Film Review: Alexander (dir by Oliver Stone)


Before I really get into talking about Oliver Stone’s 2004 film, Alexander, I should acknowledge that there’s about four different version of Alexander floating around.

There’s the widely ridiculed theatrical version, which was released in 2004 and which got terrible reviews in the United States, though it was apparently a bit more popular in Europe.  This version of Alexander was a notorious box office bomb and Oliver Stone’s career has never quite recovered from it.  Though Stone’s still making movies, it’s been a while since he’s really been taken as seriously as you might expect a two-time Oscar winner to be taken.  The box office and critical failure of Alexander is a big reason for that.

There’s also the Director’s Cut of Alexander, which is slightly shorter than the version that was released into theaters and which apparently emphasizes the action scenes more than the original film did.  For an Oscar-winning director to release a director’s cut that’s actually shorter than the version that he originally sent into theaters is rare and it shows that the film’s subject matter was one that Stone was still trying to figure out how to deal with.

There is also the “Final Unrated Cut,” which lasts 3 hours and 45 minutes and which Stone described as being the Cecil B. DeMille-version of the story.  At the time the Final Unrated Cut was released in 2007, Stone announced that he had put everything back into the movie and that we were finally able to see the version of the story that he wanted to tell.

However, Stone apparently still left some stuff out because, in 2009, we got the Final Cut, which goes on for 206 minutes and which, once again, apparently includes everything that Stone wanted to put in the original cut of the film.  The Final Cut has actually received some positive reviews from critic who were not impressed by the previous three versions of Alexander.

For the record, I saw the Director’s Cut.  This is the second of the Alexanders, the one that runs 167 minutes.  Some day, I’ll watch the four hour version and I’ll compare the two films.  But for now, I’m reviewing the 167-minute version of Alexander.

Anyway, Alexander is a biopic of Alexander The Great, the Macedonian ruler who took over a good deal of the known world before mysteriously dying at the age of 32.  The film jumps back and forth in time, from an elderly Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins, going about as overboard as one can go while playing an ancient Greek historian) narrating the story of Alexander’s life to Alexander (Colin Farrell) conquering his enemies to scenes of Alexander’s mother (Angelina Jolie) and one-eyed father (Val Kilmer) shaping Alexander’s outlook on the world.  Along the way, we discover that Alexander was driven to succeed and forever lived in the shadow of his father.  We also discover that he may have been in love with his general, Hephaistion (Jared Leto), even though he married Roxane (Rosario Dawson, who gets to do an elaborate dance).  We also discover that no battle in the ancient world could begin before Alexander gave a long speech and that all of the Macedonians spoke with thick Irish accents.  Stone has said that the Irish accents were meant to signify that the Macedonians were working-class.  Other people say that, because Colin Farrell’s accent was so thick, the rest of the cast had to imitate him so he wouldn’t sound out-of-place.

And here’s the thing — yes, Alexander is a big, messy film that is often incoherent.  Yes, the cast is full of talented actors, every single one of which has been thoroughly miscast.  Yes, it’s next to impossible to keep track of who is fighting who and yes, it’s distracting as Hell that all of the Macedonians have Irish accents and that Angelina Jolie uses an Eastern European accent that’s so thick that it almost becomes a parody of itself.  All of these things are true and yet, I was never bored with the director’s cut.  The sets were huge, the costumes were beautiful, and the cast was eccentric enough to be interesting.  Val Kilmer, Angelina Jolie, and Anthony Hopkins all go overboard, chewing every piece of scenery that they can get their hands on.  Colin Farrell alternates between being determined and being wild-eyed.  Jared Leto allows his piercing stare to do most of his acting.  Even Christopher Plummer shows up, playing Aristole with a North Atlantic accent.  No one appears to be acting in the same film and strangely, it works.  The ancient world was chaotic and the combination of everyone’s different acting styles with Stone’s frantic direction actually manages to capture some of that chaos.

