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Just to get it out of the way: Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill
For (directed by Miller and Robert Rodriguez) is not a bad movie
overall. It's not. It's got a winning performance from Joseph
Gordon-Levitt who knows just how to get the right tone and pacing for a
snappy, down-trodden gambler character (his storyline was basic but all
of the acting in it, from minor player Christopher Lloyd to Powers
Boothe who has more time here than you'd think), and, in part, Eva
Green as the main "Dame" of the centerpiece of the film. And there are
little moments that pop out as exciting and deranged and of course the
film still carries it as a "translation" as Rodriguez has put it, nay
'just' an adaptation, of Miller's comic book series.
But it is still an adaptation as what I might hear/see in Miller's comics won't be quite what you see, or what the author himself sees or his collaborators. And this time... yes, some of the problem with the film can come down to it being so long of a wait - too long, probably - and the fact that some of the actors who contributed to the original 'Big Fat Kill' story with Dwight (before Clive Owen, now, before plastic surgery Josh Brolin, though Owen doesn't return *after* he has the surgery, either) like Brittany Murphy and Michael Clarke Duncan are gone and have to either be scrapped or re-cast, and the fact that by now, nearly a decade later, so much has come that has been like what Sin City inspired from Miller's own adapted 300 to the (crappy) Miller adapted Spirit movie.
I can't say that lack of freshness made this an unmemorable experience, however. Miller and Rodriguez could have easily overcome the problem of time and advancement of technology and so on, and maybe to their benefit. They have a lot of strong talent returning like Mickey Rourke, who is always a joy to watch as Marv, and Rosario Dawson as one of the Old-Town hooker-killers. But... the pacing is just off here, and where before the filmmakers went for the Pulp Fiction approach of non-linear storytelling and succeeded, it doesn't this time. Part of the problem is that A Dame to Kill for, honestly, could have been its own movie on its own if adapted in full (from what I've read of fan's reactions, I haven't read the book myself, it's truncated), but it isn't. And oddly enough there's one sequence (JGL's) that is the best part of the movie, and another part (Alba's) that's the worst.
So what you got in the major chunk of A Dame to Kill, which is all about how Dwight gets put through the wringer by a psychopathic broad (Eva Green, trying for what it's worth, but sorta defeated in a way by the all-too-basic writing). And here, for one of the first times I can remember, Rodriguez doesn't direct the action very well. Stuff seems just rushed, and something is just... again to repeat myself, 'off' here. A lot of visual excitement went on in the first movie, far as can be recalled. Here, it just comes off as routine, the action becomes monotonous (how many times you might ask can you see someone shot the same way as you already have)? It sounds gross, but at least the first film had some creativity with its violence. Here, with the exception of a gruesome bit involving Gordon-Levitt's fingers, it's nothing much inspired. Even Green and Brolin don't feel very inspired together, and that is a bigger problem still.
Maybe a longer cut will help solve some of this on video (?) I'm not sure. It may just be that one movie was enough, and what worked in the comics was enough for one big bang of R-rated film-noir bottle of surreality. It has it's moments, but gets bogged down by parts that are sub-par (Jessica Alba just can't carry the emotion required in that final act, or just wasn't believable in it), and doesn't have a strong enough through-line. It's fast-cheap entertainment that is only mildly so.
This animated movie - the first part that adapts the first volume of
the Dark Knight Returns (or, I guess it was four parts, so the first
two parts) - is about as good as this comic can get. It's an animated
movie, but it is able to bring the comic to life with just enough of
that Frank Miller grit and action while still being somewhat, kinda,
sorta, appealing for younger audiences (the original series was
probably more for adults than kids despite it being Bats).
It's still got a lot of that meat-headed Frank Miller action, but the animation is fantastic, the voice-work is spot-on, and it actually kinda benefits from taking away the narration that is what Batman has in the comic book (some of that was classic, a few points that got a bit much). A lot of the satire is still intact as well with the news anchors, and you can get all of the hair-raising moments as Batman puts back on the cowl and gets in his giant tank. The mutants are still weird and scary, and despite some logical gaps I enjoyed it all very much, including the whole introduction of Carrie (the new Robin) and especially the eerie presence of the Joker as a talk-show guest (!)
If the first movie (Rise) was really much more about and the characters
(that is slightly stronger emotion in establishing Caesar and the
humans, all of whom are gone now), this is about ideas, and looking at
what happens when war is, as is so often in the world of the past and
today, an inevitability.
What happens when the Apes have to contend with the straggling humans that are left? What happens when a ruler has to contend just as fiercely with dissent in his own government so to speak while also having to find a balance with the 'others' that both post a threat AND want to find a path to peace? like the 1968 Apes movie, more so really, this looks at the world we live in and transmogrifies it into the popcorn world. Captain America did that earlier this year, and so did X Men to an extent. This has so much to chew on in terms of politics (America, dems vs republicans; Israel vs Palestine; "you're with us or you're with the terrorists" jingoism) and yet it's a fun movie to watch amid the high drama. maybe the humans are just slightly more developed in the first movie than here (but they are just fine and Clarke and Russel and Oldman do well).
