Sunday, January 31, 2010

Weekend Box Office: 1/29-1/31/10

Mel Gibson's 1st starring role since Signs looks promising since it's set in Boston and co-written by The Departed's William Monahan. Avatar is still sucking money out of people's purses and wallets. Avatar is still blowing box office records out of the water. Avatar is still stinking of cash.


1. Avatar: 30 mil / -14% / 594 mil
2. Edge of Darkness: 17.1 mil / (-)
3. When in Rome: 12.1 mil / (-)
4. Tooth Fairy: 10 mil / -29%) / 26 mil
5. Book of Eli: 8.8 mil / -44% / 74 mil
6. Legion: 6.8 mil / -61% / 29 mil
7. Lovely Bones: 4.7 mil / -44% / 38 mil
8. Sherlock Holmes: 4.5 mil/ -32% / 198 mil
9. Alvin & Chipmunks 2: 4 mil/-38%/209 mil
10. It's Complicated: 3.7 mil / -36% / 104 mil
11. The Blind Side: 3 mil / -28% / 238 mil
12. Up in the Air: 2.7 mil / -31% / 73 mil

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Kathryn Bigelow takes DGA

Kathryn Bigelow won the Director's Guild of America Award a few hours ago, the first female to do so and I certainly couldn't agree more. Other worthy winners included The Cove, Taking Chance, and Mad Men. Occasionally the awards go the right way. The DGA is the best precursor for the Oscars which puts The Hurt Locker and Bigelow in the pole position. Here's hoping for a Na'vi-free all-English Oscar acceptance speech.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

The Messenger B-

2009, In theatres, Rated R
In Oren Moverman’s directorial debut, Iraq War movie The Messenger, he manages to line-up A- talent for his stars and supporting players and coaxes fine performances out of them all. Unfortunately the script he co-wrote is a mess, and the film, which starts off steadily enough, veers wildly off course at about the 45-minute mark. The remaining hour is a series of individually compelling scenes that seem to have no cohesion between them or little link to what’s gone before.

Ben Foster (the guy with the blue eyes in 3:10 to Yuma) stars as returning war hero Will Montgomery who is asked to serve out his time representing The Secretary of War to the next of kin for the Army’s dead. He’s met at the plane by his ex-girlfriend (Jena Malone), who’s got herself a new man in his absence, but still feels compelled to give him a welcome-home-bonk. Woody Harrelson’s Tony Stone is assigned to be his partner and to show him the ropes. Initially, the film consists of these notifications, with most families reacting violently or hysterically to the news. These scenes are gut-wrenching at first before becoming a bit formulaic. Stone has rules in place to keep himself emotionally and physically distant from the next of kin, which Montgomery follows for awhile, eventually electing a more personal approach. Samantha Morton is one such grieving widow Foster reaches out to. What begins as kindness quickly evolves into something more complex. Unfortunately, at about this juncture, the recovering alcoholic Stone falls off the wagon, as does the film. What follows is a seemingly endless set of alcohol-fueled scenes, from Foster’s ex-girlfriend’s engagement party, to a run-in with some frat boys at a lake, to Foster’s decision to seduce Morton, to a tearful coming-to-terms with the past for both soldiers.

A number of things about the film work. The decision to show war through the eyes of these messengers is novel and works well for awhile, mainly because Moverman resists the urge to blame the military for the deaths. Foster is a marvel, more then holding his own with Harrelson, who nicely walks the line between straight nuts and stressed-out soldier. Samantha Morton as a grieving widow gives the best performance of the film. Unfortunately, this is partially wasted because she is now 5 years and 20 pounds wrong for the role. It’s impossible to believe that Foster, a young, muscled-out war hero would fall hard for an over-weight, older mother. It pains me to write that in that I love Morton, but it’s simply not believable in the film. The issues explored, in particular the place of women and alcohol for returning soldiers and the inability of battle-scarred soldiers to form and keep meaningful relationships, are interesting if unevenly covered. Ultimately, though, this one feels like a good 45-minute short-film with another 60 minutes tacked on to get it in the theatre. Interesting but not must-watch territory. B-

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Song of the Day - Sweet Jane

By The Velvet Underground and Cowboy Junkies

I prefer Velvet Underground's version since it has an unbeatable groove and Lou Reed at his playful best ("Just watch me now!"). But the Cowboy Junkies version is awfully good, if a little too moody and downbeat. VU's version also seems more timeless and not stuck in the Reality Bites- Gen X navel gazing mid 90s.

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Surrogates - B-

On DVD and Blu-ray

In the near future, most humans never leave their homes and experience the world by sending out "surrogates" whom they control through a neurotransmitter headset. When the first murders in years are committed, FBI agents Greer (Bruce Willis) and Peters (Radha Mitchell) are sent to investigate. One of the victims is the son of the "surrogate" creator (James Cromwell), who only invented the technology so he could help paraplegics and shut-ins experience the world. Meanwhile, Greer and his wife (Rosamund Pike) struggle to find any connection at all after the death of their son . . .

The story is well-paced, perhaps a little too fast, with the twists coming at a breakneck pace - you don't have time to absorb it or think about the philosophical implications of an increasingly distracted and distant populace. This also shortchanges the emotional impact: Since we've never seen the married couple in happier times, we're not appropriately devastated by their experience, even though Willis and Pike are still quite effective. Since we only see Mitchell's surrogate, she comes off as stiff, when she has been anything but in most everything else. The surrogates are too formal to be interesting and it's only the actual humans that come alive on the screen (obviously part of the point).

