In 1998, Joel and Ethan Coen introduced us to a man in a used up brown robe that liked to be called "The Dude" (or El Duderino, if you please). A simple man who wanted nothing more than to go bowling and drink white Russians. But instead this poor man was thrust into a world of nihilism, kidnapping, and ferrets just so he can receive some compensation for his defiled rug. After all, that rug really tied the room together. This, of course, is The Big Lebowski, the film that incorporated the Coen Brothers into mainstream America for the first time. Anybody who has seen it cannot go to a bowling alley without laughing at least a little bit. Ten years later, the Coen Brothers are returning to the world of comedy-crime-capers with the star studded Burn After Reading. Looking at the billing alone, one knows what they should expect from this film. Main actors John Malkovich, George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Brad Pitt have all either won or been nominated for an Academy Award. Cap it off with the reliable Joel and Ethan Coen, and you have a Best Picture award waiting to happen. Sadly, Burn After Reading does not warrant this praise, nor is it anywhere near as good as the iconic Big Lebowski. But like I said, if you put enough delicious ingredients into a single bowl, you are bound to find something to like. Burn After Reading is a terrific ensemble piece that takes effort from everyone involved to create something wonderful.
The story of Burn After Reading is very difficult to explain given the numerous characters and their respective plot lines. If it gets to be confusing... try reading it again. Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) is a physical trainer at Hardbodies Gym. She is a very unhappy woman who surfs internet dating sites for Mr. Right. She is also intent on undergoing numerous reconstructive surgeries to help boost her self esteem. However, her dreams are dashed when she finds she does not have the money to pay for all these procedures. Her luck seemed ready to change when her co-worker Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) discovered a disc in the women's locker room which held secret CIA information. Linda convinces Chad to help her find where the disc came from so they could blackmail the person, which could help her pay for her surgeries. They find that the information came from Osborne Cox (John Malkovich), a CIA analyst who recently quit his job after they tried demoting him for his drinking problem. Unhappy with her husbands decision, Osborne's wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) files for divorce, kicking him out of the house so she can be with her man on the side Harry Pfaffer (George Clooney). Katie knows that Pfarrer is cheating on his wife with her, but little does she know he is also cheating on her with anybody he can find. After a chance meeting on the internet, Pfarrer ends up hooking up with Linda, who is still in the process of trying to blackmail Osborne. As every one's lives begin folding over into the others, the result is a very funny (and confusing) film.
But I'm sure if you were to ask the Coen Brothers, they would tell you that their success rests heavily on the shoulders of the actors. In Burn After Reading, spot on performances by every single actor involved helps keep the movie afloat. Given the confusing plot, it was imperative that the performers delivered exceptionally well to keep the audience interested. With not a single wet match in the pack, the movie exceeded typical standards that are expected even of a Coen Brothers film. Frances McDormand, whose character Linda can be considered the main protagonist, is often hilarious as she becomes wrapped up in the world of blackmail. Her real moments of recognition came as she interacted with Pitt and Clooney. Pitt acted as the real comic relief in Burn After Reading, due to his character's dimwitted nature and humorous dancing while listening to his iPod. He also served as a significant character foil in the film, especially when sharing screen time with Malkovich's smart Osborne Cox. George Clooney delivers the most engaging performance in the film as the womanizing hobbyist Harry Pfarrer. He brought a real sense of charisma to the screen and proved to be very enjoyable. But the two actors who deserve outstanding praise are John Malkovich and Tilda Swinton. Both are absolutely unforgettable in their roles. Malkovich's scathing and deeply irritated portrayal of the jaded Osborne Cox was not only intensely dramatic and entertaining, but also served as the jumping off point for some jokes. That is the textbook definition of getting the best of both worlds. Swinton too deals out a performance worthy of the Oscar winning actress. Balancing a divorce and an affair, her character was devoid of comedy but still managed to be fascinating.
