December 31, 2007

2007 Year-End Wrap-Up

There have been plenty of years which didn't have a strong field of finalists like this. I have managed to narrow it down to five. Here goes: Gone Baby Gone, Hot Fuzz, I Am Legend, Ratatouille, and There Will Be Blood.

BEST PICTURE: Ratatouille is easily my favorite picture of the year. Ratatouille has won the Golden Tomato award from Rotten Tomatoes for the best-reviewed movie of the year (96% positive!) It's too bad the Best Animated Feature category was added to the Oscars. What are the chances that another animated feature will ever compete in the Best Picture category (only Disney's Beauty & The Beast has ever been nominated) when the competition is less stiff in their little Animated ghetto?

BEST GENRE PIC: Detective thriller Gone Baby Gone edges out the Western 3:10 to Yuma and legal thriller Michael Clayton, but all three are excellent examples of their genres. Grindhouse is a fun experiment without any real emotional whallop.

BEST COMEDY: Hot Fuzz wins because I saw it three times in the theater. I like Knocked Up, Superbad, and The Simpsons Movie, but I haven't felt compelled to view them over and over. I rented both Knocked Up and Superbad on DVD, but I haven't gotten around to re-watching either of them.

BEST ACTION MOVIE: I was torqued up to see The Bourne Ultimatum ever since I saw the trailer where Jason jumps through the French window in mid-air. The rest of the movie doesn't let up the thrills. No Country for Old Men and I Am Legend both have exciting action set pieces, but are not non-stop action.

The SILENCE OF THE LAMBS AWARD goes to Zodiac, which, like Lambs, is a very good and very scary serial killer detective movie which came out in the spring. Unlike Lambs, Zodiac has been completely ignored by the annual awards, even though it scored a 89 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

NOTE: This post is dated December 31 even though I saw several 2007 movies in January 2008.

December 27, 2007

I Am Legend

A superb speculative future thriller, and a career peak for Will Smith. The trailers and TV spots would lead you to believe that this movie is Will Smith Versus The Chalk-Faced Goons, but it's more like Cast Away than a zombie movie or vampire tale.
Smith is Dr. Robert Neville, and he has been alone on Manhattan, his own fully stocked desert isle, for three years. Smith and his German Shepherd Sam travel the island like any other wilderness, farming, hunting...and defending themselves from the rabid, cannibalistic, heliophobic "humans" who hide in the shadows by day and go wilding at night. There are thousands of these "Dark Seekers" on the island with Smith, so why does he remain on what was the most densely populated island on Earth? Neville was a Army scientist who was indirectly responsible for failing to contain the deadly virus which killed 90% of human life on Earth. A thousand days have passed, and Neville lives on only to try and cure what's left of the human race.
It's not really an action movie. But there are several thrilling and scary sequences which avoid cheap thrills for quietly satisfying ones. Even when you know there's a monster around the corner, it scares us in a fair and satisfying way.
Will Smith carries the weight of this movie on his shoulders alone, and completely succeeds. He spends most of the movie thinking to himself, examining the world around him, and talking to his dog. When he eventually unravels, he does so in a convincing manner, so we believe his poor judgment is honest instead of a screenwriting convenience.
A brief note about the dog: Abby plays the German Shepherd Samantha, and she's wonderful. Whatever great lengths the trainers and Smith went through to make Smith and Abby act like best friends, it works. The whole audience fell in love with her.
We are told nearly nothing about what happened in Manhattan between 2007 and 2012. We are shown exactly what the result is, and the results are spectacularly real-looking. This visualization is a thoughtful and precise idea of what it might look like if all the people were removed from the biggest city in the world. It was kinda creepy that we never saw even one dead body, not one skeleton anywhere. I don't know why they decided to make that creative choice, but it was a little distracting. The city has been emptied, but not in a UFO abduction kind of way: the city looks like it died out over time, and now Nature is taking back all it can. I didn't think much about "how did they shoot this", and we can thank the sound designers for that- the sounds guys removed all city sounds, indeed, all man-made sounds, and replaced them with lots of birdsong and nature sounds, but not in a overwhelming way.
I am a little disappointed in the truncated character development of the chalk-faced goons, specifically the Alpha male who seems to risk his life and stages a vendetta against Neville after Neville traps and captures a female goon. Neville writes off his irrational behavior as the last vestiges of humanity finally being stripped away, but there's further character development which is not completely explored. It made for good post-movie conversation!
Who wielded the megaphone for this fine movie? I had never heard of Francis Lawrence. I had to look him up online: Lawrence is a former music video director who has only helmed one feature film before: the mediocre, effects-heavy graphic novel adaptation Constantine. This is not a hope-inspiring pedigree! For every music video director who turned into a above-average movie director (Spike Jonze, David Fincher), there's a pile of Russell Mulcahys out there. Who knows if Lawrence can make another good movie, but I Am Legend was directed with intelligence and finesse I was not expecting.





December 22, 2007

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

walkhardA finely observed mockery of stale Hollywood music biographies, Walk Hard is most pointed in its parody of the two most recent overrated biopics: Ray and Walk The Line. I have taken issue with those two movies in this blog before, and I was supremely pleased to see someone with a camera and a budget address my grievances on the big screen.

But is it funny? The biopic jokes are snarkily funny, and the music jokes are nudge-nudge funny, but the movie doesn't bust a gut the way the best of Will Ferrell's do. I was holding this movie up to the standard set by Will Ferrell in his similar movies Anchorman and Talladega Nights. John C. Reilly's fantastic performance as Ricky Bobby's sycophantic sidekick driver in Talladega Nights proved that he could carry his own movie. He is very funny, sings well, and nails the characterization perfectly. I don't know the cause of the weakness in the laughs? The cast is packed with great talent: Kristen Wiig, Tim Meadows, and Chris Parnell are all superb. I was a little underwhelmed by Jenna Fischer. My friend Mandy pointed out that she doesn't lend any of her own personality or humor to the role of Darlene Madison, the virtuous singer whom Cox romances. She played the part on the page note for note, but there was more potential there which should have been realized.
I am going to lay the blame on second-generation movie director Jake Kasdan. I was singularly underwhelmed by his movies Orange County and The TV Set. Kasdan, age 33, is the son of Lawrence Kasdan (Body Heat, The Big Chill).

November 27, 2007

Blade Runner: The Final Cut


Twenty-five years after its debut, and 15 years after his "Director's Cut", Ridley Scott has finally completed Blade Runner. I am a big fan of this movie. I was too young (10) to see the movie in the theater in 1982, but I taped it off TV when I was a teen and watched it many times. In 1992 I saw the Director's Cut at the old Nickelodeon (now closed): the Director's Cut removed the "happy" ending and the voiceover narration from the taped-from-TV version I had been watching for years. Around 1994 I bought the Director's Cut on laserdisc and watched it many more times over the last 13 years. It's one of my 10 favorite movies, but there are a bunch of revealing mistakes, continuity errors, and technical limitations which deserve fixing in a movie of this quality. Scott has finally found the money and the time to fix those problems, plus tweak some of the scenes for his artistic preference, and The Final Cut is the result.
Besides watching the taped-from-TV version and the Director's Cut many times, I also have read a lot about this movie. Even a super-fan like me found the Final Cut to be only a subtle artistic tweak of the Director's Cut, with a little smoothing of the rough edges thrown in. Anyone who only knows the film casually will only notice the lack of a voiceover narration, and the removal of the happier ending. (Coolidge Corner with my brother Jon)
Stub Hubby Reviews Ridley Scott

November 25, 2007

I'm Not There

How do you make a movie about Bob Dylan? Director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, Velvet Goldmine) decided to explode the mythical, iconic Dylan by illustrating discrete pieces of the Dylan legend, each with its own story, and each with its own actor. The result: A surprisingly successful impressionistic collage, exploring who Bob Dylan was: to himself, to the public, to the press.

Marcus Carl Franklin is "Woody Guthrie", the 11-year-old black boy in 1960, who represents the young Bobby Zimmerman's adolescent soul. I know it sounds totally corny, but it works. Christian Bale is "Jack Rollins", the early Protest Dylan, all chambray shirts and humorlessness, before the cynicism kicked in. Heath Ledger is "Robbie", the domestic Dylan, who falls in love with a French woman (the montage is set to "I Want You", of course) but can't make himself emotionally available, or keep his cyncism from seeping in. Ben Whishaw is "Arthur Rimbaud", the inner philosopher, who answers the questions about life no one asks Dylan in reality. Richard Gere is "Pat Garrett", the withdrawn hermit Dylan. Does this represent Dylan's post-motorcycle crash 18-month sabbatical, when Dylan got off the carousel and tried to leave his public life behind? Perhaps this represents the older Dylan and his withdrawal from public life.

All of these pieces don't fit together so much as complement each other. I don't think we're any closer to understanding Dylan than we were already, but I'm Not There goes a long way towards justifying his eccentricity. Dylan comes off as a nasty jerk at times, but this movie explains why, even better than the documentary Don't Look Back.

imnotthereCate Blanchett is fantastic as the 1965-66 Dylan who turns away from Protest Folk music towards his own brand of electrified rock. This is the Bob Dylan (or "Jude Quinn", as he's called in these scenes) documented in Don't Look Back: tired of meeting stranger's expectations, surly towards the press and their inane questions, and protective of his art. Blanchett gets all the subtleties of the voice, the mannerisms (especially the fidgeting with cigarettes), and her final shot, where Quinn takes off her Ray-Bans and stares into the camera, was perfect. It reminded me of some of the interview footage in Martin Scorsese's No Direction Home documentary.

