Friday, November 30, 2007

Planet Terror - C+

The United States military are the bad guys yet again when a group of Afghanistan veterans try to unleash a lethal biochemical nerve gas that turns people into brain-devouring zombies. Robert Rodriguez’s contribution to Grindhouse (released earlier this year in theaters as a double bill with Tarantino’s Death Proof) is more violent, more disgusting, less loquacious, and ultimately less accomplished with none of the set-pieces reaching the cinematic nirvana of Death Proof’s final 20 minutes.
Planet Terror starts strong with Rodriguez setting up his multiple-character story extremely well. Past and future interactions are planned well. This has always been Rodriguez’s strong suit – the plotting; it’s the damn writing and directing that always get in the way. The jokes are too knowing and the directing, while occasionally generating some shocks, is usually predictable. Most of the actors jump neck-deep into their ridiculous roles. Josh Brolin is strong as a doctor trying to figure out the illness and the scenes between brothers Jeff Fahey and Michael Biehn are excellent. But these are old pros who’ve been around for 20+ years. Click below for the full review.

Inexplicably, Rodriguez chose to hang the entire movie on TV actor Freddy Rodriguez who, as the lead, is supposed to be the biggest badass in south Texas. Um, not with Brolin, Fahey, Biehn, Bruce Willis, Nicky Katt, and Michael Parks in the room, pal. Must be some nepotism at work. As the second lead, Rose McGowan, is only expected to dance and shake her lady parts – she succeeds. Robert Rodriguez has fallen out of favor in many circles because of his Spy Kids trilogy, made for his kids (Rocket, Racer, Rebel, Rogue, and Rhiannon); – any ego issues there? But perhaps the worst thing in Planet Terror is Rebel’s character accidentally shooting himself in the head. I don’t mind Fergie getting dismembered (never really cared for the Black-Eyed Peas) but leave the kids out of it. C+

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Hot Rod - B-

Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg) has a healthy disrespect for his stepfather (Ian McShane) and loses each of their nightly fights. During the day, he performs stunts with the help of his crew (3 lifelong friends – including future great and Tulsa native Bill Hader). A picture of Rod’s biologic father with Evil Knievel is his constant encouragement. When McShane gets sick and requires a heart transplant, Rod promises to make enough money to get him well so he can finally beat his ass. If that sounds like an Adam Sandler movie, that’s because it’s nearly the same plot as Happy Gilmore. But this one takes risks and goes on unexpected tangents that Mr. Sandler is incapable of without Paul Thomas Anderson. Click below for the full review.

Samberg and longtime collaborators Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone are responsible for the very best moments on Saturday Night Live in recent years with their “Digital Shorts”. And like watching those digital shorts in succession, this movie has moments of hilarity mixed with jaw-dropping lapses in judgment. But comedy is a subjective thing and one man’s Groucho is another man’s Karl. More than half of it works, but if you’re not a Samberg fan, you probably should pass. Needless to say, 100% of Isla Fisher works 100% of the time. B-

Continue reading this post New "Screentest" Series

Answering for once and for all the question, "Who's the most beautiful woman currently working in film?", here's Natalie Portman talking about random stuff for 4:21 in new series "Screentest". See Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Lookout) and Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) here.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Best Movies Poll

What are the best movies of 2007 (so far - click your 5 favs)
American Gangster
Michael Clayton
No Country For Old Men
I'm Not There
Rescue Dawn
Knocked Up
King of Kong
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Gone Baby Gone
Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Eastern Promises
Into the Wild
3:10 to Yuma
Bourne Ultimatum free polls

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I'm Not There - A-

In theaters. Rated R, 135 minutes. Trailer.

Bob Dylan is the one American celebrity that is aptly described by the phrase "the man, the myth, the legend." In I'm Not There, Writer/Director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, Velvet Goldmine) has created a portrait of Dylan through a collage of the many personas and stages of Dylan's life and career. Each phase is acted out by a different actor with varying film styles, techniques, film stock and coloring for each persona. The result is a stylish and thought provoking film that is one of the best of the year.

