Friday, January 31, 2014

His Royal Douchness

The Man in the Iron Mask
Director: Randall Wallace
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gerald Depardieu, Gabriel Byrne
Released: March 13, 1998

Like The Count of Monte Cristo, this movie is also an adaptation of an Alexander Dumas novel. Even though there are some similarities, I liked Monte Cristo a lot better. In The Man in the Iron Mask, King Louis XIV (Leonardo DiCaprio) rules France as a total jerk. He is pompous, sleeps with many women, and only cares what he looks like as he's always pawing at his locks and wearing fancy silk frocks. (Ha, that rhymes!) Basically he rules the country like if any of the Jersey Shores idiots were the POTUS. (Ugh). He does not care about anybody but himself.

Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, and Gerald Depardieu play the Three Musketeers (another Dumas-penned story) - Aramis, Athos, and Porthos, respectively. Athos has a son who is engaged to be married to a woman that Louis decides he wants for his own and has him sent to battle where he is killed. Louis then takes Christie into his home...and his bed! Seriously, he sleeps with her, like, the next day!

The King does some more appalling things and the Musketeers decides it's time to overthrow the little a-hole. Aramis has the perfect plan. He knows that Louis has a twin brother, Phillippe, who has been imprisoned for six years. Louis didn't want the country knowing that he had a brother so he ordered for an iron mask to be made for Phillippe to wear so nobody would ever know his identity. Since it covers his entire head, it's more of a helmet, but The Man in the Iron Helmet just doesn't have the same ring to it. Put anyone in an iron helmet and they're going to look ridiculous. And it does look ridiculous. Just look at him in that picture and tell me it doesn't make you laugh just a little! The Musketeers teach him what he needs to know to be King, including family history and what to do in social situations and their plan is to lure Louis out of a party, kidnap him, and replace him with Phillippe. There's a few snafus, but by the end of the movie, Phillippe becomes the true King of France without anyone realizing that one brother has been swapped for another.

You would think with such an interesting premise, this movie should work, but it just doesn't. For one thing, even though I thought the mask, er, helmet was ridiculous, you really don't get the sense that Phillippe was wearing it for six years and he seems to accept becoming a King just like that. I don't buy it. They also try to make this movie into too many things: a romance! A comedy! An action picture! If you watch the trailer, they advertise it as all three back to back. It starts out decent enough, telling the general plot of the movie, then it goes into Louis courting his women, then we get a bunch of jokes, then some action shots. It is so bad! The "comedy" portions of this movie is the worst - I did not laugh once. Now I don't think The Count of Monte Cristo is the best movie ever, but compared to this movie, it's a masterpiece.

However, if Leonardo DiCaprio had never been in Paris filming this movie, then I never would have had this "amazing" story to tell. Click the video to hear my "amazing" Leo story!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Late reaction to Oscar nominations

If you're curious about the reaction of this year's Oscar nominees from someone who has only seen two of the movies  nominated in the main categories, then you came to the right place!

Best Picture:
American Hustle
12 Years a Slave
Captain Phillips
The Wolf of Wall Street
Dallas Buyers Club

I have only seen Gravity and Captain Phillips. So far the former is my favorite movie of the year and the latter will most likely be on my top ten list. I would love it for Gravity to win (hey, it happened last year when my favorite movie of 2012, Argo, won), but most likely it will be 12 Years a Slave. I will most likely rent that when it comes out on DVD, but it's hard to drag myself out to a theater to watch such a brutal and horrific movie.  I will also eventually see American Hustle but I am worried it will be more like The Fighter (which I didn't like so much) than Silver Linings Playbook (which I liked). I had never even heard of Philomena until it was nominated and still don't know what it's about. I will eventually see all (or most) of these, but I doubt any of them will top Gravity for my favorite movie. 

Best Actor: 
American Hustle: Christian Bale
Nebraska: Bruce Dern
The Wolf of Wall Street: Leonardo DiCaprio
12 Years a Slave: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Dallas Buyers Club: Matthew McConaughey

First of all, where the hell is Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips? I thought for sure he was a shoo-in for a nomination! Everyone loves Tom Hanks and he hasn't been nominated in a long time and this was the perfect opportunity to do so! I'm sure he could have easily edged out Christian Bale. Now I haven't see any of these so I don't know who is the best, but I imagine it's a dead heat between Matthew McConaughey who's been winning all the big surprises or Chiwetel Ejiofor who everyone is buzzing about. It's hard for me to live in a world where McConaughey has an Oscar (it would be just so weird, but the again, Nicolas Cage has one!) I feel like they're going to give it to Ejiofor at the last minute. Just a hunch I have. 

