Thursday, April 30, 2009

Big Nothing - C+

Charlie, an unemployed PhD teacher, (David Schwimmer) takes a job at a huge call center in small town Oregon where he meets Gus (Simon Pegg). After Charlie almost immediately gets fired, Gus convinces him to meet him at a bar and listen to his foolproof get rich scheme, which involves blackmailing a pedophilic pastor (is there any other kind in Hollywood?). Charlie needs the money to support his daughter and wife, a local cop (the ridiculously hot Natascha McElhone) so he reluctantly agrees. Of course, everything that can go wrong, will . . .

Schwimmer and Pegg make a pretty good comedic duo, and there’s a colorful cast of characters surrounding them. It’s not exactly hilarious, but it’s occasionally amusing. The unpredictable twists and turns inherently part of this type of film are great for awhile, but eventually strain credibility. You’ll want to shake nearly everyone and slap some sense into them. The ending is a bit rushed, but the filmmakers blessedly keep the film’s running time down to 86 minutes - important for a film that basically takes place over the course of one night. Pegg remains one of my favorite comedic actors, though his films without Edgar Wright have been mostly lacking. Schwimmer struggles to break out of the Ross-ness of his persona, but that’s partly because of the similarities of the characters, both goofy, aloof, and underachieving. C+

It’s available on Netflix instant, DVD, and it’s been playing on the Starz stations recently.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

The Soloist B

In Theatres, Rated PG-13, 109 Minutes
“Based on a True Story”, especially when it involves the emotionally disabled, is generally shorthand for sentimentality and shameless tear-jerkery. “Starring Robert Downey Jr”., on the other hand, is code for cool. So it was with some ambivalance that I consented to see The Soloist, starring not just Downey Jr., but Jamie Foxx and Catherine Keener to boot. While it didn’t manage to dodge all the potholes inherent in its genre, it missed most of them and boasts three excellent performances.

Robert Downey Jr. stars as LA Times columnist Steve Lopez who stumbles onto the homeless Nathaniel Ayers, inhabited by Jamie Foxx, playing a two-stringed violin in the shadow of a statue of Beethoven. Ayers mentions he attended Juillard and Lopez smells a story—and finds one. The problem is, stories about charming, intelligent, schizophrenics with genius and demons to spare aren’t one-and-outers. They build. And as this one builds, Lopez and Ayers build a relationship that starts out as mutual dependence—Ayers on Lopez for musical instruments and a piece of humanity, and Lopez on Ayers for a story—and ends in friendship. To get there, though, Steve has to quit trying to fix Ayers and start excepting him. Not easy. Along the way Steve is forced to re-evaluate his relationship with his ex-wife and current boss played by Catherine Keener.

Downey is predictably great as Lopez. He plays every scene straight, never ducking into sap for a second even when British director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice) does. Catherine Keener gets sexier by the year. While she’s in just half-a-dozen scenes, she establishes herself as the emotional bedrock that Lopez leans on. She’s content to only hint at the kind of complexity and depth that comes with a twenty-year relationship. Still, this is Foxx’s film. Hate or love this guy, he can act, and he plays Ayers without an ounce of sensationalism or indulgence. While he’s gifted and talks of music, and Lopez, in hushed tones and exalted language, his illness is never far away. When Lopez mistakenly mentions the wrong name and Nathaniel attacks him with punches, it’s a terrible, terrific scene. One that leaves you scared for Steve’s life. Which leads me to this: the issue of homeless is handled perfectly here. There are no easy answers. Ayers is ill, and he wants to live on the streets where he can play for the City of Angels and the birds. What do we do with that? Faith is also handled fairly, with the faith-based rescue mission Ayers eventually becomes involved with looking like the saints they most certainly are. At the same time, another good-intentioned Christian’s attempt to manipulate Ayers with the use of stewardship is (rightly) looked upon as simplistic and destructive.

This is a good film, better than I expected going in, but still a little slow and lacking closure except for a small amount that seems shoe-horned in around Lopez. B

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DVD Releases - 4/28/09

American Dad: Volume Four
Bride Wars - #
Hotel for Dogs - #
JCVD - #
Sex & Lies in Sin City
The Uninvited - #
What Doesn’t Kill You - #
While She Was Out

Click below for this week's Blu-ray releases

The Da Vinci Code (Extended Cut)
The Reader
Star Trek – The Original Series – Season 1 – Complete

# - Also on Blu-Ray

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Wrestler - A-

On DVD and Blu-Ray

Lawyer already summed up the plot and his thoughts in his theatrical review here. The film begins with Randy (“The Ram”) Robinson (Mickey Rourke, in his career defining role) in an elementary school classroom, nursing some wounds after a wrestling match in the school gymnasium. Director Darren Aronofsky follows Randy around with his camera, keeping the back of his head in the frame. This not only makes us instantly relate to him by making his point of view ours, but allows us to see his surroundings and how others react to him. Aronofsky will keep the camera off of Rourke’s face for much of the first few scenes and will continue to follow him around with that camera, most notably as Randy descends the stairs at a supermarket at his daytime job as he the roar of the wrestling crowd is heard . . .

