Sunday, July 31, 2011

What do They Need Gold For? To Buy Stuff?: Cowboys and Aliens

Film Foray Cavalcade no. Veintitr├ęs: Cowboys and Aliens

Cowboys and Aliens

It is relatively common knowledge that I have a soft spot for the western genre. Times seem to have simpler then, you could carry a lever action rifle anywhere, wear a cowboy hat and not look ridiculous... The possibilities were endless. Alright, I concede that this is a pretty romantic view of this period of Americana considering the odds of dying from such things as anthrax, smallpox or diphtheria were quite high. Of course, this film is an amalgam, it is a western heavy on the science fiction elements, hence the "aliens" in the title.

The film revolves around an alien species that arrives on Earth to mine gold and study our weaknesses before annihilating the human race. The reason for wanting the gold is never really explained, perhaps they wanted gold fillings for their teeth or they are going to base their economic system on gold (They could have been Capitalists!). At the very least, this is commodity is as precious to them as it is to humans. Once they started stealing folk's kin though, they ticked off the wrong hombre, Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). Through a series of circumstances, Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig), noted criminal and amnesiac joins to rid the world of this scourge but also hopefully retrieve his elusive memory.

Olivia Wilde uses this look throughout whole film

From a critical standpoint, this film was what it was... A movie with cowboys and aliens. I think that many of the critics condemned it for being simple but (honestly) what else could you do with this premise. Personally, I think that the viewer has to look outside of the plot and more at the acting. Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig do a wonderful job in their roles, as did Adam Beach in a supporting capacity. However, Olivia Wilde, while easy on the eyes did nothing more than look like a doe caught in the headlights of a car. Also, outside of There Will Be Blood, Paul Dano is a worse actor than I am. If he never was allowed to make another film, I would not shed a tear.

I thought the film was decent entertainment for what it was. For those expecting Shakespeare, you will have to look elsewhere but it was an ok popcorn flick. I was concerned that it might turn out like Wild Wild West or other concept westerns, yet it those fears were allayed. It certainly did not break ground in either of the genres that it made use of and the western elements have been seen time and time again elsewhere (and were better). Like I said, Cowboys and Aliens was what it was... A movie with cowboys and aliens.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Weekly Wish List UPDATE Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives....the title is long enough...check this one out

Alright so here is the name of the director Apichatpong Weerasethakul.....he says its ok to call him "Joe"....true story.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his past lives is a small picture with some some huge ideas. Uncle Boonmee finds out he is dying and returns to the countryside to spend some time with family. Upon returning he reminisces with his sister in law, nephew, dead wife, and a son who's been turned turned into a ghost monkey. Throughout he begins to experience his "past lives" and we get a full picture of life lived that is about to end. The film moves at a very deliberate pace often times letting the viewer see the gorgeous nature that exists in Thailand for long stretches of time with minimal dialogue. It is an obtuse film that will surely reward everyone willing to accept its inherent "weirdness" and experience all it has to offer. Joe injects a subtle humor throughout the the viewer sits "shocked" at the dead coming to life or monsters sitting at the table...or fish mating with princesses...the people who exist in the film seem to all accept it with a slight sense of awkwardness. This humor is charming and pulled off very well...never being laugh out loud obviously, but definitely creating an air of lightness in an otherwise serious film.

This a film open to interpretation and there is plenty here to discuss. Which if any of you out there happen to see it I'd love to hear your thoughts, but for the purposes of this article I want to focus on just a few things. First off is the theme of returning to nature. There is a sense that nature is where we have come from and ultimately where we will return to. The film starts off with a simple scene in the forest and ends in a city full of civilization. This shows the journey of society from life in nature to life in the city. Boonmee moves to the countryside in order to finish off his last days with family. This suggests that in nature one can escape the mechanical emotionless nature of the city and return to a simpler time in which family was the most important thing. This is reinforced again at the end when everyone is simply watching tv as the movie finishes, rather than talking with each other as they have for the while movie.

I don't want to spend too much time on his dead wife as I saw her as being a representation of how close he was to death. Rather I think the monster son is the more interesting character and more relevant to my point. I mentioned that nature can provide a simpler truer existence away from any of the constructs of civilized life. Here we see a young man caught up in the beauty of this naturalistic lifestyle that he soon becomes a part of it. The son sees these monsters in the woods and wants to capture them on film, but as he pursues them he begins to love them, and ultimately becomes integrated within their culture. The son is that part of you that knows that nature is our true home and the place where we came from. He understands the beauty of it and embraces it rather than shrugging it off for technology.

The last thing I want to talk about is the duality of identity. The film is about this man "recalling his past lives", in many ways this is simply him recounting various times in his life and the people he's encountered and how they almost represent different people. This idea that our self is made up of multiple personalities is shown with a couple of simple scenes. I've already discussed the son venturing into the woods to discover these monsters and become one, so obviously you can say the polar opposites there. I want to talk about the last scene in which a monk comes into his sister in laws room. A monk comes in and they share small talk and the monk changes from his robes into street attire and he becomes a completely different person. This simple scene has shown just with a quick costume change the different lives we inhabit throughout our existence. The last shot of these people watching TV....then panning out and us seeing that there is another set of the same characters watching them watch TV says so much about the film and its views on identity. We are privy to the "end" of one life(those watching TV)....and the beginning of another(those watching them watch TV) as a new chapter begins for these characters.

