Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Walk The Line

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Or; "Johnny Cash: the Spark Notes Version." I'm sorry to continue to churn out so many grumpily critical reviews here, but my opinion stands firm. Walk The Line is a well-meaning but ultimatley shallow and boringly conventional biopic of the Greatest Musician Who Ever Walked, a mere string of 'big moment' snapshots that fails to deliver the true essence of the man.

To get one the biggest problem out of the way first - they didn't use his songs! Apart from an authentic version of "Long Legged Guitar-Pickin' Man" played during the end credits, Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon do their own singing. What the crap? To me, that's like making a cake and not putting any flour in it. If you're making a biopic, which is supposed to explore the life of a particular person, and you opt to leave out the one thing that they're most famous for, you're off to a pretty rocky start, even if your movie is a meaningful and unique one. Sadly, Walk The Line isn't, it's the same old fluff we've seen more than a hundred times.

According to the Hollywood Biopic, every famous person ever whose name isn't George Patton or Edward D. Wood Jr. has had exactly the same life, from a childhood trauma to their fall from grace, a descent into some kind of addiction or another, until they picked themselves up by their bootstraps and settled down with the girl of their dreams. I'd call it the "Great Illustrated Classics" version of Cash: The Autobiography, but that would be doing Johnny's book a massive disservice. I'm not insisting they should have packed every little anecdote from its pages into the movie. I'm not even suggesting that everything Johnny wrote in his book was completley true so much as his life how he saw it and what he thought was worth writing about. It is, quite simply, a better story than the one directed by James Mangold. Way better. The extent of the living hell that was Cash's amphetamine addiction, which was so chillingly vivid on the page, is never three-dimensionalized here, just a few stumbles on stage and sweaty forehead closeups. His spirituality is never really examined either, and the origin of his love of country music is barely touched upon.

According to Johnny, the reaffirmation of his Faith, as well as the final step towards bringing him and June together came together as a result of the very worst final stage of his addiction. Allegedly, he became so horrified at what he had become that he crawled down into a hole - a partiular abandoned mine, or some kind of natural underground cave, I don't completley remember - and submerged himself in the darkness, not having any idea where he was, and just waited to die. He waited for a days until, apparently, he heard "The Call", realized that it wasn't his time, and found his way out of the pitch-black tunnel, only to find June and his mother waiting on the surface for him. Now, I am perfectly open to the idea that this story could complete baloney, but nobody can tell me it doesn't make a better story than the third act of Walk The Line. Johnny keeps asking and asking and asking June to marry him, she always says no, so one day he asks her onstage. She says yes. Applause. Bleugh.

To give a little credit where credit's due, the film is not without any good points at all. Reese Witherspoon, after years of starring in unwatchable romantic comedies, really shines as June Carter, capturing a great deal of the lady's charisma and twinkle. Her iron determination to help Johnny pick himself up left quite a lot to be desired, but that was more the script's fault than hers. As for Joaquin Phoenix, he tries his best, and damn-near nails a lot of Johnny's onstage mannerisms (the crooked smile, tilted head and near-clumsy looking guitar playing style) but in the end, he falls flat - he's just trying to fill an impossible set of footsteps. Johnny Cash was such a BIG person; and his voice, persona, and spirit are things that I don't think can be successfully recreated by anyone. Hardcore Cash fans will walk away feeling like they've only eaten one potato chip, and while those only casually familiar with him may enjoy themselves (and hopefully young'uns new to his music will be inspired to check out some of his CDs) they'll still have watched something that merely dips its toe in the water of a mighty river, and never really explored the importance of the man and what made Johnny Cash Johnny Cash.

King Kong 1976

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In my fervor of snowballing Kong-mania, I rented Dino De Laurentiis's remake last night and gave it an open-minded watch. Having seen it, I can say it's pretty easy to understand why this film is so widely disliked. On its own, it is a passable beer-and-pizza movie to watch with your buddies, MST3k-style, but standing in the shadow of the 1933 original, it's pretty shitty.

