Thursday, December 27, 2012

Driving Miss Daisy

Yeah, that's right.

I was hanging out at my sister's house on Christmas and there was so little on, Driving Miss Daisy was actually the only thing even remotely appealing. In case you don't know, Driving Miss Daisy is the 1989 Oscar winning film about an elderly woman living in the South in the 50s who befriends her African American chauffeur. It's a sweet, charming film that is likable, wonderfully acted, and beautifully shot.

But it also really sucks.

To begin with, it's just really long and really boring, with almost nothing much to speak of in the way of plot movement or forward momentum of any real story arc, beyond Miss Daisy only kind of being less of a bitch to one, since black man over the course of 25 years. Granted, there are worse fates than being forced to watch an over-long film starring people like Jessica Tandy, Morgan Freeman, and Dan Akroyd, all of whom are always great and definitely at the top of their games here. Tandy even won the Best Actress Oscar while Morgan Freeman and Dan Akroyd were both nominated for Oscars as well. As I said, I have nothing but raves about the cast, all of whom were great, including Dan Akroyd who turned in a surprisingly sweet and effective performance.

However... the story just sucked. It was well intentioned and sweet at its core (a woman in the south begins to see her servant as a human instead of just a thing she can harass), but it was so poorly thought-out it was borderline racist in places. I rarely like films about oppression told from the point of view of the oppressors, with the sole intent being the redemption of those oppressors.

Quick... name five Hollywood films that deal with oppression in America in the South before or during the Civil Rights movement.

Now how many of those films have white actors as the main point of view characters? All of them?

And this movie's structure is a little worse than most. Morgan Freeman is wonderful and charming as Hoke, the driver of the titular Miss Daisy, but I don't think he has a single scene where he is alone or allowed to be himself. In every scene he is acting opposite either Miss Daisy or Miss Daisy's son. Miss Daisy, of course, is given most of the film to explore her motivations, thoughts, history, and sense of character. Hoke, on the other hand, is just a charming, good natured driver from start to finish. There isn't one single scene that I can remember where he is given any real sense of character or nuance. He exists solely to give Miss Daisy her personal redemption.

So just like the white people about whom this story is written used a black man as a servant, the filmmakers used this film as a black man just as a plot point, not as a character.

But, yeah, it's charming and funny, but that only kind of made it all the worse, in my opinion, since it belittled and glossed over the real story of what was happening back then.

But that's just me. Maybe I read too much into it. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

In Memoriam: Jack Klugman (1922 - 2012)

I'll be honest... I thought he had died years ago, but I was still sorry to hear of his passing today. I always liked the guy.

Rest in peace.

Top Ten Christmas Movies

Just for fun -- and without really thinking too hard about it -- here are my top ten favorite Christmas movies ever, in order from "favorite" to "even more favorite" or something:

10. A Christmas Story
This is a great film that by all rights should rank higher on the list, but to be honest I'm so sick of it I almost left it off entirely. But I'll probably end up watching it again this year and still enjoying it. It really is sweet and very, very funny.

9. A Very Sunny Christmas
This isn't a movie, so much as an hour long holiday-themed episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It's irreverent and doesn't really capture the spirit of the holiday, but boy is it funny.

8. Christmas Vacation
Now this is a funny movie, and probably the last funny movie Chevy Chase ever did.

7. Gremlins / Die Hard / Lethal Weapon
These aren't really Christmas movies so much as moviea that takes place on Christmas, but I can't go a single December without at least watching one of them.

6. Holiday Inn / White Christmas
These are both basically the same movie, since White Christmas was basically a remake of Holiday Inn. Most people will tell you that the original is a classic and the remake sucks, but I enjoy both. It's all a matter of whether you prefer the team up of Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire or Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye... but, really, you have any combination of those guys and it'll be awesome.

5. Ernest Saves Christmas
For real! This movie is super funny and super sweet. I love it. It's my favorite Ernest movie too!

4. Joyeux Noel
A French film about the Christmas truce of 1914, where the opposing forces of the first world war came together in no man's land and celebrated the holiday together. Brilliant story, brilliant film.

