November 29, 2008

Zero Percent Fat

It would appear that gay civil rights is all the rage right now. What with the Prop. 8 controversy four weeks ago, to just last weekend, when Were The World Mine offered a fantastical look on what it was like to be a homosexual, gay rights has been in the forefront of a lot of people's minds. The new film, Milk, tells the true story of the man who fought to get equal rights for his fellow gays, and it is a very faithful adaptation of his crusade. It's also sensational.
In 1970, Harvey Milk was working for an insurance company in New York City. In 1977, he was elected to the office of City Supervisor for the City of San Francisco. He was the first openly gay man ever elected to a public office. A year later, he was dead, gunned down in his office by a fellow co-worker. The set up is that Milk is recording his memoirs on tape, relaying the information to the viewer. Many pivotal and important events in the fight for gay rights are documented here, from Milk's defeat of the Briggs Initiative, to the 1978 San Francisco Gay Freedom Day March. At just over two hours, the movie is the right length, covering everything, but not dwelling too long on something. It moves at a breakneck pace, keeping the viewer completely enthralled in what is going on. 
Sean Penn plays Milk. Is there anything I need to say about his performance. No. Just by watching a trailer, you know that he is brilliant. From Milk's mannerisms, to his accent, to the way he dressed, walked, blinked his eyes, whatever, Penn nails it. He is so good here, from his humorous conversations with his campaign team, to the heartbreaking ending. Will he win Oscar number two for this? Bet on it. Emile Hirsch plays Cleve Jones, the man Harvey turned to when he needed a crowd. Coming off his astounding performance in Into the Wild, and his ok performance in Speed Racer, Hirsch reminds us, yet again, why he is a serious player in Hollywood. James Franco plays Scott Smith, Milk's lover who moves to San Francisco with him. With this and his hysterical performance in Pineapple Express, Franco is having a career year, making us forget about his pretty boy stints in Flyboys and  Annapolis. He will also be another serious player, come Oscar time. The last big role falls to Josh Brolin. He plays Dan White, a fellow supervisor of Milk's, and ultimately, the man who murdered him and Mayor George Moscone. Brolin proves, yet again, that he is, quite possibly, the best actor working today. His performance as the conflicted and troubled White, while certainly more contained then his scenery chewing performance as George W. Bush last month, is fantastic. Pretty much every single actor featured here is astounding. Expect to see Penn's, Hirsch's, and Franco's named mentioned when the Oscar nominations are announced. 
Director Gus Van Sant is master worker. This is certainly his most ambitious project, and easily his best. Yes, that's right. I said it. Milk is a better movie then Good Will Hunting. You heard it here first, folks. Now, I knew Van Sant would be able to handle the story of Milk with deft hands and an open mind, but what really astonished me is his attentions to the little details. Everything, from the clothes, hairstyles, and mannerisms are all displayed exactly as the were. Now, I guess these can all be attributed to the costume designers and hair stylists, but, hey, at the end of the day, they all work for him. Another thing that he handled really well was the integration of actual footage into the framework of the film. It is seamless how he takes actual, documented footage of a march, and intersperses it with footage that he filmed. It sounds a bit crazy, but it makes the story even more grounded in reality. And then, after all that, Van Sant manages to deliver one of the most heart wrenchingly sad endings to come along since Schindler's List
Milk is one of those movies that see the light of day only every so often. It's a bit uncanny how it is appearing when all this shit with Prop. 8 is going on, but it is relevant. It's sad; terribly sad, less so because the story ends on a sad note, and more so because this movie hammers home the fact that, after all the things Milk did, almost nothing has changed. The same arguments are still being used; the same problems are still arising. It's bullshit, I know, but that's life. Thank God we had people like Milk to give us some hope. 

