DVD Movie Review: Before Sunset (2004)

before-sunset_1Memories and molecules

Richard Linklater’s second installment in his Before trilogy picks up nine years after the first chance encounter between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy). The environment shifts from Vienna to Paris. Their adolescence has matured. Life lessons have been learned. However, Jesse and Celine’s connection remains intact.

You know how food tastes better when your eyes are closed? Before Sunset (2004) is like a ripe piece of delectable fruit deposited on your tongue on a warm summer day. Mouth wide open and your eyes wide shut. The intricacies of the sweet flesh and the slightly more tart skin made apparent when all focus is on the tongue is felt equally as intimately when we reunite with the romantic Jesse and the cynical Celine. Somehow even more intriguing, more passionate, more longing than the first time—a feat which seemed improbable—the viewer not only watches but experiences Paris, a lost love and life.

Good movies are made from the sum of integral parts: quality writing, convincing acting and stimulating visuals. Great movies inexplicably combine these aspects and more in a way that is indistinguishable. After having just finished the film, I honestly can’t tell you if Ethan Hawke is a gifted actor or if he really was on the verge of tears in the tender moments shared with Celine. I can’t tell you if Celine is a gorgeous woman or if she was framed by an artist with the beauty of Paris as the backdrop.

In the first film, Before Sunrise (1995), I thought that Jesse and Celine conversed about the topics that only a pensive and clearly philosophical writer develops during the lifetime leading up to the film. At the time, I questioned if a 23-year-old would really be able to communicate such developed thoughts off the cuff with a stranger—even one with which there is a nearly immediate and profound connection. Before Sunset reveals that the writer not only is capable of developing more than we were generously given in the first shot, but the differences in Jesse and Celine’s ages, maturity levels and world views artfully reflect the nine years they were apart. To say that the characters’ love for one another was rekindled, that their relationship took off right where they left it nine years prior would be cliché and minimize the intricacy of their meetings. Much more delicious and textured, we see how two people with a less than 48-hour history connect—first with the spontaneity and desire of young adults and then with the history and repercussions of thirty-somethings.

Where today’s sequels are comprised of risk management rather than artistic inspiration—the past five years has proven that no Superman, Batman or Spiderman will lose money — the Before series does something beyond entertain. Instead of simply giving its audience more of what they enjoyed so much in the first film, the depth of the second provokes the audience to believe in the first encounter even more heartily. In the first film the characters lived in the moment. In the second, the viewer learns that the experience fueled the next four years of Jesse’s writing career. In the first, the characters romantically share wine, walks and inane things. In the second, a smoking scene makes the viewer feel like characters are sharing a post-sex cigarette, when in fact it was only preceded by a conversation. In the first, the characters seem at times naïve. In the second the viewer appreciates the consequences of entitlement Jesse speaks of when talking about young people.

Overall, the essence of the film is captured in a nugget that Celine offers Jesse when she hugs him and says: “I want to see if you stay together or if you dissolve into molecules.”

80 mins.

20 years, 10 Terrible Films

Subjectivity abounds in this piece. I’ve no doubt that whatever I cite as my 10 most prominent cinematic pieces of chaff, there will be those who will cite at least 11 I have missed. You are more than welcome to point out the error of my judgement.

The 80s were a time of bad music, bad fashions and truly cringe-making hairstyles, but also a breeding ground for trash movies. I often wonder if the entire decade was invented just to provide something on which the middle classes of the 00s could base their kitschy parties.

With this in mind, and the fact that the past couple of years alone have produced some monumentally bad efforts at film-making, I present to you my ‘top’ 10 hide-behind-the-sofa-but-not-for-the-right-reason list. I think it would be unfair to give any one of these top billing, so the list is presented in no particular order.

Battlefield Earth (2000) At around $60-70m, a very expensive mess indeed. So much wrong with John Travolta’s adaptation of part one of L. Ron Hubbard’s housebrick-sized novel, it’s tough to know where to begin. That’s what you get for basing a story on the teachings of your spiritual leader – although it didn’t seem to do Mel Gibson any harm.

Catwoman (2004) Not even lightly greasing Halle Berry and sliding her into a skin-tight latex suit could save this film. The only plus point for Ms Berry is that she had the good grace to collect her Golden Raspberry (Razzie) award for Worst Actress in person.

