Monday, August 23, 2004

Welcome to the Dollhouse 

Another of our weekend Netflix rentals was Welcome to the Dollhouse, Heather Matarazzo's 1995 breakout movie. This film is described as a dark comedy, but the emphasis is definitely more on the dark and less on the comedy. But they're consistent, the comedy is indeed dark as well.

Matarazzo plays 7th grader Dawn Wiener, who is the focus of all the middle school taunting, bullying and humilation that her classmates can dish out. Her home life is also an adolescent nightmare, with an overbearing mother, a spineless father, an overachieving older brother and a cute-as-pie, ballet dancing little sister. Eric Mabius of The L Word makes an appearance as the high school boy of Dawn's dreams. Glad he's no longer sporting the mullet.

Everyone plays their roles well, and Matarazzo is excellent, but I just found this movie so stressful. I've read that the audience response varies depending on the middle school/junior high experience of the viewer. Personally, I'm in the "I was Dawn" camp. The Girl was not. I found many of the scenes upsetting and disturbing, she was kind of bored. I laughed at the moments of dark humor, she was kind of bored. Neither of us was very satisfied with the ending, which just sort of, well, ended.

If you're looking for a Revenge of the Nerds or Real Genius kind of story where the underdog emerges victorious (as Dawn does during her periodic fantasies), don't look for it here. If you're looking to relive your adolescent torment, or if you're having trouble describing it to your friends who didn't suffer the same fate in their tween and teen years, this would be the one to get.

Movie connection trivia: Before Heather Matarazzo played Dawn in Welcome to the Dollhouse, she was in The Adventures of Pete & Pete, as was Michelle Trachtenberg, who went on to play a different kind of Dawn on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Amazon links:

Posted by Beth Henderson at 8/23/2004 11:07:00 AM
Sunday, August 22, 2004

13 Going on 30 

We finally watched this one the other day, and I loved it. I was in a bit of a cranky mood over the evening prior to watching this. Nothing specific, I had simply become a grump. After dinner we popped 13 Going on 30 into the DVD player, and flopped on the couches. About halfway through we decided to pause long enough to dish up some Ben & Jerry's, and it was like I had received an emotional transfusion. I was up, happy, optimistic, cheery. The Girl may have been wondering if I was experiencing sudden onset, rapid cycling manic depression, but it was nothing more than the power of film.

Jennifer Garner plays Jenna Rink, an intelligent and optimistic but not quite popular 13 year old. Through some emotional upheaval, a teenage tantrum and some magic wish dust, she wakes up the next day as a 30-year-old version of herself, now living in NYC and working as a high powered publishing executive. The premise is similar to Big, of course, but this one takes a different approach. In Big, Tom Hanks' character is the only one that suffers the time displacement. He wakes up exactly where his adolescent self went to sleep, even wearing the same pajamas, but physically he is now an adult. He then goes to NYC to figure out the solution, gets himself a job, and slowly establishes himself in the adult world.

Jenna Rink instead did a time jump. Everything has advanced 17 years, except for her mind and memories. She finds herself in the world she created over the ensuing years, and must learn to deal with the ramifications of everything she has done but of which she has no recollection. Plus she's seeing everything through the eyes of her just-turned-13 self. She hasn't gone through all the events that occur during the teen years, the shifting friendships, the growing apart of friends, the compromises of life, or the temptations of power.

What makes this one great is Jennifer Garner. She made me believe that she really was 13-year-old Jenna, who looked out at the world and saw only possibilities, who could be happy as a clam just getting her best friend Mattie to dance to Thriller with her. There are a number of scenes where she's interacting with young teenagers, and she doesn't seem to be an adult pretending to be a kid in an adult's body. She just seems to be a teenager who had her growth spurt really early. Her performance is right up there with Jamie Lee Curtis in Freaky Friday.

Excellent performances as well by the supporting cast of Mark Ruffalo (who is currently working on the untitled semi-sequal to The Graduate with Jennifer Aniston) and Judy Greer (who is also in The Village, as the older sister to Bryce Dallas Howard's character).

Bottom line - it's fun summer fluff. Nothing deep, no Academy Award nominations, but if you're looking for something to lift your spirits, look no further.

Reality check: The Girl enjoyed it, but not as much as I did. She just doesn't get as carried away with stories as I do. Plus there was the whole time-jumping thing, which doesn't really do it for her.

