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My Shakespeare (2004)
Though documentary leaves out important information, you get caught up in these people's lives
This documentary follows actor Paterson Joseph as he directs a production of Romeo And Juliet using non-actors from the poor neighborhood where he grew up. Film director Baz Luhrmann serves as a mentor to Paterson, though only by remote hook-up. We see the casting process, and learn a bit about each of the actors who get cast. For example, Muska Khpal, who plays Juliet, is from Afghanistan and wants to become a doctor. (During the first section - the casting process - there is a lot of annoying music playing.) Paterson has lots of trouble at first. The actor who plays Benvolio is constantly late. And all of the actors have trouble tapping into their emotions. The actors at first basically all say they don't understand any of it. It's interesting that when it comes to the fights, their personal experiences play a large part. Jonathan Taylor, who plays Romeo, has actually been stabbed in a fight. They have an easier time with anger than with love. As a documentary, this film fails to answer some basic questions. Like, how did Baz Luhrmann become involved? Also, a fight choreographer and a vocal coach are brought in. Were they paid? Were any of the actors paid? How were they able to rent the theatre? But once the film got going, it managed to pull me in emotionally, and I actually was anxious for them as it got down to the final rehearsals. Paterson has the actors do an emotional workshop to help them, because these folks are used to hiding emotion. He also takes the leads to a graveyard to rehearse the death scene. Some of the cast goes to the new Globe Theatre, and this trip clearly inspires them - it's actually a great scene. And we do see sections of the actual performance, as well as some of the celebration afterward. So though this film has a shaky beginning, and doesn't provide some basic information, it ends up being quite satisfying. I came to care about these people.
By the way, I'm in the middle of a three-year Shakespeare study, and I've posted a blog entry with reviews of a dozen or so film adaptations of Romeo And Juliet, as well as short blurbs about books related to that play. If you're interested, the site is Michael Doherty's Personal Library on blogspot, and the entry is titled "Shakespeare Study: The Tragedy Of Romeo And Juliet."
Sometimes funny, sometimes sexy, sometimes dull adaptation of Shakespeare's play
This review is from the perspective of a Shakespeare fan, so it focuses on how this film adapts the play.
This is a playful softcore comedy version of Romeo And Juliet. It actually begins at the Globe Theatre, where a drunk and rowdy audience demands to see Romeo And Juliet. They threaten to burn the theatre down if the play doesn't start immediately, a joking reference to the fact that the Globe Theatre did in fact burn down (though during a production of Henry The Eighth rather than Romeo And Juliet). The characters are each introduced while in the middle of various sexual acts. The characters include six maids. Gregory fondles Lady Capulet's ass in the first scene. The sword fight is between Gregory and Balthasar, performed to the cheering of the crowd of the playhouse. The Prince stops them, saying it's the third time they've disturbed the streets. There is the repeated joke of the location of the play as "beautiful downtown Verona." When we're introduced to Juliet, we see her having sex with the Prince. She of course doesn't want Romeo to find out. The action of the play is often interrupted by jokes. Like this one: "If a captain of a ship had a first mate by the name of Monty and he glued his door shut, could you say, 'Cap, you let Monty glue you in'?" There is a wonderful period-type song playing during the scene with Juliet and the Prince (and again later), whose lyrics refer to Juliet as a "wanton country maid." The song also mentions "golden showers" (though there are no such scenes in the film). Juliet tells the Nurse that she's certain Romeo is faithful to her. She then says, "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" And the film cuts to Romeo fondling Lady Capulet, so clearly the filmmakers had no idea what the word "wherefore" means. Anyway, Capulet arranges the marriage between Juliet and Paris, although Paris is gay. And there is a scene in the dungeon of the Capulet house, where a naked woman is being whipped for stealing Lady Capulet's scarves. When Balthasar asks Gregory for a kiss, Gregory turns to the camera and says, "Willie never wrote this." Indeed. We do get the balcony scene, and interestingly, as far as the dialogue goes, this is the most faithful scene. However, while Romeo stands in the garden beneath Juliet's balcony, it's revealed that another woman is going down on him. Meanwhile, someone is under Juliet's dress, going down on her. When Romeo delivers his line about being a glove on her hand so he could touch that cheek, he touches the butt cheek of the woman in the garden. Then there is a long and extremely boring orgy scene with the servants. Romeo goes to the Friar to ask him to wed him to Juliet. He tells the Friar he killed Tybalt (but we didn't have the scene of the fight - in fact, there doesn't seem to be a Tybalt or a Mercutio in this film), so he'll be banished from "beautiful downtown Verona." The Friar fools around with the Nurse, and gives her the message to give to Juliet. Juliet is so distraught by the news that she takes the Nurse to bed. Capulet comes into Juliet's room to let her know she'll be wed to Paris the next day. Friar goes to Juliet to give her the sleeping potion, leaving Romeo and the Nurse along, and because this was shot in the late 1960s, the Nurse shouts, "Sock it to me." Romeo. along with the rest of the folks in beautiful downtown Verona, hears that Juliet is dead and goes to her tomb. He finds the vial of the sleeping potion, and thinking it poison, swallows what is left. He falls next to the coffin. Montague and Capulet enter the tomb, see the two dead, and lift Romeo's body into the coffin with Juliet and put the lid on the coffin. After they leave, we hear Romeo and Juliet awake, and that's the end of the film.
