01 November 2009

Time Off

I have been taking time off, and will continue to take time off from this blog. Expect more content on the 1st of December.
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16 October 2009


URBAN: Brian De Palma presents a film with more cultural currency than real scinematic excellence. An important film for understanding the times.

This film is the definition of eneven to me. It contains some of the most intense scenes (despite not having any particularly outstanding shots) while also containing some long stretches of downtime. The scene where Tony meets the first drug dealers that culminates in the chainsaw killing is completely breathtaking. The part where the guy gets thrown out of the chopper is the same way. The end is another example of this. However, the rest is kind of spacey. The scenes of them talking at the beach and the odd stuff with his sister are barely memorable. Unfortunately, this film has become intertwined with the first big GTA game, Vice City.

Very memorable. Better than a lot of people give it credit for. It's just not quite the achievement that the game was.

URBAN: Recommended
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14 October 2009


URBAN: If you want to know the man, you would be better off watching his VH1 special.

Notorious tells the story of Notorious B.I.G., Chris Wallace from childhood to his untimely death at the age of 25.

URBAN: The thing that was interesting to me about this film really had nothing to with what was caught on camera. The real story was simply: considering that both Biggie Smalls and Tupac have both had VH1 Behind The Music specials based upon their death, that this one made it to the big screen first. Seriously, I don't mean to recreate the East Coast-West Coast, Bad Boy-Death Row feud, but I think that it is pretty much universally accepted that Tupac was the better artist, and certainly possessed a more interesting story.

This film does not compare favorably to the other music biographies that have appeared recently-Ray, Walk The Line, etc. It's not necessarily that the subject matter has anything less to offer, but the method of telling the story here is lacking. Early on, the voice-over narrative does a decent job of explaining Biggie's motivations which allow the viewer to understand the action that he/she sees. Biggie wants to make money, but he also has enough respect for his mother that he wants to keep his extracurricular activity from her. As the film draws on, the motivations often lack explanation, and the viewer gets bogged down in the contradictions that the filmmaker depicts, but have no cause or relation to the major events of the story.

For example, the film depicts a young Chris writing rhymes and dealing drugs, the drugs are explained by the voice-over, but the rhyming,,,, just a throwaway line about how it made him feel better to write rhymes while he was in jail. While I would assume that rhymes would go on to become a big part of his life, the film really doesn't help me out here. Despite the fact that it is a biography, the film basically holds the audience at arms length.

In the second half of the film, this tactic really insults the intelligence of the viewer. This film would have us believe that the feud that laid Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I,G in their graves began over a perceived jumping outside an apartment in Brooklyn. While undoubtedly, this would be a big deal, but it is never understood why, Tupac believed that Biggie was behind this incident. It goes even further after an affront by Tupac to Biggie in front of a music awards show, the voice-over confides, “ We should have gotten together somewhere and sorted this shit out, but it was too late for that.”


You see, everyone who has watched Tupac's Behind The Music knows that there was more going on than that.

In closing, this film fails because it refuses to deliver the depth of details. The voice-over is confusing, as it would have the viewer believe that this is Biggie telling us his story. But it depicts a lot of bad behavior he never apologizes for, and tells the story of a great lyricist without every getting close to the subject matter that inspired his greatest work—mortality.

URBAN: Not Recommended
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12 October 2009


It's harder to write a review of a good film than a bad film.
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08 October 2009

Power Issues

The power is working intermittently.

I really am only a step away from regular posts again. Be patient.
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03 October 2009

The Hangover

URBAN: I thought it was going to be stupid and sophomoric, but like Zach Galifianakis's character in the film, it's so sincere in doing these things that I couldn't help but like it.

The one and only destination for bachelor parties is put on display in this comedy that is equal parts Dude, Where's My Car, and American Wedding, but easily ten times better than both put together.

URBAN: The Hangover, one of the funniest movies of 2009, grabs the attention of moviegoers for no other reason than its setting. The premise is so simple, yet funny, that it can't help but strike the imagination of viewers. It holds that attention with outrageous details and excellent comedic performance by newcomer Zach Galifianakis.

Besides being one of the funniest movies of the year, for my money, it is also one of the hardest working. By this I mean that it stretches everything it has for maximum effect. Take the cast for example. With the exception of the guy who used to be the nerdy co-worker of Jennifer Garner or Alias (Bradley Cooper), none of three leads have much experience. Of the other two, one is a guy who used to do reporting on the Daily Show (Ed Helms) and the other is relatively unknown (Galifianakis). The mix works though because the star is really the story that unfolds in reverse. That, and it's loaded with impressive cameos that are worked for a lot of great, comedic scenes. Heather Graham, Mike Tyson, the doctor from Knocked Up (Ken Jeong), they all make the most of their chances to shine and also have the added benefit of moving the story along nicely.

One of the most underrated things about this film is the little piano song that Ed Helm's character plays while the guys wait for the tiger to go to sleep. It perfectly fits the surreal feeling of the film.

The main issue that I had with the film is rather silly: they really didn't mine all of the humorous material from that night. At the end of the film, when the men involved look at the pictures on the camera, it is clear that many other shenanigans occurred that would have made great comedy. I know it is a weak argument, but after seeing that reel of film over the credits, I really wanted to see a fight between the dentist and Wayne Newton.

URBAN: Recommended
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Flashback Fridays: Tropic Thunder

URBAN: Consistently very funny throughout.

A comedy dream-team makes this the funniest movie of 2008.

I was worried that this would be another Stiller-esque type of comedy, which, like Will Ferrel's films, all start to look the same after a while. This film does contain the typical amount of Stiller posing, but for the first time, it seems like it makes sense.

The story revolves around a group of prima donna actors taken to Southeast Asia to shoot a film about the Vietnam Conflict. They soon realize that their situation is simultaneously both more fake; The writer of the war memoir is a faker, and also more real; Real drug lords are attempting to kill them.

Along the way all of the actors have a chance to exercise the inner demons that are mainly results of the actors trying to internalize the psyches of the characters they play.

With the exception of Matthew McConaughey, all of the lead actors have their chance to give the audience some laughs. As it turns out, the real star of the film, and the only real hero, is Jay Baruchel. Stepping out of his roles as a nerd/slacker in Apatow comedies, it becomes apparent early on that he is the only functional person in the cast of the original Vietnam story. Tom Cruise, stepping away from the serious stuff, is heavily made-up, attempting to portray a Jewish studio exec. the result is highly entertaining. His dancing, while not exactly what we saw in Risky Business, is one of the highlights.

The film is unbelievably crass and politically incorrect. These facts all work to add to the humor, which is extremely sophomoric. Despite, this, it seems to be a real winner.

I can't tell you that this is a great movie. It doesn't have any deeper meaning, there is no message, it isn't as smart as the Apatow comedies,,,, its just really funny. If you want to laugh, give this film a look

URBAN: recommended
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26 September 2009

Flashback Fridays: Step Brothers

URBAN:The laughter falls flat and the story adds nothing to the humor.

Another will Ferrel movie

This film had highs and lows in both laughs and the thought department. As for laughs, it is hard to beat the straightforward hilarity of "Do you want to go do karate in the garage?". There were several lows also where the jokes went completely flat. I thought we got enough of kids swearing at their parents at the dinner table from Ricky Bobby's two boys in Talladega Nights. This film carried on that theme even farther, except that this time both the parents and the children were a lot older.

Most of the film was intended to be a laugher, which, as I described above, was hit and miss. For about 15 minutes near the end, the film turned into an intelligent discussion about what being a grown up really means, pawning off your night vision goggles to pay for car insurance. In the end, this film wasn't that good, it would have been outstanding if it had attempted to lay off on the humor and instead focused on telling a story.

URBAN: Not Recommended
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24 September 2009

Still Watching Movies

I've still been watching movies, viewed The Ghost In The Shell and Terminator on my PSP.

After this weekend will move out of the bunker and have a lot more room to write.

Look forward to some good stuff then.
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18 September 2009


Currently in Iraq. The facilities are pretty good, so hopefully I will be able to add content regularly. Hope everyone is enjoying the reviews.
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Flashback Fridays- X-Files: I Want To Believe

URBAN:As a huge fan of the X-Files television series, I highly anticipated the release of this film and hoped that it would at least attempt to tie up the loose ends of the show's mytharc. Instead of this, was something that I clearly recognized, and in the end will appreciate more.

The film doesn't deal with aliens. It doesn't deal with freaks. What it sacrificed in curb appeal is more than made up for with an outstanding story with tons of characters that the viewer will instantly recognize. The result, is a very engaging story about belief and the consequences thereof.

The primary plot revolves around Mulder and Scully as they try move on with their lives after their FBI careers are over. Scully is a doctor at a Catholic Hospital and Mulder is a,,,, I don't really know. After an FBI agent shows up missing and a former priest/pedophile claims that he has psychic premonitions regarding the event, the FBI calls in a subject matter expert to help them out. The case and the gruesome oddities that accompany it have little to do with the central themes of the story.

The central theme of the story is the issue of belief. As I described in an earlier post about the X-Files, while the show is full of oddities, the central theme has to do with matters inherently important to Pragmatism, experience and how we can know.

This film is no different. Without ever being explicit, the film focuses upon Scully's Catholic Faith. Her story has two focuses. On one hand she has to deal with the treatment of one of her patients, a young boy with an incurable disease. On the other hand, she feels incorrigible about the former priest, betrayed by his acts, and unwilling to accept the validity of his visions.

The result is familiar in one sense. As in the television series, Mulder is the believer, and Scully is the pessimist. In this case the situation shifts on a deeper level. Scully's faith does not allow her to believe that a pedophile who has done so much wrong to her faith can be forgiven and used by God in a meaningful way. Mulder doubts that he and Scully can have a romantic relationship and that the FBI can be trusted after his previous working relationship fades.

X-Files has always forced us to ask ourselves whether or not our experience can be trusted when it violates our inclinations. This film goes even farther in calling into question the experiences that support our inclinations.

Visually, it looked like a Chris Carter effort. I primarily recognized the masterful suspense built with the camera work and the falling effects. Rather than show a dummy fall off a building Carter has always preferred to show a closeup of the victim against a computer generated background. In the dark, no one makes a quick pan look spookier.

The film wasn't perfect. I am certain that many fans wanted a mytharc completion/addition. I don't think that the timing was right for these efforts. I am also aware of many other iconic stories that have tried to do the same thing recently that failed miserably (Star Wars is the first that comes to mind). I was pleased that the film chose to deliver on a philosophical level before it attempts an easy answer and swift and neat completion.

URBAN: Recommended
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14 September 2009

District 9

URBAN: District 9 is one of those films that comes along once and a while that has no star power, no stunning effects, but still manages to catch the imagination of viewers.

Directed by Neil Blomkamp and famously, produced by Peter Jackson, this film may be advertised as a contemporary sci-fi discussion of race politics in South Africa, but becomes much more in the time allotted.

URBAN: This film was very much unlike what I was expecting. Shot almost entirely in documentary format, it manages to entertain, disgust, and enlighten at once. It does so by focusing its story, bit-by-bit, until the discomforting end is tightly in focus.

