April 2011 posts
After a few short welcoming remarks from a white-scarf-adorned Ebert, via his laptop’s robotic voice, Ebertfest 2011 was officially underway in downtown Champaign, IL’s gorgeous Virginia Theater with one hell of an opening night feature: the beautifully restored and artfully reconstructed original cut of noted German a-hole/genius director Fritz Lang’s magnificent 1927 silent masterpiece Metropolis, accompanied by the always amazing Alloy Orchestra. Featuring 30 minutes of previously lost footage found in a Buenos Aires private collection in 2008, this version of Metropolis clocks in at a staggering 150 minutes that manages to delight, unnerve, and downright creep out more than ever. (Check your cable listings for Metropolis Refound, a short doc making the rounds on basic cable detailing this amazing reconstruction.) And while you’re online—stream the reconstructed version of Metropolis in HD on Netflix.) While this version was released in 2010 on DVD/BluRay (and streaming in HD via Netflix), the one thing you won’t get at home is the transcendent experience of the Alloy Orchestra’s genius (and often very loud) original score, a stunning bombast of various synthetic yet naturalistic orchestral strings and organs, weird metal springs that make weirder noises, chimes, low-tuned cello, and, heh, a rain stick. One of the most exciting and entertaining moments these viewers have ever experienced in a theater. Thanks, Eb! Read more »
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988/DVD)
For the Easter season, I thought it would be good to touch on this now rather than later in the year. This one of Martin Scorsese‘s least celebrated films due to the politics surrounding it, but they are not a reflection upon the movie itself. The movie is based upon the novel of the same name by, Nikos Kazantzakis. The book is credited as a work of fiction and the movie specifically states that they novel is the source material for the movie and not the Gospels from the New Testament. That being said, the film is centrally based around the story of Jesus’ journey mentally and physically towards Jerusalem and his destiny. The role of Jesus is played by Willem Defoe, Harvey Keitel as Judas, Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene, David Bowie as Pontius Pilate, Harry Dean Stanton as Saul/Paul, and a nice cameo by the late Irvin Kershner as Zebedee. The screenplay was written by Paul Schrader.
Much like the book, the movie faced harsh criticism from Christian groups seeking to prevent it from being made let alone being shown in theaters. While there are many controversial issues within both the novel and the film, such as the use of sex and nudity specifically with the role of Jesus. There are two main issues that stem from both that caused for the controversy surrounding them. The lesser of the two issues is the portrayal of Judas. In the film, Judas is portrayed as the most trusted of all of Jesus’ companions. This results in Jesus asking Judas to perform the most important task in the entire story, being the betrayal of Jesus. This runs opposite of most interpretations of the New Testament, and sparked interest in what other elements were not true to the Bible. This results in the most controversial of all of the elements of the movie, the Temptations. If it were a R&B group, there would probably be another musical on Broadway right now, but these represented something far larger than just entertainment. The element of the Temptations show the humanity of the character of Jesus. The novel and the film echo many elements of the Gnostic Gospels, creating much of the animosity for each. This culminates, in both, with the final sequence depicting Jesus married to Mary Magdalene with a family and the creation of that family. While the final temptation is rejected by Jesus, to some groups this was stepping way over their line. Read more »
SUPER (2010/IN THEATERS)
So, Kimberly: ANOTHER real-life-average-Joes-become-super-heroes movie. After sitting ALL OF THE WAY THROUGH Kick-Ass, and hating myself for it (but mostly hating the makers of Kick-Ass), StL boy-done-good writer/director James Gunn’s new foray into this ever-blossoming genre, Super, wasn’t all that appealing to me. But when word came ’round that Gunn would be attending the opening night screening at St. Louis cinema’s crown-jewel, The Tivoli, and there would be a Q&A to follow, I bit. I like Q&As. They are weird.
