Josh Hornik Blog

June 13, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

One thing is for certain: If Al Gore comes back to run for President in '08 and wins, we will have the most Powerpoint-skilled presidency in history!

Mr. Gore shows off his skills with the slideshow in the new global warming thriller An Inconvenient Truth. The movie is currently playing in theaters, though I think it would fit a little better on the Discovery Network or PBS. Let's face it, I prefer my big-screen entertainments a little less "lecture-y".

This movie suffers from too much educational content and too little action and humor (though, thankfully, there is some of the latter). As they were basically making a "concert film" of an Al Gore global warming scarefest, the filmmakers tried to break up the lecture with short vignettes about Al Gore's past or action shots of Gore creating his slides. The pieces about Gore himself seemed out of place (save one anecdote about the cancer death of his sister) and the action shots and ponderous close-ups of Gore with the weight of the quickly-heating world on his shoulders seemed ridiculous.

Having said all that, I highly recommend seeing the movie. The content of Gore's lecture is fascinating, at times frightening, and of vast importance. What Gore does, with expertly created graphics, is provide the clearest explanation I have heard of why the Earth is getting warmer and what could happen if it continues. Hint: If your grandchildren have children, tell them not to bother having kids of their own.

Although there are flaws, including a few overtly manipulative moments. (Lingering on Hurricane Katrina is bad, showing a sad computer-animated polar bear feebly attempting to climb the last remaining square foot of floating ice is worse.) Also, when one hears about the ice ages and warming going back millions of years, once can't help consider whether the human race is at the precipice of extinction -- a wholly natural event. In this case, it would have been nice to hear of any species that have approached extinction and managed to make their way out of it (though I don't think any other species has quite the tools we have to affect such an escape, nor the vision to see it coming.)

The movie mostly avoids politics, though not completely. Understandable, since I'm sure a full-length lecture could be made on the current administration's horrific track record on global warming (which amounts, sadly, to selling out the entire planet for the short-term profits of a few industries). However, this is definitely not going to be sweeping Gore back into power. It makes him appear to be the one-issue man he was accused of being in 1992, even if he is right about that one issue.

In conclusion, this is a movie everyone should be made to watch. I know I've learned my lesson (he says, as he embarks on a 7,000 mile gasoline-powered drive across country).

Posted by JoshHornik at 02:56 PM | Comments (1)

January 04, 2006

JOSHCARS!

OK, you can all stop holding your breath.

Here they are, the 2005 Joshcars!

I don't care what Ebert says, I think it was a pretty bad year for movies. Decent year for comedy, though (and good year for animation) -- why don't the awards ever go to comedies and comic actors for being funny? If there was an MVP for acting, it should go to -- well, OK, it should still go to Philip Seymour Hoffman, but #2 would be Vince Vaughn for what he did in Wedding Crashers. And if Sarah Silverman stars in a comedy concert film, doesn't that make her the lead actress of that movie?

Enjoy and send comments.

Posted by JoshHornik at 09:18 PM | Comments (0)

December 31, 2005

4 more Movie Reviews

Have been seeing the year-end onslaught of Academy Award wannabe's. Here are a couple of should-be's and a couple of not-so-much's.

The Promise
This is China's entry for Best Foreign Film and, though noone will have seen it (I had to go across town for the 1 show at 11:30AM at the one theater that's getting it qualified for the Oscar), it wouldn't be out of place nominated for Best Picture.
A girl, given a choice by a beautiful floating goddess, decides her destiny and sets up an epic tale of love, loyalty, sacrifice, and heroism. Yes, it's another Chinese fantasy film with swordplay, kung fu, people who can outrun a stampeding herd and climb trees with a few hops, and, of course, gorgeous costumes and scenery. Though the cinematography and scenery may not be quite as spectacular as those in recent films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers, the story here is a little richer and easier to follow. And carries more emotional depth. Special effects don't exactly look real, but in a movie like this, nothing has to be too realistic. You just say 'wow' and go along with it.



