Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Gibson Revue: A Final Reminder

The Gibson Revue, this blog's first movie marathon, is in three days!

Do not forget to drop me a note or a comment if you are planning on attending this day of food, movies, and (because movies don't end when the lights go up) movie chatter.

When: Saturday August 28th at 1:30p

Where: My house (ask for details)

What:  three movies featuring loners who become less lonely by the end of their tale

2p: True Grit, the 1969 western starring the legendary John Wayne. 2hrs 8mins.

4:30p: Let the Right One In - to say much about this masterpiece would be to say too much.  2hrs.

7p: Zombieland - why not end the day with a bang? 1hr 21mins.

After each film there will be 5-10 minutes of discussion followed by a break.

Attendees are asked to arrive as close to 1:30p as possible to avoid any disruptions.  If, for any reason, you can't make it to the first film please pay special attention to the times listed above.  Each film will be introduced at those times, so arrive accordingly.

If necessary, please bring your own beer - and please drink responsibly.

Lastly, please no kids.

I look forward to seeing you all in a couple days for a great time with some great movies.  Let's have fun!

Film Faves: 2002

Welcome once again to another edition of Film Faves.  For those not already familiar, Film Faves is a monthly feature where I list my favorites from a movie-related topic.  Unlike many other lists, which feature a top 10 countdown with honorable mentions sprinkled on top, Film Faves is a list of a dozen movies or movie-related picks.  This is not intended to be an objective best-of list; it is unabashedly biased and all about the infectious enjoyment of film.

For those who have been following this feature it will come as no surprise that this post is focusing on movies from the year 2002.  Science fiction and fantasy ruled 2002.  The final pre-reboot Star Trek film, Nemesis was released, as well as Star Wars - Episode II: Attack of the Clones.  In many ways an improvement on its predecessor, Attack of the Clones ranked among the top box office earners of the year, but was the only episode of the series to not hit the top spot.  Other sci-fi and fantasy releases include Men in Black II, Die Another Day, and several of the films listed below.

Chicago, The Pianist, The Hours, and Adaptation were the big award-winners of the year.  Other noteworthy films were 8 Mile, About a Boy, About Schmidt, Bubba Ho-Tep, Frida, The Good Girl, Insomnia, Lilo & Stitch, Panic Room, Punch-Drunk Love, Secretary, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Unfaithful, Whale Rider, and Windtalkers.

The year had a good deal of middling releases, but few bad ones.  Those that rank among the ones that stank are Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (voted by many as the worst of the decade), Crossroads, Death to Smoochy, Kung Pow: Enter the Fist, Master of Disguise, Mr. Deeds, Queen of the Damned, Simone, and Scooby-Doo.

But my favorites were:


12. My Big Fat Greek Wedding

We’ll start once again with a charming romantic comedy. This movie was produced by Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson and written by and starring Nia Vardalos, who turned out to be a sort of flash-in-the-pan talent. Greek Wedding is probably best-remembered as a cute little rom-com about a Greek woman snagging herself a man. Thankfully, it stands apart from the by-the-numbers romances by focusing on the main character, Tula (Vardalos), her family, and how her background and strict heritage makes for romantic conflict. It informs audiences about a foreign culture while appealing to a very relatable concept: the conflict our upbringing can create in a relationship with a different person. The cast is delightful, including Michael Constantine as the papa who’s proud of his Greek culture, Lainie Kazan as the nurturing mother, and a winning John Corbett (despite an unfortunate hairdo) as the guy who doesn’t remember a “frump girl” but does remember Tula waiting tables at her family restaurant. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a modern classic of its genre.

11. Signs

This is M. Night Shyalaman’s last good movie. It isn’t as gripping as The Sixth Sense or as convincing as Unbreakable, but it still works rather well. Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, and Abigail Breslin star in a story based on the crop circles myth. Shyalaman takes a page from Spielberg by not showing the aliens until the end, which adds to the intensity of many scenes, particularly the basement scene. Shyalaman may not have knocked it out of the park here, but he at least hit it out in the field, something he has yet to accomplish again.

