Beauty and the Beast (2017)

The final part of the Toronto ComiCon weekend meet-up with Drew is our Friday’s night movie going adventure to see the live action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. Drew and I both have Disney segments on our respective blogs and it really highlights how much we love it in general. Plus, we just finished our 90’s Blogathon so hey, it all fits perfectly together. As objective as we would like to be, it is hard to not compare it to the original animation. I am just going to be honest here before we start.

Lets check it out!

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

beauty and the beast

Director: Bill Condon

(Voice) Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Kevin Kline, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ian McKellan, Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson

The beauty of animation is how magical they can be because they are imaginative and creative. To bring something like that to life creates a lot of challenge. There has be matching music and atmosphere and most importantly, the magical chemistry that we can feel with these characters which is usually easier to believe when its animation than in real life. I would be lying if I didn’t go into Beauty and the Beast optimistically skeptical. Why? I haven’t watched anything from Emma Watson since Harry Potter series ended and I only know Dan Stevens as the creepy dude in The Guest and an extremely small part of Season one of Downton Abbey. Not a lot to compare to and I didn’t really look too much at the voice actors either. The question now, after a few days of the initial excitement and thinking about it: does it live up to its original? The answer is no. I have to reluctantly say that because of a few aspects. However, I also never expected it to live up to the original so I still had a lot of fun with it.

Beauty and the Beast 2017

Beauty and the Beast’s best part is creating its atmosphere and the world. It is absolutely gorgeous. The effects and CGI put us right into the setting of the town and especially the castle and forest areas. There was a darker tone however, it does manage to capture a great part of the magic that made the first one great. Of course, the original animated film offered up some of the most beautiful animation with its rich colors and catchy musical tunes. That comes to the second part that gives this movie something more. While retaining a lot of the music from the original, they manage to put a few new songs in. The nostalgia and magic of the old music still is the fun parts of the movie plus it shows a true determination of creating a animated film with this one that stays true to a musical with actually not a lot of dialogue.

Beauty and the Beast

Belle is one of my favorite heroines/Disney princesses. To be honest, Emma Watson did a decent performance. I can’t say that she was particularly memorable though. She fit in well because she had a good enough singing voice and the movie’s overall magical appeal swept me away. That isn’t to say that I didn’t like her. I just can’t really pinpoint a part of hers that stuck out to her. On that note, her chemistry with the Beast worked well enough that the story made it easy to fall in love with the story again even knowing what would happen and in that final scene where there’s that twist, I had tears in my eyes, which was definitely unexpected. Turning over to Dan Stevens as the Beast, his face was pretty much CGI and yet perhaps it is because of that, it was easier to keep it imaginative. When he was angry at the beginning, there were moments of fear and later as he softened, his features also made it so much more gentle. There was so much more to love in how Dan Stevens portrayed the Beast than Belle which seems to be the opposite of how I remembered the Disney animation.

Beauty and the Beast

The stars and the most dynamic characters of the original was almost always these supporting animated enchanted characters. Who knew that clocks and candelabras and teapots could make us fall in love with them, right? That is something that really stands out also in this live action. The voice cast is a fantastic ensemble with Cogsworth being voices Ian McKellan, Lumiere by Ewan McGregor, Mrs. Potts by Emma Thompson and of course, the man who tends to sneak into every movie in some supporting part and almost makes it shine, the grand piano (Maestro) by Stanley Tucci. I loved them the most in this live action adaptation (or is it a remake?). There are so many similarities to the original but somehow their enchantedness makes it easier to imagine them in this way.
Beauty and the Beast

Finally, we can’t not talk about the most self-absorbed villain, Gaston. I honestly like Gaston quite a bit and his sequences especially the Gaston songs and bits are quite humorous in the animation and I’m pretty happy about how they approached this character and Luke Evans take on it. There were a lot of funny moments and it helps a lot. The ending battle with the Beast was a little underwhelming but it was never meant to be overly long even in the original. Gaston isn’t really a true threat ever. I’m not sure any believes that he’ll amount to anything too much especially not when his right hand man is Lefou who is just there for comedic relief. Josh Gad didn’t quite stand out as much either.

Overall, Beauty and the Beast is a decent live action take of the original. In comparison, it is hard to meet the original’s masterful animation however there is still a lot to love especially because this one takes good care in creating a beautiful environment and magical atmosphere. The winter and snowy landscape with the dark but beautiful castle captures lots of mystic, especially watching the take on the castle falling apart as the magic wears away from each rose petal falling. While some characters are a little underwhelming in their portrayal, the majority did a pretty great job however the magic of the story itself did carry itself and shadowed the shortcomings in the moment.

Have you seen Beauty and the Beast?

