Saturday, January 3, 2009

Review - Yes Man

Yes Man is an embarrassing return to form by Jim Carrey and, worst, a humiliating fall for Zooey Deschanel.
Its juvenile humor doesn't even have the good sense to be controversial and thus worthy of mentioning. Rather, it is simply a humiliating retread of jokes that have been told over and over.
The film doesn't even have enough repsect for itself to establish a working set of rules within the narrative. Supposedly, after attending a workshop with some sort of optimism guru, Carrey's character must say yes to every opportunity presented to him. However, the film plays it as if Carrey instead must obey everything said to him. It's more Ella Enchanted than Liar, Liar. This guru's message was about answering the door when opportunity knocked, not engaging in awkward run/stop maneuvers as a security guard calls to you while you run away with your girlfriend. The premise of the movie created enough problems organically. It didn't need the awkward addition of a stupid plot device to make the movie more inane. It is a paint-by-number comedy that disappoints because after you're done filling it in, you realize all of the lines are in the wrong place.
Yes Man has a decent story, a strong message and serviceable cast. If the people involved with the making of the movie rose to its level, it would have been a a succesful, though predictable comedy. As it is, everyone lowers themselves to Carrey's level and what we get is utter schlock.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Review - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is one of those rare films that redefines everyone involved even when those people are some of the biggest in the business.
David Fincher's movies are consistently excellent but none of them even begins to compare to the art that he has injected into every frame of Button. This film is both grandiose and intimate, alien and human, familiar yet altogether...curious. It is a film that revels in these binaries and one of the few films in recent memory to elevate itself to art.
However, the more startling transformation is that of the movie's lead, Brad Pitt, who proves that he deserves every bit of acclaim that is heaped upon him. As one of those actors so often considered to be noteworthy for their personal lives rather than their art, Pitt acts at such a level within this movie that one can't help but begrudgingly admit that he is deserving of that attention. His portrayal of Benjamin, aging backwards, is nothing short of unbelievable. He is so fragile and so human that, despite the story's ludicrous premise, one can't help but internalize Benjamin. His struggles are our struggles. His struggles are America's.
It is a movie that demands to be seen multiple times as it is impossible to be both emotionally invested in Benjamin as the story requires and appropriately appreciate the lush and censuous cinematography of the film itself.
All that said, it is not a perfect film. The Katrina frming device is unnecessary and ultimately detrimental to the main narrative. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is, however, one of the great film romances--far superior to the other tent poles of the genre.
Benjamin Button is a true credit to everyone involved, boasting fantastic writing, acting and directing. It is an epic movie on a human scale. It creates a rich, textured and engaging world and an even more engaging set of characters. It is one of those few movies that is more than just a way to pass two hours (or three hours, in this case). This movie is an experience. It is emotionally exhausting and at the same time rejuvenating. It's message is a dire one: that nothing lasts, yet somehow Pitt and Fincher manage to sell it as an optimistic sentiment. Nothing lasts: love, life-- everything is transient but it is also beautiful, moving and heartwrenching and should be enjoyed while it can.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Review - The Spirit

The Spirit has, unfortunately, been marketed as the bastard child of Sin City and [insert gritty crime drama/ film noir here]. What audiences don't realize is that Will Eisner's Spirit is actually one of the most notable comic book creations of all time. Eisner himself is the standard of excellence in comic book publishing and the namesake of the biggest award in comic book publishing, the Eisner award.
The movie version of his masterpiece is directed by Frank Miller, creator of other such comic masterpieces as Sin City, 300 and The Dark Knight Returns.
However, even with a pedigree as rich as this, The Spirit doesn't really succeed although it might have had it been presented a little differently to its audience. The Spirit is not Dark Knight or Sin City although that is what trailers make it to look like. What The Spirit is is an adaptation of a pulpy serial comic strip and the movie revels in that.
Frank Miller has done a masterful job of translating the low-budget, film-noir atmosphere of the comic book to the screen. Although, it could certainly be argued that Miller emphasizes style over substance. The acting is more than passable in an exaggerated, over-done, self-parodying kind of way and the story, though seemingly incomprehensible falls into place in a fairly expected way.
The movie is sexy, entertaining and beautiful to look at but it is also destined to be a failure. What Miller doesn't seem to realize is that people don't understand camp anymore. Nor are they familiar enough with the conventions of noir, detective stories to appreciate the parody. Additionally, people want grand superheroes with fancy gadgets and impressive powers, not street-level thugs beating each other down in the mud. It's unfortunate, but audiences don't have the attention span or the interest to invest themselves in something a little bit different. Thus, the Spirit had no chance of succeeding. However, for those with any appreciation of the noir genre or old-school superheroes, The Spirit might supply a reprieve from the endless string of summer blockbusters plaguing cinemas. For everyone else, The Spirit might be a bit out of reach.
However, it is a beautiful exercise in film-making and the long overdue treatment of a fantastic character by a true fan. The film itself is admittedly a bit uneven but the good far outshines the bad. It would be great if we got to see a sequel now that all the clunky character exposition is out of the way but I certainly won't be holding my breath.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Behind the Greenscreen is back for 2009!! (and the angels rejoiced.)

