Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Danny's Summer Movie Wrap-Up: Brothers Grimm and The Wedding Crashers Reviewed!


As much as CGI has enabled some really cool stuff to be done in movies, there is a certain magic to be had in that old-school special effects wizardry. Whenever you tune into some classic 80's fantasy movie, like, say The Neverending Story, everything is just brimming with detail, dimension, and imagination. So I had high hopes going into Terry Gilliam's latest fantasy opus, because the man has imagination coming out of his ears. Look at Time Bandits, Brazil, or 12 Monkeys. Gilliam is a classic, a visionary, an artist. And he has more problems with studio executives while making each of his movies that you can shake a stick at. Unfortunately, while The Brother's Grimm is a visual feast - brimming with trademark Gilliam imagination and surreality, it is also a mess. The plot is all over the place. The editing and pacing is jumpy and uneven, and the story gets mired in confusion and pointlessness and lack of much internal logic. Sadly, all the pieces are in place for a great, timeless movie. The cast, for one, is superb. Matt Damon and Heath Ledger are surprisingly great as the Brothers Grimm, and who knew that Ledger had the kind of crazy-comic acting chops on display here? The leads are perfect and on the mark, the supporting cast is great as well. The plot and pacing is where the problem lies. The whole movie just seems pointless and nonsensical, as if it were trying to have a big, complex, Hollywood adventure story when all Gilliam really wanted was to flex his visual muscle, and he seems to be saying "to hell with this script, I'm just gonna have some fun with this thing." And so, despite the spotty plot structure, all is forgotten in the movie's several moments of visual genious. The magic of Gilliam's unique style shines through every so often, and these moments alone make the movie at least worth checking out for the curious. Where else do you see a demonic horse trap a child in a web and devour him whole? Or how about a blob-like creature that emerges from a well and proceeds to cause havoc in a town square? Or what about the amazing sequence where Monica Belluci as a cursed princess is turned to mirror-glass and then shattered into a million pieces? Awesome stuff, but there's barely anything there to tie it all together. This movie, visually, will remind you of some long-forgotten 80's fantasy - it has that otherworldly gloss of Time Bandits and Labrynth and other such movies. But its tone is so scattered and incoherant ... with few lines that recall the Monty Python-derived wit that you might think Gilliam would try to infuse this movie with. I'm not sure what the specific story was with the making of this movie, but the reports that there was conflict behind the scenes seems to ring true in the final product, because the movie is very uneven, a far cry from being a fully realized vision. I guess that when compared to other bad entries in the fantasy-adventure genre this is at least something unique and captivating in its own way. But mostly it is something that should be seen, sure - by all means, see this misguided attempt at brilliance and support an amazing director like Gilliam, rather than spending dollars on Deuce Begelow or some other generic Hollywood crap. But ultimately this movie will whet your appetite for something amazing, but it's not one that will leave you wholly satisfied with the finished product. Kind of a tragedy, when there is so much to like about it. Oh well, maybe next time. My grade: C +


... And to be honest, I am getting kinda sick of the whole "Frat Pack." I like people like Will Ferrell and Owen Wilson when they stick to crazy, out-there, interesting material. Ferell to me was at his best in Anchorman, for example, not in Old School. I am a big fan of Owen Wilson's work in quirky comedies like The Life Aquatic. Vince Vaughn, well, I can't say I'm a superfan of his or anything. I appreciate his obvious talent for comedy but I just don't find him particularly funny, at least more so than a bunch of other comedians who are probably more deserving of all the attention that Vaughn has garnered recently (example: see the underrated cast of 40 Year Old Virgin like Seth Rogan and Paul Rudd, who seem to me much more likable and comedically gifted than Vaughn, even if they don't have his "look at me I'm a cool 40 year old fratboy" image). Anyways, I won't lie - I laughed my ass off during a large portion of this movie. But I also cringed and yawned alternatively through the LAME "romantic comedy" portions, which were pretty ludicrous even within the strained limits of credibility that the genre enjoys. Unlike the 40 Year Old Virgin, where I really liked the main romance between Steve Carell and Catherine Keener, this movie tried to be way too sappy with its totally annoying and ridiculous romance between Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams. So ... they like each other because why? Oh yeah, it's a movie, we don't need to develop a relationship, just tell us to accept that after one day and one thirty second speech at her sister's wedding, the two are madly in love despite about a million reasons why McAdams should completely hate Wilson's character. So yeah, wasn't crazy about that. But the supporting cast was great, McAdams is gonna be a huge star, it had friggin' Christopher Walken, and, yeah, overall, it was an enjoyable movie with a decent number of big-laugh getting scenes. If I watched it a second time would it be nearly as amusing? No. Is this in any way deserving of all the hype surrounding it? Gotta say no. But, darn it all, how can I resist the flavor of the month actors like Vaughn who are suddenly comedic geniouses in the eyes of so many critics? Let's not get carried away here. Decent comedy, by no means a classic. My grade: B -

