Monthly Archives: November 2007

Scorsese’s Hitchcock’s The Key to Reserva

For the greatest advertising campaign ever conceived, Catalan winery Freixenet hired Martin Scorsese to direct a (fictional) lost 3.5 page script for Hitchcock.

“I’m obviously not going to shoot them as I would. But can I shoot them as Hitchcock? I don’t think so.  So who will I shoot them as? This is the question.”

The result is a perfectly observed Hitchcockian pastiche. Enjoy!

BEOWULF

Unfortunately I can’t be as enthusiastic as the Unbridled Warhorse about Zemeckis’ mo-cap and digi-lipo adaptation of the Anglo-Saxon poem. Gaiman and Avary’s twists on the Beowulf story are clever but to be honest I would rather see Troy or 300 again before rewatching Beowulf. It was just kind of slow and boring. I now wish I had seen it in 3D to give it some novelty, but it was a last-minute decision when American Gangsters had sold out.

Admittedly I entered critically since I don’t understand motion capture that attempts to replicate the actors in every way (or at least their faces). The process’ largest disservice is to Robin Wright Penn who is a very expressive actress but she acts with her eyes rather than with facial expressions, so her digital avatar is the most plastic and least expressive of the entire cast. Likewise, none of Angelina Jolie’s sensuality is communicated because she lacks the texture of real skin. The process of building an idealisation of the actress is the 3D analogue of a model who becomes visually two-dimensional when her skin is airbrushed to uniform ‘perfection’.

When it comes to digital cameras, pardon my indulgence in quoting a previous review but it sums up what I consider the good and bad about them:

I dislike computer-generated images which attempt to reproduce the physicality of a real camera, such as rattling when a building collapses nearby, unless the point of view is supposed to be that of a documentarian’s camera. But I also dislike, at the other end of the spectrum, the impersonal, flawlessly smooth movements that plague most 90s attempts at CG but can still be seen in the sweeping overhead shots in Lord of the Rings and very low budget CG films like Hoodwinked. Ideally computer-generated films should exploit the absence of a camera’s physical limitations rather than recreate them.

Beowulf is a mixed bag. Though it tends towards impersonally smooth, the virtual camera is undoubtedly exploited for physically impossible shots, such as a multi-mile ‘crane’ shot that retreats from the mead hall all the way up a hill to Grendel’s cave. The same shot is later reversed when Grendel’s mother leaves the cave flies down to the hall herself. One of my favorite aspects is that Grendel’s mother is never shown until Beowulf meets her because all of her first-act scenes are from her own point of view. We are only teased with fleeting glimpses of her true nature from her reflection in shiny shields or the water’s surface.

The ubiquitous LOTR comparisons are justified if for no other reason than that Grendel is an overgrown Gollum complete with Sympathy Inducing Action. At least in his case the motion capture was used properly. On the other hand the horses looked like they are from Shrek, their movements are so distractingly mechanical. The best moments are Beowulf’s embellished fight with the sea-serpents. Speaking of which, this version of the eponymous hero resembles no one as much as Odysseus (moreso than even Jack Sparrow does), which I found interesting because if I adapted the Odyssey for film I would similarly interpret the hero as an unreliable narrator.

One of the promised but undelivered themes was the replacement of the Norse pantheon by Christianity, which is explicitly alluded to early on but results merely in one of the unlikable characters sporting a giant cross in old age. Beowulf himself observes that the Christ god has brought an end to traditional heroes — not particularly controversial since the later English epic Paradise Lost critiques the martial heroes of classical epic — but since the movie is itself a revisionist interpretation if not debunking of the Hero in general and this hero specifically, the statement rings false especially from his mouth. I had anticipated an interesting statement about the advent of Christianity in Scandinavia which obviously ended the Viking lifestyle, but it amounted to just historical time-setting.

The last shot, or exchange of shots/reverse shots, is perhaps a microcosm of most of the movie: an attempt to be clever or thoughtful but actually just boring. The ‘ambiguous ending’ is now a cliche in its own right, and given the personality of the character in question I think it was a stretch to imply such lengthy equivocation on his part. Can we finally retire this cheap trick that is the half-sibling of the twist ending?

30 DAYS OF NIGHT

Just imagine: Vampires… wait for it… in the snow!

Alright, so it doesn’t sound very ingenious but the premise does provide a visually striking contrast between the white snow and red blood. And there is a LOT of blood in this movie, the only color in a functionally black-and-white film due to the month-long arctic night. Though it would be heresy to call this McCabe & Mrs. Vampire, I did recall the snowy final scenes of Altman’s film more than once.

