30 June 2010

Woody Allen: Day Ten

A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy is a bigger disappointment than Stardust Memories. Manhattan is a special film, better than Annie Hall, but the past two films have demonstrated a lack of focus. A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy had a lot of potential but failed to keep my attention for the entire film. It is the first Woody Allen film to feature Mia Farrow, with whom he had a lengthy relationship in the 1980s. I did not find her particularly fantastic in the film, she was constantly overshadowed by Jose Ferrer and Mary Steenburgen.

A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy is set in the early 1900s. Adrian (Steenburgen) and Andrew (Allen) are expecting Adrian's cousin Leopold (Ferrer) and his fiancee Ariel (Farrow) to spend a weekend at their house in the country. Andrew has invited his friend Maxwell (Tony Roberts), a doctor who brings his latest girlfriend Dulcy (Julie Hagerty). Old relationships are rekindled and new romances develop during the wild weekend.

Overall I was disappointed by the film. The comedy was not as funny as should be expected and the drama was not as fine tuned as other Woody Allen films.

Next up: Zelig.

My list:
1. Manhattan
2. Annie Hall
3. Love and Death
4. Interiors
5. Sleeper
6. Stardust Memories
7. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)
8. Take the Money and Run
9. Bananas
10. What's Up, Tiger Lily?
11. A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy

29 June 2010

Woody Allen: Day Nine

Stardust Memories (1980) has long divided fans and critics. I have read numerous times that Woody Allen considers the film one of his best, but a recent interview with The Times makes no mention of the film amongst his favourites. Like Manhattan, Stardust Memories is shot in black and white. The film centres around Sandy Bates (Woody Allen), a celebrated filmmaker who is constantly reminded of the more successful comedies of his past. This seems especially autobiographical considering that many Woody Allen fans yearn for him to return to the comedy of his earlier films, though I am not one of them. The film costars Jessica Harper and Marie-Christine Barrault as two women battling for his affection and Charlotte Rampling as a former girlfriend.

Stardust Memories does not compare to Manhattan or Annie Hall and I feel that it is sometimes overloaded with philosophy and existentialism. There is a terrific film within and I loved the allusions to Woody Allen's own career. The three women are excellent in the film but I feel that Stardust Memories would have been a more successful film with a bit more time and organization.

Next up: A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy.

My list:
1. Manhattan
2. Annie Hall
3. Love and Death
4. Interiors
5. Sleeper
6. Stardust Memories
7. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)
8. Take the Money and Run
9. Bananas
10. What's Up, Tiger Lily?

28 June 2010

Woody Allen: Day Eight

Manhattan is without a doubt one of Woody Allen's masterpieces. It is often referred to alongside Annie Hall. Both films star Allen and Diane Keaton in ill-fated romances. Annie Hall may have the quirky humour and quotable dialogue, but Manhattan is Woody Allen's homage to the city of New York with an incredible score by George Gershwin and a standout performance by Mariel Hemingway.

In Manhattan, Isaac (Woody Allen) is dating a seventeen year old high school student Tracey (Mariel Hemingway). His best friend Yale (Michael Murphy) is cheating on his wife Emily (Anne Byrne) with Mary (Diane Keaton). When Isaac meets Mary he is instantly put off, but a chance encounter at the Museum of Modern Art sparks his interest. He ends his relationship with Tracey in order to pursue Mary, believing that Tracey is too young for a serious relationship. The twisted relationships in the film include Meryl Streep as Isaac's former wife Jill and Wallace Shawn as Mary's ex-husband Jeremiah. The film is shot entirely in black and white and features beautiful shots of the city of New York, including the iconic image of the Queensboro bright, a scene that was once parodied on Family Guy.

My only wish is for Meryl Streep to appear in another Woody Allen film with a more substantial role!

Next up: Stardust Memories, Woody Allen's most polarizing film.

My list:
1. Manhattan
2. Annie Hall
3. Love and Death
4. Interiors
5. Sleeper
6. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)
7. Take the Money and Run
8. Bananas
9. What's Up, Tiger Lily?

27 June 2010

Woody Allen: Day Seven

Woody Allen took a huge risk with Interiors. Having won three Academy Awards the previous year for Annie Hall the director made his first drama. It is also the first film not to feature the director in any capacity. At times the film is hauntingly beautiful and some of the best scenes occur when there is little dialogue. Interiors is a terrific film but not Woody Allen's best, and it demonstrate that he is just as gifted at crafting a dramatic film.

Diane Keaton, Kristin Griffith and Mary Beth Hurt play three sisters who must deal with the collapse of their parents' marriage, their mother's mental instability and attempted suicide, and their father's new relationship. E.G. Marshall and Geraldine Page, who is mesmerizing on screen, star as the girls' parents. Interiors is about family and relationships. We may love our family and find it very hard to like them.

Next up: Manhattan.

My list:
1. Annie Hall
2. Love and Death
3. Interiors
4. Sleeper
5. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)
6. Take the Money and Run
7. Bananas
8. What's Up, Tiger Lily?

26 June 2010

Review: "Mary and Max"

After seeing Toy Story 3 and enjoying its more mature and adult themes I wondered how long it would take to find an animated film for me to enjoy that was entirely aimed at an adult audience. It only took two days and it was a film that I had overlooked in the past - even with the recommendation of a very good friend. Mary and Max is a 2009 Australian film that uses stop motion claymation. It is a very dark and sombre film with themes of isolation and neglect, suicide, depression and anxiety. It also gives a tormented look at Asperger's syndrome, which falls under the umbrella of autism. It is an exceptionally well done film that hooks the viewer from the very first scene and much credit should be given to the expert use of narration. I knew very little about the film before I watched it and I was shocked when I recognized Toni Collette's voice inhabiting the adult voice of the young heroine. The wonderful animation, the great cinematography and art direction overshadow the vocal talent, which also includes Philip Seymour Hoffman and Eric Bana. The film uses colour very skillfully. While the entire film is drenched in dark colours, the film deftly highlights the differences between Australia and New York City and its two central characters. Mary and Max is a beautiful and harrowing film that blends heartbreak and humour while cleverly exploring dark and mature themes.

