Tuesday, August 24, 2010

30 Day Movie Meme: Day 8

When I watch films at home I tend to fast-forward opening credits. There are some exceptions to the case, though. When a director makes a statement, either visually or in terms or story or character, I will stop and take notice and watch the credits every. single. time.

Some of my favourite opening credits are:

-A Clockwork Orange (1971) for scaring the shit out of me and being perfectly Kubrickian. Malcolm McDowell + a glass of milk = evil
-Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) for managing to put a car crash and a cracked glass doll into the same sequence
-Psycho (1960) for its score and the fact that it was ahead-of-its time
-Ed Wood (1994) because it couldn't be more Ed Wood if it wanted to be
-Amelie (2001) for its whimsical introduction of its heroine as a young child
-Se7en (1995) for its success in setting up the dark, ominous tone of the film
-Catch Me If You Can (2002) for animating the adventures of the anti-hero at the centre of the story
-Watchmen (2009) for simply being awesome and integrating actual historical footage into the sequence with Bob Dylan on the soundtrack

Sometimes, though, it's simply just a matter of "less is more". One of my favourite opening credits is Fargo (1996). Bright blue sky. Dead of winter. White snow. A car passing the camera's frame. The word Fargo in black against a screen of blue. Perfect choice of music. And, so starts the Coen Brothers masterpiece.

Some of my favourite closing credits are (although there aren't as many):

-Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) for its wonderful, old-school animation that makes you wish the film itself had been filmed that way

-Moulin Rouge! (2001) from being all overly melodramatic
-The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) for featuring a drag queen lip-synching to Vanessa Williams and being a perfect conclusion to an outlandish little film

Sunday, August 15, 2010

30 Day Movie Meme: Day 7


Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Written and Directed By: Quentin Tarantino

There aren't too many movies out there that have had endings that surprised me. I knew the outcome of The Usual Suspects before ever having seen the film. It was the same case with both Se7en and The Shawshank Redemption. While I do remember being surprised by the ending of The Sixth Sense, I don't necessarily consider it a favourite twist. The same goes with Fight Club, which is one of my favourite films of the 1990s, but the ending doesn't stand alone as particularly awesome. It's more cool than shocking.

The most recent surprise twist that came to mind was Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. As one of my favourite directors, I always trust Tarantino to bring the goods. When I first heard he was finally bringing this much-delayed script to the silver screen I had never imagined he'd literally change the outcome of the Second World War. Tarantino took revisionist history to a whole new level.

Set aside for a moment the already-surprising double-death face-off between the films heroine, Shoshanna (Melanie Laurent) and Nazi superstar, Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl). I honestly never anticipated that Tarantino would kill off Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler in a hail of bullets and flames in a movie theatre in France. Shoshanna's final act of vengeance against the Nazis coincided with the elaborate Operation Kino, which was under the control of Lt. Aldo Raines (Brad Pitt) and his Basterds. The end result was explosions and raining bullets, killing every person in the theatre (who had gathered to watch Nation's Pride, featuring Frederick's Nazi victory over a troop of Russians), while the image of Shoshanna laughs on the movie screen.

I was already surprised by the fact that Shoshanna died at the hands of her admirer, Frederick. It definitely was a bittersweet moment and I had never anticipated that Shoshanna and Frederick would wind up killing one another, let alone before they could both witness the destruction of the Nazi party. However, it's just like Tarantino to keep his audience on its toes when it comes to the fates of his characters, both good and bad. As it turns out, even historical figures have to watch their backs in a Tarantino feature.

Just when I thought it couldn't get any more outrageous, both plans by Shoshanna and Operation Kino take full effect and kill everyone trapped in the theatre, effectively changing the outcome of the Second World War and ending it well before 1945. In Tarantino's world, we have a young French woman and group of angry Jewish soldiers to thank for the end of the war.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Taking the Fun Out of Robin Hood

I finally got around to seeing Ridley Scott's Robin Hood last month. Despite the critical lashing it got from critics and audiences alike, I still wanted to see the film and judge for myself. Before the film's release, I was really excited by the idea of another take on Robin Hood. Since film adaptations of Robin of Loxley have always been light-hearted or straight-out comedies, I thought a more realistic take was long overdue. I love the mythology behind Robin Hood and whether he was real or not has had little impact on his enduring popularity as an English folk hero.

