Sunday, May 31, 2009

100 Best Movie Lines in 200 Seconds

This is cool - it makes me want to watch a bunch of movies:

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Killshot - C


Reports of Mickey Rourke’s demise and resurrection were greatly exaggerated this past Oscar season, but it made for a good story. In fact, he’s starred in many films in the past decade (Domino, Sin City, Man on Fire, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, The Pledge, Get Carter). The real drought was in the mid-late 90s. Unfortunately, Killshot follows that more recent oeuvre rather than Aronofsky’s near-masterpiece. But probably near or at the bottom of that list . . .Rourke plays Blackbird, a native-American hitman with a braided ponytail, who’s haunted by the accidental death of his kid brother during a previous hit. When Blackbird meets Richie (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a wannabe tough guy, he sees a way to subdue his flashbacks and nightmares. But things go awry when the disciplined Blackbird allows the inconsistent Richie a little too much slack and a botched hit against a divorcing couple (Thomas Jane and Diane Lane) sets forth a violent and predictable chain of events. Rosario Dawson and Hal Holbrook fill out the fine cast.Based on an Elmore Leonard novel, his touches are obvious (Detroit, infidelity, FBI), but his novel feels shortchanged by a 95 minute running time. Produced by Harvey Weinstein, you can feel the reshoots demanded by test screening audiences. You’re supposed to be rooting for Jane and Lane to work things out, but you haven’t spent enough time with either of them to care much. Dawson is likewise wasted. Given too much screen time is Gordon-Levitt, who may not be miscast, but chews scenery in the most distracting and unlikeable way possible.Rourke doesn’t get to show off his terrific sense of humor, nor is he asked to show any range. But his presence is still as forceful. The home invasion subplot has been done better by Rourke himself in The Desperate Hours. Even worse, the plot takes some ludicrous turns: (Would Lane really try to take on Rourke – a professional hitman –with a shotgun when she doesn’t have to? Would the FBI really leave phone numbers of Lane’s relatives behind at her old house when she’s taken into the witness protection program? Of course not.) It's directed by Weinstein whipping boy John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), who doesn’t have a clue about action scenes and seems to have forgotten how to do dialogue scenes, too. C

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Summer Movie Releases - 5/29

Pixar studios has a pretty good (i.e. excellent, unmatched, flawless) track record: Toy Story (A-), A Bug’s Life (B+), Toy Story 2 (A-), Monsters, Inc. (B+), Finding Nemo (A), The Incredibles (A), Cars (B+), Ratatouille (A-), Wall-E (A-). Their 10th film has been getting early positive reviews. A septuagenarian ties some balloons to his house and flies off to South America for an adventure. But an unexpected and unwanted traveler (an 8 year old boy scout) ends up tagging along. I’m there.

Drag Me to Hell
Or don’t, thank you very much. Spiderman director Sam Raimi returns to his horror roots and has been getting universal praise for it. Alison Lohman will try to break a curse that’s been placed on her after she denied someone a loan. No, really. Sign of the times, I guess. I’m not there.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Terminator Salvation - B-

In theaters. Rated R, 114 minutes. Trailer.

First things first - I have never seen any Terminator movies. Parts of 1 and 2, but not the whole thing by any means, so my review will probably needed to be supplemented or superseded by Doctor to get perspective on its place within the series. This most recent installment stars Christian Bale as hero John Connor, a human survivor fighting super-machines in 2018 to control the earth. He works with and against Marcus Curry (Sam Worthington) to try and fight the machines and save Connor's father, the teenaged Kyle Reese (teenaged because of time travel). Click below for more on a pretty good action film.

The film begins with a death row conversation between condemned killer Curry and weird scientist Helena Bonham Carter about him donating his body to her research. He gives in and then director McG gives us the umpteenth film execution scene. We are then catapulted to Connor and crew raiding a Skynet (the bad guys) military installation wherein Connor establishes how great he is and his status as the unofficial leader of the resistance is established. He needs to save his father, Kyle Reese, but can't find him and he is at odds with the official command of the resistance. Then we join Curry as he is resurrected without knowledge of how he got there, but with memory of his bad past. He walks to LA and finds and joins up with Reese and a mute black girl that looks like the lost Jackson child. They get captured after a while and then Connor and the resistance find and return Reese.

I was thoroughly entertained throughout the film, with several really cool action sequences and fights. McG doesn't over-stylize the film, which is probably due to the considerable influence of Bale in the development of the story and in the editing room. There is a small twist in the film that most people over 100 IQ will get immediately, so only read on if your under 100 or don't think you will pick up on the surprise.

Curry is the new "T-800" super terminator that feels and looks entirely human. In that regard, the film revisits all of the themes of good, evil, humanity, etc that are dealt with (much better) in Blade Runner. I liked some of the themes of redemption and picked up on a few immigration and other racial themes that were interesting. All in all, the film is satisfying but not as good as I wanted it to be. As with most sci-fi movies, the plot and ridiculous circumstances are ridiculous enough to ruin the movie, but there was enough onscreen to keep my interest anyway. Worhtington was excellent, and Bale workmanlike if uninteresting.

Super Random Note: Did Michael Vick really do anything criminally wrong? Are dogs people? Is there a difference morally between a dog and an ant? I'm just saying...

