December 31, 2006
December 28, 2006
More of a style exercise than an actual movie, The Good German is Steven Soderbergh's pet project: shot with vintage cameras, lenses, and lights, and mostly confirming to the style of 1940s film noir. The Good German is a hybrid of The Third Man and Casablanca: imagine if Joseph Cotten were trying to uncover the truth about an old lover (Ingrid Bergman) instead of an old friend (Orson Welles). Clooney is Jake Geismer, a war correspondent sent to Berlin to cover the Potsdam conference in 1945. He gets tangled up in intrigue involving an old lover Lena (Cate Blanchett in full 'haunted femme fatale' mode) and her possibly dead husband, a SS officer who the Americans want and the Russians want to keep from the Americans. In true movie detective fashion, he doggedly uncovers truths which the Powers That Be want buried, friends keep warning him that he'll be the next guy who ends up dead if he doesn't watch himself, he gets beat up repeatedly, even earning a conspicuous bandage like Jake Gittes in Chinatown.
Brenda pointed out that Clooney is very well-suited for this kind of movie. I have started to notice that Clooney has a couple of acting tricks which must have worked great on TV, but are starting to wear a little thin. Whenever he needs to look vulnerable, or melancholy, he has one special face he makes, but he only has one, so it's a little old. Blanchett, in her black hair, moany accent, and dark lipstick, is flat and emotion-free. She spends the whole movie slowly walking from room to room, lying about everything. Where's the flashback which demonstrates why Geismer fell for her in the first place? Tobey Maguire, in a important role which ends early in the movie, plays a overly cocky, overly young, hotheaded corporal who gets in over his head.
The plot was appropriately overly convoluted, but then again, does anyone understand the plot of The Big Sleep or Chinatown? In a fatal error of editing, the pacing slowed in the last third of the movie, just when it should have been picking up speed. Maybe Soderbergh is spreading himself a little thin? he directed, produced, shot, and edited this movie, under his own name and two pseudonyms. (AMC Church Street, Harvard Square)
NOTE: Clooney has now acted in six Soderbergh movies: Out Of Sight, Ocean's 11, Solaris, Ocean's 12, The Good German, and Ocean's 13. (Soderbergh and Clooney have worked together, in other capacities, in countless other projects as well.)
December 2, 2006
Casino Royale is a origin story/franchise reboot in the mould of Batman Begins; leaner, darker, younger, and with fewer gimmicks and gadgets. Daniel Craig is the freshly promoted 'double-o' agent James Bond. At the beginning of the movie, he is not the secret agent we know so well from the novels and movies. At first, he makes mistakes. He's not charming or dispassionate. He's not unemotional. He becomes that man over the course of the plot: closely based on Ian Fleming's 1953 novel, banker-to-terrorists Le Chiffre (The Cipher) risks death when his clients find out he has lost their massive cash investment. Out of desperation, Le Chiffre must win a $150 million poker tournament, or he'll be forced to surrender to MI-6 to avoid certain death. Bond must ensure that Le Chiffre doesn't win the tournament.
Le Chiffre (Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen) is cold, calculating, and murderous, but he is not an archenemy like the characters which Doctor Evil parodied so effectively. No secret lair, no alligators or sharks, no world domination, just an evil criminal who stops at nothing to make his money.
One slightly over-familiar trope of the movie is Bond's relationships with his women. There are two Bond girls in this movie: one ends up dead, and the other has a dark secret. Neither is that surprising. French actress Eva Green is excellent as Treasury officer Vesper Lynd (soon to be seen as Serafina Pekkala in The Golden Compass). Italian actress Caterina Murino is smokin' hot in that red dress! yowza...
What's next for James Bond? Why not remake another Fleming novel, perhaps one of the Fleming novels which was made into a forgettable and unpopular Bond movie? By the final shot of the film, Craig is the James Bond we're all eager to see again and again. Here's to hoping that the magic of Casino Royale carries over to the next Bond adventure. (November 18 and December 2, Regal Cinemas Fenway)
BOND & BOURNE MOVIES on Stub Hubby
- Dr. No (1962)
- Moonraker & From Russia With Love double feature
- Thunderball, Re-Evaluated (1965
- Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
- The Roger Moore Era: I think I saw A View To A Kill (1985) in the theater.
- For Your Eyes Only (1981)
- Goldeneye (1995) is the only Brosnan Bond film I saw in the theater.
- Some notes on Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
- The Bourne Identity (2002)
- Casino Royale (2006)
- The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
- Quantum of Solace (2008)
- Skyfall (2012)
- The Bourne Legacy (2013)
- SPECTRE (2015)
- Jason Bourne (2016)
- Just How Old Is James Bond, Anyway?
November 24, 2006
November 5, 2006
Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy create a skeleton of a plot to hang the improv scenes on. I imagine the movie-within-a-movie "Home For Purim" sounded funnier than the result onscreen: A Tennesee Williams-style southern melodrama, but featuring a Jewish family reuniting for Purim. Plenty of people in my audience were cracking up at the Jewish jokes, but I was only mildly amused. Rachael Harris showed a lot of potential as the lesbian girlfriend Mary Pat Hooligan, but her character just peters out.
Several scenes were included which were necessary to advance the plot, but were not funny. For example, Parker Posey and Christopher Moynihan are a Reese and Ryan-style couple. When she is rumoured for an Oscar nomination, she senses his jealousy, and they argue over it, but the scene of them arguing is not funny- I imagine the improv juices weren't flowing?
