With “Awards Season” in full swing, we come to my favorite awards show to watch – The Golden Globes [the Globes’ new look featured, above]. Where else can you see an award winner rush from the little girls’ room to the stage, trailing a piece of toilet paper from her shoe [Christine Lahti, you are immortal because of this], or another award winner insist upon giving his award to the actor who inspired him to become an actor [the only award Jack Lemmon ever got that was voted for by a panel of one – and who knows how many other actors he inspired…?]. Thank you speeches that come from the heart or, on occasion, from a few too many drinks… The Golden Globes are fun because you get more moments from real people than all the other awards shows combined [excepting, possibly, The Spirit Awards]. Plus, the Globes honor movies and television – so there are twice as many opportunities for entertainment. So, here, after the jump, here are the nominees and my choices.
I say this every year and every year it’s true – I hate doing lists of any sort, especially the yearly Top 10 re-caps. I can’t even remember the last ten films I saw, that alone rifle through my brain and remember everything from an entire year. Overall this was an interesting year, the beginning of the year was terrible as usual but this year’s crop of summer Tent Pole films were surprisingly great – not just good mind wasters. But intelligent, well crafted and acted pieces of cinema. Then the bottom dropped out in the fall, which is generally the time you see the Oscar Wannabes. Everything was boring, bland – safe. My number one choice of 2008 is a clear for me, but there’s a 3 way tie for the #2 spot. Without further adieu, here is my list (Without a lot of verbiage this year) of the best of 2008.
9) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
8) Let The Right One In
7) Tropic Thunder
6) Son of Rambow
5) Iron Man
4) Slumdog Millionaire
3) The Dark Knight
2) Prince Caspian
1) Speed Racer
I didn’t see nearly as many films this year as in the past. Generally speaking I don’t like American animated films, so I didn’t see Wall E or Kung Fu Panda. I’ve seen all the award wannabes except Revolution Road, Valkyie, and 7 Pounds. I’m a huge X-Files fan, but I don’t know if I Want To Believe would be classified as a big disappointment because I walked in with no expectations, so the fact that the film was terrible didn’t annoy me.
In a summer during the early-to-mid sixties, I surreptitiously acquired a copy of a specific issue of Playboy – not for the pictures, though those were nice, but for an essay on The Great Comic Book Heroes, by Jules Feiffer. It was about comic characters from the Golden Age of Comics [approximately 1939-1946 – your mileage may vary]. That led to my acquiring, with a hard-earned seven bucks, for Feiffer’s book of the same title on the subject. Included in the book was an eight-page, full-color Spirit story from the Philadelphia Record Sunday Comics Supplement, dated July 20, 1941. It was about a tale told to a tourist couple by an Egyptian beggar, twice in two days – first as a prophecy, and then as a fait accompli. It was incredible – it had action, wit, humor [even then I knew wit was not the same thing as humor] and amazing art. Well before the Kitchen Sink reprints of the seventies, I was hooked!
In the summer of 1987, the ABC network broadcast the ninety-minute pilot for a projected series based on Will Eisner’s legendary masked hero, The Spirit. It was bright and colorful and really seemed, to me at least, to capture the peculiar mix of whimsy and drama that marked the comic as a unique and brilliant work. Eisner, on the other hand, said it was so bad that “it made my toes curl.”
Today, I saw Frank Miller’s movie adaptation of Will Eisner’s The Spirit. As a critic, I realize that its thin story is told choppily [Frank, buddy, have you never heard of dissolves, transitions and such? And, really Frank! Plaster of Paris? What the hell were you thinking???] and the acting varies from poor to really poor. I get that it’s supposed to be a black comedy; I get that it’s Eisner’s characters and situations as filtered Miller’s sensibilities; I even get that The Octopus [Samuel L. Jackson] is supposed to an evil, human version of Wile E. Coyote/Yosemite Sam, while The Spirit is The Roadrunner/Bugs Bunny.
