Splice – by Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry and Doug Taylor 4/10/07
Now that cooking is my newest hobby, I try to seek out some “food” or “restaurant” films. Big Night is still enjoyable after all these years. Exit Through the Gift Shop is fun but feels a bit like a prank on the viewer, but it led me to Orson Welles’ F for Fake, which is definitely mischievous.
Toy Story 3 – by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner. Revisions by David Guion and Michaelk Handelman. 6/8/2005.
The Book of Eli
The Book of Eli is definitely preachy, but ithas some style, at least in some of the fight scenes. The problem is, well, not that it is that original as a post-apocalypse movie to begin with, but an absolutely ridiculous and eye-rolling ending completely renders this movie a waste of time.
A Perfect Getaway
I expected A Perfect Getaway to be just another silly horror movie, but it turns out to be a pretty entertaining thriller. The plot may not make complete logical sense, but there is enough suspense to worth a watch. It is however very nice to see Milla Jovovich in a non-rubbish movie.
Adapted from a South Korean movie, The Uninvited‘s twist is quite transparent from the very beginning, which takes away some of the fun. That being said, I appreciate the effort to scare by atmosphere and suspense, and not have to rely on gore.
Reservoir Dogs, the film that made Tarrantino’s name, still holds up. It doesn’t really matter now that a lot of it is “borrowed” from other movies, since Tarrantino has made paying homage to other cool films his own.
I usually quite like French romantic comedies as they are quite different from the ones made in the U.S. But L’arnacoeur (Heartbreaker) is actually quite Hollywood. So it’s not surprise that there is an American remake in the works already. Still, I enjoyed it – the lead is amusing and the farcical scenes are quite funny. The Dirty Dancing scene is always a crowd pleaser.
Oh, the fashion of the 80′s… Valley Girl is quite funny and entertaining in a familiar kind of way. Then again, that probably says more about the movies since then than about Valley Girl.
Despite the lackluster reviews, I enjoyed Wild Target for the charm of the actors.
Yes, the music is good. But it’s a bit of an easy cheat to make a scene better by adding a classic rock and roll soundtrack. Many of the characters are fun and would probably be more interesting if we could spend a bit more time with them. All in all, Pirate Radio has too many characters but lacks a center.
The original Heartbreak Kid (as opposed to the Ben Stiller remake) is a wonderful comedy/tragedy. It is funny, but the humor is almost a by-product of the story. In other words, the humor does not feel forced.
I just don’t see the point of Jonah Hex. Even with only an 80mins running time, it felt so long and pointless. How did they get so many big name stars to be in this dud?
Legion is a predictable B-movie with some fairly decent action sequences. The old lady in the diner scene was the most interesting one in the movie.
Reign of Assassins (劍雨)
The plot of Reign of Assassins is silly to say the least, but the mood and atmosphere of the movie evokes the world of martial arts in novels. The martial arts world in novels is the basis of this genre of cinema, but very very few films could retain that essence. The Reign of Assassins succeeds in this regard.
Toy Story 3 by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner
Predators – Screenplay by Robert Rodriguez – 1st Draft, Aug. 2, 1996.
Frost/Nixon – Screenplay by Peter Morgan – 8/24/2007 Draft.
I really like slice of life movies like Please Give, or pretty much anything with Catherine Keener. This movie is similar in style to Nicole Holofcener’s two other movies, Friends with Money and Lovely and Amazing, where the plot is not the really focus. Holofcener prefers to pay more attention to the flawed characters, and the dynamics between them. There is even a Woody Allen-esque feel to her films.
While Splice is certainly a good thriller, there is a deeper level of human emotions (and the questioning of it) that makes it quite a wonderful sci-fi. A bit like a futuristic Frankenstein, the interesting part of the film is human parents/monster child dynamics. I like that the filmmakers are willing to take it far enough to be both shocking and disturbing.
I don’t think The Rebound, even with Catherine Zeta Jones as the lead, got a U.S. distribution. It got released in the U.K. though. Compare it with a lot of the recent romantic comedies, it is actually quite sweet and charming for the most part (although the part with toilet humor just does not seem appropriate). However, the plot is entirely predictable.
