Jude Law

Review: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

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Review: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

About every ten years or so new filmmakers like to remake/reboot/reimagine classic tales, folklore or novels. Typical examples are Tarzan, Robin Hood, and the legend of King Arthur. This year is no exception, with a brand new telling of the King Arthur legend in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. But this time around it’s directed by the always-stylistic Guy Ritchie, mostly known for Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, and the Sherlock Holmes series. Here he brings his unique vision and style, keeping some of the old story in place and working new elements into the legend. It’s full of magic, action and humor and is one incredible fantasy-action flick.

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Review: Spy

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Review: Spy

Director Paul Feig’s over-the-top comedies have dominated the box office for the last few years. With his super hits Bridesmaids and The Heat he showed us just how funny adult comedies can be when done right. This summer he gathered his usual suspects of actors and made the hilarious action comedy, Spy. Melissa McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a desk-bound CIA analyst who volunteers to go undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer and prevent a global disaster. Hilarity ensues, the only way Feig and McCarthy can do it.

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Movie Issues: Rise of the Guardians

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Movie Issues: Rise of the Guardians

This week the guys go and get their holiday animation on! They watched the 2012 animated flick, Rise of the Guardians. You know, that movie where Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, The Sandman and Jack Frost all have to team up and fight The Boogie Man. Yup! It was really the only “easter” flick we could come up with. So please download and enjoy as we talk all about the flick, WonderCon and Agents of SHEILD. It’s another full episode of their BS.  Read On

Repo Men

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Nope, it’s not the car one. Nor is it the bizarre musical version with the similar premise. This is a straight-talking, incredibly violent action-drama about dudes who reclaim artificial organs when the buyer defaults on their payment plan. On the surface, Repo Men is just a gory sci-fi excuse for some close-quarters knife fights (never fear, there are plenty of those). After the sub-prime mortgage collapse and the crude and hostile health-care debates, Repo Men accidentally got a little relevant. Do we loathe or pity the defaulters for not meeting their unfairly weighted financial obligations? Justifications abound for both sides, but Repo Men treads a line.

As for the style and texture, if Blade Runner and Gattaca got together, they would look like this near-future semi-dystopic metropolis. Here is the urban hunting ground where Jude Law and Forest Whitaker do their work, shiny and clean, dark and over-saturated with ads, with high tech everything and a pretty cavalier attitude towards violence. Imagine the paperwork today if your cab was the site of a man having his kidney removed in a technically sanctioned act of murder.

Law’s character is at the top of his game, excelling at work while neglecting the home life. His partner Whitaker is more gleeful at his work, less professional. The property they repossess, the artiforgs, are financed at insane rates, then reclaimed (and ew, resold!) after 96 days of nonpayment. In short, you’re surprised in your home or work or anywhere, zapped, cut, and the goods are bagged, while you are left for dead. The obligatory and de facto waiving of patient rights to an ambulance is a nice touch. It’s not serial killing, it’s perfectly legal, apparently. At least society has the decency to be a little squeamish about it. The tools of the trade allow them to check passersby for default, they don’t even have to wait for the bureaucratic wheel to turn up their next mark. It is jacked up.

One thing leads to another and now Law has an artiforg and he has defaulted on the payments, so he’s on the run. You could drive an ambulance through the plot holes after this point. Evil boss Liev Schreiber offers no employee discount for nonconsensual implantation of their product? Never mind the revelations of how it came to happen later in the movie, what about just obeying the legal rules of the world the film set up? It totally doesn’t matter. We didn’t come to the movies for artiforg tort reform. Law, with some shiny new innards and a sudden capacity to empathize for his previous targets, has got him some problems now, the kinds that are often solved through other people getting killed.

Act II is ostensibly the exciting part, you know, revelatory horrors, hiding out, fighting back, etc. Instead Jude takes up with some random woman from a previous scene (Alice Braga), who is chock full of unpaid merchandise and can totally understand what he’s going through. Interest starts to flag. I hope Eric Garcia’s novel, The Repossession Mambo, on which this film was based, doesn’t suffer from the same digression. At least we have a hilarious Larry the Lung costumed character for the kids!

