Archive for February, 2010

MOVIE: Shutter Island (2010)

February 25, 2010

The first time I read the Dennis Lehane novel this film was based on, I was absolutely riveted by it — UNTIL about halfway through, when I figured out how it was going to end and realized how much that ending was going to irritate me.  I still enjoyed it, for the most part, but as soon as I was done, I chucked my copy into a box in the garage and forgot all about it.

Last spring, though, my husband was on a serious 12-Step-Program-worthy Lehane binge and when he got this one out, read it, and then raved about it, I decided to give it a second try.  Surprisingly, I enjoyed it far more the second time around.  I think knowing how it was going to turn out  freed me from having to care about the plot (which sounds weird, I know, but sometimes the story isn’t the best part of a book) and instead let me focus on the setting, mood, and characters.  Lehane is a great storyteller, but he’s even better at setting a scene:  the moment that ferry docks at Shutter Island, you dock with it, and you don’t get back off until you turn the last page and put it down.

It’s for that reason I was excited to see this film, directed by Martin Scorsese (who I still want to punch in the face because of THIS, by the way, but whatever), even though I already knew the story. Though many people seem to think Scorsese’s last attempt at a scary movie was a major bust, I actually liked Cape Fear and found it effectively creepy.  So, I was curious to see what Marty could do with this tale.  It seemed it would be pretty hard to screw it up too badly, anyway, seeing as how it’s set in a mental institution for the criminally insane — as far as scary movie settings go, you can’t get much easier than that when it comes to keepin’ it surreal.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed by this film overall (though it should be noted that my husband really liked it and has way better — or at least more “normal” — taste in movies than I do).  As it turns out, it IS possible to screw up the creepiness of a movie set in an insane asylum.  You do it by loading your flick up with the same tired “scary movie” techniques we’ve seen a million times in a million different flicks.  The story may still be intriguing (hard for me to be objective about that because I was already so familiar with it), but I felt like Scorsese focused too much on that story and not enough on the rest of it.  Instead of working hard to set an effective mood, he just threw in lots of freaky-lookin’ crazy people (Jackie Earle Haley wins the prize, as per usual), framed every shot in spoooooky shadows, and scored it way too heavily in obnoxiously unscary “Hey, listen to this music’s crescendooooo…BOO!”   I got the distinct impression he figured the “twist” would carry the film, and already knowing the twist myself meant I needed the movie to grab me in some other way.

It didn’t.

That said, while the scenes on the actual island — the home of the aforementioned asylum where U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck (Ruffal0) are sent to investigate a missing patient — were uninspired and uninspiring, I found the dream sequences, in which Daniels has flashbacks about his dead wife and his experiences as one of the liberators of Dachau during WWII, utterly striking.  As flashbacks tend to do, Daniels’ start out without context (a shot of him standing in a room with tons of paper flying and flapping around, e.g.), adding more and more information in pieces, until the final horror we’ve been stomach-sinkingly anticipating is at last revealed to us.  These sequences were, in my opinion, very artfully drawn and powerful.  And DiCaprio’s acting in them was the same (though I confess I may have been a bit blinded by the glory of his masterful French inhale — I hate to describe any smoker as “sexy,” but sometimes it just can’t be helped, I’m sorry).  It’s too bad Scorsese didn’t manage to sustain the mood and craft of these scenes throughout the rest of the film.  If he had, I think this would’ve been a much more unique movie, and one that readers of the book might’ve been able to get more out of.

I think if you’ve never read the novel, your chances of liking this film are pretty good — I’d be curious to hear, in fact, from anyone who has seen the film and not read the book.  Were you surprised by the ending?  Did the setting/look of the film work for you?  For me, though, it just lacked too much in the non-story realm.  I didn’t find it terribly creative, thought it was at least thirty minutes too long, and, well, yeah.  Bored, to be honest.  By the end, just bored.

Then again, as was recently pointed out to me by a commenter on my review of Orphan, I’m a moron.  So, you know, do with this information what you will.

[Pre-queue it at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Thriller
Cast:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley, Elias Koteas

MOVIE: Whiteout (2009)

February 23, 2010

One of the first things I do when I sit down to draft a movie review is write out the cast list that I put at the bottom of each one, and then go grab links to old Boyfriend write-ups where relevant.  Which is why I’m going to start off this particular review with the following exclamation:

Tom Skerritt hasn’t been a Boyfriend of the Week yet?!   I’m fired!  I fire myself!