Perhaps the Hollywood premise is worn out, or the magic just wasn't there, but FYC just didn't spark. (Kendall Square Cinema)
November 4, 2006
Director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins) uses flashbacks - within - flashbacks to tell the story like a magic trick, which can get a little dense: at one point, Borden is reading Angier's diary, where Angier writes (in a flashback) about reading Borden's diary, where Borden reminisces (in a flashback) about his own past. Just like a magic trick, The Prestige rewards close viewing. In fact, the first words spoken are "Are you paying attention?" The movie does not have a "twist" ending like The Usual Suspects, where no reasonable viewer could figure out that Verbal Kint was Keyser Soze. The Prestige does require your full attention to keep up, and sharp minds will start to unravel the mystery by the mid-way point. (AMC Burlington)
I was never a fan of magic shows or magic tricks growing up- I always felt like the audience was being played for fools. I can appreciate a clever piece of misdirection, and admire deft sligh-of-hand, but a guy in a tux onstage playing with props never impressed me. I once went to a magic show at the Cabot Theater in Beverly, where the magician levitated an assistant into the air under a cloth- except I spotted the assistant roll out of sight as the cloth "covered" her.
October 22, 2006
The illusions were perfectly rendered with modern 21st-century CGI, perhaps too well-rendered for a 19th-century illusionist. The CGI broke the suspension of my disbelief that Eisenheim could create such perfect visions; Emily argued that what we saw onscreen represented the visions which the Viennese audiences believed was onstage. The mystery which the Inspector must solve was a little too transparent for me- the twist ending was perhaps a notch or two below The Usual Suspects or an M. Night Shyamalan film.
While I found the Neil Burger's direction workmanlike and unremarkable (this was his feature-film debut), I admired the hard work which went into directing and choreographing the sounds of the theater audiences: each gasp, murmur, shouted call, and applause, had to be painstakingly arranged. The theater audiences were a central character in the movie, and no canned 'audience on CD' would have sufficed. (Arlington Capitol Theater)
October 21, 2006
The cover: the top half is my face, with my vintage sunglasses I bought from an Indonesian man on eBay; the bottom half is my wife brushing her teeth.
The tracks: the blend is a little forced. I try not to use the same tracks on mixes repeatedly, but I should not have used that particular Jennifer Trynin song. I had just read her autobiography Everything I'm Cracked Up To Be, and I wanted to include a song of hers, but I should have stuck to one of the "hits" instead of trying to include a "deep cut". I need to learn that I don't have to be adventurous with EVERY choice! On the other hand, I dug deep for the Semisonic track "El Matador", which I now really love. I had just read the drummer's autobiography, So You Wanna Be A Rock & Roll Star, which inspired that choice. The last track is U2's "Vertigo", which I should have left off. I was sick of that song at the time, and I am sick of it now:
- "Battle Without Honor or Humanity" TOMOYASU HOTEI (aka That Song from Kill Bill)
- "Let Keane In" KEANE vs PAUL McCARTNEY (a great mashup)
- "Crazy" GNARLS BARKLEY
- "Give Judy My Notice" BEN FOLDS a very early-70s country-rock vibe.
- "Least Complicated" INDIGO GIRLS
- "Monkey" COUNTING CROWS
- "Lose Yourself" EMINEM (an awesome song on its own, even better in the context of the movie 8 Mile.)
- "Let It Be Me" SHAGGY vs THE BEATLES
- "El Matador" SEMISONIC
- "Pictures of You" LIT (an okay cover of the Cure song. The original was in those Hewlett-Packard computer printer commercials at the time.)
- "Come Around" RHETT MILLER
- "Any Little Town" THE PUSH STARS
- "When You Were Young" THE KILLERS
- "Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway (Again)" WILCO
- "Rock Your Body" JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE
- "Time Won't Let Me" THE SMITHEREENS
- "Bad Reputation" JOAN JETT
- "Vertigo" U2
October 6, 2006
Leonardo DiCaprio is Billy Costigan, a young cop who grew up on the fringes of crime, who goes deep undercover as a petty hood to infiltrate Frank Costello's (Jack Nicholson) crew. Matt Damon smears his clean-cut nice-guy image as Colin Sullivan, a cocky, bold, and despicable Mob soldier who becomes a Statie in order to penetrate the police investigation into his boss, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Nicholson is only slightly off the rails as a brutal but savvy Mob chieftain who trusts no one.
Obviously, the "cop goes undercover and begins to lose his grip" storyline is very very old and overdone, but the addition of Costigan's opposite, the mole Sullivan, opens all sorts of exciting dramatic possibilities, which Scorsese exploits to maximum effect. It's hard enough to go undercover for the cops or the crooks, but when each side knows there's a rat amongst them, that makes it even harder. On top of that, they each need to leak information to the opposite side, sometimes in plain sight. During a high-stakes stolen-goods sale, Costigan is texting tips to the cops on the deal, while Sullivan is texting warnings to Costello. In the keystone dramatic highlight, Sullivan sends detectives to "tail" Captain Queenan (Sheen), in the hopes that Queenan will lead Sullivan to the undercover cop (who is Costigan, but Sullivan doesn't know this). Once Sullivan discovers where Queenan is meeting the undercover cop, he tips off Costello's crew, who descend on the location in order to kill the rat. At the same time, the mob crew calls Costigan to order him to participate in the killing of the rat, who is himself.
The supporting cast was chock full of talent, including Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, and Alec Baldwin as fellow Staties, and Ray Winstone and Mark Rolston as Mob soldiers. Special recognition goes out to actress Vera Farmiga as the state psychologist Madolyn, who engages in an affair with Sullivan and a tryst with Costigan. I read a profile of Farmiga in the New York Times Magazine, and I expected a second-rate Cate Blanchett, but Farmiga was refreshing and engaging as Madolyn, and she tempered her exotic looks (unearthly blue eyes and translucent pale skin) with a bad haircut and a passable Boston accent. The Boston accents ranged from impeccable (Damon and Wahlberg) to quality (DiCaprio, Baldwin, Sheen), to occasional (Nicholson).
Kudos also go out to the location photography, especially the under-the-Red-Line meeting with Costigan.
