Friday, January 30, 2009


1. Charlie Rose interviews two of my favorite critics (A.O. Scott and David Denby) regarding this year's Oscars.

2. The peerless David Carr's essay on life and movies.

3. Funny interview on CNN with Jemaine and Brett from Flight of the Conchords and a more extensive one with the Onion AV Club.

4. Cool graphic from New York magazine recounting Bruce Springsteen's career.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Pride and Glory - B-

On DVD (2008). Rated R, 131 minutes. Trailer.

Ed Norton and Colin Farrell star in Pride and Glory as cop brothers-in-law with much different codes of ethics. The film is directed by relative newcomer Gavin O'Connor and tells the story of an unraveling of dirty cops, led by Farrell's Jimmy Egan and uncovered by Norton's Ray Tierney. I like this genre, but the extensive list of films covering the same territory (too many to even partially list - Departed and Serpico, for example) cast a long shadow. Pride and Glory manages some tense sequences and further reveals Colin Farrell as a great actor. Click below for more P & G:

Egan and Tierney are related by Egan's marriage to Tierney's sister. Tierney's older brother is a cop as well, and Jon Voight stars as Police Chief Francis Tierney. Egan's drug/money syndicate goes wrong, ending up with 4 dead cops and Ray is charged with tracking the case down. The film is very predictable, and its characters are either cliched or halfway developed.

Farrell was great as the conflicted and angry brother-in-law, while Norton plods along in his usual self-righteous character without showing much range other than a scowl and difficulty. There are several surrounding characters (goofy partner cop, wife dying of cancer, drunk father, concerned wife, etc) that start to develop but then fall by the wayside. The film has several taut and tense sequences, mostly centered around the conflicting testimony of Ray and Jimmy. This film had a very short theatrical run last fall, and was advertised as early as winter 2007. Not great, not terrible, just there.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Eastwood, Religion, and Gran Torino

Unlike the other two-thirds of this blog, I like Clint Eastwood, and I like his movies. I like that he still understands the need to make both commercial and critical faire. I like that he leaves his movies rough and tumble, not super slick and perfect. I like that he often writes his own scores. And I like the fact that he uses his oh-so-American personae to critique America.

Part of this critique is a consistent counter-narrative to the dominant Western Christian narrative of redemption, especially redemption in death. In response, Clint says, “But what if, end the end, no one is redeemed? What if there is no redemption in the death and suffering of the innocent? What if the strong survive and religious belief is just something to help you sleep at night?” While he is by no means the only film maker out there wrestling with these issues, he’s the biggest and seems to do so the most dispassionately—not like he’s got a score to settle with The Church, or like he’s still working his own crap out, but like he simply can’t believe.

While these themes can be seen playing out in his Spaghetti Westerns, Dirty Harry series, and a variety of other places, perhaps they are nowhere more clear than in Unforgiven (the name says it all), Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby. In all three, Christianity is reduced to having a place among women and children, but not in the violent world of men. Here faith offers no real solutions and no real help. In Unforgiven, the main character explains away his change of behavior and church attendance as something he did for his (now late) wife, returning un-changed to his life of killing when he deems it necessary. Mystic River is more open with its questioning of the church, with Sean Penn taking his daughters to first communion at the beginning of the film, and the Catholic Church figuring heavily throughout. But in the end, Penn kills an innocent man, one of his best friends from childhood, and seemingly has no remorse. His wife’s words of consolation, that he had to do what he had to do to take care of his own, stand in glaring contrast to the giant cross on his back during their conversation. In Million Dollar Baby the dialogue with the church is most blatant, seen in the ongoing conversation between Clint’s character, a hardened old boxing trainer, and his priest. Clint primarily shows up for services to banter back-and-forth with the young father. In the end, he disregards the church’s teachings on life and assisted suicide and pulls the plug with no remorse on a fighter kept alive by life-support systems.

In light of these and other films, nothing could have surprised me more than Gran Torino. Torino alludes to two of these three films, Unforgiven’s “It’s a hell of a thing killing a man” speech (one of my favorite quotes from contemporary film), and Million Dollar Baby’s argumentative relationship with a young priest. Initially I was turned off, thinking we were seeing a retread of those films. I shouldn’t have worried. While the themes explored are similar, the conclusions he reaches are completely different. In Torino, the young priest sticks to his guns and puts his life on the line for Eastwood’s Frank, instead of being reduced to blasphemous cursing, as he does in Baby. Confronted with a similar situation to Unforgiven (in Unforgiven a prostitute is cut-up and gang-raped by outlaws, in Torino Frank’s neighbor is badly beat-up and gang-raped by outlaws). But this time, instead of killing everyone, Frank alludes to his Unforgiven speech, but allows himself to be cut down, in so doing ending the cycle of violence that he helped to start and bringing a measure of peace to his neighbors. As he falls, he has a religious icon in one hand, and he falls into the crucifix pose on the ground. Redemption in death and the Christ-figure have finally come to Eastwood at 78.

Does that mean that faith has come to Eastwood? Not necessarily, but the shift is a significant one in one of our significant directors who, like him or hate him, has always had something to say and has been surprisingly consistent on his worldview over the last thirty years. It makes me wonder if the dialogue with the Church in Eastwood’s films, which I always assumed served only as a foil, was more indicative of where he saw himself—in a Hegelian dialectic that may finally have reached a synthesis.

