Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Category: Films (Page 2 of 5)

Ten Films I Love Best As Of This Writing

Inspired by a Twitter discussion, here’s a list of 10 favorite films, not necessarily in order of importance or quality, as of right now, subject to revision when someone jogs my memory of something even better that I’d forgotten seeing but somehow actually loved even more than anything already here, and this sentence may have run on long enough, and carries too many commas, don’t you think?

  1. Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind – Miyazaki has made “better” movies, but I don’t love any of them the way I love this. No, not even Spirited Away. This is the movie that made me fall in love with anime.
  2. The Princess Bride – Put aside for a moment that this is a painfully over-quoted cult favorite. (Guilty as charged, m’lud.) It’s still one of the great action comedy satire romances of all time.
  3. Die Hard – I’m less enthusiastic about the franchise it turned into, but that first out-of-nowhere movie is utterly brilliant. There are zero missteps, and almost every action movie since owes this film a huge debt. It’s silly, it’s clever, it’s over-the-top where it should be yet subtle at just the right places.
  4. The Incredibles – It’s not that this is one of the most fun, clever, family-friendly, exciting, and funny animated features ever made. It’s that this is one of the most fun, clever, family-friendly, exciting, and funny features of any kind ever made.
  5. The Bourne Identity – I’m not putting the whole “trilogy” in here but I do really like the three Damon-led movies quite a lot. (I have Thoughts regarding the fourth movie which I’ll have to post soon, come to think on it.) This first movie is a revelation, though. Very little bumbling going on, lots of smart people versus smarter people, and for once the trend toward “gritty realism” (well, such as it is) doesn’t drag down a story and make it too grim & depressing.
  6. The Hunt For Red October – Still the only Tom Clancy “Jack Ryan” movie I actually like, this one is chock full of great character actors chewing marvelous scenery marvelously. And Alec Baldwin is a genuine hoot, too. “Some things in here don’t react well to bullets…”
  7. The Castle of Cagliostro – Look, it’s no less absurd than any number of other caper flicks out there. Lupin III as seen through the lens of Miyazaki, this movie’s a charmer through and through.
  8. The Fugitive (1993)We’ve grown used to Tommy Lee Jones’ schtick in the years since, and the “henhouse, outhouse and doghouse” riff spawned some parodies indeed, but you have to admit he absolutely steals this movie. Also notable for Andreas Katsulas, otherwise known as Babylon 5’s Ambassador G’Kar, as the one-armed man. Oh, I guess Harrison Ford’s in it, too. Shrug.
  9. Iron Man – Remember back before the whole multi-picture pyramid leading up to The Avengers was a “thing”, and this was pretty much just one of the best superhero movies ever made? Simpler times, simpler times indeed.
  10. Chicken Run – “We’ll either die free chickens, or die trying!” “Are those the only choices?” While the rest of the Aardman run of feature films is a bit hit-or-miss (I wanted to like the full length Wallace & Gromit movie, but those characters just don’t seem to work in anything beyond short films), there’s almost nothing wrong with this movie. The peril, the heart, the cleverness, the references to other movies, the madcap contraptions… it’s all there.

And there we have it. You have opinions, I have comment threads. Fire away!

James Bond: Skyfall

After a refresher course consisting of watching “Casino Royale” on DVD the night before, the delightful Kylanath and I took in “Skyfall” at the theater on Sunday afternoon. I found myself with so many thoughts that it actually nudged me out of my writerly doldrums enough to craft a journal post to contain them.

First up, the verdict: I liked it, much better than “Quantum of Solace” (and I don’t dislike that movie as much as most other folks, but still) and as much as “Casino Royale” but in a very different way.

Now for the bullet points, appropriate for a Bond movie, yes?