Amazon links:
Posted by Beth Henderson at 8/22/2004 12:02:00 PM
Friday, August 20, 2004

BloodRayne: The Movie 

A little news piece in today's Advocate mentioned that filming has started in Romania on BloodRayne, with a script by Guinevere Turner. Does anyone else still picture her as Max in Go Fish? Kristanna Loken stars, along with Ben Kingsley, Michelle Rodriguez and Michael Masden.

This is based on the computer game of the same name, but is a prequel to it. I'm not a gamer myself, but The Guyfriend assures me that it's a very cool one. The game is set in WWII Germany, and BloodRayne is a Dhampir, a human-vampire hybrid, who hunts down both vampires and Nazis.

The movie tells the story of her origins, and is set in 18th century Romania. Abandoned at birth, she ends up in a circus sideshow. There she is discovered by vampire hunters, who persuade her to join them in their cause. IMDB shows it as targeted for a 2005 release. I'm looking forward to it, but I'm sure The Girl will have a different opinion...

Amazon links:

Posted by Beth Henderson at 8/20/2004 11:13:00 AM
Thursday, August 19, 2004

Movies I Don't Want To See 

I've seen lots of trailers lately, and responded to some with "oh, cool," some "eh," and some "no way." These are some that I have no desire to see.

Open Water - Vacationing couple is accidentally left in the water when their scuba diving group miscounts patrons and heads back to shore. They are promo-ing this as based on a true story, but it's more like inspired by real events. Most of it takes place after the couple surfaces, and most of it is speculation. This just looks like an incredibly stressful case of cinematic schaudenfreude, and I don't think I've yet become that desperate in my entertainment requirements.

Cellular - Kim Basinger is kidnapped and she and her son will suffer terrible harm if she doesn't tell the kidnapper what he wants to know. She claims to have no idea what he's talking about. There's a phone in the room, but it's been smashed. She manages to touch the correct wires together and a random call goes out, landing on the cell phone of our hero. She's desperate for his help, and he commits. The catch? They can't lose the call, since she has no way of calling again, and apparently the phone won't receive a call, or the ring will alert the kidnapper, or something. I'm not sure. I'm also not sure why he doesn't go to the police. William H. Macy is the cop in the movie. He seems nice. I'm sure he'd help. But our hero goes it alone. Go hero, go! Steal a car, take a gun, hold the cellular phone store at gunpoint until they give you a charger! Whatever.

Alien v. Predator - Eh. I liked the Alien movies, but Predator didn't do it for me. Sigourney Weaver's not in this, so really what's the point?

Wicker Park - Josh Hartnett is in lurve. We think she lurves him, too. But then she vanishes. Then some psycho chick shows up and pulls a Single White Female. But Josh won't give up - true love will win!!!!! Hopefully true love will make him a better actor, but I don't feel like shelling out the $9.50 to find out.

Posted by Beth Henderson at 8/19/2004 10:14:00 AM
Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The Village 

M. Night Shyamalan has once more presented the world with a creepy movie. He doesn't go for horror - just creepiness. That feeling that something is there but you just can't quite make it out, that you see dead people, that something about you is different.

The village of the title is Covington, a small village in which families live a borderline idyllic life. Tragedies occur, such as the illness-related death of a 7-year-old boy whose funeral we see in the beginning, but the villagers "are grateful for the time they are given." We see from the boy's gravestone that we are in the late 1800's. After the funeral, life returns to normal, and Shyamalan shows us the small details of their everyday life: washing the dishes, sweeping the porch, pursuing young love. But something else is there. The porch sweepers freeze when they see a bright red flower, then they rush to bury it before returning to their chores. Villagers keep watch from towers at the border between the village and the woods. Yes, something is out there, but they are in a truce with the villagers. The villagers don't enter the woods, and the creatures don't enter the village. Until...

Shyamalan chose a simple style for this story. The villagers live a simple life, the people (and the actors) wear no adornments. The soundtrack for the most part is haunting violin music, provided by Hilary Hahn. The primary characters include William Hurt, Sigorney Weaver, and Cherry Jones as some of the elders, and Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrian Brody and Judy Greer as some of the young adults. All are fabulous, but Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter of Ron Howard) was outstanding.

I don't want to give away any details, so I'll just say that Shyamalan rides victorious once again.

