Friday, May 30, 2008

Sex and the City - B+ / C-

In theaters. Rated R, 142 minutes. Trailer.

As regular readers will know, I avoid 'chick flicks' and musicals like the plague. Early summer's dearth of good releases and my bride's enthusiasm persuaded me to go see SATC on opening night, along with lots of 'gal pal' groups dressed to the nines. In the spirit of Doc's recent Rambo review, I've given this one a girls grade (B+) and a guys grade (C-). The film picks up a couple of years after where the series left off, with Big and Carrie in love, Miranda being a Brooklyn working mom, Charlotte being a stay at home mom and Samantha in LA managing her boy's career.

Click below for more on the girls counterpart to the Jackass series.

Carrie and Big decide to get married and the others work through their own issues, including a cheating spouse for the terrible Miranda. Through it all the girls have each other and love conquers all, even love of self. If you like girly montages about shoes and clothes and closets, this is your movie. If you like cliches, puns and cringing while 3 year olds hear bad words, this is your movie. In fairness, this is probably a good 'chick flick' with some genuinely funny moments and a decently realistic storyline. The dialogue is great in some small parts, but I found myself laughing at different parts than the gussied up MIWNF (WN=would not) crowd I was attending with. One note about the wardrobes: most of the time, the girls looked like they were dumpster diving for their clothes, and socks never look good with high heels, sorry.

I always liked about 60% of the SATC series, but hated the other 40% enough not to watch too many episodes. The series and movie worked best for me when it wasn't trying to be 'real', but when it was aware of its campiness and embracing it. I see what girls see in it, but don't like it. Kind of like Jackass for guys. Priest, it looks like I officially have the chick flick Stanley Cup for a while.

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New Trailers of Note

1. Burn After Reading - The new Coen Brothers movie starring Brad Pitt, George Clooney, John Malkovich and Frances McDormand. A comedy about gym employees that find a disc with CIA information and try to blackmail the agent that lost it. Laughed out loud when Clooney said "rear entry situation."

2. He's Just Not That Into You - Romantic comedy starring Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Scarlett Johannson, Ginnifer Goodwin, and Justin Long. Looks like a decent 'date movie', but an extremely suspect use of The Cure's "Friday I'm in Love". Maybe.

Click below for 6 more new and notable trailers.

3. Australia - New Baz Luhrman epic starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. Looks interesting, beautiful and rugged.

4. Synecdoche - Not a trailer, but 3 scenes from the new movie from writer/director Charlie Kaufman. Starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Jennifer Jason Leigh. (the other 2 clips are on the right under 'Related Videos').

5. Zack and Miri Make a Porno - New Kevin Smith movie starring Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks. Funny.

6. The Happening - New from M. Night Shymalan. Better trailer.

7. Vicky Cristina Barcelona - New Woody Allen movie starring Scarlett Johannson, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. Maybe. Cool shots of Barcelona, including the Sagrada Familia.

8. Choke - The second adaptation of a Chuck Palahniuk novel (the first was a little movie called Fight Club) starring Sam Rockwell, Anjelica Huston and Kelly MacDonald. Looks funny and irreverent. It will either be great or horrible.

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Favorite Scenes - Citizen Kane

Mr. Bernstein: (reading) “With respect to the said newspapers, the said Charles Foster Kane hereby relinquishes all control thereof and of the syndicates pertaining thereto and any and all other newspaper, press, and publishing properties of any kind whatsoever and agrees to abandon all claim thereto ...”Charles Foster Kane: (off-screen) Which means we’re bust. All right.

Bernstein: Well, out of cash.

Kane: (walking away) All right, Mr. Bernstein. I’ve read it, Mr. Thatcher, just let me sign it and I’ll go home.

Walter Parks Thatcher: You’re too old to call me Mr. Thatcher, Charles.

Kane: You’re too old to be called anything else. You were always too old.

Bernstein: (reading) “In consideration thereof, Thatcher & Company agrees to pay to Charles Foster Kane as long as he lives ...”

Kane: My allowance.

Thatcher: You will continue to maintain over your newspapers a large measure of control. A measure of control – and we shall seek your advice. This Depression is temporary. There’s always a chance you’ll die richer than I will.

Kane: It’s a cinch I’ll die richer than I was born.

Bernstein: We never lost as much as we made.

Thatcher: Yes, yes, but your methods. You know, Charles, you never made a single investment. You always used money to …

Kane: To buy things. Hmm? To buy things. My mother should have chosen a less reliable banker. (pause) Well, I always gagged on that silver spoon. You know, Mr. Bernstein, if I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a really great man.

Thatcher: Don’t you think you are?

Kane: I think I did pretty well under the circumstances.

Thatcher: What would you like to have been?

