Friday, August 29, 2008

Five Links Friday (#4)

1. McCain taps Alaska Gov. Palin as vice president pick
Honestly, I didn't know much about Palin until McCain revealed her as his vice presidential candidate this morning. From what I've read, I don't think she's ready to be president; she has even less experience than Obama. I think the only reasons that McCain picked Palin was a) She's a woman, b) She's not old, and c) She has a sorta-kinda maverick streak.

2. Hollywood stars talk politics at Dem convention
Whoo! Politically active celebrities.

3. Peanuts Rocks the Vote
I'm a huge fan of Peanuts. I voted for Linus since he's always been my favorite Peanuts character. I guess the "issues" on the site are a bit silly, but it's all in fun and games.

4. John Lennon biopic comes together
So who should play John Lennon? Paul McCartney? Nowhere Boy is a nice title, though.

5. Telluride Schedule

If anyone is interested at all, the Telluride Film Festival schedule has been released. Among the films being screened are Kisses, Happy-Go-Lucky, and American Violet.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

"Can't you even imagine you're in the depths of despair?"

I'm so in love with Anne of Green Gables, the 1985 Canadian television mini-series, that I can't even really express my love in coherent words.

Meagan Follows is fabulous as Anne Shirley and those 199 minutes of my life were totally worth it. I think those are the only things I can say coherently about the film at the moment.

And I want to live at the filming locations of this film. Canada, here I come! Well, maybe in another couple of years...

I didn't think I could give this film a rating. It's hard to rate perfect things with a number scale. But I've settled on an understated 10/10.

Now I have to see the sequels, even though they are supposed to be kind of crappy. Oh well, who cares? As long as Meagan Follows is Anne Shirley, they will be totally worth my time.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Five Links Friday (#3)

Recently, I've been feeling quite like a typical moody, hormonal teenager. I've found reasonable solace in reading, considering I don't have to speak to people while I'm at it. I just finished Little Women this morning (I will be watching the 1933, 1949, and 1994 films versions very soon) and is finally tackling Twilight--so I won't feel too left out, of course.

I've found a nifty site to keep track of all the books I've read called 1. Goodreads. It's a lovely, easy-to-use site that reminds me of IMDb for books. My account is here, so if you do make an account, go ahead and add me as a friend (since I currently have none)!

So what have you all been reading? Please discuss and feel free to recommend me anything that you'd think I'd like.

This clever and creative 2. Empire Poster Quiz challenges you to guess the movie from just one letter from the movie's poster. It was deservingly a featured link on IMDb.

The official announcement of the new "Dancing with the Stars" cast will be on Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America" but 3. Gossip Sauce has the inside scoop on the new cast. The list might be fake, but the thought of Cloris Leachman on "Dancing with the Stars" is pretty darn exciting.

Presidential candidates 4. Barack Obama and John McCain reveals their top ten songs to Blender magazine in the "White House DJ Battle" article. On a side note, I absolutely adore the illustration on the page!

For the video of the week, I present to you 5. Star Wars 20's silent film style: The Story Of Luke and Leia. I saw another Star Wars "silent film" on Youtube about an year ago and liked it, but I thought this one was especially hilarious. And please don't tell me that I'm the only one who ships Luke and Leia (well, they shouldn't have been siblings!).

Well, that's all folks! Yeah, surprisingly short, right? :)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"Love me - that's all I ask of you..."

The Phantom of the Opera | rel. 2004 | dir. Joel Schumacher

Director Joel Schumacher is no stranger to campy filmmaking. He did direct Batman & Robin, right?

Well, the film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's famous stage musical, The Phantom of the Opera, despite of its glorious sets, delicious costumes, and beautiful melodies, is a fine example of how all elegance and beauty can also equate to pure camp.

I have never seen Webber's musical, although I do own the musical's soundtrack with all the songs performed by the original London cast. I worship the soundtrack and listen to it quite frequently in the car, much to my mom's dismay. The songs, although they have lyrics that resemble wedding vows or Hallmark cards, are passionate and haunting. Even though Webber knows how to make his songs soar, those melodies would be nothing without the extraordinary voice talents of Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, who played the Phantom and Christine Daae on stage, respectively.

Afters years in development, the film version of the musical, The Phantom of the Opera was finally released in 2004. I will boldly say that Schumacher certainly made one of the most aesthetically-pleasing films ever. Unfortunately, it is also shamelessly over-the-top.

The film begins in black-and-white in early twentieth century Paris. An once-magnificent opera house was burned several years ago and all the opera house's contents are being auctioned off. The Viscomte de Chagny (Patrick Wilson) and Madame Giry (Miranda Richardson), bids for a music box with a monkey on top of it, and acknoweldge each other with a spark of recognition in their eyes.

Soon enough, the chandelliers come up and the old opera house magically transforms back into new. This has to be one of the most wonderful ways to unfold a flashback scene ever.