I don’t need to tell you who’s been assigned to the job of repo’ing Law’s artiforg. I also probably don’t need to tell you that a movie about professional vivisectionists has a ridiculously squibbulous climax involving non-traditional weaponry. I shouldn’t have been as surprised by the weird eroticizing of some painful surgical actions. By the ending the twist of the plot turns into a squirm-inducing twist of the knife. Despite the up close and personal slicing and dicing, Repo Men feels like it’s trying to be a new sci-fi classic like the movies it visually resembles, or even become a serious movie. The random girl side plot takes up too much real estate and the psychological ramifications of the tech and the job get short shrift. Still, you can’t go completely wrong with an Oscar winner chasing an Oscar nominee with a paring knife, and Repo Men gets a good bit right.

MPAA Rating R-strong bloody violence, grisly images, language, some sexuality/nudity

Release date 3/19/10

Time in minutes 111

Director Miguel Sapchnik

Studio Universal Pictures

Sherlock Holmes

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You may have watched the preview for Sherlock Holmes and thought, “This looks like Long Raging Bull Goodnight: Die Harder.” I suppose we have Hollywood to blame for that. Over the years they took Arthur Conan Doyle’s brilliant deductionist who had training in fisticuffs and made him an effete snooty cartoon — more in line with the anti-intellectualism we see everywhere today. Well, director Guy Ritchie is taking back the rough-and-tumble Holmes. He went younger, scrapper, and more eccentric than fey: Robert Downey Jr. (as in so many things) is a brilliant choice to play the famed inspector. Downey as Holmes has a wonderful distracted, confident, mental patient air about him. Someone whose brain catalogues and cross-references details so constantly and meticulously would probably today be diagnosed with some nervous disorder or tic. Downey’s Holmes has an ADD-like concentration and wide scatter of the net, and a disdain for the distracting requirements of polite society. He already floats a little above our plane of reality with his survivor’s eyes and keen intelligence, and here it’s put to marvelous use.

Jude Law as Downey’s partner in life and in crimes, Dr. Watson, is also a fantastic choice. He’s groomed, urbane, exasperated, arrogant, playful – and smart enough not to bore Holmes. They have sparkling old friend chemistry and an eye-rolling true affection for each other that borders on hostility. I confess I adore this pair and I do hope for a mini franchise, just for the pleasure of being longer in their company. Yeah, I said it. Of course I said the same thing about the ensemble in Pirates of the Caribbean and look where that got us. Rachel McAdams is the unnecessary but still enjoyable sexy American petty criminal who joins the fun and of course becomes key later. Judging by her scenes in the preview cut from the movie, she was the first sacrificed on the altar of the brisk 90 minute running time.

The adventure story of the film is a classic — it could be Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot, or Scooby Doo. A criminal (Mark Strong) terrorizes the city for his nefarious and ambitious plans. He does so in an inexplicable and therefore seemingly unbeatable fashion, and all are powerless to stop him. And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for these bickering, brilliant kids. Keep in mind, this is still directed by Guy Ritchie, so we have some exciting James Bond-worthy action and a nailbiter climax, and yet it’s all kept very feasible and well within period limits. The wonderful Industrial Age details and technology of society as a whole, the machines and lab equipment and exciting new inventions, the opportunistic weaponry and beaten-looking citizenry, these all prevent Sherlock Holmes from feeling like someone just made another action movie and dressed it in Beloved Icon drag (for a bad example of this, see Star Trek: Nemesis). Holmes feels very of his time and very relevant at the same time. Sherlock Holmes is a solid, enjoyable film with a fun score, a great use of sound and environment, and a trio of confederates you will want to know more of.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 12/25/09

Time in minutes 90

Director guy Ritchie

Studio Warner Brothers

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Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow

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Sky Captain is exactly the kind of movie which would naturally hypnotize me visually and therefore get away with murder, storywise. Determined to rise above this weakness of mine, I chewed on the film for a week.