Unlike Avatar (where the "avatars" should have been decomposing immediately when they are left alone), robots are used in Surrogates. Shining light on society's increasing separation and isolation is important but the obvious message of the need for close human interaction could have been developed more. The action scenes (director Jonathan Mostow's strong suit) are well done, and the special effects are fine, if not groundbreaking. If only they could have spent more time with the characters and developed the story and the setting a little more. The whole thing seems rushed to get to the closing credits. 84 minutes pre-credits. B-

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wall Street 2 - Trailer

Looks awesome. Gekko is a great character.

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Trucker - C

Diane (Michelle Monaghan) lives in small-town California when she isn't driving the big rig tractor-trailer she just paid off. She's on the road the majority of the year and this prevents any emotional attachments (she prefers to slut it up with strangers on the road). When her ex-husband (Benjamin Bratt) is hospitalized with colon cancer and his new wife (Joey Lauren Adams) has to leave town because of her sick mother, Diane is charged with taking care of her estranged 11 year old son - whom she hasn't seen in 10 years . . .

Monaghan makes her unsympathetic character watchable by living in the moment and having a face the camera adores. She's gone a little gritty before (in Gone Baby Gone), and seems just as comfortable there as she does doing the glamorous thing. The scenes with her son (Jimmy Bennett - the young car-driving James T. Kirk in the latest Star Trek) are rough to sit through, but certainly feel authentic. Bratt and Adams have some nice small scenes, both playing against type.

By not explaining everything about Diane and her history, writer-director James Mottern allows the audience to apply their own life experience to the film - and it's nice not being spoon-fed. But Diane has a grim, unhappy existence and some late scenes about growing up and accepting responsibility don't make up for the patchy, predictable narrative that precedes it. Mottern uses his camera well to show the truck-stop culture and the working class suburbs. But most of the film just falls flat, even with the easy stuff like showing the American landscapes and picking a good bar song. Trucker is very similar thematically to Come Early Morning (directed by Joey Lauren Adams!), but that film kept building throughout and had a satisfying, honest resolution. C

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Song of the Day - Your Decision, Alice in Chains

This brand new song from the 90's supergroup is vintage Alice In Chains. Great, moody guitars and interesting lyrics. Overproduced video, though.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Song of the Day, My City of Ruins, Eddie Vedder

Eddie sang this Bruce Springsteen song at the Boss' recent Kennedy Center honors. He has released it to raise money for Haiti - buy it here. Thanks to Dentist for the reminder.

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Book Review - The Big Rich

By Bryan Burrough, 438 pages (2009)

As a lifelong Texan, I have always heard about the Hunt, Bass, Cullen and Murchison families and their oil fortunes and football teams. But only after reading The Big Rich did I appreciate how much they shaped the image of Texas across the globe and how they affect Texas and American culture even today. Bryan Burrough, author of Public Enemies (the book the recent film is based on), has rendered a perfectly realized distillation of how 4 families and their eccentric and diverse patriarchs have influenced the world. Click below for more on a fascinating book:

The biggest thing I feel after reading this book is shame - that I didn't read it sooner. I feel like a sorry excuse for a Texan and especially a Dallasite for not knowing more about the Hunts (who are still major players in Dallas society and business) and the Murchisons (Clint Jr. created the Cowboys and owned them until 1983). The varied tales of how they acquired their oil fields and fortunes are amazing in the amount of luck, grit and cut-throat business. Burrough also delves into the group's philanthropy (mostly Cullen in Houston and Bass in Fort Worth) and their weird and varied national political involvement (the scene in JFK where LBJ is meeting with the oilmen is based on this group).

Probably the most interesting parts of the book are the tales of HL Hunt's families and the downfall of the Murchisons. Hunt was married with children when he 'married' a second woman in Miami, siring 4 more children. Then, later, he started yet another secret family and they lived within walking distance of his existing house. As for the Murchisons, Burrough's depiction of the bankruptcy of Clint Jr. and especially the scene when his creditors and lawyers descended on his estate amidst an ice storm - are riveting. I'd love to see a thoughtful director take this on.

An absolute must read for any Texan - but a great page turner for anyone interested in the story of 4 wildcatters that became the wealthiest men in the world just by digging in the dirt and how they spent that fortune.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

DVD and Blu-ray Releases 1/26/10

The Boys are Back
Bright Star
Little Ashes
Saw VI - #
Songs from the Heart
Soul Power - #
Surrogates - #
This is It - #
Whip It - #

Click below for this week's Blu-ray releases

Atonement (Priest approved)
Fame (1980)
Paris, Texas (Criterion) - *
Pride and Prejudice - *

#- also on Blu-ray
* - Doctor approved

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Song of the Day - Midnight Rider, Allman Brothers

I'm not a huge AB man, but the I could listen to the recurring riff in this song for hours.

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Conservatism in Pixar Films

Interesting article here.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Crazy Heart - A-

In theaters. Rated R, 109 minutes. Trailer.

Forget that everybody says that Crazy Heart isn't much more than just another version of The Wrestler. New writer/director/producer Scott Cooper's collaboration with the star of the film, Jeff Bridges (as 'Bad' Blake) and co-star Maggie Gyllenhaal features great performances, realistic dramatic arcs, beautiful scenery (not to mention solid supporting work from Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell) and more emotional gravity than any other film this year. Bad is an alcoholic, broke and charming has-been country music star touring the Southwest's worst venues (bowling alleys and the like) when he meets burgeoning young (but world-weary) reporter Jane (Gyllenhaal). Click below for more on Crazy Heart:

Bad and Jane click immediately despite their age difference and her 4 year old son. As he continues on the road, he keeps thinking about her and they forge an unlikely romance. He also works through a troubled relationship with country mega-star Tommy Sweet (Farrell), whom he 'taught everything he knows' and engages in a quasi father/son relationship with Robert Duvall. The relationship with Jane takes a refreshingly honest course after a major error by Bad, and their final scene was one of my favorite of the year, a real 'payoff pitch'.

