Monday, December 29, 2008

M83: Saturdays = Youth

2008 is the year M83 broke through. I've been following them since 2004, and I had Before the Dawn Heals Us as one of my top ten albums from 2005--even though it only made one notable top ten list that year--but this year their album Saturdays = Youth appeared in seven best-of-the-year lists, even coming in as 2008's #1 album according to one critic. (There's an outside chance you've heard M83's song in the second half of this trailer for my favorite Russian movie, which is a cool trailer, but not nearly as cool as this trailer for Benjamin Button. Anyway...)

The key difference between Before the Dawn and Saturdays is its '80s synth emphasis. Given the album's title, it's absolutely intentional. Anthony Gonzalez, the Frenchman who makes M83 a one man band, is a child of the 1980s and he revisits his youth, sonically speaking. Furthermore, one of the album's best songs, "Kim & Jessie" is about teenagers (watch the song's fairly-'80s-and-slightly-bicurious music video if you want), and several other songs feature a teenage protagonist. "Graveyard Girl" (below) and "We Own The Sky" (video below) are great tracks, but songs like "Couleurs" and "Up!" detract from Saturdays.

There seem to be several neo-'80s electronica outfits that produced albums this year (MGMT, Gang Gang Dance, Cyrstal Castles, Cut Copy, etc.), all of which were well received. For whatever reason, these records seem to be appearing in, well, record numbers. I'm not bemoaning this fact, I'm merely intrigued (and wondered if anybody else has noticed).

Grade: B-
Blurb: Saturdays is no Before the Dawn, but thankfully it's much better than M83's 2007 effort, Digital Shadows. Thankfully. No, seriously, I hated Digital Shadows. If you need to buy one neo-'80s electronica album from 2008, you might be better served with MGMT's Oracular Spectacular, but Saturdays gets the silver medal. Check out M83's "Graveyard Girl" or watch this fan-made video for "We Own the Sky":

graveyardgirl_128k.wma - M83

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

TV On The Radio: Dear Science

When TV On The Radio came out with Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes my senior year of college, I [illegally] downloaded one or two songs, but my computer crashed shortly thereafter and I lost those tunes (I didn't have a backup hard drive). I quit following TVotR, and dismissed Return to Cookie Mountain after I saw a video promo for it on MTV (there aren't too many channels I hate more than MangeyTweenVomit). However, I gave Cookie Mountain a second chance--legally downloaded it--and came away enthralled. I can see why Cookie Mountain ended up on so many best-of-2006 lists.

Dear Science came out in late September and I previewed it on Amazon, but I was unimpressed and decided my money would be better spent elsewhere. But when Brandon burned me a copy, I gave it a fair shake. The first listen, I was still unimpressed, but I continued to play the album as I painted my apartment. The more I listened, the more I liked it.

Part of the reason I didn't go gaga over Science was the fact that it seemed a bit more mainstream than Cookie Mountain. Much in the way that Kings of Leon's Only by the Night seems more produced--likely with mass consumption in mind--than Because of the Times (in my top 5 albums of 2007), TVotR's Science seems more slick than Cookie Mountain. "Dancing Choose" and "Red Dress" seem like tacked-on quirkiness as if to say, "Hey, we're still weird!" (Those are actually my two least-favorite songs on the album.) However, "Crying," "Stork & Owl," and "DLZ" are fabulous tracks.

Grade: B+
Blurb: The problem with Science is that there are fewer standout tracks than on Cookie Mountain. I don't think it should be as high as it is on the year-end list for 2008. On the other hand, it's still a fun album, and there's not much like it out there. Check out the tracks "DLZ" and "Golden Age" below.

DLZ - TV On The Radio

Monday, December 22, 2008

Films, Opinions, and now... Music!

When I started Cine-Men (with my now-delinquent, ex-roommate, and pettifogger-at-large blogging partner), I wanted to inform you about good--and bad--films. Since we've already established that I watch more movies than you, I also assume that I listen to more music than you. Currently, my MP3 catalogue is 26 GB--which is about 317 hours worth of music... which means if I played my entire collection non-stop for twenty-four hours, I could go almost two weeks before the music stopped. Dang. I always opt for quality over quantity, but I [pretentiously] think my catalogue manages to be a large quantity of high quality tunes (although there are some guilty pleasures in there). Besides, how could I not promote the fact that I adore indie music?

I have an eclectic taste, so one blog might discuss an alt. country/Americana album and the next might be power-pop, trip-hop, ambient, electronica, folk or *insert random genre here*. Chances are, I'll never review a rap album, but if Ratatat puts out a follow-up effort to Mixtape Vol. II (which you can download for free), it'll definitely be on the list (and I might downlaod some Dizzee Rascal at some point, and I don't know into which genre Santogold--the heir apparent to M.I.A.--might fall).