Dirty Dancing (1987) OK, it misses the deadline by a year, and I just know that people are going to disagree. I don’t care – it was and remains utter rubbish. Flimsy storyline, hammy acting and some of the worst lines ever to (dis)grace our screens.

The Hottie and the Nottie (2008) I’ll admit I haven’t even seen the DVD case for this, but it has Paris Hilton in a starring role. The official figures show that only around 30 people saw this film on its opening weekend in the US.

The Bodyguard (1992) This one’s for James, who admitted to me he liked this film. It may have been late night in a bar somewhere, but he definitely did. Wooden acting, unbelievable dialogue and the dubious pleasure of Whitney ‘never sing one note when fifteen will do’ Houston warbling all over the place. Made me wish he’d turned up for work late and the villain had done her in.

Batman and Robin (1997) Wooh! George Clooney, Uma Thurman, Arnold Schwarzenegger and even Alicia Silverstone for eye candy – what could possibly be wrong with this? As a life-long Batman fan I can say, without fear of contradiction, that pretty much everything about this was a celluloid travesty.

Lost in Translation (2003) I know I tend to go on about this, but really – what a waste of time and effort. A pair of unlikeable, whining Americans feel alienated for a variety of non-engaging reasons and swan around in Japan bitching about how terrible their lot is. This screenplay won an Oscar – a fact which remains a complete mystery to me. Described by the critics as “hilarious” and by almost everyone else as a pile of fetid dingo’s kidneys (with apologies to Douglas Adams for stealing his line).

Pearl Harbor (2001)
So awful they couldn’t even spell ‘harbour’ properly. An historical dramatization of the inconsequential actions of some Japanese people against some American people in something called ‘World War 2’ set against the backdrop of two really interesting school chums who grow up and go off to war. Or something like that.

The Stepford Wives (2004) No, not the original one. Regular readers will know what a huge fan of remakes I am – especially when they’re as superbly executed as this. Take a very well-made and creepy 1975 movie with Nanette Newman (who I used to have a bit of thing about when I was younger, but that’s another story) and rip out all but the basic premise of it. Add the customary lacklustre performance by Bette Midler and chuck in Nicole Kidman so the chaps don’t fall asleep. What could possibly go wrong?

Brother Bear (2003) Crap. I took my son to see this (we have a deal, he gets to choose and so do I). When we left the cinema, I said to him “did you like it?” To which he replied “meh.” An apparently heart-warming story of a young Native American boy magically turned into a bear, who learns how to be one with the forest and have a greater respect for nature. Pass the bucket. Cloying, saccharine-sweet nonsense, voiced by Joaquin Phoenix who presumably had a large gas bill that quarter. Top it off with unmemorable songs written and performed by the least talented pop star ever, Phil Collins, and you’re onto a loser.

Wow. You will not believe how much I enjoyed that. Bile and vitriol in the comments, please.

Won’t Somebody Think Of The Children?

Many of you will know that I am an unashamed Batman fan, and always have been. I was quite happy – eager, even, that my eldest son (who’s 10) should come to see it with me. For me, it’s the same thing as the Dads who drag their children of two years or so to see Nohope United every Saturday when the poor buggers have no idea what’s going on. I at least waited until I thought was mentally mature enough to get something out of the experience.

While in pursuit of my rapaciously hedonistic lifestyle, I was perusing the UK Sunday Times over a coffee and was surprised to see the shock horror headline Batman ‘too violent’ for children. OK, they put the ‘too violent’ in quotes (probably to avoid a costly court case) but the gist was that The Dark Knight (2008) – along with the previous Bond outing, Casino Royale (2006) – were deemed too violent for under-12s. I will grant you that the torture scene in Casino Royale did prompt my son to an audible ‘aargh!’, but then I had my legs crossed too. What it didn’t do was corrupt or deprave him any more than I’ve so far managed.

Of course, I’m not advocating that children be given completely free access to watch films such as Cannibal Ferox (1981) or Chainsaw Donkey Lesbian Gangbang (don’t bother – I made that last one up) but there are certain films I will let him see, despite their certification. Kids today grow up way too quickly as it is, and I want him to enjoy the movies he sees, as I did when I was a kid. He is very keen on films and I don’t want to spoil that for him by making him sit through the third viewing of Beethoven (1992) or some other such unedifying crap.