The best part of the film is the relationship between Randy and his favorite stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tomei, more beautiful and talented with every passing year). This is partly because of the indelible Oscar-worthy performances by both and partly because Aronofsky does a spectacular job drawing parallels between the 2 characters. Both use their bodies for their professions and their age is catching up with them. Both use false “performance” names and live with the seedy underbelly of society. A torn-out magazine picture of a naked woman’s torso is shown for a split second when Randy pulls a towel from his bathroom towel rack. Later, his own torso is reflected in a mirror, framed in a similar way. Aronofsky also places the American flag behind and around Randy several times. Is it because he epitomizes what’s right or wrong with America? Is it a subtle jab at America’s foreign policy being as self-destructive as Randy is? Draw your own conclusion.I’m not quite buying all the Christ symbolism, however. The first religious allusion has a “Ram” action figure on his dashboard (where Jesus or Jesus's mother normally would reside). Cassidy quotes from The Passion of the Christ in their first scene together. Later, in a brutal wrestling match, Randy receives a large gash in the left side of his body, gets glass embedded throughout his back (Cat of Nine Tails), falls on top of barbed wire which wraps around his forehead (Crown of Thorns). Near the end, he “sacrifices” himself for the crowd, though the reasons for this (entertainment purposes) are less noble and the number of people affected is considerably less than Jesus.With this film, Aronofsky has shown himself to be more than a “one-trick pony”, having previously only made above average mindbenders (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain). Besides Springsteen, Aronofsky and the film itself were wrongfully passed over at Oscar nomination time in favor of the superficial Slumdog Millionaire. This film digs deep, hits hard, speaks volumes about a large segment of America, and ultimately settles for a terrific, ambiguous, open-ended finale. Will he reconcile with his daughter? How long will he continue wrestling? Can he make it work with Cassidy? We’ll never know, but by asking these questions, it clearly shows what a great job everyone involved did creating an authentic, lived-in world. A-

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Friday, April 24, 2009

30 Rock - The Ones

The hot streak continues as Jack's girlfriend (Salma Hayek) returns from Puerto Rico. He's about to propose and has found Liz to be his best confidant. Meanwhile, Tracy's wife wants him to get a tattoo and Jenna meets a cute EMT and wants to set up another meeting. Tina Fey's increasing and relentless self-deprecation remains undeniably humorous and culminates with a slanket, cheese, and flatulence. Jane Krakowski was particularly hilarious in this episode as a would-be murderer. Tracy Morgan's delivers simple lines like "Continue," perfectly as was Fey's delivery of "Puerto Rican!" (twice). And Fey's unexpected attraction to Hayek was just icing on the cake. See the full episode here.
Brian Williams's cameo was brilliant. "I've not heard of that term before. Do you know how to get to Connecticut?"

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Cadillac Records - C

On DVD and Blu-ray

In the late 1940s, Mississippi native Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright, who’s been great everywhere else) travels to Chicago and meets Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody, who’s been underwhelming since he stole that Oscar from Daniel Day-Lewis) by chance. It’s the beginning of the blues – which will eventually morph into rock n’ roll. Chess starts a record company and eventually signs Chuck Berry (Mos Def) and Etta James (Beyonce Knowles). Along the way, Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer) writes lots of songs and Chess (a Jew) consistently takes chances on risky (i.e. black) musicians . . .

Evidently, every white woman in the 50s and 60s was a filthy whore and every white man was a malicious and unapologetic racist. Every band from The Rolling Stones (ridiculously portrayed here) to Led Zeppelin had no actual talent, but only copied what Waters and Dixon invented. The nearly all black cast are given much more dimensions and are allowed to fight amongst themselves and show jealousy as some are wildly successful (Berry), some have time pass them by (Waters), and some have too many inner demons to ever succeed (Little Walter, played pretty well by newcomer Columbus Short). One of the things the film seems to get right is how the musicians waste all their money on cars, booze, clothes, and women while Chess saves money with a stable home life, living well within his means. (Of course, Chess should be taxed into oblivion and have all his possessions confiscated.)

The film was obviously put into production due to the success of Ray. The recording session scenes feel identical to that film as does the cinematography, art direction, and costumes (somewhat expected since the time periods overlap). But Cadillac Records has a scattered focus as it tries to document multiple musicians rather than just one. Def continues to be the best rapper-turned-actor, but everyone else overdoes it both in mannerisms and line delivery. The music is great, but why did writer-director Darnell Martin feel the need to indict the entire white race and belittle the accomplishments of all the white rock groups of the 60s? The influence of Berry, Waters, and Dixon is obvious to anyone who’s ever read album liner notes or taken a middle school music class. And there are ways to build everyone up without tearing anyone down. C

For an example where everyone wins, check out Muddy Waters with The Band in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz:

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Last 4 Itunes Downloads (indie edition)

1. Fourth of July - Galaxie 500. Cool, moody rock song from this late 80's psychadelic group from the Northeast. Heard it on some weird station in Austin yesterday. Cool guitar solo at 2:55.

