Saturday, May 26, 2007

Greetings from NYC... "Blackbird" and a Black market "Pirates"

Hey everyone. Moved into the NYU dorms Wednesday afternoon to be closer to my internship and been keeping vedy vedy busy. I'll try to give you any interesting tidbits I happen to come across. Anyway. Today I caught the matinee of "Blackbird," a fucking stunning two-person play starring Jeff Daniels and Allison Pill as a man and a woman who had a three-month-long affair when he was 40 and she was 12 who know meet again for the first time 15 or so years later.

It was just an incredibly tense, ferocious 90-minute work with unbelievable performances by both Daniels and Pill. Not a show that will leave you smiling, but you'll be glad you spent the time. "Blackbird" isn't eligible for the Tonys since it's off-Broadway, but it's certainly better than any of the Tony nominees for Best Play that I've seen (all except "Radio Golf"), though "Frost/Nixon" comes close.

The play is playing in an incredibly small house (I'd estimate 150 seats) which worked for and against it. For, because it only makes it all the more intimate and causes an unbelievable sense of discomfort and unease, and against it, because my audience was filled with fucking idiots who thought they were at home with their TV talking to one another while this live performance was going on. Perhaps in a huge Broadway house, a rude asshole can get away with this, but at NYCity Center, their voices permeated throughout the room.

I'd recommend you check out "Blackbird" but it's sold out for the rest of it's run. However, you can do what I did and wait on the cancellation line on the off-chance a ticket pops up. It's a bit of a pain in the ass, standing in line for well over an hour and a half, but it's certainly worth it. Here's a snapshot I took of "Blackbird's" incredibly impressive set prior to the performance:

A major perk of living in Chinatown is the bootleg movies available at every street corner. Out of curiosity, I picked up a copy of "Pirates 3" and "Spider-Man 3" at 5 dollars a pop.

The "Spider" one crashed my computer, but the "Pirates" one... well, I'm seriously dumbfounded (and disturbed) that a bootleg of this quality is already available on the second day of a movie's release. Simply astonishing. I wish I liked the movie, because otherwise I would definitely give this one a second watch; the closest to screener quality I've ever seen on a filmed-in-a-theater bootleg (sorry for the pic quality-- I took them off my laptop):

Anyway, that's all for now. Be back soon hopefully with a quick take on "Bug" and FINALLY a review for "Knocked Up," which I've now seen three times.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End"-- * * * *

After a somewhat disappointing sequel, Gore Verbinski, Johnny Depp, et al. rebound in a huge way with “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” which is not only the most entertaining (and possibly the best) film of 2007 so far, but quite possibly one of the most entertaining movies ever made. Yes folks, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” is the masterpiece of popcorn movies, a wonderfully clever, well-made piece of work that both transcends its genre and will impress the masses and elitists alike. If you enjoy slam-bang entertainment as well as smart writing, buy advance tickets and see this sucker no less than twice. ..

Okay, okay. I’m kidding. Scroll down for my real review…

"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End"-- *

After opening with a relatively effective, almost chilling sequence (which, it quickly becomes evident, has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie), “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” almost immediately devolves into what can now be considered the symbolic mascot of the majority of the “POTC” series: a festering piece of shit.

It is truly a perfect ending to the series.

I remember when back-to-back production was going on for “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End,” news began to circulate that the latter was shooting without the semblance of a finished script. Boy, does it ever show. Scenes ramble on without any end in sight, bizarre flights of fancy pop up out of nowhere (and not entertaining Gilliam-esque ones), and worst of all, incomprehensible lines of plot pile on more and more as the movie goes on. I was a bit dumbfounded when it all finally ended, since rarely have I struggled so hard to grasp what was going on in a movie so stupid.

On the way into the screening, a Disney representative handed me a letter warning THREE TIMES (in varying language) not to reveal any key plot points in my review, but they needn’t worry. For the life of me I couldn’t explain to you what takes place. Yeah I could tell you where these characters are at the end, but not how they got there.