I could go on and on about this film...and to be honest I've barely scraped the surface. I hope you all search this out. It is a weird slightly surreal dreamlike film that never plays it safe. With beautiful cinematography and subtle humor throughout this is exactly why I love to try out new directors and search the world for great cinema.


One last thought - the fish having sex with the princess.....I mean you can form your own thoughts on what that means in terms of our relationship with nature right?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Do You Want To Kill Some Nazis?: Captain America: The First Avenger

Film Foray Cavalcade no. Vingt-Deux: Captain America

Captain America: The First Avenger

Steve Rogers is a patriotic young lad who wishes to enlist, head to Europe and fight the dreaded Nazis. Unfortunately, Rogers has the physique of a seven year old girl and more ailments than C. Montgomery Burns. Lucky for him, he was selected to participate in the America's super-secret "Super-Soldier" program (that its enemies know about) that will ultimately make him super human. The rest of the film has Cap fighting Hydra and its maniacal leader, The Red Skull. Hey, kids... How can your parent's say no to this film since it is educational!

I hope that the sarcasm in that paragraph's final sentence is not off putting. I liked this film, it was a nice popcorn superhero flick. From a story standpoint, it was more well-conceived and executed than both Thor and X-Men: First Class. Furthermore, it had more depth in terms of its supporting cast than those films or Transformers. This is kind of necessary considering the role of Captain America is kind of plug and play. While, I thought Chris Evans did pretty well in the role, he did not blow me away.

You know who did blow me away? Stanley Tucci. His portrayal of Dr. Abraham Erskine (the creator of the Super-Soldier serum) was nothing short of amazing. Unlike Toby Jones and Hugo Weaving, he had a believable German accent and his acting was at a level above his ten minutes of screen time. It was a homer run performance, this is high praise coming from guy who is usually indifferent to Tucci. I thought the film had some top-notch art direction, particularly the costume design of Cap, the average Hydra foot soldier (pretty much how I imagined it) and of course, the Red Skull looked great. In short, Captain America kind of remedied some of my complaints with previous Marvel films in terms of story, acting and design... Everything except special effects.

For a movie with a hundred and forty million dollar budget, you should have some wonderful special effects. However, most of Captain America's special effects looked like they were put together haphazardly. This is the downside of thirteen (count them!) special effects companies creating effects for a movie. This makes it nigh impossible to make flow throughout the film. Most of the effects looked like they belonged in a Robert Rodriguez film like Planet Terror or Machete. They looked cheap (especially the skinny Chris Evans) and really did place attention on themselves. I suppose this is a small complaint considering the film did make strides in other areas. However, I am concerned that these effects will date the film even a year from now... Yet, if you are trying to select a big-budget film from this summer, I would probably suggest this one over any of the others.

Postscript: After the credits, you (the viewer) will be treated to some footage from the upcoming Avengers flick. I have to say that if this footage indicates anything... This film is going to be horrible. It further leaves the impression that this is merely a cash grab and we (the viewers) will be left with two hour waste of time. I will concede that is way too early to pass judgment, so I hope that future footage improves. We shall see.

Weekly Wish List UPDATE Battle Beyond the Stars...geek love on the screen

Let's get one thing straight, this is not "so bad it's good" in the Ed Wood style of filmmaking. This is Roger Corman doing what he does best, exploiting a genre and doing it on the cheap. As a producer he is definitely all over the board when it comes to quality and this is absolutely one of the "must see" Corman flicks....Take that Fantastic Four. This is Corman capitalizing on the Star Wars mania and giving us Seven Samurai in space...on a budget. This is not for everyone, if you can't handle the slightest bit of camp then you should just leave right now. But for the rest of you this is a passionate piece of science fiction awesomeness. You can see all the hard work that everyone put into this film in every frame. Its not as good as Star Wars but this is a damn fun flick that deserves to be seen with a group of friends and some adult beverages.

Let me see if I can give you a bit of an idea of what you're getting into. The basic idea is that the planet Akira( get samurai...heh) is about to be conquered by an evil warlord. So this peaceful planet sends out a young boy to gather seven warriors from across the galaxy. Like I said....Kurosawa in space...but hey where would Star Wars be without Hidden Fortress. Well the spaceship the boy is in happens to have breasts as well as a sassy female personality that acts as his mentor, there's a drunken space cowboy who has liquor pouring out of his belt, a war obsessed Valkyrie warrior who teaches another young lady about..."life's pleasures"...a techie girl who has only known robots, the awesomely dark Gelt who sits alone...killing anyone who comes near....and so on and so on.

