Sunday, April 27, 2008

8 Things I Loved About Spider-Man 3

I'm not a comic book fan. I've never read a single comic book in my life. But I have successfully enjoyed many movies based on comic books. I guess that's why I don't care if the filmmakers behind the comic book movie decide to take their own liberties and do whatever they want for their adaptation. Of course, what makes many adaptations so great is that the filmmakers take liberties in what they choose to put on film when they adapt a comic book or novel. The filmmakers are able to develop their own perspectives on the original product and it makes the adaptations interesting to watch. As long as the final product is well-made and brilliantly watchable, I'm content. This goes to all the things I am a semi-fan of, like Harry Potter.

So, I finally got around seeing Spider-Man 3 (dir. Sam Raimi | rel. 2007). And I loved it.

What a surprise, too. I enjoyed the first two immensely, but they were not enough to make me a fanatic of the series. I was really expecting to hate the third movie because of all the negative criticisms I've heard regarding the film. But I ended up loving it, for all the right and wrong reasons. Right now, the movie is bouncing between the lines of epic greatness and guilty pleasure. In defense of the truly nasty things that have been said about the film, I present you with the list of 8 Things I Loved About Spider-Man 3 in defense to all the criticism. (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.)

1. It focuses more on Peter Parker than Spider-Man.
This was a complaint many people had about this film. It was like the camera had some love affair with Tobey Maguire's face. But I personally didn't think it detracted my enjoyment of this film whatsoever. In fact, I think it accentuated my enjoyment. Sure, in reality, everyone in New York City would know that Peter is Spider-Man (Maguire) with the time he has with the mask off and his suit on, hey, small goofs in film land are usually easily forgiven by me unless the movie is just down-right terrible. In that case, nothing about the film's existence will ever be forgiven.

When I watch superhero movies, I've always been more interested with the guy behind the mask. I don't care about balance at all, although Batman Begins did a fine job with the concept of equilibrium in a superhero movie. I'm glad to see more Peter and less Spider-Man. I understand that isn't exactly the case with those who grew up with the comic books and idolized Spider-Man. In a way, I'm totally undermining the purpose of a superhero movie but...I'm just completely fascinated with the life of a superhero without the mask and I'm ecstatic that Spider-Man 2 and 3 explored that--and 3 does it with some great length. With the time Peter spends with his mask off, his character develops. Because of the character development, there is more of a complex foundation beneath the surface of the Spidey suit.

While watching Peter's daily life outside his Spider-Man activities, you realize that he's just the average guy that is far from an image of a city's savior. He has some very personal problems to deal with: his best friend hates him, his relationship with his girlfriend is uncertain, he has to seek revenge for the man who killed his uncle, etc. The writers understood those were important aspects of Peter's life and how those aspects dictate his direction as a superhero.

I don't think anyone will ever forget Emo Peter, but hey, it works for me. It is silly, but it makes sense how Peter reacted to symbiote because of how well the movie developed his character.

2. It is a film about forgiveness and redemption.
There are dozens of corny elements to 3 that I occasionally winced at, but they played out nicely anyway. The film never tries to go over-the-top with any of its preachy themes, but it shows it like it is. The good intentions and the sentimental heart beating at the center of 3 is incredibly, surprisingly touching. I never mind a little sentimentality, especially when it is done with profoundness and believability.

One of the many plot lines in 3 was the relationship between Peter and his best friend, Harry Osbourne (James Franco). Early in the film, tensions are high between the two because Harry believes that Peter, as Spider-Man, killed his father in the first movie. When Harry rises as the New Goblin to seek his revenge against Peter, he experiences a terrible fall and gets amnesia as a result. Peter and Harry are buddies for a while because Harry can't remember that he was seeking revenge. But when he does, he hates Peter again. Harry then creates a strain in the relationship between Peter and Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) because he is still deeply in love with Mary Jane. Emo Peter and Harry battle it out and the fight results in the scarring of a side of Harry's face.

Yes, what a soap opera! (Another thing I love about this movie. Take a look at #3.)

