Hear Me Out Before You Shut Me Out

Archive for February, 2012

Ed Wood: The Best Movie on the Worst Director

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Ed Wood is distributed by Touchstone Pictures

I’m taking a different route this time by reviewing an older movie. I heard a lot about this one, like how it’s one of the most underrated films of the year. It’s an interesting view of one of Hollywood’s most…interesting people: Edward D. Wood, Jr. Cult film lovers know this guy, but the rest of the world have never heard of him. This guy is hailed as the worst director that ever lived. He made low-budget movies with horrible storytelling and crummy production. He used strange casting decisions in the weirdest of roles. He wears women’s clothing when he’s not filming. All of this plays out in Tim Burton’s unseen classic Ed Wood.

Many people don’t like Tim Burton, but I love his work. Sure, his last movie doesn’t qualify for quality, but he’s made more good movies than you know. That’s the beauty of him: for every good movie, he’s made an underrated movie. For Batman, there was Batman Returns. For Edward Scissorhands, there was Sweeney Todd. For Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, there was Big Fish. Ed Wood definitely fits in the spot of “best movies you haven’t seen” because despite its weirdness and zaniness, there is so much to enjoy. The cast play this ensemble of characters so well that you’d think they were actually the characters. The dialogue can be strange but also funny. The best part is that it’s filmed kinda like an Ed Wood movie. Watching this story, it’s hard to believe that a man like this even existed.

During the 1950’s in the height of science fiction, Edward D. Wood, Jr (Johnny Depp, if that surprises you) decides that he wants to work in film. Inspired by his idol Orson Welles (Vincent D’Onofrio in one scene), Wood directs, writes and produces his movies. With the help of his girlfriend (Sarah Jessica Parker), some friends and even fallen star Bela Lugosi (amazingly done by Martin Landau, but I’ll get to that later), Wood independently makes movies that eventually stink so hard that they smell like roses. But after hardships occur, Wood has to figure out how he can overcome them and continue his movie-making dream.

Four things stand out the most in this movie. The first is the ensemble. Johnny Depp as the titular weirdo gives him charm and amusement that you wouldn’t expect to find. This character is by far the strangest I’ve ever seen, and I saw him in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Ed Wood apparently filmed everything in one take. It didn’t matter if someone knocked over a prop or said a line weird, it went in the movie regardless. Hell, all of the lines in his movie were weird. “Pull the string! Pull the string!” Martin Landau won the Oscar for his role as Bela Lugosi, and first viewing of this movie can explain why. He doesn’t just play Bela, he becomes Bela. There’s some dispute as to how accurate Burton depicted Lugosi in this movie, but Landau’s performance is spot on. His accent sounded natural as well. With his physical acting, his physiognomies (facial reactions), and his delivery, Landau almost stole the show in every scene. This was a better Bela than Kirsten Stewart in Twilight. After that comes Bill Murray playing a flamboyantly gay man surprisingly convincing. An odd departure from his usual shtick, but nevertheless he does well. The only performance in this movie that didn’t do very well was Vincent D’Onofrio as Orson Welles because you can easily tell that wasn’t his voice. Someone dubbed over him, and it sadly shows.

The second thing that stands out is the story. A hack director making strange movies strangely? It sounds too good to be true, but truth can be stranger than fiction. This story proves two things: a can-do spirit can take you so far, and that it’s always best to do more than one take. Burton also uses this story to glorify the auteur. Welles advises Wood to have full control over his material and not allow the producers to tell him what to do. Granted, Wood perhaps should have listened to his producers, but he probably wouldn’t be remembered if he did. Sadly, few directors stand out as visionaries. Nowadays, most directors serve as the pawns to the producers, and they ironically make worse movies than Wood did. At least Wood’s movies were  entertaining albeit for unintentional reasons. Some parts of the movie do get sad and/or pretty scary, like Bela’s story regarding his morphine addiction. You don’t see him inject a needle, but you do see the holes along his arm.