Oliver Stone apparently spent years trying to bring his vision of Alexander’s life to the big screen.  Watching the film, it’s a classic example of a director becoming so obsessed with a story that they ultimately forgot why they wanted to tell it in the first place.  Stone tosses everything he can at the cinematic wall, just to see what will stick.  Is Alexander a tyrant or a misunderstood humanist?  Is he a murderer or a noble warrior?  Is he in love with Hephaistion or has his borderline incestuous relationship with his mother left him incapable of trusting anyone enough to love them?  The film doesn’t seem to know who Alexander actually was but it’s so desperate to try to find an answer among all of the endless battle scenes and lengthy speeches that it becomes undeniably compelling to watch.  If nothing else, Alexander gives us the rare chance to see an Oliver Stone film in which Stone himself doesn’t seem to quite know what point it is that he’s trying to make.

Alexander is a mess but there’s something fascinating about its chaos.  It’s a beautiful wreck and, as with all wrecks, it’s impossible to look away.

Sony surprises with the Morbius Teaser trailer.


When it comes to all things Marvel, the name Morbius is vague to me. I remember Todd McFarlane’s final run for Spider-Man back in 1991 which had a 5 to 6 issue story arc on the character. Basically, Morbius (not to be confused with Moebius, the great Jean Giraud) is kind of a vampire, or as Blade would say, he’s something else. Personally, I think Sony’s scraping near the bottom of Marvel’s barrel, but maybe Sony’s on to something here.

If they have the same success with this as they had with Venom, they should be on good footing to create their own ongoing story arc with The Sinister Six. Anyone who’s ever read any of the Marvel Comics or played the last rendition of Sony’s Spider-Man for the PS4 knows of a set of Spidey’s villains that joined forces to take him down. The trailer below looks like it ties itself into Spider-Man: Homecoming with a cameo by Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes (a.k.a. The Vulture).

Morbius stars Jared Leto (Blade Runner 2049) as Michael Morbius, a biology genius afflicted with an illness. In his efforts to come up with a cure, he becomes a supervillain with powers and a thirst for blood. Morbius also stars Jared Harris (Chernobyl), Adria Arjona (Good Omens), Tyrese Gibson (Black and Blue), and Matt Smith (The Crown) 

Morbius premieres in cinemas this summer.

 

Music Video of the Day: Do or Die (remix) by Afrojack featuring 30 Seconds To Mars (2014, dir by ????)


 

Afrojack vs. Thirty Seconds to Mars?

Well, Thirty Seconds To Mars has Jared Leto.  But Afrojack is Afrojack.  My money has to be on the guy who didn’t appear in the worst movie to come out of the DCEU so far.

Anyway, enjoy!

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #31: Black and White (dir by James Toback)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by the end of Wednesday, December 7th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

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On November 15th, I recorded the 1999 melodrama, Black and White, off of Encore.

Black and White is a film that I’ve seen several times and I’ve always meant to review it.  It’s an attempt to explore the state of race, rap, crime, and sex in the late 20th century.  It’s also a James Toback film, which means that it contains all of the stuff that appears in every James Toback film: a threesome in the park, improvised dialogue, cameos from famous people playing themselves, an obsession with college basketball games, casual sexism, and a lot of talk about why you should never send “a little boy to do a man’s job.”  By his own admission, the white Toback is obsessed with the black experience but, when you watch a James Toback film, you get the feeling that his entire knowledge of African-American culture comes from watching other movies.

In short, Black and White is probably one of the silliest and most misjudged films that I’ve ever seen.  In fact, it’s so misjudged that it’s compulsively watchable.  Though I’m always hesitant to casually toss around the term “guilty pleasure,” that’s exactly what Black and White is.

Black and White tells several different stories, some of which are connected and some of which are not.  Sam Donager (Brooke Shields) is an independent filmmaker who is attempting to make a documentary about white people who try to act black.  Her husband, Terry (Robert Downey, Jr.), is gay and hits on every man (and boy) that he sees.  Sam and Terry start following around a group of privileged white kids who are obsessed with rap music.  Sam asks them if they want to be black.  They say that they’re going through a phase.