I found the movie to be a little bit too long. I felt that the movie made it's points very well, but it didn't need to go on as long as it did. (Landmark Embassy Cinema, Waltham, with Em and George and Mandy)

November 22, 2007

The Mist

themistAn excellent adaptation of one of my favorite Stephen King stories. A creepy bugs 'n' tentacles horrorfest, crossed with a "Lord of the Flies"-style disintegration of civilization. Director-screenwriter Frank Darabont made a great movie out of Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, and he gets all the big stuff and small stuff right in The Mist. A freak summer storm triggers a catastrophic failure at an Area 51-style base in Maine. An unnatural mist overtakes a nearby town, and a storeful of shoppers are trapped inside an old-fashioned supermarket when their world disappears outside. Unlike most "end of the world" movies (Deep Impact, The Day After Tomorrow), where the omniscient camera instantly travels the globe to show us every data point related to the catastrophe, there's no briefings with the President in The Mist. We only know what the townsfolk can conjecture. Three Army privates share a little second-hand information about The Arrowhead Project, but the basis for the whole story is that no one knows what happened, when it will end, or why.

The shoppers quickly discover that the mist hides hideous monsters, monsters which will snatch up anyone who sets foot outside. The monsters are more than nasty enough. One character gets stung on the neck by a giant locust, and is dead within five minutes. Spiders spin webs which burn into the skin. These aren't Jumanji-style "just swat 'em with a tennis racket" bugs: the humans don't stand a chance. Kinda like the movie Jurassic Park would have been if Steven Spielberg had the guts to kill characters we cared about. Perhaps the flying bugs are a little too well detailed. They are given multiple close-ups, and the effects are very good, but most of the movie is shot in a handheld, digital video style, with plenty of shaky zooms and "unplanned" camera movement. So when we are shown a long, steady closeup of a locust hovering in front of Marcia Gay Harden, I wished the bug was photographed as shakily as the rest of the movie. My favorite bugs in the whole movie are the ones we barely see: the creature which kills Ollie has at least four pointed legs like a scorpion. Then there's creature King describes in the book, as his survivors try to drive south to escape the mist: a lumbering beast so giant, it towers over the highway, its legs so long the body cannot be seen passing above. Darabont nails it perfectly- we can barely make it out through the mist, but my imagination made up the difference.

The performances were all good. As the rational protagonist, Thomas Jane hits all the important character points just right: strong and resourceful, yet vulnerable and protective of his son. While his is the lead character, the whole movie balances on Marcia Gay Harden as the town's superstitious crank, who evolves into a murderous religious zealot as the walls close in. Her doom crying and Old-Testament babble is the emotional pivot which turns the movie, and if she couldn't support the movie's weight, the whole thing would have collapsed. Darabont assembled a fine cast of supporting players, including Toby Jones, Andre Braugher, Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn, Frances Sternhagen, and William Sadler. My wife liked Nathan Gamble as Thomas Jane's son, and I was distracted by the weird face of Sam Witwer as Pvt. Wayne Jessup: besides his giant cleft chin, he clearly has a unibrow issue which he fixes with severe grooming. I kept staring at the hairless space between his brows- I could almost see the dotted line where the plucking begins.

Readers of the story will remember that the book ends with an open-ended "Hitchcock" ending. This wouldn't be satisfactory for a feature film which I paid $11 to see: people want a resolution. I feel that Darabont's ending, while traumatic, is close to as good as you could write. I am more frustrated with the marketing weasels, who included a shot in the TV commercials which gives away the ending. Even someone who had not read the book could catch this spoiler if they were paying attention. All through the movie, that one shot from the TV spot was lingering in the back of my mind, spoiling away.

THEATER NOTES: Emily and I went to the AMC Aviation 12 in Linden NJ, with Emily's sister Becca. Planning against a busy post-holiday crowd, I got us to the multiplex 30 minutes in advance, and we ended up the first persons to sit in the theater. Oh well. While walking out of the theater around 10pm, we were greeted by a couple + their four year old son standing in the doorway. Please God tell me that they weren't taking a child to see that movie! I think spiders bursting from a dead man's chest, a pterodactyl ripping a man's neck out, and a bisected corpse being dragged through a parking lot are a little much for the Spongebob set.

November 16, 2007

Great Prosthetic Devices in Movie History

  • C.D. Bales's Nose, in Roxanne
    "You feel yourself not staring. Then you think, "it's obvious I'm not staring." So you look, and you think, "I'm staring." So you say, "this is ridiculous," and you take a good look. And you think, "I'm looking at a man who, when he washes his face, loses the bar of soap."
    How many movies rest on a nose? Could this movie be made with a bad prosthetic nose? Through every minute of the film, viewers scrutinize the protruding proboscis Steve Martin wears as C.D. Bales in this 1987 romantic comedy. The fake nose is completely seamless. When Bales (or another character) touches the nose, it looks completely lifelike, or at least how you'd imagine a nose that size would look. The amount of energy which must have gone into such a perfect fake nose must be staggering.
  • The Hobbit feet in The Lord Of The Rings • There are 1,001 special effects challenges in The Lord Of The Rings, but the fact that Hobbits always go barefoot must have been the most tedious. It's all too easy for a science fiction or fantasy novelist to mention peculiar features of their characters: Zaphod Beeblebrox's two heads, and Hobbits' oversized bare feet come to mind. Making these peculiar features seem lifelike is much more work. The Hobbit feet are completely unspectacular, and their screen time is pretty limited. The feet make this list as an honor to Peter Jackson and his cast and crew, for going to the trouble of putting those latex feet on over and over again.
  • grouchomarxGroucho Marx's eyebrows and mustache • Groucho's greasepaint mustache and eyebrows turned his comedic character's face into a joke as broad as the humor of the Marx brothers' movies, and turned the Groucho character into a instantly recognizable worldwide icon. People around the world of all ages have seen the "Groucho Marx" disguise, an instant shorthand for laughs.
  • The Joker's face, in Batman (1989) • The comic books of the 1980s portrayed the Joker as a caricature of a man, with hideously distorted features. The 1989 Tim Burton movie bothered to create a reasonable origin for the Joker: Jack Napier, a powerful Mob lieutenant, is shot through the face, then nearly drowns in toxic chemicals, which bleach his skin and hair. His back-alley surgeon butchers the patch-up job, and the Napier's mind cracks after one glance at his new permanent grimace in the mirror. The prosthetic face Nicholson wears, especially when he wears flesh-tone makeup over his sickly white skin, is very effective.
  • Spock's ears, on Star Trek • The fake ears Leonard Nimoy wore every week on Star Trek were perfect. The combination of the ears, haircut, eyebrows, and makeup were very effective in making Leonard Nimoy (who looked kind of exotic anyways) look like an alien without being distracting.
  • Marko Ramius's hair, in The Hunt For Red October • Sean Connery has been losing his hair for a long time. When he began wearing follicular supplements we may never know. What we do know, however, is that the most spectacular, realistic, and flattering hairpiece he ever wore in a movie as as Captain Ramius in The Hunt For Red October. I recently saw Entrapment again on HBO, and his hairpiece in that movie was very good, and must have been expensive. There's no reason why any of Connery's fictional portrayals require hair, but I bet Connery has it in his contracts that the studio must provide a top-shelf hairpiece.
  • melaniegriffithMaria Ruskin's breasts, in The Bonfire Of The Vanities • I had to include a pair of famously augmented breasts on this list, and the story of Melanie Griffith's breast augmentation is famously well-documented: according to The Devil's Candy, Julie Salamon's book on the making of Vanities, Griffith had the boob job done after the exteriors were shot on location in New York, but before the production returned to Los Angeles for the interior scenes. Griffith gives her new implants a workout, with one spectacular orange gown, and two striptease scenes.

    Speaking of stripteases, an honorable mention goes to Demi Moore's breasts in Striptease. Moore was paid a then-record $12,000,000 to play the part, and specifically, to show the world her boob job.

  • The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard Of Oz • She's the iconic Witch: the makeup and prosthetics which transform Margaret Hamilton into the Witch serve the character, not themselves- if pressed to describe the character, I might say "she's evil and hideous" not, "she has green skin, a big nose, and a pointy chin".

November 9, 2007

No Country For Old Men

nocountryforoldmen A quality "meditation on unknowable evil" movie, well-crafted by Joel and Ethan Coen. Llewelyn Moss, a down-on-his-luck unemployed welder (Josh Brolin) happens upon the remains of a drug buy gone wrong in the broad parched landscape of Texas. He finds a case full of money. He might have made it away scot-free, but he makes a series of rookie mistakes, and is soon tracked down by a sociopathic bounty hunter named Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). Meanwhile, the local Sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) is closing in on Llewelyn and Anton, while despairing the decline of civilization in America, and feeling his own mortality. If this sounds like the kind of movie I normally avoid, you're right: its trailer was awesome, and I have a pretty high satisfaction ratio on Coen brothers projects. If it had been marketed like the Brad Pitt / Casey Affleck Western The Assassination Of Jesse James (A contemplative meditation set amongst the lyrical beauty of the American West) then I would not have even rented it. However, No Country has a well-crafted cat-and-mouse chase at its center, with the scrappy and resourceful Llewelyn barely staying ahead of his dark destiny, embodied by the clever, soulless killing machine embodied by Anton. The chase would have been more fun to watch if a> Anton had not been portrayed as indefatigable and humorless, and b> there were an "action" musical score to add some emotional relief.

