Tuesday, September 22, 2009

9


I am just going to get right down to it. I think this movie is really disappointing. I definitely think that you can live your life without seeing it. The movie would make more sense if you just went along with what was going on, rather than trying to actually understand it. There are a few questions that I would like to go over just to explain why I was confused during the entire movie.

9

Directed by Shane Acker

Produced by Tim Burton

Guest Review by Becki Pearson


This movie is about 9 characters that are living in a world where machines have taken over and destroyed all of mankind. That sentence in itself brings up some questions. The biggest being - what exactly are they? We can only assume they are robots because they were made by a human, but nothing about them is really that technologically advanced. They don’t have any special powers and they definitely weren’t any smarter than humans were - they just look like scared rag dolls. After accepting their unexplained species, another question arises - why didn’t their creator make them bigger? In the beginning of the movie, the viewers don’t understand the purpose why they were created, but even after you do understand, the issue still stands. You would think if he created them to last for all time he would make them at least one foot tall or more. Just seems a little inconvenient and challenging that the 9 are almost smaller than a human hand.


Throughout the movie, the 9’s motivation and will power seemed very episodic and the plot was solely dependent on problems to occur. The same cycle appeared three times in the movie - a new machine was after them (“beasts” as they were referred to), they defeated it by sheer luck, celebrated, and then a new beast appears. I understand that problems have to occur in order for the story to continue, but after watching it three times, with miniscule changes in each, it got to the point where I didn’t even care if they won or not. What did they have to live for anyway? In a world where everything is shattered and broken, how else could they find happiness? I mean, how many times can you listen to “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” on a half-broken record player and actually find true contentment?



Spoiler:

We find of that in the story of 9, the scientist that created them put a little bit of his soul into each of them so they could come together and save the world in the end. Placing sections of your soul into another thing to ensure the longevity of its life… some could argue that the creator himself wanted to live through the 9 characters...sounds oddly like J. K. Rowling’s Horcruxes, does it not? So, comparing the two films with the Harry Potter knowledge that all the Horcruxes had to be found in order to successfully use them, I was very confused when only 4 out of the 9 characters lived and would eventually change the world. If all of them weren’t important, if some of them died but the remaining could still succeed, why were so many of them made?


A friend that saw the movie with me said that the creator must have thought rather highly of himself if he thought that he could save the world single-handedly. With that being true, why wouldn’t he give ANY instructions to the 9 characters he created? Maybe that’s a true lesson to be learned in the movie- all that stuff about learning how that overcoming struggles on your own makes you a better person...yada yada yada. Wouldn’t it just have been easier for the creator to leave a manual of all the steps that would help them along the way of saving the world? The creator obviously thought about this for a long enough period of time to place his own personalities into little dolls, I don’t see why the instructions are that much more of a stretch.


I was impressed, however, with the cast they chose for the personalities of the 9. The cast includes:

(1) Christopher Plummer, the cranky and extremely stubborn old leader

(2) Martin Landau, an elderly engineer

( (3 and 4) Twins that never speak but hold all the records and documents of the past

(5) John C. Reilly, some cool friend of 9 that is really good with tools

(6) Crispin Glover, the artist of the group that is really creepy and keeps repeating himself

(7) Jennifer Connelly, the fearless fighter of the group

(8) serves as 1’s bodyguard

(9) Elijah Wood, who questions all actions and messes up everything because he couldn’t stop trying to be the leader

I have some problems with the characters. If they were all representing different parts of the creator, when why were they all so alike? Each doll was opinionated and had their own way of thinking. 9 strongly disagreed with the ideas of 1, 6 kept saying what needed to be done but no one would pay attention, 7 didn’t want to listen to anyone, 5 didn’t seem to want to do anything because he was a little pansy, 8 just seemed to be a place holder. 3 and 4 were the only characters that I thought were actually original. They had done extensive research and documented all aspects of the past that they could. This only proves that the creator was mentally unstable, or that I just completely missed the story’s reasoning.



It would be interesting to hear a kid’s point of view on this movie. There wasn’t a lot of comedic relief in the film and the characters seemed kind of hard to relate to. Maybe it was because they only had a few chances for character development, but I certainly had no emotional connection towards the 9 characters. Like I said before, I ended up not caring if they won or if they died.