As was with Kick-Ass, Super has polarized critics and audiences alike, mostly due to the bait (comedy-romp) and switch (blood-soaked, ultraviolent drama) of its ad campaign. The thing is, it is both a quirky black comedy AND a bloody, ultraviolent indie drama, and it’s very good. YES, the violence is balls-out exploitative, duh. This is the guy that wrote Tromeo & Juliet and wrote/directed the awesomely slimy horror-comedy Slither, not to mention the deadly serious fast-moving-zombies script he wrote for the top notch Zach Snyder Dawn of the Dead remake. (Uhhh, we’ll just forget that he also wrote the nearly unwatchable Scooby Doo movie [herewith referred to as, appropriately enough, Doo], though it did bring him some kind of recognition for being the only screenwriter to open two number #1 movies in two consecutive weeks. I forgot Doo was such a big hit! No matter, for me it will always remain number, um, two, in my book.) But Super‘s ultra-realistic violence is presented in such a weird, often lighthearted way (at least until the last act, which shifts gears from black comedy to just plain deep black. None more black.) that it disturbs and unsettles, which seems to be what the director was shooting for. Is he interested in making a point? That’s open for interpretation, maybe, but I’ll personally take it as an above-average, often darkly funny character study about sad, mentally unbalanced oddballs spiraling into violent, bloody madness. It worked for me in a way that Kick-Ass did not, mostly due to this film’s being grounded so well by Rainn Wilson’s heart-wrenching performance as Frank, a heartbroken and kinda dumb diner cook who, after being dumped callously by his wife (Liv Tyler) for a strip club owning sleazebag played to the nines by Kevin Bacon, is inspired by a whopper of a holy vision to become a red-suited, brutally pipe-wrench wielding, evil-fighting superhero called Crimson Bolt. As violent and weird as Super is, with Wilson’s gonzo performance at its center, it is definitely not without heart. And while the coda might be too uplifting or neatly tidied-up for some, it totally worked for me. So there.
WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (2011/ IN THEATERS) If the matinee I attended is any indication, this movie should do quite well at the box office this weekend. Based on the word-of mouth bestseller by Sara Gruen, the film is true to the book and maybe even better with an old Hollywood glamorous feeling—lush cinematography thanks to Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain, Biutiful), big music from James Newton Howard (so many films you can’t name them all), and big acting from two Oscar winners—Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz—and a young star hopefully on the rise—Robert Pattinson of Twilight fame. Pattinson has the main role as Jacob Jankowski, a young veterinary student at Cornell who is short-circuited by the death of his parents and hops a train that turns out to belong to the Benzini Brothers Circus. As luck will have it, he is welcomed for his skills as a vet and joins the motley crew. The film is set in the depression—1931 to be exact – and is told as a giant flashback by a 90-ish Jacob, who remembers back to the fateful year when he joined the Circus and fell in love with Marlena (Witherspoon), the beautiful star attraction who is married to Circus Manager August (Waltz), a mercurial and often cruel figure. Those who have read the book will know the rest of the story. The elephant in question is “Rosie” who, as in the book, is a star attraction herself on film and whose entrance into the picture marks a turning point for the main characters. The movie is already getting so-so reviews and many have commented that there is no “chemistry” between Pattinson and Witherspoon. But I found they were more than adequate for this old-style film. Pattinson has a great face for a period drama—he could have lived in the depression. Witherspoon is not exactly the sexy femme-fatale called for in the book, but she is solid. Waltz of course is terrific in his part—we have seen him play this role before. And Rosie? She’s great. Also loved Hal Holbrook (always do) as old Jacob and Paul Schneider as his modern day counter-part (Charlie). I say…enjoy this film on its surface and don’t look too closely. And hey! Maybe take your Mom…she’ll love it.
Grade: Solid B
Note: My friend and I queried quite a number of enthusiastic audience members today as they were leaving the show. Their vote: loved it (except for one who wanted more sex!). Did they also like the book? Half said yes. The other half liked the movie better. That’s our vote too.
