To Queue or Not to Queue

As tumbleweeds blow through the dust bowls of our nation’s cineplexes — Sunshine CleaningThe Soloist…where are you? — March has become a great time to stack your Netflix queue and catch up on all of the films that slipped through the cracks the previous year.  From the colossal bombs (Blindness, Miracle at St. Anna) to the buzzed about but little seen indie character pieces (Frozen River, I’ve Loved You so Long) to the high-profile curiosities that just didn’t connect (Changeling), the question before us now is:  To Queue or Not to Queue? 

All five films, though vastly different in story, structure and execution, share concurrent themes of people pushed to extremes when faced with societal injustices.  Meanwhile four of the five are galvanized by commanding performances from females in lead roles, and three of those four depict mothers who will stop at nothing to protect their children. Continue reading

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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

A Review of Robert Zemeckis’ “Beowulf”

Chasing the Dragon, 18 November 2007
6/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

*The following is a review of the digital 3D version showing at select theaters:

Robert Zemeckis has always been a trailblazer with film technology. He was among the first to utilize CGI in “Death Becomes Her” and with his adaptation of the oldest surviving epic poem in the English language, he perfects the life-like digital computer animation he first experimented with in “The Polar Express”. Like his canon of films over the years, “Beowulf” is an eye-popping mixed bag of cinematic tricks.

The animation has come to a point where it is eerily life-like. In “Beowulf” every blade of grass, every tree branch, and every strand of hair has been painstakingly detailed. And while it is hard to tell the difference between the digital Angelina Jolie and the real Angelina Jolie, there’s still something about the human face, the nuances of the muscular features, the emotion running beneath, that this technology will never capture. It still depicts hollow, cold clones of real human beings that could never fully replace 3D flesh and blood.


What makes “Beowulf” so entertaining is the digital 3D technology. It creates some breathtaking vistas where you feel as if the landscapes are moving through you. In some of the more horrific scenes with Grendel, you’ll find yourself jumping out of your skin. Zemeckis is like a magician with this technology. He’s able to bleed something out of nothing by knowing how to get the reactions he wants from his audience with just the right sound effect, camera angle, and quick-cut to complete his trick. It’s often ugly, but quite breathtaking.

Zemeckis loses some ground when he relies too much on juvenile machismo grandstanding to further character development. Sure, I love a good death by chandelier scene or a man getting ripped in half by a monster bit as much as the next guy, but all the bawdy humor wears thin. Even lamer was the scene where Beowulf fights Grendel in the buff, which contained almost as many laugh inducing sight gags as the scene where Bart skateboarded nude through Springfield in this summer’s “The Simpsons Movie.”

The mixed bag of tricks and sometimes slow build-up, however, eventually lead to a totally thrilling finale where Beowulf does battle with the dragon his misdeeds begot. In 3D, it’s nerve-shattering fun. As an action adventure film, it makes the mark.

Ultimately you realize why this story has survived over 1200 years. “Beowulf” makes legendary the idea of a hero’s fallibility and the global consequences of the sins of the father. These are universal themes that have been sung again and again in everything from Shakespeare to this year’s best film, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.” While the technology used to make this film may seem dated in a few years, the story will live on, and this just may be the definitive “Beowulf” for high school English teachers to use in their lame attempts to connect with their students. The savvier kids won’t be fooled, but there’s worse ways to pass the time in class.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0442933/usercomments-110