December 25, 2010

Christmas Mix 2010

If you never noticed how melancholy many Christmas songs are, you'll notice it here...
  1. "Valley Winter Song" Fountains of Wayne, a bittersweet wintertime travelling song.
  2. "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" U2's soundcheck recording, from the first A Very Special Christmas charity album, is my favorite version of this sad Christmas song.
  3. "Baby It's Cold Outside" Ray Charles & Betty Carter, or, as my wife calls it, the almost date-rape song? No means no, Ray!
  4. "Christmas Wrapping" The Waitresses' charming New Wave white-girl rap. Why hasn't there been a romantic comedy movie based on this song?
  5. "Sleigh Ride" Ella Fitzgerald, a terrific Christmas record.
  6. "Have Yourself Christmas Trouble" Mr Fab & The RIAA rearrange all the words of Bing Crosby's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" to tell a bleaker story: "Hang yourself up upon the highest bough", "Faithful friends who are dear to us, will be far away"...
  7. "Do They Know It's Christmas?" Band Aid was the ideal post New Wave supergroup for me, 12 years old, going on 13, for Christmas 1984.
  8. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" Judy Garland sings it with the original, super melancholy lyrics.
  9. "I'll Be Home For Christmas" Aimee Mann, another hopeful Christmas song.
  10. "Winter Wonderland" Ray Charles' version, as heard in When Harry Met Sally...
  11. "White Christmas" Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters, maybe my favorite recording of this song.
  12. "Evil Santa" Bill Murray & Gilda Radner, from the National Lampoon Radio Hour.
  13. "Santa Claus is Coming To Town"[live] One of my all-time favorite Bruce Springsteen performances. Electric!
  14. "Christmas Song" [live] Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds
  15. "Let It Snow" Vaughn Monroe, as heard at the end of Die Hard.
  16. "Auld Lang Syne" [live] Guy Lombardo
  17. "Skating" Vince Guaraldi Trio
(I assembled this mix in 2010 but never posted it to the blog until 2011. That's why it's backdated to 12/25/2010.)

December 12, 2010

128 Teenage Dream

  1. "Holiday" Vampire Weekend
  2. "No One's Gonna Love You" Band Of Horses: I bought this song after Cee Lo Green covered it on this new album.
  3. "Sweet Thing" Van Morrison
  4. "Teenage Dream" Glee Cast Version: No one's going to believe me when I say I have no patience for the TV show, but I love The Warblers cover songs. This one gives me chills.
  5. "Satisfied" Cee Lo Green: Anyone who wears their love of Prince so proudly has my support.
  6. "I Would Die 4 U" Prince & The Revolution
  7. "Blue Jean" David Bowie: I used to try to minimize the number of songs which reappeared on mixes over and over again. Over the years this habit became calcified to the point where mixes were loaded with: new songs + old songs which I didn't love. I am trying to loosen up and include some "golden oldies" where appropriate!
  8. "The Suburbs" Arcade Fire: I like this song, even if the rhythm section is super-cliche'd, and it's a little too long.
  9. "You Are The Best Thing" Ray LaMontagne: great fun, even if he's super derivative.
  10. "The Difference" The Wallflowers
  11. "The Word" The Beatles
  12. "Way Down Now" World Party
  13. "Ruthless People" Mick Jagger: The edit of this song which opens the eponymous movie is much shorter and better. This one drags on for 4m30s.
  14. "I Belong To The Band" Mavis Staples
  15. "Crazy About You" Whiskeytown
  16. "No More No More" Aerosmith: Does anyone remember when Aerosmith was an active rock and roll band which didn't record ballads for movies? Me neither.
  17. "It's Only Wednesday" Crash Kings: I think I heard this song in the movie Zombieland?
  18. "Valerie" The Zutons: what the heck is a Zuton?

