Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Science of Sleep (finally)

I know, I've been promising this one all week and it's just in time as the movie has now expanded to more theaters. Michel Gondry's follow up to "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is an attempt to outdo himself. "The Science of Sleep" is even more bizarre, but unlike that film, its protagonist is far more optimistic.
Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal) is the host of a television his dreams. We see much of the film through Stephane's imagination and the great thing about these sequences is that everything we see looks imagined. He's his own band, running from the piano to the drum set, all in front of a camera made of cardboard. In reality, Stephane has just recently moved in with his mother in Paris. She's gotten him a job at a calendar manufacturer, promising him plenty of opportunities to create his unique brand of art. When he arrives however he quickly discovers that his job is to simply slap the pre-made calendars together. Still he pitches "Disasterology" (a calendar which features a different horrific disater that's happened in every month) to his new boss. It's a very awkward (and therefore very funny) scene that of course ends in rejection. Back in his building he meets Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her friend Zoe (Emma de Caunes). It doesn't take long for Stephane to discover that he and Stephanie have a lot in common when it comes to creativity. The rest of the film involves Stephane's attempts to win Stephanie's heart in the only way he knows how: with his imagination.
Gondry's film, much like Stephane, is full of heart and imagination, and it has some of the most inventive moments I've seen on film in a long while (the One-Second Time Machine and the cardboard car are hilarious standouts). It also features some wonderful animation sequences that recall "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" (and there's nothing wrong with that). But as the line between what's real and what's imagined becomes more and more blurred, "Science" becomes maddening. Granted, that's part of the point, but I was left to wonder if Gondry himself even knew where he was. This could be the sort of thing that a second viewing would illuminate, but the first time around I was feeling pretty lost near the end. This is most likely due to Gondry's script. With "Eternal Sunshine" (scripted by Charlie Kaufman) there was a sense that you always knew where you were, no matter how many bizarre places you went at a sometimes rapid speed. "Science" is a much more muddled film and were it not for the incredible performance of Bernal it would likely have come apart at the seams in its final half hour.
"The Science of Sleep" has notable flaws, but it is a very good film. With a script by Kaufman it could have been a great one. 7.5/10

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"Flyboys" and "Confetti"

There aren't nearly enough movies made about World War I. There have been some very good ones in recent years ("A Very Long Engagement," "Joyeux Noel"), some masterpieces for the ages ("The Grand Illusion," "Lawrence of Arabia"), and even a TV comedy classic ("Blackadder Goes Forth") on the subject. But it's still a war that's been given the cinematic short shrift, especially when it comes to aviation. It was the first war to ever be fought in the sky yet few films about the air war come to mind. There's "Wings" (the first ever Best Picture winner), but that was a silent from 1927. Then in 1930 Howard Hughes released "Hell's Angels" with aerial sequences that are still enthralling to look at today. But after that there's pretty much just been "The Blue Max" (which I still haven't seen- sorry Mike) and whatever movie Peter O'Toole's character was filming in "The Stunt Man."
So when I heard about "Flyboys" I got very excited. I became even more excited when I heard it was to star James Franco (he was on "Freaks and Geeks" thus making him automatically awesome) and Jean Reno (he was the star of "Leon" a.k.a. "The Professional" thus making HIM automatically awesome). I really wanted to like this movie. Director Tony Bill could have gone two ways with this: 1) Make a serious war film, or 2) make a throwback to war movies of the forties and fifties. Either way he could have made a great movie. Instead he made one that's somewhere in the middle and just doesn't click the way it should.
It's based on the true story of the Lafayette Escadrille, a squadron comprised of American pilots fighting on the side of the French before Woodrow Wilson decided to commit to the fray. Franco's character, Blaine Rawlings, is a man in his twenties with nothing to stay home for outside of a possible arrest. When he arrives in France he's assigned with a group of men who embody virtually every war movie stereotype: the rich snob, the black guy who no one takes seriously at first except for the main character, the religious guy who the other guys constantly kid, etc. Now obviously these sorts of people are involved in any war and were probably a part of the real Escadrille. However, the script never makes these people characters. They just end up being broad stereotypes. The actors try but other than Martin Henderson ("The Ring"), as a disillusioned veteran pilot (the one fully developed character in the film), and the criminally underused Reno, they have little success.
There are things in "Flyboys" that work. The air combat sequences are well executed, but it's just a shame that there is such a reliance on CGI. The sequence involving a dirigible (officially tied with "mustachioed" for greatest word in the English language) is especially exciting, and there are some fun bits here and there.
Overall I was let down by "Flyboys" but I've definitely heard compelling arguments for it from a number of people (Mike for instance). So while I don't recommend it, I certainly won't try to talk you out of seeing it if you desire to. And maybe it's one that I should give another look sometime. For now though I'm giving it 5.5/10.