So, it's official then - the end of the summer movie season. Like I've said before, it was a pretty damn good few months for movies, despite what the naysayers naysay. So here ya go, my own Top 11 Movies of the Summer:

1.) Batman Begins - possibly best comic book based movie ever - saw it twice, friggin' awesome
2.) Hustle and Flow - sleeper hit of the year, Terrance Howard was great - whoop that trick!
3.) Star Wars: Episode III - Ian McDiarmid owns this movie and it's the last ever Star Wars - and actually good! Gotta love the riveting last 45 minutes
4.) War of the Worlds - has its detractors, I know, but come on, THIS is how you do action scenes 5.) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Tim Burton at his quirky best - amazing visually and a great ensemble of talented actors
6.) March of the Penguins - a unique look at this summer's unlikeliest of heroes - penguins
7.) Cinderella Man - Why did nobody see this? Another great performance from Russell Crowe
8.) 40 Year Old Virgin - Best comedy of the summer, great cast, funny stuff
9.) Broken Flowers - Bill Murray again delivers in this subtle but thought-provoking comedy
10.) Sky High - Don't laugh, this movie was great! Come on, it has Bruce Campell in it ...

Biggest Disappointments of the Summer: The Island, Fantastic Four, Brothers Grimm ...

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Whoop That Trick: Hustle and Flow Review and MORE

Yo yo yo let me speak on this.

So good thing that I waited to see Hustle and Flow until now. Why? Because it was playing for free at NBC today, that's why, fool.

So let's get on with it.


Wow - great movie. That about sums it up. It took me a little while to get into it, but as this story of a pimp who dreams of getting into the music biz began to unfold, I was hooked. First off, Terrance Howard, as the lead characer, D-Jay, is absolutely phenomenal in this film. He is captivating and charismatic - he makes you really sympathize with and relate to a character who is essentially a lowlife piece of scum. But Howard injects D-Jay with and incredible level of humanity, and even though this world of pimps and turning tricks is (hopefully) remote and alien to most of you, there are numerous instances where you completely relate to the emotions that D-Jay is experiencing. All across the board, the acting in the movie is great. Anthony Anderson puts in probably the best performance of his career as D-Jay's white collar music producer friend, and DJ Qualls adds some humor to the movie as well. The female leads are all outstanding as well, and unfortunately I am not really familiar with any of their previous work, suffice to say that the ensemble cast in this film really is universally amazing, and even Isaac Hayes puts in an appearance in a small supporting role. But Howard steals the show, and though he is surrounded by a great supporting cast, this is, ultimately, his movie.

The musical scenes in the movie really stand out. You can almost feel the sparks of creativity crackling in the makeshift recording studios as D-Jay tries to come up with lyrics and beats for his songs. And the music is actually great in this movie, and if you have any appreciation for rap or hip hop whatsoever you'll probably leave this movie with its catchy songs and verses in your head for a long while.

