to the proceedings that would be sorely missed without him. Didi Conn, who plays Rizzo, is my favorite character, though. She has a lot of spirit, and a lot of personality. All her songs, and all her little snippets of dialog are gold, and I am still lobbying in Hollywood for a movie based just on her character. Look out of 2010, when Rizzo: Beauty School Dropout hits theaters.

So some memorable characters, some memorable songs marred by an obnoxious leading couple still makes for a decent movie, in my book. Don’t buy into the hype that it’s the greatest musical of all time. You’ll only find yourself disappointed. It’s a fun time, worth the rental, maybe even the purchase, but don’t go in thinking that it’ll be amazing, because you’ll only be disappointed. I give Grease 7 Sliced Bread: The Musicals out of 10.

Stay tuned tonight for my thoughts on Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal!!!

Caligula (1979), or This Is High Art

27 05 2009

Wow… Rarely have I come across a movie that is so scornful of anything and everything. Caligula is that rare, once-in-a-lifetime kind of film that has everything going for it, and I mean EVERYTHING, and still falls into a mire greater than the heights it might have reached. It is a nasty piece of filmmaking, a hodge-podge of styles that resembles Buffalo Bill’s lady suit from The Silence of The Lambs, that eschews the trappings of a classic (trappings that it would have worn very comfortably) and becomes a blue moon, an oddity that people can “ooh” and “aah” at, but never be truly impressed by it.

The biopic on the allegedly mad emperor of Rome circa 12 C.E. and 41 C.E. feels like it came from a different universe altogether. With all the censorship that exists in our country (The Devils STILL has never been released in its entirety) and many others, it is truly insane to watch a film with Academy Award-winning actors inhabit the same scenes as hardcore sex. That’s right; Helen Mirren, Malcolm McDowell, and Peter O’Toole (!!!) are always mere inches away from some sort of lascivious behavior, which is often hardcore sex!!! I’m not completely shocked, or anything; I’ve seen my fair share of boobies before, but this is intense! I mean, we’re talking insertion!!! I still can’t wrap my head around it sometimes. In this day and age, there are some STEAMY love scenes (see The Reader), but I have never seen any X-rated porn footage like this in a major motion picture.

As I said, this film has everything on its side. Let’s run through the roll call list; we have Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud, John Steiner, based on a screenplay by THE Gore Vidal, directed by THE Tinto Brass. Everything seems good, right? How could you mess this up? Oh, but who stepped in to produce the thing? Penthouse. Penthouse mogul Bob Guccione wanted to beef up the already hedonistic script with even more hardcore sex and debauchery. This resulted in the finished product; a 2 1/2 hour sack of cruelty, sex, and pain, with a spiteful British laugh coursing all the way through it.

There’s just something so foul about the movie that it doesn’t lend itself to words very well. There’s lots of raping, murdering, torturing, incest, infant death, and gore to go around, but it isn’t that per se. It’s just that there’s no point to it all. It’s pure and unadulterated exploitation, and on a certain level I respect that, but it doesn’t help the case for a film that should be great ending up so banal. Imagine Brokeback Mountain with lots of gratuitous gay sex and anal fisting, or Schindler’s List with minute long shots of skinny Jewish children being gassed. Is it art? Perhaps. Is it meaningful or thought-provoking? No.

It ends up being a mish-mash of bad feelings and hardcore sex, and nothing kills an erection faster than bad feelings. The script is well-written but hollow, the direction is only slightly better than an actual porn flick, and the actors were given too much room to ham it up, especially Malcolm McDowell, whose facial expressions remind me of a leprechaun who just found their pot o’ gold. It’s just too depressing to think how awesome this historical epic might have been, so I’ll just leave it at that. I give Caligula 3 1/2 epic insertions out of 10!

Tomorrow, finally, I explore the musical yet again with the much-beloved Grease!

Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008), or After All That Pomp, I Don’t Remember One Song

26 05 2009

Sorry for lying to you yet again, but destiny has a way of bringing me to these certain movies at certain times. And considering that destiny doesn’t exist, it must be something really special to change my plans on a movie, right? RIGHT? Well, today’s film, entitled Repo! The Genetic Opera, is certainly special. It’s a solution to that age-old problem that many young “punk” rockers, horror film fans, and pseudo goth kids have dealt with for decades now. Because for years, all that these poor, deluded souls have had to go on as far as musicals go are Sweeney Todd and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Nobody has really made a musical in quite some time that’s just for them, a musical that makes plenty of grandiose lamentations, a musical that features both men and women wearing copious amounts of patent leather, a musical where blood and gore are not only par for the course, but integral to the plot. Well, here you go, denizens of the night; this one’s for you. Repo! has all this and more to satisfy your taste in musical theater if you’re of a certain mindset. If only it were just a little bit better…

So, it’s the future. The date is kind of fuzzy, and so are a number of details here, but there is a massive swell of organ failures in the not-too-distant future. It’s an epidemic that nearly crippled the globe, but luckily one company came to save the day; GeneCo! They alone created from the smoldering rubble a ready supply of organs for the masses. They alone saved humanity. But that saving hand did not come for free, and in more ways than the obvious financial setback an organ represents. Because now GeneCo holds so much sway, that they passed through Congress a bill to allow organ repossession! Anyone found to be skipping payments on their bills are now hunted down by the dreaded Repo Man, an agent of GeneCo whose sole purpose is to rip the organs from their recipients as swiftly as possible!

The film follows the problems that the dwellers of this 21st century dystopia find themselves in. Everybody has very maudlin, operatic issues; blood ties, family betrayals, mistrust of those closest, etc. It makes sense here, though, because almost every spoken word here is SUNG! That’s right; Genetic Opera takes on a whole new meaning as this kitschy sci-fi horror premise is belted out with more verve than Meat Loaf’s orgasms. It’s a non-stop sing-along, with musical theatrics explaining the story and the central conflicts, like the classic… or the ribald… or what about the somber melodies of…

Holy shit. I just watched this movie and I can’t remember a damn song. That’s never a good sign. Seriously, I could not spout out one memorable or hilarious chorus, not one impressive piece of the score. It just didnt take with me. If a musical is really good, you’ll be singing or humming tunes from it for months to come. Hell, I STILL sing “Pretty Women” from Sweeney Todd, and I haven’t seen that since March of last year! Repo’s number one flaw, and allegedly its number one attribute, is its musical nature. But even I, a fan of musicals, cannot put a mental bookmark on anything of merit. The song names sound familiar, like “Zydrate Support Network”, “Genetic Emancipation”, and “We Started This Op’ra Shit!”, but nothing springs up to me.

I recall the insipid script, and of course the acting, which was churlish and vaudevillian, including surprise visits from Paris Hilton and Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy fame, and even Sarah Brightman of genuine vocal fame. That, plus the premise, which revolves around a guy who rips overdue organs out of still-living bodies, could make for quite a gothic, bloody, ultra-campy affair. I was ready to enjoy this movie for a lark, or even the half a laugh I got from some of the almost repulsively camp scenes. But amnesia caused by a movie is not something I suffer lightly, and I must judge accordingly.

I can’t in good conscience give this movie less than a four, because admittedly some of the scenes were gleefully kitsch, and I had a good time watching spines being pulled out of guys’ backs and placed in bags for transportation. But I honestly cannot give it a five, because the fact that a musical’s song’s impacted me so little actually depresses me a bit. Repo! The Genetic Opera, if it is your thing, is probably already a staple in your DVD tray, and if it is then what are you even reading this for? If you are new to this film, though, I would wait to watch it with a friend so one might at least have a laugh before returning this non-musical back to the video store. I give Repo! 4 1/2 “Zydrate Support Network”s out of 10.

Tomorrow, allow me to take a break between musicals. Come back then for my review of Caligula! Until then, I leave you with a REAL musical song, one that still won’t leave my head after so long:

The Night Out: Angels And Demons (2009), or Isn’t It Easier NOT To Leave Clues Behind?