December 11, 2010

"Recycled" Cover Songs: Yankee Swap 2010

The theme of the Yankee Swap this year was "Recycled Christmas" so I assembled (with editing help from Emily) an all-covers mix:
  1. "I Saw Her Standing There" The Smithereens recorded their own song-by-song remake of Meet The Beatles, called Meet The Smithereens.
  2. "Don’t Bring Me Down" (Live) The New Pornographers covering the ELO classic, Live from Soho.
  3. "Hackensack" (Live) Katy Perry unplugged, covering Fountains of Wayne. Who knew she had such good taste?
  4. "Every Little Thing (He) Does Is Magic" From Shawn Colvin's all-covers album Cover Girl
  5. "Burning Down the House" A terrific remake of The Talking Heads from Bonnie Raitt's live Road Tested album. Perhaps the most radical remake of the mix.
  6. "It's My Life" It's great to hear a remake of a New Wave one-hit wonder, especially so well done by No Doubt.
  7. "Any Major Dude Will Tell You" Wilco covers Steely Dan for the Me, Myself, and Irene movie soundtrack.
  8. "This Charming Man" Death Cab For Cutie increases the tempo on this Smiths classic. From their CD You Can Play These Songs With Chords.
  9. "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing Baby" An Ashford & Simpson oldie from Michael McDonald's Motown album.
  10. "Everyday Is A Winding Road" Who knew Prince was a Sheryl Crow fan?
  11. "Train In Vain (Stand By Me)" Annie Lennox covers The Clash on her all-covers CD Medusa.
  12. "Teenage Dream" This a capella cover of Katy Perry might be the most exciting performance I've ever heard on the TV show Glee
  13. "People Get Ready" In the a capella theme, The Housemartins cover Curtis Mayfield's song on their album London 0 Hull 4 (that might be a soccer reference?)
  14. "High & Dry" British wunderkind jazz pianist Jamie Cullum covers Radiohead on this album Twentysomething.
  15. "Mrs. Robinson" The Lemonheads' cover of Simon & Garfunkel was a late addition to their album It's A Shame About Ray... after it was a surprise hit as a standalone single.
  16. "Whole Lotta Love" Carlos Santana's manager must have noticed there's two types of albums which aging icons sell well-- covers albums and collaborations. Why not put them together for Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics Of All Time? Chris Cornell was born to sing Led Zeppelin.
  17. "...Baby One More Time" I think Fountains Of Wayne covered Britney Spears ironically. From their odd-and-ends collection Out-Of-State Plates.
  18. "I Will Survive" I know for certain that Cake covered this Gloria Gaynor disco classic ironically. From their CD Fashion Nugget.
  19. "In Between Days" Ben Folds covers the awesome Cure song on his EP Speed Graphic.
  20. "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word" Ray Charles & Elton John duet on Ray's album Genius Loves Company.
  21. "More Than This" The Charlie Hunger Quartet are joined by Norah Jones on the Roxy Music song, on their CD Songs from the Analog Playground.
  22. "Green Onions" Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers cover the Booker T & The MG's instrumental -- best known as the song they play during pitching changes at baseball games -- on their Live Anthology box set.

November 19, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

A terrific adaptation of the first half of the final Harry Potter book. Thank goodness they didn't try to cram the whole book into two or three hours!

Things they got right:
  • I liked seeing Hermione wiping herself from her parents' lives.
  • The battle in the coffee shop: I loved the dodging, the loud cracks, the flying pots and cups.
  • The bottomless beaded handbag looked great. I loved watching Hermione sink elbow-deep into the bag, also, the sound of her library stack falling over.
  • I loved the comedy of Harry, Ron, and Hermione creeping around the Ministry as Albert Runcorn, Reg Cattermole, and Mafalda Hopkirk. When I read the book, I hoped they would NOT use Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson in these scenes. I was excited at the prospect of three unknown actors playing them for the whole sequence, and I was not disappointed (see photo + my notes, below.)
  • Ron's splinch wounds were very scary. The way he was moaning and panting on the ground was perfect.
  • Harry and Ron discovering the sword in the frozen pond was just as I imagined.
  • When the locket Horcrux finally opens, the black cloud of Voldemort's soul is bigger and more terrifying than I imagined. I found Ron's "visions" of Harry and Hermione very creepy, and their nude kissing was just gross! Emily said "they look like Japanese anime characters!"
  • Bathilda Bagshot was very creepy, with her bulging, watery eyes.
  • The tale of the Three Brothers was nicely portrayed, silouhette-style, almost like paper marionettes.
  • Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) was great (and very tall!) with his one line aboard the Hogwarts Express: "Hey losers, he's not here!" According to the end credits, the camera must have panned past every Hogwarts student we know in that one shot! I didn't notice, but according to the IMDb, Lavender Brown, Romilda Vane, Goyle, Cho Chang, Katie Bell, Zabini, McLaggen, Pansy Parkinson, and Padma Patil were all aboard.
  • Kreacher and Dobby looked A. maz. ing! They looked really real. They made Gollum look like a sock puppet.
Things I missed
  • In the book, when the Death Eaters ambush Harry's escape from Privet Drive, they discover he's the "real" Harry because he doesn't shoot to kill the Imperiused Stan Shunpike. Later, Lupin lectures him on this point. In the movie, Harry releases Hedwig from her cage before they depart. She later defends Harry from the Death Eaters, which tips them off to his identity. Harry has had to carry around that ginormous birdcage in every story. It's a big pain in the storytelling butt. In the book, Hagrid's sidecar is big enough to hold Harry and a giant birdcage? I bet the screenwriter rewrote the scene so the director would not have to show a sidecar so enormous that a 17-year-old boy and a giant birdcage both fit inside. It makes more sense for Harry to release the owl, but why would the Death Eaters know that that owl is Harry's owl anyway? Very clunky.
  • When George loses his ear in the book, it's really gone, like Reservoir Dogs gone. I think the director didn't have the nerve to show a severed ear-hole in his movie.
  • In the book, it feels like Voldemort is breathing down their necks the whole time they're on the run. When they're captured by the Snatchers, it feels like he's going to apparate at any moment. Heck, he's in the same room with Harry and Hermione as they escape Nagini at Bathilda Bagshot's house. In the movie, Voldemort spends his time searching for the Elder Wand, but I never felt that creeping doom of his iminient appearance. The scariest moment of the book is when Harry and Hermione are struggling to escape from Nagini. Nagini has just summoned Voldemort. Voldemort runs up the cottage stairs (very scary Jung-ian moment), and enters the room just as Harry and Hermione fling themselves out the window and disapparate. I was sad that that moment was missing.
  • My wife is always frustrated that Nymphadora Tonks (Natalia Tena) only gets one line in each movie.
Mafalda Hopkirk (Hermione), Harry (in Albert Runcorn's clothes), Mary Cattermole, and Reg Cattermole (Ron) escape the Dementors at the Ministry.

