Archive for February, 2006

Catwoman
Feb 24, 2006

Oh, I knew it was going to get here eventually. So, this evening, I pulled it out of the little red Netflix envelope and sat down to watch it. Tonight’s movie is the winner of four Razzies, Catwoman. Halle Berry accepted her “Worst Actress” Razzie in person, thanking the studio for putting her in such a terrible movie.

Yes, it was bad. It was ridiculously bad. The story comes from the comic heroin/villain in DC Comics, adapted in a staggeringly incompetent screenplay. Halle Berry plays a painfully shy, mousy, somewhat bohemian, bungling ad agency graphic designer, despite being the most beautiful woman ever, whose life is a mess and coworkers are an offensive gaggle of gossips and queens in an office decorated like a Nazi propaganda poster. Our girl discovers a plot by the cosmetics company she works at to ship a dangerously addictive skin creme that turns women’s skin into burnt papyrus. She finds out, she gets killed, and a computer-generated cat brings her back to life by breathing into her lifeless mouth (No, they apparently couldn’t get any of the 87 cats they trained to be in the movie to breathe in Ms. Berry’s mouth), giving her extra special powers and skills which she just can’t seem to not use.

She falls for a cop, turns into a heroine of nebulous morals, and leaves handwriting samples all over the place. There’s even a police lab with a handwriting analyst, who, because whoever wrote this script was shriekingly retarded, predicts her personality traits between two samples using graphology. Halle unleashes some of the most groaningly predictable one-liners of all time and, somehow, her pathetic rotund friend ends up with a doctor at least an exponent out of her league.

The special effects in no way fooled a single member of the audience into believing their authenticity. The cheeseball performances of an all-star cast were the result of an absolutely idiotic script and forehead-slapping direction. The only redeeming quality, and by redeeming I mean watchable for a few seconds, of this movie was Halle Berry herself, dressed up in her lip-biting Catwoman costume with the naughty little leather whip. She knew that was the selling point of the movie and strutted her stuff beyond the breaking point. Her pseudo-feline strut-walk thing seemed mechanical and hokey.

They spent EIGHTY MILLION DOLLARS on this? We could have had six or eight more seasons of my favorite show for that.

My grade: F.

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Collateral
Feb 21, 2006

I just finished watching Collateral, the 2004 film starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx. This Michael Mann film was far better than I thought it would be in the trailers.

Jamie Foxx delivers a magnificently convincing portrayal of Max, a philosophizing cab driver who knows the streets of Los Angeles in intimate detail. A hitman named Vincent (played by Tom Cruise) hires Max’s cab to drive him on his rounds. On the first round, Vincent kills his first mark, drops it on the taxi, and forces Max to drive him around town. The tension is palpable and the picture has that edgy, almost-off-the-rails quality that kept me on the edge of the futon. Foxx plays the role of the hapless Max to perfection, garnering our sympathy as we hoped this guy would figure out some way to get away from Vincent without getting him or anyone he cares about killed.

The picture is brilliantly directed, has a good soundtrack, and a wonderfully tense story. Fight and crash sequences are gritty and realistic. This is a well-designed action/thriller. Brilliant acting abounds throughout, particularly by Jamie Foxx, who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role.

My grade: B+.

The Manchurian Candidate
Feb 17, 2006

Tonight, I watched The Manchurian Candidate, starring Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber, and Jon Voight. The 2004 reimagining of the critically-acclaimed 1962 version, the new script updates the original story to relevance in a world after the Communist threat.

Denzel Washington gives a brilliant performance as Ben Marco, an Army officer seeking answers to events following an ambush in Iraq and the ensuing symptoms of Gulf War syndrome and Post-traumatic stress disorder. His sergeant, Raymond Shaw (Schreiber), has returned from Iraq and successfully won a seat in the House of Representatives. Shaw is withdrawn man, even when he’s trying to be charismatic, and is nominated to run on the Democratic ticket for Vice President. He’s controlled by his manipulative mother, portrayed frighteningly by Meryl Streep, a senator in cahoots with the evil investment banking firm, Manchurian Global. A strong supporting cast brings the story to life.

This conspiracy thriller kept me on the edge of my seat nearly the whole time. Largely psychological, the story winds through revelations about secret experiments with mind control and attempts to dictate the future of the country with sleeper agents (particularly controlled politicians). It’s exciting, fun to watch, and unpredictable. The acting is first-rate and the film believable. The DVD has lots of extra features, although the Outtakes seem to be another section of deleted scenes — instead of the blooper reel we usually see on other DVDs.

My grade: B.

Is It Day Yet?
Feb 15, 2006

Nothing wakes you up like a meeting at 6:30 in the morning (Pacific Time). It’s not the earliest meeting I ever had, but it’s pretty early. After not sleeping much last night and dreading the dentist’s appointment in three hours, I’m ready for more coffee.

The earliest meeting I ever had was at 4. I had a training call five days in a row before 5 with a colleague in India. I’d get in the office around 3:30 – 4:30. This morning’s meeting involved people in California and Texas. Fortunately, I don’t have any more meetings this early.

Okay. Time to work now. And try to stay awake.

De-Lovely
Feb 13, 2006

Tonight’s entertainment included the Cole Porter biopic, De-Lovely, starring Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd. The picture is infused completely with Porter’s music, including performances by Kevin Kline and a host of modern pop and jazz stars, singing the songs that made Cole Porter a household name during the golden age of jazz.

The cast was well-chosen and performed admirably realistically. The musical numbers were never overbearing, although, like the critics, I thought some of the performances of some of today’s big stars (particularly those of Alanis Morissette and Elvis Costello) were particularly aggravating. The story covers Cole Porter’s homosexuality and tensions with his wife in depth, while spanning his entire career and the relations he had with his friends, lover, and wife. The cinematography and costumes were beautiful.

Toward the end of the picture, we notice the movie getting more and more melancholy as Cole Porter ages. The tension increases and Porter’s life becomes increasingly unbearable. Many of the scenes seem overly upbeat, but it’s all about a composer famous for Broadway musicals and musical movies. A solid biopic, I really savored this movie (yes, I’m a Cole Porter fan).

My grade: B.

Hero
Feb 11, 2006

This afternoon, I sat down to watch Hero, a wuxia film starring Jet Li. Set in the Warring States Period, the story centers around a hero who stops a plot by three assassins to kill the King of Qin, who has embarked on a campaign to conquer the surrounding kingdoms in ancient China.

The cinematography in this picture is so stunning that it stands as a marvel to behold. The use of color is sublime in its amazing contrasts and connections. The movie was filmed in some of the most unusual and magnificent locations in the world. The characters draw the viewers into the story, showing the strengths and weaknesses of the four heroes—with perfectly-cast actors—and their depths of emotion. The fight sequences popped off the screen and even the scenes where the characters were flying around in the wire work typical of the genre were believable.

I enjoyed this picture immensely, particularly how the scenery and costumes changed color with each scene change, and consider it the equal of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, despite the political controversy behind it. I hadn’t even known it was controversial until after I’d seen it.

My grade: A.

Beautiful Tomorrow
Feb 10, 2006

Two weeks ago today, I received an Amazon package with a few CDs in it. Right now, I’m listening to Blue Six‘s 2002 album, Beautiful Tomorrow, on the Naked Music label.

For those who aren’t aware, three of Blue Six’s songs—“Pure”, “Music and Wine”, and “Love Yourself”—are well-known enough in the deep house scene that they’re almost standards. This album has multiple mixes of those tracks, as well as other standout songs—“Let’s Do It Together”, “Very Good Friends”, “Grace (Freedom Dub)”, “Come Inside”, and “Beautiful Tomorrow.” The production quality is solid and the song-writing excellent, if minimalist. Lisa Shaw, Catherine Russell, Monique Bingham, Lysa, and Diva Blue deliver powerful vocal performances. The entire CD has a laid-back groove-laden tropical feel, evoking sandy beaches and cool breezes.

My grade: B+.

Troy
Feb 9, 2006

This evening’s movie was Troy, the 2003 Wolfgang Peterson vehicle, starring Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, Brian Cox, Peter O’Toole, and many others. This film is based on Iliad by Homer, although it takes extremely generous liberties with Homer’s original story.

Putting those aside, many of which are very likely to be missed by those who have either not read The Iliad or not read it recently, the absence of the Greek gods was very noticeable and dragged the story away from an ancient epic of glory to a more watered-down one that seemed to try not to be too offensive. While it is expected that screenplays assert creative license over the source material, the changes were a little too Hollywood.

The scope of the film was huge and the fight sequences beautifully choreographed. The scenery, photography, and visual ambience of the film were stunning, magnificent, and quite awe-inspiring. The special effects tended to get out of the way of the storytelling. The music blended well with the story, although some of it seemed quite out of place. The acting was satisfactory, although I thought that Briseis was more attractive than Helen (in fact, a few of the women in the movie are as attractive as the “face that launched a thousand ships”).

Despite the liberties that could have been forgone, it was quite an entertaining epic. I have to dock this film a few points for the inaccuracies to the original myth, having studied classical studies in college. As blockbusters go, though, this one is worth the rental fee.

My grade: B-.

Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion
Feb 8, 2006

Tonight, I decided to check out Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion, due to strong word of mouth and a very high rating on Netflix. Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion is a documentary about the occupation of Tibet by China, the effect of Chinese settlement on the Tibetan people, and the astonishingly powerful belief in the Tibetans in nonviolence in the face of oppression that has driven other peoples to violence.

The beautiful country and vibrant people are featured throughout, along with news clips, propaganda reels, and interviews of former political prisoners and exiled Tibetans. We are taken through a history of Tibet, focusing primarily on the mid to late twentieth century—a period during which the Chinese attacked, conquered, and occupied the country. In addition to the staggering oppression the Tibetans have suffered, the documentary acknowledges dark periods in Tibetan history, although not in great depth.

While some of the photography has the look of being shot with a camcorder, there are long scenes of astounding beauty, showing the natural scenery and the amazingly colorful people. The effects of the Chinese occupation on Buddhist temples and monasteries and, particularly, the capital city of Lhasa are starkly revealed. Granted, this is an extremely politically-charged documentary and it definitely will not appeal to everyone. But, I enjoyed it.

My grade: B+.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Feb 7, 2006

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy demonstrates to staggering effect precisely how big actor/writer Will Ferrell is. He can appear in anything, no matter its quality, and people will love it. This picture was by far the worst thing I’ve put in my DVD player since I endured Gods and Generals almost 2½ years ago. At least Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo had a couple of funny moments in it.

Despite being produced by Judd Apatow, of whom I am a fan (for Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared), Anchorman starts out bad and continues on a downhill slide. We follow the exploits of Ron Burgundy, a horrifically unfunny caricature of an astonishingly unlikeable broadcast TV anchorman in the early 70s, and his news team as they come to terms with the fact that the station has hired a new female journalist, played by Christina Applegate, who has ambitions toward the anchor desk. Somehow, she, purportedly street-smart from enduring the prevailing sexist attitudes of the day, is duped into falling in love with Ron in what has to be the least realistic love interest of all time.

The scene in the restaurant in which Ron gets up and pretends to play jazz flute was particularly grating—it took every ounce of my willpower not to throw something at the screen—and the gang war between competing news teams set a new low in an endless barrage of ridiculously unrealistic and increasingly insipid fight sequences in recent movies. As a comedy designed to make fun of the sexist attitudes of the 70s, this one falls flat. For protagonists, this motley bunch of pathetic clowns is absolutely detestable.

The screenplay is bungling and utterly incompetent. I could stand on top of a building and, using only my own urine, piss a better screenplay in the snow. This spectacularly bad film is an endurance event—you keep waiting for it to get funny for more than a second, but your wait is in vain. Despite an all-star cast, this movie is an all-star turd.

My score: F.