Archive for the Movies Category

Movie Review: OVERRIDE (2009)

Posted in Movies on November 17, 2009 by DTB

The action thriller Override is an intense, gripping, well-crafted independent film made all the more impressive when one realizes it was shot for $12,000 (to put things in perspective, most major Hollywood blockbusters have a price tag of well over $100 million).  Tightly scripted and edited, with some strong acting and brisk direction, Override tackles its topics of Islamic extremism, infidelity, depression, loss, acceptance, vengeance and redemption with a straightforward, no-nonsense candor sorely lacking in many of today’s thrillers.  Screenwriter/producer/star Randall Krongard has crafted a convincingly tortured protagonist, surrounded him with a memorable slew of heroes, villains and antiheroes, and set them loose in the prestigious Hamptons of Long Island’s South Fork.  A wild ride ensues.

Override‘s plot itself could have been standard thriller fare: Taylor Braithwaite, a father who lost his daughter to a terrorist’s bomb, wallows in self-induced squalor, addiction and depression while his ex-wife attempts to move on.  A high profile oil kingpin becomes the target of said terrorist, and Taylor becomes entangled in a web of intrigue, deception and bloodshed as the FBI realizes he may be their only hope of preventing the assassination.  What sets Override apart is its characters, none of which are the typical archetypes we’ve become so jaded with in current cinema.  Perhaps the best example of such a character is FBI agent Abie, a Muslim-American who deals with Taylor’s bigotry while remaining the most singularly virtuous character in the film.  In essence, Override takes familiar themes and fleshes them out with a straight-forward thoughtfulness.

During my forthcoming interview with Randall, we discuss the casting process for Override.  Many actors in this film were taken from the pool of non-equity Long Island/NYC locals.  Others came all the way from California.  The resulting variety in experience and training is somewhat obvious, though all involved are able to hold their own.  I was particularly impressed by several actors.  Samrat Chakrabarti stood out immediately as Abie, the afore-mentioned Muslim FBI agent.  His portrayal of a selfless, genuinely good man dealing with prejudice and fear from the citizens he seeks to protect generates sympathy and understanding.  I almost found Abie to be the most relatable character in the film.  Abie is contrasted by Randall Krongard’s Taylor Braithwaite, the main protagonist of Override.  Randall’s portrayal is intense to say the least, and he’s truly up to the challenge of the rollercoaster ride of mental and physical obstacles his character needs to face.  Eileen Shanahan’s portrayal of FBI agent Diana Crowley is unlike many of the “boss” performances we’re so used to.  She’s not pushy or classy or edgy.  Rather, Shanahan infuses Eileen with a world-weary experience and common sense.  As far as villains go, the seedy, oily creepiness of Al Nazemian’s Prince oozes through his performance.  Lines are almost unnecessary for him, for with one look, Nazemian can instill a shudder.  Lastly, Demosthenes Chrysan’s Ibrahim Harazi is a great embodiment of the mastermind Islamic fundamentalist terrorist we’re so used to seeing.  However, there is a strength and bravado to his performance that borders on the Shakespearian, which works very well with his interpretation of the character.

Being an independent film, special effects in Override aren’t exactly present.  Makeup and choreography, however, are really quite excellent and believable.  Cinematography is quite good as well, and I’m thankful that absolutely none of the fight scenes use a “shaky cam.”  Joseph Minasi’s editing contributes greatly to the film’s quick pacing.  I was gripped for the majority of Override‘s length, though there were a couple of spots leading up to the climax that I think could have been trimmed.  Specifically, an exposition scene between Taylor and his ex-wife seemed a bit too lengthy, though it was also critical to the plot.  Otherwise, Override‘s pacing is break-neck at the very least.

Sound and music are, well, quite bad unfortunately.  Override‘s low budget status reveals itself aurally.  In regards to sound effects, my most specific criticism stems from the fight sequences.  Hits are almost always accompanied with a very 1960s Batman-esque whacking sound that definitely doesn’t fit in with the seriousness of Override.  The music isn’t exactly present for several scenes either.  While excellent as they are without music, these scenes would benefit immensely from being scored.  When there actually is music in Override, it’s ambient and atonal.  I’d love to see some full-fledged orchestral fanfare and a distinct theme song instead.

Still, director Robert Frank has overseen the completion of quite an excellent film.  Override is proof that low-budget movies aren’t restricted to pretentious, heady, stuffy affairs that appeal only to wine-sipping grad students.  It’s fun, fast, gripping and highly recommended.  Just try and ignore the sound effects and music.  Easily an 8.5/10, and the score would go up with some aural tinkering.  Necca out.

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Funny Games

Posted in Movies on July 20, 2009 by Scott

Apologies for the late “Weekend Free for All” post, but I have just finished watching Funny Games, and i felt it necessary to express an opinion of the film here.

Funny Games is a remake of an Austrian film of the same name, released in 1997, and the remake 10 years later. The same writer/director made both films, and without having seen the original film i am basing this on IMDB, but the 2007 film is a shot for shot remake. Let’s talk premise here. a family of three is taken hostage at their summer home by two psychopaths. That’s it. Inspires you to go find a copy of the film and watch huh? I implore you to do so, the film has more than enough merit to warrant a viewing or maybe 2, depending on the amount you wish to be able to analyze this twisted piece of cinema.

The thing with Funny Games is even with as formulaic as the premise is, the film breaks out of the mold of traditionalhorror movies, and makes something that is meant to make the viewer uncomfortable, and never allows for any release of tension. Michael Haneke has done a fantastic job of keeping the audience one step removed from all of the action in the film, wondering what and where the next moment of horror will show up. There is no background music, so there are no audio cues as to when there will be a scare, but then again, there are no traditional scares to be had in this film. All of the violence (sans a slap to the face and one other select scene) happens off camera, there are no “jump-out” scares, Haneke makes sure that while detached from this disjointed narrative’s action, the audience is still deeply engaged.