I am a casual Dylan fan, far from the Dylan-ophile that Doctor is, and because of a disastrous 1997 Dylan/Paul Simon concert I attended (it wasn't all Dylan's fault -"Call Me Al" nearly caused me to jump off the balcony), my appreciation waned for a period and has picked up in recent years. While a healthy knowledge of Dylan isn't required to appreciate the quality of the movie, it certainly does enhance several of its aspects and themes. Click the link below for the rest of the review and lots of pictures.

This movie is 'different' and at times hard to keep track of - it 'felt' like a Rauschenberg painting...modern art, but with recognizable pieces that allow the themes of the work to come through. The characters are interspersed and intercut within each other, and a lack of cohesion is at first annoying but as the film progresses, it builds upon itself as the themes develop. The best way to review it is to start by taking each of the characters and analyzing their pieces of the puzzle. Scorsese's documentary about Dylan, No Direction Home, is a good companion piece to this film, viewed before I'm Not There.

First up is the Liar named Woody, played by 11 year old Marcus Carl Franklin. This is without question the weakest part of the film, aside from the scenes with the alternate Woody Guthrie. Franklin is ineffective and one-dimensional in his portrayal of the Vanilla Ice persona of Dylan; he makes up an interesting backstory to replace his real origins and bounces from place to place when the story runs out. This part of the Dylan mythology has always presented a chicken and egg situation for me...since he pulled a Vanilla Ice and was able to get away with it long enough (couldn't do that today) to establish himself as a 'genius' and 'voice of a generation', would the strength of his songs alone have been enough to propel him to his platform as the pinnacle of American counterculture. I'll let Doc comment on that, and surely object to the Dylan/Vanilla comparison.

Up next is the Icon, played by Christian Bale. This persona is the iconic early Dylan and the late Christian convert. Bale is effective in this take, which includes the shy and earnest Dylan coping with fame. The grainy film stock and wobbly camera work make it the most 'real' strand of the film. Bale's look and accent are not quite perfect, but they are reminiscent of him. Ben Whishaw portrays the evasive interviewee Dylan, in black and white newsreel type footage, most of which is based on actual interviews. This is only a small piece of the film.

Richard Gere plays the older drifter and reclusive Billy who is in hiding in the country. This is supposed to represent the older stages of Dylan's career, but it also touches on Dylan's hiding from the press who exposed his Vanilla Ice background and questioned his celebrity and influence. The scenes are dreamlike and interesting, complete with circus characters and giraffes. Heath Ledger plays the chauvinistic and ego driven Robby Cook, a Dylan hipster doppelganger. Some have criticized the performance, but I thought it was adequate and conveyed that facet of Dylan's persona effectively.

Saving the best for last, Cate Blanchett is Jude, the London era Dylan. This is the main piece of the film, and it is amazing. Cate's performance is the best of her career and maybe the best of the year, at least on par with Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh in No Country Old Men. Her voice, mannerisms and weariness all capture the cocksure mask that Dylan wore during the time period. The screenplay for this part of the film is also some of the best writing of the year, blending Dylan's actual words with those of Todd Haynes. Throughout the scenes, Jude deals with angry fans, an angry ex love (Michelle Williams as Coco, the Edie Sedgwick substitute), and an excessively incisive BBC reporter (Bruce Greenwood) that questions everything about him. David Cross (Tobias Funke) is an ethereal Alan Ginsberg who hangs with Blanchett for a time, including a brilliant sequence looking up at a crucifix as if it were on a stage and heckling it, saying things like "Play your early stuff."

With each day that has passed since I saw this, I have liked it more. The best part about the movie is its absolute rejection of just about every movie convention. I need to see it again to fully appreciate it. For me it is an A-, but I could support others giving it a full A. The film works on multiple levels. The obvious level is the portrait of an elusive American icon that has refused to be defined over his 45 year career. The other level is a deconstruction of any person, as we all change over the years and have competing lives and desires within ourselves.

The soundtrack to the film is amazing, blending Dylan's songs, as performed by him, and interpretations of the songs. The song list will be included on the comments. Go here to hear a sampling.

Viewer note: I have seen the Juno preview about 12 times, and its threatening to ruin the movie. If they're going to run it in front of every single independent film, they should at least cut a second trailer. On a Saturday night only about 5 other people were in the 10:00 showing of this film....doesn't bode well for the box office take. This was nominated today for an Independent Spirit award.

