Archives for August 2011

Singin’ in the Rain

Singin' in the Rain PosterRating: ★★★★★

“Singin’ in the Rain” has provided me with probably the most joyful cinematic experience so far in my life. The movie functions entirely on happy juice. Some movie characters can light up a room; the main cast in “Singin’ in the Rain” can light up the whole darn street. Many profound critics, like Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael, has declared it as the best Hollywood musical ever made. No wonder.

Great movies have a way of beating time. Their original audience is replaced by a new generation, but the positive reception stays the same. Curiously, “Singin’ in the Rain” earned more praise as it got older. Though a success at the box office upon its release in 1952, people were late to give the praise it really deserved. It seemed that the increasing admiration continued with the following generations. And as I saw the film for the first time only a few nights ago, I was struck and stuck in a state of awe. It’s been a long, long while since Hollywood has made a musical like this one, hasn’t it?

“Singin’ in the Rain” is a marvelous movie for many reasons, but watching it at this point in time highlights some things about it that has become a rarity in today’s movies, making these things all the more treasured. Consider, for instance, its attention to a sense of movement. The sets are simple and the props are few, but one can tell that the makers of “Singin’ in the Rain” have spent a whole lot of time and training to the people and their performances. And these performances were about feelings and passion and about the art of performance itself. Most musicals today, and other genres too, have learned to place too much dependence on money, for the sake of money. The recent excess of 3-D movies may prove a point.

Singin' in the RainOf all the exuberant and splendid musical numbers in “Singin in the Rain”, two are in a different level, and has achieved eternal popularity. First is Donald O’ Connor who sings, dances, leaps, falls, spins, and bounces his way through a song called, “Make ‘em Laugh.” ‘O Connor combines music, athleticism, and stand-up comedy in a performance that requires him to purposely fail at a few stunts for comedy’s convenience. For an excellent dancer like him, it must have been harder to fail those stunts and steps than to nail them. Reports say that because the song was so exhausting, O’Connor spent the next three days resting in bed after the number was completed. The final product is a delight.

The other memorable act in “Singin in the Rain” is not only the film’s best, but also dubbed by many as the musical number that both defines and represents the entire Golden Age of Musicals. The character of Gene Kelly, Don Lockwood, has just kissed Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) goodbye, and realizes that he is madly in love. He decides to walk home under the pouring rain. Consumed with splendid joy, Don allows himself to get wet from the rainfall; he starts singing and dancing. He hugs the lamp post, waves his umbrella, tap dances on the street and sidewalk, and stomps crazily on a puddle, making huge splashes all over. This entire sequence is quite probably the most enthusiastic and ingenious portrait of a man who has just fallen in love. What a beautiful scene. At one point, in the middle of Gene Kelly’s soaked performance, I thought to myself: “Wow. Whatever made this guy feel that way, I want it too.”

Gene KellyAs a movie-lover who grew up in the 2000’s and only started hunting for “old movies” in the latter half of that decade, I realize that I have a lot of catching up to do. There were a lot great movies made between the 1930’s and last year, and a part of me is dedicated in finding them, watching them, studying them, etc. You know the drill. For the past couple of months, I have seen three films that are part of the Golden Age of Musicals: “An American in Paris”, “The King and I”, and “Singin’ in the Rain.” All three of them, I watched in DVD format, which were all lent to me by the same friend. Not a lot of people from my age group would recommend such films, let alone own a copy and trust them in your care.

It’s funny how I’ve encountered some of my favorite films through the same kind of friendly recommendations. A long time ago, before I started hunting for “old movies”, another movie-loving friend insisted that I borrow his copies of “Vertigo” and “Fargo”. When people lend us movies, we unconsciously prioritize them, putting them ahead of movies we initially plan to watch. I’m glad I saw “Vertigo” before I went to see “Transformers”. Just a few months ago, a close friend of mine has jokingly threatened to harm me if I don’t see all three “Lord of the Rings” movies by the end of the year.

