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The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Lighten Up, Francis!
The Darjeeling Limited is a metaphor-laden ride in which the characters all have baggage, both literal and figurative, that they cannot seem to shed because they have yet to understand that they would be less encumbered without it.
I am a fan of Wes Anderson, even though his movies generally leave me with a feeling of numbness on first viewing, and a sense of uncertainty as to whether or not I thought the film was any good from a plot and character standpoint. I find myself remembering scenes and images and in the days and weeks that follow; I enjoy revisiting my memories of it and pondering the quirks of characters, the mind of the characters, and the intent of the director. There aren't any big emotional payoffs or any neat plot twists. Dialogue that seems nonsensical, trivial, or awkward turns out to be easily related to overarching themes as the movie unfolds and rewinds in my mind's eye. Or maybe it's all just a big, steaming pile of pretentious nonsense, too twee and too precious for its own good. I can't decide. I can never decide. I remain baffled and frustrated, but something about them keeps me coming back.
"I have GOT to get off this train," said the stewardess, Rita. The train is the biggest metaphor, bigger even than the pile of Louis Vuitton luggage the three brothers, played by Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman, drag all over India in a quest for spiritual enlightenment and a return to being brothers "they way they used to be". One suspects that they never were the way they used to be.
Peter cannot let go of his father, who died in an accident he witnessed, and who he was not able to save. He carries around certain personal objects that do not fit him, or are outdated, like talismans. Meanwhile, he is terrified of becoming a father himself. Francis, survivor of a motorcycle accident that has left him wrapped in bandages, wants the brothers to become close, but constantly annoys both of them with his fussy, overbearing, control-freak ways. Jack pines for a girlfriend he can't leave, or who won't leave him, and of whom his two brothers disapprove. Meanwhile, he has casual sex with Rita with no more real forethought than he applies to slugging down narcotic cough syrup and pills of unknown provenance, just to make his surroundings more interesting and to take his mind off his ex-girlfriend.
But the brothers' most profound source of unhappiness is that their own family has failed to live up to their image of what a family should be. This longing for an idealized family and parents is a major theme in Anderson's movies. They resent their runaway mother, who did not show up for their father's funeral, they squabble over who should have possession of their father's belongings.
It is a bereaved Indian father who gives Peter the absolution he craves, not his brothers or his mother. Francis finally removes his bandages and lets his younger brothers see his wounds, both emotional and physical. Jack is the only one who seems largely unchanged is this because the actor was a co-writer? It must be very hard to write for yourself.
All this makes it seem a serious movie, which it is not. There are two good hearty laughs to be found in it and many wry smiles. The brothers are exasperating and shallow, at times even petty, and yet you find yourself liking them all the same. I found these characters to be intriguing. Peter seems the most outwardly normal, but he has the strangest quirks. Francis is oddly sexless, almost monastic. One suspects he may very well end up living much as his mother does. I kept waiting for him to make some comment about his scarring and how it might affect his romantic life, but he never did. Jack is highly sexed, yet seems uncomfortable in his body, hiding behind his little porn star moustache. He yearns to be mysterious and exotic, or a romantic expatriate artiste, but when he attempts to act as such, it just comes off awkward and forced.
Owen Wilson is an actor I've never had a whole lot of use for, but I must admit that he was very good in this movie. He brought a sweetness to a character who could have been simply annoying. Adrien Brody was fine as Peter. His character had to display the most emotional range, and was also the most physical, with some episodes of good slapstick. Anderson clearly understood Brody's strengths and made them work. He and Wilson were effective in scenes together and had the chemistry of real brothers. I was less impressed with Jason Schwartzman. I have liked him a lot better in other movies. I felt he was overshadowed in this film whenever he had to go up against Brody and Wilson, despite being given the funniest lines. He did well in his scenes with Rita.
Wes Anderson's movies have been criticized for being too white, too rich (his main characters usually don't have money worries, Max Fischer aside), and for having a void in the center. I think setting this movie in India with all its beauty and diversity and having some of the strong supporting characters be Indian helped with the whiteness factor. But to criticize movies like this for having a void in the center kind of misses the point. His movies are about the voidthe one that exists between people who yearn for that sense of connection. And the best way to bridge it is to stop taking yourself so damn seriously.
The Jane Austen Book Club (2007)
One half the world does not understand the pleasures of the other....
Let's get one thing out of the way, first. This IS largely a chick-flick, although many men who go to see it are likely to get caught up in at least one of the subplots. The litmus test is Love, Actually--if you enjoyed that movie, and are a man, I imagine you'll like this one as well. There are several attractive females, some lesbian domestic affection scenes handled with remarkable matter-of-factness, and the film (and novel) handles the male characters gently and with love.
