Thursday, February 19, 2004

"Hope for the World"


A Video Review of "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"

Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker

Although I am a veteran of fantasy role-playing games I have to admit to having never getting through J.R.R. Tolkien’s "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. In high school I read the first book (on which this film is based but is very fuzzy in my memory so you won’t find any book-to-film comparisons in this review) and struggled to start "The Two Towers" and failed during my college days. Tolkien is unfortunately very dense (at least to me). I file him along with H.P. Lovecraft. They are both amazing concept men but as writers they are dreary and nearly incomprehensible (to me at least - if only to avoid the slings and arrows of smarter people).

Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is completely accessible which I think surprised everyone especially the casual moviegoer and those evil Hollywood critics who both shun fantasies at every turn. Perhaps there is hope for this sad sad world yet if concepts like good against evil, responsibility and friendship still resound in people’s hearts.

The story revolves around a powerful ring of great evil in a long ago fantasy land. A conglomeration of different races elects a band to take the ring to be destroyed in the place it was forged. Hilarity ensues, as they say.

It all begins with hobbit Bilbo Baggins skillfully played by Ian Holm (Alien, The Fifth Element) and his birthday party in Hobbiton. It’s a happy bright occasion that slowly devolves into darkness. The conversion is handled well and the viewer is easily led to understand the peril encompassing all of Middle-Earth. It is this subtlety that makes TLOTR so accessible to the mainstream. The show rather than tell is the key.

The cursed ring is put into the hands of Bilbo’s nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood of The Good Son and The Faculty) and along with friend Samwise (Sean Astin of Rudy) and wizard Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) they set off the have the ring destroyed. This is probably one of McKellen’s best roles and performances and that’s saying a lot. He is one of the world’s finest actors. In Gandalf he reflects many facets and emotions from leadership and bravery to fear and mystery. He’s not your average everyday wizard.

The rest of the cast is remarkable as well. Christopher Lee is back doing what he did so well in years past - playing believably evil villains. His Saruman is both motivated and emotionally impenetrable. The battle between him and Gandalf is stunning and powerful. Speaking of evil, Cate Blanchett brief evil turn as Galadriel tempted by the ring is spellbinding.

Young cocky boys that they are, Viggo Mortensen as Strider and Orlando Bloom as Legolas insisted on performing their own stunts that resulted in broken ribs and teeth. They’re also pretty good as actors too. The all too brief moment shared by Strider and Arwen (played with remarkable and unexpected skill by Liv Tyler) shows a chemistry and electricity I would have liked to have seen more of, if not in the TLOTR trilogy than in any other film.

Of course the real star of the film is the special effects. From the minor forced perspective shots to make full-sized actors into three and four feet tall hobbits and dwarves (John Rhys-Davies is a particularly difficult trick into the dwarf Gimli) to the fiery Balrog to the stunning matte paintings and CGI armies the special effects in Fellowship are truly among the best ever done.

The New Zealand locales, especially Hobbiton which was built a full year before shooting began so that it would look old and lived in, are amazing. This is due in part to the unparalleled skill of cinematographer Andrew Lesnie but mostly to the breathtaking landscapes of the region itself. The original music score of Howard Shore only enhances the sheer majesty of the film itself.

Unlike myself writer director Peter Jackson has read the "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. He knows what it’s about, and he has nothing but love and respect for the work and its creator. The project for Jackson began as a pitch to make "The Hobbit." After seeing his superior accomplishments with this film I can’t wait for the next two and hope he gets to do the original one. See The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. It’s truly one of the best films ever made.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

"Dead End" (1937)


A Video Review of "Dead End"

Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker

This 1937 classic directed by William Wyler and starring Humphrey Bogart, Sylvia Sidney and the Dead End Kids is a timeless story of culture clash. The lush high-rises of the rich look down on the tenements of the poor over the scenic East River in new York causing an interesting mix of folks good and evil.

You get one of everything here. An college studied architect reduced to painting signs, a seamstress on strike and her brother in a street gang, a wanted gangster come home to see his ma and his girl, a rich kid terrorized by the street gang, a society girl in love with the secretive architect – all circling in an endless cycle, eventually sucked into the bottomless toilet of the East River.

It’s almost like film noir without the detective. It is film noir, everyone is a loser in a struggle. The losers with hopes and dreams and a chance for survival you grow to love and root for. Like I said it’s a different film noir, one with hope.

