Friday, August 27, 2010

After Life: Review

After.Life: Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, Justin Long | A Constantly Racing Mind

Taylor, "Where am I?"  Elliot, "You are Dead."

What would it take to convince you that you were dead? A death certificate? Your ashen body staring back at you in a mirror? The memory of a tragic accident. That is the question the director of the film After.Life asks. Christina Ricci ("Monster," "Cursed," "Black Snake Moan ") and Justin Long ("Jeepers Creepers," "Drag Me to Hell," "Galaxy Quest") try to answer this question in this 103 minute dive down the rabbit hole of the dark world of the Mad Hatter of a mortician played by Liam Neeson ("Taken," "Kingdom of Heaven," "The Haunting"). In many ways this is a film that as director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, takes a philosophical stance, like "Saw" - what is the measure of a man's life. Or in this case, What is the measure or meaning of Ann Taylor's life.  Also please meet Anna's student Jack (Chandler Canterbury), don't mind him, he is a little creepy, like Renfield in "Dracula," he likes to start small.

Ann Taylor (Ricci) is an elementary school teacher who wakes up every day to her boyfriend trying to hump her frigid body, she showers, goes to work, meets her boyfriend for dinner, and agree not to argue for everything like her mom.  The director gives us slight hints that Ann is not a happy camper and this sets the mood for the rest of the film.  Meeting her boyfriend and live-in lover, Paul (Long), for dinner at a nice restaurant -- Paul before popping the question, prefaces's his marriage proposal to Ann with the news of having to move to Chicago - stupid.  The high strung Anna immediately accuses Paul of breaking up with her (pull out the ring idiot Paul) tells him to Fuck off and she leaves, making a scene. This film is a cautionary tale to all of us who like to speed in the rain recklessly, while dialing on our cell phones chasing big trucks with heavy loads. Within moments Taylor's life is over and she is on the mortician's slab. Waking up, groggily, she asks Elliot (Neeson) where am I? He replies you are dead. Then he shows her the death certificate. Momentarily convinced, she relaxes as she lays nude on the table, a wound on her head and chest.  Nesson asks, "Don't you remember the car crash?"  Taylor thinks back, and says "I don't feel dead."  "Why must you people always have to argue with me, It's not my fault you are dead." Like a Vietnam torture tactic, Liam Neeson tells her that she has three days to prepare herself for the journey to the other side. Also claiming that he has a gift to see between those in between worlds, it is his gift/curse/duty to help people journey out of this life. 

Thus sets the story and the tone for the rest of this psychological, philosophical mind-provoking thriller on the meaning of life and its worth.  We learn through an ongoing dialog between Neeson and Ricci that she is not happy and would probably be better off dead. The philosophical term for this mindset is called antinatalism. Playing cat and mouse with Ricci's wits and her will to live, Neeson breaks down her sad life, little by little, with lies and half truths he ultimately moves Ann Taylor's psyche closer to accepting her death.  Not like the TV show "The Ghost Whisperer," Elliot's mission is a bit different but perhaps just as important. I liked "After.Life" for the different take on getting a person to examine one's life, rather than the torture methods utilized in the "Saw" films. Ultimately my issue with this well made, well acted, well produced film is, that although director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo gives us plenty of clues as to the true nature of Taylor's existence on this plane. However, she denies us the satisfaction of celebrating that our ultimate conclusions are correct. For the most part this is an excellent film, but I did walk away feeling less than satisfied with the ending.

Movie Data
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Year: 2010
Staring: Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, Justin Long, Chandler Canterbury 
Director: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo
Producer(s): Celine Rattray, Brad M. Gilbert
Writer: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, Paul Vosloo, Jakub Korolczuk
Running Time: 104 minutes
Release Date: 8/26/2010

Originally published by Robert Barbere on Associated Content on 8/10/2010

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Other Guys: Review

The Other Guys: Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind
I have to admit that I am not a big fan of Will Ferrell.  I do like a couple of his films, such as "Elf" and "Old School."  Other than those two, I haven't really cared for much of his other work.  I watched about the first 10 minutes of "Anchorman," but couldn't handle any more; I turned it off and never looked back.  Will Ferrell is an acquired taste.  Teaming up with Ferrell is Mark Wahlberg ("Shooter," "The Departed ") as the has been cop now stuck with Ferrell who refuses to take no risks. "The Other Guys" is a cop buddy movie where two opposite personalities are teamed together and mayhem and laughter are expected to follow.  "The Other Guys" is funny, but not that funny and Wahlberg doesn't help much with the comedy.

What would it be like to for Samuel L. Jackson, and Dwayne The Rock Johnson teamed together in an action picture, to see them taking out bad guys in "Lethal Weapon" action style of filmmaking?  Well...  "The Other Guys" provides us with that glimpse for the first 10 minutes.  We see high-powered action, clichéd buddy dialog, and one hell of a romp that these two Rock Star Police Officers lead the charge.  What we are left with is Will Ferrell, and Markey Mark reciting ridiculous dialog and nonsensical situations that in themselves have a tendency to provide a steady pace of chuckles that flows throughout the film.  I have to admit that although the plot is ridiculous and predictable, Will Farrell is funny as he plays the straight-man in this film, leaving Owen Wilson-esque lines for Wahlberg to utter and thus the joke is on Mark not on Will.  Michael Keaton plays Glen, their police squad captain seems like he is ad-libbing lines left and right trying to up with the scene.  I don't know if this was intentional but Keaton's portrayal was hilarious.