It’s good to have friends with great taste in movies. Would you like a friend who keeps bugging you to watch The Twilight Saga? Me, I have great inspiration. I’ve seen the first two “Lord of the Rings” movies, and it’s only August.

Drive Angry

Drive Angry PosterRating: ★☆☆☆☆

“Drive Angry” is a grindhouse movie about fast cars, killer coins, mutilated bodies, bullet holes, bad accents, human sacrifices, Satan, Satan’s worshippers, Satan’s Accountant, and a few conversations about slitting the throat of an infant so Hell could move up to Earth and party. Find anything that could offend you?

The star is Nicolas Cage. His choice of movies in recent years has been, questionable. Either he’s been testing the range of his acting skills, or he’s only been agreeing to do certain movies that require him to have a weird haircut. That man’s hair has had more alterations than a teenager. After “Season of the Witch” and “Drive Angry”, it’s now safe to say that Mr. Cage needs to hire a new stylist as much as he needs to hire a new agent. Anyway.

Cage plays a dead, angry, blonde man named John Milton. Don’t ask. His daughter has been brutally murdered by a satanic cult, and plans to execute her baby while they drink beer. Milton, who is in Hell, is not happy. (And that’s not just because he’s in Hell.) Pissed off and ready to kick some living ass, he steals Satan’s special gun and makes his way back to earth in a car. (It’s probably Satan’s, too.) His actions are constantly monitored by the Accountant, who is the film’s most interesting aspect. Abstrusely played by William Fichtner, the Accountant, fresh from the Underworld, is a silent, well-dressed assassin with physical abilities beyond human. So, in short, he is The Terminator from Hell.

John Milton

Conscious of its absurdity and proud of its vulgarity, the audience of “Drive Angry” will not extend very far. People who receive crass madness as entertainment will be the majority of its fans. I can’t say I liked the movie, though I also can’t say that I don’t like grindhouse movies in general. I kinda enjoyed “Machete”. There was a funny irony in the roles of Steven Seagal and Lindsay Lohan. And it was… engaging, if that’s the word, to see Danny Trejo play a character that feels destined for him.

I don’t see any irony and satisfaction in Nicolas Cage’s streak of bad movies. The man has proved to us that he can act in 2009’s “The Bad Lieutenant”, which was a great movie. Why participate in a movie called “Drive Angry” when you can know you’re good enough to be in a Werner Herzog film?

Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Crazy Stupid Love PosterRating: ★★★★☆

There’s a sad routine going on with romantic comedies nowadays. Bad ones, like “Life as We Know It”, enjoy a wide release and a fat box office, while good ones, like “Flipped”, remain unknown to many. But then, to our surprise, we are introduced to “Crazy, Stupid, Love”. Here is a romantic comedy written with intelligence, driven by its story, and delivered with actors who are both competent and charming. And, what do you know, people actually know about it.

The movie is about a set of individuals who have, in their own personal way, lost track of true love. A few of them may have never even experienced it in the first place, but their story is about how they get there. Let me tell you about them real quick. Cal and Emily Weaver (Steve Carrell and Julianne Moore) are a middle-aged couple whose marriage has hit a major bump. Emily has confessed to being guilty with adultery, and is now requesting for a divorce.

Cal, in obvious shock, is swift to break the news to his children. Most affected is 13-year-old Robbie, who is in the middle of his quest of winning the heart of his 17-year-old baby sitter, Jessica. Kids, at the height of their hormones, can be relentless in their romantic pursuits. There is a lot of comedy between their encounters.

Cal and Jacob

Meanwhile, Cal has chosen to channel his sorrow inside a bar, ranting about his miserable life to total strangers. This is unproductive for Cal of course, until his rants are overheard by Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a pickup artist who knows how to get a girl uhm, well, you name it. Jacob offers Cal a makeover that could possibly help Cal win Emily back. He accepts, and the two develop a relationship so blunt and wacky, we can almost compare them to the man-couple in “I Love You, Man.”