I’m way overdue for the new Boyfriend write-up, by the way, in part because it’s the first one of the year, and that is a write-up I try to give just a tiny bit of superior significance.    I’ve been struggling to figure out which of the SIX I have in the hopper should be the one that kicks off 2010.  I’m pretty sure I now have my answer.  Unfortunately, this means an even longer wait, while I go rewatch 800 of my all-time favorite Tom Skerritt movies.  Luckily, there are far, far worse things than having to go rent The Turning Point for the 86-bazillionth time, so I’m not too upset about this.  I hope you aren’t either.

In the meantime, let me tell you about Skerritt’s latest flick.  This movie is about a U.S. Marshall, Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale), stationed in Antarctica and about to head out on a plane back to the states after a couple of years of wintering over.  She’s got a troubled past, and she fled to the gig in the South Pole in part to recover from it.  But after a few years of repeat-all, day in and day out, she’s ready to return to the real world and go back to tackling some serious crime.  Her plans to head out are put on ice (ha ha!) when a dead body is found frozen solid not far from the base.  The body leads Stetko, and a UN investigator sent to help her solve the case (ostensibly because Antarctica is a global possession and therefore, crime there has international implications), to a buried plane that had crashed in the area fifty or so years ago.  A deeper look reveals the recent theft of something from a broken lock box on the plane, and the more Stetko and her new partner dig in, the more bodies start piling up.  Skerritt plays the base doctor, who, as the only resident with any medical training, ends up also having to stick around to help Stetko autopsy the bodies.  Eventually, we’re left with a group of only about four or five people, one of whom we  know has to be the killer.

The plot is pretty much as predictable as it sounds and the acting isn’t all that great either (not really much of a Beckinsale fan, I will confess), but I still enjoyed watching this flick, primarily because of the setting.  Antarctica is an interesting place, and I’ve always been fascinated by stories about the people who choose to live there — I’m thinking specifically of two at the moment: Icebound by Dr. Jerri Nielsen (a memoir about her own winter at the Pole as base doctor, which didn’t involve murders but did involve having to treat herself for breast cancer — unfortunately, that same cancer came back and took her life last June) and Dark Winter by William Dietrich (a murder mystery of much greater complexity than this one, and one I highly recommend).

Actually, I’ve always kind of gravitated to stories about people who live in isolated or closed communities — stories about convents, private schools, islands, mysteries set in mansions, etc.  There’s something very intriguing to me about the way people interact in those close-knit settings.  And so, in that regard, I found this film intriguing enough to want to keep watching.  If what you’re after is a smart thriller, I’m afraid you’re going to have to look elsewhere.  On the other hand, if what you’re after is a snowy setting, Tom Skerritt with an absolutely dashing beard (as per usual, only it’s even dashinger now that it’s white), and Alex O’Loughlin with his shirt off, you need go no further.

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre:  Action, Mystery
Cast:  Kate Beckinsale, Tom Skerritt, Alex O’Loughlin, Gabriel Macht

New Rainy Day Gardening Post (at long last!)

February 22, 2010

Finally got back into the game at Rainy Day Gardening, a blog I allegedly cowrite with my friend Janet, the brilliant gardener to my rookie black-thumb.   I haven’t posted in forever — long story — but when I saw this National Geographic article today about carnivorous plants, I had to share it.  Check it out, it’s cool beyond amazingness:

BOOK: A Walk on the Nightside by Simon R. Green (2006)

February 22, 2010

Last year, a friend of mine loaned me a big stack of Simon Green’s books.  This was the first one in the pile, and though I actually finished reading it sometime before Christmas, I only just recently realized I had never gotten around to writing it up.  Let’s chalk it up to holiday scramble.  And/or to the fact it’s a fairly might tome — a big fatty containing the first three books in Green’s “Nightside” series: Something from the Nightside, Agents of Light and Darkness, and Nightingale’s Lament.

The series is about a private detective, John Taylor, who has a supernatural gift of sorts and spends most of his time solving cases in an other-worldly section of London known as “the Nightside.”  The Nightside is a dangerous, magical place, full of serious bad guys, all kinds of weird creatures, and a multitude of eerie sights and sounds.  As the series opens, Taylor, born in the Nightside, has finally managed to escape its pull, moving into an ordinary brownstone in the ordinary city and making a fairly satisfying life for himself as an ordinary PI in the ordinary world.

