What movie was that...?

31 January 2010

A Boy and His Dog

directed by L.Q. Jones

L.Q. Jones spins a nuclear tale of survival, companionship and post apocalyptic underground civilization in the cultish and legendary A Boy and his Dog. The boy is Don Johnson, above ground survivor of a nuclear war who shares a telepathic connection with his dog (voiced by Tim McIntire). Below ground exists a sterile civilization of survivors who want to use Vic (Johnson) for some odd purposes. This movie is so admirable in its ambitious oddness that it dwarves most contemporary attempts on the subject. Sure, most apocalypse films nowadays strive for “realism” (I’m looking at you, Eli, Legend.), and many of them suffer for it. What happened to the Escapes from New Yorks and L.A.s, the Death Race 2000s, the Planet of the Apeses, the Boys and their Dogs? Gone the way of the dodo, and we have all lost a little something as a result. The greatest thing about A Boy and his Dog is that about three quarters of the way through the film, you get an idea in your head of how it will end, but you don’t actually think it will happen. It’s one of those “wouldn’t it be awesome if this happened?” situations, but the difference is that Jones goes for it, all the way. Bravo, Mr. Jones.
Note: This excellent cult classic popped into my head after I spent a bland afternoon watching The Book of Eli, a noble but inadequate attempt at an apocalypse film. Denzel is a badass, Gary Oldman is a badass, and that pseudo-long take of the homestead shootout is pretty badass, but the film falls short. When Denzel is put up in Carnegie’s hotel, there is an old one sheet on the back wall for A Boy and His Dog. My eyes lit up and (since it was still early in the film) my hopes shot skyward. Excellent set decoration, Misters Hughes. 

30 January 2010

The Departed

directed by Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese has been cranking out classics like clockwork for nearly four decades, and like a fine wine, he just seems to get better with age. Like Danny Boyle, Martin Scorsese wears his heart on his cinematic sleeve, his passion for creating a dialogue with his audience clear and sincere. For The Departed, Scorsese channeled the gutsy grit of his youth to tell the tale of an informant, a crooked cop, and a slum lord named Frank Costello. Jack Nicholson gives Costello the power to knock your teeth out with a look, and Matt Damon is slime incarnate as Mick cop and double agent Sullivan. Leo, Scorsese’s new muse and star of four Marty films, digs into the role of Billie Costigan, phantom cop, informant and Frank’s newest chum. DiCaprio brings a bruised defensiveness to Costigan that plays like music against the hard as nails cops and gangsters circling him like sharks with blood in their snouts. Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg bring their best to minor but crucial roles that pay dividends. If there were such a thing as a pissed-offedness meter, Mark Wahlberg’s would constantly be in the red zone as Staff Sergeant Dignam, who looks, walks and talks as if he is ready to punch someone through a wall at any given moment. Vera Farmiga nails the role of Madolyn, love interest to Damon and DiCaprio, and Kevin Corrigan makes everything better (Buffalo 66, Pineapple Express, the commentary for Pineapple Express). Last but not least is the fantastic Ray Winstone, tapping into his stellar performance from The Proposition to find the exhausted rage of a career pit bull. While I do love the original Chinese version, Infernal Affairs, starring the always excellent Tony Leung, there is something about the Marty Scorsese and William Monahan combo that draws me in.

29 January 2010

The Goonies

directed by Richard Donner

Excellent performances, both kid and adult, abound in this classic film that is guaranteed to be on every Gen Xer’s Favorite Films list. In a quest to save their neighborhood from being turned into a golf course, a group of misfits and goofballs set out to locate the hidden treasure of One Eyed Willy, famous pirate and inspiration for the game Mouse Trap. Hot on their tails are the Fratellis, a family of crooks out to catch the kids and maybe sniff out a little dough for themselves. Crazy booty traps- I mean booby traps, crazy humor and crazy awesomeness combine rings of power to become a film that nearly everyone can quote in its entirety, even those pretentious art house hipsters who only like Donnie Darko and foreign films. Josh Brolin (be still my heart), Corey Feldman (amazing hair), Ke Huy Quan (gadget man), Jeff Cohen (iconic as Chunk) and Sean Astin are just some of the tremendous talent casting their spells, and Cyndi Lauper’s title song is as good as it gets. The Goonies is one of those great kid films from a different time, when foul language and low humor was acceptable. Films like this and Little Monsters, The Garbage Pail Kids and even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are all fantastic examples of this magic hour in the filmic timeline. It can never be resisted, is powers are too strong.
Note: I absolutely love The Goonies, and it always has a special place in my heart, but there is one plot hole that I cannot abide. Mouth (Feldman) is fluent in Spanish, so fluent, in fact, that he can even translate a 450 year old Spanish map (think of how much English has changed since Shakespeare). Ok, fine, so Mouth can read Old Spanish. What I cannot abide is the fact that, at the end when Rosalita is shouting for Pops to not sign the contract, Mouth doesn’t understand what she is saying! He keeps saying stupid ass things like “No pen? No write?” Bullshit. If Mouth is so incredibly adept at Spanish, so much so that he can translate a map that only a select group of scholars can translate, he could certainly figure out what Rosalita was screaming, no matter how fast she said it.
Really, BC? That’s the plot hole you get hung up on? It’s not the pirate treasure, or the traps, or the giant octopus (a scrapped plot point, yet still mentioned at the end of the film), or the fact that no competent person had been able to find the treasure, but a group of tweens find it in like a day? To answer your query, no, that other stuff doesn’t bother me at all.

