Friday, December 30, 2011

Jim Caviezel, double feature

I'll recommend them both---one for a general sort of audience, the other for the exceedingly strong-stomached.

nice poster! 
The Count of Monte Cristo, 2002. Directed by Kevin Reynolds
starring: Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce.

"A young man, falsely imprisoned by his jealous "friends," escapes and uses a hidden treasure to exact his revenge." (IMDB).

Per Donald's recommendation I put this on my netflix list; the disk unfortunately came to me in horrible shape and hardly played at all on our stupid playstation without the screen dividing and turning black every six minutes. But I liked it, a lot. Maybe I am a closet sociopath because revenge themes seriously thrill me, and this one was a gem. It's fun seeing The Count play his little trickery business on his buddy, but beware---if you are a fan of Guy Pearce, even a little, you'll want to stay far, far away from this film; I have never seen a grosser, more nauseating character in my life. Buck from Kill Bill (my name is Buck, I came here to *&%$) may have been a little worse, or the fat ass rapist in Dragon Tattoo, but this guy was just awful. Yuck. Dumbledore (the first, played by Richard Harris) makes an appearance, as one GetGlue friend so gleefully put it, "Dumbledore taught Jesus everything he knows!" It's a good one.

The Passion of the Christ, 2004. Directed by Mel Gibson.
starring: Jim Caviezel, Monica Bellucci.

Is it a sin that I prefer my Jim C. in the form of
Mr. Reese?
"A film detailing the final hours and crucifixion of Jesus Christ." (IMDB).

Without getting too outspoken about the religion here, I'll just let you all know that I didn't know about this stuff----stations of the cross, whippings, thrashings, beatings, flayings----NONE. Maybe Methodists just don't talk about it or I was just incredibly checked out in confirmation or church sermons when the crucifixion was brought up, but I honestly had no idea. I saw this film in the theater when it was released, pregnant. It was difficult. I'm pretty sure I quit watching, like honestly just started looking away after that scene where Mary watches him fall and has a flashback to him falling as a little boy---I just couldn't handle anymore. So I watched it all the way through this time, cried again, but could at least appreciate some of the artistic elements of the film, too. For one thing, there were some nice, stylized scenes early in the garden; the driven-mad Judas Iscariot was well done, and sort of disturbing, not to mention that ghoulish Voldemort-y Satan thing that was creeping around the joint all the time. The violence obviously is what will stick with the viewer, and I honestly think Gibson could have toned it down a few clicks. The blood, oh man, the blood---it got to be too much, and I honestly can't believe I was the only one who had to look away. Probably wasn't the easiest thing to act, either, getting the holy (haha) hell whipped out of you, day after day on the set. It's worth seeing, to be sure. Just . . . be careful.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Roger Ebert: Life Itself

I don't normally read biographies, or autobiographies anymore, mostly because I don't really care about stars' personal lives. Of the few I have read, I've usually finished thinking, "I liked this person better before I read this," or "I really didn't need to know all that." Probably not fair of me, and obviously there are exceptions (Tina Fey comes to mind) but there it is. However. This memoir of Ebert's was fantastic. I can't gush over it enough.

This isn't simply a great story because of his success as a critic or emotional triumph over his many, many health problems (though these things are definitely impressive)---this guy can write. I strongly believe that Roger Ebert could have chosen any path in journalism or publishing and absolutely taken it to the top, he's that good. The chapters in this memoir were very specific, some dealing with his mother, some obviously with his experiences as a critic (THE critic, as it were), and more than a few about his wife Chaz, but honestly, the chapter about his love for his dog was every bit as interesting and emotionally charged as the one where he recounted his struggle with salivary cancer and the three failed surgeries that followed.

On Robert Altman: "There may not have been a director who liked actors more. He had a temper, and I saw him angry with cinematographers, Teamsters, prop men, lighting guys, critics, and people making noise during a shot, but actors were his darlings and they could do no wrong. When he asked for another take, there was the implication that he enjoyed the last one so much he wanted to see the actors do it again simply for his personal pleasure."

On Eyrie Mansion in London: "Fires, I decided, were a source of heat, not merely, like central heating, its presence. There must be something deep within our memory as a species that is pleased by being able to look at what is making us warm."