The director utilizes lots of close-ups to really feel the characters' emotions, and this worked superbly. Both Bridges and Gyllenhaal give great performances - Bridges channelling years of pain and intelligence and Gyllenhaal loving and loathing all at once with her eyes. The story is good, but could have been meatier. I was a bit of a sucker for the film because Bad is a composite of pretty much all of my older relatives (minus the drinking). I can't really understand why this isn't getting more talk as a Best Picture nominee.

As compared to the Wrestler, this film is less gritty (of course), much more watchable, and not quite as affecting. I related more to it because of its locations and language. Doc - watch for lots of Houston landmarks in the last third of the film.

Worth your time. #2 this year.

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Weekend Box Office: 1/22-1/24/10

Avatar wins its 6 weekend in a row with plenty left in the tank. Not even The Rock dressed in a tutu could take it out. Harrison Ford as a research doctor is interesting to me, but Brendan Fraser's presence puts in the rental column.


1. Avatar: 36 mil / -16% / 553 mil
2. Legion: 18.2 mil / (-)
3. Book of Eli: 17 mil / -48% / 62 mil
4. Tooth Fairy: 14.5 mil / (-)
5. Lovely Bones: 9 mil / -48% / 32 mil
6. Sherlock Holmes: 7.1 mil / -28% / 192 mil
7. Extraordinary Measures: 7 mil / (-)
8. Alvin & Chipmunks 2: 6.4 mil / -44% / 204 mil
9. It's Complicated: 6.2 mil / -24% / 99 mil
10. Spy Next Door: 4.8 mil / -51% / 19 mil
11. The Blind Side: 4.5 mil / -19% / 234 mil
12. Up in the Air: 4.3 mil / -21% / 69 mil

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Friday, January 22, 2010

NBC -Thursday night

If you're not watching Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock, then you're missing consistently hilarious characters, moments, and situations. Last night on Parks and Recreation, Leslie (Amy Poehler) had a dinner party to impress her new boyfriend (Justin Theroux). The highlight was Aziz Ansari singing "This is how you do it", then eating a huge hot pepper. 30 Rock had even more elaborate and witty situations as the cast and crew travelled to wicked cold Boston to put on a show. My favorite gag was Tracy demonstrating all the information he picked up on the historical tours.

Julianne Moore's guest stint (and her Boston accent) has been terrific. With so much happening in Boston this week, it's weird that Tina Fey continues to stay ahead of the curve. I can't wait for her take on the whole Leno-Conan fiasco.

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Quote of the Day

"On the Internet, 50 percent is porn material. Why should we refer to the Internet?"

-Vladimir Putin

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Song of the Day - Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen), Baz Luhrmann

I loved this song when it came out in 1999, and its even more weighty now. Some will call it hokey, but given that I became an adult around that time, it is interesting to remember back what I thought about it then and now.

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Pandorum - D+

On DVD and Blu-ray

On a ship in deep space, Bower (Ben Foster) awakens to find himself alone with Payton (Dennis Quaid). Their supervising crew is missing and there are fast moving cannibalistic creatures (which look exactly like The Descent's monsters) all over the ship. As they strive to find out what went wrong, they're in a race against time with the malfunctioning ship and a psychosis brought on by the deep space hibernation.

The violence is overly gruesome and meaningless. The characters don't know who they are and neither do we which makes them far from engaging. Foster has an intense presence, but isn't given time to act - just to shout and run. This represents a new career-low for the moribund Quaid, who could be excused if he were the lead or if there were any interesting ideas or insight. But writer Travis Milloy is more interested in the horror genre than science fiction. The film even threatens to turn into torture porn in one scene. Director Christian Alvart stages each scene like an ADHD afflicted 8 year old who just ate all of his Halloween candy. D+

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Banksy at Sundance

The famed (and loved by Priest and Lawyer) graffiti artist Banksy has a film playing at this week's Sundance Film Festival, and he has graced the site of the Festival, Park City, Utah, with some of his art. Read more here. More pics here.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wonderful World - C-

One of the liberal fantasies perpetuated by Avatar is that less developed countries (like Haiti, for instance) are more spiritual and meaningful since they are forced to be in tune with nature and don' t have the distractions of jobs and responsibilities. Never mind their high infant mortality rate, crippling disease, and unending tribal fights. In Wonderful World, Matthew Broderick plays Ben Singer, a former child entertainer who now works as a book editor. His ex-wife has remarried and his daughter wants less and less time with him. Ben lives with Ibu, a diabetic Senegalese man, who slips into a coma early on. Ibu's sister comes to NYC to see him and hits it off with Ben, teaching him what's really important in life.

Ben is an unshaven, mean-spirited, dour sourpuss. It's no wonder no one wants to be around him. The fact that he used to sing to children only sets up an obvious, uninspired redemption. The culture discussions are one-sided with Senegal shown as a better country than America (I'm immigrating later this month). The only halfway interesting part is when Ben tries to sue the city for negligence, but this is woefully underdeveloped and immediately forgotten. Broderick does as much as his part allows, but he's set up to fail with a project as misconceived as this. The rest of the cast is instantly forgettable. I caught it on HDNET movies almost 2 weeks ago, and it's still available On Demand, but it's hardly worth your money, let alone your time. C-

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Song of the Day - Are You Ready?, Richard Ashcroft

Cool, layered song from his new collaborative project.

