Fun end of the year lists

December 7, 2007

With the jury still out on whether I will finally beat this now seriously annoying cold, I have no choice but to hope my current state of woozy will be somehow beneficial to my writing (clearly I’ve reached the delusional stage). I’m thinking no such luck, but while I’m stuck inside watching the same Buffy episodes over and over again and eating junk food that I’m sure my pro-organic friends would disapprovingly frown over (and any self-respecting doctor), I do have some time to check out lots of movie articles.

Here’s what caught the attention of a tissue-loving girl:

It’s a Wonderful Life voted best Christmas film of all time

Now there’s a shocker. Nevertheless, I must protest: no A Christmas Story in the top ten? Sure, it can be corny at times, maybe we’re all a bit sick of it now and then (that annual 24-hour Christmas Day marathon on TV probably doesn’t help), and I know on some level we most likely all have a secret love-hate relationship with that persistently present leg lamp.

But be that as it may, you can’t deny the movie’s presence. I love Die Hard and all, but in the celluloid world of Christmas, I think A Christmas Story definitely deserves it No. 8 spot. I mean, I can see the need for popcorn escape on that day of all days, but really, Die Hard?? Nothing like adrenaline and action violence to bring a family together, I guess.

Top 10 Bizarre Movie-Star Interviews

Let’s just say some bathroom and drool issues are involved and leave it at that.

10 Things Movie Theaters Get Wrong

This isn’t a “the popcorn is too greasy” kinda list; think more aspect ratio stuff. But yep, I can definitely see why that incorrect frame turns Atonement into a whole ‘nother movie. Probably a movie that’s more appealing to teenage boys (and, okay, all men), but still not quite what the production team intended.

Advertisements

The religious supernatural in film: they walk among us

December 6, 2007

With the release of the famously controversial The Golden Compass (the least religiously-oriented of any of the books in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy) upon us, what better time to look at the use of religion in film?

I’m not talking The Ten Commandments or The Passion of the Christ here – after all, that’s just obvious Biblical stuff. No, what’s more interesting is the real world reinterpretations of Judaeo-Christian religious mythology on the big screen that are not taken directly from holy texts; films that look at what religious mythology would exist or appear as if seen face-to-face, directly, in “real life.” More Stigmata, less The Nativity Story.

In other words, if it’s all true, and the battle between Heaven and Hell is right here beside us (as John Constantine might say), what could you see around the corner tomorrow, when you thought you were just coming home from work?

Not surprisingly, or perhaps very much so, horror is the key proponent of religious mythology in film. From The Omen to The Devil’s Advocate and Constantine (the latter two both with whoa-man Keanu Reeves, but more on that later), the devil, Hell and all that implies have been a goldmine for thinking man’s horror and non-thinking man’s horror alike – and classic and classically horrible alike. What better way to instill fear than to tap into what we’re already afraid of, or at least what we already recognize as being evil?

Christian religion is a whole mythos full of extremely recognizable characters and tales, from exorcisms to the ten plagues of Egypt, with which to terrify eager audiences. Satan himself, naturally, is the most popular target, portrayed in film as everything from a powerful guy in a crisp white suit to a Wall Street banker to… a lawyer in a crisp New York suit. Hmm, I’m sensing a theme here – but it could just be me. Perhaps filmmakers just take that whole “sell your soul” for money thing a little too literally.

Not to be outdone, of course, the good side has its say as well, with angels making a rousing play for the dominance of Good on the big screen. Apart from Tilda Swinton as Gabriel in Constantine and Emmanuelle Béart as Angel (just the one name, like Madonna) in Date with an Angel, celluloid angels also seem to be predominantly male. Nicolas Cage (who kind of goes the other way in Ghost Rider – man, you never can tell about someone), John Travolta, Christopher Lloyd, Denzel Washington, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and European actors Otto Sander and Bruno Ganz have all played angels. Wow, male actors do get all the fun… and I thought actors liked the evil parts (rogue angels don’t count, Damon and Affleck).

And then there’s the epic, all-encompassing look – because someone has to do it, and high fantasy clearly has a head start on the whole supernatural war between good and evil shtick. The genre definitely takes its share, both in film and in print (I’m on to you, Tad Williams. A martyr nailed to a tree and the Mother Church? Plus a king named Prester John? Very subtle.). The classic example of course being C.S. Lewis’s Narnia epics, but Philip Pullman is now jumping into the fray as well with his trilogy’s move onto the big screen.

In the end, what this probably all comes down to is our intense desire to know – what’s out there, what the world is, if there is a God of some kind. And movies have swooped down to help fulfill that need in a more visual way, bringing oral and printed tales of deep-seated beliefs and fears to life.

Ahem, well, with all that “deep” stuff out of the way, let’s get to the lists. Here’s a quick guide to religious phenomena in film, through horror and fantasy, and even into romantic comedies (intriguingly, angels are more prominent here). Not everything is here, I know, but this isn’t just a film + religion = here kind of list. Nevertheless, hopefully it’s somewhat of a good overview. And hey, it looks like that reading of The Divine Comedy I did in college will finally come in handy.

All hope abandon, ye who enter here.

– Dante’s Inferno

My personal favorites are marked with a *.

HORROR

Ah, the Devil, a principal character or idea in almost every movie in HORROR. Sadly, like all big stars these days, he’s decided to move on from the silver screen and star in his own comedy TV show: Reaper. And yes, he wears a suit in that one too.

Honorable mention achievement awards to Keanu Reeves and Gabriel Bryne, who both have two films a piece on this list. That Neo certainly likes films of biblical portent…

* Rosemary’s Baby (1968) – Starting off our trio of “um, I think there might be something wrong with my child” flicks, this Roman Polanski horrifier stars Mia Farrow as a mother suspicious that her unborn child might be, well, evil. Of course, they also live in a massive, Renaissance, anyone can tell I’m haunted apartment building in New York (the real-life The Dakota building in Manhattan), which can’t help.

* The Exorcist (1973) – Probably fairly obvious what this one’s about, if not from the title directly than from the impressive multitude of parodies, sequels, prequels, remakes, supposedly related films, mediocre comparisons, etc. etc. Infamously starring Linda Blair as the jointless possessed child, and directed by William Friedkin.

* The Omen (1976) – Finishing off the trio, this horror classic stars cute little Damien (Harvey Stephens) as pure EVIL. Ah, fun times. Also starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick as the child’s parents. Remade in 2006.

The Seventh Sign (1988) – Demi Moore is the only person who thinks the apocalypse is real. And it’s coming. Soon. Why can’t it ever be coming, like, 50 or so years from now?

* The Devil’s Advocate (1997) – Let’s just say that it’s not only an expression in this film. With Keanu Reeves as a newly hired Manhattan lawyer whose new boss might be a bit more than he seems – as he is played by Al Pacino, who do you think the boss really is? Also with Charlize Theron as the wife slowly going the Ophelia route (i.e., total insanity), and Gladiator‘s Connie Nielsen. Written by Michael Clayton director Tony Gilroy, who also wrote the Bourne films and the cult love story The Cutting Edge.

End of Days (1999) – In a world where the devil (Gabriel Bryne) walks among us, only one man can save us from eternal torment and he is… the governor of California.

Stigmata (1999) – Another Gabriel Bryne appearance in the same year (and, actually, this one was released a few months before End), but this time as a priest instead of Satan. Interesting. Patricia Arquette may be experiencing stigmata, or the physical manifestations of Christ’s wounds from the crucifixion. Determined not to be a one-note thriller, Stigmata was also a bit controversial with its none-too-positive view of organized religion (in other words, ever-popular target the Roman Catholic Church). If you know what The Golden Compass is about, same general idea, smaller scope.

The Ninth Gate (1999-2000) – Another Roman Polanski flick, but sadly, not quite Rosemary’s Baby. Nevertheless, it’s got Johnny Depp trafficking in mysterious rare books that may or may not (I’m going for “may”) summon the devil.

Lost Souls (2000) – Winona Ryder. The Antichrist. Mediocre entertainment unfolds.

* Constantine (2005) – I’ll admit it, I’m a closet Keanu Reeves fan. Scorn his acting abilities if you must, but he headlines a solid portion of my favorite films. The minimalism works for me. Plus, I clearly have a thing for Rachel Weisz horror, as I also have The Mummy on my repeat viewing list. And, okay, this isn’t exactly true to Alan Moore’s blond-haired antihero from the original comics, but it’s still cool thriller entertainment. Look for Shia LeBoeuf in his sidekick days (see I, Robot) as Reeves’s, well, sidekick. Also starring Swinton as Gabriel, Gavin Rossdale as Balthazar and Djimon Hounsou as Papa Midnite (that actually is his character’s name). Plot: Reeves is John Constantine, a chain-smoking cynic condemned to Hell who is trying to make amends by helping to send demons back where they came from. Weisz is a cop who doesn’t believe her sister really committed suicide. They cross paths. Coincidence? Ah… no.

The Reaping (2007) – Um, not the best… but it’s, ah, recent, and, um… about the ten plagues. With a 7% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Well, you can’t win ’em all, Hilary.

Other notable horror: Technically, The Mummy is about ancient Egypt, but it’s got a more interesting version of the ten plagues in it (sorry, Reaping), so why not. I would include Stargate as well, but I think that’s definitely stretching it. And it’s not really horror. Oh well.

FANTASY

The Chronicles of Narnia – With Disney’s release of the first installment in 2005 (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and Prince Caspian in 2008, C.S. Lewis’s Christianity-laced fantasy tales have been brought with much commercial success to the visual generation. Only five more left to go! Can’t deny I’m excited for a film version of Voyage of the Dawn Treader (est. 2010) with an actual budget… In any case, whether or not you like the religious layers in these stories, I have to say that when I read this series as a child, I had absolutely no idea of any religion at all (could the same be true for young readers of The Golden Compass?). And to be honest, I was disappointed and felt almost betrayed when I found out – my own little loss of innocence (things aren’t always exactly what they appear to be???) – although the last book in particular made a lot more sense.

The Golden Compass (2007) – The epic fantasy book gets a * but after an early glimpse at conflicting reviews for this film (UK’s Guardian vs. Times – may the person you agree with most win!), I’ll have to wait and see on the movie. For more on the plot, religion and controversy, click here.

OTHER COMICS-TO-FILMS

* Hellboy (2004) – Guillermo del Toro’s cult classic about a big red demon with horn issues who works for the government’s paranormal bureau – which, no, is not situated in Area 51 for once. Starring Selma Blair, John Hurt and Ron Perlman as Hellboy.

Ghost Rider (2007) – Well, if you make a deal with Mephistopheles, you gotta know weird things are gonna happen. Nicolas Cage gets to have a head that’s actually a skull which is constantly on fire (must be a burning bush kind of fire) and take people down. Doesn’t sound too bad.

COMEDY

* Wings of Desire (1987) – The Cannes award winner about two angels (Ganz and Sander) who wander unobserved through Berlin, this German film tells of Ganz’s angel’s growing love for a woman who can’t see him. Bonus points for including a character modeled on epic-maker Homer! Peter Falk (Columbo, The Princess Bride) also makes an appearance. If the plot sounds familiar to you but you don’t recall subtitles and/or German, see Angels, City of below.

Date with an Angel (1987) – This (literally) glowing movie stars Béart, Michael Knight and Phoebe Cates in a light (and regrettably dated) combo of Wings of Desire and Splash. Similar, at least in title: I Married an Angel, based on a play.

* Angels in the Outfield (1994) – A warm-hearted remake of the 1951 film of the same name, this Christopher Lloyd-starrer features a very young Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young foster child who wishes his favorite baseball team, the Angels (get it?), would win the pennant. Angels, including Lloyd, respond to his request. Sigh, angels never respond to my requests.

Michael (1996) – As in, the Archangel Michael (John Travolta). With wings and everything, including a drinking problem. Also with William Hurt, Andie MacDowell (as the obligatory “expert” on angels), Bob Hoskins, Jean Stapleton, and Joey Lauren Adams. Directed by Nora Ephron of You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle fame.

The Preacher’s Wife (1996) – Another remake. An all-star cast (Whitney Houston, Courtney B. Vance, Gregory Hines, Lionel Richie) is featured alongside Washington’s turn as an angel named Dudley (played by Cary Grant in the original) who arrives to help “fix” the family’s problems. Unfortunately, the movie is not as good as the cast warrants.

Deconstructing Harry (1997) – A Woody Allen comedy that takes a detour into Hell, with Woody’s own unique vision of the levels in Dante’s Inferno. I think that pretty much explains the whole movie. Oh yes, and Billy Crystal is the devil with a devilishly sinister plan to ruin the world through air-conditioning.

* Dogma (1999) – Shockingly, another controversial one. And from Clerks auteur Kevin Smith? Who would’ve thought? No sailboats here, this comedy about some seriously annoyed angels on the warpath takes a bevy of stars (Damon, Affleck, Rock, Hayek, Carlin, Lee, Garofolo, Morissette, Rickman, Jay and Bob) and gives them lots and lots and lots to say about organized religion. Copious amounts of dialogue in a Smith film is odd, I know. Amid all the anger over its portrayal of Catholicism, and many thousands of hate mail letters, a disclaimer went up before the movie that, among other things, dissed the platypus (can you believe it? the nerve).

City of Angels (1998) – Wings of Desire, Meg Ryan-style. Cage shows up as the angel who falls in love.

Bedazzled (2000) – Besides Deconstructing Harry, this is the only comedy on the list that deals with the devil. Of course, Elizabeth Hurley as Satan isn’t exactly scary, or at least not in the typical horror genre sort of way. Brendan Fraser makes another appearance here as a schlub willing to sell his soul for the lively Frances O’Connor (Mansfield Park!). Without appearing desperate, naturally.

Down to Earth (2001) – Yep, it’s a remake. What a surprise. This one goes all out however, as it’s actually a remake of a remake of a play. Who said there were no new ideas. Chris Rock stars as a comedian who is accidentally killed and returns to earth as a loathed rich man. I have to say, Chazz Palminteri and Eugene Levy as angels? I’m a little afraid.

Bruce Almighty (not Evan Almighty, it’s just Noah’s Ark so I don’t want to hear it) – This 2003 film takes an amusing look at a few days in the life of God (Morgan Freeman), through the contortionist that is Jim Carrey. Jennifer Aniston also stars as the long-suffering love interest.

OTHER

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – If you’ve somehow managed to avoid this Frank Capra classic through countless holiday seasons, kudos to you. Either way, you probably know what this is about and, yep, that angels are indeed involved.

To see a more comprehensive list of angels in film, click here.

For more on Satan in pop culture, click here.

Pure and disposed to mount unto the stars.

– Dante’s Purgatorio


Be Kind Rewind

December 5, 2007

Chris from Movie Marketing Madness posted an item the other day about the upcoming film Be Kind Rewind (2008). Now, I don’t want to go so far as to put words in his mouth, but I’m going to hazard a guess that he is not really looking forward to this film – I seem to recall the phrase “absolute trainwreck” coming up at one point or another.

I myself am not so pessimistic (or I’m foolishly optimistic, whatever the case may be) about this Jack Black / Mos Def vehicle, which could turn out to be full of guilty pleasure goofiness. I won’t go so far as to say it will be the new Black (couldn’t resist…), but hey, Black and Mos Def reenacting classic films for their fictional video store because they accidentally erased all the real versions? Goofball gold mine. And directed by the man who tamed Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Solid artistic cred. Plus, I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for Ghostbusters stuff and seeing Jack Black in that UFO abductee version of the GB outfit is at least somewhat amusing. Or… one of the only jokes in the film, but here’s hoping.

To see for yourself, check out the trailer here.

Either way, I do agree with him about the movie’s quite clever take on a film’s official website. After all, if your movie is all about fake versions of classic films, what does that translate to on the internet? To see the site, click here and “enter site.”


Beowulf

December 1, 2007

Well, it’s not your grandfather’s Beowulf, and certainly not your great-great-great-great… (one more) great-grandfather’s, I can say that. I mean, yes, technically it does take place in ye olden times, but I at least can’t remember seeing many mentions of gold stilettos in the Germanic history textbooks. (if you don’t know who wears those stilettos in the film, you’ve been living under a rock – I’ll give you a hint, the actress’s name rhymes with Brangelina).

Of course, just because the film’s plot has almost no relation to the original epic poem doesn’t mean that it’s bad. In fact, it’s quite good. See, imagine you like the characters of the whole Romeo and Juliet tale – Romeo, Juliet, that disease-obsessed Mercutio guy – but don’t quite like how that whole star-crossed lover thing plays out. So you take those three characters, a few major plot points (like, well, location and, um, some fight scenes) and put it all together into a new story. And that’s pretty much what Beowulf is, with a new story that’s not half-bad. It’s got temptation, greed, lust, and the mother of all vicious cycles (literally). It’s mythic, unexpected, haunting, and very Neil Gaiman (who helped write the script).

And that’s the interesting thing about this film, which was directed by The Polar Express‘s Robert Zemeckis. With all the hyped 3D animation technology (the film’s all in performance capture animation – remember Gollum from LOTR or The Polar Express?), massive fight sequences and “I am Sparta!” – sorry, Beowulf – trailers, you would think the action scenes, cool technology factor and well-toned people would be the film’s main strengths. Story be darned. But with performance capture making all the characters look like they took a major overdose of Botox, and some ho-hum, anti-climactic adventure scenes, the plot is what redeems (somewhat, anyway) the whole thing. Although, okay, all that body candy is nice too. For all gender orientations.

Many of those with me at the theater noted the hindrance of expressionless characters, uneven pacing, and shrug-inducing action sequences – although some may have used the verb “to suck” in various forms instead of that exact language – but everyone came away taken with the story. It almost makes you wonder what the film could have been if its production hadn’t been so focused on working with this style of filmmaking. If absolute power corrupts absolutely, does unlimited access to technology corrupt limitlessly? No between-the-lines reference to another filmmaker intended.

And I almost hate to say it, but yes, Angelina, the centerpiece of the plot and the most intriguing character, was actually the best part of the film.


Enchanted

November 30, 2007

Poor James Marsden. As I mentioned in the Hairspray review, he seems to have become the go-to “the other guy” in many big screen love triangles. But, really, if you’ve gotta be the third wheel, you can’t pick your love triangles better than Marsden (ah, mixed metaphors, gotta luv ’em).

As Cyclops, he blindly (sorry) fought for Jean Gray against Hugh Jackman’s bad boy Wolverine in the X-Men films (and Wolverine also got the spin-off, ouch). He was the guy who tried to keep Rachel McAdams for himself in the epic weepy The Notebook – but was naturally no match for Ryan Gosling in a rain storm. And finally, he even went up again the Man of Steel himself for Lois Lane’s heart – now that’s nerve – in Superman Returns.

The man just has no luck in the romance department – but as they might say, unlucky in love, lucky at the box office. X-Men, The Notebook, Superman Returns, and also Hairspray (in which he simply didn’t have a love interest at all) weren’t exactly box office duds. And his new film, Disney’s Enchanted, raked in $49.1 million over the Thanksgiving weekend, attaining the comfortable height of second-highest Thanksgiving gross behind Toy Story 2, according to Box Office Mojo.

In Enchanted, Marsden actually plays Prince Charming himself and he still can’t get the girl (trust me, I’m not giving anything away here – did you really think McDreamy wasn’t the main love interest?). Nevertheless, he throws himself into the over the top role with abandon, as he always does, rounding out a very aesthetically pleasing cast that is clearly having fun in this enjoyable film.

In the movie, Amy Adams (Junebug, Catch Me If You Can, that handbag girl on The Office) plays Giselle, a literal fairy tale princess in the animated land of Andalasia (not quite as catchy as Never Never Land, but okay). Think the world of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, but not taking itself very seriously, and also kind of slow, and you’ve got the gist of the first ten minutes or so of the film. Seconds before her wedding to Prince Charming (Marsden), Giselle is cast out of Andalasia by – who else? – her soon-to-be stepmother (Susan Sarandon), who just happens to also be a Snow White-esque evil witch with an unhealthy apple obsession.

Popping out of a manhole in the middle of NYC’s Times Square, but with her sparkling white wedding dress fully intact (it’s a grimeless manhole, apparently), a now real life Giselle eventually falls, again literally, into the arms of the anti-Prince Charming, a divorce lawyer and single dad played by Grey’s Anatomy‘s Patrick Dempsey. Meanwhile, Prince Charming, along with one of the queen’s sycophants and Giselle’s squirrel pal, try to find Giselle in the real world. Many culture clashes ensue. West meets… well, further West, if you want to take Tolkien’s view of things. Or the other side of a magical wormhole, if you believe the film’s.

My boyfriend, a big foodie, often says that the best way to judge a restaurant is to see if it “accomplishes well what it sets out to do.” You can’t compare a neighborhood pizza joint to a four-star restaurant (or three-star, if you’re going the Michelin route), because clearly the pizza joint is not aiming for the same goal. The same holds true for Enchanted – it’s obviously not The English Patient, but it never set out to be. It’s not Beauty and the Beast either, but I, for one, did not expect it to be.

It’s light, fun, and it’s got some good chuckles (Dempsey’s daughter tells Giselle that boys only want one thing, but then isn’t sure what that one thing is; the queen’s servant tries to get Giselle to drink a poisoned apple martini). Plus, the music ain’t bad. They even got Disney music guru Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin) to compose it.

Like any solid, middle-of-the-road romantic comedy, there are some unfortunate misses and some awkward, doesn’t quite work moments. Sure, having cockroaches and rats help Giselle clean up an apartment is clever – those are the kinds of animals available in NY, get it? no cuddly deer and bunnies there – but watching rats pour into a room is a lot less icky in Pixar animation. Nevertheless, it’s good, guilty pleasure entertainment. If you don’t come expecting Disney to make a sharp satire of itself, or definitely not a new Who Framed Roger Rabbit? for that matter, you won’t be disappointed. If you come looking for a fun, harmless, gentle (and feminist-ically modern! …or so it hopes to be anyway) romantic comedy, you’ll leave happy.

For you Wicked fans, look for Idina Menzel (the play’s original Wicked Witch), who looks a bit unsure of herself in her role as Dempsey’s “strong professional” girlfriend. And for any Bones fans out there, watch out for a seriously underutilized Michaela Conlin in a brief, probably no more than five second appearance at the end of the film. One can only hope her scenes were cut for time.


No Country for Old Men

November 28, 2007

The first thing you notice is the quiet. You forget how crucial, how instrumental (pun, I admit it, intended) a movie’s score is, until you barely hear one. Would Jaws have been nearly as scary without those thumping beats? Is Darth Vader as imposing and intimidating without John Williams’s triumphant, lordly intro?

Thrillers and horror in particular make use of music’s impact – telling you when to feel worried (that crescendo of anticipatory sound), and when to realize it’s over through the film’s score. In fact, the only silence you usually get in these film genres is that heartbeat before something attacks, the crescendo and then the hush before the blow.

Yes, the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men does have a score – it says so in the credits (and it’s apparently composed by Carter Burwell, a Coen staple) – but I can’t for the life of me think where it was. Fortunately for my sanity, I’m not the only one; The New Yorker calls the score “little more than a fitful murmur.”

The lack of sound does something both freeing and frightfully disturbing: it makes you feel for yourself. The score doesn’t tell you when the implacable, psychopathic killer Anton Chigurh (a darkly humorous and impassive, walking undead Javier Bardem, with that now infamous head of hair) is going to attack – there is no build up, no musical signals to warn you about what is going to happen. Just like Chigurh’s odes to Two-Face (he too sometimes flips a coin to decide a victim’s fate), just like life, the musical score, or lack thereof, lets you feel the full impact of randomness, helplessness, and the petrifying nature of an unknown future, whether that future is one second or one lifetime away.

The score also has an accomplice in No Country‘s dialogue and cinematography. There is no real shouting, no screaming for blood or mercy. Lots of grunting though, accompanied by some knowing smiles and measured talk. There are also barely any camera shots that anticipate what’s going to happen, no panning out to show you that there is probably something or someone lurking just out of sight, in that dark corner of the garage. It shows you what’s happening, the faces of the people involved and the lifeless, stretching scenery around them, and that’s about it. What comes, comes.

And that’s the soul of this disquieting (sorry, just couldn’t stop myself) adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s critically acclaimed novel of the same name. It’s quiet, deliberate, direct, unflinching; an unguided tour of flat, dispassionate reality. Well, almost unguided, anyway. The closest thing you get to a guide is the sheriff, played with deep sadness and one eyebrow raised by Tommy Lee Jones. But even as he narrates portions of the tale, the sheriff, on the trail of Chigurh and that killer’s own target Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), doesn’t know what’s coming any more than you do. As he himself says, he’s “outmatched.”

The story of a man, Moss, who stumbles across a drug deal gone bad (it’s so bad even the dog is dead) and thinks he can get away with its left-behind spoils of 2 million bucks, No Country coolly states that this is the way things are, or can be, take it or leave it. As Moss runs from Chigurh’s relentless hired killer, you sometimes think he’s in (way) over his head, but sometimes not. You are sometimes sure Chigurh is going to attack with that cattle gun, and sometimes not. You sometimes think Moss and his wife Carla Jean (Kelly MacDonald) will maybe, just maybe get to enjoy the money in the end, but often not. It’s bleak, but it’s not apologetic. It just is.

Which is why the appearance of Woody Harrelson’s cocky hired gun (Carson Wells) in a sleek, big city office, sitting before Stephen Root’s sleek, big city desk (he probably has 50 red staplers in there) seems so out of place. Wait, is this a movie again? Nothing against Woody, or certainly cult fave Root as a drug businessman, but their polished Hollywood demeanor, with Woody’s cool drawl, feels like a whole different movie. From the silent tumbleweeds of reality to the glossy halls of a Hollywood drug man is a bit of an unsettling leap for this darkly murmuring film.


Holiday Gift Guide 2007: the movie edition

November 27, 2007

By now, you’ve probably seen at least several hundred of these (I could be exaggerating – but sadly, or disturbingly, I don’t think so). But hey, what’s one more to add to the pile?

See, I like to wait until the web is totally oversaturated with exactly the same content to publish my own contribution to the excess. Or for the precise moment when many people don’t even want to think about shopping for a whole ‘nother week after spending six hours standing outside of Best Buy in the wee hours of the morning after Thanksgiving (you know who you are) – and then walking home, uphill, hopefully in the snow. In any case, I find it much more thrillingly extraneous that way. Or so I tell myself.

With that said, here are some of my own recommendations for what to get that incurable movie fanatic you know and love. I mean, there’s bound to be at least one in every family, right? Or am I just writing my own holiday wish list? Well, either way – hopefully my family is paying attention…

(all prices are retail, and thus pre-any sort of discount, such as the standard Amazon deductions)

Stocking stuffers

Or gifts for the other seven nights. Or, well, whatever the case may be. You get the idea.

Pure fun miscellany – If you’re in New York, buy a can of EVIL, some powdered antimatter and other superhero stuff at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store. If you’re in San Francisco, buy pirate goodies at the Pirate Supply Store. Seattle: space travel necessities at the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Co. LA or Ann Arbor: time travel essentials (Echo Park Time Travel Mart) and monsters-in-your-closet supplies (The International Monsters Union) respectively.

Sound far-fetched? Fortunately for kids at heart everywhere (and, of course, actual kids), it’s not! For more information on these real life stores, click here.

Gift cards – If you don’t live in any of these cities, or don’t have easy access to one of them, there are, of course, many alternatives.

A Netflix gift subscription is always a fun option (and addictive, I’m on my, um, 23rd month or so past the three I originally got as a gift), and a gift certificate for a movie theater chain is easy, affordable and flexible. Almost all movie theaters have them, even the most staunchly independent ones. With ticket prices soaring to $11 (and no matinees) in cities like New York, and that’s not including the $4.50 small popcorn, your friend or family member will thank you.

And of course, finally, an iTunes gift certificate will let them download their favorite movies onto that new iPod nano you caved in and got them.

The book Cinescopes: what your favorite movies reveal about you – One of those “laugh over after opening and then forget” presents (we’ve all gotten them), it’s nonetheless the type of gift we all need during holiday bonding time with the family. $14.95 at Kitson.

DVDs – Basic, yes, but certainly not the easy way out. Individual DVDs are the fun, simple item that many people want but don’t want to actually spend the extra cash on to get themselves. I mean, really, you’re doing them a favor.

Solid

Candy Princess Kit – If you just can’t deal with one more Disney Princesses toy in your home, but someone you know is desperate for something royal after seeing Enchanted, try this fun gift basket ($50) from the famous Willy Wonka-esque candy store, Dylan’s Candy Bar. Sure, you won’t be able to drag the recipient from the walls, but most of it will probably be gone by the next morning. It includes pretty much everything you could ever think of that involves a Disney princess and sugar.

Film journal – I think we can all agree that no one actually uses these, apart from that diligently filled out first entry, of course. But if you have a Phoebe Cates fan on your list, you can cleverly point out that this elegant film journal ($45.00) came from her boutique in New York. That’s practically 3 degrees of separation!

Books and graphic novels – Sure, books that have recently been turned into films make great gifts, but if you understandably want to avoid the “Oh… Great… A book… Thanks…” response, check out these bound alternatives.

Stardust – The fairy tale (but not, I repeat not, with Disney’s G-rated fairies) graphic novel on which the Claire Danes, Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer special effects flight of fancy is based.

300 – Before it was an ultraviolent, testerone-fueled box office heavyweight, it was an ultraviolent, testerone-fueled graphic novel about the historic battle of Thermopylae in ancient Greece (it’s almost an educational book, really…). Other novels by Hollywood golden boy Frank Miller that have been adapted into film: Sin City and The Dark Knight Returns (not directly, but still very influential; see Tim Burton’s Batman)

Scott Pilgrim – Get a jump start on this 2009 film by reading the indie graphic novel on which it’s based. A boy must fight off his new girlfriend’s 7 evil exes – tongue-in-cheek, martial arts video game style. Vol. 4 just came out, but for you newbies, start with – what else? – Vol. 1.

Pretty much anything by Alan Moore – Disgruntled Hollywood golden boy Moore has written the graphic novels that inspired The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, V for Vendetta, From Hell, and the upcoming Watchmen (2009).

If books are in the cards, however, try these:

His Dark Materials – Controversy or not, these elegant, and at times emotionally wrenching, tales for young adults are a must for fantasy fans. The first book in this three volume series by Philip Pullman is the basis for the new Golden Compass epic film.

No Country for Old Men – It has certainly been Cormac McCarthy’s year. Between the Pulitzer and Oprah’s Book Club selection for his bleak The Road and the critical acclaim for the film adaptation of No Country‘s disturbing tale, McCarthy is having a good holiday.

Beowulf – Lure them in with Angelina Jolie, keep them (for a time at least) with Seamus Heaney’s actually intelligible translation of the classic English poem. And no, this is not just my own revenge for having to read this in high school – after all, my class didn’t just read it. We had to listen to it read to us in Old English, with a lyre, for hours. Well, maybe I should take back that revenge comment…

Why not?

“Ultimate” DVD collections – They’re hefty, pricey and they’ve got that “cool, lots of stuff” factor. As a very early collector of the comics, I’m partial to the Superman Ultimate Collector’s Edition ($99.98 – but phew, not $100!), which comes with 14 discs (including the Richard Donner version of Superman II and loads of extras) and total non-portability.

But perhaps your gift recipient is a Bond fan? Check out the James Bond Ultimate Collector’s Set ($289.98) with its whopping 42 discs (Never Say Never Again and other “unofficials” not included).

As for me, I’m actually hoping for the collector’s set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – was that too subtle of a hint? Mom?

