Saturday, March 31, 2007

Rocky Balboa- B


Rocky Balboa is the sixth film in the Rocky franchise and the best since the first. Sylvester Stallone, who won a screenplay Oscar for the original, is back as writer, director, and star. Rocky Balboa's wife, Adrian, has passed away, and his son Robert Jr. (a solid Milo Ventimiglia, Peter Patrelli of TV show Heroes) has grown distant as he tries to move outside his father's shadow. Rocky's money man lost/stole all his money (apparently in Rocky V), and Rocky now runs a restaurant named for his ex-wife, where he poses for pictures and tells old stories. This part is reminiscent of Jack La Motta in Raging Bull, but without the tragedy. Still, there's a fire in Rocky's furnace, and he decides he'd like to fight again. The plan is for small fights, just to see if he's still got it. Meanwhile, the new heavy-weight champ (comically named Mason "The Line" Dixon) hears he wants to fight again and challenges him to an exhibition.

Although I was a quasi-fan of the first four Rocky's, number five was so poorly received (I admit, I didn't watch it), I initially was saddened to hear that Stallone was bringing the franchise back. I'm glad he did. The writing is Hemingway-sparse, and the acting is the same. But there's humanity in this story, partially because it's as much about Stallone saying "I've still got some fire in my belly, too, and i'll risk making a fool of myself because I still think I've got things to say," as it is about Rocky saying the same. And that resonates. It's not a great movie, but it tackles the big issues of love, loss, and courage and offers some decent answers. I didn't think Stallone still had it in him. B.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Children of Men - A

Released on DVD this week.

In 2027, worldwide plaques and war have led to a Britain being ruled under marital law. In addition, no baby has been born in 18 years. An indiferrent and disillusioned Theo (Clive Owen) is asked by his former wife/lover (Julianne Moore) for "letters of transit" via his cousin in the government. In desperate need of money, Theo reluctantly agrees. As he tries to reconnect with his ex, Theo is drawn into the mission of transporting a pregnant woman out of the country.

Director Alfonso Cuaron shows extraneous characters often early in the film. The camera moves from Theo to random characters on the ground and behind cages. As the movie progresses, the camera stays with Theo, including an ridiculously long take at the climax as Theo makes his way through a war zone. Cuaron adds other touches including showing farm animals, dead and alive, throughout in the corners of the frame as well as in the foreground and background. Throw in recreations of a Pink Floyd album cover and a famous Abu Ghraib photograph, and you have one of the best-directed pictures of this decade.

Clive Owen is the perfect choice as the reluctant hero, and the supporting cast is first rate. Michael Caine has fun as an ex-hippie with a penchant for fart jokes. But Cuaron is the real star here. You can see hints of this brilliance in his earlier films Y Tu Mama Tambien and the best Harry Potter movie (Prisoner of Azkaban), but this is a giant leap. The movie is as dense with its thoughts and ideas as it is with its compositions within the frame. An instant classic. One of the most interesting and visually remarkable films in recent years. A

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007


1. Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) is in final talks to helm Paramount Pictures' drama "The Fighter," which reteams "The Departed" stars Mark Wahlberg and Matt Damon. Based on the life of boxer "Irish" Mickey Ward (Wahlberg) and his trainer brother Dick Eklund (Damon), the story chronicles their early days on the rough streets of Lowell, Mass., through Eklund's battle with drugs and Ward's eventual world championship in London.

2. Ricky Gervais and Greg Kinnear are teaming to star in DreamWorks' romantic comedy "Ghost Town." The story centers on a dentist who dies briefly during routine dental surgery and gains the ability to see dead people who ask him for help in contacting the living.

3. Ricky Gervais has announced that he and Stephen Merchant have decided to pass on the possibility of a third season of 'Extras'. They will instead get together, at some point, and pen a finale episode like they did for ‘The Office.’

4. Neil Young released 'Live at Massey Hall 1971' on March 13 of this year. It is an acoustic show that is brilliant, featuring most of his greatest hits.

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King of Kong - A-

Not yet released. 79 minutes.

