Archive for November, 2007

Mr. Bean’s Holiday

Mr. Bean

Mr. Bean’s Holiday; My Nightmare. . . .

I recently became aware of the lack of good G-rated movies (except Ratatouille, of course) when my 4-year-old daughter and I went out to the movies for our weekly father-daughter date night. Regretfully, the only choice left to us was Mr. Bean’s Holiday.

I have to admit my biases up front. I have never completely understood the Mr. Bean phenomenon. I am not certain whether this is the result of being American, over age 30, or simply of above-average intelligence. However, there are two questions that I have never answered to any degree of satisfaction; is Mr. Bean in fact retarded, a mental patient, or both? If so, why is he allowed to take an unsupervised vacation?

Given that I am not the intended audience for the film, I will try to interpret it with some degree of objectivity.

Mr. Bean’s Holiday occurs when the title character, played by Rowan Atkinson, decides to take a trip to Cannes, France to see the ocean. He unwittingly schedules his vacation to coincide with the Cannes Film Festival, a time when just about everyone and their sister’s dog is apparently headed for Cannes.

Along the way he accidentally befriends a young boy, played by Preston Nyman, and a young actress named Sabine, played with girl-next-door cuteness by Emma de Caunes. A series of slapstick misadventures follows, as is typical for the Mr. Bean franchise.

One of the unusual characters encountered on his trip is Carson Clay, played by Willem Dafoe. This is probably one of the most legitimately funny portions of the movie. Clay is a movie director, and is in the process of creating his “masterpiece;” a “Carson Clay Production, directed by Carson Clay, written by Carson Clay, starring Carson Clay. . . ” and so forth. Dafoe’s Clay is a self-centered, egomaniacal jerk intended to poke fun at the Film Festival production crowd which it does very well.

Eventually the three do reach Cannes. The boy is returned to his father. Strange end song reminiscent of The 40-year-old Virgin. End titles.

This movie did seem to reach its target audience, which if the attendance in our theater is any guide consists primarily of children between 4 and 8. This age group laughed often and heartily through the film, convincing me that I was probably so far separated from the intended audience as to make my review almost meaningless.

My daughter, age 4, seemed somewhat ambivalent about the movie, although she did seem to find the fact that this silliness was part of live action movie somewhat odd (“I thought this was going to be a cartoon,” she said at one point).

Perhaps I could have enjoyed it better if I had overdosed on Provigil and suffered a minor head injury. Or if there had been cameos by at least 3 Jessicas. But I digress. . . .

I give it a generous * Jessica out of a possible four.

Beowulf

Beowulf

As I’ve said previously in my post about Special Effects, in order for an effect to be usefull it has to add to the story without drawing attention to itself. In the case of Beowulf, the entire movie is, in essence, a special effect, and draws attention to itself at the same time.

Beowulf is the creation of director Robert Zemeckis, who was also the creative force behind The Polar Express and Monster House. Both of these older movies used the same motion-capture system as this film. When the effect was used in The Polar Express I found the result to be somewhat creepy, giving the characters waxen or Parkinsonian facial expressions and almost human-like movement.

Monster House was more effective, utilizing a combination of motion capture and computer-based animation to produce fluid animation movement and facial expressiveness rather than trying to simulate reality. Using the technique to improve on computer-based animation was very effective. However, since Beowulf is an attempt to produce a live-action-based non-animated film, it is hobbled by its own special effect.

The story of Beowulf is well known to most high-school students. It is the story of a Danish hero (named, of course, Beowulf and played by Ray Winstone, who looks absolutely nothing like the character Beowulf in real life) who is called upon to save King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) and his comely young wife Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn) from the deformed, twisted beast that menaces his kingdom, Grendel.

However, Grendel is more than just a beast. He is also the son of water demon (played with seductive grace by Angelina Jolie). When Grendel is killed by Beowulf, it rapidly becomes clear that there is more to the story that we are initially led to believe. And Beowulf discovers that he will have to face Grendel’s seductive mother in order to obtain when he desires.

The scenes where the motion capture system are the most effective are the animation of Grendel and his brother. In the magnificent climax to the movie, Beowulf is forced to fight a huge dragon. However, other sequences, particularly where the technique is used to try to generate realistic facial expressions, fall flat.

Again, my biggest complaint is that the special effect, motion capture, draws far too much attention to itself and is thus less effective than it could be. For many audience members, the question that arises during the viewing of the movie is: “Why use the effect at all?”

Although there are sequences that would be heavily reliant on computer-generated effects, the majority of the movie would have been more realistic and effective populated with real characters rather than computer-based ones.

