A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 275 – Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl

Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl – November 30th, 2010

Tonight was going to be another vampire movie. I checked the list earlier today and saw that Blood: The Last Vampire (the anime) was on our list and the running time we had listed said 83 minutes. Perfect for a Tuesday night and something a little different than the Underworld trilogy. So we popped it in when I got home and then, about 20 minutes in, when I went looking for some information about whether it was based on books or what, I saw that the running time was considerably shorter than 83 minutes. Less than an hour. But the box did indeed say 83 minutes. So we kept watching. I decided maybe the version we had was 83 minutes because the English dialogue had been sloooooooooowed doooooooown (seriously, it is massively distracting how slowly the English dialogue bits go). But no. Those 83 minutes apparently include the special documentary included on the disc. So we spent 48 minutes tonight watching that and then realized we needed a full movie. And it needed to be short because it was after 10 by then. Monty Python to the rescue!

We didn’t have this on our list at first. Somehow it got shelved with our television DVDs and never made it onto the list. And then one evening I was looking at the list and thought “Hey, didn’t we watch that not too long ago? Where is it?” So I guess this is a good one to watch tonight, having already watched one that shouldn’t have been on the list. It’s also one we know super well. After all, it’s almost all material from the shows we know so well. It’s sort of like And Now For Something Completely Different in that respect, but done for a huge live audience, complete with all the things that can happen with a live performance.

What makes this really stand out in terms of Monty Python productions is the live audience aspect, really. Funny as the sketches and filmed bits are on their own, add in the guys walking through the audience and shots of the audience reacting and you get a whole new dimension. For one, this audience is obviously very much full of Python fans. They anticipate the lines, shouting them out before the cast can. They sing along with the songs. There’s even some cosplaying going on, with some audience members wearing napkins on their heads. These are people who know and love the material and the cast and are thrilled to see them live. I wish I’d been there myself, but I was a little young at the time. And in Massachusetts. But really, two of my favorite bits of the whole performance take place in the audience. There’s the albatross sketch, which takes place with John Cleese in the middle of the audience trying to sell his albatross. The audience loves it and the lucky folks in the seats near where he’s walking all turn and get a few moments in the spotlight. One woman tweaks the beak of the albatross. The other bit I love is Eric Idle heading off into the audience, wandering up and down the aisles as he delivers an endless monologue about how horrible going on holiday can be. He goes up one aisle and down another, climbs over the seats and into other sections, evades John Cleese, who’s chasing him, and the whole while he’s talking, never once breaking verbal stride. It’s the sort of thing that just wouldn’t play the same on a set. It needs an audience to happen.

Obviously with a stage performance there will be the inevitable issues. There are always issues with a live performance. I learned that well doing theater years back. The thing is, most things the audience never sees, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. And you just have to run with it. Terry Jones’ wig flies off during the church police sketch and the whole cast starts giggling. But they finish it all! The show goes on and it’s great fun to see that these guys find what they’re doing just as ridiculous as the audience does. They’re having fun doing it, and that’s fantastic.

There are a few bits in the live performance that aren’t from the regular episodes of the show. There’s a speech about the nature of physical comedy, performed by Graham Chapman with live demonstrations of banana peel gags and board-in-the-face bits, ending with some fantastic pie jokes. There are a few songs, which I admit I’m not overly fond of. And then there are the filmed sections. I would guess that they were originally included as breaks for the cast so they could clean up, change costumes and get ready for what’s next, but the bits they picked? Are the German bits. The Python crew made some material for German audiences that didn’t really air in the US. I taped it off television once and some of it was older sketches re-done in German, and some of it was brand new material. So as far as I can tell, all or most of the audience for this performance was seeing new Python material in those film clips. That had to have been fantastic for them.

Overall, while the live show doesn’t present a whole lot in terms of brand new material, it’s more than worth watching. There’s a number of fantastic favorite sketches, some sketches that aren’t the big favorites but are great all the same, and some stuff that isn’t classic Python but fits right in. But it’s the audience that makes it. Even if I wasn’t in it at the time, watching this movie makes me feel like I sort of am, or as close as I’m ever going to get. And that’s good enough.

November 30, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , | Leave a comment

Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl

November 30, 2010

Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl

We had intended to watch a completely different movie today, but when we put it is we were much chagrined to find that it was under fifty minutes long. (The box lied to us.) That’s far too short for the spirit of our movie project since it hardly qualifies as a movie, which left us in somewhat of a bind since we were therefore unable to start watching our movie until after ten PM, which hardly left us time for a movie before the night is over. So as an emergency backup movie we’ve thrown in this live performance by the crazy lads of Monty Python from back in 1980. It has two things in its favor: one it is also short (although long enough in our minds to qualify as an actual movie.) And two it is a complete joy to watch.

As with And Now for Something Completely Different this is just a collection of popular Monty Python sketches, but this compilation has the advantage of a live, and very appreciative, audience. Most of the moments I really love in this move are a result of the spontaneity of a live performance. During the sketch with the dead bishop on the landing the cast crack each other up, particularly when Terry Jones’ wig falls off. When, during an intermission, John Cleese goes out into the audience to sell an albatross several of the people he passes know the sketch and ask him loudly what flavor it is. There are people in the crowd with handkerchiefs on their heads Mr. Gumby style.

