Thursday, December 31, 2009

Recent Rental Reviews

1. The Cove - B+. This recently released documentary exposes the unnecessary and inhumane slaughter of thousands of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. The film follows Flipper's original trainer as he tries to stop the killing and the team he assembles to film the garish activity in a very secret cove. Efficient direction and a few good characters make the film interesting and engaging, even if I don't really equate dolphins to humans like the filmmakers do. I especially loved the portrayal of Japan's politicking at the IWC (International Whaling Commission).

Click below for 4 more mini-reviews:

2. Road to Perdition. A. Finally, right? This contemplative story of fathers, sons and sins is right up my alley. Mendes' direction and Hanks/Newman deliver on a film with only tiny flaws.

3. Love Actually. B+. Already stated here, but this is one of my favorite Christmas films. Most of the storylines work great, with unique setups and satisfying conclusions.

4. Inglourious Basterds. A-. Holds up on a second viewing, especially Pitt and Waltz.

5. The Hangover. B+. Also holds up. Favorite part is Ed Helms and I now appreciate Galifikanakis more.

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Song of the Day - Pink Houses, John Mellencamp

This one makes me feel like a good American. Love the guitar riff in the chorus.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Song of the Day - Alive, Pearl Jam

Don't forget this great song off of Ten. Touching story about the song from Vedder at the beginning of this clip with an emotional ending. Some of the best guitarwork of the 90's with really great angsty lyrics.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sherlock Holmes C+

In Theatres, 128 Minutes, Rated PG-13
There are a couple ways to reboot an established film series. One, ably illustrated by the Daniel Craig reboot of the 007 series, is to cut away the access and the layers of crap that have built up over the year and re-imagine the series while preserving its essence. So, the new Bond films are not only good films, but also good James Bond, even though the gadgets, never-ending supply of women, and constant double entendres have been eliminated. The second is to keep the access and the layers of crap—the name, the general premise—while cutting out the essence. The new Star Trek has done this about as well as can be imagined. Star Trek isn’t actually a good Star Trek movie at all, but it is a fun film. This second tact would appear to be the one taken by the (newly Madonna-less) Guy Ritchie in his new offering Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately, not only is this movie not a very good Sherlock Holmes film, it’s not a very good film either. (Full Disclosure: I read The Complete Sherlock Holmes at some point in high school—both volumes. So, I’m a bit geeky on the detective and his fearless sidekick Watson).

The plot is occult-heavy mumbo-jumbo involving a serial-killing Lord Blackwood who has become an extremely powerful dark wizard (no, you have not stumbled into a Harry Potter review). He’s captured and hung, but not before issuing a warning to our fearless detective that many more would die and he would return. Resurrect he (apparently) does with an endgame taken straight out of 1960’s Bond- first capturing parliament then world domination.

Robert Downey Jr. is great fun as Sherlock and in some ways is closer to Holmes than usually portrayed. Although generally played as a killjoy egghead, the stories show an athletic man, fond of boxing, who enjoyed shooting his pistol in doors and was not against using a bit of cocaine in between cases. Watson, well played by Jude Law as a Sherlock Holmes-lite, could not be further from the source material, but is still a raucous goodtime. Their interaction is a bit flirty for my taste, but that’s the way they’re playing their guy-guy friendships in Hollywood these days (thank you, Judd). Unfortunately, the usually dependable Rachel McAdams is reduced to little more than window dressing and falls flat on some badly written dialogue she can’t seem to rise above. That’s too bad, because her role could and should have been a great deal more. The mid-1800’s London is a foggy, dank, ribauld mess of a town and would have stolen the show from a lesser actor than Downey.

This movie plays like a set-up for sequels. Downey and Law (and maybe McAdams) would be a lot of fun to see re-united. Let’s hope next time they get a better plot. C+

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Invictus - B-

In theaters. Rated PG, 134 minutes. Trailer.

Sports and politics can come together to make a great and powerful film. Director Clint Eastwood tries to do this with the story of South Africa's journey through the 1995 rugby World Cup and the involvement of famed South African president Nelson Mandela. The film begins with Mandela's election after his release from prison and the end of apartheid. His election has empowered the black majority and produced anxiety for the white elite minority. All of this sounds great, but, unfortunately the film turns into a simpleton's tale of racial harmony and turning the other cheek. Click below for more on an overly complicated episode of Diff'rent Strokes:

Immediately upon assuming the presidency, Mandela begins to try and embrace the whites and counsel the blacks away from retribution. His goal is a diverse and vibrant country and he is in constant pursuit of things to further the goal. He seizes upon the South African national rugby team, the Springboks, to provide a way of bring the country together. Traditionally the blacks have always rooted against the Springboks because they symbolized Apartheid and the whites have idolized the Springboks.

Mandela embraces the Springboks and their captain Francois (Matt Damon) when he could have had the whole team scrapped. The film follows his struggle to bring the country together around the rugby team's journey through the World Cup. Francois balances his growing understanding and reverence of Mandela's character with his family and teammates' rejection of his leadership.

The main portion of the story is probably a strong B, but the side stories and musical choices are embarassing. The security detail is straight out of a 80's message sitcom and the music regularly hijacks the tone - the patented Eastwood 'smooth jazz' soundtrack is all over the place and one song in particular named......wait for it......"Colorblind". Please listen to it at least until the 55 second mark to really feel how bad it is.

Freeman and Damon are both superb in their roles and the film could've been much better if only Clint had focused on their relationship. The film is tedious at times and the rugby scenes go on and on and on. I cannot understand the critical acclaim being thrown at this film - it is on par with the Blind Side for a lack of nuance.

Skip it.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Snap Judgments - a Quick Review of 5 Movies

JCVD

Much better than you'd ever expect. I'll second everything that Priest said here. Jean Claude Van Damme can act and his 5-6 minute monologue looking directly at the camera is the best moment of his entire career. All the movie references (Hard Target, Windtalkers, etc.) are spot-on. The directing draws attention to itself and is occasionally self-referential, but nonetheless exciting and thoughtful. B+

The Ugly Truth
There are moments of greatness when Gerard Butler gives the impossibly radiant Katherine Heigl the "ugly truth" and lays out exactly (and I mean exactly) how men think. The dialogue is refreshingly honest (i.e. R-rated) and Butler is very charismatic, delivering each line perfectly. But this being a modern romantic comedy, the plot becomes overly familiar and the ridiculous coincidences add up. Almost a B, but the rancid CGI during the hot air balloon finale drags it down. B-

The Proposal

Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds shine as a bitchy boss and her longtime assistant who fake an engagement when she is threatened with deportation to Canada. The film paints itself into a corner when the only tension in the second half is if she will tell his family the truth. The majority of the film takes place in Alaska, but the CGI is so bad that you can tell it was shot in a studio. But the dialogue is playful enough for Bullock and Reynolds pull off some surprisingly good chemistry. B-

Passengers

You can't combine 2 of the best films of the 90s (Fearless and The Sixth Sense), fail to add interesting ideas, characters, or dialogue, and expect everything to come up aces. Anne Hathaway (who I'll apparently watch in anything) stars as an airline crash expert who sets up group therapy with a few surviving passengers. There are a few good jolts, but messing with audience just for the sake of it is hardly an excuse for a movie. C

Sin Nombre

It's getting a lot of year-end recognition as one of the best foreign language films of the year, but this 50-50 combo rip-off of City of God and El Norte is unpleasant, sadistic, misogynistic, depressing, and worst of all - boring. Everything it tries to do has been done infinitely better in those aforementioned films. Just watch City of God again. There's nothing to see here. Move along. Move along. C