Director John Erick Dowdle is the man to blame for Quarantine. Acting as writer and director, all of the atrocities and incongruities in the film are strictly on his shoulders. In my writing I try to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but for Quarantine, I don't care. What tried to be an innovative horror film was actually a sub par copy of every horror movie you have ever seen. First, the camera. The use of a handicam to shoot a movie has become increasingly popular after its success in Cloverfield. The problem with gimmicks like that though is they wear out their welcome extremely quickly. The camera in Cloverfield was shaky but even at its worst you can still have a general idea of what was happening. However, Quarantine thought it would be a good idea to have the cameraman never stop shaking the camera, perhaps to make it more "realistic". But with realism like that, faces and figures ended up blurring together to create nothing more than masses of differing colors. Second, the creatures. With the splendor of zombie films that are released year after year, it is easy to become exhausted by the genre. Some films recreate these villains, like 28 Days Later. But one thing that all these films hold in common, with the exception of 28 Days Later, is they never reveal why the events you are watching are happening. Usually if a film tries to give an explanation as to why people are suddenly hungry for flesh, they have to try really hard to make it convincing. Quarantine is an example of a film that tried to explain, but didn't do a good enough job. The genius explanation thought up by Dowdle was that a young girl's dog contracted some form of Super Rabies that got out to the rest of the building. Super Rabies. No explanation as to how it became Super. It just is. This leads into the third error of the film: continuity. The reason this Super Rabies is so devastating is because it is exactly like rabies, only people begin to feel the symptoms in a matter of minutes. Yet the little girl who owned the dog, who was shown as sick at the beginning of the film, took over 60 minutes to turn. Not only that, she happened to turn at the exact moment people started thinking, "Maybe the little girl is infected too". So to sound it off, we have bad camera work, bad script writing, and lack of continuity. Sounds like every zombie ever made.
I would love nothing more than to critique the acting in Quarantine. However I feel this may be a futile attempt, because most of the time I couldn't even tell which character was talking due to the awful camera work. All I can say is that the captives were good at screaming and the zombies were good at growling.
When marketing a film, you should do your best to give away as much of the plot as possible to intrigue people, but not give enough away to ruin the entire movie. When it comes to Quarantine, there isn't much of a plot to talk about. It is essentially just people locked in a house with flesh eating monsters. So the only thing this movie could possibly have going for it is hope. You should want people to hope these main characters get out alive (or die, depending on what kind of a person you are). An audience should be stuck to the screen waiting for the characters next move which could at any moment, be their last. Putting aside the fact that I felt no attachment to the characters because I was so put off by the terrible directing and writing, I still didn't feel that hope, because I already knew the ending of the film. No I did not research the ending or ask my friend how it concluded; it was the marketers fault. The fate of the main character is given away in every trailer, commercial, and even the poster. That scene of the woman being dragged away through a night vision lens is literally the last occurrence in the film before the credits roll. The filmmakers and marketing team completely took away the mystery because you knew ahead of time that rooting for them to live was pointless. I sat for 90 minutes watching a bad movie just so I can see what has already been shown in every commercial.
I'm sure many of you are saying "Well Nicholas, it is after all just a horror film. Just let us know whether it was scary or not, because all of these notes on the filmmaking are unnecessary". You are right, perhaps I am being a little harsh and judgemental. I should just worry about whether it was scary or not. Well you know what? It wasn't. Quarantine is nothing more than a pop up and scare you horror film. You could swap this film with any other of the same genre and not be able to tell the difference. If you enjoy cheap scares and terrible movies, I recommend Quarantine. If you want to watch a horror movie that is actually good, steer clear. My rating (2/10)
The next huge release of the summer of 2008 was the long, long, long awaited Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Many people were left disappointed by the extra-terrestrial touch put on to the famous archaeologist's series, but not me. Indy 4 delivered the excitement and adventure that I loved from the previous 3 films. A 60+ year old Harrison Ford showed he still had the ability to bring the charming character of Indiana Jones to life. Joined by the rising star Shia Labeouf, Indy 4 went on to make upwards of $300 million just as predicted. Although you may not agree, I felt Crystal Skull was a fitting conclusion to a wonderful series. But now even I am a bit upset by the idea that George Lucas wishes to make a 5th film. George, enough is enough. Go out on a high note. You already sank your Star Wars ship with those awful Episodes 1-3, maybe you should come up with an original idea. Even if a 5th Indy flick got made, Lucas said Shia Labeouf would not take over and it would remain with Ford as the lead actor. Well by the time the film was released he would be about 70, and even I'd say it's time to hang up the whip. Let us all hope that a 5th Indy film never happens. I gave Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a 7.5 out of 10.