I know this is another reason people hate the film, but...I didn't really mind the butler who tells Harry about how his father truly died. I mean, I didn't think it was a big deal. Sure, the butler could have told Harry much earlier (uh, like some time by the end of the first movie?), but at least he told him in the nick of time. The big fight scene in the end with Spider-Man and the Goblin as a team is totally awesome. Harry's death scene is a very pivotal, touching moment in the series. I've never believed in Peter, Harry, and Mary Jane as BFFs, but in this film, I did. They cared plenty about each other, and I cared for them too. I just loved the way Harry redeemed himself because it compensated for his annoying presence in the first two films.

Even though Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) is the main villain of the movie, I didn't care a whole lot for him. Okay, I guess I did to some extent. I sympathized with the guy. I'm a sucker for sympathetic villains, like Darth Vader. Unlike Darth Vader, Sandman won't be going down in history as one of cinema's greatest villains, but he had a nice thread of a storyline. Apparently, he, Flint Marko, became "bad" because he wanted to get money to help his sick daughter and that is pretty much what motivates him to be a thief. He is an escaped convict, so his wife doesn't want anything to do with him anymore. So in a chase with the cops, he enters this fenced area where scientists are doing experiments and BAM--he accidentally becomes Sandman! In the midst of all the action, Peter and Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) finds out from the police that it was this Marko guy who killed Uncle Ben in the first movie. With much vengeance, Peter, as Spider-Man, aims to seek an end to Marko's life.

After an extravagant fight scene between Spider-Man, New Goblin, Sandman, and Venom, there is a brief confrontation between Peter and Marko. What makes this confrontation worthwhile is that Peter forgives Marko, which I was (again) very touched by. When Peter forgives Marko, it is a powerful sign of Peter's maturity and shows the kind of integrity Peter possessed. The moment gives Spider-Man a new dimensions and that dimension comes from the depths of his alter-ego, Peter Parker.

3. It is an amazingly grand soap opera, with enough drama to fuel the entire film.
Peter and Mary Jane are happy together. Harry is jealous of the relationship, plus, he hates Peter because he thinks Peter killed his father. Harry, as New Goblin, gets amnesia because he fell down during a battle with Peter. Mary Jane gets mad because her acting career isn't working well and Peter is getting too much attention as Spider-Man. Peter has sort of a crush on Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), a cute girl in his science class. But Peter's photography rival, Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), has a crush on Gwen too. Harry regains his memory, realizes he is in love with Mary Jane, and gets Mary Jane to break up with Peter. Emo Peter asks Gwen out on a date and Eddie sees them together and becomes jealous. Emo Peter does some dance with Gwen at the place Mary Jane works as a waitress just to make Mary Jane jealous...and so on.

And...I WAS ENTERTAINED. I guess it's because I like melodramatic stuff like that. I can really care less if Spider-Man 3 resembles "The O.C."

4. The 3-4 villains are handled appropriately.
It works. Again, I've never read any of the comic books, so how am I supposed to have any expectations on how the villains should be portrayed in the movie? Exactly. I have not the slightest clue.

Sandman is obviously used as the main villain of the movie. Although he is far from the perfect villain and pales in comparison with Alfred Molina's Doc Ock from the second movie, he is a worthy antagonist. The whole redemption/forgiveness dynamic between Peter and Marko is fantastically executed. Marko being the murderer of Uncle Ben ties in quite well to Spider-Man/Peter's relentless detestation towards Sandman. The situation becomes very personal.

Harry/Goblin is an aggressive force in this film. The relationship between Peter and Harry seems more developed, more realized in this installment. There are moments in the film that you see the two characters bond, especially when Harry gets amnesia. The Goblin's villainous quality is never without his angry vengeance towards Peter. The want for personal justice is what makes the Goblin click throughout the film.

The symbiote is a tool of character development. It is Peter/Spider-Man fighting between the good and evil within himself. When Peter gets rid of the symbiote, it is an interesting turn to have the symbiote fall onto no other than Eddie Brock. How is Venom sudden? I think Eddie Brock's rivalry with Peter Parker has been leading up to something self-destructive and horrible, and for Eddie to transform into Venom and attempt to kill Peter makes a lot of sense to me. Sure, Venom only dominates the last few minutes of the film, but that has been the purpose of Eddie Brock's character all along. Fans talk about how the film doesn't do Venom justice, but for a comic book outsider like myself, Venom makes a point about the kind of person Eddie Brock is. Even when Eddie Brock walks right into his own death, Spider-Man still wants to save him. When Eddie Brock becomes Venom, it beautifully contrasts the characteristics between he and Peter. He serves as a foil to Peter Parker, plain and simple.

The villain-hero relationship in this movie are all very personal. What drives them and motivates them are not only for the sake of being villainous or heroic, but it is what lies in the heart of their alter ego, their true self.

5. It is a very funny movie...both intentionally and unintentionally.
- Oh, the waterworks! Am I the only one who thinks Tobey Maguire is a very bad crier? Whenever he cries, it's so...awkward. And funny.
- Emo Peter. Funniest thing ever. I mean, the bangs, the eyeliner, the goofy dancing--how...original.
- Topher Grace as Eddie Brock: Very Eric Forman-esque, but it adds some flair to Eddie. He is a bit of a smart-ass suck-up and is sort of a rivalof Peter's. We're not supposed to like him very much and the dry, cynical sarcasm makes Eddie both charming and fatal.
- J.K. Simmons just nourishes every second he has on-screen as the newspaper editor Peter and Eddie works for. The sense of urgency in every word he utters makes the lines much more crisp and funny.

6. The visual effects are AWESOME.
This movie looks amazing. Alright, I'll admit, the part where Spider-Man is saving Gwen Stacy looks sort of like a typical video game, but the rest looks wonderful. It never occurred to me on how CGI has developed over the years in movies until I watched this. Spider-Man 3 just takes advantage of CGI to the fullest and produce visually extravagant results.

7. Danny Elfman's score is more effective than ever.
Danny Elfman is almost as good as John Williams now. His score really adds suspense to the film, much more than any of the previous films. Tim Burton really overplayed the Elfman score in Batman, but director Sam Raimi finds all the right places to use the score to add an one-two punch to this epically satisfying blockbuster.

8. The ending.
The ending is well...stunning. I've already discussed many of the things that happens in the end in #2, but that shot of Harry's death and Peter and Mary Jane beside him is simply beautiful. The very end where Mary Jane is singing, "I'm Through With Love" at the restaurant she works at as Peter enters and they silently reconcile is a sweet finale to Raimi's splendid opus.

As much as I loved Spider-Man 3, I can also understand why people hate it. It's not for everybody. The movie is a bit goofy and far-fetched. There are a couple of plot holes that some people just don't have the willingness to forgive them. I can also see how a fan who has grown up with the Spider-Man characters can have an entirely different perspective on the film's take. Some people hate this kind of soap operish drama, but I dig that kind of stuff. But I will never understand why people complain about the shot with Spider-Man in front of the American flag. That was like, three seconds.

I felt a rush of giddiness when I watched this movie. It has so much energy injected into every single scene. The cast does a fine and consistent job with their roles The movie has the gleeful wonder of what you expect a comic book movie should look and be like. Spider-Man 3 is pure fun, complete with smashing ambition, profoundness, and drama. Despite the flaws, I absolutely loved it.

Rating: 9/10

Friday, April 25, 2008

My Favorite Al Pacino Performances: Part I

In honor of Al Pacino's birthday (the living legend turned 68 today), I have written a rant about my two favorite Pacino characters: Michael Corleone from THE GODFATHER TRILOGY and Lt. Col. Frank Slade from SCENT OF A WOMAN. Conventional choices, I know, but I love these performances to pieces. I can literally go on forever regarding my undying love for Pacino's performances in these films. (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD)

I was eleven-years-old. My favorite movie was Rain Man. Still, I had very little interest in old movies in general. I guess it was more of the fact that I was rarely exposed to old movies rather than my own reluctance to discover them. But The Godfather changed all that.

I didn't expect to like The Godfather at all. I didn't care for crime movies, old movies, or long movies. But I was bored and it was the only thing on TV. My idea of The Godfather for the longest time was that it was a movie about an old guy who ran some crime organization and kills bunch of people before the movie's end. But what kept me watching? Yep, you've guessed it: Al Pacino.

