Thursday, December 24, 2009

Duplicity; Humpday

All the commercials made Tony Gilroy's Duplicity out to be a romantic comedy about zany spies trying to backstab each other and get in each other's pants at the same time, and it's really not that. It's the closest thing we've got to a modern day Stanley Donen caper picture, however, combining corporate espionage and intrigue with some PG-13 sexy romance. Clive Owen gets to pretend to be James Bond again, Julia Roberts gets to do the same thing she always does, Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson get to pick up their checks, and everybody goes home kinda satisfied but not overly so-- that waiter's not getting any extra gratuity, just the usual 15%. It sounds like I'm ragging on it here, but it's a decent movie.

Humpday, from "mumblecore" veterans Lynn Shelton (who writes, directs, and appears here) and Mark Duplass (co-director of The Puffy Chair, which I hated, and Baghead, which I loved, and star both here and on FX's the League, which is a great show), is also a decent movie, albeit the commercial opposite of Duplicity. Duplass plays Ben, a husband with a normal life (and wife), but his old buddy Andrew (Joshua Leonard, of Blair Witch and a bunch of other things), a Kerouacian free spirit, shows back up, and soon enough the duo, after much drinking, decide to enter an amateur porn festival together, in which they plan to film themselves going all slash fiction on each other. It turns into a ludicrous macho standoff, with neither one willing to back down from it, even at the cost of Ben's marriage. It is the most narratively monumental game of gay chicken ever.

In most hands, this movie would be an utter farce, a potentially Wildeian comedy of errors, but in the so-called "mumblecore" (I'm beginning to hate that word) movement, it's as grounded as possible, with the characters taking it pretty damn seriously. There's some issues with tone and storytelling here, but I don't really see how else the filmmakers could've pulled it off; they did the best job possible. Naturalism is the key with these mumblecore pictures, especially in the semi-improvised dialogue, and the acting. Leonard puts in a great performance as the wild card who isn't as wild as he tries to be, and who yearns to have the kind of life Ben does, though Ben is equally jealous of his friend. Alycia Delmore, however, as Ben's suffering wife and the only sane character in the entire film (though she has issues of her own), steals the whole thing, and should get some kind of award for this, though I sincerely doubt the Academy will be sending out screeners.

I didn't love it, but I'm glad to see these naturalistic films (way better than "mumblecore," right?) gaining more legitimacy and notoreity, and I'm interested to see what the participants do next. If they get too polished and Hollywood on us, however, they'll lose some of the magic.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Girlfriend Experience

So I'm back (from outer space) and I'm attempting a new (to me) film/movie/talking picture (or two) a day. And the idea is to write about them.

For a semi-experimental film about an escort and starring an honest-to-todger porn star, Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience has precious little sex or nudity of any kind. What it seems to be is a disjointed film, chronologically, narratively, and thematically. Is it about a specialized escort trying to make it to a higher class? Is it about the decline of her relationship with her boyfriend, who's okay with her sex work-- to a point? Is it about the recession and the silly expenditures the rich people indulge in despite the financial crisis? Well, obviously it's all these things, but nothing every really gels, and no plot strand seems to reach fruition, or-- tee hee-- climax.

The titular girlfriend experience is a service protagonist Chelsea (Sasha Grey, whose career is mirroring her character's a bit-- a sex worker trying to make it up a few rungs higher on the ladder of legitimacy) provides, as well as her own relationship with the boyfriend, whose plot arc never goes anywhere despite all the screentime wasted on it. So much of the film seems a bit of a waste, and whether it's because Soderbergh is more content to meander than clearly move forward, or because Grey's acting is, while not terrible, incredibly flat, I'm not sure. Should the audience project on her character like her clients do, molding her into whatever they need, particularly the ladyfriend they wish for? That would be the pretentious film student's view, but I was hoping for something a bit more concrete.

If anything, a more conventional plot or tone would've helped this, and for an independent film, that's surely crazy talk. So many directions could have been taken, but the filmmakers appear more content to just let everything sit there onscreen instead. If the film were a call girl, I'd complain that her rates are too high. She's a pretty thing, sure, but I thought she'd have more substance, and the sex should be better.

Everything I've seen in the last four months in one sentence or less

...and on ZMF's "Optional/Not Optional" scale:

9 Songs: Not a movie, more like pornography spliced with concert footage. Optional.

30 Rock season 3: Just about as good as the first two seasons. Not optional.

Adventureland: It's about a socially inept writing major and the emotionally destructive girl who makes or breaks him-- yeah, this one hit really, really close to home, but it was damn good. Not optional.

Andy Richter Controls the Universe: As funny as I remember it being-- maybe funnier. Not optional.

Barton Fink:
Falls somewhere in the middle of the Great Coens Ratings List. Optional.

Black Sheep:
You'd think a movie about man-eating sheep that turn people into were-sheep would be, you know, better. Optional.

A cool high school film noir with dialogue and atmosphere that takes a bit of getting used to; worth it. Not optional.

Californication season 2:
The definition of guilty pleasure. Optional, for that reason, but I like it.

Kenneth Branagh tries his best Woody Allen impression in a Woody Allen movie, Woody Allen Woody Allen. Optional.

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie:
Like a really good episode of the show, but not as great as the show itself. Optional, I guess? Make up your own damn mind.

Crank 2: High Voltage:
The batshittest movie ever put to celluloid, and one of my favorite films of the year. Not optional.

Dexter season 3:
Not as good as the first two, by a lot. Optional.

Drag Me to Hell:
Middlin' Sam Raimi, not a patch on Evil Dead 2. Optional.

Good Night, and Good Luck:
A great portrayal of the social responsibility of journalism, which is just what we need right now. Not optional.

Gran Torino:
Clint Eastwood at his scowliest, in a movie that could be about my dad. Optional, though.

I Love You, Man: Way funnier than I thought it'd be, Bro Montana. Not optional if you like humorous things and/or Lou Ferrigno.

IT Crowd season 3:
Very nearly a funny sitcom. Optional.

The songs are great, but everything else is sort of there. Optional. Soundtrack? Not optional.

This must be how people who hate time travel stories feel all the time; this movie is smarter than me. Not optional.

The Royal Tenenbaums:
Wes Anderson makes films like Kurt Vonnegut writes books (don't ask me to explain that; I can't). Not optional.

Star Trek (2009):
All spectacle, no substance; too much Lucas, not enough Roddenberry. Optional.

Stupid Teenagers Must Die!:
Stupid, should die. Optional.

Galifianakis can do better, and has; dull to the point of annoyance and forgettable. Optional.

Sort of like Watchmen, only with more fight scenes, violence, sex, cursing, and slow motion; read the book, for Chrissakes. Optional.

(That's right, I went to a theater!) It's no Shaun of the Dead, but it's better than 98% of those other tired, dead-eyed zombie pictures. Not optional if your taste is remotely similar to mine.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I've seen this happen in other people's lives, and now it's happening in mine

3:10 to Yuma: Third acts aren't usually the best part of a film, but here they are, probably because that's the original bit-- the short story and later stageplay-- that the screenwriters are writing around. This remake of a movie that adapted a play that adapted a short story or whatnot is okay, I guess, but that scene in that one room holds all the power, and all the thematic presence. Everything else is just there to fill in the run time.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen:
A fanciful look at the power of belief and imagination, dressed up as a truly bizarre Terry Gilliam adventure movie. Really quite fun, though, although I could've done without the Robin Williams shtick. Everything else is grand, however, from John Neville as the titular Baron, to a young Sarah Polley as the precocious young girl who accompanies him on his adventures, to round up his former compatriots and save the town from being sacked. Throw in a dozen other familiar faces, from fellow Python Eric Idle to a teenaged Uma Thurman. Then, go nuts. It's a cool kooky movie.