By the way, I'm in the middle of a three-year Shakespeare study, and I've posted a blog entry with reviews of a dozen or so film adaptations of Romeo And Juliet, as well as short blurbs about Romeo And Juliet-related books. The site is Michael Doherty's Personal library on blogspot, and the entry is titled, "Shakespeare Study: The Tragedy Of Romeo And Juliet."
Romeo and Juliet (1976)
Complete Play Features Some Excellent Supporting Players
It's wonderful to see the complete play done, with no scene omitted. There are some wonderful performances in this production, especially by Clive Swift as Friar Lawrence. And I love Patsy Byrne as the Nurse (though it's difficult to get her other nurse role, from Blackadder, out of my head). But Ann Hasson as Juliet is less than stellar. And this production overall seems a bit flat, though there are several excellent moments. Sampson and Gregory are appropriately playful at the beginning. And the timing is great on Sampson's "No, sir" after hearing from Gregory that the law would not be on their side. That made me laugh out loud. In this production Romeo says "I have left myself" rather than "I have lost myself." I prefer "left," which was an emendation in 1875. The servant speaks his bit about the list of names directly to us, then drinks from his master's cup before exiting - a nice touch. Juliet's first scene, with Nurse and Capulet's Wife, is fairly dull, static, the three of them simply seated outside. In Act I Scene iv, Mercutio says his "True, I talk of dreams" almost as if to himself, lost in serious thought, rather than pointedly at Romeo. At the party, I love the way Capulet delivers his lines about how he once wore a visor. He makes it clear that he knows they're crashing the party, and that it's okay. Romeo speaks his first lines about Juliet while standing in the open, rather than quietly to himself, which doesn't quite work. The Chorus doesn't enter the scene at the end, but is in his own, unspecified location. In the balcony scene, Juliet says "that which we call a rose/By any other word would smell as sweet," following the Second Quarto. Something about Ann Hasson's voice doesn't quite work in the balcony scene. I'm not exactly sure what it is. Juliet speaks the line, "Parting is such sweet sorrow," and Romeo says, "Sleep dwell upon thine eyes." Friar Lawrence speaks his opening lines to himself, not to us. (You'll recognize Clive Swift from Keeping Up Appearances.) This scene is great between Friar and Romeo. I like that Romeo stresses "today" in the line "That thou consent to marry us today," showing the urgency his new love or infatuation has created. Ann Hasson is kind of weak in her scene with the Nurse (Act II Scene iv). She plays the scene all in the same way, not finding the various layers. That scene is one of my favorites from the play, and in this production Ann's performance makes it rather flat and uninteresting. In Act III, there is the sound of flies buzzing throughout the scene before the fight (also there are church bells, which were used in an earlier scene too - these sounds are distracting). In the fight between Mercutio and Tybalt, Tybalt makes a move and Mercutio calls it out I like that Tybalt actually uses a move that was mentioned earlier, but I'm not sure I like the added line. The fight is playful, neither clearly wanting to truly hurt the other. But then suddenly Tybalt does draw blood, hitting Mercutio's arm. Added is a moment where Mercutio plays dead. However, the fatal blow comes just before Romeo comes between them, so the blow does not come under Romeo's arm, and the play suggests. Some harsh lighting in Act III Scene ii makes Juliet look forty years old after she scolds Nurse for speaking ill of Romeo. Act III Scene iii is really good, though the camera angle on Friar's closeup was poorly chosen. At the beginning of Scene v, Romeo is already up and dressed, rather than in bed with Juliet. He does then lie down with her. We don't see Juliet's reaction when Romeo says she bids him to die, and that's the moment when she