Sunday, January 18, 2009


Not sure how it happens but yet again, I've fallen shamelessly behind on reviews. I've hit theaters much more these days. So, catching up on these nine is too much to bare; however, not giving them mention is worse. Tidbits with all getting a quickie review are the solution.

Que miedo! American Werewolf in London--a werewolf cult classic written and directed by John Landis. Couldn't believe it sired in 1981. Did it stand the test of time? Yes! The dialogue is cheesy and jokes are stale but the chemistry between David (David Naughton) and Nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter) works. The special effects are pre-school compared to today's standards, but considering there's no computer animation, they're quite good. Gore a plenty. Great suspense building. AWL crawls in a few spots, but the gore and creepy scenes are worth the wait.

The Host--Another monster movie, although this squid-like creature is a "host" of some unidentified virus. Set in South Korea, it starts off as the young Park girl is snatched by the host. Her dad, granddad, aunt and uncle go on a family mission to get her back. The movie brilliantly blends family dysfunction, thrills, comedy, action and horror. If I hadn't watched it several weeks ago, I could go on and on providing more details about how excellent it was. I remember seeing previews and thinking, The Host will either be awesome or terrible. In the end, I wished I had never seen it so I could go back again and have the pleasure of viewing it again from scratch.

Adams æbler (Adam's Apples)--Fascinatingly bizarre Danish film. When Adam (Ulrich Thomsen) arrives to the church where he will do his community service before going back to his neo-Nazi lifestyle, he must set goals for his stay. Priest Ivan (Mads Mikkelsen) records Adam's sarcastic answer that he will "bake a pie" as his goal. Ivan shows Adam the apple tree he will tend to produce the apples to use in his pie. Things do not go as planned. Will Adam get to bake his cake? Superbly strange!

Revolutionary Road--I wasn't a fan of Titanic. I'm a fan of Kate and Leo. I reluctantly admit to the Leo part of it because for as much hoopla as he gets for his acting chops, he has participated in big Hollywood sell-outs; however, he has some great movies to his credit, especially the pre-Titanic credits. In Revolutionary Road (set in the '50s), these two sizzle as April and Frank Wheeler; they depict Kiss kiss, hate hate the emotionally crazed breakdown of their dysfunctional marriage. In the midst of this intensity, John Givings (Michael Shannon) is the ray of comedic light; however, the humor comes at a very high price for April and Frank. I sat in the theater for a few minutes after it was over, collecting myself. It left me drained. You've been warned, now don't miss it.

Doubt--Saw Doubt the day after seeing Revolutionary Road. Was expecting just as much tension. It was wrought with conflicts but they just couldn't compete with the insanity of RR. Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) goes head-to-head with Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) when she believes he has engaged in an inappropriate relationship with Donald Miller (Joseph Foster), a young boy who happens to be the only African American student at the school. Based on hearsay, the situation spirals until the school becomes too small for both. Doubt a plenty for everyone involved (and those watching). Streep got nomination nods for her role. La Streep is great but in some scenes, she seemed to be overdoing it, especially with the Boston accent. For her small role as Donald Miller's mother, Viola Davis has been getting recognition. Her on-screen time was minimal but she was compelling. Amy Adams was another great contributor as Sister James, the catalyst of the Father Flynn witch hunt.

Rachel Getting Married--Saw this drama the day after Doubt (in prep for Golden Globes) and it was another emotional chip chip. Kym (Anne Hathaway) returns home from rehab to attend her sister, Rachel's (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding. But, what's a wedding without drama? This movie depicts the drama that is and then some! It delves into addiction, tragedy and the family dynamics that follow. Hathaway is terrific. Her Kym is narcissistic and self-involved, grabbing the spotlight whenever she can, but Rachel is ready and she delivers some zingers before the weekend is over. Written by Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sidney).

