Here’s What Won At The Emmys Last Night!


Last night, Lisa Marie did not watch the Emmys because she says that, “I’m just not feeling TV this year.”  If Twin Peaks had been eligible to be nominated, I bet it would have been a different story!

Instead, she asked me to watch the ceremony and let everyone know what I thought.  It needed less politics and more cats.

Here’s the list of winners:

COMEDY

BEST COMEDY SERIES
“Atlanta”
“Black-ish”
“Masters of None”
“Modern Family”
“Silicon Valley”
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
X — “Veep”

BEST COMEDY ACTRESS
Pamela Adlon, “Better Things”
Jane Fonda, “Grace and Frankie”
Allison Janney, “Mom”
Ellie Kemper, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
X — Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Tracee Ellis Ross, “Black-ish”
Lily Tomlin, “Grace and Frankie”

BEST COMEDY ACTOR
Anthony Anderson, “Black-ish”
Aziz Ansari, “Master of None”
Zach Galifianaks, “Baskets”
X — Donald Glover, “Atlanta”
William H. Macy, “Shameless”
Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent”

BEST COMEDY SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Vanessa Bayer, “Saturday Night Live”
Anna Chlumsky, “Veep”
Kathryn Hahn, “Transparent”
Leslie Jones, “Saturday Night Live”
Judith Light, “Transparent”
X — Kate McKinnon, “Saturday Night Live”

BEST COMEDY SUPPORTING ACTOR
Louie Anderson, “Baskets”
X — Alec Baldwin, “Saturday Night Live”
Tituss Burgess, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Ty Burrell, “Modern Family”
Tony Hale, “Veep”
Matt Walsh, “Veep”

BEST COMEDY DIRECTING
X — “Atlanta” (“B.A.N.”)
“Silicon Valley” (“Intellectual Property”)
“Silicon Valley” (“Server Error”)
“Veep” (“Justice”)
“Veep” (“Blurb”)
“Veep” (“Groundbreaking”)

BEST COMEDY WRITING
“Atlanta” (“B.A.N.”)
“Atlanta” (“Streets on Lock”)
X — “Master of None” (“Thanksgiving”)
“Silicon Valley” (“Success Failure”)
“Veep” (“Groundbreaking”)
“Veep” (“Georgia”)

DRAMA

BEST DRAMA SERIES
“Better Call Saul”
“The Crown”
X — “The Handmaid’s Tale”
“House of Cards”
“Stranger Things”
“This is Us”
“Westworld”

BEST DRAMA ACTRESS
Viola Davis, “How to Get Away with Murder”
Claire Foy, “The Crown”
X — Elisabeth Moss, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Keri Russell, “The Americans”
Evan Rachel Wood, “Westworld”
Robin Wright, “House of Cards”

BEST DRAMA ACTOR
X — Sterling K. Brown, “This is Us”
Anthony Hopkins, “Westworld”
Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”
Matthew Rhys, “The Americans”
Liev Schreiber, “Ray Donovan”
Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards”
Milo Ventimiglia, “This is Us”

BEST DRAMA SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Uzo Aduba, “Orange is the New Black”
Millie Bobby Brown, “Stranger Things”
X — Ann Dowd, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Chrissy Metz, “This is Us”
Thandie Newton, “Westworld”
Samira Wiley, “The Handmaid’s Tale”

BEST DRAMA SUPPORTING ACTOR
Jonathan Banks, “Better Call Saul”
David Harbour, “Stranger Things”
Ron Cephas Jones, “This is Us”
Michael Kelly, “House of Cards”
X — John Lithgow, “The Crown”
Mandy Patinkin, “Homeland”
Jeffrey Wright, “Westworld”

BEST DRAMA DIRECTING
“Better Call Saul” (“Witness”)
“The Crown” (“Hyde Park Corner”)
“The Handmaid’s Tale” (“The Bridge”)
X — “The Handmaid’s Tale” (“Offred”)
“Homeland” (“America First”)
“Stranger Things” (“Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”)
“Westworld” (“The Bicameral Mind”)

