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.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Future events such as these will effect the future.

In response to Mike's futuristic transmission, here is more footage from...THE FUTURE!

"Cut, print, that was perfect!"

Charlie Wilson's War

Charlie Wilson. United States Congressman. When we first meet Charlie (Tom Hanks) he's not speaking in the House of Representatives standing up for the little guy, nor is he visiting his beloved Texas Second Congressional district. He's in a hot tub surrounded by strippers and drugs. Still, we see that he does take his job seriously, as he takes special interest in a news story on television about Afghanistan's war with the Soviet Union. In 1980, the Soviets were still strong and the Afghans had no weapons. Wanting to do something to help, Wilson raises the budget for covert ops from $5 million to $10 million. Upon assessing the situations in Afghanistan and Pakistan for himself however (and after a verbal lashing from Pakistani politicians who look at his budget increase as "a joke") Wilson knows something much more substantial must be done.
Wilson is a man of loose morals but his openness and honesty about everything (even his exploits) show that he is a man of character after all. He's going to help the covert ops team, led by Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), by any means he can. The fact that he comes from "the only congressional district that doesn't want anything" means that he can do a lot of things that a lot of congressmen couldn't. This includes getting "to vote yes a lot" and appropriating more funds for a covert war. He does this with the help of wealthy Texas socialite Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), a staunch anti-communist, and key congressman Doc Long (Ned Beatty). Together they get much needed weapons into the hands of the Afghans and play a key role in tearing down the Iron Curtain.
Based on a true story, "Charlie Wilson's War" tells a tale of people who didn't know of what was to come in Afghanistan. Writer Aaron Sorkin (of "West Wing" and "Studio 60" fame) delivers an incredibly sharp screenplay with some of the best dialogue of 2007 (which is saying something). Along with director Mike Nichols ("The Graduate") they keep things moving briskly along. The film is only 97 minutes but it doesn't feel too short. It could have been longer and it would have been fine, but Sorkin and Nichols say what they have to say, they say it well, and they get out. There's something to be said for that kind of brevity.
A typically bland performance from Julia Roberts aside (apparently somebody out there still believes she can act), this is an exceptionally well cast film. Hanks delivers a terrific performance as Wilson. So good actually that I now absolve him for "The Da Vinci Code." Amy Adams is great too as Wilson's administrative assistant Bonnie Bach. Her performance (along with a brief appearance by Emily Blunt) remind us that there are plenty of talented actresses out there who offer much more than Julia Roberts ever will. But performance wise this movie belongs to Philip Seymour Hoffman. His Avrakotos is a snarky, brilliant, and unlikely secret agent. Blessed with an ability to see through nonsense in all of its forms he's the one person in the film who sees disastrous potential in not finishing the job that they started in Afghanistan. Wilson being a very intelligent man comes to realize that Gust is probably right.
In an age when political movies beat the audience into submission with a message stick, "Charlie Wilson's War" is able to make a statement that is clear without being overbearing, and it's very very intelligent. A highly entertaining and enjoyable movie, there are a few truly chilling moments and reminders that when a commitment is made in the world, it must be followed through. 9/10.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sweeney Todd: The Dewey Cox Story

I saw two new releases over the weekend and now that the Christmas dust has settled I'm finally ready to sit down and write about them. One is an out and out musical while the other prominently features music throughout. I'll say this. They ain't "Singin' in the Rain."