  • This movie is full of reveals, some of which work better than others. The really, really big one (I’m trying to stay spoiler-free, mind you) is telegraphed in several big and small ways throughout the movie. I saw it coming, is what I’m telling you, and I’m not actually the sort of person who sees things coming in a movie all that often. Another reveal got a smirk and a deep sigh at the same time. It’s that kind of film.
  • What kind of film is it, you ask? Well, think of all the dead seriousness you’ve become used to with the previous two films, then interleave it with smirking throwbacks to the cheesier days of pre-Craig outings. Yet in most cases the movie doesn’t jostle your elbow too badly when it changes tone, which is a neat trick. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
  • People have raved about the title song. It didn’t do anything special for me. It serves its purpose very well, but that purpose is “kick off a Bond movie,” so there you have it.
  • The main villain, for all that he doesn’t show up until halfway through, absolutely steals every scene he’s in. Javier Bardem is a hoot and a half, spending a few amusing moments at several points through the film wearing an expression I usually associate with one of the regulars on the TV show Leverage, as if to say: “Seriously?” Exasperated menace is an unusual combination, and it amused me greatly.
  • In this post-“Bourne” action film world, we’ve become far too used to fight scenes made up of hundreds of quick cuts. Imagine my joy, then, at the artsy little glass-room backlit silhouetted locked-off one-shot fight scene. It’s the little things which can make me love a movie. Brilliant touch, that one.
  • For all that I read a lot of snark online about the product placements and the in-jokes, none of them really jarred me out of the movie. I mean, I utterly despise the Sony Vaio, but what were they going to do? Make up a computer brand? Meh, whatever. And two of the in-jokes absolutely slayed the audience at our screening, so hooray for well-chosen quips.
  • At one point partway through we’re introduced to the movie title in a way which makes us wonder what deep, sinister meaning it might have. Is it a code word for something big & scary? Does it indicate that someone is compromised, that bad things are afoot? Turns out, all of my guesses were wrong, but the true meaning actually does make sense within the movie. Just, not to what you’d call the “A” plot. Interesting touch, interesting choice.
  • Every actor did a good job in this movie, and some were excellent. Yes, even the new Q. As much as I love John Cleese, I’m glad they didn’t try to shoehorn him into this. It wouldn’t have worked.
  • I would watch a movie in which Judi Dench and Daniel Craig solve grisly murders in the highlands of Scotland, complete with wry commentary and in-jokes and bickering. C’mon, so would you.
  • On the topic of reveals, the really-big reveal depends on another… event. Suffice to say that I was unhappy about it, even as I saw it coming, even as I realized that it was time to make that change. I’ll have to discuss my thoughts on that in a later, post-spoilers entry…
  • I have one quibble with the timeline of the three Craig movies, and that’s the implication here that his Bond has been at this a really long time. Which is odd, because “Casino Royale” is a movie about a brand-new double-oh earning his moniker. I mean, yes, you can work around that quibble easily enough with some mental gymnastics, but if this caught my attention then it probably bothered other viewers as well and it might bother you. Also: If this is an old, washed-up, out-of-shape guy… I wish I was in that crappy of a condition. Oy.
  • In the end, what we have is the conclusion to what I consider a reboot trilogy not entirely unlike Nolan’s Batman films. Get everyone’s attention, dig in deep, then drive home the deal. Whatever you may think of Nolan’s level of success, that seems to have at least been the plan, and it’s the same here. When the credits roll, you know for certain that Bond is back and it’s time for what could be considered “business as usual.” Which remains to be seen, but you know what? I don’t care how well or how badly they make the movies to follow. They did their job here, which is all I wanted from this outing.
  • “Skyfall” is a very, very pretty movie. There’s some scenery porn on display which is nearly up to the gold standard, by which I mean the Lord of the Rings films. The setting for the film’s grand bang-up finale? I want to go there.

So, if you like smart & entertaining action movies, go see “Skyfall.” If you enjoyed “Casino Royale” and want to see the promise of the reboot plotline redeemed, go see “Skyfall.” If you watched the last two movies and couldn’t stop griping about how it wasn’t a real Bond movie… well, you and I don’t have a lot to discuss, but you should probably go see “Skyfall” so you can gripe about it from a position of firsthand knowledge, at least.

Whew. Enough words for you?

First Weekend Of May 2008

Hey, it’s a weekend catch-up post! We haven’t done one of these in a while…

Friday: Lil’ shouldn’t be allowed into Best Buy unsupervised. I don’t count, as I’m not a very good supervisor. Then again, I did get the BSG miniseries DVD out of it (since she doesn’t need it anymore). I’m also a couple of books into the Eric Flint “1632” franchise; it’s not too shabby, all things considered, though I imagine that my interest will wane after another massive volume or so.

Saturday (daytime): Erica and I watched Alex do improv theater games in a park in the rain for an hour or so. Amusing it was, but eventually it got cold and we got bored so off to Burgerville we went. It’s appalling how much BV charges for a “large” cup of orange juice. Oy.

Saturday (night IRON MAN): Kyla and I decided to do the dinner-and-a-movie thing. Oh, what an excellent movie! I’ll spare you the full review (since, let’s see, nearly everyone on the Internet has reviewed the thing already) but suffice to say that it’s a solid, entertaining, surprisingly restrained, well acted, beautifully produced superhero movie which benefits from a touch of gritty realism but without the bloody mayhem or out-of-place sex scenes (the only one in the movie is very short and played entirely for laughs). Even the scenery chewing is kept to reasonable limits. The funny bits were genuinely funny! I know, I’m as amazed as you are. Robert Downey, Jr completely owns the role of Tony Stark. The other actors range from “quite good” to “better than expected,” though it’s not a movie with a large main cast. I think the worst special effect in the movie is Jeff Bridges’ skullcap. (Turns out that it wasn’t a skullcap after all; his head somehow managed to look wrong nonetheless. Oh well, minor quibble.) In short: Unless you hate action movies, you should see Iron Man. (As for the “after-credits” thing… all I can say is, better Sam The Man than David Hasselhoff.)

