Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

For the month of October I've done a Halloweeny post each day. Here's the movie-related posts - none are reviews, just screen shots and some videos.

I hope everyone has a spooktacular Halloween! I'm off to the poker tables with Dawn Summers.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blogrolling: The Film Experience

For this Monday's addition to the blogroll, I bring you the hardest working man in film blogdom: The Film Experience (Nathaniel R., proprietor).

Nathaniel is obsessed (along with his stable of contributors) with movies, Michelle Pfeiffer, actresses in general, and the Oscars, though not necessarily in that order. He's currently running an ongoing First/Last "guess the movie" series, where he posts an opening element (such as first line or first image) and a closing element, and invites you to guess in the comments. I'd guess that there aren't many out there more thoroughly embedded in what is being written out there about movies, so his links section is a wealth of interesting nuggets -- criticism, news, videos, services, and miscellanea -- for movie nuts. His end-of-year Film B*tch Awards are the most entertaining of their kind. And seriously, the Oscar prognostication stuff is legendary in its scope and magnitude.

Therefore, for ongoing and engaging conversation (and obsessive? maybe) commentary on the topic of movies, The Film Experience is in the FilmChaw must-read list. Welcome to the blogroll.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mad Movies - Friars Club Comedy Film Festival

The Friars Club Comedy Film Festival has long come and gone and work has pretty much gotten in the way of my reviews of the movies I watched. So I figured I'd cheat a bit and grab the descriptions from the film festival website and then just give my ratings. Most of these films won't get a major release so your chances of seeing some of them will probably be limited to Netflix. Not that big of a deal because of all of them, A Serious Man, is the only one I'd highly recommend.

A Serious Man

A Serious Man

A Serious Man is the story of an ordinary mans search for clarity in a universe where Jefferson Airplane is on the radio and F-Troop is on TV. It is 1967, and Larry Gopnik (Tony Award nominee Michael Stuhlbarg), a physics professor at a quiet Midwestern university, has just been informed by his wife Judith (Sari Lennick) that she is leaving him. She has fallen in love with one of his more pompous acquaintances, Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed), who seems to her a more substantial person than the feckless Larry. Larrys unemployable brother Arthur (Richard Kind) is sleeping on the couch, his son Danny (Aaron Wolff) is a discipline problem and a shirker at Hebrew school, and his daughter Sarah (Jessica McManus) is filching money from his wallet in order to save up for a nose job.

While his wife and Sy Ableman blithely make new domestic arrangements, and his brother becomes more and more of a burden, an anonymous hostile letter-writer is trying to sabotage Larrys chances for tenure at the university. Also, a graduate student seems to be trying to bribe him for a passing grade while at the same time threatening to sue him for defamation. Plus, the beautiful woman next door torments him by sunbathing nude. Struggling for equilibrium, Larry seeks advice from three different rabbis. Can anyone help him cope with his afflictions and become a righteous person -- a mensch -- a serious man?

This movie asks a lot of questions and if you are familiar with the Coen Brothers, you know they're not the best at answering questions. Darkly funny and visually beautiful like most Coen Brother films - I give this one 4 out of 5 slices.

4 slices

I've just picked up The Dude Abides The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers - I'll do a book review when I've finished with it.

Holy Water

Holy Water

Four bachelors in the Western Irish village of Killcoulin’s Leap, tired of women and life passing them by, decide to make their fortune the old-fashioned way - by stealing it. But when their simple plan goes awry, the sleepy town awakes to find itself the center of an international story, descended upon by reporters, police and a hard-charging American S.W.A.T. team led by a tireless boss (Linda Hamilton). The men scramble to cover their tracks in a town where no one’s business is private but find that once the town basks in the limelight, there might not be any turning back.

A fun Irish caper film (a la Waking Ned Devine). What can I say, I like Irish men so I enjoyed this film. I've given it 3 out of 5 slices. Also, it won the award for the best feature film at the festival.

3 slices

Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Undead

Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Undead

Julian Marsh (Jake Hoffman) is an out of work ladies' man living in his dad's medical office. Forced to find a job, he begins directing a bizarre off-Broadway adaptation of Hamlet. When his best friend Vince and his ex-girlfriend Anna (Devon Aoki) are cast as Hamlet and Ophelia, Julian sees a chance to win her back from her new lover, a rich, sleazy tycoon with reputed links to the mob. Instead, Anna falls for the playwright, Theo Horace, a suave, but pale Romanian. When Vince mysteriously dies, Julian is approached by a secret society with an incredible story: Theo's play is actually his autobiography. He is a 2000-year-old master vampire, obsessed with destroying the Holy Grail, which the secret society is charged with protecting.

Fun indie flick - I give it 3 out of 5 slices. During this film I sat a couple of seats behind Sean Lennon, who wrote the music for the film. This is the closest I will ever get to The Beatles. Also, they had goodie bags for us which included a t-shirt, which I'm not going to wear. If you live in the US and would like to have this t-shirt (size M), email me at madloona at First person to do so gets the shirt.

3 slices

Serious Moonlight

Serious Moonlight

After she arrives at her country home for a romantic weekend getaway, things don't go exactly as planned for high-powered Manhattan lawyer Louise (Meg Ryan). First, her husband of 13 years, Ian (Timothy Hutton), tells her that he's leaving her for a younger woman (Kristen Bell). Then, one thing leads to another, and pretty soon Ian finds himself held captive by an oddly cool Louise who explains that she won't release him until he professes his love for her and commits to working on their marriage. And that's when things REALLY start to go wrong. The unexpected arrival of an opportunistic young gardener (Justin Long) and Ian's impatient mistress only serve to complicate the crisis even further, while somehow forcing Louise and Ian to reckon with their past and realistically deal with their future.