For those who don’t know, what sets everything in motion is the return of Captain Jack (Johnny Depp) and Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). That’s right moviegoers! Those characters that died earlier in the series? Gore Verbinski has pulled a Brett Ratner and brought them all back, making the significance of their deaths completely irrelevant—woooo!

Honestly (and apparently), I’m pretty much at a loss as to how to go about talking about this movie. I was contemplating just putting up a post “Yup, I hated it” but I thought I should give a little more than that. Everything that’s terrible about the second one is slightly exacerbated here, so haters of that film shouldn’t expect any better, and anyone who’s genuinely excited about this one will probably have a good time. As I’ve already explained, the three hours was near-torturous for me and I think it’s the beginning of the downfall of civilization, so make of that what you will.

Just like “Dead Man’s Chest,” “At World’s End” is the biggest and saddest waste of genuinely brilliant actors we’ll see all year. Geoffrey Rush is having some fun returning as Barbossa, though he seems to be slumming and just extending his consonants to sound “Pirate-y.” Depp, on the other hand, is a disgrace. Two short years ago, I declared that Depp deservedly received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the first “Pirates” film. Two films later, he’s just rehashing the same old shit, and Jack has devolved into a more irritating character than Austin Powers by the time we hit “Goldmember.” The initially brash and hilarious portrayal of Jack has slunked into predictable and barely eliciting a chuckle. He’s noticeably less gay than he was in the first film, yet he’s still making tired jokes about missing rum. *Yawn* Seemingly realizing the character has grown tired, Depp has been given free reign and allowed to do whatever he wants, which apparently includes having out-of-place, unfunny scenes of Jack hallucinating multiple varying versions of himself. Yes, in a film that’s already an hour longer than it needs to be, Verbinski found it necessary to feature scenes of Depp prancing around the screen clucking like a chicken. I’d like to be the first to petition the Academy to revoke his nomination for the first film.

Also like the last film, Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) is by far the most interesting thing on screen. The special effects are not as jaw-droppingly impressive and new this time around but they’re still astonishing and Nighy’s performance through his digital head of tentacles still manages to be a stunning piece of acting. There’s a moment where Jones wipes away a tear with one of his tentacles that’s better than anything else in the movie, both in conceptualization and execution.

Knightley and Bloom are as boring as they’ve ever been (and ever will be) so not too much to say on that front.

Chow Yun-Fat, despite much prominence in the ads, has little-to-nothing to do here except offer up a wildly offensive stereotypically-Asian manner of speaking that I can’t believe he agreed to. I kept waiting for him to offer to make everybody a small order of flied lice.

Much has been made of Keith Richard’s cameo as Jack’s father—and it’s, honestly, nothing. He’s in two short scenes, only one of which he has any dialogue and the only laughs come from his appearance which barely even elicits that since his presence in the film has been known widespread for a while now.

Though I didn’t particularly mind (I hate any “Pirates” sequel moment, action and dialogue alike), for a three hour action epic, it’s surprisingly light on action. The first two hours or so consist mostly of the characters standing around explaining the plot(s) to each other while the audience goes “whuh?” leading up to a final forty minutes of insanely mind-numbingly dull action including massive swordfights and ‘splosions in a crazy maelstrom. *Yawn* Like Disney requested, I won’t reveal the conclusions of the characters’ storylines—all I’ll say is nothing significant or notable happens with Jack, and the way Will and Elizabeth storyline concludes is just retahded. If you’re pleased with it, stay after the 10-minute long credits—we’re treated to a “10 years later” sequence. Much has been made in the ads about twists/secrets, but there’s really nothing to write home about. Certainly nothing that could be branded “shocking.”