28 January 2010

Man on Wire

directed by James Marsh

The story of Phillipe Petit and his bold endeavor is as grand and charming as his personae, and James Marsh’s elegantly marvelous doc tackles the story with whimsical verve. In 1974, Petit, a performer and showman, plotted and pulled off the most daring (and illegal) tightrope walk known to man, between the roof tops of the twin towers. As the amazing story of the historic walk unfolds, Petit regales the stories of his past and previous walks, including a walk between the spires of Notre Dame and on Australia’s Sydney Harbour Bridge. The story sounds like bad television if it wasn’t absolutely true, a plan hatched in a different time, a simpler time. Beautiful and graceful, Marsh leaves you hoping beyond hope for the next Petit performance.

Match Point

directed by Woody Allen

After watching Matthew Goode mesmerize me yet again as Jim in A Single Man (I don’t know what it is about that guy), I decided to watched Woody Allen’s least funny (and perhaps best) film again. I’m talking, of course, about the riveting Brit mystery drama Match Point, starring Matthew Goode, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and- wait, what? BC, you said you were reviewing a Woody Allen film, but here you are talking about Rhys Myerses and Goodes like some Robert Altman whodunit? What gives? Allen’s limey turn is as good as it gets: dry, polite conversation mixed with lust, greed and intrigue. I would drink that cocktail, again and again. Matthew Goode is wonderful as Tom, and Rhys Meyers nails the role of Chris, pining for Scarlett Johansson’s Nola (in moody vixen mode). I won’t give anything away, but don’t expect Annie Hall, that’s for sure.

27 January 2010

JCVD

directed by Mabrouk El Mechri

As I sat here, thinking of my next review, I thought of an amazing film I watched last year, but I disregarded it instantly because I assumed that I had already sang its praises. After further investigation, however, I realized that I had not paid proper respect to Mabrouk El Mechri’s fantastic action drama, JCVD. For shame, BC, and I apologize to you all. And especially to you, Mr. Jean Claude Van Damme. From the amazing, ultra long and ultra sweet opening take to the surreal caesura to the excellent ending, JCVD is Van Damme’s finest performance, hands down. Perhaps it’s because the Belgian actor gets to speak in his native tongue (look out, there’s subtitles), and maybe it’s because he’s playing himself in the sort of factual, sort of fictional, all the way awesome story of an aging martial arts star going through a divorce, out of work and out of money. The Muscles from Brussels is on his way home when he stops in a post office slash bank to wire some cash to his lawyer, which proves to be a big mistake. The bank is being robbed by a group of fuck up criminals who use Van Damme’s celebrity to their advantage. I will say no more about the story, but I will regale the story of my going to see this film when it opened. Excited and wide eyed, I got to the theatre early on opening night (to avoid the inevitable crowd) and paid for my ticket. I noticed, however, that the art theatre was emptier than usual, so I made my way to the concession stand. As I was ordering, the manager walked over and asked if was, in fact, going to see JCVD. Of course, I answered, I couldn’t wait to see this film and I was so excited when I found out this film was coming to this theatre and I wanted to avoid the crowds and- the manager interrupted me to tell me that no one had been coming to see this film all day, and he didn’t expect anyone to come to this particular show, either. I must have looked like he just told me that Santa didn’t exist, because he walked to his little office and returned with a JCVD one sheet for me. Take it, he said.
He was right, by the way. No one else showed up. What a tragedy. But I have displayed my JCVD poster prominently in my living room ever since, in between my RIZE one sheet and my Dark Knight one sheet where Joker is writing “Why so serious?” on fogged glass. Excellent.

26 January 2010

Legion

directed by Scott Stewart

You know the feeling you get when you are walking into a party that you didn’t really want to go to, but some friends are already inside and you haven’t seen them in a while, so you just take a breath and knock on the door? And finally, when the party is over, it’s pretty much as lame as you thought it would be, but it was still pretty cool to see your friends? Apply that same sentiment to the Scott Stewart’s film, Legion, and you will have shared my movie-going experience this afternoon. I didn’t expect much from a film that- well, you saw the trailer… Sharing the same malady as one of my personal favorites, Reign of Fire, Legion suffers from a bad script but benefits from strong actors who believe so much in the project that even the jarringly, sluggishly slow points in this film have an earnest quality that pleads for you to get on board with forced character development. And I have to say, though, a few times it almost worked, mainly in Paul Bettany’s case. Bettany plays Michael, ex-general in God’s army who defects to save a child from being exterminated by the freaky infantry of His wrath. The only thing more frustrating than the strange character development sequences is the fact that the importance of this child isn’t explained, other than some vague “He will lead the people” crap that appears empty and, frankly, lazy. Bettany brings a Christian Bale intensity to the role of Michael, and Dennis Quaid is great as good ol boy, Bob. Lucas Black and Tyrese Gibson punch in as best they can, but when it comes to squeezing out tears whilst maintaining a vehemently stoic demeanor, nobody can hold a candle to the excellent Charles S. Dutton, channeling his preacher Dillon character from the underrated Alien3 for the role of Percy. Kate Walsh and Willa Holland try their best to breathe life into essentially flat roles, and Adrianne Palicki was indecipherably indecipherable as moms to the chosen one. Scott Stewart comes from a special effects background, but oddly, it doesn’t really show. It’s a film without a country, not action enough to be fun, and not well written enough to be a slow mover. Give me a futuristic, apocalyptic dragon slaying crudfest any day of the week.