Saturday (late night): “Doctor Who,” end of the first two-parter in the 4th series of the “new Who.” We love Donna, we love Martha Version 2.0, we don’t necessarily love setting the atmosphere on fire, and the next-episode preview left me wondering what new kinds of drugs the “Who” producers have got their grubby hands on now. The love child of a Timelord and Baby Spice? Really, now.

Sunday: Game day. Well, after we foraged for grub, anyway. In the “City Of” world, my lead villain dinged 40 and opened up her patron powers while my top Defender finally became a “real” Kin by acquiring Fulcrum Shift. Hellooooo, massive buff/debuff! Later, with “the boys,” I snuck in a win at Power Grid followed by a modest but respectable showing at Quiddler. Not bad for competing against five smart blokes, wot?

Spider-Man 3

I’m coming late to this party, but not as late as I am to the TMNT party. (Yes, that’s a review I should have gotten around to weeks ago. Whoops.) Please note that I’m making no attempt to hide spoilers here. It’s my firm belief that nothing I say here will “ruin” your enjoyment of the movie, but if you disagree with that on principle then you should probably wait to read this posting until after you’ve seen the film.

I’ll wait.
Continue reading

Batman Begins

I’ll try to make this brief, ‘cause there’s not much point covering too many of the same bases that a bazillion other reviewers will already have covered. In short, Batman Begins is among the best comics-to-celluloid conversions I’ve seen. It’s surprisingly realistic, well-paced, and rarely disappointing.

What interests me most about the movie, looking back on it, is that on one level it’s the story of a man’s search for a replacement father-figure or mentor. Bruce finds what he needs halfway around the world… or does he? He learns many valuable lessons, but “Ducard” isn’t really the right fit. No, that would be Alfred, the man he actually rejects any number of times previously. Maybe I’m reading too much into this aspect, but hey, I’m just amazed that the movie manages to have this thread without it being obnoxious or blatant.

So, the cast. I liked seeing Gary Oldman in a fairly low-key role, and he does solid work here. His Jim Gordon is sensitive, somewhat harried, but unerringly devoted to the way things should be.

Morgan Freeman, for all that it looks like he’s mostly gliding his way through his part, is so damned enjoyable that I really didn’t care that he wasn’t trying all that hard. It’s not like he had a lot to do, and he did get a couple of sly, understated moments. “Oh, you wouldn’t be interested in that,” he says with a twinkle in his eye…

Michael Caine is a joy to watch, and while his Alfred isn’t quite the cooly composed and dry-witted butler we’ve seen in other renditions, he brings a heart to the role that works perfectly given the structure of this particular plot. He serves as the true mentor to Bruce, even after being rejected any number of times, and he is believable as the able and brilliant collaborator.

As for Bruce’s first mentor, the false one, Liam Neeson dips into his Qui-Gon Jinn bag of tricks pretty heavily, but manages to be dark and menacing in the right ways at the right time, and he’s never over-the-top.

Kat(i)e Holmes? She has very little to do besides look pretty and be Bruce’s other conscience from time to time, whcih she does passing well, but not that well. And while I’m here, can I just take a moment to say that “TomKat” had better damned well be the last of the “celebrity couple monikers” we have to suffer hearing about every single day? “Bennifer” was bad enough, but “TomKat” is just silly. What next? Oh, wait, I don’t want to know.

Anyway. The last actor I want to talk about before I wrap this up is Christian Bale. Is he a good Batman, and is he a good Bruce Wayne? That’s always been the problem, of course, the fact that there are two roles to play. Superman’s a goodie-two-shoes no matter whether he’s in costume or in disguise, but Batman is practically schizophrenic. Previous attempts have been hit-or-miss, with some actors doing the playboy billionaire part well but failing to convince as the Dark Knight, and others wearing the cape-and-cowl fairly well but faceplanting in a tuxedo. I think Mr. Bale does… okay. I’m not the first and won’t be the last to think that his “Batman Rasp” is a bit silly, but in all other respects his Bat-work is fairly decent. I’m not sure he’s the best Bruce Wayne we could’ve gotten, but he’s actually quite good enough to do the job. My biggest complaint with his work was a tendency towards a deer-in-the-headlights stare when surprised by events. That may have been the directing, but there you go.

So what about the story, the plot, the much-touted realism? The grounding in a kind of reality this film gives you is superb. You believe in this world and these characters. Sure, at the end there’s a kind of models-and-set-pieces action-flick feel to things, but until that point the movie is unrelentingly glitz-free. That’s not to say it isn’t stylish and flashy at times, but it doesn’t feel fake. This is the kind of genuinely dramatic, grounded-in-its-world movie that The Hulk tried so hard and failed so completely to be.

I’ll end with an observation that I didn’t make, myself, until the end of the movie. There is no opening credits sequence. The movie just… begins. Only when I saw the end credits roll did I realize this, and it made me love the movie that much more. I’m not knocking what Marvel’s done with its franchises, but having this movie just thrust you into the story from the moment the theater lights go down adds something immeasurable to the realism of the overall picture.

Batman Begins. If all goes well, it will continue with as good of quality as it’s started with. I hope.

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