Ugh ugh ugh. I'm being generous when I give this 2 slices. I wanted to like this movie - it was written by Adrienne Shelly (writer and director of Waitress and who was tragically killed in 2006) and directed by Cheryl Hines - but I guess I'm just not suited for romantic comedies. I can't believe imdb has a rating of 8.6. Ugh.

2 slices

Artois the Goat

Artois the Goat

Lab technician Virgil Gurdies embarks on an epic quest to create the greatest goat cheese the world has ever known, and reclaim the heart of his beloved Angie. A felonious German baker, a grave-digging hermit, and a tiny white goat color this journey of love, destiny and dairy products.

The goats were cute. I don't like cheese (except for mild varieties that are melted) so I was glad this movie did not come with Polyesters' Smell-O-Vision cards.

Anyway, if you like cheese, goats and fake German accents, then add it to your Netflix queue. My rating - 2.5 out of 5 slices.

2 slices

Miracle Investigators

Miracle Investigators

Veteran miracle investigator Father Dominic and his rookie partner, Father Justin, determine the authenticity of miracles and bust the spiritual criminals who dare disagree. But this time they're up against forces that even they haven't seen before, and Dominic and Justin will have to work together if they're going to solve their toughest case yet...

I loved this short. Nothing like seeing some priests kicking ass martial arts-style so this one rated 4 out of 5 slices. I tried to find it online but no luck - there is a trailer on their website.

4 slices

If you are truly bored here's a link to my photos from the opening night of the film festival.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Blogrolling: Deep Focus

For this week's blogrolling entry, I bring you the film criticism stylings of Bryant Fraser, whose site-turned-blog-turned-site has been keeping it real for at least ten years already. Fraser's MO is to write long, thoughtful pieces (you rarely get a one-paragrapher from this guy) about a few movies a month, with a fairly equal mix between first-run films and older classics.

Enjoy. Deep Focus.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Monsters Vs. Aliens

* *

The monsters were the winners.

The losers were the aliens. And me.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Hawk is Dying (2006)

This is a gem I found flipping through the channels one night. I had never heard or read anything about it, but knowing that Paul Giamatti played the lead character, I was motivated to watch.

I think Giamatti is a genius. His depictions of characters that he has played has gone beyond expectations for me and I always appreciate his ability to totally elevate a film.

Anywho, Hawk is a story about a guy who lives in Florida and delves into Falconry which becomes an obsession. Obsessions are usually not healthy, but in this story it helps him deal with a tragedy. A tragedy which is not the motivator for his obsession, but one which turns it from hobby to obsession.

They way he deals becomes an issue with those closest to him and on the surface you almost start to think that he is crazy. A lesser actor may not have been able to pull this off and leave the viewer in a state of frustration and boredom.

Giamatti's performance is underscored by his ability to convince you that his struggle would be unbearable without delving into his passion. Not only as a distraction but as a sort of therapy. He does this not only through words, but by action. His obsession transcends his initial attempt to avert boredom and the mundane and becomes a vehicle to cope with the issues so seemingly missed by others in his life, surrounding the tragedy. This seems to be more of a struggle for him than the actual loss they all experience, although you see him move from frustration, anger, and sadness as he tries to deal, and figure out what really is at issue.

Michelle Williams also stars as a psychology student. I won't give too much away , but this film is beautifully shot allowing you to experience the emotions through a wonderful character.

This is definitely a film worth your time.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


* * * * *

Written in 2004 and not updated for 2009 because I am lazy. Brazil is still a masterpiece. George Orwell's seminal distopian novel "1984" still weighs heavily on our collective minds. It can hardly help it by now, having deposited numerous words into the collective lexicon – most notably "Big Brother" (signifying a highly intrusive, personally invasive, and politically omnipotent authority figure) and "doublespeak" (signifying . . . well, just listen to any politician, really. For a fine example, listen to George Bush explain this week's reason(s) we actually went into Iraq). Orwell's novel continues to be a valuable warning to those who value human liberty and dignity, yet the details of the story seem less and less apt the further the actual year 1984 sinks into the fuzzy past. What had been, to the author, some random future time has now become two decades outmoded, and the drab gray sameness of a totalitarian socialist planet seems less and less likely in our post-Cold War global society.

Which brings us to Terry Gilliam's own distopian masterpiece, Brazil. Released one year after Orwell's chosen date; this is brilliant film in its own right, but it can also easily be viewed as a pungent revision of the late author's premonitory notions, a "1984" for the post-"1984" set, if you will. Set in an unspecified random future time (2024, let's say), this is a vision of a world in which humanity has been superceded not by a totalitarian socialist regime, but by a totalitarian capitalist one. What's interesting is how similar the two visions become in the end; the only real difference is that the people seem less aware of their enslavement in Gilliam's world, anesthetized as they are by creature comforts, by TV, by wealth, by plastic surgery, by fashion. Meanwhile, the gears of bureaucracy just keep grinding up humanity with a regularity just dull enough to make it seem natural. The disturbance of stormtroopers that burst in through the ceiling to kill neighbors, or into the shopping mall to 'disappear' malcontents, are a necessary price to pay. You see, there are terrorists out there; the general populace is quite terrified of them, and they are more than willing enough to allow any government-sponsored injustice to occur as long as it keep them away – and just so long as the injustice is discreet, and doesn't stand in the way of consumer spending. The slogans of this world are "We're All in This Together", and "Suspicion Breeds Confidence". Everything – everything – exists in a large central database. And brother, if it isn't in the database, and filed on paper in triplicate, in proper form, than it don't exist.