When I read Deathly Hallows, I was excited to see Mafalda Hopkirk make a reappearance. Actually "reappearance' is the wrong word, because the last time we heard from Mafalda, it was her voice only: Jessica Stevenson was the voice of Hopkirk, emanating from a magical letter, in Order of the Phoenix. Why should I care about such a marginal character? I am a huge fan of Jessica Stevenson for co-creating and co-starring on the terrific TV show SPACED, with Simon Pegg. We only heard her voice in Phoenix, so when I read she was returning to the screen in Hallows, I was excited that she might show her face at last? And I was doubly excited, because in Hallows she would appear in the flesh, but her voice would be "looped in" by Emma Watson. How delicious that she would appear "voice only" in the fifth movie, and "body only" in the seventh!Alas, it was not to be. Instead, Mafalda Hopkirk's body is played by Sophie Thompson, sister of Professor Trelawney herself, Emma Thompson. I know Sophie Thompson best as Bride # 2 Lydia, in Four Weddings & A Funeral.

THEATER NOTES: With my lovely wife and the lovely Laura, Showcase Cinemas Du Lux (screen 7) at Legacy Place, Dedham. This was the second time I spent the big bucks for the "lux level" seating (21+, super-cushy leather reserved seating, wait service in the theater) but I don't think I'll do it again. The seats are great, and it's nice to have popcorn and beer brought to my seat, but the price is steep ($25, minus $5 food credit) and they leave the lights on dim so guests can see their food.

November 13, 2010

The Social Network

When the airwaves and interwebs were clogged with commercials for The Social Network, I told anyone who would listen that I would rather stab myself in the face than see this movie. I suspected that a movie about a smug teenage billionaire, lording his genius over the rest of us, would be unwatchable. Mark Zuckerberg was born in 1984 for crying out loud!

However, the reviews made me less suspicious, so the wife and I saw it this weekend, and we both liked it very much.

The structure is a Citizen Kane-esque postmortem for the rise of an empire. Told via two depositions, the lengthy (voiceover-free) flashbacks show us how vindictive wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg invented the online social network- taking the whole social experience of college and putting it online. Zuckerberg is touched with the Aspberger's so he doesn't know how to connect emotionally. His only emotional outlet is in front of a computer, so it's a natural evolution for him to create a new social world online, in his own element. Force people to interact online instead of in person.

My fears about the smug factor were resolved in the first scene. The Thirsty Scholar, Cambridge, 2003. Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard sophomore, is on a date with his girlfriend. When he lets slip that he considers her intellectually inferior (she goes to BU!) she dumps him. He doesn't understand that it's not enough to regret calling your girlfriend inferior, you have to not honestly feel that way too. By the time this scene was over, I pitied him already. As the story progressed, it was hard to keep feeling bad for a young man who screws over everyone he knows, but it's also hard to hate someone so lonely and lost.

Director David Fincher has  bounced back after the boring and obvious Benjamin Button. The Social Network is Fincher's most conventional movie. I found his gloomy, schellacked lighting distracting. Many scenes were filtered through an amber patina. Is this 2004 or 1904? Some of the most ordinary scenes seemed...sinister, somehow. Maybe I still have the heebie-jeebies leftover from Zodiac? The only special effect I noticed was the Winklevoss Twins. One actor, Armie Hammer, plays twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, just two of the associates Zuckerberg climbs over on the way to the top. I honestly have not seen this actor in anything before, but, while watching him onscreen playing both roles, I thought something was odd. I thought to myself: leave it to David Fincher to use a computer to turn one actor into twins! Are there really no twin actors out there who could have played these roles? It must be nice for Fincher to have that kind of clout.