It is late nineteenth-century Paris in a popular opera house. A young singer, Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum) has been trained well by the masked and mysterious Phantom (Gerard Butler). Christine naively believing that the Phantom was the "angel of music" her deceased father promised. The Phantom, a brilliant man who constantly haunts and threatens the opera house, is determined to replace the opera house's big star Carlotta (Minnie Driver) with his young, aspiring protege. The Phantom gets his wish, through scare tactics and clever menace.

After witnessing Christine on stage, Raoul, the Viscomte de Chagny, Christine's childhood friend, falls deeply in love with the young woman. Little does Raoul know, the Phantom has developed strong affections for the young woman as well.

The relationship escalates into a dangerous game of the forces between love and lust, passion and mischievousness. The problem is, the film never plays it that way. Schumacher chisels the film into a mindless buffet of commercialism and pretty images. The film fails to be emotionally compelling or thoroughly romantic, although there are several successful moments that eventually drowns in the film's own visual vanity. The "Point of No Return" scene is a fine example: Rossum and Butler are electrifying in the scene, but those silly dancers in the background are not.

The performances by the actors are not very good, considering that their roles require fantastical singing abilities and some emotional range. Rossum, although sometimes a skilled vocal performer, does not have the allure of Brightman's soaring soprano voice. When Rossum is not singing, she makes Christine seem like an unapologetically passive and bland female character. Should weak female characters that act purely as a damsel-in-distress even be allowed in the twenty-first century?

Wilson's Raoul is an unbelievable bore; he is neither charismatic or charming. No wonder Christine is so fascinated by the Phantom, despite the fact that he may be a sociopathic creep. The filmmakers made a huge mistake by casting Butler, who is obviously more dashing and handsome than Wilson. The Phantom is supposed to have a frightening demeanor, not sporting a perfectly-cut opal mask as some kind of--to quote Roger Ebert--fashion accessory. When the mask is removed, Butler still doesn't look too hideous. Plus, I don't think he can even sing that well; his rendition of "The Music of the Night" is terrible. I don't care if Butler's voice fulfills Webber's dreams of a rock-heavy Phantom--Crawford still has one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard.

But what am I talking about? The flaws are what makes this movie entertaining. The supporting cast is fabulous with everyone giving reliable performances. Richardson and Driver are underused but serves their part in the story. Plus, Ciaran Hinds, Simon Callow, and Jennifer Ellison proves they are true show-stealers, even in their minimal roles.

Again, this movie is a wonder to behold. Some minor flaws are apparent in the somewhat sloppy and abrupt editing. I never liked fade-in scenes either, but they were done somewhat appropriately in this film. But fade-in still kind of sucks.

When I rate a film like The Phantom of the Opera, the score becomes entirely subjective. The film is a guilty pleasure, joining the ranks of films like Spider-Man 3, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, and even Schumacher's own Batman & Robin. At the end of the day, the thin storyline and mediocre acting in The Phantom of the Opera will not matter to anyone who genuinely enjoys Schumacher's interpretation of Webber's stage musical. They are just there for the gorgeous sets and beautiful songs because that is what seems to matter most. And I can't blame them.

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, August 17, 2008

At the Movies with...Lyons and Mankiewicz

I know this is old news, but is anyone looking forward to the new season of At the Movies, which starts September 6th?

I watched the most recent episode (which may have been the last new episode) of At the Movies with Richard Roeper and Michael Phillips. The two seem to be finally creating a sort of rapport, similar to the Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert days. Because of this, I will be tremendously disappointed to see Roeper and Phillips go come September.

Roeper and Phillips will be replaced by Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz, both young film critics with famous surnames. I've heard of their better-known relatives, just not them specifically. By hiring Lyons and Mankiewicz, Disney is attempting to make At the Movies appealing to a younger demographic. Will it work? Will they lose their dedicated older viewers?

The new season will welcome new graphics, music, and even a new set. But I've always preferred the low-key design of the show. I'd love to see At the Movies keep the simple format, but that doesn't seem like the case: In addition to traditional "cross-talk" reviews, they will be adding "Critics Round-Up," which invities other critics to disucss movies via satellite. I hope the balcony will still be in tact.

Well, I, for one, look forward the new season and will be tuning into the two Bens. Are they good enough to even be involved with a show started by their terrific predecessors? Is the new look of the show any good? I'm curious to see how one of my favorite programs will do in its "new direction."

Of course, Lyons and Mankiewicz are enthusiastic to be the new co-hosts of the show:

"I am incredibly excited to be involved with such a prestigious show," said co-host Ben Lyons. "Reviewing films for a living is a thrill, and now that I will be a critic for 'At the Movies,' it is an honor and huge responsibility that I look forward to.”

“I am thrilled and honored beyond words to be joining the series,” added co-host Ben Mankiewicz. “As a movie fanatic, this is my dream job. Without question, I certainly have very big shoes to fill.”

To read more about Lyons and Mankiewicz, head over to Anne Thompson's blog.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Five Links Friday (#2)

A lot of videos this week, since I've been surfing Youtube quite frequently these past few days.

