Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ghost Writer - B++

In theaters. Rated R, 128 minutes. Trailer.

Shortly after his term as Prime Minister, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) sells his memoirs to a US publishing house for $10million and begins work with a ghost writer to complete them. Trouble is, the first 'ghost' is found dead after falling from a ferry and washing up on a desolate beach. So then the publisher selects world weary and solitary Ewan McGregor to complete the memoirs. After a long journey from London to Nantucket, he settles into a deceptively simple writing situation. Click below for more on a near-perfectly realized suspenseful political thriller:

McGregor's character is never named, which fits with his character's disaffectation and general intellectual laziness. His major career accomplishment prior to this job was the ghost writing of a famous musician's autobiography. He is immediately spooked by his predecessor's death and the burgeoning investigation into some of Lang's actions related to terrorism and the United States. The women in Lang's life are his assistant/mistress Amelia (a surprisingly good Kim Catrall) and his intelligent and forceful wife (an excellent Olivia Williams) - they both have chemistry with McGregor and are leary of his role in writing Lang's history. Tom Wilkinson also provides a typically great supporting performance as a pivotal plot point. The film has several layered plot points that slowly reveal and a general mystery that I don't want to come close to ruining.

The film is pleasantly tense the whole time, with each new person appearing onscreen grabbing the audience's attention as a potential player in the mystery. Its not overly political, but had enough mixed in to engage that part of my brain. Most of the time it feels like an old-fashioned mystery/thriller.

Polanski's considerable skills are on full display throughout the film. My favorite directorial flourish was the focus changing when McGregor and Williams are getting to know eachother and the focus goes between them in the same shot several times. There are several funny lines and scenes in the film and it is nice to have a film whose dialogue is aimed at college graduates. The setting is a post-modern house on the edge of the ocean - its isolation is almost a character in the film, and Polanski uses the environment and weather to inform the scenes.

Why the dreaded B++? It is really good, but has some flaws (a couple of draggy spots, a lack of substantial meta-elements, a little hokey at times), so it doesn't deserve the A-.

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Saturday Night Live - 2/27/09

Jennifer Lopez hosted and sang last night's SNL, an above average episode. See the available videos here. The recurring ESPN sketches with Will Forte and Jason Sudeikis are the best written (and dirtiest) parts of the show this past year and last night's was no different.Other highlights included a takedown of "We are the World 2" and an "Office Romance" skit where Kenan Thompson commented on some flirtations. Seth Myers continues to be a shill for Obama and the whole episode seemed to accentuate Lopez's Hispanic heritage in a borderline racist way, sometimes good (The Telemundo-Olympics skit), but mostly bad. Fred Armisen's Governor Patterson made another triumphant appearance. Hopefully, it's not the last. B

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Weekend Box Office: 2/26-2/28/10

The bleak Shutter Island has a great hold while 2 R-rated genre films have pretty good openings. Avatar and Crazy Heart hold well for the pre-Oscar weekend.


1. Shutter Island: 22mil/-46%/75mil
2. Cop Out: 18.6 mil / (-)
3. The Crazies: 16.5 mil / (-)
4. Avatar: 14 mil / -14% / 707 mil
5. Valentine's Day: 9.5 mil / -43% / 100 mil
6. Percy Jackson: 9.8 mil / -36% / 71 mil
7. Dear John: 9.5 mil / -30% / 73 mil
8. The Wolfman: 4.1 mil / -58% / 57 mil
9. Tooth Fairy: 3.5 mil / -21% / 54 mil
10. Crazy Heart: 2.5 mil / -14% / 25 mil

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Saturday, February 27, 2010


Stunning set of pictures here.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Movie Releases - 2/26/10

Cop Out

Kevin Smith directs Tracy Morgan & Bruce Willis in a take off of the 80s black-white buddy cop comedies. The red band trailer was OK the 1st time through, but phallic jokes have a short 1/2 life. Willis looks bored, Morgan overdoes it, & Smith hasn't done anything worthwhile since the Clerks screenplay. Seann William Scott is usually great.

The Crazies

Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell try to fight off residents of their Kansas hometown who start going crazy because of contaminated drinking water. Breck Eisner (Sahara) directs. Pretty good reviews if this type of movie is your thing.