The Other Guys: Mark Wahlberg & Will Ferrell | A Constantly Racing Mind

The flaw for "The Other Guys" is in the thin storyline that screenwriters Adam McKay and Chris Henchy try to flesh out Ferrell's natural comedic pacing.  In this case, it seems that Will isn't given enough material to keep the laughs coming with out, instead he is running constantly into awkward pauses that take the actors a beat to recover  I get what McKay is trying to do a "Lethal Weapon" reverse parody, but it doesn't quite work.  I sense that the pacing of the jokes and the editing of the scenes don't seem to be in harmony.  What is funny, but not played on enough, was that they had Michael Keaton working an extra job to pay for his gay son to go to college.  Rob Riggle ("Knight and Day") and Damon Wayans Jr. performances were pedestrian at best and predictable.  Steve Coogan was in fact an asset as the weasel stockbroker out of a Charles Dickens’s story.  Eva Mendes was just pure eye candy to distract us from the obvious lack of story, but that's okay.

As usual, Adam McKay treats this movie like a TV segment, and it feels this way to the audience.  Mark Wahlberg’s character sliding down a table, arms spread wide taking out the bad guys is extremely unlikely and takes the viewer is just to ridiculous for a viewer to suspend their belief any longer.  In contrast, When Ferrell is given a wooden gun and Wahlberg says "but that’s just a wooden gun," inviting a smack in the face with said wooden gun by Ferrell is funny.  Explosions and stunt effects for the film seem to be on par on what we expect in films today.  As a parody of "Lethal Weapon," I don't think it measures up.  As a typical buddy film, "The Other Guys" also falls short.  Should you watch this film at the theater?  I say no.  Wait for the DVD or Blu-ray and give it a shot there.  You are not missing much.

Movie Data
Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime
Year:  2010
Staring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Keaton, Eva Mendes, Damon Wayans Jr.
Director: Adam McKay
Producer(s): Patrick Crowley, Will Ferrell,  Adam McKay, Jimmy Miller
Writer: Adam McKay, Chris Henchy
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 116 minutes
Release Date: 8/6/2010

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dinner for Schmucks

Dinner for Schmucks: Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind
W hen watching "Dinner for Schmucks" you have to ask yourself one question.  Who is the real idiot here?  Is it Steve Carrel "The Office" who plays Barry, the unwitting dupe, or Paul Rudd "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" as Tim, the nice guy who can't help himself in wanting to climb the corporate ladder?  Perhaps it is Bruce Greenwood "Star Trek" - 2009 as Lance Fender, the corporate leader intent on keeping people in their place.  Is the biggest schmuck in this film really Ron Livingston "Band of Brothers", as Caldwell, who obviously has no qualms about finding and inviting the most hapless rube to Fender's dinners. How ever you justify seeing "Dinner for Schmucks," do it, it is worth your time for this comic film by Jay Roach "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery".  

After a seventh floor executive at Fender Financial is fired, sixth floor analyst Tim (Rudd) is eyeing the upper floor and the departed exec's office.  Given the opportunity to make an impression on his bosses, Tim baits them with hooking millionaire Mueller as a client.  Mueller is the rich heir of a Swiss munitions manufacturer from that made a ton of money during WWII.  Fender (Greenwood) gives Tim the opportunity, however, on the condition that he comes to monthly dinner that he holds in honor of the biggest idiot they can find.  Although Tim thinks that the idea is stupid, he goes along until his girlfriend Julie who is appalled by the idea.  Hoping that he can get out of the dinner by faking a backache, Tim is calling and driving and accidently hits Barry with his Porsche. A hilarious debate ensues in the middle of the street between Tim and Barry as they debate the price of keeping a lawyer out of the proceedings.  The price ranges from $5 to $1000 that Barry thinks he has to pay.  I have to give it to Tim, as he could have really taken advantage of Barry, but it is moments like this where Tim's character comes through.  Going home to his girlfriend Julie, Tim explains that after meeting Barry it is fates design that he goes to the dinner with Barry as his guest.  Realizing she Tim is a jerk, she leaves the apartment.  Did I mention Tim keeps asking her to marry him?  Bad time for that now, I guess. 

Havoc continues as Barry shows up, and throws Tim's back out for real, invites one of Tim's old psycho-girlfriends over mistakes Julie for said stalker, tears up his apartment, and keeps Tim up all night with just general goofiness.  As all this takes place, the great Peter Sellers comes to mind in his role as the hapless Inspector Clouseau.  The next day Tim is to meet with Müeller and his wife (she's the art collector) and Tim was supposed to bring Julie (the art curator) so he and Müeller could talk business.  Already ruining his relationship with Julie, Tim is intent on landing Müeller as a client for his firm.  Barry to the rescue, he brings the psycho-girlfriend as a substitute.  I would love to tell you more but I have told too much already... 

Dinner for Schmucks: Steve Carrel  & Paul Rudd| A Constantly Racing Mind

Inspired by the 1998 French film "Le dîner de cons"  aka "The Dinner Game," Jay Roach and writers David Guion and Michael Handelman have taken Francis Veber original work and turned out a film that appeal to the base need of the audience to feel superior.  Steve Carell as Barry does an extraordinary job of pulling off the hapless goofy IRS worker who makes dioramas that pose dead mice in famous works of art.  The director shows us with painful detail how much care and pride that Barry puts into each of his “mouseterpieces.” Although we truly think, Barry is a schmuck we love him anyway.  