10. Gangs of New York

Director Martin Scorsese went historical again with this 19th century tale about the fight between settlers and immigrants on the streets of New York. The broader struggle in the film can be applied in different ways to present day, but Scorsese went even more personal by plopping a story about a son seeking vengeance against a tyrant by the name of Bill the Butcher, who slaughtered his father. Daniel Day Lewis devours the role with bloodthirsty glee, stealing every scene from even his most talented co-stars. Leonardo DiCaprio, as the son now grown up, stars in his first “adult” role, letting the world know he’s here to stay (thankfully). Gangs of New York is often considered one of Scorsese’s middling works; however, while it may not be Goodfellas or even Casino, it’s certainly nothing to turn a glass eye to.

9. The Bourne Identity

Like Jason Bourne, I nearly forgot how awesome he (and this movie) is! This is one of the best action movies of the past 20 years. So great is it that it even influenced an old standby, the James Bond series. The chase in the U.S. Embassy in Switzerland features some of the best stunts, set piece orientation, and pacing in any action movie in recent years. Matt Damon previously proved he could do comedy (Dogma), drama (Good Will Hunting), and unsavory villainy (The Talented Mr. Ripley), but here he becomes one of the most bad-ass action stars of the decade. The Bourne Identity also shifted the genre from the meathead muscle to the cunning and lean Everyman with fast and brutal fight scenes. Great fun.

8. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

It’s interesting to go back and revisit the Harry Potter series now that most of the chapters have been released. I imagine Chamber of Secrets is the most interesting in this sense simply because it is the movie that best indicates how the film series worked as a whole. This is the film where we learn about Harry’s parcel tongue, that Voldemort is the heir to Slitherin, and we’re introduced to Tom Riddle, the Weasley family, and Malfoy’s father. There are also many characters introduced here that have zero to minimal presence in the rest of the film series: Aragon, Colin Creely, Dobby, Moaning Myrtle, Madame Sprout, and Sir Nicholas. It’s a shame that director Chris Columbus’s kitchen-sink approach resulted in an uneven, consistent inconsistent series; that said, this is still a really good family film. Considering all the garbage and mediocrity kids and families are spoon-fed in theaters, Chamber of Secrets is a diamond in the rough. It’s exciting, with well-developed characters, a steady pace and creative mystery. Even at its worst, one could do far worse than the Harry Potter series.

7. Minority Report

Minority Report seems to be, like The Terminal and Catch Me If You Can, one of Spielberg’s most overlooked films. Based on a Phillip K. Dick story, it is an interesting film for him in that it features some nasty eyeball imagery and its protagonist is addicted to drugs. Tom Cruise is a pre-crime cop who has a forbidden encounter with one of the experimental program’s pre-cogs (those who ‘see’ and report the crimes of the immediate future). This interaction leads to the accusation that he is going to commit murder – then the chase is on! Minority Report is a chase film, but Spielberg knows how to keep it interesting, including a wonderfully choreographed escape that begins in an alley, goes through some dinner-time apartments, and climaxes in a vehicle manufacturing plant. The movie is filmed in a grainy stock that makes the CGI effects seem more real and underscores the murkiness of our future. Minority Report is great sci-fi with thrills and interesting ideas.

6. Spirited Away

By far the most imaginative and magical animated film of 2002. Spirited Away is considered to be Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece and it’s easy to see why with its deliberate pacing and detailed imagery. Miyazaki combines the magical with the grotesque in a magnificent world. Do yourself and your kids a favor: instead of plopping them in front of yet another wiseacre fairy tale full of pop-culture references, show them any of Miyazaki’s films and I guarantee you’ll have happier, more thoughtful and creative children. Spirited Away is family animation at its greatest.

5. 28 Days Later

Director Danny Boyle claims this is not a zombie flick, rather a “rage virus as metaphor for society’s aggression” story. No matter what side you’re on, there’s no debating this movie is intense. Boyle spends ten minutes after the prologue in near silence; a strikingly inactive and desolate London, accompanied only by an occasional yell for life and John Murphy’s slowly intensifying score. Boyle thankfully staves off camp through realistic characters and quick cuts that keep up the frantic energy. This is excellent world-building and great horror. A classic in horror and the zombie sub-genre.