Without a musical score, and including a murderous sociopath who is so potent he nearly kills by force of will alone, the viewer is granted no relief from the tension of potential sudden death. We are never given any clue that a character is safe for even a moment, placing us in the same paranoid fever as Llewelyn. Anton passes through any door with his air gun, which pops any lock with the press of a button. Anton kills through any wall or door with his shotgun + silencer, which kills instantly and silently. No door and no wall is secure against him.

Anton plays his bounty hunter as a unstoppable, unfeeling Grim Reaper: he takes some lives and passes by others. He can't be bargained with, can't be reasoned with, and he will not stop, until Sarah Connor is dead. Oh wait, wrong movie: Anton reminded me a lot of the Terminator.

There's a scene in the middle of the movie lifted straight from The Terminator (1984): Anton is pursuing Llewelyn when Llewelyn shoots him with a shotgun. Anton barely escapes. Anton retreats to his motel room and patches himself up, silently cleaning his wound, picking out buckshot, injecting himself with needles, all without any apparent feeling. In another symbolic scene, Anton suffers a much more severe injury, one which a>demands professional medical attention, and b>means almost certain capture by the police. Yet Anton picks himself up and keeps going, staggering down the sidewalk, completely unaffected, simply existing in one direction only.

I found one of the common Coen brothers tropes frustrating and unnecessary: Anton travels by murdering ordinary people for their cars. The Coen brothers seem to take some kind of perverse comedic pleasure in placing ordinary corn-fed Americans in the path of certain death, then watching them squirm on the hook a bit before executing them. They've treated us to these vignettes in Fargo and Raising Arizona, among others, and it happens a few too many times in this movie as well. We're shown his murderous vehicle-acquisition technique a few times, but the final time, when he murders a chicken farmer for his truck, it's played for laughs which seem completely tasteless to me.

As I said above, I generally avoid contemplative meditations on life and death, but I am glad I saw this one. Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin are excellent. Tommy Lee Jones is as perfect as usual, although he played a very similar role in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. The "thriller" sequences are taut and well-crafted, without the cinematic tricks the Coens used to rely on. (Kendall Square Cinema)

October 20, 2007

Gone Baby Gone

I didn't go to the movies for six weeks for a variety of reasons:
  • My Boston Red Sox' triumphant post-season run to the World Championship;
  • We attended widely different live concerts and musicals (Wicked, Nick Lowe, Kiri Te Kanawa, and The New Pornographers);
  • I was sick for a week; and
  • We went out of town for two weekends.
We ended our unintentional theatrical sabbatical with the Affleck Brothers detective noir, Gone Baby Gone. Gone Baby Gone is a sad, gritty detective noir, in the same vein as the other Boston-based Dennis Lehane adaptation, Mystic River, but all the cast members are 15 years younger! When a little girl goes missing in his Dorchester neighborhood, low-rent private detective Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) is hired by the girl's aunt to augment the police investigation. Patrick knows all the local palookas, and he pretty quickly begins uncovering dirt which the cops (Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, and John Ashton) can't. Soon Patrick and his partner Angie (Michelle Monaghan) are in way too deep, and the case ends badly. Patrick can't let it go, and the mystery turns out to be deeper than anyone wants to admit.
We all knew going in that this would be a dark movie. As I told my friend George as we entered the theater, "I am assuming that the little girl dies. After all, the movie is called Gone Baby Gone. That way, if she turns up alive, I'll be happily surprised!" Well, this detective story has a few twists and turns in the second half, but I found them mostly plausible. Just like real crime stories, good detective films include false leads, incorrect conclusions, the wrongly accused, and misdirection. Gone Baby Gone has all of those, and the viewer has a chance to keep up with Patrick's mind the whole way. Near the end, when the pieces start to finally fall into place, director Ben Affleck flashes back to show us these puzzle pieces again: scenes which occurred differently than we assumed, statements with double meanings, and clues which suddenly make sense. Some movies with twist endings magically resolve unsolvable plot illogic this way, but Ben Affleck's twists (he also co-wrote the adapted screenplay) are all plausible. The viewer does not feel cheated during the resolution.
As a big fan of detective stories, I really appreciated the way Patrick worked comfortably amongst the criminals and drug dealers-- when a drug dealer volunteers to help catch some child molesters, Patrick rides along with him. The drug dealer is a genuinely bad guy who should be in prison, but he hates child molesters like anyone else, so he wants Patrick to catch them.
Casey Affleck is excellent as a small-time detective who struggles to define himself when he is forced to make enormous moral choices.
Michelle Monaghan, whom I found very promising in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, is given a underwritten and ultimately disposable role. She tags along with Patrick and occasionally puts in her two cents, but she deosn't seem to be much of a detective.
Amy Ryan is excellent as the missing girl's mother: in her first scene, she appears to be a rather flat (and offensive) "white trash" stereotype, but her character gains depth and moral ambiguity with every successive scene.
Gone Baby Gone is an excellent example of the detective genre. Except for some of the performances, I don't think it really transcends into Oscar territory, but Ben Affleck deserves a lot of credit for co-adapting and directing a solid quality detective noir. (Regal Cinemas Fenway, with Em, George, and Mandy)

Stub Hubby Reviews The Depressing Boston Film Festival



October 14, 2007

114: Living In The Now

The Cover: Quite uninspired, actually. Just some mucking about with Photoshop. I do like the font choice.

The Tracks: Heavy on the new music, with a selection of vinyl:

  1. I'm Shipping Up To Boston | DROPKICK MURPHYS
  2. Dashboard | MODEST MOUSE
  3. Runaway | TRAVELING WILBURYS (Another reason to love iTunes: the Traveling Wilburys recently released a box set, including their two albums, five extra tracks, etc. Since I already own the two albums, I was able to spend $4.96 to buy the five extra tracks a la carte, instead of shelling out for the whole box!)
  4. Australia | THE SHINS (aka my wife's ringtone)
  5. In The Mood | ROBERT PLANT
  6. 1,2,3,4 | FEIST (Another mildly embarrassing song from an iTunes commercial.)
  7. Mary Lynn | MICHAEL PENN
  8. All Through The Night | JULES SHEAR (Shear is better known for his songwriting for other people; I found one of his LPs with this song, vastly improved in Cyndi Lauper's cover version.)
  9. What Light | WILCO (a Volkswagen commercial?)
  10. The Underdog | SPOON
  11. Smile (edit) | LILY ALLEN
  12. Wouldn't It Be Good | DANNY HUTTON HITTERS (from the Pretty In Pink soundtrack, a cover of this song was on the HBO show "Extras".)
  13. Young Folks | PETER, BJORN, & JOHN
  14. I Trained Her To Love Me | NICK LOWE
  15. Gone Daddy Gone | GNARLS BARKLEY (I heard this cover version on a cable show called "Live From Abbey Road".)
  16. Sleeping With The Television On | BILLY JOEL (My favorite Billy Joel song which no one else knows.)
  17. Rehab | AMY WINEHOUSE
  18. Everything I Need | MEN AT WORK (The single from their third LP which no one bought.)
  19. Ever Present Past | PAUL McCARTNEY
  20. Running Up That Hill | PLACEBO (This cover has been on a few TV shows, trailers, and commericals.)
  21. Your Own Worst Enemy | BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (so so so SAD!)

September 8, 2007

3:10 To Yuma

A great Western and a awesome film all around. A big step up for director James Mangold, after his biopic by-the-numbers Walk The Line. Russell Crowe is Ben Wade, a charming, handsome, ruthless, notorious stagecoach robber. By a fluke, Wade has finally been captured, after 22 heists, who knows how many murdered, and $400,000 in cash stolen. He's being taken to Yuma AZ for his trial and certain hanging. Christian Bale is Dan Evans, a desparate rancher who must save his ranch, make a man out of his son, and redeem his own manhood, by agreeing to take Crowe to the 3:10 train to Yuma, a 3-day, two night overland journey. A solid and thoughtful script, world-class performances, and fine location photography equal a fine Western we were talking about all evening afterwards.

NOTES: We went to the 4:40pm screening, which led to some verbal confusion at the box office: I stepped up and declared "Two for the 4:40 to Yuma, please", which is only half right. According to movietickets.com, you can see 3:10 to Yuma in two theaters in Yuma, Arizona (The Harkins Palms 14 or the Main Street Cinemas), and the Harkins 14 is even showing the film at 3:10. I joked with the teenage clerk, who asked "Oh, is that what that movie is about?" Sigh. George, Mandy, and Amy joined Emily and myself. We went to El Pelon Taqueria for dinner afterwards, and had a lively cinematical conversational critique. (Regal Fenway Stadium 13)

September 7, 2007

Superbad: Guys Movie Night

A honest, funny, crude, and realistic depiction of high-school drunken foolishness. Another example of the new comedy process where the director tries out 100 jokes per scene, then edits the movie based on which jokes get the most laughs in preview screenings. This may result in guaranteed quality humor, but the resulting movie sometimes feels rough and choppy. For example, the most famous scene where Fogel shows Seth and Evan his fake "McLovin" ID included plenty of punchlines ("Are you an Irish R&B singer? Are you Seal?") but it never felt like a character actually said two sentences in a row. The chop-chop-chop rhythm eliminates any flow. Seventy years ago, the Marx brothers would try out their routines on the road in front of live audiences, crafting and honing their jokes before they filmed them onscreen. I'm generally pleased with the results of this style of comedy-moviemaking, but it would be refreshing to see a comedy with takes which lasted longer than five seconds. Where's the Ghostbusters when you really need them?

