Showing posts with label John Malkovich. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Malkovich. Show all posts

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Review: Steven Spielberg's "EMPIRE OF THE SUN"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 27 of 2023 (No. 1916) by Leroy Douresseaux

Empire of the Sun (1987)
Running time:  153 minutes (2 hours, 33 minutes)
MPAA – PG
DIRECTOR:  Steven Spielberg
WRITER:  Tom Stoppard (based on the novel by J.G. Ballard)
PRODUCERS:  Steven Spielberg, Frank Marshall, and Kathleen Kennedy
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Allen Daviau (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Michael Kahn
COMPOSER:  John Williams
Academy Award nominee

DRAMA

Starring:  Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson, Nigel Havers, Joe Pantoliano, Leslie Phillips, Masato Ibu, Emily Richard, Rupert Frazer, Peter Gale, Takataro Kataoka, and Ben Stiller

Empire of the Sun is a 1987 wartime drama and historical film directed by Steven Spielberg.  The film is based on the 1984 semi-autobiographical novel, Empire of the Sun, from author J.G. Ballard (1930-2009).  Empire of the Sun the film focuses on a young English boy who is separated from his parents and then, struggles to survive the Japanese occupation of China during World War II

Empire of the Sun opens in 1941 in the “International Settlement,” an enclave of British and American citizens in Shanghai, ChinaJames “Jamie” Graham is the only child of an British upper middle class couple, John Graham (Rupert Frazer) and Mary Graham (Emily Richard).  Jamie enjoys a privileged life in the International Settlement, but he keeps an eye on the activities of the Japanese who have encroached on Shanghai.  After their attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese begin their occupation of the settlement.  During the family's bid to escape, Jamie is separated from his parents.

Eventually, Jamie is taken prisoner and moved into an internment camp.  He survives by befriending the American expatriate and hustler, Basie (John Malkovich), and also the kindly Englishman, Dr. Rawlins (Nigel Havers).  Now, called “Jim” by everyone, he establishes a successful trading network that keeps him with food and necessities.  As World War II drags on, however, Jim realizes that he no longer remembers what his parents look like.

Last year, I began watching and, in some cases, re-watching early Steven Spielberg films, such as Duel, Jaws, and 1941, in anticipation of Spielberg's autobiographical film, The Fabelmans, which was released in 2022.  The film has long since completed its theatrical run, but there remained Spielberg films I wanted to see.  I had been putting off watching Empire of the Sun for 36 years, and my best resource to see it, DVDNetflix, is closing soon.  So why not see Empire of the Sun now?

What can I say?  Empire of the Sun is not one of Spielberg's better films.  It does not really have a narrative center, and the plot is unfixed.  The film plays like a series of anecdotes – many, many, many anecdotes – played over a film that runs nearly two and a half hours long.  Some of the scenes have great emotional impact, such as Jim's reunion with his parents and even that last shot of the suitcase in the water.  Still, overall, the film lacks dramatic heft and emotion.  It's too cold and is disjointed.  Instead of feeling like a narrative that flows from beginning to end, Empire of the Sun feels like individual pages from a children's picture book.

If Empire of the Sun is a coming-of-age story and a boys' adventure tale, then, the film needs a great boy.  That is what actor Christian Bale is for this film.  All of 13-years-old when filming began, Bale carries Empire of the Sun with the tenacity and acting chops of an actor more than twice his age.  Bale embodies the emotional depth and dramatic depth that this film lacks as a whole.  None of the other actors' performances approach his, not because they are bad, but because neither Spielberg nor Tom Stoppard's script gives them the space and material.

Spielberg makes this film seem as if its true purpose is to be about a boy and his wartime adventures.  Thus, none of the Japanese elements really feel as if they have the force of an empire behind them.  Still, the focus on Jim Graham works because Christian Bale is the child emperor of Empire of the Sun.

6 of 10
B
★★★ out of 4 stars

Sunday, June 25, 2023


NOTES:
1988 Academy Awards, USA:  6 nominations:  “Best Cinematography” (Allen Daviau), “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration” (Norman Reynolds and Harry Cordwell), “Best Costume Design” (Bob Ringwood), “Best Sound” (Robert Knudson, Don Digirolamo, John Boyd, and Tony Dawe), “Best Film Editing” (Michael Kahn), and “Best Music, Original Score” (John Williams)

1989 BAFTA Awards:  3 wins: “Best Cinematography” (Allen Daviau), “Best Score” (John Williams), and “Best Sound” (Charles L. Campbell, Louis L. Edemann, Robert Knudson, and Tony Dawe); 3 nominations:  “Best Screenplay-Adapted” (Tom Stoppard), “Best Costume Design” (Bob Ringwood), and “Best Production Design” (Norman Reynolds)

1988 Golden Globes, USA  2 nominations: “Best Motion Picture – Drama” and “Best Original Score-Motion Picture” (John Williams)


The text is copyright © 2023 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site or blog for reprint and syndication rights and fees.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Review: "Eragon" Lacks Fire (Happy B'day, Robert Carlyle)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 258 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Eragon (2006)
Running time:  104 minutes (1 hour, 44 minutes)
MPAA – PG for fantasy violence, intense battle sequences, and some frightening images
DIRECTOR:  Stefan Fangmeier
WRITER:  Peter Buchman (based upon the novel by Christopher Paolini)
PRODUCERS:  John Davis, Adam Goodman, and Wyck Godfrey
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Hugh Johnson (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Roger Barton, Masahiro Hirakubo, and Chris Lebenzon
COMPOSER:  Patrick Doyle

FANTASY/ACTION

Starring:  Ed Speleers, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, Robert Carlyle, Djimon Hounsou, Garrett Hedlund, Rachel Weisz (voice) and John Malkovich, Alun Armstrong, Chris Egan, Gary Lewis, Richard Rifkin, Steve Speirs, Joss Stone, and Caroline Chikezie

The subject of this movie review is Eragon, a 2006 action-fantasy film.  It is based on the 2002 novel, Eragon, by Christopher Paolini.  Eragon the film follows a farm boy whose discovery of a dragon’s egg leads him on a predestined journey to defend his homeland from an evil king.

When he was a teenager, Christopher Paolini wrote the novel Eragon, which went from being privately published by his parents to being a worldwide bestseller published by Alfred A. Knopf.  Now, a film adaptation arrives with hopes of capturing much of the audience that devoured The Lord of the Rings film trilogy and Disney/Walden Media’s 2005 The Chronicles of Narnia movie adaptation.

Once upon a time in the land of Alagaësia, Dragon Riders brought peace and prosperity, and the Dragons gave their Riders magical powers.  They were unbeaten until one of their own, a Rider named Galbatorix (John Malkovich), rebelled against the other Riders and destroyed them so that he could have all the power for himself.  Now, King Galbatorix rules Alagaësia, and no one can stop him.