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Encounters at the End of the World - B+

On DVD (2008). Rated G, 101 minutes. Trailer.

Writer/Director Werner Herzog (Rescue Dawn, Grizzly Man) is clearly fascinated with humans - our own behavior and our place in the cosmos. Grizzly Man is the story of Timothy Treadwell, a slightly deranged man that lived among grizzly bears in Alaska and was eaten while doing so (on camera). In that film, Herzog studies his subject as his subject studied the bears - detached and wary. In Encounters at the End of the World, he studies Antarctica's humans, animals and eons of history (and future) as a man with an existential bee in his bonnet. Nominated this year for Best Documentary, the film is a Malick-esque meditation on human behavior and its interaction with nature. Click below for more on a film with fascinating sentences:

Herzog serves as narrator of the film as he begins in McMurdo station - the largest 'city' on the continent (population 1,258) with a host of fascinating characters. He interviews all kinds in McMurdo, attracted to the story of how they ended up at such a far flung place. The stories are inevitably interesting and remote as they convey an inner restlessness or sense of discovery in each of the tellers. As Herzog ventures out of McMurdo, he visits a camp of scientists studying seals, a diving camp and a group of volcanologists on Mount Erebus. Each of these vignettes sees Herzog digging into humanity's past and future and sees him trying to fix our place in the history of the earth and in evolution. He is also fascinated with unexplained behavior among the species, particularly penguins - the most challenging and intriguing part of the film - especially in light of the far flung nature of the "Antarcticans" and his previous subject, Timothy Treadwell.

This is a definite "think-piece" and he lets you know it right up front as he poses a series of philosophical questions he wants to answer, including "Why doesn't a monkey straddle a goat and ride off into the sunset?" (I told you there were fascinating sentences). Herzog does a great job capturing the spooky underwater worlds and the lunar-like McMurdo. His eye for interesting subjects is sharp and the people interviewed in the film all add to the feel of the film. I am in tune with his worldview and struggle with much of the same questions he seems to be dealing with, therefore I found the film a welcome thought provocation. Great, haunting music.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Top Films

I have postponed posting a Top Ten films list for ’08 for the simple reason that I hadn’t seen ten films worthy of such a list this year. This was partially due to the delay films occasionally weather before coming to my burg, partially due to some activities that took me out of the country in late December, and partially due to the fairly horrible crop of “serious” films this year. While I still haven’t seen all the pertinent films, I do feel it’s time to put something out there, but at this point I’ve only got nine.

9 Hancock
8 Forgetting Sarah Marshall
7 Slumdog Millionaire
6 The Bank Job
5 Gran Tarino
4 Milk
3 In Bruges
2 Wall*E
1 The Dark Knight

* I have yet to see Man on a Wire (waiting at the house), Benjamin Button, The Wrestler, Frost Nixon, or The Changeling.
And here is the rest of it.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Jiminy Glick

I've never posted about my love for Jiminy Glick, and its time. I have a very strange and late affinity for Martin Short (ie Clifford), and his fat interviewer character gets me rolling every time. Here's his interview with Jerry Seinfeld and here's one with Alec Baldwin.

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Flight of The Conchords, Season 2

Season 2 of DLP fave The Flight of The Conchords is underway, with episode 2 airing last night (featuring this amazing ode to Jemaine's "Sugar Lumps").

The episodes in the first season were written to fit their existing arsenal of songs, but this season everything was written at the same time. So far, so good (but not quite as good). The second episode has a plot centering around the band's lack of funds and their attempt at prostituting themselves. Major bonus points for Jemaine's Midnight Cowboy scarf and lots of funny "selling" from the guys. The previously linked Sugar Lumps is one of the best songs/videos so far, but the second song was not great and way too long. Mel's massage is one of the funniest single scenes of the series.

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DVD and Blu-ray Releases - 1/27/09

Lakeview Terrace
Lucky Ones
Open Season 2
Pride and Glory
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired
Tell No One

Click below for blu-ray and older title releases

Older Title Releases:
Far From the Maddening Crowd, Pink Panther Film Collection

Bourne Trilogy, Groundhog Day, Zodiac (Doc's pick of the week)

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Appaloosa - B-

On DVD. Lawyer's theatrical review is here.

Ed Harris co-writes and directs this Western set in 1882 New Mexico where Harris and Viggo Mortensen play 2 lawmen recently hired by the town of Appaloosa after their sheriff is murdered by Jeremy Irons. Mortensen and Harris have great rapport and seem to enjoy working with each other. The running gag of Harris struggling for words gets tiresome real quick and Renee Zellweger seems uncomfortable and out of place as Harris’s new love interest. Her character is more suitable for film noir than a western. I don’t watch films expecting twists, so I usually miss them, but the twists here were easily detected . . . While the script is familiar, Harris is able to stage an impressive set piece when he is forced to hand over a prisoner. He’s on a train which overlooks some kidnappers. He also gets good use of the Dean Semler-photagraphed landscapes. There’s also a terrific closing credits with the use of a Tom Petty song when he was with Mudcrutch: “Scare Easy”. But ultimately there’s not enough new stuff here to get excited about. Mortensen and Harris are great as expected, but Zellweger annoys and disappoints. B-

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Screen Actors Guild Awards

Slumdog Millionaire took Best Cast and Anil Kapoor thanked "the children". Are those the same ones who were told by your movie that everything will be all right if you believe in love and "it is written". And if you get blinded or stay in poverty, I guess that's what Vishnu wanted. I still think he looks like a fat George Michael. Come on, people, at least Regis Philbin was in on the joke and kept a hilarious sh!t-eating grin while he talked to contestants. I guess 10 years from now a Chinese big screen version of American Idol will win the Oscar for Best Picture.