I never thought a documentary about elite classic arcade game players would be this good. King of Kong puts a microscope on the sub-sub-sub-culture of classic arcade gaming and its 'icon' Billy Mitchell (pictured above). The latter half of the movie focuses on rival gamer Steve Weibe's life and his struggle to attain acknowledgement as the best Donkey Kong player ever.

This is a great movie, judged by any standard, not just 'indie-film guy' standards. It is the rare film that can be both hilarious and poignant all in the same 79 minute time period. Billy Mitchell is cocksure and basks in the light of his 'celebrity' and manipulates the gamers to continue his status as "Gamer of the Century." He is a character that is pathetic, but thinks he's better than everyone, and thus is the easiest type of person to loathe. He delivers at least 6 laugh out loud lines ("I know I'm not a god"). The yin to his yang is the earnest and decent Steve Weibe, a guy who has never had good luck and is hesitant to assert himself. The two are played against each other perfectly by the director (Seth Gordon).

The movie allows the viewer to see the sub-culture for what it is without making fun of it. I think it highlights the fact that people find happiness and meaning in life in any number of places, and that one (gaming) is not better than another (soccer, boating, Civil War re-enactment, etc). Its like "The Long Tail" ( ) for hobbies.

So far, this is the best movie I have seen this year. I saw it at the AFI Dallas Film Festival last night (with An Appraiser - who also loved it), and it was just bought by Picturehouse in Sundance in January, so it will likely be released this summer or fall.

Funniest scene: As Steve nears the final screen of Donkey Kong during a gamers tournament, a Kong aficionado is trying to drum up a crowd and keeps walking up to people (in all seriousness) saying "We've got a Donkey Kong kill screen possibility, if you're interested."

Best scene: Steve discusses his disappointment after he is denied the record (even though he just recorded the highest score) because Billy has sent in a videotape of an even higher score.

Best line from Appraiser: After a random pre-screening Q & A with Dolph Lundgren (in town filming a movie, but had nothing to do with this one), Appraiser leans over and says (in a Russian accent, of course): "If he dies, he dies."

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Shooter - B

In theaters. 126 minutes, R-Rated.

Shooter is a by-the-numbers action movie with a semi-believable story, directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day). Mark Wahlberg plays Bob Lee Swagger, a Jason Bourne style US sniper that has retired from the military after a bad experience at the hands of his commanders. Danny Glover is the bad, shadowy 'Colonel Johnson' that co-opts him for a seemingly legitimate mission, which turns out to be a set up to frame Swagger (not a spoiler, that is shown in the trailer). Swagger then teams up with Nick Memphis (Michael Pena) an FBI agent that doesn't believe Swagger is the would-be assassin and then the two of them mete out vigilante justice, etc.

I enjoyed this movie, despite its reliance on the ridiculous and overused US Senator/shadowy government colonel/oil pipeline boogeyman storyline as Swagger's primary foil. The movie drags in several places, and could have used a rewrite to get rid of the implausible government conspiracy theories and hokey references as well as its unintended homage to The Fugitive and Syriana.

Kate Mara (Heath Ledger's grown daughter in Brokeback Mountain) is convincing in her brief role as Swagger's caretaker/love interest. Wahlberg is solid in his portrayal of Swagger, and Pena provided the movie a bit of levity as Memphis.

Favorite scene: Swagger and Memphis seek out an eccentric ballistics expert to build his case that he wasn't the shooter. The old man is well-written and the interactions between the 3 men is smart and funny.

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Blood Diamond - B

After the disappointing The Last Samurai, Ed Zwick mostly rebounds with a more important and relevant modern story about the diamond trade in Sierra Leone, a small country in West Africa. Djimon Hounsou is a fisherman whose son is kidnapped by a resistance group RUF (Revolutionary United Front). His wife and daughters are sent into exile and he is forced to work in a labor camp where he finds a large diamond. Leonardo DiCaprio, a diamond smuggler, overhears that Hounsou has buried it and offers to use his connections to help locate Hounsou's entire family - in exchange for the diamond.