Tim, on the other hand, we are not as sure about him as he waffles between nice guy and jerk throughout the film.  Paul Rudd as Tim shows us sides of all of us who are willing do to anything to get ahead in life despite our moral compass.  Tim's girlfriend Julie, played by The Devil Wears Prada’s Stephanie Szostak provides that moral character that Tim lacks.  Julie is an art curator whose current client is the wild and over the top artist, Kieran, whose artwork is filled with exotic images of him with horns, eating and devouring animals, or he posed in Christ-like poses.  Played by Jemaine Clement, one-half of the music comedy duo 'Flight of the Conchords,' is an over the top character that adds another layer of absurdity to this film.  Clement adds a complete layer of sexual tension that hangs in the background, as it hangs in the back of Tim's mind.  It takes Barry as Tim describes as a walking tornado, to bring these thoughts to the surface.  

In fact, Barry brings all sorts of Chaplin-esqe sympathetic comedy to "Dinner for Schmucks" that without him would be just plain mean spirited.  Director Roach realizes that although we are there to laugh at poor Barry, he also gives Barry a sympathetic back-story.  One that if you were paying attention to all the mouse posing vignettes you would realize that those are Barry's way of communicating his sorrow and grief over the lose of his wife to his boss, Thurman Much - The Master of Mind control. Zach Galifianakis seems to be popping up everywhere now-a-days and his addition to this film helps even out the characters, proving that schmucks can be cruel as well. Lucy Punch as Darla the stalker chasing after Tim, is a nice touch that makes for one funny lunch scene. 

Take my word for it, if you don't see "Dinner For Schmucks" at the theater, see it on DVD, this film is funny, well timed, with both the comedic pacing, and the steady editing that keeps the laughs coming and the fun flowing.  Dinner For Schmucks is rated PG-13, which is about Barry's mental age.

Movie Data
Genre: Comedy
Year:  2010
Staring:  Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, Stephanie Szostak, Bruce Greenwood
Director: Jay Roach
Producer(s): Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes, Jay Roach
Writer: David Guion, Michael Handelman, Francis Veber (film "Le Diner de Cons")
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 114 minutes
Release Date: 7/30/2010

Originally published on Associated Content on 8/3/2010 by Robert Barbere

Monday, July 26, 2010

Salt, a Review of Angelina Jolie's Epic Spy Thriller

Salt: Poster: Angelina Jolie | A Constantly Racing Mind
Check your children they may be a Russian Spy

Salt opened to large crowds as expected, opening day was well attended for this action thriller.  Angelina Jolie, female action star extraordinaire takes us on a wild ride of action and suspense, While in the news real Russian spies are being uncovered today.  Liev Schreiber ("X-Men Origins: Wolverine," "Defiance") is CIA agent Ted Winter, and Chiwetel Ejiofor ("Serenity," "Children of Men") is FBI agent Peabody. From the mind of writer of "Equilibrium," "Ultraviolet," and "Law Abiding Citizen," Kurt Wimmer brings many of his past film influences together in the character of Evelyn Salt. Directed by Phillip Noyce, "Salt" is rated PG-13 and has plenty of smart action.

The film begins with Evelyn Salt(Jolie) being tortured in a North Korean prison. Later she is released in a prisoner exchange meeting up with the man who later becomes her husband, Mike Krause (August Diehl - "Inglourious Basterds"). Evelyn returns to her job at the CIA and working with her colleague Ted Winter (Schreiber), and after a long day at the CIA office, Salt and Winter are on their way out, when they are told they have a walk-in. A Russian defector has come into CIA HQ and says he has valuable information, Winters and Salt head for the interrogation room, where they confront a man by the name of Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski). After a brief confrontation with Salt, she gets up to leave; Orlov, in his thick Russian accent says, that the a Russian Agent has come to the United States to kill the Russian President, who is attending the funeral of the American Vice President.  Huh? Russians killing Russian? Of course this most likely lead to war, and the Russians, being outraged, would strike first.  Here's the kicker, the Russian agent, Orlov says is... Evelyn Salt.  Immediately FBI agent Peabody (Ejiofor) jumps in and wants to hold Salt. Winters, defending his colleague remains calm.  Taking Orlov to a holding cell, he breaks free, (didn't they strip search him?) killing his guards and escapes.  In the confusion, Salt breaks out of the interrogation room where she was being held and she too escapes, seemingly worried about her husband. This takes place all in the first twenty minutes and sets the frantic Borne-like pace for the most of this picture. 

What director, Phillip Noyce does best, is that sets Salt apart from films like "Shooter," "Eagle Eye," and "Vantage Point," is that he gives us clues little by little as the action unfolds teasing us with little bits of information to cause one to speculate and postulate, who is who in this film. Revealing early in the film that a master spy trained Russian children from birth ("Hitman") to infiltrate the United States as sleeper agents that were exchanged early in their childhood. Information is fed to Ejiofor's character's cell phone as FBI analysts (all crime shows have geeky analyst feeding information) to him revealing details about Salt's past.  Another thing Noyce, does well is the close quarter combat fights that unlike, the Jason Borne films, left the audience seasick.  Reading up on the story I found that the part of Salt was supposedly supposed to be a man, but changed for Jolie to a woman.  Which leads me to believe that writer Kurt Wimmer, may have had the original Salt dress in drag for one Mission-Impossible-like scene.  Other scenes in the film are complete red herrings designed to through the audience off, but are subtle enough not to annoy.  If I were to tell you about them, of course, I would have to kill you. 