By far my favorite bit in the entire performance is when Eric Idle, as Mr. Smokestoomuch does his rant about the evils of package tours. It’s much expanded from the version in the television show, and as he goes on and on he runs down from the stage and escapes through the crowd pursued by John Cleese. He even bursts back out and continues his tirade over the start of the next sketch.

They also feature a lot of filmed bits from the special episodes recorded in German such as the odd Olympics and the philosophy football game. I love that they have the little red riding hood sketch, but am saddened that they do not include the rapists that live in the forest. To either side of the stage they have giant monitors (barely seen in the film version) that must have allowed the audience to see the actual show, since otherwise they would have been tiny little ants way in the distance. Most strange of all is that there are two non-Python songs from Neil Innes. Yes, he wrote many iconic Python songs, but his bits of the film tend to grind things to a complete halt.

All in all it’s a strange assortment of sketches. I suppose they had to figure out what would read on a tiny little stage from the back of the amphitheater. I further suppose that there were some sketches (the Parrot sketch in particular) that they were rather tired of being asked to perform. So we have the Whizzo Chocolate Factory, but no cheese shop. There’s the Bruces singing about drunken philosophers but no Spanish Inquisition (which, contrary to expectations, I HAD been expecting.) The cheer when Eric says that he always wanted to be a lumberjack is enormous.

It was quite enjoyable to watch this again. I love watching the Python guys (and Carol) clearly having a great time doing what they do. I love the early eighties crowd of long haired drug addled Python fans. I kind of wish that my family had been in California at the time that this was filmed, because I could totally see my father taking an eight-year-old me to see Python live. Sadly, it was not to be. I will just have to satisfy myself with the DVD of the concert.

November 30, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 274 – Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans – November 29th, 2010

Last night I mentioned hoping that this movie wouldn’t be bogged down by the issues the others had, flipping back and forth between backstory and present day. Truth be told, I was rather looking forward to this. I love backstory. But I was also wary of it, because well, a lot of the backstory was already told in the other movies and that makes for some trouble with maintaining tension and continuity. So, mixed feelings firmly in mind, on we went with the last of the Underworld movies. So far. Given the description of the possible fourth movie on Wikipedia, I’m nervous about going back to sequels after this.

I really rather wish I’d watched this first. I mean, my major issues with the other two had to do with integrating the backstory and worldbuilding into the main plots. I love backstory, but it ended up feeling like as interesting as it was, and as much as it added to the atmosphere, it ended up competing with the rest of what was going on. If this had come before, or maybe in between, I think then some of the more exhaustive backstory stuff could have been dealt with cleaner.

In terms of mood, this movie does set a nice stage. A nice blue stage. Seriously, this whole movie is in black and shades of grey and blue. Now, I happen to like blue, and it does make the red blood stand out well, but while I know the other movies were similar in color scheme, I really noticed it this time. Really, it’s clearly an intentional choice. On top of the whole blood thing the blue tone to all the visuals definitely makes it clear that the bulk of the movie takes place at night as well as making the vampires look all pale and inhuman. Of course, it also makes the werewolves look inhuman. And the humans look inhuman. So maybe something should have been done about that. But overall I like it.

With the mood and atmosphere set by the blue and black visuals of a looming castle and lots of sweaty werewolves and pristine vampires, we can move right into the story. And I do have to say that I liked the story. I knew damn well what was going to go down by the end, having seen it in a flashback in the first movie, but I did enjoy seeing the specifics of how it all played out and got to that point. According to the trivia on IMDB the first movie was originally pitched as a “Romeo and Juliet” type story, but to be honest I think this one is far closer. It’s even got the inevitable doom of the couple built in. We know that Lucien and Sonja, both second generation and born into their respective species (as opposed to created like most of the others), aren’t going to get a happy ending. So really the point of watching this is to watch for how Lucien got to the point he was at in the first movie. What, precisely, were the events that led him to make a deal with Kraven? How did he know Tanis and get him on his side too? And where did Raze come from?

And oh, oh all those bits are shown. This is truly Lucien’s story here. Lucien’s and Viktor’s. Sonja’s as well, obviously, but if you’ve seen the other movies you know she’s destined to go up in smoke by the end. So as backstory goes, it’s all for Lucien and Viktor and their eventual rivalry in the first movie. I very much liked how this movie took Lucien’s obsession with combining the vampire and werewolf bloodlines and gave it a nice solid background. It was something Sonja wanted, something she thought would bring about a new day for both species, and so Michael in the first movie is very much the child Lucien and Sonja never got to have. It’s not presented in a sledgehammery way, but firmly enough that I can see the thread of it and I like that. And I also like that Viktor is so very ruthless, but also crushed in his own broken and sick way when Sonja dies. Yes, he’s still a vicious dude who put his own daughter to death, but he cared in his own way. It could easily have played awkwardly, but Bill Nighy did a great job with Viktor. He chews the scenery, but also knows how to give his character an actual arc underneath all the chewing.

