Friday, February 29, 2008

MINI REVIEW: MARGOT AT THE WEDDING (***)

While Noah Baumbach's latest tale of familial dysfunction MARGOT AT THE WEDDING isn't as funny or sharp as his previous film, THE SQUID & THE WHALE, something must be said about the filmmaker's desire to take his audience through such emotionally turbulent waters. Supposedly based in part on his own life experiences (SQUID & THE WHALE was also reportedly based in some ways on his childhood), Baumbach again creates dark, cold characters that behave in wickedly mean fashion to one another. It's just that this time, his dialogue isn't as piercing and the distance he creates between these emotionally stunted characters and the audience is even further and more unavoidable. The film is almost purposefully off-putting; Baumbach is almost daring his audience to turn the film off. Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Jack Black are all excellent (yet thoroughly unlikable) and the supporting players, especially Ciran Hinds, all hit their marks. The story concerns Kidman coming home for her sister's (Lee) wedding to a local schlub (Black) who she feels is beneath their stature. The film's washed out and destaurated look, courtesty of master cinematographer Harris Savides (ZODIAC, AMERICAN GANGSTER, ELEPHANT), blends perfectly with the chilly attitudes of the characters and the early fall setting. MARGOT AT THE WEDDING is unpleasantly enjoyable (if that makes any sense) but it never comes fully alive the way THE SQUID & THE WHALE did. It's an off-beat dark comedy that some will appreciate and others will probably hate. I liked it but almost hesistate to recommend it.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

RIP: NEW LINE CINEMA


The days of Bob Shaye's douche-baggery are over.



Wednesday, February 27, 2008

GAVIN O'CONNOR IS PISSED

What an interesting situation this is. Below is Michael Fleming's article that hit today's Variety:


'Pride and Glory' delay stirs up fray
O'Connor blames Shaye for film's hold-up
By MICHAEL FLEMING, VARIETY
Gavin O'Connor, whose March 14 release date on "Pride and Glory" was scrapped late last year by New Line, wants answers. O'Connor is blaming the AWOL status of his movie on New Line chairman Bob Shaye. The writer-director is so incensed that he said he will withhold "Warrior," a script he's due to deliver to the studio in the next few weeks, until he knows the fate of his film. The director is also exploring the possibility of extricating "Pride and Glory" after New Line told him the picture wouldn't likely be released until next year. Trailers for the film have been running since fall before "No Country for Old Men," "Atonement" and "American Gangster."
New Line wouldn't comment on the situation, but execs are in the final stages of negotiating a new deal with Time Warner and its topper, Jeff Bewkes, that could conceivably downsize the company. A resolution seems reasonable within the next two weeks. But O'Connor and his stars -- Colin Farrell, Edward Norton, Jon Voight and Noah Emmerich (New Line exec Toby Emmerich's brother) -- are voicing their growing frustration to make sure the industry doesn't think they've made an unreleasable film. They also hope they can provoke Shaye into showing the guts he displayed in the past on adult-themed gambles like "Seven" and "American History X," which also starred Norton and had plenty of its own production drama. "It was a joy making the movie, but then something happened internally at that company," O'Connor said. "I don't think Bob Shaye believes in it, and he's decided he'll only release (sure bet) films. He never had the decency to call me. We've delivered something special and unique, a film that's not for everybody but has something to say. We're all heartbroken." O'Connor is nearly finished writing "Warrior," which he describes as "Gladiator" set within a family of mixed martial arts fighters. The project is constructed to span three films. O'Connor said he made a New Line deal for it because he had such a great experience making the film, but he'll hold it back until he gets answers. "Pride and Glory" was screened at CAA headquarters late last week to begin getting word out that it may need a new home, though getting another distributor to pay full price to adopt a $30 million orphan won't be easy. Morality tale focuses on corruption in a family of Gotham cops. The son of an 18-year NYPD veteran, O'Connor and his brother Greg wrote the script with Joe Carnahan, hoping to create a '70s-style film that uses crooked cops as a metaphor for institutional corruption in the power structure. "Gavin was able to tease out themes that are relevant to my generation and to what this country is going through," Norton said. "This isn't about New Line not knowing the film is strong; I just think there is a paralysis right now that has to do with much bigger issues than any particular film. We're a victim of the moment, and I just hope they will either find a way to give the film its due or graciously let us do it with someone else." Farrell said: "This is the first time it's happened to me, where a film I believed in so strongly, not only as entertainment but for its pertinent message and great performances, sits on a shelf. This is bizarre." Voight, who plays the cop family patriarch, is also frustrated, but optimistic. "It ain't over till it's over," he said. "Obviously, things are going on over there, and I've seen this situation before, where a studio dilemma created hardship for a film of quality. You don't want to put it aside for long, though, because you can lose your momentum."
My personal reaction to all of this is: I'd like to see the movie right now please.

PETER BERG'S COCAINE COWBOYS TAKING SHAPE







Director Peter Berg (THE KINGDOM, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS) has been set to direct Mark Wahlberg in a feature version of Billy Corben's fantastic documentary COCAINE COWBOYS. Now, joblo is reporting that Wahlberg has recruited Leo DiCaprio to co-star with him in the flick.
Check out the joblo article here: http://www.joblo.com/markleo-snort-coke



Monday, February 25, 2008

MINI REVIEW: RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR (***)

Chris Gorak's low-budget yet very effective debut thriller RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR (***) will scare the doo-doo out of you if you live in the greater Los Angeles area. Well, actually, depending on how much you fear biological terrorism, it'll scare you no matter where you call home. The film centers on a husband (Brad, Rory Cochrane) and wife (Lexi, Mary McCormack) who live in LA; he's a slacker musician type and she works to pay the bills at some sort of executive type job. One day, after Lexi departs their Hollywood hills home for her office downtown, the radio buzzes with the insane news that Los Angeles is under attack by terrorists; dirty bombs have been detonated in strategic areas of the city, creating instant chaos. People are told to stay in their homes and seal them up (duck-tape baby!) and not to come into contact with anyone who has been exposed to the explosions and the fall-out ash that is covering the city. Nobody knows who is responsible for the attacks or what the impact of the biological weapons immediately are. It's a nightmarish, apocalyptic scenario that is handled in a scary, realistic way thanks to Gorak's fine directorial touches. Previously an art director on films such as FIGHT CLUB, MINORITY REPORT, and FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, Gorak instantly shows that he can create a mood and atmosphere with limited resources; the film rarely leaves the couple's house. The story gets a little crazy and some of the decisions that the characters make aren't necessarily the ones that I might make. And the ending dips into TWILIGHT ZONE territory a bit more than it probably should. But for most of it's quick running time, RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR is a scary thriller with a timely scenario and two live-wire performances from the leads. If you want a visceral jolt, check it out.

OSCAR RECAP: THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY

Here are my random thoughts on last night's telecast:

I am VERY pleased that NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN took the best picture trophy and not JUNO. JUNO is a cute enough movie but hardly best picture material (the fact that it was nominated over ZODIAC, JESSE JAMES, and INTO THE WILD still irks me).

What a pleasure it was to see the Coens finally get their best director trophies.

I was very excited for Marion Cotillard as she delivered a tour de force performance in LA VIE EN ROSE; I had Christie down on my ballot, and she was certainly amazing in AWAY FROM HER, but good for Cotillard. Can't wait to see her in Michael Mann's PUBLIC ENEMIES with Depp and Bale.

