December 31, 2008

2008 Year-End Wrap Up

This was not a swell year for movies. The best superhero movie of all time was released, but beyond that, it was pretty weak. The granddaddy of them all (almost literally), they finally made another Indiana Jones movie this year, much to everyone's disappointment. Harry Potter 6 was ready to be released, but they decided to wait until next July. The new James Bond was good but not great. In good franchise news, the new Hellboy and Hulk sequels were both better than the previous movies. And last and least, the funniest man of the 1990s, Mike Myers, tried a live-action comeback in The Love Guru, and no one cared. Thank God 2008 is over!
BEST PICTURE I saw in the theater: The Dark Knight is the best superhero movie ever, and should be nominated for Best Picture by the Academy. I haven't gotten my ballot yet- I feel like they're missing an important voice!
BEST PICTURE I did not see in the theater: WALL•E After I got my neck belched on at Ratatouille, I could not bring myself to go to another children's movie. In December 2008, I watched WALL•E on DVD, and now I wish I had seen those amazing visuals on a big silver screen! Sigh.
MOST ENTERTAINING MOVIE: Iron Man was too short. How often do I say that?
BEST COMEDY: Pineapple Express, way funnier than Tropic Thunder, which cost ten times as much to make.
TEARJERKER AWARD: I cried copiously at Young At Heart. We were just getting to know those nice old folks when they started dropping like flies! Sniff.
REDEMPTION AWARD: Colin Farrell in In Bruges. Who knew that I would care about him ever again?
WORST PICTURE: I saw some of but not all of MAMMA MIA! on DVD. Enough to find Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried's mother and daughter team to be repellent. Who treats their mother or daughter that way? Enough to find the "plot" beyond ridiculous. Enough to wonder why you'd pay to hear those great ABBA songs butchered like bad kareoke. Ugg.
NOTE: These awards may be changed pending any movies I see in 2009 which came out in 2008.

Eleven Movies I Almost Saw In The Theater in 2008
  • Baby Mama: A pleasant romantic comedy, with a cast all 35 plus, including Greg Kinnear as the love interest. I love Tina Fey, and I loved the movie on DVD. No need to spend $10 for this mildly amusing comedy.
  • Charlie Wilson's War had no plot to speak of. It was like a documentary brought to life.
  • Get Smart: let's be serious, I was never going to see this in the theater.
  • Ghost Town: Another mild DVD-level rom-com starring 35+ actors and Greg Kinnear. This time, the beloved cult comic who isn't a big enough star to make me go to the theater is Ricky Gervais.
  • Hancock: Two-thirds of a really good idea. Terrible too-short ending.
  • Leatherheads: Tries to hard to do too much. Could have been better.
  • Prince Caspian: The plot is badly f**ked up. Not recommended.
  • "W": I haven't seen this one yet. I will update this posting once I rent it.
  • WALL•E (see above)
  • X-Files: I Want to Believe: I was a huge fan of the TV show (while David Duchovny was on it), and I quite liked the Fight The Future movie in 1998. I felt it was important to tell you that before I revealed how much I Want To Believe sucked. In this blog, I normally do not review movies I didn't see in the theater, but I want to warn X-philes to stay away. Wow. I can hardly believe that Chris Carter had ten years to write another X-Files movie and this was the result. Avoid this movie at all costs. It has no redeeming value. How can I explain?
    • There's no supernatural elements at all. It's a serial kidnap-killer movie.
    • There's no good reason for Mulder & Scully to reunite to solve this case.
    • They only follow around FBI agents and bicker.
    • They do not really investigate anything.
    • They only find a couple clues.
    • I hate movies where women are kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured, and killed.
    • Did I mention, it's not an X-file at all?
    • It would have been OK as an episode of the TV show, but not good enough for a movie.
  • Zack & Miri Make A Porno: I haven't seen this one yet. I will update this posting once I rent it.








December 12, 2008

Yankee Swap 2008: "The Future"

The theme of this year's Yankee Swap was THE FUTURE. I was very pleased when a CD-R of my mix got "swapped" several times around the party!
When I first thought of this idea, all I had in mind was "In The Year 2525" by Zager & Evans, "Mr Roboto" by Styx, and "The Body Electric" by Rush. I had an OK first draft done when I asked my lovely wife for her perspective. She thought it was too focused on robots and spaceships, and she started suggesting songs about "things that will happen someday" which are NOT sci-fi oriented. Her ideas vastly improved the mix, as you will see...
  1. Battlestar Galactica Theme: My brother used this song (from the classic 1970s TV show) as his wedding ceremony recessional theme. I kid you not.
  2. "1999" Prince: A 26-year-old song, about partying 9 years ago, IS about the future.
  3. "Fly Like An Eagle" Steve Miller Band, aka "Time keeps on slippin, slippin, slippin... into the future!"
  4. "Until The End of the World": My wife thought of this U2 song.
    Fascinating movie,
    great original soundtrack.
  5. "Robots [live]" From the Flight of the Conchords THE DISTANT FUTURE: 'It is the distant future. The year 2000.'
  6. "The Body Electric" Rush
  7. "Someday I Suppose" I found this Mighty Mighty Bosstones song because it's next to "Someday, Someway" in my iTunes.
  8. "My Science Fiction Twin" Elvis Costello: Another suggestion from my wife.
  9. "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades" Timbuk 3
  10. I found the Leonard Cohen song "The Future", from the Natural Born Killers soundtrack, by searching for FUTURE in iTunes.
  11. I bought The Flaming Lips song "One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21" especially for this mix,
  12. "Robot Chicken Theme" The show Robot Chicken isn't actually about the future per se, but this Les Claypool instrumental is short and fun.
  13. This painting would look bitchin'
    on the side of my van
  14. "Pets" by Porno for Pyros song is perfect for this mix. I first heard this song as Beavis & Butthead were watching the video for it on MTV!
  15. "In The Year 2525" The words to this Zager & Evans hit are kinda weird!
  16. "Robot Parade" There were many They Might Be Giants songs to choose from.
  17. "Mr. Roboto" Styx
  18. The Jetsons Theme: I could not find the original theme song on iTunes, so I settled for this barely-better-than Casio keyboard recording.
  19. "Attack El Robot! Attack!" Calexico
  20. "When I'm Sixty Three and a Half" After The Beatles recorded "When I'm Sixty-Four" in late 1966, Paul McCartney, intending to make his voice sound "younger", asked producer George Martin to speed up the master tape, just enough to shift the key of the song a half-step sharp. To undo this change, I have pitch-shifted the song a half-step down (flat), to match the key in which McCartney originally sang it. The tempo has not been changed.)
  21. "Someday We'll Know" New Radicals
  22. "Someday, Someway" Marshall Crenshaw
  23. "My Flying Saucer" Billy Bragg & Wilco
  24. Star Trek Theme
  25. "Tomorrow Never Knows" The Beatles
    "We don't look like Daft Punk"

December 8, 2008

Two Minutes, 42 seconds

As I write this, I am listening to a mix of songs which only have one thing in common- they're all 2 minutes, 42 seconds long. There's this internet "meme" going around which says that 2:42 is a "magic number" for great songs, so I'm putting it to the test. I sorted my entire iTunes library by length (13,000 songs). Then I selected ALL the songs which clock in at 2:42. Then I weeded it down to about 30 songs, down to a small group of songs or bands I especially like. I haven't sequenced this group at all. Here's the result:
  • "Under The Boardwalk" The Drifters
  • "Streets of Fire" New Pornographers
  • "Lighten Up" Beastie Boys
  • "Oceans" Pearl Jam
  • "September Gurls" The Bangles
  • "The Way You Do The Things You Do" The Temptations
  • "In My Room" Grant Lee Buffalo
  • "Divine Hammer" The Breeders
  • "Sheila Take a Bow" The Smiths
  • "Revolving Dora" Fountains of Wayne
  • "Leggy Blonde" Flight of the Conchords
  • "Lovely Rita" The Beatles
  • "Poison Ivy" The Coasters
  • "May Queen" Liz Phair
  • "Come See About Me" Supremes
  • "Rome Wasn't Built In A Day" Nick Lowe
  • "Don't Worry Baby" Beach Boys
  • "From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)" Bruce Springsteen
  • "Pictures of Lily" The Who
  • "I Second That Emotion" Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
  • "You Never Can Tell" Chuck Berry
  • "Go Home" Barenaked Ladies
  • "California Dreamin'" The Mamas & Papas
  • "Teen Beat" Fleetwood Mac
Not surprisingly, the mix leans heavily on the early 1960s, and the 1970s and 1980s are barely present!