25 05 2009

Guys, I have a confession to make. I know I’ve hid it well this entire time, writing reviews under the guise of a man of intense faith, but I am an atheist. GASP! STARTLED CHATTER! FEARFUL GLANCES DARTING ACROSS THE ROOM! And not only that, but I despise religion with every single fiber of my being, and I see absolutely no use for it in our time. I have heard all the arguments, I have read all the research, and if I come across an argument for faith that could not be toppled soundly, I will be all ears, but the time for religious waffling has passed in my life, and I no longer see a use for holding out hope for an invisible sky fairy who likes to watch people die (including his own son). It’s time for the world to grow up; the evidence has been around us the entire time, yet we’ve failed to confirm the truth in our own hearts that we are alone on this planet. It’s not a sad thing, not a cold thing, to lose faith in a higher power; it’s merely an inevitable freedom gained by studying the world around us long enough without having to make room in our studies for magic and fantasy. We no longer need these silly chains to achieve our happiness, and we would be better, by all accounts, without them.

Or at least that’s what I think. Dan Brown, mega-author of The DaVinci Code and How Stella Got Her Groove Back (I think), believes differently. He feels that science and religion can co-exist, which, while ludicrous and borderline insane in and of itself, makes for a popcorn movie that is good in smaller doses than they give you. It all revolves around Robert Langdon, super-symbologist and sexy action star. This time he’s in a fight against the Illuminati, a secret organization who wants revenge against the Catholic Church for the crimes they committed against them in the 17th century. They plan on blowing up the Vatican with anti-matter (!!!!!!) during the Conclave to choose the next Pope. Conveniently, though, they are going to kill 4 kidnapped cardinals every hour before midnight that night, leaving Robert Langdon, contracted by the Vatican to stop this crazy thing, only a scant few hours to find the location of the *giggle* anti-matter *giggle*. Can he save the city from the ridiculously complicated bomb, as well as the Vatican police, who may have been infiltrated by Illuminati agents?

Normally, a job like this would have been taken care of by a police officer or a special agent, but fortunately for the world of bon-vivant playboy college professors, the Illuminati like to leave copious amounts of historical and symbological evidence at the scenes of their crimes, so only one amazingly learned guy can save the day. Ron Howard’s franchise lives in an incredibly convenient world where crimes are committed for a reason, plotted out so meticulously that the real-world ramifications of planning such an attack on the Vatican start to bleed through the edges of your thoughts during some of the slower first half of the film.

Yes, the first half is slow. Like the previous film before it, Angels and Demons assumes that everybody has the patience to let Hank’s Robert Langdon spew out whatever he wants for as long as he wants without losing the steam of the scene. Unfortunately, I found myself wanting to finish up with his historical exposition, considering that a great deal of it is either common knowledge or made-up conspiracy theorist conjecture. It sounds cool, but anyone who is aware of the history of the Catholic Church and the Illuminati will affirm that all this stuff is sketchy at best, and there is an AWFUL LOT of it.

But by the second half of the film, it shakes off its old DaVinci Code trappings and starts being a bona-fide thriller. I found myself caught up a little bit with all the intrigue and the explosions, all done with the verve that Howard embues with all his films. The ending is ridiculous but in a zestfully cheery way, as if to say, “Sorry, folks; what’d you expect?”. The actors are in full suspence-mode. I think Tom Hanks surgically removed his funny bone for the role, and it works for all but one or two moments. Ayalet Zurer plays his sexy scientist sidekick here, and she falls incredibly flat, but at the very least she is a strong independent woman who does not become a damsel in distress. Ewan MacGregor makes an enthusiastic entry as the Pope’s Camerlengo, and he probably saves the latter half of the movie for me, as his character goes through quite a few transformations throughout the film. It all makes for a fun finale that should have reflected the whole movie’s worth of entertainment, but instead only exists almost as a seperate entity amongst its own prologue.

So while Angels and Demons is better than The DaVinci Code, the Robert Langdon franchise needs to realize that just because it sounds cool, that doesn’t mean that we are as enthralled with conspiracy theories and wishy-washy dimestore philosophy as they are. And, for the record, I didn’t think Tom Hanks’s hair was a big deal. That’s right, I said it, internet nitpickers! Do something about it! Anyway, go see it if you want to see the Vatican in all its glory (the shots of the artwork is divine), or if you like copious amounts of find-the-clues mumbo-jumbo. It’s more entertaining than the persecution of scientists by the Catholic Church for hundreds of years! And that’s saying something! I give Angels and Demons 7 extracted funny bones out of 10.

