Friday, April 30, 2010


Directed by Chris Weitz

Starring Robert Patinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner

I'll be honest: I have a basic problem with Twilight that I just can't get over. It has nothing to do with Stephanie Myers's grade-school prose or its popularity with tween girls and bored housewives. I realize I'm not smack dab in the middle of the series' target demographic. Hell, I'm not even on the rim of the outer circle. My problem with Twilight is this: the romance between the two main characters - the main thread of the story - is poisonous. Edward is a manipulative perpetrator of emotional (and borderline physical) abuse and Bella a weak-willed, narcissistic twit, defined not by any pro-active personality traits or actions but by the men she encounters in her life. While I don't think Twilight is dangerous, exactly, to the young minds that devour the books and films, I do think the central relationship should be condemned more than it is condoned. There's a fine line between being in love and being obsessed, and Bella and Edward cross that line very early into the first book/film.

New Moon begins as Bella is about to turn 18 and even more miserable than she was in the first film. She's getting old, she complains. She flips out when her father Charlie (Billy Burke, sporting the best mustache this side of Remington Steele) jokes about a grey hair. She flips out when people point out she's about to turn 18. She flips out when Edward wants to throw a birthday party for her. Finally she relents, and during the celebration held at the Cullens' residence all hell breaks loose when she gets a paper cut. Unable to control his urge to kill when he smells blood, Edward's brother Jasper tries to attack Bella, only to be fended off by Edward and his other siblings. Realizing he's put her in too much danger (really, Edward? What did you think would happen? You've got 109 years under your hair and you've put the one you supposedly love in a situation equivalent to bringing her around a bunch of rapists who haven't been laid in years), Edward decides to leave the town of Forks, and Bella, forever.

This action right here proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Edward is abusive and terrible. "Don't do anything drastic", he tells Bella, knowing full well she will do just that. Even if Edward's intentions are dandy and all he's trying to do is protect Bella, his sister Alice is psychic. It stands to reason that he could ask her what would happen if he were to leave. He doesn't.

Distraught that her true love has left, Bella spends a good fifteen minutes of the film thrashing in her bed, screaming, and shaking like a detoxing heroin addict. Ewan McGregor had an easier time kicking the H in Trainspotting than Bella does dealing with Edward breaking up with her. It's embarrassing stuff for Kristen Stewart, who's going to look back at this film 20 years from now and pay WETA to digitally erase her from it.

Discovering that she can conjure up images of Edward whenever she gets close to doing anything that may harm her, Bella begins to do outrageous and dangerous things - like accept a ride on a moped from a fat, bald, 35 year old dude. Setting aside the ridiculous image of Bella on the back of a Yamaha with her arms around an Ethan Suplee look-alike, the fact that anyone would ever think like Bella scares the living bejeezus out of me. If Myers and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (who also writes for Dexter!) were commenting on how dangerous obsession is and what it could lead to, that would be fine. But they're not. Bella is rewarded for her dangerous and stupid activity with attention from Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), a Native American hottie who also happens to be a werewolf.

I have to give kudos to the Lautner kid. After having a small part in Twilight, he was dangerously close to being replaced in New Moon by another actor after the producers decided he wasn't "buff" enough for the role. He worked his underage tush off, beat the odds, and won the part back. And his excitement at being in the film makes his the only charming (and I use the word very, very loosely) performance in the film. While he's about as threatening and dangerous as a care bear, Lautner has a small sense of comedic timing. There's a scene mid-film where Jacob tags along with Bella and her friend Mike as they go see a film, and it's the only light-hearted and fun scene in the film, mainly thanks to Lautner. (Although director Chris Weitz should also be given a hand for it - he co-directed American Pie with his brother Paul and has a good handle on the awkward situations teens find themselves in when driven by a combination of libido and naivete.)

While New Moon is by no means great or even good for the first half hour or so, it's the middle hour that really tests one's patience. In between pining for Edward and falling for Jacob, Bella continues to be miserable, ignoring her friends and family. There's an hour of the film where just about nothing happens, at least anything memorable. The few action sequences that occur in the film are hampered by terrible digital effects (seriously, the gameplay in God of War III looks better than this films CG effects) and a dismal alt-rock soundtrack (save for a cut by Thom Yorke, "Hearing Damage", which is actually quite brilliant - and brilliantly used in the film). The film comes to a dead stop about halfway through, and it's not until Jacob's revelation that it picks up steam again.

Although it's a thinly veiled metaphor for homosexuality ("It's not a lifestyle choice, Bella, I was born this way" he says, about being a werewolf), Jacob's story is actually quite interesting. His struggle is compelling and intriguing. The problem is we don't see it. He disappears, Bella is told he's sick, and the next thing you know the animators (certainly not future ILM employees) are turning him into a wolf. It's a missed opportunity, but I understand the need to keep the focus on Bella's morose, depressing, ungrateful attitude. I guess.

The third act of the film is a tad more exciting than the previous hour, in that the characters are actually going places and doing things. Alice (the outrageously gorgeous Ashley Greene) finally steps into Bella's life after she tries to kill herself by jumping off a cliff. Alice informs Bella that Edward is going to kill himself by revealing himself to the human race, thereby upsetting the Volturi (briefly described in heavy handed exposition earlier in the film as a group that keeps the vampire race in line) who will then snuff him out. Edward believes Bella to be dead, therefore he just can't live anymore (*GAG*). So Alice and Bella race to Italy where Dakota Fanning, as one of the Volturi, gets a cameo (in a role I can only assume grows in the next installment or two, as I'm at a loss as to why they would give such a small part to such a high profile name) and Michael Sheen out-acts the entire cast in 10 minutes. Once there, badly-cut action ensues, laughable dialogue is spoken, and our two leads get to look nauseated while kissing each other again.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon isn't as flat and non-compelling as Weitz's previous film The Golden Compass was, but it's pretty close. It's a ridiculously banal and charmless movie that appeals to our most shallow and base senses. Oh well. At least it'll introduce millions of young tweens to Thom Yorke.

Discuss this review here!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


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Monday, April 26, 2010


Directed by Sylvain White

Starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chris Evans, Zoe Saldana, Idris Elba

The Losers is a movie that should be easy to like. During many moments, in fact, the film is easily like-able. Almost effortlessly so. These moments are few and far between, however, and The Losers - in between those greatly spaced out moments of breezy fun - is a poorly plotted, clumsily directed mess of a film. Which is disappointing, because it's clear that most of the individuals involved - from writers Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt, to the stellar cast - tried really hard to make The Losers a special film. Too bad director Sylvain White, while completely serviceable as an action director, can't keep the narrative interesting or even make certain plot points make sense.

The film begins in Bolivia where five men, all members of a US Special Forces team, prepare a bombing raid. The raid goes SNAFU when the men are betrayed by a CIA insider named Max (Jason Patric) who sets the group up to be assassinated, but ends up killing 25 children instead. Believed to be dead, the men bide their time in Bolivia, trying to figure out how to make their way back to the states with no money and no connections. Enter Aisha (Zoe Saldana), an agent who offers to help get them back into the U.S. and find Max (who also has plans to purchase weapons of mass destruction and initiate global warfare), but only if they kill him.

The Losers isn't even fifteen minutes into it's run time before it stops making any lick of sense. There's no explanation as to why the team essentially fakes their own deaths and don't just re-enter the U.S., advising their superiors of Max's interference with the bombing raid. Throughout the film, Max conducts business out in the open and unafraid to let everyone in on who he really is. Even when a film is big, loud, and dumb and called The Losers, significant plot-points need to be clear and concise. The losers dips its plot in a muddy swamp.

