Posts Tagged ‘summer

04
Jan
10

“villains.” [the many lists of 2009.]

In years past, I’ve always posted a list of my favorite films of the year. This year, I’ve decided to change it up a bit. Instead of one list which includes my favorite films, I will instead have many lists including some of my favorite characters and moments (etc.) in film this year. Those who know me are well aware that two of my greatest loves are movies and lists. So, for the next few days, I will bring those two loves together in one glorious cocktail. I hope you enjoy reading my lists as much as I enjoyed compiling them.

The first list is my favorite villains of the year. It’s not uncommon for a villain to be the part of a film I enjoy the most. The “bad guy” is often the character who stays with me the longest after the credits role. For example, in 2008, what character was more memorable than Heath Ledger’s Joker? In 2007, what character was better than Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh? Villains can be so delightfully fun, whether you love to hate them, or just plain love them.

***I have to warn you now, these lists are often filled to the brim with spoilers. Not every description of why a character or moment made the list is spoiler-heavy, but it’s safer for you to just skip the ones from films you haven’t seen but plan to enjoy in the future. I don’t want to be that guy who ruins a great movie for someone, so, you’ve been warned.***

Now, on with the villains!! (In no particular order)

1. Col. Hans Landa – Inglourious Basterds

It’s no secret that film villains are frequently heartless, ruthless bastards (no pun intended). There are many variations on the type of  villain one might find. There is the balls-out psycho, the angry revenge seeker, the zealot with a cause, the list is literally endless. I think one of my very favorite variations to watch on the screen would  be the cold, detached villains who seem to have no emotional response to their evil deeds. When this type of villain is executed well, for example, in the case of the pitch perfect Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, the result can be a satisfying cocktail of equal parts chilling and thrilling.

With Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino took this sort of villain to another level. Colonel Hans Landa wasn’t just detached from the heinous things he did, he was downright courteous about them. All manners and civility, right up until the moment he strikes. He approached his work with downright joy, as if he were doing his victims a favor. He was so matter of fact about what he did; so polite, so personable.

The opening moments of the film are so tense because of how perfectly written and acted the character of Hans Landa was, setting up exactly what our heroes and heroines would be dealing with for the duration of the film: Pure, courteous, delighted, evil. The result was terrible for many of the film’s “Basterds,” but loads of fun for the viewing audience.

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2. Zombies – Zombieland and Dead Snow


Obviously, it isn’t much of a stretch for me to include zombies on my list. I could probably find some excuse to include zombies on my movie lists every year. Yet, this year is special because there was not one, but two wonderful zombie films: Zombieland and Dead Snow. The latter of which saw not only zombies, but Nazi zombies! Double your evil, double your fun.

Zombieland featured its wonderfully entertaining and well executed survival rules, great characters, along with one of the best cameos in film history. Dead Snow featured a guy getting his head ripped in half by his eyeballs as his brain drops to the floor, a fantastic and bloody finale, along with the scene in which a woman regains blurry consciousness to the sight of her own zombie disembowelment, (a scene that may be my favorite zombie scene ever!). In both films, all the enjoyment came because when creative filmmaking and the concept of surviving a zombie apocalypse come together, the results are hilarious and awesome.

Hooray for zombies!!

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3. The Scary Gypsy Lady – Drag Me To Hell

If there is one life lesson movies have made quite clear, it is that all creepy old ladies are gypsies, that they all know how to perform magic of some sort, and that they are all looking for any excuse to curse another individual with gruesome and terrible consequences. The moral of the story, always be really nice to creepy old ladies.

No, the territory covered in Drag Me To Hell is definitely not new, but never before has it been as fun as it was under the expert hands of Sam Raimi. The antics of the Scary Gypsy Lady, or SGL for short, were disgusting in the most hilarious way imaginable. Eyeballs popping out, staples to the forehead, teeth flying everywhere. There was all sorts of crazy shit going on thanks to SGL. It was gross, it was absurd, and it was loads of fun.

Thank you SGL, you brought your villainous tomfoolery to a movie I had no expectations for whatsoever, and were a large part of making it one of the most surprisingly enjoyable films of the year.

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4. The Shadow Man – The Princess and the Frog

While we are on the topic of voodoo type curses and black magic, we might as well stop in with a movie few would expect to see on this list, The Princess and the Frog. Like most children who grew up any time since Snow White, my childhood was filled with Disney, for better and for worse (but that is for another post). Long had I lamented the death of Disney’s traditional animation studios, first on a practical level, in that everything the studio pumped out was garbage, and then on a more concrete level when the studios were officially shut down. Then came the revived talks with Pixar  resulting in the resurrection of traditional Disney animation under the leadership of the folks at Pixar. The first movie to come along since these events is the aforementioned The Princess and the Frog. Happily, my experience of the film is that the Disney animation of my childhood, which saw the likes of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King has returned.

The films mentioned above all had at least one thing in common: highly entertaining villains. The newest installment in the Disney catalogue is no exception, with the introduction of the evil Dr. Facilier, also known as The Shadow Man.

Voiced by Keith David, who played the other side of the magical coin this year as the black cat in Coraline, the character is all sorts of intimidating, even while we knew that his power rested in a precarious and fickle relationship with his “friends on the other side.”

Hopefully, Dr. Facilier will renew the tradition of great villains being added to the Disney canon with each new animated installment.

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5. Malcolm – In The Loop

Those who know me well are quite aware that for me, just as it was for Old Man Parker, cussing is an art-form, enjoyed with vigor and enthusiasm for unique combinations and uses for so called “bad words.” The more comfortable I get with you, the more likely you are to experience a significant increase in the ‘colorful’ language you will hear.
However, for all my practice, I am but an amateur compared to the professional exploits of In The Loop’s Malcolm Tucker. He weaves a tapestry of insults and vulgarity that knows no equal, with nothing out of bounds. The coarser the phrasing, the more Malcolm likes it. He vacillates between hugely entertaining and downright off-putting, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

His entertaining cussing aside, he is also a great villain as the manifestation of all that is evil in the marriage between international media and international politics. Although, he is also as troubling as he is entertaining, because while he doesn’t exist in the concrete sense, there are plenty of women and men just like him who are all too real.

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6. Summer Finn – (500) Days of Summer

Summer Finn is one of the best villains of the year because, well, she isn’t really a villain at all. She functions as a villain for most of the film, but she hasn’t really earned the title by any actions outside of the mind of Tom Hansen. In reality, it was the expectations and selective memory of our young lovelorn protagonist that made Summer a villain, not any actual slight or wrongdoing.

I think most of us have been Summer before, doing everything we could to be up front and honest, only to be hated anyway because our desire for connection led to some poor choices; and I think most of us have been Tom Hansen as well, filled with ire, frustration and angst for the object of our affection when most of the relationship is taking place in our own over-analyzation.

We all have selective memories when it comes to relationships, none more so than when the relationship in question is a crush or infatuation. We edit and filter the information to continue convincing ourselves that fate has brought this wonderful new person into the picture so we might live happily ever after. Most of the time, the result is the creation of a villain out of the unfortunate person on the other end of our obsession. It’s a common part of life, and (500) Days deals with it so honestly and with so much clarity of insight, that it resulted in a delightfully intelligent “villain.”

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7. Poverty and Mental Illness – The Soloist

Most often, the villains in film are defeated in the end; they are blown up, humiliated, or overcome in some way or another so that there can be a tidy end to the story in which the heroes live happily ever after. More often than not, the myth of redemptive violence is perpetuated for good measure. Not so with The Soloist. Instead, The Soloist offers a look at the terrifying type of villain who cannot be overcome, in this case, those of poverty and mental illness.

While it is by no means a perfect film, it poignantly sheds light on the pervasive and ongoing pain of those afflicted with mental illness and homelessness, and as is so often the case in our country, those afflicted with both. As a true story, it also isn’t a trite heap of bullshit where magically, the kind-hearted white man saves the mentally disturbed, talented black prodigy from homelessness and offers him healing from his mental issues. Instead, it’s about two imperfect people trying to love one another in the midst of hopelessness and futility, and while the pain continues to exist, we see some of the mystery of how life is a little more bearable with friends.