Aaron Sorkin's adapted screenplay is excellent. He takes the story of a introverted, friendless nerd genius, and turns it into The Movie of the Millenials. When the spurned Zuckerberg drunkenly blogs about the "bitch" who just broke up with him, it felt like the first chapter in the history of The Blogging Generation.

The movie is also full of technical details, both computer details and big business details, and Sorkin's screenplay makes all of it simple to grasp. The only clunky parts include Rashida Jones's unfortunate role as a "script device"; she's just a cog in the storytelling machine.

Our only gripe, and it's a big one, is the appalling depiction of women. All of the female students and girlfriends in the movie are mindless, silly, drunk sex objects, and/or crazy and paranoid. Sorkin and Fincher's loathing for the female species is transparent. I'm not asking them to invent a equally intelligent female nerd, like Demi Moore as the female lawyer in A Few Good Men, but do we need the bimbos playing video games on the sofa? When a character asks them which weapons they're using, they giggle "We don't know how it works. We're just pressing all the buttons!" Moments later, the girls are falling over each other to smoke a five-foot-long bong.

It wasn't only the structure which reminded me of Citizen Kane: we try to understand the solitary billionaire entrepreneur, who he threw under the bus along the way: was reaching the top of the pile worth the cost? At the end of Citizen Kane, we learn that Kane would have given it all up to return to his youthful innocence; at the end of The Social Network, Citizen Zuckerberg has it all to himself, literally.

We saw The Social Network at the Church Street Harvard Square theater, which seemed appropriate considering the setting of the film. I was pleasantly surprised to find the film still showing on the big Screen #1, six weeks after its debut. I suppose a movie set at Harvard, starring the latest billionaire Harvard dropout, gets preferential treatment.

NOTE: At one point, a character points out that Zuckerberg in 2003 was the most talked-about person on the Harvard campus, a campus which includes Nobel laureates, Olympic athletes, and a movie star. That movie star was Natalie Portman, who got her bachelor's degree in 2003. This is the same movie star I spotted in Davis Square in 2001!

November 1, 2010

127 The Whiskey River

The first four tracks on this mix all clumped together. I started with "Horchata", from Vampire Weekend's second album Contra. (FYI, a horchata is a traditional beverage, made of ground almonds, sesame seeds, rice, barley, or tigernuts.) With "Horchata" as the germ, I built three other songs with fun and exotic instrumentation around it: the pseudo-reggae of "Last Night", the steel drums of the least-cool Rod Stewart song ever, and the accordion of "Gumboots", from Paul Simon's Graceland (aka "You don't feel you could love me/But I feel you could")
  1. "Last Night" Traveling Wilburys
  2. "Horchata" Vampire Weekend
  3. "Love Touch" Rod Stewart
  4. "Gumboots" Paul Simon
  5. "Peace Train" 10,000 Maniacs; I just saw Yusuf, aka Cat Stevens, at Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity.
  6. "An Innocent Man" Billy Joel
  7. "Sentimental Heart" She & Him
  8. "Ruby Tuesday" The Rolling Stones
  9. "Summer" Buffalo Tom
  10. "We Are Sex Bob-Omb" from Sex Bob-Omb dovetails nicely into...
  11. "Yer Blues" The Beatles
  12. "Rollin' and Tumblin'" Muddy Waters inspired the title of this mix:
  13. If the river was whiskey, and I was a divin' duck I would dive to the bottom, never would I come up
  14. "Damn Good" David Lee Roth: Have you ever completely forgotten a song? Forgotten a song so completely that you don't even remember knowing it in the first place? I recently bought David Lee Roth's solo CD Skyscraper for $1. David Lee Roth's solo career took off when I was a teenage Van Halen fan, so me and my friends had a lot of loyalty to Diamond Dave. I wanted the CD for the hit single "Living In Paradise", but for the heck of it I listened to the whole disc one day. That's when I rediscovered "Damn Good", an acoustic ballad (with nice guitar work from Steve Vai.) It's NOT a "damn good" song, BUT the point is, I had not heard the song in 22 years! It was weird dusting the cobwebs off this teenage memory.
  15. "Put Me On Top" Aimee Mann
  16. "Bang Bang Bang" Tracy Chapman
  17. "Smoke On The Water" Deep Purple
  18. "Hunger Strike" Temple of the Dog
  19. "I Hate Myself For Loving You" Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, the original version, before it was appropriated for Monday Night Football.
  20. "I Love Your Smile" Shanice I think I added this song because I saw someone on TV named Shanice?
  21. "Shadowboxer" Fiona Apple

October 31, 2010

Catching Up On DVD

We're paying for the luxury of Netflix. DVDs sit on our TV for weeks and weeks, unwatched, while we rack up the monthly fees. I am not complaining, but it's very satisfying to check off some "we missed it in the theater" titles. We finally watched three DVDs in a week, and all three provoked strong feelings. This blog is dedicated to meticulously documenting every movie I see in the theater. I usually don't review movies I see at home, but this trio of features are worth a few comments.