The rest of the film doesn't fare much better in the narrative department. The Losers bounce from exotic location to exotic location (seriously, this film covers more tropical paradises than a USA Up All Night marathon) to do the following: cause traffic jams to gather intel, disguise themselves James O'Keefe style to get into buildings to gather intel, and sleep with Zoe Saldana to gather intel. With every minute that passes the plot becomes more and more ridiculous and convoluted. Last minute twists are introduced, character identities change, and intimate betrayals are introduced. But it all passes over without the least bit of tension or drama. Instead, White is only concerned with launching the next action sequence.

The action in The Losers is completely serviceable and, at times, even spectacularly awesome. White directs the gun play and explosion orgies with over-the-top glee. The Losers is the type of film where a plane can be destroyed by a motorcycle as easily as it can a nuclear bomb. There's no respect for physics or realism. It's the type of action film that can be glorious fun when it pushes the envelope. I just don't think White pushes it far enough. Since White completely dismisses story, character, and narrative, the action needed to be so ludicrous that I just didn't care. It was fairly dumb. But not brain-damagingly dumb.

I mentioned before that The Losers is fun, in parts. It is, and it's mostly due to the cast. The Losers is made up of Jeffrey Dean Morgan (a solid actor who, between this film's disastrous box office take and Watchmen's under performance really can't catch a break with the movie going public), Idris Elba (always indispensable - please check him out in Stringer Bell in The Wire), Columbus Short, Oscar Jaenada, and Chris Evans. As skimpy as the screenplay is on the history these men share (and as much as White brushes that aside), the actors convince that this is a group that has a camaraderie that dates to well before the events of the film begin. Chris Evans in particular is practically worth the price of admission. Endowed with the film's funniest lines and moments, Evans impresses with his performance and, between Scott Pilgrim vs. the World coming out mid summer and landing the Captain America gig, he should become a household name within the next year or two.

While the heroes work well together onscreen, the villain does not. Jason Patric is a decent actor and a mostly underutilized one, but he is not a funny one. Max is meant to be a sadistic yet witty and comedic bad-guy, but Patric's performance is stilted and awkward. Most of his lines thudded on the theater floor, and sometimes even reached the point of embarrassment. It's really the only casting misstep in the film, but unfortunately it's a huge one.

I wish that I could recommend The Losers. I walked out of the theater trying to think of ways I could become an apologist of the film. It's not a terrible film and, six months from now when it's available in a local Red Box or to stream instantly on Netflix, it's worth a rainy afternoon viewing. But don't spend your hard earned ten dollars on it. You'll feel like a loser.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

TEFB Random Review: Baghead

"Baghead" is the story of four friends who travel up to a family-owned cabin in order to write a feature film starring themselves. Tired of being extras in other films, Matt, Chad, Michelle, and Katherine decide that this will be the film that will finally be their big break.

I am a big fan of "Baghead's" setting. As a aspiring filmmaker, I have shot a few films up in a family-cabin during the Summer and still hope to create the ultimate film using this scenery. This is what our characters are basically doing as well as they stay up late in a drunken haze, throwing out plot points in order to get their film written. And although I was able to the cabin-filmmaking feel, I had a hard time relating to most of the characters with Chad being the only exception. Not the most attractive person in the world, Chad is in love with Michelle and of course Michelle does not feel the same way towards him. Without spoiling anything, the other three characters all have very few qualities that I found redeemable and often lie to and betray each other so much that I almost never get the sense that they are truly friends. This in turn creates conflict but it's not until the end of the film where I really feel that they have a bond and actually like one another. I never feel this with Chad and I think he is the one character that really appreciated his friends throughout the entire film.

The film itself is often marketed as a horror film but in actuality is more of a comedy/drama (dramedy?) than anything else. That does not mean I don't think horror fans will like it. There are plenty of moments that allow for some scares and I do think it has something for the horror audience as long as they're fully aware going into it that "Baghead" isn't a pure horror film.

This film is shot in a similar style as a documentary and sometimes I feel it works and sometimes I feel it's totally out of place. I really like how the handheld camera movements add some energy into the more exciting and tense scenes but am totally taken out of it with the numerous snap zooms that scream mockumentary when it clearly is not one. Also, a few times during the film the audio also seemed very documentary-like. For instance when two characters are hugging at the end of a film character closest to the camera sounds sharp but the other character's voice sounds muffled as if his body is turned in a way the boom mic couldn't pick up very well. It would seem as though he should sound just as clear as the other character.

Another thing that bothered me was the predictability of the reveal. I can't say too much more about this since it would contain spoilers but the reveal was so predictable that the average viewer will be able to pick up on it within the first half hour of the film. However, even if you do figure out how it will end, it's still just as fun to watch the characters and their situations unfold and see how they will get to that point.

It sounds like I'm being harsh towards "Baghead" but in fact I very much liked it. I loved the settings, I loved the character they come up with for the film, I love the many genres this film successfully takes on while still remaining true to the subject material. And there is a lot of other things about the film that I really enjoyed but once again cannot get into because it would contain spoilers and this film is definitely enjoyed best when the audience goes in with a limited knowledge of what they will see.

I won't say "Baghead" is a must-see film, but I do think that it is a film most will enjoy as long as they are expecting more of a dramatic film rather than a straight horror film. Although it does have it's flaws, the charm of the "cabin in the woods" story was more than enough to make up for it and provided the audience with a familiar setting with a very different tone behind it.

Jay's Rating: 7/10.

TEFB Random Review: "Dear Zachary"

I believe today, at 1130pm on Friday April 23rd 2010, I finished watching the best documentary film I have ever experienced in my life.

"Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son about his Father" by Director Kurt Kuenne is one of the most raw, honest, humanly emotional pieces of visual poetry I have ever felt. And let me stress the word "feel", because this movie allowed me to explore and get in touch with parts of myself I didn't know I had or hadn't felt in a long time.

I don't want to go too much into detailing what this movie is about since the less you know about it going in, the better. Don't ask anybody to tell you what they think about it, don't go into the internet and do research on it or on the people involved with it. Just run to your nearest video store and get this movie. Sit down, press play and get ready to celebrate and revel in the gift of life. Use the 90min of your precious time on this Earth to feel, to truly feel, and discover the amazing power that movies as a visual medium can evoke.

Now, I have a confession to make: I have kinda lost my faith in movies. It seems to me that movies nowadays are visual lobbies for violence, objectification, non-humanity and invitations to detach from our bodies and to what makes us human. We as society crave for more excess, more violence, more sex, more fear and every time we become accomplices to those values by using our hard earned money to support them, a part of us dies in the process. Honestly, take a second to think about the last time you saw a movie that added something of value to your experience of yourself. Think of a movie that has given you a glimpse into how much more and how much better we can become as people. Has any recent film helped you feel admiration and awe for what it means to be alive? For what it means to be human?

Yes? No?

For the past year and a half I have been working as an assistant editor in a still unnamed documentary project detailing the current violent streak of violence my country, Mexico, is in and the people that use their time, energy and resources to make a proactive change for the better through non-violence and compassion. Working in this documentary has shown me both the darkest and the brightest aspects of what it means to be a human being. I have never felt, grown or experienced as much as I have ever since I started work in this documentary in September 2008. I know how emotionally draining and rewarding it is to create a work of art that truly has the power to transform the world and can totally try on what Mr. Kuenne must have gone through in order to create his movie. I have nothing but true admiration for this brave man.

