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Posts Tagged ‘Film Reviews’

Sticking It To You: Exit Through the Gift Shop.

January 14th, 2011 1 comment

If you haven’t seen the film, Exit Through the Gift Shop is a must-see for every Creative Beast. Seriously–it’s your homework. What a mind-blowing story, and how well told it is. It’s got me spinning on several notions: 1) Anything is possible (especially with a bit of work and muscle behind it) and 2) to complain about the things that stand in one’s way as a creative person is an absolute and utter waste of time; especially when there’s so much work to be done and 3) might of most kinds–is mightier than money.

Mr. Brainwash

What makes great art great? Is it partly great marketing? Is great marketing simply great art? This is a film about a shopkeeper cum filmmaker cum artist. From this portrayal of the life of Thierry Guetta, a.k.a. “Mr. Brainwash,” I would surmise that it’s all of the above. Based on his works as a painter/street artist, the idea that he has come up with something earthshaking is questionable. On the other hand, it can be argued that the act of successful reinvention is alchemy at its finest, and indeed, a fine work of art. When MBW is viewed from this perspective, he tends to turn the art world on its ear. The film tells a few different stories; one being the life of Thierry Guetta, two being the emergence of the street art movement, and three being the life that art has all on its own, and how human beings respond to it. Perhaps what is most fascinating is the movement–or rather the motion of the artist, himself. What is it about art–and particularly, what is referred to as “High Art”–that makes it valuable and so deeply coveted? Is it the idea that it generally deals with things that are intangible or unattainable? Is it that it holds something that is thought to be magical and otherworldly? If so, then of course, it makes complete sense that by virtue of owning a piece of such magic, one is thereby and in effect, made magical as well.

Banksy

Creative Beasts are, without question, splendid and magical creatures. Or are they? Through Guetta’s lens, the film takes us on the journeys of several great street artists from different parts of the globe. We are shown that part of what makes their work revered by so many, is the sheer fact that they are a bunch of wild outlaws using public and private property for their canvases and materials, which automatically makes for instant intrigue, along with imagery that often challenges the status quo at its core. Guetta, for the greater part of the film, is shown as an observer–recording the images and scenes of his world, and those of the street artists he follows, especially that of the great Banksy of London (director of Exit Through the Gift Shop). In the end, the story almost plays like a sting, orchestrated by MBW, himself. We are then left with the question, “Was it intentional on his part? Or is he truly a fool among fools who somehow manages to get the last laugh as he innocently steals the bag of tricks from the artists/magicians he is surrounded by, and then uses them to take the art world and greedy collectors by storm, thereby making a farce of the entire scene. In the end, he ingeniously confounds one and all. That, my dear Creative Beasts, is beauty to behold. Smile and get on with it. The rest is simple: SEIZE THE PREY.

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In Bruges and Elf. Why did I wait so long to see them?

January 1st, 2010 No comments

This post goes out to my good friend Kristen, because I heard that she’s been missing the movie chats. Going back and reading some of the old reviews from 2008 on Metacritic, I had to check out one of my old faves… Anthony Lane, film critic for The New Yorker. I was distraught to find that his rating was a low 40. Honestly, I believe that at times, some critics are so involved in their own rhetoric and vast literary lexicon that it ends up bogging down the ability to enjoy something on a simpler level–as perhaps it was intended. And anyway, plenty of other folks liked it as well.

At any rate. The photography is appropriately cold, shocking and beautiful, yet warm and tender at the right moments. The dialog is punchy, hilariously off-beat and abrasive, yet also succinctly gentle when called for. It reveals a dirty mobster love-of-nothing repartee mingled with a human love-of-all-things realness that results in something mysteriously forbidden, surprising and delicious–like chocolate combined with something brilliant and unexpected (like bacon or basil)… or… really good sex.

In Bruges, the debut feature film written and directed by acclaimed playwright Martin McDonagh, is about personal journeys as well as relationships. Our two main characters, Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) are hit men who have been sent to Bruges for a wee vacation by their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes); having seriously just botched a job in Dublin. What follows are honest images of a picturesque tourist town as seen through both sets of eyes: the older, wiser yet more childlike Ken, who is eager to snatch up the opportunity to learn of the town’s culture, history and architecture, versus the younger, unhinged, yet seemingly more calloused Ray, who characteristically describes the town as a “shit-hole.” All the while, they are ultimately awaiting a call from Harry, which is the crux that twists and seals the fates of all. (What else from a sociopathic numb-skull mob-boss/entrepreneur? Delightfully portrayed by Mr. Fiennes, might I add.)