Below are pictures of the booklet they handed me on my way into the screening:

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Interesting Article

Buried in the NY Times book review section this week was a great article about film adaptations of books. Worth your time.

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Award Season - Independent Spirit Nominations

The 2008 Film Independent Spirit Awards were announced today. Below are the nominees for Director and Feature, click the link below for the rest of the nominees.

Best feature
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
"I'm Not There"
"A Mighty Heart"
"Paranoid Park"

Best director
Todd Haynes, "I'm Not There"
Tamara Jenkins, "The Savages"
Jason Reitman, "Juno"
Julian Schnabel, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
Gus Van Sant, "Paranoid Park

Best first feature
"2 Days in Paris"
"Great World of Sound"
"The Lookout"
"Rocket Science"

John Cassavetes Award
"August Evening"
"Owl and the Sparrow"
"The Pool"
"Quiet City"
"Shotgun Stories"

Best screenplay
Ronald Harwood, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
Tamara Jenkins, "The Savages"
Fred Parnes & Andrew Wagner, "Starting Out in the Evening"
Adrienne Shelly, "Waitress"
Mike White, "Year of the Dog"

Best first screenplay
Jeffrey Blitz, "Rocket Science"
Zoe Cassavetes, "Broken English"
Diablo Cody, "Juno"
Kelly Masterson, "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"
John Orloff, "A Mighty Heart"

Best female lead
Angelina Jolie, "A Mighty Heart"
Sienna Miller, "Interview"
Ellen Page, "Juno"
Parker Posey, "Broken English"
Tang Wei, "Lust, Caution"

Best male lead

Pedro Castaneda, "August Evening"
Don Cheadle, "Talk to Me"
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "The Savages"
Frank Langella, "Starting Out in the Evening"
Tony Leung, "Lust, Caution"

Best supporting female
Cate Blanchett, "I'm Not There"
Anna Kendrick, "Rocket Science"
Jennifer Jason Leigh, "Margot at the Wedding"
Tamara Podemski, "Four Sheets to the Wind"
Marisa Tomei, "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"

Best supporting male
Chiwetel Ejiofor, "Talk to Me"
Marcus Carl Franklin, "I'm Not There"
Kene Holliday, "Great World of Sound"
Irrfan Khan, "The Namesake"
Steve Zahn, "Rescue Dawn"

Best cinematography
Mott Hupfel, "The Savages"
Janusz Kaminski, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
Milton Kam, "Vanaja"
Mihai Malaimare, Jr., "Youth Without Youth"
Rodrigo Prieto, "Lust, Caution"

Best documentary
"Crazy Love"
"Lake of Fire"
"Manufactured Landscapes"
"The Monastery"
"The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair"

Best foreign film
"4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," Romania
"The Band's Visit," Israel
"Lady Chatterley," France
"Once," Ireland
"Persepolis," France

Robert Altman Award
"I'm Not There," Todd Haynes (director); Laura Rosenthal (casting director); Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, Marcus Carl Franklin, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Bruce Greenwood (ensemble cast)

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Die Hard - in 10 Pictures

Some terrific early “magic hour” lighting.

Sayonara, Mr. Takagi.

Was gas ever that cheap?

“Come out to the coast. We’ll get together. Have a few laughs."

Bruce kills his third bad guy.

The first R-rated catchphrase. Congratulations.

Ellis, perhaps the greatest douche-bag in film history.

The money shot.

As Hans Gruber, Alan Rickman gives a great performance, but this memorable reaction was genuine: he was dropped early.

If he had done this to Urkel, he’d be bigger than Bruce Willis.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

More Pee Wee

Paul Reubens has broken the news that there are 2 new Pee Wee Herman films in the works, with the first, a movie version of the show Pee Wee's Playhouse, set to begin filming the first part of next year. The second film is a more 'adult' version. As has been previously noted, I am a big fan of Pee Wee's Big Adventure and Pee Wee's Big Top. I am about to allow my eldest offspring to watch the tv shows. Smart, witty, and tender-hearted, the more Pee Wee the better.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Southland Tales - C

In theaters. Rated R, 144 minutes. Trailer.

