Jade's Trick

Reviews, Spotlights, and Randomosity of all things under the sun.

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Location: Hartford, Connecticut, United States

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Sunday, July 31, 2005

"What's a 'vag'?" -- Eulogy

Hey, what do you know, a decent review! Go dance.

The Eulogy: a speech attempting to find the good things about a person after death, no matter how few or far between they may be, and to gloss over the bad, no matter how heinous or wretched. Well, I don't know where that was going, so I'll just say that Eulogy is a pretty good movie and you should go watch it.

Eulogy starts just after the death of Edmund Collins, the grandfather of Katie Collins, our protagonist. Along with Barbara Collins, his wife, Edmund managed to raise four extremely screwed up children: Daniel (Katie's father) starred in a peanut butter commercial when he was 8, choked during an audition for a toothpaste commercial a short while thereafter, and spend the rest of his life regretting it while working in obscure porn films; Alice is extremely angry, critical, and loud, to name a few, and has verbally beaten her husband and three children into continual silence; Skip fakes being a lawyer for a living and his extreme crassness has rubbed off onto his twin ~12 year old boys; and finally, Lucy, who's only problems seem to be complete ambivalence for her father's death, a trait she shares with her siblings, and extreme resentment to adn anger at Alice (for justifiable reasons that quickly become obvious). Forced back to the family home for the funeral, hilarity ensues as this terribly dysfunctional family somehow manages to resolve a few of its ongoing problems in time to "bury" their father. Fortunately, Katie, the one seemingly normal person here, tells us the story from her point of view.

This movie purports to be a dark comedy, and although it is undoubtedly very very funny in a dark sort of way, I feel it actually works best as a drama and character study. The humor tends to arrive in spurts, hitting with good regularity but hardly saturating the picture, whereas the drama unfolds for the full 90 minutes, even (perhaps especially) during the laughs. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This flick certainly stimulates the funny glands, catalyzing laughter throughout. It's fun just to watch these disturbed individuals walk around and interact with each other, but combine that with their twisted reactions to these extraordinary situations and you can reliably get enough laughter to cure some mild anthrax, or at least a case of the snuffles. Sometimes, dark comedy can provoke a polarized reaction wherein half the audience is appalled and the other half is floored, but my patented Funny Analyzer here tells me that the dark comedy in Eulogy has just enough of the absurd in it to minimize the percentage of viewers who'll storm out in disgust and maximize the number who giggle into incoherence.

But it is as a drama that Eulogy truly glistens. The family's situation is an extremely odd one, and perhaps the most fun to be found here is internally plotting how its oddities caused each individual unit of dysfunction. In fact, I've found that the second viewing is even better than the first because despite losing the twist you now know exactly what to look for along the way, and it all fits just perfectly. Skip's crudity, Alice's bitchiness (especially Alice's bitchiness), everyone's ambivalence, and even Daniel's self-centeredness to some degree: all is explained without anyone really explaining it. The resolution also fortunatelly works well; at no point would any but the most cynical of filmgoers call the sequence of events unlikely or improbable.

The acting is good, for the most part. I wouldn't call it stellar, but there aren't really any sour points either. I don't think that this is due to any deficit on the part of the actors; it's just that the movie didn't call for many really hard tests of an actor's skill and thus they didn't have many chances to shine. Debra Winger's Alice is particularly well done throughout, however, and Kelly Preston also had an above-average turn as Lucy. Anyway, all the characters were believable, and that's all that really matters when all is spoken and finished.

Action: 3/5 flying grandmas (Surprisingly, there was some action in this movie, and it was mostly pretty well done, although I thought the scene where grandma flew was a bit fake).
Acting: 3.25/5 lobster bibs (Mostly pedestrian, the acting had a few crests and almost no troughs).
Comedy: 4/5 falling next-door neighbors (This picture evokes its fair share of laughs).
Story: 4/5 joints (Engrossing and interesting, the plot did everything a good plot should and then some).
Visuals: 3/5 minivans (They weren't anything special).

Overall (not necessarily determined by the above categories): 4.25/5 video tapes (I really like this movie, and it ranks high on my list of recommendations. I especially recommend watching it again, to help hunt for the clues along the way. If I have one major grievance it's with the movie's length; I feel that Eulogy would have been better if lengthened to 105 or 120 minutes. Other than that, two-point-one-two-five thumbs up).

Sunday, July 17, 2005

"Don't understand what's going on?" -- Everything2.com

This week's review is totally different (and therefore much shorter) than anything I've even done before. Innovative, no?

Everything2.com is interesting, informative, easy to use, addictive, and (like most websites) free. Part encyclopedia, part message board, Everything2 is similar to the Wikipedia except that it's more informal (which is part of why I prefer it for surfing).