Everything’s all woo-hoo-normalcy! until a new client walks through his door.  Joanna Barrett is a no-nonsense, type-A, hot momma, and she wastes no time with pleasantries.  Instead, she sits down in a chair, crosses her dashing gams, and announces she needs his help and she needs it now.  As it turns out, Barrett’s teenage daughter has run away again.  Only this time, instead of the usual treks to the big city to get into everyday sorts of trouble, Joanna is convinced she’s managed to get herself into the Nightside — no mean feat, since there isn’t exactly a door.  Not wanting to get sucked back into that place, where Taylor was born and spent most of his life erasing and redrawing the line between good and evil, he first refuses her case.  But Joanna Barrett is a hard woman to say no to, and that’s why Taylor soon finds himself returning to the place of his birth, Barrett right there at his side (refusing, as you’d expect her to, to maintain a safe distance).

All three of the novels in this single volume combine this type of traditional private eye story with the kind of characters and events we’re more used to seeing in stuff like The X-Files.  In other words:  it’s a fairly weird and decently intriguing combination.  Three books in, I do have to report that I don’t find these novels to be terribly well-written.  But they’re steadily improving, and even when they’re a bit on the clunky, juvenile side, they’re still satisfyingly entertaining.   The wife of the friend who loaned them to me recently referred to them as “brain candy,” and, well, yeah, that’s pretty much it in a nutshell.  A good choice for those days when you just want to escape into a story without having to fire off too many synapses.

The Nightside series is definitely worth picking up if the combination of Sherlock Holmes and Fox Mulder sounds like an intriguing concept.  Don’t be too put off by the quality of the first two, though — as I said, though Green takes his time finding his stride, once he does, these books turn into a bizarrely engaging kick in the pants.  I’m definitely looking forward to reading more over the next few months.



[Buy it | Browse book reviews (new | old) | Search all book reviews]

MOVIE: North Face (Nordwand) (2009)

February 20, 2010

This film, by German director Phillip Stölzl, tells the (more or less) true story of Andreas Hinterstoisser and Toni Kurz’s attempted first climb of the north face of the Eiger mountain in Switzerland.  Set in July 1936, the story opens with the death of two other climbers on the mountain and the resultant closure of the north face to all alpinists.  But, of course, closing a mountain to climbers because of danger is the same thing as telling bad sci-fi movie characters not to, under any circumstances, OPEN THIS BOX — it’s only going to encourage them.  That goes double if you’re Nazi Germany hosting the Berlin Olympics in 1936 with an eye towards using the whole shebang as one big propaganda tool.

And so, naturally, it’s soon declared that Germany will award an Olympic gold medal to the first team of climbers to reach the top.  Immediately, nations begin scrambling around trying to locate and coerce their best mountaineers into taking on the challenge.   Prompted by the government and under a great deal of pressure to succeed, the Berlin newspaper begins seeking out candidates to sponsor.  One of the staff interns, a photographer named Luise, suggests Hinterstoisser and Kurz, two respected climbers she knows from her youth.  Convinced by her knowledge on the subject, her editor, a somewhat creepy guy who clearly has the hots for Luise, sends her to Bavaria to track the two men down — as long as, he confirms with her, they look sufficiently “German.”

Andreas leaps at the chance to prove himself on the mountain, but the more cautious Toni balks, saying it’s essentially a suicide climb.  When Luise goes to him personally to beg him to agree to do the climb so that she can get her first big story, though, Toni can’t bring himself to turn her down.  You see, as it turns out, the two were once madly in love with each other, before Luise dumped him for life in the big city, and just seeing her again has rekindled all his old feelings.  Hers too.

At last, Toni agrees to go, and he and Andreas head out to base camp at the bottom of the face.   A few hundred meters away from their tent is a huge resort, now packed with reporters and bigwigs who enjoy fancy parties every night while the climbers cook over fires and prep their gear.  Finally the weather clears and the groups set out for the top.  Andreas and Toni, expert climbers, have come up with a route never attempted before, one they believe will get them to the top in 24 hours or less.  This plan is foiled, though, when a rock comes loose and conks an Austrian climber below them on the head.  His partner is soon begging Andreas and Toni for help and when it becomes clear the man will die if they don’t get him down, our two Bavarian heroes make the agonizing decision to give up their dream for the summit and help carry the wounded climber to safety.

Slowly trying to descend, lowering the injured man inch by inch on a rope, their progress is halted when a massive storm comes crashing into them.  The high winds make it impossible for them to traverse a section of wall, though, leaving them stranded on the rock face.  As the storm worsens and gear gets lost in blasts of wind, the characters begin to freeze to death, with almost no hope for rescue.  Meanwhile, not far below them, the lights of the resort glow warmly — so near and yet so agonizingly far.

What happens at the end of this film is so horrific — so intensely painful to watch — that I left the theater completely shaken.   If it hadn’t been a true story, I would have, quite frankly, been furious about the ending, because it’s so ridiculously over-the-top with awful.  By the time the end credits rolled, I couldn’t wait to get outside, away from all that snow and sorrow.  Gah.  Miserable.  Miserable.