If this weren't Martin Scorsese, it'd earn an A+ grade, but the songs and score were an uncharacteristic weak point, so it earns a straight A. (Regal Cinemas Fenway)
Stub Hubby Reviews The Depressing Boston Film Festival
September 24, 2006
|L.A. Confidential (1997)||The Black Dahlia (2006)|
|The Obsessed Cop||Bud White, hates wife-beaters after his mother was beaten to death by his father when he was a child. Should have died in the end, but mysteriously survives and drives off into the sunset with Lynn Bracken.||Lee Blanchard, obsessed with Black Dahlia case because his own sister's murder was never solved. Should die, and does, while avenging Kay upon her former tormentor/pimp, Bobby DeWitt.|
|Blonde Call Girl with a Heart of Gold||Lynn Bracken came to L.A. from Bisbee, Arizona, with stars in her eyes, instead becomes Veronica Lake lookalike call girl. Bud White becomes obsessed with her.||Kay Lake came to L.A. from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with stars in her eyes, instead becomes call girl. 'Saved' from tricking by Blanchard, and lives in bizarre love triangle with Blanchard and Bleichert.|
|Ambitious Rookie||Ed Exley, looks like a straight arrow, but shows hidden dark side as story progresses. Moves in on Lynn Bracken in twisted (and ill-advised) power play with Bud White.||Bucky Bleichert, looks like a straight arrow, but shows hidden dark side as story progresses. Moves in on Kay Lake after Lee Blanchard dies.|
|Political Promotion||Ed Exley is promoted to Detective Lieutenant, Homicide, in exchange for testifying in Bloody Christmas scandal.||Lee and Bucky get promoted to Warrants division after agreeing to return to boxing ring, to help push ballot item through.|
|Cabin-style roadside motel?||The Victory Motel (abandoned) is the site of the climactic gun battle; Ed Exley shoots Captain Smith after Exley learns Smith shot Jack Vincennes.||The Red Arrow Motel is where Bucky and Madeleine meet for cheap sex; Bucky shoots Madeleine there after he discovers Madeleine killed Lee.|
|The Frolic Room?||Exley and Vincennes agree to meet there; Exley stands up Vincennes.||Bleichert parks in front of the Frolic Room.||D.A. Ellis Loew played by...||Ron Rifkin||Patrick Fischler|
|Overused solo trumpet score composed by...||Jerry Goldsmith||Mark Isham|
September 22, 2006
September 16, 2006
September 15, 2006
Ben Affleck is perfectly cast and offers a wonderfully understated performance as George Reeves, a charming, mildly talented, but old-school handsome actor who died under extremely mysterious circumstances in 1959. The police quickly label Reeves a suicide, and sweep the Reeves case under the carpet. A private detective, Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), trying to stir up some work, convinces Reeves' mother (Lois Smith) to hire him to force the police to consider a murder investigation. Simo's investigation becomes the framework for our discovery of Reeves' story.
In the early fifties, after limited success in feature films, Reeves becomes trapped in two golden cages. His only professional success is The Adventures Of Superman TV show, which has made him so successful he may never be able to find non-Super work again. He falls in love with an original desperate housewife, Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), a wealthy but aging (45 years old?) studio wife. Reeves' youth and charm make Toni feel young again. Toni becomes George's sugar momma, but she ultimately smothers Reeves with her lonliness and fear. While trying to wriggle out of Toni's grasp, Reeves falls in with Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney), a classic mean drunk.
In June 1959, Reeves died from a gunshot wound to the head which could have been suicide, but Simo can piece together motivations for murder with all the principal characters. Did Toni become blinded with jealous rage at Reeves' spurning? DId Toni's Mob-connected studio honcho husband arrange a hit? Did Reeves' crazy "fiancee" Leonore flip out after Reeves threatened to call off their engagement?
As talented as Academy-award winner Adrien Brody is, he cannot salvage his totally unremarkable detective story/dramatic framework device. His investigation, and Simo's barely relevant child-custody subplot, break no new dramatic ground. Obviously, in stories based on real events, you sometimes have to include characters and plot points in order to be true to the story, even if they aren't worth the screen time. That's what makes the Simo detective framework so frustrating: his character, and his investigation, is a completely fictional device. Perhaps the creative team behind Hollywoodland included so much of this dramatic framework, because they felt Reeves' character, or perhaps Ben Affleck the actor, could not carry the dramatic weight of the whole film? It turns out that Affleck is outstanding as Reeves, and his emotional arc feels underserved by his limited screen time. If the Simo plotline had been pared down, and a few more meaty scenes with Affleck and Lane had been included, we might be talking about a Best Picture nominee, and not just a well-deserved Best Actor nod for Affleck. (AMC Burlington)
September 1, 2006
Twenty-one years later, Emily and I packed a picnic (fried chicken...mmmm) and caught Back To The Future on DVD, projected onto a giant screen at the Hatch Memorial Shell on Boston's Esplanade.
- Marty spends a eight days in 1955, but the movie skips over three of those days. What does Marty do for those three days? Sit around the Brown mansion?
- Marty catches his father in a tree, peeping with binoculars through a bedroom window. I think we're supposed to think he's peeping on his future wife Lorraine Baines, but I've never thought it looked like her, and we never see the face of the topless woman. Am I the only one who always thought it was just a random woman? We only see the exterior of Lorraine's house in that one shot, so it's impossible to confirm it's the Baines house.
- While I'm dwelling on this topic: if it is Lorraine in the window, does Marty ever connect the dots that George was peeping on Lorraine? Maybe we don't see the woman's face in the window so that they can save the reveal of Marty's future mother for the following scene that evening when Marty wakes up.
|I bought these shirts especially on BTTF.com!|
Also On Stub Hubby: Back To The Future, Part II and Back To The Future, Part III
August 30, 2006
The movie concludes with a climactic firefight, not as long or legendary as the bank heist in Heat, but expertly and imaginatively staged. I am reminded of the nightclub confrontation in Collateral, which could easily have been confusing and muddled, but instead was intuitive and engaging. This final gun battle in Miami Vice, however, adds some new tricks, which I appreciated: at one point, when a gunsel gets shot, his blood spatters the hand-held camera behind him. The cameraman then moves over to another spot where one of his associates is still firing, and later, moves again, all with blood dripping on the lens. My description makes it sound gory and cheap, but it was not- the digital hand-held quality made it feel more like authentic documentary footage.
Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx acquit themselves well, although Emily is totally turned off my Farrell's doughy scumbag look. I tried explaining that he is playing an undercover cop who's trying to look like a scumbag, but she wouldn't have it. Academy-Award winner Jamie Foxx's "Ricardo Tubbs" character was fleshed out a bit from the TV show. On TV, all too often Phillip Michael Thomas simply supported Don Johnson, brandished a shotgun, and occasionally lapsed into a Jamaican accent as his undercover role required.
Many of the small parts were well cast, including Justin Theroux as Detective Zito, Barry Shabaka Henley as Lt. Castillo, and John Hawkes as a confidential informant. We had some issues, however, with other casting choices-- I felt John Ortiz was too lightweight as the drug kingpin whose jealousy sparks a murderous betrayal, and Chinese actress Gong Li (Memoirs of a Geisha, Farewell My Concubine, Raise the Red Lantern)? Her accent is nearly indecipherable, despite multiple credited dialog coaches. I never really felt any actual passion between Gong Li and Colin Farrell. After a few scenes, I started casting other "exotic" actresses in my head for the role: Franka Potente? Too young. Michelle Yeoh? Too old. Monica Bellucci? Not brainy enough. Emmanuelle Béart, Audrey Tautou? Too French.
I can't give this movie an A grade because the story doesn't break any new ground from the TV show, and is a little threadbare in spots. B plus... (Arlington Capitol Theater)
NOTE:If you have not been watching the reruns of the original series (1984-89) on TV Land, you have been missing out on some prime mid-80s nostalgia!
August 18, 2006
Other Premise-Describing Movie Titles (both real or imagined)
- Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot
- The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain
- The Jerk
- Voyage To The Center Of The Earth
- Throw Momma From A Train
- Honey, I Shrunk The Kids
- Home Alone
- Arnold Schwarzenegger Gets Pregnant
- I've Wasted My Life
- The Bus That Couldn't Slow Down
- Single Female Lawyer
- The President's Neck is Missing!
- The Boatjacking of Supership 79
- They Came to Burgle Carnegie Hall
- The Frontier Family Get Deer Ticks
August 14, 2006
Dante and Randal still go on their rambling debates, but Randal has some new adversaries-- the 19-year-old virgin Elias, who loves Jesus almost as much as he loves the Transformers and the Lord of the Rings. Actor Trevor Fehrman nearly steals all his scenes, in a Anthony Michael Hall in Sixteen Candles kind of way. Flaky and earnest, naive but not dumb, Elias sticks up for Optimus Prime, Jesus, and Frodo with equal passion, and without losing faith under a barrage of insults from Randal, who fears this will be his new best friend once Dante leaves town.
The relationship between Dante and Randal, and Dante and Becky, both feel strong and genuine, and the funny diatribes strike home. Randal's argument against Lord of the Rings, in favor of Star Wars, sounds promising, but falls very flat. I don't believe that Randal would hate LOTR, and I don't believe Kevin Smith does either, especially since Episodes 1, 2, and 3 devauled the Star Wars property in the last decade. Much stronger is Randal's continuing confusion of Anne Frank and Helen Keller, and his vigorous defense of a racial slur he insists isn't racial at all.
It's interesting to note what has changed between Kevin Smith's homegrown debut Clerks in 1994, and this 2006 sequel. Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson's acting has improved, thank God. Smith has the budget for color film this time, showing off Dante's piercing green eyes (he's still an "ugly CHUD", but a CHUD with green eyes) and the garish Day-Glo color scheme of Mooby's. The soundtrack is much better- Talking Heads, Smashing Pumpkins, and Soul Asylum are featured well, and the dance sequence is set to "ABC" from the Jackson Five. Ah, yes, the dance sequence-- taking place roughly where the hockey game was in the first movie (both in time and place-- Dante and Becky dance on the roof), the dance sequence is fun and totally random.
Something which hasn't changed is the total lack of background action. I know Mooby's is supposed to be a lousy restaurant, but you hardly ever see anyone in the restaurant-- you only see extras when they are part of the plot. Would it be so hard to stage some of the behind-the-counter action with the dining area in the background, and hire some extras to add realism? I suspect Smith shot this movie in a vacant Burger King, and unfortunately, it looks like the main cast is totally alone in there until suddenly, diners pop up. Perhaps this is a symptom of a larger problem- Smith has never known where to put a camera. You're not supposed to be thinking about camera position while watching a movie, but even in the simplest two-person dialog scenes, I found myself wondering why he shot it like that. David Klein has been the Director of Photography on Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, and fifteen movies and TV shows I've never heard of. I appreciate Smith's loyalty to his friends, but I suspect he is valuing friendship over talent.
Certainly an improvement over the original, if slightly less funny. A minus. (Somerville Theater)
August 8, 2006
- A Life Of Illusion - the opening titles song from The Forty-Year-Old Virgin by Joe Walsh
- Just Pretend - The Bens (Folds, Lee, and I can't remember the third?)
- Put Your Records On - Corinne Bailey Rae;
- Right Time,Wrong Place - Bonnie Raitt and BB King
- Hearts For Sale - The Rolling Stones (a song I nearly forgot from Steel Wheels)
- The Edge Of Forever - This Dream Academy song is from the soundtrack of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, when Ferris and Sloane say goodbye at the end of the day
- Break (A mashup of The Beastie Boys over Queen's "I Want To Break Free"
- Listen (A mashup of "Shake Your Rump", "Root Down", and "Radio Ga Ga"
- If You Talk Too Much - People In Planes (I saw this CD advertised in a TV commercial, of all places, and I liked this song. I bought the CD on sale at Target for $4.99)
- Closer To You - Liz Phair
- Sunday Morning - Maroon Five
- Day Tripper - The Beatles - with a false start included, and no fadeout
- Always The Last To Know - Del Amitri
- American Highway Rest Stop - My friend Robert is a fan of Phil Ayoub, so he came up to Cambridge from NYC to see Phil at a CD release party, and Robert invited me along.
