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Movie Review: Whiteout

The poorly scripted Whiteout goes blank early and often, ruining an otherwise interesting concept—an Antarctica mystery—with some of the worst lines in a movie this year. The whodunit is blatantly obvious, which might not be a problem if the film, starring Kate Beckinsale as a U.S. marshal, made us care about the characters or the puzzle, which involves a Soviet military plane that goes down in the South Pole. An aimless script, uneven performances, and bad directing—with countless unnecessary closeups—make Whiteout a painfully bad movie. For a straightforward Cold War thriller at the earth’s other polar ice cap, see Ice Station Zebra (Rock Hudson, Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown), based on an Alistair MacLean novel, instead.

 

Sneak Peeks

A few of this fall’s pictures catch my interest, judging by the trailers.

I’m looking forward to seeing Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s (MGM) remake of the original Fame (1980), sampled here. The new Fame (Sept. 25) looks youthful, vibrant and I like Kelsey Grammer in just about anything. Also of interest are two Sandra Bullock films, and hopefully she’s on a roll after the enjoyable The Proposal: Warner Brothers’ The Blind Side (Nov. 20), which looks like a sentimental family sports movie based on a true story, and the romantic comedy All About Steve (Sept. 4), though it stars an actor who usually appears in total trash, so proceed with caution.

Several film trailers are less than impressive, including Chicago director Rob Marshall’s highly anticipated musical Nine, which, like his mixed Memoirs of a Geisha, looks terrific but also looks like it may lack a compelling story. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt looks awful, like a wannabe Jagged Edge with bad actors, and it looks like nothing interesting happens in the screen adaptation for Where the Wild Things Are, which feels as dull as a folk music festival or a guitar mass.

Topping my must-see list is what may be the season’s most heroic motion picture, Fox Searchlight’s Amelia (Oct. 23), starring Hilary Swank as pilot Amelia Earhart. Ms. Swank is an excellent actress and the film looks as if it’s a lush, stunning, and unapologetically larger than life spectacle. Amelia, scored by Gabriel Yared (The Lives of Others), is directed by Mira Nair and also stars Ewan McGregor and Richard Gere.

Is Marvel Comics Deal the End of Walt’s Disney?

Disney Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Robert Iger, briefly profiled in Newsweek in this gushing piece, announced yesterday that the Walt Disney Studios is acquiring the lucrative new Hollywood mini-studio Marvel Comics (Spider-Man, Iron Man, X-Men) for $ 4 billion. Marvel’s a solid player with potential and Disney is one of the best studios and both have their own relatively consistent brands.

What does one add to the other in creative terms? Disney’s driving philosophy had been, until recently, an American, which is to say benign, sense of life expressed with positive characters in story-driven material, whether in a theme park (Disneyland or Disney’s California Adventure) or in a movie. Marvel’s brand of comic book characters is rooted in marginally heroic, or at least not completely anti-heroic, cartoon figures (The Incredible Hulk) with broad appeal. Both derive success from plots that seem to attract general audiences.

Unlike Pixar Animation Studios, which Disney also acquired under Mr. Iger, Marvel’s catalog does not possess a quality that can easily or identifiably be assimilated into Disney’s wholesome, family entertainment. Sure, the Marvel pictures are noticeably less cynical than the competition, but that’s not saying much. This move further dilutes the Disney brand and may make the studio more relevant in the short term at the expense of being markedly less original in the long term. It has been 15 years since The Lion King, 20 years since The Little Mermaid, and 65 years since Disney released the classic Dumbo in movie theaters. I doubt that the un-Disneylike Enchanted, Pixar’s middling Up, or anything with Hannah Montana will be remembered with as much affection. While Marvel makes good popcorn movies, their stories hardly express childlike wonder, adventure, and innocence, something Disney used to imagine and reimagine in timeless tales. Besides, with politically correct Disney’s ban on smoking in movies, it’s hard to imagine Iron Man’s alter ego, Tony Stark, lighting up the occasional cigar, which raises the question of whether this hyped deal may end up as a lose-lose proposition that signals the end of the legendary Walt’s creative influence in an age of dying Americanism.