4. Spider-Man

This film was long in-development. For some time in the nineties, James Cameron was fighting for the rights to adapt it. Who knows what that would’ve looked like? Cult director Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Darkman) was eventually offered the director’s chair. It may pale today in comparison to later superhero films, but Spider-Man was the first film to make $100 million during an opening weekend. Rising talent Tobey Maguire shot to stardom as Peter Parker. However, Willem Dafoe’s clunky Green Goblin and occasionally questionable effects held the film back in Superman: the Movie territory – one foot in comic book nonsense, the other grounded in reality. Regardless, Spider-Man was among the first three Marvel films to legitimize the superhero film once again in the public eye thanks to Raimi’s assured direction, a talented cast, and reverence of the source material.

3. Bowling for Columbine

Easily Michael Moore’s best work to date, not because of the subject matter itself as much as the structure and his handling of the film. Unlike Fahrenheit 9/11, which spent its first half in smug pointed-ness or Capitalism: A Love Story, which was full of grain-of-salt logic and theatrics, Bowling for Columbine shows Moore investigating an issue from various angles and discovering there is no single target to aim his Crosshairs of Blame. Yes, one may argue over Moore’s discretion during his heavy-handed and uncomfortable encounter with NRA head Charlton Heston during the film’s climax. But weigh that with everything else he pulls off and discovers in this film and you might cut him some slack for losing a bit of his cool. Regardless, being less confident and pursuant ironically resulted in Moore’s most apolitical and accomplished work.

2. The Ring

This film by Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) kicked off a trend in Hollywood during the last decade: the boom of J-horror remakes. Thanks to this film we have The Grudge, Dark Water, and Pulse. It’s safe to say The Ring is the best of the bunch. This trend also kicked off something else Hollywood continues today: remaking recent foreign hits rather than playing the originals in the multi-plex. The decade began with foreign films hitting pay dirt with wide audiences. Now, a movie outside the U.S. isn’t more than three years old before Hollywood releases a remake. At any rate, The Ring is highly effective horror that relies less on gore and more on the pull of the mystery behind the stakes. Naomi Watts brings her A-game, giving us not another clueless waif, but a determined and intelligent character that ranks among the Sydney Prescotts (Scream) and Nancy Thompsons (A Nightmare on Elm Street) of the genre.

1. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Anyone looking for another The Empire Strikes Back need look no further than this, the best chapter in the fantasy epic. Smeagol / Gollum. Ents. Faramir. Black Gate. The Wolves of Isengard. Wormtongue. The epic battle of Helm’s Deep. The Two Towers introduced all of these things. This is cinema spectacle at its best. But there’s also great character work in Samwise Gamgee, the tragic King Theoden, and Gollum, one of cinema’s most interesting characters. Anyone who has any doubt about this chapter (even after recalling the events and characters mentioned above) needs to re-watch Sam’s exceptional monologue near the end, which works on a character level, a story level, and a historic level. At a time when the country was still reeling from tragedy and uncertainty it took an escapist epic titled The Two Towers to offer hope:
“How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, the shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine clearer.”
Stuff like this is why The Lord of the Rings is one of the greatest films of the decade.

There you have it, my favorite films of 2002.  What are your favorite films?  Vote on the poll to the right or leave a comment below or on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, or via email.  Is there a movie I neglected to mention that you feel deserves one?  I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

Next time on Film Faves, come what may, tombs will be raided, monsters go corporate, and some cats sell out. But do we have to listen to Smash Mouth again?  See you then.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Gibson Revue: A Reminder

We are less than two weeks away from the very first Gibson Revue: A Movie Marathon!

If you live in the Pacific Northwest and are an avid film fan then join me for a day of food, movies, and discussion.

When:  Saturday, August 28th at 1:30p.

Where: My house (ask for details)

What: three movies -

2p: True Grit, starring John Wayne.  2 hrs. 8 mins.

4:30p: Let the Right One In. 2 hrs.

7p: Zombieland. 1 hr. 21 mins.

As this is a movie event inspired by a movie review blog, there will be short discussion about each film after their showing hosted by yours truly.  Don't worry, I'll keep it interesting and there'll be plenty of time to mingle with the food table.

Attendees are asked to arrive as close to 1:30p (and around each individual show time for late-comers) as possible to avoid any disruptions during the movies.

