Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol - C+

In theaters. Rated PG-13, 133 minutes. Trailer.

Despite being somewhat of a film snob, I've generally enjoyed the Mission Impossible series, so the addition of Jeremy Renner and the direction of Brad Bird (The Incredibles) made the 4th installment seem promising. Unfortunately, this film is really just a boring slog with a few cool action scenes and very few funny lines. The plot is typical and the stunts and gadgets way too unbelievable for me, and the storyline involving Renner and Ethan Hunt's (Tom Cruise) wife is way too underdeveloped. Some of the scenes (especially the sandstorm) are cool, and Cruise is a magnetic star, but it is not entertaining enough to make up for the lack of plot or character development.

Continue reading this post

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christopher Hitchens, RIP

I still remember seeing him for the first time in 1998 on Hardball with Chris Matthews. It was a pivotal moment, as I found someone that spoke to me in a way very few people ever have. He had plenty of faults and bad arguments, but we're all better off for being able to listen to his arguments.

On religion.

Best of everything else.

Continue reading this post

Young Adult - B

In theaters. Rated R, 96 minutes. Trailer.

Charlize Theron stars as a shallow, damaged, and beautiful woman (Mavis Gary) battling depression and looking to her high school sweetheart to make her happy. The film is written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman. I love dark films and unvarnished renderings of damaged people, but this one didn't deliver nearly as much as I thought it would. Theron is great in a dense and interesting role, but Cody and Reitman leave her floundering in a story that just wallows in her pain, with scene after scene just reinforcing her character. The trailer has most of the funny stuff. Weird movie.

Continue reading this post

Songs of the Day

Two pop gems (really, I can't listen to either enough):

1. I Gotta Good Feelin' - Flo Rida. The artistry these days is in the production, and this one is firing on all cylinders.

2. My Heart's A Stereo - Gym Class Heroes, featuring Adam Levine. Try as I might, I can't deny Levine's talent. This is a brilliant fusion of a pop hook and a catchy, interesting rap song.

Continue reading this post

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Song of the Day - Tick of the Clock

By The Chromatics

A short version is on the Drive soundtrack. The longer, better version is here.

Continue reading this post

Friday, December 16, 2011

Favorite Lines

The Big Lebowski"Mr. Treehorn treats objects like women, man."

Continue reading this post

Snap Judgments - a Quick Review of 5 Movies

Friends with Benefits

It begins superbly as Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis bounce dialogue off each other like a modern, vulgar His Girl Friday. Woody Harrelson and Patricia Clarkson provide excellent, hilarious support as her mom and his best friend. But then director Will Gluck (Easy A) tries to get the film to mean something and drags in Alzheimer's disease. And the film becomes exactly what it claims to detest during the cheesy singin' and dancin' finale where Timberlake woos her back. Still, can't wait to watch the first half again. B

A Better Life
An illegal Mexican immigrant (Demian Bichir) gets his truck and equipment stolen and goes looking for it with his son. That's the entire 98 minutes. Despite the good performance by Bichir, (especially great in a late, tearful farewell scene), the movie doesn't address any of the issues readily available to it. It comes closest when the son asks what's the point of so many poor people having children. But the father (hence the writer) won't or can't answer. I need another liberal guilt message movie like I need another mortgage. C+

30 Minutes or Less

Danny McBride and Nick Swardson strap a bomb to pizza delivery guy Jesse Eisenberg's chest to force him to rob a bank. He enlists his best friend (Aziz Ansari) to help him. Eisenberg is horribly miscast and seems to be in a different movie than everyone else. Lots of stupid people do stupid, mean-spirited, unfunny things. And the script leaves enough loose ends to hang itself 10 times. Cruel, misogynist crap. And sorta racist. It would be an F but it's only 83 minutes. D

Kill the Irishman
In 1970s Cleveland, a mob war has Danny Greene (Ray Steveson) smack dab in the middle - and he proves very difficult to kill. Despite the interesting true story, writer-director Jonathan Hensleigh can't elevate the material past cheap Goodfellas knock-off (which he seems to acknowledge when Paul Sorvino shows up toward the end). It's nice to see great actors like Christopher Walken, Val Kilmer, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Bob Gunton get tough-guy parts, but the film just sits there and you're left thinking how great they were in prior films. The amateurish special effects don't help matters. C

Your Highness

Danny McBride and James Franco are brothers who team up to save a maiden (Zooey Deschanel) from an evil wizard in the Middle Ages. Your overall take on the film will depend on how much you enjoy McBride's incessant vulgarity. His anachronistic one-liners are actually funnier than in modern era films - but occasional restraint and subtlety would be nice. The special effects and bathroom humor are embarrassing. And the gore is way overdone. C-

Continue reading this post

Song of the Day - Don't Be Shy

By Cat Stevens

This one is always worth a revisit.