There is, however, another dragon egg, and it is in the possession of Arya (Sienna Guillory).  Using a spell and a prayer, her magic sends the egg where a young farm boy named Eragon (Ed Speleers) finds it.  Unsure of what this shiny stone is, Eragon watches as the egg hatches and out pops a dragon he names Saphira (voice of Rachel Weisz).  With the help of a mentor named Brom (Jeremy Irons), Eragon begins the journey to become one with Saphira as she grows more mature and passes more magical power onto him.  Eragon will need it to defeat a Shade (sorcerer) named Durza (Robert Carlyle), a minion of Galbatorix’s.  Eragon joins with the rebel group, the Varden and their leader, Ajihad (Djimon Hounsou), for a coming battle against Galbatorix’s forces.  Will Eragon and Saphira have bonded together enough to match the dark magic of Durza when it counts most?

On a recent talk show appearance near the time the film, Eragon, was released, the host asked Christopher Paolini point black if the young author liked the film adaptation of his best-selling and acclaimed children’s book.  Paolini dodged the question twice saying that he was thrilled to see his characters and hear dialogue he wrote on screen.  It only takes a few minutes into this movie to understand the young author’s misgivings.

Eragon has a mediocre script, no one, from the director to the cast, rises above it.  The movie only comes to life when Eragon and Saphira together or Saphira alone are on screen.  Director Stefan Fangmeier spent over 20 years working in companies that provided visual effects and computer effects for films, so his affinity with this film seems completely directed at the biggest computer effect in Eragon, the dragon Saphira.  The rest of the time, Eragon is just as awkward and clumsy as a run of the mill Sci-Fi Channel fantasy flick.

Eragon has the same quality acting as that of a middling TV movie, but with movie star names.  Jeremy Irons, who has spent a small part of the decade and a half since winning an Oscar, slumming as a serious-thespian-for-hire in various popcorn movies (Die Hard with a Vengeance) and costume drama/action movies (Kingdom of Heaven).  There is no doubt that Christopher Paolini created the character Irons plays, Brom, to be Eragon’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, but for all the effort Irons gives, Brom is more Yogi Bear than Obi-Wan.

Ed Speleers looks the part of Eragon – a boy determined to take on a task bigger and older than he is, but getting the look right is as far as Speleers goes.  His performance ranges for flat to just flat-out overacting.  Rachel Weisz’s voice performance as Saphira is weak and isn’t befitting of an actress of her skill.  Besides, she sounds more like Minnie Driver than herself.

By using two of Hollywood’s most honored visual effects houses, WETA Digital (The Lord of the Rings, King Kong) and Industrial Light and Magic (the Star Wars franchise and Jurassic Park), the producers of this film hoped to reach their stated goal of creating a photo-real dragon in Saphira.  She’s not quite that.  The CGI and computer rendering created a fantastical creature in Saphira, a computer generated beast with marvelous simulated skin texture.  The dragon looks as if she had really been there on location with the live actors during principal photography.

It’s clear that the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and George Lucas played a big part in the creation of Paolini’s original novel, yet the film comes across as a weak-kneed knock off Tolkien with a few tattered borrowings from Lucas.  If not for the CGI dragon and the climatic battle scene (created by WETA), Eragon would be one of the saddest fantasy movies in recent memory.  Only the stunningly beautiful locales where it was filmed (Hungary and Slovakia), some lavish costumes, and a sweet blend of action, fantasy and CGI make Eragon worth watching… at home.

5 of 10
C+

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Update:  Monday, April 14, 2014


The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.



Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Review: "Red 2" Not Quite as Fresh as "Red"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 84 (of 2013) by Leroy Douresseaux

Red 2 (2013)
Running time:  116 minutes (1 hour, 56 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for pervasive action and violence including frenetic gunplay, and for some language and drug material
DIRECTOR:  Dean Parisot
WRITERS:  Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber (based on characters created by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner)
PRODUCERS:  Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Mark Vahradian
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Enrique Chediak (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Don Zimmerman
COMPOSER:  Alan Silvestri

ACTION/COMEDY with elements of drama and romance

Starring:  Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Byung-hun Lee, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Neal McDonough, David Thewlis, Tim Pigott-Smith, and Brian Cox

Red 2 is a 2013 action comedy from director Dean Parisot.  The film is a sequel to the 2010 film, Red.  Red 2 is inspired by Red, the comic book miniseries by Warren Ellis and Cully Hammer that was the basis for the first film.  Red 2 stars Bruce Willis as a retired CIA agent who joins his unique friends to find a long-missing nuclear weapon.

As Red 2 begins, retired CIA operative, Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), is enjoying domestic bliss with his girlfriend, Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker).  His old friend and former operative, Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), warns Frank that people are still after them.  In fact, a group of government agents approach Frank, claiming that they must interrogate him because he is R.E.D. (retired, extremely dangerous).

After Jack Horton (Neal McDonough), another government agent, tries to kill him, Marvin tells Frank that they are being tracked because of their knowledge of an old secret operation called, “Project Nightshade.”  Reluctantly, Frank reunites his unlikely team of elite operatives to solve the mystery of Nightshade, but he discovers that Sarah insists on being part of the team and she also wants her own gun.

Red 2 is fun to watch, but it lacks the sparkle that Red had as something new and different.  Red 2 is best when it focuses on the trio of Frank, Sarah, and Marvin.  Victoria Winslow (Helen Mirren) returns, but the character seems tacked on, at least until the last act when she really becomes useful.  The new characters are a mixed bag.  They have their good moments, but most of the time they come across as nothing more than as an excuse to cast movie stars in flashy small roles.  No-name actors could have done as good if not better than Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones did in vacuous supporting roles.  I bet creating the character, Han Cho Bai, and casting Byung-hun Lee was nothing more than an attempt by this film’s producers to pander to the audience in the expanding East Asian market for American films.

Another thing that hampers this new film is all that globe-trotting the character do.  Red offered a jaunt across the landscape of American secret agent men and women.  Red 2 bops around Europe like a clumsy comic take on a Jason Bourne movie.

That said, I got a kick out of every scene that focused on the team of Frank, Sarah, and Marvin.  I give Red 2 a grade of “B” because of this threesome.  A “Red 3” would do well to focus on what I call the “Red trio.”

6 of 10
B

Tuesday, December 31, 2013


The text is copyright © 2013 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.