1. Trailer for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Warner Brothers moved the sixth installment of the Harry Potter series from its November 8, 2008 release date to July 17, 2009 earlier this week.
In making the announcement, Mr. Horn stated, “Our reasons for shifting ‘Half-Blood Prince’ to summer are twofold: we know the summer season is an ideal window for a family tent pole release, as proven by the success of our last Harry Potter film, which is the second-highest grossing film in the franchise, behind only the first installment. Additionally, like every other studio, we are still feeling the repercussions of the writers’ strike, which impacted the readiness of scripts for other films—changing the competitive landscape for 2009 and offering new windows of opportunity that we wanted to take advantage of. We agreed the best strategy was to move ‘Half-Blood Prince’ to July, where it perfectly fills the gap for a major tent pole release for mid-summer.”
- Full story at

I don't think this movie will make a difference in box-office receipts. There is a huge audience for the Harry Potter movies who will watch the film no matter what its release date is. But again, I don't think WB cares about box-office performance at the moment, considering The Dark Knight majorly owned the box-office. Warner Brothers have several other major releases this year, including Body of Lies, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Yes Man. I predict all the films will all do quite well financially.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is actually my least favorite book of J.K. Rowling's popular fantasy series. The sixth novel was a complete let-down, considering its predecessor took my breath away. Rowling forced the ridiculous teenage romances instead of revisiting the depths and complexities of plots and characters, like in her previous outing with the boy wizard. The only interesting thing about the sixth installment was the information about the villainous Voldemort's past, which brings me to how well-done and excellent the trailer is...

Instead of focusing on Rowling's own attempts at giddy fanfiction (Hermione getting jealous at Ron because he's snogging Lavender? Harry feeling the beast within him when he sees Ginny snogging someone else? Harry asking Luna to a party because he can't ask Ginny?), the trailer spotlights the Voldemort back-story in a perfectly dark, moody way. When I first watched the trailer, I just thought, "Wow, they made my least favorite book in the series into an appealing movie!"

I'm rather disappointed that they brought director David Yates back, though. I think we're stuck with Yates until the end of the film series. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is my favorite book in the series and I just didn't think Yates did the film justice. Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed the fifth film and liked the executions of the more emotional scenes. The problem was, it didn't have the spark of the first two Chris Columbus films, the whims of Alfonso Cuaron's film, or the epic visual flair of Mike Newell's film; Harry Potter of the Goblet Fire is my favorite film so far in the series and it's one that is hard to beat. I don't see Yates achieving what any of his predecessors achieved with the two-part finale either. Yates is more interested than the characters than storytelling, while Rowling knows how to blend both wonderfully when she's at her best.

On a side-note, I am strongly opposed to WB's decision to make two films out of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final installment of Rowling's fantasy series. If they can make one acceptable (if not perfect) film out of the 800+ pages of Order of the Phoenix, they can definitely make one good film out of Deathly Hallows. Personally, I don't like Deathly Hallows that much and I see opportunities for the filmmakers to cut out quite a bit (*cough*camping scenes*cough*).

But really, let's just say I'm still pissed that Harry and Hermione didn't end up together.

So what do you think of Harry Potter? Favorite movie? Favorite book? Favorite character? Favorite performance in the movies? Never read it? (I probably wouldn't have given a damn about the Harry Potter series if I wasn't growing up during the height of its popularity. There was no way to escape those books.)

2. Regis and Kelly: Anderson Cooper on the Lohans
I saw this video on James's blog and couldn't stop laughing.

Anderson Cooper is one of my favorite news reporters. Anderson Cooper 360 is one of my favorite news shows. I temporarily can't watch it because I don't have CNN right now, for some odd, unknown reason. (I'm insanely mad that I'm missing out the Obama-McCain debate on CNN.)

For those unfamiliar with Living Lohan, it is a reality show that "allegedly documents the daily lives of actress/singer Lindsay Lohan's family, with most of the focus on manager mother Dina, actress/singer sister Ali, brother Cody, grandmother Nana, who is Dina's mother and a former radio actress, and family friend Jeremy Greene, a music producer helping Ali with her debut album" (source: Wikipedia).

In the video, Cooper heavily criticizes the show and Dina Lohan's antics. Dina Lohan had fought back since (by contacting "OK Magazine") stating that Cooper's comments were "cruel" and "bad karma for him." Watch the video and judge for yourself. Personally, I still think it's hilarious after multiple viewings.

3. The Phantom of the Opera - Point of No Return
This film is probably camp at its best. Naturally, I loved it. I don't want to say too much about the film since I plan to write a review of it soon, but I still want to share my favorite scene.

"Point of No Return" is one of my favorite songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber's immortal stage musical. The lyrics of the songs have no punch; they're just oozing with sentiment. But telling someone that you like Webber's Phantom musical for the story and the song lyrics is kind of like stating that most of Rob Schneider's movies have a hidden philosophical meaning to them. It just doesn't make sense. The musical has always been about the aesthetics, and director Joel Schumahcer was the right guy to approach for the film version.