Hearing Glen and Marketa sing their song from ONCE was great; however, the moment of the night, came when Marketa was allowed back up to the podium to give her speech after she was played off the stage by the orchestra. I read online that it was Colin Farrell who told the producers of the mishap and suggested to them that she go back up on stage; more reason for me to love Farrell. Great actor, cool dude. He took his mother to the awards; the guy is awesome.

I think it's fucking disgraceful that TRANSFORMERS lost the visual effects Oscar to THE GOLDEN COMPASS; the clip from COMPASS that was showed was terrible and clearly demonstrated how the effects in that film weren't even close to what Bay and the technicians at ILM created in the giant fighting robot epic. Say what you want about Bay and his filmmaking style and TRANSFORMERS as a movie overall, but those effects are THE BEST IN THE HISTORY OF THE MEDIUM. Anyone who disagrees is either high on crack or is just an idiot. Sorry. It's true.

The best cinematography category was one of the toughest (and best) categories ever. I was very upset that Roger Deakins lost for THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD, which is probably one of the most exquisitely shot films of ALL TIME. However, the work that Robert Elswit did in THERE WILL BE BLOOD was nothing short of stunning so it's not the end of the world. It's just that Deakins has now been nominated seven times with no win. He is one of the true masters of cinematography; check out these credits: JESSE JAMES, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, JARHEAD, FARGO, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?, THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE, KUNDUN, THE HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, THE VILLAGE, 13 DAYS, DEAD MAN WALKING, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, and BARTON FINK. This guy is beyond due for an Academy Award.

Kudos to the Academy for recognizing Chris Rouse's brilliant editing of THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM. A great pick.

Diablo Cody dressed (surprise surprise) like a stripper and did nothing to suggest to me that she is Oscar material. Show some class next time you're at the biggest movie event in the entire world.

Marion Cotillard however...well....she radiates class, beauty, and integrity. You just get that sense while watching her.

Julie Christie is still beautiful; ditto Helen Mirren. Jennifer Garner looked the best she's probably ever looked.

The various clip-packages, for the most part, sucked; they need to hire some new people to produce this show.

It was unforgivable to allow Amy Adams to go onstage with no visual context to her song from ENCHANTED. She looked so lonely up there and while she has a great voice, the entire thing just fell flat. They should have had the CGI-animated animals from the film that accompanied her during that song.

John Stewart, as always, was funny and sarcastic, though I wish that Billy Crystal or Steve Martin would go back to hosting the Oscars.

Very pleased to see Tilda Swinton win best supporting actress; she's a distinct, unique actress who brings an edgy quality to every film she appears in.

I think it's pretty disgraceful that THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY (a.k.a. the best film of 2007) was completely shut out of the awards. It should have gotten something.

George Clooney is the coolest mo-fo in Hollywood; his girlfriend is pretty cute too.

So...that's about it from me...it was the second year in a row that I loved the best director/best picture winners so I can't really complain about much.

THE FACE OF THE MYSTERY MAN

The Coen brothers have edited all of their films under the pseudonym "Roderick Jaynes." Last night, the world got a glimpse at what this fake person looks like. Who is that in the picture?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

FINAL OSCAR PREDICTIONS

Today's the day. Can't wait; should be an exciting night with the real potential for surprise.

Best Picture: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Upset: JUNO

Best Director: THE COEN BROTHERS
Upset: JULIAN SCHNABEL

Best Actor: DANIEL DAY LEWIS
Upset: GEORGE CLOONEY

Best Actress: JULIE CHRISTIE
Upset: MARION COTILLARD

Best Supporting Actor: JAVIER BARDEM
Upset: HAL HOLBROOK

Best Supporting Actress: TILDA SWINTON
Upset: AMY RYAN or CATE BLANCHETT

Best Original Screenplay: JUNO
Upset: MICHAEL CLAYTON

Best Adapted Screenplay: THERE WILL BE BLOOD
Upset: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN or THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY

Best Animated Film: RATATOUILLE
Upset: PERSEPOLIS

Best Cinematography: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Upset: THERE WILL BE BLOOD or JESSE JAMES or DIVING BELL (personal note: this is the best category I've ever seen)

Best Editing: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Upset: THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM

Best Visual Effects: TRANSFORMERS (personal note: the greatest achievement in visual effects in the history of the medium)
Upset: PIRATES 3

Best Art Direction: THERE WILL BE BLOOD
Upset: ATONEMENT

Best Costumes: ATONEMENT
Upset: SWEENEY TODD

Best Documentary: NO END IN SIGHT
Upset: SICKO

Best Foreign Language Film: THE COUNTERFEITERS
Upset: BEAUFORT

Best Documentary Short Subject: FREEHELD
Upset: SARI'S MOTHER

Best Makeup: LA VIE EN ROSE
Upset: PIRATES 3

Best Original Score: RATATOUILLE
Upset: ATONEMENT

Best Original Song: FALLING SLOWLY, ONCE
Upset: One of the three songs from ENCHANTED

Best Animated Short: PETER & THE WOLF
Upset: MY LOVE

Best Live Action Short: LE MOZART DES PICKPOCKETS
Upset: AT NIGHT

Best Sound Editing: TRANSFORMERS
Upset: BOURNE

Best Sound Mixing: TRANSFORMERS
Upset: BOURNE

Friday, February 22, 2008

REVIEW: DEFINITELY, MAYBE (****)

Romantic comedies are a tough genre. For every solid rom-com, there are at least two or three that provide neither romance nor comedy. I am extremely pleased to report that Adam Brooks’ new film DEFINITELY, MAYBE is one of the best romantic comedies in the last few years. It takes a wonderful conceit and never turns it into anything less than surprising, unpredictable, and satisfying. It’s also funny, sexy, smart, and stylish without ever being self-conscious. It’s not a film that’s going to win awards and it doesn’t re-invent the wheel, but every once in a while, a movie like this displays a certain level of wit, charm, and creativity that sets it apart from the pack. It also helps when you have a terrific cast, anchored by up and coming star Ryan Reynolds, who has been threatening to bust out onto the leading man scene for the last few years.

Reynolds is Will Hayes, a New York ad-exec who is also the father of a precociously cute little girl named Maya (the lovely Abigail Breslin). One day, after getting her first sex-ed lesson at school, Maya starts quizzing her dad about her mom and the other women that he dated before he became a father. Already partially disturbed by his daughter’s new-found knowledge of the word penis and vagina, Will is a little hesitant to fill his daughter’s head with sexy exploits. What he does is pretty clever: he spins the fanciful yet true story of how he met Maya’s mother and incorporates details from the other relationships he got into with the other ladies he was dating around that time. He switches up the names of the ladies, played with charm and ease by Rachel Weisz, Isla Fisher, and Elizabeth Banks. Who is Maya’s mom? Who does Will really love? Who is the right woman (if any of them) for him? Another element that elevates DEFINITLEY, MAYBE is that at the start of the film, the audience is told that Will is about to go through a divorce; a whiff of melancholy settles in over portions of the movie reminding us that not every story has a happy ending. And short of me spoiling this very enjoyable movie, all I’ll say is that the ending is perfect, satisfying, and exactly as it should be.

Adam Brooks is a filmmaker who is new to me. His past credits include writing the awful BRIDGET JONES sequel, the weak rom-com WIMBELDON, and Jonathan Demme’s much hyped failure BELOVED. Here, working from his original screenplay and displaying a confident directorial touch, Brooks weaves a complicated story and elicits great work from his appealing cast. More often than not, actors in these type of films never really form any sort of tangible chemistry, whether it is sexual or emotional, with their co-stars. Here, Reynolds clicks with all three actresses, which keeps the audience guessing as to who the perfect woman for him really is. The female stand out is Fisher, who after stealing scenes from everyone in WEDDING CRASHERS as the feisty, clingy red-headed vixen to Vince Vaughn’s motor-mouth lout, is really ready for major stardom. Plucky, sassy, and straight up sexy, she’s got star quality written all over her. Banks is her usual cute, effortless self and Weisz lends the film an air of class. Also, look for Kevin Kline in a too brief cameo as a hard-drinking professor/author; he’s hysterical. DEFINITLEY, MAYBE might have benefited from some tighter editing in its middle section and a few scenes of physical comedy don’t feel exactly right, but these are minor quibbles. This is a fun, smart, and engaging film that will delight anyone who encounters it. I’d put it right up there with WAITRESS, IN HER SHOES, and THE BREAK-UP as one of the best romantic comedies of the decade.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

THE YEAR THAT WAS

2007 was the best movie-going year of my life. I can't remember a year (with the possible exception of 1999) that delivered so many great films, let alone so many flat-out masterpieces. Here is a run down of my top 10 from 2007, with some brief comments about each film. My full reviews are accessible in the 2007 archives. I have also re-posted the links to my reviews of the five films up for best picture at this weekend's Academy Awards in a blog entry from yesterday.


1. THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY

No film moved me more than this one in 2007. A tough film to watch at times, THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY could have been overly sentimental and emotionally cloying in the hands of lesser filmmakers. Thankfully, the team of director Julian Schnabel, screenwriter Ronald Harwood, cinematographer JAnusz Kaminski, and editor Juliette Welfling never dipped into maudlin, TV-movie-of-the-week tendencies with this story of a paralyzed man and his efforts at some sort of normal life. Being a true story, Schnabel and Harwood were bound to the facts of the matter. But through their amazing creative decisions, especially to make the subjective camerawork almost exclusive throughout the first 30 minutes of the film, they are able to immediately draw the viewer in and never let them out of their grasp. I couldn't move when this film was over; I sat in the theater, wiping away a few honest tears, trying to form words. This is the sort of movie that makes you thankful for everything you have in life and reminds you that for as bad as you think you have it, there is someone else out there who is a lot more worse off than you are. THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY is a truly life-affirming piece of work and is a totally unforgetable experience to behold.

2. THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD

Simply put, the most beautiful film of the year, and one of the most beautiful films ever committed to celluloid. Writer/director Andrew Dominik stepped up in a massive way with this film; I never would have thought that the director of CHOPPER (which was a great little movie in its own right) would bust out and get his Terrence Malick on. But he did. Poetic, haunting, and stunningly photographed from the very first frame, this film is as entrancing to watch as it is to listen too (Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' funereal score is impossible to forget). The script is funny in a very deceptive way and the acting from a deep ensemble cast is top notch. However, the revelation of the film is Casey Affleck, who's turn as the titular Robert Ford is mesmerizing and creepy in equal measure. Brad Pitt also does some of the best work of his career as Jesse James, a fallen idol to Affleck's envious Ford; the two of them are positively electric when sharing the screen together. I love this film but I will agree that it's not for everyone; if you don't like the work of Malick or can't get into leisurely paced films that are more about character than plot than I'd suggest watching something else. But for more challenging viewers, make no mistake -- this is a film of tremendous power.

3. THERE WILL BE BLOOD

Paul Thomas Anderson's big, beefy, all-American epic of greed, corruption, and oil is a tour de force for it's lead star (Daniel Day Lewis) and for Anderson himself. Moving away from dysfunctional stories set in the San Fernando Valley, Anderson has crafted a dense, exquisitely photographed (by long time collaborator Robert Elswit) film that reminds one of CITIZEN KANE, GIANT, and DAYS OF HEAVEN. Lewis, who is probably the most intense actor working today, towers over this film from first frame to last. The film's climax is one of the strangest, most go-for-broke sequences I've ever seen in my life. And the musical score, by Radiohead's Johnny Greenwood, evokes Kubrick by way of psychadelic electronics; it's incredible. A bizarre film to be sure, but one filled with jet-black humor, emotional suspense, and arresting visuals.

4. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (warning: spoilers below)

The Coen brothers shatter the routine conventions of the typical Hollywood thriller with their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel. A trio of grizzled, manly performances ( Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones) anchor this thrilling cat-and-mouse thriller. But it's the existential angst displayed by Jones that lends the film a special quality. This is a sad, dark film about violence and how violence breaks people down to the point where they can't continue on in a certain path. When I first saw this film and it's now controversial last act started to unfold, my head started to buzz; did they just kill one of the main characters off screen I wondered? When I saw that they did, I felt cinematic exhiliration that I haven't felt in a long time. The genre-busting elements at play during the last 30 minutes of the film, along with the evil-gets-away finale, have cemented this film as an immediate classic. Oh yeah, Roger Deakins' cinematography is beyond astonishing; he had a banner year with this film, JESSE JAMES, and the little seen but excellent IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH. Watch for the shot of Brolin running away from some bad guys in the early-morning light with a solo bolt of lightning accenting the sky; its disgustingly beautiful.

5. ZODIAC

Harkening back to Alan J. Pakula's masterpiece ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, director David Fincher (SEVEN, FIGHT CLUB) delivered his most accomplished film to date with ZODIAC. Clocking in at two-and-a-half-hours and packing in over 50 speaking parts and spanning over a decade, this is a nuts-and-bolts true-crime epic and a thrilling mystery rolled into one. It's also a wonderful evocation of 70's San Francisco with typically amazing production values that one would associate with a Fincher film. However, rather than resting on style as he did in PANIC ROOM (which I enjoy for what it is -- a tight, Hitchcockian throw-away thriller), Fincher melds his lighting-quick visual sophistication with JAmes Vanderbilt's sprawling yet coherent screenplay into an obsessive film that's more about details, facts, and ideas than about a serial killer and his atrocities. Yes, Fincher does depict some of the zodiac's murders, but rather than stage them for enertainment, he chillingly depicts the murders for what they truly are: scary, sad, and desperate. I have watched this film at least 10 times now and it continues to fascinate me each time I watch it.

6. INTO THE WILD

Sean Penn's adaptation of Jon Krakauer's novel is a beautiful love letter to America and the open road in our country. Some people complained that the kid at the center of the film, Christopher McCandless, wasn't sympathetic enough to truly feel sorry for by the end of the film. I'd disagree. He was a naive kid with dreams of an America that didn't really exsist; he was a hippie who missed the hippie generation. Granted, he could have picked up the phone once to let his parents know that he was alive and breathing; it certainly would have been the honorable thing to do. But he didn't, and what we're left with is a thrilling personal story about discovering yourself against the backdrop of the American landscape. Penn and his gifted cinematographer Eric Gautier shot the hell out of this movie, resulting in some of the most beautiful vistas I've ever encountered on the big screen. Eddie Vedder's passionate musical score brought all of the elements together while the incredible cast (Emilie Hirsch, Catherine Keener, Brian Dierker, Hal Holbrook, William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden) never misses a beat. But it's Hirsch's film and he brings honest gravitas to a role that could have been easily annoying or flippant. Penn really stepped up behind the camera with this film; I wasn't expecting him to knock me out the way he did with this one.

7. AMERICAN GANGSTER

Ridley Scott, at this point, could make a film about the phone book and it'd be interesting. Giving the gangster film genre a try, he made one of the most entertaining films of his amazing career. His attention to detail, as always, is second to none, and the movie-star performances by Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe explode on screen with life, vitality, and urgency. Steven Zaillian's complex script deftly cuts back and forth between the two men, who are on opposite sides of the law, but makes it clear that both men have more in common than they probably would care to admit. This is another long film (2 hours 30 mins and longer in its recently released director's cut version) that breezes by thanks to smart writing, terrific performances, and exciting set pieces. The drug raid/shoot out towards the end of the film crackles with intensity and fireworks; leave it to Scott to show all the young action filmmakers how it's done. Stylish yet never garish, long yet never boring, and big yet never out of control, it's another excellent piece of filmmaking from Scott, who is long overdue for an Oscar.

8. EASTERN PROMISES

David Cronenberg has long been fascinated by sex and violence and his latest film, EASTERN PROMISES, has both of those qualities in abundance. A tricky film with the best narrative twist of the year (which TOTALLY blew me away the first time I saw the film), EASTERN PROMISES is a top-notch genre entry and an even better film than the first collaboration between Cronenberg and actor Viggo Mortensen (A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE). The film is nominally about a Russian crime syndicate that trades in sex slaves but it's more a multi-layered character study about two men (Mortensen and the terrific French actor Vincent Cassell) who are consumed by a life of crime but yearn for something bigger. Cronenberg sets a sinister tone immediately with a graphic throat slicing and progresses to probably the single best movie fight I have ever seen. A naked Mortensen (he's enjoying a steam bath) is jumped by two hoodlums and proceeds to fight to the death with both of them. Eschewing the quick-cut style of movies like THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, Cronenberg makes the viewer feel every punch, slash, and lunge during this virtuoso sequence of cinema violence. Visceral almost to the point of suffocation, I really do think it's the best movie fight I have ever encountered. And again--that final twist; you'll never see it coming and it will hit you like a ton of bricks. This is the best thriller in years.

9. SWEENEY TODD

I don't really like musicals. And horror films aren't typically my bag. So I was totally surprised when I fell in love with Tim Burton's elegantly macabre SWEENEY TOOD, which is very musical, and very horrifying. Johnny Depp cuts his way through this meticulously designed film with menacing glee while Helena Bonham Carter reminds us that she should be making more movies. Depp sings with gusto and exhibits tortured rage that weren't necessarily expected; he's been off with Captain Jack Sparrow for so long that it was a relief just to see him do something new. But returning to a Tim Burton film was just what the doctor ordered for Depp; this may be their best collaboration. Funny, smart, sexy, and nasty, SWEENEY TODD is awesome, bloody fun for the whole family. Well...maybe not for the whole family.

10. THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE

Unquestionably the most underrated and underappreciated film of 2007. Allan Loeb's sensitive and honest script is a gem and Benicio Del Toro's magisterial performance is second only to Daniel Day Lewis' work in THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier could have descened into Lifetime movie-of-the-week territory with this film about love, loss, and reconcilliation; intead, it's a profoundly moving piece of cinema with a performance from Del Toro that radiates class and integrity. The film revolves around two central characters (Del Toro and Halle Berry); Berry's husband has been randomly murdered and was best friends with Del Toro. Del Toro is a recovering heroin addict with no real support system. So, Del Toro and Berry form a unique bond that while never turning sexual, becomes deeply emotional and to a certain extent, spiritual. I loved this film. It made me cry all throughout but it earned my tears in an honest, non-exploitive way. I hope people find this wonderful movie when it hits dvd in two weeks.


So, all in all, 2007 was a sensational year for movie going. And that was just my top 10. When you have other, phenomenal films like MICHAEL CLAYTON, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, THE KINGDOM, THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, RESCUE DAWN, ONCE, 300, 3:10 TO YUMA, RATATOUILLE, AWAY FROM HER, GONE BABY GONE, KNOCKED UP, I'M NOT THERE and countless others that don't make your top 10, well, you know it's been a tremendous year of movies. I hope that 2008 continues in this direction.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS IS STILL ALIVE!

I am SO f'ing excited about this news. Per Variety:

"Friday Night Lights" may shine on for another season -- and on more than one network.
NBC Universal execs have decided they want to go the extra yard to ensure the drama returns for a third season. To make sure that happens, conglom is having serious conversations with several networks about a plan to carve out multiple broadcast windows for the show, which has received critical worship and has a cult-like following. Peacock has had talks with the CW, Comcast Entertainment Networks (E!/G4) and TNT about sharing "Friday Night Lights" with NBC. DirecTV, which last year picked up the rights to NBC sudser "Passions," has also been brought into the mix. Just how the shared window plan would work is unclear, but one model may be the plan NBC worked out for "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." Starting this season, episodes of "CI" premiered on USA Network and aired a few months later on NBC. Skein has generated solid numbers in both windows. Whether NBC U can work out a similar deal with a network it doesn't own remains to be seen. Already, some people familiar with the talks have complained that Peacock's asking price for "Friday Night Lights" is too high. Still, the show's loyal core audience and attractive demos -- it's among the most popular shows on TV with upscale viewers -- could help close the sale. Reps for the Peacock and producer Imagine Television declined comment."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

MINI REVIEWS: THE NINES & THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB

John August, the screenwriter of GO, BIG FISH, CHARLIE'S ANGELS, and CHARLIE & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, made his directorial debut last year with THE NINES (***). It's a stylish, clever little mind-f*ck of a film with three interlocking stories featuring the same trio of actors (Ryan Reynolds, Hope Davis, and Melissa McCarthy) that sadly didn't completely add up by its conclusion. In the spirit of films like DONNIE DARKO, SOUTHLAND TALES and VANILLA SKY, THE NINES is a fun movie to watch but by the end, I think most people will be left scratching their heads at what they just witnessed. The film pivots on three stories (two of them centered around the entertainment industry) that play off themes of loneliness, desperation, confusion, and potentially, the end of the world. Movies like this probably please their makers more than their audiences but I still had fun with this paranoid little thriller. Ryan Reynolds is excellent and the two female leads are both quite good. I just wished I understood it all a little bit better. Oh well...that's what second viewings are for.


Robin Swicord's THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB (**) boasts a wonderful cast who elevate this vigorously contrived narrative into a watchable rom-com but on the whole, I wasn't all that impressed. Swicord, who wrote the screen adaptation of MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA and made her directing debut with this film, doesn't have a grasp of all of her stories and needlessly complicates things with unbelieveable and annoying subplots. The idea is simple: a gaggle of love-starved women who love the works of Jane Austen start a book club with the intent of reading one Austen novel per month, and then relating the book to their struggling love lives. The excellent ensemble cast inludes Mario Bello (one of my personal favorites), Amy Brenneman (she should be in more stuff), Kathy Baker (funny as usual), Emily Blunt (in an awful wig and saddled with the worst plot-line), and Maggie Grace (in the obligatory yet welcome lesbian sub-plot). However, the film is completely stolen by the one male in the book club -- Hugh Dancy, playing a rich, good-looking, computer nerd named Grigg. He's the best thing in the film and the only character I truly cared about; had he not been in the film, I might have turned it off. THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB isn't offensively bad; it's just not all that exciting or surprising. Compared to the recently released and far superior romantic-comedy DEFINITELY, MAYBE, this film feels even more tepid. Also, if I were an avid (or passionate) reader of Austen's works, then I might have enjoyed the film a lot more. So I will close with this: check out this film if you're a huge fan of Jane Austen.

Monday, February 18, 2008

NOW I WANT TO VISIT BELGIUM

IN BRUGES, the new Colin Farrell/Brendan Gleeson hitman film from playwright Martin McDonagh (THE PILLOWMAN), is a nasty piece of entertainment that dips its hands in black comedy, dark drama, and bloody shoot-outs. Farrell has probably never been better than he is here, and Gleeson, as always, is a joy to watch. Ralph Fiennes shows up in the final act and steals every scene and the surreal, bloody finale really seals the deal. The trailers for this film have been grossly misleading; they've only focused on the last 20 minutes or so (the parts with guns going off). IN BRUGES is more of a serious character study spiked with moments of bizarre, black humor than a non-stop action flick. My full review will be up soon, but if you find yourself in the position to catch IN BRUGES in the theater, definitely do so...it's terrific.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

FIRST IMAGES FROM WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE





I first saw something at http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com/ and then I went here:


These are pictures from Spike Jonzes' upcoming adaptation of the Maurice Sendak childrens story WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. The film isn't set for release till 2009, with no specific date mentioned yet. Production began a while ago...rumor has it that Jonez is battling the studio over the final cut of the film. I loved this book when I was a child and the idea of a filmmaker like Jonze (BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and ADAPTATION) making a film version of a dark children's story like WILD THINGS is just crazy to think about. I am extremely excited for this film to hit theaters.

UPDATED (2/19/08): I just read this at aint-it-cool-news; this is a message from Spike Jonze:
“that was a very early test with the sole purpose of just getting some footage to Ben our vfx (visual effects) supervisor to see if our vfx plan for the faces would work. The clip doesn’t look or feel anything like the movie, the Wild Thing suit is a very early cringy prototype, and the boy is a friend of ours Griffin who we had used in a Yeah Yeah Yeahs video we shot a few weeks before. We love him, but he is not in the actually film...Oh and that is not a wolf suit, its a lamb suit we bought on the internet. Talk to you later...“ - Spike Jonze




THE FIRST MOVIE SURPRISE OF 2008

DEFINITELY, MAYBE lives up to the advanced hype of being an excellent romantic comedy. I loved this film; my full review will be up later this week.

Gonna watch another Ryan Reynolds film tonight -- THE NINES.

IN BRUGES tomorrow....can't wait...

Friday, February 15, 2008

REVIEW: THERE WILL BE BLOOD (****)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s blistering new film THERE WILL BE BLOOD (****) almost defies critical review. It’s a force-of-nature piece of filmmaking and a bold, uniquely American tale of greed, power, and the corruption of one’s soul. In short—I loved it. Every single moment of it. Anderson, who traffics in masterpieces (HARD EIGHT a.k.a. SYDNEY, BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA, PUNCH DRUNK LOVE), has put together his most ambitious project to date with THERE WILL BE BLOOD. With Orson Welles, John Ford, John Huston, and Terrence Malick on his mind, Anderson’s never ending technical bravado melds brilliantly with his instincts for story, character, and dialogue, resulting in a powerful drama spiked with moments of mordant, almost obscene, humor. Very loosely based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel “Oil!,” this is Anderson’s first attempt at adapting someone else’s work; I’m betting it won’t be the last. Discussing THERE WILL BE BLOOD without spoiling some of its best moments won’t be easy; this is a film that grabs you from the opening frames and refuses to let you go until the lights have come up. To say that Anderson creates films that are immediately engrossing is an understatement; you get the sense when watching his work that it’s the product of a natural born filmmaker, someone who is here on earth to do one thing and one thing only.


Daniel Day Lewis (MY LEFT FOOT, GANGS OF NEW YORK), in yet another towering performance, is Daniel Plainview, a California oil man looking to suck the desert dry of black gold. Beginning with the film’s gripping, dialogue-free opening 20 minutes, the audience gets a sense of what’s in store for them. Lewis, whose Plainview is mining for silver alone in a ditch and sweating profusely, opens the film with such physical intensity that I almost forgot to breathe. Combined with Johnny Greenwood’s otherworldly electronic musical score, the film transports the audience to a specific time and place, one that is familiar yet alien. Plainview wants nothing more than all the land he sets foot on, and travels the state convincing people to let him buy their land so that he can get at the oil beneath them. He becomes a surrogate father to an infant whose father is killed in an accident, and as the boy grows up, Plainview refers to him as his own son, and uses him as a prop when meeting with prospective townspeople while giving them his spiel about buying up their land. Plainview’s life is changed forever when Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) shows up at his doorstep, with news that his town is bubbling with oil. Paul asks Plainview for some money in exchange for the location of his town; Plainview pays the boy and sets off for his next conquest. When he gets to the town, he meets Paul’s family, which includes Paul’s twin brother, Eli (also played by Paul Dano). Eli is a preacher, with designs of his own church, and he realizes pretty quickly that if he plays his cards right, he might be able to get money out of Plainview to help build his house of worship. THERE WILL BE BLOOD predominantly centers on the relationship between Plainview and Eli, and how the two men are similar creatures of passion and rage.
That’s about all I want to say about the story. There isn’t much in the way of plot per se, rather, THERE WILL BE BLOOD is more interested in people, place, and psychological decisions. The film pivots on three or four big set-pieces, with an oil derek explosion and fire serving as one of its major highlights. In this sequence, Anderson, along with his virtuoso cinematographer Robert Elswit, who has shot all of the director’s films along with many others including MICHAEL CLAYTON and SYRIANA, stages a bravura tracking shot that demands to be seen for the first time on the big screen. Make no mistake; if you have even a passing interest in this film, do not wait until it hits DVD. This is a big screen movie event, and denying yourself the pleasures that a film like THERE WILL BE BLOOD can give you in a movie theater would be criminal. Anderson has never made a period film before; up until now, he’s been interested in spinning wild tales of dysfunctional people in Southern California. In THERE WILL BE BLOOD, and with the help of legendary art director/production designer Jack Fisk (DAYS OF HEAVEN, THE NEW WORLD), Anderson evokes an era of simple beauty and dark menace. Just watch as Plainview admires an oil fire for a moment about half-way through the picture; it’s truly a picture worth a thousand words.

The ending of THERE WILL BE BLOOD is likely to irk audiences even more than the controversial last 30 minutes of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN did. It’s some sort of bizarre miracle that two genre busting films like these would come out in the same year, let alone from the same distributor (Paramount Vantage). After setting up a grand story and taking it to the limit, both visually and thematically, Anderson gets intimate with Plainview and Eli during the last act; the results are electrifying. There’s one moment in the last 15 minutes that has Plainview so enraged with Eli’s deceit and trickery (again, don’t want to spoil anything, but Eli is more or less a phony evangelist) that I cannot help but burst out laughing every time I see it and hear certain lines of dialouge (I’ve seen the film at least six times now). Anderson is constantly showing the audience how dark and twisted Plainview and Eli really are, and by the end, the two characters are simmering at each other’s throats, looking for some sort of emotional release. Some people will find the ending too stagy or theatrical; others, including myself, will view it as a perfect, and justly fitting finale to one of the more uncompromising American epics made this decade.



THERE WILL BE BLOOD isn’t an easy film. Its characters are flawed and even reprehensible at times. The musical score is purposefully intrusive yet somehow it works. It’s a quiet film at times, with stretches of no dialogue (or limited dialogue) that force the viewer to work in a visual manner which can be annoying to some. The film’s outlook on the human condition is bleak and rough; Plainview is a distinctly American monster that Anderson wants everyone in the audience to identify with, though I’d disagree with some critics in that Plainview, at heart, does have some good intentions and isn’t entirely evil. Nevertheless, this is a challenging film that will turn off as many people as it delights. It’s the sort of risk-it-all endeavor that screams at the world: “Hey, look at me!” We need more films like THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Vital, brutal, intensely focused, and ravishing to the eye, it’s yet another masterstroke for Paul Thomas Anderson, who is further cementing the notion that he’s the best filmmaker of his generation.











MOVIES FOR THE LONG WEEKEND

I plan on catching IN BRUGES and DEFINITELY, MAYBE in theaters this weekend. I also have THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB and THE NINES on dvd from Netflix. I suppose I'll also throw on JESSE JAMES a few times; maybe grab a milkshake with Daniel Plainview as well.

TRIO OF ACTORS RESCUING TERRY GILLIAM

This is amazing news. According to http://www.aint-it-cool-news.com/ , Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law are coming aboard the cast of Terry Gilliam's upcoming fantasy film THE IMAGINARIUM OF DR. PARNASSUS. The fate of the film had been in question in recent weeks, due to the death of the film's star, Heath Ledger. Word has it that Gilliam has restructured portions of the script (the film had just started shooting when Ledger died) and has developed a way for Ledger to still appear in the film, but to have his character become other characters throughout the course of the film. From what I've read, the film's story is centered upon a travelling theater group who put on fantastical plays that have a knack for coming to life. Apparently, there's a moment in the film when Ledger's character leaps into a magical mirror, and becomes someone else. So with the help of Depp, Farrell, and Law, Gilliam will now have a star-studded cast and will still be able to pay tribute to Ledger's work, which along with THE DARK KNIGHT, will be his last on-screen performances. I am a big fan of Gilliam, always have been, always will be. Can't wait to see how this film turns out.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

CALL IT, FRIEND-O

I watched some of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN again last night. The film is perfect; it's actually scary how well done the film is. I am starting to think that it is in fact the best film to date for the Coen brothers.

A TEAR IN MY EYE AS I POST THIS

Wow. I am so excited to see the new INDIANA JONES movie it's not even funny. This brand new trailer, courtesy of yahoo movies, just brought me back to my childhood. I laughed, I cheered, I got misty eyed. And it was just a teaser trailer. May 22nd can't get here fast enough! I gotta go watch this again...and again...and again...



Wednesday, February 13, 2008

WHO WILL WIN BEST PICTURE THIS YEAR?

If you asked me right now who will win this year's Oscar for best picture, I'd say NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, with JUNO as the upset. My feelings could change but this is what I think is going to go down. This year's show will truly be one of the more unpredictable Oscar nights in recent memory.

I still find it hard to take the Academy seriously when movies like JUNO and ATONEMENT (and to a lesser extent MICHAEL CLAYTON) get best picture nominations over masterpieces like THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY, ZODIAC, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD, and INTO THE WILD.

JUNO and ATONEMENT are both very good and very well made (especially ATONEMENT) but neither of them are in the top five for the year. MICHAEL CLAYTON is a film that I love (have seen it multiple times now) and I really admire first-time director Tony Gilroy for making such an elliptical, 70's-style, paranoid thriller and getting an absolutely first-rate, movie-star performance from George Clooney. I just don't think it's weighty enough for the big dance. However, having said all that, I'd smile if it were to shock the movie world and take the best picture trophy. Not gonna happen, but it'd be cool if it did.

However, if THERE WILL BE BLOOD somehow wins best picture (it won't; it's too strange, bold, and pessimistic to take best picture), I will jump for joy. Having seen the film now a few times, I'm convinced that it's a true work of art.

DRAAAIIIINNNNAAAAGGGE!!!!

(Image first seen at http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com/ ; Photo stolen from "Vulture" page -- photo illustration credit given to iStockphoto, courtesy of Paramount Vantage)


Daniel Plainview: "Drainage! Drainage, Eli! Drained dry, you boy! If you have a milkshake...and I have a milkshake...and I have a straw...and my straw reaches across the room and starts to drink your milkshake. I drink your milkshake! I drink it up!"


(UPDATED: I just want to thank Jeff Wells @ H-E for posting this picture of Lewis about a month or so ago on his blog. Jeff...if you ever read this...my friends LOVE this picture and everyone in my office thinks it's hysterical, which it is. If you've never been to his site, click the above link; it's an incredible blog)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

BEAUTIFUL POSTER

Why are foreign movie posters always better than the versions made available in the US? Do people in foreign countries think that US posters are better than their own? I've always wondered that. Anyways, here is the beautiful Korean one-sheet for THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY. I love this film and urge everyone to see it; it's a masterpiece.

Monday, February 11, 2008

TOMORROW ON DVD

Ben Affleck's excellent directorial debut GONE BABY GONE (***1/2) hits dvd tomorrow. I thought it was a terrific crime film with great performances and a nasty, bleak look at Boston area scum. Here's a link to my original review from last October:

http://actionman-nickspix.blogspot.com/2007/11/review-gone-baby-gone.html



James Gray's riveting cop thriller WE OWN THE NIGHT (***1/2) hits dvd tomorrow. I loved it. Here's a link to my review from last October:

http://actionman-nickspix.blogspot.com/2007/10/review-we-own-night.html

RANDOM BITS

Didn't make it to the theaters this weekend to see IN BRUGES; definitely checking it out next weekend. For sure. It had a scorching per-screen average in very limited release (22 screens) and reviews have been excellent.

Caught up with ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (**1/2) and FEAST OF LOVE (**1/2) on dvd over the weekend. Both were interesting and entertainting enough, but not without their own sets of flaws. The best I can say about both would be that ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is visually arresting in a trippy, chuck-it-all sort of way and that FEAST OF LOVE is a cliched yet sweet romantic dramedy that features some stunning nudity from the very sexy Rhada Mitchell.

Roy Scheider, the star of JAWS and THE FRENCH CONNECTION (amongst other films), died at the age of 75.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS has halted production of any new episodes for the rest of its second season; the fate of the series is up in the air at present time. My gut is telling me that it will be cancelled; last week's episode, which happened to feature exec producer Peter Berg as a guest star, was a riot and I could totally see it being the final episode to air. So many plot threads left dangling; oh so very annoying for us hard-core fans that love the show.

The first teaser trailer for Steven Speilberg's INDIANA JONES: THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL will hit movie screens this weekend infront of Paramount's upcoming fantasy film THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES; one would assume that the trailer will find its way to the internet over the upcoming weekend.

Michael Bay's gargantuan thrill-ride TRANSFORMERS won 4 VES awards, including best visual effects in a motion picture and best visual effects sequence of the year. If TRANSFORMERS doesn't grab Oscar gold for visual effects than I'll be shocked. Production on the sequel is gearing up and the studio has set a release date for the as yet untitled sequel: June 26, 2009.

I have been watching THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD almost every night this past week; I can't get enough of it. It hurts me how beautiful the film is. It's one of my absolute favorite films of all time.

My only full review that's pending is THERE WILL BE BLOOD; I needed to wait so that I could see it again before writing a full review. Now that I've seen it a few times, expect my full critique sometime this week.

ATONEMENT won best picture at the BAFTA's (British Academy Awards). The Coen Brothers won best director for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Daniel Day Lewis won best actor for THERE WILL BE BLOOD; Javier Bardem grabbed supporting actor for NO COUNTRY. Marion Cotillard won best actress for LA VIE EN ROSE; supporting actress went to Tilda Swinton for MICHAEL CLAYTON. Original screenplay honors went to Diablo Cody (JUNO) and adapted screenplay went to Ronald Harwood (THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY). Roger Deakins won best cinematography for NO COUNTRY (he should have won for JESSE JAMES). Chris Rousse won best film editing for THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (great choice!) and animated film honors went to RATATOUILLE.

And last but most certainly not least, it's being reported that Woody Allen's newest film (VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, hitting theaters late '08) will feature an erotic, lesbian encounter between Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz. If this is in fact for real, well...I just....don't know what else to say...

Friday, February 8, 2008

NOTES ON TELEVISION

Most of the entries on this blog cover the world of film. But I am also a big fan of what television can offer. Contrary to what some people will tell you, there is a ton of excellent programming currently airing; here's a list of the shows that I watch on a regular or semi-regular basis: LOST, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, THE SOPRANOS (used to watch anyways, still watch repeats), MAD MEN, THE SHIELD, RESCUE ME, NIP/TUCK, THE RICHES, 24, IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, KITCHEN NIGHTMARES (my one reality show guilty pleasure), THE OFFICE, 30 ROCK, WEEDS, ENTOURAGE, CALIFORNICATION, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, TELL ME YOU LOVE ME, AMERICAN IDOL (the try-outs only), CSI, and DINNER FOR FIVE (the series just ended...sadness...). I will still watch SEINFELD and X-FILES repeats even though I own all of the episodes on DVD. Big-time feature film writers, directors, and producers are all taking shots at television shows and the influence of movie talent has been felt throughout the last few years on the small screen. Production values have gotten better, acting has gotten sharper, and the writing is frequently as good (or better) than most feature films. The benefit of having a long time (20-23 episodes) to flesh out characters has resulted in some shows that I simply cannot and will not miss (LOST, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, THE SHIELD, RESCUE ME, ENTOURAGE, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, THE OFFICE, and CALIFORNICATION are my absolute favorites).

But my #1 show of the moment has to be FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, which I think is about as good as anything that's ever been on network television (CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX). Boasting the best ensemble of actors of any show and featuring some of the best, most honest writing and dialogue that I've ever encountered, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS is instantly addictive, hugely entertaining, and frequently moving; I can count on a few characters making me cry every week. Peter Berg, a one time actor (CHICAGO HOPE) and now major movie director (THE KINGDOM, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, HANCOCK), developed the series after his feature film version became a critical and commerical success. I love all of the people on the show and I cringe, laugh, cry, and applaud whenever something emotional goes down; I am totally hooked. Sure, some of it is soapy and a bit predictable, but I don't care. The depiction of West Texas high school football life, both on the field and off, is gripping and always interesting; it's a world I knew nothing about but now feel connected too in a very weird, however small, way. Kyle Chandler, a familiar faced actor who you've probably seen before but don't know by name, is, simply put, the most underrated actor working in Hollywood. His peformance as Coach Taylor is layered (he's also a husband and father) and deep and extremely satisfying. All of the players are perfect; their love interests are all beautiful. And most interestingly, the emphasis that the showrunners and writers have placed on family, parenting, personal repsonsibility, and the consequences of your actions should be commended. It's a thoughtful and morally centered hour of television every week, something very different than most of the other options on the boob tube. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS is about to air the 15th episode of its second season tonight, and I am sad to report, it's the last completed episode the show has due to the writer's strike. The big question is whether or not NBC will decide to order the last 7 or 8 episodes of this season, or scrap them entirely. And considering that the ratings have never been good for the show (it's critically acclaimed up the whazoo but nobody watches it) I could see NBC brass deciding to pass on the rest of the season, and any future seasons for that matter. The old NBC regime was responsible for bringing the show back after its low-rated first season; new president Ben Silverman seems more interested in complete shit like CELEBRITY APPRENTICE and AMERICAN GLADIATORS. If you've never seen FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, go out and buy the first season on dvd; I think it's like $20 at Best Buy or Amazon.com. You'll thank me 15 minutes into the pilot episode (which is one of the best pilots ever shot).

MOVIES FOR THE WEEKEND

I plan on seeing the new noir crime thriller IN BRUGES this weekend. I also have last year's Beatles musical ACROSS THE UNIVERSE on dvd. I also have last year's independent high school satire ROCKET SCIENCE to check out on dvd.

Really looking forward to IN BRUGES. Roger Ebert gave it 4 stars and here's a link to his review:
http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article&AID=/20080207/REVIEWS/802070301

Manohla Dargis in the New York Times (one of my other favorite critics) seemed to really like it as well. Here's her review:
http://movies.nytimes.com/2008/02/08/movies/08brug.html

I love stylish, dark, R-rated gangster thrillers like SNATCH, LOCK, STOCK & TWO SMOKING BARRELS, LAYER CAKE, SEXY BEAST, etc. I am hoping that IN BRUGES lives up to those titles above.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

MOVIES & FOOD: A DELECTABLE COMBO

Movies and food go hand in hand. You eat popcorn and candy (and nowadays sometimes popcorn shrimp or nachos) in a movie theater; you munch on snacks while you sit on your couch watching a DVD. Sometimes the movie you’re watching directly involves food (ever notice how characters in movies always sit down to a meal and then never eat anything?!) or maybe the film is about food preparation or chefs. Or maybe it’s about the joys that food can bring to different people. Consider these films that incorporate food into their plots and themes as you prepare for your Valentine’s Day date-night; go rent one, grab some grub, and cozy up with your significant other and enjoy an evening of entertainment and nourishment!

BIG NIGHT

Writer-actor-director Stanley Tucci’s film BIG NIGHT is a celebration of all things delicious. The film centers on a slumping Italian restaurant in NYC that two brothers own and operate. They devise a plan to re-energize their restaurant and their menu; hilarity and eating ensues. This is a funny, sweet little film that scored big with critics and audiences back in 1997 when it was released in theaters. Since then it’s become a cult classic on video and DVD; if you’ve never seen it, make a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs and sit down with BIG NIGHT and have a wonderful, Italiano night!

RATATOUILLE

From writer/director Brad Bird (THE INCREDIBLES) comes this terrific animated film that is actually geared more to adults than it is to children. Sure, there is a cute, talking rat that little kiddies will love. But the central conflict, that of a phony wannabe chef and the friendship he forges with a smart little rodent, is steeped in the passion for cooking and eating. It’s a bright, colorful film that manages to be both cute and enlightening. The digital food creations look good enough to devour; too bad they’re all the creation of a computer.

WAITRESS

This delicious comedy from last year is guaranteed to make you crave a slice of pie. Kerri Russell stars as a plucky waitress stuck in a dead-end marriage. Her passion is baking and her specialty is pie; just wait till you see the amazing concoctions that writer/director Adrienne Shelley has her prepare throughout the course of the film. WAITRESS is one of the best romantic comedies in years, due in large part to Russell’s excellent performance (I really wanted her to get a best actress nomination at this year’s Oscars but it didn’t happen) and the witty dialogue in Shelley’s script. A clear love for dessert informs this tasty little rom-com; you’ll be running over to your local grocery store to grab a pie shell and filling as soon as the movie is over.

CHOCOLAT

Simply put, if you don’t have some candy (preferably a box of chocolates) in your immediate area while watching Lasse Hallstrom’s CHOCOLAT, you’re gonna wish you did. This film LOVES its sweets; you’ll have a toothache after the movie is over. Juliette Binoche is a candy maker in Paris and Johnny Depp is some sort of pirate/gypsy; the specifics of this film, which I saw in the theater years ago, escape me at the moment, but I remember feeling as though I had a massive sugar rush only moments into the proceedings. If you consider yourself a chocolate connoisseur, you owe it yourself to check this flick out.

NO RESERVATIONS

A remake of the German film MOSTLY MARTHA, director Scott Hicks (SHINE) ladles on the Hollywood sentimentality and slick production values to this sexy looking romantic comedy about dueling chefs (Catherine Zeta Jones and Aaron Eckhart) who spar both in the kitchen and in the bed room. It’s all done tastefully (it’s a PG rated film aimed at grownups) and the film glides along like butter cream icing atop a decadent chocolate cake. The kitchen scenes are authentic and will have you craving some good eats as the film progresses. Light as a soufflĂ© and sweet as candy, NO RESERVATIONS is undemanding entertainment that will have your stomach growling unless you’ve prepared something tasty to snack on while watching.

WERNER HERZOG EATS HIS SHOE

Have you ever jokingly said the phrase: “If you do that, well, I’ll eat my shoe.”? Have you ever wanted to see someone eat their foot wear? If you answered yes to either of those questions, or if you just want to check out something so hilariously surreal that you won’t believe your eyes, you have to check out Les Blank’s short film WERNER HERZOG EATS HIS SHOE. The film is only available as an extra feature on the BURDEN OF DREAMS Criterion DVD release, but it’s worth buying just for that (you’ll also find yourself in possession of one of best documentaries about the making of a film that’s ever been produced.) The short of it: eccentric filmmaker Werner Herzog (GRIZZLY MAN) bet one of his fellow filmmaking friends (Errol Morris, THE FOG OF WAR) that he couldn’t complete his first film. If he did get through the process, Werner would eat his shoe. Well…Les made his film…and Werner…well…the title of the movie says it all. The sight of Herzog stewing his hiking boot in beef broth and garlic is beyond strange and totally hysterical. I’d suggest a nice leathery steak while watching WERNER HERZOG EATS HIS SHOE.

MYSTIC PIZZA

A coming of age story about three teenage girls set against the backdrop of a Connecticut pizzeria. It's hard to believe that this film is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. You get to see Julia Roberts in one of her early, star-making roles. If you haven’t seen this film, you really can’t consider yourself a true New Englander. Grab a pie from Briccos and take a trip down memory lane with MYSTIC PIZZA.

TEASER POSTER: QUANTUM OF SOLACE

Here is the slick new teaser poster for the next James Bond flick. Marc Forster (THE KITE RUNNER, STRANGER THAN FICTION) is directing from a script by CASINO ROYALE writers Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade. Daniel Craig is back as Bond and Mathieu Amalric (THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY) is the bad guy. QUANTUM OF SOLACE arrives in theaters this November.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

QUICK REVIEW: THE KING OF KONG (****)

Seth Gordon's fast and funny documentary THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS is as good as the critics said it was. After the first 15 minutes or so, I wondered, where is this movie going? What's going to happen? How will all of this play out? All of those questions answered themselves wonderfully; THE KING OF KONG is both hilarious and oddly moving by its conclusion. The story of an out-of-work husband and father (Steve Wiebe) who faces off (sort of) against the current Donkey Kong champion (Billy Mitchell), THE KING OF KONG is an easy-going little movie that becomes totally thrilling as it plays out. The eccentric, geeky supporting cast of characters are all funny and honest; they're Herzog-lite if you will. I have read that THE KING OF KONG is going to be made into a feature film and I'm not surprised in the slightest; it's an emotional yet silly story that is almost so lunatic that you think these people might be actors. But they're not, and that's where THE KING OF KONG is most fascinating. If I were out of work, the last thing I'd probably think to do would be to sit down infront of an old-school arcade game and obsessively learn how to play Donkey Kong. But Steve Wiebe did. Watching documentaries always reminds you of how there are so many different, unique people out there in the world, and what might seem crazy or strange to you is perfectly normal for others. But you know...if I met someone like Billy Mitchell...I'd want to take him down too. Mitchell is the "villain" of the film and he couldn't be any smarmier. I won't spoil how the movie ends but let's just say that it ends exactly how it should. THE KING OF KONG is smart, funny, entertaining, and plain-old wacky. Even if you're not a video-gamer, this film will make you appreciate what it takes to be the best joy-stick handler in all the land.

Monday, February 4, 2008

IRON MAN SCREEN CAPTURES


One of my spies just sent along these screen captures from last night's IRON MAN super bowl tv spot. Sick. Absolutely sick.



TOMORROW ON DVD


One of the best films of 2007 (my personal #2), THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD hits dvd tomorrow. Go buy it. It's a masterpiece of filmmaking and storytelling.
Here's the link to my original review:


POSTERS DU JOUR

So sweet that SHINE A LIGHT will be showing on IMAX screens when it opens this April.
I love a good British gangster movie and Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleason, and Ralph Fiennes look terrific in this flick. Written and directed by PILLOWMAN playwright Martin McDonaugh. IN BRUGES hits theaters this weekend, at least in limited release.

Websites are now selling this poster for around $80; Heath Ledger's untimely death is going to add a surreal twist to THE DARK KNIGHT.








Friday, February 1, 2008

SWEET NEW IRON MAN IMAGE



Looks sick.
There will be a new trailer for Jon Favreau's IRON MAN during this weekend's Super Bowl.


WHO WILL DIRECT THE WOLFMAN?

So according to The Hollywood Reporter, Universal execs are talking with James Mangold (WALK THE LINE, 3:10 TO YUMA), Frank Darabont (SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, THE MIST), Brett Ratner (X-3, RUSH HOUR 1-3), Joe Johnston (JURASSIC PARK 3, HIDALGO) and Bill Condon (GODS AND MONSTERS, DREAMGIRLS) about taking over the director's chair of their $100 million THE WOLFMAN after Mark Romanek (ONE HOUR PHOTO) exited the project. Benicio Del Toro is still attached to play the hairy man-beast, and Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt will appear in supporting roles. Apparently, Universal is leaning towards Ratner, aka Hack-ner; if this happens, color me disappointed. Ratner is the epitome of "gun-for-hire" and he brings nothing remotely exciting, either on a visual or narrative level, to any of the films he's directed. Sure, his movies have made money, but only because he's lucked into box office hits. The RUSH HOUR films made money because of the star combo (Chan and Tucker) and by the third go-round, there wasn't much gas left in the franchise. He took over X-3 after Bryan Singer left to go mess up SUPERMAN RETURNS and anyone who saw X-3 knows how that turned out---pretty flat. RED DRAGON was a Hannibal Lectre film, and while it was decent, it couldn't scratch the ass-itch of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS or HANNIBAL. What I am trying to say is that Ratner is a clown, a lucky guy who is a competent enough "shooter" to get a movie completed. What a film like THE WOLFMAN needs, especially with an actor like Del Toro in the lead, is a filmmaker with a vision. Based on his work with ONE HOUR PHOTO, Romanek struck me as the perfect director for a dark horror film like THE WOLFMAN. ONE HOUR PHOTO was stylish and smart, a combination that Ratner has never really achieved. I'd personally go with Mangold or Darabont; they are both infinitely more talented with actors and dialogue and while not auteurs, have both developed a classy visual style. Darabont was last in theaters with the horror film THE MIST, a movie I heard lots of good things about, but one that I missed in theaters. The fact that THE WOLFMAN's script has been written by Andrew Kevin Walker (SEVEN, SLEEPY HOLLOW, lots of uncredited David Fincher re-writes) is also reason to expect something cerebral and creepy. From other reports I've read, it seems that the pre-production work that Romanek had comepleted would still be the basis for the film when it comes time to shoot; combined with whatever ideas the new director brings to the table, this film should be an interesting one to finally see up on the big screen.