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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mad Men

By Luke

I'm out.  After six and a half episodes, there's nothing keeping me watching.  It's well made, but I just can't get excited about it.  And so, the world moves on without me.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Step Brothers: A Quick Response To Luke & More

By Rob

After reading Luke's entry regarding Step Brothers, I wanted to mention an interview that provides some explanation as to the process by which Adam McKay and Will Ferrell wrote Step Brothers.

On July 23rd, Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, and director/co-writer, Adam McKay, were on NPR's Fresh Air with host Terry Gross. I found the 30-minute interview to be pretty cool, and was surprised when Will Ferrell and Adam McKay said that Step Brothers was fairly script-reliant, and not as dependent on improvisation as I had imagined.

I think that it's both a fun and interesting interview. You can download the podcast version off Itunes for free by going to Podcasts>NPR>Fresh Air. The "Name" of this particular podcast is "NPR: 07-23-2008 Fresh Air"

Or you can check it out here on NPR's website.

My Take On Step Brothers:

I enjoyed Step Brothers. I enjoyed it more than any other movie Will Ferrell has had a leading role in since Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy in 2004.

That includes: Semi-Pro (8.0/10), Blades of Glory (4.5/10), Stranger Than Fiction (??), Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (5.0/10), Curious George (7.5/10), Wedding Crashers (8.0/10), Bewitched (??), Kicking & Screaming (7.0/10)

I liked him in The Producers and Melinda and Melinda, but 1) it's about the overall quality of the movie and not just his performance, and 2) he obviously wasn't a lead in either. #2 is relevant to Wedding Crahsers.

I haven't seen Bewitched or Stranger than Fiction and I really don't care to. I think they are better left disregarded, and I'm pretty sure I'll never need to see them. I know Curious George is WF as a voice-actor, but I thought I'd toss it in there anyway.

I give Step Brothers an 8.5 out of 10. It's the funniest movie of the year thus far and is one of the best WF movies... but I still favor Knocked Up and Hot Fuzz (2008's Top Comedies) to Step Brothers.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Fight Scenes

By Luke

Slate has a great slideshow about the progress of the fight scene. It takes ten scenes from the history of cinema, starting with The Big Country (1958) and ending with Eastern Promises (2007). The gist is that fight scenes are becoming increasingly fast paced and hyper-edited at the expense of spacial clarity and cinematic tradition.

However, I for one vastly prefer some of the more recent scenes to the more traditional examples. The Big Country clip seems like a joke, the few edits feel arbitrary and the wide shots make the action appear insignificant. And I've never been a fan of Oldboy which is too obviously artificial and never really engages me in the action. Meanwhile, The Bourne Ultimatum and Natural Born Killers clips completely enthrall me and are exciting to watch even without the context of the story. That makes me think the progression isn't a bad thing and I wonder if some people's objections to the fight scenes in movies like Batman Begins are the result of a generational difference.

Based on those ten clips, I would say the most important element in a good fight scene is to create a sense of urgency in the viewer and make sure the fight scene is consistently moving (unlike Return of the Dragon or The Big Country, where you are literally seeing the same punch/counterpunch routine as if the fighters are running in place). The Bourne Ultimatum continually raises the stakes faster than you can even keep up with what is going on, and that challenge to the viewer is what keeps it interesting.

A comparison is made to the heavy editing of musicals today (Moulin Rouge!, Chicago) and how the old Fred Astaire movies of yesteryear relied much more on action within the frame and not so many cuts. I would say that movies used to be confined by the amount of editing and number of angles they could get as a result of technical limitations, and that movies used to be much more about could watch Astaire dance in a single shot and be impressed merely by his ability. But these days we are probably quicker to disbelieve what we see...CGI and special effects are so good that we assume what we're seeing is a lie. So maybe fast editing is just a way of staying ahead of our doubts and thereby perpetuating the illusion.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Step Brothers