Saturday, May 11, 2013

Review: "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy" is Inventive, Odd, and Relaxed (Remembering Douglas Adams)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 146 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA/UK
Running time: 109 minutes (1 hour, 49 minutes)
MPAA – PG for thematic elements, action, and mild language
DIRECTOR: Garth Jennings
WRITERS: Douglas Adams and Karey Kirkpatrick (based upon the novel by Douglas Adams)
PRODUCERS: Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Nick Goldsmith, Jay Roach, and Jonathan Glickman
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Igor Jadue-Lillo
EDITOR: Niven Howie
COMPOSER: Joby Talbot

SCI-FI/COMEDY/ACTION/ADVENTURE

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Mos Def, Zooey Deschanel, Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, Warwick Davis, Anna Chancellor and John Malkovich, with the voices of Alan Rickman, Helen Mirren, Stephen Fry, Richard Griffiths, and Thomas Lennon

The subject of this movie review is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a 2005 British-American comic science fiction and adventure film. It is based on the 1979 novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which was written by the late author, Douglas Adams. The film follows the adventures of a man from Earth and his alien companion who is writing a new edition of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

Arthur Dent (Sam Rockwell) is an ordinary guy having what looks like another bad day, when he discovers that his house is scheduled for demolition to make way for an expressway. Then, his best friend, Ford Prefect (Mos Def), shows up and tells him that Earth is also scheduled for demolition by aliens to make way for a hyperspace expressway. Ford later whisks Arthur into space where they eventually end up on the super space ship, the Heart of Gold, captained by the dim-witted President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell).

Arthur actually encountered Zaphod on Earth before, when the President stole the girl with whom Arthur had just fallen in love, Tricia (Zooey Deschanel). Tricia, now known as Trillian, is also on board, as is a chronically depressed android named Marvin (Warwick Davis with the voice by Alan Rickman). The unusual quintet search for the answers (and the questions) to the mystery of Life, the Universe, and Everything – with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (voiced by Stephen Fry) as their… well, guide.

First published in 1979, Douglas Adams’ (1952-2001) novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is one of the all-time best selling science fiction novels every published, and perhaps the most popular sci-fi humor book ever. The book became a cycle first known as “The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy,” after the publication of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980) and Life, the Universe and Everything (1982); two more books followed, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984) and Mostly Harmless (1992).

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy began as a radio sci-fi comedy series, and the book series is a non-literal adaptation of the radio series. Hitchhiker’s has also been a British TV mini-series, a stage play, a comic book/graphic novel, record albums, and a computer game. A major motion picture had long been in the planning stages at various times over 20 years with such names as actors Jim Carrey and Bill Murray and directors Jay Roach and Spike Jonze attached to the project.

Finally, in mid-spring of 2005, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy debuted in theatres with director Garth Jennings and co-producer Nick Goldsmith as its filmmaking creative center. Jennings and Goldsmith are the music video directing team known as “Hammer and Tongs.” They directed videos for such musical acts as R.E.M. (“Imitation of Life,” one of my personal favorites as an all-time great music video), Fatboy Slim (“Right Here, Right Now”), and Blur (“Coffee and T.V.”).

Before he died, Douglas Adams wrote the script (a non-literal translation of the books as the books were also not literal translations the original radio show) and added new characters (Humma Kavula played by John Malkovich). Co-writer Karey Kirkpatrick (James and the Giant Peach and Chicken Run) came on to improve the script’s structure and make it more coherent. Not having seen any of Adams’ original script drafts, I can’t say how much or if Kirkpatrick improved on Adams’ work. The film does seem to lack organization and focus, and its plot seems rather inconsequential, but The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is about eccentric characters in odd settings and situations, not so much about plot. A viewer doesn’t have to have read the books, but being familiar with the various source materials may make him and her more open to the film. Hitchhiker’s is basically a film about a great big sci-fi/fantasy misadventure set in a universe of oddities and abnormal beings (except Arthur Dent).

The cast and crew so obviously love what they’re doing and really buy into the little world that they created, and that passes on to the audience. Martin Freeman makes a great Arthur Dent, playing him as a flustered man frustrated with his world being destroyed and not having the girl who is “the one” loving him back. Sam Rockwell and Mos Def make a great alien combo, with the former as a cocky and kooky, gun-slinging lothario and the latter as the best-dressed straight man/wise man in the galaxy. I enjoyed watching them and the rest of the cast, and while the voice actors don’t seem to be straining themselves to perform, they are oddly appealing.

Part Monty Python, part Jim Henson, part Mel Brooks’ Space Balls (with a much bigger budget), and part David Lynch, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is not an interstellar homerun, but it’s the most visually and conceptually daring sci-fi comedy – probably ever. And I really enjoy how unpredictable this film remains, even through repeated viewings.

6 of 10
B

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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Review: "Art School Confidential" Has an Artful Cast (Happy B'day, John Malkovich)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 216 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Art School Confidential (2006)
Running time: 102 minutes (1 hour, 42 minutes)
MPAA – R for language including sexual references, nudity, and a scene of violence
DIRECTOR: Terry Zwigoff
WRITER: Daniel Clowes (based on the comic by Daniel Clowes)
PRODUCERS: Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, and Russell Smith
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jamie Anderson, A.S.C. (director of photography)
EDITOR: Robert Hoffman
COMPOSER: David Kitay

COMEDY/DRAMA with elements of romance

Starring: Max Minghella, Sophia Myles, John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent, Matt Keeslar, Ethan Suplee, Joel David Moore, Nick Swardson, Anjelica Huston, Adam Scott, Jack Ong, Michael Lerner, and Ezra Buzzington

The subject of this movie review is Art School Confidential, a 2006 comedy-drama from director Terry Zwigoff. The film is based on a four-page comic book short story written and drawn by Daniel Clowes and published in Clowes’ comic book series, Eightball #7 (Fantagraphics Books). Clowes wrote the screenplay for Art School Confidential, the second film collaboration between him and Zwigoff. Zwigoff directed and Clowes wrote the screenplay for Ghost World, a film based on a Clowes graphic novel.

In Art School Confidential, an ambitious art school student tries desperately to get the girl of his dreams, but she’s attracted to a dumb jock type whose simplistic pop art paintings have taken the art class by storm. This the second film from the team of Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes that gave us the Oscar-nominated, Ghost World. Clowes is a comic book artist, and Art School Confidential, like Ghost World, is adapted from his comics.

Jerome Platz (Max Minghella) wants to be the greatest artist of the 21st Century, and to that end he escapes his suburban home and terrible high school to a tiny East Coast art school, the Strathmore Institute. However, the beauty and craft of his portraiture does not win him any friends among his fellow students in the anything-goes art class. He finds this new world filled with a collection of offbeat characters: his worldly, but obnoxious classmate, Bardo (Joel David Moore); a roommate exploding with the desire to make a cinematic masterpiece of blood and violence, Vince (Ethan Suplee); his self-involved art teacher, Professor Sandiford (John Malkovich); and a failed artist and Strathmore grad who is drowning in alcohol and self-pity, Jimmy (Jim Broadbent).

