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Archive for June, 2010

Movie Star of the Month is now in its second month. I am still deciding on the format, here goes for now:

The Contenders who didn’t win are: Casey Affleck for proving he is one of the best young actors around in “The Killer Inside Me”.  Richard Gere for showing us why he became a movie star with a vintage performance in “Brooklyn’s Finest”.  Vanessa Redgrave for showing the kids how its done in “Letters to Juliet”.  The winner is:

For the standout performance from a talented ensemble cast in 4.3.2.1

Ophelia Lovibond

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Continuing my Batman speculation. What should Christopher Nolan’s third Batman movie be called? Here are a few suggestions, some mine, others have been doing the rounds on the interweb for the past year or two.

  • Batman
  • The Batman
  • The Dark Knight Returns
  • The Dark Knight Part II
  • Return of The Dark Knight
  • Gotham City (my personal favourite)
  • Gotham Knight
  • Battle For Gotham
  • Gotham Dawn
  • The Shadow of the Bat
  • Batman: Mask of the Phantom
  • Batman 3
  • Batman 3D (please, no don’t do it!)
  • Batman: Endgame

Any other suggestions?

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Letters to Juliet

My normal film viewing has been interrupted by the world cup. When I did have a couple of hours to kill I found there actually wasn’t much to see so ended up going to see a movie I would probably normally have passed over.

Magazine fact checker and would be journalist Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and her finance Victor (Gael García Bernal) take a pre wedding romantic holiday to Verona. Knowing they wouldn’t have time when Victor’s new Italian restaurant opens the holiday is in lieu of a honeymoon. Once in the beautiful and romantic city Victor takes time out from his fiancé to visit suppliers for his business, Sophie fills the time by becoming involved with a group of woman referring to themselves as “Juliet’s secretaries” who respond to letters written to Juliet Capulet.* She accidentally discovers a letter that has remained unseen for fifty years and decides to respond setting a chain of events in motion including helping Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) find the man she stood-up half a century before. The events also make Sophie question her own relationship.

Before I go on I have to point out that anyone who has read a couple or more of my reviews will know “contrived” is one of my most overused words when referring to plots. The elements that have to fall into place in this movie are so random that contrived doesn’t even begin to describe it, as such you must accept this in the same way as you suspend disbelief in a Sci-Fi movies.

In movie-land taking a pre-wedding holiday in lieu of a honeymoon is as sure to doom a relationship as having an affair with the best man so I don’t think I’m giving much away here. The cracks are evident as soon as you see Victor and Sophie together making you wonder how they got this far.

Gael García Bernal plays Victor to perfection, over acting at every opportunity. The self centred chef/restaurateur is very reminiscent of Giovanni Ribisi’s character in Lost in Translation. Amanda Seyfried does a great job and keeps the story ticking along nicely in a part she could have done in her sleep. But they are far from the best thing about the movie, that would be Vanessa Redgrave who brings a certain grandeur and gravitas to this movie they way she did with Atonement. To add to the perfection of the casting, her long lost love is played by Franco Nero who she had a relationship (and a child) with in the 60’s, separated then got back together and eventually married (in 2006). The near genius casting doesn’t extend to the character of her grandson Charlie, it is actually the biggest problem with the movie; Hollywood movies and American TV are full of British actors playing American characters or European villains. Now a British character comes along and is played by an Australian actor, Christopher Egan who both struggles with his accent and is a very week actor. To add to this he has absolutely no chemistry with Seyfried. How can you fail to have chemistry with Amanda Seyfried, just look into those big green eyes!

Also on positive point of view we are spared the poorly cast flashbacks often present in this type of movie, the stunning scenery of Verona and the surrounding countryside is very well captured. The negative, it is disposable and overly fluffy, the plot is hugely predictable and for every moment of great dialogue (there are one or two) there are several moments of pure cheese. Overall it is an inoffensive disposable movie but not one I will rush to see again.

Three Stars out of Five (but it would have been two without Vanessa Redgrave)

 

*a little research tells me there really is a group called Club di Giulietta (Juliet Club) who for the past 30 years have responded to letters written to Juliet.

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A few of you will have read how my blog got its name, those who haven’t click here to find out. This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the (criminally limited) release of the movie Fandango. A few of the people I met on my trip to Texas two years ago, and a few who couldn’t make it then are going back to do it all again in just three weeks time. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it myself but it seemed like a good time to share some images from the movie along with my own photographs from 2008.

Kevin Costner overlooking the Rio Grande in the movie. Me on the same perch 25 years later.

 

A publicity shot and at the Chata Ortegas location and how it looks these days.

The Groovers ’59 Cadillac and my (rented) ’08 Cadillac, they didn’t have one in blue!