My next task will be to compile a best-of-2008 list, but the problem is that I have about 10 albums from this year that I have yet to get (and I think a minimum of two weeks is a general guideline for rendering a verdict, as some albums grow on you with each listen, despite the fact that you might have disliked it your first--or fifth--listen)... so I may not be able to post my year-end list until I acquire the albums I suspect might be on that list.

For now, I'll leave you with the 2008 song that I listened to the second most this year
(according to my media player not my MP3 player), "Working Poor" by Horse Feathers (the song I listened to most, "Age of Metals" by The 1900s is not on IMEEM, but you preview it here if you're curious).

Working Poor - Horse Feathers

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Man on Wire

It seems like every time I review a documentary, I start off by saying, "I don't watch them very often" or, "I'm not a big fan," but by not watching them very often--and by picking ones that aren't insanely depressing or Michael Moore-ish--I enjoy them when I watch them. Man on Wire is no exception. Even though the movie's cover clearly tells you the result, the director did a great job building suspense and keeping me excited about the prospect of a man walking on a wire between the Twin Towers. Here's the trailer:

One of the more interesting parts of this film is seeing the two towers being built (they've got footage) and then watching Petit walk between them. Something I would've loved to have known was how Petit felt when he heard the news that the two towers had fallen. Obviously, as a French
funabulist, he must have a unique perspective (see, my circus vocabulary comes in handy!).

An element that is key to this or any documentary is primary-source footage, of which Man on Wire has enough to make it feel genuine. Although I usually despise reenactments, the ones in this film aren't as cheesy as I thought they might be. Plus, the [recently conducted] interviews with all of the "actors" provides a unique post-event perspective, while also adding drama and suspense.

Final Grade: B+/A-
Blurb: This is almost as good as [fellow documentary] Deep Water, but falls just a little short, possibly due to less-than-stellar editing. However, Man on Wire is still an interesting film that you should watch if you're in the mood for a documentary.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

This is one of those "hidden gems" that is not really "hidden" at all, since it was nominated for an Oscar--wow, I just looked it up and it was nominated for four Oscars! Surprisingly it wasn't nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Odd. Anyway, I put The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (TBBB) in my queue when it was released to US theaters in late 2007 (it was in a bunch of film festivals too), but I currently have over 200 titles in my Blockbuster queue, so it took a while to float to the top.

Although I had no idea at the time, the film is based on the true story of Jean-Do Bauby (who you might've recognized as Bond's pseudo-enviro-nemesis), a magazine magnate who suffered a stroke, and was subsequently paralyzed, lost his ability to speak, and wanted to write a book about the whole ordeal. On top of all of that drama--as if it weren't enough--there's also a very underexplored narrative about Jean-Do's love life (and I'm not being sarcastic... but I guess I could always read the book for more info). Watch the trailer if you want:

Some TBBB moments were a little tough to watch (the cinematography for the first five minutes started to make me a little dizzy, and then they sewing up of the eye was simply brutal), but I definitely grew more interested in the film as time wore on (which is what should happen with good movies). I was almost moved to tears by Max von Syndow, the actor who plays Jean-Do's father (I actually recognized him from a certain film that everybody seems to hate; you can spot him at the beginning of this clip from said hated film). Why, if the old guy from Into the Wild can get nominated for such a small role, can't Syndow? Clearly, the Oscars were a little hit-and-miss with this film.

Final Grade: A-
Blurb: Definitely the best French film I've seen in years (and I've watched two sub-par ones, one that could've been better, and one that I thought was good, but too long and a bit overhyped.).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The X-Files: I Want To Believe

Dork alert: I used to love the X-Files when I was in junior high and high school. Every Sunday night, I turned on the tube just in time to hear that spooky whistling theme. I can reveal my fandom knowing that 25 million Americans also used to join me.

Having been off the air for almost a decade, it was odd to see the show make a return to the big screen (everybody's taking the Sex & the City cue). What made it even more odd, is that the movie's storyline felt more like that of a show. The first X-Files movie (1998)--which I owned on VHS--dealt with overarching stories from the series and also took place on a global scale. This second movie, while it deals with the future of the Mulder-Scully relationship, doesn't really generate from the series (and that might be a wise idea since it's been off for so long), but it takes place on such a small (local) scale, that the whole thing seems fairly insignificant. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad movie, it's just not nearly as good/significant as the first film. The relationship drama between Mulder and Scully isn't enough to keep me glued to the screen, especially after a near decade-long absence.

Final Grade: B-
Blurb: I Want To Believe would've been a better made-for-TV movie than a big-screen release. If you're not an ex-X-Files devotee, then you could skip this movie and miss nothing; if you are a devotee, you will probably be a little disappointed with TX-F:IWTB.