BEST DRAMA WRITING
“The Americans” (“The Soviet Division”)
“Better Call Saul” (“Chicanery”)
“The Crown” (“Assassins”)
X — “The Handmaid’s Tale” (“Offred”)
“Stranger Things” (“Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”)
“Westworld” (“The Bicameral Mind”)

MOVIE/LIMITED SERIES

BEST LIMITED SERIES
X — “Big Little Lies”
“Fargo”
“Feud: Bette and Joan”
“Genius”
“The Night Of”

BEST TV MOVIE
X — “Black Mirror: San Junipero”
“Christmas of Many Colors”
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”
“Sherlock: The Lying Detective”
“The Wizard of Lies”

BEST MOVIE/MINI ACTRESS
Carrie Coon, “Fargo”
Felicity Huffman, “American Crime”
X — Nicole Kidman, “Big Little Lies”
Jessica Lange, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Susan Sarandon, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Reese Witherspoon, “Big Little Lies”

BEST MOVIE/MINI ACTOR
X — Riz Ahmed, “The Night Of”
Benedict Cumberbatch, “Sherlock: The Lying Detective”
Robert De Niro, “The Wizard of Lies”
Ewan McGregor, “Fargo”
Geoffrey Rush, “Genius”
John Turturro, “The Night Of”

BEST MOVIE/MINI SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Judy Davis, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
X — Laura Dern, “Big Little Lies”
Jackie Hoffman, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Regina King, “American Crime”
Michelle Pfeiffer, “The Wizard of Lies”
Shailene Woodley, “Big Little Lies”

BEST MOVIE/MINI SUPPORTING ACTOR
Bill Camp, “The Night Of”
Alfred Molina, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
X — Alexander Skarsgard, “Big Little Lies”
David Thewlis, “Fargo”
Stanley Tucci, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Michael Kenneth Williams, “The Night Of”

BEST MOVIE/MINI DIRECTING
X — “Big Little Lies”
“Fargo” (“The Law of Vacant Places”)
“Feud: Bette and Joan” (“And the Winner Is”)
“Genius” (“Einstein: Chapter One”)
“The Night Of” (“The Art of War”)
“The Night Of” (“The Beach”)

BEST MOVIE/MINI WRITING
“Big Little Lies”
X — “Black Mirror: San Junipero”
“Fargo” (“The Law of Vacant Places”)
“Feud: Bette and Joan” (“And the Winner Is”)
“Feud: Bette and Joan” (“Pilot”)
“The Night Of” (“Call of the Wild”)

VARIETY/REALITY

BEST REALITY COMPETITION PROGRAM
“The Amazing Race”
“Amercan Ninja Warrior”
“Project Runway”
“RuPaul’s Drag Race”
“Top Chef”
X — “The Voice”

BEST VARIETY TALK SERIES
“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”
“Jimmy Kimmel Live”
X — “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
“Late Late Show with James Corden”
“Late Show with Stephen Colbert”
“Real Time with Bill Maher”

BEST VARIETY SKETCH SERIES
“Billy on the Street”
“Documentary Now”
“Drunk History”
“Portlandia”
X — “Saturday Night Live”
“Tracey Ullman’s Show”

BEST VARIETY SERIES DIRECTING
“Drunk History”
“Jimmy Kimmel Live”
“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
“Late Show with Stephen Colbert”
X — “Saturday Night Live”

BEST VARIETY SERIES WRITING
“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”
X — “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
“Late Night with Seth Meyers”
“Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2016: Alice Through The Looking Glass, Gods of Egypt, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Me Before You, Mother’s Day, Risen


Here are six mini-reviews of six films that I saw in 2016!

Alice Through The Looking Glass (dir by James Bobin)

In a word — BORING!

Personally, I’ve always thought that, as a work of literature, Through The Looking Glass is actually superior to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  That’s largely because Through The Looking Glass is a lot darker than Wonderland and the satire is a lot more fierce.  You wouldn’t know that from watching the latest film adaptation, though.  Alice Through The Looking Glass doesn’t really seem to care much about the source material.  Instead, it’s all about making money and if that means ignoring everything that made the story a classic and instead turning it into a rip-off of every other recent blockbuster, so be it.  At times, I wondered if I was watching a film based on Lewis Carroll or a film based on Suicide Squad.  Well, regardless, the whole enterprise is way too cynical to really enjoy.

