Tag: 2007

Movie Review: The Ten (2007)

If members of The State are involved in a project, there’s a good chance it will be really silly, and an even better chance that I will totally dig it. Also, it will almost definitely involve Paul Rudd. The Ten reunites every member of 90’s cult comedy troupe except for Michael Patrick Jann (due to a scheduling conflict), and adds in a plethora of recognizable actors like Winona Ryder, Jessica Alba, Liev Schreiber, Oliver Platt, Gretchen Mol, Rob Corddry, and Adam Brody. Rudd plays an unhappily married dude with huge prop tablets, dedicating himself to bringing us ten interconnected stories based on the ten commandments, while also dealing with his own problems. The stories involve a sexy trip to Mexico, a war over cat scan machines, a goofing doctor, a flower-pooping, drug-dealing rhinoceros, and a tribe of church-bashing naked dudes- among other elements.

While it doesn’t quite achieve the comedic heights of Wet Hot American Summer, The Ten is still an excellent, weird, and original film whose supreme silliness makes me laugh every time. Like most anthologies, the short films can be hit and miss, but the ones that work really work, and the ones that don’t quite work still have some laughs. For me the highlights are both of Ken Marino’s stints as a lighthearted, murderous doctor who ends up in jail with Rob Corddry, the group of nude, Roberta-Flack-obsessed church-ditchers led by AD Miles, and the warring, coveting, mustachioed neighbors Liev Schreiber and Joe Lo Truglio (seriously the best one). I’m also a fan of how crazy Winona Ryder gets in this movie. I know she can do comedy, but I usually don’t associate her with such zany projects.

Though inspired by the ten commandments, the film is neither religious nor anti-Christian. It just uses the rules as a starting point for some goofy story ideas, which relate quite loosely to the actual commandment. There’s a musical number, awesome cameos (hello, Jon Hamm and Janeane Garofalo!), sex with the son of God, sex with a wooden dummy, and a terrific Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation. I would have liked more Michael Ian Black, Thomas Lennon, and Michael Showalter (they’re just cameos), but you can’t have it all I guess. It’s just a funny movie, you guys. A funny movie.

4/5

Movie Review: Evangerion shin gekij├┤ban: Jo (Evangelion: 1.0 You Are [Not] Alone) (2007)

Evangelion 1.0

Two anime movie reviews in a row? Wacky! The Neon Genesis Evangelion tale has some history. First there were the anime and manga series, followed by several epilogue-y films, and now the whole show is being condensed into a set of feature-length films that (theoretically) won’t require prior viewing of the series to enjoy. Well, we’ll see about that. Evangelion 1.0 introduces us to a future involving superior technology and a biblical feud that’s taken out half the human population.

Building-size “angels” are coming to earth to wreak havoc on “Tokyo-3” and the secretive group NERV is the last defense, developing large-scale fighting mechs (called Evangelions or “Evas” for short) piloted by, for some reason, teenagers. Shinji Ikari, the son of NERV’s lead commander is brought on to be the new main pilot. Still a high school student, he doesn’t like going into battle and doesn’t fully understand the necessity of his actions, but maintains a quiet obedience that worries his handlers.

With an interesting premise, potentially interesting characters, and gorgeous visuals, Evangelion has a lot going for it. Unfortunately it’s weighed down by an ambiguous and convoluted backstory and undeveloped script, and I felt lost during parts of the story. There are a few characters who seem superfluous whom I imagine are important in the series or will be expanded upon in future installments, but here it comes off as poor writing. The actual premise is barely given an explanation, with a few sentences of narration remarking upon the Angels eating the fruit of Wisdom and humans eating the fruit of Life, and for some reason this has caused Angels to destroy all humans. Why is this grounds for destruction? Why are they only attacking this one city? What’s God up to in this scenario?

I really loved the animation, with its insane details and cinematic eye. Plus the main character Shinji looks like Tenchi! He’s pretty whiny though, and I was more interested in his awesome roommate Misato, who’s a beer-guzzling, short shorts-wearing military commander who’s also a pretty lady! What a combo. I also like Rei, the other Eva pilot, mainly because she’s super mysterious and has blue hair, and she’s sort of mean to Shinji. Also what the hell is up with Shinji’s dad? What a diiiiiick.

Despite its narrative flaws and confusing script, I did like Evangelion 1.0, but I suspect I can’t fully appreciate it without first watching the show. Which I do plan on doing soon. But looking at this as a stand-alone film, it doesn’t quite work by itself.

3.5/5

Movie Review: Hot Fuzz (2007)

In preparation for our awesome discussion of Edgar Wright on the most recent episode of Some Cast It Hot, I rewatched Hot Fuzz since I hadn’t seen it in a few years. As usual, I picked up more little details than I had on previous viewings, a lovely facet of Wright’s filmmaking style. The story concerns supercop Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg), transferred to the safest village in England after making his comrades in London look bad. He soon latches onto a possible murder plot following several unlikely “accidents” lead to deaths, and with the help of his action movie-obsessed partner Danny (Nick Frost), he works to uncover the small town’s mysteries.

Massive shootouts, thrilling chases, geek references, gruesome killings, and crossword puzzles- really, Hot Fuzz has it all. I remember advertisements claiming the film was made by the guys who watched every action movie ever made, and while I imagine that’s a stretch, it’s an apt claim. It’s loaded with action cliches that are handled with witty parodic style and laced with clever dialogue, throwing in a good dosage of gore and thrilling heroics to keep everyone occupied. Despite his slacker persona Pegg is surprisingly believable as a talented no-nonsense cop, and receives generous support from awesome actors like Frost, Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, and Timothy Dalton, along with a host of supporting appearances from recognizable British comedians.

Hot Fuzz is just so good. I don’t have much to say about it (also I’m pretty sleepy at the time of writing) except that it is an exceptional comedy equally enjoyable as a buddy cop action flick. It starts off slowly and gradually builds with expert comedic timing to a most explosive finish. Wright and Co just make awesome films, and that’s all there is to it. Looking forward to finally getting the final entry in the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy!

4.5/5

PS Ok so I know there are a lot of cameos/small appearances in this film from cool actors but I didn’t realize the extent of them! I already knew about Cate Blanchett’s disguised turn as Angel’s ex, but did you know that Peter Jackson is shown briefly as well? And Garth Jennings, director of Son of Rambow and Hitchhiker’s Guide, AND Edgar Wright himself as “Shelf Stacker/Voice of Dave”. Cool.

Movie Review: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

While I was working on the latest Movie Sketch Project, I suddenly came down with a case of the Musicals, finding Sweeney Todd to be the best remedy after listening to (and singing loudly along with) both the Broadway Revival and film soundtracks whilst making breakfast. Now you know how these things happen. Tim Burton’s take on the darkly comic classic stars (who else?) Johnny Depp as the titular barber, who is back from a 13-year stint at a penal colony under a false charge, and he is ready for some serious revenge.

The lascivious Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) had him sent away so he could seduce Todd’s beautiful wife Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelly), but in an unexpected turn of events she poisons herself and Turpin adopts her baby daughter Johanna (Jayne Wisener). Todd quickly sets up a barber shop in his old establishment above a seedy pie shop run by Mrs Lovett (Helena Bonham-Carter), and the two of them strike up a deadly partnership that leads to hearty cannibalism and egregious throat-slitting, while our hero bides his time for the one man he has sworn to kill to come in for a shave.

Sweeney Todd is one of my absolute favorite stage musicals (itself based on an 1846 penny-dreadful); the brilliant 2005 Broadway staging probably inspired me more than any other performance I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a good number). Thus you can deduce that I was thrilled that it would see a film adaptation from visual innovator Tim Burton but reserved in my excitement since it could never live up to the play. As a movie it suffers from the symptoms of most musical adaptations: several of the best songs are cut, the lead actors aren’t strong singers, the story is reduced for time, etc. There’s just no way it could be faithfully translated from stage to screen in a mainstream film.

Despite these negative aspects, it’s really quite a good movie. The script maintains the appropriate levels of horror and humor set against Burton’s gorgeous and atmospheric backdrop of grungy Victorian London. With its fast-paced Sondheim tunes and intricate, character-heavy narrative, little time is wasted but there is still a fine attention to detail. While I missed some of the sub-plots and character nuances from the source material, what’s important is that its devilish and morbidly funny spirit is definitely preserved. Depp and Bonham-Carter gleefully latch onto their deranged roles with dedicated and slightly exaggerated performances. Rickman plays it straight as the odious Judge Turpin, making him both a formidable villain and a ridiculous suitor to his underage ward.

The smaller parts are cast with actors who are actually singers, which is quite nice, but then most of their songs are cut out, so it didn’t matter all that much. Depp (who trained intensively with a vocal coach) does a surprisingly good job with his numerous and varied songs, but unfortunately it’s Bonham-Carter who falters in the musical department. She’s absolutely perfect as in the role of Mrs Lovett, but she just doesn’t have the voice to carry her multiple songs, many of which are expository. I almost wish she’d been dubbed, loath as I am to suggest it, and because she is my favorite character in the show I did feel the difference more keenly.

Setting aside my gripes concerning its adaptational merits, Sweeney Todd is a visually stunning, wonderfully dark musical comedy whose subject matter is well-tailored to Burton’s recognizable hand. Its central characters are charming in their mania as they flit about London with little conscience until, of course, their actions catch up with them in a dramatic, swelling finale. The ending is eerie and unflinchingly true to the original, which I appreciated.

4/5

Original art for this film

Movie Review: 12 (2007)


Goodness I feel like I’ve been covering IFF Boston forever! It was some pretty good times, but now it’s back to our regular programming with Nikita Mikhalkov’s 12, the last film assigned to my contemporary Russian culture class. This remake of 12 Angry Men/re-imagined adaptation of the play moves the action to a school gymnasium-turned-makeshift conference room, as twelve Russian jurors deliberate the innocence of a Chechen youth on trial for killing his adoptive father, a Russian soldier. The deepseated racial tension between Chechnya and Russia is a deciding factor for several of the men, but one compassionate juror (Sergei Makovetsky) devotes many hours to convincing them that there is no certainty of the boy’s guilt, and they may be condemning an innocent person.

At a thick 159 minutes, 12 is a lot to take in. The story is familiar and offers little suspense, and so the script relies heavily on the emotional impact of the plethora of personal anecdotes told by various characters. Many of these stories don’t especially pertain to the subject at hand, causing some of them to try the viewers’ patience as he or she seeks relevancy. They speak to the characters’ ethical viewpoints and backgrounds, and generally seek to help the audience grasp the essence of their personalities with little expository action. For the most part it works, but there’s only so much of “12 middle-aged dudes sitting in a room sharing disparate anecdotes” that I can really get into, and the film does drag at certain moments.

As a contemporary adaptation, 12 is innovative and insightful, and truly groundbreaking in its native Russia- it is rare for Chechen characters to be portrayed with such humanity and pathos, and the film approaches the effects of the situation in Chechnya with subtlety and open-mindedness. It is portrayed as a bloody conflict that affects everyone, not just Russia, and it handles racism (and to a lesser extent anti-Semitism) honestly. There are even certain hints that Russia should be taking more responsibility (the metaphor of a “big man abandoning the little man”, for example). Of course, for all its strides in ethnic depictions, it is still pretty sexist in both its portrayal/discussion of women and its complete lack of female characters- there is no need for an all-male jury in 2007, you guys. But I guess it’s all baby steps.

The cast is exceptional, with Sergei Makovetsky (in the Henry Fonda part) imbuing his role with compassion and intelligence and Sergey Garmash lending a sympathetic air to the violent and persuasive racist Juror #3. I also enjoyed Mikhail Efremov as an outspoken actor and the director himself as the level-headed foreman. While the film itself drags at certain moments, and takes too long to get going (they hang out exploring the gymnasium and complaining for at least twenty minutes), the hard-working actors make 12 quite engrossing. The addition of well-placed flashbacks to the defendant’s childhood increases the social relevancy and viewers’ engagement with the over-arching story. It’s a well-done adaptation and I applaud Mikhalkov’s progressive thinking, but as an overall film it could have been edited a bit.

4/5