But it is a movie that with primary appeal to two groups--chicks and Jane Austen devotees, including the male ones. Are there enough of these to make a movie a success? Yes, there are.
Jane Austen's work stays current because she wrote about timeless themes--how do you choose the best person to marry? Is love enough, or even required for lifelong contentment? How do you deal with difficult or embarrassing family members? How best to handle a family crisis? How do you learn to tell true friends and quality persons from those who are perhaps flashy and amusing, but will end up betraying your friendship and trust or, heaven forfend, tempting you to abandon your own principles? Whether you live in the age of Blackberries and Hybrid SUV's, or the age of sealing wax and barouches, every person comes smack up against many or most of these vexing problems throughout their lives.
The conceit of this movie and the book it is based upon is that a shared love and appreciation of the works of Jane Austen can provide the currency through the exchange of which modern women (and a few selected men) can confront, share, and come to better understand their personal challenges and in the process, form bonds of friendship or even romance. The strength of this movie is that even if you have a tough time with that conceit, you will still enjoy the humor of it, and the strong performances. It's pleasant to watch, like curling up with a favorite book and a frothy cup of chocolate. It is true to Janeno explosions, the villains aren't completely evil, the primary problems of the characters stem from incomplete or willfully-faulty understanding of themselves and those around them, there is no melodrama or Gothic touches except of the parody sort, and the lone death happens off screen.
I have this weird little theory about why P&P is the MOST beloved of all of Austen's books. Sure, Darcy is a smoldering hunk of tightly-controlled passion and Lizzie is as spirited and intelligent a heroine as ever nanced through a foot of mud to get to the bedside of an ailing sister, but that's not it.
In all the other Austen pairings, you had a sense that they were pairings which would truly happen in real life because deep down we know nothing has really changed from Austen's day--women's beauty and youth and social standing is factored into a certain equation which determines how handsome, wealthy, charming, accomplished, or respected a man she is able to aspire to. In no case, other than P&P, does this basic equation get violated. Lady Catherine De Bourg had it right. A shocking match, indeed! The Lizzie/Darcy romance, therefore, is the lone Cinderella story, and don't give me Edmund and Fanny, as Edmund was a younger son most in need of a virtuous wife who wouldn't ever embarrass him and was never laid out as a man of wildly attractive appearance while virtuous Fanny's looks were improved enough to attract the flirtatious Henry Crawford.
So, we women, all of us, are madly in love with P&P precisely because it is the ultimate fantasy of this amazing guy who will love us JUST FOR OUR QUICK WIT, GOOD HEART, and FINE EYES. There are no Mr. Darcy's, just like there are no characters of the sort commonly played by John Cusack, so get over it, already. There is possibly a Mr. Rochester, but remember, he had a crazy wife locked in the attic, a creepy housekeeper, an insipid ward, a bit of a sarcastic streak, and was once played on screen by a pudgy Orson Wells. In other words, a lot of baggage. And he still wasn't able to be brought up to scratch by Plain Jane Eyre until his fine big house had been burned down, his eyes put out, and his arm messed up. Now THAT is reality.
It is true in real life that single dog breeders can, and do, meet nice men and fall in love and maybe even get married. It is also true that nice, handsome, heterosexual men join book clubs*.
But this movie serves up impossibly cute Hugh Dancy in the role of an implausibly unattached, adorably geeky Grigg Harris who loves reading, older women, and can dance gracefully despite being too clumsy to artfully sip a cocktail. The statistical probability of such an attractive and unspoiled man (one who admits he is willing to be "directed") like this joining your book club and then actually wanting to develop a romantic relationship with an unattached woman older than himself is approximately the same as seeing one of the Dragonriders of Pern barnstorming over an Iowa cornfield.
In the RL JABC, Grigg would be gay and Allegra would be straight and Bernadette would be queuing up for the Early Bird Special at Cracker Barrel. And your cheating ex-spouse, Jimmy Smits, ain't never coming back, and if he did, it would be after a series of weepy drunken whiny pathetic phone calls at 3am. There will be no "letter". This movie is a little bit cruel to imply otherwise.
But that's OK. The world would be a very unkind place without at least the notion of dragons and rocketships, Darcys and Griggs. And that is why we loved it.
Amazing Grace (2006)
Not just another costume flick (NTTAWWT)
Amazing Grace is the story of William Wilberforce, a Parliament MP of deep religious convictions who was a tireless crusader first for the abolition of the slave trade by the British, and then for social justice for the working and lower classes. This film in my opinion really has something for everyone and will appeal across broad political and religious lines. It is being marketed to Christian groups, because of its unabashed roots in the redemptive power of religion to inform convictions, but it is certainly never preachy.