Tomorrow we examine the phenomenon that is Grease! Until then!!!

PSA: L’avventura (1960), or We’re All About To Disappear

24 05 2009

So much has already been said about Antonioni’s groundbreaking anti-epic, L’avventura, and I don’t want to be the guy who keeps making the same points that everybody else has made a thousand times already about a movie that has been analyzed like a rare fungus, so I’ll just wander through one of the points that mean a lot to me, and perhaps they will shed some light on why this remains one of the most contended classics in cinematic history.

There are two schools of thought on L’avventura; one professes that it is a pretentious pile of shit that, like a möbius strip, begins nowhere and ends nowhere, and features characters of ill merit and minute artistic value. This school of thought emphasizes that the main plot of the film, essentially the disappearance of a friend during a holiday, is left behind about halfway through the movie and is never to find resolution. The other school of thought on this film is that it is a modern masterpiece of pacing, existentialist philosophizing, and story structure. This school of thought emphasizes that the main plot of the film, essentially the disappearance of a friend during a holiday, is left behind about halfway through the movie and is never to find resolution. Now, we can- HUH!?! Wait, what?

That’s right, both camps agree that the abandonment of the ever-so important plot thread is integral to the understanding of the movie. Where they differ is the meaning. Most people I have come across find the lack of resolution lazy, as if Antonioni could not be bothered to explain the disappearance of the friend, Anna, or it just didn’t matter enough to the film to see her returned alive or dead to the arms of her family and friends. It seems plausible, but let’s think about this for a minute.

How many movies do you know that resolve all the questions at the end of them? About 99% of them, if you stick to the standard Hollywood fare. Even bad movies can answer all the questions they pose for themselves (look at Mr. Accident). Creating opposition for protagonists and then having them deal with said opposition is so simple that even Michael Bay can do it, and if his lazy scripts can make it from A to B, then perhaps sloth isn’t the issue here. It could be said that not resolving plot lines can be more difficult, especially when so much emphasis is placed upon that plot line in the beginning (Let’s not delve too much into minor plot threads left unresolved, as sometimes that CAN be a lack of attentiveness, or downright laziness). So perhaps the lack of resolution on such an important issue can be seen as a message to the audience, a wordless central theme that is not spoken about, but is certainly present all the way throughout the film.

Now, what is it that happens to Anna? She disappears. We never hear from her again. The rest of the film follows her friends, Claudia and Sandro, drifting in and out of their lives, trying to exist in the world with everyone else but ultimately being too scarred and dissatisfied with themselves to cope with everyday life. They are wracked with guilt over their missing friend at first (Sandro was Anna’s lover, and once she disappeared he and Claudia began seeing each other), but what it really boils down to is their unhappiness with themselves, the disappearance of their friend set as a backdrop to their own self-disgust. Anna’s real purpose in the plot was to open up the raw emotions of the characters of Claudia and Sandro, clawing through their phony happiness and into their real selves, which are on the verge of evanescing into the ether along with their friend. L’avventura is an existential movie about disappearance, both real and metaphorical; the failing of all emotions, including love and hate, in the wake of the empty and indifferent stare of eventual invisibility.

Or something like that. Anyway, I think it is a wonderful movie that needs to be remembered in the highest echelons of filmdom, never to vanish with its main characters. To me, it is a companion piece to Antoioni’s other amazing film, Blow-Up. Watch them together, and you might just learn a little something about yourself in the process. I give it 10 Mr. Accidents out of 10. I loved it!!!!

Keep an eye out later today for my review of Angels and Demons!

The Night Out: Terminator Salvation (2009), or The Emergence Of A Post-Apocalyptic SPECTACLE

23 05 2009

I know how I said that today I would be watching the timeless classic L’avventura for my PSA, but I’m a liar, OK? Just like Linda Hamilton. Linda Hamilton, as the sexy and sassy Sarah Connor in the blockbuster T2, said back in 1991 that Judgment Day had been stopped and that everything was cool. Well, apparently she was as big of a liar as I am, because here it is 2009 and I just watched the 4th Terminator movie! Apparently, not only did Judgment Day happen, but shit is worse than we thought. Great.