Hustle and Flow really is a great movie - one of the best of the summer and a real sleeper hit. It's filled with emotion and resonance, and some of the twists and turns of the plot towards the end were pretty crazy - this movie definitely takes you on - and sorry to use such a cliche - an emotional rollercoaster. A hip-hop epic on par with the best movies of the year. Great cast, great script, great direction, and a rocking soundtrack to boot. So yeah, ch ch ch ch check it out, son. My grade: A

- So ... to once again reitirate how many good movies have actually been out this summer, let's take a look at what we've been treated to, in what has been, in fact, a GREAT summer for movies. Here are a bunch of movies that were all at the least pretty darn good, and at the best friggin' awesome (plus keep in mind that I still haven't seen Wedding Crashers, and we still have Brothers Grimm and 40 Year Old Virgin coming out in the next few weeks):

- Batman Begins
- Star Wars: Episode III
- War of the Worlds
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
- March of the Penguins
- Bad News Bears
- Sky High
- Cinderella Man
- Hustle and Flow
- Broken Flowers

Not bad if you ask me.

What else?


Yesterday the Tonight Show saw one of its best lead guests in a while. Yup, you guessed it - Frank Stallone. No, just kidding, it was only the Best. Weekend Update Anchor. Ever. - Norm freakin' McDonald, who reaffirmed that he is one hilarious bastard. Norm had me rolling in laughter, which is not something that usually happens to me while watching the Tonight Show. Not too much else of not to report from the hallowed halls at NBC, except that, OF COURSE, the page program finally gets it's $%#& together and plans a great networking event, where former pages will come and talk with us about their current jobs, and schedules it THE ONE DAY THAT I WILL BE AWAY!!! Nice going, you idiots! (um, if any of you "idiots" are reading this, I meant that in the nicest way possible ...).


Speaking of NBC, the peacock network that can't do anything right finally aired something good last night - and of all things it was a reality show, which I usually don't like. Yes, I am here to tell you that TOMMY LEE GOES TO COLLEGE is downright hilarious and highly entertaining. And it actually gets you rooting for the guy to succeed, get good grades, and make the marching band. Good going, NBC. And lo and behold, I watched NBC once again tonight - I tuned into the Office marathon tonight to do some, er "resaearch" for the spec script that I am in theory supposed to be working on so I'll actually have something current to show people should the opportunity arise. Still can't say I'm a huge fan of the American version of the show, but the premise is so open ended that there is pretty much limitless potential for scripts, and the cast is very good. It's just that most of the episodes so far are very shallow and one-note compared to the geniously-conceived British version which is both hilarious and richly textured and multi-layered.

VERONICA MARS Stuff -- congrats to LAST YEAR'S BEST NEW SHOW for it's success in the ratings that its reruns on CBS over the last few weeks have garnered. There is hope after all. And, if you unconverted need yet another reason to tune into UPN this fall to watch season 2, KEVIN SMITH has agreed to appear on at least one episode of the show, as a store clerk no less!

In addition to the entertaining Tommy Lee Goes to College, last night also saw a guilty pleasure episode of Real World that was easily one of the most entertaining installments I've seen in a while. The sheer hilarity of Wes blatantly getting his freak on with some completely random girl just to make one of his roommates jealous was definitely worthy of the episode being counted among classic Real World hook-up moments.

Also, once again, I have to give a shout out and a PLEASE WATCH THIS SHOW mention to a supremely hilarious little program on Comedy Central called STELLA. Last night's ep was funny as hell, and guest star Janeane Garofolo, love her or hate her, was in her best Wet Hot American Summer-esque comedic form. If you like crazy, absurd comedy, watch STELLA - Tuesdays, 10:30 pm, Comedy Central.

Upcoming NEW FALL SHOWS I'm Interested In: I am psyched for PRISON BREAK on FOX, looks sweet, in the vein of 24. INVASION on ABC could go either way, but I am definitely ready for a new alien-conspiracy show after watching my X-Files DVD's lately. Speaking of which, I've heard mixed reviews, but due to it's premise and its talent involved, namely Frank Spotnitz (big contributer to X-Files and Millenium), I will probably give the rmake of KOLCHACK: THE NIGHTSTALKER a shot. MY NAME IS EARL with Jason Lee is the one NBC show I am genuinely excited for, even if I've yet to see the pilot, though I have seen the pilot for ABC'S NBC-produced SONS AND DAUGHTERS, a midseason comedy that is hilarious. Oh yeah, that new Chris Rock-produced show on UPN, EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS, could be a potentially good comedy, but really, who the hell knows.


