Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Youth in Revolt


Nick Twisp is sick of his life. His parents are both self centered jerks. He can’t seem to get out of the ‘friend zone’ with women. And his only friend is even more pathetic than he is. His mom’s new boyfriend (played unconvincingly by Zach Galifianakis, sorry Zach you’re just not the tough trucker type) is in a little hot water and wants the family to go in hiding with him in a nearby lake cabin of a friend of his. Nick goes because, as he puts it, what else is he going to do? He hopes it will offer him new opportunities for love or friendship and the very first night he’s there he falls for a beautiful, smooth talking, naughty preacher’s daughter. Problem is, she’s way too cool for him and way out of his league.
Nick has to do something about this, so he develops a tre chic alter ego named Francois who, he hopes, can guide him down the path of coolness. How can he go from being Dave Brubek to being Miles Davis? The rest of the movie is Nick indulging all of Francois’ whims in an attempt to win this girl’s heart.
The movie is fairly entertaining and Michael Cera is pitch perfect as Twisp and Francois. I also loved M Emmet Walsh and Fred Willard in their side roles. There were some funny and engaging moments. Overall, however, I couldn’t really get into it. This movie comes from a long line of recent ‘teen’ movies where the teens seem more witty, worldly and intelligent than most adults could hope to be. They read Dostoyevsky, watch Truffaut and listen only to new wave French music. Bullshit. There’s maybe one sixteen year old out of 60 million like this and yet most recent teen movies (thanks a lot Juno) make it seem like all of them are this way. Brainy, witty kids in high school hate high school because it seems like everyone else is a raving idiot, not because they prefer Jean-Pierre Melville over Robert Bresson. Please. It drives me too crazy to like a movie like this all that much. But, overall, it was watchable and had it’s moments. Don’t rush out to see it, but don’t balk at the idea if someone brings it over.
Saturday Afternoon

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Weather Underground


When politics are involved, things are never as simple as they seem. This is true from both sides of the portrayal of a thing. Opponents describe the something in simple, objectionable terms. The group called The Weather Underground was described as terrorists, extremists, anti-American. Proponents use equally simple terms, but one’s they hope to use as inspiration. They portrayed themselves as freedom fighters, righteous crusaders. In truth, neither side captures the picture fully. The 1970’s was a time of volatility in the west, as the world attempted to finally come to grips with it’s switch from a class focused system to one of merchants and industry.
Groups like The Weather Underground came along and created a defined approach to this switch and used methods that drew ire and admiration. But, in the end, these people were humans and humans are not one-dimensional sound bites. The Weather Underground (the documentary) tells the story of what really happened by both the people who fought this group, especially members of the FBI, and the members of the group themselves. It’s amazing to hear their tales and to see where they’ve ended up after years of seclusion and hiding, landing in anywhere from prison to running a bar to being a tenured law professor.
The Weather Underground tells a gripping tale in a gripping way. You see what happened through the eyes of those who were not only there, but intimately involved. Many groups had an impact on the 1970’s but very very few made a bigger splash than The Underground. To hear this story without all the fluff is worth the price of admission. Good stuff.
Worth Watching

Monday, September 27, 2010

Invincible


Invincible tells the true story of two very different reactions to the rise of Nazism in late ‘30’s Berlin. One is a sleazy, worldly, brilliant con man who has tricked his way across Europe hiding from the Nazis in plain sight, often holding their hands while faking his way through a ‘divination.’ The other is that of a good hearted, simple-minded blacksmith who had never left his small Polish town until being led to Berlin to perform as a strongman. The first hides his Judaism and is in a constant game of cat and mouse, played wonderfully by Tim Roth at peak form. The latter hates hiding and cannot help but shout his Judaism from the rooftops. The movie allows the viewer to see how the two approaches to life pan out for our protagonists.

This movie does many things very well. Tim Roth’s performance is the best of his career and one of the best you’re likely to ever see. The imagery and symbolism is spot on. The production design is robust to the last detail. I would argue there was only one bad choice Herzog made in the entire film. Problem is, it’s a big one. You see, Herzog decided to use non-actors to portray roles that mirror what they do in real life. The pianist is played by a pianist, the weightlifter is played by a weightlifter, and so on. In fact, other than two or three actors, all of the roles are played by people who are in actuality they type of person they play on screen.

This has been done many times in the past and was done very well and often by one of my all-time favorite directors, Robert Bresson. The problem is, this method is great for action (the piano playing is very natural, the Hebrew teaching very natural, etc) but terrible for dialogue. People, like Bresson, who do it well, don’t do allow the actors to do much speaking. Invincible, unfortunately, is dialogue heavy. It’s very much a low action, dialogue focused movie, which means terrible acting abounds. When the performers are not doing what they do, they are truly dreadful actors. But, hey, this was Herzog’s first non-documentary feature in 18 years and like I said, it was only one poor decision, although a broad sweeping, overarching one. But it won’t matter too much, as all the other elements and Roth’s performance are more than enough to make this a very interesting, engrossing picture.

S'good.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The September Issue


The September Issue is an inside look into the creation of Vogue’s, well, September issue. This giant tome is, apparently, the fashion magazine issue of the year for the fashion world. This particular issue of this particular magazine is one of the most important publications of the year for these folks, again, apparently. The doc focuses squarely on a small handful of people who run the show at Vogue. This is primarily the very influential and infamous (The Devil Wears Prada was about her) senior editor Anna Wintour, but it’s also a glimpse at other lead editors and the magazine’s creative director Grace Coddington. Grace and Anna came over from England together and started in the biz together, years ago, and now, by their work ethic, fashion sense and an array of other elements, have risen to the very top. Of course, the fact that Anna is just a little higher on the totem pole does create more than a little rivalry between the two.
It’s certainly interesting to see all that goes into the creation of such a momentous publication and I like getting to be a fly on the wall, watching people who are way up in their respective fields; however, I never really got all that engaged. To me, this doc was more like an interesting TV doc from A&E or the History Channel, in other words, intriguing, but forgettable. Then again, maybe it’s not fair for me to review this flick, as I still wear shorts and t-shirts I was wearing in high school and care as much about fashion as I do about the local beef prices in Kazakhstan. So, if you’re into fashion and a curious about getting inside the ivory tower of Vogue, this movie is smack in the middle of your ballpark. If you barely know that Vogue is a magazine, like me, then it’s probably going to be little more than a half interesting watch.
SA

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Descent Part 2


In The Descent, five adventurous gals head down to chart uncharted caves beneath the Appalachian Mountains. Five went down, one came up. Down there they found shifting chutes, cave-ins, injuries and some sort of freaky demon people that desperately wanted to tear them a new one. Well, Part 2 picks up right where that disastrous trip left off, with the sole escapee running up to a truck covered in blood. Apparently one of the girls who is still down there (dead or alive) is the niece of a powerful senator and all of god and country seem desperate to get the remaining four (mainly her) out. So, they pull some typical horror movie crap by saying the best way to find them is to go back down there with, you guessed it, the girl who just managed to find her way out.
While this and several other moments of the movie were clearly the result of some pretty lazy scrip writing, the movie overall made for a fun watch and definitely had some solid tension. Once the ‘rescue’ team gets down there, they run into the same problems the first team did, meaning the earth starts caving in around them and demon people are running around lusting for their flesh. Of course, since it’s a sequel, everything’s bigger. On the good side, the claustrophobic cinematography and production design is more ever present. On the not so good side, there are way more moments with the monsters and bigger fight scenes (the rescue team has guns, flares and tools after all). For me, possibility of being buried alive = dramatic, actors in monster suits = not dramatic. Long story short, if you want a decent British horror flick with a full tablespoon of action and pressure, this is certainly worth a watch.
SA

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Halloween IV


After the disaster of Halloween III (which didn’t even make back it’s budget), the producers behind the Halloween movies decided they needed to return to the core of the Halloween story. The problem is, they didn’t just get back to their roots, they totally repeated themselves. The original Halloween is about a boy named Mike Meyers who killed his whole family and is, thusly, institutionalized for life. Many years later he discovers he has a sister who lived. Well, ol’ Mike can’t stand for this shit. He breaks out and tracks her down to kill little sis. The only one who truly feels he can stop Mike is his doctor from the institution, Dr. Loomis. Got that?

Now here’s Halloween IV. Michael Meyers is locked away and suddenly finds out that he has a niece he never knew about. Well, ol’ Mike can’t stand for this shit. He breaks out and tracks her down to kill his little niece. The only one who truly feels he can stop Mike is his doctor from the institution, Dr. Loomis. That’s right, they even set it in the same town. Problem is, they didn’t even repeat it well. The actors are much worse, the effects much cheesier and the invincibility of Meyers even more absurd. It’s one cheap Hollywood trick after another. Let me put it to you this way. My wife hates horror movies. They scare her too much and it took much convincing for me to get her to watch this with me. She thought it was hilarious. She asked at one point, “is this supposed to be scary or are they trying to be funny?” She was asking earnestly, but all I could answer with was “exactly.” This installment of the series is totally unoriginal and by far the worst so far.