Jerome does find his eye drawn to the girl of his dreams, Audrey Baumgarten (Sophia Myles), an artist’s model (who models nude for Jerome’s class) and daughter of an acclaimed artist. Audrey is initially attracted to Jerome, whose attitude is refreshing and not like the affectations of the local art crowd. However, a fellow art student and jock-type named Jonah (Matt Keeslar) becomes the toast of the art school with his pop art paintings. When Audrey turns her attentions to Jonah, Jerome concocts various plans to win back her affections, which all fail, but his next one will put Jerome’s future at stake, as well as the lives of those in and around Strathmore.

While Art School Confidential comes across as a satire of art schools, the faculty, and students, it is also a love story and youth relationship drama. It works well as all three. As a work of satire, Clowes’ script is matter-of-fact about art school politics. All his characters exist more in their own worlds than they do in the larger world in which they also co-exist, whether or not they believe they do. It seems as if they tolerate people and desire others attentions mostly so others should validate their art, agendas, and careers.

As for the romance and drama: Max Minghella certainly makes Jerome Platz a likeable underdog for whom we root. He may a bit aloof and may be naïve in terms of his expectations, but he’s honest and his ignorance and rudeness are endearing. We want him to get the girl, and we love the girl, too. Sophia Myles plays Audrey, the object of desire, quite well – mainly because she’s an “It” girl with that kind of classic look that works so well in film.

Still, the question that’s on everyone’s mind, “Is Art School Confidential funny?” I thought it uproariously funny, although it goes dry at the beginning of the last act. Clowes views humanity with a sanguine eye, even when his work seems cynical. His comics are matter-of-fact about humanity – warts and all. He may privately pass judgment, but in his comics, he lets the reader make up his own mind. His movie writing is like that, and Zwigoff is adept at picking up both the subtle nuances and broad strokes of his screenwriting collaborators. That allows Zwigoff to spend his time letting his talented cast have fun with the script and story. The result is fun, even exceptionally good flicks like Art School Confidential.

8 of 10
A

Friday, October 20, 2006


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review: "Ghost World" is Very Different and Very Good (Happy B'day, Scarlett Johansson)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 14 (of 2002) by Leroy Douresseaux

Ghost World (2001)
Running time: 111 minutes (1 hour, 51 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong language and some sexual content
DIRECTOR: Terry Zwigoff
WRITERS: Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes (based upon the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes)
PRODUCERS: Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, and Russell Smith
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Affonso Beato (D.o.P.)
EDITORS: Carole Kravetz-Aykanian and Michael R. Miller
Academy Award nominee

COMEDY/DRAMA

Starring: Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi, Brad Renfro, Illeana Douglas, Bob Balaban, and Stacey Travis

After graduating from high school, two friends watch as their relationship and plans change over the course of the following summer. Enid (Thora Birch, American Beauty) is disdainful of current pop culture and of conformity. Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) usually follows her friend’s lead, but she isn’t quite as critical of all things popular.

As the movie begins, both girls are aimless. They enjoy following people and spying on them and enjoying a laugh at the expense of others. However, Rebecca begins to gather herself, anxious to get on with her life. The girls had made plans to get an apartment together, and Rebecca soon has a job to pay for her adult expenses. Enid, on the other hands, lives day to day, aimless and chasing one infatuation after another.

She becomes attracted to the victim of one of her snide jokes, Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a collector of obscure jazz and blues vinyl records. As her interest in Seymour’s live becomes deeper, Enid drifts from Rebecca. Rebecca, in turn, grows closer to her and Enid’s friend Josh (Brad Renfro), a convenience store clerk. When Seymour begins to date another woman and Enid’s Dad (Bob Balaban) invites his girlfriend to move in with him, Enid’s life begins to fall apart.

Directed by Terry Zwigoff, who directed the documentary on underground cartoonist and legend Robert Crumb, Crumb, Ghost World is a teen comedy for really, smart and intelligent people. Sans corny jokes, gross humor, and juvenile depictions of sex, Zwigoff relies on the acting talent of his cast, an excellent script, simple, evocative photography, and a unique soundtrack to tell his film story.

The script, co-written by Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes, is the tent pole that supports this film. The movie is based upon Clowes’s graphic novel, Ghost World, which was serialized in issues of Eightball, Clowes long-running comic book series published by Fantagraphics Books. Fantagraphics eventually published a very popular hardcover and soft cover editions of the collected story. Clowes expanded his original story and added elements from his other comic book stories for the screenplay.

The screenplay trusts the ability of the characters to portray their own dramas. Enid is a complex character. Although sympathetic and likeable, she is maddeningly stubborn. An iconoclast, she is determined to go her own way and have her own way. When she meets obstacles of which she cannot move, she stands her ground even at the cost of great mental duress to herself. Her intelligence and originality add some unexplainable quality to her physical appearance and makes her physically attractive. You can’t help but root for her. You wish the best for her, and you’re angry when she spites herself just to maintain one of her eclectic standards.

Seymour is painfully real. Unable to connect with people, he readily connects with objects and things, especially things from a bygone era – the good old days. He seemingly cannot help but love a golden age despite there being more rust than gild on the precious metal of his olden days. He and Enid develop a relationship that seems peculiar on the surface, but is in fact quite simple; they can meet each other half way even when at odds. In the end, it is outside interests that dictate the evolution of their friendship.

Ms. Birch’s performance as Enid is a revelation, while the overrated American Beauty only hinted at her talent. She totally buys into Zwigoff and Clowes’s script, wholly and completely creating Enid. Ms. Birch engages us; we get so into her character that we cannot help but love and care for Enid, when we might become bored with her eccentricities. Only the best performances demand that much attention and sympathy.

Ms. Johansson’s Rebecca is also quite good. In Enid’s shadow, she slowly emerges as her own woman, different and free of Enid’s belief system. Rebecca is the audience gone cold on Enid’s quirks, but still loving her; she mirrors our occasional impatience with Enid. Like Ms. Birch’s performance, Ms. Johansson’s performance has surprising depth from one so young, but she had good writing from which to work.

Seymour is one of Buscemi’s most human characters to date; as usual, his performance reveals how deep he understands the goals of the storytellers. Brad Renfro isn’t left behind. His Josh seethes boredom with existence. One look at him and you know that he wants to tell the world where to get off. He regards most anything and most anyone with a smoldering annoyance worthy of a classic screen rebel.

Ghost World can occasionally seem cold. The scriptwriters hope that we are patient during the dry moments as the story unfolds. The movie doesn’t only develop; it slow opens itself to us. We are simultaneously annoyed, angered, bored, confused, hopeful, joyous, and sad.

Confusing? No. Quite engaging, very thoughtful, some damn fine performances, and some really good character writing. Ghost World is a different and very good movie.

