What movie was that...?

31 July 2009

Two-Lane Blacktop

directed by Monte Hellman

No driving movie in the history of driving movies can hold a candle to the philosophical wallop of Monte Hellman’s masterpiece, revolving around Driver (James Taylor), Mechanic (Dennis Wilson), Girl (Laurie Bird) and GTO (Warren Oates). Driver and Mechanic (Taylor and an amazing Wilson in their only acting roles), pick up Girl and challenge GTO to a race across the country to Washington D.C. The dialogue is sparse, and the cinematography is astounding. Two-Lane gets its hooks in you fast and pulls you along for the ride. Not to mention one of the most insane, mind bogglingly perfect endings in the history of cinema, Two-Lane Blacktop is good to the last drop. If only Vin Diesel and Paul Walker could take their cues from a classic like this.

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie

directed by Shinichiro Watanabe

Space bounty hunters Spike Spiegel and Jet Black cruise the final frontier in search of their next mark, accompanied by space hustler Faye Valentine, techno genius and superfreak Ed, and data dog Ein. What more is there to say? The filmic addition to what is arguably the greatest anime show in existence (anime is short for animated, or cartoon, for all you old timers out there) is exactly as it should be, arguably one of the best anime films in existence. Spike and the crew need to stop uberpsycho Vincent from unleashing a biochemical attack of biblical proportions upon the citizens of Mars. That’s right, earth is so last century. Interesting note: Spike Spiegel, the shit-talking, ass-kicking hero of the space epic gets his name from Spike Jonze, whose former last name was, get this, Spiegel. How’s that for a murky homage? Jeez Watanabe, how inside of a joke can you make?


directed by Lars Von Trier

Watching a Lars Von Trier film is in itself a small act of madness, whether you know it or not. The genius behind The Five Obstructions and Breaking the Waves sinks his hooks into you slowly and deeply in this three hour, virtually setless drama set in 1920’s small town America. If you’re looking to just passively watch a foreign film so that you can chat up some cute hipster at the next party you attend, this is not the film for you. By the end of it, you feel as though your own moral compass has been skewed somehow, and trust me, the indignant revulsion that follows is natural. “Screw you, Lars! I just wanted to watch a cool art film to expand my cinematic vocab, and now you have me participating in this perversion you call a film. I hate you Lars Von Trier, I hate you!”
I’m sorry, Lars, I didn’t mean it. I love you. And for you kids out there with your ‘I heart Lars’ black t-shirts and your partner choice for if you played a character in Dear Wendy, then be sure to keep an eye out for Von Trier’s newest anxiety maker, Antichrist. This film is apparently so shocking and polarizing that it was booed out of Cannes. If that’s not good press, then I don’t know what is.

Dogtown and Z-Boys

directed by Stacy Peralta

Jay Adams. Tony Alva. Stacy Peralta. If any of these names ring a bell, then Dogtown and Z-Boys is an absolute must see. If none of those names sound familiar to you, then check this out. Skater turned filmmaker Stacy Peralta, using vintage footage of him and his pals tearing up swimming pools and competitions with their skateboards, chronicles the formation of the Zephyr skate team and the birth modern skateboarding as we know it. Peralta has a natural gift for flare, and this righteous doc is about as rock n roll as they come, complete with a kickass soundtrack and interviews with the original team. And wait, is that Spicoli doing the narration? To watch Jay Adams forever change the face of the sport is a thing of pure magic. To watch Stacy Peralta make an appearance on Charlie’s Angels is pure throwback heaven. If you have seen The Lords of Dogtown, the dramatized version of this true life story, go back to the source to see the real person who inspired Heath Ledger’s over the top ego, Emile Hirsch’s crazed intensity, and John Robinson’s sincerity. If you haven’t seen either film and have to choose only one, I recommend the doc. Nothing beats real life, especially real life as revolutionary and visceral as this.

