Friday, July 29, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens, Attack the Block!, Life in a Day, Exporting Raymond

Cowboys & Aliens
Rating: 3/5

It’s absolutely amazing how similar the western and sci fi genres are; here they have married beautifully here to create a highly original new kind of movie experience.  The scene is set in Absolution, Arizona, and a Wild West desert outpost populated with preachers, doctors, saloon owners, criminals and Civil War veterans.  Without skipping too far head at once, as to marrying two genres, imagine the awe of hearing those familiar electronic blips and blue lights set off in this far-off world of the past.  It’s positively energizing.
A memory challenged loner hero wanders into town wearing a steampunk, clearly electronic gizmo on his wrist.  He’s desperately handsome (oh that Daniel Craig!) and individualistic and clearly able to defend himself like a Wild West superhero fist fighter.  When grilled by the locals, he can’t defend himself because he has no memory of being the wanted criminal he is accused of being.    They say he’s Jake Lonergan, a gang leader who has stolen gold from a powerful, local thug (Harrison Ford) and his gang.
Tensions mount and out of the dusty landscape comes an impossibly beautiful and (as its 130 years ago in the desert) groomed Olivia Wilde.  Her teeth are whiter than white, her hair and floral print dress just so.  Strange that she’s singled out by the hair, makeup and wardrobe departments when all the bad guys are completely filthy and obviously stinky.   Oh well.  Thus ever it was.
So Lonergan, the villagers and the ruling thugs are standing off on Main St., Absolution and we’re sure of multiple deaths by gun, when something glowing floats down the street and explodes the place to smithereens.    By sheer accident, Lonergan discovers his weird bracelet has the power to kill the monster inside the space craft.
I would like to have seen a lot more of the olde timers wide-eyed, gob smacked responses to the future indicators, but it’s all over too fast and they don’t seem really to care about such things as flying, flashing lights and holograms.  It would have been very cool to explore the steampunk connection more thoroughly, but it’s straight to meat and potatoes, war with the extra-terrestrials.  That’s where it loses its originality and becomes just another sci fi fight film. 
The image of villagers being caught up into the space ship by long chains is fun and original.  They are snatched away – and usually over-the-hill men, sexy women and children – leaving their mates confused and angry. But how can mere cowboy earthlings battle space monsters?  With ingenuity and Lonergan’s bracelet!!
Favreau seems intent on getting to the end of the film with as much din and white light as possible.  He decided not to explore the subtleties and culture clash of the old versus new, focusing instead on slimy monsters with extra hands that shoot out of their gross chests.  
A nice supporting cast features Adam Beach, Raoul Trujillo, Noah Ringer, the kid from The Last Airbender, Keith Carradine and an adorable dog. Ford plays a blustery, ageing and oh so cantankerous bandit, a portrayal which borders on satire and Craig is well, James Bond circa 1873.
Ultimately the idea of combining the western and sci-fi flick is totally appealing and for the most part it works.  The film could be shorter and less jagged, but overall, it’s a cool popcorn movie that inspires fantasies about cowboys & aliens.

Attack the Block
Rating: 3.5 /5

This unique and energetic English horror thriller from the producers of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz was on the verge of not being released in North America, until clandestine screenings revealed that it long, long legs.  An interesting grass roots way of opening a film and perhaps rigidly reliable.  Attack the Block seems poised to become a favourite; it is utterly original on every level, from the personalities of the characters, the “personalities” of the monsters,  the claustrophobic backdrop of the council estate block,  to its hyped up, energizing tone.
Attack the Block is a one-of-a-kind monster movie with comic and tragic elements; it takes place in the seedy, impoverished world of London’s inner city, where lawlessness and kids run wild (according to the filmmakers).   The block becomes ground zero for an alien war and yet at its heart, Attack the Block is about the power of love and respect.  And it’s a hell of a great time.
The opening sequences of kids on a frenetic bike ride through a dark and dangerous terrain of inner city is galvanizing; its visceral, heart pounding and stylized.  There is the whiff of violence, of testosterone and danger, and it’s beautiful.  What horror movie opens with a moving art piece like this?  We sort of see the kids under their hoods and notice their tightly hierarchical circle, the boss played by newcomer - John Boyega and his boys (Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones, Simon Howard, and Jumayn Hunter).
A young nurse (Jodie Whittaker) is mugged while along the poorly lit street to her building. The gang of kids/gangster wannabes botches the stick up and she realizes they are frightened, and probably only around 14 years old.  In fact, a couple of kids who look like about 6 or 7 tags along for the ride, looking up to the gangsters, hoping to earn points to “join up”.
The police come and just as aliens invade.  The woman and her assailants find themselves hiding together in the police van terrified of what they’re seeing outside as officers are murdered and dismembered from the sheer force of the thing that has landed on their turf.  And they are now allies evading the same threat.  It’s an uncomfortable convergence of events, but in man versus alien war, anything goes. The kids are the first targets since they are the only ones bold enough to be there in the dark of night, most are hiding behind locked doors, fearful of kids like these.   One is stranded in a closed dumpster; another’s dog is eaten by the aliens, the rest head home to assemble weapons.  The nurse is with them, tending to their wounds.
Attack the Block is rock solid and breathtakingly original.   Joe Cornish has hit the nail on the head as a director and screenwriter.   Apparently, Steven Spielberg agrees – Cornish co-wrote the screenplay for the much anticipated The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.  But for now, Attack the Block is a must see – zowie!

