The Black Dahlia review

I got to go out and see The Black Dahlia the other night even though the latest from Brian DePalma had been getting less than positive reviews. I actually enjoyed it and I don't know if that was due to the low expectations I had or that fact that I wanted to like it. Either way, I liked it and I couldn't quite see what everyone didn't like about the film.
Be forewarned, there is not a lot of time actually spent on the investigation of the murder of Elizabeth Short. The film actually is buddy cop movie starring Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart, oh yeah and Scarlett Johanson is in it too, but really she's not that noticeable. Hilary Swank actually stands out here, as does Mia Kirshner, in her few scenes as the doomed 'Dahlia'. Eventually we do get a conclusion about the murder that ties everyone involved in the story to the crime.
This film is full of allusions and homages to other films, DePalma's included. Watch for scenes that immediately make you think of The Untouchables and Carrie. Also there are many references to a 1928 silent film called The Man Who Laughs. The James Ellroy apparently has this theme also. So, throughout The Black Dahlia we see clips from the 1928 film, references to Victor Hugo (author of the original novel), even clown paintings scattered in key locations. The only thing I knew about The Man Who Laughs before seeing The Black Dahlia was that the film version has been cited as an inspiration for the character of The Joker from the comic book universe.
Hartnett, Swank and Eckhart are all good in their acting turns and DePalma is in fine form here, even though he took over production from David Fincher. If you like crime stories from this era or Brian DePalma films, than The Black Dahlia is for you.

Netflix review: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

First time director Shane Black has made a very entertaining dark comedy with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Starring Robert Downey Jr. as our narrator Harry; the film follows him as he stumbles from a life of crime in New York to the upside down world of Hollywood as a wanna-be actor. Hollywood apparently is bristling with swank parties, powerful people and deadly people; however there is no police presence whatsoever.
While in Hollywood, Harry is paired up with a private detective, Val Kilmer in one of his funniest roles. Harry is supposed to observe the life of a private eye to help prepare him for a movie role, but that's not important to the story. Harry also meets up with a childhood friend, played by Michelle Monaghan, who is much better in this movie than she was in Mission: Impossible III. But that's not important either.
In fact not much is important to the story in this film, the murder mystery that three of them get involved with is not that interesting (did I mention Val Kilmer is really funny?). The movie is not very serious but sometimes takes itself so. However, throughout the movie Downey's character cracks jokes about how we are actually just watching a film; his character is very aware in that aspect.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a very funny movie, don't get me wrong. There's just not that much to it all.


Harvey Dent rumors

Being the Batman geek that I am, I have to run any news I think is cool regarding the upcoming Batman Begins sequel: The Dark Knight. A while ago it was reported that Liev Schreiber was being considered to play Gotham D.A. Harvey Dent, a.k.a. Two Face (the character has appeared twice previously in Batman films). It's generally assumed that Harvey Dent will be Batman's ally in seeking justice through most or all of The Dark Knight, then later becoming one of the most notorious rogues gallery members as Two Face in a third film. I can't wait to see what director Christopher Nolan does with that relationship.
Now according to Cinematical, Schreiber is out and a new name is getting tossed around, one that I can't believe hasn't been mentioned yet. Guy Pearce, the man who got his first break in Memento; a film that put Nolan's name on the map as well. From L.A. Confidential, to Ravenous, to Memento, Pearce has always impressed me; he even made The Time Machine bearable. I wasn't very thrilled with any of the other names mentioned for this role and I think Pearce would be dead on. He has the ability to project that scary level of passion for justice as D.A. Dent, and he could easily be just as creepy when portraying Two Face. I hope this is more then just a rumor and that Nolan and company are doing what they can to get Pearce. We should be hearing something official on this within a few weeks.