One might think that a film of this subject matter, with wigs and stockings and parliamentary speeches, would be dry and dusty and slow to move, but the film is leavened with wit, spiced with great British thespians at the height of their craft, and speaks directly to many of the great questions we are grappling with today. There are many echoes of our present reality. The arguments about the slave trade still resonate in many of the big debates of our own time.
I had begun to despair of the career of Ioan Gruffudd, a very handsome young actor from Wales who really caught my eye in the A&E/Meridian Horatio Hornblower series, only to appear on the big screen in an unending series of undemanding dreck like the 101 Dalmations movies, King Arthur, and the Craptastic 4. Here, he again shows why I thought he might have a real future as more than just a lantern-jawed hero with a pretty face. He does a wonderful job of portraying a good man motivated by a deep faith in the goodness of God, which gave him purpose in politics and the strength to pursue his goals even as his health was failing (although the love of a pretty woman with deep cleavage also seemed to give the poor chap a boost).
Seasoned British favorites Michael Gambon, Ciaran Hines, and Nicholas Ferrell are in fine form, and relative newcomer Benedict Cumberbatch turns in a very understated but fine performance as Pitt the Younger, who is at first on the side of the abolitionists, but feels he must put forward a different policy once England is in "a time of war".
The movie shows very deftly how honest differences of opinion change from matters of political debate into acts viewed as outright sedition based on whether or not the same language is being used during wartime, or peacetime.
Dixie Chicks take note.
Anyhow, it is always depressing to me as a gal who used to salivate over Albert Finney in Tom Jones to see how very very old he has gotten, but he did a wonderful job, too, as the repentant slave ship Captain turned priest who penned the hymn "Amazing Grace". I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I must have known the story of this hymn, but it's so firmly implanted in the forefront of my memory as a spiritual that I had forgotten it was originally penned by an Englishman.
Youssou N'Dour does a terrific job with the character of Oloudaqh Equiano, a former slave from Jamaica whose memoirs of his time in slavery were published in England to high sales and helped sway the British public to the abolitionist side.
Fun for me as well was to see Rufus Sewell, who is always entertaining as a baddie, play someone on the right side of things in this one, and even show flashes of humor. I knew he had it in him. He plays reform-minded clergyman Thomas Clarkson, and it is said that Jane Austen had QUITE a crush on him, and from Sewell's portrayal of young firebrand Clarkson, it is not difficult to see why.
I cannot, however, give this movie ten stars because of some continuity issues with time-switching (and no, smudging kohl under Gruffudd's eyes isn't QUITE enough), and because my friend and I were really hoping that when Wilberforce and Pitt the Younger were running in their undershirts, they were headed for a lake. Alas--no such luck.
I realize that a lot of guys don't like costumers, but this is not a chick flick. It's really quite a good political movie and character study and there's little mush and absolutely no relationship porn to be seen. Granted, you won't see any battles, but that's kind of the point. Not all great victories are won by force of arms. This is one which was not.
Elegant Noir Period Piece, Superbly-acted
Hollywoodland is a film that works equally well as a film noir, and an homage to film noir.
Film noirs set their protagonists loose in a world that is both corrupt and unsympathetic, and truthseeking is the path to redemption, no matter where the quest for those truths might lead, or how ultimately trivial the quest. Hollywoodland obviously stole the playbook from the great late 40's and early 50's Noirs: a cynical private detective as the protagonist, a sexy femme fatale, multiple flashbacks, dramatic chiarascuro photography, and a fatalistic mood leavened with provocative banter*.
The Film Noir element is provided by the mystery around the death of a Hollywood B-list actor, George Reeves, who became reluctantly-famous as TV's granite-jawed cardboard hero "Superman". He really wanted to be Clark Gable. Our cynical private detective is played by Adrien Brody, but the femme fatale is more elusiveis it the sexually-aggressive wife of a studio magnate, portrayed by Diane Lane? Or the opportunistic younger woman who takes George Reeves away from her? These questions remain unanswered to this day, and the film, no "Jack the Ripper: Case Closed", does not even attempt to suggest that it has the solution that has eluded all the other sleuths, both amateur and professional, who have looked over the evidence of the alleged suicide of TV's Superman.