December 6, 2008

Milk

milkA great American story about civil rights, politics, and community organizing, the story of Harvey Milk has finally been told. The movie is super-gay and super-1970s, but in 2008, the year of Proposition 8, this story of civil rights seems more universal and timely than ever. The screenplay seems a little too well groomed at times, but the direction is deft, the use of archival footage is clever, and most of all, the performances are superb across the board.

MILK stars Sean Penn as we haven't seen him since Jeff Spicoli: having fun. Penn plays Milk as a nerdy prankster, charismatic and quick with a joke. Josh Brolin is fantastic as Dan White, a unstable rival politician. White plays the part of a successful American father and husband, but wound so tight that we wonder what's wrong with him. James Franco continues to impress me: first Pineapple Express, then this part, the "political wife" role.

NOTES: This is my second movie in a row with a gay director: first Australia (Baz Luhrmann), and now MILK (Gus Van Sant). Both movies prominently feature Judy Garland singing "Over The Rainbow". Coincidence? (Kendall Square Cinema with my wife, plus Eve & Brenda)

November 28, 2008

Australia

A good old-fashioned epic romance, at long last Australian director Baz Luhrmann tells the entire history of his homeland in a 165-minute saga. Luhrmann is making a style homage here, almost as classic as Far From Heaven. Baz has clearly wanted to make an old-fashioned romance for his native land, and he has done so, including location photography combined with the classic "campfire on a soundstage" look of old movies. There are plenty of outdoor scenes where the lighting is obviously artificial, and my wife thinks a lot of color-adjusting was going on (a la O Brother Where Art Thou)- she noticed one scene in particular where the blue sky was a perfect match for David Wenham's irises. I noticed some special effects in Hugh Jackman's facial hair- at age 39, are we supposed to believe that Hugh's beard is 100% brown? He looked like a three-hour Just For Men For
Beards commercial.
Nicole Kidman is Lady Sarah Ashley, a headstrong fish out of water, crossing the hemisphere to dispose of her unfaithful husband's cattle ranch. If the premise sounds like a remake of Out Of Africa, you're not alone! Ashley enlists Hugh Jackman's cowboy The Drover, to "drove" 1,500 head of cattle to Darwin to break the monopoly of King Carney and his wicked son (Bryan Brown and David Wenham.) This section feels a bit like City Slickers, but ends before it gets too tedious. Along the way, Ashley and the Drover become the surrogate parents of Nullah (Brandon Walters), a 10-year-old half-Aboriginal orphan, who acts as the movie's narrator, soul, and the director's proxy for the long legacy of racism and abuse of Aboriginals, especially Aboriginal youths in Australia. Luhrmann tries to tell the entire history of Aboriginals in Australia through Nullah and his family, which mostly works, but sometimes becomes preachy and forced. Walters is a heartbreaking revelation, jerking tears from the audience every time he is separated, then rejoined, with those he loves. The last third of the movie tells the story of Australia's own Pearl Harbor, a Japanese aerial bombing of Darwin shortly after Pearl Harbor in 1941. While the movie tries to pack in a lot of history, and several lengthy stories into its 165 minutes, the pacing is actually quite brisk, and the editing and cinematography are quite fluid and dynamic. There are lots of effects shots, to include WWII-era ships, planes, etc, but they are rendered with less compulsive perfectionism (see Titanic) and more lyrical impressionism, like you'd see in an old 1950s movie. Hugh Jackman earned his "Sexiest Man Alive" crown with his portrayal of The Drover, a classic cowboy crossed with Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen. Whether he was filthy and bearded, shirtless and soapy, or smooth and tuxedo-ed, Jackman had hearts a-twitter throughout the theater. Nicole Kidman somehow managed to stay pale and pristine throughout- she must hold a patent on 1,000 SPF sunblock to remain porcelain throughout a movie set in the Outback! I certainly enjoyed myself, I was never bored, and I even leaked a few tears in this old-school epic romance. (At the Somerville Theater, the day after Thanksgiving, with my wife, plus Debbie, Kathy, Becca, and Sara)

November 16, 2008

Quantum of Solace

In the first "direct sequel" Bond movie, 007 continues to backtrack the organization which conspired to kill his would-be girlfriend Vesper Lynd. He discovers a worldwide secret society codenamed QUANTUM. This organization is kind of like Enron crossed with Halliburton, and the still-green Bond is outsmarted at almost every turn, leaving everyone around him dead.
SPOILERS APLENTY: The villains don't seem particularly powerful or memorable: the main heavy, Dominic Green, is played by another in a long series of sallow-faced, black-eyed actors from Europe: French actor Mathieu Amalric. He's basically swindling a series of third world countries out of their resources. It's true that resources are the source of true world power in the 21st century, but there simply wasn't enough at stake at the climax of the movie. Nuclear bombs and space lasers inflict permanent and devastating damage. All Bond would have to do to undo Green's villany is tear up a few contracts. I'm not asking for volcano lairs or submarine-swallowing ships, but toppling an evil Enron is a little tame and ordinary.
Bond keeps crossing paths with Camille, a tough and angry woman with a indeterminate past and muddy accent: Russian actress Olga Kurylenko. It turns out Camille and Bond are on parallel and complimentary missions: she's on a revenge trip after her family was murdered. Bond has crossed paths like this before. This subplot is lifted directly from Goldfinger, where the sister of the woman who was painted gold attempted to avenge her sister on Goldfinger. I found this subplot boring, and the acting of Kurylenko didn't draw me in or make me care what happened to her. My wife pointed out that it's a sign of progress in a Bond movie when a Bond Girl gets a subplot of her own, with her own motivations, and she doesn't sleep with Bond either.
The good news is, the action sequences were all top-notch, equal to the standard set in Casino Royale. The opening car chase was spectacular, the fistfights were great, and the footchases were still exciting and fresh.
(Regal Fenway Stadium 13, Theater 12 (The Green Monster), with my lovely wife, plus my brother + sister-in-law, Karen & Ilan, and Angus & Kristen.)
BOND & BOURNE MOVIES on Stub Hubby



November 4, 2008

119: ROCK You Can Believe In

Use of my iPod's "Shuffle Songs" tool continues to heavily influence my song selection: letting pure chance pick out great unknown songs from my favorite bands is paying dividends!
  1. "Dropped" Phantom Planet: A great kick-off song. I find a lot of new songs and new artists these days from the soundtracks of TV shows. For example, NBC's action-comedy Chuck includes a lot of alt-rock music on the soundtrack. But where do I go when I want to hear more from the band whose song was featured in that chase sequence? Most popular shows have fansites which list songs from each episode. I love the Internet!
  2. "Sarayushka" Andy West, Henry Kaiser, & Michael Maksymenko: This is a faithful cover of the ZZ Top song "La Grange", sung in Russian. The LP is called Crazy Backwards Alphabet. In college, I was the host of a radio show Gyroscope on WERS-FM Boston, which featured world music, plus all sorts of avant garde jazz, and whatever else the college DJs felt like. Having no world music background, I specialized in covers of classic rock: The Gipsy Kings covering "Hotel California" in Spanish, Tito Puente covering "Day Tripper", A polka rendition of "People Are Strange", a bluegrass cover of "Brain Damage", and this nugget.
  3. "Wild Rock Music!" is a mashup: Madonna singing "Music" over Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild". Mashed up by smash@mash-ups.co.uk
  4. "27 Jennifers": Mike Doughty is the former lead singer of Soul Coughing. The singles off his solo CDs (this song is from Golden Delicious) are decidedly more "poppy" and less "out there" than Soul Coughing (which I appreciate!)
  5. "Should've Been In Love" from Wilco's debut album A.M.
  6. "Sweet Soul Dream" World Party: All my favorite contemporary bands in high school were heavily Beatles-influenced, including World Party. I found this track thanks to my iPod's "Shuffle Songs" setting.
  7. "Nobody's Child", The Traveling Wilburys donated this maudlin track to Nobody's Child, a CD to benefit Romanian orphans.
  8. "Debra" An exceedingly silly "white soul" classic from Beck.
  9. "Smile On" Deee-Lite
  10. "Proto-Pretty", The Wondermints were a one-hit wonder. I found this song on the Power Pop collection Poptopia.
  11. "My Bird Performs", XTC: I did not like the XTC album Nonsuch at first, but it's grown on me.
  12. "Great DJ", The Ting Tings: I heard this song featured on the podcast of a good friend of mine. Check out Radio Free Jersey.
  13. "Something Beautiful": Back in the late 1990s, I was a big fan of Tracy Bonham's first two albums, The Burdens of Being Upright and Down Here, but I had lost track of her over the last decade. I went on iTunes and bought a few more recent tracks of hers, including this gem.
  14. "The Twist", Frightened Rabbit: This song (also featured on the TV show Chuck) needs a better arrangement, but it's catchy nonetheless.
  15. "Dance Me to the End of Love": All I know about Madeline Peyroux is that she sounds just like Billie Holliday.
  16. "Dark Side of Night": Foxboro Hot Tubs are a "secret" side project of Green Day. They're going for a mid-1960s garage rock sound here.
  17. "Borrowing Time", Aimee Mann
  18. "You Don't Know Me", Ben Folds featuring Regina Spektor: There aren't many artists whose CDs I will buy automatically when they come out. Aimee Mann and Ben Folds are on the list. This Ben Folds song, a duet with Regina Spektor, is insanely catchy. The album, Way To Normal, is hit-or-miss, but the several gems make up for some underbaked dross. I think I mixed too many metaphors there!
  19. "Chelsea Dagger", The Fratellis: Also known as "the song from that Amstel Light commercial."
  20. "The 20th Century Is Over", Ellis Paul: My wife and her parents are huge Ellis Paul fans. I think he's great too, but I am still getting to know his stuff, including this dark, non-folky track from his album Sweet Mistakes.
  21. "Fake Empire" The National: This song was featured on at least one Obama campaign video, including the one played in Chicago soon before Barack stepped onstage on Election Night. My friend Julie heard it and identified it for us. Obama's campaign slogan CHANGE YOU CAN BELIEVE IN was the inspiration for this mix's title.