Coolest gay cowboys ever
Brokeback Mountain
About halfway through the movie, I was wondering why it was getting so much hype, but I guess that is the reason. Without forcing anything, the story and the emotions build over the course of the entire film -- it's not an extraordinary story. It's just a normal (if tragic) love story about two people who happen to find each other but can't make it work.
But by the end, we believe in the love so deeply, that the end, as natural as the rest of the film, is extremely affecting. (It helps to have two incredible, elegiac songs over the closing credits: a Willie Nelson version of a Bob Dylan song that's better than the original, and sad-voiced Rufus Wainwright with a beautiful folk/gospel song.) The script (by Diana Ossanna and Larry McMurtry, of "Look at those pigs swim" fame) is a miracle of economy. Nowhere have characters said so much with so little. The acting is consistently terrific, starting with Heath Ledger, who had the most difficult and conflicted role, but including Jake Gyllenhall, and all the supporting actors. Ang Lee does his usual great job of letting the direction serve the story. He seems to come upon the story as it happens, somehow just manageing to be there at the most important times. He focuses on the smaller moments, so that the bigger shocks have even more power.

King Kong
I will say this for Peter Jackson: he knows how to direct a special effects scene, and he knows how to create a completely digital character and make him seem real. As for the rest of his direction, I'm not so sure anymore.
I shouldn't be so hard on Jackson. I'm sure he just wanted to make a very good "B Movie" with some exciting scenes and a somewhat-believable love story. Unfortunately, had he only cut the first and last thirds of the movie down and focused on Skull island, he probably would have had that. Had he not made us wait an hour to get to the island, we might be more forgiving about the preposterous survival of so many people during the action scenes. (This movie was the least believable I have seen since The Island -- not a good thing.) Focusing on the positives, there are some amazing scenes on the island, especially the scene in which Kong fights several T-Rexes while juggling Naomi Watts from hand to foot to keep her from being eaten or falling. And we do care about King Kong enough that it is sad when he dies, and Watts is just good enough to make the "love" story not so ridiculous. But it's not enough to make it worth watching 3 hours of this movie. (And I still say Star Wars should win Best Special Effects.)


Match Point
The trailer for Match Point was very tricky. It didn't reveal that this was a Woody Allen movie until the very end, after people had already gotten interested in a film that seems nothing like a typical Allen picture. Except for one thing. When I saw the trailer the first time, I thought to myself 'this looks like a rip-off of Crimes and Misdemeanors'. I guess if anyone can rip off Woody Allen, it's Woody Allen, but, having seen the full movie now, I still feel like I would have been better off just renting the true classic Crimes and Misdemeanors.
This is a picture just begging for a punchline, but I have too much respect for Woody Allen to do that...

Sure, for Match Point, Allen threw in some points about class (unfortunately under-done) and his main theme about luck (extremely over-done). But once the movie becomes a story of a man, cheating on his wife, who finds that his extra-marital lover will not quietly wait her turn (a truly cliched storyline), the film becomes awfully tedious. Though I liked the actors' portrayal of an upper-class British family, just smug enough to seem to deserve any bad luck they get, the biggest problem was a horrible performance by Scarlett Johansson as the American object of affection. (You would think she was struggling with an accent, her line readings were so stiff.) Allen's direction (always underrated) is great, but it's his writing that let him down this time.

Posted by JoshHornik at 06:08 PM | Comments (0)

December 21, 2005

New Fantasy vs. Old Fantasy

This is a review of the movie versions of new fantasy book Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire and the old fantasy book The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe. What did you think it was going to be? Pervert!

Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire
This is a pretty good movie, but I still can't help thinking if everyone wasn't already all caught up in the whole Potter saga, this movie wouldn't rise above any other fantasy film. The writers & director did an excellent job of cutting a 700-page book down to a 2-hour movie. All of their cuts made sense, though I think I would have been awfully confused if I hadn't just read the book. The filmmakers even added some things that really helped the movie. The action was more detailed and longer than in the book (which is light on action and heavy on exposition. Sigh.) And the dragon scene was pretty cool, I have to admit. But the real success of the movie for me (though probably not for the majority of this movie's audience) was the Wizards-Hit-Adolescence subplot involving the ball. The director hit all the right notes, and the actors actually played it very well (especially Emma Watson, who's still the most charismatic of the three leads.) Personally, I find the future Ron Weasley - Hermione Granger relationship possibilities much more interesting than the rise of Voldemort.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe
As a Lord of the Rings guy, I always considered Narnia (unfairly, yes) a total ripoff. And I've carried those biases to today, and really didn't expect to like this movie. And I really wasn't impressed with the story, at all. It's all too easy. (Even when one brother gets imprisoned by the White Witch, one word from Aslan and the kid is freed in the easiest guerilla raid of all time.)