2. You're a Wolf - Sea Wolf. Cool, moody rock song that sounds like a more rock-y Shins. Thanks to Europpraiser for the tip.

3. Alive for Nothing - Port O'Brien. Cool, moody rock song that has a great string melody and unique vocals. More Europpraiser.

4. You've Found Me - The Fray. Not an indie, of course, but still a great song. I really don't want to like The Fray, but this one works too well not to love it. Great chorus. They sound like the GooGoo Dolls of the aughts.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Spirit - C-

On DVD and Blu-ray

After Frank Miller co-directed the star-filled Sin City with the consistently mediocre Robert Rodriguez, somebody decided to hand him the reigns to the Batman-esque comic book The Spirit. But after viewing The Spirit, Rodriguez certainly got something right in that earlier film, not only by attracting the likes of Bruce Willis, Carla Gugino, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Clive Owen, and Rosario Dawson, but also pulling out acceptable performances from each (especially Ms. Alba’s bare midriff). In The Spirit, the biggest stars are bad guy Samuel L. Jackson (whose hamminess has finally reached the breaking point) and bad girl Scarlett Johansson (who gives her career-worst performance in a “career” full of dull and bad ones) . . .

Jackson is The Octopus and Johansson is his first henchwoman. He’s into immortality and she’s into cloning. After a botched robbery where The Octopus and femme fatale Sand Saref (Eva Mendes) get the suitcase that the other one wanted, they try to set up a switch. Meanwhile, The Spirit (Gabriel Macht?!?) tries to stop The Octopus and mend relations with childhood friend Saref. The visuals are identical to Sin City and the story hits every comic book cliché possible, taking pieces of Dick Tracy, Batman, Spiderman, and Superman. The acting is over-the-top by everyone, obviously a stylistic choice by Miller - who must be going for camp for some unknown target audience I don’t belong to. I don’t know if I’ll be able to watch Jackson’s superb performances in Jungle Fever and Pulp Fiction the same way again after watching this disaster. C-

Rated PG-13 for mindless, soul-crushing comic book violence and Mendes's butt.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist - C+

On DVD and Blu-ray

Nick (Michael Cera), a Yugo-driving New Jersey high schooler, is a bassist in a drummer-less band whose 2 other members are gay. Word gets out that a popular (fictional) underground band called “Where’s Fluffy” will play a rare secret show in New York City and music-obsessed teens will spend their entire Friday night looking for it. This includes Nick’s ex-girlfriend Tris and her new college boyfriend as well as Norah (Kat Dennings), an acquaintance of Tris with a famous father and a needy on-again, off-again boyfriend (Jay Baruchel) . . .

The music is good without a “hip” or a “hop” in sight and the relationship of the titular characters works, largely because of the great chemistry between Cera and Dennings (Catherine Keener’s daughter in 40-Year Old Virgin). But all of their friends and exes are annoying stereotypes and the movie has too many coincidences to believe. The teens do a healthy amount of unsupervised, unquestioned drinking and 2 different teen girls are left stranded in NYC at separate times, calling the judgment and perspective of the precocious teens into question. There’s the obligatory Hollywood scene treating Jesus and religion in a condescending manner. There no discernible directorial style and no memorable lines except for obvious ad libs by Cera. Cera can hold his head up high and Dennings’s stock rises a few points. Everything else is forgettable. C+

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Monday, April 20, 2009

DVD Releases - 4/21/09

Frost/Nixon - #
Into the Blue 2: The Reef
Notorious - #
The Wrestler - #

Click below for the week's Blu-ray releases

The Arrival
The Last Word
Sin City
The Wages of Fear (Criterion) - *
X2: X-Men United
X3: The Last Stand

# - Also on Blu-Ray
* - Doctor Approved

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

State of Play B-

In Theatres, PG-13, 127 minutes
The great political thriller is that rarest of beast. It must speak to the contemporary situation without being preachy. It needs great action sequences without a great action star (unless you can get Harrison Ford in the 90’s, Redford in the ‘70’s, or Will Smith right now). The plot has to have at least one twist (preferably two) you can’t see coming, but that makes sense. And you need lots of good smart character actors who can play some of the smartest people in the country. State of Play almost pulls it off. Goodness knows its got plot twists to spare and a cast that would make Scorcese jealous. But it also takes an odd, luddite stance on the current newspaper situation, comes across as smug and sexist, and, well, has plot twists to spare.

A roly-poly Russell Crowe stars as throw-back D.C. journalist Cal McAfrey- the last man still interested in the bigger picture and not the mud rucking blogs that have come to pass for news. Ben Affleck, continuing a solidly charted comeback, is an old college roommate who’s now a senator gunning for a major defense contractor (think Blackwater). A stunning Robin Wright Penn is the congressman’s wife with a hazy past relationship with McAfrey. The “accidental” death of the senator’s pregnant head researcher/mistress rips scabs off barely-patched relationships and brings out the fore-mentioned bloggers like piranhas to bloody water, including McAfrey’s co-worker Della Frye (Rachel McAdams, who I’ve loved since Mean Girls).