(On the plus side, the CGI is fairly well-done.  If you listen, you’ll hear the voice of Alan Rickman.)

Gods of Egypt (dir by Alex Proyas)

I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to describing the plot of Gods of Egypt.  This was one of the most confusing films that I’ve ever seen but then again, I’m also not exactly an expert when it comes to Egyptian mythology.  As far as I could tell, it was about Egyptian Gods fighting some sort of war with each other but I was never quite sure who was who or why they were fighting or anything else.  My ADHD went crazy while I was watching Gods of Egypt.  There were so much plot and so many superfluous distractions that I couldn’t really concentrate on what the Hell was actually going on.

But you know what?  With all that in mind, Gods of Egypt is still not as bad as you’ve heard.  It’s a big and ludicrous film but ultimately, it’s so big and so ludicrous that it becomes oddly charming.  Director Alex Proyas had a definite vision in mind when he made this film and that alone makes Gods of Egypt better than some of the other films that I’m reviewing in this post.

Is Gods of Egypt so bad that its good?  I wouldn’t necessarily say that.  Instead, I would say that it’s so ludicrous that it’s unexpectedly watchable.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (dir by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan)

Bleh.  Who cares?  I mean, I hate to put it like that but The Huntsman: Winter’s War felt pretty much like every other wannabe blockbuster that was released in April of last year.  Big battles, big cast, big visuals, big production but the movie itself was way too predictable to be interesting.

Did we really need a follow-up to Snow White and The Huntsman?  Judging by this film, we did not.

Me Before You (dir by Thea Sharrock)

Me Before You was assisted suicide propaganda, disguised as a Nicolas Sparks-style love story.  Emilia Clarke is hired to serve as a caregiver to a paralyzed and bitter former banker played by Sam Claflin.  At first they hate each other but then they love each other but it may be too late because Claflin is determined to end his life in Switzerland.  Trying to change his mind, Clarke tries to prove to him that it’s a big beautiful world out there.  Claflin appreciates the effort but it turns out that he really, really wants to die.  It helps, of course, that Switzerland is a really beautiful and romantic country.  I mean, if you’re going to end your life, Switzerland is the place to do it.  Take that, Sea of Trees.

Anyway, Me Before You makes its points with all the subtlety and nuance of a sledge-hammer that’s been borrowed from the Final Exit Network.  It doesn’t help that Clarke and Claflin have next to no chemistry.  Even without all the propaganda, Me Before You would have been forgettable.  The propaganda just pushes the movie over the line that separates mediocre from terrible.

Mother’s Day (dir by Garry Marshall)

Y’know, the only reason that I’ve put off writing about how much I hated this film is because Garry Marshall died shortly after it was released and I read so many tweets and interviews from people talking about what a nice and sincere guy he was that I actually started to feel guilty for hating his final movie.

But seriously, Mother’s Day was really bad.  This was the third of Marshall’s holiday films.  All three of them were ensemble pieces that ascribed a ludicrous amount of importance to one particular holiday.  None of them were any good, largely because they all felt like cynical cash-ins.  If you didn’t see Valentine’s Day, you hated love.  If you didn’t see New Year’s Eve, you didn’t care about the future of the world.  And if you didn’t see Mother’s Day … well, let’s just not go there, okay?

Mother’s Day takes place in Atlanta and it deals with a group of people who are all either mothers or dealing with a mother.  The ensemble is made up of familiar faces — Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, and others! — but nobody really seems to be making much of an effort to act.  Instead, they simple show up, recite a few lines in whatever their trademark style may be, and then cash their paycheck.  The whole thing feels so incredibly manipulative and shallow and fake that it leaves you wondering if maybe all future holidays should be canceled.

I know Garry Marshall was a great guy but seriously, Mother’s Day is just the worst.

(For a far better movie about Mother’s Day, check out the 2010 film starring Rebecca De Mornay.)