But the special effects are so effective and charming that you just go along for the ride and enjoy the scenery. There's a lot of talk about King Kong, but that lion looks as real as any talking animal I've ever seen. (Even if he does sound like Qui-Gon Jinn.) Tilda Swinton is truly chilling as the Witch, and as child actors go, these three are about as good as you can hope for, and very believable.

The Christ references are not only extremely obvious, they're downright distracting. Thankfully, the filmmakers had the sense to leave out the "scourging of Aslan" scene.

Posted by JoshHornik at 07:23 PM | Comments (0)

November 20, 2005

Movie Reviews

Pride & Prejudice
This is an excellent adaptation of the Jane Austen book, with high quality in everything from writing to production design and costumes to acting. Though the plot is rather soap-opera-ish, let's be honest -- it doesn't come off that way, at all. And Keira Knightley is great in the lead role as a very modern woman for 19th century England. However, as the thing that struck me about the book was how funny it was, I thought the movie could have used a little more humor.

Jarhead
This is a story of the first Gulf War, from the point of view of one Marine recruit. The point of it seems to be that war is a life-altering experience, no matter to what extent one actually takes part in it. That may be true, and I sure wouldn't know, but compared to the things faced by Marines in Viet Nam, it was hard to feel too bad for this guy. In fact, most of the movie is spent showing how boring life was for the Marines in the lead-up to the war. Guess what -- it's boring to watch, too. And the standard military machismo (though played very well by all the actors) just turns my stomach -- not to mention being played out in movies. Jake Gyllenhall is good and Jamie Foxx gives another outstanding performance in a supporting role.

Ushpizin
Mel Gibson should watch this movie to see how religious propaganda should be done. An Israeli movie taking place in an Orthodox section of Jerusalem, the story follows a born-again Orthodox Jew who is visited during Succoth by a friend from "the old (i.e. non-religious) days". The movie plays out as a modern-day parable about a religious man, put upon with trial after trial, which he takes as tests from God. The tension builds as we wonder if he will maintain his faith, or break down and revert to his old ways. (Great performance -- I think, though it was in Hebrew, so who knows?) As the movie started, it was hard not to think these Orthodox Jews insane for the things they did and said from their faith, but by the end, the movie had me wondering if I shouldn't be attending temple and praying. Now that's successful propaganda.

Walk The Line
It's a biopic about Johnny Cash. The music is great and yes, it is true, Joaquin Phoenix gives not only a great performance as an actor, but also sings very well and does sound like Cash. The story isn't really all that interesting -- another musician hooked on drugs and they have to show us the 'getting clean' scene again? Is that a union rule or something? But the music is good enough and the performances by Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter, to make it a really enjoyable movie.

Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic
This is basically a comedy concert film, and Sarah Silverman is a really funny comic, so it is a funny movie. There are skits and songs to lengthen it, and they're not quite as funny, but not terrible, and it is good to see Sarah Silverman's sister, Laura, of hilarious-secretary-on-Dr.-Katz fame. (And when will they put that out on DVD?!?!) Silverman's humor is basically to shock and surprise -- either saying something you didn't expect to hear because you thought she was going somewhere different, or just saying something you wouldn't expect any decent person to ever say. Example: "I was raped by a doctor, which for a Jewish girl, is a bittersweet experience." Wrong, but funny.

Posted by JoshHornik at 12:03 PM | Comments (0)

October 24, 2005

Lots of movie reviews

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
This is one of the best movies of the year, and certainly the funniest. Also the silliest, cutest, and most clever. How that dog can make so many hilarious faces using only 2 eyes and a brow is a true miracle of animation. The voices are great, including Helena Bonham Carter in another sweet and not at all creepy role for animation and Ralph Fiennes as a comical bad guy and my favorite, Nicholas Smith, as the Reverend ("Beware the mooooon.") The jokes are funny, the bunnies are so cute, and the take-offs on monster movies are brilliant.

