Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Film Babble's 100th Post!

"It's too cerebral! We're trying to make a movie here, not a film!"
- Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) BOWFINGER (Dir. Frank Oz, 1999)

No special features or self congratulatory crap for my 100th - just some good ole fashioned movie reviews. A couple of new movies I caught at the theater and a few new release DVDs - nice and simple. So let's get going -

DEATH AT A FUNERAL (Dir. Frank Oz, 2007) After one of the most misguided remakes in history THE STEPFORD WIVES, a film Nathan Rabin in his excellent My Year Of Flops column (The Onion A.V. Club) would most likely call a "fiasco", Frank Oz brings us a funeral farce. Set in and around a countryside house during what should have been a stiff-upper lip service - a cast of mostly British mourners all with their own agenda or issue clash, argue, and fret over many outrageous obstacles.

Obstacles such as money matters that are driving rival brothers (Matthew Macfadyen, Rupert Graves) apart, a misplaced bottle of LSD tablets labeled as Valium, and a dwarf (little person? Trying to be PC here) played by the wonderful Peter Dinklage (THE STATION AGENT) that has a family shattering secret. There is some cringe-inducing slapstick and unnecessary scatological nonsense but through its economical brevity (it follows the unwritten rule that comedies should be 90 min) the mixed bits are happily reigned in.

DEATH AT A FUNERAL contains a number of genuine big laughs and while it may never be considered a comedy classic it will be most likely fondly remembered for many seasons to come. Oh yeah - it also more than makes up for THE STEPFORD WIVES.

ROCKET SCIENCE (Dir. Jeffrey Blitz, 2007) So the first non-documentary by director Jeffrey Blitz (2003's SPELLBOUND) is another adolescent angst movie in the tradition of Wes Anderson and Todd Solondz (especially RUSHMORE and WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE respectively). Unfortunately it’s nowhere as good as those touchstones with its self conscious screenplay filled with forced humor and standard grade quirkiness. Stuttering student (Reece Daniel Thompson) is a debate club star wannabe but his speech impediment gets in the way of his academic career and love life.

Thompson pines for a cold condescending classmate played by Anna Kendrick who is way ahead of him in the debate game and also way out of his league. A huge miss-step of many is the voice-over narration by Dan Cashman which in tone and context sounds to much like Ricky Jay’s opening MAGNOLIA spiel. Not able to surpass or be the equal of its influences and peopled by characters which are hard to care about ROCKET SCIENCE misses its mark by a movie mile. It simply should have had more moxie.

Some new DVDS I've recently seen :

THE LIVES OF OTHERS (Dir. Florian Henckel-Donnersmarck, 2006)

"He knows that the party needs artists but that artists need the party even more."
- Minister Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme)

This is an amazing and affecting wire-tapping tale set in East Germany (GDR) in 1984. A time when artists such as playwrights who were thought to have subversive tendencies are bugged and blacklisted by the secret police (Stasi) in the remaining years before the Berlin wall came down. One such playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch - who was one of the only highlights of BLACK BOOK) has a actress girlfriend (Martina Gedeck) who has some too close for comfort ties to the Stasi.

The real star of this piece though is the character of Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) who develops a protective sympathy for the people he's assigned to spy on. More of a drama with tense moments than a thriller, THE LIVES OF OTHERS fully deserved the Best Foreign Picture Oscar that it won this year and should go right to the top of your 'must see' list or your Netflix queue which I guess is the same thing.

Postnote : This movie is going to get the American remake treatment by Sydney Pollack set for 2010. Whatever makeover they give it I hope it doesn't have that damn thriller thunder dubbed on top of it.

GHOST RIDER (Dir. Mark Steven Johnson, 2007) I honestly can't remember why I ordered this one up. I mean I like Nicholas Cage but hate his action movie crap (CON AIR, THE ROCK, NATIONAL TREASURE, etc) and I successfully dodged the bullet that was THE WICKER MAN remake - not really action I suppose but still looked like crap so I'm drawing a blank right now as to why I added this to my queue. 

I am completely unfamiliar with the comic book (sorry - graphic novel) that this is based on and I didn't hear anything good about it when it was released in theaters earlier this year so go figure. Cage plays Johnny Blaze - "a badass stunt cyclist" (Netflix's envelopes words not mine) who makes a deal with the Devil, played by Peter Fonda no less - who I guess shows up whenever the pitch "it's a motorcycle movie" is made. 

The Devil's son Blackheart (that charismatically creeply kid from AMERICAN BEAUTY - Wes Bently) wants to take over for his dad and destroy the creation made from the contract - the Ghost Rider of the title that Blaze can change into at will. "Oh, and his face was a skull and it was on fire" says a punk clad Rebel Wilson credited as 'Girl in Alley' and I couldn't say it any better. This film is supremely stupid but oddly not severely sucky - I mean as mere pop entertainment goes you could do worse with a couple of hours than watching it. Then again, that blank white space on the wall over there is looking mighty appealing.

Okay! I didn't think the word "crap" would show up 3 times in my 100th post but otherwise all is good. Hope you stick around for my next hundred posts.

More later...

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