Monday, December 20, 2010

Nolan



          Batman 3 secrets revealed!

          Ha!  I’m not lying but that was the cheapest way to intro/get clicks for my new blog post on the new-great: Christopher Jonathan James Nolan.


          Brit of Irish descent, dual citizen of both the US and UK (his wife is American), and – like the Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie has never gone to film school (“I guess my whole experience has been just to make films.”), Christopher Nolan has recently risen to the very forefront of Hollywood’s big-shot filmmakers.

          But not overnight.  The acclaimed Dark Knight director began filming action figures on an 8mm as a kid and graduated to training videos and docu-film before shooting for film festivals, pun intended.


          On his first Indie film, Following: “We've got a pretty serious claim on being the cheapest film ever made.”  I’ve never seen it or heard about it until now.


          Apparently it made enough commotion to get Guy Pearce, Joe Patalano, and The Matrix’s mysteriously beautiful Carrie-Anne Moss in on Memento, an Oscar winner for script (written by Guy Ritchie), Nolan’s mesmerizing psycho-thriller that messes with story order and script up until the very end.  It’s quite interesting and at times exciting, but just the tip of the Nolan iceberg.


          Insomnia, casting the powerful duo of Al Pacino and Robin Williams, alongside Million Dollar Baby-baby Hillary Swank, was as gloomy as its Alaskan setting and almost as wonderful.  Besides some photographic charm and acting prowess, the title is a misnomer.


          According to IMDb, Nolan had penned a Howard Hughes bio starring Jim Carrey (he called it “one of the best things I’ve ever written”); but when word came around that another Scorsese/DiCaprio film on the same topic was about to blow, the script was canned.  Too bad maybe (Aviator was great though); soon after the director went to work on a new Batman film.  The rest is history.


          Begins was the flashiest, grittiest, coolest, most realistic superhero flic to date, setting a whole new standard for the comic-to-realism genre.  Many people instantly liked it because it was unpredicted and would make us expect so much more from superhero flics in the future.

          That and Batman is the greatest (fiction) superhero of all time.  Says Nolan:


          Batman is the one that can most clearly be taken seriously. He's not from another planet, or filled with radioactive gunk. I mean, Superman is essentially a god, but Batman is more like Hercules: he's a human being, very flawed, and bridges the divide.

         

          He’s the one boys dream of being: if you were incredibly rich, ripped like hell, and had about every black belt and ounce of luck.  If only.

          Batman Begins also showcased Nolan’s dislike of CGI, another reason it doesn’t appear as fake as the rest.


          I think there's a vague sense out there that movies are becoming more and more unreal, I know I've felt it. The demand we put on ourselves was to be as spectacular as possible, but not depend on computer graphics to do it.



          It was an attempt to be like his heroes Stanley Kubrick (whose Clockwork anti-hero is interestingly akin to Nolan's Joker) and Ridley Scott (Ford/Crowe hero thing): to create a world within the world so real and separate without leaning on plastic CGI effects.


          The Prestige was his first “between Batmans” films: captivating like Memento but now with millions more dollars behind him from Hollywood.  Some of his best cinematography yet, with gripping drama, but as a whole giving in too much to his tragic flaw: being overly complicated and, in the end, philosophically impossible save for a very far-fetched theological anomaly (bi-location).  Something I could chew, but not swallow (the film).  Like The Matrix and sequels, it blew so many people’s minds they just sat back and added it to their Facebook fav lists and drooled on.  Disagree with me.


          Along came The Dark Knight and everyone was a Nolan fan!  As I always say (and now it’s like a broken record), “Didn’t like it as a movie ‘cause it was overly complicated, but the Ledger/Nolan Joker was the best bad guy in film I’ve ever seen!”


          Not to mention the girl got worse (had mixed feelings when she died, gosh – that sounded so bad!), I dislike Aaron Eckhart in everything but Thank You For Smoking, and so much story potential was un-used.  Most of the bit characters ended up corrupt before you could ask what happened in the first place.  And then it was over.  And Heath Ledger was dead and deserved every bit of that Oscar.    And the whole world wished Hollywood came with “How Not to Screw Your Life” courses with the fame and fortune.  Damn.


          Inception – the second (and last?) between B-man films – is the best film of 2010!  I think.  The Social Network is definitely up there but if Incept doesn’t sweep some serious Oscars it’ll be a robbery.  Nolan definitely overcame his typical “complicated” flaw by organizing the action into distinct time-layers, creating a plot-thickener device never before seen, employing the many dream-related human experiences that make the effects hit home.