The greatness of Brazil is that Gilliam gets all the important details just right, like the way his surreal fillips make this off-kilter environment not seem so bad during the first reel - the better to jar you from your complacency when the horrifying and tragic occurs. Our hero is Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), and he's plenty complacent when he comes to a housing project to deliver a reimbursement check to the widow of wrongfully-murdered Harry Buttle. A bug was smashed onto the printout ordering the capture and murder of the 'terrorist' Harry Tuttle, you see. Typos can be costly. Sam feels like he's doing a good thing. He's really putting himself out there to deliver the check, plus he's solving a paperwork nightmare for his pathologically helpless boss (Iam Holm, excellent as always). The whole thing has been fairly lighthearted, a little warped, kind of funny.

The Widow Buttle is staring, catatonic, out the window when he arrives. She looks dumbly at the check. Then she whispers: "What have you done with his body?"

Sam, confused, isn't sure what to say. This is more a paperwork muddle to him. The idea of a body hasn't really occurred to him (or to us). He mutters some platitudes, but is cut short when she unleashes one of the most raw and anguished lines in cinematic history: "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH HIS BODY?", then collapses in horrible, racking sobs. Just like that the gears are shifted. Gilliam's garish wallpaper is ripped away, and the rot in the ductwork behind the drywall is fully exposed.

Sam runs away from this; he's not your traditional hero. Ineffectual, deluded, at turns self-satisfied and self-loathing, his only redeeming feature is that he wants nothing to do with his world, he only wants to escape into his dreams, where he imagines himself an armored hero flying through the clouds, saving his one true love. When the Buttle's upstairs neighbor turns out to be his (literal) dream girl, it draws him deep into the heart of the machine. The machine is full of plenty of Gilliamesque tomfoolery, of course, as befits the gonzo animator for Monty Python – a particularly funny moment involves two men in different offices who fight over the desk that they 'share' – but Mrs. Buttle's barbaric howl echoes down these Kafkaesque corridors, and finally catches up to Sam, as another tragic scream is suddenly silenced. Ultimately, Gilliam's vision is more optimistic than Orwell's. 'They' got all of Winston's mind, but Sam is ultimately able to find some small escape – though I hesitate to tag as 'optimistic' an ending that suggests that only in his dreams can a man be free.

For a nearly twenty-year old movie to reflect the times -- right down to the state-sanctioned torture justified by anti-terror -- so distinctly is an eerie sensation. For it to be done with such style and nerve in astonishing. I'd say that this is one of the greatest films of its decade, but it feels more like it belongs to ours.

Addendum to 2012 Debate From jjok

Artistry and entertainment play a large role in deciding if a movie is worth it.


Show me the tits.

Till next time, make all your movies have boobs

-jjok(link yerself mofos)

Good Christ!

No offense meant in the title to any of you bible thumpers out there or fellow hypocritical Catholics.

My point in the previous post that has caused such debate was missed... and invalid really because in all honesty I never really read past the first line in Goats original post. Heck, I might not have even read past the title.

However, given it's due course (the retort that is), I think it's funny the response posts to this little "spat" in movie blogging land.

Let's take some cold hard facts first and put them into perspective.

1) Movies don't always have to be entertaining to be watch worthy. It's all about the viewer really and their tastes, their wants, and their needs for that matter.

2) Not everyone will agree on what movie makers should value most. Artistic integrity, special effects, current day plot themes, adhering to historical facts, developing characters, whatever.

3) Movies fall into categories - Dramas, comedies, Thrillers, horror films, and animated films.

4) Fuel is gay (If you don't know this one, take my word for it. It's a fact)

My response (after admittedly reading line one, possibly only the title) to Goats original post was purely based on angst that my thought was this wasn't only a personal blog for contributors to spew their thoughts and feelings on movies for themselves, but as a medium to suggest films to the readership. That being said, his thoughts as he put them down on virtual paper were merely quick and decided as if to say, this particular movie wouldn't be worth your time. As seen from his perspective based on what he likes and values in a film. That's not really fair to him, and I apologize. You Pric.

However, to me that's just pure vanity. For there are people out there that will like to see this film for what it is. Pure destruction utilizing a current day plot theme, the best in special effects, and some really cool action. It will deliver what it promises. Yes, I am still pointing the finger at Goat because it works to blame someone for my post. :)

Mr. Crim writes a post, I guess trying to be humorous and witty about this whole thing not really saying anything at all. The only part I did take out of it was his "Why this movie will be different" section.

He states that it will get people thinking. Um... No... it won't. People are already thinking, and it will take all thought out of this process for them. They aren't thinking if the world will end. Most are sane people ensconced in reality. One persons vision on HOW the possibility of the world ending would happen is very cool though. See the viewer won't have to think about it. They won't have to use their own imagination and dream up ways of how this might go. They will go to the movies and see how others view it. In a very entertaining and spectacular way.

Then he writes a disclaimer that you if you don't know what he was trying to get at, he did his job. Just like you will be when you walk out of that movie.


Um... NO.... again. See this movie isn't meant to stimulate your intellect. It's not meant to get you thinking about conspiracy theories or possible ways civilization will continue on after a global event. It's meant to get your ass to pay $12, sit down with a $10 tub of popcorn, and watch the destruction of earth in a very cool and awesome way. That's it. There will be no dialogue worthy of Oscars, there will be no scenes showing undying love and sacrifice. It will be one big joke of a plot line trying to bring you to the most awesome scenes of the depiction of the end of times.

My guess is you'll be walking out the movie theater going, "HOLY SHIT! Did you see that wave!!!" w00t!" while picking popcorn and skittles out of your teeth and drying the spilled coke off of your Texas Longhorns sweatshirt with a napkin.

HOP writes about integrity. he kinda takes both sides in his argument, (stupid lawyers [*ducks]) and delves into something about integrity. My disclaimer is that I really didn't read all of his post either. I'm into speed reading now and miss alot of pertinent points (*ducks again) but I did think I picked up on his disappointment in lack of film integrity. Let me tell you, the only integrity this film will need is that of making sure the viewer gets everything they expect from this film. That is to suggest the most awesomest way something and anything can be destroyed!