One of the kids is named Wren and he’s played by Elijah Wood.  He doesn’t really do much but every time he shows up in the film, you go, “It’s Elijah Wood!”  And then there’s Marty King (Eddie Kaye Thomas) who is the son of the Manhattan District Attorney (Joe Pantoliano).  Marty’s older brother is Will (William Lee Scott) ,who is some sort of low-level criminal.  And finally, the unofficial leader of the kids is Charlie (Bijou Phillips) and she gets to give a long monologue explaining the various uses of the n-word.

(Their teacher, incidentally, is played by Jared Leto.  If you’ve ever wanted to listen to Jared Leto lecture about the relationship between Othello and Iago, this is the film to see.  That said, the whole Othello and Iago lecture is just kinda randomly tossed in and doesn’t really pay off.)

Charlie is one of the many girlfriends of Rich Bower (Power), who is not only an up-and-coming rap producer but he’s also the head of a criminal organization.  (There’s a lengthy and kinda pointless scene where he and his associates demand money from a club manager played by Scott Caan.)  Rich is also friends with Mike Tyson.  Tyson plays himself and he gets to deliver an entire monologue about how Rich should never send a boy to do a man’s job.

But we’re not done!  Rich’s cousin is Dean Carter (Allan Houston), a college basketball player.  Dean is dating an anthropology graduate student (Claudia Schiffer, giving a hilariously terrible performance) who is obsessed with fertility symbols.  Dean is also being blackmailed by a corrupt cop named Mark Clear.  Guess who plays Mark Clear?

BEN FREAKING STILLER!

Needless to say, Ben Stiller is massively miscast.  He delivers he lines in his trademark comedic fashion, which makes it next to impossible to take him seriously as any sort of threat.  He also has a backstory that is needlessly complex but at least it allows him to say, “I’m Saul of Fucking Tarsus!”

Anyway, almost the entire film was improvised, which is one of those things that probably seemed like a good idea at the time.  A few of the actors do well with the improvisation.  Stiller may be miscast but at least he can come up with stuff to say.  Robert Downey, Jr.’s character may seem out-of-place but again, Downey knows how to keep things interesting.  But the rest of the cast seems to be a bit stranded so we end up with a lot of lengthy scenes of characters struggling to make some sort of sense of Toback’s storyline.

It’s obvious that James Toback felt that this film had something important to say but, instead of any insight, it can only offer up the occasionally strange-as-Hell scene.

Like this scene, for instance, in which Mike Tyson literally attempts to kill Robert Downey, Jr:

Or this weird little scene between Ben Stiller and Joe Pantoliano, which is dominated by Stiller’s odd delivery of his lines:

Or the closing montage, which is actually rather well-put together and makes great use of Michael Fredo’s Free:

Sadly, the video above ends before it gets to the part where we see Claudia Schiffer on a date with Mike Tyson, telling him about fertility symbols.

Anyway, Black and White is one of those films that wants to say something despite not being sure what.  Again, it may ultimately be rather silly but it’s still compulsively watchable.

(For the record, Marla Maples — who also appeared in Maximum Overdrive and was married to future President Donald Trump when this movie was made — has a cameo as a character named Muffy.  We live in a strange fucking world, don’t we?)

Suicide Squad Drops By the MTV Movie Awards


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Let’s get this out of the way and just say that Warner Bros. executives and major shareholders are none too pleased by the reception from both critics and the general audience when it comes to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Not a very good start to their planned DC Extended Universe. While fanboys from both DC and Marvel have been going at it for weeks now, there’s at least some bright spot ahead for DC in their summer tentpole release Suicide Squad.

Even with rumors of extended reshoots to add more levity and fun to balance out public’s perception that the DC films are too dour and dark (grimdark even), Suicide Squad still remains one of the more anticipated films of the summer.

During this year’s MTV Movie Awards, DC and Warner Brothers released the newest trailer for what they’re hoping will sell the DCEU to the audience what Batman v. Superman could not and that’s a fun comic book film that understands dark and serious doesn’t have to mean not fun.