Pecos Parachute School” aka Rattlesnake Air Force Base in Pyote. As seen in the movie and the remains as they were in 2008. It isn’t currently possible to get onto the base so I don’t know if this year’s groovers will make it there.  I recently found out via Jeff who is organising this year’s trip that due to safety concerns what remains of the hanger will be demolished.

 

The Groovers after they have “dug up dom”.  And some of the people who made the “pilgrimage” second from the left is Chuck Bush who played Dorman in the movie, second from the right is me. (Thanks to Jesper (the guy in the middle with the bottle of champagne) for helping me find the old photos used here today.

The Gas station from the movie and how is now.

The town square in San Elizario in the movie and how it is now. That’s Chuck again standing where he did for the wedding scene in the movie. The movie makes the town look like a small town in the wilds of West Texas (like many of the other sets) but is actually part of El Paso County near El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (Royal Highway) that ran from Mexico City to Santa Fe.

San Elizario Chapel or “La Capilla de San Elcear”. I couldn’t find a decent image of it from the movie but thought I would share my own photography anyway. If you watch the end of the movie the scene where Phil Hicks (Judd Nelson)and Dorman (Chuck Bush) say there farewells it is shot in front of the chapel.

We didn’t recreate this stunt but we did drink some Shiner beer.

  

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The third and probably final Christopher Nolan Batman Movie looks like it will be going into production soon with a summer 2012 release. Speculation has been rife ever since the success of the second movie in the series The Dark Night became the second highest grossing movie of all time (it has since been overtaken by the giant Smurf movie). During that time Nolan has refused to be drawn on plot, characters and casting, this has only served to fuel the fires of speculation with rumors presented as fact. My personal favorites that Cher has been cast as Catwoman, I have no inside knowledge on the iner workings of Christopher Nolen’s brain or the Warner boardroom, but I think I can spot that one as made up! Probably fanned by studio statements saying there isn’t even a script yet there have also been rumors that their wouldn’t be a third movie or that Nolan would not direct it. You don’t need an economics degree (fortunately as I don’t have one) to work out that the studio are going to turn down this license to print money.

As I said I know nothing about the new movie other than the odd press release that I have read so I won’t speculate on the plot and the casting. This doesn’t stop me from making suggestions of what I would do in the director or studios place given the opportunity. The sad death of Heath Ledger leaves a hole in the plot for the third movie. The good thing is that my understanding is that there was not a plot in place previously so it isn’t as if they will be rehashing an existing idea to work around the issue. I see three options:

  1. Forget the Joker, he is locked away in the depths of Arhham, move on.
  2. Replace Ledger with a different actor.
  3.  The middle ground, make a film about how the city recovers from the events of The Dark Knight where the Joker is mentioned but not seen.

I favor the third option making the whole movie about moving on, recovery and rebirth, this would be relevant for the world at the moment and the way The Dark Knight finished. It would also represent a real story arc for Bruce Wayne and the City staring with the death of his parents at the start of Begins and ending with ???

My story would be something like this: The police face a war on the streets of Gotham as Mobsters move in from other cities to take over the vacuum left at the end of the last film. At the same time street gangs are trying to take over but are at war with each other and disillusioned with the police and Batman virility groups start appearing too. The place is a mess, with other violent crime, street crime and looting driving businesses out of the city. It is like the aftermath of a war or serious natural disaster. There is even a gang who worship the joker and emulate him by painting their faces the way he did, kidnapping people and taking hostages making demands such as the Jokers release.

As all this is going on, in the background news reports describing how tests are underway to discover the true identity of the Joker and decide if he is fit to stand trial. This would include interviews with his doctor, Dr. Harleen Quinzel (she may go through a transformation following her involvement with the Joker), and his lawyer who claims the joker is innocent and was framed by Batman. Eventually we reach a point where public support tips and the people of Gotham want Batman’s help before it’s too late.

This is a rough outline rather than a coherent plot that is something for the director and writers to decided and the first decision they have to make is how will it end? Without knowing where he is going he isn’t going to be able to write a coherent story of how he gets there. If we are to believe that it is the last of the Christopher Nolan Batman Movies and that he wants an “appropriate conclusion” and not a stepping stone to further movies.

  • Bruce Wayne dies.
  • Bruce Wayne is arrested and convicted.
  • Bruce Wayne stops being Batman as his job is done.
  • Bruce Wayne gives up being Batman as he doesn’t think he can make a difference any more.
  • Bruce Wayne hands the Batman persona to someone else to continue his work.
  • Batman continues to fight crime because the world is imperfect and Gotham still needs him.

