Friday, February 29, 2008

Top 10 Comedies Since 2000

10. Jackass 1 and 2 - While not technically comedies, I didn't have a better time watching anything in the theater. I saw #2 with 3 male friends on the first weekend it opened, and we laughed until we cried along with the whole audience. The Jackass gang are to Gen X what the Three Stooges are to previous generations. Love it.

Click below for the rest of the list.

9. Superbad (2007) - Michael Cera and Jonah Hill deliver a raunchy and sharp comedy gem from the mind of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. This one is probably overrated by the 'millenials', but it is still legitimately funny.

8. 40 Year Old Virgin (2005) - Great performances all around and a breakthrough role for Steve Carell. I like the way he handles himself and his interactions with Catherine Keener, although I think the absence of religion in the life of a 40 year old virgin is unrealistic.

7. Knocked Up (2007) - The only one in my list that isn't a pure comedy, but there are enough laugh out loud moments to include it. Favorites include the scenes with Kristen Wiig and anything with Jonah Hill and 'the gang'.

6. Anchorman (2004) - I was slow to take to this one, but now I can quote it from start to finish. This is Ferrell's 'persona' now, and each of his movies basically is another chapter in Ron Burgundy's life. Great cameos from the great Vince Vaughn.

5. Borat (2006)- Even though the movie isn't as good as the HBO Borat, it still makes me laugh on the 20th viewing. Favorite scenes include the conversion at the church (done tastefully, actually), dinner party, and naked fight scene.

4. Napoleon Dynamite (2004) - This movie was a legend before its theatrical run ended. Jon Heder should've gotten a best actor nomination in 2004, and his character is one of the most impactful of the last 10 years. The sheer originality and insular location make it one of my favorites.

3. Wedding Crashers (2005) - If you could cut out the Rachel McAdams/Owen Wilson love scenes, or at least take away their false earnestness, this would be tied at #1. You can't, though, so you just have to fast forward through them to get to Vince Vaughn showing why he's the funniest man alive. Motorboat!

2. Meet The Parents (2000) - This was and always will be Ben Stiller's best movie. He is great as a neurotic male nurse combatting a sublime Robert DeNiro. The sequel took a little bit away from the whole package, but this stands alone as a great comedy. Owen Wilson's break out role, short though it was.

1. Old School (2003) - This is probably in my top 5 comedies of all time (haven't done that list yet). Vince Vaughn as the successful entrepreneur/party animal/dad is beyond funny, as is Will Ferrell as the wildman trapped inside the dutiful newlywed. Luke Wilson and Jeremy Piven provide superb straight men and I could watch Speaker City commercials all day long.

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5 Great Movie Monologues

“I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn't find one of 'em, not one stinkin' dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell - the whole hill. Smelled like victory. Someday this war's gonna end.”

Apocalypse Now (1979)
Robert Duvall as Lt. Colonel Kilgore
Screenplay by John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola

(Click below for the rest)

“He's supposed to be Turkish. Some say his father was German. Nobody ever believed he was real. Nobody ever knew him or saw anybody that ever worked directly for him, but to hear Kobayashi tell it, anybody could have worked for Soze. You never knew. That was his power. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist. One story the guys told me – the story I believe was from his days in Turkey. There was a gang of Hungarians who wanted their own mob. They realize to be in power, you didn’t need guns, or money, or even numbers. You just needed the will to do what the other guy wouldn’t. After a while, they come into power and then they come after Soze - he was small time then - just runnin’ dope, they say. They come to his home in the afternoon, looking for his business. They find his wife and kids in the house and decide to wait for Soze. He comes home to find his wife raped and his children screaming. The Hungarians knew Soze was tough – not to be trifled with – so they let him know they meant business. They tell him they want his territory – all his business. Soze looked over the faces of his family, then he showed these men of will what will really was. He tells him he would rather see his family dead than live another day after this. He lets the last Hungarian go. He waits until his wife and kids are in the ground and then he goes after the rest of the mob. He kills their kids; he kills their wives; he kills their parents and their parents' friends. He burns down the houses they live in and the stores they work in. He kills people that owe them money. And like that he was gone. Underground. Nobody has ever seen him since. He becomes a myth, a spook story that criminals tell their kids at night. "Rat on your pop, and Keyser Soze will get you." And noone ever really believes.”

The Usual Suspects (1995)
Kevin Spacey as Verbal Kint
Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie

“Aye, fight and you may die. Run and you'll live – at least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance - just one chance - to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take … Our freedom!”

Braveheart (1995)
Mel Gibson as William Wallace
Screenplay by Randall Wallace

“Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, Chief. We was comin' back from the island of Tinian to Leyte – just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. 1100 men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes. Didn't see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. 13-footer. You know how you know that when you're in the water, Chief? You tell by looking from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn't know- was our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn't even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin', so we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know, it was kinda like old squares in the battle like you see in the calendar named "The Battle of Waterloo" and the idea was- shark comes to the nearest man, that man he starts poundin' and hollerin' and screamin' and sometimes the shark go away – but sometimes he wouldn't go away. Sometimes that shark he looks right into ya. Right into your eyes. And, you know, the thing about a shark – he's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll's eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be living – until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then – ah, then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin'. The ocean turns red, and despite all the poundin' and the hollerin', they all come in and they – rip you to pieces. You know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men. I don't know how many sharks, maybe a thousand. I know how many men, they averaged 6 an hour. On Thursday morning, Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player. Boatswain's mate. I thought he was asleep. I reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up and down in the water just like a kinda top. Upended. Well, he'd been bitten in half below the waist. Noon, the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us. He swung in low and he saw us... he was a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper. Anyway, he saw us and he come in low and 3 hours later a big fat PBY comes down and starts to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened – waitin' for my turn. I'll never put on a lifejacket again. So, 1100 men went in the water; 316 men come out and the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.”