(500) Days of Summer Summer the movie (and the woman) flouted all my expectations, and left me confused, angry, and bewildered by the end of the movie. The premise is simple, it's your standard romantic comedy... except Summer (Zooey Deschanel) approaches relationships the way men do with impunity, and her would-be boyfriend Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the overly romantic antagonist who lets himself get hurt by asking for more than Summer wants to give. I don't know if I was more upset as a man, or as a fan of romantic comedies! The way Summer treats Tom seems cruel, but men act exactly like her in rom-coms all the time. Fair's fair, I guess. I also have to credit the movie for it's clever structure. Plenty of films jump around in time, but (500) Days of Summer uses the 500 days as an odometer of the relationship, and each vignette is prefaced with the appropriate day value. A couple of notes about the music- I have been annoyed by the overly "we're too cool for ourselves" soundtracks on young-adult comedies lately (Juno and Adventureland spring to mind), but (500) does not have that problem- there's some drunken kareoke to "Here Comes Your Man", a nice Bruce Springsteen joke, and a joyous dream-dance sequence set to "You Make My Dreams" by the #1 rock duo of all time, Hall & Oates.

 Shutter Island This is the movie I most wanted to see in the theater, and never made it. Scorsese has made a 1960s style gothic thriller, but the explicit violence towards children, and the many many loose threads of the storytelling spoil any chance of satisfaction for me. I don't insist that mystery movies be solvable before the truth is revealed, but Shutter Island goes in 5 directions at once.

 Paranormal Activity I like scary movies, but I am not interested in explicit gore and torture, which is so popular among the "torture porn" of the Saw/Hostel crew. So when I heard that there was a new creepy horror movie in the mold of The Blair Witch Project, I was eager to check it out. I watched it by myself, alone in the house, with all the lights out. This movie scared the shit out of me. It's a haunted condo horror movie- the couple never leaves their 3BR two-level home for the entire movie. this may be my new standard for claustrophobia. Besides being totally fucking scary without one ounce of blood or one inch of ghosts, it's also a metaphor for bad relationships- Katie is haunted by a demon, and her douche boyfriend of three years Micah never takes her seriously. He actually makes things worse over and over- he felt like a very familiar character; the man whose juvenile ego doesn't know how to manage threats to his authority. When a psychic tells them that negative energy feeds the demon and makes things worse, all she would need to do to be free of the demon is kick her dickish boyfriend out. I have only two complaints; the scary bits are still haunting me, and I wish Katie had shown more confidence instead of pleading for help and resigning herself to her doom for the entire movie.

The next movie on the way from Netflix is sure not to anger or scare me: Hot Tub Time Machine. Let the healing begin!

October 29, 2010

Nowhere Boy

I'm a big Beatles fan, and I have always known that John Lennon had an emotionally turbulent adolescence, but I didn't realize the depth of the emotional stress, and the potential as a heartwrenching drama, until I saw Nowhere Boy. After seeing this movie, you'll have a new-found understanding of why Lennon was such an angry asshole for the whole of the 1960s, and his belated emotional rehabilitation (and image reinvention as a peaceful hippie) from 1969 forwards will make a lot more sense.
Aaron Johnson is terrific as Lennon. He looks enough like him not to be distracting, the accent is authentic, not a Yellow Submarine-style "Liverpool" copycat, and when he wields a classic Lennon cutting remark, the wit feels all too familiar. It's funny in A Hard Day's Night when Lennon is playing himself for laughs, but when he does it in order to make his mother cry, it's heartbreaking.
Only a Beatlemaniac would care about the performances of Lennon's family, so I'll just say that Kristin Scott-Thomas is just how I pictured Lennon's sourpuss-but-loving Aunt Mimi. Anne-Marie Duff plays his mother Julia as a bipolar damaged woman who develops an unhealthy attachment to her estranged teenage son.
As for the rest of the Fab Four, we get to see The Day John Met Paul reenacted (July 6, 1957), which gave me chills, and the day George auditioned for the band, just like I pictured.
Thomas Sangster (last seen as the 11-year-old drummer in Love Actually) looks nothing like Paul McCartney, but he's perfect anyways, with his pink cheeks and skinny fifteen-year-old body. When he auditions for John on "Twenty-Flight Rock", I was convinced. (The kid playing George only has two lines.)
October 23, West Newton Cinema, Screen 4 again, just like Howl ten days earlier.

