The Bonfire of the Vanities

The Bonfire of the VanitiesThe Haiku Review�:

Touch too much screwball,

Cast makes me laugh and then think,

De Palma redeemed.

R :: 1990 :: dir. Brian De Palma :: 4 stars

Starring Tom Hanks, Melanie Griffith, Kim Catrall, Morgan Freeman, Saul Rubinek, a “Reverend” character who is obviously based on Al “I’m runnin’ for President!” Sharpton, and a very convincingly drunk Bruce Willis.

DVD features include things like sound and picture. And a menu background still featuring Melanie Griffith’s cleavage.

Die Another Day

Die Another Day (Widescreen Special Edition)Now, I’m a die-hard James Bond fan, but I hate-hate-hated the last Bond outing. Denise Richards as a rocket scientist? I mean, c’mon� I can only suspend my disbelief so far. This Bond film, on the other hand, is a real keeper.

Bond starts out with a slick diamonds-for-arms deal, and then a frantic chase through the DMZ between North and South Korea. After the chase, we enter the opening credit sequence, long the domain of scantily clad females dancing in silhouette to the latest theme song. Recently, the females in question have become CG-enhanced, and I have no problem with that. I do, however have a small problem with the song itself, by Madonna in the current techno/trance phase she’s going through. It’s not something I would include among her greatest hits, and I feel it’s totally out of character for even the David Arnold-updated Bond music for the Brosnan Era. Oh well� I’ll deal.

Also a departure from past credit sequences is that it is integrated with the action of the film itself. Previously, the credit sequence was always three to four minutes of pure eye candy, and then back to the film. Here, it is juxtaposed with a rather violent and depressing segment of the narrative. I can understand that the creators perhaps thought the mixture would save time, and alleviate the slowdown in the pacing of the film it would have otherwise caused� but just barely. I want my eye candy, dammit, and I don’t want to have to wince in between the jiggles. Still, though, really a minor complaint.

From there on, things only get better with a return to the outlandish Bond villains and fight/chase sequences of the past. The only slight disappointment besides the credit sequence would be Halle Berry as Jinx� and again, only slight. Give her a few more days of firearm training, and I’d have nothing to complain about.

The lines women trade with Bond are filled with fun innuendo. John Cleese is really coming into his own as Q (may Desmond Llewelyn rest in peace), and Bond finally gets a cool new car with gadgets that he actually uses. (Mmm� Aston Martin�) The aforementioned fight and chase scenes are choreographed to perfection, and jokes are made about longstanding Bond conventions.

Best of all, it was fun. That’s all I ask. 🙂

PG-13 :: 2002 :: dir. Lee Tamahori :: 4 stars

Attack of the Clones: The IMAX Experience

Star Wars - Episode II, Attack of the Clones (Widescreen Edition)Last night, Joel and I went to see Star Wars: Episode II at the IMAX theatre in the Museum of Natural History. Lucas apparently thought it might be a good idea to chop out a whole bunch of the movie, and blow it up onto a huge 7-story screen. The results are, I think, mixed.

The scenes that were cut are those that add character development, but are not absolutely essential to the plot. Although I noticed them missing, they didn’t affect the story a great deal, and even lessened the pain of the adolescent “courting” scenes. Although� now that I think about it, most of what they removed are the machinations of Chancellor Palpatine and his maneuverings in starting the war to give himself “emergency” powers and, of course, eventually become Emperor. Odd, that.

The IMAX size, though, was problematic. Often, the size of the image in the frame was such that there was an extreme closeup of someone’s head towering at least 30 feet above my mid-level seat. This and many other scenes with close-up shots and frantic camera movement made it hard to view, and hard to orient yourself in the shot. When you’re in a regular theatre, you can glance at most of the image at once, and gather that, though you’re following a young Jedi who’s trying desperately to cling to the exterior of a flying speeder, the ground� for instance� is that way. On the IMAX screen, though, you can’t take in the whole screen at once, and you have to look around frantically, craning your head, trying to find some corner of the image that gives you a clue as to your orientation, but before you can, you’re on to another shot.

The wide, vast shots worked best on the IMAX screen, giving you a chance to breathe, and just look around at the scenery. I noticed in several shots as well, the shot that was cropped in the original widescreen film was revealed vertically to form a nice wide shot. For instance, during the nighttime discussion between Obi-Wan and Anikin in Padme’s apartment, there was an extended wide 2-shot that replaced the series of closeups that were in the original film.

Also, as Joel pointed out after, it was blindingly obvious which shots were all-digital elements (rather, meaning created as CG, instead of shot, as the whole “film” was shot on hi-def video). I presume this is because the CG shots were re-rendered at the higher IMAX resolution, whereas the elements that were actually shot on set were merely enlarged.

Overall, I think it was an interesting experiment. Converting Episode II to IMAX after-the-fact seems to have been filled with more minuses than plusses, but it would be really interesting to see a narrative film that was shot and designed to be seen on the gi-normous IMAX screen. Any takers?

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets (Widescreen Edition)Wow, director Chris Columbus, screenwriter Steven Kloves and composer William Ross really knocked another one out of the park with this one!

Er� or, rather� not. And who the hell is William Ross? All I can say is, it’s probably a good way to kill your composing career to take on a well-liked previous score (by safe, yet effective composer John Williams, no less), and mangle it beyond recognition.

Anyway, the Safe, Yet Fairly Effective Trio did their safe, yet fairly effective best to bring a safe, yet fairly effective adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s great books to the screen. It turned out� well, I’ll let you guess.

In this film, James Bond and his two sexy sidekicks are once again threatened by their archnemesis, Ernst Blofeld. I mean, uh� Harry Potter. Of course. And his two sidekicks, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger (portrayed by Emma Watson, who one of my friends lusts after, anticipating her hotness in a few years); and Harry’s archnemesis is the evil wizard who killed his parents, Lord Voldemort.

I found it hard to get enthused about this film. Perhaps it’s because I had already read the book. Perhaps it’s because it seemed it was just the eye candy and none of the heart of the book got translated to the screen. I’m not sure that I can quite put my finger on it, but this particular malaise seems to be endemic to Chris Columbus’ work.

Richard Harris was excellent as Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts school (I suppose for the next one, they’ll have to recast), and Kenneth Branagh was delicious in the role of a narcissistic, blowhard wizard, and the new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher (who also has a fun bit after the end credits). The kids were good in their roles, but� somehow didn’t seem to be having any fun.

That’s what a movie like this really needs, is a sense of fun. All the elements are there, but sadly, there’s no spark. Perhaps the new Dumbledore will be able to come in and light a fire under Chris Columbus’ ass for the next one. Here’s hoping.

PG :: 2002 :: dir. Chris Columbus :: 3 stars

Little Buddha

Little BuddhaI first saw this film in the theatre, but I wanted to revisit it recently because of my growing interest in Buddhism.

Jesse is a young boy in Seattle, the son of Bridget Fonda and Chris Isaak, and is thought to be the possible reincarnation of a Buddhist monk who died several years previous, and who was the mentor of Lama Norbu (an always-excellent Ying Ruocheng). Jesse’s seemingly emotionless parents have issues with this at first, then through some offscreen pondering somehow come around, and let the monks take him back to Bhutan for reincarnation testing. There, Jesse and his dad meet two other candidates for the reincarnation, and hilarity ensues. Well, okay not so much “hilarity.” More like “Tibetan rituals and a strong lack of interest on everybody’s part.”

Thankfully, though, the modern-day bits are just a wire framework on which to hang the story of the historical Buddha himself, told in director Bertolucci’s favorite storytelling techinique ever� the flashback. Keanu Reeves plays Siddhartha Gautama, who gives up his life as a prince to devote himself to finding a way to stop humanity’s suffering. This story is gorgeous, and Keanu even manages to pull off a somewhat convincing performance, though his attempt at an Indian accent is mildly distracting.

Looking at this from my perspecive as someone interested in Buddhist thought, but not so much the religous trappings, this actually was mildly offputting. All the scenes of mystical happenings (a tree bending down to support Siddhartha’s mother at birth, lotus blossoms blooming in the wake of the newborn’s footsteps, and the Buddha’s later temptation by some evil Hindu god) were fine in the context of the myth, but didn’t really do much for me in giving me good information about Buddhist thought and teachings. Still, I would have to admit that it was probably this film, 9 years ago, that actually planted the seed of my interest in Buddhism; so I can’t fault it too much.

The film’s color coding system was also mildly distracting; the storytelling scenes being very warm orange and red, the Seattle scenes were extremely cold blue, and the Bhutan scenes were somewhere in the middle. It was not a bad idea (and a similar color scheme was used recently in Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic), but it could have been a lot more subtle. There were many times, with Chris Isaak’s lack of movement and blue palor, I wondered if he might have become deceased.

With Ying Ruocheng, the mostly charming children, and the great Buddha story, this film deserves to be seen once, despite its flaws.

PG :: 1993 :: dir. Bernardo Bertolucci :: 3 stars

DVD features include an obviously Photoshopped menu background picture of the blonde, white Jesse kid standing in the middle of a herd of running Tibetan kids. It looks freaky.

Seven Years in Tibet

Seven Years in TibetI hate to admit it, but I’m a sucker for films about� well� white men having adventures in faraway lands. That, of course, includes films like the Indiana Jones series, but also movies like Mountains of the Moon and The Ghost and the Darkness. It’s not that I so much like to see white guys prancing around in foreign lands, but I think it just turns out that way because they, as “the outsider,” end up being the character I most Identify with.

This particular film focuses on the life of white guy Heinrich Harrer (Brad Pitt), an Austrian climber and a Nazi sympathizer. He leaves Austria in 1939 with a team to climb the highest peak in the in the Himalayas, leaving his wife and unborn son behind. Their climb is not entirely successful, and they are arrested and placed in a POW camp, since Britain (and by extension, British India) has entered the war with Germany. Eventually, through a series of events, Heinrich and fellow climber Peter Aufschnaiter become the only two foreigners in the Tibetan Holy City of Lhasa.

Once there, Heinrich and Peter start integrating into the peaceful Buddhist society. Beginning with the young Dalai Lama’s request for Heinrich to build him a movie theatre, Heinrich also starts to become his close confidant. Heinrich becomes haunted by his past, regretful of his support of the Nazi party, and of leaving his family. He hopes for redemption through reconciliation with his son, whom he has never met, but whom occupies his mind.

Brad Pitt and David Thewlis (Peter) are both excellent throughout, and the cinematography is breathtaking. I’m not quite sure how accurate the depiction of the historical events is, but it certainly made me interested to learn more about the whole Tibet situation, and its occupation by China.

PG-13 :: 1997 :: dir. Jean-Jacques Annaud :: 4 stars

DVD features include pretty menus and buttons.

Femme Fatale

Femme FataleDo yourself a favor. Go watch the trailer, think to yourself, “Wow, that looks like it might be a great film,” and leave it at that.

I’ve never been a huge Brian De Palma fan, and I should have remembered that when I went to see this film. I kept thinking that it might be as fun as Snake Eyes was, but I also kept conveniently forgetting the disaster that was Mission to Mars.

The movie is� well, crap� How can I say this without including major spoilers? Oh hell, It deserves to be spoiled anyway: [MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW THE JUMP]