Thursday, July 29, 2010

An Education

Sometimes, simple is beautiful. So when I say that An Education is a simple film, don’t get me wrong. The setup, based on a true story adapted by famous novelist Nick Hornby, is straightforward, something out of a Police tune: a pretty 16-year-old (Jenny, played by Carey Mulligan) caught in a rainstorm gets offered a ride by a handsome older man (David, portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard). Behind the wheel of his sports car, David seems like a fantasy figure: witty, cultured, moneyed. Predictably, sparks fly.

Monday, July 26, 2010

"Splice" - Abysmal

"Splice" is two sci-fi/horror stories in one, really. In part, it's a modern-day Frankenstein tale about scientists whose ambitions run wild. Yet it's also a story about two lovers/co-workers and the emotional mess caused by parenthood. "Splice" was written and directed by Vincenzo Natali, who made the exceptional "Cube" in 1997. My expectations were quite high, especially given the cast. Those hopes were cruelly disemboweled by senseless emotional beats and plot developments that only occurred because the writers wanted them to occur.

Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley are attractive and vivid genetic scientists. They're employed by NERD, a company that rides their work to the cusp of the next big bio-tech revolution. In between being quirky and listening to good music, they hit on a bio-engineering breakthrough. But why create a pig that produces human insulin? That's boring. How about a cat-sized fleshy slug that makes proteins that might cure everything! Sounds like a solid way to mass-produce an Alzheimer's cure, right?

Damn close to an "Alien" poster, huh?

Wrong. Remember that these scientists have only just attained their amazing goal of making two monstrosities and getting them to wink at each other ("Fred" and "Ginger"). For some reason (the plot, apparently), they have no interest in studying their creation fully, or even very much at all. The pair tell their boss they immediately want to start splicing (we have title!) human DNA into a third slug-thing. I only took a few science courses in college, but this sounds like an improbable (and dangerous) leap ahead.

How bad was "Splice?" I'll give, right now, five signs of how bad it was - all of these are firsts for me here... (1) Since they took time and effort to make a professionally-crafted motion picture, I'll take the time and effort to explain how they failed gloriously, but deeply. (2) I'm breaking my own trend and will spoil the hell out of the film after the next 14 paragraphs, but I'll post a warning before I start. (3) I will not edit overuse of words like "stupid" and "dumb" and "stupidity," unless I remove whole sentences or clauses. (4) I'll only bother to put the titles for "Splice," "The Bride of Frankenstein" and "Cube" in quotation marks. Just this once, correct punctuation - on something I must write well - isn't worth the extra effort.

Finally, (5) I'll first provide an synopsis of my in-theater thoughts, hoping that you read the rest of the review anyway. Here it is:

Monday, July 19, 2010

Introduction, and Summer TV Roundup

Hi, I’m Derek. By trade, I’m a writer and editor, although I also have a law degree and license. I’ve written about baseball for Baseball Prospectus and on the Bombers Broadside annuals, and I’ve also written about baseball and whatever else strikes my fancy over at my web site, The Weblog that Derek Built. Thaddeus--my brother, and the proprietor of this site--has invited me to share my thoughts about cinema here, so I’m glad to join the Net-Flixation family.

And of course, since my invitation here is to write about movies, I’m going to start out with television reviews. It’s not my fault, really. One of my twin boys has been suffering a bit of insomnia, so I’ve been stuck rocking him back to sleep night after night. Needing something to keep me from getting bored to death--and not wanting to commit the time to watch a movie--I’ve gotten some quality (and sometimes not-so-quality) time with the new shows of the summer season. Here goes:

Monday, July 12, 2010

Behind the... Teeth: Alien Queen, "Aliens"

The larger-than-life female called The Alien Queen is so important to film. As a struggling working mom, she exposed the dangers faced by successful and ambitious women of the future. And yet few understand her. The public focuses on incredible fx and action scenes; she's the film version of Graendal's mother, at best. There's much more to this widely-recognized, but poorly-known, celebrity.