Without a doubt, the ethereal retro-futuristic look of the film (set in or around 1939) is completely awesome, a triumphant display of the vision of director Kerry Conran. Great texture, great detail, cool machines, gorgeous sets. The hard part, of course, is for the actors. As we painfully witnessed in the most recent Star Wars installments, actors in costumes shooting in an empty green room need a lot of direction for us to believe in the artificial space. Stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law make us utterly believe (except one time) that they are in the spaces they inhabit. This makes all the difference in the world. Gazing around at cavernous expanses, dim, intimate offices, walking around furniture or scrambling out of airplanes that aren’t even there – this makes the movie feel real.

But again, this is an assessment of the visuals. The film is utterly period, in all ways, and this too is effective. It’s like a little bubble of an art project, simultaneously being an interesting experiment in a medium but also being an effective piece of art itself. The plot is cobbled straight out of a throwaway radio serial. The characters and their inter-dynamics depend on stock character types, like Dex the sexless gum-chewing mechanic savant, or their harmless multilingual guide across the globe. It doesn’t sound like a compliment, but it is. The poorly defined science, the cartoonishly elaborate and insane machinations of the bad guy, the impossible heroic stunts, the hard-boiled dialogue and simple motivations, all could have come directly from that narrow, idealistic pre-World War II era (when they didn’t call the war of 1914-1918 World War One). And that is the real charm of the film.

Homages to George Lucas, The Iron Giant, Metropolis, and more abound, but besides these tips of the hat, the film is grounded solidly in every way in the aesthetic of the period in which it is set. It would have been in black and white, but for studio nervousness, but its hand-tinted low-saturation color works even more effectively, I think. Recently, I was watching Byron Haskin’s 1953 War of the Worlds and marveling at the fact that, even with the wires clearly visible, how scary it remains, just with committed acting and some scary, iconic visuals. This World of Tomorrow takes that inherent X Factor, the one that sometimes ripens to cheese as years pass, and sometimes does not (creating classics), and renders it so skillfully and beautifully, that they X Factor itself becomes art again.

What about the actors? You know, the only real things onscreen? Well, Paltrow looks the part, but I did feel that something was missing, perhaps a lack of commitment to the gee-whizzery of it all. In her clear and effective focus on making it real, maybe she forgot to make it fun. Law, slightly less out of his element after having made A.I., totally gets it. He’s a dashing, serious hero, playing it straight, no winking – but he’s having a gas. Ditto the perfectly cast Giovanni Ribisi. If Angelina Jolie’s character was used solely to give Paltrow and Law something to fight about, then she was wasted. Her fleet is totally cool, though. Check it out.

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 9/17/04
Time in minutes 107
Director Kerry Conran
Studio Paramount Pictures

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Cold Mountain

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I fully admit, I probably would not have seen this movie at all if I had noticed/remembered that it was an Anthony Minghella film. I find his filmmaking ponderous and self-aggrandizing, and I can’t even explain why. Some of Cold Mountain had the feel that I associate with him – it’s about 25 minutes too long, and I always feel as though something very important was still cut out of the film. However, Cold Mountain has a level of artistry and heart that I would normally not give Mr. Minghella credit for. I will lay the credit partially with the source material, Charles Frazier’s novel of the same name.

I will say one thing: Nicole Kidman is so porcelain, so ethereal in her beauty(and Jude Law isn’t exactly Quasimodo either) that it was actually extremely distracting for the first half of this very long movie. Minghella likes his heroines to be chilly and aloof (Kristen Scott Thomas in the English Patient, Gwyneth Paltrow in Talented Mr. Ripley) but Cold Mountain and the ravages of the Civil War are inhospitable enough that even an ice goddess like Nicole Kidman looks like a warm stove in that milieu.