October 7, 2008

118: I Hear The Bells

  1. "Aye Davanita" - Pearl Jam. I found this brief instrumental from Vitalogy thanks to the Shuffle Songs feature on my iPod.
  2. "Watch The Sunrise" - Big Star. Ditto.
  3. "Viva La Vida" - Coldplay. Another iPod commercial song!
  4. "Use It (live)" - The New Pornographers perform one of my favorite songs of theirs (an iTunes exclusive.)
  5. "You Can Call Me Late" - Paul Simon. I went to a wedding this summer where the awesome wedding band played "You Can Call Me Al" followed by "Late in the Evening." A few months later, as I deejayed a birthday party for a friend, I cross-faded these two songs together, right at the bass solo in "Al." The birthday girl had danced at the wedding, so I hoped she would get a kick out of dancing to these two songs again. It worked!
  6. "Hanging Upside Down" - David Byrne. Another iPod shuffle discovery.
  7. "Too Much of Nothing" - Peter, Paul and Mary. Ditto.
  8. "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?" - She & Him.
  9. "Celebrity Sanctum" - Dogs Die in Hot Cars. Another iPod shuffle discovery. DDIHC are also known as "That Band That Sounds Exactly Like XTC. Seriously, It's Uncanny."
  10. "Good Times" - Hoodoo Gurus, featuring The Bangles on backup vocals. The Bangles have also contributed backing vocals to a Tom Petty song, "Waiting For Tonight."
  11. "I Hear The Bells" - Mike Doughty.
  12. "Stars & Planets" - Liz Phair.
  13. "Shine" - Tracy Bonham was a alt-rock star for one season in the Alanis Morrisette Era, with her song "Mother Mother". I have two of her CDs, and I am glad to hear she's still making music.
  14. "High & Dry" - Jamie Cullum
  15. "I Feel It All" - Feist
  16. "I Still Want You" - The Del Fuegos. I found the Del Fuegos' LP Boston, Mass. at a hipster's yard sale in Arlington last summer. The Del Fuegos were one of those early 1980s rock bands who got signed to a major label, put out one LP, and were never heard from again. Every local music scene has that band which "shoulda been a contender", but never caught anyone's attention at the national level. The Del Fuegos have become a footnote to lead singer Dan Zanes' successful second careeer as a children's music star.
  17. "Scare Easy" - Mudcrutch. This boring Tom Petty song is from his reunion-ized early 1970s band Mudcrutch.
  18. "F.N.T." - Semisonic. I read the rock memoir from the drummer of Semisonic. Titled So You Want to be A Rock & Roll Star, it might as well have been called Diary of a One-Hit Wonder. I like their music: their hit "Closing Time" might be my least-favorite song of theirs. After reading about the endless touring and promotional interviews for their singles, I felt obliged to buy a few of these songs from iTunes!
  19. "Sweet Sweet Baby (I'm Falling) - Lone Justice
  20. "Surfin' Bird" - The Trashmen.

September 27, 2008

Sharon's Birthday Dance Party

Here's a playlist I assembled in preparation for a four-hour birthday dance party for my friends Sharon and Marc. Of course, there's no way to play 100 songs in four hours, so many of these songs didn't get played that night, but this was my roadmap for the night's voyage. Instrumental Background Music: these ten instrumentals were set aside for the first hour when the guests were arriving.
  1. Groove Holmes • Beastie Boys
  2. Mick's Up • Style Council
  3. Cantaloupe Island
  4. Guero Canelo • Calexico
  5. The Staunton Lick • Lemon Jelly
  6. Untitled Instrumental • Bo Diddley
  7. Flying • The Beatles
  8. Homage to Patagonia • Lemon Jelly
  9. S'il vous Plait • Fantastic Plastic Machine
  10. Rodney Yates • David Holmes
Swing & Soul: It's important to play some golden oldies at the outset, to give the older early birds (parents, grandparents) something easy to dance to before they split.
  1. A String of Pearls • Glenn Miller
  2. Flip, Flop, and Fly • Big Joe Turner
  3. Jump, Jive, and Wail • Louis Prima
  4. Rock Around The Clock • Bill Haley & His Comets
  5. Mustang Sally • Wilson Pickett
  6. Lonely Teardrops • Jackie Wilson
  7. Tequila • The Champs
  8. Diner • Martin Sexton
  9. Little Bitty Pretty One • Clyde McPhatter
  10. Let's Stay Together • Al Green
  11. Mr. Big Stuff • Jean Knight
  12. Ruby Baby • The Drifters
  13. Sweet Soul Music • Arthur Conley
  14. Tears Dry on Their Own • Amy Winehouse
  15. Birthday • The Beatles
  16. Let's Get This Party Started • Black-Eyed Peas
  17. Mr. Blue Sky • ELO
  18. History Repeating • The Propellerheads featuring Shirley Bassey
  19. My Sharona • The Knack
  20. You Dropped a Bomb On Me • The Gap Band
  21. Best of My Love • Emotions
  22. I'm Coming Out • Diana Ross
  23. What I Like About You • The Romantics
  24. September • Earth, Wind, and Fire
  25. Atomic Dog • George Clinton
  26. If You Don't Know Me By Now • Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
  27. Take a Chance On Me • ABBA
  28. Like A Virgin [ext dance mix] • Madonna
  29. Faith • George Michael
Totally Eighties: Alternative & New Wave
  1. Kiss Me On The Bus • The Replacements
  2. This Charming Man • Smiths
  3. Just Can't Get Enough • Depeche Mode
  4. Bizarre Love Triangle • New Order
  5. Tainted Love • Soft Cell
  6. Don't You Want Me • Human League
  7. The Safety Dance • Men Without Hats
  8. Don't Bring Me Down • ELO
  9. Borderline [new mix] • Madonna
  10. Don't Stop Til You Get Enough • Michael Jackson
  11. Wake Me Up Before You Go Go • Wham!
  12. Love Shack • The B-52's
Hip Hop
  1. Hey Ladies • The Beastie Boys
  2. Bust A Move • Young MC
  3. Me Myself and I • De La Soul
  4. Fantastic Voyage • Coolio
  5. Cantaloop • US3
  6. Connected • Stereo MC's
Soul
  1. Dashboard • Modest Mouse
  2. Jackie Wilson Said • Van Morrison
  3. The Underdog • Spoon
  4. Everyday People • Sly & The Family Stone
  5. Sly • The Cat Empire
  6. Short Skirt, Long Jacket • Cake
  7. Tenderness • General Public
  8. Close To Me • The Cure
  9. When The Stars Go Blue • Blake Lewis
  10. Sexx Laws • Beck
  11. Groove Is In The Heart • Deeee-Lite
  12. Shotgun • Junior Walker & The All-Stars
  13. Do You Love Me? • The Contours
  14. Good Times • Chic
  15. Come On Eileen • Dexy's Midnight Runners
  16. Private Eyes • Hall & Oates
  17. Soul Finger • The Bar-Kays
  18. Night Fever • The Bee Gees
  19. Waterloo • ABBA
  20. Signed, Sealed, Delivered • Stevie Wonder
  21. Hey Ya! • Outkast
  22. Raspberry Beret • Prince & The Revolution
  23. I Wanna Dance With Somebody • Whitney Houston
  24. Machine Gun • Kool & The Gang
  25. Superstition • Stevie Wonder
  26. It Wouldnt Have Made Any Difference • Todd Rundgren
  27. Ain't Too Proud To Beg • The Temptations
  28. I Got Ants In My Pants • James Brown
  29. Tears of A Clown • Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
  30. Good Lovin' • The Rascals
  31. You Can Call Me Al/Late In The Evening • Paul Simon
  32. Suspicious Minds • Elvis Presley
  33. Poison • Bel Biv Devoe
  34. Creep • TLC
Last Call: The Party Wraps Up. Because I knew that I had over-scheduled the playlist, I set aside 10 songs for the end of the night. I went to this section when I discovered the "last gasp" of the party about to arrive.
  1. Been Caught Stealing [12" remix] • Jane's Addiction
  2. Love Rollercoaster • The Ohio Players
  3. Rock Your Body • Justin Timberlake
  4. Smile • Lily Allen
  5. The Sweet Escape • Gwen Stefani
  6. Music Is My Hot, Hot Sex • CSS
  7. Get Ur Freak On • Missy Elliott
  8. Dancing Queen • ABBA
  9. Dancing With Myself • Billy Idol
  10. Let's Go Crazy • Prince & The Revolution