As for the scene, it shows that Emmy Rossum and Gerard Butler don't exactly have the extraordinary voice talents of Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford from the original London cast, but at least they know how to make the scene hot. Well, except for the silly mime/circus/acrobat-like performers dancing in the background and those shots of Patrick Wilson's slightly tear-stained eyes. There are laughable aspects, yet the scene is passionate and visually fantastical. In the words of Paris Hilton, "That's hot." No, really...

4. Katharine Hepburn Online
I love well-made fan sites. For the past few years, I waited for a good Katharine Hepburn site to reach the web. Katharine Hepburn Online is a fantastic one, with a wonderful gallery a lot of good content. Finally...

I've seen my share of Hepburn movies, but I became completely enamored by her personality when I read her autobiography, Me: Stories of My Life. It is a sweet memoir written by an intelligent and charming woman who has lived her life to the fullest. What I really love about the novel is how Hepburn's personality and wit crackles through the novel with her entertaining anecdotes. It was definitely not written by a ghost writer, that's for sure. The memoir is not a tell-all book on the Golden Age of Hollywood, but simply a humble story of a woman's rise to fame, followed by life's various ups and downs.

So, anyone want to share their favorite Hepburn movies? Performances? Characters?

5. Free Jenna Now!
This is probably the funniest Internet marketing for a film I've seen in a while.

This is the deal (from Jenna Fischer/Pam Bessly's MySpace blog):
My name is Rainn Wilson and I've kidnapped the lovely Jenna, put her, bound, in the trunk of my firebird and logged onto her MySpace to send out this bulletin.

To free America's sweetheart, Pam Beesly, one half of the magic which is 'Jam', you must attend my new movie, 'The Rocker', which opens August 20th.

As soon as the film grosses 18.7 Mil, she will be released and given a peach smoothie.
Wilson and Fischer are friends and both star in the NBC comedy, The Office, so it's all fun and games.

It's a smart little marketing device that I found extremely amusing, but it still doesn't convince me that The Rocker is worth seeing. But good try, though.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I Capture the Title

I recently stumbled upon Steven Hill's Movie Title Screens Page. It is a wonderful collection of screen captures of movie title screens.

I've always enjoyed watching opening credits to movies. I usually notice which the font is used, where the title pops up on-screen, and the music that plays throughout the opening credits. It is not something I think a lot about, but when I see a good title screen, I appreciate it because sometimes it makes a bold, non-verbal statement about the film I'm going to see.

Now, in alphabetical order, I present to you, a list of my ten favorite title screens.

I love the whole writing-on-notepad opening credit thing. I think it's pretty darn cool that it was writer/director Cameron Crowe writing it. That man has awesome handwriting, compared to my own sloppy scrawl.

I know this is pretty much the usual title screen to most Woody Allen movies, but I love the simple white text on black background. It is unbelievably classy.

This image is a true icon of the bristling elegance of early sixties cinema. Audrey Hepburn + Pastry + Tiffany's + Moon River = Title. I love it.

Catch Me If You Can is one of Steven Spielberg's most entertaining and underrated films of all-time. But fortunately, the highly stylized, sixties-inspired opening credits is often not overlooked. Like the film itself, the opening credits is a lot of fun, complete with a brilliant John Williams score to top it off.

I just saw this film fairly recently and liked it quite a bit since I'm a fan of Bob Dylan's music. I have to say, Cate Blanchett is really as marvelous as everyone says she is. Anyway, I love the opening credits to I'm Not There. "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" is a great choice for the opening credits but what I really love was the font used for the credits. I'm no expert on fonts, but it looks like a hybrid of Helvetica and Verdana. Or am I thinking too much into this and it's really just Arial?

Yeah, I have a thing for plain, simple fonts used in opening credits. When I see title fonts for movies like Star Wars and Jurassic Park, I tend to think that they look way too commercial-ready. The way the title appears across Steve Carell's post-suicide attempt Frank kind of sets the mood for the somewhat depressed, unstable bunch at the center of Little Miss Sunshine's dysfunctional family.

Gorgeous, much? Nobody films New York like Woody Allen.

I love this movie and I also love simple fonts. But this font is in pink so it makes it rather special.

This is probably my favorite opening title sequence ever. I find the revealing of the title really cool and creative for some reason. Elmer Bernstein's score is enchanting and lovely to listen to. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite movies (and books) of all-time, so I pretty much love everything about it.

Honestly, Vertigo gives me the spooks. So does this insanely freaky title screen.


Feel free to share your favorite title screens/opening sequences!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Five Links Friday (#1)

Five Links Friday is a new thing here at BISTF. I wanted to do something that I could update weekly, like Valley Dreaming's Monday Movie Meltdown, Blog Cabins' Thank God It's The Day New Movies Are Released, or StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Sundays. So the deal is, I share five links and provide some (hopefully) brief commentary on the subject. The links could be an awesome blog entry I stumbled upon, an amusing video, a catchy song, an interesting article I found, etc. It's a lot like show-and-tell, just with a lot of text.