7 of 10
A-

NOTES:
2002 Academy Awards: 1 nomination: “Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published” (Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff)

2002 Golden Globes: 2 nominations: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Steve Buscemi), and “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy” (Thora Birch)

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review: "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" is a Shiny Empty Thing

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 86 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
Running time: 154 minutes (2 hours, 34 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo
DIRECTOR: Michael Bay
WRITERS: Ehren Kruger (based on Hasbro’s Transformers Action Figures)
PRODUCERS: Don Murphy, Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, and Ian Bryce
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Amir Mokri (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Roger Barton, William Goldenberg, and Joel Negron

SCI-FI/ACTION/WAR

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Rose Huntington-Whiteley, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Patrick Dempsey, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Alan Tudyk, Ken Jeong, Lester Speight, Glenn Morshower, and Buzz Aldrin; (voices) Peter Cullen, Leonard Nimoy, Hugo Weaving, Frank Welker, Charlie Adler, Reno Wilson, and Keith Szarabajka

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a 2011 science fiction war and action film. It is the third movie in the live-action film series starring Hasbro’s popular toy line, the Transformers. The two other movies were Transformers (2007) and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009). Once again, the human hero from the first two films is caught in a war between two factions of alien robots, the Autobots and the Decepticons, but this time the war involves a new technology that could enslave humanity and forever change Earth.

Dark of the Moon takes place three years after the events of the second film. Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is frustrated on two fronts. U.S. government officials will no longer allow him to work with the Autobots, and Director of National Intelligence Charlotte Mearing (Frances McDormand) tells Sam that he is not a hero, but was merely a messenger bringing the Autobots to the world’s attention. Sam also cannot find post-college employment that satisfies him professionally and financially. He is also irritated that his new girlfriend, Carly Spencer (Rose Huntington-Whiteley), supports them both with her high-paying job.

Meanwhile, the Autobots are helping the U.S. military prevent conflicts around the globe. Bigger things are about to happen for the Autobots, however, and it involves a mystery that began 42 years earlier with the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Autobot leader, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), travels to the moon where he finds an Autobot thought to be dead, Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy), Optimus’ predecessor as leader of the Autobots. Optimus revives Sentinel, and that begins a series of events which allow Megatron (Hugo Weaving), leader of the Decepticons, to commence a diabolical plot to revive Cybertron, the ruined home planet of the Transformers. Soon, the Decepticons launch an all-out war against humanity with Chicago as the epicenter.

USAF Chief Robert Epps (Tyrese Gibson) and “Team Epps” join Sam on a mission to slip into Chicago to save Carly. Meanwhile, U.S. Army Lt. Colonel William Lennox (Josh Duhamel) leads the classified strike team, NEST, into Chicago to help them. But time is running out for them to save Carly and the world.

Like Revenge of the Fallen, Dark of the Moon got some bad reviews, although maybe not as many as Revenge. I like this as much as I did Revenge of the Fallen, but both films are too long. Dark of the Moon is probably a half hour longer than it needs to be, but it’s almost worth it to get just about any of the action scenes that include the Transformers. Many of the Transformers here are more complex and have more moving parts, in addition to the fact that this film is shot in 3D. The special visual effects wizards who worked on Dark of the Moon were up to the task and turned in the best visual and special effects of the three films.

Visually, this is an undeniably impressive science fiction action film. Sadly, the rest of the film is either barely coherent or simply incoherent. The acting is often lost in all the noise and visual splendor, and in many cases, that is for the better. There is some hysterically bad acting and embarrassing overacting. This film is also over-the-top and overwrought, and sometimes, it’s just too much. It took me three sittings over three days to watch this movie, and I’m glad I chose not to see it in a theatre.

The special effects and the robots transforming were superb, but as much as that blew my mind, something is really wrong with this movie as a story. This is director Michael Bay at his most mind-numbing, and it is now clear that he has perfected film as sound and fury signifying absolutely nothing. Transformers: Dark of the Moon shows how far the science and technology of cinema have come, but the storytelling is positively Stone Age.

5 of 10
C+

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" Reaches $1 Billion in Worldwide Box Office

“TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON” CROSSES $1 BILLION WORLDWIDE

HOLLYWOOD, CA (August 3, 2011) – Worldwide box office receipts for TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON, have hit $1 billion, Paramount Pictures announced today. To date, the third installment of the hit Transformers franchise, and the first shot in 3-D, has grossed $338 million in U.S. (through Monday) and $663 million internationally (through Tuesday).

“TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON is the first billion dollar grossing movie in the history of Paramount Pictures, marking a substantial milestone in the 99 year life of this legendary studio," said Brad Grey, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Paramount Pictures. “We are grateful for the extraordinary work of Michael Bay and his film-making team, executive producer Steven Spielberg, and everyone at Paramount around the globe who played a part in helping make this latest TRANSFORMERS one of the 10 highest grossing films worldwide of all time".

Earlier this summer, Paramount was the first studio to reach $1 billion in domestic grosses, aided by the $180.7 million opening of TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON over the July 4th holiday. This is the fifth year in a row that Paramount has reached the milestone before any other studio. Paramount Pictures International crossed the $2 billion mark on July 30th, making it the first for any studio this year to reach the benchmark. The studio has had six consecutive movies earning over $100 million at the domestic box office in 2011.

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON is directed by Michael Bay, written by Ehren Kruger and produced by Don Murphy & Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Ian Bryce. The executive producers are Steven Spielberg, Michael Bay, Brian Goldner and Mark Vahradian. When a mysterious event from Earth’s past erupts into the present day it threatens to bring a war to Earth so big that the Transformers alone will not be able to save us. The movie stars Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Patrick Dempsey, Kevin Dunn, Julie White with John Malkovich and Frances McDormand. © 2011 Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

HASBRO, TRANSFORMERS and all related characters are trademarks of Hasbro. © 2011 Hasbro. All Rights Reserved.

For more information, go to http://www.transformersmovie.com/


ABOUT PARAMOUNT PICTURES CORPORATION
Paramount Pictures Corporation (PPC), a global producer and distributor of filmed entertainment, is a unit of Viacom (NYSE: VIA, VIA.B), a leading content company with prominent and respected film, television and digital entertainment brands. The company's labels include Paramount Pictures, Paramount Vantage, Paramount Classics, Insurge Pictures, MTV Films and Nickelodeon Movies. PPC operations also include Paramount Digital Entertainment, Paramount Famous Productions, Paramount Home Entertainment, Paramount Pictures International, Paramount Licensing Inc., Paramount Studio Group and Paramount Television & Digital Distribution.

Friday, June 24, 2011

"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" App Now Available

Paramount Pictures Unveils Interactive Poster for TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON App on the App Store

HOLLYWOOD, CA (June 24, 2011) – Paramount Pictures today introduced a TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON App that lets iPhone and iPod touch users convert traditional movie posters into an augmented reality experience before their eyes.

The app, TF3: DEFEND THE EARTH, allows iPhone and iPod touch users to locate the closest theaters that have these exclusive interactive posters on display. Upon activation, the poster comes to life via the app and consumers can participate in an immersive game play on their iPhone or iPod touch via the poster’s first-person view of OPTIMUS PRIME. iPhone and iPod touch users simply download the TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON App, and they are able to play the game wherever they are in the world and compete on a global level for the top spot. The interactive movie posters will be located in over 250 IMAX® and AMC theaters across the country.