Although the last of these options would normally be the most likely one I have a sneeking suspicion that Christopher Nolan will tie up the trilogy in such a way to prevent someone else from following it. The next Batman movie after this one will have to be a reboot, and we won’t have to suffer a Joel Schumacher like catastrophe the way we did in the 90’s. For all this to work we need a main antagonist to be pulling the strings and have the classic good vs evil toe to toe fight at the end. Predictable and formulaic I know but it has to be done. So who is that villain? The first thing I would say is that I expect the movie to be plot driven and the villian will be made to fit the plot rather than picking a villain then trying to devise a plot for him. Having said that, especially if this is going to be Nolan’s last movie in the Batman universe it needs a memorable villain. My options are:

  • The Riddler: Edward Nigma: Criminal mastermind and all round loon, he likes to riddles and puzzles at scenes as clues. A regular in the 60’s TV show and played by Jim Carrey in Batman Forever (1995), a film so bad the only good thing I can say about it is that it was better than Batman Forever. The latest gossip/rumours have Joseph Gordon Levitt playing him in the new movie.
  • Black Mask: Roman Sionis: A former business executive/cult leader/mob boss and general criminal who hates Bruce Wayne. See more about him here. He has appeared on Tv in the aminated series but never in a real life version.
  • The Penguin: Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot: Usually dressed in top hat and tails and carrying an umbrella he fancies himself a gentleman of crime. He was played by Danny DeVito in Batman Returns (2002). Christopher Nolan is said to have dismissed him as too unrealistic for his universe. As portrayed previously he would be but I think there is some room to manoeuvre here. He could simply be a tuxedo wearing nightclub owner with mob connections and a fast growing crime empire.
  • The Mad Hatter: Jervis Tetch: A scientist with an obsession with Lewis Carroll, his appearance is based on the character of the same name from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. An old-school villain from the 40’s and 50’s he appeared in the 60’s TV show and the animated series but has not been used in the Burton or Nolan Batman universes.

As part of the rebirth process Bruce Wayne needs a new love interest, it has to be someone who is in some way dangerous or inappropriate, the ideal choices would be Harleen Quinzel, Talia al Ghul or for me the only real choice would be Selina Kyle. As this is potentially a last movie and there isn’t time to play with characters there is no point in introducing Harleen Quinzel if she isn’t going to become Harley Quinn and there is no point in introducing Selina Kyle if she isn’t going to become Catwoman!

Given the first two movies whatever he decides to do with it I’m in. He certainly hasn’t let us down so far! And where does Batman go from here? This would still be my first choice.

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Japanese director Ryûhei Kitamura made his feature début ten years ago with Versus. He has always had a taste for the bizarre and a flair for style. As he has slowly moved towards the mainstream and western cinema I hope that is something that doesn’t change.

Ryûhei Kitamura’s first feature, Versus (2000):A quite bizarre film that combines the Zombie and Gangster genres with a few sword fights thrown in for good measure. The Forest of Resurrection is the “444th portal to the other side” one of 666! An escaped convict, a woman and a group of gangsters all find their way there. As people are killed and buried they come back to life as zombie type creatures accompanied by the evil spirit that resurrected them. Although clearly low budget the film is full of imaginarily executed action sequences and some fantastic fight scenes. A sequel has long been rumoured as the film has little narrative closure. There has been no sequel yet but in 2004 The Ultimate Versus was a 3 disc DVD that can be described as the ultimate directors cut. The film features completely new footage shot with the original cast and crew. There has also been talk of an American based sequel/remake that would be set at the same time as the original film but using one of the other portals. All I can say is don’t do it, they will never be able to recreate the raw simple bizarre original.

Having finished his work early as one of nine directors on a short film Project called Jam Films Ryûhei Kitamura and another director Yukihiko Tsutsumi were given the opportunity by produced Shinya Kawai. The two directors proposed to make a film in one week featuring two actors battling in one setting. The two films had the collective name of Duel Project; Ryûhei Kitamura’s film was called Aragami (2003). A simple story of a god and a samurai fighting in series of battles in an isolated temple. He did break the rules a little bringing in a few other actors to play smaller parts to help the narrative. An interesting film project that is well worth a look.

His next film was possibly his best to date, Azumi (2003) is the story of an orphaned girl who is raised along with nine other children by a master Samurai. After years of training they have to face one final test before going on their first mission. The test is nothing short of brutal. Their mission is to kill three warlords preventing a civil war that will be devastating for the country. The main reason the film works is the lead character Azumi (played by the impossibly cute Aya Ueto) as proved by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill and Ang Lee in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, you can’t go far wrong when you give a beautiful woman a sword and drop her into the middle of the male dominated action genre.