It's been too long since I saw this, and I really don't have anything specific for it. It was okay, an almost paint-by-numbers Western epic set in the Australia of some decades back, and it's okay if you like that kind of thing. I didn't run screaming, so there's that. But it's also pretty darn forgettable. Nicole Kidman's the proper English lady who meets the rough and tumble Hugh Jackman, and together they've got to save her cattle ranch or something, and a half-white, half-Aboriginie kid who becomes mixed up in these affairs. Points for Bryan Brown, though. But no Paul Hogan? For shame.

Before Sunrise/Before Sunset: I finally got to see both of these in a sort of double feature format, and I absolutely loved the experience. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy play two characters who have a chance meeting on a train in Vienna and spend an entire night walking and talking, and falling in love-- in the sequel nine years later, they encounter one another again in Paris and do much the same as in the first one. The entire focus of both films is on two people talking-- over, over, two-shot, etc. The dialogue sounds like that kind of pseudo-intellectual bullshit you might not put up with in reality, but in the films, it endears you to the characters. The things they say are the story, shaping what plot there is, who the characters are, and what they will be. The young romantics (and apparently professional conversationalists) reunite nine years later, echoes of that one night they shared in the past, defined by their missed chances. Both films really have a marvelously naturalistic style to them, and work as fantastic companion pieces. Exceptional acting from the two leads, combined with passive direction that really puts focus on the characters and the dialogue. When I eventually run my hole-in-the-wall independent movie theater, I'll run this as a double bill sometime. I could probably go on about these for ages. I think I'm in love with these films.

J. Michael Straczynski wrote this; he also wrote Spider-Man comics for several years, and one can see the relation between the two concepts in the notion of power and responsibility. Angelina Jolie plays a mother whose child goes missing; the police find and return a boy, a boy who isn't her son, but the cops refuse to admit a mistake and eventually send her to a mental hospital. Of course, their comeuppance eventually comes up. As this is a Clint Eastwood movie, it occurred to me to think of it as a Western; one woman versus overwhelming odds, but with the posse she manages to accrue, she gets the job done.

Disney never really needs to make another movie again after this one; it's the apotheosis, really, of the entire storytelling engine they've been using for decades. Animated princess (Amy Adams) finds herself banished to the real world, and learn that fairy tale love might not be as happily ever after as she originally imagined. The "real world," of course, starts falling into line with animated Disney tropes as worlds collide. But it's fun, and sweet, and aims higher than most of these cartoons, meaning parents should enjoy it along with kids. (Side note: James Marsden only ever plays the role of the boyfriend/husband who the lead female ditches for another guy, doesn't he?)

Gone Baby Gone:
I suppose we'd call this neo-noir, wouldn't we? Ben Affleck puts in a surprisingly good directorial effort with the story of a young private eye dispatched to find a kidnapped girl, and all the harsh and grisly directions it takes him in-- leading to a pretty good moral dilemma, but it's about power and responsibility again-- and "our hero" follows up on his original responsibilities, and bears the consequences. Affleck succeeds with the casting-- I'm not talking about his brother Casey, Morgan Freeman, or Ed Harris, or any of that-- I'm talking about all the folks in the background, ripped from the streets of Boston, perfectly matched to their slum-ish surroundings. Weird looking folks-- regular folks from regular streets. It adds realism. Also? Amy Ryan is good at this stuff.

A super twisty-turny remake of the original Sleuth, also starring Michael Caine, this time as the old man, with Jude Law as the younger guy. Blatantly adapted from the stage, but captivating in the performances, though it starts to go a bit too out-of-left-field by the end. Still, keeps the audience guessing.

Taken: I've been waiting to see this one for a while, thanks to the pure elegance of the trailer. That's where the plot really should've started; the obligatory 25 minutes of set-up wasn't really needed, as everyone watching this just wants to see Liam Neeson destroy people. Should've started like Crank. But otherwise, it was a good action piece, as one expects from Luc Besson. It reminded me of, say, Garth Ennis' Punisher MAX series. You know with absolute certainty that Liam Neeson will complete his mission; it's all about how he takes the bad guys apart. Their inevitable comeuppance. I love inevitable comeuppances.

WALL-E: My word, this film was just absolutely brilliant, wasn't it? From the animation-- so intent on appearing like an actually filmed movie that they hired Roger Deakins, los bros Coen's favorite cinematographer to consult on the lighting-- to the romance-- who knew two robots with a limited vocabulary would be so captivating?-- to all the little details and laughs Pixar loves to throw in-- only they would have the balls to make a couple clips from Hello, Dolly vitally important to the emotional throughline of the story-- yeah, a great movie. The story's superb, an utterly scathing satire on how our consumer culture is destroying the planet and turning us into fat, helpless babies. One tiny robot, the Johnny-5-lookalike Wall-E, however, gets caught up in a HAL-esque robot conspiracy when he discovers one weak sapling still on the otherwise desolate Earth. From there, it's a race to save the future of humanity. My, what a charming, smart, fun, funny, exciting, and emotional bit of work, certainly Pixar's finest.

Monday, August 03, 2009

My Xbox is now pretty much just a Netflix machine

I may be busy, but since when has that stopped me from setting aside 20 hours a week to watch TV? Eh?

A delightful Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn/other-people-you-know caper picture that twists the plot about every ten minutes to keep the audience on their toes (or the edge of their seat), like a humor-laden Hitchcock. But I expect nothing less of Stanley Donen.

Charlie Wilson's War:
I had no idea who was behind this as I watched it, but it makes sense that it's a Sorkin/Nichols joint. It's just damn well written, filled with quick dialogue delivered by clever actors like Tom Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman, a surprise guest appearance by Ned Beatty, and good based-on-a-true-who-cares characterization of Wilson himself.

Can I use the word "delightful" again? Henry Selick brings the goods when it comes to stop motion, and a creepily cute Neil Gaiman story is perfect material for him. A young girl finds a tunnel to another world where button-eyed doppelgangers of her parents seem to care more for her than her real parents do, but that's before all the body horror creeps in and only this lonely girl can save the day. Also: Keith David. See it.

From the director of Amelie, eh? Well, it's set in a dystopia where food's hard to come by and a butcher/landlord feeds his tenants by chopping up the hired help. Gotta love the French. Wonderfully bizarre, sweet, ridiculous, and exciting, it reminds me of Dead Alive, but with cannibals instead of zombies.

Dexter seasons 1 & 2:
I'd seen a few episodes of this before, but watching them all from the beginning-- well, now I'm hooked. As I'm sure you know, Michael C. Hall plays a serial killer who works for the cops and kills murderers to sate his needs, and who has trouble processing human emotion-- but then, how does that make him different from any other male? The first season, based on a novel, is mostly marvelously plotted, a tight suspense thriller; the second season initially sacrifices plot in favor of character, delving further into Dexter's underlying psychosis, before pulling the rug out from under him-- and the audience-- a few times. Do we root for him? Do we hate him? Should we? There's really some fantastic writing on this show. Also, grisly murders. Everybody wins!

The Fall:
Quite possibly the most gorgeously shot movie in the last decade or so, Tarsem's The Fall was on my list just because Lee Pace, of Pushing Daisies, was the star-- but man, I'm glad I watched it. It's a period piece story of a crippled stuntman (Pace-- and they actually managed to convince the crew and the other actors that he was a paraplegic) who tells a young girl an epic adventure story in order to get her to sneak meds to him so he can commit suicide. The story within the story was filmed in about 18 different countries, according to the credits, with minimal CGI-- and these locations are utterly amazing, breathtaking in their beauty. Action, unrequited love, bandits, pirates, and Charles Darwin-- it's got everything. But the visuals! They're the best part.

I watched this because I was promised Kristen Bell in the slave Leia outfit. Shallow, I know, but not as shallow as this incredibly unfunny movie about a bunch of hopeless Star Wars geeks who infiltrate George Lucas' compound or whatever. But hey, a Shatner cameo! All is right with the world.