September 21, 2008

Burn After Reading

burnafterreadingBest case scenario, this movie would be nearly as funny as Raising Arizona. Brad Pitt and John Malkovich's performances comes close to that kind of lunacy. Pitt is a personal trainer/eager puppy, who gets himself all torqued up over a stray CD-ROM found in a locker room- this is his chance to be in his own spy thriller, and he's going to make the most of it. Malkovich is the oil to Pitt's water- a career intelligence analyst, beset on all sides by morons and mediocrity. He's an actual CIA spook, and Pitt's moron has got him over a barrel. Put the two of them together and you've got the only truly funny scenes in this movie.

Oh, I forgot J.K. Simmons- casting him as a CIA director is almost too easy! The Coen brothers are the true heirs to Alfred Hitchcock. They understand human emotions, they know what makes their audiences tick, but they don't feel these same feelings for their characters. In fact, the Coens punish us for growing to like their characters. About halfway through, I thought this movie still had some potential, but then the bloodletting began. There was too much explicit violence, and too many of our favorite characters end up dead. By the last scene, you're meant to feel nothing for these people. As a result, the Coen brothers have made a screwball-style spy-thriller parody which no one will recommend to a friend. The audience walks out feeling abused and insulted, and only a little entertained.

September 1, 2008

Hamlet 2

hamlet2A rough and silly comedy in the mold of School of Rock, Hamlet 2 is the story of a talent-free but enthusiastic drama teacher (Steve Coogan) who fights the closing of his drama department by staging a ridiculous musical Hamlet 2.

I have begun to like Steve Coogan in a few roles (he's barely in Tropic Thunder) and he tries very hard to make this part funny. One of the problems is that I never really believed that Coogan is a fool. Other Brit actors like Hugh Laurie and Rowan Atkinson can play the fool or the smartest guy in the room equally effectively, but Coogan never quite achieves the "talentless AND foolish" perfection.

Co-writer-director Andrew Fleming (Dick and The In-Laws remake) throws everything at the wall to try and make some jokes stick: there's a wise thespian voice-over, there's chapter title cards (like in Clerks), there's recurring physical comedy (Coogan rides rollerskates to work), funny costumes (Coogan wears a caftan at one point), but half the jokes fall flat. The musical-within-the-movie is great: Hamlet and Jesus Christ go back in a time machine to save everyone who dies in Hamlet 1, including a slo-mo dash across stage to stop Queen Gertrude from drinking the poisoned wine. Hamlet and Laertes duel with lightsabers in midair, until they call a truce and start kissing. The music is a mix of Grease-style fluff ("Rock Me Sexy Jesus") and Rent-style sentimento-rock: the conclusion of the musical is set to the Gay Men's Choir of Tuscon singing "Someone Saved My Life Tonight." The original music was quite good but there wasn't enough of it.

Catherine Keener is starting to grate on me- she seems to have only one mode, and it's all too dull to cast her as the bitchy wife. It's a shame, because she was so subtle and sympathetic in The Forty-Year-Old Virgin. Inexplicably, David Arquette was cast in a part with only two lines: the lodger whom Keener runs away with. The adorable Melonie Diaz has become the mascot of underwhelming high-concept art-house comedies- she plays a student in Hamlet 2 and a girlfriend to Mos Def in Be Kind Rewind. Somewhat randomly, Elisabeth Shue plays herself as a Hollywood actress who got off the merry-go-round and became a nurse. When asked "what do you miss most about acting", she reminisces about how great it was to make out with her co-stars, which is funny by itself- how many times do we need to hear actors saying "love scenes are not fun"? But what takes the joke to a whole meta-level is that she ends the movie making big sloppy French kisses with Coogan- is she the only one who knows this is a movie?

There were also two appearances by classic "Hey it's that guy" veterans. Marshall Bell as the principal- I remember him best for having the Martian revolution leader growing out of his chest in Total Recall. He was Wil Wheaton's dad in Stand By Me and a crazy officer in Starship Troopers. Marco Rodríguez plays the father of one of the students. He hasn't had an iconic movie role, but he's been on every big TV drama of the last 25 years, including recurring characters on Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacey, Star Trek: The Next Generation, L.A. Law, Nash Bridges, NYPD Blue, JAG, CSI, and Cold Case.

Oh, I almost forgot the funniest moment in the movie- Coogan is planted in front of his keyboard trying to write his HAMLET 2 script. He has been at it for 46 hours straight. He is strung out, exhausted, wired, and desperate. His housecat is sitting on his computer printer, purring. Slowly he turns to the cat, and growls "What the f**k is YOUR problem?" (At the Landmark Embassy in Waltham with Amy)

August 23, 2008

Pineapple Express

pineappleexpressThe latest product from (Judd) Apa-Town is a perfect fit for the typical Apa-Townie style- loose, silly, and assembled from the funniest bits culled from "improv" riffing. The movie had a very organic feel, in direct contrast with Tropic Thunder, which was tight, too smart, and overly constructed. It's not as quotable as Apato-nnected movies like Anchorman or Talladega Nights, mainly because in Express, all the characters talk simultaneously. I noticed that all the hardcore marijuana jokes drew lots of laughter from a certain segment of the crowd, in the back right corner of the theater. We were all a little surprised at how violent the movie was, but it was hard to stay shocked amongst all the silliness. One character is shot and loses part of his ear. Actually, he doesn't lose the part-- he manages to keep the chunk which got shot off-- but the part isn't attached anymore! (At the Somerville Theater with my wife plus Mandy, Amy, Adam, and two beers inside me!)

August 17, 2008

Tropic Thunder

tropicthunderThe relentlessly insane Robert Downey Jr. saves this overly complicated, overlong comedy.

Tropic Thunder is Galaxy Quest crossed with Platoon: the cast of a Vietnam War movie gets dropped into the authentic Vietnam jungle and has to fake their way through a Missing In Action-style "rescue-the-POW" adventure.

Why does this movie remind me of Galaxy Quest?