The Sunday Times story goes on to say that in the first week of release, The Dark Knight had garnered no fewer than 70 complaints against the 12A certification. I’m no mathematician, but if the audience figures are to be believed, some 400 thousand million people have seen this and there have been 70 complaints – largely from people who went simply to have a basis on which to complain, I’d guess. Now if we do the maths, that’s an incredibly small percentage, however you massage the figures.

There were a couple of scenes in The Dark Knight that may have been a little edgy. The pencil in the eye was sudden and surprising (but actually quite wittily done, and to a ‘bad person’ to boot), but there was nothing graphic. It was largely there to set up The Joker as an unpredictable and edgy character, which it did very well. The other point that stands out as potentially unpleasant was The Joker describing how he prefers knives to guns, as guns are too quick and you don’t get to see how someone is in death. Yes, it’s not exactly the biggest laugh in the movie, but my son was distinctly unperturbed – to the point I thought I might have to slap him in the back of the head for making such an awful row with his popcorn bag.

For me, I think that The A-Team and the like send out completely the wrong signal. There are people out there who simply aren’t nice, and who don’t play by the rules. When Mr T or Hannibal blow the bejesus out of a jeep, sending it flying into sub-space, the creeps always get out with just a tinge of whiplash, instead of being spread across a few hectares of war zone. When they capture the bad guys, they are repentant or are assured a lengthy stretch in the big house. This is not how things are. Kids today know how to understand and process this information, and whether or not it’s just to act these things out. They’re so mollycoddled in every other way, I’d be surprised if they didn’t all turn out to be completely maladjusted. Children (boys, I mean here) need to start a fire, climb a tree, fall into a pond and generally try to hurt each other with sticks – escapist fantasy stories are part of this lost boyhood, and I would hate to see it all disappear behind a cloying cloud of so-called responsible parenting.

If you want an decent example of unpleasantness, read any classic Anderson or Grimm story. Subject matter includes: transvestite wolves, threatened ingestion of small girls, poisoning, witchcraft, breaking and entering, stealing, axe attacks and many more. And all you responsible parents out there are reading this filth to your precious little boys and girls? Shame on you.

So Many Things, I’m Hard-pushed for a Witty Title…

Today’s news starts with something I found quite surprising. In this Associated Press piece on backstage.com, the late Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker in the upcoming The Dark Knight (2008) is compared (favourably) to one Mr J Nicholson’s turn in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). They even go so far as to suggest he may even be nominated posthumously for an Oscar for his efforts. Regular readers will know what a huge fan of the new Batman I am – but I can’t help but wonder if it’s going to be that good a performance. True, he was shaping up to be a very fine actor indeed and his death was a loss to cinema – but a comic-book creation? I think that’d be a first (unless of course you, the reader, know different).

If you’re a fan of free movies and animation (and who isn’t?) you’ll be delighted to hear of a fledgling site offering just these things – along with graphics, sound loops, ebooks and more. Legaltorrents deals in, er, legal torrents, that is to say, files you can download, use and share legally. There are animations, indie (very indie) movies and some other bits. Quite a limited selection for the moment, but one that I intend to visit regularly and which I hope will grow and grow. The site is in beta testing at the moment, which means you may experience some unforseen crapiness, but it looks to be fine to me. You’ll need to register too – but your email and name aren’t a huge price to pay for something so obviously worth supporting.

Sort of in keeping with the movie theme is a great picture group to be found on flickr.com – GAW. ‘Geek Ad Wednesday’ to use the preferred nomeclature, is a group dedicated to mocking up adverts for products used in films and TV series. There are some genuinely superb efforts in there and it’s definitely worth checking out – if only to prove what an uber-movie geek you really are. The link above contains mock-ups for Cyberdyne, InGen and Benthic among others. Come on, how many of you knew all these before looking? Better yet, many of their efforts are in hi-res, so if you like them, you can make your desktop wallpaper out of them. Now that’s geeky.