Ravages indeed. The Seige of Petersburg is so incredibly personal, so up close, so vital, so wet – it’s like the Normandy beach scene in Saving Private Ryan, if no one was allowed to use a gun. Brrrr! Cold Mountain indeed. Not since Gone With The Wind have we been treated to such a sense of the devastation wrought upon the South by the war, but without the fiddle dee dee of gentility to soften the blow.

The music is fantastic, the cinematography beautiful. The rolling pristine hills of Romania serving as Antebellum North Carolina will take your breath away. No wonder these boys thought they would win. God had clearly favored their people with this glorious land. But of course, the real story is tragic, agonizing, difficult – deprivation warring with pride, terror and desperate love born of nothing more than hope. It’s all very epic, and considering what they are going through, we can forgive them all their romantic ideals. Their pre-war scenes together are clotted with nonsensical dialogue, but after they part the words improve. The first hour and a half at least feel more like a poem than a story, meandering around through story lines and imagery. Reflections abound in the film, and the more you notice them, the more interesting the poem gets.

Enter tomboy Renee Zellweger, as unglamorous and hale and hearty a laborer as you never saw her before, drawling happily through her role as part comic relief, part deus ex machina, part boon companion. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, and the goat lady (whose name I was unable to glean from the credits) contribute short but fascinating character studies in our leads’ quest to attain life again after this devastating conflict.

MPAA Rating R – violence and sexuality.
Release date 12/25/03
Time in minutes 155
Director Anthony Minghella
Studio Miramax

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A. I.

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Spielberg. Osment. Two excellent reasons to sit in a movie theatre. Spielberg is a master storyteller, with an eye for detail, whimsy, heart, and action. Osment is a prodigy, a sensitive, intelligent, expressive child, who can take a virtually unperformable role (Exhibit A: The Sixth Sense) and make it real. Together, they can create so much more than a typed script page would hope to achieve. High praise indeed, right? How many movies have had the adult naif, a blank slate, wandering throughout the frame with the wonder only seen in an infant’s eyes? Starman, Fifth Element, more. Osment is “born” at age 9 or whatever he is supposed to be, and he is a sponge for experience and existence. From Osment’s character knowing too much with Shyamalan, he now knows literally nothing, yet is infinitely trusting, loving, curious, and, later, wise. It’s another unperformable role that he made his own.

A.I. is a Pinocchio story of sorts, buoyed by the biotech genetic programming concern, but (as my companion brilliantly summarized) it’s more like a mix between The Wizard of Oz and Blade Runner. (He also said Dark City but I think only one scene really qualifies it for that – and there is a brief Clockwork Orangey sequence as well – apropos since the original idea was for Stanley Kubrick to direct.) Big shoes to fill, two serious classics. Am I implying that A.I. will be a classic, like its siblings Always and E.T.? Only time can tell. This film is not for the cynical, but I think anyone who has been jaded too many times in the search for love (acceptance and caring, not just romantic/sexual) will not be able to handle Osment’s sincerity. Frances O’Connor, as his “mother,” is almost embarrassingly true.

Osment is a robot, a very realistic man-made human, a “mecha,” and the first of his kind designed to be a child, designed to love. A.I. carries a whiff of that moral question posed more blatantly in the Jurassic Park movies – Discover if you CAN, and then figure out HOW then DO- but also, just because we can do this, should we? What of the responsibilities of the mortal target of an inorganic’s love? Interesting questions, with some dark answers. Did not God create without any second guessing His responsibility? It’s darker than E.T., certainly, and luckily it’s not overly weighed down with philosophical concerns. It is also funny, very exciting, and visually wowza. Spielberg standard cinematographer Janusz Kaminski paints a beautiful portrait of this boy and his world. Spielberg standard composer John Williams writes a totally atypical, creepy, weird, but effective score. Stan Winston – well, let’s just say that Teddy bear is totally utterly real.

Plopped in the middle is an unsettling sequence when The Bad Guys come, and it’s quite a throwback to the early ’80’s in some ways, but also a vivid portrait (and, frankly, a reasonable prediction) of what backlash there might be against such realistic mechanical persons roaming the streets. Jude Law (already typecast as a perfect-by-design fellow in Gattaca) is another mecha who meets David (Osment) on his Pinocchio quest and they balance each other beautifully. Law is a sexbot, basically, so he can produce the affect, the appearance of love, while David hopes to finally please the recipient of his love. The relationship is very interesting and complex, considering their perspectives, and I would love to read the source tale, Brian Aldiss’ “Super Toys Last All Summer Long.”

Pithy phrases of praise I have stored up unfortunately reveal too much plot, so I am forced to silence them. But so many moments in David’s quest are like so many classic, emotionally impactful moments in other great tales, just trust that you will never lose interest. It’s a fairy tale, not even a modern one – it’s a classic set in a distant future. Skimming through questions about the nature of the soul or consciousness, it’s a fable with real beauty and magic to it, the kind of magic I think no other creative team could have mustered successfully. Oh yeah and none of the mechas ever blink. Cool.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/29/01
Time in minutes 144
Director Steven Spielberg
Studio Dreamworks & Warner Bros

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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

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I had no idea this (screenplay by John Lee Hancock) was based on a book by John Berendt which was based on a true story until after the movie was over. Knowing that makes me forgive a great deal of the content that seemed extraneous and irrelevant at the time I was watching.

John Cusack is a reporter invited to Savannah to cover Kevin Spacey’s famous Christmas party for Town & Country magazine, and intrigue ensues. Sometimes director Clint Eastwood became too enamored of all the wonderful and interesting characters that inhabit Savannah (which apparently has no normal people) and forgot about Spacey and Cusack. No matter – many of them were nice diversions and actually part of the story, but it felt like a traveler’s diary (which I presume the book actually was). It was languid and genteel and very tonal, and never really broke out of that tempo. But it was never boring.

I had high expectations for watching Kevin Spacey and John Cusack match their considerable wits and acting chops on screen, but they fizzled a bit in my eyes. Spacey brought nothing new to this performance from his other esteemed roles except a sweet Georgia drawl, and John Cusack, chewing another man’s words, never felt quite at home to me. I also realize that Spacey’s onscreen gift is that he looks like he is always thinking something that you’ll never be allowed to know; Cusack looks like he is feeling something and you feel it at the same time he does, never before. Together they are just gazing at each other, thinking and feeling but not really doing anything. A romance with Alison Eastwood seems tacked on and unimportant (even if it really happened) and only serves as a motivation for her to help Cusack in the 3rd reel.

Cusack has the best line to describe this film in the movie itself: It’s like Gone with the Wind on Mescaline. Jude Law has an odd, small part, as a rebel-flag tattooed bad boy, his lovely English accent all but gone as he swaggers about in tight Wranglers. Irma P. Hall is a voo doo woman with a prominent role; someone suggested she was the moral center of the film. Perhaps so, but the meandering, nay, ambling nature of the narrative was interrupted by her upbeat, jolly magicks. Many things happened with little explanation, and with little consequence or effect.

It’s interesting but not fascinating, it’s good but not great. I didn’t want to read the book afterward, but I was not sorry I was introduced to all these people. It felt like a decent meal at a restaurant in a town you will never visit again.

MPAA Rating R for language and brief violence.
Release date 12/8/97
Time in minutes 135
Director Clint Eastwood
Studio Warner Brothers

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Gattaca

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I had extremely high expectations coming into this flick and my report is: This is a cool movie! How professional a comment, I know, but really, it is the most accurate I can be without writing a doctoral thesis on how clever this movie is. So here goes:

In the not-too-distant future, Ethan Hawke is a genetically “natural” (read: inferior goober) person who poses as a genetically elite (read: good looking) person (Jerome Morrow) in order to work at Gattaca and thereby go into space. Along the way he meets Uma Thurman who, after running a DNA screen on him, finds him irresistible.

