Thursday, May 24, 2007

Third Time is Only Somewhat Charming

A good family film is one that can make a five-year old laugh as hard as a 35-year old. The first two Shrek installments did exactly that. With jokes about high school, marriage and fatherhood, Shrek the Third was made more for the 35-year olds. Don’t get me wrong, the movie was funny—downright gut-busting at times, but the kids sitting in the audience weren’t laughing nearly as hard as the adults. Last time I checked, that’s not good for family business.

Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are standing in for Fiona’s father, the ailing frog king. In classic Shrek fashion, every event they attend turns into a massive disaster. After a montage of uncomfortable, yet hilarious scenes, Shrek and Fiona are called to the king’s bedside. On his deathbed, King Harold (John Cleese) names Shrek and Fiona his heirs to the throne. Shrek doesn’t want to give up his beloved swamp and goes on a mission with Puss in Boots and Donkey (Antonia Banderas and Eddie Murphy) to find the only other heir—Fiona's cousin Arthur (voiced surprisingly well by Justin Timberlake). Meanwhile, Fiona is left at home with a bun in the oven and a gang of fairytale villains who want to take over Far Far Away.

King Harold’s death and funeral are two of the sharpest scenes in the entire movie. With classic overdramatic dying, John Cleese makes me snicker even if I know his character is about to expire. Puss and Donkey more than steal the scene with their tête-à-tête on whether the king is actually dead or not. And if these moments are funny enough, the funeral features a choir of frogs singing “Live and Let Die” while Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews) pushes her husband to his watery grave in a shoebox (from Ye Olde Foot Locker of course).

Sadly, not every scene is this funny. There are still funny parts scattered throughout--most of them involving Donkey and/or Puss--but Shrek the Third doesn’t live up to its predecessors. Artie’s storyline is slightly funny, and it is cute to see him as the high school loser competing against jock Lancelot and pining over prom-queen-to-be Guinevere. Meeting crazy magic teacher Merlin (Eric Idle) in the forest brings on some serious guffaws, but I still can’t give this movie five stars.

The story lines are all too weak. I need more on Shrek’s journey with Artie or possibly more on his fears of fatherhood. More than anything, I need a more interesting foe than Prince Charming (Rupert Everett). His mother was incredible as the wicked villain in the Shrek 2, but Prince Charming is a whiny, fair-haired prince who couldn’t carry a sub-storyline if he wanted. Alas, Shrek the Third, though far better than many third movies I’ve seen, is simply the one installment that will sit unwatched in the box set you buy for your kids.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Forties Revival

I will never forgive Paul Verhoeven for Showgirls. It just won't happen. But I'll pretend to forget he ever made it since seeing Zwartboek (Black Book to us Americans). I went into the theatre not knowing what to expect, and I came out truly satisfied. I may have enjoyed Total Recall and Starship Troopers, but Verhoeven has never really impressed me. Black Book, in comparison to Verhoeven's past works, is spectacular.

Carice van Houten plays Rachel, a Dutch Jewish woman who's in hiding during WWII. In a matter of days (and minutes in the first act of the film), Rachel's hiding place is bombed, her entire family is gunned down by Nazis, and she's taken in by a resistance group where she receives a new identity as Ellis. With her new identity and a strong will to survive, Ellis infiltrates a Nazi commune in order to save members of the resistance. At first, Ellis slips easily in and out of her role as the beautiful girlfriend of a Nazi officer, but quickly things begin to escalate and snowball. This is when the film got really interesting.

Not being a connoisseur of Dutch films, I recognized not one of the actors, and I was grateful. I always find recognition hampering the first time I see a film. An unknown cast always helps the story flow better for me. And boy, does this story flow! Even in the tender moments of sex or death, the beat is quick, the moment gone before you can savor it. This speed may be harrowing for some viewers, but I think it works. This movie is about a woman who will do anything to survive. Ellis has no time to enjoy life, and Verhoeven doesn't allow the audience the grace either.

