June 26, 2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy

After twenty years (and a half-dozen adaptations into every other entertainment format known to man), a big-screen Hollywood adaptation of the first Hitchhiker's story has arrived. My siblings Jon and Kate and I all grew up reading the "increasingly innacurate" trilogy of Douglas Adams novels (Hitchhikers, The Restuarant at the End of the Universe, Life, The Universe, and Everything, So Long and Thanks for all The Fish, Mostly Harmless) so it seemed fitting that we see the movie together.hitchhikers

The movie is silly, intermittently funny, with a deadly dull patch in the middle. It's hard to keep up the momentum when you destroy the planet Earth in the first 20 minutes. Only after seeing the movie did we realize how slim the story is in Volume 1. Rather than stick to the novel (and release a 75-minute movie) or combine Hitchhiker's with Restuarant (and release a 150 minute movie), Douglas Adams included an original subplot to beef up the story. In the subplot, religious leader Humma Kavula [John Malkovich] blackmails Zaphod into retrieving a "point of view" gun from Magrathea. In the process of escaping the Vogons, Trillian is arrested and must be rescued from execution by the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal. This subplot is only tolerable because I know/suspect that Douglas Adams wrote it himself.

The casting is pretty spot-on: Martin Freeman is perfect as Arthur Dent. The romantic subplot between Arthur and Trillian (Zooey Deschanel) undercuts Trillian's brainy aloofness. I don't think there could be a "definitive" Ford Prefect or Zaphod Beeblebrox, but Mos Def's interpretation is worthwhile, and Sam Rockwell crosses Michael Keaton's Beetlejuice with George W. Bush to create a shag-rockin', cowboy-booted President who "doesn't have time for reading". (April 30, AMC Fenway; June 26, Somerville Theater)

June 24, 2005

Batman Begins: Guys Movie Night

batmanbeginsThe latest installment of Guys Movie Night turned co-ed when most of the guys couldn't make it to the show. The outdoor marquee displayed the titles showing like this: BATMAN BEWITCHED, which would make a pretty sad crossover.
This restart of the corrupted, ruined franchise (last seen in 1997) is the best movie Batman yet. In order to make this movie feel like a comic book, director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) does not use "comic book-y" costumes, camera angles, or production design. Instead, the theme of this "origin story" goes to the heart of every superhero story: why Bruce Wayne wants to fight crime, how he discovers what kind of crime-fighter he wants to be, and how a world-famous billionaire with no superpowers can become an anonymous crimefighter without anyone discovering his secret.
Unlike previous Batman movies, where the Batman was always on the side of the audience, Batman often creeps up on us as much as his foes. In one memorable sequence, Batman stalks machine-gun-toting thugs among storage containers on the Gotham docks. We don't stalk the thugs with Batman- we view the whole sequence from the thugs' perspective, reminding me of Alien. Undercutting this other wise effective technique: the fight sequences are shot so close to the action, it's hard to see who's punching who.
Nolan has an A+list cast to work with: Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, Rutger Hauer, Morgan Freeman, Tom Wilkinson, and Cillian Murphy. The only disastrous casting choice: Katie Holmes as an Assistant District Attorney-slash-love interest. Bruce Wayne is 30 years old, but Holmes looks way too young to be a lawyer, even though she's twenty-six. See my post Katie Holmes: Unconvincing Adult. (AMC Burlington)

ALSO by Gary Oldman on STUB HUBBY:Batman & Stub Hubby

June 12, 2005

The Interpreter and Cinderella Man

This past weekend Em and I escaped the brutal heat and humidity for the refuge of two dark and air-conditioned movie theaters: The Interpreter on Friday June 10 (West Newton) and Cinderella Man on Sunday June 12 (AMC Fenway). Both movies are major Hollywood productions. Both were directed by Academy-Award winning Best Directors (Sydney Pollack won for Out Of Africa, Ron Howard won for A Beautiful Mind). Both movies' leads are both Academy-Award winning actors (Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, Russell Crowe, and Renée Zellweger).interpreter

With such a pedigree, The Interpreter sounds like a very safe bet- After all, Pollack directed one of the best white-collar thrillers of the 1990s, The Firm. All he would have to do is repeat that success and I would walk away satisfied. However, The Interpreter did not remind me of The Firm but another John Grisham adaptation- The Pelican Brief. In both films, the leading lady (Nicole Kidman = Julia Roberts) is thrust into a deadly conspiracy with mysterious bad guys and multiple unknown motives. In both films, the woman is forced into a uncomfortable alliance with a stranger (Sean Penn = Denzel Washington). In both films, the woman whispers all her dialogue and acts scared for two-plus hours. In both films, the woman narrowly avoids getting blown up in a car (or bus) bombing. The Interpreter had all the elements in place to be as good as The Firm, or better than The Pelican Brief. Unfortunately, Pollack's pacing was ponderous, the musical score was ineffective, and the performances bloodless. On the other hand, the location shooting inside the United Nations building was very effective!cinderellaman

Cinderella Man is a vast improvement on Ron Howard's last biopic starring Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind), and a vast improvement on his last "Irish immigrants struggling to make a life for themselves in America" movie, Far and Away. It would be easy to call Cinderella Man "Seabiscuit Boxing": An underdog beats the odds to win in glory against a bigger and more powerful foe, while inspiring the American spirit during the Great Depression. I found the story moving, if a bit saccharine and manipulative for my taste. Howard's direction of the boxing scenes is strong and evocative. He did a superlative job of conveying to viewers unfamiliar to boxing (besides Rocky movies) how boxing matches are won and lost- strategy, points scored, tactics, endurance. Crowe is right on target once again, Zellweger is strong in a underwritten role, and Paul Giamatti (as Braddock's trainer) is stellar. I have loved his work in two movies already (American Splendor and Sideways). Giamatti did not get nominated for Best Actor for Sideways because Clint Eastwood (in Million Dollar Baby) is beloved by the Academy. This part is custom-crafted to win him a Best Supporting Actor award. Let's hope that the Academy doesn't forget about this June movie six months from now- dark period movies like this and Road To Perdition (released in July 2002) don't usually fare well (with ticket buyers and critics) in the summer months.