The reason I became a filmmaker was to come up with stories that can truly move people to take action and improve the world we live in. I asked you all before if a recent movie had added something of true value to your life. Aside from "How to Train your Dragon" and "Avatar", I struggle to find another recent example that can compare to what I felt tonight while watching "Dear Zachary".

It is now 1:10am and as I deeply connect to myself and feel things out, I have to say that "Dear Zachary" is the closest example I have experienced in my life to a movie that has the power to actually move people to the point of action. I truly believe the world needs more movies like this and I hope I can one day say a movie I have created or participated in accomplishes even a fraction of what this movie can and has. I have been forever changed and improved by this movie.

Dear Mr. Kuenne, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Juan Luis Lopez Fons

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders

Voices by Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson

On my way out of How to Train Your Dragon I saw a character poster for Shrek Forever After featuring Rumpelstiltskin. The quote above ol' 'stiltski read "WHERE MY WITCHES AT" in big white letters. The poster exemplified my problem with most Dreamworks animated features. Unlike Pixar, Dreamworks's films almost always go for the cheap, pop-culture juiced laugh and bodily function humor, and rely heavily on advertising the star power behind the voices behind the animated characters. Shrek, Shrek 2, Shark Tale, Madagascar, Bee Movie. All of these films seem less than timeless. I'd rather watch the lesser Pixar films on any given day rather than any of the films I just listed. Cynical as it may sound, I brushed off Dreamworks and their animation department long ago.

After sitting through the trailers for Shrek Forever After and MegaMind (a teaser trailer for a Dreamworks film that spent more time listing the cast name than it did showing any footage of the actual film) I wasn't looking forward to How to Train Your Dragon. I sat there wondering how many Counting Crows songs I'd have to hear, what dance number the characters would suddenly break into for no other reason than to make fans of iCarly giggle, and what popular trends/people/television shows/clothing styles/etc. would get a nod throughout the film's running time. It was a relief, then, when I walked out of the theater having experienced none of the aforementioned. Then I saw that damn Shrek poster.

How to Train Your Dragon is the first animated Dreamworks film that I think the studio should be proud of. If this had been the first film released when the studio started making cartoons, I would have said Pixar has some serious competition. How to Train Your Dragon begins and ends as well as any film I've seen, and although it's predictable and the middle of the film is shaky, it's still the best children's film playing in theaters right now.

The film begins as lead character Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) narrates and tells us about the little Norse island he is from: Berk. While in the midst of talking about Berk's inhabitants and customs, the town is suddenly attached by dozens of dragons. Turns out this has been happening for generations. The dragons attack, steal livestock, and destroy buildings, which are then rebuilt again and again. Hiccup is a blacksmith's apprentice, but his dream is to become a Viking warrior, like his father Stoick (Gerard Butler, who should do more voice-work and spend less time on-screen), and slay his own dragon. Most of Berk's men are heavily clad in armor and trained to take down even the mightiest lizard. Hiccup looks as pathetic as his name.

After downing a Night Fury (the deadliest type of dragon) with a lucky shot from a bolas cannon, Hiccup befriends the beast, unbeknownst to his father and the rest of the people of Berk. Hiccup splits his time between dragon slaying-training, with teacher Gobber (Craig Ferguson) and other kids from Berk, and dragon training the Night Fury, who he nicknames Toothless.

It is in the dragon training scenes with Toothless where How to Train Your Dragon becomes somewhat disappointing. While well directed and beautiful looking, the narrative loses drive and focus. Stoick disappears with a group of men to go hunting for the dragons' lair, and while Hiccup is afraid of being caught with his new pet there's never any sense that that's a real danger. A good half hour of the film is spent watching Hiccup and Toothless bond, and as cute and touching as it is it grinds the film to a halt.

Thankfully the movie starts really chugging along when Hiccup and Toothless are found out by Astrid (America Ferrera), a young girl Hiccup has a crush on and has been constantly trying to impress. When Hiccup and Astrid accidentally stumble upon the dragons nest, the third act suddenly becomes a tense, tight blast of action.

The last third of How to Train Your Dragon features some impressive work done by Dreamworks animators and directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch). This is by far the best looking Dreamworks animated film, and features outstanding textures and effects. The battle towards the end is particularly impressive, incorporating fire, earth, water, and sky effects that are exhilarating.

Of course, all the pretty explosions and effects work would be for not if the character work wasn't there. While How to Train Your Dragon takes the simplest approach to its characters (like-able but clumsy lead, stern but loving father, goofy comic-relief) it works. Partly due to the writing and partly to do with the voice-work. There's no stand-out performance in How to Train Your Dragon, but each actor suits their part well, and each has a moment to add levity to the film.

The comedy in How to Train Your Dragon is low-key. The directors wisely stay away from over-the-top slapstick and pop-culture references. It's an aspect of the film (among others) that will ensure people will be remembering How to Train Your Dragon long after they've forgotten about Shrek and its increasingly intolerable sequels.

I should note that I saw this film in RealD 3D. I regret it. I had heard the 3D in the film is spectacular, and while it works, the glasses dim the colors of the film. Many times I had to take my glasses off to see what was going on during the night-time scenes. Don't spend the extra money. See it in 2D, where the colors will pop.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

TEFB Review: Jeff's Kick-Ass Take on "Kick-Ass"

Kick-Ass is the new superhero comedy from Matthew Vaughan, who I’m a big fan of from his stellar work on the film “Stardust.” One of the best fantasy films ever made. Check it out if you haven’t. The only way Vaughan could be cooler is his first name was Michael and then he’d be like the character from “Alias.” Vaughan once again teams with writing partner Jane Goldman to adapt the graphic novel from comic veterans Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.

The best part about this film is Dave, aka Kick-Ass. A geeky kid who decides he’s had enough of dirtbags hurting people and no one doing anything about it. Aaron Johnson is spectacular in the lead role. In fact, I can’t imagine a better casting choice that could have been made. I immediately liked and felt empathy for his character – maybe because I’m a big geek too :) Johnson plays the role to near-perfection: a kid who wants to make a difference and get the girl of his dreams.

The budding relationship between him and Katie (played by the charming Lyndsy Fonseca) is very enjoyable to watch and the two actors have really cool chemistry. In fact, anytime Dave or Dave and Katie were on the screen, I was having a rockin’ time with this flick. But not quite as much when they were not.

Because given nearly as much screen time are Hit-Girl and Big Daddy (Chloe Moretz and Nicolas Cage). And it’s not that I didn’t enjoy those characters or their scenes. But they didn’t impact me the way the main story with Dave did. I couldn’t tell you what the character arcs for Hit-Girl or Big Daddy are. I’m not even sure how essential they are to the story except for adding a bunch of high-octane blood-splattering action scenes. And, yes, all the Hit-Girl scenes are indeed violent. But I’m an action film junkie. So, the violence didn’t turn me off. But I will say I also didn’t think it added anything. Up until the first Hit-Girl killing spree scene, the film was playing as kind of a goofy action-comedy with heart. And I liked that a lot. I would have been perfectly content to have Hit-Girl kick-ass like she did without limbs going flying. I get the juxtaposition: an 11-year-old girl disemboweling people is unique. But does that make it great?