Verhoeven isn't just going back to WWII with his story, he wants the whole film to travel back in time. The fast paced, forties-style storyline is complimented by a forties feel. Not just in dress and speech but in the entire look. The editing is simple, never flashy. The characters are saturated in color. The backgrounds stay muted and pristine, looking so perfect they could be painted. The camera movements are simple and never overshadow the performances.

Even though Black Book presents an entire package, the story is still the shining star. It may be advertised as a war drama, but there is a fair share of mystery. Most of the film is pretty straightforward, but about halfway through, a twist pops up...then another and another. Not the kind of twist that M. Night Shyamalan is so proud of, mind you. The kind of twist that makes you crave answers. Many questions are answered by the time the credits roll, but you'll walk out of the theatre with a handful more. You'll be left thinking about what you may have missed, wondering about the mysteries left unanswered, and trying to figure out when you can watch it again. And that, boys and girls, is the true beauty of this film.

Friday, May 11, 2007

2 Bloggers and a Movie

Kate, of Cinematic Musings fame, and I have decided to try something. We both are film nuts, and we see a lot of the same movies. Miraculously, we've never written a review about the same movie. Now that the summer is rolling around, and some pretty big movies are about to hit the cineplexes, we'd thought we'd test out a new format. So, without further ado, I present you...

A Conversation with Kate about Spider-Man 3
Faith: Well, Kate, I saw Spider-Man last night.
Kate: Yeah? And…
Faith: Booooooooooring.
Kate: What!? This one is so my favorite.
Faith: I was entertained for maybe 20 minutes.
Kate: I felt Spidey 2 was boring...3 is the one I liked so much more than the other two.
Faith: The fight scenes between Harry and Peter were interesting. And, of course, the showdown at the end was interesting.
Kate: I was more entertained by 3 than any of the others.
Faith: Most of the movie felt forced and drawn out.
Kate: 1 was good. 2 was eh. 3 was hysterical!
Faith: I did laugh a lot but mostly because it was far too absurd. And come on, “Bad Peter” had eyeliner and punk wannabe hair!
Kate: Hahaha...yeah. The whole black eyeliner thing was stupid, but the strutting was awesome.
Faith: The strutting was funny, not awesome.
Kate: I don't buy Tobey Maguire as the eyeliner bad boy at all. And no, the strutting was AWESOME. Was it just me...or was casting Topher "I'm cuter than Tobey" Grace a bad deal? The only thing that really set them apart was hairstyle and color. They could be brothers.
Faith: “I’m cuter than Tobey”—that’s funny. I don't think it was a bad idea. I think it was the point. Oh! Oh! Can we say it was a little too on the nose when Eddie prays for Peter’s death?
Kate: I think my reaction to that was..."What?! Where the heck did that come from?!" He went from, “Oh, that guy really burns my toast” to “DIE, MUTHERF***ER, DIE!”
Faith: Yeah, Eddie Brock--evil before the goo. Maybe that's why the goo made him super freaky.
Kate: I don't think they really developed him well enough for him to have that kind of dynamic personality shift, you know?
Faith: But they established his jerkiness pretty quickly.
Kate: Yes, jerkiness, but not evilness.
Faith: True.
Kate: There are bigger A-holes than him who would never go to a cathedral and sincerely wish for someone's untimely demise.
Faith: That is very true. That’s just one example. There were many “too much too fast” moments.
Kate: Yeah, I think they did a much better job with Thomas Haden Church. I thought they rushed the "Spider-Man publicity" ferver in Tobey, too.
Faith: Definitely.
Kate: I was kind of sitting there going..."Wha-? But you? Since when-? Um...OK." But it was funny when he was watching the video and told the kids, "Hey wait...come back. It's gonna start over again in about 30 seconds" Hahaha.
Faith: That was more in the spirit of Peter, but his actions later on? Boo, Peter!
Kate: I know! And you know what else? I totally didn't know who Bryce Dallas Howard was.
Faith: Really?!
Kate: Yeah, no clue.
Faith: It helped that I knew the cast beforehand, but I also saw her name in the opening credits. Oh, let's talk about the opening credits, shall we?
Kate: Sure. Shoot.
Faith: What was up with the full recap?
Kate: I liked it, thought it was a fun reminder. I'd only seen the second movie once in theatres, so I didn't remember much of anything.
Faith: I just thought it was an interesting way to open the movie. Did I really need a full on recap of the last two movies?
Kate: Let me say there were many things about Spider-Man 3 that didn't sit well with me. However, for a fun, summer blockbusting-action-comedic-ride with some returning enjoyable characters, I had a blast. Plus, it beat the pants off Pirates 2.
Faith: Hmm. I don't think I can agree. Pirates was disappointing in comparison to the first one, but I still enjoyed it. I can honestly say I'm happy I didn't pay full price to see Spidey.
Kate: Really?
Faith: Yep. I think Spider-Man 3 can be compared to a good story that lost its way.
Kate: Please illuminate.
Faith: There was way too much filler. At 2 hours and 20 minutes, it stopped being an action movie with a love story, and became a movie that couldn't decide what it was. Am I about the action? The love story? The friendship? The slapstick comedy?
Kate: BLUNT FORCE TRAUMA. Tiny plot variance. BLUNT FORCE TRAUMA. Pitifulness. BLUNT FORCE TRAUMA. Stupidity. Blunt force trauma, blunt force trauma, blunt force trauma.
Faith: Yes!
Kate: My friends did tell me that it was enjoyable watching the movie with me because I kept making noises about the pain.
Faith: I enjoyed the blunt force trauma parts.
Kate: Yeah.
Faith: The fight scenes were far better than 1 or 2.
Kate: But that's all the movie was. It was more about the action sequences than anything else.
Faith: Yeah, but if it had completely been about the action, then it would have been a 90-minute movie.
Kate: Exactly. Ninety minutes of slamming into buildings and swinging and sand pounding. No dialogue...unless it was cheesy Hot Fuzz dialogue like "Playtime's over!"
Faith: Oh, come on. There was some good dialogue... Oh, who am I kidding?
Kate: Certainly not me! For all its plot holes and poor character development, I still thought it was fun.


