Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Kite Runner - B

Released on DVD this week. PG-13?

Kite-flying was a very competitive sport in 1970s Afghanistan. Sharp glass was glued/tarred to the kite strings so other kites could be “cut”, thus sending them to the ground. 2 boys: Amir (an expert kite-flier) and Hassan (his “runner” – who helps with the string and fetches fallen kites) are picked on by teenagers who don’t approve of Hassan’s genetic material (he’s from a different part of the country). After a kite-flying victory, Hassan is anally raped by the local teens while Amir hides and refuses to help. This event divides the 2 boys and after the Russians invade in 1978, Amir and his father immigrate to California. (Click below for what will be known in the future as the "Anal-Rape Kite Movie")

Amir and his father Baba struggle to get by in California, working at a gas station and selling crap at a flea market. Amir meets and marries an Afghan woman and Baba dies of cancer. Years later (in the year 2000, in the year 2000), Amir gets a phone call from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and is asked to help find Hassan’s son. In the third act of the film, Amir returns to his home country to assuage his guilt for not helping his former best friend.

Khalid Abdalla (the hesitative terrorist pilot in United 93) plays the adult Amir with the requisite restraint but demonstrates surprising range in dealing with his difficult father-in-law, his troubled (future) wife, and his disapproving father. Homayoun Ershadi is superb as Baba and the father-son issues are beautifully explored. The third-act trip to Afghanistan is somewhat fanciful and the first act is brutally long (I have limited interest in kites, anal rape, or foreign language coming-of-age stories). Director Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball (B), Finding Neverland (B+), Stranger Than Fiction (B)) is one of the most versatile and reliable directors working today. He always brings beautiful images and honest emotions. It will be interesting to see what he does with the next James Bond movie: Quantum of Solace.

Like Atonement, The Kite Runner has a novelist trying to atone for a prepubescent sin. The “sin” here is of neglect and the redemption seems more earned than Atonement’s Briony. This is one “Middle East” film that seems pro-America since it depicts the Taliban as ruthless and intolerant and America as the best place to escape the horrors of the Russians and the Taliban. (Suck on that anemic box office, Stop-Loss – the latest “America Sucks” genre film.) Some pacing issues aside, The Kite Runner is a rewarding and interesting journey into another culture. B

Note: It probably deserves an “R” rating for the realistic stoning of a woman and the rape scene (which is brief and mostly implied).

Continue reading this post

Sunset Boulevard (AFI Series)

On DVD (1950). 110 minutes. #16 on the AFI list. Trailer.

The next in my continuing AFI series is Sunset Boulevard, written and directed by the great Billy Wilder. As the film started, I knew nothing about it except the title, but it was soon clear this was my kind of movie. The film opens with narration as ambulances and policemen rush to a home on Sunset Boulevard to find a man floating dead in a pool. The story then flashes all the way back to the beginning of the sequence of events resulting in the floating corpse. Click below for more on one of my new favorite movies.

Joe Gillis (William Holden) is an attractive and capable screenwriter who has yet to find success in the movie business. As a result, he is behind on his rent and being chased by the bank to repossess his car. Driving around LA after eluding his
creditors, he is spotted driving on Sunset Boulevard and quickly pulls into the garage of a seemingly abandoned mansion. After closing the door he starts to look around the place, only to be welcomed in by a butler and ushered into the master suite where Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) is mourning a dead chimp. After realizing he isn't the monkey mortician, Desmond starts to kick him out until Gillis recognizes her and says "You're Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big." Norma responds with "I am big. It's the pictures that got small." He tells her he's a screenwriter and she insists he review and rewrite her script while living in the house for the foreseable future.

Desmond's character is tragic...she is a huge star from the old days that can't come to grips with her fading beauty and lack of fans or current movie opportunities. Watching her vamp to no one as her butler and Mr. Gillis refuse to acknowledge that the emperor has no clothes is entertaining and sad at the same time. Gillis is also an interesting character...a man caught between what he wants and what he needs, with no apparent moral compass.

The screenplay is brilliant and engaging, shockingly edgy for the time in which it was written. Wilder's direction is also bravura film-making with several great shots (the pool, the final sequence during Norma's arrest, her visit to the studio). Priest, you'll love this if you haven't seen it. Doc is probably shaking his head since he's known about how great this one is for years.

Continue reading this post

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Brave One - C+

A savage attack leaves Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) in a coma and her doctor fiancé dead. Bain is a New York talk show host for an NPR-type station and goes around the city recording sounds and speeches (that serve as voice-over). After the attack, she becomes borderline agoraphobic and eventually decides to buy a gun. She then turns vigilante and gets 1970s style justice. (Click below for the rest of Taxi Driver 2: Iris is All Grows Up)

Foster does an admirable job of depicting a tortured woman who doesn’t understand her new-found feelings of vengeance and fear. As the investigating detective, Terrence Howard is nicely understated and his wisecracking scenes with his partner (Nicky Katt – one of my favorite character actors) are the best moments in the movie. Irishman Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) is an interesting choice to director this piece of American pulp, but he goes overboard with the camera angles (symbolizing Foster’s inner turmoil). He fills the film with beautiful shadows and colors and avoids the typical New York locations and skylines.