The Prophet

A best foreign language film nominee for the upcoming Oscar ceremony, this limited release has an illiterate young man beginning a prison stint who has to deal with the system. Directed by Jacques Audiard, who made the very good Read My Lips and the overpraised The Beat That My Heart Skipped.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

DVD and Blu-ray Releases 2/23/10

The Box - #
Cirque Du Freak:Vampire's Assistant - #
The Damned United - #
Dead Snow - #
Everybody's Fine
The Informant! - #
Jersey Shore: Season 1 - ^
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths - #
Motherhood - #
Nurse Jackie: Season One - #
The September Issue
Sinbad: Where U Been? - ^
Sorority Row - #

Click below for this week's Blu-ray releases

Analyze This/Analyze That
Dirty Harry/Magnum Force - *
Frantic/Presumed Innocent
Funny Farm/Spies Like Us
Grumpy Old Men 1 and 2
Miss Congeniality 1 and 2

# - also on Blu-ray
^ - Lawyer approved
* - Doctor approved

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Food Inc. - B

On DVD. Rated PG, 94 minutes. Trailer.

Food Inc. is a documentary examining the American food industry and its impact on consumers. Its proponents make it sound like a modern day version of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle but it fails to live up to the hype. Those viewers who are already obsessed with 'food origin' and always eating organic pancakes with vegan honey will think this film is a religious experience. For me, a middle-of-the-road eater, the film was interesting and surprisingly realistic in its portrayal of the problem and the solution, but frustrated me with its overly dramatic tone and lack of any major revelations or insights. Click below for more an Oscar nominated FOOD:

The following are the 'big reveals' of the film: (1) Most food comes from a few companies; (2) An insane amount of food is corn based; and (3) Cheap food isn't as healthy as organic, expensive food - None of which are shocking or revelatory to any informed person. The film starts with an interview with Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, in a diner while he eats a hamburger and fries - a refreshingly realistic way to start the movie. Next we hear all about the consolidation of food production over the past century into the hands of only 4 companies. The director, Robert Kenner, uses interesting visual cues and setups to display the changes in food production and the food itself.

The music and voiceovers are too heavy-handed given the subject matter. Food is an important subject, but give me a break. I can't fault the filmmakers for taking their subject seriously, but it undermined the effectiveness of the film for me. My favorite parts were the interviews with the ex-hippie, current organic company CEO talking about how the way to fix the system is to vote with your dollars because the market serves the people - an amazing truth spoken by leftist. There are also a series of scenes with an organic farmer that work because of his earnestness and plainspoken manner. The final argument in the film is against Monsanto, which owns the patent to the main soybean used in America and agressively enforces its rights - the blame for this is put on the government and former ceos of the affected companies.

All in all, an interesting film. It is weird that a head of lettuce costs the same as a hamburger, and I do wish food was healthier, but I am not sure I am ready to pay for it. I think The Cove is better than this, but this will probably win the Oscar for best documentary because it reinforces the food as religion feelings of a big percentage of the Academy.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Must Read - Secular/Religious Approach to Policy

A little off-topic, but this essay from Stanley Fish is thought-provoking and worth your time.

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Shutter Island - B+

In theaters. Rated R, 138 minutes. Trailer.

Shutter Island is an engrossing psychological thriller with expert performances and an interesting resolution. Unfortunately, what it has in style, it lacks in character development and plot. Director Martin Scorsese helms this adaptation of another of Dennis Lehane's (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone) books with the great Leonardo DiCaprio as US Marshall Teddy Daniels. He is investigating the mysterious disappearance of a violent inmate at a high level mental institution/prison on Shutter Island off of the coast of Massachusetts. Click below for more on SI:

He is joined by a new partner (Mark Ruffalo) and quickly identifies Dr. Cawley, head of the facility (Ben Kingsley), as a manipulative caretaker uninterested in meaningfully assisting Teddy's search. As he interviews the patients, nurses and orderlies, Scorsese shows us Teddy's inner-life and dreams as he deals with his time as a soldier and his experiences with the aftermath of the Dachau concentration camp and the death of his wife in a fire at their apartment building. Teddy works with Ruffalo to unfurl the mystery he is faced with, but despite vague clues and an elaborate conspiracy theory, he never makes headway. When he is on the cusp of solving the whole case, it crashes down on him.

That plot summary is vague on purpose. The film has several twists and turns, some of which are actually surprising. The ending of the film was thought-provoking and not completely clear - it led me to want to see it again. Scorsese does a masterful job of leading the viewer into a suffocatingly isolated prison - highlighting all of the details of the journey into the prison - the viewer is on edge the whole time because of the vulnerability of Teddy and Ruffalo and all of the ominous and knowing looks everyone seems to be exchanging. Kingsley and Max Von Sydow are perfect as the bookish villains with cloudy motives.