October 13, 2010

Howl

A wild ride through Allen Ginsberg's epic poem, and the obscenity trial which followed. The movie's dialogue is taken completely from three real world sources: the poem itself, read by Ginsberg in a coffeehouse and set to psychedelic animation, James Franco plays Ginsberg as he's interviewed in his apartment, where he tells some of his life story mixed with the making of the poem, and court transcripts brought to life by an all-star cast. I strongly recommend this movie to those who don't know the poem. The surreal animated imagery which accompanies the poem is mostly faithful to the imagery of the poem- it doesn't become too abstract. Another way of saying it is the animated imagery serves the words of the poem rather than serving itself, which is a good thing.
James Franco is terrific as the garrulous poet. He nails the intellectual stoner visionary vibe perfectly. The court scenes feel a bit like a wax museum; because we know that the dialog is taken exactly from the record, the performances feel a little wooden, but there's also a trippy time-travel "real people actually said these things" vibe too.
THEATER NOTES: The wife and I caught Howl at the West Newton Cinema, home of some of the most self-involved, overly entitled, obnoxious moviegoers ever. I've had some bad experiences there, but this was not one of them- we saw Howl on Screen 4 (capacity 96) on a midweek evening. We almost had the theater to ourselves, a rare occurrence indeed, but alas, one other couple joined us. Seeing a movie in an empty theater always makes me fantasize about being a millionaire with my own screening room- I want a little hand-held intercom, where I can phone up to the booth and have Murray spool up the flick for us, and ask Skip to send down some popcorn while you're at it?

September 20, 2010

Trailer Review: The Tourist

The Tourist appears to be a remake of Knight And Day with the sexes reversed. I don't know if it's supposed to be a action thriller with funny bits, or a screwball comedy with some action, but God Bless Johnny Depp; he can't seem to NOT be funny. 

September 19, 2010

The Town

A terrific heist thriller. Ben Affleck now has to be taken seriously as a director. Gone Baby Gone was no fluke; The Town is more of a genre action thriller, and less of a film noir than GBG was, but he's made a cracking bundle of excitement, soaked in Bostoniana.
Affleck is Doug MacRay, the brains behind a bank-robbing crew. During a daylight heist in Harvard Square, they take a tall dark drink of water, Claire, as a hostage (Rebecca Hall). They let Claire go during their getaway, but it turns out she lives in Charlestown too-  does she know too much? Will she talk to the Feds? MacRay, hungry to escape suffocating Charlestown, latches onto Claire as his one chance at going legit. Meanwhile, Doug's lifelong friend/ex - con/loose cannon/sociopath Jem (the excellent Jeremy Renner) won't let Doug walk away, while continuing to endanger Doug's life.
MacRay's crew is tracked by Jon Hamm's FBI Special Agent Frawley, who's not above bending some rules to make his case. Hamm brings an edge of anger to his all-American face, which only boils over when he's beating suspects and taunting criminals to get what he wants.
Speaking as a lifelong resident of the Commonwealth, The Town is the most "Boston" movie I have ever seen. I feel like I have walked past every location a hundred times. When Affleck's Charlestown crew are fleeing a heist in the North End, there's an authentic car chase around the twisty North End streets. When Jon Hamm's FBI agent catches the flash on the radio, he hollers "Close the fucking bridge!" Any Boston resident knows exactly what he's talking about. The verisimilitude felt good.
(NOTE: If you want to avoid a Boston-based movie with the least-realistic chase scene ever, Blown Away (1994) is the movie for you, featuring a 2-minute-long chase scene on Beacon Hill's Joy Street, which is, like, four blocks long!)
Then there's the dialog- Affleck doesn't care if anyone understands all the dialog, it's so mumbly and slangy, it was impossible for me to pick it all out. The nice thing about a genre movie is that you don't need to know all the words to follow along.
If I have one complaint, it's that the movie feels like it was cut down from a Heat-sized three-hour epic to a brisk two hours. This means there's lots of intriguing threads which are either never explored, or only glimpsed. I don't really need to know why Agent Frawley has a burr up his ass, or the story behind Frawley's townie partner and his roots in Charlestown.
NOTE: The townie cop is played by Titus Welliver, whom I'm adding to my Hey! It's That Guy! club. He made his debut in Navy Seals as "Redneck in Bar", played a cop in Oliver Stone's The Doors, played Al Capone in Mobsters, then proceeded to appear on every dramatic TV show of the last 20 years.
We're given hints that Doug may have fathered a child with Jimmy's sister (Blake Lively in full bar tramp mode.) Victor Garber has two lines as a bank manager, and gets a rifle butt to the face for his trouble? (NOTE: Garber co-starred with Affleck's wife Jennifer Garner on Alias) It's possible that The Town was a terrible movie when all the footage was first assembled, and a gem was carved out of it.