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DVD and Blu-ray Releases 1/19/10

Che (Criterion) - #
Gamer - #
Invention of Lying - #
Pandorum - #
Smokin' Aces 2 - #
Whiteout - #

Click below for this week's TV and Blu-ray releases


Dallas: 12th Season
Damages: 2nd Season
Law and Order: 7th Season
thirtysomething: 2nd Season
Weeds: Season 5 - #


Boogie Nights - *

Magnolia - *
Smokin' Aces

# - also on Blu-ray
* - Doctor approved

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Golden Globe Winners

Host Ricky Gervais insulted everyone hilariously, especially Mel Gibson. I'm not sure how plugging a cable from a person's ass into horse's ass warrants Best Picture and Best Director. The Hangover was a surprise win (should have been 500 Days of Summer). Jeff Bridges has been my favorite actor for years. Meryl Streep should have at least 3 Oscars, but not for Julie & Julia (much better in last year's Doubt). The wins for Up and Christoph Waltz are well-deserved. Up in the Air has a good screenplay, but not Tarantino-good. On the TV side, I loved seeing Mad Men, 30 Rock, and Taking Chance take home trophies. Here is my favorite part of the night. Click below for the list of winners.

Best Picture, Drama — Avatar
Best Picture, Comedy/Musical — The Hangover
Best Director — James Cameron, Avatar
Best Actress, Drama — Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Best Actor, Drama — Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Best Actress, Comedy/Musical — Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Best Actor, Comedy/Musical — Robert Downey Jr, Sherlock Holmes
Best Supporting Actress — Mo’Nique, Precious
Best Supporting Actor — Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Best Foreign Language Film — The White Ribbon
Best Animated Feature — Up
Best Screenplay — Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
Best Original Score — Michael Giacchino, Up
Best Original Song — The Weary Kind, Crazy Heart
Best TV Series, Drama – Mad Men
Best TV Series, Comedy — Glee
Best TV Miniseries — Grey Gardens
Best Actress, TV Miniseries — Drew Barrymore, Grey Gardens
Best Actor, TV Miniseries — Kevin Bacon, Taking Chance
Best Actress, TV Drama — Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Best Actor, TV Drama — Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Best Actress, TV Comedy — Toni Collette, United States of Tara
Best Actor, TV Comedy — Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Best Supporting Actress, TV — Chloe Sevigny, Big Love
Best Supporting Actor, TV — John Lithgow, Dexter

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Weekend Box Office: 1/15-1/17/10


1. Avatar: 41.3 mil / -18% / 491 mil
2. Book of Eli: 31.6 mil / (-)
3. Lovely Bones: 17 mil / + / 17.5 mil
4. Alvin & Chipmunks 2: 11.5 mil/-31%/193 mil
5. Sherlock Holmes: 9.8 mil / -41% / 180 mil
6. Spy Next Door: 9.7 mil / (-)
7. It's Complicated: 7.6 mil / -30% / 88 mil
8. Leap Year: 5.8 mil / -37% / 18 mil
9. The Blind Side: 5.6 mil / -26% / 227 mil
10. Up in the Air: 5.5 mil / -24% / 63 mil
11. Daybreakers: 5 mil / -67% / 24 mil
12. Youth in Revolt: 2.8 mil / -59% / 12 mil
13. Princess & Frog: 2.7 mil / -41% / 96 mil

Avatar will pass Titanic to become the highest grossing film ever. I understand that people want to check out the 3-D but does anyone really want to sit through this thing twice? Denzel opened well and Lovely Bones expanded pretty well. Jackie Chan tried to do the domestic comedy thing in Spy Next Door.

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Precious - B+

In theaters. Rated R, 109 minutees. Trailer.

Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) is an obese, black, poor and pregnant (by her father) 16 year old girl living in Harlem in 1987 with her sadistically abusive mother (Mo'Nique). After her high school suspends her because of her (second) pregnancy, she is placed at an alternative school where she meets a compassionate teacher and begins a tenuous journey to 'normal'. Part movie of the week, part unflinching portrait of poverty and incest, the film works on many levels and exhibits a refreshing lack of preaching with a story that could've been turned into a boring object lesson. Click below for more Precious:

While mostly a downer, the film has some funny scenes and gives a glimmer of hope in spite of the terrible circumstances. Mo'Nique's mother character is lazy, mean, and entirely dependent on welfare. She hates Precious because her boyfriend (and Precious' father) prefers Precious to her and she takes that hatred out on Precious with vicious physical and emotional abuse. After she leaves her high school and heads to the alternative school, Precious meets Miss Rain, an attractive liberal that teaches a class of extremely troubled teens. Her illiteracy and pregnancy are huge hurdles that the film doesn't solve, but she does make progress.

The film's most powerful scenes all involve Mo'Nique's character, especially the extremely tense scene when Precious brings her baby home and one of the best scenes of the year when mother has to cop to all the abuse face to face with Precious (with the help of a social worker). Her performance is a tour-de-force, and she should win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress whether she campaigns for it or not. I also thought Mariah Carey (social worker) and Lenny Kravitz (male nurse) provided great layering to the film in their performances. Sidibe is also impressive.

Director Lee Daniels uses various styles and film stocks throughout the movie to convey the mood and escapism of Precious, and deserves his likely Oscar nomination for Best Director. There are several interesting issues that are dealt with in the film, namely AIDS, incest, abuse, homosexuality, black culture, social programs and a shockingly candid indictment of welfare. In a letter writing exchange with Miss Rains, Precious trades comments about welfare checks and arguments for and against keeping her baby (and her first child with down syndrome, referred to throughout the film as Mongo) - this sequence has many thoughtful statements and keeps the evenhanded tone of the film.

Most critics have coupled this with The Blind Side since they both involve a black teen emerging from a horrible ghetto culture to some success - but Precious is a much darker and realistic film (and much better).

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Pass The Torch, Brett

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Song of the Day - That's Not My Name, The Ting Tings

I saw these guys at some festival on Palladia last night and liked this song - they're also playing in a few minutes on SNL.

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Hitler and Leno and Conan

This may not be up long. I'll de-post if it's removed.

