Category: Film

Quantum of Solace

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Not as good as Casino Royale. It was still quite enjoyable, though. I like the director Marc Forster’s style. Previously he directed Stranger Than Fiction, Finding Neverland, and Monster’s Ball. He’s got quite the range.

I find that Roger Ebert’s criticism of the film is accurate, though I don’t hate it as much as he does. I agree that it was a little too much like the Bourne movies, and the plot was its weakest part. Quantum‘s predecessor was successful because it didn’t overload the audience with too many quick-cut chase scenes and Michael Bay-level suspension of belief. I also think the Bond girl(s) in Quantum were inferior to Vesper Lynd in Royale. The Bolivian woman had a back story fit for a soap opera (and delivered it like a soap opera star would too), though that doesn’t take away the from the emotional punch that comes out of the events surrounding the climax.

Still, I think Quantum works because it resolved Bond’s emotional storyline (“Bond” and “emotional” in the same sentence? Yes, and here’s why.) I look forward to the next one simply to see if it ends up becoming another standard self-contained Bond film. I wouldn’t mind if they kept up the thread they started with Casino Royale regarding Bond’s motivation for revenge and the continual molding of his character’s sometimes wild and sometimes humorous way about things.

Whatever gripes I have about the plot and the action scenes don’t overshadow my continued love of (and borderline man-crush on) Daniel Craig as Bond. He is so right for the role. I look forward to seeing him better the part for years to come.

1.21 Gigawatts!?

November 12, 1955.

Know the date?

Hill Valley, California. The Clock Tower. Struck by lightning. At 10:04 p.m.

53 years today.

Oh, yeah.

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In honor of this historic day in the BTTF world, here is an appreciation I wrote for the school paper:

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If I were asked to name what I think are the greatest films of all time, I might throw out a few high-brow titles like Rear Window or Casablanca or Taxi Driver. But if I had to name my favorite film, one that makes me love movies and makes me love being alive, it would be Back to the Future.

A silly overstatement, right? Not in the least. I first saw Back to the Future in middle school. Since then it has become my comfort movie. Everyone has one. Everyone has a movie they watch because it reminds them of their childhood or makes them feel happy. My sister watches Seven Brides for Seven Brothers because it got her through the grieving process after our grandma died. I watch Back to the Future because, like all those classic Disney movies, it reminds me of the goodness of my youth. Plus, it is simply a good movie.

You don’t realize it the first few times you watch it, but Back to the Future is an incredibly well-written movie. There are so many subtle things you don’t notice until you reach the BTTF-nerd status as I have. For instance, the mall is named “Twin Pines Mall” in the beginning. Then, after Marty, played by Michael J. Fox, comes back from the future, it is named “Lone Pine Mall.” This is because he ran over one of the two pine trees in Mr. Peabody’s front yard. (Remember when I mentioned the nerd status? I wasn’t kidding.)

The writing, especially the dialogue, is exceptionally smart, given that the movie was a big-budget blockbuster when it was released in 1985. The Doc Brown character, played by Christopher Lloyd, has many of the funniest one-liners as the eccentric scientist from the 1950s. He wonders what Marty’s strange suit is and Marty tells him it’s a radiation suit. He responds, “A radiation suit? Of course! Because of all the fallout from the atomic wars.” Later, Marty says his catchphrase “This is heavy” again and Doc wonders why: “There’s that word again: ‘heavy.’ Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the earth’s gravitational pull?”

The acting, as well, is spot-on. But did you know that Michael J. Fox was not originally cast as Marty? Eric Stoltz, who played the drug dealer in Pulp Fiction, was cast first and even filmed a few scenes, but the director Robert Zemeckis fired him (thank God) once Fox found room in his filming schedule for his popular sitcom “Family Ties.” Christopher Lloyd as Doc and Crispin Glover as George McFly were perfectly peculiar in their roles and Tom Wilson as Biff Tannen created one of the all-time greatest movie bullies.

But any movie can have clever writing and good casting. What makes me love it so? Honestly, I don’t know. The original music score is wildly fun and the 1950s sets are great bits of nostalgia, but they are just parts of the whole. It just has that X-factor that won’t let me forget how much I love to sit in a darkened room and watch a story unfold. This particular story just happens to zip around the space-time continuum with a slightly insecure, “Johnny B. Goode”-playing teenager and his lovably loquacious scientist friend.