I also saw "Confetti" a couple of nights ago. It's an unscripted mockumentary about three couples in a contest to plan the "Most Original Wedding of the Year." (Think "Best in Show" but with grooms instead of grooming.) It's not hilarious but I was smiling an awful lot. Martin Freeman (Tim from BBC's "The Office," Arthur Dent in "Hitchhiker's Guide") proves once again that there is no one better at earning an audience's sympathy as a put upon Englishman, and there is a lot to enjoy here. It's only in limited release right now and will probably be gone very fast. If you miss it, catch it on DVD. In the meantime, watch "This is Spinal Tap" again, because it will always be the greatest unscripted mockumentary ever made. 7/10 for "Confetti."

I saw "The Science of Sleep" recently as well. I promise I'll do a write up on that in the next day or two.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

We want the finest wines available to humanity. We want them HERE and we want them NOW!

As anyone who knows me well could tell you, I rate "Withnail and I" not only to be the funniest and possibly greatest film ever made, but also to be one of the greatest achievements in the history of civilization, right along side the pyramids, the Great Wall of China, and the dirigible. Most of you have never even heard of it, or if you have it's from me endlessly plugging it, quoting it, or otherwise singing its praises. The film (made in 1986) centers on two out of work actors in 1969 London, Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and a man known in the credits only as "I" (Paul McGann). In desperate search of an escape from their filthy apartment, they borrow Withnail's uncle Monty's cottage in the country and from there things only get worse. That in essence is the entire plot of "Withnail and I." But when the dialogue and performances are so perfect, and when the characters are so fully realized, plot really doesn't matter. It's almost impossible to find on a rental shelf, but Netflix has it. But this film has such a high re-watchability that you'll just want to go ahead and buy it. Here is a very interesting article from "The Independent":

"Withnail and I" Twenty Years On

Monday, September 25, 2006

Sean Penn, You're on Notice.

I got myself to a few movies this weekend (“Flyboys” and “The Science of Sleep”) among them and I’ve still got a few more to see, but I’m doing this review by itself because it is a bit long. So without “further Apu,” here is my look at one film in particular, that had a powerful impact on me.

All the King’s Men- Overacted, overwritten, and overwrought, Steven Zaillian’s remake of 1949’s Best Picture winner is a cinematic train-wreck.
Willie Stark (Sean Penn) is a simple man from a small town in rural Louisiana and he’s running for governor. He’s going to help the poor working man whether those with money and influence (the kind of people who are using him as a patsy) like it or not. Of course once he gets elected, life gets decidedly more complicated.
This film has got more problems than Marissa Cooper and Lana Lang combined. It all begins of course, with Zaillian himself, whose utterly “important film” script no doubt appealed to the vanity of a pretty stellar cast, but most notably to the vanity of Penn both as an actor and an activist. Penn’s performance is unforgivable. Actually to call it a performance would be an insult to performers everywhere, including monkeys with crash cymbals. It’s an utterly shameless, scenery-chewing (and stomach churning) display. There’s really only one word for it: Oscarbaition. I could almost, mayyyyybe let him off the hook slightly if he hadn’t already won for “Mystic River” (which he was genuinely great in). But he did. So I won’t.
Jude Law, God bless him, is absolutely powerless in his attempt to save this mess of a movie from itself. His second failed attempt at a southern accent aside (the first being “Cold Mountain”), he tries to give “Men” back a shred of dignity, but there’s nothing he can do. (And I say this as a big Jude Law fan.) Anthony Hopkins is fine in a small role, though he makes no attempt at not only a southern accent, but at any accent found anywhere on this continent. Of course given the rest of the cast’s lack of success, he probably made a wise decision. But wait, he’s still in “All the King’s Men,” so he couldn’t have been that wise after all.
The problems don’t end there either, oh no. James Horner’s attempt to give the film gravitas with a “sweeping” score only makes matters worse, along with Zaillian’s nonsensical choice to move the story out of the Great Depression and into the ‘50s. Willie Stark has no place here. Also, he goes from good to evil the instant he gets elected. In a story like this that transition has got to be a natural progression, not the flick of a switch. And ultimately there is absolutely no compelling reason for Law’s character, Jack Burden, to be so dedicated to Stark. Zaillian attempts to explain it (in a line included in the trailer) because Jack himself can’t even figure out why. Stark tells him, “Jack, you work fer me, ‘cause I’m da way dat I am, and you da way dat you are, and dat’s jus an arrangement found in da natu-al order a things.” Alright. Thanks for clearing that up.
One of the worst films I’ve seen in a long time, made all the worse by its belief in its own importance. 2.5/10

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

You have no excuse to not be watching this show.