Somehow, though, I don’t think blending Sin City, Tex Avery and Chuck Jones was really the way to go here. The Spirit is not a character for whom bleached out colors [except, of course, for that blood red tie] really work. Neither should the character be set in such a static, blocky manner. The comics were always more fluid than all but the best films – and certainly more so than any of the comics of the period [and most of the best of today, as well]. And juking The Spirit’s origin in such a manner – turning a tough, determined man into a superhero, when he was really [to quote Douglas Adams, “Just this guy, y’know?”]. The spirit of The Spirit has been pretty much bleached out of the movie.
The Spirit is pretty much a disaster no matter how you look at it – and yet, I enjoyed it. Maybe it’s because of the hard edge Dan Lauria gives Commissioner Dolan, or the resignation Sarah Paulson gives Dr. Ellen Dolan, who knows she’ll never have The Spirit’s heart – at least not exclusively. Part of it is the cinematography. Miller may be a long way from being a film director, but he can compose a shot like nobody’s business! Also, the world of Central City may be CG but it has more heft than Sin City. Plus, there are moments when Eisner’s character peeks through the chaos […and this is for Muffin!”].
Even with the movie’s compositional beauty, a couple decent [not brilliant] performances [Sorry Mr. Gabriel Macht. I know The Spirit, and he’s not a monotoned refugee from a Philip Chandler novel] and amazing CG, I can understand how most critics will give The Spirit the equivalent of an ‘F’. I can’t do that. But tempering my love for the character with what little of that remains here – and combining that with an objective overview of everything that’s wrong with it – I can’t give The Spirit a positive grade [as much as it pains me].
Final Grade: D+
One of the strangest – and yet most normal – films of the year is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Even you’ve not been paying attention to pop culture for the last six months, it would hard not to have heard about the movie about the guy who ages backwards while living forwards. Directed by David Fincher [Fight Club, Zodiac], Button stars Brad Pitt as the titular button – a man who is born an eighty-five year old baby whose every breath rasps and rails as if it might be his last and grows physically younger with each passing day. Whether this odd journey through life is supposed to mean something specific, in terms of metaphor, will no doubt be the subject of much debate.
For Benjamin, though, life is the same puzzle as it is for the rest of, though he views it from a unique perspective. When he first sees Daisy [Elle Fanning], they are seven – but he is, physically, seventy-eight. This makes their relationship, which would otherwise be completely normal, something else entirely. Even so, his first love, first drink, first sex, first affair [and so forth], all happen in pretty much the conventional order – only Benjamin’s de-aging is different.
Perhaps the point of the movie is that “normal” is strictly a point-of-view, not a definitive quantity; maybe, it’s a tone poem on the idea of youth being wasted on the young; it’s even possible to see the film as an argument for the idea that the beginning and ending of life are the same thing seen from different perspectives – and what happens in the middle will be much the same no matter which way we progress, physically.
When Benjamin and Daisy [now played by a luminous Cate Blanchett] finally come together in the middle of their lives – when they both look their age – they do the expected things, like move in together and have a child. Benjamin’s de-aging means that he will appear to be teenager when his daughter hits puberty, which leads to his having to deal with being unable to be a father to his child – again, an ordinary thing that happens to many men but here because of a unique reason.
In the context of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the importance of the ordinary… the normal… is brought home in a new way. Pitt’s performance [including the CG grafting of his face onto older and younger actors’ bodies] is perfect because Benjamin is, in spite of his unique manner of aging, an ordinary man whose life is except for brief moments, pretty ordinary. The film winds up showing us that even the ordinary is wondrous. That’s a pretty heady achievement.
Final Grade: A+
Adam Sandler in a Disney movie… what’s wrong with this picture? Nothing, as it happens. Well, nothing major. Adam Shankman [Hairspray] directs Bedtime Stories and – except for the usual Rob Schneider cameo [which sucks the life out of the film for a few moments] – gets a solid performance out of Sandler as handyman Skeeter Bronson, who works in a towering hotel that sits on property where his father [Jonathan Pryce, who also narrates] once had a charming little hotel. The terms of the sale to future hotel magnate Barry Nottingham [Richard Griffiths] included a verbal promise that Skeeter would one day run the new hotel [and verbal promises are worth the paper they’re printed on].
In the kind of sequences of events that exist in a whimsical tale such as this, the hotel is run by an obsequious twit – here called Kendall [Guy Pearce] and his simpering second in command, Aspen [Lucy Lawless] – and the hotelier’s plans for an even bigger hotel are situated on a piece of land upon which sits a school. That school is where Skeeter’s eco-warrior sister, Wendy [Courteney Cox] is vice-principal – not to mention the school attended by his niece and nephew – and where a pretty teacher named Jill [Keri Russell] works. Because of the plans for the hotel, Wendy has to look for work out of state and asks Skeeter to help Jill look after the kids.
When Kendall’s plans for a unique approach for the new hotel turn out to be in use elsewhere, Nottingham gives Skeeter a shot at running the new hotel. All he has to do is come up with a better theme than Kendall. Meanwhile, Skeeter’s bedtime stories for Patrick [Jonathan Morgan Heit] and Bobbi [Laura Ann Kesling] start coming true – though it takes him a while to figure out that it’s the kids’ improvised additions to his stories that are coming to pass.
So, can Skeeter be a good uncle, beat Kendall, and win the fair maid [Jill, of course]? And can he do it without relying overmuch on Sandler’s usual brand of humor. Almost. The humor is kinder, gentler and G-Rated, but the genuine whimsy of the fantasy is, for the most part, winning and well done. Sandler gets to use some of the chops first unearthed by Paul Thomas Anderson in Punch Drunk Love, and the rest of the cast seems to be having a pretty good time.
The effects vary in effectiveness, but by having one story element come true through what looks like a real life coincidence, Shankman gives the more far-fetched bits more punch – and makes Skeeter more relatable. The pacing occasionally falters [and grinds to a sudden halt during Schneider’s two scenes], but overall, Bedtime Stories is a fun diversion that will be enjoyed in theater and mostly forgotten by the time you get to your car.
Final Grade: B-
Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire tells a pretty basic rags-to-riches tale that has oddly charming and wrenchingly violent sidetracks. It begins when Jamal Malik’s [Dev Patel] hot streak on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire culminates in a ten million rupee total before he is taken away by police on charges of fraud/cheating. They use all kinds of methods of torture but he insists he knew the answers.
As the Police Inspector [Irrfan Khan] and Jamal watch a tape of his performance on the show, Jamal tells the Inspector how his childhood experiences taught him the answers to questions ranging from an individual cricketer’s record to knowing the name of the star of a certain film. As Jamal tells his story, we watch as he, his brother Salim, and a girl named Latika come out of the slums of Mumbai. While Jamal has always been a good kid, Salim [Madhur Mittal] has chosen another, easier path – and he loses touch with both of them.
Slumdog Millionaire’s cinematography crackles with energy and lays out the slums of Mumbai without apology – the poverty, the race violence, the criminal activity. It is a place with a veneer charm that isn’t quite enough to cover its grimy underbelly. Jamal’s path to the famous quiz show is fraught with all kinds of perils, spiritually as well as physically – and when he does well on the show, the immediate question has to be, how can a call centre assistant – “a chai wallah” – possibly possess all this specific knowledge? But Jamal isn’t putting his hard won street education to work for the money – he’s hoping that Latika [Freida Pinto] will see him and find her way to him. Love, he hopes, will conquer all.
This may be Danny Boyle’s finest film. The characters are engaging – even while they’re conning their way along – and smart [as Taj Mahal tour guides, for example, they improvise all kinds of material to give their tourists the “real” story]. Somehow, though, as the boys grow up, Salim becomes a professional criminal while Jamal, well, he gets tea for the people in the call centre. Latika, however, comes through even more dire circumstances as a prostitute and then the mistress of Salim’s boss.