The twists and turns don’t stop, though my suspension of disbelief did, as the selling-out of truth for infotainment, the selling off of national security to the highest bidder, and the trade-offs one makes to stay in power are all explored. Thrown into the mix are Helen Mirren playing Crowe’s wildly inconsistent editor, Jeff Daniels, perfect as the majority whip, and Jason Bateman playing a variation on his character in Smoking Aces as a predilection-heavy PR man scared to death but retaining a condescending sneer that steals every scene.

In the end, Crowe’s McAfrey emerges as a one-man crusader fighting for truth and old monotone computer screens, teaching Frye a thing or to about real journalism along the way. This film worships an imagined newspaper golden age in which editors cared about truth and not selling papers. The fact that Citizen Kane showed the other side of the news biz sixty-five years ago and that newspaperman William Hearst (on which Kane is based) is widely given credit for pushing the U.S. into war in Cuba to sell more print way back in 1898 is forgotten in this revisionist view of the past. Surprisingly for a movie that revels in slightly left pet issues, the film is also a bit sexist. McAdams character is content to learn at the feet of the master, and, in a final scene that strained even the slightest bonds to credulity, sits and watches McAfrey write the final article, giving her co-writing credit (although she’d done nothing for it), and then walks away, allowing her to hit the “send” button to submit it for publishing before running to catch up to him. Ridiculous. First 2/3rds of this one got a B+, but the last third is a C. B-

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

30 Rock - Jackie Jormp-Jomp

30 Rock struck gold again as Liz struggles to adjust with her forced time off after sexually harassing somebody. But she starts to like the time off when she meets a group of women who do nothing but pamper themselves all day every day. Meanwhile, Jenna is presumed dead at the Kids’ Choice Awards and Jack uses the mistake to promote her Janis Joplin rip-off biopic. Lots of great lines, mostly involving Liz (“BMing like a rock star”, the Dockers line), but Tracy’s presentation of the Jenna TGS special was equally hilarious. And, most impressively, there’s a pretty ambitious directorial shot of Liz having a fabulous day with her new friends. See the full episode here."I want to Tupac you."

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Pearl Jam Movie? Album? Concert?

Rumor has it that Pearl Jam will be the headliner at this years Austin City Limits festival to be held October 2-4 and may even tape an ACL segment while there. They are apparently also finalizing a new album and working on a documentary about the band with Cameron Crowe.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Money is the root of all evil?

Obviously the (large) check I wrote to the US Treasury yesterday is still bothering me. I have previously posted some small snippets from Ayn Rand's masterwork, Atlas Shrugged, but this one seemed to speak to me today: "Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?" Click here for the rest of this speech from Shrugged character Francisco D'Anconia.

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Mogwai - Auto Rock

Since I've been playing this non-stop the past several days, I though I would post something. No lyrics, but the forward drive of the percussion and beautiful melody is inspiring and thrilling. Get it on I-Tunes.
Yes it is the song that ended Miami Vice (2006). Michael Mann's musical fusion with images is unmatched. Can't wait for Public Enemies.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

David Lynch directs a Moby Video

I wish I could embed the video, but this link will have to do. I love David Lynch, of course, and think Moby has some actual musical talent and originality. He creates rather than regurgitates. It's the best web-page I saw today. And those pictures of Gisele didn't hurt.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Adventureland B+

In Theaters, Rated R, 107 minutes

Adventureland distributor Miramax didn’t have faith enough in Greg Mottola’s direction or script to sell this movie for what it is, so they sold it as a sequel to his last film: Superbad. That’s too bad, because the trailers left audiences believing it was a low-watt imitation of a gross-out sex comedy instead of a spot-on coming-of-age story with a healthy does of 1987 nostalgia. Jesse Eisenberg (James Brennan, The Squid and the Whale), is graduating college with a plan to backpack Europe then head to Columbia grad school when his parents hit financial tough times, forcing him to stay home in Pittsburgh and stash money for grad school. Unable to land real employment, a buddy gets him a job at the local amusement park on the Games team (as opposed to the Rides team). It’s the kind of place that I remember from when I was a kid, all midway and bumper cars—basically the state fair without the livestock. He meets up with fellow-slummer Em (Kristen Stewart, Twilight) home from NYU, who’s taken the gig to piss-off her lawyer pops and new step-mom. She’s already ickily involved with the married maintenance man/local rock-n-roller (Ryan Reynolds, who seems way too put together for the role), when she and Jesse hit it off.