Yes, loyal readers, it is true. Behind the Green Screen is returning for the new year. After a lengthy hiatus during which it was nothing, Behind the Greenscreen will once again become the crossroads for movie related discussions, reviews and special features. Keep an eye out for new ideas to make themselves known over the next few months and, as always, check back regularly to read the latest reviews. Behind the Greenscreen: The radio show will be airing on WNJR 91.7fm as always. However, for the month of Januray we have moved to an exciting new slot Mondays at 4:00pm. Tune in.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Poll Results - Best musical

Considering Mamma Mia's record-setting opening weekend, which is the best musical of the new millenium?

Corpse Bride 33%
Across the Universe 33%
Moulin Rouge 16%
Walk the Line 16%

Friday, July 18, 2008

Review - The Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is a certain sort of beautiful mess. Not the masterpiece that the pre-release hype would suggest, Nolan has succeeded in crafting a superhero movie that is most certainly not a popcorn flick but a dark, brooding spectacle that transcends the stigma of comic-con to be the one of the biggest movies in history.
There is not much to say about Knight that hasn't already been said. It is everything everyone has said it is; a dizzying, almost nausea-inducing whirlwind of plots and characters and ideologies. Nolan clearly had a lot of ideas he wanted to explore, and a lot of goals he wanted to see realized but squeezing them all into one movie may not have been the best idea. While Batman Begins was a thoughtful contemplation of Batman's origin and a series of ruminations on what it means to don a mask and protect a city, Knight just seems to throw a lot of ideas at the wall, and as fascinating as each one is, none of them really seem to stick. There is a lot of genius in Nolan's script and for an audience that can sit through nearly three hours of intense violence and brooding, there are many legendary morsels to be taken from the story. His exploration of human nature and whether society is primarily good or evil is completely absorbing, or it would be if it weren't carried out in a series of aborted half-measures. However, despite their shaky footing, the ideological conflicts of Knight are its strongest asset.
The struggle is essentially embodied by the character of Harvey Dent, expertly played by Aaron Eckhart., in the only complete character arc of the entire movie; Dent is the film's real focus, moreso than the Joker, even moreso than Batman himself. He is a stalwart District Attorney, Gotham's "white knight." Thankfully, his somewhat fantastic journey is executed perfectly, at least up until the point when he becomes Two-Face.
While great pains are taken to slowly establish Dent, Two-Face is just sort of wedged into the film at the end. His inclusion is entirely necessary to complete the story of Dark Knight but not enough time is taken to establish his transformation. This combined with his terribly rendered CGI half-face rips the viewer out of the realm of possibility and realism that Nolan has spent so long constructing. However, his rise and subsequent fall are so expertly written that its almost forgivable. He also sparks the most interesting exploration of Batman's character by being the perfect foil: the white knight to his dark knight, the hero Gotham needs rather than the hero Gotham deserves, and that conflicting ideology is one of the most compelling relationships in recent memory. Harvey Dent's tragic character arc is the real story behind Dark Knight, and fuels all of the rest of the action in the film. Mercifully, Nolan doesn't try to give Two-Face his own movie but rather uses his story arc as a reaction to the Joker. Thanks to that decision, Two-Face's mad quest for vengeance against the people responsible for costing him the love of his life is visceral and real-feeling. Nolan doesn't make the mistake of turning the character completely evil. He allows him to remain sympathetic and while he doesn't quite redeem him, he does allow the character to rise above the chaos and remain more Dent than Two-Face.
Opposite Aaron Eckhart, of course, is the now legendary performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker. First, it must be said that the Joker is written extremely well. Past films and comics that have tried to do origin stories of the Joker have failed miserably. He simply works best as a rogue agent, a harbinger of chaos and anarchy. Nolan wisely does not try to make him anything more than that and since unexplained violence is always twice as terrifying, this goes a long way in making the Joker a genuinely unsettling villain who will haunt a lot of peoples' dreams.
Heath Ledger's performance is brilliant. He manages to suffuse a campy villain with just the proper amount of violence and rage to make him leap off the screen. Ultimately, the performance is hindered by the hype which surrounded it and his death. Ledger plays the character as a typical madman with surprise levels of animosity and cunning. Unfortunately. nothing about the character has been allowed to remain a surprise and in the end, this greatly reduces Ledger's performance.
But again, the true power of the Joker character is the ideological conflict that he spurns in the other characters, most notably the city itself. Early on in the film he declares himself an agent of chaos and it swirls around him for the rest of the movie, eventually enveloping every citizen of Gotham. That has always been one of the strengths of Nolans' franchise: the treatment of Gotham itself as a character. The best moments of this film happen not while Batman and the Joker or Two-Face battle it out on the screen but when the everyday citizens battle with each other and themselves to stay on the right side or stay alive. The best scene of the film is the scene where two ferrys have each been given the mechanism to blow up the other with a promise that whichever boat presses the button first will survive. Amazingly, with all of the superhuman spectacle that rages on screen, it is this poignantly human moment which is the most powerful. a perfect emulation of the spirit of Batman's fight.
Dark Knight is not a perfect film, however. In fact, it has quite a few flaws, the biggest of which is the character of Batman. Bruce Wayne/ Batman might as well not even be in this film. He exists not as a character but as a symbol, which is a problem with the majority of the characters in this movie. Fortunately, most of the characters aren't Batman and they don't have to carry the franchise. When Batman is barely in a Batman movie, it is obvious (to me at least) that the focus of the franchise is a bit skewed., regardless of how well his scenes are written. Of course, when Batman is on the screen, he is rasping and growling and sounding more like a homicidal maniac than the villains. Christian Bale's performance as Bruce Wayne is fantastic but his transformation into Batman could use some work.
Wayne's love interest, Rachel Dawes, somehow becomes even less scintillating in this movie. In Begins, Katie Holmes played the doe-eyed, optimistic DA perfectly, although she wasn't really given anything to do. Now, Nolan has dumbed her down and slutted her up and replaced Holmes with the hideous Maggie Gyllenhaal, whose acting is nearly as atrocious as the character inconsistencies between this film and the last. Her only role in this film is to play fawning Girl-Friday to Eckhart's Dent. The one scene in which she tries to step up and show some of the character potential from the last film by confronting the Joker as he terrorizes a party is completely ruined by the fact that she simply stands with her arms crossed like a petulant child instead of actually showing any of the inner strength that her character is clearly supposed to exhibit.
For everything great that can be said about this film, it can't be denied that it fails miserably as an action movie. While he might be a visionary director, Nolan's action scenes are dizzying blurs with no real substance. Any of the actual physical battles are completely lost in shadows and poor cinematography. A lack of choreography makes it look like the characters just run at each other and then flash in front of the camera a few times. It's a damn good thing that Nolan does such a fantastic job of showing the mental and spiritual battles, otherwise this entire film could have just been a travel guide for Gotham City.
With that one exception, the rest of Nolan's cinematography is astounding. He could have made a travel ad for Gotham City and it would have been hugely successful. The somber colors and moody music create a fantastic world that at times seems more real than our own. Someone with the talent and level of filmmaking genius that he has should be making more original, visionary films like The Prestige. I'm the first to admit that his talents seem wasted on a superhero flick, no matter how great the film ends up being.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Poll Results - X-Files Film

Is it too late for a new X-Files movie, considering the show has been off the air for 6 years?

No 85%
Yes 15%