Cause here’s the deal. This is a great concept. A regular kid with no powers and no real training putting on a costume and trying to be a superhero. That idea rocks! Huge props to Millar and Romita, Jr. for coming up with it. And to Vaughan for realizing it would make a great transition to the screen. But I would have loved to have seen even more of the Dave story. That’s the fun part of the film. More importantly, it’s the core of it. Will Dave be able to become a real hero? Will he have what it takes when he realizes how way over his head he is? Will he show people that a completely ordinary guy can have the guts to put his life on the line and help his fellow man? Those are the things that make this film awesome.

In fact, I would have loved it if Vaughan chose to kick-ass with his theme even more. It’s clear from this film that one of the lessons to take away is that sitting around and doing nothing while scumbags fuck people up isn’t cool. Or as one of my favorite proverbs go: “All that’s necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” That’s the perfect theme for this movie. And there was a perfect place to display that. But it wasn’t taken.


When Kick-Ass and Big Daddy are captured by the evil bad guy (his name’s Frank D’Amico but I’m going to call him evil bad guy), they broadcast it on the internet to show the world what happens when people think they can be superheroes and mess with the mob. Everyone’s watching. All Dave’s friends and kids from school. Pretty much everyone in the city. Watches them get tortured by evil bad guy’s good squad. And what I was hoping would happen is that those normal people, his friends, regular citizens, decide they’re not going to let these scumbags kill Kick-Ass – the one guy who had the guts to make a stand. And they somehow rescue him and Big Daddy. That would have been truly kick-ass. And in total support of the theme. And yes, I realize they had no idea where they were being held, but Vaughan and Goldman are awesome writers and could have easily made it work. But instead of that happening, the very predictable scene of Hit-Girl arriving to save the day and unleash mayhem unfolds. Again, enjoyable for what it was. But great movies do things that are unpredictable. They go beyond just being cool.


And that’s the thing. “Kick-Ass” is a good, very fun movie with plenty of comedic moments. But it’s not great. And I’m not saying it has to be. I had a really good time watching it. In fact, I just picked up the graphic novel today and will totally be buying the DVD when it comes out. But IMDb users currently have given the film an 8.5 out of 10, putting it as the 145th best film out of all films ranked on the site. And IMDb users are notorious for not ranking films highly. To give you an idea, “Star Wars” is given an 8.8 and is ranked as the 12th best film. Sorry but “Kick-Ass” is no “Star Wars.” Nor is it anywhere near the top films of all time. What it will give you is an enjoyable, fun ride at the movies. And that’s absolutely enough. But I know how good Vaughan and Goldman are. And I can see how this movie could have been truly great. And completely kicked ass


Monday, April 19, 2010

TEFB REVIEW: Kick-Ass? Yes it was. (Jay's thoughts)

Firstly, I am both ashamed and amused that I am finally posting a review on here for the first time since the blog has existed for over 2 months now (I think.) I will have to make up for that lost time and I will start with Matthew Vaugh's new film Kick-Ass.

Mark has already detailed the story below so instead of bombarding readers with information they have already read I will dive right into my thoughts on the film. I first must mention that going into the movie the only knowledge I has of it is what I saw in the theatrical trailer. Having avoided the red band trailer and other reviews of the film I went into the theater with a limited knowledge of what Kick-Ass would be about. Did it live up to it's controversial title?


Kick-Ass is a very different film than what is shown in the theatrical trailer. It is far more violent, far more intelligent, and far more controversial. So controversial it led critic Roger Ebert to write a scathing review of the film calling it "morally reprehensible." Yes, the 11-year old character Hit-Girl uses a certain "c" word that can be used as a raunchy synonym for a certain part of the female body. Yes this 11-year old (really 13-year old actress Chloe Moretz) spends a decent amount of screen time hacking away limbs of her enemies. But how is this, age aside, any different from what movies like "Kill Bill" and "Sin City" have been doing in recent years? Violence sells and this movie brings it to you by the gallon. But with a tongue firmly planted in a cheek.

Often times the violence in this film is simply to draw a audible reaction from the audience. It's dark humor is very similar to an Edgar Wright film and is mixed with the violence of a Tarantino flick. It's edgy, it's crude, and it's also hilarious. It doesn't try to be a serious superhero film like "The Dark Knight" nor does it try to be a parody like "Disaster Movie." It just is what it is. It's Kick-Ass.

The first few minutes the younger audience might smell some BS. As good as the film is overall it definitely has the feeling of an older person trying to write the life of a teenager. The writer characterizes today's youth as Myspacers who love to talk to their best friends on Skype. Though I applaud them for trying to work in the only buzzwords they know, I must say the portrayal is very stereotypical. Once you get past that you can fully immerse yourself in what Kick-Ass has to offer. Never a dull or slow moment, this flick hammers you with non-stop action but also allows time to develop it's three-dimensional characters: A 16-year-old boy who thinks he has what it takes to be a superhero in New York City, an 11-year old girl and her father trying to bring down a crime boss, and the return of McLovin' who provides one of his best performances as a high school student stuck between the world of a superhero and a supervillian.

Juan wrote earlier that he needs his films to have meaning. Although I respect his opinion, I don't feel the same about a lot of the films I watch (my years in film school may have amplified this feeling.) This is not a morality tale nor does it pretend to be one. And for those looking for meaning should probably steer clear. However if you are looking for fun, edgy, and slightly absurd entertainment then this one is one you will want to check out.

Just make sure the theater is full and the popcorn is hot.


Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Starring Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Nicholas Cage

There's some controversy surrounding Matthew Vaughn's new film Kick-Ass. Most of the chatter centers on a word 11 year old superhero Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) utters that begins with the letter "c" and rhymes with what a football team does when they're 4 and 15 and not in field goal range. Critics of the film are also enraged that Hit Girl is involved in the film's violent set-pieces and performs the most disturbing, unnerving, and surgically precise kills in the movie's two-hour running time. It's a shame that the focus has been on Kick-Ass's more controversial aspects. People should be celebrating this unique and interesting take on the superhero genre, with as much drama and heart as Sam Raimi's Spiderman and better staged action sequences than Christopher Nolan's Batman reboot.

Kick-Ass begins as a deconstruction of the superhero when high-schooler David Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), sick of being just another invisible, dorky loser, decides that he wants to fashion himself into a savior of the weak. Creating a costume out of scuba gear and calling himself Kick Ass, David throws himself into his superhero role and quickly finds out what happens to skinny teenagers with no formal fight training who confront violent thugs: they get their asses kicked. After sustaining life-threatening injuries more than once, Kick Ass nonetheless becomes an internet sensation and a New York City celebrity. Although this new-found fame increases David's confidence (even though he keeps his secret identity hidden from those closest to him), he's reluctant to keep up the charade, as he finds that dressing up like a superhero to fight crime has real-world consequences (mainly: broken limbs and the possible loss of life) and isn't as fun as he thought it would be.

Meanwhile, across town, Damon Macready (Nicholas Cage) and his daughter Mindy (Chloe Moretz) fight crime as Big Daddy and the aforementioned Hit Girl in a B plot that represents everything Kick Ass himself doesn't. Big Daddy and Hit Girl are part of a story that contains the film's stereotypical superhero genre tropes: a dark origin, a lust to bring justice to the world driven by vengeance, and the ability to perform insane stunts and acrobatics while decimating a room full of bad guys.

While both of these stories (Kick Ass and Big Daddy/Hit Girl) contain enough plot and character to sustain their own individual films, Kick-Ass (based on a comic of the same name by Mark Millar) becomes most interesting when the filmmakers force these two worlds to come crashing together mid-way through its running time. When he goes to confront a drug dealer who's been harassing a classmate he has a crush on, Kick Ass is rescued by Hit Girl who, along with her father, is looking to take down local drug king-pin Frank D'amico (a hilarious and menacing Mark Strong, in a performance at least as memorable as Heath Ledger's Joker). While juggling school, a relationship, his friends, and Kick Ass's Myspace page, David is unwittingly drawn into the world of Big Daddy and Hit Girl.

