Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Complaint of the day

From one of the all-time great comedies:

"I don't believe this. I'd like to see a movie but there's nothing out there. It's all this shoot-'em-up, action bulls--- ... "

F is for ...

Although the FCC can't stop the latest flu outbreak, the group apparently can save us from another f-based epidemic -- er, excuse me, pandemic -- that's threatening to kill us all:
The Supreme Court said yesterday that the Federal Communications Commission may penalize even the occasional use of certain expletives on the airwaves but left for another day the question of whether such a policy is constitutional.

The court's narrow ruling said the FCC -- prompted by Cher's use of the F-word during a 2002 live broadcast and similar remarks by what Justice Antonin Scalia called "foul-mouthed glitteratae from Hollywood" -- was justified in changing its policy in 2004 to fine broadcasters up to $325,000 every time certain words are allowed on the air.

"The commission could reasonably conclude that the pervasiveness of foul language, and the coarsening of public entertainment in other media such as cable, justify more stringent regulation of broadcast programs so as to give conscientious parents a relatively safe haven for their children," Scalia wrote for the five-member conservative majority.
*Side note: Apparently the FCC isn't completely satisfied.

Now, if I were the ranting type, I could scream about the logical fallacy that is "profanity." But that's not how I roll. Instead, here's what I'm thinking:


I mean, if our society weren't so fearful of these words, we'd've missed out on all of these:

(I know I'm cheating here with TV, but these are too good...)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Overlooked: Sexy Beast

More from the ex-British gangster set, it's Sexy Beast:

(Photo from

The plot's pretty simple here: Gal (a strong Ray Winstone) is a retired hood living it up in Spain with his wife and their two friends. Don Logan (Ben Kingsley; words cannot describe how good he is) is still active, and wants Gal for one more London job.

Gal wants nothing of it. So it's easy -- Gal just says no, right? Except ... not with Don Logan, who is scarier than about 90 percent of all movie characters, and that includes slashers and monsters and zombies. Here, the two go back and forth for a while, and ... well, then the rest of it happens.

The film got some notice back in 2001 for Kingsley's performance, which earned him an Oscar nod (he was beaten by a fave of The Film Official's, Jim Broadbent, for Iris). But it's more than just a showcase for Kingsley's considerable talents. It's slick in the hands of director Jonathan Glazer, who creates some pretty memorable images and handles the script deftly. It clocks in at an extremely manageable 89 minutes, so it's never excessive -- but it doesn't feel slight, either.

Really, if you want a crime film that's a little out of the ordinary, you can't do much better than Sexy Beast ... and wouldn't you know it -- is showing the whole movie for free!

*Word(s) of warning: The dialogue is, well, it's rough. As in it's tough to understand. I needed subtitles the first time I watched it, and I'm not even kidding. But once you develop an ear for it, it's fine -- and all the better and more authentic for it.

Monday, April 27, 2009


From Variety ...
Universal Pictures will remake the 1983 David Cronenberg-directed thriller "Videodrome," with Ehren Kruger set to write the script and produce with partner Daniel Bobker.

The producers tracked down the rights to Canadian distribution vet Rene Malo, who will be exec producer. Universal distributed the original and had first refusal on a remake, and the studio snapped up the opportunity.

The original "Videodrome" starred James Woods as the head of Civic TV Channel 83, who makes his station relevant by programming "Videodrome," a series that depicts torture and murder that transfixes viewers.

The new picture will modernize the concept, infuse it with the possibilities of nano-technology and blow it up into a large-scale sci-fi action thriller.

Oh, goody. A "large-scale, sci-fi action thriller," written by the guy who did The Ring Two and this year's Transformers movie. Yeah, that's just what I had in mind when I pictured the remake of one of the greatest oddball mind trips of all time.

Ah, well. I'll just sit back and watch the following (oddly NSFW) scene, then the rest of the movie, then again and again, because it's that good (and weird)*.

*Oh, and don't forget about the ending -- itself among the strangest and most memorable.

Unintentional drama

You have unintentional comedy. Can't you have unintentional drama, too?

OK, so "unintentional" isn't exactly the right word, but here's what I mean: Say you're making a comedy. Not one of those intellectual Annie Hall comedies or dark Coen Bros. comedies, either. I'm talking Will Ferrell-esque. So you're making a comedy, and you set yourself up with a pretty ridiculous premise that, essentially, is little more than a backdrop for funny lines/situations/actions of hilarious actors/etc.

Now, if you're making a good comedy, you realize this. Sure, you might complete the plot, but you know the audience doesn't care if Ron Burgundy covers the big story, or if Miles Monroe assassinates The Leader('s nose), or if Billy graduates and inherits the Madison hotel fortune. They're there for funny. Period. As some guy once said, make 'em laugh.

So you treat the plot as such. It's just kinda there.

But if you're making a lesser comedy, you get the silly notion that your story actually matters.

Like in Semi-Pro, which I finally saw recently, prompting this whole rant.

(Pic found at

Semi-Pro shoulda been called Semi-Good (ho ho ho), because its opening third is hilarious. Just hilarious*.

*Best line, on whether a guy who sat on the bench for an NBA-championship team deserves credit for winning a title: "I mean, if you watch a porn movie, doesn't mean you got laid."

Then the story -- about an American Basketball Association franchise trying to earn its way into an NBA-ABA merger -- takes over, and nearly all the funny fizzles.


A message to you comedy-makers:

We. Don't. Care.

Yes, some ... films ... can fit a terrific plot with loads of laughs. But others seem destined for comedy-and-nothing-else glory, yet can't let go of the story. And if you're like me, you're standing up in the theater/your living room, throwing junk at the screen and screaming, "Why'd you take my funny away?!"

Some other offenders:

-Wedding Crashers: Maybe the absolute worst, just for how sickeningly schmaltzy it gets near the end. The final wedding scene is just gag-worthy. Ugh. I get mad even thinking about it.

-Old School: Needed more, um, "wrestling," and less "will they save their frat and show up a pre-Ari Jeremy Piven?"

-Knocked Up: Yes, I know Judd Apatow likes to say things in his movies, but the whole third-act "I'm gonna get my life together" turn is pure comedy killer. Plus, the ending itself is just eye-rollingly unreasonable. Here's hoping Funny People doesn't fall for the same things as it goes for "comedy with MEANING."

... and now for something completely different, the all-time greatest example of a comedy that just doesn't care about its plot and isn't afraid to let you know it:

-Monty Python and the Holy Grail: The end.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Score another one for 2007

Continuing my ongoing assertion that 2007 was one of the best film years ever -- if not the best ... When you look at this list and realize The Bourne Ultimatum isn't even in the top dozen or so, you know it was a good 12 months.

But my overall 2007 post will come later. This is about Bourne.

(Nice pic at

What's interesting about Ultimatum is it always seemed like such a yawner. The whole series did, really -- that's why I skipped the first two installments. The standard spy/CIA/government/black ops action stuff ... woo. And at its core, that's all Ultimatum is. That's why it could never be truly awesome -- straight-line actioners rarely (if ever) are, IMO. Action is just lost on me, mostly.

Still ...

Kudos to Ultimatum for not only working as a stand-alone (if you haven't seen the first two installments, it's no big deal), but also taking its premise -- brainwashed super-assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon*) tries to figure out who he really is and get back at the people who made him that way -- and just running with it. Not much setup or exposition. It gets right to it.

*Maaaatt Daaaamon!

It's rarely excessive in its straightforward, French Connection-type approach (although that chase through Tangiers is a bit much). Most notable, though, is its incredible craft. /Film, listing its 10 most influential films of the last 10 years, wrote this:

The Bourne Ultimatum is on the list for exemplifying and honing two different things: the ‘running man camera’ action scenes, which is now the norm; and the rapid-fire cross cutting between an alarming amount of different angles. Paul Greengrass and Christopher Rouse go down in history for finding a way to assemble a record-breaking variety of coverage in a way that is comprehensible to the audience. I would explain how it works, but it’s mighty geeky and a little bit technical.

Yes, it's an absolute clinic on film editing (speaking of geeky and technical), which is why Rouse (deservedly) won the Oscar. Also, the aforementioned Greengrass might be one of the most technically gifted directors working today*.

*More proof: United 93. If I were to make a list of the 10 greatest films -- and I mean of all-time -- that one would receive a ton of consideration.

Which is why, even if you're not an action lover, it's hard not to get something out of Ultimatum. And if you're one of those who eats up action films like I love comedy and horror, then -- well, then you've probably already seen Ultimatum like 100 times by now and are pre-purchasing tickets for Bourne No. 4.

And who could blame you?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Raging Bull is overrated.

*Note: I wrote this a while back and held off on posting it, but with's release of the 25 Best Biopics Ever -- and subsequent placing of this film at No. 1 -- I couldn't stop myself.

(Pic found at this site)

JOEY: Psst. You know we got everybody fooled, right?
JAKE: Whatchutalkin' 'bout we got everybody fooled?

JOEY: Ya know, how everyone thinks we're in this all-time great movie?

Yeah, that's right. Raging Bull -- a.k.a. the American Film Institute's fourth-best movie ever made, a.k.a. one of Time's 100 greatest, a.k.a. the No. 6 movie in the Sight & Sound Directors' Top Ten, a.k.a that top-ranked biopic, etc., etc. -- ain't all it's cracked up to be.

Now, there's a saying about Shakespeare that he has to be overrated because he can't possibly underrated -- and that kind of applies here. Seriously, Google "raging bull" and overrated and read the comment under the link with "DVD Talk Forum."

(Waiting ...)


Yeah, so treading on Raging Bull is trampling sacred ground.

But that doesn't mean we're dubbing Martin Scorsese's legendary film "bad." Its craft -- especially the editing of those boxing scenes -- is, of course, impeccable. Robert De Niro's performance as enraged boxer Jake LaMotta ... well, I wouldn't be the first to say it's very, very good. Joe Pesci (as LaMotta's long-suffering brother) and Cathy Moriarty (LaMotta's long-suffering wife) are fine, too.