Other “Ultimates”:
Blade Runner Five-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition ($78.92) comes in one of those super spy, I’m handcuffed to this, shiny metal briefcases. Ooo, shiny.
Essential Art House – 50 Years of Janus Films ($850) might break the bank, but with 50 discs, you get a huge slice of indie film history all in one place.

Portable DVD player – A bit of a classic but always a good choice. I got one of these (plus that Netflix subscription) one year for the holidays and it was the best day (almost better than a basket of mini-muffins – sorry, in an oblique references to Friends mood) … Ah, materialism. For one that will last you beyond the next year’s holiday season, expect to pay about $150 and up.

Movie magazine subscription – Something they will literally enjoy (or at least receive) for a year. They range from mainstream (Entertainment Weekly) to humorously British (my favorite, Empire) to Hollywood (Variety). Depending on seasonal offers, a year’s subscription can run anywhere from about $20-40 (EW) to over $150 (international subscribers to Empire). For more film magazine options, click here.

Video editing software – For the aspiring filmmaker. Expect to pay around $70-$100 (from what I can tell). For help picking the right one (who can tell them all apart? capability to do what exactly?), if your budding director hasn’t given you very specific requests, go here for PC Mag’s detailed guide to buying video editing software.

The holidays only come once a year… right?

Maya and RenderMan – If you know someone who is really (really, really) into 3D animation – like, “Pixar or bust” into animation – then they are probably drooling over these computer programs, if they don’t have them already. Autodesk’s Maya software, “the current king-of-the-hill in high-end 3D animation software” (according to 3DRender.com), is the program to beat, and since you can’t get more name-brand than Pixar, throw the 3D animation king’s own rendering software into the mix as well with their RenderMan for Maya product.

Of course, you get what you pay for, and sadly, you will pay for these products: at about $4,000 and $1,000 respectively, these pricey animation gifts clearly eliminate any need for additional stocking stuffers – or any gifts for the next 10 years, for that matter.

James Bond accessories – Sure, that Ultimate DVD set is nice and all, but why just watch Bond when you can look like him? Check out Bond Lifestyle to find the stuff that the movie spy and his associates actually use and wear. Items range from the Omega watch seen in Casino Royale (about $2,500) to Brioni suits ($5,000-ish) to a sterling silver Aston Martin keychain (approx. $400).

The site also includes a list of the watches worn in the 007 films. They probably won’t shoot darts or help unzip a dress (not literally anyway), but nothing’s perfect. For a history of Bond watches, click here.

That Ferrari you’ve always wanted

Now that winning a part in a Will Ferrell movie is off the market, what gifts are there for a movie lover to dream about – or actually purchase, for those ridiculously wealthy people out there (any lottery ticket now!)?

Design your own Star Trek apartment – Although the original sold for over $800,000, get your own room, house or apartment transformed into an insanely authentic replica of the Star Trek starship by the guy who built it. No joke – if you haven’t seen pictures of what this guy did to his apartment, click here now to visit his official “24th Century Interior Design” website.

Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane Oscar – On December 11th, Sotheby’s is auctioning off the only Oscar that this über-acclaimed flick ever won (believe it or not): Best Writing, Original Screenplay. The Oscar was shared by Welles and Herman Mankiewicz. It’s expected to fetch around $1 million, but $800,000 at the very least. Steep, you say? Well, there’s nothing like literally holding Oscar glory in the palm of your hand. Or at least, Sotheby’s hopes so.

Home movie theater – Sure, that 60″ flat screen is nice, but really, it’s got nothing on a full-on luxury movie theater in your own home. In the US, companies like Gramophone, Sound Image and New England’s Home Entertainment Expo will design you a seriously jealousy-enducing home theater. Think huge leather chairs, fully integrated sound system, paneled walls, high definition lowered screen, and those essential movie curtain drapes. MTV Cribs will be knocking down your door within weeks – if they aren’t busy with those Star Trek-inspired homes of course.

If you don’t want to go quite this far, check out about.com’s list of movie theater accessories (from a projection screen to a vintage popcorn maker – nothing like the smell of popcorn throughout your entire house to make you feel that the expense was totally worth it).

Or go for the sleek accent look and purchase these stage / movie – style polished steel light fixtures from NY boutique staple, Mxyplyzyk (yep, named after that dimensional Superman villain, and it’s pronounced mix-ee-pliz-ik according to the store).

** For more similar, exactly the same and not so similar gift suggestions for movie fans, see Jenny Lauck’s thoughtful list. Also check out Moviefone’s gift guide. It’s a lot less practical than Lauck’s (think “Dumbledore gay pride” t-shirts), but, as a result, great eye candy and perfect fodder for internet procrastination. I know I at least am definitely getting that voice-changing Optimus Prime helmet for a, um, friend.