Suicide Squad is set for an August 5, 2016 release date.

Here’s the latest trailer for Suicide Squad!


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I have to be honest.  Up until this point, I haven’t had much enthusiasm for seeing The Suicide Squad and it’s always going to bother me that Jared Leto chopped off all of his beautiful hair.  However, the latest Suicide Squad trailer is actually pretty entertaining!  If the very least, it deserves some credit for its use of Bohemian Rhapsody

 

Comic-Con’s First Look At The Suicide Squad


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“If anything goes wrong we blame them. We have built-in deniability.” — Amanda Waller

When will studios finally realize that showing any video reel, trailer or teaser at Comic-Con’s Hall H will inevitably be leaked if no official release has been made. It’s the nature of the internet and has become a sort of ritual each summer when Comic-Con rolls around. Some studios have been better with whetting the appetite of fans by giving those who can’t make Hall H with something to see. Others seem intent on trying to control what comes out of Hall H. It’s almost as if they’re saying “sucks to be you” if one couldn’t attend Comic-Con and get a seat in Hall H.

This year it seems Warner Brothers is that studio that’s trying to stamp out all the leaked footage shown at this year’s Hall H during their industry panel. It was a panel that was seen as the best thing about the Hall H gatherings. They did the right thing about releasing the latest trailer for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice to the public and not just keeping it for the Hall H crowd. Yet, they whiffed big time by not doing the same for the Suicide Squad trailer (or first look as some call it).

Inevitably some in Hall H were kind enough to turn on their smartphones and video a rough and grainy look at the trailer which was then uploaded onto the internet. This was the first look a majority of comic-book and film fans got of Suicide Squad. Not a good look, but fans were playing this leaked footage nonstop. So, taking a page out of Marvel Studios PR playbook after the first Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer leaked in a very non-HD version, Warner Bros. has finally surrendered and released an HD-version of the Suicide Squad trailer.

All is right with the world.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #104: Phone Booth (dir by Joel Schumacher)


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First released in 2003, Phone Booth is a good film.

Now, I know that you’re probably thinking, “Okay, that’s good, Lisa.  There were a lot of good films released in 2003.  I can’t think of any off the top of my head but let me go look on Wikipedia and I’m sure I can come back with a few dozen good films and…”

Well, before you go over to Wikipedia and do a search on 2003 in film (and I even included a direct link to make it easy for you because I like to be helpful), allow me to point something else out about Phone Booth.

Phone Booth is not only a good film but it’s a good film that was directed by Joel Schumacher!

That’s right!  There are several online film critics who will tell you that Joel Schumacher is one of the worst directors of all time and, to be honest, there’s actually a pretty good argument that can be made in support of that.  However, Schumacher did direct both The Lost Boys and Phone Booth.  So, he’s directed at least two good films and that’s two more than Uwe Boll.

In Phone Booth, Colin Farrell plays Stu, a slick publicist who has both a wife named Kelly (Radha Mitchell) and a girlfriend named Pam (Katie Holmes).  When Stu steps into the last remaining phone booth in New York City in order to call his girlfriend, he’s shocked when a pizza deliveryman shows up and attempts to give him a pizza.  No sooner has he gotten rid of the pizzaman (and, seriously, who turns down free pizza?), the phone rings.  Stu answers and is told by an unseen sniper (voice by Kiefer Sutherland) that, if he leaves the phone booth, he will be shot.  The sniper goes on to order Stu to tell the truth to both Kelly and Pam or to risk being shot as a consequence.

While all of this is going on, a group of prostitutes demand that Stu get out of the booth and let them use the phone.  When Stu refuses, their pimp approaches the booth and is promptly gunned down by the sniper.  Soon, under the assumption that Stu has a weapon, the police — led by Forest Whitaker — have surrounded the booth and are demanding that Stu step out.  The sniper, however, reminds Stu that he’ll be shot if he leaves the booth.