Hounsou provides an impassioned powerhouse performance and his scenes with his family are the heart and soul of the film. DiCaprio is surprisingly effective as a former mercenary who wheels and deals his way across the continent. The accent is believable and he nails his emotional scenes. Even more amazing, he is believable as a would-be action star. The action scenes have an urgency and are well-staged. This is easily Zwick's best movie since Glory.

It's too bad the dialogue alternates between interesting facts and contrived movie banter. The movie struggles for humor, but never really succeeds. Jennifer Connelly tries hard but her role as a journalist/typical female movie love interest remains mostly routine. But there is so much done right (including the excellent score), that it's easy to recommend. Zwick keeps his lecturing to a minimum but the film still gives us materialistic Americans something to reflect on. B

Note to guys: If your special lady is busting your chops about a huge engagement ring or set of earrings, ask her if she wants to watch a movie with Leo in exotic Africa romancing a stone and a girl. You'll save a fortune.

Brutal violence alert: In an early scene, a hand is cut off.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Holiday- B

On DVD. PG-13. 138 Minutes.

There are two basic plot lines for romantic comedies. The first- boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girls back- is the most common. The second, also well-worn, is boy is smitten by/dating sexy hot girl who treats him like crap, boy also knows a cool, cute, super-sweet girl, boy loses hot girl, boy hooks up with sweet girl, hot girl comes back, boy chooses sweet girl. The Holiday (sort of) manages its staggering length by including both plot lines. And it doesn't hurt to get a rediculously good cast: Kate Winslet (taking a break from suicide fare), Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, and Jack Black star. Throw in Ed Burns, Shannon Sossamon (smokin' girl from 40 Days, 40 Nights), and the great Eli Wallach in supporting roles and you've got a better-than-the-genre ensemble.

Here's the deal. Diaz and Winslet's characters both are jilted in love and decide to trade homes. Diaz jumps the pond to Winslet's English cottage while Kate takes Cameron's Malibu mansion. A drunk Jude Law shows up at his sister's house, only to find Diaz (I know, ladies, and Justin, to boot. Some girls are just lucky). Meanwhile, Jack Black swings by Diaz's home to pick up some items for her recently-exed boyfriend, only to find Ms. Winslet. Their fates are sealed. The real heart (and fun) of the movie lies in the unexpected friendship between Eli Wallach, playing a retired Hollywood screenwriter from the system days, and Winslet. Their May-December friendship crackles with so much life, you're half-rooting for septuagenarian to make it happen. As an extra bonus, this film loves films, working as a minor paean to movies. In the end a better-than-average chick flick that a movie-loving guy can enjoy.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Enron - The Smartest Guys in the Room - B+

Out on DVD.

This is a documentary chronicling the rise and fall of Enron and its key players, Jeffrey Skilling, Andrew Fastow, and Kenneth Lay. It is imminently watchable and somehow turns a subject that gives me extreme tired-head into a fascinating and informative picture of what went wrong.

Prior to my viewing of this movie, I had a sketchy understanding of who the players were and what went wrong. If nothing else, this movie gives a good primer on one of the most significant events in the last 10 years. The director makes good use of recognizable music and film clips to keep the presentation lively, and interjects facts and commentary about the key players along the way. The shell games the company played are explained concisely and it seems ridiculous in hindsight that many of the schemes were viewed as remotely legitimate, such as 'mark to market' accounting, which allows you to book all of the projected future profits from a deal the day it is signed rather than when the money actually comes in.

The weakest points of the film are the parts trying to incorporate the Bush family into the success of Enron. Ken Lay was friends with George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush and gave them a lot of money. The filmmakers waste a small amount of time on this, and it isn't all that distracting, but to lay this at the feet of the Bushes is a joke. Enron folded in December of 2001, 11 months after George W. Bush took office. Enron's meteoric rise took place primarily from 1996-2000, aided in large part by decisions of the SEC, at that time under the control of the Clinton Administration.

Favorite line: In an admissions interview for Harvard Business School, a professor asked Jeffrey Skilling if he was smart. His reply: "F-%king Smart."

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sherrybaby - A-

On DVD. R Rated, 96 minutes.

Sherrybaby tells the story of a woman, just released from prison for robbery resulting from a drug habit, trying to stay clean and reconnect with her family, especially her daughter Alexis. Maggie Gyllenhaal puts forth a wrenching performance, and for my money should've been nominated for best actress.
The central conflict in the movie is Sherry's attempts at being a mother to her 7 year old daughter she has barely ever seen, and the stress that causes with her brother and sister-in-law who have been raising her while Sherry was in prison. The film does a good job of honestly capturing the emotions involved and not taking short-cuts or using archetypes, a big possibility in a woman-heroin-'the system' movie. Sherry is easily condemned by the viewer until her father feels her up as she is trying to get solace regarding the difficulties with Alexis. At that point her liability for her actions lessens, and she becomes more of a tragic figure than an easily dismissed drug-using idiot. The movie has several nude scenes depicting her reliance on men and the impacts of her father's abuse on her life.
There are several quality roles surrounding Sherry, namely her lover/caretaker Dean and her Parole Officer. Compared to the two other notable and recent heroin-related movies, Sherrybaby is not nearly as bleak as Requiem For a Dream, and is much more affecting than Half-Nelson.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Knocked Up Trailer

This is the new movie from the director of a 40 Year Old Virgin. It looks really funny.

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300 - C+

In theaters.

300 is based on Frank Miller's graphic novel of the same name, and features the battle of Thermopylae between Sparta and Persia in 480 B.C. The central conflict is between Xerxes, the self-proclaimed god/king of Persia, and Leonidas, the revered and virile king of Sparta. The plot centers around the invasion of Sparta by Xerxes, and Leonidas' decision to fight their millions of men with only 300 Spartan soldiers.

Overall the movie doesn't live up to the hype, unless you enjoy staring at large, scantily clad, muscle bound men. The fight scenes and visuals were excellent, but they don't make up for a lack of a cohesive or engaging story. This is a movie that celebrates violence for the sake of violence, and although I was excited by several of the slow-motion action sequences, it didn't make up for the 3 graphic beheadings, etc. The script does subtly explore a couple of themes that I liked, the corruption of the church and the regret of neglecting family at the point of death. It also shows the downfall of the Spartans as directly related to the rejection of a flawed soldier who defects to the other side and exposes the weakness of the Spartans to Xerxes.

The most interesting thing about the movie is the discussion in the media regarding the movie as a political statement. Journalists at the Berlin Film Festival were equally passionate that George W. Bush was represented by Xerxes and Leonidas. To say he is Xerxes, corrupt leader of a morally bankrupt nation that is running roughshod over anyone that stands in his way, is to display an anti-American bias. To say he is Leonidas is to say that the US represents light and reason, as well as a military giant to be feared by the modern day Xerxes, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.

In reality, I doubt the director, Zack Snyder, intended any political meaning, and the film is far from an intelligent commentary on world affairs. The most accurate attribution of the sides, based on the characteristics given the 2 civilizations and their leaders, would be the US as Persia/Xerxes and Al Queada as Sparta/Leonidas. That is not my perspective, but I think if you are an Islamofascist, you see the US as a morally corrupt and greedy nation and you see yourself as a warrior firmly committed to a cause. If you were to change "Sparta" to "Islam" in the dialogue of the movie, the similarities become clearer.

Favorite Scene: Leonidas attempting to get the blessing of the gods; his attitude throughout the scene is one of the best parts of the movie.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

When the Levees Broke - B

I hope I never understand the horror that Hurricane Katrina victims experienced during their 5+ days of abandonment. I've met several Katrina evacuees in Houston-area hospitals and find myself very interested in what happened.

Spike Lee's 4 hour documentary shows some history of New Orleans, the anticipation of the hurricane, the arrival of the hurricane, and the aftermath. The documentary is at its best when the actual victims describe their experiences. It's at its worst when Harry Belafonte, Al Sharpton, and Sean Penn assign blame and interpret the events for the weak-minded audience members. Spike himself gets in a few cheap shots while interviewing white people.