This is not a bad movie. At some points the action was amazing and the computer effects startingly realistic.

However, because of the complaints above I give it ** 1/2 Jessicas out of four.

EK

No Country for Old Men

No Country

Ethan and Joel Coen’s latest directorial production, No Country for Old Men, defies convention and easy categorization. That does not make it any less powerful or interesting.

It begins with an unusual quandry. A young hunter, Llewelyn Moss (played ably by Josh Brolin), is hunting for antelope. His initial shot does not kill his prey, but only clips the flank and the antelope limps off. As Moss is following the blood trail he finds another blood trail left by an injured dog. He follows the trail back to its origin, and finds a ring of trucks surrounded by scattered dead bodies. He decides to investigate and discovers a large sum of money, which he takes for himself and his wife.

However, all is not as it seems. A hitman has been hired to retrieve the money. The hitman, Anton Chigurh (played with intelligent menace by Javier Bardem), who has an odd penchant for killing his victims with a pressurized piston to the forehead, becomes aware of the money and Moss. He and Moss then spend much of the first two thirds of the movie in an elaborate game of intelligent cat-and-mouse.

Oddly, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (played by uber-star Tommy Lee Jones) does not make a significant appearance in the movie until the last third. This odd twist is only the one of many flirtations with convention that fill this rich movie.

In essense, the movie is fundamentally about unpredictability and the violation of convention. For example, near the end of the film, Chigurh (who has just committed an oddly henious and unnecessary crime), is driving down the road. Out of nowhere, he is t-boned by another vehicle and sustains a compound fracture of the left arm. The accident comes out of nowhere, and has little narrative purpose.

In another scene, Sherrif Bell is having a long discussion with Carla Jean Moss (Kelly Macdonald) during which he promises to try to protect her husband and herself. However, he does not follow through with either pledge, again violating movie norms and instilling a deep sense of unrest in the audience.

As the ending credits rolled, I found myself confused. Although the movie had been entertaining and fascinating, it offered none of the typical satisfactions contained within modern American cinema. There was no clear resolution, no redemption, no cathartic release from the uncomfortable demise of the antagnoist.

I felt entertained yet puzzled and somewhat uncomfortable. Dissatisfied to some extent–like the sneeze that teases the nostrils but does not appear.

I like the Coen’s honesty and courage in making this movie. Known for their unconventional thinking, this movie continues that trend with a vengence.

I give it *** Jessicas out of four. Not perfect, but quite good.

EK

“When I whet my flashing sword and my hand takes hold in judgment, I shall take vengeance upon mine enemies and I will repay those who hate me” Deuteronomy 32:41

boodock saints 1

Troy Duffy’s sleeper masterpiece, The Boondock Saints, is an odd but powerful movie. Told in a very interesting, non-linear style, it preceded the more successful but less enduring non-linear movie, Momento by several years.

And to be honest, it f*cking rocks. . . .

It is the story of two irish catholic fraternal twins, Connor and Murphy MacManus (played by Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus, who become caught up in an ethnic organized crime conflict and become reluctant vigilante heroes. It is not clear where they come from, although they appear to be motivated by both religious devotion (?religious psychosis) and a desire to rid their home town, Boston, of evildoers. . .

However, like a good mystery, the story jumps from the repercussions of their actions (which are always quite elaborate and convoluted) back to the actual events that occurred. In this, the story is helped by FBI agent Paul Smecker (an effete Willem Dafoe) who is called upon to evaluate each crime scene in turn–in most cases correctly.

The movie is alternately inspiring, hilarious, frighteningly violent and overall very well done. Despite excellent appearances by the primary actors; Dafoe, Flannery and Reedus, the acting is somewhat inconsistent amongst the supporting cast, including a cameo by the chubby walking carpet with one redeeming quality (aka Ron Jeremy) as mobster Vincenzo Lipazzi.

The MacManus Brother’s lives become very complicated by appearance of Il Duce (Billy Connolly), who plays a hitman hired by the Russian Mob to kill them. It begins to look like the movie will end badly for them, and that is when the sh*t really does hit the fan. . . .

I love action movies, and this is one of the better ones. The violence and frequent brutality is tempered by interesting characters, hilarious diversions, and playful banter. Despite the vigilantism displayed by the main characters, the movie remains interesting and the two main characters oddly sympathetic. I found myself siding with them through the entire movie.