As a crowd of onlookers (including Pam and Kelly), police, and reporters surround the booth, Stu finds himself literally with no escape…

Telling the story in real time and keeping the film largely focused on Stu’s increasing desperation, Schumacher actually does a pretty good job with Phone Booth.  Colin Farrell gives a great performance, making Stu into a character who you like despite yourself.  While Kiefer Sutherland never appears onscreen, his sexy growl of a voice works wonders and he even manages to sell the point where his character starts to maniacally laugh.  Reportedly, screenwriter Larry Cohen came up with the idea for Phone Booth way back in the 1960s.  It took nearly 40 years for the film to be made but Schumacher, Farrell, and Sutherland made it more than worth the wait.

Scenes I Love: American Psycho


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Last week I put up as one of the entries for the 27 Days of Old School the classic song by Huey Lewis and the News. That song is “Hip to be Square” and I wrote how that song has become famous as not just being part of a great album of the 80’s, but due to the fact that it became the soundtrack to one of the best scenes from Marry Harron’s American Psycho.

Patrick Bateman’s personal take on “Hip to be Square” resonates not just as a description of the song but of the 1980’s as well.

“Do you like Huey Lewis & The News? Their early work was a little too ‘new-wave’ for my taste, but when Sports came out in ’83, I think they really came into their own – both commercially and artistically. The whole album has a clear, crisp sound, and a new sheen of consummate professionalism that really gives the songs a big boost. He’s been compared to Elvis Costello, but I think Huey has a far more bitter, cynical sense of humour. In ’87, Huey released this, Fore, their most accomplished album. I think their undisputed masterpiece is ‘Hip To Be Square’, a song so catchy most people probably don’t listen to the lyrics – but they should! Because it’s not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it’s also a personal statement about the band itself! Hey Paul!”

Lisa Predicts The 86th Annual Academy Awards


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Well, it’s finally that time!  The Oscars are tomorrow night and, with so many close races this year, I can’t wait to see who actually wins.  Below, you’ll find my predictions for what will win.

Please note that these are not necessarily the films that I personally would pick to honor.  You can find that list here.  Instead, these are the films and performances that I think will win tomorrow.

A few notes: I’m predicting that Gravity will win the most awards but I still think that 12 Years A Slave will win best picture.  However, I also think that either American Hustle or Dallas Buyers Club could pull an upset win in this category.

For best actor, I am picking Matthew McConaughey but I do think that Bruce Dern could possibly win.  Dern’s been acting forever and the Academy might feel that this could be his last chance to win an Oscar.  Plus, he was really good in Nebraska.

For best actress, I’m predicting that Amy Adams will upset favorite Cate Blanchett.  As we saw with the SAG awards, American Hustle is popular with actors and the Academy might be hesitant about honoring a Woody Allen film this year.

Finally, for Best Makeup, I am predicting that Bad Grandpa will win.  Why?  Every year, there’s at least one totally fucked up win that nobody predicted.  And what win could be more fucked up than Bad Grandpa?  (Also, if Bad Grandpa wins, I’ll be able to say that I was the only person who predicted it.)

Best Picture — 12 Years A Slave

Best Director — Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity

Best Actor — Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

Best Actress — Amy Adams in American Hustle

Best Supporting Actor — Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club

Best Supporting Actress — Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle

Best Original Screenplay — Her

Best Adapted Screenplay — 12 Years A Slave

Best Animated Film — Frozen

Best Foreign Language Film — The Great Beauty (Italy)

Best Documentary Feature — The Act of Killing

Best Documentary (Short Subject) — The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved My Life

Best Live Action Short Film — The Voorman Problem

Best Animated Short Film — Mr. Hublot

Best Original Score — Gravity

Best Original Song — “Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

Best Sound Editing — Gravity

Best Sound Mixing — Gravity

Best Production Design — The Great Gatsby

Best Cinematography — Gravity

Best Makeup and Hairstyling — Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

Best Costume Design — The Great Gatsby

Best Film Editing — 12 Years A Slave

Best Visual Effects — Gravity