U

Piranha 3D


Piranha 3D is a remake (think re-envisioning) of a piece of Roger Corman schlock from the 70’s. Anyone who knows Corman’s work, knows those movies were all about big fun, big boobs, big blood and big laughs and most certainly were not about spiritual or intellectual enlightenment. If you went to see Corman’s Deathrace 2000 or Piranha 3D, you went for some good Saturday afternoon, mindless fun. Well, boy did this remake capture that spirit.

Piranha 3D takes place on a big lake in Airzona, well into Spring Break and chock full of college kids, porn stars and the general sleaze that feeds off Spring Break. Well, it just so happens recent seismic activity at the bottom of this lake opened a long shut cavern full of some of the nastiest piranhas around. And, you guessed it, the piranhas are all too thrilled to get their fill of sluts and douche bags. The local sheriff, her son and an very small handful of people in the town with a brain and a heart must do what they can to minimize the carnage. Let me tell you, they don’t minimize much.

This movie is totally ridiculous. There is truly only one word to describe it: gratuitous. Not a second of this movie was necessary. This all sounds like I’m slamming it, doesn’t it? But, I’m not. Actually, I’m saying, it’s classic Corman. This remake captured that Corman spirit and how. It’s campy, it’s over the top, it’s way too full of just ludicrous moments, but, well, it’s a lot of fun too. Like a good Corman pick, if you go in expecting cinematic high cuisine, you’ll be crazy disappointed, but if you’re looking for the hot dog and beer of the movie world, you’re likely to have a blast. Let me phrase up this movie with a description of one moment therein and you can decide for yourself if you want to see it. There’s a scene in which a porn shoot on a boat is suddenly in peril because this glass bottom boat has struck rocks. Now the set has become a buffet for the piranhas and, after the feeding frenzy, there’s an underwater shot of the piranhas swimming away. One of them pauses, looks woozy for a second and burps up…wait for it…a penis. Like I said, totally ridiculous.

SA

The Girl Who Played with Fire


The Girl Who Played with Fire is the sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and is also an adaptation of the second book in the Millennium Trilogy. All three movies in the film trilogy were shot around the same time and all with the same cast and crew, outside of the director, who was changed after the first, with Swede Daniel Alfredson, the director here, helming the second and third movies as well as the Swedish TV show based thereon that arrives in fall. Like the first film, this concerns uber-hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist from Millennium Magazine, Mikael Blomkvist, getting their sleuth on and stopping some bad guys. In this flick, however, the bad guy isn’t covering up a murder, but is, much worse, running a sex trafficking ring. And the John’s involved include some high profile fellas. This simply won’t do for the moral Blomkvist and the fem-power Salander.

Like most sequels to good movies, this one is a little more generic and mainstream. The pace is a little faster, the plot is a little less believable, the sex scenes and fight scenes are a lot longer and more elaborate and the dialogue is a little weaker. But even with all that, the movie is still engaging, well acted and very well shot. Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist truly inhabit there respective characters, especially Rapace as Salander. This movie is better than most and if you like gritty whodunit sort of movies, this is sure to satisfy.

S’good

Friday, September 3, 2010

Animal Kingdom


How do you watch out for snakes when everyone’s a snake? This is the predicament of Animal Kingdom’s J Cody (played with mouth-breather excellence by Aussie newcomer James Frenchville). J’s mother was the only daughter in what has to be the nastiest family in Australia. This group of brother and the delightfully, totally evil matriarch Janine rob banks, murder, sell drugs and don’t hesitate for a second before killing the police. J’s mother, when J was very young, decided to save him from all this and moved away with him. However, flash forward a few years, and J’s mom has suddenly died. Now, as a minor, the State wants to put him with his next of kin. Unfortunately for J, that next of kin is known as the Cody Gang. Man, they are a rough bunch too. Suddenly he’s thrown into a world of lies, violence and, yet, a family connection he’s never known.
Because of the Cody Gang’s terrible treatment of their community and the police, they essentially live in constant war with the Major Crimes and Bank Robbery Units of the police. When our story picks up the Bank Robbery Unit is being abolished and before those cops get reassigned they’ve decided to take out the Cody’s their own way, since they’ve never been able to make anything stick so far. There’s nothing but aggression and violence from both side and a constant cat-and-mouse form of living. Caught in the middle, J must pick a side, and, from where he stands, both sides look like a terrible option.
This movie is fantastic. It’s a slice of life sort of flick but the slice is of one truly wretched life. It’s like getting a backstage pass to one of the nastiest horror shows in town. While all the actors are great and give truly amazing, natural performances, the greatest of them all by far is Ben Mendelsohn’s portrayal of the eldest brother, known as Pope. His character is easily one of my favorite villain performances of all time. He is truly frightening. He portrays a man in a constant state of deadly flux, a human who seems capable of conveying the sweetest compassion and the most bone-chilling coldness within the same shallow breath. Pope goes from best mate to ruthless killer in the blink of an eye and Mendelsohn portrays him in the most unique and believable way how. It’s worth the price of admission. While the story’s not perfect and I’m not sure what the moral was, the movie as a whole is really really great.
BA

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The City of Your Final Destination


Director James Ivory has produced rich, slice-of-life dramas about brooding aristocrats since the late 50's, giving the viewer a look into the private scandals and searing romantic endeavors of wealthy, white westerners. A traditional Ivory picture will be set at some lush country estate with the protagonists away from their traditional lives, say, on holiday or something similar. In The City of Your Final Destination Ivory is in pure classic form, but this time without the robust period piece costumes.
Instead of 19th Century England, Ivory sets this flick in modern day Uruguay. Jules Gund was monumentally famous for writing one giant hit of a book and for being an eccentric loner who lived with his family on an estate called Ocho Rios in Uruguay. Gund recently offed himself and, for whatever reason, the unique remnants of the family (a brother (Anthony Hopkins), his partner (Hiroyuki Sanada), Gund’s wife, mistress and lovechild) continue to live isolated on this gorgeous estate. A 20-something grad student in Colorado named Omar has decided his doctoral thesis will be a biography of Jules Gund, but when he sent a request for authorization to the family, they denied him. He decides this is his chance at something big, so he packs up and surprises the family at Ocho Rios. What Omar finds is an incredibly well educated, well bred group of eccentrics living on a breathtaking compound who don’t exactly mingle with the masses all that often. He also finds, of course, a much more interesting story than he’d first imagined.
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It was very well executed and the pacing truly made it feel as though I was simply there in Uruguay visiting this family and witnessing the oddity and wonder of it all. What I mean to say is that it all felt very natural and unpretentious. Ivory created an tone that said, “sit back, relax with a cool drink and soak in the drama of this family.” The only complaint I have is in the casting of the two female leads. Mind you, both did a great job in their portrayals, but their ages were all wrong for the roles and, as a result, they could not feel as natural and genuine in their character’s skins as the rest of the cast. First, you have 46-year-old Laura Linney playing the upright, formal matriarch of the family who is supposed to be in her early sixties. Linney acted 60 but didn’t look it one bit. Then, the character of Arden, the 28-year-old mistress, was portrayed by 40-year-old Charlotte Gainsbourg. While Gainsbourg did a great job of exhuding the right nervous, fidgety energy for the role, it just doesn’t work when someone who is forty and looks forty is playing a twenty-something. Outside of this mild complaint, I liked everything about this movie. It’s visually gorgeous, lazily paced, very well written and acted and went down like a cold Manhattan on a sun soaked veranda.
WW