Tribute Film Classics Presents: ‘The Prince and the Pauper’ Score

princepauper

Tribute Film Classics (TFC)—composed of John Morgan, Anna Bonn, and William Stromberg—is proof that not everyone in Tinseltown chooses to ‘go Hollywood’. These diligent musicians recently released another exquisite recording, the complete Erich Wolfgang Korngold score to the 1937 Errol Flynn classic adaptation of the 1882 Mark Twain novel, The Prince and the Pauper (available from this vendor).

Here’s what I wrote in an online column about TFC when they started up last year:

“One need not be a fan of the literary-themed pictures to enjoy the first two recordings … definitive compact disc editions of composer Bernard Herrmann’s scores for Mysterious Island and Fahrenheit 451. The CDs alone are impressive.

“Besides the score for Francois Truffaut’s 1966 adaptation of a novel about a totalitarian regime that bans books, Universal’s Fahrenheit 451, TFC offers the complete 61-track score for Mysterious Island. The release includes entire cue cuts, with notes by TFC principal William Stromberg, who conducted the Moscow Symphony Orchestra’s performance, and TFC co-founders Anna (Mrs. Stromberg) Bonn and John Morgan. Their approach is admirably meticulous.

“The 1961 adventure classic, Mysterious Island (Columbia Pictures), based on the novel by French writer Jules Verne, features two Union prisoners of war (POWs) who escape in a hot-air balloon during the American Civil War. They drift to the titular fantasy isle, encountering giant creatures, a volcano, an earthquake, a honeycomb and another famous Verne character, Captain Nemo (Mr. Verne’s Mysterious Island is a sequel to his 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea).

“Mr. Herrmann’s memorable music accentuates the movie’s thrills and the accompanying 32-page booklet is more intelligent and informative than most books, with time stamps and notes on chords, instruments and scenes. That doesn’t really do this labor of love, which must be seen to be appreciated, justice. The same caliber of top production values is present on TFC’s booklet for Mr. Herrmann’s complete Fahrenheit 451 score, which includes notes from author Ray Bradbury. Both CDs are a rare accomplishment in today’s movie-related products: they take motion pictures—their artists, scores and history—seriously.”

So does The Prince and the Pauper, recorded in Moscow, Russia. It is another outstanding accomplishment.

Screen Shot: ‘District 9’

An unusual film, District 9, opens this Friday. Sony’s alien-themed movie is full of blood and gore, with the usual horror elements. Depicted in a grainy, pseudo-documentary style, the first third of the picture is satirical, with interview snippets that backtrack on an alien visitation that hovers a mothership over Johannesburg, South Africa, depositing a bunch of sick, unwanted extra-terrestrials in the slums.

The plot concerns Wikus, an almost idiotic but decent bureaucrat who is assigned to infiltrate the encampment of the title, evict the aliens, and appease the city’s racially mixed population—all of whom appear to be united in wanting the aliens booted out. Something goes wrong, of course, and near-imbecile Wikus becomes transformed by the experience. Literally.

So does District 9, which until then feels like an odd, cynical short. Disparate plot points—an ominously powerful United Nations type authority, Nigerian thugs, and a government-controlled health care system with the ethics to match—combine for what’s practically an old-fashioned buddy action thriller. Enter a whiz kid, add dark humor, genetics and weapons, with a father-son bond, and you get Alien Nation meets Enemy Mine meets The Fly.

Once the action picks up (“Go! Drive!”) and world government stooge Wikus and an alien named Chris calculate mutual self-interest and take on the automatons, things get interesting. By the time a bug-eyed alien sputters in subtitles to “go down and initiate the binary commands,” you know it isn’t the typical sci-fi horror pic. District 9, which is not for the faint-hearted, feels unfinished, and it doesn’t exactly take off (not with Wikus at the core), but this strange planet earth offers food for thought about who’s human, who’s not, and the forces that alienate us.