- I Know There's Something Going On (I heard this song on the PA system at a restaurant, and I remembered the song but had no idea who it was. It sounded like Phil Collins on drums, and I was right- it's Frida, one of the ladies from ABBA, and her sole solo single hit)
- September - Earth Wind and Fire
- Sexx Laws - Beck
- Rockin' Down The Highway - The Doobie Brothers
- Point of Know Return - Kansas
- Feel Flows - The Beach Boys song from the closing credits of "Almost Famous"
August 4, 2006
I would like to single out for praise John C. Reilly, who has been funny before (Boogie Nights and The Good Girl come to mind), but never as sweet and goofy as Ricky Bobby's whipping boy Cal Naughton Jr, aka "The Magic Man". Possibly saving this movie from a B- or C+ is Sacha Baron Cohen as Ricky Bobby's gay French nemesis, Jean Girard. He works his Clouseau-style French accent and completely non-sequitir bon mots ("Hakuna Matata, beetches!") for the ultimate in comedy effect. A guy with a funny French accent is always funny. I almost take Gary Cole for granted-- he works the long-lost father (think Robert Duvall in Days of Thunder, except a drunken thief) for every joke possible. We especially appreciated his drunken rants when getting kicked out of an Applebee's, and Ricky's junior high school...
One of the unfortunate side effects of the "shoot 1,000 jokes" method of moviemaking is that some characters inadvertently get the short end. Amy Adams may have had a Nicole Kidman-in-Days-Of-Thunder-type role in the screenplay, but in the final cut, she is reduced to two brief appearances in the first hour of the movie, then one very funny monologue at the end of the movie. Another character who must have had more meaty scenes deleted is Ricky's wife Carley Bobby (Leslie Bibb). She is in many scenes of the movie, but there isn't one big meaty part which showcases her.
I have a problem in principle with making a movie by hanging a bunch of funny scenes on a bare bones storyline, but in practice, I loved it. A minus. (AMC Fenway, with Emily, George & Mandy, Amy, Phil, and friends)
August 2, 2006
July 23, 2006
Superman RemadeWhy can't Superman just fight crime for ninety minutes?
(AMC Burlington) Bryan Singer took on a lot of responsibility in restarting a 20-year dormant feature film franchise. Unfortunately, he equals "important for the stockholders" with "important movie about Superman", and as a result, this new Superman, which should be fun and breathtaking and exciting and fun, is Important with a capital I, which equals ponderous and talky and touchy-feely. There's a lot of drama to be mined from Superman: the last survivor of his planet, alone on Earth where he is different from everyone else, trying to find love with a woman who can never know the real man in the suit? This is all good stuff, but I didn't pay $10 for 150 minutes of this. I want to see more than just Superman feeling lonely. Perhaps to make up for the romance and chit chat, it's difficult to resist the tendency to make Supes' feats oversized: Everyone in the movies and TV can kick a door down or bend an iron bar into a pretzel, but only Superman can reattach California to the continental shelf, or spin the planet backwards. This super-sizing of his crime fighting removes all the fun from his work. Who wants to see Superman lifting a billion tons of rock over his head, when he could be throwing Emperor Zod across Times Square? I am surprised that Singer, who was so sure-footed in his two X-Men movies, has stumbled into Boring Metropolis.
The main crime-fighting storyline is a remake of the original 1977 Superman: The Movie: Lex Luthor hatches a scheme to create new valuable real estate for his own gain. Luthor steals Kryptonite from a museum to kill Superman with. The rest of the movie is tied up with the love triangle between Lois Lane, Superman, and Lane's fiance Richard (James Marsden). Lane has put aside her love for Superman when he left Earth five years previous, and now she's in a snit because he left "without saying goodbye". Fer Crissake, he's Superman! If you want to love a superhero with a social secretary, try Batman-- he has Alfred around to send regrets to Vicki Vale, et al.
Is Superman Uncool?In Bryan Singer's new resurrection of the Superman franchise, Lois Lane has set aside her love for Supes and started a family with another reporter (James Marsden), as Superman has been gone from Earth for five years. Lane wins the Pulitzer Prize for her editorial Why The World Doesn't Need Superman. Before we can say why, I would like to ask the question Does The World Need Superman?
It seems like Kal-El has been gone for a lot longer than five years-- it's been twenty years since the Superman movie franchise ended with a whimper in 1986 with Superman IV: The One With Atomic Man. Three years after that, Tim Burton's Batman began a new comic-book hero era in theaters, and the flood of superhero movies has diluted the potency of caped hero stories. In the 20 years since Gene Hackman last donned the bald cap, most every super hero you have ever heard of has had a movie made about them.
Perhaps Superman is boring? He's a goody-two shoes Patriot with no dark side, no human foibles, and no social life. Comic book writer Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns, The Dark Knight Strikes Back), portrays Superman as a single-minded, mildly dense, blindly obedient servant to the American government. Maybe we feel like we know Superman too well, that there's no new story to tell? Perhaps Superman is too powerful? Is it too hard to find a worthy adversary for him?
Superman Meanwhile, Warner Brothers has been trying to make a new Superman movie for a decade. Why has it taken a decade to get Superman to fly? Firstly, to make a Superman movie on a scale worthy of the material, you have to spend a lot of money. You can't skimp on the enormousness of a Superman movie and expect people to come back again and again. Just look at the bargain-priced Fantastic Four movie to see a lack of spectacle. If you're going to spend $200,000,000 on one movie, the suits were rightfully worried about finding the right script, a dependable director, and the right Superman. Thirdly, the studio was scared of screwing up a franchise which had the potential to be a huge moneymaker. Superman has instant name-recognition around the planet, every knows and loves him, and the characters and stories of Superman are rich and deep. The responsibility starts to weigh on you, yes?