Risen (dir by Kevin Reynolds)

As far as recent Biblical films go, Risen is not that bad.  It takes place shortly after the Crucifixion and stars Joseph Fiennes as a Roman centurion who is assigned to discover why the body of Jesus has disappeared from its tomb.  You can probably guess what happens next.  The film may be a little bit heavy-handed but the Roman Empire is convincingly recreated, Joseph Fiennes gives a pretty good performance, and Kevin Reynolds keeps the action moving quickly.  As a faith-based film that never becomes preachy, Risen is far superior to something like God’s Not Dead 2.

 

 

Film Review: Minions (dir by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda)


Minions_posterThe Minions, everyone’s favorite group of little yellow weirdos from the first two Despicable Me films, now have a movie of their very own!  Earlier tonight, Jeff and I braved a theater that was full of hyperactive little children and we watched Minions.

I have to admit that I was really looking forward to seeing Minions.  After all, I loved both of the Despicable Me movies and, much like Through the Shattered Lens co-founder Arleigh Sandoc, I thought the minions were pretty adorable.  Along with the fact that they were just so weird that you couldn’t help but love them, the minions were distinguished by the wonderfully cheerful approach that they took towards their work.  Even when one of them was accidentally launched into space during the original Despicable Me, he continued to smile.  He was just happy to be a part of the project.  Seriously, who wouldn’t want a bunch of minions to do her bidding?

Now, it was established during the first Despicable Me movie that the minions were specifically created by the super villain Gru.  However, Minions reimagines their origins.  Now, we discover that the minions have existed since the beginning of time and, apparently immune from aging, they have always sought to serve a villainous master.  During the film’s opening, we watch as they serve a Tyrannosaurus Rex, Dracula, and Napoleon.  Unfortunately, the minions’ combination of enthusiasm and stupidity proves fatal to most of their employers.

Eventually, the minions find themselves exiled to Antarctica.  After several centuries, the minions find themselves suffering from depression and ennui.  Finally, three brave minions (all voiced by director Pierre Coffin) volunteer to go out into the world and find a new master to serve.  Kevin is the responsible leader.  Bob is the cute, enthusiastic one who always carries a teddy bear with him.  (Bob also has heterochromia, just like me!)  And finally, Stuart is the one who likes to play his guitar.

Kevin, Bob, and Stuart get in a rowboat and eventually, they reach New York City.  However, it turns out that the year is 1968 and there is a serious shortage of evil super villains to serve!  Not only is Gru just a child but Bill Clinton hasn’t even launched his political career yet!  Eventually, though, our three minions learn about Villain-Con, being held in Orlando, Florida.  Hitching a ride with a family of aspiring bank robbers (Micheal Keaton is the voice of the father), the minions reach Orlando and eventually, they end up working for Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock) and her husband, Herb (Jon Hamm).

Scarlet explains that, ever since she was a little girl, she has wanted to be the Queen of England.  But she doesn’t have the crown!  She orders Kevin, Stuart, and Bob to get that crown and reads them a bedtime story about three minions who failed to get a crown and were subsequently killed by an angry wolf.  AGCK!

This leads to our three minions going to London and, since it’s 1968, that also leads to a lot of good (if predictable) songs on the soundtrack.  As a result of several odd incidents, Bob is briefly the King of England.  And things only get stranger from there…

The children in the audience loved it but, at the same time, I could never bring myself to like Minions as much as I wanted to.  Minions just doesn’t have as much heart as Despicable Me.  There’s no moment in Minions that’s anywhere close to being as joyful as the “It’s so fluffy” scene from Despicable Me.  The minions are fun supporting characters but they don’t quite work as well as protagonists for a 91 minutes film.  Sandra Bullock tries really hard as Scarlet Overkill but she just doesn’t have the right voice for the character.  Part of Sandra Bullock’s appeal, after all, is that she not only looks but sounds like she’s totally down-to-earth and that’s one thing that Scarlet definitely is not.  Jon Hamm, however, is hilarious as the vacuous Herb.

Minions is a cute movie that doesn’t really make much of an impression.  Kids will love it, though.  And, even though I would never actually eat there, I’m still going to go by McDonald’s and order a Happy Meal so I can get the little minion that’s inside.