On losing the ability to eat and communicate verbally: "What's sad about not eating is the experience, whether at a family reunion or at midnight by yourself in a greasy spoon under the L tracks. The loss of dining, not the loss of food. Unless I'm alone, it doesn't involve dinner if it doesn't involve talking. The food and drink I can do without easily. The jokes, gossip, laughs, arguments, and memories I miss."

The above passage is actually incomplete; he ends it with what I found to be the most emotional bit in the entire book (and I'm not going to spoil it for you, you'll have to come upon it yourself). I don't know the man, have no connection to him, really, and yes I'm being overly sentimental, but the ending to that paragraph almost made me fall in love with him a little.


Monday, December 26, 2011

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: He said, She said.

We've been thinking of doing this for a while now, or at least I have, and finally I'm doing it. I give you two reviews of Dragon Tattoo, Donald's and mine. One of us loved it, one of us hated it. Enjoy, comment, and share, if you feel like it! For more of Donald, visit his blog: Blessed Are The Geeks

The Boy Who Didn't Like This Movie (Donald said)

Before I sat down in the theater last night to watch this movie, I knew only two things about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: The title, and that for the past two years or so I haven't been able to go anywhere without seeing somebody reading one of the novels. I saw the trailer once when it first come out months ago, and thought it was pretty neat but incomprehensible, but I'm a big fan of Daniel Craig (even since before he was James Bond!) and my friend wanted to see it, so I figured I'd check it out. After all, all those millions of people who read the books and saw the original Swedish films couldn't be wrong, right?

Wrong. Turns out, this movie was horrible.

I don't mean to say The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was a bad movie, since the story was interesting and well plotted, the cast was exceptional, the cinematography was gorgeous, the score was wonderful, and the entire production undoubtedly turned out exactly as the filmmakers intended. All I'm saying is that those filmmakers intended to make a horrible film, that I'm assuming was based upon a horrible book. I haven't read the book so I can't really speak to whether or not it was as horrible as this film, but I'll never know since I'll never read it. I'll also never see this film again, and I'm hoping that after I finish this review I'll never even have to think about it again.

This was ostensibly a mystery story, although any fan of the genre will have figured out the major twists and revelations almost immediately upon learning what the actual mystery is. I won't spoil anything, but it was very predictable, albeit interesting and well done. I described it as "ostensibly a mystery story," since it took a long time for that plot to get going, spending way too much time setting the mood and personality of the titular girl with the dragon tattoo, who I will charitably refer to as an anti-hero. If I decided not to be charitable, I would simply say she was one of the most reprehensible, unlikable, and downright awful characters I've ever seen presented as a heroine in a major motion picture. This woman was a sociopath who should've been locked up in an institution, not presented as some kind of hero.

The rest of the characters didn't fair much better, since everybody seemed to be rude to everybody else, except for the people with whom they were having sex, but sometimes also both. Daniel Craig, our other hero, is shown to be a not that nice guy too, since he cheated on his wife, then goes ahead and cheats on his mistress too. Daniel Craig, at least, is a wonderful, charming actor who has the talent and ability to create a likeable, interesting character out of this mess of a story. (But I never managed to figure out why he was the only person in this movie who didn't speak in a Swedish accent, but whatever.) I have no idea what Rooney Mara was doing, but I didn't like it. She spent the entire movie looking and acting like a ghoul. She didn't act so much as just stand there sucking energy out of the room.

Then there was the the rape scene, and all that other nonsense that director David Fincher loves to put into his films. This was a film for the people who saw his earlier film Se7en and came away from it thinking, "You know, there wasn't enough rape..." I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying this movie contains one of the most brutal and off-putting rape scenes in movie history, but I also don't care since I wish somebody had spoiled it for me. Here's the thing: I don't need to watch people getting raped and I don't want to watch people raped. This kind of crime certainly has a place in both literary and cinematic fiction, but this scene was so graphic and so disturbing, and yet served no real purpose that I could understand. I think there was a brutal rape scene just for the sake of having a rape scene, and then for the sake of having a scene where the girl basically rapes the man who raped her. None of this came into play again, nor did it ever tie in with the main story or serve any logical purpose within the context of the film. It was just horrible, and it took a film that would've just been kind of boring and bland and made me hate it.

I think maybe these rape scenes were in the film (and make no mistake: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo raped and tortured that man, making her just as villainous and disgusting as he was) were to create the illusion of a world where everybody is a sexual predator and where everybody is capable of horrible things. Or maybe director David Fincher and author Stieg Larsson are just creepy, weird perverts.