Maybe the final battle between Caesar and the rival Magneto/Khan Ape, Koba, becomes too much like any given fight between two rivals in an action movie, and some of the circumstances leading up to it take some suspension of disbelief. But the movie is filled with so much gray areas, so much about how both sides, at least in several circles, want peace or at least stability along with such a towering presence in Caesar (Andy Serkis does his best ape since... King Kong) that it flies in the face of a lot of dumb blockbusters that don't have any thought behind it.
Jersey Boys isn't quite as 'not that impressive' as the critics said (I
don't want to say 'bad'). Still, this tale of how Frankie Valli (not
his real name) and Tommy De Vito formed the Four Seasons is still
fairly clichéd, especially the character of De Vito as a total one
dimensional Sopranos bit player (no relation to the Goodfellas
character, though more interestingly Joe Pesci IS a character in the
movie as a supporting role). And yet there is nothing wrong with the
actor, Vincent Piazza (also seen on Boardwalk Empire) and on the
contrary gives it his all and commits to the character, as is everyone
else in their respective roles.
Actually Valli (and John Lloyd Young's mostly restrained for a musical bio-pic performance, with enough to really carry the movie for long stretches) is a fairly complex character. I keep saying character as its a movie person after all. But Frankie ultimately has to juggle a lot of allegiances and responsibility and problems (with himself as well) and heartache. It's a good biopic-musical with standard direction from Clint. I don't know what he did for the movie to make it stand out from another director except that he has a consistent knack for setting up the camera and getting out of the way... which at times makes it a little too conventionally shot, but it's fine, I was never bored and the songs and performers keep things enjoyable.
I can't compare it to the musical but another comment is that the actors all have a generally theatrical quality (aside from Walken, who is a very welcome presence here and actually pulls off an interesting mob character not just a walk on, I think they're from the actual musical), which has its ups and downs. Also must be noted while the fourth-wall-talking is nothing new it works, maybe in part as it comes from a script by Annie Hall writer Marshall Brickman. Guess if you're going to do that again, get the guy who is one of the best at fourth-wall-smart-talk.
Again, not great, but not any boring disaster as I maybe slightly expected, and its old fashioned quality (take out the cursing and it could have fit in the 1950s) is fine too... I keep using the word 'fine'. maybe that's all Eastwood aims to be, but I can't help but see him sneaking in some artistic flourishes (there's one shot that ascends an exterior building of a record company and we hear and see all sorts of music going on floor to floor, and its a great 'moment out of time').
Adapted from a Georges Simenon novel, Magnet of Doom (why it's called
that I don't know, though the American DVD I watched had the title An
Honorable Young Man) is about a young amateur boxer and ex-military man
(Jean-Paul Belmondo, the cool tall smoking male of the Nouvelle Vague)
who becomes a 'secretary' to an older white collar criminal (Charles
Vanel) who had to leave France fast. Instead of going to Venezuela,
like one might think is most logical, they head to America, first to
New York and then, following a brief road trip, New Orleans.
This is where most of the story takes place - which is mostly just watching their relationship disintegrate and thoughts about taking-the-money-and-running for Belmondo (yeah, Vanel has a big stack of cash that he had to take out of his security box in New York before the feds got wise) - and it's not bad. If there's a problem it's that by the time one comes to this movie, which I didn't really know about until recently (it only got released on DVD last year I believe, and aside from a NY Film Festival screening fifty years ago it never got a release stateside), one has probably/likely seen all of Melville's other films. And it's not a major work.
Or, if it is, Melville doesn't really have a lot of energy to make it more than just an interesting B movie, no more no less. It is actually a "crime movie" if you think about it, just different because it's not about a heist or guys in trench-coats, but about an older man trying to out-run the law and... himself, I guess.
Belmondo and Vanel make up most of the heart of the picture and keep it fascinating. You want to know what each one will do next - Ferchaux needs Michel more than he needs him - amid the sweltering heat and the old man's boy-cry-wolf physical ailments. And Melville cast his two leads well. So well that it helps, a little, to distract from portions that don't work dramatically or feel dated. There's a mid-section in the film while they're on their cross-country trek that Michel stops (rather suddenly) for a female hitchhiker, and they quickly become lovers (?) in one of those Movie-Fantasy-Scenes where right after they pick her up they stop and Michel and the young woman have a swim and kiss and then... at the next stop she tries to run away with another truck driver (?)