Salt: Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Angelina Jolie | A Constantly Racing Mind

James Newton Howard's musical score is odd in this film, at points being very James Bond spy-ish, and at other times moving into choral or classical motifs.  The "Batman Begins" composer, brings in the music in very subtle at times and other somewhat overpowering.  The stunts for the film are exceptional and as mentioned before not nauseating in that you can follow who is getting punched by who.  The story is unfolds at a decent pace intertwined with action to keep you paying attention for details.  Chiwetel Ejiofor's character, however, is in some ways, a dead giveaway to how the story will turn out. If you have seen "Serenity," where he plays an Alliance Operative chasing Nathan Fillion and crew around the universe.  He does that part well, and in the end the result is predictable.  Liev Schreiber does well as either the good guy or the bad guy in a film and just watching him in Salt made me want to re-watch "Defiance": just to review his performance.  Angelina Jolie, looking pale and a bit more gaunt does an excellent job at keeping the audience from guessing till the end where her loyalties lay. No sex or romance, Salt is a pure action spy thriller intent on doing one thing, entertain you for 100 minutes of your life. 

Movie Data

Genre: Action, Crime, Mystery, Thriller
Year:  2010
Staring: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, August Diehl, Daniel Olbrychski
Director: Phillip Noyce
Producer(s): Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Sunil Perkash
Writer: Kurt Wimmer
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 100 minutes
Release Date:  7/23/2010
Originally published on Associated Content on 7/26/2010 by Robert Barbere

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Inception: Through the Memory Darkly

Inception: Through the Memory Darkly | A Constantly Racing Mind
"True inspiration is impossible to fake"

Every day we wake from our beds with the warmth of the sun kissing our cheek and we sit up and stretch.  We head to the bathroom to brush our teeth, and then at some point we realize that we have not woken up at all.  We are still slumbering away in our dreams.  Philosophers from Plato to Descartes have questioned reality and the dream world for thousands of years.  Christopher Nolan brings these questions and drops it on our doorstep and then steps back and laughs.  Like the Greek Myth of Theseus and Ariadne, sometimes the myths just don't make any sense, oh well.  What Christopher Nolan does in Inception, is walk the fine line between madness and sanity, between greatness and confusion.  The ultimate concept of that permeates Inception that one must take away from this film is trust.  As the characters must trust each other when entering the dream world, the audience must trust the world that Nolan creates on screen will not crumble before our eyes leaving us in limbo.  Nolan is not above a prank or two.

Inception is a Science-Fiction Action film starring Leonardo DiCaprio ("Shutter Island"), Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("3rd Rock from the Sun"), and Ellen Page ("Juno") as dream weaving con artists that work directly through a person's dreams.  Dreams are like a prison, either you are breaking in, or you are breaking out.  Like the WW II film the "Great Escape" from 1963, members of the team is brought in for their specialty.  DiCaprio plays Cobb, the mastermind of this organization; Levett is Cobb's right hand man Arthur, in charge of security and fact checking.  Page is the architect Ariadne, like the daughter of Minos; she holds the secret of escaping the maze of dreams.  Tom Hardy ("Star Trek: Nemesis"), Eames, is the Forger, both in the real world and the dream world.  Rounding off the team is the chemist, played by Dileep Rao ("Drag Me to Hell"), as the creator of dream inducing drugs that keep the dreamer sedated until woken at the proper time.  Ken Watanabe ("The Last Samurai," "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant") is along for the ride is as Saito, the corporate executive who is insistent on keeping a rival energy company from becoming a monopoly.

Held in a trance by the visual effects, during the first act, it is near the end of the first act, that the story starts coming together.  Saito (Watanabe) wants Cobb (DiCaprio) and team to plant a thought into the mind of the heir of the Fischer Energy Conglomerate.  The thought, the inception, that Saito wants Cobb to plant into the mind of Robert Fischer ("Sunshine's" Cillian Murphy), is the thought of breaking up his father’s corporation, and create his own destiny.  How the team accomplishes this mission is complex but not very confusing, and like the maze of the Minotaur, Ariadne is there to help us weave our way out of the maze.

The beginning of the film is jumps from scene to scene and from one concept to another with little explanation at first but eventually the pieces of the puzzle start coming together.  Cobb and team typically steal intellectual property directly from a person's mind by joining the victims in their dream, and tricking those victims to divulge their secrets.  Plots within plots, dreams within dreams, each time the story goes deeper Cobb must explain to Ariadne how the dream world works and how to navigate it.  Not as straightforward as the Matrix, there is no virtual reality, but the deep virtuallity of dreams.  Good stories have good plots, but they also have solid main characters; characters with flaws.  Like Teddy Daniels, DiCaprio's character in "Shutter Island," and Leonard, Guy Pearce's character from Nolan's Memento -- the lead character suffers from the guilt of a tragedy that leads to his wife's death.  In Inception, Cobb suffers from guilt as he lives on the edge of madness and his visions of regretted pasts.  The guilt that haunts Cobb from the first scene to the last is the death of his wife.  Like characters from the TV series "Lost," while traveling though time need a constant, something to hold their sense of reality together, otherwise they would die.  Inception characters need a constant as well, which comes in the form of a totem.  A totem is a small item that only the owner knows how it works.  DiCaprio character's is a top, that if it never stops spinning, then he knows he is in a dream.  Page’s totem is the bishop in a chess piece, and Arthur's is a loaded die.  Arthur (Levett) is the man behind the scenes pushing the buttons, and supporting the characters and his cast members, I liked Joseph Gordon-Levitt in this role as it gives him the opportunity to show off his diverse set of talents.