          I can’t say enough good things about this movie!  Besides the striking resemblance Christopher Nolan has to Leonardo DiCaprio (or vice versa), the acting is superb (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, breaking out from his Angels in the Outfield with the to-die-for (500) Days of Summer; Michael Caine in signature excellence; Juno’s Ellen Page is back (yeah!); and DiCaprio, of course, in what might get him thee Oscar); it’s the perfect blend of action/adventure, sci-fi, and drama (love the dead-wife, got to see my kids again motive: wow!); and it’s just (not) plain movie passion.  (It’s not plain, it is passion; that’s what that parenthesis means.)


          There are two kinds of movies in this world: those made with film chemistry (a self-invented phrase not to be confused with actors working well together) where exec’s add big budget actors to big budget script and big budget (overfunded) crew to get, well – shit; and then there are the movies made with passion (i.e. Braveheart) that no matter who or what’s behind them (usually great stuff though, at least script if not director and actors) are full of a passionate punch comparable to the excruciating “umf!” an Olympic athlete gives to beat the opponents by a hair-margin after a lifetime of brutal training.  That is passion; a rare feat in cinema, tragically.


          I almost cried at the end of Inception, at the dramatic climax, and when DiCaprio’s character, well, I can’t spoil it for the losers among you who didn’t go see it when all your friends told you to.  I never buy DVDs but this could be buy material (Christmas…).  Scratch that; Blue-Ray – it’s the new Viagra, as far as movies go (if you have the tech).


          From a guy who doesn’t like CGI, Inception was well handled in that regard.  I bet he kept it down to a minimum, and producers weren’t peeing their pants with the old school spech-eff costs because of the visions of record breaking Dark Knight dollar signs dancing in their heads.



          What’s next?  A new take on Superman (thank God!), in addition to the third and last installment of the Nolan Batman series entitled The Dark Knight Rises (or It's About Time!), 2012.  (Yeah right, they’ll pull him into #4 if they get as much cash as Dark Knight.)  Good luck finding a bad guy near as good as Ledger.  Rumors of Johnny Depp as the Riddler.  It had better be good!


          Nolan’s status is crossing the proverbial directors’ bridge as we speak.  After Raiders of the Lost Ark, Spielberg’s films were still pre-credited as “From the Maker of Jaws and RotLA,” until of course Shindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and pretty much everything else he’s done made his stand-alone name the power piece for any film.

          I think we can expect the same from Nolan.


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Monday, December 13, 2010

Freaky


          Halloween is long past, but it’s almost always fun to watch a good scary movie.  I’m no expert in the field, not being a huge gore fan myself (haven’t seen Saw, Freddie Krueger films, and the like – yet) but one of my macabre hobbies (in addition to ghost hunting) is watching scary movies alone in the dark at one in the morning.  Adrenaline rush times ten!  You’ve got to try it.


          So – here are some of the best scary movies I have seen, perfect for that rainy night alone.




          The BEST, of the best of the best of the BEST I have seen is – without a doubt – Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.  It begins and you’re like, “This is a scary movie?”  But don’t worry; the best is yet to come.  As the plot thickens (cliché properly used here), the viewer not familiar with the surprise end will be jolted in their seat; and even the spoiled will not be prepared for the last two seconds of the film: the scariest of anyone’s entire cinematic experience.  Top of the late night list!


          I put this on the thrillers list but it deserves mention on “Freaky” as well: M. Night Shyamalan’s masterpiece The Sixth Sense is a jump in your seat classic; best the first time, second best every time you get to watch your friends jump watching it for their first time.  Original in its take on the supernatural with powerful story and script, artful in its execution.  On the scare list and here to stay.


          The Descent.  A thriller/horror about a group of female friends off on a girls’ weekend out of cave exploring out in a park somewhere in rural America.  Half-way through their jackass leader tells them it’s actually a new cave she wanted to check out after they have already been trapped inside by a series of unfortunate events.  But that’s only the beginning.  Soonafter they realize they are not alone.  A real jumper and fun to watch with friends.


          This is thee psycho-thriller but can be checked off as horror as well: The Silence of the Lambs is one of the best scary movies I have seen (understatement).  Got to love the tension climaxing with Dr. Hannibal Lector’s attempted escape from his animal confinement coupled with the hunt for and showdown with serial killer “Buffalo Bill.”  The greatest film of its kind.  The sequels/prequels suck, FYI, though Hannibal is good for a few jumps if you can bear its incompetence. 


          One of the ultimate scare tests is The Exorcism of Emily Rose which is not nearly as scary as it could be but you are guaranteed not to sleep for the next week.  The Exorcist is interesting and has scary moments, much more artsy than Emily Rose but for the modern viewer, it is not terribly scary.  Rose has a great cast and story, but doesn’t rise to “great movie” status.  Dare you to watch it at one though.  (Ha, ha, ha, ha!)



