30 October 2009

Review: A Serious Man

Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a Midwestern Professor of mathematics and his life is falling apart.

Larry's daughter is stealing from him in an attempt to pay for a nose job. His brother is developing algorithms to win at gambling, crashing on the couch and has no plans on leaving in the foreseeable future. His son is a pothead, content to listen to Jefferson Airplane and avoid the class bullies. If that weren't enough his wife is leaving him for another professor because he is a more "serious man." Larry's entire life is upended in just the first half hour of the film!

After finding money on his desk left behind by a student, Larry tries to return the money only to find out it was a bribe. With so much bad news surrounding Larry, he is finding it harder to keep his own morality from failing. His growing sexual frustrations are thrown in his face in the form of his attractive neighbor who sunbathes in the nude. For all of his troubles Larry is constantly referred to church. In seeking the wisdom of the three rabbis, Larry is turned down.

The viewer struggles to place why God has allowed this to happen to Larry and many cannot figure out why. For many, that's the point: this happens for no reason at all.

Joel and Ethan are classified as what convention would call cynics and their latest effort certainly leads credence to that. Trying to interpret God's message in all of this is futile. Now that's not to say that this is a darkly cynical film, it also features "Somebody to Love" as a running gag multiple times.

The film looks great aesthetically as well. Cinematographer Roger Deakins (No Country for Old MenReservation Road) calmly surveys the entire story as a very frenzied Larry attempts to put his life back together.

What A Serious Man lacks in typical Coen films: archetypes (Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Smith in No Country, Tex in Raising Arizona), their regular stalwarts in John Turturro, George Clooney, or John Goodman or several surprise murders; Michael Stuhlbarg makes up for in performance. The Coens were right to trust their lead role to a relative unknown. Not recognizing Stuhlbarg and coming into the film with no preconceived notions allows the audience to connect with his unbelievably bad luck.

Only the Coens could possibly pull off making a film this dark this funny.

***1/2 out of ****

29 October 2009

Review: Gentlemen Broncos

What do you get when you mix a great cast with a poor writer and a director with a tired schtick?

You get Gentlemen Broncos!

Jared Hess was supposed to do a Q&A after the screening I attended, but he didn't come out. He was probably too embarrassed to show up. His comedic direction was very lacklustre. It's a common criticism of his work, but Hess has to learn that you can't base a comedy around laughing at ugly people and people with abnormal voices.

The writing wasn't up to scratch either. It did take the film into some unique and novel directions while exposing the sci-fi world of the protagonist's novel (these interludes were the best part of the film). However, these sci-fi scenes didn't move along the main plot; they were just goofy skits meant only to provide comic relief. This is no way to write a screenplay for a motion picture. Every scene, cut, line and hand gesture must either provide characterization or further the plot.

The script as a whole failed to provide laughs. There wasn't much other than 'laugh at' humour. Real humour should strike a chord with the viewer by strumming the strings of reality and shared life experience, with fingers on the frets of surprise and intelligence.

Doing their best with the tepid material, the cast did their best to liven up the show. Mike White and Jennifer Coolidge did the best, with White playing two or three roles, depending on how you look at it. The director gave the actors too much slack, so some of the less seasoned performers scenes came across sloppy.

The poor direction and writing meant that this film didn't ever stand much of a chance to be good.

Avatar International Trailer

Due to the curbed enthusiasm after the release of the teaser FOX has re-issued an international trailer to create some buzz.

28 October 2009

Invictus Trailer

27 October 2009

Green Zone Trailer

Damon and Brolin Have Grit

Matt Damon and Josh Brolin are joining the Coen's True Grit.

Damon is in talks to play La Boeuf, the Texas Ranger who pairs up with Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and Mattie, the daughter of the gunned down. Brolin will be playing opposite of his good guy character in No Country taking on the role of Tom Chaney, the man who killed Mattie's father.

True Grit is set to be released in late 2010.

25 October 2009

'The Third Man' Remake?

According to industry reports Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire might be starring in a remake of the classic film The Third Man, which is reportedly being written by Steven Knight (Eastern Promises).

Of course three major questions come from this: will the film be made as a period piece? will DiCaprio play Lime, or Martins? will one of the most excellent scenes captured on celluloid be re-made?

24 October 2009

The Vault: Screwballs (1983)

Screwballs is a hopelessly dated early 80's raunchy comedy, left in the wake of an increasingly liberated society. It no longer qualifies as being raunchy or funny.

The film is about a group of five teenagers who spend their time sexually harassing and sexually assaulting their female peers.