Lives Returns: Coming Soon Since 1998
Bust A Block That Hasn't Been Busted BeforeAs of July 24, Superman Returns (released June 28) has grossed $178 million in the United States, while Pirates 2 (released July 7) has $322 million. Each movie cost over $200 million to produce and promote, and that money shows on screen. What's sad is that both movies could have made more money if they had not come out a week apart. Perhaps Hollywood economists would not agree, but wouldn't Superman Returns have been more successful without strong competition from Captain Jack Sparrow, et al? Why not drop this blockbuster on a un-busted block? How about the spring? If a diminishing-returns sequel like Mission: Impossible 3 can make $122 million in early May (and June), why can't a "summer" blockbuster come out in late April? or March? Haven't you ever gone to the movies in the spring, paying $10 to see underwhelming features like The Pink Panther, Eight Below, V for Vendetta, or Underworld: Evolution? Before the feature, you see a trailer for a summer blockbuster like Superman Returns. By the time the trailer is over, you're so excited about seeing Superman fly with 21st century effects, that you've forgotten what feature you paid to watch. And when you do remember, you sadly regret that you can't watch the blockbuster instead? Here's a crazy idea: Release the summer blockbuster in the spring, and watch the eager moviegoers thank you by handing over their Hamiltons by the handful.
July 16, 2006
- Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) wants to control all commerce in the Carribean, and needs Jack Sparrow's magic compass to do it;
- Will and Elizabeth are sentenced to death unless Will can convince Jack to trade the compass for their pardon;
- Jack Sparrow must pay his debt to Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) or find a way to cheat Jones instead;
- Former Commodore Norrington will do anything to regain his honor and his commission;
- Elizabeth must escape from prison and stow away on another ship in order to catch up with Will Turner. At the same time, she struggles with her desire to become a pirate, and a possible romantic attraction to Jack Sparrow.
- Will Turner must kill Davy Jones in order to save his father, "Bootstrap" Bill Turner (Stellan Skarsgård), from eternal servitude aboard Jones's Flying Dutchman. Is there any wonder why this movie clocks in at two and a half hours?
Set PiecesAll the action sequences are well made, and are entertaining, thrilling, and funny. There's just too many of them. In the last third of the movie, Jack, Will, and Norrington all fight each other to acquire a key to the Dead Man's Chest of the title. In the process, they take a crazy ride on a old mill wheel, which rolls across the jungle landscape. This is far too similar to the "bone-cage-ball" ride down a different jungle hillside in the first third of the movie. By the time the mill wheel crashes on the beach, I was ready for Davy Jones to show up already. Once the threesome pop out of the mill wheel, they all swordfight each other simultaneously. I think this was meant to "top" any previous swordfight, but it simply highlights the unnecessary complication of the story. Sure, Jack Davenport is a good actor, but did we need him tagging along through half the movie?
Too Many CharactersSequels inevitably suffer from "reunion-itis", where the writers throw into Movie 2 familiar characters from Movie 1, even if there's no plausible reason to include them. Louis Tully in Ghostbusters 2, The Donkey in Shrek 2, and Leo Getz in Lethal Weapon 3 and 4 are good examples. The good news is, the Laurel-and-Hardy pirates (the Pirate With the Wooden Eye and the Bald One) are funnier than they were in Movie 1, but every scene dedicated to them slows down the movie. Perhaps the inclusion of Lord Beckett will pay off in Movie 3, but in Movie 2, he seems to exist solely to give Will and Elizabeth motivation to chase Jack Sparrow across the Carribean.
The Good Newsis that the movie's effects are more visually stunning and opulent than any movie I have ever seen. The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Star Wars prequel trilogies use equally impressive effects, but for verisimilitude. Davy Jones and his condemned crew of encrusted sea-creature pirates are simply stunning. Our jaws were dropped for the entire second half of the movie- we were stunned at the time and money spent to plaster the screen with such lavishly rendered and imaginative characters. The phrase "no expense was spared" never seemed so appropriate. Talk about getting your money's worth: Every penny of the $10-$12 people pay for movie tickets these days is right up there on screen.
What's NextGore Verbinski reports that principal photography for #3, At World's End, is only 60% done. Let's all hope he gets more time in the editing studio before it hits theaters next Memorial Day.
July 7, 2006
NOTE: These are the first silent films I have seen in the theater, marking a new "Oldest Feature Film" record in this diary (It Happened One Night  is the next oldest). Actually, I think I have seen at least one of the first seven Marx Brothers movies (1929 through 1937) in the theater, but I don't have any memory (or record) of which I saw on TV or in the theater.
July 2, 2006
1. “Across The Universe” The Beatles • It was tough picking just one song. This is Emily’s favorite.
2. “I Love Every Little Thing About You” Stevie Wonder • I once bought three Stevie Wonder CDs in one day, and lived to tell the tale.
3. “Radio Sweetheart” Elvis Costello • We both love Elvis, and Emily used this song at the start of her college radio show.
4. “Fearless Love” Bonnie Raitt • This is an old favorite – I heard it as background music in the movie Sideways.
5. “Fair” Ben Folds Five • If our love for music were a Venn diagram, Ben Folds would be at the center of the overlap. We actually attended the same BF concert two months before we met. A very When Harry Met Sally moment, wouldn't you say?
6. "Kiss On My List" Daryl Hall & John Oates • The first cassette I bought from the Record & Tape Club was Hall & Oates Rock 'n' Soul Pt. 1. Of course, I still have the tape.
7. "Come Rain Or Come Shine" Ella Fitzgerald • For Emily, it’s impossible to pick a favorite American songbook standard, but it had to be Ella.
8. “Sunday Morning” Maroon Five • This song sounds like the soundtrack to our own screwball romantic comedy.
9. “Black Coffee In Bed” Squeeze (live 1990) • Yes, this is a breakup song, but it means a lot to us. I wrote in my online personal ad that my "most humbling moment" was when I couldn't hit the high notes in this song anymore! Emily was naturally charmed, and the rest is history.
10. “I’ll Be Your Mirror” Clem Snide • A cover version of Emily’s favorite Velvet Underground song.
11. “Lovely Day” Bill Withers • The soul classic that also reminds Emily of rollerskating up and down the driveway, circa 1982.