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Moon - B+

On DVD and Blu-ray

On the dark side of the moon, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is finishing his 3-year stint managing the mining of Helium-3, an isotope used for fusion that helps solve Earth's energy problems. The only other inhabitant on the lunar station is GERTY, a computer (voiced by Kevin Spacey) who fixes any and every problem. Sam begins hallucinating and this leads to a crash. When Sam is awakened, he will begin questioning everything - from his family and the corporation's intentions to his very existence . . .

First-time director Duncan Jones creates a suffocating, claustrophobic atmosphere and gets surprisingly adept visuals both in the station and on the lunar surface. Clint Mansell's score contributes to the mysterious feeling and hits the emotional points perfectly. Rockwell is basically a one-man show and gives an amazing performance, playing many aspects of himself. The special effects are invisible because the story is gripping enough to place you right into the action. The movie wastes no time going from twist to twist, barely giving the viewer time to keep up.The film was made for a paltry $5 million and this certainly limits its scope with basically only one character talking to himself. The anti-corporation stance is somewhat respectable, but could have been handled more delicately. The film ends a little awkwardly and abruptly. But like the best of the science fiction genre, Moon gives you plenty to think about: long distance relationships, the aging process and its effect on personality, the effects of isolation, and the occasional need for self-reflection. This is required viewing for science-fiction fans, but even for those that aren't, Rockwell's performance is too good to be missed. B+

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Team Conan

I'm pretty sure I speak for Doc and Priest in saying we're on Team Conan.

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Song of the Day - Sabotage

By the Beastie Boys

Heard it this week and forgot what a rock 'em-sock 'em, kick in the teeth it is. It's their best song and the best video ever (directed by Spike Jonze). If it were up to me, Jonze would do a full length version of it next. In the Before the Devil Knows You're Dead commentary, Ethan Hawke talked about the Sabotage video as the inspiration for his hold-up disguise.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Song of the Day - No Speak, No Slave

By The Black Crowes

This gem is hidden deep on their second album. What hooks me every time is the two-part bridge.

Rooster crows at the break of dawn
A mother dies without her only son
A doctor laughs in the face of disease
I never once heard a preacher say please

And you, you want to be heard
But none of us understand a word
And you, you want to be free
Then don't speak like a slave to me.

Policemen who break the laws
Politicians rise and fall
A baby crying for its mother's milk
A daddy's secret hidden guilt

And you, you want to be heard
But none of us understand a word
And you, you want to be free
Then don't speak like a slave to me.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Song of the Day - Idiot Wind

by Bob Dylan

The best break-up song ever is also my favorite of Dylan's. Misanthropy, paranoia, conquest, a troubled search for Christianity, a propensity for sorrow, self-deprecation, and acceptance. It's like holding up a mirror.

Someone's got it in for me, they're planting stories in the press
Whoever it is I wish they'd cut it out but when they will I can only guess.
They say I shot a man named Gray and took his wife to Italy,
She inherited a million bucks and when she died it came to me.
I can't help it if I'm lucky.

People see me all the time and they just can't remember how to act
Their minds are filled with big ideas, images and distorted facts.
Even you, yesterday you had to ask me where it was at,
I couldn't believe after all these years, you didn't know me better than that
Sweet lady.

Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your mouth,
Blowing down the backroads headin' south.
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth,
You're an idiot, babe.
It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe.

I ran into the fortune-teller, who said beware of lightning that might strike
I haven't known peace and quiet for so long I can't remember what it's like.
There's a lone soldier on the cross, smoke pouring out of a boxcar door,
You didn't know it, you didn't think it could be done, in the final end he won the wars
After losing every battle.

I woke up on the roadside, daydreamin' 'bout the way things sometimes are
Visions of your chestnut mare shoot through my head and are makin' me see stars.
You hurt the ones that I love best and cover up the truth with lies.
One day you'll be in the ditch, flies buzzin' around your eyes,
Blood on your saddle.

Idiot wind, blowing through the flowers on your tomb,
Blowing through the curtains in your room.
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth,
You're an idiot, babe.
It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe.

It was gravity which pulled us down and destiny which broke us apart
You tamed the lion in my cage but it just wasn't enough to change my heart.
Now everything's a little upside down, as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped,
What's good is bad, what's bad is good, you'll find out when you reach the top
You're on the bottom.

I noticed at the ceremony, your corrupt ways had finally made you blind
I can't remember your face anymore, your mouth has changed, your eyes
don't look into mine.
The priest wore black on the seventh day and sat stone-faced while the building
I waited for you on the running boards, near the cypress trees, while the springtime turned
Slowly into autumn

Idiot wind, blowing like a circle around my skull,
From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol.
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth,
You're an idiot, babe.
It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe.

I can't feel you anymore, I can't even touch the books you've read
Every time I crawl past your door, I been wishing I was somebody else instead.
Down the highway, down the tracks, down the road to ecstasy,
I followed you beneath the stars, hounded by your memory
And all your raging glory.

I been double-crossed now for the very last time and now I'm finally free,
I kissed goodbye the howling beast on the borderline which separated you from me.
You'll never know the hurt I suffered nor the pain I rise above,
And I'll never know the same about you, your holiness or your kind of love,
And it makes me feel so sorry.

Idiot wind, blowing through the buttons of our coats,
Blowing through the letters that we wrote.
Idiot wind, blowing through the dust upon our shelves,
We're idiots, babe.
It's a wonder we can even feed ourselves.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Song of the Day - I'm Looking Through You

By The Beatles

I'm trying to hit some of their earlier songs that are lesser known. So far I've picked my favorites off the Revolver and Help! albums. This song is my favorite off the Rubber Soul album. The familiar post-India Beatles songs hold up better than the familiar earlier songs. Except "Yesterday", but you don't need me to tell you how great that song is, do you?