Inception: Joseph Gordon-Levitt | A Constantly Racing Mind

Creating an M.C. Escher like visual effects nightmare, Christopher Nolan defies physics and our sensibilities.  This is where the trust comes into play; Nolan takes us deeper down the rabbit hole of dreams leading us directly to where Robin Williams and Annabella Sciorra ended up in Richard Matheson's "What Dreams May Come."  DiCaprio’s dream-wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), come together in the madness of limbo, forgetting the difference between madness and sanity, between dreaming and reality.  Nolan, is pulling the best elements of a James Bond film (snow chase from "The Spy Who Loved Me"), adding the dream state (Matrix), and city towers rearranging themselves ("Dark City").  While explaining the concept of inception, director Nolan also gives us a lesson on advertising, reminding me of Don Draper and Roger Sterling brainstorming an advertising idea with a client, eventually allowing the client to believe that the concept that they proposed was their clients all along.  Han Zimmer's driving score adds additional layers of depth and emotion driving the suspense as the characters rises from the depths of their dreams toward the conclusion of the film.  Leonardo DiCaprio is getting older, and his once baby face recedes into maturity.  Since the day he played Howard Hughes, he showed the world that he is ready for mature parts, and solidifying that fact with the "Departed," "Shutter Island," and now "Inception."  Ellen Page adds her usual spunkiness to the team, and is there to make sure the audience is kept informed.  Ken Watanabe as Saito brings a sense of dignity to the film that without him the team would lack.  Tom Hardy is excellent in his role as Eames, forging alternate identities, and the third level of the dreamscape.  Dileep Rao's Yusuf the chemist character, although small, but performs it well.  Double Negative's visual effects are stunning and mind-blowing, enough said.

I mentioned at the beginning that "Inception" has elements of a Greek Myth, and that some things just don't make sense, there is one question about the story that bothers me.  How do they  achieve synchronous dream state, or is this something like "Nightmare on Elm Street" -- where one character's dream ties them all together?  Don’t let this thought or the many questions dissuade you from seeing this film on the big screen.  There are many things in life that are not explainable, but then again that is the wonder of it all.


Movie Data

Genre:  Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller 
Year:  2010
Staring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine
Director: Christopher Nolan
Producer(s): Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 148 minutes
Release Date: 7/16/2010

Original published on Associated Content on 7/18/2014

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: Sensual and Exotic

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind T he thing about watching foreign films is that you need to stick with them long enough to allow the story and the characters to work their slow magic on you.  When this happens, you are captivated until the end.  "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is no exception.  This Swedish film comes with an English soundtrack and subtitles.  "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is a murder mystery that starts slow, allowing the viewer to get accustom to the climate, the story and characters.  Within the first 20 minutes or so, the action, the heat, and drama pick up captivating the audience into this Whodunit.  The film stars Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist as a investigative team intent on solving a 40 year-old murder mystery. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not rated but does contain violence, mature language and sexual content. 

The first thing when renting the DVD, is to check out the bonus material first and take a look at the Vanger family tree.  Checking out this material first will help in figuring out the complicated relations of the rich, greedy, and powerful Vanger family corporation. The story centers on Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), who is about to go to jail for libeling corporate magnate Hans-Erik Wennerström, in his magazines' article about the man. With his sources for the information gone, Blomkvist is set to turn himself in for some jail time. However, with a month remaining before he is incarcerated, Blomkvist takes on an assignment for  friend of his father's, the powerful Henrik Vanger to help him determine who killed his niece, Harriet Vanger in 1964.  Dirch Frode, lawyer for Vanger, has hired a troubled 24 year-old investigator and computer hacker to check out Blomkvist, and his troubles with the Hans-Erik Wennerström fiasco. The hacker is  Lisbeth Salander, a goth inspired, pierced, and tattoo woman living on the edge. While checking in and reporting on Blomkvist,  Although Lisbeth reports that Blomkvist is clean, she thinks there is something more to his story and that he may have been framed.  After about the first hour the Blomkvist and Lisbeth finally come together to investigate the death of Vanger's niece.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: Noomi Rapace | A Constantly Racing Mind