Brennan plays Jesse like a not-so-goody Michael Cera, the smartest guy in the room, but not yet quite sure how to spin that to his advantage. He’s clueless about girls, but disarmingly decent—the kind of guy you don’t feel bad rooting for. It’s a shame Twilight will be the film most people that see Kristen Stewart this year will see. While she was okay with an awful script in that one, she hits all the right notes as Em. Not the good girl, but not a bad enough girl to be diddling a married man either, she’s stuck and starting to hate herself. Everyone else is spot-on as well, from Bill Heder and Kristen Wiig (both, SNL) as the married couple that run the park, to Superbad alum Martin Starr as Joel, Jesse’s unlikely best-friend, a nihilistic Russian lit/philosophy major who’s so nerdy, it hurts. Also fun is Wendie Malick (Just Shoot Me) as Jesse’s no-nonsense mom and Margarita Levieva as park hottie Lisa P.

I laughed and laughed, but the real rewards were the memories, from the constantly repeating Rock Me, Amadeus to the dizzying moment of a real connection to the (almost) inevitable heartbreak that follows. It’s exactly how you remember it, which is not the same thing as being exactly how it was, but sometimes better. This one should probably get a B, but I enjoyed it too much and found myself endorsing it too whole-heartedly not to go ahead and bump it up. B+

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DVD Releases - 4/14/09

The worst week in recent memory.

The Caller
Fatal Rescue
Inning By Inning: A Portrait of a Coach
The Spirit - #

Click below for this week's meager Blu-ray releases.

8 Mile
The Last Kiss
Mean Girls

# - Also on Blu-Ray

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

5 More Recent DVD Releases

In a diligent effort to complete my 2008 Top Ten Film List, I've been burning through the films. I like to make a Top Ten list every year to keep track of this thing called life. It's easier to remember things (feelings, situations, stages, etc.) if you write things down, and I've found that movies work best for me. Lawyer reviewed the following films earlier and goes into plot points and the specifics more thoroughly, but I thought I would throw a few thoughts out there. Click below for Frozen River, Ghost Town, Priceless, Transsiberian, and Happy-Go-Lucky. Surprisingly, the one I thought I would like least, I liked best.

Frozen River
Melissa Leo’s excellent performance and Courtney Hunt’s very solid script were rightfully nominated for Oscars. The digital camera is distracting and there are too many close-ups of the actor’s faces. I liked the brother relationship and the fact the father is left out of the film, especially at the end. I loved the fact that it shows that America remains the land of opportunity for much of the world, despite all the naysayers. Almost a B+ but the director forgets the icy landscapes after the first couple minutes and the story plays out too conventionally. It’s frustrating to watch poor people buy big screen TVs and cell phones with all the money they have, saving nothing for the future. Lawyer liked it better. B

Ghost Town

Lawyer is basically right in his review. Ricky Gervais’s curmudgeonly charm is in full effect and some consistent tone issues aside, the film works for what it is – especially the sugar sweet ending. Those who aren’t convinced of the superiority of Blu-ray should check out the stunning, crystal clear New York buildings on this disc. B

Priest nailed it when he called it a reworking of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (the photo is an obvious homage) in the comments section of Lawyer’s review. Lead actor Gad Elmaleh is hopelessly outmatched by Audrey Tautou, creating an imbalance that upsets the film. He’s too goofy looking to believe she would fall for him. It’s enjoyable for the most part, but it adds up to very little. I don’t blink when Tautou is on screen. B


Lawyer’s review is correct. A good, solid, tense film about marriage, fidelity, and Russian mobsters. Kate Mara’s torture scene is pretty rough, though. Emily Mortimer carries the film beautifully but Woody Harrelson is kinda miscast. Of course, Ben Kingsley is great as a Russian cop. B+

I don’t know if it’s better than Vera Drake (125 minutes) or Secrets and Lies (136 minutes) or Naked (131 minutes), but Happy-Go-Lucky is the first Mike Leigh film I would see again if forced to choose. I expected to find Sally Hawkins irrepressible perkiness and positivity annoying, but thought it was refreshing instead. I loved Eddie Marsan’s character and related to his views quite a bit. His stance on multi-culturalism rang true for me. Leigh finally gets a film under 2 hours, but he still is in love with his script too much and should have cut the scene with the homeless guy. There are other scenes showing Poppy’s generosity better and the homeless guy scene brought the film to a halt and made her look foolish. Still, the non-stop banter was reminscent of a good screwball comedy and the serious stuff worked just as well. Hawkins was robbed of an Oscar nomination – she made it look too easy. An excellent shot to make my final top ten (The Wrestler's DVD release is 4/21). See Lawyer’s thoughts here. B+

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

3 Very Recent DVD Releases

Lawyer's original review is here. 4 superb performances (Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Viola Davis, and Amy Adams) are too good for the simplistic story about doubt, faith, and gossip in a 1964 Catholic School. The imminent cultural changes are palpable and the use of greens and whites are appropriate for the chilly interiors and exteriors of the buildings and people. The main problem is that it’s confined by its theater origins and seems too small to be worthy of the acting talent. B

