Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My Very Quick Review of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Well, yes...it was pretty awful.  But not nearly as awful as I thought it would be.  The action scene with Duke and Ripcord running through the streets of Paris in their accelerator suits was actually kinda fun, and Joesph Gordon Levitt's role is so over the top ridiculous that I couldn't stop laughing every time he was on the screen.

But other than that?  Yeah...atrocious.  It's level of unintentional silliness can best be summed up by one decision that having seen the film I can't imagine how anyone thought it could be a good idea:  Snake-Eyes, the ninja who doesn't say a word the entire film, has lips molded into his mask (you can kind of see them in the image above).

Big, bold, luscious lips.

Do I ever want to see it again?  No.  Am I glad I saw it at least once?  Not really.  But it looked like it might be pretty on Blu-ray, and that was the reason I rented it.

Coming soon: having lost all reason, I rent 2012.  It can't be all that bad, right?


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

At its heart THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS beats with the essence of what makes Terry Gilliam stand out from his peers: a fierce, uncompromising visual palette, stand-out acting performances, and a solid foundation in mythic storytelling.  And when left alone to pursue his distinctive vision, you get images that feel ripped directly from that tiny place in your brain reserved for the imagination of your youth.  It's what makes THE CRIMSON PERMANENT ASSURANCE, the short film that precedes the "proper" film within MONTY PYTHON'S MEANING OF LIFE one of the most indelible 15 minutes put to film.  It's what makes the best moments of TIME BANDITS and, to a lesser extent THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN stand out in our minds, capturing those afternoon daydreams as I sat on a large rock next to the house, playing pirates and cops and robbers in a universe that was wider than the borders of my yard.

But like MUNCHAUSEN, which in terms of overall tone seems the closest relative to PARNASSUS, the film struggles but ultimately fails as a complete story. Of course by now the production disasters that plague Terry Gilliam on so many of his pictures are near mythic proportions.  Natural disasters and lack of funding are par for the course on a Gilliam production, and one of the biggest (but not the biggest, obviously) obstacles in the movie is how small it seems in relation to the subject matter.  PARNASSUS never seems like an open world: everything is cramped and narrow; even when we're in the streets of modern London there's something artificial and askew when it comes to the scale of the environment.  MUNCHAUSEN, for all its issue seems gigantic in relation to PARANASSUS.  I fully realize this has more to do with funding than anything else, but even smaller pictures like TIDELAND felt larger on screen.  Now this could also have been a stylistic choice on Gilliam's part, but watching it on the screen I couldn't help but feel compressed.

No review of PARNASSUS would be complete  without mentioning the tragic death of Heath Ledger, and it effect on the film.  His presence, and subsequent absence, leave a huge watermark on PARNASSUS that never manages to fade into the background.  The idea to have his unfinished scenes performed by a trio of great actors - Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell - is inspired in theory but in execution damages things beyond repair, particularly Farrell's performance.  It's fine on its own, but having to carry a significant portion of the film - including the climax - it acts as a reminder of how things could have been had Ledger lived to complete Gilliam's vision.

Normally I wouldn't lead off with my criticisms of a film, and it would be a lie if I said I didn't find a lot to like in PARNASSUS.  As usual, Gilliam is inspired in his casting choices, particularly in his pairing of Christopher Plummer and Tom Waits in the lead roles.  I'd be hard pressed to think of a bad Christopher Plummer performance, but here he's stretched into playing someone who's lived for hundreds of years, and damn if he doesn't make you feel every single year.  Tom Waits can only really play himself but, that being said, I can't believe it took so long for someone to cast him as the Devil, or Mr. Nick as he's called here.  One of the delights of PARNASSUS is watching the purposefully nonsensical way continuously meddles in the affairs of the Doctor Parnassus.   Even with victory seemingly his, Mr. Nick can't help but throw it all away on one more bet, one small wager, even one he knows he'll ultimately lose.  There's an entire other story here about the reason why Mr. Nick is so infatuated with Parnassus, and the way Gilliam refuses to provide the reasons (their initial meeting in the monk's temple provides no answers, merely the opening exchange) is both typical of his storytelling technique (admittedly sloppy, but I think sometimes purposely so) and a welcome change from the exposition that would have mandatory in another film.