"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" runs 152 minutes (2.5 hours), giving plenty of time in the first hour to show Blomkvist, giving details about his issues with the libel affair, and the beginnings of the investigation of the Vanger family. Upon watching actor Michael Nyqvist, portray Blomkvist, one naturally thinks of James Bond and Daniel Craig. Although Nyqvist is older, he and Craig look and act similar.  As it turns out, Craig is scheduled to play Blomkvist in the American version of the film with David Fincher directing. Another immediate recognition is that Sven-Bertil Taube, the actor that plays Henrik Vanger looks a great deal like Max von Sydow. While the story around Blomkvist prior to them coming together is deliberate, Lisbeth's story is more tortured and violent.  Being under the supervision of a guardian, either probate or parole, I couldn't quite tell, the government informs her that her current one had a stroke.  Meeting with the new guardian Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson), Lisbeth realizes that Bjurman intends to extort her for sex.  The scenes are blatant and horrific, however, one finds that Lisbeth not only can take it, she can dish it out. When the middle-aged journalist, and the vivacious cyber-punk join forces to figure out the murder, not only are the scenes deliberate and suspenseful.  Director Niels Arden Oplev, does a good job with this lengthy adaptation of Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson, and tell a captivating story. with compelling characters. Working his way through the maze of possible suspects in the Vanger family, the suspense builds as you run your own theories in your head.  Watching 31 year-old actress Noomi Rapace play the title character, Lisbeth Salander, you begin to wonder when director Oplev is going to let us have a peek at that tattoo, and how? 

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is only the first in of a series of films that star both Rapace and Nyqvist, however, the two succeeding films are directed by others.  Oplev must be commended on bringing excellent photography, good pacing, and an excellent score together to make another good Swedish film that Americans can like since 2008's "Let the Right One In."

Movie Data
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Year:  2009
Staring:  Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Haber 
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Producer(s):  Søren Stærmose
Writer: Nikolaj Arcel, Rasmus Heisterberg, Stieg Larsson (Novel)
Rating: R
Running Time: 152 minutes
Release Date: 2/29/2009
Originally published on Yahoo.Voices on 7/12/2010

Friday, July 2, 2010

Twilight: Eclipse Review

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse: Stephenie Meyer novel directed by David Slade | A Constantly Racing Mind

Eclipse Has the Best Male Bonding Tent Scene Since Brokeback Mountain

T he first thing to remember is that the whole "Twilight Series" is written for teenaged girls. However, for every teenage girl that wants to see "Eclipse," a teenage boy will want to take her.  For every teenage girl without a boyfriend and without a driver's license, there are the girl’s parents to take her and family to see "Eclipse."  So right away, you can see how the ticket sales multiply exponentially in this fashion.  Knowing this bit of information, at least sets ones expectations for "Eclipse" in the right place.  Of The "Twilight" Saga's three different directors, David Slade ("30 Days of Night") may be the best yet.  Returning to her role as Bella Swan is the ever-dark Kristen Stewart, and reprising his James Dean looking character is the ever quiet Robert Pattinson as Edward the vampire.  Bringing heat and passion to the cold northwest is Taylor Lautner as the shape-shifting werewolf, Jacob Black.  Once again set in the cold dreary rural outskirts of Seattle, in the little town of Forks Washington, "Eclipse" brings a less depressing Bella and a more entertaining story to Twilight fans everywhere.

Bella (Stewart) and Edward (Pattinson) are making plans for graduation and potential plans for Bella's change into a vampire afterwards.  Edward is proposing marriage; however, Bella just wants to turn.  In the seedy areas of rainy, wet, Seattle, there is a series of murders taking place by newbie vampires who are without the boundaries that all good little vampires need.  You know, "spare the rod spoil the vampire.”  An old enemy from the past is creating a vampire army to take on the Cullens and specifically Edward and Bella.  Much of the movie revolves around the teen posturing that you usually find on a high school campus.  For any one who has attended high school, the scenes in "Eclipse" will bring back memories, either fond ones or not so fond memories of those good old school days.  Staying away for the first part of the film is Taylor Lautner, as he was rejected by Bella in the last movie, "New Moon," or he was still in shock from the reviews.  Returning to the screen the shirtless wonder and with his wide smile, Lautner brings the heat and warmth that the cold Edward lacks.  Bella, ever in a state of confusion, is more cheerful and active than she was in New Moon.

While lounging in the tall summer grass, Bella quotes to Edward from Robert Frost's poem 
Fire and Ice, Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice,  I think I know enough of hate To know that for destruction ice Is also great And would suffice.
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse: Taylor Lautner - Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson  | A Constantly Racing Mind
Bella hints to the audience which boyfriend she plans to choose with this poem.  Warned by the psychic Alice (Ashley Greene), that she and Edward are being hunted by Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard), Bella comes out of her shell and wants to help.  Joining the cast as this episode's list of enemies, is actor Xavier Samuel as Riley, a young man who went missing about a year ago and has since started building a vampire army.  "Eclipse" presents the viewers with the best of all situations for the teenaged audience, two guys as a love interest both fighting over you and protecting you.  Both Edward and Jacob, in trying to protect Bella from the Vampire Army, and the freezing cold, have a long wordy male bonding session in a tent while a storm howls outside.  What they say is not important, what is important to the viewer is that the two work together.  What Bella doesn't realize is that you can't have your cake and eat it too, or maybe you can.  Dealing with subject of becoming a vampirism and the subject of marriage in the same scene harkens back to the days of gothic horror.  Bella begging for penetration of one kind or another, author Stephanie Meyers through the character of Edward firmly say no.  Becoming a vampire has always been a metaphor of casting aside society’s conventions and releasing oneself to ones inner passions and Eclipse dances around this very well.  Add some well placed comedy and director David Slade turned what could easily be a very bad movie into something more enjoyable than New Moon.  