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DVD and Blu-ray Releases 1/12/10

Big Fan
The Burning Plain - #
Downloading Nancy
Fame - #
Halloween II
The Hurt Locker - #, *
I Can Do Bad All By Myself - #
In the Loop - #
La Cucina - #
Moon - #
Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont
Post Grad - #
Wrong Turn at Tahoe

Click below for this week's TV and Blu-ray releases

Becker - 3rd Season
ER - 12th Season
Simpsons - 20th Season


8 1/2 (Criterion) - *
Billy Jack
The Brothers Bloom - *
Cliffhanger - *
Last Action Hero
The Matrix - *

# - also on Blu-ray
* - Doctor approved

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Weekend Box Office: 1/8-1/10/10


1. Avatar: 48.5 mil / -29% / 429 mil
2. Sherlock Holmes: 16.6 mil / -55% / 165 mil
3. Alvin & Chipmunks 2: 16.3 mil / -54% / 178 mil
4. Daybreakers: 15 mil / (-)
5. It's Complicated: 11 mil / -42% / 76 mil
6. Leap Year: 9.2 mil / (-)
7. The Blind Side: 7.8 mil / -35% / 219 mil
8. Up in the Air: 7.1 mil / -34% / 55 mil
9. Youth in Revolt: 7 mil / (-)
10. Princess & Frog: 4.7 mil / -52% / 93 mil
11. Invictus: 1.7 mil / -56% / 34 mil
12. New Moon: 1.7 mil / -51% / 291 mil

Avatar is not slowing down that much, closing in on Titanic's take of 600 mil. Jim Cameron knows what people like, just not this person.

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Song of the Day- Casimir Pulaski Day

This song by indie darling Sufjan Stevens is the best, truest song I've ever heard about faith, bar none. And don't worry about the length, for some reason there's like 4 minutes of silence at the end of this. And here is the rest of it.

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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Thursday, January 7, 2010

TV Notes

Bride has introduced me to two new shows that are worthy of mention:

1. Hoarders airs weekly on A&E. Each 60 minute show follows the attempt to clean and bring order to the lives of 2 different hoarders. A hoarder is someone whose "inability to part with their belongings is so out of control that they are on the verge of a personal crisis." The show is fascinating and tastefully done as it shows an interesting mental illness and the predicament of their loved ones.

2. Jersey Shore airs weekly on MTV. The show is similar to The Real World, featuring self-proclaimed 'guidos and guidettes' that live in a house on the "Jersey Shore". The 20 somethings on the show are all very primitive humans - they are only concerned about their hair, abs, spray tan, steroids and hot tubs. It is interesting to see a unique regional vibe in homogenized America, and the car wreck that is their lives is hard to turn away from. One guy goes by "the situation" (referring to his abs) and one gal goes by "J-wowww". Here's the NY Times "Handbook" to the show.

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Hook 'Em

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Song of the Day- I and Love and You

This little number by The Avett Brothers will sneak up on you, so listen twice. And here is the rest of it.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Up in the Air - Part 2

Lawyer was a little underwhelmed in December, but I found much more in the film than he did. The aerial shots of the different cities was a nice directorial touch - I've never seen establishing shots done like this before. Other great directorial touches include putting military personnel in the airport backgrounds and placing mostly cold buildings behind George Clooney while placing trees and bushes behind Anna Kendrick. The quick back and forth dialogue was enjoyable and funny. Clooney was a little too smug in a few scenes, but Kendrick and Vera Farmiga nailed their parts (as did Reitman-regulars Jason Bateman, Sam Elliott, and JK Simmons). The scene with Simmons is where it became a great film for me, only slightly dipping with the Danny McBride part before pulling it together with the touching (and apparently real) stories from the recently fired . . .

Like Sideways, the title obviously has multiple meanings. Bateman says it verbatim toward the end, but it's also metaphorically appropriate addressing where we are as a country and a species. Maybe mankind has always had an uncertain future, but there used to be some sense of community. I loved the ending and Clooney takes the action that so many others in the film (and us) do: Just keep living and put one foot in front of the other.

As for defending marriage, I though Clooney did a pretty good job when he talked about the best moments of a person's life are usually shared with someone else. This could represent friends, family, or a spouse, but seemed to prompt Clooney himself into serious action. The film is not quite tight or focused enough and meanders toward the end. There are minor distractions (e.g Can, sir? and Bateman talking about his bowel habits), but its heart is absolutely in the right place. It's right there with its Pixar namesake as the biggest emotional impact of the year. A-

Revised Top 10 of 2009 (with much left to see)

1. The Hurt Locker
2. Up
3. Inglourious Basterds
4. Up in the Air
5. Public Enemies
6. (500) Days of Summer
7. Adventureland
8. The Brothers Bloom
9. The Hangover
10. Funny People

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Song of the Day - I've Just Seen a Face

By The Beatles

After the overwhelming response to my last Beatles post, I'd though I'd post another early favorite. It's off the Help! album. Short, sweet, and to the point. There are some great, rare photos on the link.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Some Avatar Thoughts

Priest gave a review of Avatar opening weekend and I was warned of its shortcomings (bad dialogue is always unsettling to me). I gave it the best chance possible (IMAX 3D) but the story was too familiar and the characters were barely present - only there for Jim Cameron to go nuts with CGI. I recognized the similarity to Dances with Wolves immediately. Then I started thinking about everything that DWW got right and everything that Avatar got wrong . . .