I find that it's best to venture into this realm sporting a tab-based web browser, a large amount of RAM, and a fair-sized block of time. The website itself doesn't have anything that's particularly taxing, but because each "node" (as the pages of information are called) has a system of cross-referenced links to other nodes at the bottom, it's fairly easy to find several that looking worth following up, and then several more in each of those, and so on. And thus is the joy of Everything2: come in looking for information on a jazz band and leave having downed a tidbit cocktail with ingredient's as far ranged as mongooses and string theory.

Here's an example of a possible node web:

As you can see, it can get quite complicated very quickly. There's a certain euphoria in moving from The Matrix to duct-tape bras in just five steps.

In short, I highly recommend this website.

Entertainment Value: 4/5 user picks (Veeeeeery fun to just drift).
Quality of Information: 2.5/5 FAQs (The nodes are created by whoever wants to create one, so there's no guarantee that the information is at all accurate. It's a good site if you're looking for a general idea about something, but you can't exactly cite it in your term paper on Shakespeare's hygiene).
Ease of Use: 3/5 searches (The search does a pretty good job of compiling lists of likely intended searches with you misspell things, and the crosslinks at the bottom are very easy to use. However, the "Back" browser function isn't supported, which can be rather annoying).

Overall (Not necessarily determined by the above categories): 4/5 passwords (This website is a great way to kill time and learn a few things about truly bizarre, out-of-the-way topics).

Sunday, July 10, 2005

"Things involving plastic toys and soft cheese?" -- Johnny English

I have nothing to say except that I'd better find a movie to rip on sometime soon.

Johnny English is one of the better examples of James Bond parody. Although the protagonist is a screw-up, he's not so much of a screw-up that it's inconceivable that he could get the job he has. This movie knows, for the most part, when to stop, and is, above all, really rather quite funny, wouldn't you say dear boy?

Johnny is an employee in the British Secret Service; although he would like to think of himself as a low-level agent, his duties more closely resemble those of a file clerk than anything else. That is, until Agent One ("the greatest secret agent England ever had") dies during a mission, apparently from an acute case of drowning, and all the other agents are killed when a bomb planted inside Agent One's coffin explodes. With no one else to turn to, at least for the moment, and important events happening, Johnny shoots up the ranks to full agent status and starts taking on missions.

Johnny English's strength lies not so much in it's absurdity as in it it's more mundane aspects. Yes, it is very absurd, and yes, that absurdity is the catalyst for most of the laughter, but the thing that sets this movie apart from other Spy Spoofs is that it rarely, if ever, passes out of reality. Although the story and the characters are admittedly odd, they are, for the most part, plausible. Rowan Atkinson, famous for his role as Mr. Bean, portrays a character with a fair degree of skill who's just clumsy and hair-brained enough to prevent him from moving higher up heretofor. Although he incessantly bumps into things with his head and can barely pass mustard as a charmer, he knows a thing or two about spy equipment and it's use and can drive his Aston Martin with great proficiency. Although the plot relies on a few iffy events (would the queen really step down just because someone threatened her dog?), they are nevertheless not as utterly impossible as, say, a time-traveling VW Beetle.

Comedically speaking, Johnny English lies somewhere between "pretty darn funny" and "very funny." Although it doesn't reach the summit, it still lands far above base camp. The movie is very fun to watch, with a laugh-out-loud every ten or so minutes and a few really really good ones over the course of the film, but some of the jokes fall flat and it's not as consistent with the funny as it could be.

Johnny himself is a rather interesting character. Although he plays the role of an underdog, he's got some negative points as well to complicate him up. Yes he's our hero and yes we want him to save the day and yes he's a very loyal servant of his country, but he's inappreciative of his extremely helpful and loyal assistant Bough, rather arrogant, and quite stupid from time to time ("The Bedouin Monks of the Al Maghreb mountains developed a system of sonic chanting. The sound of their chanting would bounce back off any obstacles, and using their highly tuned ears they could paint a mental picture of the path ahead." Which, of course, means that anyone can do it, right?). Unfortunately, few other characters are anywhere near as interesting as our hero. Lorna Campbell, the requisite spy babe, is predictable. Bough, the aforementioned assistant, is a rather good agent but takes Johnny's BS and abuse so good-naturedly and without even so much as a sigh or a roll of the eye to indicate that he realizes his boss' shortcomings that I got somewhat sick of him and by the end wanted to scream at him to, just once, talk back to Johnny. However, Pascal Sauvage, our villain (played by John Malkovich, surprisingly), evokes some interest despite being the perfect stereotype of both a Frenchman and an evil capitalist bad guy.

I particularly dislike the scene wherein Lorna basically throws herself at Johnny (who, of course, mucks it up) right before they infiltrate Sauvage's evil lair. This scene is exTREMEly poorly written, and since it's virtually all dialogue, there's little the actors can do to save it. Unrealistically awkward, Lorna says things that almost no one would ever even consider saying and made not only Johnny but even me very uncomfortable. Little of her speech is coherent, which only adds to the feeling of dread. Fortunately, it's a rather quick scene with nothing in the way of plot in it, so skipping over (a plan of attack that I highly suggest) it is not crippling.