The seedy underbelly of Hollywood has long provided fertile ground for noir-ish films. Ben Affleck reminds us in this one of why he was once thought "the next big thing" as he proves to be not only effective, but ironic, in the role of Reeves. After all, Affleck has teetered on the edge of professional parody and typecasting, as much a prisoner of his own blandly heroic good looks as his romantic entanglements with much more colorful women. But here, he is affecting, showing both the charm and humor of his doomed character as well as his infinite capacity for self-delusion. Unlike a Ben Affleck, Reeves may have had a movie star's handsome face and tall, broad-shouldered physique, but he did not have a movie star's star quality and talent. He was born for roles like the one that defined him, and it was a reality he was unable to accept. Whether this led to his death by suicide, or by making choices in his associates that led to a well covered-up murder, the film provides much grist for one's speculative mill.
The supporting roles in this movie are uniformly excellent, from Diane Lane's major star turn as the aging wife of the mogul to the pathetic eagerness of Reeve's agent, who only wanted to keep his client working. His was the best line of the film"You can't always act, George. Sometimes, you have to make a living." The movie has the multiple flashbacks device, and in some movies, this would be annoying, and it WOULD be annoying if this was the story of George Reeves. But it's not. It's the story of Louis Simo, as played by Adrien Brody. As Simo delves deeper and deeper into the mystery, he realizes that his story could very easily be Reeves'a man who hangs his hat on the notion that he's more important and better at what he does than he really is, but fails to appreciate the things about himself that are the true foundation of a happier life. This isn't a movie about an unsolved mystery. It's about illusion, disillusion, and self-delusion, and both Affleck's performance and Brody's make this point very clearly by the end of the film. So does Diane Lane's. Her illusion and delusion was of herself as a young and sexy woman who was desired by men who were much her junior. At the end, her aged face, sans artifice and makeup, is revealed in the harsh light of day and pronounced "beautiful", by her even older husband. And yet, we cannot find this a redeeming moment for her as we know she doesn't care for his approval as the man with the power to make her feel young and beautiful is deadanother noir-ish element.
I do think that the negative reviews of this movie (and there have been a few, but generally it seems to be appreciated by most critics) are due primarily to a set of unrealized expectations. As a murder/true crime thriller, it's a failure. As a noir-ish character study about the redemption of a man very near to the edge, an homage to an era, and a period piece, it's a rousing success. Although there wasn't a bad performance in the entire movie, Adrien's character is the one who has the only true arc, and without this vivid and fearless performance, the movie could have been as bland and formulaic as one of George Reeves' clichéd TV dramas.
That it was not is great news for all fans of Film Noir, Old Hollywood, show business biopics, and Adrien Brody, not to mention the future viability of Ben Affleck as an A-list Hollywood Actor. *source, Wikipedia.
Snakes on a Plane (2006)
Lord, I can now die a happy woman.
Anytime is fine--just let me pay a few bills so I don't leave my affairs in a big mess. Oh! and I do want to live long enough to see the myth of Eli Manning destroyed (again). But then, it's OK. I've had my fun and I'm ready to go.
I've seen Hobbits. I've seen the Balrog. I've seen Capt. Jack Aubrey fighting the Frogs with cannon, pistol, and sword.
And I've now seen Snakes. On a PLANE! This is an uplifting, righteous film with a positive message. This message would be "Sit your @ss down, Clarence!"...no, that's not it. OK, the message is that we're all in this together and we can all get along and even flirt a little between being menaced by hundreds of deadly venomous snakes, whether we are black, white, thin, fat, Asian, western, or have annoying yappy little dogs (I shed a tear, at least).
I saw this film in a more than half-full theater with a mixed audience. It was half black, half young, half old, half white, half-baked, and entirely ready to thrill to the sight of deadly snakes biting every vulnerable body part while Samuel L. Jackson dispatched numerous snakes with varying degrees of awesome badazzness, while ripping off quotable one-liners. It was a real unifying experience. We were ALL on that airplane, cheering for Jackson to figure a way to get the passengers to put aside their petty differences and various neurotic tics, and bring the survivors down safely, while killing as many mf'ing snakes as possible in myriad awesome ways.
Also, the opening and closing songs on the soundtrack were excellent. Stay through the credits and watch the music video. It's hilarious, especially when the guy in x-ray isn't noticing that their luggage is filled with snakes. Homeland security, bite Agent Flynn's rock hard gluteal regions. Ten Agent Flynn's and we wouldn't need those clowns to protect us.
Here's what we've got.
