What movie was that...?

30 April 2010

Legends of the Fall

directed by Edward Zwick

Edward Zwick’s sprawling American masterpiece about the Ludlow family is a rare treasure in that I wish it could go on forever, as epic and expansive as the American West itself. Zwick felt a personal connection to Jim Harrison’s novel, and it shows in the tender way he treats the material. Chronicling the family continuum, One Stab unfolds a portrait of a bond forged by time, broken by desire and made legendary by the passage of time. Zwick treats his subject matter with a temporal fluidity that gives the film an almost folklore-like quality, and James Horner composes the hell out of every scene. Anthony Hopkins gives one of the best performances of his career as Colonel Ludlow, patriarch and icon of an antique nobility. Henry Thomas brings much vulnerability and altruism to his role, and Brad Pitt earns his dreamiest dreamboat status as Tristan, macho embodiment of Romantic wildness. Mr. Z, if you ever decide to give the world a 22 hour version of this masterpiece, I would gladly ration all fluid intake to make it through every immaculate frame.

29 April 2010

The Warriors

directed by Walter Hill

Soon enough, Detroit’s cussed up veneer will be up on big screens all across this expansive globe, showing earthlings everywhere just how rough it is out here. And just like Chris Hansen and his B.S. Dateline shitfest, only the worst will make it to final cut. I’m talking about the remake of one of the coolest movies of all time, The Warriors, and how our fair city is going to look like Carpenter’s futuristic L.A. It’s like that old saying “He’s not fat. He’s my brother.” Detroit isn’t the scariest place in the U.S. (contrary to popular belief), it’s home. Anyway, I’ll stop ranting about how crappy of a shake the D gets in popular media and focus on my original plan, reviewing Walter Hill’s legendary film, The Warriors. The Warriors is a classic cult film in that everyone knows this film, even if they have never heard of it. As soon as clinking glass mingles with David Patrick Kelly’s eerie voice chanting “Warriors. Come out to plaaay,” the collective genius is tapped, and everyone knows what film you are talking about. Sure, they may say things like “Wow. I didn’t know that line was from anything,” as if quotable lines like this emerge sans any kind of context. Walter Hill is one of the true maverick (dammit, Palin and McCain! Why did you have to ruin a perfectly good word?) directors of the film world, doing his thing like Chuck Berry, and The Warriors may be his finest work. Centering around a gang battling their way through NYC to get back to their home turf on Coney Island, Hill’s hyper-stylized world of gang warfare is comic book-esque in its beauty and visceral in its energy. While I may be partial to such forgotten favorites as Streets of Fire (where Michael Pare is magnificent and Willem Defoe has way too much fun, again!), The Warriors is a cult classic in the traditional sense, and it will never die. Can you dig it?

Romeo + Juliet

directed by Baz Luhrmann

Exactly how would old Billy Shakespeare feel about his great love story getting the coked up, hurricane force abridgment treatment, courtesy of Baz Luhrmann? Snobs and purists can say what they want, but my guess is that he’d feel pretty damn good about it. Yes, Baz hacked Shakespeare’s magnificent prose down to mere tatters, and yes, he plows through the plot like a tweaked out trucker on an overnight bender, but he manages, through the chaos, to somehow tap into and exalt the spirit of one of the greatest plays in history. For it is, at its core, the whirlwind romance, the young and reckless love, the fleeting and whitehot power of youth and emotion and hormonal peaks. It’s rock and roll centuries before the term existed. Shakespeare’s talent for utilizing language is nearly unparalleled, and like Mr. S, Luhrmann understands what needs to be distilled from such rich fodder. Leo (yes, the Leo) and Claire Danes are a match made in heaven as the star crossed lovers, and John Leguizamo delivers hands down the best performance (even better than his excellent turn in Summer of Sam) of his life as Tybalt. For all of you that have been either dead or in a time warp for the last fifteen years, Luhrmann took Shakespeare’s masterpiece and rebooted it, making it present day, in Verona Beach, Ca, cutting the original dialogue to bits and changing the swords to guns (while still calling them swords). I have two final assertions to support my claim that Luhrmann’s filmic adaptation is tremendous:
  1. That Luhrmann captured the frenzied, fickle, powerful and dangerous energy of youth, love and idealism that Shakespeare made eternal in his original work.
  2. That if Luhrmann could somehow turn a new generation on to one of language’s greatest playwrights, then his bare bones adaptation is ennobled is some way.
You can hate all day, but it won’t change a thing. In fair Verona where we lay our scene, Baz Luhrmann crafted a piece of pulp classic gold that will be a thing to be treasured for a long time to come.
Note: It is quite possible that, due to the timing of this film’s release in relation to my life’s timeline, I was able to feel the power of this film more acutely than, say, if it came out five years earlier. I do not think, however, that if the very same film were to come out today, that I should regard it with any less affection, admiration or nostalgic fondness. As Maurice Sendack said when speaking about Spike Jonze, “He wasn’t afraid to make it his own.” Sometimes, too much reverence can be the slayer of inspiration.