The film begins in 1976 in Mount Waverly, Australia. Mary Daisy Dinkle (voiced by Bethany Whitmore as a young girl and Toni Collette as an adult) is a lonely eight year old girl who is neglected by both her parents. Her father is a factory worker who spends his time at home practicing taxidermy and her mother is a drunk. Mary has no role models and has unanswered questions about the ways of the world. She has been told that babies are found in beer glasses in Australia. One day she finds a phone book for New York City and chooses an address at random, M. Horowitz, and wants to know where babies come from in America. The recipient of her letter is Max Jerry Horowitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an 44 year old, obese atheist who suffers from an anxiety disorder. The two begin a pen-pal relationship and sometimes go months and years without contact. Mary and Max both long for a friend and Mary has many questions and believes that Max has a wealth of knowledge from his life experiences. Through their letters we learn that Mary is often teased at school and has a crush on her neighbour Damian (Eric Bana) and that Max is part of an over-eaters anonymous group and has been classified as incompetent by the government. Mary and Max thrive when they are in contact and build a friendship that endures in spite of their differences in age and geographical location. Unfortunately their own anxieties and insecurities threaten their relationship and their lives begin to fall apart.

Mary and Max may be an animated film but it handles the story with grace and ease. I was awestruck by how engrossed I was in the film emotionally. The relationship between Mary and Max is presented is beautiful and on the surface it highlights the importance of friendship. Thankfully Mary and Max goes deeper and investigates darker themes. We see how neglect and loneliness have affected Mary and how the lack of understanding of Asperger's syndrome has affected Max. I see part of myself in each character and parts of people I know. The film makes you stop and reflect and I have spent hours thinking about what I saw. It is a shame that most animation geared towards adults is so lowbrow when Mary and Max is proof that an animated film can be as powerful and poignant as live action. If Mary and Max had been made as a live action drama it would have have received much more acclaim and been available to a wider audience.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

Woody Allen: Day Six

Annie Hall is Woody Allen's most iconic film and it is consistently listed amongst his best films. It is the best film that he has made up to this point. It is funny, touching, intelligent, heartbreaking and thought provoking. Annie Hall won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress for Diane Keaton, and Best Original Screenplay. What makes Annie Hall a better film than Woody Allen's previous efforts is the fantastic dialogue and the great performances by the entire cast, including Tony Roberts, Carol Kane and a brief appearance by Paul Simon.

Woody Allen uses a lot of different techniques in Annie Hall and the tragic lovestory becomes a beautiful film that blends his comic genius with his understanding of human emotion.

Next up: Interiors, perhaps Woody Allen's most dramatic film.

My list:
1. Annie Hall
2. Love and Death
3. Sleeper
4. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)
5. Take the Money and Run
6. Bananas
7. What's Up, Tiger Lily?

24 June 2010

Review: "Toy Story 3"

While I have not always been the biggest fan of animated films, I will admit that Pixar has an undeniable track record. My personal favourite would have to be Finding Nemo (2003), but Toy Story (1995) and Toy Story 2 (1999) are next in line. Adding a second sequel has often been detrimental to a critically lauded franchise - look at Shrek the Third (2007) and The Godfather Part III (1990). The problem with Shrek was overexposure - four films in nine years, and the third Godfather was tainted by Sophia Coppola's lack of acting talent. Toy Story 3, released eleven years after Toy Story 2, is a fantastically crafted film with great focus and direction and it is a perfect ending for the endearing toys, even though it may not hold the same sentimental value for young kids today. The film begins with the toys' owner Andy preparing to leave for college. Many toys featured in the first two films have been sold, lost or discarded. Luckily most of our favourites have survived, including Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), the Potato Heads (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris) and my personal favourite Rex (Wallace Shawn). New voice actors include Michael Keaton (as Ken) and Ned Beatty (Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear). Toy Story 3 is darker and more mature than the first two films but never loses the recurring themes of loyalty and friendship. It was an incredible film-going experience, made better by the exceptional short Day & Night before the film, and the absence of advertisements before the coming attractions.

Andy is leaving for college and his mom has told him to clear out his room. All his old toys, which he has not played with for years, must either be put in the attic, in the trash, or in a donation box for Sunnyside Daycare. Andy chooses to take Woody to college with him and puts the others in a trash bag destined for the attic. In an unfortunate series of events the bag ends up on the curb and after narrowly escaping the garbage truck the toys hide in a box in Andy's mom's car headed to Sunnyside. The toys believe that Andy wanted to put them in the trash and refuse to listen to Woody's protestations. They are warmly greeted by Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear at daycare and are overcome with joy at the chance to be played with. Woody attempts to escape but is found by a girl named Bonnie, who takes him home. The others find that Sunnyside is run by Lots-O' like a prison and they are placed in the Caterpillar room, a room for kids too young and rambunctious for them. Lots-O' and his gang police the daycare at night and reset Buzz, which results in him imprisoning his friends. At Bonnie's Woody is told of the horrors at Sunnyside and returns the next day in Bonnie's backpack to help his friends escape. The toys concoct a wild prison escape that is wickedly funny. The film is not about whether or not the toys are able to escape Sunnyside Daycare but where they will end up after coming to terms with Andy's impending journey to college.

The opening and closing scenes of the film are heartbreaking and beautiful. The first scene reminds you of the imagination of youth while the end of the film shows the growth and maturity of a young man. It would be devastating if Pixar were to produce a fourth installment of Toy Story because this third film was a wonderful and emotionally satisfying conclusion. The toys have retained all of their charm and even some of Woody's annoying habits are less pronounced (but this could entirely be due to my dislike to Tom Hanks). My only complaint would be that the new toys' characters are not as well developed as the old favourites. Roger Ebert complained that the lack of human involvement in the film (the toys were not fighting to return to Andy but instead were fighting a group of evil toys) and that this absence hurts the film. I disagree. Andy may be seventeen and he may have outgrown the toys of his youth but they will always hold a special place in his heart and he never intended to dispose of them. As adults we may look around our bedrooms and notice that there are very few toys, but we know where they are and the memories they will continue to hold. Toy Story 3 knows that and the entire Toy Story franchise has always understood the importance of our toys.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

23 June 2010

Review: "Body Heat"

It is a shame that so few people of my generation know who Kathleen Turner is outside of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but I do love films from the 80s! In Body Heat, Turner's 1981 seductive film debut, she showed audiences that she had more more to offer than her body - which was on full display. Kathleen Turner's provocative sexuality was a perfect fit for Body Heat, a film set in the Floridian summer about a man willing to kill his lover's husband. Her performance led to some very juicy film roles, including Romancing the Stone (1984), Prizzi's Honor (1985) which won an Oscar for Anjelica Huston, and my person favourite Kathleen Turner film, 1986's Peggy Sue Got Married. It is unfortunate that rheumatoid arthritis affected her film career, but Kathleen Turner can be seen on television's Californication showcasing her sexuality. Body Heat costars William Hurt and features Ted Danson and Mickey Rourke, all appearing in one of their first film roles. The film is directed by Lawrence Kasdan who had been a writer for two blockbuster films, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). His later films include the pop culture standards The Big Chill (1983) and The Bodyguard (1992). Body Heat is classified as a modern noir, but film fans know that it is a challenging genre. A film cannot sacrifice its characters for the sake of the plot and Body Heat succeeds because it understands its characters. With great performances by its lead actors, strong direction from Lawrence Kasdan, exceptional cinematography and a great score by John Barry, Body Heat is worthy of being included amongst the great film noirs of the 1980s.