Two breasts. 35 dead bodies. Glorious Snake-o-vision effects not unlike how things looked to Frodo when he put on the ring. Kickboxer Fu. Nipple Fu. Taser-on-a-stick-fu. Microwave Fu. Dufflebag Fu. Little bitty busted First Class Champagne Bottle Fu. Intheunlikelyeventofawaterlanding Inflatable Liferaft Fu. Speargun Fu. Drive-in Academy Award nominations for Kenan Thompson and his 2,000 hours of "flying experience", Nathan Phillips for his superb characterization of a kick-3ss sexually-ambiguous flight attendant ("who's your daddy NOW, b#tch!), and the big air-duct dwelling Python for raising anglophilia to a culinary level for the first time--ever.
4 and a half stars out of a possible 4.
Apologies to Joe Bob Briggs. I'm sure he'd say "Check it out!"
Lady in the Water (2006)
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Hubris
Tolkien spent decades creating his mythical world of Middle Earth, and populating it with fell beasts, otherworldly races, and magical talismans. M. Night seems to have doodled his up on a cocktail napkin near the end of a really effed-up party.
There's a lot of truth to the notion that a great mythic story gives ordinary peoples' lives a sense of purpose.
This isn't that story, or even anything close, but it held my attention and I didn't find it unwatchable.
I give it 2 1/2 stars for overall plot, score, and Paul Giametti, and another 1/2 star for the fact that my friend Maggie and I were surprised how hot Night looked in that cream-colored long sleeved sweater, doing laundry.
We totally did not see that coming.
There's your twist.
PASTICHE of the Caribbean--SPOILER
This movie throws everything but the galley sink at the wall and only some of it sticks We have the ship named Flying Dutchman, but not the actual Flying Dutchman, which irritated the heck out of me because he'd have been a lot more interesting given the lovelorn theme than Davy Jones. We have mythological beasts, legendary seamen, and voodoo priestesses with hard-ons for Johnny Depp.
Well, I suppose the last bit isn't quite so unrealistic.
But she dug Orlando Bloom on sight, and I don't get that at all.
Anyhow, there are some huge problems with this movie, and not all of them could be resolved by tying the plot points up neatly at the end of the third movie. First, we have too many derivative echoes of Star Wars. I've read as much Joseph Campbell as the next nerd, but it gets tedious seeing the same romantic triangles played out over and over, and the same dynamic between the cursed and hideously-deformed villain who was turned to evil because he was unsuccessful in romance set against a young and pure-hearted protagonist.
I swear to high heaven, if Will and Elizabeth turn out to be brother and sister in Pirates III, I will flipping throw my large Diet Pepsi--ice, straw, soda, and all--at the screen. That will most seriously displease me.
Which brings me to my second complaint, namely--watching Keira Knightly vacillate between Will and Jack is rendered absurd by the existence of what a lamer Orlando Bloom is in one of three key heroic (?) roles. OK, OK...put the man in platform shoes, give him blond hair extensions and blue contacts, and he's otherworldly beautiful. But he. Can't. Act. His way out of a paper bag, let alone off a ship full of cursed sailors who look like walking, talking, barnacle-encrusted bits of flotsam and jetsam. He's just not got the juice, and you put him next to Depp on screen and it's clear that any reasonably piratical lass would opt for a dirty weekend and a trip around the bay with Captain Jack as opposed to a lifetime of boredom with nice-guy Will.
But wait, there are glimmers of hope. Our plucky, lightsabre (I mean sword!)-wielding heroine turns out to have a rather machiavellian side to her, before plunging into regret for her actions. Will showed promising signs of jealousy and violence, before reverting to Luke Skywalker-esquire mastery of his anger. And Captain Sparrow seems to me to be ripe for the picking in whatever passes for a piratical version of a male midlife crisis, though Mr. Rochester-like, he's bound to be permanently maimed, first, before he's rendered fit for a lifetime of being press-ganged by anything in petticoats. The best dynamic in this movie wasn't (sadly) between the nominal villains and the heroes, it was between two of the heroes; Jack tells Elizabeth she will be tempted to try being truly self-serving because she is curious and will want to know what it feels like, and Elizabeth very pertly (because we're talking Keira here whose jaw is the only thing more aggressive and jutting than the toothily-armed prow of the Flying Dutchman in this movie) tells him that he will in turn wish to sample the joys of being a decent fellow doing the right thing, and enjoying the respect and admiration which comes from being a good guy and hero.
I could almost hear Han and Leia bantering, or Rick from Casablanca saying "I stick my neck out for no one".
Long live the antihero, and may he always get the girl, or at least stride off into the sunset with Claude Raines.