That, is why this movie will be a success. People don't care about the end of the world because deep in the back of their heads, they know, or at least hope, that it can't happen during their lifetime. We've been disappointed so many times before.

A movie like this can only do one thing. Bring you to a reality of how one person (or a team of persons) can depict on screen an event that you can't fathom happening. See? No thought required.

Now go out and earn that $12 so you can be entertained

Locked out from Duey's Vaults 001: Your total will be $20.12. (Not including tips)

Since I lost my key to the vaults, I won't have any movie to review this time around. What better than to jump in on this 2012 war!!! Why should we end this war now when we, along with govts, know that wars make money!!? We have a major opportunity to get this blog off the ground. Lets go people!!

There is a message in this blog somewhere. I won't give it to you directly. If I did, this post wouldn't have any "artistic and/or intellectual value". We saw both sides of the argument. We heard from the height and we heard from the width. My side to this argument? My side of this argument will be the volume side........but with no depth whatsoever. Strictly the entertaining side. Be patient........... be very very, patient.

My Not So Key Points

1. Why make movies at all when we are all gonna die anyway in 2012?

2. I have never seen 2012. I have never seen a movie with John Cusack(Yes i have). I have never seen a movie by Roland Emmerich. I have never heard of Roland Emmerich(Yes, I have...but it doesn't help my argument.) But what I do know, is that people in the 13-18 age group already think this movie is awesome....therefore.......I already know the movie sucks ass.

3. You all really think I want to watch my state of Colliefornia crumble into the ocean instead of crumble economically!!!?

4.Truth is now stranger than fiction. Why are we watching movies? I'll answer that with another question. Doesn't it seem like that these days a fantasy movie would consist of a normal family, doing normal things, eating normal food, and making normal wages and not have so much death and destruction?.

And Apparently Humor Can be Mistaken for Anger

I can't even get through my own post without reading it and realizing it comes off as very stand-offish and angry. Wow I need to cool down. Here's an action clip to help us relax.

Ahhh....... who cares what they were chasing or doing or killing. It made me feel good. I feel better. Action scenes make us feel good. Don't they? Like Porno? Maybe movies like 2012 are the pornos of intellectual artistic films, no?

Why this movie is different

This movie is different because its actually getting people thinking. What the hell IS going on? 2012 is only 3 yrs away. And alot of smelly stuff seems to be hitting the fan. Y2k was a prophecy that someone came up with....3 months before it happened. Look what happened with the freaking out there. 2012 prophecies have been around for thousands of than the bible. People are freaking out...but on the inside. No one knows exactly for sure why they are freaking out or why they suddenly twitch when 2012 is mentioned in the mainstream media. I'm only 28 yrs old and I remember a time people were labeled just a little loony to be talking about that wacky tobaccy.

So will the movie 2012 be the warning that actually prevents 2012 from happening?? Hahaha thats so funny!! What a stupid time paradox that could be!! But guess what........It's not.

You know why? Because just like The Day After Tomorrow, the shit just happens. No one knows why. No one can do anything about it. The earth decides one day to just kill everything and we are in the way. Maybe they could of came up with something that we could prevent in 2012. But I'm sure Roland just has the characters wake up one day and everything is going crazy!!

"OMG its 2012!!"

"I know man...we knew all this stuff was gonna happen"

"I know, I know!!!! 2012 man!!!"

"Yeah man...we've been warned for thousands of years man!"

"CRAZY!!!! So why didn't we stop it if we were warned?"

"Dude, cause the Govt knew nothing about it."

"Well it's not like any of do anything about it."

" Well sister had her wedding this week. I was busy getting all the kinks ironed out and I had a couple back payments on the credit card I had to work off."

You have reached the end of this post. If you don't get the point of what I was trying to say....that was the point I was aiming for. How you feel right now is how you will feel after watching 2012. No matter how cool the "graphics" are, or how good the actors "act", you will still be scratching your head when you walk out the theater.

For some extra reading material on fate and time paradoxes read this interesting article on the Large Hadron Collider.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Great Debate of 2012

If you've been following along here at FilmChaw, you'd know that Julius Goat wrote a post on the absurd filmmaking shown in the recently-released trailer for the John Cusack movie, 2012. Riggstad recently responded by making the point that the film is not meant to be intellectually stimulating, but rather as a money maker.

This all goes back to the question of whether films should have intrinsic artistic value or if it is acceptable to make a movie for the sole purpose of making money. That question can be posed to the actors, the screenwriters, the studios, the directors, etc.

Riggs is correct that not all movies have to be intellectually stimulating, but I do think that films should have some intrinsic artistic value, even if that value is in being a broad comedy or a mindless disaster flick.

All that said, there is a huge leap from "making a blockbuster studio movie" to making a movie solely because of money. And it isn't really about money, anyway. It's about integrity.

For instance, as a blogger or blog reader, we all know blogs that have content that actually adds something to the blogosphere, whether it be insightful or personal or trivial, it is at least entertaining. But there are other blogs that are really just advertisements or actually post advertisements as content. To suggest that it is wrong to parce out a worthwhile blog filled with content and a blog filled with just advertisements is absurd. The same is true for movie: there is value in movies that serve a purpose whether it is to advance a viewpoint, make someone laugh, or help the audience escape from their mundane existence; there is much less value (if any) in soulless films that are merely there to make a buck.

Now, of course, art is subjective. I am a comic book geek but couldn't stand Transformers and have as of today not seen Transformers 2. Transformers to me was complete claptrap. It was all CGI and explosions with poor writing and worse acting. Even the robots sucked. So to me, Transformers was a worthless film, clearly made merely for money. But someone else may've seen the film as a thrill ride, and in that context may have found the film worthwhile. But could either of us rightly argue that the only thing that mattered was how much money the film made? I suppose we could argue that if we were discussing the economics of the film industry and filmmaking, but what we are really hopefully discussing is the content.