While there will be food, please bring your own beer - and only if you drink responsibly.

Lastly, please no kids.

Please contact me if you're planning on attending - and hurry, there's only eight (8) seats remaining!

See you then!

Scott Pilgrim is the Bomb-omb

Remember those relationships you had that didn’t exactly end as mutually as you’d have liked? You may have ditched him or her for someone else, ceased calling and answering the door, broken up via answering service, or decided to behave like a total asshole just so you didn’t have to face their tears during an honest break-up. Since then whenever you run into that person at the store, concert, or local fair things get terribly awkward – you might even duck behind a display of oranges or a carnival barker just to avoid contact with that person.

The only thing worse is when confronted with your girlfriend’s ex, who was dumped under circumstances similar to those above – especially if that ex has yet to move on. The tension in the air is fatal.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World speaks to these situations with a balance of indie comic introspection and 16-bit thrills. It’s a mash-up of twenty-something romances, video games, comic book visuals, and indie rock; a sort of Nick & Norah meets Annie Hall meets Street Fighter. Scott Pilgrim is based on a six-book comic series about a young man (played magnificently by Michael Cera) in an unsuccessful indie band called Sex Bomb-omb, who discovers that in order to continue a relationship with his ultra-cool hipster girl, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elisabeth Winstead), he must defeat her seven evil exes. We’re not talking about a figurative defeat or “best out of three” Pong matches; punches are thrown, screens are dramatically split, and people burst into coins.

Director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) created a film with the sugar-rush energy of a 21 year-old playing video games and reading comics all day then going to rock concerts at night – but managed to make room for some greatly relatable lessons about owning up to the harm we’ve caused others and maturing into adulthood. Wright has established a history of taking an ostensibly fun concept (zombies, buddy-cop action) and laying it on top of something thematically interesting or character-driven. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is no exception. The evil exes represent the innocents we hurt when we’re young and stupid. The film captures well the aversion to conflict we have when we’re young and immature. Scott Pilgrim always wants to play the role of the good guy in his own game of life and anything that suggests he isn’t is met with denial or justification. He is young and selfish, but who hasn’t been there? Even Ramona Flowers, as she’s recounting to Scott her history with each evil ex, is copping to having been there herself. We gradually realize with Scott that if we’re not careful, we too could become someone’s evil ex.

But when one compares the romance between Scott and Ramona to that of Shaun and Liz of Shaun of the Dead it becomes apparent there’s something missing in the former. Ramona Flowers is the cool girl every geek wishes he was hip enough to score; Mary Elisabeth Winstead exudes that. Pilgrim is introspective and appealingly awkward, but made imperfect by his wariness to maturity; Michael Cera transcends his persona and sells this slacker hero. But a movie that is full of impersonal gaming graphics and round-house kicks with subjects as personal as they are at its core needs more intimacy to balance it out. As entertaining and wonderful as Scott Pilgrim is to witness, the romance could’ve used a few more intimate moments to help us care more. That’s not to say the romance is inexplicable and a complete failure; we get why Scott and Ramona are interested in each other. It’s just that, while it’s hard to cry “GAME OVER!” to a movie this special already crammed with all its metaphors, supporting characters, references, and jokes – and avoids trying to shoehorn more in – the characters need a bit more to chew on during their video game action.

Speaking of characters, Scott certainly is surrounded by a dream cast of supporting characters: Envy Adams (Brie Larson), Knives Chow (Ellen Wong), Gideon Gordon Graves (Jason Schwartzman), Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh), Lucas Lee (Chris Evans), Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha), Kim Pine (Allison Pill), Julie Powers (Aubrey Plaza), Roxy Richter (Mae Whitman), and Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin). Best among them are Evans and Routh as two of the evil exes and Culkin, all grown up, as Scott’s platonically gay roommate. Evans and Routh have both dabbled in superhero films (Evans as Human Torch, Routh as Superman) and they both seem to lampoon those icons here. Evans plays a hot-headed, egotistical action star while Routh hovers in the air, claiming to be holier than thou because he’s vegan. Theirs are a couple of the best scenes in the movie. Also, Culkin’s Wallace successfully brings Scott Pilgrim back to reality with a gentle yet undercutting wryness.