To finish up, there’s a question I know has been worrying you all – how would you escape from a situation that a character in an action/horror movie might find themselves? I know I think about it a lot (well, it beats working). Just as a heads-up for all those who worry about, say, being a serial killer’s victim du choix, there’s a very helpful guide on The Guardian’s website to help you avoid this and other terrors, such as an alien invasion or torture. It must have been a slow news day at The Guardian, but I found this article a lot of fun.

Maid, Remade and Mad

News reaches me that Sienna Miller is to star as Maid Marian in the upcoming re-jig of the Robin Hood story. Huh? A Robin Hood remake, surely not? Speaking to the BBC she gushed: “It’s happening. I just found out. It’s the most exciting news in the world.” She has obviously never won a Nobel Peace Prize. The new thing (also alleged to be starring Russell Crowe) will have the angle of sympathy for the Sheriff of Nottingham, facing a not-so-kind Hood. Well, I suppose they had to make it different somehow…

Now, I’m not going to go into a rant about how the BBC has let down the licence payers over the years by not scheduling quality drama (bear with me here, non-Brits), but they do seem to have lost their way of late – yes, I’m looking at you, Come Dancing. It is with enormous pleasure I find out that they not only intend to make at least two new single (standalone) plays, but that one of them will star Uma Thurman. It’s like having two prayers answered in one go. Ms Thurman will star in an adaptation of David Hare’s My Zinc Bed.

The Remade

I am following the disturbing trend of remaking films that should be left well alone with some interest. I am just waiting for the remake of Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow before I finally call it quits and get another passion besides watching films. The first is nary more than a rumour. According to a translation obtained by Bloody Disgusting, Josh Brolin is to reprise the role of Snake in the soon-to-start-shooting redo of Escape From New York (1981). I really hope this never happens. Kurt was the man, and Carpenter the only one who could have got away with it and still made it fun. The other disturbing news I have to relate is that there is (definitely) going to be a remake of Death Race 2000 (1975). Out later this year, it apparently does away with the cute concept of wantonly killing innocent bystanders and focuses more on the race in which prisoners are forced to compete. So, more kind of a ‘Death Running Race Man 2000’. I suppose I ought to provide you a link to the trailer, but be warned, it contains none of the satire, gallows humour and farce of the original. Indeed, it looks to me like standard formulaic bollocks.

The Mad

Perhaps “mad” is a little harsh. It transpires that Adam West has little time for the new, improved Batman. He has “only seen bits and pieces” of Nolan’s Batman, but it’s not to his taste. According to West, speaking in an interview for comicbookmovie.com, he finds the new-fangled Batman lacks a certain something. Of his work as The Batman for TV, he says: “It was silly and funny. With the villains, especially, it was almost Shakespearian because of the bizarre costuming and makeup.” I don’t know, maybe Mr West has lost a few of his marbles. Or maybe it’s me for believing that criminals dress up to rob banks with umbrellas and crime fighters take on the persona of flying mammalia. Whatever happens, Shakespeare it ain’t.

Bond, Bridges, Bale and, er, MacGuyver…

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? The bad? OK. Amy (‘Look at me! Look at me!’) Winehouse was reported by the BBC to be involved in the production of the latest Bond outing Quantum of Solace. The good news? A couple of days later, her producer, Mark Ronson, was quoted as saying that Ms Ooh-Aren’t-I-Controversial is “not ready to make music”. Hardly surprising, really. My theory is that she’s either being a bit heavy-handed with the Columbian marching powder, or she simply can’t think of anything that rhymes with ‘solace’. Let’s face it, she’s no Sheena Easton, is she?

By the way, if any of our sharp-eared readers can think of a rhyme for solace, let’s hear it. I’ve got ‘Horace’, ‘Wallace’ and ‘Boris’. I think a rap/hip-hop base would work best, so I give you:

Oh-oh-seven got game, like William Wallace – he’s a Brit from London, his main man’s Boris – Droppin’ bombs on the suckers in the metro-pol-is – Down with the ladeez, there’s yo’ Quantum of Solace.

I think Eminem’s career is safe for a bit. Before you post your insults, have a go – it’s not easy! I’ll be genuinely interested to see if the title gets worked into the theme song. Oh, and ‘props to the homeys’ at The Rap Dictionary.