changes from wanting him to stay to urging him to go. We need to see that on her face. This is an uneven scene anyway, because Christopher Neame's performance is much better than hers. However, Ann Hasson is really good in her reaction to Nurse's advice to marry Paris. That is one of her best moments. She is also pretty good in Act IV Scene i, with Paris and the Friar. Why do we hear birds chirping while Juliet gives her speech before drinking the sleeping potion. The sound effects in this production are often distracting. Patsy Byrne is wonderful as the Nurse when she goes to wake Juliet. In Act V, the apothecary is a bit too full in body for the line "Famine is in thy cheeks." The actor seems much too healthy for the part of the poor apothecary. In the tomb, Juliet says "For I will not away" before the Friar leaves.
By the way, I'm in the middle of a three-year Shakespeare study, and I have a blog with my thoughts and reviews on a dozen or so film adaptations of Romeo And Juliet. For anyone who might be interested, the site is Michael Doherty's Personal Library on blogspot, and the entry is titled, "Shakespeare Study: The Tragedy Of Romeo And Juliet."
A funny, quirky and genuinely good film
Troll is not a bad movie. It's not. But for some reason a lot of people think it is. As of tonight (10-24-10), it has a 3.6 on IMDb. That's ridiculous. This movie has so much going for it.
First of all, it's hilarious - and intentionally so. I laughed out loud many times while watching it. The scene with Michael Moriarty dancing around to Blue Cheer's version of "Summertime Blues" is wonderful. Really, it's worth watching the movie just for that scene.
But then you get to watch Sonny Bono turn into a jungle. Seriously.
Besides that, Gary Sandy is in this movie, and he's wonderful. If you're having trouble placing the name, think W.K.R.P - he's the guy that moved from town to town, up and down the dial.
Then you have Julia Louis-Dreyfus as some warped version of Titania. And her fellow SNL pal, Brad Hall, plays her boyfriend.
On top of that, June Lockhart is the sexiest older woman ever, and she has a talking mushroom. And clearly there's some attraction between her and the boy.
And the boy... his name is Harry Potter, Jr. That's right. Michael Moriarty is Harry Potter. Noah Hathaway is Harry Potter, Jr. And Harry Potter, Jr. - get this - wants to be a wizard. Some crazy woman totally ripped this movie off and wrote seven books. But Troll is the original Harry Potter movie. (In fact, we should start a movement - when the new Harry Potter film is released in theatres, stay home and watch Troll on DVD instead.)
I don't want to spoil this movie for you, so i don't think i want to tell you any more about it. No, one more thing: there is a scene with monsters singing. Okay, is that enough to make you want to see it? Seriously, Troll is a really good movie. I'm not kidding.
Midnight Mass (2003)
Christian propaganda in the guise of a horror film
I posted a review of this film in my blog, "Good Things About Bad Movies." But I feel a need to place it here on IMDb as well. So here you go:
Holy moly, Midnight Mass is a terrible movie. But it's in the category of So-Bad-That-It's-Good. First off, it's Christian propaganda wrapped in the guise of a horror film. And like most Christian propaganda, there's nothing subtle about it. It's about as subtle as Mel Gibson (remember him?). I expected characters to turn and look into the camera and say, "It's up to you to turn this world back to a God-fearing Christian world." They do almost as much.
That aside, this film has probably the worst group of actors ever assembled - and i'm including all groups of actors, even third-graders performing a grammar school holiday play. Clearly, it was some Christian group who got a hold of film equipment and money, but decided to do the acting themselves.
The two heroes of the film are Gwen, who is referred to as "the town atheist," and her friend Joe, a fallen priest. Will they both find their way back to the church by the film's end? Of course.