Check this out: The movie cost roughly $40 million. The Hollywood Reporter is thinking the filmmakers are betting on Twilight star Pattinson to bring in those younger viewers. We didn’t see any of them today…but it was a matinee–maybe they were still in school?
Also: Ebert gives the film three stars and, as always, offers a balanced take.
HUDSON HAWK (1991, DVD)
For what seems like my entire life, I have been defending this movie. While I may be one of the only people in the world that owns this film, I genuinely enjoy this movie. I was about ten when the movie hit rental stores, and the humor was right up the alley of a ten year old. Little did I know back then that I would be making excuses for having this on my shelf later on in my life.
One way of describing the plot of the film is: Hudson Hawk, a recently released cat burglar, is trying to have a cup of capuchino coffee. In the process of this, he gets thrown into a world-wind escapade involving espionage and love and Da Vinci. The more lengthy synopsis: Hudson Hawk is forced into collecting pieces of a crystal created by Leonardo Da Vinci that can turn iron into gold. The pieces are hidden in a equestrian statue in a New York auction house, the Da Vinci Codex in the Vatican, and a Da Vinci model in the Louvre. While on these heists, the Hawk runs into an evil international corporation, the CIA, and the Vatican. In the end, Hawk has to defeat the corporation and the CIA to save the world economy.
Now, I know what you are thinking, this is crap. And you are not far off. On the surface, the movie looks to be a middle of the road star studded cast making a fun film for themselves (a la Ocean’s 11). However, this did not end up being the case. The origin of the movie was created by Bruce Willis and Robert Kraft. We all know who Bruce Willis is, and Robert Kraft is a musician that has been the song producer on the Little Mermaid and the Mambo Kings. However, Kraft is most famously known for writing the Who’s the Boss Theme song and Willis’ music for his album “The Return of Bruno.” They created the character for a song before each of them became famous, and later on in their careers decided to transfer the character to film. The movie was then sent to be scripted and was written and re-written before production.
There are many problems with this movie, that are obvious. There are multiple story problems, and some of the acting is atrocious (Andie MacDowell and Sandra Bernhard). Many of the plot twists and cuts of the film make no sense at all, and the singing of old show tunes is bizarre beyond any rationalization. There are way too many winks at other movies, too the point it makes it even more confusing. So what makes this movie horribly awesome? All of it. This movie is so bad it turns good (with a very open mind). It is like a young wine in a bad year, it taste bad after a few years. Let the bottle sit even longer it will eventually be an OK tasting bad bottle of wine.
The movie makes very little sense, from the story line of Andie MacDowell’s character of being a nun wooed by Bruce Willis to Danny Aiello’s character getting blown up and living at the end, but if you want to see what a blown up ego looks like this is the movie for you. Willis was in the middle of a string of box office hits (Blind Date, Die Hard, Moonlighting, Look Who’s Talking, Die Hard 2, and Look Who’s Talking Too) and had the power in Hollywood and with Tri-Star to green-light anything he wanted. This was his first project brought to Tri-Star, and it was Tri-Star’s last movie. Willis took a huge critical hit and bankrupted Tri-Star with this one movie. The movie from a casting stand point had most of the tools to work. Along with Willis, Aiello, MacDowell, and Bernhard; the cast was rounded out with Richard Coburn, David Carusso, Richard E. Grant, and yes a Frank Stallone appearance. The movie was directed by Michael Lehman, who gained notoriety from his work on Heathers. However in the end, it all ended up being a huge pile of poop, but if you know it is poop then it is a horribly awesome pile of poop to watch.
Helpful Tip: If you are brave enough to sit through this movie, be sure to check out the director’s commentary. It explains much of the odd things about the movie, as well as has some pretty good excuses for scenes.