Slumdog Millionaire is one of those movies that energize its audience. It’s all about hope and staying true to oneself, no matter what trials one must overcome. Like Beat Takeshi’s The Blind Swordsman Zatoichi, Boyle gives us a bonus burst of energy over the closing credits as the crowd in the train station breaks into a Bollywood song and dance number that encapsulates the joy of the film.
Final Grade: A+
Back in the day I was a huge fan of Neil Gaiman’s and own the almost all of the original run of the Sandman Books, including the Death Mini-Series (when are we going to get THAT movie? It can’t be that hard to make.). However, I haven’t read any of his novels. So I’m real curious to see the Coraline, which is based on one of his book. The studio is starting it’s marketing push today by launching the official website, Caroline.com and a new greeting card series. Take a gander at this, and the brand new trailer.
From Henry Selick, visionary director of THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, and based on Neil Gaiman’s international best-selling book, comes a spectacular stop-motion animated adventure – the first to be originally filmed in 3D!
Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning) is bored in her new home until she finds a secret door and discovers an alternate version of her life on the other side. On the surface, this parallel reality is eerily similar to her real life and the people in it – only much better. But when this seemingly perfect world turns dangerous, and her other parents (including her Other Mother voiced by Teri Hatcher) try to trap her forever, Coraline must count on her resourcefulness, determination and bravery to escape this increasingly perilous world – and save her family.
The Robert Wise film, The Day The Earth Stood Still, was a metaphor for a cold war that was threatening to go hot. The remake is an ecological horror tale – if we can’t take care of the earth, we – and everything we’ve created – will be removed.
It seems that we are at the edge of a great precipice – not unlike the civilizations that grew on a handful of other planets out there in the universe. Klaatu [Keanu Reeves] has been sent to carry out the removal of the one major blight on the planet – us. Where the precipice comes in is when a beautiful scientist, Dr. Helen Benson [Jennifer Connelly], asks him if the other civilizations Out There had come to such a precipice and what happened.
So, despite the governments and people of Earth behaving like paranoid imbeciles – and even Helen’s stepson, Jacob [Jaden Christopher Smith] says we should kill Klaatu – even though all that violence and paranoid is only offset by a bit of Bach and the love Helen has for Jacob, Klaatu has had the answer he needed all along. It just takes one beautiful lady scientist to ask the question that shakes the answer loose. That’s drama, folks!
For the third time in three weeks, I’ve seen a film that held a certain amount of promise and discovered that promise is wonderful for trailers, but films need a bit more than that. The Day The Earth Stood Still is well made. It moves at an appropriate pace; most of the effects are quite effective; most of the cast give solid performances [Reeves is his usual Tabula Rasa self – you see what you want to see in his transparent performance… or not…], and there’s even a moral to the story.
Too bad that that the whole thing just so damned silly.
Final Grade: D
This year’s Oscar campaign has been pretty lackluster, but there were a few jems to be discovered. Today, the Washington, DC Film Critics Association has named Slumdog Millionaire the year’s best film. I’m a member of WAFCA and this year’s selections are all about 75% of my choices, so I won’t complain like I usually do. Heath Ledger took home the Best Supporting Actor nod and Wall E best animated film, while Danny Boyle took Best Director. My favorite foreign film of the year the indie Vampire flick Let The Right One In took Foreign Language film. Here’s the complete list of winners.
Best Film: Slumdog Millionaire/Fox Searchlight
Best Director: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Actor: Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler)
Best Actress: Meryl Streep (Doubt)
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)
Best Supporting Actress: Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married)
Best Original Screenplay: Jenny Lumet (Rachel Getting Married)
Best Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Animated: Wall?E/Disney&Pixar
Best Documentary: Man on Wire/Magnolia Pictures
Best Foreign Film: Let the Right One In/Magnolia Pictures and Magnet Releasing
Best Ensemble: Doubt/Miramax
Best Breakthrough: Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Art Direction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button/Paramount
Economic hard times seems to be making Hollywood a bit more cautious about what kinds of movie deals they spend their money on and it looks like remakes of older, successful movies is one of ‘safer bets’ that Hollywood is banking their money on right now.