AQ looking fab at her 1st birthday party

Imposing, courteous, and strict, The Alien Queen ("AQ," or "Queenie" to pals) was known to those closest to her as a loyal friend and fiercely-protective mother. Always looking out for the colony, always comfortable with her unusual size, she had an easy rapport with her followers. Although most of them were her children, no one could claim that she didn't deserve her throne. It was hard to challenge, much less insult, someone who could pull you apart like cotton candy.

To outsiders, she might seem cold, even cruel. Humans believe she never smiled in her whole life. Speculators say that becoming a parent changed her. To unlock the truth about this figure, we need to look into her past.

Behind the Translucent Teeth
Always proud of her humble origins, AQ would boast that before becoming Queen, she was secreted onto a spaceship hull, just like all her siblings. Dormant for so long in her pod, she literally leapt at the chance for change. She yearned to be more than just a skittering spider-octopus thing with a tail. She wanted a shiny black carapace and a projecting set of inner jaws, and she was willing to kill for them. Considering the bleak environment she grew up in, this is hardly a surprise.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" : Cool...Wow...Nasty

Are the thoughts inspired by this expertly-made film. This intense Swedish thriller-mystery is amazing, riveting. It also has 3 scenes of sexual assault, the worst being 2 minutes long (or so it felt). How did I deflate such a sad and upsetting moment? I offered my friend a stick of gum.
Really left themselves open for a "boy & his dog" joke, didn't they?

The basic story: a reporter is asked to solve a 40-year-old murder by the victim's hyper-wealthy uncle; he takes the case. But the scenic route is sometimes better, isn't it?

As "TGwtDT" begins, it plunges headfirst into, of all the things, Civil Law. In Europe, losing a defamation suit can land you jail time. That's exactly what happens to Mikael Blomkvist, a reporter whose expose on a billionaire has just blown up in his face. Disproving fraud and weapons trafficking claims, a court hits Mikael with a big fine and 90 days jail time. Embarrassed by the discredited story, MB meets the magazine's other owner-reporters at the holiday office party; one proposes he take a leave of absence. On Christmas. Isn't there always one jerk like that in the room?

One last time, Bjorn - where did you hide my prunes?

Shortly after doing the right thing by his co-workers, Mikael is approached by Henrik Vanger. The Vangers are clearly supposed to be Sweden's version of the Rockefellers, Astors, or Kennedys. The wealthy old man asks our clever lead to find out what happened to his niece 40 years earlier; his favorite relation simply vanished one day, and her murder was never solved. The pitch is fairly easy: I'll make you rich no matter what, and you don't have anything better to do before you have to report to jail. The right offer at the right time wins.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Most Appropriate Independence Day Films

Since it's our anniversary, I figured I would highlight some quality movies that reflect the character of this country. By "character," I mean the positive aspirational sentiments of this nation and its people, so exclude "The Scarlet Letter" and "Missing" (the Jack Lemmon pic). By "quality," I mean fairly good movies, so "Independence Day: ID4" and "National Treasure" are out.

The Right Stuff
This is an exceptional movie. It's hard to find a flaw as the picture charts the creation of NASA and the space race. It follows the lives of pilots who became astronauts, scientists who both helped and struggled against them, and the government officials who brought them all together. Courage, patriotism, and ambition are writ large across the screen throughout.

But the movie isn't exactly jingoistic fluff. There's enough "bite" in some of the dialogue to express serious practical and human concerns - like LBJ being forced to wait outside the home of an astronaut's wife. Johnson is there for a state visit and publicity op, while she's just terrified that her beloved man will die horribly. Another brave astronaut is humiliated and demoralized when he learns he won't get a ticker-tape parade.

A beautiful fireworks display, too pretty to matter that it's in Sydney, Australia.

"Silverado," like "TRS," is a film with a broad cast and a hoard of themes. It moves fluidly back and forth between folks in the Wild West : a pair of free-spirited brothers (Kevin Costner and Scott Glenn) who lack any bad intentions despite the trouble they get into. A black rifleman's family is being crushed by a despotic cattle baron and a pimp. An honorable crook (Kevin Kline) finds he's almost always getting double-crossed or manipulated.

I'm impressed enough by the determination and hope inside these disparate men, all rough but good-hearted. And it's all the more appropriate since they have to work together and risk everything they value to stop rampant corruption and murder.