FIELD OF DREAMS (1989/DVD) “If you build it…he will come.” Remember how magical this film was the first time you saw it? Watching it again this past weekend, I was reminded of everything that’s great about it. I know we think of it now as pretty corny, but in truth, it’s pretty darn special. Kevin Costner was young and earnest as Ray Kinsella; James Earl Jones was magical as Terence Mann, the elusive author; Burt Lancaster was so perfect as Moonlight Graham; and how about Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe Jackson? Spot on. Not to mention Amy Madigan as Ray’s wife, the woman every man wishes he could marry. The movie was directed by Phil Alden Robinson who also penned the screenplay from W. P. Kinsella’s book “Shoeless Joe.” “Is this Heaven?” ”No, it’s Iowa.” Take a moment to watch this movie again, and enjoy a little bit of baseball heaven.
Grade: Big A
NOTE: Kevin Costner is back in movie news lately, thanks to being cast as Jonathan Kent, Superman’s father in the upcoming Zack Snyder production “Superman: Man of Steel.” With Henry Cavill (The Tudors) in the title role, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Diane Lane as Martha Kent (“Mom”) and Michael Shannon as General Zod, this movie could be interesting.
HANNA (2011/IN THEATERS)
Thumbs are going both up and down on this Euro/Techno style pulsating picture, with critics and viewers alike debating whether it’s a more effective “Sucker Punch” or a young woman’s version of “Salt.” Or is it something else altogether? The movie, directed by Joe Wright, whose previous films include Atonement and Pride and Prejudice (the Keira Knightley version), has an “art-y” style about it, starting with a visually stunning opening in which the heroine Hanna (a mesmerizing Saoirse Ronan) outruns and shoots a deer in the snowy forest of Finland. “I just missed your heart,” she says to the wounded animal, with the slightest German accent, before pulling out a gun and finishing it off. Wow…great start. Hanna is presented to us as a mysterious warrior youth, whose father Erik Heller (a fabulous Eric Bana), former top CIA operative, as we learn, is teaching her to live their motto: “adapt or die.” He’s also teaching her multiple languages, details of geography, survival skills and more. Life in their small cabin buried in the snow and forest has the feel of a fairy tale, and indeed, once they part, they agree to meet up at Grimm’s House in Germany. But first, we will follow Hanna as she searches for the “Evil Queen” of this film, Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett in a fabulous red wig). She doesn’t have to look far and soon a great cat and mouse game emerges. Along the way, Marissa enlists the aid of her favorite henchman Isaacs (a bleached blond Tom Hollander, very creepy) and his two goons. And Hanna is taken in by a lovely hippie family traveling in Morocco and Europe, complete with a VW van and a very savvy young daughter, Sophie (Jessica Barden) who teaches the innocent and wide-eyed Hanna a thing or two about modern teenagers. Altogether, this movie has a weird, over-the-top feel to it, with music from The Chemical Brothers adding to its pulsing style and non-stop camera movement making you feel like you’re on some kind of adventureland ride. Weird..yes. But wonderful…I thought. In fact, I plan to see this film again, just so I can catch all the weirdness I probably missed the first time, while I was trying to follow the plot!
Catch these videos if you want to know more before you hit the theater:
ALSO, if you like Ebert Presents, here’s the take on Hanna from his two new young reviewers.
Did you know? Ronan, who is only 17 and was nominated for an Oscar for her Supporting Role in Atonement, is actually Irish. Her first name is pronounced “ser-sha” like “inertia”. No inertia in this movie!
The last introduction to a feature is here. So this part will be short. Obviously the main title explains it all. These are the great movies/performances/pieces of work that exist in the world. Therefore, in honor of a great Director that we lost in this past week. This feature this week is for Sidney Lumet, and if you need to know of his greatness just look at his filmography.
12 Angry Men (1957 DVD) This is one of if not the best of Lumet’s films. The story is that of 12 jurors who are faced with the trail of a young man who is charged with murder and is facing the death penalty. Upon the first vote all but one votes for guilty, the lone dissenting vote is that of Juror #8 (played by Henry Fonda). As the movie goes on Fonda then goes back over the evidence, and one by one the jurors re-examine their ideas of why they want to suspect to be guilty. The movie itself is a great look at society of the time, and has been remade twice over the years. However, the original had the element of Lumet. Like more recent ones, this was a one set shoot and the movie relies heavily on the actors performances. The cast is rounded out with Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden, and Ed Begley. Lumet pulls out of them some of their best performances of any other their careers.