Ned Racine (William Hurt) is a somewhat incompetent lawyer living in Florida. During a heatwave he begins having an affair with Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner). Matty wants to leave her husband Edmund (Richard Crenna), a wealthy businessman, but a prenuptial agreement has blocked her access to his money. The pair go to great lengths to keep their affair a secret, but they are caught by an old friend of Matty's and by Edmund's young niece. They agree that the only chance they have at happiness and wealth is to kill Edmund. Ned plans the murder with the help of a former client (Mikey Rourke) who has experience with explosives. Ned and Matty believe they have concocted the perfect murder, but there are too many holes that lead Ned's friends Oscar Grace (J.A. Preston), a police detective, and Peter Lowenstein (Ted Danson), an assistant prosecutor, to believe he was somehow involved. It does not help that after Edmund's death Matty announces that she and Edmund met with Ned to write a new will that would leave the entire estate to Matty. Ned also continues his relationship with Matty, this time out in the open, though he soon begins to question Matty's loyalty. Eventually some of the events from the night of the murder threaten their relationship and Ned discovers some alarming information.

Kathleen Turner's Matty is absolutely a femme fatale, a woman whose allure and charm forced Ned into a dangerous predicament. In Body Heat she is gifted at disguising her true intentions and I even found myself caught in her web. The film uses the heat and the fog of Florida as a character, it hides and conceals things from the audience. I have complained in the past of films being too dark (in terms of lighting, like Batman Begins), but a noir depends so heavily on cinematography that the dark lighting in a necessity. The scene after Edmund has been murdered and Ned is driving through the thick fog is made more powerful by the expert cinematography. There are countless films that have tried to achieve the success of Body Heat, but there are so few actresses that have the provocative allure of Kathleen Turner along with great acting instincts. A lesser actress would have seen the role as an opportunity to disrobe and bare their assets for future roles, but Kathleen Turner used the power of sex to fool Ned and the audience. It is hard to believe that only five years later we believed she was the mother of a young Helen Hunt in Peggy Sue Got Married.

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.

Woody Allen: Day Five

Today is unofficially my first day of summer vacation. I will use the word vacation liberally because I know it will not be free of stress. In the past day I have watched two Woody Allen films, Sleeper from 1973 and 1975's Love and Death. Sleeper is Woody Allen's first film to co-star Diane Keaton. The couple were linked romantically in the early 1970s when she starred in Allen's play Play It Again, Sam on Broadway. Love and Death is an important film because it is the link between Allen's early comedies and his more philosophical films.

In Sleeper Woody Allen plays Miles Monroe, a man who was cryogenically frozen against his will in 1973 and is revived 200 years later when doctors belonging to an underground movement need his assistance against the American government, which has become a police state. Miles poses as a robot butler and is assigned to work in the home of Luna Schlosser (Diane Keaton), a poet and socialite who entertains every night of the week. When Miles is apprehended it becomes Luna's responsibility to join the underground and rescue him. Sleeper is hilarious, well-written and the chemistry between Woody Allen and Diane Keaton is apparent from the beginning.

Love and Death is a turning point for Woody Allen. The film depends less on comedic gags and features many commentaries on philosophy. The film is set during the Napoleonic wars and Boris (Woody Allen), a coward and a pacifist, is forced to join the Russian army. He is in love with his cousin Sonja (Diane Keaton) who is in love with Boris' brother who is in love with another woman. Sonja eventually marries an elderly herring merchant whom she does not love. Boris inadvertently becomes a war hero and returns to Moscow and marries Sonja, who has recently become a widow. She does not love Boris but agrees to marry him because she believes that he is about to be killed in a duel. Sonja, angry at Napoleon's presence in Russia, concocts a plan to assassinate the French emperor. Love and Death is Woody Allen's most intelligent film to date. Woody Allen's comedic genius and his philosophical beliefs about life, love, death and religion are cleverly translated on screen.

Sleeper and Love and Death are two of Woody Allen's funniest films from his early filmography.

Next up: Annie Hall.

My list:
1. Love and Death
2. Sleeper
3. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)
4. Take the Money and Run
5. Bananas
6. What's Up, Tiger Lily?

22 June 2010

Woody Allen: Day Four

Woody Allen's fourth film, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask), is a 1972 comedy based on David Reuben's 1969 sex guide. It is a wildly funny and entertaining film that satirizes the source material and answers some pertinent questions in a not-so-informative way.

The film features a series of seven unrelated vignettes:
1. Do Aphrodisiacs Work?
Woody Allen stars as a court jester in a medieval castle who uses a love potion to seduce the Queen (Lynn Redgrave) but is ultimately foiled by her chastity belt.

2. What is Sodomy?
A doctor (Gene Wilder) falls in love with a sheep.

3. Why Do Some Women Have Trouble Reaching Orgasm?
Woody Allen and former wife Louise Lasser star in an Italian-language story about a woman who can only achieve an orgasm in public. It is an homage to Allen's love of Italian film.

4. Are Transvestites Homosexuals?
A married man (Lou Jacobi) having dinner with his in-laws finds himself in an awkward position when he tries on some women's clothing.

5. What Are Sex Perverts?
A parody of What's My Line? called What's My Perversion? features Jack Barry and Regis Philbin.

6. Are the Findings of Doctors and Clinics Who Do Sexual Research and Experiments Accurate?
Woody Allen and Heather McCrae visit a researcher (John Carradine) whose bizarre sexual experiments eventually find the couple being terrorized by a runaway breast.

7. What Happens During Ejaculation?
The brain is controlled by Tony Randall and a switchboard operator (Burt Reynolds) who control the body from a control centre that manages all aspects of the male body, including speech, digestion and the reproductive organs. Woody Allen also stars as a sperm soldier cautious of the mission.

While the film may not be very informative it is Woody Allen's funniest film to date.

Next Up: Sleeper.

My list:
1. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)
2. Take the Money and Run
3. Bananas
4. What's Up, Tiger Lily?