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street- The sixth collaboration between director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp tells the tale of a barber named Benjamin Barker, whose peaceful life was taken from him by wicked Judge Turpin (the always great Alan Rickman). Turpin had Barker arrested while he swooped in and took Barker's wife and child for his own. Well over a decade later Barker emerged as Sweeney Todd, a man out for blood.
In the opening moments of the film, Sweeney seems a sympathetic character. He even shows his gratitude to Anthony, the young man who helped him get back to London. Upon arriving Sweeney meets Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), maker of "The Worst Pies in London." After a dazzling display of shaving skill in front of a group of onlookers, Sweeney opens up a shop above Mrs. Lovett's, offering "the closest shave you'll ever know." What follows is a series of brutal series of slashings. Sweeney's main objective is Judge Turpin, especially when he hears of his wife's death and his daughter Johanna being held captive. In the meantime though, any old throat will do. Sweeney becomes consumed by hate and soon he's no more sympathetic than Turpin. The victims meanwhile end up in Mrs. Lovett's pies, bringing her establishment a sudden new popularity.
The story of Sweeney Todd has been around for almost two centuries, but the most direct source for this film is Stephen Sondheim's 1979 stage musical. The songs (which make for most of the film's dialogue) are outstanding. This may not be a cast of born singers but they all sounded just fine to me. The look of the film is really amazing. London looks more drab and dire than I've seen on film before, which is a feat in itself. When we do see colors they play beautifully off of the pale complexions of the characters.
Several days after seeing it, I'm still having a hard time with "Sweeney Todd." Burton clearly presents much of this to us as dark comedy (just as Sondheim probably did), but it was difficult to laugh at random throat slashing. This seems an odd thing to quibble about for me, given my love of many dark comedies with similar themes. It may be that I was going into it expecting Sweeney to be more sympathetic. To their credit though, Burton and Depp don't try to soften things up for the moviegoing public. It actually makes Sweeney a more interesting character, because he has let his hate eat him alive. Maybe what makes "Sweeney Todd" a good film is the very thing that made me react to it the way I did. I think a second viewing will help. I'm not giving this a number rating purely because I don't know what I would give it. It is worth seeing for yourself though. I suppose that's endorsement enough.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story- The story of Dewey Cox is awfully similar to that of Johnny Cash. Or Ray Charles. With a bit of Brian Wilson thrown in. And don't forget the Bob Dylan. This is no accident. Writers Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan (who also directed) saw how similar the stories of famed musicians were when their lives were condensed to a two hour movie. The film they made is the first good spoof to come along in a long while. It helps that it didn't come from "two of the six screenwriters of 'Scary Movie.'"
As a young boy, Dewey's older brother Nate is a musical prodigy and the apple of their father's eye. Dewey and Nate go out to play one afternoon. As Nate puts it, "Nothing bad is going to happen today," which of course leads to Dewey accidentally chopping Nate in half with a machete. Instantly, Dewey becomes musically inclined so as to "become double-great for the both" of them. All Pa Cox (Raymond J. Barry) can say is, "Wrong kid died," which he does repeatedly.
We next see Dewey (John C. Reilly) at age 14, which is a great dig at casting actors in their forties to play high school students in biopics. The ups and downs of Dewey's life and career come fast and furious, along with the many children with his wife Edith (Kristen Wiig). Every key moment in Dewey's life is spelled out for the audience through dialogue which is a lot of the fun of "Walk Hard." And of course every one of Dewey's song titles comes from an argument he has with Edith.
Along the way Dewey gets addicted to every drug known to man (each time his drummer played by Tim Meadows tells him, "You don't want no part of this!") and he falls for backup singer Darlene Madison (Jenna Fischer). When he marries Darlene he's shocked to find that it's illegal to be married to two women at the same time. "What-What about if you're famous?" he sputters.
The jokes come fast...and "Walk Hard." Not all of them land but most of them do and when it comes to movie spoofs that's saying a lot. As for the cast, everyone is great here, Fischer and Meadows being especially impressive in the supporting cast. Reilly though has long been one of the best actors working in film. Having taken a wide range of roles in a wide range of films, he's shown that he is as versatile as they come. Finally, he has a leading role in a big Hollywood movie, and he absolutely shines.
The songs are very funny as well. Like Spinal Tap, Dewey seems to sound just like whatever is most in style at the moment. The funniest digs are at Brian Wilson ("I need more goat...and eighty didgeridoos!") and Bob Dylan ("You guys are idiots. This song is deep!"). "Walk Hard" is a very funny movie in spite of the pretty awful trailer that showed up this past summer. A lot of fun. 7.5/10.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

