Wednesday, November 30, 2005

 

Rent, he said 2.0


Chris Columbus is a hack. That may sound harsh, but seriously, when "Adventures in Babysitting" is the highlight of your filmography, maybe you missed your calling. "Rent" is his movie adaptation of the much-hailed stage musical. I have never seen "Rent" on stage, but from the movie, I fail to see what all the fuss is about. It is an overly preachy celebration of hedonism that is filled with cheesy characters trapped in a story one expects to see on NBC Daytime singing awkward lyrics. The music (not the lyrics) and some (not all) good performances are really the only saving grace.

The cast of the movie is mostly made up of the original cast of the stage show with added newcomers Rosario Dawson (Mimi) and Tracie Thoms (Joanne; also of TV's late great "Wonderfalls"). Thoms, for me, was the strongest of the cast and her character was also the only one I believed. She feels like a real person with real problems (albeit one who expresses those problems in song). The others just seemed like singers not actual characters.

A nitpicky aside: Who's bright idea was it to set this in 1989? I'm not sure if that's when the stage version is set, but the movie's opening narration clearly says that it's Christmas 1989. Okay, then why does one of the lyrics refer to "Thelma & Louise" which didn't open until 1991?

Now, I apologize for this shortened review, but the end of the semester is nigh, and I am swamped with papers to write and finals to study for. Rather than go into detail on my other problems with the movie, I will leave you with this excerpt that does a good job of expressing many of my complaints:

The characters are defiantly anti-bourgeois and anti-authority. Consider simply the opening scene: They feel free to live in buildings they neither own nor have leases to and are resentful of being expected to pay rent. Getting a job is considered "selling out."” As voiced in the main musical number, "“La Vie Bohme," "To loving tension, no pension/To more than one dimension/... Hating convention, hating pretension/Not to mention, of course/Hating dear old Mom and Dad/To riding your bike/Midday past the three-piece suits/To fruits, to no absolutes."”

This worldview taints some otherwise noble sentiments and actions in this story. It's heartbreaking to see the members of the HIV support group rely on nothing more than vague feel-goodism to get through the day. Beyond that, they seem to have no hope-or even awareness that there is hope. Similarly, advice to forgive past wrongs and to seize the day, otherwise admirable counsel, is rooted in nothing more than mere sentiment.

There's no doubt that Larson (who died unexpectedly shortly before Rent premiered Off Broadway in 1996) was a skilled writer, and the music of Rent is particularly good. The lyrics, on the other hand, are often questionable, and Larson sneaks a degenerate worldview past undiscerning viewers by means of that great songwriting.

As actor Jesse L. Martin explained, "I think there'’s something in the music for Rent that allows people to open up in a way that they wouldn'’t if they were just talking. If I just told you that [my character, Tom Collins] has AIDS and that I'’m probably going to die and this is my girlfriend, who is a drag queen, it just wouldn'’t be the same. But because we’re singing about it, what I'’m saying seems a bit easier to take." Idina Menzel, who plays Maureen, added, "“Music has a weird way of sneaking up on people and making them feel something they wouldn't necessarily feel if they were being preached at."

Indeed. Whether moviegoers are aware of it or not, they'’re being preached at. And this sermon contains a romanticized glorification of a lifestyle-be it homosexuality or what should now be called neo-bohemianism-that despite the movie's upbeat conclusion ends ultimately in hopelessness.
-Written by Tom Neven, Plugged In, 2005

Also, I agree almost completely with Roger Ebert's review of this movie.

I had always wanted to see "Rent." Since I knew it would be quite a while before I ever had a chance of seeing the show, I was looking forward to the movie. The movie is not good. It falls prey to many of the hackneyed characteristics of Columbus' other works. However, I was disappointed by the story as a whole. I kind of hated it. I didn't like the characters or the songs. At least the movie helped me realize that I never really need to waste time or money on seeing the show. I'm sorry "Rent" fans (e.g. Patricia), but "Rent" is no "Once More, With Feeling."