I think what pleased me most here was getting to really see the development of Lucien as a character, because he’s a villain for a good chunk of the first movie and here he’s the hero. It’s a solid plot about the cruelty of the vampires and how they created the lycans and abused them until the lycans rose up against them. Ignoring what happened later on after this movie ends, there’s a sort of triumph there. It balances the other movies nicely, really. But in addition to all that? There’s backstory for two of my favorite secondary characters in the other movies.

Now, Raze is one of the coolest lycans ever. Just listen to his voice! Not to mention that he’s played by one of the guys who created the characters for the original story. Kevin Grevioux has a fantastic presence, and in the first movie I loved him and wanted way more of him than I got. It’s great to see him here and see how he meets Lucian and ends up following him. He doesn’t want to be a lycan, sees it as a curse, and is more than happy to go up against the vampires who’ve destroyed so much. So yes, more Raze equals awesome. And then this movie gives me my other favorite minor character: Tanis. He’s clearly morally bankrupt in the second movie, but also has a sort of dedication to history that I love. He’s a self-serving archivist. I love him. He’s got a much expanded role in the backstory here, scheming for a spot on the vampire council, protecting his own interests over all else except the records he keeps. He seems to always be playing whatever side will help him come out best, but then there’s a great scene where all the vampires are gearing up for war and what is he doing? Packing up scrolls and books. And eventually, in between this movie and the first? He pissed off Viktor by telling the truth about him. Fascinating character. I love morally grey characters and well, librarian. Played by an actor I like. Right.

I think my only real complaint about this movie is a somewhat odd one for me. There’s plenty of action here, and lots of scheming and plotting and revolution and rebellion and the vampires are vicious and the werewolves/lycans are brutal and I love all that. But if the backstory is supposed to be about this doomed couple of Lucian and Sonja? There’s just not enough of them. They do have a number of scenes together, but it all picks up with them already in love. It felt a bit abrupt for me. But then it played out fine. It rang true enough when the end came. Enough so that I don’t mind a bit of revision to the original flashbacks. After all, this is an expanded version of all that, so they could go bigger and more expansive. Toss in some sword fighting and a bigger castle, better wolf transformations. And I’m all for all of those.

November 29, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

November 29, 2010

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

I have not seen this movie prior to today. I have to admit, not having seen it yet, that I have grave misgivings. Can you take the (admittedly very cool) medieval prologue from yesterday’s movie and expand it into an entire film of its own? I’m not sure what to make of an Underworld movie set entirely in the dark ages. Can it be as cool if it involves all armor and no rubber bodysuits? All crossbows and no swords? Can it be an Underworld movie without Kate Beckinsale?

The other issue is that this movie doesn’t really have anything new to add to the Underworld mythos. If you’ve seen the first movie then you know from the beginning how this one has to end. I suppose it works on a sort of Greek tragedy level – knowing the inevitable outcome of the story helps to build the tension. But it’s a little depressing knowing in advance how the story of Sonja and Lucian must play out.

On the other hand it is fun to see some of the other stories woven into this one. There’s the origin of Raze, for example, which is awesome (because Kevin Grevioux is awesome!) There’s the plotting and scheming of Tannis the chronicle keeper. And of course there’s an awful lot of Bill Nighy as Viktor, which is something I enjoy watching any time.

The fact of the matter is that this is actually a pretty fun hack-and-slash medieval action movie. The vampires are not particularly vampyric, in that they don’t really do anything but lurk around their fortress whipping their slaves and whining about how nobody respects them. They’re like super-strong knights in armor who burst into flame in direct sunlight, but not particularly cool beyond that. But then again, the title of the movie IS Rise of the Lycans, so you know that the werewolves are the real stars. It’s pretty much Braveheart but with an all werewolf cast. And on that level it works marvelously.

There’s rain-drenched sword battles, lots of triple-shot crossbows, giant ballistas, and hordes of immortal wolf-men. There’s the now-familiar wolf transformations from the first two Underworld movies with their sort of almost-stop-motion feel which is so cool. Probably the most impressive accomplishment technically for this movie is that it depicts the warped half-man wolf creatures running a lot and the gait that the animators have created here is probably the coolest run you could have for a human-shaped creature. Too often I have seen stuntmen on all fours attempting to run and it always either looks like a sped-up crawl or a stuntman waving his limbs while dangling from a wire (which is what it usually is.) Here the wolf-men have a very convincing lope that manages to be menacing rather than laughable. Good job Underworld animation team!

It’s also fantastic that for what is essentially a fleshed out flashback and spin-off film the producers managed to get so much of the original cast back. Michael Sheen as Lucian (particularly funny to watch now that Amanda and I have realized that he is David Frost from Frost/Nixon.) Bill Nighy of course, who must really enjoy getting so many paychecks out of this franchise after his character was so definitively killed off in the first movie. (I got the impression many times in this film that his cosmetic contacts were really irritating him, and that he was using that pain to inform his portrayal.) Kevin Grevioux is, of course, completely awesome – and still doesn’t get enough lines. I wish they’d make a Raze movie next – I’d love to watch that. With the sub-woofer turned way up. Oh, yeah. And I know Amanda was delighted to see Steven Mackintosh back as Tannis from the second movie. She loves a good librarian character and cheered during the climactic battle when he was trying to save his archives.