The mystery elements of the story were a lot better, at least the parts following Daniel Craig as he attempts to research and solve a murder from 40 years in the past. One the Girl shows up as his research assistant, it gets kind of dumb and loses focus, since her computer hacking and research skills border on the supernatural. This is one of those movies where there is nothing a hacker isn't able to do or find out just by typing a couple keystrokes on her macbook. She even manages to hack into a steal account and password numbers from a few dozen Swiss bank accounts, which raises the question of why she even has a job in the first place. Oh, and then the slow-paced, dialogue-driven mystery story culminates in a ridiculously over the top motorcycle chase scene.

Except that didn't actually "culminate" anything, since the film went on for another half hour or so even after the mystery was solved and any interest any audience member could've possibly had in the film vanished. Seriously, did anybody who saw this film not think it could've ended twenty minutes sooner?

But don't take my word for it, since everybody who read the books and saw the original films loved them all. I didn't think it was a bad film, I just kind of hated it. I found it incredibly disturbing, but it never earned the right or proved to me that it served any purpose at all. I didn't like the characters and I found the entire world-view presented to be so nihilistic and depressing and cold that it bored on the ridiculous. In other words, it's your typical David Fincher film.

Skol, Lisbeth: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Anna said)

This is the most difficult review I've ever written.

I'm not a violent or rageful person, but there are situations in art and film where I think it's absolutely warranted. In school I took heat for being the only one who defended Kill Bill, volume one, protesting that The Bride's actions were justified given the way she had been wronged. This position may have been colored by the fact that I was myself five months pregnant at the time, but I still salute Tarantino (and Thurman) for the portrayal whether or not it was wrong, glorified, or sociopathic---and I think most other mothers will too, to varying degrees. This film, Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, like Kill Bill, is a beautifully crafted, horribly violent masterpiece, that hides among investigative journalism, a Swedish family dynasty, Nazis, murder, and mystery, a serious tale of the most disturbing kind of violence possible. The two "R's" in this story are Rape and Retribution, words that make most people uncomfortable, but the girl in our story, Lisbeth Salander, isn't interested in your comfort (nor are director (s) David Fincher, Niels Arden Oplev, or It's a film very much worth seeing, but . . . be aware, you won't feel very good for a while afterwards.

The narrative is a little tricky (and will be exceedingly so for those who haven't read the novel or seen the previous film release)---is this the story of The Vangers, of Mikael Blomkvist's professional struggles, or of Lisbeth Salander? The audience immediately gravitates to Craig's Blomkvist, as he's commanding, deliciously handsome, and interesting, but Lisbeth is given equal screen time; whether it's her motorcycle, fingers flying over her computer keyboard, or her violent encounters, Lisbeth is just as much of a main character as Blomkvist. By focusing on Lisbeth's story, a dark, violent, withdrawn existance exemplified horrifically by one of the most disturbing rape scenes ever filmed (not to mention its later avengement), we are sickened and horrified, but in a small way adequately prepared for what eventually gets uncovered in the case of Harriet Vanger's disappearance. She's more than just a foreshadowing tool, though, because once we can look outside her issues it's clear that Lisbeth is a woman with many talents---intelligence, a photographic memory, and overall, a stubborn refusal to play the victim. This story isn't just about her, it's about what happened to her, what in fact happens to many women, and what she does about it.

Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist, a recently disgraced journalist who is recruited by Henrick Vanger, an aging Swedish entrepreneur desperate to solve the mystery of his disappeared niece. While attempting to untangle the facts (and the members of the estranged Vanger family themselves), Blomkvist uncovers in old family photographs something he believes is new evidence that may reveal insight into the girl's disappearance. At the same time Blomkvist is researching the peculiarities of the Vanger Family in northern Sweden, Lisbeth Salander (played by Rooney Mara), a pierced, tattoed, seemingly anti-social researcher becomes involved, first providing information on Blomkvist to Vanger's attorney, and later by becoming Blomkvist's assistant in solving the case (which turns out to be bigger and more ominous than anyone imagined).