November 22, 2008

All The World's A Stage

Wow. It would appear as if I have gone soft. No really. I just got out of Were The World Mine, and I actually felt happy. I usually never feel happy after I leave a movie. I am usually brooding on the films deeper meaning, or in a fit of rage that I had just spent $10 on a piece of garbage. But, Were The World Mine was the exception. All it is is a small love story/ musical that left me with a smile on my face. It has it's problems, to be sure, but they don't detract from the overall giddiness you'll feel when you leave.
So, there's Timothy. Timothy is having hard times at school, hard times at home, just hard times in general. Most of this stems from the fact that he is out as gay, which made his father leave him and his mother, and giving the boys in school a chance to give him tons of shit. If it weren't for the fact that he had two really good friends, he would probably be pushing up daisies. He is also prone to delving in musical daydreams, usually involving the topless figure of his crush, the school's star rugby player. When the Shakespeare teacher casts him as Puck in Midsummer Nights Dream, he gets a bright idea. He is going to pull a Puck, and make everyone in town fall in love with each other, only there's a catch. Everyone is gonna be gay, so they can walk in his shoes for a little bit. Mischief ensues. 
Tanner Cohen plays Timothy. He's fairly unknown, like everyone in this, so it's easy to accept him as this character. He does a good job, bringing some real emotion to a character that could have easily been exploited. Zelda Williams (daughter of Robin) plays Timothy's best friend, Frankie. She is a self described "heteroflexible", meaning, she's straight, but shit happens. She has been legally emancipated at the age of fifteen, and as such, spends most of her walking around with her guitar. Williams is very good as this spunky, very cool kid. It doesn't hurt that she writes good songs. The other main role falls to Wendy Robie as the Shakespeare teacher/play director, and she is sensational. Like Steve Coogan's drama teacher in Hamlet 2, Robie bears strikingly resemblance to any theatre teacher who loves what they do. She has so many lines that could've come off as stupid or insipid, but her hands, they come off as gold. Solid gold! All the other supporting parts are good as well. 
Director Tom Gustafson has one wild imagination. Seeing as most of the musical numbers are in the Timothy's head, the director is free to go nuts and deliver something unlike any thing we've seen before. They are all very flashy and frenetic, and you can't help but love each and everyone. Now, you may think that with all the emphasis put on the musical numbers, the heart to heart stuff and regular dialogue would fall flat. Not so! The characters are given all the space they need to become fleshed out. We really sympathize with them in the end. 
Now, onto the most important part of a musical, the music. The music in Were The World Mine is not going to win any awards, but it will keep you entertained as you watch. At one point, there are the fantastical dream sequences, and at others, there are songs set in the real world, and in real time. It's kind of like Once in that regard. Most of the songs are well written, with many of them borrowing actual text from Shakespeare himself. Does that sound crazy? I thought so too, but it works, to a an alarming degree. Since most of the music is great, it's a shame that the finale (sung by Williams, no less) fails to deliver that punch needed in finale. Oh, did I just name a flaw. Oh well, I guess I should name some more. 
First off, there's pacing. The movie starts off great, with a dodgeball game turned into a operatic daydream, and then it just stalls for 45 minutes while we get to know everyone around Timothy. Timothy doesn't engineer his brilliant scheme until about an hour into the movie, and that, in turn, makes the rest of it seemed rushed. I wish they had spent more time with everyone falling in love with each other, rather then dwelling on Timothy's mom and her pathetic attempts at lotion selling. Also, some of the supporting characters are way too over the top and cliched, like a homophobic gym teacher, or a Bible spewing parent. They don't read as real people, and read as the archetypes that you need to put in a story like this. And don't even get me started on the ending. Let's just say that there was only one way this movie was going to end, and that's how it turned out. 
But the main thing that might dissuade people from seeing Were The World Mine is that the film is gay. Like, aggressively gay. This isn't a problem at all, but, well, let's just say that there are a lot of scenes involving dudes in tight shirts and glitter. I personally loved because of this, seeing at it was something I usually don't get the chance to experience. But, you know, there are those people out there who are not easily swayed, and they may not like it because of that. But, please, get past that and grow up. In this day and age, I think we can handle a movie that deals with something you'd rather not deal with. And Were The World Mine is a movie that, I think, people will get, and enjoy. Whether you be gay, straight, or somewhere in between, you should seek out this movie. You will thank me later. 

November 21, 2008

Lion Falls in Love With Lamb. Stupid Movie Goer!