  Tropic Thunder Galaxy Quest
Over-the-hill blowhard who gets them all in trouble? Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen)
Captain Kirk reference? Speedman watches classic Star Trek on his iPod for inspiration Allen's entire character is an homage to William Shatner
Classically Trained Actor slumming in genre piece? Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr) Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman)
Classically Trained Actor wears prosthetics? Lazarus has his skin surgically darkened Dane wears latex gill-head to play "Dr. Lazarus"
African-American 'Straight Man'? Alpa Chino (Brandon T Jackson) Tommy Webber (Daryl Mitchell)
(AMC Burlington, with my wife and her sister Sara)

July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight

Director Christopher Nolan has avoided the dreaded Sequel-itis with his second Batman movie.
The Dark Knight is an ambitious, epic length (but not tedious) battle for the soul of Gotham. As the movie begins, a fragile power triangle forms between Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman), D.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), and Batman. Their goal: crush the Mob in Gotham City. Meanwhile, The Joker uses the Mob to tear the city apart. In a romantic subplot, Bruce Wayne imagines a life after Batman, while his would-be girlfriend A.D.A. Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is stuck in a triangle between Wayne and Dent. From the moment Rachel was introduced in Batman Begins, I thought that a romantic subplot was a poor idea, but it appears Nolan (who also co-wrote the movie) had important plans for her character all along.
Just like Batman Begins, The Dark Knight explores the psychological motivation of the heroes and villains of the Batman comic books with an exciting postmodern, 21st century perspective. The classic comic book relationship between the Batman and the Joker, the relationship which makes these characters worth watching, is faithfully depicted, and the Joker is shown as the demented and sadistic yet playful terrorist that he is. Instead of killing people with his killer laughing gas, he tends to use a knife, gun, or a bomb. He doesn't care about money or power- he's determined to show Gotham the true face of human nature, and have some fun doing it.
Heath Ledger does a great job as the Joker- he doesn't let out the oversized laughter too much. He speaks with a nasal twang, with his pauses in all the wrong places, while he plays with his greasy hair and his knives, and licks his distorted face like a wormy maladjusted pervert. The hair and makeup contributed a lot to the overall effect. I think all the Oscar talk is a little overblown, but he still did a sufficiently creepy job.
I thought Aaron Eckhart did a good job introducing a complex character. I don't want to say too much about his part, but he's perfect as a big talking politician, slightly less believable as a honest and crusading attorney, and powerfully scary when he crosses the line between passion and madness. Boy that sounds dumb but I don't want to say too much!
I was worried that the Batman would become a supporting player in his own movie, but he has plenty to do in this sequel- that's one of the reasons the movie is 2 hours, 32 minutes long. He has several very satisfying adventures, including one trip overseas. He does some actual detective work, a side of the Batman which isn't explored enough. His unlimited wealth is good for more than weapons and vehicles, he also uses his R&D resources to improve his detecting ability.
The plot details are a little overcomplicated, but the pacing is brisk so I didn't ruminate about it too much. The Joker's mayhem and murderous plots are all sufficiently sick and funny, but all his puzzle pieces fall into place a little too perfectly. His traps and practical jokes are too implausibly synchronized. However, the nature of his plots and mayhem were perfect- they captured the nature of the Joker well, and I really appreciated how Gordon and the GCPD are so easily predictable. Near the end of the movie, Gordon is taking one of the Joker's schemes at face value, and Batman has to step in to say "with the Joker, it's never that simple", which is a classic Batman comic book scene. Later, Batman braces the Joker and yells "where are the detonators!", a pure comic book moment which gave me chills.
Strongly recommended. The movie has a lot of beatings, shootings, and several buildings get blown up. The Joker is fond of knives, but the movie is more suggestive of gruesomeness than explicitly gruesome.

ALSO by Gary Oldman on STUB HUBBY:Batman & Stub Hubby

July 18, 2008

Will The Dark Knight Suffer From Sequel-itis?

On the way out of Hellboy II last night, a line of college kids had queued up for the midnight screening of The Dark Knight. One kid had a vintage 1989 Batman t-shirt on, and another needy teenager was wearing Joker makeup + hair, very similar to the Heath Ledger makeup from the trailer. That's a pretty bold move, isn't it? You have to be pretty confident in a sequel to dress up in honor of a performance you haven't seen yet! What if the movie sucks? I have a feeling that this kid's aesthetic sensibility isn't refined enough to care.
I have been looking forward to a new Joker since the last scene of Batman Begins in 2005, when Lt. Gordon shows Batman the iconic playing card. However, the trailers, early reviews, and word of mouth have me worried about this sequel. I am posting this in order to go on the record in advance with my concerns about this sequel, and to chastise myself for learning nothing about sequels from all my experiences in the past.
During casting, shooting, and promotion, most of the news has been good: All the principals were returning for the sequel, except the one actor I was happy to see missing: Katie Holmes was too busy raising Tom Cruise's alien child; Maggie Gyllenhaal replaced her.
However, there are some signs that the new movie will suffer from Sequel-itis.
The Symptoms Of Sequel-itis
  • Characters from the last movie return for no good reason&nbsp• We'll see if it's worth it bringing back Rachel Dawes as Bruce Wayne's love interest. The some more egregious unnecessary encores include Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters 2 and Joe Pesci in Lethal Weapon 3.
  • The protagonist gets less screen time than the antagonist&nbsp• This problem got worse and worse in the Batman sequels of the 1990s. It's almost as if we learned everything interesting about Batman in the first movie, so there's no new character development in the sequels. Therefore, the development of the villains takes center stage, and the ostensible hero of the movie becomes secondary. In a non-superhero context, John Lennon once complained that he felt like a supporting player in the full-color Beatles sequel Help! in favor of wacky, Indian hijinks.
  • The superhero gets new gadgets or vehicles&nbsp• Do we really need to give Batman a Bat-cycle?
  • Too many opponents&nbsp• Batman Begins somehow managed to include three bad guys and make it all work: Ras Al Gul, The Scarecrow, and the mob guy Falcone. Only because this first movie pulled this off so successfully am I not too concerned about this issue in the sequel-- besides The Joker, Harvey Dent becomes Two-Face at some point, which seems like overkill? Isn't the Joker enough character for one movie?
Will The Dark Knight suffer from sequel-itis? Click here to find out!

Stub Hubby & Batman




July 17, 2008

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Funnier, looser, and more fun than the original, Hellboy is the rare box office flop which got a miraculous second chance. Writer / director / visionary / Mexican wunkerkind Guillermo Del Toro pulls out all the creative stops in a wonderful blend of Men In Black, Lord of the Rings, and X-Men. Words like "vision", "inventive", and "unique" get overused in Hollywood, but they all apply here. Every beastly character has a special Guillermo stamp to it- and exciting blend of Star Wars-style beasts with impossible fairy tale imagination. This movie has got me even more thrilled that Del Toro is directing two Hobbit movies!
The returning cast is much looser and sillier in this story- Hellboy's relationship with his girlfriend is causing them both grief; Abe Sapien is lovesick over a princess; and their boss resorts to bribery (Cuban cigars) to keep rebellious Hellboy in line. In the introductory scenes at their headquarters, the unloved boss (Jeffrey Tambor) strolls down a hallway, griping about employee morale. The tone is the same as any workplace drama, except Tambor is talking to a turquoise fish-man in leather pants, and unholy creatures squirm and roar through every doorway. The contrast is hilarious.
The plot was your basic fairy tale construction: A long exiled, but powerful and determined prince, royalty of all the beasts and creatures of earth, seeks the magical pieces of a crown which will allow him to wage war against humanity. Despite his devious and murderous nature-- and his hatred for humanity-- the prince is quite sympathetic. After all, this is a movie, like the X-Men films, where all our heroes are "freaks", separated from humanity by their uniqueness. All our protagonists have a beef with humankind, so they all can relate to the prince's anger.
Del Toro did a fine job trying to balance the pacing with the texture of the movie. My wife and I agreed that the movie was a little soggy in the middle- there's maybe a scene or two where I was getting itchy for some plot movement- but the trick is to keep the detail and texture which makes the movie interesting but also keep the pace up, especially in the last third of the movie. Unfortunately, the area which needed the briskest pace included one of our favorite sequences- Hellboy and Abe get drunk and discuss their women trouble, including an off-key singalong with Barry Manilow. I wouldn't want this scene removed, but this was the critical area where the pace should be quickening, not slackening. I should consider it a minor miracle that most movies' pacing turn out so well, when you have to judge them by a screenplay, months or years before any footage is shot.
I have never read the Hellboy comic books- hell, I didn't see the first movie all the way through until a week ago-- but part of me occasionally cringed at the marshmallowy emotions and silly slapstick which the Hellboy character endured in this movie. Is he really like that in the comics? I guess I shouldn't care if I have never read one.
I hope this movie's tight budget (reportedly $85 million) combined with good receipts, means we may see another Hellboy someday. Del Toro may be too busy making the Hobbit movies to get around to it anytime soon, so The Golden Army will have to do for awhile. (AMC Boston Common with my wife, plus les freres Pelletiers)



July 3, 2008

Wanted

I got July 3rd off from work this year, so I decided to take in a matinee, But what to see? Baby Mama is only playing at night at the Arlington Capitol; Get Smart's matinee is too early at Fresh Pond; I will only see WALL-E at a late show to try and mitigate the kinderfaktor; and Hancock got mediocre reviews. That left Wanted, which I hoped would be an mindless and fun action film. Indeed, when I arrived at the Somerville Theater (I got a parking meter right outside the theater, woo!) the concessions clerk raved on and on about the movie. When strangers are going out of their way to recommend a movie, that should be a good sign! Jon Stewart had star James McEvoy on The Daily Show and Stewart went out of his way to say how much he liked the movie, a endorsement stronger than his typical recommendation.

