Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Undead

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Undead (Jordan Galland, 2009)

The chorus of moans is unwarranted. Despite that approximately two hundred and twenty-five zombie movies get released every month in the U.S., Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Undead isn’t one of them. Instead, this is yet another retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet with vampires. As Hamlet became the play within the play of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, a crazed “reboot” of Hamlet threads through Jordan Galland’s horror comedy.

Jake Hoffman stars as Julian Marsh, an unlikely Lothario who lives in his father’s office, bedding down girls while unable to get back with his true love, Anna (Devon Aoki). Things start looking up for him when he gets a gig directing an off Broadway production written by the eccentric Theo Horace (John Ventimiglia) and Anna breaks up with her new beau, Bobby Bianchi (Ralph Macchio)—a tough talking thug trying to branch out into a new hand-cleaning venture. While his cast falls prey to Theo’s fangs, Jake finally notices that things may be rotten in Denmark when his blood-thirsty lead thespian sets his sights on Anna as the play’s new Ophelia.

Teetering on the edge of being insufferably silly, writer/director Galland manages to keep Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Undead on the right path, keeping the mix of laughs and groans to a happy medium.

Film Festivals of Michigan

It's tough to keep track of the film festivals in Michigan. They crop up, they never update their websites, and somewhere along the line they die.

I've collected a bunch of these sites in my bookmark files over the years and am sharing them with you (and clearing room in my bookmarks). I won't vouch for them still being around/alive but we can hope:

Festival coordinators - please contact me if you'd like coverage.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

F'ing Crazy - A Road Trip!

I'm not too big on spontaneity. I like reservations and plans rather than just diving in. Though I've got two weeks' notice, I'm feeling a little nutty about my upcoming trip to Philadelphia.

I'm going to drive 586 miles to see Tweet's Ladies of Pasadena. Sure, there are some other movies playing -- it's a whole Timothy Carey evening -- but seeing Tweet's is what sealed the deal.

The plan at the moment is to take off Thursday April 8; driving from work into Pennsylvania and grabbing a room somewhere around Pittsburgh. Hell, maybe I'll see if there's a room someplace around the Monroeville Mall.

The next day I'll drive to Philadelphia, check into a room, and head up to the International House for the April 9 screening where I'll meet up with my buddy Skizz. We'll check out the movies, go back to the hotel and grab some Zs as the screening's going to be at least four hours, probably more as the event's being hosted by Romeo Carey. He'll be doing some Q&A.

Tweet Twig's Ladies of Pasadena

The next day, April 10, we'll drive down to Baltimore. No plans there, as of yet, but I look forward to seeing my Baltimore pals before making the long drive back to Detroit.

Yeah, it's a little nutty but that's how I'm feeling.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Author Photo

If/when the Cashiers du Cinemart book ever comes out, this is the photo I hope publications run if they need a picture of me. It was taken by my pal Stacey Walters. Good stuff.

My Sentiments Exactly

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Black Dynamite

It's the rare occasion that I've watched a movie and thought, "This was made for me." The last time I felt like that was Cory McAbee's The American Astronaut. I got that same feeling from Scott Sanders's Black Dynamite, an inspired homage to the classic Black action films of the 1970s.

Co-written and starring Michael Jai White as the titular explosive hero, White plays his part pitch perfect. He's the swaggering bad-ass former CIA agent with a dead mama and brother. He's out to make things right and becomes embroiled in a fiendish plot that goes from the streets of the ghetto to Kung Fu Island all the way up to the White House, baby. With his killer physique and masterful comedic timing, White deadpans his way through his deliciously ridiculous script with aplomb.

Black Dynamite could have been a cheesefest like earlier attempts to recapture the magic of "blaxploitation" such as Original Gangstas. Rather than trotting out the stars of old, Black Dynamite does well to pay homage to the classics of the canon subtly while telling its own tale. Masterfully weaving in lines from Disco Godfather, The Mack, etc., and scenes inspired by Willie Dynamite, Three The Hard Way, Black Belt Jones, Rudy Ray Moore's The Sensuous Black Man album art, etc.; these things don't call attention to themselves but serve as little gifts to fans of these films.

It goes without saying that I was jumping out of my skin when characters are framed like the classic poster art from Black Shampoo:

Scott Sanders has succeeded in creating a homage that can stand on its own two feet as a deadpan parody and action comedy. Black Dynamite is the best movie I've seen in years. It's out of sight!

Below is an early Black Dynamite preview that utilizes clips from some classic flicks as well as new bits.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

Tim Burton, you are dead to me.

Yes, I enjoyed Big Fish and was slightly amused by Sweeney Todd (though I liked the stage version with Angela Lansbury and George Hearn far more) but I haven't cared for much else of what you've done since Ed Wood back in 1994. Your adaptations (Sleepy Hollow) and remakes (Planet of the Apes) display a tired repetitiveness in themes and casting. This is most evident to anyone unfortunate enough to sit through Alice in Wonderland.