I had fun tonight. This is definitely the lesser of the three Underworld movies in my opinion, but it’s still amusing and it still does just what it sets out to do. It makes me want to play some more Castlevania: Lord of Shadows.

November 29, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 273 – Underworld: Evolution

Underworld: Evolution – November 28th, 2010

Tonight we continue our vampire movie trilogy with the second Underworld movie. I hadn’t seen this one before (and I haven’t seen tomorrow’s either) so I was curious to see how things would pick up after the first. After all, there’s so much backstory in the first movie, so there’s plenty to work with in a sequel. And work with it they did! Except working with it also meant more backstory. It’s a backstory bonanza! Again, to the detriment of the actual in-movie plot.

Not that I have a problem with the actual plot, but there’s just so much crammed in here and the movie is only so long. This isn’t The Lord of the Rings. No one was going to sit through a three hour long vampire action flick. So things get glossed over and characters get short shrift and there’s some muddy storytelling. But overall it does feel like they had a good idea here and a nice big world and they cared enough to really try and create something epic in tone. It falls a little flat in places, but as with the first movie, there’s a sense of scale and history that I think give the movie a great mood.

When it comes to atmosphere, this movie and its predecessor are really very similar. It’s the same basic feeling to the world, where the vampires are haughty and entitled and the lycans are downtrodden and angry, and they all exist in a world apart from that of regular humans. What’s nice here is that the conflict between them, the reasons for it, and the repercussions of the first movie all get dealt with in a way that relates to that division of worlds. The first vampire and first werewolf are revealed to be brothers, and their father has been keeping tabs on them for centuries, watching and keeping the fights of their species as remote from humanity as possible.

Fortunately for this movie, the worldbuilding, with the conflict between the two brothers and the consequences of their actions being the basis of the plot, flows a little better than the worldbuilding in the first movie. I had some issues last night with the worldbuilding taking precedence and therefore forcing the movie’s story to get messy. And there is messiness here too. Sloppy things like the magical repair of Selene and Michael’s Land Rover (or the equally magical appearance of another one after their first gets smashed up in a remote location). I don’t think that the werewolf brother got nearly the time he should have. The sex scene felt shoehorned in where something more suitable to the rest of the movie could have been. The whole thing with vampires being able to absorb the memories of the people whose blood they drink? Why on earth would you ever leave someone behind who knew anything of value if you knew the guy chasing you could do that? And I wanted more made of Markus’ hybrid status.

This, I think, is my biggest complaint (bigger than the romance, and I really wasn’t fond of that – it’s sort of like the Star and Michael scene in The Lost Boys – I get the point but I don’t really need to see them in bed). At the end of the first movie one of the lycans is killed over Markus’ crypt. His blood seeps down into the crypt, awakening Markus and turning him into a hybrid with unheard-of powers and strength. And while he does make for a super bad guy, with his creepy bat nose and giant wings and talons, the fact that he’s a hybrid, and that’s where those powers came from, barely enters into things. He could just have been a super old vampire by the time the climactic fight scenes happen. After all, his brother, the first lycan, is permanently wolf-like and seemingly super powerful. More so than most lycans. So why wouldn’t the first vampire be similar? If they weren’t going to make any fuss over him being a hybrid, why bother doing it? It just ends up being messy. I’d guess it was so no one could argue that Michael with his super hybrid powers should be able to overpower a plain vampire, but well. Viktor almost got him. It was Selene who saved the day then. And she does it here too. I just wish the worldbuilding done with the hybrid stuff had actually played into things here for more than Michael. It’s the proverbial gun that doesn’t go off.

Still, there was a lot I liked about this movie. As I said, I much enjoyed the worldbuilding and backstory. I still love Selene and Michael got to do more than run this time, which was nice. I liked his growing realization that he’s not human anymore and that he’s going to have to adapt to a whole new way of life. He’s going to have to follow new rules and use the powers he’s got. It was a good development for his character. And Selene continues to be a bad ass, fully capable of kicking butt and holding her own. I loved Alexander Covrinus, though I do have to wonder how they got Derek Jacobi involved in this movie. Still, however they did it he has a great presence for the role of the ultimate patriarch in this world. My other favorite new character was Tanis, the exiled vampire historian. For one, I have a fondness for Stephen Mackintosh. For two, I love a librarian in any form. For three, go action research! He was a fun grey area character, playing both sides and keeping his little library in rather comfortable exile. I also liked that there was less dithering around. People find out new information and then they go and do something with it.

I don’t know if I liked this movie better than the first one or worse. Probably they’re about equal overall, but for different reasons. I admit, I’m very curious about the third movie, which I believe is a prequel. Hopefully it will take care of my desire for more attention to be paid to the lycans, and maybe it will feel balanced, since it won’t be doing the backstory/present day thing. I am nervous about the fourth movie mentioned on Wikipedia as being in pre-production, but who knows if that’ll even go far enough for me to worry about it. We’ll see.