The young actors, under Slade’s direction, enrich their characters this time around.  The script is too wordy for an adult audience, but I think screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, and director Slade chose to keep in the explanations, making it easier for the teen audience and those new to the Twilight series to catch on.  In the last film, New Moon, I felt too much was left unsaid, and have not read the book the film didn't stand on its own.  Being more active in Eclipse, Stewart whose past roles include a suicidal teen in 2007's "The Messengers," frozen through most of "Zathura: A Space Adventure" (2005), and a depressed rape victim in "Speak" (2004) provided her with the background for angst ridden teens.  "Eclipse" gives her an opportunity to show some acting growth, and hopefully she will show us more in "Breaking Dawn" films.  Pattison bares his fangs from time to time and plays his part very subtly, however Lautner, reacts to Stewart's chemistry like a wolf in heat, pun intended. "Eclipse" does stand on it’s on as a complete story while leaving the audience wanting more.  

Howard Shore's compositions for the film score are appropriate and not overbearing nor pretentious.  The effects seemed a little sloppy, but happen so fast that most teenagers or adults won't notice if they are paying attention to the live actors and the story.  In this case, Slades’ direction to his visual effects group was that he wanted the effects to help tell the story and not be the story.  In that, I do applaud the "30 Days of Night" director for keeping the attention focused on the story.  Not many actual shape-shifting scenes to distract the audience with, Slade keeps the audience focused on his three lead characters and the story.  Mixing the cold blues of the Northwest sky with glowing, warm scenes of Edward and Bella, or scenes with Bella and Jacob walking in the sun keep away the gloom.  "Eclipse" is well paced, but more dialog than needed film. For the Young Adult, and extreme fans of Stephanie Meyers novels may find "Eclipse" fun and worthy of their time. However, the narrative is encumbered with overly wordy dialog at times, and a story that sometimes doesn't make any sense, but overall a fun movie to watch with your teenaged daughter. The bottom line is, take your kids if they have to see it, otherwise wait for the DVD or Blu-ray.

Movie Data
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Romance 
Year:  2010
Staring:  Xavier Samuel, Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Taylor Lautner
Director: David Slade
Producer(s): Wyck Godfrey, Karen Rosenfelt
Writer: Melissa Rosenberg, Stephenie Meyer  (Novel)
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 124 minutes
Release Date: 6/30/2010

Originally published on Associated Content by Robert Barbere on 7/2/2010

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Peter Jackson And His Schlock Horror Roots

Peter Jackson | A Constantly Racing Mind
L ooking back, I wasn't much of a Peter Jackson fan until "The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" came out in 2001, then I started taking notice.  When he released the second epic chapter of the J.J.R. Tolkien's saga, I took notice and looked into his career up to that point.  Jackson is now at a stage in his career as an established director, and can write his own ticket, I thought it would be interesting to delve into Peter Jackson's early career as both a writer and a director.  Audiences have seen Jackson's style developing over the years in the screenplays he writes, the films he directs, and the movies he chooses to produce.  As of this writing, the directorial helm of the prequel to Jackson's LOTR trilogy is still up in the air; as audiences wait in anticipation of Jackson, hopefully, taking over the reigns of the film.

Have Camera Will Travel

Like many of us who were born in the early 60's, Jackson was able to get hold of a Super 8 movie camera.  He stared, wrote, directed, and acted in his own films.  Those were the days of free-range kids who had a hobby were free to go forth and conquer.  The thing about Jackson is that he didn't give up those childhood dreams; he pursued them.  In 1987, when Jackson was 26, he wrote, directed, and acted in "Bad Taste," a science fiction, horror-comedy.  When watching "Bad Taste," the first film that comes to mind is Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead" from 1981.  Although "Bad Taste" still looks amateurish when compared to "Evil Dead," you can see the direction that Jackson is going, in regards, to film direction and style.  Making low-budget films is an art of economy and imagination.  When little or no money is available to produce your own films, camera tricks from the early days of filmmaking are put to good use.  Not having any actors, Jackson, doubles in the part of Derek and as Robert (the alien) and with some camera placement trickery fought with himself on the side of a cliff.  Bad Taste is one of those bad films that people tend to love because of the low budget gruesome effects.  Jackson submitted "Bad Taste" to the Cannes Film Festival in 1987 where he was noticed and started to make international deals.

Cult Classic Fodder

Peter Jackson makes no bones about creating a bad film; "Bad Taste" is admired for the cheesiness and camp factor.  Unlike some directors who make terrible films by accident, Jackson's "Bad Taste" was meant to inspire the gag reflex and the funny bone.  Jackson's next film took the audience in a different direction.  "Meet the Feebles," is Jackson's social commentary about sex, drugs, and what Jackson considers the dark side of Hollywood filmmaking.  Watching "Meet the Feebles," you wonder if you are watching a film from the same Peter Jackson that brought Tolkien’s "Lord of The Rings" to the world.  The tag line went something like this, "From the director that brought you Bad Taste come a movie with no taste at all."  Following a troupe of life-size animal puppets, the ridiculous suits are unnerving as the characters portray human emotions, needs, and desires.  The violence in "Meet the Feebles" is done with in a cartoon style and lit in muted oranges, blues, and greens.  Various scenes that show Feebles puppet characters doing drugs, having sex, and in one scene, the machine gun toting Heidi the Hippo exterminates the other puppet characters.  The puppet's that Jackson uses are creepy versions of the "Star Wars Muppets. "  Watching scenes of Meet the Feebles are hints of improvement in camera technique, acting, and overall production values that one will see later in 1996's "Frighteners."