I've been watching many of my favorite Christmas movies and specials of late. "Lethal Weapon," "Die Hard," "It's a Wonderful Life," "Love Actually," "The Grinch" (the animated one with Boris Karloff- ya know, the good one), "Charlie Brown," and the final episode of "The Office" (UK). Tonight I finished up with "Joyeux Noel," which tells the story of the World War I truce of Christmas Eve 1914. One of my favorite films of the past few years, it actually often comes across as not being believable. But with "Joyeux Noel" this is a selling point. On that Christmas Eve, truth was stranger than fiction.
The story of these men laying down their arms and singing "Silent Night" is a true reminder of what Christmas is about. The birth of Christ brought enemies together. It reminded them of what was good in the face of death. So on the 93rd anniversary of one of the most remarkable events in human history, I post this video not only in tribute to those who fought in the Great War, but to those serving overseas right now, and really anyone anywhere who's away from home this Christmas. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and that you're reading this at home.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

"Atonement" and such.

Atonement- Already one of the most honored films of the year, Joe Wright's follow-up to "Pride and Prejudice" is precisely the sort of film that Academy and Golden Globe voters alike love to heap awards on. It's a period film about a romance torn apart by deception and war. They eat that stuff up ("Casablanca," "Gone With the Wind," "The English Patient," "Titanic"- no war, but it fits). If it's done right though, I eat it up too. So how good is "Atonement"? Very good as it turns out. But not quite great.
Dario Marianelli's score sets the tone. The furious sounds of clicking accompanied by piano introduce 13 year old Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) who has just finished writing her new play. She excitedly and seriously alerts the housekeepers, which include gardener Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), whom she has a crush on. Robbie's eyes however are on the more age appropriate Cecilia (Keira Knightley), Briony's older sister. The early scenes (set in 1935) have a cold intensity. Cecilia is unable to let on that she has feelings for Robbie due to her complete sense of superiority. Once this crumbles however, the two can't keep away from each other, breaking Briony's heart. After a misunderstanding in the dark, Briony accuses Robbie of raping a young girl. He is subsequently arrested and taken from Cecilia.
We meet these characters again in 1939. Robbie is now serving in the British army in the early days of WWII, while the now more grounded Cecilia is working as a nurse. Elsewhere, Briony is older (played by Romola Garai of "Amazing Grace") and struggling with her past actions, which she is only now beginning to understand. Like Cecilia, she is a nurse, doing her part for the British war effort. Robbie and Cecilia do have fleeting moments together, but it's not enough to repair what was taken from them four years before. Briony meanwhile begins to atone the only way she knows how, through writing.
"Atonement" is an amazingly great looking film. The cinematography by Seamus McGarvey is often breathtaking and he and Joe Wright pull off one of the best tracking shots I've ever seen. It's about all we see of the actual war in "Atonement" but it does the job. The performances are quite good. Knightley shows a side she hasn't really shown before, though I still prefer her in "Pride and Prejudice." McAvoy (the real reason "The Last King of Scotland" was so good) is great once again, bringing Robbie's anguish to life. It is Ronan as the young Briony however, who really shines. She plays the role as a girl who is both older than her years and yet completely naive.
What makes "Atonement" fall short of all the acclaim for me is that the emotional impact seemed muted. It often comes across as being just a bit too melodramatic and unlike "Casablanca" or "Gone with the Wind," the emotion doesn't quite match the spectacle. Though I suppose it's hard to fault a film for not being "Casablanca" or "Gone with the Wind," "Atonement" is, in the end, a very good movie that fancies itself a masterpiece. 8/10.

In other news, there was a little TV show I used to write and talk about every chance I could. It was called "Arrested Development," you may have heard of it. Well it turns out I wasn't the only one. This past Friday I was at Silver Platters at Northgate to be interviewed by a couple of other hardcores named Neil and Jeff. Together they are making a documentary about the fans of the show. They're currently touring the country and letting the fans do the talking. I was interviewed for about half an hour, just rambling coherently (and sometimes not) about what it was that made "Arrested Development" so great. Given that they're talking to so many people I figure I might end up in about 10 seconds of the final cut (if I'm being generous) but it's still really cool to be a part of. Apparently they've interviewed some cast members and writers of the show as well, though they're not saying who. If you want to check them out, you can find them right
  • here
  • . And with that I leave you with a magician named Gob.