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON is directed by Michael Bay, written by Ehren Kruger and produced by Don Murphy & Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Ian Bryce. The executive producers are Steven Spielberg, Michael Bay, Brian Goldner and Mark Vahradian. When a mysterious event from Earth’s past erupts into the present day it threatens to bring a war to Earth so big that the TRANSFORMERS alone will not be able to save us. The movie stars Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Patrick Dempsey, Kevin Dunn, Julie White with John Malkovich and Frances McDormand. It will be released by Paramount Pictures worldwide on June 29th. © 2011 Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

HASBRO, TRANSFORMERS and all related characters are trademarks of Hasbro. © 2011 Hasbro. All Rights Reserved.

The TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON App is available for free from the App

Store on iPhone and iPod touch or at itunes.apple.com/us/app/transformers-3-defend-the/id440535402?mt=8 and http://www.tf3ar.com/.

For more information, go to http://www.transformersmovie.com/.

Follow TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/TF3Movie.

Like us on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/TransformersMovie.


About Paramount Pictures Corporation
Paramount Pictures Corporation (PPC), a global producer and distributor of filmed entertainment, is a unit of Viacom (NYSE: VIA, VIA.B), a leading content company with prominent and respected film, television and digital entertainment brands. The company's labels include Paramount Pictures, Paramount Vantage, Paramount Classics, Insurge Pictures, MTV Films and Nickelodeon Movies. PPC operations also include Paramount Digital Entertainment, Paramount Famous Productions, Paramount Home Entertainment, Paramount Pictures International, Paramount Licensing Inc., Paramount Studio Group and Paramount Television & Digital Distribution.

About Hasbro
Hasbro, Inc. (NASDAQ: HAS) is a branded play company providing children and families around the world with a wide-range of immersive entertainment offerings based on the Company’s world class brand portfolio. From toys and games, to television programming, motion pictures, video games and a comprehensive licensing program, Hasbro strives to delight its customers through the strategic leveraging of well-known and beloved brands such as TRANSFORMERS, LITTLEST PET SHOP, NERF, PLAYSKOOL, MY LITTLE PONY, G.I. JOE, MAGIC: THE GATHERING and MONOPOLY. The Hub, Hasbro’s multi-platform joint venture with Discovery Communications (NASDAQ: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK) launched on October 10, 2010. The online home of The Hub is www.hubworld.com. The Hub logo and name are trademarks of Hub Television Networks, LLC. All rights reserved. Come see how we inspire play through our brands at http://www.hasbro.com. © 2011 Hasbro, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Third "Transformers" Movie Has Special 3D and IMAX Advanced Showings

“TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON” TO OPEN EXCLUSIVELY IN 3D AND IMAX AT 9PM ON TUESDAY, JUNE 28TH

HOLLYWOOD, CA (June 17, 2011) – Paramount Pictures announced today it will open Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON exclusively at 3D and IMAX locations across the country beginning at 9PM local time on Tuesday, June 28th, allowing moviegoers nationwide to be among the first to see the latest installment in the hit franchise, and the first to be shot in 3D. The movie will open wide beginning at 12AM on June 29th.

“Michael Bay has created an incredibly engaging and immersive 3D experience with this latest movie, one that will undoubtedly be among the most entertaining movie going experiences of the summer,” said Paramount’s Vice Chairman Rob Moore. “Providing fans an opportunity to see it early in 3D is a great way to kick off the movie’s opening.”

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON is directed by Michael Bay, written by Ehren Kruger and produced by Don Murphy & Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Ian Bryce. The executive producers are Steven Spielberg, Michael Bay, Brian Goldner and Mark Vahradian. When a mysterious event from Earth’s past erupts into the present day it threatens to bring a war to Earth so big that the Transformers alone will not be able to save us. The movie stars Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Patrick Dempsey, Kevin Dunn, Julie White with John Malkovich and Frances McDormand. © 2011 Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

HASBRO, TRANSFORMERS and all related characters are trademarks of Hasbro. © 2011 Hasbro. All Rights Reserved.

For more information, go to http://www.transformersmovie.com/

Follow TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/TF3Movie

Like us on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/TransformersMovie


About Paramount Pictures Corporation
Paramount Pictures Corporation (PPC), a global producer and distributor of filmed entertainment, is a unit of Viacom (NYSE: VIA, VIA.B), a leading content company with prominent and respected film, television and digital entertainment brands. The company's labels include Paramount Pictures, Paramount Vantage, Paramount Classics, Insurge Pictures, MTV Films and Nickelodeon Movies. PPC operations also include Paramount Digital Entertainment, Paramount Famous Productions, Paramount Home Entertainment, Paramount Pictures International, Paramount Licensing Inc., Paramount Studio Group and Paramount Television & Digital Distribution.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

New Transformers Trailer Hot Stuff

New Trailer for Michael Bay’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” Downloaded Over 6 Million Times in First 24 Hours on iTunes Movie Trailers, Breaking Previous Record

HOLLYWOOD, CA (May 6, 2011) - The new trailer for Michael Bay’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” has been downloaded more than 6 million times in its first 24 hours on iTunes Movie Trailers (http://www.apple.com/trailers), becoming the most-viewed trailer in the site's history.

The trailer, which recently debuted exclusively on iTunes Movie Trailers, gives fans a visually stunning sneak peak at this summer's highly anticipated “Transformers: Dark of the Moon."

When a mysterious event from Earth’s past erupts into the present day it threatens to bring a war to earth so big that the Transformers alone will not be able to save us. The third installment of the hit franchise, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” stars Shia LaBeouf, John Turturro, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Patrick Dempsey, Kevin Dunn, with John Malkovich and Frances McDormand.

“Transformers represents big summer fun at the movies and iTunes Movie Trailers was the ideal place to debut the latest installment to a global entertainment audience," says Amy Powell, Paramount Pictures' Executive Vice President Interactive Marketing & Film Production.