The next film I saw in the summer was a film I didn't even want to see. It took my friend to say he'd buy half my ticket so that I would go see it with him. I unhappily agreed, and was happily surprised. The Incredible Hulk was a HUGE HUGE HUGE improvement over the god awful 2003 Hulk directed by Ang Lee. Although still nowhere near perfect, casting Edward Norton in the lead role pushed The Incredible Hulk into credible movie territory. A good performance from Norton really helped make this film better than it should have been. The Hulk is the least interesting superhero ever created in my opinion, but this film actually did him justice. A terrible performance by Liv Tyler bogged The Incredible Hulk down a bit, but top notch special effects pushed her weird shaped face aside. Unfortunately, probably due to the fact that the general public disliked the first Hulk, The Incredible Hulk only made $134 million, only $2 million more than the far worse Hulk. A regular film would love to make $134 million but since The Incredible Hulk required $150 million to make, fiscally it was a failure. But who cares about how much it made anyway, this film provided the second piece to Marvel's puzzle, joining Iron Man in the Avengers mix. I gave The Incredible Hulk a 7 out of 10.
But the summer 2008 really became fantastic when The Dark Knight rolled into theaters. Featuring the brilliant performance from late Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight has been a box office powerhouse, recently beating Star Wars as the second highest domestic grossing film of all time. At approximately $500+ million dollars and counting, The Dark Knight needs about $140 million more dollars to beat Titanic for the number one spot, but it's looking unlikely. Not only was The Dark Knight the best film of the year, but one of the best films of all time, and topped my own personal list as my favorite film of all time. With a record breaking opening weekend of $155 million, The Dark Knight was the only film great enough to make me go to a midnight showing. I hate midnight showings. No let me rephrase that. I HATE midnight showings. But this movie made me go. I'm glad it did. Originally I wanted to give The Dark Knight an 11 out of 10, and I did. But then I realized it was unprofessional and I made it a 10 out of 10. I just want the record to show that it deserves more. A script for the third film has not even been written yet, but rumors have circulated suggesting Johnny Depp as the Riddler and Angelina Jolie as Catwoman. Personally I think both are terrible ideas, and a third film shouldn't even be made. There is no way it is going to top this one. Absolutely no way. Like I said, I gave The Dark Knight a 10 out of 10.
Finally, the summer has ended with a laugh with the release of Tropic Thunder. After a controversial release due to the protest by disability support groups, Tropic Thunder didn't make much noise at the box office, only making $26 million over the weekend. Still it was good enough to knock The Dark Knight from it's perch at number 1 at the box office, which it held for a full month. What made Tropic Thunder so funny was the amazing performance by the very man who kicked off the summer of 2008, Robert Downey Jr. How appropriate that the man who brought us into the summer with an astounding movie now shows us the way out of summer with a hilarious movie. Some strong supporting performances and a random Matthew McConaughey made Tropic Thunder a hit in my eyes. I gave Tropic Thunder a 7.5 out of 10.
I did not mention Wanted or Hellboy II because I'd be here forever spitting out redundancies. Both those films were great as well.
The summer is now over. Go in peace.
Here are some of my recommendations for upcoming films in 2008:
Bangkok Dangerous (Sept 5) Burn After Reading (Sept 12), Igor (Sept 19), Eagle Eye (Sept 26), Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (Oct 3), Saw 5 Oct 24(that's right, I'm a closet Saw fan, you got a problem with that?), RocknRolla (Oct 31), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Dec 19), The Spirit (Dec 25)
Here are some movies I suggest avoiding in 2008:
Disaster Movie (Aug 29), College (Aug 29), Disaster Movie (Aug 29), Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Oct 3), W (Oct 17), Disaster Movie (Aug 29), High School Musical 3 (Oct 24), Punisher: War Zone (Dec 5), Disaster Movie (Aug 29), The Day the Earth Stood Still (Dec 12), AND FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY AND GOOD IN THIS WORLD, AVOID DISASTER MOVIE!!!!!!!! IF YOU KNOW SOMEBODY WHO PLANS ON SEEING IT, HURT THEM! YOU CAN TELL THEM I MADE YOU DO IT.
If you are going to be physically and emotionally sickened by a film, one should hope that there were some redeeming qualities that kept you interested. Teeth offers you nothing, and on top of that nothing shows you graphic scenes of penal amputation. Makes for one hell of a movie right!? Wrong. Jess Weixler is annoying and sometimes unwatchable as the girl with the devil's vagina, Dawn. Even though her character is reasonably in hysterics for a lot of the film, she still managed to over-act and sometimes even under-act. Never did Weixler hit the nail on the head. No supporting performances give Teeth an extra boost, not even John Hensley's performance as Dawn's drug taking, sex having, deeply disturbed step brother Brad. The relationship between Dawn and Brad had potential to be intriguing and memorable but instead falls flat on its back. The resolution between the two is predictable and altogether unsatisfying. You see what is about to happen from a mile away and when it is finally done you are left scratching your head thinking, "That's it? I really watched that entire movie just so I can see something that I totally expected to happen like an hour ago? I'm gonna go throw up". Now I didn't throw up when I finished the film, but if they had some kind of memory eraser that I could take to erase it from my head that would be swell. If you know any good ways to remove something from your memory without damaging everything else in your head just leave a comment.
Now underneath the repulsive visuals displayed in Teeth, there lies the foundation of any film, and that is the script. The director Mitchell Lichtenstein also wrote the screenplay for the film, and I must say this man really does not have any talent. He managed to take a completely original idea (something that is very rare in today's movies) and drive it so far into the ground that the heat from the earth's core melted it. Lichtenstein could not decide whether to make his film heavy on the horror and light on comedy or the other way around. Scenes flip flop between scary and comical, and sometimes the scary scenes are more laugh producing than the funny ones. Either way, I didn't find the film to be funny at all. The subject matter is a bit too grotesque to be funny. Beneath his sequences of horror and violence, there is meant to be a feeling of female empowerment delivered by Dawn, who can somewhat be classified as a hero given the film's ending. The idea that this girl is using her "gift" to punish sex driven men (albeit by having sex with them) probably would give a woman a sense of pride and the feeling that she can overcome the oppression of any man. WELL I'M NOT A WOMAN! I fail to see the pride one can gain from having teeth in her vagina! And as a boy, I learned absolutely nothing from this film. The only possible message could have been to not be so hasty with who you become intimate with. But all I learned was to always check the quality of the turf before you step out on the field.
Teeth runs at the longest 94 minutes you will ever endure, and shows you no mercy along the way. I had a feeling going in that I wouldn't enjoy this film, and I was dead right. Perhaps if the film was not as graphic it would have been easier to watch. But the pervasive obscenity of the amputation scenes were unnecessary and in no way entertaining. Maybe if you are a woman you can watch this film and laugh and say "Ha! Take that you stupid man! Chicks rule! Girl power, woohoo!" But other than that, there is nothing that can come from this film except misery and unhappiness. Everybody, especially men, should run away from this film at all costs. My rating (1/10)
French born director Michel Gondry has become famous for his vivid and whimsical imagination and his ability to transfer it onto the screen. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, (a film of which I am a huge fan of), Gondry touched on the subject of love and the joy it could give you, and also the great lengths you would go through to erase it from your memory. The reason he was able to turn that film into such an accomplishment was his oddball humor, his amazing script, and his unique cinematography. In Be Kind Rewind, Gondry does not delve into an emotion that we all endure, but instead discusses the bond between friends and the happiness that can be shared with one another. This message was especially potent with me, as I just so happen to enjoy making short films with my friends. Seeing the characters put together a poorly shot, almost completely improvised film struck a chord with me, as it was all too familiar. Be Kind Rewind is not without bizarre humor, especially in a scene where Jerry unleashes a river of magnetized urine down the street, attracting mufflers and other metal objects as it flowed. Although that scene was particularly outlandish, the rest of the film isn't nearly as ridiculous. The premise of Be Kind Rewind is intriguing, but unfortunately the script that holds up that premise is blandly written and unimpressive. The conflict that arises from these characters actions is predictable and unremarkable. Not to mention the trailers pretty much give away what happens. Finally, the cinematography and direction of Be Kind Rewind are trite and simple. With the exception of a continuous shot of the main characters filming several films at once, there is no originality or memorable scenes. The dazzle that Gondry gave to me in Eternal Sunshine was noticeably absent from this picture, and it is very disappointing.
Performances are another downfall that plague Be Kind Rewind. The characters are meant to be relatable and loveable, but I felt neither of these emotions watching this film. With the exception of Jack Black, there were absolutely no bright spots in the entire cast. Possibly the only good rapper turned actor Mos Def wasn't so good in his role as Mike. Unenthusiastic speaking and a constant thousand mile stare had me thinking somebody swapped out the real Mos Def for a pod person that looked just like him. Danny Glover is practically negligible as Mr. Fletcher, the owner of Be Kind Rewind. Much like Mos Def, Glover seems unenthusiastic and doesn't seem right for this film. If you would have put Def in Glover's role and vice verse, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Neither provided humor to the film, nor did they provoke any sort of feeling that made me interested in their life. As I mentioned, Jack Black gave the only truly enjoyable performance in the film. He actually seemed fit for his role. Playing the eccentric Jerry was effortless for Black, as he is a bit of an eccentric himself. His endless humor helped save Be Kind Rewind from sinking to the depths of garbage.