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

5 Great Movie Monologues

“Donny was a good bowler and a good man. He was one of us. He was a man who loved the outdoors - and bowling, and as a surfer he explored the beaches of Southern California from La Jolla to Leo Carrillo and - up to - Pismo. He died - he died as so many young men of his generation before his time. In your wisdom, Lord, you took him, as you took so many bright flowering young men at Khe Sanh, at Langdok, at Hill 364. These young men gave their lives. And so would Donny. Donny, who loved bowling. And so, Theodore Donald Karabotsos, in accordance with what we think your dying wishes might well have been, we commit your final mortal remains to the bosom of the Pacific Ocean - which you loved so well. Good night, sweet prince.”

The Big Lebowski (1998)
John Goodman as Walter Sobchak
Screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen

“You came to see a race today; to see someone win. It happened to be me. But I want you to do more than just watch a race. I want you to take part in it. I want to compare faith to running in a race. It's hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape - especially if you've got a bet on him. But how long does that last? You go home. Maybe you're dinner's burnt. Maybe you haven't got a job. So who am I to say, "Believe, have faith," in the face of life's realities? I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. Jesus said, "Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me." If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.”

Chariots of Fire (1981)
Ian Charleson as Eric Liddell
Screenplay by Colin Welland

“Why shouldn't I work for the N.S.A.? That's a tough one, but I'll take a shot. Say I'm working at the N.S.A. and somebody puts a code on my desk, something nobody else can break. Maybe I take a shot at it and maybe I break it. And I'm real happy with myself 'cause I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army in North Africa or the Middle East and once they had that location, they bomb the village where the rebels are hiding. 1500 people that I never met, never had no problem with, get killed. Now the politicians are sayin', "Oh, send in the Marines to secure the area" 'cause they don't give a sh!t. It won't be their kid over there gettin' shot. Just like it wasn't them when their number got called, 'cause they were of pullin' a tour in the National Guard. It'll be some kid from Southie over there takin' shrapnel in the @ss. And he comes back to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his @ss got his old job, 'cause he'll work for 15 cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile, he realizes the only reason he was over there in the 1st place was so that we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price. And, of course, the oil companies used a little skirmish over there to scare up domestic oil prices. A cute little ancillary benefit for them, but it ain't helping my buddy at $2.50 a gallon. And they're takin' their sweet time bringin' the oil back, of course, and maybe even took the liberty of hiring an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink martinis and f@ckin' play slalom with the icebergs. It ain't too long 'til he hits one, spills the oil and kills all the sea life in the North Atlantic. So now my buddy's out of work, he can't afford to drive, so he's walkin’ to the f@ckin' job interviews, which sucks 'cause the shrapnel in his @ss is givin' him chronic hemorrhoids. And meanwhile he's starvin', 'cause every time he tries to get a bite to eat, the only blue plate special they're servin' is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State. So what did I think? I'm holdin' out for somethin' better. I figure f@ck it, while I'm at it why not just shoot my buddy, take his job, give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? I could be elected president.”

Good Will Hunting (1997)
Matt Damon as Will Hunting
Screenplay by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck

“A lot of people think this is just a job that you go to. Take a lunch hour - job's over. Something like that. But it's a 24-hour deal. No 2 ways about it. And, what most people don't see - is just how hard it is to do the right thing. People think if I make a judgment call, that that's a judgment on them, but that’s not what I do. And that's not what should be done. I have to take everything, and play it as it lays. Sometimes people need a little help. Sometimes people need to be forgiven. And sometimes they need to go to jail. And that is a very tricky thing on my part - making that call. I mean, the law is the law. And heck if I'm gonna break it. You can forgive someone. Well, that's the tough part. What can we forgive? Tough part of the job. Tough part of walking down the street.”

Magnolia (1999)
John C. Reilly as Jim Kurring
Screenplay by Paul Thomas Anderson

“I've been around this block twice now. Looking for something. A clue. I've been looking for clues and something led me back here. Yep. So here I am. It could have been me, the one who was at Ringo's place when the sh!t went down. Hey. I know how it is. I've been there. We've all done bad things. We've all had those guilty feelings in our heart. You wanna take your brain out of your head and wash it and scrub it and make it clean. I don't know. But I'm going to help you settle this. First we're going to check for holes and see what we can find. Then we're going to get nice and wet, and you're going to spread your legs. Oh, that's good. So you know me. You know my reputation. 13 inches is a tough load, I don't treat you gently. That's right. I'm Brock Landers. So I'm going to be nice. So I'm going to be nice. So I'm going to be nice, and I'm going to ask you one more time. Where the f@ck is Ringo? . . . I am a star. I’m a star, I’m a star, I’m a star. I’m a big, bright, shining star. That’s right.”

Boogie Nights (1997)
Mark Wahlberg as Dirk Diggler
Screenplay by Paul Thomas Anderson

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The Duchess - B

On DVD and Blu-Ray

Keira Knightley gets suited up for a costume drama once again, this time playing Georgiana, who, at the age of 17, married the older Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes). At first, she can’t provide a male heir so marriage tensions rise. G (as she is called) meets Bess Foster and they form a close friendship, which will be torn apart when Bess finds a way to get her 3 estranged sons back. Meanwhile, G recognizes her longtime love for Charles Grey, who she’s known since before she was married. The duke and duchess will commit infidelities, which complicate their public appearances and responsibilities – as well as their relationships with their children.