Aside from THAT, though, I really enjoyed this story.  The look and sound of the film are also great.  The storm itself is incredible — I have no idea how they did that, frankly, just from a film-making perspective.   And the sound of the wind whipping around in the final act, as Luise and Toni’s voices struggle to beat through the gusts and reach to each other, was so effective I started to shiver in my seat from all that blustery air.

I was also both impressed and surprised by the quality of the dialogue in this film (mountain climbing movies not typically being known for their clever writing). Andreas and Toni are best friends who talk like brothers, and their conversations were so well scripted and acted I got a sense of their relationship almost immediately.  Good work there, boys.

That said, I did have one major problem with the movie.  The man-conquers-mountain genre has a long history in the Nazi Party — it was a genre they used more than once to highlight the power of the Aryan race (see Leni Riefenstahl’s The Sacred Mountain or The Blue Light, for example), and I got the feeling Stölzl was trying to make a powerful statement of some sort regarding this history, primarily because the two German powerhouses in the film were not only openly disdainful of their government, but also quit halfway up the hill and turned around.  So much for Aryan supremacy, right?  Yet, despite the interesting contradiction in themes, Stölzl didn’t really develop this enough.  He just kind of dropped the concept in our laps and then went back to blowing snow in our faces.  Which I get, of course, because at its heart, this IS, after all, an action movie.  Nevertheless, it felt to me like the intention was to make something a bit bigger than that, and that Stölzl couldn’t quite figure out how to make it work.  B+ for effort, D- for effect.

This film has already won numerous awards in Europe, including awards for cinematography, and I would definitely say it’s one of the most gripping mountain climbing movies I’ve ever seen.  I was on the edge of my seat the entire time they were on the Eiger, so completely engrossed in what was happening that I caught myself gasping out loud several times.   (Sorry about that, anybody seated near me!)  Fans of the genre should not miss this one, that’s for sure.  Recommended!

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Drama, Action
Cast:  Benno Fuhrmann, Florian Lukas, Johanna Wokalek, Ulrich Tukur (recently also seen in The White Ribbon, by the way)

This Week in Steve McQueen: The Sand Pebbles (1966)

February 17, 2010

This film, the latest installment in the Steve McQueen festival I’ve been attending, is about a rebellious Navy Machinist Mate, Jake Holman (McQueen), who loves engines a whole heck of a lot and authority a whole heck of a. . . yeeeeah, not so much.

Bounced from job to job, mostly on flagships, he finally gets his dream gig when he’s assigned at last to a gunboat, the San Pablo (nicknamed the “Sand Pebble”), where he’s to be the main guy in charge of the engine.  At first excited, his optimism takes a decided dip downward when it quickly becomes clear that life on gunboats is pretty different from life on flagships.  For one thing, the Sand Pebble has a strange labor system in place, apparently initiated in an attempt to appease the locals but taken to the extreme by a bunch of lazy ship officers.  The officers mostly just hang out looking spiffy, leaving the sailors with way too much free time — free time they mostly use for fighting and hanging out in bars.  Meanwhile, all the actual work on the ship gets done by the “coolies,” local untrained Chinese laborers.

Horrified by the state of the ship’s engine, Holman gets in trouble right away when he starts complaining about this system, which puts unskilled Chinese coolies in charge of things both important and dangerous.  When the head coolie is then killed in an engine accident, instead of taking it as a sign he was onto something, Holman is blamed and reprimanded by the captain (Richard Crenna), who orders him to train another coolie to take his place. While Holman first resists this idea (note: that’s putting it nicely), he soon becomes pretty fond of his trainee, Po-Han, who proves himself to be a quick, sharp study.

Meanwhile, Holman and another sailor, Frenchie (played by an extremely NOT French Richard Attenborough — don’t ask me) become close friends.  While the San Pablo is stuck in port for the winter, the two men become embroiled in a drama on shore involving a young Chinese woman, Maily, sold into prostitution when she couldn’t pay her debts.  It’s not long before the incredibly sweet Frenchie, along with the adorable brown pet caterpillar he carries around on his upper lip (dang, that was some bad mustache, Mr. A.), falls madly in love with her.  Despite the obvious dangers in doing so, Frenchie and Maily end up getting married and pregnant, two things that could get either one of them killed by Chinese soldiers.

