Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Outback Mountain: “Australia” is an Unworthy Journey Down Under

I laughed once. I cried zero times. I yawned a lot. I looked at my watch even more. And that pretty much summed up my experience with “Australia,” the new romantic/ historic/dramatic war epic that has swept overdramatically into a theater near you. If I can give you once piece of advice it’s this: Be afraid. Be very afraid. I can only recommend this film if you are a) a die hard fan of either Nicole Kidman and/or Hugh Jackman b) a die hard fan of long, boring romantic epics or c) you have about 3 extra hours of your day to spare. Ok and one last one. Two words: Baz Lurhmann. In fact…

Dear Mr. Lurhmann,

My name is Chris Gallo. I am a huge movie fan. Every since I was little I have loved watching movies. I enjoy going to the theater to see nearly every movie that is released. I like most types of movies although I would say that I have a particular infatuation with the horror genre. I am writing to you today to proclaim my utter hatred for your latest film “Australia.” Let me start by saying I’ve never actually been quite a fan of your work. In fact, if you decided to go into early retirement, I wouldn’t mind at all.

I remember when your version of “Romeo + Juliet” was released (and seriously what is with that plus sign, could you use an ampersand like every other version?). Everyone seemed to be obsessed with it, but I found it rather annoying. I couldn’t understand anything the actors were saying because you chose to use Shakespeare’s original dialogue but updated the play’s setting to modern day Los Angeles. Ok that is a cool idea, I’ll give you that. But besides the film’s exciting prologue, the movie has little to offer except annoying editing and even more annoying acting.

Then came “Moulin Rouge!” which I didn’t see in the theater because frankly it looked like it sucked. In fact, many critics didn’t like the film and it didn’t do extremely well at the box office, but the Academy decided to nominate it for Best Picture anyways. I felt sort of bad that you weren’t nominated for Directing but at least you were listed as a producer. When I finally saw the film during my college years I fell asleep half way through but I actually thought that the idea of using modern songs in a film set in the past was actually pretty original. When I finally saw the film in its entirety I actually didn’t hate it. But I really didn’t love it.

I’ve yet to see "Strictly Ballroom," which was your first feature. The odds of me ever actually watching it is equal to the likelihood that you’ll ever actually read this; so I’ll just assume I’ll hate it and save two hours of my life.

Now comes “Australia” your most ambitious production yet. It’s a movie that is supposed to have everything! And in fact, I was sort of looking forward to seeing this one. Except that every hour that passed while sitting in that theater was pure torture. I was bored and not fascinated with the story. It felt clichéd and overdone. In fact, the third act, which was the most clichéd of all, is when things actually started to pick up. All the war scenes had action in them and prevented me from actually slipping into a coma. However, it was probably the most unnecessary part of the film. In fact, your film reminded me of “Pearl Harbor” with all its lovey-dovey romantic silliness set against the backdrop of an “important issue.”

There is nothing technically wrong with your film and I can attest that you are one of the most original filmmakers working in Hollywood. But in an age when Hollywood is churning out remake after reboot after sequel. I’m honestly looking forward more to the remake of “Friday the 13th” than I am to your latest cinematic project.

All the best for a healthy + happy new year,


PS – I also found your 1999 “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen)” single to be slightly obnoxious and annoying as well.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Love at First Bite: “Twilight” Doesn't Suck (Too Much)

Okay, I’m going to admit right off the bat that I’m not exactly the target audience for this teen vampire romance. In fact I’m not really sure what I was doing at the theater on opening night amongst all those 12 year old girls. You’d think I was at a Jonas Brothers concert. They cheer and applauded. And if you’re a fan of these vampire novels then you’re probably going to enjoy the movie as well. I’ve never read the novels (and don’t plan to) and I actually never even heard of “Twilight” until it started getting a lot of attention because of the film adaptation. So in all honesty, this movie is one gigantic ball of cheese, extra gooey. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t actually entertained throughout.