Backcountry (2014)

Backcountry (aka Blackfoot Trail) has been a movie on my radar for quite some time. Something about the wilderness being our enemy seems always so intriguing. Think about Frozen, not the Disney animated film but this one here. Maybe not intriguing but the unpredictability is threatening at times because we can’t quite anticipate what to do, except try to prepare the best possible for it. Plus, I love to support Canadian films.

Let’s check this out!

Backcountry (2014)

backcountry

Director (and writer): Adam MacDonald

Cast: Missy Peregrym,  Jeff Roop, Eric Balfour, Nicholas Campbell

An urban couple go camping in the woods and find themselves lost in the territory of a predatory black bear. – IMDB

Backcountry is a story about survival based on a true story. A couple goes out to the woods lead by boyfriend, Alex who wants to take his busy girlfriend, Jenn to Blackfoot Trail to not only get away from the urban life but to a specific spot he remembered was really pretty when he was younger. Except to finally realize that they were not only lost but with a bear following their tracks. So much thrill can come from this concept and don’t get me wrong, it does because the story takes its time to let us know our characters before putting them into danger and while the thrill of outsmarting nature is great, it is hard to ignore the basic common sense. Please do note that I do not know the true story and never read up on any details so this write up is just from a standalone.

Backcountry

For people who are beginner hikers, or beginner anything really, we all know to go in prepared. This is where we already know where the story will go because Alex, upon being offered a map to the trail and against all caution, decides to go without taking the map. This is about as spoiler as I will get, I promise. How do you cheer for someone who doesn’t even know to protect themselves and have all odds on their side? Now, Jenn doesn’t even pay attention on anything else or listen in on what the ranger says so she just walks in trusting it is all good. I’m all about trust but like I said, you can never be prepared. However, the first part (or half) of the film is really about character development and letting us learn about who these two people are. The decisions they make define who they are and probably what will happen to them. Perhaps also take their story as a cautionary tale.

Backcountry

Early in the film, we start realizing that there a presence of a bear in the area. However Alex chooses to ignore it even when a few more things happen. If I was them, I wouldn’t have continued. No matter how beautiful the scenery is mostly because its more disappointing to die than to wait to come back and enjoy it when its safer, something our two characters really are quite naive about. However, here is where I will stop talking about the main characters but about the introduction of danger. The creepy feeling of camping and having something outside and how sometimes we can’t predict or even know they are there actually creates the fear in the audience before our characters do because we know more than they do at that current point in time. Definitely one of the finer aspects of Backcountry is creating the gruelling and threatening atmosphere and giving it time to slowly build up.

Backcountry

There are a few other characters in this film. The ranger plays a cameo role with just one short scene. The other is an Irish hiking expert (forgot the actual term) Brad who poses as a intimidating person. What is the meaning of his character? That is the question we should ask ourselves if not to simply inject a slightly bigger name because it is played by Eric Balfour. This character is deep and hard to grasp and it makes his short appearance so much more powerful when we see how Alex and Jenn reacts and the strength in our mains. I honestly believe that was the purpose because it shouldn’t be to divert our attention since most do know, especially with the posters, what this movie is about, I’m guessing (which I could be wrong). In many ways, his character managed to intrigue and create mystery.

 Overall, Backcountry is a slow-burn wilderness survival cautionary tale based on a true story. The main characters are given time to develop and for us to know them better while letting the dangers slowly approach. While the atmosphere and intrigue and urgency of the situation is done very well, there is a part of me that can rationalize bits that escape common sense however, still wonder if its just my way of wanting the characters’ decision to make sense. There are some quite brutal sequences and the second half is much more engaging than the first which is mostly about building up our characters before breaking them down.

Have you seen Backcountry?

Ella Enchanted (2004)

Ultimate 90’s blogathon is done and wrapped up. It is time to embrace some movie reviews. I have to admit that I actually didn’t watch a lot of movies over the last three weeks. I took the opportunity to catch up on TV series and gaming, which was a really nice change in pace.

I am a fan of Anna Hathaway and especially in those Princess Diaries days and I am also a sucker for princess/Cinderella stories which makes Ella Enchanted all the more fantastic. It has been a while that I’ve wanted to see this one so I was excited to see it land on Netflix! Lets give it a go!