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DVD and Blu-ray Releases 12/29/09

Carriers
Jennifer's Body - #
The Marine 2 - #
9 - #
Paranormal Activity - #
A Perfect Getaway - #
Weather Girl

# - also on Blu-ray

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Weekend Box Office: 12/25-12/27/09

Title/Gross/%Change/Total

1. Avatar: 75 mil / -3% / 212 mil
2. Sherlock Holmes: 65.4 mil / (-)
3. Alvin & Chipmunks 2: 50.2 mil / (-)
4. It's Complicated: 22.1 mil / (-)
5. Up in the Air: 11.8 mil / (+) / 25 mil
6. Blind Side: 11.8 mil / +17% / 184 mil
7. Princess & Frog: 8.6 mil / -29% / 63 mil
8. Nine: 5.5 mil / (+) / 5.9 mil
9. The Morgans?: 5 mil / -24% / 16 mil
10. Invictus: 4.4 mil / +4% / 23 mil
11. New Moon: 3 mil / -32% / 281 mil
12. Christmas Carol: 1.4 mil/-61%/136 mil

Huge weekend all around. It's Complicated was hurt by its R-rating (a pot-smoking scene was left in and MPAA would not budge after appeal). Nine belly-flops as expected, the Morgans die an ignominious death, and The Blind Side is the surprise hit of the year.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Spread - C

Having never watched That 70's Show or Punk'd, my only knowledge of Ashton Kutcher consists of a second-rate romantic comedy starring Cameron Diaz, getting Bruce Willis's sloppy seconds, and getting fired off the set of Elizabethtown by Cameron Crowe due to his inability to act. But somehow, through the miracle of Entertainment Tonight and Twitter, Kutcher has remained in the pop culture. His latest starring role is Spread, where he plays Nikki, a homeless, suspender and boot wearing stud whose only commodity is bringing older women to an orgasm. Early on, he bunks down with Samantha (Anne Heche - who may not be scorching at the level of The Juror, but still ignites the screen). But Nikki's need to whore around with everyone in LA ruins his living arrangement with his sugar-momma and he's soon out on the street . . .

He meets and fights with former friends (most notably Rachel Blanchard - Sally from Flight of the Conchords), then falls in love with his female counterpart Heather, played by Margarita Levieva (Lisa P in Adventureland). Will Heather decide to marry money or the penniless Nikki? Will he discover that his selfish, meaningless, shallow existence is shallow, meaningless, and selfish? You probably won't care by the end. Early on, the sex and nudity keeps you awake but by the end, Kutcher's lifeless narration will have you nearly comatose. The plot contrivances (phone calls interrupting at the worst possible time, etc.) don't help and the flat cinematography and direction fails to bring life to modern LA. Kutcher's wardrobe is the worst of the decade. C

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Vic Chesnutt - RIP

Little known singer-songwriter (and member of Doyle's band in Sling Blade) Vic Chesnutt died today. His collection of songs are unknown but brilliant. Here's his fascinating obituary and my favorite version of one of his songs, Supernatural.

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Twilight and Thirst

Vampire films have been around for decades and their recent resurgence has been able to put a few twists on the traditional storyline. In Twilight, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) moves to Washington state to live with her small town police chief father after her mother decides to travel around with her new minor league baseball player boyfriend. Swan is clumsy and introverted, not particularly funny or interesting, but every single smiley kid in school immediately loves her anyway since she looks like Kristen Stewart. She meets Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) in biology glass, a pale and sickly looking lad who behaves stranger than the weirdest guy you can remember in high school. But she falls for him anyway. At one point she says that she is "irrevocably" in love with him. She should have said "inexplicably" since her actions (like everyone else in the film) make little to no sense . . .

The film spends over half its running time with a slow reveal that Edward as well as his brothers and sisters are vampires. This reminded me of The Sixth Sense spending a long time revealing that Cole can see dead people when that fact was used in the marketing. Not much makes sense in Twilight: Why do these teenage vampires even bother to go to high school? To act so strange that they expose who they really are? To skip out on sunny days thus drawing attention to themselves so they expose who they really are? Why does the whole family admit to being vampires and take Bella in, assuming her infatuation with Edward will last longer than all the other high school crushes ever. And why do the foster brothers and sisters "couple up" - to show how weird they are a provoke a CPS investigation? Does their vampire doctor father move his kids around every 4 years so they can repeat high school? Why bother?

Some might wonder why I should have bothered with this movie. Well, it seems like a minor cultural phenomenon and I try to understand trends going on out there. Twilight's mood shifts made me wonder if this is what it feels like to be a teenage girl. All the vampires overact (they must have been told to do this, but it's distracting) and plot feels truncated with leaps in logic the viewer is supposed to follow. It's like they had trouble adapting the novel and assume most of the audience has read the book and won't have a hard time following along. Stewart actually does an admirable job and holds the film together. And the film is watchable and pleasant without any real threat or suspense.

There's plenty of teeth, blood, suspense, and drama in Chan-Wook Park's Thirst, yet another spin on the vampire mythology that has a priest with a rare disease going under an experimental procedure that turns him into a vampire. Old Boy, Park's best film, was easy to follow because you had a relatable central character who's kept prisoner for 15 years for unknown reasons. When he sets out for revenge, you're with him all the way. In Thirst, the plot is too convoluted with many extraneous characters to be anything but exasperating. Toward the end, scenes felt like they were added on, as if Park didn't know where he was going from the get-go.

Which isn't say Park doesn't keep things exciting with unusual camera angles, terrific lighting, and some interesting scenes. Conflating religion and vampirism is an interesting conceit, but Park seems insistent on tearing down Christianity rather than exploring any similarities (such as the secular's unintentional formation of "religions" such as atheism and global warming). The story really needed a regular person that the audience could view the plot through (like Bella Swan). It started with an interesting premise but ultimately delivered very little except scene after uncomfortable scene with either gratuitous sex or ultra-violence. Both films, for very different reasons - C+.

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Merry Christmas!

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Few (Completely Unrelated) Links

Here is an interesting article on pantheism and Avatar (I made mention of an off-shoot of pantheism, panentheism, in my review) by Russ Douthat from the NY Times. He discusses the honored place pantheism currently holds in Hollywood film and why it is ultimately lacking. While I'd argue that Avatar is modeling something a little different than classic pantheism, this isn't a theology blog so I'll let that go.

I love the Jay-Z/Alicia Keys "Empire State of Mind". Here's Ms. Keys singing her version, "Empire State of Mind, Part 2" with Steven Colbert rapping. Best line: "All my shorties are private school educated."

And, finally, Lawyer's recent hilarious post of Jimmy Fallon doing Neil Young reminded me of these classic Troll Doll jingles he did. Part 1 (check U2) and, my fav, Part 2 (as Alanis Morissette).

And here is the rest of it.

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Song of the Day- The Mercy Seat

I love Johnny Cash and have most of his American Recordings collection. While his cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" gets the most love, my favorite is this Nick Cave number-- The Mercy Seat-- about a man waiting on death row for the electric chair. .

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Song of the Day - Down Under

By Men at Work's Colin Hay

An acoustic version of the early Reagan-era hit song shows what a great musical number it is - even better when stripped of the 80s frills and overly playful video. The lyrics are ridiculous and meaningless (and possibly drug-induced), but, like, totally work in a trashy 80s sort of way.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

DVD and Blu-ray Releases 12/22/09

All About Steve - #
American Pie: Book of Love
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt - #
Blind Date
District 9 - #, *
Extract - #
Family Guy: Something Dark Side - #
Ichi - #
It Might Get Loud - #
(500) Days of Summer - #
Staten Island - #

# also on Blu-ray
* - Doctor approved

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Song of the Day- Help I'm Alive

I'm digging this song by dance band Metric. You may recognize the voice of lead vocalist Emily Haines, who also releases music under her own name and is a member of Broken Social Scene. And here is the rest of it. And here is the rest of it.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Julie & Julia - C-

Meryl Streep can't walk her dog or drop a deuce without getting Oscar buzz and her performance as Julia Child is a great impersonation. But Child was an incredibly annoying and indulgent person and listening to her talk and squeal is like jabbing a rusty screwdriver through your ears. And that's the good half of the film. In the modern day part of the film, Julie (Amy Adams) is a post 9/11 New York phone operator helping people with their grief/problems. She's obsessed with Child and decides to cook each of Child's famous recipes over the course of a year and write about it on her new blog. Adams is adorable but can't overcome the uninteresting and predictable script by Nora Ephron, who also directs . . .

badly. Is it a farce? A screwball comedy? A left-wing takedown of Joseph McCarthy? A period film showing beautiful France in the 1950s? A 9/11 cathartic weepy? A complicated depiction of modern marriage? All of the above? None of the above. It's all over the place and stretched too thin from the very first scene. There's absolutely no substance there - except cooking and eating - and the 2 stories don't connect in any way thematically. Stanley Tucci's effeminate performance as Child's husband and the incredibly condescending music don't help matters. C-

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Weekend Box Office: 12/18-12/20/09

Title/Gross/%Change/Total

1. Avatar: 73 mil / (-)
2. Princess & Frog: 12 mil / -50% / 45 mil
3. Blind Side: 10 mil / -33% / 165 mil
4. Did You Hear About the Morgans?: 7 mil / (-)
5. New Moon: 4.4 mil / -45% / 275 mil
6. Invictus: 4.2 mil / -52% / 16 mil
7. Christmas Carol: 3.4 mil / -50% / 131 mil
8. Up in the Air: 3.1 mil / +30% / 8.1 mil
9. Brothers: 2.6 mil / -48% / 22 mil
10. Old Dogs: 2.3 mil / -48% / 44 mil

Avatar opened big. The Blind Side and Up in the Air are holding up. People must have heard about the Morgans since few went to see them.

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Avatar B


In theatres, PG-13, 160 minutes
Where to start? Avatar would be one heck of a video game, which is what it most reminded me of. A very, very fun video game. It’s got the requisite big name actor or two coupled with top shelf voice actors, all shoe-horned into one-dimensional characters meeting occasionally to exchange clich├ęs and dramatic speeches and set-up the next action sequence. But, and here’s the kicker, very, very good video games are a ton of fun. And so is Avatar. It’s a blast, actually, pretty much every minute except those that involve bloviating some Ferngully-brand spirituality (and, yes, you crazy panentheists, I realize Cameron’s suggesting some somewhat interesting things here).

I caught Avatar on an IMAX, 3-D screen, which I gladly endorse to anyone planning to see it. I think this was an extra $3, worth it if only for the pre-movie NASA Hubble telescope documentary trailer. The 3-D in Avatar was pretty seamless and not gimmicky, especially the CGI stuff (which is to say, almost the whole film). Speaking of that, this marks the first time I’ve seen computer-animated humans that I couldn’t tell from the real things. Instead of being creepy zombies, these were dead on.

As for the plot, 150 years in the future the moon Pandora (yes, the names are as subtle as the dialogue) has a super-valuable mineral that an earth mining company is attempting to mine. Problem is, they’ve also got 9-foot tall, blue, naked humanoids (the Navi) that live in a massive tree right over the biggest deposit. A team of scientists led by Sigourney Weaver (has anyone ever aged less?) have created “Avatars”-- biological robots that look just like the natives-- controllable via humans by patching into their brain activity. Paraplegic Marine Jake Scully (a good Sam Worthington) is one such avatar who is ostensibly there to help the scientists gather information but is really working for the para-military end of the mining business. His avatar is taken in by the Navi and he soon falls for the local princess (an excellent Zoe Saldana, the recent Star Trek) compromising his allegiance just as the miners determine to take significant military action. Of course, the real plot is whether the earthlings will completely destroy Pandora’s ecosystem as they have their own. A good chunk of pagan-style Mother Earth (or Mother Pandora, as it were) religious talk is thrown in, with a quasi-interesting notion of their local goddess being the sum total of the living things on their moon.

The entire world of Pandora is a visual feast, from the gorgeous undergrowth to the vast array of animals. Director James Cameron reportedly designed every piece of this flora and fauna. It does appear that we’ve reached a place with computerized graphics that if someone can dream it, they can make it, and make it look real. Speaking of gorgeous, the Navi are good-looking people, but so runway-model thin, they can’t be doing anything positive for the self-image of earthlings. And they are naked pretty much the whole time. Granted they aren’t humans, but for PG-13 both brother-of-Priest and myself felt like it was a bit ridiculous.

Still, there are some interesting notions here. In pretty much every other movie involving humans and aliens life meeting, the aliens come to earth and they attack us. This is because we make our aliens in our own image. But in this movie, we go to their land, and we attack them. It’s nice to think that we wouldn’t attack sentient beings just because they had something we wanted, but there is nothing in the history of humanity to make us think we wouldn’t. The idea of the Avatars, although not new to this film, is interesting as well and does seem to be inevitable.
To review: dialogue, sub-par; religion, schmaltzy; eco-message, heavy-handed; action, unbelievable; CGI, mind-blowing; acting, as good as the dialogue allowed; fun-quotient, off-the-charts; sociology, dead-on. B

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Song of the Day - Fix You, Coldplay

This song is in my top 5 of the decade, without question. Great riff. 2:25 to 4:15 is perfect.

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Meaty Links

1. NY Times critics each write about 2009 in Film and list their top films: A.O. Scott, Manohla Dargis, and Stephen Holden.

2. The New Yorker critics reveal their best of 2009 and the decade: David Denby (2009, Decade) and Anthony Lane (2009).

3. Entertainment Weekly's critics discuss the best films of 2009: Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum.

4. Top 100 films of the decade, from the London Times.

5. LA Times essay on the decade in film. Kenneth Turan's best of 2009.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Perfect World - A-

On DVD (1993). Rated PG-13, 138 minutes. Trailer.

Set in rural Texas in the 1970's, this film tells the story of an escaped convict and his 8 year old hostage as they travel across the Hill Country. The film is written by John Lee Hancock (The Rookie, The Blindside) and directed by Clint Eastwood and features Kevin Costner's best performance. Costner is Butch Raines, a smart and decent man that had a bad start (because of a bad father) and hasn't been able to overcome it - he kidnaps Philip, an 8 year old without a father and living with his strict Jehovah's Witness mother. Click below for more on APW:

The two bond quickly through their shared father/son issues and in spite of the circumstances. Clint Eastwood stars as the Texas Ranger charged with chasing him down with Laura Dern in a cliched 'smart woman' role and a surprisingly manly Bradley Whitford as an annoying FBI guy. The script alternates between brilliance and goofy as the film switches back between the stories.

The film is probably more of a B+, but I identify very strongly with Butch (although I am not an escaped convict). He conceals his fatalism/hopelessness and troubles and shelters his 8 year old sidekick, Philip. Their interactions and general chemistry is very similar to what I have with my own children. Costner carries the weight of his character with ease and chews up the vintage Texas scenery with aplomb. The best scenes in the film are when he is letting Philip learn how to be a normal kid.

The film works through gender issues, media/government, fatherhood, religion, morality, consequences, etc. The central question is whether Clint's character did the right thing by depriving Butch of his father, SOB that he was. The film leaves the question unanswered - its not a perfect world.

Worth watching.

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Song of the Day - The Journey, Richard Ashcroft

A new song (scroll down at the link) from Richard Ashcroft (former lead singer of the Verve).

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Top 50 Films of the Decade, 10-1: Priest

10. Brokeback Mountain- When I think about this film, there's always a second when I wonder what became of Ennis. What he's doing now. It's not a gay movie, it's a movie about a man caught and trying to do the right thing by everyone while staying true to himself. It just happens that that man is a gay cowboy. Some say it's hard to not make a beautiful film set against the Rockies. In that case, more people should set theirs there.

9. Minority Report- Sci-fi with hints of noir, Tom Cruise is at his movie star best, Spielberg's visuals are stunning, and Samantha Morton is buried beneath the skin of a pre-cog begging to quit seeing murder after murder after murder. It's a reminder of what science fiction was born to be but rarely is-- the best genre for examining philosophy and theology.

8. Lord of the Rings- The most fun to be had in the movies this decade, this trilogy took the greatest fantasy books of all time and
turned them into the greatest fantasy films of all time. At 9+ hours, that it works at all is amazing. That it works this well is unbelievable.

7. Lost In Translation Sofia Coppola's story of a May/October, quasi-platonic relationship between two jet-lagged, married (not to each other) people stuck in a Tokyo hotel for a week is a study in tone and atmosphere. She nails both. Not a whole lot really happens as we tramps w
ith this pair through sushi restaurants, arcades, and karaoke parties, all late at night. If it doesn't sound like much, it doesn't necessarily seem like much during the first viewing, either. But it evokes an experience like few films I've seen. And the fact that Bill Murray can sit there and be funny doesn't hurt.

6. A History of Violence- Digs deep down and unflinching shows that the violence we pretend to abhor is hardwired into our DNA. Occasionally the graphic novel it was based on shows through a little too much (Ed Harris's eye, for instance), but save for that, perfect.

5. The Lives of Others- Ulrich Muhe's German secret serviceman Wiesler is a true believer in the East German socialist system and has given nearly everything up for it long after those around him have cashed in their ideals for power and perks. We watch him slowly fall in love with a couple he's spying on then slowly lose his faith in the system, all played out in every subtle wince and smile that crosses his face. Confused for anti-socialism or anti-communism, it's really a meditation on courage and bedrock integrity even as one's foundations are crumbling.

4. City of God- Someone once told me hell exists as a deadly cocktail of poverty, hunger, lack of opportunity, and violence and is always threatening to break out here on earth. City of God unflinchingly documents the hell of life in the favelas of Rio as younger and younger children dominate the drug trade as seen through the eyes of a journalism student fighting to escape. Absolutely unforgettable.

3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind- Jim Carrey for once drops the mask and shows his soul. Kate Winslet was at her mercurial best. Kirsten Dunst's skin was snow. Kaufman's non-linear script was the best of the decade. Michael Gondry's direction was superb, with an excellent use of odd set designs that perfectly sum-up the non-sensical nature of childhood memories. Mix them up and you've got a meditation on the nature of love and desire and our apparent inability to not make the same mistakes again and again, even if we know the ending.

2. There Will Be Blood P. T. Anderson's indictment of capitalism and religion and the lies we tell ourselves about each spills across the line to slander in the last act, but by then we're so transfixed by Daniel Day Lewis's Plainview, we can't fight back. The vision of human silhouettes seared upon a burning oil derrick at night is the icon of the decade. Meanwhile, Jonny Greenwood lengthened the staggering shadow he cast across the musical landscape of the last quarter century with a score that redefined the genre.

1. No Country for Old Men Oh that the Coen Brothers don't always choose to tell stories writ this large! With the subtlest bit of misdirection, we're tricked into thinking we're watching a movie about a murderer (Javier Bardom) or a man on the run (Josh Brolin), and not an old, out-gunned lawman (Tommy Lee Jones) who refuses to surrender his soul. Every scene is perfect. Every performance, award-caliber. If the ending is ambiguous it's because THE ending (our ending) is yet-to-be-determined-- but the ambiguity does leave room for hope, something There Will Be Blood does not offer.

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Top 50 Films of the Decade, 50-10: Priest

I'm a little behind the other two on coming up with this, but here is my top 50 Films of the Decade. I will limit my remarks to 1) movies that did not make lawyer or doctors lists, or 2) my top ten (in a seperate post) 3) movies I want to say something about. Without further ado:

50. Moulin Rouge- The dizzying carnival of music and visuals is like nothing before or since. It's a love letter to love letters (and songs and poems and cliches) spinning so fast it nearly collapses of its own weight. I loved it.

49. The Descent- The first of three horror films on my list, it's surprisingly devoid of male characters, taking you on a claustrophobic journey into the black heart of women.

48. Gone Baby Gone- It gets bogged down towards the end of the second act, but it makes up for it by forcing you to think about issues that matter and not copping any easy answers. It would have picked up a little Oscar love any year besides 2007.

47. The Aviator
46. Public Enemies
45. Revolutionary Road
44. Miami Vice

43. Old Boy- This Korean film examines revenge, free will, redemption (at least the Asian version of it) and whether you want happiness with illusion or misery with truth. Love it or hate it, you won't forget it.

42. In Bruges
41. Kill Bill (Vol 1 and 2)
40. Black Hawk Down
39. Munich
38. 28 Days Later

37. The Fog of War- Errol Morris doesn't have the flair for the dramatic nor the controversy of a Michael Moore, but this re-examination of Robert McNamara through his own lens is my favorite documentary of all time. The limited special effects serve the material, and seeing a genius who was instrumental in both Hiroshima and Vietnam wrestle with history, himself, and there relationship is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

36. Collateral
35. Wedding Crashers
34. United 93
33. Inglourious Basterds
32. Adaptation
31. The Wrestler
30. Mystic River
29. Let the Right One In
28. Traffic
27. Almost Famous
26. Amelie
25. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
24. Zodiac
23. The Dark Knight
22. Wall*E
21. The Incredibles
20. Bourne Trilogy (yes, cheating. If I had to rank them, they'd be last to first)
19. Syriana
18. The Prestige/Memento (they shouldn't be together, I'd put Prestige a bit higher than Memento, but I forgot it and don't feel like re-thinking the list at this point)
17. The Children of Men
16. Michael Clayton

15. In America- By far the highest ranking film in my list that doesn't make Doc or Lawyer's, this true story of Jim Sheridan and his families illegal move to New York from Ireland examines death, grief, freedom, forgiveness, marriage, childhood and immigration. The visuals are stunning, the acting is phenomenal, and I dare you not to cry.

14. The Departed
13. Old School
12. Pan's Labyrinth
11. About a Boy

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Song of the Day - Oh Holy Night, Celine Dion

Even the Grinch likes Christmas. Celine Dion knocks my favorite Christmas song out of the park.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Song of the Day- Hey Ya (Obadiah Parker)

My favorite song of the decade is Andre 3000's original, but Obadiah Parker's slowed-down, de-funked, acoustic version highlights the killer-sad lyrics and holds up surprisingly well. It's the second best cover of a hip-hop song after Dynamite Hack's Boyz in the Hood.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Best of 2009

1. Inglourious Basterds
2. An Education
3. In the Loop
4. Public Enemies
5. Adventureland
6. Up in the Air
7. Taking of Pelham 123
8. Up
9. Extract
10. Hangover
11. The Road
12. Funny People

I still need to see Precious, Avatar, The Last Station, Hurt Locker, Crazy Heart, Invictus, Brothers, and The Messenger.

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Song of the Day - Pa Pa Power, Dead Man's Bones

Another Europpraiser selection. A pretty good song from Ryan Gosling's band.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Golden Globe Nominations Announced

This really is one of the weakest years I can remember. Click below for the full list of nominees:Best Drama: "Avatar," "The Hurt Locker," "Inglorious Basterds," "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," "Up in the Air."

Best Musical or Comedy: "(500) Days of Summer," "The Hangover," "It's Complicated," "Julie & Julia," "Nine."

Actor, Drama: Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart"; George Clooney, "Up in the Air"; Colin Firth, "A Single Man"; Morgan Freeman, "Invictus"; Tobey Maguire, "Brothers."

Actress, Drama: Emily Blunt, "The Young Victoria"; Sandra Bullock, "The Blind Side"; Helen Mirren, "The Last Station"; Carey Mulligan, "An Education"; Gabourey Sidibe, "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire."

Director: Kathryn Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker"; James Cameron, "Avatar"; Clint Eastwood, "Invictus"; Jason Reitman, "Up in the Air"; Quentin Tarantino, "Inglorious Basterds."

Actor, Musical or Comedy: Matt Damon, "The Informant!"; Daniel Day-Lewis, "Nine"; Robert Downey Jr., "Sherlock Holmes"; Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "(500) Days of Summer"; Michael Stuhlbarg, "A Serious Man."

Actress, Musical or Comedy: Sandra Bullock, "The Proposal"; Marion Cotillard, "Nine"; Julia Roberts, "Duplicity"; Meryl Streep, "It's Complicated"; Meryl Streep, "Julie & Julia."

Supporting Actor: Matt Damon, "Invictus"; Woody Harrelson, "The Messenger"; Christopher Plummer, "The Last Station"; Stanley Tucci, "The Lovely Bones"; Christoph Waltz, "Inglorious Basterds."

Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, "Nine"; Vera Farmiga, "Up in the Air"; Anna Kendrick, "Up in the Air"; Mo'Nique, "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"; Julianne Moore, "A Single Man."

Foreign Language: "Baaria," "Broken Embraces," "The Maid (La Nana)," "A Prophet," "The White Ribbon."

Animated Film: "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs," "Coraline," "Fantastic Mr. Fox," "The Princess and the Frog," "Up."

Screenplay: Neill Blomkamp, "District 9"; Mark Boal, "The Hurt Locker"; Nancy Meyers, "It's Complicated"; Jason Reitman, "Up in the Air"; Quentin Tarantino, "Inglorious Basterds."

Original Score: Michael Giacchino, "Up"; Marvin Hamlisch, "The Informant!"; James Horner, "Avatar"; Abel Korzeniowski, "A Single Man"; Karen O, Carter Burwell, "Where the Wild Things Are."

Original Song: "Cinema Italiano" (written by Maury Yeston), "Nine"; "I Want to Come Home" (written by Paul McCartney); "Everybody's Fine"; "I Will See You" (written by James Horner, Simon Franglen, Kuk Harrell); "Avatar"; "The Weary Kind (Theme from 'Crazy Heart')" (written by Ryan Bingham, T Bone Burnett); "Crazy Heart"; "Winter" (written by U2), "Brothers."

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Song of the Day- Perfectly Lonely

A song for my married brothers, Perfectly Lonely by John Mayer sums up my perspective as well as pretty much any song I've seen. Hear it here.

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DVD and Blu-ray Releases 12/15/09

G-Force - #
The Hangover - #, *
Inglourious Basterds - #, *
La Boheme - #
The Other Man - #
Taking Woodstock - #

Star Trek Season 3 - Original Series - #
The Tudors: 3rd Season

# - also on Blu-ray
* - Doctor approved

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Monday, December 14, 2009

"I'm the President, but he's The Boss."

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The Blind Side - B

In theaters. Rated PG-13, 128 minutes. Trailer.

The Blind Side is the feel-good movie of 2009. Which is to say, a towering cynic such as myself has a hard time watching it without throwing up, even though parts of it are quite good. Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw star as wealthy Tennessee private school parents that adopt a homeless black student (that had recently been admitted as a charity case) from the school. The plot is EXACTLY what you would guess it is based on that one sentence description, which makes it great/makes it terrible at the same time. Click below for more on BS:


Bullock gives a good but one-dimensional performance as the sassy domineering mother with a heart. Tim McGraw is (gulp) the best thing about the film, delivering multiple indulgent one-liners. Having said that, when his character quotes Tennyson I was reaching for the throw up bag. The black character in question is portrayed by newcomer Quinton Aaron through a series of distant looks and expected smiles.

The basic message of the film and the portrayal of the Christian family is great. They are successful, smart, Christian do-gooders with a sense of humor - a rare fair depiction of the backbone of America. Writer/Director and Longview native John Lee Hancock (A Perfect World, The Rookie) is a talented guy and is making a clear intentional choice to make a by-the-numbers film based on a true story (I won't ruin the most obvious story ever for a character named 'big Mike').

This is a movie for people that hate No Country For Old Men - boomer moms across the heartland are eating this up. Part of me gives the film a C- the other part gives it a B+. Take your mom.

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Song of the Day - Damn It Feels Good to be a Gangster - Geto Boys

A classic song even before its use in Office Space - its use in this montage is truly profound - Gen X gives it to the Man.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Up in the Air - B+

In theaters. Rated R, 109 minutes. Trailer.

Life is better when you are connected with people rather than living a vacuous corporate lifestyle without such connections. Such is the basic point of Up In the Air, a pretty good movie that is getting lots of talk as the Best Picture of 2009. I suppose that the main theme of the film is interesting or profound to some people, but to me it was so obvious that it undermined the impact of the film. Click below for more on UITA:

George Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham, a professional 'terminator' that flies around the country firing employees because the owners of those companies won't do it. He is comforted by the routines and special privileges afforded 'road warriors' and has a goal of reaching 10 million AAdvantage miles on American Airlines (something only 7 people have ever done). He avoids his family and views human connections as simply weight in your 'backpack' of life. After his boss (a slimy Jason Bateman) embraces a webconferencing idea from a freshly minted Cornell grad (Anna Kendrick) that will end his life on the road, he is faced with the prospect of his protective emotional casing being torn down. In order to familiarize Anna with the realities of firing people, Bateman sends the 2 out on the road. Along the way, Clooney finds his female counterpart (Vera Farmiga) and begins a potentially weighty relationship.

Co-writer/Director Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You For Smoking) delivers on a thoughtful film with some interesting sequences and scenes, but as I've already mentioned, there is a bit of a 'duh' to the whole thing. Who doesn't realize that living like Bingham is shallow and ultimately sacrifices your soul - even a dumb movie like Wedding Crashers touches on this theme. Maybe this thing works for the elites on the Coasts for whom the embrace of family is foreign, but for me it fell flat. There are some mildly effective scenes showing the economic pain being felt by companies and the real people that are working and being layed off at them.

What did work well were the scenes with Kendrick - the cross-generational discussions were substantive and playful and mostly devoid of cliche. The multiple scene bit about Bingham's obsession with travel perks and efficiency were also enjoyable. My plot summary petered out, but I couldn't go further without ruining the film. The ending was intriguingly ambiguous, which I greatly appreciate, but my feeling was more of a 'who cares' than it was after other ambiguous endings (i.e. No Country For Old Men).

This is worth seeing, but don't go in with great expectations or you will be disappointed.