The story begins with the given, an alien race has made contact above the city of Johannesburg in South Africa. The aliens must be cut out of their spaceship, and are given a home in a type of slum within the city. The race that remains is clearly not the leadership of the species. They lack direction, and quickly become a pax upon the city, and the focus of angry villagers who reject their crime and lifestyle. The aliens are officially managed by a large development corporation, but in reality, are run by a human gang-lord who meets out discipline and food with the same iron grip. His true aim, is to control the weaponry that the aliens have brought with them, which can only be fired by alien DNA.

The story is turned upside down, when the aliens are evicted from their home and given another slum, further from the city (to appease the citizens). It is during this sequence that two key events happen. First, one of the multinational corporation workers is infected by alien technology. As a result of this the viewers become aware that large multinational-corporations are not unlike ruthless gang-lords in their quest to control the alien weaponry.

These events continue to build, as Blomkamp does his best attempt at combining Kafka's Metamorphosis and the meta-arch from the X-files.

There were only two issues that I had with this film. The first was that the aliens were virtually indistinguishable. This wasn't so much of an issue once the film had found its focus, but it was impossible to realize that the characters from the junkyard scene were the same ones that were to become important later by sight alone. It seemed like another documentary style focus on a particular.

The second issue was that the battle scene that lasted for the last 20 minutes was a little too over the top for me. The fight scenes take advantage of the character disputes that are built upon at the beginning of the film, but they last too long and focus too much on the characters that the viewer can't necessarily relate to. These scenes are ultimately only redeemed by faux-news footage of the battles that contextualizes the violence in a modern and relevant setting for the audience.

It's a shame that the battle becomes the center-piece though. The compelling story here is that through all of this the viewer is made to feel empathy towards aliens that do not speak English and are often quite disgusting. The tale also incorporates many interesting and moving social motives that are integrated well by playing up the advertising and public service element that documentary and faux-news coverage often entail. By matching this form to the content Neil Blomkamp delivers a winner, and one of the most unlooked-for money-makers of the summer.

URBAN: Recommended
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09 September 2009

Post Grad

URBAN: Sentimental and undisciplined. The focus is missing completely.

A timely attempt to make light of the economic situation by focusing on the tale of a young woman who is unable to find a job after graduating from college.

While I can understand the need to address the current economic factors that go into this film, I feel that it would be irresponsible to review it without mentioning that the current state of the economy is only felt in the advertisement for this film.

Alexis Bledel is cute enough, but seems to have a huge problem depicting pain. Even in her obligatory, 'I'm sorry' message, she seems to be inescapably peppy. That really tells the story of this entire film. Michael Keaton overacts terribly. The writing is garbage. And the parts about the family hijinx are totally out of place for a film that is supposed to be about the failures of our society.

Of course, I understand why they added the stuff about the family. The film clocked in at only 84 minutes. Without those scenes, it would have been around 60-70.

The film does try to be something more than just garbage, by pointing out the importance of relationships to help one get through tough times, but the ultimate message that being unable to find employment is something that we can all giggle at is one that I find reprehensible. Not to mention,,, completely unrealistic.

To compare, there was a film in the not-so-recent past that did manage to make us desperately laugh at a pretty desperate financial situation. Fun With Dick and Jane, which premiered after the Enron and Worldbank fiascoes, was able to take a terrible situation and make some comedic hay out of it. It did so by providing an outlet,,, a scapegoat. The viewer could laugh (nervously at least) at the bank robbing antics of the characters, because they were forced into their situation. A clear and unwavering finger was pointed at the individuals who were responsible. This film does nothing of the sort.

There was one reference that I feel obliged to mention. In the one humorous scene, the song being played from the 64 Impala that the guys are driving (pouring one out for the deceased) is the same song featured to much greater effect on Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Amores Perros.

URBAN: Not Recommended
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08 September 2009

500 Days of Summer

URBAN: Very Charming and whitty for this type of film. Features the soundtrack too much.

Marc Webb delivers a film that is touching, artistic, and funny by turns. Hard to get out of your mind for many reasons.

URBAN: While I have mentioned in reviews before that I appreciate the Apatow committment to realism,,, in all of its gory detail, it is interesting to note that the characters in those films nearly always complete the relationship, even if they do so in imperfect ways.

This film goes in a different direction, veering away from the realism in its portrayal of relationship, but ultimately, it finds its way there by denying the viewer what he/she has come to expect from romantic comedies.

500 Days of Summer deals with the relationship of the title character (a lovely Zooey Deschanel) and the leading everyman (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The film portrays there relationship, not in linear style, but by jumping back and forth between the days that their relationship contains,,,, all 500 of them.

To break up the act of breaking up the ebb and flow of this relationship, the director puts his best foot forward. The post-coital morning after routine and the references to The Graduate (both verbal and visual) stand out, but the film took a turn for the amazing when it transformed into a 45 second salute to the heroes of cinema. In one sequence, the character, in the pain of breakup, dreams himself into the great films of Godard (in New Wave style) and Bergman (from The 7 Seals). They throw the story into a realm usually not reserved for romantic comedies. To be honest, these films seriously reminded me Woody Allen at his best as a director of romantic comedy. Besides the obvious Annie Hall comparison, I think that there is a direct correlation between this and one of my personal favorites, the underrated Play It Again, Sam which displays an imperfect relationship in a non-linear sequence, that also makes great reference to films of the past, both emotionally, and to provide interpretation for character motive.

Also, did I mention it is only 1 1/2 hours long?

The only real area where there were shortcomings was in the reliance on the soundtrack. I honestly noticed this from the opening credits, which really only serve as an excuse to play some great music. The overflow of great music dominates the film in ways that could have been played out more subtlely without a score. The best example of this is to compare the use of score to the narration that the film contains. The narration in this film adds to the film, to help the viewer understand the action, but never enough that one feels the narration is essential or that the action is less for not having it around constantly. I felt that the scene in day 500 really needed music after hearing it constantly punctuate and color most of the other important parts of the film.

This film is filled with clever allusion and artistry in the way that it portrays the story. The issue with the music is a problem of abundance, rather than scarcity, and should not take away from a film that is probably the best romantic comedy of the year.

URBAN: Recommended
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05 September 2009

Summer Review- Based on my preview

Despite my expectations, this actually ended up being a pretty good summer for cinema.

The Good

Public Enemies: What I expected. Could have used some more focus on a unified story, but easily one that holds up. Not a long term success, but easily entertaining. I actually think that Steven Cronenberg would have been awesome on this project.

Funny People: Less than expected

The Bad

Terminator: Salvation: I liked this one more than most of the critics. Not perfect, but it wasn't bad, plus, it easily opens the doors for more in this series.
The Ugly

GI Joe: Terrible. Nevertheless, it was terrible enough that most people enjoyed themselves while attending.

Inglourious Basterds: What can I say? I expected a lot, but not this. Really a strong piece of work.

Aside from those, the blockbusters were a remarkable letdown. Transformers II and Wolverine were the two worst abominations of a summer that included the usual suspects of lackluster romantic comedies and weak horror franchises.

The summer of 2009 was a good one for film because the intrigue that District 9 brought, the show that Star Trek put on, and the art the Inglourious Basterds rudely put on display.
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04 September 2009

Flashback Friday-Hellboy II: The Golden Army

URBAN:The result was a film with great stylings but consistently lacked in one area that undermined the entire film.

From visionary director Guillermo Del Toro comes the second istallation of the Hellboy franchise.

Director Guillermo Del Toro's characters lit up the screen. The odd looking characters added a magical element to the proceedings. Aside from the title character, the other creatures are marvelous to behold, each in their own way. I especially liked the Angel of Death. He looked like one of the Seraphim described in Revelations 4. Completely stunning.

The story was character driven and most of the plot details arise from the particular individual psychologies of the characters. The primary issue is at hand is the return of the Elven Prince to reclaim the pieces of the crown, that upon reunion, will render control of the unstoppable Golden Army.

The most spectacular part of the film occurred only two minutes into the film, while the professor tells a young Hellboy a bedtime story. The story of the creation of the Golden Army. The story is Tolkein-like, but the visuals used to tell the story were unique to that section. To tell the story, Del Toro uses animation in an effort that is easily the best part of the film.

There was some stuff that I didn't like.

Despite the name, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, The Golden Army actually took up very little screen time. The plot dealt primarily with the characters gaining control of the pieces of the crown in order to control the army. Considering the title, I would have hoped that more time would have spent with this destructive force. It also would have been cool to see some symmetry by having Nuada see the destruction that the army causes and call them off the same way that the original Elven King did.

The young Hellboy in New Mexico looks like a joke.

The most outstanding negative that I took note of was the sets. They looked fake, obviously generated in a studio. The Troll Market and the government domicile where Hellboy lives were the two most egregious examples. In relation to the outstanding characters, I couldn't help but feel that the disparity of these factors lent the film an unevenness.

Also, the film clearly has some level of desire to be an explanation of mythology, yet is clearly more of an action/superhero movie.

I don't know how to summarize my thoughts on the film. I enjoyed it. I wouldn't mind seeing it again down the road. I loved a few small parts, especially the opening bedtime story. Overall, the pacing was slow and the action didn't always serve a purpose. The visuals were good, but the sets were bad. In a day when superhero movies come every other week, this one is unique enough to stand out, but not singularly better than some of the recent performances, namely Ironman and The Dark Knight.

URBAN: Recommended
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03 September 2009


Hello all, I am alive and well in Kuwait, awaiting to go with my unit to Iraq.

While here in Kuwait, I am limited to community internet. With this being the case, I haven't been able to find a way to transfer my reviews from my personal computer to the computers that are connected to the internet (DOD bans the use of thumb drives in Kuwait). Rest assured, that I have continued to write. On tap are reviews of the films, District 9 and 500 Days of Summer, as well as my essay about the ethics of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds.

BTW, if you want to keep up with the news of the deployment, my wife has set up a blog urbans apart.
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31 August 2009

Listless Tuesdays: Top 5 Films from Big 12 States- South Edition

Continuing the Big 12 Football Theme,,, each school will be listed next to the Top 5 in order to explain the placement of the film. The films are still listed in descending order according to quality.

5. Oklahoma-Oklahoma State: The Outsiders

The Outsiders was filmed in Tulsa, not a terribly long drive from Stillwater. This film was directed by Francis Ford Coppolla and one of the first for the Brat Pack. Coppolla is said to have enacted a great sociological experiment with this film as the actors who portrayed the Socs were given tremendous accomodations and first rate treatment, while those who portrayed the Outsiders were treated contemptuously by the hotel staff and given poor equipment. Coppolla attempted to create a real rivalry between the two groups with the experiment, which worked tremendously.

4. Oklahoma-Oklahoma: The Grapes of Wrath

The ghost of Tom Joad lives on from this adaptation of the Steinbeck novel. While accompanied by the same criticisms as the novel (communist sympathies), Tom Ford and Henry Fonda recreate the Oklahoma dust-bowl during one of the toughest times for our nation.

3. Texas-Texas A&M: Dazed and Confused

It was surprising to me that Texas had so many non-western style films in the list of best films from this state. That is primarily because two of the modern great directors hail from the state and love to return to it to make amazing films. Richard Linklater is actually from the Houston area, and even though he attended Sam Houston State, you can feel a little bit of his animosity for the Texas A&M style characters in O'Bannion. One of my favorite films of all time and a definite on the list of the best from Texas.

2. Texas-Texas Tech: No Country For Old Men

Finally, a western from the state of Texas (kind of). The recent Oscar winner for best film by the Coen Brothers takes place in the wilds of west Texas. In between the Rio Grande, the plains, and the small towns resides the unexpected. If you have ever been to the liquor stores just past the county line outside of Lubbock (dry county) you will know what I mean.

1. Texas-Texas: Rushmore

While Bottle Rocket may be a better vehicle for explaining what modern Texas is all about, director Wes Anderson's (University of Texas graduate) masterpiece, and one of my favorite films of all time happens to contain one of the greatest characters of all time and perhaps the best performance by Bill Murray. In this one he is moodier than Lost In Translation, more devious that Stripes, and more lovable than the end of Ground Hog's Day. A winning combination of hilarity and poignancy that also perfectly matches content and form.

Baylor: No movie until you get to a bowl game!!!! Actually, there is one extremely underrated cinematic gem that does remind me of Baylor, The Apostle. Check it out, it is actually pretty powerful and one of the favorite films of Dr. Blum.

I really wanted to put a high school football film in this list to tie together the football themes and the state of Texas stuff. Alas, Friday Night Lights was average at best.
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28 August 2009



Tonight I am leaving for Iraq.

I intend to try to see films and continue this blog while I am there. Of course, internet availability, leisure, and availability of new film releases, will all influence the amount of work that I am able to do.

For at least the next few days things will be in limbo. Keep checking back and before long I will have a clear picture of what kind of pace I will be able to keep up.
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Flashback Friday- Forgetting Sarah Marshall

URBAN: Funny, emotionally and literally naked, but still a great romantic comedy in the Apatow tradition.

Judd Apatow produced, this fillm contains all of those characteristics. It also stars Jason Segel in a perfect role for him.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall takes on the shape of the characteristic Apatow film almost immediately. Jason Segel, playing Peter Bretter teases us by shaking his junk just off the camera, but the tease doesn’t last long. Full frontal male nudity is horrifying, but also hilarious considering the situation the audience views. In a very key way, this early scene provides a critical method of interpreting the film. Nicholas Stoller, the director, provides the usual approach from an Apatow produced film. He doesn’t tease us much. Everything that you want to see as a movie-goer you get to see. This same principle is at work on the characters and the storyline as well. The heart of this story is found in examining how the characters and the viewers deal with getting what they want.

For example, the main character, as a viewer, we want to see him succeed and get back together with his ex-girlfriend. He does. We also want to see him make it with his new girl. He does. We want to see his Dracula rock opera. It’s all there. We definitely want to see the hot chick from That 70’s Show naked. We do. The strangest thing of all is that at once we want there to be a happy ending, while at the same time we want the relationships and ending to be realistically flawed, the way we see them in reality. All of this is in the film.

The serio-comic style of these films is reminiscent of Woody Allen. Forgetting Sarah Marshall, like Knocked Up, Superbad, and The 40 Year Old Virgin does not conform to stereotypes. It’s very raunchy, very funny, and very good. Its victories are only temporary and partial. This could have been a horrible serious film, or even worse, a lackluster romantic comedy if this same storyline was handled by anyone else. The blend of serious, comic, fantasy and reality I feel is best described near the end of the film when Segel’s character describes the success of his rock opera by saying, “Someone told me it was comedy and that opened things up.”

Apatow’s blend of serious/comic opens up a lot of life’s mysteries. While the other films mentioned above are marvelous in the way they are able to bring the story to the level of social commentary (especially Knocked Up). This story keeps its focus lower, but still manages a great bit of critical commentary about the current state of television by poking fun at crime dramas like CSI. More importantly he says a lot about relationships. As always, there is quite a bit about male bonding. The primary message about dating relationships is incomplete. As is usually the case when trying to portray abstractions like this, you can’t say it, you have to show it. And this film shows the story very well.

URBAN: Recommended
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27 August 2009

Readers Respond: 5 Favorite Films with Stephani Francl

A small-town girl from the mid-west just looking to be entertained by Hollywood, but not at the expense of those things most important in life. She watches few movies more than once, but these five are regulars which reside permanently in her living room. She's Stephani Francl and these are her 5 Favorite Films.

5. Dan in Real Life

I loved this movie the first time I saw it, and I love it more every time I watch it. Dan, played by Steve Carell, is the widowed father of three girls and the movie tracks their annual vacation at a home on the ocean with the extended family. Unlike films that mock the value of the family, this film showcases a father’s commitment to the most important women in his life (his daughters) and his honor toward his deceased wife as he falls in love with a new woman. Fabulous.

4. Sweet Home Alabama

Reese Witherspoon plays the lead, Melanie Smooter, who struggles to find her place in the world. This movie came out at a time when I was struggling internally with what I saw as similar questions – did I fit in a small town in the heartland or did I fit in a city doing something “important.” And ultimately, I had to decide, as does Melanie in the film, what really is important? It was a movie that, for me, came out at just the right time. Plus, who doesn’t secretly dream of being Reese Witherspoon?

3. Shooter

Mark Walberg plays the lead in this flat out revenge movie. If you just want to see some bad guys get blasted, this is the movie for you. It is justice in the vigilante sense, a guy doing what needs to be done - probably what many dream of doing. For me, it’s the movie version of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon that we play sometimes on the Xbox360. After a rough week of work, there’s nothing better than blowing some video game characters to smithereens…or watching Mark Wahlberg do so to some Hollywood thugs.

2. White Christmas

This movie displays the quintessential elements of two things I love: a good romance and Christmas. In the vein of the musicals of it’s time, White Christmas’ music is superb, and the dancing makes modern day dancing reality show “stars” pale by comparison. The story of Bob & Judy and Phil & Betty has been a mainstay in my Christmas celebration for about 18 years now with no end in sight.

1. Beauty and the Beast

Belle was one of the first Barbies I ever got as a little girl, and the magic of her story has remained with me through the years. Though there are other greats (The Little Mermaid, Aladin, The Lion King, The Emperor’s New Groove, and most recently Enchanted), Beauty and the Beast holds a special place in my movie list. The music makes my heart swell and Belle’s ability to see through the rough exterior of a beast to the prince inside makes a young married girl believe that maybe she is a princess.
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25 August 2009

Listless Tuesdays: Top 5 Movies from Big 12 States- North Edition

With football season right around the corner I thought that it was only fitting to take a look at the films made and set in the Big 12 region. For the first edition we will get one film from each of the five states represented in the Big 12 North Division.

Nebraska: About Schmidt

Jack Nicholson has made several trips to the Cornhusker state, including a close finisher for the top spot on this list, Terms of Endearment. Schmidt gets the call on this one though because of the broad look that it gives the state. In the film, Schmidt takes off on a tour of Nebraska after he retires from his insurance job in Omaha and his wife passes away.

Iowa: Field of Dreams

Some might say that this spot belongs to The Bridges of Madison County, but there is no doubt in my mind that Field of Dreams does the best job of representing the people of Iowa and the possibility of imagination that this state offers on its best days.

Kansas: Capote

Philip Seymour Hoffman took home an Oscar for best actor based on his performance in this re-examination of the forces that motivated, influenced, and inspired Truman Capote to write his bestselling "True Crime" novel. Many of the scenes that depict Kansas were actually shot in Manitoba, Canada, but they still seem to get at the heart of what it feels like during winter here.

Colorado: Dumb and Dumber

No question here. This film portrays the best part of the state in all its glory, showing off the slopes, the plains, and the beautiful mountain resort towns. This one does have some competition though. Die Hard 2 was filmed in the old Denver Airport and City Slickers was filmed in Durango. At the end of the day you have to pick Dumb and Dumber because so many of the really funny and lasting humor from the film deals directly with the local setting.

Missouri: The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford

This one wasn't technically filmed in Missouri, but Alberta, Canada stands in nicely. It was set in Mizzou, around what would today be called the greater Kansas City area. Kansas City, St. Joseph, Kearney, and Platte City all feature prominently in this story of the old west as it began to grow up and reign in the lawlessness that threatened the development of the rule of law in our nation. I just think that this film is beautiful, and the story it tells is so interesting that I couldn't look away.
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23 August 2009

Missing Review

There will be no review of Inglourious Basterds.

The film will be detailed in an essay that I am writing titled: The Ethics of Holocaust Art: Basterds, Defiance, and Valkyrie, Three Holocaust Films in Two Years.
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21 August 2009

Coming Up- August 22, 2009

This weekend I am looking forward to viewing the film I most looked forward to at the beginning of the summer.

The last Tarantino movie that I saw was Death Proof. This, along with with its double-feature guest, Planet Terror, provided an amazing amount entertainment. Pure Awesomeness.

Inglourious Basterds, also directed by Quentin Tarantino, has been promoted as at least the equal of Death Proof in terms of awesomeness production.

At the same time, there is another new release that seems to look a little bit interesting.

Post Grad may just be trying to take advantage of the recent recession business, but it seems to me to be the kind of story that has been ignored in a lot of ways. There have been multiple stories that tell the coming of age story from the male perspective, but few that tell the story in a seriously funny way from the female perspective.
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20 August 2009

Readers Respond-Five Favorite Films with Dr. James Brandon

Continuing with the back to school theme of this week, we have the 5 Favorite Films of a film professor.

He's a professor of theatre and speech at Hillsdale College. Along the way he has taught classes in the subjects of communication, speech, acting, directing, and film. He has directed and acted in multiple plays. He's an intellectual giant in his field, serving as an editorial board member of Ecumenica (formerly the Baylor Journal of Theatre and Performance), the Journal of Religion and Theatre,and associate editor of the Michigan Association of Theatre and Speech Journal. He even took the time to teach me a thing or two while I was in college. He's Dr. James Brandon, and these are his 5 favorite films.


Kubrick’s most controversial and uncompromising film is a beautiful and disturbing rendition of Burgess’ novel highlighted with a bravura performance by Malcolm McDowell. Featuring one of the most stylish dystopian societies ever put on film, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE skillfully encourages the viewer to both think like a teenage hooligan and learn what it means to mature in a harsh world. Renowned for its striking visuals and jarring use of familiar music, it is impossible to pick out just one defining moment in the film; but certainly Beethoven’s works and "Singing in the Rain" will never be the same.


Capra’s boisterous adaptation of the stage play strikes exactly the right tone for dark comedy. Cary Grant gives one of his best performances in this absurdly wonderful and instantly endearing film. The rapid fire dialogue and physical timing of the actors help this film to stand out in what was a great decade for American comedies.

3. FALLING DOWN (1993)

An Expressionistic and perfectly-crafted Greek tragedy set in modern day Los Angeles that follows unemployed weapons engineer Michael Douglas on an angry rampage towards his notion of “home”. Robert Duvall provides a great foil as a police detective serving his last day on the job , and there are also sublime performances by both Barbara Hershey and Rachel Ticotin. Arguably Schumacher’s best film, FALLING DOWN truly provides a cathartic experience the eloquently captures the zeitgeist of the early 1990s.

2. BRAT (BROTHER) (1997)

The signature film for both Aleksey Balabanov and Post-Soviet Russian cinema, BRAT is minutely crafted look into the staggering societal changes endured by the Russian people after the fall of the Soviet Union. Sergei Bodrov Jr.’s epic journey as a returning soldier who becomes a gangster has just the right amount of violence, philosophy, angst and betrayal, all beautifully -filmed in St. Petersburg as it makes the transition into a brave new (capitalist) world.

1. RAN (1985)

Even in a Top 5 list, it is difficult to include only one film by
Kurosawa, but his adaptation of Shakespeare’s KING LEAR into a feudal Japanese context shows the director at his epic best. Heart rending betrayal and political intrigues abound as three sons battle it out for their doddering father’s kingdom. Kurosawa’s exquisitely-staged battles, extensive use of vibrant colors, and careful mix of epic and minimalist moments make this an unforgettable and moving film, and perhaps the best adaptation of Shakespeare in the history of the cinema.
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18 August 2009

Contrarian Critics

I don't really think that I am a contrarian critic. Apparently though, it is possible to be one. Whenever I write a review, I do honestly try to achieve the standard I described in the mission statement of this site. You can read it by clicking the 'about' link to the right.

Usually when I do pan a film, I try to point to several concrete examples of things that are just terrible. This summer, there have been several of those.
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Listless Tuesdays: Top 5 Back to School Movies

Its about that time.

5. The Karate Kid-

Back to school has everything to do with new. Fitting into a new place with new people one step closer to the real world. Very few movies tap into that feeling like The Karate Kid. Bullies, parents that don't understand, its all there in this one. Unfortunately, this one has too many moments of extreme ridiculousness. My personal favorite comes after the principle character has had his bike stolen and believes that martial arts is his only method of recourse. In this moment of crisis the karate kid shrieks to his mother his deepest wish, "I need to know karate!!!!"

4. The School of Rock-

Maybe it's a stretch, but this one perfectly compliments Karate Kid. Besides the period of change, back to school also has a lot to with challenges and the possibility of becoming a new and exciting person. School of Rock incorporates this theme to its zenith from the perspective of the rock and roll kids in the class and also from Jack Black in his roll as the reformed teacher making good.

3. Lucas-

I will be the first to say that I don't really understand the direction that David Seltzer was going with this one. Lucas, a freshman without many social skills, is hardly lovable. He stalks that poor girl. You just can't forget about him though because he is such a loser. This film only does two things well. First, it does a great job of portraying multiple sides of the same character types. Jeremy Piven and Charlie Sheen are both football players, but they treat Lucas in entirely different ways. This film also provides one of the greatest examples of emotional manipulation. The viewer has just sat in horror while the 100 lb. title character without his helmet is mauled in a high school football game. Immediately after, a slow clap is raised for this same character by Charlie Sheen as Lucas pulls a letter jacket out of his locker. In this way it is a perfect high school movie, depicting the extremes of what a person is willing to give up in order to achieve status among peers.

2. Back To School-

First of all , the comedy is great, these jokes all have a lot of setup, and the payoff is usually worth it. Rodney Dangerfield leads the way in this one with his usual brand of "If your so smart how come you ain't rich?" type of humor, but it is usual college environment seen from the perspective of a guy who, unlike Socrates, is wise because he does know. Two scenes really make this one- the scene with the yelling history teacher, and the stuff with Kurt Vonnegut, "Hey Kurt, can you read lips?". Really an underrated film in the entire scope of 80's comedies and obviously the piece upon which Van Wilder was modeled.

1. Mean Girls-

This one covers all of the same issues as Karate Kid, but instead of karate, screams about needing makeup and boyfriends. All joking aside, Mean Girls engages all of the ingredients for back to school films that are mentioned in the other films on this list. Its funny and topical, while both the students and the teachers play interesting characters. The troubles of fitting in, and the possibilities/challenges are given relatively equal import. Maybe not a classic in the Criterion Collection mold, but nonetheless, it tells a humorous story that people will remember.
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16 August 2009

Son of Rambow

URBAN: A touching film full of youthful imagination.

In this British film two boys come together despite their family situations to create a brilliantly unique film.

URBAN: This film is vastly superior to Be Kind Rewind, another 2008 film release with similar content, if for no other reason than it is set in the proper time period.

As much as I can't believe that director Jennings was able to pull these performances out of so many child actors, the basis for this outstanding production is simply the art of imagination.

Will fills his notebooks and his Bible (he belongs to a strict Christian sect, more on that later) with sketches and drawings that illustrate a lively life of the mind. After his captive viewing of the Rambo movie, First Blood, his lively imagination gives birth to an amazing interpretation that he aptly titles- "Son of Rambow"

His content is given form by his bullying and troublemaking best friend Lee. Lee uses his older brother's camera while supplying the direction for the inspiration along with the technical know-how.

You see, Will belongs to an extremely conservative sect of a denomination known as the Plymouth Brethren. He isn't allowed to watch any television, even if it is only a documentary in his 5th grade class. His cohort Lee is from the other side of the tracks. While he may be considered wealthy, his parents have almost no participation in his life. His older brother pays him almost no attention, even though his brother's friends constantly bully the younger Lee.

The tension between these two and their families as they attempt to make this film between classes. The other source of tension comes from the other kids at the prep school that the two go to. French exchange students have arrived and the coolest one of them all sees the possibilities and attempts to become involved in the filming as a star actor.

Will is startstruck. Lee is jealous. It almost all falls apart. What results is one of the most moving portrayals of friendship, family, and creation that I have seen in quite a while. It isn't a perfect film, but its depiction of the creation of imperfect film comes awfully close.

URBAN: Recommended
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15 August 2009

The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard

URBAN: A story with really funny characters. The attempt at making a story kind of gets in the way.

Jeremy Piven heads up a great cast of funny people in a film from the people who brought you Talladega Nights and Step Brothers.

If you want to see a funny and crude comedy in the same vein as Old School, Anchorman, and The Hangover, then this will be a great film for you for two reasons-

A: Most of the jokes from the previews occur in the first 10 minutes (there is plenty of other funny stuff).

B: There are as many strip club visits as there are great cameos.

This is a conventional film in many ways. It places a character with a set of odd quirks in a unique profession. After the audience has observed the character interacting in his profession a crisis in introduced which separates the character from his profession. You can probably guess what happens from there.

Within this conventional storyline the film is able to hit on a number of jokes and well placed references to other works. Ving Rhames character has a great crack when referring to a scene from Total Recall, and Piven as Don Ready can't help but remind me of Ari Gold when he refers to his female co-worker as "Babs". The one time I even noticed the camera work is during the climactic sale and does an excellent job of depicting the isolation that car buyers sometimes refer to as they are drawn into the persuasive powers of a salesman. Of course, I'm definitely setting the bar low. Aside from clever allusion, avoiding obvious goofs is about all you can ask for in a formula film like this.

At the end of the day, if you are looking for laughs, you will get them from this film. It is full of the politically incorrect and perverse, and manages to do so without really having any redeeming characteristics. In that way it is kind of like the "Used Car Blowout" people that it depicts. Whatever you leave with won't be with you for very long, but you feel like you got your money's worth.

URBAN: Recommended, but only for the few reasons listed above.
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13 August 2009

Readers Respond: Top 5 Films With Alex Harner

When I asked him about his profile he told me that he wanted it to include the fact that he liked "stories and pictures". He possesses one of the most eclectic minds you could ever find. Right now he shows it off as an architectural graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis. He's Alex Harner and these are his 5 Favorite Films.

5. Raising Arizona

Though it might not be the Coen Brothers’ best movie, it’s my favorite. Like Judd Apatow’s recent hits, Raising Arizona is a comedy that manages to be both funny and heartfelt at the same time. Despite the absurdity of the plot, there’s a genuinely human quality to the characters that keeps everything feeling important. Also, the narration is top notch. I think voice-overs take a lot of flack because they’re easy to do poorly. Raising Arizona shows that, with strong writing, the voiceover only makes a good movie better.

4. Barry Lyndon

Yeah…it’s Kubrick…so yeah…it’s pretty much formally perfect. That said, the art major in me can’t help but love a film wherein every scene looks like an 18th century painting. Also, there’s plenty of dueling and bastardry…if you’re into those kinds of things.

3. The Incredibles

I’m not sure I can sum up the brilliance of The Incredibles with just a few sentences. Blanket statement: it’s everything right about animation. On a more personal level, however, every time I watch The Incredibles, I feel like an eight year old at recess. That’s got to count for something.

2. Seven Samurai

I like to think of Seven Samurai as the great grandfather of action/adventure movies. As Luke already noted, it’s the one that started it all. While I won’t say Kurosawa invented the character archetypes that show up in Seven Samurai, I think he deserves crediting for first realizing them in film. Everyone since has simply followed suit. And when are samurai not awesome?

1. City of God

I’m especially fond of any fiction that can run the full gamut of human emotions. Really, that’s what great fiction does. Rather than making us feel one thing, it makes us feel everything, and in so doing reminds us that being human is actually pretty damn cool. I like to think that each of the films on my list provides a full plate of human experience, but I can’t think of any film that does it better than City of God. Humor, tragedy, horror, redemption…City of God does it all and does it all well. And it looks lovely in the process.
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07 August 2009

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra

URBAN: Completely over the top. Not quality, but somewhat entertaining.

Stephen Sommers directs this loud, wild, and fast paced battle that never ends.

URBAN: Unlike some of the other ridiculous action films of this summer, Transformers-with its soldiers engaged in the war on terror in Iraq and Wolverine-with its references to the Vietnam Conflict, this film makes no attempt to claim it has a connection with the real world. For that, it is almost refreshing, especially since this film is so ridiculously over-the-top.

The characters are the most obvious lack of real world connection. All of the characters are amazingly able to survive the calamities that befall the myriad of stooges on both sides of the conflict. One of them is able to leap over flying vehicles and another can avoid death even after he ejects from an airplane that has escaped the earth's atmosphere.

Weaponry also plays a part in identifying this world from the real one. Here, there is a type of funnel force field weapon that sounds like a weapon fired by the Geonosis characters on Star Wars: Battlefront. As you might expect, there are also multiple jets and tunneling machines that confound the imagination. Most confounding of all, is the underwater base that Cobra uses. Actually, the most confounding thing is the physics that exist during the battle around the sea base. People are afraid of ice sinking and crushing the base. Subs hit by rockets spin off as if they were in space. It really does seem like another planet.

Also, I know that several other reviews have mentioned the sound level being a little extreme. I know this sounds like an old person thing to say, but the sound levels were ridiculously loud. While I would like to think this was some sort of rookie mistake, Per Hallberg and Karen Baker, the credited sound editors, have both won academy awards for work in action/war films before. Hopefully, this isn't a signal of things to come.

The story is bare there,, and the flashbacks intended to explain it are even worse. I was laughing out loud at many of these, especially the ones of young storm shadow, who is the same kid who plays the drug lord on Tropic Thunder.

Most infuriating about this film-the characters aren't American. GI Joe is no longer the Real American Hero, although all of the characters still speak English.

Despite this long list of what is wrong with the film, I would still say it is better than Wolverine: Origins and Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen. It manages to do so by completely ignoring reality and focusing on creating a world of superheroes that fight against each other with James Bond technology and change identity with the ease of Mission Impossible face masks. With pure action and awesomeness such as this,,, you know that they would set themselves up well for a sequel.

I guess that if you lower your expectations, this film would be alright. I just imagined that this story would be able to convey so much more.

URBAN: Not Recommended
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