Shopgirl
Here's a movie that takes itself way too seriously, evidenced by an obtrusively swelling score, oh-so-emotional slow motion shots, deliberate pacing and unnecessary voice-overs. It's unnecessarily self-important, considering that the final few minutes seem to agree that the events portrayed in the prior 80 minutes will be "gotten over" and forgotten before long. I'm sure that to Claire Danes' shopgirl, the events were very serious, but as an audience member, I would have preferred a little more of the comic relief from Jason Schwartzman's goofy character.

A History of Violence
In the end, it doesn't add up to all that much, and the beginning is a little slow, but at least it provides an entertaining story and a couple surprises. And it is at the top of the scenes-of-the-year list with several amazing fight scenes. Viggo Mortensen is believable as both the whimpy guy who's put violence behind him and the maniac who's a killing machine.

Good Night and Good Luck
Too much documentary, too much political message, too preachy, not enough entertainment. Also, not enough context for those of us who aren't old enough to have lived through the Communist witch-hunt. Besides that, it was expertly directed and well acted, and it does exactly what it sets out to do very well.

The Squid and the Whale
This is a very well written and well acted (especially by Jeff Daniels as a self-absorbed elitist and terrible parent) tale of a divorce and its effects on the two children. It has moments of humor, but to me, it was relentlessly disturbing and ultimately depressing. I prefer to just watch Viggo Mortensen beat the crap out of bad guys or claymation rabbits and dogs do anything.

Posted by JoshHornik at 05:44 PM | Comments (0)

October 03, 2005

Proof

Note to self: Never go see another movie based on a play.

The movie PROOF is another example of a play adapted and expanded into a screenplay, but maintaining the same stage dialogue that renders it unnatural and uninvolving as a film. You can't fault the adapter (whether it's the original playwright or not) for keeping the dialogue -- it's the dialogue that made the play successful in the first place. But where stage audiences expect people to speak in metaphysical truths and bring emotional power to every single scene, in a movie it always just makes me say "people don't really talk like that."

There are 3 themes to Proof. The first is a sort of suspense-filled thriller about an actual mathematical proof. There are those people who will say a mathematical proof cannot provide suspense or even interest. I'd have to side with those people. A small part of the movie is a love story between Gwyneth Paltrow and Jake Gyllenhall. This was the part I thought worked the best, but was underplayed (on purpose, I suppose, as it's only there to bring out the 2 main themes.)

The main theme is the question of whether the main character has inherited her father's tendency toward madness, whether she is in fact crazy herself. Though played very well by Gyllenhall and Hope Davis as Paltrow's sister, Paltrow never seems to show the fear herself. She is a little too confident that she isn't crazy and does more reacting to the betrayal of her boyfriend and her sister than to any inward conflict.

The people who probably most appreciate adaptations of plays are movie actors and actresses, because they get to display more "art" with stage dialogue. The performances here, except for Anthony Hopkins, who doesn't show much madness or genius as the father, are very good. Hope Davis is great as the sister who worries about her sister, but isn't close enough to do much about it. And Gwyneth Paltrow is terrific, just barely failing to hide her feelings of guilt and relief at the death of her father.

However, as an MIT graduate, I can confidently say there are not any theoretical mathematicians as good looking as Gwyneth Paltrow or Jake Gyllenhall. Sorry, doesn't happen.

Posted by JoshHornik at 05:39 PM | Comments (0)

September 20, 2005

Oscar Buzz - part 1 of way too many

The arrival of the autumnal equinox doesn't just mean Scott Baio's birthday is around the corner, it also means the start of the fall movie season, otherwise known as Oscar Buzz season. In which every serious movie that comes out will come complete with buzz about some performance or the film itself and its chances at an Academy Award.

Luckily for me, that also means the beginning of free movie screening season (because Oscar buzz requires word-of-mouth to grow), and I've recently seen 3 contenders.