Where to begin. Writer/Director Richard Kelly's Southland Tales, the follow-up to the cult classic Donnie Darko, is the most creative film I've seen this year...and the most frustrating. The synopsis put out by the studio is almost comical: Set in Los Angeles in the year 2008 during a three day heat wave just before a huge 4th of July celebration, an action star stricken with amnesia meets up with an adult film star developing her own reality television project and a Hermosa Beach police officer who holds the key to a vast conspiracy." Kelly has created a universe all his own for this film, which soars in some places and falls flat in others. Click the link below for the rest of the review.

The line between genius and idiocy can be a thin one. At times I felt like the movie was a practical joke on the viewer to see if we were big enough suckers to actually like this. Other times the dark vision of Kelly took hold, together with the Moby soundtrack and the movie succeeded in a way only David Lynch films can. The film feels like an amalgamation of Children of Men, the Fifth Element, Donnie Darko, and Mulholland Drive. Not that its as good as any of those films, but it does owe a debt to them.

With most movies I see I try not to read reviews before I go or find out more than I have to about the plot. With this one, the opposite was true. Given the labryinthian Donnie Darko plot and super-confusing trailer, I visited the website and tried to read up on the plot. The story is presented as Chapters 4-6 in a story, with the Chapters 1-3 dealing with a nuclear attack in Abilene, Texas in 2005. Kelly has written 3 graphic novels to accompany the movie and flesh out the plot, but, unlike the 30 nineteen year olds I saw the film with, I don't have time to read them. The story starts and ends with Boxer Santaros (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), the movie star son-in-law of the Republican nominee for President. He has been kidnapped and his memory erased, waking up on Venice Beach and falling into the lap of porn star activist Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar) with whom he writes a screenplay that eerily predicts the future and the apocalypse. Sean William Scott plays Ronald/Roland Taverner, a cop with a twin 'brother' that figures into the apocalypse. The film is narrated by a soldier, Pilot Abilene (Justin Timberlake), that was wounded by friendly fire at Fallujah but now stands guard over Utopia, the new energy generation system. After the nuclear bombing in Abilene, the third World War began, forcing the US to search for alternative fuels, which they find with Baron Von Westphalen (Wallace Shawn). He has created an energy field powered by the tidal cycles that is called liquid karma. As a result of Utopia, the earth's rotation has been slowed down by a minute amount, but that slowdown has altered behavioral patterns and torn a hole in the time space continuum, which creates soul duplication and leads to the apocalypse. There is a major subplot involving the 'neomarxists' who rebel against the new Patriot Act created 'big brother' organization called USIdent, which knows and sees all. This element of the film was the weakest, and it didn't figure enough into the key plot points to waste time with it.

The other actors in the film are Amy Poehler, Kevin Smith, John Larroquette, Jon Lovitz, Cheri Oteri, and Mandy Moore. Kelly has said he deliberately cast this type of actor so that the viewer would carry their baggage about the actor to the movie and have it influence their views of the characters. That may be so, but it is hard to see Amy Poehler and Cheri Oteri as major cogs in a serious apocalyptic film.

The best parts of the film involve Pilot Abilene and the discussions about the apocalypse and the fourth dimension, etc. The drug sequence with Pilot Abilene singing the Killer's "All the things that I've done" is amazing, as are the points where Moby's moody score is allowed to take the stage as the montages pass through. Kelly's the only director out there that stands even the smallest sliver of a chance of taking the eccentric auteur mantle from Lynch. If he wants to do that, he'll have to make films that stand alone and are somewhat more accessible. I liked the film for its creativity and sheer originality, but I didn't like it because there were too many contrived and way too tangential moments. If you didn't like Donnie Darko, don't waste your time.

Bonus: I found this picture online of Tony Romo on his way to a Southland Tales screening in Dallas....not your usual jock movie.

This is a good Article discussing the film and its background.

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Smashing Pumpkins concert, November 18, 2007, Dallas

At Nokia Theater in Grand Prairie. $53.50.