The Foot Fist Way

directed by Jody Hill

A few years ago I was watching a movie called All the Real Girls by one of my favorite filmmakers, David Gordon Green, and a minor character named Bust Ass jumped off the screen and into my heart. The actor responsible was Danny McBride, and no one right now (save, possibly Zach Galifianakis) can compare to McBride in terms of hilarity per pound. Rocking loafers with no socks and a megaperv mustache, McBride plays Fred Simmons, the Ferrari driving egomaniac and alleged Tae Kwon Do master of a hick town dojo. When he scores the opportunity to invite martial arts star (and major dick) Chuck "The Truck" Wallace to his students' testing, Fred sees it as a chance to prove to the world he's not a sucker. First time writer/directer Jody Hill pulls no punches (and he is also hilariously frightening as Fred's old buddy, Chris), and unlike his sophomore attempt, Observe & Report, The Foot Fist way hits home every time. You will laugh, then you will feel terrible that you laughed, then you will laugh just to rid yourself of that feeling. Sometimes a movie like this comes along that marks a shift in thinking, like Leone's Fistful of Dollars or Romero's Night of the Living Dead. This is definitely one of those films, like Pineapple Express, that mark a shift in comedy that cannot be undone. And we are all the better for it.

30 July 2009

The Hangover

directed by Todd Phillips

A movie about a bunch of dudes trying to recover from a night out in Vegas? Ugh. I could see it already. Very Bad Things gets neutered. Fear and Loathing gets clean. I was way off, a thousand joyous times, I was way off! In a movie where the laughs are as wrong as they are right, even the haters out there will melt for this boozed up comedic gem. Best bros for life head out for a bachelor party in Vegas where they get plastered, get even more plastered, steal Mike Tyson’s tiger, lose the groom, and gain a baby. That’s just for starters. Leave it to Ed Helms (Stu), Bradley Cooper (Phil), and the always amazing, always barely containable comedic genius Zach Galifianakis (future brother in law and total nutcase, Alan) to make a strong script by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (who conceived the ill-begotten disaster, Four Christmases and even iller-begotten Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) even stronger. Props to Helms and Galifianakis, who find humor in every nuance and every gesture. Cooper is excellent as Phil, the life-hater, teacher, husband, dad and self-perceived sucker who warns against the evils of marriage at every turn. Beginning at the end of the story, essentially, the guys try and retrace their steps in hopes of recovering groom to be Doug (Justin Bartha) and, in the process, their own recollection of what the hell actually happened to them. With hilarious cameos by Ken Jeong (priceless, just priceless), Mike Tyson (playing himself), and Heather Graham (sunny and ageless), The Hangover is the stiff drink this summer needs to loosen up. You won’t want to forget any of it.

Style Wars

directed by Tony Silver

From the opening sequence, when those NYC subway cars emerge from the darkness to a flourishing operatic score, I was hooked, and so will you be after watching Tony Silver’s master doc about graffiti writers and hip hoppers in New York during the early 1980’s. Infamous writers like Seen, Skeme and Iz the Wiz share their love of the rogue art form, while such dance icons as Crazy Legs and Frosty Freeze emerge as genius originators of one of the most popular dance forms in history, the break. Fighting city hall, the 5.0, and even a renegade bomber who writes Cap, these artists struggle to make names for themselves as hip hop culture as a whole emerges to make a name for itself. Originally airing on PBS (and you thought PBS was just for squares and the elderly), this electrifying doc about what it means to be Def has all the elements necessary to make it a classic. KRS-1 said “If you want to know what hip hop is really all about, see a film called Style Wars.” Word.

Who is Bozo Texino?

directed by Bill Daniel

When it first arrived at my house in rather dubious packaging, I had enormously high hopes for this mysteriously mysterious doc about railroad hobos and primitive graffiti writers. A ramshackle Style Wars sans the hip hop music, the break dancing, or modern life as we know it. These guys are old school, OG bombers whose tales span back to the turn of the century. Daniel’s quest centers on discovering the identity of the most famous boxcar writer, who goes by the moniker Bozo Texino, and who seems to have as many lives as he does markings. The film left me wanting more, however, and with a special thanks in the credits to infamous Richard Linklater (indie director a go-go of Slacker, Waking Life, and A Scanner Darkly fame), you would have thought that there certainly could have been more. Alas, the film remains as allusive as its subject matter. But, if you share my passion for graffiti writing and total out-there subject matter, this remains as an absolute must see.