Scott Pilgrim is a welcome push on the refresh button to a summer as stale as a gaming console’s final release schedule. It is a mash-up spectacle, but full of metaphors and emotional substance. It speaks perfectly to those of the 8-bit ‘80s adolescence now matured and hitting their thirties and those of the text-gen that can’t articulate their feelings beyond reductive mumblings and haven’t matured beyond creating their own League of Evil Exes. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World may not measure up to Edgar Wright’s other vid-iot, Shaun of the Dead, but it’ll make your inner geek sing.


Should you see it? Buy tickets

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is in theaters now.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Remember That Movie: The 400 Blows

Writing about a movie like The 400 Blows is always a daunting effort, because better writers than you have already written nearly everything that could be said better than you could ever hope to say it. Fool that I am, I thought I’d give it crack anyway. Besides, I thought, this feature could really use a film made before the 1980s.

In case you don’t remember, The 400 Blows is a 1959 black and white film that marks the debut of Francois Truffaut and (debatably) the French New Wave. It stars Jean-Pierre Leaud as Antoine, a preteen with uninvolved parents and a teacher that’s branded him a troublemaker. His mom is cruel and impatient. His stepfather is seemingly evenhanded and cheery until an accident and a lie set him over the edge. Antoine begins the movie in trouble after being caught with a pin-up that was passed around the class in hand. His problems continue from there when he proceeds to cut school, steal, lie to cover up cutting school, run away, and smoke cigarettes and cigars – each occurring in response to some mistreatment by his teacher or parents. His attempt to pay homage to both his grandfather and Balzac in a writing assignment leads to accusations of plagiarism and being expelled from school. This is the final straw that ultimately causes society to give up on him, the events of which I won’t spoil as they make up the climax of the film.

This all probably sounds terribly depressing on paper (or computer screen, as the case may be). But the film is so emotionally distant devoid of any swelling score or connection between audience and character that it’s hard for one to be moved or inspired. Antoine is emotionally distant, as well, for he displays hardly any feelings, aside from a few tears. One may be able to explain this away as a by-product of his parents’ loveless marriage, but the film doesn’t make that evident. The one scene that stuck with me most is a climactic scene wherein Antoine, via interview, gives the audience a frank account of his history. I’ve read many reviews that speak of this film as an emotionally-wrenching experience, which baffles me given the acting and matter-of-fact execution. It is more like watching a sterile documentary about the adolescent experience in Paris than a story with dramatic arcs or emotional pay-offs.

Now, before any of you scoff and start firing up your angry emails, I will quickly add that this constitutes as the only flaw to what is otherwise an impressively directed and acted criticism of society, inspired by Truffaut’s own childhood. The above statements are not intended to dissuade anybody from seeing this film. Despite feeling distanced from the story, I never stopped caring about what happened to Antoine. Due to its mastered direction, The 400 Blows manages to be an interesting watch, never once becoming the dull and dreary experience art house films are reputed to be.

The 400 Blows is dedicated to critic Andre Bazin, no doubt because Bazin saved Truffaut from many scrapes as a young man and, as a result, could probably be credited as the man who made Truffaut’s future in film possible. Bazin’s work would influence one of the most recognizable of all theories, the auteur theory, which would be championed by Truffaut and applied to his contemporaries, as well as Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, and any other filmmaker who essentially authored a film with their own personal stamp.

For those who are unfamiliar, the French New Wave was an informal movement in film that was literally comprised of a new wave of French directors, who decided to shake-up filmmaking from the classic styles into something more personal and distinct, experimentally shot and edited, and thematically deeper. Other prominent directors associated with the French New Wave include Jean-Luc Godard (Breathless), Eric Rohmer (Claire’s Knee), Louis Malle (My Dinner with Andre), and Jean-Pierre Melville (Le Samourai). The movement only lasted for six years, but it had a profound effect on American cinema in the ‘70s and ripples from that era can still be seen today in works by the likes of Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler), Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Quentin Tarantino (Inglorious Basterds), and Christopher Nolan (Memento).

Francois Truffaut directed twenty-five films and appeared in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind before succumbing to a brain tumor in 1984. Other notable films he authored include Jules and Jim, Fahrenheit 451, The Wild Child, and Small Change.