The IT Crowd season 2:
I'd watched season one a little while back, and so I watched this too. Six episodes isn't so bad for a sitcom that's usually on the cusp of being clever and funny but never quite manages to reach it. But hey-- this season has two former stars of Garth Marenghi's Dark Place! Yeah! Richard Ayoade either brilliantly plays bizarre, awkward, inept characters, or he's the William Hung of acting. I'm pretty sure it's the former.

Leverage season 1:
I'd watched this as it aired weekly on TNT, but I'm rewatching it again on Netflix, in lieu of purchasing the DVD set. But I have to say, this is a marvelously well-done show, and watching it in the intended order, as opposed to TNT's slapdash reordering, opens one up to the subtler character arcs and recurring gags and plot bits. It's a bad-guys-gone-good con artist heist show, very similar to the BBC's Hustle, and just as cool and tasty. Tim Hutton leads a magnificent ensemble, but it's usually Beth Riesgraf, as the slightly-crazy master thief Parker and Aldis Hodge, as uber-geek hacker Hardison, who steal the show. The writing is very strong-- hurray for John Rogers and his crew. Season 2's on now, so catch it if you can.

Party Down season 1:
I didn't know what to expect from this, a comedy show about a group of failed actors and Hollywood types who work for a catering service, starring people who are sort-of vaguely familiar (plus Jane Lynch and Martin Starr, who I guess are vaguely familiar to people who aren't obsessed with pop culture), co-created by Paul Rudd and the guy who did Veronica Mars, among others. But it turns out it's quite funny, very crass, and successfully manages to make me care about the characters, not just chuckle at their antics.

The Puffy Chair:
So I loved Baghead, also from the Duplass brothers, right? So naturally I'd love this, the little indie movie that put them on the map and stuff, right? Well, no; the main characters generally come off like unlikable assholes or unlikable fools, as they do exactly the opposite of what sane people would do on their long journey to deliver a chair to the protagonist's dad for his birthday or something. It's mumble-y, relationship-y, and seems to be about the pointlessness of just about everything. I really, really hated it.

Son of Rambow:
This was good'un, though. From the directors of the pretty-okay Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie, with Jessica Hynes/Stevenson of Spaced in a dramatic role! But what it's really about is a sheltered, awkward boy and a pain in the ass troublesome boy who team up to film a sequel to First Blood. Yes! It's about weird kids becoming cool and cool kids being weird and dogs attached to kites and friendship and all that, but it's a good little movie.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Some talkies what I seen down at the picture show

Ever listen to Kashmir on repeat for two hours while playing Halo? I have.

30 Rock Seasons One & Two: I watched these quite a while ago, but I figure I'll give quick capsule reviews to the TV seasons I watch, too. I don't follow 30 Rock regularly on NBC, but I ended up marathoning through these two seasons and falling completely in love with the show. It's wonderfully absurd, with quick, sharp dialogue, and Alec Baldwin at his comedic best. Also, I may have fallen in love with Tina Fey. While it doesn't utilize the various members of its cast as well as it could-- with some just fading into the background or disappearing altogether for long stretches-- its pace keeps you in rapt attention. It's just the right kind of offbeat to work in both mainstream and alternative circles, I think. Combine that with a parade of guest stars at their silliest (Tim Conway: "Who is Conan O'Brien, and why is she so sad?"), and you've got a lovely show formula. Upload season three already, Netflix!

Alien Apocalypse/Man with the Screaming Brain: Saw these two Bruce Campbell flicks years ago when they aired on the Sci-Fi Channel, but I just bought the two-pack for super-cheap on Amazon (It literally says "Double the chin!" on the packaging). They're two movies Bruce filmed back-to-back in Bulgaria on the cheap. Alien, directed by Bruce's pal Josh Becker, isn't as terrible as I remember. Cobble together Planet of the Apes, Independence Day, and Spartcus, and you've got the plot-- astronauts return to Earth from deep space to find giant bugs took the place over and enslaved humanity. Leave it to Bruce to save the day. In made-for-TV sci-fi standards, it's watchable.

Screaming Brain is what the hardcore chin fans are after here, though; it's Bruce's feature directorial debut, the story of a rude American businessman who travels to Bulgaria, dies, and ends up sharing a brain with a dead KGB agent. They team up to find the woman who killed them both, and it takes them on a path involving robots, Ted Raimi, and Stacy Keach. The film's pretty awful (in a good way), but the extras on the disc are great, detailing the 20-year chain of dead ends that finally let up so they could make the film. Bruce always gives the best commentaries, as well-- he's a natural raconteur who will gladly reveal all the ridiculousness of the moviemaking process. The movie's clearly not up to snuff with how it was originally conceived, but he seemed glad just to get the damn thing made.

Anatomy of a Murder: Preminger's classic, this movie's almost three hour running time just flies by. It's a classic courtroom drama for a reason; marvelously written, incredibly realistic, and fairly incendiary for its time-- Jimmy Stewart is pretty much the precursor to James Spader's Alan Shore here, though there's no damn closing argument, which is upsetting-- it's a great old-timey movie.

Baghead: This is a Duplass brothers flick, part of that "mumblecore" genre all the kids are talking about, which usually describes a movie shot for next to nothing on camcorders, with plotting and script giving way to improvisation about relationships. But! The Duplasses take that and throw it into the middle of a cabin-in-the-woods horror story, which turns the film into a generally tense story featuring characters we actually care about. It's funny, it's scary, it subverts the viewer's expectations every ten minutes or so, undergoing constant permutation. If you're up for an indie horror-dramedy-mumblecore-relationship-spoof sort of movie, you're not going to find one more well done than this. Fantastically written. Definitely the best movie I've seen in a while. And I watch a lot of movies.

An early effort from Woody Allen, this has the feel of a Peter Sellers or Mel Brooks movie, instead. The usual Allen nebbish follows a girl he's hung up on to a stand-in for Cuba, accidentally becomes involved in the resistance, and later becomes the leader. There are some really fantastic scenes here rife with intellectual absurdism. The courtroom scene in particular is famous for a reason ("This trial is a travesty. It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.") And the Catholic cigarette commercial...! I lost it. Great movie.

Californication Season One:
I turned this on because I was bored and depressed, and I figured it would have boobs. Color me surprised when I cottoned to it pretty quickly! I think that's how the show probably hooked all its viewers. It's a great guilty pleasure show, with crass humor and sex scenes, but the writers put great dialogue in David Duchovny's mouth, and that sells the whole thing.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:
There's little plot to speak of in this film, but Johnny Depp's acting is excellent. He embodies the completely disintegrative character of Raoul Duke (aka Hunter S. Thompson), as he goes on the mother of all benders. What's it actually about? Good question, but just sit back and experience the thing with Terry Gilliam's excellent direction and the parade of people-who-are-now-famous. It's probably the closest thing to a drug trip you can get without actually dropping acid.

Jeremy Clarkson: Heaven and Hell:
This isn't a movie, but rather some kind of straight-to-DVD Top Gear spin-off, where Clarkson talks about cars. And it's cheeky enough, I guess, but lacks all the true madness and camaraderie of proper Top Gear, so it's just okay.

A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy: Another Woody Allen picture, this incorporates some Bergmanian and Shakespearian riffs (obviously) as three couples in the early 20th century undergo their own romantic crises and partner-swapping. Kinda cute, funny, well-written... you know the drill with Woody by now.

North by Northwest: I'd somehow avoided seeing this classic Hitchcock adventure film. And it's fun and all, but knowing all the beats going in probably hurts it. Cary Grant tries his damndest to play an everyman, and pretty much succeeds. Eva Marie Saint-- who looks exactly like Kristen Chenoweth here-- does a capable job as well. Still not my favorite Hitch film (that's Rear Window), but it's a fun, exciting sort of film.