By Luke

The more I think about it, the more I think Step Brothers could have been a really good movie if Will Ferrell's crew wasn't so in love with their own shtick and didn't rely so heavily on over-the-top improvisation. The plot involving Ferrell's younger brother (and the younger brother's family) hint at a comedy that's just as funny and weird (they can keep the singing in the car scene) but a little more subversive and directly taking on issues of "growing up" and family politics. Things like John C. Reilly having an affair with the brother's wife don't go anywhere in the current movie, but imagine Step Brothers if it was Will Ferrell meets The Squid and the Whale. All the more "esoteric" visual humor worked for me: the synchronized sleepwalking, the dream sequences at the end, all the inventive clever things that you wouldn't immediately imagine when someone told you it was a movie about grown up stepbrothers. If you throw in a few more things like that and take out the "Will Ferrell says something outrageous that doesn't make sense" bits, you have a seriously trippy movie. I think Ferrell, Reilly, and Adam McKay are so funny that they can take a premise way over the top and I still like it. But if they tried for something other than belly laughs every five seconds, it could be more satisfying, and at least more interesting.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Dark Knight: The Top Grossing Film of 2008

By Rob

It was less than two weeks ago -- 10 days ago to be exact -- when I predicted that The Dark Knight would be the top grossing film of 2008. And two weeks ago, I was met by naysayers. Two weeks later, on the eve of the film's release... There's few left questioning the probability of it finishing as the top grossing film of the year, as ridiculous estimates for it's opening weekend continue to pop up online.

The most recent prediction I saw was on is for 136.7 million. That would be the second highest opening weekend ever; just barely ahead of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (135.6) and behind only Spiderman 3 (151.1 million) .

Note: This figure is the average estimate of 724 site members in a game called Box Office Derby, and not any sort of official estimate by the site. I have found other average predictions over the past 5 or so months to be fairly accurate. It is what it is: a prediction.

Of course, 10 days ago, there was no question that The Dark Knight would finish in the top 5 for the year, but at #1? It'd have to make approximately 320 million to do that. Well I was predicting just that: 320 million in the end. (Although what I'm reading now makes 320 sound like more of a conservative estimate, I'd stick to that until this weekend's box office results are released.)

Maybe the naysayers were wondering whether the film's dark nature would leave behind a lot of the moviegoers who turned out to watch the nonthreatening, quick-witted charm of fellow superhero Iron Man. But I don't think that was it. The biggest concern was [probably] this: Batman Begins made 205.3 million domestic and 371 million worldwide. And I completely agree. I was somewhat reluctant to predict it to be the highest grossing. But there's three big things working for The Dark Knight that I think will send it over 3oo-million-dollar edge.

1) A tremendous amount of hype surrounding the film,
2) Likely the most heavily advertised movie since Spiderman 3 or the third Pirates of the Caribbean, and
3) The positive response Batman Begins received from critics and moviegoers alike.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is, of course, The Dark Knight's competition for the top spot. Indiana Jones has, to date, grossed 311.3 million, and showed it's legs by remaining in 1,664 despite entering it's 8th week. To help put things into perspective, Sex and the City -- which finished 12th at the box office last weekend -- was in 1,025 theaters in it's 7th week. I know SATC is rated R, and Indiana PG-13, but it still provides a look a the big picture.

Iron Man vs. Indiana Jones
I think Indiana will surpass Iron Man for #1 on the year. I've been ignoring it up until now, but yes, Iron Man is still the year's top grossing film with 313.8 million grossed to date. However, Indiana Jones was in twice as many theaters last week -- Iron Man's 11th week -- and will likely gross twice as much as Iron Man this weekend, and do so again the following weekend, which I presume will be Iron Man's last. Indiana Jones is currently 2.5 million behind, so yes, I'm preemptively passing along the title.

Hancock at the Box Office:

I don't like Hancock (174.5 million domestic thus far) as a movie with legs. I predicted that Hancock would finish at 190 to 200 million domestic 10 days ago, and that still doesn't seem too unfair. Current predictions for Hancock this weekend are for around 15.6 million, which would bring the film's total gross to approx. 190.1 million in 19 days of release.

But after this weekend...

