Sunday, June 29, 2008

Superhero Movie *

Director: Criag Mazin
Cast: Drake Bell, Sara Paxton
Christopher McDonald, Regina Hall, Leslie Nielsen

With the idea that with low budget comes no accountability, "Superhero Movie" is the latest in a series of cheap parodies made with the sole intention of earning a quick buck, disregarding the minimum audience respect in terms of plot coherence.
This time around it pokes fun at superhero, comic book movies by focusing on Rick Riker (a very likeable Bell), the type of geekishly handsome young man that is obviously the school's loser, has a crush on the popular blonde (Paxton) and can never get things right.
After he's bitten by a radioactive dragonfly he becomes known as "The Dragonfly" who appears just in time to stop a crazy villain (McDonald) trying to obtain immortality by absorbing people's energy.
During its short running time the film makes references to "Spider-Man", from which it draws most of its plot from, and both sequels, as well as "X-Men", "Batman Begins" and "Fantastic Four" among others.
It also has the obligatory Britney Spears and Tom Cruise jokes, plus characters played by Leslie Nielsen and Regina Hall, who albeit funny, have started to overstay their welcome from the genre.
And as with most entries in this style, "Superhero Movie" has huge troubles drawing laughter from the audience, mostly because the films it makes fun of have been, almost, consistently good; leaving absolutely no space for you to find ridiculous flaws in them.
Sadly the same can't be said for this one.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Definitely, Maybe **

Director: Adam Brooks
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Abigail Breslin
Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Banks, Rachel Weisz
Kevin Kline, Derek Luke

After learning about sex at school, 10 year old Maya (Breslin) begins to question her father, Will,(Reynolds) about his own experience before her mom.
Slightly surprised by this request Will comes up with the original idea to tell his daughter the story of his life, but changes the names of the women in order for her to guess which is her mom.
Flash back to 1992 when Will is working for Bill Clinton's campaign and the three mother candidates are: Emily (Banks), Will's college sweetheart who is having trouble following his pace, sexy erudite Summer (Weisz) who has a thing for a seasoned writer (Kline) but can't help liking Will and finally April (Fisher) a kooky, free spirit working as copygirl for the campaign.
While original in concept, the film lacks spirit in the execution and before long ends up feeling like the extension of a joke that wasn't so good to begin with.
Sometimes forgetting that it's supposed to feel like a love jigsaw, it tries to cover all the right bases and instead of focusing on something, goes for a "feel good" sense in every single way.
Nobody is dislikeable and the script manages to be condescending without ever feeling selfconscious.
Reynolds makes for a satisfying lead, even if his performance is fueled by inertia more than anything else, since he knows everyone can overact him here, which is why it's the girls who stay with you the most.
Banks' "all American" beauty has a sweet effervescent mood, while Weisz is sexy, intriguing and the most real of the characters.
But leaving the film you will probably have stronger impressions from Fisher who does her best Amy Adams impersonation to become the girl you root for the most and of course Breslin, who unlike other child actresses is able to keep a balance between being a child and a child thinking they can act like an adult, which helps her deliver a performance that goes from "staple cute kid" to fully formed character.
While it's true that revisiting our love histories is a double edged sword, "Definitely, Maybe" has the innocence none of its characters does and is able to remain hopeful amidst a world that constantly tries to remind you hope is practically gone.
Whatever you decide to make out of it, the one unforgivable thing the film does is try to treat you like Maya, when truth is even she knows best...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Kung Fu Panda **1/2

Director: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson

To date, Dreamworks Animation Studios has been characterized by creating films that rely on pop culture references, crass humor, sloppy animation and other than for the green ogre, haven't come up with a real icon to represent them.
"Kung Fu Panda" might be the closest thing they've come so far to creating animation that won't feel irrelevant ten years from now.
Set in a magical Chinese valley it tells the story of Po, a chubby Panda who works in his adoptive father's noodle restaurant. While Po dreams of one day becoming a great kung fu master, his hopes are often shattered by others' misconceptions and his own self esteem which has convinced him that someone with his weight will never succeed.
Things change after tortoise Master Oogway has a premonition revealing that the evil snow leopard Tai Lung will escape prison and return to seek revenge in the valley. The only one able to stop him will be the mysterious Dragon Warrior, a legendary savior whose identity is yet to be revealed.
On the day of the ceremony, the Furious Five - Tigress, Monkey, Mantis, Sanke and Crane - a group of brilliant kung fu artists trained by master Shifu, are sure that one of them will be chosen, but to their surprise, and in what becomes one of the film's first attempts at philosophical depth, it's Po who gets chosen as the Dragon Warrior.
After this the plot turns into a rehash of "The Karate Kid" by way of "Hero" as Po must rise to the ocassion and fulfill his destiny.
Briskly paced and with a simple, sweethearted sense of humor, "Kung Fu Panda" shines because of how unpretentious it is. The characters aren't really that memorable, except for the panda who is built as someone we can't help but root for, which in a sense is all the movie really needed to work.
The animation is often breathtaking, especially in the stylized action scenes which seem to defy gravity, but other than this practically nothing else is challenged by the filmmakers.
In a way "Kung Fu Panda" is best described as its main character: something that shouldn't really work, but when it does stil feels as if it's missing something.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Happy Birthday Meryl.

That screen goddess known to us mortals as Meryl Streep turns 59 today.
With a career spanning three decades, two Academy Awards, thirteen other nominations, six Golden Globes, a steady, and extremely intimate and normal, family life and usually regarded as the greatest living actress, Streep probably has nothing to wish for today, does she?
What would you wish for if you were her?

In Bruges ***

Director: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes
Clémence Poésy, Jordan Prentice, Jérémie Renier, Thekla Reuten

After a job gone bad, hitmen, Ray (Farrell) and Ken (Gleeson) are sent by their boss, Harry Waters (Fiennes), to hide for a while and await further instruction in Bruges, Belgium.
For Ken, the medieval architecture and quaintness of the city comes to indulge his inner history buff, while for the emotionally unstable Ray it becomes a terrenal representation of whatever purgatory must feel like.
Things turn around when Ken receives orders to get rid of Ray, while Ray falls for a seductive drug dealer (Poésy).
Feature length debut by writer/director McDonagh, "In Bruges" is a well done pastiche of comedy, gangster and action that works mostly because of its inspired dialogue which at times is made out of offensive, racist and sexist remarks that somehow fit because of how true they remain to the characters uttering them.
McDonagh's theatrical background is felt throughout the film by the way in which the characters and settings are usually treated as symbols.
While Ray represents the conflicted conscience, Ken brings a sense of weird morality that we should be questioning because of its source and with the somber inclusion of Harry ends up having Shakespearean repercussions.
Influenced by classic noir (watching "Touch of Evil" play in the TV during one scene is enough to put a smile on your face) the movie owes itself to many gems of the cinematic style as much as it does to Tarantino and Scorsese.
Gleeson does a terrific job playing a sensitive mentor, while Fiennes goes into psychotic Amon Goeth mode to deliver a great star turn (his line about why he deserves a "normal gun for normal people" might be the most offensive thing you've heard in your entire life), the real surprise here though is Farrell who does more with his character than you'd ever expect.
While Ray is written as a guy who just killed someone he shouldn't have and has time to flirt and do girls, Farrell gives him a damaged soul that he can't hide despite his lines.
His combination of humor, sadness and humanity is outstanding.
With fast cuts, even faster lines and a droll sense of humor, the plot unfolds before your eyes in an almost surrealistic way which in a way might come from Bruges, which ends up being its most influential character.
The city, which has never gotten cinematic justice, comes to life as a sort of limbo where time has stood still. The Flemish jokes and clichés fly like bullets, but without this sense of timeless dread the hitmen wouldn't really have anything to work with.
It is because of the magic of Bruges that we even care about their problems, its "fairy tale" qualities as they call them, are what makes us believe that people like them deserve to have a second chance.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Happening *

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel
John Leguizamo, Ashlyn Sanchez, Spencer Breslin, Betty Buckley

If such things as film deities exist, M. Night Shyamalan is seriously out of favor with all of them.
After the stupifyingly stupid "The Village" and the masturbatory "Lady in the Water", he returns with his take on the impending apocalypse to deliver a thriller that ends up being mostly unintentional comedy.
"The Happening" begins in New York City, Central Park to be exact, where all the people suddenly freeze like extras from "Last Year at Marienbad" before they start comitting suicide.
Construction workers jump from buildings, policemen shoot themselves and teenage girls use their hair pins as weapons.
The media begins to assume its terrorism, while others debate it might have natural causes and Shyamalan does his best pseudo-Hitchcock impersonation relishing in the creepy factor raised by the unknown.
The story then moves to Philadelphia (where else?) where high school science teacher Elliot Moore(Wahlberg) listens about the event and flees town with his wife Alma (Deschanel), his friend Julian (Leguizamo) and his little daughter Jess (Sanchez).
When their train makes an unexpected stop they realize they're on their own and must travel cross country until the event ends and before they perish.
The acting is appalling, the writing lazy, to say the least, and together they end up with a weird plant raiser (Frank Collison) saying "You know, hot dogs get a bad rep. They gotta cool shape, they got protein." while all everyone else can think of is running away.
Wahlberg seems stale and zombie like, or out of "The Blob", Leguizamos is satisfying and Deschanel seems to be so aware of the garbage dialogue she's given that she doesn't even try to hold back her mocking smile.
Audiences familiar with Shyamalan will be expecting a surprise twist (which isn't completely fair of them to expect or of him to feed) and while that moment arrives they will undoubtedly try to figure out what the hell is actually going on.
Things that might pop in your head might include extraterrestrial attacks, some sort of lazy metaphor for not thinking before we act, bees (don't ask) or even the preposterous idea that the disaster is only deviced to aid the leads realize that they do love each other.
This time around, unable to sustain his egocentric charade long enough for us to care, Shyamalan tries to deliver his own philosophical take on what we're doing to the planet and before you can say "an inconvenient fool", his preachy message has made Al Gore look like the most subtle speaker out there.
But while apathy, irresponsible behavior towards the planet and the unbeknownst future of the human race are things that provoke fear, the only thing that induces terror in "The Happening" comes off in the opening credits when the words "Written, Produced and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan" appear.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Incredible Hulk **1/2

Director: Louis Leterrier
Cast: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler
Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, William Hurt

Last time we saw Hulk he had left the United States in order to learn to control his powers without hurting those he loved and to escape being used as an army guinea pig.
He was also being played by Eric Bana, directed by Ang Lee and had more psychological backstory to it than a patient at Betty Ford.
All of those elements were apparently too much, or not enough, and "Hulk" has gone down in history as a bizarre example of a very good film, with adequate box office, being deemed as a flop.
Five years later comes "The Incredible Hulk" which in a nutshell is everything the original Hulk was not: loud, big and mindless.
Because a complete reboot would've been a waste of time, a summary of what happened before serves as opening credits, Bruce Banner (Norton) is now living in the slums in Brazil where he's trying to learn to control his anger and find a cure to avoid transforming into Hulk.
He takes lessons with a breathing specialist, is careful never to let his heartbeats reach 200 which sets off the transformation and shares information with a New York scientist (Blake Nelson) trying to develop an antidote.
He is being hunted by General Thaddeus Ross (Hurt) who wants to create a whole army of Hulks using Banner and tries a sample of the formula on bloodthirsty bounty killer Emil Blonsky (Roth).
After a forced return to the States, Banner seeks help from his sweetheart Elizabeth Ross (Tyler) who unlike others believes inside the Hulk lies a human conscience and is constantly threatened by General Ross and Blonsky who becomes a creature known as the Abomination.
With an action setpiece around every corner, director Leterrier's film is everything a summer blockbuster should be, but definitely not everything a good film should amount to.
Even when he tries to remove every trace of character development his cast makes this a difficult feat.
Norton, buff but with a geeky, longing attitude, gives Banner a little bit extra despite the fact that the plot insists we should disregard this soulsearch and demand more explosions.
Hulk has never been a superhero in the full sense of the word because Banner wants to get rid of his powers and everyone else fears him.
He has a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde dynamic which forces a protrait of him to be an internal battle, while Leterrier doesn't care for any of this, Norton gets away with a few moments of great acting, especially in his scenes with the lovely, but dull, Tyler who bats her eyelashes and screams "no!" more often than she has something important to do.
When the film puts their relationship as the epitome of chaste love, Norton gives it a twist during a moment where Bruce can't take his hands off Betty, but his heartbeat starts increasing forcing him to stop.
As many size jokes and "Gamma ray poisoning as birth control" comments as you can come up with, the truth is that this is the only moment in the film where you will feel a connection to these people, the rest of the time they're being treated like Ann Darrow and King-Kong at Skull Island.
Roth and Hurt have delicious star turns as the villains. Roth as the maniac, pure evil one and Hurt as the villain with a chance to undo his wrongs.
But in the end what makes this film bearable is the recent interrelationships take on movies mastered by Marvel Studio, it has to be said that this film ends up being stolen by someone who isn't even billed among the cast, but without who this Hulk would've had nothing really incredible.
It seems we are coming to a completely new era of filmmaking in which for once people will feel the need to return to theaters and live the film experience as it was meant to be lived.
Marvel is starting, but who knows how long will it be before this take is used with different genres and styles?
The idea that a movie, despite its quality as cinema, is able to ellicit gasps and real excitement from audiences comes off as a double edged sword; will it make people think less or will it inspire in them a spirit that demands real quality?
Never before had a film been saved so much by its sense of possibility.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Father, Interrupted.

When thinking about memorable fathers in cinema, one would rarely think about reaching out to Pedro Almodóvar's filmography for examples.
The Spanish auteur has made a name for himself out of so called "woman's pictures".
His ensembles consist mostly of actresses playing strong willed characters who just happen to be women.
Women who may come as deranged, neurotic actresses, ghostly mothers, comatose muses, women who were formerly men, estranged daughters, lonely writers and big hearted prostitutes among others.
The one true thing is that male appearances are constantly limited in their worlds, or at least from the screen and obvious storytelling.
In "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" the lives of three women are shattered by a man we rarely see, except in a couple of scenes where he desperately tries to talk to one of them.
His son (played by Antonio Banderas) is the epitome of the ideal heterosexual male in Almodóvar: a sweet, sensitive creature, who is as able to listen to the women around him (and detect their insanity) while having the cojones to treat them like sexual objects now and then.
It's not by chance that Banderas would play a sadomasochist kidnapper in "Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down" a few years later.
In "All About My Mother" Cecilia Roth plays a woman trying to find her dead son's father to make peace with her past.
It's not a spoiler to reveal that she finds him until the end of the film, after Pedro has indulged us with one of his most breathtakingly delicate melodramas.
To the average viewer an Almodóvar film might seem like an extreme act of feminism as seen by a homosexual man, which in most social circles would cancel the idea we have come to create about the paternal figure.
Sometimes though it does seem as if the filmmaker is trying to use men, especially fathers, as McGuffins; there would be no search without them in "All About My Mother" and the women would have nothing to have a nervous breakdown about.
But what's undeniable is that for as much as he tries to limit male appearances, they hover over every little thing he does.
Exploring the male psyche in "Bad Education" he tries to have his way by having most of the characters be either homosexuals, transvestites or both.
The story which circles around the childhood experiences of a movie director in a repressive Catholic boarding school constantly tries to deny itself of the persistent masculine power that drives them all.
Almodóvar argues that he's trying to see the female side in the male, but does he really get away with it in a film where the most influential characters are priests?
And isn't it true that priests are usually referred to as fathers?
When Freud studied the Oedipus complex he mentioned that the fear the child creates regarding his father leads him to feel castrated.
While Almodóvar takes emasculation to extreme levels, he is never able to set himself free of the phallyc influence.
This is best seen in "Volver", his love song to Italian Neorrealism (which in a way itself was a film movemement derived from the fatherless societies created by World War II).
In this film Penélope Cruz plays Raimunda, a woman who must take extreme measures to protect the life of her daughter, in the process removing memories of what her own father did to her when she was a child.
While the story concentrates on Raimunda's relationship with her mother (played by the magnificent Carmen Maura) who returns as a ghost to make ammends, the presence of this overpowering male figure is felt all throughout.
The plot tries to stress how this is mostly about relationships between mothers and daughters (even taking cue from Luchino Visconti's "Bellissima") and makes most male appareances seem intrusive, but never inconsequential.
In one of the film's most striking scenes, Raimunda's sister Sole (Lola Dueñas) terrified and fascinated by having her mother again, shyly asks "Will my father show up?".
Her mom replies "I hope not".
What they don't know is that he's been there all along.

This post is part of the Dads in Media Blog-a-thon hosted by RC of Strange Culture.

A Prada dress has never broke my heart before...

...but the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences certainly has.
So with that in mind, and after my second viewing of "Sex", I'll throw in a few, very early "For Your Consideration" suggestions that might seem a bit too fanboy-ish at first glance (I have justifications for all of them, so feel free to ask after you gasp), but which I promise to stick to until awards season.
Best Costume Design - Patricia Field
Best Original Song - "Labels or Love", Fergie
Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Kristin Davis

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Sex and the City ***1/2

Director: Michael Patrick King
Cast: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis
Chris Noth, Jason Lewis, David Eigenberg, Evan Handler, Lynn Cohen
Willie Garson, Mario Cantone, Candice Bergen, Jennifer Hudson

Four years after the groundbreaking HBO series went off the air, fans the world over couldn't help but wonder: what will happen between Carrie (Parker) and Mr. Big (Noth)? Will Samantha (Cattrall) leave her old ways and settle with rising young star Jerrod Smith (Lewis)? Will Miranda (Nixon) achieve marital bliss with Steve (Eigenberg)? and will Charlotte (Davis) finally be able to have a baby with her husband Harry (Handler)?
Almost half a decade has gone by and now all those questions are answered in a movie event that was destined to be more event than movie, but ends up pulling the rug from under our feet.
(For those who have never seen the show and obviously don't have those questions in mind, the opening sequence features a montage that sets the mood, along with an infectious update of the theme song provided by, of all people, Fergie).
After this we're thrown right back into the story and much to our surprise, and it has to be said pleasure, we realize that things haven't really changed that much.
A still unmarried Carrie Bradshaw is finally planning a big wedding with Mr. Big, which brings back commitment issues between both of them. Samantha now living and working in Los Angeles as Smith's agent is beginning to lose her own sense of self. Miranda is having trust issues with Steve.
And Charlotte, who has adopted a girl (the lovely Alexandra Fong) is still trying to have a baby of her own.
While it's true that TV to film conversion should feel bigger, not only in the obvious sense of screen dimension but in plot development (after all it's not the same to keep your attention during half hour episodes than in the film's two hour and twenty two minutes running time with no TiVo or bathroom breaks) it's refreshing to see that, brilliant writer/director, King put his characters' priorities before anything else and instead of coming up with some unexpected twist to push the cinematical, simply goes with the flow.
Just because the characters are older (and they look it!) doesn't mean that they're wiser which is why to some the film might seem like an extension of an old joke, but to others is merely the obvious progression.
When was the last time, after Woody Allen, that someone dared to revisit the same themes over and over without feeling stale and redundant? It's rare to see a filmmaker so humbly express his insecurities on the screen and reveal that just because he got to make a movie about something doesn't mean he's got all the answers to his questions.
Which is why when Carrie and Big get in their umpteenth relationship crisis (after all it's been a whole decade of trouble for them) we don't feel annoyed, instead turning into an introspective soul search mood that challenges our preconceptions about love.
Those looking for a laugh out loud experience will be mildly disappointed, because even though the movie is hilarious, the jokes never come at expense of what's going on with the plot. This obviously doesn't mean that the film achieves "Closer" levels of darkness, because the one thing these four New Yorkers never lose is unabashed hope.
With the actors having pretty much defined who their characters are (and never reducing them to caricatures), it's still a pleasant surprise to see Kristin Davis' doe eyed Charlotte practically steal the movie.
Cattrall, always the sex bomb, has grown into a more mature actress who has absolutely no fear of aging, her Samantha Jones, who sometimes screamed of nympho, is perhaps the one character who never loses perspective of who she is;even though her choices may seem selfish, Cattrall's confidence assures you she will be alright and that she's ready to fight when things go wrong.
Nixon avoids giving in to complete paranoid, bitter meltdown and explores the sweeter side of Miranda, the one that forces her to examine past the logical aspects in the situations.
And Parker, more beautiful than ever with a post punk-ish Audrey Hepburn look, once again makes your heart stop at the right moments.
Her Carrie has become an icon in New York and like everything iconic she is object of questioning. Luckily for us most of this comes from within her and Carrie's neuroses now seem more profound than ever, especially when she examines the essence of what love ought to be.
In some of the film's best scenes Parker shines as an actress, whether it's a little gut wrenching move here or a heartbreakingly beautiful smile there, she knows how and when to hit you. Since she is the protagonist, her vivid narration puts a little Jane Austen into a Manhattan that never sinks either into a shallow fairy tale land or a destructive emotional void.
In one of the show's best episodes the women decide that they will be each other's soulmates. The film will make you feel like you're the fifth.
The chemistry between the four actresses is remarkable and some of the most joyous moments are when they're together discussing sex, shopping or indulging in fashion moments (the clothes and visual style of the movie deserve a review of their own) which is when we see them at their most natural, no longer restricted by the influence of the men in their lives, they become liberated.
Which isn't to say that this is a maneater world or some sort of feminist fascism, but rather something that embraces the differences between the sexes without underrating how they compliment each other.
The male characters may seem a bit too passive at times, but their influence has Freudian reprecussions as they're always there in some way or another.
"Sex and the City" has the sort of divine mystery that has always known what to express without really knowing how it got there.
While the supporting cast is splendid, the most welcome inclusion comes in the shape of Hudson who plays Carrie's new assistant, Louise from St. Louis, and breathes new life into their world.
When Carrie asks what brings her to New York, she answers "I came to fall in love".
By that time in the movie you would expect Carrie to fall into a cynical route and try to snap the innocent girl out of her dream, but it's our heroine herself who snaps out of hers'.
Nowadays almost everything tries to push us into a hedonist, selfcentered existence and with this rediscovery of love Michael Patrick King is able to take Big and Carrie beyond the realms of Ross and Rachel, sending them instead to the stratosphere where Romeo and Juliet reside along with Ilsa and Rick; a love that pushes boundaries, that is never easy to make happen, that hurts, that takes you to unexpected places, that defies normal thought processes, but ends up stronger because of that.
They say that sex without love is nothing and the love in this "Sex" sparkles like diamonds.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Be Kind Rewind ***

Director: Michel Gondry
Cast: Jack Black, Mos Def
Danny Glover, Mia Farrow, Melonie Diaz
Paul Dinello, Sigourney Weaver

Michel Gondry was probably born in the Island of Misfit Toys.
Or maybe he just went to school there.
He has a unique view of a world populated by underdogs filled with problems they can't solve because of their impossibility to grasp reality by the horns and choose traditional solutions.
Whether they're having their memories erased or breaking into their crush's apartment, Gondry's characters will probably never face life like the rest of us do.
What's surprising about this behavior is that when it should result completely annoying and impossible to identify with, we end up actually understanding and even envying them.
Somehow everything that Gondry does and starts off sounding like the blowup of a "Saturday Night Live" sketch, ends up having a childlike innocence to it that results absolutely refreshing.
"Be Kind Rewind" is no exception; set in Passaic, New Jersey (but looking more like a Cyndi Lauper video) it tells the story of Mike (Mos Def) a clerk who works in a declining VHS rental store owned by Mr. Fletcher (Glover).
Mike's best friend, Jerry (Black), spends his time hanging out at the, often empty, store, when he's not trying to destroy the power plant he lives next to.
When Mr. Fletcher gets notice that his store will be demolished unless he renovates it to keep up with city safety standards, he leaves on a mission to spy on a Blockbuster like chain of movie rentals and discover what makes them successful (no, DVD is not as obvious to him as to us) and leaves Mike in charge.
Following a failed attempt to sabotage the power plant, Jerry becomes magnetized and accidentally erases every tape in Mr. Fletcher's store.
When the store's most loyal customer, Miss Falewicz (Farrow), drops by to rent "Ghostbusters" the guys come up with a plan; they will make their own versions of every movie and rent those.
After recruiting a local woman (Diaz) and claiming that their tapes come from Sweden, which is what makes them special, they create "sweded" versions of every movie, from "Rush Hour 2" to "Driving Miss Daisy" and "2001: A Space Odyssey".
This unleashes Gondry's mad genius and has him come up with alternative ways to represent the films they're recreating, while he delivers an essay on progress, the importance of history (Mike is obsessed with Fats Waller) and a big hearted take on the intrusion of big corporations.
While Mos Def doesn't contribute nothing we hadn't seen before and Jack Black amps up his annoyance factor to the x level, the film's supporting cast is extraordinary.
Glover's innocence is made of the stuff we don't see much of nowadays and Farrow is magical.
In a movie so in love with the movies it's not by chance that Gondry hired Farrow, who after her ethereal performance in "The Purple Rose of Cairo" seems tailor made for stuff like this, when during the movie she says "our past belongs to us we can change it if we want" you will feel transported to the magical New Jersey where the film is set.
Gondry's directorial skills are more polished than ever which in his case means that things look very manufactured. And if there is one thing you wonder about the film's ideology is whether Gondry is trying to say that his sweded versions make justice to the originals or if he's "simply" encouraging in others the creative spirit that inspired him.
The thing about Gondry is that he possesses such a childlike innocence that you never know if he's inviting you to play or winking sarcastically.
If Frank Capra and Jan Svankmajer had a love child he would turn out like "Be Kind Rewind".

Monday, June 2, 2008

Street Kings *

Director: David Ayer
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie
Jay Mohr, Chris Evans, Naomie Harris, Common, Martha Higareda
John Corbett, Amaury Nolasco

From the land of bad pulp comes David Ayer's sophomore directing effort; a film about Tom Ludlow (Reeves), a corrupt LA cop haunted by his wife's death who becomes an unjustified hero after rescuing some hostages using unconventional and illegal methods.
After his former partner (Terry Crews) is murdered, Tom begins to investigate the causes and discovers a web of corruption under his very department.
He has to face an inquisitive Internal Affairs officer (Laurie) while protecting his superior (Whitaker) who he trusts and admires.
Ten minutes into the film you already know who the bad guys (i.e the responsible for the corruption) are, the problem is that the film doesn't really know it or doesn't care that we don't feel the need to discover why they did it.
Following the "L.A Confidential" rules of how to make film noir in our times, the filmmakers try to create an updated mood that still has the tortured souls, the dark cinematography and a femme fatale prospect or two, but in trying to pull off the "noir", they neglected the "film" and deliver something so by the numbers that it only thrills when you wonder how many times a man can be shot before he dies.
The ensemble work is all over the place, beginning with Reeves whose only leading man quality is the fact that he has the most scenes. In a way it's as if the whole movie sets the situations to work for him; you know he will find the exact clue at the right time or that he will find a way to work his way up to the good side of the law, because everyone else sets everything for him.
Unlike his character, Reeves doesn't need to do any dirty work to get what he wants.
Whitaker is loud and cliché, while Laurie didn't seem to bother to play his character at all, despite the fact that he should be the most ambiguous in terms of plot contribution.
The set pieces are nothing new and while the film has some good intentions, in all it's a perfect example of how to go from noir to nah.