About Paramount Pictures Corporation
Paramount Pictures Corporation (PPC), a global producer and distributor of filmed entertainment, is a unit of Viacom (NYSE: VIA, VIA.B), a leading content company with prominent and respected film, television and digital entertainment brands. The company's labels include Paramount Pictures, Paramount Vantage, Paramount Classics, Insurge Pictures, MTV Films and Nickelodeon Movies. PPC operations also include Paramount Digital Entertainment, Paramount Famous Productions, Paramount Home Entertainment, Paramount Pictures International, Paramount Licensing Inc., Paramount Studio Group and Paramount Television & Digital Distribution.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Review: "Burn After Reading" is the Best Moron Movie

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 10 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux

Burn After Reading (2008)
Running time: 96 minutes (1 hour, 36 minutes)
MPAA – R for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence
WRITERS/DIRECTORS: The Coen Brothers
PRODUCERS: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Emmanuel Lubezki
EDITORS: Roderick Jaynes (Ethan Coen and Joel Coen)
COMPOSER: Carter Burwell
Golden Globe nominee

COMEDY

Starring: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, J.K. Simmons, Olek Krupa, Michael Countryman, Kevin Sussman, Elizabeth Marvel, and David Rasche

I certainly like Coen Brothers movies like No Country for Old Men and True Grit. These are classically formal, traditional Hollywood tales of murderous men and frontier justice done in the Bros.’ idiosyncratic style. These are the kinds of movie that will appeal to broad audiences and attract Oscar attention.

However, I prefer to watch the Bros.’ films that reflect their assumed quirky sensibilities: movies like The Big Lebowski, Intolerable Cruelty, and the 2008 flick, Burn After Reading. “Quirky” may not necessarily be the appropriate word. Coen Bros.’ films like Burn After Reading and the Academy Award-winning Fargo seem strange because, from top to bottom, the characters in these movies are unusually fascinating, especially compared to the characters that appear in most American movies.

Burn After Reading takes place in Washington D.C. It begins with Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich), a CIA analyst who quits his job in a huff and decides to write his memoirs. A compact disc copy of the memoirs ends up in the hands of two moronic employees of Hardbodies gym. After perusing the contents of the disc, Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) and Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) decide that Cox should pay them money to get it back. Meanwhile, Osbourne’s wife, pediatrician Katie Cox (Tilda Swinton), is having an affair with Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), a womanizing U.S. Marshal and agent of the U.S. Treasury. When Osbourne refuses to pay them, Chad and Linda try to sell the disc to the Russian embassy, but that only makes things worse.

Joel and Ethan Coen are supernaturally good at creating characters that seem eccentric, odd, and even peculiar. When you look at them closely, however, you may discover how maddeningly, poignantly, and hilariously human they seem to be. Their motivations are petty and absurd, but oh-so familiar. Their lives are exciting, strange, and sometimes boring, and the characters are as dull as they are fascinating. The Coens fill Burn After Reading with such characters. This tale of Washington D.C. insiders and outsiders playing a poorly executed game of espionage is an unforgettable farce because of them.

As usual, the Coens get excellent performances from the cast, acting that brings such atypical screen characters to life. Once again, George Clooney is dead-on as (for the third time) a Coen Bros. fool. Frances McDormand’s sparkling dramatic turn is pitch-perfect for this farce, and she has marvelous screen chemistry with Brad Pitt, who once again proves that he is exceptionally good in supporting roles and character parts.

Burn After Reading creates a confederacy of dunces for our entertainment. This savage comedy about vain idiots who always think they have the goods on everyone else may one day be an American classic. Today, it is a slice of America that captures the entire American pie.

8 of 10
A

NOTES:
2009 BAFTA Awards: 3 nominations: “Best Screenplay – Original” (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen), “Best Supporting Actor” (Brad Pitt), and “Best Supporting Actress” (Tilda Swinton)

2009 Golden Globes: 2 nominations: “Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical” and “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical” (Frances McDormand)

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Review: "Being John Malkovich" is Wildly Original (Happy B'day, John Malkovich)


TRASH IN MY EYE No. 9 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

Being John Malkovich (1999)
Running time: 112 minutes (1 hour, 52 minutes)
MPAA – R for language and sexuality
DIRECTOR: Spike Jonze
WRITER: Charlie Kaufman
PRODUCERS: Steve Golin, Vincent Landay, Sandy Stern, and Michael Stipe
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Lance Acord
EDITOR: Eric Zumbrunnen
COMPOSER: Carter Burwell
Academy Award nominee

FANTASY/COMEDY/DRAMA

Starring: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Ned Bellamy, Catherine Keener, Reggie Hayes, Orson Bean, and John Malkovich

We’ve all read the reviews that describe particular movies as inventive, witty, original, unique, or some other hyperbole used to describe cinematic “brilliance.” Whether many of those movies deserved such praise is debatable, but Being John Malkovich is the real deal – original and stunningly, painfully unique. It’s not perfect, but it is so mind-numbingly brilliant: I’m not sure if I even know how to watch it again. I’m afraid to think what this film would be like if it were perfect.

Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) is a talented puppeteer with a failed career and an (seemingly) unhappy marriage to a frumpy animal lover (Cameron Diaz). When finances finally get too tight, Craig gets a job sorting files for the peculiar Dr. Lester (Orson Bean). He becomes hopelessly infatuated with Maxine (Catherine Keener), a sharp-tongued woman who works on the same floor. On one particular day of drudgery, Craig accidentally discovers a door to a portal that leads literally into the head of John Malkovich (John Malkovich). After Craig shares the secret with his wife Lottie, she can’t get enough of being John Malkovich, which, of course, leads to a maze of confusion and conflicting desires that both destroys and redefines relationships and creates new pairings.

Directed by award-winning and acclaimed music video director Spike Jonze, Malkovich defies an accurate description. It is alternately a fantasy, a comedy, a romance, and a drama; it is a story that both crosses and breaks genres. The film derives its brilliance from writer Charlie Kaufman; the script is a masterwork and one of the finest original screenplays of the last few decades. That Jonze could make a coherent and entertaining film of a story that it so philosophical, surrealistic, avant garde, and abstract foretells that the creativity seen in his music videos, he will carry over to film – lucky, lucky us.

The performances are all very good; everyone seemed more than up to the task of translating Kaufman’s eccentricity and brilliance to drama. Cusack once again affirms both his coolness and his talent. It’s pointless to praise Malkovich, and Ms. Keener only showed a more attentive audience the skill she’d already showed in films with smaller audiences. If no one will, I will toot Ms. Diaz’s talent. Her beauty merely accentuates her talent. She buried herself in this role as the frumpy lovelorn Lottie; she can do the method thing, so where’s the props?

Brilliant, smashing, exhilarating, ingenious, hilarious, hysterical, and wildly original – all have been said before, but these praises were made whole with Being John Malkovich. The film does seem to run out of energy late in the story, and the sci-fi/fantasy element seems to go overboard. Still, it is a film that has to be seen, if for no other reason than because Being John Malkovich is a fresh look at individuals and their need for and of other people. Run see this thing.