NOTES: Angus, Jeff, Phil, and I saw the movie in the mostly empty Screen 8 three weeks after the movie's debut. A trailer for National Treasure 2: We Remake The Da Vinci Code drew open laughter from the entire audience. The trailer for the Coen brothers new movie, No Country for Old Men, makes the movie look a-w-e-s-o-m-e! (Regal Fenway Stadium 13)

August 17, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum

We're nearly at the end of the summer- all our teacher friends are going back to work, my wife is preparing her syllabus, cargo shorts are on clearance at Target, and the Halloween candy has arrived at Stop & Shop. After a summer of disappointing three-quels (Spider-Man 3, Pirates 3), a truly kick-ass three-quel has finally arrived: The Bourne Ultimatum is the best action movie of the year, and one of the best three-quels of all time. Ultimatum is as good or better than Bourne 2, which was much better than the good-but-not-great Bourne 1.

In some ways, this film fits the same format as the first two movies: Bourne is chased across the globe as he seeks out the truth, while the CIA spooks in the nerve center under-estimate him at every turn. This time, Bourne comes out of hiding when an intrepid reporter Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) turns up some fresh leads on the origins of Treadstone, the CIA black op which created him. Bourne makes contact, and CIA deputy director Noah Vosen (David Strathairn) intends to do anything to keep a lid on the story. Vosen brands Ross and his source within the CIA as traitors. When Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) points out his slippery slope of secret-keeping, she asks "When does it all end?" He barks back "When we win." If that's not an indictment of "if you're not my friend, then you're my enemy" policies, I don't know what is.

In Supremacy, Brian Cox played the evil father figure role much like his part in X-Men 2. In this film, in a total casting surprise, a certain five-time Oscar nominee portrays Bourne's original initiator, the doctor who made Bourne into the brainwashed assassin. He's so grandfatherly in his demeanor towards Bourne, that the subject of their conversations is all the more creepy, compared to when Chris Cooper barked at Bourne in the first movie.

Julia Stiles is brought back, which is implausible plot-wise, but thankfully she is not over-used. Some kind of prior relationship is only hinted at, and their dialog is thankfully brief. The wordless exchanges are potent, particularly when Stiles cuts and dyes her hair to change her appearance, which evokes the same scene with Franka Potente from Identity.

What keeps this movie from feeling redundant are the inventive and clever action set pieces. As an action connoisseur, I can easily think ahead of the plot and see outcomes a mile away. I want to be surprised, and I want to see action and thrills staged in new ways. A cat-and-mouse chase in Waterloo station, London, is smart and fresh, as Bourne guides a journalist through a gauntlet of agents by remote control. A motorcycle and foot chase around Casablanca is thrilling in its reality- it's not necessarily Matt Damon throwing himself through windows and racing down alleys, but it feels like it's all really happening to someone. Finally, a demolition derby in midtown Manhattan demonstrates what really happens to cars when you smash them together. I've been watching some late-1970s Bond movies recently on cable, and I have really appreciated the car chases. They're very obviously really cracking up these cars, and they stick the camera right in there. Ultimatum and Supremacy have that feel.

I didn't see Supremacy (2004) until the I rented the DVD in the spring of 2006. In anticipation of seeing Ultimatum in the theater, I rented both Bourne 1 and 2 via Amazon Unbox on my TiVo. We watched Bourne 1 on Monday, Bourne 2 on Tuesday, and Bourne 3 on Friday. What a week of ass-kicking! (Somerville Theater)

July 31, 2007

113 Man Band

The Tracks: This is the first mix I composed after purchasing a "USB" turntable. A miracle of modern technology, a "USB" turntable is simply a record player with both traditional "RCA" output wires and a USB cable output. This feature makes it easy to play music from vinyl on your PC and record it. Since I bought this new turntable, I have listened to dozens of LPs and 45s which I haven't played in years. All I have to do is press RECORD, and I can save these songs as MP3s, import them into iTunes, and I can add them to playlists. I may never buy an album recorded before 1987 again, when I can find a used LP at a record store or a yard sale for 99¢ ! Number 1 on this mix is Marvin Hamlisch's solo piano "Solace", a melancholy track from The Sting movie soundtrack. The LP was a birthday gift from my wife in 2005, with autographs from stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford!

The Title: While composing this mix, I started to notice there were a bunch of tracks where the artist played all the instruments themselves, either live or multitracked. So I called the mix One (Hundred and Thirteen) Man Band.

The Cover: I did a GIS for the artwork, and the font inspired the pink and grey color scheme.

  1. Solace - Marvin Hamlisch - Solo piano
  2. The Hardest Button To Button - The White Stripes - As heard on The Simpsons
  3. Zak & Sara - Ben Folds - My sister-in-law Sara's name would have been Zak had she been a boy!
  4. Don't Look Back - Barry & The Remains (A Boston-based band most famous for opening for The Beatles on tour.)
  5. Midnight Blue - Lou Gramm - HMV cutout bin
  6. Slipping Away - Dave Edmunds (Edmunds let Jeff Lynne (ELO) produce this LP, and as a result, the normally roots rockin' Dave sounds distinctly New Wavy here.
  7. I Wanna Know - The Mavericks - Scrubs TV show
  8. Let's Live For Today - The Grass Roots (I still have a hard time believing that the same Creed Bratton who played guitar on this song is the same guy from The Office.)
  9. Trouble - Lindsay Buckingham - Austin TX record store
  10. How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore? - Prince (the great B-side to "1999")
  11. I Think She Likes Me - Treat Her Right - Providence RI yard sale
  12. Diner - Martin Sexton - Scrubs TV show
  13. My Favorite Waste of Time - Marshall Crenshaw - One Man Band
  14. Strapped For Cash - Fountains of Wayne
  15. All For Leyna - Billy Joel - Birthday present, circa 1986
  16. When The Stars Go Blue - Blake Lewis - American Idol
  17. It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference - Todd Rundgren - One Man Band
  18. What Matters - Matthew Sweet
  19. Roscoe - Midlake - CD swap with George
  20. What Can I Say? - Brandi Carlile - Tower Records liquidation sale
  21. Daylight Fading - Counting Crows - Yard sale
  22. More Than This - Norah Jones

July 29, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

What a challenge, to create a successful and satisfying Simpsons feature film. We've been anticipating a Simpsons movie ever since the show was just a fad in the early 1990s. It grew from pleasant fad (remember the bootleg Bart t-shirts?) to one of the all-time best TV shows by the mid-1990s. For most of the last decade, as the show treaded water creatively (and frankly slumped badly circa 2003) rumors of a feature film percolated. I suspect many fans hoped that a movie would restore their faith that these characters could be creatively reborn. In my wildest dreams, the movie would be as funny and special as my all-time favorites (You Only Move Twice, Marge vs the Monorail, Kamp Krusty, Homer's Barbershop Quartet, Mr Plow, Homer Badman). However, the most I could realistically hope for is a movie comparable to an above-average episode, which would take advantage of the large scope and PG-13 rating of the big screen, and yet stay true to the hand-drawn and family-first tone of the TV show.

Finally The Simpsons Movie has arrived, and I cannot complain. The plot is classic Simpsons (Homer adopts a pig, Homer causes ecological disaster, Homer goes on vision quest, Homer hammers himself repeatedly), but expanded in scope to fill a movie screen. Homer and Marge's marriage is strained to the point of a heartbreaking emotional climax, and possibly the saddest moment in Simpsons history. Bart and Lisa get their own plotlines: Bart is puzzled but eventually embraces a functional paternal relationship with Flanders, and Lisa is adorable when she has a mini-romance with an adorable Irish exchange student/environmentalist/troubadour. Even Maggie has some key scenes.

The character animation looks all hand-drawn, but I noticed some inconsistency: sometimes the thickness of character's outlines would vary from scene to scene, or even within a scene, and I noticed the character animation occasionally was definitely cruder in some brief shots, especially in non-closeups. I suspect the producers had to budget where they spent their time and money on finesse. The object, background, and landscape animation was highly detailed and very well rendered, with moving cameras much like the animation on Matt Groening's other TV show, Futurama. It's about time The Simpsons got this fancy treatment! The movie does take advantage of its PG-13 rating, with some well-placed strong language, one incredibly belated drug reference, and yes, we get to see Bart completely naked. Completely. (Somerville Theater)