The film takes us through varying moments of discovery, adventure, misadventure, disgust, delight, reflection and lucidity. Ray stumbles upon a movie set which is the first thing to spark his interest in Bruges. And then, there is a girl (Clemence Poesy plays Chloe, who supplies drugs to the cast and crew) followed by a dwarf actor (Jordan Prentice). This sets the stage for more comedy, mishaps, a bit of romance that may or may not turn sour, along with woeful drama that ties the fates. Nothing is quite simple enough, as it turns out, and things are seldom as they seem. When once again, things don’t go as planned, the boss eventually lands on the scene, and that is when the blood really gets pumping. We are all then forced to question, it would seem; exactly what value each of us places on human life, why, and in what way, and to what extent. I typically try to refrain from using this term, but I loved this film. It may very well have bumped its way into my top twenty. A definite must-see. It will without hesitation, become part of my go-to film collection (old friends that I enjoy seeing again and again). It should be noted that In Bruges is R-rated, and contains dark graphic violence, illicit drug use, adult language and some nudity.

Elf
Pure, unadulterated Will Ferrell, here, and I have to say one of my favorite performances of his. He is, of course, Buddy the elf, a human raised at the North Pole by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart), which with the 6’3″ boisterous Will Ferrell, makes for a very entertaining juxtaposition. Director Jon Favreau chose to use the forced perspective technique to exaggerate the significant size difference between elves and humans. And how did Buddy get to the North Pole? As the back-story reveals, Santa was making his customary stop at the orphanage where Buddy then resided, and when Santa was busy eating cookies, Buddy crawled into the unattended sack of toys, and away they went.

There’s enough all-out, mad-cap silly comedy to keep the masses and little children smiling–which is only right as it is a Christmas film, but there are subtler details that make it a gem. Bob Newhart is perfectly cast as Buddy’s adoptive father; also serving as the film’s narrator in classic, gentle, matter-of-fact Bob Newhart style, and what makes it even better is that he is shot telling the story as though he is being interviewed in a typical pseudo documentary fashion.

Buddy, being human, is awkward and slow compared to the nimble elves that surround him, and as fate would have it, not a very good toy-maker. His frustration with himself and the situation reaches a high point when he exclaims, “Let’s face it. I’m just a cotton-headed ninny-muggins!” The elves try to assure him that this simply isn’t the case, but then shortly thereafter, he overhears some of them talking to reveal the awful truth about why he doesn’t fit in: He is human.

He and Papa Elf then have “the talk (about the fact that he was adopted, and not actually an elf),” and after a discussion with Santa (played by the great Ed Asner), it is decided that Buddy will go to New York to meet his real father (James Caan), who is an executive working at the Empire State building, unaware of Buddy’s existence–and on Santa’s naughty list. He has a family that he rarely sees because he is too busy working on fast deals on children’s books. At the time of Buddy’s arrival, he is desperately in need of a hot new Christmas story. Needless to say, Buddy has his work cut out for him. But if there is one way that Buddy is an elf, it is without a doubt, his untiring and infectious Christmas spirit which Ferrell crafts flawlessly. Buddy is a champion of Christmas in a sweet and innocent way, yet he is utterly unfettered by negativity; providing plenty of opportunities for spreading joy and creating small, but innocent disasters.

Clad from head to toe in his elven ensemble, Buddy stands out in NYC, but not horribly so. If one is to roam the streets in elven gear at Christmas time, New York is the place to be. He naturally finds his way to Gimbel’s, where he is quickly put to work as one of Santa’s helpers on the department store’s crew. There, he meets Jovie, another “human elf” who has been hired by the department store (played by the lovely Zooey Deschanel), and she can sing. But she doesn’t like to sing in front of other people–the truth is, she has lost some of her holiday spirit, and is in need of someone like Buddy. He explains to her that “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” She’s doubtful at first, but she catches on.

On the home front, Buddy has managed to work his way into the life of his father, Walter Hobbs; his kind stepmother, Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and brother (Daniel Tay). This house needs a lot of Christmas cheer, as Walter’s absenteeism as a father and a husband has created a bit of a void. Buddy’s odd and what his father perceives to be deranged idiosyncrasies and cheery habits are in fact, just the ticket for the family to get back on the Christmas track. When Christmas Eve rolls around, Santa flies into New York City once again, but this time, he is in trouble. Is Buddy’s spirit strong enough to save Christmas? It’s worth finding out. The whole family will thoroughly enjoy this new Christmas classic–unless they are just a bunch of, well… cotton-headed ninny-muggins.

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Star Trek vs. Harry Potter: Let Your Geek Flag Fly.

July 29th, 2009 1 comment

harry_potter_half_blood_princestar_trek_spock_poster2Summer movies. What joy, and of course, the unfailing defeater of heat and humidity. As for 2009, we welcomed the return of two old favorites; Star Trek–and thankfully; featuring fresh, young faces with the exception of the ever-celebrated Leonard Nimoy as “old Spock,” and a not-quite-so-old, yet unequivocally loved by millions–Harry Potter.