One night, Frenchie decides he can’t spend another night without his love so he sneaks off the San Pablo to swim to shore.  When he doesn’t return, Holman goes after him, walking straight into a nightmare.  After all is said and done, Holman finds himself accused of the murder of a local as an increasingly propagandist and hostile crowd forms a blockade around the ship, calling for his head.  Fearing for their own safety, the rest of the Sand Pebbles angrily try to convince Holman to give himself up and, when he refuses, they attempt a mutiny.  Though the captain is quickly able to quash it, both his pride and his already-kinda-wonky psychology are damaged in the process, and when the ship is finally able to break through the blockade into open water, he begins making a series of cuckoo mistakes, eventually going so far as to defy official orders.  Instead of returning to the coast as directed, he becomes fixated on going up the river to rescue a group of Americans (missionaries and teachers) he is convinced are stranded and in mortal danger.

One of these Americans is a young woman named Shirley Eckert, played by a stunningly gorgeous Candice Bergen (I’d never seen her so young before, by the way — hot damn, good lookin!’).  Shirley and Holman had had a little romantic tension thing going since they first met, and their relationship had taken a few steps forward during part of the San Pablo’s stint in port.  So, though he clearly recognizes the folly of the captain’s plan, Holman nevertheless agrees to be part of the “away team” (or whatever it’s called when you’re not on Star Trek) and heads to shore to attempt the rescue.  We get one more spectacular shoot ‘em up scene, this one no kidding edge-of-your-seat, and then finally, three hours of plots, subplots, and sub-subplots later, the film ends with just about everybody dead.

Oh wait, spoiler alert, I guess!  OOPS.  (Oh, like you read down this far, please.  This is the longest damn movie review of all time.)

I’d seen this film only once before, and it was way back (way, WAY back) when I was a kid – I’d guess I was about twelve years old or so.  At the time, I remember being fairly amazed by it, I think in part because it tells so many different stories and in part because so many of those stories are about doomed love, a subject that tends to resonate well with 12 year-old girls (plus, that one scene with Po-Han gave me nightmares – if you’ve seen the film, you know the one I mean).

As an adult, though, I felt like this movie was kind of disjointed.  It was easily forty-five minutes too long, and was spread out all over the place, trying to cover too many stories and not doing a good enough job of making those stories feel smoothly interwoven.

My major issue with the movie, though, was McQueen.  Dammit, McQueen!  Once again, Steve does what I am starting to gather is his trademark move, a facial expression coupled with a tone of voice that I’m now going to officially dub “The Doofus.”  As I’ve said with the last several of his films I’ve written about here, I just don’t get this combo.  It worked in The Great Escape – with that character – but it has not worked a single time since.  And still he continues to do it!  Serious McQueen Fans:  was The Doofus really his trademark?  If so, can you explain the appeal?   It’s not adorable.  It’s not sexy.  It’s for sure not at all cool.  And it doesn’t work with most of his characters.  Jake Holman was no doofus; he was a macho ass-kicker.  So, what’s going on with this?  Bullitt is coming up next in the series, another one of McQueen’s films that gave me nightmares as a kid (I don’t remember anything at all about the story, but I still vividly remember the opening shoot-out scene).  Please tell me he’s not going to pull The Doofus in Bullitt?  That he finally figured out after this one that The Doofus was a dud?

Of course, clearly that won’t have been the case, because, surprise surprise, McQueen was nominated for Best Actor after The Sand Pebbles, confirming officially that he was onto something and I don’t know what I’m talking about (as if that needed confirmation. . .).  My only hope is that the sheer physical demands and emotional/personal problems he encountered during the making of this film killed off every last remnant of Doofus left in him.  Maybe this film toughened him up – he did say once that he considered the excruciating agony of bringing The Sand Pebbles to the screen to be his penance for everything he’d ever done wrong in his life (you can read about the problems encountered on the film’s Wikipedia page).

One can only hope.

In the meantime, this is definitely an entertaining film, grand in scale and ambition, and it’s well worth a rental.  Fans of Richard Attenborough, in particular, are going to want to pick this one up — I’ve never seen that man so thoroughly kissable.  Frenchie, oh, you sweet, sweet, good man.  I love you.


[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre:  Action, War
Cast:  Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, Richard Crenna, Candice Bergen, Mako, Emmanuelle Arsan

MOVIE: Jennifer’s Body (2009)

February 11, 2010

Here’s another movie I thought for sure would be a total stinker.  I mean, first of all, Megan Fox doesn’t really inspire much in the way of brilliant-film confidence (my deepest apologies to fans of Transformers 2: Revenge of the Blah Blah Blah), and for another, the plot just sounded sort of annoying.  From what I’d read, it was going to be about a gorgeous, “over-sexed” (whatever that really means) teenage girl who is used in a virgin sacrifice, only it turns out she was not, in fact, a virgin (gasp!) and so instead of dying or whatever, she turns into an evil succubus, devouring all the men who are attracted to her in some sort of sex-object-payback revenge fantasy.