After Cal receives Jacob’s approval, he returns to fight for Emily. This is when “Crazy, Stupid, Love” adapts a dramatic quality. Giving in to the story is the part where most rom-coms start to fail, assuming that the comedy hasn’t failed already. But then, to our surprise, the drama is in place. The characters in this movie are “real people”, some of whom we have met before.

Maybe we know a couple, like Cal and Emily, who are struggling in their marriage. Or maybe Robbie reminds us of our own young, relentless past. Or maybe we’ve been in Jacob’s shoes before, who have gotten used to shallow relationships, until we meet The One.

These people feel emotions that are reasonable and suffer consequences that are realistic. Unlike most rom-coms, the characters make mistakes not because they’re stupid, but because they’re human.

One thing I first thought was an unnecessary element to the film was the romance soon developed by Jacob and a pretty girl named Hannah (Emma Stone). For box office reasons, it’s safer to include a Hot Young Couple in the story, especially when you end the trailer with a shot of Ryan Gosling’s abs. But no, I was wrong. Hollywood nowadays seems to always sexualize the romance between Hot Young Couples, but there is a language of love between Jacob and Hannah that astounded me. Appreciate it, for it will not last long. For example, the next Twilight movie opens November 18, 2011.

Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens PosterRating: ★★½☆☆

Common sense is not welcome in a movie called “Cowboys & Aliens”. No other non-sequel title in 2011 has given a more tempting wink to the Summer Movie Audience. It presents a preposterous yet enticing idea that feels destined to be a silly, dumb, fun action-comedy. Led by “Ironman” director Jon Favreau, and guided by familiar names like Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg, we feel confidence in its production.

We tone our brains down in eager wait, only to be left wondering in the end why a concept ready for fun was treated with a large and unnecessary amount of seriousness. It forces upon itself a certain level of depth, which the movie has no time for. The attempts at a heavier story prolong “Cowboys & Aliens” to a running time of 118 minutes, where much of it is composed of overlong explanations and faulty, predictable drama. The bossy jerk learns to cooperate, the useless son learns to practice obedience, and the angry rebel learns to smile. Haven’t we seen all of these before? Do they really have a place in a movie called “Cowboys & Aliens”?

The film opens with a wanted criminal, Jake Londergan, waking in the dry desert. Besides the fact that he’s suffering from memory loss, Jake is battered, bleeding, and without shoes. (Jake is having a bad day.) On his left arm, is an alien bracelet precisely made to blow stuff up, like the Predator’s! How did he come into possession of such an item? Did he trade his shoes for it?

Olivia Wilde

The pretty girl named Ella.

With memories still unavailable, Jake makes his way to a small town called Absolution. It is there where he meets a cattleman named Woodrow Dolarhyde, who is still angry at him for stealing his gold. The location and condition sets up the film’s Western atmosphere, but before the two cowboys could duel it out, alien spaceships emerge from the night and start an attack. Ropes… alien ropes… launch from the flying machines, entangling a number of the townspeople which fly away with the aliens.

The stakes are shifted, and the film turns into a rescue mission. The outlaw and the cattleman are followed by some of the townspeople, which include a pretty girl named Ella. Because they have no idea where to look for the alien’s hideout, our heroes come to consult a tribe of Indians. But all they have is some kind of ancient Indian miracle drink, especially made to treat memory loss. Why, that’s exactly what Jake needs! He takes a sip, and the aliens’ secrets are spoiled. Turns out, these aliens came to visit to search for gold. Yes.

Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig

Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig

Jake and Woodrow are played by Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford. The actors have presence, but their characters have no charisma. They are given very little to do in the film’s second act. (Remember the overlong explanations and faulty, predictable drama I was talking about earlier?) It’s unfortunate that it is only at the climax where the film’s title fulfills its promise. If only we arrived there sooner.

In this climax, cowboys and Indians throw spears and shoot guns, while the aliens, equipped with the same bracelet Jake has, run to their opponent and stab them to death. Did they forget that they have the bracelet on? Not very good memory, these aliens have. For their own sake, they should also start looking for the ingredients of the ancient Indian miracle drink.

Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch PosterRating: ½☆☆☆☆

“Sucker Punch” ain’t no movie. “Sucker Punch” is an excess of testosterone vomited into a reel of celluloid until it is violently splashed into the faces of its audience. The movie’s advertisements are diligent in declaring its promise: “You will be unprepared.” They were right. I was not prepared for the overwhelming atrocity that I had to bear during the course of its running time. By the movie’s end, I felt that my senses had been pummeled to dust.

The plot, if that’s what you call it, is this: A grieving girl who has just lost her mother has been framed by her stepfather for murder, and is now imprisoned in a mental institution. A lobotomy awaits her. So, in the meantime, she creates a fantasy world of her own. Within that fantasy world, she creates another fantasy world. That’s twice the fantasy. It’s kinda like “Inception”, only stupid.

Fantasy World (The First One)

The girl’s fantasy actually belongs to Zack Snyder, writer and director. One of his most popular films is “300”, a movie where its heroes wage war wearing nothing but a cape and their underwear, so the enemy could marvel at the sight of their abs, and get distracted. In “Sucker Punch”, five young women charge into battles with their short skirts and high heels. In the fantasy world, the second one, the girls are against kamikaze robot bombers, blazing angry dragons, giant samurais, and, of course, a few hundred steam-powered Nazi zombies. Movies by Zack Snyder aren’t about what’s rational or comprehensible. Reaching its truest form in “Sucker Punch”, Snyder makes movies to share with the world, his imagination, which was the vomit I was talking about earlier.

Fantasy World (The Second One)

“Sucker Punch” makes no attempt at anything that resembles the structure and content of a motion picture. Narrative and exposition are not minimized, but totally abandoned. To compare its construction to a video game would offend gamers. Heck, even board games have a higher artistic value. What’s disguised as a story is really a collection of Zack Snyder’s childhood daydreams thoughtlessly and shapelessly plastered on the screen. Movies start out as ideas, and it takes great talent to successfully make that transition. Snyder has a lot of ambition, but lacks the mindset and maturity to back it up.

The characters are no characters either. The five girls are but a set of body parts; some are directly used while others are for display purposes only. When the audience needs to be informed of something, one of the girls, any of them, use their mouth: “We can’t do that! He’ll kill us!” Or when a scene is slowed down just because it looks better that way, Snyder makes sure that someone within the frame is wearing something “nice”, because he thinks we’re like him, who can’t stand a minute without a robot or lingerie.

It’s difficult to imagine Snyder having any more testosterone left after “Sucker Punch”. But, if he does, may he keep the rest of it to himself.

Rio

Rio PosterRating: ★★★☆☆

Ironic, isn’t it, how “Rio” uses an outlined plot and a standard story to produce a wacky, out-of-control party where most of its participants either have wings or fur. Humans may have a hard time keeping up with these singing, dancing, rapping animals, especially if two of them are voiced by will.i.am and Jamie Foxx.

“Rio” opens with a lively performance in the jungle. Birds sweep through the air and swerve through the trees. Consistent through the rest of the film, this sequence is bright and colorful. The birds maintain a low height, probably with a fear of being sucked into jet engines. A baby macaw admires the view from a hole in a tree until everyone is interrupted and caged by a group of poachers. How rude.

Fate is very kind to the baby macaw, who later finds itself in the hands of a caring little girl in Minnesota. Years pass. Linda and her pet bird, Blue, are all grown up. Because Blue was captured very early in his life, he never did learn to fly. Linda is not to blame for Blue’s flightless lifestyle. When a bird pushes its baby a cliff, it’s called normal parenting. But when a human does the same thing to young ones, it’s called animal cruelty.

Rio

The story picks up when it’s revealed that Blue is the last male of his kind. He shares the same dilemma of extinction with only one other blue macaw, Jewel. She is a female, and a pretty one, too. Experts say they must reproduce. Yet again, fate has been very kind to Blue. The setting quickly changes to Rio de Janeiro, and the party quickly resumes. A few smugglers get involved, only because they are required by the plot. And because of the film’s tone, the villains functions as set-ups to jokes more than anything else.