Faith: Oh! Let me tell you the best moment in the entire movie.
Kate: OK.
Faith: The moment on the bridge when MJ broke up with Peter.
Kate: Not the strutting?
Faith: Haha. No.
Kate: As far as emotion?
Faith: Yep. Tobey friggin' broke my heart.
Kate: It was soooo pitiful. I personally think the best emotional scene was with the Sandman at the end.
Faith: I'm sticking with Peter and MJ on the bridge.
Kate: But the end was such a let down. A whole movie build up to a freakin' engagement, and then… What? A dance?!
Faith: Hahaha.
Kate: Do NOT leave it open for 4! Freakin’ ask her to freakin’ marry you!!

**SPOILER ENDED**Faith: Yeah, that sucked big time. I thought that last scene was a microcosm of the entire movie--tons of build up with a really weak payoff.
Kate: Right, Ebert. A microcosm. Any which way you look at it, the movie left itself open for a fourth installment...judging by the actors' lack of enthusiasm for the completion of a third...I have a hard time believing that dangling plot point will ever be wrapped up as nicely as I would've liked. (But I still thought it was great!)
Faith: I assume that makes you Roeper? Well then, Roeper, we agree on too many other movies for me to hold your opinion against you. It's been grand, Kate. Let's do it again.
Kate: Any time, Faith. I haven't held the fact that you won't watch Murder By Death against you either!
Faith: Hey! I'll watch it...eventually.

Well, folks, there it is--our first in, hopefully, a long line of conversations. I hope you enjoyed it as much as my traditional reviews.