Monday, December 8, 2008


A low-fi indie, Kabluey is about a ne'er-do-well uncle moving in with his sister-in-law to help her raise her two sons while the boys father is in Iraq. Initially, the uncle, Salman (Scott Pendergast), is supposed to babysit the boys while their mom (Lisa Kudrow... I know, right?) can go back to work. Salman can't handle the job, so he has to get a "real job," dressed up as an AOL-like logo, handing out fliers. The film is billed as a comedy--as the trailer shows--but that's not necessarily the case.

When I saw the trailer for this movie when it was released to theaters (a very limited release) back in July, I was intrigued, but I figured there were plenty of other movies to watch. However, it got good reviews, and even ended up on a top #20 films of 2008 list. So I changed my mind and put it in my Blockbuster queue.

Scott Pendergast, the film's writer, director, and star, goes for the trifecta, but does not have the stellar results that other recent films have had. A relative unknown, Pendergast puts forth a good first effort, but I think he could've used some help with the writing. All of the characters--including Pendergast--are all underdeveloped, and Kudrow's character is so annoying that I had a hard time mustering up sympathy or compassion for her plight. Furthermore, Pendergast--the writer/director--relies far too much on the humor generated by the juxtaposition of the Kabluey costume and [insert background here]. This wouldn't be the first time a movie has overused a gag, but it certainly lessens the laughter over time.

Final Grade: B-
Blurb: Don't believe the hype. It's a fine movie, which can be surprisingly touching at times, but it's humor isn't humor-ific enough. This is a case of Metacritic (62/100) being more accurate than Rotten Tomatoes (88% fresh). If you have to rent a movie with a dude in a costume, might I suggest the low-budget, needle-in-the-haystack film The Dark Knight. :)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tropic Thunder

This statement might be sacrilegious in some circles, but I thought Tropic Thunder was as funny as Zoolander--or at least pretty darn close. It might not necessarily be as quotable or as creative, but it's still a barrel of laughs.

*Warning* some of the links contain [a lot of] profanity

Anything that makes fun of actors or Hollywood is golden. I'm so tired of pretensious actors thinking they're the ones who know how to run the world (darn that Film Actors Guild!). All of the major actors in this film are making fun of other actors (and their stupid films). For those of you that might refuse to see it because it uses the word "retarded," you have no clue what the movie is about. Just like male models in Zoolander, the actors portrayed in Tropic Thunder are ridiculously vein and stupid. Ben Stiller and Robert Downey, Jr.'s characters were both [mis]using the term "retarded," and it did was display their lust for Oscars as well as their it's-all-about-me attitude. The people that come off as intellectually disabled are the actors, not the mentally challenged character (Simple Jack) portrayed. To say that Stiller is deplorable because he says "retarded" is to say that he did a disservice to coal miners ("black lung") or homeless people ("derelict") in Zoolander... a clear misunderstaning and misinterpretation of the overall point of the film.

The cast is terrific here. Ben Stiller had the trifecta: [co-]writer, director, actor. Robert Downey, Jr. is almost unrecognizable (and the exchanges between he and Alpa Chino are priceless), and he's some sort of Russell Crowe character. Jack Black does an Eddie-Murphy-on-drugs character, and it's also really funny. Tom Cruise's bellicose billionaire producer role is outstanding! Everything he says is hyper-masculine and over the top, which reminds me of the best character from Burn After Reading.

If you rent this movie and have extra time, watch the "actors commentary" with Stiller, RDJr., and Jack Black. Classy.

Final Grade: A
Blurb: Definitely the funniest movie in 2008.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Resurrecting the Champ

If you know me, you know I'm not a Samuel L. Jackson fan (although I love his beer). Thankfully in this movie, he doesn't play his angryblackman archetype. As former-heavyweight-contender-turned-homeless, Jackson has a strange, cartoonish voice, but I prefer it to his yelling. Josh Hartnett, who won me over after Lucky Number Slevin, plays the newspaper writer that tries to get Jackson's story. And while the story appears conventional at times, it had a twist that I didn't see coming (and no, it's not an M.-Night-Shymalan-type twist--thankfully). The trailer will give you a better idea of the film's storyline:

Caveats: When I was in high school, I thought I wanted to be a sports journalist--or broadcast journalist--so there's probably a bit of sentimental value here. On top of that, last year I read a really good book on boxing for my 20th-Century U.S. popular culture class and it piqued my interested on boxing history a little, so there's additional value that I found in the film that you might not.

Caveats aside, I liked this movie. It didn't blow me away--this movie is no Field of Dreams--but I enjoyed it.

Final Grade: B+
Blurb: Unlike recent, formulaic Disney sports movies, this film is more about the people than the sport or the games' outcome. Like the story told in the movie itself, this is a story that is often overlooked.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sukiyaki Western Django

This might be the weirdest title of a movie I've ever seen. The storyline itself, too, is a bit weird, but in a good way. The setting is actually Nevada, presumably in the 1860s-1880s (the timeline is never given). But here's the catch: instead of an old prospector, the town is filled with Japanese Samurai-Cowboy hybrids. Even stranger, they all speak English (this is actually a problem at times, and I had to turn on the subtitles). If I've confused you, hopefully the trailer will help:

This movie gets all sorts of style points and plenty of points for creativity, but the problem is that the story is weak (two rival tribes seeking hidden treasure, while a lone gunman wanders into town and tries to find the treasure himself) and the action isn't outstanding.

Also--and this is simply personal preference--I would've liked the movie more if it had featured martial arts instead of guns. Don't get me wrong, I love me some gunfights (Tombstone, anyone? Smokin' Aces, Shoot 'Em Up, etc.), but the gun action is merely satisfactory here. When you're an action film, the action needs to be superb. Furthermore
, if you're going to mix guns and martial arts, you have to live up to The Matrix and Kill Bill... which Sukiyaki Western Django doesn't do.

Final Grade: C+
Blurb: The action is slightly above average, which is not enough to make up for the somewhat weak storyline. The idea of this movie is cooler than the movie itself.


So I'm not the world's biggest Woody Harrelson fan, but I wanted to see this movie the moment I saw the preview:

I believe I've made it clear that I like Emily Mortimer and Ben Kingsley, so I thought this movie had a decent cast. However, Sir Kingsley is not utilized to his full potential here; that's not his fault, it's the failure of the screenwriter(s) and director. Mortimer is the star here, and she does fairly well. This movie is both a literal and a figurative train wreck, and by figurative--in the vein of Before the Devil Knows You're Dead--I mean that the whole time you wish the characters would stop what they're doing before it gets worse... but, of course, they don't.

As far as suspenseful movies go, this one definitely has suspense, but I suspect it's not as much as the movie's director would like us to feel. It's not horror-suspense, like The Orphanage, but it's not necessarily action-suspense, like Bourne or Casino Royale... it's somewhere in between (again, Before the Devil is a good comparison here). It's a decent movie, but I think I liked it more than it may have deserved because I like trains and Russia.

Final Grade: B-
Blurb: If you have to see one movie from 2007-2008 that take place almost entirely on a train, I think you should go with Darjeeling Limited (but I'm a huge Wes Anderson fan).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Long Time No Scene

It's been 5 weeks since my last review, but it's just because I've been studying for my prelims. I still managed to watch a lot of movies and TV shows in there (over lunch and dinner, and random weekend nights). I couldn't however, in good conscience, spend time writing a review if I could spend that time studying for prelims. Thus, I've decided to give you the quick hits on the last 5 weeks of movies/television.

Snow Angels: David Gordon Green's latest effort. Not nearly as good as All the Real Girls or even Undertow. Still, an emotionally intense work.
--Final Grade: B

The Believer
: I wanted to give Ryan Gosling a second chance since he impressed me in Lars and the Real Girl, so I picked this up. Meh. It was okay. I thought the ending was cheesy.
--Final Grade: C+

Mad Men
(Season 1): An interesting show about advertising in the early 1960s. It's a drama, but it's usually good drama.
--Final Grade: B+

Mad Men
(Season 2): The second season was still intriguing, but not as good as the first.
--Final Grade: B

Run Fat Boy Run
: I love me some Simon Pegg, but this movie is not nearly good as a few of his others. Some of the gags were a bit too much. The love story felt rather generic.
--Final Grade: C

Away From Her
: A three-person drama about a man having to put his wife--recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's--in a nursing home. Not easy viewing; I don't recommend it if you have/had a loved one with Alzheimer's.
--Final Grade: B-

: I'm still not convinced that John Krazinski will find a better role than Jim in The Office. Campy and sassy, but both of those suffer from a lack of spark or spunk. It feels a little forced and over-produced.
--Final Grade: C+

Things We Lost in the Fire
: Superbly-acted film in which Benicio Del Toro and Halle Berry both shine. Del Torro plays the [recovering] junkie best friend of Berry's murdered husband (Duchovny). Not an overwhelmingly powerful film, but a good, solid effort.
--Final Grade: B+

Ten Canoes: An Austrailian film, the first--to my understanding--to be almost entirely in the aboriginal language. That uniqueness doesn't help the mediocre story, which sometimes borderlines on boredom.
--Final Grade: C

: Definitely my least favorite of all the Oscar-nominated films. Was M. Night Shamalan hired as a consultant on this project? Also, I was intensely bored by some of the length of a few scenes.
--Final Grade: B-

The Orphanage
: I'm not a fan of scary movies, but I was told this wasn't a scary movie. Welp, it must be about as close as you can come; this blurs the line between "suspense" and "horor." Too intense for me. And don't be confused: Guillermo del Toro merely "presents" this movie (which I suspect means he purchased the rights to sell it in America); he didn't write or direct it.
--Final Grade: C

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
: I watched this the first week it came to DVD (back in February?) and I've been wanting to see it again. Definitely one of the best films of 2007. Great acting, great cinematography, great narration, great story, and a great musical score. Casey Afleck is still my pick for Best Supporting Actor. Sam Rockwell and Paul Schneider are also a nice addition.
--Final Grade: A+

Indiana Jones
: I watched this with the Rifftrax (worth every penny by the way), so it was bound to skew my perception a bit, but man, does this movie suck. Big time. No wonder South Park had a controversial take on what Speilburg/Lucas did to this franchise
--Final Grade: D

Monday, September 22, 2008

Speed Racer

I'm not exactly sure why I wanted to watch this; I think it was mostly curiosity. I was a big fan of the Wachowski brothers' The Matrix (I'll admit it, liked all three of 'em), although I was annoyed by V for Vendetta (and laughed out loud at some parts that weren't supposed to be funny). Having never watched the Speed Racer cartoon series, my curiosity was thus further heightened. I was not rewarded.

Most movies based on comic books or cartoons try to explain the backstory to bring everybody up to speed, specifically those unfamiliar with the series. Speed Racer's effort felt forced and inadequate. I came close to turning it off after 20-30 minutes, but the establishment of the arch enemy kept me from hitting the power button. I still don't know whether or not I made the right decision.

What I'm sure of, however, is that I probably would've loved this movie if I were 10 or 11 years old. Racing, explosions, cheesey jokes, visual stimulation, and a fairly simple plot. At times, this movie reminded me of the pod race in Star Wars: Episode I, but thankfully it wasn't that annoying or stupid. The CG was amazing at times and Xbox-good at others, and probably didn't help the pod-racing comparisons; this probably would've looked great at IMAX.

Casting for this movie had a few blips: John Goodman seemed like an odd choice for Speed Racer's father, but since I've never seen the cartoon, maybe I'm wrong here. Emile Hirsch, who played Speed Racer, only confirmed my previous suspicions that he's not a good actor.

Grade: C-
Blurb: Unless you own an IMAX, haven't gone through puberty yet, or are a devotee of the cartoon, you should probably check out some other movie. Any other movie... except Revolver or The Grifters.

Monday, September 8, 2008


This is the first Norwegian film I think I've ever seen. I think I liked it.

Reprise tells the story of two friends who are both trying to get their manuscripts published at the same time. You'd think this would be a typical story of jealousy or something like that, but the one who got his work published ends up in a mental institution for six months while the one who went unpublished tries to help his friend after the former's release (a bulk of the film focuses on what happens after the release from the institution). Kudos for not being a hackneyed storyline.

Something unique here is that the film begins with an unknown narrator telling the story of "what would have happened" if both friends had been published simultaneously... then, fade to black, and the real story unfolds. At the film's end, the same thing [narration] happens about how the story "would have" ended and... then it ends. At first I found this frustrating, but the more I've let the movie simmer in the back of my mind, the more I find it a fitting ending. (Sidenote: the word for "stop" in Norwegian is "slutt" which flashes on the screen at the film's end ... just don't be offended and/or confused when that happens :)

Well acted, well directed, and an interesting story to boot.

Final Grade: B
Blurb: This isn't an easy movie to watch and it's not filled with puppy dogs and rainbows, but if you want a relational drama--with subtitles--then you might rent Reprise.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Smart People

A family has endured a tragedy. One family member in particular dealt poorly with said tragedy and is cantankerous. Another has glossed over their feelings and simply ignores the tragedy, while the family member that dealt with the tragedy comparatively well is misunderstood by the rest. Along comes out-of-town black sheep/wild card relative to reveal the error of their ways with his free spirit. This is the story of Smart People.

Familiar stories don't necessarily mean that a movie can't succeed, but when the outcome is predictable and the character development isn't satisfactory, then familiarity breeds contempt... or just plain mediocrity. Both the writer and director were having their first go round with SP, so I don't want to be too harsh here, but they didn't give us a reason to genuinely care for Dennis Quaid, the movie's main protagonist (I never felt connected to his [standoff-ish] character). Although Thomas Hayden Church, the family's proverbial black sheep, who's constantly referred to as Quaid's "adopted brother"--shades of Margot Tenenbaum here--was a good character, but wasn't exploited properly; the film relied on the repeated exposure of his bare bottom to garner laughs. Ellen Page, Quaid's daughter, did a fine job but I didn't feel like her character made much sense.

Don't get me wrong, this wasn't a bad movie... it just wasn't good either. This is where a Rotten Tomatoes review would be tricky because I wouldn't know whether to go fresh or rotten here (I guess if I'm tottering I should lean towards rotten since "fresh" is supposed to be an emblematic recommendation).

Final Grade: C/C-
Blurb: Smart People, Average Movie.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Band's Visit

Capturing a 36-hour period in Israel, this indie foreign film tells the story about an Egyptian military orchestra and the ordeal they encountered when they arrive at their venue--or, rather, what they thought was their venue. The band ends up in the wrong town, a rural town without much going on, and is unable to get another bus to the correct destination; Forced to stay in the town [for the night], what unfolds is the formation of relationships between the Egyptian visitors and the Israeli locals, as well as those among band members.

Thankfully this film is not based on the cultural gaffs between the ethnicities. Dave Chappelle is funny, but the whole racial humor thing is a bit worn out in my opinion (does anyone seriously think that Carlos Mencia is funny?). Instead of ethnic jokes (Arab vs. Jew) or religious jokes (Muslim vs. Judaism), the humor is subtle and well-placed and would work well in any language (sidenote: you might want to watch this film with the subtitles on as the Egyptian and Jewish characters converse to each other in English and it is hard to understand sometimes).

This isn't a film that's going to bowl you over or blow you away, but it's a solid piece of filmmaking and it's refreshing to see the Middle East through this lens (i.e. not blowing each other up). Both people groups are portrayed as people with problems--real problems that transcend ethnicity, religion, and nationality--and by the film's end you care about the characters more than you thought you might due to the movie's austere beginning.

Final Grade: B+
Blurb: A simple film that doesn't shoehorn the weighty emotion of outside forces into the storyline, but instead has vignette-like qualities which still adequately convey the characters' emotions. One of the better foreign films I've seen recently.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Paranoid Park

I'm sure that most of you haven't heard of this movie, but if you happen to come across it in Blockbuster, keep going.

Directed by Gus Van Sant (who also directed Good Will Hunting and Elephant), Paranoid Park is about a teenager who accidentally kills a security guard at a railway station and his attempt to deal with what he did. The premise is interesting; the movie is not, and the storytelling certainly doesn't help. The chronology of the narrative gets flipped around with no apparent reason at random times, and not in a cool Memento sort of way, or even a regular flashback sort of way, but in a haphazard and confusing way. Additionally, the story moves along very slowly. I'm not against slow movies, but this was stylisticly/cinematically slow as there were frequently 30-second shots of the main character walking in which nothing was said and nothing occurred. I'm not sure if GVS was trying to indicate the time the kid had to contemplate what he had done, but it got pretty old pretty quickly.

One of the few positives of the film is the narration. It's not brilliant, it's not witty, it's not profound. What it is, however, seems to be what a normal teenager would say. As much as I enjoyed Juno's wit and temperment, how many Juno's are there in high schools across the country? This kid was very normal which made the film feel more real, which is always a bonus. Other than that though, Paranoid Park was boring and in the end, there was no discernable moral or point to the story. I'm looking forward to a film I can recommend (since both this film and Revolver had "stay away" alterts).

Final Grade: D+
Blurb: Painfully slow and without much point or merit, this isn't a film you should pick up anytime soon. Gus Van Sant is going backwards.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


I like Guy Ritchie. I think Snatch and Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels are great action comedies, probably as great as that genre can get. But wow, does this movie suck. Ritchie abandons his trademark style for something much more boorish; he tries to make some sort of philosophical or psychological statement on the ego (not the I-think-highly-of-myself ego, but the id vs. ego vs. superego kind). I'm not against action movies with a philosophical bent--The Thin Red Line and To End All Wars both do a great job of combining philosophy and action--but you have to make sure to not confuse your audience along the way. I'm good at following plotlines and whatnot, but I was so confused in this movie that I almost turned it off a number of times. I think I understood what he was going for in the film's final five minutes, but the payoff was not nearly enough to override the previous 90 minutes.

Jason Statham--who emerged from Guy Ritchie's stable of actors--stars opposite Ray Liota. Statham is in a lot of terrible movies, but he's good in Ritchie's films. I love Ray Liota; Field of Dreams, Goodfellas, Narc ... all solid. But they weren't given much to work with here. Gone is the witty and biting dialogue of Snatch, only to be replaced by mediocre monologues and second-rate speech. Oddly, Big Boi (from Outkast) is also one of the stars of this movie, which makes me think Ritchie had trouble finding people who wanted to star in the film after they read the screenplay.

At the end of the film, Ritchie tries to implement an Ocean's 11 type of switcharoo, but I saw it coming from a mile away. And then he tries to pile on a statement about the ego--which he clearly thinks is going to blow your mind--on top of that. It's just sad. Guy, I understand that you want to step out of the comfortable mold you've created, but face it, you're good at what you do (Snatch/LockStock), so I won't think less of you if you continue to make great comedic-action films.

Final Grade: D-
Blurb: You'll be disappointed if you expect this to be Snatch; actually, you'll be disappointed if you expect this movie to do anything but suck. Memo to Guy Ritchie: kudos for trying, there's nothing wrong with sticking with what you know. A for effort, F for failure.