I can’t really decide if actually going to see this film on opening night was a good experience or a bad one. I mean, most films with built-in audiences are going to flock on opening day, but perhaps this was a mistake. They entire audience cheered with glee when the title of the film appeared. I said the TITLE. The double syllable word twilight was enough to send a wave squeals throughout the theater. And don’t even get me started when Edward (Robert Pattinson) appeared on screen. I thought every girl was going to fall down dead. Ok so besides all the screaming tweens, is this movie any good? Yes and no.

I don’t really know if I would say this is a good film. I’m sure I would call it faithful to the source material based on the audience’s reactions. Basically what the big deal is that Bella (Kristen Stewart) is a new girl to Forks, Washington. She’s saying with her father (Billy Burke). She meets a boy who she knew from when she was younger named Jacob. At school, she meets a few friends, but mostly feels like an outcast. Then she meets strange by dreamy Edward (cue the salivating tweens). Something is slightly off about Edward and his “brothers” and “sisters.” They are odd and rather pale, but I guess that’s sort of normal for the northwest. It turns out Edward is (spoiler!!!) a vampire, although him and his family don’t prey on humans to feast. They’re “vegetarians” if you will, and only feed on the blood of animals. Actually learning about Edward and his family was more fascinating than I thought it would be and Pattinson actually is a rather charismatic actor and has good chemistry with the rather bland Stewart (anyone else thing she looks like a boy going through puberty?) And let’s be frank people, from what I’ve heard the movie is all about this vampire/human romance, which I believe is sort of sold well in the film. Having been directed (and written) by women (Catherine Hardwicke and Melissa Rosenberg respectively) the romance cheese is turned up to an eleven.

The film was entertaining for the most part, although it sometimes bordered on camp. Some of the supporting players (including Bella’s mortal friends) overacted slightly as if they were competing to be the funniest one on the gag reel. The “bad guys” who are also vampires but still prey on innocent humans. These characters who include James (The OC’s Cam Gigandet), Laurent (Edi Gathegi), and Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre) are not well rounded at all. We don’t learn anything about them and they seem just stuck in the movie simply to have some sort of conflict. As if a romance between a human and vampire wouldn’t be enough. It would have been more interesting if Edward was “sort of” a vegetarian and the story focused on his urge not to drink Bella’s blood. But I’m not Stephenie Meyer am I. Edward’s family life was some of the more interesting stuff going on here, although their family tradition of playing baseball during thunderstorms was rather silly if you ask me.

Let’s get this straight; all you adolescent girls out there will think this is your favorite movie of all time. However there might be something here for others if you’re willing to check it out. Just be ready to beat off little girls for the best seat in the theater. GRADE: B

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Not Fonda Bond: “Quantum of Solace” is for Die Hard Fans Only

Let me make this quick and painless: I’m not a James Bond fan. (My heroes growing up were of the Freddy and Jason variety.) The first time I saw a James Bond film was a couple years back when the overpraised Bond franchise revamp “Casino Royale” hit the big screen. I enjoyed that film for the most part (although it was about 30 minutes too long). It had some great set pieces and Daniel Craig was great as the new Bond. Did it start a need to see all the other films I missed along the years? No. I’m no more a fan now than I was before I saw Casino Royale. I saw Quantum of Solace out of sheer interest in the fact that a) it will most likely be a huge box office hit b) director Marc Forster, who is the human directing chameleon (seriously, this guy made Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, Stay, Stranger Than Fiction and The Kite Runner) and c) the movie isn’t overtly long. Oh and I heard the plot had something to do with water and the environment. “Erin Brockovich” this is not.