I suppose it was inevitable that it would fail with audiences. The script was plagued from the start. I remember reading that, initially, the Hollywood bigwigs were in talks of taking a more unique angle on the medieval tale, by focusing on the Sheriff of Nottingham, Robin Hood's greatest foe, instead. Russell Crowe was attached to play the Sheriff and, as of the article's publication date, no Robin had been announced as of yet, however, the hero's role would have been reduced significantly in favour of his arch nemesis. I thought this sounded like a really cool idea; I was curious to see if they'd make the Sheriff an out and out villain or a more sympathetic figure. The story of how Nottingham became Robin Hood can be found here. Supposedly, the screenwriters for Nottingham were (understandably) upset that their script was thrown to the wind. Then, Scott's team supposedly lied and told actors vying for the role of Nottingham that the role would be bigger than it actually was (which allegedly didn't impress Matthew Macfadyen, the actor who wound up taking over the role from Crowe).

When Ridley Scott jumped onboard to direct, Crowe agreed to play Robin instead of Nottingham. This is where I think the problems began. They had to re-write the entire script and, as a result, it became a big, jumbled mess with far too many separate subplots and not enough time spent on the stories we wanted to see. On paper, the idea of a film about the origins of Robin Hood seemed like an easy sell to audiences. You take a beloved folk hero and give his tale a new spin by giving him a prequel. And, since very little is known about the actual Robin Hood (if he was indeed real), screenwriters were free to do with his character as they pleased without upsetting purists.

Scott's Robin Hood is bloated, with too many characters and too many stories to tell. Considering this is the story of one of the most exciting of folk heroes, no one seems to be having any fun. I love Russell Crowe. I think he's a wonderful actor who has been robbed of nominations and awards on more than one occasion. That being said, I couldn't help but feel disappointed with how he played Robin Hood. He was far too serious and didn't seem to have an ounce of fun or charm in him. It was, essentially, like watching Medieval Maximus. What happened to Robin Hood and his ever-so-Merry Men? You can still make a gritty, realistic and exciting historical epic while having a bit of fun at the same time. But this Robin Hood strives so hard to be everything that the other film versions are not that it loses itself along the way.

One of the biggest flaws in this revisionist take on Robin Hood is its decision to give our hero a brand new nemesis. His name is Godfrey (played by Mark Strong) and he's very bald and very angry. Why is he angry? Well, there's a variety of reasons, mainly that he wants to be king and he doesn't like Robin all that much. Godfrey is not interesting. He tries to be, but he's not. He's not frightening, he's not diabolically evil and he's not witty. It's unfortunate it took the entire film's running time before he was killed off.

I think introducing Godfrey was a major error on the part of the screenwriters. In introducing yet another  character to the already bloated cast only serves to take away from what I presume most audiences came to see in the first place: Robin of Loxley vs. the Sheriff of Nottingham. Where is this Sheriff? Well, if you blink you may miss him. He's the grubby grump with about five minutes of screen time. The scripts went from having Nottingham as the main character to barely giving him a moment to string more than two sentences together. Everyone loves a good villain and the Sheriff is a great villain. When you talk about Robin Hood, be it another film version or the historical mythology behind him, you always have to mention the Sheriff. However, in Robin Hood he's nothing more than a footnote. Granted, it's likely this will be made into a franchise and Nottingham will get more screen time in future films, however, it just left me thinking, what's the point? Why diminish the role of this character? Why not take advantage of it and show the early stages of his rivalry with Robin? I can't even judge whether or not Matthew Macfadyen gave a good performance as Nottingham or not because you barely have time to register his character's existence.