Iron Man Abides

I took my son to see Iron Man (2008) last weekend. I have no idea if he wanted to go or not, but I needed an excuse. Turns out it wasn’t at all bad. For a full review, check out James’ take on our partner site, Expatica. It was made more enjoyable by a good turn from Jeff Bridges as the bad guy – a part he apparently enjoyed immensely. As you know, it is practically illegal to mention Bridges without a reference to The Big Lebowski (1998), so here’s mine. With the summer coming, there comes a new round of the phenomenon known as The Lebowskifest. I quite like the idea of dressing up as The Dude, unlimited bowling and White Russians galore.

Why So Serious?

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of The Batman. It was with much joy that I stumbled across this new trailer for the soon-to-be-released The Dark Knight. Not only do I like the fact that Christian Bale is continuing his role as – in my opinion – the best Batman ever, but the late Heath Ledger’s Joker looks absolutely fantastic. The film looks to be packed with gadgets (batmobile, bat-bike), big-name stars and an awful lot of blowing stuff up. Can’t wait.

Can you tell what it is yet?

I try to save the strange stuff until last, and today is no exception. People of a certain age (or those in possession of cable TV) will no doubt have seen MacGyver, long-time heartthrob of Patty and Selma Bouvier in The Simpsons. The plot to MacGyver was simple. He would be caught by whatever bad guys were around at the time and locked in a room, which usually contained all the things he needed to build himself a gadget with which to escape. Apparently, the series writer, Lee David Zlotoff, kept the rights to the movie and now plans to make it. That’s all very well, but who will play the lead? Somehow I can’t see Ralph Fiennes making a go-kart out of a scaffold pole, a paper bag, two boxes of soap powder and a nail gun…

300 (2006)

300Greek gift

When I mentioned to James that I’d picked up a copy of this movie for around the price of a large beer, he threw me one of those looks that only a film critic can give. You know, the ‘ugh – what’s that on the bottom of my shoe?’ look. I took it from that and the slow shake of his head that he wasn’t, on the whole, too enamoured with it.

300 is a film of a comic-book of a story, from director Zack Snyder, who previously gave the world Dawn of the Dead (2004), a disappointing retread (or more accurately, for those who’ve seen it, ‘re-run’) of George A. Romero’s 1978 classic. Here, it’s useful to remember how the game Chinese Whispers frequently ends up – along the way, some of the facts are distorted and maybe even embellished a little to provide more drama for the reader or viewer. Frank Miller, one of the most celebrated comic and graphic novel writers ever, produced the series 300 for Dark Horse Comics in 1998 – he is also responsible for Batman: The Dark Knight, Sin City, and Elektra – all of which have been released as movies. Does 300 have the visual style of a comic book? You bet. Those familiar with Miller’s work will see it writ large across the movie – lurid colours, minimalist script and more gore than you could possibly imagine. Anyone really expecting an historical masterpiece will leave disappointed.

The story and plot are fairly basic and anyone who has read about the original battle on which the film/comic was based will already know the outcome. The story in question is based on true events. In around 480 BC, Sparta (and Greece itself) were under attack from the Persian empire and the only way in was a narrow pass known as Thermopylae. The Spartans, lead by king Leonidas, decided they would send 300 men there to ward off the incoming Persians – commanded by king Xerxes – even though they were completely outnumbered. Their battle is legendary as an example of how to compete against seemingly impossible odds.

Three notable complaints have been levelled at this film:

  • It is homoerotic
  • It is racist
  • It is historically inaccurate

Is it homoerotic? I’d say probably, yes. All the Spartans are butch, muscular fellows with rippling muscles and wearing little but what appears to be tight-fitting swimming trunks. There’s a lot of male bonding going on and even the confrontation between Leonidas and Xerxes seems a tad too affectionate to be real. Bearing in mind the Spartans practiced homosexuality as much or as little as any other culture at the time, it could be more accurate than people think. Anyway, if muscular men in shorts are your thing, then there’s a real bonus in this movie for you. If not, well, I’m sure you’ll be OK.