Bearing in mind that Larsson's original title was "Man som hatar kvinnor" (Men Who Hate Women), the stories of the two very different women (Harriet Vanger, Lisbeth) are alike in what they suffered, but different in outcome. People don't like to hear about rape; in the film, even Blomkvist himself tries to hurry Lisbeth past graphic details of the rapes and murders they're researching, but Lisbeth would not be dissuaded; she's not letting him (or us) off the hook in knowing it just as she refuses to let her own abusers off the hook in perpetrating it, which honestly seems a bit toned down, compared to the novel. What was originally written as "I'm going to take him," became "May I kill him?" for the film, suggesting Lisbeth's subservience to Blomkvist or perhaps in general a culture which will always be controlled by men, but let's not fool ourselves---mercy for rapists is difficult (if not impossible) to come by, and Lisbeth's strength in facing Harriet's abuser as well as her own, is remarkable. Saying that as a viewer, I was out for blood is putting it mildly, but there it is. Am I sociopathic for feeling that way? I don't think so, I just really strongly believe in not raping, as I'm sure many others do, also. If the message people walk away from the film with is DON'T DO THAT, super.

Was David Fincher a fool to remake this film? Not at all. Foreign films are delightful to be sure, but many Americans just won't put in the subtitle time, which I'm sure Fincher knows. I've seen the Swedish version, enjoyed it, and thought that this project was a very close reissue, but there were wonderful "Fincher" moments----amazing opening credits, killer music, and a dark, twisted cleverness throughout that contrasted but also sort of leaked into the deceptive brightness, white snow, estate buildings, and whistling cold of the landscapes of Northern Sweden. Cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth; original music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, a group that obviously works well together.

Keep it up, Finch.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Tales from the Crypt: Yellow

New favorite episode, ya'll. When I heard what it was about (thanks, Donald), I knew I would like it, but I didn't think I'd love it. I did, a lot; so will anyone who enjoyed Paths of Glory.

Yellow. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, written by Gilbert Adler, A L Katz, Jim Thomas, and John Thomas (screenplay). Starring: Kirk Douglas, Dan Aykroyd, Eric Douglas.

So what they did, basically, was to take the most unappealing character from Paths of Glory (lieutenant Roget, the yellow drunk that gets his men either killed, or court-martialed, and then executed) and make him the main character here as the yellow (read: cowardly) son of the general, who was probably patterned after the awful Mireau from the film. Eric Douglas plays the son; Kirk Douglas plays the father/general.

I can't decide if we (the audience) are meant to have sympathy for the son, Martin, because it's hard to. No Man Left Behind? Not in this dude's case, he's pretty much all for himself, repeatedly. And each time you might start to feel a tiny bit of compassion for him, he just does something else selfish and you're back on the General's side again. Which becomes weird when you realize what he ends up having in store for his own son's punishment (after the court martial) . . . saw that coming a mile away, but it was so gloriously fitting, not only for the Tales From the Crypt Series but for the very kind of portrayal the general was given, the character/motivation taken from General Mireau from the film and the show's homage to it (and maybe to a lesser degree, the implications of the dynasty of the Douglas Family)---there was only one way to end this. Which sorry to sound insensitive, was genius.

When you think about it, these shows all sort of deal with what happens in varying situations of selfishness---gold-digging, infidelity, cowardice, etc.; I think the message really is DON'T DO THAT.
This episode was done brilliantly and not without a little light humor: e.g., Sgt Ripper (!)---Lance Henriksen, (Bishop from Alien) repeatedly seeks the lieutenant's whereabouts from unfortunately expired soldiers, saying "damn," each time. And huge, HUGE ups for that opening scene, not only the battle action but I can't help thinking there's little nod to All Quiet on the Western Front, with a yellow flower instead of a butterfly? Nice.


One of my favorite badass scenes of all time, Colonel Dax in PATHS OF GLORY (clip)

YELLOW (clip)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tales from the Crypt, Season 3, episodes 7-13

Inching along. You'd think it'd be easy to get through a series of half-hour shows, wouldn't you?

7. The Reluctant Vampire 

"A good natured vampire takes a more novel approach to satisfying his blood lust with his chosen undercover employment." (IMDB). 

Solid enough; Malcolm McDowell (from A Clockwork Orange) as "Longtooth" I think was vital, he just seemed really likable and kind of sweet. I think fans of modern vampires will find this one really old and stuffy: no hot lead, no glamouring, no sparkling, nothing---but if you were into vampires before Bon Temps and The Cullens, you'll probably dig it all right. George Wendt, Sandra Dickenson, and Michael Berryman (Weird Science, Star Trek, and the Crue's SMOKING IN THE BOYS ROOM video) co-star. Pretty interesting group.

8. Easel Kill Ya

"Painter Jack Craig gains himself a wealthy patron when he sells a morbid painting. He soon finds that in order to please his patron, he must continue to paint pictures of death - and this leads him down a murderous path." (IMDB). 

Kind of far-fetched, but again, a solidly entertaining episode. Tim Roth has never really done much for me before, but he was pretty hot in this as an angry, outburst-prone artist. I got a really creepy Christian Shephard vibe from the white-wearing benefactor, but it worked. The relationship with the chick didn't seem all that serious in the beginning, but I guess (after she finds out the truth behind his art) he decides he really loves her? Nice ending.

9. Undertaking Palor

"Four boys find out that the local undertaker and a pharmacist are in cahoots to murder rich locals and profit from their funerals." (IMDB). 

This was fun. I mean, at first those boys seemed really annoying and just a bunch of foul-mouthed jerks, but it came together well when that awful mortician popped in. Eating pizza and guzzling Pepsi as he embalms a woman (who he had also just bashed in the face with a sledgehammer?) . . . gross. He seemed really excited and gleeful to be doing what he was doing, and honestly, a good, creepy villain makes for a great episode, so I approve 100%.

10. Mournin' Mess

"There's a killer on the loose who preys on the homeless. Dale Sweeney is a recently fired reporter. He's approached by a homeless man named Robert who is accused of committing these murders. He tells Dale that he will give him the whole story with names to help prove his innocence if Dale will go the Grateful Homeless Cemetery and hang out until sunset then meet him after. Dale gets sidetracked by Jess Gilchrist, the spokesperson for the Grateful Homeless Society. By the time he meets up with Robert, he finds he has become the latest victim of the homeless killer. Dale is on his own to uncover the identity of the killer." (IMDB). 

Also fun. But like her husband (Tom Hanks), I just can't be okay with Rita Wilson in a sexual role---she just seems too . . . wholesome and good or something. Steven Weber does a great "all writers are drunks or assholes" bit; didn't see the ending coming, like, at all. John Woo would have been appropriately delighted by it, I think.

11. Split Second

"Liz is a beautiful, but loose, bar waitress who marries Steve Dixon, the rich owner of a lumber camp. It Isn't a difficult decision as he's able to offer her a fairly comfortable life. But Steve has a violent jealous streak, not liking the attention she get's from his 'salt of the earth' employees. Things begin to turn sour, particularly in the bedroom, and Liz get's bored very quickly. But when the handsome young Ted turns up at their door looking for a job, the promiscuous seductress sets her sights on relieving her boredom." (IMDB). 

Grotesque and enjoyable. And by grotesque, I'm including the fashion, the sick dialogue, and that MULLET-SPORTING LOGGER HUSBAND, too (not just the grisly ending, which is very Fargo-ish).
I tried forever to figure out who the female lead was---Michelle Johnson, who was none other than the faux-French stuttering Anna from the spa in Death Becomes Her. Anyway. Severely uncomfortable for most of the duration but still worth watching. Very 90s.

12. Deadline

"Charles McKenzie is a drunk out of work reporter who would do anything for a story. He meets Vicki in a bar who makes him feel like he can turn his life around. He quits drinking and can get his old job back as long as he can stay on the wagon and prove he can still bring in a good murder story. While reading a newspaper in Niko's Grill, he hears the owner kill his wife in the back. This is just the story he needs..." (IMDB).

Meh. Kinda lamesville; not a lot of flow and ridiculous ending. Skip it, unless you're interested in quick glimpses of Marg Helgenberger's breasts.

13. Spoiled

"Janet is married to a doctor who's married to his work. She wants to live her life with passion, danger, and romance like Fuchsia Monroe, a soap opera character she watches religiously. When her television goes haywire, her friend Louise convinces her to get cable. With her husband unresponsive to her "needs," she begins a steamy affair with the cable guy." (IMDB). 

Both funny and kind of annoying. Would have been better with Jim Carey as the cable guy as I don't know, a precursor to the film version. I just kept wanting Anthony LaPaglia to announce himself that way, or to just start getting all perv-y and weird immediately, but he almost seemed too polite? Come on. Polite cable guys don't bang doctor's wives on service calls. (Mein Supervisor sez there ist problem mit dein Cable?) Nice ending.