December 2006

Eragon

by Alan Rapp on December 15, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Eragon
  • IMDB: link

Eragon is based off the novel by Christopher Paolini who began writing the novel (of the same name) at the age of 15. By the age of 17 he had a New York Times Bestseller on his hands, and is now working on the third and final book of the “Inheritance Trilogy.” The film, as I suspect the book does as well, plays very much like it came from the mind of juvenile.  While that’s not all bad, it is limiting.

The story begins with a long prologue from an unseen narrator (Jeremy Irons) explaining the world of Alagaesa ruled by King Galbatorix (John Malkovich, who opens the film with what might be the dumbest line in cinema history) who has killed off all the dragons and taken control of the kingdom.

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Marie Antoinette

by Alan Rapp on December 1, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Marie Anoinette
  • IMDB: link

For a historical perspective almost every choice is head-scratching.  Kirsten Dunst in the lead role?  A supporting cast featuring the likes of Rip Torn, Molly Shannon, and modern pop music?  Many thought Marie Antoinette was going to be a disaster.  Well, let me tell you a little secret for those of you thinking Sofia Coppola was ready to stumble with her third film.  Not only does Marie Antoinette not fail, but Coppola produces one of the most original films of the year, in fact of our time.  Is it a traditional historical perspective?  No, it’s something much more interesting, that defies all expectations, and leaves us wondering if Kirsten Dunst might actually have given the best performance in films this year.

What Sofia Coppola decides to give us is an emotional tale of a fragile naive young woman, sheltered from the realities of the world, lost in the lush settings Versailles, and trapped in a world of societal customs, manner, procedures, and a marriage made out of an alliance between two nations but lacking in intimacy.

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Life is Often Stranger than Fiction

by Alan Rapp on December 1, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Stranger than Fiction
  • IMDB: link

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an IRS agent whose life is structured, scheduled, and numbered.  Nothing ever exciting happens to Harold until he starts to hear the voice.  Out of the blue Harold begins to hear a woman’s voice narrating his everyday actions, with extreme accuracy, an eye for detail, a knowledge of the future, and, as Harold puts it, a better vocabulary.

Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) is a famous author of tragedies where good men and women meet grisly fates.  She is struggling with her new book.  The publishers have sent her an assistant (Queen Latifah) in hopes of ending her writer’s block and getting her book in before the deadline.

Kay’s major obstacle is she doesn’t know how to kill her main character – Harold Crick.

The bizarreness of the story is terrific as it isn’t attempted to be dissected or given a simple explanation (dream, etc.).  Harold Crick is real, yet his actions and his destiny lie in the hands of a Englishwoman with a typewriter.

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  • Title: Shut Up and Sing
  • IMDB: link

“Wherever they burn books, they will also, in the end, burn people.”

I don’t think they like you Mr. President

There is a scene from the documentary where organized protesters burn and destroy copies of the Dixie Chicks CD’s, not because they dislike the music, but because of a single sentence expressing a personal opinion about George Bush.

The quote above is from German poet Heinrich Heine who knew something of censorship, for his views against class structure.  For his own views, which were argued against, but never proven wrong, his works were banned.

“Just so you know, we’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.”

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The Departed

by Alan Rapp on December 1, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Departed
  • IMDB: link

Martin Scorsese has given American cinema some great films.  Who could forget Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Casino?  His recent films however have recieved a mixed reaction.  The Aviator was exqusite and sleek, but lacked the heart and soul of the film it must always be compared to, given its subject matter, Citizen KaneGangs of New York was brutal and honest, but some unfortunate miscasting and near week-long running time was a little too much to bear.  And most critics agree 1999’s Bringing Out the Dead was, at least in a small way, a blunderous misstep.

Here Scorsese returns to a cops and maifa story, re-uniting with DiCaprio, and giving us a tale of intrigue and thrills that relies more on story than gun play, and more on character than body count (at least until the last 20 minutes).  The result?  It’s his best film in years.

The film follows two new members of the Boston State Police Department fresh from the academy and put to work in Boston.

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A Film for True Sci-fi Fans

by Alan Rapp on December 1, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Fountain
  • IMDB: link

“Finish it.”
“But I don’t know how it ends.”

The Fountain is hard to understand, difficult to discuss, and almost impossible to explain, but I’ll do my best to review the latest from writer/director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream).  In a year almost devoid of science fiction, here late in the year we get something dazzling.