'Chicks' doc shows no regrets

Until their new album was released a few months ago,The Dixie Chicks had completely dropped off the radar. Now that Taking The Long Way has gone platinum, it's safe to say that lead singer Natalie Maines' comment about President Bush didn't hurt their careers all that much. A new film about the Chicks, directed by two-time Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple, is showing at the Toronto International Film Festival. It documents their work on the new album and how their lives were changed by the backlash to Maines' comments. The film, titled Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing, has received minor coverage, while President Bush is making quit a splash at the festival with multiple films featuring him.
In March of 2003, in front of a London audience, Maines spoke out against the President and his decision to invade Iraq, saying that she was "ashamed that the President was from Texas" (the Chicks' home state). After that the band faced protests, lower ticket sales, radio boycotts, a death threat that attracted concern from the FBI, and general ostracism by the country music community. Apparently the Red Cross even rejected a $1 million donation from the band. Blue collar heroes such as singer Toby Keith and Larry the Cable Guy publicly criticized the Chicks; in his act, The Cable Guy said about Maines: "That little fat one better shut up". President Bush was quoted about the negative reaction of fans to Maines' statement, saying that "Freedom of speech is a two way street".

Maines and her bandmates, Emily Robinson and Martie Maguire, have lost many supporters since the day they chose to speak out about something other than music. But they have also gained many new fans who applaud their independence, myself included. For more on the film, follow the link to Phil Gallo's review at Variety.


take a geeky look in the mirror

I thoroughly enjoyed this list I found while digging through The Movie Blog archives. Originally published on ToyFare's website, it's called The Geek 100 and if anything, the list is an entertaining read for geeks and non-geeks alike. It's a list of the greatest moments in film, tv, comics and pop culture; according to geeks (it includes the bizarro episode of Star Trek). I had so much fun going through this list; many items on it are moments from some of my favorite films. Check it out and see if you can remember the first time you witnessed these geek-culture-shaping events.

In other news, Apple Computer has announced the ability to download movies from it's online iTunes Store. Currently, only titles from Disney, Miramax, Pixar and Touchstone are available (come on Hollywood, get with the program!). This could potentially be a very big step. The resolution of the iTunes movies and shows is TV quality and it looks great on your computer at full screen. Down the road, users will be able to broadcast their downloaded movies and TV shows wirelessly to their TVs when Apple releases their 'iTV' device next year. You still can't burn them to DVD but I think iTunes users are really going to make this thing take off.

Last but not least, if you want to see a clip... sorry, THE CLIP, from the film Death Of A President; you'll have to look for it for yourself cause the link I had to the Daily Mail was taken down.


update: Jackson busy with other dragons

So it seems that Peter Jackson may not be doing The Hobbit after all, but I guess that's okay because it sounds like he's got a new project to be excited about. It's called 'Temeraire', based on a series of novels of the same name, by Naomi Novik. I looked up the books and they sound really interesting. The concept of the stories is that during the Napoleonic era, dragons are used as a sort of air force.

"'Temeraire' is a terrific meld of two genres that I particularly love -- fantasy and historical epic," states Jackson about acquiring the rights. "I can't wait to see Napoleonic battles fought with a squadron of dragons. That's what I go to the movies for."

This sounds like a really great project and I would love to see it done, but at what cost? Will Temeraire be a fair substitute for Jackson's version of The Hobbit?

If you still want to read more about the proposed Hobbit movie, head over to Looking Closer Journal where Jeffrey has some good ideas.

In other news, the film Death Of A President will get a U.S. theatrical release and the Borat movie gets good reviews from Toronto.


is The Hobbit in the works?

I've read all over the internet today that, according to Variety magazine, MGM's CEO Harry Sloan announced some of the big projects his studio will be taking on in the near future. Included were sequels to The Pink Panther and The Thomas Crown Affair, a new installment of the Terminator series, and most surprisingly: J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (MGM owns the distribution rights to a Hobbit film). And he wants Peter Jackson to direct.
I had given up hope on the prospects of seeing The Hobbit in theaters, and at this point I am still very skeptical. However, regardless of my outer pessimism, the geek within is very, very excited. How does Peter Jackson actually fit into this equation? Well he's quoted over at Aint it Cool News saying that he hasn't been approached yet but he would love to do The Hobbit, however he says his schedule for the next couple of years is filling up (Though I have a feeling that if they asked him to do it, he'd find the time). No word from New Line (who owns the rights to make The Hobbit) on whether they see eye to eye with MGM.
It really wouldn't be the same if they didn't bring back the entire Oscar winning crew from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. So of course there's already an online petition you can sign that is addressed to MGM and New Line, pleading for the same level of quality that we got with the LOTR trilogy. I've already signed it; I would love to be able to watch The Hobbit, follow it with the LOTR trilogy and not be able to tell they were made as separate projects. Alas, it's still very early to determine if this project will even happen; I won't be convinced until they actually start filming.