19 June 2010

Woody Allen: Day Three

Woody Allen continues his satirical trend with the 1971 film Bananas. The film focuses on Fielding Mellish, played by Woody Allen, is a product tester who joins a group of revolutionaries in the fictional country of San Marcos in order to impress Nancy (Louise Lasser), a social activist. The women cast in Woody Allen films are often romantically linked to the director. Louise Lasser is no exception. The actress was married to Woody Allen for three years, from 1966 to 1969. While Bananas is funny it seems, in my opinion, to lack the cohesive focus of Take the Money and Run, but it is still a great comedy. In 2000 it was ranked 69 on the American Film Institute's list of the hundred greatest American comedies.

Next up: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) from 1972.

My list:
1. Take the Money and Run
2. Bananas
3. What's Up, Tiger Lily?

Review: "Get Him to the Greek"

Every summer there seems to be a film that surprises and ends up being the comedy of the summer. Last summer it was The Hangover. This summer it looked like the frontrunner was Get Him to the Greek, a film based on a character first seen in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008). Get Him to the Greek is hilarious and Russell Brand is a treasure, but the film becomes clouded in its side story about morality. The film was written by Jason Segel, who wrote the screenplay for Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but the film forces you to empathize with Jonah Hill's character. He is not a likable character and I feel that in the real world he would not be good at his job and would never be given the same opportunity. It is the second film directed by Nicholas Stoller, who directed Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and is also responsible for the screenplay of two Jim Carrey films I have no interest in seeing, Fun with Dick and Jane (2005) and Yes Man (2008). The common link amongst these men is Judd Apatow. In recent years he has directed and produced some very successful films. I feel that Get Him to the Greek strayed from its original point of view, a story about a man trying to get a trouble rock star to a gig, and ending up becoming a film about how their friendship and experiences gave them both profound revelations. Maybe I found Jonah Hill whined too much, or his facial hair and disheveled appearance made him just seem like a loser, but I did not find his role believable and that made it even harder for me to stomach the end of the film. I wanted Get Him to the Greek to be stay a cheap and raunchy comedy and I was disappointed that Jason Segel had to turn a well-conceived comedy into a boring life lesson.

Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) is an international rock star with a celebrated career until the release of his most recent album and the single African Child. The song and the music video are panned and Aldous goes into a downward spiral with drugs and alcohol. To further his pain, his girlfriend, Jackie Q (Damages' Rose Byrne), leaves him and takes their son, Naples. Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) is a talent scout at Pinnacle Records and, when asked for money-making ideas, suggests doing a ten year anniversary concert for Aldous Snow at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. His boss, Sergio Roma (Diddy), is initially unconvinced but eventually agrees and sends Aaron to London to accompany Aldous to Los Angeles by way of New York for an interview on the Today Show. Aaron's girlfriend Daphne (Mad Men's Elizabeth Moss) is a doctor doing her internship and her busy schedule hinders their relationship. Before leaving for London Aaron and Daphne have an argument about the future and Aaron leaves believing that they have broken up. In London he finds it tough to get Aldous on a plane. Aldous is childish and immature and drags Aaron to different bars and clubs, where Aaron has an encounter with a stranger. When they finally arrive in New York Aaron drinks all the liquor in the car so that Aldous will appear on the show completely sober. Aldous is unable to remember the lyrics to African Child and on an earlier suggestion from Aaron he performs one of his earlier hits. In a turn of events that completely ruin the film's focus the two men end up in Las Vegas in search of Aldous' father (Colm Meany). Aaron has such difficulty getting Aldous to L.A. that Sergio shows up. The film turns for the worst in a scene at a nightclub where the four men get into a fistfight and Aaron gets high. When they finally arrive in Los Angeles Aldous' show is in jeopardy after a visit with Jackie Q. To parallel Aldous' struggles, Aaron's attempt to reunite with Daphne also hits a roadblock.

For more than half of Get Him to the Greek the film is hilarious and enjoyable, but when the duo get to Las Vegas it becomes painfully clear that both Aaron and Aldous are headed for a life lesson. Are the chain of events that follow unreasonable and out of character? No, but it takes the focus away from the original story that had a lot of potential.
Get Him to the Greek is advertised as a raunchy comedy and I see no reason why it had to become a tale of morality. Jason Segel does have talent as an actor and a writer but this film either shows a lack of discipline or too much intervention from the studio. I have a major complaint about the style department and whoever was responsible for Jonah Hill. I do not think that anyone working in the music industry would dare to look so slovenly. Add the permanent five o'clock shadow and I was turned off and found little reason to empathize with him. Elizabeth Moss, a talented actress who deserves recognition for her terrific role on Mad Men is completely underused and given little to work with. I will say the only performance I truly enjoyed was Rose Byrne. It was so out of character from her work on Damages and did a great job with Jackie Q, especially the music video sequences that were quite scandalous. Next time lets just have a comedy about a self obsessed rock star without a life lesson. Did The Hangover have a moral? Probably, but we were all too busy laughing to care.

My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.

17 June 2010

Woody Allen: Day Two

I have now watched my second Woody Allen film. Take the Money and Run is Woody Allen's second film as director and it was released in 1969. Considered one of the first mockumentaries, the film chronicles the many mishaps of petty thief Virgil Starkwell (played by Allen). The film is very funny and really showcases Woody Allen as a master of comedy. Roger Ebert was critical of the film, saying that he expected Take the Money and Run to be funnier than it was.

What's Up, Tiger Lily? gave us a great Woody Allen screenplay, but Take the Money and Run goes further with Woody Allen writing, directing and acting in an intelligently crafted comedy.

Next up: 1971's Bananas.

My list:
1. Take the Money and Run
2. What's Up, Tiger Lily?

13 June 2010

Review: "Kids"

Kids was quite controversial when it was first released in 1995. Its frank portrayal of sex and drug use amongst teenagers would still be controversial today. The young adults in the film speak of sex and drugs in an unrestrained way that is provocative and shocking. Kids created such controversy that some questioned its merit as a film and it was given an NC-17 rating, which would have affected the box office revenue had the film not been released unrated in the United States. While the film's subject matter may disturb many viewers, it has an strong and clear message for young adults. It was the first film directed by Larry Clark, an American director who deals primarily with illegal drugs and underage sex. His 2002 film Ken Park, with themes ranging from incest to suicide, was either banned or never released in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. I remember being younger and hearing about Kids and knowing that it caused a commotion. It was always on the top shelf at the video store and temping me to rent it. Besides its controversial themes, Kids is known for featuring the debut performances of Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson, along with a few other young actors who found limited later success. Kids had to be controversial to succeed. The screenplay comes alive with the inspired performances from its cast. It is a film that forces you to stop and think and even question how the choices we have made have affected those around us.

We first meet Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick), a fifteen year old boy living in New York City, in bed with a young girl. She is a virgin and he is trying to convince her to have sex. Telly tells her what she wants to hear and she gives in. Afterward, in provocative scene that sets the tone for the rest of the film, he wanders the streets of New York with his friend Casper (Justin Pierce) and relates his conquest in a graphic and detailed manner. It becomes clear that Telly enjoys de-virginizing girls and he explicitly states that he likes knowing that he will be their first partner. In search of food and drugs Telly and Casper head to their friend Paul's apartment. Inside they enter into conversation with a group of boys about prior sexual conquests while getting high. Interwoven is a scene with a group of girls discussing sex. The girls have vastly different views, especially when it comes to performing oral sex. Ruby (Rosario Dawson) and Jennie (Chloe Sevigny) were recently tested for STDs. Ruby, who has had unprotected sex with multiple partners, wanted to know her status and Jennie, who had sex once with Telly, accompanied her for moral support. Unfortunately Ruby is negative and Jennie has tested positive for HIV. She is shocked and saddened and unable to tell her parents. She wants to find Telly and spends the rest of the day in search of him. Telly spends the afternoon getting high and getting into a violent fight with a stranger before eventually setting his sights on Darcy (Yakira Peguero), the thirteen year old sister of a friend. The audience can feel the clock ticking and we are unsure if Jennie can reach Telly before he puts another girl at risk.

The beginning of Kids was provocative, but I was shocked by the ending of the film. It took quite a while for me to pick my jaw up off the floor. The circle of friends is so incestuous that it would be easy for each of them to have unknowingly affected each other with AIDS. Chloe Sevigny, who had an early career as a model, showcased some great talent in the film. She may have made some ill-advised films (The Brown Bunny in 2003, which I have not seen), but the spark that she had in Boys Don't Cry and Big Love is present in her first film role. Leo Fitzpatrick's IMDB profile says that some viewers thought Kids was a documentary and he was threatened. This kind of controversy could have been used to discuss the positive attributes of the film. This is the kind of film that can scare young kids and teach kids about the risks of unprotected sex. STDs and HIV exist and are a real problem. Are parents so naive to assume that their own children do not discuss sex so explicitly with a group of friends? Kids is not so explicit that it is child pornography, as the Washington Post claimed, but the film must be watched critically. It is a film that should be analyzed and discussed and I think that it would have been beneficial to watch the film when I was a teenager and to have had the opportunity to talk about these issues. The controversy surrounding Kids goes back to one of my main issues: censorship. I have always said that parents should practice self-censorship for their children and that the media should not edit for the masses.

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.

Review: "Agora"

I feel guilty. I invited a friend to see Agora, a film I wanted to see and one about which she knew nothing, and when the lights came on we were both left dissatisfied. It is a historical film and I expected the characters to be better developed. The male characters, integral to the tension in the film, were poorly conceived and there were times I felt lost and questioned their actions because the screenplay withheld so many important pieces of information. Even Rachel Weisz, an incredibly talented Oscar-winning actress, suffered because her character was not given sufficient room to grow. Rachel Weisz has only had starring roles in a select few films, but her performance in The Constant Gardener (2005), which won her the award for Best Supporting Actress, has endeared me to her so much that I can forgive her. Her role in The Brothers Bloom, a severely underrated comedy, is enough proof, in her post-Oscar films, that she is a tremendous actress. Agora is a 2009 film by Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar, who wrote and directed The Others, a 2001 film that starred Nicole Kidman. Agora takes place in Roman Egypt in the late fourth century when religious and social unrest threaten the future of the city of Alexandria. Agora struggles because it has not decided whether it wants to be a social commentary or a love story. The film fuses both elements together and has created a chaotic mess that confused me. Too much is left for interpretation throughout the film and eventually the characters' actions become questionable because the film has given the audience no background.

Rachel Weisz stars as Hypatia, a teacher and philosopher and daughter of Theon (Michael Lonsdale), the director of the Mauseum of Alexandria. The Mauseum housed the Library of Alexandria, which was one of the greatest and most important libraries of the ancient world. Alexandria is controlled by the pagan Roman Empire but soon the Christians start contesting Roman rule. At the start of Agora Hypatia's students include Davus (Max Minghella), her slave, Orestes (Oscar Isaac), who publicly professes his unrequited love for Hypatia, and Synesius (Rupert Evans). The pagans, believing that they will be protected by the gods, ambush the Christians and find themselves outnumbered. A decree from the Roman Empire announces that Christians will be allowed to enter the Library of Alexandria and the pagans begin to flee, trying to escape with as many scrolls from the library as they can carry. The Christians storm the library and destroy the remaining documents. Davus, unable to profess his love for Hypatia, joins the Christians as a means of gaining his freedom. Agora jumps ahead and Orestes has converted to Christianity and become prefect of the city. Hypatia, now forbidden to teach, spends her time investigating the Earth's relation to the sun. Many ridicule her for believing the Earth is round. The Christians have now come into conflict with the Jews and Cyril (Sami Samir), leader of the Christians, believes that Hypatia has too much control over Orestes and demands that he denounce her as a witch. Synesius, now the Bishop of Cyrene, attempts to help Hypatia in his role as a religious figure if she will be baptized as a Christian. All the men in Hypatia's life try to save her from death but she is too consumed with finding the truth.

Agora is very heavy on the historical aspect of the religious conflict during this time, but the film tries too hard to force a love triangle between Hypatia, Orestes and Davus. The film is a failure if this love triangle is supposed to carry the entire film. Orestes and Davus are not developed as characters and their affection for Hypatia is seen through furtive glances and supposed innuendo. The screenplay is simple at best and that does not work for a film for this scale. Though the screenplay is weak in terms of dialogue and character development I must say that the actors do a remarkable job. Rachel Weisz is wonderful as Hypatia and it is clear that she is a woman who values philosophy above carnal love. Todd McCarthy, the renowned (but recently fired) film critic for Variety, called the film a high-minded epic. I believe that Amenabar had visions of grandeur but ultimately fell flat. The religious conflict between the pagans, the Christian and the Jews was not compelling. I did like that the film often withdrew from the city of Alexandria and the camera panned out to a view of the Earth. It acted as a symbol of Hypatia's lifelong goal of discovering the Earth's position in the universe. Agora had so much potential, but does it fall short because it should have focused on Hypatia and her philosophical and mathematical quest? Or should the film have looked at the religious conflict and put less of an emphasis on Hypatia and her suitors? I will leave that to you to decide. I left with respect for Rachel Weisz's performance but I was ultimately disappointed by the lack of focus.