The film takes place in three time periods.  Two of the time periods are fictional, the Aztec jungles in 1500 involving a Conquistador (Hugh Jackman) and his search for the Tree of Life, and the floating space bubble in 2500 involving a bald monk (Jackman) nursing a dying tree as it floats into a dying star surrounded by a nebula.

The third of the story is in the present, or near future, as a doctor (Jackman) experiments on apes in a desperate obsession to save the life of his wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz) who is slowly dying from a brain tumor.  Though the two other tales fit together more easily, it is this tale which is the heart and soul of the film.

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Eh Very Niiice

by Ian T. McFarland on December 1, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

I don’t think there’s any possible way I could prepare you for the hard-edged, offensive humor that isn’t just utilised in Borat, it’s abused and raped to the point that you don’t think a more offensive film is possible.  It’s also easily one of the funniest films in a good year for comedy.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
4 Stars

There are a lot of things that are wrong in this world.  There Racists who dismiss people by the color of their skin, CEOs who care more about their bank accounts than their employees and they even cancelled Arrested Development.  But none of that, not even Arrested being cancelled, comes close to being as wrong as Borat.  You start wondering at some point if Sasha Baron Cohen created a movie with the sole intention of offending every minority on the planet.  But whatever the intent, Borat is a so foully funny it’s almost revolutionary.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan centers on Cohen playing a character named Borat Sagdiyev that he showcased in his Da Ali G Show.  The film works as a fake documentary, it’s supposedly the documnetary film of Borat traveling to the States to discover how it works.  The ultimate goal is that he will come home with ideas to rejeuvinate his home country of Kazakhstan.

Let’s just get this out of the way: If you don’t like mean humor, you can stop reading this review now.  If you feel like those punks who write South Park deserve a good talking-to every time you see a commercial for their show, then you should probably just head to The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause this weekend and forget you ever heard of this movie, because it’s offensive enough to make South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut look like the Passover special of Rugrats.  No hard feelings, but you should just stop reading the review and go to MySpace to contemplate who you want in your “Top Friends.”

Okay, now that they’re gone, let’s get down to the good stuff, because Borat has a lot of it.

Where do you start?  Greeting his friendly neighborhood rapist, making fun of his mentally-handicapped brother or going to bed afraid the Jews are going to take him in his sleep, Cohen is clearly a master of pushing buttons.  He takes stark offenses against society so far that you might expect the Government to issue a warning against letting your children go to the movie.  How the film ever got past the MPAA with a mere R is a paradox that will likely go unsolved until the next Einstein is born to answer the question.

If pushing stereotypes past the line of decency isn’t your bag, perhaps pushing gross-out humor past the line of decency is.  Only, Borat doesn’t just pass the line, it keeps going until it crosses several State Lines.  One sequence – of which I will only say involves two men – is so atrociously out of bounds that it may even make slasher movie buffs feel queasy.  I know I did.

But the most insane aspect of the movie is its reality.  We know that Cohen is acting throughout the movie, along with a few other players; but outside of four actors everyone in this movie is a real person, someone who thinks they’re a part of a documentary about a man named Borat learning about America.  You’ll get authentic Americans authentically reacting to a man who asks what to do with a Ziploc full of his own feces.  It’s a great idea that, thanks in great deal to the fake documentary style, sets this comedy apart from anything else put out in recent memory.

The only reasonable complaint is with the story.  Evident from even the commercials, the film serves as nothing but an excuse for Cohen to put together hilariously wrong sketches; but to create a competint film you need to connect all the sketches together with a story to keep the viewer’s attention.  Borat is able to do this well enough, but the scenes still feel too loose and apart to make the entire film feel united.

But it doesn’t matter.  People shouldn’t won’t see the film for its story, they’ll see Borat because it’s a politcally incorrect film that somehow works.  By being so unbelievably and morally wrong, they’ve made one of the more innovative comedies in the past decade, and if Borat is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

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End of Innocence

by Alan Rapp on December 1, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Bobby
  • IMDB: link

In the style of Grand Hotel, Emilio Estevez (who wrote and directed) brings us a look at the Ambassador Hotel and the people who work and stay there.  It’s not just any day however, it’s June 6, 1968 and Bobby Kennedy is coming to give his last speech before tragedy would strike, and one of the last remaining beacons of hope in his time was extinguished by hatred and violence.

The film follows the guests and staff of the Ambassador Hotel over the period of a day as they work, play, and ready for an appearance, by who many believe will become the next President of the United States.