The script by John Sayles is just filled with awesome characters, and you can see just how much fun everyone is having on screen. Everything is played pretty straight, it gets cheesy(we are in a Roger Corman movie after all) in parts but everyone is totally into their roles. This is not overacting for humor, people just embody these unique creatures from across the galaxy. To the point where the end begins to get pretty grim as the death toll rises.

Robert Vaughn pretty much does the same role from Magnificent Seven...he must really love Kurosawa adaptations.

The design on the film is a huge selling point. This is old school sci fi so lots of cel shaded lasers, miniature work, and well a bit of a homemade look to some of the costumes. But it all looks fatastic. James Cameron was the art director(the big breasted spaceship was his idea), and he brings this world to life working with an obviously constrained budget. I love the looks on each of the ships...I love that they completely stole the Correllian Corvette and made it the bad guys base....they make each of the locales in which they find these warriors unique to each one. Again even with the low budget they still wanted to present a legitimate sci fi flick. You never feel like they're on the same sound stage...but they definitely are. Everything is just sincere and full of life.

They all share a singular consciousness...which means...they all experience hot dogs at once.

I know most of you out there won't be able to put aside the slick seamless sci fi that you're used to, or get past the campiness inherent in Corman's work, but if you can give this is a chance...this is fun cinema the way it should be done. It has absolutely more heart and soul and creativity than any Michael Bay film. This is joy onscreen done by passionate individuals who treat the genre with the utmost respect. I love this film, I wish you would too.


One last thought - Apparently the Art Director left right before shooting started....Cameron had a reputation for being incredibly stubborn and absurdly creative. The crew unanimously voted he take over. The documentary on this blu ray rocks and really gives you an idea how they put this film togeher.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Movie Night #12 Director's Edition: Jake Kasdan

The son of geek legend Lawrence Kasdan, Jake Kasdan has made five films to date. With varying degrees of success he has crafted a solid career made on a foundation of subtle comedy and confident direction. Today we are going to focus on the two films which he wrote, Zero Effect and The TV Set, as well as his latest and easily most successful, Bad Teacher.

We're actually going to work backwards. I'm happy Kasdan is getting some recognition off of this one. Hopefully this will allow him to make more of the films that he writes himself. That is where he really shines and has a great comic voice and smart stories, but we'll get to that. By now you al know the's really quite simple, Cameron Diaz is a bad teacher. Essentially that's it. You can guess most of the plot turns just by the name, for as much spite is in her she's not heartless, as seen when she helps out a lonely boy, also she obviously realizes maybe she enjoys teaching. And of course there is another teacher who is a "good" teacher who is out to get her which leads to hilarious situations. Yes it really is that broad, but Kasdan manages to make it work. It's funny sure, but definitely not the high light of his career.

Kasdan creates a world filled with exaggerations, not that everyone is playing "big" but extremes are definitely pushed. Lucy Punch as the bubble gum nemesis of Diaz is great and the repressed fury inside of her grows until the end and seeing her unravel is really awesome. Timberlake is passable as the rich uber nerd whom Punch and Diaz fight for. I love that Timberlake really has no fear at embracing weird. Kasdan asks him to do some daring things which again Timberlake does ok, but you can definitely see the willingness to jump in feet first. Never again will I think of dry humping the same way.

So how about Diaz? The movie really rests on her shoulders and her ability to be an horrible person but still allows us to be empathetic.This movie really would not have worked at all if Cameron Diaz couldn't pull off being such a narcissistic asshole. She encompasses the role well without ever coming off as unlikable. She is so extreme and does it with such fervor that it plays to the audience well, her battles with Lucy Punch and clueless courting of Justin's nerd character as well as her amazing teaching style all add to the charm of the character. She plays it so well that she is able to let little bits of sympathy come out at just the right moments that we do end up rooting for this boob obsessed jerk.

Jake is a fine director and while this is definitely his weakest effort, he adds a nice amount of quirk and strange to this effort. Its a a funny film with some nice performances and a few laugh out loud bits. Again, I'm happy it's proving to be a success so hopefully Jake can get back to where he really shines which is writing and directing his own work.

The next film I want to look at is The TV Set, starring David Duchovny and Sigourney Weaver as well as Mr. Fantastic. This is a great little film about the all of the absurdity that goes into bringing a TV show to the air and how network TV mutates and distorts everything around it. I love that Kasdan insists this is not a satire and nothing in the film was exaggerated. The story is about Duchovny a semi successful writer about to get his big break as his "masterpiece" is being brought to pilot by a network. We jump in at the beginning of casting and follow the progression all the way to upfronts, and in the process we see his project mutate from intellectual dramedy about a guy returning home after his brother commits suicide to an lcd confused mess with farting prison inmates.