Exhibit 1 -- deserving the buzz -- CAPOTE, starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote in the story of the writing of his most famous work, In Cold Blood. This is a great movie boasting an interesting story, great writing, and tremendous acting across the board. Admittedly, I knew almost nothing about Capote going into this movie. I basically knew him as the guy who, in Annie Hall, walks by Alvy and Annie in Central Park, as Woody Allen says "there goes the winner of the Truman Capote lookalike contest." Therefore, I was fascinated by the portrait of Capote as an egotistical (if deservedly so) attention-seeker who ran with celebrities and literary types, and knew the story of In Cold Blood would make him more celebrated than ever. The direction of the film is great, holding the viewer's interest in both the Capote character sketch and the subject of In Cold Blood, a grisly multiple murder in Kansas. The writing is light and witty at times, and emotionally raw at other times.

But the film is mostly recommended by the acting performances. Included are pitch-perfect supporting turns by Bruce Greenwood, always-reliable Chris Cooper and Catherine Keener as Harper Lee. (The Catherine Keener charm offensive continues -- she plays a non-bitchy character in her second movie in a row. What gives?) The prisoners are just right, playing both menacing and pitiful. And the most Oscar buzz will certainly go to Hoffman, whose portrayal of Capote is nothing short of brilliant. As an impression, I hear he is "spot on". As a performance of a complicated human being, it is even better. Almost every line requires Hoffman to say one thing while almost successfully concealing Capote's true feelings or motives, and he manages to do it naturally and in character. Despite the voice and the affectation, Hoffman's peformance is what makes the character, and the movie, powerful and real.

Exhibit #2 -- less deserving -- OLIVER TWIST, Roman Polanski's new rendition of the Dickens classic. OK, I admit it -- I don't like Dickens, and I find his stories, especially Oliver Twist, to be meaningless and episodic. No surprise, then, that I found this movie meaningless and episodic. There just isn't enough emotional heft to make a viewer really care what happens to any of the characters, including Oliver. The film flies through his early life in the workhouse and various placements with such little depth that no sympathy can build up. Most of the movie is taken up with Oliver's time with Fagin and the gang, where it gets a little more exciting, but still lacks depth. The ending is abrupt, even with a tacked-on and unnecessary (except, perhaps, for building Oscar buzz for Kingsley) scene with Fagin in jail. Kingsley is great, though Fagin remains basically a caricature, and Jamie Foreman is just frightening enough as Bill Sykes. The child actors, including Oliver, unfortunately, are not so good. They make exaggerated faces and movements and seem anything but realistic. The period setting suffers the same way. The sets look very nice, but down to the rats and fistfights in the streets, it all seems like overacting.

Exhibit #3 -- Tim Burton's THE CORPSE BRIDE, which certainly deserves buzz for animated movie of the year. This movie is just plain fun and made me happy, even despite its dark subject matter. It looks great, has a small but tidy story, and is very funny. The songs by Danny Elfman are a little odd -- every time I thought I was about to hear a chorus, I was misled. It doesn't seem like a Shrek or a Toy Story, that you could watch over and over again, but it's got real charm.

Posted by JoshHornik at 05:33 PM | Comments (0)

August 24, 2005

Grizzly Man, the anti-March of the Penguins

The authors of March of the Penguins and Timothy Treadwell, the ill-fated subject of the movie Grizzly Man, seem to have viewed nature with the same rose-colored glasses.He was a hairy bear; he was a scary bear.
While Penguins' narration told us how difficult it is for penguin parents to leave their babies and what joy the family unit (which stays a unit for all of 1 summer) gets from being together, Treadwell idealized the bears and foxes of Alaska into a fantasy of universal oneness in which a human could live peacefully with such wild animals.

And if the March of the Penguins filmmakers were a little less than honest about things like parents abandoning babies and mates, you might say Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man's greatest strength is its honesty. It is an honest account of Treadwell, including both friendly and antagonistic viewpoints on his life and death. And, most of all, it is an honest portrayal of bears as wild animals, "indifferent" machines that eat to live.

It would be impossible for it not to be, since its subject is Timothy Treadwell, who lived among the bears of the Alaskan peninsula every summer for 13 years, videotaping them and proselytizing for conservation, until one of the bears brutally killed him (and his girlfriend) and, yes, ate him. This fact alone fills every shot of Treadwell with the bears with dread and morbid fascination.

And there are many shots, because Treadwell recorded hundreds of hours of himself with the bears, speaking into the camera to tell the viewer how dangerous the bears were and how any wrong move could spell his death. It is fascinating to watch, because it is clear that Treadwell understood the danger and even shows fear at times when a bear makes an aggressive move in his direction, but at the same time, seems to think himself free of all danger. His death was surely due to hubris, years of survival among the bears making him feel closer and closer to being a bear himself, an accepted member of their family, and above danger.

Treadwell stands dangerously close to a bearThe movie Grizzly Man is doubly fascinating because it not only explores the world of the grizzly bear (with incredible footage left by Treadwell himself) but also the man Treadwell, who Herzog discovered to be an equally rich subject.
Although I would have liked to see even more about Treadwell's past, Herzog does ponder his inner demons, his relationships, even his sexuality, and most importantly, what would cause a person to camp by himself, in mortal danger in the wilderness, every summer for 13 years.

It becomes clear that Treadwell was a disturbed individual, but at the same time, it seems that his life only took on meaning after he found the bears. And whether or not he was insane or stupid to let himself (and his girlfriend) be killed the way he was, it does not seem tragic at all. I don't know how much good he did for the conservation movement, but it is safe to say that Treadwell himself (and Herzog) feels the bears "saved" him, just as if he'd found Jesus.

As for me, I am scared in retrospect for having gotten with 200 yards of a grizzly at Sequoia National Park, and I highly recommend this film.

Posted by JoshHornik at 05:48 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 05, 2005

Something of the Somethings

Saw two very different movies this weekend, with similar titles...

March of the Penguins
Loved it. This is an amazing film. You'll be amazed by the story of how Emperor penguins mate -- marching miles and miles across the ice to the same place every year, hooking up with exactly one penguin of the opposite sex, producing exactly one egg, which the dad then incubates, while the mom marches miles and miles to get food, returning to feed the baby while the dad marches miles and miles to save himself from starvation.

You will also be amazed by the camera shots. Unbelievable close-ups of penguins, including shots of the transfer of the egg from female to male, the hatching of the egg, the baby's first swim, etc. Even more amazing are the beautiful shots of Antarctica as backdrop.

March of the Penguins

If the movie has one flaw, and I only mention it because it lets me use what is probably the longest word I will ever use, it is overanthropomorphification. (26 letters!!!) The filmmakers go overboard inferring the emotions that these penguins are feeling. The "lovemaking" scene is ludicrous and I couldn't help wondering, if these penguins are so close to humans in their deep emotional involvement, how one adult penguin could simply watch while someone else's baby was eaten by a predatory bird. (The narration didn't mention it.) Small flaw -- great movie.

War of the Worlds
Hated it. Spielberg got away with a bad story in Jurassic Park since the special effects were so mind-blowing. The effects aren't good enough here and the story is even worse. If you can even call it a story. Tom Cruise leaves work, has two kids dropped off, then is attacked by aliens and spends the next hour and a half trying to survive. It doesn't lead up to anything, doesn't build the tension toward any climax. In fact, the ending (like many small scenes) is ridiculous and arbitrary. Cruise is fine and Dakota Fanning is very good for her age, but they don't have that much to do besides act scared. There are a couple good, chilling scenes, but with no emotional depth and no setup and no explanation of anything that happens, there's nothing to make anyone care at all.

Posted by JoshHornik at 06:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 21, 2005

Batman's Mysterious Moving Castle's Skin Begins

I have been remiss in my Roger Ebert imitation, and I've seen a few good ones recently. Here are the capsules:

Batman Begins
Yes, it's true. This is the best Batman movie. It's very entertaining without being stupid, like most action/superhero movies. In fact, what is great about it is how well it manages to show the origin story of Batman and completely plausibly explain all of the things that have always seemed so ridiculous in Batman. (You know, like how, if he hasn't been hit by Gamma rays or come from another planet, can he be so good at fighting and never get killed, and, as Joker said in the first one, where does he get all those toys?)
Christian Bale is good, especially when playing Bruce Wayne (I could have done without his Batman growly voice), and all the cast not engaged to Tom Cruise play and fit their parts well, especially Michael Caine, who plays Alfred perfectly. I didn't love the way Nolan directed the fight scenes, but the look of the movie and the special effects are just right.