Instead of mindless fun, I endured a sadistic, ridiculous, and joyless grind-fest. I have no problem with violence in movies. But Wanted took all the fun and joy out of brutal beatings, stabbings, and bullets to the brain. Even Fight Club had some black humor mixed in with the fascist violence.
McEvoy is Wesley Gibson, living an Office Space/The Matrix cube life. We're introduced to the mind-numbing world of TPS reports as if office work was a strange and unknown occupation- we all get the idea right away that his boss sucks and his work is meaningless, but Gibson doesn't snap until we're all bored to tears.
Gibson runs around the movie like Marty McFly on Red Bull: He never looks in the same direction that he's walking, his feet never seem to touch the ground, and he has enormous blue eyes like an tweaked anime character. Gibson gets drafted into a secret society of assassins with a twist: rather than selling their killing skills for hire, killing people regardless of their guilt or innocence, their targets are chosen by Fate itself, purely to save lives and make the world a better place. It turns out that Gibson's father was an assassin who was betrayed by a fellow assassin gone rogue- if this is starting to sound like Star Wars, raise your hand?
The brutal part which really turned me off was the assassin training which Gibson endures. I've never shot a gun or punched someone, but I imagine there's skills and techniques which I could be taught to improve myself. The WANTED school of assassin training syllabus works like this: DAY ONE they tie you to a chair and beat you senseless. DAY TWO, they slice you to ribbons in a knife fight. DAYS 3 and 4: repeat one and two. Each night, Gibson soaks in a magical hot tub which heals wounds overnight. I think the point is supposed to be that Gibson has super-assassin DNA, and this meat grinder is supposed to unleash the killer within? The end result is not much fun to watch, unfortunately for me and my $5 I will never see again.
The other super-assassin skill is "bending bullets", which is a magical technique for whipping your pistol through the air so your bullet goes around corners. I say "magic" because it's never explained. I tolerate this shit in The Matrix movies, because they offer a creative and intriguing reason why it's possible, but the ever-believable Morgan Freeman just says "very few people can do it." Sorry Morgan, I cried at the end of Shawshank Redemption, and I would have voted for you as president in Deep Impact, but this magic bullet shit is not OK!
The actors cast as this fraternity of assassins is a fun bunch: Morgan Freeman is the leader, all gravitas and trustworthiness, each freckle spelling out T R U S T M E; Scottish actor David O'Hara (The Departed) is the assassin in the Anakin Skywalker role; Thomas Kretschmann (The captain from King Kong) is the rogue assassin/Darth Vader part.
And then there's Angelina Jolie, who took this role to take an emotional break between filming A Mighty Heart and Changeling. Of course, she can't afford to make small movies like A Mighty Heart unless she cashes in on movies like this. I don't know why critics are enjoying her acting here so much; she does very little acting as far as I can tell. Her role consists of:
  • looking smug and patronizing as she shows Gibson the ropes;
  • showing off her ridiculous tattoos, including one scene naked and soaking wet;
  • Shooting a gun while looking intense;
  • ONE extended scene where she bares her emotional soul. She has maybe 10 lines in the whole rest of the movie put together.
This is not an anti-Jolie bias or a sexist thing either- I found her to be a fun and engaging heroine in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, but in this movie, I just wanted to slap that smug smile off her face.As the lights came up and I sprinted out of the theater, I made sure not to make eye contact with the concession guy-- I wouldn't want to tell him how bad his favorite movie was.






June 26, 2008

Guys Movie Night: The Incredible Hulk

Now this is what a HULK movie should be like: outrageous, overdone, occasionally silly, with over-the-top CGI, overamped sound effects, and lots of smashing. My favorite bit of smashing is when the Hulk breaks a NYPD cruiser in two pieces, wears the halves like boxing gloves, and bludgeons his nemesis into the ground.
Marvel has mostly ignored Ang Lee's 2003 HULK movie and rebooted the Hulk franchise. The Hulk is too big of a Marvel Comics star to let his movie career end with a whimper, so they've tried again: much like the old "Incredible Hulk" TV show, David Banner (Edward Norton) has been on the run for five years, working menial odd jobs, while he tries to find a cure for his Hulkiness. It's been 156 days since his last "incident", thanks to yoga, Zen meditation, self-discipline, and a heart-rate-pulse monitor wristwatch. Instead of totally internalized frustration and anger of Eric Bana's egghead, Edward Norton's Banner is genuinely mild-mannered and gentle, much like Bill Bixby's TV character. I was a little surprised at this, because Norton's stubborn, firy reputation led me to predict that his Banner would have a coiled spring of rage inside. Instead, most of his Hulk-outs in this movie are triggered by necessity instead of an emotional moment.
The first Hulk-out of the movie takes place in a dark bottling plant. French director Louis Leterrier (translation: Louie the Dog) treats this character introduction with a great blend of mystery. We don't get a good look at him, there's lots of confused camera angles, both from the camera and the soldier's helmet cams-- it was kind of like the first encounter between the Space Marines and the aliens in Aliens (1986).
Banner is on the run from General "Thunderbolt" Ross, who is still trying to capture Banner and extract his Hulkiness for use in creating super-soldiers. To lead his crew of Banner-nappers, Ross recruits a allegedly badass British marine, Capt. Emil Blonsky. Blonsky is a over-the-hill killing machine played by Tim Roth, who looks more like a wily ferret than a marine. Roth's concave-chested Cockney physique looks better suited for sweeping out chimneys in a Dickens novel than firing rockets at superheroes. Roth's shirt is off in several scenes, and the audience giggled at him every time.
I could not take my eyes off William Hurt, and specifically, his prosthetic eyebrows. Yes, this Oscar-winning actor pasted on hairy white eyebrows to his face for this movie. He also wears Ross's trademark mustache, which looks slightly more realistic. Frankly, I thought Sam Elliott was perfect in this role, and his mustache looked great.
Liv Tyler plays Betty Ross, Banner's scientist girlfriend. It's too bad that Tyler, who played the ultimate empowered female in the Lord of the Rings movies, was handed such a wet dishrag part to play. She's a scientist fer crissakes, and all she can do in this movie is moon over her lost love, sort of a cross between Glenn Close in The Natural (just standing by the sidelines, literally) and Fay Wray in King Kong (gently loving The Beast). After Betty and David reunite after five years, they sleep in separate rooms, and Betty literally clutches her chest and swoons.
The consecutive releases of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk mark the debut of Marvel Studios. In the past, film studios made Marvel Comics characters into movies, which brought us three X-Men movies (20th Century Fox), three Spider-Man movies (Columbia) and Ang Lee's 2003 HULK movie (Universal). Marvel has since received a giant cash infusion and turned themselves into their own studio: for example, Marvel made The Incredible Hulk on their own, and Universal is only distributing it. The final scenes in Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk point to Marvel's newfound ambition- Marvel is announcing their presence with authority with big plans to tie all these comic book characters together. Is a superhero supergroup Avengers movie on the horizon? Will Brad Pitt play Thor? Or can we expect to see a Captain America movie in 2011?
On the whole, I really enjoyed myself in this unimportant but successful comic book movie. It was a great antidote to the way-too existential 2003 film, and I look forward to more superhero movies from the new Marvel Studios.
THEATER NOTES: This Guys Movie Night is sponsored by The Pelletier Brothers, who did all the organizing. It was me, Jeff S., plus Marc and Jack for dinner + the movie; our friend Jose was stuck on the Green Line for 20 minutes and almost missed the movie. I saw this film on the same screen (Regal Cinemas Fenway #12) where I saw HULK five years ago, give or take a week. The audience on a Thursday night was well-behaved.