Tsk, what, THAT again?

And, yeah, as it turns out, that’s pretty much exactly what this movie is about, and it’s pretty much exactly as bad as that makes it sound.  But, believe it or not (and I suspect you will, knowing me as you do), I kind of enjoyed this one.  Though a lot of it made little sense, in part because it seemed like the screenwright (Diablo Cody of Juno fame) didn’t want to waste time making sense, it pretty much had me signed on the moment it turned out the devil worshippers of evil and doom were an indie rock band (headed by a guy named “Nikolas” — the Transylvanian spelling is your first clue he’s EVIL —  played by ex-Boyfriend of the Week Adam Brody and an entire line of Maybelline cosmetics).

Man, I KNEW indie rock bands were the devil’s work (The Decemberists and The Long Winters not included, naturally).

As I said, this film was written by Diablo Cody, and it suffers slightly from the same “I’m so hip! Look at how hip I am!” dialogue problems that Juno had (endearing and even authentically clever and hilarious at times, but a bit on the heavy, overdone side — does anybody REALLY talk like that?).  But its effects are delightfully gross and overall, I thought this was a darn decent horror-comedy.  Worth a rental for fans of either the genre or Megan Fox’s boobs.  Also, J. K. Simmons, I adore you.  Never go away.  Never.

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre:  Horror
Cast:  Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Brody, J. K. Simmons, Amy Sedaris

MOVIE: Orphan (2009)

February 11, 2010

I almost went to see this movie last summer while it was still in theaters but decided to wait for DVD after reading one too many “professional” reviews that absolutely panned the hell-o-kitty out of it.

As it turns out, I probably should’ve just gone.  Because this movie, which is, of course, every bit as bad as those reviewers said it was, is also pretty surprisingly entertaining.  (Though it’s true my attitude might not have been this generous had I paid full price for a movie ticket.  THEN AGAIN, my attitude also paid full price for Bad Girls and still walked out of that stinker happy.  And incidentally, before you now declare all my taste to be in my mouth, you may want to note that I think lima beans are delicious.)

Orphan is about a middle-aged couple (sorry, Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard — but you’re not really a “young couple” so I’m not sure what else to call you) who recently lost a baby.  Wanting to give the love they had planned to give their child to another child, they decide to adopt, thinking maybe an older girl might be a good choice.  They go to a local orphanage and meet Esther, a young girl from Russia with remarkable talents for art and music.  Falling in love with her immediately, they soon bring her home to join the family (which also includes their older son Daniel and their deaf little girl Max).

Of course, you can tell from the cover art that this is going to end up going somewhat the way of The Omen, and you are completely right about that.  That said, there was a twist at the end of this film that, regardless of its ridiculousness, I sort of appreciated.  For one thing, it took me by surprise, which is kind of hard to do these days.  And for another, it didn’t have anything to do with the devil or any, like, supernatural magic, and frankly, I found that a refreshing change from the norm here in the bad seed genre.

All in all, there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours.  And if you’re still not convinced, allow me to also mention that both Vera and Peter take their shirts off in this film — MORE THAN ONCE.

Sold?  I thought so.

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre:  Horror
Cast:  Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder

The Trip List — Movie Quote Hall of Fame

February 10, 2010

Regular readers of this blog are probably familiar by now with commenter Trip and “quote wars,” a game he and I and the rest of you wackos often derail comment threads into (so not a stickler here for making sure comments stay on topic — topic schmopic, I say on that).

A few weeks back, a couple of us asked Trip for a list of his favorite movie lines, in part to better prep us for future wars (hey, that was my motive, at least), and at long, long last, the Trip List appears in print!  (Along with a graphic drawn by ME PERSONALLY, featuring a favorite line from the movie Airplane.  And yes, I won’t quit my day job and go into art, no worries, ya jerks.)

Here’s Trip’s intro:

Well, I’m really only brushing the surface here, and I’d probably face-palm at the mention of a few others I *should have* included here, nevertheless here’s a first list of quotes I like, which were more instantly memorable to me, and which I’ve used fairly regularly over the years on friends and co-workers alike…

And my follow-up intro is that if he missed any of your favorites, you know what to do, y’all.  Hit it!  (And oh, I know you will.  I know I will.  I know we all will.  We cool like that.)

Enjoy (and thanks for all the hard work, Trip!)!

THE TRIP LIST v.1.0 (edited to add the occasional self-serving link to a Boyfriend write-up or movie review where relevant, which was clearly not nearly as often as it should’ve been — I haven’t featured Bill Murray yet?  What the what?)

  • “I came here to kick ass and chew bubble gum…and I’m all out of bubble gum.” – George Nada (Roddy Piper), They Live
  • “We are the music makers…and we are the dreamers of dreams.” – Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder), Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
  • “Your father was captain of a starship for twelve minutes. He saved eight hundred lives, including your mother’s. And yours. I dare you to do better.” – Capt. Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), Star Trek (2009)
  • “All right you primitive screwheads, listen up! You see this? This… is my boomstick!” – Ash (Bruce Campbell), Army of Darkness
  • “Gimme some sugar, baby.” – Ash (Bruce Campbell), Army of Darkness
  • “Bitch…you don’t have a future.” – Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman), Kill Bill Pt. 2
  • “Tell me of your homeworld, Usul.” – Chani (Sean Young), Dune
  • “You need to be kissed, and often, and by someone who knows how!” – Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), Gone with the Wind
  • “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!” – Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe), Goldfinger
  • “Until at last, I threw down my enemy and smote his ruin upon the mountainside.” – Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
  • “Dang! You got shocks, pegs…lucky!” – Napoleon (Jon Heder), Napoleon Dynamite
  • “Usul, we have wormsign the likes of which even God has never seen.” – Stilgar (Everett McGill), Dune
  • “My name is a killing word.” – Paul Atreides (Kyle McLaughlin), Dune
  • “Brandy! Throw more brandy!” – Prince Hapnick (Jack Lemmon), The Great Race
  • “I crap bigger than you.” Curly (Jack Palance), City Slickers
  • “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.” – Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Aliens
  • “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” – Clemenza (Richard Castellano), The Godfather
  • “I like them French fried potaters.” – Karl (Billy Bob Thornton), Sling Blade
  • “Let’s show this prehistoric bitch how we do things downtown!” – Dr. Pete Venkman (Bill Murray), Ghostbusters
  • “Game over, man, game over!” Private Hudson (Bill Paxton), Aliens
  • “Well that’s great, that’s just fuckin’ great, man. Now what the fuck are we supposed to do? We’re in some real pretty shit now man…” Pvt. Hudson (Bill Paxton), Aliens
  • “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here, this is the War Room!” – President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers), Dr. Strangelove
  • “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.” – Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd), The Blues Brothers
  • “If you’d have fought one whit below your abilities, I’d have given you a good scar to remind you.”  – Gurney Halleck (Patrick Stewart), Dune
  • “Only I didn’t say ‘Fudge.’ I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the ‘F-dash-dash-dash’ word!” – Ralphie narrating as adult (Jean Shepherd), A Christmas Story
  • “Only one thing in the world could’ve dragged me away from the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window.” – Ralphie narrating as adult (Jean Shepherd), A Christmas Story
  • “Well, I’m a mushroom-cloud-layin’ motherfucker, motherfucker! Every time my fingers touch brain, I’m Superfly T.N.T., I’m the Guns of the Navarone!” – Jules (Samuel L. Jackson), Pulp Fiction
  • “Well, that’s a huge noggin. That’s a virtual planetoid!” – Stuart Mackenzie (Mike Myers), So I Married an Axe Murderer
  • “I’m not kidding, that boy’s head is like Sputnik; spherical but quite pointy at parts! Now that was offside, wasn’t it? He’ll be crying himself to sleep tonight, on his huge pillow.”  – Stuart Mackenzie (Mike Myers), So I Married an Axe Murderer
  • “The fact that you’ve got ‘replica’ written down the side of your guns…and the fact that I’ve got ‘Desert Eagle .50’ written down the side of mine…should precipitate your balls into shrinking, along with your presence. Now…fuck off!” – Bullet Tooth Tony (Vinnie Jones), Snatch
  • “Well, he should have armed himself if he’s going to decorate his saloon with my friend.” – William Munny (Clint Eastwood), Unforgiven
  • “I’d like to think that the last thing that went through his head, other than that bullet, was to wonder how the hell Andy Dufresne ever got the best of him.” – Red narrating (Morgan Freeman), The Shawshank Redemption
  • “Ha ha! You didn’t count on my loyal army of prostitutes, did you?” – Mitch (Norm MacDonald), Dirty Work
  • “You will learn a system of self-defense that I learned after two seasons of fighting in the octagon.” – Rex (Diedrich Bader), Napoleon Dynamite
  • “I ain’t got time to bleed!” – Blain (Jesse Ventura), Predator
  • “The light that burns twice as bright burns for half as long – and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy.” – Tyrell (Joe Turkel), Blade Runner
  • “Ray, when someone asks you if you’re a god, you say ‘YES!'” – Winston (Ernie Hudson), Ghostbusters
  • “Why worry? Each one of us is carrying an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back.” – Dr. Pete Venkman (Bill Murray), Ghostbusters
  • “Generally you don’t see that kind of behavior in a major appliance.” – Dr. Pete Venkman (Bill Murray), Ghostbusters
  • “I hate Illinois Nazis.” – Jake Blues (John Belushi), The Blues Brothers
  • “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Oswald was a fag.” – McManus (Stephen Baldwin), The Usual Suspects
  • “I like how you burritoed me in the sofa cushions.” – Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), Up In the Air
  • “Mikey, why don’t you tell that nice girl you love her? I love you with all-a my heart, if I don’t see-a you again soon, I’m-a gonna die!”  – Clemenza (Richard Castellano), The Godfather
  • “Training is NOTHING. Will is EVERYTHING,” – Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), Batman Begins