The characters include the manager of the hotel (William H. Macy), his wife (Sharon Stone) who works as the beauty parlor, and his mistress (Heather Graham) who works the phone bank with her friend (Joy Bryant)  There’s also a Mexican kitchen worker (Freddy Rodriguez) dealing with a racist boss (Christian Slater), and a bride (Lindsay Lohan) who is marrying a friend from high school (Elijah Wood) to stop him being sent to Vietnam.

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Obsession

by Alan Rapp on December 1, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

Victorian Age magicians?  Didn’t we already see this movie this summer?  Yeah, but this one’s good!!!!  Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman star as magicians locked in a life struggle to perform the ultimate magic trick and claim victory over the other.  It’s a story of obsession and loss, and one will pay the ultimate price.

The Prestige
4 Stars

“Every great magic trick consists of three acts.  The first act is called ‘The Pledge.’  The magician shows you something ordinary, but of course it probably isn’t.  The second act is called ‘The Turn.’  The magician makes his ordinary something do something extraordinary.  Now, if you’re looking for the secret you won’t find it, that’s why there’s a third act called ‘The Prestige.’  This is the part with the twists and turns, where lives hang in the balance, and you see something shocking you’ve never seen before.”

The film opens with Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) on trial for the murder of Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), who was killed during his final performance.  The magician who gave both men their start (Michael Caine) is present, as witness, to tell the tale.

The film goes back in time, to tell the story of how the two got their start, their tragic marriages (with Piper Perabo, and Rebecca Hall), their competing affection for a magician’s assistant (Scarlett Johansson), and the event which caused the hatred and rivalry between them.

Director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins) weaves a marvelous tale of illusion, half-truths, buried secrets, murder, and most of all obsession.  Like this year’s earlier entry The Illusionist the film involves the secrets of an illusion, and plot twists.  The Prestige succeeds where the other failed in that it doesn’t make the twists and secrets the whole story, instead it’s the obsession between the two men, not their secrets, which takes center stage.

The other difference is the tricks Angier and Bale look like illusions that would be done in the time period rather than bizarre movie camera tricks.  Here I must mention David Bowie who has a small but crucial role as Nikola Tesla, the acclaimed inventor who is locked in his own obsessive battle with Thomas Edison, and is commissioned to use science to create a new illusion for one of the magicians.  It’s great to see him back on screen.

The structure of the film, showing the main story in an extended flashback is somewhat awkward, but does fit into the film’s overall themes of showing you something from one angle, and then from another.  Still, I would have preferred the film a little more without the unnecessary introduction.

Jackman and Bale are excellent feeding off each other and showing how each individual success only brings more pain from the other.  Nolan’s choice to paint neither character as hero or villain, the two trade places so many times in the course of the film your head will spin, creates an opportunity to show them both as flawed, and allows you to root for whomever you please.

Perabo is stunning in her small role as Angier’s wife and Scarlett Johansson just sparkles on screen.  Rebecca Hall has a more demanding role as the loved but emotionally abused wife of Borden, but does well with the part.  And of course, Michael Caine is Michael Caine, ‘nuff said.

The Prestige is a battle of wits an emotions by two men whose hatred, pride, and need for revenge fuel a lifelong obsession.  You may guess some of the twists and turns, but the film’s best secret isn’t a plot twist or an illusion.  The film’s greatest secret is what is shows you – obsession and its just deserts.  Nolan has produced a great film that will appeal to both the popcorn audience and the art house crowd alike.  Now that, my friends, is a great trick.

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A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

by Alan Rapp on December 1, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Flags of Our Fathers
  • IMDB: link

flags-of-our-fathers-posterOne picture can define everything.  Flags of Our Fathers, the latest from director Clint Eastwood and writer Paul Haggis, looks at how a single photograph changed the war in the Pacific during WWII.  Though it does include some huge battle scenes, it’s more focused on the later years, how the photograph, and the U.S. Government’s use of it, changed the lives of three soldiers forever.

Clint Eastwood is the man, and he has earned the right to make whatever film he wants.  Here the director takes a look at the flag raising at Iwo Jima, and how that one photograph changed the lives of three men and the course of the war in the Pacific.

The film follows the heroes of the Battle of Iwo Gima, John “Doc” Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), Rene Gagon (Jesse Bradford), and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) from their landing on Iwo Jima to the years after their heroic tour.

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