Archive for November, 2010

Hello Dolly! (1969) Gene Kelly

Posted in H on November 30, 2010 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $25 million

 

Hello Dolly! was a part of Fox’s attempt to cash in on The Sound of Music’s success. Three large scale movies were made: Doctor Dolittle, Star, and Hello Dolly. Even though I don’t have the numbers for Dolly, all three movies were a financial failure and it took Fox several years to get over the loss. One of the more amusing stories I read was about the animosity between Barbara Streisand and Walter Matthau. They apparently despised one another and would only be on set when they had to. Matthau hated her so much there is another story about how he and co-star Michael Crawford going to a horse race. Matthau wouldn’t bet on a horse called Hello Dolly because it reminded him of Streisand and when Crawford won a bet on that horse, Matthau refused to acknowledge him publicly after it (IMDb).

 

The story is about matchmaker for hire Dolly Levi (Barbara Streisand). She was hired by the rich Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau) to get him married to another woman, but Dolly wants to marry Vandergelder for herself. Meanwhile, Dolly helps two of Vandergelder’s shop clerks have a fun night on the town and Vandergelder’s niece get married.

 

I would always read about filmmaking in the 70’s and the various New Waves and about how they were rebelling against the old Hollywood. I would read that, but I don’t think I fully understood until I finally saw Hello Dolly! This is the most phoney movie I have seen in a long long time. Everything about this movie is fake and false. There are no genuine emotions, only people badly acting emotions. Like a defective stepford wife, they portray creepy toothy grins that show more an alien understanding of happiness than anything real. The characters talk and talk and talk and talk and talk over the most useless crap. Much like Ichi the Killer, I felt like sticking pins in my ears to make the pain go away. This is like four hours of Three’s Company crammed into a two and a half hour movie; its too much crap crammed in too long a run time for a movie. Why should I care about any of these people? Dolly is an annoying gold digger. She only wants Vandergelder for his money. Vandergelder is uncharismatic cock who deserves major league comeuppance. We are supposed to root for two shallow unappealing douchebags to get together. Oh rejoice!

 

I don’t know if I’m crazy here. Apparently this movie is well liked on IMDb (almost a 7/10 user rating) as well as being prominently featured on the Pixar movie Wall E. But nothing in this movie worked for me: there is no story, there are no likable characters, and the cast is inconsistent to say the least. Walter Matthau is only beat out by Lee Marvin in Paint Your Wagon as an actor I would least like to see in a musical. Yeah, some of the songs are enjoyable, but after two and a half hours of nothing happening, I just wanted the pain to go away. I understand that stage productions need to be long. After all, the customers are buying more expensive tickets and want to feel like they are getting their moneys worth. However I would love to see a movie musical that doesn’t overstay its welcome and moves at a quick pace.

 

I don’t think I’m a grinch. I have liked many a movie musical (although I admit its my least favorite genre) even bombs I previously reviewed. Hello Dolly just got under my skin and makes me hate the Hollywood of the time. It has sparked rebellious tendencies. It makes me want to get a tattoo, shave my head into a mohawk, read about Che Guevara, and watch some Lars von Trier. Chaos reigns!

 

Tears of the Sun (2003) Antoine Fuqua

Posted in T on November 23, 2010 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $70 million

Worldwide Gross: $86 million

An elite special ops team (headed by Bruce Willis) is sent in to Nigeria to rescue Dr. Lena Kendrick (Monica Bellucci) before rebel forces assault the village she is in. Kendrick makes the ultimatum though that she will not leave unless the Special Ops team rescues her 70 refugees also.

When I first saw this movie I absolutely hated it. Now seeing it seven years later, I view it more with resigned ‘whatever’ attitude. There’s nothing about this movie that sticks out as being really shitty, but then again there’s nothing that is any good either. This is your standard ‘message’ movie about doing good and feeling sorry for the plight of people in Africa. The main point is that these grizzled war vets who have seen it all and don’t care about anything are moved to action because of the outrageous actions of the militant forces. That’s all well and good but not everything is so black and white as the movie paints it to be. There certainly is a debate as to what the United States’ role is supposed to be in international affairs. I think people are more willing for action if one country is trying to invade another and conquer its people. It could be a separate issue when it is an internal conflict. Would the people of the US have appreciated it if Britain stepped into the US Civil War? Are larger countries to act as world police? This also discounts other ways we could help them by offering a home for refugees or for providing humanitarian aid or other types of political pressure. Now I am not making a specific statement about what is going on in Africa or what the US needs to do or what is the right course of action. I am merely saying there is a debate on what should be done (rightly so), and that it is not as black and white simple as this movie and say Attack on Darfour (Uwe Boll’s latest opus) would have them claim. But now we are straying away from talking about the movie.