Howl's Moving Castle

The latest movie from Hayao Miyazaki (of My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away fame) finally made its way over from Japan, and it is more of what you would expect. In other words, incredible animation, weird unexplainable things happening to charming characters, led by a strong female lead, and social messages (in this case, war is futile, and there are more important things than beauty).
Though it's not as successful as Spirited Away at bringing the viewer into its world, it's still a fun story with a few surprises and a satisfying ending. And any kid who could follow Spirited Away and stay involved should love this one, too.

Mysterious Skin
Entertaining is not quite the word for this movie, but it is a powerful and extremely well-written look at the horrors of sexual abuse. What is striking about the movie is that it uses the parallel stories of two victims without blame or hatred for the abuser -- one actually felt honored and loved by the abuse, while the other has blocked the experience entirely -- to make the audience feel the truly terrible and long-ranging effects of the abuse. The acting by the two leads is great, as is the acting by the child actors, who couldn't possibly have known what they were really acting out. Gregg Araki wrote and directed and, while there were a few heavy-handed hints showing the direct cause-and-effect between one boy's abused past and his unseemly present situation, the story and dialogue were real and powerful.

Posted by JoshHornik at 04:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 03, 2005

Cinderella Man

The new movie Cinderella Man is about as subtle as a Max Baer haymaker. But, OK, I'll give it a break. There are lots of different styles of boxers and there are lots of different styles of movies. Ron Howard isn't the type of director to dance around the ring, feinting and weaving and setting up his viewers for a crushing blow. Ron, I've seen Million Dollar Baby, and you're no Clint Eastwood.

Instead, he's the type to come out punching with giant telegraphed swings from both sides, like Baer, the big bad heavyweight champion (and requisite villain) in this movie. Sure, some of the punches don't land, but in the end the audience is knocked out anyway.

Cinderella Man is a crowd-pleaser, and extremely well made. Except for the writing, which sorely lacks depth, everyone involved is in top form. Russell Crowe is a brilliant actor and the guy has more charisma in his little finger than I do in my whole body. Of course, it's easy to get the viewer behind you when your character is such a saint among men. As portrayed here, Braddock's only possible flaw would be his headstrongness, except that he turns out always to be making the right decision. But Crowe milks the emotional scenes and still seems perfectly believable as a boxing champion and a toughguy.

Paul Giamatti, also reliably good, makes his manager character come to life and seem almost human, rather than the archetype in the script. Renee Zellwegger is fine, in a one-note part as the supportive but put-upon wife. (Full disclosure: I don't know how I got so soured, but I can barely stand looking at Renee Zellwegger. That scrunchy face drives me mad, for some reason. Yuck.)

As an underdog boxing movie, Cinderella Man really succeeds. Howard's direction of the boxing scenes is exciting and dramatic, though I suspect none of these fights could have been as thrilling in real life as they are in the movie. Where the movie fails is in its shallow treatment of the depression, with the obligatory scenes of men looking for but not finding work, electricity being shut off, a family having barely enough food to feed the children, etc. A subplot about Braddock's friend as a union instigator feels tacked on and almost completely unnecessary.

So, in the end, just as George Foreman the puncher managed to win the heavyweight championship, this movie will be popular and well-reviewed, but of course it was Muhammad Ali, the dancer, who was the Greatest Of All Time.

Posted by JoshHornik at 04:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 27, 2005

Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith

It won't come as any surprise to anyone when I agree with the majority of the reviews for Revenge of the Sith that it is a huge success. It's hard to imagine a more satisfying ending to the prequel trilogy and lead-in to the original Star Wars movies. (OK, a holographic cameo by Liam Neeson as the late Qui-Gon Jin would have been nice.) A clear sign of how well George Lucas connected the six movies was the instant desire I had to go back and watch the end of Return of the Jedi again after seeing Sith. Having just watched Anakin make his fall to the Dark Side and become Darth Vader, I couldn't wait to go back and, in that context, see the scene in Episode 6 when Darth Vader rebukes the Dark Side, becomes Anakin again and, indeed, fulfills the prophecy of the prequel trilogy.