In Dances with Wolves, Lt. John Dunbar is about to have foot amputated at a Civil War field hospital when he decides to go on a suicide mission. He inadvertently becomes a hero and chooses to be stationed in South Dakota to see the frontier. He meets some members of the Sioux tribe, most notably a white woman who was adopted by the tribe as a child. Her husband is recently deceased and they slowly fall in love. He becomes integrated into the tribe when he helps them find a buffalo herd. He eventually makes it back to his post, but is presumed to be a traitor since he has adopted the Native American clothing and language. He helps the Sioux tribe kill Union soldiers when they come to rescue him. The film ends with Dunbar leaving the tribe to talk to American authorities about a truce.

In Avatar, Cpl. Jake Scully has recently become paraplegic (though we're told, not shown, this). His twin brother is recently murdered (again told, not shown) and this allows Jake to become an avatar (human DNA mixed with Na'vi DNA). Jake's brother was a scientist, but Jake is only a "grunt" and considered stupid by everyone in the film. The Na'vi are the indigenous humanoid creatures on the alien moon Pandora in the year 2154. Jake's avatar is able to integrate into the Na'vi tribe because some magical weeping willow insects land on him, perceived as a sign from the local deity. He meets a female Na'vi and falls in love. She has no backstory which keeps her character distant. Jake has nothing to offer the tribe and somehow he becomes a better "native" in less than 3 months than everyone else. (This reminded me of the first Dances with Wolves remake - The Last Samurai - when Tom Cruise became the best samurai in Japan in just a few short months.) Jake is able to lead an attack on the earthlings and become a member of the tribe through a bunch of New Age mumbo jumbo crap.

So Jake's stupid and should have great difficulty walking in his avatar, but is able to tame a dragon that few ever have? A hardcore Colonel almost gets scratched to death within minutes of being on Pandora, but the paraplegic (!) Jake is basically invincible. Michelle Rodriguez disobeys orders but is allowed to rescue Jake (who is only being guarded by one - ! - soldier). Why wasn't anyone guarding the avatar transport stations? Didn't anyone notice Rodriguez war-painting her helicopter?

John Dunbar was never a great Indian - he just had guns. Dances with Wolves has several three dimensional characters (Dunbar, Stands with a Fist, Wind in his Hair, Kicking Bird). Even Kicking Bird's wife, Cisco the horse, and Two Socks the wolf are great characterizations. Despite a 3D IMAX presentation, every character in Avatar was one-dimensional. Kevin Costner captures honest moments of humor throughout Dances with Wolves, but every attempt at humor is Avatar is forced, an obvious attempt at a catch-phrase. Dances with Wolves ends on a perfect bittersweet note while Avatar ends on a predictable and sour one. It feels like a set up for a sequel. Would the humans really give up the valuable mineral that easily? Doubtful. Why wouldn't the humans have tactical nuclear weapons to destroy the Na'vi? They did in Aliens. Jim Cameron must think Aliens is his best film since he's copying it so shamelessly. But the exact same left-wing message in Aliens was handled delicately and subtly - not pulverized into the viewer's brain as in Avatar.

Some other random thoughts:

1) Would a biologist really be smoking in a high-oxygen environment? How much did Nick Naylor negotiate for that?

2) The tail-to-tail connection with the animals creeped me out as only bestiality can.

3) The rituals were embarrassing. Left wingers deny Jesus ever walked on earth but then come up with this nonsense?

4) The music in Avatar by James Horner is a retread of his Glory main theme with hints of Titanic thrown in. The ending song by Leona Lewis ("I see you") is truly horrible, a shameless attempt to recreate Celine Dion's Titanic success (financial, not artistic). John Barry's DWW soundtrack is one of the best and memorable of the past 30 years with separate beautiful melodies for specific characters.

5) Were the footstep light-ups a tribute to Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" video?

6) So you mourn killing dogs but are OK killing people you don't agree with politically? Reminds me of people who insist on abortion on demand who pick up pitchforks for Michael Vick.

7) There was zero-tension in Avatar. I knew how and when every character was going to die. The plot points (specifically Sigourney's last scene) were clumsy at best and pandering at worst.

8) At least we still have Aliens, which is the exact opposite of Avatar. Aliens is tough, tense, credible, unpredictable, and has a hero that actually goes on a journey (discovering motherhood).

Aliens: A
Dances with Wolves: A
Avatar: C+
Thank You For Smoking: B+

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Song of the Day - Fell on Black Days, Soundgarden

The best song from a great band is up to mark their reunion and forthcoming tour. Click here for information on the reunion.

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Monday, January 4, 2010

Compulsory Viewing

Here is a superb montage of 2009 films set to Radiohead. Here is a pretty good montage of the 2000's in film. I love these.

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DVD and Blu-ray Releases 1/5/10

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs - #
The Final Destination - #
50 Dead Men Walking - #
Lorna's Silence
10 Things I Hate About You - #

Click below for this week's TV and Blu-ray releases

Chuck: 2nd Season - #


Battlestar Galactica: Season 1
Cheaper by the Dozen 2
Dawn of the Dead
Dogtown and Z-Boys
End of Days
The Green Berets
Riding Giants

# - also on Blu-ray

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Heat - B+

On DVD (1995). Rated R, 172 minutes. Trailer.

I saw Heat in the theater in 1995, but given its pedigree (written and directed by Michael Mann) and cast (Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Jon Voight, Val Kilmer), I owed it another (long) viewing. I remembered that the film felt like a chore most of the time, and my memory was correct. Despite fabulously well-written male lead characters and a good soundtrack, the bulk of this good film felt like work. Click below for more Heat:

The film follows disciplined and sophisticated thief Neil (De Niro) and bombastic and obsessive detective Vincent (Pacino) as they both work opposite sides of the law leading up to a major heist. Mann is basically examining the nature of men and their attraction to 'action' or heat. They need relationships and connections, but those things compromise their ability to be the best at what they do - in the end their true natures win out and the women and kids are left to the side. I certainly have a different perspective now than I did in 1995 and those themes are dead-on to the modern predicament of men everywhere.