I know this review doesn't come as a surprise to many of you. I’ve been bitching about “Dead Man’s Chest” since it came out, and haven’t been looking forward to watching the latest installment. But deep inside, I had hoped the series would close on a note that returned to the fun and excitement of the first film that I liked so much. So much for that. “At World’s End” is an astonishing mess of incoherence that, despite being rarely boring, is actually worse than the film preceding it.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

ladies and gentlemen... Heath Ledger as The Joker

Okay... it's not the highest quality (WB revealed it through a fake promo website but this looks absolutely fucking perfect. Gone is the over-the-top jokiness of Nicholson and instead we have what the Joker is supposed to be and never really was in "Batman": creepy as shit. This is awesome, and has me only further anticipating the one superhero franchise left I can truly get excited about.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"Shrek the Third" -- * *

When the first “Shrek” opened in theaters six long years ago, it was universally embraced (myself included) as a breath of fresh air. Yes, it was made by a massive studio, but it had such a sense of wit and originality, sweetness without being cloying, and even had the gall to mock Disney and other animated movies. It was the rare (if not only) animated film that earned the title of ‘satire.’ “Shrek 2” didn’t reach the heights of “Shrek,” and much of the genuine sweetness had seeped out, but it was still consistently hilarious and had lots of big, fun set-pieces (the giant gingerbread man comes to mind) to make up for whatever was lost. Now, by the time we’ve reached “Shrek the Third,” the series has reached the sort of uninspired mediocrity it had previously thumbed its nose at.

The movie starts out with Shrek (Mike Myers) living in the castle with his in-laws and planning to return with Fiona (Cameron Diaz) when his father-in-law, the frog king (John Cleese) of Far Far Away dies (in the only gag in the movie to make me laugh out loud). With the king dead, Shrek is now the heir to the throne; eager to avoid this fate at all costs, Shrek gathers with his good friends Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderes—given much less to do this time around, but still the highlight of the film) and embarks on a journey to find the long-last heir Artie, or Arthur (voiced horribly by Justin Timberlake). All the while, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) wants to claim the throne as his own and will do whatever he can to do so.

The chief problem with “Shrek the Third” is that it’s just fucking lazy. As much as I despised “Spider-Man 3,” that at least was making a real effort at something. This just comes off as an average straight-to-video Disney sequel that happens to be voiced by a big celebrity cast; this is not what the “Shrek” films are supposed to be. “Shrek the Third” only occasionally has moments of what can be called ‘wit,’ and rarely has forced moments of “adult” humor (e.g.: Puss tells Shrek “You, my friend, are royally fucked,” with “fucked” bleeped out by a foghorn).

Its makers apparently think that what people loved about the first two “Shreks” were its vomiting and flatulence gags, since we get plenty of them here. The rare bright spots there are tend to belong to Snow White, Rapunzel, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty (Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Amy Sedaris and Cheri Oteri) as the anti-damsels-in-distress. But even here, the fun/humor lies in the voicework, not the script.

“Shrek the Third” also chooses to forget everything cool about Shrek and Fiona, most notably their fighting skills. When faced with bad guys, Fiona runs and hides (far from the Matrix kung-fu we’ve witnessed her do) and Shrek is easily captured by Charming’s few henchmen.

The ending is certainly the lamest offense of all. While “Shrek” ended with a moving moment of Fiona’s transformation into “beautiful” Fiona leading into a group sing-along of “I’m a Believer,” and “Shrek 2” concluded on the giant gingerbread man attack and Shrek defeating the evil fairy godmother while she sang “I Need a Hero,” this one ends on a big speech decrying that bad guys aren’t really bad, they’re just misunderstood. Yes, a multi-hundred-million dollar animated blockbuster decided to devote its resources to ending on a long sequence of a character giving a speech. Apparently, the filmmakers realized they’ve ended on a lackluster note, we’re “treated” to a tacked-on musical number over the end credits (our leads sing “Thank You for Letting Me Be Myself”).

The culprit is without a doubt the script; it's borderline terrible with only the rare moments of successful comedy to remind us of the good ole days. What keeps it afloat is the voicework and the predictably beautiful animation. Thanks to these elements, this is not a grandiose “Spider-Man 3” or “Pirates 2” failure, it’s just a mediocre disappointment, especially for a franchise that had so much warmth, hilarity and originality coursing through its veins till now.

[Note: While writing this review, I’ve been watching “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” to prep me for the third one opening next week. I’d almost forgotten how fucking dreadful this movie is in every respect. I am NOT looking forward to “At World’s End.”]