Still ... exceptional filmmaking/acting don't make for an exceptional film. There's the little issue of story, and Raging Bull's goes something like this:

-LaMotta starts out an a-hole.

-He surrounds himself with a-holes.

-He becomes a successful boxer ... but an even bigger a-hole.

-His a-holeness catches up with him, so he ends up a fat, outcast a-hole.

Now, it's a character study, meaning plot is secondary. Fine. But character studies need arcs to make them compelling*. Not every protagonist must be a saint, or even likable. But there's gotta be something there, some sort of conflict -- and endlessly running around saying "Did you [bleep] my wife?" doesn't count.

*Even the dull Capote had a considerable character arc.

That's what keeps Raging Bull from reaching the heights of another character-driven Scorsese flick, Taxi Driver. Neither features lovable protagonists, but Travis Bickle's slip into insanity is far more gripping, IMO, than the simple tale of a jerk staying a jerk.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Revisiting Capote ...

... and wondering why.

(Rotten Tomatoes with the pic.)

Back in 2005 -- when Capote hit theaters, wowed critics and grabbed the biggest of all Oscar nominations -- I almost fell asleep watching the step-by-step retelling of how author Truman Capote came about his signature book, In Cold Blood.

Of course, I was in college then. Maybe I was tired from studying*. So I gave it another chance recently.


Nope. Still boring.

Now, it's not bad. Obviously the acting is excellent, especially Best Actor everwinner Philip Seymour Hoffman in the title role and Clifton Collins Jr. as one of the men who so infamously murdered a Western Kansas family in 1959. Director Bennett Miller crafts the film together cleanly and quietly.

And yet ... so what? Why are we watching this? The story on the pages of In Cold Blood -- captured documentary-style in writer-director Richard Brooks' fantastic 1967 adaptation of Capote's book -- is engrossing. The story behind it -- about the author balancing the book and his personal feelings for Collins' execution-bound character -- not so much. There's a point there, something about a writer getting too close to his work and ultimately becoming affected by it, but is it really worth the two hours?

TFO says no.

But hey, at least it's still better than the movie that beat it for Best Picture.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day! (Earth sucks.)

Since it's so trendy to love all things Earth these days, I'm glad* Entertainment Weekly's dot-com celebrated Earth Day by focusing on movies that blow this planet the eff up. Or at least ones where aliens invade our collective subconscious and can only be seen with special sunglasses.

*Not that I'm against Earth or anything, but I can think of at least one positive in its demise: No more Palmetto Expressway.

Thoughts on some of the movies ...

-Independence Day: With this 1996 film, director Roland Emmerich embarks on a career in which he tries to figure out just how ... many ... ways he can destroy New York City. In doing so, beats Isiah Thomas to the task by almost a decade. Oh, and the movie's pretty good, at least in that jeez-I-hope-Bill-Pullman-is-trying-to-suck way.

-War of the Worlds: An incredible opening third that turns to complete junk, and fast. Additionally, director Steven Spielberg's 1,252,876th (phony) happy ending shows that, if Spielberg had been directing, Pvt. Pyle and his drill instructor would have become best buddies by the end of boot camp.

-Mars Attacks: Ah, back when Tim Burton's movies couldn't be used as insomnia treatment ...

-Starship Troopers: There are aliens in this one? I couldn't tell with all the TALKING in the movie's first six hours.

-Signs: Ah, back when M. Night -- oh, well, you know what I'm going to say.

-Men in Black: Someday I'll convince people that this deserved a Best Picture nomination, or at least ahead of the flawed (or downright awful*) stuff that hogged all the spots in 1997.


-They Live: Classic John Carpenter, where he's winking at you and being serious at the same time. Also, features the best hand-to-hand fight scene I've seen (below), plus a hilarious ending (not gonna link there; if you remember it, you know why).


Now, speaking of Carpenter, where the @#%$!#$% is ...

The Thing: Chilling (almost literally), intense, gory perfection. I'll never resuscitate someone with a defibrillator again.

Forgot how good ...

... The Limey is.

(Entertainment Weekly with the pic)

It's a small-but-sharp entry on a long list of excellent 1999 releases, a revenge movie whose protagonist (Terence Stamp, above, who's excellent) isn't the bloodthirsty kind, just a curious, rough-talking ex-London gangster who's aiming to get sweet "satisfaction" (his word) on the guy who probably killed his daughter (a record producer played by Peter Fonda).

What separates this one is its script and its craft:

-Directed by Steven Soderbergh before his Traffic/Erin Brockovich blowup in 2000, it's as Soderbergh-minimalist as it gets, with lots of quiet and very few emotion grabs.

-The story unfolds methodically, helping justify an 89-minute runtime for a simple, solitary task: Get the guy who did it.

-The editing is creative, with lines of dialogue stretching over non-matching frames and long speeches broken by well-placed cuts.

-And that dialogue is Tarantino-esque in its cleverness, without being excessive*.

*Those last two elements are visible in this NSFW clip.

Plus ... bonus points for featuring future Soderbergh regular George Clooney in a late as-himself-on-TV interview.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Wrestler/Frost/Nixon: 2 films, 1 problem

It's funny how* the two Oscar-nominated films hitting DVD shelves today suffered from, essentially, the same problem -- one that kept them in the good-not-great category (and, consequently, provided one more reason why 2008 was pretty eh as a movie year).

*/Life turns out/The odds of faith in the face of doubt/Camera one! ... Jeez, who else remembers that song from like eight years ago? Anyone? Just me? OK.

Those two are Frost/Nixon and The Wrestler, a Best Picture nominee and a critical darling (although F/N didn't do so badly with the scribes, either).

And yet ... consider me underwhelmed. Sure, the acting is great in both -- Frank Langella (F/N) and Marisa Tomei (Wrestler) both deserved their nominations, and Mickey Rourke (Wrestler) would have won Best Actor if the Academy hadn't been too busy playing politics.

But about that storytelling ...

Let's go with F/N first -- one that stirred my fellow journalists with its portrayal of a fluff TV guy who somehow extracted the Big Confession from Richard Nixon long after he left the White House.

(The Economist with the photo)

As a (semi) true story, it's fascinating. You really root for the David Frost character (played competently by Michael Sheen*) to beat the odds and get the bombastic Nixon (Langella) to offer much more than musings on his time in office. Also, Nixon is portrayed in an unusually sympathetic way -- which might not align with one's political leanings, but at least it's different.

*Not to be confused with Martin Sheen, not to be confused with Martin Freeman, not to be confused with Morgan Freeman, not to be confused with aging stock car driver Morgan Shepherd.

The issue, though, is storytelling. Director Ron Howard and writer Peter Morgan breeze through the proceedings with little originality. All the narrative rhythms -- the highs, the lows, the scene in the backyard where Frost tells his crew, "If you're not with me on this, then leave!" -- all of it felt so ... ordinary. We know Frost will get the Big Confession, so why try to play with our emotions like that*? Why not eschew conventions, like a certain other TV journalist movie did?

*One more complaint: For God's sake, Ron ... KEEP THE CAMERA STILL. This is David Frost we're dealing with, not Jason Bourne.

And then there's The Wrestler ...

(/film with the assist)

Among other things, Darren Aronofsky's relatively straightforward movie about a pro wrestler seeking redemption (in his career, in his love life, with his estranged daughter), received praise for not being formulaic. I disagree.


Sure, the film's ending it's not the Hollywood happy one everyone might expect, but it's formula of a different kind. Instead of fairy tale, it's predictable tragedy. And almost every frame of the film points in its direction, seeming to follow a by-the-numbers story pattern. The conclusion, to me, seemed as calculated as Slumdog Millionaire's happy ending.

d. It is written.

And although some preceding parts are terrific -- the first (and less violent) scene in the ring was among the best in '08 -- several other elements are as familiar as pro wrestling is fake: The estranged daughter. The stripper with a heart. The day on the boardwalk. The take-this-job-and-shove-it moment. Been there, seen it.

Do they ruin The Wrestler? No. Nor did F/N's issues render it bad. They just needed something different, something more, to reach greatness. Instead, each took an easier path to make their points.

Really, that last sentence pretty much sums up (most of) the films of 2008.

Paging 2007 ...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A new Frontière(s)?

What happens when a film nerd's occasional foreign film and horror forays mix?

Uh, apparently this:

That's Frontière(s), a 2008 French movie (pretty much unreleased in the U.S.) whose title translates into English as: "Gee, what do you suppose 'frontiere(s)' means?" The setup is pretty standard (a near rip-off of my all-time favorite pure horror entry, the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre): Group of kids/twentysomethings ends up at house (in this case, hotel) in remote area, but runners of said hotel/house aren't your typical farmers*.

*Our protagonists can only *wish* these people were lead farmers.

So, you say, if the film's plot is so derivative, why are you writing about it?

I'm glad you asked.

It's not so much that writer-director Xavier Gens knows what he's doing, although he clearly does -- creating some beautiful (and beautifully awful) images (even if some of them are borrowed from other places, like a scene where two characters push their way through a cave-like tunnel ... hello, The Descent). It's not the film's excruciating violence/gore, which is considerable but rarely to the point of excess (unlike Hostel and its torture-porn counterparts). And it's not how frustratingly unrealistic the last act is (where the main character, a three-months-pregnant girl who has been near-brutalized for hours, suddenly starts kicking ass).

Mostly, it's how confounding the film's message -- and yes, it has one -- is. Frontière(s) starts not on the farm but in Paris, during race riots (the quartet of main characters are of Muslim descent). We learn an extreme right-wing government is about to win the next election -- and hello, fascism! Meanwhile, the protags have pulled off a heist of some kind, are wanted by the cops, and are getting the eff out of Dodge (Dodge here meaning France).

So they wind up at that hotel to spend the night in hiding, but its owners aren't the stereotypical American in-bred hillbilly types. The patriarch is an ex-Nazi. He wants a pure-blooded race, at least in his home. He drafts the female of the group (played quite well by Karina Testa) as the family's next "mother." And you can imagine what happens to her male friends.

Now, critics have inferred and Gens himself has said that the film is meant to be symbolic, an allegory on the importance of human rights. To which I say: Yawn. Not that human rights are, like, ya know, a *bad* thing. But as a movie message, the whole government-spreading-hate bit has been played for a long, long time*. Sure, it's easy for me to say as I'm not a member of any oppressed group, but I just can't connect with the same theme again, and again, and again, and again ...

*Which, as an aside, is part of what made Children of Men such an overrated bore, despite the incredible filmmaking involved. Honestly, it's great that you're against hate and tyranny, but please don't insult my intelligence with an obvious, inarguable message. You mean penning people up like hogs is a bad thing? Golly! I** didn't know that! Thanks! Next, you should make a movie explaining that the world is round!

**And before you come at me with, "Yeah, but not *everyone* believes in the evil of tyranny," let me ask: If someone believes otherwise, do you really think a two-hour sci-fi or horror flick (with zero subtlety, no less) is going to change their minds? Really? Good luck with that.

What's interesting about Frontière(s), though, is after some personal reflection, I saw the film's message as much different, and there's a very, very late scene that sums it up perfectly (no giving it away, though, since it's SPOILER-tastic). Basically, the movie seemed to be a commentary on how we view human rights in the 21st Century: Sure, the Bush-era panic/constraints felt scary (to many, at least), but words like "Nazi" and "fascist" and "gulag" were (and, I suppose, still are) thrown around like superfluous adjectives, overused terms that lose their meaning almost instantly. Frontière(s) shows us what a *real* gulag is, who the *real* Nazis are. Think a little wiretapping is bad? You ain't seen nothin' yet.

Whether that's a healthy message is debatable, depending on your political bent. I'm not here to argue that. My point is: At least it's different, and I like different in my movies.

Now, was it Gens' intent? Probably not, according to that above interview. But if it wasn't -- oops, he messed up.

Who says movies where people hang lifeless on meathooks can't spark discussion?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Vastly Underrated: Joe Versus the Volcano

I love me a sad ending.

I prefer harsh realism to ordinary fairy tale.

Still, years and years after first seeing the oddly mystical fable Joe Versus the Volcano, I cannot come up with one (major) thing to dislike about it.

And yet ... the masses and critics alike can't figure out what to do with this 1990 film from writer-director (and noted playwright) John Patrick Shanley.

Joe Banks (Tom Hanks, in his finest performance that doesn't involve a volleyball) is a peon at a petroleum manufacturing company (!). Moreover, he's a helpless hypochondriac ... until he's told he's about to die from a mysterious disease called a "brain cloud." Suddenly a strange man (Lloyd Bridges, as Lloyd Bridges as ever) proposes that the terminal Joe offer himself as a sacrifice by jumping into a Pacific island volcano (double !).

Along the way he runs into three versions of Meg Ryan (she's great playing all three), and starts to discover things about himself, about life, and about getting the most out of living it.

It's a strange film with a strange plot and copious pre-Indie-craze quirks -- except within the context of a quasi-fantasy like this, all those idiosyncrasies are endearing, not tiresome. Maybe Joe v. Volcano would play better these days than it did in 1990. Maybe not.

Maybe the film's just too individualistic for wide audiences to handle. Maybe its strange brand of idealism -- one in which Happily Ever After doesn't exist, but moments of happiness do -- is too complex to digest in a 90-minute block.

Or maybe it's just a matter of taste. I honestly have no clue. Sure, even some of the greatest films aren't universally liked. But it's not as if critics and audiences always hate fairy tales.

So instead of continuing my attempt to solve this puzzle, I'll just re-watch one of Joe's many great sequences:

Slightly NSFW

P.S. The soundtrack is perfect.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Girlfriend Experience

... and no, this has nothing to do with my personal life.

Instead, it's the latest latest film from the enigmatic Steven Soderbergh.

Two things:

1) The movie looks very Soderbergh-y. No idea if we'll get good Soderbergh or bad Soderbergh. But it's always worth a look.

2) That background rhythm is killer. It's a shame they pulled it from the "feature" trailer, because so rarely do we hear exceptional drum work. The marginalization of the drummer is my biggest complaint about mainstream music. There. End of yet another music musing.

Overlooked: Shattered Glass

"There are so many show-offs in journalism. So many braggarts and jerks. They are always selling, always working the room, always trying to make themselves look hotter than they actually are. The good news is, reporters like that make it easy to distinguish yourself. If you're even a little bit humble, a little self-effacing or solicitous, you stand out."

With Hollywood offering its latest Important Journalists Doing Important Things movie (State of Play, opening this weekend), it's time to focus on one of the best on-screen portrayals of the biz: The mostly overlooked 2003 release Shattered Glass.

Now, there's irony in that above quote (pulled from Script-O-Rama), which served as part of the film's opening V-O monologue. On one hand, it's pretty much true. On the other, it came from a real-life magazine "story cooker" upon which the film is based. Which is interesting, because -- as the film tells it -- this guy had to make up stories to get the sensationalism everyone (including his colleagues) wanted. That's not quite the edge-of-your-seat reporting offered in a lot of movie newsrooms.

Then again, if films strictly portrayed the day-to-day mundane nature of a lot of newspapers, that might not make for an interesting movie (unless it was meant to be funny/farcical). So this isn't meant to scold Hollywood for sexy-ing up the reporting business. More to commend a film that got it mostly right*.

*Zodiac, as I mentioned before, also nailed it -- refusing to succumb to formula as it portrayed reporters, editors and journalists almost perfectly as they tried to figure out how to handle a letter-writing serial killer in 1960s/1970s San Francisco.

Enough about that. More on Shattered Glass itself, a wonderfully understated film about an insecure man (Stephen Glass, played expertly by Hayden Christensen in his pre-stiff Anakin Skywalker days) with big talent and even bigger expectations of himself -- a fact that gets him into trouble when he becomes the star of The New Republic. With the wunderkind label firmly affixed to his forehead, he must impress his editors and fellow reporters. And when his favorite editor (played by Hank Azaria) gets ousted in favor of a perceived rival (played by major Oscar snub Peter Sarsgaard), Glass begins to think everyone's out to get him.

And that's when the, uh, fun starts.

What's best about this film is it's a talk piece, with writer/director Billy Ray letting his screenplay pack the punch. Unfortunately, the lack of attention-grabbing direction probably contributed to Shattered Glass' very, very modest success. But it's perfect here. This is a movie about ideas and characters, not chases and stalkers and ominous phone calls in the night.

Still ... maybe the trailer-makers should have thrown a few gunshots in to pull in the male 18-34 demo?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I have no interest in seeing this movie ...

... or do I?

With thanks to MTV's Headbanger's Blog, metal/heavy rock fans might just have reason to be excited about Crank: High Voltage:

On April 7, 32 new [TFO add: former Faith No More frontman Mike] Patton compositions appeared on the soundtrack for the film “Crank 2: High Voltage,” which hits theaters April 17. The movie again features Jason Statham as Chev Chelios, an unfortunate British thug suffering from heart problems. In this case, his character wakes to find his heart has been removed and replaced with the equivalent of an analog alarm clock, which requires regular jolts of electricity and high-energy excitement to keep from shutting down.

The action that follows as Chelios searches for the Chinese mobsters who stole his real heart, is fast-paced and unrelenting. Playing cameos in the film are Tool vocalist Maynard James Keenan, Nine Inch Nails guitarist Danny Lohner, Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington and country musician Dwight Yoakam.
Sure, it's the standard actioner-needs-loud-music thing, but hey -- one of these days, one of these songs is going to creep into Oscar voters' skulls and bury itself deep inside, not unlike when Eminem and Three 6 Mafia took the gold. I mean, whoda figured songs like those would win, especially way back when we were the way we were?

For now, guess we'll just enjoy the best of the two names on this list that really stir the heavy music excitement: Patton and Keenan.

Killing (Nazis) is their business ...

... and business is good*:

*Don't get that reference? Click here ... if you dare!

As for the film itself, I'm honestly quite intrigued*. Has camp-classic potential ... or could be extremely awful.

*And no, it has nothing to do with American Idol.

Let's just hope Q cools it with the excessive dialogue (NSFW) this time.

Wondering ...

"What's my motivation?"

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Film Official speaks, IMDB listens

OK, not really. But weeks after I offered my views on the City of God/Slumdog Millionaire connection, an user (not me) suggested this for their Daily Poll: Which of the two do you prefer?

Happy to report that the results, as of about 6 p.m. Tuesday, showed the superior film crushing 2008's Best Picture winner, with nearly 37 percent favoring Cidade de Deus and only about 19 percent picking Slumdog. In fact, "I have not seen one/both of them" was in second, with about 34 percent of the vote.

The people have spoken!

Birthday FAIL

I was gonna wish one of my favorite channels a happy 15th ...

... until I saw the junk it's showing showing tonight in (supposed) celebration.

I know GWTW is considered great and all, but couldn't TCM have picked another one -- ANY one -- off its list of 15 Most Influential Classic Movies? It's just tough to justify spending four hours on a piece of soapy 1930s melodrama.

Ugh. This is why I don't like birthdays.

Oscar winners go to J-school

Non-journalists might not find this amusing, but I did*.

*And not in a snobby, they-don't-know-what-they're-talking-about way. It's just funny to hear actors speak seriously about something so close to you. Would make anyone go, "Well yeah, but ..."

P.S. Looks like I've been going to the wrong 4 o'clock meetings ...

Monday, April 13, 2009

In the face!

No clue if this will be any good (although the studio seems to have high hopes) ...

Also, trying to decide which bit is funnier:

1) The baby getting a car door to the face, or

2) Mike Tyson completing the world's most famous drum fill with ... a punch to Zach Galifianakis' face*.

*Yep, that's at least three face gags (below) in one trailer ... Although I'm guessing Akeem isn't complaining.

Overlooked (but for how long?): T.O.P. 1 2 3

The whole remake thing is kind of confusing.

On one hand -- WHAT ARE THEY DOING TO MY MOVIE?!?!?! On the other, maybe the remake will bring attention to the (almost certainly better) original.

Here's hoping the latter happens this June, when Tony Scott (ugh) offers his version (numbers in the title instead of words, of course) of the 1974 subway hijacker flick The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, one whose name* probably isn't known by many young people today (except maybe Beastie Boys fans).

*It must be mentioned that this is based on a book. So *technically* this year's version could be viewed as an "adaptation" instead of a "remake." However, I'm guessing the new film wasn't inspired by a trip to Borders.

Now for more guessing, based solely on the trailer and Scott's history: Something tells me the new version won't be quite like the old one.

What makes the original so memorable is not just its grabber of a plot, in which Walter Matthau (who morphs into Denzel Washington for 2009) is a transit cop negotiating with/tracking a group of subway train hijackers led by Robert Shaw (who is as composed in the '74 verson as John Travolta appears to be over-the-top maniacal in '09).

No, what makes T.O.P. 1 2 3 is that it's so damn funny*.

*It even has Frank Costanza!

Yeah, it's definitely not PC. It's edgy. There's racism and sexism here, but it's not like it's condoning that sort of thing. Just acknowledging that it, like so many other '70s-era NYC quirks, exists. Really, the T.O.P. 1 2 3's gritty realism and crackling dialogue embodies everything that's great about the better examples of 1970s filmmaking*.

*No doubt Quentin Tarantino noticed; the hijackers give each other names like Mr. Blue and Mr. Green, just as they do in Reservoir Dogs.

And that music ...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Almost there: Observe and Report

Ronnie: Dammit. We were *so* close.

Det. Harrison: Oh, if only ...

Yes, if only. If only Observe and Report had gone all the way*, rather than trying to mix a brilliantly uncomfortable story of a delusional, bipolar mall cop (Seth Rogen) with scenes that seemed to exist merely to be outrageous/funny and appeal to the the Rogen/Judd Apatow crowd (Danny McBride as a drug dealer? Again?).

*And I'm not talking about this part.

Because O&R really was onto something here. Sure, some of those ridiculous moments are quite funny, but -- as has been mentioned elsewhere -- the film has a less-moody Taxi Driver feel to it, but doesn't completely follow through on it. It didn't have Scorsese/De Niro potential, but it certainly could have existed in a nearby zip code.

Rogen and writer/director Jody Hill portray cop Ronnie Barnhardt's manic-depressive state so subtly (and smartly), it's almost an aside. Really, Ronnie's what happened to that high school outcast who didn't fit into any of those "nerdy" or "artsy" categories. He doesn't think he's a loser. Far from it. So what we have here is a character on the edge, a dreamer without a distinct goal, just someone looking for ... something, whatever it is, that confirms he's as great as he believes.

Which is a scary and intriguing setup, something that could have kept its share of comedic moments while existing in even darker territory, rather than jolting awkwardly between hilarious and frightening.

Which is why O&R falls into the category of "good, not great."

If only ...

... for Rogen's performance, which had better earn him consideration for the Golden Globes Best Actor/Musical or Comedy category*.

*And while we're at it, why are musicals still a part of this category? How is playing Cole Porter even remotely similar to playing Dewey Cox? Let's change this before Daniel Day-Lewis becomes the next musical star to steal a Globe nod from a deserving comic actor.

... for filming in a near-vacant mall in Albuquerque, N.M.

... for "born-again virgin."

... for a cathartic moment involving stand-up "comic" Patton Oswalt.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


It's a fact: It's the greatest city in the history of mankind*.

*Or maybe I'm thinking of this city.

Good thing it isn't like this all year:

Briefly, some of the best films centered around a city that -- despite a reasonably long list of movies set there -- still gets underplayed on the big screen.

Of course, this one:

This one's among the best ... even if the city itself doesn't figure so prominently:


Who could forget this one?

And then there's my favorite, for multiple reasons: The Weather Man (also pictured above). As Chicago goes, no film I've seen better captures the city's oddly life-affirming winter bleakness.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Apocalypse Now, and forever*

*Not to be confused with this (not for all tastes) song.

It's amazing how overrated some Vietnam movies get.

And then there's Apocalypse Now.

IMO, if you line up the big Vietnam-set award winners -- The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July -- you start with Francis Ford Coppola's twisted journey up the winding Nung River ...

And then ...

And then* ...

*Andthenandthenandthenandthen ...

And then the rest.

I already talked about The Deer Hunter's problems. Platoon, meanwhile, is little more than a middling, straightforward war movie; I'll never get why it's listed among the all-time great films. As for Oliver Stone's activist-based follow-up, it has some harrowing bits, but doesn't compare to Apocalypse Now's bizarre, moody, labyrinthine journey.

Sure, it's weird -- in some parts, very weird (and very NSFW) -- but (according to history, anyway) the war itself was as much strange as it was brutal. Like the film.

Why Apocalypse Now isn't considered the quintessential Vietnam movie is beyond me.

Not only for the creative use of The Doors' The End (in the above clip) and Wagner (in the film's most famous sequence), but another bizarre music connection, late-appearing Dennis Hopper's first words in the film were sampled by the industrial metal outfit Ministry for the song N.W.O. (click the clip here if you dare; the sample first occurs at 0:15 ... yeah, I'm a nerd).

Moon Unit Rockwell

Seeing as how there's considerable bloggonet buzz about this just-released trailer -- plus some solid preliminary Rotten Tomatoes results for the film itself -- figured I might float* a few words of my own.

*Get it? Float? On the moon? Ah, whadda you know from funny, anyway?

I really have no opinion here. Just the movie has the same name as one of my former cats.

That, and that Sam Rockwell fella is pretty good. Maybe, if we're lucky, one of these days he'll join Sylvester Stallone and Tom Berenger on the list of Oscar-nominated actors.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Hello ... Is Anybody There?

There is absolutely no way I'm the only person who sees the title of this ...

... and immediately recalls the first line of this ...

... which is good, because the latter (song-wise, anyway) certainly seems like it'll end up more satisfying than the former.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Cult Classics: The Wicker Man

Ah, yes, this gut-buster:

No, wait. Wrong one*. That's the remix of the remake starring -- who else? -- Nicolas Cage, who landed one of the film's five Razzie nominations. Ugh.

*And it's not this Wicker Man, either.

But let's focus on the positive! If you're lucky enough to see/to have seen the 1973 original ... then you're pretty damn lucky.

Dubbed a horror movie, it's not so much that as a twisted, vivid nightmare -- one that follows a pious Scottish cop (Edward Woodard) who shows up on a nearby island to search for a missing girl. Only the islanders are a wee bit strange, and very ... very ... musical. Oh, and pretty sexual too. Basically, they're pagans of some kind, led by Saruman himself, Christopher Lee (above).

What sounds like the setup for a classic Evil People Doing Evil Things movie plays almost completely the opposite. At first, the film's theme song -- yes, it has a theme song -- feels horribly out of place ... and then you understand why it's there, as you follow the religious Woodard's journey through a world that's pure anathema to him.

Oh, and then there's the ending, where everything comes together in the most devilishly clever way possible.

Jeez, writing this, I just want to see it again.

Happy Pesach!

I am not Jewish. But I do know, shall we say, a person or two who happens to be.

I also know a thing or two about Passover, thanks in part* to Woody Allen's brief metamorphosis during Take the Money and Run.

*It's a very small part.

The scene: Woody (as Virgil Starkwell) is a petty thief stuck in prison, until he is offered a way out: Serve as a test subject for an experimental vaccine.

NARRATOR: With parole as inducement, Virgil submits to the vaccine test. It is a success, except for one temporary side effect: For several hours, he is turned into a rabbi.

"And so ... the reason we celebrate the Passover holidays by eating matzo, is to commemorate the time that Moses led the children of Israel from Egypt."

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

An unexpected surprise? (Isn't that redundant?)

They had me at "from the writer/director of Brick" ...

And, in case you're wondering what Brick is, it's this:

Whither Jim Carrey?

Today's release of Yes Man (which, in full disclosure, I did not see; the whole "say YES to everything" thing is a stupid concept) brings up one major question:

How did this guy ...

... become such a joke?

OK, so he's not actually a joke ... although The Number 23 certainly was considered laughable (complete with a dubious nomination for Mr. Carrey*).

*In an attempt to class up the joint, I'm going New York Times on everyone and put titles in front of last names, every once in a while. Or maybe not.

But seriously ... was it really five whole years ago that we were gushing over his performance in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind -- and later wondering what was wrong with the Academy for not recognizing this former goofball who had so clearly become a capital-A Actor?

And that was years after Carrey won back-to-back Golden Globes (granted, in the less-competitive Musical or Comedy category), first for his surprisingly serious turn in The Truman Show, then for his spot-on work as twisted comedian Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon.

AND, let's not forget, he already had shown range and promise with his creepy role in The Cable Guy (one I've mentioned previously), proving to us back then that he's a whole lot more than just a slapstick actor (albeit a great one).

This isn't to say Carrey -- er, Mr. Carrey -- is done or anything, because asserting such a thing would be ridiculous. Even low-talent actors* land great roles, and Carrey clearly has chops, even when he's reined in. OK, so maybe he won't be doing Hamlet**, but there's enough diversity of film out there that the man once known as Ace can find at least one more great role that doesn't involve facial contortions.


**Which is fine, because the whole Shakespeare thing is played*** anyway.

***Get it? Shakespeare? Played? Hahahahaha.

What's next, then, for Carrey? This one, which reportedly is having release troubles ... then a turn as the one-and-only Curly of The Three Stooges.

Yes. As Curly -- alongside Benicio Del Toro (Moe) and Sean Penn (Larry), as directed by the Farrelly Brothers.

What was that I said about facial contortions?

So, as oddly intriguing as the Benny/Sean/Jimmy trio sounds, I guess we'll have to wait a little longer for another Joel Barish.

Let's just hope that if such an offer surfaces, Carrey will give that script an immediate, emphatic "YES!"