Tropic Thunder--This comedy doesn't get rolling until about 40 minutes in; then, there is hilarity when a movie shoot goes wrong and the actors playing soldiers must become actual soldiers. Tom Cruise has a cameo that is so damn awesome, I cannot give anything away. If it wasn't Tom Cruise in this role, it would be funny, but the fact that he pulls this off gives him some cred (in addition to his roles in Born on the 4th of July and Magnolia). Robert Downey, Jr., is also unbelievably ridiculous. I cannot decide which role was better. Jack Black always cracks me up and he has some doozies here. Jay Baruchel and Brandon T. Jackson round out the crew. Brandon Soo Hoo as Tran is another fun addition--he is 12 and plays a bad-ass militia leader. TT isn't the greatest movie but some scenes may evoke laughter and at the least, there are plenty of cameos.

Shutter--After watching The Exorcism of Emily Rose, I realized that I've become a horror movie wimp. When my pal Carrie insisted that I watch Shutter, I resisted, but it was of no use; she was determined that I would enjoy it and a determined Carrie is no force to be challenged. It wasn't as scary as I'd expected. The story was curious (especially after recent events on the Chicago Hauntings tour). When newlyweds Benjamin (Joshua Jackson) and Jane (Rachael Taylor) honeymoon in Japan so Ben can work on a photo assignment, he re-connects with old friends. But, one friend in particular is still hanging photos. When Jane goes on the investigative trail, she learns the ugly cause behind the ghostly presence.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona--Atypical Woody Allen! Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) are best friends spending two months holiday in Barcelona. They meet hunky artist Juan Antonio Gonzalo (Javier Bardem) who whisks them off to Oviedo for the weekend and proposes a three-way liaison. Liaisons follow, but not exactly as expected. When one liaison has been decided and is comfortably in place, Juan Antonio's ex Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz) comes back into his life and home after a suicide attempt. More liaisons follow and the plot thickens yet again. This is a fun movie. The use of a narrator is especially enjoyable.

The End

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Guest Blogger: John Kennedy: Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Let's imagine you have the following at your disposal:

* A story that's not only over 100 years old, but one that has never
been more popular
* Francis Ford Coppola directing
* Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins starring
* Lots of exposed boobs

And wait! There's more! Keanu Reeves! Winona Ryder! The hero dude from The Princess Bride! And even an appearance by Thomas Dolby! Wait, no, I mean, Tom Waits! So, given all these wonderful components, do you think you could make a really bad movie? Well, it turns out that you probably could, because someone beat you to it, for in 1992, the film "Bram Stoker's Dracula" was released.

Having just read the novel, I was keen to watch this movie again: all I can remember from going to see it 16 years ago was that Gary Oldman had freaky hair, and someone sitting nearby in the theatre had both the strongest and very worst aftershave I've ever known, and that includes a really serious dose of eau de Fremont hippy. I think the aftershave may have caused me to blank out at some points, and as it was a really packed theatre, it seemed easier to fall unconscious than excuse myself past everyone else in my row (a similar set of circumstances kept me in the theatre when I foolishly went to see The 40-Year-Old Virgin, so I haven't learnt my lesson sadly).

Whoops. Back to the movie, and the scene is set when we get off to a truly awful start. Out the window goes the Bram Stoker part of the
novel, as we are introduced to a completely fake love story, followed
by some of the lamest sets and model trains I've seen outside 1950s
black-and-white Flash Gordon serials. Was this done on purpose? Let's be kind, and say "yes" and not wonder as to the reason.

But the horror! The horror! Keanu Reeves tries an English accent,
resulting in perhaps the worst assassination of human speech since
Dick Van Dyke starred in Mary Poppins. Imagine a cockney "I know Kung-Fu", and you'll understand what I’m getting at...

After wishing I had blanked out, the story makes an attempt to get going, Now, at this point it’s worth admitting that perhaps the book is a little dry in places, and hints at certain behaviours rather than explicitly describing them, but the movie very kindly offers to fill in those gaps. As the book mentions, the doomed Lucy has three
suitors, so it's understandable she's more of a flirty red-headed
slapper that perhaps was permissible to publish in 1897 when the novel was written (yup, that's a long time ago).