(Especially if it’s one of those cursing minions…)

Cursing Minions

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #97: Elizabeth (dir by Shekhar Kapur)


Elizabeth_Poster“I am no man’s Elizabeth!”

— Queen Elizabeth I (Cate Blanchett) in Elizabeth (1998)

I have to admit that I always feel guilty about the fact that I love movies about British royal history.  After all, I have roots in Northern Ireland and I was raised Catholic.  If anything, I should refuse to watch films about British royalty on general principle.  I should be writing more reviews of films like Bloody Sunday.

But I can’t help myself.  Whether it’s because I enjoy looking at all of the costumes or I just have a thing for movies set in drafty old castles, I have a weakness for films about British royalty.  (And I will also admit that I sat through the entire royal wedding and I have a bit of a girlcrush on both Pippa and Kate Middleton.  As I said, I just can’t help myself.)

Of course, some of it definitely has to do with the fact that I’m an unapologetic history nerd.  I am fascinated with how people lived in the past.  And, of course, anyone who shares my obsession understands that, when it comes to history, there’s both the official story and the truth.  The official story is something that’s passed down over the centuries.  It’s what we learn in school.  The truth, however, is always far more obscure.  The truth is what historians piece together from what little gossipy evidence has managed to survive the passage of time.

We all know that the official story of Queen Elizabeth I is that she was England’s greatest Queen, she defeated the Spanish Armada, and she never married.  She was the “Virgin Queen,” forsaking love to serve her nation.  That’s the official story but is it the truth?

That’s the question at the heart of the 1998 Best Picture nominee Elizabeth.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not arguing that Elizabeth represents the truth.  Historically, the film is messy and full of speculation that is less based on evidence and more on the desire to keep things cinematic.  But still, Elizabeth is an interesting film specifically because it takes a historical figure and dares to suggest that she may have been human before she became an icon.

Cate Blanchett gives a great performance in the role of Elizabeth.  When we first meet her, she’s a somewhat silly girl who is less concerned with politics and religion and more concerned with her boyfriend, Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes).  Elizabeth is also the protestant half-sister of Catholic Queen Mary (Kathy Burke).  Mary is planning on ordering Elizabeth’s execution but dies of stomach cancer before she gets around to singing the order.

Suddenly, Elizabeth is Queen of England.  Young and insecure, she is, at first, manipulated by advisors like William Cecil (Richard Attenbrough), who pressures her to marry the cross-dressing Henry III (Vincent Cassel) of France.  Meanwhile, the Pope (John Gielgud) signs an order calling for Elizabeth’s death.  Catholic nobleman Thomas Howard (Christopher Eccleston) and mysterious priest John Ballard (Daniel Craig) conspire to assassinate Elizabeth.  With even Robert Dudley giving her reason to distrust him, Elizabeth discovers that her only ally is the enigmatic and ruthless “spymaster,” Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush). It all ultimately ends in a sequence that basically transports the finale of The Godfather to the Elizabethan era.

I really should not like Elizabeth.  It’s undoubtedly an anti-Catholic film, though it’s nothing compared to the histrionic anti-Catholicism of its sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age.  But I can’t help myself, I enjoyed Elizabeth.  It was impossible for me not to relate to Cate Blanchett’s passionate performance.  (And there was just something so incredibly hot about the way Joseph Fiennes, with his intense eyes, would stare at her.)  When you ignore the film’s protestant bias and just concentrate on the performances and the gorgeous production design, you can’t help but love Elizabeth.

6 Other Films That I Saw in 2014: The Best Offer, Borgman, Illiterate, In Secret, Scorpion in Love, and Tercera Llamada


The Best Offer (dir by Guiseppe Tornatore)

Virgil (Geoffrey Rush, giving a very Geoffrey Rush type of performance) is the owner of a prestigious auction house.  He’s hired by the mysterious Claire (Sylvia Hoeks) to auction off all of her dead parent’s possessions.  Virgil finds himself growing obsessed with Claire and, with the help of his assistant Robert (Jim Sturgess), finally manages to strike up a tentative relationship with her.  However, it quickly turns out that there’s more to Claire and Robert than Virgil originally assumed.