Mama Mia is without a doubt a guilty pleasure. Apparently, some of the catchiest pop songs ever made + gorgeous scenery + beautiful people + lots of dancing = Box office gold. What more can you say about Meryl Streep? She is absolutely fabulous again. Pierce Brosnon, on the other hand, is such a terrible singer that it actually adds to the fun of the movie.
Zwartboek (Black Book)
Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book has so many twists and turns, betrayals and double betrayals, that there is not a dull moment in its 145 mins running time. It is also quite melodramatic. Carice van Houten is fantastic as the heroine.
I like Juno even more after reading two drafts of Diablo Cody’s script, and watching the film a second time. It helps that it is perfectly cast.
Another WWII movie. Max Manus is a well made, if a bit straight forward, account of the Norwegian resistance during World War II. Max Manus is a well known hero in Norway, but I must admit I’ve not heard of him before watching this film. It is always fascinating to learn something new about a culture or history of a country that I do not know much about.
The Special Relationship
The third film of the Peter Morgan’s Tony Blair trilogy. The Special Relationship, a HBO film, has many of Morgan’s signature elements. And it is another intriguing and entertaining re-imagination of two high profile public figures.
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen has an very entertaining and interesting opening in France. But the main story never really gains any momentum. The superhero storyline never develops. There is a lack of character development. And too many unnecessary subplots drags down the movie. Good fight scenes though.
Predators - screenplay by Robert Rodriguez, 1st Draft, Aug.2, 1996
This 1996 Robert Rodriguez screenplay of Predators has undergone so many rewrites that it is almost completely different from the final movie.
Frost/Nixon - Screenplay by Peter Morgan - 8/24/2007 Draft.
Coco Before Chanel is a rather conventional biopic, but I was interested in the subject enough to like it. However, I think I would be even more interested if it was about Coco as Chanel. Audrey Tautou displays a cold edge that is very different from Amelie.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
The main problem I have with this eagerly awaited sequel is that Gordon Gekko is not the main character. It was perfect for him to be the villain and supporting character in the original, but he is now the reason to see Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, and the film struggles to hold my attention whenever he is not on screen. It doesn’t help that the main storyline and the protagonist are just not interesting enough.
A homage to 70′s car movies (among many other genres), Quentin Tarrantino’s Death Proof is a lot of fun to watch. I was kind of dreading to see a lot of gore (but that’s actually more of Robert Rodriguez’s thing), but the film never really descends to that level. Tarrantino is more interested in the violence and the intention, and not just the consequences, which gives this movie an edge over Planet Terror. Rodriguez’s movieis such a gorefest that I just couldn’t really enjoy it. It is supposed to be a homage/parody, but apart from having actors who can act, and expensive action set pieces, is it any better than those cheap grind house movies?
I am going to ignore the Aliens vs Predator nonsense spin-offs and only count these three: Predator, Predator 2, and Predators as the true Predator movies. The original one, with Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a solid 80′s B-movie with an excess of muscles. The second one, set in LA with Danny Glover, doesn’t have the much point and lacks the tension and memorable action scenes in the first one. The newest one, Predators, goes back to the jungle with a cast of interesting characters. The story is paper thin. It’s all about the dynamics of the characters and action sequences. In that regard, it is an enjoyable sequel to the original.
Juno - written by Diablo Cody
Great read. Cody has such an unique voice. Her dialog is quite brilliant.
Talladega Nights – Screenplay by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay – April 6, 2005 draft.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Not that Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is not at times quite fun to watch, but it is amazing that so much money, talent and energy can go into a project and ends up with something so devoid of any personality. The CGI and the action scenes are expectedly well done. I have never played the game, so I have no idea how much it actually resembles the video game. And I am still a bit unsure of movie adaptation of video games, are we to expect some kind of game play element from the movie? In any case, apart from a few “video game”-esque pan shots, the filmmakers do not seem too concern about that.
Penelope is sweet and it has some flair in its fashion and art directions. It has a promising premise and the set up is intriguing. The actors are fun to watch. But ultimately, the filmmakers play it too safe and the story becomes just too middle of the road to be memorable.
Talladega Nights - Screenplay by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay
This draft of the screenplay doesn’t have the buddy character (the John C. Reilly character) yet, and it still lacks something. I like the short intro of Ricky Bobby’s early life in the movie better than taking up several pages of his childhood in this draft of the script.
