Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Swept Away (2002)

The good news is, this movie isn’t truly horrible. The bad news is, there seems to be no reason for it to exist – nobody involved in it really seems to know what they’re doing. I'm guessing there was a lot of awkward silence around the craft services table, a lot of furtive glances and avoidance of eye contact.

The story structure closely follows in the steps of the original 1974 film directed by Lina Wertmüller and starring Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato: a bitchy blonde socialite and a robust, earthy yacht servant bicker, then get stranded on a desert island and fight until they fall in love. To be honest, I don’t think Wertmüller’s original film is that great, being a little overly-schematic in a very European, 1970s kind of way: he represents the working classes, she’s the bourgeoisie, now watch them rassle. Plus, the movie takes an odd turn as the relationship devolves into something that looks more like caveman-style sadomasochism than anything else, with Giannini smacking Melato around and thoroughly dominating her, both physically and emotionally, until they get rescued. Point being, it doesn’t seem like a particularly healthy relationship. But the movie is at least interesting in a sardonic, satirical kind of way, and the two leads (especially Giannini) are fully committed to rolling around in the sand.

The Guy Ritchie version, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have any idea what it’s trying to be. There are some crude stabs at the social satire of the original movie, seemingly still present only as a result of inertia (I say this because Ritchie seems to have just copied and pasted big chunks of dialogue out of Wertmüller’s script, including awkwardly anachronistic stuff about Communists). Every so often there’ll be a moment of comedy, but this usually gets spoiled by Madonna’s incredibly cranky, unpleasant performance (and has any husband ever directed his wife to be more unlikeable on camera than in this movie?). I suppose maybe the movie wanted to just be a genuine heartfelt, but then that falls flat thanks to the total lack of chemistry between Madonna and Adriano Giannini (yes, Giancarlo’s son, who has better abs but not as much movie-star charisma than his dad). I will give credit to two collaborators who do solid work here: Bruce Greenwood brings genuine emotional authenticity to his role as Madonna’s husband; and Alex Barber’s cinematography is appropriately golden-hued and ravishing.

But in general, while bad movies can happen for all kinds of reasons, from the ego-driven (The Postman) to the purely crass (Saw VI) to the earnestly incompetent (Plan 9 from Outer Space), Ritchie’s Swept Away seems to exist almost by mistake, a film that nobody involved wanted to be making and nobody in the audience wanted to see, which is increasingly rare in today’s world. This movie is like a two-headed calf: created by mistake, doomed to continue painfully loping around until it finally, thankfully comes to its inevitable end. It didn’t hurt anybody while it was alive, but it’s better for all involved that it be buried in the backyard and forgotten about.


(This is my contribution to the White Elephant Blogathon, thanks to Silly Hats Only.)

Sunday, February 28, 2010


Or as this post should also be known, "I should really have at least one post for the month of February 2010." Anyway, take a look at these excerpts from a failed 1990 pilot about a cop reincarnated as a bulldog - it's really hard to believe anyone other than a network executive could have ever thought this would be a good idea.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Alaska Nanooks Hockey Intro

I have to break my silence to share this awesome, ridiculous pre-game video with you.

Alaska Nanooks 2010 Hockey Intro from Szymon Weglarski on Vimeo.

Up soon: Avatar.

Friday, January 08, 2010

January Update

First of all, Happy New Year.

Second, this is what I've been feeling like lately:

I plan to be more active soon, thanks for your patience.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Known Universe

This is pretty awesome.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Early December Review or something

Okay, it's been a while and once again I've been reminded that people actually read this blog so here are a few thoughts on the new movies I've watched in the last month or so.

First, real quick, I could use some suggestions on the design and color scheme - I went black for October because black is spooky, but in general? This gray isn't cutting it. I think I want to migrate the whole thing over to Wordpress anyway (any tips on that from anyone?) Anyway:

Big Fan: I saw this as a New Beverly double feature with The Wrestler, as both were written by Robert Siegel (who was also, weirdly, former editor-in-chief at The Onion). The double feature was useful in illustrating the contrast between the two movies, and why Big Fan, entertaining and well-acted as it was, kind of fell short: Both movies are about New Jersey losers who are associated with professional sports, but whereas The Wrestler left me touched and emotionally invested in the characters, Big Fan was made by a filmmaker who, ultimately, condescended to them - The Wrestler has its share of jokes at the expense of the sad-sacks in the lower rungs of the professional wrestling world, but this was tempered by genuine pathos and sympathy. Big Fan is basically all snark, all the time, tempered only by Patton Oswalt's genuine and sincere performance. 6/10.

2012: For reasons I don't quite understand, I've pretty much loved the previous movies in Roland Emmerich's apocalypse triptych (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) while hating everything else he's ever done (Stargate, The Patriot, 10000 BC). So I was planning to enjoy this movie too, which only a retarded fanboy would do, right? Anyway, as it turns out, the movie itself is pretty lame, with one major exception: the much-trailered sequence of John Cusack and co. driving around through Los Angeles in the midst of a superdeluxe earthquake pretty much rocked my socks off. What's wrong with me, that I should be so radically energized by the spectacle of literally thousands of people being crushed and whatnot? I don't know. But I have to admit that I find this sequence thrilling. 4/10

An Education: There's a certain class of movie that I've gotten used to, over the years, as the high-class snoozer - the kind of highly-regarded movie where you pretty much know, ten minutes in, what's going to happen by the end of the movie, so if you doze off for a few minutes here and there, it's pretty easy to pick up on what's happening. So since it was BLATANTLY OBVIOUS that Peter Sarsgaard was going to turn out to be a pseudo-pedophiliac cad and leave Carey Mulligan high and dry from his first (very creepy) scene in the movie.