Fiennes’s character is naturally withdrawn and subdued so he can be forgiven for his wooden portrayal. Knightley is terrific dealing with love, lust, and fear – and for the first time, mothering. She really sells the relationship with her kids. The supporting cast is strong. The music swells as just the right times, enhancing the emotions of the scenes. The costumes, sets, and cinematography are all well done, and fans of period romances or dramas should have no complaints. Based on a true story, the film takes some unexpected turns and is interesting when compared to the late Princess Diana of recent times. The film drops the politics in favor of the romance - which basically works. But what works best and hits home is the notion that most any parent will shuffle off their selfish desires for the well-being of their children. The contrast between idealism and realism is satisfactorily portrayed as is the observation that childhood should be a protected time of innocence before the harsh adult world arrives. B

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Monday, May 25, 2009

DVD Releases - 5/26/09

The Devil’s Tomb
New in Town - #
Powder Blue - #

Click below for this week's Blu-ray releases

Children of Men - *
Cinderella Man - *
Falling Down
Field of Dreams - *
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
True Romance - *

# - Also on Blu-Ray
* - Doctor Approved

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Management - B

In theaters. Rated PG-13, 93 minutes. Trailer.

Management is an uneven but surprisingly touching and funny film. Starring Steve Zahn as the man-child Mike and Jennifer Aniston as his love interest, Sue, the film creates real relationships but veers wildly as the story unfolds. Mike lives in and helps run his parents motel in Kingman, Arizona, where he strikes an unlikely and forced friendship with Sue, a short term guest at the hotel. After she lets him touch her butt (and more), he pursues her like a romantic puppy dog. Click below for more Management.

He shows up at her office in Maryland, and they get to spend a little time together, then they see eachother occasionally until she quits her job and moves to Aberdeen, Washington to live with her ex-boyfriend, ex-punk Jango (Woody Harrelson). Mike follows her there but isn't succesful, despite lots of trying. He then has a spiritual crisis, grows up a little and then again goes after her.

Zahn is funny and earnest in his portrayal of Mike, a semi-realistic character, and Aniston puts in another solid dramedy performance as she leads a life of quiet desperation. Zahn's friendship with his Chinese friend was good and funny - the same goes for Harrelson, who plays the weirdo boyfriend perfectly.

The film's tone is silly for the first half, then goes all sappy, which I completely bought. I found myself really wrapped up in how the film played out - a rarity. I may hate sci-fi, but sappy love stories apparently are my soft-spot. A solid film.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

New Trailers

1. Sherlock Holmes - Robert Downey Jr. in the title role, Jude Law as Watson and Rachel McAdams as the love interest. Directed by Guy Ritchie. Maybe.

2. 27 Club - Interesting film about a guy in a band that commits suicide when he turns 27 and how his best friend and 27 year old bandmate deals with it.

3. In The Loop - British political comedy with James Gandolfini. Either an A or a D, can't tell from the trailer.

4. Bonus: Ricky Gervais on Letterman from Friday.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Valkyrie - B

On July 20, 1944, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) and a his conspirators tried to seize control of the German government by assassinating Adolf Hitler and implementing Operation Valkyrie, which allowed some higher ups in the government to falsely claim that SS members loyal to Hitler were actually trying to stage a coup. The political details and entanglements get much more complicated than that, as does the plot itself with its 2 dozen characters whose own loyalty is sometimes unknown. Co-writers Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) and Nathan Alexander do an admirable of job of organizing the events and director Bryan Singer squeezes a surprising amount of tension out of several moments. Singer also provides some beautiful aerial shots of forests and stages some solid action scenes (North Africa and the ending shootout).But while Singer casts his film with a very accomplished bunch (Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp), none rise above the material to excite or interest. David Bamber’s Hitler isn’t a close match in appearance and pales in comparison to Bruno Ganz’s electrifying performance in Downfall. Cruise is OK, but always looks out of place in period films (The Last Samurai, Far and Away), partly because he’s the epitome of the modern Hollywood star. In 1943 North Africa, von Stauffenberg lost his right hand, his left eye, and his left 4th and 5th fingers. These serve more as distractions than adding to Cruise's character. We’re used to seeing Tom Cruise whole, usually with an internal struggle rather than an external one. His character never doubts his motivations, even when his wife and children are endangered and this is a lost opportunity to give the film added weight.
The film feels like a spruced up version of a History Channel special. Von Stauffenberg’s moral certainty is inspiring, but the numerous characters and lack of time spent with each dilute the dramatic impact. It’s a plot-driven film and the characters are an afterthought - which isn’t necessarily bad, just not exceptionally rewarding. B

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Surrogates Trailer

I always knew deep down Bruce Willis wished he had hair. Lawyer will be all over this graphic novel adaptation.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Girlfriend Experience - B

