True confessions time.
Iâ€™ve never seen The Godfather. Not I. Not II. I did see a little of Part III and what I saw, I REALLY liked. (Hey, whereâ€™d that horse head come from?)
Seriously though, Ed Humphries, the dude who toiled away for a number of years as the UMASS Daily Collegianâ€™s Siskel (we already had an Ebert) has never seen The Godfather. Same goes for The Natural. One Flew Over the Cuckooâ€™s Nest. Citizen Kain. Chinatown and Casablanca.
I did see They Live five times in the theater, however.
That Godfather revelation came up in casual conversation with Mookie a few weeks back when I told him that I had recently restarted my Netflix account after a several year hiatus. Coincidentally, The Boston Globe ran a story Sunday where their resident film critic, Wesley Morris, admitted to the exact same transgression. Weird world!!!
Anyway, Mook wanted me to provide a rundown of my current queue. These are the times we live in. Your Netflix queue, Whoâ€™s in your Five and whether you watch The Hills are natureâ€™s little barometers of whether a person should spend time with you or not. My list skewed very contemporary, much to Mookâ€™s chagrin. I guess if he were in charge, it should be heavy on The Deer Hunter and slim on the Sid & Marty Kroft. .
The truth is what it is. As big a movie fan as I am, Iâ€™ve missed a number of titles in the past few years due in no small part to diminished trips to the theater post-child birth. Thatâ€™s natural. I used to hit the movies almost once a week and once you have children, time flies. As for the older flicks, I think that happens to a lot of us (even students of the cinema). You tend to become expert on the movies you grow up with and occasionally catch one that informed the current crop. Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m such a Dawson â€“ an unabashed Spielberg lover. I grew up in the late 70â€™s into the 80â€™s and hit my movie-going prime at the exact time Spielberg was building a better blockbuster. I developed a taste for his delicious confections.
As for the Netflix subscription â€“ or any form of movie rental â€“ I was really waiting to get the right equipment upon which to build some semblance of a proper theater going experience. When I added the Hi-Def TV last year, the big component was in place â€“ augmenting the surround sound get-up I purchased a few years back. To this day, I am still missing the Blu-Ray that would really push this over the edge but for the time being, a progressive scan DVD player fits the bill just fine. With the economy heralding the End of Days (and our home in the hock due to those nagging vet bills that recently cropped up), I just have to remember Farmer Hoggettâ€™s sage advice. â€œThatâ€™ll do pig. Thatâ€™ll do.â€
So, I hit Netflix and quickly assembled a queue that at current inspection stands 93 strong. With baseball playoffs looming (as well as my own play nearing opening night), it should take me a little while to whittle that total down. That said, since rebooting, I have viewed 2 â€“ 3 titles a week. That gave me another idea for a recurring feature on this site. I call it Netflix Notes â€“ basically quick capsule rundowns of the latest films Iâ€™ve had delivered. Iâ€™m not going to tackle these as traditional reviews. Sure, Iâ€™ll employ my â€˜Ebert Headsâ€™ as a quality gauge (this is what happens Roger when you localize your trademark to a â€˜thumbâ€™). Aside from that, Iâ€™m really going to use the space to let you in on some of my thoughts as I watched the flick.
As Iâ€™ve got 11 movies under my belt this month, Iâ€™m going to break this post into two sections â€“ covered in chronological order of when I received them (from oldest to newest). As always, if youâ€™ve seen these flicks, let us know what you thought in the Comments below.
Ratings Note â€“ The Ed Zone reviews movies on a scale of [movie 1.0] to [movie 5.0]Â Half Ebert Heads are indicated by coloring half of Rogerâ€™s head. Essentially, the colored area is indicative of the grade. I can die when I see â€œThe Ed Zone calls (MOVIE TITLE) a Five EBERT HEAD serving of chicken soup for your sassy soul!!!â€ on a movie poster.
1.Â Â The Mist
When I heard Frank Darabont was hard at work on an adaptation of Stephen Kingâ€™s novella The Mist, I immediately set aside 4 to 5 of my Ebert heads. Darabont has been the go-to-guy in Hollywood to remedy troubled scripts and did a masterful job himself in faithfully adapting The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile into thoughtful, evocative films. Having emptied the pantry of Kingâ€™s prison dramas, Darabont decided to tackle one of Kingâ€™s horror yarns.
Blame Harvey Weinstein for this one. Weinstein approved Darabontâ€™s script and vision (including a gutt-punch of a non-Hollywood ending) but at a significant cost â€“ dangling a mere $30 million upon which to assemble his apocalypse. The pithy budget (for an event pic) cheapens the flick, giving it a Sci-Fi Channel Movie of the Week feel. If youâ€™re going to work in that arena, why not make Mansquito and leave ambition at the door.
Darabont tries his hardest and actually ends up overworking his script to overcompensate for the decreased spectacle. I give the film a middling recommendation although the first and last images almost elevate the entire enterprise. I wonâ€™t give away the ending but I will point out that Dark Tower fans are in for a treat in that very first scene. Speaking of which, when is JJ Abrams going to get around to erecting the Tower?
2.Â Â Shaun of the Dead
The British export Shaun of the Dead was billed as a zom-com â€“ a play on â€˜romantic comedyâ€™ with the zombie genre integrated. Itâ€™s really more of a zom-rom-com as Shaun wears its bloody, beating heart on its sleeve.
At once a dissection of zombie flicks, buddie movies and romantic comedies â€“ director Edgar Wrightâ€™s satire works exactly as a proper send-up should. Simply put, Wright and co-writer/star Simon Pegg love the hell out of the genre and therefore treat it seriously. It makes you want to grab those skinjobs that keep churning out Date Movie after Epic Movie after Disaster Movie, sit them down and give them a little film school education. If you want to satirize something, you have to respect it too. Just dropping random pop-culture references does nothing but severely date your flick. (Câ€™mon, Hannah Montana and Hancock shots? Thatâ€™s not going to play in five years. Thatâ€™s like releasing a flick now and having Yahoo Serious stroll by?)
Anyway, I sought out Shaun based on the strength of Hot Fuzz (which was the follow-up flick to this one featuring the same creative team). I think Hot Fuzz is the better flick (Iâ€™d even give it 5 Ebert Heads) but both films showcase some really talented individuals. Shaun of the Dead is as gross as any zombie movie Iâ€™ve seen (I usually avoid them as I donâ€™t really have the stomach for entrails) and therefore it qualifies as a genuine zombie movie â€“ so much so that George Romero ended up casting Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as zombies in his Land of the Dead pic from a few years back. Thatâ€™s high praise indeed from the godfather of these ghouls.
Do yourself a favor and rent both this and Hot Fuzz. Hot Fuzz will probably play better to all of you (all you need to know is itâ€™s like a Michael Bay action flick in a sleepy English village) â€“ but they are both endlessly entertaining. If anything, this flick has the most ingenius use of Queen since Wayneâ€™s World.
3.Â Â No Country for Old Men
Iâ€™m a huge Coen Brothers fan and try to see everything they release. To date, the only flicks Iâ€™ve missed are The Man Who Wasnâ€™t There and the recently released, Burn After Reading. Before seeing this film, I heard a lot of comparisons to Fargo. After watching it, Iâ€™m not sure I see the through line outside of one strange coincidence that Iâ€™ll get to in a moment. No â€“ this is as bleak and as dark as Blood Simple, their debut piece. Fargo was always a pitch-black comedy. Even itâ€™s opening title card, â€œBased on a True Storyâ€, was a goof.
No Country for Old Men is downright apocalyptic. Usually, the Coens mine comedy from idiocy. Fargo was wall-to-wall with dumb people doing stupid things. No Country flips things â€“ presenting Josh Brolinâ€™s Llewellyn, a simple rancher, as a lot smarter that we, the audience, initially grant him. The Coens tease our expectations by pairing Llewellyn with a child-like wife so when Llewellyn hits the bricks with a satchel of purloined drug money, we sit and wait for his mistakes to catch him. But, the trick is on us as Llewellyn plays things fairly intelligently.
Then thereâ€™s Javier Bardemâ€™s monster Anton Chigurh. Bardem is good and deserved that Best Supporting Actor award but Iâ€™m not so sure heâ€™s the greatest villain Iâ€™ve ever seen dragged from the dark. He does come across as a malevolent force of nature. If anything, Bardemâ€™s success with the Academy does bode well for Heath Ledger early next year.
To my surprise, Tommy Lee Jones completely won me over. I thought this was going to be yet another of his grumpy old men renditions (he is the Old Men of the title after all) but his performance conveys immeasurable waves of melancholy. Jonesâ€™ character haunts this picture and his performance, particularly the last scene, is the one that really stuck with me long after viewing this.
Now, hereâ€™s the coincidence- no doubt planned. The Coens followed up the success of their critical darling, Fargo, with the absurdist fantasy, The Big Lebowski. That move confounded critics. Every time they think the boys have followed their suggestions and â€œgrown upâ€, they go off and chase a lark. Flash forward 10 years and the Coens follow No Country for Old Men with the absurdist fantasy, Burn After Reading. And what has been the criticsâ€™ general response? Hands tossed in the air. Personally, I enjoy the fact that the Coens switch gears from film to film. They keep me off-center and I wouldnâ€™t want to be anywhere but here.
Finally, Iâ€™ll leave with this. Rumors are swirling in Hollywood that the Coens are interested (and may be offered) the chance to write and direct the next Superman flick. That could be one for the ages and would insure these guys are working until they die.
4.Â Â Zodiac
This is the JFK of serial killer flicks.
Iâ€™ve been a huge fan of David Fincher (best know for the masterful Seven, he also helmed the greatly underrated Alien 3). Fincher has been knocked by his worst critics as an extraordinary stylist with nothing substantive under the hood. Itâ€™s the same tired clichÃ© that dogs Ridley Scott. Just because these guys know who to shoot a movie and give it an ethereal, dream-like quality with visuals that just sear onto your brain doesnâ€™t mean there isnâ€™t anything going on under the surface. Zodiac ought to shut them all up. Fincherâ€™s style is in full force but itâ€™s subtle. He deftly recreates a swatch of time that does what all movies should aspire to â€“ melt our real world surroundings and transport us away to a very specific time and place.
That time is California â€“ beginning in the late 60â€™s and time warping to the early 80â€™s â€“ as the region was under the wicked spell of the Zodiac Killer. Fincher bases his story off the books written by San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith â€“ who did his best to build a case (largely forged from circumstantial evidence) and identify the true Zodiac Killer. Going into this film, I think a lot of people expected Seven Redux and I think that is exactly what attracted Fincher to the project â€“ this was a chance for him to revisit familiar ground and cast it in a more realistic light. Fincher himself grew up in that area at the same time and recalls the Zodiacâ€™s threats to shoot out the tires of a school bus and snipe the children as they exit the bus. If you recall the DC sniper shootings of a few years back, I imagine this is the same climate of fear that the region experienced.
I was sucked into this movie â€“ absolutely enthralled as Fincher methodically lays out all of the events and circumstantial evidence that point towards one very real suspect. He staffed his vast menagerie of supporting players with a host of character actors (including Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Mark Ruffalo and Brian Cox) and everyone really melds with their character.
This is an excellent film!!!
5.Â Â Â Beowulf
I love animated films. In fact, Wall-E currently sits neck-and-neck with The Dark Knight as my favorite film seen in the theater this year. I just feel that animation can reach heights that would bust most traditional filmâ€™s budgets. If you love films â€“ then you love all types.
Iâ€™m still not sold on performance capture animated films, however. The more realistic the creators try to paint a person, the creepier they become. Itâ€™s called the Uncanny Valley effect â€“ they look close enough to real people, maybe enough to fool the casual eye, but your mind knows that something is just not right. I find it curious that I consider the animated people in a movie like Ratatouille as more human than the motion-captured persons on display in films like Robert Zemeckisâ€™ The Polar Express and his follow-up, Beowulf.
I did enjoy elements of this film. There are some sequences (namely a battle on the back of a soaring dragon as well as a tall-tale featuring Beowulfâ€™s battle with a gaggle of sea serpents) that just couldnâ€™t be realistically done on traditional film â€“ at least, not if the producers wanted to recapture their costs. But the humans are hit and miss. Angelina Jolieâ€™s demon and Ray Winstoneâ€™s Beowulf fare best. The rest look plucked from a video game in their best moments and a nightmare in their worst.
6.Â Â Â Cloverfield
This is a gimmick movie that almost transcends the gimmick. The granddaddy to this type of film is The Blair Witch Project. I always thought that the former flick worked best if passed along to someone on a battered video tape and watched in some remote cabin in the woods on a dark and stormy night. The Witch found me at a midnight showing in a theater where the projectionist forgot to bring down the lights and a drunk snored three rows ahead of me. The scariest thing about that experience was the strange hole that my bud Mook was cutting in the bottom of his popcorn tub. Thatâ€™s it â€“ no more midnight movies for me.
Cloverfield bests Blair Witch by acknowledging its roots. At no point are they trying to pass this off as a real event â€“ they simply want to provide a different perspective on a giant monster attack â€“ that of the panicked masses running in the streets. And for the most part they succeed.
The thing is, I am literally sick of overt shaky cam. I remember when NYPD Blue launched, a slight jiggle of the handheld camera would prompt more seizures than Pikachu. These days, NYPD Blue looks as serene as Golden Pond. I get the aesthetic and usually I dig it (I think it works wonderfully in the Bourne flicks) but Cloverfield borders on overkill. As the whole film is told through one dudeâ€™s digital camcorder, we get to experience his entire fight or flight. At times, the gimmick really shines (as in the night vision reveal of some tunnel dwelling creepy-crawlers) but our main man Hud spends a little too much time dashing to and fro. I watched this at home on a 40â€ TV and had to readjust my view from time-to-time. Had I seen this in the theater, my fellow movie goers may have been treated to an instant Scanners remake. Hey, they may go home wearing my grey matter but at least they got a double feature.
That said, Cloverfield has its merits. It takes the giant monster seriously and provides enough shots of the critter to prove these guys made the most of their modest budget. Talk of a sequel seems like a bad idea however. I think the gimmick works once. If they really do need to mine this material further, Iâ€™d recommend dispensing with the handheld and picking up a big boy camera. There are only so many times in a life that I can refill my brain pan.
(Now for a light Mist spoiler… Scroll down)
This is the poster David was painting at the beginning of The Mist. Also, in the whole Kingverse, there’s a popular theory that the source of The Mist is a hole that is ripped between the two dimensions – and that the creatures from Roland’s world are what come spilling out and attack the supermarket, etc. Specifically, the Lobstosities from The Drawing of the Three (which in the flick can be seen in the parking lot snapping a guy in two).