The villains of this film are important in the way they are portrayed because they are realistically viewed. In life, there is no neat and tidy ending in which everything is alright. We will never be able to overcome the evils that surround us, and yet, all we can do is go forward and love boldly nonetheless.

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8. Franklin Bean – Fantastic Mr. Fox

If you’re a a fox, the one person you probably don’t want to fuck with is Franklin Bean. He’s as clever as he is mean, he’s a dead shot with a firearm, and he spends most of his time drinking. He’s angry to begin with, and very well would have went about killing Mr. Fox for fun, so it probably wasn’t the best idea to give him a good reason to want you dead by stealing from him.

This is all true, unless of course you happen to be fantastic, which is exactly what Mr. Fox is, so the diabolical Mr. Bean just ends up being the perfect foil to show the world just how fantastic Mr. Fox really is.

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9. Lord Blackwood  – Sherlock Holmes

Lord Blackwood is one creepy, ominous son of a bitch. When he isn’t murdering young women, coming back from the dead, or lighting dudes on fire, he is plotting to take over the entire world. Not a bad resume for a villain. However, the best part of Lord Blackwood is that he is merely a dangerous pawn throughout the entire film, unwittingly moved about to serve the purposes of Sherlock’s soon to be arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty. So, here he is being used again, included in this list just so we can discover that it won’t be long before Moriarty is on his way (perhaps Brad Pitt?). Let’s go Guy Ritchie, get this thing rolling.

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10. Michael Bay

Michael Bay…. is a dick. He is, bar none, the most baselessly self-important filmmaker in the history of cinema. I believe it is entirely possible that his next film will be entirely in slow motion, and that it will be nothing more than CGI robots fighting in front of a series of large explosions, moving away from the fighting periodically to film down the shirt of Meghan Fox as she runs for cover from the destruction. That’s basically what we got with his last film, with the brief exception being that there were a few scenes in Revenge of the Fallen that took place at normal speed.

Sadly, he isn’t some fictional character in a movie, he’s a genuine, real life villain. His goal? To make an ass load of money by singlehandedly destroying American film.

He ate his fiber, took a huge dump, called it Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and then everyone paid to go see it. My understanding is that even though much of Avatar’s total gross will come in 2010, the fact that it was released in 2009 means that it will still count toward overtaking T:ROTF as the highest grossing movie of 2009. That is somewhat comforting, but the fact that it took one of the greatest technological feats in cinema history to draw more people to the movies than T:ROTF did is at once mind-numbing and rousingly infuriating.

Hopefully, with films like Iron Man 2 and Inception on their way, 2010 will see the forces of good overcome the darkness once again.

21
Sep
09

summer of movies. [five things. +3]

As the summer movie season is now long dead and gone, it’s long past the time to praise my favorite offerings from summer ’09. I’m the sort of moviegoer who loves the whole indie world, but feels just as home in a well-crafted summer movie. However, heading into the summer I wasn’t holding out much hope for too many strong movies. It is hard to look forward to the likes of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which looked awful even in trailer form. It looks like this year was going to be a jarring letdown after last summer, in which we were spoiled with the likes of The Dark Knight and Iron Man. To my delight, while this summer wasn’t crammed with goodness week in and week out, there were still some movies I fell in love with. As always, I missed a bunch of movies I still look forward to seeing, so the list isn’t as exhaustive as I’d like.

1. Star Trek

For my money, you can’t have more fun at the movies than this. Just a week after the summer got off to a dismal start with a “story” which removed everything that makes Wolverine a great character, redemption came in the form of Star Trek. From start to finish the pleasure sensor in my brain was firing with wreckless abandon, and with a few forgivable exceptions, the film doesn’t require one to check their brain at the door.

Our group on opening night included, among others, my wife, who wouldn’t know Captain Kirk if he sat in her lap, myself, I’m not a huge fan but I enjoyed Wrath of Khan and First Contact as much as the next guy or gal, another friend who is a fairly big Star Trek fan, and Brian, who couldn’t watch trailers for the film without laughing out loud. As you can see, a diverse group in terms of expectations. In the end, everyone loved it.

