Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Review: Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)

* * * *

Director: Zhang Yimou
Starring: Chow Yun-fat, Gong Li

Zhang Yimou's Curse of the Golden Flower is an intimate family tragedy played at the level of spectacular, operatic grandeur. Telling a story of revenge, divided loyalties, forbidden loves, and power, and involving a husband, a wife, their sons, and another family that exists in the shadow of theirs and contains explosive secrets that, once brought to light, might destroy everything, Curse of the Golden Flower has a little bit of everything packed into its narrative. It also has a more is more (is more!) aesthetic informing its visuals, including enormous, elaborate sets and scenes which involve a massive number of extras, Curse of the Golden Flower is one of the great cinema spectacles, right up there with those old Hollywood films that played on an almost impossible scale, such as Ben-Hur, Cleopatra and Intolerance.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Summer Not-Busters: Judge Dredd (1995)

Director: Danny Cannon
Starring: Sylvester Stallone
Domestic Box Office: $34,694,481

Here's the situation: you're making a movie with one of the biggest names in Hollywood, who was one of the greatest box office draws of the early to mid-80s, even if most of those hits came from entries in the same two franchises. He's been on a bit of a losing streak lately, having failed to broaden his appeal by branching into comedy, and even the action movies that are his bread and butter have lately failed to set the world on fire, though in the midst of this he's also had one bona fide hit that shows there may still be some life in his career. The movie you're making is based on a comic strip that, in North America at least, is fairly obscure and whose best known element is the distinctive look for the character, who wears a helmet that obscures half his face. Here's the question: do you accept that, by choosing obscure material, you're making a film that will likely have limited appeal and hew faithfully to the source material so that it will be embraced, at least, by fans of the comic and perhaps became a cult favorite that makes most of its money from video/DVD; or do you try to force the material into a star vehicle, stripping away anything weird or unique (including that helmet, which the character will only wear for about five minutes) until the work is as generically like everything else in the star's CV as possible? It's Hollywood. If they'd gone with the first option, we wouldn't be here.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

21st Century Essentials: The Dreamers (2003)

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Starring: Michael Pitt, Eva Green, Louis Garrel
Country: United Kingdom/France/Italy

Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers is a fever dream of intertwined passions. It is (famously) about sex, but it is also about art (specifically, intensely, vocally about film) and about politics, and about the heady set of circumstances in which all three collide. Tinged with nostalgia and regret, unfolding alternately with impish delight and crushing anguish, and always with a hazy restlessness, The Dreamers is a visually striking piece of work and, one might argue, a deceptively simple one. You watch it for the first time and it feels like it just washes over you, a collection of engaging and sometimes lurid images, but you find afterwards that it stays alive within you and visiting it again, be it immediately or years later, it reveals more depths than you might have originally given it credit for.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Friday's Top 5... The Year's Least Necessary Sequels

#5: Bad Santa 2

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of Bad Santa. I just think that, like Zoolander and Anchorman, two other comedies that gained a worshipful enough cult status to inspire a late-coming sequel, this is a property that's probably best left as a one-time thing. However, given that the film won't come out until Christmas and the trailer hasn't even been released yet, I'm totally prepared to end up being wrong on this one.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ten Years Later... The Da Vinci Code (2006)

Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou

Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code is one of the most derided novels of the last 15 years, as well as one of the most popular. With respect to both facts, I can understand why. I've never read the novel in it's entirety because after reading the first 10 pages I knew that I'd never be able to finish it, the quality of the writing was so poor, but I can definitely see why the story was embraced. After all, there's a conspiracy theory out there for just about every major historical event and person and it's possible to be entertained by the story even if the actual writing is sub-par. To that end, the film adaptation had something of an advantage because it could tell the story and drop Brown's writing - something that it doesn't really take advantage of, given that the dialogue remains clunky and simplistic - and having Tom Hanks (even with a terrible haircut) couldn't hurt, either. The movie was always going to be a hit; the real question was how well a property already so critically pilloried at the time of its release would hold up over time.