For me, the dream sequences with all of the fantastic imagery were too much - I never like fantasy even set like this. The visuals in the dreams are interesting, but I was mostly unimpressed because they seemed overproduced and the saturated colors clashed with the palette of the rest of the film in a way I didn't like. Likewise, I thought the film would be full of lush and beautiful usage of its setting, but found the cinematography (other than in the dream sequences) to be boring and uninspired. The other big problem with the film is the lack of character development - only Teddy is developed at all and the rest of the cast is left with scraps in the script to try and fashion characters with. Buffalo Bill appears in two scenes....for what?

The flashbacks to the concentration camp are an intriguing look into how Scorsese would've shot Schindler's List (he traded Cape Fear with Spielberg for Schindler's). The flashbacks involving the drowned children were too much for this parent. My favorite parts of the film involved Teddy's flashbacks and any scene regarding Teddy's life.

Bottom line is that this is a 'pretty good' film with enough Hitchcockian suspense to garner a B+. In the Lehane film series, my rankings are 1. Mystic River, 2. Gone Baby Gone and 3. Shutter Island. Its almost a B.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Song of the Day - How's It Gonna Be, Third Eye Blind

Borderline hokey song has remained one of my favorites.

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Odds and Ends

Cool snippets with actors about the best performances of the decade.

Fascinating study of enigmatic director Werner Herzog.

U2's The Edge as real estate developer?

Pearl Jam will be the musical guest on Saturday Night Live on March 13.

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Weekend Box Office: 2/19-2/21/10

Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio each have their best opening ever. Valentine's Day topical title lends itself to a huge drop and Shutter Island no doubt took a lot of The Wolfman's audience.


1. Shutter Island: 40.2 mil / (-)
2. Valentine's Day: 17.1 mil / -70% / 87 mil
3. Avatar: 16.1 mil / -32% / 687 mil
4. Percy Jackson: 15.3 mil / -51% / 59 mil
5. The Wolfman: 9.8 mil / -69%
6. Dear John: 7.3 mil / -55% / 66 mil
7. Tooth Fairy: 4.5 mil / -26% / 50 mil
8. Crazy Heart: 3 mil / -29% / 22 mil
9. From Paris w/ Love: 2.5 mil/-55%/21mil
10. Edge of Darkness: 2.2 mil/-54%/ 40 mil
11. Book of Eli: 1.8 mil / -49% / 91 mil
12. When in Rome: 1.7 mil / -53% / 29 mil
13. The Blind Side: 1.5 mil / -34% / 247 mil
14. Up in the Air: 1 mil / -40% / 81 mil

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Invention of Lying - D+

Ricky Gervais must think everyone on Earth (except himself, of course) is an raging idiot. Every character in The Invention of Lying tells the truth all the time, no matter how brutal it might be. One day, after losing his job and getting evicted, Mark Bellison (Gervais - basically playing himself) starts telling lies to get more money. Then he lies to get another date with Jennifer Garner, then lies to get his friend out of a drunk driving charge (nice!). He does draw the line at lying to get women to have sex with him - which he must consider rape. He then turns the movie into a pro-atheist, anti-God, anti-Christian diatribe as misguided as it is simplistic . . .

It's unfortunate that Gervais categorizes all Christians as mindless, gullible dopes. If he hadn't, then this failed satire wouldn't have unravelled as soon as he brought his made-up beliefs to the public on the backs of a couple of Pizza Hut boxes (like Moses and the Ten Commandments). There is no one defending religion in the film, therefore no real drama or tension exists. Worse than that, Gervais isn't funny at all, just smarmy, and his attempts at self-deprecation grew stale years ago (however he does have a future hosting awards shows since he's an expert at ridiculing celebrities' sense of self-importance). The cameos (especially Jason Bateman, Edward Norton, Tina Fey, and Philip Seymour Hoffman) work well for the most part, but in the end we're stuck with a predictable relationship snoozefest where Garner will no doubt choose Gervais's inner goodness over Rob Lowe's outward godliness.

Gervais has been great on TV and the public's fawning over him must have led him to the conclusion that they're (you're) morons. I've never seen a film attack it's entire audience before, but by the end, it's Gervais who's insulting our intelligence, not vice versa. D+

Lawyer thought it was funnier than I did.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Movie Releases - 2/19/10

Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese's 1st narrative film since The Departed is his 4th in a row with Leonard Dicaprio. It's getting some mixed reviews with most comparing it to his over-the-top Cape Fear. The trailer has been around for over 6 months and contains some amazing imagery. It's based on a Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone) novel and boasts a terrific supporting cast (Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson, Michelle Williams, Jackie Earle Haley).