Best Actress:
American Hustle: Amy Adams
Blue Jasmine: Cate Blanchett
Gravity: Sandra Bullock
Philomena: Judi Dench
August: Osage County: Meryl Streep

I would love for Sandra Bullock to win, not because she's the only performance from this list that I saw (well, that might be part of the reason!), but she was great and held her own. After about 30 minutes she was the only one in the movie. It's kind of a shame that she won five years ago for a decent performance in a not that great of a movie. Would she have won this year if she hadn't won for The Blind Side? I don't know, it's possible. But I think since she won so recently that may have hurt her...of course it didn't hurt Hilary Swank or Christoph Waltz! Most likely it will be Cate Blanchett. She won Best Supporting Actress in 2005 for The Aviator, but that felt more like a make-up oscar than anything else, so I feel like this will be her "real" Oscar if you know what I mean. Remember when she was first nominated in 1999 for Elizabeth and Gwyneth Paltrow won and everyone said Cate should have won? Well, not only will Cate (most likely) have two Oscars, but she's also been nominated five more times since her first time. How many times has Gwynnie the Pooh been nominated since she won? A big fat whooping ZERO! I've even read articles about Oscar votes who voted for Gwyneth who said they probably would have voted for Cate if they could redo their votes that year! I really dislike the GooP in case you haven't noticed. So while I would love Sandra to win, I would be very satisfied with a Cate win! Also, since Meryl Streep won for The Iron Lady a couple years ago, I thought they would cut back on her nominations. Wasn't the reason she was getting nominated for everything prior to 2012 was because they desperately wanted to give her that 3rd Oscar? I really haven't heard anyone rave about her performance. I have heard everyone raving about Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks (another movie I haven't seen yet but want to) so I was surprised she wasn't nominated.

Best Supporting Actor:
Captain Phillips: Barkhad Abdi
American Hustle: Bradley Cooper
12 Years a Slave: Michael Fassbender
The Wolf of Wall Street: Jonah Hill
Dallas Buyers Club: Jared Leto

I've only seen Abdi's performance and while he did a great job for his first film I can't say he was the best until I see the others. Leto seems to be the front runner for now. I've never watched My So-Called Life, but that's what I always associate him with. Unlike the other acting categories, this is the only one that doesn't have a previous winner. 

Best Supporting Actress:
Blue Jasmine: Sally Hawkins
American Hustle: Jennifer Lawrence
12 Years a Slave: Lupita Nyong'o
August: Osage County: Julia Roberts
Nebraska: June Squibb

There's no way they're giving this to anyone other than Lupito, right?

Best Director:
American Hustle: David O. Russell
Gravity: Alfonso Cuarón
Nebraska: Alexander Payne
12 Years a Slave: Steve McQueen
The Wolf of Wall Street: Martin Scorsese

I would love for Cuarón to win this because he is an amazing director and I could see him winning. He did win the Golden Globe so that could be in his favor. Or it could go to Steve McQueen since his movie is most likely to win the Oscar. I really have no idea. But I'm giving the edge to Cuarón. I mean, have you seen his movies? They're so good!

Monday, January 27, 2014

'90210' Tribute

I only have three episodes to go before I finish the entire series (10 seasons!) of Beverly Hills, 90210 and as a little tribute I made this video. Enjoy! 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Bad Simbas!

The Ghost and The Darkness
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Cast: Val Kilmer, Michael Douglas, John Kani, Bernard Hill, Emily Mortimer, Tom Wilkinson
Released: October 11, 1996

Oscar nominations:
Best Sound Effects Editing - won

I recently listened to a podcast of Stuff You Missed in History Class and they did an episode on the man-eating lions of Tsavo, Kenya who were feasting on the railroad workers back in 1898. Because the lions were like apparitions, they were known as The Ghost and The Darkness. The hosts mentioned that many film adaptations have been made about this story, but this movie is the only one I am familiar with. I had never heard of this story until I saw this movie for the first time back when it was released on video. I hadn't seen it since and after listening to that particular podcast, decided to revisit it.

