July 30, 2005

104th Of July

The cover photo of my friends Kim and Laura looked like a band photo, maybe a female Steely Dan? The sunglasses, the way they're looking away from the camera, the angle, it all says "album cover" to me.

  1. THE STYLE COUNCIL: "Mick's Up" (a instrumental track from their odds & sods collection.)
  2. ELVIS COSTELLO: "...This Town..."
  3. LIZ PHAIR: "It's Sweet"
  4. GENESIS: "Turn It On Again" (I liked this song long before it was in those Chevrolet commercials.)
  5. THE B-52's: "Dry County"
  6. RAY CHARLES: "Let The Good Times Roll" I love the way the horns and vocals are nearly overmodulating. Sounds like a hot session!
  7. GORILLAZ: "Feel Good Inc." (I first heard this song in a TV spot for those "NOW Thats What I Call Music!" collections.)
  8. THE SHORE: "Waiting For The Sun"
  9. KEANE: "Everybody's Changing" (When The Shore and Keane charted these big hits, I could never remember which band was which.)
  10. DANNY ELFMAN: "Veruca Salt" Elfman wrote and recorded original music for the Charlie & The Chocolate Factory movie, with lyrics taken directly from the book.
  11. COUNTING CROWS: "The Ghost In You" (A great cover of the Psychedelic Furs song, live at KBCO Boulder 8/28/93; from the Clueless soundtrack.)
  12. PSYCHEDELIC FURS: "Love My Way"
  13. MODEST MOUSE: "Ocean Breathes Salty"
  14. R.E.M.: "Talk About The Passion"
  15. PAUL McCARTNEY: "Momma Miss America" (used to good effect in the "travel montage" in Jerry Maguire)
  16. THE WHO: "Summertime Blues" (Live at Leeds 2/14/70)
  17. MARK KNOPFLER & JAMES TAYLOR "Sailing to Philadelphia"
  18. NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE: "Changing Highways"

July 27, 2005

Fantastic Four

A half-hearted superhero movie, FF gets the B-list treatment compared to A-list projects like Batman Begins and the Spider-Man movies. The B-level budget is evident not so much in what we see but what we don't. Some of the special effects are very good, but there's not enough of them- it feels like they scaled back the scope of the movie. For example, we only see Mr. Fantastic stretch (up close) twice, and we don't see Ben Grimm becoming The Thing.
The movie is an origin story: Act One- The FF plus Doom get soaked in cosmic rays, become superpowered. Act Two-- The FF learn how to use their powers, while Doom starts losing his grip. Act Three-- The FF fight Dr Doom for a few minutes, and the movie is over. What's the point in wasting our time with an origin story if there are no adventures to follow it? Batman Begins, Spider-Man, and The Hulk are also origin stories, they're all 15-35 minutes longer, and do not feel as abbreviated. Plus, those three movies were good enough to merit sequels, whereas FF felt like the studio crippled it with a small budget.
The cast is talented but not star material: Ioan Gruffudd (Horatio Hornblower) is capable as the earnest, boring egghead Reed Richards. Jessica Alba (age 24) was much better in Sin City. In order placate comic book fanboys, they remake the olive-skinned brunette Alba into a blonde-haired, green eyed Susan Storm, to ill effect. As a result, I found myself distracted from her acting (and her hotness) by her pasty complexion and miscolored irises. Boston native Chris Evans (Not Another Teen Movie) almost saves the movie with his 'I'm not taking this too seriously' attitude. Boston native Michael Chiklis (The Shield) is surprisingly good as The Thing- the orange latex suit he wears is surprisingly convicing- much better than it looks in the commercials. Julian McMahon (Nip/Tuck) never transcends TV-quality menace as Dr. Doom- his unearthly dark black eyebrows are a distraction in every scene. Boston native and Emerson College grad Maria Menounos has an extended cameo as Sexy Nurse. (Loews Boston Common)

July 24, 2005

Charlie & The Chocolate Factory (2005)

Tim Burton's adaptation isn't saccharine and cuddly like the 1971 film: Johnny Depp's Wonka is a sheltered misanthrope. Burton is more faithful to the book than the 1971 film, at least in ways that really matter: The Chocolate Room is better (the river looks like chocolate and not brown water), the riverboat fits Dahl's description, the Oompa Loompas (played by Indian actor Deep Roy) look like jungle people. Veruca Salt is dispatched by the nut-sorting squirrels (instead of a mechanical scale). Burton includes flashbacks to several other Wonka adventures (included in the book): the construction of a chocolate palace for Prince Pondicherry, and Wonka's discovery of the Oompa Loompas in Loompaland.charliebucket