What did you think about this movie? Are you a fan of the musical? The movie? What is your favorite musical?
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Sunday, November 20, 2005

 

GUY'S NIGHT OUT: Walk the Line, he said 5.0


Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon each give one of their best performances to date as Johnny Cash and June Carter. The performances from these actors and others such as Robert Patrick (as Cash's father) are what make this movie stand out. The story is moving and well-told, but it follows the by now clichéd rag-to-riches-to-drugs-to-rehab-to-renewed-fame "Behind the Music" pattern. Of course, it wouldn't be a cliché of rock star biopics if it were not true. Now, I am not an adept when it comes to the life of Cash so I am unsure how accurate the events depicted in the movie are. Certainly there were some dramatic licenses taken. It would be impossible to depict the complex life of such an icon as Johnny Cash entirely true to form. Likewise, I do not think any actor is capable of truly capturing just what made Cash Cash, but I cannot imagine anyone coming as close as Joaquin Phoenix.

The movie is framed by Cash’s legendary comeback concert at Folsom Prison. The pounding of the band and the prisoners creates a sense of excitement as the movie opens on a rowdy group of prisoners awaiting Cash to take the stage, and despite a lengthy (nearly the entire film) flashback between this opening and the actual performance, that excitement does not wane.

I cannot say anything about Phoenix’s and Witherspoon’s performances that has not already been said except they are more then worthy of all the praise they have been getting. Ginnifer Goodwin is solid as Cash's first wife, Vivian. Robert Patrick (better known to us X-Philes as Agent Doggett) also gives one of his strongest performances as Johnny’s father, Ray. Patrick also played Elvis Presley’s father, Vernon, in last spring’s CBS mini-series “Elvis.” Speaking of Elvis, he’s in this movie too. When Cash first signs with Sam Phillip’s Sun Records, he goes on tour with other future legends such as Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. Can you imagine seeing all of them in concert together like depicted in the film? I cannot fathom a better night of musical performances. Other musical icons make appearances in the film such as Waylon Jennings, Roy Orbison, and Maybelle Carter. The music of Cash and his contemporaries drives the film and it is performed amazingly well by the actors with no dubbing or “help” of any kind.

I was glad that the movie did not attempt to tell Cash’s entire life story in two and a half hours. Rather, it focuses on his rise to fame, struggles with drugs, and infatuation and pursuit of June. The movie makes us feel the pain that Johnny feels at the loss of his brother, the rejection of his father, the destruction of his own marriage, and his decent into drugs, but it also provides us with the elation that Johnny feels when he performs and the love he has for June. The movie ends much sooner in his life than I expected. In fact, I was so engrossed in it, that I did not realize so much time had passed. I had no idea we were near the end of the movie until the screen went black. I would have liked to have seen the film at least acknowledge Johnny’s rediscovery of his faith after he got cleaned up. He lived out the rest of his life as an awesome testimony to the power of Christ, but there is no hint of that in the movie.

I was very unsure if I even wanted to see this movie. I just was not sure if it would be good or not. The trailers did not really catch my attention, and all of the hype surrounding the performances was near the point of overload for me. However, the simple black and white poster intrigued me, and I am a fan of Phoenix so I decided to see it. I am so glad I did as this movie was one of the biggest surprises of the year for me.

What did you think?
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Saturday, November 19, 2005

 

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, she said 4.8


I saw this movie two times before I was able to properly understand the glory of this movie. There are two basis for forming an opinion of this movie. First, one can measure this movie against the book or, two, allow the movie to act as it's own entity. I choose to do the latter. A movie can never stack up when compared to the original book, ones imagination is far more powerful than anything depicted on the big screen.

All I really have to say is that the movie was great. The Interactional triangle between Ron, Hermione and Harry is much more realistic than in the previous movies. I would have liked to have seen more of the adult characters more but there is only so much that can be fit into one movie.

I cannot wait to see it again, and again, and again.
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Saturday, November 19, 2005

 

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, he said 3.0


I have been racking my brain on how to best summarize my thoughts on "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," the lastest movie in the intended seven part series based on J.K. Rowling's blockbuster books. After much deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that Harry Potter movies are the new James Bond movies. Decent, mildly exciting movies that offer a fun night at the cinema but are hardly memorable (I am excluding the Connery 007 films from this comparison). Both series have definitely become part of the pop culture lexicon, but neither really offer any stand-out films and have not made the larger cultural impact of more significant film and/or book series such as "Star Wars" or "The Lord of the Rings." "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" is an enjoyable, though fault-filled movie, but I can barely imagine watching it again and will have probably forgotten it completely within the next decade.