28 April 2010

Birdemic

directed by James Nguyen

In Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner heard a mysterious voice say “If you build it, they will come.” Build it he did, and it was a great success. That same voice must have spoke to director James Nguyen as well, and it must have said something like “The more transitional shots you use, the better your film will be. And don’t worry about properly mixing your sound. No one actually listens to what’s going on in movies.” And so it went, the cautionary tale of an ecosystem gone wild, spawning winged hell creatures with appetites for human flesh. Wow, I just made this film seem way better than it actually was. It’s a monumentally terrible film, of course, and its rep is no understatement, but while other such epically atrocious films like The Room seem to work like perpetual motion machines that feed off their own devices, some films run out steam, leaving it to the audience to bridge the gap like a motivational speech given in the locker room during half time. The Burton Theatre crowd was extremely giving when it came to heckling Nguyen’s filmic catastrophe and nudging us along to its inexplicable end, but I could feel the film lagging, strangely, during its horror-esque second half. If the film were to be depicted as a pie, the “transitional shots” piece would look like Rosie O’Donnell’s wet dream. From the agonizing dialogue (I don’t think Alan Bagh managed to get out one clean, non garbled line of dialogue), to the utterly incompetent sound design, Birdemic will have you cringing for reasons completely foreign to your normal movie going experience. But Damien Carter’s musical sequence was like pure poetry.

27 April 2010

Control

directed by Anton Corbijn

The story of one of music’s brightest stars, Joy Division, is as blistering in its brevity as it is in its honesty. Sam Riley is amazing as Ian, lead singer of the band who came to be synonymous with all that is amazing in post punk, and in music in general. Riley doesn’t concern himself with strict character impersonations, which makes his performance all the more powerful, but when he is on stage during the concert sequences it’s uncanny. Corbijn is a music director at heart, and his film beats with a pulse all its own. Shot in black and white, Corbijn captures bleakness and isolation amid the English countryside. Another one that should be on any music lover’s must see list, Control is a glimpse beneath the surface of one of rock’s most enigmatic and powerful forces.

Kick-Ass

directed by Matthew Vaughn

Peter Parker never fucked shit up like the cats in Kick-Ass, Matthew Vaughn’s wild ride of a comic book film. Props to Mark Millar, who penned the vacuous Wanted (which I loathe in all of its forms), but scores with the tale of a regular kid who invents a super hero alter ego to fight crime and apathy, one awkward brawl at a time. Aaron Johnson is right on as Dave (aka Kick-Ass), but it’s Chloe Moretz who steals the show as Mindy, aka Hit Girl, a pint sized bruiser with a trucker mouth and a fistful of butterfly knives. Hit Girl rolls with Big Daddy, a crazily funny Nicholas Cage, and the duo plan to exact some much obsessed over revenge. The film has holes, but luckily those holes are filled with ballsy awesomeness that gets in your face and doesn’t flinch. Strangely enough, I was watching the news this evening and saw a story about a man who was stabbed while trying to help a woman in trouble, and as he bled out on a sidewalk, a security camera caught dozens of the people simply walking by the poor guy without even checking to see if he was all right, let alone call 911. I couldn’t help but recall the stellar fight sequence in which Kick-Ass does something similar, and when he is accused of being crazy, his reply is cutting and telling. Maybe we can learn a little something from Kick-Ass after all. 

21 April 2010

Storm

directed by Hans-Christian Schmid

If you’re a sucker for realistic legal dramas where nothing too extravagant happens, you will have your fix with Hans-Christian Schmid’s film, Storm, starring Kerry Fox and Anamaria Marinca (of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days fame). Fox plays Hannah Maynard, heading up a legal battle in The Hague where the prosecution of a Serbian general for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia falls in the shitter after the star witness gets caught with his pants on fire. Enter Mira (Marinca), who knows more than she lets on. Schmid crafts a competent film, and for some crazy reason, I had it in my head that Storm was going to be like all those other overblown, ultra-high tech, unrealistic and shabbily realized legal films. But don’t worry, folks. Schmid avoids snipers, tapped phones, high level clearance break-ins and mysterious deep throat types, instead crafting a tale as undramatic in its attempt at reality as he can. For that, I applaud you, Mr. S.  

Unmade Beds

directed by Alexis Dos Santos

Alexis Dos Santos may not ring any bells, but in his new film, Unmade Beds, he scores one for the romantic indie film lover in all of us. Strange that I just recently devoted a review to Zach Braff’s treasure, Garden State, and here is another film just as hopeful, just as sentimental and (secretly) optimistic as Braff’s admirable feat. Dos Santos tells the story of Carlos, a Spanish teenager looking for his absent father in London, and Vera, a semi-jaded young woman in the throes of a quarter life identity crisis. Fernando Tielve was excellent as young Carlos in Guillermo Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone (if you haven’t watched his film, do so immediately), and he does not disappoint as the vulnerable, lost in the underground Axl, searching for a father and, he hopes, some solace. Deborah Francois is fabulous as Vera, also lost in the underground, searching for a pure romance that she risks losing forever. This was one of those films for which I had zero expectations other than curiosity, and when it ended, I felt somehow moved and surprised. Once again, The Burton Theatre knows what I want even before I do. Thanks, sirs. 

20 April 2010

House of Cards (A Radiohead music video)

directed by James Frost

Using 3D plotting technology instead of cameras and lighting, James Frost creates a visually mesmerizing feast for Radiohead’s aurally mesmerizing song, House of Cards. Airy and surreal, Thom Yorke croons in his way while Frost crafts an ethereal yarn about domestic sexiness that haunts and rolls. Utilizing a delicious color palette that seems eerily familiar (IBM, I’m looking at you, for your new commercials are extraordinary, but I think I know where your inspiration came from.), Frost’s music video is a logical step for Radiohead, but for everyone else it would be a leap into the unknown. Radiohead has always been ahead of the curve, so why not use 3D plotting technology instead of traditional equipment? I mean come on. Cameras? What are they, animals? In the amazing doc, For All Mankind, the astronauts talked about being able to bring up with them a record of their choosing. I’d bring Kid A, no doubt.



What record would you take to space?

19 April 2010

Badlands

directed by Terence Malick

Terence Malick, the reclusive and mysterious director responsible for some of the most beautiful films of his generation, gave the world Badlands in 1973. The early 1970s were an exciting time for independent cinema, the time of Two-Lane Blacktop and Vanishing Point, Easy Rider and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, and Malick’s film percolates with an internal energy that occasionally overflows. Martin Sheen is perfect as Kit, the James Dean idolizing misfit who finds his true love in the form of a girl named Holly, played by a truly lovely Sissy Spacek, and the pair embark on the kind of killing spree befitting such a lunatic love. Malick finds, as he does with all his films, a quiet and cripplingly melancholic core inside us all, a core we hope we never discover but feel certain of its existence, nonetheless. In Badlands, we see a budding genius already dead certain of what he wants his work to represent, not unlike a young Jack White who, even in his early Upholsterers days sounded steadfast in his musical vision. Some artists need to grow, to develop, like Radiohead or Peter Jackson, and some just know. The beautifully unprolific Malick is set to release a new film this year, and frankly, I am like a kid near Christmas.
Note: I still think that, in Malick’s hands, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road would have been a monumental filmic achievement. This is not a slap in the face to Mr. John Hillcoat, of course, for his film was incredible, but I just remember reading that book for the first time and feeling that certainty in my gut that, if it were to be a film, Malick would make it a wretchedly beautiful wonder to behold.

17 April 2010

Ready, Able

directed by Allison Schulnik

It’s hard to describe Allison Schulnik’s stop motion creation for Grizzly Bear’s Ready, Able without using the words creepy, freaky and nightmare-inducing, but let’s try. Allison constructs a truly unique world of beasts and creepily lit forest- damn, I used ‘creepy.’ The beasts transmogrify like creatures from Calvin’s (you know, the buddy of Hobbes?) most excellent nightmares- shit! Whatever, I’m giving up. Allison Schulnik spins a surreal and frightening tale that I’m not quite sure I understand, but I do know you should peep it with the lights on. Grizzly Bear has a number of interesting music videos, including an animated one for their song Deep Sea Diver (directed by Tyler Coburn) that resembles, in an odd way, Eric Anderson’s artwork. Now, if only Eric Anderson would make a few animated shorts, I would be truly happy…
Ready, Able


Deep Sea Diver

Watchmen

directed by Zach Snyder

Alex Ross set the absolute standard for all comics that followed with his epochal work, Watchmen. For decades, film companies have been clamoring to bring his comic to fruition, much to Mr. R’s chagrin. Ross never wanted anything to do with a film adaptation, so much so that he declared Snyder’s effort garbage before it even finished filming, and while he may have used strong language, his powers of clairvoyance weren’t completely off. Demonstrating, once again, the necessity for good directing, Snyder rode his 300 wave right into a deal to direct the seminal comic, and after a financial battle between Warner Bros and Fox, Watchmen the film came into the world. I’m not going to get into some nerdy rant about details in the comic not matching the film, but I will say that Snyder’s effort was a noble one indeed, and the revelatory performance by Billy Crudup stole the show. How he manages that kind of deep melancholy in his voice and face is beyond me, and Jackie Earle Haley is back like scoliosis as Rorschach, the most realistic vigilante in the comic, and comics in general. And once again, Matthew Goode is mesmerizing as Ozymandias, super hero slash super villain determined to exact a cure upon the world. In the context of the time in which the comic was written, the story is alarming and potent, but in 2000 whenever, the plot loses it edge, and Snyder makes a muddled mess of the Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II romantic relationship to the point of absurdity (maybe Patrick Wilson was a bad choice). The film has its moments, but unfortunately they only feature Crudup, Goode and Haley. Mr. Ross, you say you refuse to watch the film. I say, aside from the excellent trailers, you didn’t miss much.

16 April 2010

A Life Less Ordinary

directed by Danny Boyle

Before he was ghost writing memoirs in Roman Polanski films, Ewan McGregor played Robert, a janitor who dreamed of writing the great American trash novel (which I think is Mr. Boyle’s secret desire). When he’s replaced by cleaning robots, Robert kidnaps the boss man’s daughter. In the meantime, two divine social workers are charged with the task of helping the two find true love. I’m talking about Danny Boyle’s cult classic, A Life Less Ordinary, in which Ewan McGregor glows with the brilliance of a star. Maybe it’s because they get on so well together, but Danny Boyle is consistently able to get the best out of McGregor, be it the excellent Shallow Grave or the fantastic Trainspotting. Holly Hunter is genius as O’Reilly, partnered with Jackson (Delroy Lindo) to carry out the Big Man’s orders, and Cameron Diaz is dagger sharp as Celine, spoiled and jaded daughter to Ian Holm. The perfect blend of surreal and pop, Boyle’s A Life Less Ordinary didn’t get much love when it was released, though it doesn’t detract from the magic.
Note: Kudos to Maury Chaykin, who plays Mr. Johnson, the nuttiest and looniest “regular man” I have ever seen. Just splendid. And by the way, I should go on record by saying that any film featuring a Bobby Darin song is most likely going to rank high in my books.

Unbreakable

directed by M. Night Shyamalan

M. Night Shyamalan has made a career of pulling the wool over his audience’s eyes, and with varying effect. In The Sixth Sense, the novelty had everyone swooning, and in Signs the predictability of the curve ball was acceptable, and in The Village and The Happening, it was aggravating slash enraging, but in Unbreakable, Shyamalan strikes gold. A film that quietly floors you, Unbreakable is one of the finest comic book films ever made, a comic book film about comics themselves, about modern mythology and the kernels of truth that hide behind such fantastic tales. Bruce Willis is phenomenal, as is Samuel L. Jackson, and the silent spaces between Shyamalan’s words speak volumes. It’s one of those films that, when it ends, leaves with a feeling that you can’t quite articulate, but feel intensely, a feeling that lingers. Be ready.

15 April 2010

The Room

directed by Tommy Wiseau

Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is a paradox in that no amount of praise can do it justice and, conversely, no amount of ridicule can do it justice, either. Wiseau’s famously terrible film is as incompetent and brilliantly entertaining as they come, revolving around a bizarrely bizarre love triangle, breast cancer that is only mentioned once, then never brought up again, and possibly some drugs. I’m foregoing my own take on the film, instead providing a whirlwind synopsis that I hope will help inform your decision. Let’s begin with a seemingly harmless question:
“What’s this film The Room about?”
Well…
So, the room is about this guy named Johnny and his fiancée, Lisa, and they live in this apartment where everyone comes to visit, but no one can stay longer than like 4 minutes. Now, all Johnny wants to do is get married and have little potato-skinned babies with Lisa, but she is cheating on him with his best friend Mark, who looks like Kenny Loggins circa his Danger Zone glory days but sounds like a cheap Owen Wilson impersonator. There’s also this kid named Denny who’s always barging in creepily and getting in on Johnny’s sexy pillow fights, but the two play catch in a horribly cramped and weird alley with a guy who makes the stupidest faces in cinema. Lisa’s mom gets breast cancer, then never talks about it again, and Lisa claims that Johnny hit her, so Johnny yells, “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!” For no reason, Denny gets attacked by a drug dealer in the worst roof scene blue screen ever, but Johnny fights him off, and then Johnny, Mark, Denny and Thomas Dolby play tuxedo catch, but apparently the wedding doesn’t happen afterward (so why the hell were they wearing tuxes?). Johnny says “Hi Denny,” and “Bye, doggy,” Mark says “Johnny’s my best friend” like three thousand times, and then Johnny yells “You all betray me!” at his party. And there are a bunch of pictures of spoons all over the place. I am not going to spoil any more for you, but I have to urge you to see this gem for yourself, and if you live in Southeast Michigan, The Burton will be featuring it monthly at midnight. For those of you who hate the film, you can keep your stupid thoughts in your pocket!

You're tearing me apart!

The Thin Red Line

directed by Terence Malick

Terence Malick’s film about WWII is potent, poetic and powerful, a true tour de force that builds up steam slowly, blowing you away with the final scene much like his most recent film, The New World. It’s a final scene that must be earned, however, and none of Malick’s films are films you can just pop in whenever and watch. You have to want it, to need it, almost. The cast list alone would take up an entire page, and rest assured, everyone is astoundingly wonderful, and in Malick’s hands, the total is far greater than the sum of its parts. Ethereal and profound, serene and melancholy, The Thin Red Line is one of the best war films of all time and a true film in every sense of the word.

14 April 2010

The Ghost Writer

directed by Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski may be in the Swiss Gulag (which is probably more luxurious than most hostels in Belgium), but he is rare form in his newest and most fun film in ages. Speaking of firsts in ages, Ewan McGregor tears into the role of The Ghost, a reluctant replacement hired to finish the memoir of an on the rocks British Prime Minister, and finds more than he bargained for. I think you finally performed the horrific travesty that was The Island out of my memory, and for that, I am grateful, Mr. McG. Polanski has fun creating mystery and suspicion everywhere, from the gardener to the housekeeper to the CIA. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so effing well done, like hearing John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats quote Biggie in a song. Smart, suspenseful, and slick, The Ghost Writer will have your wheels turning. 

Hustle & Flow

directed by Craig Brewer

It’s hard out here for a pimp, and for Craig Brewer, getting such an excellent film made was one of those hard things. With the help of John Singleton, Brewer, armed with a fantastic story and supreme acting talent, spits the raw story of one man’s struggle to contribute his verse. Terence Howard nails the performance of his career as DJay, small time pimp scratching out a living in the dirty South. A chance meeting with an old school friend (Anthony Anderson) helps D find a channel for his mode, a vehicle for getting himself heard. Matching Howard’s amazing performance is a heartbreakingly lovely Taraji P. Henson, who has the ability to brighten even the darkest of places. Why didn’t the wonderful Ms. Henson win an Oscar for that, by the way? Shame on you, Academy. Brewer struck out with his sophomore attempt, Black Snake Moan, but it doesn’t affect the bristling energy of one of the finest hip hop films ever made. Mad credit to Al Kapone, Lil Jon, Three 6 Mafia and all members of the musical crew responsible for crafting such a killer soundtrack.

13 April 2010

Birdemic (trailer)

Get your asses the hell to The Burton for this one:

12 April 2010

Pleasantville

directed by Gary Ross

What begins as a cutesy yawnfest grows into a stunningly powerful film about equality, humanity and the power of finding your own voice. Too bad it ends the way it starts, but what happens in between is the stuff of classics. Gary Ross, the talent who penned Big, uses the sterilized Americana of 50s television as a metaphor for the civil inequality that still permeates this country. Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon play siblings who get zapped into the Leave it to Beaver-esque town of Pleasantville, where everything is pleasant, and boring. And black and white. When the pair start adding a little modern flair to town (by flair, I mean sex. And books. Sexy, sexy books), they start a domino effect that topples the town’s prudish nature and opens their eyes to something more. Jeff Daniels is remarkable as the Pleasantville’s diner proprietor, and Joan Allen is tremendous as Betty, naïve mother and yearning wife of a stellar William H. Macy. Pleasantville is a bit too clever for its own good at times, but it captures a feeling at its high points that leave you hopeful for what tomorrow may bring.

Sin City

directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller

Robert Rodriguez’s love affair with Frank Miller’s graphic novels is as potent as they come in the first of (hopefully) three installments meant to encompass the whole series. Shot on a Texas back lot in like no time, Rodriguez treats Miller’s tales with a bloody reverence befitting such cult classics. Mickey Rourke explodes as Marv, seeing red after a romantic encounter ends in murder, and he gets the frame up. Benicio Del Toro musters all the smarm he can in a truly phenomenal performance, and Clive Owen sinks his teeth into a role that treads the line between righteous and ridiculous. Elijah Wood rocks (and rolls) as the anti-Charlie Brown, a cannibalistic psychopath on the prowl for his next meal, and Rosario Dawson puts on her best goth bitch strut as Gail, leader of a gang of hookers fully intent on protecting their turf. I could go on, from the amazing Bruce Willis to the stomach turning Nick Stahl, to the late Brittany Murphy’s finest performance, but why bother? It speaks for itself, loudly. Sin City is a milestone in film and one of the ultimate comic adaptations. For those of you who doubt RR’s genius (claiming that it was all Miller’s content and style, and blah blah blah) need to see exhibit A in the case for a talented director, exhibit A being the schlockfest that was Frank Miller’s solo directorial effort, The Spirit. It was all Frank Miller’s content and all his stylist choices and, well, you saw what happened to that tragedy. Those of you looking for the real deal, the film that could kick Sky Captain’s eurotrash ass, need look no further than Sin City.

11 April 2010

All That Heaven Allows

directed by Douglas Sirk

Jane Wyman plays Carrie, widowed suburban woman whose hots for Walden loving arborist Ron Kirby (the ever handsome Roc Hudson) force her to choose between her shallow social scene and true love. Carrie is torn and doesn’t know what to do, and Ron just wants her to be a man, but only in that one way (I couldn’t help the joke, folks, or the stellar move quote. Desolee), and to be comfortable with defying the “norms” set forth by her peers. Meanwhile, Ron’s friend advises him that “women don’t want to make up their minds. They want their minds made up for them,” and that he should will her to love him more. Amid the convention of 50’s society, Sirk tries to break it, with mixed results. Some of it seems adorably out of touch and backward, but what endures is the story of two people who love for love’s sake, not for gain or acceptance. And who would turn down a chance to watch Jane Wyman worry and Roc Hudson smolder? 

09 April 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine

directed by Steve Pink

What kind of synopsis, or even back story do you need right here? Exactly. None. In fact, I think the film itself should have started honestly, with the lead cast sitting on a sofa and giving it to the audience straight: “Hi, we’re the excellent cast of this wafer thin premise of a film, and we’re here to give whatever back story you need to get you up to speed. I’m John, and I’m the sad bastard a-hole whose girlfriend just left me because I’m a zero effort jerk. This is Craig, and he is the nice guy chump who lets life walk all over him. And over here is Rob, the living in the past animal who is defined by his previous failures. For all you youngins out there, this is Clark, who will serve as your link to the present and will reference non-80s things that will make you laugh. We’re all unsatisfied for different reasons, but here we are, so let’s fuck this duck!” I don’t know what’s thinner than a wafer, but if such a thing existed, it would resemble Hot Tub’s plot. But who cares? It’s all winking into the camera and references to other movies we all love because they did it better. Back to the Future, High Fidelity, Grosse Pointe Blank, and- are you kidding me? I can't believe my eyes! Crispin Glover in one of his funniest performances! I almost expected him to say “Hey you. Get your damn hands off her!” That, by the way, is part of the genius of Crispin Glover. He turns up where you least expect him, and he’s always top notch. I have a feeling that Steve Pink’s history with Cusack (he wrote High Fidelity and Grosse Pointe Blank, btw) is what got him on board, and with actors as smart as the entire cast of this film, you don’t need much of anything on which to string a series of events and nostalgic references to one of the worst decades in America. It’s a good time, to be sure. And what exactly did happen in Cincinnati?

Across the Universe

directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Set the hot tub to the late 90s, or just check the special features on your DVD copy of Pleasantville for a glimpse of Paul Thomas Anderson trying his hand at a music video, Fiona Apple’s cover of Across the Universe. Not quite the harmonium sequences from his stellar film, Punch Drunk Love, Anderson shows a flare for the dramatic, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is the way in which Anderson can hardly takes his lens off of a radiant and serene Fiona Apple, songstress with whom he was involved with at the time. Though I don’t have much to go on given Anderson’s camera shy nature, I’m sure it was a crazy love, a strange love made all the more brilliant by its craziness. Anderson follows Apple like a fixated lover, desperate to fill his senses with her very essence, straying for only moments throughout to capture the violence of ignorance, or simply losing her by virtue of her coyness. It’s really quite touching. There is something about Fiona Apple that draws you in, makes you wonder, and Anderson seeks to convey that mystique, to bottle it, to capture it and file it for posterity. And is that John C Reilly plundering the jukebox?

06 April 2010

Zoolander

directed by Ben Stiller

One of my all time favorite Ben Stiller films, not to mention one of the most underappreciated (in its time) comedies of the past decade, Zoolander has a ball lampooning hipster culture, celebrity culture, culture culture and whatever else Stiller can get his hands on. He’s like Brando in The Wild One. “What are you parodying?” and Stiller replies “What do you got?” Following up the fantastic Reality Bites and the ahead of its time The Cable Guy, Stiller spins a new version of The Manchurian Candidate, this time using the ruthless world of male modeling as his backdrop. Owen Wilson, actually acting for one of the few times in his career (not just playing various versions of himself, Vince Vaughn and Jack Nicholson style) is totally hot right now as Hansel, part nemesis, part best friend to Stiller’s Derek. Chock full of priceless cameos, including Jon Voight (uproarious), Vince Vaughn (supreme), David Bowie (glamorous) and Billy Zane (too school for school, my friend). And peep a sinister Justin Theroux as the evil DJ, and a wonderfully intense Andrew Wilson as Hansel’s corner man during the walk-off. Truly a side splitter, Zoolander takes the cake as one of Stiller finest films. Stiller succeeded in this endeavor a second time with Tropic Thunder, but it will take a few years for it to catch on. Give it time, Mr. S. The world is barely ready for Magnum as it is.

05 April 2010

Greenberg

directed by Noah Baumbach

I’ve come to the conclusion that I am not the biggest fan of Noah Baumbach and his edginess. I don’t mean edginess in the sense of pushing the boundaries of film or storytelling. I mean edginess in the sense of it being a symptom of withdrawal. Have you ever had a friend who smokes, and they’re all fun and easy to hang out with? Until they quit, that is. And once they quit, they’re all edgy and snappy and so very easily irritated. Not to mention the way their personality goes from likeable to grating in like 3 seconds. Well, I find Baumbach’s films to have a similar effect. You can see his influence on the underappreciated Wes Anderson film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, where Wes manages to find a middle ground between the whimsically gaudy pattern of his own style and sourpuss killjoy of Baumbach’s, so that all of Bill Murray’s jackassness seems almost endearing and humorously curmudgeon-like. Left to his own devices, Baumbach seems to stew in it, and though Ben Stiller did a fantastic job in the lead, I never really felt for the guy on that visceral level. Fans of Baumbach’s “Anderson sans the quirk” will definitely enjoy it, and fans of great acting will appreciate both Stiller and the wonderful Greta Gerwig, not to mention an excellently underplayed performance by Rhys Ifans. I could see the point, out there in the distance, but maybe I’m just not as cynical slash romantic as Baumbach.
Note: Probably the highlight of my film going experience that night was walking out of the theater to find a car, engulfed in flames, rolling to a stop on Main Street whilst two men staggered away from it, coughing and yelling at some kid to call the police. The tires exploded, the gas tank exploded twice, and the whole car nearly burned out before the fire department could get a hose on it. What great topper to my night.

Garden State

directed by Zach Braff

Zach Braff’s stab at writing, directing and leading a film prove to be an admirable success, as evidenced by the outstanding film, Garden State, in which Braff plays a struggling actor returning home after 9 years to attend his mother’s funeral. Avoiding his father (who is also his shrink), and reconnecting with some old friends doesn’t seem to do much good until Braff meets Sam (an extraordinary Natalie Portman), a chronic liar who just may be the thing he needs. Braff shows a flair for navigating the never-ending abyss, and his film is a gem that inspires through its earnestness. It is goofy, dramatic (sometimes too much so) and entirely too convenient at times, but Braff crafts a good film that I don’t begrudge him for in any way. It’s no classic, mind you, which is also what makes it great. A fleeting jewel, a comet. It’s not so amazing that you wonder how such Faulknerian genius came from some Jersey kid, but it is good enough to give you hope that you, a regular person, can craft a thing into existence that peers into that abyss, and gives it a wink.