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Other Guys


The Other guys picks up with the untimely death of the biggest superstar cops NYPD’s seen in a very long time, Danson and Highsmith. They were cool as hell and beloved by all. Meanwhile, two detectives, Gamble and Holtz, have recently been paired together in what seems to be a punishment. Gamble, played to uptight perfection by Will Ferrell, was a forensic accountant whose position was recently eliminated. Holtz, angrily portrayed by Mark Wahlberg, was a hotshot detective who recently accidentally shot someone. Both are put in jobs they don’t want, Gamble a detective, Holtz working at a desk with Gamble. Holtz wants them to break a major case so they can take over were Danson and Highsmith left off and so they can get back to doing what they love. Gamble doesn’t like the risk, but he loves the idea of getting back to the boring routine of being an accountant.
And so, this very unlikely pair sets off in a borderline incompetent attempt to be police heroes. Gamble is so uptight his ass could probably turn coal into diamonds and has never come anywhere near a tense police situation. While Holtz may have the physical skills, he’s emotionally volatile and 100% hates Gamble. Needless to say, this journey to breaking a major case is full of mishaps and missteps. Think Lethal Weapon, but instead of Riggs and Murtauh, you have Inspector Clouseau and Inspector Dreyfus.
This is the fourth collaboration between writer/director Adam McKay and co-writer Will Ferrell, with the previous being Talladega Nights, Anchorman and Step Brothers. As with all their previous endeavors, The Other Guys relies on funny dialogue, outrageous situational comedy and loveable, yet asinine protagonists. Like the other three, it can, at times, become a little too silly and one note, but lucky for us, it does this very little compared to, say, Step Brothers. I’ve always felt like the McKay/Ferrell movies seem funnier than they actually are, that as overall movies they’re mediocre, but that when they are funny momentarily they are really funny. For example, the funny parts of Anchorman are hilarious, but most of the movie sucks. I’d place The Other Guys with Talladega Nights, however, which is easily my favorite of the four. Like that flick, The Other Guys keeps the narrative relatively tight and doesn’t veer off on too many tangents. Will Ferrell is in peak form and Wahlberg does a fantastic job as a straight man. The supporting cast is funny too, including Michael Keaton who just simply doesn’t get enough work. Long story short, if you like the McKay/Ferrell style of comedy, you’re gonna love this one because it is one of their best collaborations yet.
S’good

Halloween III



With Halloween III, John Carpenter wanted to wipe the slate clean. He entrusted the project to a colleague, someone he’d been working with in various capacities since the start of his career, Tommy Lee Wallace. He asked Wallace to write, direct, do the production design and turn it back into a franchise based in independent filmmakers, rather than churning out money-making studio sequels. Wallace took a big gamble by making the third Halloween sans Michael Meyers. That’s right, no Michael Meyers here. In fact, there’s no Laurie Strode, no Dr. Loomis and no slasher killer of any sort.
The story of III, concerns a Dr. who is treating a patient that makes claims of evil deeds going on in a small California town. The Dr., for inexplicable reasons, travels with the now deceased man’s daughter to this small town to investigate these alleged acts of mischief. He finds something far worse than he’d imagined. See, Halloween is fast approaching and he begins to suspect the Silver Shamrock company, who makes Halloween masks for children, may be responsible for several recent mysterious deaths, including the above mentioned patient. As it turns out, the company is making masks that will totally pulverize their wearers and release poisonous snakes and spiders on all those around when the wearer watches a certain video. Oh, and by the way, the company has been running promos non-stop telling all kids with Silver Shamrock masks to tune in at nine on Halloween to watch for a big prize giveaway.
While the production values of this movie are fairly cheap looking and the acting is hardly Olivier, I actually like this installment. The movie made back somewhere along the lines of triple it’s budget, but was a huge critical failure. Most people didn’t like it because they didn’t understand how it could be called a Halloween franchise movie. I gotta agree here, as it really should just stand on its own, but they hated the movie for it, while I think it’s only a mildly annoying curiosity. It’s campy, it’s at times predictable and the ending is fairly lame, but overall, it’s just the sort of cheesy 80’s horror I love. As a kid, this was one of my favorites and watching it now I may well be blinded by nostalgia. Either way, I enjoyed the heck out of this 80’s horror trash.
ME

Halloween II


To me, the original Halloween sits comfortably on the all time top ten list of horror movies. In fact, I’ve long joked that it and Rosemary’s Baby are the only horror movies in my list of all time favorites that don’t start with ‘the,’ with the other four being The Shining, The Omen, The Changeling, The Thing and The Exorcist. So, lately I decided to watch all the Halloween’s in order, not in one sitting mind you, for the fun of it. I’ve seen the original many times, so I skipped it and went straight to Halloween II.
Wow, what a drop in value occurred from I to II. In II the audience picks up exactly where I left off. If you remember, the cliff hanger at the end of Halloween I was that Dr. Loomis goes over to check the body of Michael Meyers only to find he’s no longer there. Roll Credits. Well, in II, we start with Dr. Loomis freaking out and heading off with the cops on a manhunt for Mr. Meyers. Meanwhile, Laurie Strode (played again by Jamie Lee Curtis) is being hauled off to the hospital. While the good Dr. and the po-po look for Mike Meyers, Mr. Meyers is heading to the hospital to finish what he started. So, Laurie, though she’s now in no shape to do so, must escape her psycho brother yet again.
That plot description sounds just fine for a horror flick and it was written for the screen by John Carpenter, just like the first one, but it’s a clear example of the importance of execution. While the story is good, the execution is dreadful. The acting is bad, the shots are generic and the production design is awful, with way too much of Michael Meyers being shown, including almost comically wide eyes that seem to show up when he’s killing someone. And while the first in the series was taught and restrained, this one is overwrought with superfluous nudity and violence. More action and less tension almost always equals a lower quality film. II was directed by a first time director who went on to have a very successful career directing TV shows like 90210 and Buffy. Not to knock TV, but, well, it’s clear he’s more apt for short bursts of quality rather than helming an entire film project. After a major hit with I, we see a major miss with II, but, lucky for it, the story is enough to keep it out of U territory.
SA

Nightbreed


In Nightbreed we find a young man named Aaron Boone plagued by nightmares about monsters from a land called Midian. His nightmares become so bad he seeks the aid of a psychologist. But suddenly he gets a call from said psychologist, Dr. Decker, who gives Boone the heads up that the cops believe he killed 6 people. Boone is shocked, only to find out the murderer killed these folk in a manner that practically mirrors dream descriptions Boone previously relayed to Dr. Decker. Did these murders go down just like his dreams because his memory is calling memories dreams? Or is it that Dr. Decker heard Boone’s descriptions and fulfilled the murders like a paint-by-numbers activity? Well, I’m spoiling nothing by telling you, it’s the latter. Dr. Decker is a psycho.
He has Boone killed, but Boone doesn’t stay on that slab for long because, wait for it, it turns out his nightmares about Midian were true. The monsters from Midian are real and they call themselves the Nightbreed. The Breed wants to adopt Boone as one of their own, given their strange mental connection, and they have been beckoning him to them for some time. So, Boone bands up with the Breed to take down the evil Dr. Decker.
There is very little of this movie that didn’t have me rolling my eyes. Anytime a filmmaker takes a horror movie and turns it into something meant to make us feel warm and fuzzy about the ‘monster,’ the movie fails. The only exception I can think of is The Sixth Sense, where the ‘good guy’ is normally the stuff of nightmares. True, director Clive Barker has always said this movie was hijacked by the studios, who cut many minutes and totally repaced the movie after he was done with it, but I don’t think that’s going to give him a free pass. See, the very idea of the movie sucks. Monsters should be monsters, and while we always want to sympathize a little with the Mike Meyers and Hannibal Lectors of the world, we also don’t want to be expected to cry over them when they meet their untimely demise at the end of the picture. Portraying hideous monsters as a people group who has been oppressed and misunderstood for centuries is just idiotic. There is a reason this movie never made back it’s budget.
That said, what’s keeping me from giving this movie a big fat U is the performance of David Cronenberg as Dr. Decker. He was a fantastic villain. If the movie was better overall, we’d be talking about him in the same breath as Dr. Lector and Antone Cigur. He’s a truly freaky villain and his mask is one of the best ever, love it. That and the production design take this out of the land of U and into SA, but don’t be fooled, generally speaking, this movie reeks.
SA

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Black Dynamite


I think if there is one bad thing to say about Black Dynamite, it is that they didn't make a movie for the general audience. We're already saturated with bad parody after bad parody - and gone are the (good) days of the Zuckers and Mel Brooks. I think we've just come to expect mediocrity from this once acclaimed cinematic form. Black Dynamite is everything you want it to be and more, and makes up for the other blaxploitation pardodies (I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, Baadasssss!) that we wanted to love, but fell a bit short.

Black Dynamite is the quintessential badass. Loved by the community, feared by the evildoers. When Black Dynamite's brother is murdered in a drug sting, he takes to the streets to hunt down The Man, and ends up neck deep in a conspiracy that goes straight to, you guessed it - the Honky House.

It's hard not to appreciate a movie that doesn't take itself seriously, and Black Dynamite does just about everything right. Intentionally poor camera work and editing, bad stunts and re-hashed explosions, confusing dialogue... and I think I even caught a reference to Rudy Ray Moore's Disco Godfather. Michael Jai White is fantastic in the title role, and put together a terrific team on this little independant film. For anyone who ever loved blaxploitation camp, this is the film to see. Just bring the Colt 45 (or MD 20/20), and let the good times roll.