Now, I have read all six of Rowling's Potter novels. I consider myself a fan, albeit a mild one. "Goblet of Fire" is possibly my favorite book of the series. Overall, the film adaptation was decent, but compared to the book, I have some major grievances. So this review is going to be slightly different than my typical reviews. First, I am going to attempt to judge the movie from a neutral standpoint as best I can. Then, I am going to discuss my problems with the transition from page to screen and some looming problems that I predict for the rest of the film series.

"Goblet of Fire," like its immediate predecessor "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," is alleviated of the slavish devotion to the books that plagued Chris Columbus' adaptations of the first two stories. Mike Newell, the first British director for the series, and screenwriter Steven Kloves faced a daunting task of focusing the narrative of the massive novel. Their results are mixed. The story is stripped to the bare essentials, but at times, I felt there was too much missing. I feel that if I had not read the book, I would have been lost, particularly the attitudes of some of the characters (like why was Ron being such a tool?). Some parts of the story are condensed so much, I wondered why Newell even bothered to include them (for example, the Quidditch World Cup and Rita Skeeter). Some of the film's elements that have been extensively hyped in all of the promotional press (notably, Cho Chang and again, the World Cup) are barely in the movie at all.

My favorite scene of the movie was the one that takes place in Dumbledore's pensieve. The element of the Potter story that I most enjoy is the larger story about Voldemort and the war against him. I love piecing together all of the clues about what happened when he rose to power and killed Harry's parents and the resulting witchhunts (pun somewhat unavoidable) in rounding up the Death Eaters and all the politics surrounding that. The pensieve scene is really our only glimpse of that in this movie, and I thought it was remarkably well done. Bravo! I also really liked the juxtaposition between the cheering crowd and the distraught Harry once he returns from the graveyard at the end. A very tense scene that I found very well done.

I think one of the greatest strengths of all four Potter movies is the costumes and sets, though the series is significantly weakened by a lack of consistency in the appearances of these. In the previous entries, I loved how the sets and costumes conveyed a sense of both the magical and the realistic. However, I feel that this movie goes overboard in making everything seem m-a-g-i-c-a-l. The opening scene and the climactic confrontation between good and evil are supposed to be set in a Muggle house and a Muggle graveyard, yet these sets are huge grandiose constructions that look nothing like what one would expect to find in rural England.

The lack of realism in the sets combines with other elements to infuse the movie with a cartooniness that I despise. Rowling's books create a world that feels real, like our own, but with magic. The magic is a normal part of these characters' lives, and it is treated rather matter-of-factly, as it should be. In the movie, that sense of otherworldly realism is absent. Nearly everytime something magical happens, the music builds, the characters tend to stop and gawk, and there are gaudy special effects that look like they were pulled out of the video game tie-in (this film series is constantly plagued by terrible, though slowly improving, CGI). The movie also treats all of the characters like cartoons, particularly the adults. These are the people who have fought a war. When I see them in the film doing over-the-top completely out of place physical comedy, I cannot picture them fighting a cockroach, much less an evil wizard. Why did Filch have to run into the Great Hall like that? Why does Barty Crouch look like Mr. Magoo? And there are enough awkward explanations of how things work or are going to play out to make Burt Ward cry "Holy exposition!" These things are completely unnecessary. Please.

The acting still leaves a lot to be desired. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) continues to improve with each movie. He's still stiff, but his talent is maturing with the character. Emma Watson (Hermione) and Rupert Grint (Ron, who is in serious need of a haircut. Dude looks like a girl, an ugly girl!) are still guilty of ACT-ing. I often cringed when they were speaking. Maggie Smith (as my favorite Potter character, Professor Minerva McGonagall) continues to be the best thing about the movie. When she delivers such strange lines as "We never use transfiguration as a punishment," she makes it seem so commonplace, that one gets that she really believes in what she is doing. Alan Rickman (Snape) is amazing as he is in all his movies. The other adults are okay. Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort) may be guilty of some slight overacting, but I cannot be sure as I was too distracted by the horrible design used for his character. I also miss John Williams' score.