    Tuesday, December 18, 2007

    "I Am Legend," "Juno," and the Coolest Movie of 2008.

    I Am Legend- With a box-office take upwards of $76 million this weekend chances are pretty good you've already seen Will Smith vs. the Zompires. The result (for me at least) was a pretty good time at the movies.
    In 2012, Dr. Robert Neville (Smith) is the last man standing after a virus killed virtually everyone on the planet. Those who survived were mutated into superhuman flesh-eaters who come out only at night. It is during these nights that Neville sleeps in his bathtub, shotgun in hand, dog Sam by his side, and all entrances to his home secured. During the days, Neville and Sam go out hunting. The opening images of "I Am Legend," as directed by Francis Lawrence ("Constantine"), are striking. The streets of New York are uninhabited, though the evidence of the dead is everywhere. Abandoned cars and tanks remain where they were while buildings slowly deteriorate. Neville blasts through the city streets chasing the deer which roam freely. The early animal effects don't look quite finished. It appears as though we're watching a herd of XBox deer. The film's later zompire effects fare no better.
    "Legend" works best when we see Neville in his day-to-day routine outside of the hunt. He talks to Sam, watches old tapes of "The Today Show" which appear to have been taken directly out of the NBC offices (it's not as though security could stop him), and goes out to the video store, going through titles alphabetically. On his way he talks to the mannequins, each with their own names, and even chickens out of asking one on a date. Neville hasn't lost his mind. He just wants to have some semblance of normalcy in his life, and more than anything just wants to hear another human voice. Smith is one of the few actors who could make this work. He carries "Legend" from first frame to last by coupling his natural charisma with the character's deep sense of loneliness and pain.
    "I Am Legend" is not an entirely successful film however. Aside from the effects, it all feels a bit rushed. In an age when many movies go on far longer than necessary, this is a good twenty minutes too short. It feels like there's much to the story that we don't know and that would have made the film more powerful. It's as though Lawrence feared audiences would get bored. At around one hour and forty minutes "Legend" is too brisk for its own good.
    This is a film worth seeing purely for the performance of Smith, who long ago proved his star status, but who has quietly become an excellent actor. 7/10.

    Juno- Juno MacGuff ("Hard Candy's" Ellen Page) is an unusually witty 16 year old girl who's just found out she's pregnant. The first to know (outside of the oddball convenience store clerk played by Rainn Wilson) is her best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby). Juno's early exchanges between the clerk and Leah make it clear early on that this is a film with very stylistic dialogue. Diablo Cody's characters sound more like they're in "Heathers" or "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" than like actual high school students. But Cody and the actors make it work.
    Juno has no doubt as to who the father is. It's her other best friend and band mate Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). Paulie is a quiet young man whose "only vice is orange tic-tacs," Juno tells us. Upon hearing the news from Juno, Paulie is clearly surprised but tells her that she should do whatever she feels is best. Initially Juno feels that means a trip to the abortion clinic. Within moments of heading inside (and being told by the teenage receptionist, "We need to know about every score and every sore"), she realizes she couldn't possibly go through with it.
    Juno decides to give her supportive parents the news and that she's already found the couple she wants to give the baby. Afterwards, her dad (the always great J.K. Simmons) and stepmom (Allison Janney) are left a bit dazed but taking it in stride.
    The adopting mother, Vanessa (Jennifer Garner), is a woman with all the love in the world to give. It's immediately clear her desire to be a mother. Her husband Mark (Jason Bateman) on the other hand, is unsure. The unlikely friendship that develops between he and Juno showcases Mark's unwillingness to let go of his youth. Becoming a father would cement the end of that for him.
    "Juno" is a very funny and often quite moving film, with remarkably well-drawn characters who all feel unique. Kudos to Cody for creating these characters and giving them wonderful dialogue. The words may feel written but its the honest emotions behind them that make "Juno" real. The casting is spot on as well. No other actress could have pulled Juno off better than Page (a Bob Award winner last year for "Hard Candy"). Cera (who could have used another scene or two) further establishes himself as one of the finest comedic talents at any age, and Garner, Bateman, and the rest breath life into these complex people. Director Jason Reitman ("Thank You For Smoking") has once again helmed another great comedy. "Juno" is currently in limited release but will probably go wide very soon. 9/10.