Be Kind Rewind runs a little above 100 minutes, but it does go by pretty quickly. Despite the fact that not much happens, the film doesn't lag so it doesn't bore you to tears. And although the performances were interchangeable and lackluster, I still found myself watching the film voluntarily, instead of wriggling in my chair waiting for it to end. Even though the number of negatives outweighed the number of positives, I was still mildly enthused. The majority of the entertainment came from watching Mos Def and Jack Black put their own spin on movies such as Ghostbusters. I for one have been a Ghostbusters fanatic since I was a little boy (I even had a proton pack that I would run around my house with), so it was extremely amusing to watch them remake it. Be Kind Rewind is simply a nice film with a good message and a big heart. I am just barely recommending it for your viewing pleasure, but do not expect another Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. My rating (5.5/10)
Everything works in The Dark Knight. There is not a single weak link in the chain. Christopher Nolan, the man behind one of my personal favorite films Memento, does an outstanding job of handling this material. He has created a city that has descended into disorder and desperation. Gotham is unforgiving and the people that dwell there are just as harsh. They would have to be in order to survive. Even though this city has fallen to corruption and crime, Nolan does a tasteful job of not exploiting that fact to a point beyond where anybody can appreciate it. His focus lies on the conflicts of Bruce Wayne and the rise of the evil Joker. He presents us with the question of how far should anybody be willing to go to protect what they believe is right. Nolan also accomplishes the feat of tackling multiple storylines without becoming jumbled and confusing. The movie slides easily from scene to scene, changing directions but always remaining focused. Some excellent cinematography helps to ease the viewer into each scene without jarring them, but also without dragging them in kicking and screaming. The action in The Dark Knight is without a doubt heart racing, adrenaline pumping fun that doesn't get too bogged down in its scale. Although not without its share of CGI, Nolan only uses it whenever is absolutely necessary and doesn't turn this epic crime drama into a third rate superhero flick. That's right, I don't even consider this film a superhero film. It packs the punch of an excellent action film, but also is an enthralling exploration of the unending battle between good and evil, right and wrong. Nolan is at the top of his game with The Dark Knight, as he somehow manages to surpass his masterpiece Memento. I guess that would make The Dark Knight a....super masterpiece?
Direction alone cannot make a movie brilliant, though. One needs a cast that can take a script and turn it into a something real. In other words, take a fictional story but make the audience believe it's true. To say the all star cast of The Dark Knight did that would be an understatement. Christian Bale is the most intimidating Batman and the most arrogant Bruce Wayne in the history of the franchise. His struggles and battles that he must face as both Wayne and Batman are all exemplified perfectly, bringing the viewer into his head to feel exactly what he feels. His struggle to maintain composure in the face of the insane Joker shows us all that everyone has a breaking point, even people masquerading as a bat. Bale's versatility as an actor really permeates through to the audience in every movie he does. You can also feel Bruce's heartache as he loses Rachel to Harvey. Aaron Eckhart gives a top notch performance as righteous Harvey Dent, the man who wants to clean up Gotham without wearing a mask. As Dent, Eckhart is a delight to watch as he spreads his ordeals and stands up to the injustices of his city. When Dent unavoidably becomes Two-Face (that's not really a spoiler, so don't be upset), his fight for what is right becomes a flawed mission as he turns to vigilantism himself. Using the flip of a coin to decide whether someone lives or dies, Harvey "Two-Face" Dent is a depressing reminder that everyone is corruptable. Echkart's performance is definitely note-worthy, but unfortunately he will most likely be overshadowed by another performance (Hint: It's not Maggie Gyllenhaal). In Batman Begins, Rachel Dawes was played plainly and unenthusiastically by Katie Holmes. Well in The Dark Knight, since everything else was better, Holmes was swapped out for an upgrade, but not too much of an upgrade to Maggie Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal brings us a much more convincing performance as the one woman in Gotham to know Batman's true identity, and the agony that comes with that knowledge is detectable on her face. Although her character is in love with Harvey, anytime she is near Bruce you can sense desire between both parties.