The story combines the vampire legends with the zombie scenario. Basically, the world is overrun with vampires, and there are very few people left. Society has completely broken down.
So how did Gwen, who is on the heavy side, survive this long? Seriously. She seems to have trouble walking. It's both hilarious and painful to watch her move on the screen. Her body seems to be going in several directions at once, and to add to that, she likes to flail her arms around while "acting." And the director (who perhaps subconsciously hated this poor woman) has her running in a couple of scenes, and walking on sand in another scene. And he has her riding a bicycle. Basically he does everything he can to make her look even worse.
Every time she's on screen, all i could think was, "How is this one of the few people who have survived?" She never sleeps. She carries no provisions. She has no survival plan. She has no place to hide during the night. In fact, she just wanders around at night when the vampires are out. She has no weapons (except of course for a large cross that she wears, even though she's an atheist - a cross which sometimes disappears for a few scenes, then reappears). And she can't run, or even walk well. She has no skills whatsoever. How has she survived? The only clue we get to her survival is at the beginning of the film, when a group of humans who serve the vampires capture her (easily). They're about to put her in their car, when they see a more attractive blonde and decide to get her instead, figuring they can always come back and get the fat girl later. So basically the vampires aren't interested in her. Poor girl, you get the idea that no one has ever been interested in her.
When the characters aren't preaching to the audience (and even sometimes when they are), there are some hilarious lines in this film. Like this line from Gwen: "I'm okay. As okay as I can be sitting in a Catholic church eating stew." And there is a girl, Mickey, who laments that she used to think vampires were cool and that Anne Rice was cool and on and on, but now sees how wrong she was. And then she blurts out, "I never wanted to see a dead baby." Not that we've seen any dead babies on screen or anything, or that any have been mentioned up to now.
And it seems that Mickey, before she returned to the church, was involved in a lesbian relationship with one of the vampires' servants. The only thing more frightening to Christians than vampires is of course gay people. But Mickey is over that bit of nastiness and has repented.
This movie also has - and this blew me away - a musical montage scene where the priest and the atheist and a few other people clean up the church to restore it to a proper Christian place. They remove corpses and rebuild crosses and on and on - it's like those wonderful 1980s montages where in the span of one song, a group of characters completes some impossible task. I never expected a scene like that in this film.
And of course because uptight Christians are really doing their best to hide their repressed desires, there are wonderful twisted sex scenes with flagellation and cutting and fur restraints (which i totally want, by the way). Of course, it's the "bad guys" who engage in such behavior - but it's clear that the filmmakers really enjoyed these scenes. They seemed to take more care on these than on any other scenes. Ah, if only these silly bastards could admit their true desires, the world would be a better place.
This insane pile of propaganda was directed Tony Mandile, who also co-wrote the script and even appears as an actor in the film. Ouch. This is the only film Tony directed, amen. And this is the only film that Pamela Karp (who plays Gwen) ever appeared in. Amen again.
Ways In Which "Kick-Ass" Sucks
1. First of all, the guy wears glasses, but when he's dressed as Kick-Ass he takes them off. He does not put in contact lenses. And this is not Superman. He actually needs the glasses. So how is he able to see, for example, when he flies the jet pack and shoots at the bad guys through the windows near the end?
2. Does anyone believe for a second that the teenage girl works at a needle-exchange program? And even if she does volunteer there, it would be on a Saturday afternoon with a lot of adult supervision, and she'd be filing forms or something. There is no way she'd be there alone at night. No bloody way.
3. The tone of this film is all over the place. Is it a fun, silly comic book movie? Is it a teen comedy? Is it a mob movie? Is it a serious family drama? Is it an over-the-top action film? It seems like five different editors were given various sections to edit, and each of them was told the film was a different genre. Or maybe five different directors.
4. How did Nicholas Cage begin to pay for all of his weapons? Remember, he was in jail for five years, and before that he worked as a police officer. Sure, in the film, we see them steal money from drug dealers. But what about before that - how did he pay for his costume and everything to start with? But that also brings up another issue - those drug dealers looked like small-time lowlifes, but apparently they had millions of dollars in their apartment.