The Yes Man – Screenplay by Nicholas Stoller. Based on the Book The Yes Man by Danny Wallace. First Draft: February 2nd, 2007.
Despite a strong cast, Meet Bill is a underwhelming movie. Pretty much all the characters in Meet Bill are underwritten and underdeveloped. The bland protagonist Bill, an underachiever having a mid-life crisis, does not give us much too root for. Aaron Eckhart is probably miscast as the helpless loser.
I have never heard the term “Baxter” before, but it apparently means a nice guy who never gets the girl. I vaguely remember this movie coming out at around the same time as The 40 Year Old Virgin, which was very unfortunate, as the nerd in that movie gives us so much more to root for. The nerd in The Baxter is rather dull in comparison, and you almost feel that he deserves not to get the girls. However, there are two good things in the movie: Michelle Williams and Peter Dinklage, who both seem to be able to make any character interesting.
The Damned United
The Damned United was one of my favorite films of 2009. And after reading the novel, reading the screenplay, and re-watching the film, I still enjoy it immensely. Screenwriter Peter Morgan makes some creative choices that makes the film more uplifting than David Peace’s novel. The Brian Clough in the film is more ambitious, and full of fire, in contrast to the cynical and weary Clough in the novel.
Alice in Wonderland
My biggest problem with the 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland (directed by Tim Burton, screenplay by Linda Woolverton) is that it makes too much sense. One of the pleasures of the novel is its liberty with logic, but this movie version explains and ties everything up so neatly that actually makes it seem like the filmmakers are trying too hard.
Salt – Written by Kurt Wimmer. Current revisions by Brian Helgeland. Jan. 19, 2009.
Whip It – Screenplay by Shauna Cross. Based on her novel.
Solitary Man (written by Brian Koppelman, and direct by Koppelman and David Levien) is a great character study of a sleazy character. It’s a character almost tailor made for Michael Douglas who has a knack of making unpleasant characters watchable. I can’t wait to see Wall Street 2.
Dick is one of the most imaginative, funny and smartly written teen movies I have seen in a long time. The fact that it is a teen movie set against one of the biggest political scandals is clever (and daring) enough. The two actresses (Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams) play dizzy brilliantly. Dan Hedaya plays a hilarious Nixon.
Ne te retourne pas (Don't Look Back)
Kudos to a fresh and daring execution of a tried concept. Ne te retourne pas (Don’t Look Back) features two of the most beautiful European actresses, which is reason enough to see it. It is more of an experiment, which means that there are flaws. But there is enough intrigue in the set up to last most of the 110 mins. The score and some of the atmospheric shots , however, maybe a bit overdone and forced.
I really like the natural dialog in Diner. Barry Levinson’s now iconic first film is a slice of life ensemble piece, which is always difficult to pull off. Hollywood is usually more at ease with a single protagonist because they like to believe that average viewers would have a hard time following more than one main character. Come on viewers, let’s show Hollywood we’re smart enough!
The Secret of Kells
The Secret of Kells was nominated for an Oscar in the animation category, but it was up against some stiff competition (Pixar pretty much owns the category). The film has some gorgeous and inventive 2D graphics, which is very different from the computer generated animation we see in most films today. The story and characters are a bit underdeveloped, perhaps due to the the short 75mins running time.
Ip Man 2
Despite its cliché superhero (and a bland one at that) formula, the first Ip Man was enjoyable for its accurate (well, a bit more than your average martial arts film anyway) depiction of the Wing Chun style of martial art. This sequel has an even more flawed plot, more forced conflicts and shameless and simpleminded patriotism, but without the authentic martial arts.
2012 was so long that I was pleasantly surprised that it’s still 2010 when I finished it. I actually finished reading a screenplay while watching it. Every once in a while, a pretty cool destruction of Earth scene would make me look up and go whoa, but the ”story” part of the movie is still dreadful. Not that I was expecting anything better from the maker of Independence Day and Godzilla.
Salt - Written by Kurt Wimmer
This version of the script (January 16, 2009) is still a draft and is still quite different from the movie. The protagonist in the final version is better defined. I like reading this kind of “action” script just to learn the rhythm of writing actions scenes.
