By guest columnist k.e.n.n.y.h.
…it’s all about family…well ok it’s supposed to be about cool cars…but also huge explosions…and over the top action sequences. But yeah, there’s family too…
This summer we see the return of a sci-fi cult hero who hasn’t been seen in over 30 years, written and directed by his original creator, George Miller, who worked tediously for years to bring him back. Making fans wait, he has finally returned to the screen: Mad Max, hero of his own post-apocalyptic series of films that started in 1979. After months of on set issues and re-shoots Miller finally gets to unleash his movie: Mad Max: Fury Road. Was it worth the wait? No. No it was not.
Seth MacFarlane, the mastermind behind Family Guy, American Dad, and the 2012 hit Ted, is back with his signature brand of comedy. This time he tackles the old west with his new movie A Million Ways to Die in the West. Set in 1882 Arizona, Albert Stark (MacFarlane) a sheep farmer who lacks courage, loses his beloved girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) as a result in not competing in a duel. Feeling lost and heartbroken, he soon meets Anna (Charlize Theron). Through her, he discovers his inner confidence and courage, realizing his true potential when Anna’s husband, infamous outlaw Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), arrives in town seeking retribution for Stark’s relationship with his wife. Thus all kinds of gross comedy ensue.
The answer to the following 2 rhetorial questions is “yes.” Are we so cynical as movie consumers that we automatically expect a science fiction comic book adaptation starring a recent Oscar winner to suck rocks? Is Hollywood so out of touch with the mainstream of what people want to see in movies that their sure-fire hits end up almost exclusively misses, but sometimes their red-headed stepchildren end up being tons of fun? As one of my companions noted, in surprise at the non-suckiness of Aeon Flux, “the glass is half full.” This is not to say that Aeon Flux is an instant classic or a pants-wettingly exciting adaptation of a forgotten graphic novel. However, it is also not a Catwomanesque career killer nor a wasted 93 minutes. And it has the coolest locations since Gattaca.
Lately, science fiction seems to go in two directions: One is the Blade Runneresque dark, grimy, seemingly inevitable future of analogue and digital hybrids and extremes. The other is the shiny, moderne, soft focus idealized “technology has solved all our problems” of the latter-day Star Treks. What’s nifty about Aeon Flux is that the last city of Bregna wants to be living the shiny happy people song that is Trek’s rough contemporary
400 years in our future, but actually is a disgusting morass of immorality and fear, just like the wet streets of the other kind of movie. On top of all this, it has technology so advanced it turns more into a fantasy movie. Aeon has a ring that sloughs off chips that can respond to a command and (there’s no other word for it) magically assemble into a destructive mass. To imagine a technology capable of producing such a thing is mind bogglingly abstract, whereas a replicator or faster than light drives, whether impossible or not, can be explained on some vaguely satisfying level. It was neat to fall into a world where much of what makes it “sci fi” is really fantastical.
Charlize Theron and her handsome costar Marton Csokas have quite a load to carry. They have to demonstrate two sides of a political divide that has evolved from a crazy source and into a desperate situation, while still keeping it relevant to us in the audience. While sometimes I felt that the information could have been parsed out to us in a more efficient (or interesting) way, overall by the end I had enough questions answered to enjoy all the exciting parts. They are supported by a small posse of reliable indie film stalwarts, lending them gravitas and keeping the cheese factor down as much as possible. I couldn’t help thinking, however, that these venerable actors must have been shown a different script than the one that played out at my multiplex. Be that as it may, while I can live forever never seeing it again, I am glad I saw it. It doesn’t hurt that Charlize Theron is so beautiful to look at, and her character is called upon to do and wear so many interesting things, it’s almost like watching an exotic creature in a zoo – even when it’s kind of being boring, it still commands your attention.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/2/05
Time in minutes 93
Director Karyn Kusama
If you have any interest in seeing this movie, you already know that ballet-trained South African beauty Charlize Theron transforms herself into Aileen Wuornos, a freeway prostitute who was executed for her crimes as a serial killer. What you don’t know, even if you have read about it in the press, is how incredibly Theron (as an icon and as an actress) is transformed, and how amazingly real and human and three dimensional she is in this role. Roger Ebert has not been shy about his admiration of the performance, and no doubt he has verbalized it a hundred times better than I ever could.
However, let me tell you this. After watching, agog, scenes I would normally turn my head from, and after watching a quiet resolution which I already knew was coming (thanks to the just-viewed preview for the documentary on Aileen Wuornos that is coming soon), I was still, quiet, and floored. And then, without any warning, as the credits rolled, I burst into tears. Pure, intense sobbing, as if I endured the events of the film myself (and how horribly vain to even pretend that I could imagine what Wuornos’ experience was). It was not just the quiet sympathetic cry one might have at the end of House of Sand and Fog. It was not the “I totally get that too!” blubbering reserved for Lilo and Stitch (my companion for both movies can attest). No, it was sheer grief, grief for her life, sympathy or empathy for her past, the cards she was dealt, and the choices to which she was (or felt she was) limited, which I only could have felt to such an intense degree because of what Ms. Theron was doing up on screen. Seriously.