November 28, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Underworld Evolution

November 28, 2010

Underworld Evolution

There were three years between when the first Underworld film came out on DVD and when the second one did. This may explain why, when I first bought Evolution and put it in to watch it, I had to stop and go find the first Underworld movie so I could watch that first. There’s a short opening block of text and a voice-over by Kate Beckinsale, but the movie definitely supposes a foreknowledge of the characters and plot of the first movie.

This movie concentrates on two brothers: Marcus, the last surviving elder from Selene’s coven, and William, his unfortunate lycanthropic brother. There’s an action-filled prologue which sets the stage way back in the middle ages. Marcus, Viktor and Amelia are armored werewolf hunters who come across a village that William has slaughtered. Even as they start to burn the unfortunate victims they begin to awaken and transform into unstoppable half-wolves that pull the vampire brigade from their horses. Finally the vampires confront and capture William himself – a snow-white lycanthrop who seems twice as large as any of the others.

I enjoy this prologue for a number of reasons. For one thing it’s nice to see Bill Nighy again since his Viktor is one of my favorite things about the first movie. Having him here in this flashback goes a long way towards convincing me that this movie is very solidly in the same universe as the first one. The other thing this prologue does well is set the bar for the action in this movie.

I would say that this is a much more action-heavy movie than the first Underworld. Not that the first movie lacked action, but it had to lay down a lot of the ground rules for the Underworld universe and introduce all the characters and warring factions. This movie hits the ground running and has all the setup done in advance. There aren’t many plot twists or revelations like those towards the end of the first movie, it’s just a straight forward action movie set up. Present us with the stakes (the danger of an unchecked incursion of medieval feral lycans who cannot even turn back to human form – or worse a plague of lycan/vampire hybrids) and introduce the factions involved, then let them slug it out through a series of increasingly loud battles.

The biggest addition to the mystique of this movie is the introduction of a big secret paramilitary organization of humans who have been keeping tabs on happenings at Selene’s coven. They remind me a lot of the Watchers from the Highlander TV series – they know everything that’s going on but they don’t interfere and they clean up the mess afterwards. They are headed by a mysterious but noble figure played by Derek Jacobi. He actually does turn out to have something to do with the whole plot involving the two brothers, and of course he also provides Selene with a lot of cannon fodder for the final confrontation with Marcus.

I don’t feel that this movie has the same charm as the first one. The characters aren’t as deep and the story isn’t as interesting. But it feels very much a part of the same world, and I enjoy it on that level. It also is a far more action oriented movie. Indeed it’s more adult and R-rated in every way. There’s a ton more blood. There’s a little nudity and sensuality. But mostly it’s just big action scene after big action scene. Kate gets to flex her muscles as an action superstar, which is a lot of fun to watch, and there’s a ton of fun effects and make-up work on the lycans and Marcus. This movie is more eye-candy than the first one, but shallower. I’m quite curious now to see just what the third movie – the prequel – is all about.

November 28, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 272 – Underworld

Underworld – November 27th, 2010

I think I’ve made it clear that I work in a library. As such, I am often asked if I’ve read whatever book a patron is checking out, returning or requesting. Sometimes I can say yes, sometimes I have to say no. I’ve found that regardless of what I say, I will usually be treated to that patron’s thoughts on said book. This got especially bad with the Twilight books for a while, and I really do try to be diplomatic at work. I have opinions, yes, but what it boils down to is personal taste. And when it comes to vampires? Twilight is not my taste. I like my vampires a little less sparkly and a little more nasty. I’m not looking for romance. I’m looking for action.

While I am well aware that this is a movie that is far more style than substance, I can’t help but like it because it does indeed deliver on what I want from a vampire movie. For one, there’s plenty of blood. As well there should be, since that’s kind of a key point of vampire mythology. There’s also plenty of back-stabbing and nefarious plans and sinister figures. Oh, and action. There’s a heck of a lot of action. And that’s a good thing. There’s also a pretty impressively detailed backstory and world for the movie to be set in, so I’m willing to forgive a lot. I’m willing to forgive the fact that this isn’t Oscar-worthy material. It was never intended to be.

It’s a little risky to go saying “Oh, it’s okay that this movie’s not great because it wasn’t meant to be great.” That leads to a whole world of crap where I excuse things like Lost Boys 2: The Tribe. For the record, I do not excuse that movie. But really, take a look at that. It’s a vampire movie with a lot of blood and a lot of action and a tiny dab of romance. And it stinks on toast. It’s a horrible movie with a single redeeming feature and his name is Corey Feldman. This movie, on the other hand, while not being a masterpiece of cinema or an instant classic horror movie, is still a perfectly good addition to the genre. The acting is a little overblown, but not bad. The writing is a little overblown too, which I honestly thing is on purpose and spurred the overblown acting.

This is a movie about a centuries-old battle between two supernatural species. The vampires live in posh mansions full of all the trappings of great wealth. They’re decadent, in the true meaning of the word. Their world is supposed to feel dramatic and cold and vast. The Lycans live in the sewers and subways. They’re hungry and eager. Their world is supposed to be desperate and angry. None of the set-up here lends itself to subtle emotion or performance. What action movie has nuance? They’re few and far between, okay? And nuance isn’t necessary to make this movie head and shoulders ahead of crap like The Tribe.

