Monday, August 31, 2009

2009 FALL MOVIE PREVIEW

Sept 4

Extract – The new comedy from Mike Judge (Office Space, Idiocracy) which stars one of my favorite comedic actors, Jason Bateman. Trailers are funny. Premise is funny. Cast is terrific.

Gamer – more crazy action from the Crank auteurs. Gerald Butler stars. Trailers are frenetic and stylish. I’ve heard is crazy violent and totally bug-fuck insane like the Crank films. Anyone out there seen Pathology, that Flatliners-esque horror movie that Neveldine/Taylor wrote and produced? Reviews were bad, but it sounds like seedy fun…anyways, in regards to Gamer, I’m in.

Sept 11

9 – looks interesting. An animated end-of-the-world sci-fi action thingee from producers Tim Burton and Timur Bekmembatov (Wanted). The director, Shane Acker, based the film on his award winning short.

Sept 18

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs – I never read this kid’s book but the trailers look like a blast. And what’s cooler than seeing food falling from the sky in 3-D?

The Informant – this looks like a screwy little black comedy from Steven Soderbergh. Matt Damon stars as some sort of corporate whistle blower who gets in over his head with the authorities and his employers. As with anything by Soderbergh, the film is of serious interest.

Jennifer’s Body – it looks like trash but it looks like sexy, violent, fun trash. Written by Diablo Cody (not a huuuge fan but I can deal) and directed by Karyn Kusama (the excellent Girlfight, the terrible Aeon Flux), this is some sort of gory high school horror movie with Megan Fox in the lead. Might be a fun guilty pleasure.

Sept 25

Surrogates – I don’t know. The trailers aren’t really doing it for me. I like Bruce Willis. Jonathan Mostow (Breakdown, T-3, U-571) is a solid craftsman but the movie looks like a clone of I, Robot (which was decent but hardly anything that needs to be rehashed) and while some of the effects in the trailers looked interesting, too much of it looked fake. I’m on the fence…

Fame – this is not one of my most anticipated movies of the year but the trailers are surprisingly energetic, it stars a real cutie-pie dancer (a contestant on last year’s So You Think You Can Dance), and my wife is VERY excited…so I’ll be checking it out. It looks like harmless fluff.

10/2

Zombieland – this movie looks like the definition of the word “romp.” Have you seen the trailer? If not, go check it out. Even if you aren’t a big zombie fan (like me), I bet you’ll agree that it looks funny, creative, and wild. Also, it stars Woody Harrelson. And I LOVE Woody Harrelson.

A Serious Man – the new film from the Coen brothers. It’s some sort of black comedy set in the 60’s or 70’s in a Jewish neighborhood/household in Minnesota. At least that’s what I think it’s about. The trailer is fucking brilliant. Really, really excited.

10/9

Couples Retreat – the cast for this film is phenomenal. Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Jason Bateman, Faizon Love, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell. It’s got a promising premise: a bunch of unhappy couples go to an island resort to work on their issues. Then why does the movie look so routine based on its trailers? I want to hope that it’s just a case of a shit trailer, but I don’t know…

An Education – after reading/hearing about this movie for the last few months on various websites, I have high expectations for this drama which stars one of my favorite actors, Peter Sarsgaard, and relative newcomer Carey Mulligan. I don’t have a firm grasp of the story structure, but I believe it’s some sort of tragic romance. All I have been hearing is how Mulligan is a mind-blower in the film, and that the writing and direction is top notch.

10/16

The Road – from John Hillcoat, the director of the brilliant Australian outback thriller The Proposition, comes this amazing looking apocalyptic thriller based on Cormac McCarthy’s revered book. Viggo Mortensen stars as a father tasked with protecting his son as they make a perilous journey through a nuclear wasteland in search of food and shelter. It sounds bleak and nasty but extremely interesting and right up my alley from a genre perspective. Can’t wait for this one.

Where the Wild Things Are – the trailers have made me cry. Spike Jonze is a genius. This book was something that I cherished as a child. My expectations are thru the roof. Anything less than a four star masterpiece will be unacceptable and deeply upsetting.

Law Abiding Citizen – it looks like violent nonsense but something about the premise is tantalizing. Starring Gerard Butler (busy year for him with this, Gamer, and The Ugly Truth) and Jamie Foxx. From director F. Gary Gray (Friday, The Negotiator, The Italian Job). It’s some sort of legal thriller crossed with a Death Wish-esque revenge twist. It looks crappy in a good way.

10/23

Amelia – Oscar bait. Big, sweeping biopic about Amelia Earhart with Hilary Swank in the lead and Richard Gere in second fiddle. Directed by Mira Nair, it looks crisp and clean and emotional and if it’s a box office hit, it could be a big awards contender. Will be curious to see how this one pans out.

10/30

Youth in Revolt – a black comedy with Michael Cera based on a popular book. I don’t know much about the plot but the offbeat trailer was funny. Though, I really hope that Cera brings more to the table than just his usual shtick in this one. The director is Miguel Arteta (Star Maps, Chuck and Buck, The Good Girl).

11/6
The Box – the latest mind-bender from Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko, the underrated Southland Tales). The cast is interesting (Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella) and the Twilight Zone-ish premise (strange man offers couple a mysterious box that once opened will bring them serious cash but cause the death of a stranger) sounds spooky. Kelly is very talented (his script for Domino is a work of art) so I’m hoping that this is good. Oh, it’s also worth mentioning that Kelly helped get the brilliant black comedy World’s Greatest Dad made.

A Christmas Carol – Robert Zemeckis has always been one of my favorite directors. He’s made so many instant classics: Back to the Future 1-3, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Cast Away, Forrest Gump, Contact. His 3-D version of The Polar Express still remains as one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had in a movie theater. However, his last effort, Beowulf, left me remarkably cold. I’m hoping that his latest technological marvel is a step back in the right direction. Jim Carrey is playing multiple roles in this timeless holiday story. I’m expecting this one to be huuuuge at the box office.

The Fourth Kind – a low budget but very scary looking alien abduction movie with Milla Jovovich. It looks realistic and scary. Not sure if I’ll see it in the theater, but I like realistic sci-fi and this looks interesting.

The Men Who Stare At Goats – one of the wackiest sounding movies in recent memory. Per the IMDB: “a reporter in Iraq might just have the story of a lifetime when he meets Lyn Cassady, a guy who claims to be a former member of the U.S. Army's First Earth Battalion, a unit that employs paranormal powers in their missions.” The cast is great: Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, J.K. Simmons, Robert Patrick, Stephen Lang, and Stephen Root. It’s directed by Clooney’s long-time producing/writing partner Grant Heslov, based on a non-fiction book by Jon Ronson. Go check out the trailer. Looks beyond weird. It’ll probably make about $4.35 at the box office but something tells me it’ll be one of the year’s more creative efforts.

11/13

2012 – More end-of-the-world CGI idiocy from Roland Emmerich (ID4, Stargate, The Day After Tomorrow). The trailers are staggering in scope and the effects look stunning. I’m sure the writing will be inane and the acting will be stiff as a board, but the B-movie cast is effective on paper (John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Eijofor, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Danny Glover, and George Segal. The movie is about how the Myans predicted the end of the world in 2012, and based on the trailers, every inch of the planet is decimated. My favorite bit: the shot of the entire coastal shelf of California being separated from the continental United State and emptied into the Pacific. They don’t call it Hell-A for nothing!

11/20

Broken Embraces – the latest genre-bender from acclaimed auteur Pedro Almodovar and starring Penelope Cruz. Don’t know too much about the plot – I’ve heard it’s some sort of romantic noir. I want to be fresh with this one because I’m a big Almodovar fan (I’ve seen EVERY SINGLE movie he’s made).

11/25

Nine – from director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha, the upcoming Pirates 4) comes this glossy looking musical about an Italian movie director (the always incredible Daniel Day Lewis) juggling the many women in his life while making one of his biggest movies to date. The trailers are sensational. And one of my favorite cinematographers, Dion Beebe (Chicago, Miami Vice, Collateral), shot it. This is high on my list.

Fantastic Mr. Fox – not really familiar with the children’s source material but anything directed by Wes Anderson (Rushmore) will be seen theatrically by me. A great voice cast (Clooney, Streep, Murray, Schwartzman) is on board, and the movie, even though it’s animated, looks to be set squarely in Wes Anderson world.

Ninja Assassin – I’ve read amazing test screening reviews for this apparently ultra-violent martial arts/ninja movie from director James McTiegue (V for Vendetta) and producers The Wachowskis (The Matrix, Speed Racer). The trailers are intense and while this isn’t my top pick for the fall season, it might be a nice, blood-soaked surprise.

12/4

Brothers – this movie better be good. It’s got the pedigree both in front of and behind the camera. Jim Sheridan (In America, My Left Foot) is the director. David Benioff (25th Hour, Troy, The Kite Runner) is the screenwriter. Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Natalie Portman star. This thing is this: this is a remake of an extremely well done movie from Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier (Things We Lost in the Fire, After the Wedding). If they stick with the original’s plot lines and don’t turn it into Hollywood nonsense, this is a sure-fire awards contender. If…

12/11

Lovely Bones – one of the big dogs of the awards season will be The Lovely Bones, based on Alice Sebold’s bestselling novel, and directed by Peter The Lord of the Rings Jackson. The trailers are surreal and vibrant and the cast is star-studded (Rachel Weisz, Mark Whalberg, Stanley Tucci, Michael Imperioli, Saoirse Ronan, Susan Sarandon). It’ll be interesting to see what uber-fans of the book think of the movie adaptation. I haven’t read the book so it’ll be a movie-only experience for me. I’m definitely curious.

Invictus – A film by Clint Eastwood. This phrase scares everyone else come awards season. Eastwood directs this look at the life of Nelson Mandela (played by the eventual Best Oscar nominee Morgan Freeman) and how he attempted to unite his country through the rugby world cup in 1995. Matt Damon co-stars. This is going to be a key player come Oscar nomination morning.

12/18

Avatar – the elephant in the room. The recently released trailer drew mixed reaction on the internet. Sure, it broke download records, but feedback was less than overly thrilled. Avatar marks the return to feature filmmaking for James Cameron. This is a $200 million plus original science fiction adventure that will supposedly showcase 3-D technology in a way that nobody has ever experienced before. Cameron has become more of an innovator than storyteller over the years, and while I am really hoping that I love this film, something tells me I’m going to be disappointed. We’ll have to wait and see…

12/25

It’s Complicated – the latest from Nancy Meyers (Something’s Gotta Give, What Women Want). I’ve said enough right there. Nancy Meyers is the Michael Bay of her milieu. I’ve generally enjoyed Meyers’ output but it’s no secret that she’s not the deepest dish in the pantry. The cast for this one is strong (Streep, Alec Baldwin, John Krasinski, Steve Martin, Lake Bell, Rita Wilson) and the premise sounds entertaining. There’s always one adult-skewing romantic dramedy every winter season so this one will probably do the trick.

Sherlock Holmes – I want this movie to kick some ass. Robert Downey Jr. stars as the titular hero with Jude Law as Watson, Rachel McAdams as the love interest, and the oily Mark Strong (Body of Lies) as the villain. It’s been directed by Guy Ritchie (Snatch) and the script is by Anthony Peckham (who also wrote Invictus for Eastwood). The trailers are stylish looking and the period setting is very welcome. Will this be the start of a franchise?


Top 10 to see for the season:

1. The Road
2. Where the Wild Things Are
3. A Serious Man
4. The Men Who Stare at Goats
5. The Informant
6. Nine
7. Brothers
8. Invictus
9. Avatar
10. The Lovely Bones

THREE SENTENCE DVD REVIEWS

Thematically probing in spots but ultimately too slight, Christine Jeff's quirky comedy Sunshine Cleaning (B) is held up by its lovely leading ladies: the adorable Amy Adams and the smoky-hot Emily Blunt. This strange little flick about sisters who start a crime-scene clean-up company is funny at times but the too-short running time (90 minutes) left me wanting a bit more. Still, it's worth checking out if you like either of the lead actresses, or if you want to see something that's quick, a little different, and mostly entertaining.


Stylish garbage, The Informers (D+), based on the novel by Brett Easton Ellis (American Psycho), is a major step down for filmmaker Gregor Jordan, who has made it his speciality to direct underrated movies that have flown under the radar (Buffalo Soldiers, Ned Kelly, Two Hands). Lacking the zest and satirical edge of Marry Harron's far superior take on Ellis source material (Psycho), the film goes nowhere for it's mercifully brief running time, and features clueless performances, a dreary narrative, and sex/violence/drug shock-crap that fails to excite. The only thing worth mentioning beyond the somewhat impressive cinematography is that blond vixen Amber Heard (Pineapple Express, the heavily praised but yet to be released All the Boys Love Mandy Lane), prances around topless in pretty much every scene she appears in.


I wish I could say that John Moore's Max Payne (D-) was stylish garbage but I can't; it's just regular old garbage. Based on the popular video game (there was my first clue), the film is one of those heavily CGI'd PG-13 actioners where tons of people are bloodlessly shot and the narrative doesn't hold up to any sort of scrutiny. Mark Wahlberg gives a charisma-free performance as the titular hero, but the film doesn't get an F because it features ex-Bond girl Olga Kurylenko skulking around in lingerie, and Mila Kunis in tight black leather while firing an AK-47.

SEEK THESE OUT

Italic I was not prepared for how dark and how hysterical Bobcat Goldthwait's World's Greatest Dad (A) was going to be. Available via Video On Demand (VOD) and playing in extremely limited theatrical release, this scalding, deeply perverted, and oddly touching little comedy is the sort of film that's destined to find a huge cult following. The less you know about the story the better, so here's a small summary: Robin Williams (brilliant here) is high school teacher and failed writer Lance Clayton, a single dad who is raising his punk-ass teenage son Kyle (the amazing Daryl Sabara, who gives one of the best performances I've seen all year) and carrying on a secret relationship with fellow teacher Claire (the cute Alexie Gilmore). When Kyle accidentally (and embarrassingly) dies, Lance decides to write a suicide note on behalf of his son. That's when all hell breaks loose. Again, know as little about this movie as possible before you check it out. If this is the first review that you've read for the film, stop here -- you don't want anything ruined. All I will say is that it's one of the sharpest high school satires since Election, and overall, the film has a nasty streak of diseased humor running through its cinematic veins that is extremely refreshing. It's an audacious, unsafe comedy, unafraid to go to some truly dark places, and always succeeding because of Goldthwait's ability to cull humor out of the perverse. Williams gives a terrific performance, on par with his career best work in stuff like Insomnia, Death to Smoochy, and One Hour Photo; when he wants to knock it out of the park, he really crushes it. I was hesitant to watch Goldthwait's previous feature, Sleeping Dogs Lie, because of the content (it's a comedy about a college girl who sexually services her pet dog thus ruining her psycho-sexual outlook for the rest of her life). But now I will definitely be Netflixing it. World's Greatest Dad is not only the funniest movie of 2009 (yes, funnier than The Hangover), but it's one of the best.


I was not aware of the filmmaker Ramin Bahrani until this past weekend when I saw his small masterwork Good Bye Solo (A). Again, this is another work where you should know as little as possible before checking it out; it's a quietly powerful film with two absolutely astonishing performances from its leads. Bahrani, whose two previous films Chop Shop and Man Push Cart are now must views for me, is a naturalist filmmaker with a style similar to Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy); deliberately slow pace, simple but effective camera set ups, limited artificial musical score, slow-burn dramatics. Good Bye Solo is about a North Carolina cab driver named Solo (the amazing Souleymane Sy Savane), a Senegalese immigrant, whose girlfriend is about to have a baby. One day, an old, sad looking man named William (Red West, incredible) gets in his cab and makes him an offer: in one week, for $1000 cash, Solo will drive William to the highest point in a nearby mountain range, drop him off, and never look back. What develops over that week is an unlikely but incredibly moving friendship between the two incredibly different men. Bahrani's emotionally riveting screenplay gives West and Savane some powerful scenes to play off of each other in, with a climax that is perfectly understated but deeply felt. I was taken back by the honest and natural performances of both West and Savane. West is a guy who has been doing bit parts in movies for years (his personal story is fascinating, do a google search) and he's got one of those made-for-the-cinema faces that dispenses with back-story without the necessity for any words. It's a face that's seen a lot throughout the years, and because of West's grizzled look and feel, he brings an intensity to William that remains present throughout the entire picture. Savane, an actor of limited experience, is the perfect antidote to West's hardness; Solo could give Happy-Go-Lucky's Poppy Montgomery a run for her money in the eternally optimistic sweepstakes. Always trying to help, always thinking with his heart (when sometimes he should be thinking more with his head), Solo is determined not to let William do himself in, even if it means sacrificing things that he holds dear. Bahrani has been hailed by Roger Ebert as "America's next great filmmaker" and it's not hard to see why. Good Bye Solo is a great film, one that will make you think long after you've finished watching it. It's available via VOD and on DVD right now and I highly recommend it.

Friday, August 28, 2009

MOVIES FOR THE WEEKEND

Nothing in the theaters. All of this weekend's new releases look like dung. I'll probably check out Inglorious Basterds for the second time next Tuesday afternoon. I went back for another helping of District 9 this week -- it's a stunning effort. If you haven't seen this film yet I urge you to check it out. Brilliant stuff.

From Netflix I have the critically acclaimed indie Goodbye Solo.

Look for my fall movie preview in the next few days, and I'll have a new DVD round up sometime next week.

Monday, August 24, 2009

SUMMER MOVIE WRAP UP

Overall, it was an excellent summer at the movies. There were more hits than misses, some of the year's best films were released, and the holy trinity (Scott, Mann, Bay) all saw action and kicked some serious ace. I've written reviews of some of this summer's movies, made comments about others, but here are some final words about the last bunch of movies I've seen from the summer movie season.


"Mind-blowing" is a term that's been overused when describing a movie, particular one in the action or science-fiction genre. When you're a fan of these types of movies, it's easy to get swept up by the grand ideas and/or the serious displays of special effects. And it's easy to walk out of the theater, seriously jazzed, and over-state how one feels about a particular effort. But with District 9 (A+), I feel that even the highest amounts of hyperbole aren't enough -- the film marks the arrival of major talent (writer/director Neill Blomkamp) and serves as one of the current benchmarks in the science fiction genre. Blending a mockumentary style format with Black Hawk Down style military realism, District 9 tells the exciting tale of a government employee sucked into a political conspiracy involving a race of aliens who are being segregated from normal society in South Africa where their ship stalled out above the city. All hells breaks loose when our hero (anti-hero, really) gets infected with an alien-disease and must enlist the help of a reluctant alien refugee (the film is a race-relations parable beneath all of the explosions) to get him cured. Produced by Peter Jackson, the film has a seamless visual design, with all of the CGI alien characters effortlessly blended into the frame with real humans on real sets. It's special effects work that would make Michael Bay proud. But Blomkamp does Bay one better -- he gives us an organically occurring story weight and depth with large ideas and relevant political issues, while also kicking us in the teeth with violent combat and incredible visions of science-fiction destruction. This isn't Independence Day. This isn't Men In Black. This is a full-on combat film, shot like a documentary, and given real detail by everyone involved. It's also the best film of 2009 so far.


Michael Mann never fucks up. Even The Keep was interesting. The man is just too smart, too creative, and too stylish to ever make a film that was less than great. He's one of my absolute favorite filmmakers, and with Public Enemies (A+), he's given us a remarkable, different gangster epic that sits alongside the best. Shooting in vivid HD with his extremely gifted cinematographer Dante Spinotti (Heat, The Insider, L.A. Confidential), Mann crafts an engrossing crime saga around John Dillinger's daring run of bank robberies and the federal government's pursuit of Dillinger and his crew. Johnny Depp is electric as Dillinger and Christian Bale is all stolid machismo as the g-man nipping at his heels. The romance angle is handled deftly by Mann once again (echoing the romantic longing of the romance subplot of his masterpiece Miami Vice), and Marion Cotillard generates some serious heat with Depp in their love scenes. But what gangster movie would be complete without a show-stopping shoot-out? Well, in Public Enemies, you get about five, with one of them (set at night in the Wisconsin woods) coming close to equaling that sprawling downtown L.A. set-piece in Heat. Public Enemies is the sort of smart, adult piece of filmmaking that generally gets saved for Oscar time. I like that we got it during the summer so that along with the purebred blockbusters there was something meaty to chew on as well.

Kathryn Bigelow is a filmmaker who lives for the kinetic. Strange Days. Blue Steel. Point Break. Near Dark. K-19. She knows her action. But with The Hurt Locker (A+), which happens to be the best film of her career, she's potentially made one of the defining war movies of the decade, a film of extreme focus and precision, a film of haunting beauty and power. It's also a white-knuckle, edge-of-your-seat, ticking-time-bomb posing as a movie; those jolts of nervous energy you feel while watching it are real and honest. The Hurt Locker centers on a team of Marines in Iraq who have the job of disarming IED's along the side of the road and wherever they are spotted. Yes, the film is a "cut this wire! don't cut that wire!" affair, but it's more than that. It's a study of determination, of fortitude, of manliness, of valor. The film sits alongside Black Hawk Down and Full Metal Jacket as one of the most piercing looks at war-time combat ever captured on celluloid. It's also the film that might finally land Bigelow some Oscar consideration, and finally get her a big studio job after years of playing on the fringes because of some pricey flops. I think she'd be a PERFECT choice to direct the next Bourne movie if Paul Greengrass is too busy.


I've spoken at length on this site (and others) about my undying love for all things Michael Bay and all things Tranformers. Simply put, the gargantuan sequel Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (A) is the best special-effects blockbuster ever crafted. The composition, visual intensity, and overall complexity of Bay's magisterial mise en scene is second to none in this realm. I could care less about the story, the dialogue, the performances (all of which, by the way, are perfectly adequate). Those aren't the reasons I pay to see 50 foot robots from outer space smashing each other into the Pyramids. This is a colossal film. It's got the best, most complicated special effects that have ever been woven into a movie. And it all looks totally real, completely organic, and almost always head-scratchingly impossible. It's a movie that DeMille or Griffith would have applauded. Bay is P.T. Barnum for this generation. He's a showman of the highest order. Bow to Bay. End of rant.

The quirky and bittersweet romantic drama (500) Days of Summer (A) has caught on with moviegoers to become of the summer's sleeper hits, and I'm not surprised in the slightest. Hip soundtrack? Check. Offbeat but attractive leads? Check (Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt). A quick run time? Check (90 minutes). Great montages? Check (one of which is a musical number). The movie is all about a guy who falls in love with a girl who isn't exactly all there from an emotional standpoint; it's about how even when you're blindsided by love, the feeling always has to be mutual in order for the relationship to grow and survive. Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel give two of the best performances of the year and the honest, sometimes scarring screenplay clearly is coming from a true and real place. Marc Webber's spirited, stylish direction moves the narrative along at a brisk but never frantic clip, and again, that soundtrack really seals the deal. The narrative features only one annoying bit, a bowing to one of this genre's most annoying trends (the overly sophisticated 12 year old girl), but other than that, the film is a gem.

I was shocked by how much I enjoyed Julie and Julia (A-). Nora Ephron's movies tend to grate on my nerves. But this time her charm and sensibilities won me over. Based on a book which was at first a blog(!), Julie and Julia tells the parallel stories of Julia Child (Meryl Streep, great as always) as she rose through the cooking ranks and Julie Powell (the adorable Amy Adams, even if she's wearing a poorly chosen wig), a writer who decided to blog about her experiences as she embarked on a journey to cook all of Child's recipes from The Joy of French Cooking. The movie is food porn; it's a film that foodies (like me) will just love. You'll be hungry while watching so make sure you have plans to go out to a great restaurant afterwards. From the trailers, I suspected that I'd be more interested in the Streep stuff than the Adams stuff, but to my great surprise, it was the Adams stuff that really connected with me. Not that Streep's plot line with her adoring husband (brilliantly played by Stanley Tucci) didn't make me tear up (it did, sue me), but I found myself really drawn into the blogging and writing struggles that Powell was going through. The movie is a souffle -- light and sweet and very appetizing.

Like all of Quentin Tarantino's movies, Inglorious Basterds (B+) will need to be seen again in order to truly appreciate all that he's thrown together. On first glance, my reaction was won of satisfaction, if not outright elation. Yes, he still knows how to write great dialogue (which is good to know because his last effort, Death Proof, fucking sucked). Yes, he still knows how to craft impeccable scenes. Yes, he still has a way with dark, ultra-violence that somehow registers as comedy. Yes, he's still a fanboy, cinematic smart-ass who's movie-encyclopedia-for-a-brain still gets him into trouble every now and again. The core story of Inglorious Basterds, that of a young girl's escape at the hands of death by the Nazis and how she comes to run a French movie theater where the Nazis want to hold a movie premier, is extremely engaging and entertaining. The subplot with the "Basterds" (Brad Pitt's stuff) is asinine and extremely violent and very Tarantino -- it's cool and all that but the film's other plot lines are infinitely more interesting. I plan on seeing this one again and I suspect that I'll enjoy it even more. Now that I've had a few days to reflect on what I saw last Friday, I'll say that I've come to admire the film more and more as the days have gone by, and I'm looking forward to delving into it again. Major highlights are the opening sequence in the farm house, Melanie Laurent and Christopher Waltz's performances, and the eclectic score. After mixing the western with noir and samurai in Kill Bill, Tarantino has blended the WWII movie with a spaghetti western with a dash of the French New Wave and the results are wild, ambitious, and unique.

Great trash. David Thwoy's A Perfect Getaway (B+) is one of those disposable entertainments that works in the moment and doesn't hold up to serious scrutiny upon close examination. It's violent, it's silly, it's funny, it's twisty, it's twisted, and it's quick and to the point. Steve Zahn and Timothy Olyphant have great chemistry and the final 20 minutes pack some visceral thrills. It's nothing brilliant, it's not going to win awards, but it's the kind of movie that will find a great shelf-life on DVD and cable and will surprise anyone with low expectations for this sort of genre programmer.

The Time Traveler's Wife (B) defies critical assessment. It's so preposterous that it should never work. But it does, thanks in large part to the two central performances, some classy cinematography, a few nifty special effects, and a time travel conceit that's a lot of fun for people who enjoy this sort of thing. It's a chick flick through and through, and while I didn't really know what to think of the movie based on the trailers, I went in with an open mind and had a bit of fun. Eric Bana is good looking and capable as a leading man and his chemistry with the radiant (if a bit skinny) Rachel McAdams was palpable. Again, the idea is pure idiocy -- a man and woman fall in love at various points in their lives thanks to the guy having a genetic anomaly that allows him to time travel at any moment in the day. Adapted by Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost) from a best selling novel and directed with glossy aplomb by German helmer Robert Schwentke (Flightplan), The Time Traveler's Wife is harmless and entertaining fluff.

THREE SENTENCE DVD REVIEWS

Tilda Swinton's hypnotic, bravura performance in Eric Zoncka's lurid and ludicrous indie kidnapping drama Julia (C-) isn't enough to save the film from the pits of pointlessness. Sort of like last year's Frozen River (minus that film's somber grace and nowhere near as satisfying), the film runs on and on and the payoff is hardly worth the tedious wait. Which is a shame, because Swinton, one of the most unique actresses working in movies today, owns the screen, and tears into her role with gusto and force.

Laurent Cantet's The Class (A) is a masterful examination of a French public high school and the daily life of its students and faculty. By using non-professional actors as the kids and basing the film's story on that of the life of a real teacher (lead actor François Bégaudeau), Cantet weaves together a thoroughly compelling portrait of what it's like to be a teen in today's ever- changing high school landscape. The French setting only makes the film stand out even more, the mock-doc aesthetic works perfectly, and the screenplay truly delivers on multiple levels.

Nasty, vile, and completely unecessary, The Last House on the Left (B) improbably succeeds as a piece of slick, revenge-motivated horrortainment thanks to better than expected performances (Tony Goldwyn and Garrett Dillahunt really stand out), a plot that makes sense within its boundaries, and a shiny, shimmering visual style. What's interesting is that the film is ultimately about two regular people (a husband/wife, mom/dad) who become savages after they discover that their daughter has been beaten and violated; the "what-would-you-do" question is asked repeatedly and the answer is something you might not want to admit too. Director Dennis Illiads pushes the boundaries of cinematic sexual violence with this remake of the classic 70's exploitation flick, and while it's not a movie for everyone, the film is done with such an assured sense of style and the performances are so commanding that it became extremely watchable despite all of the terrible things happening on screen.
Speed Racer (C+) is the kind of video-game-as-movie that can be best described as the end result of a bag of Skittles and a bag of Starburst having sex while engaging in a massive LSD-binge. Failing as a kid's movie (way too long, way too heady) and only moderately succeeding as an action picture (all of the races started to feel and look alike), The Wachowski brothers are still clearly interested in trying new things and expanding their technical horizons; it's just a shame that their screenwriting abilities can't match their visual sophistication. Miscast at almost every turn, the film is definitely a stunning piece of eye-candy (the Blu Ray presentation is aces), but the over-reliance on C.G.I. without any real-world grounding became a nuisance, and the stilted performances didn't do anyone any favors.


The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (C) is one of those dreary, somewhat enjoyable indies where a post-collegiate guy tries to figure out what direction his life is headed in and what he wants to do with himself -- sound familiar? It doesn't hurt that Sienna shows her Miller's and Mena shows her Suvari's, but the meandering, cliche script isn't helped by the lackluster direction of Dodgeball's Rawson Marshall Thurber (the "Terry Tate: Office Linebacker" commercials are still his best creation). The film's one major saving grace is the inclusion of Peter Sarasgaard in the cast, who once again proves that even if the movie he's appearing in is only moderately engaging, his performance can still rivet you even if you don't really care about anything else.


Howard McCain's delightfully cheesy B-movie Outlander (B-) is the kind of movie that a couple of stoners might've concocted: a space warrior crash lands in Norway circa 700 A.D. and bands together with a group of Vikings in order to vanquish the alien-dragon that hitched a ride on his space-ship. Mixing all of the hallmarks of the ancient-combat genre and the monster-in-the-woods genre, everyone in the cast (which includes Jim Caviezel, Ron Perlman, Sophie Myles, and John Hurt) knows what kind of movie they're in and they all seemed to have a blast. The low-rent special effects are actually charming in a strange way, and McCain's obvious love for the material makes all of the murky idiocy more fun than it has any right to be.

FAVORITES OF THE YEAR SO FAR

Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 (A+)
Michael Mann’s Public Enemies (A+)
Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (A+)
Pete Docter’s Up (A+)
Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah (A+)
Jody Hill’s Observe and Report (A)
Zack Snyder’s Watchmen (A)
Henry Selick’s Coraline (A)
Michael Bay’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (A)
Todd Philips’ The Hangover (A)

Tony Scott’s The Taking of Pelham 123 (A)
Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer (A)
JJ Abrams’ Star Trek (A-)
James Gray’s Two Lovers (A-)
Neveldine/Taylor’s Crank: High Voltage (A-)
Larry Charles’ Bruno (A-)
Kevin McDonald’s State of Play (A-)
Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia (A-)
Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience (A-)
Hitoshi Matsumoto’s Big Man Japan (A-)

David Thwoy’s A Perfect Getaway (B+)
Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds (B+)
Anne Fletcher’s The Proposal (B+)
Tony Gilroy’s Duplicity (B+)
Greg Mottola’s Adventureland (B+)
John Hamburg’s I Love You, Man (B+)
George Tillman Jr.’s Notorious (B+)
Judd Apatow's Funny People (B)
Bob Schwentke’s The Time Traveler’s Wife (B)
Dennis Illiads’ The Last House on the Left (B)

Joe Wright’s The Soloist (B)
Alex Proyas’ Knowing (B)
Tom Tywker’s The International (B)
Howard McCain’s Outlander (B-)
Wayne Kramer’s Crossing Over (B-)
Pierre Morel’s Taken (C)
Rawson Marshall Thurber’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (C)
Eric Zoncka’s Julia (C-)
Ken Kwapis’ He’s Just Not That Into You (C-)
Paul McGuigan’s Push (C-)

McG’s Terminator: Salvation (D)
Stephen Sommers’ GI Joe (D)
Timothy Linh Bui’s Powder Blue (D)
Justin Lin’s Fast and Furious (D-)

STILL HAVEN'T SEEN IT YET


And I'm not proud of this fact. The film never opened properly in my area (never as a full 4.5 hour experience) and the Blu Ray DVD still hasn't been announced (has it?). Considering that Soderbergh shot this with the Red digital camera, I'll pass on the standard DVD that's been released and continue to wait it out. But I am ultra-curious about this supposedly epic undertaking...

Friday, August 21, 2009

REBOUND

Here's the text of an email I just sent to my friend re: Inglorious Basterds...I'll have a proper response in next week's summer movie round-up:

"so...i liked it...didn't love it...it's much better and more involving than death proof but it's still a far, far cry from the trifecta that is dogs-pulp-jackie. and it's not anywhere near as good as kb vol 1 or 2. the best parts, for me, were all of the french movie theater stuff and the stuff with soshanna and her plight. pitt's barely in it, but when he's on screen, he's funny as hell and he rules. eli roth cannot act and QT should have known better -- really -- he's just a terrible actor. he ruined the few scenes he was in with his overacting shtick. the dialogue is mostly interesting, very funny at times, very dark. the movie is stolen by this guy Waltz playing the vile lead Nazi. he's just incredible. there are about three or four brilliant sequences wrapped around a lot of decent stuff. it felt its length but i was never actively bored. i don't really know what he could have cut to be honest. it's funny...QT's movies are always about people and the way that they talk and the precise words they use and patterns they talk in -- it just seems that what he's saying as a filmmaker isn't interesting to me as much as it used to be. and the other BIG thing, at least for me, was the historical aspect to the story. it was one thing to combine noir, the western, and the samurai genres for Kill Bill 1 and 2 (which keep getting better the more I think about them) -- the way he did that was pretty ingenious. But here, because he's using real history, real people, real facts, and twisting them into his little QT-world imagination -- well, I just couldn't help but feel that he was triviliazing the Holocaust in some strange way. The movie is a very unique beast, very textured, very tense, very twisted. The girl who played Soshanna (name escapes me...) is not only gorgeous but a damn fine actress -- I was really into that whole section. And I haven't even mentioned the violence, which, as per usual with QT, is wild, over the top, macabre, and extremely entertaining to watch. at times. in some spots, the level of outright sadism (granted, it's sadism directed at nazi scum) was downright sinister. and then the movie would go back to some cartoon-esque moment of violence or action. It's a mess but a fun mess. I am on the fence with the movie in some respects, still not sure how I feel overall. at the moment I'd say it's a B or a B+. I liked it a helluva lot more than Death Proof, that's for sure.

VERY curious to hear your thoughts..."

MOVIES FOR THE WEEKEND

I'll be seeing Inglorious Basterds this afternoon -- as always with Q.T., I'm looking forward. Though his last effort, Death Proof, really left me cold...

From Netflix is The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, with Sienna Miller and Peter Sarsgaard.

I've been on a DVD-roll of late; have mini-reviews for The Last House on the Left, Speed Racer, Julia, The Class, and Outlander coming up. Also, next week I'll be posting my summer movie wrap up, along with a preview of this coming fall's offerings.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

NETFLIX ROUND UP

George Tillman Jr.'s Notorious (B+) is more interested in succeeding as a piece of entertainment than it is in creating a balanced portrait of the man in question, Christopher "Biggie"Wallace, a.k.a. "Biggie Smallz," a.k.a. "The Notorious B.I.G." Well acted across the board with a startling lead performance from newcomer Jamal Woodward as "Biggie," Notorious charts his rise and fall on the rap scene, throughout the mid-90's, and thru the East vs. West coast rap wars. The great soundtrack of classic beats is a major plus, Tillman Jr. displays some style in his direction, and the film moves at a brisk pace. It's not a deep look at an obviously multi-layered artist, but it works as surface entertainment.

JVCD (A-), an extremely stylish, witty, knowing send-up of action movies and of the kickboxing superstar Jean-Claude Van Damme, is one of the more unique films I've seen in a while. Energetically directed by Mabrouk El Mechri from a script he co-wrote with Frédéric Benudis, JCVD stars Van Damme playing a slightly exaggerated version of himself: burnt out, broke, desperate, and clinging to his last remaining grips at sanity. The plot gets complicated when Van Damme is framed for the robbery of a postal office, with a Dog Day Afternoon-type scenario taking place outside. The film is a comment on the direct-to-video action movie genre, Van Damme's celebrity status, and what it's like be past your prime in a young man's game. Two major highlights are the opening sequence (all one, bewildering hand-held camera shot) and a bit at mid-point where Van Damme speaks directly to the camera, delivering an apology of sorts for all of his lurid and destructive behavior, both personally and professionally. It's oddly moving, it's funny, it's sad, and it's all very well done. A major surprise.

Ari Folman's tour de force masterwork Waltz With Bashir (A+) is a mesmerizing visual experience that also packs an intense emotional wallop. Taking the form of an animated documentary, Folman narrates this searing portrait of war-time life with fellow veterans of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon in order to reconstruct his own memories of his military involvement during the conflict. The hallucinatory nightmarescape that Folman and his technical crew have created is nothing short of astonishing, and it's truly unlike any film that you've ever seen. This isn't rotoscope animation like Dick Linklater's A Scanner Darkly, nor does it have the rounded-edge, glistening sophistication of a Pixar film. Waltz With Bashir is visceral, rough, demanding, and shocking; it's a vision of "war as hell" in a manner that's never been captured before.


Joe Wright's The Soloist (B) was probably looked at as Oscar-bait when the project was gestating in studio development: a gifted but psychologically scarred instrumentalist is rescued from L.A.'s skid-row district by a passionate news reporter who wants to give the guy a new lease on life. Get Jamie Foxx to play the musician, get Robert Downey Jr. to play the reporter, get the screenwriter of Erin Brockovich, get the director of Pride & Prejudice and Atonement and Bam! An instant grand-slam. So it's surprising (and a bit disappointing) to report that the film is only good. Not great. Just good. The real problem is that everyone involved with this film clearly wanted it to be great and the fact of the matter is that the story is all over the place. The unfocused script doesn't know what it wants to be; is this a story of the homeless epidemic in Los Angeles or a story of personal redemption? Or is it a story about a crusading journalist with old-school ideals and ethics, or the story of a mentally challenged person who tries to overcome his obstacles. Shot with panache by director Wright, The Soloist looks fantastic, sounds fantastic when it comes to the musical scenes, and dips into a wonderful 2001-inspired bit of visual fancy when Foxx's character starts to become consumed by his art. The film is a noble effort; too bad it didn't drive in everyone on base.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (A-) is one of my mother's favorite movies. I'd never seen it. She was mad about that. So...I rented it...not quite sure what to think about it...and I really enjoyed it. Starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy as a married couple with kids who decide to construct the house of their dreams, the movie still works as social commentary in the same way now than it did back in the late 40's when it was first released. The dialogue is snappy and witty, the performances are broad without becoming farcical, and Grant's screen presence is a further reminder that today's crop of Hollywood stars (Clooney being one of the few exceptions) don't have jack and/or shit when it comes to owning a movie screen with authentic, old-school movie-star wattage. It's a funny, cute little film that could be remade every decade and still retain all of the qualities that have made it an enduring classic throughout the years.

It's official: this series is over. Fast & Furious (D-), the fourth entry in the souped-up car franchise is a boring, tedius rehash of the first installment (which is still the best and even that one was nothing great). Director Justin Lin, uber-hack extraordinaire of Annapolis and Fast and the Furious 3 fame, CGI's most of the action scenes to death and the results are nothing more than an inflated, muddy-looking video game. The acting..well...the less said about the acting in this thing the better. Paul Walker has been good in precisely two movies (Pleasantville and Running Scared) and Vin Diesel's gravelly-voiced shtick is now past its expiration date. I will give the second unit directors and cinematographers some credit -- there are definitely some impressively staged real-time car stunts in this movie. But again, too much reliance on sub-par CGI work renders much of it tensionless and artificial. Lin, who makes someone like Michael Bay look like Michaelangelo Antoinioni, doesn't know a single thing about creating a coherent stream of action that you're able to follow or fully enjoy, and the movie's borrowed plot is about as stale as two week old French bread. Oh, the movie's got a few insert shots of scantily clad women making out, if that's your sort of thing. Other than that, Fast & Furious is pretty much worthless. But considering the film's $175 million domestic gross (the highest in the series), you can bet your Aunt Susie's ass that a fifth lap around the track is in store. Yippie-skippy. Where's Jerry Bruckheimer when you need him?

GREAT POLISH ONE-SHEETS



Monday, August 17, 2009

A NEW CUT OF HEAT?

Michael Mann's sprawling masterpiece Heat, which hits Blu-Ray this coming November, is one of the defining films about cobs and robbers that's ever been made. And according to the back image of the Blu-Ray box cover, there's a new cut of the film coming out...under Special Features it says: "New Content Changes Supervised by Director Michael Mann." What does this mean? Is this a "director's cut"? Is he adding in scenes that were previously included on the earlier DVD release in the "deleted scenes" section? If anyone has any information, please chime in...

CHICK FLICKS

The Time Traveler's Wife (B) was preposterous fun. Julie & Julia (A-) was delightful. Reviews for both in my upcoming summer movie round up.

Friday, August 14, 2009

LANDMARK


With his masterpiece (and debut feature film) District 9, writer/director Neill Blomkamp has announced himself as a major cinematic talent. Easily one of the best movies of the year (if not the best), District 9 is a brilliantly executed piece of semi-realistic science fiction blended with topical political overtones and hard-wired with a breathless sense of action and visceral thrills. Made for a reported budget of only $30 million, the film looks like it cost over $100 million, and the seamless visual effects are on par with Michael Bay's work in the Transformers movies, work that I consider to be the best to date. But here, because of the narrative and the subject matter and the overall aim and intent, the effects are even more impressive because everything else around them are equally as good. I have a feeling that over the years, District 9 will be seen as a piece of trendsetting, genre defining work, much like Ridley Scott's Alien and James Cameron's Terminator 2. I cannot wait to see this film again and again. I'll have a full review up soon.

MOVIES FOR THE WEEKEND

Now that I've been given the flick by my former employers (budget cuts...), I've got lots of time to catch up with everything (and more).

Today is District 9. Tonight is The Time Traveler's Wife. Tomorrow is Julie & Julia. Next week I'll catch a matinee of The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard.

I caught A Perfect Getaway yesterday and it was very enjoyable; nasty, mean, violent, twisted, twisty, stylish, and very entertaining. It's not brilliant, it doesn't reinvent the wheel, but for what it was (a pulpy B-movie thriller) it really delivered. I'll have some more comments on it soon.

Also, on DVD, I caught up with the extremely satisfying JCVD, with Jean-Claude Van Damme giving a career defining performance (I know, that's not really saying much, but just wait until you see him here). The film has one of the best opening shots I've ever seen. More on that in the near future. I also watched the tedious new car racing extravaganza Fast & Furious, which while boasting some damn impressive real-time car stunts, ended up being a total rehash of the first movie, with zero pep or spark from the cast, and with an annoying over-reliance on sub-standard CGI to bolster the action sequences. It pretty much sucked, except for a few moments of vehicular mayhem. I'll have a DVD round up column soon with full reactions to these two along with some other titles I've recently seen.

The end of the summer movie season is nearing...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

FAVORITES OF THE YEAR SO FAR

Michael Mann’s Public Enemies (A+)
Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (A+)
Pete Docter’s Up (A+)
Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah (A+)
Jody Hill’s Observe and Report (A)
Zack Snyder’s Watchmen (A)
Henry Selick’s Coraline (A)
Michael Bay’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (A)
Todd Philips’ The Hangover (A)
Tony Scott’s The Taking of Pelham 123 (A)

Marc Webb's (500) Days of Summer (A)
JJ Abrams’ Star Trek (A-)
James Gray’s Two Lovers (A-)
Neveldine/Taylor’s Crank: High Voltage (A-)
Larry Charles’ Bruno (A-)
Kevin McDonald’s State of Play (A-)
Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience (A-)
Hitoshi Matsumoto’s Big Man Japan (A-)
Anne Fletcher’s The Proposal (B+)
Tony Gilroy’s Duplicity (B+)

Greg Mottola’s Adventureland (B+)
John Hamburg’s I Love You, Man (B+)
George Tillman Jr.’s Notorious (B+)
Judd Apatow’s Funny People (B)
Alex Proyas’ Knowing (B)
Tom Tywker’s The International (B)
Wayne Kramer’s Crossing Over (B-)
Pierre Morel’s Taken (C)
Ken Kwapis’ He’s Just Not That Into You (C-)
Paul McGuigan’s Push (C-)

McG’s Terminator: Salvation (D)
Stephen Sommers’ G.I. Joe (D)
Timothy Linh Bui’s Powder Blue (D)

DISASTERPIECE

Considering how sloppy and all over the place G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra (D) is, this review is going to be sloppy and all over the place. There is no point in even "reviewing" this movie. How can you? It is what it is. Everyone involved seemed to have been on the same page, and set out to make one of the cheesiest action movies of all time. Apparently this piece of fecal matter cost $175 million -- Paramount was fucking robbed! This movie looked like it cost about $4.75. One thing's for sure: director Stephen Sommers a'int no Michael Bay, the filmmaker he so desperately wishes he was. G.I. Joe has none of the flair, the panache, the wit, or the downright visual elegance and sophistication of the Transformers movies, the series that G.I. Joe so clearly is trying to emulate. There are three things that I liked about G.I. Joe, and the main one was Sienna Miller. She's super-duper hot. She's either in a black leather dominatrix outfit wielding two guns or she's in tight black mini-skirts with four-inch black high-heels and brandishing two guns. The black hair is hot too. She's shot more than once from a low-angle as she gets out of a car or limo, and her sexy, tan legs light up the screen. Rachel Nichols is also a cutie, a fiery red-head prone to wearing skin-tight outfits and speaking in techno mumble-jumble as she shoots a machine gun. And, the movie at least has its priorities in order: these two hotties get to have a nasty little cat fight. But that's about it. This movie is a fucking travesty. It's not even entertaining on a primal, let-me-see-some-explosions level. The entire production looks like a Playstation 2 video game crossed with some Windows Media screen-saver action. I wasn't expecting something deep with G.I. Joe. Much like the Transformers movies, these types of branded entertainments play off of their nostalgia factor, the special effects "wow" factor, and the "let-me-pretend-I'm-still-a-little-kid" mentality. But one of the main problems with G.I. Joe is that everything looked fake. Really fake. There's maybe one good sequence in the entire movie -- a daylight battle in the streets of Paris. But even that part looked like a cartoon. I'll say this about Sommers -- he's consistent. Consistently shitty. How can he approve this stuff? How can he be happy with the dailies as they are coming in? He can't be. It's impossible that he could be because the movie is a steaming pile of dog doodie. The screenwriters (it hurts to actually call them that) have inserted some of the lamest attempts at back story through a haphazard series of flashbacks that rob the film of any momentum that it was trying to gather. The acting is atrocious, except in a few spots. Miller seems to be having fun, and again, she's hot. But it's Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the mostly-masked Cobra Commander who steals the show from a performance perspective. Going WAY over the top but in the best possible way, Gordon-Levitt at least had the decency to look like he was having a great time, probably having a ball playing the bad guy in a movie based on a line of toys that he played with as a kid. Supposed "male star of tomorrow" Channing Tatum has all of the charisma of a wet blanket. Coming off as mildly mentally retarded, he mumbles his dialogue through a combination of annoying B-boy speak and Wigger attitude that was just all wrong. He's got no spark with Miller in their horrible attempts at romance, one of the film's worst elements. Dennis Quaid is a honeyed ham in this thing -- everyone is really. And maybe that's the point, a point I have missed. Sommers knows exactly what he's doing. G.I. Joe is gleefully, wilfully, blissfully brain-dead. It makes Transformers 2 look like Citizen Kane, and I say that as a massive fan of Transformers 2. Sommers gives real action directors like Bay a bad rap, because when you see something as bland and undistinguished as G.I. Joe, the outright artistry that Bay brings to the table becomes even more evident. As far as special effects extravaganzas goes, Bay should be doing them all. It's a shame that he can't. And even after destroying G.I. Joe in this review, I sort of realize that I am not the target audience for this film. G.I. Joe is a cartoon. Pure and simple. Even more so than the Transformers movies. The Transformers movies have an edge, a sense of menace, a sense of pain. They don't resemble the cartoons from the 80's, and even the designs of the robots have changed (for the better in my book). G.I. Joe is the ULTIMATE movie for eight year olds. Their heads will explode while watching it. There's no blood, no bad words, tons and tons of explosions (albeit fake ones), tons and tons of gun fire, a huge body count (seriously, hundreds of bad guys get wasted), some chaste kissing scenes, and a general sense of A.D.D. inspired mayhem that little boys will just relish. G.I. Joe can best be summed up as the sort of movie that an eight year old might be directing in his head, right now, as I type this, as he's playing with his toys, smashing them together and making crashing and exploding sounds with his mouth. It's derivative of so many other products, with Star Wars and Top Gun coming immediately to mind. Sommers is an ultra-hack at this point. After making a sort-of-fun monster B-movie in Deep Rising and then doing The Mummy (still his best film), he's been in a massive free-fall. The Mummy Returns was garbage, Van Helsing was even worse, and he's now hit his nadir with G.I. Joe. Going into the movie I wasn't expecting much, but I wasn't prepared for how much of an outright shit-fest it would actually be.

Monday, August 10, 2009

CELLULOID LSD

Big Man Japan (A-) is unlike any movie I've ever seen. And I'm willing to bet that it'll be unlike anything you've ever seen. Sort of like a Japanese version of Hancock, this tripped-out little flick takes the form of a documentary and is easily one of the strangest, most creative, most visually transfixing things I've seen in a long time. Big Man Japan is all about a guy who descends from a long line of superheroes, a city protector of sorts, a guy who when electrocuted at a government facility can blow himself up to Godzilla-like proportions in order to fight off all of Japan's monsters that want to destroy the city. A spoof of the superhero genre, a comment on reality television, and just plain demented, Big Man Japan explores some of the now familiar themes of responsibility, vigilante justice, and the public's need for saviors in the same way that The Dark Knight, Watchmen, and Hancock touched upon. The fight sequences in Big Man Japan are the stuff of an acid/mushroom trip: the animation is surreal yet tangible, the sounds are ear piercing, and the tone is just wild enough to give you a buzz without the need for illicit impairment. There is a soulful, mournful quality to Big Man Japan, especially during the protracted opening, and the film would have merely been a one-joke-stunt had the script not have been as fleshed out as it is. You won't see anything like this movie all year. Or any year. Seek it out.

PEOPLE WHO ARE FUNNY


Funny People (B) is an interesting film to come from writer/director Judd Apatow at this point in his career. After the runaway successes of his first two directorial efforts (The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, both of which are much better overall than Funny People) and the near constant stream of hits that he's pushed through the studio system as a producer (Pineapple Express, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, Dewey Cox), it's clear that with Funny People, Apatow wanted to stretch himself as a storyteller and filmmaker (he even got Janusz Kaminski as cinematographer). What we get is an overlong, very funny, slightly meandering dramedy spiked with surprisingly darker moments of personal introspection and some great inside-Hollywood commentary. Adam Sandler, sort of playing a caricature of himself, once again demonstrates that when he's asked to actually act that he's capable of giving a solid performance. It's not as complex as his work in Punch Drunk Love or Reign Over Me (very underrated movie), but Sandler's turn as a jaded, big-time Hollywood comedy star in Funny People is both self-reflexive and rather poignant. Seth Rogen actually displays two gears this time as a struggling comic trying to make it big on the comedy club circuit who crosses paths with the Sandler's mega-star, who has just been informed that he has a rare blood disease and that death is looming. Funny People is two movies in one: a potty-mouthed expose of celebrity life and the stand-up circuit in Los Angeles, and a guy-tries-to-get-the-girl-back melodrama with Sandler trying to win back his ex-girlfriend (played by Apatow's wife Leslie Mann) who is now married with two kids. I liked the stuff centering on Sandler's relationship with Rogen and the comedy club hijinks more than the domestic strife sequences. Lots of familiar faces show up in Funny People (Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Aziz Ansari, Eric Bana, RZA, Eminem, Ray Romano, Norm MacDonald, Paul Reiser, Dave Attell, Justin Long, etc.) and everyone delivers the comedic goods. I just wish that Apatow had been more focused; it feels like he was going for an almost Altman-esque portrait of Tinsletown's comedy world but he didn't have the confidence to meld all of the elements together. The movie has a slightly disjointed pace that causes the narrative to stop and start and sort of double-back on itself, and at a certain point, you just want the story to settle into a smooth groove. I like the fact that Apatow seems interested in not repeating himself every time out; Funny People is easily the most ambitious movie he's made yet, and I'm not surprised that it hasn't turned into a massive box office hit like his previous two films. This is a much more serious, much more mature, and less high-concept piece of work. It's about death, and the general knowledge and acceptance of death, and how you look back at your life and all of your missed opportunities. The fact that Sandler's character doesn't really change by the conclusion of the story is also an interesting aspect to Funny People. This is the big "movie-movie" that Apatow probably needed to work out of his system. It felt like the DVD extended edition in that he was given a longer-than-normal leash by the studio execs on his final cut. It's a solid movie with flashes of brilliance but overall, it felt a little undisciplined. It's still worth checking out, though, especially for the performances.

Friday, August 7, 2009

MOVIES FOR THE WEEKEND

Lots of new releases and other titles I need to catch up with. But with the arrival of our new kitten, Gus (named after Richard Pryor in Superman III), I'll likely only get to one movie this weekend. That'll more than likely be Funny People. Julie & Julia and G.I. Joe will both be happening soon. From Netflix is Big Man Japan.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

SLACKING

I've been slacking off with my full movie reviews of late. I still need to delve into Public Enemies (A+), The Hurt Locker (A+), (500) Days of Summer (A), Transformers 2 (A), and Bruno (A-), all of which represent some of my favorite films of the year. All very different, all very satisfying on varying levels.

I might just wait until after the final deluge of summer product is released and seen and post a summer movie round-up. Still on my list: G-Force, Funny People, Julie & Julia, G.I. Joe, District 9, Inglorious Basterds, The Time Traveler's Wife, Adam, Paper Heart (hoping this opens in my area), Thirst (I doubt this will open in my area), A Perfect Getaway (I'll be renting this on Blu Ray), and The Final Destination 3-D.

Some films got away from me this summer: Land of the Lost, Away We Go, Drag Me To Hell, Whatever Works, Sugar, Moon, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Cheri, and The Brothers Bloom. I look forward to catching up with all of these on Blu Ray.

I've also got some DVD reviews coming up for Waltz with Bashir (A+), Notorious (B+), and Big Man Japan (at home, waiting to be watched). Coming up in the Netflix queue are: The Soloist, Speed Racer, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, Fast and Furious, The Class, Tyson, Julia, The Garden, The Last House on the Left, Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, Sunshine Cleaning, The Informers, Goodbye Solo, and Fighting. Some of those titles haven't been released yet, but all are due this month, and all should keep me busy.

Lots of viewing and writing on the horizon!

SHOULD BE INTENSE

If you've never seen John Hillcoat's masterpiece The Proposition, you need to check yourself and get to the video store ASAP. After you've seen it, you'll know what you can expect when it comes to his second feature, this fall's The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy's apocalyptic novel. This is another striking piece of artwork for this movie, which I absolutely cannot wait to see.

REAL ROMANCE

(500) Days of Summer (A) is easily the best romantic comedy of the year, but I hesitate to officially call it a "romantic comedy." It's definitely romantic and it's very funny, but the movie successfully walks many fine lines between various tones, resulting in a fresh and unique spin on the genre. I'll have a full reaction coming up soon but I'll say that it's very well directed with an excellent sense of style by first time feature director Marc Webb. The obviously personal and very honest screenplay goes out of its way to avoid many cliches of the genre (while bowing to a few) and really delivers some beats that feel familiar to anyone who has ever had any sort of love-at-first-sight relationship. The two lead performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are some of the best of the year; they both give very different but equally impressive performances. It's also got a killer soundtrack. Go check it out.

Monday, August 3, 2009