It's very rare that advertisements actually capture the spirit of a TV show, particularly if it's a so-called "teen drama." Then again, "Veronica Mars" is hardly your average TV show. The people at ComiCon got this one right. The quality's poor but when the content is this good, who cares?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

"The Black Dahlia" and "The Last Kiss"

Got to both of these this weekend, so here we go:

The Black Dahlia- First off, I'll just point out that Justin LOVES Brian De Palma. (Justin has actually posted here. He's the one who finally got the NPR link to work on the latest "Idiocracy" story.) From "Sisters" to "Dressed to Kill" he's seen and loved pretty much all of them and I'm hoping I can get him to post his thoughts on the movie here as well. As for me, I haven't seen as many of De Palma's films but I have seen a good number of them, and I'm a big fan of "Blow Out" and "Femme Fatale." I knew that De Palma doing a screen version of a James Ellroy novel (he wrote the novel "L.A. Confidential" which subsequently became one of my favorite movies of all-time) would make for a film drenched in style. In that respect "Dahlia" does not disappoint. Josh Hartnett's narration goes a long way toward making that work as well. He seems right at home in a detective noir.
Hartnett's character, Dwight Bleichert and his partner, Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart), are known in the L.A. police department as Mr. Ice and Mr. Fire, their nicknames in the boxing ring. On the streets they get the job done (often brutally), and off them they're inseperable, with Lee's girl Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson) always at their side. Life is great, until the afternoon Bleichert and Blanchard discover the mutilated remains of struggling actress Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner, who we see in flashbacks and film reels). Solving Short's murder becomes an obsession, particularly for Blanchard, who loses his grip on his entire world. Meanwhile, Bleichert's investigation leads him to one of many so-called "Dahlia look-a-likes," Madeleine Linscott (Hilary Swank, who incidentally looks nothing like Mia Kirshner). Shortly after, Bleichert meets her family in a scene shot in first person. This is followed by a hilariously uncomfortable dinner scene in which her mother (Fiona Shaw) has a theatrically psychotic episode.
"The Black Dahlia" has many admirable qualities, not least of which is De Palma's willingness to make a kind of movie in a kind of way that directors just don't make anymore. He's not afraid to let his characters walk and talk the way they did in the films of the forties. Big credit to the actors as well for their willingness to play them that way. Hartnett hasn't been this good since "The Virgin Suicides," and between this, "Thank You For Smoking," and "Conversations with Other Women," 2006 is quietly becoming the year of Aaron Eckhart. He gives the film's best performance. There are also some outstanding sequences, one involving stairs and people falling to their deaths in slow motion (De Palma staples!).
Ultimately though, "The Black Dahlia" has a lot of problems. First off, it gets very convoluted (apparently a few important plot points present in the novel were excised for time), and the nearer it gets to the end, the more it seems to be slipping out of De Palma's fingers. It never gets away from him completely, but he just doesn't have the same kind of command over the narrative that Curtis Hanson had over "L.A. Confidential," or even that he himself had over "Femme Fatale." Also, Scarlett Johansson just seems to pop up periodically, when it seems that her character is probably more significant to the story than her screen time would indicate. And every time someone mentioned how much Madeleine looks like Betty Short (which is constantly) it just brought me back to what I said earlier. Hilary Swank looks absolutely NOTHING like Mia Kirshner. Seriously, not even close. All in all, it's a decent movie, but one that doesn't connect the way it should. It's definitely worth watching (De Palma's always interesting if nothing else), but if you've gotta choose only one unsolved L.A. murder mystery right now, I recommend seeing "Hollywoodland" instead. 6.5/10

The Last Kiss- Michael (Zach Braff) is 29 years old. He's been with Jenna (Jacinda Barrett) for several years and she's ten weeks pregnant. She wants to get married, but Michael says he won't do it until she can name three couples they know who'd been together for more than five years. All she can come up with are her unstable parents Stephen and Anna (Tom Wilkinson and Blythe Danner) and the ducks in the pond near their home. Every couple around them seems to be falling apart. Anna leaves Stephen in an attempt to prove a point to him, and their friend Izzy (Michael Weston) seems wrecked beyond repair after his recent breakup. Meanwhile, Michael's friend Chris (Casey Affleck) sees his angry wife holding their child and asks, "How long am I supposed to put up with this?" When the still faithful Chris finally tells her he's tired of being villified by her, her immediate response is a bilious, "Who is she?!" Michael fears that this will be he and Jenna's future, while she just seems to assume that they are bullet proof.
At a friend's wedding, Michael meets young college student Kim (Rachel Bilson). She all but throws herself at him and it doesn't take him too long to go after her. What follows is a series of events so painful to watch we know that we are definitely not watching "Garden State 2." "Garden State" (written and directed by Braff and my favorite film of 2004) was about a 26 year old man finally finding something good in his life (while this is about a 29 year old man sabotaging everything good in his). While it was often sad, it was a film brimming with optimism. That is in short supply in this screenplay by Paul Haggis ("Million Dollar Baby," "Crash") based on an Italian film that admittedly I haven't seen. We really see the ugliness of these people. At their worst the women in this film are psychotic and self-righteous, the men too self-involved and afraid of committing to anyone that they don't realize they have something good until they've destroyed it. In other words, it's just like real life.
Whether the responsibility relies with the screenplay or with Tony Goldwyn's direction, "The Last Kiss" is problematic because Michael and Jenna's story, while being the main plot, is actually not as interesting as the subplots which are never explored as much as they ought to be. Wilkinson and Danner are so outstanding that I really wish the movie had been about their struggle. However, even due to the lack of exploration, we still come to like all of these characters, even though we see their ugliness so thoroughly. Even as we watch Michael systematically destroying his life, we still can't bring ourselves to hate him. Braff has the ability to make us like him even as we despise what we see him doing to Jenna, their child, and to Kim who's too young to know any better. Bilson gives a fine performance, playing a character miles from Summer Roberts.
"The Last Kiss" is often quite depressing and several moments will leave you squirming in your seat, but that's exactly what Haggis and Goldwyn are going for. The score by Michael Penn is understated but great and any movie whose soundtrack includes Snow Patrol, Coldplay, and most especially Aimee Mann is automatically good. It's good, but don't expect to be walking out with a "Garden State" sized smile on your face. 7.5/10

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Everything Is Illuminated

I know this movie came out a year ago but you probably haven't seen it. Here's the trailer for one of the best movies of the Oughts, or any decade for that matter:

New Charlie Kaufman Script

The writer who brought us "Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation," and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is about to blow us all away again from the sound of it. Between this, Wes Anderson's "Darjeeling Limited," and Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" it sounds like there are going to be some incredible movies to look forward to next year. This from the "Los Angeles Times":

Scriptland: Reading Charlie Kaufman's Next Project
Eternally expanding his art, the writer's "Synecdoche, New York" is personally epic.
By Jay A. Fernandez, Special to The Times
September 13, 2006

I have the new Charlie Kaufman screenplay on my desk.

I've read it — no, lived it. I've been moved and astounded by it. And I'm tortured by the dilemma of what I should or should not say about it here. I feel a bit like Frodo palming the One Ring.

The last two weeks have been a grueling cacophony of real and imagined voices — other journalists, producers, publicists, Kaufman, myself — trying to convince me either of my righteousness as a journalist or of my complicity in possibly hurting one of the greatest screenwriters in history, a man with a craving for privacy as singular and passionate as his creative vision.

Kaufman is widely and justifiably considered the most inventive screenwriter in Hollywood. He was nominated for an Oscar for both "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation," and finally won one (along with Michel Gondry and Pierre Bismuth) for "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."

On a personal and professional level, I thought reading his latest script would bring me great joy. Charlie Kaufman is that rare artist who expands the possibilities of his art form. His work is designed to be experienced more than read or seen. His filmed screenplays become beautifully melancholy windows into some of life's most indescribable (and unavoidable) emotions.

But many people, beginning with Kaufman, do not want me to have the script, do not want me to read the script, and without question do not want me to write anything about the script. Words like "super-sensitive," "invasive" and "freaked" have been cautiously leveled at me as I've reached out to those involved with the project to get their thoughts on it.

And what a project. Ambitious doesn't even begin to describe the sublime and scary head-trip that is "Synecdoche, New York." For one thing, the marketers are going to have to borrow from the P.T. Anderson "Magnolia" poster campaign, in which the title was broken out syllabically, just to get people to pronounce the film properly. (It's sin-neck-duh-key, emphasis on the neck.)

For all those who aren't AP English professors, a "synecdoche," other than a clever play on Schenectady, where some of the film takes place, is a figure of speech in which a part is used to describe the whole or the whole is used to describe a part (think "threads" for clothes, or "the law" for a police officer). It's representative shorthand.

Yes, I had to look it up. Several times. And this is far from the only reference or play on words in Kaufman's story that rewards a closer look.

"Synecdoche" nominally concerns a theater director who thinks he's dying, and how that shapes his interactions with the world, his art and the women in his life. But it is really a wrenching, searching, metaphysical epic that somehow manages to be universal in an extremely personal way. It's about death and sex and the vomit-, poop-, urine- and blood-smeared mess that life becomes physiologically, emotionally and spiritually (Page 1 features a 4-year-old girl having her butt wiped). It reliably contains Kaufman's wondrous visual inventions, complicated characters, idiosyncratic conversations and delightful plot designs, but its collective impact will kick the wind out of you.

Spike Jonze, who directed Kaufman's scripts for "Malkovich" and "Adaptation," was once destined to helm this new project, but eventually opted for the Dave Eggers co-scripted "Where the Wild Things Are," now shooting in Melbourne, Australia. This left Kaufman, who's always been deeply involved with the making of his screenplays, to direct it himself. He's currently finalizing casting deals with an eye toward filming next spring.

If this film gets made in any way that resembles what's on the page — and with the writer himself directing, it will likely gain even more color and potency in the translation — it will be some kind of miracle. "Synecdoche" will make "Adaptation" and "Eternal Sunshine" look like instructional industrial films. No one has ever written a screenplay like this. It's questionable whether cinema is even capable of handling the thematic, tonal and narrative weight of a story this ambitious.

But, as one character says, "People starve for something of worth." Well, moviegoers will surely be gorging on the power and depth of this film for a long time.

Meanwhile, I feel terribly sick to my stomach.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Just because I miss this show.

Ahhh, "Freaks and Geeks" we miss you still.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Vaseline on the Lens!

The ORIGINAL, unmolested by the hand of George Lucas and his digital goofery editions of the "Star Wars" trilogy were finally released on DVD today. Sadly, they're non-anamorphic (meaning on an HDTV you can either have gray space on the sides or stretch out the picture slightly) and the sound mix is only 2.0. The good news is, they look a lot better than I thought they would given that LucasFilm did absolutely nothing to clean them up (the transfer is taken directly from the 1993 laserdisc release). Having popped them all in it actually looks like "Jedi" is the worst looking one oddly enough. Well I could go on and on about "Star Wars" and George Lucas screwing us over every chance he gets, but I'm just not in the mood right now.
I'll just say this: Vaseline on the lens, quick entry into Mos Eisley, Han capping Greedo, no Jabba tail squishing, no screaming Luke, no pansy Australian voicing Boba Fett, "You're lucky you don't taste very good," the Sy Snoodles Band, Sebastian Shaw, and the Ewok Song...amongst other things. Finally I leave you with this. These are REAL improvements:

More "Idiocracy" News

This From NPR

Monday, September 11, 2006

New "Flags of Our Fathers" trailer.

This movie's going to be incredible. They never forgot what they were up against, and neither can we.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Seedy Underbelly

No, it's not the name of a new nightclub...

Factotum- Henry Chinaski (Matt Dillon) is a writer. He's not published yet, and as he puts it, he's "not ready for a novel." While he writes his short stories to submit to magazines, he takes jobs at places like auto shops and pickle factories. He lives in squalor, usually with a woman he's just met. And through it all, he drinks. A lot. He never stays at any one job for long, usually getting fired while sitting on a bar stool. But Henry doesn't care. These jobs mean nothing to him.
Based on the novel by Charles Bukowski, Bent Hamer's film is bleak, but funny, and ultimately uplifting in an odd sort of way. Henry knows what he wants from life and he's going for it. Dillon's performance is outstanding. We see all of Henry's most despicable traits and yet we like him anyway. His constant job jumping has also made him a master of the interview, and we see him enjoying himself early on in the film as he explains to his future boss that his book is about "everything."
"Is it about cancer?"
"Is it about my wife?"
"She's in there too," Henry replies dryly.
I've only read a tiny bit of Bukowski (a few chapters of Post Office), but it seems like Hamer pretty much got it right, right down to Lili Taylor ("High Fidelity") as Henry's most stable and supportive "girlfriend," Jan. One night as Henry gets home, he tells her he "got canned" on his first day. When he remembers that he hasn't gotten his check yet she assertively tells him, "You almost worked a full day, they owe you a wage." She's truly proud of him.
It's not cheerful, but "Factotum" is very good. It's a bit hard to find, but if it's near you it's worth checking out. In Seattle it's currently playing at the Egyptian. 8.5/10

Hollywoodland- I'll just say it right up front. Ben Affleck is great in this. Yes, I'm serious. Yes, that Ben Affleck.
The question of whether the death of George Reeves (the original TV Superman) was suicide or homicide has never been sufficiently answered, and Allen Coulter's film (with a very good screenplay by Paul Bernbaum) doesn't try to answer it for us. What it proposes is many possibilities, all with a good amount of credibility.
The film opens with detectives discovering the body of Reeves and it's ruled a suicide almost instantly. The only person who seems convinced that someone else pulled the trigger is his mother (Lois Smith, "Twister"). She enlists private detective Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) to try and make her case, though her motives are not entirely clear. Initially Simo only seems interested in the money, but as he starts to dig, he comes to believe that someone else was behind the death of Superman. From here, Simo's investigation is intercut with the story of Reeves himself, shown in flashback.
We meet the struggling young actor at a Hollywood party where he meets Toni (Diane Lane), a glamourous woman who's only too happy to talk to Reeves. The next morning he realizes that she's Toni Mannix, wife of MGM head Edgar Mannix (Bob Hoskins). She explains that her husband has a mistress of his own and won't mind at all. This leads to a bizarre dinner scene in which we see the two couples dining out together. When Toni tells her husband that George's first job was a small role in "Gone with the Wind," he simply says, "That picture made money."
The performances are all great. Brody gives Simo a just the right mixture of swagger and vulnerability. He's a guy who will keep pushing your buttons with a sly smile on his face, even though he knows he'll get a punch in the gut (or worse) for it. Lane's Toni is sad. She's a kept woman who enjoys keeping George for her own. Her slow and steady emotional descent is never overplayed. Hoskins is always great, and he brings a ruthless edge to his role.
The real surprise is Affleck, who finally proves that he has true talent after all. I get the feeling that he may be drawing from his own experience here, as Reeves was never taken seriously as an actor after landing the role of Superman. His Reeves is a thoroughly likeable man who wants to be offered genuinely good work. He takes "Superman" because he needs the money, and reluctantly becomes an icon. The film's best moment comes when he's sitting at lunch with Toni and his agent (Jeffrey DeMunn in a fine supporting turn) and notices a group of adoring children outside the window. The look on Affleck's face as he notices them is priceless.
In the end, "Hollywoodland" isn't a film about answers but about questions and the importance of raising them. Simo's relentless search for the truth doesn't yield the results he's looking for, but he does get people to question what they were told. Happily, "Hollywoodland" is in wide release and very easy to find. 8/10

Movies to rent, in case you missed 'em:
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang- 10/10
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story- 9/10
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada- 9/10

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Where's the Comedy? Part II- The Final Season of "Scrubs"

This really sucks. But to all those who want to shout "David Caruso!" I have two words: George Clooney. Zach'll be just fine. I am REALLY gonna miss this show though when it's gone. Just one more season of the Todd :(.
This from "San Francisco Gate":

Zach Braff loves making movies so much, he's going to quit his role in "Scrubs" to concentrate on his film career.

Braff, who plays Dr. John "JD" Dorian in the TV comedy, realized his future lies on the big screen after the success of "Garden State," which he wrote, directed and starred in.

He tells Premiere magazine, "My guess is that this will be my last season (on 'Scrubs').

"Whether or not they continue without me, I don't know.

"I have had this amazing run on the show and I love it and I'm so grateful, but I want to make movies full time."

Bob again. In addition to this I found something much cooler from presumably the same interview. I hope this works out:

"The one person I want right now is David Cross. I wanted David Cross to come on as Tobias Funke. I'm trying to broker that deal, with Mitch's (Mitchell Hurwitz) approval. I want David to come on as Tobias I love that character, and the fact that character is over for good, I want him to at least have one more little life."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Where's the Comedy?

The new fall TV season has already begun. "House" returns tonight, followed by the series premiere of "Standoff," starring Ron Livingston which automatically makes it at least watchable. I've taken a look at the new fall lineup and while some shows look good ("Heroes," "Studio 60," "Shark"), I'm wondering where are the comedies?
For the past several years people have been lamenting the so-called "death of the sitcom." I for one have seen a rejuvenation of it. When "Scrubs" premiered in 2001 it was like a breath of fresh air. Two years later "Arrested Development" came on and it became basically my favorite TV show ever (after "Freaks and Geeks"). But now the Bluths live only on DVD and NBC has relegated "Scrubs" to coming back as a mid-season replacement. Their treatment of the show is absolutely disgusting. To their credit, yes, it's still on the air, but where is the glowing advertising that they've given to "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office," the only two good sitcoms coming back this fall? If the sitcom is dying, it's because network executives have been smothering them with a pillow.
What is appalling is that of the five broadcast networks, only two of them have really given imaginative sitcoms a chance, Fox and NBC. However, Fox has an itchy trigger finger and a bunch of 14 year old girls heading their marketing department, so shows such as "Arrested" and the much-missed "Action" never had a chance of lasting very long. NBC meanwhile allows "Scrubs" to exist while doing a poor job of marketing it, but their pride in "Earl" and "The Office" suggests that somebody over there is trying to champion good television. Still, I always have to cry foul when they praise "The Office" for being "original." It's a RE-MAKE, and of a very very recent show at that. (As much as I love our version, the Britcom was funnier.)
Meanwhile, ABC and CBS still think that sitcoms should be shot on three basic sets with a laugh track. That used to work at the advent of television because those old sitcoms had the sense of being on stage. It was like watching a play broadcast into your living room. Why, fifty years later, do they still think that that's the way to do it? It doesn't work anymore. "Seinfeld" was the last of the great "laugh track" sitcoms. What made that show great though was that it defied the convention that sitcom characters had to be nice. True, Archie Bunker had been a bigot twenty years earlier, but on "Seinfeld" they were all self-absorbed jerks. It was comic genius. UPN and WB didn't really do anything for sitcoms (aside from maybe "Everybody Hates Chris," which admittedly I still haven't seen), and it appears that CW's going to continue that tradition. (Thank God they have "Veronica Mars" and "Smallville.")
So what hope does television comedy really have? Comedy Central has "Reno 911!" which may not be quite as good as it used to be, but is still uproariously funny. FX has the laugh-out-loud funny "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," which has been accurately described as "'Seinfeld' on crack." Then there's the current webcom "Nobody's Watching" has a shot at being picked up by NBC later this year. The pilot shot for WB was never aired but has become an absolute smash on YouTube. The concept? It's about two guys who love sitcoms but find the current crop of them to be severely lacking. That alone makes it better than 95 percent of what passes for TV comedy. It's network comedy's next real hope. It'll be smart, original, and genuinely funny. Don't be surprised when it gets trounced in the ratings by "According to Jim."

Monday, September 04, 2006

Give us "Idiocracy" now!

Here's an absolutely glowing review of the movie that Fox doesn't want us to know exists. This makes their treatment of "Arrested Development" seem downright hospitable.

Is It Just An Illusion, or Can You Trust the Man?

I know, I know...I'm so clever. So after the non-stop insanity that was "Crank," I decided to slow things down a little.

The Illusionist- Writer-director Neil Burger's adaptation of Steven Millhauser's short-story "Eisenheim the Illusionist" is an elegant film with a story worthy of the title character. Eisenheim (Edward Norton) is a magician in late-19th century Vienna. The details of his young life (told in flashback by Paul Giamatti's Chief Inspector Uhl) are questionable, but befitting of a man whose objective is to entertain while keeping secrets. Burger manages the same feat. He maintains a sense that he is telling us a story through his use of style (there is a haziness to the look of the film) and his deliberate pacing. It doesn't move too fast or too slow and his steady hand guides it along just right. The performances (some mediocre accents aside) are also very good. Norton maintains the right air of mystery while making Eisenheim personable and charismatic. It's believable that Uhl comes to like Eisenheim as much as he does, even while keeping a close and suspicious eye on him. Uhl's employer, Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell, "A Knight's Tale," who gives the film's best performance), is enraged at Eisenheim's closeness to Sophie (the surprisingly good Jessica Biel). Eisenheim will not be deterred however, and gets even closer to her.
In addition to its enjoyable and engrossing mystery, "The Illusionist" also boasts a stunning set design that never calls attention to itself. Burger balances style and substance beautifully here. Not bad for only his second movie. 8.5/10

Trust the Man- Tom and Rebecca (David Duchovny and Julianne Moore) are a long-married couple who've lost their spark. He's the thoroughly bored househusband to her successful Broadway actress. The only real fun he seems to have in his life is with his best friend and her brother (Billy Crudup, "Almost Famous") , the wise-cracking Tobey. Tobey's been in a relationship of seven years with Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal). She wants marriage and kids. He wants to watch bowling and maintain his perfect street parking spot. Meanwhile, Tom begins pursuing an affair with the divorced mother of one of his son's classmates.
While the story and themes are nothing new, writer-director Bart Freundlich (Moore's husband) manages to do what most romantic-comedies forget to do, namely make it funny. It's very well cast too. There are a few false notes, but for the most part the performances are very good. Particularly good is Crudup, a bona-fide movie star if he really wants to be.
The outcome is rarely in doubt, but Freundlich and the cast make it enjoyable getting there. The end of the film is a bit disorienting because of it takes on an entirely different tone from the rest of the picture. Still, it's funny enough that it doesn't make "Trust the Man" come crashing down. All in all, a good time. Also of note are Garry Shandling and Bob Balaban in small roles. 7/10

Here's a look at what else is still out there right now:
Crank- 8/10
Beerfest- 4/10
Conversations with Other Women- 8/10
Idlewild- 6/10
Accepted- 5.5/10
Snakes on a Plane- 4/10
World Trade Center- 8/10 (revised score)
The Descent- 7/10
Talladega Nights- 8/10
Little Miss Sunshine- 9/10

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Greatest Motion Picture Event of All-Time

YES! "Crank" is that incredible. It's like "Casablanca," "Lawrence of Arabia," "Gone with the Wind," and "Pootie Tang" all rolled into one.