Jaws (1975)
Robert Shaw as Quint
Screenplay by Peter Benchley

"So if I asked you about art, you'd probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo - you know a lot about him: life's work, political aspirations, him and the Pope, sexual orientations - the whole works, right? But I'll bet you can't tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You've never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling, seen that. If I ask you about women, you'd probably give me a syllabus about your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can't tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You're a tough kid. And I'd ask you about war, you'd probably throw Shakespeare at me, right? ‘Once more into the breach, dear friends.' But you've never been near one. You've never held your best friend's head in your lap, and watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. I'd ask you about love, you'd probably quote me a sonnet. But you've never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone that could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on Earth just for you - who could rescue you from the depths of hell. And you wouldn't know what it's like to be her angel, to have that love for her, be there forever, through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn't know about sleeping sitting up in the hospital room for two months, holding her hand, because the doctors could see in your eyes that the term ‘visiting hours’ don't apply to you. You don't know about real loss, because that only occurs when you've loved something more than you love yourself. And I doubt you've ever dared to love anybody that much. I look at you - I don't see an intelligent, confident man. I see a cocky, scared sh!tless kid. But you're a genius, Will. No one denies that. No one could possibly understand the depths of you. But you presume to know everything about me because you saw a painting of mine, and you ripped my f*cking life apart. You're an orphan, right? You think I know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are, because I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you? Personally, I don't give a sh!t about all that, because you know what, I can't learn anything from you I can read in some f*cking book. Unless you want to talk about you - who you are. Then I'm fascinated. I'm in. But you don't want to do that, do you, sport? You're terrified of what you might say. Your move, chief."

Good Will Hunting (1997)
Robin Williams as Sean Maguire
Screenplay by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Penelope - B

[Guest Review - Appraiser]
In theaters tomorrow. Rated PG, 101 minutes. Trailer.

The Wilhern family curse comes to fruition with the birth of the first daughter in generations. Penelope (Christina Ricci), born with the snout and floppy ears of a pig, is kept out the public eye by her overly protective and critical aristocratic mother Jessica Wilhern (Catherine O’Hara). Once Penelope reaches the age of courtship, she must marry a true blue-blood to end the curse and transform into a “normal” looking girl, but she obviously has problems keeping well-to-do suitors interested when her porcine snout is revealed. Enter Max (James McAvoy), a suitor with a secret of his own. The two form an unlikely bond and Penelope is inspired to leave the home that once imprisoned her. Click below for more pig snout.

Penelope is a modern day fairytale that’s a bit broad stylistically. Mark Palansky’s directorial debut lacks a cohesive view at times. It starts as a quirky comedy, has a stereotypical slow motion “cool-guy” moment at the card table, and then a syrupy sweet montage that features McAvoy at a piano. It was filmed in London, although the location is not mentioned in the film, and has a half American half British cast. Clearly, the most glaring fault of the movie is the casting of Reese Witherspoon as Annie, the ultra feisty cosmopolitan motorcycle riding risk-taker. She doesn’t pull it off. Coincidentally, Reese happens to be a producer of the film, and apparently played an important role in getting the project off the ground. In the end, Penelope outshines its shortcomings with some good laughs, a great cast (sans Reese), and a few twists and turns along the way. It’s the quintessential romantic comedy with a message, the absolutely perfect date movie.

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Next Up for the Coen Brothers

After their No Country For Old Men triumph, the Coens are wasting no time. Their new film, Burn After Reading, will be released September 26, 2008. The film stars Brad Pitt, George Clooney, John Malkovich, and Tilda Swinton. The plot details are scant, but the basic synopsis is that a disk containing the memoirs of a CIA agent ends up in the hands of two unscrupulous gym employees who attempt to sell it.

Click below for 3 more pictures from Burn After Reading.

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Operation Homecoming - Writing the Wartime Experience - B-

On DVD (2007). Unrated, 81 minutes. Trailer.

This film is an extension of a project spearheaded by the National Endowment of the Arts, which went to Iraq to encourage and teach soldiers how to write about their experiences. The film interviews several soldier-writers and then shows visually diverse re-enactments of their stories, with narration from such famous voices as Robert Duvall, John Krasinski, Blair Underwood, Aaron Eckhart, Josh Lucas and Beau Bridges. This was one of the 5 documentaries nominated for an Oscar this year (although it didn't win). Click below for more "Operation..."

The structure of the film is reminiscent of a Ken Burns film, but with modern vignettes. Several of the stories and images are powerful. The problem with documentaries like this is that they tend to tell stories we already know.....the bunking situation sucks, that war is boredom peppered with fantastic violence, etc. It was hard to sit through this one, and it felt long, even at 81 minutes. The best vignette is Duvall's, which tells the story of returning a soldier's body to his hometown against a backdrop of stills taken on a beautiful day. Probably not worth the rental, unless you wished Jarhead was 6 hours long.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Goya’s Ghosts – C-

Released on DVD this week. Rated R

In 1792 Spain, Francisco Goya (Stellan Skarsgard) is inspired by the beauty of Ines (Natalie Portman) and she becomes his muse. When she is incarcerated by the Spanish Inquisition, her father asks Goya to help secure her release since he is well-respected and has connections (chief among them Inquisition member Brother Lorenzo – Javier Bardem). She’s brutally tortured and her father subsequently tortures Lorenzo. 15 years elapse and Napoleon has invaded Spain. Ines has been in prison for 15 years and Lorenzo is now a successful secular businessman. Loyalties shift as the country changes power back and forth. (Click below for the first ever Portman-Tandy comparison)The first half of the film works OK as a rather obvious critique of present-day America’s activities in Guantanamo Bay. Randy Quaid (forever Cousin Eddie to me) is obviously miscast as the Spanish King, but there are still some interesting scenes -particularly when the torturers become the tortured. The 1807 section is unintentionally hilarious with the makeup department making Natalie Portman look like Jessica Tandy. Goya is now deaf making bad scenes unbearable with the ridiculous sign language. Javier Bardem tries hard but he’s so powerful in No Country for Old Men that it may be impossible to see him as anyone but Anton Chigurh ever again.

