I have seen a lot of recent DVDs over the last few months that I haven't been blogged about so I thought it would be good to take a break from the summer sequel season and round up a handful and square them off. I tried to keep it in a brief blurb format but since this is film BABBLE the reviews of course wind on and on. Let's start with -
New Release DVD Recommendations :
LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (Dir. Clint Eastwood, 2006) Word was that this was vastly superior to FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS but this politically correct companion piece is roughly the same quality in my estimation. Told from the Japanese point of view entirely in their language with sub-titles LETTERS has the same sense of earnest honor and the same grey overcast tint. The standout characters are General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) the young Saigo (Kazunari Ninomira) who run into each other more than once in the tunnels between Mount Saribachi and the north side of the island as bombing and ground attacks by the American troops rage above. The melodrama involving the sympathy that emerges is handled deftly by Eastwood while the sentiment - such as the sunny Speilbergisms that sadly have defined the modern era war-film is kept in check. It may be too much to watch both FLAGS and LETTERS in one sitting or some double feature setting but both even with their glorified old-school faults (most likely from the screenplay written by CRASH * director Paul Hack-ish, oh - I mean Haggis) should not be missed.
* Incidentely my least favorite Best Picture Academy Award winning film ever!
49 UP (Dir. Michael Apted, 2005) The 7th in the excellent documentary series that began in 1964 with the bold statement - "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man" and followed 14 British children catching up with them every (yep) 7 years. Since most people I know haven't seen any of these movies I'd highly recommend the Up Series box-set which has the previous 6 films but honestly that's not absolutely necessary to enjoy this movie. Plenty of clips from all the films inform and enhance the new material and don't come off as redundant for those who have kept up. It would be too much for me to recount all the names, stories, and economic backgrounds so check out this Wikipedia entry if you are curious. Seeing this group of real people at the various stages of their lives through turmoil and peace makes for extremely satisfying viewing. Bring on 56 UP!
(Dir. Sylvester Stallone, 2006)
It's hard for me to believe this is making my recommendations list. I mean as a kid I hated the ROCKY movies, ridiculed them with other snotty pimpled faced friends, and grew up to believe them to be populist Narcissistic America at its most lame brained epic-wannabes. At some point when I got older I caught the original Best Picture winning ROCKY and found myself liking it. It came from my favorite era of cinema (the 70's dummy!) and it was grittily touching in its portrayal of the boxing underdog making a name for himself. Then sequel-itis set in and the character became a machine who could never lose in glitzy gimmicky match-ups with Mr. T (III) and that evil Russian powerhouse played by Dolph Lundgren (IV) - yes that's right - Rocky was going to win the Cold War! I never even saw ROCKY V (1990) - so why do I like and recommend ROCKY BALBOA? Because we have Stallone at his most likable - an aging humble simpleton running a restaurant named after his deceased wife Adrian (Talia Shire - who is not deceased; she just didn't return to the series), telling the same fight stories, and brushing off daily indignities. It seems oddly necessary for Stallone to return to his Rocky roots - this is his best and most definable character and even with the contrived 'inspired by a video game simulation Rocky gets an exhibition match with the current troubled champ Mason 'The Line Dixon' (Antonio Tarver)' scenario, I hate to admit it but it works. Bring on JOHN RAMBO! Okay, no wait - that's a bit much.
And now :
New Release DVD Disses :
BOBBY (Dir. Emilio Estevez, 2006) I had heard the news upon its theatrical release that this was a NASHVILLE remake - relocated to the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles with the RFK assassination the backdrop to a convoluted mishmash of over 20 cliched '60s stereotypes. I held out 'til it came in that red Netflix envelope because of my love for political period pieces but damn was that description right on the money! The Altman derived framework doesn't disguise the awful screenplay with ham-fisted base dialogue like Nick Cannon playing an insufferably idealistic Kennedy staffer emoting "now that Dr. King is gone - no one left but Bobby. No one." Cannon joins an ace cast including Anthony Hopkins, Lawrence Fishborne, William H. Macy, Harry Belfonte, Christian Slater (one of the few non-idealist characters - he plays a base racist), and Estevez's Daddy Martin Sheen. Not so ace actors here include Elijah Wood, Lindsay Lohan, Demi Moore and Estevez himself. The cringe inducing cliches pile up - Ashton Kutcher does his worst acting ever (can't believe that was possible) as a hippy that would look phony on Dragnet 1967- during a horrifyingly stupid acid trip sequence actually sits staring at an orange in his hand saying "no, you shut up!", every TV set has a perfect quality picture of carefully chosen clips of RFK speeches and there's even a MAGNOLIA-esque montage going from strained close-up shots actor to actor. Can't deny the heart that went into this movie but all we have here is an A-list cast, B-list production values, C-list cliches, D-list overused soundtrack standards, and an F-list script. Somebody revoke Estevez's cinematic license! He should be exiled to the TV movie circuit after this film felony.
SMOKIN' ACES (Dir. Joe Carnahan, 2007) Another better than average cast slumming it through derivative drivel. Flashy Vegas gangster caper in which every one in the cast is after sleazy magician soon to be snitch Buddy Aces (Jeremy Piven - pictured on the left). Some are trying to protect him - (lawyer Curtis Armstrong, FBI agents Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta under the supervision of chief Andy Garcia) but everybody else is trying to kill him including Alicia Keys, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, and rapper Common - okay yeah so it's not A-list but most of them are still better than the material in this worn entry into the PULP FICTION-GET SHORTY-LOCK STOCK-GO sweepstakes that expired over a decade ago. Kind of like Shane Black's also post-dated glib witless KISS KISS BANG BANG (2005) SMOKIN' ACES is a lesson in how quick cutting and hip-hopisms don't ensure a clever crafty meta-movie. Just say Tarenti-NO to this piece of pop-nonsense.
This post (especially the disses) is dedicated to Good Morning America critic Joel Siegel (1943-2007). He became a film babble hero when he walked out of a screening of CLERKS II last summer. Knowing his days were numbered he figured he didn't want to waste his last hours on that crap. The fact that it pissed off Kevin Smith was the icing on the cake! Check out Roger Ebert's heartfelt tribute.