-WW

Saturday, July 31, 2010

2012

In the year 2010 the world is suddenly heating up from the inside out due to some sort of something happening with the sun. Because of this, lots of bad stuff’s happening to and on Earth’s crust. Things like ice caps melting and fissures appearing in the ground. Well, for some unknown reason, the shit really hits the fan in 2012 and this show we call life as we know it is suddenly and violently coming to a close. The G8 decides to save their best and brightest by putting them on giant boats, called arks no less, along with provisions and lots of animals. The way too obvious problem is that all those not so best and bright, not to mention millions from developing countries not in the G8, are pretty pissed about not being allowed on the boats.

Well, too stinking bad because 99% of you are going to die, but don’t worry viewers because one family that we’re supposed to care about makes it. A dysfunctional California family that’s recycled from hundreds of other movies is the center of the story and they struggle to make it to the ark, which they only know about because the father’s a limo driver and one of his clients was asked on board. Well, they make it on in the last seconds and, for a totally unknown reason that destroys what little scientific cred this movie had to begin with, the waters recede and life looks like maybe it can go somewhat back to normal. Oh, don’t worry your pretty little head about the billions of corpses and all the wiped out vegetation, life will be pretty much happily ever after because John Cusack and Amanda Peet survived.

German director Roland Emmerich has made a career out of giant scale popcorn movies, like the DeMille of our day, movies that are spectacle. Past examples on point are Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow. I like spectacle, I really do, and I very much enjoy a good adventure movie, but there must be good writing or at the very least gripping performances to make the movie watchable. John Wayne’s movies may not have been full of the best stories or casts, but he did a damn fine job and cast even better actors around him like Jimmy Stewart and Robert Mitchum. My point is, you can’t just have some grand scope eye candy of a picture; you must also toss in some good acting and compelling script. This one has neither. If you want to watch some cool visuals, stick to the Discovery Channel.

Unacceptable

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Inception


In the not-to-distant future we humans have developed the technology to enter into the subconscious, or dream state rather, of another of our fellow humans. Simply by being connected as a group to this device, all those connected enter into the subconscious of the host person together and enjoy (or sometimes decidedly not enjoy) a shared experience. Several engineering firms make this technology available and, in typical capitalistic fashion, it gets used both for good and for the not-so-good. An employee for one of the big engineering firms in question, Cobb, is the best of the best; however, it was recently suspected that he may killed his wife and, so, now he’s on the run and can only use his skills for the black market version of the legit technology. As with any black market version of legit goods and services, the clientele generally wants something stronger and wants to use it for more nefarious objectives.

Enter Saito, a wealthy Japanese business man who seeks to use the technology to plant a desire in a competitors head, a process called inception apparently, that would make said competitor want to break up his, far too successful for Saito’s liking, business. Saito wants the very best, so he hires Cobb and asks Cobb to assemble a team of all-stars. Think of it like a heist movie, but the movie takes place primarily in the mind of an unknowing participant. Generally, the dream world works like the real world in terms of physics; however, if the host is significantly jarred in one part of the dream it screws with the physics of another part of the dream and, obviously, one is limited by time, as people don’t tend to sleep forever. This means it’s a heist movie where the, say, bank is going to suddenly disappear if they don’t finish their work on time and the bank might suddenly be upside down or on it’s side if the host falls over or gets flipped in another part of the dream. All the while Cobb is battling the demons he’s carrying around from the death of his wife. All of this combined makes the job very tough and the movie very tense.

Christopher Nolan is on one hell of a run. His movies are engaging, original and always produced at rich, quality levels. His movies are unique, well written, well shot, well acted and even well scored. From Memento to Dark Knight to The Prestige, he hasn’t missed the mark in years. In my opinion, Inception may be at the top of his list. As usual, Nolan made a movie that you don’t even have to understand to enjoy and every moment from first to last is gripping. Literally on the ride home my wife is saying, I wanna watch that again.

WW

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Flirting with Disaster


Flirting with Disaster is a mid-90’s comedy staring tons of people from Alan Alda to Patricia Arquette to Lily Tomlin and Mary Tyler Moore. It’s also the last truly independent style flick David O. Russell did before switching to bigger pictures like Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees. Flirting tells the story of the disastrous roadtrip Mel (played by Ben Stiller) takes to find his biological parents. He brings his wife and new baby, but also brings along a psychiatrist from the adoption agency who is willing to pay for it all if she can document it for a study she’s doing for her PhD. Along the way the meet several people who turn out not to actually be Mel’s parents, meet a couple of ATF agents who ask to come along for the ride and are intercepted by Mel’s incredibly tight strung New Yorker adoptive parents.

The whole thing feels like one of those Euro flicks where everything goes wrong at every turn and the humor is found both in the characters and in the mayhem. It’s wackiness at every turn, in other words, and, as my wife put it, felt like a stepping-stone on Ben Stiller’s path to later similarly themed movies like Night at the Museum and Meet the Parents. While the style of comedy may be the same, the themes in Flirting are much more adult and, in my opinion, a little less ha-ha funny. This movie may not be great and, well, it’s not really my kind of comedy, but the performances are really fantastic and they make it very enjoyable to watch. That is, except for Stiller and Tea Leone (the psychiatrist) who are simply unbelievable and ridiculous. In fact, their whole storyline is ridiculous and not believable.

The seemingly bit players make this movie great. Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin are pitch perfect as a couple of acid-dealing artists. Mary Tyler Moore has never been better. Josh Brolin is great as the overly maternal ATF agent. But, to me, Richard Jenkins tops them all. He’s hilarious. He’s very uptight, but has an ‘epiphany’ part way through the movie when he inadvertently takes acid. His epiphany follows several scenes of hilarious freaking out. Imagine him panicking because he’s “seeing colors I don’t want to see.” Or him running around New Mexico in his underwear because he’s trying to “outchase the wind.” It’s great stuff. Long story short, if you like character movies with solid actors who are all reveling in being on a snowball rolling out of control, then this is your movie.

S’good

Monday, July 5, 2010

Only You


Only You is a 1994 romance by Norman Jewison about the apparent climax of life for one Miss Faith Corvatch. Ever since she was a kid she has been obsessed with finding a man, romance and her soulmate. In Faith's case, she believes her soulmate is a man she's never met named Damon Bradley. Why? Well, his name keeps coming up on Ouija boards, at fortune tellers and so on. Faith is now and adult, a school teacher and getting married to a boring ole podiatrist. A few days before her wedding, while she's trying on wedding gowns, she answers a call from a friend of her fiancee, wherein he tells her he can't make it to the wedding, best of luck, but he'll be in Italy. His name? Damon Bradley. She flips, literally starts having an emotional freak out and immediately grabs her best friend, goes to the airport and boards a plane for Italy. She's still in her gown.
She then finds, so she thinks, Damon Bradley. Problem is, just as she's about to take him to bed after falling head over heals for him, she discovers he's not Mr. Bradley at all. He's just some guy, played quite likabley by Robert Downey Jr, who heard her going on about Damon Bradley and impersonated him because he felt he was in love at first sight with Faith. The rest of the movie is him convincing her that he is the one and not this Damon guy. The podiatrist is never mentioned again, poor schmuck.
This movie was downright offensive. Faith is portrayed as a shallow, man crazy idiot. She gets literally hysterical trying to find this guy that's she's never met because, why, because she's a girl? Because girls are all dumbstruck googly eye'd saps whose hearts melt like butter on a hot sidewalk at the very mention of romance? Offensive. It's not that women can't be portrayed as softhearted romantics, but Faith has no subtlety whatsoever. Take Cher from Moonstruck or Meg Ryan from When Harry Met Sally and dial the subtlety back until you arrive at a 10-year-old fan in the late 80's at a New Kids on the Block concert. And what's worse is this is Jewison we're talking about who brought us such fantastic flicks as Moonstruck, The Heat of the Night, Fiddler on the Roof and, my favorite, The Statement. This movie sucked from start to finish. Skip it and go rent one of the many fantastic hits Jewison has created in the past and skip this major miss.
U