This is the first film by director Milos Forman in 8 years and I’m not sure how he lost his touch this badly, being a complete master of character interactions in Amadeus (A) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (A). His last 2 films were The People vs. Larry Flynt (B) and Man on the Moon (B-), both difficult biopics that he pulled off albeit less successfully than his 2 Oscar-winners. Here, the actors are miscast, overacting, and overdoing it. The characters are unlikable and there are scenes that will make you squirm, namely Portman getting tortured. Too bad really, though I’m not sure this material could ever be made into a good film. That’s even more true when you shoot yourself in the foot by miscasting all of your leads. C-
For reference, Tandy in Driving Miss Daisy.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Back to you, Priest


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Jumper - C

In theaters. PG-13, 90 minutes

Director Doug Liman’s career trajectory is a disappointing but predictable one. After beginning with a simple character-based story (Swingers (1996)– A-), his next outing (Go (1999) – B+) was still character-based, but structurally more complex, telling 3 interwoven stories that succeeded despite being a little too hip and smart for its own good. Hollywood money came calling and Liman answered in the form of the franchise-starting The Bourne Identity (2002) – B. It’s a great action movie, but the bigger the budget, the louder and more frenetic the movie. Liman still managed some pretty good characters (especially Chris Cooper and Brian Cox), but he seemed too focused to make his political point. Liman then opted for his first simple concept: “Married assassins are hired to kill each other.” Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005) – (B-) is a triumph of style over substance. Out with the actual characters, in with the movie stars – not that there’s anything wrong with that. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are infinitely watchable, but it’s Vince Vaughn who inevitably steals the show. But there’s too much music, too much editing, and too many pat answers for it to be considered very good. (Click below for Jumper)

Jumper is a great concept woefully underdeveloped. If you’ve seen the preview, you’ve basically seen the entire movie. Hayden Christensen is able to teleport himself all over the world and is being pursued by a white-haired Samuel L. Jackson. Christensen meets up with Jamie Bell, another teleporter who’s been “jumping” longer so he knows some extra tricks and more importantly – how to avoid Jackson. Bell is excellent here – way too good for this movie. As the love interest, Rachel Bilson is cute as can be but is given zero to do except wait for Christensen to tell her that he can teleport.

As the lead, Christensen holds it together pretty well but his character is a jerk, only using his special power to rob banks and hang out on top of the Sphinx. There’s no character development and hardly a plot. The film feels like half a movie, completely missing a third act and half of a second. The special effects are effective, but hardly special. The locations (including the Colosseum) are spectacular (kudos to using the actual locations) but this thing’s all surface beauty and void of any charm – or character. C

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Milkshake and Affleck - Videos

Click here for the SNL skit with the fake Daniel Plainview and Anton Chigurh.

Click here for the Jimmy Kimmel R-Rated response to the Sarah Silverman/Matt Damon video. Not as funny as the Damon sketch, but better cameos...especially Harrison Ford in the yellow convertible.

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Richard Lewis - February 22, 2008

In Addison, at the Improv. $22.

Richard Lewis is my favorite part of Curb Your Enthusiasm. His self-loathing and neuroticism is 'my kind of comedy.' Some people like Dane Cook or Dave Chappelle, I like Lewis, Stephen Wright and their ilk. Having only been to 1 comedy show (Seinfeld at the Fair Park Musical Hall, April 2, 2004) in my life, it was a new experience. The Improv seats about 200, all in seats at communal tables of 8. The 'two item' minimum tacks on to the cost of the ticket, but not too much for a teetotaller like me (total tab, including tip, for a diet coke and cheese fries - $20). My friends didn't get out for less than $75 after several drinks. The opening act was Dean Lewis, who was really funny without being vulgar. Then came Lewis...Click below for the rest of the review.

As he comes in, I realize he's wearing the same black outfit he always has on in his 'Curb' appearances. He immediately starts into his act (which is very far from 'family friendly'), and makes fun of the Improv for the faux brick wall and cheap lettering, as well as the fact that he has to walk through the crowd to get onstage. His act now revolves around being 60, and his regular act of being an addict and 'making everyone feel like a winner because they're not me.' He had some great bits on Shaq's anatomy, kids questions, hotels, and the list goes on. I am happy to have seen him, and it more than lived up to my expectations. He tours sparingly, so watch here for your chance to see him. For some vintage Lewis bits, watch here and here.

Viewing note: I enjoyed watching several uptight wives not enjoy the Lewis show while their husbands couldn't stop laughing. More than 1 couple left early after lots of 'go to hell' looks from the wives.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Oscar Night

This was a great Oscar year, right up the alley of DLP. With a Coen brothers movie up against a Paul Thomas Anderson movie with lots of great performances, this is a rare year that I appreciate. I thought Jon Stewart did a great job. Loved 'Falling Slowly'. Go here for clips and montages. Below are the winners and comments on the bigger categories.

Best Motion Picture
WINNER: "No Country for Old Men"
· "Atonement"
· "Juno"
· "Michael Clayton"
· "There Will Be Blood"
Happy with this win, as NCFOM is one of the best movies of the last 10 years. I still think, however, that There Will be Blood is the best movie, and the one that will be seen as a classic in 20 years. Once and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead should've been nominated.

Click below for the rest of the list and comments.

Performance By An Actor In A Leading Role
WINNER: Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood"
· George Clooney in "Michael Clayton"
· Johnny Depp in "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"
· Tommy Lee Jones in "In the Valley of Elah"
· Viggo Mortensen in "Eastern Promises"
Great, yeah. DDL is my favorite actor and he was the best in a strong year. Savoring this one.