It's something like that where Melville, whether it's through himself or Simenon's text, shows a bit of sexism, or just not knowing what to do with a female character that could have become a fully developed character or a love interest (and there IS a love interest, sorta, later in the movie in New Orleans, though I wonder if this is also an excuse to just show a woman practically naked while Michel sits drunk). It's not a criticism I'd like to make against the director but I do; he has his two main male characters fully developed, and the actors inhabit them well enough, that it disguises that everyone else in the movie has not much dimension at all. Well, maybe the bartender has a little as a mean-looking-dude of a sort.
But Melville's love of America comes through and that helps a bit. And it's interesting to see him work in color for the first time, though ironically I think I prefer when he has his more subtle, washed out and blue-ish colors in later movies like Army of Shadows and The Red Circle. Here things are bright enough (hard to tell fully from the non-Amamorphic DVD transfer), and he gets the local color about right even as it's all shot, oddly enough, in his studio in Paris (what, you thought he'd trek out to America to shoot this? Heavens no, though I'm sure a second unit for the rest of the footage).
An Honorable Young Man/Magnet of Doom has an intriguing performance from Belmondo, in terms of 'what will he do next', and some good cinematography. But there should've been a little more 'there' there, past the male camaraderie and themes of loyalty (which, yes, it's fine and well drawn enough).
Oh this movie...
I think Luc Besson really wanted to make a comic book movie, but since he is now his own sort of "brand" of movie-maker, he probably couldn't get a hold of, say, the X-Men or DC or even Star Wars. Because with Lucy he decided to just make ALL the comic book movies in one, with one character. This rating means not that it's really a good serious action movie or a serious look at how human beings are part of this great long thing called consciousness and have evolved for years and years. Its more like a good guilty pleasure.
Lucy is a fairly crazy look at super powers, and how a humans brain, once going last the ho-hum 10% functionality and by tens of percents, once tapped, we can, oh I don't know, have "Force"-like powers to push people away with the swipe of a hand, see through walls and people, learn things with instantaneous ability, and control people's actions. Oh, and once nearing the 100% mark, a super computer with the ability to time travel and look back into the beginnings of the universe. Besson has some balls, but I think what keeps this from being totally pretentious garbage, for me, is that it's not taking itself entirely seriously.
...or, if it is, Besson doesn't pretend he's not making a genre movie, and complete with nasty Asian gangsters (led by Choi Min Sik of Old boy, a welcome presence and he plays every scene to the subtle-over-the-top hilt), and race-against-the-clock suspense. There isn't quite so much action as I expected, or at least from the maestro behind LA femme Nikita or Taken. Or perhaps I could just see that Besson was committing so much to the premise and exploring the bullshit science that I couldn't help but chuckle as Scar-Jo contorts on the ceiling as her body is racked by the mystery drug that, after seeping into her blood following being turned by the Asian gangsters as a drug mule, gives her the initial powers.
We see what happens inside of her body as she is given this new drug, and then later when she needs more of the drug how, say, her face starts to melt and she falls apart like some wax figure. The special effects and science here is matched just right for pure wild fantasy. And most of all its good how much the Hero commits to her character, especially early on when she is just a frightened woman put into a terrible situation (when she sees someone shot, at first, it really shakes her up), and then at first when she is finding this power that turns her, in slightest terms, like the Terminator.
If there is a problem its that she is so monotone through portions of it that, despite (or because) of the demands of the script, she has less to play with except for her dead-straight voice. Better is near the end where it just gets So wild that she is becoming the Matrix or something. So, in other words, Lucy is kinda stupid and doesn't make sense If you try to think about with full sincerity.
But if you look at it as just pure unadulterated fantasy, And a quick one at that at 87 minutes, you'll get something... different from it, that's for Damn sure. It's like if five of Grant Morrison's most eccentric comics were put in a blender and splat onto celluloid (plus an expository Morgan Freeman).
To Be or Not to Be is a film that carries the real horror and dread of
Europe facing the threats and devastation of Hitler and the Nazis, and
never forgets that, but is also a light, screwball comedy about the art
of performance and the enjoyment we all get knowing someone is getting
something over on another guy. Lubtisch's filmmaking and comic timing
moves like a precise slab of butter (if that's a weird analogy), smooth
and on point all the time.
It follows a Polish theater company that see a the Germans invading, bombing their town, and the two stars of the company played by Jack Benny and Carole Lumbard, embroiled in a plot with a Nazi-leaning professor and even going up to Hitler himself. Nevermind they don't have Polish (or even most German) accents, they don't bother pretending on that front ironically considering the trickery on hand. This is meant to be a piece of world war two theatricality that can and does endure because it deals with showmanship, actor ego (from Benny with his Hamlet to the side characters trying to get Shylock just right) and playing a character as it's main focus (if there's any modern film that owes It's debt to Lubitsch and how people put on ruses in such high stakes it's Inglouious Basterds, down to a climax in a theater full of Nazis).