Okay, so maybe that's not the literal truth, but this movie's pretty awesome.

Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) has just been injected with a Chinese formula which slows down his adrenaline. He has about one hour to live, unless he can keep moving at a break neck pace. This is all the plot that co-writer-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor give us, and ya know somethin', that's all we need. What follows is a fast-moving (for obvious reasons) film full of insane action and a lot of humor. Yes, it's over the top and ridiculous, and I loved every minute of it! From the very first frame I couldn't stop grinning. The really great thing about "Crank" is that the action sequences are genuinely exciting and imaginative and the humor is genuinely funny. You never feel like you've seen this before. And I may just have to reconsider my stance on Clint Eastwood being the Baddest Man Alive. Jason Statham is serious competition. Forget The Rock, forget Jet Li, Statham is the First Name In Action For the Oughts. He's able to sell this thing like nobody's business.
I don't really want to give anything away 'cause hey, I want you to be surprised, and yes, you will actually be surprised by some things in this movie. Also, TV fans keep an eye out for Glenn Howerton ("It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia") and Francis Capra ("Veronica Mars"). Their appearances are brief but like everything else in this movie they made me a good way.
"Crank" is everything that "Snakes on a Plane" wasn't. If you want to have some fun on your Labor Day weekend, forget football, leave the barbecue in the shed, and go see "Crank." 8/10

Peter Howell asks if we really need another "Indy."

As anyone who knows me well could tell you (or if you start to read this blog with regularity you will come to know) I HATE George Lucas. I'll give you a full rant soon to coincide with the upcoming release of the original cuts of the "Star Wars" trilogy on DVD (FINALLY!). Looks like ol' George wants to do to "Indiana Jones" what he did to "Star Wars," i.e., ruin it. This from the "Toronto Star":

Do we really need another Indy?
Aug. 25, 2006. 06:55 AM

You would think a movie buff like George Lucas would know what a MacGuffin is. The mullah of the megaplexes is quoted in the current Empire magazine explaining how he hatched a fourth Indiana Jones movie, an idea he's managed to sell to his co-conspirators Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford. But his brainwave is puzzling, to say the least, because he doesn't seem to know what he's talking about. "I discovered a MacGuffin," Lucas told Empire. "I told the guys about it and they were a little dubious about it, but it's the best one we've ever found ... Unfortunately, it was a little too `connected' for the others. They were afraid of what the critics would think. They said, `Can't we do it with a different MacGuffin? Can't we do this?' and I said `No.' So we pottered around with that for a couple of years. "And then Harrison really wanted to do it and Steve said, `Okay,' I said, `We'll have to go back to that original MacGuffin and take out the offending parts of it and we'll still use that area of the supernatural to deal with it'." If by MacGuffin he means the Ark of the Covenant, the all-powerful Christian artifact sought by Ford's whip-cracker Indiana Jones and his Nazi nemesis in 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark, he's way off base. A MacGuffin, as defined by its chief practitioner Alfred Hitchcock, is an item sought by characters in a movie that isn't essential to the plot. The mysterious briefcase in Pulp Fiction is frequently cited as a bona fide MacGuffin. The Ark was anything but non-essential to the first Indy flick, especially if you recall the events of the final reel. And what does Lucas mean by "taking out the offending parts of it?" Is he referring to the Ark's essential religious aspect? Is he planning another misfire like The Phantom Menace, in which the quasi-religious Force from his original Star Wars trilogy was reduced to blood organisms called midichlorians? Do his movies now have to be completely secular? He doesn't say what he has in mind, other than to drop the further disturbing news that Indy IV will be a lot like his reviled first Star Wars prequel. "We're basically going to do The Phantom Menace. People's expectations are way higher than you can deliver. You could just get killed for the whole thing ... We would do it for fun and just take the hit with the critics and the fans ... But nobody wants to get into it unless they are really happy with it." Earth to Lucas: Why not just make a good movie? Better yet, why bother making Indy IV at all?

That's the consensus of many commentators on Jeffrey Wells's Hollywood Elsewhere blog, who joined his call this week for someone to put the Indiana Jones franchise out of its misery. Said Wells: "Will someone good at subterfuge and pretend guises please slip into the development room —stealthily, like a panther — and while George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford aren't looking (or are out putting quarters in the street meters), pick up a pillow, lean over the crib and smother the Indy IV project until it's dead, dead ... deader than dead? With compassion, I mean." More than a few people have observed that Ford will be 65 next year, which is when Indy IV is supposed to begin filming. That will make him six years older than Sean Connery was in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which Ford swore then would be the final Indy flick. And Connery was playing Ford's dad in the movie. But Ford has been in a series of duds for most of the past decade, and he probably thinks he needs both the money and the attention that Indy IV will bring.