Archive for movie reviews

Too weird to live, too rare to die

Posted in movie reviews with tags on August 4, 2008 by Gena Radcliffe

Thanks to the blogosphere, there are now more edgy pundits in the world than stars in the sky.  Or at least, we like to think we’re edgy, though the majority of gripping, incisive commentary seems to consist of “George W. Bush is evil!” and “War is bad!” In other words, we’re all just singing the same tune, just with different lyrics.

Political and cultural blogging wouldn’t exist as it does today without Hunter S. Thompson.  For better or for worse, he gave license to and inspired other ordinary, working-class citizens who were disillusioned with the way things were going in their country to speak up and express that anger.  As Americans we were given the right to free speech, now we were shown what to do with it.  Thompson’s legacy is celebrated in Alex Gibney’s new documentary Gonzo: the Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, a very fine film that manages to praise its subject with a minimum of fluff and blind adoration.

It’s likely that Gonzo will be considered the definitive Thompson documentary, as it was made with the cooperation and participation of his first wife, his widow, his son and numerous friends and collaborators, including Jann Wenner, Johnny Depp, Ralph Steadman (who claims it wasn’t until Thompson introduced him to psilocybin that he began to create the grotesque caricatures that made him famous), and even Jimmy Carter and Pat Buchanan.  It also includes rare personal photographs and audio/video footage, including a hilarious recording of Oscar Zeta Acosta, his traveling companion in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, telling a roadside cafe waitress that they were out searching for the American Dream, to which she speculates that that might have been the name of a closed down nightclub.  It is alternately amusing and depressing, and always fascinating.

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Preaching to the clown-faced choir

Posted in movie reviews, pop culture with tags on July 21, 2008 by Gena Radcliffe

It’s not often that a film in a largely underappreciated genre really goes the distance, not just regaling the audience with flash and dazzle special effects, but offering rich, complicated characterization and a gripping, intelligently written plot.

I’m speaking, of course, about Space Chimps.

All right, no, I’m not.  I, like seemingly 87% of the rest of America, saw The Dark Knight this weekend.  There is absolutely nothing new I can contribute to the discussion that you haven’t read multiple times already on other blogs, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, LiveJournal, or whatever your social networking website of choice might be (perhaps all of them, if you have that much of an attention span, which I do not).  I’m sure it’s starting to look like a big blur now: “Heath Ledger Academy Award poor Harvey Dent Batcycle Morgan Freeman is God and holy shit did you see that Watchmen trailer?” I’m not even going to bother elaborating much on the odd gravelly voice Christian Bale adopted whenever he was in disguise that made me think he was going to break into a rendition of ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ at any moment.

I will say that I’m glad the naysayers who groused that death was the best thing to happen to Heath Ledger’s career have been resoundingly proven wrong.  Oozing filthy, demented menace from every pore, Ledger’s Joker is an outstanding performance whether he would have been lucky enough to live to hear the accolades or not.  I don’t know how true the rumors are about his getting so deeply into the role that it left him emotionally unstable, but it’s remarkable that someone so relatively young could take an iconic character and completely remake it into an all new entity.  This is not the goofy, scenery chewing Joker played by Cesar Romero or Jack Nicholson, this is the “this motherfucker is capable of anything” Joker, the one who beat Jason Todd with a crowbar and left him to die in an explosion, the Joker who killed Commissioner Gordon’s wife1.  He has no origin story (a running gag in the film has him giving different explanations for the scars on his face), and he has no reason for doing what he does, other than that he enjoys chaos and just fucking shit up.  He’s the sociopathic id that lies within the darkest parts of our minds, with a laugh that’s one part carnival funhouse and one part hellish troll.  While I doubt Ledger will win a posthumous Academy Award, given that the Academy appreciates comic book movies about as much as they appreciate horror (and let’s face it, movies like The Dark Knight and Iron Man are still anomalies in being not just good comic book adaptations, but good films overall), his rendition of the Joker is one that is unlikely to be matched, let alone surpassed.  He may not appear in any more movies, sadly, but he’ll surely show up in an awful lot of nightmares.

1Before you start screaming “spoiler,” neither of these incidents happened in the movie. They’re from various comic book/graphic novel installments, so calm down.

Indiana Jones And The Movie Review

Posted in movie reviews with tags on May 27, 2008 by Gena Radcliffe

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
“I like hat, Doctor Jones. Is sexy.”

Here’s what disappointed me about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:

1. Nobody’s face melted off.

Here’s what I liked about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:

1. Everything else.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I’m not one of those slavering fandorks who believe Steven Spielberg and George Lucas can do no wrong. Spielberg can do wrong. Lucas can definitely do wrong, and I’m not just talking about Howard the Duck. Crystal Skull is not without its flaws. I have not yet determined its rewatchability factor, though I certainly liked it better than Temple of Doom, and if I happen to stumble across Temple of Doom on television I’ll usually end up watching it, even if I have to grit my teeth through Kate Capshaw’s insufferable presence.

As a huge fan of the series, I went into it with fairly high expectations, and those expectations were met, which is about the best you can say for a film series that was never meant to be high art, but rather just fun eye candy meant to be an homage to old adventure movies of the 30s and 40s. One of the things I found most admirable about Crystal Skull is that it wasn’t updated to appeal to a younger, hipper crowd, presence of Shia LaBeouf notwithstanding. It was a movie that took place in the 1950s that, other than the quality of the special effects, looked and sounded like it was made in the 1950s, so in that regard it was a smashing success. Whatever weaknesses the script has, and there are a considerable amount, don’t really become apparent until after you spend some time thinking about what you just saw. Yeah, Mac was a pretty pointless character overall. Sure, unless you’re afraid of bad accents Spalko was really not all that intimidating a villain. And the ending? Yeah, there was a distinct edge of fromage to it. But you know what? When I was actually watching and enjoying the movie, none of that really bothered me, and no, it’s not because I don’t expect enough out of a film for it to be entertaining. I was too busy feeling like I was nine years old again, the age I was when I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time. If you have not a streak of childlike sensibility remaining in you, then, no, it’s not going to be an enjoyable movie, you’re going to be spending too much time looking at your watch, dwelling on the plot holes, and grumbling about how much better Iron Man was. There’s an interesting trend that seems to be developing in the wake of the film’s release, the “Iron Man vs. Crystal Skull” debate, in which apparently you are only permitted to choose one. I saw both, and enjoyed both, but for entirely different reasons, just as I expect to enjoy The Dark Knight, but also for entirely different reasons. Typical of comic book/adventure movie fandom, however, there is no room to enjoy some or all, you just divide your camps and you get strident and obnoxious in your arguments.

Let me wrap this up before I start getting into my rant about how reading film reviews by unqualified schmucks such as myself often makes me want to run to the nearest bell tower with a rifle. The biggest mistake George Lucas made with the Star Wars prequels was trying to dazzle the audience senseless with new, high-tech special effects, without bothering to make his core audience, the fans, remember why they loved the original movies so much. Despite its imperfections, the joy and affection that went into making this film, from all parties involved, really shines through. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull isn’t a great movie, but it holds up in comparison to the previous three, and you can’t ask for more than that.

Of course, if you ask this writer here, I’m a brain-dead cretin for accepting and enjoying Crystal Skull on its own merits. Pass the helmets and the ice cream!