My rating: 2 stars out of 4.

Review: "Happy Tears"

Sometimes we, the public, get lucky and the film world embraces an independent film. Abigail Breslin and Ellen Page have become household names after Little Miss Sunshine and Juno became indie hits. They are both smaller budget films that had mass appeal. There is one actress that has come to epitomize the success of independent cinema. Parker Posey. Her roles in Kicking & Screaming (1996), Henry Fool (1998), and performances in Christopher Guest's Waiting For Guffman (1997), Best In Show (2000) and A Mighty Wind (2003) have led to her unofficial nickname, Queen of the Indies. When I first heard about her role in Happy Tears I wanted to see it regardless of the plot. Parker Posey is a wonderfully quirky actress and I would urge anyone to see her satiric performance in The House of Yes. Happy Tears is the third film written and directed by Mitchell Liechtenstein, whose previous film, Teeth, is a 2007 film about a girl with teeth in her vagina. Demi Moore co-stars alongside Parker Posey as a pair of sisters who are dealing with the rapidly decreasing health of their father, played by Rip Torn. While the film may have benefited from a stronger focus from its director, the performances from its leading cast, including Ellen Barkin, help make Happy Tears an enjoyable mess of a film.

Jayne (Parker Posey) lives in San Francisco and we first meet her in a taxi while she lies to her sister Laura (Demi Moore) about her inability to travel to Pittsburgh until the next day. Laura is in Pittsburgh taking care of their father Joe (Rip Torn), who age and mental instability have made it impossible for him to live on his own. Laura is the responsible daughter, devoted wife and mother of two, and she is awaiting Jayne's arrival so that she can return home to her own family. Jayne has her own psychological issues but she married wealthy and chose to spend an afternoon buying $2800 boots instead of helping her sister. When she finally arrives in Pittsburgh Jayne has trouble believing that Joe is sick. Laura, knowing her sister all too well, is hardly surprised by Jayne's reaction when Joe is unable to control his bowel movements. It is hard for the girls to return to their childhood home after their mother died and they struggle with the progression of their father's illness. Jayne is continually reminded of childhood memories and her return home is made more difficult by Joe's girlfriend Shelly (Ellen Barkin), a women masquerading as a nurse. Jayne must find peace with herself, her childhood and her father. It is a difficult task but she is lucky to have Laura at her side.

Throughout Happy Tears there are various dream sequences for Jayne that seem at out place at first, but then I realized that the scenes symbolized Jayne's emotional state. Parker Posey is a versatile actress and while she plays the egotistical and greedy Jayne with apparent ease, I believe that she could have played the strong and mature Laura with as much focus. I was pleasantly surprised by Demi Moore, considering that her career since the disastrous Striptease in 1996 has become a punch line. With Rip Torn's current legal woes it makes me wonder if the aging degradation on screen was not so much acting as it was reality. There have been better films about siblings dealing with the difficulties of aging parents (The Savages, a 2007 film starring Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman, comes to mind), but Parker Posey is a joy to watch. Her offbeat personality is translated on screen with such ease that my eyes are always drawn to her. It may require her to find the right story and produce it herself, but I believe that there will come a day that Parker Posey delivers a performance that will leave the whole film world speechless. She is too talented an actress to be restricted to the indie film circuit. She made Happy Tears a better film because she was in it.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

12 June 2010

Woody Allen: Day One

A few weeks ago I was trying to decide on a film project for the summer. Not having a full-time job for the summer is going to be a blessing (sleep) and a curse (income) this year and I wanted to have something to look forward to. Last summer I watched the entire series of The Sopranos and then re-watched two of my favourite television series, Alias and Will & Grace. My goal this summer is to watch every film that Woody Allen has directed in chronological order, including the 1994 television film Don't Drink the Water and New York Stories, the 1989 film that included segments directed by Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. Along with watching all of his films, a number that totals forty-one, I am going to try and rank the films to come up with my own list of Woody Allen films.

First on my list is What's Up, Tiger Lily? The film was released in 1966 and was Woody's second screenplay to be produced after What's New Pussycat? in 1965. The film is wickedly funny and features great dialogue. Woody Allen took two previously released Japanese films (International Secret Police: Barrel of Gunpowder and International Secret Police: Key of Keys) and removed the entire audio track. He then altered the sequence of the film and put in his own soundtrack. The original film, which is thought to be a clone of the James Bond franchise, became a story about the search for the world's best egg salad recipe. The idea for the film was genius and Woody Allen certainly made a name for himself with What's Up, Tiger Lily? The dialogue is so funny that it is hard to pay attention to the events on screen at times.

Woody Allen's complaint about the film, and I would agree, is that musical numbers by The Lovin' Spoonful were inserted into the film during post production. These scenes serve no purpose.

One film down, next up: Take the Money and Run.

My list:
1. What's Up, Tiger Lily?

06 June 2010

Review: "Easy Rider"

With Dennis Hopper's recent passing I felt compelled to visit some of his films that I had never seen. Personally Speed is my Dennis Hopper film, but that might be because the quality of his films diminished in recent years. Easy Rider seemed like a great place to start. Dennis Hopper starred in, co-wrote and directed the 1969 film. His screenwriting partner, fellow iconic actor Peter Fonda, was also his costar and producer of the film. Easy Rider is considered to be a major work in the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The film highlights the major challenges affecting American society and the main characters' difficulty to find like-minded people. To further its cultural importance, Easy Rider is infamous for its use of real drugs in scenes involving marijuana. Forty years after its release Easy Rider has become an iconic film for its use of motorcycles as well as its great soundtrack, which featured music by The Band, Steppenwolf and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Outside of all its cultural and historical impact, Easy Rider is also the film that launched Jack Nicholson into the spotlight. Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda (and Terry Southern) were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. While I may be too young and too far removed from the culture of the late 1960s, I found Dennis Hopper's and Peter Fonda's performances to be inauthentic. I saw the duo more as two actors masquerading as hippies as they travel across the United States by motorcycle. That being sad, I believe that message of the Easy Rider is easily transmitted to the audience and, along with the powerful performance by Jack Nicholson and the great soundtrack, Easy Rider is a film worth seeing.