Mercifully absent are the Rave Chic vampires of Blade and the Victorian Chic vampires of Underworld. More Nosferatu than Bela Lugosi, these are the best designed vampires I’ve seen on screen in ten years, with maws lined with shark-teeth that leave a mess rather than polite puncture wounds. Danny Huston, an inspired casting choice as the chief vampire, takes a few cues from Peter Stormare’s Satan in Constantine, but it’s a tie between his mugging underling Andrew Stehlin and the human Ben Foster for who chews the most scenery.

 Collectively these vampires behave more like Boyle’s zombies than their celluloid predecessors: fast, furious, and interested in their victims only as food rather than objects of sexual subtext. Before I saw the movie I was feeling a little down for various reasons but afterwords all I could think about was how glad I am vampires don’t exist.

Josh Hartnett is more interesting than he is in The Black Dahlia, which isn’t saying much, but as soon as his marriage trouble with Camilla Rhodes — I mean Melissa George — is established early on, the trajectory of their relationship arc is immediately obvious (didn’t I just see this in Vacancy?). The first-act tour of key locations in the town scream “guess what’s going to happen here later?” yet the movie still managed to surprise me so I’m glad I hadn’t read the graphic novel on which it was based.

There are several brief but excellent action moments that are accentuated by the director’s flipbook style of fast motion carried over from Hard Candy. But the movie’s primarily fault is its failure to evoke the marathon length of the title effectively. “Action movie” is probably inconsistent with “one month’s duration” and the movie felt like it took place within three hours rather than thirty days despite the intermittent “Day 17”-type subtitles. It’s probably an impossible task for a two-hour movie without making it intentionally boring.

However, the best aspect of the movie is its focus on the moral toll inflicted on those forced to fight vampires (or zombies for that matter). Through no fault of oneself it may initiate a descent that cannot be halted. Though perhaps momentarily surprising, the movie’s final act of heroism is utterly inevitable. Fortune does not necessarily favor the brave, sometimes she punishes them.

Journeyman

As Prison Break gets increasing dark and decreasingly fun, my favorite new show is Journeyman! We’re apparently seven weeks behind as tonight I just saw a repeat of the first episode, following Prison Break on SkyOne, but it looks like NBC will be airing Episode 8 tonight. If it’s anything like the first — and word is the show gets better every week — you’re in for a great balance of episode-length micro-story with macro-arc intrigue related to the time-travelling protagonist’s personal life, which is immediately complicated by the fact that in the past he’s engaged to a different woman than the one he’s married to in the present.

Kevin McKidd (Rome’s Lucius) is undeniably a poor-man’s Daniel Craig but I think I’ll soon be able to see him as himself instead of just a budget-friendly lookalike. Though Journeyman shares similarities with Early Edition, the unpredictable time-travelling premise should keep it from being as formulaic, taking its cues instead from Frequency and Heroes’ Hiro. And being filmed in the most photogenic city on earth (San Francisco) makes it all the more easy on the eyes.

TAPEHEADS (1988)

Ratatouille’s Anton Ego had me convinced that even a bad film is still worth more than the criticism describing it as worthless.

Tapeheads, unfortunately, is indescribable. The bewilderment it enduces cannot be paraphrased; it must be experienced to be comprehended.

Suffice it to say that Tapeheads makes Date Movie seem thematically unified, narratively coherent, and funny.

I had modest hopes when it began with security guard Tim Robbins using a closed circuit TV console as a music video editing suite, but this moment of inspiration is followed by vignette after non sequitor vignette, every half-hearted cameo a missed opportunity.

The only positive thing about the first-take quality of each scene is the opportunity to see some refreshingly unrehearsed acting from John Cusack who has some awkwardly spontaneous moments.

I readily acknowledge the possibility this one just went over my head, as a review featured on IMDb declares that “Tapeheads is one of the great American comedies of the 1980’s, and one of the most underrated movies ever made” (Gregory R. Greco), but this is one joke that has to be explained to me.

Just to rub in my density, here are some more quotes demonstrating how simple I am:

“Tapeheads is a surprisingly perfect satire of the eighties made at the end of the eighties. It is very funny, with an intelligent script and great dialog.”
–Riotgear

“It’s fun, hilarious, clever, poignant, hip and full of great cameo’s…”
–gobzine

“I can’t explain why but I’ve watched this a hundred times and I keep laughing…”
–cinemadaz

Needless to say: I missed the boat on this one, kids!