John Patterson (Kilmer) is a British engineer who is sent to Tsavo to be in charge of working on a railroad that is behind schedule. There have been reports of lion attacks so Patterson stays awake in a tree all night and kills a lion that approaches the camp. Everyone is happy and celebrates and they get back to work. The only problem is, the lion Patterson killed wasn't one of the two man-eating lions known as The Ghost and The Darkness that wreck havoc on the camp, killing several people in a short amount of time. Being a true story, Patterson was a real person and claimed that 135 people were killed by the lions, but it seems the number might have been more accurate to 35....perhaps that "1" was an ink blot in his journal?

These lions prove to be quite difficult to kill as they are very sneaky and crafty and work together. After one of the lions has mauled a worker in the middle of the day, Patterson and a few other men follow it where it has dragged the body to start feasting on it. Patterson has his gun aimed at it, but the lion seems unfazed. This was before anyone realized there were two lions so they were not expecting the second lion that has snuck up on them on a roof of a shelter they're nearby and leap onto one of the men and kill him, causing distraction and for the two lions to trot away.

Charles Remington (Douglas), the expert hunter who comes to help hunt the lions is totally fictional. In real life, Patterson was the one who killed both lions. Remington kills the first lion. He does it by using a poor baboon chained to a wooden post as bait. He appears securely safe in a tree, but Patterson, on the other hand, is sitting atop a wooden structure that isn't the most secure and everytime he turns around (which was whenever he heard a sound, which was quite often), it wobbles. Not long after the first lion is killed, the other lion, apparently out for revenge, kills Remington. So one lion and one man are left and now it's Patterson's turn for revenge and with the help of native Samuel (Kani) who has been a trusted ally since Patterson arrived in Tsavo, manages to kill the lion and end the killing and chaos.

When I first saw this movie back in 1997, Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas were the only actors I was familiar with, but watching it again, I couldn't help but think how familiar the local doctor looked and I knew I had seen him in something and was thinking, "That's not the guy from Lord of the Rings, it it?" (Yes, I realize that doesn't really narrow it down). But after confirming with IMDB, yes, it was "that guy" from LotR, Theoden, played by Bernard Hill, who I also know quite well as the captain in Titanic. I also found out Tom Wilkerson plays Patterson's a-hole boss who tells Patterson that he doesn't care about those who have died and wants his bridge to be built in a timely manner. I didn't really become familiar with Wilkerson until 2000/01 when he was in The Patriot and In the Bedroom. And Emily Mortimer, only in a couple scenes, plays Mrs. Patterson. She's since gone on to be someone I recognize in stuff from a guest spot in 30 Rock to Hugo.

The real Ghost and Darkness.
The most fascinating things about The Ghost and The Darkness (which are on display at the Field Museum in Chicago - I really want to go there one day!) was that they were maneless lions. Seeing as these particular kinds of lions are rare (and probably not the most trainable), the movie uses lions with manes. (And really bad fake lions for whenever one leaps onto a person to attack).

The cinematography of the African landscape is breathtaking and makes you want to go on a safari when you see all the different animals, that is, until the lions start attacking and eating people!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sweet Revenge

The Count of Monte Cristo
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Cast: Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce, Richard Harris, Luiz Guzman
Released: January 25, 2002
Viewed in theaters: February 8, 2002

According to Wikipedia, this is the tenth adaptation of Alexander Dumas's novel, but I think it is the only one I've seen. Edmond Dantes (Caviezel) and Fernand Mondego (Pearce) are best friends, or at least Edmond thinks so. Fernand is jealous of him because he is marrying the beautiful Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk) and has been promoted to captain, both are things that Fernand wants even though he is wealthy (Edmond is poor) and educated (Edmond can't read).

Edmond is betrayed by his so-called best friend when he is arrested for treason. He was set up to deliver a compromising letter and when he runs away to seek help from Fernand, that's when he realizes that Fernand was behind the plan to help get him sent away to prison. He is sent to a prison on an island called Chateau d'If. There he is thrown into a stone room and only gets fed once a day and his toilet pail is emptied once a day. His only human contact occurs once a year on his anniversary of being in prison when he is chained to a wall and whipped. After being there for one year, he attempts to hang himself, but the message he chiseled into the stone wall, God will give me justice, stops him. Four years pass and that's when he discovers he had a neighbor prisoner below him all this time when a priest (Harris) comes tunneling out of the floor, thinking he was headed for the outside. He asks to stand on Edmond's shoulders so he can see a sliver of sky and thanks him, saying he hasn't seen the sky in eleven years which is the saddest thing ever.