    I'll post my review of "Atonement" soon, but for now I leave you with the trailer for the coolest movie of 2008, "The Dark Knight." I've said it before and I'll say it again. Heath Ledger is the right man for the Joker. If you're scoffing now you won't be in 2 minutes and 7 seconds.

    Friday, December 14, 2007

    It Begins Again.

    Having taken a few weeks off from the movie-going (the last thing I saw was "No Country For Old Men" for a second time about three weeks ago) it's once again time to get back to the cinema. This is a big weekend. "I Am Legend" is released wide and "Juno" and "The Kite Runner" make their Seattle debuts. (Yes, I am back from Florida. Yes, I want to go back right now.) The heavy Golden Globe favorite "Atonement" is on my weekend plate as well. Then the next couple of weeks it's really going to get crazy, what with "The Savages," "Sweeney Todd," "Walk Hard," "Charlie Wilson's War," and most importantly "There Will Be Blood" hitting theaters. There are a few others I want to see as well but it's hard to remember so many. It is that time of year though. The time of year when all of the studios drop most of their award contenders making it nearly impossible to see even half of them. Jerks. Plus I still have to rent some things that I've missed such as "La Vie en Rose," "Black Book," "Waitress," and "Talk to Me." Yes, it'll be daunting but I am just that crazy.
    This has already been a year filled with incredible movies. Films that would normally be shoe-ins for my top 10 in another year may not even make my top 20. It's just been (in the words of Chazz Michael Michaels), "mind-bottling." That's alright though.
    I could rant about the Golden Globe nominations, but I think I've done enough ranting about the errors made during awards season over the years. I will say this. "Across the Universe" nominated for best musical or comedy, but no "Knocked Up," "Superbad," or "Hot Fuzz." Apparently three genuinely hilarious and well-made films are no match for a pretentious meandering musical. Also, where's the love for "The Assassination of Jesse James"? Oh well, I do have to give them credit for recognizing "No Country For Old Men." They definitely got that one right. Also up for best drama is the remaining movie I am most excited about, Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood." All of the early reviews state that it will please fans of his previous work ("Hard Eight," "Boogie Nights," "Magnolia," and "Punch-Drunk Love"), but that it's vastly different from anything he's made before. In other words, he's going in a new direction and those who haven't taken a shine to his previous films may just love this one. So with that I leave you with the latest trailer for Anderson's epic starring Daniel Day Lewis and Paul Dano (the unsung hero of "Little Miss Sunshine").

    Thursday, December 06, 2007

    I Am The Last Omega Man

    Vincent Price. Charlton Heston. Will Smith. Each has played the last man standing in films based upon Richard Matheson's novel, "I Am Legend." In 1964 Price played Dr. Robert Morgan in "The Last Man on Earth," Heston played Dr. Robert Neville in 1971's "The Omega Man," and Smith plays Neville in the upcoming "I Am Legend." The reason this is interesting to me is because I honestly didn't realize that "Legend" was a remake of a film that had already been made twice, most famously as "The Omega Man." How did I not know this? What's wrong with me? Well Warner Bros. certainly hasn't called attention to the fact that this story has been told on screen twice before.
    This doesn't make me want to see it any less mind you. I can't imagine that this version is going to be too terribly similar to the others (which admittedly I have not seen). Let's face it, you go from Vincent Price to Charlton Heston to Will Smith over the span of 43 years, you're not exactly going to end up with carbon copies now are you? Besides, it's got to be better than the upcoming remake of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" with Keanu Reeves as Klaatu. "Klaatu, barrada, DUDE! I totally fell out of my suit when I hit the floor!" But that's a blog for another day. For now I will leave you with the super awesome trailer for "I Am Legend," opening next Friday. Same day Seattle gets "Juno" so it's a big weekend!

    Sunday, December 02, 2007

    "Withnail and I" lego!

    My favorite scene from my favorite movie, remade in lego. Making the proprietor of the Penrith Tea Room an Imperial officer, well that's just a stroke of genius.