If you’ve seen all the other Terminator movies, you’re likely to know that they all take place in the present day, before the prophesied apocalypse brought on by the evil self-aware military AI, Skynet. Each film, someone goes back to the past to rescue a member of the Connor family and a robot goes back to destroy said Connor. Well, no longer! Judgment Day has happened already, put a fork in it; there is no more time travel. We’re in the year 2018, 15 years after the nuclear apocalypse but nearly 10 years before Skynet sends the beefy T-800 back to fuck with a wigged-out Sarah Connor in a last-ditch effort to destroy the nearly-victorious resistance. The war is grinding on, and John Connor has recently raided a Skynet base, discovering experiments Skynet is performing on humans in order to infiltrate the resistance’s ranks. When Connor returns from the raid, he receives word of a list of high priority targets for the machines, one of which is Connor and the other of which is Kyle Reese, the guy Connor sends into the future to eventually impregnate his mom. So it’s a race for John Connor to find his teenage father in order to protect him from Skynet’s clutches. But when they raided the base, they unwittingly awaken a strange man named Marcus Wright, who has blacked out for 15 years after he donated his body to science.  He doesn’t know where he is or what happened to the world, but during his travels through the wastelands of California, he stumbles across a teenager named Kyle Reese. Neither one of them know just how important they will become to the resistance in the future, nor do they know just how strange, and possibly dangerous, Marcus Wright really is.

Whew. What a mouthful. All right, I gotta say that, after watching the great post-apocalyptic film The Road Warrior yesterday, I don’t think that this is $200 million worth of wasteland entertainment. It’s not bad, to be sure, and I think that it’s probably the best summer blockbuster to come out so far this summer, but there are a few problems gnawing at this film that might make one second guess their decision to rush out and see it.

Firstly, there is not enough drama to weigh down this concept and these characters. There is a lot of empty action here, which inevitably begs that eternal question; why do I care if this person is in danger? There is not enough emotional stake in someone like Christian Bale’s John Connor to make me care whether he lives or dies. He doesn’t really hearken back to the days of Edward Furlong, where Connor had a plucky personality and a sense of humor. Instead, he’s your average battle-hardened badass, with only an imposing voice and physique to inspire his men into battle. The situations beg for more context, more human drama. Otherwise, it’s just explosions and robots, and a movie like Terminator Salvation wants desperately to be more than that.

The script meanders. The Terminator series has always strived to be fast-paced and action-packed in order to mask the huge plot-holes and dips in the logic. That’s fine and dandy, but here we take more breathers, which leads us at times to realize that the digital emperor wears no clothes. What is Skynet’s endgame? What happens when it destroys all the humans? Is there a step 2 to this plan? Otherwise, it doesn’t seem very well thought-out for a self-aware AI. Questions like these and others filled my mind while I had to hear about stratagems and assault counter-measures, not to mention the cold and heartless Mr. and Mrs. Connor dialog scenes where I forgot at times that Bryce Dallas Howard and Christian Bale were playing a couple and not co-workers.

But it’s not all bad. The action is pretty good, and I had a fun time taking a look at all the details on the machines. The Terminators look GREAT. I had to doff my hat to the SFX Dept. for the time and effort put into the machines. The California wasteland is also awe-inspiring. It’s as impressive as I always imagined it to be, and no expense is spared on the little details. It makes the action very genuine and organic, although quite ironic considering the context in which I say that.

And Sam Worthington’s character, Marcus Wright, was very well thought-out. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll let you discover it on your own, but his story alone is worth the $7 for this film. He actually over-shadows the main character of the damn series, John Connor! He makes the movie a little deeper than its original, more shallow expectation. I enjoyed him, and I hope to see more of Sam Worthington in Hollywood.

So, it’s okay. Go see it for during matinee hours. It’s brief, and engaging enough to make the 115 minutes go by painlessly. I think it’s the best big-budget movie to come out thus far, and while that might or might not be glaring praise to you, it is what it is. So, thank you, McG, you slick son of a bitch, for making a Terminator at least half as slick as you are. Next time, though, leave a couple dull spots on the paint job to not make your human characters seem so…robotic. I give Terminator Salvation 7 uncontrollable liars out of 10.

Tomorrow, I promise I will watch L’avventura! I mean it this time! I would never lie to you guys!