Thursday, July 31, 2008

"I am Catwoman. Hear me roar."

Batman Returns | rel. 1992 | dir. Tim Burton

Isn't that poster one of the most effortlessly awesome creations ever? I sure think so!

Everyone I know just loves Tim Burton and I'm not too sure why. I once told someone that I did not like any of Burton's films, and the person immediately questioned if I ever watched a Burton film. The person probably believed that if I have indeed seen one of Burton's films, I would instantly know what a visual artist and fantastical director he really is. There is no question that Burton exhibits an interesting creative vision for each of his films, but he is a lesser fantasy storyteller when compared to the likes of Steven Spielberg or Robert Zemeckis. Burton never fails to bore me slightly when he presents one of his Gothic tales or morbid bursts of imagination. Strangely and unexpectedly, I was thoroughly entertained in my second viewing of Batman Returns.

The Dark Knight's first two blockbuster cinematic outings in 1989 and 1992 were both directed by Burton. I will say rather boldly and daringly that I believe those two movies are the worst Batman movies of the modern bunch. While the Joel Schumacher movies are a combination of an illegal drug and rainbow-colored lava lamps, they are far more entertaining than Burton's gloomy, dull, and lifeless illustration of Gotham City.

1989's Batman will always be a classic, not because it is a particularly wonderful film, but it is the Batman film that most people of my generation watched on television or on video. I've seen it several times on television over the years and admittedly enjoyed it, but after seeing it on DVD just last year, I formed a new opinion on the original Batman: I don't like it.

No matter how charismatic and colorful Jack Nicholson's Joker is, he is never frightening and simply just lives up to his name: he jokes around--that's it. Now that mostly everyone has seen Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight, Nicholson's Joker will be merely a figment of childhood memories. Considering The Joker is surely the star, I already forgotten about Batman/Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale. There is not one moment in the film that Batman/Bruce or Vicki are compelling or interesting at all. It is all about The Joker in Batman, and perhaps rightfully so.

Thankfully, Batman still remained more of a Batman film than a Burton film. But gee, was it boring to watch as a teenager.

Three years later after the glowing success of Batman, the WB gave Burton nearly free reign to fulfill his vision for the sequel, Batman Returns. With all the eccentric characters and chaotic skeletons on motorcycles, the film magnified all of Burton's sloppy fingerprints. The film continues on being more Burton than Batman and has absolutely no respect for the Batman mythos. But as someone who isn't crazy about those mythos, I don't exactly mind the origin stories of the two star villains in Batman Returns, but I don't exactly dig the stories either.

The film opens to the birth of a disfigured child around Christmastime (a strange time setting for a summer release, I must say). The child's parents react with horror and dump him Moses-style into a stream of Gotham and down he floats, into those murky sewers. Thirty-three years later, he becomes The Penguin (Danny DeVito) and mysteriously controls the Red Circus Gang to stir havoc and violence with a vengeance in Gotham City. Personally, I'd rather have the gentlemanly criminal mastermind originally depicted in the comics and later in the cartoons, but if this was the way Burton wanted it to work, I really don't mind. Unfortunately, it doesn't work.

To detach the film farther away from the mythos, Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a mousy secretary of some huge businessman by the name of Max Schreck (Christopher Walken). When Selina discovers a secret of Schreck's, she is pushed out of a window and left to die--until several stray cats come to the rescue and lick her back to life. So Selina comes back to life to her lonely apartment and at first, she appears to be somewhat of a zombie. Suddenly, she goes psychotic, starts spraying black paint all over her apartment, finds a rubber costume, sews it into a cool suit, and tries to avenge for her death with a sudden burst of confidence and ninja skills as Catwoman. Again, I would have preferred the dark-haired cat burgular from the comics and cartoons, but hey, this isn't too bad, right? No, I'm just lying to myself.

As far as I know, that Schreck guy Selina works for serves no purpose to the story at all other than the fact that he's a terrible, nasty businessman whose big secret is that he wants to suck all of Gotham's power source. If Burton and Co. found this idea interesting, they definitely got the wrong idea of what is interesting. And even if the idea just totally sucks--which it does--at least try to let it contribute to the story some way or another, but it never does. Casting a big name like Walken just shows how much filmmakers can waste great talents.

With Penguin, Catwoman, and Shreck in the picture, they almost forgot about Batman. I mean, he is only the title character. The problem with the Burton films (and Schumacher films, to some extent) is that the villains always overshadowed Batman. Batman Returns is a fine example of that, but Batman definitely has a stronger presence this time around. In the original Batman film, the character had more screen time, but he was just "there" most of the time, mainly because of obvious obligations. I did not like Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne or Batman in the original, but he gave a great performance as Bruce Wayne in his second go-around.

Keaton's performance as Bruce Wayne is full of charisma and charm, ingredients that were absent from his performance in the first movie. The scene where Bruce meets Schreck's character and throws the files across the table to Schreck is excellently done and captured Bruce's careless playboy persona perfectly. Keaton's Bruce also has electrifying chemistry with Pfeiffer's Selina and the scene where they masquerade at Schreck's ball only to realize that they are really nemesis in the nighttime streets is a wonderfully executed scene. Batman Returns is probably the only Batman movie that delivers an interesting romance that doesn't feel like idiocy or studio obligations just hit the screen.

So Keaton nailed his performance as Bruce Wayne, but what about his Batman? The problem with his Batman is that the character acts as a catalyst for the villains. Keaton's Batman delivers his words with this collected calmness, but his Batman always seem very separated from the guy behind the mask. There is this detachment about Bruce and Batman. Keaton never seems to form a connection between the two personas, while Christian Bale successfully does in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

Keaton's Batman is also far from heroic. Say all you want, but Batman is widely considered to be a superhero. I don't think Batman enjoying some S&M that apparent to the average eight-year-old, but superheroes just don't set people on fire or blow people up and then smile about it afterwards. Keaton is not at fault here, but the people behind this film certainly are. For a film that had merchandise geared towards children, this is disappointing. Recently, The Dark Knight has been criticized for its PG-13 rating and advertisement toward children, but at least the film has an non-killing machine for a hero at the center of it all.

As for the controversy back in its release in 1992, Batman Returns is actually more puke-inducing than nightmare-inducing. There are just several very nasty scenes in this film that adds nothing to the plot or the characters in any way. Penguin bites a guy's nose and in result, blood splatters everywhere. Catwoman grabs Penguin's bird from its birdcage and puts it in her mouth and appears to be enjoying the taste of it--until Penguin threatens to kill her pet cat. Another scene that I found particularly stupid and also kind of awkwardly sick was when Catwoman gives herself a bath by licking her arms and rubbing the saliva onto her head. Oh yeah, Penguin is also unbelievably horny and I'm pretty sure that's apparent to the average eight-year-old.

So about the plot...well, I'm not sure if there is one. Penguin kidnaps Schreck and wants Schreck to turn him into Gotham's hero. They set up this silly plan to get one of his circus people to take the mayor's kid into the sewers just so Penguin can save him. Penguin becomes a huge Gotham celebrity, albeit Bruce's suspisions, and Schreck wants to get Penguin to run for mayor, a plotline that is laughably stupid. Catwoman's plotline sort of forms on the sidelines as she blows up Schreck's mall as part of her revenge plan. Then Catwoman gets terribly pissed when Batman hits her so she asks Penguin to join forces with her so they can destroy Batman together. I noticed that teaming up to destroy Batman has become sort of a tradition since Batman Returns.

The flaw with Penguin and Catwoman teaming up is that they are both so completely aimless about destroying Batman. Honestly, they don't even make that much of an effort because there is just so much going on in the film that their goal in destroying Batman kind of gets pushed to the side. I would have enjoyed some kind of reasonable, coherent plan brewing between the two, but sadly, they don't work too well together. It would have been interesting to see some conflict between the two villains other than more references towards Penguin's repressed sexuality, but like I noted so many times before, I didn't exactly get everything I wanted from this film.

This film had so much potential but almost everything goes to waste. Style is constantly chosen over substance. But I enjoyed myself, or more than I did while watching Burton's Planet of the Apes, Mars Attack!, Edward Scissorhands, and Big Fish. I guess on the Burton scale, I like Batman Returns as much as I like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I can't deny the fact that I was entertained by what I saw on screen.

So a part of me thinks the film is complete junk. No die-hard Batman fan can possibly love (like--maybe) this movie, especially after how much the people behind this film screwed up the origin stories of the film's two main villains for the worse and created a killer Batman. But another part of me kind of likes it because it is pure entertainment. The origin stories are ridiculous and unnecessary, but they possess sort of this admirable originality. I like the relationship between Bruce/Batman and Selina/Catwoman. I like Michael Keaton as Bruce. Michael Gough always gives a reliable performance as Bruce's trusty butler, Alfred Pennysworth. Pfeffier and DeVito are surprisingly solid, considering the material they had to work with. Danny Elfman's score brings a certain liveliness to the film. The screenplay by Daniel Waters and Wesley Strick is full of stupid one-liners, but they are funny while they last.