The Reader:
No fun or excitement here, but it's very good nonetheless. This is one of those movies you only need to see once. It's a thoroughly dramatic tale of a young man who has a sexual relationship with an older woman when he's in his teens, only for her to vanish from his life-- and turn up on trial for Holocaustian war crimes when he's in law school. He must struggle to come to terms with it, yadda yadda. Winslet got all the credit and awards here, but it's the young David Kross who owns the whole movie. He's a revelation. The first, hell, hour or so is slow, but it's filled with sex so that you'll stick through it. And you'll be glad you did, though you'll never want to see the movie again. You should see it once, though.

Slap Shot:
Paul Newman clearly had the time of his life on this picture, playing an over-the-hill, unscrupulous hockey coach/player looking to get his team one last shot at glory by becoming the most violent sumbitches they can. And it's great. Not exactly funny for a comedy, but just plain fun.

Supposedly one of Woody Allen's classics, but I didn't like it. It's a 1984/2001 sort of future-sci-fi spoof, but a lot of the comedic bits fall flat or are too dumb. Too dumb? From Woody Allen? I never would've expected it.

Slumdog Millionaire:
What a miserable pile of movie this is. Maybe I willed myself to dislike it-- because I never, ever like the Best Picture winners-- but damn. It was shot well, and the subtitles were done interestingly, and that's all I liked about it. Every character except our protagonist and his main squeeze is an asshole, and the entire plot is massively contrived-- so every question he's asked on Millionaire happens to relate somehow to a story from his unfortunate life? Ugh. Ugh ugh, ugh, bleh.

The Thomas Crown Affair:
This is the original, what with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. And it's dreadfully boring, wasting time on McQueen playing with toys like a dune buggy or a glider, or staring off into space, or whatever. The music's neat, the splitscreen techniques are good, and McQueen's maniacal laughter is awesome, but it's still dull.

It's a Tom Cruise/Bryan Singer movie, so of course I didn't like it. Flat, flat, boring, dull, etc, whatever. But Bill Nighy's in it! Yay!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Unfortunately, Steve Guttenberg does not appear in any of these

Scratch the life thing. Agoraphobia is less stressful. Odds, ends, and Woody Allen:

Crimes and Misdemeanors: Martin Landau acts the heck out of his role in this Allen movie mostly about a guy who slips further and further down the moral scales as he lets himself be convinced into offing his mistress. Meanwhile, Woody Allen plays the same guy he always plays-- he's the misdemeanor here. Eventually, the two converge, sorta. I guess it's not a bad film, but it's not my favorite.

James Bond, Sabretooth, and Billy Elliot play Jewish brothers who end up forming a community of Jewish refugees somewhere in Belarus, and have to deal with Russian partisans, harsh weather, and dwindling food reserves, not to mention Nazis. The performances are all pretty damn solid, and the whole thing is just shot beautifully. I quite enjoyed this one. Seems it's truer than most based-on-a-true-story stories.

Definitely, Maybe:
I will watch Ryan Reynolds in anything, even chick flicks. This one's got a pretty decent structure, at least, as future Reynolds regales his daughter with his romantic past, and she has to figure out which lady in the story is her mom. There were really only two ways to take the plot-- the obviously obvious way, and the obviously "twisty" way, and they went for the latter, but there's some decent writing along the way, and some very pretty girls. Also, Elizabeth Banks is becoming the white female Samuel L. Jackson-- she's in everything.

Apparently Woody hates this one, which is odd, as it's one of his most beloved. A black-and-white tale of a nebbish (guess who) unable to choose between his jailbait girlfriend or his best friend's mistress, and-- hilarity ensues!-- as well as truths about the human condition, as always. Um, I liked it. 'Nuff said. Moving on.

Memoirs of an Invisible Man:
Despite the title, it's not a Woody Allen movie, but a John Carpenter one! Sort of noir, almost a comedy, but not really, it's Chevy Chase's middlin' period, in which he plays a guy who gets turned invisible and runs away from Sam Neill. It's fairly good, rather than terrible! Hurray!

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist:
I only rented this because the title had a Thin Man reference, but that's about all I liked. Michael Cera's basically me if I was an actor instead of a recluse, but I can't see his career lasting past 25 if he only accepts "awkward teenager" roles. C'mon, kid!

Shadows and Fog:
This is Woody's Kafka tribute, or possibly Threepenny Opera homage, or both. Black and white, filled with... well, shadows and fog, it seems to be primarily about illusions in one form or another. Nothing quite makes sense by the end, but there's a veritable parade of famous people in bit parts throughout.

Sukiyaki Western Django:
A Japanese Spaghetti Western, and sort of remake of like three other movies. Shot in English, apparently, and featuring a gratuitous Quentin Tarantino cameo. Uh... Yeah. I didn't quite get what was happening in most of it, due partially to the dialogue being so quiet and everything else being SO LOUD, but the action was pretty badass.

Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat:
On its way in the mail seconds after David Carradine's death was announced, this forgotten imitation gem from the late 80s features the man himself as a powerful vampire who had formed a sort of vampire retirement community, feeding off fake blood, but naturally everything goes wrong when a human family moves to town and a vampire faction decides to go back to eating people. The real reason I watched it is because Bruce Campbell plays a Van Helsing. It is by far his campiest performance, but he at least provides some much-needed mirth. The lunacy of this film is brewing under the surface, usually going unacknowledged, but very much there the whole time.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Words about pictures

A life. A life would be good.

Broken Flowers: I'll watch anything with Bill Murray in it, and this travelogue-of-an-aging-lothario-who-finds-out-he-might-have-a-kid-and-so-goes-on-a-journey-through-some-women-in-his-life-and-maybe-undergoes-some-self-discovery works as a mystery with no solution, with clues that have no meaning save what we may give them out of a need for something. It's another suitable entry into the "Bill Murray states off into space" genre.

Dead Alive:
I really really really didn't like any of the Lord of the Rings films, or the King Kong remake, so this is my new favorite Peter Jackson movie. It owes pretty much everything it's got to Sam Raimi, in that it seems like it's trying to top Evil Dead for sheer horror lunacy. And I think it succeeds. Not just because it's officially the goriest movie ever made, thanks to using up oceans of fake blood, but because it goes completely mental in the brilliant third act, after a slow, slow build-up. But we get mutant zombie baby violence, lawnmower violence, womb-on-man violence, and lawn-gnomes-on-bleeding-cavities violence. That's my kind of violence.

Die Hard:
So it came as a surprise that I never actually saw this. I mean, I know everything about it-- it's so engrained in the public consciousness-- and I've seen the ending a bunch-- but most of it was kinda new to me. And it's probably one of the best action movies ever made, with a fantastic villain from Alan Rickman and awesomeness from Bruce Willis, back when he had hair and stuff. Well-scripted, even if there's a large portion in the middle where Bruce is just kinda sitting around and not doing anything.

Edge of Madness:
I only watched this because I've been crushing on Caroline Dhavernas since Wonderfalls, and... it's boring boring boring. A period piece drama with a tinge of mystery... and I didn't give a damn about any of it, sorry.

There was a story in here somewhere, but it went off the rails about halfway through, with some bullshit mythos stuff that tried to explain stuff, but that was entirely unnecessary. Will Smith's character arc is not earned, but done out of convenience. Jason Bateman plays the same guy he always plays. Meh.

This also had some fun gore in it, and cool makeup effects. It's a cheesy, purposefully shlocky B-movie horror flick with some cameos from horror icons like Robert Englund and Tony Todd. See it if you like that kind of thing.

I would've liked this better if Netflix Instant had given us the subtitled version instead of the awful dubbed version, where Jean-Claude Van Damme doesn't even voice himself, I'm pretty sure. Otherwise, it's his best movie ever, playing himself as an action star who's lost his edge, is losing his daughter, and finds himself in a hostage situation where the police believe he's the perp. He has to try to live up to what everyone sees him as-- his family, the cops, his captors-- when he really just wants to be a guy. I had some issues with the ending, but Van Damme's performance is excellent. I could tell from his face alone.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior:
I admit, I pretty much slept through this whole thing, but I think I absorbed it by osmosis. ... Pass.