Yes Man

Lawyer's original review is here. Mediocre in every way, a high concept is wasted on the easy jokes. The movie takes no risks and retreads 40-Year Old Virgin's chase finale (complete with 80s nostalgia song). Jim Carrey, Bradley Cooper, and Zooey Deschanel are all likable but are let down by the script. I did like Luis Guzman's scene on the ledge. C

The Day the Earth Stood Still
In the 1951 original, aliens were trying to convince earthlings to give up nuclear weapons. Now aliens are going to destroy humankind because of the irreparable damage of greenhouse gases. Keanu Reeves wooden acting suits his alien character but Jennifer Connelly seems bored. The Christ allegory in the original is thrown out in favor of a lecture that we heard in The Simpsons Movie and The Happening. The special effects are OK, but the plot plods along without anything interesting or new happening in the last 2/3 of the film. It’s an unnecessary remake that provides no new insight or excitement. C-

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Friday, April 10, 2009

30 Rock - "Cutbacks"

30 Rock excelled this week not only because of its timeliness, but mostly by being completely crazy in every scene. Jack and Liz are forced to cut their respective budgets due to the struggling economy. By the end, Liz gets an offer to “lez out”, confesses her joy of prank calling “Richard Sackmuncher”, and whores herself to save jobs. Kenneth is suspected of being a serial killer by Tracy and Jenna. A dead bird, a dead wife, dysarthria, pedophilia, a slutty makeup artist, and several borderline racist jokes add to the hilarity. You don’t have to be a regular viewer to appreciate it, but it helps seeing most of the characters going in unexpected and uncomfortable places. Except for Jack, who is completely in his element. See it here.
“We’re not behind the times, we’re groovy!”

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Synecdoche, New York - A-

On DVD and Blu-Ray

The most challenging and least accessible film since Inland Empire has a theater director putting on a large scale play in a huge New York warehouse after his wife takes their daughter to Europe with her lesbian lover. Things get more abstract and complicated as the movie progresses, spanning the next 40 years of his life. His private life creeps into the play and eventually he has actors playing himself and those close to him. He directs other people’s lives and later hires someone that will direct his own.
A great central performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman is surrounded by a ridiculously talented female ensemble (Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hope Davis, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest). Tom Noonan steals every scene he’s in, giving one or two memorable speeches. A priest has another great speech toward the end. The script is quirky and interesting and full of one unique idea after another. It’s probably a little too smart for its own good and will certainly alienate a fair percentage of the viewership. Some will be baffled by it’s thin plot that builds on emotions rather than actions; others will be put off by its complexity. I can see why some people call it pretentious, but I think its ambitions are ably supported by the performances, strong writing, musical choices, art direction, and insight.Charlie Kaufman is already responsible for 3 of the finest, most original, and funniest screenplays of modern times (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), and while Synecdoche, New York may have veered too far toward demanding at the expense of coherence, the intelligent, thought-provoking concepts pile up so quickly, your head will spin. It certainly requires multiple viewings and on the DVD, Kaufman reveals that he wants each viewing to be different than the last (like a theater performance). Kaufman directs for the first time and while he achieves some spectacular visuals, he also allows some rather unpleasant things to remain in the final film (green and gray poop, the tattooed stripping daughter) that someone else with more popular sensibilities (say, Spike Jonze?) would have rightly eliminated. Some of the stuff left in is tough to watch, emotionally brutal even, but that’s like real life. The film wants to encapsulate the human experience, to understand it – and is mostly successful. I need (and want) to see the film many more times and I’m glad there’s someone like Kaufman out there – consistently breaking new ground to achieve art. A-

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

U2 Finalize TX/OK Tour Dates Updated*

After much ballyhoo and more than a few rumors of dropping the Norman stop from the tour, U2 has finalized dates in Dallas, Houston, and Norman, OK. As previously announced, Dallas will play Oct. 12 and Houston Oct 14. Norman, however, has been moved to Oct. 18 (19th was the originally announced). Tickets go on sale to the general public for the Norman show on Friday, April 17th, and for the Houston and Dallas shows on Monday, April 18th. The pre-sale for members runs April 14-16 for all three shows. For those who don't get Houston or Dallas tickets initially, keep a look out for the possibility of a second show if the first sell out quickly. Second shows have already been announced for the majority of tour dates (I can't imagine they'll do a second show in Norman, but I guess they could). Also announced, Muse will be the opening act in Dallas and Houston, with the Black-Eyed Peas taking over in Norman.

As a bonus, here's a U2-solicited remix by Justice of Get On Your Boots. Better than the original, although the original has grown on me. And here is the rest of it.

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New Eminem Video - With Tony Romo

Not sure about the quality of the song yet, but the 'return of Eminem' video for "We Made You" is a pop culture rocket. Large vignettes on Bret Michaels' Rock of Love, Tony Romo and Jessica Simpson, Sarah Palin and Star Trek (not to mention odes to Ellen, Rainman, Jessica Alba, Amy Winehouse and jailhouse rock Elvis).