July 24, 2007

Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix

Adapting the longest Harry Potter novel into a watchable movie is a thankless task. Somehow, Brit TV director David Yates manages to create a more-than adequate feature film... and the shortest Potter movie to date. Our three young actors playing Harry, Ron, and Hermione are ageing gracefully. I find Emma Watson's acting a little mannered, but certainly more than acceptable. Imelda Staunton is great as Dolores Umbridge, even if I found her characteristic "cough/laugh" a little off. I really appreciated the changes in art and production design from the previous movie to this one: the Death Eaters masks are different, the Dementors are different, Sirius's fireplace conversation looks different, and Hogsmeade is changed radically. I really enjoyed the black brick look of the Ministry of Magic-- there's no reason for the whole wizarding world to look like either Arthurian legend or a Dickens novel.
Dramatic highlights include Harry's detention with Umbridge- the cute kitten plates and tinkling music box score add a creepy touch to the "lines" Harry writes in his own blood. Fred and George's departure from Hogwarts brings smiles and tears to my face. And finally, the battle at the Ministry, which I found needlessly confusing and overly complicated in the book, is reduced to its essential components and delivers a great visceral and emotional wallop.
Potter author J.K. Rowling has admitted her regret that the novel was not more tightly edited, and Yates fulfills her wishes on the big screen, by cutting out Quidditch and S.P.E.W, for example, plus several pleasant montages condense the school year into manageable chunks.
Unfortunately, the Order of the Phoenix is barely present in their eponymous movie, at the expense of several chop-worthy subplots. For example, I don't know why the thestrals are included in the film. For dramatic purposes, the winged horses give Harry and Luna something to bond over. Also, the thestrals are used by the D.A. to travel to the Ministry in the third act. They seem so easy to excise from the movie, that I wonder why they were kept in. There's plenty of other places where the movie does not faithfully recreate the book— thankfully none of the movies have been too faithful since Chamber of Secrets —so why not just cut them out? Another subplot which is totally unnecessary: Grawp, the centaurs, and the Forbidden Forest. The initial visit when Harry, Ron, and Hermione visit Hagrid and Grawp is a lengthy time-sink devoted to a dopey giant which is completely ancillary to the drama. The centaurs appearance is less of a waste of time but equally unnecessary. I suppose the writer and director could not figure out how to save Harry from Umbridge and her threatened Cruciatus curse without Grawp and the centaurs.
What's lost from the movie? The Order itself. Nymphadora Tonks, for example, has one line in the movie, and one brief scene goofing off at the Grimmauld Place dinner table. She has an important plotline with the Order and an upcoming romance, but she is only "on the radar" of this movie because Moody calls her by name, and two special effects are devoted to her. Her future husband Remus Lupin is also reduced to a supporting role, Kreacher gets one line because Rowling insisted he be retained, and I don't remember spotting Fletcher Mundungus at all. (July 15, Regal Fenway Stadium 13, with Amy and Adam; July 24, AMC Burlington with Em)


July 1, 2007

Halfway through 2007

We're halfway through 2007, and I am making progress in my efforts to cut back on the mediocre movie-going: I've only been to the movies 16 times this year. If I go to the theater 32 times total in 2007, it will be my lowest yearly total since 2000, when I only saw seventeen films on the big screen. I have reached the mythical "once per week" plateau only twice: 1995 and 2003.

June 30, 2007

Ratatouille

Best movie of the year, the finest use of computer animation ever, and possibly the best Pixar movie. A completely delightful adventure into the world of creating for its own sake, bringing something into the world, a movie for aesthetes everywhere.

Co-writer and director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles) has created a film with a surprisingly subtle premise, which still satisfies everyone from children to seniors. Yes, the movie's about a rat who wants to cook, but it's also about declining aesthetic values versus mediocrity and commerce. The Parisian restaurant where Remy the rat (Patton Oswalt) meets a aspiring garbage-boy Alfredo Linguini (Lou Romano) is a formerly five-star restaurant Gusteau's, which has slipped two stars since its eponymous chef (Brad Garrett) died. The new Chef Skinner (Ian Holm, channeling his Napoleon from Time Bandits) is happy to neglect the food quality, as long as the ignorant tourist trade keeps the receipts up, and he can continue to sell out the Gusteau name with frozen foods for Americans. The arrival of Linguini and Remy puts all this in jeopardy.

The movie makes a not-too subtle jab at American taste buds: all the French rats in the movie eat garbage indiscriminately, and love it, but they're all voiced by Americans. Only Remy tries to convince his brother and his father that there is merit in eating fresh food.

The animation looks effortless- the quality of light, water, bread and soup are all magnificent. The medium of CGI allows Bird to tell a story where most of the movie is shot from a rat's eye view: when Remy the rat is trapped under a colander, he peeks through a hole to see out, and we see his POV of the hole, the hand which is holding the colander down, we see up Linguini's sleeve, and we see the heated dialog between Linguini and Chef Skinner (Ian Holm). Obviously this "shot" could be accomplished with hand-drawn animation, but the CGI work puts you right in the action without the artifice of ink art.

One "if I didn't love the movie I wouldnt care this much" quibble: Janeane Garofalo voices Colette, the sole female chef in the kitchen. Her lengthy rant to Linguini on "the facts of kitchen life" was almost completely incomprehensible. In a movie full of French accents, hers was the only one I could not make out.

I try to save the highest grades for movies which make the Top Five, so here's me going out on a limb in June: I predict there won't be five better movies this year. My grade: A plus. (Entertainment Cinemas, Fresh Pond)

The Movie Theater at Fresh Pond Continues to Suck

I make a habit of staying away from the sad, sucky theater tucked behind the Fresh Pond Mall in Cambridge. When I pass within sight of it, I curse three times and gag on the bad memories of the House Where Dreams Go To Die, the Cursed Lantern, the noisy playpen where the parents of Cambridge send their unsupervised rugrats, the multiplex with "screens" so cruelly small Bono and Chris Martin have held benefit concerts to have the place torn down. That movie "1408" was based on one of the screening rooms. Iran evacuated their embassy and airlifted their ambassador off the roof. Get the idea? Only children, fools, masochists, and adults with depressingly low expectations pay $10 to spend 90 minutes inside.

I experienced the horror of Fresh Pond all too often in the mid 1990s. In the mid 1990s, there was no Boston Common or Fenway cinemas. If you lived in Somerville, your choices were a rat-infested hellhole (Assembly Square) or a hellhole without the rats, I chose the rat-free option. I stayed away from 1995 until 2003, when I saw View From The Top on a dare from my wife. The movie was terrible, I had a coupon, so the whole experience fit together. No one wants to see a terrible movie in a majestic movie house!

Now it's been 12 years since I last frequented the not-so-Fresh Pond. We went to see Ratatouille (what turned out to be the best movie of 2007) at Fresh Pond, only because it was ridiculously convenient. (My wife's parents and sister were in town, staying at the Hotel Tria, located in the same shopping plaza.) I admit Fresh Pond is a great location for a theater. North of Boston and inside of Route 128, your choices for first-run, non-art house fare are Fresh Pond, Revere, and that's it. They finally closed Assembly Square, ten years after I last set foot in that rat-infested hellhole.

So how was this moviegoing experience? It was like watching a movie on a TV in an E.R. waiting room...and by the way, you're horribly injured. I don't recall the last time I had to focus so hard on the action onscreen. It took all my will to screen out all the distractions. We had a row of chatty teenagers behind us. I suspect they are aware that "there's no talking allowed in a theater", but they didn't care. The kid directly behind me silently belched his dinner on my neck twice. A group of children across the aisle, who are too young to know better, talked through the whole movie, asking their mother questions. Mom, of course, just shushes them, in a voice even louder than her kids. The picture quality was good but the sound was only OK. The entrance to the theater includes a shiny plaque SONY DIGITAL DYNAMIC SOUND but I don't believe it. I know what you're thinking: it's a kids' movie, and you went to a 7:35 show, what did you expect? That's a good point, but I have been to plenty of movies with teenagers and children, but nobody ever belched on the back of my head before. Twice.

June 9, 2007

Knocked Up

Another funny and human comedy from Judd Apatow, the writer-director of The Forty-Year OId Virgin. Alison (Katherine Heigl) is a gorgeous PA on the E! cable network who gets a breakout promotion to on-air personality. She's about to become a big TV star, so to celebrate, she goes out clubbing and gets drunk. She gets pregnant during a drunken 3am hookup with Ben (Seth Rogen), a sweet, furry, occasionally charming slacker. In the classic knocked up scenario, the man ditches his responsibility and fucks over the woman. In this story, the guy is the ugly duckling who's always been fucked over by women. Ben's the one who wants to stick around, but will Alison agree to give him a chance?

The more Alison learns about Ben, the more conflicted she is. On the original hookup night, he only made it into her bed thanks to a brief moment of charm, a "completely harmless guy" vibe, and a lot of tequila. The next morning, she views his soft ass in her bed and immediately starts regretting her non-choice. Over a brutal cup of coffee, she learns that besides being sweet and thoughtful, he's also crude, penniless, and unemployed.

So why does Alison decide to give Ben a chance? Apatow crafted this part of the movie very carefully, to make it plausible that a gorgeous blonde with money and fame around the corner would try and invite this unpromising stranger into her life. Apatow tries to play it as if Alison starts falling in love with Ben, but when Alison first says "I love you", we didn't buy it.

Alison's living in her sister's guest house (much like Kato Kaelin, and Matthew on The New Adventures of Old Christine), therefore, this gestating relationship takes place under the judging eyes of Debbie, played with great humor, finesse, and sadness by Leslie Mann.

Debbie and her husband Pete (Paul Rudd) are Alison and Ben's cautionary tale: they're the prototypical unhappy married couple. Debbie and Pete got married because Debbie got pregnant, and 10 years later, they're both dissatisfied. They love their kids, but its a daily grind to live with each other. Apatow reportedly based this relationship on his own marriage to actress Leslie Mann (who plays Debbie!), and their children play Pete and Debbie's kids in the movie. Their relationship is so well drawn, it's almost uncomfortably realistic at times.

I am so impressed with the care and thoughtfulness that went into making this movie, that I have neglected to talk about how funny it is. It is funny, and crude, and ridiculously rude. But it's all those things in a uniquely mature adult kind of way. I didn't feel like I do when I watch American Pie and that class of comedy- with those films, I feel like an old man watching jokes for 16-year olds. In Knocked Up, I feel like the fart jokes are for the 30-plus club!

Rogen and Heigl are so busy carrying the story that they don't get to be funny very often. Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd are both wonderfully funny. Not only is Mann funny when she's barking at people, but also when she breaks down later on the movie. Calling a babysitter a c*** was never so well delivered. Paul Rudd's character shares some of the fatalistic 'what does it all mean" attitude of his character from The Forty-Year Old Virgin: instead of dwelling on his departed girlfriend and his self-imposed celibacy, Pete dwells on his complete inability to feel anything. While watching his kids play with soap bubbles, he remarks "I wish I cared about anything as much as my kids care about bubbles."

Ben lives in a run-down marijuana den with four fellow stoned slackers. Their comic riffing forms the base of comic relief on which the movie rests. Apatow reportedly films hours and hours of footage with this quintet joking around, and through endless preview testing, picked the bits with the best reactions for the movie.

I am holding this movie to quite a high standard, so if it sounds like I didn't like the movie, let me reassure you, I really enjoyed it. I'm just being tough and examining the film with the kind of scrutiny that the latest Ashton Kutcher or Tara Reid comedy doesn't deserve. I happily award an A grade and I look forward to more from Mr Apatow. Next up: Superbad (co-written by Rogen and co-produced by Apatow). (Regal Fenway Stadium 13, with my friend Eve)

June 5, 2007

Spider-Man 3

The most expensive movie ever made is a fantastic, gripping, emotional thrill ride...buried in a overlong and needlessly cluttered 140 minute movie. If the first two movies weren't so good, I would not be holding this movie to such a high standard. Once again, the core relationships between Peter, MJ, and Harry are thoughtfully portrayed by Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and James Franco. The love triangle they were given to portray smelled a little soapy to me, but I really felt strong connections between the characters.
Why do moviemakers feel the need to pile on an excessive number of villains in movie sequels? I first noticed this phenomenon in Batman Returns (do we really need Catwoman and The Penguin?) Now Spider-Man 3 includes Sandman and Venom and Harry "Green Goblin, Jr" Osborn. The movie would have made more sense, been much better, and a half hour shorter, if they'd saved Sandman for Episode 4, and expanded the Venom character. As it is, they had to contort the realm of possibility to fit them in: they had to rewrite Uncle Ben's murder to fit Sandman in, and sprain my suspension of disbelief to fit in Venom.
How unlikely are these new relationships? It turns out that Ben wasn't shot by that carjacker with the bad haircut after all, it was petty thief Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), who's now escaped from Rikers. Meanwhile, rival photojournalist Eddie Brock (the criminally underused and underrated Topher Grace) is dating Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard, with blonde hair, new boobs, and unreal blue eyes, looking weirder than ever), who's one of Peter's fellow physics students, who also happens to be a model in her spare time. Stacy is doing a photoshoot on top of a photocopier(?) high up in an office building (??) when she is saved from certain death in a runaway crane accident by Spider-Man. Did I mention her father is the chief of police, who is hunting Flint Marko? Seven million New Yorkers, and these five people are all connected.
Meanwhile, Peter Parker discovers that it feels good to be bad, when his suit is infected with a malicious oily goo which removes all inhibition and sets free your dark id. I am tempted to complain how ludicrous the arrival of this goo is, but it's not wise to question superpower origin stories, because none of them make any sense. When Parker wears his new black suit, he starts strutting like Tony Manero, letting his hair flop over like he's in The Killers, and picking fights with his rivals. This is a fine metaphor for his conflicted feelings about his super-heroic duties, much like his semi-retirement in Spider-Man 2. It's shocking and satisfying to see Spider-Man pick a fight with Harry Osborn, as we have only seen Spidey fight defensively for most of the trilogy.
The first two Spider-Man movies get an A minus and A grades, respectively, and this third installment gets an A minus grade, because I don't have the stomach to give out a B plus to a movie costing $300,000,000.

Theater Notes

Emily and I invited the whole gang for what we hoped would be the best movie of the summer. We were thrilled at the turnout- our guest list included Jon & Bobbi, Jed and Seneca & Chris, Amy & Adam, Angus, and Phil. At $10 per ticket, that's $110 in tickets from our group. Spider-Man 3 grossed over $148,000,000 over the opening weekend (the largest weekend gross since the last Pirates movie), which means our little group contributed .00007 percent of the receipts. (Regal Fenway Stadium 13)
Yes Peter, this is the same bridge from Highlander.

Stray Observations 2013

Six years later we watched most of the middle of the movie on TV:
  • When Harry finally awakes from his amnesia and becomes evil again, he forces Mary Jane to break up with Peter. She meets Peter in the middle of Bow Bridge in Central Park, the same rendezvous spot Connor MacLeod chose to meet up with Sunda Kastagir in Highlander (1986)!
  • A favored meeting spot for superhumans.
  • James Franco looks really weird with no facial hair. He's one of those actors who stops shaving the moment they stop filming (along with Jon Hamm, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Johnny Depp)
Clean Shaven James Franco



Summer Sequels & Remakes: The Worst

My C plus grade for Pirates 3 inspired me to review the last 10 summers and collect the 10 most disappointing sequels and remakes. Just think of the billions of dollars spent to create these 10 films. Worse yet, think of the billions spent on tickets! When my will to live returns, I'll compile a list of the most satisfying summer sequels and remakes...
  • 1998: Godzilla
  • 1999: Star Wars Episode 1
  • 2001: Jurassic Park 3
  • 2002: Men In Black 2
  • 2002: Austin Powers 3
  • 2002: Star Wars Episode 2
  • 2003: The Matrix 2
  • 2005: Star Wars Episode 3
  • 2006: Superman Returns
  • 2007: Pirates 3

May 27, 2007

Pirates of the Carribean: At World's End

What a sad conclusion to the Pirates of the Carribean trilogy. Even if they decide to make more Pirates movies, I won't be there. After the clever and entertaining Curse of the Black Pearl in 2003, the filmmakers proceeded to film two sequels simultaneously, and ignore every lesson we've ever learned about how to make good sequels. They fall into every trap! The middle episode, last summer's Dead Man's Chest, was overly long, confusing, and bloated, but in a fun and entertaining way. Episode 3 is a confusing, charm-free slog to the finish line, like watching a runner with a leg cramp limp across the finish line.

It's possible that I would be giving this film a higher grade than C plus if I had seen it in a modern theater. I was warned in advance that the Beach Theater in Cape May, New Jersey has none of the charm of a vintage movie theater. The Beach has been showing movies since the early 1950s, and all the improvements in the last half-century have been...what's the opposite of improvement? I've had a wide variety of bad moviegoing experiences: reels missing (The Fifth Element), hostile audience members (The Italian Job), out-of-focus with no surround sound (Shrek 2), and a film break right before the climax (Tremors), but this has to rank right up there. The sound system made understanding the dialog (especially Chow Yun-Fat's accent) difficult; the image bled over all four sides of the screen, meaning the shot composition was totally lost; someone opened a door in the projection booth during a crucial plot point, casting sunlight all over the screen; and the theater smelled like gym socks. I'm reminded of the best moviegoing experience of my life, when I saw Ocean's Eleven at the THX-certified Framingham Premium Cinema-- the surround sound was so good, I thought people were talking at the back of the theater when in fact it was only the surround speakers!

Also On Memorial Day, Through The Years

I have been to the movies on Memorial Day Monday 13 times in 24 years, but it's not a great track record. 

April 20, 2007

Hot Fuzz

"Idea."
Clever, funny, and refreshingly British, Hot Fuzz is a novel action-comedy and a worthy follow-up to Shaun of the Dead. Hot Fuzz rewards repeat viewing, just as Shaun of the Dead gets better with repeated viewings. Many sequences fly by so fast, that I struggled to keep up the first time around, but I nodded and smiled the second time. Directing and writing team Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg were careful not to make a parody of action cop movies, but to make a action-cop movie with comedy. They have completely succeeded.
Wright and Pegg take a common plot outline (stranger comes to seemingly harmless small town) and fuses it with an American-style detective story (Solo cop fights to uncover dark secret no one else wants revealed).
Sergeant Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is a humorless, by-the-book police officer, kind of like a tough Joe Friday. Angel gets sent to the small, picture-postcard village of Sandford, full of friendly townsfolk, seemingly free of crime. However, all is not what it seems, and when villagers start getting blown up, decapitated, and roasted, Angel is the only one who gets suspicious. With the help of his new partner, the sweet, bumbling PC Butterman (Nick Frost), Angel tears the lid off of Sandford's dirty secret.
Diehard Shaun of the Dead fans can be forgiven for deciding to wait for the DVD. After all, this movie gets funnier with repeat viewings, but Em and I could not wait that long, and we were happy to give our $9 to see it on the big screen, even if only a fraction of that $9 goes to the filmmakers. My Grade: A
NOTE: I don't know if any of these movies will be any good, but the trailers were very good for Run Fatboy Run, Superbad, and Knocked Up. Also a British funeral comedy directed by Frank Oz? I don't recall the title, but I thought it might be a quasi-sequel to Four Weddings and A Funeral: they could name it Four Funerals and a Wedding? (April 20, AMC Burlington; April 27 and June 22, Somerville Theater)


April 10, 2007

Grindhouse: Guys Movie Night

grindhouseDoes it matter that I never went to a grindhouse in the late 1970s? No, it doesn't.