MOVIE: The White Ribbon (Das weisse Band) (2009)

February 9, 2010

This quiet, disturbing film is the latest by Austrian director Michael Haneke, a filmmaker who doesn’t always impress me with his stories or even his point of view, but who definitely never fails to leave a mark on my brain one way or another (Funny Games in particular, Caché to a lesser extent — and watch for reviews of The Piano Teacher and The Seventh  Continent coming soon).

Annnnd, yeah.  You see that sentence right up there?  I’ve had that sentence written for a week now and I can’t seem to move beyond it.  I have no idea what to say about this film.  I think this film is absolutely brilliant.  Is it?  Am I right about that?  I have no idea.  But it makes me feel like anything I say about it will be almost necessarily stupid by comparison.  Bear with me.

Here’s what I can manage:  The White Ribbon is about a small village in Germany, set just before the start of World War I.  A bunch of weird things are happening — people getting hurt, barns being burned, etc. — and nobody knows who to blame.  There’s a pack of kids in the village who all act strangely — unsettlingly nice, kind of — and we’re led to believe immediately that they are the ones carrying out these progressively horrific  crimes.  Ranging  from ages 6 to 12 or so in about 1917, they would also clearly, then, be the kids who grew up to be Nazi officers and prison guards and the otherwise-evil perpetrators of great cruelty during WWII.

We’re led to believe that their parents, who are an unsettling mix of evil and good, are the ones who put them directly on this path.   We can see how that would be the case quite clearly.  For one thing, the ones who misbehave are made to wear white ribbons in their hair or around their arms to “remind them” of the type of purity they are supposed to be aiming for — marked, like the Jews during WWII, and raised to be obsessed with the concept of white = clean.  The movie is shot in black and white and is sort of hyper-lit so that those whites are almost overpowering in their brightness, the blacks then mostly just shades of various gray.  The look of this film is marvelous.  And very powerful.

There is a shot of a husband crying over the body of his dead wife next to a blindingly bright window that I will never forget — all you see is his back shaking off to the side while this almost painful white blast of sun bores holes into your retinas.  There is the sound of a injured child howling that I will never forget — I almost had to get up and leave the theater at that point, in fact, because the howling was so awful and so real and it went on for an absolutely unbearable amount of time, an amount of time that felt so much longer than necessary (and, oh, Mr. Haneke, I KNOW you did that on purpose).  There is the look on the face of a young girl who glances up nervously with a wistful, fake “it’s all right” smile at her brother while her father is in the middle of abusing her — I will never forget that either.  And, my god, the speech the doctor gives the midwife — that’s when I finally started to cry.  Her face.  Those words.  Her face.

I spent the entire two hours of this film sitting with my knees pulled tightly into my chest.  It was that hard to watch — I needed that much of the rest of my body between me and it.   And yet, at the same time, it was also oddly beautiful.  The narrator, the town schoolteacher, falls in love for the first time while all this is going on, and it was a romance of such quiet charm and innocence.  Such a strange, intense counterbalance to the other stories we were seeing.  And the mothers — the mothers.  Them too.

Oh, you see?  This all sounds utterly inane.  I tried to warn you!   Look, this film is impossible to talk about; you’ll just have to go see it for yourselves and do your own thinking.  When you’re done, come back and think some more with me?  Maybe then we can figure out what to say.

And man, it is SO time to rent some trash now.  Trash coming soon, trash coming in great quantities (aided in no small part by an upcoming trip to Mom’s this week, hurrah!).  Trash, trash, trash, and laughs — I promise.

[Pre-queue it at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Drama
Cast:  Christian Friedel, Ernst Jacobi, Leonie Benesch, Ulrich Tukur