The Best Offer is a disappointing film.  It’s not terrible but it moves far too slowly for its own good and most of the cast seems to be going through the motions.  The one exception is Donald Sutherland, who is a lot of fun as a sleazy con artist.  Sutherland managed to partially redeem Fierce People, another bad film that I recently reviewed, and he comes close to doing the same for The Best Offer.

Borgman (dir by Alex van Warmerdam)

Borgman is a disturbing and dark film from the Netherlands that was released over here in U.S. by Drafthouse Films.  This summer, Jeff and I saw it at our local Alamo Drafthouse with the usual group of self-styled cinema experts. Nobody quite knew what they were about to see and, after the film ended, an uneasy air descended over the theater as we all wondered what we had just watched.

Jan Bijvoet plays Camiel Borgman, a homeless man who is first seen living in the woods, hidden away in an underground cavern.  When he’s chased out of the woods by a priest and two men, Borgman eventually finds himself at the home of the arrogant and wealthy Richard (Jeroen Perceval).  Richard refuses Borgman’s request to enter the home for a bath and then physically attacks him.  When Borgman returns to the house the next day, Richard’s wife, Marina (Hadewych Minis), allows him to stay in the garage.  Though Borgman originally says he’s only going to stay a day, he is soon living in the garage.  Everyone — Marina, her children, and the nanny — is aware that Borgman is now a part of their household.  Everyone, except for Richard who remains blissfully unaware.  Soon, Marina is having violent nightmares while Borgman crouches over her and more and more of Borgman’s followers are showing up at the house…

Borgman is a horrific fable with a dark sense of humor.  (As frightening as Borgman is, it’s impossible not to be amused by just how clueless Richard turned out to be.)  In the best tradition of Michael Haneke, it all leads to an inevitable and unsettling conclusion.

Illiterate (dir by Moisés Sepúlveda)

Now this is a special film.

In this Chilean film, Ximena (Paulina Garcia) is an angry and sarcastic woman who is secretly ashamed to be illiterate.  When Jackeline (Valentina Muhr) volunteers to teach Ximena how to read, she has to deal with both Ximena’s stubborn nature and her own anger over the years that she’s lost, imprisoned by her inability to understand the written word.  And while this may sound like the basis of a typical Lifetime movie, the story takes on a special significance if you know something about the history of Chile and you understand that Ximena is a part of the generation that was previously held prisoner by a military dictatorship.  Ximena’s attempt to learn how to read mirror the attempt of a country to learn how to be free.

Garcia and Muhr both give excellent performances.  The film is a bit stagey but ultimately, it’s very touching.

In Secret (dir by Charlie Stratton)

How do you not enjoy a film like In Secret?  Taking place in 19th century Paris, In Secret tells the story of Therese (Elizabeth Olsen), who is forced by her haughty aunt (Jessica Lange) to marry her sickly cousin Camille (Tom Felton).  However, Therese does not love Camille and, bored with life in general, she ends up having an affair with Camille’s friend, the libertine Laurent (Oscar Isaac).  Soon, Camille has been murdered, Theresa and Laurent are married, and how can you not love all of this melodrama?

In Secret is over-the-top but enjoyable, like a Lifetime movie with explicit sex and costumes to die for.  It’s just a lot of fun.

Scorpion In Love (dir by Santiago Zannou)

In this Spanish film, Julian (Alex Gonzalez) is a young Neo Nazi who attempts to achieve redemption through boxing but who fears that his violent past will catch up with him.  It’s not, by any means, a bad film.  It’s just an extremely predictable one.  Javier Bardem shows up playing a Nazi leader and he’s just as dangerously charismatic as you might expect but, otherwise, the film doesn’t offer much insight into what exactly would lead someone like Julian to become a Nazi in the first place.

Tercera Llamada (dir by Francisco Franco Alba)

This comedy from Mexico tells the story of an attempt by a theater company to put on a production of Albert Camus’s Caligula.  The film is full of the usual types — the dedicated director, the craven producer, the innocent ingenue, and the difficult diva.  It’s predictable but likable.  If you’ve ever been involved in a community theater production that you just knew was going to probably be a disaster, you’ll find a lot to appreciate in Tercera Llamada.

Quick Movie Review: The Warrior’s Way (dir. by Sngmoo Lee)


I’ll admit that I didn’t give The Warrior’s Way that much thought when we picked it up from the rental store the other day. At first glance, it didn’t seem to have much of an identity to it. Was it trying to be something serious like a House of Flying Daggers or something more humorous like Kung Fu Hustle? I guess one could say that it’s really a little of both and although the movie may be a little too strange for it’s own good, it was really worth going through the first hour or so just to get to the last 30 minutes. The film really picks up steam from there going forward.

In the film, Yang (Jang Dong Gun) becomes the Greatest Swordsman in the World after defeating the original Greatest Swordsman ever. After doing so, he’s given an order to kill a family by his clan. Managing to kill everyone but a young baby named April, Yang decides to let it live and to take care of it, giving the movie a Lone Wolf and Cub / Shogun Assassin feel.

And basically, what the film boils down to is Yang trying to leave behind the life he had in order to protect the baby he’s found. He finds himself in a Wild West town and meets a number of individuals who help him hide his identity. In return, he helps them gain the courage to find themselves. Kate Bosworth’s character, Lynne, is a knife thrower with a bit of talent, but without any focus. Geoffrey Rush is something of a drunkard, but in watching what Yang is doing in the town, he sets aside his drinking ways in place of sniper rifle. Both actors are okay in their roles, but I found myself wondering why they went with these, honestly.

One of the standouts of this film (if one could say there’s a standout, because the movie really could be better than what it was) was Danny Houston. Despite some of the bad movies he’s been in (X-Men Origins: Wolverine instantly comes to mind), he carries his characters with this really weird style – his voice has this sense of authority, much like a Liev Schreiber – his villain is the classic evil cowboy, which normally would do him a lot of justice. Here, he does okay in his scenes, but doesn’t really have a whole lot to work with.

Yang is also being pursued by his former master, Saddest Flute, named after the sound one’s throat makes when it’s cut. Saddest Flute and his ninjas manage to make their way to the town, which culminates in a really cool battle which is one part Rango, one part Ninja Scroll and even a little like Samurai Jack. And all of that really needs to be seen, all 25 to 30 minutes of it, even if it happens to be just as a clip.

Overall, The Warrior’s Way is the kind of movie you end up watching if you’re planning to take a nap on a Sunday afternoon or if you really like cinema of this type. It’s not worth taking the whole ride for, but it ends with such a bang that one may not consider it a total loss.

Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides


This post is going to end with some spoilers, which will have warnings behind it. Just so you know.

Confession: I fell asleep during Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides. It was only for a few minutes during the jungle sequences, but nothing special was happening, so I figured I could get away with it. I can see, though why Gore Verbinski saddled up with Rango instead of this one. As Lisa Marie mentioned via Twitter, she zoned out about 10 minutes in and really only followed it for the awesomeness that is Johnny Depp. He, Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane are the only real reasons to see this, but know that the film is muddled with a bit of lazy writing covered in explosions and chases. This is one Jack Sparrow story you can really wait for on DVD. It’s literally the Pirates of the Caribbean Edition of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.

Every writer goes though a bad time now and then. Even though Paul Haggis won an Oscar for Crash, he was also responsible for Quantum of Solace, which could have been a tighter story than what it was. I have to remind myself that even though Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot gave us a cool character in Captain Jack Sparrow (which was made more concrete through Johnny Depp’s performance), they were also responsible for Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla some years back. It happens. Of course, they could both write me under the table while blindfolded, this I get, and they have my respect.

That said, I didn’t outright hate Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. It was a fun popcorn ride in some areas, with as much flair as the Disney / Bruckheimer collaborations can offer, but it also felt like it was a production just made for the money, like The Wolfman. The only ones who seemed to really enjoy themselves here were Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane, and to both their credits they carried the film for me. Johnny Depp was great as always (he has moment where he clearly shines), but I get the feeling like he’s almost tired of the character. Again, that’s just my viewpoint here.

What about the Kids?

Well, being a film under the Disney banner, the easiest rule of thumb to use here is this: If you’ve taken your kids to any of the other Pirates movies, this is pretty much more of the same. Granted, people die and there may be a nearly naked mermaid, but it’s done well.  It should be okay for teens and pre-teens, but that’s up to families to decide.

Previously on Pirates, we found Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, great as always) in the possession of the map from At World’s End, who is in search of the fabled Fountain of Youth. Jack finds that there is someone impersonating him who also happens to be looking for the same thing, and seeks out the imposter. This eventually leads him to the dreaded pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) who also seeks the Fountain to block a prophecy that will lead to his death. So, it’s something of a race to see who will get there first. Even his old friend/enemy Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is part of the adventure, but doesn’t quite have the same presence here as he did the other films.

Depp on his own does justice to Sparrow and he still manages to bring some fun to the character.  That’s really not a surprise, but after 3 of these films, I had the feeling that part of his performance was just repetition of what he did before. I imagine him wishing for Verbinski or sighing after every take. Well, every take that didn’t involve Penelope Cruz, I guess.

I felt Penelope’s Angelica really matched well against Depp’s Sparrow, and it opened up a lot of doors for characterization between the two. Depp and Cruz’s scenes together really worked for me and were definitely a highlight as their chemistry is amazing. Between she and McShane – who quite frankly hasn’t had a bad role since Deadwood – really help to carry the movie. Blackbeard’s ruthlessness is clearly conveyed through McShane’s acting and  if there’s one thing he knows how to do, it’s to play the villain well. There are also some notable cameos near the start of the film, which was nice to see.

One other major plus is the music. Even though Hans Zimmer uses some of the themes from the other films, he’s had some great help in guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela. If you’ve never heard these two before, open up another tab on your browser and look them up online. This post will be waiting for you when you get back.

Done? Good. Didn’t I say they were cool? The duo adds a lot of flavor to the music of the movie, which really does help things (as much as they can).

Rob Marshall’s direction of the film isn’t terrible as some might say. It actually feels a lot like Gore Verbinski’s (to me, anyway), and if you weren’t told who was making the film, there’s a slight possibility you wouldn’t recognize it wasn’t Verbinski. He does capture the action scenes well and truthfully, there was something cool with the lighting in the Sparrow sword fights that occurs early on. I’m under the impression that this is due to the Bruckheimer touch on things.

The writing on this film felt lazy. Here’s what I mean, and the following might be spoilers:

*** Here lie Spoilers, Ladies and Gents, be warned! ***

*** Here lie Spoilers, Ladies and Gents, be warned! ***

*** Here lie Spoilers, Ladies and Gents, be warned! ***

There is a part in the film where Barbossa explains his stake in the chase for the Fountain of Youth. In a few lines, Geoffrey Rush nails it like an old man telling stories by a campfire. The only problem is that you’ve been told what happened in a visual medium. One of the first rules of writing is to show, and not tell. With a budget of over $400 million, I find it shocking that they couldn’t have just taken a few minutes to visually give us that explanation. It’s possible that Rossio and Elliot wanted to avoid reusing some of the same Pirates elements from the earlier films, but sometimes Pirate life does have a few struggles on the water. Why not show how he lost the Black Pearl?

Another example of the writing problem is the quasi-love story between the ship’s cleric (who’s name I can’t even recall) and the mermaid they encounter. It felt forced to me, and I’m convinced that when the Cleric finally tells the Mermaid he wants her to save his life, she pulled him down into deep waters only to feed upon him like those other poor pirate souls. And you know why? Because Marshall and the writers never bothered to show the audience a hint of what became of them. I doubt they cared about them any more than the audience could have. I even stayed after the credits, figuring that the final shot would maybe show me something of their fate, but no. Nothing of the sort.

*** Spoilers are done, you can keep reading now. ***

*** Spoilers are done, you can keep reading now. ***

*** Spoilers are done, you can keep reading now. ***

Oh, and there’s nothing to read after this, because I’m writing like Rossio and Elliot. Feel that sense of emptiness? That gap, like there should be something here? That’s what this Pirates may do to you.