The whole film is an elaborate setup to show boobies. Supposedly it was difficult for teenage boys to find media depicting topless women in the 1980s. In a world where this issue has been thoroughly dealt with, a movie like Screwballs no longer has any purpose.

23 October 2009

Review: Bronson

Charles Bronson was originally born Michael Peterson in a small village in Great Britain. After he knocked over a post office, Peterson heads off to prison. This is about where the break between Charles Bronson the man and Charles Bronson the character occurs.

Tom Hardy's Bronson could not be described as anything other than unstable. Whether out of boredom or a thirst for fame, Bronson decides prison is chance at the big time. A few thousand years ago, Charles Bronson would have felt more than comfortable in a gladiatorial contest. Beating man after man down for the sheer thrill of the audience. There is nothing equatable to that in the modern world.

Nicolas Winding Refn protagonists (and I use that term very loosely) are not from a practiced reality. They are unconventional and often hard to connect with. Bronson fits that template to the T. This is a man who at spontaneous intervals decides to strip down and take on entire staffs of prison guards. His definition of armor: black paint and skin lotion. His only weapons: his two bare hands. He is frequently over-matched though the game is never made any less entertaining if he loses.

Why Bronson chooses to fight constantly is any viewer's guess. The pure adrenaline thrill is easy to see, but what it costs him could not possibly be worth it. The applause following underground fights is fleeting and the pay for getting into a match with two dogs is never enough. For as entertaining as Tom Hardy's portrayal of the character is, the barrier between Bronson and the audience is too large to bridge. The film operates on a purely visceral level where the action onscreen proves exciting, but leaves nothing to connect to afterward.

While Charles Bronson has a glorified profile, he really is just a bruiser, and the tale of a bruiser is hard to translate.

Refn utilizes a visual flow scored to the sounds of Gattaca while Bronson beats others to a pulp. Whatever may be lacking from Bronson is certainly not on the cinematography. Every drop of blood or spittle splashes with flourish. Working from a limited palette in the insides of a dank prison cell and the similarly limited color scheme of a strip club where Mickey Peterson becomes Bronson. Refn has become associated with violent genre flicks, but if given more of a story to work with he could turn in something very special.

**1/2 out of ****

A Serious Man Trailer

The Vault: American Hardcore (2006)

American Hardcore kicks off with an excellent quote about the rebellion that impelled the American hardcore punk scene in the late 70s and early 80s. To paraphrase, they were rebelling against the 1950s fantasy that was popular in the 1980s; they were rebelling against the backlash against the various civil rights movements of the time. The backlash culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan and the corresponding cultural change that still resonates today, nearly 30 years later.

Protest against regressive horseshit is fantastic, and should be encouraged.

By tapping into the anger caused by a society trying to maintain its own inequality, these musicians created an energetic, fast-paced genre spun off from the original punk movement. Songs were typically performed by people with very little musical talent, so the music had a very raw sound. Hardcore punk is more an outlet for emotion than an expression of art.

Unfortunately this limited sound produces a very repetitive style; most of the songs are near undifferentiable, and consist of naught but thrashing guitars and incomprehensible screaming. The documentary mirrors this repetitiveness. Talking head style interviews break up live concert footage. The interviewees mostly say the same things, and the songs mostly sound the same.

It's an interesting movie for the insight it gives into a fascinating musical and political movement, but it wasn't terrifically well done.

I give it 1 / 3 bloody noses

21 October 2009

The Boat That Rocked Trailer

The UK got this in April, but us blokes can expect this come November.

16 October 2009

Review: Where the Wild Things Are

When I say the name Spike Jonze, the first thing that comes to the minds of most moviegoers is Being John Malkovich, his elaborate music video career, or Adaptation. What doesn't pop up are childhood works of fiction, especially not Maurice Sendak's classic Where the Wild Things Are.

Where the Wild Things Are is not a lengthy book by any means, 48 pages long, so the question was how Spike Jonze would manage to string together enough material for a film to be worthwhile. Yet succeed Jonze did and provided cinemas this week with probably the best film about childhood that isn't for children.

Max Records stars as the boisterous Max, left understandably angry after his parents divorce and at odds with the world. His mother (Catherine Keener) has been paying a little too much attention to her new boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo) instead of him, and it is driving him mad. Max throws a temper tantrum and storms out of the house and out into the night. As the trees blur behind him, Max takes a small sailboat and crosses the stormy sea and eventually lands on an island filled with beasts.