Not surprisingly, the president doesn't fare too well here. It's not completely disingenuous like Fahrenheit 9/11, but clearly Lee has an agenda. The inadequate bureaucracy and complete communication failure from the local, state, and national levels is rightfully discussed, but Bush receives the most blame. I would expect if Bush had swooped down on day one, Lee, Belafonte, et al. would have accused him of sexism and racism by assuming the white female governor and the black male mayor were incapable of handling the crisis. But obviously, Bush should have acted much, much sooner. And Cheney and Condoleeza Rice should have better political sense than to be fly fishing and attending Monty Python broadway shows, respectively, while thousands of people are drowning, starving, and suffering to death in an American city.

Most of the points are fair and the movie should be required viewing to make sure this doesn't happen again. It's certainly not easy to watch, but it is informative and important. And it's only the second most important American story since the fall of the Soviet Union. B

Note for future documentarians: Less Michael Moore and more Ken Burns.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Fratellis - "Costello Music"

Guest review - An Appraiser.

Album released March 13, 2007

The newly arrived trio from Glasgow are finished taking over the UK, and now have their sights set for the states. With head-bopping drum beats and infectious guitar riffs, this debut is 45 minutes of good times that keeps the party going. Unlike the Arctic Monkeys, whose songs appear to be an accident that just happened while in the garage, each song on Costello Music sounds clean as a whistle. They're perfectly measured and produced to the nth degree. While this CD is great for swinging back and forth and singing along in an old English pub, it wears thin pretty quickly. Most of the tunes seem to have a poppy/modern ragtime feeling to them. I pictured the band performing a Vaudeville-esque show with striped jackets, shrugging shoulders and jazz hands, complete with a soft shoe routine; just before the big wooden hook drags them off stage left. Unfortunately, the slower songs, the hop-along western "Whistle for the Choir" and the bluesy "doginabag", are about as hollow and contrived as Hilary Clinton's southern accent. There's no question that the gem of the album is "Chelsea Dagger". It has a nice upbeat tempo, with a great chorus and guitar hook.

Beyond this album, I don't see The Fratellis having much of a shelf life in the U.S. Juke boxes and itunes were created for this Band. Overall, Costello Music is listenable in small doses. - 6.5 of 10.

Songs to Download: Henrietta, Flathead, and Chelsea Dagger

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Monday, March 12, 2007

The New Disorder

I recommend this article by David Denby for The New Yorker. He discusses the current trend of movies featuring a non-chronological storyline.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Lily Allen, Alright Still B+

Lily Allen's Alright Still is straight-up a great time! Like fellow Brit imports The Streets and Arctic Monkeys, Lily spends the majority of her album bumping from club to club cataloging her humorous, often raunchy inner-dialogue. Smile is the song you've probably heard (it broke her on myspace in Britain, where she's gone on to sell 1,000,000 copies of Alright Still, an obscene number for the little Island that once ruled the world). Each song is a pop nugget, with irresistable hooks and choruses made for spring days. The rhymes are tight, and the lyrics pointed. Highlights include Not Big (a brutal break-up song), Alfie, Knock-em Out, and the surprisingly sweet Little Things.

I picked it up on itunes for $7.99. Definitely worth it.

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Regina Spektor- "Begin to Hope" A-

My brother tipped me off to this sophomore outing from eclectic singer-songwriter Regina Spektor. Spektor's woodwind instrument of a voice slides from note-to-note and from quiet to loud with the airiness and reed-iness of a sax. The songs range from synth driven to driving rock n' roll, the majority are jazz-kissed, and the best are bluesy, jazzy piano-driven ballads. While the songs aren't easily pigeon-holed, taken together they form the romantic cycle of a young lady searching for fun, happening on love, broken-hearted, then mourning. Spektor nails exactly the thrilling danger of lust (Samson), the lazy happiness and wreckless optimism of new love (On the Radio), the despair mixed with inevitability of a heart breaking (Lady Sings the Blues So Well), and the abiding, occasional hollow of love lost (Summer in the City). It is the last two song that grab ahold and will not go. Lady is piano and sax blues that would overshadow less perfect lyrics. But what lyrics! Spektor front-ends her songs with lyrics that stun you in their honesty. "Lady sing the blues so well- As if she mean it- As if it's hell down here- In the smoke-filled world- Where the jokes are cold."
Granted, this isn't everyone's cup-of-tea. But if you like honest lyrics and aren't offended by lesbians love songs, then this is a must buy. Downloads: On the Radio, Lady Sings the blues So Well, Summer in the City.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Arcade Fire - "Neon Bible"

