31 July 2009

Flashback Friday-Michael Clayton

From now on there will be a new feature called Flashback Friday. It will include a review, or a short piece on a film from the recent past that didn't get reviewed on this site or possibly even another look at a film that was reviewed here and how the experience of the film has changed.

Michael Clayton-

This one is going to be short. Michael Clayton wants to be The Insider, Thank You For Smoking, and Changing Lanes at the same time. This ultra morality tale about the immorality of lawyers???? it doesn't make for a very interesting movie. Seriously,,,,, I wanted to like it, but it was very boring. George Clooney was the only bright spot. Am I wrong about this? Usually I like these kind of dramas, but this one seemed too disjointed, too reliant on the father son relationships--between Michael Clayton and his son, and also between Clayton and his own father-figure. It seemed contrived and I actually cringed when I heard Clooney repeat the line, "I am Shiva the God of Death"-----melodramatic.

I don't know, I usually don't just completely pan a film because I don't like it just out of respect for all of the work that was put into it, and in this case,,,, the academy nominations and wins at the Oscars. It just seemed too drawn out.

Also, enough with the putting the end at the beginning. Seriously?
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28 July 2009

Listless Tuesdays: Top 5 Adam Sandler Films

In order to recognize Adam Sandler's participation in this week's Funny People (that I am really looking forward to), we are going to go ahead and name the Top 5 Adam Sandler films.

5. Punch Drunk Love-

Sandler's first attempt at serious acting on a wide scale. Sandler took his time and picked a good script with a great director (Paul Thomas Anderson) to launch his attempt to break the mold of comedies that he was in. It worked out in ways that few would have predicted as Sandler went on to gain a number of awards for his performance. This film is also a wonderful take on the characters that Sandler often plays,,, especially in the top two films on this list.

4. Airheads-

In this film, Sandler plays Pip the pool cleaner, who is also the drummer in The Lone Rangers. While not the best vehicle for Adam Sandler, this is still a great movie that takes advantage of the persona that would eventually comprise the Billy Madison character.

3. Spanglish-

Probably my favorite serious acting performance by Sandler. This film seems to be full of real people and it does a good job of trying to tell a multicultural story in the heart of the region that depends on it the most. One of the few Sandler films that actually deals with pain and you can't help but feel that his performance is the primary influence that really brings it home to the viewer.

2. Happy Gilmore-

What can you say about this one. It is very funny, the characters are memorable, and the action is frantic. There are too many memorable parts in this one to count. I can't believe that so many good actors were able to find ways to be funny in a relatively simple film.

1. Billy Madison-

To be completely honest, there are parts in the first half of this film that I find so annoying that I almost can't stand it. There are other parts that are simply comedic genius. The line after his teacher tells the story of the puppy and the exchange between Madison and the bus driver (Chris Farley) are some of the funniest things that I have ever seen. This film is completely lowbrow, but it is also the film that gained Sandler his first following and will probably stay relevant and funny for quite some time.
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26 July 2009

The Ugly Truth

Gerard Butler and Katherine Heigl star in this ultra-formulaic romantic comedy about a seemingly mismatched pair that realize they are perfect for each other after an hour and half on screen.

URBAN: The funniest part of this film was the preview for the upcoming film Old Dogs.

The basic story of the film is that Gerard Butler plays a misogynistic exterior with a secret heart of gold who tells the ugly truth about what both sexes really want. Katherine Heigl plays a blond version of Charlotte from Sex And The City. They both work for a morning television show that attempts to deviate from a Good Morning America with a more edgy format.

Of course, the two don't hit if off so well, but after Butler helps her to get a date with the man of her dreams, Heigl becomes much more open to life's possibilities and possibility that her idealistic view of the world may be incorrect. Butler effects a similar change on the staff of the show, revitalizing a marriage with his open and frank discussion of sex and gender roles.