Don't be shy, just let your feelings roll on by
Don't wear fear or nobody will know you're there
Just lift your head and let your feelings out instead
And don't be shy, just let your feelings roll on by
On by

You know love is better than a song
Love is where all of us belong
So don't be shy, just let your feelings roll on by
Don't wear fear or nobody will know you're there
You're there

Don't be shy, just let your feelings roll on by
Don't wear fear or nobody will know you're there
Just lift your head and let your feelings out instead
And don't be shy, just let your feeling roll on by
On by, on by.

Continue reading this post

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Melt With You - C

Rated R for language and drug use

4 college friends (now each 44 years old) meet every Spring Break in Big Sur for a week of relaxation and reflection. Richard (Thomas Jane) is a professor struggling to find inspiration for his second novel. Ron (Jeremy Piven) is a wealthy stock broker in trouble with the SEC. Jonathan (Rob Lowe) is a doctor who sells prescription drugs to addicts. Tim (Christian McKay) is tortured by the death of his boyfriend and sister who both died in an automobile accident when he was behind the wheel. A pact they made 25 years earlier will result in disastrous consequences . . .

For the viewer. What begins as an interesting discussion of adolescent naivete and real world adult problems descends into overblown depravity and despair. Early on as we get to know the characters, the natural charisma and great performances of the actors keep things interesting. Director Mark Pellington uses the beautiful landscapes well and expertly chooses songs to support scenes. Then, his music video origins get the best of him as the second half overdoes it with the shaky camera, quick cuts, and inappropriate close-ups. But the music is still good. So there's that.The biggest problem with the film is the lack of a single likable character. The college buddies take more drugs and drink more booze than everyone in Boogie Nights, Goodfellas, Blow, and Leaving Las Vegas combined. Seriously - enough to kill a herd of rhinoceroses. You certainly can't relate to them and will probably feel they richly deserve the miserable lives they have. By the time it finally ends, it's a relief, not a release nor epiphany. C

Continue reading this post

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Song of the Day - Paradise

By Coldplay

I've always had a soft spot for their melodies and sentimental lyrics. This one is a return to form after the last album's letdown.

Continue reading this post

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Countdown to The Master.

Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood will score Paul Thomas Anderson's new film The Master.

Continue reading this post

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Crazy Stupid Love - C+

On DVD and Blu-ray, PG-13

After his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) springs a divorce request on him, Cal (Steve Carell) moves out and falls into a depression until he meets Jacob (Ryan Gosling) at a bar. Jacob remodels Cal's image and shows him how to be a ladies' man. But the divorcing couple's kids want them back together and they still have feelings for each other. Through an abundance of coincidences and plot contrivances, we end up getting a lesson we didn't ask for about soul mates and true love . . .

The Crazy: Released just 3 months ago, the film is already hopelessly dated with references to the prolificacy of Steve Jobs (who has shuffled off this mortal coil) as well as the stable, unusual marriage of Demi and Ashton (they're divorcing).

The Stupid: The whiplash tonal shifts might be the result of 2 directors (Glenn Ficarra, John Requa) or more likely it's just their style (since it's even worse in their only other directorial effort - I Love You Philip Morris). It's a byproduct of wanting it both ways - heartfelt and hilarious - a tough thing to pull off, to be sure. Since they scripted Bad Santa, there's still some good will left. The many problem is the numerous impossible coincidences, from timely meetings to surprise entrances to unmentioned relationships.The Love: The cast expertly plays the hand they're dealt. Moore gives a great dramatic performance that adds undeserved depth to the film, especially in a phone call about a pilot light to Carell. Gosling is even better since he has to be alternatively charming, sincere, and funny. His comedic banter with Carell is first-rate and he also has great romantic rapport with Emma Stone, playing a character that changes everything.