Guest Review - An Appraiser. Album released March 6, 2007.

Our favorite French Canadian eight-piece is back with their second full length, and they clean up nicely. In most music circles, Arcade Fire have been affirmed as the next torch-carrying indie rockers with a Bowie-esque range of moods and orchestration and shades of Springsteen.

There's no question the production value on Neon Bible far surpasses that of Funeral, the band's first album. It has a much fuller and cohesive sound, with a full array of instrumentation including: pipe organ, strings and brass. One can say that Arcade Fire is becoming a post-punk orchestra, rather than the indie-rock darlings they were just two years ago. But make no mistake, Neon Bible is all about mood and lyrics. Even the cover art and accompanying booklet are predominately black. Recorded in a lower register than Funeral, Neon Bible has an ominous presence that is reflected in both the slower ballads and up-tempo anthems. Like most "indie" songwriters, Win Butler has no use for happy endings. The introspective bits of the CD reflect the feelings of self-doubt and aloneness. As one might gather from the album title, Butler doesn't make allusions about God & Church somehow associated with hopelessness and fear, he makes direct connections. One gets the feeling that these correlations are more of a commentary on the commercialized institutions that many religions have become, rather than "having a go" at God.

From top to bottom, Neon Bible is probably the most diverse yet cohesive album I have listened to in quite a while. I don't see much radio play or commercial success in the U.S. Most of us like our music in bite-sized snacks that are easy to digest. Arcade Fire writes songs that fill you up like a seven course meal; or I in this case, an eight course meal.

Neon Bible is highly recommended - 8.5 of 10

Songs to download: 2. Keep the Car Running, 4. Intervention, 7. The
well and the lighthouse, 8. (Anti-Christ Television Blues), 9.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2007

24 - B, I guess

I've never watched 24 until this year. It's on episode 8 or 9 and more happens in one hour to Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland) than happens in a year or so to most people. But that's why he's on TV. He is an intelligence agent trying to stop terrorists from setting off more suitcase bombs (one was set off in an LA suburb earlier this season). The cast includes many familiar faces including Powers Boothe, James Cromwell, and Peter MacNichol. There is no weak link in the dozens of actors performing, although the writing occasionally gets melodramatic.

It may be too late to start watching this year, but if you're unfortunate like me, it's too late to stop watching. No one eats, goes to the bathroom, or makes a joke. But it continues to fascinate and provoke using current events and political discussions.

Medical mistakes: Nearly every operating room scene on TV has an x-ray in the background hanging on the wall. The x-ray never applies to the surgery being performed. 24 outdid itself this week when the President, after an assassination attempt, is taken to the OR to remove shrapnel from his neck. The CT images were upside down and sideways and involved the chest and abdomen. The Scrubs opening song is also guilty of this with the chest x-ray hung backwards. But that OK, TV guys, master perfectionist Stanley Kubrick himself had a chest x-ray hung backwards in a morgue, no less, in Eyes Wide Shut.

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Monday, March 5, 2007


A new feature to the blog.

1. "The Thick of It" - ABC is developing a sitcom for this fall directed by Christopher Guest (Waiting for Guffman; For Your Consideration) and written by the team from Arrested Development. It is set in a Congressional office in DC.

2. Jimmy Fallon - Being considered by NBC to take over for Conan when he moves into the Tonight Show gig.

3. Jay Roach will be directing....."Little Fockers".

4. Martin Scorsese is in the midst of directing a Rolling Stones documentary that will be released later this year. His next film will be The Long Play, a drama about two friends navigating the music industry, written by The Departed scribe William Monahan.

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Seether - "One Cold Night"

Album released July 2006.

I happened upon this South African quartet late one night on Jay Leno as they performed an acoustic version of "The Gift." The next day, I bought the CD, a rare occurrence in the life of a 30 something father. It is also available on Itunes.

This album features a 'greatest hits' of Seether performed acoustically at an outdoor show. The performance is mesmerizing. Seether's sound is a logical progression of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but is far from a knock-off. Lead singer Shaun Morgan has composed mature, thoughtful lyrics that imbue (I love that word) the songs with depth and emotional veracity. The CD comes with a DVD of the performance, and it is clear that he is not doing a 'bit' when he sings these songs. The problem with much of what I hear on the radio now is that any angst or attitude is manufactured as part of a marketing scheme. Morgan is the real thing, almost in the same vein as Richard Ashcroft and Kurt Cobain (the highest compliment I can pay to a musician).
Favorite tracks: "The Gift", "Fine Again", "Immortality" (Pearl Jam), "Remedy."

To listen, go here (it plays automatically):

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Sunday, March 4, 2007

Zodiac - B+

In theaters.

You know you're watching a David Fincher movie when nearly every scene features a driving rainstorm. In Zodiac, Fincher returns to the serial killer genre, where he made his name with Se7en. It is allllmost an A-, but not quite.

The thriller tracks the investigation and news coverage of the Zodiac killer, who terrorized the San Francisco area throughout the late 1960's and the 1970's. Fincher was a child living in the area at the time, and has said his memories of the news reports influenced his decision to make the movie and several of the scenes.

The plot centers around Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhall), the editorial cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle, as he involves himself in the case. Mark Ruffalo plays Dave Toschi, the lead detective on the case. Each of the killings is portrayed stylishly and very graphically. The impact of the case on the characters is explored as the main theme of the movie, with the obsession over the case ruining the family of Graysmith and threatening Toschi's career. The script is above average, but is thin in several places. Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal of Paul Avery, the lead reporter for the Chronicle, is good, but it seems like Downey is just playing himself, dressed in 70's garb.

The film is also a commentary on the failings of the jurisdictions involved in the case; the movie subtly argues that had there been greater coordination among the various agencies, the killer would've been caught.

The soundtrack is excellent, the director has chosen songs matching up to the eras of the movie. They provide a good backdrop and appropriate mood throughout. The best song is "Hurdy Gurdy Man" by Donovan. For a sampling and the trailer of the movie, go here:

For more info on the Zodiac killer, go here:

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Saturday, March 3, 2007

A Good Year - C

A bad title. A so-so movie. This movie was in theaters about a week last fall and was released on DVD this week. Russell Crowe is a ruthless London stockbroker who gets word a beloved uncle (Albert Finney) has died without a will. As the nearest known relative, he takes off to Finney's French vineyard where he spent his summers as a child. He intends to sell the vineyard for millions and continue his life in London.

You have to admire the director and star of Gladiator to try something different. Ridley Scott has already directed classics in many genres: horror (Alien), science fiction (Blade Runner), road movie (Thelma and Louise), historical epic (Gladiator), and war (Black Hawk Down). It's safe to say he won't be receiving many more romantic comedy scripts after this clunker. After Russell Crowe threw the telephone heard round the world, he probably wanted to soften his image. But this is the most miscast role I've seen in a long time. Hugh Grant could have done this part successfully in his sleep.

The film is not without merit. The locations are beautiful and the cinematography in a Ridley Scott film is always excellent. But the musical choices are questionable and the supporting charcters are instantly forgettable (except Finney, of course). But the main problem is the story. Crowe's character enjoys being unlikable so it's hard to want him to succeed. You'd almost rather see him get some comeuppance. Will he sell the vineyard and move back to London? Or will he somehow find happiness living in a multimillion dollar estate banging a smoking hot local French chick? C

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