- Went to the ol' Burbank courthouse today and registered for traffic school, aka I forked over more money to Big Brother for, you guessed it, NOT FULLY STOPPING AT A STOP SIGN, WHILE MAKING A RIGHT TURN ... RIGHT OUTSIDE OF MY APARTMENT!

- For those of you have been breathlessly following the saga of me being unable to do my laundry, I finally did my laundry, despite stupid laundry card-point-refill machine still being broken, by purchasing a new card from the office. Exciting, right?

- Saw Minnie Driver (you know, from Goodwill Hunting?) all around NBC today and saw her rehearsal for Leno during one of my tours. Yep, that's right, she sings.

-Hilarious skit on Conan last night with someone i nthe audience wanting "the kosher talk show" and getting it - as Jackie Mason sat in for Conan and rambled on about gefilte fish, his grandson's bar-mitzvah, and his sidekick, some rabbi dude. Oy, now that's funny!


Pamela Anderson and friends, live, in person, on the Tonight Show!

... And that's all for now. More serious political discussion next time on DANNYBARAM.BLOGSPOT.COM. Ya' feel me?

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Broken Flowers Review


Wow, that one really made ya think.

Overall, I have to say I really enjoyed Broken Flowers. It was a slow movie, that is for sure. But although it took me a while to really get into it, after about half an hour I was totally absorbed into the spellbinding flow of Jim Jarmusch's reflective look at a former Don Juan's journey through the fragmented pieces of his own history. The movie follows a simple premise - Bill Murray plays Don Johnston ("with a T") - an aging ladies' man who discovers that he may have a 20-year old son, and visits a number of his former lady-friends in order to solve this mystery - a puzzle which he may or may not actually have any real interest in solving.

Performance-wise, Bill Murray was fantastic in this film, though he is so naturalistic that he almost makes you wonder how much of his role is acting and how much is simply an extension of the now-familiar, dour and world-weary persona he's developed and honed in recent movies like Lost in Translation, Rushmore, and The Life Aquatic. What you get here from Murray is covering pretty familiar territory, but it's still an engrossing, nuanced performance that is worthy of lots of praise. Likewise, the female leads in the movie seem to mimic Murray's naturalism. Formerly glamorous stars like Sharon Stone and Jessica Lange are deglamorized here, and surprisingly fit right into the movie's stark, sad world where the "reality" of wrinkles, aging, and other blemishes usually hidden by the camera are instead fully revealed and exposed.

Basically, this is one of those movies, like a Lost in Translation or About Schmidt, that is really more of a meditation on various themes - on characters, on small details and nuance, on life - that it does not necessarily follow a traditional story structure or present a real sense of character development, let alone closure to the main character's journey. And that can at times be frustrating, but mostly it's just very refreshing - Jarmusch leaves plenty of room for interpretation, and he provides plenty of small scenes, patterns, and images that really resonate during and after you see this film. While the pacing was often almost excruciatingly slow, you have to admire the artful manner in which Broken Flowers is shot. Seeing this movie's unique style definitely piqued my interest in seeing other Jarmusch films, as this was the first one I've yet gotten a chance to check out.

Anyways, I definitely recommend this film for a HUGE change of pace from most of this summer's rapid-fire blockbusters. This movie is slow, deliberate, and sparse, and can be hit and miss with some of its dialogue and character moments. But it's also brilliantly shot and acted, funny, and one of the most thought-provoking movies that I've seen in a while.

My grade: A -

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

RAY GUNS! Sky High! Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!