Of course, before long Heigl and Butler have fallen for each other. The only obstacle to their relationship is the blossoming one that he helped create for his coworker. This crisis is narrowly averted as Heigl realizes that she has become a different person, per Butler's advice, in order to win the heart of the dashing gentleman. It is hard for the viewer to realize this though. Other than the hair extensions, the change really doesn't come through.

The film has a fundamental fallacy that I just couldn't overlook. The ugly truth that Butler constantly refers to in the film is that relationships just aren't worth it. Love is an unrealistic goal that should be replaced by lust. In the end though, this bit of advice is ignored and replaced by the true love he feels for Heigl. I never really believed him anyway.

As you can probably see, the film isn't believable. The most fake scene of all is an attempt to evoke the famous orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally. Clearly, the director attempts to mute the performance. It was surprising to me that this was the scene in a rated-R comedy that the director chose to pull punches. I guess that the ugly truth in this case was just too much to handle.

URBAN: Not Recommended
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25 July 2009

Summer Of The Limited Release

Last Year, there were only a few limited release films that I was unable to see because of my geography. Mongol, a 2007 film made the rounds last summer, and I eventually was able to view it in Cleveland while on vacation. Son Of Rambow was another that I was looking forward to, but it never came to a theater in my region.

This summer is even more of the same, with In The Loop, The Hurt Locker, and 500 Days of Summer, all as limited release pictures.

It begs the question: Why have all of the best reviewed films this summer not been given a wide release?

The answer of course, is economics. Film studios license certain films for a run specific geographic areas. They do this because in most cases, these films were made for less money and the studios don't want to spend a lot of money to distribute a film that may only have earning potential in major markets. In some cases, after a film has made enough to cover the cost of its production, it is then given a wide release. This is usually only done when studio executives believe that the film has garnered enough attention to earn a major profit. The best example of this, is probably last year's Slumdog Millionaire.

Luckily, 500 Days of Summer will be in Kansas City next week. The Hurt Locker just got here after nearly a month in an even smaller list of select cities. Hopefully, the rest of the great films this summer will be given a wider release at some point or make enough money to be given the full treatment in every theater in America.
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23 July 2009

Observe And Report

I watched and wrote this review a few months ago, but didn't exactly know how or what, to think and write about it. The themes of the film are so convoluted, that any review is likewise unorganized.

This movie isn’t very funny. It is more than a little frightening though. The basic premise is simple. Seth Rogen is Ronny, a security guard (chief of mall security) who takes his job way too seriously. He lusts after a girl who works at the department store makeup counter (Anna Faris). The mall is plagued by a streaker.

I will be the first to admit that I didn’t really ‘get’ this movie, if there is a giant joke looming in the background. I have this sneaking suspicion though, that there isn’t a joke at all. Even if there was, the plot is flimsy, the characters aren’t endearing, and the only real drama comes from a perceived conflict in Ronny’s mind between himself and the real cops. The thing is, Ronny is literally crazy. About halfway through the film the viewer realizes that Ronny has stopped taking the medication for his bi-polar syndrome. The rest of the zaniness that would normally pass for laughs loses its punch. I hardly even want to touch on the issue of date-rape, which is trampled over and (just) barely avoided in this film.

I guess the real reason that I could not understand this movie is the disparate images and themes that the film refers to.

What do Red, Hot, American Summer, Jerry Maguire, Fight Club, and Dazed And Confused have in common? Thematically, nothing. What they do have in common is that all of these films have scenes that are replicated in detail by Director Jody Hill during Observe and Report. The first of these scenes takes place near the end of the film when Ronny first faces the fact that most of the issues are really in his mind. As a result, we see him and another mall security guard going on a drug fueled rampage, ending with Ronny watching as his friend injects heroin into his arm in a bathroom stall (RHAM). Near the end, Hill attempts to conjure three different images from three very different films the final scene of impending doom set to the Trixies’ “Where’s My Mind” (Fight Club), the line “fuck you, fuck you, fuck every one of you” (spoken by O’Bannion in Dazed And Confused), and the raise your hand in triumph even though you are confronted by a large group of people who want you to leave (Jerry Maguire).