OK, here's what you really need to know. The pacing is not good in this installment. There are parts which are just too loud and go on too long. The waterwheel sword fight, however, is all it's cracked up to be, and then some. The script neglects to give its most charming characters any memorable lines. Davy Jones is well-voiced, and beautifully (which is to say disgustingly) CGI-rendered, as is the Krakken. I thought I'd crave sushi after this film, but found I did not. I was pleased as punch to see Jack Davenport's Commander Norrington character return, mostly because I had girlfriends who dug him in the first movie. He has a heckuva voice, and looks better with a tan and some dirt all over him.
And there will always be an England so long as there are superb British Character actors like Tom Hollander to add an elegant and silky menace to cardboard villain roles, and McKenzie Crooks to be alternately Gareth from The Office (BBC) and the austensible (sic) comic relief other than Johnny Depp in this one. And.............
SPOILERS I'm thinking the real beating heart of the Davy Jones character is that music box. They didn't try to turn him into the Phantom of the Opera for nothing, IMO.
Just please, please, PLEASE do not let his long-lost love be the unintelligible voodoo priestess. I not only have a large diet soda to hurl, but also popcorn.
Jerry Bruckheimer, you HAVE been warned.
And I don't appreciate you left the dog on that island to be eaten.
King Kong (2005)
New "Kong" Takes Risks, but Raises the Bar
Love him or hate him or just think his films aren't your cuppa, there's one thing that everyone can agree on when it comes to Peter Jackson. If you give him a lot of money and a couple of decent actors, he doesn't squander it. King Kong cost 210 million to make, and every penny of it can be seen right up there on the screen. You cannot look at his movies and say "Where IS it? Where did all the money go?" From Depression-era New York City to Skull Island, to scenes of shipboard life, the art direction and settings are spectacular as one would expect from the director of the visually-stunning LOTR.
King Kong is an iconographic subject and as such, there are only so many liberties a director and screenplay can take without turning it into something else. If someone is going to shell out 10 bucks to see a movie called King Kong, they are going to expect the basic elements of the original movie to all be there, and in this Kong, they are.
There is the self-promoting adventure filmmaker/huckster/con man Carl Denham, played by Jack Black, the spunky down-at-the-heels blonde beauty, Anne, played by Naomi Watts, a handsome hero to fall in love with Anne on board the Venture, played by Adrien Brody (in what I think was a particularly daring but highly successful casting decision), and mysterious, fog-shrouded islands, menacing and hostile natives, and as many dinosaurs and other assorted icky giant prehistoric foes to face as any 12 year old fanboy could possible imagine in his geekiest wet dreams. But it all, ultimately, hinges on Kong himself and if the giant gorilla truly comes across as real. I re-watched the original in preparation for seeing this one and it simply does not hold up well.
I'm happy to report that Kong, himself, has set the benchmark for combining live action and CGI-characters another notch higher for all other filmmakers in this genre.
Peter Jackson took a few risks in his fresh look at Kong, and I think some of them worked extremely well, while others are going to pose problems for some viewers, especially those who just want a straight-up action and thrill picture with big effects.
Because right there lurking underneath all the thrilling effects and the great action scenes is a movie about love. This movie is saturated with characters who are in the grip of some form of lovein fact, I could make that case for all of them, save one. King Kong is mushy and sweet at the core as a ripe plum. I expected to see a love story, but I didn't expect to see a movie ABOUT love, but that's what I ended up seeing.
I felt there was one extended fight/action scene on Skull Island that went on too long and was over-the-top for even THIS movie. There are also two scenes that are sufficiently cheesy and squirmy to make them obvious targets for parodying and spoofing for years to come.
Let's just put it this way. Peter Jackson has found his muse, and it's Andy Serkis cavorting in front of a blue screen.
Still, the KK crew have created several new supporting characters from scratch, and made them compelling and marvelous in their own right. While in the original, the emphasis was just on Anne, Carl, Jack, and Kong and the crewmen were mostly there as expendable extras to get killed or eaten, in this movie, the various other characters who populate the Venture are brought very vividly to life and play key roles and have their own little character arcs. When some of them die, and they do, you actually care about it, and it makes you angry at Carl Denham for risking these people's lives on his crazy venture. Jamie Bell's character of a young orphaned seaman was particularly effective. Ditto for the older, experienced sailor who had taken him under his wing and become a surrogate father. Comic relief was provided in the form of the actor cast as Anne's co-star in Denham's movie. PJ very wisely decided to take some of the stilted, clunky romantic dialogue from the original away from the Jack Driscoll character and give it to the shallow, vain, faux action-hero, instead.
There's so much more I could say about all the homages to the original that PJ slyly inserts throughout the film, as well as nods to various other icons of the giant-monster-on-the-loose genre (and I even thought there was a little cheesy Titanic moment in there). But it would be more fun to let everyone else try to catch them than to spoil anything.