I would pick Spielberg’s War of The Worlds over this one any day.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Fall

Roger Ebert summed this film up pretty well: "You might want to see [it] for no other reason than because it exists. There will never be another like it." I'd argue (and I will, if you dare to read on) there are many reasons to see this film aside from merely its existence, but the essence of his quote rings true: this is a strange movie and if you're not willing to be a little adventurous as an audience member, chances are you won't appreciate The Fall.

The Fall
Co-writer/Director: Tarsem (Singh)
Starring: Lee Pace, Catinca Untaru


Since this one is so far off the radar, here's my abbreviated synopsis, with minor plot spoilers: Set in a Los Angeles hospital around 1915, a little immigrant girl named Alexandria (who has fallen and broken her arm while working in an orange field) meets a man named Roy, a movie stunt man who injured himself on set while trying to impress his girlfriend. The girlfriend unceremoniously dumps him for the leading man in the movie, so Roy is suicidal. He starts telling stories to Alexandria to gain her trust, hoping to trick her into retrieving morphine for him so he can overdose and kill himself. The film weaves back and forth (Princess Bride style) between the hospital framing device and the epic tale as imagined by the young girl. Check out the trailer below.



As evidenced by that trailer, you can tell that this director is extremely visually-oriented. His only other film thus far was The Cell back in 2000; that film was extraordinarily under-rated and, though perverse in many ways, hauntingly watchable. Jennifer Lopez notwithstanding, The Cell is notable for outstanding cinematography and establishing a clear, original voice for Tarsem Singh (who has recently joined the douche-filled ranks of the One-Namers, cutting his last name and opting to be known only as "Tarsem" in the credits for The Fall). As a point of reference, this movie was released in 2006 and hit U.S. theaters in 2008. [Also, if you're going to rent it, you've gotta see the Blu-ray. Gorgeous.]


Getting back to the story at hand, The Fall succeeds in presenting the dichotomy of a dazzling world of massive landscapes, gorgeous terrain, and heightened caricatures with an intimate portrayal of a heartbroken man and a curious girl who has placed her hopes in his imagination. [In this way, it reminds me of the outstanding Pan's Labyrinth, one of my favorite movies from 2006. HIGHLY recommend it.] The filmmakers did a great job of placing us in the mindset of Alexandria by adding subconscious visual cues throughout the film to keep the audience relating to her. One example I'm thinking of (which you can see in the trailer) is the paint in the hospital hallways. The walls are painted a vivid green color when equal with Alexandria's height, representing her imaginative mind; this is contrasted with the drab tan of the walls when they reach adult height levels. A better example of the filmmakers shifting the audience's perspective in the child's favor is a tactic used brilliantly in The Wizard of Oz: many of the actors portray characters both in the "real life" hospital scenario and also within the confines of Roy's story to Alexandria.


Lee Pace (star of ABC's now-defunct "Pushing Daisies") was fantastic as the bedridden Roy, delivering a Cusack-esque performance that made his character instantly likable - even with his suicidal subplot. Obvious-first-time-actress Catinca Untaru was a weak link as far as acting goes, but the breathlessness of the movie and the way Roy's tale pulls you into the tale almost makes her performance a non-factor. Funny aside: Tarsem and Lee Pace decided before the production that Pace would actually be confined to a wheelchair for much of the shoot in order to evoke a more realistic performance from the girl.


The story within the story is a sprawling epic featuring bandits, explosives experts, bows and arrows, mystics, Charles Darwin (?!), monkeys, and some badass costumes. Seriously, the costume design from Eiko Ishioka is worth checking out, and costume design is rarely something that warrants mentioning from this writer. The secondary characters are given their own flamboyant color schemes, and the effect is sometimes similar to one achieved by those fighting movies like Kickboxer and The Quest to the extent that the characters seem like huge stereotypes because of their attire; unlike those fighting films, the situation these instances appear in The Fall is within an elaborate fairy tale, so the film doesn't need to adhere to the normal rules in that regard. Filming took place on 26 locations across 18 countries and took four years to complete. The visuals in The Fall are unlike anything I've ever seen, and the sheer magnitude of what you see on screen is mind-blowing at points. Tarsem claims that there are no special effects used in the entire film, which I find incredibly hard to believe. At one point, they stumble across a city painted blue at the base of a huge castle. That really exists? I guess I'd have to actually go there to prove him wrong, so Tarsem - 1, Pearson - 0. Touche, sir. He did get a live elephant to swim and filmed it underwater, so I guess I'll give him a little credit. Actually, a lot of credit. The dude's a freakin' genius.