Nearly being eaten, Max manages to convince the furry beasts that he is a King where he came from and seeks to create a kingdom of happiness away from the stresses, pains, and disappointments of real life. The Beasts are swept by his offerings and make him King. Max sets about construction of this fortress away from being scared and sad. Max soon learns that being King has its drawbacks and this island of escape becomes much too like the conflicts at home.

Voiced by an ace cast (James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Paul Dano, Chris Cooper, and Forest Whitaker) the Beasts are as relatable as their human counterparts. The Beasts themselves are expertly constructed; they look and feel like living, breathing organisms. Many thanks to the filmmakers for deciding to forego CGI and make the creatures tangible.

Jonze really creates a surreal world within the film and the environment manages to convey the emotional realities of the scene. In creating a world where the sudden and uncontrolled emotions of youth are not explained, but rather a raw feeling pushed to the surface of the interactions of Max and the Beasts, Jonze allows the story to unfold instead of telling it to the audience.

A truly beautiful film and a chance to relive your childhood again, if only for an hour and a half.


15 October 2009

Are You Cussin' With Me?

Language guys, this is a children's film.

'Fight Club' is 10 Today

Still the best movie of 1999 in my opinion regardless of what the Academy thought. With the cult following it's developed and people introduced to it everyday and a Blu-ray release coming soon Fight Club will probably still be talked about when I'm 50 years old.

Edge of Darkness Trailer

The Vault: Moving (1988)

There was a time when Richard Pryor was considered to be one of the funniest comedic lead actors of the day. This time is known as "the 1980s."

Not being old enough to remember most aspects of the 80s has its charms, but I would like to know more about the public's perception of Richard Pryor as a comedian at the time. His movies are, in hindsight at least, generally run-of-the-mill fare. They are often funny, but usually not hilarious, and rarely push any boundaries or comment on any issues. People probably appreciated him mostly for his stand-up comedy, like Susan Sarandon and Wil Wheaton do.

In 1988, Pryor starred as Arlo Pear in Moving, a film with as self-descriptive a name as I've ever seen.

The movie adheres to a well-worn comedic formula: illustrate the comedic pratfalls of broadly relatable occurrences. There are a few funny scenes and gags, but nothing here is ground-breaking. It's not that there's anything wrong with a mildly enjoyable formulaic film, but it's not something you should go out of your way to see. I wouldn't pay to rent it (again). Check it out if you ever see it playing on TV. Some of Pryor's other films, like Brewster's Millions and Silver Streak are far more interesting.

I give the film about 66% of a U-Haul

12 October 2009

The Box Poster

It bears mentioning that the story Matheson wrote was all of 12 pages long and almost three quarters of the film is from Richard Kelly. This is the same man who helmed the beloved Donnie Darko and the much maligned Southland Tales, so flip a coin when deciding to see this one.

10 October 2009

Toy Story 3 Trailer

08 October 2009

The Vault: Irreversible (2002)

"Time destroys all things," and in the case of Monica Bellucci's character Alex in Irreversible there could be no other truth. Probably the most harrowing portrayal of how beauty is destroyed by human depravity.

Gaspar Noe uses some of the most innovative camera techniques to mirror the frenzied state of Alex's boyfriend Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and her former lover Pierre (Albert Dupontel) as they attempt to find the man who raped and beat Alex into a coma. Once finding out La Tenia, the man who raped Alex, is a frequent customer at the local gay bar, not far from the crime scene, things spiral out of control.

Despite Pierre's constant pleas to just let the police handle the matter Marcus barges into the club demanding to know where La Tenia is. After harassing several clubmembers he finally fingers who he thinks is La Tenia and proceeds to smash a bottle against his head. The man is tougher than Marcus though and breaks his arm, once pinned on the ground while trying to rape Marcus, Pierre the moral compass of the film takes a fire extinguisher and beats the man's face until it literally caves in. The police are called and Pierre and Marcus are arrested.

The film is told entirely in reverse and makes the whole ordeal much darker knowing what has happened to Alex. From Marcus and Pierre leaving the party searching for Alex to finding her, stealing a cab driver's taxi to find the club, the party itself where Marcus's partying causes Alex to leave, riding the subway discussing the difference between sex between Pierre and her current love, Alex and Marcus in bed getting ready to go to the party.

The film makes several references to what is about to happen to the couple as Alex notices that he can't feel his arm in bed and Alex reveals her dream about a red tunnel(the very tunnel where the rape takes place). The real gut-punch of the film is watching Alex find out she is pregnant knowing that she will inevitably lose the child.