Really, a lot of effort was put into the world here. The mood of the vampires, with their mansions and private trains and crypts and elite armed force whose sole purpose is to guard against and take down the Lycans? That’s presented beautifully. It’s a goth kid dream here, really, but it’s also so very empty. The barely contained energy of the Lycans is well done as well. They’re all straining at the need for secrecy, just itching for a reason to act. And it all plays right into the backstory, which fuels the main plot.

Like I said, this isn’t award material. It’s pretty and it’s got a great mood to it and a fun world. But the actual story is just okay at best. Poor hapless Michael has no idea he’s the heir to a bloodline that can merge vampire and Lycan traits. Angry vampire Selene is certain that something is afoot in the sewers and vows to find out why even though the senior vampires, including the creepy Kraven, say otherwise. The Lycans, led by Lucian (I totally did not recognize Michael Sheen in this as the same guy who played David Frost in Frost/Nixon) are after Michael, so Selene’s after him too, and then she wakes up big bad vampire Viktor. It’s kind of messy, and there’s a lot of Selene going back to the mansion and arguing with Kraven, then leaving again when he tells her not to. There’s a lot of Erika, a younger vampire with the hots for Kraven, throwing bitch glares at Selene. There’s a lot of Selene lone-gunning it on the streets before once more heading back to the mansion to fend off Kraven’s advances. Oh, and a lot of Michael running away from people, towards people, getting caught, getting tied up, and generally being a puppet. The story I get. But the telling of it? Messy.

So really, it’s a good thing that the movie has all this style. And there is some substance there in the form of the worldbuilding done to support the plot. I give everyone a pass on the acting and I admit I really do enjoy Kate Beckinsale as Selene and Bill Nighy as Viktor. They both seem to have enjoyed their roles. The action is fantastic, there’s plenty of blood, and while I could do with a little less back and forth, the actual plot works fine. And in the end there’s some great back stabbing and well. These vampires are pretty evil when you come right down to it. They’re bad-assed (especially Selene and the head of the guard for the mansion, Kahn) and pretty much exactly how I like my vampires. What romance there is? Is kept to a minimum. Mostly there’s just a lot of action. And blood.

November 27, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments

Underworld

November 27, 2010

Underworld

Back when this movie first opened in theaters Amanda and I happened to be in Boston on opening night. I don’t recall why or who we were with. Outside the theater where this movie was about to premier there were a bunch of pretty young Goth boys and girls in their corsets and frills with their big boots and eye-liner. I think we might have made some kind of snide comment, like you sometimes do, and I felt guilty about it. Because inside I’ve always secretly felt a kinship with those kids. I had a fascination with death and other morbid things when I was in High School. I’d have been Goth myself if such a thing had existed then, except that all the make-up and elaborate costumes would have been far too much effort for me. Anyhow – I wish now that I had hung out with those kids and gone into the theater to see this movie on opening night rather than waiting for its eventual DVD release, because it’s the most beautifully Gothic of all Goth movies, and it really is a joy to watch.

It’s a story of a modern day conflict taking place as part of a thousand-year-old war between vampires and were-wolves (called lycans here.) Modern-day here means that it appears to take place in present and the combatants mostly shoot each other with semi automatic pistols instead of hand-to-hand with fangs bared. The vampires are decadent, living in opulent covens full of high-tech security. The lycans are hunted fugitives striking from a secret sewer base. For centuries the lycans have been on the run, hunted methodically to the brink of extinction by the death-dealers, chief amongst whom is Selene. She’s a slinky leather-clad bad-ass with a chip on her shoulder who wants only to kill lycans. After an encounter with a couple of lycans in a subway tunnel she begins to suspect that they might be hunting for a specific human target – a young medical resident named Michael. She is soon proven right, though she has no idea the many secrets and plots that riddle both the vampire and lycan camps.

I feel like I could just do my whole review in the form of a long list of all the things I love about this movie. Oh, it’s not great cinema, but in terms of vampire action movies it is amongst the best out there. I just don’t know where to start. With the look of the film, I suppose. The production design is fantastic. The sets for the castle lair of Selene’s coven are fantastic, especially the inner sanctum where the ancient vampire who created her lies dormant at the start of the movie. Much of what you know about the history and technology of the vampires is presented visually here. The costume design is also astonishing. This is thanks to Wendy Partridge, who also worked on the costumes for Hellboy and Blade II. It is her we have to thank for Selene’s tight, tight pants, multi-buckled ass-kicking boots and voluminous jacket. The intricate robes of the ancient Viktor. The elaborate Gothic outfits of the decadent vampires who live in refined comfort far from the battle-lines. Every costume here tells a story – and there are so many of them that I crave for myself.