The movie itself is…okay I guess. The cinematography is good looking, the direction is well done, and the action scenes for the most part work. One of the best parts is when this elite special forces unit stealthily kills a raiding party attacking a small town. The story, as I explained earlier, is as simple as you can get to move the plot along. They do try adding some intrigue by throwing some questions as to whether Kendrick is lying about something. However this doesn’t have the splash the writers were hoping for and it comes off more as a contrivance than characters working in a logical sense.

I guess my biggest problem is with the characters. None of these people have any kind of personality. At all. An argument could be made that they are blank slates and that the audience is to imprint themselves into the roles. After all, we are supposed to sympathize with the refugees and kind of see ourselves in the roles of the soldiers. In essence, what would we do in those roles? That still does not excuse the fact these people have no personality, no character, and no depth at all. I could not tell you anything about any one of these characters after being with them for over two hours. I even had to look up Bruce Willis’ character name because I didn’t even remember that. If I know absolutely nothing about a character then I have little reason to root for them or care whether they succeed or not.

Tears of the Sun is all kinds of ‘meh’ for me. As I mentioned earlier, nothing about it is truly rotten, its that none of it is any good or memorable. It is not anything I ever want to see again and it is not anything I think anyone should go out and rent.

Agora (2009) Alejandro Amenabar

Posted in A on November 23, 2010 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $70 million

Worldwide Gross: $38 million

 

Agora is a historical drama taking place in Roman controlled Egypt. The first half is about Christians rising to power over the pagans and destroying the library at Alexandria. The second half is about the Christians 20 years later when they become more militant. They believe that since the Roman Empire is crumbling that the world is coming to an end. They seek to enforce morality and start seeing the Jews as enemies to be defeated. Within this larger story we get the personal account of the philosopher Hypatia (Rachel Weisz). One of her students Orestes and Hypatia’s slave Davus both are in love with her. Later on both of those people will take on more powerful roles that play a part in Hypatia’s life.

 

I’m frankly stunned at times what gets greenlighted. I’m not saying this as a slight against the movie. I’m more saying it because I can’t predict what Hollywood will do. Spielberg directing Lincoln with Daniel Day Lewis starring? Hmmmmm, I’ll have to think about it. Uwe Boll? Here’s your truckload of money. Fifteen times a charm eh? So when you tell me they are making an epic movie on the destruction of the library of Alexandria, it puzzles me a bit. This topic excites my nerd brain (so does seeing Rachel Weisz’s ass or possibly stunt ass) but I wonder why they thought this was going to be a hit. Well it didn’t in the US at least. It made $600,000 domestically and I didn’t hear one word about it until it came out at my Blockbuster. Most of the time when I see these movies hit the shelves, I can reasonably predict that oh, 98% of them will be uninspired boring crap. Agora is in that 2% category.

 

I might as well address the elephant in the room and talk about the religious aspect. I’m sure if there are going to be complaints lodged against this movie it is going to be that this is an anti-Christian movie. This is not anti-Christian as it is anti-fundamentalism or anti-radicalism. The Pagans in this movie as well as the Jews and the Christians are as guilty of letting their faith and dogma turn into violent thoughts and actions. Their beliefs turned into fear and alienation of those who do not share those beliefs. This culminates in one of the biggest steps back in science, reason, and logic in the destruction of the library of Alexandria. Simple human empathy and reason should tell us we are all equal instead of a dogma which instills an ‘us versus them’ mentality in its followers. But I am not going to hammer this point any more than I have to.

 

This movie is carried on the back of Rachel Weisz. Not only is Hypatia a strong female character but a strong character. Period. She is a person whose thinking is grounded in reason, compassion, and logic. She is someone who is willing to change her beliefs based on evidence and not on dogmatic conviction. In fact, one of the more powerful moments is when she throws out her preconceived notions that the universe has to run on Ptolomy’s perfect circles and works toward where the evidence leads (which is an elliptical path). It’s nerdy as all hell but it is one of the better scenes. Weisz does a great job in this movie. She is trying to keep her cool when seemingly the whole world is falling apart. She doesn’t fall into the usual pitfall of being just a love interest. Hypatia realizes she enjoys her freedom and her pursuit of knowledge and she follows her passion.

 

The movie feels epic and looks great. The sets, the CGI, and the costumes are all quality. And even though I say ‘epic’ this movie is only a little over two hours. Now this movie isn’t all great. At times the story does lag and the two male supporting roles don’t get as much material as they probably deserve. Davus and Orestes have good characters but they are pushed a bit to the back I think to streamline the story. Overall, I think this is a very good movie. This is not your typical epic movie about a love triangle in the middle of some catastrophe. Agora strives to be more thoughtful and, despite a few flaws, succeeds for the most part.

