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.

Friday, May 30, 2008

My Effortless Brilliance

Films about male friendship are sadly rare. However the quality of these films, as varied as "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Superbad," is exceptionally high. It also happens to be the subject of my favorite film of all-time, "Withnail and I."
"My Effortless Brilliance" is the latest film to take on male friendship so I made a point of singling it out amongst the 9,428 films playing at the Seattle International Film Festival.
When we first see Eric (Sean Nelson) and Dylan (Basil Harris) together, Dylan simply says, "I think you're a really terrible friend," as he walks out the door. We are not clued in to exactly why Dylan feels this way but Eric's status as a pretentious up and coming Seattle author probably has something to do with it.
Jumping ahead two years, Eric's got a new book coming out but it seems he has no friends. In an effort to re-connect with the only one he had, Eric drives to eastern Washington to surprise Dylan, and hopefully find that things are fine between them again. What follows is an entertaining and thoughtful examination of friendship over good food, a lot of beer, and an ill-advised cougar hunt in the woods with Dylan's new pal Jim (Calvin Reeder).
"Brilliance" consists mainly of improvised dialogue and the actors do a terrific job. Their conversations are as funny as they are realistic. Watching the film often feels like reliving the conversations you've had with your friends on a quiet Saturday night in.
Director Lynn Shelton lets the characters tell the story. She makes a few minor missteps. A few scenes go on a little longer than they should and for some reason virtually every shot for the first fifteen minutes is an extreme close-up. At one point I thought the camera might actually go up an actor's nose. These are minor issues though and she knows how to tell a good story. Her choice not to tell us why these two pals "broke up" is a risk that pays off.
Since "My Effortless Brilliance" was shot in Washington virtually every member of the cast and crew was present for the SIFF screening. Given how small the cast and crew actually were that is not an exaggeration. In a Q and A after the film, Shelton, Nelson, Harris, and others happily took questions from the audience. I didn't realize until this post-screening Q and A that Nelson had actually been the lead singer for Seattle's own Harvey Danger. Remember that song "Flagpole Sitta"? Unless you were under a rock in 1998 I know you do. He had never acted before but to watch his performance you would never know it. Nelson also confirmed that the story his character tells of a celebrity encounter was true. I won't ruin it for you because it is simply too funny. On my way out the door I got to shake Nelson's hand and congratulate him on his performance.
"My Effortless Brilliance" does not yet have a release date but I will keep you informed. This is a very good movie and one that deserves to be seen. 8/10.

New Coen Brothers!

Fresh off winning Best Picture for the absolutely mind-blowing "No Country For Old Men," the Coen Brothers have made a new comedy as only they can. "Burn After Reading" stars Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich, J.K. Simmons, and David Rasche of cult TV classic "Sledge Hammer." Here's the red band trailer for the film which is coming this fall.

Also, I promise a review very soon of "My Effortless Brilliance," a film I saw at SIFF last Monday afternoon, and as soon as there is a trailer in English available online for it I will post the trailer for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." I saw it before "Indiana Jones" and it looks absolutely breathtaking. It's an American movie so why the trailer seems to only be available in Spanish I really don't know.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

After years of hype, expectation, and building excitement the world was collectively let down. "Star Wars: Episode I- The Phantom Menace"...well I think we all died inside a little bit that day. Thankfully the return of Indiana Jones is far more enjoyable.
Nineteen years after Indy's last adventure, he's cracking the whip once again, having traded Nazis for commies. "Crystal Skull," set in 1957, is honest about the passage of time. For Indy it's now the years and the mileage. But the man has aged gracefully, still finding a way to make it up as he goes.
Soviet villain Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) wants Indy to help her find a legendary crystal skull and unlock its secrets. After a wild escape, Indy's back in the classroom, but like always, this never lasts long. Young greaser Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) finds Indy, in hopes of helping him seek treasure and his kidnapped mother. "She said you'd help me," Mutt tells him. With that the adventure kicks into gear, with Indy and Mutt heading to South America.
The question most have regarding "Crystal Skull" is not if it stands up to "Raiders." Of course not. That's the greatest action adventure film ever made. The questions are can Harrison Ford still hack it and does it stand up to "Temple of Doom" and "Last Crusade." I can answer a definite yes to the first question. Keep in mind though that this is not the same Indy. He's aged appropriately and believably. Ford shows sides of the character not previously seen. As for how it ranks with the sequels, I wouldn't rate it as high as "Last Crusade" but it's better than "Temple" if only because of the lack of Kate Capshaw.
It's nice to see a Steven Spielberg action sequence again and we get plenty of them. In the era of jump cutting and fight scenes that are difficult to follow, Spielberg's "old school" film making is most welcome. We can always clearly see what's going on and the level of fun and invention is high.
From the old Paramount logo to the first appearance of the fedora and beyond, "Crystal Skull" made me smile again and again. That's all I wanted from this movie and the crew delivered. I could have done without the CG animals and a few elements here and there didn't quite click, but I have no serious complaints. Blanchett's Spalko is a menacing villain and Karen Allen's return as Marion is a treat for all of us who missed her in the other sequels. There are also wonderful nods to Sean Connery and the late Denholm Elliot's Marcus Brody. I missed Sallah though.
"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" is a thoroughly enjoyable movie and one I think I will like more with repeat viewings. Just remind yourself it's not going to be "Raiders" and you'll have a great time too. 7.5/10.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Hey "Office" fans!