The first scene sets the tone perfectly for how the rest of the movie will play out and also gives us a hilarious view into the auditioning process. Duchovny has his star picked out, complete with matching beard. He gives a great subdued and restrained audition. But of course the studio heads like the broad over the top actor who insists on using 90s slang. Thus begins the first of many compromises that must be made. I don't want to go too much more into the plot because the continuing requests of the studios really add to the great humor of this piece. One of my favorites being the study they did proving that 80 percent of people find that suicide is depressing, or watching a show "cause y'know...he's fucking crazy"

This is obviously a far more personal film than Bad Teacher and Kasdan really shows off some great comedic style. He keeps the whole movie with a very casual feel, using a lot of hand held almost to the point where we feel like we're watching a documentary. This works perfectly since Kasdan wanted to show a true movie about the creation of television. Kasdan keeps his sets very minimal, we are rarely outside and when we are it is usually on a studio set. We really get the feeling that as much as his wife is pregnant, this is Duchovny's baby and his whole life is focused on it. Outside of the studio we realy only see him at home. We see a little more of Ioann Gruffudd's life outside of the studio, but his sub plot is about the studio eliminating his personal life as we watch his marriage crumble. So he is less and less at home.

Kasdan backs up his solid direction with an incredibly witty script. Duchovny plays the straight role here seemingly the only person who cares about artistic integrity. Gruffudd's loss of innocence arc is very subtle and well played. Sigourney Weaver has a meaty role which she fully sinks her teeth into. She steals the show as the tough as nails studio exec obsessed with ratings. Fran Kranz really has a tough job at playing an actor who tries so hard to act. His inability to do subtle ranges from awkward accents, to dead seriousnes that makes the other performers uncomfortable They all spout Kasdan's words with hilarious results. Now this not laugh out loud comedy, this is dry wit laughing at the reality of behind the scenes television. The scene where they test new names for the show is so small but so funny.

The TV Set is a small film that not nearly enough people have seen. I've seen it a few times and it is definitely a movie that grows on you. I liked it the first time I saw it, but now I love it. I think Kasdan really has made a great satire of the entertainment industry, even if he insists its reality. But even still this is not Kasdan's best work. Kasdan jumped onto the scene with Zero Effect his best work to date and a truly unique take on the private eye film.

Zero Effect stars Bill Pullman as Daryl Zero, the worlds greatest private eye. The film starts off with Ben Stiller in a refreshing against type role as Zero's frustrated assistant, giving two very different descriptions of Zero. We then get introduced to the insanity and brilliance that is Zero, in all of his Hawaiian shirt glroy with acoustic guitar. Quickly we realize that along with brilliance comes paranoia, anti-socialness, and well jerkiness. His house completely represents his psyche. Cluttered and advanced(for the time at least....multiple towers have led to a single desktop and tablets as of late) and shut off from everyone else...connecting through other humans only through phone and the computer. He begins his memoirs as he discusses his philosophy of observation and objectification. This story is about how he comes to question his own code and what happens when he meets his equal.

The tale is a simple tale of missing keys, but like everything else in this film there is so much more beneath the surface. The case draws Zero out from isolation into the naturalistic Oregon as he is forced back into society and Pullman plays the awkwardness with such confidence and restraint that I never he possessed. He is a man of multiple personalities afraid to be Daryl Zero for whatever reason, but as the film progresses we see his true nature come out as the case begins to unravel and Daryl rediscovers the importance of human connection.

I love detective stories and this is one of the most unique tales I have ever seen. Zero is an amazing character that should have more adventures but as for now this one is perfect. Kasdan has crafted such a clever picture filled to the brim with wit and interesting characters. By far his best work, he shows us through each of the characters just how important human connection is, even if your business is reliant on pure objectification. We see how love saves everyone in the picture and never in any kind of sappy way, the films message is kept subtle with most people assuming the film is about one mans treatise on being a PI. Kasdan has never reached this height of greatness again. The TV Set shows how talented the guy can be when doing his own work, but even that isn't as good as his first film. If you haven't seen either of these I strongly suggest you search them out, really solid work from everyone involved. And again if anything you get to see Stiller doing something different for a change. As for Bad Teacher...its a funny movie that hopefully gets Kasdan some credit to continue doing his own work.


One last thought - So what do you think the TV Set was about? His failed attempt at bringing Zero Effect to the small screen or his work on Freaks and Geeks?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Oh, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams Deliver... Boredom: Blue Valentine

Film Foray Cavalcade no. Veintiuno: Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine

A vague conception of love told through a couple flashbacks, some fussing and a feuding and you basically have the plot for Blue Valentine. Cough... (Sound of papers shuffling on a desk) Oh, you guys are still here? I suppose I left you wanting more.

Blue Valentine is a exquisitely shot film, the editing was solid and the use of only music listened to by the characters in it was a nice touch. My impression prior to watching it though was that this film was supposed to be great... A right, Tour-De-Force. This it was not, at most, Blue Valentine is an "ok" film.

What bothers me is that I get the theme that people change and fall out of love with the passage of time but the juxtaposition between the past and present do not work in this film. The viewer is left with no reason why Cindy (Michelle Williams) hates her husband, Dean (Ryan Gosling). None. Sure, he is immature to the point of irritation, I suppose it is his wasted potential... At least this is the only reason explicitly given by Cindy.

Anyway, she resents him and she is unhappy for some odd reason. It does not matter, there are no redeemable characters in this film. They both talk about love and other such nonsense but only from the perspective of cliches. The script was flat, an hour too long and dull (Another of example of writing by committee). Furthermore, if I was married to either of them, I would be seeking a divorce as well.

Gosling had his moments of quality acting but because of the script, it is not allowed to show through often (at all, really). In short, he is a drunken, quasi-arrogant buffoon. When people realize that drama is not built upon the use of makeup or lack thereof ? Case in point, Michelle Williams without make-up, this an actress does not make. Seriously, no sits there and says "wow, look at the emotion conveyed through the lack of foundation."

I cannot advise anyone really to watch this film unless you enjoy pointless plot points and baffling decisions made by the characters. The film is practically unwatchable... Might have made a decent short film. At the very least, it made a decent trailer. That is something, right?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Weekly Wish List 7/26 8 minutes of uncomfortable dissection of class structure....with vampires

Be sure to check out Manny's review of Limitless, I listed it last week and my graceful employer had the chance to see it before I did. That being said I have been able to catch up on some movies from my wish list. Expect those reviews to be coming shortly. Alright....on with the show.

Source Code - Duncan Jones
Moon was one of the better debut features I've ever seen, and was in mind and Manny's top ten for 2009. I didn't catch Source Code in theaters and am so excited to finally see something new from this exciting director. This film follows Jake Gyllenhaal as he relives the same 8 minutes over and over trying to solve the mystery of an exploding train. A spin on time travel done by Duncan Jones? matter what he did for his second feature I would be excited to see it, but for it to involve time travel just has me anticipating it even more. Manny had the chance to see this film as well...check out his review here.

Life During Wartime - Todd Solondz
Todd Solondz makes a sequel to Happiness with Pee Wee Herman should be all you need to know. If you want to see the film after that sentence great, if not I'm going to assume that his specific form of cinema is not for you. Solondz is in love with the seedier side of humanity that lives beneath the surface in suburbia. Happiness really elevated his style to high art, but Welcome to the Dollhouse and Storytelling are both strong entries. Especially the first part of Storytelling, that's a brilliant "short film." Anyway if you don't mind some boundary pushing cinema that most likely will make your skin crawl steer clear....but Solondz knows how to make shocking films not just for shock value(looking at you Larry Clark and Harmony Korine)

High and Low - Akira Kurosawa
Yah that's right in case you didn't know Kurosawa can do something besides samurai stories in feudal Japan. Everyone has seen Yojimbo and Seven Samurai...maybe even Hidden Fortress and Rashomon(we know Tarantino has), but his forays into socially aware drama are just as impressive. This film is a masterpiece of class structure on celluloid. Taking a look at .....that's right a member of the upper class and his driver(the high and low) as they get tangled in a tense kidnapping tale Kurosawa shows us the class division in Japan . Criterion brings us this in Blu and I'm sure it looks just as amazing as Seven Samurai on Blu.


One last thought - Dylan Dog Dead of Night comes out this week. A low budget genre flick about a private eye specializing in the supernatural being chased by vampires. I'm sure this is mediocre, but the source material is pretty cool even if the groucho character didn't make it into the film. Also I like Routh, he got kinda a bad rap after Superman Returns(I actually thought he did a fine Superman...I'm not sure what movie Spacey thought he was in), but the guy has got some charisma. I love his part in Pilgrim, definitely doesn't take himself so seriously. So I'll give this a shot...I always say I'm down for trying out different things.

Limitless: Side effects include Wasted Potential, A Ridiculous Scene Involving an Ice Skate and Bradley Cooper

Film Foray Cavalcade no. Vingt: Limitless


I am not much of a fan of Messr. Bradley Cooper, he is capable of playing one of two things... A conceited fratboyesque male or a jerk. Since those are roughly the same thing, range is something Bradley Cooper does not have in spades. With that being said, expectations for Limitless were (to put it mildly) low.

Limitless is a tale of a hack writer (not me), Eddie Morra, played by Cooper who is introduced to an experimental drug (NZT-48) that will raise brain levels from the proverbial twenty percent to one hundred. Not only does he get addicted, he is finally able to tap his nigh limitless (I had to reference the title) potential, accomplishing many things like bed his landlord's wife, finishing his novel or turning into a financial wizard (making two million dollars in ten days). The last of which brings him to the attention of New York financial magnate, Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), who wants him to broker a merger with another NZT-48 addict. Of course, hilarity ensues.

Surprisingly enough, Limitless is not that bad of a film if taken in a superficial sense much like Source Code (only not to the level of quality as that film), yet it has it's issues. The first is the uneven script that takes time to set things up only to do nothing with them (The landlord's wife, the novel etc...). How about the aftereffects of NZT-48 withdrawal leaves the user with none of the knowledge acquired while on it. Oh they also get weak and die. Sign me up. Evidently, the only reason for operating at 100% brain levels is to make money. I could think of better things to do with my time. I guess it also turns the habitual user into a soothsayer. Ludicrous.

This is the range of both actors in this film

Honestly, the subplots were no better... Everything starts and is solved by circumstance. The best scene in the movie is Abbie Cornish on NZT formulates three escape scenarios (one with shears, another with a bat and lastly, a girls ice skate). In her heightened state of intelligence, she chooses the skate attached to a girl. Genius! Anyway, the movie suffers in the acting department, Cooper looked and acted as smug as ever, it was De Niro who acted like he was waiting for his check to clear.

Like I said, I thought Limitless is a decent enough film, there is better ways to wile away two hours. However, you will not find topping my top 10. If you think about it from just what you see on screen than everything is peachy, anything deeper than that and it falls apart. Not too surprising considering the marquee talent is one, Bradley Cooper...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Nerdlert #9 Avengers no I mean UPDATE

Marvel has done it. Love the films or hate 'em, they have succesfully built a universe for their characters which each film resides in. Mixing elements from classic stories with elements from the Ultimate line, these five films represent the foundation for which Marvel will continue to build on. Next year brings us The Avengers, quite possibly the most complicated Super hero movie to date, with everyone waiting in anticipation if Whedon will be able to manage Earth's mightiest heroes. The teaser that has just been released does not give any indication one way or the other, but it does offer an exciting glimpse at seeing all of our heroes on screen at once. In that sense it is a great teaser, I really can't wait to see some more footage and see how these characters will interact with each other.....but that's a year away. So for now I want to take a look at the journey we've taken to get here. I will rank each of the films and give a brief commentary on each one.

In order beginning with number 5 on my list.

5. The Incredible Hulk - Louis Leterrier
I liked this film. I thought Leterrier did a great job making an exciting Hulk film. I feel he nailed the action much better than Lee, and as much as I like Bana, I thought Norton was a far better Banner and the best part of the movie. In fact I was really sad that they wouldn't let him continue on in The Avengers. My biggest complaint is that I never felt the movie really took off the way it could have. I enjoyed it, but it didn't have anything spectacular that I walked away in awe of. The story just seemed a little flat and a bit scattered in comparison to the rest of the Marvel Universe. Definitely the weakest of the five films, but a better Hulk film than Lee was able to provide.

4. Iron Man 2 - Jon Favreau
This is an example where individual parts of the film are much better separate than when put together, and ultimately even though this is a good Iron Man flick, it doesn't manage to beat or even reach the status of the first Iron Man. Downey is still pitch perfect as Stark, his interactions with Pepper are incredible to watch. The exchange they have on the racetrack is one of my favorite scenes. I love everything with Rockwell, I love the increased presence of SHIELD, I love Black Widow and Foggy fighting side by side. Now Rourke is badass, but I think his character could've been better. This film is a lot about being at a crossroads and going down different paths, Rourke is that deranged mirror image, and Rockwell is Downeys Ego without talent. I think Rockwell pulled it off but Rourke if given more time couldv'e made Whiplash a classic villain. Cheadle fills Howards shoes, nice to see War Machine. All these pieces of the puzzle are great but put together it doesn't create cinematic bliss like it should. I blame the studio. Favreau insisted he didn't want to be rushed into getting this movie out, but they insisted he meet deadlines. It really shows and takes a toll on the film, given time I know Favs could've delivered something on the level of Spider Man 2 easily. He could've fine tuned the story, spent some more time in the editing room and get the reshoots necessary. As such we still have two good Iron Man films, but only one that reaches greatness. Oh I do love the Devil in a Bottle hints.

3. Thor - Kenneth Branagh
Everything can be found here. But to summarize Branagh brought Thor to life in a way I didn't think was possible. I still say his biggest accomplishment is making it accessible to everyone while still staying true to the comics. Hemsworth and Hiddleton ARE Thor and Loki. Definitely excited for both of them to be back in Avengers. Everything on Asgard is great, the film obviously couldn't pull off that same magic on Earth, but I don't think it stumbles the Earth stuff as much as some critics say. I liked the overwhelming presence of SHIELD, sure this film works The Avengers into the main story more than any others but I dig that. I love the idea of all these films occupying the same universe.

2. Captain America: The First Avenger - Joe Johnston
Ok this one I literally just finished writing about HERE.
Evans owns the role....he WILL go on to lead the Avengers. Johnston squashes my fears and makes an enjoyable adventure flick set during WW2. Solid work all around. Wish there was a bit more complexity to the story but ....1. Johnston was able to handle this simple plot well.....2. Cap is a simple guy with simple ultimately the story fit the characters well. Still hopefully in later installments they'll take some cues from Brubaker and really take Cap to the next level. I love the period stuff but once he gets to the modern age Brubaker shows how intriguing the fish out of water story could be

1. Iron Man - Jon Favreau
The one that started this whole Marvel Universe collective. The beginning of the century saw huge success with comic book properties again and on the Marvel side they just started churning them out. Culminating with Punisher War Zone, Ghost Rider, Spider-man 3 and Hulk. Needless to say they lost their way in the middle of all the excitement. Then Marvel got smart...they regained the cinematic rights to some big name properties including shellhead here and they began producing THEIR own films beginning with Iron Man. The success of this film led to the other five on this list and of course is the reason we are going to see the biggest super hero names together at once next year. Alright ....the film?

Favreau brings heart and sincerity to everything he does. Here he makes a narcissistic war monger a hero. With the help of an inspired performance from Downey, Favreau gives us the Tony Stark we've never dreamed of. They both knock it out of the park with this one. Stark is the modern day hero, full of gadgets and technology and indulgence to Captain America's core values and perseverance. I can't wait to see these two go head to head in The Avengers as the two main leaders of the team. This first Iron Man film is one of the better origin stories I've seen, it hits similar beats such as hero has crisis of consciousness and questions his morals, meets mentor that changes views on reborn as hero, but Favreau and Co do it all with such style and energy that it all feels fresh. It's a shame we won't see Iron Man 3 from Favs but I think we're in good hands with Shane Black. This first film is still a milestone achievement for Marvel. Spider Man 2, X2? Still no....but almost. BTW I haven't mentioned DC adaptations for a reason...but if you must know Begins and The Dark Knight kick all their ass...but you already knew that.

Now we're here and the Avengers are assembling. The first teaser was at the end of Captain America this weekend. I hope you all saw it because it was a great teaser. Taking a completely different approach than The Dark Knight Rises, this one is literally only their to get you amped. Because let's be honest...after that teaser you have no idea about what's happening in the movie at all...only that we look to be getting all our heroes on screen at the same time and DAMNIT that's one of the most exciting things I've ever seen. Pay attention you get a quick glimpse of Maria Hill as played by Colbie Smulders as well as our first "action shot" of Hawkeye in full Hawkeye gear....whats that? doesn't look like Hawkeye?...Go to a comic shop and pick up a copy of Ultimate Avengers. The Dark Knight Rises is still my number one film for 2012 by a long shot....but so far it looks like Whedon has some energy on the screen...let's hope the story backs that up.

Expect more updates as we get closer.


One last thought - if you weren't able to catch the's a nice little piece Marvel put up a few days ago....Maria Hulk....rock.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

One Hundred and Thirty Pages that Redefine Your Concept of Living: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

PORTEmaus Literature Society entry no. Six: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

After reading three books aimed at teen readers, I could not think of another book to read. While working a shift at my internship, a coworker and myself starting discussing life, dignity and the concept known as a "suicide tourist." While talking about the Frontline program examining this phenomenon, I was reminded of such films as The Sea Inside and the adaption of this memoir. I decided to read the latter and it was a great decision on my part. I admit, I patted myself on the back for this one.

Le Scaphandre
et Le Papillon ou The Diving Bell and The Butterfly tells the experience of the Editor of the French edition of Elle, Jean-Dominique Bauby after his stroke which put him in a coma. Upon waking, he found that he could not speak, paralyzed and that he was suffering from locked in syndrome. In spite of this, Bauby was able to convey this memoir through a series of blinks.

This book was nothing short of amazing, Bauby displayed a mentality that if I were in the same situation most likely would not be present. Sure, I would love to be alone with my thoughts but to lack speech or basic motor functions while being aware of my surroundings would be unnerving. Couple this sentiment with the impact that it would have on my kids and I would be blinking to have the cord pulled.

Jean-Dominique Bauby

Locked in syndrome means many things, perhaps the most bothersome besides discomfort would be the slow passage of time. I expected Bauby to bitter or downtrodden about his predicament. While he was not happy about the situation (after all, who would be), to hear how he spent his days making trips to far off lands or playing out the roles of his favorite literary heroes, the reader understands he is making the best of the situation he is in. All the while, he maintains a wit about him, passages such as his abandoned desire to rewrite classics such as The Count of Monte Cristo even elicit a chuckle.

In the end, you cannot help not feeling bad for Bauby... Not simply because of his plight, it is more about the things that he will miss out on like his children growing up, seeing his father again before he passes (Jean-Dominique compares his Father being stuck in his apartment to being "locked in"), more importantly, he will never be able to do the simple things we take for granted like speech or satisfying the urge of an itch. This book is a triumph of language considering it was written with the use of one eye. It was a testament to one man's mind that remained sharp after a massive stroke... Most writer's do not produce works at the level that Bauby had (without having suffered an accident of that magnitude) and yet, he was able to create a masterpiece of one hundred thirty pages that speaks volumes.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Summer Preview UPDATE Captain America: The First Avenger...the last piece of the puzzle is finally here.

Joe Johnston can now say he's made TWO good movies. Marvel has had a great summer. X-men really brought that franchise back to the status it needed to be and Thor, well Thor did the impossible and made an accessible movie while still respecting the character. Now with Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel has finised its five film prelude with another solid entry, and prepped itself for The Avengers coming next year. Johnston really manages to tell a simple story of heroism here, where there are no gray areas. It's a great adventure story that is straightforward and entertaining throughout. Some amazing performances and some awesome design make this film one of Marvel's best. Is it perfect? no of course not like I said it's a simple film so that definitely holds it back a bit from getting into X2 and Spiderman 2 territory, but Johnston has laid some nice groundwork for future adventures with Cap.

I mentioned that Branagh really had an impossible job in that the world of Thor would be so hard to bring to the screen, let alone make sense within the world of Downey's Tony Stark. Captain America is definitely a much easier sell, but the challenge really rested with the Captain himself. Johnston needed to make a film that showed his origins as well as bring him to a point where we believe in him as a leader and as a the representation of honor and loyalty. Again we needed to believe this guy could stand up to Tony Stark and Thor as well as tame the Hulk. Evans accomplishes this in spades. His Steve Rogers is perfect. Marvel has really got its casting down, even Manny will admit that. I mentioned in one of my earliest articles that Evans is an amazing actor who is extremely underrated. The guy throws off any cynicism and sarcasm you might be used to and replaces it with sincerity and perserverance. Evans manages to make this character a boy scout and without any extreme charm or wise cracking make him entirely likable and relatable. The movie really rests on his shoulders and he carries it well.

The Red Skull is the complete opposite of Evans' Captain. Like everything else in this movie there are no real gray areas, there is really only good and bad, and Hugo brings the bad. Weaving does a great Red Skull and while his character is not as tortured or scheming as Loki or as perfectly complex as Magneto, Weaving still brings plenty to like about the role. First off his character is never twirling his moustache and laughing maniacally, much like Evans he is driven by an unyielding perserverance but instead of saving people he destroys anything in his way killing plenty without remorse whether they be his own men or the American soldiers coming for him.

Much like the warriors three from Thor, Cap is given the Howlin Commandos who all bring some nice idiosyncracies to each role. My biggest gripe here is that they are not nearly on screen enough. Tucci and Jones turn in strong performances as the scientist who creates the serum and the army man who trains cap. Its nice to see Jones do some solid work and he fits in perfectly here. Tucci needs an all star award for being the best supporting actor of his generation. The guy really elevates everything he's in and truly inhabits each of his characters no matter how big or small. Atwell is fine as Peggy attention Blake Lively....this is how Carol was meant to be played. Bucky has a smaller part than I would have liked, but there are some nice hints at his future as the Winter Soldier. The two seconds he holds the shield is a pretty great geek moment.

I really love the set design for this one all the way around. From the Tomorrowland aesthetic of the Stark Expo to the awesome cold mad scientist world of Hydra. Speaking of Hydra, I was digging their outfits, they fall a bit into nameless soldier number one and nameless soldier number two...and essentially just become gun fodder(shield fodder?) Johnston takes you to a different time period and grounds it just enough in both reality and fantasy that everything is believable and incredible at once.

One of the biggest complaints people had about Thor was that it felt too much like a means to an end in regards to its connection to The Avengers, and to some extent I can see that. I still really enjoy the film, but yes SHIELD played a much bigger role in that film than in any of the other films. Here that is definitely not the case. We get some loose connection in the form of Howard Stark playing a major role as an arms manufacturer/Q type character, and of course the bookends to the movie brings us into the modern day. But this film really is unlike anything Marvel has done, they have managed to make a period super hero film. It was definitely the right choice to keep this movie set during WWII, and I'm happy to say they pulled it off. I think more than anything this film along with X-men: First Class shows what can be possible when you try to do something different.

I've always liked Cap and Johnston brings him to the silver screen in a big way. He tells the story of his origins with confidence, and again for better or worse he keeps the story simple and concise. Boy wants to join army for country, boy gets chance, boy gets super serum, boy becomes symbol, boy becomes leader, boy becomes hero. Reverse all of those and you have the character arc of the Red Skull. There's no complicated family drama, or blurred lines between good and evil. There is just a young boy from Brooklyn who is given a chance and becomes one of the greatest military heroes of all time and will go on to lead the Avengers. Its a fun escapist film that manages to tell a good story with some great performances. I'm sure Manny will be unable to hide his hatred for Marvel properties once again, but for me Marvel has had a great summer and this is a great way to finish it. Above all else, Evans brings it, I now believe he can lead the Avengers. So I know you want to know about the teaser after the credits? Have patience readers...I'll be sure to give my thoughts soon don't worry.

The summer is beginning to wind down. I have a few films left on my list, and then I'll be sure to give you a wrap up soon. So far X-men holds the number one spot in terms of comic book films, followed by Cap. As far as best film overall? well that's gonna be harder than I thought. I'll let you know in a few weeks.


One last thought - The Amazing Spider-man teaser played before the movie. I like what I see so far....Webb has definitely gone for a more realistic and somber approach. That's all well and good, but Spider-man needs some lightness to it. Not like Fantastic Four, but Spider-man is not The Punisher, or even Daredevil. I have faith in Garfield though and if anything they are doing a great job at separating themselves from Raimi's films.