25 January 2010

Crazy Heart

directed by Scott Cooper

Jeff Bridges drinks like a fish and charms like a fox in this yarn about an aging country singer and the various relationships orbiting his broke, nomadic life. Bridges is Bad Blake in every sense of the word, embodying the spirit of true country music like the Hank Williamses and Waylon Jenningses that came before him, and if Jeremy Renner (I know, I fixate) couldn’t even be friggin’ nominated for a SAG best actor award, then Bridges deserved it. And holy hell, does Bridges sure look like Kris Kristofferson at times or what? We first glimpse Bad Blake pulling himself out of his old truck and dumping a jug of piss onto the asphalt of a bowling alley parking lot. “Another fucking bowling alley,” Bad moans (cue creepy, geeky laughter from the Lebowski fans in the audience) before walking in and putting on a genuine grin for the proprietor. Blake is on the down and outs after his apprentice, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell? Hmm, interesting casting), stole the show, leaving him trolling around the South and playing minuscule venues. Blake is not above using his celebrity to get free booze and nookie, but when he meets journalist Jean (a sweet Maggie Gyllenhaal), he is smitten. Robert Duvall pulls a Guy Pearce and totally nails another minor role that proves so very crucial. Bravo, Mr. D. Featuring wonderful, horizon-heavy panoramas of a romantic landscape and a wonderful score, Crazy Heart shines its light on the weather-worn terrain of one man’s life and helps us find the Bad Blake hiding inside all of us.

24 January 2010

Sunshine

directed by Danny Boyle

Danny Boyle’s sci-fi turn is as dazzling as it is heavy, a film about a team of scientists charged with delivering an explosive payload to a dying sun. Every cast member brings their best to each role, especially a marvelous Chris Evans, shedding his human torch nonsense and showing the world that he has the chops. The script by collaborator Alex Garland (28 Days Later, the novel from which The Beach was adapted) is solid and strange, and why this film fell through the cracks is somewhat of a mystery to me. What’s not to like? Boyle’s love of film shows even in his DVD releases, and on Sunshine Boyle features several short films made by members of his crew. Beastie Boy Adam Yauch has utilized his Oscilloscope DVD releases for the same purpose (check out the excellent shorts on Wendy and Lucy) which, as a lover of film, I can get on board with. You may love Danny Boyle, and you may hate him, but you cannot deny that Boyle clearly loves the art of making film, and he always tries to do something important. Respect, Mr. B.

23 January 2010

Sherlock Holmes

directed by Guy Ritchie

I have been avoiding Guy Ritchie’s newest film for weeks, stewing over the fact that Ritchie took one of the greatest, most sophisticated literary detectives and turned him into a brawling, drinking and (concerning Watson) strangely jealous jackass. Then an idea occurred to me that gave me the freedom to enjoy the film along with everyone else. I simply removed the words Sherlock Homes from the title, and whenever anyone said the names of any character in the film, I replaced them with other names that wouldn’t cause me to become unfairly annoyed. So, plot time: British super detective Sher- Sheldon Hamish parties like a rock star, and solves crime like one, too. Aiding Hamish in his endeavors is BFF and fellow ass kicker, Dr. Winston. Together, the duo crack skulls and exercise mad deduction skills, but when a Lord Blackwood (his name doesn’t need to change, and Mark Strong was better than he needed to be, frankly) claims that he will get the better of Hamish, then cheats death, the team hop on the trail to track down the truth. Oh, yeah, Rachel McAdams is in it playing some sort of love interest to Hamish (what a shame. She’s so great) and, apparently, the only one who can match wits avec the detective. This is the biggest plot hole in this film, mainly due to the fact that Hamish is clearly so in love with Winston that it precludes the chance of him ever loving poor, wasted talent McAdams. Robert Downey Jr. has a ball playing the great detective, as does Jude Law, and for Ritchie, it’s business as usual (which means Lock Stock meets Snatch meets Rocknrolla and they all jump in a time machine). I cannot comment on how the British received Guy Ritchie’s latest opus, but I can speak for myself as a lover of literature and film: what was everyone thinking? I hope they packed you tightly in that coffin, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, because after this movie premieres in heaven, I have a feeling you’ll be wanting to get your turn on. Perhaps I’m being too harsh, because there were elements of the film that were definitely in keeping with the classic exploits of detective Holmes. The plot structure, for instance, was very true to the original works of Sir Doyle, as was the deduction prowess of said detective (though in Doyle’s stories, he didn’t use them to Van Damme bad guys). Is it entertaining? Yes, definitely, but watch it with a grain of salt, and if you are a book geek like me, try my name trick, or think of it as homage cinema.
Note: Call it a premonition, but while I was waiting for the film to start, I happened to see the trailer for the Iron Man sequel. Somehow, as I watched Downey Jr. having a blast and Mickey Rourke having a blast (another example of a film not taking itself too seriously, which makes it far more fun to watch than a serious, pseudo-heavy buzzkill of a film like Avatar), I knew, deep down, that this was to be the high point of my movie-going experience today.

21 January 2010

Oldboy

directed by Chan-wook Park

Even as I begin to write this review, I can feel the icky goose bumps rising on my spine. Nevertheless, Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy is a must see, and after I heard that Steven Spielberg and Will Smith are rumored to be attached to an American remake, I feel compelled to encourage you all to see the original first, unless, that is, you prefer your tonics watered down. To be sure, Oldboy is a rough one, the story of a man abducted and imprisoned in a hotel room-like cell for fifteen years with absolutely no explanation. Suddenly, he is released and must put together the pieces of the puzzle to find the answers he searches for. Park’s fascination with the darkest parts of humanity comes into its own in this film, and if you are familiar with his work, you can empathize with my trepidation at watching Thirst (I had to close my eyes during the red band trailer. Don’t judge me, I get grossed out by needles in veins and, apparently, teeth in veins). The rumor of a remake only brings to mind the other rumor concerning an American version of Let the Right One In. Why? Why, when we have a perfectly good, perfectly classic original out there in the world would we want to simply make another one, only less good this time? Because people hate subtitles? The kind of people who want to see films like this are fine with subtitles.
Note: The fight sequence in the underground hallway is one of the coolest sequences I think I have ever seen. The energy and the length of the scene leaves you breathless.

