Monthly Archives: March 2008

Movie Review: Southland Tales

In 2001, Richard Kelly became the new David Lynch with his indie cult sensation Donnie Darko. It lef the audience scratching their heads, but at the same time was hilarious and ultimately intriguing. After six years, imagine my excitement that Kelly’s second film Southland Tales, a dystopian thriller, was coming out. Imagine my dissapointment when it fell closer to Waterworld than Blade Runner or A Clockwork Orange.
Not to say it didn’t (or doesn’t) have the potential to be one of those films. It’s set in the summer of 2008 in los Angeles. After a nuclear explosion, the US has turned into a land of paranoia ruled by the patriot act, drugs, and violence. An actor (The Rock) is preparing for a role in a film about the apocalypse and discovers that the film’s ending could potentially predict the true ending of the world and be used to stop it. Also, something with The Rock being brainwashed by the government. That’s as much as I can tell you because that’s basically all that makes sense in this never-ending muddle.
This film had the potential for greatness but falls short, way short. Kelly could have cut off about 40 minutes. Also, it’s ok for a psycological thriller to confuse the audience, but they should have some idea of what the plot is. I still couldn’t tell you what this movie is supposed to be about and don’t care to find out.
Among some of the film’s finer points is the cast. It is one of the strangest casts of random actors I’ve ever seen. It ranges from SNL stars (Amy Poeler, Cheri O’Teri), third rate comedians (Jon Lovitz) and Justin Timberlake. They do their best with the awkward jokes and make them somewhat funny.
Now, I want Southland to be good, I really do. It’s a plot of political relevance concerning the dangers of paranoia and man’s destruction of themselves. If only it was told clearer. The film also lacks the charms of Darko which displayed spot-on suburban satire amongst its story of time travel and alternate universes. That charm is missing from this film. If Kelly takes a trip to the editing room with this film, I think it has the potential to be a masterpiece. But until then, Southland Tales is far from it.

Weekly Top 10

For my last top 10 list, I listed the greatest movie intros of all time. Pretty much as important as the beginning is the end. It can make the movie better and more interesting or even, ruin it. Here are 10 of the greatest movie endings of all time.
Warning: Spoilers ahead. If you plan on seeing any of these movies, skip them.
1. Chinatown- There is still no ending that could match its bleak and pessimistic view of the world. The woman is killed, the villain gets away with his crimes, and the hero is told to simply walk away. So dark and shocking. It jolted me out of my seat the first time I saw it and still remains the finest example of the fact that films don’t need to exist in a fairytale world: they can be as real as night and day.
2. The Shawshank Redemption- After finally being released from his life sentence after nearly 60 years, Red doesn’t think he can make it in the outside world. That is until he remembers his old friend Andy and his dream of going to Mexico. The final shot is the two men hugging and reuniting. It is a great feeling of hope and an uplifting ending that strives away from schmaltz. Makes me tear up every time.
3. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest- Free-spirited McMurphy winds up in a mental hospital just to get out of jail time, but as he grows more reckless, the doctors leave him dumb and brainless. Chief kills his friend just to put him out of his misery and then breaks through the window and runs away. It is an incredible ending that brings up life and death; hope and despair; sadness and joy all at the same time. It stirs you and makes you feel like you’ve never felt before.
4. The Good the Bad and the Ugly- After a standoff, the Man with No Name walks up with the gold. That’s not the important part though: it’s the standoff. It’s incredible tension that builds up for minutes with just a few stares. Without this ending, there would be no Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez.
5. The 40 Year Old Virgin- After 40 long years, Andy finally gets lucky. What better way to celebrate his joy? By rounding up the entire cast for a rendition of “The Age of Aquarius”. Each actor adds their brilliant comic skills to the song that will have you singing along. What other way could there have been to end one of the dirtiest, sweetest, and funniest comedies of the decade then something like this. Judd Apatow is the true king of comedy.
6. Jaws- Steven Speilberg is one of the greatest directors of all time but his one fault is usually the ending of his films. Here though, he hit it perfectly. It’s one shot of Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss. After their boat has been totally destroyed and the shark is dead, they paddle away together on the only piece of the boat that remains. A feeling of relief, and the thrill that we’ve just witnessed one of the best thrillers and the first true blockbuster ever made.
7. Wayne’s World- This movie isn’t given all of the credit it deserves as comic genius. It has three endings: a sad, a happy, and a very happy ending. The sad ending ends with Wayne and Garth loosing everything while carrying themselves out of their destroyed home. In the happy ending, Wayne gets the girl and the bad guy is foiled. But they settle for the very happy ending in which everything works out and everyone is friends again. Here the characters break the fourth wall and literally control the movie. Not to mention, it’s a brilliant inside joke on Hollywood’s love for extremely happy/sappy endings. To Wayne and Garth and the film’s creators I say: Party on!
8. Reservoir Dogs- A huge standoff, a bloody mess, and huge confusion. The conclusion to Tarantino’s first film ends with all the main characters, once friends, being betrayed and lied to and end up blowing each other away as the undercover cop is also about to die. One gets away with the diamonds (some people have theories about what happened to him). The very last shot is of Harvey Keitel, about to blow the brains out of a rat, getting shot down by the cops and falling dead. Wow.
9. Children of Men- This is one of few films from this decade I am proud to say will go on to be a classic and be reconsidered as a masterpiece. The ending will be talked about for years. Theo, a man who cared so little and now cares so much has served his purpose and saved the last child on earth and his mother. He dies but the Human Project comes to the rescue, Like the ending of Cuckoo’s Nest, it arises both a feeling of sadness yet utter joy and hope overcome it. In this movie exists a future without hope. In this world without hope, even the tiniest bit can save mankind.
Braveheart- “FREEDOOOOOOOM!” That’s all I’ve got to say.
Other Contenders: Casablanca, Amadeus, A Clockwork Orange, Sunset Blvd., Some Like it Hot, The Graduate, Full Metal Jacket