“Rio” will appeal more to the younger audience, but that’s okay, because they are also the target audience. Most of its concept is assembled from the ideas of previous animated efforts, which the kids won’t mind. Blue’s condition shows an obvious similarity with the hero in “Happy Feet”, a movie where penguins are naturally gifted singers, except for Mumble. Blue struggles with flight while Mumble tries to hit the right note.

Having recently watched “Rio”, which reminded me of “Happy Feet”, I’ve noticed a recent trend where animals are used to play and perform music. So far, it’s been a delightful treat; a treat that channels us to an animated world where Animal Planet is directly associated with MTV.

Jennifer’s Body (Quick Review)

Jennifer's Body Poster Rating: ★½☆☆☆

I’m pretty sure both of us have more important things to do right now than to talk about this bad movie, so let’s make this quick.

The central character is Jennifer. The woman playing Jennifer is Megan Fox. The entire supporting cast in “Jennifer’s Body” includes:

1.) Megan Fox’s cleavage

2.) Megan Fox’s legs

3.) Megan Fox’s ass

The movie’s title supports my claim. “Jennifer’s Body” can be best described as an exploitive extension and dissection of the picture below.

Megan Fox

                                                                     And… we’re done! Talk to you later!

Inside Job

Inside Job PosterRating: ★★★★★

In September of 2008, we witnessed the collapse of companies, the loss of jobs, and the downfall of the worldwide economy. What we didn’t witness, however, is how a few businessmen earned hundreds of millions of dollars as a result of it. We were told that this economic crisis was an unpleasant accident, but no. Turns out, we are at a time where the idea of bankrupting countless of families to the point of homelessness is a feasible option as long as it generates a profit.

“Inside Job” is a hard-hitting, eye-opening, rage-inducing documentary that meticulously informs us how the entire world was screwed over by the giants of Wall Street. The movie points its fingers to the, excuse me… thieves… responsible for the recent economic crisis. Most of us were affected. Many of us are still recovering. Who knows? Maybe a few of us hit rock bottom and stayed there.

And for what cost? A short montage in the movie shows the vast kingdom these businessmen enjoy. They have bought more than enough mansions to make Oprah scratch her head. To spot them not wearing an expensive suit is just about as shocking as seeing me wear one. After being made aware of how rich these bastards really are, we stop looking for reasonable explanations behind their criminal actions. I think one of them just wanted an 8th private jet.

“Inside Job” reveals that the fuse of the “ticking time bomb” was lit in the early 2000’s, when banks started to lend mortgages more frequently and without concern if the customer could repay or not. It was elaborated that investment banks found another way to make more money in less the time. This process was far more dangerous, but they didn’t care. These investors were gambling the money of their customers. They were risking billions of dollars they didn’t even own, and when markets started to tremble, it was the average citizen who suffered the loss.

Inside Job

if you happen to see these men, do not trust them with your money.

When the Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy in September of 2008, its CEO, Richard Fuld, was rewarded with 480 million dollars… as a bonus. It was the regular employees who felt the fall. This was also true to other companies, where its leaders became rich-er in the expense of ordinary and struggling families. It’s discouraging, I’m sure, to discover that the mortgage you first recognized as a blessing was, in the end, a part of a rich man’s scheme to empty your wallet so his could weigh just a little bit more.

Writer, producer, and director Charles Ferguson is highly equipped with documents, stock videos, and statistics. He speaks with some of the people who did much to cause and did nothing to prevent the economic crisis. Most of “Inside Job” will indeed cause anger, but it has a few delightful moments. Such moments are the interviews where guilty men confess not with words, but with the blank look their faces emit when they realize that the truth has a way of confronting them, on camera.

Along with “The Social Network”, “Inside Job” is the most important film of 2010. Both shows an accurate depiction of how much this generation has changed over the years. Approach with caution the men in suits who shake our hands, for they can be a better thief than those who break into our homes. Many of these men were not punished for their actions. They are still in power, and will not stop until they own their 9th private jet.