Monday, April 23, 2012
Monday, April 2, 2012
And yet forgive I do. I forgive not just the character of his transgressions, but the film as a whole for its flaws; I forgive the filmmakers for their missteps. And I forgive because, when all is said and done, the finished film is so damn charming that I want to ignore the flaws and the nagging moral questions my critical self brings to the film. I want to root for these characters, to get the “happy” ending even when the film doesn’t quite earn it.
The story of The Tall Guy is that of Dexter King (Jeff Goldblum), an American actor living in London who for six years has held the less than glamorous position of being the straight man to Ron Anderson (Rowan Atkinson) in a successful comedy stage show. Ignored by audiences and detested by the arrogant Anderson, Dexter seems to be stuck in a runt until a visit to the doctor for his hay fever leads him into the path of Kate (Emma Thompson), a nurse whom he becomes smitten. While the initial stages of their relationship result in Dexter’s firing by Anderson, Dexter soon bounces back when he lands the lead role in a musical stage adaptation of The Elephant Man. Of course, being a romantic comedy, complications arise from Dexter’s success, resulting in Dexter having to make a last ditch effort to try and save his relationship with Kate.
If the plot sounds like standard romantic comedy fare, it is. Yet what saves the film and gives it much of its charm is the way in which it captures a particular slice of London life at a specific time. Yes, the film is filled with flights of fancy and broad comedy, yet between Curtis’s script and Smith’s direction, the film feels like it has a level of emotional and situational authenticity lacking in other romantic comedy efforts, particularly with regards to the film’s satirical jabs at the worlds of musical theatre and stage comedy. The crowning achievement of the film is the sequence in which viewers are presented “highlights” from the musical Elephant, though sadly in the twenty-three years since The Tall Guy’s release, the concept of a musical based on The Elephant Man has gone from being a satirical gag to probably a more reasonable idea than what actually has been turned into a stage musical in recent years (Legally Blonde and Spider-Man, anybody?).
Yet for all of the film’s positive points, the second half of the film in which the relationship of Dexter and Kate fractures does not quite work. (NOTE: SOME SPOILERS AHEAD) The drama of the third act hinges upon an issue of infidelity, and while the subject is one worth exploring in film romances, it feels tacked on in this film, seemingly coming out of nowhere and only serving to break up the central relationship because, well, that’s what most romantic comedies do. At no point does the film make much of an effort to explore the subject, and the resolution to this part of the story is far too clean, undermining whatever little dramatic weight the plot point had to start with.
But darn it, there is still that issue of just how charming the film is. Made on a modest budget, the film feels like a real homemade effort despite the presence of Hollywood star Goldblum, whose presence in the film is reportedly due to an actors’ strike in Hollywood. There is clearly such passion put forth on the part of the filmmakers that no matter how clunky the film gets as it goes on, it is hard not to stay engaged and root both for the film’s protagonists and for the filmmakers themselves.
The film is available on DVD from Echo Bridge Home Entertainment, who controls most of the Miramax film library at the moment. The DVD is a serviceable effort for a budget title, though the film deserves a better release, one which at least features the longer cut of the film released in the UK but was trimmed for some baffling reason for the North American market. Still, the film comes recommended, especially for fans of Curtis who wish to take a look at his earliest effort in the romantic comedy genre.
Friday, September 9, 2011
John Carpenter’s single effort on the TV movie front, the 1978 film Someone’s Watching Me!, is not close to being in Duel’s league. It is, however, a darn fine film in its own right, and arguably one of the more thematically complex films in Carpenter’s body of work, despite a rather simple narrative. Leigh Michaels (Laura Hutton) is a woman who has just moved to L.A. looking to make a fresh start, taking a job as a director at a local television station and moving into a modern, high-tech apartment. She quickly finds herself the target of a peeping-tom-come-stalker, who makes repeated phone calls, sends odd gifts, and is seemingly able to mess with the electricity in her apartment. Without a clear, legally defined crime, the police are unable to offer much assistance, which results in Leigh to take the investigation into her own hands, assisted by a friendly co-worker (Carpenter regular Adrienne Barbeau) and new romantic partner (David Birney).
While the setup could have made for a decent, if low-rent thriller, Carpenter elevates the material by using the premise as a metaphor for the struggles of women entering and fighting for space and agency in a male dominated culture, by literally having Leigh fight for dominance over her home space. It is no mistake that the obstacles which Leigh runs into over the course of the film are associated with male figures, and half the fun of the film comes from watching Leigh both refuse and subvert the various roles she is expected to play by these men. Within this context, it is also no surprise that the identity of the stalker is of little value: he is important for what he represents, not who he is.