See what I mean, these film references, like the rest of the film, doesn't have any coherency.

The only thing this film does have going for it is excellent fight choreography. Unlike many recent superhero films (The Watchmen immediately comes to mind), the fight scenes in this film pull no punches. Ronny fights off a large group of policemen with a maglight and the viewer gets to see it all. No jerky cameras that look away and definitely no too short cuts that confuse. Every swing is catalogued and even looks a little bit messy, like one would expect a real brawl to look like.

Urban: Not Recommended

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21 July 2009

Listless Tuesdays: 5 Most Quotable Films

Listless Tuesdays-Top 5 Most Quotable Films

One of the things that I noticed making this list, was that there were several films that came because of great quotations, although when I tried, I realized I couldn’t really remember that many of them because they were too long. Fight Club was specifically one of these films, full of great lines, but too long to remember. American Psycho definitely fits into this description as well.

5. Snatch-

When you have an amateur boxing promoter with an eye for the obvious, a gangster with a penchant for dictionary definitions, and a gypsy boxer with an almost unintelligible accent, you have Snatch. Guy Ritchie does his best to copy Quentin Tarantino and this is his best attempt. The storylines are intertwined, a la Pulp Fiction, and all of the characters have tons of attitude. Memorable and very funny.
“How long for those sausages, Turkish?”
“Two minutes”
“It was two minutes, five minutes ago!”

4. Pulp Fiction-

Every line that Jules has in this film is quotable. His conversations with Vincet are among the greatest of all time. I can never get over how incensed that Jules is when he asks for his wallet and Ringo doesn’t know which one to grab. “It’s the one that says Bad Motherfucker!”
Personally, the best quotations in this film are supplied by the Wolf.
“That’s about 30 minutes away. I’ll be there in 10”

3. Blue Velvet-

While this film doesn’t have the volume of quotables found in Snatch or Pulp Fiction, it more than makes up for it with forcefulness. Nearly all the quotable lines in the film are supplied by the legendary Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper). This film is completely bizarre and the quotations are amazing.
“You know what a love letter from me is????? It’s a bullet from a fucking gun”
It also has the greatest quotation having to do with beer.
“Heineken!!!!!! Fuck that shit!!!!! Pabst Blue Ribbon!!!!!”

2. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy-

This film is amazing because it takes a world and parlance that is completely foreign to us and it never lets down. Burgundy’s cronies all have great lines but it is the legend himself that makes this great.
“My apartment is full of leather-bound books. It smells of rich mahogany.”

1. The Big Lebowski-

The dude, Walter, Donny, the Big Lebowski, Brent, Bunny, the Nihilists, Jackie Treehorn, Jesus, all of the cops, the limo driver, the taxi driver, the brother seamus, and even Maude. Every single person has a hilarious line in this film.
“Fucking Nazi’s”
“Were they Nazi’s?
“Come on, Donny, they were threatening castration. Are we going to split hairs here?”
“No, they were Nihilists, they said they believed in nothing.”
“Nihilists, well fuck me. Say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, at least its an ethos.”

I had to end it there, because the very next line, “And a, keeping a, amphibious rodent…. that aint legal either” just leads into another great quotation.
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19 July 2009

Summer Blockbuster Update

Most Disappointing film of the summer thus far?

URBAN: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

I agree that it is sometimes nice to watch a movie that is less engaging, but this film goes entirely in the opposite direction. I just hope that one of the adventure movies this summer comes close to the success achieved in Ironman/Dark Knight last summer. I'm afraid that GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra is going to be a joke.

Best Film of the summer thus far?

Star Trek

Star Trek was good. The story, characters and action were interesting and fun, but it was too dependent on time travel and its paradoxes while avoiding serious themes that are required for a film to make a lasting impression.