Knight and Day


Knight and Day is the newest work by director James Mangold, who, up until now, has put forth pretty much nothing but heavy, harsh dramas like Cop Land, Girl Interrupted, Walk the Line and the surprisingly very good Identity. If you haven't, you should see all of those movies. With Knight and Day, Mangold took a decidedly lighter route as he tells the story of the happenstance meeting of Roy Miller and June Havens. Roy is a highly trained, Bourne-esque secret agent and Havens is, well, a nobody, just a regular gal. A young man named Simon Feck, played to dorky perfection by Paul Dano, has developed the first perpetual energy source and Roy's partner wants to sell it to arms dealers and make bank. Roy feels it is his personal mission to stop this. Havens gets caught in the crossfire and Roy also takes it upon himself to make sure he meets his goal and protects Havens from any harm as well.
If you go in thinking this will be wonderfully tense Mangold work, don't, it's not and it's not meant to be. It's a spoof. It is totally lighthearted and doesn't take itself seriously for even a second. Cruise plays Roy like a mixture of all his prior action roles with just a dash of Brosnan's Bond. He's way too suave, way to skilled and just right. There's even a scene where Havens wakes up on the beach to Roy coming slo-mo out of the water holding giant fish he'd apparently caught while in there, all with ab's-a-glistening. This movie is not fantastic and it's certainly not a great script. But all of the primary players portray their characters very well and it's all 100% in the spirit of good fun. So, if you want a little bit of easy, enjoyable cinematic junk food, this may well be the one for you. If you want something a little more Cop Land, well, go rent Cop Land.
S'good.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

House of 1000 Corpses


If you’ve read much of this blog or know me, you know I’m not a big fan of Rob Zombie’s movies. While he’s clearly a big fan of the horror genre, like me, his movies tend to be pretty shallow, relying way too much on gore and easy scares to make them memorable. Ironically, it took me viewing his first film to become a fan. I guess in a way it makes sense. I mean, has Tobe Hooper made anything good in a long while? Has he made anything even remotely as good as his first, Texas Chainsaw Massacre? I don’t think so. Well, Zombie may not have made a good flick since, House of 1000 Corpses is a great flick if you’re into horror like me.

The movie tells the story of two couples who are traveling around 1977 Texas doing research for a coffee table-esque book about odd roadside attractions. They stop in a small town for gas and see a roadside attraction called Captain Spauldings House of Monsters. They have to see this, which leads them down a very dark road they soon regret. This movie is the classic tale of city-folk who travel into a small country town at night only to find themselves trapped in a world of terror. Think the aforementioned Texas Chansaw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes or Motel Hell and so on and so on.

This movie was clearly a labor of love for Zombie, who obviously loves studying the dark as much as I do. The house used in the film is the same from The Best Little Whorhouse in Texas. There are actual recordings featured of Aleister Crowley reading his dark magick poem The Poet. There are references to the very evil Albert Fish. And many more. There are also many movie references, both visually and in terms of the character names, like how most of the main characters are named after characters from Marx Brothers movies. It’s not like it’s a perfect movie with a great script, but if you’re a fan of the genre, this movie was made exactly for you. It’s creepy and exudes a rotten, dark, organic feel. The visual style is very interesting and I absolutely love to see Sid Haig totally owning his role, and man does he own it. I mean, who doesn’t love Sid Haig, the dude was in Coffy and Foxy Brown for crying out loud. Long story short, if you’re a horror and movie geek, you will like this movie. If not, well, you should probably skip it.

ME

Man on Wire


So you know how I was just saying that the mark of a good documentarian is his or her ability to edit? To take hours of footage and turn it into something engaging? Well, where the last flick failed, this one succeeds. Man on Wire tells about the planning for and execution of Phillipe Patek’s time walking a wire between the twin towers in the 1970’s. Patek was a French high wire walker who had grown sick of the circus life and decided to take a decidedly more ethereal and spiritual approach to his craft. He left the circus and began performing for the public in impromptu public appearances. He’d take a team of three or so, who would rig and film while he did his beautiful, fearless thing. They’d string rope between lightpoles on busy Parisian streets. They’d rig a wire across a lake in a park. He then decided to kick it up a notch and walked a wire between the two bell towers of the Notre Dame. This caused quite a stir and became the stuff of legend in France. Moved by the public response and the experience it gave him, he decided to up the ante again. This time he walked between two of the arches of the Sydney harbor bridge. Not only was this much more dangerous, it also caused an even bigger public response. He wanted more.

While at the dentist’s office he saw a magazine article about an architects proposal for the 7 buildings of the New York World Trade Center, two of which are the twin towers. He was immediately determined and crushingly obsessed. He dedicated his life to this feat, he called Le Coup. Then he learned the towers were accepted and going to be built. He now had a mission. Man on Wire gives the viewer an in-depth inside look at the years that followed. The years of planning, constant imagining and re-imagining, the several failed attempts to get to the top of the towers and the ultimate successful high wire walk between them. It’s an almost unthinkable accomplishment. He was on a tiny wire nearly half a mile above the earth, with no safety harness and certainly no net. To make it even more amazing, this wasn’t some highly orchestrated stunt organized by highly trained professionals.

No, this was some street performer from France with little more than a dream and a group of half stoned volunteers that he’d found just a few days before. And there he was, out on that wire, calm as a deep sea, loving every second of the 45 minutes he decided to stay out there on the wire. That’s right, he refused to come off and was up there for nearly an hour. He loved it and vowed to never do such a thing again, believing he’d never top it. This movie is great and gives you a wonderful look inside a once-in-a-lifetime event in New York history. It’s always a good thing when people spend their life pursuing what they believe is pure and beautiful and by the end of this movie, you’re gonna feel the same way.

WW

Don't You Forget About Me


When I heard that a group of Canadian screenwriters were making a documentary about John Hughes and his impact on the world I was excited and couldn’t wait to see what they came up with. Then when I heard part of this doc was a roadtrip to meet the man and that he died after filming but before release, well, I knew this flick had the chance to be something great. This is all the more reason why I was so very disappointed. The mark of a great documentarian is knowing how to edit tons of footage of the otherwise mundane into something riveting and, hopefully, psychologically and emotionally engaging. The greats like Errol Morris and Werner Herzog will provide you with numerous examples of this craft done well. A documentarian, by the nature of their work, collects much film of people and scenes that are not all that exciting, but what distinguishes between what you see on public access and what wins Oscars and changes lives is editing. This was the biggest flaw of Don’t You Forget About Me.

They decided to tell the story of Hughes by interviews, interviewing kids who still love his pictures and consider them great and cast members from some of his greatest films. The problem is, they allow this stuff to go on for way too long. There’s only so much reflection on an actor’s memories of a person one can watch and stay engaged. The filmmakers needed to intersperse this with some history, some biography of Hughes. They don’t. They just have actors and children speaking straight to camera talking about their opinions of Hughes. Interesting, for about 20 minutes.

The only break from this is footage of the roadtrip, which, again, would have been interesint if edited well. Instead, it’s way too much footage of a bunch of small time filmmakers talking about their opinions of Hughes, in other words, the same stuff as the interviews. They spent years on this picture but decided it would be best to ambush Hughes at his home with the schtick of acting like pizza delivery and, instead, delivering to him the documentary they’d made. This was their plan for meeting a guy who made some of the greatest movies of the 1980’s and early 90’s and decided to leave it all for some peace and quiet with his family in Illinois. This was their plan for the guy who hasn’t done an interview or had his picture taken in over 12 years. I’m not giving anything away when I say the dude is uninterested and doesn’t even come outside. I would have done the same, who trusts people who randomly knock at their door? When someone from the LDS church comes over unannounced, how many of you say, sure I’m interested, come on in? Not many. I love Hughes and I’d have loved to see an in depth look into his life, work and colleagues. This movie provided none of this. If it had been edited down into a 30-minute episode of TV, it might have been worth a watch, but at just over an hour and a half, it’s not worth your time.

U

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Warlock


Warlock is a 19889 horror flick by director Steve Miner, the man who introduced the world to the version of Jason we know now, with the whole hockey goalie mask thing (which he didn’t have in the first film) and who went on to make several other high grossing horror ventures like the 2008 remake of Day of the Dead. Well, ole Steve may have had a ton of success in his career with big-budget movies, but this was certainly not one of them. Then again, since the movie is produced by perhaps the most famous trash flick producer this side of Ed Wood, Roger Corman, and was paired up with writer David Twohy, who brought the world such gems as Critters 2 and Waterworld, it’s not like he was aiming for the art house cinemas.

Warlock is about a warlock from 17th century Boston who is traveling through time finding pieces of a book that, all together, reveal the true name of god, which is apparently a huge thing to know and bestows great power onto those who know it. Which I suppose is why the pages were not only hidden in different locations, but also different time periods. It’s also why there’s a mystic who is following the warlock trying to stop him. For some reason a moderately cute piece of ditzy eye candy from the present needed to be drug around on the chase as well. Imagine Highlander but with much worse acting, writing and production and you have Warlock. That’s right, I said much worse and I didn’t even like Highlander.