Reality check: The Girl just thought it was okay. It's a steady, patient movie, and she prefers things to move along a bit more quickly. I was entranced and thought it was done perfectly. She usually doesn't like period pieces, but she said that aspect didn't bother her this time.

Amazon links:
Posted by Beth Henderson at 8/18/2004 05:17:00 PM
Monday, August 16, 2004

Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement 

I didn't love it. It seemed like the entire first half of the sequel was spent in trying to remind the audience (at least some of us) of why we loved the first one, but it was like a four-year-old who got a favorable response from some unintentionally entertaining statement or act, and who then proceeds to attempt to relive that moment of glory over and over, to the point that it becomes simply annoying. The second half was much better though, once they relaxed on the forced gaffs and gratuitous goofiness. The turning point was an emotional confrontation in the stables, and it seems that baring of the characters' true feelings allowed the film to move on as its own entity.

A large part of The Princess Diaries' charms was the contrast between gawky, goofy and unrepressed Mia (Anne Hathaway) and her world and her royal grandmother (Julie Andrews) and her formal, elegant and well-coordinated world. When worlds collided and each came away with something from the other, both sides were a little better than when they started.

The sequel takes place entirely in Genovia, where Mia is the Crown Princess nearing the age of eligibility for the throne. It would seem that in the years while she was earning her bachelor's degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs, the entire well-oiled staff of the palace were replaced with vaudeville actors. The Captain of the Palace Guard sounds like Bill Murray in the big basic training graduation scene from Stripes, the two maids assigned to Mia tend to break out into spontaneous but perfectly choreographed mini-song and dance routines, and Joseph (Hector Elizondo) has even gotten his own youthful and awkward security intern.

Once again Mia's ascension to the throne is threatened by internal politicking, this time by a distant royal descendent (he and Mia share a great-great-great-great-great grandfather or something along those lines) who reached the age of 21 shortly before Mia, and who is not restricted by the Genovian law which requires a woman to be married before being eligible for coronation. Mia is given 30 days to marry. And hijinks ensue.

What struck me as very odd was that many things with seeming portent were established early on, and then never came back. Or people that should have been significant were brought back from the first movie, but had no importance whatsoever. Mia's mother has to leave the room to change her new baby's diaper and is then gone for a REALLY long time. Apparently this was simply so that on her return she could have an Abbott and Costello verbal exchange with her husband about what occurred in the meantime. Mia's best friend Lilly (Heather Matarazzo) returns, but she seemingly underwent a surgical removal of her frank brashness while she was in grad school at Berkeley, and she was left as a mere shell of her previous character. There was a set up for a Big Chase Scene (every good romantic comedy needs a climactic Big Chase Scene), but it was unfulfilled since we never see the big frantic arrival in which it should culminate. The chaser simply appears.

But lest you be completely dissuaded from seeing The Princess Diaries 2, let me just say that while I didn't love it, I did enjoy it. The second half was enjoyable and flowed easily (with the exception of the return of Paolo, the hair stylist). Overall it was warm and fuzzy, and Julie Andrews sang a song and mattress surfed down a royal staircase. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Cameos of note: Paul Willams, Raven, Gary Marshall, Tom Poston, Elinor Donahue, and a picture of Prince William.

Reality Check: The Girl felt this one was, like the original, just okay.

Amazon links:
Posted by Beth Henderson at 8/16/2004 07:58:00 AM
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Just Out: Heather Matarazzo's Sarah Warn reports that actress Heather Matarazzo, the radio talk show hosting best friend in The Princess Diaries (loved, loved, loved that movie!) came out yesterday in a New York Daily News article. The interview was in anticipation of this week's opening of The Princess Diaries 2 (can't wait to see it, if only for the sight of Julie Andrews staircase surfing!). Matarazzo revealed that she has fallen madly in love in the past year:
"I met the person I'm so madly crazy in love with. She's not famous yet. She will be. She wants to do musical theater and stage, which is not as demoralizing as the movie business is."

Matarazzo was also in this spring's Saved!, which I have yet to see but am looking forward to.

Amazon links:

Posted by Beth Henderson at 8/11/2004 09:24:00 AM
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Oscar Talk Begins 

Dear god, we're still in summer blockbuster season, but the Oscar talk has begun. I just came across not one but two articles which discussed Academy Award chances.