OK I have one more small complaint: [SPOILER ALERT] the movie might be a little too beholden to genre conventions, so when it breaks those conventions in uninteresting ways, I was confused. For example, Claire works at the bank the gang robs at the opening of the movie. They take her hostage while they make their escape; she's blindfolded, so she can't see their faces. Later, Doug befriends her, and they begin to fall in love, while she doesn't know his secret. In my opinion, the traditional resolution would be that Claire figures out for herself that Doug is one of the men who robbed her bank; but it doesn't resolve that way. I found this odd and confusing, especially when the rest of the movie followed heist thriller conventions in a regular way.

I saw The Town with my friends Amy and Adam at the Capitol Theater in Arlington; apparently English-born Adam could understand the dialog better than Amy or me! As the credits rolled, I gave it an A grade; since then, when I see commercials for the movie on TV, I rewind and watch them twice. I think this means I want to see it again!
NOTE: I saw it again, this time with my wife, September 25 at the AMC Aviation 12, Linden NJ, with Becca & Vinnie. The digital projection and sound were excellent; I was able to understand a lot more of the dialog this time.

Stub Hubby Reviews The Depressing Boston Film Festival

September 17, 2010

Ben Affleck Aging Timeline

Ben Affleck, a life in photos. Not included, the goatee'd Affleck from Chasing Amy (1997)!

September 9, 2010

Sauron Baby Pictures

There's no thumbnail on this post because it's too funny to spoil the surprise. Trust me!

September 1, 2010

126: Summerbeast

  1. "Run" Vampire Weekend
  2. "Driver 8" The Old '97s. A slightly harder-rocking, slightly less subtle version of one of my favorite R.E.M. songs.
  3. "Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly)" Icicle Works. Rediscovered on a VH1 1980s video showcase.
  4. "Jealous Again" The Black Crowes. A live, in-studio, acoustic performance, from the new Crowes album.
  5. "Never" Heart. So richly imbued with Eighties-ness, it's hard to mix this track among other less exuberantly artificial songs...
  6. "TiK ToK" ...until Ke$ha came along.
  7. "Wash Your Face In My Sink" The Dream Warriors. Was this Canadian hip-hop duo a one-hit wonder, or was this song popular only among me and my friends at WERS in 1991?
  8. "The Distance" Cake. Before I met my wife, I only new Cake as the 1990s alt rock band which covered "I Will Survive". I mostly hate disco, and this Gloria Gaynor song is one of my least-favorite hits in a genre I hate already. To sum up: Cake's cover is a boring, overlong, overly ironic remake of a song I hated in the first place. It turns out my wife has, like, four Cake CDs, and in the intervening years, I have found a bunch of their songs I actually like, including "The Distance", one of my new ringtones.
  9. "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" I don't listen to Jimi Hendrix enough. I gotta start putting him on more mix CDs. Mostly this song makes me think of a) hippies, and b) that scene it's in in Almost Famous, when the band trades in their bus for the jet plane.
  10. "Free Fallin" [live], from the comprehensive new Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Live Anthology. Great sing-along from the audience.
  11. "One True Love" Semisonic is another one-hit 1990s alt-rock band, whom I have gotten to know better. Around the turn of the century I really got into their almost-hit "Chemistry", and later, the drummer wrote a memoir which could have been titled "What It's Like To Be A One Hit Wonder."If you want to dig deeper into 1990s nostalgia, check it out. Jen Trynin also wrote a book about her year in the spotlight, which could have been called "I Would Have Been Alanis Morrisette (If It Weren't For Alanis Morrisette.)"
  12. "Via Chicago" Wilco. We went to Wilco's music and arts festival in North Adams this summer. This track is from Wilco's album Summerteeth.
  13. "Stratford-On-Guy" Liz Phair. I have the complete Rolling Stone magazine, cover-to-cover, on DVD (1967-2007.) Around the time I was assembling this mix I re-read Liz' 1994 Rolling Stone cover story.
  14. "Do You Love Me" Ridiculously catchy new Guster song, with pleasant Wall of Sound production.
  15. "Can't Do A Thing (To Stop Me)" Chris Isaak. Apparently there's a cable channel called FUSE, which aired a special Fifty Sexiest Music Videos Ever. My wife and I were not surprised to find the "Wicked Game" video at Number One, which inspired including this Isaak song.
  16. "Hackensack" [live, acoustic] The fact that Katy Perry has heard Fountains of Wayne, and recorded a nice cover song, has raised my opinion of her. It's still unfortunate that she married Russell Brand.
  17. "Ugly Truth Rock" Matthew Sweet
  18. "1901" Phoenix. It's like Duran Duran and Joy Division had a love child in France with Bryan Ferry as the midwife.
  19. "Pictures of Matchstick Men" Camper Van Beethoven
  20. "It Ain't The Cold War Harry" Grant-Lee Phillips

