Jun 30, 2014

Review: Hei kek ji wong [King of Comedy] (1999)

Stephen Chow has a pretty unique brand of comedy that he's used in his films. I think the easiest way to sum it up is a combination of ridiculous imagery and slapstick comedy. On the surface it might seem crude but Chow's films have a way of charming the audience with just how well this mix goes. It's a successful marriage once again in King of Comedy except that this time, Chow adds a bit of drama and romance to the equation.

Chow co-directs, is part of the writing team and stars in King of Comedy. He's the kind of actor who's just naturally funny and his character in this film is put into all sorts of ridiculous situations like lampooning Hong Kong action movies, coaching would be Triads or fighting over lunch boxes for cast members at a shoot. You can find Stephen Chow's fingerprints all over King of Comedy and I mean that in the best possible way.

Jun 29, 2014

Review: The King and I (1999)

Despite The King and I looking like any other animated kids movie, here I am feeling all uncultured. While doing my regular pre-watching info gathering on this film, I learned that it's based off of a stage musical by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II which in turn is based off of a novel called Anna and the King by Margaret Landon. We're not done yet.

Anna and the King traces its origins to the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, who was the governess to the children of the king of Siam during the early 1860's. We're definitely a long way from there with this 1999 animated flick and sadly, I haven't seen or read any prior work this film is based on.

I haven't even seen the 1999 film Anna and the King with Jodie Foster either. I felt a bit blind going in to watch this since I don't really know what things have been added or removed from the story. I'm familiar with some of the songs though popular culture and clearly it can be said that The King and I as a stage musical has been very successful throughout its history. I'd say that The King and I has a lot to live up to, even with my meager knowledge of the source material. 

Jun 28, 2014

Review: Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

Kind Hearts and Coronets is funny even before it begins. Alec Guinness famously plays eight royal family characters to hilarious effect. Initially, he was only offered four out of the eight D'Ascoynes but thought that if he was already doing four, why not just do them all? Guinness doesn't drop the ball (has he ever?) on this opportunity and he's practically the biggest reason to see KHaC.

Guinness is in fact not the only reason to see this British classic. Kind Hearts and Coronets is one of the purest black comedy films I've ever seen. You'll have the taste of metal on your tongue for how ironic it really is and there's no shortage of laughs. Kind Hearts also pushed the envelope as to what was acceptable on film at the time and even warranted a scene to be added to the end of the film courtesy of the Hays Office Production Code. (Spoilers) After all, we can't have a film that appears to reward criminals right? Right? (End Spoilers)

Jun 27, 2014

Review: The Killing (1956)

The Killing is without a doubt Stanley Kubrick's breakout film. His previous film, Killer's Kiss shows its low budget roots pretty obviously and is probably only worth seeing for Kubrick completionists. The Killing has a slightly larger budget and more studio support from United Artists though Kubrick had to forfeit some of his creative freedom.

What really sets The Killing apart is how unique the storyline is set out. It's told in a non-linear storyline which everyone is familiar with from Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction. Non-linear storylines are pretty much accepted now by everyone but back in 1956, people weren't used to non-conventional storytelling at all. Kubrick was forced to re-edit the film to be linear but apparently the results were even more confusing to follow. Sadly, The Killing was released as it was and failed to make a profit.

Jun 26, 2014

Review: El laberinto del fauno [Pan's Labyrinth] (2006)

Pan's Labyrinth is best described as a fairy tale that isn't all that kid friendly. Some imagery is pretty frightening, the film has a very dark and depressing vibe. There are also some pretty brutal scenes that you won't forget. It's the kind of movie you show your kid if you want them to be haunted by it forever.

The thing is though, Guillermo del Toro has created a perfect fairy tale. Pan's Labyrinth is set in the real world with a fantasy world that exists alongside it. The story deals with a princess, fantastical beings and magic but never does any of it actually feel fake. That's one of the great things about Pan's Labyrinth. These elements can be explained by the main character's imagination or indeed real as Ofelia sees them. The decision rests with the viewer.