So here it goes...

1. Batman on Film - "Let's talk sequel"

Jett of Batman On Film wrote an excellent article about the future of the current Batman series. Like me and many others, Jett wants another Batman film directed by Christopher Nolan, the vision behind Batman Begins and the most recent box-office and critical champion, The Dark Knight. Nolan's participation in the next Batman film is pivotal--and so is the material itself. After the overwhelmingly positive response The Dark Knight has received, how is any sequel ever going to top that?

David S. Goyer (screenwriter for Batman Begins) said he has a theme and villain in mind. Gary Oldman also suggested The Riddler as a villain in several interviews and I think he would make a terrific Riddler if he wasn't already Jim Gordon. But it has been mentioned repetitvely that at this point, the filmmakers aren't interested in doing well-known villains. I guess that crosses out The Riddler, The Penguin, and Catwoman.

But yet, I'm yearning to see Selina Kyle/Catwoman in Nolan's Batman universe. Now with Rachel Dawes out of the picture (Maggie Gyllenhaal will be missed--at least by me), it's almost a rule that every superhero on film needs a love interest. I know Batman has an insane amount of love interests from the comics, but Selina Kyle/Catwoman is an iconic character who is more than just "Batman's girlfriend." Her cat burgular/socialite character in the comics fits the Gotham City Nolan created almost too perfectly.

I wouldn't be surprised if they changed their minds to go with Catwoman after all. There have been some very talented and gorgeous actresses (i.e. Angelina Jolie, Emily Blunt, Eva Green, Kate Beckinsale) suggested for the Catwoman role, but I want someone entirely from left field. I want to see Winona Ryder (who was great with Bale in 1994's Little Women), or--this is an out-of-this-world suggestion, but I actually think Zooey Deschanel might make an interesting Catwoman, despite the fact that she's a little too adorable. Honestly, if Gyllenhaal was not cast as Rachel, she would have been my top choice for Catwoman. No, really--I, for one, find her incredibly sexy.

Then again, Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer were electrifying together in Batman Returns. If they want to do a convincing Bruce Wayne/Batman-Selina Kyle/Catwoman relationship this time around, Keaton and Pfeiffer will be hard to beat.

But Catwoman won't be able to carry all the troubles of Gotham on her own. If Batman ever needed a shrink, it would be now. What makes Hugo Strange a probable choice is that he isn't as popular as The Riddler or The Penguin, but he does fit into this reincarnation of Gotham like a glove. My personal casting suggestions are Jackie Earle Haley and Ben Kingsley.

So I'm interested to hear your take on the inevitable third Batman film. Villains? The plot? Rumors you've heard? Just anything, really.

2. The Editing Room - "Abridged Script for Superman Returns"

The Editing Room is one of my favorite new web discoveries from the past few months. It is a collection of hilarious abridged film movie scripts written by the very talented, Rod Hilton. Several of my favorites are the abridged scripts for the Harry Potter movies and undeserving Best Picture winner, Crash.

But after watching the terribly stupid Superman Returns a few days ago, I checked out what kind of script The Editing Room had cooked up for that movie. The abridged Superman Returns script is full of brilliance and everything that is said in the script are just too true.

Superman Returns just sucks. I've never been a huge Superman fan. I watched the Superman cartoons as a kid, the TV show Smallville, and Superman: The Movie and found the character unebelievably boring. Perhaps Superman doesn't necessarily have every imaginable superpower, but he sure has the majority of the top ten most desireable superpowers ever. The only things he doesn't have is a peace of mind since Lex Luthor's always around and a normal life with ladylove, Lois Lane. I also hate the Superman costume.

I tried to watch Superman Returns with an open mind, but Bryan Singer's film simply emphasized everything I didn't like about The Man of Steel. It doesn't help that the silly script doesn't give its title characters much lines. Brandon Routh plays Superman and Clark Kent with little charm or allure and I bet the only reason that he got the role was because he resembles Christopher Reeve, minus the acting chops. Routh just delivers a boring performance with already underwritten material.

Then there is the fantastic Kevin Spacey, who can spin yarn into gold like no other actor out there. As much menace and intimidating qualities Spacey tries to inject into Lex Luthor, whatever on paper just solidified him a weak villain. Lex Luthor also has a lame sidekick, Kitty Kowalski, who is played by the usually talented but ultimately disappointing Parker Posey. I believe Spacey does his best and has some fun with the material, but how could he beat the great Gene Hackman from the 1976 original when Hackman had nuclear missiles and Spacey only has real estate? Usually, in superhero movies, the villain carries the film along.

But how exactly is the audience supposed to care about some inane idea about the U.S. sinking and a development of a new crystal-formed island when nobody--not even the hero of the story--senses it as a threat until the last half-hour of the film? Keep in mind, this movie is 2 hours and 29 minutes long and the majority of those seconds kind of glazed past my eyes like a huge, unnecessary void. The "showdown" (if I can even describe it as such) between Lex Luthor and Superman must be one of the most anti-climatic hero-villain showdown scenes I've ever witnessed in my life.

There are a couple of thankless supporting performances, namely by Kate Bosworth. Bosworth as Lois Lane? The Razzies nominated Katie Holmes in her somewhat-terrible, somewhat-mediocre performance in Batman Begins, but not Bosworth for her amazingly atrocious portrayal of a supposedly intelligent Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter? I can't think of a performance more bland or a role more miscast (maybe with the exception of Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code), but seriously--are we really supposed to believe that Bosworth is Lois Lane, after Margot Kidder's wonderful portrayal in the original film?

This time around, Lois has a new boyfriend in the form of James Marsden's Richard White (masterfully nicknamed "Cyclops" as a reference to Marsden's X-Men role in The Editing Room's abridged script). Richard thinks he is the father of the son he and Lois are raising together. Boy, is he in for a surprise someday. But I really like Marsden in the role and it doesn't hurt that he's a pretty good-looking guy.

Superman Returns has fantastic visual effects, but they all seem obligatory and unengaging. There is a major action sequence in the first hour of the film that looked cool as a film promo but when seen in the context of the film, it lacks the excitement of what the superhero genre is all about. The Editing Room's script captures the dullness and stupidity of Superman Returns much better than my short review. I know I gave this film a 5.5/10, but it's mostly because I found some of the scenes unintentionally funny and strangely enjoyable. Plus, it is technically a well-made film with a terrible script and a weak director.

But is it wrong for me to dislike a film so much, yet realize the tremendous potential a sequel may have? There is a lot of unfinished business left and if they hire the right writers, a sequel might work. I'm not saying I'll be first in line for Superman Returns 2, but I'm just saying that it's an idea that I'm surprisingly not against.

3. Youtube Video - "Castle in the Sky/Kiki's Delivery Service AMV set to Breaking Free"

So enough about superheroes. Let's talk anime.

I've been having a bit of a Hayao Miyzaki film festival these days at my house, ever since I saw J.D.'s favorite, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

A few days ago, I gushed about the lighthearted loveliness of Miyazaki's Kiki's Delivery Service. So far, Kiki's Delivery Serivce and Castle in the Sky are my two favorite Miyazaki films. I was quite ecstatic to discover a Youtube AMV of both films with music provided by--yep, you guessed it: High School Musical. But it's "Breaking Free," one of the not-so-terrible songs from the High School Musical soundtrack! You all know how I feel about High School Musical: I kind of hate it, yet I can't keep my eyes away. In fact, I think I hate it so much that I'm starting to love it. Truthfully, it's my ultimate guilty pleasure.

Some people on the comments section act like it's a travesty to have great art like Miyazaki's be combined with a song from an over-commercialized Disney TV movie, but hey--the song and images fit, right? Personally, I dig this video so I might as well share it.

4. EW - "Obama vs. McCain: The Great Presidential Pop-Culture Debate"

I was obsessed with CNN before my crappy cable wouldn't allow me to watch it anymore. I don't know the deep ends of politics or any of the technical terms, but it is something that always interested me to some extent. I don't support any major political party nor do I have a definite belief on how people should run my country. I guess I'm pretty much clueless when it comes to my personal opinion regarding politics, but that doesn't keep me away from checking and watching the news almost everyday for fun.

Anyway, I found this amusing little piece from "Entertainment Weekly's" website with presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain discussing their favorites in the world of pop culture. I'm not partial to either presidential candidate (and I don't have to be, since I can't even vote in the upcoming election), but I have to admit, McCain certainly has better taste, although many preferred Obama's picks.

Care free to weigh in about which candidate has the better taste in pop culture? Or want to share who you're supporting in the upcoming election? Feel free to do so in the comments section. I'm in the mood for some political sound bites.

5. EW - "Jonas Brothers eye a return to Camp Rock"

I first saw this piece of news on Fataculture and it had me grinning from ear to ear, mainly because I knew a sequel to Camp Rock was inevitable. Am I looking forward to it? Not really. Camp Rock isn't as fun as High School Musical, but I guess that depends what your definition of "fun" is. I guess some songs from Camp Rock are kind of catchy and Demi Lovato has a nice enough smile to carry her role, but it didn't leave me dying for a sequel.

The real reason that I posted this article is because I thought it was kind of funny. This part made me really made me laugh:
A Disney Channel spokeswoman confirms that a sequel is in development, and that the [Jonas] brothers would like to premiere the movie in Central Park, where they'd serve pizza from their favorite New York restaurant.
I love how there isn't really a legitimate shooting script yet and they already know where they're having the film's premiere and what they want to do at the premiere.


I promise you that my commentary will be much more brief next time. (I really, really type too much.)

Monday, August 4, 2008

"So dark the con of man."

The Da Vinci Code | rel. 2006 | dir. Ron Howard

Like many, I've read Dan Brown's best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code. As preposterous and ridiculous the puzzle pieces were, I admittedly enjoyed Brown's interesting but unconvincing and predictable mystery. The pieces were forcefully fit, but that didn't matter. The central mystery--the controversial theory--worked in the novel's context, but I don't believe a word of it. As a whole, the novel was solid entertainment and an acceptable work of fiction. When the film came out in 2006, it looked like a definite renter. It took me a few years to remember that the film version even existed and that I even had any intentions of seeing it at all.

The Da Vinci Code, on paper, seems like a suitable novel to adapt into a film. It has some suspense, some mystery, some adventure, and even some romance. National Treasure did a decent job with all those ingredients back in 2004. The problem was, Brown's The Da Vinci Code was a 496-paged bundle of explanations, flashbacks, history lectures, and long conversations regarding the central mystery. All those aspects works in literature and always had. In the hands of a good screenwriter and director, those aspects could have had a healthy translation onto film.

So I just finished watching Ron Howard's The Da Vinci Code. I've came to the conclusion that it has to be one of the most boring movies that I ever had the unpleasant experience of sitting through.

Howard is a reliable and versatile director who had several career highs, including an Oscar win for Best Director for 2001's A Beautiful Mind. He knows how to make his movies look good and appealing to both audiences and critics. But what went wrong here? My guess is that Howard and the film's screenwriter, Akiva Goldman, trusted in their source material too much. They probably had complete faith that the book would translate perfectly onto the screen.

Howard and Goldman had every right to believe that Brown's mystery adventure would easily make a fantastic film, but unfortunately, that was not the case. Everything takes some effort, especially a good adaptation. The magical purpose of film is to show more and tell less but somehow, Howard and Goldman forgot that point. In the film, whenever something new pops up, a character has to explain to the audience what the thing is. This creates a fiasco of a lot of talking and not a lot of showing. Nothing ever gets the chance to unfold itself, therefore, nothing builds up. Because of this, the film loses much of its potential for thrills.

Tom Hanks stars as Robert Langdon, an acclaimed writer and university professor in symbology has come to Paris as a guest lecturer. Langdon's a pretty smart and likable guy (mainly due to the fact that he's played by America's Favorite Actor), so when a curator at Paris's famed Louvre museum is murdered and leaves several clues behind at the crime scene, the authorities contact Langdon.

Langdon meets a young French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) at the museum who warns him that he is suspect in the murder case due to a cryptic message ("find Robert Langdon") left on the scene and they have have to get out of the Louvre immediately--at least after they throw his GPS tracking system out the window and solve some of those clues the curator left behind on the floor, the Mona Lisa, and everywhere else. Sophie also reveals that the murdered curator is her grandfather. In response, Langdon absorbs the information and I could almost see Hanks's actor's mechanic move about and thinks, "Thanks for the info!"

The man who murdered the curator is a hooded albino man by the name of Silas (Paul Bettany) who brutally whips himself for his sins. Silas works for a mysterious man called the Teacher and Bishop Manuel Aringarosa (Alfred Molina). Silas is a prime example of a character that is thoroughly compelling in the novel but works poorly on film. The flashback scenes that build his character so well in the book is all too brief and abrupt in the film--but does the film really have time for that kind of development? Probably not. But Silas is just a bore in the film and rarely seems malicious nor vulnerable.

As Langdon and Sophie make their escape with the Fleur-de-lis key in hand, a police officer, Bezu Fache (Jean Reno) pursues the two in a not-so-exciting chase sequence around the grim streets of Paris. After taking a breath or two, Langdon and Sophie reaches address inscribed on the Fleur-de-lis and finds a safety deposit box containing a cryptex. After making yet another near escape, the team seeks help from Langdon's friend, Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellan). Teabing just happens to be interested in the cryptex and believes it holds the clue to the Holy Grail. He shows a dull, explaination-ridden presentation using Da Vinci's famous painting, "The Last Supper" to inject some evidence into his theory: Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus Christ. They had a child together. McKellan seems to be thinking and imploring, "Audience, be wowed!"

The dull presentation morphs into some kind of erudition experience for the audience that proves itself totally unnecessary. It is just more fluff so the filmmakers could try their best not to offend. A boring back-and-forth between Teabing and Langdon regarding their knowledge about the Holy Grail, the Priory of Sion, and the Vatican takes place, complete with flashes of images that resemble ancient times just so they can give an entire history lesson to Sophie and the audience.

But what's up with the Priory of Sion? Why do they bother to keep this "secret" that poses a threat to Christianity for so long? What's in it for them? Then again, I'm yawning, I'm falling asleep--I really don't care anymore.

The first hour basically sets up the foundation for the rest of the film. The rest of the film is just a lot of running around, making escapes, and revelations. Oh yeah, and a lot more revealing and explaining goes on too. I shouldn't forget to mention those poorly-executed flashbacks either. Those flashbacks are usually heavily narrated, jittery, and almost unnecessary.