If I can’t explain why I love the Back to the Future trilogy so much, I can simply show you. In addition to the posters from all three movies hanging on my wall, I have three different DeLorean die-cast, 1:18 scale model cars (one from each movie) and a pen and a key chain I bought from Universal Studios after taking the now-defunct BTTF ride. Yet my nerdness runs deeper: I also have a copy of the letter Marty writes to Doc which I made myself in junior high pinned to my bulletin board at home. Yeah, that’s right.

But the most amazing experience I’ve had with Back to the Future had nothing to do with the movie. When I was in eighth grade, my dad met a guy who owned a real DeLorean and asked him to dress up like Doc Brown, crazy wig and all, and cruise down my street and into my driveway. He leaped out of the car and yelled, “Chad, you’ve got to come back with me! Back to the future!” I jumped in the car and we drove around the city like crazy time-travelers. It was an otherworldly experience. (I now realize I never thanked my dad for. Thanks, Dad!)

To me, Back to the Future represents the incredible power of cinema. I feel like I take in the world through my senses when I watch it. I know that sounds crazy, but I can’t describe it any other way. I know that every one of us has a book or a movie or a song that has an invisible hold on our hearts and souls. Mine just happens to rock along to “Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Gosh! Idiot!

June 11, 2009. It is the first day I will be able to watch Napoleon Dynamite for the first time.

When that movie first came out in 2004, it was hyped up so much by my peers. Everybody recited the lines for about six months and I got really sick of it, as did everyone else eventually. I decided around that time that in order to allow myself the opportunity to enjoy the movie without being affected by the hype, I would wait five years to watch the movie.

Next June will be five years to the day of its theatrical release, so I guess I’ll find out then. I’m looking forward to it.

I’m pretty sure I already know all of the funny lines from it, courtesy of my high school peers. Although, Napoleon Dynamite, I’ve heard, is one of those movies you will either love or hate. Based on what I know about it, I think I’ll enjoy it.

If there is a movie that has been released for a while and has been hyped up way too much, but you haven’t seen it yet, I’d recommend postponing like I did. I know a few people who waited too long to see The Dark Knight and were let down because of the sky-high expectations set by those around them. You will get joshed by your friends for not seeing it, but it will be worth it.

What movies have you put off seeing because of its hype?

All Animated Films Are Not Created Equal

Originally published in the North Central Chronicle in October 2008.

Are all movies created equal? The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) doesn’t think so. With the creation of the Best Animated Feature category at the Academy Awards, animated movies that deserve to be nominated for Best Picture are unfairly pigeon-holed into this marginalized category.

Only one animated movie has ever been nominated for Best Picture. It was Beauty and the Beast in 1991. Though the AMPAS rules don’t prevent a film to be nominated for both categories, the chances of an animated movie being nominated for Best Picture are greatly reduced because of the animated feature category.

Take last year’s Ratatouille for example. It was one of the best reviewed films of 2007. It currently has a 95% certified fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, which is better than There Will Be Blood. So why wasn’t it nominated for Best Picture? Because an animated movie aimed at kids does not meet the same high-brow expectations as art-house flicks like There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men and so Disney would never try to lobby for a Best Picture nod, even if every member of the Academy loved it.

That’s understandable, I guess, but the real problem is how animated movies as a whole are regarded. Critics and audiences as well as the Academy ooh and ahh over the good ones but never even think Best Picture is in the cards. The Pixar animation studio has put out an unprecedented string of commercial and critical hits since Toy Story in 1995, its first feature film. Three of their films have won the Best Animated Feature award, deservedly so. But the fact that such acclaimed work does not get a fair shot at the biggest possible award for filmmaking shows an implicit condescension and under-appreciation for the animated genre in general.

Brad Bird, director of The Incredibles and Ratatouille, put it bluntly: “People keep saying, ‘The animation genre.’ It’s not a genre! A Western is a genre; animation is an art form, and it can do any genre.” Using animation is simply one way of telling a story. To box it in as a separate entity is to belittle the work writers and animators do to create an entire fictional world from scratch in order to tell a story.