         
          There aren’t that many movies that are actually scary out there; but who am I to talk though if I haven’t seen the blood fest films?  Shoot me a comment with your suggestions.

          Generally I don’t enjoy the gross-only no-story movies but – generally speaking – am open to the beauty of art, wherever it is.


          The Shining!  Why was that not up there?  “Redrum. Redrum. Redrum.

          Right Norman?


         
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Monday, December 6, 2010

That’s Funny!


“The first thing you do when you start a band is talk about your influences.

So who do you like?

- Blondie?
- Christina Aguilera.

Who? No. Come on. What?

- You, Shortstop.
- Puff Daddy.

- Wrong!”

(Jack Black, School of Rock)


                This blog is about some of the funniest films, actors, and movie moments I’ve seen.


The Funniest Films



                I have to start it off with Airplane!: that 80’s classic that throws in so many weird and otherwise stupid gags it actually makes you laugh, a lot.  Thank my most recent Google search for something else for remembering it.


Ted Striker: My orders came through. My squadron ships out tomorrow. We're bombing the storage depots at Daiquiri at 1800 hours. We're coming in from the north, below their radar. 
Elaine Dickinson: When will you be back? 
Ted Striker: I can't tell you that. It's classified.  (Airplane!)




                The Blues Brothers.  Nothing can compare with the slapstick humor of Dan Aykroyd and (the late and irreplaceable) John Belushi.  Favorite scene: John swears and is struck with a ruler by “The Penguin” (a nun) like a little boy.  Dan reacts with a swearword and receives an immediate backhand with the same ruler.  John reacts similarly with similar effect, until the ruler is flying back and forth between the two of them and they roll out of the room to escape.  Died laughing.




                Wedding Crashers: a favorite of funny films I have seen and surprisingly funny unlike most moderns that burn out after the intro and rely only on the prestige of their comedians to pull off an otherwise crap script.  WC is great!  Vince Vaughn’s best film alongside also funny Owen Wilson.  The dialogue in the first scene and Vaughn’s continued signature soliloquys are incredibly hilarious.  I am tearing up just thinking about it.  Despite dirty gags it does well, unlike many dirty comedies that just end up dirty.


Jeremy Grey [Vince Vaughn]: Do you know what that awareness is, Gloria? 
Gloria Cleary: What? 
Jeremy Grey: That we're all one. That separateness is an illusion, and that I'm one with everyone - with the Prime Minister of England, and my cousin Harry, you and me, the fat kid from 'What's Happening,' the Olsen twins, Natalie Portman, the guy who wrote 'Catcher in the Rye,' Nat King Cole, Carrot Top, Jay-Z, Weird Al Yankovic, Harry Potter, if he existed, the whore on the street corner, your mother. We're all one. 

Secretary Cleary [Christopher Walken]: You know she is not just another notch on the old belt. 
Jeremy Grey: I don't even wear a belt... Beltless. (Wedding Crashers)


                School of Rock, Jack Black’s movie (nominated for a Golden Globe, Best Actor in a Comedy) is the funniest kids’ movie you may think twice about showing kids.  (Did that come off right?)  Anyway, Black thrives in the character of a failed rock star impersonating a substitute teacher who secretly forms a school band.  Rock on Jack!  Kung-Fu Panda was not in my outline but deserves mention here as well.  Black’s natural talent gives life to good scripts (and can’t for bad ones).  I also enjoyed Nacho Libre very much (Black’s accent and demeanor alone bust your cheeks), from the makers of the unexpected and also entertaining cult film Napoleon Dynamite.



                Youth in Revolt is very, very funny, starring Michael Cera playing the loser going badass for the girl of his affections.  Touching on hilarious teen life issues as only Cera can pull off.  Great!



                Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a classic that cannot be forgotten, not just because it’s the only Matthew Broderick movie that doesn’t cause nausea.  (Glory is great but Matt plays the dwebe he is in all his other movies; and Robert Preston is The Music Man – not you!)  FBDO is priceless though: a John Hughes movie for kids that examines a day in the life of a kid for whom everything goes right.  Tons of fun!  Save Ferris!



                One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  I don’t know if you could call this comedy, it’s got quite a darker side to it, critiquing institutional asylums, etc., but it’s Kubrick and Nicholson at their funniest.  Also mentionable is Nicholson’s As Good as it Gets, for which he won his third Oscar and second as Best Actor (the first was for Cuckoo’s Nest).



                40 Year Old Virgin made me laugh out loud and hit my chair: another winning Judd Apatow movie (Superbad, Knocked Up) that plays dirty tricks but where everyone does the right thing in the end.  And a personal redemption for Steve Carrell: I had only seen Evan Almighty and not The Office, so now I’m a believer.