I am sure that scene would take on a lot more power after seeing the new movie. Anakin's suicidal request for Luke to remove his Darth Vader helmet is much more meaningful after the emotional build-up to the events that lead to Anakin's putting on the helmet in the first place. In fact, this movie is the most emotionally powerful of all six Star Wars movies. The conflict caused by Anakin's fall, in everyone from his pregnant wife to his mentor Obi-Wan to Anakin himself, is the stuff good movies are made of. And the acting in this movie rises above the last two -- Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman do start off wooden again, but as the stakes are raised, so is their acting, thankfully. Ewan MacGregor is, and has been, consistently great.

George Lucas probably still gets ripped for bad dialogue, but I'm sure his direction will be under-appreciated. In a wide-ranging story, with important events taking place simultaneously across the galaxy, Lucas does a great job of maintaining the pacing, the excitement, and the emotion. In fact, there are several places where his intercutting between the various momentous events successfully contrasts the events and increases the impact. The simultaneous births of Luke and Leia and of the familiar black-suited Darth Vader brings to mind the baptism/massacre scenes at the end of The Godfather (and if you want to rip off any scene in a movie ever, that would be the one, wouldn't it?)

In addition to direction and editing, Lucas may have finally fully realized his vision of entirely-digital moviemaking. The special effects here are truly incredible, innovative, cutting edge, and at the same time, perfectly realistic. Yoda feels entirely real and reveals every bit as much emotion as Gollum or any other digital character ever has.

As a psycho Star Wars fan, I can nitpick, however. If your name was Padme Amidala and your husband's name was Anakin, do you really think you would choose the name "Luke"? Didn't Leia say she knew her mother in Return of the Jedi? If Bail Organa only asks for C-3PO's memory to be erased, why does R2-D2 seem so clueless in Episodes 4-6? With all the incredible technology in this galaxy far far away, how come they still can't ever get a clear static-free signal when communicating by hologram?

However, we do get to see the future of Cirque Du Soleil, and Anakin is so bad-ass when he turns evil, and I'm told that if you look closely, for a split-second you can see the Millenium Falcon flying by. That's worth the price of admission right there.

Now, how long must George Lucas continue to claim he won't make Episodes 7, 8, and 9? No one believes you. Now get to work, George.

Posted by JoshHornik at 02:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 10, 2005

Fever Pitch

Up until last October, I had been planning a joke for my wedding day. (No, just using the words "my wedding day" is not the joke.) I would start a speech with "Until the Red Sox win the World Series, today is the happiest day of my life."

I thereby recuse myself of all objectivity in reviewing the movie Fever Pitch. Truth be told, I don't think it was a very good movie but I can't be sure, because of situations like this: I was watching one scene that took place at Fenway Park. The various characters started to explain The Curse of the Bambino and I was thinking "This is pretty bad exposition for the middle of a movie." They started to name off the various incarnations of the curse -- Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner, etc. Then they got to Grady Little leaving Pedro in against the Yankees in 2003. I spent the next 2 minutes in a funk, thinking how Little was such a moron, that it was so incredibly obvious Pedro should be replaced, and that we should have been in the World Series that year. I couldn't tell you what was happening in the movie during this time.

Anyway, I really liked the movie. At least, I liked half of the movie. Every time they were talking about the Red Sox or Red Sox fans, or more importantly, showing pictures of Boston, Fenway Park, and Red Sox games (and even Jim Rice in uniform!), it was one of the best movies I've seen in a long time. But when they were showing other things, like Drew Barrymore talking to her girlfriends, it did seem like a pretty ordinary romantic comedy.

The movie is written & directed by the Farrelly brothers, who also did There's Something About Mary. Whether you like the "gross-out comedy" genre or not, I think it's run its course and someone needs to tell these guys that. There were a bunch of random Farrelly brothers-style jokes thrown in throughout the movie that just seemed out of place and, even worse, not very funny.

To sum up, if you have ever heard of Kevin Romine, Todd Benzinger, Sang Lee, or Abe Alvarez, you might like the movie. If not, I'd see something else.

Posted by JoshHornik at 08:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack