More films I've watched lately, either via the online rental service, * pay cable or in an ** actual movie theatre!
THE BROTHERS GRIMM**
I think an appropriate subtitle for this one would be Terry Gilliam's Greatest Hits; you can watch this film and see familiar bits from all his films- even 12 Monkeys (torture chamber with people suspended upside down on a mechanical rack with glass boxes full of snails on their heads) and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Heath Ledger's spastic performance brought Johnny Depp's equally twitchy turn as Hunter Thompson to mind). I've read a lot of mixed reactions to this all around and none of them are far off base -and maybe as a Gilliam admirer I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt more than the heathen infidel might- but I actually liked this one, even though it came across more as Gilliam shaking off the rust, clearing his throat if you will, after an extended period of (often involuntary) relative inactivity. This leads me to believe that the upcoming Tideland might be the one to look forward to after all is said and done. Anyway, Grimm is rarely dull (It didn't seem half as long as it actually was) and visually outstanding, full of typically Gilliam visual conceits and wonderful ideas (even if some the effects sometimes looked a bit, shall we say, chintzy). Ledger and Matt Damon had an easy rapport as the Bros., although the script couldn't decide whether they were supposed to be clods or clever rogues, and the inconsistency got real old before it was over. Neither does the scripter do any favors for the two main female characters: Monica Belluci doesn't really get much screen time until the end, and then she's just a one-dimensional wicked witch with very little depth, and Lena Headley's Angelika, first shown as a badass hunter-fighter, disappointingly devolves into a damsel-in-distress before film's end. Jonathan Pryce isn't called upon to do much but smirk, but as always he adds a lot to any Gilliam film just by being there. Peter Stormare, as Pryce's chief torturer, hams it up throughout and boy, did I get tired of him real fast. The main culprit for the film's not being what it could be is the script, as a whole- and while it's probably studio interference (this was yet another troubled Gilliam production) and tinkering that's to blame, one wishes that a bit more care and thought had been put into it because the basic idea was very clever. It's not that the film is hard to follow, far from it, but it's just so haphazard and inconsistent that the stitches show. I don't know why Gilliam invites such studio and investor humbuggery, but hopefully someday he'll be given free rein to entertain and amaze us, because he comes frustratingly close here but just can't transcend the dumbed-down script. B+
MISS CONGENIALITY 2: ARMED AND FABULOUS
My wife is a HUGE Sandra Bullock fan, so nice-guy that I am I added this to the ol' Netflix queue 'cause I'm all about keeping Mrs. B entertained. Anyway, she and I went to see the first one a couple of years ago in the theatre and I kinda liked it- not great cinema by any stretch but it was fun and Miz Bullock is likeable enough. In this one, she gets a no-nonsense partner and must help find the pageant organizer, played by The Shat, and the actual winner of the pageant in the first film, who are kidnapping victims. This one's pretty much of a piece with its predecessor, even though the usual sequel rot is there in inconsistent characterization and so on. It also misses Michael Caine, who helped make MC1 as much fun as it was. If you liked the first one, you'll probably like this, and if not stay FAR away. C+
Big-budget biopic of the famous recluse Howard Hughes, and every penny shows on the screen. Leo DiCaprio stars as Hughes, and frankly I had my doubts about him being able to pull off the role- he's just too baby-faced, kinda like Mickey Rooney was years ago. But you know what? I thought he did a great job. Of course, he only really superficially looked like Hughes, or at least the pictures I've seen of him, but he acts his ass off and never lapses into scenery chewing. It's a model of restraint (even during the scenes where Hughes is supposed to come unglued) and certainly the best performance I've ever seen from him. Not so successful is Cate Blanchett, normally a fine actress but here she never really quite captures Katherine Hepburn (or at least her public persona) and she looks even less like her than Leo does Howard. Kate Beckinsale, normally an actress whose ability I've regarded as non-existent, actually does a fine job as Ava Gardner, one of Howard's later paramours. The script tries really hard to shed some light on Hughes' motivations and personality, and it does cast him in a mostly positive light...but I wish more time had been spent on his formative years, because when the movie begins we're taken right to his early filmmaking days from one early childhood scene, and so we don't really get many answers to who he was and why he was...but it's possible that those questions don't have easy answers. As someone who was born after he went into seclusion, I didn't know jack about him except as the recluse who watched Ice Station Zebra constantly, and now I understand him and his accomplishments better. Guess that's as much as I can ask. A-
KUNG FU HUSTLE
God, this was one wacked-out movie. Most reviewers that I've read have described it as Jackie Chan meets Buster Keaton meets Tex Avery meets Quentin Tarantino, and damned if I can top that so there you go. One thing it is is imaginative, and often laugh-out-loud funny. Sometimes logic gets left behind in the shuffle, but I enjoyed it a lot. A-
LEMONY SNICKET'S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS
If they ever get around to doing a Courtney Crumrin or Gloom Cookie film, they should try to recruit the production designer and cinematographer of this film, which looks wonderful in that Burton/Addams Family way but goes on and on and on, spinning its wheels until we get a half-assed resolution of sorts and little else. There's a lot of talent and money here, and it shows, but this amalgam of what I understand are three of the Lemony Snicket's... series got very tiresome. Cast wise, it's Jim Carrey and everybody else but the two kids who play the always-in-trouble Baudelaires, Emily Browning and Liam Aiken, were very good, and Billy Connolly's cameo gives needed respite from star Jim Carrey's relentless mugging for a while. Carrey is clever in places, but jeezum crow does a little bit of him in this mode go a long way. I haven't read any of the Snicket series, so it's most likely that once again the blame can be laid at the feet of the corporate groupthink scripting process and the original stories were far more clever and interesting, who knows. This is worth watching once, but geez, why can't we get a decent script to match decent visuals in a fantasy film? Is that just too much to ask? B-
More as time permits...!