Why is this such a slog? I can't really answer that except that most scenes are set in darkness and De Niro's character is too impenetrable to give life to the film. Mann's use of blue and reds and different lighting to mirror the emotions of the characters is really interesting, and the shoot-out scenes are typically awesome as in every other Mann film. I remember the big deal when this came out was the first scenes ever with Pacino and De Niro together, and they are cool to watch - but that's only about 15 of 172 minutes.

Lots of recognizable faces including Ashley Judd along with Natalie Portman, Jeremy Piven, Wes Studi, Buffalo Bill, the All State guy, Bubba Gump, William Fichtner and Amy Brenneman (dowdy on purpose?).

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Snap Judgments - a Quick Review of 5 Movies

(500) Days of Summer

My man Priest fell for this film hard during its theatrical run and I basically agree, but I don't find Zooey Deschanel quite as irresistible as he does. Joseph Gordon-Levitt certainly impresses, but even more impressive is director Marc Webb who holds things together when they really should fall apart. And just when the film is about to become redundant, Webb (with the screenwriters) pulls out all the stops with the split screen expectations-reality scene, followed by the charcoal sketch, followed by the 1/2 day scene, and on and on and on. The ending line with JGL's reaction is absolutely perfect. One of the year's very best. B+


A teacher gets fired when she encourages a student to fabricate a story about his parents. This leads to interesting observations about religion and technology's effect on personal interactions. The cerebral Atom Egoyan directs and his usual mixed timeline is used well to explore conflicts and resolutions. It's too politically correct for my taste - (after all, every airline hijacker in the world for over 2 decades has been Muslim) - but there's a lot to think about here for the patient viewer. See The Sweet Hereafter first, and if you like that, see this. B

Terminator: Salvation

Not nearly as bad as you've heard. It never had a chance to reach the quality level of the first 2 Terminator films with McG at the helm, but there are some OK ideas rolling around about what it means to be human. Still, it's overly referential and reverent toward Cameron's first 2 Terminators with virtually no new interesting characters. Christian Bale's John Connor is too serious and the whole thing is in desperate need for Cameron's sense of humor. B-

G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra

Essentially a video game without an ounce of drama, believability, or honesty throughout its 2 hour running time. And not disastrously bad enough to be remembered. Who the hell goes to a funeral on a motorcycle wearing a leather jacket when it's raining? What about all those underwater fiery explosions? Idiots. C

What Doesn't Kill You

Mark Ruffalo and Ethan Hawke play small time Boston hoodlums who go their separate ways after some jail time. Ruffalo gives his usual great naturalistic performance, but Hawke's gold tooth-capped tough guy is as scary and menacing as Paul Blart. It's based on writer-director Brian Goodman's early life and he should be commended for rising out of the ghetto. But this is on the bad side of all the Goodfellas ripoffs - and they've all been pretty bad - except Casino. Hawke was never meant to play Denzel's part in Training Day. Ruffalo is always flawless in support, but has yet to find a great leading part. C

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Weekend Box Office: 1/1-1/3/10


1. Avatar: 68.3 mil / -10% / 352 mil
2. Sherlock Holmes: 38.4 mil / -39% / 141 mil
3. Alvin & Chipmunks 2: 36.6 mil / -25% / 157 mil
4. It's Complicated: 18.7 mil / -15% / 59 mil
5. The Blind Side: 12.7 mil / +10% / 209 mil
6. Up in the Air: 11.4 mil / +1% / 45 mil
7. Princess & Frog: 10 mil / +11% / 86 mil
8. The Morgans?: 5.2 mil / +4% / 26 mil
9. Nine: 4.3 mil / -22% / 14 mil
10. Invictus: 4.1 mil / +2% / 31 mil
11. New Moon: 3.6 mil / +18% / 288 mil
12. Brothers: 1.3 mil / +7% / 28 mil
13. 2012: 1.1 mil / +13% / 163 mil
14. Precious: 1 mil / +10% / 43.5 mil

Avatar has the best 3rd weekend ever. It's on its way to top The Dark Knight's take of 533 million. The Blind Side hits 200 million.

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Song of the Day - For No One

By The Beatles

I've gone on and on about Bob Dylan, assuming that it's common knowledge that The Beatles are the best. As Paul Thomas Anderson says in one of his Boogie Nights commentaries: "Every song is a Beatles song." For No One is arguably their saddest song and my favorite off the Revolver album. I'm not sure why the link has Let it Be's album cover instead of Revolver.

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Friday, January 1, 2010

A Perfect Getaway - C+

A recently married couple (Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich) are on their Hawaii honeymoon when they learn another newlywed couple has been murdered nearby. They decide to continue with their hike down a remote trail and meet 2 other couples, both filmed and written as suspiciously as possible. Zahn plays a mildly successful screenwriter and this fact allows writer-director David Twohy to openly address the fundamentals of plotting a movie. Twohy breaks many screenwriting rules throughout the first 2 acts, but he runs out of ideas for the third.

The huge plot twist is fairly easy to spot, especially if you've seen (spoiler link) this, but the dialogue alternates between too self-referential and too familiar. And none of the actors really pop off the screen. Timothy Olyphant comes closest as an Iraqi war veteran who likes to rough it in the wild. Zahn and Jovovich are awkward together and their back-and-forth dialogue is as forced as it gets. The Hawaiian scenery is unbelievably beautiful, definitely the best thing in the film. The first 2 acts work pretty well - especially for film dorks - and the whole film probably works for super-fans of the thriller genre. But if your whole film relies on a plot twist, you never really had much of a film to begin with. C+

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Happy New Year

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