These feminist themes within the film become all the more relevant given that the film also is meta-commentary on the potentially abusive relationship between directors and their subjects. Within the opening scene of the film, we are shown our peeping tom tormenting another victim over the phone, and Carpenter’s writing and directing are carefully controlled so as to establish a the subtext of stalker-as-director, such as having the character makes “suggestions” as to what his victim should do for his gaze, and focusing his shots on the technology the criminal is using to watch and record his victim’s actions and reactions. The violent form of direction on the part of the stalker is contrasted throughout the film to Leigh’s lighter and more constructive approach, at not only her job, but also in her personal life. Her first encounter with Paul (Birney), for example, involves Leigh directly setting up their meeting, as she gently nudges Paul into the actions she wishes him to take by involving him in the situation rather than trying to dominate his choices of actions.
In terms of film making, Someone’s Watching Me! is overall a success, with Carpenter managing to wring out the most tension he can given the restrictions of the network television format. Originally written as a feature film, one can imagine there is a more extreme version of the film which originally existed on the page, which addressed the seedier elements of the story more directly. While the toning down of the content does not ruin the film, the tension in the film feels muted. Meanwhile, the technical restrictions of a twelve day television shoot do result in the film having a made for television feel about it despite Carpenter's attempts at a more cinematic look, making the film feel “safer” than was likely intended. However, Carpenter’s skill at composing striking frames is on full display, even though the reformatting of the film’s full frame image into a widescreen image for the DVD does tend to make some scenes feel claustrophobic when they should not.
The cast as a whole turn in solid performances, with Hutton being the stand out, making her character authoritative and powerful figure without falling into the trap of playing the character as too hardened. Barbeau is given little to do beyond playing the best friend role, while Birney likewise is left playing the concerned lover. However, the trio has good chemistry together, and it is a shame that Hutton and Birney never went on to appear in another Carpenter film.
Overall, Someone’s Watching Me! is a minor work from Carpenter, but a fun one with a strong cast and sharp writing. While a purchase of the film is a bit much unless you are a big fan of the film, are looking to complete a collection of Carpenter’s work, or have a nostalgic love of 1970s television programing, the film is worth a rental if you having nothing immediately pressing that you have to see. Or have Duel to watch. Because Duel is just plain amazing.
Friday, July 22, 2011
I have to be honest: when I first saw the trailer for Ryan Mitchelle and Brad Jones’ 2011 DTV film Paranoia, I was a little concerned. From a technical standpoint, the film appeared to be rather impressive for a no-budget, shot on video production, and it appeared to hold the promise of an atmosphere reminiscent of a 1980s indie thriller. However, what little of the narrative was shown in the trailer seemed rather familiar. More importantly, from what was shown, it seemed to indicated the film may have a twist ending. Given this, plotting would be crucial for such an ending to work, and while Jones is a talented screenwriter with a gift for dialogue and character, the plotting of his films has occasionally gotten the best of him.
Thankfully, most of that worrying was for not, as Paranoia is a solid film which promises even greater things from the pairing of Mitchelle and Jones. While not perfect, nor quite the existential thriller that Mitchelle or Jones likely intended, Paranoia is a strong effort that manages to make the most of its limited resources, capturing the mood and of a seemingly unending bad night and the feeling of isolation that comes with it, even if the narrative does not entirely come together as it could have.
As Paranoia begins, Mark Bishop (Jones) is in the midst of coping with a divorce when an intruder enters his home. The encounter between the two ends with the intruder’s death. Unable to contact the police, feeling more than a little paranoid about how the event could be interpreted, and believing that the intruder may be the serial killer that has been attacking local residents, Bishop decides to dispose of the body himself, beginning a night of hell that will include multiple deaths and strange events Bishop cannot explain. Is he merely suffering from paranoia, or is there something else going on?
As I noted, Paranoia is not quite a thriller, and is better described as a horrific character study that flirts with black comedy from time to time. Anchored by yet another fine performance from Jones, the film is at its strongest during the second act, as Bishop travels about town as he attempts to get a grip on his situation. Episodic in nature, these sections of the film allow Jones to flex his acting chops as Bishop gradually falls apart given his insane situation, giving the film a flavour of Martin Scorsese’s 1985 dark comedy After Hours (though the films are entirely different in terms of tone and the levels of madness their respective protagonists must deal with). A particular highlight from this section of the film is a stop over at a restaurant where Bishop has an encounter with a waitress played by Jillian Zurawski. The scene ranges from dramatic to horrific to comic, and gives Zurawski a chance to show how far she has come as an actress from her early performances in Jones prior films and videos.