Those with a queasy stomach regarding violence and rape should probably fast forward through the scenes because they really are quite brutal. Never in a film before has such thought-out real-life ramifications of vigilantism, violence and murder been explored.

06 October 2009

Kevin Smith's Done With Slackers

While talking to the Huffington Post director Kevin Smith revealed that he had an epiphany following Zack and Miri's box-office failure,

"It's sad when you realize you can't be the angry young man anymore. The angry young man is barely ever interesting, and tolerable in his 20s. But his late 20s? Early 30s? God forbid late 30s? You can't anymore. I'm in a business where I get to make pretend for a living, so what the fuck am I angry about? There's nothing anymore; I'm a very content, middle aged man," Smith said. "People are like 'Ah when are Jay and Silent Bob coming back?' And I'm like 'I don't think they are. I'm fuckin' 39! I can't just put my fuckin' hat on backwards."

His next film is A Couple of Dicks starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan as buddies who have been on the force for years. That's sad to hear that Smith is done with slacker films after he's made classics like Clerks, Mallrats, and Chasing Amy. But that is just the natural progression of the film career get out before you can't leave. I wonder if this means that there won't be a 3rd Clerks?

The Vault: Secrecy (2008)

Secrecy follows the creation and abuses of the American Government Secrets.

Secrecy is often necessary for national security, but also often unnecessary and sometimes detrimental. Secrecy is often abused to cover-up injustices.

Secrecy is a riveting and informative documentary. It makes a compelling argument that secrecy is another form of power that governments accumulate solely for their own empowerment. It reminiscent of the retort George Mallory gave when asked why he scaled Everest: "Because it was there." This isn't a conspiracy theory film — it's just good citizenship in action. Questioning the unjust machinations of the government is the duty of every citizen; you are not just standing up for the abused, but also for yourself and the safe foundation of citizenship.

Secrecy is the only documentary film I've seen that used modern art installations to illustrate the narrative. This is a much more visually stimulating technique than the History Channel's stand-by, the rostrum camera. There still are some rostrum shots of course, but the use of art installation in a documentary was both fitting given the subject matter, and very innovative.

Any citizen of a democracy, particularly Americans, should see Secrecy. 2.75 / 3 Igor Gouzenkos:

05 October 2009

Review: Zombieland

Zombieland takes place in the near-future where the United States no longer exists and regular people are the minority. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a loner and the last surviving member from his college in Austin, has managed to stay alive according to his notebook of rules.

The rules in question: avoid bathrooms, always use the double-tap when putting down a zombie, and wear seat-belts. Heading home to find his parents in Ohio Columbus meets Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) a gun-toting, zombie killing aficionado who is seeking the last batch of Twinkies—yes, believe it or not, Twinkies expire.

Along the way they run into Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) who subsequently hijack the duo and leave them stranded outside of a convenience store. They meet again and bond after conversations regarding Willie Nelson, Hannah Montana and other icons. Hearing that the West Coast could be zombie-free, they head to sunny California.

The gore and zombies in Zombieland are played up for scares, but the action is built on comedy featuring references to DeliveranceFistful of Dollars and more. Particular features like zombie kill of the week are hilarious. If there were ever a live-action version of Looney Toons, this would be it.

Some say the main thing missing from the film is the lack of a social message virtually a staple of every zombie film. I would argue that Columbus's set-up story at the beginning is the message (probably unintended) that while we live in the most connected time in the history of the world that no one is really in touch with anyone and to take an effort to get in touch with others.

Let me just take a moment to appreciate the fact that in an age of pop culture where idols like Miley Cyrus, Robert Pattinson and Zac Efron are celebrated that Jesse Eisenberg has become a leading man. Between Zombieland and Adventureland, Eisenberg has really kept his career going since The Squid and the Whale. And who doesn't love a film that allows Woody Harrelson to do pretty much whatever the hell he wants?

Ruben Fleischer's film may not be quite the caliber of Shaun of the Dead, but it is easily the most fun I've had in a movie all year.

***1/2 out of ****

Review: Invention of Lying

Invention of Lying has an excellent premise and an ace funny man to deliver on it in Ricky Gervais so why the low score on Rotten Tomatoes (a site I find decreasing in value every day)? The fact that Lying isn't a strict comedy probably did it in for a lot of people expecting this to be a full-on comedy that instead aims more for your head than your gut.