Jun 25, 2014

Review: Kims of Comedy (2005)

I don't know what it is but I've never been very big on watching comedy on video. Comedy in general is very touchy for me and I guess I've just always been a Seinfeld loyalist. That's bad coming from someone who's supposed to be open to watching everything like me!

My experience with comedy on video I'll admit is pretty limited. I've seen The Original Kings of Comedy as well as The Queens of Comedy which were varying levels of success for me. I definitely preferred the Kings probably because I'm just really not in the Queens' intended audience. That's not to say that women can't do comedy, it just really wasn't for me.

Jun 24, 2014

Review: Never Been Kissed (1999)

There's no shortage of easy to digest romantic comedies. Never Been Kissed is probably one of the easiest to digest movies I've ever seen, let alone romantic comedies. It actually treads on some controversial elements but never really commits to actually exploring these things in any depth. It's the romantic comedy for everyone.

The film could hardly be more formulaic or predictable if it tried. Writers Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein don't push any boundaries and there are exactly zero surprises. Does that make Never Been Kissed a terrible movie? Not really. Think of it as a Toyota Corolla. It doesn't offend anyone and it works just fine. Yes it's bland and boring, but it gets you from point A to point B.

Jun 23, 2014

Review: Killing Season (2013)

It's not only Benjamin Ford, played by Robert De Niro who has a limp. Killing Season quite literally limped into theaters, only playing in 12 and brought in a grand $39,881. KS might as well have just gone direct-to-video, but with two one-time big-time actors, what's to be done? Killing Season is very much De Niro and Travolta's vehicle, but Millennium Entertainment clearly had no faith in the film. They quietly released it to a few unsuspecting poor souls to save a bit of face and pushed it on the Blu-ray/DVD market. 

Mark Steven Johnson does not have a very great record as a director. Simon Birch was no more than OK to me and When in Rome seems like any other cheap rom-com. I haven't seen it yet, but that's my assumption. The two red marks that he has on his filmography though are Daredevil and Ghost Rider. Daredevil is just slightly better if it's in the Director's Cut version, but these are two perfect examples of how not to make a superhero movie. Can we really trust Johnson to make a worthwhile post-war action/drama piece?

Jun 22, 2014

Review: Notting Hill (1999)

Richard Curtis, the writer and co-executive producer for Four Weddings and a Funeral gets another chance at having Hugh Grant back in the fold. Notting Hill introduces the concept of a very famous person meeting a regular Joe in a romantic comedy genre and in my opinion executes this very nicely. It's something I suppose lots of us think about. We'd like to think that we'd be cool, calm and collected, but who's really going to know until that moment actually happens. If it ever does.

Notting Hill is a real place in London and is now a pricey fashionable place to live as opposed to how it was before the 1980's. Hugh Grant's character goes into a bit of a spiel as to why the neighborhood is special and unique. He runs a travel book bookshop that seems like such a niche thing without much of a guarantee for success but whatever. It's no surprise that the shop is struggling.

Review: Killing Me Softly (2002)

Erotic thrillers never seem to be easy to pull off very convincingly. Whether it's how ridiculous the story is or because of ineffective actors in key roles, erotic thrillers seem to fall flat on their face when it really matters. It's more of a 1990's thing if you ask me, but here we have Killing Me Softly from 2002 which is based off of a novel by Nicci French.

Chen Kaige directed Killing Me Softly and is still his only English language film. I've seen only one of his films but I remember The Emperor and the Assassin for its visual style and made for the stage-like story very clearly. To be sure, close to nothing in Killing Me Softly shows off what Kaige is capable of.

Jun 21, 2014

Review: Killer's Kiss (1955)

Killer's Kiss is Stanley Kubrick's fifth film project and his second feature. Like Fear and Desire, it's only a little over an hour and was produced with very lean means. Kubrick wasn't pleased with his first feature which he pulled from circulation. Killer's Kiss was his chance at redemption.

Imagine though, it's the 1950's and you're working in a time where studios had a lot of control. Making an independent movie at the time probably wasn't too easy and Kubrick was actually forced to change the ending of his film to United Artists' liking. Money talks though and Kubrick got $100,000 from UA and another $100,000 for his next film as a result.