I'm with the Goat. 2012 looks like a mess. It might be really entertaining or have some real insights, but I wouldn't bet on it. That trailer says a lot. It shows that its a movie about the destruction and not the characters. Now, CGI development can, in a way, be its own value. Think of Jurassic Park. That really advanced the CGI technology and got accolades, some of which were unwarranted, as a result. But the CGI in 2012 has been done before in films by 2012's director, Roland Emmerich. He's the same guy who produced the disaster flick (with a terrible story) The Day After Tomorrow, mega-box-office-bomb Godzilla, and even Independence Day (a film that fits into that CGI development group with Jurassic Park - great effects that make the movie, terrible story and acting).

I should also add that 2012 is in no way certain to be a box office smash. In fact, I expect it to fail pretty miserably based on the public's reaction to the film so far. Goat isn't the only guy slamming the absurd trailer. There is also a lot of backlash since the disaster porn seems to intentionally reference 9/11 in a way that makes people uncomfortable. John Cusack is hardly a big time draw at the box office, so I expect this film to probably lose money, given its probable bloated budget.

Jump in on the fun. It's not just about 2012, but whether films should have intrinsic artistic value. Think about the biggest blockbusters that were clearly made for money. Do some have intrinsic value and others are clearly just a moneymaking scheme? (I'm looking at you, most sequeals). In the end, both Goat and Rigg are correct, but they are arguing two very different things. A film can be a good financial move for a studio, but that does not mean that it should be held on a pedestal. Because in the end, isn't film really just art. It might be pop art or indie art, dark and forboding or light and carefree, but its meant to be shared and enjoyed with a group of people, and that, to me, means that it should have some value other than the ability to get people to pay $10 at the theatre.

Like Movies actually have to have some sort of "talent" to be entertaining - SHEESH!

I read a recent review here and laughed a little. Actually I rolled on the floor, and once idle in the prone position hit the floor with wide gaping slams of both fists because I couldn't take the laughter. Yes, it was that bad... or good.

What I am referring to is Goats destruction of 2012 starring John Cusack. I mean, he starts his post out with "the upcoming terrible movie 2012". He hasn't even seen it yet. That's what makes me laugh. I know, vague... but I'll get to that.

I get that there are those of you out there with some sort of inclination that movie going must stimulate the intellect and give you some sort of material to spew among pages (such as this blog) your thoughts so that others may see you as intelligent. But some movies aren't made for that. Some movies are made to make money (actually all of them), and you aren't a better person because you won't see it. It doesn't make you smarter, and it certainly doesn't separate you, intellectually, from others either.

Spouting off in comments that you can't wait to "not see this" is pretty effing stupid as well. It's almost as if you are accusing others who do want to see it of being dumb. The bottom line is this movie will be a huge block buster. It won't matter how stupid the premise is. It won't matter how bad the acting is, and it certainly won't matter how much you think the actors have sold out.

The bottom line is, it's a genius movie. Here's why. One, the movie makes no assumption that it's an academy award winner. It's a mindless stream of special effects chronicling the demise of human civilization based on current events and the history of the Mayan calendar. Of course it's supposed to be STUPID. Everyone is interested in how the world ends. It's been like that forever. Every generation has their apocalyptic scenarios. This alone will ensure masses of the population, world wide, will plop down $12 to go see this ridiculous movie. I know I will. Cuz I love this type of shit. Destruction by waves, planes flying through buildings that seem to keep getting higher right before they fall. California falling into the Pacific. Mindless action at it's best. I especially like the Woody Harrelson part where he plays the "I told you so" nut case.

The story behind the plot is mind numbing (in a bad way). That is some organization that eludes to the fact that they know this is going to happen. The government knows about this as well and have decided to do nothing about it. Pure Genius. Or not. See the purpose of this movie is not to stimulate your intellect or make you think about life, or even impress upon you the jewels within humanity by utilizing a character with downs syndrome. The redemption in this movie isn't strung together by some war hero coming home and realizing that it wasn't his fault. The purpose is to make money. The genius part is by exploiting something that everyone is thinking about, that everyone is reading about, and that everyone is watching. Yes, watching. The history channel, Nat Geo, Discovery channel, they all have multiple shows on this "phenomenon" getting ratings that would make fox news green with envy when they air.

So the studios, in their efforts to make the stock holders happy, must put out a movie like this. It's really a no brainer. Please tell me you aren't that shallow, that intellectually snobbish to tear at people for going to see this film.

My point is, you can't critique anything on something that it's makers had no intention on providing. Now, if you want to do that, let's make a comparison.

2012: Seeking Closure is a movie in production. Again, this movie is about the end of the world based on the Mayans prediction that the world ends on December 21, 2012. But this movie goes about it by chronicling several stories of personal anguish and how they go about rectifying their issues before the world ends. Here's a clip:

I don't have much information to go on with this movie because it is still in production but I think its intent is clear. That is, to provide a movie that details how people will find redemption and peace in their lives with their loved ones and themselves BECAUSE the world is ending.

If you want to rip that one, go ahead. Of course I'm not sure that you can. I will, because who the f%@# cares about how you are feeling, or how you are going to find redemption. I mean JESUS, the world is ending. How gay is that plot line? Let me live like a douchebag, and then FINALLY decide to do something about it cause I have to. No more "pity me, need me, love me in all my imperfect ways". The bottom line is, if the world is ending, I'm all about finding a way to survive. I think most humans will be that way, and the fact that you gave me the clap, or failed to show up at a meeting because you were snorting a line will seem pretty goddamn irrelevant.