I guess I just prefer Kevin Costner's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. That's right. That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it. Prince of Thieves knew how to take the myth of Robin Hood and make it pure entertainment. Despite Costner's limited acting abilities, American accent and 1990s hair, I thought he made a great and passionate Robin. He's charming and has great chemistry with his costars. He, and the movie itself, never took itself seriously. It didn't pretend to be something it wasn't, unlike Scott's Robin Hood. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio was a lovely Maid Marion in Prince of Thieves. She was feisty on the homefront without having to charge into battle to prove it (I cringed when Cate Blanchett took up the cause in Robin Hood, in full armour, no less!). Robin's Merry Men were all amusing in Prince of Thieves, especially the ever-shitty and craptastic Christian Slater. If his "brother-from-another-mother" speech as Robin's step-sib Will Scarlett doesn't make you smile, I don't know what will ("I was the son of the woman who replaced your dead mother for a time! You ruined my life!"). And, of course, the main reason most people aren't ashamed to admit their love for Prince of Thieves is because of the incomparable Alan Rickman as Sheriff George of Nottingham (pictured right). He's so outrageously over-the-top and clearly having the time of his life, that you can't help but love him.

Ridley Scott and his bevy of script writers did a rush job. They could have done so much with their revisionist telling of an old tale. Instead, they went the dull and bland route. No new dimension was added to any of the characters. In fact, I left the theatre annoyed with the portrayal of some of my favourites, especially Marion. The only two standouts were Danny Huston as King Richard (although his role was too small, but that's no surprise in this version) and newcomer Oscar Isaac as evil King John. I thought those two were wonderful and could have done some great things with their characters if given more time. In the end, you leaving the theatre thinking, what was the point? Robin Hood is supposed to be fun and the plot should be in constant motion. No one wants an emo Robin who spends the first half of the film discovering his uninteresting family history. It's not what we as an audience signed up for.

Should there be a sequel, here's hoping it's a revisionist take on an aspect of Robin's life we all want to see: his rivalry with the Sheriff of Nottingham. Robin Hood wasn't all terrible. It was visually appealing and had some solid battle scenes. I just know there's a great film in there somewhere, waiting to come out. Here's hoping the sequel corrects all of its flaws.

In the meantime, I'd recommend swallowing your Kevin Costner hatred (for those of you who have it) and revisit Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves instead (pictured above).


Monday, August 2, 2010

30 Day Movie Meme: Day 6


Best Actor: On the Waterfront (1954), The Godfather (1972)
Nominated: 8 times (2 wins)
First Became A Fan: After watching The Godfather in 2005. I spent the next few months catching up on as many of his films that I could get my hands on. There are still a few obscure ones I haven't seen; however, I have since caught up on all the essentials and some underrated classics.
Favourite Brando Films: The Godfather, A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront
Favourite Brando Performances: Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather, Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, Paul in Last Tango in Paris, Mark Antony in Julius Caesar
Check Out These Lesser-Known Films I'd Recommend: One-Eyed Jacks (the only film he ever directed), The Fugitive Kind, Viva Zapata!, The Men (although this is currently unavailable on DVD), The Ugly American, The Young Lions.

Marlon Brando's famous ad-libbed scene from Last Tango in Paris. Brando created a childhood for his character, Paul, and Bernardo Bertollucci leaves the camera on his face for the majority of the scene.

Best Actress: Dangerous (1935), Jezebel (1938)
Nominated: 10 times (2 wins)

First Became A Fan: At the age of 12 when I saw Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? for the first time. Although I didn't actually start following her career until I was older, I've since caught up on some of her most memorable films.
Favourite Davis Films: All About Eve, Now Voyager, Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Dark Victory.
Favourite Davis Performances: Jane Hudson in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Margo Channing in All About Eve, Julie Marsden in Jezebel, Charlotte in Now Voyager, Charlotte Hollis in Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte.
Check Out These Lesser-Known Films I'd Recommend: Dark Victory, Now Voyager, Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte.

Bette Davis in Jezebel with a really young Henry Fonda. I love their chemistry and Davis is so natural and beautiful in this scene.