December 31, 2005

2005 Year-End Wrap-Up

2005 was a tough year to pick my Top Five. There were few great movies, so I had to pick from 9 or 10 really good movies. I finally settled on The Forty Year Old Virgin, Good Night, and Good Luck, King Kong, Syriana, and Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

December 29, 2005

Fun with Dick and Jane: Guys Movie Night

funAnother spotty comedy in the same mold as two of Jim Carrey's most consistent comedies, Liar Liar and Bruce Almighty. Dick and Jane are financially wiped out when Dick's company Globodyne implodes. Jim Carrey is doing the same wacky shtick, which is still funny, if totally unchanged over the last decade. Instead of being wacky because of his son's birthday wish (Liar Liar) or because of God (Bruce Almighty), he's wacky because he's been driven to a life of crime by the total discorporation of his life. Their increasingly competent escapades in robbery are amusing, until the only-in-Hollywood elaborate and nonsensical scheme to steal millions from the Globodyne CEO (Alec Baldwin, channeling George W Bush) who bilked the employees for fun. The ending feels like the last, best compromise which test audiences didn't hate, which is no way to make a movie. Like Liar Liar and Bruce Almighty, and director Dean Parisot's previous comedic success, Galaxy Quest, Fun with Dick & Jane feels like the product of focus group reshoots and ruthless editing. Angie Harmon plays Dick & Jane's neighbor, and you can tell her more-substantial role was cut down to only two remaining lines, and her character's husband is only there long enough to set up one joke. I think I saw Laurie Metcalf as Jane's travel-agency boss, but her part was cut out until only one or two lines remain. (AMC Fenway)

December 16, 2005

King Kong: Guys Movie Night

An overload of the senses, Peter Jackson's loving remake of the (still-powerful) 1933 monkey movie is overstuffed and overexcited, but the excessive creeps, thrills, and scares don't distract from the powerful, authentic romance at the center of the film. Kong himself is a masterpiece. Just as director Jackson and actor Andy Serkis trancended special effects in creating Gollum, the CGI Kong is seamlessly rendered on the big screen. I never spotted any sign that Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) was not actually interacting with Kong. I believed every second of it. Kong is imbued with personality, feelings, and a whole character. None of the characters talk about Kong: there is no pointless speculation about his history, his life on the island, his enemies, his food supply, his relationship with the natives: In a wonderful example of "show, don't tell", we discover a rich tapestry of the ape's life through the graceful storytelling (or 'story-showing') of Peter Jackson.kingkong

Yes, the movie is three hours long. The movie starts pretty briskly: Renegade filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) escapes New York on the SS Venture with his cast, crew, and screenwriter (Adrien Brody) before his studio can pull the plug on his production. Once on the boat headed for the South Pacific, we are stuck with subplot seasickness: Jackson introduces a completely unnecessary (and easily excised) coming-of-age subplot with a stowaway-turned-cabin boy (Jamie Bell, aka Billy Eliot at age 19) and the first officer (Evan Parke) who tries to teach him to become a man. WHO CARES! Did Peter Jackson find this cliche on the cutting-room floor of the 1933 film and decide to intergrate it into the new movie? All I know for sure is that the movie could have spared its omission.

The movie's violence and creepiness inch towards R-rated territory in two areas: The ruthless savage natives of Skull Island are truly spine-chilling and bile-raising, and in my opinion, cross the line between entertainment and unwatchable terror. Speaking of unwatchable, the bug sequence, where the expedition is trapped in a pit of giant locusts, maggots, spiders, and scorpions, was unwatchably disgusting. If I see this movie again, I will step out for some gummy worms from the concession before I have to watch men eaten by giant maggots (shudder).

By the time Kong has been lured into a chloroform-soaked trap, you truly understand why Ann Darrow is drawn to Kong, and begs the men to leave him alone: he may be 25 feet tall, but this gorilla cares more for this tiny blonde than any human ever could.

THEATER NOTES: I saw this with my friends Phil and (I think) Angus too. Picture this: Kong has escaped the theater and has been chased across midtown. He suddenly pauses in the middle of the street when he spots through the mist, Ann Darrow striding towards him. The soundtrack is nearly silent when...Phil's BlackBerry starts ringing! The BlackBerry is hidden away in one of Phil's coat pockets, and he can't find the right zipper, so in order to muffle the ringing as quickly as possible, he simply clutches the whole coat to his chest! We later discovered the caller was our friend Peter, who arrived late, to see if we wanted to meet for dinner.

December 11, 2005

Syriana

syrianaA disturbingly vivid look under the covers of oil and global politics. Directed by Stephen Gaghan, whose screenplay for Traffic explored the same themes within the drug trade. Syriana exposes us to the destroyed lives, toppled governments, and CIA assassinations which keep the SUVs of America running and the lawyers of the world impossibly wealthy. Syriana will make you want to abandon your gas-fueled car by the side of the road and move to a yurt on a hilltop somewhere. After the screening, I went home and popped Die Hard in the DVD player for a little Christmas-themed escapism. (Loews Boston Common)

December 2, 2005

Aeon Flux: Guys Movie Night

The Aeon Flux movie takes what is, by all accounts, a pretty bizarre, surreal, and totally cool early-nineties animated character (from short films on MTV), brings her to flesh-and-blood life in the Academy-Award-winning body of Charlize Theron, and then removes all the bizarre, surreal, and coolness. Set in the far future, in the last city on earth, Aeon Flux is an assassin for an underground movement, attempting to topple the Orwellian regime of Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas, The Bourne Supremacy). The movie is filled with quality talent all around: the movie also stars Jonny Lee Miller (Sick Boy from Trainspotting), Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda), and Frances McDormand (Theron's co-star in North Country), in an extended cameo.
However, great source material and a solid cast isn't enough. The characters are completely flat and passionless- Flux is supposed to be a cool-as-ice assassin, yet also on a vengeance trip at the same time. How to reconcile these two ideas? Director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight) doesn't figure it out. The secret history of the last city on Earth is a cool premise which offers limitless possibilities for a cerebral sci-fi examination of self and the human condition, but this potential is squandered on lots and lots of gunfire.
Bregna, the last city on Earth, is depicted as endless Brutalist poured concrete and modern gardens (my friend Marc asked 'was this shot at Government Center? Jack replied 'I think I saw Mayor Menino in one scene!'). The climactic gun battle takes place in a grove of cherry trees. I kept thinking "Bregna's arborist is gonna be pissed that you're shooting at all these nice trees!" In the end, this Aeon Flux is a boring shade of Logan's Run, Blade Runner, Dark City, and Minority Report. (AMC Fenway)