The interesting back story and performance is that of Lee J. Cobb. A native New York actor who ran off to Hollywood in the 20′s to be a star. After a few years of minor minor roles, he ended up with the Group Theater where he met Elia Kazan. This relationship would prove fruitful and controversial. Through Kazan and the Group Theater, Cobb was brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Through their pressure and his wife having a nervous break down, Cobb named names. Afterwards, he and fellow informant Kazan went onto make the perceived Anti-Communist On The Waterfront. Cobb maintained some success through movies like 12 Angry Men, Exodus, How The West Was Won, and his last in the Exorcist.
Where this all ties in is with his role as Juror #3 in 12 Angry Men. In the film, Cobb plays the last hold out in the room. The character is obsessed with the disappointment of his son, and how he did not live up to his expectations. It becomes clear that he is projecting his anger over his son on the proven not-guilty defendant. In the end, Cobb’s character caves when he realizes his faults and how he was about to have a man killed for his own short comings. It is not known whether Cobb’s past was his motivation or influenced Lumet’s direction. However, Sidney Lumet appeared to give Cobb a confessional for a brief moment, and the last moments in the deliberation room show the brilliance of two greats of film, Cobb and Lumet.
Brian! As you well know (you lucky fella), I have a very reasonable fear of many forms of apocalypse(apocalypi). Zombies, terrorist attack, Jesus returns a la Rambo for his final vengeance–I try to be prepared for any scenario. Have I toyed with the notion of converting to Mormonism for access to the emergency food stores? It’s best we don’t discuss it–they may be watching. And so! I have a love-hate relationship with this type of movie–love the adrenaline rush while I’m watching, hate knowing that I will be peeking across the horizon for approaching giant-squid-type aliens for the foreseeable future.
Enough with the talk therapy–time for a plot summary. It’s been six years since a ship returning from one of Jupiter’s moons crashed into Mexico, releasing pesky space dust containing extraterrestrial life forms. They quickly grow up giant and start multiplying, as randy aliens are wont to do, and do not mix well with the residents. The military has started bombing/quarantining sections of the country, and a photographer named Andrew is recruited by his American publisher to escort his tourist daughter Amanda back to the States. Read more »
JANE ERYE (2011/In Theaters) It had been years since I’d read Jane Eyre or seen the classic 1943 version staring Orson Welles, but I was, as always, moved by the dramatic, dark, and implausible tale of love beyond social class in the mid-nineteenth century England. This newest film version, directed by Cary Fukunaga, takes a big jump from his tale of U.S. bound immigrants and Mexican gangs in Sin Nombre.
The film opens with Jane’s epic hiatus taken from Thornfield Hall which takes place towards the end of the novel, and works its way back to glimpses of an appalling childhood full of abusive family members and authority figures both at home and in a child correctional facility. Fukunaga strikes a perfect balance between staying true to Bronte’s plot and heightening drama for a larger audience by focusing most of the screen time on the growing relationship between Jane and our most beloved Rochester. Both Mia Wasikowska’s and Michael Fassbender’s acting is spot-on. The intriguing “soul-deep” connection developed with little dialogue, and the uncomfortable power dynamic between the two is palpable on screen. Rochester appears to be twice the size and age of Jane, which causes a sort of pedophile-like desire; very true to the book.
Brontë’s works are Gothic in nature, and Fukunaga does a wonderful job portraying this through appropriate lighting and sets. The thick-walled and candle-lit stone buildings in remote and often dreary settings set the perfect mood for both tedium and suspense. I found myself on the edge of my chair due to noises from the inner room and Rochester’s mysterious nature.
While this may not be the perfect movie for a sunny spring day, I highly recommend taking advantage of any remaining winter-like afternoons or evenings to catch film.