Step Brothers and The X-Files are released on July 25th, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor on April 1st, and Pineapple Express on April 8th. All of which should cut into Hancock's gross. I think that Hancock could be looking at 15-7-5-4 million over the next four weekends. If I'm correct with those estimates, then Hancock will have grossed 206.1 million over it's first 6 weeks and could possibly use what would presumably be it's last two weeks to reach for 210 million. Maybe I'm being really hard on Hancock, but I guess we'll see what it can do.

The Dark Knight, Take 1

By Luke


Regardless of whether anyone likes or dislikes The Dark Knight, it is inarguably the first "comic book movie" that really exceeds that never feel like you're watching a superhero movie. That wasn't true with Batman Begins, and I think what's so arresting about this movie is even though everyone knew Christopher Nolan wanted to make this one darker, and everyone knew Heath Ledger had gone a little crazy playing the Joker, I don't think anyone was expecting this. This movie is going to be a huge box office hit, and it's going to be incredible because millions of viewers are going to be forced to reckon with something more than what they bargained for.

While I was watching, I couldn't help but wonder if No Country for Old Men stole a little bit of The Dark Knight's thunder. Both movies go to great lengths to keep you as in the dark as possible about their serial killers' motives. What's so creepy about Anton Chigurh and the Joker is they both seem unstoppable...the audience isn't given any explanation or weakness to make the killer seems vulnerable. The Joker also shares Anton's mythical quality. There were many times during the movie where I thought Batman and the Joker's gadgetry and ability to think six moves ahead was getting a little ridiculous...but I think that's sort of the point. "Batman" isn't human (although Bruce Wayne is) and "the Joker" doesn't really seem human either. They're Gotham's cultural composites, they represent the different forces at work within that society. This is why the Joker can tell different stories about how he got his scars, and still tell Harvey Dent later that he never a way, they're probably all true.
Another significant comparison is just like we don't see Josh Brolin's character die in No Country, we're denied the big payoff with the Joker. I assume that when he's hanging upside down in front of the SWAT team, he is about to be killed. But Nolan cuts to a different scene before we actually see him dead. I think this could serve two purposes: the first is it reinforces the idea that the Joker can't really be killed ("his spirit will live on"). The second purpose is it catches us when we're bloodthirsty, it denies us our desire for the kind of "justice" Two-Face seeks out. When we don't see the Joker killed, we're disappointed, because like the Joker says we assume that's "all a part of the plan."
I didn't "love" the movie, I don't know if it's a movie you can love. It can't help but stagger under its own weight when it has so many things going on. I don't think Harvey Dent is ever really fleshed out in this movie (why was he called Two-Face?...and the Joker could not have assumed that Dent would turn bad at the end, I still don't relieve believe it), and Rachel seems like a completely different person in this one (not just because it's a different actress) which makes it harder to buy the chemistry between her and Bruce (multiple people said they were glad she was dead after the screening I went to). The fact that Gordon basically has to spell out how the Joker "won" at the end shows how deeply the movie has twisted itself inside its own logic. Heath Ledger is the glue that keeps it all together, the way he staggers in and out of focus, it seemed like even the cameraman didn't know what he was going to do next. And most of all I appreciate that Nolan and Co. didn't just make the sequel a continuation of the first movie in plot or tone, and tried for something greater instead.

The Top 10 Best Movie Villains of 2000 to early 2008

By Rob

NOTE: There are some mild SPOILERS in this post.

Recently posted their list of the Top 25 Best Movie Villains of All Time. They regularly put out lists that are meant to be timely (this list being a response to the upcoming release of The Dark Knight) and I enjoy them because they are regularly a little off-beat; exchanging more popular choices with one's that are reasonable, although unexpected.

I was clicking through and I indeed found some typical choices with some (semi-) surprises mixed in. Some I enjoyed; such as Dr. Christian Szell from Marathon Man. Some I found to be a little off but not quite objectionable; like Tom Powers from Public Enemy. (Side note: I don't know if any film star has ever so exclusive to their era like James Cagney was. Seriously, what's the appeal today?) Numbers 4 (Hannibal Lecter), 3 (Wicked Witch of the West) and 2 (Darth Vader) were very basic. But the #1 Movie Villain of All Time according to Lord Voldemort.

Great Movie Villain? Really? I know Moviefone has it's quirky tastes, but Lord Voldemort is a very, very dumb pick.

Let me be clear, isn't exactly my go-to destination for thoughtful lists and rankings, but I had come to welcome neat their lists when I checked showtimes for movies. I gotta say, my fairly low expectations were far from met. For shame, (whose contributors I'm sure are reading)... For shame..

I got to thinking, and decided I'd construct a list of my own:

The Top 10 Best Movie Villains of 2000 to early July 2008 (forget about The Joker for now)

10. Anton Ego (voice by Peter O'Toole), Ratatouille

OK, so he's not a full-blown villain. Yes, Peter O'Toole delivers a tear-jearking speech in one of the sweetest scenes I've ever scene, revealing Ego to be not as heartless as we thought. But it's hard to forget he 1) ruined Gusteau and 2) makes Linguini and Remy cower in fear! That's bad news bears.

9. Teddy Gammell (Joe Pantoliano), Momento

8. Victor Quartermaine (voice by Ralph Fiennes), Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

This is Ralph Fiennes at his most villainous! (at least in this decade)

7. Alexander Conklin (Chris Cooper) and Deputy Director Ward Abbott (Brian Cox), The Bourne Identity

The face of Treadstone, the organization reasonable for the plight of Jason Bourne, in The Bourne Identity was Alexander Conklin, played by Chris Cooper (below; centered). His superior was C.I.A. Deputy Director Ward Abbott, played by Brian Cox. Together they offered solid performances, and had me waiting impatiently for Jason Bourne to land his revenge.

What about Joan Allen? As actors, I like Chris Cooper and I hate Joan Allen. Aside from Cooper having a far more distinct and negative character, I couldn't possibly consider Joan Allen to be one of the "great villains" of the series' because her performance was so poor.

After Identity, my hatred for any specific character withered a little anyway. Bourne still had questions to be answered after the first film, and Conklin was only the beginning of bad (and progressively worse) guys he needed to kill or compromise if he ever wanted some peace of mind. The series was thereby made much more about an ambiguous league of villains (Treadstone, the C.I.A., "the system", etc.) than any particular one. The chase (as well as the premise) is much more fresh in The Bourne Identity than the sequels, and I think that has something to do with Supremacy and Ultimatum lacking a strong, stand alone villain like Cooper.

6. Jesse James (Brad Pitt), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Jesse James and Robert Ford present a Topdog/Underdog-type conflict, where the victor isn't quite clear. I think you could make an argument for either as the villain. I felt more for Robert Ford but, more importantly, I didn't feel at all for Jesse James.

The movie did not lead me to an understanding of Jesse James for a reason. I don't think he was painted as a person capable of being understood. This much I know: he's complex and destructive. He is vicious. The movie is largely the tale of Robert Ford in his attempt to understand Jesse James. Even after James is dead, the quest to understand James continues. It proves so fruitless for Ford that the only way he reaches any resolve is by way of a bullet in his head.

5. Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), No Country for Old Men

4. Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), The Matrix trilogy

The Matrix came out in 1999, and it was the inferior sequels that were released in the 2000s to qualify it for the list. (I say "inferior" but I believe they still work collectively to make a very good movie.) Agent Smith became prominent in The Matrix Reloaded, but I'm going to consider his role in the entire series.

I also wanna toss this out there: Is the fight scene in the courtyard (above) in The Matrix Reloaded the best choreographed action scene so far this decade? There's definitely a couple of contenders, but I think it might be.

3. Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), Ocean's Eleven

Of course I'm partially rooting for Danny Ocean and co. because they are so lovable, but it'd be impossible to do otherwise with Terry Benedict as cold and despicable as he is.

2. Harlem Maguire (Jude Law), The Road to Perdition

I don't think this performance receives enough mention. Jude Law (above) is terrifying as Harlem Maguire, in a movie that also seems all too forgotten.

1. The Jews (Various), The Passion of the Christ
I'm kidding! But what a first post that would be, right?

1. Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), There Will Be Blood

A popular and deserving pick for the best movie villain of 2000 to early 2008.