Don't judge Q-sack for being a sell out. His recent past in movie making hasn't been stellar. My guess is he's looking for a pay day. I for one will be helping with that cause.

Authors note: I get why the Goat made his post, and I am not ripping his opinion. Just poking fun at some hypocrisy because I know Orville Redenbacher will increase sales as he rents this movie On Demand or via netflix over and over and over again. :)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Blogrolling: The Man Who Viewed Too Much

I think it's time we started linking to the larger filmosphere around here. There's a true wealth of film criticism laboring out there, practically unsung, and doing marvelous work on behalf of movies as art.

I'm going to start with a guy who actually "made it", as much as you can "make it", in the world of movie blogging. As The Man Who Viewed Too Much, Mike D'Angelo has been reviewing movies online now since the mid-nineties, back when "Teh Internets" was "The Information Superhighway." He got noticed, he wrote for Entertainment Weekly, he wrote for Esquire, and these days he can be found on the Onion's AV Club.

His site's a bit frustrating (since he actually is the rare bird who gets paid professionally to do this, his stuff gets linked to his various employers, who's constant reshuffling makes for many broken links), but he's got a strong voice, stronger opinions, and a very clear, thought-provoking writing style. I'm a fan. Oh, and he's a poker player. Every once in a while, that leaks out -- like the time he played Phil Hellmuth.

He also keeps up a blog, Listen Eggroll, where he holds forth on stuff, primarily to bring us updates on the Skandies, a long-running poll of like minded cinephiles, online and otherwise, to determine best-of-year awards for performance, direction, acting, etc. It goes twenty deep, so it can spread the love further than your average critic's award shin-dig. Over the years, I've found the Skandies to be a far better indicator of quality than the Oscars. If it is highly rated in the Skandies, in other words, seek it out.

Right now, they are counting down the top 20 of the decade, as well as performances. So check it out and count down through the week.

11. Before Sunset
12. Silent Light
13. Kill Bill, Volume 1
14. The Werkmeister Harmonies
15. Irreversible
16. Zodiac
17. Ghost World
18. The Man Who Wasn't There
19. Trouble Every Day
20. Gerry

I love this list so much, because (1) it reminds me of little-lauded movies (like Gerry) that I greatly admired and had nearly forgotten, and (2) there are movies on here I've never seen and wouldn't consider if not for this list. My odds of seeing The Werkmeister Harmonies, for instance, just increased by 873%.

I'll try to grow this by one a week.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

TIFF Review - Mother

So TIFF has been over for weeks now, and I'm just wrapping up my reviews. Perhaps it was burnout, or a busy schedule. Or maybe it was that my final two films didn't wow me enough to get the word out as quickly as possible. Likely, it was a combination of all these factors.

Mother (Madeo) is the latest from director Bong Joon-Ho, who brought us The Host a couple years ago. Where his previous film was about a giant tadpole terrorizing a dysfunctional Korean family, this effort focuses on a murder's effect on a mother and son.

Do-joon is a man-child. A young man with a slight mental disability, he's lived under his mother's skirt his entire life. She constantly watches over him, to the point where he has grown annoyed with her overprotective nature and starts lashing out.

A murder in a small town always creates interest. Leaving the body for all to see is obviously the product of a depraved mind. But could Do-joon really have done it? Or is he just an easy target who was in the wrong place at the wrong time? The police believe the case closed, but his mother refuses to accept that her son could be guilty. She sets out to prove his innocence, with the entire town against her.

As with any murder mystery, everything is not as it seems. Secrets about the murdered girl come to light, unknown witnesses are revealed, and red herrings are thrown to the audience and then dismissed.

I found myself frequently wondering where the movie was going. Joon-Ho's choices make him seem like a novice revisiting familiar clich├ęs that interrupt the flow of the story. Suspects become allies, friends become adversaries, and the path of investigation takes some confusing turns. The attempt to show a mother unravelling swings between working and overreaching. The moments of tension and intelligence were sometimes offset by periods of apathy. I grew increasingly disappointed as the movie progressed.

Until the end.

The story takes an unexpected series of turns, well hidden by the familiarity that had so bothered me to that point. How far will a mother go to prove her son's innocence? Does guilt from past misdeeds lead to perpetual overcompensation? At what price does freedom come?

Mother could benefit from some further editing to improve its pacing. The final payoff, however, is worth the minor inconvenience of the flawed moments. Certainly not my favourite of the fest, but I don't regret having chosen it.

Set The Controls For The Center of the Dumb

I've seen it now. Extended clips from the upcoming terrible movie, 2012, which is about the end of the world and will make 13 billion dollars. I'm sad to report that John Cusack, who is often awesome, has lent his likeness to this obvious steamer of a movie. I refuse to believe it's him. I'm assuming it is a CGI construct made of leftover Cusack parts, and that's why he looks like he's sort of melted a little. Let's just call him Q-Sack, OK?

Here's the clip:

So, here is the ground is sinking very fast into . . . I don't know, nothing? Something? It's sinking. And it's sinking exactly as fast as a limo can drive. Because they are in a limo. Outrunning the earth collapsing. Which is chasing them. Don't blame me, I didn't do this to you. It's all in the clip there. Then a building collapses in front of them. So they drive the limo through the building. The Q-Sack has rented an airplane, which is still being held for him even though its the end of the world, because let's not pursue that line of reasoning please, and luckily his ex-wife's husband (who will for sure die a Heroic Death® so that Q-Sack can be Reunited With His Family®) knows how to fly. Sort of. He's a flight student.

They fly away from the collapsing earth just as Call-ee-for-nee-ah collapses into the ocean. And there they are, in a little two-prop, flying over the new ocean, which extends for . . . I don't know. Forever?

They breath a sigh of relief. (Phew! We're alive for the next however long this thing can go on however much gas it has!) Your brain eats a sad pie made of pixels and illogic and dies, huddled in the corner like a poisoned labradoodle. You can't expect less, because this is from the "filmmakers" that brought you that turd biscuit "Godzilla" and tried to convince you that an iMac could quickly and easily install a computer virus into an alien spaceship. So now we get to figure out how Q-Sack and family actually survive this planetary cataclysm.

And yes, it's a planetary event. Because in the trailer? The monk who is ringing the gong gets eaten by the Mountain of CGI Water. That would be the Himalayas, which is only the highest point of elevation on earth. If THAT is underwater, then . . . um . . . physics. So really, unless you are capable of flight to another inhabitable planet in that two-prop, who are you fooling, Q-Sack? Who? Who?

This is it, Pollock. It's done it. It's broken through. It's what all the other spectacle movies have been moving toward. It's the apotheosis of The Big Dumb.

It's "Explosion! The Movie", from the makers of "Fart! The Movie" and "Skinny Man Pretends to Be Fat Old Woman! The Movie" and "Punchline You Recognize From Another Movie! The Movie" and "Die Hard on a Die Hard."

Honestly, I don't mind big flashy entertainment, but just try. TRY. Try to make sense, just a little, Hollywood. Just because you can write a movie on an Etch-a-Sketch doesn't mean that you should.

Monday, October 5, 2009

TIFF Review - Kamui

The Legend of Kamui is a classic Manga from the 1960's and 70's. Yoichi Sai has brought the first of these tales to the screen in Kamui.

The tale is of Kamui, a low-born ninja in the days of feudal Japan who grows tired of being forced to kill women and children as ordered by his clan. He seeks to escape, but to escape the ninja is to die. While on the run, he encounters a fisherman who has committed a crime against the local Lord. Together they escape to the fisherman's village by the sea.

Kamui softens as he gets to know the local people, and discovers a secret that one of them has hidden for years. The fisherman's wife is aware of where Kamui comes from, and fears the destruction he could bring to their lives.

I suppose it's obvious by now I didn't really care much about the plot. I chose this for one reason - Ninjas. That automatically gives this a leg up on non-ninja movies. These aren't your dad's ninjas though. Black face masks and strings with poison running down them aren't particularly common here. No, the ninja in this tale are more akin to mercenaries and rogues, following the laws of their clan. All the ninja are outcasts from society. They still kick ass in several ways however.

Sadly, the choice to go with computer assistance in the fighting effects is a detriment here. The director is a big fan of the big-budget American effects films, and was hoping to replicate them here. But the effects are amateurish in comparison. Where Hollywood's nearly passed the uncanny valley in CG action scenes, this movie is rife with distorted figures and overly-fake attempts at realism.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon visualized fantastical martial arts with wires and grace, but Kamui uses cut-and-paste layers and odd warping of people to simulate jumps and landings. The sharks (yah, ninjas AND sharks... and pirates too for that matter) look particularly shiny and seem to change size as needed. It might have benefited from a more artistic take on these scenes. If you can't afford CG or wire-work that doesn't distract from the film, then you should go whole-hog. Animated fight scenes, trick editing and camera work, any number of alternate methods could have been used.

That said, when the fight scenes DO work, they work fairly well.

Yoichi Sai commented that he refuses to alter his movies for North American audiences. This is obvious from the painfully typical overacting I've seen in other Japanese films. There's always the "ugly" guy trying to win the affections of a girl, and he's often portrayed as seemingly autistic. In this case, the character fits the mold as usual. The other incredibly obvious trope is the overdone temper tantrums. For minimal reasons, fully grown people will start flailing and stomping like a petulant child, and storming off like a 10 year-old in a school play pretending to be angry. The conniving Lord's wife is a mess of sneers and evil grins that are comical in their execution. Subtlety is reserved for the stars as they stand stoically determining what path they'll take, and the main players actually seem capable of acting without overacting.

Kamui is a decent movie, but the worst of the fest for me so far. It's funny at times, the fights are solid, and would have been quite impressive if they didn't rely on bad CG so much, and the story is easy enough to follow. The central figures are all well done, but are handicapped by the overzealous and poorly-acted third-tier characters. It could have been so much more though if the director had picked one direction or the other instead of going halfway. If you lack the budget for FX, and you're going to have performances that could be melted into a nice fondue, then you should throw away ideas of big-budget worldwide success and make a fun movie that revels in its flaws instead of pretending they're perfectly acceptable, therefore accentuating them.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Squid And The Whale, The

* * *

Jeff Daniels gives one of the best performances of his career as Bernard Berkman, a New York intellectualist, former literary golden boy gone to seed, and goldurn paterfamilius of a rapidly disintegrating family in this merciless bildungsroman from writer/director Noah Baumbach. Watching the parents (Laura Linney plays mother Joan) divide their children up like prized furniture is bracing enough without the knowledge that they are based not-so-loosely on Baumbach's real family. It's sort of hard to imagine what sort of dark chunks of pysche this fellow had to dredge out to bring such a sharply-realized vision to life, and impossible to think what it would have been like to be the parents in question watching this film -- if indeed they watched it. (I don't know about Baumbach's real father, but it's easy to see Daniels' Bernard nodding sagely through his thicket of whiskers and damning it with faint praise by way of passive-agressive defense). Few movies have so incisively shown the corrosive effects of self-regard. What's not clear is what it is all in service of. Divorce sucks. Selfish monsters make bad parents. And? But never mind, see this for the ensemble performances, and that of Daniels in particular.

It's a story of glimpses of pain, castaway shivs, little wounds that bleed out slowly but work their poison in deeply. At the center of it is the relationship between Bernard, who once published a well-received novel and is trying as hard as he can not to recognize that this was all he had in the tank, and his son, Baumbach stand-in Walt (Jesse Eisenberg), into whom he pours his own legend. Walt's too-slow realization that his dad is not all, or even most, of what he makes himself to be, makes up most of the emotional development of the story -- after the divorce leaves the entire family in emotional shambles, that is. It's not particularly fun to watch, especially as youngest son Frank starts to spiral down the drain, indulging in extremely underage drinking and punitive masturbation.

Not that Bernard is the sole problem. Joan (Linney is very good, as usual, and very underused, as usual) is also too caught up in her own issues of boredom and affairs to pay much attention to her kids, though her relationship with tennis pro Ivan (Billy Baldwin, actually . . . good? in this) is ultimately seen as a positive and healthy thing, though that's mainly by contrast. Joan may have to shoulder some blame and take some lumps as a caregiver, but it's Bernard who's the real piece of work.

He's not just a writer, he's The Writer. In his tweeds and his studiously unkempt beard and his bearish athleticism, he's the parody of the apotheosis of Twentieth Century Writer, and in order to keep at bay the self-loathing that would inevitably result if he allowed the discrepancy between image and reality to seep in, he shields himself in a pillowy armor of self regard; thus everything is filtered through the prism of himself. Every game of tennis or ping pong must be a crushing victory. Never mind that the opponent is your wife or your nine-year-old. Even minor gestures of affection -- like making the boys keep old dad company as he circles around their house looking for a parking spot -- are demanded as fealty and couched only in terms of what he himself needs. It's no coincidence that the marriage is over exactly when his wife herself publishes a successful book. Her dalliances were tolerable. Her success in his chosen battlefield is not.

Daniels makes all this clear with consummate skill, never overplayed, always with the ever-thinning veneer of professorial charisma. He's clearly not a dumb man; but he's not a particularly good man, and he's just not all that great of a writer. And every so often -- very rarely -- Daniels lets us see that Bernard knows it, too.

The Invention of Lying (2009)

The Invention of Lying* * *

The Invention of Lying sidles into theaters this weekend, positioning itself awkwardly against the usual rapid-fire, video game-like fare blasting away on either side of the carpeted theater walls.

A bit of a British invasion this, given that the film stars British comic and writer Ricky Gervais, who co-wrote and co-directed with Matthew Robinson. Gervais is best known for having also starred in (and co-wrote and co-directed) the original version of the BBC television series “The Office,” the American version of which has since spun into a sitcom giant. In that series’ brief two-season run, Gervais played the role of David Brent, the often-clueless office boss (Steve Carell’s “Michael” in the U.S. version), who seems unable to experience empathy yet so desires others’ acceptance. As others have observed, the British “Office” is more than a little darker than the popular American one, with Gervais terrific as the hopelessly out-of-touch employer.

Gervais finds himself in a similar role in The Invention of Lying insofar as his character, Mark Bellison, also (eventually) occupies a position of authority over others, yet also much desires others’ appreciation and love. This is a decidedly American film, though -- shot in Massachusetts, emanating from the Universal/Warner Brothers empire -- and so with only a couple of exceptions here and there the tone is kept mostly light throughout.

The premise and plot do, however, bring to mind the rich tradition of British satire. We are presented with a world much like our own, save one significant and strange difference, namely, no one is capable of telling a lie. The opening scenes thus afford several grins as we see numerous instances of folks revealing embarrassing secrets about themselves or offering harsh judgments of one another. An advertisement for Coca-Cola essentially advances the thesis to keep buying the “brown sugar water” because, well, “it’s famous.” The lettered sign on a retirement home announces it is “A Sad Place Where Homeless Old People Come to Die.” And so forth.

The Invention of LyingAs funny as it is for us, it is a difficult world for Mark Bellison, a self-admitted “loser” who finds himself receiving more than his share of criticisms and abuse. In fact, it’s a pretty grim and humorless place, recalling in an oblique way the land of the Houyhnhnms in the fourth part of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. As Gulliver discovers, the Houyhnhms are a race wholly governed by reason, and therefore also cannot lie -- or, as they put it, say “the thing which is not.”

There’s no word for lying in Bellison’s world, either, so there’s no way to describe what happens when he somehow stumbles into actually uttering an untruth about his balance while making a bank withdrawal. And, to his astonishment, his lie is received as if true. From there he quickly seizes the opportunity to reverse his “loser” status once and for all, continuing to say “that which isn’t” (as characters describe it, alluding to Swift, I’d say) as a means to fame and fortune.

Bellison’s power and status increase rapidly, and the irreverence that results from his messiah-like standing reminds one more than a little of Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Alas, despite his successes, he still can’t win the love of Anna (Jennifer Garner), who cannot get past his dumpy looks. He realizes he could get her by lying, but discovers he has the scruples and self-respect not to.

Like Gulliver’s and Life of Brian there is an episodic-like quality to the plot -- that is to say, I felt as though it could well have ended at numerous points along the way. However, we do ultimately conclude with a most American-like resolution to what finally amounts to a light-hearted comedy.

Gervais is great, and Garner also does a nice turn as beautiful but superficial Anna. The supporting cast is filled with other familiar faces from TV and film comedy (Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Jeffrey Tambor, Christopher Guest, and an uncredited Philip Seymour Hoffman among them). And Rob Lowe, in what has by now become a kind of type-casting, I suppose, competently plays the villainous Brad Kessler, Bellison’s rival both in love and his career.

In the end, The Invention of Lying is a nifty idea that is pulled off well enough to keep the audience entertained -- and maybe distracted for a week or two from the shoot-em-ups happening elsewhere in the multiplex. And while the film does perhaps invite brief consideration to deeper issues -- like ethics, or empathy, or even matters of faith -- its worth as a satire is hardly Swiftian or Pythonesque.