9 of 10
A+

NOTES:
2000 Academy Awards: 3 nominations: “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” (Catherine Keener), “Best Director” (Spike Jonze), and “Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen” (Charlie Kaufman)

2000 BAFTA Awards: 1 win: “Best Screenplay – Original” (Charlie Kaufman); 2 nominations: “Best Editing” (Eric Zumbrunnen) and “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Cameron Diaz)

2000 Golden Globes: 4 nominations: “Best Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical,” “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Cameron Diaz), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Catherine Keener), and “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (Charlie Kaufman)

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Red" is Riotous, Entertaining and Damn-good



TRASH IN MY EYE No. 100 (of 2010) by Leroy Douresseaux

Red (2010)
Running time: 111 minutes (1 hour, 51 minutes)
MPAA – R for intense sequences of action violence and brief strong language
DIRECTOR: Robert Schwentke
WRITERS: Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber (based upon the graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner)
PRODUCERS: Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Mark Vahradian
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Florian Ballhaus
EDITOR: Thom Noble

ACTION/COMEDY with elements of drama and romance

Starring: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Karl Urban, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss, Rebecca Pidgeon, Julian McMahon, Jacqueline Fleming, James Remar, and Ernest Borgnine

Bruce Willis is one of the world’s biggest movie stars of the last quarter century. Perhaps, that status makes people forget that not only is Willis a great action movie star, but he is also a fine actor, also comfortable with character drama and comedy. At least, I think so. In his recent, Fall-released action comedy, Red (based upon the comic book miniseries of the same name by Warren Ellis and Cully Hammer), Willis shows all his sides – subtle drama, deadpan humor, and action flick stud.

Red focuses on Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), a former black-ops CIA agent living a quite, idyllic life of retirement in the suburbs. When he feels lonely, he chats with Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), a customer service agent at the office that sends out Frank’s pension checks. When an assassin squad comes gunning for him, however, Frank is forced to go on the run, with Sarah in tow. Frank is RED – retired, extremely dangerous, and someone powerful wants him dead. Frank needs answers.

To survive, Frank tracks down members of his old black-ops squad. There is his old mentor, Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), living in a retirement home in New Orleans, someone who can give Frank information. Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) is a paranoid conspiracy theorist, who can give him more information. Victoria (Helen Mirren), a wetwork agent (assassin), can give comfort and aid. Then, there is William Cooper (Karl Urban), who is the CIA agent assigned to hunt and kill Frank. Cooper is kind of like a younger version of Frank, and he won’t let anything stop him.

Red is one of those films that can be described as “a non-stop thrill ride,” which it is for the most part. The car chases, shootouts, fights, and other action scenes are quite good, and often funny, not because they are parody, but because the action always manages to embody the absurdity of this story.

The characters are okay, but the actors are the ones that make them better. Performers like Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, and John Malkovich are so good that they can both give life to flat characters and play up the comic aspects of a scene or situation with ease. They make the often-extremely violent Red seem witty and effervescent. Yes, even Bruce Willis has done this kind of character (the killer) in other movies (like The Whole Nine Yards), but here, he is cool like a movie star should be. This is the kind of movie that needs a movie star lead, and Willis provides that.

Red is not perfect. Sometimes, it doesn’t know if it wants to be extremely dangerous or extremely funny, but action comedies like this: more snarky than smart and filled with comic violence that actually looks like real action movie violence, don’t come around often enough. Red is probably the best action comedy of the year.

7 of 10
B+

Monday, December 06, 2010


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Review: "Jonah Hex" is Not Really THAT Bad

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 93 (of 2010) by Leroy Douresseaux

Jonah Hex (2010)
Running time: 81 minutes (1 hour, 21 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, disturbing images and sexual
DIRECTOR: Jimmy Hayward
WRITERS: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor; from a story by William Farmer and Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (based upon the characters appearing in magazines published by DC Comics created by John Albano and Tony DeZuniga)
PRODUCERS: Akiva Goldsman and Andrew Lazar
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mitchell Amundsen (D.o.P)
EDITORS: Kent Beyda, Dan Hanley, Tom Lewis, and Fernando Villena
COMPOSERS: Marco Beltrami and Mastodon

WESTERN/ACTION with elements of horror

Starring: Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Aidan Quinn, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett, John Gallagher, Jr., Tom Wopat, Michael Shannon, Wes Bentley, John McConnell, and Lance Reddick with Jeffrey Dean Morgan (no screen credit)

Jonah Hex is a recent Western, released by Warner Bros. Pictures this past June. The title character, Jonah Hex, is one of DC Comics’ Western characters, and this anti-hero type is a bounty hunter whose face is horribly scarred on the right side. Created by writer John Albano and artist Tony DeZuniga, Jonah Hex made his first appearance in the early 1970s.

During the American Civil War, Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) fought for the Confederacy. However, Hex turned against his commanding officer, Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich), after Turnbull ordered him to burn down a hospital. After the war, a vengeful Turnbull killed Hex’s wife and son and branded his initials into Hex’s face.

Most of the movie takes place in 1876. As the country prepares for the Centennial celebration, Turnbull plots a July 4th terrorist attack using a devastating super weapon, an attack he believes will topple the American government and destroy the nation. President Grant (Aidan Quinn) orders the U.S. military to find Jonah Hex, who has many warrants on his head, and make him an offer he can’t refuse. In exchange for his freedom (and some cash), Hex must stop Turnbull. Hex, who can temporarily resurrect and communicate with the dead, uses all his talents and an array of firearms to fight his way through Turnbull’s men. Hex also gets help from Lilah (Megan Fox), a gun-wielding prostitute in love with him.

Jonah Hex was a critical and commercial flop during its theatrical release. I initially avoided the movie because the trailers looked dumb, and I thought that the movie was probably even dumber. When the opportunity to see it came around again, the first thing I thought was, I bet I’ll like this movie. And I did.

Jonah Hex is not really all that bad a movie. First, it really isn’t a Western. It is more a weird faux-Western like Will Smith’s 1999 flick, Wild Wild West. Also, a lot of this is clearly tongue-in-cheek. The director, Jimmy Hayward, tries too hard to make this film different. The film really doesn’t have much in the way of familiar Hollywood Western iconography, visual cues, or symbolism. The creators dress this movie to look like a Western, then, do everything to make it not a Western. Still, the film, at times, manages to have some good, Western-style action sequences.

The film’s writers, William Farmer and the team of (Mark) Neveldine and (Brian) Taylor, pack the story with a lot of ideas to ponder, including weird occult stuff, the character of revenge, and nature of war. There are also many scenes that are extraneous and/or badly staged, such as the motion comic-like origin story early in the film. In a comic book, this heap of weird ideas and scenes would likely not be a problem. In a film, it just makes the narrative move awkwardly.

Ultimately, the cast does right by this movie. Megan Fox makes the best of a poorly designed character. John Malkovich is, as always, superb in menacing, villainous role. Michael Fassbender is a scene-stealer as Turnbull’s homicidal right-hand man, Burke. Of course, Josh Brolin continues to prove himself as an exciting movie star and high-quality actor. It is remarkable what he does with the cheesy dialogue here. Brolin makes me wish for a sequel that may likely never come. For all its faults, Jonah Hex is so weird and is such kooky fun that it is not actually that bad.

5 of 10
C+

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

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