These characters live in a world filled with magic. When Rowling writes, I can sense that she believes in this world. I do not think that the filmmakers believe in the material they are presenting. If they cannot get behind it, then how can they expect us to?


Now, on to my complaints about the movie as an adaptation of the book. Before I rip into it, I must applaud the decision to remove the subplot about Hermione liberating house elves. It was stupid in the book, and I am thankful that I did not have to suffer through it on screen.

I read this book around the time of the release of the first movie. As soon as I read the opening chapter, I said "That is going to be an awesome opening scene!" Alas, it was not. Now, normally I would not complain too much about something not looking exactly as I had pictured it, but I had such a cool scene in my head and this did not live up to it at all. Aside from my previous complaint about the set design of the Riddle house, this scene was just not creepy enough. I also felt that the title should not have been seen until after Frank was killed. I had pictured the movie opening with no music or title on this really creepy looking, but normal, old house. Frank wanders in and discovers Voldemort, Wormtail (who in my head looked way cooler than the stupid one in the movie), and company. Then Frank is killed. The screen goes black. We hear the familiar tune and see the title of the film and then Harry awakes. See what I mean? Mine is way cooler than their's.

My biggest complaint, however, is the final act. This is such a crucial moment for this story and the rest of the series. When Harry grabs the Tri-Wizard Cup and is teleported to the graveyard, the setting was not the only thing that changed. This also marked the moment when J.K. Rowling stopped writing for children and started writing for everyone. The return of Voldemort sets the stage for the war to come that will consume the remaining books.

I felt that this scene in the movie was a colossal missed opportunity. Voldemort looked ridiculous. Voldemort needs to be scary and powerful. Think of Emperor Palpatine, Saruman, or even the Wicked Witch of the West. All of these villains commanded the screen. You knew why their followers did not question them. They had power. When Voldemort and the Death Eaters finally show up in this movie, I was thinking "Why would anyone follow him?" If I were a Death Eater, I would be much more likely to do what Lucius Malfoy told me than Voldedork. He did not demand fear or respect. He looked silly not scary, like a bald Michael Jackson.

If the audience cannot be scared by Voldemort, then I fear that the remaining movies are going to fall flat. The war against Voldemort is what the next two books (and surely the yet-to-be-released seventh book) are all about. The success of the remaining movies will be dependent on how well Voldemort is executed, and if this ending is any indication, then I do not see the movies improving in the future.

What did you think about the new Harry Potter movie? Fun? Overrated? Awesome? Scary? Disappointing? Boring? Or just plain bad?
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Thursday, November 17, 2005

 

Zathura, she said 1.9


"No, no, no, no - please, make it stop!" I chanted in my head the entire first half of the movie. If I am not mistaken, hasn't this movie been made before? Oh, yeah - it was called Jumanji. Zathura can be divide into two parts. The first half was horrifically disappointing. The two boys Danny (played by Johan Bobo) and Walter (played by Josh Hucherson) played a duet for the first half of the movie. There were minor cameos from the father and older, self absorbed sister (I will talk about this more later). The chemistry between the two children was stale at best and the mechanical dialogue retarded the movie's progression. Granted, two adult actors would have a hard time selling this movie, but that is not a justification.

The youngest child miraculously discovers an old game and the creepily cliche basement. The two start the game and all of the sudden - NO! - there are in space. Each turns jettisons the duo further and further into space. On each turn the player gets a card that warns of the tragict danger to come (similar to the mystic orb in the middle of the Jumanji playing board.) During the first turn, the boys are threatened with a meteor shower and wake their sleeping sister. With the introduction of a new character, I was almost revised out of my boredom induced comatose. The sister was a dreadful character but she played the bitchy adolescent well. Then,to my dismay, the next spin of the wheel evoked chronically frozen sleep on the new, and much needed, character (the sister). NOTE: please excuse the following tangential moment. I am so sick and tired of the media and the population sexualizing our young people. In all honesty, I would not mind a 15 year on the big screen wearing short boxer shorts, and a tight small top (by the way that is was the older sister was wearing throughout most of the movie)if the representation was a reflection of what teenage girls really wear. The majority of the teenagers I know and interact with do not wear such revealing clothing. Too, the writers made the female teen and arrogant, self absorbed, lazy snit of person. No wonder there is such a wide age gap in this country. Adults have no reason to assume that teens in reality are not the same as teens in the media when their only definition of adolescent behavior is what they see in the media . Back to the movie....