God Defend New Zealand

Choosing to stay in his native New Zealand, is a major decision that Jackson makes early in his career, and an important one.  During "Meet the Feebles," Peter Jackson had the fortune to work with Richard Taylor.  In this collaboration, audiences start to see a significant jump in the quality of filmmaking in Jackson's films.  The mark of a good director is the ability to work closely, with great people.  Taylor and Tania Rodger formed the special effects company Weta Workshop in 1987; and ever since are key contributors to Jackson's filmmaking look and feel.  Like Lucas, Jackson’s Weta Workshop works on every Jackson film since "Meet the Feebles," and continues with Jackson in the making of 1992's "Dead Alive," a horror comedy about a guy trying to keep his zombie mother under control.  Like the "Meet the Feebles," Jackson takes on mature subject matters with zombies having sex, the usual gratuitous violence, and extreme gore.  Still honing in on the craft of directing B grade horror movies, "Dead Alive" is pure camp that appeals to fans of bad movies. Working closely with Taylor and Rodger Jackson continue building Weta, as they move into production of their next film, "Heavenly Creatures."

Peter Jackson: Dead Alive | A Constantly Racing Mind

Moving Toward Mainstream

Telling a true-crime story, Jackson, and wife, Fran Walsh wrote the screenplay focusing on the events leading up to the 1954 Parker–Hulme murder.  Instead of cheap, comic horror, Walsh and Jackson go into the relationship of Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme prior to the murder of Parker's mother.  Developing characters and building tension in the story rather, gives "Heavenly Creatures" a more professional look that Jackson later displays in LOTR and King Kong.  Jackson's use of Taylor and the newly formed division of their Weta Workshop, Weta Digital to create the special effects 1994's "Heavenly Creatures."  Using the bright, colorful palette of Christchurch New Zealand, the film is bright and cheery contrasting with the dark subject matter.  Slipping between reality and the world of illusion, Weta and Jackson together creates a controversial film without going over the boundaries of good taste.  The film is notable in the fact that it received a nomination for an Academy award, but also that it starred the 17 year-old Kate Winslet in her first feature film.  As Jackson directs new films, the quality of his filmmaking improves and Jackson gets better at his craft.

A Brief Sidestep

Returning to comedy, in 1995 Jackson co-directed "Forgotten Silver" along with fellow New Zealander, Costa Botes.  Detailing the life of an unknown New Zealand filmmaker, Jackson and Botes developed an elaborate history for the fictional Colin McKenzie.  Done in documentary style, Jackson and Botes star as filmmakers rediscovering McKenzie, and even include film critic Leonard Maltin in segments giving the audience the sense of realism. Like Orson Welles's "War of the Worlds" 1938 radio broadcast, New Zealanders were shocked to find that McKenzie was made up.  More of a side project, Jackson's return to feature filmmaking was about to break wide open.

The Big Time, Almost

Peter Jackson: Frighteners | A Constantly Racing Mind The "Frighteners" was Jackson's first film to have a well-know actor starring in his film.  Six years after his success with the last "Back to the Future" films, Michael J. Fox, was starring in less than financially successful pictures. Although "The Frighteners" was about a guy in a Midwestern town, Fox flew to New Zealand, where Jackson wanted to shoot.  Released during the Summer Olympics in 1996, "The Frighteners" only grossed $29,359,216 in its worldwide release.  After "The Frighteners," Fox went back to television, starring in "Spin City" until his retirement from acting.  Again, Jackson's style of filmmaking improves, and while still making a horror comedy, "The Frighteners" doesn't come off as campy or low budget as his previous horror movies.  Utilizing Weta Digital for the effects, he maxed out the company's resources with the number of effects needed to produce all the ghosts.  In many cases, the effects seemed overused, and in many ways, the visual effects crowd out the storyline.  While watching "The Frighteners" for the first time, my immediate reaction was to double check who the director was, because the film seemed to be done in the same style as "Beetlejuice."  Until watching the end of the film did, I notice that it wasn't Tim Burton but some guy named Jackson from New Zealand.  Danny Elfman's soundtrack heightened the confusion and the dark comedy seemed more like Burton as the plot developed.  Although I thought "The Frighteners" was good, I did think the ending was too good to be true.

Peter Jackson dropped off my radarscope until the beginning of a new century.  After 9/11, the world was in need of some good escapist alternatives to the terrorists’ attacks that preceded the release of "The Lord of the Rings." Jackson's hard work for the last ten years paid off.  From the low-budget horror pictures, that marked Jackson's attempt at feature filmmaking, to the grand vision that is the LOTR in 2001 is a worthy achievement.  While still using camera tricks to create the illusion of Hobbits and Dwarves, he is now part of filmmaking history for doing so.  Jackson’s use of the breathtaking green landscape of his native New Zealand echoes in the bright blue of Cameron's Pandora in "Avatar."  The special effects of Weta Workshop rival Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic and in many ways, they are equals.  Jackson's skill at telling dramatic stories and interjecting comedy into a picture is superb.  Serving as executive producer for upcoming projects like "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn," which is in post-production and will be released in 2011, Jackson holds the key to the future of science fiction and fantasy filmmaking.  In many ways, he has become the master of fantasy filmmaking and as the producer of "The Hobbit," he must decide if he should take over the project, and direct it himself.


Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson
Weta Workshops
Weta Digital