Ella Enchanted (2004)

ella enchanted

Director: Tommy O’Haver

Cast: Anne Hathaway, Hugh Dancy, Cary Elwes, Minnie Driver, Aidan McArdle, Joanna Lumley, Lucy Punch, Jennifer Higham, Eric Idle, Vivica A. Fox

Ella is under a spell to be constantly obedient, a fact she must hide from her new step-family in order to protect the prince of the land, her friend for whom she’s falling. – IMDB

Ella Enchanted is an innocent fun movie, actually much more than my first impressions that I remembered of it back when it released. While it does give a Cinderella-esque story, Ella embodies quite a few princesses we are familiar with. She does have an evil stepmother who brings two stepsisters and they do push her aside but Ella also has a fairy in the household and ends up getting a curse, like Sleeping Beauty except her curse is one of being obedient. While it seems great as a baby for their parents, as she grew up, it started to cause her to do many things she didn’t want to. Ella lived with no choices and under people’s desires because of this curse. However, she is very kind and accepting. It is hard to not cheer for Ella when she sets out on her journey to find Lucinda, the fairy who granted her this “gift” and feel bad for her predicament when she gets caught up in bad situations.

Ella Enchanted

Anne Hathaway does a great job at being Ella. There’s a bit of the whole innocent and Princess Diaries’ vibe in her at this point. It is a likeable trait and shows lot of potential in being more as an actress. We do know that she is capable of bigger and more mature roles nowadays. Most of the scenes with Ella as some of the best because she is so fun to watch. Along with the fact that her and Hugh Dancy have pretty good chemistry that it makes their love story even more appealing. I haven’t seen Hugh Dancy in a lot of movies. The one I remember slightly might be a few years ago when I saw Confessions of a Shopaholic (and then IMDB tells me that I’ve also seen him in Blood and Chocolate and The Jane Austen Book Club, oh well). He is a charming man for sure and fits well in the role of Prince Char. Perhaps the most entertaining part of Ella Enchanted is watching these two characters. While over the top to a certain degree, still manages to remain believable.
Ella Enchanted

Aside from our main characters, Ella’s crew of friends that she makes along her journey probably are the silliest. She has a magical book that is her household fairy, Mandy’s (played by Minnie Driver) boyfriend. There’s an elf who wants to be a lawyer and not sing and dance. There’s some silly orcs (I think) and of course, some friendly giants. The story is that Char’s uncle is ruling over the kingdom before he comes into coronation, which is pretty much when the story is set and he has decreed rules that make the other species feel repressed and treated cruelly. These friends while filled with a heart of courage and help with making this funny, sometimes can be a little off beat from the story. It still is fun and innocent especially seeing as this is a truly harmless story and one that we’re pretty familiar with.

Ella Enchanted

Finally, our villain. All fairy tales have one. Ours is none other than Char’s power lusting uncle Edgar played by Cary Elwes. And he also has a sidekick which is a magical CGI snake called Heston. Are you sensing an Aladdin’s Jafar feeling here with his Iago? Either way, Ella Enchanted is very lighthearted and even in its most sinister and dark moments still manages to keep it light and funny. Edgar is completely comedic in many ways. The other villain, in some ways, is the stepsister played by Lucy Punch who really just wanted Ella out of the way in order to get her hands on Prince Char for herself. Nothing too threatening about this character other than the fact that she’s merely a pawn in the whole ordeal to Ella’s dilemma. What makes sure that we are definitely watching a mash-up princess movie and not Cinderella is that our villain isn’t the stepmother who would mimick the role of Lady Tremaine but really has a small role here and who is not at all threatening.

Ella Enchanted

Ella Enchanted is an innocent and fun movie. It never lets us forget that we are watching a fairy tale story with an impressive heroine geared towards a younger audience. It keeps it light by staying comedic and making it a funny affair to watch. There is good chemistry between Anne Hathaway and Hugh Dancy who are clearly the strength of this film. The story is familiar and simple and quite predictable and yet, there’s something charming about it. Perhaps it is because fairy tales, especially live action ones nowadays are getting so dark that its nice to visit one that remembers to keep it fun and fantastical.

Have you seen Ella Enchanted?

Ultimate 90’s Blogathon Wrap-up: Wild Wild West (1999) by Drew’s Movie Reviews

We have arrived, ladies and gents! We are at the final day of the Ultimate 90’s Blogathon and both my fantastically awesome co-host Drew from Drew’s Movie Reviews and I will be sharing our final wrap-up posts on each other’s sites. First to share is Drew with his review of 1999’s Wild Wild West. Will Smith, Kenneth Brannagh, humor and wild west…

Take it away, Drew!

Synopsis
Army Captain James West (Will Smith) is tasked by President Grant (Kevin Kline) to work together with US Marshal Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline) to find the ex-Confederate scientist Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh) before he can take over the United States government.

Review
Wild Wild West was a go-to movie for my friend and I back when we were growing up.  Between the two of us, we could (and still can!) quote the movie in its entirety.  Having watched this many times over the years, I acknowledge that the nostalgia factor might affect my enjoyment of the film, as I have found several flaws since watching it as a young lad. However, that doesn’t mean it still can’t be enjoyed on its own merits.