Alice in Wonderland attempts to be a sequel to Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Having forgotten her trips to Wonderland as a seven (and seven and a half) year old, the twenty year old Alice (Mia Wasikowska) takes yet another plunges down the rabbit hole to escape an droll life. Suddenly we jump from Jane Austen to Lewis Carroll as Alice falls into Wonderland.

This Wonderland isn't so wondrous. It's a burned out, confused wasteland that looks like Pandora after the Na'vi got their tree knocked down. It's populated with some familiar characters acting very uncharacteristically. Most prominent among these are the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), and Stayne, the Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover). Wait, what? The Knave of Hearts? Yeah, he was accused of stealing some tarts in the Queen of Hearts's kangaroo court but he's elevated in Linda Woolverton's screenplay to the role of the Queen of Hearts's lover and scourge of Wonderland.

Wait... you mean that this Tim Burton film has Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Crispin Glover in it? And Danny Elfman did the music? Wow, we're really going off script for a Tim Burton film!

If the elevation of the Knave of Hearts is strange, it's no worse than the Mad Hatter's expanded role as some kind of schizophrenic freedom fighter. Like Johnny Depp's turn as Willy Wonka in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory where he vacillated between mischief-maker and potential child molester, Mad Hatter bounces between loon and patriot. When channeling the latter persona, Depp adopts a Scottish brogue at top volume. Watching him go off on nutty Scottish rants is only slightly less better than watching him breakdance.

Meanwhile, the Queen of Hearts has a big head and there are a lot of jokes made about this. That seems to be the extent of her character. Oh, and shouting "Off with his head." This gets tiresome after about the first time.

The Queen of Hearts's sister, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), comes off as distant and manipulative, using everyone around her to regain the throne--a position which she doesn't seem to deserve. She should be the moral center of the film but, instead, she's a phony who seems to be living quite well when the film would lead us to believe she's in exile.

And then there's Alice... Through the beginning of her trip to Wonderland there's doubt about her being "the right Alice." Alice doubts that she's actually in Wonderland and constantly discusses waking up. Combined, these two things keep Alice at a distance from the film. She's not so much the audience's foil as she is an interloper. The plot has a tired prophecy that needs to be fulfilled and that no one can see that Alice is the person to do it leaves the film feeling as disjointed as mixing the chess and card metaphors of Carroll's two Alice books.

As much as the film fails from a story perspective, it also doesn't work on a technical level. The film is dark. I don't mean thematically, I mean that it's actually difficult to see. It's as if no one thought to adjust the brightness despite audiences wearing 3D glasses which cut down on the amount of light that can get to a viewer's eye. Even the scenes in daylight in the "real world" are dark; forget about the murky, confusing Wonderland scenes. Also, the dialogue is difficult to hear. I thought I was the only one having issues with discerning when characters were speaking English and when they were speaking nonsense until the people behind me bemoaned the need for subtitles throughout most of the film.

I might be able to chalk up the murky visuals and inaudible dialogue to a poor viewing experience but this doesn't change how thrown-together the story feels or how unsympathetic any of the characters, especially our protagonist, come across in yet another failed Tim Burton experiment.

In the end, the film comes down to the slaying of the Jabberwocky, replaying the end of several other Disney films such as Sleeping Beauty and Dragonslayer. So much of the movie feels so "Disney-fied" that I expected Depp to show up during the film's final scene as Captain Jack Sparrow. It would have made as much (non)sense as the rest of this muddled mess of a movie.

Do yourself a favor and buy/rent Jan Svankmajer's Alice instead.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Gentlemen Broncos

I wanted to like Gentlemen Broncos. The story of a sad sack sci-fi writer, Benjamin (Michael Angarano), getting his book idea ripped off by pompous author Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement) sounded promising enough, especially when presented with the two authors' versions of the same tale as acted out by Sam Rockwell (and, to an extent, Mike White). Yet, despite having all of the ingredients for something delicious, the dish doesn't come together.

It's difficult to determine just what makes Gentlemen Broncos falter as we have several likely suspects. Our protagonist, Benjamin, doesn't garner a lot of sympathy. We may feel bad that he's got a kooky mom (Jennifer Coolidge) and a crappy job selling her homemade fashions but he's more or less a sad sack who gets taken advantage of by others, especially the obnoxious Tabatha (Halley Feiffer) and her friend Lonnie (Hector Jimenez). Meanwhile, Chevalier may be a dick for ripping off Benjamin's story, Yeast Lords, but he's not quite despicable enough to be a proper villain. If anything, Jemaine Clement's performance as Chevalier is enough to make him far more interesting that much else in the movie, especially his love of laser-shooting nipples.

Directed and co-written by Jared Hess, Gentlemen Broncos feels like a pale imitation of his earlier work, Napoleon Dynamite, minus the good-natured charm. Too many elements of Gentlemen Broncos bring to mind Napoleon Dynamite and the comparisons aren't favorable. We have the put-upon protagonist, the goofy Mexican, the awkward romance, cheesy rock tunes, etc. All of these fall short of their original implementations as they feel hollow and without charm. They feel like recycled bits from someone trying to recapture the magic of Napoleon Dynamite and failing.

The uneven film tries to be a carnival ride of fun but ends up lurching around so much that it may viewers a little nauseous.