I was fortunate to see Star Trek on the Imax screen, and I say “fortunate,” because it was an absolute thrill of a film. Now, personally, I’m a moderate Trekkie. I don’t buy the uniform shirts and wear them like my older brother (at least he doesn’t listen to “Learn to speak Klingon” tapes)… although this flick just might get me to reconsider that possibility… Nevertheless, I can truly say that whether you’re a fan of the old show, or a virgin cadet experiencing the final frontier for the first time, I think you just might be a little weird if you don’t like this movie. It’s action packed in a smart way that is extremely well-paced, and offers everything a good summer movie should: suspense, romance, rebel-heroes, a super-bad villain that we love to hate, nail-biting cliff-hangers and comic relief. And of course, the special effects are completely awesome. Additionally, the characters are keenly crafted, and again; in a way that is fun and fresh, yet without neglecting to tip the hat to all the traits we love about the original crew. And might I add that this was also done quite cleverly by illustrating, for example, such points as what a rogue Kirk was when it came to the ladies, and how Bones was just as ridden with anxiety as a young man as he was as a seasoned doctor. These are the kind of details that make scripts fun for the actors, and provide the necessary chuckles for the audience; making veteran Trekkies feel either really cool, or really geeky for getting all the inside jokes… or a bit of both. I almost feel guilty for doing so, but I give this film my highest rating of four stars (Great film. Would for sure, go see it again in the theater. Will buy the DVD so that I can watch it again, whenever I want to). For its genre, it pulls all the stops and offers everything it should; from good acting to high-speed space-chase drama, Star Trek (2009) is spot-on. It’s exactly what a summer action movie is supposed to be: loads of fun.

Now, for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Ohhh, dear Harry. What have we done? I really wish I could be even somewhat as enthusiastic about this one as I am about Star Trek… Sorry. I can’t. And truth be told, I’m more of a Harry Potter dork than I am a Trekkie, but I say this with caveats. For instance, you will not catch me dead in a Hogwarts getup, so help me God (though I do have a friend who I must say, looks pretty cute when he sports his Gryffindor sweater and tie). I have read all the books, however; so my Harry Potter lexicon is pretty decent. That said, I have a firm grasp on the differences between movies and books, and what one is able to accomplish as well as sacrifice when adapting a book to the screen, and with that said–I unfortunately found more failures than successes in this particular adaptation. Actually, I think the film failed on so many levels, that it was embarrassing to watch. It is as though many key folks have become altogether lazy. The telling of the story, itself, is disjointed and frankly hobbles along like a dying donkey. Where the plot is concerned, things are out of focus. Points that are less important are highlighted, and key elements are not. We have Ron and Hermione’s ridiculous non-relationship (which we see too much of) versus the gist–which is that the evil Voldemort is using every extension possible to carry out his plan–which is to ethnically cleanse the world of all but “pure-blood wizards (which we see but a smidge of).” I question who is to blame, here. Is it the writer? The director? Or maybe studio executives? Because J.K. Rowling apparently felt her readers were capable of digesting such a concept, but it seems someone at Warner Brothers must disagree, or thinks that the heavier side of Rowling’s tale doesn’t sell well on screen. We get in the film that there is a big, bad Dark Lord with lots of scary and creepy minions, but in the end, this film never really explains why. Why is Voldemort gaining power? Why aren’t more of the wizards on the good side? And what about The Order of the Phoenix? Wasn’t that the previous chapter in the series? There is little recap, and even less in terms of introduction of characters. Unless you know the books inside and out (and pardon me, but I, for one, don’t have time to go back and read them. Harry Potter homework? Give me a break), you may find yourself at a loss as to what the heck is really going on, and even if you are an HP expert, you may still find it challenging. And if you haven’t seen the other films or read the books, forget it. It will make no sense. Part of a series or no, a film should be able to stand on its own, and this one doesn’t, plain and simple.

Did I say that the kids–that is to say, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are in general–pretty dull? They are. Their characters–and this is the sixth installment–are thin, at best. This is not the seventies, nor is it Disney’s Escape To Witch Mountain (which come to think of it, is probably the better film). People are getting murdered, and it’s not supposed to be silly or funny. To be fair, the kids probably did not have much to work with where lines are concerned. If I had a nickel for the amount of times Harry said “Sir?” to Dumbledore, as if he has a hearing problem, I would have my money back for the film. This is an area in the adaptation where liberties could and should be taken. Older cast members such as Alan Rickman (Snape), Michael Gambon (Dumbledore) are outstanding, as usual–they know how to turn sows’ ears into silk purses. Tom Felton does decent work as Draco Malfoy, though his ugly sneer seems a tad hammy and overdone at times. Both boys playing Tom Riddle; the young Voldemort–Hero Fiennes-Tiffin plays Riddle at age 11, and Frank Dillane plays him at 16–together, these boys steal the show, and easily are the scariest thing about the film. They are each subtly evil in a way that is bone-chilling, and they do it with looks, gestures and mannerisms. Sorry, but putting Dan Radcliffe’s Harry in the ring with any of these Voldemorts (and that includes Ralph Fiennes) seems laughable. Speaking of which, he (Radcliffe) needs to learn how to cry. It was frustrating to watch him pretend to grieve when (SPOILER ALERT) Dumbledore died. I wanted to believe it. I wanted to cry, but for the wrong reasons. And Rupert Grint pretending to be happy about blocking goals in quidditch was like watching a skit on Saturday Night Live. He should see a football (soccer) game or two, to get an idea of how goalies really react when they make a save… ecstatically. Heck, soccer players are better actors when it comes to faking injury. And perhaps director, David Yates could consult a bit with Peter Jackson.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince gets two and half stars (I would rent it–had I not already paid to see it in the theater, and I would only rent it because it was part of a series of which I have seen the previous films). I believe I’m being generous, but the stars go to the good actors, and I suppose, the sets and special effects.

And so needless to say, Star Trek wins; hands down.

For the latest and greatest opinions on films of all genres (like them or not), visit metacritic.

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Spring Cleaning – Part 2… and brief review of Gardens of the Night.

June 10th, 2009 No comments
Mmm... baaacon....

Mmm... baaacon....

Hey, kids. T-Haus, here. Guess what? I am at Day 3 of The Master Cleanse! Betcha thought I wouldn’t make it, eh? Well, to that I say, “Hoo-hah!” Yes-sir-ee, nothin’ but lemon juice, water, maple syrup and cayenne peppa for this chickie. I must say that I feel pretty darn good, too. I won’t lie; the last couple of days were brutal. Monday, I wasn’t feeling good at all, in fact. I got a headache which gradually became worse. I took a long nap in the afternoon, and when I awoke, my headache was even worse. I did a few things around the house, but did not write or meditate at all. I did watch a weird movie on Showtime about a little girl who gets kidnapped… Gardens of the Night. I pretty much agree with this review from The New York Times: http://movies.nytimes.com/2008/11/07/movies/07gard.html?ref=movies. In general; not the greatest flick, and yet it still manages to leave you with a sick feeling in your gut, if you can get all the way through it. Welcome to the world of missing children, kiddie porn and sex slavery. If you are a parent of small kids, and have still not told them about why they should never–EVER–talk to strangers, let alone get into a car with one–no matter how nice they might seem–then shame on you. And you should be required to watch this film. …Otherwise, don’t bother. And if for some reason, you’re a kid who is reading this… What are you doing on the internet without parental supervision? Stop reading my blog. I sometimes have a foul mouth–er–pen–er–keyboard (I’m trying to get better). And don’t watch Gardens of the Night. Yuck-o. And don’t talk to strangers, take candy from strangers, or get into cars with strangers. All right. Enough about that creepy, would-be after-school special; were it not for the sex, drugs, violence and foul language.

So, back to The Master Cleanse. After watching the marginal-at-best movie, I realized that I had watched the whole thing, and still had a killer headache. Oh, and Spoiler-Alert: the ending sucked, too. So not only did I feel like crap, I had mental indigestion from a gross film that never got any better. I think that was the deal… I kept thinking as I was watching, “This has to get better.” It didn’t. It got worse, kind of like my headache. I went to bed, and the next morning, my headache was even worse. We’re talking blinding. “Man, does this suck!” I thought, while I mixed myself a fresh glass of Master Cleanse lemonade through the stars that danced before my eyes. Okay. So halfway through the morning when I was on my second glass, I cheated. I took half an aspirin. But then my headache started to go away, and by late afternoon, I started to feel better. I went and had a cup of tea with my pal, Fred at Starbucks, came back home, had some more lemonade, and by the time Jon Stewart rolled around, my headache was completely gone. Today I feel almost great. The stomach is a bit chatty and rumbly, but otherwise pretty good. I did do “The Internal Salt Bath,” again this morning, as is recommended… I hate that shit. Literally. Same reaction as day one. I may just stick with the Smooth Move tea from here on out. Had a cup before bed last night. It’s okay… better than a quart of hot salt water, and hopefully, it won’t give me the same trouble. FYI, I’m still fantasizing about real food… anything… bacon… bagel with cream cheese… dill pickle… parsley… quesadilla del mar… honestly, I keep going back to the pb & j sandwich… or tuna fish. And whatever you’re thinking, stop, because you’re wrong. Any real food sounds luxurious right now, and that is that. …But I shall remain strong…

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