Ghost Writer
Ewan McGregor is a ghost-writer who agrees to complete the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan). But he runs into some trouble, then finds out a previous ghost-writer died under mysterious circumstances. Roman Polanski directs a rare contemporary film. Say what you want about Polanski, but he can be one of the most exciting directors around when things are clicking.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Metropolis at the Brandenburg Gate

Coolest screening ever last night at the Berlin Film Festival:

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

DVD and Blu-ray Releases 2/16/10

Black Dynamite - #
Clint Eastwood: 35 Films 35 Years
Coco Before Chanel - #
Freeway Killer - #
Good Hair
Halo Legends - #
Hunger - #
Law Abiding Citizen - #
Revanche - #
Women in Trouble - #

Click below for this week's Blu-ray releases

Cabin Fever
Dirty Harry Collection - *
Goodfellas - *
The Ladykillers - *
Lola Montes
Ran - *

# - also on Blu-ray
* - Doctor approved

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Favorite Scene - Annie Hall

Watch here.

A lined-up crowd of ticket holders waiting to get into the theater, Alvy and Annie among them. A bum of indistinct chatter can be heard through the ensuing scene.

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Song of the Day- Wake Up

This stunning song from Arcade Fire's first album still amazes five years on. For proper sonic experience, crank volume.And here is the rest of it.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day - D+

In theaters. Rated PG-13, 125 minutes (!). Trailer.

A paltry movie crop combined with a Valentine's Day outing with Bride culminated in an ill-advised viewing of Valentine's Day. With a great trailer and a basic premise and structure similar to the enjoyable He's Just Not That Into You, Director Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman), an allstar cast and the studio were able to bamboozle $50million before the word of mouth will sink this uninteresting and idiotic film. The film follows a bazillion storylines on Valentine's Day in Los Angeles and shakes out every cliche in the book with hardly a shred of character development or any actual laughs. Click below for more on a scary VD:

Let's start with what was at least okay: Anne Hathaway as a 'adult phone entertainer' on the side and her budding relationship with Topher Grace (interesting enough), Taylor Swift (funny sending herself up), and the always great Jennifer Garner. Each of these components had some life and interesting angles, but only got about 5 or 6 minutes of screentime so it didn't make up the difference. The worst parts of the film were George Lopez (always terrible), Jessica Biel, Queen Latifah and Hector Elizondo/Shirley McLaine.

The worst part about the whole experience was the audience reaction - laughing at only 'poop' jokes and 'aaaahing' at all the processed sugary moments. Ashton Kutcher actually wasn't that bad since he wasn't really acting, just playing himself.

This one is instantly forgettable and an insult to audiences and its actors.

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Them Crooked Vultures Concert - 2/10/10

[Guest Review - Dentist] The Fillmore - Charlotte, NC

Historically speaking, there have been some really good “supergroups” (think The Travelling Wilburys and Cream and more recently Mad Season and The Raconteurs ), but just as many really bad ones (Tinted Windows anyone?) . So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I attended the recent Them Crooked Vultures show at The Fillmore. My pre-show knowledge of the group consisted of the following: a) reviews I read had labeled them as a pure guitar-driven rock band b) they have garnered a huge following in the UK and c) one of the three members of the band is none other than John Paul Jones. Formed in 2009, Them Crooked Vultures consists of Dave Grohl, Josh Homme and the aforementioned John Paul Jones. It’s a bit of a weird amalgamation and I have never been a fan of Grohl, nor could I name a single Queens of the Stone Age song if pressed, but the chance to see rock-n-roll royalty Mr. Jones and just plain curiosity got the best of me. Click below for more on TCV:

The band took the stage in an unassuming manner and after a quick hello from Josh, launched into their 15 song set. Musically, there’s no new ground covered and certainly not from a lyrical standpoint either. But what TCV lack in originality, they make up for in pure in-your-face rock & roll bombast. As I said, I’ve never been a fan of Dave Grohl and frankly when it comes to the Foo Fighters, I’ve always felt his vocals are a bit on the annoying side. However, behind the drum kit, he absolutely destroyed. I was mesmerized watching him probably more than anyone else the entire night. John Paul Jones’ virtuosity was likewise impressive as he deftly switched from playing bass, keyboards and mandolin with equal proficiency…oh, and in case you’re wondering he is 64 years old. And let’s be honest, they guy was a founding member of Led Zeppelin, arguably one of the greatest rock & roll bands of all time and until I get the chance to see Page or Plant, he’s the next best thing. Homme vocally as a frontman was somewhat disappointing, but he is physically intimidating and was fairly impressive on lead guitar. He also repeatedly stopped between songs and said, as if still in complete awe of his bandmate, “Ladies and gentlemen, John Paul F**king Jones”, which seemed like an honest moment every time it happened. Standout songs in an all original Nirvana/Foo Fighters/Led Zeppelin, QOTSA-free setlist included “No One Loves Me and Neither Do I”, “New Fang” and “Elephants”.