12. “What A Fool Believes” The Doobie Brothers • Song of the Year from 1979, this one goes out to Miss Amy Armstrong, our fellow Michael McDonald-o-phile!
13. “The Good Part” Wilco (live) • On our second date, we went to see a documentary about Emily’s favorite band. It's hard to find a Wilco song with a positive outlook on love, but this fits the bill.
14. “The Painter” Neil Young • From the album Prairie Wind, we first heard this in the amazing concert film Neil Young: Heart of Gold.
15. “This Old Heart Of Mine” The Isley Brothers • We had to include some Motown here, and Nat has a soft spot for this 1965 hit as it's prominently featured in his favorite “Moonlighting” episode!
16. "Love Plus One" Haircut 100 • This song sounds like the soundtrack to our own John Hughes 80’s teen drama.
17. “Drive South” John Hiatt • I once got John Hiatt’s autograph, but I was too nervous to engage him in conversation, can you believe it?
18. “Waiting For My Real Life To Begin” Colin Hay is the lead singer from Men At Work, a teenage favorite for both me & Em, all grown up here.
19. “Delirious Love” Neil Diamond • Another classic from our youth reincarnated!
20. “Age of Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine” featuring the Cast of The Forty-Year-Old Virgin • Feel free to sing along, just like the end of the movie...
Emily and I had a lot of fun putting this playlist together. It's Nat & Em's Greatest Mellow Hits 1940-2006! There are a lot of covers of popular songs on here- it's a nice way to include a fresh take on an overplayed hit song. With the Amazon MP3 store and iTunes, it's easier than ever to browse for a cool cover song, or seek out that long-lost nugget, without paying for a full CD.
- This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) • Shawn Colvin
- She's No Lady (She's My Wife) • Lyle Lovett (live)
- I.G.Y. (International Geophysical Year) • Donald Fagen
- Tupelo Honey • Cassandra Wilson
- Magic In The Air • Badly Drawn Boy
- As Time Goes By • Billie Holiday
- Your Sweet Voice • Matthew Sweet
- God Only Knows • The Beach Boys
- A Mi Manera (My Way) • The Gypsy Kings
- Words • Ellis Paul
- Landslide • Fleetwood Mac
- Love and Some Verses • Iron & Wine
- Baby Now That I've Found You • Alison Krauss & Union Station
- Better Be Home Soon • Crowded House
- The One I Love • David Gray
- Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You? • Diana Krall
- Rain King (live, acoustic) • Counting Crows
- Calico Skies • Paul McCartney
- Come and Find Me • Josh Ritter
- Ooh La La • The Faces
- Pink Moon • Nick Drake
- I Will • Alison Krauss & Tony Furtado
- Tonight You Belong To Me • What I really wanted was the recording in the movie The Jerk where Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters sing on the beach. I found this very similar version by Eddie Montana instead.
- You Belong To Me • Patsy Cline
- Stranded • If you insist on including Van Morrison in your wedding, please select one of his dozens of great ballads that are NOT "Have I Told You Lately"!
- Razor Love • Neil Young
- They Can't Take That Away From Me • Lisa Stansfield
- Real Love • John Lennon recorded this as a demo only. It first appeared in the documentary John Lennon Imagine in 1988, and was later transformed into a Beatles reunion track in 1995.
- Green Eyes • Coldplay
- Honeymoon Suite • Suzanne Vega
- More Than This • Charlie Hunger Quartet, featuring Norah Jones
- One on One • Hall & Oates
- Nightswimming • R.E.M.
- When You Wake Up Feeling Old • Wilco
- It Had To Be You • Billie Holiday
- Sea of Love • The Honeydrippers
- She Will Have Her Way • Neil Finn
- Last Train to Clarksville • Cassandra Wilson
- Runaway Feeling • The Thorns
- Conceived • Beth Orton
- Color My World • This totally retro Chicago song was my in-law's wedding song.
- The Long and Winding Road • This version of The Beatles' classic is from the Let It Be Naked album, which strips away Phil Spector's Wall Of Sound strings and choir tracks, thank goodness!
May 28, 2006
My Note: Let me just add that the movie's so-called "ending" is a total cop-out. Think about the ending of Contact and you're on the right track. (Showcase Cinemas Woburn)
May 26, 2006
X3 is a fine conclusion to the X-Men series of films, even if it's clunky and overlong compared to X1 and X2. A teen-romance subplot between Rogue, Iceman, and Kitty Pryde slowed the proceedings to a crawl, and dragged the drama into "The OC" territory, even if it seemed like it was a necessary evil to establish Rogue's motivations. Brett Ratner, a Hollywood hack whom I have no respect for, replaced director Bryan Singer after pre-production, (Singer chose to resurrect the Superman franchise instead.) As a result, the elements which were in place before Ratner arrived are quite solid. The screenplay is topical and dark, daring to kill off three major characters and "curing" three other major characters of their mutant powers. These fatal choices, plus the law of diminishing returns, spells the end of the X-Men franchise, except for a possible Wolverine spinoff.
Theater NotesMr. Jack Pelletier joined Emily and I at the AMC Boston Common. X3 was showing on 4 screens at once, yet the theater was still 98% full. We ended up in the fourth row from the front, which in the old 1980s theaters was a death sentence. In this marvelous modern age of theater design, the movie was quite watchable from up front. As the lights came up, I proclaimed in a pedantic, Comic Book Guy manner: "C plus!", but Jack and Emily talked me up to a B-minus.
Stub Hubby Sees The X-Men Movies
- X-Men 
- X2: X-Men United 
- X-Men: The Last Stand 
- X-Men Origins: Wolverine 
- X-Men: First Class 
- The Wolverine 
- X-Men: Days Of Future Past 
Also On Memorial Day, Through The Years
- 2014: Godzilla
- 2008: Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
- 2007: Pirates Of The Carribean: At World's End (the third one)
- 2006: X-Men: The Last Stand
- 2005: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith
- 2002: Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones
- 2001: Pearl Harbor
- 1998: Godzilla (yes I saw two different Godzillas on Memorial Day 16 years apart)
- 1997: The Lost World: Jurassic Park
- 1996: Mission: Impossible
- 1995: Braveheart! I actually saw a Best Picture winner on Memorial Day!