There is more to Kick-Ass than what I've just described, but I'm hesitant to spill more than what I've written in the previous paragraphs, lest I ruin any of the many surprises the film contains. I myself wish that I had gone into the theater knowing less than I did (avoid the red band trailer at all costs). I do recommend seeing it in as full a theater as possible.

The star of the film is director Matthew Vaughn, who deftly handles the film's ever-changing tone. While it took me a moment to warm to the film when it changed gears, once I realized where it was going I was on-board. This is thanks to Vaughn's expertly crafted action scenes and delicate attention to the film's emotional beats. While the action is stylized for the most part, the set-pieces get larger (the first full-blown action scene is inside a small apartment while the last takes place in a gigantic penthouse apartment) and more intense as the film progresses. And, as I mentioned previously, the film has a surprising amount of heart. I went into Kick-Ass assuming it was going to be either a cynical satire or straight Watchmen style deconstruction of the superhero genre. I was surprised to find that not only does the film establish its own superhero mythos and fully-develop its characters, it is also in deep love with the genre, and respects these oddballs enough to give each character moments that are genuinely moving.

While Vaughn holds the show together with his direction, he's certainly helped out by a stellar cast. Aaron Johnson (a Brit who knows how to mimic a perfect Yankee accent) plays David as a pathetic and naive yet love-able and well-intentioned teenager. Chloe Moretz (soon to be seen in Matt Reeves' Let Me In, a remake of 2007 Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In) has an "older than her years" quality about her and, if she tones that down (she played Joseph Gorden-Levitt's smart-alecky know-it-all annoying younger sister in 500 Days of Summer), has an amazing career ahead of her. And I previously mentioned Mark Strong, who practically steals the film as foul-mouthed and ultra-violent baddy Frank D'Amico. He undoubtedly has the funniest and most quotable role in the film yet, despite all the laughs his character generates, never ever stops oozing menace. Nicholas Cage reminds us why he was once held in such high-regard, bringing much needed pathos to Damon Macready, a horrible parent but a loving father.

My favorite acting job in the film, though, came as a surprise to me. Christopher Mintz-Plasse - working ever so hard to shed his pop-culture association with McLovin', the character he played (and the one everyone knows him as) in the film Superbad - turns in a stand-out performance as the conflicted superhero Red Mist. It's a role that is surprisingly multi-dimensional and, dare I say it, Shakespearean in content, and Mintz-Plasse owns it. He obliterated my expectations, and can be assured that there's not just one role in his repertoire that he'll be remembered for.

As a matter of fact, Kick-Ass as a film itself destroyed my expectations. Had I gone into the film with less knowledge of it than I had, I'm sure I would've walked out stunned and wanted to watch it immediately again. It's an electric and fun experience that matches copious amounts of blood with lots of heart.

Trailer (NSFW - vulgar language):

TEFB Review: Kick-Ass (Juan's take)

Let me start off by saying how excited I was to watch this movie. Ever since I saw the first trailers and clips at last year's Comic Con I knew this was the kind of movie I would enjoy: action packed, interesting characters, funny dialogue and intriguing visuals. Alas, after watching the movie yesterday, I can say I was not pleased with it. At all.

Now, I need to lay some guidelines as to how I review movies, I will strive to uphold myself to these on all of the reviews I make:

1. A movie has to be consistent within it's message. I may not approve with what it has to say but if it makes sense within the story's intent and the character's arcs, I am happy with it.
2. Movies always mean something. They always communicate something and always have an intent. Even the people that say that their project doesn't mean anything are, in my opinion, incorrect or lying. You can never not make a meaning or a judgement on anything. What I believe to be good or bad, right or wrong and my values set will always color the way I review movies.
3. A movie needs to create and maintain the illusion of the world it is creating. If at any point an element of the movie pulls me out of the experience I am having while watching it, someone didn't do their job right. I tend to not like movies that do that. Consistent audio/visual elements are paramount.

That's all I got to say on guidelines, on to the review and why I didn't like this movie.

There are two things that influenced my opinion on the film. I will start with the most obvious to me but maybe the least obvious reason why a person wouldn't like this movie: I don't believe it's message is good or in integrity with it's own logic. Kick-Ass presents a world where violent, cold-hearted, inhumane criminals run the show. They are wealthy, powerful and ruthless and no one has the guts to stand up to them. No one except 16 year old Dave Lizewski who believes things can be different, who believes in a world where people help each other and where regular citizens stand up together to fight against the oppressors. A noble ideal for sure but herein lies Kick-Ass' biggest flaw. The way Dave, who decides to become the crime fighting costumed avenger Kick-Ass, and the rest of the "heroes" (an 11 year old out of reality girl called Hit Girl and her revenge fueled father Big Daddy) stand up to the bad guys is as bloody, ruthless and inhumane as the people they complain about.

Now, I am not a prude. I have watched my share of violent movies in the past. It takes a lot to shock me and honestly there was nothing in this movie that made me feel uncomfortable or repulsed, quite the contrary. It made me bored and numb. There's an inherent flaw with the violence vs violence model... if you use violence to defeat violence you become part of the same group of offenders and, what's even worse, violence not only persists, but it increases. Just take a look down south to my country, Mexico, and you will get all the proof you need to justify this principle. The police-drug lords-mexican army triangle of bloodshed has garnered my country the title of one of the most violent countries in the world. Ciudad Juarez is the most violent city in the world. Despite the amount of money, resources, strategies, counterintelligence, weapons and force that the government has spent, the criminals just one-up them in a blink. And the cycle of violence continues and nothing changes. Only the body count.

In my opinion, this movie promotes a world where our most valuable principle, humanity, is annihilated by the actions our so called "heroes" partake in. The movie starts off with a wonderful idea, a very honorable concept: rising against the violent oppressors and taking a stand. Kick-Ass completely demolishes it's original premise after the first 25minutes of it's running time. After that it became a spectacle of blood, severed limbs, flashing lights and disconnection. I don't know what's scarier: that this type of content is made available to so many people or the jeers and cheers I heard from people in the theater as 11 year old Hit Girl curses, slices, dices and blows people's brains off. Not necessarily in that order. Strike one.

The second thing I disliked about the movie is the way it dealt with it's main character, Dave. I was intrigued and interested by his story arc. I was in. Director Matthew Vaughn decides to harshly change gears and protagonists and focus on Hit Girl and Big Daddy 30 minutes into the movie. Dave (or Kick-Ass in super hero mode) is demoted to wimpy, unclear, vague territory and we are then asked to care about a duo of sociopathic murderers with no grasp on how the real world works. My emotional anchor was gone. Strike two.

Remember, Kick-Ass takes place in the real world, our world. The demented duo appear to operate in a super-hero world. Their martial arts feats are so unrealistic that you will be wondering if indeed these people are not Super Skrulls shapeshisted into regular humans. Again, inconsistent message and set of rules. A big no, no in my book.

Another thing: the movie looks cheap. Strike three, you are out.

By this point, you know where I stand. This is who I am and these are the things I look for in the movies I watch. Is it too much to ask for a movie with a consistent, interesting and hopefully ethical message? I don't think so.