Burton's major addition to the Dahl story is a backstory for Willy Wonka. Why did Willy Wonka turn out this way? Why does he live all alone with his candy? Freddie Highmore is excellent as Charlie Bucket, but he doesn't have a lot to do as Wonka takes his Ticket-holders on the grand tour. The four songs the Oompa Loompas sing (lyrics by Roald Dahl, music and vocals by Danny Elfman) are fantastic, even if the words are hard to interpret. On the whole, a satisfying ride. (AMC Fenway)

July 22, 2005

Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)

Emily and I came out to see the first film adaptation of Roald Dahl's book before seeing the new movie this weekend. This original adaptation of the Roald Dahl book holds a lot of sentimental value for me, but isn't as good as my memories of it from childhood. The songs are horribly dated, the tone is stickily sentimental. The Oompa Loompas are completely different from the characters in the book (why the midgets have orange skin, green hair, and white eyebrows is a mystery to me!). In order to pad out the length of the book into a feature-length movie, the world's mad hunt for the five Golden Tickets is illustrated with a series of slight vignettes (a computer is developed to calculate the location of the Tickets; a man is kidnapped for a chocolate ransom; Bucket's math-deficient teacher is obsessed with Wonkabars). As a result, it feels like a majority of the movie takes place away from Charlie and Willy's stories. There's also an added subplot where Wonka tests Charlie's loyalty by kicking Charlie out on a technicality sans candy. I found this to be a needlessly cruel trick at the end of the movie- Instead of betraying Wonka to his rival Slugworth, Charlie proves his worth, Wonka says "just kidding!", and Wonka gives him the whole factory.willywonka

Free Friday Flicks at the Hatch Shell, Boston MA: WBZ is the main sponsor of this series, so weatherman Ed Carroll introduced the movie. He assured us that there were no thunderstorm cells in the area. He said there were storms in the Berkshires, and north of the city, but they should be able to squeeze in the movie. After making this inaccurate prediction, I'm sure Ed Carroll hopped in his car and sped away, leaving us to weather the consequences. During the movie, we were treated to quite a light show. The thunderhead-filled skies behind the Hatch shell were constantly illuminated by lightning. We could not hear the thunder, so I assumed the system was too far off. However, right as the Oompa-Loompas say farewell to Veruca Salt, the wind picked up and a few big fat drops of rain began to fall on us. Emily thought I was over-reacting, until she looked up and got one in the eye! We immediately packed up and headed towards Charles Street. We were soaked by the time we got there. After weeks and weeks of stifling hot and rain-free weather, I really didn't care that I was soaked!

July 6, 2005

War of the Worlds

Steven Spielberg's sloppy attempt to make an shameless b-grade alien invasion movie takes itself too seriously to be fun. I have no problem with Spielberg making a movie with no redeeming value whatsoever. However, the premise of the movie is presented in an utterly preposterous manner, yet the whole movie is staged with the utter seriousness of Saving Private Ryan's Omaha Beach sequence.  Imagine Mars Attacks! with a post-9/11 fatalistic streak. That's what we're stuck with here. Tom Cruise, meanwhile, takes the part way too seriously. We've seen all the tricks in the Tom Cruise Acting Portfolio too many times to be absorbed by him anymore.
It was widely reported that Spielberg fast-tracked this production when his star, Tom Cruise, became available due to a unexpected break in his schedule. The movie feels rushed, like Spielberg didn't give himself the creative time and effort to inspire new ideas. He's relying on pure talent to carry him through, and if this weren't a Spielberg movie, we wouldn't hold War of the Worlds to such a high standard. One of the principal suspense sequences, a cat and mouse hunt, is a sad pale imitation of the kitchen sequence of Jurassic Park, and ripoff of The Abyss too. The Boston Globe review described Dakota Fanning as a 'creepy mini Bette Davis', and they're not too far off. The ending is as tacked-on and sentimental as any Spielberg movie. Spielberg cannot bear to kill off any character we're supposed to care about, and War of the Worlds is no exception. (Weirs Beach Drive-In, Weirs Beach, NH)