Click below for the winners (including Sean Penn, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, and Heath Ledger) as well as the nominees. By the way, Streep's speech was great and the intros by Will Arnett and Steve Carell were hilarious.

Best Cast: Slumdog Millionaire

Lead Actress: Meryl Streep - Doubt

Lead Actor: Sean Penn - Milk

Best Supporting Actor:
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Best Supporting Actress:
Kate Winslet - The Reader

Drama series cast: Mad Men

Actor in a drama series:
Hugh Laurie, House

Actress in a drama series:
Sally Field, Brothers & Sisters

Comedy series cast: 30 Rock

Actor in a comedy series:
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock

Actress in a comedy series:
Tina Fey, 30 Rock

Actress in a movie or miniseries:
Laura Linney

Actor in a movie or miniseries:
Paul Giamatti


Best Cast

Slumdog Millionaire
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Actor

Richard Jenkins - The Visitor
Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn - Milk
Brad Pitt - The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler

Best Actress

Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie - Changeling
Melissa Leo - Frozen River
Meryl Streep - Doubt
Kate Winslet - Revolutionary Road

Best Supporting Actor

Josh Brolin - Milk
Robert Downey Jr. - Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
Dev Patel - Slumdog Millionaire

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams - Doubt
Penélope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis - Doubt
Taraji P Henson - The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Kate Winslet - The Reader


Actor in a movie or miniseries
Ralph Fiennes, Bernard and Doris
Paul Giamatti, John Adams
K evin Spacey, Recount
Kiefer Sutherland, 24 Redemption
Tom Wilkinson, John Adams

Actress in a movie or miniseries
Laura Dern, Recount
Laura Linney, John Adams
Shirley MacLaine, Coco Chanel
Phylicia Rashad, A Raisin in the Sun
S usan Sarandon; Bernard and Doris

Actor in a drama series
Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Hugh Laurie, House
William Shatner, Boston Legal
James Spader, Boston Legal

Actress in a drama series
Sally Field, Brothers & Sisters
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order Special Victims Unit
Holly Hunter, Saving Grace
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer

Actor in a comedy series
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Steve Carell, The Office
David Duchovny, Californication
Jeremy Piven, Entourage
Tony Shalhoub, Monk

Actress in a comedy series
Christina Applegate, Samantha Who?
America Ferrera, Ugly Betty
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Mary-Louise Parker, Weeds
Tracey Ullman, Tracey Ullman's State of the Union

Drama series cast
Boston Legal
Mad Men
The Closer

Comedy series cast
30 Rock
Desperate Housewives
The Office

Stunt ensemble
Friday Night Lights
Prison Break
The Unit
The Closer

Lifetime Achievement
James Earl Jones

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2 Years Old

This site is 2 years old today. Thanks to Lawyer for administrating and to Priest and Lawyer for their insights and hard work. Hope for many more.Peace Out!

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The Happening - C

On DVD. Lawyer’s theatrical review is here.

People initially suspect terrorism when people in the Northeast U.S. start killing themselves but when the “happenings” expand from multiple cities into the countryside, other theories are considered. A retreating group of people led by Mark Wahlberg try to piece together the cause. People criticized the overacting by Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel, but I chose to attribute their behavior to the toxins in the air. The scene where Wahlberg talks to a plastic plant is funnier than intended given Andy Samberg’s recent SNL skit where Wahlberg talks to animals . . .It’s not quite the unmitigated disaster that Lady in the Water is, but writer-director M. Night Shyamalan is a long way from giving us any characters to care about, much less making a cohesive film. He seems fixated on unhappy marriages and the marital woes here serve no real purpose. Nor do any of the plot points where he fails to make any other observation other than humans are raping the earth. Shyamalan has a terrific visual sense and provides some extremely creepy images (multiple bodies falling toward the ground, multiple people suddenly stopping in place). As I’ve said before, Shyamalan needs to adapt a book or direct someone else’s script, because he’s obviously reached a creative impasse. C

