Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Summer Movie Releases - 7/1/09

Public Enemies

My most anticipated 2009 film until the fall. Michael Mann uses a digital camera to document the fascinating life of John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) whose crime spree in 1933-34 gripped the nation. Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, and Billy Crudup costar. Reviews are generally positive, but don't really matter - Mann’s films always win the war by aging well.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

It’s the 3rd film in the Ice Age series which is apparently hell-bent on confusing kids about geology, zoology, and history. The first 2 were forgettable (literally – I think I saw them, but I don’t remember). Ray Romano, Denis Leary, and John Leguizamo voice the same characters. And I guess we all knew it was a matter of time before Simon Pegg cashed a cartoon voice paycheck.

I Hate Valentine's Day

Just in time for the 4th of July, Nia Vardalos and John Corbett team up again for a romantic “comedy” about Valentine's Day. The title lends itself to the easy joke. This will remain sight unseen – forever. As if the recession and My Life in Ruins wasn’t enough to deal with in 2009, now we get this. Vardalos writes and directs this one, though, so do with that what you will. Thankfully, it's in limited release.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

DVD and Blu-ray Releases 6/30/09

12 Rounds - #
Eastbound & Down: The Complete First Season
The Education of Charlie Banks
Entourage: The Complete Fifth Season
Jonas Brothers: The Concert Experience - #
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li - #
Transmorphers: Fall of Man - #
Tunnel Rats
Two Lovers - #

Click below for this week's Blu-ray Releases

Do the Right Thing: 20th Anniversary - *

# - also on Blu-Ray
* - Doctor approved

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2 Interesting Articles

Here is David Carr's take on Oscar's Best Picture expansion to 10.

Here is an article about the historical accuracy of Hollywood gangster movies, including my most anticipated film until Shutter Island, Public Enemies.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Weekend Grosses - 6/28/09

The Transformers sequel made alot of buck in its 1st 5 days, second only to The Dark Knight whose 5 day total was 204 mil.

Weekend total / % Change / Cumulative total

1. Transformers 2: 112 mil / (-)/ 201 mil
2. The Proposal: 18.5 mil / (-45%)/ 69 mil
3. The Hangover: 17.2 mil / (-36%) / 183 mil
4. Up: 13.0 mil / (-44%) / 250 mil
5. My Sister’s Keeper: 12.0 mil
6. Year One: 5.8 mil / (-70%) / 32.2 mil
7. The Taking of Pelham 123: 5.4 mil / (-55%) / 53.4 mil
8. Star Trek: 3.6 mil / (- 35%) / 246 mil
9. Night at the Museum: BotS: 3.5 mil / (-55%) / 163 mil
10. Away We Go: 1.7 mil / (+93%) / 4.1 mil

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summer Movie Releases - 6/26/09

The Hurt Locker

One the best reviewed films of the year apparently has director Kathryn Bigelow at the top of her game. She's easily the best female action director ever (Point Break, Blue Steel). Some unknowns (Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty) are members of a bomb dismantling team in Iraq. It's said to be extremely tense. Guy Pearce, David Morse, and Ralph Fiennes turn in supporting roles.


Dangerous Liaisons, Michelle Pfeiffer's first (and last) film with director Stephen Frears remains exciting and involving even 21 years later. It also gave John Malkovich and Uma Thurman careers that remain valid today. Here's hoping Frears regains some of that magic. Or if not as great as that film or The Grifters, I'll settle for High Fidelity or The Queen level goodness.

My Sister's Keeper

It looks like Alec Baldwin and Cameron Diaz play a married couple with 2 daughters, one of which gets cancer. Tensions and tough decisions arise and everyone is tested. Sounds like a lifetime movie with A-list stars. If there's one thing that challenges my faith in a deity, it's kids with cancer.

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Surveillance - C+

Another pre-theatrical release, pre-DVD HDNET preview happened last night. Surveillance stars Julia Ormond (Inland Empire) and Bill Pullman (Lost Highway) as 2 FBI agents on the trail of a serial killer pair who have struck again in Smalltown, USA. The film begins brutally as a man is hacked to death by a machete in his bed while his wife flees the house. Then the film settles down as the 2 agents interview local survivors, witnesses, and cops about the events of the past 2 days. They watch each other through video camera surveillance, though this device isn’t utilized nearly as effectively as it could, should, or would have been had the film been directed by executive producer David Lynch, rather than his daughter Jennifer . . .

Master Lynch’s imprint is all over the film, from the early scene where the woman escapes in a short nightgown (Ronette in TV’s Twin Peaks) to the FBI meets small town cops scene (Twin Peaks again) to the cast which Lynch has used previously. The most fascinating sequence in the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me has Agent Dale Cooper watching himself on video surveillance. Surveillance could have used more of that inspired craziness. D. Lynch’s worldview is often black and white with obvious good guys and bad guys, honor, duty, etc. He’s more interested in characters and so for awhile, you’re settled into the film honestly, looking past the overacting of the supporting roles, hyperviolence, and the many distracting expletives.

