Sunday, November 30, 2008


1. New Flight of the Conchords season coming in January. Commercial. Another. And another. Here's a really funny video for Ladies of the World.

2. DeNiro and Scorsese teaming back up in I Heard You Paint Houses.

3. Good Oscar season kick-off article from David Carr, my favorite writer on the subject.

4. Trailer for The Wrestler. I am feeling this, hard. Given the weakness of the field, this may be my favorite of the year. Trailer features a pitch perfect new song (written for the film) from Bruce Springsteen. Greatnesssssssssss.

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Favorite Scenes: Nixon (1995)

After the death of his second brother, 19 year old Richard Nixon (David Barry Gray) grieves and is approached by his mother Hannah (Mary Steenburgen).Hannah Nixon: Richard.

Richard Nixon: I can’t.

HN: You must. This law school – it’s a gift from thy brother.

RN: He had to die for me to get it?

HN: Something has to come of this. It’s meant to make us stronger. Thee art stronger than Harold, stronger than Arthur. God has chosen thee to survive.

RN: What about happiness, mother?

HN: Thee will find thy peace at the center, Richard. Strength in this life, happiness in the next.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Transporter 3 C-

In Theatres, Rated PG-13, 100 minutes
Telegraph for Jason Statham: “The media wants to make you a legit star. Please quit making drivel like this and let them.” Yeah, I get it. The Transporter is a guaranteed payday for Mr. Statham. It’s his series, and, if the nearly sold-out show I was at last night is any indication, this one will rake in big money on a budget. But he’d already make a better Bourne than Matt Damon. He’s heir-apparent to Bruce Willis as the Talented Tough Guy, but he’s a better actor than Willis (and I’m a fan, for the record).

That said, Transporter 3 is pretty bad. The plot is similar to the first two. Statham plays transporter Frank Martin. He guarantees to personally deliver sensitive items on time and intact. That type of occupation generally means rubbing shoulders with some pretty unsavory types. This time around those folks are operatives looking to dump dangerous industrial waste and willing to extort key government officials to do it. The package is Natalya Rudokova, a previously unknown Eastern European import discovered by Luc Besson (writer of the original, and co-writer and producer here) on the streets of New York. That she looks eerily like Besson’s Fifth Element may account for his apparent inability to see her lack of talent. Rudokova is about 18-years-old and could easily pass for two years younger. Her eventual romance with 36-year-old Statham gave me the willies (and yes, Lawyer, irony noted). But, more than that, she’s awful. Her dialogue consists of broken English sentence fragments and lines like, “I want to feel sex time one more time.” That she fuels Martin’s decisions to disregard all his rules as a transporter and give up his idyllic lifestyle in the south of France is incomprehensible. Oh, and if either Frank or his package get further than 75 feet from the car, a bracelet blows them sky high.

Villain Robert Knepper (Carnivale) is the best thing here as a criminal operative in over his head but determined to finish his job. French actor Francois Berleand reprises his role of the local lawman and is solid. The action sequences, the real drawing card in this series, are overdone with too much CGI and camera work so jerky there’s no way to know what’s transpired. An exception is an excellent (if unrealistic) bike chase scene in which Statham grabs a BMX-style trick bike and grinds rails, jumps cars, and generally tears it up.

Overall, nearly unwatchable. C-

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Four Christmases - C+

In theaters. Rated PG-13, 84 minutes. Trailer.

Any Vince Vaughn movie is a must-see for me. His kinetic, hilarious delivery makes anything bearable and most films great. Unfortunately Four Christmases squanders his talents and exposes Reese Witherspoon's weakness as a comedic actress. Quasi first time director Seth Gordon (King of Kong) displays a lack of focus and a tone deaf ear with certain sequences, mixing biting humor and stupid montages in the same movie. Click below for more on the reunion of Sue, Mikey and Trent:

The premises of the film is genius: a successful, self-involved couple that always avoids a family Christmas with their divorced clans is stuck going to all 4 Christmases because of heavy fog that cancels their XMas avoidance trip. Their first stop is Vince's dad's (a funny Robert Duvall) house, a protypical white trash military compound teeming with his brothers and their families (Tim McGraw and Jon Favreau in funny roles as cage fighters). There is some funny stuff here, but mostly attributable to vintage Vince. Next up is Reese's mom's house (a cougary Mary Steenburgen) and lots of laughs for Vince with a turgid Reese storyline that goes nowhere. Kristin Chenoweth is funny as Reese's sister, and the Dwight Yoakam cameo (as a pastor) is okay, but the 'performance' by the gropu at the church is pointless and not funny enough to justify its inclusion.

As things get more serious (naturally), the couple heads to Vince's mom's house (Sissy Spacek). She has married Vince's best friend, Gary (Patrick Van Horn - Sue from Swingers), and their interactions and the Taboo game (except for the weepy Reese parts) are really funny. Inevitably, the fun-only with family on the side program for Reese and Vince gets crapped on in favor of family and marriage at Jon Voight's house (Reese's dad).

This movie had the ingredients to be good, but really is just a very poor carbon copy of The Breakup (A-) - replace Reese with Elizabeth Banks and it would've probably been a B. Worth seeing for huge Vince Vaughn fans, but nobody else.

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Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Runnin’ Down a Dream

I caught this 4 hour documentary on Sundance channel which traces Petty from his tough childhood through modern day. Many famous people, including band members, Johnny Depp, record producers, and Eddie Vedder talk about Petty’s albums, his influence, and his longevity – and at 4 hours, much, much more is discussed. Below are some brief thought, recollections, and favorite moments . . .

1. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were initially ignored in the U.S. but popular in the UK. Strange since the group hails from the South (Gainesville, FL) and epitomized the American rock sound from the late 70s to the mid 90s.

2. Petty took on his record company in court after his first 2 albums since he didn’t feel the contract he signed was fair. He is convincing when he admits he had no idea about the specifics of the music business.

3. Tom Petty hired Jimmy Iovine to produce their 3rd record (Damn the Torpedoes), who said that after hearing “Refugee” and “Here Comes My Girl”, no more songs were needed (to make a great album). “Even the Losers” and “Don’t Do Me Like That” are included on the album.

4. 14 year old Eddie Vedder bought Petty’s 4th album Hard Promises the day it was released at lunch, memorized the song “The Waiting” during the afternoon at school and was able to play it that night. Petty’s songwriting style is interesting and well-depicted. When writing “The Waiting”, Petty indeed patiently waited for the song to come to him (almost like it’s provided by the Almighty – he admits he doesn’t try to understand where the songs come from – for fear of losing the ability to create them). Vedder is seen singing “The Waiting” with Petty, clearly a childhood dream come true.

5. Stevie Nicks wanted to quit Fleetwood Mac and join the Heartbreakers. Petty and Nicks collaborated on “Stop Dragging My Heart Around”.

6. “Keepin’ Me Alive” is a fantastic song that Iovine left off the album Long After Dark.

7. “Don’t Come Around Here No More” was written by the other Eurythmic – David A. Stewart.

8. Bob Dylan wanted to have a “cool” group back him up at a Farm Aid in 1986 and a producer recommended the Heartbreakers. Dylan liked them so much, they toured the world together for the next 2 years. The Heartbreakers credit Dylan for showing them how be a great live band – prepared but extemporaneous at the same time, willing to go to places that are uncomfortable and often result in serendipitous events.

9. The producing styles of (Trveling Wilburys member and producer) Jeff Lynne and Jimmy Iovine are well-contrasted. Lynne building the song in layers and Iovine recording every part simultaneously. ("Refugee" is said to have around 150 takes).

10. The Traveling Wilburys (Petty, Dylan, Lynne, Roy Orbison, and George Harrison) were formed by one strange coincidence after another. Many of the Heartbreakers members credit their tour with Dylan and Petty’s encounters with the Wilbury clan for their longevity and mid-career creative spark.

I’ll return with hopefully 10 more ideas about this long but consistently fascinating documentary by director Peter Bogdanovich. If you like Petty’s music, you’ll find it interesting, not only as a history of the band, but of America itself from the 50s through the current era.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

2 From John Woo

John Woo has been mostly unsuccessful after being, um, wooed by Hollywood in the late 1992. Hard Target and Face/Off remain his most entertaining American efforts. But they both pale in comparison to most of his Hong Kong efforts. The Killer and Hard-Boiled are his 2 best . . .

The Killer – (1989)After he inadvertently blinds a singer, Chow Yun-Fat tries to quit his assassin job so he can take care of her. But the cops are hot on his trail and his former employer has other things in mind. Of all the fine-line-between-cops-and-crooks films that have come along the last 100 years, this is probably the best. There’s one stunning action scene after another and Woo’s camera is perfectly placed in the expositional dialogue scenes.

Hard-Boiled – (1992)

There’s a 2 ½ minute continuous shot in the climactic sequence at a hospital where Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung kill (at least) 33 bad guys. They take a break in the middle of the shot in an elevator for dialogue before going on a different floor. Woo’s operatic violence is endlessly entertaining. Is this the greatest action movie ever made? It’s up there with Die Hard, but since Die Hard successfully avoids a Lionel Richie song, it wins.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

DVD and CD Releases - November 25th

Recent DVD Releases:

Fred Claus
Meet Dave
Space Chimps
BOTTLE ROCKET - Criterion Collection

Click below for more DVD and CD releases.

DVD Special Editions/Other Releases:

TV Box Sets:

24: Redemption
A Colbert Christmas
Beverly Hills 90210: Season Six
Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.: Complete Series
Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.: Season Five
The Mod Squad: Season Two, V1

Special Editions/Other Releases:

George Carlin: It's Bad for Ya
Pink Panther Ultimate Collection
The Ron Howard Spotlight Collection
Slapshot 3: The Junior League
Superman Doomsday: Special Edition

New CD Releases:

Trace Adkins - 10
David Byrne & Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
Coldplay - Prospekt's March EP
The Fireman Sir - Electric Arguments
Good Charlotte - The Greatest Remixes Best-of/Remixes
Hope For The Dying - Hope For The Dying
The (International) Noise Conspiracy - Cross Of My Calling
Linkin Park - Road to Revolution Live album
The Killers - Day & Age
Tom Jones - 24 Hours
Ludacris - Theater Of The Mind
Paramore - The Final Riot! Live CD/DVD
Kevin Rudolf - In The City
Scott Weiland - Happy In Galoshes
Kanye West -808's and Heartbreak
xDeathstarx - The Triumph

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Monday, November 24, 2008

The Rape of Europa - A-

On DVD (2007). Not Rated, 117 minutes. Trailer.

The spectre of World War II and the impact of the Nazis in Europe has been documented over and over on film. The Rape of Europa offers a new and compelling chapter to the canon - the impact on the continent's art. Usually only receiving a passing reference, the impact of the War on Western Civilization's greatest art was devastating. This documentary tells the story of how the art was protected, destroyed, or pillaged - all in powerful style. Click below for more on EUROPA:

The film considers the role of fine art in the collective conscious of civilized society and what that means in the face of battle. Do you bomb a building containing the world's greatest art if it will save 1 life? 2 lives? Why are people who ordinarily don't care about fine art suddenly feel compelled to protect it?

The film has lots of great archival photos and video that I have never seen before, including lots on Leningrad and the great thief (among other sins) Herman Goerring. This is a very interesting film on its surface and also for its meditations on the role of art in the world.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Three Kings - A

On DVD (1999). Rated R, 114 minutes. Trailer.

Wow. I hadn't seen this in a long time and forgot just how unbelievable the film is. Funny, profound and politically astute, this is the definitive Gulf War film, with a very interesting liberal viewpoint in 2008. With great performances from George Clooney, Ice Cube, Mark Wahlberg, Spike Jonze, Nora Dunn and several others (including Maeby from Arrested Development as an Iraqi refugee) and a crackling and truly moving script from Writer/Director David O. Russell, this film is now in my top 100 of all time. Click for more on a film that argues that Bush 41 was a bad person for not creating a free Iraq and taking out Saddam (!):

I can't get over how interesting and informative the film is for the 2008 viewer even though it came out 2 years before 9/11. Since that time most of the US (me in particular) has become much more fluent in the policies, sects and politics of the region and Iraq/Iran in particular, so the film is that much more relevant with that knowledge.

The film is set in the waning days of the first Gulf War, after the peace treaty has been signed and the soldiers are bored out of their mind. Clooney is a world weary Special Forces Major with ambivalence about the world and the US. Wahlberg, Jonze and Cube find a map to Saddam's lost gold, and the 4 lay plans to go and recover it. Things get messy and complicated along the way, allowing Russell to explore greed, war, morality, US involvement and many other issues. Each one is handled intelligently and with the sort of verve that I find mesmerizing.

My favorite scene is when Wahlberg is being interrogated and called 'my main man' by the Iraqi (Saïd Taghmaoui). Clooney gives what may be his best ever performance as an in-charge soulless army man that finds redemption in the desert. Wahlberg and Cube also nail their roles, as does the funny and sad Jonze.

If you haven't seen this, go quickly. If you've seen it, but not recently, its worth your time to see it again.

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SNL - Tim McGraw, 11/22/08

Another lackluster show with only one great skit, the best skit of the year. Bill Hader is ready for primetime . . .

Tim McGraw read cue cards. Seth Myers continues to viciously bash Sarah Palin. Andy Samberg continues to embarass himself. Ludacris and T-Pain actually have some OK music but lyrics about fornicating and fame drag it down. Most of the skits were either terrible of forgettable. New hire Michaela Watkins was an excellent Arianna Huffington, but the Bill Hader-Dateline is easily my favorite thing on SNL this season so far.

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Today's NY Times Magazine has a great group of articles about film, tv and Netflix algorithms.

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Slumdog Millionaire - B+

In theaters. Rated R, 104 minutes. Trailer.

Visceral, gritty and soulful, Slumdog Millionaire is a story of love and self-reliance told through the prism of poverty and opportunity in India. Director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Sunshine) is in top form as he uses the diverse canvas of India and the slums of Mumbai/Bombay to weave this tale. Click below for more of SLUMDOG:

The story is structured around Jamal's improbable performance on the Indian Who Wants to be a Millionaire. On the show, he has gone further than anyone else, on the cusp of winning 20 million Rupees ($400,000) and vaulting himself from poverty. The show ends before he takes his last question, which sets the stage for him to come back on the next show for the big win. When he leaves the studio, he is arrested on suspicion of cheating and interrogated all night and day about it. By way of explanation, Jamal tells his interrogator (the always solid Irfan Khan) the circumstances (usually tragic/poignant) around how he came to know the answer to each of the questions. With the interrogation as the backdrop, Boyle moves us through the story in sequence with the questions. Jamal and Salim are typical slumdogs in Mumbai, growing up with nothing and begging and stealing to make a living. As kids, they join with fellow orphan Latika in their quest for survival. Jamal and Latika are in love and he fights at every turn to stay with her.

Each of the vignettes explaining his knowledge tells a different aspect of his upbringing. Ranging from stealing food on a train to living in a dump, each of these sequences is kinetic, frantic and set to great music. Jamal is a man that has been betrayed by the government, religion, family and the world - he has survived on his own and that clarity of thought is what convinces Khan of Jamal's veracity. Jamal and Salim make up the classic ying-yang, with Jamal being sweet and older brother Salim being worldly and vicious at times. Their divergence and interactions were my favorite part of the film, with Salim being forced to take care of them, and paying for it with his soul. His final scene is one of the coolest ultra-violent scenes I have seen in a long time (the director from Wanted might want to take some notes).

This feels a lot like City of God, with flashes of Born into Brothels and even Quiz Show. The dialogue is consistently strong, with the smarmy game show host (a dead ringer for Dallas radio 'personality' Gordon Keith) constantly putting down Jamal for his station in life. This was a really good film and I had a hard time deciding between an A- and a B+, but ultimately I decided the film wasn't the sum of its brilliant parts. A must see for this year, just behind The Dark Knight as the best film of the year so far.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Boondock Saints B-

On DVD, 1999, Rated R, 110 minutes
Boondock Saints was released in 1999 to small fanfare and a smaller box office. Video gave it a second life, and it has subsequently developed a cult following among the current college-age set. With the recent announcement of a 2009 sequel, I decided it was time to see what the fuss was about.

So, here’s the scoop: the film follows the life of the McManus brothers, Irish Catholic fraternal twins, in Boston as they run up against and then get swept into an Italian mob/Russian mob turf war after a bar fight turns decidedly nasty, leaving a couple Russian gangsters dead (in novel style, I might add) and the twins in possession of a mobster’s pager (remember, 1999). Having gained a taste for vigilante blood, the Boondock Saints (as they quickly become known in the Beantown media) follow the pager and then other contacts on a self-guided reign of justice. Trying to sort out this trail is butch gay FBI detective Paul Smecker, a great Willem Defoe doing his best Sherlock Holmes. Inevitably, this film pretends to ask whether or not vigilante justice is ultimately justified if the big criminals are operating above the law, but really it’s just interested in upping the body count, keeping the dialogue funny and fast, and employing production tricks.

Potentially interesting is the utter lack of concern for realism that permeates the film. The twins (played with infectious energy by Sean Patrick Flanery—Indy in the Young Indiana Jones series— and Norman Reedus) live on top of a building, out in the open, basically, in Boston. The why and how of this is never explained. Similarly, the Catholic overtones, highlighted in the title, are hard to make sense of. The film starts with the brothers in mass, but the scene seems to function stylistically more than anything else. That said, they are guided by a prayer (similar in feel to Joules quotation of Ezekiel in Pulp Fiction) taught them by their father, but it isn’t actually Catholic or even Christian. They seem to borrow the language and imagery from the Chruch, but the moral code they live by is decidedly their own. Still, analyzing it even at this surface level is probably beside the point.

With the frantic pace, jerky and overdone production, and non-linear chronology, the film reminded me more of Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet than anything else. Ultimately a fun, pseudo-pretentious mess. B-

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Weekend links

Click here for some good news about my favorite TV series ever.

Interesting article about the Brian Cox character in Adaptation.

And here is part of EW's 50 Sexiest Movies Ever. Click below for the full list.

1. Out of Sight
2. His Girl Friday
3. Mr. and Mrs. Smith
4. Body Heat
5. Bull Durham
6. Don’t Look Now
7. Y Tu Mama Tambien
8. The Last of the Mohicans
9. A Walk on the Moon
10. Before Sunset
11. Once
12. The Fabulous Baker Boys
13. Shakespeare in Love
14. The Year of Living Dangerously
15. Notorious
16. The Seven Year Itch
17. Mulholland Drive
18. Swimming Pool
19. The Notebook
20. Titanic
21. Basic Instinct
22. Mississippi Masala
23. The Age of Innocence
24. 9 ½ Weeks
25. The Postman Always Rings Twice
26. The English Patient
27. Unfaithful
28. Love & Basketball
29. Bound
30. Maurice
31. American Gigolo
32. Cruel Intentions
33. She’s Gotta Have It
34. The Unbearable Lightness of Being
35. sex, lies, and videotape
36. Ghost
37. In the Mood for Love
38. Secretary
39. The Talented Mr. Ripley
40. The Last Seduction
41. The Bodyguard
42. Little Children
43. Dirty Dancing
44. King Kong
45. The Bridges of Madison County
46. Like Water for Chocolate
47. Kissing Jessica Stein
48. How Stella Got Her Groove Back
49. Yossi & Jagger
50. 300

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Truman Show - A-

On DVD (1998). Rated PG-13, 103 minutes. Trailer.

I saw this twice in the theater when it came out, but didn't like it all that much (rated it a B+). I happened upon it tonight on TV and stuck with it. This time I liked it much more. The themes of conformity and "accepting the reality we are presented with" hit me much harder this time. Click below for more on The Truman Show:

To recap, the film tells the story of Truman Burbank - a man who has had his life filmed as a reality tv show since his birth, without his knowledge. Doc fave director Peter Weir builds the film into a masterful crescendo, and the script (by Andrew Niccol) is full of dozens of great quotes and existential nuggets. I think my immersion into the mortgage/mini-van/job/protective parent phase of my life has made the film so much more resonant. A great film. (too many ha-ha moments in the first third to give it the full A though)

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

AFI Dallas Presents - The Wrestler

Tonight I was all ready to take in a screening of Director Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei. I'd be willing to take a beating to watch the film this early, let alone the opportunity to participate in tonight's Q and A session with Aronofsky himself. Too bad I called the AFI offices this morning to get an idea of how early I needed to show up for the 8:00 screening to get a seat. Click below for more of my bitterness.

I had planned on 6:45pm, but the guy on the line said that an hour or 45 minutes would be plenty early. I adjusted accordingly and showed up at the Dallas Angelika right at 7:15, only to end up about 500 back in line, which turned out to be about 100 too far back. AFI doesn't offer any membership to Dallas area folks, and has control of the entity called the Dallas Film Society, although no one can be a member. They should offer a membership to allow for better access to these screenings starting at $500 annually and working their way up - as it stands, only college kids with nothing to do can wait in line for shows like this.

P.S. - Thanks Gordon Keith for big-timing everyone and walking in around 7:50 to take one of the seats.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

CD and DVD Releases - November 18th

Recent DVD Releases:

Encounters at the End of the World
Garden Party
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2
Tropic Thunder

Click below for more DVD and CD releases.

DVD Special Editions/Other Releases:

TV Box Sets:

Bones: Season Three
Doctor Who: Season Four
Hannah Montana: Season One
Hawaii Five-O: Season Five
Night Gallery: Season Two
The Odd Couple: Complete Series
The Odd Couple: Final Season
Star Trek - The Original Series: Season Three

Special Editions/Other Releases:

300: Limited Collector's Edition
The Clique
Columbia Best Pictures Collection
Heathers: Limited Edition
Monty Python Holy Trinity
The Zombie Diaries

New CD Releases:

Beyonce - I Am...Sasha Fierce
David Cook - David Cook
Billy Ray Cyrus - Back To Tennessee
Dido - Safe Trip Home
Sammy Hagar - Cosmic Universal Fashion
Il Divo - The Promise
Mudvayne - The New Game
Nickelback - Dark Horse
The Priests - The Priests
Blake Shelton - Startin' Fires
Shontelligence - Shontelle
Zac Brown Band - The Foundation

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Favorite Scenes: There Will Be Blood

Daniel Plainview: I worked for Geological Survey and went to Kansas. I couldn’t stay there. I just couldn’t. I don’t like to explain myself. Are you an angry man, Henry?
Henry: About what?
Plainview: Are you envious? Do you get envious?

Henry: I don't think so. No.

Plainview: I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people.

Henry: That part of me is gone. Working and not succeeding- all my failures has left me . . . I just don't . . . care.

Plainview: Well, if it's in me, it's in you. There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I want to earn enough money that I can get away from everyone.

Henry: What will you do about your boy?
Plainview: I don't know. Maybe it’ll change. Does your sound come back to you? I don't know. Maybe no one knows that. A doctor might not know that.
Henry: Where is his mother?

Plainview: I don't want to talk about those things. I see the worst in people, Henry. I don't need to look past seeing them to get all I need. I've built up my hatreds over the years, little by little. Having you here gives me a second breath. I can't keep doing this on my own with these . . . people.

(Plainview laughs)

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

SNL - Paul Rudd, Beyonce, Justin Timberlake

I don't usually agree with the fluffy EW stuff, but here is an article discussing SNL problems we've been discussing here at dlp for weeks. I didn't much care for most of the Paul Rudd episode. Rudd was wasted with writers obviously obsessed with the Proposition 8 vote in California.

They also continue to unfairly and mercilessly plug away at Sarah Palin and her family. Real classy, guys. Justin Timberlake doesn't do it for me and neither does Beyonce. Nice song about woman's rights with your tits hanging out. Speaking of which:

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cardinology- Ryan Adams and the Cardinals B+

With Cardinology, Ryan Adams and The Cardinals make a very, very good return with their first album in two years, an eternity for the notoriously prodigious Adams. In the past The Cardinals have brought a steadying hand to Ryans’ eclectic tendencies, and Cardinology is no exception. This time they mine the 70’s radio for southern rock harmonies, rock-tinged country, and piano ballads. The opening four songs, none longer that 2:59, kick the album off in stellar, frantic form with Born into the Light, Go Easy, lead-off single Fix It, and album-best Magick. Fix It, dominated by a killer baseline, is the first great song of the album, and Magick is pure greasy, cocky, bluesy rock ‘n roll.

The rest of the CD doesn’t quite live up to the swagger and warning of the first four songs, but there’s not a wasted song in this dozen. Cobwebs is a solid fifth song, followed by Let us Down Easy, a gorgeous plea on behalf of the weak and alone. Of some note for long-time fans, while Adams has dabbled in spirituality a bit on early albums (Tears of Gold off Easy Tiger comes to mind), an emerging interest in God can be felt on several tracks here, such as Let Us Down Easy, album closer Stop, assumedly about Ryan’s decision to give up drugs and drink, and Crossed Out Name.

If this doesn’t match up with career-best albums such as Love is Hell and Heartbreaker, it certainly is on the tier just below theirs. And, as always, it’s the lyrics that continue to catch you with barbed hooks long after the melodies have been warn smooth. B+

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Quantum of Solace - B+

In theaters. 106 minutes. Rated PG-13

When we left James Bond in Casino Royale, his special-lady Vesper had just betrayed him because she was blackmailed. Bond (a tough Daniel Craig) spends the majority of Quantum of Solace pursuing the blackmailers. The film opens mid car chase just seconds after the close of the last film. He’s taking Mr. White to an interrogation with M (Judi Dench) and other British agents. Before it is over, Bond’s pursuit will lead him to Haiti, Austria, Bolivia, Italy, and Russia. He will meet 2 beautiful women (Olga Kurylenko and Gemma Arterton) and many bad guys (including Mathieu Amalric - Munich) who are part of a secret organization trying to get control of some land in Bolivia (among other things) . . .

For this second Craig installment, Bond producers chose Marc Forster to direct. In recent years, Forster has built a solid resume with intimate, emotional dramas like Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, and Stranger Than Fiction. It’s a risky choice that pays off with character development, but not the action scenes, which have quick cuts and fast shaky camera moves. The ubiquitous comparisons to Jason Bourne’s recent cinematic adventures are apt since at least 2 of the action scenes feel like take-offs: The Bourne Ultimatum’s roof-top chase and The Bourne Identity’s hand-to-hand house fight. There’s even a denouement in a Russia apartment reminiscent of The Bourne Supremacy’s last scene. I preferred the longer takes in Casino Royale, too, but instantly recognized the inspiration for these scenes: Banlieue 13. Of course, if you rip off a French film, most Americans won’t notice.

In addition to the fuller (and less archetypal) characters, Quantum of Solace has better, more beautiful locations: craggy rock formations, parched desert locales, and beautiful Italian vistas. It’s also better paced, coming in 38 minutes shorter than its predecessor. The climax here is more satisfying as well, partly because it gives not one, but 2 characters gratifying closure. The film strives for complexity, with governments changing sides and the line between heroes and villains intentionally blurred. Americans are portrayed as oil-obsessed opportunists. (Outstanding Goldfinger homage, by the way). But even when most characters don’t know who the good guys and bad guys are, the audience does. Bond may be hellbent on revenge, but there's never any doubt of his noble intentions.

Craig continues to be a dominant presence, dispatching of bad guys efficiently and discovering things intelligently. Jeffrey Wright and Giancarlo Giannini show up again in excellent support. Amalric is good enough as the main bad guy. The stunning Kurylenko has some great moments, remembering her past – the film gets a lot out of her back story with very little screen time. And once again, Bond has a great last line. Some people will complain about the action scenes and they’re probably right. I didn’t particularly care for the similar scenes in the Bourne trilogy either, preferring longer takes. But everything else works a little bit better. Craig’s Bond may be more murderous and less suave, but he’s hardly nihilistic. There’s a lot to care about in this terribly complex, paradoxical world - as brief but important exchanges with Dench and Kurylenko prove. B+

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Synecdoche, New York - B

In theaters. Rated R, 124 minutes. Trailer.

A synecdoche is defined as "a figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole or the whole for a part, the special for the general or the general for the special." The inimitable Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) has written and directed an expectedly dense and intelligent film that cannot be fully digested in a single sitting. Starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Samantha Morton, the film tells the story of a man that can't live or fully experience life because of his neuroses. Click below for more on why Charlie should get Spike Jonze to direct his future screenplays.

Hoffman is Caden Cotard, a brilliant middle-aged theater director/writer living with his famous artist wife, Adelle (Keener), and his 4 year old daughter in typical Kaufman grit and unkempt fashion. He is beset by physical ailments, both real and imagined, and fails to earn his wife's love or respect. This results in her leaving him and taking his daughter to Berlin with her lover, Maria (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Caden never seeing them again. He wins a MacArthur "genius" grant to put on an original production and the final 2/3 of the film shows his struggle with life and his production.

We see reality through Caden, who has no grasp of the passage of time or his own identity. The film opens with a poem and commentator on the radio discussing Fall and why so many poets choose it as a subject, which sets the tone and direction of the film. I would bet this was added after a poor reception of the film at Cannes earlier this year. As Caden struggles for happiness and relevance as he "hurtles toward death", his paralysis by neurosis becomes apparent, and by the end of the film he is being directed in his actual life by his replacement on his vast play. Caden's relationships with Adelle and his daughter are only sources of extreme pain after they leave for Berlin, and he cannot connect with the one who loves him, Hazel. Hazel is played brilliantly by Samantha Morton in one of my favorite performances this year. It is a very naturalistic and diverse performance, with her ranging from attractive, naked, frumpy, old, confident and insecure. Caden can't make himself love her when she loves him, but only wants to get back to that place after he loses her.

To make matters even more complex, he also has a relationship with the shallow lead actress in his production played by Michelle Williams. His relationship with women is obviously a key to the film, and the final scene has him being directed by a woman and connecting with a woman that portrayed his mother on stage (a great scene, ephemeral and reminscent of the close of 2001: A Space Odyssey). He also gets tempted and talked to (very comically) by Hope Davis, a self-promoting and harsh therapist.

The play and the film are both labryinthian, to say the least. The set of his production is somehow the size of 10 Texas Stadiums, and the breadth of his grant allows him to delve into his own minutiae. Kaufman wrote the lyrics to all the songs in the film, and the music and score is all first rate (done by frequent PTA collaborator Jon Brion). Here's the main song.

Appraiser (also a psychology guy) saw several Jungian (individuation, I think) and related concepts, most notably and (it turns out) accurately from Erich Fromm's work, Escape From Freedom). There are LOTS of other angles I am leaving out and/or missing that I will have to pick-up on the second viewing. The priest's (an actor) speech near the end of the film is worth printing here for its relevance to the film and its general profundity, but I couldn't find it online just yet.

Worth seeing. The reviews tend to split, either giving an A or a D. I gave this a B because I enjoyed the film and appreciated the intelligence and challenge of it, but at the end of the day it didn't come together in a way that makes the film at all accessible and, therefore resonant. As has been noted here before, as a general rule writers should write and directors should direct, Paul Thomas Anderson notwithstanding.

I recommend the following articles before seeing the film: 1, 2, and one of the D reviews (from a guy I usually agree with). Here's Kaufman at a Q&A explaining how he got the idea for the movie.

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Mongol - B-

On DVD. Rated R, 124 minutes. Trailer.

Genghis Khan is a fascinating historical figure, yet prior to watching Mongol, my knowledge of him was not much more than his character in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (gotta love his romp through the San Dimas mall). The film was nominated for Best Foreign Film earlier this year so I figured it would be good and fill in a gaping hole in my Eurasian steppes historical knowledge at the same time. Click below for more on a beautiful but less than great film.

The film starts with Khan at 10 years old picking out his wife and roaming the steppes with his father. After his father dies, his family is treated poorly and he is persecuted multiple ways until he finally ends up victorious and the ruler of the steppes. There are some interesting angles at play during the film, but its basically a boring slave to king story without much interesting dialogue or thoughts to process. The battle scenes are GORY and cool in spite of that, but it is the steppes and the beautiful cinematography that landed this film an Oscar nomination.

In some limited spots it reminded my of Days of Heaven, with the expansive grasses and foreshadowing nature (particularly birds) scenes. There are probably 20 beautiful shots/scenes throughout the film, which I wish I had seen on the big screen for that reason.

Kind of interesting and really beautiful, but only for Mongol maniacs or cinematography geeks (I'm looking at you, Doc).

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Friday, November 14, 2008

TV This Week

30 Rock continues its excellent run of episodes and The Office and South Park have good episodes as well . . .

The Office: Business Trip
Season 5, Episode 7

Michael, Oscar, and Andy go on a trip to Canada to sell paper. Ryan tries to get Kelly back. Everyone else waits for Pam to return to Scranton, but Pam fails her 12 week course and has to retake it. Everyone’s reactions to Jim were funny. Love the Stanley smile, the Creed shoulder massage, and Kevin’s butt-slap. Darryl’s strut to his car was a spectacular subtle scene. It’s great to see Andy away from Angela. The Andy-Oscar bonding was terrific and I can’t wait to see that marriage canceled. Nice magic hour lighting in the last scene. See it here. B

30 Rock: The One with the Cast of Night Court
Season 3, Episode 3

Another big-time guest star, another success. Jennifer Aniston is a long-time Chicago friend of Liz and Jenna visiting New York who ends up hooking up with Jack. Meanwhile, Tracy tries to cheer Kenneth up by getting part of the cast of Night Court to put on a fake finale. Alec Baldwin is hilarious in his addiction to Aniston. Aniston gives an inspired, against-type performance. Fey continues her hot streak and the dialogue is great – love her speech about getting “the business”. The Night Court stuff doesn’t work as well, particularly Jenna’s were-lawyer (WTF?). There are lots and lots of hilarious throwaway lines. Kenneth even manages a reference to Eyes Wide Shut. There's an interesting all-string musical score. See it here. B+

South Park: Elementary School Musical
Original airdate: 11/12/08

The High School Musical trilogy is satirized when most of the South Park kids keep breaking into song and dance. Kyle, Stan, Kenny, and Cartman refuse to participate. Overall, it’s a humorous episode with at least one great line from Cartman: “Well, I’m out guys. If this is what’s cool now, I’m done. I no longer have any connection to this world. I’m gonna go home and kill myself. Goodbye, friends.” The writers create a reversal when the expert child singer-dancer wants to play basketball, but this isn’t as funny as it needs to be. The children snapping behind Stan, encouraging him to sing, is hilarious. The guy slapping everyone is funnier the second time through. If you hate High School Musical or have been forced to watch it too many times, you’ll probably like this. See it here. B

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Casino Royale - (2006) - B+

Quantum of Solace, Daniel Craig’s second outing as James Bond opens today and since there were many loose ends with the last film, I thought it’d be a good idea to take another look. Casino Royale is not only Craig’s first Bond role, but has taken the franchise in more serious and gritty direction. There are no gadgets to be found, and while there are a few laughs, they’re earned, rather than cheap quips we've come to expect from Bond. But what really sets Casino Royale apart from its predecessors are the excellent action scenes, not just the best of any Bond movie, but among the best in any film this decade. From the opening crane-chase to the airport-tanker truck scene to the stairwell-machete fight, the film still gets the adrenaline going . . .There is too much poker-playing and the post poker love story could have probably lost a few minutes. The last action scene is too unrealistic and disappointing given all that came prior, but it’s all pulled together beautifully in the final seconds as Craig delivers his last line. Eva Green is terrific as one of the “Bond girls” and her conversation with Craig on the train before they start all the poker stuff is well-done, especially when they deconstruct each other. Judi Dench is equally good as Bond’s boss and their discussions about his future and her advice to him are interesting. This is easily the best Bond movie since the 60s with only The Spy Who Loved Me coming close. B+

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

CD and DVD Releases - November 11th

Recent DVD Releases:

Beer For My Horses
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Kung Fu Panda
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Sukiyaki Western Django
This Christmas
Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage

Click below for more DVD and CD releases.

DVD Special Editions/Other Releases:

TV Box Sets:

7th Heaven: Season Seven
The Cosby Show: Complete Series
Mind of Mencia: Season Four
Scrubs: Season Seven
The Sopranos: Complete Series
The Streets of San Francisco: Season Two, V2

Special Editions/Other Releases:

301: Legend of Awesomest Maximus Wallace Leonidas
The Boys in the Band
The Hanoi Hilton
Hollywood Musicals Collection
JFK: Ultimate Collector's Edition
Quo Vadis: Special Edition
Roman Holiday: Centennial Collection
Sabrina: Centennial Collection
Storm Hawks: Collector's Set
Sunset Boulevard: Centennial Collection

New CD Releases:

Christina Aguilera -Keeps Getting Better: A Decade of Hits
David Archuleta -David Archuleta
The Bronx -The Bronx III
Tracey Chapman -Our Bright Future
Deborah Cox -The Promise
Cambria Detken -Simply Said
Missy Elliott -Block Party
Enya -And Winter Came
False Icons- God Complex
Gnarls Barkley- Who's Gonna Save My Soul EP
Martha's Trouble -This Christmas Holiday album
Music Soulchild -On My Radio
The Postmarks -By The Numbers
Seal -Soul
Spindrift -The West
State Shirt -This Is Old
T-Pain -Thr33 Ringz
Taylor Swift -Fearless
Trick Trick -The Villain
Ian Tyson Y-ellowhead to Yellowstone and other Love Stories
Ween- Live at the Cat's Cradle 1992 CD/DVD
Denison Witmer -Carry the Weight

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Short Cuts - (1993) - B+

With Nashville, Robert Altman invented the type of film which has multiple characters that randomly come into contact with each other. The films are usually short on plot on long on dialogue. The most recent examples (knockoffs) include Crash, Syriana, and Bobby. Short Cuts is based on the short stories of Raymond Carver which are condensed and interwoven perfectly by Robert Altman. Like Nashville, it has a 3 hour running time, 24+ characters, and its city (in this case, Los Angeles) plays an equal supporting character. Inevitably, these types of films have a climax (sometimes a deus ex machina) that ties the characters together and cause some of them to rethink their lives . . . The elephant in the room is Magnolia and Paul Thomas Anderson used Short Cuts as a blueprint, including the climactic act of God. But Anderson is simply much better at comedy, drama, suspense, music, everything and avoids the unpleasantness of dead children and the stunt of gratuitous nudity. In Short Cuts, Frances McDormand and Lori Singer go full frontal. Madeleine Stowe goes topless and Julianne Moore goes bottomless. With the exception of Singer (where Chris Penn – and thus the audience – is peeping through a fence), the nudity is hardly titillating, showing (somewhat obviously) that woman are much more open and naked with their emotions than men. The nudity arguably serves a purpose, but still feels gratuitous – and distracting. These actresses are great enough to convey what Altman wants fully clothed.

Indeed, 15 years out, the film also plays like a who’s who of early 90s cinema. The star-studded cast is uniformly great, particularly Jack Lemmon, Bruce Davison, and Andie McDowell as the grandfather, father, and mother of the dying child. Matthew Modine and Tim Robbins are also memorable as the guys married to sisters Moore and Stowe, respectively. There’s not a bad segment or disappointing story in the bunch, but none of the characters really change or grow (admittedly tough to do in the course of 2-3 days). Not that they need to, but if your characters argue, cheat, suffer, and lie more than they laugh, share, help, and learn, you’re in for a challenging 3 hours.
Nearly all of the characters live in the deglamorized, grungy part of L.A. Not least of which is Jennifer Jason Leigh, who makes a living talking dirty on the phone. I guess it’s amusing that she does it while changing a diaper and, in a way, it’s more interesting than PT Anderson’s similar set-up in Punch-Drunk Love. But Anderson made a whole movie about the porn industry that was nowhere near as dirty as Short Cuts. I hadn’t seen Short Cuts since my early 20s and I certainly understood more this time around. The relationships were fuller, more character connections were made, and Altman’s style was less foreign and obtuse. It has a very European sensibility, and if you’re OK with that, the rewards are there. B+

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Foot Fist Way - B-

On DVD. Rated R, 84 minutes. Trailer.

After Danny McBride stole every scene he had in both Tropic Thunder and Pineapple Express, I knew I had to watch the movie that launched him, Foot Fist Way. This low budget indie made its way to Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (both are behind and buddies with Judd Apatow) who recognized his talent and made his career happen almost overnight. FFW is a decent film, but McBride's performance as the earnest but ignorant and cocky Tae Kwon Doe master is genius. Click below for more on Foot Fist Way:

This is one of those movies that will be funnier with repeat viewings, and that would be lots of fun to watch with a group of male buddies. The character McBride has created seems to pick up where the karate teacher in Napoleon Dynamite left off. He is into his job and takes it too seriously, but he really cares. Others make fun of him and take advantage, but he has created his kingdom and wants to rule it. The story actually has some heavier moments, but mostly is a goofy romp with a semi-feel good ending.

Essential viewing for anyone that likes McBride.

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5 Great Movie Monologues

"I wanted to see exotic Vietnam, the jewel of Southeast Asia. I wanted to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture and kill them. I wanted to be the first kid on my block to get a confirmed kill."

Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Matthew Modine as Private Joker
Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick & Michael Herr & Gustav Hasford

"Oh, Michael. Michael, you are blind. It wasn't a miscarriage. It was an abortion. An abortion, Michael. Just like our marriage is an abortion. Something that's unholy and evil. I didn't want your son, Michael. I wouldn't bring another one of you sons into this world. It was an abortion, Michael. It was a son Michael. A son. And I had it killed because this must all end. I know now that it's over. I knew it then. There would be no way, Michael, no way you could ever forgive me - not with this Sicilian thing that's been going on for 2,000 years."

The Godfather Part II (1974)
Diane Keaton as Kay Corleone
Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo

"Listen up, ladies and gentlemen. Our fugitive has been on the run for 90 minutes. The average foot speed over uneven ground, barring injury, is 4 miles an hour. That gives us a radius of 6 miles. What I want out of each and every one of you is a hard target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, hen house, outhouse and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at 15 miles. Your fugitive’s name is Dr. Richard Kimble. Go get him."

The Fugitive (1993)
Tommy Lee Jones as Marshal Samuel Gerard
Screenplay by Jeb Stuart and David Twohy

“First of all, you write a screenplay without conflict or crisis, you’ll bore your audience to tears. Second, nothing happens in the world? Are you out of your f@cking mind? People are murdered every day. There's genocide, war, corruption. Every f@cking day, somewhere in the world, somebody sacrifices his life to save somebody else. Every f@cking day, someone, somewhere takes a conscious decision to destroy someone else. People find love, people lose it. For Christ's sake, a child watches her mother beaten to death on the steps of a church. Someone goes hungry. Somebody else betrays his best friend for a woman. If you can't find that stuff in life, then you, my friend, don't know crap about life. And why the f@ck are you wasting my two precious hours with your movie? I don't have any use for it. I don't have any bloody use for it.”

Adaptation. (2002)
Brian Cox as Robert McKee
Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman

"They got this guy in Germany. Fritz – something or other. Or is it? Maybe it's Werner. Anyway, he's got this theory. You wanna test something, you know, scientifically - how the planets go round the sun, what sunspots are made of, why the water comes out of the tap - well, you gotta look at it. But sometimes you look at it, your looking changes it. You can't know the reality of what happened, or what would've happened if you hadn't-a stuck in your own g@ddam schnozz. So there is no "what happened". Looking at something changes it. They call it “The Uncertainty Principle". Sure, it sounds screwy, but even Einstein says the guy's on to something. Science. Perception. Reality. Doubt. Reasonable doubt. I’m sayin’ sometimes the more you look, the less you really know. It’s a fact. A proved fact. And in a way, it’s the only fact there is."

The Man That Wasn’t There (2001)
Tony Shaloub as Freddy Reidenschneider
Screenplay by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

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