Feel free to comment and check our live review this Thursday April 22nd at 11pm EST on "The Everything Film Show" ( It will be one heck of a discussion. Cya at the movies!


Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Directed by Kirby Dick

Featuring Kevin Smith, Kimberly Pierce, John Waters, Wayne Kramer, Maria Bello

I remember the exact moment I realized there was something not quite right with the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings board. That moment was when I walked out of a showing of Steven Spielberg's 2002 Minority Report. Spielberg treads some of the darkest territory of his career with the film both thematically and visually, and during its two-hour and fifteen minute running time features not only scenes of intense violence (including a stabbing with a pair of scissors during the first ten minutes of the film) but a semi-explicit (although brief) image of a couple having sex, a character chasing his eyeballs as they roll away from his, and a sub-plot involving child-rape. To this day it remains one of the hardest PG-13 films I have ever seen, and thinking about the film in my head I found it inexplicable that the movie received any rating other than R. It hit me that it must have had something to do with the influence of its director and the studio behind its release, Twentieth Century Fox.

In his documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated, director Kirby Dick examines the concern I and many people have (you included - and if you're not concerned you should be and will be after watching this film) about the MPAA and its ratings board specifically. The board includes members of...well, we don't know. Their names are...well, we don't know that either. There are...well we don't even know how many members there are. The point is this: we don't know who the people are rating the films we see, we don't know the criteria used to rate the film, and we don't understand why they rate films the way they rate them. This can be especially frustrating as a filmmaker. Believe it or not, despite what Jack Valenti says, a film's rating can have an affect on how it performs at the box office. Every single major motion picture released must have a film rating. If a filmmaker decides not to have his or her film rated, it goes out into the market "Unrated." Unrated films are impossible to market. When a film is impossible to market it makes no money.

The ratings board also makes things difficult for the filmmaker by sometimes being vague with why the board rated something a particular way. If they rate a film NC-17 (No children under 17 admitted under any circumstances), a rating usually given to movies with high sexual content, it can be difficult for a filmmaker to re-cut the film to secure an R rating - a much more marketable endeavor. This is especially true with independent films, which This Film is Not Yet Rated finds are treated differently than studio productions.

This is because, as Dick finds out through some independent investigation, the board meets with the heads of the respective major studio (of which there are six) after the board rates one of its films. The board then gives the studio specific notes to films released by major studios and advises the studio as to how to re cut the film to secure the desired rating. Independent filmmakers, lacking the influence of the major studios, don't receive that same opportunity.

This Film is Not Yet Rated covers this ground, relatively new to the average movie goer, and ground that's been covered many times before, such as questioning why movies with gratuitous violence are judged more harshly than films with sexual content. While this is a question that has been around almost since the inception of the ratings board, it is still the most perplexing inquiry regarding the judgment of the board's members. The MPAA claims that the board is a guide for parents and lets them choose what and what not to let their kids view, but is rating a film that has 2 hours of gratuitous gun-play PG-13 (a rating it would receive if the violence was bloodless) while a film with two consensual adults having sex receives an R really protecting our children? Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky distills the absurdity of the puritanical thought process down to this: he believes if the consequences of violence - such as bullets creating deep, bloody, unrepairable flesh wounds - are shown on-screen, then the film should be rated PG-13 and allowed to be shown to kids, as they don't fully comprehend the way the effects violence can have on another individual. If a film doesn't show the effects of violence - bloodless bullet wounds, people recovering from their injuries immediately - then the film should be R rated and only allowed to be seen by adults, who have developed a real world understanding of what violence really does to others.

Kirby's film is filled with interviews with actors, directors, and law professors pontificating on the state of the ratings board. It's also filled with a self-satisfied Kirby investigating the members of the ratings board and trying to uncover the identities of its members. He is - at the risk of mentioning a spoiler - successful, and although he has been criticized for giving out personal details of the board members, there is a certain level of vindication felt when he finally reveals who they are. The MPAA ratings board is the only film ratings board in the world that keeps its members secret. As a matter of fact, it's the only board in this country who keeps its members secret at all.

The third act of the film largely does away with the filmmaker interviews and focuses mainly on Dick and his attempt to get This Film is Not Yet Rated a rating. This portion of the film is infuriating for two reasons: 1) Dick injects more of himself into this portion, and his smug, self-congratulatory attitude is ingratiating. Documentaries work best when the filmmakers let the subject speak for itself. And 2) Dick comes to find that the Appeals Board (This Film is Not Yet Rated receives an NC-17 so he must take it to the next level of the ratings board) is even more secretive than the fist level board. So secretive that it was not known, before the film was made, that the Appeals Board includes two members of the clergy - a Catholic and Episcopalian priest - that act as advisors of the board and even cast votes. So much for an independent appeals process.

This Film is Not Yet Rated is required viewing for those that want to know who, on a daily basis, rates the films we view. Although Dick injects too much of himself into his film, there is no denying that the MPAA ratings board is a hypocritical and biased organization that demands transparency.

Oh - and the rating This Film is Not Yet Rated received? None. Dick decided to release it Unrated after the Appeals Board sustained the original NC-17 rating.

Trailer here.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Directed by Werner Herzog

Narrated by Werner Herzog, featuring David Ainley, Samuel Bowser, Regina Eisert

There's a reason Werner Herzog vs. Chuck Norris became a slightly hot trending topic on Twitter a few weeks ago. While the 68 year old German director might not be as physically imposing as the bearded Walker: Texas Ranger star, Herzog has certainly earned his reputation as one of the most (if not the most) fearless directors in cinema. He's jumped into a bed of cacti to repent an actor's on-set injuries, eaten his own shoe after losing a good-natured bet with a friend, threatened to shoot leading man Klaus Kinksi, and forced his crew to tow a 320-ton steamship through the jungle. The man is simply a force of cinematic nature, and his films reflect that.

Most of Herzog's films involve some element of Man confronting Earth's elements head on in one fashion or another. Aguirre: The Wrath of God tells the story of Spanish conquistadors searching for El Dorado and being slowly destroyed (mentally and physically) by the dense and vicious Amazonian rain forest. Grizzly Man (one of the best films of the last decade) features defender of the bears Timothy Treadwell spending months in the Alaskan wilderness protecting the animals he considers his friends and who, ironically, was killed by a bear. Herzog displays, in both his narrative and documentary features, respectful awe for the beauty and majesty of nature and its inhabitants, but also a cold detachment; he very much believes nature is uncaring and unsympathetic to man and is working to purge the human race from the planet. Perhaps none of his films brings his two views of nature together better than Encounters at the End of the World.

After being shown underwater film footage from Antarctica shot by his friend Henry Kaiser, Herzog decided he wanted to travel to the continent to make a documentary about it and its inhabitants. The crew consisted of Herzog and cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger. Once there, the two men interviewed a variety of scientists, biologists, and divers, along the way capturing amazing footage of Antarctica's white, desolate landscapes. The film begins as Herzog and Zeitlinger arrive at McMurdo station, a mining/research town that is the hub of the Antarctic science community.

Herzog doesn't spend much time on the science aspect of what those in McMurdo and the surrounding area are doing. Instead he approaches the his interviews and continental travel from a philosophical point of view. Most of the men and women in and around McMurdo are well-traveled and crave adventure for one reason or another, and Herzog is interested in the way these individuals view themselves in relation to the large ice block they currently inhabit.