Big Trouble in Little China

directed by John Carpenter

Some dogs are so ugly that they become cute again. Well, the same goes for movies, and John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China is a perfect example of a movie that seems like a terrible idea on paper, but when viewed in all its 1980’s glory, this movie shines with the brilliance of a supernova. Ok, synopsis time: An always awesome Kurt Russell is Jack Burton, windbag truck driver and full time hustler just pulling into San Francisco’s Chinatown after a long haul. Note: scope out Russell’s do and try and see if you can tell where Tarantino got his inspiration for Stuntman Mike in Deathproof. Anyway, Burton’s best bud has a problem; his intended has been kidnapped by the raging (and magical) asshole, Lo Pan, a 2000 year old wizard in need of some lovin’. What’s a guy to do? But when Lo Pan snags the cutie Burton had his eye on (the ever sassy, ever solid Kim Catrall), it’s on like Donkey Kong. Enter Storm Demons (hey, wait a minute, you guys look like Raiden and Kung Lao from Mortal Kombat. That’s awesome!), a huge floating mass of eyeballs, an exploding wind god, and presto, you have just created a timeless action classic destined for true immortality. In your face Lo Pan! John Carpenter is the master alchemist when it comes to fusing the superbly silly and supremely excellent, and I say don’t ever change, sir.


directed by Antonia Bird

This much (and totally unfairly) maligned tale of cannibalism and Manifest Destiny has to be one of the most fun, ridiculous, and perhaps inspired films of 1999. Guy Pearce is excellent as Captain John Boyd, a war coward sent into the Sierra Nevadas to man Fort Spencer, an outpost run by a group of misfits and fuckups like himself. When a stranger shows up with a story of people eating people (yikes), and alleges that there may be a survivor still out there, everyone has to man up and brave the elements. Neal McDonough is superbly intimidating as Reich, the resident soldier, and no one can touch Jeremy Davies (Toffler) when it comes to the befuddled, mumbling little boy thing (for those of you with a Jeremy Davies fetish, I definitely recommend Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris and Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn for fine examples of Davies at the top of his stammering game). But it is Robert Carlyle who shines brightest as F.W. Calghoun, the soft-spoken victim of his own Donner party, or is there more to him than meets the eye? Add a killer soundtrack by Damon Albarn (of Blur fame), and what more can you ask for? Ravenous has the market cornered on cannibalism in Antebellum America, and fun like this should always make you feel a little dirty. Well, mission accomplished,

Point Break

directed by Kathryn Bigelow

If there is a more high-octane, ass-kicking outlaw surfer cop movie out there, I have never seen it. Kathryn Bigelow has a talent for taking extreme to the next level (and be sure to catch The Hurt Locker, due out this summer and starring the amazing Jeremy Renner). Keanu Reeves plays Johnny Utah, former hot shit quarter back turned hot shit federal rookie assigned to solve a series of bank robberies perped by The Dead Presidents, pros who never make mistakes. The only lead Utah and aging partner Pappas (check out the grille on Gary Busey) have to go on takes them to the beaches. Pappas thinks The Dead Presidents are surfers. Totally! There, Utah meets Bodhi (Oh, Patrick Swayze, be still my heart), a zenned-out, seriously baddass surf guru leading a rabble of rogues in search of their endless summer. Peep the excellent Tom Sizemore in an early role in which he plays a psycho police officer, and John C. McGinley in which he plays a wound up, ready to explode professional type. The little hand says it’s time to rock and roll!

Tron/Tron Legacy (Tr2n)

Tron: directed by Steven Lisberger
Tron Legacy: directed by Joseph Kosinski

When geek boys (myself included, moreso than I’d like to admit) got a glimpse of Tr2n last year, the collective fangasm was enough to blow the doors off the mother. Why? Because Disney’s original 1980s epic about the world of computers and their users was so mind-blowingly amazing that I just don’t think people were able to accept the reality that the movie they unsuspectingly paid to see had just happened before their very eyes. Here we are, nearly three decades later, and the movie is still amazing, still historic, and still badass as all get out. A synopsis for the newbies out there: Jeff Bridges is Flynn, computer genius and arcade master out to find evidence that his former employer jacked his video game concepts. In breaking in to hack into the mainframe, evil program Master Control (it’s MCP, if you’re nasty) digitizes Flynn and pits him against programs from within the system. Inside, users don’t exist except as part of religious debates, and Flynn must employ the help of Ram and Tron in his quest to bring down the MCP and get back to the real world. We’re talking about a CG animated film coupled with live action in a time when that just was not done. It must have been like when the crowds at the Del Mar skateboarding tournament saw the Z-Boys skate for first time on the freestyle ramp (see Stacy Peralta’s righteous doc Dogtown and Z-Boys for further explanation). Sometimes the brain just can’t process the creativity and artistic implication of something so radically different. Think about Pixar and where it would be today if hadn’t have been for the pioneers who blazed the way with Tron.
P.S. Tr2n is going to be so boss! I can hardly contain myself. If you can find it, check out the bootlegged trailer hijacked by a fanboy at the comic con. The quality is low, but it’s so worth the watch. Thank you, internet, for your ability to make illicit thrills like a stolen Tr2n teaser a reality for geeks like us. Techno-director Joseph Kosinski is set to helm the sequel, and his sequence of The Shining on his website makes me supremely excited to see what he has to offer.

The Hurt Locker

directed by Kathryn Bigelow

When you think of action, what names come to mind? James Cameron? John Woo? Sam Peckinpah? Is Kathryn Bigelow on that list? Well, she should be. When it comes to taught, tense, explosive action, Bigelow’s eye is second to none. Point Break, Near Dark, hello? But back to the matter at hand: Bigelow’s newest stunner is as thrilling as they come, focusing on a task force in Iraq charged with disarming insurgent explosives. Jeremy Renner is electric as Ranger bomb squad looney William James, the adrenaline junkie who can only get his rocks off when he’s practically humping disaster. He’s only got a month left before he goes home, if he can survive. Anthony Mackie excels as Sanborn, the voice of reason and humanity in a world ravaged by atrocity. And hats off to a crazed David Morse in a picayune role that speaks volumes. Balls to the wall, blow the doors off action is not what this movie aims for, instead taking you inside a world where destruction is literally just around the corner. Target hit. We’re done here.

Where the Wild Things Are

directed by Spike Jonze

Did you ever see The Beastie Boys video, Sabotage? Or that superrad Breeders video, Cannonball? Or those excellent Fatboy Slim videos? Well, Spike Jonze says “You’re welcome.” The most wonderfully innovative and bonkers director of our generation has gone so far beyond excelling at his craft, be it video, or acting (check his fantastic performance in David O. Russell’s fabulous Three Kings), or feature directing (do I need to explain why Being John Malkovich and Adaptation are classics?) that I could scarcely gush enough to do his talent justice. Several years in the making, Jonze’s masterpiece (my words) is set to grace the world with its presence this fall. Under Jonze’s watchful eye, Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak’s seminal children’s classic has been transforming itself into a feature length, colossally magical cinematic event that, frankly, I can hardly wait for. Now I am talking about this entirely out of school, of course, as I have only seen the “test footage” released on the internet and the trailer released earlier this year. Oh ye of little faith, mark my words: Where the Wild Things Are will be one of the most thrilling, heart-swelling, and truly wondrous films of this or any year. Just watch the trailer and try not to get choked up. If you succeed, then you, sir or ma’am, have a heart of stone.