And animated movies may not just be for kids. Look at last year’s Persepolis or Beowulf or the Japanese films Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away. Even the more commercial Shrek and all of the Pixar movies appeal to young adults and parents because of the subtle (and not so subtle) pop culture references. I love Ratatouille and the other Pixar movies not just for their artistic shimmer and sly wit, but for their solid storytelling. That, above all, should be the litmus test for Best Picture nominees, which is how Beauty and the Beast earned a nod a decade and a half ago.

The animated feature category may do a good service by acknowledging excellence in that medium, but it does harm by allowing poor movies to be nominated. Because there are only so many feature-length animated films that wouldn’t embarrass the Academy by being nominated (I’m looking at you, Space Chimps), movies that don’t deserve the recognition sneak in beneath the far superior works. Shark Tale and Ice Age have been nominated, as well as Happy Feet, which won unjustly in 2006. The Academy needs to fill the void somehow, so they have to nominate non-Pixar movies to try to make the category relevant.

Film should serve the story. It shouldn’t matter if the film is computer-generated. The stories in Ratatouille and Toy Story 2, another animated film that got short-changed, deserve the recognition that lesser live-action movies often times receive. Pixar’s latest, WALL-E, will no doubt receive the same treatment as its predecessors, even though it was the most daring and exquisite film of the year. It will win Best Animated Feature, but it’s not just that. The level of praise it has garnered from critics and audiences is bested only by The Dark Knight which already has a better chance of scoring on Oscar night because it stars real human beings.

The best films of the year should be recognized as such. Period. Hollywood politics get in the way of this too often, which is how lesser pictures win. But because I’m not an Academy member, I can only sit back and hope the best of best get a shot at the big prize. One can only hope.

The Dark Knight – Round 2

Just saw The Dark Knight for the second time. I tried to take in all the theories and analyses I read after seeing it the first time and look at the film with a discerning eye.

The big thing I noticed was that Bruce’s love for Rachel fuels a lot of his decisions and affects the course of events greatly. But for having so much influence on the plot, it wasn’t the strongest part of the movie. I found myself either not caring or not understanding the love (or lack thereof) between Bruce and Rachel. It just seemed like an arc that belonged in a soap opera.

Either way, I still liked it the second time. To see so much depth in a summer blockbuster is a good thing. If it doesn’t get any important Oscar nominations then something is wrong, not with the movie but with the voters.

What’s Going On?

Haven’t been on much—camp is keeping me busy. It is nice, though, to be able to unplug from the world for a while and not be able to check your email and keep up on the news even if you want to. Here’s a few thoughts on random stuff:

—The Dark Knight was just amazing. I’m looking forward to seeing it again.

—In regards to the Favre-Packers debacle, the Packers organization I think has done right. Favre has lost all of the goodwill he earned throughout his career by continuing to flip-flop and run his mouth. I’ll always be a Favre fan, but I’m a Packers fan above all. He retired quite tearfully and emphatically. If he wants to come back he has to do it on the team’s terms.

—Ebert & Roeper at the Movies, Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper’s weekly movie review show will no longer be. Ebert and Disney could not come to an agreement about the show’s direction after Ebert’s departure and so both Ebert and Roeper will be leaving the show. I really, really hope they find a way to get back on the air on their own terms because the intelligent and entertaining film criticism it provides week to week is one of a kind.

—The two movies I was most looking forward to this summer—The Dark Knight and Wall-E—did not let me down. I’m not sure what else is coming out this summer that will be worth watching, but I’ll have lots of time after camp to check them out.

Saving No Country For The Band of Brothers

I just noticed this:

They all have basically the same design. I love all three of these films so I don’t really care, but I just thought it was curious.

Iron Man

I think us moviegoers have caught on to the whole Superhero Movie thing. We’ve learned that comic book superheroes are born out of a freak radioactive experiment gone wrong, or out of childhood anger, yadda yadda yadda. We know that evil villains will eventually be outsmarted and killed due to excessive monologuing. We’ve caught on to the formula, which is why the summer Superhero Movie blockbuster was in danger of extinction.