Is this a Best Picture nominee? I think it will get buckets of nominations, but probably not a Best Picture. Naomi Watts ought to get nominated for Best Actress, though. She is talented, moving, and beautiful as the day. Although we are asked to believe the impossiblewhich is that she would really be torn between throwing herself into the arms of Kong or the arms of Adrien Brodyshe manages it all quite beautifully. Jack Black was generally up to the task and had a particularly good look for the character. Brody rose to the challenge of playing the man of words who becomes the man of physical feats of heroism. Peter Jackson knows how to make his leads look gorgeous on film, and he succeeds beautifully with Naomi and Adrien. Naomi might have been easy, but he gives Adrien a matinée-idol-fabulous look.
So, in summary, about as good a popcorn flick as you're ever going to seea movie that's got thrills and chills and romance and drama. A little directorial self-indulgence, I think, can be endured when everything else is so stunning, because Peter Jackson never forgets for a single minute that his movies are supposed to be ENTERTAINMENT. And entertaining, they certainly are.
Under the Hard Chocolate Shell, a sweet and gooey center
This movie stands up very well to my fond memories of both the book and the Gene Wilder movie of my childhood. At the center is a story with real heart, about the happiness that comes from a loving family.
The opening visuals were so beautiful and wonderful and so very Roald Dahl that I knew I was going to be in for a treat. Has there been a better-looking movie all year? It was breathtaking, each set piece a glittering jewel. Burton's aesthetic sensibilities are so very well-matched to the source material.
I might as well get my only major complaint out of the way first--I did NOT like Danny Elfman's songs or the way they were performed. I missed the lovely, clear brainworm of "Oompa Loompa Doobity Doo, I've got another Riddle for You" from the Wilder version. The Elfman Oompa Loompa songs were wonderfully-well choreographed, but I had a hard time picking out the lyrics and the sound was muddy, but worse than that, these aren't songs a young kid can sing-along to--they were clearly aimed at adults and teens, and I think that's a very bad deficiency. The Oompa Loompa songs should be totally accessible to 6-8 year olds. So--that, I hated.
Elfman's incidental music, though--that definitely enhanced the movie.
But everything else, I liked. I didn't mind Willie Wonka's backstory, and gee, I just smile and smile every time I see good old Christopher Lee up there on screen. Has any geezerish actor this side of Alec Guiness had a better run in his dotage than Lee? Lee and Alan Rickman are the only actors working today who can sound properly menacing without any hint of insanity to it.
As for Depp's performance, I loved it. I roared with laughter when he reacted to the idea of Augustus Gloop-flavored chocolate.
Although I am NOT a fangirl, if my feet were held to the fire, I would have to admit that Depp is the most interesting and versatile American actor working in film today. I have other favorites--in particular my beloved Adrien Brody--who I think that in time might be on that same level, but few are there right now. There are a lot of actors who can play serious roles, or portray people with mental illness, handicaps, etc. convincingly, but if you can play a freak or weirdo or madman or villainous type, OR a romantic lead, AND do comedy well (both physical and verbal) then in my book, you've really got the total package as an actor (and it doesn't hurt to be handsome with big, dark, flashing eyes, either). Not that many guys who are that good-looking and thought of as sex symbols will take the pratfall and the little song and dance and seltzer down the pants. I admire him tremendously for that.
I'm a big believer in the old saw, "Dying is easy--COMEDY is hard". I really do respect and admire Johnny's ability to portray all these different interesting and oddball characters, and to make an audience simultaneously wierded-out and tickled. These fine talents are showcased in this movie. Roald Dahl wrote this novel long before Michael Jackson was a gleam in some Motown executive's eye. I think we should try and get past the obvious comparison, and look at Depp's interpretation in a less tabloid way.
But, if you must--then I have to say I raised a parental eyebrow over the sheep room scene. I mean, these Oompa Loompas are worse than Smurfs. At least there was one Smurfette. But these guys, unless they are like Gimli's dwarfs and the women look exactly like the men, don't have much of an outlet.
King Arthur (2004)
Saw King Arthur today, and there was much rejoicing...
I say there was much rejoicing because the shadow of "Holy Grail" will necessarily loom large over any movie about King Arthur and his English Knights (Eeeenglish K-niggits?) and I feel the filmmakers behind this one really were doing everything in their power to avoid any possible scene or bit of dialogue that would invoke snotty Frenchmen, Knights who say "Ni", Shrubbery (though the Saxon invaders would certainly qualify), and watery tarts with swords (this attempt failed, unfortunately, due to the soppy presence of Keira K-niggetly).