Jun 20, 2014

Review: Octopussy (1983)

John Glen returns to direct his second James Bond installment after For Your Eyes Only. What was great about FYEO was that it was a return to a more simple storyline and a grittier feel after the Moonraker fiasco. Octopussy appears to have an even simpler story but that's not really the case once the curtains are fully pulled back. What's changed this time around is how much Bond humour there is (too much!) and the complete absence of any real grit. So basically everything that was good has changed.

It's really a shame because For Your Eyes Only really was a great recovery. There still is a touch of the old spy-thriller feel in Octopussy as there was in FYEO but there's just this unhealthy injection of too much humour and one-liners. Is it the addition of George MacDonald Fraser as a third writer that caused this? Is it an attempt at hiding the general uninterestingness that plagues Octopussy in general? Who knows, but there's definitely something wrong.

Jun 19, 2014

Review: Halloween: Resurrection (2002)

Trying to puzzle out what the hell happened with Halloween: Resurrection isn't so difficult. At least I don't think so. I imagine some suits sitting in a meeting room trying to figure out what it is teenagers like these days and the topic of reality TV came up. The concept of combining Halloween with reality TV was then born. This movie is an affront to the original classic and it still managed to make more than its $13 million budget. It grossed $38 million which is clearly $38 million too much.

Jamie Lee Curtis herself wasn't too big into being in Halloween movies anymore but agreed to do this one. (Spoilers) You'd think that with the start of this film, it wouldn't be half bad. Imagine an entire film where a mentally unhinged Jamie Lee Curtis tries to survive Michael Myers once again? There could be something there but no, she just dies and we just get the uninspired reality TV angle. (End Spoilers) I'm all the same glad she came back for one last hurrah.

Jun 18, 2014

Review: Dolores Claiborne (1995)

Like Misery, Dolores Claiborne is yet another Stephen King-based story with Kathy Bates in an important role. It's no coincidence since King himself was so impressed with Kathy Bates from Misery, that he actually wrote the Dolores Claiborne character with her in mind. Her performance in Misery was just brutal. It's no surprise that Kathy Bates gives another strong performance this time around.

Dolores Claiborne is no walk in the park, that's for sure. It deals with some pretty intense issues and doesn't tiptoe around any of them. It's also got a great cast besides Bates. Really, who doesn't like some Christopher Plummer? Director Taylor Hackford has a bit of a spotty record but Dolores is definitely one of his better films. One thing's for sure, this is not a movie to sit down and relax with. It's not a beer movie in any sense.

Review: Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)

The best thing about Halloween H20: 20 Years Later is that the storyline ignores all the previous Halloween films expect for the original and its sequel. The stories of the rest of the sequels could easily be accused of just being excuses to introduce whatever Strode descendant there is that Michael Myers is trying to kill, especially the sixth one. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers digs quite deep with the baby of the niece of Laurie Strode being targeted. Imagine how far these movies could've gone...

John Carpenter was originally picked to direct this entry to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the original Halloween. Carpenter and producer Moustapha Akkad don't have the best working relationship though and that's because Carpenter never really got properly compensated for Halloween. John Carpenter wanted $10 million as his director fee and Akkad refused. Instead, Steve Miner was brought in who's got some experience with two Friday the 13th sequels and he also went on to direct Lake Placid in 1999 following H20.

Jun 17, 2014

Review: Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

I guess it's pretty easy for the average filmgoer to discount the entire Halloween franchise but I think that's unfair. The first one really is a horror classic and the sequel also brings a fair amount of thrills as well. Even the third one which has nothing to do with Michael Myers is just a fun, 80's cheese trip that gets more and more ridiculous. The fourth and fifth films are serviceable but I'll say straight up that Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers is my second most hated film of the series.

The production of this entry was very troubled and I wish it had just been scrapped. The fifth film introduced this whole cult being behind the invulnerability of Michael Myers substory and I hate that. Myers is a mystery that should have been kept a mystery. Trying to explain the origins of him is never going to work and it's just going to disappoint people like me. H:TCoMM expands on the cult story to make it central to the plot.