Whip It - Screenplay by Shauna Cross
I really enjoyed Whip It the movie. The script is written by Shauna Cross, adapted from her own novel. This draft is quite close to the movie version. Now I want to read her book.
Dinner for Schmucks – by Andy Borowitz. Revisions by Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio, Jon Vitti. Current revisions by David Guion & Michael Handelman. Based on the original French film “Le diner de ” by Francis Veber. February 27, 2007.
Some 80′s and early 90′s movies are kind of like comfort food, they are just easy to watch when you don’t feel like trying anything new. Doc Hollywood fits that bill perfectly. This Hollywood’s fantasy of an American small town is charming enough to overcome its many clichés. Michael J Fox is likable (c’mon, he walks his pig!), and Woody Harrelson and Bridget Fonda are fun and entertaining.
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio
Written and directed by Jane Anderson (adapted from Terry Ryan’s book), The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio is based on a remarkable true story of a mother who kept her 10 children fed by entering and winning jingle contests in the 50′s and 60′s. Julianne Moore carries the picture as the saintly wife and mother. Woody Harrelson (once again!) gives a great supporting performance as the flawed husband. Though the ups and downs of the family may seem a bit repetitive after a while, the 3rd act climax still manages to be quite moving.
After several rather forgettable Hollywood movies (Ghost Town is an exception) for Ricky Gervais, he and Stephen Merchant make their big screen directorial debut in Cemetery Junction. There are laughs but this is essentially a drama, which might explain why it did not even get a theatrical release in the U.S. and went straight to video. It’s a shame. The duo set out to make a British coming of age film, and they largely succeeded. The film is warm, feel-good, funny, and it captures the sentimentality of the time – exactly the qualities you would expect from a good Hollywood coming of age movie.
I have a soft spot for the movie because it is about a small town in the Reading, Berkshire area, which is where I went to school some time in the previous century.
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
While adaptation studies have moved away from concerning too much about fidelity or literal adaptation, some literary works are still more problematic to adapt than others. David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (which is a collection of short stories and transcripts of interviews) may be one of those. It is probably too ambitious a project for first time director John Krasinski. The result is more like a play than a film. Well, it’s actually more like a series of interviews (you see why it’s difficult to adapt) than a film. There isn’t a strong enough narrative engine to the protagonist’s story to power all the interviews. But with so many pros in the business take the easy and lazy roads, I admire Krasinski’s ambition to go for the challenging project.
Conversations with Other Women
The conversations in Conversations with Other Women are authentic and the relationship between the two main characters feels real. It even has a bit of the Before Sunrise/Before Sunset feel (and this is a very high compliment). So it’s unfortunate that the split screen presentation so overshadows the actual content of the film. The split screen takes a little bit of time to get used to, but it is used effectively after the story gets going, so I don’t think of it as a just gimmick. However, I would still prefer to have it presented the conventional way.
The Hudsucker Proxy
The Hudsucker Proxy, despite its stunning visual and art direction, is a lesser Coen Brothers work, especially when compared to what comes before (Barton Fink) and after (Fargo) it in the brothers’ filmography. The characters are caricatures and lack depth to make them sympathetic.
Spoorloos (The Vanishing)
The Vanishing begins with a suspenseful sequence in a tunnel which plays with the viewers’ knowledge of the title. The real story then unfolds in a non-linear, matter-of-fact fashion and concludes with one of the most chilling and disturbing endings I have seen in any film. It still gives me the chill whenever I think about it. A true psychological thriller. A masterpiece.
Button Button - by Richard Matheson
The stories in this Richard Matheson short stories collection have a very Twilight Zone feel to them. One of the stories, Button Button, is the source material for The Box (written and directed by Richard Kelly) which I have not seen yet. It’s also been adapted to a Twilight Zone episode, also called Button Button, which apparently Matheson hated. Then I discovered that Matheson was a writer for several Twilight Zone episodes. Okay, now that explains why his stories are so Twilight-Zone-y.
Dinner for Schmucks - Screenplay
This draft of the screenplay is quite different from the movie which suggests that it’s an early draft. The Steve Carell character in this draft is not fully developed yet, and neither is the “dinner” nor the supporting characters. But I can see the appeal of the story here already. I found the movie (unexpectedly) well written, so it’s interesting to read an earlier draft to see the creative process of polishing the script to that final version. No fewer than six writers have worked on this draft already.