Monday, August 4, 2008

This Is England

And this is a difficult movie to watch. Set in a small English town in 1983, the film chronicles a 12-year-old boy's transition from a picked-on kid to a skinhead. The young lad is initially taken in by a nice group of skinheads (no, that's not a contradiction in terms) but eventually gets caught up with a rougher (read: racist) crowd that imbues him with their splenetic and irrational racial thinking. (Here's the trailer if you want).

What makes this movie tough to watch is how this kid--whose father died in the short-lived Falkland Wars--is manipulated by the skinhead leader (played devilishly well by Tommy from Snatch). Even more difficult to watch is the way said leader's hatred manifests itself (and you thought he hated pykies!). However, I feel like the pain the viewer endures is worth it by the time the film closes.

Historical aside: I disagree with the movie's portrayal of the Falkland Wars and Margaret Thatcher, but I agree with their portrayal of the two different kind of skinheads (of which I would have no idea if one of my colleagues wasn't seriously pursuing the history of the modern skinhead as a dissertation topic).

Final Grade: B+
This isn't Before the Devil Knows You're Dead--which is a good movie that you shouldn't watch; this is a good movie that is difficult to watch but provides an interesting look at a time that is often overlooked. Thankfully nobody yells "This is England!" like the guys from 300 yell "This is Sparta!" That alone should be enough to set aside any apprehensions you have about watching this film.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

In Bruges (Redux)

I wrote this post back in March, but since this came out to DVD recently, I'm rehashing it to encourage you to rent this movie...

Rather than try and explain the premise, I'll simply give you the trailer (it's about 2 1/2 minutes long):

So, there you go. Let me first preface my review by saying that I hate--hate!--Colin Ferrel. I don't know if I've ever liked any of the movies he's been in; or, at least, I haven't liked him in any of the movies he's in. He was fine in Minority Report and he was okay in The New World, but he's basically ruined any other movie he's ever been in. His main problem is that he sucks. At everything. Plus, he can't hold an accent. (Christian Bale is so good at his American accent that several of my friends had no idea wasn't American.) What helps Ferrell here is that he's allowed to keep his natural [Irish] brogue. Brendan Gleeson--perhaps more familiar to you as Professor "Mad Eye" Moody from Harry Potter--picks up any slack that Ferrell leaves. At the risk of sounding too professional-movie-reviewer-ish, Ralph Fiennes was "delightfully wicked" as their sinister boss; he should play more roles as the villain because he's tremendous at it.

The film was written by Martin McDonagh, who hasn't done much else. He's clearly seen all of Guy Ritchie's films; McDonaugh manages to pay tribute without encroaching. And thankfully, In Bruges--one of a recent crop of movies
(The Matador; You Kill Me) about assassins who unravel in a supposedly comic way--this movie has scenes that actually inspire laughter, and the action is good and appropriately suspenseful. The movie is rife with foul language, drug use, and poking fun at Americans (and Americans who turn out to be Canadians), and midgets, but it was funny so I didn't really care. There are a few scenes of gratuitous violence, but they weren't enough to make my stomach churn.

The Bank Job, also recently released to DVD, got good reviews (78% on Rotten Tomatoes), In Bruges is a much better movie. Granted, In Bruges is going for the dark comedy + action angle while Bank Job is merely action + a few laughs, but I didn't really care about any of the characters in Bank Job, the action wasn't very intense, and the story--although "based on true events"--was not riveting. In In Bruges (is there a better way to start that sentence?), on the other hand, I found myself caring about the characters--yes, even Colin Ferrell--while the action and story were both good. And to boot, the movie made me want to visit Bruges some day (it looks like a less-smelly version of Venice).

Final Grade: B/B+
Blurb: Although not as good as Snatch or Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels, In Bruges contains laughs, action, beautiful scenery, an interesting narrative, good cinematography, some [surprisingly] good acting, and is a nice--yet not pitch-perfect--mix of action and [dark] comedy. Also, don't rent The Bank Jarb.

Friday, July 18, 2008

George Washington

Movies about adolescents suck most of the time, but writer-director David Gordon Green is one of the best in the business (up there with P.T. Anderson and Wes Anderson (no relation)). And this movie about kids is not for kids. (Sidenote: not to be confused with the hilarious Superdeluxe short also entitled George Washington that you might have seen on YouTube.)

DGG tells the story of a group of friends--one of which is named George Washington--in what I'm guessing is rural North Carolina. There's not much to do in the failing town, so the children play in abandoned houses and swimming pools. The film's first half introduces you to the kids, their town, and some of the adults in their lives (my boy Paul Schneider--in his first cinematic role--is rather comedic as the son of one of the town's factory owners). The second half of the film deals with the children dealing with a death among their ranks and the role they played in said death. Here's the trailer:

This movie probably isn't for everybody. I do not think, had I not been a fan of DGG already--All the Real Girls has been one of my favorite films since my brother-in-law introduced me to it back in 2005--that I would've liked this movie as much as I did (which is not as much as I thought I would). DGG has a distinct style of storytelling and cinematography that I find fascinating (and so does Roger Ebert).

Final Grade: B
Blurb: You should watch All the Real Girls and Undertow before you pick up George Washington, but it's a refreshing indie, especially if you've recently been burned by a bloated Hollywood movie.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Top 25 Comedies of the Last 25 Years

When Brandon and I set out to make this list, we thought it would be easy; not so my friends. But here's our compiled list of the top 25 comedies of the last 25 years (I made a list, he made a list, we averaged the numbers and here's what we came up with):

1. Dumb & Dumber
2. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy
3. Big Lebowski
4. This is Spiral Tap
5. Office Space
6. Zoolander
7. The Royal Tenenbaums
8. Jackass 2
9. Raising Arizona
10. High Fidelity
11. About a Boy
12. Best in Show
13. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
14. Napoleon Dynamite
15. Hot Fuzz
16. Snatch
17. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
18. Shaun of the Dead
19. Princess Bride
20. Rushmore
21. Groundhog Day
22. Happy Gilmore
23. Wayne's World 1 & 2
24. So I Married an Axe Murderer
25. Bottle Rocket/The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou/Darjeeling Limited

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):
- Tommy Boy
- Talladegga Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
- The Science of Sleep
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
- Little Miss Sunshine
- Juno
- Punch-Drunk Love
- School of Rock/Orange County
- Ferris Bueller's Day Off
- About Schmidt
- Fletch
- A Christmas Story
- National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
- Wedding Crashers
- Knocked Up
- Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels
- Starsky & Hutch

Most Overrated Comedies of All Time (just for kicks)
- Caddyshack
- The Blues Brothers
- Shrek 1, 2, & 3
- Meet the Fockers
- Anything with Eddie Murphy since 1988
- Anything with Robin Williams since 1998

Monday, July 7, 2008

Deep Water

I'm not a documentary fan, but I watch them from time to time. I was pretty sure I had seen Deep Water on Paste magazine's list of top 50 films of 2007, but when I looked for the reference, it wasn't there, so I have no idea where I came across this film.

Originally a BBC documentary (which aired on PBS recently), the film chronicles the 1968 attempt of 9 people to circumnavigate (or sirsumnavigate in G.O.B.-speak) the world solo and non-stop. Never having heard of the race, it was a fascinating bit of history, in the same era as the Apollo launchings/landings; it was a period of grand exploration and testing the toughness and ingenuity of humanity.

As the film begins, you are sure that most of the protagonists will die, especially the film's main character, Donald Crowhurst. And I don't want to give anything away here, but I'll share with you that this is not [that overrated piece of trash] The Perfect Storm. Plus, Deep Water is narrated by Tilda Swinton, always a bonus.

The trick with Deep Water is that the flimmakers procured footage--both video and audio--of several boatsmen, including Crowhurst. So you don't have to worry about lame reenactments or anything like that (it's really cool to see 16mm film in widescreen by the way). The film does a fantastic job helping you to empathize with Crowhurst, making the outcome even more impactful.

Final Grade: A-
Blurb: If you're in the mood for a documentary but you don't want to be depressed (which seems to be the theme of most pop-docs), Deep Water is excellent. Do not confuse this movie with Deep Blue... no LL Cool J here!

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Grifters

I'd never heard of this movie (released in 1990 ... I was 8), but Blockbuster recommended it to me; seeing how Sexy Beast was a great success, I decided to give it a try.

Starring John Cusack, Anjelica Huston, and Annette Benning (the former two I enjoy), The Grifters had a little bit of star power (not to mention it was produced by Scorcese). I did not have outrageously high hopes, but I did have some hopes that it would be a decent movie. Additionally, it was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Director and Best Screenplay. And on a completely unrelated note, I wanted to like the movie because "grifter" is a term associated with the nineteenth-century American circus (it's sort of like a combination between "graft" and "drifter").

Wow, what a disappointing movie!!!

Cusack, Huston, and Benning are all grifters (con-persons) and they weave a tangled web that eventually destroys everything (and Scorcese's credibility as a producer). There's really odd sexual tension between Huston and Cusack (mother and son) which is seven kinds of vomit-inducing creepy. The plotline(s) are convoluted (the audience never really knows what's going on and if the characters' vague backstories are true) and there isn't a protagonist for which you can truly root.
I should've known it was going to suck since sunglasses are prominently featured on the movie poster and 83.7% of all movies with sunglasses on the posters are terrible.

Final Grade: F
Blurb: Do not watch this movie unless you want the cinematic equivalent of having your intestines pulled out through your mouth. If Siskel were still alive, I'd kick him right in the coccyx.