In their first Dallas show in a decade, the Smashing Pumpkins (well, at least 2 of them) reminded the crowd why they are one of the best and most influential bands of the past 15 years. The show was originally scheduled for Saturday, November 3rd, but had to be postponed because of drummer Jimmy Chamberlain's heart problems. As a result, this was the last show on the group's North American tour. At 9:15 Billy Corgan and Co. (not including D'arcy or James Iha) strode onto the angular industrial lightshow stage and started into "United States" as Billy strode around the stage basking in the rapturous applause. Click the link below for the rest of the review.
Billy decided to go with his Pippy Longstocking meets Marquis De Sade look, with tight striped sleeves and leggings with a light blue silky outfit that looked like a cast off from a 'gay martians' Saturday Night Live skit. The female bass player, Ginger Reyes, looked like a bizarre combination of Helena Bonham Carter and Jessica Simpson. The next song was a somewhat jazzy rendition of "Bullet with Butterfly Wings", which retained its power, if not its urgency. Then "Tonight, Tonight", and "Drown," followed by "Tarantula", which Billy actually looks like with his gangly frame and extremely long arms. This video has a lot of good snippets from the show.

Billy's between song banter proved him to be witty, smart and into sports. In his first, he asked how each section was enjoying the show, following that with a smarmy 'I care about your experience....well, I pretend to care about your experience.' He then thanked Texas for all the support, noting that Texans knew how to rock on every level and followed that with a shout out to how well the Cowboys are doing and a rip of the Rangers, saying that everything was downhill after A-Rod left. His last bit was to talk about their new album, and then he said "We know you're not going to buy albums anymore, we get that. We just want you to listen to it." The band played "Disarm," "Perfect," "Today," "Cherub Rock," and a cover of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man." There were several of the new songs sprinkled in, mostly very good, vintage SP.

Overall, the concert was very good. Corgan's voice is still distinct and strong, and his musical ability among the best of his generation. Billy seemed tense about the song selection, wanting to play the new music but knowing that most people were there for 'the old stuff.' I had terrible, terrible seats for this concert, the worst since I got a job and was able to pay for good seats, so I probably would have enjoyed it more from a regular seat. In general, I love seeing shows at Nokia, but the parking was terrible this time. We showed up around 9:00, and had to park in a field for $15 and walk through a drainage ditch.

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An essay of sorts on Blade Runner: Director’s Cut - A

1982 Original/1992 Director’s Cut On DVD, 117 minutes, Rated R. Trailer.

The value of science fiction works, like prophecy, is best determined later as their prognostications are fulfilled or discounted. So it is that Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner becomes more important each year. While paying homage to the iconic dystopic imagery of Metropolis, the highly-stylized LA of Blade Runner has become iconic in its own right, with Minority Report, A.I., Fifth Element, Dark City, and the Batman series drawing obviously from it. Click the link below for the rest of the post.
Indeed, during its initial release, while the film was greeted with quite mixed reviews, it was the visual world Scott created that was universally hailed. And it is this dark, neo-noir world of shadows that initially arrests the viewer. From the bizarre industrial Ziggurat that dominates early scenes to the neon-dominated Chinatown to apartments and business offices that feel like a ‘40’s noir film’s take on 2019, it is a city of nightmares bathed in darkness.

Behind the visuals is a story as bleak and dark as the landscape. Harrison Ford plays blade runner Deckard, a man trained to hunt down and kill cyborgs called Replicants that have become so human-like that it takes a specialist to tell them apart. “More human than human” is the ad-line of their makers, which perfectly sums up the ethical debate at the heart of this film. What does humanity do with its machines when the machine it creates are virtually identical to humans? Part of the genius of Blade Runner is that it captures the exact moment when artificial intelligence and humanity are running neck-and-neck. The Matrix, The Terminator, and AI all explore the eventual result of humanity’s insistence on creating their replacement, but it is Blade Runner that catches the world in the year of this transition.

Going back to the Greek story of Icharus then to Frankenstein, science fiction has consistently offered a counter-narrative to the prevailing humanist notion that human-powered science can eventually “fix us”. These stories, of which Blade Runner stands in direct succession, warn us that when humans play God, they only mess things up. Of course, these are all retellings of Genesis 2-3 in which Adam and Eve destroy their Eden trying to be like God. This theology is not lost on Scott, who alludes to early Genesis repeatedly, from the red pill (apple) eaten in the background on jumbo-trons (an image reconstituted by The Matrix), to the previously mentioned Ziggurat which functions heavily in the Tower of Babel story of Genesis 11, itself just a retelling of the story of the Fall.

But, pushing past all these stories, Blade Runner asks, “What is our responsibility to our creations when they become “more human than human”. And it asks what, exactly, we mean by soul, and, if there be a God, wouldn’t that God extend an afterlife to our sentient creations even if we cannot? If there is hope in Blade Runner, it is that Replicants might have more mercy than we do. The prevailing wisdom is that a computer that can mimic human brain activity completely is no more than fifteen years away, placing Blade Runner’s date of 2019 eerily close to accurate. What this means, of course, is that we have to pray replicant’s are more merciful than us since the year after we can create a computer that matches the human mind, we’ll be able to make one four times as intelligent as the human mind. The implications for every year after that quickly become staggering.

The ethical debate making headlines right now involves embryos and stem cells (although it appears that some recent developments involving skin cells may make that argument moot). The ethical debate in ten years, which will still center on the questions “How do we define a “person?” will be in regards to artificial intelligence. For people interested in this issue, of which we all will certainly have a vested interest, Blade Runner serves as the definitive primer.

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Chris Cornell concert, 11/18/07, Tulsa

At Cain's Ballroom. [Guest review - Dentist]

To say that Chris Cornell was part of the collective voice that helped usher in a new era in rock-n-roll in the wake of excess and gluttony that had defined the musical landscape of the 80’s is an understatement. Like many other of my Gen-X peers, I can still distinctly remember hearing the opening sounds of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, Pearl Jam’s “Alive” and Soundgarden’s “Outshined” and the subsequent jaw-dropping state that ensued upon first listen. As the lead singer of Soundgarden, and probably the least popular and well-known of that trifecta, Cornell’s voice is perhaps the least recognizable, but no less distinctive. In fact, he was recently ranked 12th in MTV’s “22 Greatest Voices in Music” survey, edging the likes of Bruce Springsteen and David Bowie. Click the link below for the rest of the review.

The performance at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa gave Cornell, who has fronted two of the most popular rock bands of the last 30 years in Soundgarden and Audioslave, opportunity to showcase the amazing voice that he possesses. Cain’s is an older, very storied venue in downtown Tulsa with a very unassuming exterior and an old school dancehall style design, complete with wooden floor, inside (it was an interesting juxtaposition between portraits of the likes of Bob Wills and Tex Ritter on the walls and the modern day rock acts who have more recently graced the stage--see the list here if you don’t believe me).

I was able to position myself stage center about three people deep with an unobstructed view of the entire stage (which is rare considering I usually have some six foot plus drunken frat guy right in front of me) and was thus ready for the festivities to commence. Cornell’s band mates manned their posts and began what amounted to an Also Sprach Zarathustra grunge-style for the new millennium before he entered the stage at about 9:00 with very little fanfare. Dressed in tight grey jeans, black boots and a black t-shirt Cornell looked every bit the part of a rock god incarnate, complete with subtle grin and an arms-spread-wide messianic pose. The crowd erupted and the band launched into a blistering handful of songs from “Badmotorfinger”, “Superunknown” and “Down on the Upside”. Cornell’s band was particularly tight and played with an intensity that really lent a freshness to the songs, while retaining their musical originality all at the same time. Cornell had ultimate command of the crowd, posing for photos, swinging around the microphone stand and even doing a pull-up on the rafter above the drum kit, all of which whipped the crowd into a frenzy. Fairly early into the show, someone in the crowd held up a shirt that Cornell immediately grabbed and laughed at. It had a picture of a dog with Cornell’s head superimposed on it with the words “Call Me a Dog” below. Chris immediately made a wardrobe change and never looked back. Easily a favorite of the first part of the show was when they played “Hungerstrike” sans Eddie. Always wanted to hear this one live and it did not disappoint.

My favorite part of the show was when Chris went into extended acoustic segment. It was here that one could really get a true appreciation for the absolute greatness of his voice. I dare say that I have not heard better—ever. Songs like “I Am the Highway”, “Like a Stone” and “Call Me a Dog” all sounded amazing and right at the end of an acoustic “Doesn’t Remind Me”, the full band came back on stage and finished the song as a full-on electric number and finished with Chris ripping out the strings of his acoustic guitar with one hand on the “…breakin’ guitars” line. Amazing.

In all, the show lasted well over two and a half hours, easily the longest setlist of any show I’ve ever attended. It struck me that in an era of over-produced, cookie-cutter rock/pop songs where the dime-a-dozen singers all sound alike, a guy like Chris Cornell, with all that he’s contributed in the past and all that he represents in the present, might, if only for a few hours, be a savior of sorts of the future of rock-n-roll. Jesus Christ Pose indeed. A

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead - A-

In theaters. Rated R, 117 minutes. Trailer.

"May you be in heaven a half an hour before the devil knows you're dead."

A heist film on its surface, this film plumbs the depths of depravity and betrayal amongst those closest to you and the suffering that comes with it. Philip Seymour Hoffman is Andy, a miserable and unjustifiably arrogant real estate accountant and Ethan Hawke is Hank, his harried deadbeat dad brother with a tender heart. In order to solve the money problems of the two brothers, they decide, in Bottle Rocket fashion, to rob their parent's mom and pop jewelry store. Andy originates and plans out the job, which goes as badly as it can. Click on the link below for the rest of the review.
Sweet Hank farms out the actual robbery to a loose cannon acquaintance that botches it and ends up getting himself killed and putting Hank and Andy's mom in a coma.

The second act shows the crime and the preceding days in non-linear fashion cutting from perspective to perspective with a crackling sound. Veteran director Sidney Lumet uses this technique masterfully to challenge the viewer's previously conceived notions of the characters with each cut. Hank is the only semi-innocent in the film, and Andy is one of the most evil characters I have seen this year. He uses his brother's innocence and takes advantage of him. Of course, Hank is having an affair with Andy's wife, Marisa Tomei. Tomei is strong as the empty/beautiful woman that would have an affair with her brother in law just to goad a reaction from her cold husband, and spends at least 5 minutes of the movie partially nude.

The film opens with Andy and Marisa in Brazil in a canine copulation followed by giddy post-coital talk. Its all downhill from there for both characters. Andy has built his life as a big F-U to his cold and 'too hard on him' father, played well (duh) by Albert Finney. He is scamming at his job and using cocaine and heroin to fill the void his fancy apartment and hot wife can't fill. His visits to a high-end heroin dealer are tense and expertly structured, with an oddly dressed and cold dealer. Philip Seymour Hoffman turns in a great performance, with a strong father/son scene and an all too real emotional breakdown following it. As he unwinds afer his mother is allowed to die, his self-control wanes and his true colors come out.

The music and cutting of the film reminded me a lot of Magnolia, along with the overall tone. The final act is suffocating and tense, as each of the main characters is at their breaking point. Being responsible for your mother's death and having your wife/daughter/dad hate you while your job goes down the drain is torturous. This may end up being an A after a repeat viewing, as I have thought a lot about it since I watched it Saturday night. Lots of good points made about fathers and sons, materialism, ego, family and money as the root of all evil. One of the best of the year.

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Beowulf - C-

In theaters. Rated R, 113 minutes. Trailer.
Not every new moviemaking technique works. Exhibit A - Beowulf. Advertised as a revolutionary advancement in cinema by the wondrous Robert Zemeckis, the humans in Beowulf look more like a leper colony of Botox abusers.

The story is one of the oldest ever told. King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) has a son, Grendel (Crispin Glover, looking like an Island of Dr. Moreau extra or Gollum's uglier big brother) with a shapeshifting demon/lizard queen (Angelina Jolie). Grendel terrorizes the Danes under Hrothgar's rule, and the brave Beowulf (Ray Winstone) comes to kill him, which he does in short order. He then goes to kill the lizard queen, but the fact that she looks like Angelina Jolie and wants him to make her a mommy again changes his plans. Click the link below for the rest of the review.She promises him he will rule forever with her blessing, and he returns to the kingdom to take over for Hrothgar. Cut to 25 years later and there are new attacks from a demon as when Grendel was alive. Beowulf goes to fight the demon and kills him in spectacular fashion.

I couldn't have hated this movie more. The motion-capture technology made the humans look creepy and the horses look like they had polio. Only about 30% of the actors' faces were animated, so they just looked frozen or over-botoxed the whole time. The film opens in a mead hall where burp jokes and stupid womanizing jokes are considered funny. The dialogue is modern, but not funny or effective. The only good parts of this film involve Angelina Jolie (ahem) and some of the perspective shots, as well as the fight with the flying dragon at the end of the film. The story has some urgency and lessons about the lure of power and the weakness of men, but they are wasted in this stupid, ugly and sophomoric waste of time.

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DVD News - Nirvana Unplugged

Nirvana's Nov. 18, 1993, "MTV Unplugged" taping is being released on DVD tomorrow. Like the CD, the DVD will include the songs "Something in the Way" and "Oh Me," which did not appear on the original MTV broadcast. The DVD also has four tracks from the band's soundcheck and previously unreleased behind-the-scenes footage and interviews.

Get the DVD here for $11.99.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Snap Judgments – A quick review of 5 movies

Shrek the Third (2007) – In this one, Shrek has knocked up Fiona and must come to terms with growing up. But don’t worry folks, just because there are more adult themes doesn’t mean the toilet humor will subside. There are many new fairy tale characters but unlike last time where Antonio Banderas’s Puss in Boots was a welcome addition, none really break out. And like that other summer blockbuster Spiderman 3 (B-), there seem to be too many characters to be cohesive. B-

Chalk (2007) – A mockumentary about teachers is loaded with potential and for the first few minutes, it appears this movie is going to do it justice. But the characters quickly get pigeon-holed: the dumb one who wants teacher of the year, the struggling inexperienced, first-year teacher, the short-haired aggressive female gym teacher, etc. None of these ever form a full character, like, say Corky St. Clair. And unlike the great mockumentaries from Reiner/Guest, this one never achieves anything deeper. The gangsta/ebonics spelling bee for the teachers put on by the students is a terrific idea, though. C+

The Reaping (2007) – Hilary Swank is an LSU professor who goes around the world to discount “miracles” scientifically. She is a former African missionary who rejected God years earlier after her husband and daughter are murdered by the locals. When she is sent to a Louisiana swamp to investigate a river that has turned red, she if forced to face her past and what she really believes, I mean, run through the forest in a tank-top and occasionally brandish a knife. The movie is quite effective in delivering the shocks and Swank’s scientific explanation of the 10 plagues of Egypt is fascinating, if delivered a little too fast. But in a post-Sixth Sense world, every other movie seems to have 3 twists in the last 5 minutes. But Mr. Shyamalan and the Apostle Paul can both tell you that only one revelation is needed. C+

Crazy Love (2007) – A truth-is-stranger-than-fiction documentary about ambulance-chasing lawyer Burt Pugach who, in 1959, refuses a divorce and is then left by his mistress Linda Riss. He goes a little bit over the edge and hires 3 dudes to throw lye into her eyes, blinding her for life. After some well-deserved jail time, he continues to pursue her and winds up marrying her nearly 2 decades later in the late 70s. If you find yourself picking up a magazine at the grocery store checkout and placing it next to the eggs, you might find this gossipy tale intriguing, but these two idiots came across as attention-whores to me, with numerous appearances on daytime TV throughout the years. The movie itself is overlong with an unnecessary coda about how happy they are. C

Georgia Rule (2007) – Lindsay Lohan (speaking of attention-whores) is Rachel, a recently graduated California high-schooler, who is forced to live with her grandmother (Jane Fonda) in Idaho for the summer. Her mother (a dickless Felicity Huffman) hopes to rid her of the drugs and the promiscuous sex. Rachel rebels against everyone and gets to tell off a bunch of repressed Mormons. Lohan delivers her lines as only a hot, bad actress can. But even Fonda struggles with her role, clearing entering the “sassy granny” phase of her career (note to Fonda: call Shirley McClaine; she’s been killing these roles for years). Director Garry Marshall threads the comedy and drama with all the finesse of an offensive lineman on a tightrope. But it’s still better than Marshall’s Exit to Eden which had Rosie O’Donnell in leather. So at least it doesn’t have that. Because we don’t need that again. Or even once. Or any more Travolta posts. C

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Saturday, November 17, 2007