Here are a few simple demands I ask of MGM and New Line:
1. They must get Ian McKellen to return as Gandalf the Grey.
2. Peter Jackson and Weta have to be behind the production.
3. The Oscar winning writing team of Jackson, Philppa Boyens and Fran Walsh should write the script, or the cohesiveness will be off.
4. Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins, no he's not too old.
5. Hugo Weaving in a quick appearance as Elrond would be nice.
6. They have to find a great voice actor for Smaug the dragon and it can't be Sean Connery or James Earl Jones. I suggest Brian Cox, he's great and he's Scottish.

That is all I ask (That, and please don't call it Bilbo Begins).


netflix review: United 93

I don't believe I've ever gotten a knot in my stomach from watching a movie, but about 30 minutes or so into United 93 I started to feel it. The feeling didn't go away until I was able to fall asleep later that night. Knowing what you're about to see depicted is not enough to prepare you for actually sitting through this film. The suspense is tremendous because you know exactly what the people on screen are about to be confronted with. The state of confusion and lack of communication between those in authority is painfully frustrating to watch. United 93 is an immensely depressing movie.
I have yet to see World Trade Center, as I wish to watch it also from the comfort of home, but I know already that United 93 will prove to be the more powerful and memorable of the two. This film is not just about the one plane that failed to reach it's imposed destination, it's about everything that went wrong that day. Every attempt by the FAA to work with the military to try and avoid maximum destruction was thwarted, as were any actions the military tried to get approval on by those highest in command. United 93 covers all the events of 9/11, focusing on the efforts made by a few passengers, based on the facts that we know.
I don't expect it will be on top of the weekly rentals list and I doubt very many DVD copies were sold since its Tuesday release; people will watch this one when they're ready. If you do plan on watching it though, don't do it alone, you'll need the company of another human afterward so you don't find yourself thinking too much about what you just saw. Down the road when we have all the information about everything that happened on that day, I believe that United 93 will still be remembered as the definitive film about the tragedy of September 11, 2001.


are you talking to me?

Wow, there is a new trailer for Casino Royale on the net (I recommend the super-high-quality version) and it's got me pretty excited for a new Bond movie. I will say that I was not to keen on Daniel Craig for the role of 007 (my pick was Clive Owen). He just didn't look right to me (he's blond!), besides, had we really seen him do any action films of this scale? Plus, I am a BIG fan of Pierce Brosnan as Bond (which is silly because, only the first two Bonds he did were really any good).
But, I did know this about Craig: he's a really good actor and has incredible screen presence. I first saw him in Road To Perdition where he impressively played the insecure son of Paul Newman's gangster character. He had a starring role in Layer Cake that put him on the map with film fans, again playing a gangster. Most recently I saw him in Steven Spielberg's Munich, which had great acting from everyone in its huge cast; Craig still stood out to me though.
Then when I learned that Martin Campbell, the director of Goldeneye, would be returning to helm the new Bond movie, I got really interested. The first trailer that came out a while back was okay but this new one has sold me on it; count me as officially excited for Casino Royale.

Just in case you were wondering, this is NOT a remake of the 1967 comedy Casino Royale starring Peter Sellers and David Niven, though the names of the characters ARE the same (due to both films being based on the same Ian Fleming novel).


politics in film

After my post yesterday about President Bush's acting debut and his eerie physical similarities to Sterling Hayden, I got to thinking about politics in movies. Politics and film have always had an unstable relationship. Movies containing political ideas, whether subtle or substantial to the plot, generally are not that popular with the typical movie going masses. However, political movies have always been popular with Oscar voters, and that trend has seemed to have increased somewhat in the last few years.
Last year each of the five best picture nominees were either political in nature or were embraced/rejected by those with political agendas. In addition, when Million Dollar Baby won the award the year before, many claimed it was due to a major plot point of the film and how it dealt with a particularly hot issue of the time.
If you do a search for "best political movies" you get a wide variety of results. You may find a list of movies about Presidents or the political machine such as The American President or Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (yes those count as being political films). Or you might find a list that contains movies like Million Dollar Baby or Crash; great stories that have political undertones (intended or not) that just might press you rethink your position on an issue. A few films combine both aspects and we get All The President's Men and The Manchurian Candidate.
I tend to like films in the second category. Any film that tells an engaging story, fictional or historical, and forces me to look at an issue from another perspective, political or not, has done its job well. Here is a quick list of my favorite political movies in no particular order:

All The President's Men, Crash, Requiem For A Dream, The Contender, JFK, Wag The Dog, Dr. Strangelove, The Insider, Bowling For Columbine, American History X, Traffic, The Life Of David Gale, Nashville, A Clockwork Orange, Million Dollar Baby, House Of Sand And Fog, Syriana, The Manchurian Candidate

Some upcoming political films include: This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Man Of The Year, The U.S. Vs John Lennon, Bobby, All The King's Men, The Good Shepherd

So today while I scanned the Internet for movie related news I found myself reading more and more articles about political films. In addition to the release of D.O.A.P. and its upcoming screening at Toronto's film festival, there are quite a couple of other hot button films that are garnering attacks from both sides of the political spectrum.

- Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth will be out on DVD November 21 in an eco-friendly package. Gore's film about global warming received much criticism from conservatives trying to convince us all that our current grotesque pollution levels are just fine.

- ABC will be showing their mini-series The Path To 9/11 on Sunday and Monday nights at 8:00pm. Former members of President Clinton's administration are already criticizing the film, claiming the it points the finger at Clinton's Presidency and fabricates events to support the accusations made.

Finally, one week before the fifth anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington, comes the story of the plane that didn't reach it's intended, but still unknown target. The film United 93 was widely hailed by critics when it was released back in April, disliked only by the few who found they weren't ready to watch it. The DVD came out on Tuesday, and it was given a very 'quiet' release if I must say. I'm going to watch it by the weekend and will let you know what I thought of it here, that is if I can bring myself to get out of bed the next day.


a gentleman and an officer

When I saw this photo of Bush speaking to the Military Officers Association of America (Sept. 5) it immediately made me think of a certain dark-comedy about the end of the world and the nutso general who starts the whole mess.

Stanley Kubrick's choice of angles when shooting Sterling Hayden's Gen. Jack T. Ripper added a level helplessness to those scenes. I'll never forget when Ripper explains why he made the order. He goes on about how he's sick of the politicians trying to make military decisions and that war should be left to the Generals, that's when you realize that it's already too late to stop the planes from reaching their targets. Dr. Strangelove is a must see film.

In a related story, British TV network More4 is going to show a 'what if?' mocumentary showing the aftermath of a fictional assassination of President Bush. This story made national news right before the labor day weekend and pretty much everyone forgot about it. However, the film, Death Of A President, will be shown on More4 on October 9 and is screening soon at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10. Obviously D.O.A.P. has generated controversy, rage and curiosity stateside, but it's doubtful this film will be shown in the United States, at least while Bush is still in office. But maybe down the road it'll get a DVD release that we can all watch and judge for ourselves.


september... it's about time

Alright, the month of September is finally here, we can all breath easy: quality movies are on the horizon.

Highlights of this month include L.A. throwback mystery tales, Hollywoodland (Sept. 8) and The Black Dahlia (Sept. 15); The Science of Sleep (Sept. 15) meets the annual quirky, cerebral movie requirement; Jet Li's alleged last martial arts film Fearless (Sept. 22); and rounding out the first month of the Oscar season comes the future story of humanity struggling to survive, with Children of Men (Sept. 29).

I've got a couple of links for you also. Over at Pajiba they've put together a list of the best movies you've never seen (I've only seen two of them), check it out and get to renting some unknown treasures. Also, at Twitch Guru, I found a malicious list of the worst uses of CGI in a lot of recent movies (finally someone else noticed those horrible, fake wolves in The Day After Tomorrow).

I don't know what the next movie I see will be (any recommendations?), but when I do you'll hear all about right here.