Odd Berberian Thomas Sound Studio

Odd Thomas and Berberian Sound Studio are currently available on instant Netflix

Odd Thomas

 

Odd Thomas (2013) – Not rated

In a California desert town, a short-order cook with clairvoyant abilities encounters a mysterious man with a link to dark, threatening forces.

Odd Thomas is based on the first in a series of books by Dean Koontz featuring the titular character. For being based on a novel, this movie is unusually brief (1 hr 36 minutes). imdb lists rather a large number of scenes cut.

I’d be generous in calling this film streamlined but, while it seems a little choppy, it is not incoherent. Exposition is breezy and mostly done in voiceover by Odd (Anton Yelchin). Many things in Odd Thomas could use fleshing out – both ideas and relationships.

Yelchin is certainly a magnet for franchises. He was Chekov in the two most recent Star Trek movies, Kyle Reese in Terminator Salvation, and Clumsy Smurf in the Smurf movies. Here he has the opportunity to anchor a franchise.

Writer (screenplay)/director/producer Stephen Sommers is no stranger to franchises either, having done the reboot of The Mummy (1999) which not only spawned two sequels but also a prequel that itself became a franchise (The Scorpion King movies). Unfortunately Dean Koontz does not have a track record of movie hits like Stephen King. Dean Koontz has eighteen writing credits including four movies based on Watchers. That and Demon Seed were minor hits, the rest not so much.

Clearly I digress. Odd Thomas ran into some legal and financial problems and was delayed and then dumped on the market.

Yelchin is charming. Stormy, our heroine, is played by a very attractive Addison Timlin (Derailed, Stand Up Guys). There are good, albeit brief, turns by Willem Dafoe, Patton Oswalt, and Shuler Hensley. Most of Oswalt’s scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.

I have not read the book but the movie seems like a Cliff’s Notes version. It is still a lot of fun though.

Berberian Sound Studio

 

Berberian Sound Studio (2012) – Not Rated

A shy sound engineer agrees to work on a depraved horror film, only to find that the dysfunction surrounding the project blurs fiction and reality.”

I like it when a favorite character actor gets a chance to be star in a film of their own, particularly when they are a character actor because they don’t fit the standard Hollywood model of beauty. Such is the case here with Toby Jones (recently Arnim Zola in Captain America).

Berberian Sound Studio is filmed and edited very well. Scenes end exactly when they should. Closeups occur often and are well-done. There are no wide or open shots leaving the film feeling very claustrophobic. Sound, as you might expect from the subject matter, is astonishingly good. Berberian Sound Studio is in a mix of English and Italian with English subtitles. Other than Jones, the other actors appear to be all Italian.

Berberian Sound Studio will reward your patient viewing. Gilderoy’s (Toby Jones) mental state being disturbed by the content of the film in the first two acts is gradual but very effective. No spoilers but the third act takes a brilliant turn. The camera movements and shots are central so put away your cellphones and ipads when you watch this disturbing, subversive film.

Titanic – The End of The End is Nigh week?

Titanic (no not the James Cameron blockbuster) is currently available on instant Netflix.

One Line Review: Yes, this is Titanic Abbey – if you like Downton, you’ll enjoy this even though it doesn’t measure up to Downton.

Titanic (2012) – Rated TV-PG

“This extraordinary re-telling of the doomed voyage, written by Julian Fellowes, retells the tragic sinking of RMS Titanic, featuring multiple personal narratives and a large and accomplished cast.”

Why would someone undertake to make a TV miniseries about the Titanic that has 1/10 the budget of the definitive tale told by James Cameron? Yes, the 100th anniversary of the sinking is a good excuse but why? This version is definitely not a cash grab.

James Cameron’s Titanic went to a lot of effort to accurately recreate the look of the Titanic and the feel of life aboard ship. However a majority of Cameron’s screentime was spent on either the central romance of Jack and Rose or the very long action adventure finale so most of the parts that might be considered important to understand were in the background. Also Cameron seemed to be more interested in the nuts and bolts facts rather than a feel for how the class system worked.

This new version of Titanic is directed by Jon Jones but (with no offense meant to Jones) it is clear that it is really writer Julian Fellowes’ Titanic. I’m not sure whether it was just to entice audiences each night but I found the central conceit of his screenplay fascinating.

The first episode introduces us to many characters but basically follows the Earl of Manton and his family in First Class and gives us a whirlwind glimpse into that life before spending just a little bit of time on the aftermath of the iceberg collision. The story then rewinds for the second episode and focuses mainly on a second class couple, while fleshing out a few of the missing detail from the first episode. The second episode ends slightly further along than episode one. The third takes us lower down the class ladder and the fourth details the aftermath of hitting the iceberg.

Fellowes’ Titanic features an unwieldy cast with no big names. Strangely I only noticed one of Fellowes’ Downton Abbey cast in it. My only guess is that the two series were filmed concurrently or budgetary concerns didn’t allow for Titanic to score Downton actors (or many name actors).