Encounters at the End of the World is relatively formless in its structure. Herzog and Zeitlinger bounce from place to place, returning to McMurdo every once in awhile, without knowing what they'll encounter. They document their survival training (all inhabitants of McMurdo must go through the training before leaving the base) and then let their intuitions take them wherever. They encounter a seal camp, where scientists bag the docile seals and milk them. They arrive at Henry Kaiser's diving camp and interview Kaiser and his associates, who are researching primordial, single-cell organisms that exhibit early signs of intelligence. Next, their adventure takes them to the original base-camp of Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackelton, then to an interview with penguin biologist David Ainley, where they capture footage of a disoriented penguin, marching away from the group it is supposed to follow and into the barren ice-lands of the continent to certain death.

Again and again Herzog's narration fluxuates between inspired awe and fearful respect for the power of Antarctica's climate and non-human inhabitants. Towards the climax of the movie, Herzog laments his position that man and nature cannot, have not, and will not ever co-exists, and that, in the battle of man versus nature, nature will always triumph.

This isn't to say that Encounters at the End of the World is depressing or cold. In fact, it's a genuinely beautiful film with outstanding cinematography and sound design (the other-worldly sounds that the seals make (and that play over the end credits) are particularly striking). While Herzog's view of nature is particularly nihilistic it doesn't mean he glosses over the majesty that life on this planet presents to us. By approaching the material through a philosophical lens and letting the inhabitants of the world's most desolate place open up an existential can of worms, Herzog creates a film that transcends the typical nature documentary and ends up being an almost spiritual experience.


Thursday, April 8, 2010


Blogger: Mark Pezzula

Movie: Ed Wood

Director: Tim Burton

Starring: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Bill Murray, Sarah Jessica Parker

I'd like to get a column started here on The Everything Film Blog called "TEFB Revists." "TEFB Revists" will be occasional blogs written by myself and the other TEFB contributors that will give us a chance to revisit (natch!) a film that we haven't seen in awhile but would like to write about. It's a column that's meant to examine films without rose tinted glasses on. Some will hold up. Some won't. Some films get better with age, some age like Courtney Love. It's fascinating for me to come back to film that I haven't viewed in quite some time and be able to watch it in the context of the filmmakers subsequent works, previous works I hadn't seen, and what I've learned about film criticism and filmmaking since my last viewing. So, without further ado, here is the first entry in what I hope to be the ongoing column, TEFB Revisits.

I consider the spring/summer of 1996 as the period in my life that most influenced my die-hard interest in film. I was ending my softmore year of high-school, and during the few weeks of Regents examinations, when test times fluxuated and days off from school were numerous and welcomed, I would spend hours watching rented films (from the local independent video store Super Video) and familiarizing myself with different styles, genres, and names of filmmakers while my parents worked. Interview With the Vampire. Four Weddings and a Funeral. Reservoir Dogs. Blue Velvet. Among countless others, these were films I grabbed off the shelves, whether because I liked the box art, I had read about them somewhere, or I had heard about them through cultural ozmosis. This was the spring/summer I learned, without realizing it, that in order to have a firm grasp on the art of filmmaking, you have to be open to every kind of film.

One film that struck me in particular was the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaboration Ed Wood (their second). I was slightly familiar with Burton (through his Batman and Edward Scissorhands work, and also with Depp (through Scissorhands and What's Eating Gilbert Grape?) but had no concept of the talent either possessed or that both were considered hot properties in Hollywood. Back then I barely knew what a director did, and as long as an actor looked cool I thought a fantastic job was done. I had absolutely no idea who Ed Wood was before the film was released, but when I saw the trailer and noticed he had something to do with making movies and the film was in black and white (that intrigued me for some reason) I was sold. After I watched the movie (on VHS - remember those, old folk?) I was hooked.

The first aspect of the film that got me hung up on it 14 years ago was the performance by Depp. As portrayed by the actor, Ed Wood has an infectious zeal that I couldn't help but be overjoyed by. Depp's facial expressions as the hapless but determined director actually had an influence on the way I would command my face to react to certain situations, and sometimes I would try to mimic Depp's cadence in the film (still do). My 15 year old mind was also hooked on the quotability of the script - Depp, Bill Murray, Martin Landau, and some of the supporting characters have lines that are pretty much ingrained in my vocabulary. I also took to the black and white and minimalist style of the film, which was purposefully shot to look like a film from the 1950's. That was interesting to me. I had never seen a modern film made to look...old before.

Ed Wood tells the story of the worst director in the world. It's a biopic, and the real Edward D. Wood Jr. made countless films that are largely considered terrible but watchable. He is considered to have made the worst movie of all time - Plan 9 From Outerspace (note: in all honesty, it's bad, but not the worst ever), and from the film gained a cult following and a hero to filmmakers who don't have much talent, but have a lot of heart.

The film begins with an introduction by Criswell (Jeffrey Jones) who, in an ode to Wood's films, pops out of a coffin to ask us "can your heart stand the shocking facts of the true story of Edward D. Wood Jr.?" Then, after a fun opening credits sequence involving the camera tracking through a graveyard with the cast and crew names on tombstones (done up in the style of a '50's horror film and that plays to what is certainly one of Howard Shore's best scores), the camera settles on Wood, pacing outside of a Hollywood theater, desperate to get the press to his latest play. When he brings his cast and crew to a diner after the production and lets them read the first review, we first see the optimism inherintly ingrained in Wood. Although his work is panned, the director chooses to focus on the one positive thing the reviewer had to say about it: the costumes were realistic. "I've read worse reviews. I've read reviews where they didn't even mention the costumes!", exclaims Wood.

It is this optimism and Edward D. Wood Jr's ever present enthusiastic determination in the face of obstacles (and complete lack of talent) that give the film its heart. While I imagine the real Ed Wood wasn't as effervescent as the film version (apparently the script glosses over Wood's darker period), there's no denying that Depp's portrayal is smile inducing. Wood overcomes angry producers, difficult cast members, indifferent crew members, a critical girlfriend, and shifty financiers, all while acting as if the sun is always out and clouds don't exist. When he finally does snap, the script has him finding comfort in angora sweaters and blond wigs, and Wood's tantrum lasts about as long as it takes for him to take a shot of whiskey.

Throughout the film, Wood's everlasting go-get-'em attitude is balanced by his friendship with the depressed and aging Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau in an Academy Award winning performance). Wood first stumbles upon Lugosi as Lugosi is "trying out" coffins in a local funeral home. "It's too constrictive", says Bela, climbing out of the wooden burial box. "I can't even fold my arms in this thing!" Wood, awestruck at the chance to meet his idol, strikes up a conversation with the horror star, and the two become fast friends. It's a touching friendship, and the morose, suicidal Lugosi (who is also addicted to morphine) is Wood's (and the audience's) reality anchor. While Wood seems to spend most of his time on another plane, fearless and convinced that the impossible is possible in Hollywood, Lugosi represents the hard truth: the town can just as easily destroy the creativity and fame that it builds.

That's not to say that the film (with a script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski) is a cynical, anti-Hollywood screed. In fact, it's the opposite. It takes an 180 degree approach that films like The Player and Wag the Dog take. Ed Wood isn't a film concerned with tossing in as many "inside" Tinseltown jokes as possible. It's actually very much pro-Hollywood. It's a tribute to the films and filmmakers of that era, and a tribute to every filmmaker with the courage to get their vision to the screen by any means necessary, no matter how many misfits they were surrounded by.