Finally, the last half of the movie starts to pick up so steam. The game produces an astronaut and the older sister awakens out of her frosty slumber. There were some great suspenseful moments. However, the lizard aliens that attacked the group were ridiculously cheesy. If you liked the movie Jumanji (which I did) then you will hate this movie because it is just a cheaper, watered down version.

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

 

Zathura, he said 4.0


A movie earns instant cool points with me just for including certain elements. Among them are swordfights, superheroes, dinosaurs, scenes where the characters dance or sing to old pop songs, lasers, dragons, and jetpacks. So, I am not embarassed to admit that the main reason I wanted to see this movie is the shot from the trailer of an astronaut (Dax Shepard) blasting into the house wearing a retro-looking jetpack. Now a movie does get a free pass from me just for featuring an item from my cool factor list. It has to maintain its cool by being a good movie. "Zathura" keeps its cool.

"Zathura" is directed by Jon Favreau, who also directed "Elf" and starred in "Swingers." Favreau uses an intriguing blend of old-school movie magic and high tech digital effects to give a unique charm to the movie. It looks awesome but just "fake" enough that it could all be written off as simply a product of Danny's (Jonah Bobo) and Walter's (Josh Hutcherson) imaginations. The movie is based on a picture book by Chris Van Allsburg and is an unofficial sequel to "Jumangi" (though it is a vastly superior film with infinitely better special effects). Like its predecessor, "Zathura" is about two children playing a mysterious board game that comes to life and leads them on a thrilling adventure. The game itself looks ridiculously cool, and I really wish it had been a real game in my childhood (heck, I would play it now).

The child actors are surprisingly decent. Dax Shepard is great as an astronaut stranded in the game for fifteen years. There is a twist near the end of the movie concerning his origin that is my biggest complaint about the movie. I did not find it necessary at all. It was slightly confusing and really did not fit into the story very well. Tim Robbins makes a brief cameo as the father of the children. The movie even contains a heartfelt lesson about sibling rivalry.

I am a firm believer that all good children's stories need to be, at least a little, scary. Whether it is wicked stepmothers, flying monkeys, crazed chocolateers, Sith lords, disfigured Baby Ruth lovers, or He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named; children's stories are filled with fright. There is a certain satisfaction that comes to a child when he can watch the movie or read the book and make it through the end to see that the scary is not that scary after all. Whether the hero defeats it or one learns that the object of terror is really not to be feared, children can learn to overcome their fears along with their heroes. And as we who enjoy horror movies know, being scared is fun. "Zathura" is a great family film that contains just the right amount of scary in the form of meteors, basements, Zorgons (lizardlike aliens who eat kids), and sisters. As the children play the game, the film plays out more like a series of exciting vignettes. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time and could not stop grinning. It all made me feel like a big kid.

What do you think about this movie? What scared you most in the stories you read or the movies you watched as a kid? What elements are on your "cool" list for a movie?
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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

 

Shopgirl, she said 4.2


She did it again. Claire Danes never disappoints - wait, no that is right. I cannot think of a movie when I was not floored by her performance (so maybe Romeo and Juliet was a little disappointing but I will let that one slide). Steve Martin and Jason Schwatzman also were striking in this film. Martin with his calm and confident disposition was juxtaposed against Schwartzman's apathetic yet manic character. Danes character, Mirabelle, was trapped between these two leading men in a search for her own destiny. Shopgirl is the most comforting movie I have seen this fall. Let me explain.

