Archive for May, 2007

26
May
07

Apocalypto: Review

I remember hearing great things about Apocalypto late in 2006. But somehow I just wasn’t moved to check it out. A film following the events of some native tribe? Subtitled? Nah, I’ll pass. And despite continued praise that I would hear, I put the film about as low in my Netflix queue as possible. (Just above the films that I always smash down to the bottom the closer they get to shipping.) Once again, I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong. I certainly am not a fan of this type of film, but without question this is one of the most visceral, engrossing, captivating and unpredictable films I’ve seen. Ever.

First of all, if you haven’t seen this film and you have plans on seeing it, you really don’t need to read a review from me to know why you’ll appreciate it. Just get up….go to the video store….or go to your Netflix/Blockbuster queue and put this film as number one. Now. Then read on after you’ve seen it. I don’t plan on spoiling the film, but the film is so good that there’s no need to “sell” it. The one caveat I must emphasize is that the film is incredibly visceral. If you were the least bit bothered by the first 10 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, then perhaps you should reconsider.

Giving the most general description possible, Apocalypto is a film about the events of a group of villagers during the end of the Mayan civilization. That’s all you get, because that’s all you need. I went into Apocalypto knowing nothing about the film other than a few unmemorable viewings of the trailer. This ended up making the experience incredibly engrossing for me. This is a ride. And where you think you might be going isn’t necessarily where you are headed.

Apocalypto stars a cast of virtual unknowns. No disrespect intended — I’m trying to emphasize the fact that the film is incredible despite the fact that there are incredible acting performances here without any of these folks having really acted in a film this big. Without checking IMDB I wouldn’t know any of their names. And having briefly checked it before the writing of this review, most of the principal actors have less than two films to their credit.

Regardless of how you may feel about Mel Gibson, this man is truly a talent. Watching Apocalypto is similar to watching two hours of the Discovery Channel as they follow a tribe. It just has the most authentic feel. We’re getting an inside look into the village and you feel almost as if you’re fearful that they’ll notice the Discovery Channel cameraman sneaking in on their lives. Not only do they not notice the Discovery Channel cameraman, but they turn in such terrific and emotional performances that you have to wonder how many takes Mel Gibson had to shoot to get this thing to be this perfect. The choreography of the fighting and crowds makes this one of the truly epic films of this decade.

Few films have been able to evoke the kind of fear that has me literally sitting on the edge of my seat. Saving Private Ryan was one film that just had me holding my heart every time they went into battle. 28 Days Later also had me shaking, after establishing the fact that there was loyalty to no one and that they’d infect who they wanted. Apocalypto has this same sense of true unpredictability. It’s almost more than your heart can take at some points.

The film is done entirely in the native Mayan tongue. Not quite sure if this is the actual language or if this is some modified form of the language made for Hollywood. But the entire film is subtitled. Now, this definitely will cause some people to lose interest. But please — don’t let this bother you. The film is so powerful that seeing it without reading the subtitles, while it would minimize your understanding of the events slightly, would still deliver an experience that was as good as any film released in 2006. Continue reading ‘Apocalypto: Review’

26
May
07

Hannibal Rising: Review

Perhaps I’m not the best person to review anything connected to the Thomas Harris / Hannibal Lecter saga. It was only after watching for the third time that I was able to appreciate The Silence of the Lambs and I’m not a fan of any of the other films — not Red Dragon, not Hannibal, and let’s not speak of Manhunter. Nonetheless, the intrigue of the first film captured the minds of audiences so much that studio executives almost couldn’t resist the potential to make money on a Hannibal Lecter film that didn’t require the services (or the salary) of Anthony Hopkins. I, for one, think they should have stopped after the first film. This film doesn’t change my opinion much.

For those who might not be familiar with the previous films, Hannibal Lecter is a psychologist, surgeon who also happens to be a cannibal and a serial murderer. The books by Thomas Harris, beginning with Red Dragon were the inspiration for the films. But equally as important to the mythos are the Academy Award-winning performances turned in by both Jodie Foster as young FBI Agent Clarice Starling and particularly the chilling performance of Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Lecter.

Hannibal Rising stars Gaspard Ulliel as a late teens – early twenties Hannibal Lecter. The film begins with a very young Lecter (probably at about age seven) during the end of World War II. Without spoiling the movie, the film attempts to explain the origins of Hannibal’s cannibalistic desires as well as draw sympathy for him to explain the sadistic actions that would occur later in his life. Well, actually, not too much later because he’s pretty sadistic here as well.

First, the good. Gaspard Ulliel plays about as good a Hannibal Lecter as he could. Being somewhat of a closet casting director, I would have probably sought someone a bit shorter and less subtle in their approach. Despite my biased view, the performance is great. He has it all — the walk, the mannerisms, the inquisitive nature, the sense of quiet madness that Anthony Hopkins perfected. At times, Gaspard appears to be a bit too refined for such a young age. He hasn’t even started his career as a psychologist and already he’s breaking down adults with mind tricks. But this is more of a criticism of the screenplay. Which leads me into my issues with the film….