Michael Corleone probably has one of the best introductions in a film...ever? In the beginning, he is clearly shown as the typical outsider of his father's crime empire, being a decorated American soldier and all. But he's smart and knows what goes on in the mafia, which he wants no part in. The guy is so reluctant to obey the traditions of his Italian family that he even daringly brings along his WASP-y girlfriend, Kay Adams (I swear, it's so weird seeing Diane Keaton in that role), to his sister's wedding. He chillingly tells his naive girlfriend, "Luca Brasi held a gun to his head and my father assured him that either his brains, or his signature, would be on the contract. That's a true story. That's my family, Kay, it's not me." Despite Michael's enmity towards the crime world, he respects his father, the all-powerful don.

Everything changes when Michael's family descends into great danger because of a local New York mafia. Michael's transformation from the civilian to another mafia criminal is amazing to behold and again, it's all thanks to Pacino's stunning portrayal of the character.

Originally, the studios considered Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, or Jack Nicholson--all rising stars of the late sixties and early seventies at the time. Unlike director Francis Ford Coppola, the studios saw little talent in Pacino. There is one particular scene that convinced the studios that Pacino was the perfect choice for Michael Corleone. It is, of course, the mesmerizing, perfectly-directed restaurant scene. Pacino completely dominated that scene by saying little and acting more. As he obediently listens to the man he has agreed to kill, his eyes wander with great intensity. The tentative train noises in the background gradually increase the dramatic tensions in the scene. Suddenly, Michael excuses himself to the restroom to obtain the gun that had been hidden there earlier. He comes back abruptly and ruthlessly kills the man with a couple of gunshots. As he journeys toward the restaurant's exit, Michael knows he has officially sealed his fate. He just became a part of the family, and there was no turning back.

I was completely surprised when Michael decided that he had to kill Sollozzo. It was obvious that his reverence for his father motivated him, but I was still in shock when he made his decision. But Pacino's performance made me believe that all of this was part of his destiny. This was important to him. Everything he denied so far in his life was what he was truly meant to be. Pacino's performance fulfilled every void that Mario Puzo's novel (that I later read) didn't bother to develop.

How Joel Grey won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar that year for Cabaret for a minor role, I will never know. But everyone knows that Pacino was definitely the more deserving of the bunch and it will be forever devastating to me that he lost to such an inferior performance.

In short, I became a total Godfather freak after my viewing of the first film.

I can't even start to describe my adoration for The Godfather: Part II. It was my favorite movie for the longest time. To me, it was cinematic perfection. I watched that 3hr+ movie five times in the same week. I thought it was that amazing. Why? Again, I couldn't keep my eyes off of Pacino's performance. As much as I loved him in the original Godfather film, there was something about the cold-hearted, emotionless young don that I found brilliantly heartbreaking. No other film at the time had made me feel that way.

There are so many scenes in The Godfather: Part II that I can name that could support the insane level of awesomeness in Pacino's performance, but I'll name one:

"There are many things my father taught me here in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer."

Yes, how corny. I chose a scene with a classic movie quote. But if you watched the scene, you would see that he scared the daylights out of Frank Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo) and would scare the crap out of you too. Pacino's Michael exhibits his frustrations with amazing reserve and coolness. What makes every moment of the performance worthwhile is that Pacino never bothers to add more clutter than necessary.

I guess he saved the clutter for later. Sixteen years later, actually, for The Godfather: Part III. And how appropriately so! Sure, I am saying this as a die-hard Godfather fan and ignoring the inconsistency in Michael's character in the third film, but it all works because of Pacino's spectacularly over-the-top performance. Oh, and did I mention I absolutely loved every minute of it?

Forget Sofia Coppola's laughable presence--Pacino makes up for all of the film's many faults. Don't get me wrong, though. I love The Godfather: Part III. Not only for Pacino's performance, but the whole damn thing. Yes, I love it, despite the fact that I acknowledge the movie's moderate financial success is the reason why Mr. Coppola now runs a winery and occasionally makes bad movies like Jack instead of living in shameful bankruptcy. But it seems that Pacino respects the character of Michael Corleone too much to treat the material as pure money-making fluff. So he makes the most of out of the script and the result is well, another great performance from Pacino!

Enough of my empty praise for Pacino in this unbalanced film...what material did the film offer Pacino? Diane Keaton. It's sort of weird to think that Annie Hall is a significant part of The Godfather Trilogy but she is, and she courageously involves herself in a series of wonderfully humorous battles of words with an aging mafia don who can't exactly bring himself to fight back against his ex-wife's honest words. Keaton is remarkable in her own right, which enables her to be on the same page with Pacino, acting-wise. I would love to see them in a film together again, but that seems unlikely. But here, Pacino and Keaton certainly waltz around the script's soap operish elements and they continuously masquerade with grace and conviction.

...and I just adore the hospital scene where they are interacting:

Michael: I feel I'm getting wiser now.
Kay: The sicker you get, the wiser you get, huh?
Michael: When I'm dead, I'm gonna be really smart.

I must admit, there is something really wrong with the movie being intentionally funny...

Don't mistake the third film of the trilogy as some sort of epic romance between two estranged lovers. It is as much a crime movie as the previous two, with the addition of a young man who is eager to join in on all the mafia action (played by Andy Garcia). The film also emphasizes the importance of family, a recurring film in the previous films as well, but this time with a gentler tone. But most of all, The Godfather: Part III is about Michael Corleone's redemption. He despises what his life has become. He wants to come clean, but his soul will not and cannot. The man is a classic example of a tragic figure. Michael's corruption and guilt is where Pacino ultimately finds strength in the midst of chaos. It is also what makes the film itself entirely worthwhile.

It is beyond me why Pacino never received any recognition from the Academy for his work in any of the Godfather films. He was undeniably excellent in each and every one of them and how the Academy failed to see that, I have no idea. But they finally recognized him for his funny and sensationally inspiring performance in Scent of a Woman. In the film, Pacino plays Lt. Col. Frank Slade, a depressed blind man who has lost his sight, but not his demanding personality. For Thanksgiving weekend, he invites Charlie Simms, his prep school babysitter (Chris O'Donnell) to a lavish trip to New York--only to surprise the teenager with a plot to kill himself.

Pacino was given so many great lines to read in this movie and he delivers the words with a sharp, authoritative bang. Here are a few of my favorites:

Frank: Then, I'm going to lie down on my big beautiful bed, and blow my brains out.
Charlie: Did I hear you right, colonel? You said you're going to kill yourself?
Frank: No. I said I'm going to blow my brains out.

This line is delivered with such charm that you could never have guessed that there is a suicide plot going on if you didn't understand English.

"I'm in the dark, here!"

In a dramatic shout fest between Frank and Charlie, Charlie desperately struggles to stop Frank from killing himself. One of Pacino's finest scenes in the film.


What a grand line. Pacino says it with spirit and certainty. Nobody could have delivered it better.

Martin Brest's film is both a traditional character study and a classic buddy film. The characters are polar opposites, but they bond under strained circumstances. The boy is having some trouble at his corrupted prep school, the older man is having a personal crisis that lies between life and death. Brest sews the episodic scenes in this film together but he wisely spotlights Pacino. But Pacino never exploits the spotlight, instead he shares it with O'Donnell. They are a good team, but it is Pacino who carries the film from beginning to end. That speech at the prep school near the end of the film is one of the greatest speeches made in film and not even the blatant sentimentality can detract from Pacino's virtuosity.

Part two will focus on my favorite supporting roles of Pacino's career.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

"Non, je ne regrette rien"

La Vie En Rose | dir. Olivier Dahan | rel. 2007

Instead of conforming to the conventions of a traditional biopic, Olivier Dahan's La Vie En Rose chronicles the life story of Edith Piaf with a series of nonlinear episodes from the singer's life. The way the story is told gives Piaf's story both an intricate canvas and a disheveled awkwardness. One minute I would be fascinated by the life of this extraordinary but vulnerable woman and the next minute, I would be frustrated by the film's editing. A part of me likes the idea of the episodic scenes of Piaf's life but the other part of me feels like all that the fancy storytelling method is completely overcooked.

The film starts with a middle-aged Piaf but abruptly jump back a few decades to Piaf's childhood. These earlier scenes of childhood are a tad dull, as we see young Edith in the streets with her mother. After surviving horrible living conditions with her maternal grandmother, she is transported to live in her faternal grandmother's brothel and becomes blind because of keratitis, allegedly healed by St. Therese. When Edith's father returns from WWI, she travels with him and the circus. Nonetheless, there are still a handful of effectively touching moments from young Edith's childhood.

We don't really know in detail what happened during her teenage years (although a flashback revealed that she had a daughter), but at the age of twenty, she is discovered by an admirer on the street who gradually makes her a star. The young Edith is nicknamed "La Mome Piaf" (The Little Sparrow) and becomes a international superstar, enchanting the world with her passionate, dramatic singing voice. Soon, we see an ill Piaf becoming more and more dependent on drugs as she ages. A few more details of young Edith are told through various flashbacks, but none are as coherent and interesting as they should be. Those short flashback scenes detract the film's value because it does not maintain my interest but instead, keeps people like myself who are not familiar with the details of Piaf's life much in the dark.

What keeps the film from drowning in its own midst of cinematic creativity is Marion Cotillard's lovely performance as the legendary French singer. As Piaf, Cotillard captures the sensational humor, the tragic downfalls, the raging passions, the faithfulness, the bubbling talents, the extreme vulnerability, the artistic wonders, the agonies, and simply, the beating heart of Edith Piaf. Cotillard simply glides through the decades of Piaf's transformation (with the help of a terrific make-up team) with life and grandeur. A key scene where her acting talents are accentuated with such powerful force and maturity is when Piaf finds out about her lover's death. In that scene, there is no question that Cotillard had become Edith Piaf, not only in mannerisms but also in spirit. In the final scene, she proves that she is indeed a revelation and this is a performance to remember. It has been a long time since I have seen a performance of a famous person that does not seem like a mere imitation, and I sincerely applaud Cotillard for that.

Rating: 7/10

To All Those Ron and Hermione Shippers Out There...

(minor spoilers for those who have not read all seven books)

It is Harry Potter month on ABC network and I have been re-watching each of the films for the third of fourth time. Last night, they aired Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and I just thought...why Ron and Hermione? Just...why? I've never understood the hype for this ship. I see very little to no chemistry between the two characters. Come to think of it, if I were to be left reading the books on my own without any outside contact or Internet access, I would have never guessed it was J.K. Rowling's intention to create romantic feelings between Harry's two best friends. Sure, I am aware of those hints planted here and there never appeared to be something that felt like the real deal. The romance (if you can call it that) feels forced and the revelation in book seven was kind of lame, if you asked me.

Since the first book, I've always thought it was going to be Harry and Hermione. No, seriously. Call me delusional, but I really believed that. And seriously, why not Harry and Hermione? Watching the third Harry Potter film solidified my beliefs. Harry and Hermione work well as a team and Rowling (as a writer) and Alfonso Cuaron (as a director) presented that quite well through their work. I guess the fact that Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson have such great chemistry together also supports my case. The idea of Ron and Hermione seem strangely incomplete after watching the third film. Speaking of Harry, I absolutely loathe the idea of Harry and Ginny. I loathe it and I will loathe it for the rest of my life.

I have to admit that I am not the biggest Harry Potter fan, although I did thoroughly adore the first five books (especially the fifth, which I believe is probably the greatest fantasy novel I have ever read). But things like shipping fandoms that I see no merit in puzzle me to no end. I must say that one of the few shortcomings of Rowling as a writer lies in the fact that she cannot create any convincing romance in her epic series. Rowling's attempts at romance in a series where magic and emotions work so well, feels sloppy and abrupt.

Any thoughts? Comments? Feel the need to enlighten me and share passages of the all-time great Ron and Hermione moments? Feel free to do so.

I was just reading an old movie review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and it frustrates me that some people can't praise the third film without criticizing the first two, vice versa. They are all fun and entertaining films with the directors' interesting spins on Rowling's novels. Both Cuaron and Chris Columbus are great directors who had done terrific directorial work for their respected installments.

Monday, April 14, 2008

"Death Therapy, Bob. It's a guaranteed cure."

Short Review: What About Bob? | dir. Frank Oz | rel. 1991

I'm glad that this movie went beyond its one-joke premise of an annoying patient who follows his psychiatrist to his vacation home. What About Bob? remains consistently funny throughout and even has some brilliantly goofy dark humor in between. I guess the reason why I enjoyed the film so much was because of its two leading actors--Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss. I guess it is expected to see Murray do his usual schtick as a straightforward comedic actor in the role of Bob Wiley. I'm only truly in awe of Murray's talent as an actor when it comes to his performances in Wes Anderson's films. Anderson writes characters for Murray that places him in an unusual arena, and I like that; it forces him to flex his versatility. But still, Murray is quite appropriately a bundle of annoyance and energy in What About Bob?. Oh, who am I kidding? The real reason of why this film works so well, in my opinion, is Richard Dreyfuss.

Dreyfuss is, well, completely and totally insane in the film as Dr. Leo Marvin. He is insanely hilarious, that is. Dr. Marvin, in many ways, is even more insane than his patient when he displays his maddening emotional outbursts. Dreyfuss makes a egotistical, pretentious, and narcissist creep into the character you relate to the most, and that is a fantastic feat. There is a scene where he is teaching his son how to dive. But his son isn't willing to jump into the water. When Bob tries to get his son to dive, the son finally succeeds and this frustrates Dr. Marvin. I think watching someone achieve something that we tried so hard to achieve ourselves is a common emotion--and Dreyfuss and the script portrays that sense of failure and jealousy perfectly. The audience feels sorry for him, not only because he is being visited by possibly the most annoying psychiatric patient within the limits of the film, but even his own family prefers the patient over him. I'm a sucker for cinematic sympathy, and with Dr. Marvin, that's all I felt for him...most of the time.

That is when the writing and directing comes in. The film does a fine job with balancing the more obvious comedic moments with understated scenes of character development. The film cares about its characters, no matter how obnoxious or frustrating they are.

But I must nitpick on a few flaws in the film. Firstly, I was rather irritated by the film's music, which reminded me of standard trailer music from the 90s. Secondly, there are some scenes where I felt rather uncertain about Bob's character. Does this guy need serious help? Is he just a nice guy with a few issues? Is he supposed to be annoying? If he is supposed to be annoying, then why does everyone else in the film (with the exception of Dr. Marvin) adore him even at his worst moments? Another problem that drove my nuts was when Dr. Marvin and his wife allowed Bob to sleep in the same room as their son, especially with Dr. Marvin's hatred for Bob. Would it be a little irresponsible to have your young son sleep in the same room as an adult psychiatric patient? I think so!

Flaws aside, I liked this film quite a lot. I laughed in various scenes, especially in the exchanges between Murray and Dreyfuss and Dreyfuss' individual scenes. What About Bob? is a fun comedy and worth a viewing.

Rating: 7.5/10

Saturday, April 12, 2008

"Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night!"

All About Eve | dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz | rel. 1950

All About Eve is a glorious dramatic film about life in the theater. The film looks great, so I gave into my temptations--I'm going to make a film stills/review post regarding the film after I found some great screencaps of it. Sorry for the possible incoherence of this post. And there are some minimal spoilers here, so...beware!

I love this shot for some reason. It occurs quite early in the film (before the flashbacks) and it fits in so well with the words being said during the scene:

 Such young hands. Such a young lady.
Young in years, but whose heart is as old as the Theater...

Eve Harrington, the title character of the film, is played by Anne Baxter. Baxter is quite good in the role of an aspiring theater actress but...

Everyone who has seen this film before knows that Bette Davis is the true star of All About Eve. I believe that Davis was born to play Margo Channing, in the same way that Vivien Leigh was just meant to play Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. I don't know if I could say it better right now than what I wrote in my Xanga regarding the film the other day, so I guess I'll just paste it here for all to read:

Bette Davis is so amazing as Margo Channing. Davis made what had been a simple character of pure bitchiness into a sympathetic, moving, and brilliant character. I guess one of the problems about the film is that Eve Harrington just isn't sympathetic enough (unnecessary? I think that some sympathy is vital to understanding Eve's character) and I find that one of the major faults of Anne Baxter's performance. Baxter, although great, just didn't sink in deep enough for the character to be completely satisfying on-screen, especially compared to Davis, who just gave it her 150%.

I love this scene. Gary Merrill is so wonderful as Bill Simpson. He and Davis have surprisingly amazing chemistry. In so many movies, age difference hurts movie chemistry but here, to my delight, it does not.

Bette Davis' eyes makes close-ups a million times better.

Anyone heard of the song, "Bette Davis Eyes" by Kim Carnes? It's a beautiful song and there is a sweet story regarding Davis' reaction to the song (IMDb):

After the song Bette Davis Eyes became a hit single, Davis wrote letters to singer Kim Carnes and songwriters Donna Weiss & Jackie DeShannon, asking how did they know so much about her. One of the reasons Davis loved the song is that her granddaughter heard it and thought it "cool" that her grandmother had a hit song written about her.

It is quite obvious that every single actor involved in the film just adored their roles and chewed it up completely. The film is decorated with terrific supporting roles--to Addison DeWitt, Bill Simpson, to Lloyd Richards. But there is one supporting performance in this film I absolutely loved--Celeste Holm as Karen Richards, best friend of Margo Channing and wife of playwright Lloyd Richards. In the beginning, Karen is very sympathetic towards Eve, almost motherly. Of course, this is until she realizes Eve's conniving ways that she withdraws from her sympathetic feelings towards the young girl. This transformation could have been sloppily done, but the way Holm conveys her feelings is so natural that you barely even notice the gradual change of heart.

"Oh, you little bitch..." was going through my mind again and again in this particular scene. I love to hate Eve as much as the next person, but I just keep wishing there was at least something I could truly bring myself to sympathize with. I guess the fact that she wanted to be a theater star so badly that she was willing to turn vicious for it is worthy of sympathy but...I still can't bring myself to care enough for Eve's vulnerable side that she put on display during that crucial scene with Addison (George Sanders). I really wish that every character I hate is just like (excuse me for my Harry Potter reference) Severus Snape.

I still can't get over how easily Margo fell for Eve's trap. But hey, Eve was a sweet girl.

What a marvelous ending...

I realized that the more I think about this film, the more I like it. But for now:

Rating: 8/10

Friday, April 11, 2008

Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes

I know this is old news but...

I really like this video because how true it feels to an actual press conference. It just feels very authentic. The video is a really nice addition to the The Dark Knight viral marketing campaign. I am totally psyched that Gyllenhaal is replacing Katie Holmes in the next Batman movie and this video just proves it all. Unlike Holmes, Gyllenhaal has sort of a presence that screams maturity and strength that Holmes lacks. I didn't really hate Holmes' performance in Batman Begins as much as many others did, but I did think that she was a rather weak link in the previous film.

Don't get me wrong, though. I think Holmes is a solid actress and she was surprisingly fantastic in Pieces of April but everything else she has done so far in her career has this weird girl-next-door-but-not-quite kind of vibe. It is as if Holmes never left Dawson's Creek.

Then again, Holmes' awkward performance does not hurt the fact that I like the idea of Rachel Dawes (Bruce Wayne's childhood friend, link to the law, etc). Unfortunately, everything felt sort of unnatural, not just because of Holmes' lackluster performance, but the writing was kind of horrible. Even the wildest Batman Begins fan would admit that the lines for Rachel Dawes were certainly not the greatest. For The Dark Knight, I have some high expectations for both Gyllenhaal and the writers (Jonathan and Christopher Nolan) because they seem to have some insanely awesome material to work with this time around.

So, what do you all think about the video or The Dark Knight in general?

(Movie reviews of recently-seen movies coming soon.)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

RIP Charlton Heston (1924-2008)

I had a TV in my room since I was about six-years-old and I would very often watch television shows and movies alone; my parents always wanted to watch something else so they thought the idea of putting a TV up in my room as pure convenience for everyone in the house. Every year, I would watch Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 classic, The Ten Commandments, alone on TV around Easter time. I didn't know much about its Biblical significance back then, but I was entertained by the extravagance and ambitiousness of the picture nonetheless. As a child, I didn't know much about the more detailed aspects of film, but I knew what I liked and what I didn't like. In the case of The Ten Commandments, I was loving what I saw and heard from the screen.

One of the many things I saw and heard on screen was Charlton Heston as Moses. But I never acknowledged Heston as an actor playing Moses. He simply was Moses. Heston held such a convincing command over the role that his presence alone was enough to describe the film as a larger-than-life epic. His voice and demeanor possessed a wondrous authority that it became the basic foundation of the film itself.

He will be missed.