In this story, she paid for her sluttiness, as a rather nasty Van
Anthony Hopkins points out - by becoming the Devil's Concubine no
less. Tough luck, Lucy. I do wonder if she absolutely needed to throw
up a bucket of blood on him as some kind of afterthought. The movie flirts with the novel. Some elements are directly lifted from the prose, word for word, but then at other times.. A werewolf? Dracula turns into a werewolf? I do have to say it was a nice touch cutting between the wedding of Jonathon and Mina, and Lucy's "death". And the glass coffin is some fantastic piece of prop work.

Yes, I admit, there are times I wish I liked the movie more. The
cinematography veers from comically gothic cliche to.. well.. the next
comically gothic cliche. Every other cut seems to be a dissolve that
meshes two scenes based on a common element. It's a nice effect, but because it happens every two minutes or so, it quickly becomes
tiresome. My favourite cut is when witless Jonathon Harker steps over the diagonal line of the doorway, which becomes a view from above of them walking through the hallway. If only the other cuts would have been so subtle. Yes, the way the Count’s shadow moves independently is.. ok.. and the gliding is nice.. and I understand it’s cheesy on purpose.. but.. you know.. it could have been better.

The one real highlight is Gary Oldman, who is clearly not in enough
movies. He is amazing in this role. Amazingly good or bad, it doesn't
matter, it's just amazing. His 'old count' is so creepy your skin will
crawl, and his 'young price' so cool and suave you'll forgive his drac-attack
bizarrely large forehead and blue glasses, and so-far-over-the-top-
it’s-round-the-other-side blubbing and sobbing. Dracula crying? Yes,
this is the single biggest change from the book, and completely alters everything.

When the Count moves to London and becomes the dashing young Prince, darn it all if he doesn’t seduce the hallowed Madam Mina.. And she goes for it! She falls in love, right there and then, after a visit to a early porn theatre (I’m not making that up), and poor Keanu Reeves is pushed to the sidelines (not a bad thing: what would you prefer? Eternal damnation as an Undead, or do to be stuck with Keanu 'Van Dyke' Reeves and his colour-changing hair?)

Apparently it was Winona Ryder herself who brought the script to
Coppola, but I think she did it just to have an excuse to snog Gary
Oldman - even if it meant completely rewriting the novel to make it
happen. Bram Stoker's Dracula? No. So many elements from the book are lifted, but it's as if it's all been first translated into Japanese by some online automatic translator, put into a blender, and then translated back into English. At one point Dracula even says "No Mina. I can't let this be.. I love you too much!" and at that point, we have tossed the Bram Stoker novel onto the fire.

Worth renting? Um.. Do you like bad movies? Do you enjoy having a
glass of wine and sharing a wince with a friend? Then, maybe so. The many changes completely change the original story - which is fine, as has there ever been a movie adaptation that remains faithful? - but while it's interesting what has been done, its still a mess. The
desperate attempt to make us pity the Count just aren’t enough, and in the end, even the Happy Ever After ending happens to an unexpected couple. The bit I find hardest to believe though, is that it won three Oscars.There must have been a lot of awful films that year.


This review marks the maiden voyage for the monthly guest blogger entry.

For inaugural January, please welcome John Kennedy--a witty Irish bloke who will one day complete his memoir.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Fast-paced, musically robust, strong characters, flashback storytelling linked back to main plot by pop culture game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Sounds enticing?

Based on a novel called Q & A by Vikas Swarup, the movie opens as Jamal (Dev Patel) is being violently interrogated for cheating on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. There's no way a slumdog like you would know the answers,' bark his interrogators. Thus, the storytelling begins.... The life of Jamal is examined, from his first tragedy to the most recent. Visually stunning, you experience the frenetic joyride accompanied by a feverish soundtrack. The pace chokes a little near the end, but not enough to botch up. With its vivid colors and constant action, this is one to see on the big-screen with powerful speakers.

This is an epic love story. The main three roles are played by three sets of actors to portray the three main characters Deal or No Dealas they age. The young child actors are adept at humor and drama. Supposedly, they are real street kids from Mumbai.