A good performance from a great supergroup of musical talent and a decent collection of songs from their first offering—make of that what you will. I’ll likely buy the disc and would pay to see them again—worth seeing if they come to your city. Take note Mr. Iha.

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Weekend Box Office: 2/12-2/14/10

3 huge openings pushed Avatar to 4th place, but it only dropped 4%. I don't know anyone who's actually gone twice. Most films held well over the Hallmark-created holiday weekend.


1. Valentine's Day: 52.4 mil / (-)
2. Percy Jackson: 31.1 mil / (-)
3. The Wolfman: 30.6 mil / (-)
4. Avatar: 22 mil / -4% / 660 mil
5. Dear John: 15.3 mil / -50% / 53 mil
6. Tooth Fairy: 5.6 mil / -16% / 42 mil
7. From Paris w/ Love: 4.7 mil / -42% / 16mil
8. Edge of Darkness: 4.6 mil / -33% / 36 mil
9. Crazy Heart: 4 mil / +12% / 16.5 mil
10. When in Rome: 3.4 mil / -38% / 26 mil
11. Book of Eli: 3.3 mil / -31% / 87 mil
12. The Blind Side: 2.2 mil / -12% / 245 mil

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

We Are the World - Haiti

There's just so much there. Awkward group raps, Vince Vaughn(!), Jeff Bridges, Lil' Wayne (?), Jamie Foxx doing Ray Charles and so much more.

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Song of the Day - Gimme Shelter

By the Rolling Stones

The other timeless song from Let it Bleed (the 1st posted here), Gimme Shelter has been used in many films and this classic commercial starring Brad Pitt and directed by David Fincher. But it still stands tall on its own with an epic sweeping sound. Maybe the best backup singers ever. It's been used in Goodfellas, Casino, L4yer Cake, and The Departed.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

A Serious Man - B+

Lawyer's original review is here.

Most have found Joel and Ethan Coen's most autobiographical film to date borderline nihilistic, providing zero answers concerning religion and life. But peppered throughout A Serious Man are several ideas on how to cope if you ever find yourself cursed or suffering a Job-like series of events. Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is dealing with distant children, difficult neighbors, and a divorcing wife, but his socially inept brother (Richard Kind) is jealous of him. Count your blessings. Every member of Larry's family is unhappy for one reason or another but they all need him financially, but even more, they need him to be more active and involved. Many have felt the opening scene, a fake Jewish folktale, has nothing to do with the rest of the film. But the Jewish wife in that scene takes matter in her own hands. God helps those who help themselves . . .

The first rabbi encourages Larry to consider other perspectives. The second rabbi encourages him to help others. But the film builds up to Marshak, the elder rabbi. When Marshak finally speaks, he quotes Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love": When the truth is found to be lies. And all hope within you dies. The rabbi then asks, "Then what?". The question is answered in the song: Don't you want somebody to love? Is that "somebody" God, your wife, your kids, yourself? You'll have to decide. But these are just ideas to help you get through this waking life. If you have everything figured out my your fourth or fifth decade, then what? What do you do with your remaining years?

The last scenes have undisclosed medical test results and a tornado bearing down on the town. The abrupt ending stresses the fact that in life, there's always another obstacle to overcome. It appears that Larry might reconcile with his wife. Her friend has received his comeuppance. Larry has bonded with his brother in a meaningful way (in an empty pool - or was it partially full?). And it appears Larry will get tenure. What's so bad? Why so serious? Maybe the easiest answer is in the title card that precedes the film: "Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you".

This is one of the Coens' strongest writing and directing achievements. The structure of the film is circular while at the same time classical with events happening in threes. 3 visits from a co-professor, 3 dreams, the son being chased 3 times. There is excellent cross-cutting of Larry and his son as well as with the car crashes. The Coens place important events in the background and show a great amount of scope in the cluttered offices of the rabbis and academics of 1967. The directing is very strong with subtle touches that add other levels of meaning. The way the son holds on to his yarmulke as he runs down the street. The American flag being torn apart by the wind. The transistor radio being held in close proximity to the Kiddush cup. An on and on - in nearly every scene. Anti-semitism creeps in as does modern society's effect on people and religion.