The 400 Blows: 8/10

Should you see it? Every film lover should Rent this classic - or hang their head in shame.

The 400 Blows is available on Criterion DVD or Blu-Ray.

Remember That Movie: Playing by Heart

In 2003, a movie with a huge cast of characters about the pursuit and maintenance of love captured hearts and arguably became a classic romance. But what you probably don’t remember is before that in late 1998 another movie about love featuring a large cast was released. That movie was Playing by Heart, the $20 million ensemble romance that made $3.9 million, so titled because all the characters are letting their hearts and passions be their guide (or learning to).

The film does indeed have a large cast: Gillian Anderson, Ellen Burstyn, Sean Connery, Anthony Edwards, Angelina Jolie, Jay Mohr, Ryan Phillipe, Dennis Quaid, Gena Rowlands, John Stewart, and Madeline Stowe, with appearances by Patricia Clarkson, Michael Emerson, and Natassja Kinski.

In case you don’t remember:

Gillian plays an aloof theater director who is asked out by the architect played by John.

Jay plays dying son to Ellen.

Sean is ailing husband to TV chef Gena, who are sorting out an old affair.

Angelina is a recently-singled, feisty and energetic clubber who meets a quiet loner played by Ryan.

Madeline is a married woman having an affair with a married Anthony.

And Dennis plays a man who hops from bar to bar, telling anyone who’ll listen stories of personal tragedy and scandal.

Playing by Heart lacks the magic and whimsy of Love Actually, but it does try for something more than the typical girl-gets-guy romance films and offers some great performances by Gillian Anderson, Dennis Quaid, and Angelina Jolie – especially Angelina Jolie.

It’s obvious that Ms. Jolie’s tough girl persona sells – that’s why she keeps playing different variations of that type – but at this point we’ve seen that role over half a dozen times! Playing by Heart’s release occurred right in between her first two award-winning roles (Gia and Girl, Interrupted) – just before her early bad-ass roles (Gone in 60 Seconds, Tomb Raider). Here she is so magnetic, charming, and irresistible that no guy would mind listening to her prattle on endlessly about her cat or a bad day in class as long as it meant being on the receiving end of her persistent attention. Her performance is worth the rental price alone. I found myself wishing that the entire movie was about her character, Joan, to the point where I wished we saw Angelina in more of these kinds of roles.

Alas, we rarely ever see Angelina in a role as good as Joan and this movie isn’t just about Joan, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing else of interest here.

Dennis Quaid is engaging and mysterious in a performance that reveals itself slowly. However, his story is unfortunately dropped in the end in favor of his wife’s.

The big surprise is John Stewart, who jumps through hoops trying to win the affections of Gillian Anderson’s emotionally-fortified Meredith. Contrary to his assertions as lacking any skills as an actor, Stewart is surprisingly appealing and I found myself cheering for him as a romantic lead. Neither of these two actors have done much to prove themselves as big-screen leads, but the Gillian/John story is one of the most interesting love stories in Playing by Heart.

We’re also given a more seasoned perspective of love through the been-through-it-all Sean Connery / Gena Rowlands story. Their characters have been married for 40 years and their banter allows you to believe they’ve been through a lot – and love each other more for it.

Playing by Heart is an excellent example of cramming too much in two hours. The affair between the Madeline Stowe and Anthony Edwards characters and the mother/son story featuring Ellen Burstyn and Jay Mohr are the least interesting, mostly because they have the shortest screen time and are thereby wastes of talent. They are so peripheral to everything else that they could’ve been excised completely, resulting in a tighter film with more time spent on characters we do care about.

Playing by Heart is a story about burgeoning and matured love and the challenges of rekindling or maintaining it, with very nineties references to homosexuality, drugs, STDs, and MCI sprinkled in - all tethered with mixed results to its female cast. Curiously written and directed by Willard Carroll (scribe behind The Brave Little Toaster), it is an uneven effort that is more interesting by its performances, particularly by a young Angelina Jolie. It may not be classic material, but a doting couple could do worse than a night in with these characters.


Should you see it? Rent

Playing by Heart is available on DVD.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Gibson Revue: Coming Soon!

Just a reminder: The Gibson Revue movie marathon is less than a month away!