But after the interviews drag on for the majority of the film, you’ll realize there’s a huge, cheap plot twist coming which won’t be hard to spot. J. Lynch (who also co-writes) has made a watchable, pulpy film that never bores. It’s OK if she doesn’t reach the visceral and intellectual heights of her father; few have. The acting (especially by Ormond) is mostly good but some of the casting distracts (French Stewart, Cheri Oteri). Michael Ironside has put on a few pounds (so has Pullman), and isn’t given nearly enough to do. It’s an occasionally fascinating mess, worth seeing if you’re a fan of the horror, cop, or Ormond genres. C+

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

10 Nominees for Best Picture

AMPAS has decided to have 10 Best Picture nominees next year in an obvious attempt to boost ratings. After the snubs of The Dark Knight, Synecdoche New York, The Wrestler, Wall-E, In Bruges, and Revolutionary Road (not to mention Let the Right One In) in favor of instantly forgettable stuff like Milk, Frost/Nixon, and The Reader (not to mention overrated stuff like Slumdog Millionaire), it's easy to see why. Everyone knows the Best Director list will be the "real" Best Picture lineup. Looks like Up might have a shot at a Best Picture nominee after all.

Click here for a brief discussion, which I basically agree with.

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Summer Movie Releases - 6/24/09

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

With that title, Michael Bay must think he's making a Star Wars movie. Early reviews would imply one of the Star Wars prequels since the words "incoherent" and "incomprehensible" keep popping up. Priest reviewed the first one here. This one is supposed to be bigger and messier. And expected to make a lot of cash. It opens today if you didn't know, instead of the usual Friday release.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Last 5 Downloads

1. All Summer Long - Kid Rock. An instant classic - best "feel good" song ever.

2. I'm on a Boat - The Lonely Island. Previously discussed by Doc, this was a must for the Wyoming soundtrack. Very funny.

3. There Goes My Life - Kenny Chesney. The wet rat strikes again - this is a good song aimed at fathers of daughters.

4. Right Round - Flo Rida. Obligatory great pop/rap song of the moment. Sounds like an updated version of MC Hammer's "Addams Family".

5. Broken - Lifehouse. The Time Traveler preview hooked me on this one. I do have a softer side.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

DVD and Blu-ray Releases 6/23/09

Bob Funk
The Code - #
Confessions of a Shopaholic - #
Inkheart - #
Last Year at Marienbad (Criterion) - #,*
The Pink Panther 2 - #
Waltz with Bashir - #

# - also on Blu-ray
* - Doc's pick of the week

No extra Blu-ray releases this week. Must be a summer thing. I've been waiting for years for a proper Last Year at Marienbad DVD. I'm not sure I'll have the patience for it like I did 10 years ago, but I can't wait for another viewing. It's strictly for film enthusiasts (dorks) and will drive most people up the wall with its nonsensical plot and tomfoolery. I loved it when I first saw it and it remains in my top 150 or so.

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Year One C+

Rated PG-13, In Theatres, 97 minutes

Pastors and traveling evangelists have been mining Old Testament stories for laughs (and scares) for years, so, when I heard one of the best comedic pedigrees in years not associated with Apatow and Co was taking on Python-esque Genesis farce Year One, I couldn’t have been more delighted. Comedy veteran Harold Ramis directs, and the players include Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt, David Cross, Hank Azaria, Horatio Sans, Bill Hader, Paul Rudd, and Olivia Wilde (please see picture). Unfortunately, that amount of talent on the screen serves to magnify the (frequent) stretches of lame jokes. That, coupled with a too-heavy reliance on poop/fart jokes and an odd decision to stay politically correct bogs down this still occasionally hilarious film.

Director (and co-writer) Harold Ramis helmed and penned such comedic classics as Caddyshack, Groundhog Day, National Lampoon's Vacation, and Analyze This and shared writing duties on Stripes, Ghostbusters, Meatballs, and Animal House. The man can write and direct a yuckfest with the best of them. Unfortunately, the Bible is tricky territory, and the evangelical wallet, deemed the holy grail ever since The Passion of the Christ proved that the 80% of the U.S. population that self-identify as Christians go to movies, is no easier. You can’t help but hear evangelical test audiences and Fuller Old Testament consultants throughout. Ramis is hardly a study hand, first pandering to the Christian audience, then (understandably) concerned about offending the gays in the Sodom story line.