Performance By An Actress In A Leading Role
WINNER: Marion Cotillard in "La Vie en Rose"
· Cate Blanchett in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"
· Julie Christie in "Away From Her"
· Laura Linney in "The Savages"
· Ellen Page in "Juno"
Absolutely agree. Watched this Friday night and loved it (B+). So tragic, and she handles each of the phases of Edith Piaf's life with aplomb.

Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role
WINNER: Javier Bardem in "No Country for Old Men"
· Casey Affleck in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"
· Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Charlie Wilson's War"
· Hal Holbrook in "Into the Wild"
· Tom Wilkinson in "Michael Clayton"
Duh. This was a tough category, since every one of them was great, and Tommy Lee Jones (NCFOM), Steve Zahn (Rescue Dawn), Henry Fonda (3:10 to Yuma) weren't even nominated. Anton Chigurh is already a legend.

Performance By An Actress In A Supporting Role
WINNER: Tilda Swinton in "Michael Clayton"
· Cate Blanchett in "I'm Not There"
· Ruby Dee in "American Gangster"
· Saoirse Ronan in "Atonement"
· Amy Ryan in "Gone Baby Gone"
My happiest surprise of the night. I wanted her to win and she should have. Cate was greatness in I'm Not There, but Tilda nailed this one with her 'balance' speech.

Achievement In Directing
WINNER: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen for "No Country for Old Men"
· Julian Schnabel for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
· Jason Reitman for "Juno"
· Tony Gilroy for "Michael Clayton"
· Paul Thomas Anderson for "There Will Be Blood"
Can't argue with this one, but I was holding out hope for a PTA sneak attack (so was he, judging by the look on his face at the moment of truth) for a Scorsese/PTA moment. The Coen's looked less than thrilled, very self-assured and almost as if the moment meant nothing to them. Weird. Well deserved.

Adapted ScreenplayWINNER: "No Country for Old Men" by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
· "Atonement" by Christopher Hampton
· "Away From Her" by Sarah Polley
· "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" by Ronald Harwood
· "There Will Be Blood" by Paul Thomas Anderson
Duh. Agree. Diving Bell sucks.

Original Screenplay
WINNER: "Juno" by Diablo Cody
· "Lars and the Real Girl" by Nancy Oliver
· "Michael Clayton" by Tony Gilroy
· "Ratatouille" by Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava and Jim Capobianco
· "The Savages" by Tamara Jenkins
I'd prefer Lars or Clayton, but this was good. Mrs. Cool started crying in her speech, which was a shocker.

Achievement In Music Written For Motion Pictures (Original Song)
WINNER: Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova for "Falling Slowly" from "Once"
· Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz for "Happy Working Song" from "Enchanted"
· Jamal Joseph, Charles Mack and Tevin Thomas for "Raise It Up" from "August Rush"
· Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz for "So Close" from "Enchanted"
· Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz for "That's How You Know" from "Enchanted"
Second happiest surprise of the night. Greatest performance in many years, and love the speeches from Glen and Marketa. A great song and a great movie.

Achievement In Music Written For Motion Pictures (Original Score)
WINNER: Dario Marianelli for "Atonement"
· Alberto Iglesias for "The Kite Runner"
· James Newton Howard for "Michael Clayton"
· Michael Giacchino for "Ratatouille"
· Marco Beltrami for "3:10 to Yuma"

Achievement In Cinematography
WINNER: Robert Elswit for "There Will Be Blood"
· Roger Deakins for "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"
· Seamus McGarvey for "Atonement"
· Janusz Kaminski for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
· Roger Deakins for "No Country for Old Men"
Happy with Elswit, but would've given it to Deakins for Assassination since he also did NCFOM. A great year for this category. Diving Bell sucks.

Achievement In Film Editing
WINNER: Christopher Rouse for "The Bourne Ultimatum"
· Juliette Welfling for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
· Jay Cassidy for "Into the Wild"
· Roderick Jaynes for "No Country for Old Men"
· Dylan Tichenor for "There Will Be Blood"

Achievement In Costume Design
WINNER: Alexandra Byrne for "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"
· Albert Wolsky for "Across the Universe"
· Jacqueline Durran for "Atonement"
· Marit Allen for "La Vie en Rose"
· Colleen Atwood for "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"

Achievement In Art Direction
WINNER: Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo for "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"
· Arthur Max and Beth A. Rubino for "American Gangster"
· Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer for "Atonement"
· Dennis Gassner and Anna Pinnock for "The Golden Compass"
· Jack Fisk and Jim Erickson for "There Will Be Blood"
Begrudgingly, fine. I wanted TWBB.

Best Animated Feature Film
WINNER: "Ratatouille"
· "Persepolis"
· "Surf's Up"

Best Animated Short Film
WINNER: "Peter & the Wolf"
· "I Met the Walrus"
· "Madame Tutli-Putli"
· "Même les Pigeons Vont au Paradis (Even Pigeons Go to Heaven)"
· "My Love (Moya Lyubov)"

Best Live Action Short Film
WINNER: "Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets)"
· "At Night"
· "Il Supplente (The Substitute)"
· "Tanghi Argentini"
· "The Tonto Woman"

Best Documentary Feature
WINNER: "Taxi to the Dark Side"
· "No End in Sight"
· "Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience"
· "Sicko"
· "War/Dance"
Not sure. I've only seen 2 of these, although Operation is next in my queue.

Best Documentary Short Subject

WINNER: "Freeheld"
· "La Corona (The Crown)"
· "Salim Baba"
· "Sari's Mother"

Best Foreign Language Film
WINNER: "The Counterfeiters" (Austria)
· "Beaufort" (Israel)
· "Katyn" (Poland)
· "Mongol" (Kazakhstan)
· "12" (Russia)
Everybody's mad that 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days wasn't nominated in this category. I'll have to rent both it and the Counterfeiters.