Life in a Day
Rating: 3/5

We live in one big messy ball of life or so it seemed July 24, 2010 when thousands of participant around the world shot scenes from their day and became a part of recorded history.  They answered a call on YouTube from the Ridley brothers – Scott Free Productions - to collect living data and submit it to be part of a project that intended to capture life on earth on one given day.   Time capsule, travelogue, nature show, emotional rollercoaster, mundane, thrilling, wild, tame, east, west, north, south, it’s all part of the experience.
Early scenes show elephants bathing in a river in India by a full moon, cuts to a woman leaving her shack to go to work, a boy shaving for the first time under the supervision of his father, a dying man weighed down by the realization of what lies ahead,  and goes on to capture moments in life that cover the gamut of experience in 189 countries.  Big moments and little moments are of equal value, the woman breast feeding her newborn baby and commenting how pretty he is, the army wife in an emotional moment Skyping her husband fighting overseas, the soldiers hamming it up away from the battleground.
A charming young photographer in Kabul, Afghanistan endeavors to show us the other side of his country – not the “suicide attackers” but the daily experience of people like us who happen to live in a war zone.   He always carries “his babies” (cameras) which comes in handy when he captures his brothers love for his refrigerator – “it’s cool, it stands in the corner, keeps its mouth shut”.
We become voyeurs in our own world, nosing around crowded apartments of a widower and his baby son who say their morning hello to the woman who loved them and has passed on.   We watch (maybe) as a cow is shot and decapitated and a woman injured during a fireworks show and peace and love fans are trampled at the infamous Love Parade.  It ain’t all peaches and cream and neither is life in any day.
Willing participants answered the question “what do you love?”   One woman loves a word from a dead language spoken in Terra Del Fuego  that loosely means two people wanting to begin something but both afraid to.  The kid in Afghanistan loves his fridge!    The answers are surprisingly unexpected. 
It’s strange to think that beautiful little children are huddling in a decrepit boat somewhere out there in the dark waiting for the sunrise when we’re doing our own thing 6000 km away.  Its’ amazing to think as we go about our business, a woman might e skydiving in the most beautiful sphere above the clouds. The entire experience is a heads up to those of us who become bored or complacent about our lives.  Look what goes on in the world, endless opportunity, people to relate to, just for the looking.
Of course, films like this are among the reasons social media is changing the world, bringing it together.  YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and (maybe Google+) sensitize us to each other, and break down barriers in ways no one could have seen before.  Life in a Day films and newsreels has happened before, but things just got a whole lot easier with social media.

Exporting Raymond a Documentary by Phillip Rosenthal

Phillip Rosenthal created the phenomenally popular TV sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond in 1996.  It became a star vehicle for Ray Romano and Patricia Heaton who as Ray and Debra Barone weather life together, with their intrusive obnoxious in-laws, a resentful brother and their children.  It’s down-to-earth approach to comedy is that life is funny enough, you don’t need to exaggerate, in fact, many storylines were based on things that actually happened to Rosenthal.  He created, wrote and produced the show until its end in 2005.  It hit a nerve with American audiences who identified strongly with their Middle America world and values and is still in syndication.   And then Russia called.  Russian TV executives wanted to re-create the series for Russian audiences in a Russian milieu.  Rosenthal headed to Moscow to guide the local production and found he had perhaps bitten off more than he could chew.  His wildly entertaining and provocative documentary Exporting Raymond, tells the tale of the East West Sitcom Culture Clash vividly, hilariously and with a lot of heart.   Monsters and Critics spoke with Rosenthal from Los Angeles.

How early on did you think the project was going to be … difficult?

It was a pretty strong feeling.   It was all real, they told me I was a big deal and I was welcome, and I was flattered that the Russians or anyone would want my show.  And I was excited until someone said "Just make sure you have kidnapping and ransom insurance!” If that happened to you, you'd step back!  I was assured security and I said to my driver/bodyguard Elgar off camera I said "I am glad you’re with me" and he said "I must tell you Sony did not go for the gun package."   That depressed me.

It’s a very serious, weighty world in Russian TV, you found.

That’s exactly why I had such a hard time getting my point of view that real life was funny enough. But they think life is terrible why would we put that on air?  It explains lots of things. Real character show you real life can be enough.
You seemed exasperating because of this “life is hard” attitude.
And the vodka.  Life is hard and the vodka exaggerates it.

That costumer from Russian hell who wanted Debra to dress in business wear to clean the house!  That was sad and funny!

I have not talked to her since, but I'd love her to see the movie if she hasn’t.  At the end of our movie there is a ten month break reunion and she was there but then she went on to another job.  The next costumer was normal and onboard with making it naturalistic.  We agreed that all Russians are nuts!  The original one and I got along great because we didn’t work together anymore.

And then there was your limo driver who was obsessed with weapons and sea shells and the he disappeared.

He explained it to me.   Maybe we got along and he liked me but he couldn’t let them know he was sick or he’d lose his job.  Why waste money on sick person?  But after three weeks at the medical centre he came back looking like George Hamilton.  And about the weapons museum he took me to, he thought I would like it because he loves it.  His whole country is interested in it and he thought I would be.   It was touching.  He was also interested in the Museum of biology but he wouldn’t take me there because he’d think it wouldn’t interest me. 

The show is one of the top TV programs in Russia.  Do you feel vindicated for all your worries and pain and coddling?

I would love to say so but they were all, “Oh, thank you, you’re smart, goodbye!”  And then they do whatever they want.  It’s no surprise.  But Everybody Loves Raymond is the most produced show in the world. Israel and Netherlands and India are all doing the show.  I will go to places I’d like to see. Not Poland. 

What have Patricia Heaton and Ray Romano had to say about the documentary?

Patricia and Raymond loved it more than everybody because they were laughing at me.  They thought he did a better job than I did.  But someone saw me and cast em in a movie.  It’s an indie feature called O'Connell and Lipschitz Lose Their Religion based on the long running off Broadway comedy Jewtiopia.    I play the rabbi and Jennifer Love Hewitt is my daughter and Wendie Malick is my wife.  It’s fun!

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