During the movie, the characters' emotional responses felt more realistic than many romantic dramas. In a typical romantic drama, there is an exaggerated separation between the emotional highs and lows. In everyday life, people do not experience the cinematic drama that movies often depict. Because we are the ones interpreting the event, our emotional response is not heightened to the cinematic level. Reality does not have the extreme ups and downs that are often felt in a movie. Watching this continued state of perceived calm is very comforting.


Martin's character, Ray Porter, is also very comforting (even the name is soothing for visually and auditorally). Ray never committed to Mirabelle and even cheated on her at one point. Despite these classic relational shortcomings, as an audience member, I felt safe with him. Was it because he was an older man and had the father figure cliche on his side? Was it the past pain that beamed from his eyes? perhaps it was the combination of both. Maribelle, too, felt safe with him despite lack of commitment.

At the start of the film, Mirabelle, is listening to Dr. Joy Brown on the radio and Dr. Joy vents that, "Every woman needs to be touched. Physiologically, touch from even a stranger produces a response. depending on how long a woman is held depends on how much of these endorphins her body releases". When someone (male or female) is held a blanket of safety surrounds them. That sense of safe is what catalyzes the body's response to release the endorphins. This movie provides a temporary blanket of safety. Everything will turn out fine in the end - maybe not the way you expect it to happen - and more importantly you will live through the process of crossing the finish line.

The movie is not unnecessarily emotionally draining yet still provided a great message for me. The movie's message is different for everyone that sees the movie. So, gracefully walk to see this movie (I would say run but you should be in a calm sate of mind when you go see it).
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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

 

Shopgirl, he said 4.0


"Shopgirl" is adapted by Steve Martin from his own novella. The film is seemingly about Mirabelle Butterfield (Claire Danes) and the loneliness and disillusionment that comes with transcontinental transplantation. She is a twentysomething girl who has left her family in Vermont for the lights of Los Angeles. However, her dreams of becoming a successful artist are delayed by such things as student loans and mental illnesses. Mirabelle is lonely. When first we see her, she is standing alone behind the glove counter at Saks. She appears poised and professional,
much like she wishes to be, but behind the counter, we see her slouching and removing her shoes when no one is looking. Mirabelle goes home each night to a lonely little apartment. Even her cat ignores her. But the film is not really about Mirabelle.
Rather, it is about the two men who fall for her. Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman) and Ray Porter (Martin) are vastly different men. I use the term men loosely because neither of them really know how to step up and really be the kind of man a woman, like Mirabelle, needs. Jeremy is a man-boy. He is about the same age as Mirabelle, and he too is an aspiring artist, sort of. His apartment and clothes show that Jeremy has not fully left adolescence behind him. Jeremy meets Mirabelle at the laundy mat. Ray Porter is a wealthy fiftysomething divorcee. Ray meets Mirabelle at Saks because, as a logician, he is the type of person who can afford to shop at Saks.

Through Mirabelle, the film highlights the differences between these two men. Jeremy really cares for Mirabelle, but he has no idea how to be a "gentleman." When picking her up for a date, he honks the horn, and even then she must wait for him to clean the trash out his car before she can get in. He only takes her to the movies once she agrees to buy her own ticket. He has no clue how to treat her like a lady, and he is still shy and awkward around her like a schoolboy with a crush. This is highlighted in the hilarious phone call scene. Ray Porter, on the other hand, knows all the right moves. Whereas Jeremy first asks Mirabelle out by mooching change off her for the dryer, Ray Porter buys her a pair of elegant gloves from Saks. He walks her to the door and waits for her to go in. Ray is always a "gentleman," but he does not care for Mirabelle. He is only interested in having sex with her.

Through a series of self help audiobooks and a long bustrip, Jeremy learns how to treat a woman. Ray, however, never learns how to truly love a woman, and he realizes this. He tells Mirabelle that he likes to buy her things because that is easy for him, but he does little else for her. I often felt like Ray was using the power of his age and money to take advantage of Mirabelle. Martin plays Porter so that he comes off ambiguously creepy. The change in Jeremy and the lack of change in Ray are highlighted in two scenes. Near the end of Ray's relationship with Mirabelle, the two are seen in bed together. Ray has reached over and placed his arm on her. Once Jeremy has undergone his character change and is reunited with Mirabelle, the two are scene sleeping together with Jeremy completely holding Mirabelle next to him. Now this may seem insignificant, but earlier in the film, Mirabelle is listening to radio psychologist Dr. Joy Browne talk about the different ways a man can hold a woman postcoitally. She lists at least four different ways and ranks them. Ray's way does not rank high. The way Jeremy holds Mirabelle is described by Dr. Browne as the way that will make a woman feel most loved and "fully like a woman."