Achievement In Visual Effects
WINNER: Michael Fink, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris and Trevor Wood for "The Golden Compass"
· John Knoll, Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson and John Frazier for "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End"
· Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Russell Earl and John Frazier for "Transformers"

Achievement In Makeup
WINNER: Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald for "La Vie en Rose"
· Rick Baker and Kazuhiro Tsuji for "Norbit"
· Ve Neill and Martin Samuel for "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End"

Achievement In Sound Editing
WINNER: Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg for "The Bourne Ultimatum"
· Skip Lievsay for "No Country for Old Men"
· Randy Thom and Michael Silvers for "Ratatouille"
· Christopher Scarabosio and Matthew Wood for "There Will Be Blood"
· Ethan Van der Ryn and Mike Hopkins for "Transformers"

Achievement In Sound Mixing
WINNER: Scott Millan, David Parker and Kirk Francis for "The Bourne Ultimatum"
· Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter Kurland for "No Country for Old Men"
· Randy Thom, Michael Semanick and Doc Kanefor "Ratatouille"
· Paul Massey, David Giammarco and Jim Stuebe for "3:10 to Yuma"
· Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell and Peter J. Devlin for "Transformers"

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U2 3D - A-

[Guest review - Dentist]
In IMAX theaters. Rated G, 90 minutes. Trailer.

I must readily admit that when I first learned of the idea of a U2 concert filmed entirely in 3D, I was less than enthused. The kitschy, over-produced way I thought the film may turn out to be loomed large in the back of my mind. The band (and let’s be honest, specifically, Bono) has long proclaimed themselves as being culturally relevant and pushing the edges of artistic expression through constantly “re-inventing” themselves. Lauded by some, pilloried by others, they have managed to largely accomplish this. In their most recent offering, U2 3D, they have accomplished it in spades. The concert was filmed on the South American leg of the Vertigo tour in 2006 and contains footage culled from separate concerts in Santiago, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and Mexico City.

Click below for the rest of U23D.

Shot entirely in high definition, the concert begins with the familiar chanting crescendo of “Everyone” and then launches into a blistering version of “Vertigo”. It’s at this point that you first realize you are bearing witness to a truly mesmerizing and revolutionary concert experience. Anyone who has attended a U2 show can attest to the intimate and almost spiritual nature of their concerts, no matter how expansive or small the setting. The experience can be exponentially multiplied for those lucky few who have paid the exorbitant prices and braved the hours of waiting, wanting and jockeying for position to secure the most coveted of spots close enough to see the beads of sweat on Bono’s brow (those of you who have spent any amount of time near a b-stage, heart or ellipse know what I’m talking about). Being close to rock idols like Bono, The Edge, Adam and Larry is one thing; being within arms length and on stage with them is another altogether. This is the surreal feeling you have when watching the film.

The sensory utopia you feel is made possible through excellent direction in part by Catherine Owens, who incidentally was also part of the brainchild that put together the mind-numbing graphical masterpiece of Zoo TV as well as lending a hand to the Popmart and Vertigo designs as well. The smooth transitions and perfectly placed close-ups allow for a very enjoyable ride, unlike the choppy hand-held feel that director Hamish Hamilton had lent to several recent commercially released U2 filmed concert efforts. From the opening shot of Larry at his kit, feeling like I could reach out and grab his drumstick, to ducking to avoid the swing of Adam’s bass to feeling like I could reach out and grab Bono’s hand, I swore I was watching these guys live and in the flesh. Close enough that I now know how Larry likes to keep his drink just to his right behind his drum kit, Bono has a small freckle on his face that I never knew was there and The Edge really does have particularly angular facial features. You simply could never buy a concert ticket that would provide the same experience.

The film is further bolstered by the crystal clear digital audio that is perfectly mixed with just the right amount of crowd noise, further cementing in your mind that you truly are at a live concert. The film includes such recognizable hits as “New Year’s Day”, “With or Without You” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, showcasing songs from the “War” album all the way through 2005’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”. I particularly enjoyed the raw emotion evident in Bono’s eyes in “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own”, a ballad penned to his late father, Bob Hewson. Also, the Zoo TV slot machine bit, launching into the grunge distorted version of “The Fly”, complete with “Everything You Know is Wrong”-style words flying right at your face was absolute greatness. My favorite part, however, was a touching version of “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, complete with Bono reaching out to “wipe your tears away”—absolutely brilliant. It’s not that these songs are that much different from versions performed at shows I saw in Dallas and Las Vegas on the last tour, it’s the adaptation to 3D that allows these songs to project bigger and greater than you ever thought possible.

The film suffers, in my opinion, from being on the short side. At just under 90 minutes long, it’s about an hour shorter than a typical U2 concert and there are several glaring omissions that veteran fans will surely miss. However, for the one and a half hours that you are in the theater, you will most certainly gain a new appreciation for the music and certainly the art form, whether you’re a fan of the band or not.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

2008 Independent Spirit Award Winners

Best Feature, Juno
Best Director, Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)
Best Male Lead, Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Savages)
Best Female Lead, Ellen Page (Juno)
Best Supporting Male, Chiwetel Ejiofor (Talk To Me)
Best Supporting Female, Cate Blanchett, (I'm Not There)
Click below for the rest of the awards.
Best Screenplay, Tamara Jenkins (The Savages)
Best First Screenplay, Diablo Cody (Juno)
Best First Feature, The Lookout
Best Cinematography, Janusz Kaminski (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)
Best Documentary, Crazy Love
Best Foreign Film, Once
Someone to Watch Award, Rahmin Bahrmani (Chop Shop)
Truer Than Fiction Award, Neil Kopp (Paranoid Park, Old Joy)
Producers Award, Laura Dunn (The Unforeseen)
John Cassavetes Award, August Evening (best feature under $500,000)
Robert Altman Award, I'm Not There

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1. Go here to see an easy to read chart of all of the Oscar picks of the major prognosticators.

2. The Independent Spirit Awards (hosted by Dwight Schrute) are on today starting at 5:00pm Central on the IFC channel.

3. Tonight's Saturday Night Live is one to watch for 3 reasons: (1) Tina Fey is hosting; (2) There hasn't been a show (due to the strike) in 4 months; and (3) The Presidential election.
It will also be interesting to see how they make fun of Barack Obama, given the delicateness of that situation. Articles here, and here. Their last political sketch (from October) here.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Obama Hook 'Em

Thanks to Original Appraiser for the tip:

More pics from his UT visit here. Go McCain.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

America Sucks! – On DVD!

This week brings not 1, not 2, but 3 new DVD releases - all critical of America(ns) - that completely tanked at the North American box office, bringing in a total of 16.6 million combined. (Fool’s Gold topped that in its first 2 days). The “best” has already been reviewed here.

In the Valley of Elah stars the great Tommy Lee Jones as a military father who investigates his son’s death (with Charlize Theron) shortly after his son returns from Iraq. Jones and on-screen wife Susan Sarandon are convincing in their tough roles as the grieving parents. And the movie is a fairly solid police procedural until the last 20-30 minutes when writer-director Paul Haggis decides to pander to the far left. Haggis knows just enough about film/plot/dialogue to be dangerous, creating classic situations and set-ups that he knows how to work back into the movie. But the messages of his movies from Million Dollar Baby to Crash to Elah are simplified to say the least. The title seems to refer to the theme of overcoming your fears to excel and succeed (completely opposite of M$B where Haggis encourages one to “always protect yourself” – how predictably inconsistent). How that theme applies to Jones and his journey elude me. Maybe it refers to Americans to overcome your fears and speak out against the war. Not sure – don’t care. I’ve had the honor of meeting several Iraq War veterans and they don’t deserve to be dehumanized in this way. B- (Click below for 2 more bombs)

Rendition has two parallel stories; the one that was advertised has Reese Witherspoon’s Egyptian husband suspected of a terrorist connection. After his flight from South Africa lands in Washington DC, he’s deported back to North Africa for an interrogation. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a CIA operative who does not approve of the tough methods (torture). The second parallel story is a routine teenagers-in-forbidden love tale (spoken in Arabic) where a young Muslim woman rebels against her father for the one she really loves. Blecch. Most parallel story movies tend to comment on each other (Godfather II comes to mind) or at the very least have an interesting conceit (The Clearing). These two stories end up connecting but are essentially unrelated and could have been told in sequential fashion. The writer and director get the subtlety award for making the grieving, screeching, Reese pregnant – just in case you didn’t think wrongfully imprisoning and torturing a guy is unjust - he’s also a father-to-be. Hey guys, everyone basically agrees we shouldn’t torture innocent people. The real challenge is making the unconvinced see why we shouldn’t torture guilty people. C-

Last and least is Redacted, maybe the most unpleasant film experience of the year, all the more depressing since it was directed by the once-great Brian De Palma, who still had some stuff in the tank not that long ago (Femme Fatale (B) – 2002). The movie is based on an actual incident where American soldiers raped a teenage Iraqi girl and murdered her family. The use of multimedia is unique and occasionally quite creative. The use of the internet, night vision, and security cameras mix up the action. Languages shift back and forth from English to Arabic to French. There’s a film within a film. But all the smoke and mirrors in the world can’t hide horrible acting. And not enough time is spent with the Iraqi rape and murder victims to get the full emotional effect it deserves. Thanks for making me feel like crap for not caring, De Palma – bastard. And lay off the Barry Lyndon music, you hack. “Here endeth the lesson.” D+

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Rock of Love II

One of the most entertaining reality shows I've watched is Rock of Love II. The premise of the show is that 20 women compete to gain the affection of Poison lead singer Bret Michaels. This is not high art. It is sad on several levels, but funny on even more. The women have no shame and there are more gross french kisses per second than an 8th grade dance.

For all you fathers that don't connect and spend time with your daughters, watch this show for a preview of coming attractions.

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Oscar Week Notes

The Oscars are this Sunday at 7:00pm. The ballots are due today for all of the Academy members. For a 1 page printable ballot, go here.

The list of scheduled presenters is as follows: Alan Arkin, Jennifer Hudson, Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker—as well as Amy Adams, Jessica Alba, Cate Blanchett, Josh Brolin, Steve Carell, George Clooney, Penelope Cruz, Miley Cyrus, Patrick Dempsey, Cameron Diaz, Colin Farrell, Harrison Ford, Jennifer Garner, Tom Hanks, Anne Hathaway, Katherine Heigl, Jonah Hill, Dwayne Johnson, Nicole Kidman, James McAvoy, Queen Latifah, Seth Rogen, Martin Scorsese, Hilary Swank, John Travolta, Denzel Washington and Renee Zellweger.

'Falling Slowly' from Once will be performed by the actors in the film (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova).

Go here for a handicapping of who will receive 'in memoriam' treatment at this year's ceremony.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

MSNBC's Coverage of the 2008 Election

Airs on MSNBC every important night of the election.

Chris Matthews is the best political newsman working on television today. His collaboration with Keith Olberman provides pitch perfect analysis and discussion of the events of whatever primary or election is occurring. Matthews has a great center-right worldview and the bona fides (chief of staff for Tip O'Neill in the 1980's) that make his opinion relevant. Olberman is an insufferable liberal, but he's quick witted and provides a good balance to Matthews. They occasionally throw it to Brian Williams (smart and funny), Tim Russert (overrated, but still good) and Tom Brokaw (obvious Clinton apologist that misses the spotlight) for quality (except for Brokaw) analysis. The place to be on any election night. Tomorrow's Wisconsin Primary should provide another good opportunity to watch this team in action.

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In Bruges - B+

In theaters. Rated R, 107 minutes. Trailer.

Bruges is a beautiful Belgian city with swans and medieval architecture in spades. All of that is lost on Ray (Collin Farrell), a rookie hitman hiding out after he botched his first job by killing the target plus a praying 7 year old boy. Accompanying him in hiding is Ken (Brendan Gleeson), a cultured veteran hitman. The two initially explore the town awaiting a call from their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes). The film is funny, sharp and presents some decent moral questions. Click below for the rest of "In Bruges."

Ray is unable to shake the implications of his killing of the innocent boy, and Ken is trying to help him work through it as they explore the city. After Harry charges Ken with killing Ray, Harry comes to Bruges to handle the work himself. The ensuing chase and wind up are well done and entertaining. The film is clever and original, with dialogue to match. There are elements of Hot Fuzz, Snatch and Layer Cake, but this feels different than those films. It is not gritty and only occasionaly veers into a 'heavy' tone. Farrell is great as the goofy but introspective Ray, with Gleeson and Fiennes also turning in strong performances.

The best of the year so far.

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Legends of the Fall - B+

On DVD (1994). Rated R, 135 minutes. Trailer.

Legends of the Fall is a sprawling epic about a military family living in Montana in the early 20th century and its favorite, wild son, Tristan (Brad Pitt). Co-starring Aidan Quinn, Anthony Hopkins, Julia Ormond, and Henry Thomas, my memory of this film was an A, but it only held up as a B+. Director Ed Zwick (Glory) uses the scenery and his great cast to craft a good, but overly campy and cliched film. The genre, an old west period piece with flashes of war and amazing scenery, is one of my favorites, so I can live with a little camp on this one.
Click below for the rest of the review.

Hopkins is the patriarch of the family, a rich former general that is an Indian sympathizer after witnessing the policies of the US in resolving the Indian wars. Quinn is the nerdy older brother that always plays by the rules, while Thomas is the runty youngest brother Samuel that is taken care of by Tristan. Pitt's portrayal of the untamed favorite son and heartbreaker helped launch his career as a mega-star. His 'roughneck' character spellbinds his youngest brother's fiancee (Ormond) before they all go off to war. When Samuel is killed in front of Tristan on the front lines in Germany, he goes crazy and then finally returns home from war and Ormond moves on in. There are several machinations of tortured love and Tristan, ending with a bear fight in the Northern Territories.

Parts of this film are great, like the scenery, Pitt, Ormond and Hopkins (I buy his performance with the stroke). The story is just too overblown and grandiose to get through it without a couple of eye rolls. Worth renting.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

My Last 4 Itunes Downloads

1. Paper Planes - M.I.A. - This is the song from the Pineapple Express trailer. Great lyrics and beats, my favorite song so far this year. Plus, you can't beat the use of a gun for percussion.

2. Walk Unafraid - R.E.M. - From the recently released "REM Live". Showcase for Michael Stipe's voice is great at first and then gets a little 'experimental' for my tastes, but then goes back to melodic REM. Getting ready for the March 12th show at Stubbs in Austin. The rest of their tour dates can be found here.

3. Piece of Me - Britney Spears - Catchy and cool song from the most wheels off person in America. Gotta love the use of a chicken sound.

4. Amarillo By Mornin' - George Strait - Why I don't already have this, I can't tell you. This one reminds me of Original Appraiser and driving to Colorado.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

5 Great Movie Monologues

.“They want to have a meeting with me, right? It will be me, McCluskey and Sollozzo. Let's set the meeting. We get our informants to find out where it's going to be held. Now we insist it’s a public place, a bar, a restaurant – some place where there's people so I'll feel safe. They're gonna search me when I first meet them, right? So I can't have a weapon on me then. But if Clemenza can figure a way to have a weapon planted there for me, then I'll kill them both.”

The Godfather (1972)
Al Pacino as Michael Corleone
Screenplay by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola
(Click below for the rest)

“Well, I believe in the soul, the c*ck, the p*ssy, the small of a woman's back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days. Good night.”

Bull Durham (1988)
Kevin Costner as Crash Davis
Screenplay by Ron Shelton

“Then it don't matter. I'll be all around in the dark. I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look and wherever there's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready, and when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they build - I'll be there, too.”

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Henry Fonda as Tom Joad
Screenplay by Nunnally Johnson (Novel by John Steinbeck)

“I still do believe in God, old man. I believe in God and mercy, and all that, but the dead are happier dead. They don’t miss much here, poor devils. What do you believe in? Oh, if you ever get Anna out of this mess, be kind to her. I think you’ll find she’s worth it. I wish I’d asked you to bring some of these tablets from home. Holly, I’d like to cut you in, old man. There’s nobody left in Vienna I can really trust and we’ve always done everything together. When you make up your mind, send me a message. I’ll meet you any place, any time, and when we do meet, old man, it’s you I want to see, not the police. Remember that, won’t you. Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Remember what the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love and they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.”

The Third Man (1950)
Orson Welles as Harry Lime
Screenplay by Graham Greene

“I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had 15 homicides and 63 violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. You've got to say, 'I'm a human being, goddammit. My life has value.' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out, and yell, 'I'M AS MAD AS HELL AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!' I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad! You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: ‘I'M AS MAD AS HELL AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’”

Network (1976)
Peter Finch as Howard Beale
Screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky

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New Trailers

Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. Coming May 22. Just hearing the music makes me excited for this one. Hopefully George Lucas' script won't be so bad that I can't enjoy it.

Pineapple Express. Coming August 8. New comedy with the Apatow gang, starring Seth Rogen. Trailer is laugh out loud funny.

Street Kings. Coming April 11. Cop drama from the writer of Training Day, starring Keanu Reeves, Forrest Whitaker, Chris Evans and others. Could be good.

Where in the world is Osama Bin Laden?. Coming May 31. From Director Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) - With a baby on the way, and a need to make the world safe for infant-kind, an unassuming guy from West Virginia takes on what no special ops team could do: he puts to use his complete lack of experience, knowledge, and expertise to find the most wanted man on earth.

Bonus: The new Scorsese PSA to not use your phone in the movie.

Matt Damon/Sarah Silverman video. Late posting this, but he is hilarious as a 'stomper'.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Eddie Vedder and Bob Dylan on Tour

Not together, natch, but coming soon to a concert hall near you. Dylan is performing Friday, Saturday and Sunday February 21, 22 and 23 at the House of Blues in Dallas, his only scheduled stops in the USA. Vedder is performing in various small venues on the West Coast in April.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Married Life - B-

In theaters March 21. Rated PG-13, 90 minutes. Trailer.

Tonight I attended a preview screening of Married Life with a Q & A and reception with the film's star, Academy Award winner Chris Cooper (Best Supporting Actor, Adaptation). The film, which also stars Pierce Brosnan, Rachel McAdams, and Patricia Clarkson, is a cynical study of the complexities of marriage and sloppy morals. Cooper is a doting husband to his wife, played by Clarkson, even though he has found 'true love' with his mistress (played by McAdams). When he confides in his best friend (Brosnan, also the film's narrator), Brosnan immediately begins his pursuit of McAdams behind his friend's back. Click below for the rest of the review and pictures of my Chris Cooper meeting.

Ultimately Cooper chooses the easy way out....instead of telling his wife, he decides to poison her. The film doesn't turn into a horror film by any measure, but does get heavier than I expected based on the spunky advertising and poster. Cooper's choice and the odd and ultimate entaglement of the characters is meant as a sort of 'love the one your with' message, but presents a very cynical view of love and marriage.

The film, directed by Ira Sachs (Forty Shades of Blue) was nice to look at, with lots of rich colors and textures from the 1949 backdrop. McAdams was miscast here, though, and the platinum blonde minus mole concealer washed out some of her good looks. Cooper is excellent as the straightlaced but desperate man, while Brosnan provides a good humored birds eye view of the whole situation, even as he becomes entangled in it. This felt a little bit like Desperate Housewives meets Breach.

After the film was a 30 minute Q & A period with Cooper (at the Angelika Dallas). He talked about his various Texas roles (Lone Star, Lonesome Dove) and talked about living in a small town in Massachusetts. About halfway through the guy in front of me committed the worst faux pas I've ever been a part of...."The first time I really noticed you was in Black Hawk Down, blah, blah". Cooper just said "no, wasn't in that one". I couldn't believe someone committed such an obvious and cliched error, it was painful and embarassing for everyone in the audience. One questioner asked about the memories he uses for invoking tears, and he said he uses the substitution technique of a personal memory. Afterward we attended a reception with Cooper, and I got a chance to shake his hand and talk to him for a few minutes about his next project, tentatively titled Hurricane Mary. The screenplay was written by his wife and they are working on the financing right now, but he indicated it was tough to finance a movie about an attorney and kids with disabilities. Cooper's son recently passed away(in 2005, from Cerebal Palsy), and my assumption is that his personal experiences are the basis for the story, but I chose not to ask him about that. He was very polite and unassuming, giving genuine answers and seeming like a very 'regular' guy.

Viewing note: For all you Ticket fans out there, Corby Davidson was there.

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Recent DVD Releases

All the following were dutifully reviewed by my collaborators during their theatrical run.

Sunshine (Original review here)
Their trip to the sun is a visual feast – I wish I saw it on the big screen. Pretty fascinating and threatening to be great until is devolves into a slasher film. One minute, you’re discussing man’s purpose in the universe and his relationship to God. The next, a knife-wielding psycho kills everyone on board. The inevitable comparisons to 2001, Solaris, and Alien don’t help much either. B

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Original review here)
The most underrated film of the year, trashed by critics and ignored by the public. Some have gone so far as to denounce Cate Blanchett’s Best Actress nomination as a knee-jerk vote. Not so – she’s pretty great here, as is Clive Owen as a patriotic pirate. Director Shekhar Kapur’s visuals are often spectacular and he holds the talky political stuff together well. B

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Original review here)

An unforgettable visual tour-de-force by director Andrew Dominik and cinematographer Roger Deakins. Hopefully, Dominik will get many great performances with his next film instead of just one (Casey Affleck) or two (Sam Shepherd). The other actors are fine, but the staggering pictures create an imbalance. The narration is superb, probably taken verbatim from the book, but I’m not sure what they’re going for here – other than commenting on the nature of celebrity and the fickleness of the public. Terrific score from Nick Cave that gives an authentic feel. A-

Sicko (Original review here)
It’s at its best when real people are describing their horror stories about being denied health care. Equally effective is the stories from those who have denied care to others and the guilt they feel. At its worst, it’s shamelessly manipulative, undoubtedly dishonest, and hopelessly naïve. Michael Moore should be commended from trying to get everyone health care but his tactics are nauseating. Really, Mr. Moore, do you think the majority of Miami would be of Cuban descent if Castro was so great? B-

PS: Canada has their own “moral” form of euthanasia by delaying care for the elderly. Would Americans really tolerate that?
PS#2: Drug companies perform lots of good research to bring better drugs to the public, but I shouldn’t have to see 14 commercials about erectile dysfunction during a 30 minute sitcom.
PS#3: Insurance companies are a fair target. Denying necessary health care to save money belongs in the same circle of hell as child rapists.

We Own the Night (Original review here)
It’s mostly a retread of better cops and robbers movies, but comes alive during the action scenes. Robert Duvall brings a great presence as always and Joaquin Phoenix is excellent as the troubled lead, struggling to find his bearings. Mark Wahlberg should lay off cop roles for awhile, though – he’ll never top his performance in The Departed. The Russians are menacing enough, but that aspect was done so much better in Eastern Promises. B-

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