The debate rages on over which version of "The Office" is superior. I love both but my heart will always belong to the British version. Of course I have yet to see the French, German, or French-Canadian versions (those actually exist by the way, it's not just me being pithy), but here's original series creator and star Ricky Gervais with a little taste of the true original version of "The Office" from Japan. You know the boss looks spookily like Steve Carell. Just sayin'.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Son of Rambow

The world has become full of films about film making. There are so many that it's practically become its own genre. Most focus on the struggle between the artist and the money men, often with a cynical view of the business of making movies. What's different about "Son of Rambow" is that it's about young boys taking their first crack at movie making. It's about the joy of discovery and the belief that all you need is a dream and a camera. The film, written and directed by Garth Jennings ("The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"), is heartfelt but it never quite clicks as well as it ought to.
Set in England in the early eighties, "Son of Rambow" concerns two young boys from very different backgrounds. Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) is a member of a Christian sect called the Brethren. Television, records, and films are strictly forbidden. Lee Carter (Will Poulter) on the other hand lives for film. He's introduced in a smoke-filled movie theater, shooting a bootleg video of "First Blood" for his older brother, Lawrence (Ed Westwick). Lee and Lawrence are left to their own devices at home, a mother and father nowhere in sight.
Lee and Will meet in the school hallway, both having been sent outside. Lee because he has misbehaved yet again and Will because his class is watching a TV documentary. When Lee agrees to take the fall for Will over a broken fish bowl, Lee determines the best way for Will to pay him back is by being the stunt man for his movie. While at Lee's house a wide-eyed Will watches "First Blood." His imagination takes flight and the idea to make a film about Rambow's son is born (Will doesn't realize there's no "w" at the end of Rambo).
"Son of Rambow" is strongest when it focuses on how Lee and Will's friendship is forged by a mutual love of film. It stumbles however in scenes of Will's home life. His repressed Christian family has become a standard cliche in movies like this. Jessica Hynes ("Spaced") makes the most of the thinly written role of the mother, but she's never really given an opportunity to show how good she really is. The subplot involving French foreign exchange student, Didier (Jules Sitruk), is baffling. Eventually it meets up with the main storyline but it still feels tacked on. As Lee tells Will, "It was better when it was just us two."
"Son of Rambow" is a film with some wonderful moments and a satisfying ending, but the cliches and side roads prevent it from being the great movie it could have been. Ultimately I liked Will and Lee's film (which we see the finished product of) better. "Son of Rambow" is currently in limited release. In Seattle it is playing at the Guild 45th and the Meridian 16. 6.5/10.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Season 8 of "Scrubs" explained at last.

Originally season 7 was due to be "Scrubs" last. But due to the writer's strike, series creator Bill Lawrence was unable to wrap up the series as he saw fit. Being a huge fan of the show from day one, that meant that he'd be unable to wrap up the series as I saw fit, which is really what's important.
NBC has never treated the show with the respect it deserved. To their credit they have renewed it year in and year out and given us seven years of one of the funniest and most inventive shows to ever hit television. Still, while they've been giving glowing advertising to "My Name Is Earl," "The Office," and "30 Rock," they've been treating "Scrubs" like their adopted daughter Margot Tenenbaum. For evidence of NBC's shabby treatment of the show, you need look no further than last night. The network claimed that last night's episode would be the series finale. In fact it wasn't even a proper season finale. As anyone who's paying attention knows Dr. Kelso (Ken Jenkins) retired from Sacred Heart Hospital two weeks ago. Yet last night there he was, still wearing his coat, treating Ted badly, and biting the heads off of everyone in sight. The episodes were aired out of order. If that isn't a complete lack of respect for a show I don't know what is.
But here comes ABC to the rescue. Disney owns the show after all, which means that they get all the revenue from DVD sales and syndication. This, more than anything else, explains why NBC has treated the show the way it has. Here is how it's all going to work, according to Canadian website, (Thanks to Brian for the link!):

Stop your whimpering, Janet, because Scrubs isn't flat-lining just yet. John C. McGinley, who plays Dr. Cox on the quirky NBC comedy, told the National Ledger yesterday that the show will see an eighth season - but this time, they're moving to ABC.