But they're mostly wasted on a plot that's overcooked and over-thought - and the climactic cringe-inducing school speech will have you looking for the fast forward button. C+

Continue reading this post

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Favorite Lines

Bottle Rocket
"Did you ever have a touch to lose, man?"

Continue reading this post

Monday, December 5, 2011

No Need To Explain

Continue reading this post

Too Big Too Fail - B+

On DVD (2011). Trailer.The 2008 Wall Street/Financial system meltdown was a cataclysm several years in the making. The timing (right before a Presidential election without an incumbent candidate) was horrible and the incestuous relationship between the Treasury, the Federal Reserve and Goldman Sachs only exacerbated the situation (don't miss Matt Taibbi's legendary article on GS). Too Big Too Fail (directed by Curtis Hanson) is a very straightforward depiction of these events as they unfolded behind the curtain. The stakes are high and the humans charged with solving the crises are just normal people, which makes it very scary. The cast is uniformly excellent, especially William Hurt as Henry Paulson (Treasury Secretary) and Paul Giammatti as Ben Bernanke (Chairman of the Federal Reserve). My favorite scenes are those between these two men in their private dining room. Hanson's disciplined direction allows the story to tell itself and the actors shine. A must see.

Continue reading this post

Best of 2011 (so far)

Lots of film left to see, but here's a starting point list followed by the additional films worth seeing this year (with links to their trailers):

1. Drive
2. Tree of Life
3. Beginners
4. Descendants (no published review yet)
5. Too Big to Fail (no published review yet)
6. Melancholia
7. Margin Call
8. Contagion
9. Ides of March
10. Moneyball

Haven't seen, but may figure into my list: Shame; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Rampart; War Horse (doubt it); The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; The Artist; Carnage; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Streets Have No Name alert); Young Adult; The Help; We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Continue reading this post

Favorite Lines

Inglourious Basterds
"Well, if this is it, ol' boy, I hope you don't mind if I go out speaking the King's."

Continue reading this post

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Beginners - A-

On DVD (2011). Rated R, 105 minutes.

What a pleasant surprise.
I expected to hate this film based on the trailer and the subject matter, but found it to be a contemplative study of love and loss. Ewan McGregor stars as a graphic designer whose father (Christopher Plummer) came out of the closet at 75, after Ewan's mother has died. The film follows his recollections of his father during his gay exploration period and his own relationship with a fetching actress (Melanie Laurent). As he remembers, he deals subtly with the guilt he feels about his dad's denial of self, the weirdness of his childhood and his own relationship issues. I loved the reset sequences about the stars and 'what people looked like'. Worth your time.

Continue reading this post

Where to Begin? (J. Edgar and Margin Call)

My hat's off to Doc. He's kept us going. Here is a short summary of 2 films I've seen, with more to follow:

J. Edgar, C - Clint Eastwood directs Leonardo DiCaprio in a crappy biopic. J. Edgar Hoover is a fascinating figure in 20th centruy American history, but Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk) turn the film into a fabricated platonic love story between Hoover and his longtime aide, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). The film is 137 minutes long and you feel every minute. Despite all the riveting material related to Hoover, there are only a handful of scenes that weren't annoying or boring. Judi Dench and Naomi Watts are wasted as Hoover's mother and longtime secretary, respectively.

Margin Call, B - A fictional account of a brokerage houses downfall in 2008, this film charts some interesting territory related to the ethics and "products" being sold in the new Wall Street. Writer/Director JC Chandor directs Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Kevin Spacey and Zachary Quinto in this ensemble drama that tells the story of a 24 hour panic period when a brilliant analyst figures out the firm's risk structure spells doom. Not nearly as direct or literal as Too Big To Fail (A-, review to follow), this is a promising debut from Mr. Chandon. Loved Irons and all the 'big dogs' coming in with their helicopters.

Continue reading this post

Best SNL Skit so far this Year

And a welcome return for the best cast member's best character:

Mr. Buscemi's episode also included the best commercial in forever:

And Mr. Samberg's best digital short in a long while too:

Continue reading this post

Favorite Lines

"Just because you can't prove it doesn't mean it's not true."

Continue reading this post

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Song of the Day - The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie

By Red Hot Chili Peppers

Still going strong 2 decades gone; and at their syncopated, harmonizing best here.

Continue reading this post