Is it relevant that my earliest moviegoing memory is Star Wars, not Vanishing Point? No, it's not.

Is it possible to enjoy this double feature without taking QT's master class: Trashy Exploitation Movies 1975-1981? Yes, it is.

While Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror was more faithful to the spirit of the "grindhouse" theme, Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof is a more satisfying movie.

SCREENING NOTES:

  • Guys attending the screening: George, his co-worker also named George, and Chris.
  • Non-Guy who had to cancel: Laura planned on attending, but she was stuck on a broke-down train somewhere near Providence, RI.
  • Originally scheduled for 8pm, AMC cancelled the 8pm screening, so we attended the 7pm screening.
  • The screening took place in Theater 2 at AMC Boston Common. I don't think I have ever attended a screening in #2-- I will check my records and update this entry.
  • Also screening this evening at the multiplex: a preview screening of HOT FUZZ, which I am desparate to see; and THE CONDEMNED, with a special in-person appearance by Stone Cold Steve Austin!
Robert Rodriguez continues his streak of casting Mexican badass Danny Trejo in the preview-for-a-nonexistent-movie MACHETE. Tagline: You Just F***ed With The Wrong Mexican! But speaking of casting, where was frequent Rodriguez castmember Salma Hayek?

Rodriguez's gooey zombie movie Planet Terror perfectly captured the low-budget sleaze of early-eighties horror. My only complaint is that actor Freddy Rodríguez was badly miscast in the lead role, the badass with a mysterious past El Wray. When you're looking for a Snake Plissken type, you don't cast a guy who measures 5 foot 6. The entire cast towered over him, and when he stripped off his shirt to reveal his scarred, tattooed body, I almost laughed out loud at his sunken chest. He looks like a "before" photo in a Charles Atlas ad in the back of MAD Magazine.

Speaking of casting, I loved Jeff Fahey and Michael Biehn as brothers, one a BBQ joint owner, and the other a sheriff. Josh Brolin was great as the jealous, crazy Doctor Block, and I like Marley Shelton a little bit better every time I see her.

Rose McGowan is completely convincing as the take-no-s**t go-go dancer Cherry Darling. It's easy to understand how the director had an (alleged) affair with her after watching her opening-titles go-go dancing sequence (which Rodriguez shot himself). However, after seeing interviews with McGowan, it's obvious that's she's as crazy as her engagement to Marilyn Manson would suggest.

One couple left after the first feature, which I didn't think twice about, but I read on IMDb this morning that some industry types suspect that not all moviegoers knew there was a second feature on the bill-- Death Proof was definitely better than Planet Terror, so if I left after the first feature, I wouldn't recommend the movie. Harvey Weinstein has suggested he may re-release the two features separately, as they were overseas.

More prevues: Rob Zombie presents "WEREWOLF WOMEN OF THE SS"; Edgar Wright presents a silly trailer for a very English haunted house movie "DON'T SCREAM"; and Eli Roth presents an alternatingly funny, sick, and gruesome trailer for "THANKSGIVING", the last holiday not exploited for a horror movie. The best bit: when the bad guy chops the head off the turkey mascot in the Plymouth town parade.

Quentin Tarantino's last few movies have featured strong lead roles for women (Kill Bill, Jackie Brown), and Death Proof is no exception. Death Proof is a chick flick/revenge thrill ride which had the audience cheering. Stick with Grindhouse till the end- it's worth it!

Kurt Russell is back as a badass: Stuntman Mike stalks beautiful carfuls of women. It would not be unreasonable to suspect Stuntman Mike had a fetish for women in tight t-shirts with cool retro pop icons screenprinted on them either: of the nine women Mike stalks in his matte-black killing machine, seven are in tight t-shirts, and one is in a cheerleader uniform.

In Car #1, an Austin deejay (Sydney Poitier, yes, his daughter) goes out on the town with her friends, then demonstrates what happens when you ride in a Honda with your leg propped up on the open window sill. I always thought this was a dangerous practice! Let's just say QT has wrecked another little Honda (see Pulp Fiction.) I thought QT lingered too long with this quartet- perhaps our emotional investment made Car #2 even more satisfying?

In Car #2, a quartet of ladies on break from a movie shoot test drive a 1970 Dodge Challenger. Quentin casts real-life Kiwi stuntwoman Zoe Bell as herself (Bell did Uma Thurman's stunts in Kill Bill.) Bell was great. Not only was she cute and charming and capable, but her stuntwork added 150% verisimilitude to the car chase.

Parts of Death Proof were shot in Austin- the characters in Car #1 have margaritas at Guero's Taco Bar, a fabulous spot for margaritas which I have been to twice. QT shot the exteriors of the Guero scene at the actual restaurant. Later, QT has his characters drinking Shiner Bock, a great local beer: QT includes many Shiner Bock bottles, cases, neon signs, etc, in the bar scenes.

The theater smelled like a junior high school gym locker. Ugh. George and I tried to decide if one of our nearby moviegoers was the culprit, but we found it hard to imagine that someone could go around smelling that bad and not notice.

MY GRADES:
Planet Terror: B plus (for Freddy Rodriguez, slightly draggy)
Death Proof: A minus (for pacing issues in first half)
Fake Trailers: A plus
Overall Presentation: A (AMC Boston Common; Encore viewing with Mrs W: May 19, 2007)

March 30, 2007

Blades Of Glory

Honestly, we're trying to cut back on the moviegoing this year, but we needed a release after a long work week, and we couldn't wait 4-6 months for the DVD. A mildly funny comedy, Blades only really sparks when drunken debaucher-er Chazz Michael Michaels (Ferrell) and sensitive perfectionist Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder) are forced to drop their mutual loathing and join forces. I found Ferrell's character to be a dull blend of the ignorant macho posturing of Ron Burgundy and Ricky Bobby.blades
Jenna Fischer's under-written character doesn't really belong in this movie, but there are glimpses of possibility- when she's forced to crash a sex-addict group therapy session, she has to fake a sex addiction, which could have been much better. Speaking of missed opportunities, Romany Malco (The Forty-Year-Old Virgin) is totally squandered.
In comparison to the great Will Ferrell comedies, Blades of Glory does not rate alongside his best work with directors Ben Stiller (Zoolander), Todd Phillps (Old School, Starsky & Hutch), or Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights.) (AMC Burlington)

March 17, 2007

What Would Jesus Buy?

whatwouldjesusbuyWhile visiting Austin Texas, for our bi-annual Spring Break, our friend Karen took us to a screening at the South By Southwest Film Festival in the Paramount Theater. What Would Jesus Buy is a startling, sobering wake-up call on runaway consumerism in America, What Would Jesus Buy follows The Reverend Billy and The Stop Shopping Gospel Choir as they cross America in the weeks before Christmas, staging rallies in Wal-Marts, Starbucks, Victoria's Secrets, and The Mall of America, all in the name of Stop Shopping. His sermon may seem pretty simple at first -- Celebrate Christmas with love and goodwill instead of material possessions -- but the Reverend Billy testifies before crowds of shoppers as if they are possessed by the Devil himself. Possibly a parody of the iconic Pentecostal tent preacher, no one can ignore Billy in his white suit, shouting into a giant megaphone, sweating through his bleach blond Aqua-Net helmet hair. While following the Rev. Billy & Co, the film fairly portrays The American Consumer riding straight to hell on a battery-powered Baby-sized Escalade, drunkenly gorging itself on material excess, enabled by easy credit and supplied by the slave labor in the Third World. What kind of America are we living in where parents believe it's a virtue to deny nothing to your children? What kind of reality are we preparing our children for, if the Barbie Pleasure Palace is built on a foundation of eternal debt? Giving a five-year-old child twenty presents for Christmas might make the parent feel temporarily better about their shaky parenting, but the child would be happiest with one simple toy and a giant hug on Christmas.

This was my first-ever film festival screening, so it felt kind of surreal to be watching a movie when the subject of the film (The Rev. Billy) shook my hand on my way into the theater, and sat in the theater with us.

March 15, 2007

111 and 112: Odyssey

Mixes 111 and 112 were composed at the same time. I used a photo taken of an art installation for the cover photos. We had just returned from a trip to Texas, where we visited an art museum. The cover for #111 (in orange) is the original color of the art installation; #112 (in blue) is the "negative" image of the same photo.

The Title: Odyssey is the name of an avant-garde Journey cover band we saw perform while we were visiting Texas.

