Australia

Australia

Australia is Baz Luhrmann’s new opus featuring his muse, Nicole Kidman, alongside Hugh Jackman. You might remember Luhrmann from his super stylized films Moulin Rouge! and Romeo & Juliet. And if you’re expecting such over the top and over saturated eye candy in Australia, you’ll be pretty disappointed.

Luhrmann has been criticized for his “gimmicky” visuals used in previous movies. I believe he’s turned some people off with his signature style, of which I’m a big fan, and I think it’s those people that will appreciate Australia more than his usual devoted followers.

When watching Australia, the only thing that was giving me signs that is was a Luhrmann film was just how epic it was. He’s known for interpreting majestic stories and Australia is no different. It’s an epic tale, yes, but also epic in length. Preparing yourself to sit down for almost 3 hours straight is a pretty daunting task.

And that’s my major problem with Australia. Unlike a monumental book where you can spend months reading it, digesting it in small bites, this movie has to be taken all at once. If you were to adapt War & Peace or The Epic Of Gilgamesh into a film, you’d inevitably have to cut some pieces out. Tales that long don’t work as one single movie unless it’s abridged.

Obviously, these are my opinions. I don’t have the best attention span and extravagantly long movies such as Australia are difficult for me to watch in the theaters. If I was able to watch it at home, pause it, grab a snack, or do whatever, I’d probably be less harsh on it’s running time. But I know there are those of you who wait with baited breath for those movies that break the 140 minute mark. I mean, it’s not every year that we get a Titanic or Return Of The King. So if you’re not a fan of “comic book” movies like The Dark Knight, then here’s the one you’ve been waiting for.

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Quantum Of Solace

quantum-of-solace
I’m not a huge James Bond fan. It’s not that I don’t like him, I’m just not that familiar with him. The Bond movies never called to me. I only recently saw my first (Casino Royale) because I knew I would inevitably be seeing the new Quantum Of Solace when it came out. And I also knew that Quantum was a direct sequel to Casino, so I didn’t want to be left behind.

It’s hard to watch a James Bond movie and not compare it to any/all of the others that have been made. I know I don’t have much to compare Quantum Of Solace to, but in the back of my head I was always thinking about all the differences between that and Casino Royale. I think for Quantum to be a successful movie, people should try to watch it with an open mind.

I enjoyed Quantum Of Solace quite a bit. There was plenty of fun action, a fantastic car chase, and lots of running and explosions. Plus Daniel Craig was as suave and bad-ass as ever. What more could you hope for in a James Bond movie? Well, I don’t know, but Casino Royale had it and Quantum didn’t. I would certainly put Quantum ranking with Casino, but it just wasn’t quite as good.

Quantum Of Solace had a lot to live up to as Casino Royale seems to be many people’s favorite Bond movie yet. Is it still worth seeing? Definitely. But try not to compare Quantum to other Bond movies. Just look at it as a fun fast paced action flick and you shouldn’t be disappointed.

Blindness

Blindness is an amazing movie. Granted, when Fernando Meirelles (the man who directed City Of God) makes a movie, you kind of expect it to be. His newest is based upon the book of the same name by author José Saramago and is simply gorgeous. The premise is that a strange disease causes people to suddenly go blind and infects the population worldwide. It’s a movie less about the disease and more about how people react to losing their sight.

Blindness has a very bleak outlook on human morality. What happens in the movie is that most people turn into vicious disgusting animals who’s only goal is self preservation. It’s one of those movies that is disturbing and depressing while at the same time makes you question yourself and your own moral compass. It really makes you wonder what your limits are.

I’ve read some mixed reviews about Blindness and truthfully, that kind of confuses me. It’s difficult for me to think of a single bad thing to say about this movie. Well, I guess some might criticize that there are no answers to any questions you would have about the disease. Where it came from, how it spreads, anything of the sort gets thrown to the wayside. Like I said, it’s a film about people, not a sci-fi scary disease movie.

It seems to me like every time someone had something bad to say about Blindness was when they were comparing it to the book. Fair enough, I guess. But the movie is still truly fantastic and visually gorgeous. If you’ve read the book, watch the movie with an open mind. It can’t be that bad. And if, like me, you haven’t read the book yet, do yourself a favor and see the movie first. That way you get to love the movie and then you can go read the book and love that, too.

Eagle Eye

Basing a whole movie on that scene in The Matrix where Morpheus is on the phone with Neo, giving him explicit instructions on what to do and where to go in order to escape his pursuers seemed like a pretty god idea to me. And Eagle Eye is almost exactly that. Jerry (Shia LeBeouf) and Rachel (Michelle Monaghan) are in sporadic contact with a strange woman who gives them various directives. And somehow, no matter where they are, this woman always knows whether or not their mission was successful. We have no idea what her intentions are but it becomes apparent soon enough that she means business.

Eagle Eye is fun but not entirely original. It kind of seems like a big mash up of various movies including, but certainly not limited to, Enemy Of The State, Live Free Or Die Hard, Get Smart, and 2001. My guess is that it might have to do with this being the first movie the writers have written (John Glenn and Travis Wright).

Either way, Eagle Eye is still entertaining. There are plenty of big explosions and fast car chases to keep you happy. In fact, the entire movie is basically one huge chase, with little time for pit stops. There is a catch, however. The strange woman frequently tells Jerry, “Don’t ask questions.” The same could be said of the filmmakers. There were so many times when I paused and said to something along the lines of, “But how will they know where that tunnel is?” Oh wait! I forgot. “No questions.”

As long as you’re willing to let go of the reigns a little bit, Eagle Eye will take you on an enjoyable ride. Probably not one that you’ll remember in a year or two but still, it’s fun while it lasts.

Man Bites Dog & Eyes Without A Face

While I was partying at All Tomorrow’s Parties in New York this past weekend, I was able to catch a couple of movies. Criterion had a room where they were playing a wide variety of movies they’ve released over the years. Both of the ones I saw happened to be black and white French movies and very very weird.

The first one I saw was Man Bites Dog (aka It Happened In Your Neighborhood) and it was easily one of the most bizarre movies I’ve ever seen. It’s filmed as a documentary but it certainly doesn’t portray facts. And as much as I hate this term, there’s no denying it gets the point across: Man Bites Dog is a mockumentary. The premise is simple. A small film crew follows around an eccentric serial killer, Benoît. Most of the time, Ben talks at great lengths about everything under the sun: art, family, society, music, and in the opening scene, the best way to keep a dead body submerged under water. Very often, the crew films him as he murders and rapes various people and even though you know this isn’t real, it still brings to mind many questions. How can they possibly make an unbiased movie? Should they ever intervene to help the victims? If they don’t help, are they automatically accomplices? The lines are very blurred and the questions aren’t easily answered. The way the creators of Man Bites Dog make these questions easier to swallow is that the movie is a comedy. It’s easy to brush off such heavy topics when you’re laughing. “Of course this isn’t real. So why bother thinking about it?” Apparently, this was very controversial when it came out in 1992 and won the SACD Award at Cannes. I give this film a high recommendation.

Eyes Without A Face is a French horror/thriller that conjures terrifying images from the title alone and the DVD cover only helps to provoke those fears. It’s about a doctor who is experimenting with strange skin grafts and when his daughter has an awful accident that, um, removes her face, he attempts to put a similar looking woman’s face skin on his daughter’s. This movie has made it into many critics “Top Horror” lists and with good reason. It is by far one of the creepiest movies ever. It’s a horror film that would be ridiculously unsuccessful if it came out this year. It’s not the kind of movie that really scares you or makes you jump and scream. It’s actually really hard to describe. Instead of watching it with your hand over your eyes, it’s more like you stare at the screen wide eyed with your jaw hanging open. That’s the best I can do. Trust me, Eyes Without A Face is a true horror movie but likely not one that you’re used to. And even with the occasionally cheesy effects, this is still a very worthwhile movie.

The Cube Trilogy

The three movies in the Cube trilogy (Cube, Cube 2: Hypercube, and Cube Zero) are a bunch of psychological horror/thriller/sci-fi B-movies. I don’t know many people who have seen them. If they sound familiar, maybe it’s because you saw them on the shelf of your local video store or a friend mentioned them to you. You wouldn’t be faulted for not picking any of them up. There’s no well known writers, directors, or actors, and they all had very limited theatrical/festival runs, if at all. But I wouldn’t bring up some unknown thrillers from years ago without reason. With the exception of the third (prequel Cube Zero), these are really good movies.

Cube

Cube

Cube. The first. The best. It came out in 1997 (11 years ago!) and is still one of the better movies of it’s genre. 6 people are thrown into an enormous cube, made up up thousands of smaller cubes (about 14x14x14 feet). Some of the rooms are safe, but some contain deadly booby traps. Obviously, these victims want out, and thus try their luck going from room to room, always hoping the next one is the exit and wondering what the hell is going on the whole way through. We get to see the true nature of each person as little by little, they lose their sanity. The movie was actually filmed in a single 14x14x14 foot room, using various colors and angles to make it appear like they’re in physically different rooms. Actual claustrophobia, what a great way to get actors into character.