Uggg. I haven't been looking forward to this. Like that little speck in the sky that is the massive asteroid that will eventually end all life on our planet, Twilight has been looming over me, ready to destroy me with it's supposed earnestness and sweet love story. I saw a trailer of this a while back, and thought, "Dear God! Could they make that movie look more depressing?" I saw it as some cheap, poorly made fantasy story about forbidden love, only it would be the exact same thing we had seen before. And it turns out I was right.
Twilight's premise can be summed up in a few short sentences. Angst ridden teenager moves to Depressistan. Teenager meets and falls in love with recluse boy. Turns out boy is a vampire. Shit happens. Ok, fine, that's a bit harsh. Here are the details. Angst ridden teenager Bella Swan moves to Forks, Washington to live with her dad. At school, she meets Edward Cullen. Her emotions toward Eddie are a bit mixed, seeing as she is mesmerized by him despite the fact that he acts like a huge dick to her most of the time. It turns out that he is a vampire, and he really wants to drink her blood. So he's being a dick to push her away. Yeah, but Bella's not gonna take that. Eventually they fall in love. Everything works out alright, you say? Ha, foolish human. By some strange coincidence, another pack of vampires comes to town, and they really want to drink Bella's blood. Vampire violence and cheesy love ensues. On the surface, it looks original, but as you progress, it's just a hip, more emo version of Beauty and the Beast. It doesn't really bring anything new to the whole "forbidden love" style of story telling, and I, due to the fact that I am dead inside, found the love story to be completely ludicrous, and actually a little creepy. There are some good moments, but I will talk about them later.   
Kristen Stewart plays Bella. I've heard from a friend of mine that the character of Bella is not supposed to be pretty. So, I guess that aspect of the story got thrown to the dogs, because Bella is quite a looker in this one. She actually does a pretty good job, conveying the right amount of emotion when she needs to. So she basically needs to look distressed for the entire thing. But, she does a decent job, despite the script and direction. Robert Pattison plays Edward. You may remember Pattison from the way his body pirouetted through the air as he died in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire. (Speaking of which, the new trailer for Harry Potter is attached to this.) And guess what. He did a much better job in that movie then he does here. Sure, he is beautiful, but, unlike Stewart, that is the only thing he has going for him. You see him walk into the frame, and all you can think is, "My God, he is so white!" There is something wrong with a movie when all you can think about is the main character's skin color. There are other supporting roles, but they're not worth mentioning. I will say that Cam Gigandet does a great job as the bad vampire. He looks like he would suck your blood, unlike Edward. 
Director Catherine Hardwicke is not the most likely choice to direct this. On reflection, she probably shouldn't have. Her best movie was Lords of Dogtown, which saw Heath Ledger and Emile Hirsh skateboarding and being cool. This movie could not be more different from that. Instead of the vibrant colors she used in Lords, Hardwicke is employing the My Chemical Romance color palette. That is, gray, white, gray, a little red, gray, some other colors, and gray. This is probably the most visually depressing film I have seen this year. The fact that all the other characters, with there just short of albino skin, almost blend into the background doesn't really help. I don't know what you think, but it helps your movie if you can actually see the characters. The special effects are pretty bad as well. They consist of a vampire running real fast, jumping to enormous heights, or grappling with another vampire. The technique used is simple. Blur the image of the character as he runs, so it looks like he's running fast. You' think they could do better. This movie probably had a huge budget, and by the looks of it, most of that went into voice lessons for Pattison, so that he could cover up that sexy British accent of his. This is not a well directed or visually compelling movie, to say the least. 
Now, and I going a lot of crap for this, despite the fact that it is a love story, and it's meant for "young adults," it is still a vampire story, and that is the movie's biggest flaw. It doesn't feel like a vampire movie. A vampire movie should scare you, a lot. Hey, Dracula was technically a love story, but Dracula managed to scare the shit out of me. Hell, even Queen of the Damned does a better job at giving us potentially life threatening and dangerous beasts. And, for those who care to know, Queen of the Damned sucked. Anyway, Edward goes on and on about he is a monster, that he's killed people. Forgive me, but it doesn't look like he's killed so much as a gerbil in his entire immortal life span. Yeah, I know, I know, I know, this is a different type of vampire, but I don't care. Give me some proof that this guy would rip my head off, drink my blood and enjoy it, and maybe I'll hop on the band wagon.
Now, I said I would talk about the good scenes. There is one good scene that I liked. A dude has his head and appendages ripped off and burned. Delicious.
But, you know what? What I am saying has no bearing on how people will view this. Twilight will make absurd amounts of money. It will probably spawn a clothing line, lunch boxes, beach towels, Hasbro action figures, and more. You have already decided if you love Twilight or not. It will appeal to it's fans; they will just eat it up. I know I'm not the target audience, but then, I do not consider myself the target audience for any film. I review based on the quality of the film, not because I was biased toward the thing before I even went in. So, if you are already a fan, go for it. Damn the torpedoes. For the rest of you? Rent Interview With a Vampire. 