Over at Warner Brothers Studios, John Brownlow has been hired to write the remake of the 1935 swashbuckler, Captain Blood. This is the swashbuckling adventure film in which action star Errol Flynn shot to stardom playing Peter Blood, who went from plantation slave to heroic swashbuckler. The movie also starred Oliva DeHaviland and Basil Rathbone. Philip Noyce is developing the remake and may direct it as well.
Warner Brothers, along with MBST Entertainment is also making plans to remake 1981 hit, Arthur, which written and directed by Steven Gordon and starred Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli. Arthur (Moore), a happy drunk with no pretensions at having any ambition is the heir to a vast fortune which he can only get if he marries a practical woman named Susan. Along the way to trying to adhere to his family’s wishes, he falls in love with a woman with no money but a loving heart (Minnelli).
At 20TH Century FOX, the studio money is on the remake of the 1984 feature, Romancing the Stone, directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. In Romancing the Stone, romance novelist Joan Wilder (Turner) braves the Columbian jungles to rescue her kidnapped sister and finds her only ally is a reckless soldier of fortune named Jack Colton (Douglas).
No casting has been announced for any of these remakes. Of course they are probably thinking along the lines of Christian Bale or Robert Downey Jr. for Captain Blood, but if I could make the call, I would like to see Warner Brothers tap into the talent pool they have available and place the very dynamic and definitely action hero material Jensen Ackles in the role of Peter Blood and cast the gorgeous Traci Dinwiddie in the DeHaviland role of Arabella Bishop. My second choice would be Keanu Reeves and Anne Hathaway.
For Arthur, I would love to see Michael J. Fox be able to return to the big screen in this role and working opposite the delightful Sandra Bullock.
For Romancing the Stone, even though this is a 20TH Century FOX project, I would like to see them pull from the talent pool currently available at the CW Network and cast Jared Padalecki as Jack Colton and Erica Durance as Joan Wilder. My second choice would be Robert Downey Jr. and Kate Hudson.
So Eclipse Readers, there you have my casting choices for these remakes, why not let us know who you would cast in the starring roles and why.
I’ve always been pretty ambivalent about the Punisher as a character. I understand him, and I did collect the comics back in the day, but he’s always been a one note kind of guy. He’s obsessed with extracting vengeance – usually in the most brutal, straightforward way possible. While I liked the last two films, the Producers tried to have it both ways – they wanted the mindless violence, but then they tried to give him a “heart.” The point of the Punisher is, he’s relentless, heartless, and views the world in pure black and white, good and evil and that’s it.
The new Punisher: War Zone is exactly what a Punisher film should be and that’s both good and bad. It’s over the top blood and gore, relentless, humorless (except for a couple of unintentional rolling on the floor moments), and hopeless. I don’t go to a Punisher film expecting a good story, acting, or even good production values. The first few minutes of the film was hard to get through.
The acting was painful and casting Ray Stevenson to play Frank Castle (The Punisher) was a mistake. He’s wrong for the part, but then at the same time, this isn’t a character that requires a lot of charisma (he’s shadowy) or a lot of speechifying. He just needs to be able to point a gun and fire. Stevenson has no IT factor he’s just blank. Did I mention how gory this movie is? It was refreshing to watch a Hard R Punisher film. I’m not one who complains when films get sanitized for the PG-13 crowd, but it really does impact the Punisher as a character. Lexi Alexander revels in the violent nature of the character and material. Again, this, is both good and bad because it is who the Punisher is but it will turn off anyone who isn’t part of the small niche that knows anything about The Punisher.
Final Grade B
EM Review by
Originally Posted 12.06.08