In essence, Paul and Peter (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet respectively) are the young, poshly dressed psychopaths that trap Naomi Watts and Tim Roth and their son played by Devon Gearhart in their summer home.  As well mannered as psychos could be, they come dressed in preppy outfits that wouldn’t be out of place at a yacht club, and each with a pair of golf gloves on. The trouble starts when Peter, the “clumsy” of the two asks to borrow eggs from Watts’ Anne, and after two attempts at taking 4 eggs back to their home, Anne gets upset, and asks them to leave, and when they refuse, George (Roth) steps in to make them leave. This starts the movie down a violent twisted path, and we are all lead by Paul. He essentially plays the role of ringleader and narrator. He commands Peter, and has most of the speaking parts in the film. Paul has a couple of instances where he addresses the audience directly, asking questions to the viewers directly, and these serve as one more tie to the tragedy that is befalling the family we are watching.

Technically, the movie does a few things out of the ordinary that are greatly appreciated by anyone watching from the behind the camera perspective. There are a number of shots which are longer than average; many times taking place when one character or another is going outside of the house. There will be about 30 seconds of the scene outside, almost as a still, then the character will move, breaking the tension. However, one of these long shots occurs at a crucial time in the film, and telling the circumstances would ruin the tension of the scene. Suffice it to say, a restrained Naomi Watts tries desperately to free herself from her bonds, and tries a number of things to no avail, then as she finally reaches her feet and hops across the room out of the frame, the camera pans to follow her, only to stop on an incapacitated Tim Roth, who awakens and is soon joined by a freed Watts. The scene carries so much weight, and the fact that it is one unbroken shot for 8 minutes (give or take) has such an incredible impact.

Another interesting choice by the filmmakers is the opening credits. The screen shows the two logos of the film companies, then shows the credit sequence of producers, stars, etc. as stark red letters on a black background. Until the first set of credits is over, there is no sound at all. Then, classical music and the family talking as they drive down a highway, while even more credits show. It has been a long time since a movie has been released with credits coming before the film that include assistant to the director, assistant sound people, and the like. These credits roll over Watts and Roth attempting to guess the music that the other puts on, and then suddenly changes to an experimental, noise rock song. Very jarring contradictions.

All in all, Funny Games makes for good viewing. But more importantly, it makes for a good reactionary piece. The intent of the filmmaker is to make you mad, to make sure that you are unable to decide what is going on, why it is happening, and what types of feelings you should have towards it. Haneke makes damned sure that you have an incontestable feeling towards the film by the end, and you want to know what kind of a person would make this film, and how can they sleep at night knowing what hey have crated? If you feel that way, then good. If not, I am not sure if you ave been immunized against unfeeling violence, or if this type of film just doesn’t resonate with you. I give it 3.5/5, specifically for the uneasy feeling i had the entire time. Thank the filmmaking heavens that someone has decided to come along and break some of the boundaries of horror movies, and maybe, if the stars align just right, the cheap slasher movie will have met its match.

Movie Review – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Posted in Movies on July 16, 2009 by DTB

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The following review is going to have a few spoilers.  I’ll provide a CAPITALIZED SPOILER WARNING IN RED before each major reveal, so you can automatically jump to them and ruin the movie (and the book) for yourselves.

 As usual though, I’d like to start with a bit of history first…

 I got into the Harry Potter series at the age of 11, when some close family friends returned from their trip to England with a fantasy book that seemed on the cusp of greatness.  This was before “Potter Mania” caught on, before the mainstreaming of the series, and a year after I’d read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  I was on a fantasy kick, and reading a story where the main character grew up with me, almost always my exact age, was amongst the most extraordinary experiences I’ve had with literature.  Also, I was 11 years old, and didn’t pay attention to what was “mainstream” or “underground.”  I just cared whether or not a book was good.  And Harry Potter was GREAT.  Even now, the Potter books remain amongst the greatest exercises in literary imagination.  What J.K. lacked in writing finesse, she more than made up for with a compelling cast of characters, witty humor and sheer creativity.  Haters beware, you will get no sympathy from me (especially those that refuse to try Potter because “OOOOOOooo it’s popular“).

 AAaaaanyway…

 The years 2000-2001 were the height of “Potter-Mania,” and the release of the darker, more adult Goblet of Fire showed a distinct shift of tone.  Simultaneously, trailers for a film adaptation of the first book were finally surfacing, accompanied with spoiler-heavy internet buzz.  I remember waiting half an hour for my 56K modem to load the trailer.  When the movie was finally released, my 15-year-old self was quite satisfied with it, especially in regards to the casting.  Each subsequent film built on what was established, the child actors refining their abilities.  Chamber of Secrets was enjoyable and light-hearted, much like the first entry of the series.  Prisoner of Azkaban was a visual feast, but a terrible adaptation of its source material, substituting character development for shrunken heads.  Goblet of Fire was an intense, hormonal, often hilarious but ultimately dark entry (much like its source material), and was a very strong entry in the series.  2007’s Order of the Phoenix took the longest and dullest of the novels and turned it into the most tightly-paced and well-acted film of the series, due largely to director David Yates.