The performances are the worst part of it all, and that’s saying quite a bit considering the terrible special effects. And by far the worst performance is that of Lori Singer (the aforementioned eye candy) and I was thusly shocked to learn that she’s a Julliard trained cellist and was a protégé of Leonard Rose. Well, I suppose being talented in one art doesn’t make you talented in another. There really isn’t much good to say about this movie and I suggest you skip it and move on to better Corman camp like Dementia 13 or Death Race 2000, now those are some glorious examples of cinematic junk food. Warlock, on the other hand, is just junk.

U

Killer Klowns from Outer Space


Killer Klowns is a goofy 1988 horror flick about a group of, well, killer clowns, who come to earth so they can harvest fauna as, I guess, snacks for the road. They’re apparently on their way somewhere in space and stop off on earth like it’s a 7-11. They gather up people, dogs, whatever they can find, wrap them in cotton candy and, when they have a hankering, drink a little of their innards.

This movie is fun if you like trash and horror flicks like I do, but it’s little more than a bit of fun. As a movie, it really fails. It’s supposed to be funny, but never really is. It’s supposed to be scary, but there’s not a single frame of this picture that is remotely scary. The story seems coincidental and the acting is, of course, quite awful. Sometimes I wonder with movies like this, if the production team decided after the fact to make it a spoof. Obviously from the title and premise, it’s not supposed to be a serious horror endeavor, but it’s not making any particular statement on the industry or genre to make me believe it’s really a spoof either. It’s also not funny enough and has too much gore to really be considered a comedy either; thus, it goes down with movies like Motel Hell and Rock n’ Roll Nightmare as movies that are difficult to decipher as to whether or not they’re being bad movies on purpose or are just bad movies. Either way, if you’re a fan of kitsch and crap, you’ll at least get a kick out of this movie that somehow miraculously got funded and made. Long live the days of animatronic puppets!

ME

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Flame and Citron


When one exists in the shadows, eventually it becomes difficult to see what is and what isn’t surrounding him or her. Such was the case for Flame and Citron. These are the codenames of two Dutch resistance fighters, real names Bent and Jorgen, who used their knowledge and steely dispositions to put as many chinks in the Nazi’s armor as possible. They didn’t smuggle goods or information, they didn’t scramble communications or plant bombs, they were assassins. They simply got a person’s papers, found that person and killed them, period, no questions asked. But as time went on, things began to get more “gray” and nerves began to unravel. Eventually Flame and Citron began to become paranoid, they began to ask questions. The missions and orders also began to seem strange, further fueling their fire. Have things changed? Do they have reason to be suspicious? Or are the terrors of war creating unfounded paranoia in them?

This is a true story of two of the great heroes of the European theater of World War II. They did awful things, during an awful time, for fantastic reasons. They were brave, smart, calculated, selfless and sacrificing and man is it fascinating to watch their story in a frank portrayal. This movie isn’t explosions and tense scenes of espionage. It is a movie about these two men, plain and simple. It is so squarely focused on them that it seems less like a historical piece about World War II, with none of the obligatory characteristics of that genre like meetings of generals in some war room or scenes of high ranking Nazi officials planning dastardly deed or bunkers being stormed, but more like a psychological drama about two men who gave all they were to do something great only to realize the stark realities of their decision. They existed in the shadows and that can be a pretty damn dark, cold place to exist.

While a bit long, this movie has very few other drawbacks. It’s beautifully shot to look like a gorgeous remake of The Third Man. The production design is spot on. The script is flawless and the performances are truly top rate. If you like movies about WWII and espionage, this is a fresh addition to that genre and I’m certain you’re going to love it.

WW

Friday, April 23, 2010

Oil + Water


Two delightful stoners/professional kayakers decided to take a hunk of a year off and drive from Alaska to Argentina, kayaking some of the best spots in the world along the way. As they planned they realized that the cost of gas was going to be their greatest expense and would likely have a big, negative environmental impact. So, they had a question, can anyone do such a thing as convert a petrol powered car into one that can drive for miles without a drop. They did all they could to find this answer and then suddenly had it. They engineered a truck-type vehicle with a piece on the side that could grind up any natural/compostable material into fuel.
And so, they set out, from northern Alaska, all the way to the southern tip of Argentina, never using a drop of petroleum. They tried all sorts of different fuels from pig fat to palm branches. They had to fix the car now and then and had widely varying degrees of success with this or that fuel, but, in nine months, they made it and it seemed, as they went along, that word was getting out; thus, they ended up having parades and carnivals waiting for them in many of their South American stops. These guys are some of the nicest, most fun-loving, easy going guys in the world, I’m convinced. And they seemed like the sort of people you could be stuck with for nine months in a car and have as much of a blast in Alaska, Argentina or anywhere in between.
The only thing I didn’t like about this movie was that there wasn’t enough of it. With a running time right at 50 minutes, it felt more like an easy little TV program than it did a feature-length documentary. I wanted to see more of just about every aspect of this movie: the people they met, the risks they took, the technology, the kayaking, and on and on. This is an easy, fun doc about model citizens and I suggest everyone watch it, enjoy it and learn from it.
S’good.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Good Hair


Chris Rock says that as his two daughters get older it began to give him cause for pause to think about the costs expended and the lengths endured by African-American women to look beautiful and have, as he puts it, good hair. He began to realize the issue is greater than he’d ever imagined. Not only are black women (and in some cases children) willing to suffer through physical and monetary pain, an entire industry of black hair products has grown into an international money machine. So, Rock decided to get a team together and make a proper documentary about it.
His tone is genuine and honest (he even shows home footage of his family) and, while he’s lighthearted, a true concern for this culture is readily apparent. The movie is about hair, yes, but it’s largely about the extent women in general and African-American women in particular are willing to go to in order to be accepted as ‘normal.’ The women interviewed, which truly run the gamut, all talk about getting their hair straightened or wearing painful weaves because they want to look ‘natural’ and ‘easy to approach.’ One girl says that black hair left in it’s natural state is something people have to endure before they actually get to know the person, which is why she straightens, so this doesn’t happen at job interviews.
The entire thing is very sad, especially because these women truly believe this stuff. The idea that a poor black woman needs to spend thousands of dollars a year so her hair doesn’t make white people feel uncomfortable is pathetic. Rock focuses almost entirely on how the African-American culture sees their own hair, interviewing very few non-African-Americans. It’s a very telling look at our culture, the state of modern racism and opportunistic capitalism. Somehow Rock tells this depressing tale in a way that’s easy and enjoyable to watch. You’ll laugh, think and (hopefully) get pretty pissed off. It’s worth a watch for sure.
S’good.

I Love You Man


Have you ever met someone who you thought, “this person is so socially awkward that it’s not even funny?” Well, that basically sums up this movie. Paul Rudd plays Peter Klaven, a man who seems to have it all, a beautiful fiancée, a successful real estate career and a beautiful LA home. But he’s so socially awkward that he doesn’t have a single friend, outside of the aforementioned fiancée. He is the epitome of the person so bad socially that it’s not even funny. The problem for this movie is that, in his case, this expression is literal, it’s not even a little funny, it’s just awkward.
Peter begins ‘dating’ guys to become their friend. He lines up nights to go out with dudes in an attempt, not to date them, but to become their friend. Sound lame? It is. He goes through some bad ‘dates,’ but finally strikes gold with a man much more bohemian than he, Sydney. Peter and Sydney become unlikely best friends. And, folks, that’s it. That’s the story.
If you’re attracted to the idea of watching the most socially inept person you’ve ever met try and make friends for two hours, boy, this is the movie for you. This should’ve been a thirty minute episode of the office, not a feature. As a short episode, I’m sure it would’ve been pretty funny. I mean, it had it’s moments. Tom Lennon is freaking hilarious. But as a full on feature the vast majority of the movie was either painful or unnecessary. Maybe, though, it’s just me. Maybe I just don’t like this style of point at the weirdo and laugh comedy, but I took nothing from this movie and was happy to shut it off at the end. Rudd’s Peter is just such a schlub. Countless times during the movie I thought, how did this idiot become so successful at LA real estate or, for that matter, land such a beautiful girlfriend? The whole thing is simply idiotic.
Unacceptable

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Red Riding: 1980


Red Riding 1980 is the second installment in the Red Riding trilogy mentioned below, produced by Studio Canal and BBC 4. The trilogy concerns several true stories that highlight the realities surrounding the awful crimes and terrible investigation of the Yorkshire Ripper. Tons of terrible deaths resulted, primarily, from the corruption and incompetence of local law enforcement and civic leaders and while 1974 educates the viewer on this reality by showing some back story and laying foundation, 1980 dives into the actual crimes and ensuing investigation, focusing namely on the period after 12 victims when investigators were brought in from outside Yorkshire in an attempt to clean up the Yorkshire police force and end the investigation. Things don’t turn out so well and, after all, there is a third movie.
This movie seems to have been made by a more seasoned director than the first, as everything, even the sound recording, is tighter and of better quality. I like the tone of the first one more and felt that, though it suffered from inefficiency and relied too much on easy out’s like sex scenes, the first one had a more unique vibe. That said, this one is great and does a great job of the now very conventional cop investigation movie. The streets are mean, the cops aren’t much better than the criminals and the job takes it’s toll on the story’s heroes. Yes, we’ve seen this played out on the big and small screen a billion times, but somehow 1980 didn’t feel like just another episode of The Wire or Law and Order. It had it’s cliché moments, but overall the acting was too good, the writing too subtle and effective, and the visuals too engaging for it to come across as yet another indiscriminate face in the crowd. The case of the Yorkshire Ripper was sad on all sides, with terrible crimes to victims, a perpetrator rife with mental illness and a police force so corrupt as to be complicit with the Ripper himself. If you like cop dramas and dig on true crime stories, this is a good one that you won’t want to miss.
S’good/WW

Monday, April 5, 2010

Fantastic Mr. Fox


Fantastic Mr. Fox is a 2009 stop-motion animated feature about, well, Mr. Fox, a clever, cordial fox who just can’t help himself when it comes to thievery. While most of his life is spent as a reporter, father and friend, every once in a while he simply must indulge his love of the steal. This is just fine, until things get very hairy when Mr. Fox decides to go after the three roughest farmers in England. When he messes with them, they decide to mess with him, bringing the whole armada. Now he must not only save his own hide, but those of what seems to be the entire animal population of the area. Will he make it? Can he rally together the group to pull off this great escape?
Wes Anderson is known for his highly stylized, borderline monotone comedies where it seems everyone is the ‘straight man.’ This works very well for his adult movies and appears, here, to transition well into the world of family films. If you like his approach, making movies that appear to have been produced by very creative children, then you’re going to like this one. It looks like something someone made with stuff from around the house and, in fact, it largely was. Anderson says he tried to keep this movie as simple as possible, using everything from cotton balls to cheese to create the worlds on display. The result is a movie that has a kind of quaint easiness to it. The voice acting and writing is as good as the production design as well, with ingenious devises used, like constantly calm voices among the animals and gruff angry voices among many of the humans.
While it’s no masterpiece, it’s a cute, quaint kids flick that feels like it was made decades ago and would be a great flick to watch on an afternoon on the couch with the kids.
S’good

Friday, April 2, 2010

Red Riding: 1974


In 2009 BBC’s Channel 4 decided to try a filmmaking experiment by having three different filmmakers adapt three novels from the Red Riding Trilogy to the screen in the same year and release them a week apart, like old Hollywood serials. Each of the movies focuses on a year of particular import to the true story of the Yorkshire Ripper case.
A big part of the scandal surrounding the Yorkshire Ripper case was the revelation of the corruption and incompetence of the Yorkshire police. The people of England became outraged at the nastiness of the cops in Northern England. Think LAPD and both the OJ Simpson and Rodney King cases.
1974 is a bit of a primer. They don’t really talk much about the Ripper, but instead set the stage for the films to follow by profiling a specific storyline from the period that serves to show the law enforcement realities of that time and place. In other words, it’s backstory.
The story is that of Eddie Dunford, a young reporter who is assigned to a story in Yorkshire. He’s aggressive, naive and seems to have more curiosity than sense. He’s sent to simply report on a missing girl, but he begins to find broader, juicier stories about local corruption and possible complicity with these crimes. In the end, he doesn’t get much story, but gets tons of brutal interaction with local power figures and law enforcement. The cops seem to all be on the payroll of prominent Yorkshire businessmen and act more like mafia thugs than officers. There is a moment where he’s about to be tossed out the back of a moving police van and the cop pauses, points and says, “you see that? That is the south and we’re heading north.” What the cop, of course, was really saying was, we run things up here and we run things how the hell we want, so stay the hell out. All of this has little to do with the Ripper case factually, but profiling this true story paints a picture of the setting for the investigation and subsequent trial in the case and shows how and why things went as poorly as they did.
I plan on seeing all three as they are now being released in US theaters one week apart as well. This installment was well acted, well written and well shot. Outside of some unnecessary romance and sex, all of it felt just right and the director of this one of the three did a fine job of setting up the two to follow. If you don’t live in a major city, you may have to seek it out on DVD, but I encourage you to do so. It’s dark, it’s gritty, but it’s damn good.
S'good/WW

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Princess and the Frog


2009’s The Princess and the Frog is Disney’s attempt to revive the more classic Disney and pair it along the new Disney. So, they hired the directors of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, had the whole thing done by hand drawing and then paired its release with the release of Up. And both the story and the visuals certainly seem old school.
The flick tells the tale of Tiana, a good-hearted, but born into poverty, New Orleans girl who seems to have a divine gift for Cajun cuisine. Problem is, no matter how great she seems to be, she just doesn’t have the money or clout to open up her own restaurant. Suddenly a frog shows up at her window sill saying he is a prince and if she kisses him he’ll be turned back into a human and will give her all the money she needs to open that restaurant. Well, she does it. Problem is, not only does he not turn into a human, but she actually turns into a frog. Oh, and he’s broke anyway, so the whole ‘I’ll give you all the money you need’ thing was a crock. Tiana and Prince Naveen must now find a sympathetic voodoo practitioner who will help them undo the spell that the nasty Dr. Facilier put on Prince Naveen.
There are really two things I wanna say about this movie. One, the whole thing felt incredibly simple-minded and formulaic. Let’s start with the fact that Tiana has tried for decades to get a restaurant going. Not only does she work in two different restaurants but she knows arguably the richest, most powerful man in town. Not only does she know him, but she’s been best friends with his daughter since she was a little girl. So, if she has an otherworldly talent for cooking and has major, powerful connections, what the heck’s the problem? I mean, I know she’s poor, but surely this dude could at least get her a bank loan. I like the idea of doing some classic Disney, but this didn’t seem like a thoughtful homage as much as a recycling. They might as well have just taken a few older Disney classics, mixed them together, placed it in New Orleans and called it a day. It was way too predictable and forgettable.
However, this leads me to my second point. Disney knows who they are talking to, and, here, they were not talking to a 30-something film geek. They were, however, talking to grade school-aged girls. The girls in the audience, my 8-year-old daughter included, freaking loved it. I kid you not, my daughter literally hugged me at a point in the movie. They all stared unblinkingly at the screen with fantasy and romance plastered on their faces and gobbled up every second of it. While I may have thought it a giant bore, Disney wasn’t talking to me and the audience they were talking to heard them loud and clear.
SA

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lifeforce


In the early 80’s Tobe Hooper was killing it in Hollywood. This no-name from Austin was making one successful horror flick after another. For only $70k, he made The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (arguably one of the top horror movies of all time). He followed this with other successes like Salem’s Lot and Poltergeist. Cannon Pictures offered him a three picture deal and everyone wanted to work with him. Then, Lifeforce changed his filmmaking career. Why, you ask? Because it was so awful that, despite his track record and influence (after all, his last movie was a co-production with Steven Spielberg), no one wanted anything to do with it or, it seemed, him. He never again gained the prominence in the industry he so briefly enjoyed.
You may know why after I sum up the plot in three simple words: Vampires…in Space. You heard me. Lifeforce is about a crew of British astronauts (why British I will never know) who come upon a space ship in Haley’s Comet that is 150 miles long. Yeah, you heard me again. Inside they find the drained bodies of several odd, alien-like creatures and three perfectly preserved nude humans inside force fields. Sheesh. Well, these humans turn out not to be humans but space vampires and the world may well be screwed because they’re coming a courting in London town.
This movie has alot of great ingredients, a fantastic director, the writer of Alien, Aliens and Dune, and an Academy Award winning special effects artist, but it is so bad that the female lead, Mathilda May, filed to have it officially taken off her filmography. Patrick Stewart publicly denounced his support of the film (he has a small part). And the movie lost tons of money. Lifeforce is proof that all the right ingredients won’t make up for uber crappy execution. Everything about this movie is bad. I could go into individual examples, but just think in your head of an element of a movie and I can guarantee you that Lifeforce’s version of that element is terrible. Just trust me. It's not even campy bad, it's simply bad.
Unnaceptable

Monday, March 22, 2010

Shorts


Shorts is a 2009 family flick by Robert Rodriguez, who seems to have a split personality that allows him to release (in order) movies like Sin City, then Shark Boy and Lava Girl, then Planet Terror. Either way, one thing that runs through all his movies is a lighthearted approach to convention and shallow storytelling ability. You watch a Rodriguez movie because it’s going to be fun, not because it’s going to change your life. Shorts is no different.
In this flick, a rainbow colored rock is found at the end of the rainbow by three grade-school aged brothers, who soon learn the rock will grant anything you wish. Problem is, the kids and adults in the neighborhood who get their hands on the rock don’t look before they leap and, again and again, make poor wishing decisions. Before you know it, the place is run amok with things like talking babies, giant crocodiles and tiny aliens. Somehow, the residents have to figure out a way to turn things around before they get totally out of control.
The movie has the depth of a goofy Disney channel television show and the dialogue is just plain stupid at times, but I’m pretty sure I would’ve laughed and enjoyed myself as a kid. It almost seems like it was written by a kid, based on how they wish, and it’s acted almost entirely by kids. So, if you want a movie filled with adventure and fart and booger jokes, this is the one for you. If that’s not your cup-o-tea, then skip it, you won’t be missing much.
SA

Friday, March 19, 2010

Gomorra


Gomorra is a 2008 Italian drama about the groundlevel, negative impact the mafia has on the people of Italy. Whether it’s revealing the realities of child couriers, sweat shops, toxic waste or neighborhood strangleholds, the movie attempts to show the viewer not the rich mob boss in his penthouse, but ugly effect those boss’s have on the people at the bottom of the heap. This is a fantastic idea for a story and the critics of the world seemed to love how Matteo Garrone pulled it off.
I’m gonna have to disagree. While the idea is great and the movie was well shot (I loved the cinematography approach they chose), the movie didn’t succeed with me because the scope was WAY too broad. They simply covered far too much, detailed far too many storylines and covered far too many characters. Granted, Garrone was clearly trying to give the viewer a wide angle on the problem because he feels the mob’s reach is wide. In other words, I have to show so much because they impact so much. Got it, but still, as a movie, it simply wasn’t very engaging because there was no story to get sucked into. I would’ve liked it a ton more if he had just limited his scope by a couple of the storylines. A movie just about two kids who run into trouble because they’re annoying the mob and the story about the toxic waste dumping would’ve likely been great.
For the second time in a row I’m going to suggest that a feature I watched would’ve been much better as a documentary, but it’s true both in Hunger’s case and here. The info is great and the problem of the mob is very real. Garrone’s same approach (the expansive examination) would make for a great doc, but as a feature, it’s does so much that, in the end, it does far too little.
SA

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Hunger


Hunger is an Irish drama and was Irelands submission for the Best Foreign Feature Oscar this last year. In it, the awesomely named director Steve McQueen, gives the viewer a graphic look at true stories from the Non Compliant Prisoner wing of Ireland’s infamous Maze prison in 1980-81. In this wing, a group of 75 prisoners stage two strikes so they can be classified as political prisoners. First, they strike by not adhering to any of the prison’s hygiene rules. This means no bathing, no cutting hair, no using the latrine, no clothes or shoes, and so on. They then switch to a hunger strike that lasts weeks and leads to some terrible outcomes for some of the participants.
While I appreciate that McQueen didn’t explain everything, I would have liked this movie immensely more if he’d at least explained something. The viewer has no idea who these prisoners are, why they should be considered political prisoners, why they want political prisoner status, why the prison won’t grant them it, or, really, anything else. There’s literally one scene with dialogue in the entire movie and most of it is inconsequential. I like it when filmmakers hide the ball a bit and make me do some thinking and guessing, but this was ridiculous. And I like the point he was trying to make, that the point is how horrid the conditions were and that the ‘who’s and ‘why’s of the story don’t matter as much as ‘what’ happened. Ok, I get that, but if you wanna make a story that is engaging and interesting, make a proper feature. If you want to simply show the viewer the stark realities of Irish prisons or to expose the seedy underbelly of the Irish prison system and skip the story stuff, then make a documentary.
This movie was visually fantastic, but was way to austere with the story development. The end result was a moderately interesting and forgettable peak into a dark time and place in Ireland.
Saturday Afternoon

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Serious Man


It's not weird when a movie slips through the cracks, but it is strange to hear more about a movie after its release from anyone with a name. Usually anything by the Coen brothers is announced by trumpet or at least a small amount of fanfare. I can understand why A Serious Man received less to-do than say Burn After Reading, but at this point I'm pretty sure anything they slap together can be considered above average.

Larry Gopnik college math professor watches the world around him unravel as his marriage comes crashing down in an unexpected way. His son and daughter treat him as a utility, his brother can't seem to get it together and his tenure review at college is in danger of being denied because of a bribe attempt by a Korean student. Amidst the chaos, Larry searches for answers from his local Rabbis, hoping that one of them will be able to show meaning through all of life's trials... something that no math equation can solve.

If there is a moral to many of the Coen movies - it is that there is not necessarily a moral or meaning in many of life's struggles. This seems to be the hard point of their recent movies, and A Serious Man is no different. One wishes this movie were maybe as tight as the recent Burn After Reading for example, or even No Country for Old Men, but it wouldn't necessarily be appropriate if it were at the same time. Larry's broiling frustration and confusion are mirrored by the somewhat disjointed and claustrophobic pacing of the film. Not at all their easiest watch, and somewhat flawed by a lack of cohesion, but quite a few humorous and lighthearted moments highlight and lift a film that would otherwise be a pointless downer.

S'good

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Law Abiding Citizen

The latest film from F. Gary Gray, who has a great track record with "Set it Off", "The Negotiator", "The Italian Job", stars Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler in a cat and mouse game of a man fighting a system he sees as corrupt and in need of a lesson.

Jamie Foxx plays a fast-rising Philly prosecutor with goals of being a DA and possibly mayor and intent on maintaining a high conviction rate. Gerard Butler is a brilliant gadget-man/inventor whos wife and daughter are killed during a home invasion. Nick (Jamie Foxx) cuts a deal with one of the criminals in order to secure a conviction. This move creates the very interesting story of what happens when one man fights back in order to prove his point. The most interesting part is trying to figure out who to root for and wondering if Clyde (Gerard Butler) is an ordinary citizen or actually a psychopath who will stop at nothing to right a wrong. At what point does torture and murder cross the line into becoming a serial killer?

Although the movie relies on some very gruesome and ingenious ways to dispose of many involved in the deal that let the killer go free, it does stay in the gray for most of the movie and makes you question yourself and ask if you would do the same thing. There is great sub-text about citizens rights, torture, the death penalty and the justice system that keep the story from bogging down.

The token ending, where we see our prosecutor realize the folly of his ways and attend his daughters recital, was laughable. Aside from that, I thought it was a well directed effort and a movie that will keep you thinking after the credits roll.

-S'Good

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Wolfman


Let me start by saying I’m a sucker for so many aspects of this movie going in, that I’m not sure I should even be reviewing it. First, this movie stars some actors I really enjoy, like Benecio del Toro, Hugo Weaving, Anthony Hopkins, and Emily Blunt. Then note it’s a re-envisioning of a classic horror movie, aimed, I’m sure, at those weirdo’s out there like me who are both horror geeks and movie history geeks. Add the fact that it’s as much a gore flick as a thriller, with blood and guts galore and more than moon’s worth of severed appendages. Then you can toss in the fact that it’s oddly directed by Joe Johnston whose previous work is mostly in family classics like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and The Rocketeer and you have me certainly interested (no matter what the reviews say).

The Wolfman tells the story of a mysterious American actor named Lawrence who is suddenly called back to his family estate in a small English town. He was sent away to live with his American aunt as a very small boy and has never returned. Now, he arrives because of news that his brother is missing. Soon after arriving he discovers his brother is not only dead but that his brother was horribly mauled. The townsfolk believe it was a bear that gypsies recently brought to town, but Lawrence suspects the answer might be hidden in his family’s dark secrets.

This leads him, nonetheless, to the gypsies with questions about curses. This turns out to be a terrible move as he realizes the killer is a werewolf and he knows this because he was bitten and now too is a werewolf. But Lawrence sees it for the curse it is and seeks to find out how to stop it. This movie is not great and at times quite a bit campy, but I still thought it was a lot of fun and was certainly engaging. They rely WAY too much on the haunted house trick of scaring you by jumping out at you or creating a sudden loud noise. That said, the production design is excellent, as the movie feels very in line with the gothic Victorian English motif of so many classic horror flicks. And while there wasn’t exactly much asked of the actors, I liked the performances of each of them. All in all, it’s not exactly a movie that’s going to change your life, but (hell, like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) you’re probably going to enjoy watching it. See it if you’re looking for a good scare and a decent movie, though you may want to catch it at a matinee or second run theater.

S’good.