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

The X-Files: I Want to Believe - B


Unfairly maligned by critics and ignored at the box office, The X-Files: I Want to Believe is the kind of smart adult thriller that rarely gets made. 10 years after the last feature film and 6 years after the end of the television series, die-hard fans were probably let down by the lack of continuity with the series and its finale. Space aliens and conspiracy theories gave way to a stand-alone story about an aging couple – Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Mulder (David Duchovny) trying to find their place in the world. FBI Agent Whitney (Amanda Peet) is using a pedophile priest (Billy Connolly) - possibly a psychic - to search for a missing FBI Agent. Since Peet has an interest in Mulder’s prior X-Files investigations and thinks he can help, he’s recruited. Meanwhile, Dr. Scully is struggling with a difficult patient, a child with a debilitating genetic disease. She’s at odds with the Catholic hospital administration (priests, in this case) and wants to try experimental therapy before giving up . . .The movie is at its best during the philosophical discussions, but feels more mundane in the chase and action scenes. The wintry snowbound settings are sensational and certainly give some flair to the proceedings. As the mystery is revealed, the movie strains credibility (a 2-headed dog – really?), but this is true of most X-Files episodes. I’ll admit I was a modest fan during the mid-90s, but completely skipped the last 2-3 seasons. As always, the belief systems of Scully (devout Catholic) and Mulder (believer in ESP, aliens, paranormal activities, etc.) are compared and the viewer can project their own belief system on what actually happens.Director Chris Carter does a respectable job overall, but especially placing religious symbols around Scully (see included screen caps). Fans of the show will recognize names (Clyde Bruckman, etc.) and Mulder’s room is filled with familiar posters and newspaper clippings. The 3rd act introduction of Skinner (series regular Mitch Pileggi) is handled very well. I like Duchovny in almost anything – his droll, sardonic line delivery and dry humor shine in the early scenes. As usual, Anderson has the tougher (and less fun) role and must carry the weight of the film (which she does handsomely). A doctor struggling with their faith because of suffering and dying children hit really close to home and I found the message of never giving up almost inspiring. B

Medical notes:
1. Scully was a pathologist in the series and now appears to be injecting stem cells into a brain (which is intraparenchymal not intrathecal, by the way). Maybe she did a neurosurgery residency after the end of the series.

2. Doctors do, in fact, use Google to look up answers and symptoms, but typically insist on a trustworthy source (or 2).

3. Of course, her mask should be up in the OR – obviously dramatic license.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Righteous Kill - B-

On DVD. Lawyer’s theatrical review is here.

Unlike their previous co-starring films (The Godfather Part II, Heat), Al Pacino and Robert De Niro spend lots of screen time together as detective partners. The two are nearing retirement and have become fed up with a judicial system that allows pedophiles and rapists free on technicalities and insufficient evidence. A vigilante begins killing some of the said perpetrators and an investigation begins to find the poetry-writing serial killer. De Niro is shown early in the film confessing to the murders and it appears we’re in for a character study about loyalty, trust, and honor- and that's what we get for a while . . .

But in a post-Sixth Sense world, not even Pacino and De Niro are immune to contrived plot twists only designed to trick the audience. It’s nice to see De Niro sorta acting for a change after phoning the last decade in, but since breast-feeding that baby in Meet the Fockers, he’s going to have to bring it much harder than this to get any respect back. Pacino is still doing his goofy improv acting thing, but this is a much better character (and film) than his last Jon Avnet-directed outing 88 Minutes. Donnie Wahlberg and John Leguizamo do some solid character work as 2 younger detectives working on the case. But they are all eclipsed by Brian Dennehy (their boss), who had some memorable roles in the 80s (First Blood, Silverado). He completely owns every scene he’s in and his subtlety is more impressive than Pacino’s showboating and De Niro’s mannerisms. Rounding out the cast, Carla Gugino is a CSI skank. Gugino: A. Film: B-

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Oscar Nominations

This nominations list is terrible. In a weak year, the second tier of lots of films were spotlighted. I long for 2007. My comments on each category below.

Best picture
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Reader"
"Slumdog Millionaire"
This looks to be a disaster - no Wrestler, no Rachel Getting Married, no Revolutionary Road, no Gran Torino? Milk, Button and Slumdog I have no problem with, I haven't seen The Reader (but Priest says B-), but Frost/Nixon is just not that good at ALL. My guess is the older Academy members were influenced by their direct recollections of Nixon - but this is not a top notch film at all.

Full list after the jump:


Richard Jenkins, "The Visitor"
Frank Langella, "Frost/Nixon"
Sean Penn, "Milk"
Brad Pitt, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"
No big problems here, but I wasn't that impressed with Pitt, and I never really care for impressions (Langella). I think Clint Eastwood and Leonardo DiCaprio deserved nominations much more. DiCaprio in particular.

Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married"
Angelina Jolie, "Changeling"
Melissa Leo, "Frozen River"
Meryl Streep, "Doubt"
Kate Winslet, "The Reader"
I usually don't care for Streep, but she is great in Doubt. Hathaway is my pick, and I would've much rather seen Sally Hawkins in Happy Go Lucky than Jolie.

Supporting actor
Josh Brolin, "Milk"
Robert Downey Jr., "Tropic Thunder"
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Doubt"
Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Michael Shannon, "Revolutionary Road"
Pumped about Shannon's nomination. Downey's performance and that movie are both so overrated it isn't funny. I would much prefer Emile Hirsch in Milk and Colin Farrel in In Bruges. Not that it matters. RIP Heath.

Supporting actress
Amy Adams, "Doubt"
Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Viola Davis, "Doubt"
Taraji P. Henson, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Marisa Tomei, "The Wrestler"
Glad Tomei got this - deserved. Henson's is mightily undeserved, I prefer Blanchett in Button or Hathaway's sister in Rachel.

David Fincher, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Ron Howard, "Frost/Nixon"
Gus Van Sant, "Milk"
Stephen Daldry, "The Reader"
Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Christopher Nolan was robbed. Howard's nomination is a joke, and Daldry's is likely to be (I'll see that tonight to be sure). I'll take Mendes for RevRoad and Eastwood for Gran Torino instead.

Foreign-language film
"The Baader Meinhof Complex," Germany
"The Class," France
"Departures," Japan
"Revanche," Austria
"Waltz With Bashir," Israel
Haven't seen any of these, but the talk is that Italy's Gomorrah was robbed.

Adapted screenplay
Eric Roth and Robin Swicord, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
John Patrick Shanley, "Doubt"
Peter Morgan, "Frost/Nixon"
David Hare, "The Reader"
Simon Beaufoy, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Button's screenplay is horrible.

Original screenplay
Courtney Hunt, "Frozen River"
Mike Leigh, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Martin McDonagh, "In Bruges"
Dustin Lance Black, "Milk"
Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon and Pete Docter, "WALL-E"
Jenny Lumet was robbed for her Rachel Getting Married screenplay. Wall-E was all about the direction, not the screenplay. Wrestler, obviously, should've been included.

Animated feature film
"Kung Fu Panda"

Art direction
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
"The Duchess"
"Revolutionary Road"
Actually a good list, although Milk might deserve it more than Dark Knight.

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
"The Reader,"
"Slumdog Millionaire"
Milk is excellent here - more so than Changeling and likely Reader.

Sound mixing
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
"Slumdog Millionaire"
The fact that Wanted got any nominations at all is unbelievable.

Sound editing
"The Dark Knight"
"Iron Man"
"Slumdog Millionaire"

Original score
Alexandre Desplat, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
James Newton Howard, "Defiance"
Danny Elfman, "Milk"
A.R. Rahman, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Thomas Newman, "WALL-E"
Revolutionary Road's was the best of the year. I hate Newman and his singsongy crap.

Original song
"Down to Earth" from "WALL-E," Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman
"Jai Ho" from "Slumdog Millionaire," A.R. Rahman and Gulzar
"O Saya" from "Slumdog Millionaire," A.R. Rahman and Maya Arulpragasam
Bruce's omission for "The Wrestler" is the biggest rip off of the whole list.

Costume design
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Duchess"
"Revolutionary Road"
Changeling was great.

Documentary feature
"The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)"
"Encounters at the End of the World"
"The Garden"
"Man on Wire"
"Trouble the Water"
Man on Wire is OVERRATED.

Documentary (short subject)
"The Conscience of Nhem En"
"The Final Inch"
"Smile Pinki"
"The Witness -- From the Balcony of Room 306"

Film editing
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
"Slumdog Millionaire"

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
"Hellboy II: The Golden Army"

Animated short film
"La Maison en Petits Cubes"
"Lavatory -- Lovestory"
"This Way Up"

Live action short film
"Auf der Strecke (On the Line)"
"Manon on the Asphalt"
"New Boy"
"The Pig"
"Spielzeugland (Toyland)"

Visual effects
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
"Iron Man"

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inaugural Thoughts and Photos

Bride and I were lucky enough to be in Washington, D.C. for the inauguration of Barack Obama. There's lots to discuss, but in the spirit of DLP I'll start with the celebrities Bride and I either talked to or got within 5 feet of: Christopher Guest, Jeff Zucker, Jon Bon Jovi, Jesse Jackson, Don King, Magic Johnson, Avery Johnson, Chris Tucker, Dan Rather, Oprah, Samuel L. Jackson, Bradley Whitford, LARRY DAVID, Halle Berry, Jamie Foxx, Denzel Washington, Usher, Ving Rhames and several others. Photos of most of these after the jump, followed by a few thoughts, feelings and observations on the historic day.

Barack's Limo - walking around the capitol after the ceremony.
My view of the mall from my seat.
Ving Rhames (right side, fur)
Larry David in the line with his book.
Me at Black Tie & Boots Ball.
Jesse Jackson.
My view of Barack's speech.
Stumbled oath.
Don King.
Jeff Zucker and wife.
Oprah (bottom left)
Spielberg and Cusack (on the top of the risers)
Mall view.
Samuel L. Jackson
Dan Rather.

Some Comments:

I am a conservative person, socially and otherwise, and therefore I voted for John McCain. That said, Barack Obama appeals to me because of his age, eloquence, and approach to issues. Being a part of the ceremony yesterday was a great privilege and a truly moving experience. Older black people around me were crying and genuinely in awe of the realization of something they had not even dreamed of. I was stirred when Michelle Obama's mother came on the stage more than any other person - mostly because of her age and where her life has taken her. I was also moved by "My Country Tis of Thee" during the ceremony as the nation realized all of the cliches about anyone growing up to be president really were true. Rick Warren's showy, "new christian" prayer was horrible - I nearly vomited as he overpronounced words and enunciated on Obama's children's names. I found Obama's speech to be good, but not great as he struggled to take the right tone and set realistic expectations for himself. I thought his nimble handling of the racial issue was perfectly done. I took our video camera just to capture the raw sound of his speech as it echoed behind me down the mall - a spine tingling experience shared with 2 million others.

The collective nation achieved something with the inauguration of a black man that makes everyone proud to be a part of the first Western democracy to elect a "person of color" to its executive office. For me it just reinforces how great our country is, but for some liberals (like the insufferable Frank Rich) it was the "first time" they have been proud of the country.

I genuinely believe that Obama will govern from the middle. Why wouldn't he? There is no way he will be challenged on the Left in the 2012 primary, so he should go as far to the right as he can stomach. I also believe that his ambition will moderate his policies. He is most loyal to his own "legacy" and surely knows that only governing in the middle will allow him to be a "great" president.

George W. Bush has been wrongly maligned and blamed for every ailment facing the United States, while Obama gets glowing press on everything (think of how the Geithner tax errors would've played out in the NY Times if he had been a Bush appointee). The bottom line is that he ran the clock out on his term after 9/11 with no more terrorist attacks. Period. Torture or not torture and wiretapping are interesting to argue, but no one knows how many (if any) attacks have been prevented as a result of such actions - that is the burden the good men and women of his administration have carried in the name of keeping the nation safe. Bush's downfall in my eyes was his lack of direct contact with the American people and an unwillingness to dialogue about certain parts of his decisions.

Sorry for the super long post about serious stuff - to make up for it, I'll post a review of Rock of Love Bus in the next couple of days.

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Eagle Eye - C+


Disturbia, the first collaboration between director D.J. Caruso and star Shia Lebeouf ripped off Rear Window shamelessly, almost a shot-for-shot remake. But it remained entertaining throughout and knew what it was. Eagle Eye, their follow-up, rips off any number of Hitchcock’s “wrong man” films and throws in elements of 2001: A Space Odyssey for good measure. LeBeouf plays Jerry Shaw, an underachieving slacker who’s framed for being a terrorist after lots of firearms and chemicals are found in his apartment. He meets Rachel (Michelle Monaghan), whose kidnapped son’s life is in danger if she doesn’t comply with demands. They’re being guided by a strange female voice that seems to have control over anything electronic: cell phones, trains, traffic lights, etc. Rosario Dawson and Billy Bob Thornton play 2 investigators hot on their trail . . .

LeBeouf’s naturalistic acting draws you into the movie at first as he/we try to figure out what’s going on. He’s likable, relaxed, and mildly humorous – everything we’ve come to expect. His speech on the bus about his brother was surprisingly moving. Thornton has some hilarious lines as he channels Tommy Lee Jones’s Fugitive performance. Monaghan and Dawson are OK, but have been better elsewhere. Caruso creates enough tension and stages some terrific car crashes in the first half. But the plot is far-fetched (at best) to begin with and becomes increasingly preposterous as the film progresses. By the third act, the incredulousness of the action scenes and plot twists outweigh the pretty good set-up and good performances of the actors. The date on many of the security cameras has the film taking place on 1/26/09. But the film already feels hopelessly outdated. LeBeouf and Monaghan visit a Circuit City (now bankrupt and liquidated) and the President and his cabinet are accused of treason. That’s so Bush era. C+

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DVD Releases 1/20/09

Max Payne
City of Ember
The Express
Henry Poole is Here
Saw V

Older titles
El Norte – Criterion Collection
Magnificent Obsession – Criterion Collection
The Notebook (Limited Edition Gift Set) - Lawyer's pick of the week!

Blu-Ray :
King Kong (2005), 13 Going on 30, Domino, Election, Unfaithful

Click below for DVD releases from 1/13/09

My Best Friend’s Girl
Swing Vote
Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Older titles:
Four Weddings and a Funeral (Deluxe Edition)
SuperCop (2-disc Ultimate Edition)

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The Curious Case of Forrest Gump

This "trailer" shows the extent to which TCOBB is the same as FG.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural Recap (more to come)

Lots of news/observations/sightings to come tomorrow night (yes, Bride exchanged greetings with Larry David and I talked with Jeff Zucker). For now here's a low-res shot of Denzel Washington from last night's Black Tie & Boots Ball.

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - B+

If Miami Vice is the movie I couldn’t stop watching last summer, then Zodiac is the film I kept watching last fall. David Fincher’s outstanding camera angles, pacing, and editing are matched by the perfect fusion of the police procedural, serial killer, and newspaper-reporter genres. It’s also the best film about obsession since Vertigo. But Zodiac was a box office disappointment, and with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Lawyer's month-old review here), Fincher seems desperate for a hit, both pandering to the audience and unsure of himself for the first time. You can almost see studio executives letting him know that A) Eric Roth won an Oscar for writing Forrest Gump, B) Forrest Gump made 10 times what Zodiac made (not even factoring in inflation), and C) You haven’t had a runaway hit since Se7en. But I can’t think of sensibilities in bigger conflict than Fincher directing an Eric Roth script.

In retrospect, Robert Zemeckis meshes great with Roth’s nostalgic, sentimental tastes. Before Forrest Gump, Zemeckis had already made nostalgic Americana films about the 1950s (Back to the Future), the 1980s (Back to the Future Part 2), and the American West (Back to the Future Part 3). He also has made a film that celebrates the history American cartoons (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?). Fincher has only made one period film, Zodiac, which is much more technical and objective than anything Zemeckis has ever done. Zodiac thinks rather than feels, like All the President’s Men rather than Rocky.
In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fincher packs the film with undeniably beautiful images: sunrises, night-time battles, midnight dances, and ships at sea. The cinematography, editing, and use of film stock changes are top-notch. The special effects are both stunning and often barely unnoticeable. But this doesn’t ever feel like a David Fincher film. The audience I was with loved the jokes about promiscuity and drunkenness as well as the lightning strikes. But I can’t think of one “cheap” laugh in any other Fincher film. The sentimentality is also new territory for Fincher, but he handles this as well as he can (they should have saved some digital money and left out Roth’s hummingbird). The tale of a man aging in reverse who stays in love with the same person as she ages normally throughout their lives affected me more than I expected. I feel that the older a person is, the more they’ll appreciate the themes of the film (being a parent helps, too).The film begins in a hospital room with Daisy (Cate Blanchett) on her deathbed with her daughter (Julia Ormond) nearby. The story of Benjamin (Brad Pitt) and Daisy will be told by Ormond as she reads Benjamin’s diary. This framing device is forced but not disastrous as is the unnecessary and ridiculous inclusion of Hurricane Katrina. In Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks’s narration felt alive and energetic as he actively told his life story to other people. Indeed, unlike Benjamin, Forrest actively participated in life. When Gump’s platoon is under attack, he saves each member by running them to safety. When Benjamin Button’s boat is attacked, he crouches in fear until someone else takes care of it. Forrest punches out many people who may harm Jenny while Benjamin passively accepts Daisy's whimsical desires. Forrest runs across America while Benjamin stays at the old folks home. Etc. Benjamin is too passive to even tell his own story.
I thought the acting of Ormond, Blanchett, and Tilda Swinton were realistic and touching. And while not as flashy as David Mills or Tyler Durden, this Fincher-directed Brad Pitt performance is more challenging and more accomplished. At one point, Button says, “Your life is defined by opportunities, even the ones you miss.” In the final analysis, this is one missed opportunity of a film. Great casting, great performances and perfect direction are hampered by a hokey, familiar plot and a tired framing device. B+

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Monday, January 19, 2009

New U2 Single Online

U2's first single Get On Your Boots off upcoming album No Line On the Horizon is now on the internet and can be heard here. The song is musically interesting and a departure for Bono and the boys, with a decided Pop feel. The lyrics appear to be stream-of-conscious fluff, which might be just as well. Overall, an interesting opening sound even if it doesn't seem to be poised to be the ubiquitous single Vertigo was off How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Thoughts, Dentite?And here is the rest of it.

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Defiance - B-

In theaters. Rated R, 137 minutes. Trailer.

As I've stated before, any new Holocaust movie has to overcome a threshold question of relevancy given the exhaustive collection of (excellent) films on the subject. Last year's The Counterfeiters passed the test but this year's Defiance fails the test. The story itself is new to me and semi-interesting: two Jewish brothers (Zus (Liev Schreiber) and Tuvia Bielski (Daniel Craig)) lead a group of 1500 Jews to survive and fight in the Polish woods through World War II. Click below for more on yet another Ed Zwick military drama:

The film begins with actual footage of typical Holocaust scenes, then bleeds into color to 'take you into history'. We are in rural Poland, watching as Zus and his younger brothers find their and Tuvia's parents dead from a Nazi "Jew hunt". After Tuvia meets them, they all head for the woods hoping to stick together and make it as long as they can as a nimble 4 man group. Slowly but surely they run into dozens of large groups of rural Jews and ghetto escapees that gravitate toward the charismatic and competent Tuvia as the leader of their "Otriad". Zus is the classic hot-head trying to exact vengeance and exercise a brutal efficiency to their survival (read: Bush), while Tuvia takes a more diplomatic, reasoned approach (read: Obama). After a dust-up between the two, Zus leaves with the other tough guys and joins the Otriad's loose ally, the nearby Russian platoon, to fight instead of making houses and chopping wood.

The rest of the film goes like this: Germans are coming...move...hunger...challenge to Tuvia...more Germans...more moving...Zus/Tuvia reunite...epilogue. Along the way, we're treated to lots of typical "humanity" springing up where even against impossible odds. Some of the film feels like Swiss Family Robinson, and other parts feel like a weird Bond flashback.

The movie is best when Schreiber is onscreen, as his relatinoship with Craig was interesting and intense. As the younger brother begins to assert himself at the end of the film, I was genuinely feeling the film, so there were some deeper feelings about coming of age and becoming a man. Zwick explores a few thought provoking questions regarding the Jew's history of non-aggression, treatment of women, and societal pecking order reversal during a violent conflict - but certainly not enough to warrant an entire film. The epilogue was the most interesting part, revealing that around 1200 Jews survived with Tuvia and Zus and that the brother moved to New York after the war and ran a trucking business for 30 years. How about this story, instead of the Defiance story: Condense Defiance down to 30 minutes (keeps the freshness of the Bielski Otriad story), then show how the brothers handled the end of the war (interesting and new), then show them starting and running their business. Lots of interesting angles and themes to deal with and bring forward, and much better than a simple rote re-telling of a lost but semi-interesting anecdote about the War?

Ed Zwick is in my list of directors I like, but he can be hit or miss. Glory (A) is a great film, TV Series My So Called Life is one of my all-time favorites, and Blood Diamond really surprised me. On the other hand, The Last Samurai almost put him on my Guy Ritchie hatred list, what with its horrific mash-up of the Civil War and Asian conflicts. This one doesn't push the dial either way. It got bumped from a B to a B- because of 1 line from Daniel Craig to his (woefully underdeveloped character) "Forest Wife": "No, you saved me." Yech.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Happy Martin Luther King Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X

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The Inauguration

Bono and Bruce sang today at the Lincoln Memorial. I'll be there starting tomorrow, and I'll try and file some reports - my seats should yield quailty celeb/pol sightings. Click here for U2 singing "In the name of Love" today. Good stuff.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Weekend links

Great short reviews here about some of the most overpraised films of the year. I agree with everything they said about Slumdog Millionaire. The inclusion of The Dark Knight seems to be aimed at the excessive box office and fan-boy praise the movie has received rather than a critique of the movie itself.