There are a few of the performances here that really draw my eye as well. Kate Beckinsale is fun as the take-no-nonsense Selene of course. The entire movie relies on her to drive most of the action and I certainly never got tired of seeing her kicking ass. But it’s a couple of the other roles that really garner more attention from me. Kevin Grevioux has a writing credit as well as depicting Raze, the most menacing of the lycans and right-hand-man to the lycan leader Lucian. His voice is simply unbelievable, which makes me wish that in story meetings he had pushed to give his character more lines. Man. And what I was most looking forward to as we put this in tonight was watching Bill Nighy as Viktor again. This was several years before he was transformed digitally into the tentically Davy Jones for the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, but many of the mannerisms he used in that performance are in evidence here. He’s just a fun actor to see at work, and this is a nifty character for him to play with. Viktor is one of three uber-powerful vampire lords, worshiped almost as gods, but he’s also got secrets and schemes which are revealed as the movie progresses.

That’s another thing I love about this movie. The world that is being created here is so rich and full of intricate back-story. Mixed in with all the vampire vs. lycan warring here there’s a kind of mystery. Or several mysteries which Selene must unravel. Why do the lycans want Michael? What’s Kraven’s game? What’s driving Lucian on so? Everything is related to events from centuries ago, and almost everything that Selene has been told about the past comes into question as the movie goes on. I love that there’s enough depth here to have a little plot in with the action, and that the back-story is rich enough that at the time of this writing two other movies in the series have sprouted from it.

This is the way a vampire action movie SHOULD be made. Some great action and special effects. A deep and interesting world realized through great production design and costumes with a fun cast as well. I wish I had seen it in the theater. On opening night. With the pretty goth kids.

November 27, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 271 – Ratatouille

Ratatouille – November 26th, 2010

I know I’ve said this about many movies, but yes. This is another overhype victim for me. Here it’s from work. I handle a lot of DVDs at work and this is one of those movies we’ve got copies of in every department, at every branch. It passes over the desk a lot. And whenever it does someone feels the need to ask me if I’ve seen it and tell me how much they loved it. I try not to let this get to me, but it gets a bit wearing. And truth be told, I wasn’t in a hurry to see this, what with it being about rats in restaurant kitchens.

Yes, it is a cute movie, and that’s quite a feat, considering that there are numerous shots of a restaurant kitchen practically swarmed by rats. I’m well aware that there are people who love rats and keep them as pets. That’s great. These rats are not domesticated pet rats, free of disease and all. They are wild rats who enjoy eating garbage. Of course, that’s part of the plot. But it’s still impressive that the folks at Pixar managed to take that plot and run with it and make it work. Even so, the sight of all those rats in the kitchen is not my favorite thing to see.

The plot follows Remy, a rat with an extraordinary gift for taste and smell and combining flavors in ways rats just plain don’t bother with. After his colony is uprooted in the country he ends up in Paris at the restaurant of his favorite chef, Gusteau (now deceased). After meeting the hapless garbage boy, Alfredo Linguini (Gusteau’s son, though he doesn’t know it at first), Remy helps him cook by hiding under his hat and directing his movements. Suddenly the flagging restaurant starts gaining acclaim again, leading to crises for both Remy and Linguini. Remy’s family and old colony show up expecting free run of the restaurant, Linguini buckles under the strain of having to keep the secret that he can’t cook without the help of a rat, and it all soon goes to hell when the rats overtake the kitchen and the staff pack up and leave just when a notorious food critic arrives. There’s also the requisite bad guy who has it in for our heroes and sets them up to fail, and the requisite romance between Linguini and the super awesome Colette, who is one of the cooks.

One minor quibble before I continue. It’s really very small, but it’s the sort of detail that catches my attention. I’ve been getting the magazine Bon Appetit for a few years now, courtesy of my mother. She’s gotten it and Gourmet for as long as I can remember. Now, I understand that at the beginning Chef Gusteau is shown on the covers of those magazines as a demonstration of his fame. But as long as I can remember, neither one of those magazines puts chefs on its covers. The food is always the focus. If a person is there, they’re faceless and only in the shot to hold the food. I am well aware that this is a super nipicky detail, but I include it not just because it irked me, but because well, aside from the movie being about rats in a kitchen, it’s the only thing I found at all jarring.

Everything else in this movie was great. Now, I’m not a huge fan of slapstick, and there is certainly a lot of it in this movie, but while I’m not a fan of it, I can appreciate the skill with which it’s presented here. The physical movements of all the characters are wonderful, and in the fast-paced kitchen most of the movie takes place in there’s certainly plenty of opportunity for physical humor. The fur on the rats is amazing. It looks like fur. Not like animated drawn fur, but real fur. Pixar does some amazing things with textures, and I was impressed by the fur on Sulley in 2001’s Monsters, Inc. but this came six years later and it shows. It caught me right at the beginning and it’s indicative of the visual quality in the rest of the movie, from the food to the fabric of the kitchen staff’s uniforms. It is, as Pixar movies are, a beautiful piece of animation.

