A Review of “The X-Files: I Want to Believe”

CAPTION:  Hello?  Has anyone seen my career?

No Country for Old X-Files, 27 July 2008
5/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

The world is a greatly changed place since the heyday of The X-files.  Back in the late 1990’s the TV show was at its height and tapping into the shared fears of the day: fear of the unknown, fear of the impending millennium, and fear that something larger than us (the government or alien invaders) was up to no good. Flash forward to the year 2008 and we know all that hubbub about the millennium was for nothing, our government has been up to no good for years, and it’s not space invaders we need to worry about but other people terrorizing us. The murky, gloomy, grim style of The X-Files is now the norm with feverish and dark films like There Will Be Blood and The Dark Knight tapping into the mindset of culture today from opposite ends of the film spectrum.

Apparently creator Chris Carter didn’t realize his baby was irrelevant now. His only mission should’ve been to please the faithful. If he wanted to revive his series on film, he had best stick to the labyrinthine alien mythology that still has some die-hard fans buzzing, or at the very least deliver a fun stand-alone monster-of-the-week style flick that would make fans jump in their seats. With The X-Files: I Want to Believe he does neither of those things. Instead, he gives us a story where Mulder and Scully come out of hiding to work on a case where the FBI are using a psychic criminal priest to help locate a missing agent and track down a potential serial killer. The plot fits more into the mold of his far less popular companion series Millennium than it does to The X-Files.  Apparently Carter wanted to please no one except perhaps himself.

The weirdest thing about the film is that it isn’t all that bad. Carter as a director lays on some decent atmosphere (with all the global-warming defying snow and some eerie nighttime shots) and creates some palpable tension as the horrors of the case grow grimmer. The chemistry between Mulder (a lazy but effective David Duchovny) and Scully (an amazingly fully ranged and emotional Gillian Anderson) is still there, and Anderson’s performance is especially gripping. Billy Connolly, cast against type, gives an interesting turn as the corrupted priest searching for redemption through his visions that probably would’ve garnered an Emmy nod had this been a very special two-part TV episode. Also good is Amanda Peet, looking smashing in her smart FBI pantsuits.

Most interesting is the story arc given Dana Scully. I honestly had stopped watching the show after the sixth season, and aside from the mythology storyline that built up to the first film released ten years ago, I recall some of my favorite episodes being the ones where Scully questioned her faith and struggled with reconciling her Catholicism with her scientific approach to the paranormal investigations. This is again explored here, as Scully, always the skeptic, so desperately wants to believe in something. However, it’s an odd choice for Carter to focus on this internal human drama when he should be focusing on how to bring fans back into the fold. It would’ve been an interesting and compelling layer had Carter not been so inept with the rest of the plot.

In the end some fine performances and a moody atmosphere do not add up to a good time. Eventually it becomes an uncomfortable and anachronistic creep-fest that plays like the type of suspense thriller that ruled the roost in the mid-1990’s after films like Silence of the Lambs and Seven made police detection and serial killing popular entertainment. Well, it’s 2008, Mr. Carter, and it’s time to wake up from your prolonged nightmare that was rendered uninteresting in 2001.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0443701/usercomments-148

A Review of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight”

Terror in the Knight, 22 July 2008
9/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Director Christopher Nolan has tapped into a cultural zeitgeist with his soaring Dark Knight.  No other director has shown so much ambition while working within the context of such an iconic name brand belonging to popular culture. By building upon the excellent framework he set with Batman Begins and adding in the chaos of the Joker (Heath Ledger, legendary) and the tragedy of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart, admirable), Nolan, like Hitchcock before him, utilizes a B-level genre flick to tap into our shared cultural fears. Along with his co-writer brother, Jonathan Nolan, the director crafts a tightly wound tapestry that explores our archetypal fears of losing our identity and becoming that which we hate, while tuning into post 9/11 fears of terrorism, cowboy diplomacy, wire-tapping, and vigilante justice run amok.