For a time this was a lost film and I’m glad it was finally found. The actors are in top form and Bogart cuts his teeth here with the gangster role that would catapult him to the heights. Don’t miss this classic.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

"Eight Bucks, French Girl!"


A Film Review of the Worst Film Ever Made, "Moulin Rouge!"

Copyright 2001 Glenn Walker

Anne-Sophie is one of my best friends. I love her to pieces. She’s a good friend, she was a bridesmaid at my wedding, she’s a great teacher and is probably one of the best Janets Rocky Horror has ever seen. But she’s got this French thing going on. Part of it is a curse of ancestry but she’s obsessed with anything French. Anything. And thus we come to Moulin Rouge!, the worst film I’ve ever seen.

By twisted coincidence the day this steaming piece of crap opened was Anne-Sophie’s birthday and she wanted all her friends to join her for a viewing of ‘this amazing film set in a French backdrop.’ Of course I hadn’t seen it yet so I had no idea what I was in for, and it was my good friend Anne-Sophie’s birthday – how could I refuse?

I’ve walked out of movies before but I don’t make it a habit. There are only two I can think of. I walked out of A View to a Kill on the promise of amorous attention and I walked out of Natural Born Killers because the violence was too much for my wife. It should be noted I saw both films later on by myself. I don’t walk out of movies. I usually don’t even go to the bathroom or concession stand once the previews start. This is a rule I should have broken the dreadful night of Moulin Rouge!.

That’s how much I like Anne-Sophie. I stayed in my seat because I didn’t want to upset her. It was her birthday after all. It was not because I thought the film might get better later on as some films actually do. I knew there was no chance of that.

The convoluted story concerns a writer, Ewan Macgregor, who falls for a showgirl, Nicole Kidman, and writes a show for her while she seduces a duke, Richard Roxburgh, who is financing said show. It’s all set amongst the backdrop of turn of the century Paris at the Moulin Rouge. Up front for those of us who wondered about these things, it is not a remake of the 1952 classic of the same name starring Jose Ferrer.

Baz Luhrman is a talented director. I didn’t care (and let’s note not caring for a film is a long way from pure hatred) for Strictly Ballroom but I really enjoyed his William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. R+J was a masterpiece of an age-old story blended into a contemporary setting and put to a modern score with fast cut MTV style camera techniques. I love it and actually own a copy.

He tried to force these techniques on Moulin Rouge! but it just doesn’t work. This film at its black cold heart is a stage production and MTV fast cuts don’t mesh well with that genre. Anyone who has seen any version of "Riverdance" can vouch for that. The camera never stops moving. Now this is an interesting approach when outdoors cruising the amazing miniatures set of Paris but not on inside shots. It is dizzying and annoying. Luhrman also uses the music approach here as he injects contemporary songs into the world of the Moulin Rouge. The cringe factor for me of the inclusion of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Heroes," "Lady Marmalade" and "Like a Virgin" into dialogue and turn of the century production numbers turns my stomach to a point one can’t imagine.

When some people see a bad movie they make this joke saying "That’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back." I have taken this to heart regarding Moulin Rouge!. This is two hours, seven minutes and twenty-three seconds I will never get back, ever. I will be lying on my deathbed thinking that I could actually live for two more hours, seven minutes and twenty-three seconds longer if it wasn’t for that goddamned movie!

Of all the evils in this world - Disney, boy bands, Adam Sandler, Palestinians, marriage, poetry readings, Satanism, Little Feat, fast food restaurant rest rooms, pretentious movie critics - there is none so evil as Moulin Rouge.

Cough it up, Anne-Sophie. Eight bucks, French girl!

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

"Just Imagine..."


A Film Review of "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen"

Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker

Seeing as how The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is based on a comic book (or graphic novel for you snobs who don't read comic books) I'll reference an old comic book ad. "Just Imagine." It was usually used to promote any comic like World's Finest or Justice League of America where your favorite superheroes teamed up.

That's what The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is like. It's a literary hero team up. Just imagine… Alan Quatermain, the Invisible Man, the Bride of Dracula, Dorian Gray, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Captain Nemo and Tom Sawyer… all in one film together. These literary legends come together to stop a world war in 1899.