I guess what I'm trying to say is I like the Batman Returns for what it is. This is Burton's insane vision and I am finally getting the hang of that man's explosively weird and somewhat campy fantasy landscape. Burton's second installment is far from the best Batman movie, but it is a good movie--if not a good Batman movie--or at least, better than its predecessor.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, July 27, 2008

My Dream David Copperfield Cast

In my review/rant of the BBC version of David Copperfield, I discussed the complete miscasts of several of the beloved main characters. Yes, I want to do a re-cast of my own. Take this post as my dream cast for my favorite novel. It's not that anyone really cares, but this is my blog so I can do whatever I wish and no one can ever stop me. (evil cackle)


I've stated that I'd like to see an Hollywood take on the classic Dickens tale, even though Dickens is totally British (haha). I even specified the director I'd like to see take on such a challenge--Alfonso Cuaron. Honestly, I haven't seen all the film he has directed, but the directional styles he exhibited in the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and A Little Princess is what a realistic Victorian-age fairy tale needs to come to life. I know Cuaron has already done Dickens in the form of a modern-day version of Great Expectations and I still have not seen the film because I don't believe in re-naming 99% of the characters of a novel for a film just to make it more "hip."

There are several versions of David Copperfield and it would seem rather unfair that I am re-casting a film that I haven't seen every single version of. But seriously, I would need a longer life if I want to watch every single film version ever made of David Copperfield. This is simply my dream cast, a cast that has never been featured on film.

While reading David Copperfield, I constantly imagined who would be the perfect David on film. He is kind, yet foolish. He is charming, yet courageous. He is immature, yet responsible. When I watched The 400 Blows and Antoine and Colette, I realized that Jean-Pierre Leaud could have made an excellent David Copperfield. Like Antoine Doinel, David is very much a romantic at heart. Unfortunately for me, it isn't the sixties anymore. Leaud is much too old to play David now.



Then I saw Hellboy on TV one night and there was something very David-esque about Rupert Evans's performance. Let's face it, John Myers is probably the most unnecessary character ever created for a superhero movie. He is there so the audience can have someone to relate to in the midst of freaks, but serves next to no purpose to the story whatsoever. I guess Myers's short-lived romance with the Selma Blair character revealed that Hellboy had the hots for her, but love triangles in superhero movies are becoming too much of a new, unnecessary fad. Apparently, Evans didn't participate in the second film due to scheduling conflicts or money issues--not that they needed him anyway.

But if anyone ever attempts make another adaptation of David Copperfield and wants to do it right (like by not casting Hayden Christensen), they need to cast Rupert Evans in the lead. He is arguably not the best-looking guy in the room--and David should never be played by someone dripping sex--but he has a certain natural shyness and charm about him. I don't know if that was the way Myers was written in the script, but it would certainly work for David.

The actress who plays Agnes Wickfield needs to seem ideal for David every single time we see her. The Agnes in the BBC version looked much too old and motherly while standing next to David. They looked even more ridiculous when they finally reveal their feelings to each other and officially become a couple. There was no chemistry or warmth in their scenes together at all and the final revelation between them was far from developed.

Usually, I prefer women in stories who are brave and imperfect on the edges. Agnes is the opposite, but she possesses a lovable sincerity that is completely irresistable. Agnes is an idealized housewife in the most traditional sense, but there is this strength and faith about her when it comes to the people she loves the most. Some consider her character to be the least authentic of all of Dickens's colorful characters, but she is undoubtedly the character that Dickens wished he could have only had the chance to spend the rest of his life with. Simply put, Agnes only exists in a figment of an author's imagination and that is why I love her so much.


I seriously considered several actresses until I settled with Emily Mortimer. She is six years Evans's senior, but she looks so young that her age doesn't really matter. Mortimer's performances are always full of sweetness and vulnerability, but many of her characters are also very grounded but never too simple. Mortimer may very well add another dimension to Agnes's angelic demeanor. Hopefully, she can deliver a performance that will add the human desires (which Agnes has very much of) to a character that is often criticized as "flat."

Dora Spenlow needs to be played by someone significantly younger than everyone else to emphasize on her immaturity and child-wife status. The actress in the BBC version just looked about everyone else's age. Plus, she just seemed like an older woman pretending she was a little girl so it came off as a little awkward. She didn't exaggerate Dora's childish antics so the comedic opportunities that should have reeked from the character never flowed through.


This is exactly why Emma Watson would make the perfect Dora.

Watson is only eighteen years old, making her significantly younger than both Evans and Mortimer. Physically, she would definitely come off as an incompetent child-wife, so her performance will be all the more convincing. Watson also has a notorious reputation when it comes to over-acting, which is what a Dora performance needs. Dora needs to freak out about things, yet be overly sweet when she admits that she is completely useless. Watson would be fabulous in the role.


There is also Tommy Traddles, the true best friend of David. BBC completely discarded the character while I found him to be the lighthearted character the film needed. I actually think Martin Freeman would be perfect as Traddles because how "aw shucks" he looks, especially in the BBC version of The Office. He'd be a wonderful Traddles, I bet.


Although I found the actors who played James Steerforth and Rosa Dartle "just right" in the BBC version of David Copperfield, I came across a fan site of a British actress by the name of Rachael Stirling who just looked a lot like how I imagined Rosa Dartle. If they ever make another David Copperfield film, Stirling would absolutely look the part. All she needs is a devilish scar. (For those who are unfamiliar with Stirling, she is the daughter of Diana Rigg, a former Bond girl.)


While the actor who played Uriah Heep in the BBC version wasn't bad, I would actually love to see Ralph Fiennes do something wicked with the Heep character. He has already played two very terrifying but iconic film villains: Voldemort in the Harry Potter films and most memorably, Amon Goeth in Schindler's List. I'm afraid Fiennes is a little too old for Heep since in the novel, Heep is supposed to be only a few years older than David--but hey, a little artistic license never does any harm.

I don't think there is need to re-cast the other actors. I loved Maggie Smith, Bob Hoskins, and Imelda Staunton in their roles and can't think of anyone who could replace them. Smith understood the character of Betsey Trotwood more than any other actor ever could.

So here I concluce my rant regarding my dream cast of my favorite novel, David Copperfield. As you can see, I made an extra effort to cast British actors in the roles. I'm not saying there isn't a version out there that suits my taste, but an epic, cinematic treatment directed by Alfonso Cuaron and a lovely cast is what I'm searching for.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The 12 Movies Meme

I was tagged by the awesome J.D. of Valley Dreamin'. The meme looked like a lot of fun, so I thought I'd give it a go.

According to the Lazy Eye Theatre blog entry, the idea came when the blogger read an article about Diablo Cody getting to choose 12 films to be featured at the New Beverly Cinema.
"The Meme that asks what if YOU could pick 12 movies to run at the New Beverly Cinema?"

1) Choose 12 Films to be featured. They could be random selections or part of a greater theme. Whatever you want.

2) Explain why you chose the films.

3) Link back to Lazy Eye Theatre so Piper can have hundreds of links and she can take those links and spread them all out on the bed and then roll around in them.

4) The people selected then have to turn around and select 5 more people.
At first, I wanted to categorize the movies with really random stuff like, "movies with cool flying scenes" or "movies that deals with gardening." But then the categories just did not sound cool enough so I just thought I'd keep it simple and go with broader subjects/themes.

So I guess my theater is closed on Tuesday because closing on Sunday would be ridiculous and unsound when it comes to the world of the movie theater biz. I picked a lot of movies that I personally want to see in theaters since I've never got the chance. I kind of drowned in rambling for some of the movies I picked since I never really had the opportunity to profess my love to them.

Dysfunctional Sunday



I picked Ordinary People because I love that movie tremendously. It has one of the most powerful ensembles I've ever seen. The performances by Timothy Hutton, Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, and Judd Hirsch are all superb. Plus, first-time director Robert Redford's use of Pachelbel's "Canon in D" makes the film's opening and ending scenes domestic but strangely heartbreaking. It doesn't feature the quirky, weirdo dysfunctional family in the veins of The Squid and the Whale and Little Miss Sunshine (I considered both), but rather in a seemingly "normal" household where the father is utterly confused and the mother doesn't even love her own son. That's enough for me to conclude that the Jaretts has as much problems as their other so-called more dysfunctional cinematic family counterparts. Definitely one of my favorite movies of all-time and I would love to see this film on the big-screen someday.

The Royal Tenenbaums is the quirky, weirdo dysfunctional family that I previously mentioned. It was a choice between this or Junebug, but I just had to settle with Wes Anderson's smart, witty, and touching little masterpiece about the depressing adult lives of genius children. Starring Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Danny Glover, and Bill Murray, that's enough for me to want to watch this movie in theaters (yes, because of that cast). The script is pure wonder--sweet and full of Anderson's trademark deadpan humor. Oh, and how can you go wrong with a kickass soundtrack featuring Nico, The Rolling Stones, and The Velvet Underground? You can't. The movie has a very seventies feel to it, too, not only in the soundtrack but also in the costumes and sets. I'd love to have a The Royal Tenenbaums theater experience.

Unrequited Monday (Definitely spoiler-ish.)



Like I said in my review of Antoine and Colette, I love movies about unrequited love. There is a certain spirit about love unrequited love on film that is unquestionably romantic and powerful. Giant, apart from being a film of epic proportions, is a great story of unrequited love. The way James Dean's Jett Rink declared his love with anguish to Leslie Benedict (Elizabeth Taylor) in an empty hall with Leslie's daughter eavesdropping by the barely-opened door is one of the epic's greatest moments and perhaps even one of the greatest moments in cinema, period. So of course I'd like to witness that on a big-screen. The bigger the screen is, the better, because then it can showcase every centimeter of George Stevens's masterful direction and grand utilization of the widescreen format.

I've said many times that I consider Roman Holiday to be one of my favorite romantic comedies. When I really think about it, Roman Holiday is far from a pure romantic comedy. It has plenty of dramatic moments and it is the dramatic core that makes the film realistic and effective. The last scene where Gregory Peck's good-hearted American reporter Joe Bradley walks out of that hall makes one of my favorite endings ever. It is not an unrealistic cliche, but wholeheartedly bittersweet and memorable. While Audrey Hepburn may have stolen the show, Gregory Peck stole my heart.

World War II Wednesday



Empire of the Sun is one of my favorite movies ever. The gorgeous cinematography, the lush John Williams score, and the coming-of-age story has been charred in my mind forever. This may not be in the same league as Steven Spielberg's other WWII movies (minus the horrendous 1941), but it is all very classic Spielberg. The initial boyish wonder morphs into a gradual descent into the lost of innocence--all that is done with a certain cinematic magic that only Spielberg seems to know how to convey perfectly on-screen. In addition, the film features my all-time favorite child performance of all time: Christian Bale as Jamie "Jim" Graham.

I didn't want to pick another Spielberg WWII film, so I went with "The Movie That Should Have Won Best Picture of 2006 But Was Beaten By That One Scorsese Movie," Letters From Iwo Jima. I actually saw this one in theaters and loved it. The film lacks the lavishness that I like to see on the big-screen, but it's extraordinarily touching in every way. Clint Eastwood's war film is less a war film and more about humanity. The film was made as an afterthought after Eastwood made Flags of Our Fathers but it never feels like an afterthought. It is a brilliant companion piece that surpasses its predecessor in every way.

Gangster Thursday



I just want to see The Godfather: Part II in theaters. It is one of those films that I would die to see in theaters, even more than the other Godfather films. I mean, seeing or The GodfatherThe Godfather: Part III would be super cool, but The Godfather: Part II on the big-screen would blow my mind. There are too many great scenes in the film for me to name, but I'll try anyway: Michael kisses Fredo on New Year's in Cuba, Kay reveals to Michael that she received an abortion (Diane Keaton...whoa), the boathouse scene between Michael and Fredo (just sums up why John Cazale was robbed of an Oscar nomination), when Michael tells Pentangeli that his father's advice (you know which one I'm talking about), young Vito in Italy, with a vengeance...I mean, wouldn't all that just be awesome in a theater? (And that poster above is probably the most effortlessly badass poster ever.)

I needed another gangster film so, um, GoodFellas. But this movie is seriously entertaining. I don't think there is another film that moves faster or crazier. Definitely one of Scorsese's best.

Detective Friday



Dick Tracy is just a lot of fun. You've got Warren Beatty's goofy film-noir imitation of a performance, Madonna's sultry voice added to Stephen Sondheim songs, and Al Pacino's menacing Hitler-like (in looks) villain. Then you have those eye-catching sets and costumes colored with the bright vividness of ketchup red and raincoat yellow.

There are only a few films that gave that rare "OMFG" feeling when I'm finally finished with them, and L.A. Confidential is among those greats. It is what some might like to call a "modern film-noir," but at heart, it's just a smart, suspenseful, and all-around fantastic period piece and crime movie. The film has a great cast, featuring Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, James Crowell, and Danny DeVito. I love Wikipedia's description of the film:
The story eventually encompasses organized crime, political corruption, heroin, pornography, prostitution, tabloid journalism, institutional racism, plastic surgery and Hollywood.
Yeah, the movie's got everything.

Filmmaking Saturday



When I think of "filmmaking on film," I instantly think of Federico Fellini's weird, wildly imaginative, and moving . Guido (Marcello Mastroianni) captivated me and the artist in me (there isn't really one, haha) I unexpectedly related to him. I guess as a wannabe-writer who frequently run out of ideas after page ten, I know how it feels like to be creatively bankrupt. But not only is Guido creatively bankrupt, there is a lot of pressure for him to churn out an idea. He even has a freaking movie set being built and actors lined up for his next movie that isn't even developed yet. I've always had a love for movies that are semi-autobiographic and personal to the creator's heart, and is in some ways Fellini's David Copperfield, but only expressing a certain feeling of fear and confusion rather than an entire life story. While I'm on the topic of , Rob Marshall's cast for Nine is insanely wonderful in a it's-too-good-to-be-true kind of way. I can't wait.

Speaking of musicals, my last addition is Singin' in the Rain. I wanted to end my "week" with a happy, optimistic film, and there isn't anything as happy or optimistic as Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly's song and dance extravaganza. (Filmmaking Friday would sound nice, though. But I wanted a happy ending.) Besides being a movie musical, it's a clever and funny take on the film industry's transition from silent to sound and even of the Hollywood publicity machine.

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I'm tagging recent commenters Shawn of Deadpan, Farzan of At the Movies with Farzan, plus Anil of The Long Take, Kayleigh of Shiny Happy Blog, and Nick of Fataculture. No worries if you don't feel like doing it, I'll understand. But for those who are doing the meme, I look forward to seeing what made your movie list!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Masterpiece Theatre is not my thing

David Copperfield | rel. 1999 (TV) | dir. Simon Curtis

Spoilers. (Kinda.) You've been warned.

For those who immediately think of David Copperfield the magician, that is very depressing. Charles Dickens's David Copperfield is one of my favorite books of all-time. It is a touching coming-of-age story of a young boy trying to survive in Victorian-age London and eventually learns to discipline his heart. It is only when he can control his mind and heart that he finds success and happiness in his life. Goodness, I love this novel.

Like many of Dickens's novels, David Copperfield is blasting with the style of Dickens on every single page. The author himself regarded David Copperfield his personal favorite from all the books that he wrote and many consider it as his most autobiographical. I believe that Dickens loved David Copperfield so much that he even recycled bits and pieces of it for his darker, somewhat Gothic Great Expectations. Personally, I think Great Expectations doesn't even come close to the artistic mastery of David Copperfield.

Being someone who loves David Copperfield, I obviously could not withhold myself from a film version.

Recently, I watched the BBC production of David Copperfield. The first part is very good. Not as inspirational or touching as Charles Dickens's words are in the novel, but it is certainly in the range of "good enough." There is a fabulous performance by a young Daniel Radcliffe (who is best-known as Harry Potter), who is sweet and innocent but incredibly courageous and full of adventurous wonder. No wonder some guy from WB saw it and thought, "This kid would make a fine Harry Potter." Unfortunately, his work in the Harry Potter films are only slightly mediocre, although he is improving in each film. Meh, I don't care much for Radcliffe's current career, honestly.

There are some very memorable supporting performances, by Bob Hoskins (whom I swore wasn't British since he was totally American in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) as the funny and hopeful Mr. Micawber and always-wonderful Maggie Smith as Betsey Trotwood. Smith is nothing less than excellent as David's Aunt Betsey. She just nails the character, fair and square. The scenes where she is shooing the donkeys away is pure comedic perfection, just like it is on print. Imelda Staunton put in some great notable effort as Mrs. Micawber. I've never noticed how beautiful Staunton is since her convincingly toad-like performance of Professor Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is basially the Staunton that I remember.

Trevor Eve and Zoe Wanamaker are truly frightening and Mr. and Miss Murdstone. It is so freaking obvious they killed David's mother. They look like the devil's accomplices. Emilia Fox definitely evokes the sweetness of David's mother. Pauline Quirke is very likable as David's nurse, Peggoty. I think the whole Peggoty clan is quite well-casted. Maybe with the exception of Emily. Emily is supposed to be drop dead gorgeous and the curly-haired girl looks sweet and all, but not the revolutionary beauty I imagined her to be.

That scene where David flies a kite with Mr. Dick is beautiful. It is just like the book. The fantastic boat that the Peggoty clan lives in is simply magical and flawlessly interpreted onto the screen.

So I liked the first part of the film. The performance are all wonderful, mainly because of how well-casted everyone is. Almost just like how I imagined it, really...

Then comes the terrible second part.

Fine, "terrible" is an exaggeration, but the actor--Ciaran McMenamin--who plays adult David is tragically miscasted. Not only is he much too old, he is also too tall, and looks too much like a man to play Dickens's favorite child. Apart from physicality, McMenamin doesn't seem to understand the character of David at all. David is not impatient and down-right bland, he is charming, passionate, and thoughtful, albeit foolish and immature.

I now know how the disapproving Twilight fangirls felt about Robert Patterson when the movie trailer came out. He is not the Edward they imagined. McMenamin is not my David.

There is a scene that turned me completely off. It is when David proposes to the girlishly incompetent Dora. Dora is also completely miscasted. She is played by an actress named Joanna Page, who looks a few years too old for Dora. I think the only reason she was cast was because she was shorter than everyone in the cast. She handles Dora's childish antics like a grown woman pretending to be girlish. So when David passionately (more like violently) stomps into the room and is about to ask Dora for her hand in marriage, Dora's dog Jip starts barking furiously.

The David I know would just have let Jip bark and try to talk over the barks, even though he is trying to make an important statement. That is part of the charms of David. I think if David tries to propose to Dora while Jip is barking and Dora keeps misunderstanding David's words, it would have been a wonderful comedic opportunity. But do you know what McMenamin's David does instead? He yanks Jip away from Dora's side and stomps out of the freaking room and probably locks Jip up somewhere since we (the audience) clearly can't hear Jip anymore. That is not what Dickens's David would have done. Maybe this is not entirely McMenamin's fault, but David would never forcefully yank Jip away from Dora.

Director Simon Curtis and screenwriter Adrian Hodges should know better.

Another scene that frustrates me is when David finds out from the doctor that Dora has had a miscarriage. His tone and the expression on his face is so cold that Tom Wilkinson's narration seems too warm in contrast. This is certainly McMenamin's fault. David is not supposed to be cold, at all.

Then there is the casting of Agnes, which is the epitome of awful. Agnes is played by an actress by the name of Amanda Ryan. She looks much too old to be casted as Agnes. She even looks much older than McMenamin, so it looks like she is David's sister--his older sister, of course. Plus, there is no chemistry at all between McMenamin and Ryan. The relationship between David and Agnes makes up several of my favorite scenes in the novel because it's so innocently sweet and strangley romantic. But in the film, it just seems like David marries Agnes just because Dora's dead and he wants company. There should have been more David and Agnes scenes because the book, even with all its crazy subplots, is a love story at heart. So, um, lame.

In the end of the film, McMenamin wears a mustache to show that David has aged. Yes, he literally wears a mustache because there is no freaking way that the mustache is real. It's the fakest cinematic mustache I've ever seen in my life.

What I kind of hated is that it seems to show that Steerforth kind of likes and flirts with Rosa Dartle. Their relationship in the novel appears to be completely one-sided. Rosa is deeply in love with Steerforth, but can't seem to act on her passion. Steerforth kind of excuses Rosa's affections. But in the film, it shows sort of a lame love-hate teenage-like relationship (and in the book, it's much deeper than that) on Rosa's part and Steerforth is sort of a lovesick boy when he appraoches Rosa. That's so wrong.

But I have to say, Oliver Milburn and Clare Holman are the best-casted actors in the second part. I may disagree with the portrayal of their characters but I cannot disagree with how these actors handled the material.

There is Uriah Heep, who is totally underwritten in the film. He isn't menacing or particulary interesting at all. He just gives evil stares from time to time. There is no hint that he's trouble. The actor who plays Heep--Nicholas Lyndhurst--tries his best, but he is never "umble" or devilish enough to convince me that he's the Heep I read between those pages.

I should re-cast all the parts I hated for my next post. Ha. That sounds like a good idea.

So I like the first part and kind of hate the second part. Come on, Hollywood. We need an elegant, refined epic film adaptation of my favorite book. Get Alfonso Cuaron to direct it. Make it look like it was made with at least a million bucks. Cast actors who actually fit the parts. An epic David Copperfield will be a dream come true.

I don't care if the book is supposed to be better. I'm fine with small changes, as long as it works. There have been many great book adaptations over the years. So why can't David Copperfield be one of those great adaptions as well?

A new David Copperfield movie is in the works and will probably be released in 2009. The last time I checked, there was an open profile of it on IMDb, but now I can't view the information without IMDb Pro. Weird. But the cast I saw included Julie Walters, Colin Firth, and Rowan Atkinson. There were rumors swirling on the message boards that Hayden Christensen had been cast as David Copperfield, which is probably the biggest miscast of the century. I believe it is going to be helmed by Johnny English director, Peter Howitt. Comedy? Please...no.

Rating: 6/10

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"I'm not afraid of death, but I am afraid of murder."

The Conversation | rel. 1974 | dir. Francis Ford Coppola

This is July's Movie of the Month at the LAMB.

Slow, tedious, and boring are words that come to mind when I try to describe Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 film, The Conversation. It is certainly not a terrible film, per se, but it is far from being entertaining or engaging.

Made between The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II, Coppola's The Conversation is a vastly different film. While the Godfather films have several plotlines and a huge ensemble cast, The Conversation has only one major plotline and several key characters. The Conversation is a character study that hovers over the characters, but keeps a certain distance from them as well. Since no character ever gets too close, the film never gets too far.

Coppola is attempting a full-blown emulation of the suspense apparent in most Alfred Hitchcock movies. Because of this, it constantly feels like the audience is watching an experiment rather than an actual film. Like Hitchcock, Coppola does not care for cheap horror. He wants to hear heartbeats becoming faster and faster. The blunt simplicity of The Conversation is similar to Hitchcock's Rear Window, but Rear Window is an engaging, funny, charming, and beautifully thrilling mystery while The Conversation is most definitely not. Coppola is searching for a special category of suspense, albeit quite unsuccessfully.

It is obvious to any eye that Coppola is a competent director, so some moments of suspense do tick, but his own script never does. Just like Hitchcock once said, "To make a great film you need three things: the script, the script and the script."

The script is unapologetically minimalistic. Perhaps Coppola isn't only going for the Hitchcock vibe. He was going to strive for something revolutionary. Unfortunately, his film lingers like a lone vagabond, hoping it will get somewhere, but never really gets to its final destination. It makes me think that Sofia Coppola watched her father's film several times before making Lost in Translation. Although both films are of entirely different genres, they have the same minimalistic feel that isn't engaging and annoyingly bare.

The film stars Gene Hackman as Harry Caul, a paranoid and somewhat sociopathic surveillance expert who works in San Francisco. Years of hard work and dedication has earned him accolades and even fame from those of his line of expertise, but being the guy who eavesdrop on things he shouldn't hear is tough. Those thousands of dollars for a day's work does not compensate for the guilt and fear that constantly lurks in Harry's mind.

While doing a private surveillance job, Harry records a conversation between a couple, Ann (Cindy Williams) and Mark (Frederic Forrest). In their conversation, Ann and Mark express fear of Ann's husband, who is displeased of Ann's infidelity. Harry listens to the conversation over and over again, fearing for the couple's safety and hoping that this job will not lead to murder, like one of his previous jobs.

As Hackman expresses his character's guilt and sorrow through subtle facial expressions, Harry is not a likable character. He is not on friendly terms with his co-worker, Stan (John Cazale) or open about his personal life with his girlfriend Amy (Teri Garr). But undoubtedly, Hackman is the right actor for this kind of character. Hackman possesses a discreet macho intensity that is apparent in every film that I have seen him in, maybe with the exception of his hilarious cameo in Young Frankenstein.

That said, Hackman is the ultimate man's man. He does not have the conventional Hollywood handsomeness or the thrilling magneticism of his contemporaries, but he knows how to give the appropriate kind of performance for any character he takes on. With a pair of glasses and a mustache, Hackman makes Harry another ordinary, saxophone-loving man that one may encounter on the street. Harry is easily seduced by beautiful women. He loses his temper. Most importantly, he is simply not perfect. Hackman owns this persona, and in The Conversation, he finds just about the right colors to fill in the lines of Harry's character.

Most notably, Hackman and Cazale seem to hold the screen together, especially in a scene where Stan confronts Harry of his extreme secrecy. A little later in the film, Harry apologizes and Stan tries to accept the apology as best he can. The characters are finally put under the microscope, but by not exploring these two characters' relationship as much as Coppola could have, the audience never makes a meaningful discovery about the characters.

The rest of the supporting cast is effective, if not extremely memorable. Robert Duvall plays the husband of the unfaithful wife and Harrison Ford plays the assistant. Duvall's and Ford's scenes have a mysteriously enigmatic vibe that draws a certain kind of suspicious attention. There is an interesting scene that involves another guy in the wiretapping biz, Moran (Allen Garfield) and his flirtacious assistant-showgirl (Elizabeth MacRae), who both create a tiny splash in the film. Garr gives an acceptable performance, but it is Williams and Forrest who repeatedly and understandably haunts the protagonist. Williams's and Forrest's memorable appearances may be due to the fantastic editing by Richard Chew and Walter Murch. It is not a cheap flashback scene, but one that torments and dwells.

Admittedly, there are flashes of brilliance in The Conversation but they act like a dazzling puzzle that simply cannot fit in a midst of dullness. There are one too many flashbacks that don't make a statement and far too many scenes that move one miliscule at a time and arrives at nowhere. An interesting dream sequence occurs, but it feels like an empty attempt at building a character's already-known guilt. There is an intensely violent scene near the end of the film, but it never fully gives a one-two punch for the audience to care. For some reason, it is much too easy to know that the entire film was leading to that exact moment. But the grand act of heroism that we could only hope to surface flutters away before our eyes.

Accompanied by David Shire's uncluttered piano score, the film's tone feels like a marriage between the music of George Gershwin and Bernard Herrmann. Like its soundtrack, the film is too, uncluttered. It is a film about the voices of a conversation, but The Conversation never makes much noise. One can only wish that Coppola's ambitious, minimalistic story could be as classic as Gershwin and as chilling as Herrmann.

Rating: 5.5/10

Friday, July 18, 2008

"Here's my card."

The Dark Knight | rel. 2008 | dir. Christopher Nolan

Spoiers. (Kinda.) You've been warned.


I just got back from seeing The Dark Knight at the local theater several hours ago. It is a brilliantly astonishing superhero movie and I will offer my two cents shortly.

My Theater Exprience

But firstly, I'd like to talk about the crappy theater where I viewed the movie. Think of this rant as therapy rather than actual complaining.

I went to the 3:20pm showing of the film and was completely psyched. I've been looking forward to this film since I first saw Batman Begins last summer on DVD. I saw the film again on FX yesterday and that film got better in a second viewing. I'm at a point where I even prefer Hans Zimmer's and James Newton Howard's ambitious, thrilling score over the classic Danny Elfman score from the previous live action Batman efforts.

So I was at the concession stand, and a guy called his friend on his cell phone and said he was seeing the 3:20 showing of the film and how he'll give his friend a "full review" as soon as possible. I found that rather amusing and chuckled a little under my breath. A couple stood in front of me at the concession stands and later sat behind me in the theater. I remember being jealous that their bag of popcorn had Batman and Havey Dent on it while I had a promo of The Pineapple Express on mine. But oh well. So far, so good. Not that any of this ruined my experience of the film, but I'm just trying to illustrate the atmosphere, albeit poorly.

My mom and I entered the screen room at about 3:12 or so. The theater was only about 45% full since this particular theater is not very popular. The matinee is a dollar less than most local theaters so I can't really complain. Most of the time when I go to the movies with my dad or my friends, they prefer the theater in the next city. My mom didn't want to drive that far so...yeah. I didn't really mind.

I watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire a couple of years ago at the same theater, and the seats sucked and the film kind of got stuck in the middle. Recently, the theater undergone reconstruction so the seats are much nicer and comfortable now, but the screen is still small and the volume is still kind of low. But no complaints yet. Like everyone else in the theater, I was just excited to see the freaking movie!

Before the movie started, there were several interesting advertisements, all part of Cinemark's "First Look" featurette, which is included in most Cinemark theaters. I mean, I don't really mind those "First Look" stuff that much. A "First Look" for Mamma Mia! showed up on screen and my mom told me she dreamed about watching a Meryl Streep movie a while ago. That's totally insignificant, yet strangely awesome. Then a little girl in front of me told her mom that she wants to see Mamma Mia! Her mom said the most hilarious thing ever: "It's a musical. Musicals always get bad reviews." Moulin Rouge and Chicago, anyone?

Another hilarious tidbit was when this girl in the row in front of me asked this guy beside her, "So what is this film about anyway? Some Joker or something?" Which planet does she live on, anyway?

Okay, so everything was going smoothly and everyone was just as excited as I was until we encountered the Screen of Doom.

The screen told the audience to turn off or silent their cell phones, with a friendly advertisement from AT&T. Then it was still on screen...and was on the screen for about fifteen minutes. I could sense that people were beginning to get totally pissed.

Then the Screen of Doom disappeared. Then behold! The Screen of Darkness. It was just a pitch-black screen. Now people were getting really, really pissed. I don't often get pissed about technical difficulties, but that put me on a verge of a tantrum. Thankfully, I was in public, so that held me back from making a total fool of myself. So we stared at a pitch-black screen for about ten minutes and it sucked. The popcorn was good, though.

Then we watched a bunch of trailers, none of which were very appealing. Terminator Salvation, Body of Lies, Watchmen, The Spirit, Righteous Kill (an improvement from the first trailer, IMO), Blindness and several others (it felt like a dozen others) came on. I was getting impatient, despite the fact that I actually like watching movie previews. I just wanted to see the bloody movie already!

The finally, at about 4:00, the movie started.

Seriously, if the ticket says it's a 3:20 showing, it better start, at the latest, at 3:40. At the latest. What I experienced in that theater was unprofessional and not cool. I hope everyone else who saw this movie had a much more pleasant theater experience.

Review/Rant

Goodness, I talk too much. So, about the film...

I really liked it. Actually, that's an understatement. I loved it. It was nothing that I expected it to be, but the quality of the film exceeded my expectations. After watching the trailers online, I knew I was going to love this movie no matter what. That said, I had tremendous faith in the cast and crew. Christopher Nolan knows too well how to make a great Batman movie, like he previously showcased with his directorial efforts in 2005's Batman Begins.

Honestly, I've never been more excited about a film in my life.

I'm talking about the film too soon, before I had the time to really think about it. But right now, I just want to discuss it, somehow. I was speechless and shaking all over when the film ended. This movie gave me the goosebumps...

In the film (not that anyone actually needs a summary), Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is a snobby billionaire by day and cruises as Batman, a crime-fighting vigilante of Gotham City by night. But recently, Gotham has found hope in a new D.A., Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), who is nicknamed the "White Knight" by the crime-ridden city. The film's villain is the Joker (Heath Ledger), who constantly threatens the citizens of Gotham with his insane bursts of menace and chaos.

The film is a rollercoaster from beginning to end. The action sequences are well-done, the cinematography is gorgeous, and the plot is as masterful as so many other crime epics. The special effects are riveting, due to the fact that they don't feel like special effects at all.

So let me touch on the performances now since I was most eager to discuss it from the get-go...

The guys on Ebert & Roeper, or more appropriately, At the Movies, commented that The Dark Knight is an ensemble piece. They are right. I have no doubt that Ledger's excellent portrayal of the legendary antagonistic freak will be recognized come Oscar time because of the hype surrounding his performance, but this film belongs to every other actor in this movie as well.

There is Bale, who embodies both Bruce Wayne and Batman perfectly. He knows how to balance both personas well and make them believable as one. Bale is very funny as the snobby playboy billionaire but extremely intense and genuinely frightening as Batman. No wonder people won't take Bruce Wayne seriously and criminals run for cover when they see Batman. Michael Keaton couldn't do that at all. Val Kilmer had the potential to be a wonderful Bruce Wayne/Batman if he were given better material to work with. George Clooney just wasn't born to play a comic book superhero, period. So Bale pretty much takes the cake for the best silver screen Batman ever.

Gary Oldman delivers the best and most touching performance in the entire film. If it was up to me to give out an Oscar nomination to any one actor in this film, it would be Oldman. His performance as Lt. Jim Gordon is not as showy as Ledger's colorful spectacle, but Oldman explores the depth and humanity of a character unlike any other comic book movie actor I've ever seen. His final speech near the end is what makes the film more heartbreaking than anyone could ever expect. Oldman just finds the right notes for a character that is quietly heroic and completely relatable.

I know that Oldman's performance will become one of the most underrated performances of recent years. Hopefully, I'm proven wrong. I can't wait to see Oldman in the next movie since I'm certain that after the bonafide success of this installment, there will be another Batman film.

Aaron Eckhart is nothing short of amazing as the newly-elected and determined District Attorney of Gotham, Harvey Dent. He is charmingly inspiring and understandably offers Gotham the hope that the city so desperately need. The dynamics between Bruce and Harvey are interesting, especially considering that Harvey is dating Bruce's childhood friend and love interest, Assistant District Attorney, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). When he turns into the villainous Two-Face (which dominates more of the film than I expected), I sensed the disappointed that will come upon Gotham. As Two-Face, Eckhart is flawlessly on the edge, gripping his gun and flipping his coin. Two-Face's final scenes in this film are just as great as the Joker's fiery theatricals.

Like I said earlier, I was watching Batman Begins on FX last night. Before yesterday, I never really minded Katie Holmes. But when I watched the film again, I realized that her performance as Rachel Dawes is terrible. Rachel Dawes was probably inserted into that testosterone fest just because it's a rule that every big-budget superhero movie needs a love interest. David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan obviously didn't care about the character.

But I like the idea of Rachel Dawes. When Maggie Gyllenhaal took over Holmes, I knew that I was finally in for a strong and intelligent love interest. Well, that didn't last very long. But Gyllenhaal delivers a heartbreaking and phenomenal performance. Even though her character is used only as a device to further the plot along, Gyllenhaal's sass and grit forces the audience to care about Rachel. You don't even know how disappointed I am that Gyllenhaal wasn't in the first film.

Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are both impresisve in their minimal roles. If I ever get a butler, he should be just like Caine's Alfred Pennysworth. Freeman's Lucius Fox is simply fun to see on screen but towards the film's end, I felt a lingering admiration for him.

The Dark Knight is the biggest, best, and the most badass Batman film since well, Batman Begins. I was never bored. Not even for a second. I felt like I was on the edge of my seat--literally. Every scene is full of thrills and chills, complete with a deep emotional foundation. I don't know how Nolan and Co. can top this film, but when the time comes for the next film, I'll be giddy with enthusiasm and anticipation.

For those who have already seen the film: Why would the people of Gotham even believe that Harvey Dent was Batman? I understand that they probably don't have a clear view of Batman in the dark, but it's sort of easy to notice that Batman doesn't have a dimpled chin like Dent, right?

Rating: 9.5/10

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"Nice valley. Think I'll keep it."

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Kaze no tani no Naushika) | rel. 1984/re-rel. 2005 | dir. Hayao Miyazaki

This is August's Movie of the Month at the LAMB.

Nausiccaa of the Valley of the Wind possesses all the expected animated glory of a Hayao Miyazaki film. Visually, the film is extraordinarily alive. Story-wise, the film moves slowly and wanders in a midst of a beautiful but minimalistic animated landscape. When the film finally starts its engine, the action sequences are illustrated with extreme gusto and the villain is certainly sinister, thanks to a wonderful voice-over performance.

The film takes place in the future, a thousand years after the "Seven Days of Fire," which destroyed a majority of living things. Like many stories about the future, things aren't looking up. For one, there aren't many people left on Earth.

Nausicaa, a young princess of the Valley of the Wind, is the heroine of the story. She lives in a world where insects (they are called "ohmus" in the film) and humans refuses to live peacefully with each other. Courageous, intelligent, and fiercely independent, Nausicaa is determined to avoid conflict with the insects and treat them with as much kindness and care as possible.

When an airship crashes on the Valley of the Wind and unleashes a cargo that is the God Warrior (a powerful weapon used in war a thousand years ago), the Tolmekans--led by the Tolmekan princess--is enthusiastic for its revival and hopes to utilize it as a destroyer of the toxic jungle, which has been threatening the relationship between nature and humans for much too long. To secure the God Warrior as theirs, the Tolmekan princess orders the death of Nausicaa's father, the king of the Valley of the Wind. Without a king, the Valley of the Wind places forth their trust to Nausicaa as they meet the antagonistic power of Tolmekan princess and its army.

The Tolmekan princess is voiced by Uma Thurman, who delivers an excellent voice performance. The tone of her voice is strangely charming, but every bit as devilish and menacing as a true villain should be. Do not be fooled by the character's lush beauty and gold arm--she is unsympathetic trouble. Thurman's voice work in this film deserves to be appreciated with the all-time greats--from Robin Williams in Aladdin to a more recent effort by Peter O'Toole in Ratatouille.

While Thurman was born to voice her particular part, I cannot say the same for Allison Lohman, who voiced Nausicaa. In the beginning scenes of the film, her voice comes off as awkward and rather unnatural. As the film progresses, Lohman does improve, but I do not find her voice performance convincing or charismatic enough for such an ideal, worldly heroine.

Personally, I find Nausicaa almost too ideal. She is the heroine of the story, but she never fails to be the courageous, charming, independent, likable, intelligent, adventurous, kind pacifist. The only scene in the film where she appears to be human is when she understandably mourns for her father's death.

But without giving too much away, I guess that is sort of the point of her character, right? Legends and myths can't do without those perfect beings...

What I do particularly like about the film is the relationship between Nausicaa and Asbel (voiced by Shia LaBeouf), the twin brother of the princess of Pejite (who was the girl who died in the airship crash). The relationship between Nausicaa and Asbel is the least flustered relationship in the film and I appreciated that breath of fresh air. Their scenes together are very comedic and sweet.

Like I said earlier in my review, the film develops at a very slow rate. The first half-hour showcases the magic and passion Miyazaki has for animated flying sequences. As Nausicaa flies through the air on her trusty glider with that glorious score by Joe Hisaishi, it is almost enough to satisfy the taste buds of my short attention span. The film gradually unravels itself, layer by layer. The action scenes do not appear until about the one-hour mark. But even with exciting animation that the action scenes offer, the film is not intended for young children. Not only does it develop slowly, the action scenes are actually quite violent. (But truthfully, it doesn't really beat any of the violence kids see on video game commercials.)

Despite the minor problems I seem to have with the film, I completely enjoyed it as a whole. Nausiccaa of the Valley of the Wind is colored by an environmental-friendly message, way before Al Gore made a hit documentary out of it. The climatic scene where the God Warrior comes alive is magnificent to behold, full of fury and bravura. There is such spirit juiced in every scene to carry on even the film's duller moments. Witnessing this film unfold is equal to witnessing Miyazaki's relentless passion for his work and art. Clearly, the passion shows in every scene beyond the point of avoidance. Miyazaki's fingerprints are everywhere.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, July 14, 2008

High School Musical 3: Senior Year trailer

I couldn't help myself...



(I believe there are actually two versions of the movie trailer: One abbreviates the film's title.)

I know this trailer has been posted everywhere. James of Rants of a Diva and J.D. of Valley Dreamin' already beat me to it.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year is slowly becoming one of the most anticipated movies of the year--for all the right and wrong reasons. But I have no doubt in my mind that this movie will be a hit. The film will not gain all the millions of viewers who watched it for free (kinda) on the Disney Channel, but I believe a lot of kids (and their parents) will show up on opening weekend.

The idea that I'm most likely seeing it on opening weekend makes me feel like a thirteen-year-old girl. I barely know a handful of people who are actually looking forward to this film. (But a lot of girls are looking forward to Twilight. While we're not the subject, I'm somewhat sick and tired of hearing about those series of books because they sound lame. Yet, I find myself being completely drawn to the idea of reading them.)

I guess I like the films because how ridiculously entertaining they are. I guess I also enjoy mocking them. Recently, I even wrote a rant regarding both HSM movies.

So, back to the trailer...

I hate the song that plays throughout the entire trailer. I believe it's called "Now or Never." It is a mix of Disney pop with an slight hip hop vibe. Unlike some of the better songs in the previous movies, it's not fun or catchy. Honestly, it just sounds like a lot of noise--a lot of rushed, sloppy notes mashed together. Sure, I recognize the adrenaline pumping through the song, but no matter how much energy there is, the quality of the song is still terrible. I don't know, maybe it will grow on me in the next three months. Who knows?

I love Zac Efron's hilarious delivery of "What makes you think we're getting diplomas?" I love how, shortly after, he kind of tilts his neck to the side to increase the dramatic tension.

Then behold, Ashley Tisdale's Sharpay does a drama queen faint, which is followed by several flashes of less impressive scenes from the movie. Whoo-hoo, the magic of editing!

The intense flashes are relaxed by Troy (Efron) and Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) on a dance floor. As I expect, this movie will be another cliche-ridden romp. What's senior year without prom? But whatever, I'm in love with Sharpay's attention-grabbing pink dress. Tisdale is totally rocking that dress.

Again, the trailer teases the viewer with another bunch of scenes. The trailer lingers on Hudgens's face while I begin to think that her smile is probably the most natural thing that can be conveyed through her performance in HSM3.

That glimpse of the Wildcat basketball team putting their hood on reminds me of the Ku Klux Klan. Yeah, WTF? Then the trailer jumps to a scene with Troy and Chad (Corbin Bleu) in front of the truck that Troy and his dad fixed up in HSM2 (I think). They look like they are trying to fly. Or something.

A circle-from-above number (looks sort of like "Fabulous"), another prom scene, an excited new(?) character, feet dancing, Troy and Gabriella looking happy, Chad and Taylor (Monique Coleman) embracing since the writers forgot their storyline even existed in HSM2, the HSM girls cheering (probably a basketball game)...

DO I SEE A RYAN (Lucas Grabeel) AND SHARPAY NUMBER?! A GLIMPSE OF THE BEST PART OF THE FILM...MAYBE?!

Then my mind numbs itself to the image of Troy and Gabriella looking happy, again..about something.

Crowds cheer again. A basketball scene--probably the "big game" is taking place--and Gabriella (Hudgens) suddenly stands up and starts singing in the most awkward manner possible in a midst of red. WTF? WTF? WTF? The gym darkens. The spotlight is on Troy (Efron) and he starts singing because his girlfriend is singing, so that obviously means he must sing too. I love that bit at the end of the scene where Efron shakes his fists. That's kind of brilliant.

"THE MUSICAL EXPERIENCE" (yeah right)

Those words are followed by a few other scenes that don't really matter.

"OF A GENERATION" (o rly?)

"This show must go on," says Sharpay in the most fabulous way ever. And it does, indeed.

But that is followed by another glimpse of the Troy-Chad-in-front-of-truck number that flaunts even more of its awfulness. Then that is followed by bunch of scenes that zoom by so fast that I'm not even going to bother to dissect them.

"BECOMES A MOTION PICTURE EVENT" (you got that right...)

Scenes of a cheering crowd. Obviously, the Wildcats won the big game, I assume. Thanks for giving that away, Disney. I could have been gasping for breath during that basketball scene, but now since I know they're going to win for sure, there's no need for suspense anymore. LAME.

Just wondering...is Zac Efron supposed to be Tom Cruise now?

A random short flash of Sharpay with her perfume bottle. Cool, cool, cool.

A weird scene with Troy and Gabriella conversing. "Why are you saying goodbye?" asks Troy. That makes me wonder...kinda.

"FROM WALT DISNEY PICTURES" (hmmm?)

Looking fierce as usual, Tisdale snaps her fingers. The lights turn off. The spotlight's on her. OMG.

Another boring glimpse at the prom scene. We also get several other glimpses of different parts of scenes that were shown earlier in the trailer, except the one with the cast dancing in their caps and gowns. So to answer the Troy's mysterious question in the first scene, I'm now positive that they're getting their diplomas.

Disney, stop ruining the entire movie for me!!! GOSH.

A longer glimpse at the prom scene. Okay, that's nice.

Bright flashes land on the screen to create, "HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3," with a more dimmed light to subtitle it, "SENIOR YEAR." Totally blinded my eyes for a few seconds there...

Later, a short but funny conversation between Troy and Sharpay. As always, Efron and Tisdale have amazing chemistry.

"FEATURING 10 NEW ORIGINAL SONGS" (cool?)

"ONLY IN CINEMAS" (who are you kidding?)

I can't wait for October 24th. Seriously.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

"Preliminaries are over. Time to attack."

Antoine and Colette (Antoine et Colette) (short) | rel. 1962 | dir. François Truffaut

Spoilers. You've been warned.

I am fascinated by the idea of unrequited love. It's the longing, the desire, and the temptation that make love stories so interesting. For all those emotions to go on without a definite end is quite depressing--but strangely romantic and interesting, especially as portrayed by popular culture. Love itself is already a complex subject, but unreciprocated love might as well take a life of its own.

For those reasons, I fell in love with Antoine and Colette. Francois Truffaut's short film chronicles the late teenage years of the young protagonist in The 400 Blows. The short was originally part of a commercially unsuccessful collection of short films by other French directors, Love at Twenty. While other shorts in the anthology have become rare and unpopular, Antoine and Colette survives.

Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), who was last seen on a beach after running away from the observation center, is now seventeen years old and working at Phillips, a record company. The voice-over narration tells the audience that he was sent back to the observation center after his escape and was sent to another center with stricter surveillance. With the help of a psychologist, he was able to leave the center and live independently, like he wished. He is passionate about music and frequently attends concerts. One evening, he attends a concert with his old friend René (Patrick Auffay), a glamorous young woman, Colette (Marie-France Pisier) catches Antoine's eye.

Antoine desperately seeks Colette's affections by trading records and books with her, taking her to concerts, moving across the street from her (obsessive much?), and even getting close to her warm, welcoming family. All his efforts are eventually worthless and what is left is the broken heart of a young man who has nowhere to hide from the confines of personal humiliation.

All the emotional endeavors, believing, and dreaming for nothing? That happens and it sucks. Big time.

Even with the pangs of the distortion of young love, Antoine and Colette is a work of superb charm and warmness. Truffaut, perhaps recalling his own experiences of the disappointments of young love, films an even more intimate portrait of life than The 400 Blows. Both Léaud and Pisier are attractive young actors who deliver very natural performances. Surely, Antoine and Colette is not better-made than the previous Antoine Doinel adventure, but it has a certain youthful energy and bliss injected in every frame that is extraordinarily touching. But the film keeps in mind that youth is brief and breezy--and so is the film itself.

I am completely, utterly in love with this lovely film.

Rating: 9.5/10

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The entire film has been uploaded on YouTube: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 (The video is a tad bright and has several sound problems throughout but it's totally worth twenty-nine minutes of your life.)

"Sometimes I'd tell them the truth and they still wouldn't believe me, so I prefer to lie."

The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups) | rel. 1959 | dir. François Truffaut

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of seeing The 400 Blows, a wonderfully moving French film directed by famed New Wave director, Francois Truffaut. Truffaut wrote the script with heavy autobiographical touches to illutraste a portrait of his onerous childhood. But at the heart of The 400 Blows is a coming-of-age story of a troubled young boy, Antoine Doinel--Truffaut's alter ego. Antoine does poorly in school and his home life is marked by the unpleasant knowledge of his mother's infidelity. To escape a conflicted, unhappy life, Antoine is determined to live on his own--even if it turns him towards petty crimes.

On the surface, Antoine is a foolish troublemaker, but he is an extremely sympathetic character as well. Like many people his age, Antoine wants to get the hell out of his home, forget about school, and gain independence. But complete independence requires maturity, and that is something that Antoine doesn't quite grasp yet.

What makes Antoine work so fantastically as a three-dimensional character is Jean-Pierre Léaud's performance. I'm a sucker for child performances, and Léaud's portrayal of Antoine is probably in my top five child performances of all-time. Even in the duller moments of the film, Léaud never fails to mystify me. Léaud's playful boyishness and foolery is accompanied by a magnetic intensity develops the complexity of Antoine's character. Very few actors possess that kind of skill to hold the audience's interest as Léaud does throughout the film.

There is a scene near the end of The 400 Blows that puts Léaud's talents to the test: It is the psychologist scene at the observation school. The psychologist's face is never seen, only her voice is heard. In the audience's point of view, it seems like Antoine is confessing to the camera, a portal that leads directly to the audience. There is such intimacy in that scene, as Antoine spills his emotions and experience, it feels like Antoine is speaking directly to the audience.

The scene works because Léaud keeps the rhythm going at a certain pace that is appropriate to Antoine's character. Antoine answers the questions with crackling innocence and anxiousness that the context of the answers seem surprisingly nonsensical. The questions are calmly answered with honesty and completeness, but there is a lingering anticipation for the next question to be aimed his way.

Antoine just can't seem to wait for the next stage in life--wherever and whatever it might be.

Rating: 8.5/10

Friday, July 4, 2008

We're all in this together, I guess...

High School Musical | rel. 2006 | dir. Kenny Ortega
High School Musical 2 | rel. 2007 | dir. Kenny Ortega

I was going to write this as two separate posts, but what's the point? High School Musical and High School Musical 2 are both rated 6.5/10 in the universe of moi, so there isn't going to be a tremendous difference of opinion anyway. I can easily extract my thoughts about the movies in one post.

I have a feeling that this is going to be an overlong rant that may or may not make any coherent sense. But that's okay. I have lots of meaningless drivel to say that relates to the two movies that I want to get out of my system.

High School Musical's existence entered my life through this girl I knew when I was in eighth grade. Back then, I lived in an abandoned cave right off the coast of a tiny island in Asia so I was pretty much in the dark when this movie first came out. (Simply put, I didn't have cable, thus, no Disney Channel.) At the time, I was a bit of a pretentious snob and would never have sat down to watch a movie that looked like a bunch of ridiculous teenagers prancing around the premises of their high school. Plus, I hated tween romances with a passion.

Tween romances are really just a twelve-year-old girl's fantasy and I guess it's nice for a twelve-year-old girl to see their fantasy on TV, replaced by amazingly aesthetically-pleasing people. That is sort of the point of the High School Musical franchise.

Now, I'm more willing to watch tween romances and accept them as they are. They are not made to be taken seriously or be considered masterpieces. I had to get that through my thick skull several times. Disney is making a lot of money off the franchise by creating a cast set of plastic dolls and printing the film's promo pics on a pillowcase. All the films are completed in a very short time-frame too, so I bet that saves tons of money. It's just pretty hard to take the films seriously even if I really, really try. But hey, not everything is art.

My interest in HSM peaked when I saw the new Disney Channel original movie, Camp Rock. It's supposedly a rip-off of HSM. In my opinion, it's not quite a rip-off, but it's not as guilty pleasure worthy or as entertaining as HSM. But that's a different post altogether...

For those unfamiliar with HSM's basic plot line (which I highly doubt is possible because I feel like I'm the last person on the planet to see the movies), a popular jock meets a brainy girl on vacation and they form a special connection as they sing karaoke together. Turns out, the brainy girl is the new girl at the guy's high school. They have to defeat all obstacles and step out of their comfort zones in order to obtain the lead roles for a school musical.

The entire concept of the film sounded predictable and kind of corny. But whatever. I needed to know what was at the core of all that hype. (Same reason why I want to read Twilight.)

I watched High School Musical almost right after I saw The Lizzie McGuire Movie. I was in good spirits after being charmed by my own childhood nostalgia. There was nothing in the world that could bring me down. And HSM did not bring me down at all. Not at all...

I was pleasantly surprised by the first song in the film, "A Start of Something New," sung by Zac Efron's Troy Bolton (Efron's voice was mixed with Drew Seeley's) and Vanessa Hudgens's Gabriella Montez. It's not a bad song, and in fact, it's truly poplicious in the way Disney songs usually are. (I have a soft spot for all the pop Disney has to offer--that ranges from Hilary Duff to the Jonas Brothers.) Sadly, the film makes no attempt to cover up the fact that all the songs were recorded in a studio and edited before they were inserted into the movie, but that's not a big deal. I don't nitpick too much when it comes to movies aimed at a certain age group, and that's why I gave The Lizzie McGuire Movie an 8/10. I mean, I highly doubt the kids who watch HSM cares if the songs were dubbed in or not. Honestly, I don't really care either.

But I couldn't stop laughing.

Is it just me, or was Zac Efron really exaggerating every muscle in his face in HSM whenever he started singing? He just looks so extremely weird whenever he started singing. When he sings "A Start of Something New," "Get'cha Head in the Game," and "Breaking Free," he looks as if was trying to stretch his facial muscles all the way, until they rip. I don't know if it was due to the fact that he was extremely nervous (I definitely would've been) or that was the way he was told to perform--I have no idea. But it made me laugh pretty hard: I had tears in my eyes and I couldn't really stand or sit.

Enough about how Efron caused my unintentional laughter...

I can't stand the romance between Troy and Gabriella. I mention chemistry or the lack thereof in my reviews very often when it comes to romantic films. A romance can't work if the two leading actors share absolutely no chemistry; it only works when the audience is convinced that the two characters are in love with each other.

Efron and Hudgens did not convince me. There are some sparks in the early karaoke scene, but I think it all went downhill from there. Apparently, they are dating each other in real-life. Whatever they may share off-screen, it doesn't show on celluloid at all. Unless it's some unnecessary publicity stunt by Disney...but who really knows?

I have the same complaints with Camp Rock as well. Demi Lovato and Joe Jonas have even less chemistry than Efron and Hudgens. But they are not "dating" in real-life, so I guess that is a good enough excuse.

HSM has a shining, bright spotlight on one of its young performers and her name is Ashley Tisdale. Tisdale, which many might have been familiar with from the Disney Channel's The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, chews up the scenery in HSM, through and through. Forget about Maddie Fitzpatrick, Tisdale will be best-remembered for Sharpay Evans, the drama queen of East High who isn't going to let two newcomers steal the musical scene away from her. Tisdale undoubtedly delivers the best performance, completely overshadowing her sidekick Lucas Grabeel, who plays her brother, Ryan and truthfully, everyone other main cast member as well. Tisdale just leaves everyone in the dust.

In addition to Tisdale playing Sharpay, Sharpay also get all the best songs in the film. "What I've Been Looking For," is sung in a very classy scene with tons of energy and fun oozed all over the screen; it is my favorite song in the movie. "Bop to the Top" is a catchy tune, sung with ambition and personality by Tisdale and Grabeel.

A performance such as Tisdale's pops like technicolor in a movie like this. You watch her and you think, "This girl's got a future in showbiz."

Even though it was probably made on the cheap and shot in a couple of weeks, HSM is not a poorly-made film. The choreography is fantastic, the songs are catchy, and the story is not terrible. The direction by Kenny Ortega is not too bad either. It's sort of like Grease made for the twenty-first century. (I'm probably the millionth person to point that out, even though I haven't seen that movie in like, forever.)

I wish I could give all the same compliments to the sequel, High School Musical 2.

I have no idea how to explain why I would rate HSM2 the same rating I gave HSM since HSM2 is one of those unnecessary sequels that Disney seems to make all the time now. (The previews on my HSM2 DVD had a trailer for the straight-to-video Cinderella 2: Dreams Come True. Yeah, I totally wanted to see that...)

HSM2 is just as entertaining as HSM, though. HSM2 is a hour-and-a-half soap. (Film soaps, I dig. TV soaps, I can't stand.) All that ridiculous drama is probably why I found so much pleasure while watching the film. It was sort of like watching Spider-Man 3, just, not really.

The plot for HSM2 is rather loose and flimsy. So Troy and Gabriella and the rest of the Wildcats get jobs at a country club owned by Sharpay and Ryan's family. Sharpay is pissed because only Troy was supposed to hired since he's still the guy she wants. Because of Sharpay's favoritism towards Troy, he gets special priviledges that detaches him from his friends. There is also a musical competition at the country club and Sharpay has her eye on the trophy, despite the rest of the Wildcats' determination to beat out the competition.

I would be lying if I said I was bored or uninterested at all.

Again, it's Tisdale who shines. James wrote an excellent blog entry about Tisdale's performance that includes all there needs to be said about Tisdale's portrayal of Sharpay. (The entry made me look forward to seeing HSM and HSM2.) Sharpay has a lot more screen time in the second film and she devours every second she has on-screen. She also has an even a more elaborate number in this film--and it's "Fabulous."

Tisdale has many scenes with Efron and I can't help but think what amazing chemistry they seem to have compared to the lackluster chemistry between Efron and Hudgens. There is the scene at the golfing course that made me sort of squee because of how cool the idea Troy x Sharpay is. I love that scene where Efron's Troy comments on his new shoes and says, "They're Italian." The "You Are the Music In Me" scene between Troy and Sharpay is incredible too because even when Troy is supposed to be hating Sharpay, Efron and Tisdale still have a lot of chemistry. But I guess that's the weird-minded shipper in me that simply distorts everything. Or maybe it was the fireworks. (I love this The Suite Life episode clip with Efron guest-starring and kissing Tisdale. It's epic, everyone.)

"Humuhumunukunukuapua'a" is totally hilarious and worth picking up the DVD for if you didn't get to see it when it first aired on the Disney Channel. (The clip is on Youtube, but I liked seeing it as part of the movie.) Oh, Sharpay! Tisdale never fails to impress me.

Although I felt rather guilty for laughing so hard at Efron's facial expressions in the first movie, I was looking forward for some more painfully funny moments in this movie as well. Well, it had several of those moments, but I did not laugh as much as I did during the first movie. That is mainly due to the fact that I found Efron kind of hot in this movie...but I'm not going to get too into that because that thought has been disturbing me to no end. He got taller, slimmer, a tan, and bluer eyes (in result of the tan or colored contacts?). And his real voice sounds strangely awesome.

Laugh all you want (because I did), but the "Bet On It" scene is already classic. The amount of parodies of that scene on Youtube is piling up.

Other than my love for Tisdale's performance as Sharpay, the Efron and Tisdale chemistry, and Efron's suddenly good looks, the rest of the movie is a dud. But thank goodness that the things I did like occupied about 75% of the film. Well, Efron's good looks occupied pretty much the entire movie, but it didn't really matter that much.

So the things that sucked, plus other random thoughts (this deserves a bullet list):
  • Vanessa Hudgens. Gabriella doesn't do much in the film other than giggle and say stupid things so it's not entirely Hudgens's fault. But I can't stand Hudgens's one-note delivery of all her lines. I do think Hudgens is a good, if not great, singer. "Gotta Go My Own Way" is actually a pretty good song.
  • I can't think of a more cringe-worthy scene in the movie than the "I Don't Dance" number. I know it is sort of a showcase for Grabeel, who is a good dancer, but I just think the entire scene feels kind of awkward and strange. I guess prancing around on the basketball court is a little better than prancing around on a baseball diamond? Perhaps.
  • The whole Evans family golfing scene is pretty pointless. I understand that it is supposed to develop the interest Sharpay's father has for Troy, but it just comes off as kind of boring.
  • The talking-to-singing transitions really bothered me in this film because they're ALL SO AWKWARD. I remember thinking, "WTF?" when Gabriella (Hudgens) started singing "Gotta Go My Own Way." The transition from speaking to singing in the "Work This Out" scene is also freaking weird.
  • Speaking of awkward singing, this movie is not shy from making it seem oh-so-obvious that they ran the songs through some sound machine. But again, I don't think the kids will notice...yet.
  • Troy basically says, "Screw my future, I love my friends more" near the end of the film. I don't think Disney exactly meant it that way but it just came out wrong. At that point in the film, Troy has been a total jerk to his friends because he has gotten a little too full of himself. But his friends are just so freaking annoying so I don't know...I mean, I feel like defending the message because I think I know what it was supposed to mean but...never mind. I don't get it either.
  • So were Chad (Corbin Bleu) and Taylor (Monique Coleman) supposed to be an item? I don't remember any mention of it at all in this film...not that it would really add or subtract to the film, but just wonderin' you know?
  • I don't understand Kelsi (Olesya Rulin). I like it when Sharpay gives those boring ballads a makeover. They always turn out more to be significantly more kickass.
  • I kind of hated the last scene: "All For One" is not a very good song at all.
...but I still found myself liking the movie. HSM2 qualifies as a the quintessential guilty pleasure for me.

I can digest crap unlike anyone else I know. I'm one of those rare people who can look at you in the eye and tell you how much I honestly enjoyed Batman & Robin. I kinda-sorta like both HSM films, even though they are both considered "crap" by a lot of people over the age of twelve. Well, I think they are supposed to be fun and they are fun. There is absolutely no harm in that. Kids like them, Disney is making a fortune off them--everyone's happy. Don't ask me why, but I'm looking forward to High School Musical 3: Senior Year. (I think my post already speaks for itself, haha.)

But I'll always have a special place in my heart for Sharpay. Tisdale makes her gold.

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I hope everyone living in the U.S. had a lovely Independence Day!