Since neither have anything better to do, the priests teaches Edmond reading, writing, math, philosophy, and how to fight with a sword among many other things. Since they are only interrupted twice a day by the prison guards, they have the rest of the entire day to work on Edmond's education. That's not the only thing they're working on as they are also creating a tunnel to escape.
Unfortunately, with just months left before they make it to the outside, the ground above collapses on the priest. Edmond drags him back to the cell. In his dying breath, the priests confesses to Edmond where a fortune of a deceased Count is located. He was imprisoned for not revealing it. He said he didn't know where it was, but tells Edmond that he lied. This information comes in very handy for Edmond later on.

For an actor of his age, Richard Harris sure does a lot of physical stuff - he's dragged by his arms, he climbs up and down holes, he runs around the cell as he teaches his prodigy how to sword fight. He was sure a spry old man!

It had been a very long time since I last saw this movie (12 years) so I felt pretty smug when I knew how Edmond was going to escape. When I saw the large bag the prison guards put the priest's body in, I blurted out, "He's going to use that bag to escape!" Yes, I know, it was so obvious, but I was pretty proud of myself. When a guard goes to feed Edmond and his bowl is not produced in front of the door, that is when the guard becomes suspicious and sees the priest's dead body and goes out to warn the others that they are taking out a live person. Why he just didn't have his bowl already ready to go, I don't know. Maybe he wanted them to know he had escaped? What I had totally forgotten was that they threw the bag over the cliff which the prison sits upon! And I'm like, "Oh sh--", even though I know he survives, duh. But that was a long fall with lots of rocks waiting to meet him at the bottom. How he managed to miss those rocks is only a miracle. Luckily he was able to grab the keys from the head guard before he was thrown so he could unlock his shackles.

Altogether, he was in that prison for 13 years of his life and enjoys his freedom quite immensely when he escapes. He washes up on another deserted island where he meets a band of pirates who want him to come work for them. They are to kill one of their traitors, Jacapo (Guzman), but Edmond convinces them to spare his life and Jacapo tells Edmond he will be forever indebted to him for the rest of his life.

Edmond's first stop is to get the treasure the priest told him about and after he and Jacapo haul out eight huge trunks from an underwater cove, Jacapo declares him the richest man he's ever known. Edmond decides his new alias will be the Count of Monte Cristo. He invites everyone to a lavish party on the ground of his new mansion where he makes his grand entrance on a hot air balloon with acrobats and fireworks. All I could think of was if I read about some rich person doing this it at a party, I would roll my eyes so far back into my head. Cinematically, it made a pretty cool scene. But he did make an entrance, which is what he wanted. Unfortunately the two people he most wanted to be there to see his entrance weren't there.

He vows revenge on those who were the reason he was sent to prison, especially his ex-BFF, Fernand who, he learns, has married Mercedes. He's not too happy with Mercedes either when he learns of this, especially since she promised him 13 years ago that she would never take off the ring of twine that symbolized her eternal love and faithfulness for Edmond. Well maybe not eternal faithfulness anymore seeing as she and Fernand have a sixteen year old son named Albert (played by Henry Cavill who played (plays? - I suppose it's an ongoing franchise) Superman in the latest movie that I never saw and don't intend on ever seeing). Edmond gets through to Fernand and Mercedes by fake-saving their son after he has him set up to be "kidnapped" by his old pirate friends. He is invited to their (ridiculously opulent) home to be thanked for saving their son. Mercedes immediately has suspicion of him, telling him he reminds her of someone she knew quite well a long time ago. It isn't until she sees him playing with his hair -just like Edmond used to do!- that she knows it really is and demand to know where he's been all this time but he pretends to not know what she's talking about, declaring, "Edmond Dantes is dead!" Of course she calls him out on knowing that name if he claims to now know who she is talking about. Duh! He finally admits it is really him and is angry at her for marrying Fernand so soon after he was sent to prison. Remember when I said that Albert was Fernand's son? Well, he was actually Edmond's son and that's why Mercedes had to marry Fernand so quickly. It's just like a soap opera!

In the end, Albert gets his revenge and lives happily ever after with his family. By far the most interesting part of the movie is when he's in the prison with Richard Harris.