For me, the highlight of this film was the dichotomy between the two men. I liked the character of Jeremy the most and really enjoyed seeing him change. The film contained a haunting score and a fitting soundtrack. Claire Danes is adorably captivating. Jason Schwartzman and Steve Martin are both capable of being hilarious even in more dramatic roles. But you already knew that about them all (if you didn't, see TV's "My So-Called Life," "Rushmore," and "Parenthood" respectively). The film is a fascinating mixture of realism and stylism. It seems to have a lot to say about love and relationships, but it never hits you over the head with it. Rather, it leaves it up to you to decide.

What do you think?
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Thursday, November 03, 2005

 

The Legend of Zorro, she said 3.9


Sword fighting, Latin love, a man in disguise, thick accents - The Legend of Zoro has it all! Catherine Zeta-Jones and Antonio (how do you say, ah ,yes) Banderas are both aesthetically and emotionally scintillating on the screen. Their chemistry on the big screen is quite infectious. This could be for many reasons: one, Antonio Banderas had an ability to wrap any leading lady in his Latin yummy goodness; two, any time a director throws a action strategically around a love story one can't help but live vicariously through the lead characters; and three, please, who doesn't want an big screen love affair - no? well, loosen up some.

I am quite the fan of funny one-liners (not to say that I don't love the deep sorrowful monologues also but different moods call for different movies). The lines were perfectly placed, delivered and written. Delivering a perfect one-line is quite hard, however, Banderas makes it look easy. Jones was sexy and graceful on the screen, as always. I have not seen her play such a cheeky character in a long time and I really enjoyed her mixture of sass, whit and strength.

This one may have scored higher but the green screen effects at the end were horrifically disappointing. Why would you spend money on the film only to clearly reduce the budget at the end? The ending is the last impression and audience gets . If a producer is going to skimp on money, do it in the middle of the movie. When that happens the beginning can make up for the tight pocket's shortcoming.

if you are in the mood for a good movie and not looking for something to change you life go see Cathrine Zeta Jones and Antonio (how do you say, ah ,yes) Banderas in The Legend of Zoro. Please note, I have not seen the original movie.
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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

 

The Legend of Zorro, he said 3.0


I am a big fan of what I like to call adventure movies. You know the kind with fun characters thrown into exciting situations who perform thrilling feats of derring-do with lots of action (but not an "action" movie filled with guns and explosions and gratuitous swearing)? My favorites of the adventure genre include the Indiana Jones trilogy, "The Adventures of Robin Hood," "The Goonies," and more recently "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl."

The 1998 predecessor to this film, "The Mask of Zorro," was a fine example of a great adventure movie. This film is not. all this will be invisible until you click on the title Whereas the swordfights in "Mask" were thrilling, here they are hackneyed. The humor sprinkled throughout the first film was charming, but in the sequel, it is overused and childish. Replace the intriguing backstory and chilling villain of the first film with a confusing and out-of-nowhere conspiracy and bad guys who combine elements of the worst Bond and Looney Tunes nemeses. In addition, substitute Sir Anthony Hopkins with an annoying kid and change the the engaging lead characters into caricatures and one has "The Legend of Zorro."

I am surprised that the same director (Martin Campbell) helmed both films they are so disparate in quality. Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones once again shine as Zorro (or Don Alejandro de la Vega) and Elena. Both appear to be a having a lot of fun despite the writers ruining their characters. The ending contained some horrible CGI and shoddy green screen work. Also, much of what happened throughout the film, but particularly near the end, seemed to happen for no other reason than the script said so. At least the exciting Spanish score (which will always take me back to my high school marching band's half-time show from sophomore year. Yes, I was a band geek) remained.

What do you think?
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