"I've been told to show up at work on March 24, and the 18 episodes we're going to do starting that day will be on ABC next fall," said McGinley.

Last year, NBC ordered 18 episodes of Scrubs for what was to be its final season, but the show only managed to get 12 episodes in the can before the writers strike hit. The network was initially reluctant to commit to the final six, prompting creator Bill Lawrence to tell the press that he would put the last episodes on DVD if necessary, but when ABC offered to bring the sitcom to their network next season, NBC agreed to air the back six of Scrubs starting April 10.

Bob again. So yes this article is a little old as you could tell, but we just found it deal with it.
Knowing the writing staff of "Scrubs," I'm sure there will be some clever references to the change in the series premiere. Sure the show isn't as great as it used to be, but it's still far funnier and far sharper than most everything else on television. Besides, now we can see how Bill Lawrence really wants to finish up the story. I'm looking forward to next year.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Iron Man

It's been a little while since I wrote a full review so I might be a little rusty. Anyway, yesterday afternoon I saw "Iron Man" and I've gotta say it's a good way to start out the summer movie season.

Based on the Marvel comic book, "Iron Man" tells the story of Tony Stark, billionaire playboy and weapons manufacturer. Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) does what he wants when he wants and loves every minute of it. However, during a visit to troops in Afghanistan where he reveals his newest missile system, Stark's life takes an abrupt turn. Before he knows it he's being held captive in a cave carrying around a large amount of shrapnel. The only thing keeping him alive is the artificial contraption created by the kindly Yinsen (Shaun Toub), a fellow captive. Stark's terrorist captors order him to build weapons for them. He builds something else instead and upon his return home, Tony Stark is a changed man. Sort of.
Credited to several screenwriters, "Iron Man" works due to Jon Favreau's direction (it has a somewhat bigger budget than "Swingers") and Downey's terrific performance. The sense of fun each brings to the film is palpable. They are also aware that Stark is not angst-ridden nor is he forever scarred by a childhood trauma. He's much more fun to spend time with than Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne. Actually Stark is more fun than Iron Man and how often can you say that about a superhero's alter-ego? Downey plays Stark as a man who knows his life is changed forever but he's rolling with it with the same sense of humor he always had.
The action scenes are put together well and while the effects are hit and miss they're still better than most films of this nature. Only near the end does the film start to run out of steam.
"Iron Man" is a very enjoyable movie that manages to avoid many of the standard cliches present in most comic book films and with a supporting cast that includes Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jeff Bridges, it also features a better caliber of acting than usual. There will be better movies this summer ("The Dark Knight" for one), but there will be many more that are worse. "Iron Man" is just fun and that's all I really asked it to be. Be sure to stay all the way through the end credits. 7.5/10.

Friday, May 02, 2008

"OSS 117" Trailer!

I saw this movie two years ago at SIFF and it was easily the funniest movie of 2006. It's just now getting a proper U.S. release. "OSS 117" is a French spy spoof about a bumbling secret agent played brilliantly by Jean Dujardin. Set in 1955, it's about Agent OSS 117 taking on Nazis and trying to keep the Middle East safe. Well at least one of them worked out. "OSS 117" is coming to Seattle at the Varsity Theater on May 9. Check your local listings for other cities as well.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Movies I've Seen Lately

I haven't had a lot of time to write reviews lately but I've been able to squeeze in going to a few movies. Here's a quick look at what I've seen recently.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall- Peter Bretter (Jason Segel, who wrote the screenplay) is the broken hearted ex of TV superstar Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). In an attempt to take his mind off of everything Peter decides to go on a Hawaiian vacation only to discover that Sarah is there with her new man, British rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). Peter's only source of happiness comes from meeting hotel clerk, Rachel (Mila Kunis).
Another raunch plus heart comedy produced by Judd Apatow. Not in the same league as "Knocked Up" or "Superbad" but a film that's more hit than miss. Segel wisely avoids cliche by writing Aldous as a pretty likable guy who wants to be Peter's friend. Brand plays the character brilliantly as well. A very funny performance. 7.5/10

The Forbidden Kingdom- The first on screen pairing of Jackie Chan and Jet Li did little for me. The action sequences aren't bad but the many attempts at humor rarely come off. And what's with Li playing an irritating monkey? 3.5/10

Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay- I never saw the first film but my cousin and her husband were going and I decided to tag along. Very funny in spots, though there's something hypocritical about a film that claims to be so against racial stereotypes yet makes every white southerner out to be an uber-hick. Still the cyclops boy was funny. Neil Patrick Harris is gold. Stay all the way through the end credits. 7/10

Baby Mama- Good for a few laughs but Tina Fey and Amy Poehler deserve a sharper script than the one delivered by Michael McCullers. Steve Martin and Sigourney Weaver are hilarious in small roles. 6.5/10