Kane: Everything you hate.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

DVD and CD Releases - May 27th

[Sorry for the late posting of this. Photo of drive-in in rural Arkansas at left should explain my absence.]
New DVD Releases:

The Air I Breathe
Cassandra's Dream
Darfur Now
Grace is Gone
The Walker

Click below for more recent DVD and CD releases.

DVD Special Editions/Other Releases:

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: Volume Two
Lipstick Jungle: Season One
Rawhide: The Third Season, Volume 1
All Hat
Come Drink With Me
The Dario Argento Box Set
Flash Point
Jackass Presents: Mat Hoffman's Tribute to Evel Knievel
The Lather Effect
Phenomena: Special Edition
Rambo: The Complete Collector's Set
The Take
Tenebre: Special Edition
The Three Stooges Collection, Vol. 2: 1937-1939
The World War Collection

New CD Releases:

Eliza Gilksyon - Beautiful World
Al Green - Lay It Down
John Hiatt - Same Old Man
Cyndi Lauper - Bring Ya To The Brink
Sam Phillips - Don't Do Anything
Usher - Here I Stand

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull C+

In Theatres, 124 minutes, Rated PG-13

Let me say at the outset that I really wanted to like this film. I tried to bare in mind the original notion of the Indy movies: Saturday morning serials from the 30’s and 40’s. But the best of the trilogy (Raiders, Last Crusade) always played much like the recent work of Tarantino in Kill Bill and Death Proof; both an homage to their genre forefathers and a re-imagination of them. So, no matter how much hooey Lucas and Spielberg tossed around about their low-brow intentions, the Indy films never looked too much like their matinee idols. They look like an adult’s memory of them, with the low-budget tricks, bad acting, ludicrous plots, and ridiculous accents smoothed over, leaving the excitement, exotic locales, and momentary beliefs in treasure troves intact. That’s the beauty of the first three films (I’ll turn a kind eye for the moment towards Temple of Doom), but it’s missing in this latest installment. Indeed, it is much closer to the originals that George and Steven were supposedly shooting towards all along. In that way, this feels more like a sequel to King Solomon’s Mines then Indiana, but there’s a reason the name Allan Quatermain isn’t part of our social unconscious.

That said, the acting in this film is first rate. Ford moves a bit more gingerly, but the spirit and that can-do charisma is still there in buckets. Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood, back from the first of the series, brings the same magnetism and perfect fit. Shia LaBouf as her son, channels every 50’s bad boy with slicked back hair and a motorbike in bringing his A-game as well. Jim Broadbent is a nice addition as Dean Stanforth, filling the void left by the death of Denholm Elliot (Brody in the first three). Cate Blanchett, whose accent has already been maligned often enough in print that I’ll save the temptation to pile on, is the surprising fly in this ointment. Perhaps she’s simply too fine an actress to play a caricature such as Irina Spalko is in this film. But her ESP-believing, alien-loving villainess is neither scary nor funny, just odd and vaguely insulting.

What the film has in acting it squanders in plot. Simply stated, from the opening sequence involving sometimes magnetic (to gold) crystal skulls, to the ending sequence involving, well, I’ll let you see that for yourself, the plot is just over the line. Maybe the plots always were, actually, but the Ark of the Covenant and the Cup of Christ are common pursuits in the writings of the West. We are still a culture shaped primarily by the Judeo-Christian story, so if you’re going to serve up some magical hocus-pocus, or if you just need a device to build your action movie around, those work for most of us. Crystal skulls from aliens don’t. What’s more, Lucas just can’t keep his new-age double-talk from creeping in. With lines like “Not outerspace, but the space between space” receiving knowing nods from Indiana, something just seems off. And you’d hope Spielberg would have the good sense (obviously Lucas doesn’t) to know that just because you can do something with CGI doesn’t mean you should. So, the killer ant scene, indubitably meant to be this films icky installment a le the dinner scene in Temple of Doom, the rats in Last Crusade or the snakes in Raider, gives the viewer an opportunity to sit back and thing about the progression of CGI, not squirm in their seats.

Speaking of Spielberg, his flourishes are on display throughout the movie. In particular, the opening shot of a group of kids in a T-Bucket racing an army convey is greatness. The sweeping camera, interesting angles, and undeniable fun are contagious. Enjoy it while you can. It’s the best scene in the film. C+

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Sydney Pollack

Sydney Pollack has shuffled off this mortal coil, finally succumbing to gastric cancer. He’s perhaps not as widely admired as his 1970s contemporaries since he really didn’t have a signature style. He started out as an actor and turned up in many of his own movies, taking other acting jobs occasionally. Click below for a rundown of his best directorial efforts:

The Interpreter – (2005)
United Nations interpreter Nicole Kidman overhears a plot to assassinate a dictator and Secret Service Agent Sean Penn is assigned to help her and figure out what’s going on. Pollack paces the movie well, creating tension and action honestly. Solid film. B