Perhaps the best summary statement for the movie comes in the words of Connor and Murphy;

“Decent men with loving families they go home every day after work. They turn on the news and you know what they see? They see rapists and murderers and child molesters, they’re all getting out of prison. . . . Everywhere, everyone thinks the same thing. That someone should just go kill those m*therf**kers. . . . Admit it. Even you’ve thought about it. . . .”

I give it ***1/2 Jessicas out of four. Rent it.

EK

blade runner

Blade Runner is arguably the most influential science fiction movie of the 1980’s. Unlike Star Wars, which was the most influential sci-fi movie of the 1970’s, Blade Runner was a thinking person’s version of sci-fi, a sort of 2001; A Space Odyssey for the 80’s.

Certain movies seem to push the envelop farther than it had ever been pushed before. These movies are revolutionary because they re-define the possible, stretching the expectations of moviegoers rather than limply satisfying them.

I can still remember my reaction to the movie, 2001; A Space Odyssey. I was 9 or 10 years old, and I was sitting in the balcony of the Ogden on Colfax in Denver, Colorado when it used to be a movie theater.

The Ogden was running a series of evening double features, including several of the Planet of the Apes films, Dr. Strangelove, and other less notables. Despite my youth, I was somehow able to remain upright and alert for the entire movie. This is not really meant as a criticism of the film, rather a statement about my own maturity.

I can remember the amazement that I felt watching the (virtually) seamless effects, stunning in their complexity and accuracy despite the fact that they were created before the lunar landings. In essence, my perception of what was possible in film was fundamentally changed on that day–my understanding and expectations shifted somehow.

Despite the ubiquitous nature of the term and its application and mis-application to almost every realm of human endeavor (including business, which appropriates every cool expression as its own), I had undergone a fundamental paradigm shift in my thinking.

Blade Runner is the quintessential paradigm-shifting film. Like 2001, it does so by a combination of effects, a depth and intelligence in both its writing and direction, and by presenting a story unlike any seen before.

Those readers who grew up in the 1990’s following Blade Runner’s debut may be unaware of the influence that the movie had and has on modern culture, and may be skeptical of this claim. However, to make my point, let me provide a few examples.

First, the movie helped to bring a hitherto unknown science fiction author, Phillip K. Dick, to light. PKD has provided the foundation for a string of popular science fiction movies, including (in no particular order); Minority Report, Blade Runner, A Scanner Darkly, Imposter, Screamers, Total Recall, Next, and several others. Although Blade Runner was bastardized (some, including me, would say markedly improved) from the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the movie helped to solidify PKD’s pre-eminent status as the most influential science fiction writer of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.

Second, the movie introduced a key concept that would become increasingly important in movies, that of the intelligent android that was virtually indistinguishable from the humans who created it. The newest version of the series, Battlestar Galactica (reviewed elsewhere in this blog) has one of the main plot elements of the story the fact that 13 of the cylon models are almost indistinguishable from the humans that they seek to destroy.

This plot device is also at the root of one of the most controversial questions that has had Blade Runner “scholars” arguing for several years; the question of whether Deckard is or is not actually a replicant himself. Purists, such as myself, say no. Revisionists point to the newer releases of the film, such as the first “Directors Cut” which appears to show a tapeto-retinal sheen (the medical term for the yellow reflection seen in the back of the eyes of cats and some birds) in Deckard’s eyes near the end of the film.

Thirdly, Blade Runner introduced a different sort of atmosphere to the science fiction film. Instead of the clean, white and gray sets of the Star Wars universe, the world of Blade Runner was foreign, dirty, hazy and filled with darkly clouded skies and constant rain. In short, the earth of the future was not a very hospitable place, and this atmosphere provided much of the tension, confusion and fear contained within the film. In short, Blade Runner was one of the first science fiction films to present a future world that was a dystopia, rather than a utopia.

Blade Runner was also, if interviews with Harrision Ford and Ridley Scott are to be believed, a VERY difficulty movie to make. Difficult, perhaps, because nothing like it had ever been done before. As such, there was no way to say to the cast, “I want this scene to look like Casablanca, only better,” or “you know, like the chariot race in Ben-Hur. . . .”

The newest version of the film, titled “The Directors Cut” is actually supposed to be a Director’s Cut of the film. This is in contrast to the previous “Director’s Cut” which was simply the version of the film that was screen tested to audiences prior to the inclusion of Harrison Ford’s distracted voice-over and the elimination of the infamous “unicorn scene.” I am looking forward to viewing this new release. Although I am not certain that the original can be substantively improved upon, I look forward to it anyway.

Original Blade Runner, ***1/2 Jessicas out of four. Directors Cut (first) ***1/2 Jessicas out of four.