12/11/10

Review: Queen of the Lot (2010)


Henry Jaglom's Queen of the Lot is an arty, eccentric, smart, eclectic, quirky, joyful, honest, parodic, sincere and beautiful look at some Hollywood folks who are, too. It walks a very interesting line between realistic drama and over-the-top comedy to produce a compelling and eminently watchable love story/fame story.

The great Tanna Frederick plays Maggie Chase, a newly minted Hollywood star with her action films, the "Red Wrecker" series, of which the latest, and most complimented was Red Wrecker III, which features, in clips shown in the film, Frederick kung fu fighting with people dressed as seventies street hoods in the stunning location of a storefront martial arts studio. It's wonderful. Miss Chase is obviously also now the target of frenzied papparazzi attention, and has been required by the court to wear an ankle bracelet monitor after a drunken driving incident.

If you don't love this film already, I can't help you.

I had never seen Tanna Frederick in anything before this, though I now understand she's been showing up regularly in films by Henry Jaglom for a while now. She's phenomenal, one of the greatest young actresses I have seen on film in any context. She draws no line between humor and drama, she just plays the heck out of every great opportunity she could possibly get to show us this character and really sell it, broadly at times, and more subtly where necessary. She successfully hits notes I don't know that I've ever seen attempted before on film. It's astonishingly good.

I had never seen any Henry Jaglom film before Queen of the Lot, either. Not even the previous film to which this one is a sequel, Hollywood Dreams. And there are lots more of them. So that could be fun to investigate. He tells a story seemingly by waving his hand at this cast which, I now also understand, is made up of many family members, frequent collaborators (and frequent "Sopranos" contributors). The whole cast is superb, bonkers, wonderfully moving and absurd.

Noah Wyle is particularly good as Aaron Lambert, a writer and second son of a Hollywood producing/acting family including patriarch producer Louis Lambert (veteran character actor Jack Heller, perfect) and mother Elizabeth (Kathryn Crosby), Maggie's boyfriend/big brother/action star/addict Dov (Christopher Rydell, awesome), sister Frances (Mary Crosby) and her husband Pedja (Peter Bogdonavich), an opinionated, storytelling film director, and a younger sister, Zoe (Sabrina Jaglom, the director's daughter, very good), who's also nuts. Is she a sister? I'm unclear. Some other people might be family, or hangers-on like accountant-having-nervous-breakdown Odin Johannessen (Dennis Christopher), assistant Ernesto (Paul Sand, outstanding) or the family's piano accompanist (Edward Sayegh). Actress Shaelynn (Daisy White) is Dov's ex-wife.

Maggie finds herself staying with the family after decamping from her own home, swarmed by the press after her court hearing, and her patrons' incredible home, when she's invited to spend the holidays with the Lamberts. Her Hollywood patrons are a couple, Caesar and Kaz, played by David Proval and Zack Norman. Caesar owns a dress shop and plays cards. They have stunning sculptures. They don't exit the story when Maggie leaves theirs for the Lamberts' stunning abode.

The ending goes wild, and it's brilliantly funny. I could not stop watching it even when the reels snapped and there was a half-hour intermission. It's a loving and moving parody/tribute to Hollywood. The cast are splendid and amazing.

So, anyway, I'll have to hold my official Jaglom conversion until I can see more of his films. I will. If you're in the mood for something weird, sunny, offbeat, I think you'll find Queen of the Lot quite a nice time. Tanna Frederick is quite a great new discovery, at least for me. I might be late in noticing.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)


Michael Apted's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a worthy Narnia chapter, perhaps the least of these new films, but not by much. It follows Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes), the younger Pevensie siblings from the first two adventures, as they return to Narnia with their cousin Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter, so great in Son of Rambow) through a picture painting at Eustace's home, where they are living during the Blitz.

The first two films (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian) were directed by Andrew Adamson, who also directed the first two Shrek films. I liked both Narnia films, the second much better.

But veteran/genius Apted (Coal Miner's Daughter, Gorillas in the Mist, Thunderheart, Enigma and his amazing documentary series following a group of people from their seventh year and returning for updates every seven years, among many others) does a good job creating this new adventure while staying faithful to the look and feel of the previous films.

Eustace is introduced early as an antagonist to the Pevensies, but, interestingly, from his own perspective, as narration from his diary reveals the depths of his disdain for Lucy and Edmund and their open-ended stay among his things. It could have been difficult to introduce a major character to an established series like this, but it's handled with aplomb, and perfect casting. Eustace is like a middle-aged man in a child's body, and we know the perfect prescription for that ailment is a trip to Narnia. Eustace works as comic relief, but his character grows into more than that, which is good, since he may be anchoring future adventures.

This time around, there has been no official summoning by the people of Narnia, still led, as at the end of the last film, by Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), though Aslan, of course, knows all about it. The children are plunged into the waters off Caspian's ship Dawn Treader, carrying the king and his crew in search of the seven lost Lords, who disappeared after setting sail to discover the origin of a green mist which is swallowing up Narnian sailors and their ships at an alarming and increasing rate.

So this film, like the others, concerns a specific battle or quest against the evil forces in Narnia. It has magic, weird creatures, the various bedraggled lords found in various states of bedragglement or worse, and some fine interdimensional developments.

Along with the major conflict of good and evil, Caspian and Edmund have some minor clashes and jealousies. Edmund still has to confront the White Witch and her sly offers to his pride. Lucy's pride gets a test when she discovers a magical spell which seems to change her appearance. And Eustace's greed leads to major lessons for him. The cast are all excellent, including Simon Pegg as the new voice of intrepid warrior Reepicheep.

As with the previous film, a bit of the wonder of discovering Narnia for the first time is lost, but there are new vistas to see here. Santa Claus is missing, and the White Witch is greener, but scenes of magical snow in a great library, the ship's following a blue star which turns into a beautiful woman, and lotus blossoms crowding the shore of the gateway to Aslan's country at the end of the world, all sub in for a Christmasy feel.

I've seen it twice already in 3-D and enjoyed it thoroughly. It's probably good in 2-D, too, but why would I watch it in 2-D, when I can watch it in 3-D and it's good? That's a whole extra D. Anyway, now we're all set up for the next movie, whichever it may be (there's some debate). But this one is a very good show. I hope there are four more in this great series, and would be glad to see Adamson or Apted or both pick up some of them.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

12/5/10

Review: The Warrior's Way (2010)


Snmoong Lee's The Warrior's Way is an all-time worst movie you would be lucky never to watch. I sat and stared for what felt like days at one of the most ridiculous and worthless spectacles ever produced. I kept hoping against hope that the sheer camp value of its silliness would begin to entertain me, but alas, this was also not to be. Finally, I transcended regular movie expectations and began to be entertained solely by my own seemingly endless ability to sit through it.

The "film" tells the "story" of Yang (Jang Dong-gun, pretty good), the world's greatest swordsman, a "Sad Flute" warrior trained from birth to hate and destroy his clan's enemy clan, "The Magic Flutes." Okay, I don't remember the name of the opposing clan, and it could hardly matter. This goal of extermination is accomplished within the first few moments of the film, with a bit of an exception.

The exception is a young baby (Analin Rudd), whom he cannot bring himself to execute, certainly an admirable quality. Unfortunately, the Sad Flutes do not agree, and morph from his loyal supporters into his deadly enemies, at least until they can get their hands on that infant. Ridiculous? Yes. They still could have made some kind of interesting plot out if it, at least enough to distract or even add, between martial-arts fight sequences.

Of course, Yang does the only thing he can (in this movie), which turns out to be fleeing to the (punningly, but not really ironically named) town of "Lode," located in the Old West or Bizarro Bleeding Kansas or Dirtland, Texas, or somewhere similar that doesn't exist, to run a laundry, raise the kid, fall in love and wait for the ninjas to come and kill him. The love story is with Lynne (Kate Bosworth, terrible), a fiery redhead who tries to punch Yang out pretty quickly, for no reason we in the audience are really ever let in on. But soon they're fencing in the dunes and giggling at Baby April's antics.

Did I mention there's a huge Ferris wheel under construction at the end of town? And a "traveling circus" living by it, led by Bad Santa's Tony Cox as Eight-Ball, so named because he has an eight painted on his bald head for no reason we in the audience are really ever let in on? There is also no compelling reason for the circus to exist in the film. But it is mentioned that the members of the circus raised Lynne from a girl, solely on knife tricks and dirt.

It's dirt in demand, however. Danny Huston plays "The Colonel," a "Phantom of the Opera"-masked raider who keeps bringing back his crew of ne'er-do-wells to steal all the town's dirt. This is as smart as it sounds! Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush plays a drunk who displays (like Rush's Oscar-awarded character from Shine) his butt. There's a flashback scene which explains some unfinished business between Lynne and the Colonel, in which Lynne is shown as a raven-haired young girl, giving us in the audience to understand that she now wears the red yarn wigs of her adoptive clown parents.

After the first bigger-type credits at the end of the film appears a curiosity of sorts. "Scott Reynolds" is credited with "Additional Writing." This is clearly--at least--a typographical, grammatical or mathematical error, as there would need to have been some kind of writing in the preceding tale for it to be possible to add anything to it.

Also in the end-crawl, several ladies are credited as "Women with Bad Teeth," so at least there was one solid laugh in the picture. We learn that many of the circus performers, about whom we learn nothing, and whom we do not see perform, have colorful names which they are not called in any scenes I saw. And just before the last studio logo credit, what I assume is a production company logo flashes up as two words crunched together: "wellmade." But please, sincerely, trust me to be the judge of that. (I sat through the whole thing so I could inform you that there is not an after-credits scene of any kind; I was expecting perhaps a short shot of maybe a kitchen sink hurtling toward the camera.)

If you watch The Warrior's Way, I will keep you in my prayers. I have given it half of a star because the baby has some great reaction shots, and Jang Dong-gun is as good as he could be, and would probably be better in something else. To manglingly paraphrase the great David Letterman, I wouldn't show this movie to a monkey on a rock. Or a ninja in the dirt. Or, certainly, you, dear reader. It's a nearly totally unremitting crapfest with few redeeming elements. Should I ever encounter it again in future, in thought or indeed, I shall spit upon the ground.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

Thune leads 2012 GOP presidential nominee web poll results for November

Sen. John Thune (SD) led November voting for who respondents thought would be the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. As usual, this is of self-selected voters of any party who found my website, so it is not scientific in any way. (This means you should not complain that it was not scientific because it's never going to be.) Voting is just for fun, please no wagering. Here are this month's results:

November 2010

#1 - Sen. John Thune (SD) ... 24.6%
#2 - Rep. Mike Pence (IN) ... 22.5%
#3 - Fmr. Gov. Sarah Palin (AK) ... 21%
#4 - Fmr. Vice Pres. Dan Quayle (IN / AZ) ... 7.2%
#5 - Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX) ... 5.8%
#5 - Rep. Ron Paul, M.D. (TX) ... 5.8%
#5 - Other ... 5.8%
#6 - Fmr. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (GA) ... 2.2%
#6 - Senate Min. Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) ... 2.2%
#7 - Gov. Chris Christie (NJ) ... 1.4%
#8 - Sen. / Gov.-Elect Sam Brownback (KS) ... .7%
#8 - Fmr. Gov. Mitt Romney (MI / UT / MA) ... .7%
#9 - Gov. Haley Barbour (MS) ... 0%
#9 - Gov. Tim Pawlenty (MN) ... 0%
#9 - Fmr. Gov. Tom Ridge (PA) ... 0%

138 total votes cast / Margin of error ±100%

I'll probably get rid of Quayle next month, though it's been a good joke, and useful (who regularly outperforms or underperforms the joke could be somewhat telling).

You can vote for this month's new poll here, or click the vote button from any of the Choose Our President 2012 pages.

Alex
Choose Our President 2012