20 January 2010

A Single Man

directed by Tom Ford

To call Tom Ford’s debut film gorgeous wouldn’t come close to doing it justice. Stunning, maybe. A Single Man focuses its lens on George Falconer (a stellar Colin Firth), a grieving English professor planning to make this particular day his last. As clocks tick away the various encounters that comprise George’s November day in L.A., we glimpse both his past with lover Jim (is Matthew Goode ever not wonderful?), his present with friend Charley (Julianne Moore is fantastic),  a student named Kenny who takes a personal interest in his guarded demeanor, as well as the large and small interactions that are normally taken for granted. If you took all the films of the past 12 months and put them in a room together, Ford’s film would be the beautiful, charming one that all the other films want to be friends with. Every single frame is immaculate, as if Ford continually anticipated the rest of his project hinging on showing the producers any random scene at any moment. The result is a film that relishes in every instance, every nuance, every texture. You won’t be able to take your eyes off it.
Note: Let me know what you thought of the end. I would love to discuss it.

Die Hard

directed by John McTiernan

John McLane heads to his estranged wife’s office holiday party and just as he’s getting cleaned up, wham, a group of hijackers crash the party and hold the yuppies hostage until they can make off with a shitton of bonds. Led by a samurai sharp Alan Rickman, the hi-tech heisters have everything under control, except the cowboy nobody invited. The cowboy is McLane, played to badass perfection by Bruce Willis (utilizing his comedic talents). Right from the beginning, McTiernan, working from a balls out awesome script by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza, sets a tone of self parody that has, until very recently, never been competently duplicated (see Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s twin classics for examples). When John McLane quips to himself and shoots one liners at bad guys like Uzi spray, we accept it because, aside from it being awesome, his character has been established as someone who talks to himself (see what a little bit of planning and character development in a script can do for you?). The plethora of agent Smiths, the German henchmen and a Twinkie eating cop on the night beat all work together like a cliché supergroup, creating an atmosphere that asks the audience to ponder why these seemingly incompetent (they're not, by the way) filmic elements have been mixed with such intense and realistic action. But why do something like that? I will leave you to mull that one over, but remember to check out Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead for other fine examples of films that parody a genre of which they have become an indispensable addition, the genres being action and horror, respectively. The sequel, excellently subtitled Die Harder was, while entertaining, not nearly as good as its big brother, and the third film (Die Hard with a Vengeance) even more so. Let’s just leave it at that and not even mention Live Free or Die Hard (ugh).

19 January 2010

Deliverance

directed by John Boorman

James Dickey’s novel turned script gets the attention it deserves in the form of John Boorman. Four friends test their mettle against the mighty Cahulawassee River in the Georgia wild, and guess what? The wild wins. Shot in sequence and on location, Boorman’s film bristles with testosterone, tension, and a breakout Burt Reynolds performance that presages his iconic Gator and Bandit. He is wearing a wet suit vest as a shirt, for crying out loud! There is only one person in the world who can get away with that. Rounding out the cast is a wonderful John Voight in full everyman mode, Ronny Cox playing the hell out of his role, and gut wrenching newcomer Ned Beatty who deserves every accolade you can muster (you’ll see why). Poet and novelist James Dickey tries his hand at acting, with marvelous effect, as the town’s sheriff, and with all the fine actors doing all their own stunts (including Burt flying down the final set of rapids like a crazy person), all of the pieces necessary to make a great survival film have just fallen into place. The universe says you’re welcome, by the way. Hats off to Bill McKiney, maniac and tremendous talent responsible for the best show of non-blinking I think I have ever seen. Where you goin’, city boy? 

18 January 2010

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song

directed by Melvin Van Peebles

Melvin Van Peebles flips THE MAN the bird about four thousand times in his bold and amazing calling out of America’s racist majority. Van Peebles is Sweet Sweetback, baddest of men and true American hero, who saves a Black Panther from some racist cops and goes on the run. Though Van Peebles wrote almost no dialogue for himself, he speaks volumes in a role that can never be duplicated. Ever. Like the music of Chuck Berry and Howlin Wolf, the magnitude of this landmark film must be recognized in context. Without the uppercut force of Sweetback, who knows where film would be today. One of the first truly independent films (Van Peebles basically paid for his entire 1971 film himself), Melvin Van Peebles put a megaphone in front of every minority victimized by a bigoted, ignorant, and racist White America. A film that commands attention, Sweet Sweetbck’s Baadasssss Song is call to arms, a film that, like its title character, will never die a natural death.

17 January 2010

The Golden Globe Robbery

I really hate to break symmetry here, but what were you thinking, Hollywood Foreign Press? James Cameron, best director? Frankly, that’s a lot of bull, sirs and ma’ams. You mean to tell me that you spent time watching both Avatar and The Hurt Locker, and you decided that special effects count as good filmmaking and that actual good filmmaking doesn’t count? What is this, opposite day? I am very happy that Christoph Waltz took home a Globe for best supporting actor, but seriously, how was he not going to win that one? That would be like a modern army equipped with advanced weaponry losing to an army of bow and arrow carrying- aww, dammit!
Jeff Bridges winning for Crazy Heart, when Jeremy Renner wasn’t even mentioned? Fine. Whatever.
I am glad that Mo'Nique won for Precious. Nice call, HFP.
And WTF? James Cameron takes home the Best Picture Globe? Did everyone drink the Benjamin Button Kool-Aid again this year? I’m a little upset that Up in the Air beat out Inglourious Basterds and The Hurt Locker for best script, when it was clearly a film that had to lean on its actors to deliver a quality film. That’s not to detract from the truly amazing performances in that film, it is just something I am pointing out to get you to really stop and think about every component of a film, not just passively watching it and saying ok, that was good.
Kathryn Bigelow, Jeremy Renner, Mark Boal, all three of you are number one in my book. With a bullet.
And how did Where the Wild things Are and Fantastic Mr. Fox, two of the best films of the decade, hardly get nominated for anything? Did the HFP come down with awesome stuff amnesia this year? Did they forget that Spike Jonze and Wes Anderson both delivered masterpieces to the world less than four months ago? It’s a shame, that. I suppose there can’t be justice for everyone during award season.
I hope your Golden Globes fall off your giant mantle and concuss you, Mr. Cameron.

Jersey Shore

created by Sally Ann Salsano

Not since VH1’s Tool Academy have I had the good fortune of witnessing something so shamelessly vain, repulsive and (oddly enough) self-aware as MTV’s hair product caked Jersey Shore. But the difference between the two is that while the tools of said academy seem a little too Jerry Springer, the Guidos and Guidettes of Jersey Shore are as real as they come. And as ridiculous as they seem, they are all familiar. We have all seen these fake tanned pretty boys and shit talking girls when we were dragged to some bro club, and all jokes aside, wouldn’t you like to be as confident as The Situation or JWOWW? Hell, if I looked like Ronnie, I wouldn’t even own a shirt. These jokers all know exactly who they are and make no excuses for themselves, which in a strange way makes them more admirable than most of the regular population. Now that’s transparency (congress, you should be taking notes). They talk smack, they preen and primp in front of the mirror longer in one night than I do in a week, and though they may scratch and wail like alley cats in the apartment, they all have each other’s back like champs (peep Pauly D socking that clown after he talked shit, or JWOWW slugging that girl who called Snookie fat). That’s the kind of iron clad and dysfunctional loyalty that any of us would be lucky to have from our friends. You may hate them, and you may want to kick their asses, but what you can’t deny is that these cats are all genuine, bona fide masters of their own destinies. They love it, and they don’t have any qualms about showing the world who they really are, the gelled up, pumped up, juicehead Guidos and Guidettes of a romanticized and unsterilized America, an America that promises to fulfill even the wildest of dreams. On the Jersey shore, anything is possible, as long as you get it drunk enough. GTL, baby.

Training Day

directed by Antoine Fuqua

Antoine Fuqua’s film about one day in L.A. as seen through eyes of officer Hoyt (a naïve and wonderful Ethan Hawke) is one of the best films of the decade, not to mention one of the best cop dramas ever made. Denzel Washington gives his best ever performance (followed closely by such powerhouse roles as Jake in He Got Game, Malcolm X in the film of the same name and my personal favorite, Parker Barnes in Virtuosity) as narcotics detective Alonzo Harris, the larger than life head of an elite unit of which Hoyt wants to be a part. If he can survive his training, that is. Hawke and Washington have chemistry like nobody’s business, and brace yourself, because Cliff Curtis will blow your mind as Smiley (if you can, watch the deleted scene on the DVD in which Hoyt talks to Smiley at his house. Best thing ever).  Hats off to David Ayer for hitting a homerun with his hypnotic and textured script, and I can forgive Mauro Fiore for his Avatar trespasses by virtue of his exemplary work in Training Day. You got mad squabbles, Mr. Fuqua. Please, give us more films like Training Day. The world already has enough Shooters out there.

16 January 2010

Star Trek

directed by J. J. Abrams

I might as well get this over with, as I cannot just put my feelings out there concerning James Cameron’s Avatar without weighing in on another recent science fiction giant, the newest addition to the Star Trek canon, stylishly realized by J. J. Abrams. The film has plot holes of epic proportions to be sure (the red matter garbage, and how if Nero traveled back in time, why not just go back to Romulus to save it?), but where the two films diverge is that element of style lacking in Cameron’s film. Nerds made much of Abrams’ lens flares and screen smut on so many shots, not to mention the shaky camera moves, but what they fail to consider is what that same film would have been like without all that. It is choices like this that separate the jeans and t-shirt ridiculousness of Live Free or Die Hard from the designer suit class of The Bourne Ultimatum (we all remember that summer, none of us could help but notice the glaring differences), and the same formula applies here. Avatar was entertaining, and the special effects were good (I stress the word good), but Abrams brought a technical element to the technical elements of his film to make it seem more tangible, however annoying some may have found it. The plot? It’s a prequel to the original Star Trek series, a jumpstart to a dead battery franchise that desperately needed the juice. Think of it as the Mark McGwire of Star Trek films, sans the social stigma. The entire cast does a good job (unlike Avatar’s cast of duds, including usually stellar actors like Sigourney Weaver and Giovanni Ribisi blustering like caricatures), and the Trek script is fun, which makes the absurd plot points easier to palette (see Daybreakers for a fine example of the same premise). The overt preachiness of Cameron’s film made it hard to reconcile the extreme violence (while the Na’vi preached peace and harmony) and the nonsensical elements of the film. When you take yourself too seriously, it becomes difficult to have some fun. Abrams knows how to have fun (see my review of Armageddon for another Abrams treasure), and for that reason he emerges as the victor. Ben Burtt uses his nearly magical abilities to recreate and compose the music of Star Trek's sound design, which puts Star Trek another point ahead of Cameron's sketchy foley (Christopher Boyes, I see you jacking those J. P. sound effects).

15 January 2010

Role Models

directed by David Wain

Remember The State? Wet Hot American Summer? It’s ok if you don’t, though both of those should go on your homework list. What matters is that David Wain, cult comedian extraordinaire, has spun a hilarious yarn and filled it with some of the funniest actors out there right now (too bad he couldn’t find room for Zach G and Danny McBride) and managed to blend sentiment with crude, sidesplitting humor. Merci, Mr. W, for the inspired pairing of the amazingly funny Paul Rudd, and the oft-underrated Seann William Scott (you know, Stifler?) with uber-nerd Christopher Mintz-Plasse (turning out a subtly complex performance worthy of much praise) and Bobb’e J Thompson (foul mouthed and fabulous). Rudd and Scott have been court ordered to participate in Sturdy Wings (a Big Brother style program) instead of going to prison. Yes, they learn things about one another and about themselves, but those of you who wrote this off as cheesy comedic pap need to have another look. Rudd is incredibly great in anything he attempts, whether it’s a turn on Friends (as Phoebe’s flame) or the loose cannon Brian Fantana in Anchorman, and Scott never fails to get a laugh (please don’t try anything serious again, Mr. S). If you do remember those titles I mentioned, you will be pleased to see the excellent Ken Marino (check out Ken’s film Diggers, by the way. It also stars Paul Rudd and is quite good), Kerri Kenney, a goofy Jo Lo Truglio and even David Wain himself. Game face, bro. Check it out.

14 January 2010

Daybreakers

directed by The Speirig Brothers

First of all, let me preface this review by officially saying that the film Daybreakers was not a good film. Okay, now that I got that out of the way, Daybreakers was awesome! The Speirig Brothers have cooked up a piece of B movie gold that couldn’t come at a better time. Award season is upon us, breeding false airs and a general snobbery that Daybreakers seeks to bitch slap with all the cheap scares and faint allusions to the oil crisis it can muster. The film by Michael and Peter Speirig is also the cure for that cursed Avatar disease everyone seems to be coming down with (apparently, there are precious few of us who are immune). Daybreakers takes place in a near future when being human is passé. It’s ten years from now, and the whole world has gone vampire (being human was so last century), but the world’s supply of blood is running seriously low. Most humans are being harvested for their blood, while some vampires have started feeding on themselves and mutating into grotesque bat people. Enter Ethan Hawke, who brings his hurt little boy A game to the role of Edward, vampire scientist working on a blood substitute. When he encounters an ex-vampire named Elvis (yep, ex-vampire), the ragtag team hope to turn the tables on those suckers (puntastic!). Willem Dafoe (Elvis) seems to be having more fun that should be legally allowed, and don’t we all deserve a bit of good, old fashioned entertainment? A movie having this good of a time brings old favorites to mind, classics like The Lost Boys and Alone in the Dark. Don’t take it too seriously, just get on board and enjoy the ride.

13 January 2010

Brick

directed by Rian Johnson

A Bogart style film noir, and it’s set in high school? What? Of all the films that tread a line between the truly inspired and the ridiculous, none do it as mind bogglingly well as Rian Johnson’s tale about a teenage murder mystery. The entire filmic apparatus is a house of cards of which even an improper inflection on the wrong syllable by any of the stellar cast could topple the entire work. But everything seems to fall into place, and the result is a fantastic film about the urgency and danger of high school depicted in a very formal way. Johnson proves he has all the right stuff, and Joseph Gordon Levitt shines as Bogart incarnate Brenden, self-charged with uncovering the truth behind the corpse and the mysterious brick. And the ever wonderful, ever underappreciated Lucas Haas is perfection as The Pin (you’ll see, just watch it). You done Bogey proud, Mr. Johnson.
I bought this film on sheer faith that it was going to rock and, luckily, my instincts served me well this time, not like the time I bought Pathfinder and wanted to hurt someone after I watched it. Seriously, I could have eaten that 20 bucks and my digestive system could have produced something better than that filmic refuse. Too bad, because I really love Karl Urban and Clancy Brown.

12 January 2010

The Road

directed by John Hillcoat

While I still maintain that in Terence Malick’s hands, Cormac McCarthy’s tale of sheer will in the face of abject hopelessness would have been a truly gut-wrenching cinematic experience, John Hillcoat’s vision is a rough and magnificent tonic, a bitter cold expression of the ties that bind and strength found when all is lost. Viggo Mortensen is a man traveling with his son (a heart-breakingly authentic Kodi Smit-McPhee) through an apocalypse ravaged America, heading toward the coast and clinging to the last semblances of civilized life. I refuse to compare the film to McCarthy’s devastating novel, but in Viggo Mortensen Hillcoat finds the haggard rasp of a man on the brink, and a face that reflects the muted plea of a ruined soul. Guy Pearce once again makes a mountain of a mole hill (as he did in The Hurt Locker), proving he is an actor worth his salt, and Robert Duvall will leave you speechless. Proving himself a true artist once again, Garret Dillahunt makes your stomach turn in a role that showcases the astounding amount of talent that few seem to see (his performance in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was once of the best screen performances of any kind, not to mention his spectacular performance in No Country for Old Men). Hillcoat's camera finds the ragged core of every landscape (or lack thereof), and another Nick Cave and Warren Ellis  triumph of a soundtrack punctuates the sense of melancholy. Those looking for a good time at the movies may want to avoid this harsh and enervating film, but those looking for an actual experience may do well to see Hillcoat’s modern classic. Steel yourself for the elements.

11 January 2010

Avatar

directed by James Cameron

After grappling with a way to review the gluttonously overwrought special effects orgy, Avatar, I decided to simply pose a few of the most pressing issues that sprang up as I watched this overblown, but ultimately forgettable film. By the way, before I get into it, I must comment on the second inadequate attempt on Sam Worthington’s part to accomplish a successful American accent. Nice work, Sammy, you’re as linguistically dexterous as Brad Pitt or Sean Connery. But don’t sweat it, because at least you have become the official mascot actor for the “hey, I’m part human, part not human. Boo hoo, where do I belong?” role. Way to go.
Warning. I will be revealing stupid plot points and giving away the lame ending in the following list. Just wanted to get that out in the open.

Issues/Questions/WTF:
  1. Plot hole alert: I cannot abide the premise that human beings, with all their technology and weaponry, hurtled that much manpower and equipment through space for 6 years at God knows what speed (aka pretty effing far away from earth), yet they are having a hard time controlling these blue people who use arrows! Yes, that’s right, arrows! Really? Really, James Cameron?
  2. When Jake gets separated: If they did in fact spend so much money on these Avatars (as they made sure to say a bunch of times in the beginning of the film), then why couldn’t they install some kind of communication device inside the thing that wouldn’t be ripped off or destroyed by water (and yes, I understand that tracking devices don’t work on Pandora because of the b.s. “Temporal Flux”. Another crock, Mr. C). If the consciousness sync works all over the friggin’ planet, then why couldn’t they install a com device to talk to each other!
  3. The helicopter escape: Right now, in 2010, tons of cars have OnStar systems that can tap into your ride and shut it off if someone steals it (I’ve seen the commercials). You’re telling me that 150 years from now, they can spend all this money on some military weapon and not install some kind of similar safety function inside it, just in case the blue guys- excuse me, the Na’vi try to jack one? Bull.
  4. Aggravating character: That little helicopter lizard. Fucking useless.
  5. Another aggravating character: That marine who shouted “Get some!” more than once. It’s 2154 and this guy is shouting a phrase from 150 years ago. That would be like me yelling “Avast, ye mateys!” before getting in a bar fight. I wished they could have killed him twice.
  6. Aggravating foley: Those fricking Ekarns or whatever they’re called (the flying things the blu- the Na’vi cruise around on) sound exactly like velociraptors. Stop raiding Speilberg’s closet.
  7. When Jake is passed out and can’t be woken up: How exactly did these blue idiots not have any clue that the Avatars were somehow linked up to their human counterpart. They call them Dreamwalkers, for crap’s sake! When he is out on the ground and those dozers are crashing through the forest (which was ridiculously designed, by the way), why does she keep trying to wake him up? Shake his ass, and if he is out cold, it must mean he’s out with his humans, and probably double-crossing you. Grace spent time with them and taught them English, but she never mentioned that? What?
  8. Plot hole alert, part dos: I really can’t abide the fact that all those marines, with all their guns and technology, could go up against some blue people with arrows, and lose! If the marines had just finished the job they started when they blew the shit out of their entire home, obviously not caring about preserving life, then why didn’t they just exterminate them and get it over with? Why did they let them go and run to the big tree to sing like Whoville Whos after the Grinch stole their Christmas? Why did they let them get all pissed off and join pathetically small forces with the other clans? And also, why did the humans not assume that the Na’vi would retaliate without Jake’s help? Did they think they would turn blue tale and run into the forest, never to bother them again? What are they, new?
  9. B.S. alert: The end sucks anyway because the humans are just going to come back in a few years and massacre them all, unless the blue guys discover and develop gunpowder technology at record speeds. Or they could pull a Bin Laden and hides in caves, I guess.
  10. What the F*#@?: Michelle Rodriguez, in the biggest act of stupidity in the film, makes the only modern weapon available to the Na’vi as conspicuous as possible by splashing it with copious amount of war paint! Come on, the first thing you get in the military (after the haircut) is a standard issue camouflage uniform. Camouflage! Just put a small X or something on it, if you really want to feel like part of the team. That way, you can attack in the chaos and blend in. You get an F, Rodriguez.
While I have other issues with the film (why did the Colonel in the mecha-warrior pull out a knife from the leg compartment when he lost his gun? Why did they build it with a knife? Just build it with another gun!), I was mostly disappointed with the poor script writing and the lame plot. Most of the sources of tension in the film (the Temporal Flux crap; Jake’s separation from Grace; the failure by the marines to finish the job when they went to bomb the tree house) seemed only to be there to service the plot and build false tension, not because they actually made sense. The humans were essentially caricatures, and every single scene in the film fell into the George Lucas “let’s cram as much shit into every scene” trap. Once the spectacle of the 3D wears off, you are left with a lot of CG that really isn’t much better than Lord of the Rings. There, I said it. If Peter Jackson made LOTR today, Weta's 3D would be knocking us on our asses right now, guaranteed. I apologize for the length of this review, but I feel I just had to get it out there. And while I usually wouldn’t review a movie that isn’t very well written, I feel compelled to dispel some of the undeserved hype orbiting this filmic zeitgeist. Go ahead and see it, but buyer beware. Fancy special effects can't make up of for a lack of plot and poor script writing.

Unleashed

directed by Louis Leterrier

Jet Li’s finest and most horrific martial arts film is as darkly amazing as the simply gorgeous film Hero was poetic. Li plays Danny, an orphaned boy kept and trained like a dog by criminal monster Bart (a wretchedly frightening Bob Hoskins), to be sicced upon the unsavory. Like a Pavlovian WMD, Danny only attacks when his collar is removed, but an accident sends him into the care of a blind piano tuner (a deliciously warm Morgan Freeman) and his daughter. Woo-Ping Yuen’s fight choreography is the finest example of the dazzling and the profane struggling to coalesce in a world governed by violence, and Leterrier’s lens finds the dark core of each battle. Jet Li’s face is a map of unbridled fury and terrified innocence lost, a little boy incapable of controlling his abilities. The opening fight sequence alone is enough to either pin you to your seat for the rest of the film, or give you nightmares. Maybe both.

10 January 2010

The Maltese Falcon

directed by John Huston

Bogart defines a genre as Sam Spade, hardboiled detective hired by a beautiful woman to solve a hardboiled case. Sydney Greenstreet plays another unsavory character with all the panache and pomp he can muster, and Huston serves up the finest example of film noir imaginable. What’s film noir? Wait a minute- is this film school? Fine, film noir is a genre of film characterized by morally ambiguous heroes and heroines, typically dark settings and stark contrasts in lighting to evoke a feeling of tension and create a world where traditional values are overturned. Bogart is the OG when it comes to the tough guy does the right thing role, and like the highlander, there can be only one. Any fan of crime films, Huston films and awesome films in general should consider this a must see.

09 January 2010

Rocky

directed by John G. Avildsen

Action drama ninja John G Avildsen (of The Karate Kid fame) gives Sylvester Stallone’s amazing script the grit and detail it deserves, creating a sports movie classic for the ages. Stallone fought hard to play the lead in his underdog story of Rocky Balboa (the studio wanted Robert Redford. What?), a boxer from Philly who gets a shot at the title when heavyweight champ Apollo Creed’s match falls through and he selects the Italian Stallion to face him in the ring. While the film is truly an indispensible addition to the boxing subgenre, Rocky is a classic drama in every way; well developed and well acted characters (from the astounding Burt Young to the gravelly Burgess Meredith to the heart breaking Talia Shire), classic story perfectly updated to fit the times, and that incalculable amount of magic that seems to permeate the entire film. A story of hope, perseverance and the healing power of love and companionship make this a film for everyone, not just sports fiends with a pugilism fetish.

08 January 2010

Top Gun

directed by Tony Scott

That’s right Ice Man, I am dangerous. Man, that Maverick is such a maverick in Tony Scott’s mach-awesome action film Top Gun, in which Tom Cruise (aww, look at the little guy) is out to prove his rep in the elite flight school bearing the same name as the title. Things get complicated when he gets the hots for teacher (Kelly McGillis), and- come on, you know the plot. King of the 80s soundtrack Kenny Loggins put his foot to the floor for Danger Zone, outdoing his previous work for Footloose and Caddyshack and hitting the stride heard later in Over the Top. Well well well, it seems that Mr. Jerry Bruckheimer had something to do with this film, too. It’s like he learned almost all the secrets to producing a good movie, then killed his sensei before he could teach Jerry the five point palm exploding heart technique. For shame, Mr. B. You must now wander the earth as a ronin, not proud enough to commit seppuku. Bruckheimer’s plight does not change the fact that Tony Scott’s stellar action film is super kick ass and rocks an awesome cast, including a too cool Val Kilmer, lovable Anthony Edwards and a straight lace Tom Skerrit (is there any other kind?). Whew, this many pairs of aviator sunglasses in one film should be illegal. Check it out, or I’ll have you flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong!

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

directed by Seth Gordon

Don’t let the holiday disappointment Four Christmases deter you from seeing Seth Gordon’s doc masterpiece The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Gordon is competent behind the camera, and his subjects in this film are a testament to real life being far more entertaining (and bizarre) than fiction. The doc focuses on a Donkey Kong high score that stood for 25 years, until a self taught video game wizard attempts to break it, sparking a series of events that rival the most epic of tales. Steve Wiebe (it’s pronounced “Weebee,” chumps!) is the Rocky Balboa of the retro gaming world, a nice guy who never got a fair shake, a guy whose documented pummeling of the previous high score (held by Billy Mitchell) comes under scrutiny. Wiebe is left with no choice but to go take on the Apollo Creed of Donkey Kong, gaming samurai (self described) Billy Mitchell, heavy weight contender and owner of said high score since the early 80s, on his own turf, in a live, head to head Kong-off! Everything about this doc is top notch, from the soundtrack to the editing, from the story to the ridiculously entertaining cast of characters. The King of Kong will have you pinned to you seat and loving every minute of it.
Favorite Scene: The utter pain on Brian Kuh’s face as he explains just how difficult it is to obtain the elusive “Kill Screen” in Donkey Kong as the sounds of Steve Wiebe dominating the Fun Spot Kong machine play over his stammering, aching voice. You can’t write material this beautiful.

05 January 2010

Armageddon

directed by Michael Bay

Before he was known as the Great Ruiner (my name for him), Jerry Bruckheimer used to put on a pretty good show, and before he became the Great Ruiner, Jr. (also my name for him), Michael Bay used to work pretty well with Jerry Bruckheimer. By placing the two halves of their overblown, special effects loving, big budget medallion together, the duo unleashed the guilty pleasure force of Armageddon, the finest piece of end of the world cheese in existence. J. J. Abrams, please don't follow the same path as Bruckheimer (I see you in those opening credits, my friend). No amount of cataclysmic weather phenomena (sorry Twister, Day After Tomorrow, 2012, and any other subpar catastrophe film) or alien invasions (stay golden, ID4, Mars Attacks and Invasion of the Body Snatchers) can hold water against the sheer power of a badass asteroid careening toward earth at mind boggling speed. It’s a good thing that Billy Bob Thornton is the head of NASA, that way he can call in Bruce Willis and his team of convicts and perverts to fly into space, facing some of the harshest environments ever experienced and drill a hole in the mother. Sounds like the perfect script. This is the kind of film that just aches to be ripped apart and insulted to death, and while there are countless weaknesses (the editing, for example. Who let the new guy edit the gazillion dollar blockbuster?), Armageddon possesses that elusive element that makes it a film worthy of countless viewings. A cast boasting ridiculously complex performances by such supporting role heavyweights as Will Patton (Chick) and William Fichtner (Colonel Sharp), as well as great performances by Owen Wilson (with a relaxed comedic timing that pre-sages the improv heaven of today’s comedies), Michael Clark Duncan and Steve Buscemi only work to enhance the get-on-board-with-the-story allure of such a film. While I don’t know what was going on in the room when the Criterion meetings were taking place, apparently they saw it fit to add this gem to their canon of classics, so it has that going for it, which is nice.