Now I admit, Sky High looked pretty sketch from the early commercials and previews ... but I realized something fro mreading Harry Knowles Ain't It Cool review a week or so back - this film had potential to be awesome. I mean look at the cast of adults. You've got SNAKE PLISKEN and ASH together! You've got WONDER WOMAN! You've got two of the KIDS IN THE HALL! Now that - THAT is how you cast a FUN superhero movie. But anyways, Harry's review conveyed something that came through even amidst his usual over-enthusiastic ravings. Something shone through that any geek could read and spot - a true, true passion for this movie. So I was psyched to see it, and yet had something gnawing at me telling me that the doubters were correct - the movie would be cheesy, derivative crap. But that was far from the case. I loved the movie, and not only that I think it will become a kids' classic. Because as much as I could enjoy and appreciate this movie now, if I saw this at age 10 or 12, whoah boy, this would have been IT. Why? Let me try to explain:

- The movie is really a perfect blend of John Hughes-esque high school comedy with all things superhero. In fact it's exactly what you'd expect that kind of mash-up to be. But it's done so well - every beat is hit to such perfection, that even the predictable twists and turns of the plot are great, because so much thought and care and imagination is put into each CHARACTER that you are dying for the boy to get the girl, for the underdog to have his moment in the sun, for the bad guys to get their due. Now in this age of endless formulaic movies and remakes and rehashed ideas, it might seem like this is just another one of those. But as far as I'm concerned the story of the high school underdog is one that can and needs to be eternally retold, and as long as it's done well, then hey, go for it. There will always be a new generation of misfits, outcasts, and geeks who need this kind of movie - happy ending and all. And let's give some credit - this is a DISNEY movie through and through. And I don't mean crappy nu-Disney. I mean the Disney that made Mary Poppins and Flight of the Navigator - the one you could count on for wonder, imagination, and yes, a happy ending that makes you smile. Now in terms of high school movies / TV shows I am very picky. I usually hate cliched high school settings when no thought or character is put into the script. But even though this is a cartoony, kid-appropriate world, there are little bits and pieces that have those pangs of realism and angst you usually only see in the best high school pieces - Freaks and Geeks, My So Called Life, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, etc. And even though the high school melodrama character moments are there ...

- This movie is filled with fun and imagination. None of this "realistic" superhero stuff here. No leather costumes, no psychological profiling. Sky High worships at the altar of 1950's scifi, of comic books, REAL comic books (not "graphic novels") from the Golden Age, the Silver Age, and the present. From Hannah-Barbara animation, from Jack Kirby, from Stan Lee, from Julie Schwartz. This movie is just plain FUN AS HELL. Crazy costumes, cool superpowers, villains that look like they are from new acid-tripped version of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. I love it. And there is ACTION. DIRECTOR OF FANTASTIC FOUR TAKE NOTE: This isn't "ooh look at me use my powers for five seconds as I stand here and pose and say some lame one-liner." This is kinetic, fun, well-edited yet easy to follow action that makes for some truly cool set pieces. Sure, the f/x are cartoony and not exactly Lucas or WETA quality CGI, but that's the whole fun. So much crazy stuff is going on that it works awesomely, especially since ...

- The cast rocks! Kurt Russell is classic Kurt Russell here. He says his every line as Commander Stronghold with such a sense of fun that he puts a smile on your face whenever he appears. This is classic pulp hero Escape From NY and Big Trouble in Little China wink-wink nudge nudge but I still can kick some ass acting here - it doesn't get any better. Bruce Campell is Bruce Campell - B movie icon and classic character actor, The Chin delivers the goods as a demoralizing gym teacher in a standout role. Hail to the King, baby. And then comedy lovers everywhere rejoice - Kids in the Hall reunion! Dave Foley is pitch perfect as a former sidekick turned teacher (Mr. Boy - hilarious!) and Kevin McDonald often steals the whole show as a super-braniac who is embittered for never getting his rightful due thanks to his brains over brawn powers. Lynda Carter is wondrous as the school's principal. Even minor characters like Ron Wilson: Bus Driver get there little moments to shine and so much attention is paid to those character moments that nothing ever feels left out or inconsistent ... and then there's the kids. In short, they are great. Sure they are playing variations on familiar high school stereotypes, but they do a damn good job of making you love / hate them to the point where you'll probably have a favorite by the end of the movie. As good as the casts of kids were in Bad News Bears and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this one was better and more memorable.