Speaking of misfits, Ed Wood is filled with them. The crew Wood surrounds himself with are just as delusional about their successes as their leader, but their every bit as endearing. Bill Murray gets the shaft as Wood's best friend, the openly gay (and would-be gender reclassification candidate) Bunny Breckinridge. Watching the film again recently, I never noticed how much Murray just kind of floats in and out of the picture, with no real purpose. While he's funny (and again, very quotable), the film would be no different had the character of Bunny Breckinridge been cut from the script.

Another underdeveloped (but more necessary) character is Dolores Fuller, Wood's girlfriend. As played by Sarah Jessica Parker, Fuller is a critical, joyless sitcom housewife, who berates Wood when he spills his cross-dressing secret to her. Parker isn't terrible in the role, but she comes across as practically unbearable in some scenes. I suppose she's written that way in order to create more conflict for the mostly unflappable Wood, but it appears the screenwriters turned a well-rounded character into an obstacle for the protagonist.

For all of the short-straws givin to the lesser players, it can't be stressed enough how much this film soars on the work of Depp and Landau. I'd even go so far as to say they're one of the greatest acting match-ups of the 90's, and maybe of the last few decades. They share scenes that go from deeply touching to hilarious and then back again, sometimes within a time frame of a few minutes.

Credit for that must be given to Tim Burton as well. The least stylistic of all of this films, Ed Wood is Burton's crowning achievement. Devoid of all (or most) of what would normally make a Burton film recognizable as such, Ed Wood was Burton's first film that focused on character and not on style. (Some may argue that Edward Scissorhands deals more with character than style. Bullpucky, I say. Scissorhands is chock full of style and little else.) Looking back at the film after being subjected to movie after movie of Burton's artistic fetishes, it's hard to believe Ed Wood has the same director as Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Alice in Wonderland. After reviewing his filmography, I'm going on record as saying Ed Wood is Tim Burton's only truly great film.

Coming back to the movie all these years later, I was worried that I had rose tinted glasses on whenever I would think of it or talk about it with such high regard. I was happy to be proven wrong. While I noticed things I had not noticed when I was 15 (such as the short-changing of Murray's character and the hurried introduction of third act love-interest Patricia Arquette), the film is still as uplifting and inspiring (without even trying hard) as the first time I saw it. There's a scene towards the end of the film in which Wood takes his new girlfriend Kathy (Patricia Arquette) to a fair. As they walk and Wood beams when talking about pulp comics and movies, Howard Shores score swells and, for a moment, I become 15 again, hooked by the magic of filmmaking. Here is that scene (it occurs at 5:30 in the clip below):

And here's the trailer:

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Directed by Louis Letterier

Starring Sam Worthington,
Mads Mikkelson, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes

*NOTE: This is a review of the 2D release of Clash of the Titans. The 3D version was completed through a process called "upconversion", meaning the film was shot using regular 2D cameras and then processed in post-production for 3D presentation. Word on the internet is that this process has severely cheapened the look of the film. With theater chains raising prices on all ticket sales and 3D tickets especially, I believe you are being ripped off if you pay money for the 3D release of Clash of the Titans. DO NOT pay more for an inferior product. And now, on with the review. *

The original Clash of the Titans is a cheesy yet utterly fun fantasy-adventure that featured serious actors (like Lawrence Olivier) camping it up and visual effects by the legendary Ray Harryhausen. Modern viewers would most likely chuckle at the stop-motion animation and Harry Hamlin's hair, but the film still possesses a certain charm, and it's easy to see why it's become one of the better known cult-classics.

It's no surprise that Hollywood has decided to remake the film, then. Always looking to improve on an original (using the "we can do with technology today what couldn't be done 30 years ago" mantra), director Louis Letterier (Transporter 2, The Incredibly Hulk) was commissioned to make Clash of the Titans bigger, leaner, and meaner than the original. He has succeeded. He's obviously improved on the effects (but then again who couldn't? Even an 18 year old with basic knowledge of Adobe After Effects could create a better looking Medusa than the original - which is not a slight to Harryhausen's amazing work, advanced and mind- blowing at the time), made the monsters bigger, and made Perseus a bad-ass with a buzzcut. The only thing he forgot to do was capture the spirit and fun sense of adventure of the original. For every new and improved visual effect used, a layer of joy is taken away, making Clash of the Titans 2010 a depressing, joyless, plodding film that only occasionally picks up to slap smiles across the face of the audience.

Predictably, the writers of Clash '10 have modified the story from the first film. In Clash '81, Perseus was a pawn in the game of bickering gods Zeus and Thetis. The revamp bestows Perseus with an adoptive father and mother (Pete Postlethwaite and Elizabeth McGovern) who spout exposition and make sure Perseus knows he's destined for great things. Meanwhile, mankind declares war on the gods who reign on Mount Olympus. To keep the humans under control, Zeus (Liam Neeson) lets his brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) advise the humans that if they do not spill the blood of Princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) in ten days, then Hades will "release the Kraken" on the city of Argos, effectively destroying it. And no one, I repeat, no one wants to see Hades's Kraken. Especially not Perseus, who gets all fired up because his step-parents are killed during Hades's initial attack on Argos. Eschewing some characters (like Burgess Meredith's Ammon) and side-quests from the original, Perseus's goal in this film is to simply slay the Kraken. To do this, he joins the army of Argos and becomes, for reasons really unexplained except that he is a demi-god (Zeus, it comes to find out, is Perseus's father) and it is his destiny.

The journey to find out how to kill the Kraken includes encounters with gigantic scorpions, Stygian witches, Pegasus, and Medusa. Letterier has an eye for action, and it is in these scenes in which a glimmer of fun can be found. The scorpion battle is especially impressive and, as it occurs at the beginning of the second act I began hoping the rest of the film would maintain the same momentum to be found in that scene - as the first forty minutes or so are a slog. Unfortunately the scenes between the battles are also sloggy (I'm coining that term, by the way), and the film seems much longer than it is.

A lot of the problems rest with director Letterier who can, as previously mention, shoot an action scene. What he can't do is properly tell a story. His partner in crime, though, (crime against cinema, that is) is the complete and utter personality void that is Sam Worthington. Worthington is quickly becoming one of the most annoying actors in Hollywood, while at the same time becoming one of the most popular. It's easy to see why he has starred in 3 of the biggest films of the last 2 years (Titans, Avatar, and Terminator: Salvation): he plays every character as broad as possible, so that every single person in the audience - from the geekiest pale-white male to the oldest frail grandmother - can project themselves onto him. While that makes for a good character/actor to identify with it doesn't make for a good character to develop or to even have a real interest in. Don't get me wrong: actors like Worthington have been around for decades, but at least someone comparable like Vin Diesel has cocky charisma going for him. Worthington sinks to such new and unique levels of vapidness that, from now on, I will refer to actors in the same league as having "Worthingtonness."

If it sounds like I'm being too harsh on Clash of the Titans 2010, I probably am. After all, the original film isn't perfect and shares some problems with the remake. Titans '10 does have some positives: close to flawless use of CG, nice use of practical locations, Mads Mikkelson, gigantic scorpions. But again, there is a spirit of liveliness that runs through the center of the original even when it slows to a crawl. The remake takes itself way too seriously - so seriously, in fact, that Bubo (the golden owl from the original film) gets a small cameo (Perseus grabs the owl out of a box and says "what's this?"), and Worthington recently denounced the usage of the character in the original film, telling Letterier at one point "you're going to ruin my career with that owl!"

If the director and actor lightened up a little bit, Clash of the Titans 2010 could have been a fun and gigantic kick-start to the summer film season. Instead, it's mildly enjoyable in parts but instantly forgettable.