There are quite a few problems with Hannibal Rising — not the least of which is the script. This is basically the film that anyone who saw the other films would expect. It’s very predictable and although it tells us a bit more about the foundation for Dr. Lecter, there isn’t much intrigue here. Perhaps it’s the lack of Anthony Hopkins. Perhaps it’s the lack of a young FBI Agent to play mind games with. Perhaps given a stronger antagonist than the unforgettable random bad guys in this film, it would have been more memorable. Whatever the case, there’s something missing.

When I first heard about the property being turned into a film, I got excited. Though for sure that it would be a blockbuster. And planned on seeing it during the first run. Somehow it just came out like a whisper and before I knew it, I was hearing about a video release. After seeing the film, it’s clear why the film didn’t get too much hype. Save the performance of Gaspard Ulliel, this film could probably have been a direct-to-video release. It’s just that forgettable.

If you’ve see the other films and you’re looking to expand upon your Hannibal Lecter knowledge, check this one out. However, if you’re not that big of a fan of the other films, there really isn’t much to see here.

21
May
07

Grey’s Anatomy: Everybody Hurts

It’s late. It’s Sunday. And writing this will certainly start my week off the wrong way. But there are times when you’re moved by something so much that all rational thought must take a backseat.

I’m a hopeless romantic. No reason to deny it. Shakespeare himself tells us, “To thine own self be true.” I lay claim to seeing most of the modern day “romantic comedies” (and owning most of the major ones). Despite how incredible Notting Hill and Love Jones might be, I still hold fast to the belief that the British version of the Office’s Christmas Special (which, in effect, was the “series finale”) was the most special and truly the biggest payoff for one who claims to be hopelessly infected by romance. It was almost as if every other moment in the show’s two seasons was filmed to bring the show to this perfect and fitting ending. It was great and I still lay claim to the fact that it’s the most special moment I’ve ever seen on the screen — big or small. But tonight almost rivaled that moment. Tonight reminded me of exactly why that episode of The Office or any moment on television has the ability to evoke so much more emotion than film. Tonight while watching the season finale of Grey’s Anatomy, I was reminded of why I’ve invested so many viewing hours on the show.

I was a bit critical of the direction that the series was headed earlier this year. I felt that teasing Meredith’s death mid-season was a cheap way to get ratings at the sake of viewers who were committed to the series. After all — we knew Meredith wasn’t going to die. (Well, actually I did kinda wonder for a bit.) But now after having seen the true season finale, I understand where the writers were leading us.

I waited to watch the finale. Somehow I felt as if it wouldn’t quite meet my expectations. With the whole “Addison spinoff series” thingy and no real dramatic event to build up to as heavy as last season’s Izzie and Denny relationship story, I was sure that this season finale would be a non-event. Happily, I was completely wrong.

The finale was perfect in so many ways. Not because it tied up every loose end. (Much to the contrary — it created new ones!) Not because I got what I wanted. (Again, none of the things that I had been hoping for actually happened.) It was perfect because it dared to be different. It dared to be unpopular. And in taking the road less traveled, I’ll certainly be hanging my head down this summer when I think about the characters that I identify so strongly with because everybody seems to be in pain.

ABC and the execs that dared to question the importance of the character of Izzie Stevens should seriously invite Katherine Heigl to the negotiating table and strike a deal. Now. Last season she was the highlight of the show, but one could argue that it was an easy feat considering the fact that her storyline was the biggest part of season two. But this season (and particularly this episode) she was clearly not the focal point, but she more than kept us engaged. She’s subtle and cheery when it’s required. She’s silly when the time calls for silly. And while some critics may argue that she’s crying more than she’s scrubbing in, the scene where she tells George that their chance encounter ‘meant nothing’, only to show her true emotions in private, was about as solid as anyone else has delivered this season. Perhaps this girl who falls in love too easy is confusing having a great friendship with a cool guy like George with actually being in love. Looking forward to next season, Izzie Stevens is certainly suffering from heartache. Continue reading ‘Grey’s Anatomy: Everybody Hurts’

08
May
07

Broken Flowers: Review

https://i1.wp.com/www.skidgel.com/blog/wp-content/photos/fullsize/18425251.jpgBill Murray is certainly revitalizing his career as a serious actor with films that are a bit more challenging that the slapstick comedies of the 80s and 90s. Certainly a lot of this is due in part to the success of Lost in Translation — a film that I truly adore. (I have a friend that went to Japan and tells me that being in Japan is exactly (for her) like watching Lost in Translation.) But perhaps I should pull the reigns a bit on my praise of Bill Murray. While his films are a bit more serious and challenging in nature, the role that he plays in Broken Flowers is very much the same (if not the complete identical character) as the one that he plays in Lost in Translation.

Broken Flowers follows a middle-aged Bill Murray on a cross country road trip in search of the author of a letter where the writer claims to be an old girlfriend. This past flame is writing to let Murray know that she secretly gave birth to his son after the relationship ended, and that his son may very well come in search of his dad soon. This alone sets the stage for a very intriguing film. From the first few scenes of dialogue, I could tell that this would be a film with intricate detail and overall the type of experience that is far from common these days.