“Quantum of Solace” is basically The Bourne Identity Part IV. The movie is pretty much 105 minutes of nonstop action. The quick editing and shaky camera nearly caused me to get a migraine. If you almost threw up watching “Cloverfield,” you’ll probably need a barf bag. What’s worse is that I hardly cared about everything that was going on. Bond keeps killing the bad guys much to M’s (The Dame) displeasure. She insists she needs a least one bad guy brought in for questioning, but Bond insists on dispatching them one after another. To makes things worst for M, she begins to distrust Bond and things it’s possible that he could be a traitor.

It’s my general understanding that this film, while not as well received as Casino Royale, is hands over feet better than any of the films starring Pierce Brosnan. Possibly that is true. You can see that the film wants to let general action fans into the fun rather than just die hard Bond fanatics. Although I still felt like I was missing something. I felt as if I had walked into the movie halfway through. Maybe I’m just slow or maybe the movie is too fast, either way “Quantum of Solace” doesn’t offer much more than a few solid action sequences, most of which while entertaining are simply forgettable. I still haven’t forgotten the spectacular foot chase from “Casino Royale,” which was worth the admission price by itself.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t check out the latest Bond installment. In fact, odds are if you’re a James Bond fan you’ll love it. But this movie wasn’t made for me. For fans only. GRADE: C

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I Will Be Your Father Figure: “Role Models” Will Cast a Level 5 Charm Spell on You

“Wet Hot American Summer” is my 12th favorite movie of all time. Director David Wain, who managed a comedy laugh riot from his little independent movie from 2001, then went on to direct last year’s anthology flick “The Ten.” It was mildly amusing yet no where near as successful as “American Summer.” Now he presents us with “Role Models” which is a great staring vehicle for long time David Wain collaborator/friend Paul Rudd. I remember Paul Rudd from way back in 1995 when he was the lead in “Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers.” Back then he was credited as Paul Stephen Rudd. Modifying your name because you were in a craptastic movie isn’t going to fool me Mr. Rudd. But you certainly redeemed yourself by also being in “Clueless” that year. And you all know him from his parts in “The 40 Year Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up.” But enough film history. Rudd now shares the screen with Stifler himself Seann William Scott.

Danny (Rudd) and Wheeler (Scott) are best buddies and co-workers. They work for a energy drink company in which they make rounds at local schools advocating not doing drugs (except for caffeine of course). After a particularly rough day with his girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks) Danny finds himself in a bit of a legal tussle with Wheeler. Basically they can either take 30 days of jail time or 150 hours of community service. Since a man’s biggest fear is being raped in prison, they opt for community service. Danny’s ex-girlfriend sets the pair up with an organization called Sturdy Wings which is a sort of Big Brother, Little Brother program in which adults are paired with kids. The organization’s founder is played by the endlessly hilarious Jane Lynch who is at her scene-stealing best. If you’re a fan of her then her scenes alone are worth the price of admission.

Danny is set up with Augie (McLovin) who is a rather awkward teen who is a big fan of fantasy role playing. He even wears a cape 24/7 much to his parents’ concern. Wheeler is even worse off. He is paired with Ronnie (Bobb'e J. Thompson), a tiny terror tyke whose mouth is as foul as anything heard on pay cable. The pairings are horribly matched and everyone pretty much hates each other, but you can pretty much guess that they’ll all be best friends by the film’s end. Of course it’s the journey that is so much fun.

Many of the film’s big laughs come from Augie’s participation in LAIRE (Live Action Interactive Roleplaying Explorers) which is a role playing scenario in which a bunch of dorks dress up in medieval costumes and pretend to be knights in shining armor or what have you. The guy who plays Katherine Heigl’s doctor in Knocked Up is the King and he’s simply awesome in the role, as he takes his being the king way too seriously. It is Augie’s goal to take out the king in a massive annual mock battle and become the king of LAIRE. Rudd mostly rolls his eyes, in typical Paul Rudd fashion.