Mark Bellison (Gervais) is a struggling writer for a movie company and is on the verge of being fired tomorrow virtually everyday. But life is looking up for him through a favor acquired through a mutual friend Mark scores a date with Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner). Although there is a spark Mark is not a capable genetic match for Anna and her hopes for attractive children. After finally being fired the next day, Mark faces eviction and heads to the bank to withdrawal all of his savings. There, to his astonishment, he creates the world's first lie, and extracts far more money from the bank than he has.

With his newfound lying abiltity Mark becomes the world's most renown screenwriter, and fabulously wealthy. But this is where the film veers off. Now don't get me wrong it's still funny, but it also becomes much more than just a comedy. BTW look for Edward Norton in a hilarious cameo role that rivals the surprise cameo in Zombieland.

The most heart-breaking moment of the year has to belong to Lying. With his mother dying and afraid of the eternal nothingness that awaits for her after death Mark creates the concept of heaven for her to ease her transition. After doing so Mark becomes a world-wide phenomenon and creates "God" if you will. Mark's actions have unintended consequences and what was done to create hope in a hopeless society causes people start considering killing themselves in order to get to heaven sooner.

I imagine that pro-religion critics will tear this down for no other reason then they were offended by the(I'm quoting someone in my theatre) ,"fucking tasteless ridicule of Christianity". A) It questioned all religions, not just Christianity B) For the most part the message was that this life may be all we have, be a good person in the short time we have C) He probably couldn't figure that out because he kept vacuuming popcorn like an elephant.

Gervais must have balls of steel to have written that knowing full well how this film will be received in the United States.


Vault: The Hospital (1971)

It is all rubbish isn't it. I mean... transplants, anti-bodies, we can produce birth ectogenetically, we can clone people like carrots, and half the kids in this ghetto haven't been inoculated for polio. We have established an enormous medical entity and we're sicker than ever. We cure nothing! We heal, nothing! The whole goddamn wretched world, strangulating in front of our eyes.

Contrasting the burning desire for a doctor to do good while working against a thoroughly broken system, The Hospital is a deeply affecting look at modern health-care. The film calls out the evils of for-profit care, wide-scale indifference and ineptitude, profiteering doctors and a health-care establishment that is at odds with what is best for its community. The titular hospital represents all that is right and all that is wrong with the American health care system: there is a stunning contrast between what is possible and what actually happens, a contrast between the incredibly advanced care that is possible and what a hospital actually provides.

There is a deus ex machina loose in the hospital. Doctors are accidentally dying under each other's knives. Meanwhile, the administration wants to knock down some nearby inhabited buildings it owns to make room for a drug rehabilitation clinic, and the tenants are protesting at the hospital. These two crises feed into each other to produce a stunning and heroic act.

The hero of the film is a Dr. Bock, played by George C. Scott (Patton, Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb). Bock is faced with the inefficacy of his surroundings and feels that he can't do good in such an environment. Because of this, he has lost his will to live and work.

As usual, the writing from Paddy Chayefsky (Altered States, Network) is great. He captures the failings of a modern hospital in an over-the-top comedic farce that remains a guttural and heart-rending experience.

02 October 2009

New Shutter Island Trailer

The Crazies Trailer

Coming Soon: Iron Man 2

It looks like Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has taken the publically known superhero thing a little too comfortably. Catching some late breakfast grub at a donut shop in the middle of the day seems like a poor choice. Which is probably why Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) will able to attack him so easily.

The scene pictured is at the beginning of the comic-con footage that was deleted nearly everywhere online. Nick Fury(Samuel L. Jackson) head of S.H.I.E.L.D. meets Stark at a restaurant to discuss his appreciated, but sometimes reckless heroics.

Iron Man 2 hits theatres May 4th, 2010

01 October 2009

Top "Ghost" Movies

The best movies whose title begins with the word "Ghost" are, in order:
  1. Ghostbusters
  2. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
  3. Ghost Town
  4. Ghost
  5. Ghost in the Shell
  6. Ghosts of Mars
  7. Ghost Rider
  8. Ghost Dad
These are just the "Ghost" movies that I've seen that which I can name off the top of my head. I may have missed something good. Some I haven't seen include Ghost Ship, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and Ghosts of the Abyss.

The Vault: Road House (1989)

During the first hour and twenty minutes of watching Roadhouse, I kept thinking "This movie is so dated. He's (Sam Elliot) not fucking anybody up; if this were made today, he'd be fucking these guys up." But then it happened. I was simultaneously aghast and amazed. "Porter (Patrick Swayze) has nothing on this guy," I mused, "nothing at all."