Sunday, November 21, 2010

THE FILM TOME REPORT: ISSUE 14

THE TRAILER ROUND-UP

Consider "Born To Be Wild" my MONKEY DO this week. A nature doc about an orphan elephant and an orphan chimp. Look gorgeously photographed. Who would you get to narrate? Morgan Freeman, number one answer.

Pixar has now released a trailer that actually tells us something about "Cars 2." It looks very nice, but I'm actually not all that excited for it.

"The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" is one of my most beloved film. Well, now Walt Disney Animation Studios is reviving the property with the simply named "Winnie the Pooh." The animation is almost too clean, the voice changes are jarring, and, aside from a nice montage of possible new tails for Eeyore, I was pretty uninterested. Still, gotta be hopeful for something so cherished eh?

The special effects in "Green Lantern" are worth seeing. I know nothing about this superhero, but I'm willing to give it a chance next summer.

My mother and sister ever ask about "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader." It's hard to pick a favorite of the brilliant "Chronicles" series penned by C.S. Lewis, but this one would definitely be considered. Here's the latest trailer! It comes out in less than a month (Dec. 10th).

The "Okay...": Can you count all the similarities "Red Riding Hood" has with "Twilight"? Good grief. I'll say no thank you now, but predict I'll somehow someday get caught up with this one.

Toss of the Week: Vampires, zombies and aliens! Oh my! Yes... these three are all the rage these days. I've got yet another alien flick to make you aware of, but this time I couldn't be happier. Based on a comic book (of course!) of the same name, "Cowboys & Aliens" looks possibly too cool. Last month Rockstar proved that adding zombies to the Western genre was a stroke of brilliance with the "Undead Nightmare" expansion to this year's best video game, "Red Dead Redemption". To me, inserting aliens instead could be just as good. An impressive and exciting preview to say the least! Next summer can't come soon enough now. It is a wonderful sight to see Harrison Ford don a cowboy hat again.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

KEEP THE RIVER ON YOUR RIGHT - REVIEW

Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale
Released: 4.1.2001

Written and Directed by David and Laurie Shapiro

This is a little doc about an old man who has a lot to say. A fascinating discovery that agitates and leaves you meditating.

The subtitle is rather misleading. Yes, Tobias was by definition a cannibal on one occasion, but it certainly isn't an ongoing part of his life nor is it an ongoing topic in this documentary. Hoodwinking or not, what a great title! It piqued my interest enough to merit my initial commencement of watching. However, it was the story of this man Tobias that brought me back (you see, it took me three or so sessions to reach the end).

Over fifty years ago this man traveled through Peru. Near the Amazon basin he found and lived with the Harakambut tribe for seven months. Later he engaged in similar activity with the Asmat in New Guinea. With a travelog like this, you can see why someone would want to make a documentary about him.

Like most of my favorite docs, it becomes about an individual. This is the tale of Tobias Schneebaum, who at the time of filming was 78 years old. We learn about his past through archival photos and videos (including a challenging interview with Charlie Rose) and the memories Tobias cares to share. Tobias is an open book (and in fact has written several about his own life experiences). His honesty and open-mindedness is immediately apparent. We learn many things about him, from his seasons as a painter to his lifetime of homosexuality.

The film has some odd bits that I wouldn't miss if cut. Also, the narrative jumps at times without offering smooth transitions. However, the Shapiros' project succeeds not only because of their star, but because of their understated filming of him (and their surroundings). The fitting original score is an eerie jungly melody, but I doubt I'll ever be able to track it down.

The action really took off in the last half when the film crew finally convince Tobias to return to the Peruvian jungles where he lived with a group of natives (taking part in a murderous raiding party and an instance of cannibalism). The adventure is brilliantly inter-spliced with archive footage from when he appeared as a guest on "The Mike Douglas Show." During these final chapters the film gets downright Herzogian (maybe no surprise since a lot of it is taking place where the master shot "Aguirre"), and if you know my love for Werner Herzog's work, you know how commending this comparison is.

The most powerful moments are when Tobias reunites with those who he met on his journey long ago. In these scenes we see an exotic people that outsiders cannot wholly relate to. Tobias came closer than most and it shaped him and scarred him. The result is his solicitousness in grasping another world.

The film takes a leisurely course to get to these great points, but when someone as interesting as Tobias Schneebaum is your guide, the travel is hardly dull. Whenever his paced monologues start rolling, you can bet on a valuable perception. The thoughts he shares while visiting the glorious Machu Picchu and later whilst floating down a muddy branch of the Amazon are particularly abiding. Tobias is continually haunted by his past, yet happy of it and tranquil in his old age. Viewers may likely be victim to some haunting as well.

By the film's end we've spent a considerable amount of time getting to know this man. Shooting the documentary was clearly a draining experience for him. He leaves us singing, "Show me the way to go home, I'm tired and I want to go to bed." Tobias passed away in 2005, "Keep the River on Your Right" will ensure his tale lives on.

 ★★★★ 

CONTENT:
nudity (including a circumcision sequence)
adult conversations and situations

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

TOP HAT - REVIEW

Top Hat
Released: 8.29.1935

Directed by Mark Sandrich
Written by Allan Scott and Dwight Taylor


"Top Hat" sizzles and surprises from start to finish. The song-and-dance routines are to live for and the narrative is a ball. Astaire and Rogers, hats off to you!

Confession #1: This is my first Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers experience.

I had heard their names, but in all honesty, I had no large desire to seek out their films. In fact, were it not for the Film History class I'm currently taking, I wouldn't have seen at this time. Earlier today when my professor put the DVD in and I knew what we were about to behold, I was about as excited as the time my parents took us kids to Lancaster, PA to get some Amish custard. I've said it before, but boy do I love being proved wrong! Being delightfully shocked by a movie is an ineffable incident. Say! That'd be a great Top Ten List: Pleasantly Surprising Films. You can bet your significant other's favorite pair of shoes that "Top Hat" would make my list.

Confession #2: I was quite literally a giddy schoolboy while watching this film.

The story itself is a screwball comedy full of mistaken identities and witty banter. The narrative plays with the audience like a bit of yarn dangled above a cat's head. The resolution and discoveries we want so badly to happen seem almost within reach and are then yanked away. It is maddeningly fun! All players involved herein give great performances. It's silly, but it's thoroughly entertaining. Near the end I was slightly dissatisfied with some of the payoffs and then one last twist is revealed which had me sold again. "Top Hat" truly delivers. I'm certain I had a smile on my face during much of the second and third acts.

Credit for the songs belongs to Irving Berlin and Max Steiner. While the lyrics aren't all that inspiring, the tunes themselves belong somewhere between Heaven and Earth. After the first musical number I knew that each consequent time Freddy transitions into a song, my ears were about to be serenaded. I believe the likes of "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails" and "Cheek to Cheek" were instant classics in their day and are still beloved.

The highlight of course are the dance sequences with Astaire and Rogers. When they first frolic together inside a park's gazebo during a rainstorm, you'll wonder (like I did) where this stuff has been all your life. It is a definition of the art of tap-dance I definitely needed a reminder of. There are several other moments of movement with elegance I'll ever recall. Praise be given to Hermes Pan who assisted Astaire with the choreography.

Confession #3: I have not seen a lot of musicals.

In the words of Prince Humperdink, "a technicality that will shortly be remedied." You see, next semester I'm scheduled to be taking a genres course specifically on musicals. After today I'm more excited than ever for that opportunity!

Take my final declaration for what it is worth (keeping my last confession in mind): "Top Hat" is one of the best musicals I have ever seen.

 ★★★★½ 

CONTENT: Some innuendos and adult situations.

Monday, November 15, 2010

HEREAFTER - REVIEW

HEREAFTER
Released: 10.22.2010

Written by Peter Morgan
Directed by Clint Eastwood


Another mawkish Eastwood flick that would feel right at home on the Hallmark Channel and yet, a fine work indeed.

(Note: I love to write... especially about film. Whenever I sit down to deliver a review for a movie I spend an excessive amount of time concerning myself with word choice and obsessing with the overall structure of the piece. They often grow into lengthy analyses. Since the Film Tome first slithered out of the viral womb, you could count the number of reviews I've posted on a single healthy hand. It has been months my dears! This is rather deplorable. Therefore, it is for this reason I am going to consciously strive to make my thoughts concise and coherent. (I don't like the word "condensed," though such milk is a bliss in certain bowls.) I usually never say all I'd like to anyway, so where's the harm in keeping in a little more? I'd much prefer this to be a Tome that has a little to say about everything than a lot to say about one or two things, that is, things pertaining to film of course. Besides, I can always write more later on! Merrymake.)