It's a very dark movie which I don't usually mind. Some of my favorite flicks are dark like Tim Burton's Batman and the original The Crow. The problem with LXG is with the few daylight scenes we get are positively breathtaking. One has to wonder why we couldn't have more.

The violence is excessive but not excessively bloody or gory which is refreshing movies nowadays. The action scenes however are shaky, unclear and annoyingly frenetic. Stephen Norrington gets an "F" for bad direction.

The special effects are impressive - except for the CGI which is mostly the grotesquely muscled Mr. Hyde. I felt his appearance unnecessary and his unnerving transformation even more so. I could have done without.

The performances are all excellent, especially Sean Connery. When has he ever made a bad movie? Even in Zardoz and the Highlander films he's the best thing in them.

The real highlights are the interactions between the legends which are few and far between. I could have stood this flick being longer if we had gotten more of these moments.

This movie is terrific even though it has gotten some bad reviews from critics. I can only guess they didn't like it because they don't read and had no idea who any of these characters are.

High concept, cool idea, great movie. I loved it. See it.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Preview Review: "Against the Ropes"

"Against the Ropes" opens nationwide on 2-20-2004.


A Film Review of "Against the Ropes"

Copyright 2004 Glenn Walker

I saw this, um, film last night and today I saw the first preview on television. This is perhaps the greatest exercise of creating an ad that literally contains all the good parts of a movie. When you see the preview, trust me, that’s it. Those thirty seconds are all you get.

Against the Ropes is the true-life story of successful female boxing manager Jackie Kallen. Although it should be noted that in all the promotional material it is called a ‘fictionalized drama inspired by the life of Jackie Kallen.’ The story part of Against the Ropes is written by Cheryl Edwards who previously had a screenplay produced as Save the Last Dance, which is suspiciously similar to this flick’s plot, in a underdog-take-all way. This fourth-rate "Faust" is sadly predictable and the dialogue is at best terribly cliched. Based on the final product this time around, Miss Edwards had better hope she’s not a one trick pony.

This major motion picture that screens like a second rate made-for cable was actually filmed in 2002 but was reputedly delayed from release because of the war in Iraq. Perhaps it was believed that folks going to the movies to escape the violent reality of the constant CNN war coverage wouldn’t want to see a violent boxing movie. What’s curious is that Against the Ropes isn’t all that violent nor does it really have all that much boxing. The boxing itself is shot at a distance at times and when close up, takes a tip from The Crow and shows results rather than action. We know there’s been damage but never see the impact.

The movie is horribly miscast from any angle. Meg Ryan as Jackie Kallen and Omar Epps as her diamond-in-the-rough boxer Luther Shaw, while highly capable practitioners of their craft, are uninteresting and unlikable leads. Epps does a typical good-hearted thug schtick throughout that may have been warming from, say, Paul Newman, but is unflattering here. Shaw’s uncredited sparring partner from South Africa is far more interesting and he only has one line and even less screentime than a blink. And Meg Ryan? Well, I’ll get to her in a moment.

The supporting players are serviceable. Joe Cortese as Kallen’s boss and the always-incredible Tony Shalhoub as boxing kingpin Sam LaRocca are perfect PG-13 Disney-style villains. Tim Daly does his Tim Daly-est as Kallen’s local sportscaster friend. Michael Buffer appears for a few seconds to deliver his trademarked line "Let’s get ready to ruuuuumble!" and collect a paycheck. Oh, wait, do I owe him money now for writing that? Jackie Kallen herself even appears briefly as a reporter whose question causes a speed bump in the Kallen and Shaw relationship.

Charles S. Dutton co-stars as Felix Reynolds, a legendary trainer Kallen pulls out of retirement to help her mold her wannabe champion boxer. Unlike the folks with their names above the title, Dutton is interesting and one of the pleasures of the film. His interaction with Ryan and Epps adds to them more depth than they do on their own. Against the Ropes is also directed by Dutton. Although he does an adequate job, better for Lifetime than HBO or the big screen, but an adequate job.

Meg Ryan takes a lot of heat for being the nice girl, the sweet girl, the girl next door, Tom Hanks’ sweetheart, America’s sweetheart. It’s a good image but it’s typecasting just the same. One would have thought that the orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally might have changed that, but, nope, Meg’s just too gosh darn cute. When she smiles and scrunches up her nose you just can’t help but smile and go ‘awww.’

But the nose scrunching may in fact be part of the image problem. Comedienne Nicole Sullivan of Fox’s "MadTV" does a dead on imitation of Meg Ryan and makes the nose scrunching the prime joke. As the target of ridicule Meg probably sought to change her image. With Against the Ropes she decided to go the same route that American sweetheart Julia Roberts went with Erin Brockovich. She would toughen her look with trailer trash flair, add some rough edges and show a side of herself not seen before. Unfortunately it was wildly successful for Julia, but not for Meg.

Meg Ryan is just not believable as trashy. She may look the look but once she smiles the illusion is just that, an illusion. She’s a little girl playing dress up and you go ‘awww.’ Ryan also puts on a hideous Boston-ish, New York-ish hybrid accent, which is bizarre because apparently the story happens in the midwest. Maybe she was imitating kallen herself who perhaps affects an odd accent. One can never tell. The accent mercifully disappears ten minutes into the film, but when it returns toward the end - it is a completely different accent!

There are hints at romance with Daly and also jealousy with Epps but these are never played up. One could say this was a true story and perhaps no romance occurred but again, this is a ‘fictionalized drama’ so why not a romance? It might have perked up an otherwise flat story. I can’t help but think of Patch Adams starring Robin Williams and also a true story film where the title character’s girlfriend was killed by a serial killer, when in reality the real man was gay and never encountered any murderers of any kind in his life. Oh, that Hollywood magic!

That’s what Against the Ropes needs, some magic to save this film. A serial killer, an unpredictable plot, some fresh dialogue, heck, even some acting from the leads could have saved this dreck. Sadly, the only people ‘against the ropes’ here are in the audience.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

"Neon Batman on Broadway"


A Video Review of "Batman and Robin" (1997)

Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker

I sincerely hope to someday read Joel Schumacher's obituary and somewhere in that obit I hope to read the words "beaten to death by Batman fans." Joel Schumacher is single-handedly responsible for the death of the Batman franchise for Warner Brothers and yet he still works there. Will wonders never cease?

Mister Freeze. He is a formidable criminal genius whose comics history stretches back to the 1950s, his origins only recently being uncovered as science gone mad in an attempt to cure his true love from a frozen tomb.

Poison Ivy. She is the nihilistic beauty whose kiss kills and controls deadly plants.

Bane. He is the designer drug induced superman who in the comics broke Batman's back and sent him into hiding.

Any one of the above would supply appropriate angst and plot to power any one Bat-movie. We get however all three in watered down form. We also get watered down subplots in Batman and Robin's constant bickering, the introduction of the new Batgirl (a character that bears no resemblance to any DC Comics character by that name) and Alfred's fatal illness. Why couldn't this film just be about one thing?

George Clooney is okay as the caped crusader. He's really just doing himself in a batsuit though. You can tell he and Chris O'Donnell were all about signing the checks this time around. The worst, the absolute worst, is Alicia Silverstone. As the both perky and pudgy Batgirl she delivers her lines with all the skills of Jan Brady trying to be Marcia Brady. Ick!

On the villain side Uma Thurman actually makes an interesting Poison Ivy even when bending the camp-o-meter with her puns and bad Robert Smith imitation. Arnold Schwarzeneggar as Mister Freeze, for lack of a better phrase, runs hot and cold for me. At times his menace is perfectly brought across and the rest of the time he is belittled by his cold-related taglines. Icy doom, indeed!

There are two small nods to the comic book source of Batman. The inclusion of Julie Madison played to cardboard cutout perfection by model Elle McPherson. In the Golden Age of comics Julie was Bruce Wayne’s fiancee. John Glover is the other wink as Poison Ivy’s mentor Dr. Jason Woodrue who in the comics was the Floronic Man, a self-mutated villain who clashed with the Atom, Green Lantern and the Swamp Thing.

Besides the non-acting, the aimless plots and the exceeding camp we have Joel Schumacher's trademark that he has left on the Batman franchise: homoeroticism. There's no such thing as a bat-codpiece and the batsuit does not have nipples!

My current favorite quote is by Joel Schumacher and is about critics: "You remember every hateful word they write until the day you die."

I certainly hope so. This one’s for you.

Damn you, Joel Schumacher!