Roger Deakins's cinematography is impeccable, most impressive in the nighttime scenes. The unconventional cast might be unappealing but each delivers that unmistakable Coen dialogue perfectly. We're still a ways off from their peaks of Fargo and No Country for Old Men, but this is a step up from their last outing, Burn After Reading. B+

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

DVD and Blu-ray Releases 2/9/10

Bronson - #
Couples Retreat - #
Dangerous Man
Dante's Inferno - #
Drop Zone - #
I Hate Valentine's Day - #
A Serious Man - #
Serious Moonlight - #
Time Traveler's Wife - #

Click below for this week's Blu-ray releases

Hard Rain
The Phantom
Running Man

# - also on Blu-ray

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Song of the Day - Tik Tok, KE$HA

Doc, please don't click on this one. A pop gem with lots of attitude and the incorporation of pretty much every current vocal trend. 38 million views can't be wrong.

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Third Anniversary

I'm about a week late with this, but mazal tov to my collaborators for another great year.

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Temple Grandin - A-

On HBO (premiered February 6th). Unrated. Trailer. Schedule.

Temple Grandin is an autistic female cattle scientist that revolutionized the cattle industry with her analysis and writings. The film that bears her name shows her struggles with the disease from childhood through adulthood and the extraordinary burden and reward borne by her mother. Doesn't sound like an A-, but it is. Anchored by a career-best performance from Claire Danes as Grandin and a soulful rendering of her resourceful mother from Julia Ormond, with solid supporting work from David Strathairn. Click below for the best film so far of 2010:

Temple's coming of age occurred in the 1970's, which makes for lots of very interesting societal issues to chew up along with her story. She begins at a normal school then goes to a boarding school, all along the way fighting gender and disability bias and ignorance. Then she moves to college and grad school and starts working at feed lots and developing her theories. Through it all she and her mother fight through each obstacle with grit and grace.

Danes' performance is especially great because of the balance she has to strike to avoid being a caricature and not be too over the top (Robert Downey Jr's discussion of this in Tropic Thunder is on point here). I found the film to be very well done, with interesting progressions and music to complement the great performances.

It is a testament to hard work and a stubbornly loving parent. The scene at the autism conference near the end of the film will be powerful for any parent, and Ormond nails the reaction shots.

A great film about an interesting subject that mostly steers (rock me) clear of sentimentalism.

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Edge of Darkness - C+

In theaters. Rated R. 106 minutes. Trailer.

With Edge of Darkness, Mel Gibson returns to the familiar aggressive/paternal role that has made him a star. Written by Departed scribe William Monahan and directed by Casino Royale director Martin Campbell, the film has some decent action scenes and taut sequences, but the script and characters never come together to form a cohesive film. Gibson is Thomas Craven, a straight laced Boston detective that has a grown daughter that he raised on his own. After she is killed under unusual circumstances, he goes on a vengeful tear to find out who is responsible. Click below for more Darkness:

Gibson is strong in his by the numbers character - even though we know how the film will work out (mostly) it is still fun to watch a vengeful father with nothing to lose chew up scenery and super generic bad guys. Danny Huston plays the diabolical owner of a shadowy nuclear arms maker where Gibson's daughter worked in a top-secret facility. Ray Winstone (Frenchy in the Departed) is the super-shadowy henchman with a conscience that gets to somehow decide what conspiracies the government takes part in.

The plot is a total mess, with major leaps and ridiculous conspiracies throughout. I expected more from this creative team.

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Weekend Box Office: 2/5-2/7/10

Avatar finally dropped from the top spot due to something starring Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried. How was it, Priest? Travolta takes it in the pants and Mel falls sharp after rightfully calling a TV idiot an A-Hole. Crazy Heart, The Blind Side, and Up in the Air received Oscar bumps.


1. Dear John: 32.4 mil / (-)
2. Avatar: 23.6 mil / -25% / 630 mil
3. From Paris w/ Love: 8.1 mil / (-)
4. Edge of Darkness: 7 mil/-59%/29 mil
5. Tooth Fairy: 6.5 mil / -35% / 34 mil
6. When in Rome: 5.5 mil / -55% / 21 mil
7. Book of Eli: 4.8 mil / -46% / 82 mil
8. Crazy Heart: 3.7 mil / +58% / 11.2 mil
9. Legion: 3.4 mil / -53% / 35 mil
10. Sherlock Holmes: 2.6 mil/ -42% / 202 mil
11. The Blind Side: 2.6 mil / -14% / 242 mil
12. Up in the Air: 2.4 mil / -16% / 77 mil

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SNL - "Burn Notice"

Without a presidential election, SNL has been struggling all season. Last night, this game show sketch had me laughing out loud, mostly because it's exactly how I felt when I was recently bombarded with "Burn Notice"'s advertising campaign. Love Sudeikis giving the camera the number "4" with his fingers. The rest of Ashton Kutcher's hosting job was OK, but Jon Hamm's gig last week was the best hosting job of the year. Especially, "Sergio"