Even when I don't like a Terry Gilliam film (BROTHERS GRIMM, TIDELAND), there's always something that leaves me breathlessly waiting for the next film.  THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS is better than both those films; despite the issues there's enough wit, style, and good performances on display that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend at least one viewing.  And it ultimately makes me even more excited to see how he manages to re-tool and re-launch THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE, which sounds like his personal white whale and another unique vision perfectly in place with the rest of his filmography.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Scream, Rinse, Repeat

Over at You Talking to Me, my entry in the Movies That Made Going to the Movies Suck for SCREAM is up and open for comments.  It's posted below with some additional thoughts.

You see, it's a lot scarier when there's no motive, Sid."

Horror was having a bad time of it in the 90s. The grisly slashers of the late 70s and early 80s were gone, and unless your last name was King or Barker, chances are most American horror up until 1996 was relegated to home video.  Despite sticking to genre in 1995's IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS and 1996's CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED, John Carpenter wasn't having any success at the box office.  Wes Craven was faring even worse.  After trying to mix genres in THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991) and his return to Elm Street with WES CRAVEN'S NEW NIGHTMARE (1994) he hit a personal low point with the Eddie Murphy vehicle VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN.  Things clearly needed to change.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

And Here is Why

My earliest memories of the movies don't take place in a drive-in or a crowded theater.  They're not filled with lightsabers and light-cycles, they don't have explosions, stereo sound, or even color.

My earliest memories of the movies all start with a small, brown, corduroy pillow just a little larger than my head.  If I close my eyes and focus I can still smell the combination of dust and sweat that does more to remind me of my childhood than photographs I can't recall being taken, than toys I can't remember playing with.

We lived in a raised ranch in upstate New York, which means the lower level of the house was partially underground.  It was split between my bedroom, the laundry room and the den, where we had an enormous television built into a cabinet that never worked except as a make-believe computer for me when I was pretending to be an astronaut or a scientist.  Its other function was to hold up the smaller television that actually worked.  And it was that television, and that pillow, nestled up against my father in the darkness of the den, that I recall my earliest memories of movies.

My father wasn't around very much during my childhood. His job required a lot of travel, and when he was back in town he tended to hang out at the local bar more than the house. But when he was around, there was little he liked doing more than settling down in the dark of the den and watch movies. We watched everything, my father P.T. Barnum, masterminding my exposure to all of his (and consequently) my heroes.  The curtains would part, and with a wave of his whip (or beercan in this case), we both became the same age, reveling to the exploits of Bogart (our favorite), Wayne, Flynn, and Grant. I fell in love with the cool cynicism of Sam Spade, the "true grit" of Rooster Cogburn, the merriment of Robin Hood, and the suave sophistication that was the trademark of so many of Cary Grant's characters.

But more than the larger than life characters and witty rejoinders, it was the shine in my father's eyes as he watched the screen, explaining to his nine year old son who everyone was, what was going on. And all the while I soaked this in, I nestled my head in that brown pillow, that tiny pillow that was always at my father's side.

Last week after a short and sudden illness my father died. I flew to Florida to see him and say my goodbyes.  When I got to the hospital they told me he couldn't really respond to me other than with some twitches in his fingers, but that he could hear me.  For reasons which in retrospect seem monumentally stupid I hadn't seen or spoken to my father in about two years, and the time I had to say goodbye, to say all the things that should have been said but weren't, was simply too short.  But I did the best I could, and one of the last things we talked about, or I talked about, was the movies I grew up loving because of him, and how it won't be the same seeing anything now.

Over the years my taste in films have been informed, expanded, and enlightened my many sources, some of which I'll point out in the next few weeks.  But none had even a tenth of the impact my father had on me, and now that he's gone it's almost painful to sit in front of a screen and feel the light on my face, my head falling back onto a small brown pillow that's no longer there.

Movies That Made Going to the Movies Suck

All month long Mike over at You Taking to Me is counting down the list of the Greatest Movies That Made Going to the Movies Suck. It's pretty much exactly as advertised: he and numerous guest bloggers (your truly included) will be talking about some great films that for a number of reasons made going to the movies afterwards an abysmal experience. There are 27 films in total being talked about: my entry, on SCREAM (1996) will be up on May 10th.

So far there are two entries up: IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934) and GLADIATOR (2000). There are a lot of fun films from all over the Hollywood timeline coming out so be sure to stop by the site daily, check out what's being said, agree or disagree, and generally have a good time.