The third thing that stands out is the dialogue. Actually, make that the delivery of the dialogue. Some lines seem pretty standard to the character, but the way the actors say them make them either funny or just enjoyable. How can no one laugh at how nonchalantly Ed says “I like to wear women’s clothing” or how Landau curses out an admirer for undermining him for Karloff. Much of what is said probably didn’t exist, but does it make the movie more entertaining. The fourth and final aspect that stands out is the cinematography. Burton filmed this like an Ed Wood B-movie which attributes more to its charm and appreciation. It segues a number of Ed Wood elements like fake saucers and a model of the city in the opening credits. You can guess what you’re going to expect in this movie: a king of kitsch at work.

Ed Wood intentionally glorifies someone who probably doesn’t deserve it, but we respect him even more because of it. His movies did suck, but at least we had fun watching them to some extent (probably thanks to Mystery Science Theater 3000) This movie probably is the best movie associated with the lunatic behind Plan 9 From Outer Space. The actors give great performances as the strangest lot of people. The story itself either entertains or motivates. It’s odd seeing a biopic for a person like this, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t good. It’s definitely a movie for film lovers and wannabe filmmakers both in glorifying the spirit of filmmaking and educating us in how NOT to make film.

Final rating: 8.6 (Do Go)


The Woman in Black: Potter Lives…Barely

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The Woman in Black is distributed by CBS Films

Now that Harry Potter is over, many will wonder what will happen to the actors now? The problem with blockbusters like these is that they wind up killing the actors’ careers before they even start. They find it hard to match the success of their previous role. Daniel Radcliffe would seem to have the hardest time to adjust. He just can’t go from playing The Boy Who Lived to being something completely different…or can he? Will he have life after Hogwarts? Many hoped so with The Woman in Black.

This movie marks the return to Hammer horror and features a lot of classic horror tropes: goth, ghosts, jump scares…so many and so typical that you can predict when they happen. You know those screamer videos where you know something is bound to jump out and shock you? The Woman in Black is a 95 minute screamer video, except occasionally effective in its jump scares. An interesting story and style aside, the movie mostly comes out as a shallow and only somewhat decent horror mystery with only gimmicks and little impact.

Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a young father who goes into a town to investigate Eel Marsh Manor. The place is inhabited by the ghost of its previous owner: a woman who lost her son in the marsh. In her vengeance, she takes out the children of the townspeople one by one. Anyone who sees her will know a child will meet his/her end. Throughout the movie, Kipps learns more about her and discovers why she bring s her wrath to the town.

Radcliffe suffers the same problem that Shia LaBeouf suffered in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps: he’s sadly miscast but tries nevertheless to make it work. He still suffers from that boyish charm that made him sell Harry Potter. Just like in the ending of Deathly Hallows Part II, he couldn’t convince the audience that he was a father. Despite this youthful handicap, he tries to make an effort. You can see it in his eyes in a number of scenes. With time and age, he might be one of the greatest actors of his generation.

While the story itself provides an intriguing mystery, the delivery turns into a drinking game: take a shot for every scene that obviously leads to a jump. The sudden silence as the movie goes on; the slow movement; the obvious dark scenery and/or cliché setups. You name it, and they have it all. Some jumps actually do freak people out even if you can predict them, but the rest become too easy and too tiresome to care anymore. The delivery of the story gets rather sluggish in the first half of the movie and picks up right around the middle of the film. Too much silence in the house doesn’t seem too compelling. The Gothic style of the movie does fit well with the story, and the costumes and sets really do add to it. If they took out some of the tropes and replaced them with something more interesting, the movie wouldn’t suffer so much. A good number of the cinematography actually provides some good shots, especially those with the Woman putting her influence on the children. Again, the style.