Easy Rider opens in Mexico with Wyatt (Peter Fonda), nicknamed Captain America, and Billy (Dennis Hopper) making a deal for cocaine. The two smuggle the drugs across the border and return home to Los Angeles. After exchanging the drugs for profit they stash the money in the fuel tank of Wyatt's motorcycle and set out to make it to New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras. Wyatt and Billy share a meal with a rancher and as they continue their trek they pick up a hitch-hiker (Luke Askew). The unnamed man takes them to his commune where the land is harsh and it has become increasingly more difficult to raise crops. The people on the commune seem to practice free love, which is more appealing to one man than the other. Upon leaving the commune they eventually find themselves imprisoned after joining the end of a parade. They are thrown in jail for parading without a permit. In jail they encounter George Hanson (Jack Nicholson), in jail for public drunkenness, a lawyer who helps get Wyatt and Billy out of jail. George joins the men on their journey and he is introduced to marijuana one night by a campfire. When they enter Louisiana they eat at a local diner and their presence attracts attention from the ladies but it threatens the men. They are so threatened that they attack the three men in the middle of the night with baseball bats, and while Wyatt and Billy survive, it is George who is unable to overcome his injuries. Wyatt and Billy end up at a brothel in New Orleans, a place George had wanted to visit, and take two prostitutes to a cemetery where they ingest LSD, given to them by the hitch-hiker as they left the commune. They leave Louisiana unfulfilled and head towards Florida, but their trip does not get any easier and people are still scared and threatened by their appearance.

I was unprepared for the end of Easy Rider and that made me like the film that much more. I love when a film surprises and shocks me. I may not have believed the characters played by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, but I understand the importance of the film. Even today people are threatened by people with different values. As I said above, I may not fully understand the culture of the 1960s and 1970s because I was born in 1983, so I may have missed some of the subtler aspects of the film. But in forty years is someone of a different generation going to fully comprehend the historical significance of Toy Story? I will contradict myself and say that I understand the significance of Annie Hall, released in 1977, but does the eight year gap make a difference? Or maybe I just do not understand the hippie drug culture. In terms of my appreciation for Dennis Hopper as an actor, I do not think that Easy Rider is a great point of reference, but it does show that he is a talent for the arts in general.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

Review: "Quiz Show"

Those who me know me know that I love Jeopardy! If there was ever a film that was directly marketed at my obsession, it would be Quiz Show, a 1994 film directed by Robert Redford. I have such an uncanny love for trivia that I always want to play Trivial Pursuit and am a frequent visit to the website Sporcle. Quiz Show is the fourth film directed by Redford, whose first film, Ordinary People in 1980, won him the Academy Award for Best Director (as well as capturing Best Picture). He was nominated again in 1992 for A River Runs Through It and again in 1994 for Quiz Show. In 1994, the year I turned eleven, I was just beginning to pay attention to the film industry. I remember wanting to see Pulp Fiction so badly and being mesmerized by Uma Thurman -- which is still true today! Sixteen years later can we still say that Forrest Gump is a better film than Pulp Fiction and Quiz Show? The film, based on true events, chronicles the scandal on the 1950s quiz show Twenty One. I believe that Hollywood is sometimes too eager to put true stories on film, but most of my anger stems from my displeasure of the true stories that only exist to make audiences cry. Quiz Show is definitely not that kind of film. Roger Ebert, in his review, remarked that the screenplay is ruthless and I believe that Robert Redford has created a film that depicts even the most sympathetic characters as being villainous.

In 1957 Americans are drawn to their televisions to watch the newest episodes of Twenty One, a quiz show that pits two contestants against each other to answer trivia questions and betting points in order to win. Herbert Stempel (John Turturro), a former soldier and common American, is the reigning champion. Soon the show's sponsor, Geritol, grows tired of Herb and the show's producers, Dan Enright (Dan Paymer) and Albert Freedman (Hank Azaria), must find a new champion. Enright and Freeman are ecstatic when Charles van Doren (Ralph Fiennes) comes to NBC wanting to appear on Tic-Tac-Dough. Enright asks Stempel to purposely lose to Van Doren, a Columbia University professor and son of Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mark Van Doren (Paul Scofield), who they believe is more sophisticated and will sell better than Herbert Stempel. Charles Van Doren becomes a national celebrity and appears on televisions shows and magazine covers and eventually the producers start feeding him answers. A scandal erupts after Stempel testifies before a Grand Jury and
Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow), a Congressional lawyer for the House Committee for Legislative Oversight from Washington D.C., comes to New York to to look into quiz show corruption. Goodwin has a difficult task at hand, he must prove that Twenty One willingly provided contestants with answers and that Geritol played a role in choosing when champions lost. Quiz Show also stars Mira Sorvino as Dick Goodwin's wife Sandra, Christopher McDonald as Jack Barry, the host of Twenty One, and Martin Scorsese as the president of Geritol.

At its core Quiz Show is a political film about the quiz show scandals in the 1950s. It escapes the trap of being a boring political film because of its tremendous acting. At first Charles Van Doren is presented as the ethical hero of the film, unwilling to cheat and wanting to remain honest for the sake of the American people. As his greed for money and fame grow it is his father, Mark Van Doren, who emerges as our sympathetic hero. Paul Scofield, a talented actor who won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1966 for A Man For All Seasons. He is a gifted actor who shines brightest amongst the more famous names in the film and he was deservedly nominated for Best Supporting Actor. I have often wondered if producers have a hand in affecting the outcome of a game show. There are times when I feel a particular champion on Jeopardy! is unable to use his signal device for an extended period and ends up losing. But, on the other hand, there are also times when champions are so devoid of personality. Quiz Show is a fantastic film that earns your focus with an intelligent story and pacing that, despite its political and historical relevance, never seems overly focused on the details and allows the audience to make their own judgments.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

05 June 2010

Review: "Robin Hood"

I do not think that it was necessary to make another film about Robin Hood. The newest installment is Robin Hood, directed by Ridley Scott, who has given us great films like Alien (1979), Thelma & Louise (1991) and Gladiator (2001), which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Since 2001 the quality of his work has suffered. A Good Year (2006), American Gangster (2007) and Body of Lies (2008) are mediocre efforts at best. There is a common link for the three films: Russell Crowe. After three consecutive Academy Award nominations for Best Actor from 1999 to 2001 (winning in 2000 for Gladiator), Russell Crowe has failed to live up to expectations. He has shown an inability to adapt and he appears very arrogant on screen. Did Ridley Scott make the right choice in casting Russell Crowe to become the new Robin Hood? No, but it could hardly be considered the worst mistake in Robin Hood, the film. There have been countless versions of Robin Hood, with Robin Hood in 1922, Disney's Robin Hood in 1973, Robin and Marian in 1976 (with Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in 1991 that starred Kevin Costner, and my personal favourite, 1993's Robin Hood: Men in Tights. In 2010 Ridley Scott has attempted to make Robin Hood a story about how the man became Robin Hood, but the film fails on too many levels. Robin Hood is too long, Russell Crowe's talent as an actor is once again questionable, the love story between Robin and Marion is ill-conceived, and the violence in the film, while gratuitous and mostly unnecessary, is too reminiscent of Gladiator.