But everyone is let down by the story which seems rushed, forced, and familiar. The odds of Howard meeting Foster in a hospital after her attack, forging a friendship because of her radio show, and unknowingly investigating her as the killer is astronomical. The same detective being assigned all of the random scattered murders in New York is never believable in any movie. And the ending is disastrous – not just in its execution (anyone who’s seen one CSI episode knows the evidence won’t hold) but also its message (wait – violence is the answer?). Hasn't the Iraq War taught you Hollywood right-wingers anything? C+

For me, one of the biggest sins a movie can commit is liberally referencing classic movie(s) and not focusing on its own characters, plot, etc. Certainly, Scorsese is not immune from his influences, but he’s much more obscure and subtle. Foster’s first killing is nearly shot-for-shot remake of Travis Bickle’s first murder. Both occur in a convenient store where the lead is hiding in the back and both perpetrators get shot in the neck. Both films have a “God’s eye view” after the climax with the camera pulling back from the ground into the sky. The presence of Foster doesn’t help the inevitable comparisons to Taxi Driver, but she’s great in both films. Wonder how she’d look with a mohawk.

Continue reading this post

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In the ongoing evolution of digital mediums there are watershed moments when you instinctively know that entertainment has changed. The CD burner comes to mind. Napster. itunes. Tivo. youtube. is destined to be one of those. Here’s the deal: pretty much any show on NBC or Fox and a lot of shows on their subsidiary cable channels are available to watch in their entirety on the day after they air. While there are some advertisements, it’s less than on TV. The video quality is pretty high on a computer, much higher than youtube, and you can watch any episode that’s come before of a lot of shows. So, you can watch the first two seasons of 30 Rock. Or the The Office. Or Heroes, Friday Night Flights, Family Guy, The Simpsons, Conan, or Saturday Night Live (broken down by skit, not episode). There are also older shows like Arrested Development and Doogie Howser, M.D. There are also about 200 movies, uncut. Many are older or smaller, but a number are good films (The Usual Suspects, October Sky, Mulholland Drive).

Continue reading this post

Bush Library Designs

The Chronicle of Higher Education asked its readers to send in 'designs' for the new Bush Library in Dallas on the back of an envelope. The winner of the contest was Lewis E. Calver, a medical professor and medical illustrator. He obviously wasn't a Bush voter (his envelope is below). Go here to see the other finalists.

Continue reading this post

$35 Movie Ticket in Dallas?

Village Roadshow Ltd. is planning a luxury movie theater for Fairview, Texas (between Allen and McKinney on 75) featuring 40 reclining armchair seats with footrests, digital projection and the capability to screen 2-D and 3-D movies, as well as a lounge and bar serving cocktails and appetizers, a concierge service and valet parking. The seats will feature a service button to order gourmet meals to be brought by a waiter. Finally. I have been dying for one of these theaters to come here (the 4th largest market in the country), so that I could reserve the right seats and valet my car. Credit Variety.

Continue reading this post

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Run Fatboy Run - B

In theaters March 28. Rated PG-13, 100 minutes. Trailer.

After being brow-beaten into a night with a 'light-hearted and fun' movie instead one that maps the soul of a flawed male protagonist, my bride and I settled on a sneak preview of Run Fatboy Run. The trailer looked funny and I enjoyed enough of Hot Fuzz to give writer/star Simon Pegg another chance. Click below for the Fatboy review.

Pegg is Dennis, a down on his luck security guard that ran out on his pregnant bride-to-be Libby (Thandie Newton) at the altar. Five years later, the film begins with Dennis wishing he was with her and jealous of her new love, Whit (Hank Azaria). Whit is everything Dennis isn't: rich, fit, dapper and smug. Through Dennis' limited interaction with Libby and Whit during his pickups of his son, he conveys to Libby his desire to get back with her. This all gets turned into a challenge whereby if Dennis finishes the charity marathon that Whit is participating in, Libby will consider his offer of reconciliation. The movie has a predictable plot and resolution, complete with a feel good ending.

The best parts of the film are Pegg and his equally dismal friend, Gordon. Played brilliantly by Dylan Moran, Gordon provides comedy and reality to the story, especially after he makes a bet with his gambling buddies that Dennis will finish the marathon. His self-interest begets a new work-out routine for Dennis with a funny montage and gross blister pop. Azaria is also very funny as the interloping dolt. Pegg proves himself a great comedic actor equipped with impeccable timing and instincts, but also a decent dramatic actor showing range in his scenes with his son.

Directed by David Schwimmer!!!!, this has some great parts and more ho-hum parts. Thandie Newton is annoying and the story (written by Michael Ian Black and Pegg) was too predictable and fun for me to really get into it.

Bonus: Article from Sunday's NY Times about Pegg.

Continue reading this post

Monday, March 24, 2008

DVD and CD Releases - March 25th

This weeks's DVD releases:

Recent Films:

Jimmy Carter Man From Plains
The Kite Runner
Stephen King's The Mist
Wristcutters: A Love Story

Click below for more DVD and CD releases.

Other Notable DVD Releases:
Bonnie and Clyde: Ultimate Collector's Edition
Kings of the Sun
Lost Highway
The Unknown Soldier
Walk the Line: Extended Cut

CD Releases:
The B-52s - Funplex
Counting Crows - Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings
Crash Romeo - Gave Me The Clap
Day 26 - Day 26
Dem Franchize Boyz - Da Point Of No Return
Justin Townes Earle - The Good Life
Elephant Man - Let's Get Physical
Firewind - The Premonition
Daniel Lanois - Here Is What Is
Panic At The Disco - Pretty. Odd
Plants And Animals - Parc Avenue
The Raconteurs - Consolers Of The Lonely

Continue reading this post

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Late Show with David Letterman, March 17, 2008

During a (very) recent work trip to NYC, I had the opportunity to attend a taping of The Late Show with David Letterman. I’ve been a fan since the NBC days, so this was really a dream come true for me. I could not have been more excited. While Letterman now is not the Letterman of 1992, he’s still more interesting (and famous) than nearly any guest he has on. Plus there’s Paul Schaeffer, himself funnier than Leno and his whole pack of writers. I’ll save the reader the endless hoops prospective audience members must jump through and cut to entering the auditorium. By the time we entered (a group of ten) the auditorium was largely filled. I ended up in the balcony. We received brief instructions, then a warm-up comedian came out, followed by the CBS Orchestra and Paul. Finally, Dave sprinted out manically with just two or three minutes before show time. After taking a question from the audience, he literally ran behind the curtain as the show was starting.
The opening monologue was only adequate (as usual with Dave), with some time spent on the Spitzer case, but not as much as the previous week, when Letterman’s schtick on the subject was the funniest I’ve seen (“Banging whores” was his mantra). Still, it’s at his desk that Dave shines, and this night was no exception. His talk centered on a tick he had just had removed from his back. At first I found this disgusting, but soon I was laughing hard. As we got to the first break, an inner circle consisting of the warm-up comedian, the producer of the show, and some dude that looked for all the world like Dustin Hoffman moved around Dave. The whole time Paul and Co. is blasting away with an arrangement of the ‘Stones Brown Sugar.
Rainn Wilson of The Office (Schrute Buck inventor Dwight Schrute) was the first guest (see the interview here). While some feel his brief role in Juno was overdone (admittedly, it was), he is hilarious on The Office and solid on his inaugural outing on Letterman. That said, he came across as too chummy concerning Dave’s son and seemed to me to start annoying Dave a bit. Maybe that was the reason he only made it through one segment instead of the usual two for the opening guest. The second guests were Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic of ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike in the Morning. I wasn’t familiar with them beyond their names, but they were funny and entered into a pretty good debate with Dave on whether or not golfer’s are athletes—an issue I’ve argued on more than one occasion.
The musical guest was Irish band Bell X1 (view their performance here). I’d never heard of them, but the lead singer had a great voice and the band sounded tight if fairly predictable in the Coldplay rock/pop mold. The most memorable thing about the band was the set-up, which took about six minutes from empty stage to starting to play. The stage is much tighter than it appears on TV, with barely enough room to get the small group between Dave and the CBS Orchestra. Part of the Letterman backdrop, a model of NYC, is wheeled out of the way while the rest is pulled straight into the air to allow the crew to push the instruments into place.
After the show ends, Dave thanks the audience and the band played the audience out as we left. Overall, it was a great experience I’d highly recommend to anyone going to New York with an afternoon to kill. The show has the feel of something being done just for the live audience, with the rest of America invited to look in.
*On a cool side note, we walked by the Hello Deli to see Rupert G out front smoking a cigarette. He seemed quite nice and gamely posed for pictures with several pedestrians, including a couple of guys from our group.

Continue reading this post

Interview - B-

On DVD. Rated R, 84 minutes. Trailer.

Written and directed by Steve Buscemi, Interview tells the story of a political reporter's unconventional interview with Katya, a pop-culture phenomenon similar to Sienna Miller. Which is weird, since Katya is played by Sienna Miller. Buscemi also stars as the bitter Pierre Peders, a serious journalist that isn't happy about being jettisoned to New York for a puff piece on an actress known mostly for her breast size and love life.

Click below for the rest of "Interview".

When the interview starts, Pierre quickly lets Katya know he thinks he is superior to her, and she is having none of it and ends the interview 5 minutes after it begins. Then, on her way home, Pierre's cab driver gets into a wreck staring at her walking on the sidewalk. Pierre ends up with a bloody noggin, and Katya takes him into her loft to attend to the injury. Thus begins a cat and mouse game wherein they both give and get information and deception. There are some interesting themes explored (beauty, talent, integrity), and both Buscemi and Miller confirm their considerable acting talent.

This really shouldn't have been a film; the script and story are much better suited for the stage. 90% of the movie is shot in Katya's loft in New York. I was engaged during the film, but didn't enjoy it.