Slumdog's been nominated for four Golden Globes: for Best Motion Picture--Drama, co-director Danny Boyle (of Shallow Grave, Trainspotting and 28 Days Later directing fame) for Best Director - Motion Picture; writer Simon Beaufoyor for Best Screenplay - Motion Picture; and for A.R. Rahmanand  for Best Original Score - Motion Picture. Fingers crossed!

Directors: Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan

Country: UK

Genre: Drama

Run time: 119 minutes

Scale: 5

Sangre de Mi Sangre (Blood of My Blood) (2007)

Will the real Pedro please come forward? Not until imposter Pedro makes a mess out of real Pedro's goal to meet up with his father after 17 years. After a long ride locked in the back of a truck, a large group of illegal immigrants are deposited in New York--Brooklyn to be exact--where Pedro (Jorge Adrián Espíndola) hopes to see his daddy (a wealthy restaurateur) again and forge a relationship. Diego (Jesús Ochoa) listens to Pedro's recollections derived from his mother's tales about the father he doesn't remember. Before long, Pedro has dozed off and Diego has knicked the papers detailing Pedro's identity, the address in Brooklyn where his father lives and a sealed letter from Pedro's mother that would serve as their introduction.

Young and naive, Pedro is screwed. Alone, no money, no English...he sleeps on the streets. He's scammed by a young street woman when he's pleading for food in a convenient store. An adversarial friendship develops. The tough Magda (Paola Mendoza) uses Pedro to get what she needs. Pedro wizens and returns the favor. He remembers the street address (there are four residences with same address) and has to earn money to employ Magda to take him to see if he can find his father. One thing remains in his possession that can prove his bloodline--the locket his father gave his mother containing pictures of the two of them in their youth. But, will the real Pedro get there before the imposter Pedro?

Clever and powerful, Sangre de mi Sangre presents a compelling take on the immigrant experience. It was nominated for several awards and won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2007. Don't miss it.

Director: Christopher Zalla

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 110 minutes

Scale: 4.5

Transsiberian (2008)

Brad Anderson...make up your mind...what kind of movies do you want to make? You may be suffering from genre confusion. I'm sorting my way through it. You know how to take an idea and finesse it into a work of art. 1998...Next Stop Wonderland. Hope Davis navigates the dating scene after her meddling mama places an online personal ad on her behalf, you scored. You directed two episodes of The Wire (all brilliant). 2004...The Machinist. Though I had issues with this movie, you grace us with talent... Which brings me to your 2008 œuvre, Transsiberian.Peluca blues

First the good. The setting. A thriller on-board a train transporting characters from Beijing to Moscow when they could've, much more easily, take a plane generates ideas. The shot of Jessie (Emily Mortimer) looking at the map of the train ride tells us all we need to know--this is going to be a long trip and it won't go well. Things aren't great between Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie on the let's-give-this-one-last-try trip. They share an unusually small train cabin with the young hot backpacker couple, Abby (Kate Mara) and Carlos (Eduardo Noriega). Immediately, they stir things up. The suspense builds exponentially...the train ride facilitates the adventure. The twists and complications are constant and the tension is palpable. Ben Kingsley as bad guy always hits the mark.

Now for the bad. Harrelson is a decent actor, but why the terrible wig?This screams desperation. Was there no other way to get the point across? Roy is supposed to be a square but the wig is distractingly bad.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

One of the characters doesn't make it. So much about the death is traceable yet these details are left open-ended and fairly implausible. In regard to the final scene, is it possible that a dead body outside a tourist attraction church would be left undiscovered for so long? We're supposed to believe that it's winter and no one would go there...but the flyers are displayed...and if there are flyers, it's likely Lonely Planet, Let's Go, Rough Guides would list it. It's too big a detail to ask the viewer to ignore. There are several like this, but the movie brews great suspense, intrigue and Hollywood-scale stunts. If, like Roy, you love trains (and thrillers), this one is for you this snowy season. Jingle Bells!

Director: Brad Anderson

Country: US

Genre: Thriller

Run time: 111 minutes

Scale: 3.5