A Desperate Plea to Hollywood/Michael Bay Sucks

It is to my dismay to announce that Michael “I like explosions” Bay is planning a remake of Roman Polanski’s 1968 horror classic Rosemary’s Baby. I wish this were a joke, but it’s true. Why are they even bothering. The original just turned 40 but still remains one of the best horror films ever made. Bay has made blockbusters such as Transformers, Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys, and Armageddon. The brilliance of the original Rosemary was how the horror was built up on character development and surprise rather than relentless gore. Put Bay in front of the camera, and the film will include Rosemary’s apartment blowing up in a loud, unnecessary explosion as the devil baby is first discovered. My biggest fear is that this will come out and few will know this is a remake and instead be exposed to an unnecessary remake. So if any Hollywood executives happen to be reading this I beg of you, DO NOT REMAKE ROSEMARY’S BABY! There’s no need to. Not to mention the fact that the destroyer of art and the blockbuster Michael Bay is a terrible idea. Its been forty years since the movie came out, and I’m just taking a guess by saying that he is the demonic child that Rosemary unknowingly gave birth to and the eventual cause of the apocalypse.

From here on I call a boycott of Michael Bay until this idea of a remake is brought to the ground.

Celebrity Sighting

Approximatively two hours ago, I received a phone call from my brother Gabe that while walking on Houston Street in New York he ran into comedy God Jonah Hill (Superbad). He was too shocked to say anything but then again, I would be too. This is my brother’s second big celebrity finding, after once running into Stella‘s David Wain. I will keep you passionate readers up to date with any more celebrity findings (hopefully, a few I will actually get to encounter myself in person). Until then, please watch and enjoy Jonah Hill this coming Saturday on SNL.