Maria Doyle Kennedy, who plays the evil Vera Bates on Downton, plays a less scheming but almost as unpleasant Muriel Batley here. Toby Jones does an excellent job of playing her husband, lawyer and second-class passenger John Batley. The rest of the cast do their jobs well, though none of them particularly stand out.

One of the things Fellowes does well, here and in Downton, is to detail the lives and class of people from this era. It was nice to see the way servants of first class passengers were treated both as first class and second class.

Do not watch this expecting an action adventure film or even a disaster film. Do watch it as an engrossing example of how people lived back then. Fellowes does an admirable job detailing the disaster that befell the Titanic even if the budget doesn’t really allow the majestic ship to shine or the special effects to entice.

Titanic is a very enjoyable class drama albeit somewhat confusing with the large cast involved.

Follow-Up: If this whets your appetite for more Titanic then do NOT watch Titanic II from Asylum. Do watch the Imax documentary, Titanica, which details a 1992 dive to explore the wreckage as well as some accounts from survivor Eva Hart.

Captain America

Captain America just became available on instant Netflix.

One-Line Review: An earnest family-friendly superhero adventure that is a little long and a little slow but quite enjoyable.

Captain America (2011) – Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action.

“It is 1942, America has entered World War II, and sickly but determined Steve Rogers is frustrated at being rejected yet again for military service. Everything changes when Dr. Erskine recruits him for the secret Project Rebirth. Proving his extraordinary courage, wits and conscience, Rogers undergoes the experiment and his weak body is suddenly enhanced into the maximum human potential. When Dr. Erskine is then immediately assassinated by an agent of Nazi Germany’s head of its secret HYDRA research department, Johann Schmidt aka the Red Skull, Rogers is left as a unique man who is initially misused as a propaganda mascot. However, when his comrades need him, Rogers goes on a successful adventure that truly makes him Captain America and his war against Schmidt begins. “

I find Joe Johnston to be a very problematic director. His Jurassic Park III was a quick fun romp but it had very little of the majesty that infused the two Spielberg outings. Johnston’s The Wolfman had some very good scenes and actors but was ultimately a mess. On the other hand, way back in 1991, he directed the adorable pre-WWII saga, The Rocketeer and did a very good job of bringing the Dave Stevens graphic novel to the screen.

The Rocketeer would seem to make Johnston the ideal choice for Captain America as the stories are not all that different. A naive but earnest young man discovers a rocket pack/secret formula that allows him to fight Nazis as a masked superhero.

Chris Evans is great as Steve Rogers/ Captain America. I love the visual wizardry used to portray him as the proverbial 98-lb. weakling prior to his transformation. In the after shots, you will be wondering if those abs are real. Evans does a fine job of being earnest and brave and a little naive.

One of the biggest problems I had with Captain America was actually one of the things I had most been looking forward to. Hugo Weaving is a fantastic orator and his creations of Elrond (from the LOTR trilogy) and Mr. Smith (from The Matrix trilogy) are indelibly etched in my mind as is his voice in V for Vendetta. Unfortunately Hugo Weaving appears to have studied his German accent so hard here that his dramatic cadences are lost. His version of The Red Skull is good but just doesn’t quite gel.

Hydra is the villain organization and they have an army of Nazis with laser rifles. This also doesn’t gel well and comes across as silly in some of the scenes. Thankfully, Toby Jones is great as The Red Skull’s underling, Arnim Zola.

Stanley Tucci is excellent as always as the erstwhile Dr. Erskine but has very little screen time. Tommy Lee Jones is his usual fun craggy self as Colonel Chester Phillips. Hayley Atwell and Sebastian Stan are okay as Rogers’ best gal and pal respectively.

Pacing is a little uneven. I appreciate the logic behind using Captain America to sell war bonds but it sidelines him for too much of the movie and the battle montages will either make you shrug your shoulders or wish that they had included the actual battle. Corporate pressure from Marvel may have had an effect here as Captain America had to be ready and in the present for The Avengers this year – thus limiting his time in World War II.

Joe Johnston does a great job of conveying the feel of the time and characters (without the terrible Hollywood shorthand of sepia-toning everything). There is very little cursing and everyone is so earnest and not snarky.

Marvel fans will have plenty to umm marvel at. We get a look at Tony Stark’s father Howard (Dominic Cooper) in action as well as Dum-Dum Dugan (Neal McDonough) and the requisite appearance of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). There is a great visual joke with Arnim Zola and the plot revolves around the cosmic cube/ tesseract. Don’t forget to stay for the post-credits sequence.

Future Watch: Although Joe Johnston will not be back for it, look for Captain America: Winter Soldier in theaters April 4th, 2014 (Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan and Samuel L. Jackson will be reprising their roles). Joe Johnston is rumored to be working on Jurassic Park IV. Hugo Weaving will once again be seen as Elrond in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey this Christmas.