Saturday, February 28, 2009

Saturday Conchords News

Interviewed in NY Times Magazine (tomorrow's edition).

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Two Lovers - B-

In theaters (and On-Demand). Rated R, 110 minutes. Trailer.

Writer/Director James Gray must love 70's films. Each of his movies (The Yards, We Own the Night) has the atmosphere, pacing and film stock of the golden decade. With Two Lovers, he is back again with frequent collaborator Joaquin Phoenix to tell the tale of manic 30 something ne'er do well Leonard (Phoenix) and the unlikely love triangle he forms with Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Sandra (Vinessa Shaw). The film starts with Leonard being saved from an attempted suicide by drowning.
Click below for more Lovers:

Leonard is back home after his fiancee is forced to leave him for unusual circumstances - his parents are (rightfully) worried about him. He is introduced to Sandra and reluctantly gives into her advances. As he begins his relationship with her, he stumbles into the way-out-of-his-league Michelle, a beautiful trainwreck involved in her own twolovers situation with a married Manhattan lawyer. He can't shake the possiblity of Michelle and he hangs out with her and obsesses over her while he skips his depression pills.

The film's relationships are interesting, and Phoenix's Leonard is very funny. I am not sure if that was the intent, but I laughed outloud several times at his crazy and infantile behavior. The film is a C+ until the last series of scenes - at that point it becomes more thought provoking and exposes the many layers of love and the realities of commitment in marriage and the secrets people have.

Gray has promise, but as with The Yards and We Own the Night, it never comes together enough to make a great film. It WAS cool to watch it on Video On Demand (for me its VOD on Verizon FiOs) at home for $6.99 before it even came out at the theater. Che is also being shown that way, so I'll try and do that as well.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Top 25 Active Directors

Entertainment Weekly named their top 25 active directors this week. The top of their list is below - the back half of theirs and my whole list and comments are after the jump.

1. Steven Spielberg
2. Peter Jackson
3. Martin Scorsese
4. Christopher Nolan
5. Steven Soderbergh
6. Ridley Scott
7. Quentin Tarantino
8. Michael Mann
9. James Cameron
10. Joel and Ethan Coen

11. Guillermo del Toro
12. David Fincher
13. Tim Burton
14. Judd Apatow
15. Sam Raimi
16. Zack Snyder
17. Darren Aronofsky
18. Danny Boyle
19. Clint Eastwood
20. Ron Howard
21. Ang Lee
22. Paul Thomas Anderson
23. Paul Greengrass
24. Pedro Almodóvar
25. Jon Favreau

That list is HORRIBLE. Below is my attempt at it - probably omitting a few (and a few a's and b's):

1. Martin Scorsese
2. Paul Thomas Anderson
3. David Fincher
4. Coen Brothers
5. Michael Mann
6. David Lynch
6a. Terrence Malick
7. Darren Aronofsky
8. Christopher Nolan
9. Paul Greengrass
10. Alfonso Cuaron
11. Alejandro González Iñárritu
12. Steven Soderbergh
13. Spike Jonze
14. Alexander Payne
15. Wes Anderson
16. Ridley Scott
17. David Cronenberg
17a.Gus Van Sant
18. Danny Boyle
19. Judd Apatow
20. Sam Mendes
21. Fernando Meirelles
22. Ang Lee
23. Clint Eastwood
23. Peter Weir
24. Peter Jackson
25. Ron Howard
26. Jim Sheridan
27. Atom Egoyan
28. Cameron Crowe
29. Guillermo Del Toro

Doc - What am I missing (other than Woody Allen and Coppolla, who transcend this list). An interesting exercise - I ranked them according to how much I anticipate their movies.

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Best and Worst Oscar Moments

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

5 Great Movie Monologues

“It's too late, Diana. There's nothing left in you that I can live with. You're one of Howard's humanoids. If I stay with you, I'll be destroyed. Like Howard Beale was destroyed. Like Laureen Hobbs was destroyed. Like everything you and the institution of television touch - is destroyed. You're television incarnate, Diana - Indifferent to suffering; insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality. War, murder, death are all the same to you as bottles of beer. And the daily business of life is a corrupt comedy. You even shatter the sensations of time and space into split seconds and instant replays. You're madness, Diana. Virulent madness. And everything you touch dies with you. But not me. Not as long as I can feel pleasure, and pain... and love. And it's a happy ending: Wayward husband comes to his senses, returns to his wife, with whom he has established a long and sustaining love. Heartless young woman left alone in her arctic desolation. Music up with a swell; final commercial. And here are a few scenes from next week's show.”

Network (1976)
William Holden as Max Schumacher
Screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky

“There was this kid I grew up with - he was younger than me. Sorta looked up to me, you know. We did our first work together - worked our way out of the street. Things were good; we made the most of it. During Prohibition, we ran molasses into Canada; made a fortune - your father, too. As much as anyone, I loved him - and trusted him. Later on he had an idea to build a city out of a desert stop-over for GI's on the way to the West Coast. That kid's name was Moe Greene, and the city he invented was Las Vegas. This was a great man - a man of vision and guts. And there isn't even a plaque, or a signpost, or a statue of him in that town. Someone put a bullet through his eye. No one knows who gave the order. When I heard it, I wasn't angry; I knew Moe, I knew he was head-strong, talking loud, saying stupid things. So when he turned up dead, I let it go. And I said to myself, this is the business we've chosen. I didn't ask who gave the order, because it had nothing to do with business. (Clears throat) There are 2 million in a bag in your room. I’m going in to take a nap. When I wake, if the money’s on the table, I’ll know I have a partner. If it isn’t, I’ll know I don’t.”

The Godfather Part II (1974)
Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth
Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo

“Get out, go anywhere you want, go to a hotel, go live with her, but don't come back. Because, after 25 years of building a home and raising a family and all the senseless pain that we have inflicted on each other, I'm damned if I'm going to stand here and have you tell me you're in love with somebody else. Because this isn't a convention weekend with your secretary, is it? Or - or some broad that you picked up after three belts of booze. This is your great winter romance, isn't it? Your last roar of passion before you settle into your emeritus years. Is that what's left for me? Is that my share? She gets the winter passion, and I get the dotage? What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to sit at home knitting and purling while you slink back like some penitent drunk? I'm your wife, dammit. And, if you can't work up a winter passion for me, the least I require is respect and allegiance. I hurt. Don't you understand that? I hurt badly. Oh, say something, for God’s sake.”

Network (1976)
Beatrice Straight as Louise Schumacher
Screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky

“Fredo, you're nothing to me now. You're not a brother, you're not a friend. I don't want to know you or what you do. I don't want to see you at the hotels, I don't want you near my house. When you see our mother, I want to know a day in advance, so I won't be there. You understand?”

The Godfather Part II (1974)
Al Pacino as Michael Corleone
Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo

“Why not? They’ve got strike force, task force, swat. Why not Che Guevara and his own little mod squad? Look, I sent you all a concept analysis report yesterday. Did any of you read it? Well, in a nutshell, it said: "The American people are turning sullen. They've been clobbered on all sides by Vietnam, Watergate, the inflation, the depression; they've turned off, shot up, and they've f@cked themselves limp, and nothing helps." So, this concept analysis report concludes, "The American people want somebody to articulate their rage for them." I've been telling you people since I took this job 6 months ago that I want angry shows. I don't want conventional programming on this network. I want counterculture, I want anti-establishment. I don't want to play butch boss with you people, but when I took over this department, it had the worst programming record in television history. This network hasn't 1 show in the top 20. This network is an industry joke, and we'd better start putting together one winner for next September. I want a show developed based on the activities of a terrorist group, "Joseph Stalin and His Merry Band of Bolsheviks," I want ideas from you people. This is what you're paid for. And by the way, the next time I send an audience research report around, you'd all better read it, or I'll sack the f@cking lot of you. Is that clear?”

Network (1976)
Faye Dunaway as Diana Christensen
Screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky

For those of you playing at home, that's a total five monologues from Network, including those found here and here. And from 5 different characters. Best screenplay ever.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

TIVO Alert

Ricky Gervais on the Daily Show tonight (on Comedy Central).

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Flight of the Conchords - "Same Girl"

Season 2, Episode 6

While exercising in Central Park, Jemaine and Bret meet a lady (Kristen Wiig) who’s lost her dog. Both fall in love with her immediately and start a competition to win her affections. If you think R. Kelly’s recent songs are the pinnacle of idiocy, then you’ll love “I’m in Love with a Sexy Lady” which eviscerates “Same Girl”. If you think 80s videos like "Total Eclipse of the Heart" are ridiculously dated (and entertaining) then you’ll enjoy “Love is Your Weapon of Choice”. Watching the duo fight is a nice change of pace and if you didn’t laugh out loud when Jemaine slapped Bret with the glove in slo-mo, then you need to watch it again . . .

The epileptic dog song may have been in questionable taste, but I found it hilarious (and one of my dogs had epilepsy when I was a kid).Final notes: Love Murray’s smile before he walks down the stairs at the end and Jemaine’s “What?!?” in the same scene. Wiig was surprisingly subdued but seemed to inspire welcomed craziness in Bret and Jemaine during their songs. B+

PS: For the record, as a doctor, I'm anti-AIDS.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

DVD Releases - 2/24/09

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father
Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder - #
The Haunting of Molly Hartley
Sex Drive (Unrated and Cream-Filled)

Click below for the unbelievably crappy weeks' Blu-ray releases

The French Connection (Doc’s pick of the week)
The French Connection II
Hounddog – (Dakota Fanning gets raped – in hi-def!)
Vanishing Point
What Just Happened

# - Also on Blu-Ray

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IMAX Under the Sea - C+

In IMAX theaters. Rated G, 40 minutes. Trailer.

My offspring have led me to look at the children's section in the movies, and the new IMAX film Under the Sea caught my eye. Narrated by Jim Carrey, the film randomly follows several Pacific undersea creatures through various activities. The colors are brilliant, the landscapes beautiful, and the "you are there" IMAX feeling makes it feel like you are snorkeling in the beautiful waters. There wasn't much to the film and it didn't do much except to clumsily try and drive home global warming points. Probably not worth it (even though its only 40 minutes, you still have to pay the inflated IMAX prices).

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oscar Winners

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Film Editing: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Sound Mixing: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Music Score: A.R. Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Song: Jai Ho, Slumdog Millionaire

Click below for the zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Best Actor: Sean Penn, Milk
Best Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Best Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black, Milk
Best Animated Feature: WALL-E
Best Documentary Feature: Man on Wire
Best Foreign Language Film: Departures (Japan)
Best Sound Editing: The Dark Knight
Best Art Direction: Benjamin Button
Best Makeup: Benjamin Button
Best Visual Effects: Benjamin Button
Best Costume Design: The Duchess
Best Live Action Short: Toyland
Best Animated Short: La Maison en Petites Cubes
Best Documentary Short: Smile Pinki

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Oscar Nominated Short Films-Live Action

The museum theatre in my town every year screens the nominated short live action and animated films the weekend of the Oscars. This year was no exception, and I was able to a catch the Live Action nominees this evening. All the films this year were foreign, and all but one was subtitled into English. I’ll review them in the order they were shown.

Auf Der Strecke (On the Line). A bleak film set in Germany (what German films aren’t bleak), On the Line tells the story of a store security guard that witnesses a man accosted by some local youths on the subway and leaves the train rather than interfere. Later, he learns that the man was found murdered and that the dead man was the brother of a femal co-worker. The result is effectively claustrophobic, but there’s nothing new in the examination of guilt and the attempt of the living to make up for something that can’t be undone. Rating: B.

New Boy. This Irish film tells the story of an African boy’s first day in his new school in Ireland. Through backflashes we learn that he witnessed the death of his teacher father at the hands of political rebels. I saw this film earlier this year at a short film festival. It has subsequently been re-edited and tightened up quite a bit and the acting by the children is great. That said, there are huge logical gaps (like how a poor southern African boy comes to live in Ireland), and the ultimate point of the story is illusive. B-.

Toyland. The requisite German film dealing with the Holocaust, this vignette tells the story of two famiies, one Jewish, one not, with same-age sons that promise to never leave each other. The German mother wrestles with nightmares of her son being taken by mistake when the SS come for their neighbors. These dreams are mixed with real events, leaving the audience unsure if they’re watching reality or imaginary. An interesting film, but ultimately a pipedream from a people still wrestling with their silent complicity in the near annihilation of a people. B.

The Pig. A great short film showing the complexity of calling for tolerance within clashing cultures through the story of an old man’s stay in a hospital for surgery “in his butt.” When he moves into his hospital room a picture of a smiling pig as it dashes off a diving board arrests his attention, eventually leading him to conclude that the pig is his guardian angel. However, when an Islamic man moves into his room, he awakens to find the pig removed for religious reasons, setting up conflicting demands for tolerance. Very funny and not even a little bit preachy. Great. A.

Manon on the Asphalt. My favorite of the evening and my hope to take the statue, (which I’m sure will go to Toyland, along with The Reader, so we can have a Nazi sweep) it is funny, poignant and life affirming. Manon is a twenty-something female artist who is struck by a car while riding her bike to meet her boyfriend. What follows is her musings on how the information about her death will disseminate to her close friends, family, and, ultimately, her boyfriend. 15 minutes of heaven. I enjoyed nothing in the theatre more this year. A.

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Oscar Predictions and Discussion

The DLP stance on the weakness of this year's Oscar nominees notwithstanding, I have put out some thoughts on who should win among the nominees and who I think will win below. Here is a link to a ballot.

Best picture
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Reader"
"Slumdog Millionaire"
Slumdog will win, and should win. Despite the backlash (I'm looking at you, Doc), it is still really good, followed closely by Milk and with lots of distance between the other three, which are all prety weak.

Full list after the jump:


Richard Jenkins, "The Visitor"
Frank Langella, "Frost/Nixon"
Sean Penn, "Milk"
Brad Pitt, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"
This is between Rourke and Penn, and I will say that Penn will win, but Rourke should. Both are towering performances, and whoever wins will deserve it.

Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married"
Angelina Jolie, "Changeling"
Melissa Leo, "Frozen River"
Meryl Streep, "Doubt"
Kate Winslet, "The Reader"
Hathaway should win, Winslet will win.

Supporting actor
Josh Brolin, "Milk"
Robert Downey Jr., "Tropic Thunder"
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Doubt"
Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Michael Shannon, "Revolutionary Road"
Ledger will win and should win. Runner-up is Michael Shannon.

Supporting actress
Amy Adams, "Doubt"
Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Viola Davis, "Doubt"
Taraji P. Henson, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Marisa Tomei, "The Wrestler"
Davis will win - I think she, Tomei and Cruz are all deserving. Henson's is the worst nomination in several years.

David Fincher, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Ron Howard, "Frost/Nixon"
Gus Van Sant, "Milk"
Stephen Daldry, "The Reader"
Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Boyle will win, Fincher should win. Stop nominating Daldry and Howard, please.

Foreign-language film
"The Baader Meinhof Complex," Germany
"The Class," France
"Departures," Japan
"Revanche," Austria
"Waltz With Bashir," Israel
The Class will win. Haven't seen any of these.

Adapted screenplay
Eric Roth and Robin Swicord, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
John Patrick Shanley, "Doubt"
Peter Morgan, "Frost/Nixon"
David Hare, "The Reader"
Simon Beaufoy, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Slumdog will win, Doubt should win.

Original screenplay
Courtney Hunt, "Frozen River"
Mike Leigh, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Martin McDonagh, "In Bruges"
Dustin Lance Black, "Milk"
Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon and Pete Docter, "WALL-E"
Milk will win, Frozen River should.

Animated feature film
"Kung Fu Panda"

Art direction
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
"The Duchess"
"Revolutionary Road"
Benjamin Button will, RevRoad should.

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
"The Reader,"
"Slumdog Millionaire"
Slumdog will, Button should.

Sound mixing
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
"Slumdog Millionaire"
Dark Knight

Sound editing
"The Dark Knight"
"Iron Man"
"Slumdog Millionaire"
Dark Knight

Original score
Alexandre Desplat, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
James Newton Howard, "Defiance"
Danny Elfman, "Milk"
A.R. Rahman, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Thomas Newman, "WALL-E"

Original song
"Down to Earth" from "WALL-E," Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman
"Jai Ho" from "Slumdog Millionaire," A.R. Rahman and Gulzar
"O Saya" from "Slumdog Millionaire," A.R. Rahman and Maya Arulpragasam
Jai Ho.

Costume design
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Duchess"
"Revolutionary Road"

Documentary feature
"The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)"
"Encounters at the End of the World"
"The Garden"
"Man on Wire"
"Trouble the Water"
Man on Wire will, Encounters should.

Documentary (short subject)
"The Conscience of Nhem En"
"The Final Inch"
"Smile Pinki"
"The Witness -- From the Balcony of Room 306"
Total guess - Final Inch.

Film editing
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
"Slumdog Millionaire"

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
"Hellboy II: The Golden Army"

Animated short film
"La Maison en Petits Cubes"
"Lavatory -- Lovestory"
"This Way Up"
Wow- Oktapodi, just for fun.

Live action short film
"Auf der Strecke (On the Line)"
"Manon on the Asphalt"
"New Boy"
"The Pig"
"Spielzeugland (Toyland)"
The Pig

Visual effects
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
"Iron Man"

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Best "Best Picture Winners" - Part 4 of 4

- of the past 40 years. 40-31 30-21 20-11

10. Ordinary People – (1980) – An affluent family unravels after the accidental death of the older brother. As the younger brother, Timothy Hutton gives an honest and moving performance, especially in his scenes with Judd Hirsch. As the parents, Mary Tyler Moore and Donald Sutherland play against type brilliantly, both grieving in their own way. Every psychiatrist or psychologist will tell you the film gets everything right from a therapy point of view. I'm a total wreck every time I watch it, which is once every year.

9. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – (1975)
Jack Nicholson’s performance as R.P. McMurphy is his absolute best: unpredictable, exciting, and hilarious. The trip on the boat reduces the claustrophobic impact and it’s a little unbelievable that everyone would fall asleep at the end with the window unlocked. But the interactions between the patients are strong and consistently funny. Nicholson describing the World Series after the television is turned off is a classic scene. And every moment with Will Sampson’s Chief Bromden is touching and inspiring.

8. The Departed – (2006) – The key character for me is Madolyn who’s just as dishonest as everyone else and compromises both her professional and personal lives as she struggles for happiness and meaning. William Monahan’s dialogue is the best of the decade and each performance (especially Leonardo DiCaprio) is fully realized. Given everything that preceded this film, it’s impressive Martin Scorsese had this many tricks left up his sleeve. The film may be lacking in emotion, but sentimentality is not Scorsese’s strong suit – probably why it took him so long to win his Oscar.

7. The Silence of the Lambs – (1991) An FBI agent in training overcomes a troubled past and a sexist society to save a size 14 lady from being murdered and skinned. The film is dense with its themes (sexual attraction, mother-daughter connection, human transformation – physical or otherwise, redemption, etc.) and you have to credit screenwriter Ted Tally for intelligently cramming so much of Thomas Harris’s novel into such a tight film. Director Jonathan Demme has many characters looking directly into the camera which connects the audience to the charged material. Demme’s use of the American flag is also interesting. The acting is first-rate all around, particularly and obviously from Anthony Hopkins, who uses a scant 22 minutes of screen time to create a cultural icon.

6. No Country for Old Men – (2007)
Adapting their first book (by Cormac McCarthy), Joel and Ethan Coen finally found themes worthy of their unbeatable camera know-how and unmatched ear(s) for eccentric dialogue. Until the third act, the plot is a straightforward cat and mouse, but the execution is always exciting. The third act takes the film into the instant classic realm. Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh is every bit the classic villain as Hannibal Lecter. Josh Brolin, Kelly MacDonald, and Tommy Lee Jones are relaxed, realistic, and perfect. I expect this to flip with #4 in a couple of years.

5. Unforgiven – (1992)
Director Clint Eastwood takes nearly every Western myth and invalidates each one. Then he applies his own take on morality, loyalty, and legends and finds something extraordinarily substantial. Simultaneously, he gets great, subtle performances from Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, Richard Harris, as well as himself. The Schofield Kid annoys and asks too many questions but this solidifies the theme of old age wisdom trumping the energy and exuberance of youth. The Old West hasn’t looked the same since.

4. Annie Hall – (1977)
The turning point in Woody Allen’s career that changed him from hilarious mastermind to mastermind genius. He uses cartoons, changes film stocks, breaks the 4th wall, uses subtitles, has flashbacks within flashbacks, and more. There are a hundred throwaway jokes, but my favorite involves Jeff Goldblum trying to remember his mantra. But none of it would matter without Diane Keaton’s titular performance which gives the film a much needed heart (like when she sings, “Seems Like Old Times”). It’s been copied to death, but the original is still fresh, 30 years gone.

3. Schindler’s List – (1993)
After making some of the most entertaining and successful films of all time, Steven Spielberg dropped his reliable techniques (crane shots, color, PG (13) rating, dolly shots) to tell his personal and deeply felt story more directly and honestly. Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes have never been better and Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is first-rate. The movie breezes by, even at 3+ hours. Profound, sincere, and knowing, the movie earns its status as the definitive Holocaust film, Spielberg’s best film, and one of the very best dramas of all time.

2. The Godfather – (1972)
Francis Ford Coppola’s masterfully adapts Mario Puzo’s popular novel and gets unforgettable portrayals from Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Diane Keaton, John Cazale, and Al Pacino. All the supporting performances are equally memorable. If I had to watch one sequence in a film from now to eternity, it would begin with the “It’s not personal, it’s strictly business” scene and end with the McCloskey and Sollozzo murders. It doesn’t get any better from a storytelling standpoint.

1. The Godfather Part II – (1974)
For those who enjoyed and celebrated the first film too much, here is Coppola’s tough countermeasure. I think it surpasses its predecessor because of its unique story structure, the darker cinematography, the grim honesty that criminals should not be celebrated, and Robert De Niro’s performance as the young Vito Corleone - which is richer and fuller than the older Vito (played by Brando in the first). Nothing Brando does in the first tops De Niro’s reaction to Fredo’s pneumonia. Speaking of Fredo, John Cazale gives the very best performance in the film. When asked what my favorite film is, I go with this one.

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New U2 Album Streaming on MySpace

No Line on the Horizon, the new album from U2, is streaming in its entirety on their myspace page here. Once you are on the page, you will need to go to the music player, which will by default be playing the maudlin lead-off single Get on Your Boots. Click on the Playlist pulldown menu and choose No Line on the Horizon. The album in five (!) different packages is due out March 2 in the U.S. A preliminary review will be posted shortly, but based on the first two songs it's already shaping up to be the most sonically interesting album since Pop (A). Dentite, weigh in. And here is the rest of it.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Best "Best Picture Winners" - Part 3 of 4

-of the past 40 years. 40-31 30-21

20. The Sting – (1973) – A recent viewing rocketed this highly entertaining and smoothly executed crowd-pleaser to the top 20. Paul Newman is hilarious and Robert Redford deftly carries the complicated film. The supporting cast is a who’s who of mid-70s character actors: Robert Shaw, Charles Durning, etc. and all perform beautifully. It doesn’t really add up to a whole lot, but it’s a first-rate movie movie.

19. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – (2003)
More of a coronation for all 3 films, ROTK contains the best cinematography of the trilogy, but lacks the lessons of the first film and the spectacular ending of the second. But Peter Jackson pulled off the impossible – three 3 hour films that stand alone on their own and add up to the something greater than the sum of their parts.

18. Platoon – (1986)
A little too melodramatic near the end (“I am reality”) and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings is probably used a little too much. There would appear to be a lot of clichés if you’re watching it cold, but that’s only because it’s been imitated so much. Oliver Stone’s camera captures the jungle as only a gifted director can, accentuated by his own Vietnam experience. Most notably, the scene in the village is one of the all-time greats: gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, tear-inducing, and morally demanding all at the same time.

17. Rain Man – (1988)
Two unlikely brothers (Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman) bond on a road trip from Cincinnati to Los Angeles. Hoffman may have won all the awards, but Cruise is equally impressive, showing a maturity and intelligence he hadn’t even tried in his prior films. Director Barry Levinson’s improvisational style perfectly suits the two lead actors and results in many hilarious exchanges and touching moments.

16. Dances with Wolves – (1990)
Like fellow actor Mel Gibson 5 years later, director Kevin Costner gives us unexpected angles and creates exciting action scenes (especially the one-of-a-kind buffalo hunt). But Costner gives his film much more humor and in doing so, humanizes the Sioux tribe. Costner’s given an excellent plot by novelist and screenwriter Michael Blake. He’s also given an excellent score by John Barry – who provides the major characters (including the wolf) their own separate beautiful theme. It’s also gracefully acted from top to bottom.

15. Midnight Cowboy – (1969)
Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman live in squalor and struggle to survive in New York. This is exhibit "A" on unlikable characters being incredibly sympathetic, but I haven’t the first clue how Voight and Hoffman do it. The film remains excitingly edited and entertaining throughout. The sped-up action is a little dated, but everything else feels genuine and applicable to modern life.

14. The Deer Hunter – (1978)
It’s not really a Vietnam movie, but a film about a specific group of people from rural Pennsylvania and how they’re affected by the war. The wedding drags on a bit too long and the deer hunting stuff is too obvious to be profound. But the Russian roulette scenes are electrifying, especially the first time you see it. The ending is moving beyond words. And Robert De Niro carries the film as his character Michael carries his friends through a troubled time.

13. Amadeus – (1984)
Inventive editing and storytelling is combined with some of the best music ever written. The narration flashback device is commonplace these days but is probably done best here (with Forrest Gump a close second). Tom Hulce is supposed to annoy but eventually finds enough depth and emotion to make Mozart multi-dimensional. As Salieri, F. Murray Abraham has the palpable desperation of any struggling, talented artist who can recognize genius – but not achieve it. Salieri may be the “patron saint of mediocrity”; the film is far from it.

12. The French Connection – (1971)
Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider play tough rule-bending cops on the trail of a major heroin shipment. The chase scene is still a landmark and the film remains well-paced with excellent editing. The acting is perfectly realistic and uncommonly interesting. There are lots of great quotable lines. Best of all, the film has the guts to end obscurely and open-ended.

11. Patton – (1970)
A towering performance by George C. Scott and tough crackerjack dialogue from Francis Ford Coppola are front and center in this epic tale of the eccentric genius General George S. Patton. The battle scenes are lacking, especially compared to more recent films, but this isn’t really a war film, but a biopic – one of the greatest ever made. And one with an obvious but rarely heard message: “All glory is fleeting.”

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Final Top Ten of 2008

1. Rachel Getting Married
2. The Wrestler
3. Gran Torino
4. The Dark Knight
5. Revolutionary Road
6. Frozen River
7. Slumdog Millionaire
8. Milk
9. The Reader
10. Benjamin Button

What a weird year. This list has changed since its previous incarnation, and may continue to shift a little. Gomorrah comes out this weekend and will probably enter the mix, but other than that I think we're done. In the last 3 nights I've watched all or parts of Once, There Will Be Blood and Michael Clayton making me long for 2007.

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Springsteen's Official "The Wrestler" Video

Bruce is taking himself a little too seriously, but a great song nonetheless. And not one mention of guacamole or chicken wings. His performance at the Oscars would have made it worth watching. As of now, I'm watching The Dark Knight on Oscar night, gonna DVR the ceremony, and fast forward through all the C-rap, which promises to be substantial.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Flight of the Conchords - Unnatural Love

Season 2, Episode 5

You might need to turn on the closed captioning to fully appreciate the greatness of this most recent episode where Jemaine starts a socially verboten relationship with Keitha, an Australian, who ultimately pulls a Mr. Henry. It’s not that the Australian and New Zealand accents are too thick, but the lingo used is distinct for both countries (“I’ve got to go murder a brown snake”). Paradoxically, the more specific the vernacular gets, the more universal it feels. Special guest director Michel Gondry uses his keen eye to create the best visuals in any Conchords song (twice) . . .

"Too Many D!cks (On the Dance Floor)” has, shall we say, inventive lighting and the projected images in "Carol Brown (Choir of Ex-Girlfriends)" are impossibly imaginative. But the visuals wouldn’t matter if the music and lyrics didn’t work. Captioning also helps with the lyrics which are furiously fast. Jemaine and Bret have been performing Carol Brown in concert since last May and it's the best song of the new season. I love the nod to Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”, the way Jemaine sings “Shut up”, and the way the song slows down when Carol Brown is mentioned.

One last thing - the sit-down scene at the restaurant is an instant classic. From Gondry’s use of the windows to Jemaine’s Crocodile Hunter outfit to everything Murray says (“Kevina”, “That’s a man’s name”, “Omigod”). A-

Who organized all of my ex-girlfriends into a choir and got them to sing?

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The Associate - John Grisham

Released February 2009. 384 pages.

The knock on author John Grisham is that he is a pop writer whose stories are simple stories about lawyers without a hint of artistic value. I don't disagree, but I do read most of them when they come out to give me a small dose of fiction from time to time. The Associate is the latest in his extensive body of work, and it fails to deliver the goods. As an associate at a semi-large firm myself, this book appealed to me because it charts the final year of law school and the first year of practice for a top student at a top law school headed to a huge firm. The tales of woe from these guys that start out at $180,000 in New York are fascinating, and in that regard the book is riveting, if only to other lawyers. Click below for more on The Associate:

The main character, Kyle McAvoy, is readying for a promising career when he is blackmailed by an unknown group in order to gain access to secret files located in his future firm. The group uses his proximity to a potentially explosive crime and the consequences of its publicization to subjugate him to their needs. He agrees to go along with it and works to unravel their identities throughout the book.

Along the way, he experiences the hellish nature of a big law firm practice (100 hr weeks, etc) and the sad existence its law partners live (100 hr weeks, dead in their 50's, barely know their kids). The details and situations the associates find themselves in are all very interesting, but the intrigue and blackmail piece is too unbelievable to work. I found the book to be tedious at times and just plain boring other times.

Kyle is a 2 dimensional character without much introspection or interesting features to liven up the action or at least pique the curiosity of the reader. Not recommended for non-lawyers, and only a decent read for the esquires. Read the first chapter for free here.

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Frozen River - A-

On DVD (2008). Rated R, 97 minutes. Trailer.

Desperation leads to bad choices. In Frozen River (winner of the Grand Jury Prize at last year's Sundance), the desperation of a struggling mother and wife leads her to participate in smuggling illegal immigrants across a frozen river in upstate New York and the Mohawk Territory. With a husband that has disappeared to go gambling with the $4000 they had saved to buy their new house (a double wide with good insulation) and two kids to feed and take care of, Ray (Melissa Leo - nominate for Best Actress for the role) takes the only option she can see to get the house and the happiness that comes with it. Click below for more on a dense, bleak film:

Ray's children are 15 and 5, and her relationship with the 15 year old is the best of the film, with the son providing a mirror for Ray and the emotional center of the film. The plot is simple: poor white people, mom looks for dad, mom runs into sweet Mohawk smuggler girl, mom smuggles for money, mom gets caught, interesting ending. Writer/Director Courtney Hunt (nominated for Best Original Screenplay) raises and tackles many themes and interesting issues: impact of poverty, the 'cold' as a metaphor for the difficult circumstances of life, parenting, immigration, morality, differences in tribal and US laws, love and hope. I have thought a lot about the film since watching it Friday night, and I keep uncovering different layers or ideas.

The mother/elder son relationship is just ridiculously well written. The son is vulnerable, tough, needy, reliable, and loving - no cliches allowed - as he expresses his distaste for their living situation he never gets out of line even though many times the viewer favors his side of the argument over his mother's. Hunt has several pretty shots of the area, but overall I wasn't blown away by the direction of the film. Definitely one of the best (and bleakest) of the year. A must see.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

DVD Releases - 2/17/09

Body of Lies - #
Changeling - #
Flash of Genius
High School Musical 3: Senior Year - #
Hobson’s Choice – (Criterion Collection)
How to Lose Friends and Alienate People
Midnight Meat Train - #

Click below for the week's Blu-ray releases

Blu-ray releases:
Capote/In Cold Blood Double Feature - *
Gandhi - *
Kramer vs. Kramer - *
The Passion of the Christ (Whaddaya think, Priest?)

# - Also on Blu-Ray
* - Doctor Approved

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1. U2 on Letterman every night, March 2-6. Here's a 12/08 acoustic version of Van Diemen's land.

2. R-rated trailer for Observe and Report. New Seth Rogen movie, basically the R-Rated Paul Blart. Danny McBride cameo.

3. Trailer for The Taking of Pelham 123 - John Travolta kidnaps a subway train car and talks through it with Denzel Washington, the head of the subway system. Directed by Tony Scott. Maybe.

4. Full length trailer for Angels and Demons. Supposedly a better book than its successor, The Da Vinci Code; this looks good.

5. Trailer for Land of the Lost. Will Ferrell and Danny McBride. No further analysis necessary.

6. Twitter is weird. Here are the twitter pages for Luke Wilson, Jimmy Fallon, Kevin Smith, Tina Fey, and Diablo Cody .

7. Chris Cornell is back on tour. Not to be missed - dates here. March 27 : Austin, TX, March 28 : Dallas, TX, and March 29 : Houston, TX (Doc, do yourself a favor)

8. The Carpetbagger talks Penn, PTA, Day-Lewis and Plainview - my Sunday moment of zen.

9. Great list and write ups from National Review: The top 25 conservative movies of all time. Worth your time.

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Recent DVD Releases

Lakeview Terrace

An angry and disgruntled widowed LAPD officer (Samuel L. Jackson) doesn’t approve when a mixed-race couple (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) moves in next door. He proceeds to legally terrorize and harass them using his badge and connections to protect him. It’s even less mature and less insightful about race relations than Crash. Wilson is bland and Jackson is a caricature of his former self. The movie is hopelessly predictable and infuriatingly devoid of any ideas. Except getting pregnant can fix any troubled relationship. Nice. The “+” is for the wildfire visuals. D+

Click below for the worst 2008 Oscar nominee and more.

The Visitor
I’m not sure how Richard Jenkins scored a Best Actor Oscar Nomination. I guess his white liberal guilt poster boy struck a chord with enough members of the white liberal Academy. A Connecticut college professor (Jenkins) goes to New York for a conference and enters his apartment which he has been legally renting for many years. He finds two illegal immigrants who are in NYC illegally and are renting his apartment through illegal means. The male (from Syria) plays the bongos illegally and gets detained when the police realize that yes, in fact, he is in the country illegally. They detain him and deport him, making things tough on his illegal girlfriend, his mom, as well as the legal professor. The legal director thinks he's clever by blurring the focus on the American flag (better than hanging it upside down, I guess – up yours, Paul Haggis), and the legal professor realizes he’s wasted his life teaching young legal American citizens when he could have played the bongos and wasted money on immigration attorneys who have no shot of winning the cases you’ve hired them for. Nice job throwing in Hurricane Katrina just in case the guilty feelings weren’t primed enough. I'll admit it was nice watching the liberal deal with big government bureacracy (don't you vote for more of that every year, ya douche?) Lawyer liked it better. C-

The Promotion
Sean William Scott and John C. Reilly compete for the manager position at a new supermarket. It’s frustrating, predictable, boring, and worst of all, unfunny. Avoid this, unless you want to see Jenna Fischer drop a couple of F-bombs. D

I basically agree with the following reviews (including the grade):
W. - B
Traitor - B
Hellboy II: The Golden Army - B
Pride and Glory - B-

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Best "Best Picture Winners" - Part 2 of 4

- of the past 40 years. Part 1 (40-31) is here.

30. Kramer vs. Kramer – (1979) – Great (great!) acting by Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep as their marriage falls apart. As they fight over their son, the hypocrisy of the laws are exposed and the public’s assumptions are upended (the mother isn’t the best parent 100% of the time). The last courtroom scene is particularly moving. Not flashy or life-changing, but it is a good film.

29. Gladiator – (2000)
The action scenes are still stirring as is Hans Zimmer’s score. But the political mumbo-jumbo has grown stale over the past few years. The supporting characters mostly speak hollowly, but Russell Crowe is excellent as Maximus, the smart, vengeful general-turned-gladiator looking for one score to settle before he meets his wife and son in the afterlife. Director Ridley Scott stages and shoots all the action scenes so differently that they’re all memorable and thrilling.

28. Terms of Endearment – (1983)
Writer-director James L. Brooks manages to balance lots of great jokes with intense dramatic scenes. The hospital scenes are as alive as ever mostly due to Shirley McClaine’s brilliant theatrics. Jack Nicholson has all the lines, but McClaine and Deborah Winger give the film its resonance.

27. Chariots of Fire – (1981)
A devout Christian and a Jew compete in the 1924 Olympics for England. It’s rare that you get an intelligent sports film where the characters speak in complete sentences with multi-syllabic words. It’s even rarer to have those characters describe their motivations and the effect religion has on their lives. Eric Liddell gave up a promising athletic career and fame to become a missionary. He should be known better by all and is rightly celebrated in this film.

26. Driving Miss Daisy – (1989)
Unlikely and reluctant acquaintances become best friends over time. Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy perform every scene in perfect harmony and Hans Zimmer’s score is memorable and heartfelt. It's pretty great - as far as it goes. Remember when Morgan Freeman was great actor?

25. Forrest Gump – (1994)
The directing, special effects, and editing are much better than this overly ironic satire deserves. Tom Hanks inhabits the titular character, showing plenty of humor and heart. It’s endlessly entertaining and I watch at least parts of it once a year when I catch it flipping channels. Just ignore the dubious message of waiting for life to happen to you. You probably should get off your ass and make the life you want happen.

24. American Beauty – (1999)
It drops a notch or 2 every year with the emotions and motivations seeming more dishonest and forced. It doesn’t help that screenwriter Alan Ball would repeat his same themes of suburbia dissatisfaction and family turmoil for 5 years in the HBO series Six Feet Under. His original now seems watered down. But the acting is great (especially Chris Cooper – who has an impossible, even ridiculous, role) and while the music by Thomas Newman has been imitated too much since, the cinematography by Conrad Hall is beautiful and timeless.

23. Shakespeare in Love – (1998)
A superb script and cast propel this to one of the most enjoyable “period” films and romantic comedies of the past 20 years. Screenwriters Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard propel the plot forward in unique ways and the 16th century story of William Shakespeare’s muse (Viola – the radiant Gwyenth Paltrow) is alive and vibrant. Did I mention the script’s pretty good?

22. Braveheart – (1995)
The action scenes are still stirring as is James Horner’s score. But the political mumbo-jumbo has grown stale over the past several years. The difference between the vengeance of William Wallace (Mel Gibson) and that of Gladiator’s Maximus is that we have spent time with Wallace and his (secretly wed) wife (Catherine McCormack). We watch her die and that time spent pays off viscerally and emotionally in a big way. Expert direction by Gibson.

21. Rocky – (1976)
This underdog story gave mid-70s audiences something to cheer about. The characters are real and memorable and some of the desperation of the characters (Rocky, Paulie, Mickey) must have come from the actors’ real lives. The film substitutes as a time capsule – you can actually feel the post-Watergate malaise. Bill Conti’s score soars and perfectly matches the physicality of the images.

Films by decade thus far:
2000s: 6
1990s: 6
1980s: 6
1970s: 2

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He's Just Not That Into You - B-

In theaters. Rated PG-13, 129 minutes. Trailer.

He's Just Not That Into You is an adult dating comedy with an all-star ensemble cast and a decent situational script. Directed by renowned Dunston Checks In helmer Ken Kwapis, the film is a pure "chick-lit" fluffy view of the world - where apparently everyone is beatiful, rich and owns a boat. Starring the likable Ginnifer Goodwin (Big Love) the movie generally follows her character's trials and travails through the Baltimore dating scene - with the help of the knowledgeable (and also very likable) Justin Long. Click below for more HJNTIY:

Ginnifer and Justin's discussions are generally funny and interesting, but their story arc is evident from the first time they speak. Along for the ride are Jennifer Aniston and Ben Affleck as the couple where the guy doesn't want to get married, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Connelly as the long married couple ripe for a breakup, Scarlett Johanson as the breaker upper, and Kevin Connolly as the hanger on tyring for Scarjo. None of these vignettes was very interesting or funny, although there are some decent moments throughout each of them. Cooper, Goodwin and Long stood out for their appeal and performances. It is great to see Affleck back on screen - his persona and manner are fun to watch.

All in all, not a horrible girl movie, and considering the trailer I saw before the movie for the new Mconaughey vehicled titled, wait for it, The Ghost of Girlfriends Past, this is probably the Citizen Kane of that genre(seriously, watch that trailer. That one may call for a DLP summit).

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