He also lives with the man he is impersonating, played by Jude Law. A murder occurs, and the story progresses. Lovely people drift past the camera with the serene boredom of the perfect.

The coolest thing about Gattaca is the fact that the coolest elements of the film are not battered into your skull, Men In Black style, but rather left to see if you get it. Thank god for a semi-sci-fi thriller where you get to use your brain!!!

The plot winds in a lovely double helix just like the FABULOUS staircase in the real and false Jerome’s house – except for the mutation of some stupid macho theatrics in the 3rd reel (wow, see, the plot is slightly flawed just like Hawke’s real character!).

GATTACA is in itself a joke, kind of – the letters G,A,T, and C are like a quaternary code for genetics (as compared to binary 110010110) – they stand for the 4 nucleotides that are the building blocks of like, guanine, thymine, adenine, and cytosine. Excuse my spelling, docs, I didn’t have a Gray’s Anatomy handy (thanks Catherine for the words!).

Anyway, except for these letters being bold face in the credits, there is no mention of this clever joke.Also, in the building of the company Gattaca, there is the constant hum of announcements in Esperanto! The most sterile and artificial of languages and it mutters in the background the entire time. Brilliant! (thanks Alan for identifying it for me!)

The story is as elegantly shot as it is written. For $22 million dollars, the production designer Jan Roelfs (who must shop at Ikea) made the world look chilly, sterile, and expensive. But I mean this in a good way. The design is as clean as the setting. The production team of writer/director Andrew Niccol & cinematographer Slawomir Idziak (not enough credit goes to the locations people!) have succeeded in creating a movie about a controversial and philosophically challenging subject without being heavy handed.

They have also created a surprisingly detailed presentation of a culture totally used to the invasiveness of pervasive genetic screening – everywhere there is testing. Instead of a badge, Gattace employees get a fingerprick and a quick blood sample screening to get into work. Even dating is screened by the genes, regardless of intent to reproduce. With the bat of an eyelash, everyone’s complete potential and shortcomings is available printed out – with so much intimate information available to anyone with a mini-vac, they respond by becoming interpersonally colder and more distant.

It does seem that they successfully eradicated communicable diseases – in an AIDS-wary culture, the amount of automated fingerpricking is kind of scary. But once a candiate is deemed perfect enough one can fall into bed with no worries.The exposition is in a lovely “in those days” kind of remembrance – and “those days” are still in our future. It’s not handled in a Gene Roddenberryesque narrow minded way but in a well thought out sociological treatment.

The generation gap between the adults whose parents had no benefit of genetic tinkering and the kids generation (that of our hero) who are more sharply defined by their level of tinkering is prominent. Hawke’s character finds connections with older folks who are less perfect than the the engineered and lovely youth swarming about them.

Bonus points for casting Hawke, who can be awfully pretty in one shot and butt ugly in the next – like he’s phasing in and out of his genetic disguise. Uma Thurman (real life offscreen squeeze of Hawke) is also one who looks perfectly lovely and then bizarrely weird. I like her but every film, her voice is inflectionless and pitched just so it is like…like i don’t know. But it’s OK here. Then there is Alan Arkin, a wizened detective, kowtowing to a younger detectve who is his genetic superior when we would expect him to be the boss.

Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine as a janitor. Perfect looking strangers in cleanlined suits and smooth hair. Awesome locations. Making us figure out why he pops out his contacts instead of telling us. Very refreshing!

I’m sorry that this is an original screenplay rather than based on a novel because I would like very much to know more about the world created in this film. It’s relentlessly interesting (what a phrase!) and only barely flawed by that goofy macho bit towards the end.Hollywood by and large has forgotten how to make a movie that is good all the way through (LA Confidential excepted) it seems but this one is 95% pure. I recommend it highly and hope to God there is no sequel to ruin it.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 10/28/1997
Time in minutes 106
Director Andrew Niccol
Studio Columbia Tristar