And as funny as Jack Benny is, especially when his character reacts to that dear of a bomber pilot who has the hots for Carole Lombard, I think Lombard really makes this even better than expected. She's exquisite, ferocious, precocious, sexy, and yet terribly serious about her craft and the people she loves, plus the theater itself. You see just charm and grace radiating off her, and yet she completely gets how to make Mary always reacting and figuring things out. Benny is the big wonderful goof of the movie, while Lombard is the star.
Its sublime entertainment and I only regret not seeing it sooner; Mel Brooks made a remake in the 80s which is good but nowhere near the impact of this picture. Just the scene with the Germans marching into town and Lubitsch's cut aways to the citizens looking on in shocked-but-passive disbelief makes it a must see alone.
A They Live for our times, but also with parts (or, ahem, 'blocks') of The Matrix, Kung-fu Panda, 1984 and every conceivable franchise that you and your kid would want to see in a LEGO movie. Innovative animation mixing stop-motion and CGI (where it stops and starts I don't know, that's the charm and wonder of the technique, like Robot Chicken if it had a budget, which one of the guys who does the show worked on the film so that makes sense), and almost non-stop comedy - even when it's not all huge laugh-out-loud laughs, there's endless cleverness but always with a goofy wink and slapstick. It's the Looney Tunes for our times. The ending isn't perfect - the message of everyone being "special" I think gets muddled with "everyone be creative", which aren't the same things though the directors try for both ways. But that's a nit-pick really; this is on the level of popular-innovative entertainment as Toy Story.
I think when dealing with such a cinematic tableau as Blood Sucking
Freaks, with its fiendish goateed midget, s & m and torture, cheekily
done decapitation, dismemberment and torture, cannibalism on the verge
of an outbreak of the living dead and sexual humiliation, the framing
counts. All of this could very easily devolve into a Hershell Gordon
Lewis debacle and be tasteless with only the freak show element to it.
This is a freak show (as the title posits), but it's also, primarily, a
satire on backstage dramas, complete with the melodramatic
slave-driving (and in this case that's not too figurative!) director
who wants to put something spectacular on stage but has to put up with
the drama of putting it together. With, you know, flailing limbs and
screaming stark naked women and ravenous pieces of flesh.
I don't blame anyone who finds this reprehensible trash, but I think why I enjoyed it much as I did - and though it's obviously not laugh-a-minute stuff, there's a very healthy if completely sick sense of humor and absurdity to it all - is that the filmmaker Joel Reed recognizes Its reprehensible trash. He makes his lead "Master" (And an actor at that who is having the time of his life playing a pretentious psycho) and cohort little man the real freaks, and in a sense this is almost like an inverted version of Tod Browning's 1932 film: a savage comedy on terrors and horrors, especially in the realm of shady show business (I mean, that IS where all those off-off Broadway actresses go to after all!)
A good deal of it is cringe worthy and hard to watch - a tooth extraction scene got to me the most - but so much of it is tongue not so much planted in cheek but sticking out the cheekbone that it's hard to take it seriously. This isn't to say there isn't some convincing gore and body parts flying about, and certainly the preponderance of naked ladies in either total buff or dominatrix get ups makes it bonafide 70s exploitation verging on sexploitation, but so much is done knowing it looks goofy and silly. And yet there's even a scene or two, like when the lead ballerina actress under the spell of the master performs and beats up the theater critic, that do have some non-too-shabby camera shots and lighting, making a delirious mood (a second rate clockwork Orange scene as per directed by an actor that is a second rate Peter Cushing why not).
Its almost no wonder then this was, I think, the first film acquired for distribution by an at the tome fledgling company called Troma in ny. Though at times perhaps more extreme than what even they put out - Kaufman admits on the DVD intro that if they were to acquire the film today they would have second thoughts - it's a ridiculous, self conscious, sometimes very smart, sometimes (no, practically always) very crude comedy of horrors (or horror of a comedy) that makes its villain a nasty but incredible presence, and some bad acting
No, still not a very *good* movie in the sense of it being
awe-inspiring or inspirational - we're in a landscape that has
inspiration, if not direct adaptation, of the works of Frank Miller
after all - but as far as just being bone-crunching, Saturday matinée
entertainment it does its job. And more importantly the hero and
villain, Sullivan Stapleton and Eva Green, are cast just about right,
especially Green as the kind of villain(ess) who has a compelling
backstory and holds the screen with lots of confidence and bad-assery.
Also, not having Snyder as director (though apparently he wrote and
produced it and did a more than competent job) was wise, since this
time Murro, while sticking to the 300 formula of slow-regular-slow
motion shots, gets either tired or tries just for the good ol' 24fps in
the last third or so of the film.
It's certainly nothing super-smart, but I had fun.
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