So yeah, this is a great movie - for kids, for kids at heart, and for those looking for an underhyped summer adventure that won't make you question humanity. Honestly, in many ways I enjoyed this more than The Incredibles, which was an animated wonder, but plot-wise was more derivative than inventive in some respects. This movie was laugh out loud funny in many spots, had a lot of good action scenes, endearing characters, and oh yeah I must mention the kickass 1980's soundtrack, which completely rocked. Clearly, the basic premise or plot stucture is nothing new. But everything is done right, which is rare for this genre. Sometimes a crappy movie comes out and people defend it by saying "oh don't bash it it's a fun movie." Well this movie may be formulaic, but who cares - it's hella fun, but also smart, imaginative, energetic, and entertaining to boot - with a wonderful cast and sharp writing and direction. So bring the whole family. Who wouldda thunk it? SKY HIGH is one of the summer's best movies.

My grade: A -


- Another thing that gets on my nerves: people whining and complaining about remakes of movies in cases where the original movie was NOT EVEN AN ORIGINAL CONCEPT. Sure, remakes in general are getting to be a problem, and originality in general is getting increasingly harder to come by. But come on, Batman Begins is NOT a remake of Batman - the character existed LONG BEFORE Michale Keaton donned the cape and cowl. War of the Worlds is NOT a remake of the earlier movie - HG Wells wrote the book first. And CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is NOT, I repeat NOT a remake of the Gene Wilder version. Why? BECAUSE DECADES EARLIER ROHL DAHL WROTE THE BOOK! Now Dahl was a genious, one of the greatest, most imaginative writers ever, and deserves credit for coming up with the idea in the first place. So if anything, we should be questioning the Gene Wilder version for straying from the original novel, not faulting the Tim Burton movie for straying from the earlier film. Now it so happens that I really like the Wilder version. I love Wilder as an actor, for one thing, and he is classic in that movie. The movie is a psychedellic, trippy, creepy, creative cult classic that many kids fondly remember from their youth. But is it a great movie? Gotta say no. Close, but no. It has great performances, great moments, but as a whole it is more of a novelty than something truly great. Now is the new version great? Hard to say so early in, but overall, it is a BETTER MOVIE than the first, and is more in keeping with the scope, breadth, and spirit of Dahl, which is to its credit. Now I didn't expect to really love this movie, but I came away from it very, very, impressed.

Burton was on his game here. This movie had his trippy visuals, his eccentric style in spades. But it had the cohesion and internal logic of his best movies like Edward Scissorhands, Nightmare Before Christmas, and Big Fish - and none of the messy, painful flaws of duds like Planet of the Apes. Sure, Burton was handicapped here - some of the scenes and characters can only be changed so much, and bare a striking similarity to the Wilder movie. But Burton infuses this movie with so much that is new and different - a subversive, mad-genious mentality pervades it - and it turns out to be plenty original and interesting. I won't dwell on the details, but basically in this movie it is, in fact, all in the details. Wonka's glances and expressions, the set design, the seamless, spell-binding f/x, the costumes, the inflection that the characters speak in. The movie has a timeless feel. You lose a sense of geography and history - you only know that Charlie, and Wonka and Veruca Salt and the rest are these classic storybook concoctions that work in any era. The movie works in plenty of humor. The child actors are great (Augustus Gloop is hilarious, Charlie is spot-on). The music and songs by Danny Elfman are just great, and the upadated take on the Oompa-Loompa /s is pretty funny and highly entertaining. Most of all this feels, unlike the earlier film, like a complete movie. The main characters grow and change. The storyarcs evolve and progress and end with satisfying conclusions. This is Tim Burton at his best - as a storyteller. He's telling you a familiar story but adding new bits and pieces. He's drawing out a world and vision uniquely his own even if the story itself is old hat. But Burton, Depp, and the rest are the ones you want telling you the story, because they are the ones with the vision to bring that antastical world to life and reimagine it one more time.

My grade: A-