For me, it didn’t take very long, by the time the opening segment ended and the title and logo graced the screen for the first time, I turned to Emily and whispered, “Holy shit, that was fucking awesome.” Flat out fun storytelling, right out of the gate. It kept going strong from that point on, quickly joining Iron Man and Batman as franchises in which I am itching for the next installment.

If you haven’t seen Star Trek yet, you most definitely should.

Star Trek Crew Banner

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2. Up

After a few more weeks in which nothing thrilled me at the movies, the film I was looking forward to most in the early summer months came out, Pixar’s Up. I’m always impressed with how well, and how consistently, Pixar tells a great story. Up was as good as anything Pixar has done to this point. The themes of loss, aging, death, loneliness and the redemptive power of loving others and being loved brought tears to my eyes more consistently than any other film in recent memory. I cried before the film’s story was even off and running, as Pixar offered a stunning montage of Carl and Ellie Fredrickson and their life together. Pixar is just so amazingly good at what they do, if you don’t like them, I think there might be something wrong with your brain.

Plus, if all the stuff I mentioned above isn’t enough, Ed Asner voices the crotchety but lovable old man. It doesn’t get more perfect than that folks, Ed Asner just happens to be America’s #1 crotchety but lovable old man. He was fantastic.

Plus, there are dogs with talking collars who fly planes, and there’s plenty of enjoyable action and comedy. The movie has everything. Come on! How could you not love Up?

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3. The Hangover

The HangoverWe laughed consistently and with volume, the unraveling of the mystery of what happened the night before effectively twisted the storytelling just enough to keep it from feeling like everything else out there, and we were entertained from start to finish. I don’t really ask for much more than that from a summer comedy.

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4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

There was a long stretch of weeks after The Hangover just waiting for Harry Potter. During that time, yes, I did go see Transformers 2, and yes, it really was as awful as you imagined. Fortunately, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was as good as I’d hoped.

harry-potter-and-the-half-blood-prince-photo

I’m excited to see that David Yates continued the brilliant film making he started in Order of the Phoenix, it bodes well for what waits for us in Deathly Hallows 1 & 2. He certainly made some changes I could have done without, but all in all it seems like he gets what these stories are about and retains the symbols that stayed with me while reading the books. The imagery pointing to love being stronger than evil, resurrection, and light overcoming the darkness was on full display, as it should have been. Obviously, I can’t wait for 7.1!

5. (500) Days of Summer

500-days-of-summer

(500) Day of Summer seems to be one of those love it or hate it type films. As its presence on this list makes clear, I fall in the ‘love it’ category. It was different, quirky, and charming. I found the leads awkwardly likable in a way that made them feel like real people as opposed to the perfectly measured fake people in so many other romantic comedies, if that’s what you can call this movie.

It brought me back to college experiences where I fell into both categories on display in the film. It was everything I was hoping it would be, I loved it.

6. Paper Heart

Paper HeartLike the film listed above it, this was yet another film that was either loved or hated. The fact that I hated several movies that came out this summer assures me I’m not turning into one of those guys who loves everything that comes out. I just happened to love (500) Days AND Paper Heart. Sue me.

Part documentary, part scripted awkward love story, it brought something new to the table by combining elements that already existed. A mash-up of sorts that succeeded in creating a story at once charming and knowing. Also, I loved the segments in which they acted out the stories told by interviewees with puppets.

One complaint I heard was that the fact that the portions between Cera and Yi were scripted ruined the movie because it was a lie. First, it wasn’t a lie because they never pretended it wasn’t scripted outside of the actual film. Second, that’s the dumbest accusation I’ve ever heard… all movies are scripted, why on earth is it different because this script pretended to be a documentary. Does that mean This is Spinal Tap wasn’t hilarious and awesome?!? You’d better not say yes! Why should Paper Heart be faulted because they did a great job making the scripted moments feel genuine and authentic. Isn’t that what all movies are trying to do? Ugh, what a dumb problem to have with a movie!

The more common complaint about the film was that some felt Charlyne Yi was annoying. Fair enough, that’s bound to happen. In the immortal words of Trent “Some people don’t like me, I don’t like some people.” To each their own. I thought Yi was adorable and easy to love, and I felt the same way about Paper Heart.

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7. District 9

District 9As is the case for all of these movies, to really get into all that I loved about this movie, I would need a whole blog post. As my blogging infrequency makes clear of late, that’s just not something I have time to do at the moment. However, suffice it to say that this is another film that did something for a small enough amount of money that they were actually able to tell an engaging story. Without a studio paying careful attention to where each of their many millions was going, Neill Blomkamp was free to tell a sci-fi story without worrying about Happy Meals and action figures. Thus, it was able to be all the things science fiction should be, filled with commentary on real life issues and events, along with warnings about what human beings are capable of, for good and for evil.

I know the film has gotten plenty of critical acclaim, as is evidenced by the 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but even so, Sharito Copley’s performance as the lead simply has to be referred to as underrated. It was brilliant. The way he incarnates the metamorphosis from coward to hero, the way he made me feel it as his transformation from human to alien actually made him truly human for the first time was nothing short of brilliant. I loved his performance, and I loved District 9, even if the advertising did give away the climax of the movie.

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8. Inglourious Basterds

Whenever I say I have moral qualms with a movie I can’t help but feel taken back to those early evangelical days when I it was seen as sinful to watch R-rated movies (unless that movie is The Matrix or The Passion of the Christ). However, I do in fact have moral qualms with the reality that Tarantino seems to have completely bought in to the myth of redemptive violence, and more importantly, there are two key moments in the film that seem to revel in violence toward women. Maybe I misread those scenes and they are meant to be horrifying, but instead that’s not what I got at all. So, my appreciation of the film was certainly tempered a bit.

Maybe the reasons listed above should have kept me from loving Inglourious Basterds altogether, but instead they simply kept my from buying in with my whole heart. So many scenes in this film just sucked me in. Tarantino knows how to do what he does, from the tension tinged with humor of the opening moments, to the overwhelmingly cool scenes littered throughout the rest of the film, there are simply no two ways about it, Tarantino can craft a mood and a moment. The look, the feel, the remarkable grasp of how to use music to the effect he wants. That’s his shtick and he does it oh so well, for me, this may be the best he’s ever done it.

In addition to that, I love great performances, and I love great villains. I got a great performance from several different actors, while getting both the performance and the villain from the bone-chillingly remarkable Christoph Waltz. So many performances lit up the screen, Christoph, Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, even BJ Novak was great in his first big role that wasn’t on The [American] Office.

The day after I saw the film, I found myself tempted to head back to the theater to see it again. It was a great film to close out my summer.

Inglourious Basterds

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(Movies I missed this summer, but most hope to see soon: The Limits of Control, Away We Go, The Hurt Locker, Moon, Public Enemies, Cold Souls)

The fall/winter movie season looks quite promising, so hopefully I’ll be back at the movies soon.


22
Jan
09

trailer park thursday. 1.22.09

It’s been a pretty slow week as far as good movie trailers go. Thus, only two trailers, and one isn’t even included because I want to see it. Sad, but true.

500 Days of Summer

Who’s Involved?:

Director: Marc Webb

Writer: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber

Cast: Zooey Deschanel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

What is it?: “This isn’t a love story, it’s a story about love.”

Why I’m Interested: I actually saw this trailer last week immediately after posting ‘trailer park thursday.’ First off, to its credit, it features the lovely co-winner of Paste Magazine’s Album of the Year, Zooey Deschanel.

As far as the rest of the film goes, I’m not sure what it may be, is it a musical? There was definitely some dancing in there, was that a dream sequence of some sort? I don’t know what it is, but I like it.

Horsemen

Who’s Involved?:

Director: Jonas Akerlund

Writer: David Callaham

Cast: Dennis Quaid, Ziyi Zhang, Clifton Collins Jr.

What is it?: If the trailer is to be believed, I think a few studio execs were sitting around when one said, “Hey, Seven was a successful movie right? What if we just borrowed most of that and pretended it was something new by focusing on Revelation instead. Let’s see if we can get the ball rolling on that.”

Why I’m Interested: The reason I’m interested in this trailer isn’t actually because of a desire to see the movie, but instead because I am continually amazed by how consistently studios try to recycle the past in order to avoid risk.




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