Steven Soderbergh used a fragmented narrative to great effect in The Limey which was appropriate because it seemed Wilson (Terrence Stamp) was replaying all the events back in his head on the flight back to London. In The Girlfriend Experience, Sasha Grey plays Christine, a high-end call-girl in New York City trying to expand her business in the weeks before the 2008 presidential election. Her clients know her as Chelsea; some want her physically and some want to talk, but all are worried about the economy. Money (or the lack of it) is also an issue with her boyfriend of around 18 months who works as a physical trainer and has rich friends. They will find something to fight about when Christine decides to break one of their longtime rules . . .
The “plot” is thin and only exists to have director Soderbergh explore issues of commerce, loneliness, sex, politics, and hypocrisy. He often sets the camera far away from the actors which allow the New York settings to assume another character. He lets the action play out, especially in a >5 minute uninterrupted take where the couple fight. Frequently, the actors’ faces are partially obscured by chairs, weight machines, columns, etc. Since the characters hide things from each other (and themselves), it’s only natural that Soderbergh couldn’t see it all either. When an entire face is visualized, it’s usually from a low-angle or an oblique angle, sometimes out of focus. Soderbergh (under pseudonym Peter Andrews) serves as his own cinematographer yet again and keep things interesting with deep blues and browns. On a Lear jet flight to Las Vegas, he allows the light from the windows to overpower the actors. The significance of this is unknown, but it is distinctive and unusual.
But the fragmented narrative serves no real purpose here. It’s as if Soderbergh knew he had no “story” and needed to chop up his film to give it some life. The scenes and observations within them don’t connect and the sum total is less than the parts. Predictably, most people are pro-Obama (it’s NYC after all) and McCain is quietly dismissed as a good man on the wrong team. The one big McCain supporter is a Orthodox Jew who is worried about Obama’s effect on Israel. Of course, since he’s seeing a call girl, it’s an easy way to kill 2 birds with 1 stone by marginalizing religion and Republicans at the same time. I did like the film for its modernity and Soderbergh’s direction, but the themes don’t connect upon reflection. And unlike The Limey, the juxtaposition of any scene with another scene would not have mattered one bit. B

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Summer Movie Releases 5/21-22/09

Terminator: Salvation

McG’s directorial track record is spotty at best (the Charlie’s Angels films, We Are Marshall), but this one doesn’t look as bad as expected. The third Terminator film was solid if not so memorable. It remains to be seen if a Terminator film can make serious cash without Arnold. Though, Christian Bale has been in one or two moneymakers lately. Opens 5/21.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Yikes. I do like Ben Stiller, but he’s much better in R-rated films letting loose than pandering to kids. I didn’t like the first film, and I probably won’t catch this one until it debuts on HBO. Maybe not even then.

The Girlfriend Experience

Steven Soderbergh is usually interesting when he goes low budget. Sasha Grey (who Priest has informed me is a real porn star) shows off her acting “chops”. This one’s opens in theaters but played on HDNet Movies tonight. It gets a B but I'm still working on a full review.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

DVD Releases - 5/19/09

Driven to Kill - #
Eden Log - #
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Criterion) - *
My Bloody Valentine 3-D - #
Paul Blart: Mall Cop - #
Taking Chance - * (Now’s your chance, Priest)
True Blood: The Complete First Season - #
Valkyrie - #

Click below for this week's Blu-ray releases

3 Days of the Condor - *
Army of Darkness
A Bug’s Life
Changing Lanes
Circle of Iron
Enemy at the Gates
Lion for Lambs
The Machinist
Terminator 2: Judgment Day - *

# - Also on Blu-Ray
* - Doctor Approved

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Monday, May 18, 2009

SNL - Will Ferrell - 5/16/09

After yet another lazy cheapshot at George W. Bush, Ferrell gave a terrible monologue. Things picked up with Lawrence Welk and Jeopardy skits. Both have been done better before, but were still pretty good here. A lame TNT basketball skit followed. Weekend Update was OK (with Will Ferrell being the best part). Then a funeral skit with lots of inappropriate speakers (done in another show at a wedding earlier this year). The last skit was best and had the entire cast singing Billy Joel's "Goodnight Saigon". I can't remember an SNL season finale ending so well (but it's not available online, of course). There were some strong hints that this was Darrell Hammond's last show and he did well. Also, coming up huge was Green Day with 2 pretty good songs ("Know Your Enemy" and "21 Guns") off of their new album (21st Century Breakdown). B

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Angels & Demons - B-

In theaters. Rated PG-13, 110 minutes. Trailer.

After a disappointing Da Vinci Code (B-), the general consensus has been that Angels & Demons is a better movie (Bride informs me that book is much better than DVC). I'll agree its better, but not much. Tom Hanks returns as Professor Robert Langdon, the Harvard symbologist that knows all of the symbols in the universe, especially Catholicism. The Vatican, faced with a threat involving symbols, reluctantly reaches out to him to help unravel an elaborate plot that threatens the church as it selects a new pope. Click below for more A&D:

A scientific group has created antimatter or "the god particle" and it is apparently easily transported in a thermos and if the battery runs out in the 'thermos' it will have the effect of a nuclear bomb. Said antimatter is stolen and used as the main threat by the Illuminati, an old group of scientists/intellectuals to defend themselves agains the Perga, which was the Catholic church's violent purge of scientists in the 17th century. Now, the group has kidnapped the 4 most likely candidates to be the new pope and says they will kill them, one per hour and then blow up the city with the antimatter at midnight. A word for the basic plot: BORING. Seriously, can't Dan Brown come up with some more interesting plot devices than this?

Anyway, Langdon heads to Rome and immediately does his schtick with the head of the Vatican security (Stellan Skarsgaard - who always seems like he is about to brag about the Fields medal) while he begs to get into the Vatican archives. His delivery of the "guys, you called me" (as seen in the trailer) is great, and he goes to the acting pope (the camerlengo), as portrayed by Ewan McGregor to get permission - which is granted. He needs to get in the archives to view some old manuscript of Galileo's in order to figure out where the 4 kidnapped cardinals will be killed and where the bomb is hidden. He teams up with his new female sidekick, who is 1/10th as 'talented' as Audrey Tautou, and starts a ridiculous tour of old Catholic churches.

All along, the cardinals charged with selecting the pope are meeting and working with McGregor to do what is best for the church amidst the turmoil. Armin Mueller Stahl is solid as the sage Cardinal leading the proceedings at odds with McGregor. AS the film wraps up, it gets much better - Langdon's final save and the way McGregor deals with the antimatter is really well done, all culminating in a too clever (but not unforeseen) twist.

This is a disjointed film - the middle 40% of the film is VERY tedious as they go around doing the same thing 3 times (chasing down a church somewhere), but the beginning and end are (at times) really good. Director Ron Howard could've cut 30 minutes and had a much better film. The second trip to the archives, in particular, was totally unnecessary and boring, despite the 'suspenseful' breathing issues. Howard dumbs the already dumb plot down with stupid reaction shots and 'duh' dialogue throughout. I thought the plot was stupid from the beginning - a quasi-nuclear bomb can be transported in a thermos? The Roman police wouldn't shut down all the churches? When it wasn't dumb, it was boring.

The good stuff - I like the 'water save', the helicopter flight at the end, the discussion of faith with Langdon, and any scene with Stahl or McGregor.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Road Trailer

Trailer for The Road. Given its literary pedigree and quality actors (Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Robert Duvall), this is one of my most anticipated films of the year. Hopefully, relatively unknown director John Hillcoat (The Proposition) won't fumble the ball - I enjoyed the book as a study of man as he is without the trappings of society and morality, and how the struggle for survival compromises all of those things and reinforces our 'worser angels'. Priest's review of the book is here.

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TV Programming Notes

1) This is Jay Leno’s last week as The Tonight Show’s host and while I’m not a huge fan, this week’s guest list may provide some interesting moments. Conan O’Brien takes over on June 1.

Monday: Mel Gibson
Tuesday: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Wednesday: Wanda Sykes
Thursday: Billy Crystal
Friday: Conan O’Brien

2) SNL season finale with Will Ferrell is tonight. With Green Day.

3) Saturday Night Live “Just Shorts” is on Sunday night from 8-10 pm Central Standard Time. You’ve probably seen Samberg’s videos enough, but there could be some choice old ones (the synchronized swimming one with Martin Short and Harry Shearer is great).

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"Nine" Trailer

Lawyer must be confused like no other time in his life. It’s Daniel Day-Lewis singing and dancing. He still looks pretty cool though. Directed by Chicago's Rob Marshall. Also starring the ubiquitous Penelope Cruz, the smoking hot Judi Dench, and Public Enemies co-star Marion Cotillard.

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30 Rock - Kidney Now!

The season finale had Jack putting on a benefit concert to find his father a kidney after he finds out he’s not a match. Liz uses her new catchphrase (“That’s a deal breaker!”) to gather fame and fortune. And Tracy goes back to his high school to speak at graduation but has to face some long-held fears. The best scene had Liz on a talk show giving relationship advice. Jack’s hatred for Jimmy Carter is hilarious as is the name of Tracy’s high school (Frank Lucas – Denzel in American Gangster). But Chris Parnell’s Dr. Leo Spacemen has never worked for me. Jack would never tolerate a doctor that incompetent. The cheap shot at Christianity was unfunny and unnecessary. The list of musical guest stars includes Clay Aiken, Mary J. Blige, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Adam Levine, Wyclef Jean, Cyndi Lauper, Moby, Michael McDonald, and a couple of the Beastie Boys. They were fine, especially the Beastie Boys (“Get a room!”), but the subject of kidney transplantation is too serious and not absurd enough to completely work. B

Medical note: Not addressed was the fact that people can live for decades without a kidney using dialysis. There’s no urgency to find one. The heart or liver on the other hand . . .

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Sugar - B+

In theaters. Rated R, 110 minutes. Trailer.

Writer/Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck made a big indie splash with 2007's Half Nelson. For their follow up they chose to tell the story of Sugar, a teenaged pitching prospect from the Dominican Republic. The story avoids convention and is thoroughly engrossing for the first 3/4, due to a great performance from Algenis Perez Soto and an understated but interesting screenplay.

The film begins at a Major League Baseball recruiting campus in the Dominican Republic. It is a gated, idyllic facility where a couple dozen teenage Dominicans are learning the art of baseball - how to play and speak the game. Sugar is a decent prospect that slowly grows enough to be invited to Spring Training with the team in Arizona. As he experiences culture shock and works hard, he gets tapped to go straight to the single-A affiliate in the middle of Iowa. There he lives with an evangelical octogenarian host family and tries to fit in while he plays. After a promising start, he falters and eventually leaves the team to try for a regular life in New York City.

The film is extremely accurate in its depiction of the minor league experience and real life in a third world country. One of my good friends made his way through the minors and I spent several weekends with him and his host families - and this film gets it right. Fleck and Boden are telling the tale of an introspective boy trying to strike gold in the land of opportunity, but also a subtle tale about immigration, isolation, culture and exploitation. I only half like Half Nelson, but this one had me hooked until the New York ending. Sugar's manner and dignity as well as the compelling story arc and his balancing of his baseball life, his assimilation and his hero status back home all were well done and interesting.

The treatment of America, Iowa and Christians was all realistic and fair. The Dominicans are all trying to 'get to the States' and speak glowingly about the opportunities available here. The host family is depicted as honest and good, as are the Christians - I didn't detect any parody or negativity in the scenes at church and youth group and prayer.

The New York scenes are fine, but the film lost my significant interest at that point. I loved all of the scenes where they learn about English or American culture, especially the "french toast" bit. Worth your time.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Summer Movie Openings - 5/15/09

Angels and Demons

The adventures of Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) continue. The Da Vinci Code didn’t really come together as a film, despite some interesting subject matter and clever plotting. Hopefully director Ron Howard will have better luck with his first sequel. Ewan McGregor co-stars. Too bad they couldn’t work Audrey Tautou into this one.

Brothers Bloom

I love Brick, Rian Johnson’s first film, with its strong, over the top dialogue and well-framed images. Now Johnson gets a bigger budget and a bigger cast (Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz, Rinko Kikuchi). The quirky characters and con game plot look great in the trailer, but Brody’s presence is a red flag. Still, it is a director’s medium. We’ll see.


A romantic comedy starring Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn. Woody Harrelson and Fred Ward co-star. I got nothing.

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Taken - B

Liam Neeson is Bryan Mills (!), a former Black-Ops CIA agent whose marriage to Famke Jansen went south because of his job. He retires in Los Angeles to rebuild a relationship with his 17 year old daughter (Maggie Grace). He’s the kind of guy who isn’t pleasant to be around because he overanalyzes and worries about everything and never relaxes. But he’s just the guy you need when the fit hits the shan. It does here when his daughter travels to Paris with another teenage girl and they are almost immediately kidnapped. Good thing he was on the phone with her at the time so he can use some clues to track down the bad guys and a) shoot them to death, b) torture them to death, c) stab them to death, or d) beat them to death . . .Neeson is perfect at controlling his rage with his intelligence. The trail to his daughter is coincidental and sometimes far-fetched, but he believes it and makes you believe it, too. His larger than life presence and stature has been seen before, but his athleticism surprises. Jansen is completely wasted in a thinly written role, but Leland Orser has some nice scenes early on as one of Neeson’s former associates/friends. The story is straightforward, but kind of brilliant in its simplicity, with no ridiculous twists or double-crossings that have become overused in the last decade. But the film falters due to credibility issues. First and foremost, how the hell does he get back to LA at the end? Screenwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen should have had his former French ally continue to help him rather than become another adversary. It would have filled nearly all the plot holes and all they would have had to adjust is the observation that you get weaker sitting behind a desk, pushing pencils (which could have easily been added somewhere else). Even John McClane needed a sidekick.The action set-ups (and there's really nothing else) are first-rate, technically proficient and exciting. It’s quite a visceral experience, especially when Neeson confronts the Albanians (my favorite scene). To fully enjoy it, it probably helps if you’re a dude, especially one with a daughter. Like last year's Rambo, it's a tremendous adrenaline rush and never wastes a second of its running time. It's the kind of movie that makes people fall in love with the movies in the first place. B

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Whatever Works Trailer

Whatever Works Trailer. Larry David stars in Woody Allen's newest film. Looks great, but not so sure about that May (or February)- December romance. Bonus note - Scorsese will be directing a biopic entitled Sinatra.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

New Shutter Island Poster


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DVD Releases - 5/12/09

The Grudge 3
In Tranzit
Of Time and the City
Personal Effects - #
Possession - #
S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale - #
Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy - #
Taken - #
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans - #
Wise Blood (Criterion)

Click below for this week's Blu-ray releases

Big - *
Black Sheep
CSI: The First Season
Fargo - * (Doc's pick of the week)
Force 10 from Navarone
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - *
The Grudge
Licence to Kill
Major League - *
The Man with the Golden Gun
Star Trek: Motion Picture Trilogy (Star Trek 2, 3, 4) - *
Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection (1-6)
The Terminator - *
Underworld Trilogy
Wayne’s World
Wayne’s World 2
Without a Paddle

# - Also on Blu-Ray
* - Doctor Approved

A very strong Blu-ray week after a month of middling releases.

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Monday, May 11, 2009


On DVD, Rated R, 98 Minutes, In French with English Subtitles

Van Damme can act!?! Turns out the Muscles from Brussels, now years past his mid-nineties hay day, has one more trick up his sleeve: real, honest-to-goodness acting chops. In JCVD you won’t take your eyes off him. From the opening long, continuous shot of an action hero flipping fighter after fighter to the bone-weary, beaten man that looses custody of his daughter, Jean Claude Van Damme lives up, maybe for the first time in his acting life, to his ridiculous, exaggerated name.

Here’s the deal: Van Damme plays himself, a karate-fighter turned actor whose once bankable star-power has seriously diminished. After yet another divorce, and robbed of his family, he heads back to Brussels where he’s still popular to be with his parents and re-launch his career. His manager’s pushing him to be in straight-to-video action films, but he wants to work at union wages with legit directors to prove he can act. Stopping for cash at a bank, he accidentally walks into a robbery, which he subsequently is believed by the quickly gathering press and police to be leading. In a scene reminiscent of the Michael Jackson trial, large crowds of supporters, alerted by TV, gather to chant and support him even though they believe him to be a thief.

The structure and script is Charlie Kaufman-lite (taking a little from both Being John Malkovich and Adaptation), with some scenes shown non-sequentially and from multiple perspectives. This device works pretty well, but isn’t as clever as the film-makers want to believe. Eventually the robbery, which escalates to involve hostages, gets a little stale, with the thieves becoming more violent and more desperate than makes sense. What does work against all expectations is Van Damme’s ability to project himself as a tired, thankful, in some ways repentant, and basically decent human. He says things about himself and his career no one else would have the guts to say. Then in an interesting prayer/soliloquy aimed at God and the audience, he talks about the women and his children and the money and the drugs. Along the way the film examines what the audience wants from its movie star, and what the movie star wants and needs from the audience, and the disappearing line between reality, art, and entertainment.

The script is by Frederic Benudis and Mabrouk El Mechri, who also directs, neither of whose previous work I was familiar with. The direction is a little uneven, but El Mechri shows a flair for the money shot as witnessed in the long opening take and the long prayer which involves an interesting lift shot, giving the allusion that Van Damme is floating up through the ceiling as he’s talking. For some, this film might not work, but it totally worked for me. B+

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek B+

In Theatres, PG-13, 126 minutes
With J. J. Abrams at the helm, Star Trek makes the hyperjump from philosophicial sci-fi to brainless action adventure. If we were talking TV, that’d been a loss, but in the multiplex it’s just want the doctor ordered. The plot is a bit convoluted, dictated by the employment of time travel as a significant device, and borrows heavily from Top Gun (which I’m sure borrowed heavily itself), but what the plot lacks, the characters more than make up for.

Chris Pine is a cocky, go-it-alone maverick James T. Kirk drafted to Starfleet on the hope that he can be the commander his father died being. Zachary Quinto, so good as Skylar on TV’s Heroes, is equally impressive as a young Spock wrestling to keep his emotions at bay. Simon Pegg (Hott Fuzz) is uproarious and perfect casting as chief engineer Scotty, and Carl Urban breathes life into Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy. The character of Nyoto Uhura is expanded and played by Zoe Saldana (enchanting in Guess Who?) as the lady Spock has and Kirk wants. Speaking of ladies, one thing this version gets right is that Kirk loves ‘em, and not just the earthlings aptly demonstrated when he gets it on with a green-skinned, purple-lipped Rachel Nichols. Leonard Nimoy, Winona Ryder, Eric Bana, and Bruce Greenwood round out the cast.

Abrams, who’s track record on the big screen is mixed (MI:3, very good; Cloverfield, pretty bad), churns out something akin to a Spielberg/Lucas venture. While things stay a tad cheesy, and every time there’s a decision between a bigger effect or more realism he grabs effect, his only aim here is popcorn entertainment, and it comes through there with spades. The special effects are solid if not groundbreaking. The look of the film is shiny and new, reminiscent more of Starship Troopers (without the fascist overtones) than any previous Trek work. If every blockbuster this season is this entertaining, it'll be a good summer. B+

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SNL - 5/9/09 - Justin Timberlake

Some of the skit were retreads (Barry Gibb and the Plastic Surgery skit) from prior Timberlake hosting gigs, but if they work, why change it up too much? Of course, they came back with a sequel to "D--- in a Box", but the immigrant skit that immediately preceded it was not only a brilliant seque, but was also the most memorable thing of the show. I love Samberg's "There it is." Weekend Update was very strong with Bill Hader and Fred Armisen (once again) imitating Eliot Spitzer and NY Gov. David Paterson, respectively. This was followed by surprise guests from the new Star Trek movie. (But Leonard Nimoy's choice to give the "Spock" sign over the closing credits was a curious one.) Click below for the rest and some videos.Kristen Wiig saved the "pirates" skit and did her "Target" thing, whether you like it or not (I do). Overall a great episode, with lots of star power and energy. (In the interest of civility, I'll avoid discussion about the Timothy Geithner opening. OK, I can't. If the government makes laws that force banks to lend money to people that can't pay it back, you should blame the government, not the banks. Government is the problem, not the solution, folks.) B+

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Happy Mother's Day

Morgana King as Mama Corleone in The Godfather Part II

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Oscar Winning Ladies

Last February, Oscars went to Penelope Cruz and Kate Winslet for Vicky Cristina Barcelona and The Reader, respectively. In The Reader, Winslet plays Hanna Schmitz and anyone who’s seen the awards shows or trailer knows she’s a former Nazi guard who happens to be illiterate. These 2 facts are kept as surprises for nearly half the movie while she statutory rapes Michael Berg (David Kross) a smart, book-loving high school student. Evidently, she’s so good as sex that despite her hairy armpits and saggy bosoms, he’s ruined with any other woman for the rest of his life (he later turns into Ralph Fiennes). I’m not sure what she did for him except take his virginity and neither actor that portrays Michael sold me on the character’s fascination with this woman . . .