- 1992: Alien3
- 1991: Hudson Hawk; perhaps ironically, the three Memorial Day movies with original screenplays were an Oscar winner, Pearl Harbor, and Hudson Hawk.
April 15, 2006
What sets this movie apart from another "cancer comedy" is this relationship. How do you let your son into your everyday working life, and honestly explain to him why you do things which appear to be morally corrupt? How do you teach your son how to be a man when you do things everyday that you wouldn't want him to do? I wonder if this theme resonated with the 29-year old Reitman, because his father Ivan works in another morality-free zone, Hollywood? Early in the movie, Reitman overly relies on cute bells and whistles, especially humorous onscreen captions. The movie is a little episodic in places, and generally rough around the edges, but certainly a worthy debut.
THEATER NOTE: Emily and I went to this art house, the Montgomery Cinema in Montgomery, NJ, with my soon-to-be sister-in-law Rebecca and her beau Eric.
What is it about Katie Holmes that makes her so hard to believe as a grown-up? Is it her childlike voice, baby face, or bad acting? Has she made a too-abrupt transition from playing teens to playing adults? Batman and Smoking are her first two roles as working professionals after a decade playing high school and college kids.
IMDb page, she has no new projects in the pipline. Perhaps the TomKat mating process will age her enough to play adults more convincingly in the future.
April 1, 2006
Screenwriter Russell Gewirtz (in his feature-film debut) answers the question "How do bank robbers escape if the police won't let them slip away?" I honestly did not know how it was going to turn out, even though I was watching it with my Usual Suspects-slash-M. Night Shyamalan "trust nothing you see" glasses on. Lee manages to work in plenty of allusions to tolerance and diversity in a post 9-11 America, and the erosion of civil liberties in an America where you can't tell the terrorists from the citizens. Emily read more of a "metaphor for America in Iraq" which also makes some sense. Lee, who is incapable of restraint or understatement, manages to make some of his points with grace and subtlety. (AMC Fenway)
March 24, 2006
In the not-too-distant-future, a fascist religious zealot (John Hurt, who played Winston Smith in 1984) has been elected PM and assumed the title Chancellor of Great Britain, all by eliciting the Terror Vote. In the name of national security, civil liberties have been revoked and the populace have been brainwashed by the government-controlled media. This wouldn't be so terrible, but all gays, blacks, Muslims, and insurgents have been interred in concentration camps. In one of these camps, in the course of unforgivable medical experiments, the government has created the crucible of their own destruction.
V wears a Guy Fawkes costume, not just to hide his horribly burned body (which we never see) but because, like Batman, he is not a man but an idea, and "ideas are bulletproof". V finds an unlikely ally in petite Evey (Natalie Portman), who grew up in a socialist household, who has lost everyone she ever loved to a concentration camp. Imagine her performance as Anne Frank, except Evey slips away from the jackbooted thugs and fights back.
V for Vendetta stirred up a healthy debate amongst the Guys of Guys Movie Night: What's the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter? The movie made its points well, if occasionally rough around the edges for a first-time director. Natalie Portman was excellent in a very strong role- if only Queen Amidala showed some of this passion! Hugo Weaving spoke well through his mask and his body acting was evocative. Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, and John Hurt were all excellent. (AMC Burlington)
March 23, 2006
I used the photo as a jumping-off point for the cover concept- I would mock up my own magazine cover, with headlines which include the titles of the songs.
At the same time, I was beginning to experiment with attaching the text to non-straight paths, and what better template than the horizontal stripes of Ms. Johansson's sweater?
- Fascination Street THE CURE
- Cold Turkey JOHN LENNON (A great dance remix by IDC)
- Love Is Strong The ROLLING STONES
- She's Gone ERIC CLAPTON
- Hypnotized FLEETWOOD MAC
- Don't Fear The Reaper WILCO (a low fidelity live recording)
- I'm On Fire (live at Giants Stadium 8-19-85) BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
- Begin the Begin (live 11-19-92) R.E.M.
- Use Me BILL WITHERS
- Me Myself I - DE LA SOUL
- 40 Days, 40 Fights BADLY DRAWN BOY
- I Want Love ELTON JOHN (I picked this track off my wife's 2CD Greatest Hits collection, for two reasons: a> it was produced by Jeff Lynne (ELO, Traveling Wilburys), and b>Ringo Starr plays drums.
- What Would It Take (from JEFF LYNNE's little-known solo album Armchair Theater.)
- You Can't Get What You Want (Til You Know What You Want) JOE JACKSON
- Stuck in the Middle vs. Nasty Girl (A silly mashup of Stealer's Wheel and Vanity 6.)
- Big Time PETER GABRIEL
- Lazy Sunday CHRIS PARNELL & ANDY SAMBERG
- Cantaloupe Island YESKA (sampled by US3 for their song "Cantaloop", aka "dip trip, flip fantasia...")
March 17, 2006
Pete literally drags Norton across the brutal landscape, handcuffed and barefoot. Norton is beaten, starved, sunburned, drowned, snakebit, starved, burned, and beaten some more. All we know for sure is that Pete wants to keep Norton alive long enough to make him bury Melquiades. This act will fulfill Pete's friendship to Melquiades, but will Pete decide that Norton has repaid his debt to Melquiades? It doesn't matter that the shooting wasn't murder per se. Before Pete abducts him, we see that Norton is torn apart with self-loathing for this shooting. The abduction and journey are a simple metaphor for what Norton's doing to himself on the inside. Only when Pete forces him to seek forgiveness (at gunpoint) does Norton unload his grief.
NOTE: Emily proposed this movie. I offered to go to the Capitol Theater and see Match Point while she saw Three Burials. When we got to the theater, the Match Point screening had been canceled due to a projector problem, so I joined Emily for The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.