Meanwhile, Ronnie is making Wheeler’s life a living hell. He’s foul-mouth and always gets himself into trouble. He even locks Wheeler out of his jeep and drives with Wheeler chasing on foot. Of course, Wheeler isn’t exactly a saint. During a campout, he takes too much Ambien and stumbles out of his tent completely naked after a tryst with a Sturdy Wings co-ed. Oh and he brings Ronnie to a party and leaves the kid to fend for himself while he hooks up with an elementary school teacher.

By the end of the film both Danny and Wheeler will learn lessons about themselves and their little friends. And by the end they will be dressed as members of KISS. David Wain has made a film, while not on par with “American Summer”, that is funny and feels surprisingly fresh. You’d be doing yourself a favor to partaketh in “Role Models,” doth won’t be disappointed. GRADE: B+

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

About a Boy: “Changeling” is a Gripping Period Drama From Start to Finish

Angelina Jolie have what seems to be 14 children living with her in real life, but in her newest movie “Changeling” she only has one. And within the first fifteen minutes he will be gone. Gone baby, gone. Clint Eastwood’s latest directing effort (is it me or does it seem like this guy could direct a movie with his eyes closed and it would still seem effortless?) is a fascinating story of a woman who son disappears. Just when all hope seems lost the boy returns to her. Except that she insists it isn’t her son. The trailers may get you to want to see this movie, but they don’t even begin to show you what this movie really has hiding beneath the surface.

Hey Academy members, will you just nominate Angelina Jolie please? She hasn’t been nomed since she won for 1999’s “Girl, Interrupted.” She’s more than a pretty face and humanitarian baby adopter. She’s actually a good actress. And here she gives one of the best performances of her career. (I’ve yet to even watch “A Might Heart,” but I hear she was great in that as well). Here she plays Christine Collins. She’s a single mother living in 1920s Pasadena, California. She works at the telephone company and she gets called into work one afternoon which just so happens to be the day she promises to take her son Walter to the movies. She reluctantly leaves her boy behind and when she returns he’s gone. When she calls the police they insist the boy will most likely return, as they always seem to do.

Just when she thinks it seems like she’ll never see little Walter again, she gets a call from the police who say they’ve found her missing child who was in Illinois. Police Captain J.J. Jones (Blair Witch 2’s Jeffrey Donovan) reunited Christine with her son. Except that she says its not her son. It seems to be a simple mistake except that the young boy calls her mommy and gives her a big hug. Christine is shocked. And Jones insists that the boy is hers. She takes the boy home and even realizes that he’s a few inches shorter than her son because she had started a height chart on the wall. How could her son have shrunk three inches in just a few weeks? A doctor hired by the LA police department insists the trauma could have caused the boy’s height to decrease.

Soon Christine begins hounding the police department and asking too many questions. How can this be my son? Why wouldn’t I know my own child? I don’t even want to tell you anything else that happens in the rest of the movie because to say so would spoil the entire experience. It’s not like there is any real plot twist, but the plot itself is interesting enough that it should never be discussed with out viewing the movie first. I will whet your appetite by saying that veteran character actors John Malkovich and Amy Ryan appear here in parts too good to spoil and that’s all I’ll say about that.

This film, like many of Eastwood’s recent films, take you down roads you never though you’d go. I’m sure you went to see “Million Dollar Baby” expecting to see just another boxing movie and yet it was so much more. That is definitely the case here. You expect this film to be about a mother coping with the disappearance of her child and yet there’s so much more going on that the trailers, fortunately, have kept under wraps. And let me just say that screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski based this story on an actual case from the time period (I read he even placed actual newspaper clippings into the script to remind those that read it that it all really happened). It is a story so fascinating and yet so disturbing you can’t simply turn away. I suggest looking up the real story, but only after you’ve seen the whole film.

This is a movie that is much more than a kidnapping drama, it is a story of women’s rights and political corruption that, even though takes place during the 20s, still seems to find relevance in our current era. This is a striking and emotionally charged (and surprisingly unsettling) film that will stay with you long after the final credits have rolled. GRADE: A