November 15, 2008

The Epitome of Masculine

Oh my. It's been awhile, hasn't it? Yeah, sorry about that. It's been a busy few weeks, and I have been kept away from the theaters to see movies like Changeling and Zack and Miri Make A Porno. But, c'mon. There is only one movie out this month that you, or anyone else, cares about. Well, here's the verdict. 
Quantum of Solace, being the first true sequel in the James Bond saga, starts off about 10 seconds after Casino Royale ended, with one of the most ball's tightening awesome car chases ever. After shaking off his pursuers, Bond meets with M and the hostage he was transporting, Mr. White. After a quick interrogation, we learn that the organization that Mr. White works for is everywhere, prompting Bond to go globe trotting trying to find out who they are. The organization is kind of like SPECTRE, only more nefarious and more eco-friendly. Bond himself, however, is not motivated by finding the organization, but rather finding the people who killed his lover in Casino. Soon, he stumbles upon a plot involving eco-titan Dominic Greene and a Bolivian general. They want to stage a coup so they can seize a valuable resource somewhere in the desert. Bond's female ally in this one is Camille, a sexy and tough woman who undercover in Greene's organization for her own goals. Crazily brutal violence ensues. 
Daniel Craig is back as Bond. He has really come into his own as the British super spy, bringing a Bourne-esque realism to the role. This movie doesn't really let him explore the character of Bond as much as Casino Royale did, but he still manages to get some human emotion out of the character; much more then Pierce Brosnan ever did. Olga Kurylenko is Camille, and while she doesn't hold a candle to the wit and sexiness of Eva Green, she does a fine job as the feminie badass, and I believe she is the first female lead in a Bond movie that does not go to bed with the man. Mathieu Almaric plays nefarious baddy Dominic Greene. The first thing you notice about him is that his eyes bug out of his head to an alarming point. I guess it's to make up for the fact they were mostly closed in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. He is more of a creepy villain along the lines of Gustav Graves rather then a truly evil one, a la Goldfinger. He's not the best, but he's not the worst, certainly better then that media tycoon in Tomorrow Never Dies. Judi Dench is back as M. She does the same thing she has done in the last five movies. But, that doesn't matter. She was great in those, and she is great here. There are two returning characters from Casino as well as some new ones that I didn't deem important enough to discuss. 
Director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, of all things) is absolutely frenetic with his action scenes. The camera jumps around like it's just had ten double espressos, the stars perform crazy physical feats, and the body count is about double that of Casino. This is an action movie, through and through, and therein lies Quantum's main issue. It relies too heavily on the action instead of the characters to forward the plot. This is not an uncommon thing for this franchise, but after the Casino Royale did character growth so well, it's a little disappointing. That's not to say that the amount of action should dissuade you from seeing it. Far from it. The action is so well done that it almost makes up for the lessened attention to characters. There are tons, literally tons, of "OMIGOD DIDYOUSEETHAT!!" moments in the film. Some action scenes seem like they were thrown in for shits and giggles, like an uninspired plane chase, but the rest are really well done and exciting. They make the movie entertaining, and that's the most you should expect from it. 
On a side note: The new theme song, "Another Way To Die," performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys, and written by White, gets a resounding "eh" from me. It's not that it's a bad song, it's just it's hard rock roots don't fit well with Bond mythos. It's certainly not as good as Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name," but, I guess it gets the job done.
Is Quantum of Solace the best Bond movie ever? Hell no. That will always be Goldfinger. Is it the best of the Daniel Craig Bond movies? No. What it is is a coldly efficient and hardcore action movie that further cements the new Bond into the bottom of our hearts. You walk out of the theatre feeling as if you senses have experienced a thrill ride; you will understand where the confusing title came from; and you will be eagerly anticipating the next foray in MI6 espionage. Daniel Craig hasn't dethroned Sean Connery yet, but, if he keeps up the way he is going, he is well on his way.