Friday, June 18, 2010

Deadly Bear from a Galaxy Far Far Away

The only thing more frightening than running into a bear in the wilderness? Running into a bear armed with a light saber. I know this goes without saying, but two hours of this would have been so much better than 'Phantom Menace'.

Anyway, this got me laughing, thought I'd share the joy.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"A-Team" and "The Fountain"

A couple reviews of some movies I watched over the weekend.

1.) The A-Team. Not bad. Some of the reviews I’d glanced at prior to seeing the movie seemed to suggest the ridiculousness in the film’s trailers was the kind that induces eye-rolling, not happy grins. So going in I wasn’t sure if even a turned-off brain could enjoy what was to come. But to my surprise, 'The A-Team' is actually a tightly-written, smart-sounding action movie (not actually smart, unfortunately), more “Mission: Impossible” than “Smokin’ Aces”, with controlled direction from Joe Carnahan that never loses track of the plot during all the chasing around in search of the McGuffin. Couple small things I liked: 1.) Major Dad’s Gerald McRaney’s appears in the film; a pleasant blast from the past. 2.) Jessica Biel is better in the film than she is in the trailers. 3.) Newcomer Brian Bloom turns in a funny and legitimately menacing performance. The role is a by-the-numbers crazy mercenary bad guy, but Bloom pulls it off pretty well. I expect to see more of this guy. (Fun factoid: he also co-wrote the script.) 4.) Stay through to the end of the credits.

Quality movies have been hard to come by at the multiplex this summer (all year if you want to be technical), so if you've been avoiding the movies lately due to crap selection and just want to go and see something fun, this is your ride.

2.) The Fountain. Possibly the exact opposite of ‘The A-Team’. I DVRed this off HBO and watched it over a couple days. I’m of two minds about "The Fountain". On one hand it’s not the kind of movie I usually like. It’s plodding, self-serious, and depressing as all hell. It’s a wonder it was ever made; even more wondrous Brad Pitt was for so long attached and ready to star. But on the other hand, the film’s director, Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler), manages some moments of profundity in ‘The Fountain’ that are almost never seen in films outside of the art-house, and even then only rarely. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz star as Tommy and Izzi, a married couple trying to deal with Izzy’s worsening disease while Tommy, a researcher/surgeon, works tirelessly to find a treatment that could cure her.

Pretty much everything else about the movie seems open to interpretation. Tommy’s overweening desire to keep Izzy alive may be an eternal struggle his soul has grappled with for centuries, life after reincarnated life. The first of these lives is Tomas's (also played by Jackman), a Ponce de Leon-like Conquistador, looking to find the fountain of youth. But is what we see of Tomas's life in Spain and later in the New World truly memories of a past life, or are they just scenes from Izzy’s unfinished novel, or both? Is Tom Creo, the future reincarnation of Tommy who floats in a bubble with the tree that grew from Izzy’s grave, actually an immortal Tommy still trying to save his wife? Or is this some elaborate vision Tommy's having on his own death-bed? Or is all of it a vision the Conquistador Tomas has on top of the Mayan temple? Are we even meant to take this all literally? I’d have to see it a few more times to attempt any kind of interpretation and I doubt I'm up to sitting through all those monkey-skull-cutting and Rachel-Weisz-on-her-deathbed scenes to get there, but I do concede it is gratifying to see a movie that rewards thought. Kind of like Transformers 2. Anyway, like I said, I'm of two minds on this movie. Couple things I liked in particular: 1.) The music is incredible. Elegiac and moving. Clint Mansell's done a great job here. 2.) Hugh Jackman. I was never quite sure Jackman could act until I saw this movie. He does good work in everything he does, of course, but I didn't know he could really play any moment required of him until this. He is amazing in 'The Fountain' and deserves better than the likes of that abyssmal Wolverine movie, or the final X-Men sequel. 3.) Aronofsky's ambition. Even though I don't think this movie totally works, I admire Aronofsky for going there and committing so many years of his career to seeing this go in front of cameras. I wish Hollywood had more directors out there willing to go as hard as they can to realize their vision. You know, like Brett Ratner. For students of film, definitely worth seeing. For a fun way to pass a couple hours, this one isn't it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

"The Special Relationship"

I watched a new movie on HBO last weekend called ‘The Special Relationship’. Starring Michael Sheen as British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Dennis Quaid as President Bill Clinton, the movie depicts the relationship between the two men through some of the most important moments of their political careers.

Covering the period of US-UK politics from 1996 to 2001, “The Special Relationship’ opens with Blair and Clinton meeting for the first time at the White House months before Blair’s election to 10 Downing, and closes during their farewell meeting at Blair’s country estate, the end of Bush v Gore playing out as a backdrop. In between these events, filmmakers depict the highs of their partnership (working towards peace in Northern Ireland), as well as the lows (their pitched disagreements over the use of force against Serbia). The result is not a bad way to spend a couple hours if the politics of that time interest you, but even for political junkies the difficulty of trying to shoehorn their generally unremarkable reigns into a movie does show from time to time.

It begins promisingly enough. Blair is ushered into the Oval Office for his first meeting with Clinton and finds Bill nowhere to be seen. Turns out he's in the side office talking to some foreign head of state. Political nerds (and readers of Ken Starr's entry into the canon of high pornography) will recognize the small office as the site of many an encounter with a certain intern, but for the first meeting of these two heavyweights in a movie that's about their working relationship, it's pretty tepid. Then Clinton and Blair have a chat about the eponymous "special relationship" between their two countries, a concept Clinton casually dismisses, reciting a short list of countries who can actually claim to have any such relationship with the US. In this scene, though, you do get a sense of how these two men perceived themselves as world leaders helping to usher in a leftward and perhaps permanent shifting in the Western political landscape. Heady stuff. Of course the scene is set before the scandals of Clinton's impeachment and Blair's illegal war-making, but even still, their optimism doesn't seem naive. In a better movie, this scene might have had the feel of tragedy.

The only really interesting theme the movie explores, and even this is done in an undramatic, too-subtle-by-half fashion, is the idea that the character of Tony Blair rather than George W Bush's powers of persuasion brought Britain so completely into the Iraq War. They show this through Blair's almost messianic belief in the power of strong nations to help the victimized around the world, specifically those being ethnically cleansed in the former Yugoslavia. It was this world-view that put Blair at loggerheads with Clinton over the deployment of ground forces in Bosnia: Blair wanted them, Clinton didn't. So when Bush came around looking for allies to help him oust "the guy who tried to kill [his] dad," Tony Blair was hardly just along for the ride. The movie suggests Bush was just the kind of American president Tony Blair had been looking for.

Michael Sheehan, who seems to have been given an unspoken but unbreakable lifetime contract to play Tony Blair in all films, does competent work here, but one wonders at times if Blair was really quite so innocent and bright-eyed as the movie suggests. Dennis Quaid, who admirably gained some weight to play Clinton, goes halfway towards an impression of the former president, but then steps back to create a scowling, self-serious Clinton-character who never really rings true.

Hope Davis, however, who plays Hillary Clinton, needs to talk to Sheehan's agents about securing one of his lifetime contracts on playing a living human being, because she nails Hillary so well I wouldn't like to see anyone else give an attempt. From her barking laugh, to the prim honor-student persona she cultivated in those early days who could be both steely and feminine, Davis gets it scary-right. It's helpful of course that Davis and Hillary resemble each other, and that Davis, who seems to specialize in sour, waspy characters, is playing the Queen Bee of sour disaffection. But even if it seems easy, it's not; the mind-image of Hillary Clinton we all have fades into the background as we watch Davis channel Hillary, and that's no easy trick.

Overall 'The Special Relationship" has the feel of a weak prologue to some eventual Tony Blair bio-pic, and prologues generally don't make for good feature films. I'd mark this as for political junkies only.