It does a disservice to Theron’s acting to even talk about the physical transformation that she goes through – as costar Christina Ricci put it (and I paraphrase), no amount of weight or makeup or padding can hide a bad performance. We were fortunate to see the preview of the Aileen Wuornos story (a documentary rather than a semi-fictionalized account of her final downfall) so we could really appreciate the uncanniness of the physical resemblance, both in physiognomy as well as movement and full body posturing. It is also possible that I hate more than you, Constant Reader, the hyping quality of reviews which practically order you to adore this film or be ostracized for your ignorance if you don’t. All I am saying here is that I was completely sucked in, I was saddened, horrified, terrified, and I grieved. I also will be about 6 inches from the television screen come Oscar night screaming Charlize’s name until she walks up onto that podium. To think that ice princess and serial-dead panner Nicole Kidman could be nominated in the same category as this performance makes my stomach turn.
The music by the enigmatically named BT (I am told he does house music) is incredibly effective, especially in a scene where Wuornos crosses the most major event horizon in her life. It is a hard movie to watch, but it is worth any discomfort you might feel to get to witness this extraordinary performance.
MPAA Rating R -strong violence/sexual content/language
Release date 12/24/03
Time in minutes 109
Director Patty Jenkins
Studio Newmarket Films
After a friend came back from seeing the Devil’s Advocate creaming over its “epic struggle between good and evil,” (and after a canned food drive allowed me to get in for the price of 3 cans of soup), I decided to act against my disdain for Keanu Reeves and Master Thespian of ACTing Al Pacino and go see it. I was ready to like it. I even noticed funny things in my notebook: Penta Plaza is the building the firm is in, stuff like that.
Three hours of my life, one hour of life per canned good I donated to suffer through this movie, were wasted. I could have sat in the parking lot eating room temperature cheese ravioli and had a better time. To loosely paraphrase The Onion, knowing the name of director Taylor Hackford is only notable for purposes of avoiding his future work. My notes went from finding favor with pretty minor visual gags to: “Kinda boring.” (This was early on, before it was relentlessly boring) “Not enough mythical.” “Goony cult shit after hospital & Keanu Reeves is the Omega Man.” “Yawner denouement.” YES I actually wrote that.
OK, the premise is that Reeves is a slick southern lawyer married to the extremely talented Charlize Theron who gets mixed up with slick city lawyer Pacino who naturally turns out to be Satan. Gasp! Lawyers and the devil! What a compelling combination! How novel! And where is the good guy side to epically battle Satan (who, borrowing riffs from the Word of God in a laughably long and stupid 3rd reel monologue, seems more interested in petty criminals roaming the streets than toppling or even ruffling the kingdom of Heaven)?
The first 10 minutes starts out looking like an interesting film, filled with moral consequences and stuff – and with a hell of a performance by Heather Matarazzo (Welcome to the Dollhouse). Then it just gets stupid. Ooh, watch Pacino leer as he dips a finger into a thing of holy water and it bubbles! Oh man, you mean, like lawyers are courted by the devil? DUDE! Name your lawyers-are-evil joke and it’s in there. Theron, the housebound and isolated wife to Reeves, never takes it to the whiny level the director obviously wanted her to do, and instead is really great, with genuine fear and a descent into madness that would render this movie watchable if it weren’t for the fact that we know she is tormented because she took this job. Go, Charlize!
A couple of creepy visuals and hugely telegraphed plot points – oh, to hell with it, if you see it after reading this, you’d still figure it out – Pacino is Reeves’ father oooh! He wants lawyerboy to make it with that hot lawyerchick that the camera lingered on so unnecessarily. aah! If they make a baybay (as Keanu says) then it will be the real Antichrist and Satan can get it going real good! Judith Ivey is the Bible thumping mom of Keanu Antichrist and she really is very good too. Even his royal Dudeness is not as annoying as he usually is – my theory is that the Dixie accent he adopts for his Gainesville showy lawyer routine masks his acting hitches. Pacino is his usual self – convinced that that shouting and cackling is coming off as something new and/or interesting.
Oh man, who thought of this: the cool architectural frieze comes to life.* There’s like, fire and stuff! Man! I never envisioned the devil as leering and grandstanding with FIRE! Literally, at the end, I was laughing so hard I missed “crucial” dialogue. Diatribe. It’s like an SNL lowest-common-denominator lawyer skit without even attempts at humor lasting a full hour too long. My favorite note I took was “Missed a part laughing from suicidal mime in my boredom – Sinatra?” If you want to know what that means, get in contact with me. Bonus points for all the ladies cast, for the set decorators, and for the creepy dressing room scene. Oh and for casting everyone in the world so we can play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Jeffrey Jones, Craig T. Nelson, Delroy Lindo, it’s nuts. But I have not been so disappointed since Anaconda – and I thought I knew what to expect this time. Avoid the Devil’s Advocate at all costs.
* Note: To add insult to insult, the video release of this movie elminated the shots featuring the only cool or memorable part of this movie because of some crackpot installation artist screaming “copyright infringement!” and threatening to sue. So, chew on that.
MPAA Rating R – language, nudity, violence
Release date 11/10/97
Time in minutes 138
Director Taylor Hackford
Studio Warner Brothers