Anyway, this movie isn't that bad, but the performances and direction are a lot better than the story itself, which is fairly mundane. 7/10

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire: This one is interesting to me because it illustrates (like Transformers 2) that despite what all the screenwriting gurus say, audiences don't really care about story, because neither of those two movies really had 'stories' per se as much as they have compilations of scenes delivering what audiences want to see: CGI spectacle in one case, really good actors in scenes of heightened misery in the other. "Academy Award nominee Mo'Nique" seems to be inevitable.

As for the rest of the movie, even though Lee Daniels is obviously great with actors, he doesn't know much about storytelling or visuals and doesn't seem to have much of a vision beyond 'get all this awful drama up on the screen' which limits how impactful the movie can be to some degree. Anyway, not bad. 7/10

Fantastic Mr. Fox: If only Wes Anderson could have found a way to blend his unique style with something more family-friendly, this terrific movie wouldn't have flopped. Because it's basically just like every other Wes Anderson movie - ironic, formal, oblique, fetishistically detailed - but with puppets instead of live actors. Anyway, I very much enjoyed it as the latest entry into his world of upper-class world-weary whimsy. 8/10

Where the Wild Things Are: On the other hand, this one has a lot going for it (amazing performances, production design, creature effects, cinematography) but the story just totally fell flat for me. A big part was that I didn't connect to the kid - I was never a 'pretend to be wild animals and throw tantrums' kid, I was a 'sit quietly in the corner reading a book' kid, and never understood the other kind of kids. But beyond that, the story of this movie felt like an over-obvious pseudo-Freudian allegory for me. As soon as I saw the lead wild thing tearing shit up in Monster Village while the other monsters wonder how to deal with him, I got it. We all got it. 6/10

Swear Words in the Irish Parliament

The swearing is pretty good, but the fact that the swearer is a member of Parliament who nonetheless looks like he just wandered in off the Dublin streets after a relaxing pint? Even better.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Object: Urim and Thummim (2007)

This was an interesting documentary that played at the Silent Theater a couple of weeks ago. Basically, it's the story of Todd Walker, a down-on-his-luck Kentuckian who strolled into a Goodwill one day, bought an odd-looking object that struck his eye for $0.69, went home, stared at it for a few hours (like you do) and realized that he was having visions of demons and pyramids and whatnot. A little research later, and Mr. Walker is convinced that he's the new owner of the Urim and Thummim, Biblical artifacts associated with wisdom and divination (and which the Mormon church also claims were used by Joseph Smith to write the Book of Mormon).

In the film Walker proceeds to explain how he's shown the object to various friends and local acquaintances and that several of them have experienced visions as well, and he proceeds to bring the item to a number of local scientists and religious scholars, even though he's aware that the whole idea makes him sound like a lunatic.

The strongest sense that you get from watching The Object is that Todd Walker is utterly sincere: he believes that he's in possession of a holy relic, no doubt about it. The odd thing is, now that Walker is in possession of this item, he doesn't really seem to know what to do with it. One would expect someone experiencing visions to have some kind of goal or endgame in mind - after all, that's what happened with Moses, St. Paul, Constantine, Mohammed, Joseph Smith, and Mary Baker Eddy: have a vision, found a movement, instigate social or political change. But Todd Walker seems baffled by his own visions, uncertain of anything beyond their basic existence. (Which suggests to me that you need to have two things if you want to start a religion: visions from on high, and a goal-oriented Type A personality - who knows how many messages from God have foundered because their recipients were befuddled by them?)

As for the object itself, which basically looks like a sort of squashed incense burner, it's just old and mysterious-looking enough that I can see why one might jump to conclusions about it, even though it doesn't seem to fit the requirements to be the Biblical Urim and Thummim (it's just one item, for starters, not two). Walker keeps it in a bag near him at all times, apparently, and a showing was arranged for after the Silent Theater's screening but I didn't go to take a look at it - there didn't seem to be much need, especially after Walker and his friends insisted that most visions didn't come until hours of peering into its depths.

As a story, The Object is fascinating. As a film, it made me wonder what Werner Herzog or (even better) Errol Morris could have done with the subject matter. Co-director Jacob Young said he has a motto for his filmmaking: "Make a friend, then make a film." That sounds like good advice for getting through life as a filmmaker in a smooth, uncontroversial manner, but it also sounds like a good way to make films that never investigate deeply - I imagine Errol Morris, with his detached, Interrotron-eye view of the world, doesn't make a lot of friends with his subjects, but he has made a handful of masterpieces. Either way, I applaud the filmmakers of The Object for bringing this unusual, very American story to light, and with a refusal to mock or condescend to their subject.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Uninvited (1988) Trailer

Okay, bear with me - today is the birthday of character actor Clu Gulager, who I don't actually know, but have seen many times at the New Beverly Theater where he's a regular. He seems to be a great guy, and he was in a lot of movies, of which this - Uninvited - is perhaps my favorite. It's about a genetically engineered cat that, when angry, launches another, smaller, evil radioactive cat out of its mouth that proceeds to kill people. So this blog posting is in honor of him.

And yeah, I intend to have some real content up here again soon.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday the 13th Part 2 Trailer

If I had been born about ten or fifteen years earlier, I'd probably hate the entire Friday the 13th series as much as I hate the Saw series - a bunch of pointlessly identical misanthropic cash cows. But since I've only seen them all on home video with a respectable distance, they're basically all '80s kitsch, which means that I kind of like some of them - and I like Part 2 the best of all. Happy Friday.