Was. Was in danger of extinction. Thanks to Iron Man, the Superhero Movie has returned to glory. And I say, welcome back.

Robert Downey Jr. plays the billionaire engineer, genius, and playboy Tony Stark who runs Stark Industries, a weapons manufacturer and military contractor. After a demonstration of his highly destructive state-of-the-art missile called the “Jericho”, Stark is attacked and captured by terrorists in Afghanistan. He gets hit with shrapnel in the attack, but avoids death by creating a device that keeps the shrapnel away from his heart using electro-magnetics.

Stark’s captors force him to build a new Jericho missile inside a cave completely from scratch, but he instead builds an armored iron suit equipped with guns and missiles a plenty and escapes his captivity. But after seeing his own company’s weapons being used by the enemy against American forces, Stark returns home with a new mindset. He decides to no longer manufacture weapons. This moral transformation is the key to the entire film.

Stark secretly rebuilds the armored iron suit he created with new hi-tech features, intent on using it to destroy the enemy forces from which he escaped and the weapons they were using. The scenes where Stark perfects the design are full of slapstick and wit between Stark and his robotic lab assistants. The final product, the Iron Man, looks something like the Tin Man from the year 3000, outfitted with hyper-intelligent technology and a slick paint job.

Stark’s conversion from being a cocky showboat to a morally-conflicted superhero is what makes these kinds of films interesting to watch. He is tremendously flawed, even with his intelligence, but we still like him and want him to succeed.

Only a few people close to Stark see the transformation: his assistant Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow), who tries to balance her strong independence and her increasing attraction to Stark; his business partner Obadiah (Jeff Bridges), who tries to hide shady business deals from the newly-idealistic Stark; and Rhodes, Stark’s Air Force Colonel friend who is wary of Stark’s new crime-fighting methods.

Ultimately, Robert Downey Jr. is this movie. He’s funny, quirky, and a terrific actor. He’s also a unique casting choice for a superhero, which is why the film works so well. His troubled real-life back story helps his character seem all the more real. Story-wise, Iron Man isn’t revolutionary, but that doesn’t really matter. The characters are strong and relatable, so the story simply falls into place around them.

Downey and the director Jon Favreau, who also directed Elf and Zathura, allow the film to stretch beyond the normal guidelines of the typical summer action movie. There are the usual high-octane action sequences, of course, but the talented supporting cast makes each character vital and interesting. The last superhero film to accomplish that was Batman Begins.

I’ve already heard Oscar buzz for this film, and rightly so. I would fully endorse a Best Actor nomination for Downey. The Academy has snubbed summer superhero movies in the past, and for good reason. They are produced solely to make a profit, so sometimes a quality cast and story are lost between the ridiculous special effects sequences. But not with this film. I was fully engaged with Stark’s moral debate, but I also thoroughly enjoyed Stark-as-Iron Man battling his nemesis at Mach-speed in the Los Angeles night sky.

Iron Man is just about the best movie to kick off the summer season. After last year’s lackluster threequels failed to inspire, Downey and Co. have given us something to fully enjoy without sacrificing the crucial elements that make a good film. Two sequels have already been planned—the first is set to release on April 30, 2010—so it looks like we’ll be seeing much more of Stark and Iron Man. And I say, bring it on.

Macho, Macho Men: Vulnerability In ‘Casino Royale’ And ‘The Bourne Identity’

Originally published in the North Central Chronicle on April 25, 2008.

John McClane, Rambo, the Terminator. They are the American Action Hero: muscular, terse, a killing machine. They favor spouting clever catchphrases and blowing stuff up over expressing emotion. To them, women are hors d’oeuvres best enjoyed while they serve cold dishes of revenge to bad guys. In recent years, Hollywood has deconstructed this action hero archetype and rebuilt it into the more complicated and affected man.

Two such characters, Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity (2002) and James Bond in Casino Royale (2006), inhabit the stereotypical macho man role but confront emotional walls typical in males and discover the pain that can come with true vulnerability. These men, however, are not just movie characters. They share the same struggle with identity and masculinity with males in the real world.

The James Bond movie lovers have come to know is a suave, martini-drinking womanizer who effortlessly shoots bad guys and jets around in sports cars. But the Bond in Casino Royaleis different. He’s still rough around the edges, an arrogant thug who cannot control his emotions or his actions. When he meets Vesper Lynd, the ravishing femme fatale, she sees through him easily: “You think of women as disposable pleasures, rather than meaningful pursuits,” she says.

After Bond realizes his transparency, he treats Lynd as a meaningful pursuit rather than a disposable pleasure. He begins to trust her. Eventually, he gives in to her. “I have no armor left. You’ve stripped it from me. Whatever is left of me, whatever I am, I’m yours,” says Bond. He finally drops his emotional armor and allows a woman in, becoming vulnerable for the first time.

But his vulnerability did not serve him well. He learns that she was using him all along for money. The one person for whom he opened his heart carves it up, so he closes it again and takes up the armor. “You don’t trust anyone, do you?” asks his boss. “No,” he says. “Then you’ve learned your lesson,” she replies.

Jason Bourne fights a different battle. When we first meet him he floats unconscious on the ocean with bullets in his back and a tracking device in his hip. When he comes to, he doesn’t know who he is or remember anything until that point, but does know several languages and hand-to-hand combat. He slowly learns that he is a killing machine that only functions because it cannot do anything else.

Then he meets a woman. She drives him on his journey to self-discovery, first by payment, then on her own accord. She helps him as he follows his animalistic instincts to find his identity and his purpose. Bourne finds the man who knows the answers and he tells Bourne the truth: “I don’t send you to kill. I send you to be invisible. I send you because you don’t exist.” After a death-defying search, he finds out that he is only a shell of a man, a blunt instrument of death.

Bourne’s confrontation with the mysterious man triggers a flashback to right before he was found floating in the ocean. He was ordered to assassinate a dictator but couldn’t pull the trigger because the target’s children were lying next to him. The one time compassion creeps into his heart, he is shot in the back and left for dead in the open sea. That is quite a lesson to learn.

Bond and Bourne experience the same challenges to their masculinity, yet they end up in different places. Bond starts as an emotionless brute, becomes softened by a woman, then is betrayed by said woman and shuts himself off from emotion again. Bourne goes through the same process, except at the end he remains open to Marie and at peace with his existence.

Through both stories run two constants: women and killing. These constants represent two big fears that men have: that if he opens himself up to a woman, she will rip his heart out; and that if he doesn’t fulfill the male stereotype of being tough and emotionless, he will be thought of as less than a man. Not necessarily by women, but by their fellow man.

These fears, at their full effect, can cripple a man’s masculinity and trust in women. They turn them into chauvinistic playboys, forever caught in a perpetual state of arrested development. They are the reason why so many single women claim that ‘there are no more decent guys’—they’ve been taken captive by the fear of being vulnerable.

James Bond and Jason Bourne may be fictional characters, but they have the same dilemma as real men. Not all men are lost causes, however. In fact, none really are. Modern males have a simple choice: remain shadows of men destined for empty relationships and guarded hearts, or fight the temptation to run from intimacy.

The Oscars — ‘Once’ Wins!

I got two of my Oscar picks wrong – not bad. I don’t remember why I didn’t pick Diablo Cody to win, but I’m glad she did.

Yay for Once! It was pretty lame that Marketa Irglova got cut off, but pretty awesome that Jon Stewart gave her time later.

The only reason why the ceremony keeps going so long every year is because of the pointless montages. Besides the standard In Memoriam and a fun one thrown in just for kicks, every one of them should have been cut. Though I did enjoy the “Salute to Binoculars and Waking Up from a Bad Dream” mini montages.

I love Jon Stewart, so I loved him tonight. If you don’t get or enjoy his humor, you probably thought he did poorly. But every one of his wisecracks were great.

I’m glad No Country won. Much has been said about There Will Be Blood, but that movie was Daniel Day-Lewis, and he was properly awarded for it. I think the right choice was made so that in 50 years, when they show another montage of past Best Picture winners, people will still actually like and remember No Country, as opposed to Crash, Around the World in Eighty Days, Million Dollar Baby, etc.

I love movies.