Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Lots of snow today. Lots of new DVD's to watch. The line-up:


Just finished AMERICAN TEEN. It was entertaining.

Happy New Year.


I loved the first CRANK. Loved it. Found it to be glorious trash. That said, I am almost scared to see the sequel now. Check out this R-rated trailer below. This movie looks beyond crazy. In the best possible way.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


James Gray is one of the more underrated filmmakers currently working. His films, which include LITTLE ODESSA, THE YARDS, and WE OWN THE NIGHT, have all centered on crime and loyalty. His newest, TWO LOVERS, which hits theaters in Februrary, is a dramatic love story with Joaquin Phoenix (who he has now worked with three times), Gwyneth Paltrow (looking really hot), and Vinessa Shaw (also looking saucy). I love the moody texture and cinematography that this trailer shows off. Really looking forward to this one.

Monday, December 29, 2008


GHOST TOWN (***) is a frothy little rom-com. It's nothing great, nothing you haven't really seen before, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't work. Anchored by a bitterly funny lead performance from Ricky Gervais (EXTRAS, THE OFFICE UK), the film moves along at a quick pace and is worth checking out if you're looking for some light entertainment. Written and directed by big-budget scripter David Koepp (JURASSIC PARK, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, SNAKE EYES, STIR OF ECHOES), GHOST TOWN recycles elements from GHOST and HEAVEN CAN WAIT and injects enough new blood into the narrative to form an amusing story with a nice, late-in-the-game twist. Gervais is Bertram, a sarcastic NYC dentist who pretty much detests the human race in general. After a stange occurence during a routine proctology exam, Bertram gains the ability to see and converse with ghosts. One of these ghosts is Frank (Greg Kinnear), who has just been hit by a bus, and can't figure out why he hasn't gone to heaven yet. It seems that anyone who has died with unfinished business on earth can't immediately be sent to the afterlife; they need to tidy up all their loose ends. Frank's loose end is his widowed wife Gwen (the always appealing Tea Leoni), who he was cheating on, and who is looking to get married to a new-age stooge played by the Rocketeer himself, Billy Campbell. Frank asks Bertram to help him get messages to Gwen, in order to clear his conscience. But wouldn't you know it, Bertram starts to fall in love with Gwen. The film works largely because of it's performances. Gervais, a master of dead-pan delivery who has impeccable comedic timing and delivery, is basically playing a version of his character on EXTRAS, which is perfectly fine. Kinnear adds yet another solid supporting performance to his resume, and Leoni, always the hottie, makes for a suitable object of affection. There are a handful of clever lines of dialogue, the film is stylish without ever being overly flashy, and it doesn't outstay its welcome. Koepp, who's first film, THE TRIGGER EFFECT, is one of my favorite underrated gems, seems to be quite fascinated by ghost stories, as STIR OF ECHOES and SECRET WINDOW also covered otherworldly ground. GHOST TOWN isn't amazing but it's fun enough to recommend.


I love how this flick opens the weekend that I am getting married.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


DOUBT (****) is one of the most thought provoking films of the year. A trio of powerhouse performances courtesy of Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams are at center stage of this small, intimate drama. My full review will be posted soon, but this is yet another excellent late-year release in a movie year that has really come alive in the last few weeks.

Also on deck are full reviews for two of the best movies of the year, SYNECDOCHE, NY (****) and THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (****). I'll also be posting a quick DVD review of the cute rom-com GHOST TOWN (***).

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Tarsem’s THE FALL (****)
Danny Boyle’s SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (****)
Charlie Kaufman’s SYNECDOCHE, NY (****)
Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT (****)
James Marsh’s MAN ON WIRE (****)
Andrew Stanton’s WALL*E (****)
Jonathan Demme’s RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (****)
David Gordon Green’s SNOW ANGELS (****)

I hope to be seeing either DOUBT or THE READER tomorrow.

Friday, December 26, 2008


David Fincher's THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (****) is a masterpiece. Not much more needs to be said at the moment. After seeing the film today, it's been impossible to not think about. It's a film of uncompromising beauty -- it's easily one of the most gorgeous films I've ever seen in my lifetime of movie watching. But at the center of the experience is a tender, incredibly romantic love story, which is one of the best (and one of my favorites) in recent memory. I can't wait to delve into my full review for this work of art. I plan on seeing it again before writing anything official. I am only slightly hesitant to say that it's the best film I've seen this year, because I truly feel that THE FALL is a one-of-a-kind cinematic effort and like nothing I've ever seen. However, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON marks a massive leap for Fincher as an artist and storyteller; a best director Oscar nomination is certainly in the cards. Eric Roth, yet again, demonstrates his masterly touch with words, story, and structure, crafting an impeccable, literate, deeply emotional screenplay. The production design and cinematography are things of movie-magic -- you've never seen a film look quite like this before. And the visual effects, at once both subtle and epic, are some of the best ever created. Oh, and did I mention a quietly moving and possible career-best performance from Brad Pitt and, surprise-surprise, yet another stellar piece of acting from Cate Blanchett? This film has it all. It's a film to see with someone who's important to you.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


I didn't expect much from THE HOUSE BUNNY (**). Written by the LEGALLY BLONDE team of Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith and nominally directed by Fred Wolf (STRANGE WILDERNESS), I rented this piece of harmless garbage because of one reason: Anna Faris. I am a big fan of this girl. She kills me. There's something about the way she does the "clueless blonde airhead" that just makes me laugh. Hard. The problem with THE HOUSE BUNNY is that its star is better than the material. The simple set-up is that Shelley (Faris), a Playboy bunny but not yet a centerfold, gets kicked out of Hef's mansion because she's too old (27...ha-ha). With nowhere to go, she stumbles upon a University campus and finagles her way into a dumpy sorority with the idea of becoming "house mother" to the rag-tag group of girls. The Zeta house is in shambles. Without enough new pledges, the house will be lost and the sorority will be shut down. All of the current members are weirdos and dorks of varying degrees (one wears a full body brace, one looks more like a man than a woman, one is still a virgin, etc.). Shelley gives them all a makeover, cleans up the house, throws some parties, and shows them all how to attract guys. The problem is that the script, stuck in the confines of the PG-13 rating, never does anything remotely surprising with it's fairly clever concept. It's all incredibly predictable and the filmmaking is shoddy around the edges. Yet because of Faris' involvement, the film remains watchable, and in some cases, quite funny. Sure, the jokes are easy and obvious, but Faris is so damn winning, so cute, so spunky, and so confident in the role that she makes the brisk 90 minute run time fly by. She's been a major standout in just about everything she's appeared in. She kicked off the SCARY MOVIE franchise with panache. She stole the few scenes that she appeared in during LOST IN TRANSLATION, playing a hollow, Cameron Diaz-esque actress. She stole the show in the underrated but crude rom-com JUST FRIENDS. She was a comedic tour de force in the independent stoner comedy SMILEY FACE. And she had a lot of fun playing herself a few seasons ago on ENTOURAGE. It's jut a shame that the script didn't serve her better in THE HOUSE BUNNY. Lutz and Smith have done good comedy writing before; 10 THINS I HATE ABOUT YOU and LEGALLY BLONDE were both solid genre entries. But THE HOUSE BUNNY is the epitome of undemanding, lazy entertainment. A solid idea is more or less wasted but intermittently saved whenever Faris shows up and ignites her inner comedic spark plug. THE HOUSE BUNNY is an effective-enough time waster, something to catch on HBO.

Oh, and did I mention that she's pretty hot?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


I am very curious about the upcoming fantasy adventure flick LAND OF THE LOST, based on the trippy 1970's television series from Sid and Marty Kroft. The film has been directed by Brad Silberling (CASPER, MOONLIGHT MILE, CITY OF ANGELS, LEMONY SNICKET), a filmmaker who's work I have mostly enjoyed, and it stars Will Ferrell and Danny McBride, who pretty much ruled the big-screen comedy circuit this year, with hilarious, scene-stealing performances in two of the decade's best comedies, TROPIC THUNDER and PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. I'm betting that LAND OF THE LOST is gonna shoot for a kid-friendly, PG-rating, but that doesn't mean it can't be funny; see ELF as proof of a PG-rated family comedy that was hysterical. The idea of the film centers on Ferrell, McBride, and Anna Friel (of TV's PUSHING DAISIES) as a group of explorers/adventurers who stumble upon a fantastical land inhabited by dinosaurs and strange creatures. There's no trailer yet but one should be getting released soon. The film is currently scheduled to hit theaters on June 5, 2009.

Monday, December 22, 2008


Films like MARRIED LIFE (***) don't come around too often. Ira Sachs' neo-noir was given a limited release early this year but I doubt many people are familiar with it. Which is weird given its tony cast: Chris Cooper, Pierce Brosnan, Patricia Clarkson, and Rachel McAdams. A highly stylized cross of Todd Haynes' superior FAR FROM HEAVEN and the work of Alfred Hitchcock, MARRIED LIFE is a low-key entertainment with a script that bounces back and forth between predictable and surprising. Set in 1949 in a suburb outside of NY, the film centers on Harry Allen (a tamped down Chris Cooper), unhappily married to his wife Pat (Patricia Clarkson, solid as always), who decides to murder his wife in order to spare her of the humiliation of divorce. Harry has met the alluring vixen Kay (Rachel McAdams, cute and dangerous) who he wants to run away with. The problem is that Harry's debonair friend Richard (Pierce Brosnan, oozing sex-appeal) also has eyes on Kay. The script by Sachs and Oren Moverman (I'M NOT THERE) is tight (the film is a crisp 90 minutes) but there is no depth to the story. We get some satirical jabs about domestic life in the early 50's but the tone is a bit scattered. There's a thriller element introduced about half-way through the narrative, and while there are a few moments of surprise, you can mostly predict where the story is going. But I have to give some credit to Sachs. This is an independent film which probably had a limited budget but you'd never know from the look of it. Beautifully shot by Peter Deming (I HEART HUCKABEES) with gorgeous period detail in the production design by Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski (SNATCH, DIRTY PRETTY THINGS), MARRIED LIFE has a time time-capsule quality much in the same way that the television show MAD MEN has. Evocative of wealthy suburban life from roughly 60 years ago, the film is always visually impressive and all of the performances are top-notch, especially Cooper and Brosnan. Cooper has made a career out of playing the dour, put-upon schnook and in MARRIED LIFE, he's able to take his character in few interesting psychological directions. And Brosnan, who will always have that James Bond twinkle in the corner of his eyes, is smooth as brandy and very likable even when playing an unlikable character. MARRIED LIFE isn't a life changer, but it's a solid throwback to the melodramas of yesteryear.


When you're snowed in your apartment all weekend what's better than constantly watching DVD's? From last Friday afternoon through last night, here's a rundown of what I caught up with, either in full, or in parts:

MARRIED LIFE (in full, mini-review coming up)
WALL*E (in full)
TRANSFORMERS (the last 45 minutes courtesy of HBO HD)
THE FALL (the first hour)
TROPIC THUNDER (the last hour)
THE DARK KNIGHT (all of Heath's scenes and the truck flip)
SNOW ANGELS (the middle section)
THE ISLAND (the jet-bike, train-wheel sequence)

Friday, December 19, 2008


Tarsem’s THE FALL (****)
Danny Boyle’s SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (****)
Charlie Kaufman’s SYNECDOCHE, NY (****)
Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT (****)
James Marsh’s MAN ON WIRE (****)
Andrew Stanton’s WALL*E (****)
Jonathan Demme’s RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (****)
David Gordon Green’s SNOW ANGELS (****)
Ben Stiller’s TROPIC THUNDER (****)

Mike Leigh’s HAPPY-GO-LUCKY (****)
Martin McDonagh’s IN BRUGES (****)
Clint Eastwood’s CHANGELING (****)
David Gordon Green’s PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (****)
Matt Reeves’ CLOVERFIELD (****)
Joel & Ethan Coen’s BURN AFTER READING (****)
Marc Forster’s QUANTUM OF SOLACE (****)
Martin Scorsese’s SHINE A LIGHT (****)
Roger Donaldson’s THE BANK JOB (****)
Stephen Walker’s YOUNG @ HEART (****)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

REVIEW: MILK (***1/2)

The fact that Gus Van Sant’s new film MILK (***1/2) isn’t great doesn’t mean that it’s not important. Or very, very good. Van Sant, who earlier this year directed the more challenging PARANOID PARK, is back on more commercial ground with MILK, a traditional biopic about San Francisco city politician Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay politician in the U.S. Sean Penn delivers, as you’d expect, a splendid performance as Milk, and the entire supporting cast, including James Franco, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, and Diego Luna all offer fantastic supporting turns. What keeps MILK from reaching greatness is the paint-by-numbers screenplay by Dustin Lance Black. Not that it’s bad; far from it. It’s well researched, the dialogue is sharp, it’s never boring and at times it’s quite fascinating. It’s just that you never learn all that much about who Harvey Milk was as a person. I went into the movie with only a broad-stroke background of Harvey Milk and his accomplishments. And after I left the theater, I couldn’t really say that I learned much more about him other than what I already knew. Still, the film is beautifully put together by Van Sant and his excellent creative team (the incomparable Harris Savides is the cinematographer), and the performances elevate the entire production. However, what makes MILK so important in today’s society is that the messages and ideas that Harvey Milk was preaching are still topical in our landscape today. With the recent passing of Prop-8, this film is as timely as ever.
Harvey Milk stood up for the entire gay community in the United States when nobody else dared to speak up for what they knew was right. This made him both loved and hated; wherever he went and whatever he did, his actions provoked passionate responses from everyone who crossed paths with him. After moving to San Francisco (he grew up in New York), Milk became a gay rights activist and then later, a city politician. After a few attempts, he was elected to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors in 1977, which made him the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in our country. A year after his election, he was gunned down by a recently-fired city supervisor named Dan White (Brolin), who also killed city mayor George Moscone. Black’s straight-trajectory original screenplay focuses on the last few years of Milk’s life, and anchored by the conceit that Milk is reciting his life-story into a voice-recorder, the viewer gets treated to a highlight-reel style narrative that touches briefly upon some of his personal relationships as well as his political career. What is missing in depth is made up for in sweep. This is a movie that dispenses a great deal if information, introduces you to a wide range of characters, and lays out the facts cleanly and concisely.

Penn, who will undoubtedly be nominated for Best Actor by the Academy for his searing work in this film, is an actor who knows no emotional bounds when it comes to creating an indelible on-screen character. He embodies Harvey Milk with soul, fire, and supreme confidence. Here was a man who decided that enough is enough – it’s time to set things right for himself and everyone like him. Penn breezes through the film with likable ease, and because death hangs over the proceedings so ominously, there is genuine sadness when he meets his ultimate fate. The other performers are all up to the task as well. Franco, playing Milk’s lover and first campaign strategist Scott Smith, gives one of the best performances of his career; combined with his hilarious turn in PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, this is a banner year for Franco. Penn and Franco, from the first scene, generate real on-screen chemistry. Brolin is fantastic as the confused and desperate White, a man who may or may not have been gay himself. The filmmakers certainly feel that White was probably a homosexual but that he was too scared to give into his true feelings and desires. Brolin, in a role that could have been oppressively one-note, brings layers of emotion to the role of White. A supporting actor nomination should be in order. This is also a banner year for Brolin, with this excellent performance as well as his tremendous work in W. Hirsch, who last year set the screen on fire in INTO THE WILD, registers strongly as Cleve Jones, one of Milk’s political strategists. And Luna, playing Milk’s emotionally troubled boyfriend Jack Lira, brings skittish, nervous energy to every scene he appears in; you never quite know what will happen when he’s on screen.

Van Sant has led an extremely eclectic career as a filmmaker. Over the last few years, he’s embarked on some seriously challenging – both narratively and visually – pieces of work, including ELEPANT, GERRY, LAST DAYS, and PARANOID PARK. These films, with their super-long stedicam tracking shots, overlapping and sometimes oblique narratives, and austere style, have often been compared to the work of Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr, in that they are more interested in mood, atmosphere, and internal, suppressed emotions rather than obvious plot points, easy sentimentality, or external emotional fireworks. But the one thing that MILK shares with these more experimental efforts is Van Sant’s fascination with death, and how death lingers over everyone, at all times. Working with master cinematographer Savides for the fifth time (he also shot FINDING FORRESTER, GERRY, ELEPHANT and LAST DAYS for Van Sant, as well as last year’s AMERICAN GANGSTER, ZODIAC, and MARGOT AT THE WEDDING), Van Sant seamlessly blends archival footage with vivid re-creations of San Francisco in the late ’70’s. It’s sort of like a visually thematic cousin to the work that Savides did with David Fincher on last year’s criminally underrated masterpiece ZODIAC. Danny Elfman’s score isn’t intrusive but offers wonderful moments of musical inspiration and Elliot Graham’s fluid editing keeps the two-hour run time moving along at a swift but unhurried pace.

Finally, and even though the screenplay could’ve dug a bit deeper into Milk’s psyche, MILK is an important movie for any number or reasons. Like BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, it’s an important step forward for Hollywood in that the studios are finally realizing that they should be making films about the gay community. The fact that Harvey Milk fought against something as inane as Proposition 6 roughly 30 years ago echoes what so many people are going through right now with Proposition 8. Who cares about how someone chooses to live their lives? If they’re not bothering you, then what do you care? If it’s religion, then, well, hey, what the hell can I say? Religion and religious-fueled hatred has tainted so much of our world that I feel we’ll never fully come back from all of it. The people that opposed Milk back in the day, the Anita Bryant’s and Dan White’s, have been replaced by similar fear mongers and cultural haters, both inside and outside of the political world. Harvey Milk stood for something, an ideal if you will. And with an actor like Penn, he of gravitas and generosity, Milk’s legacy gets a powerful moment in the cinematic sun up on the big screen.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (****) is bursting at its seams with energy, ambition, and vibrant style. After you cut through the hyperactively arresting visual style of the film (which comes across as both vintage Tony Scott and Fernando Meirrelles), one is left with a simple, timeless, old-fashioned love story that really digs its hooks into you. Directed by the genre-hopping British filmmaker Danny Boyle (SUNSHINE, TRAINSPOTTING, MILLIONS), SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is always entertaining even when the story takes dark turns. Like all films, it is a work that should be experienced with as little known about it as possible before entering the theater. Mixing high Hollywood style and conceits with the rambunctious spirit of Bollywood, Boyle, and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (THE FULL MONTY), have crafted an explosive piece of cinema that takes the viewer to a place that they’ve never been before and serves as a potent reminder of how lucky most of us are to be living in our insulated, protected lifestyles. I had read a ton of hype before finally seeing SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, which created the chance that the film might not live up to all of the buzz it had been receiving. I was not disappointed. This is easily one of the year’s finest efforts, and a film that I am anxiously looking forward to seeing for a second time.
Adapted by Beaufoy from the novel “Q&A” by Vikas Swarup, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE tells the wild tale of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel, making a strong debut), a boy from the slums of Mumbai, who as a late teenager, finds himself as a contestant on the game show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” Jamal, portrayed by three different actors (all of whom are immensely talented, especially Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, who plays Jamal as a young boy), wants nothing more than to be reunited with the girl he’s loved since childhood. Her name is Latika (Frieda Pinto, who, it must be said, is utterly gorgeous). Jamal met Latika after he and his older brother, Salim, had been separated from their mother after a tragic bit of religion-fueled violence. Orphans of the slums, Jamal, Salim, and Latika bounce from one impoverished area to the next, getting mixed up with shady characters all throughout. But the hook of SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is what makes it so immensely watchable and exciting. Jamal has made it to the last round of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” and the show’s producers and local authorities are desperate to know how a “slumdog” like Jamal could possibly know all of the answers to the various questions that he’s been asked on the competition. He’s got to be cheating, right? The film pivots on emotionally intense flashbacks that show how Jamal gained all of the knowledge that he’s been dispensing on the game show. How it all ends, I will leave that up to you to discover. But what I will concede is that there are more than a few surprises to be had, and if you have any sort of heart in your body, it will be impossible for you not to be swept up by the dizzying narrative and visual force of this hard-charging film.

Boyle has been one of the most eclectic filmmakers working on the fringes of Hollywood over the last decade. He burst onto the scene with the Ewan McGregor thriller SHALLOW GRAVE, which for a low-budget debut, was pretty damn fine. Then, he tackled TRAINSPOTTING, and garnered instant worldwide acclaim. Then, a few stumbles – the ill-conceived A LIFE LESS ORDINARY and the half-good, half-dumb THE BEACH. Then, he single-handedly redefined the modern zombie movie with 28 DAYS LATER, a horror-thriller that has set the template for all of the recent zombie films to have been cranked out over the last few years. Next up was the charming and completely different film MILLIONS, a moving children’s story that serves as sort of a warm up to SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. And last year, Boyle made an interesting sci-fi movie called SUNSHINE, which started off brilliantly, but was derailed in its final act by a ludicrous plot development. Still, even when the scripts that Boyle is working with fail him from moment-to-moment, he’s a filmmaker with a burning sense of style and a level of edginess which makes all of his films immediately interesting. To say that SLUMDOG MILLIONAIE is his best, most complete, and most overtly satisfying picture would be no small compliment; for the last 12 years he’s been one of the most exciting filmmakers making films.

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE works on all levels. The incredible, break-neck cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle (who also shot 28 DAYS LATER and MILLIONS) is pure visual delight. Mixing film speeds and stocks and employing highly versatile HD cameras, the viewer is taken directly into the middle of the slums and shown a world that is both beautiful yet hauntingly poor. During the opening credits, the camera races with Jamal and his friends around the ghettos, and you really get an eye-opening sense of what it must be like to live in this part of the world. There are images in SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE that are too amazing to spoil and that are impossible to forget. The razor-sharp editing by Chris Dickens (HOT FUZZ, SHAUN OF THE DEAD) compliments Mantle’s raggedly beautiful images and when coupled with the eclectic musical score put together by A.R. Rahman, the results are nothing short of dazzling. The budget on SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE couldn’t have been huge, but these filmmakers get serious bang for their buck. There is an eye-popping sense of speed, detail, and color in this film, making it one of the most distinctive looking films in recent memory.

But all of the technical accomplishments of SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE would mean nothing if the story didn’t work and if you didn’t love its characters. Well, I’m happy to report that this film is the total package. Jamal is someone who the audience will instantly be rooting for. As played by Patel, Jamal is a young man who knows exactly what he wants but has to creatively figure out how to get it. Watching him trying to get back to Latika will give some people a heart-ache. All of the actors bring natural ease to their roles which is interesting in that many of them are making their on-screen debuts. Boyle has an uncanny ability to coax brilliant performances out of child actors; see MILLIONS for further proof. Beaufoy’s script mixes violent incident with the sentimental and it works in a way that so few films of this sort ever achieve. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is a film about living life to its fullest, no matter what you’re situation is, and never settling for anything less than what you love and believe in. When the Oscar nominations are announced in about a month, I will not be surprised when this film gets some serious love from the Academy. It’s an old-school film at heart made fresh by new-school technique. It’s a masterpiece for Boyle. Bravo.


I won't be seeing it until sometime next week but I am pumped. David Fincher is one of my absolute favorite filmmakers and this looks like a real stretch for him, unlike anything he's ever made before.

Monday, December 15, 2008


With buzz building on some titles and buzz falling on others, here's a list of what I'm most excited to see for the rest of 2008:


After I have seen these, I will be able to officially call 2008 over and done with for movies and be able to come up with my final picks for best films of the year, best performances, etc.


...about the boring French musical-romance-comedy LOVE SONGS (**). If the above picture leads you to believe that you're in store for some steamy sexual adventures with two lovely French women and one goofy French dude, well, you'd be about as annoyed as I was while watching this dud. Whereas the similar (but far superior) movie ONCE used its musical conceit to tell a heartfelt and engaging story, filmmaker Christophe Honore stumbles from scene to scene, never fully figuring out what kind of film he set out to make. For whatever reason, the musical interludes didn't resonate; maybe it's because the film is subtitled. I have no problems with foreign films. It's just that when listening to people sing in French, and then having to read the literal translation of the lyrics (which sounded a bit awkward when translated), the entire movie felt artificial. I was never able to get fully connected with the story, which started off promisingly, but never went anywhere particularly surprising or interesting. You get some mild girl-on-girl action in the opening segment, but if you want to see the luscious French actress Ludivine Sagnier in a much better (and sexier) film, rent Francois Ozon's riveting SWIMMING POOL. LOVE SONGS rests on the idea that a couple has invited another woman into their lives and bed. Naturally, many complications ensuse. And then something tragic happens. But I just never cared. There were a handful of good individual scenes but overall, I was disappointed.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Tarsem’s THE FALL (****)
Danny Boyle’s SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (****)
Charlie Kaufman’s SYNECDOCHE, NY (****)
Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT (****)
James Marsh’s MAN ON WIRE (****)
Andrew Stanton’s WALL*E (****)
Jonathan Demme’s RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (****)
David Gordon Green’s SNOW ANGELS (****)
Mike Leigh’s HAPPY-GO-LUCKY (****)

Clint Eastwood’s CHANGELING (****)
Gus Van Sant’s MILK (****)
Ben Stiller’s TROPIC THUNDER (****)
Martin McDonagh’s IN BRUGES (****)
David Gordon Green’s PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (****)
Joel & Ethan Coen’s BURN AFTER READING (****)
Marc Forster’s QUANTUM OF SOLACE (****)
Matt Reeves’ CLOVERFIELD (****)
Martin Scorsese’s SHINE A LIGHT (****)
Roger Donaldson’s THE BANK JOB (****)


MILK was excellent. Penn will certainly be nominated. Every performance was spot-on, with Brolin being a major stand-out. Gus Van Sant continues his current winning streak with this highly entertaining, always fascinating, and ultimately powerful piece of filmmaking.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Wow. Big-time wow. Bravura filmmaking from Danny Boyle; his best film yet. Probably my second favorite film this year. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is so many things all at once. This should be a must-see for everyone.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Lt. James Gordon: "Because he's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we'll hunt him, because he can take it. Because he's not our hero. He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight."

The way that Gary Oldman delivers these final lines in THE DARK KNIGHT makes a tingle go up my spine. There's a quiet confidence that Oldman brings to his role as Jim Gordon. Cast against type as the good cop for once in his career (see LEON or ROMEDO IS BLEEDING for an entirely different type of cop from Oldman), he brings a level of gravity to all of the scenes that he appears in during THE DARK KNIGHT. With a bigger role than he had in BATMAN BEGINS, Gordon is a character that we're begining to learn more about, and really coming to love. Christopher Nolan has taken the time to expand his characters in this sequel, and he's given Oldman the chance to shine with his role.
I f'ing love this film. It is the best superhero movie ever made. It really redefines what the genre is capable of. I shudder to think what's in store for us when Nolan is ready to work on the next installment.


This is going to be a different type of review. I enjoyed the first HELLBOY a few years ago so I thought I'd give the sequel a shot. I enjoyed it as well. Here are my thoughts after just finishing it.

Nice opening with teenage Hellboy. He looks a little too CGI but it's fine.

God, Ron Perlman is killer in this role. Love the attitude.

Gorgeous cinematography. Love the colors. Just beautiful.

Ewww. Gloppy monsters. This is an icky movie.

The first film felt big but you could tell it was on a limited budget. Del Toro must've gotten twice as much for this one. Everything is huge and overstuffed. Tons of creatures. Lots of slop. Beefy production design.

A lot of the imagery is like a bad acid trip.

Nice action scenes, even if none of it is going anywhere particularly surprising.

This villain is sort of a mamma's boy.

Nice twist with the sister.

That squid thing in the middle of NYC really tore shit up. Pretty cool.

Geez, Hellboy can really take a beating.

I love the attitude of this character.

Damn, it's like Del Toro ate too many mushrooms and freaked out.

There's a lot of trippy shit in this movie. Dragging a bit towards the end...we almost done?
Nice finish. Leaving it completely open to a third entry. But do I really care?
Fun movie. Nice special effects, though at times, it all got a little too Playstation-y. Not a huge fantasy geek but Del Toro is an artist. I think he and Salvador Dali would've gotten along. I really think that Del Toro had some bad hallucinogenic experiences.


Tomorrow I will be treating myself to a double feature. First up: SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. I can't wait. Been hearing nothing but fantastic stuff about it. It's been winning many awards in the early-going part of the awards season and it currently sits at 92% overall at Rottetomatoes, with a 94% cream of the crop rating.

After a little break, I will then catch Gus Van Sant's latest film, MILK, with Sean Penn. This film has also been picking up multiple awards, for the film itself, and for Penn's performance. It currently sits at 93% overall at Rottentomatoes, with a 91% cream of the crop rating.

On the Netflix front is HELLBOY 2 and the independent French romance-musical-comedy LOVE SONGS.

Reactions to everything will follow.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


I'm not going to dissect the noms on a category by category basis. Rather, I am going to highlight the picks I am most pleased with. For those interested, here's a link to the full list of nominees:

IN BRUGES getting a Best Picture--Comedy or Musical nomination is fucking awesome. And it's made even better by the fact that both Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson were nominated for Best Actor, Comedy or Musical. While I felt that IN BRUGES was more of a drama with some moments of black, black comedy rather than an outright comedy, the fact that it got some awards attention is all that matters.

James Franco getting a Best Actor--Comedy or Muscial nomination for his brilliantly funny work in PINEAPPLE EXPRESS is perfect. I have been a Franco disser for years, but his work in this mad-cap stoner comedy is the stuff of instant legend.

Also in the comedy category, but this time in the supporting actor group, both Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Jr. got nominations for their terrific turns in TROPIC THUNDER. After re-watching the film this past week, I was reminded of how funny the film is overall, and how scene-stealing both of them were. Good stuff.

Also, my favorite "little" film of the year, HAPPY-GO-LUCKY, got awarded with a Best Picture--Comedy or Musical nomination, and the film's effervescent star, Sally Hawkins, racked up a Best Actress--Comedy or Musical nomination. After her wins with both the LA and NY critics groups and now this GG nomination, it's pretty safe to assume she'll get an Oscar nomination. This year has been one of the strongest years in recent memory for female performances, so nothing is set in stone. But from all that I have seen this year (and I have still yet to see either of Kate Winslet's performances, Kristin Scott Thomas in I'VE LOVED YOU SO LONG, and Merryl Streep in DOUBT), Hawkins gave my favorite performance, followed by Anne Hathaway in RACHEL GETTING MARRIED and Angelina Joile in CHANGELING, both of whom got Best Actress--Drama nominations.

Overall, the nominations yielded few real surprises, with only THE READER getting a Best Picture--Drama nod registering as the true shock. Not that it's supposed to be bad, but rather that films like MILK, THE DARK KNIGHT, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, CHANGELING, and DOUBT didn't make it into the top five. I have been watching THE DARK KNIGHT these past few nights and man-o-man what an excellent piece of filmmaking that is. I would not be surprised if the Academy gave it a Best Picture nod. It's the kind of smart, big-budget studio entertainment that deserves to be recognized. It was a massive undertaking, it grossed close to a billion dollars worldwide, and it was critically acclaimed. Some older members of the Academy may feel that all of those honors are good enough, but I am sensing that it has a shot at the big dance. We'll see...

The studios seemed to have waited until December to release most of their top-guns, which can create a pile-up for both moviegoers and critics when it comes time to sussing out the best of the year. BENJAMIN BUTTON, GRAN TORINO, DOUBT, THE WRESTLER, VALKEYRIE, THE READER, DEFIANCE, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, and FROST/NIXON are all set for wide release over these next two to three weeks (some of them are in limited release already). MILK and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE keep expanding and finding audiences. There's lots to choose from out there.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


It's getting harder and harder to create this list. Every single film for the rest of the year has the potential to be great, the potential to be a four star effort. I can't wait. Up this weekend is Slumdog Millionaire and Milk. For now, here's where I stand:

Tarsem’s THE FALL (****)
Charlie Kaufman’s SYNECDOCHE, NY (****)
Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT (****)
James Marsh’s MAN ON WIRE (****)
Andrew Stanton’s WALL*E (****)
Jonathan Demme’s RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (****)
David Gordon Green’s SNOW ANGELS (****)
Mike Leigh’s HAPPY-GO-LUCKY (****)
Clint Eastwood’s CHANGELING (****)


James Marsh’s spellbinding documentary MAN ON WIRE (****) is the sort of film that leaves you feeling queasy, enthralled, and alive. Queasy because of how insane the film’s subject – Philippe Petit – is. Enthralled because of how daring Petit was to do what he did. Alive because the film acts as a celebration of life. Petit, for those of you not in the know, pulled off what many people consider to be the “artistic crime of the century.” In 1974, he, along with a group of friends, attached a wire from one World Trade Center building to the other, and tight-rope walked back and forth between the two buildings. Eight times. Over the course of 45 minutes. In this staggering documentary, which has cleverly been constructed by Marsh like a first-rate Hollywood thriller, the viewer is treated to video footage of Petit doing numerous other tight-rope walks (in Paris, London, Sydney) and practicing for his endeavor in NYC. Some may think that Petit is ill. Some may think he’s simply eccentric, a guy in love with life, unafraid of the deathly consequences that his obsession carries. Others will think he was a guy with a death wish. And who knows, all of those scenarios could be true. It’s baffling to me that Werner Herzog, the wild-man filmmaker that he is, didn’t get the rights to this story; Petit is as Herzogian a character as there could ever be. In its quietly haunting way, MAN ON WIRE becomes something extremely special: a documentary that could never be made into a feature film while still retaining its power and illumination.
Petit, who is considered to be one the first widely-known and publicly accepted street performers in Paris (he juggled, danced, tight-rope walked), is such a distinct character, that everyone else around him, no matter how interesting they are in their own respects, pales in comparison. During the course of the film, we’re introduced to all of his friends and accomplices, who divulge information about their scheme and about Petit in general. Jaw-dropping footage of his other tight-rope walks is shown throughout the film, with footage from a high-wire walk in Sydney being the most insane. Petit didn’t just walk on the wires; he would lay down on it, bounce on it, dance on it. When he got the World Trade Center, he knew it’d be the crowning achievement of his career. Marsh shows TV interview footage with Port Authority Police Department Sgt. Charles Daniels, who was sent to the roof to bring Petit down; here’s an excerpt:

“I observed the tightrope 'dancer'—because you couldn't call him a 'walker'—approximately halfway between the two towers. And upon seeing us he started to smile and laugh and he started going into a dancing routine on the high wire....And when he got to the building we asked him to get off the high wire but instead he turned around and ran back out into the middle....He was bouncing up and down. His feet were actually leaving the wire and then he would resettle back on the wire again....Unbelievable really....everybody was spellbound in the watching of it”

Yeah. You could say that again. The way that Marsh amps up the tension using his framing device for the film is extremely clever, very stylish, and eerily subversive. The film takes the form of a terrorist thriller. You see Petit and his men infiltrate the World Trade Center, wearing fake disguises and showing phony paperwork to gain access to the roof. Of course, after 9/11, this story takes on greater significance, and there is a mournful quality to much of the footage we see of the World Trade Center being built. It will be impossible for us to look at photos and footage of the World Trade Center without thinking of 9/11, something that Marsh knew full well before setting out to craft this engrossing documentary. Never exploitive, Marsh brings a soulful quality to the film. It must’ve been a tricky balancing act (no pun intended) to figure out how to structure this film due to the recent real-life horrors from seven years ago. However, I wish Marsh had asked Petit about how 9/11 affected him. It’s clear from the film that Petit was in love with the World Trade Center, that it represented something to him, something of great significance.

There is something so thrilling, so inherently watchable about MAN ON WIRE that I can’t quite come up with the right words to adequately describe the feelings I had while watching this film. Full disclosure: I am petrified of flying and I am not a fan of heights. So my stomach couldn’t help but do somersaults while watching some of the footage shown through the course of MAN ON WIRE. My only complaint is that nobody, for whatever reason, decided to film Petit’s walk across the World Trade Center. They snapped lots of still photos, but why weren’t they filming it like they filmed his other death-defying acts? When asked why he did it by reporters, Petit, ever the showman, said there was no reason why. He did it because he felt he needed to. He felt compelled. He thought that the World Trade Center had been built so that he could walk in between them. Delusional? Maybe. Ballsy? Definitely. There is a reason that MAN ON WIRE has been winning all of the awards that it has been nominated for – it’s an incredible piece of work. If it doesn’t win the Oscar for best documentary I’ll be shocked. Granted, this year has yielded some of the best docs in recent memory; ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD, YOUNG@HEART, and BIGGER, STRONGER, FASTER have all been as good (or better) than most feature films have been in 2008. But MAN ON WIRE is the genre topper, a film that literally has the power to take your breath away. It’s a masterpiece, and one of the best films of the year.


MAN ON WIRE (****), from documentary filmmaker James Marsh, is as spectacular as everyone says it is. Quietly haunting and completely engrossing, it's one of the best pictures of the year. I will be delving into a review soon.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I AM SHOCKED... how cool TERMINATOR: SALVATION looks. I am not a McG fan. Maybe this will be the film that makes me a fan. Maybe not. But judging from this completely bad-ass trailer, I am cautiously optimistic. The presence of Christian Bale doesn't hurt, either. I'm guessing that if he felt the script was worth his time, it'll be worth my time in the theater. I liked THE TERMINATOR, I think TERMINATOR 2 is a masterpiece and one of the best science fiction films ever made, and I think TERMINATOR 3 was a fun action movie, nothing more, nothing less. However, the final minutes of TERMINATOR 3 were pretty haunting for a big-budget summer movie. It will be interesting to see where the story goes.


The one thing you can’t accuse filmmaker Baz Luhrmann of is short-changing his audience. With his latest film, AUSTRALIA (***), you get four movies in one over the course of 165 minutes: a cattle-driving western, a bombs-away WWII movie, a fish-out-of-water romance, and a socially-conscious racial message movie. With shades of RED RIVER, GONE WITH THE WIND, PEARL HARBOR, and RABBIT PROOF FENCE running through its cinematic veins, Luhrmann, himself an Australian, has cooked up an over-long but mostly entertaining Cliff’s Notes guide to the Outback. He has tamped down on his rambunctious editing style yet maintained his swooping sense of camera movement and flair for the melodramatic. It’s a visually ravishing epic, brimming with self-indulgence and a level of exuberance which can only come from a passionate filmmaker who has his sights set high. Working with three screenwriters, including Stuart Beattie (COLLATERAL), Ronald Harwood (THE PIANIST), and Richard Flanagan, it’s as if Luhrmann felt he needed to cram everything he could possibly think of into the sprawling narrative of AUSTRALIA; it’s as if he’d never be making a film again. The film smells of too many cooks in the kitchen, but even when the story becomes unwieldy, Luhrmann’s showmanship serves as a potent reminder of his estimable visual skills.
AUSTRALIA revolves around an English aristocrat named Sarah Ashley (a prim and proper Nicole Kidman) who has come to Australia to check in on her supposedly philandering husband, who owns a cattle ranch called Faraway Downs. Upon her arrival, she learns that her husband has been murdered, apparently by an Aboriginal King. After firing a nefarious cattle baron (David Wenham, oozing villainy), Sarah recruits the mysterious Drover, a rugged, super-manly Hugh Jackman who let’s his ample chest beaver do most of his acting for him. The Drover is just that – a man defined by his job. All machismo, all the time. We never learn much more than surface details about him, or Sarah for that matter; they are archetypes rather than fully fleshed out characters. And in this sort of movie, that’s all we really need. We know that upon first glance, Sarah will hate Drover. And that Drover will have no use for Sarah. But before long, they’ll be making passionate, candle-lit love and engaging in juicy, movie-star make-out sessions. So Sarah and Drover embark on a perilous, 1,500 mile cattle drive, to the port of Darwin, in an effort to sell all the cattle and save the ranch. Along for the ride is the half-caste Nullah, rudely referred to as a “creamy” by everyone except for Sarah, Drover, and his family. Nullah, who represents the “stolen generation” of half-Aboriginal children born to Aboriginal women and white-European fathers, provides voice-over narration throughout the entirety of AUSTRALIA; it’s really his story when it’s all boiled down. After the cattle drive, we get tragedy: the Japanese bombing of Darwin. And before the credits start to roll, we also need to sort through the specifics of Sarah’s husband’s death, who’s responsible, and who will go down for it.

AUSTRALIA is over-stuffed, excessive in almost every department. It skirts the overly tragic by neatly tying up all of its threads by the end of its run time and while the film is never boring, it’s way too long and would’ve benefited from tighter cutting. In a way, it’s reminiscent of Peter Jackson’s theatrical cut of KING KONG, which felt like a DVD director’s cut. Fox bankrolled AUSTRALIA to the tune of $130 million, and judging from its first 10 days in theaters, the film will never come close to recuperating its cost solely from domestic ticket sales. It’s an old fashioned romantic epic that people over the age of 40 will really love (there was applause at the end of my screening) but that the under 40’s will probably avoid like the plague. And while the film is far from perfect, it’s a shame that more people won’t check it out. The cinematography by Mandy Walker is breathtaking and there are more than a handful of genuinely riveting set-pieces. There are some moments of dodgy CGI work (most notably during an otherwise rousing cattle stampede) and some people will find the more melodramatic moments to be a bit cheesy. But overall, Jackman and Kidman generate some tangible romantic heat and deliver solid performances, and Luhrmann’s desire to show off for his audience carries an undeniable energy. I was a big fan of what Luhrmann did with his hyper-active take on ROMEO JULIET but less impressed with his last feature, the overly-produced MOULIN ROUGE! AUSTRALIA rests somewhere in between those two films. I’d love to see Luhrmann go small next time out. Do something simple, something easy. But something tells me that “simple” and “easy” aren’t words in his vocabulary. AUSTRALIA may not be the Oscar contender that everyone at Fox thought they’d have on their hands, but it’s hardly a wipe-out, and it makes for a solid way to kill an afternoon at the movie theater.


I love this decision by the L.A. Film Critics Society. They have given their best picture award to WALL*E, which is, in my opinion, the best animated film ever. Or at least my favorite. I love, love, love this film. I have watched it a few times now and I don't think I'll ever tire of it. It's one of the few animated films that can legitimately be called a masterpiece, and while it's doubtful that it will get nominated in the top spot at the Oscars, it's more than inevitable that it will win best animated feature. But I am hoping for a surprise shot at best picture; this film is that good.

Also of note with the critics in L.A. is that they went with another one of my favorite films of the year, HAPPY-GO-LUCKY, in the best actress category (Sally Hawkins), best original screenplay category (Mike Leigh), and runner-up in supporting actor (Eddie Marsan). This is one of those quiet, talky films that relies upon good word of mouth to keep it going during its limited run in theaters. Awards traction can only help.

With all of the end of the year awards being handed out, there's just too much to report on. I'll chime in when I feel that a group, or particular critic, has made some good picks. Also, in terms of my end of the year awards and superlatives, I still have a lot to see before I can officially declare 2008 over. By mid January I should be caught up, and I will offer my picks for best of the year along with analysis, and I will also do a posting with how I'd pick the nominees for the Oscars. After the official nominees are announced, I might take a shot at guessing the winners. We'll see.


(Image first seen at
Amazing performance. Amazing film. Amazing ad.


Do you really need a reminder?

Sunday, December 7, 2008


There's only a few weeks left in 2008, but there's more than a few notable releases still to come: SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, BENJAMIN BUTTON, MILK, CHE, GRAN TORINO, MAN ON WIRE, THE WRESTLER, FROST/NIXON, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, THE READER, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, DEFIANCE, and DOUBT will all be closers for me this year. But so far, here's where I'm at with a top 20. There's aren't necessarily the "best films of the year," because how can people really be so pompous as to suggest that with film, there can be "best" and "worst?" Here's my 20 "favorite" films of the year:

Tarsem’s THE FALL (****)
Charlie Kaufman’s SYNECDOCHE, NY (****)
Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT (****)
Andrew Stanton’s WALL*E (****)
Jonathan Demme’s RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (****)
David Gordon Green’s SNOW ANGELS (****)
Ben Stiller’s TROPIC THUNDER (****)
Clint Eastwood’s CHANGELING (****)
Martin McDonagh’s IN BRUGES (****)

David Gordon Green’s PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (****)
Joel & Ethan Coen’s BURN AFTER READING (****)
Marc Forster’s QUANTUM OF SOLACE (****)
Matt Reeves’ CLOVERFIELD (****)
Martin Scorsese’s SHINE A LIGHT (****)
Mike Leigh’s HAPPY-GO-LUCKY (****)
Roger Donaldson’s THE BANK JOB (****)
Stephen Walker’s YOUNG @ HEART (****)
Kimberly Peirce’s STOP-LOSS (****)
Jay Roach’s RECOUNT (****)


Hugh Jackman has some awesome chest hair. AUSTRALIA (***) was a good flick.

Friday, December 5, 2008


So says AICN & Joblo. Check it out here:

I have posted a few times about my love for Peter Berg's scrappy superhero movie HANCOCK. While people seem to either love it or hate it, the box office take (over $600 million worldwide) easily suggests that enough people enjoyed it for the people at Sony to feel it's a smart business decision to roll ahead with the obviously pricey sequel.
A sequel to HANCOCK should make for an interesting film. I am very interested in learning more about the world that Hancock came from, and all that he went through throughout the years. And with the ending of the first film being what it is, it will be cool to see Hancock in the big apple after destroying much of Hell-A.
Bring Berg back, make sure Michael Mann produces it, and obviously, Smith needs to return as the titular character. It'll be a few years down the road before it hits theaters but this is one sequel I am very excited for.


On Sunday I am gonna check out Baz Lurhman's AUSTRALIA. It looks epic. And I love epics. Critics were mixed but I remain interested. My parents loved it and I hold their opinion in pretty high regard. I am always in the mood for a sweeping, epic romance mixed with action and melodrama; if done right, this type of movie can be very enjoyable to watch.

Tonight I am going to listen to the audio commentary on the new TROPIC THUNDER DVD with Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr. (who does the commentary in character), and Jack Black. After re-watching bits and pieces of this instant comedy classic last night, I can safely say it's one of my favorite comedies in recent years. I am really anxious for the other comedy masterwork of 2008 -- PINEAPPLE EXPRESS -- to hit dvd on 1/9/09.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


What an endlessly fascinating film ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD (****) is. Engrossingly directed (as usual) by the legendary Werner Herzog, this is a film of stunning, haunting beauty, that does something that so few films are capable of these days: show you something new and different. Herzog and a crew of less than five (including long time cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger) traveled to Antarctica and documented life on the South Pole. You get to swim under the frozen slabs of ice, which have been staggeringly captured by brave underwater cameramen, and what you get to see under the ice is nothing short of transfixing. Mixed with the eerie, otherworldly sounds of communicating seals, the footage provides an extraterrestrial quality; it's like you're looking at life on a completely different planet. You also get introduced to the many eccentric people (scientists, workers, environmentalists, cooks, etc.) that populate the South Pole. While there aren't that many people who live there in total, each and every one of them interviewed by Herzog seems like a surreal piece of work. Herzog, a filmmaker known for his brazen sense of humor and a subversive sense of irony, is appalled by the presence of such commercial items as an ATM machine and a gym/spa on the icy tundra. He is a filmmaker, like Malick, who has always been interested by the ways that man and nature interact and intersect. Herzog has gone to great geographic lengths throughout his career. Whether it's the Amazon (AGUIRRE, FITZCARRALDO), Laos (LITTLE DIETER, RESCUE DAWN), Alaska (GRIZZLY MAN), Kuwait (LESSONS OF DARKNESS) or at the McMurdo Research Station in ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD, he seems entranced by the many exotic qualities that different regions can provide for him as a filmmaker. There are visual and thematic references to two earlier Herzog docs, THE WHITE DIAMOND and THE WILD BLUE YONDER, as well. Herzog, who operated one of the two high-def cameras on the shoot, emphasizes how desolate, alone, and brutally cold the South Pole is. He didn't go there to make a warm and fuzzy penguin movie ala MARCH OF THE PENGUINS (he even states so at the front end of the doc) but yes, you do get some penguin footage. You also get to hear Herzog ask a penguin specialist about the potential existence of gay penguins. Trust me, it's priceless. ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD is one of my favorite films of the year.

Adam McKay's STEP BROTHERS (***) is an interesting outing for Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. Mean-spirited, pretty cruel, and often hilarious, the film is so asinine that you can't really question the plot or the logic and set-up of the story. It's not anywhere near as good as ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY, but I'd say that STEP BROTHERS is on par with the last McKay-Ferrell-Reilly outing, TALLADEGA NIGHTS. Ferrell is just such a goof ball that it's hard not to crack up just by looking at him. And Reilly, who began his career with mostly dramatic roles, is really finding his way as a comedian. His work in last year's underrated DEWEY COX is also worth seeking out. STEP BROTHERS revolves around Brennan (Ferrell) and Dale (Reilly), two slacker clowns still living with their parents who somehow haven't yet been thrown out of the house. When their parents (Richard Jenkins, perfect, and Mary Steenburgen, unexpectedly funny) get married, the two morons become step brothers, much to their chagrin. They are both knuckle-heads, very stubborn and very much the definition of the phrase "ass-hole." At first, they see themselves as bitter enemies. Then, they are forced to team up. Then they fight. Then they make up. Repeat this process a few times, thrown in some standard plot hi jinks, and populate the film with some great cameos, and you're left with a noisy but amusing comedy which really plays off the estimable improv strengths of the entire cast. But stealing the entire movie out from under the two stars is the actor Adam Scott (THE AVIATOR, HBO's TELL ME YOU LOVE ME), who plays Ferrell's older brother. Scott, the ultimate type-A dick-head older bro, kills every single line, scene, and moment in STEP BROTHERS. And Kathryn Hahn, playing his wife, also steps up to the plate big time. The first time you're introduced to their characters (which has them singing aloud in their car with their children), the scene is so funny that it's almost impossible to even laugh. It's like those moments on THE OFFICE where the humor of the scene is just so high that you, as the viewer, can only stare at the screen and just say to yourself: holy shit that's funny. STEP BROTHERS isn't in the same league as PINEAPPLE EXPRESS and TROPIC THUNDER, the two class-clown winners from 2008, but it's definitely got enough funny material to warrant a rental.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


I am pretty curious about the new film KNOWING, from director Alex Proyas (THE CROW, DARK CITY -- a masterpiece -- and I, ROBOT). It stars Nic Cage and it's set for release on March 20, 2009. The premise is very intriguing: a time capsule is unearthed at a school in a small town and inside the capsule there is evidence of many major global disasters from throughout the years, with some dire imminent predictions as well. I have always found Proyas to be a very stylish director, and this project definitely has some potential. It's an independently financed, fairly big-budget movie with a majorly high-concept scenario. I wonder how this end-of-humanity flick will compare with Roland Emmerich's 2012, which hits theaters next summer. Proyas had some legendary fights with Fox over the tone and creative handling of I, ROBOT, and while that film was entertaining and well done and it was a big hit at the box office, it could have been better. I am hoping that KNOWING has a bit of the darker edge that Proyas used to show off with his earlier efforts. DARK CITY is among my favorite films, a sci-fi materwork that blended German expressionism, film noir, sci-fi, and comic books to create a wholly mesmerizing work of art. I highly recommend that you check it out if it has slipped by you. It's the very definition of underrated and undervalued.

Here's a link to the nifty looking trailer for KNOWING:

And for shits and giggles, here's a link to Emmerich's 2012 (it's only a teaser):

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


"Movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash we have very little reason to be interested in them." -- Pauline Kael

If Kael had seen Timur Bekmembatov's insanely over the top but extremely entertaining action thriller WANTED, she'd probably appreciate it for what it is: great trash cinema. Mixing FIGHT CLUB, THE MATRIX, OFFICE SPACE, and Michael Bay into a blender, this bloody, action-packed blockbuster from last summer (a sequel is already being written) was one of the few hard-core, R-rated actioners of the year to have fun with the genre. Its story is so asinine, its action is so ludicrous, that I just couldn't help but enjoy myself on a purely carnal level of movie pleasure. A half-naked Angelina Jolie, lots of two-fisted, John Woo-style gun fights, and enough splashy action cinematography to choke a horse. What's not to love? It's not CITIZEN KANE, but for what it is, it really gets the job done.

Also on DVD today is the Will Ferrell/John C. Reilly comedy STEP BROTHERS, which I missed in the theaters last summer, and is arriving today via Netflix. Looking forward to checking it out. Also released is THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE, which I also missed this past summer, and I intend on renting later this week.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Michael Mann. Johnny Depp. Christian Bale. Dante Spinotti. Holy shit-balls.


There's still one month left in 2008 and plenty of movies to check out. Oscar-madness is right around the corner and all of the critics groups will be dishing out their awards in the very near future. But it's not too early to look at the top films that are on deck for 2009. Here's a list of some of my most eagerly anticipated films for next year:

1. Martin Scorsese's SHUTTER ISLAND
2. Michael Mann's PUBLIC ENEMIES
3. Michael Bay's TRANSFORMERS 2
5. John Hillcoat's THE ROAD
6. Tony Scott's THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123
7. Terrence Malick's TREE OF LIFE
8. The Coen Brothers' A SERIOUS MAN
10. Zack Snyder's WATCHMEN

12. Quentin Tarantino's INGLORIOUS BASTERDS
14. Joe Johnston's THE WOLF MAN
15. Paul Greengrass's THE GREEN ZONE
16. J.J. Abrams' STAR TREK
17. Steven Soderbergh's THE INFORMANT
18. Jonathan Mostow's THE SURROGATES
20. Guy Ritchie's SHERLOCK HOLMES

21. Kathryn Bigelow's THE HURT LOCKER
22. Rob Marshall's NINE
24. Tony Gilroy's DUPLICITY
25. Joe Wright's THE SOLOIST
26. Dan Mazer's BRUNO
27. Brad Silberling's LAND OF THE LOST
28. Roland Emmerich's 2012
29. Peter Jackson's THE LOVELY BONES
30. James Cameron's AVATAR

31. Jim Sheridan's BROTHERS
32. Sam Raimi's DRAG ME TO HELL
33. Alex Proyas' KNOWING
34. Stephen Sommer's G.I. JOE
35. Neveldine/Taylor's CRANK 2
36. Judd Apatow's FUNNY PEOPLE
37. Wayne Kramer's CROSSING OVER
38. Kevin McDonald's STATE OF PLAY
39. Karen Kursyama's JENNIFER'S BODY
40. Jody Hill's OBSERVE & REPORT

I am sure there are others that I'm missing but these are the 40 films that immediately come to mind. The first ten are the ones I am most interested in.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


If you haven't seen this film yet, or enjoyed it thoroughly, you're a heartless asshole. I mean it. There's no excuses for not having carved out 80 minutes of your life to watch this gem. I know ONCE came out last year and it's old news at this point, but on my way back home from vacation today, I listened to the soundtrack, yet again, from start to finish. A masterpiece, just like the film. SEE THIS FILM IF YOU HAVEN'T. It's one of the best movie romances of the decade.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Gus Van Sant has been on a serious roll as of late. He's been alternating between small, personal, highly-stylized movies like ELEPHANT, GERRY, and LAST DAYS while still finding time to mix in studio product like GOOD WILL HUNTING, FINDING FORRESTER, and the upcoming Harvery Milk biopic, MILK. With PARANOID PARK (***1/2), he's made another one of these tone-poem films which revolve around disaffected youth which fits right in with his work in ELEPHANT, which centered on a Columbine-esque story about troubled high-schoolers. In PARANOID PARK, Van Sant focuses his attention on skate-board culture, and in particular, one teen who happens to be at the wrong place on the wrong day at the wrong time. Casting the film via Myspace and using non-professional actors (like he did in ELEPHANT), he gets fairly solid work out of his young cast who at times can't help but feel a bit stiff. But that might've been the point Van Sant was trying to make; kids can be awkward and stiff and unsure of themselves, especially when confronted with the many intricacies that life has to offer. Alex (Gabe Nevins) is an emotionless high schooler with a few skating buddies who are all afraid of boarding at a spot referred to as Paranoid Park, where all the top skaters seem to hang out. Alex's parents are splitting up and he's got a sexually forward girlfriend named Jennifer (Taylor Momsen, very good) who's only interest seems to be in losing her virginity just for the sake of it. Alex has another female admirer, Macy (Lauren McKinney who is a natural), but he's too blind to recognize her affections. One night, in a moment of sheer teenaged stupidity, Alex hitches a ride along the side of a freight train. He's chased after by a security guard who starts hitting him with a flashlight in order to get him off the side of the train. What happens next is shocking, sad, and very brutal. Alex's natural reaction to the situation inadvertently leads to the guard's death. The film, with its super-long stedicam shots and long takes, is more about atmosphere and attitude than it is about plot points and structure. The film has an austere but rich visual texture which is the real highlight of the piece. Running less than 90 minutes and basing the film off of a young adult novel, Van Sant and his extraordinary cinematographer Christopher Doyle (2046, RABBIT PROOF FENCE), paint a portrait of a confused, scared, and paranoid kid who's life is forever changed by one moment of action. Because Nevins barely hints at any emotion with is portrayal of Alex, it's tough to muster up any real sadness for him, but that was probably the direction that Van Sant pushed Nevins in as an actor. We remain detached from Alex psychologically yet somehow we still feel his internal pain. While not as emotionally draining as ELEPHANT, PARANOID PARK works a considerable spell on the audience, and by the end, leaves you with a feeling of pent-up dread.

HOW MUCH DO YOU LOVE ME? (***) is a cute-enough French sex comedy that happens to feature a mostly-naked Monica Bellucci for much of its running time. That in and of itself means you should rent it. Bellucci, a decent-enough actress, has been blessed with some of the finest physical features of any actress in the history of cinema; she's simply gorgeous to look at. So it's no wonder that the director Bertrand Blier would craft a story such as this one around her seemingly impossible beauty. Francois (Bernard Campan) wins the lottery and enters a Paris brothel where he makes an offer to the sexy prostitute Daniela (Belluci): come live with me and I will pay you $100,000 per month until my winnings run out. She asks him how much he's won -- he tells her $4 million. She says lets get outta here. The one catch is that Francois has a heart condition, thus making their relationship highly dangerous. What's a guy with a weak heart doing with an uber-hot woman like Daniela? What follows is a highly theatrical comedy where the characters learn to live and love. It wouldn't surprise me if someone attempted to adapt this movie into a play, as the setting is mostly confined to a few locations, and there are only a handful of key characters. There's lots of sex and nudity but all of it playful and tasteful and rather romantic at times. There's a twist (I a'int telling...) but the movie is mostly about what drives people, both financially and spiritually. It's a fast-paced movie with a few flights of narrative fancy and it all goes down pretty smoothly. It's not a great film, but you'll be entertained. And if you, like me, can appreciate the female form, then it'll be something you'll want to check out at some point.