Right out the gate, this movie is goofy. Not funny, although it is that too, but goofy.  Artemis Gordon’s inventions feel a little too perfect for the situations they get Gordon and Jim West out of. Arliss Loveless’ beard rivals Crane’s beard from The Hunger Games for most intricate movie beard, acting as the proverbial “I’m the bad guy” sign.  Loveless’ invention to bring the “US government to its knees” is a giant, steam-punk tarantula.  Everything about this movie screams “Saturday morning cartoon.” Nevertheless, it has a sense of fun that many film miss, which is why it still works for even as I’ve grown older.  Wild Wild West never takes itself seriously, making it fun for both the actors and the audience.

The humor can be seen as a little juvenile, like the scene below, but that kind of humor is what I like.  Will Smith and John Kline are enjoyable to watch together.  This film came out relatively early in Smith’s film career. It is fun to see how he has brought the same energy and personality to his characters throughout all of his movies, whether they were in the 90s, when he started film acting, or today.  I’ll admit I haven’t seen many of Kline’s films to compare Artemis Gordon to his other roles but his comedy here is more subtle than Smith’s which works because having two boisterous comedians would be too much.

Besides the two leads, the other two big supporting actors, Salma Hayek and Kenneth Branagh are clearly having a good time too.  The often scantily clad Hayek is obviously there for the eye candy and to give West and Gordon someone to compete for, but it doesn’t appear to bother her and she gives a memorable performance.  Branagh gets fully into the maniacal villain role.  It’s cartoonish and over the top but he steals his every scene he’s in.

I thought Wild Wild West was GOOD 🙂 It isn’t afraid to be silly and have fun with itself, which might turn off other viewers but I really enjoyed that.  Everyone, from Will Smith and Kevin Kline to Salma Hayek and Kennith Branagh, feel like they are enjoying themselves.  I grew up watching this film regularly and although its imperfections have become more apparent over the years, it still is every bit the fun, adventurous romp I remember it to be.

Favorite Scene

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Barry Sonnenfeld – Director
Jim Thomas – Story
John Thomas – Story
SS Wilson – Screenplay
Brent Maddock – Screenplay
Jefferey Price – Screenplay
Peter S Seaman – Screenplay
Elmer Bernstein – Composer

Will Smith – James West
Kevin Kline – Artemis Gordon / President Ulysses S Grant
Kenneth Branagh – Dr. Arliss Loveless
Salma Hayek – Rita Escobar
M. Emmet Walsh – Coleman
Ted Levine – General “Bloodbath” McGrath
Frederique van der Wal – Amazonia
Musetta Vander – Munitia
Sofia Eng – Miss Lippenrieder
Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon – Belle
Bai Ling – Miss East

Remember to head over to Drew’s later today to see my wrap-up post!
Hint: Its also a triple feature (just like my kick-off)!

Ultimate 90’s Blogathon: Movie Year: The 90’s by From the Depths of DVD Hell

Ultimate 90's Blogathon

Welcome all to the next entry! We’re in for a complete 1990’s decade visit with our next participant and my awesome Game Warp co-host, Elwood Jones who also runs In the Depths of DVD Hell and runs the podcast MBDS Showcase. Elwood is a man of many projects. He also co-hosts another podcast called TV Good Sleep Bad and recently starting hosting the Lamb Tracks which is currently doing commentary on the Jurassic Park franchise. All incredibly fun and awesome podcasts and site that you need to check out! Hopefully I’ve linked them all so you won’t miss out!

Now let’s pass it on to him!

My Movie Year: The 90’s

What better excuse to look at my favourite movies of the decade, if only to help highlight some of the great and frequently overlooked films which came out during this era, which would also see with 1999 one of the most exciting years of film making in years, as I looked at previously.

1990

Essential Film: La Femme Nikita

Le Femme Nikita

Luc Besson’s  tale of teenage junkie Nikita (Anne Parillaud) who after killing a cop during a bungled pharmacy robbery, finds herself convicted of murder and sentenced to a life in prison, only to soon find herself recruited by a shadowy government agent known as the Centre to be trained as an assassin under the watchful eye of her handler Bob (Tcheky Karyo).

Besson here brings to what would be the usual action / adventure yarn with fist fights and explosions and instead gives us something quite special as while there is certainly an element of action here, what he also gives us is an actual insight into the psychology of this character as she is slowly broken down and rebuilt into the perfect assassin by the Company, with scenes of her being taught to apply lipstick by Amande (Jeanne Moreau) being just as gripping as any of the action scenes which include a pulse pounding restaurant escape.