June 8, 2008

You Don't Mess With The Zohan

zohan!A novel and promising comedic premise, totally squandered. Sandler totally takes the easy and lazy way out: a kernel of a very funny movie is on the page, but Sandler doesn't push to make the movie better.

Zohan is a ridiculously efficient Mossad counter-terrorist agent, who is fed up with the endless conflict with Palestine. His action scenes, which are almost completely contained in the first 15 minutes, are a spot-on parody of the Bourne movies, especially when he catches bullets in his hand, his teeth, and his nostril. Zohan goes to New York and becomes a hairdresser, and we hardly see any sign of the counterterrorist again. Instead, he becomes a instant sensation for his throwback 1980s hairstyles (because Israeli culture is so far behind the US) and for vigorously screwing all the senior ladies who come in for a coif, including Mrs. Garrett from The Facts of Life!

The movie is chock-a-block with hummus jokes-- if I told you how many hummus jokes are in this movie you wouldn't believe me-- distracting and dumb cameos, and a borderline offensive "brownface" performance by Rob Schneider. Never mind that Schneider is a Roach Motel of comedy (jokes go in, they don't come out), but he puts on a big "Arab" nose and dark makeup to play a ornery Arab cab driver who aspires to terror greatness.

Speaking of cameos, I think WWE blowhard Vince McMahon is playing the cardboard cutout bad guy who tries to pit the Israelis and Arabs against each other. I think it was him, but I am not sure because a> I don't watch WWE, and b> He looks like he's had more plastic surgery than Kenny Rogers and Joan Rivers combined. Only when they shoe-horned in one of his "let's get ready to RUMBLE"-style hollers did it occur to me that I was supposed to recognize this person. I won't say "actor", because he didn't do any. Mariah Carey also made a cameo, as herself, and she was great. They kept it simple, and she nailed her jokes. For some reason, Dave Matthews appeared in several scenes as a parody of a southern racist redneck. His final scene consisted of his character flying through the air, through an apartment window, and into the middle of a cocktail party, when he finds himself between famous homosexuals George Takei (Sulu from Star Trek) and Bruce Vilanch (joke writer for the Oscars) who looks like Jabba The Hutt with a blond wig + red glasses, or maybe a Muppet crossed with a thousand-gallon breast implant. My friend Phil left about 15 minutes before it was over, and I should have followed him out.

TRAILERS: Sometimes a trailer can leave too much out. Sometimes a trailer, desperate to leave something to the imagination, leaves the audience bored. This is the trailer for The Happening. It turns out the thing which is "happening" is invisible, so there's nothing to show! We also saw a trailer for an "independent" movie (cheap and no stars) called Baghead. Based on the trailer, I think it's supposed to be a meta-horror movie, like Scream: Four struggling actors retreat to a cabin to write a screenplay. What happens when their story idea -- a horror flick about a killer with a bag over his head -- starts to come true? About halfway through the trailer, some of the audience started giggling. It's such a sad and tired premise, and the trailer was so shoddy, I couldn't tell if the movie was supposed to be serious or not...(Landmark Embassy Cinema, Waltham MA)

May 28, 2008

The Best and Most Successful Sequels of all Time

The release of Indy 4 got me thinking about sequels. What were the best sequels ever? I took the Top 250 films list on IMDB and sifted it for sequels. There are 13 sequels in the top 250, or just over 5% of the list. Here's the list of movies which are sequels by the purest definition of the term:
  1. The Godfather: Part II is not only the best sequel ever, but the third best movie ever.
  2. The Empire Strikes Back is a great sequel, perhaps better than the original Star Wars?
  3. Aliens (1986) is an entirely different kind of movie from the original Alien (1979)-- The original was a "haunted house" movie set in a spaceship, while Aliens is a Vietnam war movie with aliens.
  4. Terminator 2: Judgment Day is James Cameron's other great sequel on this list.
  5. I think Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade ranks so high partly because it looks so good in comparison to the widely disliked Temple of Doom. I enjoy the movie very much, but I find Temple of Doom to be underrated.
  6. Return of the Jedi is a better movie than the presence of the reviled Ewoks suggests. Fans are still bitter, and why not? George Lucas populated an entire planet with living teddy bears. Why not introduce The Planet of Happy Meal Tie-Ins while we're at it?!
  7. Bride of Frankenstein (1935) ranks higher than the original Frankenstein film.
  8. Toy Story 2 is definitely better than the original.
Five other movies in the Top 250 are technically sequels, but I haven't counted them. A sequel could be broadly defined as "a movie which continues the stories of characters in a previously released movie". However, I have chosen to define a sequel more strictly. In my opinion, a true sequel is a sequel both in narrative and in its production. A sequel must be an entirely new production, filmed completely separately from the original film. Here are the other five sequels from the Top 250 which I have excluded, with my reasons:
  1. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is sort of a prequel to A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More, but Sergio Leone never intended it that way, and several actors appear in all three movies in entirely different roles.
  2. The Lord of the Rings 2 continues the story from Fellowship of the Ring, but all three films were produced and shot simultaneously.
  3. The Lord of the Rings 3 concludes the story from #2, but all three films were produced and shot simultaneously.
  4. Batman Begins is a reboot, not a sequel. Batman Begins re-tells the origin of the Batman character and discards all the events of previous Batman movies.
  5. Kill Bill, Volume 2 is also a simultaneous production with Kill Bill, Volume 1. While the Lord of the Rings movies were never meant to be edited as one whole feature, Kill Bill was intended as one three hour feature, until producer Bob Weinstein convinced director Quentin Tarantino to re-edit the movie into two shorter movies, guaranteeing a boost in ticket receipts: even if only half of the audience for Volume 1 returned to see Volume 2, that's a 50% increase in revenue for the studio.
Meanwhile, I checked the Top Grossing Movies of All Time (USA, as of May 28, 2008), and, no surprise, 25% of the top 250 are sequels. Here's the Top Eleven, not in order:
  • Shrek 2 and 3
  • Star Wars Prequels 1, 2, and 3
  • Pirates of the Carribean 2 and 3
  • Lord of the Rings 2 and 3
  • Spider-Man 2 and 3