Never has a more talented cast been wasted as much as The Da Vinci Code ensemble. Everyone is staid and serious; not even a joke could be told without a concerned wrinkle. Their facial expressions are full of mock intensity and heavy breathing that seem to add little to the drama.

Hanks has always been a enthusiastic actor, but he is terrible as Robert Langdon. I don't think it is entirely Hanks's fault that his performance is anything less than superb, considering he is a miscast from the first frame of his appearance to the last. Someone like Russell Crowe could have done a better job with the Langdon character.

The fact that Hanks has absolutely no chemistry with his co-star, French actress, Audrey Tautou, is a massive disappointment. In the novel, Langdon and Sophie were gradually falling in love, but that is not apparent in the film, and probably for the better. Tautou struggles with her English, but she pulls through the film. Tautou is a beautiful woman and has enough charm to carry a mediocre movie like Amelie, but The Da Vinci Code doesn't allow her to show off any of her charms or likability. Tautou would enter a scene, say everything that must be said with a pout, and her presence slowly evaporates. In the film, Sophie is a boring character and the way she reacts to serious situations is just by being more serious doesn't give enough of an emotional or dramatic punch.

The supporting cast doesn't do the film any favors either. Bettany and McKellan seem to be suited for their roles, but they bring little to the film. Bettany doesn't have a lot of good material to work with so his character just kind of tears through the film like a benign villain. McKellan starts off by taking the material as seriously as Hanks and Tautou, but later on decides to joke around. McKellan's later attempt to make the film a little more brighter is simply too little, too late. Molina and Reno act like backdrop, contributing nothing that could ever serve as an impact.

Being able to film a thriller in Paris should be any American director's dream, but Howard doesn't take advantage of the opportunity. Instead, he paints a gloomy portrait of dark streets with sloppy close-up of car chases complete with blank character reaction shots. Even when he gets to film in a seemingly gorgeous church, Howard directs the scenes with such laziness and visual incompetence that it is saddening to witness. The scenes in London also lacks beauty. Everything results in a lot of chasing around but there is no adrenaline pumping at all. Unfortunately, not even Hans Zimmer's score, which sounds like the recycled bits from Batman Begins, adds anything to those cat-and-mouse chase scenes.

The film seems to assume that everyone in the audience has read the book, which makes the general feel of the film a tad incoherent. Goldman's script is a fine example of blatant storytelling convenience whose main goal is move the plot forward without developing the characters at all. At least Brown, as silly as his novel was, knew how to get his readers emotionally invested into the characters and because the reader cared about the characters, they cared about the mystery they were trying to solve as well. But it seems like Brown's tale is defunct on film and only the pages seem to function well.

The film has a big budget, but it has no substance or any entertainment value. In fact, watching all 2 hours and 25 minutes of this film is equivalent to exhausting yourself. If you want to see a movie with a lot of clues that fit nicely together, go rent National Treasure or National Treasure: Book of Secrets for a far more entertaining adventure. At least with those movies, you will find a cast that is smart enough to know that their film is logically doomed and doesn't bother to take the material seriously--not even for a second. The Da Vinci Code is simply a boring blockbuster that makes everyone involved look bad.

Rating: 4.5/10

Sunday, August 3, 2008

She's soaring.

Kiki's Delivery Service (Majo no Takkyūbin) | rel. 1989/Disney re-rel. 1998 | dir. Hayao Miyazaki

I think I may be in love. After seeing Kiki's Delivery Service, it left a goofy smile on my face and that smile just won't go away.

Short Review

Hayao Miyazaki's gorgeously animated masterpiece, Kiki's Delivery Service is about a young witch-in-training, Kiki, who must leave her tiny village at thirteen to pursue an independent life as a witch. Kiki, along with her broomstick and wise-cracking black cat, Jiji, finds a lovely seaside city to reside in. With the help of Osono, a local and very pregnant baker, she discovers a cozy place to settle. Kiki cooks up an idea to run a local delivery service and befriends several eccentric characters in the city. In her various adventures, Kiki catches the eye of a teenage aviation nerd who takes an interest in Kiki's flying abilities (and later Kiki herself) and Ursula, a young artist.

I love pretty much everything about this film. From beginning to end, it is a lighthearted feel-good fest with a bunch of enchantingly lovable characters. Without being too blatantly preachy, the film is about fitting in, growing up, finding yourself, and utilizing your abilities for the greater good. Many of the things Kiki experiences what most people (like myself) go through in their lives, especially during their teenage years. Miyazaki's creation of the seaside city is full of vivid details and crackling energy. Kiki's Delivery Service is often touching and completely hilarious on a very human level. Kiki may be a witch, but the fact that she doesn't have a ridiculous amount of magical powers make the coming-of-age journey all the more magical.

The Disney re-release (which my entire review is based on) has some terrific voice work by Kirsten Dunst, Matthew Lawrence, Phil Hartman, Janeane Garofalo, Tress MacNeille, and Debbie Reynolds.

Rating: 9.5/10