Sabrina – (1995)
Of course it doesn’t compare to the Billy Wilder original, but I found it likable enough with good chemistry between brothers Harrison Ford and Greg Kinnear. Julia Ormond struggles to connect well with either, however. At least it’s better than that other 1995 Ormond movie. B-

The Firm – (1993)
The best John Grisham movie by far has great supporting performances from Holly Hunter and David Strathairn. Tom Cruise does his great movie star thing as a new lawyer in a firm he slowly discovers has mob ties. Well-paced and exciting – with an excellent piano-based score. B

Out of Africa – (1985)
Pollock won the Oscar for this epic story where Meryl Streep and Robert Redford romance in Africa. Streep’s Danish accent is great, but Redford doesn’t even try an English accent. The movie is over 2 ½ hours long – too long and all the pretty pictures in the world can’t create dramatic intensity. Like most Best Picture winners in the 80s, it feels like an education. Great score by John Barry. B

Tootsie – (1982)
Pollack’s masterpiece is decades ahead of its time dealing with male-female relationships, homosexuality, equality, respect, and love. Dustin Hoffman is an unemployed actor who dresses up as a woman to land a job on a soap opera. Second only to Raising Arizona and This is Spinal Tap for 1980s laughs, Tootsie has uncommon depth those other 2 barely try. A must-see for Bill Murray's hilarious deadpan line delivery. A

Three Days of the Condor – (1975)
A near-perfect mid-70s thriller with CIA agent Robert Redford trying to figure out who killed his team. Faye Dunaway is great as his love interest, but would hit her peak the following year in Network. This is the movie Clooney and Jennifer Lopez talked about in the trunk in Out of Sight. Noted on this blog before since the bad guys hang out in the World Trade Center. A-

Jeremiah Johnson – (1972)
Mountain man Robert Redford fights with the Indians. Great scenery and action. B

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? – (1969)
Pollack’s first Oscar Nomination was for this story about a Depression era all-night dance-a-thon (the couple who dances the longest wins the money). Not as crappy as it sounds due to great performances by Jane Fonda and Gig Young. The movie’s as cynical and harsh as they come and the dance marathon as a metaphor for life itself resonates. B+

As Actor:
Michael Clayton (2007) – A-
Big-time lawyer who tries to keep his law firm together.

Changing Lanes (2002) – B
Another lawyer laying it all out for novice Ben Affleck.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999) – A
A businessman with a penchant for whores and heroin. Two great scenes with Tom Cruise.

Husbands and Wives (1992) – B
Woody Allen’s most interesting post-Crimes and Misdemeanors film.

Death Becomes Her (1992) - B
Finally, a doctor (!) who can’t understand how Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep are behaving so life-like without vital signs.

The Player (1992) - A
He’s barely in it, but it’s a great movie.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Recent DVD Releases

Click on the title for the original reviews

I am Legend – (2007)

Will Smith’s home water, gas, and electricity would probably not be working 3 days after the near-extinction of humans let alone 3 years. There are quite a view jarring jolts, some nice Christian symbolism, and first-rate CGI of post-apocalyptic New York. Being the last man alive, it’s appropriate the Will Smith would be uptight and borderline crazy, but he’s at his best when he’s relaxed and making wisecracks and seems uneasy here, especially talking to mannequins and himself. In short, his dramatic acting fails here, but the action is solid. And the alternate original ending is infinitely more interesting. B-

National Treasure: Book of Secrets – (2007)

My recent Indiana Jones viewings place this in the embarrassing knock-off category. The first half is brisk enough to be entertaining, but the elongated climactic sequence drags badly when it should have accelerated (we already know the ending, guys, we saw the first one). But anything – and I mean anything – that can educate the masses about the origin of their country and some important landmarks can’t be completely despised. C+

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – (2007)

The most over-praised movie of the year is still interesting from a film snob/dork standpoint with its beautiful use of red and blue hues. The ever-changing camera angles keep things interesting and the glacier falling into the sea is truly amazing footage. But the central character is philandering, selfish, conceited, and neglectful of his children. In addition, he works for a magazine that contributes to the self-absorption of the bourgeoisie. There’s really nothing noble or likable about him. But you have to respect the real-life character (Jean-Dominigue Bauby) who suffered from a brain stem stroke and locked-in syndrome (which I’ve only seen once in real life). The dedication and patience required to blink an entire novel with his left eye is impressive. I didn’t have the patience to listen to the alphabet more than 3-4 times. This is the kind of film that makes elitist critics feel real, real smart for putting on their 10 best list, but I doubt any of them will be watching it anytime again soon. Great use of U2’s “Ultraviolet”, though. B-

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No Reservations - D+

Even more horrendous than you probably expect. After her sister dies violently (yes, this is a “comedy”), Catherine Zeta-Jones adopts her own niece (the excruciating and soul-crushing Abigail Breslin). CZJ is a first-rate perfectionist (re: insufferable) cook at a high-end restaurant who is threatened by a new hire (Aaron Eckhart). All these changes in her life lead to lots of uninspired scenes, uncomfortable moments, and contrived cuteness that will have you retching for weeks. There’s too much drama in this romantic comedy and not much romance or comedy. Throw in the predictable retread soundtrack songs taken from any random Nora Ephron movie and you'll want to go Casino-Pesci on somebody. CZJ has never done it for me and Eckhart is way too good to be wallowing in this crap. Bring on Harvey Dent. D+

Geez - I can't find my knees.

Michael Douglas's shriveled testicles?

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Raiders of the Lost Ark - in 20 Pictures

A movie so good, 10 pictures aren't nearly enough. The best adventure film ever. I've seen this more than any other film and it's perfect every time. A+

Terrific introduction for Harrison Ford's best character.

The idol

A ridiculous sunset

The incomparable Karen Allen, perfect in every way, a pre-feminist matching Indy (and Spielberg) at every turn.


Indy knees a dude in the balls

A little sense of humor goes a long way


The map room. (Who needs CGI when you have story, character, and dialogue?)

Comedy = Tragedy + Time

The best villain of the series

An even more ridiculous sunset


The ark

Indy takes a beating

More great shadows and light

Indy's escape

The truck sequence is my favorite

Mystery, faith, and righteousness give the film unexpected depth

A terrific cynical wrap-up.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Redbelt B

In theatres, 99 minutes, Rated R

Redbelt is that rare thing in film, the fight movie (in this case martial arts) that’s actually trying to be about something. In this case, honor and being true to yourself. The fighter is jujitsu/mixed martial arts master and trainer Mike Terry, played to perfection by the always dependable Chiwetel Ejiofor (American Gangster, Children of Men). Terry can barely keep his gym afloat due to his insistence on living by a code of honor and respect. Meanwhile his beautiful wife Sandra (Alice Braga, most recently from I Am Legend) is losing patience as she supports them both through her clothing design business.

Old fighting buddies constantly contact Mike to mix it up in Ultimate Fighter-type competitions with big pay-offs, but he has too much integrity and holds too strongly to his ideals to cash them in for a quick payday. Through a series of double-crosses and crooked business dealings, ignited ironically when Terry steps up to protect an actor in a bar (Tim Allen), Mike is forced to consider stepping into the ring to protect those he loves and the code by which he has chosen to live his life.

David Mamet, one of the most respected play- and screenwriters in the industry (State and Main, Ronin, Wag the Dog, Glengary Glen Rose, The Untouchables) writes and directs here, which is why I found it so perplexing that some of the acting and dialogue seems so stilted. Mamet is able to draw talent even to small roles (Emily Mortimer, excellent; Tim Allen, awful, David Paymer, always excellent, and a whole host of character actors and Mamer regulars you’ll recognize but not know by name) but they often seemed wast. For instance, Tim Allen is ludicrous as an action star. At ten years too old and fifty pounds too fat, he immediately feels older than Harrison Ford in the new Indy. Likewise, a number of the scenarios seem too contrived for the film to play out well as realism. Is it really improbable to think anyone but a rich man wouldn’t sell a $20,000 watch for the money? But, the film doesn’t play that well metaphorically, either. The theme, of a man sticking to ideals supposedly celebrated in the society that has turned its back on him, is an interesting one that Mamet has explored before (multiple times in The Untouchables). Unfortunately, here the wrap-up is too convenient and Rocky (III-V)-esque to really win me over.

Where the acting may seem a bit beleaguered and the ending a bit too tidy, the fight scenes crackle with an authenticity and excitement that surprised me. In particular, the final fight was a rousing one, leading me to wish the film had taken a more traditional route to the kung fu flick. At 99 minutes, the length is right, and the film is never boring. It’s just not that interesting either. B

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - in 10 Pictures

The most humorous of the first 3 has Indiana reuniting with his father (after being a surrogate father in Temple of Doom). Every mode of transportation is used to tell this exciting nonstop adventure story. (I thought the zeppelin was the Hindenberg when I first saw it 19 years ago.) After the 180 degree turn that was Temple of Doom, this one is only 1 or 2 degrees off from Raiders of the Lost Ark with the same sidekicks (Sallah and Marcus), the same bad guys (Nazis), some duplicate scenes (Marcus walking up to Indy's classroom early on is a carbon copy). And there's nothing wrong with that. Just trade in the Old Testament for the New, include an opening "origin" story with River Phoenix, and add Sean Connery and a film noir female and you've got a great film. B+ Trains


Terrific escape scene


Comedy = Tragedy + Time.

Airplanes (after a Zeppelin)

One of many great father-son moments




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