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 So now we come to the sixth of the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, again directed by Yates.  From the get-go you know it’s a different ride compared to its companions in the series.  The familiar WB shield is muted and pale, with dark foreboding clouds swirling as we flash to Harry and Dumbledore being assaulted by the press immediately following the conclusion of the last movie.  Following this, we find ourselves in London as Voldemort’s Death Eater followers wreck terrorist havoc on some muggles, the Millennium Bridge and Diagon Alley.  There’s an urgency here, a foreboding, as if there’s a seeping, slithering tragedy establishing itself.  Rowling’s novel captured this feeling very well, but what Rowling says with adjectives, Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves say with muted colors, implicative subtext and visual subtlety.  The film is amongst the most intense I’ve seen – quite a feat for a PG-rating – but it lies just beneath the surface.  While there is comedy and teen-aged angst, light-hearted conversations and mysteries to be solved, you can feel an insurmountable darkness building, an intensity waiting in the shadows, and the sinister lurking just beyond reach.  The brilliantly polished script exquisitely depicts this coming darkness with its pacing, subtext and dialogue.

 Half-Blood Prince is, without any debate, the best-acted entry of the series.  Each and every actor, from the bit parts to the leads, has an opportunity to rise above their previous work.  From what I understand, this is due greatly to David Yates’ direction.

 Let’s start with the “kids”…

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 Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) has evolved from a three expressioned child to a truly wonderful actor.  He displays an extensive range in Half-Blood Prince, including his usual emotions.  But his crying scene is significantly more convincing this time around, and he also gets to exercise his comic chops, which truly do prove to be present.  I had no idea that Radcliffe could be so funny!  Overall, he has truly established himself as a young leading man.

 Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) just keeps growing more extraordinary.  Hermione finally gets to flex her emotional muscles during this go-around, and Watson is certainly up to the challenge.  There’s a particularly effective crying scene that gives new clout to the saying “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” (and, well, change “scorned” to “ignored” or “betrayed” and you’re set).  Additionally, she brings more heart to her character than we’ve seen.

 Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) has an undeniable comic gift.  Not only is his timing impeccable (his scenes with Jim Broadbent are gut-busting) but his facial expressions are flat-out hysterical.  Grint’s dramatic acting is also up to par, but let’s face it…Ron’s the comic relief of the trio and Grint is truly funny.

 As a trio, Radcliffe, Watson and Grint have also come a long way.  Their chemistry together is so natural and familiar, you believe they are good friends because they are in reality.  It’s such a pleasure to see them grow up together.

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 Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley) portrays Ginny in a very different (but in no way worse)  manner than I pictured reading the book.  Rowling writes Ginny as brash and forward, confident and fun-loving.  Wright captures these elements, but adds a subtlety (the word of the night!) and grace I never thought Ginny possessed.  The result is something very rare and very special – a love interest of depth, humor and sensitivity.  Onscreen, Wright absolutely shines.

 Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) has gotten the short end of the stick during the past few Potter movies.  What should have been a multi-layered villain was reduced to a mere high school bully.  In Half-Blood Prince, Malfoy is given his dues and Felton delivers!  His heart-wrenching portrayal of a misguided young man torn between fear for his life and what is right might actually be the most affecting performance of the film.  I know Felton has said he does not really wish to continue acting, but after his performance here, it would truly be a tragedy if he denies his clear talents.

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 Moving onto the adults…

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 Michael Gambon (Dumbledore) wasn’t Richard Harris (the original Dumbledore), and he had enormous shoes to fill.  Initially, I hated his portrayal of Dumbledore.  He was too loud and booming and lacked the silliness and cheekiness that Rowling wrote into the character.  After seeing Half-Blood Prince, I don’t think I can picture anybody else portraying everyone’s favorite headmaster.  Gambon IS Dumbledore, and his performance is beautiful, powerful, tragic, funny and altogether brilliant.

 Jim Broadbent (Horace Slughorn) is, alongside Rupert Grint, Half-Blood Prince‘s humor center.  From the moment he CAPITALIZED SPOILER WARNING IN RED changes from an armchair back into human form END CAPITALIZED SPOILER WARNING IN RED, his screentime is accompanied with chuckles, guffaws, and even a few loud laugh-fests.  However, his dramatic scenes are equally brilliant.  Broadbent is a fantastic addition to the extraordinary cast, and plays his role perfectly.

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 Alan Rickman (Severus Snape) brings a humanity to his character I never pictured in the book.  Rowling never really writes Snape as conflicted, just sulky, but Rickman’s facial expressions alone add depth and humanity to this extremely compelling character.  His line delivery, as always, is spot-on.  When he finally commits the infamous final deed of the film, there is sheer regret on his face.  I cannot see anybody else portraying Snape.  As always, Rickman was brilliant.

 Supporting roles are of course solid.  Of particular notes were Helena Bonham-Carter’s certifiable Bellatrix Lestrange, Helen McCrory’s tormented Narcissa Malfoy, Evanna Lynch’s always delightful Luna Lovegood, Maggie Smith’s pitch-perfect Prof. McGonagall, Jessie Cave’s hilariously clingy Lavender Brown, Dave Legeno’s ferocious Fenrir Greyback and Freddie Stroma’s crude Cormac McLaggen.

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 Half-Blood Prince‘s production values were outstanding.  Special effects were not blaring or gaudy, they supplemented the story and functioned subtly (agian, word of the night!), beautifully, and occasionally terrifyingly.  The CAPITALIZED SPOILER WARNING IN RED cave scene with the horcrux was particularly stunning, especially when Dumbledore spewed swirls of fire at the inferi END CAPITALIZED SPOILER WARNING IN RED.  Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography was the best of the summer.  Camera angles were inventive, and the film could move from a sweeping panorama to an up-close chase view seamlessly.  An additional bonus: NO SHAKY CAM 😀 😀 :-D!!!  Nicholas Hooper’s score wasn’t bombastic.  It wasn’t virtuosic.  It was slow, tense, jovial, textured and understated.  Truly a beautiful job.

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My only complaint about the film itself, from a film-viewer’s perspective, was the slow-motion Dumbledore death.  It seems like deaths of major characters always have to be filmed in slow-mo these days, but I always find deaths more impactful if they’re done in real-time.  My two remaining (minor) quips about the film are in regards to important omissions from the book.  First and foremost, a massive battle between Hogwarts staff and Aurors against the invading Death Eaters at the end of the book did not make it into the film.  While I know we’ll have gratuitous action in the now-split Deathly Hallows, wouldn’t it have been alright to give us a taste of crazy wizard-vs-wizard combat?  Secondly, the formal funeral for Dumbledore was cut entirely, which is when Harry gives Ginny the Peter Parker “I love you too much to endanger you so I have to break-up with you” speech.  Anyway.  Those were fairly minor objections.  Won’t cost the movie more than half a point.

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 Ultimately, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a very strong addition to the series.  By far the best written, acted, and directed of the series, every element of the film is elevated to a new level of artistry.  It’s the first Potter adaptation that transcends simple entertainment and achieves a heightened place as a film.  For this reason, I must give Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince a resoundingly high 9.5/10 in my book.  How truly refreshing that children and adults alike can watch a highly entertaining yet beautiful piece of cinema.  It’s already started to break Transformers 2‘s records.  Let us all give thanks.

Movie Review – Public Enemies

Posted in Movies on July 9, 2009 by DTB

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Johnny Depp and Christian Bale are possibly the biggest male movie stars right now.  They’re certainly two of the most talented.  So when Michael Mann, an EXTREMELY talented director, hired these two juggernauts to go head-to-head in an action thriller based on John Dillinger’s bank robberies in the ‘30s, I got excited.  While I’m not a huge fan of gangster movies (The Godfather parts I and II being obvious exceptions), I AM a fan of Michael Mann, Johnny Depp and Christian Bale.

Though I’m a self-professed student of history, Dillinger’s criminal escapades are in no way a specialty of mine.  I don’t know how accurate the film was to the historical facts, but it was ultimately very entertaining.  So I’ll judge Public Enemies as a movie.  How did it hold up?  Pretty well actually.  The script takes an interesting approach for a crime-sprawling biopic, essentially eliminating the “bio” prefix and adding a simple “e” instead.  We don’t get childhood flashbacks.  We don’t get a heart-wrenching examination of motivation.  Depp’s Dillinger emerges as fully-formed and defined as Heath Ledger’s Joker, and is ALMOST as much fun.  The entire movie is a cat-and-mouse intrigue/action fest of Christian Bale’s Melvin Purvis pursuing Depp’s charismatic Dillinger.  Scriptwriters Ronan Bennett and Michael Mann give Marion Cottllard’s Billie Frechette a real soul with precious little screentime and Billy Cruddup’s J. Edgar Hoover a very interesting and fairly accurate portrayal.  Dialogue is witty, fast-paced and intelligent.  The movie’s definitely not for movie watchers with low attention spans, as certain plot points could conceivably be missed easily if one is not paying rapt attention.  Still, I love movies that demand attention, and only think this furthers the positives of Public Enemies.  It’s a perfect counter-balance to the mind numbing stupidity of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Casting of Public Enemies is absolutely solid.  Johnny Depp shows a sly, smooth side I’ve never seen from him.  His Dillinger oozes a thick, molassesy charisma and a real lust for life.  He also portrays Dillinger as a man who’s never truly grown up or faced death head-to-head.  Christian Bale succeeds at something I’ve never thought possible…I highly disliked his character.  Bale brought humanity to Purvis, had a convincing Southern drawl, was essentially the righteous one, but also depicted an underlying insecurity I thought fascinating.  Marion Cotillard has truly emerged into Hollywood now.  She’s not a classic beauty, but has a wonderful, whimsical natural charisma that’s a perfect compliment to Depp.  I can’t wait to see where she goes from here.  Billy Cruddup was nearly unrecognizable as J. Edgar Hoover, and wonderfully portrays a seething frustration and subtle detesting beneath a rigid exterior.  Other notable performances include Channing Tatum as Pretty Boy Floyd, Jason Clarke as John “Red” Hamilton (a personal favorite of mine), and Stephen Graham as an unnervingly unpredictable “Baby Face” Nelson.

Technically, Public Enemies was pretty good as well.  Period sets were great.  Props looked shiny.  Special effects were exactly what they should have been.  In particular, the slow-motion bullet shot that finally kills Dillinger was an impressive feat, and very effectively done.  The length was perfect…editing knew what they were doing.  My major cinematographic complaint, however, was that there was TOO MUCH SHAKY CAM during action sequences!  I’m really starting to get sick of feeling like I personally filmed the majority of Hollywood movies as of late.  Cameramen and cinematographers are trained professionals, and the camerawork should show this.  Right now, I feel like P$’s ADHD chocolate lab could film a movie more smoothly than this.

Elliot Goldenthal’s score was pretty good.  I enjoyed his twangy bursts of bluegrass inspiration, acoustic guitar embellishments and overall minimalist approach, which I found appropriate.  I also liked the integration of the song “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” as a continuing theme.  It’s hands down one of the greatest jazz standards ever composed and the film definitely honors this fact.

Overall, I think Michael Mann has directed a solid movie.  Public Enemies is fun and intelligent, very well-acted, action-packed, and also thought-provoking.  It’s not a grand technical achievement, but it remains slick and nice to look at.  I couldn’t stand the gratuitous shaky cam action scenes.  Still, it’s solid.  Public Enemies is an 8/10 in my book.  Necca out.

P$ says Happy 4th of July! He also recommends a classic movie.

Posted in Movies on July 4, 2009 by dparkhurst

Well Happy 4th folks! It’s a great day to meet with family and friends, pop open a cold one and play with explosives. Ah yes, alcohol and fire-works: the staple of the 4th of July and America itself.  Have a wonderful and safe day. Hopefully you are all going on picnics and enjoying the sun. That is unless you’re from central New York. It has been grey for the past week and today is no different. It will be nice to add some color in the sky later tonight.

I was thinking about what to update LBR with on this holiday. I can’t think of anything better than touching upon one of my favorite movies.

Patton

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Patton: You know I actually pity those poor bastards we’re going up against, by God I do. We’re not just going to shoot the bastards, we’re going to cut out their living guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks.

I love the beginning of this movie. It’s iconic, patriotic, and simply better than any speech in the LOTR: Return of the King. (Hey Necca, I dare you to disagree on America’s birthday!) A four star general in front of a gigantic American flag motivating forces before they go into battle. The writers of Patton took exerts from different speeches that Patton made and put them together make the speech that George C Scott gave in the movie.

The movie is awesome. It won seven academy awards including best picture and best actor. George Scott actually declined the award stating that he didn’t think he did Patton justice. Patton was bigger than life I suppose. The movie chronicles Patton’s campaign throughout northern Africa, the invasion of Sicily, and his contribution to the Battle of the Bulge. It shows his relationships with General Omar Bradley and the British General Bernard Montgomery. He is feared by the Germans for his drive and determination to never hold the line. He frustrated American military leaders by disobeying orders and taking over towns that were suppose to be given to the British. The movie portrayed him as a rebel of his time. He was almost indestructible. The movie is also filled with one-liners that Patton made throughout his World War 2 career.

The movie came out in 1970. At the time the country was in the midst of the Vietnam war. The studio didn’t think that the movie would make much money based upon the attitude that the country had at the time. The rebellions and protests against the Vietnam war gave the studio much clout in their argument. The producers had to think of a way to get this movie going and show the studio that it could make money. The way that the producers pitched the movie was terrific and made a lot of sense at the time. Patton was a rebellious General. The producers used that as their argument. They told the studio that they could get both the “hawks”(pro-war) and the “doves”(anti-war) to go see the movie. In fact, they were going to originally call the movie Patton: A Salute to a Rebel.

The producers were right. Patton came out and it drove people with diverse opinions of Vietnam to the theaters. The hawks saw the movie as a pro-war film with America in the lime-light while the doves claimed the movie supported anti-war sentiments. It’s actually genius because he does both brilliantly. The movie showed the patriotism that both the hawks and doves claimed to have for their country. The hawks looked up to Patton as a strong military leader that was the staple of courage and strength while the doves related to the rebellious side of him that was always going against authority and the status quo. Perfect!

I highly recommend this movie if you haven’t seen it. It’s a brilliant war film that is much more about battles and glory. It’s about the strengths and flaws of a brave American General in a time of great peril. He was unpredictable to both the Germans and the Allies.

Have a wonderful 4th of July and remember those who have fought for this country and for our freedom. Many countries cannot pin point the actual date that their nations were formed. We can… we have the documentation and signatures.

Alright folks, have a wonderful and safe 4th. I’m off to eat ribs and drink beer. I’ll probably blow some things up in the process.

Until next time,

Dizzle

Movie Review – Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Posted in Movies on June 25, 2009 by DTB

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I went into Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen with fairly low expectations (21% on the Tomato-Meter and STILL dropping), but I couldn’t possibly fathom that it would be as bad as nearly every critic is making it out to be (I read Ebert’s review after seeing the film and it’s BRILLIANT).  I loved the TV show as a kid.  I consider myself significantly less cynical than most reviewers out there, and actually enjoyed the first Transformers for the big stupid popcorn flick it was meant to be taken for.  If I received more of the same, my need for giant robots beating each other up would have been satiated.  Unfortunately, reality can be cruel.

I never thought I’d say this, but Batman and Robin has a rival in the area of franchise-destroying action movies.  Revenge of the Fallen foregoes substance, wit, depth and intelligence for mindless wanton action, a bloated sense of self-importance, horribly poor-taste jokes and absolutely nothing that resembles coherency or plot.  It’s a tedious, impudent, inflated mess of a movie that looks real pretty and sounds real pretty without delivering anything worth remembering. 

Congratulations guys!

A proud day for the Clooney Bat-family.

Revenge of the Fallen is so elementary in its plot that it’s summation takes one sentence: humans run around the world as giant robots fight each other searching for a map that leads them to a device that could destroy the solar system while the bad guys hope their true leader will be resurrected as things explode.  There.  You know the entire movie.  The ENTIRE movie.  All two-and-a-half hours.  And…wait a minute.  Isn’t that..isn’t that the SAME EXACT PLOT from the first movie?  It is?  REALLY?  So the writing team replaced “cube” with “matrix” and essentially cut and pasted the rest of the script from their old one?  And they somehow managed to ditch any semblance of the humor that made the first movie somewhat bearable?  There’s…there’s absolutely no original creativity here?  What?  HOW COULD THIS BE?!?  The script writers are the same dudes that did Star Trek (Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci) and that was a great movie!  And also the dude that wrote the script for The Ring 2 (Ehran Kruger), which was an OK movie.  How could it possibly go wrong?  Answer: J.J. Abrams (the man whose mere touch creates high quality awesome juice) was not involved with this production.  Instead, we get Michael Bay again (the man whose mere touch induces a slow-motion, IQ dropping trance rocked by explosions and riddled with helicopter blades).  So an already moronic script is souped up with slick, sexy, bling-filled explosions and populated by the reject extras of the few remaining MTV music videos (which are aired on MTV2…no, MTVU).  At least the fairly prolific actors/voice actors from the first film are back, right?  Right? 

Prolific

Prolific

Somewhat.  The basics are still here – Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhmel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Peter Cullen, and Hugo Weaving.  No more Jon Voigt, Michael O’Neill, Anthony Anderson or Rachael Taylor.  Instead, our new recruits include Frank Welker (yay!), Rainn Wilson (in a cameo),  Isabel Lucas, Ramon Rodriguez and Jon Benjamin Hickey.  Then there’s the multitudinous rabble of extras and bit parts that nobody will remember because there are so many explosions surrounding them.  Tom Kenny as The Twins will get his own paragraph of rage.

 So let’s tackle this actor-by-actor, shall we?

Peter Cullen.  Optimus Prime.  Hero of children and man-children everywhere.

Peter Cullen. Optimus Prime. Hero of children and man-children everywhere.

 Shia LaBeouf gets a worse deal than he deserves.  The guy’s my age and is a professional blockbuster actor and he doesn’t do this by playing brawny heart-throb types, but by playing geeky, fast-thinking dorks.  So my hat is tipped in his direction.  Unfortunately, his role of Sam is much less interesting this time around.  Despite dealing with a long distance relationship, crazy visions and going off to college, Sam’s written as a coward one moment and as a strong-willed boy scout the next.  His neurotic energy is gone, wisecracks are few and far between and there are no opportunities for LaBeouf to flex his “finding humor from awkwardness” muscles (which is what he does best).  Megan Fox’s Mikaela  is a little sadder this time out, but still a bit of a plastic robot.  She’s actually a bit more cute than hot in this installment.  I’m still waiting for a movie to actually force her to flex ACTING muscles, because right now she’s at her most convincing when the Visine tears are streaming down her perfectly symmetrical cheeks and filling her disturbingly icy eyes with woe.  Mostly, Fox runs away from explosions as select areas of her body bounce in slow motion, functioning as a misogynistic fantasy for the editors of GQ magazine.  The military team from the first Transformers get absolutely no character development.  Josh Duhmel and Tyrese Gibson, both decent actors, are reduced to barking orders and acting rebellious against military authority.  My goodness, we’ve never seen that before!  Kevin Dunn and Julie White have slightly elevated roles compared with the last movie, and definitely do deliver on at least a little comedy.  I know John Turturro gets a lot of flack for his role in TF1, but I hope most audience members realize that he single-handedly SAVES the third act of Revenge of the Fallen.  He seems to be the only one who realizes how flat-out idiotic the movie is, and his acting is amongst the only tongue-in-cheek within the film.    Finally, Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime is perfect as ever, but I still want my Frank Welker to play Megatron because Hugo Weaving is certainly not sinister enough.  Speaking of Welker, he does appear as the voice of Soundwave (as he was in the ’80s show) and Devastator.  As always, his work is brilliant.  Rainn Wilson’s college professor is flat-out creepy and not all that amusing.  Isabel Lucas gives Megan Fox a run for her slow-motion Barbie money and proves she can play the seductress pretty well.  Ramon Rodriguez and Jon Benjamin Hickey are just flat-out annoying.

 If there’s one reason Revenge of the Fallen should donate all of its proceeds to charitable organizations that target inner-city development, it’s the character duo of The Twins (voiced by Tom Kenny…the PASTY WHITE GUY WHO VOICES SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS).  As written, they’re gross racist stereotypes of the urban illiterate.  As voiced, they’re Chris Tucker giving in to a bigotry not seen since the 1960s.  And as animated, they may as well be 1800s Minstrel singers belting “Swanee” while eating fried chicken, watermelon and drinking grape soda.  The U.S. has an African-American president.  We’re past this bilious tripe.  We’re past this bullshit representation of a cultural generalization.  We’re past this immature, archaic, disgusting and despicable form of “humor”.  Not once did the large audience I saw Revenge of the Fallen with laugh at these repugnant characters.  I thought we’d left Birth of a Nation in the past, but apparently racism in film isn’t as stamped out as I’d hoped. 

Bad taste just got a whole lot spongier

Bad taste just got a whole lot spongier

There’s also an agent who represents the President (actually stated as being Obama) that forces the Autobots to stop fighting the Decepticons because the President wants to “negotiate with the Decepticons,” clearly implying that diplomacy is a foolish option in foreign policy.  Because the global situation is just like an alien invasion by one-dimensional evil robots.  Obviously, the movie’s still stuck in the Bush administration where patriotism is equivalent to waving a flag whilst blowing the Middle East to high hell.  Which happens.  Again.  That was SO 2007…

Yes we can....hand the US over to Decepticon rule

Yes we can....hand the US over to Decepticon rule

 *pant*  Okay enough pulpit pounding…

 Moving on.  Special effects, right.  Well they were pretty good, considering they’re the main reasons most people want to see this movie.  They’re sleek, glossy, metallic, big and expensive.  It’s obvious a lot of money was shucked into Revenge of the Fallen‘s effects.  Too bad this time around a majority of the transformers look alike.  Is it Brawl?  Is it Starscream?  Is it Megatron?  I DON’T KNOW!  Virtually all Decepticons are a metallic silvery-gray.  While the Autobots are conveniently color-coded, you never know WHICH baddie they’re fighting, and that’s not really a good thing, except for the super-bot Devastator and Decepti-intelligence gatherer Soundwave.  Devastator is a giant ape-like robot who is made up of many smaller robots and has wrecking-ball genitalia.  His weapon of choice is a vacuum-cleaner mouth that sucks up sand and Autobots alike.  Whenever he’d switched on, I was tempted to chant “Suck, suck, suck,” to quote Spaceballs.  Soundwave was once an enigmatic spy-like trusted apostle to Megatron (in the old show at least).  Now he’s a satellite that just sorta hovers in space and does nothing.  You know he’s not fighting because he’s useless.  Explosions were pretty but by the ten thousand five hundredth smoky fireball, it got a little redundant.  Which leads me to the editing.  I have a hunch that a good hour of action could have been cut.  The story would have been more coherent, the explosion count wouldn’t jade the audience, and I wouldn’t have had to hold in my desperate need to pee for half the movie.  There was just too much bloated action, too much budget flaunting and too much unjustifiable time-wasting.  The 11-year-old boy behind me kept asking his mother what time the movie would be over.  If your pre-pubescent boy audience is bored with too much robot fighting, then something has gone terribly wrong.

 I really enjoyed Steve Jablonsky’s initial Transformers score.  It transcended the usual Zimmerian imitations in favor of some wonderfully melodic work.  This time around, I don’t even know if there WAS a score.  His music didn’t detract from the viewing experience, but I don’t ever remember a punctuated moment where a familiar theme kicked in.  The score was simply absent.  However, the Linkin Park quotes are everywhere.  The band even got partial music credits during the end crawl with Jablonsky, which is insipid and obnoxious. 

Not again...

Not again...

So Mister Michael Bay has created a magnum opus of expensive IQ-reducing absurdity.  There’s no denying that everything in Revenge of the Fallen is gigantic.   Everything is expensive.  Effort was put in by many crew members.  But it’s not good.  It’s offensive.  It’s sexist.  It’s racist.  It’s certainly not for kids.  And it’s a terrible movie.  The actors do what they can.  It’s not their fault (though they did read the script).  My sympathies to all crew members who put their blood, sweat and tears into making the final product come together.  But Orci, Kurtzman, Kruger, Bay and Executive Producer Steven Spielberg…WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!?  To quote a character from a GOOD Spielberg blockbuster…”That is one big pile of shit.”  I give Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen a 2/10.  And that’s being GENEROUS.  Necca out.

Your brain on Bay, with an extra side of Kurtzman, Orci and Kruger.  Spielberg not included.

Your brain on Bay, with an extra side of Kurtzman, Orci and Kruger. Spielberg not included.

NOTE: All photographs from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen are the property of Hasbro, Paramount Pictures and Dreamworks Entertainment.  Linkin Park is property of themselves, as released by Warner Brothers Records.  I am in no way profiting from their use in this article.  The scrambled eggs are by an unknown cook with an impeccable aesthetic sense.

Batman is, of course, the property of DC Comics.  Batman and Robin is the (unfortunate?) property of Warner Brothers Pictures.

Dave B’s Top Ten Movies to Watch in the Summer (and why you need to see them)

Posted in Movies on June 18, 2009 by DTB

One of my favorite professional movie review websites is run by Drew McWeeny (formerly Moriarty of Aintitcoolnews).  Obligatory link HERE: http://www.hitfix.com/blogs/2008-12-6-motion-captured.  Last week, he ran a few pieces on several filmmakers and writers answering the simple question “what is your favorite summer movie and why?”  Most answers were so fantastic that it got me thinking.  What ARE my favorite movies to watch in the summer?  What movies can I watch again and again to just HAVE FUN?  Why are they so special to me personally?

 So I pondered.  I contemplated.  I established a criteria.  What defines a perfect “summer movie” for me?  Well, they need to be DIVERSIONS.  Most watch movies in the summer to transport us away from our own troubles.  They needn’t have any obvious philosophical undercurrents or deep dramatic morals.  Ultimately, summer movies need to be fun and emotionally engaging with humor and energy.  Oh, and for me it’s CRUCIAL that a true summer movie have a happy ending.  However much I ADORE The Dark Knight, it’s too heady and intense to make my summer popcorn blockbuster list.  True, TDK was released in the summer and grossed higher than any other film save Titanic.  But it’s grim and dark and gritty, not droll and bright and exciting.

 So without further adieu, I present to you my 10 absolute favorite movies to watch in the summer (and why you need to see them if you haven’t already…or see them again if you have)…

 10: Independence Day (1996)

Independence Day was awesome.  As in literally awe-inspiring.  The gargantuan flying saucers are still the definitive hostile alien invasion spacecraft in my book.  Though the plot was fairly standard and some characters (Randy Quaid’s alcoholic crop-duster pilot comes to mind) lacked compelling development, it didn’t matter.  A winning combination of charismatic leads, smart dialogue, perfect chemistry amongst the cast, a victorious score by David Arnold and glossy, gorgeous direction from Roland Emmerich swirled together to create a true sci-fi summer popcorn classic.  The entire movie is absolute bucket-loads of pure unadulterated dumb fun (which is what summer movies are all about).

 9: Jurassic Park (1993)

I dug dinosaurs as a kid.  To the point that I seriously wanted to be a paleontologist up until about age ten.  I was only 6 when Jurassic Park came out, and wasn’t allowed to see it in theaters.  BUT, JP was still the first PG-13 movie I ever saw.  I remember when my dad brought home the pink new release VHS case.  It was family pizza and a movie night, and I was completely blown away by what I saw.  Even now, those dino-effects have remained the CGI dinosaurs to beat.  Plot was great, acting was phenomenal, John Williams’ score was perfect and Spielberg had another absolute blockbuster on his hands.  JP still stands as one of the smartest, most suspenseful, funniest and scariest summer movies to date.  It’s also one of the most re-watchable movies I’ve seen.

 8: Wall-E (2008)

Of all the Pixar animated movies, Wall-E deserves to be on this list.  It’s entertaining, fun, tear-jerking, heart-wrenching, hilarious, romantic and absolutely wonderful.  Only sheer filmmaking genius could have achieved the sublime beauty of the film’s near-silent first third.  The animation is incomparable.  Thomas Newman’s score ranges from subtle to enthusiastically exciting.  And the story is perhaps the most meaningful and genuine of any film on this list.

 7: Star Trek (2009)

Read my full review to learn why I loved this movie in general.  My reasoning for its summer flick perfection is slightly different.  Star Trek is a unique spin on the hero’s journey.  The hero himself is not a naive orphan but a true rebel without a cause.  Over the course of the film, he discovers the key to greatness is not simply within himself, but in the relationships between a remarkable group of individuals destined to roam the cosmos together.  For this reason – the sheer emphasis on camaraderie, friends and good times – Star Trek deserves to be amongst the greatest movies to watch in the summer.

 6: The Mask of Zorro (1998)

Unfairly overlooked and neglected, The Mask of Zorro is a true swashbucklingly fun and finger-smackingly good movie.  Combining a pretty darn predictable (yet highly enjoyable) plot with extremely charismatic actors (SEE: YOUNG CATHERINE ZETA-JONES), multitudinous stunt-filled high jinks, the smoothest swordsman and Anthony Hopkins can only lead to a 100% fun time.  James Horner’s score is sweeping and romantic.  And the Zorro costume, as always, is possibly the best masked vigilante outfit ever invented.  I will provide a disclaimer, however: WATCHING The Mask of Zorro MAY CAUSE THE INSATIABLE URGE TO DRESS IN A CAPE AND ATTEMPT TO SWORDFIGHT ANYTHING THAT MOVES.  You have been warned.

 5: Ghostbusters (1984)

How could I not go here?  Ghostbusters is an action comedy in its purest sense.  The originality of its premise has been imitated by many and NEVER surpassed.  Though the effects are fairly dated, the extraordinary acting by a truly top-notch cast in their prime is something to savor.  Of every movie I’ve seen, I think I quote Ghostbusters the most.  There is not a single dull moment, and it has the ability to be appreciated by both youngsters and adults alike.  Impeccably cast, directed, acted, scored, and delivered in every technical aspect, Ghostbusters stands against the tests of time as one of cinema’s most entertaining achievements.  We all know who you’re gonna call.

 4: Hook (1991)

I know, I know, I know.  Hook was released in December, so it’s not technically a “summer movie.”  Please bear with me though.  Obvious holiday season references aside (they take up the first 20 minutes of the movie), once Peter gets to Neverland things are entirely SUMMER-y.  Hook is a swashbuckling, creative, wonderfully acted movie about accessing one’s inner child and defeating the embodiment of sinister – Captain James Hook.  To this day, no movie in existence makes me remember what it was like to be a kid better than Hook.  This is an extremely special achievement, which is why Hook deservingly resides at number 4.

 3: Tie: Return of the Jedi (1983)/Spider-Man 2 (2004)

We have a tie here.  I hate ties, but sometimes they’re unavoidable.  Both of these movies are sequels.  Both are slopping, epic droves of fun.  Yet what, you may ask, made me decide to place Jedi and Spidey 2 above their comparably fantastic franchise counterparts?  I’ll tell you.  Jedi is undeniably the most light-hearted of the original Star Wars trilogy.  It’s the happy ending of an epic, yet it deals with some of the most important themes the series plays with  – redemption, vengeance, fate, hope, courage against insurmountable odds.  Of all the Star Wars movies, Jedi is the most summer.  Spidey 2 is simply the best of the Spider-Man films (which are the most summer-y superhero flicks I can think of).  Crazy action spectacle, romantic issues, comedy, and spectacular effects make Spidey 2 a surefire winner to watch on a hot summer night.  It may have been the perfect summer movie were it not for…

 2: Men in Black (1997)

Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith are the best buddy cop team.  Period.  It’s just a fact of life.  Toss into the mix the fact that they’re interstellar cops protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe and, well, you’ve got yourself a sci-fi action comedy so brilliantly hilarious that it’s impossible to surpass in its genre.  A super stellar supporting cast, great gross-out effects, an awesomely jazzy Elfman score, brilliant direction and a really unique plot all congeal into some of the best moments of fun the movies have ever seen.

 1: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Pirates.  Zombies.  Pirate zombies.  Wenches.  Swords.  Blacksmiths.  Ships.  Cannons.  Keira Knightley in the moonlight.  Johnny Depp in thick eyeliner doing a weird Keith Richards hybrid impression.  Geoffrey Rush saying ARRRRRR.  Orlando Bloom with long hair batting his doe-eyes.  This is how summer perfection is made.  I still remember being absolutely blown away by Pirates of the Caribbean the first time I saw it in theaters.  I had no idea what to expect, but the second that ship emerged from the fog I was glued to the screen gasping, laughing, grinning, cheering and having fun in its purest form.  Summer movie watching is about sitting back, relaxing, enjoying yourself and being swept away by spectacle.  When there’s an added dash of wit and intelligence, it’s even better.  Pirates has all this and more.  It’s the perfect summer movie, bar none, and I will argue this point to the bitter end.