Mister Foe:
Or Hallam Foe to everyone not in the US, this movie is completely despicable. I only watched it because I have a crush on Sophia Myles, alright? But anyway, it stars Jamie Bell as this messed up peeping tom who does some really lousy things and suffers no repercussions, and Sophia Myles as a woman who takes a liking to him for no discernable reason whatsoever, especially after she finds out about some of those really lousy things. It seems everyone in this movie is either an idiot or an asshole, and I don't like those types of stories. At all.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop:
Die Hard in a mall. With a fat guy! Fat guys are always excellent physical comedians, which doesn't entirely make sense. Otherwise, this was dumb dumb dumb. I hate awkward comedy, especially when it's shoehorned in. This could've made for a good 80s-style action comedy, but they managed to dumb it down to its basest levels.

Point Blank:
It's kinda stylish, but instantly forgettable. Lee Marvin doesn't kick as much ass as I assumed he would. Needed more ass-kicking.

Terminator/Terminator 2:
I had not seen these in years and years, so running a double feature was a fun idea. The first one's a great chase flick with some monster movie tropes and time travel conundrums thrown in. And the second one, of course, is one of the biggest and best action flicks ever, and one of Arnold's best. Does the new Terminator have skull-laden grounds and laser guns? Because it should.

What About Bob?:
Is another Bill Murray movie I hadn't seen in forever. Anyway, it's about a super-neurotic fellow who learns to cope with people and the outside world as he drives his psychiatrist insane. But! I want to talk about Charlie Korsmo, who plays the kid here. I think this lad made like four movies ever before he went into MIT to be a genius. Those movies-- Dick Tracy, Hook, etc-- are all great, and feature some of the best and/or most popular actors ever. Man, what an awesome life this kid had when he was like 12. Hot damn.

Young People Fucking:
I'm sure this was only popular because of the title. But anyway, the script is actually pretty good, and some of the acting is... well, surprisingly better than I thought it would be. It follows a night of hawt sexxorz among different couples-- the friends, the exes, the first date, etc-- and features some pretty good dialogue. I mean, it could work as a stageplay. Almost.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bride of Son of Godzillastein

Loads of stuff to whine abo-- review and discuss. Onwards. (Updated slightly later on 5/23/09)

The Amateurs:
Jeff Bridges and a remarkable all-star B-list cast consisting of guys like Ted Danson, Joey Pants, and Bill Fichtner fill this cute little movie about some old small town nobodies trying to make a porno and instead discovering themselves. No, I don't know how that's suddenly become its own genre, either, but this movie tells a fun story. Jeff Bridges can sell anything.

Bottle Shock:
Based-on-a-true-etc. of that time in the 70s when a bunch of snobs decided California wine tasted better than the French stuff. I watched it because it had Bill Pullman and Alan Rickman. Also: the new Captain Kirk plays the central character, a hippie loser who manages to pull together and etc. etc. Cliche, sure. The romantic relationship angle of the story completely failed to work, but everything else was okay enough.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Yes, it's just like Forrest Gump, and yes, it's three hours long. I still liked it. Some would call it slowly paced, and there are huge bits which could probably have been skipped with no harm to the narrative, but I enjoyed moseying about in its world. The CGI was fantastic and mostly invisible. It's that kind of movie that just slowly wraps you into a bear hug; not a "feel good" tearjerker or anything, but a comfortable drama, of sorts. Brad Pitt and David Fincher make good movies together.

The Darwin Awards:
Here's an odd one. Joseph Fiennes and Winona Ryder are insurance investigators winding their way through odd episodes of Darwin Award candidates-- idiots who got themselves killed. Except sometimes no one dies, which therefore defeats the definition of the Darwin Awards themselves. It's not quite funny or cute, but it strings together mishaps and a sort of murder plotline, but the entire thing never quite gels.

I expected to be bored to death by this, but was surprisingly fascinated. Meryl Streep and Amy Adams and The Seymour Hoff are all fantastic in their roles, which captivated me enough to get me into the plot-- of the hardass nun who's on the case to expose the priest as a kiddie fiddler. But is he or isn't he? It's got actors' actors acting their hearts out and is written so well (after all, it's a stage adaptation) that you'll forgive the slow build and get sucked into the story. Also, it might, just maybe, make you think, rather than melt your brain into fine Hulu goo.

The Good German:
The incongruities in this caused it to fail for me. Soderbergh shot the whole thing like it was made in 1945, and rips off Casablanca enough that it's got that whole feel of an old-timey film-- except for all the cursing and the gratuitous boobies and the violence. Why capture the mechanics of an old movie if you don't go for the feel, as well? Lame. And Tobey Maguire is at his most annoying. I'll watch Clooney in anything, but c'mon.

Hanky Panky:
I went on a bit of a Gene Wilder bender. Here's one that features him and his later (and now late) wife Gilda Radner, rather than Richard Pryor as it was originally written. It's yet another Gene-Wilder-is-wrongfully-accused-and-gets-into-an-adventure-to-clear-his-name movie, but I love those, and this one's got enough of a Hitchcockian feel to keep one interested. Ends too abruptly, though. And those computer tapes! How quaint is that?

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People:
Like I said, Bridges can sell anything, but the rest of this movie falls apart despite the Simon Pegg. All of the jokes fall flat, everyone's an asshole, and it succumbs to Hollywood cliche by movie's end. No wonder this was a massive flop.

Last Chance Harvey:
And here's your movie for the old people. It's a romance between Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson that seems too easy-- I never quite believe it. And it's all about the old guy finding himself and becoming a man to his daughter again and bleh. I hate nonstop awkwardness, be it for humor or drama's sake, and the first third or so of this movie is nothing but that crap. Blerg, as Liz Lemon would say.

Naked Fear:
Alright, I admit sometimes I seek out crap just to amuse myself. This movie was bloody awful-- the Most Dangerous Game, but with a lot of female nudity in act two. You can probably extrapolate the rest from that, except maybe not the pointless B-plot of the determined deputy who contributes nothing to the story, nor the chick going crazy at the end, etc. Why was Joe Mantegna in this? To whom did he owe money?

The little description called this "High Noon in space," and I didn't believe them until the last act. Unfortunately, I fell asleep during the climax. Otherwise, it's probably your standard "Sean Connery is a space cop whom no one wishes to help but he gets the job done anyway, by gum" story, with added Peter Boyle.

I am not the biggest Brad Bird fan-- right, I'm the guy who didn't like the Incredibles-- but this wasn't bad. Needed more Patton Oswalt, but it's sort of a sweet story as only Pixar can bring you, I guess.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil:
Another one of those Gene Wilder flicks. This time, he's deaf and Pryor's blind and they're on the run and have to save the day, and it's actually a fairly amusing and enjoyable romp with some fun adventure bits. I love this genre of movie-- the comedy adventure road trip sort of thing they don't make anymore. We need more of these.

Stir Crazy:
Okay, and in this one Wilder and Pryor are wrongfully imprisoned and there's a rodeo and Craig T. Nelson and-- look, just watch the damn thing. If you like those kinds of movies--you know the ones--then you'll like this.

You know, I think I like parodies and homages to blaxploitation more than the blaxploitation itself. This one bored me. Not enough awesome.

Sweet and Lowdown:
Woody Allen directs Sean Penn as a self-destructive and apparently crazy genius guitar player who goes through a series of episodic misadventures until finally he breaks down as an unhappy loner. A kooky mix of Woodyesque styles, but pretty good.

The Ten:
The guys from the State bring you a series of interconnected episodes sort of related to the Ten Commandments. The best one is probably the bit with Liev Schrieber (who is surprisingly hilarious) and all the CAT Scan machines. If you like casual absurdism and comedy sketches, as well as movies stuffed with famous people and "that guy!"s, then you will probably like this.