May 25, 2008

Indiana Jones 4

What is the big deal about Indiana Jones? Why did we have to wait 19 years for another movie when the formula is so simple and the result is so effortless? Fans have built up the Indiana Jones movies into something much more Important than they really are. The first one is the perfect adventure movie and the most entertaining movie I have ever seen. Indy 2 and 3 are just fun adventure movies, no different than any other typical adventure movie- the quality is much higher than a typical movie, but Indiana Jones movies aren't a Big Deal.
All of this made Indy 4 such a pleasant surprise. It was far from perfect, and it may be the 4th best movie out of four Indy movies, but it was still very entertaining. The opening sequence adventure sets the tone of the movies firmly in 1957 Cold War America, where it seems we have reason to be scared of the Soviets. No jungle vines or spiders, it's all radioactivity and rockets.
Once Jones gets back into his tweeds at college, Jones travels to South America in search of an old friend who has gotten tangled up in a mystery, much like Jones's father went missing in Indy 3.
I was worried that Indy 4 would include too many references to the previous films, too many 'wink wink' jokes. The bad news is, they're all there, the good news is, they're mostly all in the first 30 minutes. For example, there's no need to point out that Jones's previous Dean Marcus Brody has passed away, and there's no need to linger over a photo of his late father. My wife reported giggles when the camera slowly pushes in on a framed photo of Henry Jones Sr, and I rolled my eyes at the whole idea of shoe-horning in their passing into the plot. Later on, they bring back Jones's fear of snakes into a extremely silly scene which should have been cut out, or even better, never shot to begin with.
My main complaint is with the script in the second half, when the movie really gets bogged down with too many characters and too many plot complications. The screenplay does not need to be complicated or innovative. Simplicity is the key, and this plot was over-complicated, and there were too many characters. A little more finesse, a little smoothing of rough edges would have helped. By the last third of the movie, Indy is dragging four people around with him: perhaps Indiana Jones and Can We Get A Head Count Please? could have been a better title:
  1. Ray Winstone (The Departed, Sexy Beast) is "Mac", a fellow adventurer who may have some conflicted allegiances. His part is completely extraneous. The character is pretty flat, he doesn't act as a real sidekick or assistant to Jones, and he sucks up time with his bad accent and bad moustache.
  2. Shia LeBeouf (Transformers, Disturbia) is "Mutt" Williams, a brainy dropout turned would-be rebel in Marlon Brando's Wild One leather and George Lucas's pompadour. Mutt and Indy do some of the initial investigating together, and we get to see his curious character evolve as they climb through Peruvian catacombs. However, like the other three tagalongs, he gets lost in the shuffle as the movie bloats and bloats. There's a silly "Mutt takes the Indy mantle" joke at the very end, but that thread got dropped a long time earlier. One of the exciting action sequences is when Mutt takes Indy on a great motorcycle chase across his college campus. Nothing like real stunts with no CGI to get the blood pumping!
  3. John Hurt is Professor "Ox" Oxley, Indy's old friend who's obsessed with the Crystal Skull. My main problem with him is that he's dead weight. They have to drag him everywhere, and he simply slows them down to the point where I wondered how the quintet ever escaped any danger? I seem to remember that Abner Ravenwood filled a similar role in Raiders, and he dies before the movie even begins. Instead, Oxley is kidnapped by the bad guys (just like Indy's dad in Last Crusade). A simple rewrite would kill off Oxley before the movie begins, and then, ninety minutes into the film Indy and Mutt could have found his remains in an especially poignant way- not a dry eye in the house!
  4. Finally, and most bittersweet, is Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood. We all loved her in Raiders, so it's too bad that she has so little to do in Indy 4. She has two lively spats with Jones, and she gets to drive the DUK in a chase sequence, and the rest of the time she's just tagging along. Allen does look great, though.
My only other major complaint, besides the rough screenplay, was the cinematography: retired English cinematographer Douglas Slocombe shot the first three Indy movies. Indy 4 was shot by the two-time Oscar winner, Polish cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. Kaminski won those Oscars for shooting Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List. He has also shot eight other Spielberg movies. As talented as he is, he did not shoot Indy 4 to look like Indy 1-3, he shot it like a Janusz Kaminski movie. Besides adding his own feel to the camera work, none of the movie felt like it was shot on location. Indy 1-3 all felt like Spielberg was out there with his flappy desert hat on, getting sunburned, eating Spaghetti-Os out of the can, living rough. You could smell the B.O. on the sweaty extras. Indy 4 felt like it was shot on Lucas's ranch in Marin County.
HEY! It's That Guy! Note: Who was cast in his second Harrison Ford movie, as a federal agent interrogating Jones? None other than Jan Itor himself, Neil Flynn from Scrubs, whom we last saw in 1993, as a Chicago cop trying to arrest Richard Kimble in The Fugitive.
THEATER NOTES: AMC Aviation 12, Linden NJ, is a fine place to see a movie. Too bad the crowds are as restless and chatty there as everywhere. It's bad enough when adults take their 7-9 year old children to the movies. Yes, the kids talk to Mom and Dad in their living room voices, and they ask obvious questions about the plot. It's more frustrating when the adults get restless during the non-action scenes and start talking. I feel like bringing some cat toys with me. Then when a plot-driven talking scenes comes on screen, I can toss the ball with a bell inside down the aisle, and these ADD adults can chase that instead of talking. My sister-in-law reports the guy next to her was playing games on his BlackBerry during the movie, and he paid $10 to sit in that theater. Go figure.

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. 





May 14, 2008

117: Empress Zhangsun

I got the title and "artist" of this mix from a posting on the Brainiac blog at Boston.com. The game was to create a real-sounding artist and CD title from random Wikipedia entries, and real-looking cover art from random images on the Web.
ARTIST: Empress Zhangsun
TITLE: Effect of a Habit
  1. "Superfly" - Curtis Mayfield
  2. "Music is My Hot, Hot Sex" - CSS (from an iPod Touch commercial.)
  3. "Soul Meets Body" - Death Cab for Cutie
  4. "Hold Your Head Up" - Argent (one of the true one-hit wonders. I don't think Argent ever had another Top 40 single.)
  5. "The Sweet Escape" - Gwen Stefani (aka my ringtone)
  6. "Don't Bring Me Down" (live) - A cover of the ELO song by The New Pornographers (an iTunes exclusive)
  7. "Sweet Emotion" - Mike Gordon and Leo Kottke (a mellow cover of the Aerosmith song)
  8. "Looking at the World from the Bottom of a Well" - Mike Doughty
  9. "From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)" - Dave Edmunds covers a fun, late-1970s Bruce Springsteen song. Edmunds is one of the rare rockers of the singer-songwriter era to specialize in covering his contemporaries' material. I bought this LP at a yard sale exclusively for this song.
  10. "Everybody Went Low" - John Hiatt
  11. "Reggae Merengue" - Tommy McCook & The Supersonics (this instrumental was sampled by Lily Allen for her song "LDN")
  12. "Pick Up The Pieces" - Average White Band (how are you supposed to find instrumentals like this when there's no lyrics? Also, DJs don't announce all their songs anymore. I may have gone online to check a station's online playlist to track down this frequent movie soundtrack staple.)
  13. "Gotta Get Back" - Shelby Lynne
  14. "Please Read The Letter" - Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
  15. "Precious" (live) The Pretenders, live at the Concerts for the People of Kampuchea, December 1979. I bought the two-LP set in Central Square, Cambridge, last winter.
  16. "Thankful" - Glenn Phillips (This song from the former Toad The Wet Sprocket singer was a free download from iTunes. I think I was given this promo download as a credit-card-style coupon at SXSW in 2007?
  17. "Blue" - The Thorns
  18. "Gypsy March" - Grand Ole Party (I saw the GOP at the free party for BUST Magazine, at SXSW 2008.)
  19. "Bodysnatchers" - Radiohead
  20. "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)" - The Temptations

May 3, 2008

Guys Movie Night: Iron Man

Really very good. I was very pleased with the action, the drama, the comedy, the heart, the un-obtrusive effects. Robert Downey Jr. is a charming combination of witty, loose, rebellious, and passionate, and the urban youth audience at Boston Common simply loved him in this movie. I have my doubts that they've seen him in many movies- I don't think Wonder Boys made $100,000,000 in its opening weekend -- but he carried the crowd around in the palm of his hand (see photo).
QUIBBLES: The hole in Stark's chest was implausibly deep. And the paid placements of Audi vehicles were a bit tedious. And I am starting to wonder what we all saw in Gwyneth Paltrow in the first place? We also saw some all-new trailers, of varying excitability:
  • Indy 4: I get less excited for this movie with every additional promo I see.
  • The Dark Knight: I am concerned about the Multiplying Villains Sequel Syndrome: I hope Harvey "Two-Face" Dent doesn't become a bad guy until the end of this movie. I think we can all agree that The Joker is enough villany for one movie.
  • The Incredible Hulk: Edward Norton is a great choice to play David Banner. We all know he has a bottomless well of intensity- just rent The Illusionist to sample his intense staring. However, the new Hulk effects look uninspired, and the Hulk-like bad guy he must battle (Tim Roth gets irradiated too?) looks even worse. From a marketing standpoint, I don't understand the casting: none of the names above the title will draw people in. I predict this will bomb as hard as Speed Racer did.
  • You Don't Mess with The Zohan: The audience loved this trailer. I have my doubts.
  • The Love Guru: All the old Austin Powers jokes have been recycled. I simply cannot believe that he has brought back Mini-me again. Is he writing jokes in a complete vacuum? The audience just sat there and waited for it to be over.
  • Hamlet 2: Steve Coogan (Night at the Museum) is a bad actor-turned-high school drama teacher who tries to save his drama program by staging a ridiculous musical sequel to Hamlet, featuring, if we are to believe the trailer, Jesus Christ and a time machine. The audience also laughed repeatedly at this trailer, a much better reaction that The Love Guru got!
(At AMC Boston Common, DLP, with Angus, Mike, Pete, Phil, and Tom. Ilan bought tickets for Friday night by mistake, so Ilan and Brian went to a later show.)