Continue reading this post

Saturday, March 22, 2008

DVD Releases This Week

Atonement – B (Original review here)

The story of a calculating, narcissistic bitch who ruins numerous lives, feels guilty, and pretends like she atones by writing a book and giving her victims a false happy ending. Of course, she can only write the book when she’s diagnosed with vascular dementia so no one will judge her and condemn her because she’s a sick old hag. I’m sorry, but she’s a total (offensive word found in Robbie’s letter).

That said, director Joe Wright keeps things interesting by changing perspectives, using religious symbolism, recurring motifs (most notably water) and a virtuoso (but kinda unnecessary) 5 minute uninterrupted shot showing the British army on a French beach. James McAvoy finally impresses me as an actor and Keira Knightley is as perfect as that already famous green dress she wears. The typewriter-as-percussion in the (Oscar-winning) score really worked for me. And the cinematography and settings are equally beautiful. Too bad it’s all wasted on a despicable character who insists on manipulating everyone else around her – including us, the viewing audience. B

(Click below for Southland Tales)

Southland Tales – C-
Lawyer was probably too kind in his original review. It’s a horribly edited, incomprehensible mess, incoherent with scenes that fail to connect. Director Richard Kelly obviously cast his main characters against type (except uber-whore Bai Ling) but this is more distracting than inspired. See many SNL cast members not be funny; see Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson snivel in the face of violence; see Justin Timberlake ugly with a huge facial scar. Speaking of Timberlake, I’m not sure if his relentless voice-over narration was in the original script, but it feels like it was put in late in the editing to explain what the hell is going on. I like Kelly’s taste in music, but he needs a collaborator to help him hone his (occasionally brilliant) ideas. And not have, you know, a white dude (who calls everyone “dog”) fire a surface-to-air missile into a zeppelin while riding a flying ice cream truck. Seriously, dog, WTF? C-

Continue reading this post

Revolver - D

On DVD (2007). Rated R, 105 minutes. Trailer.

Guy Ritchie is a hack. This film confirms that any of quality of Ritchie's previous directorial efforts Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (B) and Snatch (B+) was due to the producer of those films, Layer Cake (A) director Matthew Vaughn (I am being kind by leaving out Swept Away, the movie Ritchie wrote and directed for his wife, Madonna). Revolver is a frustrating, stupid mess of a movie that wastes its quality cast.

Click below for the review of Revolver.

The film opens with cool guy hustler Jake (Jason Statham), being released from prison after 7 years. We then cut to Macha's (Ray Liotta) casino 2 years later with Jake coming in to face his nemesis (the source of the animosity is never explained). Jake then leaves in an ambulance after falling stylishly down a stairway. He leaves the hospital and is immediately almost shot, being saved by Vincent Pastore, who apparently stole his wardrobe from the Sopranos and insists on wearing it at all times. He is taken to a pool hall where Andre Benjamin explains that Jake's hospital results say he will die in 3 days from a rare blood disorder and that Andre and Vincent will protect Jake from the guy that tried to shoot him if he give Andre and Vincent all of his money. Sorry, but the 28 questions and inconsistencies in this crucial plot point just don't work. The rest of the film features Jake, Vincent and Andre all running a loan shark business, playing chess, and evading Macha and his crew. The whole time Jake is waxing philosophical about 'the perfect score' and 'the only way to get strong is to play a stronger opponent'.

In the last sequences of the film, Jake approaches Macha in his bedroom and Ritchie shows Jake battling himself by making Jake's ego scream at him the whole time. Then, back at the pool hall, Andre reveals the 'trick' ending, which couldn't be more obvious or less interesting. Ritchie includes statements from psychiatrists during the closing credits to try and add gravity to the ending and the film; it doesn't work.

Ray Liotta and Jason Statham are trying hard here, but there's no chance to succeed with the script and direction provided. Liotta's character is a mix of every cliched gambling movie ever made, without any innovation, and the same goes for Statham's character. The only reason the film stayed out of the F pile is the character/performance of Mark Strong as Sorter, Macha's lethally technical hit man.

The trailer for this film was great, with superb pacing, music and visuals. False advertising for sure. Besides the worst script I have been subjected to in a long while, the 'stylish' camera moves that Ritchie tries are absolutely worthless and are shoehorned in as if he were a high school kid directing his first short film. Somehow animation of the characters (somewhat similar to what Oliver Stone did in Natural Born Killers (A-), but without the artistic impact) makes it into the film, as do meaningless slow-motion and overhead shots. Bad all around.

Continue reading this post

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Searchers (AFI 100 Series)

On DVD (1956). 121 minutes. Trailer.

The third film in my AFI 100 refresher course is The Searchers, a movie I had heard lots about but never actually seen (#12 on the AFI list). John Wayne stars as the enigmatic Ethan in this seminal Western directed by the legendary John Ford. Set in post Civil War West Texas, the film follows Ethan as he searches for the Comanche tribe that murdered his brother and his family and has his 9 year old niece held captive.

Click below for more of this review.

Wayne is in classic form as the swaggering, dangerous, and unconvential leading man. The catchphrase du jour is "That'll be the day", which he says about 8 times throughout the movie. The plot is simple, and it is the characters and cinematography that steal the show. Ford filmed the picture in Monument Valley, Utah, and the vistas, sunsets and scrub brush provide a dramatic backdrop for Ethan's search. As with any touchstone film like this, every shot, character and angle has been copied countless times in the decades since its release. A great film full of classic scenes, laughs and beautiful shots.

Continue reading this post

Various and Sundry

1. Pearl Jam is touring this Fall. No Texas dates announced yet, natch.

2. New Mike Myers movie, The Love Guru, has a trailer. Funny.

3. New Judd Apatow crew movie, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, has a trailer. More funny.

4. Dixie Dentist sends along this interesting post ranking Paul Thomas Anderson's musical moments in his films.

5. Trailer for Shine a Light, Martin Scorsese's new documentary on the Rolling Stones (to be released, on IMAX, on April 4). MS is also developing a Bob Marley documentary.

6. Leonardo Dicaprio and Ridley Scott have signed up for The Low Dwellers. Set in Indiana in the mid-1980s, the movie centers on a man (DiCaprio) trying to assimilate into society after he's released from jail, only to find someone from his past pursuing him to settle a score. In addition to the pursuer, a third male character and a female love interest are said to figure prominently in the story.

7. David Cross (Tobias Funke) and Bob Odenkirk (Porno Gil) have a pilot coming out on HBO called "David's Situation".

Continue reading this post

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Bank Job - B

In theaters. Rated R, 110 minutes. Trailer.

Breaking new ground in the heist genre is nearly impossible, and at least The Bank Job knows what it is and doesn't try. The great Jason Statham stars as a charismatic but down on his luck hustler with a chance at a 'perfect score' provided to him by an old (and beautiful) friend (Saffron Burrows). Seems that Michael X (dumb name), a corrupt black revolutionary, is avoiding prosecution in London because he has possession of photos of a member of the royal family in 'compromising' positions. He keeps the photos in the safe deposit box of a bank whose alarm system is broken over a weekend. Saffron knows this and peddles the info to the government when she gets pinched trying to bring drugs back into the country. Click below for more of this review.

She contacts her old buddy Statham to handle the robbery without divulging the real reason for the robbery. He gets his goofy gang together and they start digging and eventually get the loot and the pictures. This unleashes a string of cliched swaps and exchanges, with some interesting twists and manipulations along the way. As with just about everything Statham is in, he is great. His machismo and short fuse are fun to watch, especially as he interacts with the screwy band of robbers and the foxy Saffron. The plot works except for the Miohael X piece, which is not connected well with the main story, and, even seems a little racist. A decent heist film, but it doesn't hold a candle to the recent Inside Man.

Continue reading this post

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Quick Hits from the AFI Top 100 Films

There are several films among the AFI top 100 films that I either haven't seen or have all but forgotten. I am trying to get through all of those this year. Below are my quick reviews of the first two in my 'refresher':

1. Vertigo (1958) Trailer - I had seen parts of this, but not all of it (the shame). A very interesting and beautiful film, this classic stars Jimmy Stewart as Scottie and Kim Novak as Madeleine. After retiring as a detective because his chronic vertigo contributed to the death of former officer, Scottie is hired by a husband to track a seemingly deranged/possessed woman as she spends her days in and around San Francisco. In the process he falls in love with her, and her death, again because of his vertigo, puts him into a catatonic state. There are several twists after that point, resulting in a poignant and fittingly tragic end as he overcomes his vertigo.

Click below for more Vertigo and Chaplin's City Lights!

Generally speaking, I dread watching movies that are this old, because it can seem like work to wade through the dialogue and clunky storytelling. This was one of the many exceptions to that rule. The whole film is shot beautifully with ample space and an almost surreal empty feel, with several stunning SanFran backdrops in the frame. Stewart is in full stride as Scottie, and I most enjoyed his interactions with Midge, his friend and wannabe lover. There are several 'special effects' that were likely groundbreaking at the time, and the screenplay is funny and includes several legitimate thrills and surprises. A great film. #8 on the AFI list.

2. City Lights (1931) Trailer - If I dread watching 50 year old movies, I REALLY dread watching movies that are nearly 80 years old. But, 88 minutes isn't too much to give Charlie Chaplin. This silent film (released 2 years into the sound era) tells the simple story of a street tramp (Chaplin) who falls in love with a blind girl (Virginia Cherrill) and saves the life of a millionaire. He then becomes fast friends with the millionaire and tries to save the girl through working, boxing for money and ultimately cashing in on his millionaire connection to provide enough money to give the girl a new life and her eyesight (via a new technique paid for by his money). I don't have the tools or experience to intelligently evaluate a silent film, but I can say that the pantomime jokes got old although some were very funny. The story is overly simple and I was not impacted by the 'dramatic' elements of the film. #11 on the AFI list.

Continue reading this post

Laugh and Cry

Funny stuff. Click here for the Tropic Thunder trailer. Starring Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey Jr.

Sad stuff. Click here for a look at how different people react to 'dr.' Jeremiah Wright's (obama's pastor) rantings.

Continue reading this post

Sleuth (2007) - B-

Andrew Wyke (Michael Caine) is a successful novelist whose wife has been having an affair with Milo Tindle (Jude Law). Milo visits Wyke’s estate and the 2 have a battle of wits and verbal barbs. The dialogue is often very clever and Caine and Law savor their lines. The entire 86 minutes are spent in Wyke’s home, and director Kenneth Branagh does his best to keep things visually alive through the use of oblique camera angles and Wyke’s security cameras. The house is made of metal and stone and the blues and blacks contribute to the coldness. The film runs out of gas during the third act when the alpha males’ one-upmanship deteriorates into incredulous homosexual flirting. Still, a well-acted film, especially by Law. B-

Note: I haven't seen the 1972 version with Caine and Olivier in over 10 years but remember liking it more than this one.

Continue reading this post

Monday, March 17, 2008

DVD and CD Releases - March 18th

As a new feature, I will be putting up the new releases for DVDs and CDs each week. Those that have been reviwed here will be hyperlinked to the DLP review. This weeks's DVD releases:

Recent Films:
I Am Legend
Love in the Time of Cholera
The Sasquatch Gang
The Seeker: The Dark is Rising
Southland Tales

Click below for more DVD and CD releases.

Other Notable DVD Releases:
Bull Durham: Collector's Edition
Eight Men Out: 20th Anniversary Edition
The Pride of the Yankees

CD Releases:
The A.K.A.s (Are Everywhere!) - Everybody Make Some Noise!
Joseph Arthur - Could We Survive EP
Be Your Own Pet - Get Awkward
Danity Kane - Welcome To The Dollhouse
Destroyer - Trouble In Dreams
Flo Rida - Mail on Sunday
Haale - No Ceiling
Adam Green - Sixes & Sevens
The Hush Sound - Goodbye Blues
The Kills - Midnight Boom
The Matches - A Band In Hope
Yael Naim - Yael Naim
Rocko - Self-Made
She & Him - Volume 1 collaboration of M. Ward & Zooey Deschanel
Keith Sweat - Just Me

Continue reading this post

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Station Break - Obama's Pastor

.Click here for 2 minutes of the most over-the-top racist remarks from Obama's pastor of 20 years, who married Obama and his wife and has been his 'spiritual father.' Where's your 'judgment' now, Barry?

Continue reading this post

State of Play (BBC Mini-series) - B+

Just released on DVD. 350 minutes (six 55~ minute episodes). Scene.

This 2003 BBC mini-series riveted England and launched several careers, most notably James McAvoy's. It was released in the last couple of weeks, and the plot (political intrigue, reporters) made me interested enough to invest the time to watch all of the episodes. The series is being turned into an American movie to be released next year starring Ben Affleck, Russell Crowe and others. Click below for the review of the series.

The film is centered around Cal, the lead investigative reporter for the London Herald, a fictional version of London's leading newspaper. A girl's suicide and a seemingly random killing the same day are put together when the girl's employer, an MP (Steven, a member of parliament), tears up a little too much at the press conference announcing her death. Steven and Cal are old mates, and Steven takes refuge at Cal's house while the storm rages about his affair with the girl.

There are about 20 twists and turns to the plot, all stylishly played, ending up in a semi-surprise ending. The best parts of the series are the scenes with Bill Nighy, who plays Cal's editor. He devilishly balances corporate needs and the import of the story, along with the reckless behavior of his staff. Cal is assisted by 2 main reporters played by James McAvoy and Kelly MacDonald, who went on to superstardom and No Country For Old Men, respectively.

The teleplay, written by Paul Abbott, is smartly and smarmily written. His 'voice' is in sync with my own: cynical, funny and serious minded. There are lots of sarcastic moments throughout the film, and each sarcastic comment is followed by a "(!)" in the closed captioning (a must for any Yank watching a BBC production). The surprising romance in the film is well played, as are the moments with the government players and the cops. All in all a good time, with some poignant moments along the way.

Continue reading this post

Saturday Night Live

Saturday Night Live knocked one out of the park last night. Part of it was related to the news this week (an Eliot Spitzer skit opened the show) and part of it was related to guest host Jonah Hill, who seems as good a fit to host as Alec Baldwin. Look for Jonah to host the show next year whether he has a movie out or not. I thought Hill was the weakest of the main 3 (5 including Bill Hader and Seth Rogen) in Superbad and appeared to be riding the coattails of close friend Rogen in Knocked Up. But he did well last night out on his own. Check out multiple skits here. My favorites included Six Year Old and the Andy’s Dad. The Spitzer, Really?!?, and Tracy Morgan skits are first-rate political commentary, too. Every skit was worth watching (though I fast forwarded through musical guest Mariah Carey’s 2 songs). Look for a rerun soon. A-

Continue reading this post

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Recent Revisitations and Viewings

Released in 1978 toward the tail-end of a string of great paranoia films (The Parallax View, The Conversation, All the President’s Men), Coma is the only one involving the medical field. French Canadian Genevieve Bujold stars as a surgical resident whose best friend slips into a coma after a routine dilatation and curettage (D&C) - an elective abortion in this case. She begins to investigate (Scooby-Doo style) after realizing her hospital has more anesthetic complications than it should.

Directed by Michael Crichton (no, really), the film has some terrific shocks using textbook horror movie techniques of string music, shadows, and long hallways. Michael Douglas is relaxed and quietly impressive as Bujold’s boyfriend. In small roles, a pre-Magnum Tom Selleck shows up as a patient as does a pre-bald Ed Harris as a pathology resident. Based on the novel by (Dr.) Robin Cook, the medical jargon is infallible, if occasionally delivered poorly by some secondary actors (J*sus Chr*st! The pupils are fixed and dilated!). The romantic interlude to the beach has laughable, dated music, but, overall, it’s a well-made doctor-based thriller. B+
(Click below for a Fat Bana and a Constipated Harvey)

Chopper (2000)
An interesting take on celebrity and diminishing cultural values from director Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). A bulked-up Eric Bana shows the charisma and talent that brought him to America as Mark “Chopper” Read, a notorious Australian criminal in the 80s-early 90s who wrote a best seller while in prison. The film is violent and bloody with many prison stabbings with shivs and ice-picks. Dominik’s stylistic choices are strong but very different from his follow-up (The Assassination of JJ by the CRF). Here he’s playing with time, editing and camera angles (instead of the painterly imagery in TAOJJBTCRF). I’m not a big fan of celebrating criminals and this may have worked better if I had some knowledge of the Read beforehand. Bana should get some credit for making this jerk watchable, but the low budget and subject matter have limited appeal. B-

The Two Jakes (1990)
16 actual years (but 11 movie years) after Chinatown, this sequel starts strong but is ultimately undone by its numerous subplots and superfluous characters. In 1948, Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson, who also directs) is much more prosperous as a Los Angeles private investigator, but is still haunted by the events that unfolded at the end of Chinatown. When a real estate developer (Harvey Keitel) hires Gittes to catch his wife in the act of adultery, Gittes’s past will come alive, when Keitel murders his wife’s lover.
The movie is supposed to be an indictment of suburban sprawl and how the beautiful rural countryside in 1940s LA was ruined. It ends up pointless partly because writer Robert Towne insists on revisiting nearly every character from the first movie, no matter how insignificant. He adds just as many new characters, muddying the waters, and ultimately losing sight of any goal he had. Director Nicholson recreates the era well and paces the rudderless plot as well as possible. But Actor Nicholson was no longer and actor by 1990. He was just Jack, and bares no resemblance to the Jake Gittes in Chinatown. He looks and sounds more like Col. Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men. File this one under interesting failure. B-

Continue reading this post

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl - B-

In theaters. Rated R, 109 minutes. Trailer.

This film had lots going for it: Eric Bana (as King Henry), Scarlett Johannson (as Mary Boleyn), Natalie Portman (Anne Boleyn), and Peter Morgan (The Queen) as the screenwriter. Throw in a decent trailer, and I decided to lift my period piece policy. The film ended up being a mixed bag. Click below for the rest of "Boleyn Girl"

The first act is pedestrian, setting up the circumstances for the King's need for extra-marital help from the Boleyn girls producing a male heir. From the dialogue and acting, it was quickly clear that this was a film that wasn't aiming very high. The second act, as the Boleyn's move into the King's court and Anne becomes scorned and more central to the plot, is very enjoyable, even an A-. Portman is a commanding presence, and she is perfectly cast as the strong-willed and conniving Anne Boleyn. The third act crashes and burns, with a 20 minute pocket that is so boring it nearly ruined the movie. The final few minutes are pretty good, as the story gets wrapped up dramatically.

The movie did succeed in making the whole Boleyn/King Henry scenario very interesting. Her impact on England's separation from the Roman Catholic church and the course of history was significant, and its clear now my history teachers did their best to make it as boring as they could. Johannson is good as the simpler (and fairer) of the two girls, but her character was one-dimensional and uninteresting. The supporting cast were also all one-dimensional and every scene they are in seemed the exact same. The father in particular had the exact same look on his face the entire movie (dismayed and feeble). A disappointment.

Bonus: SNL had a very funny sketch called "The Other, Other Boleyn Girl". Worth your time.

Continue reading this post

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Recent DVD Releases

All of the following were dutifully reviewed by my collaborators during their theatrical run.

Into the Wild (2007) - Original review: here.
Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) decides to journey to U.S. West after learning that his father (William Hurt) abandoned his first family to start a new family with his mistress (Christopher’s mom – Marcia Gay Harden). On his way to Alaska, he encounters many potential surrogate families, including Catherine Keener and Hal Holbrook in separate anecdotes, but follows in his father’s footsteps by abandoning everyone. While writer-director Sean Penn allows Hirsch to have an epiphany about the meaning of life and the error of his ways, I doubt the real (selfish, foolish, spoiled, etc.) McCandless had such a moment. The film’s structure is distractingly complicated and Penn occasionally overdoes it (like with the Danish couple), but the film is a visual wonder to behold and many of the performances and themes have equal beauty. I really loved the sun-burnt guy talking about God and love. Dense and messy with tangent stories that rarely connect, the film’s just like real life. B+

(click below for 4 more)

The Darjeeling Limited (2007) Original review: here
There’s a lot to like in Wes Anderson’s latest film. He can still place his one-of-a-kind characters in the frame beautifully, but, as with The Life Aquatic and The Royal Tenenbaums (to a lesser extent), the story sort of fades away after a strong start. The three brothers here, (Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, and Owen Wilson) just don’t look like brothers. It should come as no surprise that Wilson is the most comfortable with his character, having helped invent the Anderson modus operandi with Bottle Rocket. Schwartzman’s character is a male-fantasy - an unshaven barefoot schlub who bangs the most beautiful woman in France and India. And Brody’s personality just doesn’t fit into the Anderson style - like Bill Murray (who briefly shows up). The movie is at its strongest while they’re on the train and at its worst during a flashback to New York. And like their mom (Angelica Huston), Anderson doesn’t seem particularly interested in confrontation, closure, or keeping his promises. B-

Gone Baby Gone (2007) Original review: here
Like many first-time directors, Ben Affleck uses too many close-ups, but how can you blame him with a cast which includes the intense Ed Harris, the reliable Morgan Freeman, and the underused John Ashton (Midnight Run)? As the lead, Casey Affleck does a sturdy job having all the characters bounce off of him. Best of all, of course, is the Oscar-nominated Amy Ryan as the cokehead mother whose daughter has been kidnapped. The pacing and believability falters after the funeral scene (no spoilers here) and the overall look of the film while authentic is also unpleasant. The reveals at the end are too jumpy and are piled up too quickly, but a solid effort from the Affleck clan. B

Things We Lost in the Fire (2007) Original review: here.

Halle Berry becomes a widow when husband David Duchovny is murdered. She forms a bond with his best friend Benicio del Toro, a heroin addict trying to go straight. The acting is strong across the board, everyone believable in their situations and reactions. Director Susanne Bier (following up her Oscar-nominated After the Wedding) is clearly a humanist and directs with her heart, but I just couldn’t believe Berry would allow a heroin addict (one she blames for her husband’s death) to move into her home with her 2 small impressionable kids. It’s rough film to sit through, and without the spectacular framing, lighting, and top-drawer acting of, say, the thematically similar 21 Grams, the end result lacks. B-

Michael Clayton (2007) Original review: here
The writing, acting, and direction are firing on all cylinders in this tale of corporate malfeasance and legal corruption. Its greatness is partly related to the way it subverts the genre. It’s a lawyer movie without a courtroom in sight. It has a hero whose moral compass is broke and he’s not sure he wants it fixed even if he knew how. The bad guy (Tilda Swinton) is one decision away from being the good guy. First time director Tony Gilroy achieves strong visuals and uses the cold color palette of blue/gray/black to great effect. Gilroy’s also the writer and previously wrote the Bourne trilogy. He occasionally is too reliant on the killers/action scenes but this is a minor quibble and only noticeable because of the excellence of the dialogue scenes. A-

Continue reading this post

Quick Hits

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). One of Woody Allen's finest, this classic explores the lives and personas of three New York sisters and their flawed male companions and suitors. I love Michael Caine's performance as the bumbling Elliot (he won an Oscar for his performance), and Dianne Wiest as the flighty sister who succeeds in the end. Barbara Hershey is terrible and miscast as the 'attractive' Lee, and she drags the movie down in several places. Woody has several great lines as the neurotic tv producer searching for meaning in life and dealing with his hypochondria. The scene where his character comes to terms with his search while watching the Marx brothers movie takes the film to another level. B+

Blade Runner (1982) I finally filled a gaping hole in my viewed filmography this week. I didn't enjoy watching this film at all. I do not like science fiction in general, and the cluttered and dark visuals combined with the nearly comedic 80's synth-sounds nearly drained all of my life force. That said, the film works as a deep and nuanced comment on the human condition, and I agree with the points made by Priest in his essay on the film. If only Ridley Scott could've featured less midgets and more Darryl Hannah. No grade.

Continue reading this post

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Michael Clayton - in 10 Pictures

Michael Clayton (George Clooney), handling the situation and knowing what to do, remains in focus.
(click below for the rest)

As his car explodes, so does his conscience. (reference: Bob Dylan’s Vision of Johanna)

Lots of empty space throughout the movie, commenting on Clayton’s inner self.

Tilda Swinton really goes for it, allowing herself to be physically and emotionally vulnerable.

In another year, Tom Wilkinson would have won that silly statue named Oscar.

A nice touch has the killers avoiding eye contact.

As a senior partner, the great Sydney Pollack commands every scene he’s in.

Clayton, deciding between the money/his future and the truth/his soul. Far right reflections in the glass door echo the choice.

This escalator also shows the 2 paths. Clayton chooses to get out.

Great and unique end title sequence also has an impressive subtle performance by Clooney, portraying inner turmoil as well as anybody.

Continue reading this post