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Weekend Box Office: 12/11-12/13/09

Title/Gross/%Change/Total

1. Princess & Frog: 25 mil / (+) / 28 mil
2. The Blind Side: 15.5 mil / -23% / 150 mil
3. Invictus: 9 mil / (-)
4. New Moon: 8 mil / -48% / 267 mil
5. Christmas Carol: 7 mil / -12% / 125 mil
6. Brothers: 5 mil / -48% / 17.4 mil
7. 2012: 4.4 mil / -35% / 155 mil
8. Old Dogs: 4.4 mil / -36% / 40 mil
9. Armored: 3.5 mil / -46% / 12 mil
10. Ninja Assassin: 2.7 mil / -47% / 34 mil
11. Up in the Air: 2.5 mil / (+) / 4 mil

The Blind Side and A Christmas Carol continue their great holds and Invictus opens soft. Up in the Air's expansion is succeeding. Click on the picture, print it, frame it, and put it on your mantle.

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Song of the Day - Winter

By U2

I may have missed discussion about this song and am certainly not the resident U2 expert, but it feels and sounds like old times from the super-group. It's from Brothers, the Jim Sheridan film in theaters right now. Maybe Sheridan got them in touch with their Irish roots.

The yellow sun
Well, it took the hand
Of a country boy
To a city in a far-off land

We made no mark
No shadow at all
On the ancient, holy streets
Where I learned to crawl

The broken and the bruised
The young and the used
The sure and confused
All here

Words will then land on me
Then abandon me
Mangle, untangle me
Leave me on the floor
Rhymes, they sprang in me
Summer sang in me
But summer sings in me no more

Now I'm twenty-five
And trying to stay alive
In a corner of the world
With no clear enemies to fight

It's hot as hell
We're like butter on toast
But there's no army in this world
That can fight a ghost

The broken and the bruised
The young and the used
The sure and confused
All here

Words will then land on me
Then abandon me
Leave me stranded
In guard of the door
Rhymes began in me
Summer sang in me
But summer sings in me no more

Listening to the cries
The strangers
The silence of the foreign grave
Listening to the thunder
The sky is strange
Stretched over everyone
Listening to the tales
The child sings
That goes for days and days
Listening to the calls
Shouts, frustration

At twenty-one
I was born a son
And on that day I knew
I could kill

To protect the ones
We put bullets in guns
Or anything it takes
To take a life until it's still

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Song of the Day - The Weary Kind

by Ryan Bingham

From the upcoming film Crazy Heart where a grizzled country singer (Jeff Bridges) looks for redemption. Bingham's raspy voice seems to fit the worn-down lyrics. You'll probably be hearing a lot of this song in the following months.

Your heart’s on the loose
You rolled them seven’s with nothing lose
And this ain’t no place for the weary kind

You called all your shots
Shooting 8 ball at the corner truck stop
Somehow this don’t feel like home anymore

And this ain’t no place for the weary kind
And this ain’t no place to lose your mind
And this ain’t no place to fall behind
Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try

Your body aches…
Playing your guitar and sweating out the hate
The days and the nights all feel the same

Whiskey has been a thorn in your side
and it doesn’t forget
the highway that calls for your heart inside

And this ain’t no place for the weary kind
And this ain’t no place to lose your mind
And this ain’t no place to fall behind
Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try

Your lovers won’t kiss…
It’s too damn far from your fingertips
You are the man that ruined her world

Your heart’s on the loose
You rolled them seven’s with nothing lose
And this ain’t no place for the weary kind

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Holiday Movie Releases - 12/11/09

Invictus

Morgan Freeman stops playing "Morgan Freeman" (i.e. Red) and becomes Nelson Mandela shortly after Mandela is released from prison in the mid 1990s. Freeman certainly has the talent and charisma to carry a long Eastwood-paced film. He's already picking up best actor awards here and there. Somehow, a blond rugby-playing Matt Damon is relevant to the story. Wide release.


The Lovely Bones

Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) gets murdered by Stanley Tucci and then stays in some kind of purgatory and watches her parents (Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz). Peter Jackson directs, so the fantastical elements should work well. But this looks super-creepy and Tucci looks like the biggest perv in years. Congratulations. Limited release.

A Single Man

Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, and Nicholas Hoult (About a Boy's Marcus) star in a story about a gay British college professor (Firth) who loses his lover in 1962 and has to deal with the sadness and isolation. Sounds like Brokeback Mountain except this one has fabulous costumes instead of rugged peaks and wide valleys. As much as I love Moore, I'll defer this review to my colleagues. Limited release.

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Song of the Day - Piano Man, Billy Joel (as sung by Aaron Lewis)

All the love for Outside led me to this great version of a song that usually drains my lifeforce. Priest, we'll see whether you like it.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Top Songs/Albums List on Rollingstone

In these musically-splintered times, Rollingstone is the only magazine that still tries to cover it all. Maybe that's good, maybe it's dumb, but it makes their "Best of" lists the only ones that come close to representing all of pop music. Their Top 100 Albums of the Decade (Kid A, #1), and Top 100 Songs of the Decade (Crazy, #1) are based on surveying performers (from ?uestlove to Miranda Lambert to Colin Meloy), insiders (Cameron Crowe), and their own editors (list here). More fun, they publish 25 artists' ballots (often handwritten) here, with some real surprises. Lars Ulrich names U2's Moment of Surrender as his #1 Song of the Decade?!? (The song is #34 on the overall list? I was stunned). Anyway, a fun list full of some real surprises.

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Best Films of the Decade 5-1

5. Zodiac

David Fincher confidently walks into areas owned by All the President's Men (newspaper genre) and Vertigo (obsession) and very nearly matches their standard. The cop genre is satisfyingly incorporated with detectives using their brains, not guns. Fincher also has the guts to re-enter the serial killer genre where he already has his own masterpiece and comes back with something even more substantial. In his first period film, Fincher convincingly recreates 1970s California to the last precise detail. Mark Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Robert Downey, Jr. are the standouts, but there are at least a dozen more character actors doing superb work. Extrapolating the story to our modern era is an unexpected bonus. We have less and less closure these days. Not putting Hitler on trial was just the beginning. We can't even find the bad guys anymore. Sometimes, we're not even sure who they are.

4. There Will Be Blood
The best film of the decade - until they get to 1927 and Daniel Day-Lewis's Daniel Plainview descends into parody (as evidenced by everyone's ability to mimic his lines - which were never meant to be catchphrases). But director Paul Thomas Anderson salvages it with a Kubrick-worthy last shot (and line) and a perfect musical cue. Nobody seems to be capable of inhabiting characters like Day-Lewis. Anderson's complex treatment of religion and greed is staggering as is the oil derrick scene - one of the most startlingly original and exhilarating film moments of the decade. Cinematographer Robert Elswit captures the barren landscapes (and everything else) terrifically. And Jonny Greenwood's original score breaks almost as much ground as Plainview himself did in the film.

3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Charlie Kaufman dissects love in the modern era with a thoughtful, touching script about getting rid of bad memories to survive even though those bad memories help make us who we are. Jim Carrey will never be better and the supporting cast (especially Tom Wilkinson and Mark Ruffalo) is equally great, but it's Kate Winslet who is the force of nature as the troubled, exciting, spontaneous Clementine. Director Michel Gondry has certainly disappointed since, but his use of classical filmmaking techniques (forced perspective, trick lighting) as well as CGI serve the story well. The "science" is more fictional than anything found in Minority Report, but the truthfulness of the emotions and the conclusion that love should not be explained but experienced will resonate for a very long while.

2. Mulholland Drive
No other film has captured our movie & celebrity obsessed culture so well. A young starry-eyed lady (Naomi Watts) moves to Hollywood in the hopes of achieving great success and things go well - until the best hard left turn in any film since Psycho (twist endings are different). Every film genre (westerns, mystery, mob, romance) is included in the first 90 minutes as part of Betty's/Diane's fantasy, hallucination, or dying vision (your choice, pick one). Each scene is fascinating in appearance and sound. David Lynch had an excellent pilot TV episode which, when rejected, he flipped on its head and turned the focus on addiction, obsession, jilted lovers, revenge, memory, dreams, and everything in between. Making it somewhat coherent and complete is nothing short of astonishing.

1. No Country for Old Men

It's an excellent cat-and-mouse chase movie with the Coens' droll humor laced with tension and suspense. There's an excellent sense of time and place (1980, West Texas), great cinematography (clouds, water, sunlight), greater performances (led by Javier Bardem), and a minimal use of music that works quite well. Then, the genius third act kicks in and Tommy Lee Jones's character (Sheriff Ed Bell) comes to the forefront (even though he provided the opening narration). In last hotel crime scene, it seems like he chooses to ignore Anton Chigurh and live rather than confront evil incarnate. Or does he? Bell may have been an unreliable narrator all along, sharing his bleak outlook on the world. Every aging population thinks the young are going to screw it up. The themes of life, fate, choice, chance, dreams, reality, redemption, and the trivial nature of human existence hit me harder than any film of the decade. The Coens have always had the technique; they needed novelist Cormac McCarthy to provide the substance.

6. The Departed
7. Memento
8. Adaptation
9. Minority Report
10. City of God
11. Children of Men
12. The Lives of Others
13. The Incredibles
14. Traffic
15. Master and Commander
16. A History of Violence
17. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
18. I'm Not There
19. Almost Famous
20. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
21. Finding Nemo
22. The Dark Knight
23. Sideways
24. Once
25. The Hurt Locker
26. Let the Right One In
27. Cinderella Man
28. Synecdoche, New York
29. Miami Vice
30. Punch-Drunk Love
31. Up
32. Lord of the Rings
33. Erin Brockovich
34. Michael Clayton
35. Lost in Translation
36. Inglourious Basterds
37. About a Boy
38. Public Enemies
39. Amelie
40. Collateral
41. Munich
42. Black Hawk Down & The Constant Gardner
43. Mystic River
44. The Aviator
45. Cast Away
46. The Wrestler
47. Gosford Park
48. Kill Bill
49. You Can Count On Me
50. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
51. 21 Grams
52. Ratatouille & WALL-E
53. Road to Perdition
54. Billy Elliot
55. The Royal Tenenbaums
56. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
57. Downfall
58. Hot Fuzz
59. The New World
60. Knocked Up
61. Inland Empire
62. United 93
63. Babel
64. Pan's Labyrinth
65. In the Bedroom
66. Monsters, Inc.
67. The Pianist
68. Batman Begins
69. 3:10 to Yuma
70. King Kong
71. In Bruges
72. No Direction Home
73. Intolerable Cruelty
74. Little Children
75. Gangs of New York

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Song of the Day - Fresh Prince theme song, as sung by Jimmy Fallon as Neil Young

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Best Films of the Decade 10-6

10. City of God

A wildly imaginative and violent trip through the Rio de Janeiro slums with multiple characters trying to survive. Director Fernando Meirelles uses creative camera angles, amazing natural lighting, and quick cutting to infuse the film with incredible energy and force. The moment that amazed me most was the "History of the room" scene, a truly inspired scene that helps universalize the story and strangely makes the characters more real. Perhaps the most ingenious and innovative film of the decade.

9. Minority Report
Steven Spielberg uses classical filmmaking techniques and flawlessly merges them with state of the art CGI. Janusz Kaminski's strong use of bright white and blue lights gives the workplace a sterile and cold feel. He then changes his lighting scheme (more browns, golds, and greens) for the more personal and emotional moments. Samantha Morton gives one of the best female performances of the decade. Predestination and fate are effectively explored. The best-looking film of the decade and the best science-fiction film in two.

8. Adaptation

Charlie Kaufman's difficulty adapting Susan Orlean's novel The Orchid Thief is profoundly documented with Kaufman collaborating with director Spike Jonze. Kaufman breaks every screenwriting rule - it's like he's using flash-forward and flash-back techniques on the page. He tells you exactly what he is going to do and you're still surprised when he does it. But this would only be a stimulating cerebral exercise if he didn't stick the landing. Toward the end, when Donald tells Charlie that the unrequited love he had for a girl in high school made him happy because it belonged to him and not the girl is an original idea and gives the broken-hearted everywhere comfort.

7. Memento
Christopher Nolan's breakout film is a neat trick on the page - the story of a man with short-term memory problems trying to solve his wife's murder is told both chronologically (the black and white phone call) and in reverse (the one in color with all the action). The film has a surprisingly great sense of humor while remaining a terrific mystery. What actually happened is left up to the viewer. What isn't in doubt is Nolan's ability to apply big concepts to an entertaining film. Here, memory (what we choose to remember and why, and what memories we alter to make ourselves feel better) is the central focus. The fact that the 2 storylines merge at the moment where Leonard loses his way is just icing on the cake.

6. The Departed

Martin Scorsese's return to the crime genre was rightfully celebrated by the public, critics, and Oscar. William Monahan's tough-guy dialogue is the best of the decade - hilarious, memorable, and quotable. Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg seem to get the best lines. Jack Nicholson's crazy, improvised performance sometimes veers off course, but adds another dimension to the film. Matt Damon gives his best performance since Good Will Hunting, but it's Leonardo DiCaprio that runs off with the film. DiCaprio's performance is a knockout - desperate and heartfelt, tormented and intense. Scorsese directs with his typical expertise and there are important themes about identity, morality, and trust.

11. Children of Men
12. The Lives of Others
13. The Incredibles
14. Traffic
15. Master and Commander
16. A History of Violence
17. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
18. I'm Not There
19. Almost Famous
20. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
21. Finding Nemo
22. The Dark Knight
23. Sideways
24. Once
25. The Hurt Locker
26. Let the Right One In
27. Cinderella Man
28. Synecdoche, New York
29. Miami Vice
30. Punch-Drunk Love
31. Up
32. Lord of the Rings
33. Erin Brockovich
34. Michael Clayton
35. Lost in Translation
36. Inglourious Basterds
37. About a Boy
38. Public Enemies
39. Amelie
40. Collateral
41. Munich
42. Black Hawk Down & The Constant Gardner
43. Mystic River
44. The Aviator
45. Cast Away
46. The Wrestler
47. Gosford Park
48. Kill Bill
49. You Can Count On Me
50. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
51. 21 Grams
52. Ratatouille & WALL-E
53. Road to Perdition
54. Billy Elliot
55. The Royal Tenenbaums
56. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
57. Downfall
58. Hot Fuzz
59. The New World
60. Knocked Up
61. Inland Empire
62. United 93
63. Babel
64. Pan's Labyrinth
65. In the Bedroom
66. Monsters, Inc.
67. The Pianist
68. Batman Begins
69. 3:10 to Yuma
70. King Kong
71. In Bruges
72. No Direction Home
73. Intolerable Cruelty
74. Little Children
75. Gangs of New York

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New Pumpkins (For Free)

The Smashing Pumpkins, Lawyer fav, have announced a plan to give away their next 44 songs, one at a time. Hear the first one, "A Song for a Son", here. It's pretty good, and Corgan's voice is as stellar as ever. And here is the rest of it.

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Song of the Day - Outside (acoustic), Staind

I love this version of this song - chills at 3:45. I could've used this song in high school. "All this pain, Stuffed it down -It's back again".

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Best Films of the Decade 15-11

15. Master and Commander


Peter Weir's only film this decade had Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany on the high seas in the early 19th century fighting the French. A thinking man's action film, equally successful with action as it is with politics and philosophy. It's rousing and supremely intelligent and unlike any film in decades, exceeding those similar to it.


14. Traffic
Unflinchingly looks at many facets of the drug problem with 3 separate stories seamlessly combined by Steven Soderbergh. His color scheme for each separate story informs on the characters and their relationships. The actors are relaxed and charismatic and there's plenty of humor to relieve the tension and stress from all the depressing subject matter. Benicio del Toro gives the film its beating heart.

13. The Incredibles
After many frivolous lawsuits, superheroes are forced to live amongst common people and hide their special powers. Director Brad Bird has big ideas about individualism and how society's attempts to help often makes things worse inadvertently. There's also an interesting theme about collectivism tearing down the successful people in society to the level of the least common denominator. "When everyone's special, no one will be." The action scenes are exciting and inventive. Throw in the Midas Pixar touch, and you have the best animated film ever.

12. The Lives of Others
In 1984, a Stasi agent for the totalitarian East German government is forced to spy on a couple of artists who are a perceived threat to the state. As he eavesdrops on them, their artistic value becomes apparent and melts his cold exterior. The camera placement and movements are impeccable and the ending is one of the decade's best. As the agent, Ulrich Muhe shows all ranges of emotion proficiently.

11. Children of Men

Alfonso Cuaron took a simple apocalyptic tale about a childless future and applied uninterrupted shots, invisible CGI, and subtle activities and structures in the background to create a classic. Clive Owen was born to play Theo, whose tortured soul and passiveness guide us through the film. Cuaron uses music sparingly to devastating effect, best demonstrated by Theo's breakdown by the tree after Jasper dies.

16. A History of Violence
17. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
18. I'm Not There
19. Almost Famous
20. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
21. Finding Nemo
22. The Dark Knight
23. Sideways
24. Once
25. The Hurt Locker
26. Let the Right One In
27. Cinderella Man
28. Synecdoche, New York
29. Miami Vice
30. Punch-Drunk Love
31. Up
32. Lord of the Rings
33. Erin Brockovich
34. Michael Clayton
35. Lost in Translation
36. Inglourious Basterds
37. About a Boy
38. Public Enemies
39. Amelie
40. Collateral
41. Munich
42. Black Hawk Down & The Constant Gardner
43. Mystic River
44. The Aviator
45. Cast Away
46. The Wrestler
47. Gosford Park
48. Kill Bill
49. You Can Count On Me
50. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
51. 21 Grams
52. Ratatouille & WALL-E
53. Road to Perdition
54. Billy Elliot
55. The Royal Tenenbaums
56. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
57. Downfall
58. Hot Fuzz
59. The New World
60. Knocked Up
61. Inland Empire
62. United 93
63. Babel
64. Pan's Labyrinth
65. In the Bedroom
66. Monsters, Inc.
67. The Pianist
68. Batman Begins
69. 3:10 to Yuma
70. King Kong
71. In Bruges
72. No Direction Home
73. Intolerable Cruelty
74. Little Children
75. Gangs of New York

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DVD and Blu-ray Releases 12/8/09

AK 100: 25 Films by Akira Kurosawa (Criterion)
The Cove
5 Fingers
Harry Potter 6 - #
Julie & Julia - #
Moonlight Serenade
Public Enemies - #, *
World's Greatest Dad - #
Lost: 5th Season - #

Click below for this week's Blu-ray release

AC/DC: No Bull
Alphabet Killer
Cyclops
Lower Learning
Red Mist
Sands of Oblivion
Walled In
While She Was Out

# - also on Blu-ray
* - Doctor approved

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Song of the Day - Paranoid Android (live), Radiohead

Nice version of this epic song, sent along by Europpraiser.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Best Films of the Decade 20-16

20. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The verisimilitude of the atmosphere, sets, costumes, and dialogue is better than I've ever seen in any Western - almost like taking a time machine back to the 1880s. Brad Pitt is much better than you expect and everyone else (especially Casey Affleck, who carries the whole film) is superb. Director Andrew Dominik lays down themes about fame, infamy, and notoriety expertly and uses glass (through window panes especially) to comment on how we view things (history, memory, heroes, etc.).

19. Almost Famous
Cameron Crowe may have completely lost his touch Apocalypse Now-style after investing his entire soul into this film, but at least this film exists. Music in movies can make or break a film and this film has the best source music of the decade. Led Zeppelin gave up 5 of their songs (a very rare event) to their personal friend Crowe. But it's the 2 Elton John songs that are in the best scenes. Every scene with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Frances McDormand is gold. Billy Crudup and Jason Lee will never be better. Neither will Kate Hudson, whom I seem to tolerate more than most. But it's Crowe who is the real star - his finest 2 1/2 hours.

18. I'm Not There
Before Heath Ledger and Christian Bale squared off in The Dark Knight, they both played Bob Dylan, as did Richard Gere and Cate Blanchett in Todd Haynes's unconventional biopic. Some of my favorite songs are fused with multiple tributes to the European art film. Easily the best biopic of the decade (and there were a lot of them). And all the "impersonations" that won Oscars don't begin to compare with Blanchett's performance. She gets the mannerisms and voice right, but also the soul and the meaning behind the words. Love her last look into the camera.

17. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Of all the wire-fu flicks, this film is the one worth revisiting the most because of the smaller, kinder, gentler moments. Director Ang Lee specializes in romantic films so his involvement in this is a curious one. The fight scenes are inventive, but it's the interactions between the characters (Lee's specialty) that have a lasting impact.

16. A History of Violence

A history of violence in America and also on film. The nature of violence and the men who use it is analyzed well by David Cronenberg, whose films tend to go either too violent or too weird to warrant a repeat viewing. Here, his hands are a little tied by a lurid graphic novel (which helps), but he still makes room to effectively evaluate the relationship between sex and violence. William Hurt's showy part got the Oscar nomination, but Maria Bello and Viggo Mortensen are equally good.

21. Finding Nemo
22. The Dark Knight
23. Sideways
24. Once
25. The Hurt Locker
26. Let the Right One In
27. Cinderella Man
28. Synecdoche, New York
29. Miami Vice
30. Punch-Drunk Love
31. Up
32. Lord of the Rings
33. Erin Brockovich
34. Michael Clayton
35. Lost in Translation
36. Inglourious Basterds
37. About a Boy
38. Public Enemies
39. Amelie
40. Collateral
41. Munich
42. Black Hawk Down & The Constant Gardner
43. Mystic River
44. The Aviator
45. Cast Away
46. The Wrestler
47. Gosford Park
48. Kill Bill
49. You Can Count On Me
50. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
51. 21 Grams
52. Ratatouille & WALL-E
53. Road to Perdition
54. Billy Elliot
55. The Royal Tenenbaums
56. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
57. Downfall
58. Hot Fuzz
59. The New World
60. Knocked Up
61. Inland Empire
62. United 93
63. Babel
64. Pan's Labyrinth
65. In the Bedroom
66. Monsters, Inc.
67. The Pianist
68. Batman Begins
69. 3:10 to Yuma
70. King Kong
71. In Bruges
72. No Direction Home
73. Intolerable Cruelty
74. Little Children
75. Gangs of New York

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