And then there’s the cast. Jack Black is in his usual over-the-top-lead-personae. Michael Cera is George Michael in the Stone Age. I like Cera’s schtick better and they both have moments, but they’re phoning it in. The stand-outs here are Oliver Platt as a transvestite priest in Sodom (to Molock, an actual ancient Semitic god, and they get the worship of him about right here) who has the hots for Cera’s character, and Hank Azaria as Abraham caught in the act of sacrificing his son (McLovin’, incidentally). Azaria and Platt get the joke and seem to realize that some people are going to be offended, so let them be, but most won’t unless they actually slander God or major teachings of the Bible. Of course, Platt can’t go wrong at that point. He’s a priest to the most loathed god in the Old Testament in a town that is burned by hellfire. Speaking of, the toughest parts to take in the film are the ones that stick close to the Biblical texts. Burning virgins alive is pretty rough. It’s hard to get laughs at one brother killing another, and a dad about to kill his son is pretty harsh. The film doesn’t dodge these Biblical points yet seems scared to really go to where the hard laughs are. In the end, there are laughs here, but I’d wait to video. C+

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Triumph the Insult Comic Dog - the return

His first appearance on Conan's new show. Lots of laughs. Part two is after the jump.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

Click here for a short, brilliant comment piece from Garrison Keillor about parents and America, perfect for Father's Day. Take that essay and add it with the American ethos from Gran Torino and you've pretty much got my worldview, give or take a few degrees.

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Box Office 6/21/09

Box Office successes and failures are usually more reliant on marketing, timing, and luck than the quality of the film so I don't typically comment on it. But there is something worth noting this June. The Hangover fell off an amazing 18% from its prior week. Along with the surprising successes of Gran Torino and Taken, I don't think I'm going too far in saying that the typical American male is fed up with political correctness and the Oprahfication of everything. Click below for the list.

This week's total, percentage change, cumulative total.

1. The Proposal= $34.1 mil
2. The Hangover = $26.9 mil (-18%) / ($153m)
3. Up = $21.3 mil (-31%) / ($224m)
4. Year One = $20.2
5. The Taking of Pelham 123 = $11.3 mil (-53%) / ($43m)
6. Night at the Museum: BotS = $7.3 mil (-24%) / ($156m)
7. Star Trek = $4.7 mil (-14%) / ($239m)
8. Land of the Lost = $4.0 mil (-56%) / ($44m)
9. Imagine That = $3.10 mil (-44%) / ($11m)
10. Terminator Salvation = $3.07 mil (-36%) / ($120m)

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

New Trailers

1. Cold Souls - Paul Giamatti stars as a Synecdoche style unhappy New Yorker that has his soul removed to try and cure what ails him. Looks interesting - in the same vein as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Good luck with those comparisons.

2. 2012 - New one from Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, Day After Tomorrow). Cool images as always in the trailer, and I actually like his two previous hits. Could be good.

3. Time Traveler's Wife - I am going soft. This weepy with Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams hits all my family buttons.

4. Public Enemies - 10,000 bullets in 1 minute. This is a clip of a shoot-out. Awesome.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 - B+

In theaters. Rated R, 112 minutes. Trailer.

Denzel Washington, John Travolta, Director Tony Scott, and writer Brian Helgeland have come together to produce my favorite film so far in 2009. I was very skeptical going in, but the film was consistently entertaining and even a little bit interesting. I should've known the script would be good (Helgeland wrote Doc/Lawyer fave LA Confidential, one of the best screenplays of the past 20 years), and apparently the original Pelham film from the 70's is decent, so there was a good foundation. Click below for more Pelham:

The film starts with Denzel as Garber, an up-from-his-bootstraps executive at the MTA (NY Subway) filling in as a lowly dispatcher as a result of an ongoing investigation into a possible bribe. Travolta (as Ryder) is shown menacingly walking the subway and then the two intersect after Travolta takes over the Pelham 123 train. The two bond as Ryder demands $10 million to release the hostages on the train - after the NYPD crisis negotiator (John Turturro, in a good, understated performance) gets rejected by Ryder, Garber is back in to work through the crisis. The rest of the plot plays out relatively predictably, but interestingly.

Along the way the outgoing Mayor of New York (James Gandolfini) gets involved, adding a subplot I enjoyed immensely. His character has lots of strengths and weaknesses and Helgeland imbues the character and his coterie of advisors with a world weariness and sense of humor that I identify with. Denzel is his predictably dependable working man with ethics, somewhat similar (but more understated) than his character in Inside Man. Travolta is perfect as a semi-interesting character that questions morality and discusses the ambiguity of society with Denzel.

Director Tony Scott balances the plot with the action perfectly. The film is perfectly suspenseful the whole time, with the predictable third act dragging just a little. He focuses on the redemption of Gandolfini, Travolta and Denzel, not high art, but interesting still. One false note was any scene with the hostages - I cringe when any hostage scene comes on in a movie because of the syrupy moments and forced heroism that completely turns me off.

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Larry David

Larry was on Conan Wednesday night. Great stuff. Watch it here.

Here's an old clip of Ricky Gervais talking with Larry David (comic nirvana). Lots of great clips from Curb interspersed with their discussion.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Summer Movie Releases - 6/19/09

The Proposal

Sandra Bullock faces deportation to Canada and fakes an engagement with her assistant (Ryan Reynolds) to stay. Haven't I seen this before? Is this a remake? Reynolds's Alaskan relatives (Betty White, Craig T. Nelson, Mary Steenburgen) sound interesting and the leads are certainly likable. Looks like a possible Priest review.

Year One

In ancient times, Jack Black and Michael Cera crack some anachronistic jokes. On the plus side, David Cross co-stars and Harold Ramis directs. This could go either way. The trailer has a couple of laughs, but am I the only one that feels that Black has never been a good lead and much better in support (High Fidelity, Tropic Thunder).

Whatever Works

Woody Allen returns to New York after a 4-year European stint. A cranky Larry David romances a girl (Evan Rachel Wood) way too young for him and tries to find some meaning to life. Haven't I seen this before? Is this a remake? Michael McKean, Patricia Clarkson, and Ed Begley, Jr. co-star. Early word is mixed, but I love David's exasperated and frustrated shtick.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Year 2000 Revisited

American Psycho

Given Christian Bale’s recent success, I though I should give American Psycho another look. I liked it on first viewing (almost 9 years ago), but found it too gory and strange to be taken seriously. I must have less literal eyes now since it balanced the absurdity and social commentary perfectly this time around. Bale’s performance is a little mannered, but it works in a crazy sort of way. It’s very well written and directed. I love the use of pop music (especially personal guilty favorites Huey Lewis and Phil Collins) and the ambiguousness of the ending is perfect. I also love the interchangeability of Bateman and his colleagues (Josh Lucas, Jared Leto, and Justin Theroux). And there are a couple great shots of the Twin Towers- A-


Billy Elliot

After Stephen Daldry received his third Best Director Oscar nomination last winter for The Reader, I decided to give his first feature, Billy Elliot, another chance when I ran across it on cable. I found his framing of the scenes and blocking of the actors impressive. The first time I saw the film (over 8 years ago), I liked it but dismissed it as overly sentimental. Now, viewing it through a father’s eyes for the first time, the story of a boy reaching his full potential and the sacrifices a parent (in this case, a father) makes hit me like a ton of bricks. Great films can be seen in different ways at different stages of your life. The film forces itself a little too much with the striking worker stuff, but the acting is great (especially by a tough Julie Walters). Who knows? Maybe The Hours and The Reader will relevant in 8 years. A-

Updated Best Films of 2000 List:

1. Traffic
2. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
3. Erin Brockovich
4. Almost Famous
5. You Can Count On Me
6. Cast Away
7. Billy Elliot
8. American Psycho
9. Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
10. Gladiator
11. State and Main
12. Pollock

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sunday, June 14, 2009

DVD Releases - 6/16/09

Bergman Island
Burn Notice – Season 2 - #
The Cell 2 - #
Friday the 13th (Extended Edition) - #
Jess Stone: Thin Ice
Last Holiday (Criterion)
Madea Goes to Jail
Richard III (1955) – (Criterion)
The Seventh Seal (Criterion) - #, *

Click below for this week's Blu-ray releases

The Diary of Anne Frank
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb-*
Ghostbusters - *
The Greatest Game Ever Played
John Adams - *
Lost: The Complete First Season
Lost: The Complete Second Season
Miracle - *
No Way Back
Sling Blade - *
Striking Distance

# - Also on Blu-Ray
* - Doctor Approved

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Twitter Recommendations

I am not much for electronic and social networking fads, but Twitter can allow you to have your owned filtered newsfeed, if utilized and screened properly. So far I have found the following pop culture tweeters to be worth following:

Ryan Adams: http://twitter.com/ryanada_ms
David Lynch: http://twitter.com/DAVID_LYNCH
Cinematical: http://twitter.com/cinematical
Jeffrey Wells: http://twitter.com/wellshwood
NY Times Film: http://twitter.com/nytimesmovies
Seth Rogen: http://twitter.com/rogiddy
Peter Travers: http://twitter.com/petertravers
Aziz Ansari: http://twitter.com/azizansari
Jon Favreau: http://twitter.com/Jon_Favreau

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Crossing Over - C-


You can hear the pitch: It’s Crash with immigration as a backdrop. Harrison Ford (who must have regretted passing on the Michael Douglas role in Traffic) plays an INS agent who leads raids on warehouses in Los Angeles. His Iranian partner Cliff Curtis has a father who will become a citizen soon and a little sister who’s become Americanized (promiscuous). Ray Liotta’s government job lets him approve green cards which comes in handy when he meets a hot Australian (Alice Eve) looking for one. Liotta’s wife Ashley Judd is a liberal lawyer who helps illegal immigrants who wind up getting incarcerated. One of her clients is a 15 year old Muslim whose essay sympathizing with the 9/11 terrorists drew some attention at her school. Rounding it out, a Jew (Jim Sturgess) tries to become a citizen and a Chinese guy runs a laundry shop . . .