Cube 2

Cube 2

Cube 2: Hypercube gets an extra dose of sci-fi and dials down the gore. The cube in Cube 2 is much more different than the original. First of all, it’s not just a cube, but a hypercube (or tesseract), which is a 4 dimensional cube. I’m not even going to bother explaining it, but they attempt to give some sort of reasoning in the film (and you could also try reading the Wikipedia entries on hypercubes and tesseracts). In addition to adding an extra dimension, the cube also looks different and has very different booby traps. Everything is bright and white, as opposed to the dirty, dingey cube of the original. And gone are the blades and flames from the first, here we have an entirely new set of traps that aren’t easily explained. They involve a different type of physics which allow for things like rooms with variable time speeds and centers of gravity. The second film in the trilogy isn’t quite as good a movie as the original, but it makes up for it by going crazy with the whole 4th dimension thing. Honestly, Cube 2 could have been a much worse movie than it actually is and I would still love it based on the premise alone.

Cube Zero

Cube Zero

Cube Zero (released in 2004, only 2 years after the second film) was kind of a dud and a sad way to end the trilogy. There’s still some of the same “people in the Cube” thing, but we get the added dimension of outside people. We see the regular guys who keep an eye on things in the Cube and I think we’re supposed to feel some pity for them, or at least not hate them, because they’re not directly at fault for such torture but rather they’re “just following orders.” If Cube Zero had to be made (which it didn’t, the mystery was part of the allure), it still had such potential, answering everyone’s questions about the who/where/why/how, but unfortunately, not many questions are answered (not the right ones anyway). And it’s far too cheesy. The writer was either trying too hard, or not enough. I’m not sure which. The two workers we see for most of the time have such forced dialogue, it’s absurd. And their characters are sooo cliche. If you’re going to watch these movies, it’s probably better if you skip this one. Unless you are really grasping at straws for some answers, in which case, have fun, but don’t expect much.

As great and original as these three movies were, I think the idea has been exhausted. There’s only so much you can take of watching a handful of people go through the same booby trapped rooms over and over again. It was fun while it lasted, and we got something of an explanation in the end, but please don’t do any more. Not that that’s stopped film makers before, but here’s hoping they leave this one alone.

Daft Punk’s Electroma

In light of my recent re-watching of this movie (it came out on DVD on July 22), I thought I would share my original review of it when it screened at The Brattle Theater in Boston. This review was originally written for my now-all-music blog, Anti-Gravity Bunny, and was published on February 28th, 2008.

Electroma played last night at The Brattle Theater for one night only and from what I could tell, the place was sold out. Which is understandable. Everybody loves Daft Punk and their movie, Electroma, hardly had a proper release. It’s doing more of a tour than anything else, similar to the way Sigur Ros’ Heima was put out. If a movie theater wanted to show the movie, they would have to contact the proper people in order to get it. So Electroma has been a difficult movie to see, even though it’s debut was a year and a half ago at Cannes in 2006. When you have a popular band making an obscure movie, you get hordes of people dying to see it.

There’s really not too much I can say about the movie without ruining anything. It’s almost 80 minutes long and is about 2 robots on a quest to become human. It takes place mostly in the desert. Everything about the movie is slow and subtle. This is not a Daft Punk music video and if you were expecting to hear their music, you went to see the wrong movie. This is the soft, quiet side of Daft Punk. I feel like this is Daft Punk’s version of 2001. Sound (or the lack thereof) is a major part of the movie and there are long shots that could bore many people. Even some of the themes are the same, in 2001 there’s artificial intelligence and evolution and in Electroma there’s robots. More parallels will be drawn between these movies in the future, I’m sure.

There are only about 9 or 10 actual scenes in the movie and each scene is stretched out to it’s maximum length. They’re long enough already, and I’m sure many people might have trouble sitting through them, but if they were any longer, there would be the risk of people getting up to leave. Some of the shots themselves last for 5 minutes straight, consisting of the two robots walking in the desert. I’m sure this could turn a lot of people off, especially fans of Daft Punk who want to see the visuals usually found in their music videos. However, I loved this movie and found it beautiful and beautifully shot. It’s aesthetic is definitely one I appreciate. There was one part of the movie, though, that felt too long for me, and that was the desert scene. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what part I’m talking about. The song in that scene was pretty bad, I just couldn’t get into it. There was something at the end that made it worth the wait, though. It was only one shot but it was priceless.

While the plot to Electroma can be boiled down to a simple sentence, there’s much more to it than you would initially think. It’s actually kind of a depressing movie but it’s the kind of depressing that you laugh at. Some of the scenes are just so sad but the imagery is hilarious (I speak mainly of the chase and the bathroom scenes). And while these two robots are trying to become human, you feel for them somehow, even though you can’t connect on the literal level. At the risk of sounding cliche, this is a really deep, sincere movie. Highly recommended for those without ADD. You definitely don’t need to be a fan of Daft Punk in order to enjoy this movie. You just need to have a heart and maybe a place in there for robots.