Although it was remade for an American audience as “Assassin” with Bridget Fonda, this is the definitive version

Further Viewing: King of New York, Darkman

1991

Essential Film: Delicatessen

delicatessen

One of the first films by the highly original French directing duo of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet this surreal Post-apocalyptic black comedy about the residents of an apartment block, owned by the butcher Clapet (Jean-Caude Dreyfus) above whose shop the residents live and who has taken to killing the handymen he employs to keep the residents supplied in meat, which is bad news really for Ex clown Louison (Dominique Pinon) who has just been employed as the new handyman, unaware of what happened to his predecessors.

A strange film to say the least, but not so out there that it leaves the audience wondering what the hell is going on, as it constantly maintains a playful tone as it switches between genres, to give the sort of original film that only Caro and Jeunet are capable of doing, as this is once again very much in their fairytales for grown ups style.

Further Viewing: Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, Rikki-Oh: The Story of Ricky

1992

Essential Film: Hard Boiled

hard boiled

One of if not the best of John Woo’s movies and if you ever needed an example of why he is seen as the king of action movies, this would be a great start, as we are barely minutes into the film before he throws us head first into the first of the films many jaw dropping action sequences, as Insp Tequila (Chow Yun-Fat) unleashes his own dual pistol welding brand of justice.

Featuring a cast of Hong Kong greats which includes Tony Leung and Anthony Wong, John Woo here sets a benchmark for Heroic Gunplay movies, while featuring a hospital shootout, which clocks in at over thirty minutes without reputation. This is one infectious mix of gunplay, explosions and jazz!

Further Viewing: Braindead, Man Bites Dog, Porco Rosso

1993

Essential Film: Cronos

cronos

The debut film by Guillermo del Toro, here sees him reworking the vampire mythos, with this tale of an mechanical scarab-shaped device which grants the wearer the gift of eternal life aswell as a thirst for blood. This in many ways marking the start of things to come, while establishing del Toro as a the visionary director he is recognised as today, while for one reason of another this film has outside of genre fans been left largely unseen.

Here he shows a clear love for the genre, while as with the films which followed it also showed that he was not afriad to break the rules and breathe new life into a much over worked horror sub-genre with this truly unique film which is as visually stunning as it as it times horrifying.

Further Viewing: Army of Darkness, Falling Down, Iron Monkey, Ninja Scroll, True Romance

1994

Essential Film: The Crow

The Crow

It would be a sad case of history repeating itself that Brandon Lee’s breakout film would sadly be his last, as he died during filming and much like his father Bruce Lee, who also never got to enjoy the success of his own breakout film “Enter The Dragon”. The first of two films to be directed by Alex Proyas on this list, with this certainly the better known of the two no doubt thanks to the cult following it has built up since it’s release, aswell as the controversy of Lee’s death during the last eight days of filming.

This classic tale of revenge  based on the graphic novel by James O’Barr, about rock musician Eric Draven (Lee) rising from the grave to avenge his own murder aswell as that of his fiancée via the mystical powers of the crow, which now makes him immune from physical harm. The film is drenched in gothic styling while also containing many nods in its style to both “Blade Runner” and Tim Burtons “Batman”. Needless to say this film looks stunning and would make for a design test run for the lesser seen “Dark City. Lee meanwhile embodies the character of Draven, while equally showing himself to be just as capable as both a dramatic actor as he is as an actor star, while this film just leaves us to wonder what could have been,

Further Viewing: Fist of Legend, Hoop Dreams, The Hudsucker Proxy, Wing Chun

1995

Essential Film: Empire Records

Empire records

Back when this film was released it considered to be pretty cool job to work in a record shop, though I’m not sure that this still stands with nearly every record store having long since closed down and kids today more keen to work for I dunno Amazon or something, but still this film still has a lot of charm, especially for those of us who belonged to the MTV generation, which essentially this film is the embodiment of.

Following the employees of a Empire Records over the course of one truly exceptional day, when one of the employees Lucas (Rory Cochrane) discovers that the store is to be turned into a franchise store called music town, leading the employees to band together to save the store.

Staring many future stars including Renee Zellweger, Liv Tyler and Anthony LaPaglia as the long suffering store owner and father figure Joe, this coming of age comedy never seems to get the attention it really deserves, especially when it combines teenage angst with shameless AC/DC worship and even a pot brownie trip which sees Mark (Ethan Embry) rocking out with GWAR before being eaten by their giant worm thing, which honestly for that one scene alone makes it a must see.

Also Noteworthy: The Basketball Diaries, The City of Lost Children, The DoomGeneration , La Haine, Ghost In The Shell, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, Living In Oblivion. Mortal Kombat, Welcome To The Dollhouse

1996

Essential Film: Joe’s Apartment

Joe's Apartment

When picking this year’s selection, I went back and forth so much between this one and “From Dusk Till Dawn”, both of which could be considered essential, but eventually it would be this film which won out on the grounds of “Dusk Till Dawn” already being pretty well known and secondly because this is a film about a man who lives with talking cockroaches and who wouldn’t want to see that movie?