I feel like I've sufficiently complimented every aspect of this movie that I can, since I really don't have many complaints I suppose I'll end the review here. If you're really into movies, I'd suggest checking this one out. But like I said - be prepared for some weirdness. It's not David Lynch-weird, but it's certainly not mainstream. The more movies I see, the more I appreciate productions like this that don't fit nicely into the Hollywood box. It's these films (lower budget, mostly independent) that I find myself loving far more than the blockbusters we get today. If you're getting tired of the same formulaic crap force-fed to you all the time, then The Fall is a breath of fresh air. I'd recommend a back-to-back screening with Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth for an optimum viewing experience. Until next time...

Trivia: Tarsem was at one point attached to direct a remake of Michael Crichton's Westworld, and is now slated to direct a movie called War of Gods for a 2010 release. The logline: "Greek warrior Theseus battles against imprisoned titans." Henry Cavill (Albert Mondego from The Count of Monte Cristo) is attached as Theseus.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Jackie Brown

I've written before about my feelings regarding Quentin Tarantino, but for those too lazy to go back and read them (myself included), I'll try to provide a brief summation. I dug Pulp Fiction as much as the next guy. I respect QT for popularizing the fragmented narrative that we've been inundated with over the past 15 years, and I support the notion that Pulp Fiction is arguably one of the best representations of that type of film structure. That said, the man's personality and massive ego color my perception of his films. I'm aware that every filmmaker is influenced in countless ways from an infinite number of sources. Most directors make subtle homages to these influences, paying respect to those who have come before. Tarantino, as the last few films on his resume indicate, has a massive amount of respect for genre work. Exploitation, western, kung fu, you name it. The guy loves movies (he used to work in a video store), and I dig that. The thing I have a problem with is how blatant and cocky he is about his references. There's a great piece about QT at The Guardian the touches on the point I'm trying to make...

I just realized I don't even know the point I'm trying to make. Is it that QT lives in his own world and doesn't fall in line with the traditional filmmaking standards? That's not a bad thing! That's good! Is it that he hides behind the veil of these various genre movies instead of creating something original? No, because every one of his genre films can double as both an homage and an entry into that genre, crafted with a very particular voice and style. In the intro to Jackie Brown, he apologizes to audiences for having to wait five years for the DVD release. But immediately afterward, he revels in smugness; he says "I wanted to make you wait and appreciate it...I wanted you to salivate for it." I may not like how pretentious and self-indulgent he is (the man really loves to hear his own words, whether spoken through his own mouth or his actors), but his movies are much more entertaining than 80% of the garbage that gets churned out of Hollywood every year. Holy crap. Did I...? I think I just became a Tarantino fan.

Jackie Brown
Writer/Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson


Jackie Brown was released in 1997, and because until thirty seconds ago one of my personal traits used to be "not liking Tarantino," I never got around to (nor had interest in) seeing it. The story follows the titular character, a middle-aged African-American flight attendant who delivers gun money to a dealer, as she gets caught up in a whirlwind of murder, extortion, greed, double crosses, bail bondsmen, ATF agents, and five hundred thousand dollars hovering in the eye of the storm. The screenplay was based on the Elmore Leonard novel "Rum Punch," but QT adapted the story to fit the "blaxploitation" genre and retain its "who's going to end up with the money?" mystery in tact at the same time. (Leonard was an executive producer for the film.)


Aside from True Romance (which he wrote but didn't direct), I think the dialogue in Jackie Brown was the most enjoyable of Tarantino's films. Samuel L. Jackson and Chris Tucker have some great interactions in the beginning of the movie, highlighted by QT's signature long takes that really allow the actors to shine and I'm sure make him happy to hear his dialogue recited uninterrupted. Check out his segment of the directorial ensemble film Four Rooms for another prime example of what I'm talking about. There are also some great subtle (how un-QT-like) exchanges between Pam Grier and Robert Forster, who plays bail bondsmen Max Cherry. When Jackie asks Max if he wants some coffee, he says sure. "The milk went bad when I was in jail," she notices. He casually looks her up and down and responds "Black's fine." Awesome. Oh, if you're offended by the use of the "F" word and/or the "N" word, then by all means stay far away. I actually looked up how many times they drop the F bomb in this movie, and it's meager 145 pales in comparison with other things I've seen. It just seems so much more intense when Samuel L. Jackson is dropping bombs.