Half-Roman, half-Celtic Artorious is indeed fortunate in his comrades in arms. In short order, we are introduced to nostril-flaring, smoldering Sir Lancelot, the Quite Frequently Pissed-Off; cheeky Sir Galahad, the Utterly Winsome; vaguely-psycho Sir Tristan, the Unkempt; bullroaring Sir Bors, the Ridiculously Fertile; tight-lipped Sir Dagonet, the Scary-Looking Moppet-Dandler; and finally, nondescript Sir Gawain, the Not-Quite-So-Winsome-As-Sir-Galahad.
With a cadre of fighters such as these, Arthur's many successes in the field of battle should come as no surprise. Their foes include the Woad warriors, a proud race of Celts, and the Saxon invaders from the North, but along the way they also have to confront Romans who are oleagenous enough to put several of Italy's most productive olive groves out of business. This is a very important plot point, for those of you who are connoisseurs of plot, because it plants a seed of doubt in Arthur's mind that perhaps a quiet retirement in Rome surrounded by more of same might not be quite what they pictured in the glossy brochures he had been receiving for the past 15 years from the DeLuxe Roman Retirement Villas, Inc.
Much plot ensues, and the movie doesn't even begin to have the merest whisper of the faintest hint of actual suckage until Gwinevere shows up and begins to act really poorly. The lack of on screen suckage up to this point is not really the sole accomplishment of the director and screenwriter--no, there are plenty of clunker lines but the British male actor cast is so adept at making lemonade from some of the lemons they are dealt that one doesn't mind a bit.
If the Hero who Overcomes Long Odds to Succeed in the End is one of the oldest devices in fiction, then Lancelot has the second-oldest character device--the one of "Best Friend who objects to absolutely every single thing the hero proposes as being the height of idiocy or self-indulgence, but then goes along with all the hero's schemes, anyhow".
Good things--Ioan Gruffudd is smokin' hot, and so are a few of the rest. But he has the inestimable advantage of TWO swords and the best armor, not mention that basket-weave leather jerkin that he wears early in the flick. I really enjoyed hearing Lancelot's and Arthur's leather creak when they moved about. This was a great touch. Also, the strategy behind the various battle scenes was interesting to watch unfold. The camera didn't linger overlong on Gwen and Arthur's big sex scene, and it became apparent why not later on, as they would only have had time for a quickie, since they would have had to spend the rest of the k-niggit mapping out a very elaborate battle plan to confront the masses of invading Uruk-hai, I mean SAXONS, who were camped outside Helm's Deep, I mean HADRIAN'S WALL, waiting for daylight. And then there was the cinematography, which had that silvered effect at times that was kind of intrusive in Gladiator, but it worked well here, in a story partially set in the Pleistocene Epoch.
Bad things--I found the soundtrack really disappointing-I wanted it to be more Celtic in flavor. But mostly, Keira-sorry, credulous fanboys--she's terribly miscast here and the miraculous costume changes and obvious makeup were snark-inducing. The only 'machine' this Woad looked like she had been tortured with was a curling iron. The thought of her as "spunky, girl-power" Lizzie Bennet makes the blood run cold. She was fine for a rompy flick like Pirates of the Carribbean, but I thought she was NOT plausible as a warrior who ran half-naked into battle when the men were all wearing armor. They should have had her stick to shooting arrows with deadly accuracy from a distance. That was plausible. I also found Merlin a depressingly small presence, and wondered that they even bothered to include him at all.
Anyhow, the Saxons do indeed battle Arthur and his Knights on two occasions, making heavy use of their primary battle tactic of getting upwind from their enemy and raising their arms and charging, letting their powerful B.O. render their enemies senseless and unconscious. Some of the Knights eventually fell prey to this diabolical tactic, but Arthur, his sense of smell numbed by the lingering stench of the last exchange of dialogue with Gwinevere which still clung to his crispy curls and creaking leather armor, was able to hang in there and claim his destiny as the eventual King of the Britons, overcoming long odds to succeed in the end.
Gwenivere is clearly upset by Lancelot's death (we know this because her mouth hangs open like a fish, and she knits her brow--no, wait, she'd been doing that a lot before--anyhow, we know she is upset because, well--who wouldn't be?), as she had clearly been hoping to work her way through the whole cadre of Arthur's Knights, for comparison purposes. But, in the time-honored fashion of aspiring political wives, she elects to "settle" for electability over bad-boy sex appeal.
Which only goes to show you the truth of the old saying--"Behind every Legendary Hero is a dodgy bit of Woad tail booting him back out into the fray whenever he starts talking about retirement."