Vanishing Point:
I was digging this a lot right up until the ending, when it stopped making much sense to me. But it's cross-country car chases and weirdos in the desert and naked girls on motorcycles and you've all run to go watch this by now, haven't you? The inspiration for Tarantino's Death Proof, but far more exciting! That's what this is. No excuses-- just drive.

Where the Buffalo Roam:
Bill Murray plays Hunter S. Thompson in a brilliant and dangerously mad performance, while Peter Boyle plays Dr. Wylie-- I mean Dr. Robotnik-- I mean Carl Lazlo. I didn't quite see much of a throughline here-- it's a few episodes that feature both Thompson and Lazlo being crazy, and that's it-- so I didn't quite get it, but it was wildly entertaining the whole time, so I think that's enough.

Who's Harry Crumb?:
This here's a John Candy detective adventure comedy from the late 80s or somesuch. It tries to be Fletch, but it fails miserably, and is one painfully awkward joke after another. Pass.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Let's see if I even remember anything I've watched

Dear Blog,

Haven't written in a while. Hope you are well. How is the missus? I need a distraction. Time for reviews.

Death Race: I imagine video stores (what are they?) have entire shelves dedicated to the "Jason Statham drives around and kicks ass" genre by now, and this one's another entrant into that oeuvre. And it's okay, I guess, more like a by-the-numbers story about the wrongfully imprisoned Statham getting roped into a dystopian future prison racing circuit. Nothing defies expectations, but you get what's on the tin: Jason Statham, in a car, kicking ass.

The Hoax: I'm not usually one for Richard Gere movies, except maybe The Jackal, but this one was pretty good. Gere plays a dude who fakes his way through writing Howard Hughes' biography, and it becomes an overly complicated mess that takes his life and sanity on a downward spiral. Alfred Molina plays his man Friday pretty effortlessly, and there are some other famous  people in it. Gere's desperately improvising his way out of screw-up after screw-up was pretty fun to watch, however.

Kindergarten Cop: One part of my Schwarzenegger/Reitman double feature, this is another Arnie entry in a long string of solid, awesome movies. Badass cop Schwarzenegger ends up becoming a substitute kindergarten teacher to root out and rescue a mobster's ex-wife and kid, and, you know, it becomes one of those comedies that is also a drama. They don't make those kinds of things anymore-- it seems like they almost went out with the 80s, and this is one of the last and best of them. 

King Ralph: A surprisingly solid movie that's got a lot of heart and a couple laughs, and shows how great an entertainer John Goodman is while also reminding us of how Peter O'Toole can take any old script and raise it up. Loaded with British actors you're bound to recognize-- even Camille Coduri, who would play Rose's mum on Doctor Who years later-- it's another genre-mixing picture worth watching, of a Vegas slob who accidentally becomes king of England and ends up becoming a better person, etc-- it's the journey that matters, and it was a fun one.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: I somehow managed to avoid this movie for years, but I'm thankful to see it now. It's excellent-- Shane Black at maybe his loosest and best. What may be a standard action/comedy flick in other hands becomes something almost transcendent when you add in actors Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer, both of whom had a sort-of comeback with this film. Funny, exciting, and quite awesome, I enjoyed it as it riffed on old pulp novels and stuff. Also: Corbin Bersen.

Memento: I also can't believe I'd never seen this. I knew the general structure of it, but watching it for the first time is a revelation-- the viewer's brain constantly working, ticking away, trying to unravel the plot and story and inevitable twist as the scenes unveil themselves backwards, our opinions of the characters shifting as we go further into the past, following the path of what Guy Pearce forgot. It's more than a mystery thriller with a fun structure-- it's a filmic experiment, and further proof that Christopher Nolan is one of the best directors working right now.

Radio Days: Another Woody Allen movie (with a young Seth Green playing a young stand-in for Allen himself!), this picture, as the title implies, takes us back to the age of radio, and tells various interspersed and intertwining tales about New York life back when the radio tied all of society and culture together. Great stuff.

The Shadow: Meanwhile, this is even worse than I remembered it being. Alec Baldwin, Penelope Ann Miller (of Kindergarten Cop fame!), and more stuck with a dire script playing characters we aren't given any reason to care about, while the Shadow's pulp roots are mostly ignored for a more overblown, supernatural focus. Who knows how crappy this movie is? Not the Shadow, apparently.

A Shot in the Dark: The supposed best of the Clouseau movies, this follows Peter Sellers' bumbling detective through a series of mishaps whilst he attempts to solve a murder that everyone else believes is already solved. Of course, he just happens to be right, as the lunacy explodes around him. Nudist colonies, crazed kung fu manservants, and senior officers with slipping grips on reality collide.

Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot: Sylvester Stallone thought this movie was a big pile of crap, but frankly, it's better than most of his resume. Sure, it's trite and silly, but it's short and the story gets stronger as it goes. Estelle Getty is a badass, by the way.

Twins: The other half of the Ahnold twofer, we have this, also from Ivan Reitman, and also in the vein of comedies that are more than  just comedies. It starts off broad and gets slightly more nuanced as it goes, as Danny DeVito plays a sleazy bastard that gets a little nicer as he introduces lost twin Schwarzenegger to the world. Also, Kelly Preston was a major fox.

Videodrome: So apparently they're remaking this Cronenberg/Woods collaboration for the modern era, probably as a generic sci-fi thriller. The original, however, is something more, something that could only exist during the emergence of home video, offspring of crappy VHS and Betamax and pirate television. The graininess of the magnetic tape world helps the atmosphere of this film-- you couldn't do it on DVD. James Woods gets sucked further and further into a conspiracy that gets more and more unhinged from reality as we know it, and discovers the new flesh-- the electric womb of the boob tube. Trippy but interesting.

P.S. Reviews of My Name Is Bruce, Hellboy 2, and Punisher War Zone are on Comics Should Be Good. They were all better than I expected!

Monday, April 06, 2009

It turns out Blogger doesn't like infinite titles

A four word review of Synecdoche, New York, auteur writer Charlie Kaufman's difficult-to-pronounce directorial debut and quite possibly magnum opus, an utterly bizarre story of a lonely genius played by Philip Seymour Hoffman who mounts a play about his life that takes place in a life-sized replica of New York, which creates worlds within worlds, infinitely looping inwards, and seems to be about life, death, love, the endless enormity yet meaningless minisculity of existence, which, coincidentally, the movie in which this is all taking place is also about, that is a film I was totally not in the right emotional state to watch, though maybe I was, and which has the librarian from Ghostbusters in it, which is awesome:

I didn't get it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bill is way behind on his so-called "reviews" that no one reads anyway

Rapid-fire capsule review time gooooooooooooo:

Choke: Deleted scenes are usually deleted for a good reason, but there's an ending they cut that, frankly, should be in this film. It's another Chuck Palahniuk work, with the poor man's Edward Norton (Sam Rockwell) in it instead of the rich man's Edward Norton (Edward Norton) this time. However, it's pretty fun, and worth watching. I mean, it's a movie about a sex addict who works at a colonial-themed park and may or may not be the clone of Jesus, so...

Dawn of the Dead:
I didn't go see Watchmen, but I did watch this directorial debut from Zack Snyder. Yeah, the remake with Ving Rhames and stuff. It wasn't bad... but, you know, it wasn't anything special. If you like your zombies to move a little faster, this is the one for you, I guess.

Dead & Breakfast: Two Carradines for the price of one in this (David and Ever), as well as Kendra from Buffy (also in Supergator, see below) and Tony Perkins' son. And some other mildly famous people who never really found that stardom they so craved. Also, Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Where was I? Right. It's a horror spoof, of sorts, only it's not really funny, and what is there owes a lot to Evil Dead and Dead Alive (there are blatant references, even, such as the Evil Dead poster hanging in the room where the Comedian finds a chainsaw). And it's got some musical narration, which is interesting. If you like campy B-horror and you've got an hour and a half to kill, you could do worse. Much worse. Trust me. Violent fun! I guess.

Dilbert season one:
The strip used to be absolute gold every day, and this cartoon spinoff that aired on UPN that no one watched was equally clever and hilarious. Daniel Stern is the perfect beleaguered Dilbert and Larry Miller is the perfect clueless Pointy Haired Boss.

Enter the Ninja: I watched this expecting it to be absolutely awful and it turned out not half bad. Surprise! It's a movie from the early 80s about a white guy who is also a ninja who hangs out in the Phillippines and wrecks the shit out of dudes. The voices all seemed terribly dubbed even though I'm pretty sure it was filmed in English. Uh... that's all. If you want to see awesomely hilarious ninja-inflicted pain (the sound effect alone, my God) starring a guy who really looks like he missed his calling as a 70s porn star, then watch it. WATCH IT NOW

Get Carter: The original! That's right, Michael Caine, drivin' around, drinking Scotch, hitting women about the face, and getting his revenge! I think that's the plot. It... didn't work for me.

Grindhouse: Netflix Instant Viewing wins, simply because it has Grindhouse the way it was meant to be seen-- the theatrical double feature with all the trailers and stuff, that isn't available on DVD. This is the first time I've seen the whole shebang like this, and it was a glorious three hours. They cut out the fun lap dance scene in Death Proof, but whatever. Planet Terror is hilarious, awesome, and explosively gory, and Death Proof is, well, Tarantino. Great stuff.

Lake Placid 2:
Listen, I have a high tolerance for crap. But no. Just no.

Maniac Nurses Find Ecstacy:
I didn't actually sit through this-- but even on fast forward, it's too damn long.

Michael Clayton:
George Clooney is watchable in anything, even Batman & Robin, and Tom Wilkinson is flippin' amazing, but this bored me. A lot. And I don't see why Tilda won the Oscar, but whatever. It was about as fun as Syriana, which is to say, as active as a Pet Rock on barbituates.

From the creators of South Park comes the sweet story of a Mormon-turned-porn-actor-turned-superhero, and you know, it's actually pretty great. I'd avoided it before, but people whose taste in schlock I trust wholeheartedly recommended it, and I quite liked it, in the end.

This would've been a great little Mamet drama if not for the ending. Chiwetel Ejiofor is one of my favorite actors, these days, but even he can't save the nonsensical ending, where the hero wins back his honor by... beating the crap out of the MMA champion backstage? And cameras are watching? And security doesn't break it up? And no one knows why he's fighting, which is that the champ is trying to stop him from revealing the fights are fixed? And yet they give him the champion belt anyway? Even though they don't know why? Aaauuugh.

Silver Streak:
Gene Wilder is absolutely brilliant, and the addition of Richard Pryor being awesome surely helps, too. And Patrick bleepin' McGoohan is the bad guy! And Jaws is in it, with metal teeth and everything! And it's, like, this pastiche of Hitchcock suspense action films, wrapped up in a comedy road movie, and it's marvelously scripted the whole time, and superbly delivered, and Ned Beatty shows up, and it's awesome!

Sky High: You know, this didn't suck. It's that simple "teen misfits with superpowers band together and prove they're real heroes and coming of age and teen romance and angst and shit" formula, but it's also got Kurt Russell and Bruce Campbell. You can't go wrong with those two! Er, unless you're Escape from L.A. But it's got two Kids in the Hall alums and Lynda Carter and stuff too, so we're good. Everybody makes up for the main kid, who is the kid from Forbidden Kingdom, which was awful. Moving on.

On the Sci-Fi Original Picture scale of quality, this ranks well below classic fare like King Cobra, Boa vs. Python, Earth vs. the Spider, Manquito, Blood Monkey, Spiders 2... I think you get my point.

What Just Happened?:
This is the question I asked when this movie was finished. Stupid, unfunny, and pointless. Bruce Willis finally appears in a crappy movie-- but at least he was the best thing about it, Grizzly Adams beard and all. Hollywood seems too inept to satirize itself. Also, Sean Penn plays himself. I wonder what "method" method he went through to get into that role. "Please, please, only refer to me as 'Sean' on set, please."

Zack and Miri Make a Porno: As Kevin Smith gets older, two things happen: his films get raunchier, and his films get more sentimental. This is his crassest movie yet-- don't watch it if you have shame-- but it has a soft, nougaty center of actual heart, which is the reason I keep watching his stuff. So, yes, there are poop jokes and wangs and all sorts of stuff. But it's really a love story-- and if you can get past the sex comedy pretense, it sort of works. Also, Brandon Routh has, like, a scene and a half, and yet he delivers more dialogue than in all of Superman Returns. Also also, Craig Robinson steals every scene he's in with pitch-perfect delivery, and owns the entire movie-- it's worth seeing just for him alone.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

In which Bill verbally fellates Woody Allen

Man, I'm behind on my movie-capsulizing, and my memory ain't what it used to be, but let's try to get these things straight.
So I liked Vicky Etc Barcelona enough to check out some other Allen works that were instantly streaming, and here is what I remember of those:

Manhattan Murder Mystery: This is the one that made me a believer. Made in the early 90s, it stars Allen, Alan Alda, Anjelica Huston, and, hey, Diane Keaton!  in a bizarre reunion with the Woody. It's about bored, older Manhattanites who stumble onto what might be a murder. It's rife with Hitchcockian suspense as well as Allenian hilarity-- I have never seen such tension on the screen at the same time as I was chuckling at the jokes. Absolutely brilliant. Also, there's a blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo from teen Zach Braff.

Love & Death: So then I sought out this one, a comedic take on Russian literature. I've never read anything Allen's spoofing, but I majored in English, so I know how to fake it. A ludicrous farce, this movie out-Mel-Brooks-es Mel Brooks. It was made in the 70s, from Woody's "Diane Keaton period." I love how everyone speaks with a Russian accent except ol' Woody, playing the same guy he always does, in another ridiculous situation. Great stuff; loved it.

Alice: Here comes trouble. Now we're in the "Mia Farrow period;" Woody does not appear onscreen, and everything's a tinge more dramatic. This is apparently, the description tells me, a takeoff of Alice in Wonderland, but I didn't really notice; it is, however, a strange urban fantasy with appearances by every actor ever, as Chinese herbs cause bizarre transformations for Farrow's Alice; but the true transformation, by the end, must come from within. It was okay.

September: My three seconds of research informs me this is a Chekovian chamber piece, or "bottle episode," where a handful of people are thrown into a single setting and drama happens. We get unhappy people trying to be with each other and failing at it; the existentiality of the universe is revealed; and yet, they look forward to the titular month anyway, always pushing at the future. It was a bit boring, I have to admit; very stage-like and theatrical, in that way. Not bad; Allen movies are always written well, I've noticed, but it didn't thrill me. Apparently he filmed this at one point with actors like Maureen O'Sullivan and some scenes with Christopher Walken but then threw it out and started over with Sam Waterston and stuff. Hmm. Maybe the  original would've been kookier.

Regardless, my opinion of Woody Allen has skyrocketed now that I've actually taken in a decent sample of his stuff. Amazing dialogue and some neat little themes woven in from time to time. I shall seek out more, more, more!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Mo Moobies

I'm sure I'll get off this movie kick eventually.

21: I liked Jim Sturgess a lot in Across the Universe, one of my favorite films of the last ten years, but even he can't save this paint-by-numbers production. A group of MIT kids are trained by the devious Kevin Spacey to count cards and make thousands off of Vegas casinos. But then trouble brews, naturally, and the universe attunes to the laws of screenplay mechanics. Thoroughly mediocre.

Burn After Reading:
And then there's this one, which is like Coens-by-numbers. A couple of idiots get mixed up in something and try to profit from it, and disaster strikes, because all of the people on the other side are also idiots. In the end, maybe one person gets lucky and everybody else suffers. There are some pretty funny bits (Brad Pitt doing his "mysterious face" is hilarious), but then there are parts that feel completely extraneous. Really, I was expecting a death-by-dildo and it never came. Bah. At least it was better than No Country.

Raising Arizona: Another Coens production, one from twenty long years ago, that I've never seen. Nicolas Cage at his most watchable, bolstered by the makes-it-look-easy Holly Hunter and the always enjoyable John Goodman. Add in wacky baby hijinks and an apocalyptic biker and you've got a movie that falls right into the solid middle of the Coens' oeuvre.

Same Time, Next Year:
My God, this was fantastic. I'd never heard of it-- just turned it on 'cause it had some Alan Alda-- and man, I was pleasantly surprised! Nothing would really separate this film from its counterpart on the stage, and yes, Alda does use a few of his Hawkeye-isms, but the entire movie rests on him and Ellen Burstyn convincing the audience that they're changing as people over the course of 25 years, as their characters meet for an annual affair. The dialogue's marvelous.

And here's an anime I'd never heard of, but it's from the guy who did Akira, so you know it's good, right? It takes place in a steampunk Victorian England, with factions fighting over who will have ultimate steam-y control of the future's armaments, with one boy caught in the midst of the struggle. Also: jetpacks. Really awesome stuff.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona:
Woody Allen's latest, this eschews his usual love triangles for a sort of love rhombus, shot in beautiful Spain. Javier Bardem takes a great role as the impossibly charming Spanish painter who sweeps all the ladies up in his wake. Penelope Cruz won the Oscar for playing Bardem's ex-wife, but I really don't see why. Anyway, it's all cleverly written and shows that Rebecca Hall is going to become quite famous and respected one of these days, but the story starts to fall apart for me as it gets closer to the end. And then it just... ends. Also, there's third-person narration, which is an intriguing choice that irked me at first, but I grew to like at the end. So yeah, it's worth watching.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sweet sassy molassy it's a smorgasbord of Netflixxx

A veritable cornucopia of delivered cinema! Or a bunch of crazy shite. U-Decide!

The Bank Job: For a while there, I was afraid Jason Statham wasn't going to kick any ass in this movie. But then the world righted itself. Yeah, it's a heist-goes-wrong movie, more serious than the trailers made you think, but it's another excellent British production. "Based on a true story" is probably laughable, but I actually cared about the characters in this.

Blood Sucking Freaks: Here's a movie that's more fun to watch in fast forward, or perhaps not at all. The granddaddy of torture porn like Saw and Hostel, this old fogey blows them all out of the water. I mean, if that's your thing. It isn't mine, so I didn't sit through this, but there are bits where a dwarf with an afro cuts off a naked woman's hand and eats her eyeball, or bits where naked people dance and there may or may not be a severed penis sandwich. Yeah.

Lone Wolf McQuade: Dave Campbell is right; this is probably Chuck Norris' most gloriously awesome movie (I still prefer Sidekicks for the hilarity). Walker faces off against Cain from Kung Fu, for cryin' out loud! People get roundhouse kicked, lots of things explode, there's a maniacal dwarf in a wheelchair, and everyone McQuade loves almost or does die. The acting is abysmal, but the lines (and line-readings) are hilarious, and the movie is terrifically energetic.

The Seat Filler: This is not quite what I expected, but the premise is good (seat filler at award show falls for starlet) until the mistaken identity trope shows up. Still, it made me chuckle at times and it's worth showing to your girlfriend.

Six-String Samurai: I only half paid attention to this, but it's Road Warrior meets Buddy Holly meets Wizard of Oz. A bespectacled guitarist/swordsman travels the wasteland on his way to claim the throne of Lost Vegas. And then things get weird. While it looks like it was made in 1980, it's only ten years old. The budget is shoestring (if the shoes even have strings) and the acting is worse than Lone Wolf McQuade but it's cool and silly and has a few ridiculous lines, such as "Why, the wind shear alone on a pink golf ball can take the head off a 90-pound midget at over 300 yards" or "Only one man could kill this many Russians!" It's like David Lynch and Sam Raimi and Terry Gilliam had a squid baby.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

This Netflix post is about hitmen.

And two of the hitmen are John Cusack. Yeah, look at that! Themes! Or motifs! Or whatever.

In Bruges: This one does not have John Cusack in it. What it does have is an awful lot of Colin Farrel sitting on benches, which is fine, because the dialogue is quick and snappy and there's a running gag about midgets. The film revolves around two hitmen sent to bide some time in the purgatory that is the town or city or tourist trap of Bruges, until Bad Things Happen. And sure, along the way there's a dwarf and a girl and some cocaine and some violence. I enjoyed the way the movie easily drifted from "dramatic and introspective" to "cleverly silly" and back again, while somehow never seeming like a tonal disaster. The third act posed some trouble for me-- I wasn't a big fan of the ending, and there's a major thematic coincidence, which is a thing lots of people hate (not me), so watch out for that. But it's beautifully shot in the actual, beautiful town of Bruges, and the dialogue flows marvelously-- I see that it's up for Best Screenplay at the Oscars, and I wouldn't mind if it won.

Also: Colin Farrell's eyebrows are capable of forming 45 degree angles, which is odd and fascinating.

And now, the Cusack:

Grosse Point Blank and War, Inc: I find it might be best to review these in tandem, because they're so damn similar and yet so far apart. They share a production company, a screenwriting credit for John Cusack, and three actors-- John and Joan Cusack and Dan Aykroyd. And, of course, they're both about a disillusioned hitman who wanders into a situation that will inevitably topple his currently jaded worldview. It seems War, Inc was deliberately written to echo Grosse Point Blank, without ever actually being a sequel. And hell, Joan Cusack is basically the same character in both. John Cusack usually plays the same character in everything anyway, but here they're very similar-- Brand Hauser may as well be Martin Blank if he never went to that reunion. But where Grosse Point succeeds, War fails. GPB, on the whole, is a pretty clever enterprise filled with entertaining and interesting situations and snappy patter, yet that cleverness is nonchalant; Cusack makes it look easy, as he usually does in his better work. War constantly tries to tell the viewer that it's so damn clever, and here's what society's going to be like in five years, but it sits there like a lump. Most of the things it's supposedly satirizing are old hat by now; it's been done, and better, by many others, so the movie comes off as tired as Cusack's character looks in some scenes.

We get energetic performances from everybody in Grosse Point, from Cusack to Driver to Azaria to Mr. Trick from Buffy to Cusack to Greg's dad from Dharma and Greg to Arkin to Aykroyd to Cusack to Cusack to Piven; War, Inc tries to imitate the same feel, but the characters come off less "energetic" and more "bipolar;" we've got Hilary Duff as a Middle Eastern Britney Spears/Lindsay Lohan/etc. media whore who craves attention but really just wants to be loved or something (yawn); Marisa Tomei as Lois Lane (this wasn't so bad); and Ben Kingsley as... hell, this guy isn't even trying anymore. John C. is again a hitman who needs a therapist, but instead of turning to Alan Arkin like in Grosse Point Blank, he turns to his car's OnStar device. (Do you see? It's so damn clever!) The character dynamics never feel true, nor does anybody consistently change-- things just happen and get weird, or "twists" pop in for the sake of spicing up the plot.

Like In Bruges, Grosse Point Blank has a major coincidence at the end and doesn't ring true in the final few minutes, but the ride is a fun one throughout the film. War, Inc never rings true at all. Well, except for Cusack's badass fight scene. In Grosse Point Blank, we still had the lithe, young, whippersnapper of a Cusack; War, Inc leaves us with the puffier, jaded version, still trying to deliver lines like he did in Say Anything.... I know he's still capable of good work, and he's watchable in just about anything (I love America's Sweethearts. There, I said it), but I sense some lack of caring in this production. Surely, I'm wrong, but in the end, War, Inc comes off as an overstuffed, undersouled production, and Grosse Point Blank is the exact opposite.