An expansion on the original 1992 short film, while also inspired by “Twilight of the Cockroaches” and the 1987 short “Those Damn Roaches” this tale of penniless Joe (Jerry O’Connell), who having moved to New York soon finds himself sharing his apartment with around 20 to 30 thousand roommates, in the form of a bunch of all singing and dancing cockroaches, who having recognised Joe as being one of their own, soon set out to lend him a helping hand.

Using a mixture of stop motion animation and the slightly cheaper effect of just making parts of the apartment rattle, this is a random film to say the least and while it might not work in places, when the roaches are in screen, it usually guarantees fun times, with the standout moment being their attempts to help Joe on a date, which unsurprisingly ends in chaos. A strange curiosity from the MTV generation and a reminder of the kind of projects that MTV used to be involved with before they changed their focus to the likes of “The Hills” and “Jersey Shore”.

Further Viewing: From Dusk Till Dawn, Trees Lounge, Swingers

1997

Essential Film: Princess Mononoke

princess mononoke

One of my all time favourite Studio Ghibli movies, this epic tale of industry versus nature as Ashitaka finds himself caught in the battle lines drawn by Lady Eboshi of Iron Town, who is destroying the forest merely for her people’s own good and the guardians of the forest.

Visually stunning with highly intelligent scripting, this is another perfect example of the genius of Hayao Miyazaki, while also being commisioned by Disney who clearly did not know what they were getting with this film, which not only has burst of violence, bloodshed and gore but also is far from thier usual fluffy plotting and styling, as Miyazaki combines fantasy and mythology in his gripping and fast paced tale.

Further Viewing: Breakdown, Boogie Nights, Cube, Chasing Amy, Funny Games, The Game, Junk Mail, Life Is Beautiful, Mimic, Nowhere, Orgazmo, Rainy Dog, Starship Troopers

1998

Essential Film: Dark City

Dark City

The second Alex Proyas on this list and sadly the most overlooked, as this Kafka esq tale opens with John (Refus Sewell) waking up naked in a hotel bathtub, his memories erased and a mutilated prostitute on the bed. Soon John finds himself framed for a string of brutal and bizarre murders and on the run from not only the police, but also the strange trench coat clad men known only as “The Strangers” as he tries to piece together his missing memories.

Sharing the same gothic styling as his previous film “The Crow” this film only built upon those designs as here Proyas gives us a city of perminant midnight,with definite shades of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” and Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”while skillfully combining elements of sci-fi and noir to create a potent mix, while drip feeding the audience infomation as to the truth about Dark City.

Further Viewing: American History X, BASEketball, The Big Lebowski, Ringu, Run Lola Run, Rushmore

1999

Essential Film: Cruel Intentions

cruel intentions

An MTV style reworking of the classic novel “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, which has over the years has been adapted no less than thirteen times, with certainly the most well known being the 1988 version released as “Dangerous Liaisons” while this version would be by far the most original as the story is relocated to modern day New York, as step siblings Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe) play games of seduction, with their latest target being the virginal Annette (Reese Witherspoon) with the challenge being set by Kathryn that Sebastian cannot bed her before the start of the school year, while Kathryn sets about also corrupting the naïve Cecile (Selma Blair) as part of a plan of revenge against her ex boyfriend who left her for Cecile.

While it may have been released in the same year as “American Pie” this film proved to be a much smarter drama and with a sharper sense of humour, but none the less sex crazed which came as something of a surprise to Geller’s fans who were more used to her playing Buffy on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” so for her to be reeling off such lines as “In English? I’ll fuck your brains out” all of course greeted with whoops of joy from most of the male audience, much like the much talked about experimental kissing scene between Geller and Blair, all from a film bizarrely marketed in some places as a chick flick, when it contains plenty to appeal to most audiences.

The cast at the time were largely B-list or unknowns, yet all embody their various characters, while for some the film marking a rare high point in their careers, still even years after it’s initial shocking dialogue has since been beaten in terms of filth, it still remains a solid drama and a nice twist on a classic novel.

Further Viewing: eXistenz, Dogma

Thanks to Elwood for an awesome 1990’s look at the decade!
Remember to head over to Drew’s Movie Reviews for tomorrow’s entry! 🙂

Ultimate 90’s Blogathon: The Sweet Hereafter (1997) by Charlene’s (Mostly) Classic Movie Reviews

Ultimate 90s Blogathon banner

Joining us again in this next entry is Charlene from Charlene’s (Mostly) Classic Movie Reviews with her second review for the Ultimate 90’s blogathon with her choice of The Sweet Hereafter. If you missed her previous review of The Adventures of Priscilla: The Queen of the Desert, head over to see it HERE.

The Sweet Hereafter (1997)

Grief is an unfortunate yet unavoidable process. This can be related to and can include loss of a relationship, job, or physical or emotional loss of a loved one. While there are various stages of grief, each individual handles it differently. They may exact revenge, anger, guilt, or detachment. Regardless, these events are life-altering. They halt the anticipated course of our life trajectory, interrupting any previous sense of rationale we once held. “The Sweet Hereafter”, a 1997 Canadian film directed by Atom Egoyan, explores the complex web of emotions associated with grief and bereavement following great tragedy impacting a rural community in British Columbia.

Mitchell Stephens (Ian Holm), an outside lawyer with a complex and contentious relationship with his daughter Zoe (Caerthan Banks), ventures to a small Canadian town during a harsh winter. He is representing a group of citizens in a class action lawsuit for negligence against their own town and a bus company. We quickly learn the true, heartbreaking nature of this lawsuit – a bus accident claiming the lives of fourteen children. Carefully paced, Stephens unearths the raw reality, fears, and new challenges of those affected by the crash, wrestling with his role in Zoe’s battle with drug addiction.

There are many techniques enhancing storytelling used in this devastating yet beautiful film. Firstly, it is crafted such that the story is out of sequence. This aids to juxtapose between a sorrowful present and a once joyful past, but also to highlight parallels between Stephens’ suffering and that of the community. In addition, “The Pied Piper” is incorporated into the story, showcasing similarities between a legend known to many and this town’s tragedy. Nicole Burnell (Sarah Polley) narrates, and her role as “the lame child” serves as a metaphor for her own fate. As a whole, these techniques enhance the palpability of the film’s catastrophic truths.

The Sweet Hereafter” is spoken within a phrase near the end of the film. Nicole recites that the once united community is now emotionally disbanded, living separate “strange and new” lives in the “sweet hereafter”. I initially felt that there is a great sense of irony in the title, as the future following a mass casualty seems quite grim. However, in the process of grief, acceptance is generally deemed as the final stage. I do not believe that we “move on” from tragic events as they will forever be imprinted in our memories, but we try to create a new sense of normalcy through an understanding and acceptance of our past. Through this, we may be able to find peace and meaning in the new paths we forge.

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 Thanks to Charlene for her beautiful review of The Sweet Hereafter! 🙂
Remember to head over to Drew’s Movie Reviews for tomorrow’s entry for Ultimate 90’s Blogathon!

Ultimate 90’s Blogathon: Batman Returns (1992) by DB Movies Blog

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Next up is DB from DB Movies Blog with a sequel of the 1989 Batman by Tim Burton, Batman Returns! One of my personal faves because it has the fantastic Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. DB Movies Blog has a range of film-related posts from reviews to trailer to lists and awards recap, etc. Lots of great material to check out! Without further ado, let’s pass it over to her to talk about her choice!

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Batman Returns (1992)

Three years after directing “Batman” (1989), Tim Burton came up with yet another Batman film “Batman Returns”. Visually stunning and well thought-out, the film is about the rise to power of Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin (Danny DeVito), who has been hidden away and shunned by society for 33 years in the city of Gotham. In his quest to become the mayor of Gotham, Penguin is unwillingly helped by a dishonest businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) as the Penguin’s freaky followers intermittently wreck havoc on Gotham to discredit the present mayor and eventually make it look like the Penguin is fighting crime. Meanwhile, Shreck’s shy secretary, Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer), finds out too much about Shreck’s illegal activities, causing Shreck to try to get rid of her, and the result of his efforts is Selina’s transformation into a Catwoman. Bruce Wayne/Batman (Michael Keaton) is also not indifferent to the crimes orchestrated by the Penguin and is determined to stop the Penguin and his gang while having a love-hate relationship with Selina/Catwoman.

From the very first scenes of the film, we are intrigued. We are confronted with a Dracula-inspired-setting and gothic surroundings as we see a couple who gives birth to a deformed baby, and then some time later, on a cold Christmas night, rushes across a Gotham park to throw their newborn baby into a river crossing the park. The eerie wintry landscape and the menacing soundtrack by Danny Elfman complete this picture as we then see a crib of a baby-monster floating down the sewer of the city.

Prior to “Batman Returns”, Burton also directed “Beetlejuice” (1988) and “Edward Scissorhands” (1990), already establishing himself as the director for shooting the themes of supernatural, odd, unknown and dark. In that vein, Burton makes “Batman Returns” his very own. With Burton’s flair for presenting a Gothic fantasy, “Batman Returns”’s cinematography is moody and grim, now reminding of “Sleepy Hollow” (1999) or “Sweeney Todd” (2007), but with a comical twist, a freaks-show setting and more stand-alone odd characters. Burton transforms the city of Gotham into a lavish wintry high-buildings landscape populated by mysterious pale-faced personalities, odd freaks and brave anti-heroes. In his prior and forthcoming work, Burton relied heavily on the old German expressionist cinematography and “Batman Returns” is no exception. From the very first scenes, the film is all about sharp dark edges, futurism, and the macabre, similar to “The Cabinet of DrCaligari” (1920). We also see the skyline of the Gotham City, and the tall buildings, grim atmosphere and fog reminds of “Metropolis” (1927). The elaborate sculpture work of the Gotham Zoo and the camerawork are also similar to the camerawork and the town scale model found in Burton’s “Beetlejuice”.

Action-wise, “Batman Returns” is also great. From the firebombing of Shreck’s department store to a faulty Batman car racing, the action is fast-paced with great visual effects. Add to this a rich animal symbolism, distinctively-gloomy, but deliciously macabre cinematography and a thought-provoking ending and it is safe to say that Burton has probably crafted the best Batman movie ever.

Having said that, “Batman Returns” is, primarily, a character-driven film. Michael Keaton reprises his role of the Batman, but the spotlight is not on him and he has to give way to “more interesting” and “crazier” characters. Keaton’s performance is unimaginative and unenthusiastic, though he is a very dignified and “intellectual” Batman; that kind of a Batman who will snug in on a weekend in front of a fireplace with a book rather than practise his combat moves in front of a mirror.

Every imaginable Hollywood actress was considered for the role of the Catwoman: from Demi Moore, Nicole Kidman and Jodie Foster to Cher and Meryl Streep. In the end, Annette Bening was cast, but was replaced by Michelle Pfeiffer. Pfeiffer is perfectly cast and gives a very convincing, almost iconic performance. She is good as a sexually-frustrated shy secretary Selina and as a confident and blood-thirsty Catwoman. Selina’s duality and her transformation into a Catwoman are particularly well-presented. We see something close to the nowadays “Black Swan” transformation, because Selina is first surrounded by her pink soft toys and immaculate kitchen and then goes berserk and lusts for a dark and mysterious side of life. Her chemistry with Bruce Wayne is also very good, and it is interesting to watch how the pair is mentally trying to figure out each other’s true identities and thoughts.

The real revelations in the film are Danny DeVito in the role of the Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot and Christopher Walken in the role of Max Shreck. DeVito’s Penguin is very memorable: he is hideous, totally demented and power-hungry. Walken’s Shreck is also a show-stealer. Cool, strange and menacing, Walken as Max Shreck makes the atmosphere very uncomfortable, and it is a pity that the Shreck’s energy aspirations idea is left underdeveloped in the film.

It is true, however, that “Batman Returns” is not a perfect movie. We hardly get to know anything about the title character and his personal development (a hero’s journey) is questionable. The reason why Batman as a character is so neglected in this film is maybe because Burton/Waters/Strick is not really interested in him. In fact, Burton agreed to do “Batman Returns” only on condition that the studio gives him more creative control over the material and that Daniel Waters, a screenwriter known for his black-comedy “Heathers” (1988), comes on board. The influence of both is evident in the final product.

Another weakness of the film is that it has too many villains which form surprising partnerships, but the biggest criticism at the time of its release was that Burton’s version of a Batman movie was too gloomy and grotesque, sexually too suggestive (e.g. the Catwoman finds herself often on top of the Batman) and violent (e.g. child-kidnapping takes place on a regular basis). There are valid points, but should be seen in a perspective. Unlike the Superman and even the Spiderman series, the Batman series is all about the dark nature of humanity, mysterious personal duality, masks and camouflage, the colour black, unclear freaky characters’ origins, underlying childhood trauma and gloomy settings. Taking this into account, Burton’s gothic, macabre and dark take fits the Batman adaptation perfectly.

Batman Returns” may not be the film to immediately spring to mind when you think “the films of 1990s”, but its unusually presented-superhero theme, advanced computer-generated special effects and the director’s distinctive influence on the style and plot of the film are the features which later came to define films shot in 1990s (wasn’t it the decade of the rise of independent cinema after all?). “Batman Returns” is a Tim Burton film through-and-through. Rich in visuals, it is grim, dark, fantastical and strangely enticing. It also a film which is very entertaining: it has an interesting plot, perfect casting, great soundtrack and a very memorable presentation of such oddball characters as the Penguin and Catwoman.

8/10

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Thanks to DB for a fantastic review of Batman Returns. Definitely a great title (with its flaws) from the 90s!
Remember to head over to Drew’s Movie Reviews on Monday for the next entry!