Are you worn out yet? I sure was. Like Crash, the implausible coincidences pile up at an alarming rate. And like The Visitor, I have a tough time sympathizing with people who are breaking the law, living in the country illegally. Ford’s search for a young Mexican woman and his scene with the young Iranian woman were the only things that really worked since you could feel him trying to redeem his lost relationship with his own daughter. The only other thing making an impact is Eve’s nakedness. Wayne Kramer made a pretty good Las Vegas drama (The Cooler) and a fun, ridiculously over the top action film (Running Scared), but forgets his own interesting imprint in favor of adopting a homogenized, forgettable style. Can we please have a 50 year moratorium on Crash knock-offs? C-

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Shutter Island Trailer

Not my favorite genre, but it looks fantastic.

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Summer Movie Releases - 6/12/09

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

Some hijackers take over a New York subway train and hold hostages for ransom. The original 1974 version had Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw facing off. They’ve been replaced by Denzel Washington and John Travolta. I’m glad it has the guts to be R-rated. Directed by Tony Scott, whose last remake (Man on Fire) was pretty good. Fingers crossed.


Sam Rockwell lives in isolation on the dark side of the moon mining Helium-3, which is helping solve Earth’s energy problems. As he nears the end of his 3-year stint, some crazy stuff starts going down. It looks really intriguing to me - potentially a profound, visually inspired journey toward self-discovery –like Soderbergh’s Solaris.

Imagine That

Eddie Murphy's struggles at work become easy to solve when he decides to travel into his daughter’s imagination. No doubt the parents will be idiots and the children will be wise beyond their years. Eddie hasn’t made a good movie in awhile, and this gives me a sugary-sweet headache just thinking about it.


Francis Ford Coppola directs his original screenplay about brothers bonding in Argentina. His last effort (Youth Without Youth) was easy on the eyes but convoluted. Here, he goes black and white and has stated he’ll keep his camera still. He’s going for strong compositions and long takes and has stated the fast cuts and non-stop camera moves in modern films drive him nuts. Interesting.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

In Transit

I recently made my way to, and then across, the Iberian Peninsula. While the eleven travel days in the middle were my primary objective, the travel to and fro gave me some time to pick from an excellent assortment of in-flight fare. Here, then, is an accounting of how I used my time. These aren’t full reviews, just quick impressions.

Taken B
The Doc has already written a review that I’d mainly echo. The action, wants it starts, comes quick and deadly. Liam Neeson is better than I expected in the straight-forward fight scenes. The action sequences are expertly shot with minimal reliance on the slap-dash camera movements to give the impression of speed and violence that have dominated the genre of late. It’s nice to see a mindless action film turn the light on the human traffic trade.

Frost/Nixon B+

Previously reviewed here. Ron Howard shows his limitations as well as his strengths in this retelling of talk show host/party boy Frost’s decision to take on, and take down, Richard Nixon just months after his resignation. Through a series of four, 90 minute interviews set-up to allow Nixon to defend his legacy, Frost is initially pummeled before winning in the final interview by giving Nixon the opportunity to say exactly what he wanted to say all along—that he was above the law. Indubitably Howard hoped we’ll see parallels between Nixon and Bush administration, but he wussed out if he was trying to make that point, and, without it, the film has an “interesting, but so what?” air hanging about. That said, the acting is all first rate and the build-up of suspense for the final interview is well-done, if borrowing heavily from 1992’s A Few Good Men, with Nixon in the role Nicholson made famous.

Pride and Glory B-
While it sports a solid cast (Ed Norton, Colin Ferrell, Jon Voight, Noah Emmerich), this is another retread of the family police drama, with a dad that faithfully walked the beat and sons that have wound up on both sides of the law (in this case, the bad son is son-in-law Ferrell). Norton and Ferrell both turn in solid performances, with Voight and Emmerich doing fine, but there’s absolutely nothing here that hasn’t already been done better on NYPD Blue. Oops, I'd forgotten, but Lawyer reviewed this in the theatre.

Valkyrie B
Again, Doc has already been here. I fell asleep during the second half, but I’ve subsequently Redbox’ed it. This one is better than feared if not particularly memorable. Cruise’s character seems awfully brazen in this retelling and a tad too self-aggrandizing. Still, the story is a fascinating one. I was aware that a number of Hitler’s general’s were hung by piano wire after a failed coup, but I knew nothing of the particulars. There’s nothing compelling about the acting, remarkable considering the pedigree of some of the players but the film is never less than interesting, either. Unfortunately, the buzz on the film and Tom Cruise killed this six months before it dropped.

I watched half of this, then turned it off for Frost/Nixon, but not before noting 1) how surprisingly unwatchable Joseph Gordon-Levitt was (loved him in The Lookout), 2) Rosario Dawson was WASTED, as was Diane Lane, 3) Mickey Rourke was doing his best, and 4) Rourke’s character would have aerated Gordon-Levitt’s cranium two minutes after he entered the real estate office. Still, the biggest problem, As Doc’s review points out, is that there’s no one here to care about or root for.

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The Hangover - B+

In theaters. Rated R(!), 96 minutes. Trailer.

Raucous guy movies are my favorite types of movies to watch. When the director of the masterpiece that is Old School (Todd Phillips) is at the helm, I get to the theater quick. The Hangover delivers on its promising trailer and succeeds in providing lots of R-rated laughs and what!? moments. Doug (Justin Bartha) is getting married, so he and his friends Phil the cool guy (Bradley Cooper) and Stu the p-whipped dentist (Ed Helms) along with the bride's weird brother Allen (Zach Galifianakis) head to Las Vegas for a bachelor party. Click below for more on Hangover:

The crew assembles and drives to Vegas, checking into a suite and making a toast. Cut to the next morning (featured prominently in the trailer) when all hell has broken loose and the groom is missing. Trouble is, none of the others remember anything from the night before. So they set out to retrace their steps to find the groom, and bizarreness and hilarity ensue. Along the way they encounter a doctor, a tiger, Mike Tyson, a crazy nude chinese man, a chicken, breastfeeding, gunfire, drug dealers and other weird/funny stuff.

The cast is great, with Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms as the standouts. Cooper plays the Vince Vaughn-ish leader of the group and does an admirable job. Helms is consistently funny, playing a character with roots in his Office character, but enough of a variation to be interesting - his timing and delivery of several of the lines and scenes was great. Galifianakis is the obligatory weird guy, and he mostly pulls it off. Role players Rachael Harris, Jeffrey Tambor, Heather Graham and Ken Jeong round out a solid cast, with Jeong gracing the viewer with the craziest, most memorable film entrance in recent memory.

There are multiple funny scenes and laugh-out loud moments, and even some decent (if tired) plots and subplots that I enjoyed (mostly involving Ed Helms). The film doesn't reach 'classic' status like Old School or Wedding Crashers mostly because it is haunted by the ghosts of Will Ferrell, Owen Wilson and, most of all, Vince Vaughn. Those guys all make their movies so much better and would've done the same here.

This is a hard R, so don't go with the sensitive types or on a first date. Hopefully this will be playing in Wyoming in 2 short weeks (!).

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Up - A-

In theaters. Rated G, 96 minutes. Trailer.

As Doc has pointed out, Pixar's track record for producing quality films is unmatched. Up hits the mark again, providing a multi-layered and emotional film about living life in the present. Ed Asner voices the main character, Carl, a widower facing a nursing home who chooses instead to float his beloved house to South America to belatedly fulfill a childhood promise he made to his wife, Ellie. He is unintentionally joined on this journey by an earnest and lonely boy scout, Russell. Click below for more on UP!:

The first scene shows how the timid and cautious Carl meets his future wife, the boisterous and adventurous Ellie when they were both little kids and Carl promises to take Ellie to Paradise Falls in South America. It then shows a rapid fire depiction of their life together and Ellie's death, ending up with a Gran Torino-esque widower on the porch facing change in his neighborhood (this time its a huge development surrounding his lone, little house). As he spars with the developer and fights off the nursing home, we get a sense of Carl, and when Russell, the little boy scout, comes to his door seeking to "assist an old person" to earn the associated badge, he sends him off on a fools errand. Carl gets in a fight with the developer, overreacts and is then forced to sell the house and relocate to a nursing home. Before they come to get him, though, he ties a zillion balloons to his house to float it (and Ellie's memory) to Paradise Falls.

Along the way he finds Russell on the porch, and they make it almost to the falls - only needing to walk a few days to get there. As they journey, they encounter dogs with special collars that voice their thoughts - a very funny bit. They are also joined by an odd bird that they end up helping at the end. The balance of the film deals with outrunning Carl's childhood hero who is obsessed with finding the odd bird to save his reputation and Carl and Russell's fight to save him.

The first third of the film is very emotional, I don't know how a widower could get through it. It is an elegiac ode to a life lived (Carl's) and his love for his wife and the little girl she used to be. Well, guess what? I am happily married and I have a little girl, so this was the perfect storm for Mr. Goodfellas. I withstood the tearjerking at this point, but stay tuned. This part of the film is really unbelievable, as the filmmakers gather such emotion with such little dialogue and quick images. The music was noticeably great here and throughout the film.

The film's deals with themes of loss, moving on, dealing with the present, friendship, childhood heroes, conservation and baggage. I felt that the main thesis of the film was to live your life for the present and appreciate the people you encounter on a daily basis. It also emphasized the mundane things in life as being some of the best parts - try to appreciate them as they are happening. Russell is neglected by his father, but remembers sitting on the curb watching cars with him. Carl feels like a failure because he didn't take Ellie to Paradise Falls, but they led a full, rich life. At the end of the film, he looks back through Ellie's childhood "Adventure Book" which has her little kid stuff (whack!) and then their life story (pow!), and my tear ducts couldn't take it anymore. A great film.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

DVD Releases - 6/9/09

Crossing Over - #
Fired Up! - #
Gran Torino - #, *
The International - #
Time Warp - #

Click below for this week's Blu-ray releases

Fatal Attraction
Indecent Proposal
Predator 2
The Siege
Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music

# - also on Blu-Ray
* - Doctor approved

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

New Trailers

1. The Goods - I can't tell what this is about, but it looks funny and stars an absurd number of my favorite comedic actors: Jeremy Piven, Kristen Schaal (Mel from Flight of the Conchords), Ed Helms, Ken Jeong (asian guy from the Apatow films), Tony Hale (Buster Bluth), Craig Robinson (Darrell from the Office).

2. Extract - New comedy from writer/director Mike Judge (Office Space) starring Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Ben Affleck, and (Doc and Europpraiser alert) Mila Kunis. Looks awesome - love the sweatpants bit.

3. It Might Get Loud - Documentary about guitar playing starring Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White. Looks really cool.

Up (A- and I cried) and Hangover (B+) reviews forthcoming.

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Revolutionary Road - B+

As lawyer said, it’s a rough sit-through; Leonardo DiCaprio & Kate Winslet’s married couple fight the vast majority of the film. Their children are basically forgotten- so much so that when they’re mentioned, it’s unintentionally funny. But my main problem with the film is: Why is Paris the only solution? Why not just move back to New York City? Because that wouldn’t solve a thing (and neither would Paris). Kate’s April Wheeler is an unbelievably selfish and self-absorbed character. Leo’s character Frank is exactly right when he describes how crazy she is and accuses her of being an unfit mother. Obviously, (=>) Frank’s no saint, but it would seem April has emotionally and mentally castrated him at home. And as the “truth-speaker” and presumed insane John (played by the brilliant Michael Shannon) says, Frank doesn’t really feel like a man.
Which explains but does not excuse Frank’s infidelity. But could somebody explain April’s betrayal? Because she sucks at acting (April, not Kate)? She certainly feels trapped in the suburbs and “better” than her neighbors, but her actions are less sane than anything John could have done. I can understand smoking and drinking while you’re pregnant (it is the mid 1950s and most people didn’t know any better), but cheating in a car compulsively? Unforgivable. Which makes Leo’s performance toward the end all the more devastating. Does anyone believe April would have been such a great parent to her kids had an opposite, alternative scenario happened? Which brings us to Winslet - who received the Oscar last February for the wrong film. Her glances, hesitations, and posture give depth to her troubled character and the film could have been unwatchable in another actress’s hands. Just edging out Synecdoche, New York, Revolutionary Road is the best acted film of last year.Sam Mendes rebounds from Jarhead to deliver a well-framed, well-paced heavy drama. The 1955 setting is exquisitely recreated and Roger Deakins cinematography is beautiful as expected. It’s certainly one of the best put-together films of last year. The structure, taken from Richard Yates’s novel, is sublime. The couple’s decision to escape makes Leo relaxed at work which leads to his promotion. Their Paris decision also leads to a rekindled romance, which leads to the pregnancy and the unraveling of the whole thing. Yates’s worldview is exceedingly pessimistic and depressing to say the least, but the film will make you evaluate the institution of marriage like no other. Though stuck in the 50s, its themes seem even more appropriate and applicable today. The community’s response to the tragic events in the last few scenes is genius. B+

Final Top Ten of 2008
1. The Dark Knight
2. Let the Right One In
3. Synecdoche, New York
4. The Wrestler
5. Wall-E
6. In Bruges
7. Revolutionary Road
8. Man On Wire
9. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
10. Happy-Go-Lucky

Runner-ups: Tropic Thunder, The Bank Job, Burn After Reading

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Defiance - C

On DVD and Blu-Ray

In WW2, a group of Jews led by 4 brothers named Bielski survived in the woods near the Poland-Russia border by pooling all their resources. They would also occasionally attack the German army. The film works best early on as two of the Bielskis (Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber) decide to fight back to avoid deportation to a concentration camp. They target local civilians cooperating with the Germans. But then the movie eventually bogs down with fights over soup and pregnant women. The action scenes become repetitive and the movie doesn’t really find an ending, but has to provide the obligatory written summary of the rest of their lives during and after the war . . .

Craig’s on again-off again accent distracts, but Schreiber is great with both his vocal and physical work. There are a couple of contrived “intellectual” characters whose discussions about Nazis and motivations bring the film to a halt several times. The film is probably realistic with its drab visuals, but they still fail to give the film a much needed spark. Blood Diamond, director Ed Zwick’s last outing, benefitted from a great lead performance and a straightforward pulpy story that was bathed in sunlight. This film meanders in gray and brown tones and the acting doesn’t engage or rise above the stifled dialogue. C

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Summer Movie Releases - 6/5/09

The Hangover

Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis play groomsmen who lose the groom (Justin Bartha) after a Las Vegas bachelor party gone crazy. Heather Graham, Jeffrey Tambor, and Mike Tyson show up for some laughs. Directed by Todd Phillips (Old School), so I’m there. Best buzz of the bunch; the studio is already developing a sequel.

Land of the Lost

Will Ferrell attempts to lure the big summertime family audience when he accidentally travels back in time with Danny McBride and has to fight off dinosaurs and other creatures. Directed by Brad Silberling (Lemon Snicket, City of Angels, Casper), so pass.

Away We Go

John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph play an expectant couple who travel the country to try to find the best place to start a family. Director Sam Mendes will try to diminish Krasinski’s smarminess and alter Rudolph’s annoying voice and tics. Good luck. Catherine O’Hara, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janney, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Jim Gaffigan co-star.

Downloading Nancy

Rufus Sewell (Dark City) comes home to find his wife (Mario Bello) missing. She’s met a dude (Jason Patric) on the internet and has gone looking for him. Interesting cast. Bad premise. Horrible reviews. Pass.

My Life in Ruins

Nia Vardalos plays a travel guide in Greece, looking for love. Couldn’t possibly look worse. Richard Dreyfuss cashes a paycheck. Directed by Donald Petrie (Welcome to Mooseport, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Miss Congeniality), so – huge pass, big-time.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pop Music in the Movies

"Jumpin' Jack Flash", The Rolling Stones in Mean StreetsEarly on, the straight-laced Charlie (Harvey Keitel) watches the rock 'n' roll Johnny Boy (Robert de Niro) enter a bar with 2 women. Slow motion doesn't get any better. The energy of the song perfectly matches the energy of De Niro and Scorsese's camera. You're better off just watching it in the film, but if you must, click here for the scene (in a compressed aspect ratio).

"Jessie's Girl", Rick Springfield in Boogie Nights
Dirk Diggler, Reed Rothchild, and Todd Parker enter a drug dealer's house to sell some fake dope. It lasts too long for Dirk who meditates about how everything went wrong in his life. An unbelievable bold move by director Paul Thomas Anderson who holds on Mark Wahlberg's face much longer than expected - and gets away with it.

"Tiny Dancer", Elton John in Almost Famous
After Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) separates himself from the band when jealousy rears its ugly head, he reluctantly agrees to get back on the tour bus. There is no easy reconciliation until the Elton John song plays, which immediately bonds everyone. Perfect. And interesting that director Cameron Crowe would choose a pop song over a rock and roll one. See that instant classic scene here.

"Can't You Hear Me Knocking", The Rolling Stones in Casino
One of my biggest complaints of the flawed Casino is that it doesn't know if it's documenting how Las Vegas works or if it's a love triangle from hell. Like Gangs of New York, Scorsese got too ambitious and lost focus (although I'd rather have it that way than the other). Another minor complaint is that there are too many music cues. This one is my favorite and occurs just after Nick Santoro (Joe Pesci) gets banned from all the casinos and invites his brother and other goodfellas from Kansas City to raise hell. See the R-rated scene here.

"Can't Take My Eyes Off You", Frankie Valli in The Deer Hunter
Not exactly a favorite song of mine, but probably my favorite scene in the film. Christopher Walken's funky dance. De Niro's pool shooting. John Savage and the late, great John Cazale (in his last film) singing their hearts out. The exuberance of youth is about to be demolished by the Vietnam War and lifelong friendships will be strained. See the scene here (in low-res!).

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Conan's First Night

Tonight was Conan O'Brien's first night of hosting The Tonight Show. His guests were Will Ferrell and Pearl Jam. A few comments:

1. Great open - loved the Cheap Trick song ("Surrender") and the run through the country.
2. He appears to be retaining the scattalogical/high level humor that has made his show a favorite.
3. Great to see Andy Richter back as his co-host/announcer. Richter is very funny, but he hasn't been able find a landing spot.
4. Great musical guest (bias alert), but I think someone like Bill Murray, Tina Fey or Steve Martin instead of Ferrell would've been much better.
5. Pearl Jam's played a song from their forthcoming album, Backspacer. Not sure about the song - need a couple more listens. As I have mentioned before, PJ is currently working with Cameron Crowe on a documentary - they played a secret show last week in Seattle in connection with the same and a partnership with Target(?): read about it here. UPDATE - Here is the video of their performance.

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DVD Releases 6/2/09

Defiance - #
Direct Contact - #
Eddie Murphy: Delirious
Elsewhere - #
He’s Just Not That Into You - #
Prison Break: Season Four
Revolutionary Road - #
Spring Breakdown - #
Weeds: Season Four - #

Click below for this week's Blu-ray releases

Air Force One
Bruce Almighty
Dark Blue
Fletch - *
Glory - *
The Graduate - * (Doc’s Pick of the Week)
Inside Man - *
Navy Seals
Out of Time
Road House
Rollerball (2002)
To Live and Die in L.A.
Walking Tall

# - Also on Blu-Ray
* - Doctor Approved

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