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, join me for a day of movies, movie chatter, and food.

When: Saturday, August 28th at 1:30p

Where: My house (contact for details)

What: Three movies:

2:00p - True Grit, starring the legendary John Wayne as his only Oscar-winning role, Rooster Cogburn.  2hrs. 8mins.

4:30p - Let the Right One In, the Swedish sensation that knocked movie lovers off their feet.  2hrs.

7:00p - The finale, Zombieland! Starring Abigail Breslin, Jesse Eisenburg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone... and BM.  1hr. 21mins.

As this is an event stemmed from a movie review blog, we will have brief discussions about each film after they've been shown.
Attendees are asked to arrive as close to 1:30p as possible to avoid any disruptions during the event.
There will be food, however, please bring your own beer.
Please no kids.

Try to contact me if you're planning to participate.  Seats are limited!

Dragon Tattoo Leaves a Mark on Genre

A new series of novels has been sweeping the globe – and it’s not a children’s series about wizards or a teenage romance about vampires. The Millenium Trilogy are Swedish mystery novels that are more decidedly for adults. The first of the series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, features graphic rape, mutilation, and horrific murders this side of the Hannibal Lecter series. It’s also a somewhat complex mystery.

And now it’s been adapted into a film!

The first movie was recently released on DVD the same week as part two, The Girl Who Played with Fire, was released in theaters. The finale, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, hits theaters this fall.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is quite different than anything else we’ve seen before. Here’s a movie where the lead character is a sexually-assaulted, bisexual, Goth/ex-convict/hacker, who takes special interest in a framed journalist’s investigation of a decades’ old murder of a 16 year-old that belonged to a family of Aryan capitalists! Most murder mysteries (especially in the U.S.) involve motives that are romantically passionate, vengeful, or are somehow business-related; they aren’t typically about a specific type of disturbing person having a specifically disturbing modus operandi against specific people. Films like this come around so infrequently that only The Silence of the Lambs and Seven come to mind as anything The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo comes close to resembling.

What also sets this movie apart from the garden variety whodunit is it isn’t centered entirely on the mystery; the two main characters, Mikael and Lisbeth, come first. The film takes the time to introduce these characters and their situations before jumping into their involvement in the mystery. You really get a sense of Mikael Blomkvist (played by Michael Nyqvist), the framed journalist, and Lisbeth Salander (played by Noomi Rapace), the cash-strapped super-researcher. These characters aren’t defined by the mystery or one simple trait (e.g. the lawyer or detective who won’t give up!).

Perhaps due to the name that inspires thoughts of an amphibian, it’s obvious that Lisbeth is the most interesting of the two characters. Unlike a character of this type in a Hollywood flick, we don’t really learn much about Ms. Salander; there are no scenes featuring long monologues of tortured pasts with flashback sequences. Her past is barely more than suggested; like the titled tattoo, a beast bursting through the surface.

But how cool is this? Here is a story where the hero is the best researcher around (she really knows her way around a library and the internet!). And it’s a woman! Who can kick some ass, but also needs someone to save her on an emotional level! The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo gets points for introducing us to one of the most intriguing, intelligent, and coolest (if anti-social) female characters in history. In fact, she is such a rhombus of edgy characteristics and traumatic experiences that I can’t imagine a Hollywood starlet (let alone Hollywood itself) wanting to go in any studio film, including the pending Americanized remake, as far as Noomi Rapace does here.

Dragon Tattoo may be a film with a great main character and electrifying mystery - both of which set it apart from most in its genre – however it isn’t without its blemishes. It does occasionally follow some of the genre’s common beats, which allows anyone who’s familiar with them to be a step ahead of the film. Also, Lisbeth’s partner in crime-solving, Mikael, shows discretion with giving out information in his investigation… until the most crucial moment possible!

That said, the mystery genre has all but died lately, not having anything in recent memory as interesting or distinct as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It is dark, disturbing, complex, and at times graphic. Thankfully, we have such an intriguing character in Salander to help us along. I’m eager to learn more about this enigmatic, tattooed super-sleuth when she plays with fire next – and I won’t wait for some Hollywood carbon copy coattail-rider to fill me in.


Should you see it? Rent

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD.