Here is a great essay on Wes Anderson, including videos and analysis, from the Museum of the Moving Image as the first part of a 5 part series on the director.Continue reading this post
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
1. Sascha Baron Cohen’s Bruno has been slapped with an NC-17. Full story here. It's common for films to be submitted to the MPAA with questionable stuff, so they can be cut down and receive an R. Scorsese did this with Casino and the infamous "head in a vice" scene. He only put it in the original cut to throw the MPAA a bone, but they didn't object.
Onward . . .
2. Shutter Island (Scorsese’s fall film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer, Michelle Williams, Max von Sydow, Jackie Earle Haley, Elias Koteas, Patricia Clarkson, Ted Levine, and John Carroll Lynch) has its first ad.I’ve heard there are a lot of surprises and developments in its source material (Dennis Lehane’s novel) so I’m avoiding all details until the film opens on Oct. 2, 2009
3. Composer Maurice Jarre has passed on at the age of 84. He won Oscars for 3 David Lean films (Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago, A Passage to India), but I’ll always remember him for 2 Peter Weir films (Witness, Dead Poets Society).
Posted by Doctor at 2:44 PM
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Watched this last night on VH1 Classic, and its a must for anyone between 29-40. Great shots of the band from its genesis and behind the scenes footage. Re-airing today from 1:00-1:30pm and tomorrow morning from 1:30-2:00am.
Monday, March 30, 2009
In Theatres, Rated R, 105 Minutes
Paul Rudd’s rocket-ascent from dependable second-fiddle to leading man continues upward with this by-the-numbers bromance. Rudd plays recently engaged and future perfect husband Peter Klavin. Only chink in his armor, he doesn’t have a best bud to be his best man. So, his future wife Zooey, (Rashida Jones, The Office) and her bevy of girlfriends decide to set him up on a series of man dates with the hope that he can fill out the bridal party in six months. While these attempts routinely (and in some cases, hysterically) fail, he stumbles into an unlikely friendship with unabashed guy Marshall Eriksen (Jason Segel, How I Met Your Mother). Needless to say, the friendship starts interfering with relat-time with his honey and Klavin has to make some not-so-difficult decisions.
While there’s nothing particularly new here, Rudd and Segel are pretty seriously funny dudes, Rashida Jones is endlessly likable, and the supporting cast is surprisingly solid—Jon Favreau, Jaime Pressly, J.K. Simmons, and Andy Samberg. Samberg, in particular, is funny as Peter’s gay brother who now only goes after straight guys because he likes the challenge, and Favreau and Pressly play an “old” married couple to perfection. Still, the jokes get weaker and the film continues and the portrayal of how guys “really” are goes a little over-the-top. There are some conversations guys don’t have, actually, and even Segel and Rudd can’t sell those.
At House of Blues.
What a difference a chair makes. After being blown away at 2007's Chris Cornell concert at the same venue, this one was a bit of a letdown. For starters, Appraiser and I had seats in 2007, but were standing in 2009 - which meant that the 2 hours between the end of opener Outernational's set and the beginning of Cornell's set were excruciating for my legs and tolerance of other concertgoers. His voice is still amazing, but a weird recent album (produced by Timbaland) plus a bad setlist and a way too hammy backing band left me unsatisfied. Click below for more Cornell:
For starters, there must have been a delay because the lights were brought down 3 or 4 times during the dreaded 2 hour interval, only to go back up - resulting in the very rare booing before a concert. Once onstage, Cornell's new hairdo was reminiscent of a nerdy female extra on the 90's version of Beverly Hills 90210. He launched into a couple of okayish songs from his most recent album and then killed me with too obscure early Soundgarden tracks. Only after 45 minutes did he start hitting his stride with me, singing Hunger Strike, Be Yourself, Billy Jean, Outshined, Fell On Black Days (best of concert), and a medley of great songs (Stairway to Heaven, Sunday Bloody Sunday and All Along the Watchtower). He also did the Soundgarden song from the Singles soundtrack, another highlight.
The backing band was super goofy and way too involved in the show - my favorite parts were when it was just Cornell and the guitar. Oh, and I realize that I am too old to stand for 4 hours.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
The Butterfly Effect: Revelations
Marley & Me - #
Ricky Gervais: Out of England – The Stand-Up Special
Seven Pounds - #
Slumdog Millionaire - #
Tell No One - #
Click below for this week's Blu-ray releases
An American in Paris - *
Chronicles of Riddick & Pitch Black (2 Pack)
Ghosts of Mars
The Matrix - *
# - Also on Blu-Ray
* - Doctor Approved
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Lawyer went to AFI Dallas almost a year ago (when he had internet access – HiYo!) and came back with a couple of movie reviews that just recently became available on DVD.
What Just Happened?
Like lawyer, I mostly enjoyed this insider’s look at how the Hollywood system works. Robert De Niro is pretty great (finally!) as a producer trying to finish one film and start another. Bruce Willis, Robin Wright, and Catherine Keener provide great support. It’s not crazy enough to be memorable and the title is terrible. B
Onward . . .
Battle in Seattle
Lawyer was probably a little too kind in his review. Of course, if I saw Charlize Theron in person, my mind (among other things) wouldn’t be working properly for a week or so. Not enough time is spent with the characters or their motivations to make them relatable. The movie wants to be a documentary, a political statement, and a relationship drama – and spreads itself too thin to be effective. I liked lawyer’s point about how the riots actually prevented the progress the protesters sought. C+
I don’t know how Priest got stuck on “crap detail”, but here are three that he tried to warn everyone about. I wish I had listened.
Some OK action scenes, but a ludicrous plot and the most annoying female character of the year. – C
Drug companies bad! Military bad! Max Payne dumb! – C-
The worst of the 3 since it wastes the considerable talents of Joan Allen, who’s obviously cashing a paycheck. And Ian McShane obviously has 3-4 alimony payments to make to be signing up for this. Director Paul W.S. Anderson continues his run of soulless, nihilistic, violent action films. The difference between “W.S.” and “T.” couldn’t be greater. D+
Thursday, March 26, 2009
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||M - Th 11p / 10c|
|Back in Black - Recession Winners|
I can't get enough of this guy. I find his exasperated anger and line delivery hilarious. He also goes after all sides of the political spectrum with equal fervor. That clip of Arnold smoking pot is from Pumping Iron (1976).
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This slipped past last month but The Lonely Island (Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone) released an album last month called "Incredibad". It includes the Natalie Portman rap, J!zz in My Pants, and I'm on a Boat. Usually funny, sometimes hilarious, always creative. The album's available on I-Tunes. The group is behind Hot Rod, which I just watched again (Danny McBride is one of the friends - and pretty funny). I stick by my original (somewhat controversial) brief review.Click below for a Let the Right One In update.
Here is a healthy discussion (with some spoilers) of the apparently disastrous subtitles on my only recent rave. I avoided all plot points after the first 15-20 minutes because I loved all the twists and turns. At the time, I was more impressed with the direction than the script and maybe this is why. The company will make a DVD/Blu-ray version of the geek-approved theatrical subtitled version soon, which I will be picking up. Glad I rented first.
Posted by Doctor at 6:27 AM
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Season 2, Episode 10 (Finale)
So the team had only 7-8 good-great episodes in them (like last year). The worst Conchords song ever (even worse than Bowie!) had Bret as a Russian victim of cannibalism. The beginning and ending "natural sounds" percussion scenes were fine, but the potentially interesting domestic situation with Mel was mostly wasted. The harp thing didn't work, but it was nice to see Doug get some airtime. And Dave is always welcome.
If the show doesn't return for a third season (and let's hope that it does), the ending is ideal. But how they got there (their landlord not cashing any of their checks for 2 years) is certainly farfetched. This is the only episode over the past 10 weeks that I don't feel like watching again. I can't wait for the Season 2 DVD release (in August).
Monday, March 23, 2009
Big Stan - #
Bolt - #
The Cake Eaters
The Last Metro (Criterion) - #
Quantum of Solace - #, *
Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freight and Under the Hood - #
Click below for the week's Blu-ray releases
The 400 Blows (Criterion) - * (Doc's pick of the week)
Fast and the Furious Trilogy
Goldfinger - *
James Bond Collection Volume 3 (Goldfinger, Moonraker, The World is Not Enough)
The Kite Runner
A Mighty Heart
Never Say Never Again
Things We Lost in the Fire
The World in Not Enough
VH-1 on Sunday nights.
After Doc's slew of quality reviews of quality films, I thought I'd post about the other show I watch (Conchords and 30 Rock are the other two) to add some levity. Rock of Love Bus follows Bret Michaels and his Bachelor-esque show wherein he sifts through 20 skanks to find true 'love'. I hate reality tv (except the Soup), but for some reason, the campiness, bizarre social rules, and idiocracy quotes are too much for me to miss. Worth watching - my favorite moments so far are when certain girls are kicked off the show because they are TOO skanky for the show.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
On DVD and Blu-ray
I’m not a vampire or horror movie fan but make exceptions when a film comes along as brilliantly conceived and shot as this. A great film is a great film, no matter the genre. In 1982 Sweden, 12 year old Oskar is constantly being bullied at school. A girl roughly his age moves into his apartment building and since they have a lot in common (loneliness, distant father figures), they strike up a quick friendship. It’s clear to the viewer (but not Oskar) she’s a vampire immediately – she appears suddenly, covers large distances quickly, and is only seen at night. She lives with an older male vampire, who’s getting careless with his victims - leaving all kinds of evidence and sometimes witnesses at the crime scenes . . .
The snowy exteriors and overbearing coldness is felt intensely and the characters carry the same kind of depressed faces seen in The Lives of Others. (In the supplemental DVD material, director Tomas Alfredson says that Sweden was about half behind the iron curtain at that time.) Alfredson uses streetlights terrifically in the nighttime scenes, creating shadows that contribute to the ominous mood. His use windows and reflections contributes to the character connections. The sound design is inventive, sometimes startling, but never distracting. The music is surprisingly touching as 2 lost souls try to find happiness in a lonely world. Unlike most Hollywood movies that overwhelm you with orchestral arrangements, a single piano is used, then a single guitar (shades of The Deer Hunter) - giving the film an uncommon depth. The performances of the children are perfectly understated, also staying out of the way of a terrific story and flawless direction.
There’s some blood, of course, and some gore, but the creativity and tension found in the action scenes make it hardly noticeable. The climax is one of the most memorable scenes of the decade, unique and profound. If I were giving out a 2008 Best Director prize, it would go to Alfredson. I’m still grappling with what the film is trying to say (if anything - and it doesn't have to). The Dark Knight goes after America’s response to terrorism perfectly, but the fact that an occasionally gory, Swedish-language (subtitled) vampire movie with 2 child leads is vying for my best film of 2008 slot should speak volumes about this film’s quality. (And there’s a Two-Face in this film too – sort of) A-
Updated Best Films of 2008
1. The Dark Knight
2. Let the Right One In
3. Synecdoche, New York
5. Man on Wire
6. In Bruges
7. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
8. Tropic Thunder
9. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son about His Father
10. Burn After Reading
Still need to see Frozen River, Tell No One and The Wrestler which may alter the list. I also haven’t seen Changeling, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, Happy-Go-Lucky, Priceless, or The Reader, but don’t expect any of them to make a dent.
On DVD and Netflix Instant Viewing
In November 2001, Family Medicine resident Dr. Andrew Bagby was found murdered in Keystone State Park outside Latrobe, Pennsylvania. The only suspect and ex-girlfriend, Dr. Shirley Turner, fled the country to Newfoundland and then announced she was pregnant with his child. Bagby’s childhood friend and filmmaker Kurt Kuenne decided to travel across the country and interview everyone who knew Bagby so his unborn son would know something about his father. The extradition of Turner to the US was prolonged due to the incompetent Canadian Legal System. Then she abused the system further with an ensuing custody battle for her son (Zachary) with Bagby’s parents (David and Kathleen) . . .
The majority of the events occur between 2001 and 2003 and it took another 5 years to Kuenne to assemble all the footage; he admits he did not know when and how to end the film. The editing creatively combines snippets of home movies and interviews for comedic effect as well as contradictory evidence to something that just preceded it (a la JFK). But, there’s probably too much editing which gets distracting. A story this sensational that encompasses doctors, lawyers, a priest, and much more doesn’t need anything too flashy. But Kuenne does a good job of explaining the complexities of the case and its timeline. His one-sidedness and anger is justified and the actions of the Canadian court officials are obviously indefensible.But the real strength of the film is its emotionally cathartic juggernaut of an ending. The message of appreciating your family and friends is simple and obvious, but has rarely been sent this well. Kuenne also provides the music, and while it’s a little too Schindler’s List-y, it works. There’s a lot going on here: frustration, laughs, anger, love, and hate - sometimes simultaneously. There’s also a subtle acknowledgement of the dissolution of the American family, which can lead to extensive and long-lasting devastation. B+
Saturday, March 21, 2009
South Park had a pretty great Dark Knight parody this week where Cartman dressed up in a ridiculous costume and attacked "criminals" at night. He gets some competition by another "superhero" later in the episode. The copying of of Christian Bales's Batman voice is hilarious.
See the full episode here.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Thursday, March 19, 2009
On DVD, Blu-ray, and Netflix Instant viewing
Ben Kingsley is a long-time divorced New York college professor who likes to discuss hot co-eds with his long-time colleague and friend (the Pulitzer Prize winning poetry professor) Dennis Hopper. He occasionally appears on public television to discuss books (a faux interview with Charlie Rose opens the film). A new student (Penelope Cruz) catches Kingsley’s eye and he uses his fame and influence to spark a relationship. But he finds himself in uncharted waters when he falls in love with her . . .
Kingsley continues his late career resurgence (which began with Sexy Beast). He’s charming, intense, and eventually touching when tragedy inevitably strikes. Cruz has grown into quite an accomplished actress. Her character’s arc (at least how Kingsley perceives her) from beautiful and sexy to substantial and authentic matches her career. She reveals her breasts several times during the film, but it’s impossible to look at them the same way at the beginning and the end. Indeed, one man’s journey from shallow, self-absorbed womanizer to honorable, committed gentleman can (and should) be extrapolated to mankind at large. One of the most interesting ideas in the film is that beautiful woman are invisible because you never really see them. You can’t see past the surface to get to the real person.
There are other great lines and insights, many literary discussions, and brushes of high culture (plays, paintings, etc). The music consists of tastefully chosen (and more importantly, rarely heard) compositions from Beethoven, Bach, Vivaldi, etc. The film is based on the 2001 novel by Philip Roth and adapted for the screen by Nicolas Meyer (Star Trek 2, 4, and 6!). The film is centered on a man and his obsessions, but surprisingly directed by a woman. Barcelona native Isabel Coixet has a great eye for slow camera movement and rich cinematography. She repeats image compositions which comments on Kingsley’s stagnant life. There are some nice editing touches that force the viewer to pay attention. Everything from top to bottom is intelligently done, including the supporting performances. Hopper gives his best performance in years and Peter Sarsgaard matches Kingley’s intensity in a few short scenes as his doctor son. You probably have to be at least 30 to begin to appreciate this. And the older you are, the more you’ll probably like it. Elegy is elegant. B+
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
In 1920s Los Angeles, a young man at a long term health facility tells an elaborate story to a young girl about 5 multi-cultural fugitives joining forces to take down a common adversary. The hospital scenes are pedantic and borderline pedophilic. The acting by Oklahoma native Lee Pace and 10 year old Catinca Untaru (whose Romanian accent will get on your last nerve) is labored and distracting at best. But the fantasy sequences are visually astounding. Director Tarsem fills the film with bright colors, interesting angles and lines, and nice textures in every frame - each one almost worth framing. The story has too many twists and the film occasionally feels like The Princess Bride on acid with a similar storytelling device . . .
Tarsem’s similarly titled last film The Cell also suited the ex video director’s sensibility with Jennifer Lopez entering a serial killer’s imagination, thereby giving the director ample opportunity to create amazing visuals. That film is more complete than this one however, with better acting, a coherent plot, and a much more satisfying ending. The Fall never becomes anything but a bunch of beautiful images. However, any film that ends with a montage of some of Buster Keaton’s best stunts can’t be all bad. B-
Monday, March 16, 2009
Season 2, Episode 9
Jemaine goes undercover with Dave to help Bret talk to a lady. Then Jemaine gets maced (!) after staging a fake mugging to help Bret look more masculine. Then Bret gets freaky . . .
The "Friends" episode ended with a song, and this one inventively begins with one - where Bret sings about his day and Jemaine occasionally chimes in. Some of the episode feels a little redundant, with Murray whispering about Greg (who's close by) as well as the duo handling the romantic encounters incompetently. But it is funny, and a step up from last week. Listening to Jemaine wailing offscreen after getting maced was my laugh out loud moment. This season became a DVD purchase a few weeks ago after "Unnatural Love". Next week is the season finale where the guys get evicted and move in with Mel.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
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Punisher: War Zone - #
Click below for the week’s Blu-Ray releases
Paramount Studios goes nuts with the dual releases
Clear & Present Danger/Hunt for Red October - *
Hustle & Flow/Black Snake Moan
The Love Guru/Blades of Glory
Mission: Impossible 1 & 2
The Princess Bride - *
Sahara/Failure to Launch
South Park: The Complete Twelfth Season
Sweeney Todd/Sleepy Hollow
Top Gun/Days of Thunder
Van Wilder: Freshman Year
# - Also on Blu-Ray
* - Doctor Approved
Saturday Night Live has been in a post-election funk; too scared to criticize Obama and too many uninspired hosting choices. But last night's episode contained at least 2 hilarious skits (both TV-14)
I'm not sure how they got the "X" in "Suppressex" past the sensors in the skit after the jump.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Rachel Getting Married
Anne Hathaway is superb as Kym, the junkie who crashes her sister’s wedding and creates chaos all around her. Director Jonathan Demme’s digital camera is perfectly placed throughout the film and the supporting cast (especially Debra Winger) is perfectly fine. But if I want to sit through a couple hours of relentless family fighting and bickering, I’ll stay sober on Thanksgiving. The ridiculously liberal wedding is interesting, and I liked the way the film ended without any easy answers. I could criticize how thinly written the groom is, but recognize that this is a “sisters” movie. But I gotta say, and I know this is shallow, but couldn’t they find a guy without a tooth gap you could drive a truck through and Elton John glasses that cover his face and the faces of the people immediately to his right and left? It’s distracting and without any charisma or lines to speak, you’ll wonder what Rachel is doing with him. You’ll also wonder what the unbelievably noble black family would want anything to do with the crazy white family, with their junkie daughter and latent homosexual father. B
Click below for Milk
Surely Harvey Milk had a tiny flaw at one point in his life. Surely he had bouts of anger or vengeance or left the toilet seat up or something. He’s treated way too reverently here and his adversaries like Anita Bryant are portrayed as evil incarnate. Dan White is written as an evil incompetent boob, but at least Josh Brolin gives him quite a bit of depth. Sean Penn gives a transformative performance as Milk. It’s no surprise that he won the Oscar for Best Mimicry by an Actor in a Lead Role (see also 2004-2006 and 2002-2003, 2005-2007 on the ladies’ side). Admittedly, there are a lot of great jokes and 1970s San Francisco is impeccably recreated. The slow motion stuff didn’t really work for me, but director Gus Van Sant did enough funky framing of the actors to keep it interesting, sometimes pulling way back to show the characters in their environment. But everyone’s treatment of Milk the man is so nauseatingly worshipful that this biopic ends up much more mundane than I thought possible – even with all the dudes kissing. Surely Harvey Milk had some kind of flaw. I mean more than using his fame and power to take advantage of a vulnerable, homeless, suicidal Latino 2 decades his junior. B
Thursday, March 12, 2009
I watched a big chunk of Royal Tennenbaums (A) tonight. Greg (Murray's employee) from FOTC is the hotel manager where Royal stays and works. And the sequence preceding Richie's attempted suicide are some of my favorite minutes of film from the past 20 years.Continue reading this post
[Guest Review - Europpraiser]
This isn’t how every band starts out. He’s a starving musician, she’s a self-published (starving as well) short story writer. They meet at the day-job, working as telemarketers in Montreal, selling business directories over the phone. In 2005 his band Wolf Parade signs with Sub Pop Records and he parlay’s that into a record deal for his “side project” formed with his new fiancé. So goes the story of Dan Boeckner & Alexei Perry; now married with their second full length release as the Handsome Furs. Click below for more:
The sound of the Handsome Furs is kind of new wave drum machine meets post-punk guitar, in easily digestible three minute pop songs. Simple enough, right? They aren’t into anthems or ballads; that’s left to Coldplay and U2. For musicians like Dan Boeckner, ballads are songs for the weak, those who don’t have stomach for the fight. And anthems are considered over-written, over-produce and totally contrived. Boeckner explains the sound himself - “We wanted to make these songs as full as possible with the least amount of equipment so it would just be the two of us, a drum machine, a keyboard and a guitar.” The songs are pretty formulaic. A handsome Furs song is quite distinctive from other bands. They have a melodic addictive quality that’s difficult to explain. Something grabs you, and the song must be heard over and over (ask Dentist). Boeckner’s voice finishes off the sound with a strained combativeness that’s still quite casual in delivery.
Face Control is a bit more aggressive in tone as compared to the first cd Plague Park. The beats are more complex, quite Depeche Mode-ish. Boeckner’s voice and guitar are both more prominent and carry more weight. The guitar is bit heavier and thicker, unlike the first cd, which has a cleaner more crystalline sound. Like Plague Park, Face Control is still quite melodic and catchy. Lyrically, it’s much of the same. There’s still a nihilistic “what’s the use, this ships going down” mentality. All of the songs were written in Russia and other iron curtain countries. Face Control is the nickname of a doorman at a Moscow nightclub. So there’s an eastern-block inspiration here for sure. This is probably most evident in Talking Hotel Arbat Blues, which starts off with –
“We were standing in the center of the occupation
Caught between the ground & the grey grey sky
Baby got a little bit of bad information
Baby take a number, baby wait in line”
You probably won’t be hearing the Handsome Furs on the radio, outside of college towns anyway. But Face Control is definitely worth checking out. It will be in my rotation for several months to come. There isn’t a “hit” on this cd, just 38 minutes that must be listened to again and again.
If you like the Handsome Furs, check out Wolf Parade and The Sunset Rubdown, you might try early Clinic as well.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
The new season of South Park begins tonight and while we sometimes hype things here at DLP that disappoints (Eastbound and Down, anyone?), the description of the first episode on my DVR made me laugh. I don't know what this says about me, but it probably isn't good. Click below if you're not easily offended.
“The Ring”: Kenny tries to take his relationship with his new, fifth grade girlfriend to the next level by taking her to a Jonas Brothers concert, but his dreams of having sex with her are squashed when the band presents them with purity rings.
In theaters. Rated R, 137 minutes. Trailer.
Billed as "the best mob movie ever", winner of the Palme D'Or at Cannes and a tragic omission from this year's Best Foreign Film Oscar Nominations, Italy's Gomorrah sounded like my kind of film. It ended up being a decent, but ultimately over-hyped film depicting the hellish environment in central Italy. The film follows 6 interconnected stories in the third-worldish environment of this mafia infested patch of humanity. Director Mateo Garrone creates multiple stunning visuals and several powerful sequences, but the lack of serious character development and too much super close camerawork left me disoriented and unsatisfied. Click below for more on Gomorrah:
We begin in a seedy stand-up tanning salon with lots of generic mob types messing around and getting a tan - then most of them are murdered. From there we get introduced to a pubescent boy getting drawn into the mess - making deliveries and ultimately selling his soul to join. Garrone weaves each of his stories in seamlessly, with the most affecting being the "money deliveryman" that visits those the mob supports with cash. He shuffles around pretending that because he doesn't kill people he isn't morally compromised, but his final scene (the film's best and a camera angle nod to Taxi Driver) exposes that fallacy. The other stories focus on two wannabe gangsters (the guys in the undies and uzis) a fashion manufacturer and a "waste removal specialist". Each of them is affecting in their own way, with bleak and unobtrusive messages about man's nature and the complicity of everyone in a global economy in perpetuating and ignoring such activities.
The film shot in a pseudo-documentary style with almost no music or pandering to the audience. It has grown in the days since I saw it, but still it just didn't resonate all that much with me. Throughout the film Garrone shows the character's obsession with machismo and status and, most interestingly vanity. They trim their eyebrows, get tans and pay more attention to their clothes than any normal guy I know. This is yet another subtle comment on the depravity and absurdity of 'the life' for these people. The film did grab me in its nihilistic viewpoint of the fallen world - hopelessness and survival are the daily diet for these people, and I appreciated the depictions of such a stark place and worldview.
The film is swimming in authenticity. It is based on a book by the same name by Robert Saviano, who is now in protective custody because of the revelations in the book. Several of the actors in the film were local and have subsequently been arrested for mob-related crimes.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Season 2, Episode 8
With an audience dwindling by the gig, Jemaine and Bret are encouraged to try hair gel by Murray. The effect is instant coolness, brilliantly played up by the duo, whose “Whatevers” are perfectly delivered. But while it’s a good joke, it doesn’t develop or expand. The other half of the episode deals with the New Zealand prime minister trying to open “New Zealand Town” in New York (between Little Italy and Chinatown). Lucy Lawless shows up as the prime minister’s assistant and the bureaucratic nature of the relationships between her, the prime minister, and Murray were more frustrating than funny . . .
Mel having a key to Bret and Jemaine’s apartment was an interesting development and Dave pretending to be from New Zealand was a great short scene. The homage to Chinatown was fine, but felt a little tacked on and the one song (“Fashion is Danger”) was the most disappointing of the season. But this has been an excellent season to date and the worst Conchords episode is still better than almost anything else on television. B
London tabloid writer Sidney Young (Simon Pegg) is hired to work at a New York magazine after catching the eye of a highly successful editor (Jeff Bridges). Young wants to become ridiculously famous, but doesn’t want to play by the rules, keeping his dated, comfortable wardrobe and offensive tell-it-like-it-is behavior. He meets actress Sophie Maes (Megan Fox) – the next big thing – as well as a fellow writer (Kirsten Dunst) who he has much more in common with than he wants to admit . . .
Pegg does as well as anyone could in a role that asks him to chase a pig around, kill a Chihuahua, and share 2 scenes with a transsexual (who goes full frontal). Bridges isn’t asked to do much but is a welcome presence. Gillian Anderson is excellent as a publicist and Danny Huston is appropriately slimy as Pegg’s nemesis. There are some great scenes (Megan Fox walking through a pool, Megan Fox walking around in her underwear, Megan Fox getting out of a cab), but the tone is all over the place and the slapstick scenes seemed slapped on by the studio trying to appeal to a mass audience.
The scenes involving Pegg and his father are the best in the film, but the use of La Dolce Vita seems disjointed and cheap. This is as scattered and unfocused as it gets. Robert B. Weide has directed many episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm but this is his first feature. There’s some great comic timing, especially by Pegg, but there’s little going on that is visually interesting, save for Ms. Fox. C
Monday, March 9, 2009
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Neko Case (The New Pornographers, for those unfamiliar) has a voice like a pipe organ, grandiose, thick, and swelling. And, like a pipe organ, it’s in the lower octaves that she’s at her best—where her voice pummels and surrounds you, smashing you like locomotion. If she’s had any fault in the past it’s that her voice was too big for the songs she was writing, or, maybe she hadn’t learned that sometimes just because you can belt a song doesn’t mean you should. Whichever, on her newest album Middle Cyclone she’s penned 14 songs that match her booming alto perfectly. In so doing, she often sounds like nothing so much as a re-imagined Decemberist, with richly layered acoustic strings and emotions writ large.
The album kicks off with This Tornado Needs You in which Case compares herself in love to a tornado destroying everything in its path. Her need to destroy and break those she loves is as the unifying theme of this album. It also introduces nature as a metaphor for romance, a theme she continues to explore. The cumulative message is that love is both fleeting and destructive by nature. The implication that Neko isn’t interested in challenging nature also serves as a warning to any male tempted to come to close, a point driven home when she bellows “I’m a man man man man man man man eater, but still you’re surprised when I eat ya.” And belied by the title of standout, “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth.” The album kicks it up halfway through fourth song “Polar Nettles,” which includes the description “The Sistine Chapel painted with a Gatling gun,” and never looks back. The songs come quick (eight of the fourteen are quicker than three minutes) and many have several movements. The lyrics fit this pattern. Case is more interested in turning the perfect phrase than making linear sense. But the richness of these phrases are startling, catching like a fish hooks.
The closest Neko comes to regretting the life she’s chosen is on the heartbreaking Don’t Forget Me, in which she both cares for and warns her paramour. “Keep your memories, but keep you powder dry too.” And later, “I’ll miss you when I’m lonely. I’ll miss the alimony too.” She seems to see the inevitable ending of her chosen life, while choosing to ignore it, “And when we’re older, and full of cancer—oh it doesn’t matter now. Come on get happy!” Still, she pleads, “Don’t forget me. Please, don’t forget me. I think of you. Let me know you think of me too.”
Neko Case has traditionally been labeled alt country, but there’s not much country on this album. What it is, outside of the best album I’ve heard thus far this year, is hard to say. Roots n’ Rock, probably.
Download: Magpie to the Morning, I’m an Animal, Don’t Forget Me, The Pharoahs, and Polar Nettles
*Fun fact about Case: She’s been banned for life from performing at the Grande Ol’ Opry for taking of her shirt and performing a set topless. She claimed she just got hot. True story.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Cadillac Records - #
Let the Right One In - #
Milk - #
Rachel Getting Married - #
Role Models (both Rated and Unrated editions) - #
Synecdoche, New York - #
Transporter 3 - #
Click below for the week’s new Blu-Ray releases
Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology
Battle in Seattle
Pinocchio - (Doc's kids' Pick of the Week)
Sunday, March 8, 2009
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In theatres. Rated R. 160 minutes.
Watchmen is grandiose on every level. From the length, coming in at 2:40, to the themes of the nature of God, good and evil, human nature, and war, to the 100 feet high Dr. Manhattan, the movie is nothing if not ego. And, honestly, that’s part of its charm. For the uninitiated, Watchmen is based on the highly celebrated graphic novel of the same name (named by Time in 2005 in its list of 100 Best English Language Novels Since 1923). The setting is a fictionalized 1983 in which masked super-heroes who once helped the U.S. win Vietnam have now been outlawed, Nixon is serving a third term, the Cold War with Russia is at its apex, and it appears someone is killing off the old super-heroes.
The story is told via the journal of Rorschach, one such hero who has refused to take off the mask and is continuing his vigilante ways. While most of the heroes appear to have negligible super-powers if any at all, one is practically a god. Dr. Manhattan was a physicist caught in an experiment that allows him to morph from place to place, see alternate realities, and see all of his own past and future simultaneously. He is being called upon to solve the world’s energy problems, thereby hopefully diverting almost certain war with the U.S.S.R. But Manhattan’s seemingly limitless power has increasingly distanced him from humanity and lover Silk Spektre II, causing him to abandon Earth for a solitary existence on Mars as the USA/USSR situation is coming to a head.
These heroes, or Watchmen, aren’t all powerful nor all good. The Comedian, played to unrepentant gleeful perfection by Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Denny, Grey’s Anatomy) is exhibit A. He’s a killer and an apparent rapist who is in the super-hero game to get his jollies, not help anyone. Morgan, who I hated on Grey’s, nails this part. Meanwhile Malin Ackerman (27 Dresses) doesn’t do quite as well with Silk Spectre II. While she’s not awful, this role demands significantly more out of her than “be cute” or “be sexy,” pretty much what her roles have asked of her until now. The rest of the cast all do well, especially a perfectly blank Billy Crudup (Almost Famous) as Dr Manhattan (well, it’s all CGI, but it’s Crudup’s face and voice at least). Also strong are Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach and Patrick Wilson as Night Owl II.
While this film has it’s flaws, not the least of which are pacing in the final act, occasional problems with a tone that veers towards camp, and a feeling that too much has been compressed for us to fully care about some of the characters, there’s way more right than wrong. Doctor Manhattan as a virtual god that can’t relate to humanity because he can’t know what it is to fear or want is fascinating, as are the arguments of idealism versus pragmatism in ethics and the nature of time. More to the point, my interest never wavered. The direction of Zack Snyder (300), held a little close to the source material, forcing him to keep some stuff he should have thrown out, but what he gets right is the parallel world that looks and feels like our own, but not quite. It’s this world that really sucked me in and that I’m sorry there really can’t be a sequel to explore further. A-
Saturday, March 7, 2009
With U2's new album upon us and as I gear up for concert season, I decided to take a few moments to create a couple Top Ten lists. The first is a collection of my favorite U2 "Hits"; the second, my favorite of the non-released material. I've decided to leave the current album off the list. Without further ado, The Hits:
10. With or Without You
8. Beautiful Day
7. New Year's Day
6. Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own
5. Sunday Bloody Sunday
1. Where the Streets Have No Name
No, for the non-hits (in some way a more difficult list)
7. So Cruel
6. Walk On
5. Love is Blindness
4. Love Rescue Me
3. Van Dieman's Land
1. Running to Stand Still
I'm hoping this generates a little discussion especially from Dentite.
A French woman (Kristen Scott Thomas) is taken in by her younger sister (Elsa Zylberstein) and her family after a 15 year stint in prison. As she struggles to cope with life on the outside, her guard is slowly let down and past revelations will bubble to the surface. Everything you’ve heard about Thomas’s excellent, versatile performance is true. You can see a full, sad life behind her eyes. Much of the 117 minute running time is spent with the developing relationships between Thomas and her family members. Like many French films, much of the population seems to work very little and has plenty of time to pontificate, ruminate, and communicate. I could have used a 15-20 minute trim since the movie is short on plot, repetitive, and repetitive - especially in the first hour. But once the hints and deep connections begin, the movie finds a healthy stride. The last unforgettable scene (and the perfectly delivered last line) is well worth the wait. B
Click below for an even more meandering recent French film.
Flight of the Red Balloon – C
A single mother (Juliette Binoche) “works” at a local Parisian theater, helping to put on an intricate puppet show, complete with a bass clarinet. She has hired a new nanny for her son, who looks a lot like Danny Torrance. That’s it – there’s no plot. 115 minutes – nothing. There is some forced symbolism with a piano and a red balloon that keeps showing up. But none of it connects or makes sense, though I’m sure some will claim an intellectual discovery or profundity. Early in the film, a bus has a poster of Children of Men on its side and director Hou Hsiao-hsien (yes, it’s in French, but it's a Chinese nanny who loves artsy-fartsy films) lingers on it a little too long. He must have admired the long interrupted shots in Children of Men as most of us did, but stuff actually happened in those shots. Here, people cook dinner, practice the piano, play pinball, etc. If someone videotaped me during any random 115 minutes in my life, it would be more interesting than this. Except when I was watching this, then it's a toss-up. C
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On DVD, Rated R, 100 minutes
The plus is for the stylized vision of a New York City stuck in perpetual precipitation. The D is for a half-baked plot, incoherent dialogue, and the waste of a decent cast of character actors and B-listers headed up by Mark Wahlberg and including Mila Kunis (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Beau Bridges (Fabulous Baker Boys), Ludicris (Crash), Chris O’Donnell (Batman and Robin), and Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace).
The film, based on the video game by the same name, tells the story of washed-up detective Payne who lives in the cold case room of New York City’s finest searching for clues to his wife’s murder several years previous. Wahlberg does what he can with an awful script involving street drugs derived from Pentagon top-secret narcotics, winged demons, double-crossing friends of the family, and hot women with Russian mob ties. The villain in this whodunit is a giveaway the moment he steps on to the screen and visuals will only keep you interested for so long (even if they include Kunis and Kurylenko). Black-and-white over-the-top plots work great for propelling video games because they can be grasped quickly, getting the gamer back into the action; however, films need more sophistication. Hollywood is wrestling with similar issues in the graphic novel adaptation at the moment. Hipsters and accountants alike seem to think these adaptations are the future of the film industry, but until they get a beating heart into the digital wizardry, do yourself a favor and buy the game not the DVD.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
In theaters. Rated R, 110 minutes. Trailer.
The International is a clunky international banking thriller starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts. Clive Owen is an interpol agent doggedly following a case against a multi-national bank that deals in corruption, weapons and control of third world regimes. Watts is a Manhattan District Attorney assisting with the case. Much of the film is enjoyable and interesting, but it was ultimately unable to overcome an amateurish script and several long patches of irrelevant scenes to be a good film. Click below for more International:
Clive's character never gets developed much, and to the extent it is developed it seems like a very similar character to Theo in Children of Men. Watts was wasted as a 1 dimensional character with lots of bad lines. Throughout the film scenes are ruined with groan-worthy platitudes and laughable dialogue. There are a few good scenes, notably the shoot-out in the Guggenheim museum in New York and any scene with Patrick Baladi (Neil Godwin from The Office). This got pushed from last year to this year because of the bad reviews - the re-shoots didn't accomplish much. The film's direction is good, with lots of interesting angles and multiple tight scenes.
1. Public Enemies - Michael Mann directs Johnny Depp and Christian Bale in the story of bankrobber John Dillinger. Yikes.
2. Terminator Salvation - McG directs Christian Bale. Looks intense.
3. Funny People. The 3rd Judd Apatow movie. Starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Jason Schwarzman and Jonah Hill. We'll see.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
[Guest Review - Dentist] Album Released March 3, 2009
In the digital age, album releases are much less of an exciting affair compared to what they used to be (anyone who queued in line for a midnight release party knows what I’m talking about), but the build-up for this one has been massive, complete with promotional appearances and the ubiquitous album leak. After two great, but commercially safe prior albums and an unprecedented five years between this, U2’s twelfth studio offering, and 2004’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, fans of the band have had plenty of time to ruminate over the direction this album would eventually take. Click below for an extensive review of No Line On The Horizon:
In an attempt to rediscover their creative mojo in the place that produced the crown jewel Achtung Baby, U2 began recording sessions in a converted riad in Morocco and brought in long-time collaborators and producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno. Their influences are immediately apparent on the opening title track, which is reminiscent of “Ultraviolet” and features a hypnotic bass line from one Mr. Clayton. Anyone still hear the sound of four men chopping down the Joshua Tree? “Fez Being Born” also benefits from the experimental, post-grunge, electronica-inspired Eno treatment—a great song that is perhaps the most experimental on the record as it channels the essence of Morocco. On “Magnificent”, a definite stand-out and fist-pumping stadium rocker, U2 sound most like U2 complete with Edge’s swelling guitar, a great vocal and that crescendo that marks a U2 song for lift-off in a live setting, a la “Streets” or “Bad”.
The album’s best track, “Moment of Surrender”, is a bluesy lament/gospel with an unbelievable earnest vocal and some of Bono’s best lyrics (“playing with the fire, ‘till the fire played with me”) and a killer bass line, all of which makes “I Still Haven’t Found…” pale in comparison. Unfortunately, not all tracks benefit from profound lyrical stylings. Lead-off single “Get On Your Boots” (which was the absolute worst choice EVER), while although musically has some nice riffs from The Edge, puts the listener through an almost unlistenable, embarrassing pile of drivel. One might guess that the unfortunately titled “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” might follow suit. However, it surprisingly is a very catchy pop tune. This album’s “Stuck In a Moment”, it is Bono giving us his optimistic, if not clichéd, view of the world.
As solid as the first half of the album is, the pattern for the typical denouement of a U2 record is followed here with the haunting “White as Snow” and a surprisingly good “Cedars of Lebanon”, both of which benefit from a sparse melody and whispery vocals that create a layered effect. Like any U2 album, this one will take many listens to fully appreciate, but it already is growing higher on the list. The thing that impresses me most is that this music seems to have a freshness and earnestness to it that had been lacking since Achtung Baby and the band doesn’t seem ready just yet to be relegated to a greatest hits spectacle.
U2 are, quite simply, just about as polarizing and enigmatic as any rock band, past or present. You either love them or hate them, but no matter who you are, your musical landscape can’t help but be influenced in some way by them. Critics who regularly lambast Bono for all the philanthropic, political shoulder-rubbing that even makes his bandmates shudder (and rightfully so) may have a difficult time separating the music from the antics. And that is unfortunate, because U2 continue not only to re-invent and transform themselves, but also their music to stay relevant and true to their musical roots at the same time. Bono has been quoted as saying “If this isn’t our best album, we’re irrelevant.” No Line On the Horizon is not a “worlds-are-colliding/groundbreaking” album, but it is by far their best in a good long while, musically sandwiched somewhere between The Unforgettable Fire and Achtung Baby and certainly enough to keep them relevant.
In April 2004, Lieutenant Colonel Strobl (Kevin Bacon) analyzes Marine troop strengths in Iraq out of Quantico, VA. At night, he has trouble sleeping and looks up the KIA list from Iraq. Eventually, he finds a fallen marine named Chance Phelps who’s from his hometown in Colorado. Strobl requests escort duty which is required for all deceased soldiers and rare for an officer to do. As he travels with the body (eventually to Dubois, Wyoming where Chance’s parents now live), he’ll meet people from all walks of life who show respect and honor for Corporal Phelps . . .
Bacon is beautifully restrained, emanating a quiet dignity that rings true. The supporting cast is uniformly strong, carving out 3-dimensional characters in only one or two scenes at the most (though Tom Wopat is a little too iconic for people my age to not be distracting). First-time director Ross Katz is highly efficient and achieves fully formed family relationships with a few short scenes. There are also several pure-cinema (no dialogue) scenes which are very touching. You’d think the subject matter would lend itself to an overly melancholic or despondent atmosphere, but Katz finds just the right balance and nicely turns the story into a celebration of a short life well-lived and life lessons learned. Katz is the twice Oscar nominated producer of In the Bedroom and Lost in Translation and the rhythm of the editing and frequent quiet moments feel similar to those great movies. The music is effective without being overbearing and there are several beautifully lit sunset scenes.
This is the best Iraq War film to date (I consider Three Kings a Gulf War film). The other films thus far (see here) were so obviously drenched in politics that their grandstanding got in the way of a coherent plot. Taking Chance makes its political points much more subtly (the ridiculous airport screenings, the shameful lack of flak jackets for the troops). Part of the power of the film is its depiction of coffins covered in American flags (which were forbidden by the Bush Administration) as well as the cleaning of the body by morticians. The multiple crucifixes shown are also powerfully used. And it’s nice to see “flyover country” shown honorably and realistically. This will probably remain the best 78 minutes of 2009 for many months. A-
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
I watched the first 20 minutes or so of Jimmy Fallon's Late Late Show last night, and it worked for me, mostly. Fallon's amiability and the energy from The Roots created an environment that kept my attention. His first bit "Slow Jammin the News" was great. It is below:Continue reading this post
Monday, March 2, 2009
Season 2, Episode 7
Murray signs Jemaine and Bret up as Simon and Garfunkel impersonators for their next gig. This catches the eye of Mary Lynn Rajskub who likes to go “Garfunkeling”. Meanwhile, Murray tries to set up a meeting between the visiting New Zealand Prime Minister and the U.S. President, and falls ridiculously short, of course. The non-music stuff is as funny, perceptive, and unique as ever: Murray’s relationship with (the lurking) Greg, Mel’s psychotic sub-table plea, Dave’s inappropriate vulgarity, Bret’s attempt to pass for a bodyguard and just about everything Jemaine does. And the plot comes together in a very Larry David-esque kind of way (that’s a good thing – and tough to do well). But . . .
the musical numbers are the weakest of the new season. “Demon Woman” is an uninspired tribute to late 80s crap rock and the karaoke song is funny for about 2 seconds. Separating Jemaine and Bret for different but complimentary stories is a great way to go and yet another way the new season has stayed sharp. The non-musical stuff has been consistently strong this season, right at a B+ or so. But the musical sequences can either raise or lower the overall impression. B
Ashes of Time Redux
Australia - #
Beverly Hills Chihuahua - #
I’ve Loved You So Long - #
In the Electric Mist - #
The Village Barbershop
Click below for the weeks’ new Blu-Ray releases
The Silence of the Lambs (Doc’s Pick of the Week)
Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic
# - Also on Blu-Ray
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Two DVR-worthy events will be airing after 10:35 this evening. Chronologically, the first is Late Night with David Letterman on CBS at 10:35. Tonight and all week U2 will provide music for Dave, the first time any band has played for Letterman for five straight days. Then Jimmy Fallon takes over for Conan O'Brien (who took over for Dave) on the Late Show. How Jimmy will do is anyone's bet, but no one, including NBC, has bet bigger on Fallon than The Roots. They're his house band, and, if he tanks, their cred is toast. De Niro is the first guest. And here is the rest of it.
On DVD 92 minutes.
Novelist Chuck Palahniuk must love group therapy sessions. In the first third of Fight Club, the narrator and Marla Singer crashed support groups helping victims of cancer and other maladies (sickle cell disease, tuberculosis) to feel alive. In Choke, Victor (Sam Rockwell) is a genuine sex addict who attends sessions to bang nymphomaniacs rather than to be cured. His dying mother (Angelica Huston) is being treated for Alzheimer’s at a long-term facility, supervised by a caring and comforting doctor (Kelly MacDonald). Victor gets much of his money from pretending to choke at restaurants and having wealthy patrons save him. He is having an early mid-life crisis and thinks finding his biological father will fix him. The trouble is . . .
there’s not one likable trait in Victor, especially his penchant for anal beads. And you won't care about him or anything he does. It’s impossible to believe that every single female character (other than Huston, thankfully) wants to get into his diseased pants. Actor Clark Gregg (from many Mamet films and TV’s "The New Adventures of Old Christine") writes and directs (for the first time) and the film looks cheaply shot and lit. There’s nothing interesting about the framing, music, editing, or plot twists. The film has something important to say about identity and finding one’s purpose toward the end, but the brilliant Adaptation. came to a similar conclusion over 6 years ago. The novel must have had more interesting ideas and subplots, but everything feels rushed and disorganized here. Rockwell has been pretty good in supporting roles (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Matchstick Men), but struggles mightily when given the lead (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, The Hitchhike’s Guide to the Galaxy). The film’s a big, but not surprising, disappointment. C-