Monday, July 26, 2010

In the Coens' version, Buscemi played Jon Arbuckle

Bill Murray seldom gives interviews, so this Q&A by Dan Fierman (ostensibly in support of his quirky new vehicle Get Low, which looks great and opens Friday) for next month's GQ reveals a few interesting things about the iconic actor. Among them:

-He considers the movie Kung Fu Hustle "the the supreme achievement of the modern age in terms of comedy";

-He apparently did Garfield because he mistakenly thought it was written by the Coen Brothers;

-He has only seen one episode of Seinfeld (which he refers to as "what's-his-name, Larry David's show," and which he thought was "terrible");

...all of which is a little confusing, and kind of awesome, much like the man himself. In related news, Caddyshack just turned 30 (!).

Via Rotten Tomatoes.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

The Girl Whose Titles Were Long

We've been talking a lot about sequels around here lately, leading me to make a comparison I wouldn't have expected, prior to seeing The Girl Who Played with Fire: the second chapter in the gritty Millennium trilogy - adapted from the late Stieg Larsson's novels – has, on a surface level, some key components in common with this summer's much bigger follow-up, Iron Man 2. Both are transitional entries in popular franchises; both tend to favor action setpieces and multiple plot lines over the more subtle storytelling of their originals, and as a result, aren't as engaging or taut as their predecessors (not an uncommon criticism of sequels). Still, Fire is a solid, enjoyable film - another characteristic it shares with IM2.

Slightly more conventionally helmed by director Daniel Alfredson than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's Niels Arden Oplev, the movie wastes no time launching into muckraking protagonist Mikael Blomkvist's (Michael Nyqvist) next adventure; those who haven't seen Dragon will be lost. As with the last film, which had Blomkvist investigating a decades-old series of unsolved Swedish murders, he is assisted in his latest case by punky private investigator/hacker, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), the real star of the series. This time, the pair becomes embroiled in a human trafficking chase, leading Salander to confront some of her past's secrets.

While Fire is a much more expository narrative than Dragon, Salander remains a compelling, badass character (rooted in Rapace's commanding performance), and the story provides an opportunity for viewers to learn more about her background. The movie retains the series' clear Silence of the Lambs imprint, but manages to feel just as influenced by the derring-do of the Bourne franchise. This blending can be by turns effective and disjointed, intertwining twisty and complicated plot elements. (Perhaps the inevitable American adaptations - the first of which arrives next year from, promisingly, David Fincher - will provide a more realized offering?)

Jonas Frykberg's - who returns as co-writer for the threequel - script may close with an unsatisfying ending, but only because it's an obvious setup for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (arriving stateside in October); it's a testament to the absorbing universe created by Larsson, and strikingly adapted by Alfredson and Oplev, that we immediately want to know what happens next. The Millennium trilogy's core elements may be fairly standard crime procedural material, but its unique perspective is original enough to excitingly propel the series.

Grade: B

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Tim Allen pleads for Toy Story 4

After eleven consecutive commercial and critical smashes, I'm tempted to ask, "What's in the water over at Pixar?" I suspect, though, that the answer would simply be that the studio provides creative filmmakers with an atmosphere that rewards and encourages honest, unique, and imaginative storytelling, able to resonate with people of all ages and walks of life. Still, it's sometimes difficult to believe that the company doesn't rely on some kind of foolproof equation they've developed which allows them to effectively manipulate a wide range of audience emotions with the slightest of ease.

Case in point, Toy Story 3. When news of the film's release first broke, there was some disappointment among Pixar fans that the studio was "settling" for a second sequel to an already established property, rather than announcing a new, original story. It's a (fairly unsurprising) relief, then, that from its opening scene, the movie is immediately funny, touching, and exciting, and that those feelings don't let up, even through the end credits. Four years passed between Toy Story 2 and the original; TS3 arrives eleven years after the second entry. While that gap could be seen as further fodder for the argument that the picture was greenlighted purely for its financial potential, director Lee Unkrich (co-director of TS2, Finding Nemo, and Monsters, Inc.) uses that lapse in time to provide a solid reason for revisiting Sheriff Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the gang.

In the kind of "emotional time passage" montage at which Pixar has become so adept, TS3 opens with home video clips of toy owner Andy growing up, from the days of the first two movies, to the present, which finds him preparing to leave for college. Naturally, this change inspires panic and melancholy among the toy ranks, lead by Woody and Buzz, who've had to go to increasing lengths to get the teenaged Andy to acknowledge, much less play with, them. The inherent sadness in the idea that our playthings are secretly alive has been felt throughout the series, but screenwriter Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) brings it to new depths here by having the toys face such a crisis of identity and purpose. Pretty brave stuff for summer family fare, but it's consistent with the studio's track record of rewarding risk taking.

What ensues is the expected Toy Story setup of elaborate near escapes and rescue plots, fraught with peril and humor - propelled of course, by fantastic animation, the best of the three on display here - but this time around, a weighty sense of existential (and tangible) angst pervades the setpieces. Each of the trilogy's films deal with questions of friendship and loss, but Toy Story 3 is the most emotionally engaging, and ultimately, the most powerful, of them. Improbably, Pixar has crafted a movie series in which each entry is more effective than the last.

Grade: A-

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

DVD Watch

Irish hit The Secret of Kells, which chronicles the creation of the Book of Kells by Cetic monks - and which just ended a run at Chicago's Siskel Film Center - will be released on DVD and Blu-ray October 5.

The movie's breathtaking hand-drawn animation rightly garnered it a nomination for Best Animated Feature at this year's Oscars (Up ultimately took the win). Animation enthusiasts, and those who prefer their family films without pop culture sass-talk, should definitely check this one out.

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