Jun 16, 2014

Review: The Blair Witch Project (1999)

The Blair Witch Project was all the rage back in 1999 but I was only nine at the time. I've also been a baby about horror movies for quite some time (I've grown out of that thankfully). A film class I did in high school actually had TBWP as part of our movies to watch during class so I prepared myself by watching it on my own before seeing it in class to not look like a wimp. Yup, I was pretty scared at the time but at least I didn't look like a wimp later on.

Honestly though, TBWP is quite an accomplishment for Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, the film's directors. Apparently the movie was made for around $20,000 and went on to gross over $248 million which is just insanity. They did all sorts of crafty moves like planting real actors when the main cast didn't know and giving them less and less food every day of shooting to raise tensions even higher. The actors were almost going through what the viewers were too while making the film. The marketing for the film was also groundbreaking and is for sure a huge reason why The Blair Witch Project did so well.

Review: Wicker Park (2004)

Remakes are always a dangerous proposition, especially ones that are usually just to Americanize foreign releases. Wicker Park, named after a Chicago neighborhood where the movie is set is a remake of the French film L'appartement with Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci. I'll admit that I haven't seen it, but a quick Wikipedia search reveals that it was well received by critics. At the time of writing this, it's 7.6 score on IMDB is also quite high, so I would assume that L'appartement is a pretty good movie to say the least.

The concept of a psychological romantic thriller is interesting and Wicker Park likes to think of itself as one. The end result isn't convincing though. Wicker Park basically has two parts; First, it throws everything it can at the viewer to keep them confused as to who people are and what is going on before all of a sudden turning into a pure romance. The effort feels disingenuous most of the time and enjoys being stylishly confusing.

Review: Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989)

Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland is one of those movies that haunted me throughout my childhood. When I was a kid, my dad would go to the local Blockbuster and pick up some movies to watch. One for my parents and one for my sisters and I. A lot of the time I guess I wasn't very happy with what my dad got us but he did his best. Father's Day was just yesterday so I can't be too critical. One of these movies was Little Nemo.

I can still remember how scared this movie left my siblings and I at the time. There's some incredibly dark and terrifying moments which are greatly amplified. The movie changes gears from being a lovely and cute anime to being a terrifying nightmare. The animation is colourful and the music joyful before giving way to the dark underbelly of the Nightmare King and his Nightmare Castle. I've gotten over my fear of Little Nemo since then. I do know that if ever I'm responsible for a younger kid who's getting on my nerves, I'll just pop in Little Nemo. That'll team them.

Jun 15, 2014

Review: Tueur à gages [Killer] (1998)

Almaty, Kazakhstan is not the place to be if you're looking to strike it rich. Tueur à gages is set in what was once Kazakhstan's capital and director Darezhan Omirbaev makes it clear that the region is severely depressed. Only 6 years removed from declaring independence from Soviet Russia, the people seem to simply accept their glum reality.

Putting a desperate character in an impossible situation easily makes for an interesting movie. Main character Marat has his back against the wall and Omirbaev only uses 80 minutes to tell his story. It feels right though, there's just no time wasted on needless scenes.

Jun 14, 2014

Review: For Your Eyes Only (1981)

With Roger Moore's fifth appearance as James Bond, For Your Eyes Only is a really nice return to earth after the events of Moonraker. No one can deny that Moonraker is the silliest of all Bond films although I still think it's fun to a certain extent. For Your Eyes Only cuts down on the gadgets to have James rely on his wits to get through tough spots. Director John Glen still does however retain a measured amount of humour from time to time that never goes overboard. 

I have to say that one thing that was sorely missing in For Your Eyes Only was Bernard Lee as M. Sadly he died of stomach cancer during the filming of FYEO. He even tried to film some scenes despite the pain he was in. His sternness and no-nonsense demure always contrasted nicely with James' laxness. In his absence, his role is substituted by but not replaced by two men while Q takes on more responsibility.

Jun 13, 2014

Review: Kill List (2011)

Watching Kill List is going to leave you with more questions than answers. It's bizarre, bloody and there's lots that doesn't seem to make sense. It is however an awesome movie and it's absolutely worth watching til the end. It's a totally different breed of horror film with an agenda to make you as unsettled as possible.

I've never heard of director Ben Wheatley but he seems to have a good idea of what makes a movie scary. I suppose that Kill List isn't scary per se when you're actually watching it. It's scary in the sense that you're going to remember it. The idea of it is scary and it's probably going to stay with me long after its welcome is worn out. I'm going to be very careful about not giving any spoilers because it'll ruin the experience for anyone who is planning on seeing this film.

Review: Music and Lyrics (2007)

Music and Lyrics isn't so different from any other romantic comedy. The basic formula of two people meeting, getting involved with each other and having a falling out is there. The way in which it combines these basic ingredients however is well done and it's easy to just sit back and enjoy the show. It's not a movie that requires a lot of involvement but it doesn't make you roll your eyes either.

It opens to a brilliantly executed 80's pop music video that is dangerously catchy, so watch out. Hugh Grant's character is what you would call a 80's has-been, who's satisfied with living in the past and making easy money on appearances. Alex Fletcher was once in a pop group called Pop!, inspired by Wham! and Duran Duran. It's exactly the kind of role that Hugh Grant fits.

Jun 12, 2014

Review: Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (1982)

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains never really got out there when it was first released, pretty much having to settle as being an underground film. As far as the subject matter goes, I think that it's a pretty good fit. It's about a garage band that makes it big, pretty much overnight because of a certain message that the band stands by. It also pretty much predicted the rise of popular female artists through MTV.

The humour in LaGtFS is anything but in your face. It's muted in its approach but delivers on the laughs. It satirizes popular rock acts of the time and I guess you could say that it speaks volumes about what it takes to succeed in the music industry. There's some criticism for what appears to be a tacked on ending that was added only 2 years after the film's initial release, but personally I think it works.

Jun 10, 2014

Review: Lake Placid (1999)

Water-based monster movies must be one of the most copied genres in Hollywood. Jaws is pretty much perfect and is a whole lot of fun as well. Here we are 24 years later with another attempt at cashing in on Jaws but this time it's with a giant crocodile. I don't know about you but between the two, I'll take the shark. At least I know that if I actually get to land, I'll be safe. Crocs have a nasty habit of running on land pretty quick to go after their prey.

Director Steve Miner does have some experience with horror movies with a couple of Friday the 13th entries as well as a Halloween film under his belt. Is there maybe some hope then? There's what looks like a respectable cast and John Ottman isn't too shabby a composer. He's got a tall order in trying to make a score that doesn't sound like it's trying to rip off John Williams' work from Jaws. In addition to being a horror movie though, Lake Placid makes the key distinction of also being a comedy movie so it's probably going to have it's tongue firmly planted in its cheek.

Jun 9, 2014

Review: Kikujirô no natsu [Kikujiro] (1999)

Beat Takeshi, or Takeshi Kitano is an accomplished man and it only takes a quick look at his Wikipedia page to see that. I feel bad that I've only ever seen one movie that he did which was the 2003 version of Zatoichi. It's a beautiful piece and a great update of the original. Kikujiro is a totally different beast though. It doesn't deal with gangsters or crime but instead it's a sentimental drama film featuring a man and a boy on a road trip.

Takeshi is definitely treading on unfamiliar ground with Kikujiro but the end result is an interesting marriage of style and theme. Beat likes his long takes and he likes cutting to right after an event has occurred. Those kinds of tricks just add to the overall quality of the film. All in all, Kikujiro is not a perfect film but it's strangely compelling and difficult to dislike.

Jun 8, 2014

Review: Chao ji ji hua [Supercop 2] (1993)

Stanley Tong and Michelle Yeoh return in this spinoff of Supercop which featured some pretty memorable high-flying action setpieces. Yeoh was particularly good, arguably even out-hustling and out-muscling Jackie Chan, which is just insanity. It has to be said that Stanley Tong also directed my least favourite entry of the Police Story saga, Jackie Chan's First Strike which was released in '96. My question is, are we getting the Supercop Stanley Tong? Or are we getting the Jackie Chan's First Strike Stanley Tong?

Following up a Jackie Chan movie is a pretty tall order. Fights will be choreographed without his expertise which is like playing hockey without your goalie. Jackie does however have a small cameo in this film which looks like it was exploited for the DVD release of Supercop 2. Some covers in certain countries featured Jackie Chan prominently, when really he was in the film for probably no longer than three minutes. Oh well, that's marketing for you.

Review: L.I.E. (2001)

Pedophilia is an extremely sensitive issue and for good reason. L.I.E. features a character who more specifically is an ephebophile which means that he's attracted to mid-to-late adolescents from the ages of 15-19 years old. The film is director Michael Cuesta's directorial debut and it's definitely a bold way to start his career.

The movie had some difficulty with its rating from the MPAA, which gave it an NC-17 rating. Today the NC-17 isn't the kiss of death it once was but back then it was a disaster. There weren't many outlets that showed NC-17 films and I imagine that's still the case now at least to a certain extent. Cinema runs on money-making accessible films which L.I.E. is not. Cuesta decided to release the film unrated to avoid the NC-17 tag but it's not like it went on to gross very much anyway. I'd say that $1.6 million on a $700,00 budget isn't too shabby for a controversial piece like this. Personally, the NC-17 rating is a little overboard but that's not to say that this movies doesn't deal with some pretty serious stuff.

Jun 7, 2014

Review: Everywhere and Nowhere (2011)

Everywhere and Nowhere is meant to be the spiritual sequel to Kidulthood. Menhaj Huda did indeed direct Kidulthood but as I had mentioned in my review, it isn't his movie. Noel Clarke was the writer and he went on to direct and write Kidulthood's real sequel, Adulthood. I don't necessarily think that Menhaj Huda is a bad director but if you compare Kidulthood to Adulthood, it makes him look like a mercenary who doesn't really understand what Noel Clarke was going for.

Everywhere and Nowhere seems a lot more personal for Menhaj Huda. He actually did some of the writing this time around. He himself is Bangladeshi and the protagonist of the film is Pakistani. That's not to say that these countries are the same, but both feature strong Muslim majorities with all the traditions that entails. The roles of family and religion are significant in Everywhere and Nowhere and compared to what Huda tackled in Kidulthood, I think he has more of  a chance of creating a convincing story this time around.

Jun 6, 2014

Review: Adulthood (2008)

Adulthood, stylized as AdULTHOOD is the sequel to Kidulthood. Noel Clarke who wrote and starred in the first entry returns as writer, director and protagonist this time around. Once again, Clarke makes for a solid presence and his writing has improved. I felt that there were some weaknesses in some of the dialogue in the first film but that's not to say that the script isn't without its problems.

The key difference here is that Noel Clarke's character from Kidulthood is now the protagonist. He was basically the main antagonist before and it makes for an interesting change in dynamics. The change definitely makes for some interesting possibilities and confrontations due to events that happened in Kidulthood.

If you haven't seen Kidulthood, be warned that there are spoilers contained in this review. 

Jun 5, 2014

Review: Kidulthood (2006)

Being a teenager is tough and Kidulthood or KiDULTHOOD if you prefer is all about that. It's directed by Menhaj Huda using a screenplay written by Noel Clarke who also stars in the film. I think he's probably the real brains behind the project and he even went on to direct the sequel Adulthood.

Clarke seems to have a thing with writing, starring and directing because he's done all three quite a few times. He's a welcome presence in the film and the subjects he touches upon in Kidulthood are important. However, I'm not convinced of the finished product. While I don't think it's trying to glorify the naughty things that the characters do, I think that the message it tries to get across gets lost.

Review: Majo no takkyûbin [Kiki's Delivery Service] (1989)

Calling Hayao Miyazaki the Japanese Walt Disney would be easy to do, but would be unfair to both men. Disney and Miyazaki have done incredible work but their career trajectories are pretty different and they operated in totally different time periods.

Walt Disney directed tons of animated shorts all the way until 1935 while also producing too. He transitioned into only producing but the impact that he had on the output of his company's movies can't be overstated. He was a risk-taker with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs which popularized animated feature films. Everyone thought it would flop but in the end the complete opposite happened. Without Disney, there wouldn't be animated films like there are now. Maybe someone else would have shown up and tried to do the same thing but there's no way in knowing if it would have worked.

Hayao Miyazaki co-founded Studio Ghibli along with Isao Takahata in 1985 after having found success with Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. He was an animator earlier on in his career but moved on to directing, writing as well as some producing. He's "retired" many times but I hope the man finds a way to keep making movies forever. He's got some way of turning me into a kid every time I watch one of his movies.

Jun 4, 2014

Review: L.A. Story (1991)

L.A. Story was meant to be a response to New York Stories. I haven't seen New York Stories myself but I assume that there is a fair amount of romanticification of New York City itself. L.A. Story takes a similar idea and executes it to very good effect. The romantic side of New York I can totally see, probably because of all the TV shows and movies that are out there that make New York into this magical, never-sleeping metropolis of wonders. There are tons of shows and movies that are set in Los Angeles as well but I think we can all agree that it's not the same kind of thing.

When I think of the state of Los Angeles, I think of Hollywood, traffic jams on the freeway, pollution, crime, beaches, heat, Arnold Schwarzenegger and plastic surgery. There's some good stuff there as well as some bad. Steve Martin wrote the screenplay for L.A. Story and he's aware of all these things. The good and the bad of L.A. is joked about and it's also celebrated. The film is a glorious mash up of not only some brilliant humour but also of a compelling, romantic, fantastical tale.

Jun 2, 2014

Review: Kick-Ass 2 (2013)

The first Kick-Ass was an interesting movie. It struck a delicate balance between comedy and brutal action that made for a good show. It was pretty over-the-top but hard to dislike. There was a lot of buzz around it at the time but for Kick-Ass 2 it was kinda quiet. The only thing I really heard was about Jim Carrey's refusal to do any promotional work for the film as a result of the Sandy Hook shooting as well as Chloë Grace Moretz's response. In the end, Kick-Ass 2 made an OK $60 million on a $28 million budget. In comparison, Kick-Ass made $96 million on an identical budget so I'm sure there was a lot of disappointment.

I'm impressed that the decision was made to keep the same budget from the first movie. Usually sequels have this thing with just making things grander, starting with the budget which usually never ends well. Kick-Ass 2 attempts to stay in the same spirit as its predecessor but somewhere along the line, something went wrong. I don't know if it's because of Matthew Vaughn's exit as director while being kicked upstairs as producer, or if it was the change in screenplay writer. Either way, Kick-Ass 2 is a misfire.

Review: Girl, Interrupted (1999)

James Mangold is an above-average director. He's put together some pretty average movies along with some pretty strong pieces like Walk the Line and the remake of 3:10 to Yuma as his best work. Even the most recent The Wolverine was quite good until its lackluster third act. In all, I would say that Girl, Interrupted is among his better efforts.

Girl, Interrupted is based off of Susanna Kaysen's 1993 memoir. Its rights were scooped up by producer Douglas Wick not too long after its publication. Winona Ryder wanted to secure the rights herself after having read the book but she was too late. However, she was able to team up with Wick as a producer as well and in the end and she had a hand in recruiting James Mangold to the project.

Jun 1, 2014

Review: Khrustalyov, mashinu! [Khrustalyov, My Car!] (1998)

Aleksey German is a Russian director with only 4 directorial efforts in 16 years. With Khrustalyov, mashinu!, he'll be at 5 movies in 30 years. He's not known for a large body of work but he is recognized for the quality of what he's done. His films usually present Russia and Joseph Stalin in a negative light so it's pretty easy to see why he had so much trouble with censorship laws at the time. 

The movie is set during the "Doctors' plot" which was really just an excuse to usher in some anti-Semitic policies. A group of big time doctors were arrested and accused of conspiring to assassinate Russian leaders. Publications were then sent out to the public condemning Jews. All Jews who held prominent positions were promptly fired from their jobs and arrested. In the aftermath of Joseph Stalin's death, the whole situation was simply said to be a mistake and that was that. Great way to ruin a whole bunch of lives right?