The other thing I found notable in the movie was Colette. Now, don’t get me wrong. I loved many of the performances, from Ian Holm as Skinner (the villain) to Peter O’Toole as the critic, Ego. Patton Oswalt as Remy and Lou Romano as Linguini were both perfectly fine, though I can accept Linguini’s accent easier than Remy’s. But while Remy and Linguini are the lead characters and Skinner and Ego are the figures they’re set up in opposition to, the character I focused on was Colette. She’s a tough-as-nails assistant chef in the kitchen at Gusteau’s and I love her. She moves fast, she cooks well and if you mess with her she will cut you up and braise you. Of course, she’s voiced by the ever awesome Janeane Garofalo, so that’s another point in her favor, but she’s also written as a bad ass and never quite loses that. She has moments of weakness, yes, but ultimately she’s strong and interesting and confident and capable. I love that in a female lead.

I admit, this movie did not blow me away. It’s sweet and funny and all the things Pixar does well. It’s animated beautifully, performed excellently, the story is fun and so on. But if it’s just the story we’re talking about, well, I think the dual villain angle here is a little muddy in places with Ego and Skinner. Ego ends up not quite being a villain at all, more an obstacle, which makes his role an odd one. Hence the muddy. But the thing is, the story isn’t what will make this movie memorable to me. It’s the food that will do that. We put this in tonight while our dinner was still cooking and by about fifteen minutes in I was desperate to eat. When Remy arrives at Gusteau’s and watches the kitchen all I could think of was how much I wanted my dinner right then. The movie tells a lovely little story, but on its own it would just be lovely. With the addition of the culinary passion infused into every minute of it? It’s delicious.

November 26, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Ratatouille

November 26, 2010

Ratatouille

This movie is an odd one. I’m not really a fan of the slapstick humor (however much it may make me laugh) or the awkward situations. This is probably the most cartoonish of all the Pixar movies. It’s full of buffoonery and broad madcap humor. But it is a Pixar movie, which means that it has a heart, and the heart of this movie is a love of fine food. It’s also a Brad Bird movie, which means that it has a lot of visual flare, and even tells the story more at times through the visuals than through the words in the script.

One thing that’s always thrown me about this movie is that although the movie is set in Paris and virtually everybody has a French accent neither of the two main protagonists sound French. They’re both very American. One of the chief bad-guys in the movie sounds English, but that’s okay because he’s the brilliant Peter O’Toole and by the end of the movie his character’s role has somewhat changed. The primary antagonist is another fantastic British actor but he does affect a French accent, with great comedic effect. (I’ve mentioned my love for Ian Holm before, right?) The romantic interest, the classy, cool and kick-ass Colette, also has a French accent – in spite of her being played by the classy, cool and kick-ass American actress Janeane Garofelo.

The story is that age-old tale of a rat from the French countryside who has a love for food and for cooking. Remy understands the mystical powers of ingredients and spices. He has a love for combining flavours. He idolises the famous French chef and television personality Gusteau, who’s best-selling work “Anyone Can Cook” is Remy’s greatest inspiration. Soon Remy finds himself in Paris, where he discovers Gusteau’s restaurant, which has fallen on to hard times due to a poor review from the famous food critic Anton Ego and Gusteau’s subsequent death.

It is at Gusteau’s that Remy discovers the bumbling but well-meaning Linguini. Linguini is an affable fool who can’t seem to hold down any job. His incompetence would have cost him his job as a garbage boy in Gusteau’s kitchen as well, but Remy is on hand to quickly save a soup that Linguini has ruined. And so an unlikely partnership is formed. Remy has the ability to cook like a master, and Linguini has the ability to appear human.

As I said before, I don’t unreservedly love this movie. It’s too heavily reliant on physical humor for one thing. I admit there are bits I couldn’t help laughing at, but Linguini’s capering got a bit much for me after a while. Indeed the entire character of Linguini grates on me a little. He’s a pleasant enough fellow I suppose, but he doesn’t really exhibit any reason for the vast good fortune that is heaped upon him throughout the film. He gets the job. He gets the girl. He gets the whole damned restaurant. Why does he deserve that, aside from the fact that he demonstrates an ability to be a reliable friend for a rat alone in the streets of Paris?

On the other hand there are a few things in this movie that really touch me. The loving depiction of food, for example, is fantastic. This is a movie that will make you hungry. It makes you want to try the dishes that Remy creates, both because of his passion for them and the way the animators have rendered them on screen. They’re just so mouth-watering. Then there’s Colette. She’s the take-no-nonsense kind of girl I enjoy seeing on screen. She’s a confident professional, accepted for her skill in the kitchen and full of sage advice for Linguini as he rises through the ranks. I don’t know that Linguini deserves her, but I wish her all the good in the world.

Finally there’s one particular scene in the movie that absolutely makes it for me. When the snide and self-centered food critic Anton Ego shows up and demands the best that the chef can come up with it is his reaction upon tasting the food that completely blows me away. This is entirely a Brad Bird moment. It’s a touching visual moment with no dialog at all that speaks volumes about the character of Anton, providing him with an entire back story in just a cew seconds, and drives home the almighty power of food. Something that Anton himself has forgotten until that moment. I cannot express how much this one moment in the film drives home the entire point of the whole movie for me – it’s a quick bit of virtuoso film-making that instantly overcomes any problems I have with the rest of the movie. I’d gladly watch the whole thing again any day for that one taste.

November 26, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment