A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 565 – The Ninth Gate

The Ninth Gate – September 16th, 2011

I am once again visiting a friend of mine for the weekend, so Andy and I watched our movies for the weekend separately. It’s very different, watching a movie without him. But in the case of this movie, I’m fairly sure I watched it without him the first time I saw it too. In fact, I’m fairly sure I watched it in the same place, with the same friend. It’s a movie she enjoys and I remember watching it in her living room and I don’t ever remember watching it at home. In fact, we didn’t own it until after this project started. It was one of the cheap DVDs we got from my coworker’s husband. So while I watched this in one state with the friend who introduced me to it, Andy watched it in another state, by himself. Sorry, Andy.

I find this movie to be highly amusing mostly because it is one of the few movies that has Action Antiquarian Book Research. This whole movie is about a hunt for a set of rare books and the collectors who want them. Okay, it’s also about the devil and arcane rites and power, but mostly it’s about rare books. Oh, and about how the devil, or one of the devil’s minions, has a thing for Johnny Depp. But come on. Johnny Depp. Duh. Of course the devil wants him. I’m not entirely prepared to rule out that he has made a deal with the devil, really, what with him not aging and all. Sort of like Iman. Wait, where was I. Got distracted by gorgeous people who age gracefully. Right. Johnny Depp. He’s not quite as rogueish here as he is in things like Pirates of the Caribbean or The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, but he’s not too far removed. As rare book buyer/dealer Dean Corso he is frequently unscrupulous, often underhanded and definitely charming.

Now, here is where I digress a little bit and talk about rare books. One might think that the rare book world is a fairly sedate one. And to an extent that’s true. On the other hand, it does have its fantastic stories. Take, for example, Steven Blumberg, who licked bookplates off of rare books he stole from universities. Yes, you read that right. He used his own saliva to dampen the bookplates without harming the pages they were attached to, then peeled them off. He crawled through air vents, stole lock cylinders, impersonated staff members and stole millions of dollars’ worth of rare books. Not even to sell. He stole them because he wanted to “properly” care for them himself. They had to set up a special task force to identify and return the books he stole. The rare book world is fierce, okay? Aside from the actual supernatural element to this story, I do not for one moment find it hard to believe that a collector looking to acquire the “authentic” version of a book or the plates inside it would go to extreme measures. Okay, maybe not quite this extreme, but still.

And how extreme are we talking? Well, murder is pretty extreme, obviously. Corso is hired by collector Boris Balkan to authenticate his copy of a book entitled The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows. There are two other surviving copies out there and he charges Corso with the task of looking at them and comparing them to each other. What Corso finds is that each copy is authentic, but each is slightly different. There are a number of engravings in the book, but looking at them together, each book has three engravings with the initials LCF and the rest with the initials of the author. And each book has a different set of LCF engravings. Clearly there’s something mysterious afoot, right? Of course. There was a story that the author made a deal with the devil and that got him burned as a witch and his books destroyed. The surviving copies would seem to be a curiosity, except that as Corso researches them and travels to find the other two copies, people keep showing up dead and the books themselves go missing or are damaged. And then there’s the mysterious woman following him around.

It’s not really clear whether Corso deals with the devil itself or with a minion. It’s not like the character has a name in the credits or anything obvious like that. But what is clear is that she’s got some pull in dark places. And she doesn’t want Balkan or any of the other collectors or dealers who handle the books. She wants Corso. And, as my friend says, “she’s fun!” And she is! She plays with him and teases him and she doesn’t actually do things for him. She points the way and lets him figure most of it out on his own. She’s also remarkably low key, which explains why she’s not terribly impressed by all the fancy trappings of the cult and ceremony later in the movie. She’s one of the three major reasons that I do like and enjoy the movie, despite its director.

The other two reasons would be Johnny Depp, whom I do enjoy watching, and the rare book action. I just find it thoroughly fantastic that the movie is this dangerous quasi-action thriller based entirely around rare books. It means there are lots of tense scenes where Corso carefully examines engravings and discusses bindings and paper. Of course, it also features him smoking around the rare book and carrying it around, unwrapped, in his satchel. But whatever. My friend and I figure that the smoking is a conceit of the film, because there’s almost always some sort of fire when the book is out and visible on screen. Still, the librarian in me cringes at how the book is handled. Gloves, people! Gloves and acid free boxes! I guess since it’s really only ultimately valuable for the engravings no one cares if it gets some finger smudges.

Anyhow, I do enjoy the movie. It’s a fun supernatural thriller and it does focus on books, so it’s not surprising that I like that aspect of it. But it’s also not really my genre and I’m no fan of Polanski, so I doubt I’d have gone out of my way to buy this had a used copy not been available cheaply and easily. Mostly I enjoy it for the company I’ve watched it with. This particular friend is a very good one and she very much enjoys this movie but didn’t seem to mind my snarking on how the book was handled, which makes it all the more fun to watch.

September 16, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 549 – Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko – August 31st, 2011

Gee whiz am I glad that I didn’t see this movie when it came out. Not because it’s a bad movie. On the contrary. But at the time it came out I was still dealing with some pretty nasty depression and let me tell you! This movie would not have inspired me to look on the bright side of life. In fact, at the end of it I watched the credits and thought “Well. What a great movie to convince people the exact opposite of It’s a Wonderful Life!” Maybe that wasn’t the outright intent, but it’s certainly a large chunk of what I got out of it.

The movie revolves around a young man named Donnie. He’s had some troubled times in the past year or so. Or maybe longer. I got the impression that it wasn’t more than a year, but not much less either. The movie doesn’t bother to make it clear and that’s okay, because ultimately it doesn’t matter how long he’s been having trouble. What’s important is that just recently he’s started sleepwalking and having hallucinations of a giant grey rabbit. Or a man in a giant grey rabbit suit. Either way. The rabbit’s name is Frank and Frank tells Donnie that the world is going to end soon. In 28 days. And he has things he needs to do. And so Donnie does them. The prior troubles Donnie’s had involved setting an abandoned house on fire and getting suspended and having to see a psychiatrist and take medication, which he doesn’t want to take. And it would be one thing for this movie to be about a teenage boy having a psychotic break and not knowing what’s real or not. It’s an entirely different thing when his sleepwalking and hallucinations keep him out of the house when a jet engine appears out of nowhere and falls right through his bedroom ceiling, crushing where he would have been.

It’s an event like that which lends credence to a paranoid mind’s obsessions. With Frank’s encouragement Donnie floods the school and sets fire to another house. He worries his parents and fights with his sister. At home he seems to be a typical teenage guy. I knew plenty of teenage guys who fought with their parents and acted out. Most of them did not go on to perpetrate enormous property damage. They also weren’t hallucinating and starting to believe in time travel. So, that’s where they and Donnie differ. Anyhow, Donnie’s kind of obsessed with this whole idea of time travel and that he’s seeing things like trails showing the paths people will take. He’s still seeing Frank and Frank is still incredibly creepy. His psychiatrist is growing alarmed at his talk about Frank and the end of the world and his parents are perplexed, unsure of just what to do. Meanwhile, Donnie’s leading sort of a double life. He hangs out with his friends and gets himself a girlfriend – the new-to-town Gretchen Ross – and when he’s not seeing paths or Frank or causing destruction he appears “normal.”

It’s an odd movie, really. Because one could take it as a commentary on the nature of teen angst. It’s full of things like unrequited crushes and bullies and school officials being pressured to fire staff members for their reading list choices. It’s got a smarmy self-help guru the gym teacher’s bought into and Donnie’s a middle child with a cool older sister who’s going to Harvard and a cute younger sister who’s a dance team champ. And there’s Donnie, who had to miss some school and see a shrink and take pills. Of course he’s angry and angsty. And through it all the movie has an almost dream-like quality. It’s early autumn and school’s just starting for the year and Donnie’s not quite entirely present in reality 100% of the time. Thinking back on it now I have this impression that many things happened in slow motion even though I know it can’t be as much of the movie as I’m thinking.

The movie’s ending, which is where the time travel really comes in, is one of those endings that one could take in several different ways. It could be a time paradox, or it could be an alternate reality or it could have been imaginary or it could be all three. I know for a fact Andy interpreted it differently than I did and I hadn’t really considered his interpretation and it’s entirely possible that had I not spoken during the credits he wouldn’t have considered mine. On one hand, that sort of writing can come off as hopelessly pretentious. On the other, if handled well I think it can work without making the viewer feel baffled. And I think this movie handles it well largely because there’s enough material in the movie to work with. And that says to me that the people making the movie considered what people might interpret it as, instead of just being mysterious and hoping people made up their own meanings.

Personally, while I’m not about to tell anyone that I’m right and they’re wrong, my initial interpretation of the movie’s end is rather bleak. Well, bleak for Donnie. I meant what I said about the movie feeling like an anti-It’s a Wonderful Life. With the engine falling on Donnie instead of Donnie being out with Frank when his bedroom is crushed, it changes everything. But instead of seeing what the world would be like without Donnie, we see what it’s like with him. Sure, at least one person gets what’s coming to him, but other innocent people get hurt. Without Donnie around causing trouble the school wouldn’t flood. People wouldn’t die. So Donnie dies. And when he does the ripples through the timeline are felt by all the people affected.

It does leave the question of Frank’s identity and importance and just how he came to be Donnie’s hallucination rather up in the air. But then most interpretations probably would. Certainly the real Frank seems affected by Donnie’s death, but up until the end he didn’t seem to have much of any connection with Donnie. He was just an artist, making a twisted mask for Halloween. Who is he? Who was he? Why did Donnie see him? I don’t know. And to be honest, I prefer not knowing. I like the idea that there’s something supernatural and mysterious at work in this movie. I like the idea that regardless of the science discussed and the technical aspects of time travel, there’s something unknowable at work. For much the same reason I love that the movie is set in the 1980s. Why is it set in the 80s? Who cares? It just is. And it suits the movie. It’s not an overt stereotype of a movie. It’s a sci-fi supernatural period piece. Which works. And apparently it works for people in vastly different ways. And I like that too.

August 31, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 499 – The X-Files: I Want to Believe

The X-Files: I Want to Believe – July 12th, 2011

When this came out in theaters Andy and I were so far removed from the show that it never really came up in conversation. We didn’t go see it and we didn’t rent it and the only reason we own it now is because my coworker’s husband had it used and was willing to sell it cheap. Going into it this evening we were a little worried that having skipped out on the later seasons of the show we wouldn’t be able to follow what was going on in the movie. Luckily for us, for the most part this movie isn’t really a part of the Big Mysterious Plot Arc that the first one tackled. If the first movie is an extended episode tying into the plot arc, this one is just plain an extended episode, complete with unexplained phenomena that never get explained, gruesome murders and plenty of Mulder and Scully butting heads.

Unfortunately for us, the movie is very clear that it takes place well after the events at the end of the series. How do I know this? Well, because both Mulder and Scully have left the FBI, Mulder is wanted by them and there are several points where it’s clear that the almost-kiss from the first movie clearly heralded a much more intimate relationship. Around when Mulder’s head pops up from beside Scully in bed, Andy and I both said “Well, we did miss something.” And then I looked it up and yeah. We missed a lot. Not that I’m invested enough to go digging around for the episodes, but yeah. Apparently they were not opposed to hopping into bed together, even after some time apart. The movie doesn’t really make it clear how close they’ve been in recent years. Scully’s working as a doctor at a Catholic hospital and Mulder’s living in a rural area, obsessing over supernatural stuff. Scully walks right into his house and it’s implied that she’s been there before and clearly knows how to get there, but then she’s in bed with him and talking about bringing darkness into their home. It’s kind of confusing and distracting because their relationship seems to be key to the emotional impact of the whole plot.

The story is a sort of grisly murder mystery with supernatural elements. I’d call it a thriller but it doesn’t have as much of the suspenseful aspects as I normally associate with the genre. If you’ve seen monster-of-the-week episodes of X-Files, you’ve got the basic tone here, but without the dry humor that the show displayed on a regular basis. It’s however many years after the show ended and the FBI comes knocking on Scully’s office door, asking her to help them find Mulder. And why do they need Mulder? Well, aside from having wanted him for years, they want his advice on how to handle a man who’s come forward claiming to have had visions of a missing FBI agent. But when they followed his visions they found not a missing woman or even a body but a man’s severed arm. So yeah, mysterious. And apparently the FBI has only one go-to supernatural expert and that’s Mulder.

Mulder, of course, believes that the man is a psychic and totally knows what he’s talking about. Scully, of course, is skeptical and thinks he’s full of crap and only gets more skeptical when she finds out that the psychic, Father Joe, is a convicted pedophile. And here is one of my major issues with the movie. The whole secondary arc for Scully, involving a dispute with the hospital administration and experimental stem cell therapy for a young boy with an otherwise untreatable illness feels so very tacked on. The main plot is about this missing woman and then another missing woman and how a man these people might never have given the time of day is somehow able to pinpoint where discarded body parts have been dumped and been able to make connections to the missing persons cases. But then there’s Scully, tagging along going “This is ridiculous! He’s a fraud!” seemingly so that he can then say something meaningful to her and she can go back to work determined to practice her own form of faith. It just feels so clumsily put together. Like they needed something to do with her and couldn’t quite figure out how to fit her into the story. For every somewhat tense moment with the FBI agents and Father Joe and Mulder and the women being held prisoner there’s a moment with Scully looking concerned or arguing with a priest at the hospital. Granted, both plots end up involving experimental surgery, but they feel at best tangentially related.

Now, I actually rather liked the whole kidnapping and murder and dismembered limbs plot, along with the unwitting psychic who doesn’t know why he’s getting the visions he’s getting. I just feel like for such a gory and gruesome plot, with experimental science and all, it really gets short shrift. It’s left unsaid just what’s happening to these kidnapping victims until quite near the climax of the movie, so the bizarre Brain That Wouldn’t Die-ness of it all is barely touched on. There’s not even a whole lot of suspense for it. It just isn’t given time. It could be that this is a problem carried over from the series, but it’s been so long I don’t really remember the whole tug of war between Mulder and Scully feeling so tedious or Scully’s conflicts between her skepticism and her faith feeling so extraneous. I get why they’re in there, I just find it hard to care.

I would far rather have gotten more time to investigate the procedures being performed by the mysterious Russian doctors and found out more about the man being operated on and the man trying to save him. I would rather have spent more time on Father Joe and his visions-of-unknown-origin. They’re never explained, by the way. There’s a connection drawn between him and one of the other people involved but it’s never given the time necessary to give it any impact beyond shock value, which is pretty cheap if you ask me (as is the totally out of left field accusation that Mulder wants Father Joe to be psychic so he can find Mulder’s sister). There’s a lot of stuff like that, things with good concepts or potential but no weight whatsoever. I don’t require black ooze and conspiracies from the X-Files and I don’t require full explanations. But I do prefer to feel like the plots and stories were thoughtfully put together. This feels more like it’s supposed to be character development with a plot tossed on for kicks and it doesn’t hold up. Unfortunate, but there you go.

July 12, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

July 12, 2011

X-Files: I Want to Believe

I mentioned in the review for yesterday’s movie that I felt like the movie was a lengthy episode of the TV series. That’s actually far more true of this movie. This film is all about catching up with Mulder and Scully to see what’s been up since the end of the show and enjoy one last X-Files adventure with them. Here comes the awkward confession though – I didn’t really watch the X-Files after the last movie. I watched some episodes as a casual fan up through about season five but not much after that. As a result I wasn’t really sure how much in this movie was moving the characters past what they were in the show and how much was just a continuation of themes from the later seasons.

So what have the two of them been up to since the show ended? Well Dana has retired from the FBI at last to follow her career as a doctor, and Fox has been growing a shaggy beard. What’s interesting is that the event that brings the two of them reluctantly out of retirement is not some kind of epic world changing conspiracy, it’s a little tale of abductions, strange medical procedures and psychic powers. Very much like any stand-alone episode of the show this isn’t about the over-arching plot – it’s just about these characters and the slightly supernatural world they inhabit.

An FBI agent has been abducted and the team hunting for her has for some reason turned to a scraggly haired ex priest who is plagued by visions that pertain to the case. See if you can follow this now: the agent in charge of the search for the missing girl wants to believe the visions of the priest, but isn’t completely sold. She decides, therefore, to seek out that famous investigator of the paranormal Fox Mulder. Fox has been living in hiding though because of something having to do with being discredited (I think) and hunted by the FBI. They want to offer him amnesty so they can pick his brain and get the movie going, but they have to find him first. Naturally, therefore, they seek out his old partner Dana Scully because they know she’ll know where to find him. He agrees to go check out this psychic priest but only if Dana agrees to come along to keep him grounded.

I see all kinds of hints of character traits that were played up extensively in the show here. Particularly Scully’s whole clash between her scientific scepticism and her Catholic faith. She’s working now for a hospital that is run by a gaunt priest. She is desperate to save the life of her (apparently) only patient, who is a boy with some degenerative brain disease and is willing to use controversial experimental therapies to do so. Then it turns out that Father Joe is not just a psychic ex-priest, he’s a convicted pedophile. It’s all tied together. The whole thrust of the episode movie is that people don’t know if they can trust this fundamentally flawed man. Either his visions are a genuine psychic phenomenon and a way for Father Joe to redeem himself somewhat or he’s a loathsome shyster trying to scam the FBI. Naturally Fox wants to believe him and Dana despises him from the moment she discovers his past.

Gillian Anderson has the most to work with here. Scully spends the entire movie being conflicted, which means she has a whole lot of scenes of soul searching – perhaps too many. I know that Amanda’s biggest problem with the movie is that Dana is not really part of the main plot, that her whole thing with the dying boy in the hospital has almost nothing to do with the rest of the movie. It’s most confusing when you come to the fan service scenes. We get to see Dana and Fox in bed together acting like an old married couple (even though they never refer to each other using their first names.) Then Scully agonises because she doesn’t like the whole dark world of the FBI and she just wants to live her life without all that.

Meanwhile David Duchovny has a lot less to work with. Fox starts out as a recluse living in the woods with his beard and his newspaper clippings, and the movie is just him turning back into the character he was in the show. He re-discovers his passion for paranormal investigation, which is fun to watch and all, but it doesn’t really give him anything new to do.

I actually had more fun with this movie than I did with yesterday’s. It’s not really trying to be more than a fun episode of the show, and I enjoyed being brought back to those strange and creepy shows that made me enjoy the X-Files back in the late nineties. It reminded me what it was about the show that worked, and it proves that even when the ongoing unresolved sexual tension of the show is finally out of the way these characters are still fun to watch. Maybe it could do with a little less angst and a little more supernatural horror, but it works well enough for me and it left me wanting more.

July 12, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 492 – Blood Reign: Curse of the Yoma

Blood Reign: Curse of the Yoma – July 5th, 2011

I have to say, our years working at video stores have definitely affected our movie purchases in a big way. Working at a smaller store with lots of lesser known titles certainly exposed us to things we’d never have seen otherwise, and might not have bothered renting had we not had employee accounts to use. And now we get to go searching for some of those lesser known titles to find them for this project. Because the thing about this project is that we owned a lot of things we’d never seen before, but when looking at our list we realized how many things we had seen and loved but didn’t own. And this was one of the latter.

A little over a year ago I asked some friends online if they could help me figure out what this anime was. I’d seen it in college while working at the video store, and I remembered that it had an eerie counting song run over the trailer. We’d originally rented it because of the trailer and that song and been thoroughly baffled by it once we’d seen it. I remembered it having lots of monsters and a woman who turned into a moth (or vice versa, I wasn’t sure) and one of the main characters had a scar on his face. The protagonist and antagonist were childhood friends and now one of them had gone evil. And that was pretty much all I could give anyone to go on. Because I sincerely doubt that saying “I’m pretty sure we saw the trailer on some other thing that also had a trailer for Gappa: The Triphibian Monster,” would help. And really, take a look at that list of characteristics. Monsters and shape-shifters, creepy music, childhood friends turned rivals because one is evil? Yeah, that’s totally unique.

None of my friends were able to put a name to my mystery movie and so we moved on, hoping that some day we’d remember it or stumble across it. Then, after watching The Ninja Scroll, Andy decided to actively look. And how did he look, might you ask? He searched youtube for anime trailers with creepy music. And lo and behold, there it was. Over ten years later and I could still hum the tune. It’s a weird sort of movie that’s stuck with us despite being confusing and flawed. Because make no mistake, this movie is not a great anime classic full of lush visuals and impeccable storytelling. It’s an animated movie that actually has still sketches as part of its action scenes and one of the main characters is a total cipher.

The story is a little patchy. We start out with Hikage, a ninja warrior who’s been assigned to track down his former best friend, Marou, so Marou won’t spread knowledge of their clan leader’s death too early. But of course it’s not that simple. Marou has been claimed by the Yoma – demons who want to take over the world – and is growing in power. Hikage sees him in a strange village full of oddly happy people who don’t seem to have any cares at all. The village has no apparent resources, yet everyone in it is partying and laughing and super happy. But then he doesn’t see Marou again and instead becomes enamoured of a young woman, Aya, who has a bad scar on her cheek. And then he finds out that the village is full of suicidal folks who are being kept happy so they can be fed to Marou and he and his demons can take over. He fights the demon who was responsible, then some more demons, then everyone dies and Marou gets away and that’s the end of the episode.

Oh yeah, this is actually episodic. We hadn’t realized that before. And actually, I think it’s better this way. I’m fairly certain that the version we originally watched wasn’t divided, and it does play well enough as a whole. The thing is, I’m fairly sure there are some bits missing out of the version we originally saw, and I like that the second half introduces itself as a second half, divided from the first by three years. Because while the overarching plot of Hikage and Marou and the Yoma is still going on, the specifics of what Hikage encounters are different. And by smushing them together without much acknowledgement that there is a gap? Ironically, I think it would make the movie less cohesive.

The second half of the movie picks up three years later with the introduction of another character named Aya, this time a young woman who’s a ninja. She joins Hikage as they encounter a village full of ghosts and a bunch of other demons, most of whom shapeshift from human form to some sort of animal. And of course the whole thing ends with a climactic fight between Marou and Hikage, with Marou going full on demon and there’s lots of swordplay and yelling and blood. Aya gets attacked by a horse demon and eventually it all ends with Marou’s death. Not exactly a shocking ending. Of course, it also introduces the idea that Marou will be back, and that he will make the same choices he made before. Which brings up the question of Aya. In the first half she’s got a scar that a younger version of her (we assume) gets from the events of the second half.

The Aya thing is what gets me here. I can sort of see what the movie was going for with it, suggesting that there’s a cyclical nature of the events that are playing out. Marou’s rebirth, his strange origins, his choices and his words all hint at there being an inevitability to it all. But then there’s Aya, who dies in the first half only to sort of reappear in the second. Maybe it’s not the same Aya. Maybe the first half showed the potential future of the second half Aya had she not met Hikage? Maybe they’re not the same person but share the same soul? The movie does include the concepts of possession and reincarnation, allowing for the possibility that Aya wasn’t the same person but gained aspects of the other Aya. I don’t know. It’s all very vague, much like the battle scenes of the movie, which are shown by panning over some still sketches.

I find it frustrating because it hints at such a bigger picture. A lot of the movie does. But that bigger picture just doesn’t exist. This wasn’t a longer series condensed into an OVA and it doesn’t seem to have started as a manga series. It’s just a two part movie with some really big concepts that don’t quite fit. I love the still visuals and the demons are nicely drawn. The idea is pretty solid at its core and the characters are as well drawn as I’d expect them to be (aside from Aya) but it leaves me feeling like I missed something. This version left me feeling less that way than I remember feeling after the first time I saw it, but it’s still there. I enjoyed it, but I really wish there was even more of it to enjoy.

July 5, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 490 – Blade: Trinity

Blade Trinity – July 3rd, 2011

I admit this is sort of a cheat for me. I had it marked as a movie I’ve seen in our big list, but I never paid close attention to it. I’d seen it on television and left it running while I did other stuff, so I counted it but really, I’m not what you’d call familiar with it. There are some scenes I know a lot better than others because I’ve flipped through them on other occasions, and some that feel brand new, which leads to a somewhat patchy viewing experience. Watching the movie feels familiar in places and then hey, when did that happen? I didn’t recall that being in this movie! Not that the movie had any real surprises for me, just scenes I must have been out of the room for. It’s not really a terribly innovative movie, all told, but then its main baddie is Dracula, so what do you want?

What this movie does that the previous ones didn’t is introduce a team for Blade. In the past he had Whistler, and when Whistler was MIA he had Scud, but one toymaker is not a team, and Whistler and Scud certainly weren’t out on the streets wasting vampires along with Blade. In this movie we get not only Abigail Whistler and Hannibal King, who get cover space because they’re ostensibly two more stars of the film, but we get the rest of their little crew. They call themselves the Nightstalkers and they’ve got a weapon designer, a biologist, a mechanic and two hunters, plus a bunch of sleeper cells around who also hunt vampires. Blade is understandably skeptical of their efforts, what with the name they’ve picked and all. I mean, if I walked in and heard these folks calling themselves the Nightstalkers I’d crack up.

But the group is pretty good, their doofy name aside. They’ve got a plan that involves a virus that will wipe out all the vampires within a certain radius, and they need some pure vampire blood to make it work. Blade, on the other hand, needs some support. Thanks to some escalated action on Blade’s part he’s gotten a reputation as a vigilante killer who’s wanted by the police. And since the vampires have their fingers in everything – as established by the earlier movies – Blade finds Whistler dead and himself in police custody. The new team rescues him and brings him back to their headquarters, lay their basic backstories and explain that our sub-baddie, Danica Talos, has found Dracula in hopes of creating some sort of new super vampire but they have their virus-in-progress. And then the rest of the movie is pretty much asses getting kicked by various people on both sides.

Somehow I suspect that Ryan Reynolds takes roles where he gets to be Ryan Reynolds. Now, I happen to find much of what I’ve seen of him amusing. I mean, he was born to play Deadpool (if only the movie he’d been in hadn’t done such a piss poor job with him) and I really quite enjoyed him as Hal Jordan. But let’s face it: He takes roles where he cracks wise and gets to be a bad/wise-ass. I’m cool with it and all, but really. He needs to go back to Deadpool and find a good writer, because here as Hannibal King? His lines were too desperate. Really, that’s how a lot of the script of this movie feels. Like the writers wanted to make it for The Kids and missed the mark. And I really do like the concept of Hannibal. An ex-vampire hunting down the folks he used to run with, resenting all the horrible things they made him do by turning him? Yeah, that works. And Reynolds does a decent job and I like how he takes a character who could be all serious business and angst and turns him into the source of a lot of the movie’s humor. But whenever he makes five jokes he should probably only have made four.

Then too, I’m not really opposed to Blade losing Whistler and gaining a new assistant in his place. It highlights the issue that Blade is part vampire and that Whistler is only human, and an aging human at that. And I like Jessica Biel as Abigail Whistler. It’s a nice bit of familial continuity and Jessica Biel is well capable of being a bad-ass. And I have a weakness for archery. The trouble is that with Abigail and Hannibal at Blade’s sides – or slightly behind him – it gives the movie three major protagonists (hence the Trinity bit of the title) and with three major protagonists comes three stories and three climaxes and three big fights at the end. The movie lacks focus.

The other problem here for me is the sub-baddie, Danica. On top of the lack of focus caused by running three climaxes at once, there are several baddies to deal with. There’s Danica, who seems to be the current leader of this branch of vampires. There’s her brother, Asher. There’s their ‘muscle’ and there’s Dracula himself. None of them are terribly well-developed as villains. Danica gets a fair bit of time, but she chews so much scenery she’s almost a caricature. Then there’s the muscle, whose name gets mentioned precisely once and who ends up being the climactic fight for Hannibal even though you’d think with Hannibal’s history he should be facing off with Danica for his major fight at the end. Asher gets practically no time whatsoever even though he’s supposed to be second in command or whatever. And because the movie spends time on all of those folks? Dracula gets almost no screen time to prove that he’s a force to be reckoned with. He kills a couple of goth kids who run a vampire memorabilia store, then menaces the minor Nightstalkers without getting any real lines or much time on screen. So when he has his climactic fight with Blade? He might as well be a monster, not a character, which makes his last lines rather weak.

With all this criticism it probably sounds like I hate this movie and I don’t. I really don’t. It’s fun and the fight scenes are well choreographed. If you enjoy hearing Ryan Reynolds crack wise and seeing Jessica Biel kick ass and watching Wesley Snipes as Blade? Then this movie will provide all those things along with some decent new ideas for the world the movie exists in. It’s just that it’s overstuffed. The writers and producers and director had too many ideas and tried to shove them into a single movie and all of those ideas are fun, but all together they’re sloppy. And I don’t think it’s just my initial viewing experience talking. I’ll gladly stop on this if I’m flipping channels, but I’m not going to try and claim it has no flaws.

July 3, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 489 – Blade II

Blade II – July 2nd, 2011

In his review Andy will be talking about how we first saw this movie. Suffice it to say we saw the ending twice, which wasn’t really as much of a spoiler as you might think. I mean, you know a particular character dies, but it’s sort of like reading the very last page of a mystery novel. You might get something, but the context is missing and therefore it means almost nothing. And besides, the end of the movie wasn’t what I was looking forward to when we first saw it. After the opening of the first movie I was hoping for something spectacular in the second. Alas. It’s just never going to be as good.

This movie opens with a good introduction for our villain, but it’s just not the same sort of visceral intro to the whole movie. Sure, we pick up on the whole vampires-run-blood-banks concept and then meet a grotesque new breed of bloodsucker who can open his jaw from the center and use tongue tentacles to subdue his victims, but it just doesn’t grab me. There’s less of a sense of “this is going to be bloody fun” here and more of a sense of “this is going to be bloody.” And it will be! There’s plenty of blood in this movie, thank goodness, but it’s not shooting out of sprinklers or anything. And some of it’s green, which confuses the heck out of me (there’s a bit in the trivia about the new vampire breed having green blood but theirs is clear and the vampire lord at the end has green) but I’ll run with it. After all, the movie is also giving me more of Blade being a tidy bad-ass and another kick ass female lead.

The movie begins with Blade retrieving Whistler from a vampire safehouse. He’s half-turned and being stored in a vat of blood, which seems really unpleasant but hey, I’m not a vampire. It’s been two years, according to Blade and he has a new assistant: Scud, who’s a young man who likes loud music, cartoons and tinkering with mechanical things. Soon after he and Whistler butt heads a team of vampires breaches Blade’s security and shows up to deliver a message asking for Blade’s help. Seems the new baddie we saw at the beginning is feeding on vampires and turning them into feral versions of himself and they’re extending a truce offer to Blade so he’ll help them take out this new threat. And to help with this task they offer him the strike team that’s been training to take him down. Obviously this is an uneasy sort of group.

I do like the dynamics here. Blade is obviously our hero and he doesn’t like vampires. But then he gets a whole team of vampires to work with and they’re not the bad guys we’re worried about but they’re clearly not the good guys either. Still, a few of them seem to have some honor to them, which makes the vampires as a whole group deeper and more interesting to me. It was true of the first movie too – not all of them were interested in hunting down Blade or expending their resources on things like blood rituals – but this movie gives us a whole cast of vampires to meet. Not all of them are that interesting and they fill somewhat expected roles. There’s the Asian vampire who’s a kickass martial artist and there’s a petite punk pixie vampire with bright red hair who hangs off of her big strong tattooed boyfriend and there’s another tank and one of them is Irish and eh, it’s not that I’m so much invested in their individual characters as that I like that we’re shown a variety here (and when the tattooed boyfriend gets turned into the new type of baddie the punk pixie sacrifices herself to take him out – well played there).

Out of the whole crew there are two real standouts: Reinhardt and Nyssa. Reinhardt is played by Ron Perlman and okay, I love Ron Perlman so that’s a huge plus. But he also plays a good foil for Blade. Because no, this team is not going to be best buds with the man they’ve been planning on hunting down, even if they do have to work with him. Reinhardt sneers and snarls and is generally so not on board with this whole working-with-Blade idea but Blade sticks a bomb on the back of his head early on, so he kind of has no choice in the matter. Nyssa, on the other hand, is the daughter of the vampire lord who’s looking for Blade’s help. She’s got a nobility to her and I really quite like Leonor Varela’s performance of her. She’s smart, she’s fast, she’s skilled with weapons and she’s got a sense of honor and a code of ethics that put her people first and foremost in her priorities. And if working with Blade means she’s going to be able to stop a threat to her people then so be it. And she’s able to respect him and gain his respect in turn.

Again, this movie doesn’t really set up a romance. There’s a little something between Nyssa and Blade, but I’ve always seen it more as camaraderie than romance. Because again, Blade isn’t looking for a relationship and again, the female lead in the movie has better things to do than sit around and pine for a man who’s thoroughly unavailable. Where last night we had Action Hematology, tonight we just have plain old action. And it’s good action. Sure, some of the larger fight scenes suffer from the typical issue of there being a mob and they attack the hero one by one instead of, you know, ganging up on him. But at the same time the real baddies, the Reapers, mob everyone. So I’ll give the movie a bit of a pass on that. Maybe regular vampires have a thing about fights. Anyhow, the team heads down to track the Reapers, end up getting overwhelmed and then surprise! It was all a plot by the vampire lord in the first place!

Now, here is my only real issue with the movie. There are two traitors in among the people Blade works with throughout the movie. One of them? Fine, no problem. He doesn’t get much in terms of screen time away from Blade or Whistler so he’s clearly always acting. The other? Well, much as I like him, I don’t know if he was written convincingly as a traitor. He gets a good deal of screen time away from Blade and with other people and his interactions with them just don’t work for me. I can’t put my finger on it. There’s no one specific line that stands out to me. It’s just that when you find out that he’s been leading Blade on the whole time? It seems like there are things that should have been written differently. Like you should be able to look back at everything he did and said and see how it was leading to where the vampire lord wanted it to lead. And it doesn’t. Oh well. That’s really my only complaint here. It doesn’t start on as high a note as the first movie but it’s still fun and it’s still got some good characters and a strong female lead and lots of blood and a few more twists than the first one and a well developed villain concept. Not to mention a call-forward to Hellboy. So that’s a cool bonus too.

July 2, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 488 – Blade

Blade – July 1st, 2011

Working in a library, I get a lot of people who look to me for book recommendations (and movie recommendations) but on the flip side I also end up having a lot of people try to recommend things to me. Sometimes this works out well, like with the 13 year old girl who’s pretty much got exactly the same taste in fiction that I do and whom I’ve found to be a very astute and critical reader. Sometimes it’s not so great, largely because most people who make recommendations to me aren’t really concerned with personal taste and preferences. And they’re hard to get rid of. Say you read/watched it just to get them to stop and they’ll want to talk about it. Say you will read/watch it and they’ll ask if you have yet every time they see you. Say it’s not your thing/you don’t have time/etc. and prepare for battle. So when people try to recommend Twilight to me, I tell them I prefer my vampires to be more like this. That tends to bring an end to any attempt to get me to dish about how dreamy Edward Cullen is.

If you’re looking for a vampire romance with pale and angst-ridden heroes whom the heroine can sigh over? You are watching the wrong movie. The hero has angst, to be sure, but he doesn’t sparkle and he doesn’t brood (much) and the heroine spends more time Doing Science than she spends sighing. Oh, and there are action scenes with guns, swords, silver spikes and incendiary devices. And a UV lamp for extra burny fun. There’s blood too, in case you forgot at some point what the movie’s villains (and hero) are. There’s a lot of blood. Like, a ton of it. Okay, so most of it is in the opening scene, but there’s still a lot even after that.

Speaking of the opening scene, this movie has what is, in my opinion, one of the best openings ever. And after seeing almost 500 movies in the past almost 500 days? I think I can say that with some authority. It is perfectly crafted to let you know who the bad guys are, who the good guy is, what the bad guys are like, what the good guy is like and what you’re in for in the next two hours. We start with Traci Lords, who has a character name but it doesn’t matter since it’s never mentioned and she’s only in the movie for about 10 minutes. She has a fast car and a douchey guy and she brings him to a club in a meat packing plant. You might think you know where this is going and you might be half right. Because the aim is definitely to feed on the douchey guy but he ends up unscathed. Scared witless, but unscathed. Anyhow, in the club they dance and she blows him off and then the sprinklers turn on and start spraying blood everywhere. Then our hero enters and proceeds to kill the vast majority of vampires present with clean and ruthless efficiency before cornering one particular vampire and pinning him to the wall, then setting him on fire. The whole scene’s got some pounding music going on and fast visuals with well choreographed action. It’s the best thing in the movie and now it’s over.

That’s not to say there’s nothing else good in the movie. It’s just that after that opening? Nothing can compare in terms of sheer cool factor. The movie has a bunch of great action scenes and Blade gets to be a total bad-ass for the vast majority of it. But that one scene. Yeah. It’s perfect. But the movie must go on or it would merely be a music video. So on we go to the plot. Blade is our main character, played by Wesley Snipes. And part of me will now always associate him with Noxeema Jones from To Wong Foo, but this is a very different character. Blade is known as the Daywalker, because while he was born as a vampire after his mother was bitten while pregnant, he takes a serum that suppresses his vampiric traits. So he doesn’t drink blood or hunger for it and he can go out in the day (hence the nickname) and he still gets to be super strong and super fast and all. Blade also has a really neat super power that lets him stand in the direct path of spattering blood and not get a drop on him. I don’t think this is related to his vampire status. I think it’s just that he’s such a bad-ass that blood spatter is afraid of him. There are at least two instances where he’s standing in the direct path and his matte black gear is spotless.

Anyhow, Blade and his powers of cleanliness and badassery are working on exterminating all the regular vampires. And according to this movie there are a ton of them and they dabble in just about everything. There are a number of different clans and they have their own businesses and night clubs and whatnot and he goes around cleaning them out. Told you: cleanliness and badassery. He’s got a human named Whistler who helps him out by making him new gear and weapons and eventually he gains a woman named Karen as another assistant after she gets bitten by a vampire in a hospital and he takes her to his hideout to try and stop her from becoming a vampire. Turns out Karen is pretty awesome both because she quickly learns how to handle herself in dangerous situations (she gets captured a couple of times, but always when there are a bunch of vampires to overpower her) and because she’s given more to do than pine for Blade. Because see, a romantic plot for Blade just isn’t going to happen. He isn’t romance material. So Karen feels some emotional pull towards him, but ends up directing it towards scientific research. Because she’s a hematologist. Lucky Blade, huh?

Karen and Blade head out to learn about what the vampires are planning. Obviously, something is up. Blade questions some people, like vampire Quinn (played by Donal Logue, who has one of the strangest and most varied set of roles on his resume I can think of aside from Michael Sheen) and a wannabe vampire who’s pledged himself to vampire Deacon Frost in hopes of being turned one day. He doesn’t get turned, by the way. I’d imagine being a vampire’s indentured servant is really a lottery with slim chances. Deacon, played by Stephen Dorff, is a young vampire who was turned from human, not born a vampire like the rest of the big high council. He’s kind of bitter about it and wants to be one of the big-wigs, so he’s researched some old vampire lore and learned about a ceremony that will turn him into a blood god called La Magra. The ceremony involves getting twelve pureblooded vampires together with a daywalker and using a combination of their blood in the right place. And the rest of the movie goes as you might expect.

There are some twists here and there. Some turns that aren’t necessarily expected. But for the most part this movie isn’t trying to serve up anything shocking. It’s trying to be cool and explosive and feature lots of fight scenes where vampires get staked and disintegrate. Frost and his crew have cool parties and Blade and his crew have cool weapons and the special effects aren’t perfect but they work just fine and there’s Action Hematology and enough humor to be fun without being goofy. And there’s plenty of blood and little to no romance, so it’s pretty much got exactly what I want out of a modern vampire movie.

July 1, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 482 – Ninja Scroll

Ninja Scroll – June 25th, 2011

I know I’ve mentioned my video store experience in the past. It’s one of those things that figures into this whole project since it figures into our love of movies of a wide variety of genres and quality levels. After all, when you have access to a huge number of movies for free, you become willing to pick up a lot of things you otherwise would have passed over. And believe me, I was thrilled to have the run of the anime section at the store I worked at in college. The store I’d worked at in high school had a total of maybe thirty cassettes of anime, and over half of those were Ranma ½ episodes. And this was not in among the non-Ranma tapes. So I ended up not seeing this until college, when Andy brought it back from work one day so I could see a classic.

He did warn me at the time that there was a moment in the movie where a snake slid out of a woman’s crotch. And that right there is the thing I think of when I think of this movie. And I do think of it. It’s still strange to think back to a time before I was at all familiar with anime, when this was brand new to me. But strangely enough I didn’t see this until college. I’d seen some of what I’m fairly sure was the original Macross series when I was a kid, up early enough in the morning on Saturdays to get away with watching something not on PBS. And I’d seen Vampire Hunter D (which we don’t have yet!) during my high school years when I didn’t sleep more than an hour or two every night. There was a smattering of other stuff I’d seen with friends or caught on television, but this had escaped me. And it was a title everyone seemed to know. I wasn’t sure what I was going to see on the screen, because by the time I sat down to watch it I’d seen a variety of other things. Enough to know that anime isn’t so much a genre as a medium with a number of common themes that show up but certainly not limited to them.

This movie falls solidly into the supernatural feudal Japan theme. It follows swordsman for hire, Jubei, as he is drawn into a plot to use stolen gold to start a civil war. A mysterious old man poisons him in order to force him to help in return for the antidote. Turns out Jubei has history with the man responsible for the whole plot, Gemma, and I’ve got thoughts on the poison plot and all that but I’ll get there in a moment. As far as the main plot goes, Jubei ends up having to fight off a number of warriors with supernatural powers who are working for Gemma in hopes of stopping Gemma from getting the gold and using it to start a super army. Their history together is a little complicated but suffice it to say that they’re rivals and Jubei killed Gemma but Gemma found a way to reincarnate himself and make himself immortal. Immortal enemies are always a pain in the ass, aren’t they? Yeah, Jubei agrees and gets kind of pissed that all his earlier hard work is more than undone.

Alongside him in his mission to stop Gemma is a young woman named Kagero who is usually employed as a poison taster for the head of the Mochizuki clan. She’s also a ninja, and since her poison tasting skills aren’t needed at the moment she goes with a team of ninja to investigate a town that’s been wiped out by a plague. Her team is wiped out by the supernatural warriors sent by Gemma, since the town wasn’t killed by a plague but by poison so Gemma’s men could retrieve the gold. And you know, the specifics of where the gold is and getting it and sneaking it through the area and all? Yeah, it’s important to the overall scheme of things, since without that impetus there wouldn’t be all that much reason for the movie to happen, but I glaze over when I try to explain it. There’s an evil dude who wants power and in the course of his attempt to get it he kills people and the hero and heroine try to stop him. There. Done.

Because what I take away from this movie isn’t the political maneuverings of Gemma or the clan he’s latched onto to get his dirty work done. I don’t really care about the clan leader Kagero works for. What I care about are the fights between Jubei and the warriors Gemma sends after him. Known as the Devils of Kimon, we’ve got the aforementioned snake woman, a woman who can make things explode, a man who has a wasp nest in his back, a man who can turn his skin rock hard, a man who can slip in and out of shadows, a blind swordsman and then Gemma himself and his immediate second who can control everyone else with invisible threads (which he can also kill them with). It’s implied that the last one there has a thing for Gemma and that the explosive woman wants the thread dude and they’re all jockeying for position and don’t trust each other or much like each other and I’m kind of fascinated by them. I do wonder if their powers are based on anything in particular or if they’re just a random collection of potentially useful powers. I like that they don’t all work on a theme, like all be animal related or something. It makes them more interesting.

It also makes for a wider variety of fights for Jubei. He has to deal with the snake woman more than once and the wasp man is a far different sort of fight than the swordsman is. And he doesn’t even kill all of them himself! Which I also like. The snake woman is killed by her superior for failing and Jubei wouldn’t have been able to take down the stone man without Kagero having weakened him. Which brings us to Kagero being awesome in a way I’m not entirely comfortable with. Because she’s a poison taster she’s immune to all sorts of poisons herself, but she’s also taken in so many over the years that she secretes poison. She’s saturated with it. Which means she kills anyone who touches her too much. Which is how the stone guy got weak enough that Jubei could take him out, since he’d tried to rape Kagero earlier. Which is what started to make me uncomfortable. Later on we find out that the cure for the poison the old man gave Jubei is, surprise surprise, to sleep with Kagero. Which is when I start glaring.

I like Kagero. She’s strong and smart and she’s clearly good both at what she does most of the time and at her side job of kickass ninja. She’s able to use her poison powers to hold off an attack from the wasps at one point and she’s clearly an excellent fighter. But her major contribution to the plot is her deadly sexin’. There’s something distinctly unpleasant about that to me and it makes me unhappy because she is so strong otherwise and I do like her and I do like the rest of the movie. To reduce her importance to sex just irks me and due to Jubei’s history with Gemma the poison wasn’t even really necessary and given how much the old man knew and planned you’d think he could have figured that out. Which means he was trying to hook Jubei and Kagero up for kicks. Fortunately for Jubei, he declines to actually use her like that, giving her a friendly hug instead, which makes me like him a lot more as a character. Unfortunately for Kagero, she’s doomed to die so Jubei can walk off alone like he walked in.

But other than that, this movie is really pretty impressive. The animation is lovely and the villains are interesting. It’s a wonderful example of a fairly dark animated film and I really do like the vast majority of it. I think the political plot is a little ambitious and not given enough time for the details it’s supposed to have and there’s the Kagero issue, but I like Jubei and I like the overall mood of the film and I think it’s a great accomplishment. Certainly worthy of its status as a classic.

June 25, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 477 – The Brothers Grimm

The Brothers Grimm – June 20th, 2011

We saw this movie in the theater, you know. It’s a Gilliam film and it has Heath Ledger and Matt Damon and Jonathan Pryce! It’s a twisting and retelling of classic fairytales! How could we resist, right? Because those all sound like the makings of a fun movie. I certainly enjoy new takes on old fairytales and the cast has quite a few names we enjoy. So off to the theater we went. And rarely have I left a theater feeling as let down as I did then. It’s immensely frustrating and at the time I couldn’t even really articulate why. And given that at the time I wasn’t taking any classes in film analysis and I wasn’t working on a project like this, I didn’t bother trying. Tonight it seems I will have to.

Really though, it’s difficult to put my finger on it. There’s just something so off about this movie. It’s not the premise, which I enjoy. According to this movie’s version of the world, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm weren’t just traveling around researching folktales. They were a couple of con men using local legends to scare villagers into paying them to get rid of ghosts, monsters and witches, all of which were fabricated by the Grimms and their assistants. And along the way Jacob gathered a wealth of information and stories until they happened upon a story that wasn’t just a story but was real. That’s a great idea! I would be totally on board with that!

The trouble is that in order to force Jacob and Wilhelm into actually investigating a real supernatural disturbance, the movie gives them a real life antagonist. Two antagonists, actually. There’s the French General, Delatombe (played by Jonathan Pryce) and his associate, an Italian assassin named Cavaldi. They capture the brothers, sentence them to death for fraud, then offer them a deal if they will investigate a series of missing children and prove there is no supernatural cause for their disappearances. So off Jacob and Wilhelm go and of course there is a supernatural cause for the children’s disappearances and they have to use what they’ve learned of folklore to save the day. The thing is, here, that the movie divides its antagonism between the supernatural and the mundane. They go up against the evil queen in the tower in the enchanted forest while pursued by Cavaldi and his men. They attempt to rescue the missing children while Delatombe is interested in ordering them tortured. It’s so split and scattered and I would far rather have had the real world stuff be the impetus without getting in the way later on. They’ve got enough to deal with when it comes to the queen in the tower – or they should.

Which brings me to my next issue. The queen in the tower is a fantastic melding of elements we’re all familiar with. She’s in love with her own image, stating that she is the fairest of them all. She wants eternal youth. But she’s also isolated high in a tower and has grown the most luxuriously long hair. I very much like Monica Belluci’s performance here (much as I like almost all the performances, actually) but she’s just not given enough to work with. This should be the story of how Jacob and Wilhelm discovered that the fiction they’d spent years researching was truth after all, but the queen just isn’t given enough time or space to be the true villain of the movie and that forces the supernatural element of the plot into a secondary position. But it’s such a fundamental part of the whole movie that it doesn’t fit comfortably into a secondary position. So the supernatural and mundane aspects just spend most of their time not meshing at all. They’re pieces from two very different puzzles and all the pounding in the world won’t make them fit together.

To be honest, I would have preferred if the whole movie had been the supernatural stuff. Lose the French military and torture chamber and Italian assassins and all that nonsense and just railroad Wilhelm and Jacob into the situation with the villagers themselves! There’s even a strong willed and highly-skeptical-of-them woman in place to give them a reason to stick around (of course they both fall for her) or, alternatively, to keep them from leaving since her sisters were the first children to disappear. And she’s a trapper and knows how to use lots of sharp instruments. If the whole movie had stayed in the realm of fantasy then maybe it would have worked.

Because, you see, I like the whole rivalry between the brothers, with Jacob being the scholar who’s truly fascinated by these stories and Wilhelm being the practical one who’s using them to make a living (a dishonest living but a living nonetheless). There’s plenty of material for them to butt heads over here and Heath Ledger did a wonderful job as the bookish and somewhat timid Jacob while Matt Damon was a lot of fun as the forceful and outspoken Wilhelm. They play off each other nicely and I enjoy watching their scenes together. I’m even willing to allow for Angelika as a point of rivalry between them because she is otherwise an extremely strong character who could kick both their asses without breaking a sweat and saves said asses at least once, so she’s more than just a damsel and she’s played very nicely by Lena Headey. Yes, some of the fairytale references are somewhat forced, like the Gingerbread Man bit, which just seems goofy. It’s not like the original Grimms stories aren’t full of disturbing ways in which children can disappear. And I’m sure Gilliam knows many of them, if not all. But I can let that pass. What I can’t let pass is Cavaldi.

Now, I will not blame Peter Stormare for this entirely. Yes, it’s his performance, but well, the character was written to be a mix of villain and comic relief. And I just can’t quite see the combination of torturer and assassin with bumbling buffoon. It makes both the buffoonery seem bizarrely sinister (and not in a fun way) and the torture seem more foolish than it should be given that it is truly threatening. Stormare didn’t write this part for himself. And when Cavaldi makes a rapid 180 mid-climax and switches sides, telling Delatombe that he wishes to resign? I’m just left baffled. He was given so little screen time with lines that made it possible to see such a switch as believable. Sure, Jonathan Pryce gets an odder character in the overly-accented Delatombe, who enjoys eating freshly ground kitten and cheerily burns forests to the ground. But Cavaldi gets more time. It’s just not the time he needs in order to be a good character.

I just wanted so much more from this movie than it gave me. I wanted Gilliam-esque fantasy with oddities and strangeness and his take on the fairytales we all know. And I love the mirror queen and how the huntsman fits in, and the wolf, and then there’s the horrific spiderweb horse and the crows. The fantasy elements work for me. I can even handle the minor comic relief of Mackenzie Crook and Richard Ridings (who has one of the most distinct voices I’ve ever heard) because I like both actors and because truly, they belong with the Grimms in the forest. But instead I got not enough of what I did want and a whole pile of what I didn’t want and it didn’t come together well enough. It didn’t really come together at all.

June 20, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment