Sunday, May 31, 2009

Up to no great (or: Pixar is overrated)

I, like about $68.2 million worth of my peers, saw Up this weekend -- and no, that doesn't mean I aimed my eyes at the sky.

Funny thing is, although the film is set partially in a house that -- powered by balloons -- flies to South America, neither did Up. Instead, Up did what most Pixar movies do: It shot lower and hit its mark.

( with the pic)

That's not to say the film isn't good. It is. But "good" is they key word here, because what it does well -- it's about as emotionally grabbing as any film I've seen, and really leaves you wanting to hug somebody -- is offset partially by the same thing that hindered Wall-E and some of the other offerings from the unthinkable-to-question* animation studio: After unfurling another of its creative setups (this one involving a lonely widower fulfilling an unusual promise to his late wife), it devolves into formula (this one an "edge-of-your-seat" action finale that left me nowhere near falling off the theater's upholstery).

*Although, it must be noted, I did not like Ratatouille one bit.

Up's downturn isn't nearly as maddening as Wall-E's, since the former never reached the heights of the latter before treading familiar territory (although it did have me near tears earlier than any film I've seen, even my favorite little robot story). Still, it's a disheartening continuation down the "safe" path for the studio. It's like Spielberg's in charge there or something. Even the most original of concepts turn into unoriginal narratives by movie's end. It's as if they're pulling in adults, then pandering to the kiddies.

Although those box office numbers -- and the critical reception -- suggest everyone's pretty much OK with it. So I suppose it's hard to second-guess a studio that kills every time it releases something.

Still, just once, I'd love for that great creative team to go unchecked, offering something as weird and wild and wonderful as, say, The Triplets of Belleville -- in other words, a story that wows just as much as the technique does.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Star Trek quickie review

The Film Official emerges from the shadows to tackle a rare in-theaters movie. Thoughts on Star Trek ...

(Pic from ISN News)

... It's dece.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Elephant Man

Sample titles for this blog post, which were scrapped because I couldn't decide on just one:

The Elephant Man: David Lynch, without all the nonsense


The Elephant Man: The *real* Best Picture of 1980 (or at least better than the consensus top film)


The Elephant Man: Why, again, isn't this considered an all-time great by outfits like AFI?

Yes, friends, this stylized account of the life of Joseph Merrick (mistakenly known as John Merrick) is that good.

(Cinema Scope with the pic)

What's brilliant about The Elephant Man -- the story of a deformed former circus sideshow (John Hurt) who takes up residence in a London hospital thanks to a curious doctor (Anthony Hopkins) and becomes something of a high-society curiosity -- is its breadth of style and substance.

It's got director Lynch's impeccable craft -- e.g. that mid-film dream sequence -- but ditches his typical nonsensical storyline for a thoughtful tale told at a measured pace. It's equally bright and dark, showing the best of humanity and the worst -- and all those moral gray areas, too. And when the film reaches its almost inevitable conclusion, it is simultaneously happy and sad, bringing about the urge to cry ... for some reason, although it's hard to peg exactly why.

Heartbreaking? Heartwarming? Try both. Or how about this: It's heart-tugging -- easily one of the most emotionally affecting films out there.

So why, again, does this one get so often shafted in the annals of film history?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

They Live to be campy

Classic John Carpenter* ...

*And no, not this John Carpenter.

(Found on the review blog Reality Break)

There's really not much to say that hasn't been said in praise of Carpenter's wrestler-starring ("Rowdy" Roddy Piper, a Canadian who for some reason wore a Scottish kilt in the ring) sci-fi/political satire about how the world is being taken over by in-disguise aliens ... who are delivering subliminal messages that are decipherable only to the trained eye (the trained eye, of course, being covered by special sunglasses). In fact, I've already said it myself.

But I'll say it again: Really, the film is just ridiculous.

Yeah, ridiculously awesome.

Most fans will point to the "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass" line -- and for good reason.

I prefer the best hand-to-hand fight scene I've ever witnessed (NSFW). Oh, and the ending is great. And let's not forget the fate of the character played by George "Buck" Flower, one of the most memorable bit players you'll ever see.

Bonus bit: If you've got a few minutes, read the short story upon which They Live is based -- "Eight O'Clock in the Morning," by Ray Nelson. It is absolutely nothing like the movie.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

inding orrester

So a while back I sat down to watch the 2000 Gus Van Sant-directed Finding Forrester, because I remembered it being pretty good: A story of an urban* kid (then-newcomer Rob Brown) whose basketball passion is coupled with a love of books -- and who happens to stumble upon a reclusive old author (THE Sean Connery) living in his neighborhood.

*Hooray euphamisms!

This time, though, something struck me as the first few minutes unfolded:

Where the eff is the F-word?

It's not just that the film takes place in an inner-city* high school, where that word -- and countelss others -- are prevalent in the halls. It's that it takes place at any high school. Any one of them. "Cursing like sailors" should be changed to "cursing like students." I'm sure even schools labeled Christian have a few rebellious kids who experiment with the f-dash-dash-dash word at the lunch table.

*Another euphamism!

But not here, not in inding orrester. Sure, they certainly were targeting a PG-13 rating when omitting the most flexible of profanities, but that doesn't excuse it. Here, it's ridiculously distracting. If your movie attempts to capture any sort of dialect -- be it street-wise black, gangster Italian, bored rural high schooler, whatever -- you've got to be fully authentic to make it work. And in those above cases and many others, "authentic" starts with "F."

How this word became the standard for an R-rating is beyond me, but that's the way it is. Which is why, when scanning the list of truly, indisputably all-time-great movies (set in contemporary times, at least), a VERY small number of them carried a rating of less than R.

And no -- despite its redeeming qualities, this F-less wonder is not on the list.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Waitress, feel-kinda-good movie of early 2007 ...

(Pic found at

... feel-good, because it's a fun comedy with quirky characters and a happy message; feel-only-kinda good because of the horrific fate of writer-director-star Adrienne Shelly, which need no snarky comment because it was simply horrible.

Still, that doesn't make the movie itself off-limits, especially with all the superlatives thrown its direction back in oh-seven.

***Spoilers abound below***

As fun as Waitress can be -- and it is quite funny, quite often -- the movie at its core is one gigantic cliche. A wayward, pregnant Southern waitress with a knack for baking pies (Keri Russell) is married to an overbearing jackass (Jeremy Sisto) and helped only by her quirky waitress friends (Cheryl Hines and Shelly, whose performance is as great as her storyline isn't) ... until a Northern doctor (Nathan Fillion) shows up and sweeps Russell off her feet. Sort of.

Sort of, since she *doesn't* end up with the doctor. Why? Because nearly all the male characters in this movie are idiots. Sisto is a jerk. Fillion is a dope. Even the Shelly character's love interest (Eddie Jemison), cute as he might be, also is pretty dim. Well, OK, they saved room for the Sage Old Man character (Andy Griffith, who else?) ... because all old people are smart, of course, and you're not smart until you get old, right*? But the point is, in a great swoop of Girl Power, Russell decides that, well, that Fillion's character is a dope.

*But, when you're old, of course you must die during the movie to illicit sympathy from the audience. That's as American Movie Formula as apple pie (and all the other pies served in this movie)**.

**Another reason why I didn't get caught up in the
Waitress frenzy: I'm a health food absolutist and thus don't eat pie. So the whole mouthwatering delight thing was lost on me.

Anyway, yes, Waitress sidesteps the she-finds-love-with-another-man cliche. But it replaces it with another: The happily-ever-after-with-me-and-my-baby cliche. You see, Russell's character *hates* this baby throughout the movie, because it's her husband's, it's making her fat, etc. Of course, this is true until the baby gets born*. Then she realizes how beautiful it is and how complete her life is and blah, blah, blah.

*And, while I'm at it, why do movies always show the obligatory birth scene? They might not all be as graphic as Knocked Up's, but they're just as gratuitous.

But the mother-loving-baby thing isn't the bad part here. It's the fact that mother loving baby = everything will be wonderful until the end of time! (This wondefulness factor goes for all the sympathetic characters in the script, BTW. They all win. Except the dead guy, but he was old, so that's OK. He's probably in heaven anyway -- the eternal version of happily-ever-after.)

But here's the thing: No matter how happy you get, sometimes life just sucks. The happily-ever-after thing is pure nonsense. There's nothing wrong with things ending positively, but good God -- at least show her struggling with her taxes or something! Maybe stubbing a toe? Her favorite singer losing on American Idol? Something!

It's disgustingly ironic how Shelly's life ended, when you consider the way her final film did. I *will not* say it proves my point, because it doesn't -- otherwise, every character would die before the credits roll. And that would be ridiculous.

But so is the happily-ever-after concept. It must be stopped, lest our intelligences be insulted again ... and again .. and again ...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bad, horror. Bad!

Seeing the early reviews -- early as in, only 11 of them by Thursday afternoon -- of Sam Raimi's latest, Drag Me to Hell, it's hard for a horror fan not to get a little giddy.

Because good horror is a mysterious (and elusive) fig.

(Thanks to Screen Rant for the pic)

Aside from the very, very, VERY exceptional cases -- and this is true for any genre (comedy, sci-fi, action, etc.) -- rarely does an offering reach an all-time-great level. But there's just something about a solid scare-fest -- say, Quarantine -- that's so much more satisfying than your typical entertaining actioner.

Also, and let me say this very quietly ... IT'S NOT THAT HARD TO MAKE!

Seems to me, good horror needs three elements to succeed (succeed = not suck):

1) An ominous, uncomfortable atmosphere -- a looming sense of dread that doesn't let up until the credits roll. Basically, just create likable (or at least tolerable) characters and threaten their lives somehow. Done.

2) A script that isn't riddled with horrifically stupid dialogue or nonsensical, eye-rolling plot points. We don't need Elmore Leonard exchanges and a Usual Suspects-level storyline here, just a little bit of logic and realism, even in an unreal world.

3) A lack of excess. There's nothing wrong with a little violence/gore, but sometimes it's just too much, and too mean. A great example is Hostel -- it kills in the atmosphere department and has a solid script ... but once it reaches its payoff, it's just too much.

Sure, this doesn't account for everything*. But it's a pretty simple set of rules that shouldn't be that hard to follow. No, you're not necessarily going to get huge critical success -- but hey, Anchorman only hit 64% on RottenTomatoes, and if that's not a legend in the world of genre films, nothing is. Like comedy fans, horror-philes have relatively low expectations, too.

*Let's not forget about side genres such as the cheesy, over-the-top slasher/monster flick (e.g. the old Friday the 13th series) or the action-horror hybrid (you could throw Aliens into this basket). There's also the bizarro-horror, which Raimi himself nailed in Evil Dead II.

I was going to rant on a couple of horror entries I've sampled lately (Thir13en Ghosts going on 30 Days of Night) -- but why waste time? I already did that watching them. In short, they didn't follow the rules -- brainless plots and dumb dialogue that waste a few pretty cool kills and effects.

Instead I'll just sit here hoping Drag Me to Hell doesn't fall into same traps. I don't want to scream its title as I leave the theater, thinking about another $10 and two hours wasted on bad horror.

Monday, May 18, 2009

May 18.

On May 18, ...

1860: A guy named Lincoln is nominated for the presidency.

1927: The famous Grauman's Chinese Theater opens, paving the way for a certain film blogger to see Starsky & Hutch on his only trip there.

And, in a different year, not too long ago: Unbeknownst to many (but knownst to a few), one of the people who would bring said blogger into this world is, herself, brought into this world.

Hi, Mom!

Now, because the truck stop was all out of "Happy Birthday!" cards, here's a sample of favorites from one of The Film Official's favorites*:

*Note: She has pretty good taste**.

**Especially when it comes to sons.

-The Silly-

Die Hard
Yippie kay-yay, mother!

Snakes on a Plane
Speaking of mothers, I've had it with all these monkey-fighting snakes on this Monday-to-Friday plane!

Analyze This
A film with a plot so complex, it requires repeat viewings. Lots of them.

*Insert Mel Brooks Movie Here*
My mother certainly wasn't among the Robin Hood villagers shouting: "Leave us alone, Mel Brooks!"

"And a very happy birthday to you, ma'am!"

-The Serious & The Scary-

The Insider
Not only is this an intense, near-perfect portrayal both of journalistic integrity and the weight of responsibility, but Russell Crowe offers perhaps his best performance as the title character, a cigarette-company whistle blower struggling with whether he should spill all he knows about nicotine. Heck, Crowe might have even deserved an Oscar win for this or something.

I'm no parent or anything, but I believe those books contain a special "bonding" section, wherein it offers this advice: "The best moments between mother and son are simple ones, such as quiet walks through the park, reading chapter books, or watching movies about unlikable crewmembers being killed by a hissing, acid-blooded force of nature."

The Thing
"... or, if you don't want a visible alien, why not try one that simply infiltrates a victim's bloodstream and morphs itself into a perfect facsimile of that person?"

According to sources close to the situation, this scene might have been scream-inducing ...

And, of course ...

-The Ones I'll Never Forget-

Joe Versus the Volcano
They might disagree, Mom, but I'm with you on this one.

The Muppet Christmas Carol
You can have your Dickens prose or your Alastair Sim (or even your Jim Carrey, coming soon). In The Film Official's household, the story of Scrooge, ghosts and of Christmas itself comes as told by the Great Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat. No doubt.

The Land Before Time
Unfortunately, I can't type anything about this movie. My vision suddenly, inexplicably, has blurred.

(Tear-inducing photo from

Happy Birthday, Mom.

--Your son.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Road to nowhere?

The long-anticipated trailer to the long-anticipated The Road finally emerged last week, with the film seeming ... promising. Cormac McCarthy's novel won the Pulitzer. Still, the movie was supposed to be released in 2008. A delay, obviously, isn't a good sign, but it's not necessarily a harbinger of doom, either.

One of the more intriguing questions when discussing The Road is "Who is John Hillcoat?" -- as in, who's this dude slated to direct dudes like Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron*?

*OK, she's not really a dude, unless you're referring to this monster-ous role.

And then God (On Demand) answered with The Proposition, a 2005 Australian import and one of only three films (and the most recent) in Hillcoat's directorial filmography.

This is our concern, dude, because The Proposition ain't all that great.

(Pic from

Strangely enough, this Western wowed critics with its story of a brooding Aussie outlaw (Guy Pearce) accepting a brooding Aussie copper's (Ray Winstone) deal of turning in his vicious, brooding gang-leader brother (Danny Huston) in order to save their meek younger brother (Richard Wilson; who doesn't do a whole lot of brooding because he's busy bawling).

Like I said, there's a whole lot of staring, a whole lot of emoting, a whole lot of philosophizing (and sure, considerable violence) -- but almost none of it comes with much narrative grab; you keep wanting to care about these characters, but even the sympathetic ones' plights are overdone and thus, not all that interesting.

OK, so labeling this a Hillcoat-related concern isn't necessarily fair, as a director's early efforts don't necessarily predict a lack of potential greatness (Martin Scorsese did Boxcar Bertha, after all, which screamed "change the channel!" after about three minutes). Hillcoats feel for the visual clearly is keen. Really, most of the problems stem from musician Nick Cave's script, where the dialogue isn't all that sharp and several scenes seem forced.

So let's hope Hillcoat got a good one with The Road, and it ends up as more than Viggo, et al staring off into space for 120 minutes while emotive music plays and wind blows and flies buzz.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Can't forget Sarah Marshall

Thanks to HBO for bringing Forgetting Sarah Marshall back (because, you know, it's been gone so long) ...

( w/the pic ... and a bad review that spends way too much time talking about something that doesn't really matter in this movie ...)

In that linked review, much time is spentwasted talking about writer/star Jason Segal's nude scene -- and that wasn't the only place that mentioned Segal's exposed Jason (or is it Johnson*?). My reaction is much like the one re: Kathy Bates in About Schmidt -- as in, so what? I'm not necessarily interested in seeing that, but here's an easy remedy: Look away and get on with your life/the movie.

*Whaddaya need that for, Dude?

Another complaint about FSM is its derivative nature, as it harkens back to all those Judd Apatow/Seth Rogen comedies. And, well, it does, with the same rhythm (and, in many cases, the same players). So it's not wholly original in its execution. But that's not the point.

What separates FSM from the crowd (and this goes for all comedies) is its spot-on look at relationships. Good ones, bad ones, all the interested parties, everything. Unlike Knocked Up, it doesn't cop out with the phony, who-could-believe-that? ending. Unlike Wedding Crashers, the main antagonist -- the dude who's with the main dude's girl -- isn't a total cookie-cutter a-hole.

And here's the most mature part: Sarah Marshall (the Segal character's ex, played by Kristen Bell) ain't exactly a saint, but she's not a total you-know-what, either. She has her problems. So does Segal's character. So does his new love interest (Mila Kunis), Sarah's new love interest (a mostly funny but sometimes over-the-top Russell Brand), the probably gay guy who is obsessed with Sarah's new love interest (Jonah Hill, hilarious as always), the innocent virgin who is trying--well, you get the point.

Which makes it well worth the time, even if the laughs -- albeit hard* -- aren't as frequent as in other comedies of this type.

*This includes one of the funniest lines in years, though, uttered by Paul Rudd (as an airhead surfing instructor). Let's just say it's got something to do with carpet, but not drapes.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The king of all ...

... cheesy horror films:

(Pic from

OK, cheesy might be a little unfair, because when I say "cheesy horror films," you (likely) say "Jason!"*

*When I say "sportz," you say "nutz" ...

But there's a difference between the truly, icky, awful, terrified feeling you get when you watch an unrelenting piece like Texas Chain Saw Massacre (the original ... duh) or Alien. Those are small, contained situations -- a house in the middle of nowhere, a space ship -- and neither has grand ideas nor many supernatural qualities.

Typically, when you enter the realm of Satan or 666*, there must be some sort of suspension of disbelief, since the concept of EVIL incarnate is, well, slightly silly.

*Episode 666 is an exception here.

So here we go, with The Omen, a 1976 offering (again, not the remake) from Richard Donner and Atticus Finch himself, Gregory Peck. Peck plays Thorn, a politician whose son, Damien (Harvey Stephens), is no more his son than I am. Instead, their relationship spawned from an under-the-table adoption ... and it ain't workin' out so hot for our protagonist. Because, well, Damien is the Antichrist, and Thorn (with the help of a suspecting photog played by David Warner's incredible accent) must stop the little devil (haha) by killing him. Which kinda makes dad a little uneasy, what with the moral repercussions of offing a kid and all.

The film has its share of unintentional comedy, but it seems to know it ... if just barely. Everything is played straight, but you get the sense that, deep down, everyone's winking at you (or smiling, as it were ... if you've seen the ending, you know what I mean).

Then there's the film's strongest quality, and I'm not talking about the totally badass decapitation scene (yeah, don't click on that one, all you squeamish types). IMDB's trivia section for The Omen says the following:
Director Richard Donner credits the success of the film to composer Jerry Goldsmith, whose music made the film scarier than it would have been had he not been involved.
Totally. Agree.

Goldsmith won an Oscar for his work here. In a cheesy horror movie. That's how good the score is.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Once is enough.

After almost two years of hearing all about what Once was about, I finally got to see what Once was all about.

(RTE Entertainment with the pic)

The verdict: A big, emphatic blah.

It's not that this story -- an Irish busker's (Glen Hansard, of something called The Frames) slight romance with a Czech immigrant/pianist (Markéta Irglová, also a musician), with a side dish of Hansard's character trying to complete an album -- totally sucks. It has nice moments and insights, especially is it pertains to the sheer incomprehensibility of some women's actions*.

*And yes, most men are incomprehensible, too ... but I'm a dude myself, so my actions make sense, dammit!

But that doesn't make the movie any good. Mostly because it's boring. Mostly because, as a "modern musical," there's way too much music here -- I'd say about half of the film's 85 minutes are wordless except for guitar strums and sung notes.

Not that music being prevalent in film is a bad thing (see: Chicago). It's just this music really isn't any good (the Oscar for Best Song notwithstanding). It's not horrible, per se -- I'd hate to see the modern-day country music version of this -- but it's simply simple. As an unabashed music snob, I must again and again point out to all who will listen that "arty" music often is completely the opposite. I play the guitar about as well as I can weld, but give me a six-string and about a month of practice and I could be just as good Once's protag. I mean that. An open chord ain't exactly a John Petrucci solo.

Which also lends another element to my overall dislike of this movie: I can't get all that wrapped up in a guy's journey when I'm sitting there screaming: "You think this is hard?! Try changing tempos once in a while! Mix in a few other time signatures, why don't you?! And for the love of God, why do all you people hate drummers so much?!"

It's not totally the point, of course, which saves this movie a little. As mentioned before, the musician's relationship with Irglova's character -- she's got a husband somewhere, so their romance doesn't really take off -- is intriguing and realistic, but that story is so buried beneath melancholy, repetitive tones, it's pretty much forgettable.

I guess it's a good thing I didn't see the film until now. Guess it's obvious I won't be seeing it again. The title of this post says it all: Once is enough.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Should I ... ?

If there's one -- and I think there's only one -- reason to see the oh-so-INDIE! Away We Go, it's this guy:

... or maybe I'll just listen to this for the 1,567,834th time.

Peace sells, and Will Ferrell's buying

The news-gathering music website tipped me off to an audio update from

Megadeth's Dave Mustaine: "I'm going to be working on the new Will Ferrell movie 'Land Of The Lost'... and going to be putting some music on that. I went and saw the movie last week and it was hilarious. I loved it. I love Will Ferrell; think he's hilarious anyways. But, yeah, we're getting ready to send some music up to these guys right now and you're listening to some in the background, and then I'll be heading up there this week to hopefully finish all this off with their guys. And man, how exciting for me."

"Land Of The Lost" is set to hit theaters on June 5. Check out a trailer below.

Here is that trailer ...

Hmmm. Megadeth's still got it, even after all these years, but is that enough to make Land watchable? I mean, Mustaine's crew once contributed a solid song to ... Last Action Hero.

Beautiful ...

... just beautiful* ...

*No, I'm not referring to the dude in the tub.

... did I mention beautiful?

I've dropped this movie's name enough in previous posts, so it's about time I give The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (deep breath) its what-for.

As I write this, I'm not sure Assassination is at all inferior to 2007 shoulda-been Best Picture Winner There Will Be Blood. I am sure it's superior to the one that actually won the award (more on No Country here).

Why? I posted three elements above: The gorgeous cinematography (by Roger "How the #$%& Hasn't He Won an Oscar?" Deakins), the interplay between Brad Pitt (as James) and Oscar nominee Casey Affleck (as Ford)*, and the chills-inducing score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (which didn't even get nominated). But those, like I said, are just elements. The whole is just as good.

*Although the rest of the cast -- especially the ever-excellent Sam Rockwell -- isn't far behind.

Strangely, I would only recommend Assassination to a select group; it was box-office poison, and for once, it's easy to see why: It's slow and long (160+ minutes), and if you don't buy the pace, you're gonna hate it. But if you're of the right mindset, there's just something hypnotizing about this story of early hero worship and celebrity (which, incidentally, is not unlike writer-director Andrew Dominik's only other, aforementioned, film, Chopper), as the aging outlaw James drifts through the downside of his train-robbing career -- with the ambitious, voice-cracking young Ford tagging along and, ultimately, doing away with his idol.

Getting euphemistic, I'll say the plot unfolds "methodically" and also episodically, but I'm not sure anything could/should have changed. Every frame seems perfectly placed, and not just aesthetically*. The dialogue, too, seems spot-on, allowing the story to advance without any sense of contrivance.

*The Film Official Challenge: How many words can I use that end in "ically"? Technically, I say four. At least in these two grafs.

The result: When Ford finally shoots James, you know absolutely why (at least in the context of the film), but without being beaten over the head with reasons. Also, you know the heroism eventually given Ford is not one found in fairy tales -- not one that will end happily, but not like the stuff of phony tragedy, either.

If the story sounds literary, that's because it is. The opening scene -- and various parts throughout -- are narrated as if being read from a book (perhaps this book). That narration is a useful tool, filling in blanks that often go untold in poor adaptations of subtext-heavy novels. In the end, everything is understood, everything is felt, everything is ... beautiful, even if tragically* so.

*Yep, another "-ically"!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Whatever Work day

Busy with the whole day-job thing, although I'm sure I'll spend a little time wondering about this film's trailer ...

Early verdict: It's not so great, but an irrational love of L.D. (not to mention a little help from Woody) can overcome anything.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


"The BEST film OF THE YEAR!"

On a recent trip to SoFla, I had the chance to catch Sugar at one of those cheap arty theaters -- the ones which, in a perfect world, would be prolific and flush with people*. This one, well, wasn't. Which is too bad, because it was well worth the $5 to see this muted film about a Dominican baseball player (Algenis Perez Soto) trying to hack it as a minor-league prospect.

*Strangely, despite a decent amount of theaters that actually show real films sometimes, the whole Palm Beach/Broward/Dade area only had one theater showing Sugar. Strange.

( with the pic)

Two things about Sugar -- 1) In a (very) small sample, it really is the best film I've seen in 2009 ... but here's hoping it gets passed. A lot. Because 2) It's little more than a nice movie, a well-made, realistic depiction of a story that, honestly, isn't earth-shatteringly compelling.

It follows the emotional journey, not so much the baseball one (although the two certainly are interlocked), of Miguel "Azucar" (Sugar) Santos, born into Dominican squalor but also born with an electric* right arm. He spends time at a local baseball academy, heads to Phoenix for spring training, then earns a spot in his club's (the fictional Kansas City Knights) system, on a Single-A team in ... rural Iowa. Obviously, a culture clash ensues -- Azucar barely speaks English -- although the clash is not of the cliched variety. Same thing when an injury temporarily sidelines our hero -- it's not as if his career is over, as would be the case in a formula-driven piece.

*Not literally. Now THAT would be -- wait, I'm gonna stop here before we really do get another one of those stupid comic book/superhero movies: The Electric Arm -- "Shockingly good!"

Really, this film sidesteps most cliches (although it does feature a cameo from everyone's favorite baseball bit player, the Performance Enhancing Drug). It's made very quietly, not bludgeoning us with backstory or unnecessary expository dialogue. Kudos to filmmakers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck for being hugely realistic here.

And yet ...

That realism almost gets Sugar in trouble. Because as the story unfolds (I could explain, but that would be spoiler-tastic), some of the events become decreasingly interesting. Non-fantasies/fairy tales/comedies should be realistic, but some things can be omitted. Sugar just doesn't seem to leave out much as it goes for the true-to-life thing. Which makes it drag a bit, dampening the end result.

Would I rather have this than some piece of formula fluff? Especially from a movie about sports? Absolutely. Still, for a film to reach true greatness, there must be more. Sugar the movie is a little -- not totally, but somewhat -- like sugar the substance: Empty.

Friday, May 8, 2009

I fink what you are 'earing is my ack-sont

Fun over at, as they've offered 16 of the worst accents in film history*.

*Although they might want to adjust the list when Gerard Butler offers his own accent FAIL later this year. Then again, at least Butler won't win an Oscar while mangling an American inflection.

Interestingly, they singled out a few actors in comedies -- including Steve Martin's (supposedly; it's not like I saw the piece of junk or anything) bad faux-French attempt in the Pink Panther remake.

With that precedent set, thank GOD they didn't go after this one:

Donnie Brasco

(Not so) fresh from the underwhelming film year called 1997, comes a nice little mob movie ...

(Photo pulled from my browser's home page)

It's not brilliant, Donnie Brasco -- the based-on-a-true-story story of an undercover FBI man (Johnny Depp) who infiltrates a segment of the New York mafia through a likable small-time hood (Al Pacino; rarely has he been better). It's small and subdued and sometimes slow. But it gets most things right*.

*Even Anne Heche's Nagging Wife character ends up serving a purpose, rather than just being there so the filmmakers could create a large female role without having to exert themselves too much in the writing process.

What's best is that it never sensationalizes, never romanticizes*, and never becomes slave to a derivative plot. It's not as purely gripping/intense/brilliant as Goodfellas, the greatest of all mob movies, but it's not trying to be. It's a character study first and last, a study of two guys who are mostly decent despite this world of crime surrounding them.

*Unlike one of the most overrated movies of all time.

The cast works well, too, beyond Depp and Pacino and Heche -- best among the bit players are Paul Giamatti and Tim Blake Nelson as FBI operatives. Also, Brasco deserves points for not letting the Michael Madsen character (a quasi-boss) become a stunt casting; he so easily could have turned into a vicious Mr. Blonde, but instead he's just another mafia honcho with understandable anger issues.

Sure, as movies go, the mob scene is pretty much played at this point. But as long as they're made thoughtfully, like Brasco, the genre needn't be completely closed to submissions.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Adventures of Priscilla

As those (aforementioned) New York Times memos lamented, there's an issue with the way gays are portrayed in film. Obviously, it's in the stereotypes.

Stereotype No. 1: They're fairy-sissy-boys or beer-swilling biker-dykes whose sole purpose is to provide some sort of punchline. Funny? Sometimes. Sometimes quite. Other times ... not so much. You can make fun of anything -- and I mean a-ny-thin-guh -- if you do it right. Too often it's not done right.

Stereotype No. 2: Unmentioned by NYT but still frustrating -- uber-tragic figures whose existences are so horrifically bleak that they might as well kill themselves (see: The Hours). Realistic? Almost certainly. But these character types exist across sexualities, races, economic statuses, etc. -- and almost always, they're painful to watch*.

*And not the rewarding kind of painful. Just the painful kind.

Kudos to films that avoid these. Films like Brokeback Mountain, which had the unfortunate flaw of being boring, or Milk, which had sympathetic characters but simply pathetic narrative and dialogue. One that hits it on all fronts, though, is The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, an Australian camp classic from 1994.

(Photo from the Sydney Morning Herald)

Priscilla is a bus. Its drivers/occupants are an Australian drag queen duo (Guy Pearce and Agent Smith himself, Hugo Weaving) and a bereved transsexual (Terence Stamp) who are heading from Sydney to remote Alice Springs for a show. The story's a little thin, but the trio (and the folks they meet along the way -- friendly or very unfriendly) keep things interesting most of the time. The dialogue is sharp. The Oscar-winning costumes are great ... and I'm not a bloke who cares much about costumes. And as a desert-lover, I'll never get tired of rocky, dry vistas.

But extra points because these characters never fall into neither gay stereotype category, despite the fact that they're clearly flaming and there's a lot of hate in that there Outback. They're instantly likable, even the obnoxious Pearce -- and not in a condescending, "Aren't those gay people cute?" kind of way. They're sad at times but never incomprehensibly depressing. They're, ya know, people.

Yes, that's right. Real characters, not stereotypes or stunts. What a concept! We'd be better served if all movie characters -- gay or straight or anything in between -- were like this.

No Country to (re)visit

"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"
--John Maynard Keynes

Two things: 1) Don't ask me who Keynes was. Wait ... *checking Wikipedia* ... OK, so now I know he's Tool's frontman. No, wait. I think that's this guy. I get confused sometimes.

2) There aren't really facts, here. Just a re-visitation of 2007's Best Picture winner, more than a year after seeing it for the first (and previously only) time. My impression back then: A harrowing, intense movie that seemed quite excellent ... except something always nagged at me, even as No Country for Old Men swept the Big Oscars, over the film I voted for (after swiping Tom Berenger's ballot).

At the time I thought that nagging feeling was No Country's surprisingly open-ended conclusion, or maybe the knowledge that I paid like $10 to park on South Beach in order to see the movie.

Now ...

(This perfectly sized poster found at tutor2u)

... now, it's clear: No Country is gripping, exceptionally crafted -- and almost fatally flawed.

The flaw is in the story.

It's not hard to see No Country is about far more than a Texas welder (Josh Brolin) who discovers $2 million that "belongs" to a psycho killer (Javier Bardem) who is being trailed by an almost burned-out sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones). The sheriff's opening voiceover -- never to return -- lets us know we're after something deep. Occasional life-related musings by a number of characters point to the nature of the world, of evil, of fighting it, of fighting for yourself, for others, etc. This is heavy stuff here, even without all the vicious killing (most of it done by the Oscar-winning Bardem's character).

Which is fine. Films don't always have to make big declarations, but those that do sometimes reach legendary status, as No Country apparently did.

But ...

Those Big Idea films almost always take two paths to get there: 1) They state their thesis within the framework of a believable narrative, or 2) They present the issue with a tone of surrealism or magic realism or something that very clearly says "Suspend disbelief, everyone -- we're going for a ride."

No Country does neither. It wants to be gritty and intense and to exist in this world (or at least this world, circa 1980), but eschews logic while advancing its narrative and making its point. Too many actions/events make too little sense (Example: How does every character seem to know where his target is, almost at all times?)

Really, it's more a philosophical essay than anything else. Again, that's fine -- as long as you're not masquerading as a story. Otherwise, it's all allegory and little else. For some, that might work. Obviously, it did for Oscar voters and critics.

Not for me, though. It left me wondering if Cormac McCarthy's book filled in those plot holes, explaining all those moments of wondering "But wait -- how did he ... ?" and "How could they know ... ?" and so on. It left me pining for some of the Coen Brothers' previous gems, which said a little something about life AND told near-flawless (or acceptably oddball) stories.

It left me feeling conflicted. On one hand, it's good that the Academy honored a film so wholly different from the Best Picture stereotype, something that was dark and not afraid to be cruel and viciously clever. On the other, the aforementioned There Will Be Blood was right there with No Country, just as dark and just as clever and far less flawed -- begging Oscar to pick it, but with no success in the Most Important Category.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Opening minutes

A pair of intriguing 2009 releases have made available their opening minutes. Personally, I would rather have seen their closing minutes, so I'd know what happens and save myself the $10.

Courtesy of Awards Daily, Francis Ford Coppola's small, black-and-white Tetro ...

... which has a strange Touch of Evil-ish quality to it, but with quiet. Bonus points for the slanty credits.

And, via TrailerAddict, Rian Johnson's The Brothers Bloom (which I've mentioned before) ...

... which seems clever and creative and all -- but I hate rhyming. Hate it. Hateithateithateit. I hate it so much, I'm not even going to finish this paragraph with an ironic rhyme of my own. I'm that much in the zone*.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Random Cinco de Mayo thoughts

*Note: This post has absolutely nothing to do with Cinco de Mayo.

Randomly, some thoughts, brought to you by the free wireless internet at FLL:

-Roman Polanski is in the news again. Idea: How about if he doesn't show up at the hearing, his Oscar (for the underwhelming The Pianist) is revoked and passed on to its rightful owner. Or at least this guy. Or even this one.
(Exclusive: The last known rendering of Polanski in the U.S.)

-From the world of music: Concept albums haven't really translated well into film -- see Tommy and Pink Floyd: The Wall -- but I'm at least a little intrigued by a supposed screenplay based on progressive rock/metal outfit Mastodon's latest epic, Crack the Skye.

(Would this make a good movie poster?)

-From the world of sports: I thought my initial thoughts on this movie were all original, then I read that ESPN writer Bill Simmons made essentially the same claim in his latest column. Damn. Still, Spike Lee's latest documentary, Kobe Doin' Work, might be less based in reality than, say, the latest P.O.S. comic book movie. If you think politicians are full of it when they speak publicly, you ain't heard much Kobe Bryant.

Monday, May 4, 2009

RT: The New York Times memos

The hit-or-miss nature of America's Most Important Newspaper* scored a big hit in this weekend's Summer Movies section with its "Memos to Hollywood" bit by critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis.

*And don't you forget it!

Granted, the critics missed on some key points, but they proved that those with a critical eye for film often think alike. Some highlights:

To: Heads of production, Sony, Universal, Paramount, Fox, Disney

Cc: Joe Swanberg, Andrew Bujalski, Greta Gerwig, Aaron Katz and all their Facebook Friends

From: A.O.S.

You all keep trying to make Rock Hudson-Doris Day-style romantic comedies with the golden guys and gals of the moment, and the results are sexless, subtextless, bland career-girl-in-search-of-Mr.-Right retreads. Meanwhile, a bunch of hungry directors with digital cameras, time on their hands and not much money are making free-form studies about tentative hookups and long conversations among actual, overeducated, undermotivated young folks.

Hollywood, it’s time to co-opt those dudes! Give them enough money for song credits and some production values and let them reinvent movie romance for this age of diffident couplings and vigorous social networking. And dudes, remember: you’re never too young or too hip to sell out.


To: Filmmakers, especially under 40

From: M.D.

The tripod is your friend. Few filmmakers can pull off florid handheld camerawork because most aren’t saying all that much through their visuals, handheld or not. (Also: Shaking the camera does not create realism.) Though it’s a cliché of contemporary cinema, fiction and nonfiction both, handheld camerawork that calls aggressive attention to itself tends to make empty images seem even emptier. If you want us to notice your cinematography, make sure you have something to say, like the French filmmaker Olivier Assayas (“Demonlover”), whose restlessly moving images convey a searching intelligence. He isn’t just waving the camera around; he’s saying something about the world and the people in it.


To: Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese

From: A.O.S.

Think small again! Your buddy Francis Ford Coppola has made his last couple of movies on a relative shoestring in Romania and Argentina. Brian De Palma shot “Redacted” on video with an unknown cast. You are fortunate to be able to do just about anything you want, and you’ve certainly earned the right to work on a large scale. But it’s also sad to think that your days of small, scrappy, personal movies are behind you. Well, maybe they aren’t. Maybe you could go scout a location or two. Work with available light, a skeleton crew and unsung actors. Fly by the seat of your pants. Just for old times’ sake.

And, in closing:

To: Hollywood

From: A.O.S. & M.D.

Yes, green is good. But there is no ecological benefit in recycling intellectual properties or in treating pop-culture treasures like so much scrap material. Let us read our comic books and watch our DVDs of old movies and television shows and try to capture our imaginations with something new. So, enough with the serial killers (unless you’re David Fincher); period dramas; movies in which children die or are endangered; (bad) literary adaptations; superhero epics; tween-pop exploitation vehicles; scenes with bubble-breasted women working the pole in strip clubs; shady ladies with hearts of gold; Google Earth-like zoom-ins of the world; sensitive Nazis; sexy Nazis; Nazis period; dysfunctional families; dysfunctional families with guns; suburban ennui; suburban ennui with guns; wisecracking teenagers; loser dudes scoring with hot women who would never give them the time of day even if they were drunk out of their minds or too young to know any better (hello, Judd Apatow!); feature films that should have been sketch comedy routines; shopping montages; makeover montages; bromances (unless the guys get it on with each other); flopping penises; spray-on tans; Kate Hudson; PG-13 horror remakes; or anything that uses any of the “classic” songs that we are sick of hearing. What’s left? We don’t know. Isn’t that your job?

Funny about the David Fincher comment ... haven't we heard that before? At least once? And the "classic songs" comment, too?

Really, the whole final memo is pretty close to perfect. But where's the complaint about sports movies?

Sunday, May 3, 2009


*... which translates into American as Chopper.

Another dip into the crime genre brings us this 2000 Australian import, starring Eric Bana (before Americans had any idea what an Eric Bana was).

(Photo from Cinema Blend)

Part of Chopper's greatness is derived from the above promo pic + the film's title. Combine the two and you likely imagine a brutally violent, almost sickening film about a maniacal killer running around the streets of Melbourne* offing blokes without remorse.

*This one, not that one.

Not here.

Not with a true story behind it all and Andrew Dominik at the helm.

Like Dominik's exceptional Assassination of Jesse James before it, this is more a study of celebrity than of crime and violence. Bana plays the real-life Mark Brandon "Chopper" Read, a wisecracking, (sometimes) fearless dude who (according to the film) kidnaps a judge, spends some time in the joint, gains media attention through an in-prison attempt on his life, then decides he wants a little more.

And he gets it, killing at least one possible enemy on the outside ... then writing a best-selling book (and later, more books) saying he murdered 19 fellow criminals. He becomes a cult hero. Kind of like ... Jesse James.

In the hands of the formula slaves, this could have been a mockery. But writer-director Dominik -- who, judging by his two-movie filmography, clearly wants to make his movie and doesn't care about box office (thank God) -- stays faithful to story, not violence. Not that it doesn't have its share of blood. It's just not excessive or unrealistic.

Oh, and it helps that Bana is awesome.

*Highly NSFW*

Saturday, May 2, 2009

We (have slight control over) the Night

There are brilliant films, horrible films, and scores of others that vary in quality*. Every once in a while, though, there's one that's too flawed to be called "good," but too original/captivating/well-crafted to be dismissed simply as "bad."

*And the award for Most Profound Statement of the Day goes to ...

That last sentence certainly describes the 2007 crime (melo)drama We Own the Night.

(Photo from

The story isn't so great: A coke-sniffing club owner (Li'l Joaquin), whose brother (fellow quasi-musician Marky Mark) and father (Robert Duvall, who -- little-known fact -- once was in The Sugarhill Gang) happen to be pretty important NYPD cops, reluctantly becomes involved with the Russian mafia. That puts bro and dad in danger. Then tragedy happens. There's a lot of man-crying. Eva Mendes is around, too, to yell a little bit and look, well, like Eva Mendes. In all, some parts of the plot don't make a whole lot of sense.

And yet ...

First, points to Night for rarely falling into mob-movie formula. That, combined with craft, keeps it memorable. On that craft -- it's hard to take your eyes off the screen because writer-director James Gray pretty much nails the "director" part of that duo. The film features some scenes of pure originality and intensity, and makes you care even though you probably shouldn't.

One, where Li'l Joaquin's character is wired-up and inside a drug den, is accompanied by the ringing that's probably in your ears when you know you're in an absurd amount of danger. Exceptional. Another -- a chase through reeds -- is visually impressive (if not as emotionally charged as Gray probably hoped).

But the show-stealer -- and I'm hardly the first to say this -- is the car chase.

Car chases = yawn. Usually.

This car chase is incredible*.

*It's spoiler-iffic, too, but I actually watched it before I saw the whole film, and that didn't hurt things all that much. Verdict: It's worth it.

So hey, the movie might not Own, but parts do. That's certainly worth something in an era marked by one derivative movie after another.

Friday, May 1, 2009

To the Nine(s)

If I were Jim Carrey, I might consider dropping 23 for 9 right about now.

Just check the coming titles:

District 9, a sci-fi flick produced by Peter Jackson ...

9, a dark (animated) offering with quite the voice cast (and a killer song in the trailer) ...

And (rev up the hype machine) Nine, a Rob Marshall-directed musical starring Daniel Day-Lewis and every actress in history, based on a stage play that was inspired by Fellini's 8 1/2.

No trailer available, but methinks we'll see a bit more of this one as the year progresses.

( with the pic)

In other news, this post took nine minutes to write. My summaries of the final two films on the list contain exactly nine hyperlinks. This entry was published on 05/01/09, and everyone knows that (0 x 5) + (0 x 1) + (0 + 9) = 9. And -- oh my God, there are nines everywhere. Go ahead ... tell yourself it's just a number.

... his name was Kirby Kyle

Radio Days -- Woody Allen's 1987 tribute to, well, the radio days of the 1940s -- is more a nostalgia piece than a great film*.

*Although it does feature a quick early appearance from one Larry David, who is -- what else? -- yelling.

But that doesn't keep it from offering one of my all-time favorite bits.

The scene: A blustery sports broadcaster, telling a tale on his nightly show (listen to the audio clip here).

"Today's story ... is about a baseball player. His name was Kirby Kyle, a lean southpaw from Tennessee. He played for the old St. Louis Cardinals. He threw fast and he had a good curveball, and all the hitters knew it.

"He was a kid with a great future. But one day, he went hunting. He loved to hunt, just like his father and his father's father.

"Chasing a rabbit, he stumbled, and his rifle went off. The bullet entered his leg. Two days later it was amputated.

"They said he would never pitch again. But the next season he was back. He had one leg, but he had something more important: He had heart.

"The following winter another accident cost Kirby Kyle an arm -- fortunately not his pitching arm. He had one leg and one arm, but more than that, he had heart.

"The next winter, going after a duck, his gun misfired. He was ... blind. But he had instinct as to were to throw the baseball. Instinct ... and heart.

"The following year, Kirby Kyle was run over by a truck and killed. The following season, he won 18 games ... in the Big League in the Sky."

Honestly, I don't know why baseball's stat geeks set doesn't quote this one over and over and over and over ... Kirby Kyle might have begun as a parody of real-life player Monty Stratton, but today he means so much more.

He had heart.