5. What's the deal with the teenage girl assuming that the boy is gay just because two thugs beat him up? Did that make sense to anyone? Does every gay person get attacked by thugs? Is that how you know someone is gay? I hate this movie.
6. So when did Nicholas Cage develop his skill as a comic book artist? While working on the police force? Or during his five years in prison? And when his old police partner shows up at his house and sees his work, it's in an actual comic book form, all professionally put together and everything. So did Nicholas Cage hire a company to actually produce his work? And wouldn't that perhaps give away his plan to kill all of those people, since that's what the comic book is about?
7. The writer had troubles with math. At the beginning we see Kick-Ass, and there is voice over that leads us to six months earlier, when it all started. But then in that voice-over which takes place six months earlier, he says, "Over the next 18 months." Okay, so that takes us a year beyond our point of entry. A year into the future. Dumb-ass writer.
8. The voice over at the beginning is from the guy and he says he's not a jock, he's not a nerd, he's not this, he's not that. Basically it's saying he has no identity. And then in the film he takes on the fake identity of a super hero. But the film never addresses that issue, of a teen finding and molding his own identity. If the film had decided to stick with its more serious tone, it could have explored this issue and it might have been an interesting film.
9. This movie has absolutely no idea what its target audience is. You would think it's aimed at 12 and 13 year old boys. But it's rated R. So those kids can't see it. So then you have to assume it's aimed at adults. But if it's aimed at adults, then why have all the stupid crap that the kids will identify with?
10. Has anyone ever been to a comic book store that also has a restaurant in it? Comic book store owners are seriously paranoid about the condition of the comics. There is no way they'd want food anywhere near the comics.
11. The CG flat-out sucks. How about that ridiculous shot of Nicholas Cage on fire? Did a child draw those flames in? I think so.
12. Sorry, but I don't want to see a mob boss punching an 11-year-old girl in the face. I just don't.
13. There is that stupid scene where one person (in this case a child) runs down a hall and manages to kill like a dozen or more professional killers without getting even a scratch (though they're all shooting at her).
14. How old is Hit Girl anyway? At some point in the movie someone says she looks like she's eleven. That seems about right. But at the end she's going to high school. So is she fourteen? She doesn't look it.
Okay, this is all just off the top of my head. There is a lot more wrong with this stupid film, but i need to get on with my day.
Poison Ivy II (1996)
Which is worse: the script or the score?
I've just finished watching this insanely bad movie, and I'm having trouble deciding which is worse - the script or the music. It's a tough choice. I actually was in the mood for a bad movie tonight, but a fun bad movie. And that's exactly what I expected from this. Also, I watched the unrated version, so I expected a few sexy moments. Sadly, there are none. There is nothing the least bit erotic about this movie. Even if you watched it with the sound off to avoid the horrible (and horribly intrusive) music, the lighting is so bad, and the shots so poorly composed, that the sex scenes are boring and irritating. And then there's the script. Johnathon Schaech's character has slept with Alyssa Milano's character twice and then says, "I don't even know who I'm making love to anymore." Really? After sleeping with her twice? It's after a Halloween party, and they've established that she showed up to campus two weeks after the semester started. So she's been there, what, a month? The back of the DVD box calls it an erotic thriller. It's not erotic, and the director tried to make it a thriller when there was just under 13 minutes left in the film. Suddenly there is a shadow lurking outside her window, and then someone coming up the stairs, with those ridiculous early 1980s-type shots. Right before this we had the only bit in the film that made me laugh - the teacher's child suddenly running out of the house in slow motion. Oh no, is she heading toward the road? What could possibly happen here? Will there be a car? Will she get hit? Will we get the closeup of the headlights? Will her stuffed animal go flying up in the air, also in slow motion? Of course. Terrible. How do the writer and director of this film live with themselves? And at the end, Alyssa Milano's character explains everything that she's done, everything that's happened in the film, in a sort of apology to Jonathon Schaech's character, while he seemingly ignores her and continues work on his backyard sculpture. And then when she's done telling us everything that we just watched, will she walk away, only to hear Jonathon Schaech say, "I love you"? And will the music swell insanely right then? And is that the end of the film? Yes, yes, yes.
