Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Okie Noodling - B

Out on DVD.

This interesting documentary takes you into the world of noodling, which is the 'art' of catching huge catfish with your hands, usually along snake infested riverbeds and lakebeds. The film focuses on 3 different noodlers as they prepare for the annual Okie Noodling championship, held annually in Paul's Valley, Oklahoma. Each contestant has a distinct personality and is confident that their method is the best.

The filmmakers do a great job of capturing the ethos of each noodler and highlighting the pride and heritage they have with the sport. There is an acknowledgement from the noodlers that the practice of noodling is decidedly 'low class,' but a pride in having a unique skill passed on from their families. The noodlers also exhibit the classic 'soft hands' disdain for those that might look down their noses. Instead of poking fun of the contestants (a la Hands on a Hardbody), the filmmakers highlight the sport and the community of noodlers in a way that provides a real look at what noodling is.

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Catch a Fire

Released on DVD this week.

Catch a Fire takes place in the 1980s in a South Africa where apartheid is alive and well. Derek Luke plays Patrick Chamusso who is a suspect in a terrorist attack. He is taken into custody by the police led by Tim Robbins. Patrick (Luke) and his wife are subsequentally physically and mentally abused before being released. This experience infuriates Patrick and he decides to strike back.

The title is from a Bob Marley album, whose songs are used to good effect. Luke fares much better than Robbins; not quite as intense as Djimon Hounsou in Blood Diamond, but still fine. Robbins struggles with a South African accent (he should have called DiCaprio's dialect coach). The director Philip Noyce fills the screen with blues, reds, and greens which comment on the mood. Noyce also composes some interesting and fresh aerial shots. But the days where he made straightforward solid action movies like Dead Calm, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger are gone. As with the recent Rabbitproof Fence and The Quiet American, he seems more interested in promoting his liberal agenda. It OK to destroy factories and property if the government was mean to you. Really? No wonder your unemployment rate is so high. Quick, let's find the next historical lesson that can comment on the war in Iraq!

If you can find it in your heart to have sympathy for a terrorist (freedom-fighter?) who also cheats on his wife, you may enjoy the movie more than me. Oh, and apartheid is bad, OK? B-

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Catch and Release Rating: 4

While the talented Jennifer Garner can prop up mediocre material (see 13 going 30) not even she and an entertaining Kevin Smith can make Catch and Relief compelling. Lacking a driving conflict and any real plot, the movie plays like a commercial for Boulder, Colorado, and Wrangler 5-Star jeans. This chick flick (with the worst that name implies) follows the lives of five twenty- to thirty-somethings as they deal with the loss of a their in-turn best-friend, roommate, fiancĂ©, and baby-daddy on his white-water bachelor party. Turns out the deceased wasn’t quite as perfect as his bride-to-be (Garner) believed, with an ongoing “relationship” with a message-therapist resulting in a $3000 a month paternity bill. Forgetting for a moment that assumably the most compelling reason for entering into an arrangement with an erotic masseuse is the lack of strings, such a revelation would certainly seem to color a fiance’s memory of her groom for more than 24 hours. Not so. Unfortunately, that conflict, along with every other one, is quickly and painlessly resolved, leaving us to watch pretty people (plus Smith) pose and meander towards middle-age via a number of passionless PG-13 love scenes.

It isn’t painful, it’s just silly. One can only hope that someone, either in the movies or on TV, again captures the fiery humor, strength, and vulnerability Garner brought to Alias’s Sydney Bristow. Now that would be worth $10.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

United 93 Rating: 9

I waited for DVD to watch United 93, thinking it was almost celebratory to watch it in the theatre. Judging from the paltry business it's done, I can only assume others felt the same way. That's too bad. At a lean 111 minutes, the editing is precise and flawless, leaving the confusion understandable even while the film remains lucid. The final twenty minutes are white-knuckle taunt in a way only possible if you know the ending. As a meditation on the nature of courage and heroism, it far surpasses the more highly-acclaimed Flags of Our Fathers which covers the same subject. Because it doesn't hesitate to show the humanness in the enemy even while choosing sides against it, United skirts the ethical morass Flags falls into in denying a moral high ground to either side. And the heroism and courage isn't just displayed in the eight or nine men who charged the terrorist on that September morning. It's seen in the flight attendance who work tirelessly to encourage and comfort the wounded. And it's seen In the folks at the FAA, NORAD, the Pentagon, and countless other agencies as they attempt to respond to information their paradigm cannot allow them to fully comprehend.