The film is less successful though when it attempts to address the questions of Bishop’s mental state and the reality of his situation. As expected, the answers to these questions come in the form of a twist, and I admit that I did not guess what the twist is. However, without getting into spoilers, the reason I did not guess the ending of the film is because it really is not possible to do so with the information provided prior to the big reveal. The ending does makes sense, and I understand what Jones and Mitchelle were attempting thematically, but within the context of the overall film, the answers are too literal, and the lack of set up early in the film allows the reveal scene to fall into the trap of being exposition heavy. It doesn’t negate the joys of the film, but the revelation is not the punch in the gut one would hope for.
As an overall production, Mitchelle fully delivers in his duties as director, cinematographer, and editor. While still hampered by a non-existent budget and working with some non-professional actors, he keeps the film focused, effectively developing the tone of the film and ensuring the performances from the less experienced cast are consistent. While still clearly shot on digital video, Mitchelle does manage to achieve a number of shots that have a film like feel, and his editing is solid, though he does tend to use the fade to black option a few too many times.
The hero of the film though is Michael “Skitch” Schiciano, whose musical score captures the feeling of a low key 1980s thriller without sounding like an imitation. Appropriately minimalist and meditative, the score manages to support the film throughout and never feels out of place when used. With any luck, Schiciano will return to participate in future endeavours from Mitchelle and Jones.
For fans of Jones and crew, Paranoia is a must see, one of the stronger shot on video efforts out in the market, and with any luck the film will not be their only effort in the DTV market. The film can be purchased directly from the filmmakers as a region free DVD, though the disc is in the NTSC format, so those using PAL should take note.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Well, I wouldn’t be so fast, because from has been said, we are not getting a fourth entry in the Evil Dead series, but a full on remake, to be independently produced by Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Bruce Campbell. The film is to be directed by Fede Alvarez, and will be, in Campbell’s words, “[s]cary as hell.” The production will apparently based in Michigan, and will begin soon.
Now, allow me to be clear: I wish Fede Alvarez all the luck in the world. If Raimi, Tapert and Campbell believe in this man, I see no reason at this time not too trust them. But I honestly feel like I need to ask this question:
Does anybody honestly want this film?
When I ask that question, I don’t mean “does anyone want Evil Dead 4?” There are plenty of people who want to see that film, enough people that Raimi, Campbell and Tarpert are pestered with questions about it every time they are interviewed. But when that question is asked, I think it is more than fair to say that the person asking the question wants to know if-and-when Raimi is going to direct another entry in the series that stars Bruce Campbell as Ash Williams, the bumbling idiot for a hero whose ongoing torture at the hands of the deadites has resulted in terror and laughter for over three films, several videogames, and numerous comics. I doubt that when the question has been asked of them, the interviewer has wanted to know if a remake was in the works that did not feature Campbell or Raimi in the key creative roles they have filled in the prior films.
The importance of the Raimi/Campbell partnership cannot be over estimated here, because when looking at the original Evil Dead, one thing that is clear is that the narrative of the film is not particularly compelling. The story, in which a group of college kids go out into the woods, inadvertently release demonic forces that proceed to possess and/or kill them one by one is a riff on the Night of the Living Dead, a film that has been drawn from time and again. More importantly, The Evil Dead is not a particularly well written riff either, with many paper thin characters delivering some questionable dialogue. This latter point is not helped by the questionable acting skills on the part of some cast members.
Yet the film works, and is a classic of the genre. Its success is primarily the result of the energetic direction of Raimi, who brings a sense of style and dread to the situation that a lesser director would never have captured, and from presence of star Campbell as Ash. While his performance is somewhat rough, Campbell manages to perfectly capture in the film just how much of an average guy Ash is, and more importantly, how much of a hero the character is not. While hardly the blowhard jackass of the films that would follow, Ash in the original film survives not because he is a hero, or smarter than any of the other characters, but through sheer dumb luck of being the most fun character to screw around with. It is Raimi's increasingly Loony Toons approach to torturing this character time and again that engaged audiences over three films, as he places Ash into increasingly horrific siutations, while at the same time encouraging audiences to feel less and less sympathy for the character.
So, without those two key elements, then what will make this impending Evil Dead remake a film of interest? There is no question that as a remake, it will have audiences curious to see it, but it is an audience whose reasons stem from their history with the prior films, who will come in with high expectations. Meeting those expectations will be uphill battle given the absence of the two people who made The Evil Dead, well, The Evil Dead. For some, this will be the breaking point for their acceptance of the film, regardless of whether or not the film turns out to be any good.
What makes the choice of the remake all the more baffling is that the people pushing this remake through are the very people behind the original film. This is not a remake we blame a greedy studio for, as the project appears to be the result of the cumulative efforts of Raimi, Campbell and Tapert This begs a simple question: just what does the trio hope to accomplish with this film? When George A. Romero wrote and produced a remake of The Night of the Living Dead in 1990, the reason was simple, if a little crass: to make back the money lost over the years due the copyright misunderstanding that put the original film in the public domain upon its original release. Raimi, Tapert and Campbell all appear to have maintained control over the rights to the series, though that does not rule out the financial motive altogether. Still, were that the case, selling off the rights to the studios who have been more than happy to remake everything under the sun would likely have been an easier way to make a buck rather than going the independent road.
Another hypothetical reason for the remake could be that with the trio being busy with other projects over the past decade, and/or they have all decided to move past Ash and the deadites, with hopes of ending the endless questions over further adventures of Ash through remaking the original film. Were this to be the case, it is a strategy that has ample amount of room to backfire, and worse, potentially tarnish the legacy of the original trilogy in the process. Again, a much simpler option would be to flat out tell fans that there will never be another Evil Dead film, because if the trio are tired of being asked about the series now, it will be nothing compared to wrathful complaints should the remake be rejected and hated.
As it stands, the remake seems to becoming regardless of whether or not anyone wants it. I hope for their own sakes, Raimi, Tapert and Campbell know what they are doing. More importantly, I hope Fede Alvarez knows what he is getting himself into. While Raimi and company might tarnish their past successes, a film that is anything less than great could kill Alvarez’s career before it even gets a chance to get going. Because if the film were to disappoint, even just slightly, he will likely be stuck with the unofficial title of being that guy who ruined the Evil Dead films, whether it is fair or not.
So good luck to the filmmakers of The New Evil Dead. You will need it.
Friday, June 24, 2011
Falks passed away at the age of 83. May he rest in peace, God be with his family, and his fans remember his work.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Unfortunately for the Green Lantern comics, its protagonist is Hal Jordan, one of the blandest superheroes around. Devoid of depth and personality, Hal Jordan’s story is one of how a cocky hotshot pilot goes from being something of an insecure ass to having absolutely no personality at all. The comics supporting cast includes a love interest whose personality consists of being angry at almost all times, and a friend who was little more than a racisit stereotype in the earliest comics. Hal also happens to belong to a large intergalactic organization that polices the cosmos, filled with interesting characters that can thankfully be read in a title that does not feature Hal Jordon.
Sadly, film audiences are stuck with Jordan and his uninteresting supporting cast for the running length of Martin Campbell’s Green Lantern (2011), a film in which the worst elements of the source material get to come out to play, which include, but are not limited to: endless speeches about will power; endless speeches about fear; Hal sitting around feeling sorry for himself; people standing around telling us that Hal can be/is a great Green Lantern; Hal failing to actually do anything to convince us he is all that impressive; interesting characters pushed to the margins so time can be wasted on Hal and his uninteresting love life; characters standing around talking about how great the Green Lantern Corps are; the Green Lantern Corps failing to be impressive; and so on.
Ok, as you have likely guessed, I am not all that taken with either the comic book version of Hal Jordan, nor the film adapted from the comics. While I in no way hate the Green Lantern concept and universe, I have always felt that mythology of the Green Lantern universe was interesting in spite of its lead character. The idea of an intergalactic police force with rings that can create whatever the user wills is a fantastic concept, and when Hal Jordan disappears into the background, as he has in the past, the comics have been all the better for it. However, for some reason that continues to escape me to this day, the hardcore fans of Green Lantern are taken with Jordan, and since 2003 there has been an all out attempt restore Jordan as not only the main protagonist of the title, but also to hard sell readers on how great of a character he is.