Admittedly, I'm not well-versed in blaxploitation films (the upcoming Black Dynamite looks pretty excellent), so I can't speak to how effective Jackie Brown fits into that particular mold of films. As a crime/heist movie, it works wonders. Practically every scene has Jackie meeting with a different person and making the audience believe that she is working with him/her to retrieve the money. I had no idea whether she was double-triple-or-quadruple crossing people until the finale, which plays out in an interesting off-set time style centering on main characters' POV's one at a time.


The acting is pretty magnificent from all the big players. Tarantino seems to have a way with revitalizing careers (Travolta, obvs), and Pam Grier was on the receiving end of his helping hand this time around. Grier gives a great performance here, especially considering she actually starred in many of the 70's films Jackie Brown simulates, but she tones down her acting to a very believable level. Samuel L. Jackson rises above the rest as the smooth-talking gun-runner Ordell Robbie, and Chris Tucker's brief appearance as Beaumont was a triumph for the casting director (coincidentally named "Jaki Brown." Hah!). Michael Keaton plays Ray Nicolette, an ATF agent trying to lock Ordell away for good; his commitment made me remember why I like Michael Keaton so much. His relatively small role was perfectly executed here, and the character humorously reappeared in Soderbergh's Out of Sight the next year. Soderbergh (director of the Ocean's trilogy) said that was the first time the same character has been portrayed by the same actor in two unrelated films (although both were based on the stories of Elmore Leonard). Robert De Niro plays a stoner named Lou, who I consider a spiritual continuation of his character from Michael Mann's masterwork Heat. Both characters are bank robbers, and his character in Jackie Brown just got out of a four year stretch in prison. I imagine this would be what would become of Neil McCauley if the final events of Heat were altered slightly.


The only bit of trivia that had me perplexed was Robert Forster's nomination for Best Supporting Actor in his role of bail bondsman Max Cherry. If anyone deserved a nomination for anything in this movie, it was Sam Jackson. Personally, I thought Forster's performance was one of the weaker aspects of the movie. Guess that highlights the differences between my thoughts and those of the Academy. From what I understand, Forster was a pretty popular actor at one point and fell away from acting, only to be brought back in this film. So maybe it was a kind of "honorary" nomination or something like that.

As is usually the case with Tarantino's films, the soundtrack is of paramount important to the final dynamic of the movie. He shoots and scores with Jackie Brown, opening a time machine back to the days of Motown and Marvin Gaye, the Delfonics and Diana Ross. If you dig that time in music history, you should appreciate the musical choices made here. There was no traditional score composed for the movie, which I found a bit odd but makes sense due to the repetition of many of the songs on the soundtrack throughout the film. Also consistent with the norms of QT's films is how great the entire production looked. But unlike some of the more over the top movies he's done in the past (Kill Bill Vol. 1), Jackie Brown has a subdued visual style that I appreciated. I noticed the director of photography's name go past in the opening credits and did a double-take: Guillermo Navarro. This guy is extremely versatile, shooting films such as Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy, Zathura, and Night at the Museum. Chalk this one up on his list of successes. A $12 million dollar budget is practically pennies in Hollywood these days (even back then it was pretty small), but having talented crew and a solid vision made Jackie Brown look way better than the budget might imply.


I think this review has benefited me more than any of you, because by typing out my thoughts I've corrected a misguided judgment that I erroneously maintained for years. Hopefully you got some enjoyment out of it, or at the very least it's convinced you to throw the movie into your rental queue. I'm off to re-think my decision to wait to see Inglorious Basterds until it hits DVD. Until next time...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What I've Been Watching, Episode 5

Hmmm. Something got screwed up in the transfer process, so the run time on this video is something like 32 minutes. Fear not - the actual video is only around 16, and honestly it doesn't even feel like it's that long. You'll know when to stop watching - there's a clear end point and then the audio begins again for some reason. Technology...ANYWAY, hope you enjoy. Until next time...