STARTS WITH A BANG
Contrary to major opinion, I feel this year has been a harvest of excellent films. A majority of these gems have some of the best beginnings in recent memory ("The Book of Eli," "The Social Network," and "Toy Story 3"). I would put the opening sequence of "Hereafter" right among the chief of them. The opening scene features a gorgeously horrific CGI-tsunami. Once that scene concluded my father leaned over to me and commented, "Geesh! I feel like I've been in a tsunami now." How true! Like the opening battle of "Saving Private Ryan," it makes the audience into surrogates who experience a traumatic ordeal. That scene alone is worth the price of admission. That scene alone may initially deceive you.

Despite such a grandiose set-piece to start things off, "Hereafter" never gets anywhere close to epic proportions again. In fact, besides a couple of moments, it becomes a slow and small film. The result is a bewildering mash that sometimes managed to charm me.

WEAVING, ETC.
The stories of three individuals are told herein. The big name attached is Matt Damon (I guess him and Eastwood worked well enough together in last year's "Invictus") who plays a "retired" medium living in San Francisco. The other two character's have experiences that lead them to come to grips with mortality and question the afterlife. Screenwriter Peter Morgan weaves the three narratives (often on three different continents) in an interesting way, but when they eventually merge it feels overly ordained. I am a huge fan of the successful feats "Magnolia" and "Babel," which also have a rich collage of multiple stories. "Hereafter" feels more forced in similar matters.

The subject matter herein could be labeled "fantasy" or "spiritual." Whatever it is, I admired the film's dedication to it. "Hereafter" takes itself seriously, but wisely avoids becoming preachy. Nonetheless, it does manage to be heartfelt and though-provoking. My father, who is quite enthralled by all things postmortem, wanted more (in terms of exploration of the film's namesake). It would have been interesting and brave, but I bet Morgan didn't want to alienate the potential customer anymore. Still, I was pleasantly surprised by the story it told.

The acting is fine, but don't expect any Oscars nominations coming out of this one. I quite liked the short relationship between Damon and Bryce Dallas Howard's character. Eastwood definitely knows how to direct his actors, perhaps that's the plus of being one yourself.

THAT'S A WRAP
Like many of his films, this one is wrapped up in a pretty little bow by the end, tying together any loose ends with melodramatic means. I'm not just talking about the collision of the three narratives Eastwood managed to juggle, but the solving of each character's problems. This time around it seems particularly far-fetched. Ask most Eastwood-directed-connoisseurs what the legend's greatest film is? The reply will be a unanimous "Unforgiven!" I think Clint could benefit from examining the exquisite equivocation perfectly demonstrated within his earlier work.

Remember the harvest of excellent films I mentioned at the top? "Hereafter" just misses a safe landing into the basket.

 ★★★½ 

CONTENT: Brief strong language and intense disaster/accident sequences.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

THE FILM TOME REPORT: ISSUE 13

THE TRAILER ROUND-UP

Earlier this year I put the UFO spotlight on two alien films. "Skyline" just came out and is only fairing so-so at the box office. Not sure if "Monsters" is going to get a wide release. Well, TWO MORE alien films are now landing! "Seres: Genesis" is a Mexican invasion film. It looks disturbingly cool. "Battle: Los Angeles," Hollywood's entry, looks just plain cool. (Count how many times we see a spacecraft zoom by overhead.) This film further proves at least one thing: If you need a macho female marine you have to cast Michelle Rodriguez (of "Lost" fame).

"All Good Things" come to an end? Starts off quite chill, but gets quite intense. Again, a reveal I wished I didn't know until I was in the theater. Regardless, this one looks quite effective. Hooray for the under appreciated and largely unknown Philip Baker Hall (he's seen in the trailer for a split second).

"Season of the Witch" is a pleasant surprise. From what I could dig up, this is an original IP and I consider that absolutely marvelous. Hollywood is becoming infamous for its remakes (Their thinking is such: "If it was made here over 25 years ago, it needs an update. If it was made in another country last year and was any good, it needs an American version so we don't have to read subtitles.") and franchises (Their thinking is such: "If the first was any good and made bank, make another."), so it is like unto seeing sunlight through darkening clouds when a novel idea comes around. Besides that, it's a little known fact that I am a sucker for the medieval-era fantasy flings. A CGI bombast to be sure, but I have high hopes for this one. Oh yeah, this stars Nick Cage.

More olden-timed drama and warfare for my queue! "The Eagle" is yet another example of how key plot twists are so often spoiled in trailers (see "All Good Things"). Still, looks like nothing narratively innovative here. A plus for some good-looking battle scenes.

Is this a documentary? That I even have to seriously ask is a huge measure of success for "You Won't Miss Me." Naturalistic filmmaking has always had a lasting effect on me. Perhaps it will on you too. Taking a stab at real life and aiming to touch each of us
in one way or another... these types of projects are bold.

"Kung Fu Panda 2" of course. It even sounds great! I was amazed when the ending credits began to roll on the first "Kung Fu Panda." Amazed that I finally finished watching it after several attempts. Amazed how much I genuinely liked an American, non-Pixar, CG-animated feature film. And amazed at the celebrity ensemble involved for delivering the voices. Jack Black was certainly clear, but I had no idea the likes of Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan and Seth Rogen. Sure, it's fun, but not at all necessary. I can't help but think how much of the budget was spent on voices of the famous. Anyways, I'm all for another fun-filled adventure with Po and the gang (what grand action scenes the first one had!).

"The Way Back" is the latest from one of the greatest, Peter Weir. Another POW-escape adventure! (I highly recommend Herzog's "Rescue Dawn.") It seems we've struck a definite theme of "trailers that give away the story" today. Y'know, I think most are like that... I'm just particularly sensitive to the offense today. In truth, I stopped watching this one just over halfway through because I didn't want to know any more. I look forward to seeing this one!

Another trailer for "Little Fockers" has emerged. Notice the lack of a link. Notice my disapproval. Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman are amazing actors, but this is an insult to them. "Meet the Parents" was good enough, but should not have received any return (especially not a second time).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

THE FILM TOME REPORT: ISSUE 12

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON 11.4.10

THE TRAILER ROUND-UP

Gus Van Sant (director of the near-perfect "Good Will Hunting" and the pretty mess that is "Elephant") is back on the scene with "Restless." Nice enough. The guy and girl look a lot alike. Huh.

Zack Snyder is a director who you never know what to expect with. His 2004 remake of "Dawn of the Dead" is still a favorite of mine, but "300" proved to be a bitter disappointment overall. Earlier this year he unleashed "Legend of the Guardians" (AKA "that CGI-owl flick") on us. Well, Snyder will strike again in the first quarter of next year with "Sucker Punch." This looks like utter eye-candy, but sounds so lame (just listen to authoritative man tell the girl about the "five things"... are you serious?).

Tyler Perry, who I know little about and whose films I know little about, has a new thing:
"For Colored Girls." Something tells me I may not be the target demographic here... This looks more in the vein of "Precious" than say the likes of "Why Did I Get Married?" The trailer came out back in September, but a new clip was released last week. I recommend the trailer, not the clip. I'm shocked to say this looks quite good! I dig the stylish introducin
g of the cast. Anytime I get a "magnolia"-vibe, as I did here, it should be duly noted.

I haven't seen either of the "Ong Bak"s (martial-arts extravaganzas from Thailand), but have always wanted to. "Ong Bak 3" looks like more of the same. Translation: AWESOME!

"Regresa" looks like sweet nuts! By that I mean a sentimental flick that gets a little crazy... Beware

The "Okay...": Two jolly films about old Saint Nick. "Navidad S.A." looks intriguing and befuddling. If that one isn't to your liking Santa Clause is also coming to town... on a murder spree! Some Finnish filmmakers thought this was good idea? Would you open "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" or ask your friend if he still has the receipt?

NEW IN THEATERS
  • 127 Hours* - 94%
  • Due Date - 41%
  • For Colored Girls - 33%
  • Megamind - 66%

NEW IN STORES
  • Centurion - 56%
  • Going the Distance - 52%
  • Toy Story 3 - 99%
  • Winnebago Man - 90%