Recent article here about the Matt Damon character in The Departed. The film is based on Infernal Affairs, but screenwriter William Monahan also referenced real-life crooks like Whitey Bulger.

Here is an interesting analysis about what is wrong with the NFL playoffs. I'll be skipping the last 3 games.

Click below for a video of last Thursday's Hudson River plane crash, caught by a Coast Guard camera. The crash is at the 2 minute mark.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Paranoid Park - B

On DVD and IFC

Before his big budget star-studded return with Milk, Gus Van Sant spent the better part of the last decade making smaller, low budget affairs with no stars and minimal plot. He seems obsessed with teenagers (especially males) and recent tragic cultural landmarks. Last Days (Kurt Cobain’s death) and Elephant (the Columbine killings) were filled with long interrupted shots (frequently behind walking characters), an eclectic soundtrack, and sparse dialogue. With Last Days (B-), Van Sant seems interested in the artistic process while Elephant (B+) is one of the better films about teenage malaise and alienation in recent years. With Paranoid Park, Van Sant is dealing with guilt, remorse, and self-inflicted torment . . .

Alex (Gabe Nevins) is dealing with the breakup of his parents and enjoys skateboarding with friends. One night at a local skateboard hangout known as Paranoid Park, he gets invited to jump a freight train which ultimately results in an accidental grisly death. Alex is overcome with guilt and begins to unravel as he tries to deal with family and friends. That’s the plot. The time juxtapositions (flash-forwards and flashbacks) are suitable for Alex’s stream-of-consciousness, borderline delusional state. Van Sant fills the film with interesting dialogue-less scenes commenting on Alex’s mindset. A slow-motion shower scene has drops of water falling from Alex’s face while a separate outdoor scene shows falling leaves while the camera follows Alex around. Also, secondary characters are barely visualized or completely obscured. His mother is mostly shown from behind while his little brother is hidden by a column during an extended scene as he talks to his brother (who’s in plain sight). Apply your own interpretation. It certainly is an “art” film more concerned with inner turmoil than action. And there’s plenty of symbolism for the viewer to soak in (the fire covering Alex’s face at the end is another nice touch).

But Van Sant insists on using non-actors (and occasionally improvised dialogue). It might be an attempt to feel more realistic (or maybe it’s his fragile ego – he’s definitely the star here). The non-professional actresses are distracting and Nevins plays Alex rather blandly, with only one blank expression. While the movie is short on acting, dialogue, and plot, Van Sant has enough ideas and tricks to give the film depth you wouldn’t expect. B

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Wrestler - A-

In theaters. Rated R, 105 minutes. Trailer.

The Wrestler tells the story of a has-been pro wrestler struggling with mortality, fleeting fame and his self-inflicted loneliness. Mickey Rourke inhabits his character, Randy "The Ram" Robinson, and presents a person that is tragic, stupid, charismatic, lonely, and sad all at the same time. With his mangled face and muscled, scarred body and backstory that matches the Ram, Rourke was perfectly cast by Director Darren Aronofsky. Click below for more on the film that grows on me more every day:

We learn in the opening credits that the Ram was huge in the 80's, but is now eeking out a bleak existence in New Jersey wrestling on the z league circuit in VFW halls and junior high gyms. The pay is bad and the risks great, but Ram lives for the roar of the (small, pathetic) crowd. To help make ends meet he works at a grocery store in the back, then at the deli counter to get more hours. After a particularly gruesome match involving a stapler, barbed wire and a ladder (!), the Ram has a heart attack and subsequent open heart surgery, leaving his career in shambles. With no real family he reaches out to his two quasi-connections, an aging stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) and his justifiably bitter daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). The attempts are somewhat promising but ultimately futile, and Ram realizes his only life is in the ring, so he chooses to do one last fight, bucking the doctor's orders.

Without Aronofsky's skillful hand, this film would've turned into a predictable redemption tale. Instead the viewer is left with a clouded vision of Ram - bad father (over and over), charismatic but pathetic wrestler, fallen star, charming guy, and dismissed human being. He is as Bruce's title song says "a one trick pony", only good at wrestling and performing and being adored. I love the complicated character and performance from Rourke. With his tattered coat, glasses, cheap hearing aid, bleached hair, disfigured face and unflinching commitment to his own fame he is the picture of a life full of bad choices, but is still a sympathetic character. The film ends powerfully, with a "Ram Jam" following a devastating look 'at the world' through a curtain by Ram.

Tomei is great as Cassidy, a more archetypal 'good' stripper that is losing her looks and trying to prevent feelings for a 'customer.' Their scenes together were some of my favorite, much better than the daughter scenes. I love the scene with the daughter where they are reconnecting, but hate that Aronofsky put them straddling a wall facing eachother - they look ridiculous - like 5th grade girls talking. I also didn't buy the dancing scene with the two of them.

Aronofsky wallows in the grim life of Ram, feasting on the bathroom showers, spray on tan and sleeping in the 'ram' van. Ultimately, this film is satisfying but not as great as I thought it would be.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Darren Aronofsky pulls a Homer Simpson

But Homer's still got him beat . . .

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