The film updates the Kong story to the 70's, where the Petrox oil company are sailing to a mysterious fog-cloked island in order to seek out new sources of oil. In tow is hippie ape specialist Dr. Jeffrey Lebowski, who believes that the fog may actually be caused by the breathing of a big creature. Okay, his name isn't really Lebowski, but Jeff Bridges looks a hell of a lot like a young version of The Dude in this film. On the way there, they pick up a very young and numbile Jessica Lange floating around in a raft. Her name is Dwan. Not Dawn, Dwan. She switched the letters around to make it more memorable. Anway, after a montage featuring Lange in a collection of very watchable outfits, they get to the island, and things follow much in the fashion of the '33 film. The natives are having a ceremony to give away one of their young women to Kong, who lives on the other side of a great big wall. When they see the blonde chick, they want her instead, and when the crew refuse, they sneak up to the boat at night, kidnap Dwan, and she becomes a sacrifice to the The Mighty Kong.

The biggest irony of the film is, in fact, the titular creature. It's well-known that, during the huge promotional hullabaloo that preceded this film in the seventies, Dino De Laurentis made a huge fuss about the animatoronic gorilla robot that they planned to use in the film, which would be so realisitic that it would roar, beat its chest, smash up dinosaurs and climb sckyscrapers all by itself. Carlo Lombardi actually did attempt to make such a robot, but upon testing it, the crew discovered that it made the creatures out of the old Godzilla movies look like cutting-edge CGI monsters. Robo-Kong ended up being used in the film less than a minute, in the scene where he breaks out of his cage in New York City. The entire rest of the gorilla footage achieved with makeup artist Rick Baker in a costume as the giant creature.

So, De Laurentiis promised the world a Kong more technologically advanced than anything they'd seen before, but what he delivered were gorilla effects that were actually a leaps-and-bounds regression from those of the '33 film. The believeability of the movie is kindered because not once do we ever look at the beast and not think "That's a guy in a suit." Moreover, if you've ever seen a picture of Rick Baker, you know he's quite a tall, thin guy, and as much as he tries to play the ape with a lot of sympathy and sadness, he hasn't got the right body type to play a 60-foot gorilla. The fact that he walks bolt upright doesn't really help thing either. Think of a Planet of the Apes gorilla without any clothes, and basically, that's Kong. One can imagine that Ernest Shoedsack and Merian C. Cooper might have considered making Kong by way of an ape suit. Maybe they even shot a few test reels and had a look at them. I can imagine Cooper turning to Schoedsack and saying "Say, Ernie, nobody's going to believe that's a damned gorilla. Let's give that Willis fellow a call and ask him about that new-fangled stop-motion stuff he does."

In additon to the suit, the '76 Kong doesn't have two dinosaurs to rub together. Kind of ironic, as the producer was named Dino. Apparently De Laurentiis saw the original one as a fantasy, and wanted to make this one a little more "scientific". Instead of dinosaurs, the island is home to a 200-foot-long plastic snake, whose run-in with Kong actually makes Bela Lugosi's showdown with the rubber octopus in Bride of the Monster look groundbreaking. After he fends off the plastic menace, he chases Dwan and The Dude through the jungle to the other side of the wall, where Charles Grodin, the president of the oil company, is waiting to trap him and take him back to America to be Petrox's new mascot.

It's a well-known fact bringing 80-foot gorillas back to civilization for corporate profit is both pointless and dangerous, but I guess no-one on this voyage saw King Kong vs. Godzilla. To be fair, the scenes in New York City are quite well done. They'd never make you believe that an actual giant gorilla was rampaging around Manhattan, but I'd be damned if I wasn't convinced a giant man in a gorilla suit wasn't. And in addition to updating the movie to the seventies, it also makes what might be interpreted as an attempt at an environmental statement. In the early thirties, there was still a lot of the world which had not been explored yet and gorillas were percieved by most as fearsome, monsterous creatures, so the unapologetically gung-ho, white hunter attitude of the original was acceptable them, and can be looked at now as a product of its times. The new one adds a bit more of a head-butting between Bridges the nature-loving biologist and Grodin the profit-hungry "environmental rapist." I'd even go as far as to say that Lange, and her relationship with Kong, is a little more sympathetic in this film. She's not terrified of him as Fay Wray was, she really likes and feels sorry for him, even going as far as to beg him to pick her up while on top of the World Trade Center, so that the helicopters won't shoot him down. It's a tender moment that feels simultaneously sad but also cheap and exploitve, and it's got nothing on the massive lump you get in your throat when O'Brien's Kong is shot down from the Empire State Building. I'd reccomend it as a curiosity piece for Kong fans who'd like to see a different but inferior take on the story, but for cheap 'n cheerful giant gorrilla pics, you'll do much better watching Mighty Joe Young or one of the Toho Kong films than this one. The best thing about the movie is without a doubt, the iconic teaser poster (see below).

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Cape Fear

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Martin Scorsese's 1991 remake of the '62 Mitchum/Peck thriller does not rank among his best work. Now, while I don't buy the chestnut that "(Insert Legendary Director's Name Here)'s worst still out-does most directors' best," I do find the failiures of great filmmakers are often just as interesting to see as their successes, to pick apart and see where and how they went wrong. That's not to say Cape Fear is an all-out failiure, beacause it isn't. It ranks among Marnie and Stardust Memories as a flawed masterpiece by a great director.

I haven't seen the 1962 original, so I'm judging the movie purely on its own terms. The story involves Max Cady (Robert De Niro), a psychotic rapist released after fourteen years in prison. Blaming his former public defender Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) for his conviction, he stalks and torments his already considerably dysfunctional family. First following them around, then killing the family dog and savagely beating and raping Bowden's female colleage he then sets his sights on the fifteen-year-old daughter, Danielle (Juliette Lewis). Because of studying law books during his sentence, he is able to expertly exploit loopholes during his reign of terror so that the police can't touch him. When Sam's attempts to take the law into his own hands backfire horribly, his family flees in terror to the titular cape, only to find that Max has followed them there. The film is an interesting and table-turning psychological exploration; it shows the family, at first glance, nice and clean like a fifties sitcom, but upon closer examination, rotten with corruption to the very core. Cady, too, at first glance seems like just another thriller loony, but despite the fact that he's completely evil, he's also much stronger, smarter, and more virtuous than the whole Bowden family combined.

Scorsese's great knowledge and love for the films of the past is also on display here - it can be found in all of his movies, though here it is a bit easier to spot. His well-publicized admiration for the Master of Suspense is obvious throughout the first half of the movie, as he takes plenty of opportunities to "play Hitchcock." Bernard Herrmann's score of the '62 film was re-recorded by Elmer Bernstein and used again, along with musical out-takes from Torn Curtain. De Niro's Cady, having been jailed for fourteen years and unaware of fashion changes, has the clothes and hair of someone who just stepped out of a 70's Brian De Palma film, and his tattooed body and psychotic, Bible-reading demenor are reminiscent of murderous preacher Harry Powell from The Night of the Hunter. Additonally, very elderly Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck make cameos in the film - Mitch as gruff police lieutenant, and Peck (quite ironically) as an elderly Atticus Finch-style lawyer....only this time, he's defending someone who really did rape and batter several young woman.

The film shoots by at a breakneck speed, which makes the audience feel a part of the frantic, panicking mind-sets of the Bowdens, but it's also all the more jarring when the movie runs over a speedbump. Jessica Lange is one sizable such bump - I've liked her in everything else I've seen, but she seems woefully miscast here, her argument scenes with Nolte and her speech at the end feel forced and fake. Realism is often sacrificed in favor of stylistic flourish, and a film with such an interesting psychological story needs and deserves a little bit more pinning down in the real world to really succeed, not to mention a little bit of down time sprinkled here and there to give the audience a chance to think a little. When Cady and Danielle first meet in the high school auditorium (according to IMDb, a one-take improvised scene between De Niro and Lewis), it's then that subtlety and the two characters playing off one another evoke a feeling of dread unmatched by anything previous, and we think "Now, I'm watching a Martin Scorsese picture!" Even if the gingerbread house/Big Bad Wolf symbolism is a little obvious, it's still a great scene. The whole of the film seems to be an undecided tussle between Scorsese's real "voice", his Hitchcock-borrowed suspsense tactics, and typical 80's/90's studio thriller conventions, and at the end, it's sadly the latter that wins out over the other two. Cady's climactic attack on the Bowden's houseboat during the raging storm abandons psychological study and logic altogether and descends into ludicrous ham-fistedness. De Niro turns from a methodical predator into an unkillable zombie a la Freddy Kreuger, making wisecracks as he's beaten with rocks and lit on fire. By the same token, the Bowdens altogether forget how disturbed and dysfunctional they are and just become another terrorized family from any Hollywood terrorized family movie you can care to think of. It's kind of a sad end to what feels like it should have been a much better film, but for Scorsese fans, it still makes an interesting watch nonetheless.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Kickass Kong poster found

I made an awesome and oddly coicidental find, today, considering all the excitement surrounding King Kong's DVD release and Peter Jackson's upcoming movie - an 11x17'' copy of the poster from Dino De Laurentiis's 1976 remake of the classic ape pic. I was in the machine room at work taking down serial numbers of all the hardware for the company's annual inventory, and I discovered it stuffed behind one of the shelves. It's a little rough around the edges (looks like someone tacked it to their wall and yanked it off again more than once) but it's still a badass picture, and will look really hansome on my bedroom wall.

I've never actually seen De Laurentiis's Kong, though I've heard it described as an abomination by harcore Kong purists and as well as a pretty fun monster movie by others. According to John Michli, the authour of, described the film as a huge-deal blockbuster phenomenon back in the day - the New York Times printed the image as a full-page spread one year in advance of the film, with a mail-in poster offer, and recieved sixty thousand requests for it. Kong-Mainia and publicity raged like wildfire around America in 1976, a pre-Star Wars world where most horror/monster movies were films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that kids couldn't get into. In relation to the original, for 70's children who saw the remake first, Micheli likens it to "a plate of sugary cookies which lead us to a nutritious glass of milk."

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Milland Good, Phantom Bad

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Watched the DVD of X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes from MGM's wonderous "Midnite Movies" collection last night. It's a terrific low-budget sci-fi film, in my opinion the very best of Roger Corman's directorial efforts (though the original Little Shop of Horrors comes close) featuring Ray Milland as a scientist who develops an eyedrop drug allowing him x-ray vision. Needless to say, he tests it out on himself, and his newfound powers make him an enemy of society, and eventually drive him mad when he dares to look upon What Man Was Not Meant To See! The first time I saw this movie was on the big screen at MASS MoCA, with a live score by weirdo cult-rockers Pere Ubu that perfectly complemented the film's trippier scenes. Watching it with its orignal soundtrack by Les Baxter, it flows at a slightly more pedestrian pace, but it's still damn good, and not one to be missed by old-school sci-fi fans.

In addition to X, my sister convinced me to watch the recent version of The Phantom of the Opera last night. I wished I hadn't, because, to be frank, it sucked hairy ass. Joel Schumacher and Andrew Lloyd Webber took a classic monster story and turned it into a half-assed romantic fantasy for lonely housewives. I apologize for my brashness, but I can't be asked to take seriously a story about some selfish doofus who enters the room like Bela's double from Plan 9 from Outer Space, demands money for no reason, and screws with innocent people just to impress some doe-eyed singer chick. It's the sort of behavior you can only be forgiven for if your name is Lon Chaney. Oh, and he's deformed....if that's what you can call a what appears to be a port wine stain on the face on one of the otherwise sexiest human beings I've ever seen. Anything else? Oh yeah, the music is mindnumbing, the actors are all annoying, and the whole thing stunk to high heaven. Anyone who doesn't read romance novels is advised to avoid this one.

Anyway, on an unrelated note, the Academy Awards are drawing near, and any self-respecting cinema fan will tell you not to worry which films are nominated and awarded, seeing as how the whole thing is merely a high school popularity contest for the entertainment industry. Instead, turn your attention to the Dr. Criddle's First Annual Homefront Film School BTTA Awards. BTTA stands for "Better Than The Oscars". For those of you who are unable to contain your excitement, here is a preview of some of the films which have fallen under the consideration of our unbiased, clear-minded voters. At the end of the year, when we've seen all the movies that were packed into the last week of December in New York and Los Angeles, and in January for schmoes everywhere else in the country, we will make our final judgement.

Good Night, and Good Luck - for Best Picture, Best Actor (David Strathairn) and Best Cinematography
Broken Flowers - for Best Actor (Bill Murray)
Land of the Dead - for Best Director, George A. Romero
Downfall - for Best Foreign Language Film
Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit - for Best Animated Feature

BEST DVD RELEASE - King Kong (1933)

We haven't seen these yet, but they look extremely promising.

Walk The Line - for Best Soundtrack. It goes without saying that Johnny Cash songs, even if they're sung by some other 'erbert, are going to be better than a regular ole' movie score.
King Kong (2005) - for Best Visual Effects. The trailer alone was worth twenty nerd-orgasms. A Peter Jackson-directed giant monster movie is a fanboy's wet dream. Can't wait for this one.
Mrs. Henderson Presents - for Best Actress (Judi Dench) and Best Supporting Actor (Bob Hoskins). In what sounds like a pretty cool film about a nude dancing theater in WWII-era London, these two are a pair who definatley deserve to win something rather than the usual young upstarts who typically walk off with Oscars.
Munich - for Best Something. Hard to say what, yet, but this new Speilberg one looks helluva good, real dark and doom-'n'-gloomy departure from his usual fluff-minded kiddie fare.

Friday, November 25, 2005

King Kong DVD

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For years, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Shoedsack's 1933 giant gorilla classic King Kong has been one of the most wished-for films to be given the big-deal DVD treatment. Cinema lovers have finally got their wish, and Warner Brothers have outdone themselves with the package they've put together.

Everyone knows the story of King Kong - he was the king of Skull Island, a mythical "land that time forgot" populated with ferocious dinosaurs and superstitious natives. His island is discovered by adventurer and nature documentarian Carl Denham and the beautiful actress Ann Darrow. Denham brings him back to New York City, proclaiming him as "The Eighth Wonder of the World", but he breaks loose, kidnapping Darrow and going on a rampage, ultimatley being shot down by airplanes from the top of the Empire State Building. It's the first, and arguably the very best example of a powerfully empathetic character created entirely from special effects. Kong was nothing but an eighteen-inch puppet made of latex and rabbit fur, and yet, when he is shot down by the airplanes, it's one of the saddest moments in film history. It's a testament to the genius of Cooper and Shoedsack for weaving such a magnificent story, and stop-motion pioneer Willis O'Brien, who singlehandedly invented damn near all of the effects techniques utilized in the film, all of which are still amazing to behold today.

The restoration job is gorgeous - all that work put into scouring studio vaults for the best-quality original elements has paid off wonderously. Kong hasn't looked this good possibly since it was released. The extra features are stellar, too - the second disc contains a seven-part documentary RKO Production 601: The Making of Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World, with extensive contributions from the likes of Ray Harryhausen, Peter Jackson, John Landis, Joe Dante, Rick Baker, and a boatload of others, as well as a back-story on Cooper and Shoedsack, who were very interesting, adventureous character in real life (Carl Denham is actually modeled off of Cooper), with footage from their old films, sketches and storyboards by Willis O'Brien, and tons more. One of the most intriguing parts of the documentary involves Jackson and Company's re-creation of some of the puppets, sets and special effects shots that were used in the original, which they did for no other reason than to learn and gain an appreciation for the craft of Willis O'Brien. Additionally, the crew re-created the legendary lost "Spider Pit Scene" where the sailors were shaken off of the log by Kong and eaten by gigantic bugs, which was allegedly cut out of the picture because it freaked audiences out so much they couldn't pay attention to the rest of the story. Jackson says time and again that it isn't meant to be serious film archeology, they were just having a bit of fun, even though they went to meticulous lengths to build the puppets based on photographs and sketches, and even going as far as to x-ray an original Triceratops model from Jackson's collection in order to see the armature inside. The results are quite fun, if not pretty tongue-in-cheek: the large arachnids bear a resemblence to many of Harryhausen's creatures, and they also opted to have the animators themselves play the doomed sailors, allowing them the rare honor of being eaten by their own creations.

In addition to RKO Production 601 there's a short bio-doc on Merian Cooper, a gallery of trailers for some of his movies, as well as some test footage for Creation, a Willis O'Brien dinosaur film which was canned right right before he began work on Kong, and the sets and puppets from which were re-used in his subsequent films. And the best thing about this DVD is that it's available in three different sets - there's the Collector's Edition, which I have, that comes in a handsome tin case with a reporduction of the Gruman's Chinese Theater pamphlet from the Los Angeles premiere, and a handfull of mini-posters, there's a cheaper release without the tin and additional goodies, and there's a three-pack with the lighthearted sequel, Son of Kong, and the fun O'Brien-Harryhausen colaboration Mighty Joe Young, as well. It seems that commercial DVD labels are finally realizing film lovers' appreciation for Criterion-style labor-of-love restoration jobs and DVD packages, and Warner is ahead of all its competitors in that respect. I take my hat off to them.

After watching this, I've become really excited for Peter Jackson's remake, which looks completely incredble. I saw the trailer on the big screen when I went to see Harry Potter last week, and oh, when he leapt up into the air to smack that biplane out of the sky, I damn near soiled my pants with joy - nothing J.K. Rowling could offer me would match it. The way Jackson talks about the original film in the documentaries, it seems he will be approaching it with the same amount of respect and enthusiasm he took when making The Lord of the Rings, which should make for one fine film indeed. I eagerly await it.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

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I'm somewhat sad to report that The Goblet of Fire is as of yet the sloppiest, most awkward and least heartfelt entry into the Harry Potter series. While it does contain a few gold moments and a spectacularly dark climax, the majority of the film is a collection of proverbial sore thumbs, and it pales in comparison to both Chris Columbus's decent, kid-oriented entries and Alfonso Cuaron's marvelous Prizoner of Azkaban.

I believe the movie's failings are because of two reaons - first, that director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) doesn't really understand the story, and is probably pretty shakey on the entire Harry Potter universe. This is probably why the film seems so unsure of itself. Everything in the film dealing with the Yule Ball is practically a movie-within-a-movie on how to shoot bad scenes. Don't get me wrong - I'm not opposed to romance in the Potter universe. There were moments in Azkaban where we'd see little hints of a romantic subtext in the way that Harry would accidentally touch Hermione's hand and what-have-you, and they were handled expertly with subtlety and skill by Cuaron. Newell instead opted to beat the audience over the head with obnoxious teen movie cliches, and even managed to bring his own lackluster efforts screeching to a halt and loudly bringing us right out of the movie by sticking a glam rock band right in the middle of it all.

Many of the actors seem equally unsure of themselves, which is a typical result of a franchise film by a director who doesn't really "get it." The worst of all is Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore, who took over from the brilliant Richard Harris in the last couple of films. While Harris did a fine job of conveying a sense of wisdom, and the ability to reduce the Great Hall to silence while speaking barely in a whisper, there was also a sense that the guy was just too damn old, and it was nice in Azkaban to see a Dumbledore with a bit more of a twinkle in his eye. Here, unfortunatley, the twinkle is nowhere to be seen, and in its place we have a hyperactive Dumbledore who yells at the top of his lungs and bodyslams Harry against the wall. He looks like he could unscrew your head and shit down your neck, but he isn't very believable as a grandfatherly, wise old wizard.

In fairness to Newell, though, I don't think that all of the movie's faults were entirely down to him; many of them are to do with J.K. Rowling's original book. Azkaban was by far the best film because it was also the best book out of the ones I read, and it was handled by a director who understood the universe, and was skilled at making both intelligent children's films (such as the highly underrated A Little Princess) as well as more adult fare. I know a lot of Potterites complained about how much of the story he left out, but such is always a dilemma with filmmakers adapting popular books - they have to deal with trying to fit ten pounds of shit into a five-pound bag. Azkaban omitted some details and sub-plots but remained a remarkable film, because, among other reasons, the book was remarkable too. The Goblet of Fire was not so remarkable. In fact, the only thing I remember about that book was that it was even longer than the previous three put together, and the next two that I didn't read were even longer. After all the deeply personal trials faced by Harry in Azkaban, a plot revolving around some wizard Olympics-type contest feels pretty uninteresting in contrast.

There are a few nuggets of gold in this picture. Brendan Gleeson is terrific as "Mad-Eye" Moody, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, which, if you have been following the series, is the teaching position which always ends up being filled by someone who is a little weird. Out of all the child actors, Emma Watson gives the best performance as Hermione, showing a great deal of emotion and character development since her Chris Columbus days, whereas Radcliffe and Grint appear to be having second thoughts about signing on to make these movies for the rest of their youthhoods. Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman do wonderfully as always, and Ralph Fiennes has a brilliantly evil turn as You-Know-Who, whose scene toward the very end is one of the darkest in the whole series. Harry's encounter with the dragon is also quite a nice CGI set-piece. However, as I said before, these are small bits of gold in an otherwise very awkward and lackluster film, a cake which could have baked a lot longer in the plot and characterization oven before pulling it out icing it with CGI gimmicks.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


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New-school western about Wyatt Earp & his brothers, and Doc Holiday, who become reluctant lawmen in the criminally overrun town of tombstone. I really wasn't thrilled with it. Sam Elliott made a wonderful, cool, elder-badass, and there are some nice homages here and there to the bygone era of the genre - the outlaws' raid in the opening scene, as well as a welcome cameo from Charleton Heston and some cool opening and closing narration by Robert Mitchum. Val Kilmer gives a fine, if not rather dandyish and hammy performance as Doc Holiday, but other than that...meh. Hasn't got any of the grandness or emotional punch-packing as, say, The Searchers or Shane, it's not a fun ride like Rio Bravo nor has it got the gritty coolness of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Just naff.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Come one, come all.

Welcome to Homefront Film School, brought to you by Dr. Criddle's University of Life. I'm a young filmmaker, currently taking a year out between high school and film school, and my mission for this blog here is to watch and chronicle films. What kind of films, you ask? A little bit of everything. From big-name classics by Kurosawa, Welles, Ford and Kubrick to z-grade science fiction and horror schlock; from acclaimed, popular fare to off-the-beaten-path cult pics; from the silent era to the digital age, I'll watch it and judge it on its own merits.

Unfortunatley, I haven't got a review for you today. Instead, I've got one rather hilarious, and another somewhat somber film-related headline. I'll give you the funny one first, and then depress you afterwards - Disney vowed to abandon two-dimensional cel animation altogether if their most recent endevor, Chicken Little, made gobs of money, and children and parents have been only too happy to comply, eagerly telling one of the world's most beloved art forms not to let the door hit its ass on the way out. However, according to an article in the New York Daily News, a small handful of cherubs and their parents were suitably punished - in a cruel and humorous twist of fate, the reels for the CGI livestock fiasco was switched with a new Dominican film called Andrea, which opens up with a man hanging himself from a tree. The theater, unable to afford eighteen years of therapy for all of the little blighters, offered them free tickets to their next screening instead. Pretty damn funny, if you ask me.

And now I've got you all good and chuckly, I'm going to drop the depressing ball on you. Martin Scorsese, America's high priest of cinema, has announced his retirement from feature films following his next movie, The Departed - an Irish Mafia tale which will star Jack Nicholson. It seems a little disheartening that the man who gave us Raging Bull and Taxi Driver is saying he's finished with Hollywood, especially to someone who is trying to get into the movie industry, but truth be told, I thought many of his recent projects weren't quite up to snuff with his classic films, and it's probably due to high-budget studio bungling. If he can do himself a Bob Dylan documentary with more control and more room to get passionate than he can with a film like Gangs of New York or The Aviator, more power to him. However you look at it, the guy's had a terrific run. Adios.