This is a remarkable film. It is not, as I feared, an attempt to manipulate the deaths of the innnocent for financial gain. Instead it is a heartfelt salute using the only medium appropriate.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Departed - A

Second viewing tonight. The opening, with Jack's silhouette and the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter", gets your blood going like no other film released in 2006. The soundtrack is rock solid, from "Comfortably Numb" (Pink Floyd) to "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" (Dropkick Murphys - originally written by Woodie Guthrie). Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon put in great, layered performances, and Alec Baldwin (the boomer Vince Vaughn now?) and Mark Wahlberg are hilarious in supporting roles. Jack didn't get nominated for an Oscar; my guess is that if the bizarre cocaine/opera sequence had been cut, he would've been, but that scene alone almost made his character gimmicky. I hate Martin Sheen (because of his real and fake politics), but love his portrayal of Queenan, the one unambiguous good guy in the film.

Scorsese does a masterful job of interweaving the storylines and good cop/bad cop elements. In lesser hands the story likely would've played much more cliched and less resonant. The pundits say its between this and Babel for Best Picture. I'm pulling for this one.

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The Decemberist, The Crane Wife Rating: 8 (out of 10)

Exuberance isn't a word often associated either with singer-songwriters or alt-rock, but its what seperates Colin Meloy's The Decemberists from the others of his ilk. That and an uncanny ability to turn a phrase and recognize a good story. I was won over to Meloy's interesting voice in "We Both Go Down Together" from the Picaresque album, and I highly recommend it as an accessible entry point for the uninitiated. The three songs that make up the story of the Crane Wife (one of two three-song cycles on the album) tell the Japanese children's fable of a man who rescues an injured crane one night, marries her ("soft as fontainelle, the feathers and the thread"- gulp), and eventually runs her off in his poverty and his greed Either that type of a story appeals to you or it doesn't, but you've got to respect Meloy resting his first major-label release on its feathered back. Couple that song with stories of rape, a still-waiting Civil War widow, Romeo/Juliet-style forbidden love, and a half-dozen other tales and you've got an honest man exposing the dark heart of love and lust and the muddy line that sometimes divides them.

Hear them here:

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Friday, January 26, 2007

"Elsewhere" - Sarah McLachlan

This live version from the Bridge School Collection, Vol. 1, is really good. I listen to it in spite of myself. There are several songs by other artists on that album (available on Itunes) that are great as well.

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Superman 2 - The Donner Cut

Richard Donner was fired off of Superman 2 with Marlon Brando to save money for the producers. He had already shot the majority of Superman 2 simultaneously with Superman (1). Since a director must shoot a certain portion of the movie to receive a directorial credit, many of the scenes were reshot by the replacement director Richard Lester. Due to internet demand, the original Donner material was found in the vault and reconstructed with Donner's assistance. Parts of the movie are greatly improved, including the removal of some of the unfunny "comedic" elements that made the villains less threatening. The inclusion of Brando in this cut is a plus (of course) and this makes the father-son theme throughout the first movie more resonant. Lois Lane is smarter in this cut and that also helps. The main problem with this cut is that the ending makes absolutely no sense.

The main problem with all of the Superman movies is Superman. Why exactly is he not Superman all the time? Why even bother with becoming Clark Kent? To fit in? To conform? A dubious message to the kids. Hide your talents unless someone's life depends on it.

But it's hard not to like Gene Hackman enjoying himself as Lex Luthor as well as the supporting performances of Ned Beatty, Marlon Brando, et al. Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder also work well together and are better here (and the original Superman) than they ever were anywhere else. B

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Idiocracy - C+

Tonight I took a chance on Idiocracy. This is Mike Judge's follow-up to Office Space, starring Luke Wilson as an average person thrust into the year 2505 by a botched army experiment. In the future, he is the smartest person in the world because of a gradual lowering of the intelligence of humans. That synopsis makes it sound like the worst movie of all time, but it was actually pretty funny in places. One highlight was a cameo by Bottle Rocket's Bob Maplethorpe.

This was a straight to video release despite its pedigree and legitimate stars, but has several clever lines and well thought out schtick involving the future and really stupid people.

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The Guardian

Released on DVD this week.

Normally, I don't break my Ashton Kutcher rule, which is to not see any of his movies, but I kind of grew up on Kevin Costner movies and still hope for a return to his 1987-1991 form. Impossible I know, but parts of Tin Cup and Thirteen Days were good and Open Range was very good.

This movie is basically a remake of An Officer and a Gentlemen with parts of Top Gun and A Perfect Storm thrown in, then ending like Message in a Bottle. Kutcher plays the best swimmer in America with a troubled past. Costner plays the best Coast Guard-ian in America who is forced to teach Kutcher life lessons after a recent tragedy. Bar fights, character revelations, and redemption follows. If you haven't seen this movie before, either you are approaching viability in your mother's womb or you wrote the music for Jungle Fever. D+

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Jesus Camp - D

This is a documentary showing a pentecostal children's pastor and her ministry to children. The underlying theme of the film is that evangelical christians are out to control the country and are leading muslim-style 'learning camps' across the nation. The directors treat their subjects like aliens and it is painfully clear throughout the whole thing that they have no knowledge of middle America or evangelical culture. The best scenes are not the result of good filmmaking....they are with Ted Haggard prior to his downfall in all of his hypocritical glory.

Separate and apart from the extremely biased and inaccurate portayal of the film's subjects, it really is just a bad documentary. Clumsy usage of an Air America host to bookend the film and drive home its points, as well as multiple filler moments without adding any value to the overall product. Boring, dumb, and poorly made. I watched it Monday night...the next morning it got nominated for an Oscar for best documentary. Meanspirited portrayals of evangelical Christians is probably the new 'chic' for oscar voters.

Another similar film premiered on HBO last night, I only caught a few minutes, but will TIVO up this weekend. It is entitled "Friends of God" and is directed by Alexandra Pelosi (daughter of Democratic House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi).

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Extras - Episode 9 (Harry Potter)

Tonight watched an early showing of HBO's Extras (Ricky Gervais) featuring Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe. Laughed out loud at least 3 times. Genius treatment of tabloids and an accidental rebuke of a child with down syndrome by Ricky's character, not to mention a 'fight' with a midget which ends with Ricky accidentally knocking his diminutive attacker out with his knee. At the beginning of the fight he exclaims: "I don't know the rules for fighting with a midget."

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Last Kiss - B

Out on video.

A coming of age (adulthood) story about gen-x 30 year olds dealing with growing up and one man's (Zach Braff) cheating on his pregnant girlfriend because of his impending adulthood and 'lack of surprises.' My empathy and exact match to the point of view of the movie probably skewed my view of this one. It has several funny scenes and accurately depicts the divergence in feelings of men and women as they enter the 'commitment/settle down' period of their lives. If you liked Garden State (this isn't nearly as good, though) or About a Boy, you'll probably enjoy this one. Advertised as a romantic comedy, but more of a romance to speak of except Braff's awkward and doomed daliance with Rachel Bilson.

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"Warning Sign" - Coldplay

Maybe late to the party on this one, but I am listening to this song non-stop. Its from the album "A Rush of Blood to the Head." A little bit Weezer, a little bit U2, a little bit Collective Soul (gross).

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Welcome and About

This blog is a forum for three friends with a common background and uncommon professions to post their thoughts on entertainment (movies and tv), art, literature and music. Lawyer is an attorney in the Dallas area and is the administrator of the blog. Doctor is a radiologist in the Houston area. Priest is a pastor and administrator at a Christian University.

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