The Woman in Black sadly becomes one of those movies that offer no impact to people despite a number of things. Radcliffe tries to fit but only somewhat succeeds. The jump scares get tiresome pretty quickly. It’s an interesting story but required some reworking to prevent being held back as just cheap entertainment. So will Daniel Radcliffe have a career after Harry Potter? It’s possible, but not in here.

Final rating: 5.5 (Don’t Go)


The Grey: Liam Neeson is Lord of the Flies

forgive my delay as I saw this last week.

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The Grey is distributed by Liddell Entertainment

We’ve seen man have to battle nature constantly, from Tom Hanks to Bear Grylls. It isn’t just that he survives that intrigues us but rather how he survives. How does he cope with the loneliness or the potential possibility that he will die? How does he fight death and, more importantly, does he win? What some of these don’t show is how scary survival can be, especially in cruel places like…I don’t know… the frozen tundra. Enter Liam Neeson with The Grey.

Director Joe Carnahan brings us one of the first films of the year with this one: a psychological thriller that explores not just the man trying to survive but also contemplate the importance of it. In the midst of all this, the experience itself turns out to be pretty decent with a few scary and even powerful moments. Combined with great cinematography, powerful dialogue, and decent direction, The Grey gives a satisfying look on the internal and external struggles out in the wilderness.

Neeson plays John Ottway, a man hired to kill wolves for an oil drilling team in Alaska. While contemplating suicide, he wonders whether or not his life amounts to anything. After his plane crashes (in a pretty intense and nicely done way), he and a group of other men have to battle the bitter ice and a pack of wolves that want to feast on them. In the process, each wonder about the spiritual and the physiological reasons as to why they should keep moving.

Neeson’s played some good roles and some bad roles but still plays them all the same. Nevertheless, he’s a trusted source when it comes to the determined common fighter. If Qui-Gon Jin didn’t make you happy, check out Michael Collins for a much better performance. This role really does fit him even if you can tell he’s playing a role. At times he does grasp the depression and sadness of his character, but most of the time he’s still pretty subtle and incoherent. Good news is you can understand the best lines. Neeson surrounds himself with an ensemble of relative nobodies who manage to capture the realism and interest of the characters. They look and feel like real people bonding with each other.

Joe Carnahan focuses more on realism than exaggerated action or suspense. The things that happen in this movie can possibly happen in real life, such as wolves and getting trapped in the water. The realism does grip the audience into the experience without being over the top, but it does fall victim to the typical jump scare. He tries to make the wolves as the ultimate enemy, but the scariest moments in the movie don’t involve the wolves; hell, they don’t involve the jump scares. Fear needs to linger with the audience without giving them the typical shock and awe. If the entire moment strikes concern as opposed to just one typical shriek, then it’s truly a scary moment. That’s how movies like Black Swan and Fight Club  succeed as psychological thrillers. Seeing how everyone dies in the movie adds more to the internal issue regarding death and, interestingly, helps us understand it. Neeson explains to someone what death is like, and we get to see it in the eyes of one of the characters. This makes the death more bittersweet than sad, although some deaths are.

The most interesting part, though, is how Neeson searches for a spiritual need to live. The most reoccurring part involves a poem that his father wrote. He repeats the line “live or die on this day” which proves more powerful as the last line in the movie than in anything else. It becomes apparent that he’s not only battling the grey of the snow but that of the human will. All of this is captured with simple, impressionist shots of Alaska that take its time in capturing the world around these men; the movie doesn’t leap around like most movies do. It’s not Saving Private Ryan worthy, but it’s refreshing for this kind of movie.

The Grey may seem like another survival movie, but it stands out as something a little more. While it suffers from the tropes of horror movies, the moments that work really do work. Neeson doesn’t disappoint in his role. The realism and impressionism offer a beautiful yet scary depiction of the Alaskan wilderness. It gives the audience a first-hand experience as to what life and death mean and may give the audience a reason whether to “live or die on this day”. It’s not the best movie of the year, but it’s definitely worth seeing once.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 (I’d Go)