First was the article in which Quentin Tarantino bemoans the splitting (warning: some spoilers in this linked article) of the two volumes of Kill Bill because he sees it as hurting the project's Oscar chances. But he also points out that had it been released as a single film, many great scenes likely would have to have been cut down or out completely. I for one am glad that didn't happen.

Then I came across the announcement that Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 has been returned to Academy Award Eligibility. Apparently there was concern because the film was shown in a television broadcast in Cuba. Any documentary film shown on tv within 9 months of theatrical release is disqualified. But it turns out that the state-run network broadcast a bootleg copy, and had not received permission to play it over the airwaves.

In other news, Fahrenheit 9/11 has also been cleared in the question of an elections violation complaint brought to the Federal Elections Commission.

Amazon links:

Posted by Beth Henderson at 8/10/2004 03:00:00 PM

The Graduate Revisited 

Now that The Graduate has had its stage revival, and repeated references in the various American Pie movies, a sequel of sorts is in the making. Apparently filming had begun on the untitled project starring Jennifer Aniston when production halted after one week. The director and cinematographer are both being replaced, with Rob Reiner stepping into the director's chair and Peter Deming is rumored to be the new cinematographer.

In this film, Jennifer Aniston's character learns that her family was the basis for the original movie and that her grandmother, played by Shirley MacLaine, was the real life Mrs. Robinson. Also starring are Kevin Costner, Mark Ruffalo and Mena Suvari.

Let's hope they get this project back in action, because I have high hopes for it. I'm picturing Shirley MacLaine in Postcards From the Edge, which was simply fabulous. She's also signed on to play Endora in the upcoming Nora Ephron remake of Bewitched.

Random but related trivia: Mike Nichols directed both Postcards From the Edge (one of my favorites) and the original The Graduate. Jason Biggs starred in both American Pie and the stage production of The Graduate.

Amazon links:

Posted by Beth Henderson at 8/10/2004 02:31:00 PM

Fay Wray Tribute at Empire State Building 

The Empire State Building will be dimming its lights this evening from 9:30 to 9:45 in memory of Fay Wray.

Posted by Beth Henderson at 8/10/2004 01:07:00 PM
Monday, August 09, 2004

Fay Wray, 1907-2004 

In the immortal words of Rocky Horror, "Whatever happened to Fay Wray?" Sadly, she passed away in her sleep at home, Sunday, at the age of 96. Best known for her trip up the Empire State Building in the hand of King Kong, Wray also appeared in dozens of other films and tv shows, and was active to the end.

Amazon links:

Fay Wray films

Posted by Beth Henderson at 8/09/2004 05:56:00 PM
Thursday, August 05, 2004

Ralph Fiennes = Voldemort! 

Yahoo! News is reporting that Ralph Fiennes is set to play Lord Voldemort in the next Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Filming began June 25, and is currently scheduled for release in November 2005.

Amazon links:

Ralph Fiennes movies
Posted by Beth Henderson at 8/05/2004 02:22:00 PM
Wednesday, August 04, 2004


Rounding out our weekend movie spree, The Girl and I watched Underworld on DVD on Sunday. It would have been more fun on the huge tv, but it's still in the hospital. The problem was indeed with the high voltage power supply, as had been indicated in my online research. It should be back home in a week or so, at a repair cost of around $200. Sigh.

Kate Beckinsale seemed to enjoy her role as a warrior vampire, whose entire existence is focused on destroying the vampires' long-standing enemies, the werewolves. Michael Sheen is the head werewolf baddie, and Scott Speedman is the human caught in the middle of the war. Bill Nighy is in there, too, but it will probably take you a while to recognize him. He was great as the aging rocker staging a comeback with a Christmas gimmick song in Love Actually.

This movie's a geek's dream: vampires, werewolves, high-tech gadgets and medical research, a well-developed mythos for the story, dealing and double-dealing, and lots of eye candy in tight leather outfits. Surprisingly, The Girl also enjoyed it, but not nearly as much as I did. I had actually expected her to fall asleep or start reading a book while I watched the DVD. At any rate, she sat through the whole thing, and even asked questions about the backstory.

This brought me to a realization about how much easier it is for well-rounded geeks like me to pick up and sort out the various backstories, rules of the fantasy universe, and the place of the characters in the hierarchy. I've already gotten a foundation of how these things work, and even though each movie/show/book has its own way of how things work, I can easily navigate and translate the systems.