And that's pretty much it. I'll mop up on comments during the ratings.

Action: 3.5/5 dead traffic cameras (Although it will win no awards for the action scenes, this flick actually does a decent job with its car chases, explosions, special effects, and whatnot).
Acting: 4/5 doses of paralytic compound (Rowan's portrayal of Johnny English is really what makes the movie work. It's really just a modification of his Mr. Bean act, but is nevertheless quite fun and funny).
Comedy: 3.75/5 ultimate acquired tastes (I went into greater detail above. Basically this movie's a funny one, but not as funny as it could be).
Story: 3.8/5 unlabeled DVD's (Mostly plausible and highly entertaining, the plot is pretty good all around. Docked slightly for those few elements which are just a tad too absurd).
Visuals: 3/5 triggerless barrettes (A big "meh" here from me).

Overall (not necessarily determined by the above categories): 3.5/5 Aston Martin's (If you're a fan of Spy Spoofs or Rowan Atkinson, you should definitely see this movie. If you're a fan of comedy in general and you're tired of rewatching Stripes, go ahead and rent this for a few laughs. If you're anyone else, this probably shouldn't be at the top of your list, but it's not a bad way to spend an hour-and-a-half).

Sunday, July 03, 2005

"Everyone's a critic!" -- Dragonheart

Ok, screw it. Someday, I may get around to revising this blog. But that day is not today.

Dragonheart is a great example of slightly-above-average fantasy. It blends good acting, good characterization, good story, good special effects, good cinematography, good setting, good combat, good humor, and good drama together to make something entierly good, but manages against all odds to avoid creating a masterpiece.

Basic story: Einon is the son of a tyrant king. Bowen is a knight who teaches him the Old Code of Camelot and basic combat skills. Einon sustains a stabbing to the heart immediatelly after relieving his dying father of his crown, so his mother takes him to a dragon with a Scottish accent (voiced by Sean Connery) and begs for his help. He helps by cracking open his scales, pulling out half of his ectoplasmic heart, and shoving it into Einon, not only saving the young king's life but also bonding the two such that each feels the hurts of the other. Oh, and Einon can't die unless someone kills Draco. Einon, of course, follows in his father's footsteps, and Bowen, thinking that Einon's evil is the result of the dragon's mischief, swears to hunt down and kill every dragon in the world until he kills the one that saved Einon.

In fantasy, plot tends to play a large role, and this film is no different. Fortunatelly, the story is rather compelling. Although there's never so much as a stray thought that it might end differently than it does, the precise twists and turns tend to be more unexpected than obvious, but they never take turns that one would think illogical or unlikely. This is still stock fantasy, mind you, and other than the concept that dragons are actually good, it doesn't really stray far from the beaten path.

Dragonheart's characters, however, are what make the movie. Bowen makes a number of U-turns throughout the movie, changing from an idealistic young knight into a cynical antihero and then back into an idealistic knight. Like the plot, his development is relatively predictable and stock, but still good. Einon plays the unadultured villain, which is one of the flaws of the movie in my opinion; I personally like some complication to my baddies, but the movie offers every reason to hate Einon and no reasons to not. Draco is an excellent character: clever, funny, deep, suitably emo, and yet he maintains his edge. Brother Gilbert has the interesting distinction of being kinda the bumbling sidekick but also kinda not; his poetry is highly suspect, but he offers some very funny moments and serves as a quasi narrator from time to time, plus he's an archery savant. Kara is the stock idealistic plucky female empowerment symbol (which is cliche that doesn't think it's cliche). Overall, the characters were quite good.

The visuals in Dragonheart were very good when the film first came out nearly ten years ago and they've held up quite well. The CG is particularly good, particularly in the case of Draco; he moves like a dragon should move, with a combination of serpentine and cat-like grace without forgetting his huge size, and is overall very convincing. Costumes, makeup, and props are accurate enough for the time period. And finally, the Landscapes are breathtaking (which is admittedly personal preference, as I have a strong affinity for bright settings).

And that's pretty much it.

Action: 3.5/5 bladed tails (The fight scenes with Draco are very well done, very realistically done. The battles against Einon and earlier his father, less so, primarily because the number of troops involved seems much lower that one would think it would be).
Acting: 3/5 shining stars (The acting is good, but mostly unremarkable).
Comedy: 3.75/5 cleaving axes (This flick can be quite funny when it tries to be).
Story: 3.5/5 stationary spear-chuckers (The story's good, but almost entierly average).
Visuals: 4/5 dragon hearts, har har (Perhaps one of the more expectional aspects of the movie, all the visuals are really quite beautiful).

Overall (not necessarily determined by the above categories): 3.5/5 dragon-tooth-lined shields (If you're a fan of the genre, you should definatelly see this movie. If you're looking to sample it, this movie fits your bill. But if fantasy isn't really your thing, look elsewhere).