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Friday, February 5, 2010

Snap Judgments - a Quick Review of 5 Movies

Cold Souls

Paul Giamatti plays a version of himself, who's struggling with Chekhov's Uncle Vanya for the stage on Broadway. He sees an article in the New Yorker about soul extraction which interests him since he thinks having less soul will help his performance. But after the procedure (performed by the great David Straitharn) and the subsequent stealing of his soul by a soap opera actress in Russia, Giamatti just wants to return to normal. The slapstick comedy doesn't work at all and Giamatti's changes in acting styles (when he has different souls) is not impressive - just indulgent. The other main character (a Russian mule who transports souls across borders) is dull and lifeless. It's nice that you're ripping off the best (Charlie Kaufman), but his films are about so much more than the plot. Here, there's no subtext, subtlety, or charm. C

Bright Star
The main problem certainly isn't Paul Schneider, who's excellent in support. I've only seen one of the Oscar nominees for Best Supporting Actor (Waltz), but each of the other 4 could not have been as important to their films as Schneider. The main problem also isn't entirely director Jane Campion, who composes shots exquisitely with lots of symbolism (stairs, door frames, windows) and gives great imagery with the outdoor settings. I will blame the pacing on her, but my main issue lies with Ben Whishaw (who was superb as the "poet" Dylan in I'm Not There). As the poet John Keats, Whishaw has a very difficult role as a troubled, struggling artist who's snubbed by society. As Keats's love interest Fanny Brawne, Abbie Cornish fares a little better, particularly toward the end, but the all-important on-screen chemistry between the 2 would-be lovers just isn't there. C+

Drag Me to Hell

Sam Raimi's first non-Spiderman film since 2000's The Gift is startlingly effective at providing the jolts and frights. Bank loan officer Alison Lohman denies an old lady's request for refinancing who immediately puts a curse on Lohman. Lohman is then haunted the rest of the film and enlists the help of her boyfriend (Justin Long), a seance expert (Babel's Adriana Barraza), and local ghost expert to rid her of the bad spirits. The real star is Raimi who is at his Evil Dead 2-level of expert horror direction. He even has the guts to attack the plot holes ("Why didn't you tell me this before?") head-on and nicely allows characterizations (Lohman's food obsession) to surface. I don't know if this is "better" than A Simple Plan or the first 2 Spiderman films, but this is the most fun I've had watching Raimi work in a long time. B

District 13: Ultimatum
From the left wing mind of Luc Besson comes the sequel to the influential District 13, which had none other than James Bond imitating its excellent stunts in Casino Royale. That film held together for the majority of the running time, but crapped out when its cops-bad, criminals-good message came out. The sequel is a disaster from the very first scene and lets its ridiculously simplistic politics blind any coherence or rationality. The French equivalent of the Dept. of Homeland Security teams with Harriburtion (a subtly named, malevolent global corporation) and local politicians to kill cops and take over the slums (or something like that). In a huge conspiracy full of smart (and evil!) people, you'd think someone would bother to change the incriminating license plates. Worst of all, the action is mindless, repetitive, boring, and repetitive. It played early this week on HDNET movies, which is now charging $5 per month. I'm starting to wonder about the investment. C-


Priest had a blast during its theatrical run and maybe the audience atmosphere contributed to the fun. As the crazed, zombie-killing hillbilly, Woody Harrelson is at his looney-tunes best and is obviously having a great time which is endearing. Jesse Eisenberg is terrific counter-programming as the cautious survivor who over-thinks every situation. There's a moment when Zombieland almost becomes the best film of the year as the 2 men each threaten a shotgun blast to newly infected Abigail Breslin's face. Alas, my ultimate dream is not to be and they don't carry through with it. The plot contrivances do the film in with a paper-thin story barely connecting set-pieces. The power wouldn't be on anywhere and they'd have trouble traveling in a Hummer from Texas to California. Gas stations do have a cut-off switch. But this is a zombie movie, for crap's sake, and you can't let reason and common sense get in the way. Bill Murray has a couple of priceless lines worth the 80 minute running time alone. B-

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Song of the Day - Wheels, Foo Fighters

Their most recent single is a great mainstream sing-songy rock song.

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cyrus Trailer and Aziz on NPR

This John C. Reilly/Jonah Hill comedy looks really funny. I laughed out loud at the shot of Jonah in only a t-shirt holding a big knife.

Aziz Ansari was on NPR today. Listen here. Great Parks and Rec tonight - DJ Roomba and the Aziz heavy open were the highlights.