If you liked Van Helsing, you'll probably like this one as well. I enjoyed them both.

Reality Check: The Girl thought it was "okay," but she has agreed to see the sequel with me at the theater, if only because of Kate Beckinsale. "She's very cute in her little leather outfit."

Amazon links:

Posted by Beth Henderson at 8/04/2004 03:07:00 PM

Manchurian Candidate 

Continuing the movie spree of this past weekend, The Girl and I went directly from The Bourne Supremacy back to the ticket counter and in to see The Manchurian Candidate. Four thumbs up (two of mine, two of The Girl's).

Neither of us saw the original 1962 version, so I can't make any comparisons. However, last Friday on Fresh Air they featured conversations and interviews around the opening, many of which included comparisons with the earlier film. You can listen to the archived audio from the show here.

Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep and Liev Schrieber star in this film about a group of Desert Storm veterans who remember a particular event in great detail, but who feel like they don't remember actually doing the things they remember. Sort of like when you remember an event from your childhood only from seeing photos and home movies of the event. Years later, the hero of the event (Schrieber) is a vice-presidential candidate with his campaign being handled efficiently by his Senator mother (Streep). The commander of the platoon (Washington) is still an Army officer, but is becoming obsessed by the memories of Desert Storm. His attempt to find the answers brings him onto a collision course with Streep, who has placed her hopes on her son to achieve the levels of political power which she was never able to.

Denzel Washington is fabulous as ever. He just rules - has he ever performed poorly on screen?

Meryl Streep is also, of course, fabulous. What else would she be? Plus check out her outfit in the outdoor garden scene. Black-rimmed, purple-lensed sunglasses, amazing sweater/shawl thing, perfect accessories, perfect hair.

I'm a big fan of Liev Schrieber and this role is perfect for him. Very intelligent, educated, tending to use larger words and more carefully crafted phrases than most would, but with an underlying insecurity behind the glib. And for the record? I loved Kate & Leopold, in which his character was the self-described "dog who could see the rainbows."

Reality Check: The Girl enjoyed this one, but not quite as much as I did. The plot involved lots of political deals and machinations, and she's not quite the Political Geek that I am.

Amazon links:

Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber.

Posted by Beth Henderson at 8/04/2004 11:03:00 AM
Monday, August 02, 2004

Bourne Supremacy 

The Girl and I had a bit of a movie binge this weekend, starting off with The Bourne Supremacy. We both enjoyed it, but I found that the camera style tipped me in the direction of motion sickness. A lot of it had a handheld style, with shaking of the camera, shifting focus level, etc. This was especially true in the (many) chase scenes of various types, and it left me a bit queezy.

You may recall that at the end of Bourne Identity, a warning was given that the Agency should leave him alone or else. Guess what - or else. Or is it something else? Once again, Jason finds himself the target of a CIA search, and he must call on the training from his past life. He doesn't recall most of the details of that life, but the training is ingrained.

I think I would have gotten more out of this if I had seen The Bourne Identity more recently. I haven't seen it since it was in theaters. Glad to see Julia Stiles return as Nicky, but her reprise role was rather limited. I'm wondering if there was more to it before editing. Brian Cox returns, and Chris Cooper sort of return (in photos of his dead character). New to this Bourne is Joan Allen as Pamela Landy, a high level CIA agent whose foiled operation leads her seek out the answers to the mystery of Jason Bourne. Joan Allen is one of these actors who plays each role so fully that she disappears in each one. I don't look at her characters as "Joan Allen as ____" but as the character. I loved her in The Contender.

Lots of action, a few twists, a couple shocks. One chase scene goes on entirely too long, reminding me of the gratuitous freeway chase scene in Matrix Reloaded. In a contrast to Matrix, most of the action sequences in Bourne Supremacy appear realistic, not enhanced. Combined with the camera style, it creates a very intense result when compared with the "way cool" CGI fight scenes to which we've all become accustomed.

I'd recommend this one, but you might want to rent The Bourne Identity first, to refresh yourself on the details.

Reality Check: The Girl enjoyed it, but also found it a bit confusing because of the extent to which the sequel depends on the details of the original for its story. You can follow it without having seen the first, but like Jason's memory, it will be a bit muddled.

Amazon links:

Posted by Beth Henderson at 8/02/2004 11:43:00 AM