The Losers – Screenplay by Peter Berg. Revision by James Vanderbilt. Based on the comic created by Andy Diggle and Jock. Feb., 2007.
The Crazies – Screenplay by Scott Kosar. Revisions by Ray Wright. Based on the film by George Romero. Draft: 20, Feb., 2007.
The Ghost (aka The Ghost Writer) – Screenplay by Robert Harris and Roman Polanski. Based on the novel by Robert Harris. Draft: 26, Feb., 2008.
The Crazies (2010)
The Crazies (a remake of the 1973 George A. Romero film of the same name) is a terrific B-movie, which means that it is a genre film with a simple premise delivered creatively. It doesn’t rely on gore (well, much less than an average modern horror movie anyway) or cheap gimmicks to effectively create a tense and scary atmosphere. It gets the job done.
Toy Story 2
Toy Story 3
With an unbroken streak of critical and commercial hits, and an organizational culture that lets creativity flourish, it is fair to say that Pixar Studio is one of the most admire companies in the world. And it all started with Toy Story. While their ahead-of-its-time animation should be rightly lauded, the biggest strength of any Pixar movie is always its storytelling. Their non-human characters have more humanity than most human characters in most films.
Toy Story was Pixar’s first feature film, in which they were just forming their visual and narrative style. It’s a fantastic film, but it was just a warm up act. Because as good as Toy Story is, Toy Story 2 is even better. A lot better in almost every way. And then comes Toy Story 3. It may not have surpassed Toy Story 2 (I wasn’t sure about the prison war part in the middle, but when the 3rd act kicks into gear, I was completely gripped and moved) but it provides a very satisfying conclusion to an incredible trilogy.
Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite filmmakers today (and The Prestige is my favorite Nolan film). His Inception is hailed as an instant masterpiece by many people (btw, how many “instant classics” have actually stood the test of time?). I hugely admire the construction of the narrative, especially when all four levels of different space and time are going on at the same time, it’s an ingenious piece of story engineering. However, I can’t say the same for the content of the story or the characters. Inception engages me on an intellectual level but not nearly as much on an emotional level. The supporting characters are all underwritten. The gun fight/action scenes do not match up to the originality of the story (for example, the first Matrix is groundbreaking in both visual and concept). Though I complain, I still like the film very much. It may not be an instant classic, but the filmmaker’s desire to do something different should be applauded.
Hausu (aka House)
I am not sure what Nobuhiko Obayashi was smoking when he made Hausu, but he’s made one of the most innovative films I have ever seen. It’s not necessarily a great film (in fact, the story is all over the place and there are many other flaws in a traditional sense), but Obayashi almost invented a new language of film in the ways he plays with visual effects and genres. It’s like giving a special effects machine to a kid who is determined to try every single effect. I dare not look away from the screen, as I was afraid I might miss some cool.
La fille coupée en deux (The Girl Cut in Two)
Claude Chabrol, the French master of cool suspense, again shows his assured craft in this tale of a triangular romance. As with most of his other films, what appears to be lust, passion and romance turns into something more dangerous and sinister. He understands the art of “not showing”, and by not showing us some of what’s going on, he keeps us guessing, off-balance and curious all the way.
Fargo is close to being perfect in every way. Like the best Coen Brothers films, there is a sense of suspense and menace in almost every scene. I like that not everything is explained, or even directly relevant to the immediate story, e.g. her pregnancy or her old classmate. This makes the world authentic, and the characters real and unpredictable.
The Losers - Screenplay by Peter Berg.
This draft of The Losers is quite different from the movie. The movie eliminates many of the exposition scenes in the script and increases the pace of the story, which is a smart move as this type of movie really should move along briskly.
What I liked about the movie version of The Crazies that is not in this draft of the script is the opening and closing government satellite shots. It’s a simple and effective way to establish the facelessness and the cold-bloodness of the military. While this draft is already quite good, I have to say the changes made in the movie are all for the better.
The Ghost - Screenplay by Robert Harris and Roman Polanski
I am very interested in the novel to screenplay adaptation process, and I feel that The Ghost would be a great case study as the novelist co-adapts his own novel with the director in this case.