Live Wire (1992)
The only FBI agents who don't bother following any leads
Let me start off by saying there were several scenes that I enjoyed in this film. And I think Pierce Brosnan did a good job. What I had trouble with was the fact that in the courtroom scene, Brosnan notices the criminal make eye contact with a suspicious-looking man, who then gets up and leaves. Brosnan figures out that there is a bomb in the courtroom and gets everyone out (well, almost everyone) - and he's figured this out by the look exchanged by those two men. He got a very good look at the other guy. Yet, they never follow up on that lead. It's a courtroom in D.C. Surely there is surveillance footage they could be going through to identify this man. They never do that. They forget about him entirely. In fact, Brosnan never mentions this guy to anyone. Also, when they figure out that the terrorists will next target Ron Silver (because of a certain bill that he sponsored), Brosnan goes over to his house - but instead of questioning Silver about who might be against this bill, who might want him dead, he just yells at him to stay away from his wife. And then later when they figure out that what the bomb is, and how it's detonated, they also figure out a very easy way to defuse it. I won't give it away here. But suffice it to say that in later scenes with a bomb, they never bother to try this method of defusing it. It's sloppy writing. A bad script, with some good actors, some poor direction, and a terrible score.
Funny Games (1997)
Perhaps the most manipulative film I've ever seen
All films manipulate the audience - of course that's true, just by their nature. But watching this film, you just get the feeling that the director feels he's so much smarter than his audience. If you get the DVD, there is an interview with the director, where he says something like, "If you watched the film to the end, then you needed to see it to the end." Basically he's saying that if you watch the whole film, then you're the type of person who needs to learn the lesson about how violent movies manipulate their audiences, how they engage the audiences to cheer the violence. That's a pretty bloody conceited and arrogant stance. Also, in the interview, he says that he hates writers who think of their characters as weak or unintelligent, and that he himself gives his characters intelligence. This is a lie. The wife in this film is an idiot. When she first meets one of the attackers, he seems harmless enough, but he's wearing surgical gloves. She doesn't find this the least bit odd? She doesn't even seem to notice, though when she hands him some eggs, her hands touch his. And then a little later she has a chance to get help, when a boat full of her friends pulls up to her dock. All she has to do is tell them to call the police, because at this point the attackers have already killed her dog and broken her husband's knee - so she knows they're serious. But she doesn't do this. She gives no indication that anything is wrong at all. In fact, she goes out of her way to show that everything is normal, even introducing one of the villains to her friends (which then leads to the predictable and annoying ending). So how intelligent does the director really consider this character? I have a problem with films in which a character can do something very obvious which will end the story right there, but doesn't do it. Still, the film has some pretty amazing moments, and is still worth watching. I thought about giving it a 5, but there is a scene that I thought was fantastic - I don't want to give it away here, but it's something I haven't seen before in a film. The director's entire point in this film is that violent films make the films' audience just as guilty of the violence as the fictitious villains within the films. And to show this, he has one of the villains talk directly to the audience several times. It is an interesting point, that audiences are complicit in the violence of the films they watch. But if that's true, aren't the writers and directors that much more complicit? And isn't this film itself a violent film?
By far, the worst movie I've seen this year
There is not a single moment, not a single frame of this film that has any worth whatsoever. First thing, they got the freak show all wrong. It's all CG, instead of hiring some actual freaks. The idea of a vampire finding a safe haven among the real freaks of this world is a good one. Unfortunately that was not an idea that the filmmakers had. They decided to go all out on the computer graphics to create a Freak Show that doesn't feel real for a moment. The entire world of this film is so fake and shallow that we never can find a way to enter it, and so the movie can never succeed. On top of that, not one of the characters is the least bit compelling. I don't care if either of the two stupid teenagers becomes a vampire or a spider or dead or a college graduate - it doesn't matter. They're empty, vacuous beings without the least bit of charisma. And poor Salma Hayek - playing the bearded lady whose beard, for some reason known only to the writer, grows only whenever she's aroused. Her character is basically a non-entity. But at least she doesn't have to appear on screen for very long. I just hope that John C. Reilly (an actor i love) got paid really well to appear in this horrible excuse for a movie. And please, no sequels. Just drop it. I will do my best to forget it. I only ask that the producers do the same.