3. A Miracle on 34th Street
I'm talking about the original film from 1947. Come to think of it, there was no remake. That never happened. Just go watch the original. It's brilliant and great fun.

2. Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas
Forget about that Muppet Christmas Carol movie. This was the best Muppet Christmas movie. Here's a video review I put together a couple years ago:

1. It's a Wonderful Life
This isn't just the best Christmas movie of all time, but a top contender for the best movie of all time ever. I've actually already reviewed this film on my blog, so I'm just gonna cut and paste that here:

I'm actually going to keep this one short and sweet, since there's nothing I can say about this movie that a million people haven't already said a million times already.

It's a Wonderful Life isn't just my favorite Christmas movie, but a strong contender for my all time favorite movie over all. It contains the absolute best performance by my absolute favorite actor Jimmy Stewart, and it tells a story so powerful and heartfelt that it makes me cry every time I watch, no matter what. I'd rank this movie right up there with Field of Dreams as the most likely to make even the most stone cold man break down in tears. George Bailey is too honorable and admirable to really be considered an "every man," but he's definitely the man that every man wishes he could be.

They later remade this movie and reversed the genders by having the main character be a woman played by Marlo Thomas. "It Happened One Christmas" was a fine film that used to play all the time when I was a kid, but if you haven't seen it by now, you probably never will. It happened to be made right as the original was being rediscovered by a new, perhaps more mature audience who could more related to the dark, honest story presented in the film, so the remake all but vanished. And that's fine, since the original is an absolutely perfect film that never should've been remade in the first place. It's just... special. Bailey's pain as he watches his hopes and dreams fade away is something any person who's ever been lonely or learned for more can relate to. And his joy at the end as he realizes how loved and alive he really is is something that anybody who's ever been loved or happy can relate to as well. It's the kind of film that makes you cry at one moment because you're sad, and the next moment because you're happy.

I have never seen a better moment in a film than the scene where George Bailey is on the bridge near the end of It's a Wonderful Life. I've never seen anything that was better written, better directed, or better acted. I have watched this movie dozens upon dozens of times over the course of my life and it never fails to bring me to tears. I have watched this film during moments of my life when I was happy, during times when I was sad, and even during some times when I was just as close to standing on my own bridge. If there has ever been a moment in film that has more honestly captured a moment in the life of every man who has ever been alive, I sure haven't seen it.

George Bailey isn't the greatest hero in movie history because he decided to save Clarence instead of taking his own life, and he certainly isn't a hero because he set aside his own hopes and dreams in order to serve the town of Bedford Falls. George Bailey is a hero because even though he never became the man that he wanted to be, he learned to embrace the fact that he became the man that the people he loved needed him to be. His wasn't a wonderful life because his dreams came true or because he was loved or even because he was happy, but because his life did matter, and because the people around him were all the better because of what he did.

And if you can watch this movie and not break down, well, you must be named Potter.

Life of Pi

This is one of those movies that I really loved right up until it was over, at which point I thought to myself, "wait... what? That was it?" You know... one of those movies where you keep waiting for the story to actually start right up until the credits role and you get up to leave.

But, for the most part, I liked it. It was certainly a beautiful film -- especially in 3D, which was the best I've ever seen -- well acted, and had a clever scripts that had seem real show-stopping moments, but it just never came together for me. This was a movie made for a poet or a philosopher. I'm neither. I'm just a simple man who likes a good story, and this really wasn't much of a story at all.

And that's really all I have to say about this movie, which so many people have told me is brilliant, and for them it is. I certainly have no regrets about seeing it, and if you do you should really make sure you do it in 3D, but I can't recommend it because I just thought it was kind of hollow and a little pretentious.

But it was pretty.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (High Frame Rate 3D)

I'll make a long story short (which is the exact opposite of what director Peter Jackson did): The Hobbit was awesome.

I probably graded that score of "awesome" on a bit of a curve if only because the reviews of this film have been so overwhelmingly harsh and negative that I wanted to counter them if I could, and also because they had me going in with such low expectations. I probably put off seeing this movie during its first week in the theaters because the reviews were so abysmal, but I decided to check it out anyway because everybody I know who actually saw it loved it and raved about it.

And now I saw it and I loved it, so I guess I'll rave about it. It's awesome. If you liked the Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy adaptations, go see this because you'll love it. And if you didn't like those films, go see this anyway because it's way better. For real. In my opinion, this is the best Tolkien film of all time, possessing the visual splendor and action of the earlier films, but without gutting the story, changing the characters, or just plain getting the story wrong. This is a better adaptation and just a better film.

But, yeah, it's also really long... and I'd even go so far as to say it's probably too long, since I was more than ready for it to be over maybe twenty minutes before the credits began to role. I wasn't bored by the film or unengaged by the story, I just had to pee and I was hungry. This is one of those movies that's so long you literally have plan your entire day around it, so you end up either having lunch really early or dinner really late, and lord knows you can't bring a soda in or you'll either have to pee your pants or miss part of the movie when you get up to use the bathroom. Let's hope Peter Jackson never films an adaptation of War and Peace or I'll have to have a catheter installed.

And, frankly, I was also getting antsy for the film to end because I knew it was just the first part of a trilogy, all based on one book. I've heard a lot of criticism about this decision because people feel it's just a greedy attempt to make more money by the studios, but I don't think that's why the film was split into a trilogy.

Honestly, I think the film was split up because Peter Jackson is out of his god damned mind, man.

I believe that Peter Jackson would split every film up into a trilogy if he had his druthers, and he seems incapable of making a film that isn't a bloated, three hour epic. I mean, this is the guy who's remake of King Kong spent more time just getting to the island than the original film ran from start to finish, and I'm not making that up! And I've never really understood why Jackson remade King Kong anyway. He said it was his all time favorite movie so his dream ever since he was a child was to make his own version, which is also proof that he's insane. Don't most people consider their favorite films to be sacred and scoff at the idea of anybody remaking them? But in Peter Jackson's world, when you love something, you need to remake it, only change everything for the worse, either because you think the original got it all wrong or because you simply didn't understand what it was all about at all.

Anyway, that's what he did with King Kong and that's what he did with the Lord of the Rings films, giving us a story that only kind of resembled what Tolkien originally envisioned and characters who are generally the same as his only in name only, with dialogue randomly reassigned, motivations changed, and entire concepts so radically different it could only be assigned to a total misreading of the original text.

But luckily very little of that happens here, and aside from too much action and violence -- which I don't mind, to be sure -- this felt very much like a faithful adaptation of the works of Tolkien. If anything, this film maybe suffers not because so much is changed or left out, but that too much is forced in, with just about everything from the novel taking place, as well as stuff from the appendices of the Lord of the Rings and other stuff from The Silmarillion.

Why did this film open with Bilbo talking to Frodo? Other than to bring back Ian Holm and Elijah Wood, I can't think of a single reason why this was needed. Same goes with the appearances of Saruman and Galadriel. It was nice to see Christopher Lee and Cate Blanchett -- especially Cate Blanchett who seems to just get more gorgeous as she gets older -- but their scene was completely pointless and overlong. And why was Radagast in this movie? And why was the interpretation of his character so strange? Again, he served no purpose and should've been left out, but at least he was a lot of fun so I didn't mind.

The cast of characters that actually appear in the book was big enough, I'm not sure why they had to add in all those people who didn't appear, but I guess I shouldn't complain because they were all so good. When I find myself complaining about an unnecessary appearance by Christopher Lee, I need to just realize how cool it is to see Christopher Lee in anything so I'll just shut up and enjoy it. Honestly, Christopher Lee should show up as Saruman in every movie. Why not?

Martin Freeman was perfectly cast as the young Bilbo Baggins, and I think he actually did a better job in the role than Ian Holm in the original trilogy. But then again, it's not really a fair comparison because Freeman was given so much more to do, being the star of the film instead of just a bit character who gets the plot going and then disappears. Anyway, Freeman has always been good in everything I've ever seen him in, and he has the brilliant ability to be funny and dramatic from scene to scene, and even from second to second. Hopefully this is the film that will finally make Freeman into a movie star, at least over here in America.

Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf the Grey, and he's as good and dependable as you'd expect. This isn't really a role that requires much in the way of acting other than appearing imposing at times and reading the occasional line with a certain amount of gravitas, but as film actors go, there's nobody more noble and regal than Ian McKellen.

Richard Armitage plays Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of this band of Dwarves, and he's amazing. I don't know who this actor is and for his first few scenes I thought he was Gerard Butler. This may be the best character from any Tolkien film adaptation, and I thought he knocked his performance out of the park, putting Viggo Mortenson to shame as another would be king leading a fellowship on a quest to restore honor to his people.

Then there were, like, a thousand other characters, a few hundred of them being Dwarves that were hard to tell apart, but the filmmakers really tried to give them different beard styles and each got at least once nice little moment here and there. I never really understood why they all looked so different from one another. Most of them looked like good luck troll dolls while one of them looked just like a young Rick Springfield, but whatever. I liked them all and can't remember if there was a single bad performance in the entire movie.

About the plot I guess I haven't said to much because, to be honest, nothing really happened, despite the film's three hour running time. Here's the plot in brief: A century or so ago a dragon named Smaug took over the Dwarven kingdom of Erebor, stealing their gold and forcing them out of their homeland. A young Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf join Thorin and a band of Dwarves as they attempt to finally drive off the dragon and reclaim their home.

But all that really happens in this movie is that they convince Bilbo to join them and go for a walk, where they keep getting into battles every fifteen minutes or so until the film just kind of ends randomly with them only slightly closer to the end of their quest than they were before they started. I guess this is one of the big complaints I've heard about the film, and it's certainly a major one. It's sort of like if somebody adapted A Christmas Carol and split it into a trilogy, with each film being about a different spirit, but even then the first hour of the first film would be devoted to a young Scrooge getting his MBA and then starting his own business. That would be awful.

Well... The Hobbit, somehow, isn't awful. In fact, it's awesome... but... yeah, not much happens in the way of story or plot. However, the film was so well done and so much fun that I never really minded and I'm already committed to seeing the next couple films when they come out. Honestly, a meandering film about a group taking a walk through Middle Earth is still more fun than almost any other movie with a deep script or intricate plot.

And before I go I guess I should talk about the version I saw, which was in 3D and shown in 48 frames per second. As if we needed another option when choosing how to see a film, we now have to choose between seeing it normally, in 3D, in Imax 3D, and now in 3D with a high frame rate. Enough already!

Anyway, I guess Peter Jackson decided to film this trilogy in 48 frames per second, which is double the 24 frames per second that has been used for every other film ever made. I respect Jackson for taking a chance and attempting to enhance the film-going experience with this new technology. But on the other hand, it totally sucks. It's just... weird, and so off-putting -- even after you get used to it -- that led me to wonder if anybody actually watched any test footage before giving 48 fps the go ahead.

When the characters aren't moving, or just when they are moving very slowly, the added frame rate is astounding and gives the film a clarity and detail that is, quite frankly, more beautiful and crisp than anything I have ever seen in the cinema, but then the characters start to move and it seems like one of those bits on Benny Hill where everybody is in fast motion. Even little movements feel jerky and out of whack with how people actually move, not just on film but in real life. Also, the added clarity actually makes everything look more fact and surreal, since the backgrounds look like backgrounds and the characters pop way more than they should. Everything sort of looks like a videogame cut scene.

So I say see this film in 24 frames, but then sneak into a showing afterward to check out a few seconds of the 48 frames just so you can see how awful an experience it really is. I'm glad I saw it so I can safely never see another film like this ever again.

And that's that.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Another Tragedy

I don't really have anything to say about the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut that hasn't already been said by more eloquent writers than me, not just about this recent shooting, but about the other recent shootings, and even the slightly less recent shooting, and all those other shootings in the past.

I guess I just wanted to acknowledge the tragedy because it's been on my mind and because I was born about an hour away from Newtown and then later lived about ten minutes away in Danbury. I'd be surprised if I'd never at least driven through there since I lived so close, but if I had I have no memory of it. Every small town in Connecticut is like every other small town in Connecticut, just like every small town in America is like every other small town in America.

And I guess I also just wanted to add my sentiments to what other people have already expressed: enough is enough. If after this shooting that left dozens of children dead you still oppose stricter gun control laws, well... then maybe that's why we need stricter gun control laws. Because people are insane.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Trailer Park

Hey... let's watch some movie trailers:

Pacific Rim
This might be the most epic trailer ever made.

Guillermo del Toro directing Giant robots, kaiju, Jax from Sons of Anarchy, Charlie from It's Always Sunny, Stringer Bell from the Wire... and was that the voice of Glados from Portal? I'll be there opening day.
This looks like fun. Jason Stathom as Parker from the Donald Westlake novels. I've never read those so I can't speak to their faithfulness to the source material, but I'd be surprised if Westlake wrote a character who did so much karate. Anyway... cool trailer. I'll rent this for sure.

Nice animation, but no thanks. Even as a kid I would've thought this looked stupid. Do kids even like all these animated movies anymore, or are they as sick of them as I am? When I was a kid, I always preferred movies about real kids. I could pretend I was one of the Goonies. I can't pretend I'm some weird, super-deformed, plastic-looking freak, nor would I want to.

But then again, that's just me.

World War Z
If you read my blog you know I love zombie movies... but this looks bad. Not bad, maybe, but just not engaging. Anyway, it's a boring looking trailer. I have no interest. But I do like Brad Pitt so I'll keep an eye on it. 

Star Trek Into Darkness
Pretty epic trailer, but at the moment I still have zero interest in this. The first JJ Abrams Star Trek film wasn't Star Trek, and this one looks even less so. Maybe if I can divorce myself from the source material I can go into it an enjoy it on its own terms, but I dunno. I didn't just think the previous film was bad Star Trek, but bad sci-fi in general. Then again, I've seen worse, and I do like that Bennedict Cumberbatch guy, or whatever the hell his name is.

A Haunted House
This looks awful. I laughed.

Man of Steel
Another epic trailer, but I'm still unsure of how I felt about it.

Henry Cavill certainly looks the part and it is action packed which should be an improvement on that last Superman movie, but the costume looks weird and some of the lines sound odd... like when Pa Kent suggests that maybe Superman should've let that kid die. Huh?!

Anyway... nice looking trailer. Check it out. I sure hope it's good. Lord knows the world deserves to see a good Superman movie. I just wish it looked a little more... I dunno.. like Superman.

The Last Stand
Schwarzenegger came out of retirement to make this? I'll rent it, but only cause I'm a fan. Doesn't look too good, but it could be fun.

The Lone Ranger
Fuck you.

Tom Cruise sure needs a hit, but this won't be it. But it is a very cool trailer and it looks like a neat movie. If it gets great reviews, I'll go see it. If not, I'll probably still rent it. I like Sci-fi and I like Tom Cruise, no matter what anybody says.

But here's my advice for Mr. Cruise just in case he reads my blog: Do some supporting work in some good films by good directors and put the big budget action films on the back burner. Just my advice.

Gangster Squad
I'd love to watch a big budget gangster film about Mickey Cohen (starring Sean Penn no less!), but this doesn't look too good. Also... what's the appeal of Ryan Gosling. Can somebody explain that to me? Nice looking kid to be sure, but he's not a particularly good actor. Or maybe he is, but he's not a particularly engaging one in my opinion. Still... interesting trailers.

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
Is there a single person in a single scene of this trailer that doesn't look greasy? According to this trailer, this movie came out last month. Who knew? Would you believe I've never actually seen a Universal Soldier movie? I sure as hell ain't gonna start with this one. 

Les Miserables
Does this looks good? I'm not sure. I don't know the musical well enough. Nice visuals though, and that's a cool cast, but only a few of the voices actually sounded all that good. But boy do I love Russell Crowe, and I'd love to see him in a musical. How funny is that?

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Don't see Flight a few hours before you get on a plane like I did. Or, then again, maybe you should, because it created a memorable, no doubt unique film-viewing experience that I don't think could ever be duplicated. It's a film about an alcoholic airline pilot who has to somehow land a broken plane even though he's drunk... so as I watched the film I kept thinking with apprehension about my upcoming flight, and then later, when I was on the plane approaching take off, I kept flashing back to the film I had just seen. So this unique confluence of events either made me hate the film or appreciate it on levels most viewers would never understand.

But, anyway... I liked it. It was a pretty darn good movie.

It wasn't the movie I thought it would be, however, and that's a comment I've heard from many people who've seen it. I thought it would be some kind of mystery or procedural film about an investigation following a plane crash...and it was, but only kind of. It was also a character study about a man dealing with -- and admitted that he suffers from -- alcoholism. That's not a complaint about the film nor is it a complaint about how it was marketed, since this is such a complicated, multi-layered film I would've been stumped as to how to market it as well. It was just a little more emotionally gripping than I was expecting, but that's not a bad thing. In fact, it might even be a good thing.

Denzel Washington plays an airline pilot named Whip Whitaker, who aside from having the coolest name in movie history (except for maybe Snake Pliskin), is a raging alcoholic who would put the combined drinking power of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jackie Gleason, and Danny Thomas to shame. Seriously... this guy drinks, and then in order to clear his head in the morning (so he can, you know, fly a plane), he does a couple lines of cocaine. Our film begins on one of these days, but unfortunately it ends with a crash that is totally the fault of the plane itself, and it is only his exceptional skill as a pilot and heroic conviction as a captain that gets the plane on the ground in one piece with almost all the souls on board safe and sound. Whip is rightly praised as a hero, but once his toxicology report comes to light and people see that his system was riddled with alcohol and cocaine, his life is turned upside down and he is faced with the prospect of facing criminal charges.

Now, that's a great setup for a story, but if anything it's almost too great a set up because from their it became clear that the writer didn't really know where to go with it, turning it into a kind of cliched character study of a man coming to terms with his alcoholism. I don't mean to downplay the power of that kind of story, but the film only really felt exciting and fresh during the scenes involving the plane crash and the resulting inquiry, investigation, and trial. All the stuff where Whip got drunk and then felt bad were, frankly, boring and occasionally trite. And the less said about the parallel storyline about the recovering heroine addict the better.

However, it's still a great movie if only because of the power house performance by the always exceptional Denzel Washington and the sure-handed work behind the camera by Robert Zemeckis, a director who had been working exclusively in animation for the past decade and finally made his return to live-action film making here. Denzel Washington is one of the dozen or so best actors in the history of film (no joke!), and this is one of the best performances he's ever done, which makes it one of the best performances of all time by anybody ever. It's a truly exceptional, bravura performance that lets him act like a hero in one sequence and a total asshole two scenes later. And Robert Zemeckis just knocked it out of the park, proving once again that very few directors understand how to direct a scene like he does. Seriously, this film is worth seeing in the theater for the crash scene alone, which ranks high on my list of the best scenes in film history. Just the moment where Whip told one of the flight attendants to tell her son she loves him so it would be recorded by the black box recorder has me misty just thinking about it.

And then the rest of the cast is just awesome. Bruce Greenwood and Don Cheadle play a union rep and a lawyer who do their best to get Whip cleared off all charges, even though they clearly hate him for what he did and themselves for how they're forced to defend him. Every scene with either of these two actors are great. But best of all was John Goodman as Whip's drug dealer. He only has three, very short scenes, but they are hands down the best moments in the film and Goodman should get an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. I seriously can't remember being more entertained than I was watching him in this movie.

So... I guess I recommend it.