The Green Lantern film is, in some ways, the culmination of those efforts. A $200 million plus dollar effort to launch the Green Lantern as a film franchise, and quite possibly launch the whole of the DC universe on film, the film is tasked with both introducing Hal Jordan and introducing the larger mythology of the Green Lantern Corps to a broad audience. In theory, these two tasks should have complimented one another perfectly, with Hal’s journey into becoming a full blown member of Corps providing plenty of opportunity to show off the Corps and explore the larger mythology. For some baffling reason however, the filmmakers behind Green Lantern did not see this as the case, as the Corps and overall mythology is put to the side to allow plenty of time to focus on Hal and his uninteresting adventures on Earth.
The film starts off well enough, as we witness the release of the film's supposed villain, Parallax, a entity that feeds on fear. Parallax quickly attacks and mortally wounds Abin Sur, the Green Lantern whose sector happens to include Earth, the planet he escapes to. Upon crashing to Earth, Sur has his ring seek out a new recruit to replace him, and it selects Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a test pilot whose cocky ego has jeopardized the employment of hundreds of employees at Ferris Aircrafts. Handed the ring and the power battery to charge it with, Hal is quickly taken to Oa, home of the Lantern Corps and the Guardians, the ancient race of aliens who created the Corps, in order to receive training in how to operate the ring..
Till this point in the film, almost everything works. The opening scenes are energetic and set a sense of the scale we can assume the rest of the film will involve, and while Jordan as a character is still little more than a cookie cutter hero, Reynolds does manage to bring a bit of charm to the role. However, once on Oa, the film goes south quick: the film barrels through these scenes, as if the filmmakers were not interested in the Corps at all, or embarrassed by them. More likely, the visual effects required to pull of Oa and the other Corps members was far too expensive to include for extended periods of time, even with a $200 million dollar budget. Given how quick these scenes flyby, Hal’s “training” comes across as being little more than an afternoon workshop, one followed by Hal giving up and returning to Earth after a one scene encounter/smack down with Sinestro (Mark Strong). This quick lapse into self defeat on Jordan’s part does nothing to endear him to the audience, and one wishes that when Hal bolts, the rest of the film would be spent following Sinestro actually trying to deal with the crisis at hand. Sadly, this does not happen.
The film pretty much falls apart from this point on, as a pointless secondary plot involving a scientist (Peter Sarsgaard) becoming infected by Parallax is introduced in order that Hal has a traditional Earth based villain to face, and endless time is spent with Hal and his angst about whether to quit the Corps or not. Reynolds tries his best to make these scenes work, but his charm only goes so far in covering up how uninteresting Jordan and his situation is. This problem is only made worse through the inclusion of rather predictable scenes that drag the pace of the down, including the typical “superhero public debut” moment, and a clumsy scene where Hal admits to a personal flaw the audience figured out sixty minutes earlier in the film.
Even though we are stuck with Jordan for the rest of the film, the failure to establish the Corps as a group of impressive heroes earlier in the film has major ramifications in the second and third acts, particularly with regards to Parallax. In every scene with the Corps, all we ever is them doing is standing about listening to Sinestro give speeches, or receiving a beat down from Parallax. Since we never see the Corps as an effective peace keeping force, Parallax easily defeating various Green Lanterns has no impact as far as establishing him as a credible threat. (SPOILER) In turn, Hal’s inevitable defeat of Parallax has no impact because the Corps earlier in the film are built up as straw men to make Hal look good. It all comes across as lazy and false, and does nothing to sell a larger audience on the Corps as being an interesting group of characters worth following. (END SPOILERS).
So far, I have primarily slammed the film in terms of overall narrative, but that is because the failures in these areas make some other aspects of the film harder to evaluate. For example, many critics have slammed Blake Lively’s performance as Carol Ferris, but I am not sure that such criticism is deserved when the actress is given nothing to work with on page. Likewise, the visual effects work is fantastic, but its impact is limited given how hollow the rest of the film is. Campbell's work as director here seems unsure and unfocused; more often than not, he seems to be mimicking prior superhero films rather than bringing his own sense of style to the film.
At the end of the day, Green Lantern is a mediocre film, but one that is faithful to its source material. It simply fails to make the the core mythology of the comics interesting, and has likely killed any possible film franchise for the character. Should a second film ever go into production, hopefully Warner Brothers will learn from their mistakes and perform a soft reboot of the films, with one of the other Green Lanterns at center stage in a tale that ditches the typical tropes of the superhero films.
But I am not holding my breath.