The Tracks: I really dug deep into the history books for some of these songs:

  1. Claire - The Push Stars
  2. In the Meantime - Spacehog
  3. Hey Jude / Sgt. Pepper (Reprise) - From The Beatles "LOVE"
  4. Why Does This Always Happen to Me? - "Weird Al" Yankovic featuring Ben Folds on piano
  5. In Between Days - Ben Folds
  6. One-Sided Love Affair - Elvis Presley
  7. Ain't Never Gonna Give You Up - (the only) Paula Abdul (song I like)
  8. Big Bang Baby - Stone Temple Pilots
  9. Cinnamon Girl - Suzanne Hoffs & Matthew Sweet
  10. Poison - Bel Biv Devoe
  11. You Only Live Twice - Pat DiNizio (the Smithereens lead singer, on solo piano, covering the Bond theme song.)
  12. Divine Intervention (DEMO) - Matthew Sweet
  13. Where Or When - Dave Edmunds
  14. Hey Porter - Johnny Cash
  15. Memphis - Chuck Berry
  16. See the World - Gomez
  17. Speed of Sound - Coldplay
  18. Help Me, Suzanne - Rhett Miller
  19. Better Days - Bruce Springsteen, featuring Randy Jackson on bass
  20. Age Of Consent - Grant Lee Phillips

  1. Sly - The Cat Empire
  2. Driven To Tears - The Police
  3. Tell Her This - Del Amitri
  4. Nothing Lasts - Son Volt
  5. You're So Damn Hot - OK Go
  6. What'd I Say, Pts 1 & 2 - Ray Charles
  7. Life On A Chain - Pete Yorn
  8. New Frontier - Counting Crows
  9. TLC: Creep
  10. Going Through The Motions - Aimee Mann
  11. Think I'm In Love - Beck
  12. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is - Jet
  13. Sold Me Down The River - The Alarm (I put this Alarm song next to the Jet song because they both remind me of the Rolling Stones.)
  14. I Want It All - Queen (I heard this Queen song on a Coca-Cola commercial.)
  15. Jesusland - Ben Folds
  16. Somebody Told Me - The Killers
  17. Get Back - The Beatles, from the CD "Love"
  18. Bizarre Love Triangle - New Order

March 11, 2007

300: Guys Movie Night

300A brawny and single-minded battle movie, 300 is linear and direct in its purpose, like a spear to the gut. I found the photography, production design, costumes and effects to be superb. Gerard Butler is compelling as the ancient Spartan king Leonidas. His pointy beard is frickin awesome! However, I found the battles as a whole to be repetitive, and the story slow and boring. I don't think sophomore director Zack Snyder (Dawn Of The Dead) can be held completely responsible for the monotony- I think the nature of the material is inferior to other ancient battle movies (more on that below).

The 300 Spartan warriors of the title are an elite fighting force of the larger Spartan army. Sparta's warrior leader and king, Leonidas, is offered an ultimatum by an emmissary of the decadent Persian emperor Xerxes: become subjects of Xerxes' empire, or be destroyed. Unfortunately, Leonidas has never heard the expression "don't shoot the messenger" because it hasn't been coined yet, so he takes the less diplomatic route. He hollers "THIS IS SPARTA!" and kicks the emmissary into a convenient nearby bottomless pit. Meanwhile I was left thinking "If you kill the entire Persian detachment, who's going to go back to Xerxes and tell him 'go screw'? Why did they build this pit in the middle of the town square? Do they really use it that often? What would OSHA think of this? The bottomless pit was kind of like a trampoline or a swimming pool you don't use that often- it takes up your whole backyard, and it's an attractive nuisance. Now that I think about it, if a Spartan fell down there and no one witnessed it, you'd never know where they went! Wouldn't a pit which was deep enough to break every bone in your body be deep enough? At least dig your pit on the outskirts of town, not right in a high traffic area!

Anyway, let's move on. After Leonidas decides to defend Sparta from the Persians, the Spartan Council of elders refuses to support a defensive war. Leonidas and his 300 are left to hold back wave after wave of invading hordes on their own, staging their defense at the bottleneck of The Hot Gates.

Based on the monochromatic graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley (The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City), 300 offers great cinematography. The color palette is limited in post-production, much like Sin City and O Brother Where Art Thou. The images are intentionally grainy, which subtly places this ancient story in historical context— perhpas a movie which takes place over 2000 years ago should not be crystal clear 70mm?

The meat of the movie are its fighting sequences. The choreography of the combat is impressive. I have seen far too many movies where slow-motion is overused and without purpose (the most recent example is Michael Bay's The Island). There is plenty of slo-mo in 300, but I found it appropriate and thrilling. The realism of the stabbing, impaling, and dismembering is perfect. The blood spattering is stylized, but well done.

Where 300 fails is putting its hand-to-hand combat into a larger context. Their battling is not part of a bigger war, there is no strategy. They kick ass against Horde Wearing Silly Hats, they win, they rest. Next: they kick ass against Ninjas wearing Scary Masks, they win, they rest. Repeat. Every battle is fought on the same nondescript patch of ground. Most of the action between warriors doesn't include much background action or context. The voice over narration by Spartan Dilios (David Wenham, Faramir from Lord of the Rings) makes it clear how 300 warriors could hold off an army of thousands for so long, but their campaign is boringly straightforward.

In this age of ancient battles in cinema, 300 simply cannot hold up to comparison to other, superior battle movies like Braveheart, Gladiator, and Lord Of The Rings. Even the mediocre Troy had characters we cared about: of the 300 Spartans of the title, the only ones with any characterization are King Leonidas, Dilios, The King's captain, the captain's son, "Keanu Reeves Lookalike" (who thankfully gets decapitated), and that's basically it. All the other 296 Spartans simply grunt, kill, and look manly in their leather briefs.

Pacing: the opening 20 minutes were murderously slow: we learn about the King's upbringing as a warrior, that's all good. But the political "intrigue" which gets the plot going is incredibly boring. I even found a sex scene tedious (and since when do they put a sex scene in the first 20 minutes?) Once the King decides to defy the council and march to war, they march, they meet some other warriors, they march some more, they build a wall of corpses (don't ask), and I just kept waiting for some ass kicking! Finally the first horde arrives, but after that's done, we return to Sparta, where the King's wife is attempting to negotiate for Council support for zzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZ...... The King's wife is played by Lena Headey, who looks like a hybrid of Connie Nielsen in Gladiator and Saffron Burrows in Troy, with the voice of Keira Knightley.

Perhaps I am being too hard on a movie which I'm giving a B minus grade, but it shouldn't be so hard to please me when making a movie which promises to kick asses. Plus, the bar is set pretty high by Braveheart, Gladiator, and Lord Of The Rings, so if you're going to deal in shields and swords, you gotta bring something new. The production values, cinematography, effects, and choreography were all top-flight, but everything else was neglected. (Regal Fenway Stadium 13, with George, Ilan, and Jed)

Now's Not A Good Time To Lose One's Head!

While dining prior to 300, Guys Movie Night participants George, Ilan, Jed, and myself discussed our favorite decapitations in the movies. Yes ladies, this is the kind of thing guys talk about when you're not around. Here's a brief selection:
  • George reports that he was desensitized to decapitation by years of viewing the Conan The Barbarian movies on HBO growing up.
  • Jed and I enjoyed Lucy Liu in Kill Bill, chopping off the crime boss's head at the conference table. I don't know why his head would shoot up in the air, but the blood pulsing out of the neck was very realistic. Jed pointed out that he imagined the PA crouched under the table with the squeeze-bulb, making the blood gout on cue.
  • There were three great decapitations in 300:
    1. Leonidas defeats a giant by slicing its head off with his sword: at first we can't see if he's made contact or not, but then the head topples forward in slow motion, and we get a good look at the bone, sinew, and gristle. This shot actually got some applause from the audience!
    2. When the campaign is going poorly, Emperor Xerxes has a general executed, by an unusual method- Xerxes's executioner is a obese giant with lobster-claw hands. The general's head is put on the block, the lobster-claw gboes down, and then we're treated to a slow-motion shot of the severed head ascending and rotating through the air. Once again, I am not clear on why the head would spin through the air, intead of simply falling to the ground, but it was cool to look at.
    3. Thirdly, and inevitably, the Captain's son, Keanu Reeves-as-Ted Logan Esquire, is decapitated. As soon as we learned that the Captain was bringing his warrior son along, we all knew he was marked for death. After one of the battles, Faux Keanu is standing amongst the dead when a random enemy on a horse gallops by, chops his head off, and disappears. The severing head isn't the cool part- the horseman did such a nice job, that the body stays upright for a few seconds, almost as if Keanu is so dumb he doesn't know to fall over when he's dead.
  • You gotta give it up to Aragorn in The Fellowship Of The Ring. Just as the Uruk-Kai is about to finish off Boromir with a point-blank arrow shot, Aragorn arrives. The orc doesn't want to go down, until finally Aragorn lops his head off.
  • Speaking of Hobbits, Ian Holm's head gets knocked off by Yaphet Kotto in Alien, but they plug his android melon back in long enough for Bilbo to be snide and patronizing, then they flame-broil him.
  • Speaking of aliens, doesn't someone's severed head grow spider's legs and crawl around in John Carpenter's remake of The Thing? I think Kurt Russell says "you gotta be f***ing kidding me" before he roasts that one too.
  • I have not seen all of Resident Evil, but there's a creepy-cool part where some of the soldiers are trapped in a chamber with slice-and-dice lasers. The type that cut though you so easy that the parts all stay in place for a second until you fall apart like a hard-boiled egg.
  • There's a cute decapitation in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, where a Persian emperor chops off his Treasurer's head, which goes flying and falls in a harem girl's lap, where he winks at the girl.
  • Then there's the movie which made America scared of storage lockers forever: The Silence Of The Lambs, where Clarice Starling finds a cross-dresser's severed head in a jar.
  • When Maximus first becomes a Gladiator, he finishes off his rival with a dual-sword decapitation, followed by the line "Are you not ENTERTAINED!?"
  • Of course, we can't forget Highlander, a movie devoted to chopping heads off, where Clancy Brown repairs a near-decapitation with some staples?
  • While we're talking about near-decapitations, let's recognize Nearly Headless Nick (John Cleese) in the Harry Potter films.