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Song of the Day - Monkey Man

By the Rolling Stones

For something that feels so loose, it's amazing how precise the band members fit their parts together. The middle part almost goes too far with that epic feeling, but Mick's voice brings it back to the funky, syncopated masterpiece that it is - led by Keith's guitar.

I'm a fleabit peanut monkey
All my friends are junkies
That's not really true

I'm a cold Italian pizza
I could use a lemon squeezer
Would you do?

But I've been bit and I've been tossed around
By every she-rat in this town
Have you, babe?

Well, I am just a monkey man
I'm glad you are a monkey woman too

I was bitten by a boar
I was gouged and I was gored
But I pulled on through

Yes, I'm a sack of broken eggs
I always have an unmade bed
Don't you?

Well, I hope we're not too messianic
Or a trifle too satanic
We love to play the blues

Well I am just a monkey man
I'm glad you are a monkey, monkey woman
Monkey woman too, babe!

I'm a monkey! I'm a monkey!
I'm a monkey man! I'm a monkey man!

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Song of the Day- Dinner at Eight

Discovered this rough, rough, oedipal father/son song by Rufus Wainright on a "What's on My Ipod" segment for David Bowie. You might want to check the lyrics.And here is the rest of it.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Best of 2009, Update

1. Hurt Locker
2. Inglourious Basterds
3. Crazy Heart
4. Precious
5. An Education
6. Public Enemies
7. In the Loop
8. Adventureland
9. Up in the Air
10. Taking of Pelham 123
11. Up

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Nomination List

List below and after the jump. Analysis later tonight.

Best picture

"The Hurt Locker"
"Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
"Up in the Air"
"Inglourious Basterds"
"The Blind Side"
"District 9"
"An Education"
"A Serious Man"


George Clooney, "Up in the Air"
Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart"
Colin Firth, "A Single Man"
Morgan Freeman, "Invictus"
Jeremy Renner, "The Hurt Locker"


Meryl Streep, "Julie & Julia"
Sandra Bullock, "The Blind Side"
Gabourey Sidibe, "Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
Helen Mirren, "The Last Station"
Carey Mulligan, "An Education"

Supporting actor

Matt Damon, "Invictus"
Woody Harrelson, "The Messenger"
Christopher Plummer, "The Last Station"
Stanley Tucci, "The Lovely Bones"
Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds"

Supporting actress

Vera Farmiga, "Up in the Air"
Mo'Nique, "Precious"
Anna Kendrick, "Up in the Air"
Penelope Cruz, "Nine"
Maggie Gyllenhaal, "Crazy Heart"


Quentin Tarantino, "Inglourious Basterds"
Kathryn Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker"
James Cameron, "Avatar"
Lee Daniels, "Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
Jason Reitman, "Up in the Air"

Animated feature

"Fantastic Mr. Fox"
"The Princess and the Frog"
"The Secret of Kells"

Original screenplay

"The Hurt Locker"
"Inglourious Basterds"
"The Messenger"
"A Serious Man"

Adapted screenplay

"District 9"
"An Education"
"In the Loop"
"Up in the Air"

Best foreign-language film

"El Secreto de Sus Ojos"
"The Milk of Sorrow"
"Un Prophete"
"The White Ribbon"

Best film editing

"District 9"
"The Hurt Locker"
"Inglourious Basterds"

Best documentary feature

"Burma VJ"
"The Cove"
"Food, Inc."
"The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers"
"Which Way Home"

Art direction

"The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus"
"Sherlock Holmes"
"The Young Victoria


"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
"The Hurt Locker"
"Inglourious Basterds"
"The White Ribbon"

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Oscar nominations . . .

are tomorrow.

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Song of the Day- Time to Pretend

I thought we'd already posted this one by MGMT, but I guess we didn't. Not exactly brand new, but still super awesome. A Lawyer special circa 1998.

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DVD and Blu-ray Releases 2/2/10

Amelia - #
House of the Devil - #
Love Happens - #
More Than a Game
New York, I Love You - #
Ong Bak 2: THe Beginning - #
Planet Hulk - #
Triangle - #
Universal Soldier: Regeneration - #
Zombieland - #

Click below for this week's Blu-ray releases.

An American in Paris - *
Bonnie and Clyde - *
Casablanca - *
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Gangs of New York - *
Gone with the Wind - *
The Last King of Scotland
Maid in Manhattan
Mona Lisa Smile
The Music Man
Mystic River - *
Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior
To Live and Die in LA - *
Walk the Line - *

# - also on Blu-ray
* - Doctor approved

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