                He's a really nice guy and all but I'm pretty sure that he is a serial murderer. (40YOV)

                The Social Network may not be considered a comedy but has many cough-laugh wise-ass lines.  Witty.  Lots of “ownage.”



                Zombieland.  I liked it (more the first time).  Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) did surprisingly well, Emma Stone – great in typical hot and badass fashion, and I loved Woody Harrelson’s rampage comedy.  A “laugh with your friends” movie.

                This doesn’t cap the list; just the first in my mind right now.


Funny People



                Robin Williams certainly takes the cake.  Deserved every bit of his Best Supporting Oscar for Good Will Hunting (one of the best, if not best drama that’s come out in a while); but humor fans know him for his hilarious voice impersonations in Mrs. Doubtfire (the job agency), Dead Poets’ Society (classroom John Wayne), and every kid that doesn’t know him knows the Genie (Alladin) that could have only been played by Williams.  He’s had his flops and can do drama, but no one compares to him in impersonation.  (And you gotta’ love Patch Adams, especially if it almost makes you cry.)


                
                Michael Cera deserves mention even more so because I wrote an entire blog post about him (cf. http://joesflics.blogspot.com/2010/11/cera.html): keepin’ it real and awkward in the same comic breath.



                Harrison Ford.  Yeah!  The dude is funny!  Loved the spilled orange juice moment in Regarding Henry, the coffee commercial in Witness, the “Shorty where’s my razor!” only Indy fans who have seen the movies 100 times will remember from Temple of Doom – I mean, the man’s a comedian in addition to being the man’s man.  It’s a part of being a man, I think.  Dry, charming, cool – that’s Ford humor.



                Vince Vaughn!  Wedding Crashers.  Nobody else can pull off dialogue like that: fast, sarcastic as hell, funny as shit.  Didn’t like Couples’ Retreat really, but Vaughn still brings out his best: a Guitar Hero© rock-off half-way through that is way-fun, and the Act One jokes when the movie still feels good.  Hope to see many more Crasher-level Vaughn films.



                Adam Sandler is a very funny man, having written most of his hit films (Billy Madison, The Waterboy, Big Daddy – gotta’ love The Wedding Singer), though Apatow’s Funny People, despite Sandler being the right man for the role, was not that great.  The obscure but funny Indie film, Punch Drunk Love, is probably my Sandler favorite.



                Sort of new guy Seth Rogan deserves a spot, a creative writer himself that leans on the obscene side.  I enjoyed Observe and Report very much: Rogan is the king of wild immature funny antics.



                Paul Rudd is a last second throw-in.  That guy cracks me up (Knocked Up, Role Models, […] The Legend of Ron Burgundy).  Ron Burgundy himself should be in here: Will Ferrell, SNL upshot like many comedy greats.


Ron Burgundy: Veronica Corningstone and I had sex, and now we are in love! 
[Brian shuts office door] 
Ron Burgundy: Did I say that loud? 
Brian Fantana: Yeah, you pretty much yelled it. (A:TLoRB)


                I could go on and on…



             These last two I don’t remember for films at all, but have certainly inspired many great film comedians: Jack Benny, radio’s greatest back before television, whose timing even on improv is impeccable and roll-over laughable; and Bill Cosby, who is endeared to all TV watching American’s for his Cosby Show blubbering, dance-stepping genius.




Funny Moments

                The intro and ending to real-life couple Angelina Jolie (LOVE her!) and Brad Pitt’s (cool man) Mr. & Mrs. Smith was written by a genius and performed by two more.  “Ask us the sex question,” followed by the usual but here uncharacteristic awkwardness gave me that glowing smile.  Damn, that was funny!



                About A Boy with Hugh Grant is surprisingly entertaining.  Grant, formerly hated by me, shines as the man who never really loved getting his God-given capacity stretched by life’s people-circumstances.  And no bullshit all the way.  My favorite funny moment from this winning and finally heartwarming comedy:




I'd be the worst possible godfather. I'd probably drop her on her head at her christening. I'd forget all her birthdays until she was 18. Then I'd take her out and get her drunk. And, let's face it, quite possibly try and shag her. (AaB)


               
                There are about a million more moments I’m missing here.  Feel free to add yours below.

                Unfortunately, the tragedy of most comedies is their sell out to obscene dirtiness as if that were the ticket to success.  Just because you can make us laugh doesn’t make good comedy.  Show us what we don’t want to be and raise our spirits about it (John Candy in pretty much every role).



                After all, everyone needs a good laugh now and again.
               


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