In an odd way, I believe that it is going to be the films that aren't blockbusters. The Hangover impressed and 500 Days of Summer has been reviewed really well and I am really looking forward to Funny People. I don't quite know what to make of the upcoming District 9, which is produced by Peter Jackson. The advertising so far has caused ambivalence. On one hand, it looks Verhoevenish and counter-culture. On the other hand, the aliens seem really corny. Who knows?
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17 July 2009

Listless Tuesdays: Top 5 Golf Movies

In a tribute to the British Open and summer, this week's list is going to be released a little bit later than a Tuesday. It was interesting in compiling this list to note how many were comedies.

5. Caddyshack II-

What can I say? There aren't that many golf movies.

4. The Legend of Bagger Vance-

Directed by Robert Redford it is a unique film that perfectly demonstrates "The Thing and the Other Thing" school of storytelling. It was based on a book by Steven Pressfield, best known for his atrocious novel Gates of Fire. One of the really great things about this film is actually the soundtrack which is filled with some really great entries from early 1930's jazz.

3. Caddyshack-

This one really doesn't need an explanation. Harold Ramis hits this one out of the park in one of the funniest and dirtiest movies of the period. The Baby Ruth in the pool, the playing through scene, and Bill Murray's attempts to catch the moles are all hilarious.

2. Happy Gilmore-

A lot of people will look at the rise in popularity that golf achieved at the end of the 90's and give all of the credit to Tiger Woods. While this is surely true, I think that both golf and Tiger benefited from the popularity of this Adam Sandler vehicle. This film also started the trend of sports comedies that feature a prominent actor in an individual sport (as opposed to a team), which has been taken to the limit by Will Ferrell. Adam Sandler went on a nice little run of funny movies that were named after the lead character.

1. Tin Cup-

One of the finest Kevin Costner films. You have to love the "going for it" mentality. I don't know why, but to me,the combination of the comeback story and the fact that Costner really nails his roles in sports movies makes this highly inspirational fare.
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14 July 2009

The 400 Blows

Truffaut's The 400 Blows is a cinematic experience. The story revolves around the tale of Antoine Doinel and his life as an adolescent in the city of Paris during the 1950's. The story owes a lot to Salinger as Antoine faces difficulty with discipline at home and at school.

Truffaut is said to be one of the originators of French "New Wave" Cinema, along with Jean Luc-Godard. These two are also credited with ownership of the "auteur" theory of film criticism. With these things in mind, The 400 Blows is obviously a film that focuses more on the telling of the story, than the story itself.

By this comment, I mean to say that the story, while brilliantly rendered, functions primarily as a vehicle for the filmmaker to demonstrate his ability to render beautiful shot compositions that are also technically sound, organically place allusions, and also to stretch the limits of cinema style from the period.

The film is shot beautifully. The film's credits roll along with a rolling shot of the city of Paris. Throughout the film, Truffaut attempts to display beautiful subjects, from Antoine's mother, to the brilliant architecture of Paris, in their natural poses. As a native of these things would be used to viewing them. To do so, instead of simply profiling these subjects, he portrays them at work, in the natural hustle and bustle of everyday life. Usually these shots are long tracking shots from a crane, following an individual or small group as they progress through the streets toward a destination, stopping to interact or accomplish tasks along the way.

The film is also full of allusions. Truffaut, in interviews from the period mentions his love affair with all types of cinema, and watching this film is also an object lesson. The most striking allusion that I picked up was the nearly constant framing of the city's neon lights, framing most, but not all of the letters in the picture, and then panning back slightly to include most,,, but still not all of the neon sign. The same practice is done in Citizen Kane, most notably on the sign above the lounge where Susan Alexander is interviewed. The scenes within the apartment all bear a strong resemblance to Hollywood versions of stage plays. A Streetcar Named Desire is obviously a strong influence here. On top of these "classic" film references, Truffaut pushes his allusions even further, into areas not usually referenced in serious film. Many of the scenes, especially those in the classroom, refer as far back as the silent film era with the slapstick jokes and pranks of children. These jokes, the less than covert passing of notes and grabbing of another's objects, do not require words. In fact, these jokes are never told with words within the film. They are just there, as slight gags, allusions to a past that is clearly present. The most notable and best example of this technique is done as the gym teacher leads the children on a run through the streets. As he moves from street to street a few children bleed off to cut class at every turn. By the time he realizes what is happening, only a few children remain.

As much as this film is built upon the tradition of past filmmakers, the film is quite significantly an example of French New Wave cinema. To begin, the last two scenes of the film radically depart from the linear storytelling of most of the film. Antoine's running is filmed from a moving platform that is moving at the same pace. The shot lasts 1:18 and it does an excellent job of depicting the long life of running that Antoine faces. The other ending scene that is a dramatic departure from cinema of the period is the ending. Instead of the "Hollywood" ending, complete with loving embrace and smile, Antoine looks from the surf with a look of complete realization of his past/position/future. The film ends there.

The 400 Blows is a film that was initially considered controversial because of the subject matter. The film openly discusses adultery, abortion, and abusive authority/child reform. Even more, it does not shy away from relating the possible ramifications of these subjects upon children. Today, however, the film has become notable because of the way that this story was told. By fully participating in the past and then pushing the boundaries recently explored Truffaut was able to participate in his vision of film auteur, rendering cinematic beauty along the way.
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11 July 2009


Sacha Baron Cohen returns to play the second of his personalities, Bruno- a gay, Austrian, fashionista who leaves for America in an attempt to achieve fame after a career-ending mistake forced him off of his Australian television show.

URBAN: A tour of the United States with another Sacha Baron Cohen creation.

If you liked Borat, then you will like this one as well. The humor is the same. Many of the jokes are of the same nature. The humor is a little less biting, but the big operatic ending to this story is even farther over the top.

At its worst, Borat was simply funny in a completely offensive way. At its best, it played this amazing joke on American consciousness, forcing us to question if we are who we say we are. On a stranger note, viewers had to contend with an unquestionable glee regarding the discomfort of those on the screen. This film goes even further, punking with a glee, and this time the target is not only the anonymous, but is able to get a number of big time celebrities as well.

Cohen's jokes do not only focus on gay jokes,,, although visual humor of the sort is definitely the staple. Questions of fame, parenthood, marriage, and migrant furniture create situations that bring back the biting humor and social satire that typifies Borat/Bruno/Ali G at his best.

For the finale (its not exactly the end of the movie, but it should be), Bruno seems to have mastered his homosexuality. As an effort to communicate this he hosts a UFC fight night, complete with octagon cage, barbed wire, and screaming redneck fans. The result is completely over the top and is the single moment in the film which will polarize viewers. It is able to do sot to, because many people who go to this film will see themselves as the characters on the screen.
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Public Enemies

Michael Mann directs this gangster-era throwback with his trademarked style. He also makes good use of his star power which is supplied in great volume by Johnny Depp and Christian Bale.

URBAN: Public Enemies was on my list as one of the films that I was most looking forward to this summer and I have to say that this is one that didn't disappoint-however-it doesn't overwhelm either.

In all of his films-Michael Mann, most well known for his work on the Miami Vice television series, has created a distinct cinematic signature. Lots of shots of guys riding in boats with the wind blowing through their hair. Lots of quick shots of dark interiors, serious people giving each other serious, but telling looks. And lots and lots of scenes shot at night that combine both of the above against neon lights. This style made Collateral a really cool and underrated film. This same combination taken to the extreme made a really cool looking but unintelligible story on the film version of Miami Vice. This same style really doesn't translate well to the 1930's.

For one thing, most of the action takes place in the bleakest parts of Indiana or in the wilds of Wisconsin. Not exactly the cool neon/noir places that take advantage of Mann's style. Prohibition Chicago is the focal point of the film, but the only scenes that really play up the glitz are the final scenes near the movie theater.

Johnny Depp has a lot of charisma, playing John Dillinger pretty straight. It was an odd choice, for an actor who has become famous for putting outrageous spins on the characters that he plays. He makes it work by focusing on the parts of Dillinger that appeal to the audience (moviegoers and bank goers alike). He does so by playing all the time as Dillinger supposedly was in public-image conscious and highly professional. Christian Bale comes across as a convincing lawman who not only wants to succeed, but also to do so in the right way. In other reviews, I have read that some were impressed by Billy Crudup's sendup of Jay Edgar Hoover, and his radio ready voice from the era. I felt that it was forced and seemed out of place considering that most of his speeches were with only one listener or while talking on the phone.

In my summer preview I mentioned that I loved films like this, where the ending is never in doubt, because it allows the filmmaker and the viewer to focus on the telling of the story, rather than the story itself. This film, in its second half, does an impressive job of tightening the moral framework. From here, Dillinger is not only the smooth criminal, but also clearly devoted to his girlfriend and keeping his promises. At the same time, it is apparent that his attention and devotion primarily cause pain in the lives of those with whom he associates. This apparent contradiction comes alive for the viewer as well when the FBI declares its "war on crime". Clearly, the public (and moviegoers) would like to end crime, but what lengths would we be willing to go to eradicate it? In the film, the attention and increased devotion of law enforcement eventually completes its goal of catching the public enemies. This same attention and devotion lead to many accidental deaths and interrogation techniques that are difficult to accept. It forces one to ask the question of whether or not the achievement of the goal is worth it.

Director Mann has created an interesting and entertaining film that is built from a solid foundation of epic characters and great actors. His film takes on serious ethical concerns as well as asking questions regarding the nature of fame in this country. He does all of this while maintaining his very individual signature. Unfortunately, the film does not do an excellent job of combining these two elements. Ultimately, I think that the film does a great job of telling the story and grabbing the attention of viewers, but fails in that its style would be best fitted in a different time,,, or at least a different place during that time. The quick moving camera, suffused with multiple shots and quite a bit of hand-held work would be much better fitted to flashy documentary or a crime/heist film with an ensemble cast. The style and substance do not match. The result is that the viewer is left wanting more. It feels like something is missing. This style of filming is made for individuals walking through dark clubs, members of a team getting ready to make the move they have been planning the whole movie, fight off a last attack. None of these things happen. Instead, these characters face down the effects of their actions and the hero of the film.... he dies ignominiously, not in a hail of gunfire breaking out of prison, but by being shot in the head as he leaves the cinema.

URBAN: Recommended
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01 July 2009

Readers Respond: 5 Favorite Films with Matt Balach

Readers Respond-5 Favorite Films with Matt Balach

You may know him from the TV show, "Fixing Cars With Matt Balach". He's an executive officer in the United States Army and a beast in the weightroom. It's Matt Balach and these are his 5 favorite films.

5. Star Wars IV: A New Hope

This film started the franchise. It's fun, easily the most fun movie in this series. Not over ethically indulgent as some of the others, very light hearted, and none of the scenes seem forced upon you.

4. Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan

This is a real step for the Star Trek series as it is the first film where one of the major characters dies. Ricardo Montalban is a great enemy that is actually a little bit frightening. The subplot about Will Shatner getting old is extremely interesting and Kirstie Alley is hot! I also just love it when Chekov says "Wessels"

3. The Godfather

"I'm a very powerful man". Need I say more? The montage scene here is probably the greatest I have ever seen. Quotes, I love the quotes in this movie. When Santucchi drives out to kill Paulie, "Leave the gun. Take the Cannoli."

2. Tombstone

"You'll have to excuse me if I don't shake hands". Very topical considering the swine flu epidemic. It's better than Wyatt Earp, another film about the gunslinger. It's a great mix of violence with a thoughtful story. Oh yeah, Dana Delany is hot!

1. Pulp Fiction

Do I have to say anything about this one? Most quotable movie ever, especially the apartment scene. Quentin Tarantino is my favorite director and it revived the career of John Travolta.
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