October 22, 2006

The Illusionist

illusionistA quality genre movie from the mysterious Bob Yari Productions. A love triangle between Eisenheim The Illusionist (Edward Norton), the Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), and the young royal they both want: Sophie (Jessica Biel, 7th Heaven, Stealth, Blade: Trinity), set on the damp cobblestone streets and the dimly-lit theaters of late 19th-century Vienna. The leads are all good if unspectacular, although their accents were a bit muddled. What country are these Austrians supposed to be from? Paul Giamatti plays a soulful Inspector, giving the movie some much-needed soul against the overly bloodless and painfully serious passion (both romantic and paranoid) between the principals. The location shooting lent the movie plenty of authenticity, and the photography was pleasantly dim and sepia-toned. The facial hair of Norton, Sewell, and Giamatti looked great, and Giamatti's giant and pimply forehead was perfectly Old Europe. The actors cast to play Eisenheim and Sophie as children were perfect: The young Sophie had the same overstuffed mouthful of teeth as Biel (The royalty in the 19th century get great dental care- who knew they had bleach-trays and ceramic verneers in 1890?) The one lovemaking montage was almost laugh-inducingly cliched. The tangled limbs! Hands stroking body parts which we can't quite identify! No moaning or groaning (just the Phillip Glass score). All in slow motion!

The illusions were perfectly rendered with modern 21st-century CGI, perhaps too well-rendered for a 19th-century illusionist. The CGI broke the suspension of my disbelief that Eisenheim could create such perfect visions; Emily argued that what we saw onscreen represented the visions which the Viennese audiences believed was onstage. The mystery which the Inspector must solve was a little too transparent for me- the twist ending was perhaps a notch or two below The Usual Suspects or an M. Night Shyamalan film.

While I found the Neil Burger's direction workmanlike and unremarkable (this was his feature-film debut), I admired the hard work which went into directing and choreographing the sounds of the theater audiences: each gasp, murmur, shouted call, and applause, had to be painstakingly arranged. The theater audiences were a central character in the movie, and no canned 'audience on CD' would have sufficed. (Arlington Capitol Theater)

October 21, 2006

110: S**T Blended Up

The title was inspired by a monologue we heard at the comedic showcase Mortified- the woman was reading from her teenage diary, an entry about summer camp and the so-called "food" the campers were fed.
The cover: the top half is my face, with my vintage sunglasses I bought from an Indonesian man on eBay; the bottom half is my wife brushing her teeth.
The tracks: the blend is a little forced. I try not to use the same tracks on mixes repeatedly, but I should not have used that particular Jennifer Trynin song. I had just read her autobiography Everything I'm Cracked Up To Be, and I wanted to include a song of hers, but I should have stuck to one of the "hits" instead of trying to include a "deep cut". I need to learn that I don't have to be adventurous with EVERY choice! On the other hand, I dug deep for the Semisonic track "El Matador", which I now really love. I had just read the drummer's autobiography, So You Wanna Be A Rock & Roll Star, which inspired that choice. The last track is U2's "Vertigo", which I should have left off. I was sick of that song at the time, and I am sick of it now:
  1. "Battle Without Honor or Humanity" TOMOYASU HOTEI (aka That Song from Kill Bill)
  2. "Let Keane In" KEANE vs PAUL McCARTNEY (a great mashup)
  4. "Give Judy My Notice" BEN FOLDS a very early-70s country-rock vibe.
  5. "Least Complicated" INDIGO GIRLS
  6. "Monkey" COUNTING CROWS
  7. "Lose Yourself" EMINEM (an awesome song on its own, even better in the context of the movie 8 Mile.)
  8. "Let It Be Me" SHAGGY vs THE BEATLES
  9. "El Matador" SEMISONIC
  10. "Pictures of You" LIT (an okay cover of the Cure song. The original was in those Hewlett-Packard computer printer commercials at the time.)
  11. "Come Around" RHETT MILLER
  12. "Any Little Town" THE PUSH STARS
  13. "When You Were Young" THE KILLERS
  14. "Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway (Again)" WILCO
  15. "Rock Your Body" JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE
  16. "Time Won't Let Me" THE SMITHEREENS
  17. "Bad Reputation" JOAN JETT
  18. "Vertigo" U2

October 6, 2006

The Departed

departedBest movie of the year so far, The Departed is a suspenseful, gritty, passionate, authentic crime masterpiece, almost as good as Goodfellas, and better than Casino. It's so refreshing to be able to recommend a new movie without reservation- after a year of pretty good but not great movies, I am pleased to recommend this movie without qualification. Well, you should know that almost everyone dies, there's lots of brutal (but necessary) violence, and the ending is not exactly a "happy" ending, but then again, the movie is called The Departed, not Good Guys Always Win.
Leonardo DiCaprio is Billy Costigan, a young cop who grew up on the fringes of crime, who goes deep undercover as a petty hood to infiltrate Frank Costello's (Jack Nicholson) crew. Matt Damon smears his clean-cut nice-guy image as Colin Sullivan, a cocky, bold, and despicable Mob soldier who becomes a Statie in order to penetrate the police investigation into his boss, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Nicholson is only slightly off the rails as a brutal but savvy Mob chieftain who trusts no one.
Obviously, the "cop goes undercover and begins to lose his grip" storyline is very very old and overdone, but the addition of Costigan's opposite, the mole Sullivan, opens all sorts of exciting dramatic possibilities, which Scorsese exploits to maximum effect. It's hard enough to go undercover for the cops or the crooks, but when each side knows there's a rat amongst them, that makes it even harder. On top of that, they each need to leak information to the opposite side, sometimes in plain sight. During a high-stakes stolen-goods sale, Costigan is texting tips to the cops on the deal, while Sullivan is texting warnings to Costello. In the keystone dramatic highlight, Sullivan sends detectives to "tail" Captain Queenan (Sheen), in the hopes that Queenan will lead Sullivan to the undercover cop (who is Costigan, but Sullivan doesn't know this). Once Sullivan discovers where Queenan is meeting the undercover cop, he tips off Costello's crew, who descend on the location in order to kill the rat. At the same time, the mob crew calls Costigan to order him to participate in the killing of the rat, who is himself.
The supporting cast was chock full of talent, including Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, and Alec Baldwin as fellow Staties, and Ray Winstone and Mark Rolston as Mob soldiers. Special recognition goes out to actress Vera Farmiga as the state psychologist Madolyn, who engages in an affair with Sullivan and a tryst with Costigan. I read a profile of Farmiga in the New York Times Magazine, and I expected a second-rate Cate Blanchett, but Farmiga was refreshing and engaging as Madolyn, and she tempered her exotic looks (unearthly blue eyes and translucent pale skin) with a bad haircut and a passable Boston accent. The Boston accents ranged from impeccable (Damon and Wahlberg) to quality (DiCaprio, Baldwin, Sheen), to occasional (Nicholson).
Kudos also go out to the location photography, especially the under-the-Red-Line meeting with Costigan.
If this weren't Martin Scorsese, it'd earn an A+ grade, but the songs and score were an uncharacteristic weak point, so it earns a straight A. (Regal Cinemas Fenway)

Stub Hubby Reviews The Depressing Boston Film Festival