Is it racist? I don’t believe it is. As I have said, this is based on a comic book of a story. Comics tend to simplify who’s ‘good’ and who’s ‘bad’, so there’s bound to be some contention here. If the film had been called Thousands and Thousands of Persians Laying Waste to Greece – Hooray!, I’d expect to see the Persian army wading into some unruly Spartans and finishing them off double-quick. Does that make me anti-Greek? Nope. The thing is that the (true) story on which it was based tells of just the opposite – 300 Spartans and auxiliary troops fighting against crazy odds. I don’t think the story of David and Goliath would be legendary if Goliath had simply walked over and ripped Dave’s head off. The only problem seems to be that the Persia of old is now what is all of Iran, Iraq and several other countries but I think anyone would be hard pushed to suggest that the Persians were all devils – or indeed that the Spartans were all models of virtue, honour and fair play.

Is it historically inaccurate? Oh boy – is it ever. The Persians attack with elephants and rhinos, alongside a veritable freak show of bizarre and (literally) larger-than-life characters. But remember, it’s a film based on a… well, you get the idea. It was never intended to be entirely historically accurate, it was more about the idea that few could triumph, morally or physically against an opposing force. To be fair, many of the scenes are well recorded by both Persian and Greek writers of the time but have been embellished to make for a better tale.

It’s an exciting piece of cinema if you don’t mind wanton bloodshed, many unlikeable characters and a bit of spice stirred in. I wouldn’t say it’s a cinematic masterpiece, or even a script to make you think – but then not every film is Citizen Kane (1941), is it?

117 mins.

James’ note: By rare coincidence, as I was checking, proofreading, rewriting and correcting Colin’s review, tears of joy streaming down my face, I stumbled upon an Entertainment Weekly.com article, to wit: 20 Worst Comic-Book Movies Ever. Does 300 get a dishonourable mention? That would be telling…

Holy Exploding Heads, Batman!

Dark Knight Christian BaleMy name is Colin and I’m a Batman fan. I have been Batman-free for two years. There, it’s out of the way. As regular readers will know, James is the one who generally goes to see the films that have subtle metaphors and maybe actually mean something. Me? Yes, I watch them too but every so often I like escapist movies with an inordinate amount of gratuitous violence and pyrotechnics. So, it was with enormous pleasure I came to know of two movies coming up that fit the bill nicely.

The Dark Knight: I grew up with The Batman in comic book form, graduating to the gorgeously drawn and well written graphic novels of the late 80s and have never been happy with the cinema or television portrayals of my favourite childhood vigilante. The television series was as camp as Christmas and the movies never showed the Batman I knew. For me, he was always a dark, brooding, bitter and resentful individual. He was a proper vigilante with no remorse for his quarry. Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan (director) brought the real Batman to the screen for the first time in Batman Begins (2005) – although I’m still not sure what Sir Michael Caine was doing as his butler, Alfred. The sequel, The Dark Knight, is out in Europe in August and again boasts quite an impressive cast – a testament, I believe, to the quality of the first film. Bale is still Batman and I’m looking forward to seeing the late Heath Ledger bringing the Joker’s craziness to the party. It may not be Proust, but then I think A la Récherche du Temps Perdu might have been improved by a good Mexican stand-off. There’s a trailer, of course: Take a look here.

George A Romero’s Diary of the Dead: Out in the US last year but strangely held back for us unlucky Europeans until June this year, it’s another in the zombie “…of the Dead” series of movies. This was all George’s own work, hence the title-lengthening name check. It appears he has returned to basics with this one as well. A low budget horror movie about some teenagers shooting a low budget horror movie – that should make space-time implode, theoretically. Anyway, he shot this on an expensive piece of equipment masquerading as a hand-held cam – Hmm, I get the feeling I’ve seen that before somewhere. The trailer looks good though, and by all accounts the body count is off the dial. As a huge fan of anything Zombie (except the remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004) – running zombies? Pah!), I feel I owe it to myself to give it a go. It all sets up well: teenagers, woods, hand-cam, zombies – it’s a cinematic version of Schlock-Horror for Dummies and if it’s being handled by the man himself, how bad could it be? In keeping with what is rapidly becoming the standard, the film has its own Myspace page, so if you want to see the trailer, look no further. Geeks, couch potatoes and horror buffs can look out for vocal cameos by such luminaries as Quentin Tarantino, Wes Craven, Stephen King and Simon Pegg, all playing newsreaders. See you behind the sofa.