The cast assembled falls right into place with Nolan’s epic and relentlessly dark vision of our current superhero mythology. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are again perfect in their supporting roles of wisdom and gadget providers, while Gary Oldman receives a surprising amount of screen time and delivers a sterling Oscar-worthy performance as the tormented Commissioner James Gordon. Replacing the dreadful Katie Holmes, Maggie Gyllenhaal is spry and feisty as assistant DA Rachel Dawes, but still seems out of place in her role. Bale is again brooding and effective as Bruce Wayne, though he gets overshadowed by the sly trickster that is Heath Ledger’s Joker. Ledger is everything he’s been hyped up to be. He’s scary good and his insanely nuanced and subversively humorous performance haunts the film while his character terrorizes Gotham with a feverish intensity that is divinely married to Nolan’s amped up tempo of thrills.

The opening moments of the film fall victim to the typical trappings of a sequel as it tries to reintroduce us to the cast regulars while setting the stage for new conflicts. However, once the Joker starts playing his games, Nolan ratchets up the tension to a nightmarish effect that will leave your pulse pounding for two hours. With each terrorist act of the Joker and ensuing catastrophe, Nolan ups the ante, resulting in a film that is enormously entertaining while also making the obvious bloated runtime seem oppressive and nerve-wracking…almost as if the film is a terrorist attack against the audience…

…and maybe that’s the point. With the opening camera swoop between skyscrapers zeroing in on a single window taken straight from Hitchcock’s opening shot from Psycho, Nolan tells the audience what they are in store for. Two more images, along with Ledger’s ghastly scarred and make-up covered visage, seep into the viewer’s subconscious. The first is after a building is exploded we see an image of firefighters spraying water over the scalding steel left behind that is eerily reminiscent of scenes from Ground Zero. The second is after a hospital is demolished, an image of the building’s carcass on the television seems taken straight from the Oklahoma City Bombing. As we watch the harrowing Joker-less climax involving Batman, Dent, and Gordon, and knowing in the back of our minds what became of Ledger in real life, we realize that terrorism can not only come from without, but from within. Sometimes we are our own worst victims.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0468569/usercomments-1186

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Check out my review of the original Batman Begins:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0372784/usercomments-501

A Tribute to Ingmar Bergman

Anything can happen; all things are possible and plausible. Time and space do not exist: over a minute patch of reality imagination will weave its web and create fresh patterns…”

–August Strindberg, Preface to A Dream Play (1902)

This spring I arrogantly went through my own self taught film school where I explored critically for the first time some of the defining works of legendary directors like Carl Dreyer, Fritz Lang, Carol Reed, Orson Welles, and Francois Truffaut, among others, many of which I have discussed and reviewed on this blog.  It seems foolish now to think I could sample all of the greats of cinema’s past in just a few short months.  What I came to realize is that my film school will never end as long as I continue my love affair with movies.  For all the careful planning that went into the selection of the films I explored and searched for, sometimes it is the film that finds me before I realize I had been looking for it all this time.  Thus is the case with Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander. 

Two kids lost inside Ingmar Bergman’s head.

My interest in Bergman began with his 1966 classic Persona, which had allured me since first seeing David Lynch’s 2001 masterpiece Mulholland Drive, as it was often quoted as a heavy influence.  Continue reading

Wanted: A Better Movie

It’s weird how one movie experience can affect another.

CAPTION:  Yeah, pretty much, what the hell?

Over the July 4th weekend I rented Be Kind Rewind and brought it over to my brother’s place to watch.  I had such high hopes for this flick.  I think it’s amazing what director Michel Gondry was able to do with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and I’ve enjoyed his sense of humor (in Human Nature) and melancholic whimsy (in The Science of Sleep).  It seemed like his brand of moviemaking would fit well with Jack Black’s style of comedy in this movie about a hapless trio of fools who remake classic films when all of the videotapes at a nostalgic rental shop are erased by radioactivity.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Be Kind Rewind desperately tries to capture the magic of independent filmmaking and is a complete failure.  There’s a scene where Jack Black’s character (after being made radioactive) urinates in the street, and his urine is glowing as it goes down the gutter.  That’s how I felt this movie treated films.  Be Kind Rewind is painfully unfunny, lacks a single authentic moment, and contains ridiculous stereotypes pretending to be characters.  It also paints a view of the greater NYC area of northern New Jersey that is like a pot smoking Frenchman’s view of America after watching a marathon of What’s Happening on TV.  This is an insulting film to avoid at all costs.  It’s so awful and unforgivable, I’m not sure if Gondry can ever recover from this.

Embarrassed I had rented it, and wanting to wipe it from our memories, my brother and I headed out to the multiplex for some old-fashioned mindless fun and saw Wanted

CAPTION:  Angelina Jolie, professional bad-ass.

The whole comic-book inspired “average schlub is picked to join mysterious fraternity of assassins” plot didn’t exactly interest me, but everything else about the film appealed to my basest moviegoing desires.  Directed by Timur Bekmambetov (say that five times fast) and starring a tattooed Angelina Jolie and a willful James McAvoy, Wanted is sadistic, profane, action-packed fun.  Our Russian pal Timur was previously responsible for the kinda cool Night Watch and its kinda stupid sequel Day Watch.  With Wanted, he shows no restraint, and crafts a bombastic movie that, like Be Kind Rewind, defies all logic and doesn’t make a lick of sense, but who cares?  What’s not to like when we get to see Jolie stepping out of a bath and one of the most amazing action scenes ever orchestrated involving a train, a car, and a bridge over a giant gorge?  Did I mention the giant army of explosive rats and the magic “Loom of Fate”?  Oh, yeah, there’s all that and more.  Sometimes all you need is a better movie than the last one you saw, and for us, Wanted fit the bill.

Written by David H. Schleicher

Mongolian Trailer Park

CAPTION:  Ghengis Khan is all up in this yurt.

So last week I saw that flick Mongol, you know, the new epic about Ghengis Khan made by a Russian director (Sergei Bodrov), starring a Japanese dude (Tadonubo Asano), nominated for an Oscar, and inexplicably released stateside in the middle of the summer movie season.  It was a pretty good movie that held my interest for two hours by exposing me to a culture I know little about and featuring a well played out historical epic story arc complete with requisite kick-ass battle scenes.  Sitting there getting frosty in the air-conditioned theater while the heat and humidity raged outside, I couldn’t help thinking this was a movie better suited for the prestigious autumnal season.  With the most gluttonous of film seasons in full swing (is The Dark Knight out yet?), I decided to take a look ahead at my favorite season in film and weather. 

Here I present my list of most anticipated movies for Fall 2008:

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1.  The Miracle at St. Anna  (scheduled release date:  9/26)

The Director:  Spike Lee

The Stars:  Derek Luke, John Leguizamo, James Gandolfini, Joseph Gordon Levitt, some cute Italian kid, Alexandra Maria Lara, and a boatload of other people and familiar faces

The Scoop:  Okay, so I will admit it right here, right now.  I love Spike Lee.  I even liked She Hate Me.  He’s a cunning provocateur who’s had numerous peaks and valleys in his career but just won’t stop no matter what and always seems to get his name in the papers–witness Clint Eastwood telling him recently to “shut his face”.  Spike is coming off the most commercially successful film of his long career with Inside Man.  With this adaptation of the novel by James McBride about a group of African-American soldiers trapped in Tuscany during WWII, he’s giving us his first epic since Malcom X.    The trailer for this film is a smashing success that manages to sell the film as both a murder mystery and a searing Saving Private Ryan style WWII drama.  This latest Spike Lee Joint has so many great things going for it:  an auteur on the precipice of a personal artistic and commercial Renaissance (much like the one Scorsese recently went through with The Aviator and The Departed); a great storyline that has the potential to provoke discussions of history, race, religion and politics in a historic Presidential election year; and a multi-ethnic cast that includes a cute Italian kid, and as a special bonus for me, the devastatingly seductive Alexandra Maria Lara, whose beauty alone made Francis Ford Coppola’s recent debacle Youth Without Youth worth watching.

Watch the trailer:  http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi3941007641/

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2.  The Curious Case of Benjamin Button  (scheduled release date:  12/19)

The Director:  David Fincher

The Stars:  Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Julia Ormond

The Scoop:  This is the fantastic case of a gimmick film (it tells the not so simple story of a man who ages backwards, folks) with a literary pedigree (adapted from a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald).  I first saw the trailer for this in front of the latest Indiana Jones flick, and the packed house was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.  Its epic scope appears to be a complete departure for director Fincher, and its unique story and images sweep over you in the masterfully crafted trailer-much kudos thus far to the marketing team.  This film has the potential to be monumentally huge or just another curiosity grabbing for Oscar gold at Christmastime.  Will Fincher (robbed of an Oscar nod for Zodiac last year) and uber-star Pitt (robbed last year for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) finally get their due?

CAPTION:  Two Oscars please, my good man!  Oscars for me and the Finch!

Watch the trailer:  http://www.apple.com/trailers/paramount/thecuriouscaseofbenjaminbutton/

Official Site:  http://www.benjaminbutton.com/

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3.  Australia  (scheduled release date:  11/14)

The Director:  Baz Luhrmann

The Stars:  Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Australia!

The Scoop:  Baz the Spazz changes gears completely with this big historical epic depicting heroism and romance against the backdrop of a Japanese attack on Australia during WWII.  The trailer sells the imagery and scope of the film very well, making it look Gone with the Wind Down Under, though the frame story of Kidman telling a fairy tale to the Aborigine girl seems a bit strained (and remarkably similar to Tarsem’s The Fall.)  Luhrmann appears to have abandoned his hyper kinetic style for the dreadful sumptuousness that always seems to sell tickets during the big holidays at the end of the year.  Kidman and Jackman certainly look the parts, and lord knows they could both use a big hit.   Will critics be eager to embrace the new Luhrmann after a seven year hiatus?  More than any other film, I think critics have the chance to make or break this one.

Watch the trailer:  http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi2917663001/

Official Site:  http://www.australiamovie.com/

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4.  The Soloist  (scheduled release date:  11/21)

The Director:  Joe Wright

The Stars:  Robert Downey Jr., Catherine Keener, Jamie Foxx

The Scoop:  Brit Joe Wright atones for his period pieces by making this American set musical biopic.  Downey Jr. is back on the A-list, the director is taking on a genre held in high favor in recent years, and playing a schizophrenic musical genius seems right up Foxx’s alley.  There are no trailers or official sites yet, but I can’t wait to see what kind of tracking long shots Wright cooks up for this one–I’m picturing a shot the begins with an overhead dolly and travels down and through the crowd and orchestra at a grand concert hall.

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5.  Revolutionary Road  (scheduled release date:  12/26)

The Director:  Sam Mendes

The Stars:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

The Scoop:  I have to admit, the plot of this one (from a novel by Richard Yates) sounds like a snore-fest:  a young couple in 1950’s Connecticut deal with problems and such.  However, Mendes has yet to make a bad film, suburban dystopia is his bread and butter (American Beauty, anyone?), and the reunion of Titanic stars Leo and Kate in a Christmastime release give this film some palpable buzz.  No trailers or official site have appeared yet. 

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Other Films of Interest:

Changeling:  10/31.  The latest from Clint Eastwood has some mixed buzz coming from its Cannes’ premier.  This 1920’s set psychological thriller about a mother who begins to doubt the identity of her young son who has been returned to her after going missing will have a hard line to tow while it tries to convince people it’s not a remake of a horror film with the same name and is instead a prestigious Oscar bid for its uber-star Angelina Jolie.

Defiance:  12/2.  Yet another WWII epic, this one is based on a true story and staring Daniel Craig.  Directed by Edward Zwick, the film of course reeks of quality, and the trailer has been getting some good buzz (at least amongst my friends and family), but it looks nobly cliched to me.  If that new Spike Lee Joint strikes a cord, this runs the risk of being overshadowed as the later release.

Watch the trailer for Defiancehttp://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi2008154393/

Oh, yeah, there’s also a new James Bond flick (Craig again) idiotically entitled Quantum of Solace (11/7), and a wacky crime caper from Oscar darlings the Coen Brothers zanily called Burn After Reading (9/12) and staring, you guessed it, Brad Pitt.

Watch the Quantum of Solace trailer:  http://www.moviefone.com/movie/quantum-of-solace/26922/trailer?trailerId=2150289

Written by David H. Schleicher