Sky High (2003)returns the director to a more supernatural setting after the almost real world of Azumi. It is based on a Manga comic of the same name and ties in to a TV series of the same name. A serial killer is killing people and taking their hearts. Detective Kanzaki who is on the case believes along with the rest of the police that the killings are random. However it is revealed that the victims are guardians of the gateway to the afterlife. The next victim is Mina, Kanzaki’s fiancée on the day they are due to be married. The killers Kudo and Rei are actual after six hearts they need to summon demons from the Gate of Rage who will grant their every desire. The unfortunate side effect is that doing this will open the gate of rage sending the world into darkness. In the afterlife Mina meats the guardian of the gate and is presented with three options and twelve days to make an impossible decision.

Godzilla: Final Wars (2004): (original title: Gojira Fainaru uôzu) Unlike the other movies on the list I actually haven’t seen this one but as a fan of Gojira movies I had to include it. In the 50th Anniversary Godzilla’s movie Gojira (Godzilla) travels around the globe to fight his foes old and new.

Based on a short story by Clive Barker The Midnight Meat Train (2008) is Ryuhei Kitamura’s first English language film. Looking for inspiration for his art photographer Leon (Bradley Cooper – pre The Hangover so he was still best known as a TV actor at the time) descends into the subway at night. He saves a young girl from a group of attackers only to find out the next day that she has disappeared. With the police unwilling to help he starts to investigate himself. In a Blow Up style scene he studies his photographs and discovers a mysterious man, Mahogany (Vinnie Jones), a butcher by trade is killing people on the late night train, but how long has he been doing it for and why? In an interesting plot device we get to see a little more of what Mahogany is doing after each killing until finally through Leon we get to see his clinical process. The visual style is great with use of slow motion and time lapse as well as excellent use of light. Although bloody, gory and violent it is actually quite tame in comparison to the directors Japanese films. In the final half hour the film begins to play with the audiences perception of what is going on before the final reveal. Someone had clearly seen Vinnie Jones in Gone In Sixty Seconds and realised it would be best to keep his lines to an absolute minimum, I think they succeeded!

His next movie Black Friday 3D is rumoured to be in production. Hearsay and conjecture suggest it will be a slasher and or serial killer movie and it is set to star Lindsay Lohan. Little is known about the movie, the plot description on IMDB says: “A couple is viciously assaulted while vacationing over the Fourth of July weekend; authorities find Diane in the throws of death and evacuate her to the hospital. The local authorities proceed with an in depth search that holds no evidence of the attacker. Diane’s older brother Kevin enlists the help of four college friends to seek out the elusive masked murderer. As their search progresses the youths come across a remote lodge that holds pure hellish terror and the friends soon find themselves face to face with the infamous serial killer Tyler Hillburg!”

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Brooklyn’s Finest

Antoine Fuqua has produced movies of varying quality over the past dozen years, the highlight being Training Day (2001). His new movie Brooklyn’s Finest is a reunion with both the subject matter and one of his stars Ethan Hawke. Three New York cops are working through there personal and professional issues:

Eddie (Richard Gere) only has seven days left on the job, he probably has a drinking problem and he has clearly been going through the motions for a long time, maybe for his entire career. He just wants to get the week out of the way so he can move on with his life but the powers that be have other ideas forcing him baby-sit the departments newbie’s.

Tango (Don Cheadle) has been undercover for so long the edges are beginning to blur and he isn’t sure which way is up. He is desperate to get out but he has one last job to do. He is forced to assess his values when he has to set up a person who saved his life.

Sal (Ethan Hawke) is filled with catholic guilt, he also has to deal with his sick and pregnant wife and money problems. It isn’t a question of weather or not he will cross the line, it is how many lines is he is prepared to cross.

The three stories are all compelling and could have made a movie in their own right. As it is, the movie’s structure feels fragmented and sometimes distracting. The thing that saves the movie from descending into mediocrity is great performances from the three leads Hawke, Cheadle and particularly Gere. Richard Gere is somewhat limited in his acting ability but given the right script and character he can be brilliant, this is one of those occasions. The weakest story is the one surrounding Ethan Hawke’s character but his performance and support from Lili Taylor in a small part as his wife and Brian F. O’Byrne as a colleague.  There is also a small but significant part for Wesley Snipes in what is unfortunately these days a rare glimpse of the onetime star in a theatrically released movie

The film starts slowly and sometimes struggles to keep itself on track. The film also lacks any decent female characters giving it a something of a dated feel at times. As it gains momentum it also begins to hold the viewers interest before working itself to a tense and satisfying conclusion. My one underlying feeling is that I have seen the Ethan Hawk and Don Cheadle stories before but Richard Gere’s journeyman cop could have made a great movie on its own.

Three Stars out of Five

Parts of the movie deserve four but as a whole three is fair!

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