Broken Flowers is such a unique film that I could probably reveal the entire film (although I’ll do no such thing here) and one would still have a fresh experience watching it. During one of the DVD’s extras, the director Jim Jarmusch explains that he enjoys making films where you have no idea what is going to happen next. (More on this in a bit.) This is just the type of film that I enjoy. ‘Enjoy’ might be a bit of a stretch to describe this film, as it’s quite a downer. Watching Bill Murray’s blank and sad expression as he watches television alone at home in the dark evokes all kinds of feelings of depression. However, these scenes help to illustrate his character.

Jeffrey Wright is one of my favorite actors right now. I appreciate his work — not only because he’s a solid actor, but because he finds some of the most challenging roles to play. In this film, he’s Bill Murray’s neighbor and confidant. He and Murray share some of the comedic scenes, which are a nice break from the depressing shots of Bill alone. Jessica Lange and Sharon Stone round out the solid cast of well-defined and intriguing characters.

The most admirable quality that Broken Flowers has is it’s ability to create a true sense of suspense. Bill’s trip involve several visits to the homes of his past girlfriends — none of whom is aware that he’s coming and haven’t been in contact for many years. The awkward discomfort that these scenes evoke makes the film fun to watch and even a bit exciting. I’ll certainly be watching this film again at some point down the road. What further contributes to the feature’s intriguing quality is the fact that it does not completely resolve all plot points. In most films, I would say that this is a bit cheap. (After I’ve invested two hours into your film, give me a sense of completion). But considering the earlier mentioned fact, that the director is out to make a unique and unpredictable film experience, it wasn’t a complete surprise that the loose ends weren’t tied up neatly. Moreover, there are lots of small details that can probably lead the viewer to understand with some degree of certainty what the answers to some questions are. (It also serves as an interesting topic of discussion, as we speculate what happens after the final shot of the movie.) Continue reading ‘Broken Flowers: Review’

06
May
07

Meredith Gray is the Modern Day Brenda Walsh

Without any hesitation, I’ll admit that Grey’s Anatomy is one of my favorite shows on television right now. Nope — I don’t watch it to participate in later discussions with women. And I don’t do it for any other reason than the fact that it’s a well written show. I never got into E.R., but if it was anything like this, I probably should have given it a shot. The great thing about Grey’s is that the focus of the show initially begins with the patients (who are promptly introduced at the show’s beginning.) But somewhere during the development of the story, the condition of the patient is often used as a mirror to reflect the struggles of the young interns. Patients come to Seattle Grace to seek help, but ironically they often do as much to help the doctors as the doctors do to treat them. (And in many cases, I’d argue that the patients do more — I am often amazed at the number of fatalities during the show’s run. Often my friends and will watch the show together and try to figure out from the first few minutes of the show which new patients are going to die. It’s morbid — I know.)

What truly separates Grey’s from other shows is how well defined the regular characters are. I watch because after having invested time learning about each character, they now seem like folks I know. Take Christina Yang, for instance. The over-achieving robotic cold, yet brilliant doctor who seems to do well at anything she puts her hand to — but as we learn, she’s still figuring this ‘love thing’ out. Then there’s Isobel Stevens. Izzie is probably one of the most interesting characters. The tall blond attractive intern spends a countless amount of time convincing everyone that she’s not the stereotype of tall blond women. Not only does she seem to be proving to everyone else that she’s deserving of her spot in Seattle Grace, but she’s also trying to convince herself. Katherine Heigl play this character to a “T” — and I’m completely in agreement with the actor in her recent grievance — she deserves as much compensation as every other character.

Dr. Miranda Bailey is often annoying as the overbearing commander of the interns, but having a child has softened her and I don’t find myself as annoyed by her as I once was.

The male doctors and interns on the show are also quite intriguing. While not quite as fleshed out as their female counterparts, all of the males have at some point bared their soul and earned our compassion for their situation. Whether it’s Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd, who’s trying to escape the shadow of a betrayed marriage — all while having his ex-wife and the best friend (the same best friend who she betrayed him with) in the same hospital. Dr. Webber, the chief of hospital surgery, is painfully going through a midlife crisis, having lost his wife and faced with the prospect of life without his persona-defining position.

This show is so well written and each of these characters have been deserving of our empathy. Beneath it all, they’re just doctors trying to make a difference. Well, that is, all except one….

Dr. Meredith Gray is the title character of the show. She’s a young intern much like the others. We’re supposed to be seeing the show through Meredith’s eyes. After all, she narrates each episode (an ABC trend that seemed to begin with Desperate Housewives.) But while the original intent of Meredith may have been to garner our sympathy more than all others, at this point in the show’s third season, she’s become one of the key folks that many of us are secretly wishing will fail.

Let me explain…. Continue reading ‘Meredith Gray is the Modern Day Brenda Walsh’