 

 

Lucky You (2007) Curtis Hanson

Posted in L on November 11, 2010 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $55 million

Worldwide Gross: $8 million

A very talented poker player Huck (Eric Bana) is trying to win the World Series of Poker. In the meantime he is trying to work out a relationship with Billie (Drew Barrymore) and his daddy issues with poker grand master L.C. Cheever (Robert Duvall).

Yeah, this movie is generic schlock. As I was saying to friends after seeing the trailer, I would have bet good money Eric Bana would say “I’m all in…with my heart.” during the emotional climax of the movie. But in terms of exploitative chick flick schlock, you could do a lot worse than Lucky You. This movie was brought out to kind of cash in on the success of televised poker. While this movie has that poker flavor to it, don’t expect some serious take on the subject matter. These characters could be injected into any movie. We have Huck, who is the impulsive ‘Maverick’ of the poker world. And if he could only work out those pesky emotions could be the bestest poker player ever. Meanwhile we have L.C., who is cold and calculated (an Iceman as it were) and the person Huck has to beat to be Top Gun. You see what I mean? This could be about competitive Scrabble and you wouldn’t really change anything.

Most of this movie is carried by the actors. Eric Bana plays a gambler with a golden tongue who also has a serious addiction. He does a good job at being a charming guy but also a dick when he needs to be. And of course Duvall is comfortable as ever playing Robert Duvall. He earns his pay sitting at a poker table throwing out pieces of homespun wisdom about knowing when to hold them and fold them and whatnot. The script is also tailored to have the characters have fun with the material. The script offers no thrills and goes through familiar motions. You really can write the script out from seeing the trailer. But the fun is through the interaction of the characters and the script.

I was dreading seeing this film, but really it wasn’t that horrible. I can’t really defend the movie since it is generic and sappy at times. However the dialog is written well enough and the actors try their best to make it fresh and new (including a surprising cameo from Robert Downey Jr.). If you were forced to watch this movie on date night, it would be an alright experience. Sadly there isn’t anything to recommend people go out and rent this movie. This is an utterly forgettable follow up for Hansen, who directed one of my favorite movies in L.A. Confidential.

Duplicity (2009) Tony Gilroy

Posted in D on November 3, 2010 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $60 million

Worldwide Gross: $78 million

 

Corporate spies Ray (Clive Owen) and Claire (Julia Roberts) collaborate to pull a con on both their bosses (played by Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti).

 

I was anticipating the follow up to new director Tony Gilroy, after the great Michael Clayton. However watching Duplicity I became more aware that Gilroy fell into the sophomore slump that catches so many directors and stars. I found myself really hating this movie at times. This movie is confusing, and intentionally so. Gilroy wants to jerk his audience around, and takes the opportunity to throw a twist every ten minutes. Because of that, you can’t really get into the plot because you know some bullsh*t is going to get chucked out which invalidates everything you have seen.

 

Now, I’m not saying a movie has to be simple and I can point to several movies I own which have shifty narratives. But usually the reason those work is because the ride is enjoyable. In this case, we are supposed to enjoy the coupling of Owen and Roberts and their “witty” dialog. I found these scenes the most grating and what really made me hate it. These two are supposed to be like a modern day Nick and Nora Charles or a Cary Grant and a Rosalind Russell. But really, they were more like a bickering married couple than sexy/witty leads. All I hear from these two is:

 

Roberts: Bitch bitch bitch

Owen: Whine whine whine

Roberts: Bitch bitch bitch

Owen: Whine whine whine

 

I did not care about these people at all, and that is crippling to your movie when you are supposed to be rooting for them to succeed. It also feels as if Owen is playing against type. I think it is a fair comparison to say Owen matches Cary Grant’s kind of rouge-ish charm. He is one of those people that can play the charming a**hole. Here, he is playing this kind of clutz who is always three steps behind everyone else. At no point do you feel he is the confident and suave ladies man who should be the compliment to Roberts independent and seductive counterpart. Really, Owen seems out of her league at times.

 

The main romance ends up being a chore to sit through, and unfortunately there isn’t much else to keep you interested. Wilkinson and Giamatti really don’t have anything to do in this movie. They each have about two scenes where they give a monologue before collecting a paycheck. And as I mentioned before, I found the mystery/intrigue storyline to be uninteresting and cheap in its reveals. At a little over two hours, my patience was running extremely thin. It is always sad to say when you can easily trim at least 20 minutes off and not lose anything.

 

Maybe ‘hate’ is too strong a word to describe my feelings for it. This movie was annoying. I can tell Gilroy was really trying and it seemed like there was a fun movie at the heart of it. I can also say there were brief glimpses where some of the chemistry would shine through. However those moments are too few over a long and convoluted mess of a plot. There is no need for you to seek this movie out. Skip it.