Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Ghost Writer

Not to be confused with Ghost Rider, which is a crappy superhero movie starring Nicholas Cage and sounds pretty much exactly the same when you say it out loud.

Saturday was the last day of my spring break in the sense that it's the day I moved back in to college.  Sunday sort of counts, but Sunday is a school night, plus I had to work all afternoon.  So Saturday was the last "real" day of my spring break.  Coincidentally, it was also the first day of my friend Joey's break, and the only day he was going to be both free and in Minnesota.  It was pretty much a given that we'd have to hang out.

Plans weren't really made.  We knew eating somewhere nice was a on the agenda, and we knew one of us would have to wrangle up a car.  Beyond that, we didn't have much idea of what we'd end up doing.  So on the way up to dinner, Joey asked if I'd ever gotten around to seeing Hot Tub Time Machine.

(Damnit Danl)

After a delicious meal at Taste of Thailand in Apple Valley, we drove over to Lakeville to see what was showing.  This was the first time I can remember just showing up at a theater and then deciding what to see when I got there.  It's a much different experience, but one that I like.  It's really just giving yourself over to the idea that you're going for the experience of going to a movie rather than going to see anything in particular.  There's an added mini-game of trying to remember what all the movies on the marquee are about and deciding how long you're willing to wait to see something.  I quite enjoyed it.

We weighed our options, and eventually decided on a movie I'd never heard of - The Ghost Writer.  The plot was something like a young Obi-Wan Kenobi does covert spy work to take down James Bond, who is actually George Bush.  Meanwhile the old guy from Eternal Sunshine and Adele DeWitt watch from the sidelines.

Wait a second, scratch that.

Ewan McGergor is an out of work British writer who gets a job as a ghost writer for the memoirs of an old British Prime minister (Pierce Brosnan) after the old ghost writer turns up dead in the ocean.  Apparently the old writer was drunk, but if you can't figure out from this premise that he was actually murdered you need to watch more movies.

That plot summary is really great.  The whole movie felt the same way - we follow the increadibly likable McGregor around doing odd bits of investigation here and there, and he slowly puts together a giant conspiracy.  It's fun to watch, intense.  I likened it to the feeling I get playing Myst-style adventure games, where you're constantly snooping around in these places and expecting someone else to show up and ask you what you're doing, to which you will have no good response.  There's this ever-present feeling of tension.  I like it when a movie can give me that.

About halfway through, I was reminded of Hitchcock.  We spend the whole film following this one male protagonist as he is accidentally thrown into a world of political intrigue and deception, then gradually gets his bearings.  At all times, we know exactly what he knows - nothing more or less.  This is such a Hitchcock thing to do.  Not to say that The Ghost Writer was as good as most Hitchcock.  It was fun, to be sure, but it wasn't amazing.  Great atmosphere from the tension coupled with the color palette, sets, weather, etc.  The acting was fine.  It came together quite well and in a way that didn't need to use explosions or chase scenes (beyond a choice few that again reminded me of Hitchcock in that they actually seemed reasonable).  The clues our hero uncovered were all very reasonable.  The only gaping plot hole in the movie came at the very end, literally in the last 2 minutes.  For a modern film, I can't ask for much more than all that.  I highly recommend.

EDIT:  OH snap!  I almost forgot my favorite part of this movie.  The Observer was in it.  Yeah.  It was hilarious.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Iron Man (2)

When the first Iron Man came out, I expected it to be just bad.  Iron Man the superhero never really appealed to me - I didn't even know his background, so to me he was just some dude who was... made out of iron?  I guess?  That's so much lamer than spider powers or shooting lasers out of your eyes.  With no hope at all for the movie, I figured it would go the way of The Hulk and not be worth my time.

What I did want to see was Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  I loved Knocked Up and wanted more of that.  Plus that whole love thing... I like hearing what people have to say about it.  Good reviews, a promising premise, and appreciation of Apatow's previous work were likely to come together well.

One day I convinced Marie (I think it was) to go see Sarah Marshall with me.  We were at the Key, and naturally asked around to see who else we could drag along.  Madelyn was down, and we were working on Kellen.  "Can't we see Iron Man?" he pleaded.  I was opposed, Marie was torn.  Somehow we decided the easiest solution was to just go see both, which led to the first time I've ever snuck into a theater (or rather bought one ticket and stayed for two movies - but that's much less cool sounding).

Sarah Marshall came first and was just as I expected - awesome.  It was funny and raunchy but in a good way.  That is, it was not so raunchy I can't take it like some of Apatow's stuff.  Meanwhile it actually had something to say about relationships.  It totally delivered.

We giggled to ourselves as we walked down the hall to the Iron Man theater, arriving suspiciously early and taking our seats while the ushers were still cleaning up.  We talked about the last movie, and I prepared myself for the cool explosions of a bad action movie.  LITTLE DID I KNOW what was in store for me: the acting genius of Robert Downy Jr.  This was before I had seen him in anything before; I would see him in Charlie Bartlett about a week after Iron Man where he absolutely made the movie as a supporting actor.  I decided to see everything he'd ever been in, then promptly changed my mind when I realized how long the list was.

Iron Man immediately became my favorite non-Christopher Nolan Batman superhero movie.  It had a great script, good acting all around, The Dude jokes, a modern setting, and the amazing, amazing RDJ just stealing the show for a full two hours.  They even ended it by breaking the classic modern superhero trope of doing the secret identity thing for a few movies and just let the cat out of the bag right away AND the classic modern superhero trope of having all sorts of angst about the love interest and just let them hook up right away.  PLUS they did the Batman thing where everyone is just some messed up dude with technology instead of having super-powers.  So great.  I was totally blown away.


So.  A couple months ago the trailer for Iron Man 2 came out, and naturally I became interested in writing about it.  I actually started writing this post right when that trailer came out, but then college happened.  So you get it now.

Let's check out the trailer:

I can't embed it, but you should be able to follow that link if you want to actually see it.  What I see is this:  more of the the same.  Mind you, this is a very good thing.  More witty banter, more RDJ kicking ass, more Samuel L Jackson having an eye-patch... more of everything that was so fun about the first.  I'm pumped.  You should be too.

7 May 2010, here we come.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Blood Simple

I'm beginning to recognize 90s style.  There's a certain film grain to films from that decade and the late 80s.  I don't know if it's just better cameras or what, but movies look a bit different these days.  Probably just technological improvements; the whole shift to digital has come since then, after all.

Blood Simple is the first movie made by the Coen Brothers, and like most of their movies, [SPOILER ALERT] pretty much everyone dies in the end after a crime gone horribly wrong.  This one in particular reminded me a lot of Quentin Tarantino - Reservoir Dogs, to be specific.  The time the movie was made is about the same, they both have this crime gone wrong thing, they both end in with lots of people getting killed...  There's also the whole scene where the main character is cleaning up his bloody car where I kept thinking of The Cleaner from Pulp Fiction.

I feel in some ways like No Country For Old Men was the Coen Bros way of remaking Blood Simple.  The motives behind the killings are very different, but they have lots of similarities.  Both are set in Texas.  Both start with roaming shots of landscapes voiced over by one of the main characters.  Both have a nasty bad guy running around trying to kill everyone.  Both involve crimes gone wrong leading to massive amounts of bloodshed.

On the other hand, Blood Simple has music.  It has a girl who survives.  It has dream sequences and that amazing section where the main guy is burying the other guy (oh my god so creepy).  It has driving sequences, though they come straight out of Fargo.  Or I guess the ones in Fargo come straight out of here.  This movie also has a huge emphasis on sound.  The music is crazy atmospheric.  There's this recurring motif of a repeating sound beating over and over.  It starts with windshield wipers but comes back again as a fan, an alarm clock ticking, and the footfalls of someone in the next room.  Very soothing but placed in this context that's so intense.  It put me on edge the whole film.

Another thing this movie does really well is setting the scene with little close up shots of all sorts of details.  Like when the two men are meeting in the back room of the bar:  we see some fish heads.  We see the fan.  We see a chair.  We see one of the men talk.  We see a cigarette.  All these shots come together to give us a really rich scene.

Man, those pipes at the end of the movie...

And that sequence dealing with the first dead guy's body...


Damn, y'all.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Disaster Strikes!

So it appears that SOMEONE (Danl) is going to SOME STUPID (ly cool) CONVENTION on the opening of Hot Tub Time Machine.  This means I really need people to go with.  If you're going to be around on the night of Thursday the 25th of March and don't have class the next day, let me know so we can hot tub back to the 80s.

Marie, I'm counting on you for this.