The film begins in 1199 and Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is an archer in the army of King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston). The army is fighting in France en route to England after the Third Crusade. In England, Richard's brother John (Oscar Isaac) has been plotting to have the king killed. King Richard dies in battle, and Robin takes this as a sign to flee the battle and return to England as soon as possible. He and three soldiers, Little John (Kevin Durand), Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes) and Alan A'Dayle (Alan Doyle), set out for the coast and stumble upon an ambush,
orchestrated by John's servant Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong) that attacked Richard's knights. Robin and his men assume the identities of the knights and return to England with the king's crown. Robin, now the son of Sir Walter Loxley, sets out to return the sword to Sir Walter and to inform him of his son's death. Walter (Max von Sydow) owes a considerable amount of taxes and King John demands that all taxes are to be collected. The village of Nottingham, home to Sir Walter, has become very poor and Sir Walter can not afford to pay his taxes. He welcomes Robin into his home and urges him to pretend to be his son, which does not sit well with the recently widowed Marion (Cate Blanchett). We soon learn that Godfrey has been fooling King John and with the hopes that the tax collection will turn his people against him so that England will not fight against the French, who are planning an attack. It is Robin Hood, alongside William Marshal (William Hurt), who must unite the English people to challenge the French invasion.

Universal Pictures spent a lot of time and effort promoting the release of Robin Hood. The first trailer was a constant stream of violence that made comparisons to Gladiator far too easy. It might have been a good idea to make audiences forget what Ridley Scott had done for a decade but Robin Hood is as much about the relationship between Robin and Marion as it is about the fight against the evil King John. The film premiered in May 2010 at the Cannes Film Festival as the opening film. Early reviews were poor and mainstream media soon joined in the bashing. I am not a fan of Russell Crowe, but if Robin Hood is supposed to be a story about the young man that became an outlaw, why is he being played by a forty-six year old actor? Cate Blanchett was underused throughout the film and even her radiance could not make Russell Crowe appealing. A lot has been said about the bleak cinematography in the film. I did not mind it and I feel that if Robin Hood was truly a story about war and graphic violence that the colours on screen would have been worked advantageously. However, it is not until the last few minutes of the 140 minute film that there is any sense of Robin Hood. I feel that I would have been more satisfied by the film had it just been about brand new characters without our preconceived notions. All I can say overall is that Robin Hood is not as bad as I had anticipated, but please do not take that as a recommendation.

My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4.

01 June 2010

Review: "Interview with the Vampire"

I have never been interested in the Vampire world and have never read a single book by Anne Rice. I do watch True Blood, but Alan Ball is a genius and the series can hardly be described as a vampire show. Queen of the Damned, released in 2002 after Aaliyah's death, has been my only foray into the world of Anne Rice until now. Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles features an A-list cast with Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Antonio Banderas and Kirsten Dunst in her breakthrough role. I was unimpressed with the entire cast, except for Dunst, who showed maturity despite her young age. Unfortunately, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt seemed satisfied with creating caricatures and the film suffers. Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles began with Interview with the Vampire in 1976 and before the film adaptation was released in 1994 she had written three subsequent novels and had amassed a considerable amount of fans. Obviously Rice was worried that Warner Brothers would not be faithful to her novel and was apparently critical of the choice to cast Tom Cruise. The director, Neil Jordan, had just won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his 1992 film The Crying Game. Credit must be given to the director and the production staff for giving the film a great Gothic feel and an intense atmosphere throughout the film. However, Interview with the Vampire, relying too heavily on its miscast actors, suffers because the film fails to connect emotionally with its audience.

The film begins in modern-day San Francisco. Daniel Malloy (Christian Slater) is a reporter set to interview a man named Louis (Brad Pitt) who claims to be a vampire. He relates his story that begins in Louisiana in 1791. He was 24 and had just lost his wife during childbirth and longed for his own death. The vampire Lestat (Tom Cruise) gives him the chance to be reborn and turns him into a vampire. Louis has a terrible time with the idea of killing humans and prefers killing animals for their blood. The two vampires, bound together, move to New Orleans where Lestat turns the young Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) into a vampire daughter for them. She soon becomes angry when she realizes that she will never grow older and her anger is directed towards Lestat. Claudia has become a sadistic killer and tricks Lestat into drinking blood from the dead, killing him. Before Louis and Claudia are able to flee to Europe Lestat emerges from the swamp and Louis is forced to burn down the house to escape. It is now 1870 and they are living in Paris, but Louis has failed to find any other vampires in his quest to discover his vampiric origins. One night he encounters Armand (Antonio Banderas), who claims to be the oldest living vampire. Armand assures Louis that he has the answers. Santiago (Stephen Rea), a member of Armand's coven, warns Louis that he knows the truth about Lestat's murder and that it is forbidden for a vampire to kill one of its own. Louis' interactions with Armand eventually put Claudia's future in jeopardy and Santiago goes to great lengths to ensure that Louis suffers for his sins.

There were many times throughout Interview with the Vampire when Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt were very awkward on screen. A lot of this can be attributed to the screenplay, adapted by Anne Rice, which seemed stilted and was full of cliches. This was evident at the very beginning of the film and the dialogue only became more laborious. I am intrigued by the film's title, Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles, with its subtitle giving the impression that the studio had been planning to produce Anne Rice's other novels. The film may have a 60% rating on RottenTomatoes, but the uninspired acting may have cost Interview with the Vampire a sequel. I had just turned eleven when the film was released and the film never entered my consciousness until I was at least sixteen. By then I was more interested in seeing Vampire in Brooklyn, Wes Craven's 1995 vampire film that starred Angela Bassett and Eddie Murphy. I never did get around to seeing it but I am sure my desire had something to do with my love of Tina Turner and Angela Bassett's role in What's Love Got to Do with It. I have spent a lot of time deriding the film for its terrible acting, but if you feel compelled to watch Interview with the Vampire you will at least be impressed by the cinematography.

My rating: 2 stars out of 4.