The film is another problem altogether. The scenes barely make sense when viewed by themselves, let alone when they’re attached. Great ideas and themes are approached then immediately shied away from - usually in the same scene. The dialogue doesn’t connect, feeling more like a checklist of important points the writer wants to make rather than a real conversation. Worst of all, the film seemingly equates the Holocaust with illiteracy. I really didn’t care that she couldn’t read and it’s ludicrous to be asked to believe that she would go to jail for life to hide her illiteracy. Director Stephen Daldry does a pretty good job framing the action and moving the camera. His use of color (especially the greens) as well as the recreation of Germany in the 1950, 60s, and 70s felt authentic. I don’t recall that particular time and place being recreated quite as effectively anywhere else. In fact, the directing is the most accomplished aspect of the film. For her part, Winslet is certainly up for the task, but the actions her character takes (as required by the book and script) strain credibility so much that it takes away for her complicated performance.

Penelope Cruz has it much easier in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Her character’s name is mentioned frequently before she shows up over half way through the film. She’s been built up so much, that Cruz has to do very little to be successful (since her character’s actions are so strong). But Cruz does much more than that. She’s fiery, impetuous, and full of life. She gives the film a much needed jolt just when it needs it. She completely inhabits her character and somehow manages to steal every scene from Javier Bardem. It’s a very well written role in a film full of them. Even Scarlett Johansson’s Cristina worked for me. This is Woody Allen’s best acted film since Bullets Over Broadway, and a surprisingly thoughtful one as well – with a terrific closing shot. I really liked the themes about art vs. commerce and stability vs. impulsiveness. I look forward to catching this one again. Like lawyer, almost a B+ for me.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona: B
The Reader: C+

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Wendy and Lucy - C

Had I recognized that the previous feature of Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy’s director) was Old Joy sooner, I would not have bothered, despite the deserved praise Michelle Williams has received as a woman travelling from Indiana to Alaska by car with her dog. During the middle of the 80 minute film, I noticed the similarities: the American Northwest, ultra low budget, tedious, thinly plotted, and terribly grainy images with no sense of camera placement. But at least this one as some pretty good acting by Williams, Will Patton, and Wally Dalton (as the benevolent security guard) . . .

Try as she might, the impressive Williams can’t overcome the simple plot where she gets arrested for shoplifting at a grocery store and spends the rest of the movie looking for her dog who was taken from the storefront where Williams had tied her up. I don’t mind zero budget movies, but I do mind ones without ambition that fail to stimulate the mind, heart or gut. C

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30 Rock - Mamma Mia

Somewhat better than last week, but still not quite firing on cylinders, this week's episode had Tracy's illegitimate child returning for money, Jenna milking a new catchphrase that Liz wrote, and Liz trying to track down Jack's real father. I haven't seen Mamma Mia and almost certainly never will so that kept me from understanding a few of the jokes. The most interesting running joke had Tracy acting like an older man closer to the age of 60 rather than 40 as well as Liz and Pete incapable of guessing a black person's age. Jack had some choice one-liners about easter egg hunts and deathbeds. But Jack's 3 possible fathers weren't nearly as funny as they could have been and the last scene, while containing an interesting twist, mistook shock for humor. Hawkeye Pierce deserved better. B

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Summer Movie Openings - 5/8/09

Star Trek

Most of the critics are giving it ridiculous raves, the rest are giving respectful praise. I’ve seen most of the Star Trek films, but have never been a huge Trekkie. I’ll admit this film looks great, and while director J.J. Abrams gets a lot of press because of his TV stuff, he’s only made one other feature film (Mission Impossible 3), and my anticipation remains guarded. Still, probably the only film I’ll venture to the theater for this month (And not because of Simon Pegg.)


Atom Egoyan had a couple of great mid-90s films (Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter), but has reached an impasse of late (Where the Truth Lies). However, I’m not nearly ready to write off one of the most cerebral filmmakers out there. His DVD commentaries are never a let-down even when the films are. Adoration has a high school teacher giving an assignment that challenges her students to re-evaluate their past and their families. Looks somewhat interesting.

Little Ashes

Twilight's Robert Pattinson plays the young Salvador Dali, who meets Luis Bunuel in early 1920s Madrid; they join forces to create great art. I can’t imagine this looking any worse. Unless Orlando Bloom and Ashton Kutcher showed up with similar mustaches.

Rudo y Cursi

Y Tu Mama Tambien co-stars Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal reunite, this time playing brothers who work on a farm and play soccer on the side. They are discovered by a talent scout and their success invigorates their sibling rivalry. Written and directed by Tambien’s co-writer Carlos Cuaron, let’s hope he picked up a few things from his big brother Alfonso.

Lorna’s Silence

Elitist critics love the (French) Dardenne brothers (Jean-Pierre and Luc) and find their minimalist, naturalist style perfectly suited for their simple stories that have morally complexity and emotional payoffs. I’m not buying it. Their last film (L’Enfant) may have walked off with the Palme d’Or at Cannes, but bored me silly. Hopefully this one will have a plot.

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