Weekly Top 10

The opening of a film can be the most important part. It can last a few seconds or quite a while. It is to pull us into the film and introduce us to the characters. It can do so with a conversation, or an empty landscape, or an electrifying musical score. I now present to you, the best film openings of all time:
1) Apocalypse Now- The first shot is still, a shot of gently swaying palm trees. The shot looks so pleasent, it could’ve been shot in the back of grandparents’ Florida home. Then suddenly the silence is broken by rapid bomb fire to the tune of The Doors’ “The End”. All of the hell and unexpected chaos of war captured in one dialogue-free shot. Brilliant and haunting.
2) There Will Be Blood- A creepy buzzing sound gets louder and louder until its like an all around shout. The screens fade from black to a shot of some mountains. It is as if they are ablaze with fire, even though they look totally natural. Just that builds up all the heightening suspense and worsening evil to come in this epic masterpiece.
3) Reservoir Dogs- It’s just a bunch of strangers in sunglasses sitting around a table. They talk for several minutes in a conversation ranging from tipping to the definition of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”. It has nothing to do with the movie but reveals so much about each character’s personality. You want it to go on forever but sadly it stops, but at least the rest of the movie still lies ahead.
4) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas- It’s nearly impossible to capture the life and adventures of Hunter S. Thompson but this adaptation comes as close as anyone ever will. The beginning word-for-word follows the book as we see Thompson and his attorney driving through the desert in a convertible filled with drugs. This opening gives so much meaning to the writing, and a vision of what really happened on Thompson’s journey. What better way to get to know a character then by every drug he takes?
5) 2001: A Space Odyssey- It goes on for a near ten minutes. Ten undisturbed minutes of absolutely no dialougue and totally human-free. We get a glimpse of early man and his evolution and then witness one of the greatest transitions between past and future ever filmed. What a great opening is all about.
6) Once Upon a Time in the West- Another opening that silence is more powerful than speaking. The audience gets to glimpse at and study a group of scruffy looking cowboys waiting for a train, shattered by Charles Bronson’s gunshots. One of few movie scenes in which someone trying to swat a fly is actually captivating.
7) Goodfellas- The way opening is of a bunch of men driving down a highway in the middle of the night and then suddenly opening the trunk and stabbing to death a man inside of it. We then transition to the beginning of Henry Hill’s mob days with Liotta’s perfect narration. Scorsese jolts you out of your seat then blends in great humor and character study within just a few minutes. A genius opening to Scorsese’s best film.
8) Vertigo- James Stewart and a cop are chasing a criminal amongst high rise rooftops. Stewart slips and is hanging off the edge when a cop who tries to save him falls to his death instead. Hitchcock’s revolutionary zoom out/track shot terrifyingly shows the character’s fear of heights like it was ours. The master of suspense at the top of his game.
9) Raiders of the Lost Ark- It’s become iconic now; the image of Harrison Ford dashing from a gigantic boulder and outrunning savage Indians. We know the character isn’t going to die at the beginning, but Speilberg makes that perfect level of suspense where we seem to forget this fact and are more thrilled as to how Indy will make it out alive. The fun and adventure begins here.
10) The Big Lebowski- It seems cruel to leave a comedy off this list, for the opening is the best way to get the audience laughing and prepared for the film’s sense of humor. This one shows off Lebowski‘s very dark, odd humor as it opens with a desert tumbleweed traveling through the urban sprawl of LA until we meet the title character, The Dude, who’s head is dumped in a toilet as he is attacked for no reason except mistaken identity. This sounds cruel but just like the movie, the more you watch it, the funnier it gets. Points also for Sam Elliot’s perfectly droll and western-like narration.

What are your thoughts? Any other great openings to add to the list?

Movie Review: Across The Universe

The Beatles. Their songs defined a generation in strife and still ring true today. Few movies (if any) have ever been made that are totally inspired by a band. Only The Beatles could inspire an entire plot after them. Across The Universe gives this concept a try, and does okay.
The story follows Jude (Jim Sturgess), a Brit searching for his father in America and stays with a Princeton boy and falls for his sister, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). See, look at all the Beatles references already! Anyway, the two go on a journey from innocence to adulthood amid the Vietnam War and protest. Jude gets the American perspective on sex, drugs, and rock & roll while watching a generation change in revolution.
The movie is a musical using new versions of Beatles songs. Many work well (“I’ve Just Seen a Face”, “Let Me Hold Your Hand”) and some, don’t (anything Bono sings). The set pieces are elaborate and stunning. What the movie does best is put a perspective to the songs, and show how they relate to society and the message they spread. This is the movie’s strong point.
The weaker points may be in its story. Jude’s original purpose for coming to America is to find his father, but not much is done with that plot and the dinner table scene with Joe’s family seems laughably artificial (much of that scene reminds me of the Shoes video on Youtube). Many of The Beatles references are pretty corny as well: how many times do they have to say hey to the girl named Prudence before we get that that was the name of a song?
Overall, we have a film here that tries hard with great potential. There’s enough good material here so I can’t pan it, but there’s not enough to give it an all out rave, which is what I had hoped for. Unlike most musicals, the music is actually great. This might have been a better movie had they made the story work better and avoided
cliché. Ultimately, the story is about the power of music. How it can convey our emotions and describe the troubles of our times. Mainly, thanks to John, George, Paul, and Ringo.