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DVD Releases - 4/7/09

Bedtime Stories - #
The Day the Earth Stood Still - #
Donkey Punch (Unrated)
Doubt - #
The Tale of Desperaux - #
Yes Man - #

Click below for the week's Blu-ray releases

2010: The Year We Make Contact
Above the Law
American History X - *
Collateral Damage
Final Destination
Fly Away Home
John Q
No Country for Old Men (Collector's Edition) - (Doc's Pick of the Week)
Point of No Return
Taking Lives
Tango and Cash
The Wedding Singer
Winged Migration

* - Doctor approved
# - Also on Blu-Ray

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Monday, April 6, 2009

Best of Oasis

Hard to narrow down to 5, but here goes:

1. Wonderwall - An instant classic - I pulled over and bought this the first time I heard it. An immaculate blend of songwriting and attitude.

2. Slide Away - "We're two of a kind, we'll find a way" My favorite Oasis guitar solo starts 2:04, but only the album version does it justice. Great ending.

3. Live Forever - This is the best version ever recorded. "Maybe I will never be all the things that I want to be".

4. Acquiesce - An aggressive song with great harmonies.

5. Talk Tonight and Sad Song - Couldn't decide between these acoustic gems for the last spot.

Random Bonus: The Killers "Smile Like You Mean It" sung by David Gray.

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New Trailers

1. Where The Wild Things Are - Trailer. Directed by Spike Jonze - actually looks decent.

2. The Hangover - Trailer. Hilarious looking guy comedy from the director of Old School. Genius Phil Collins/Tyson ending.

3. Anvil - Trailer. A real documentary about a Spinal Tap type band. Looks great.

4. Lymelife - Trailer. Family dysfunction dramedy with Alec Baldwin and others - executive producer is Martin Scorsese. Looks like my kind of movie.

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Duplicity - B

In theaters. Rated R, 125 minutes. Trailer.

Writer/Director Tony Gilroy earned my unmitigated respect with Michael Clayton, so I decided the caperish Duplicity was worth the effort. With Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Tom Wilkinson, and Paul Giamatti (not to mention Robert Elswit as director of photography), the film follows two former CIA agents (Roberts and Owen) as they try to pull off a scam in the private sector by taking advantage of a rivalry between two hygiene companies. Click below for more on an enjoyable Duplicity:

The characters have an interesting history together, and their playful relationship is always undercut by their cons and distrust of others/themselves. Roberts goes way undercover at Company 1 to find out their new product, and Owens works for Company 2 as her handler. Company 1, run by Tom Wilkinson's zen-like CEO, and Company 2, run by Mr. Macho Paul Giamatti, hate each other (the film opens with a great slo-mo fight sequence between the two men) so much that the two see anopneing to exploit. The scam produces lots of tense moments and Oceans-like sequences and flashbacks that mostly work - with a 'surprise' ending.

The chemistry between Roberts and Owen was great. Every scene they share is first-rate - intelligent, funny, and playfully romantic (not usually a compliment coming from me, but it is here). The role players are all fine (lots of Michael Clayton and Syriana alums), but none make a big impact on the film. The film aims low and achieves its mark - a sort of yin to Clayton's yang. The only 'arty' elements I noticed were the ones with Giamatti at the shareholders conference with the large tv behind him. His bravado, spending and attitude all espouse the current sneering 'titans of industry' have in our Depression 2.0 culture. Worth seeing - I am so disenchanted with the current theater crop I can barely find the energy (as has been reflected in my amazing lack of posts lately).

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SNL - 4/4/09: Seth Rogen and Phoenix

Guest host Seth Rogen and the SNL cast put on a pretty good show for the majority of 90 minute running time. Among the positives: the writers were almost critical of Barack Obama; a guest band (Phoenix) that you could actually listen to; a funny Fast & Furious fake commercial; and a pretty good Digital Short (“Like a Boss”). Weekend Update was too long and the show did run out of steam toward the end, but a big improvement over recent weeks. I'm actually looking forward to Observe and Report.

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Last 5 Itunes Downloads

1. Sober - Pink. Good lyrics with great delivery and a killer chorus.

2. Second Chance - Shinedown. I like about 70% of this song - not the reference to Haley's Comet.

3. Careless Whisper - Seether. This is a brilliant rework of the Wham! classic - "I'm never gone dance again, guilty feet have got no rhythm."

4&5. Poker Face and "Just Dance" - Lady GaGa. Doc, no need to click those links. PF is a bizarre pop song reminiscent of Siouxsie and the Banshees and C+C Music Factory that is awesome. JD is a trashy pop song that I like, despite myself.

Bonus - (1) 4 Live Performances from Ryan Adams and the Cardinals on the excellent AOL Sessions program here; (2) Preview video of new David Gray album; and (3) acoustic "Today, "Cherub Rock" and "Landslide" from Smashing Pumpkins (don't forget the greatness).

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Tell No One - B+

On DVD, Blu-ray, and Netflix Instant Viewing

In this French thriller, a pediatrician (Francois Cluzet - France’s Dustin Hoffman) and his wife are assaulted at their private lake. Eight years later, he receives an email with a surveillance video showing her alive, prompting him to investigate the circumstances of her death. Meanwhile, someone frames him for another murder to prevent him from finding anything out. The mysteries pile up quickly in the first half, and little is initially resolved. There’s a terrific scene using U2’s “With or Without You” when Cluzet remembers a password. Another great sequence has Cluzet chased on foot throughout the streets of Paris by the police. For 30 minutes or so, the film turns into The Fugitive, complete with a Sam Gerard character . . .

Then the revelations happen during an extended conversation. It’s impossible to have figured out the mystery since there are zero hints or clues for most of the occurrences and many of the seemingly important events in the first 2/3 of the film are red herrings. So the adaptation of the novel could have probably been handled better by screenwriter Guillaume Canet, but Canet’s direction is solid and occasionally interesting. Some nice touches (a closed door, the sudden appearance of flowers) are interspersed with consistently exciting action scenes. There are many memorable faces and characters, each one suitably acted. Cluzet carries the film impressively, equally comfortable running around, treating children, and romancing his wife. B+

Warning: There’s full frontal male and female nudity, but it’s not gratuitous (the married couple skinny dips)

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bruno - Red Band Trailer

Not for the faint of heart: Bruno trailer. Upping the ante after Borat.

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Seven Pounds - D

On DVD and Blu-Ray

The film begins with Will Smith announcing he’s going to commit suicide to a 911 operator. What follows is an unbelievably and unnecessarily convoluted mess of a film where Smith yells at strangers, physically assaults people that he barely knows, and stalks people with debilitating ailments. Smith’s usually reliable charisma and likability is replaced here with pompous and sanctimonious absurdity. His “acting chops” consist of a constant furrowed brow and the occasional constipated grimace. As his love interest, Rosario Dawson provides a little depth but her longing glances and overwrought emotional state wear thin after awhile. Their “crocodile tear” make-out scene is hilarious, accentuated by the distracting dissonant score by Angelo Milli.Click below for the rest (with spoilers).

As we learn during the climax, Smith has been acting so strangely due to guilt for causing a car crash (by reading a text message) that killed 7 people. After the accident, his brother needs a lung lobe, and Smith gets in the habit of donating organs (a liver lobe, a kidney). But to give Rosario his heart (literally!), he’ll have to take an ice-cold bath with a jellyfish. He definitely gets a perfect score on the suicide-originality index. The jellyfish scene is the most unintentionally hilarious scene in recent memory. Smith acts as if the jellyfish is fellating him and then the shower curtain is pulled off as he climaxes, I mean, dies.The film is the most medically inaccurate film I’ve seen in a while. It’s not that they call Rosario’s condition “Congenital Heart Failure” or the fact that a corneal transplant changes Woody Harrelson’s baby blue eyes to dark brown (they didn’t transplant the iris). It’s that they brush over how complex transplantation is. It’s not just blood type, but tissue type, then months of steroids and other drugs to suppress the immune system and prevent rejection. I’m not sure how death by jellyfish would affect the complex inner workings of cardiac electrical system, but it’s probably not good. I knew going in this would be a disaster but thought it would be good for a few laughs. I wasn’t disappointed. D

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Knowing - B

In Theaters, PG-13, 121 minutes

An MIT Physics Professor (Nicolas Cage) has his belief system upended when he discovers that a sheet of paper buried in a time capsule at his son’s school since 1959 has correctly predicted the death toll of each major catastrophe around the world for the past 50 years (through numbers). He discovers 3 more events on the paper that haven’t occurred yet. The movie begins well with some good shocks and a brief discussion about determinism vs. chaos and fate vs. free will . . .But eventually, the film squarely sides with determinism and leaves the philosophy in the dust. Likewise, the action scenes are spectacular early on. The plane crash scene (in a long uninterrupted take) is exciting, frightening, and surprisingly ambitious. It will no doubt rate as one of the best of the year. The subsequent action scenes (the subway scene and car chase) are too familiar to be entirely memorable. Cage is fine, but doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen before. The remainder of the cast is largely unknown and does an admirable job. But I can always do without the female lead screeching about children.Directed by Alex Proyas, the film doesn’t reach the intelligence and vision of Dark City (A-), but he does manage some terrific visuals during the climactic scenes. The last 15 minutes are filled with Biblical allusions (Noah’s Ark, Garden of Eden). It may even include Ezekiel’s Wheel but I’ll leave that to someone more knowledgeable (that’d be you, Priest). The movie gets repetitive and drags a bit in the second half. It seems composed of parts of better movies (War of the Worlds, Close Encounters of the Third Kind), but it's apocalyptic atomsphere seems appropriate for 2009 America. It’s much better than expected (which I attribute to Proyas) and surprisingly pro-Christian. B

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Ants Marching?

Medvedev and Matthews.

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