August 27, 2010

Dads Movie Night: Scott Pilgrim vs The World

Did you ever play that game "The Movie Of My Life"? I went to school with a guy who looks just like Michael Cera.
Let's start with the skin: it's not so much that his skin has NO pigment, it's more that the skin once knew the light of day, but he's been secluded for many years in... a cave, or the dark side of the moon, or Canada, so his skin is now a marble gray color. His elbows and knees are knobby, the knuckles are pink, there's a comical lack of a chin (which the nose makes up for), and the hair. Oh the hair. Scott Pilgrim's hair is a unkempt thatch of thick brownness which is the utter despair of said Mr. Pilgrim.
This collision of awkwardness, embodied by Mister Hooded Sweatshirt himself, Michael Cera, is one of the enduring highlights of Scott Pilgrim vs The World: Pilgrim is the hero of the movie. Pilgrim endures ass kickings, brick-wall hole-making, steel beam-denting, and he not only survives, he returns in equal measure and destroys his enemies.
The premise of the movie is simple: what if our romantic and emotional battles were actual battles? And what if you are a total postmodern, 21st century baby who was born with a game controller in your hand, and you know the Super Mario Bros theme better than your national anthem? That's this movie. It's a treat to live in a world where a pasty stuttering geek can win epic battles thanks to his pure spirit, his love, and his nice-guyness... even if he loses a bass guitar solo duel!
Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Grindhouse) is simply a quintessential beauty. She doesn't even have to try hard. Kieran Culkin, last seen drinking too much Pepsi ("he's gonna wet the bed!") in Home Alone, is perfect as the wry gossipy roommate who's gay, but doesn't have to be, to be terrific.
I also love Aubrey Plaza (Parks & Recreation), as a brittle frenemy, and the rest of Pilgrim's band (Sex Bob-omb): newcomers Alison Pill (the caustic ex-girlfriend/drummer), Mark Webber (the emotional guitarist 'Stephen Stills'), and Johnny Simmons (the simple but kind roadie "Young Neil").
Director, producer, and co-screenwriter Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) lives in this world. He breathes it. He soaks the world of the movie in console gameland effortlessly. Wright's bag of magic tricks is effortless. Circa 1999, Wright produced and directed a TV comedy for BBC called "Spaced", about a group of underemployed twenty-somethings, whose love for movies and video games envelops their daily life. Spaced serves as kind of a proto-template for SPvTW, and I strongly recommend it. There are 14 episodes total, available on a two-disc DVD set.
The movie is paced like a rocket shot out of a cannon, on board the Concorde: it keeps moving and moving, and even the parts where no one's being disintegrated move along at a nice clip. The wit does not slow down to let the slowest 10% of the audience catch up: even the fastest mind will miss some of the fun the first time. Much like Hot Fuzz, this movie will reward repeat viewing.
The music is terrific, the dialog is smart and catchy, the costumes are cool, especially for Canada, and the video-game style visual enhancements are subtle enough, also varied and inventive. WARNING: If you were born before, say, 1969, you may hate this movie. I was born in 1972 and I'm giving it an A grade, even if I prefer first-person shooters and driving games over chopy-socky fighting.
THEATER NOTES: I went to see SPvTW at the Somerville Theater with new Dad George D, who enjoyed his much-needed night off! Apparently this movie is based on a comic book, or graphic novel, because George and I were literally surrounded by super-nerds who LOVED the movie, who hooted and hollered appreciatively every time something cool, or something faithful to the source material happened. There were patchy beards and overlong hair every where! (NOTE: I saw it again September 5 with my lovely wife)
TRAILERS: We saw a teaser trailer for a SMURFS movie. Oh. My. God it looks terrible. It's not as if the Smurfs are some sacred part of my cultural heritage, but does anyone really want to see this? I guess if they made TWO Chipmunks movies, and a Marmaduke movie, anything's possible.

August 26, 2010

Better Off Dead...

betterWhen Gran agreed to babysit, the wife and I made plans to see a movie. But what movie? August is le season mort at the cinema. Neither of us were really in the mood for Toy Story 3. I am planning on seeing Scott Pilgrim vs The World Friday night with George. There wasn't much left... until I remembered Somerville's free outdoor movies. The final feature of the summer, the Viewer's Choice: BETTER OFF DEAD! Actually, we owe a thanks to Amy, who is the Queen of the Outdoor Movie! She has kept us updated with free outdoor movie bulletins.
I have seen Better Off Dead (1985) many many times. I used to own the discount-bin laser disc! When I was a DJ and producer in Portland ME, I created a Christmas-themed bumper featuring Ricky's Mom: "Do you have Christmas in France? Crisssssmassss..." I actually paid money to see it at the Brattle Theater in December 2002.
It's still silly and funny, with a skinny 18-year-old John Cusack, Curtis "Booger" Armstrong as the world's oldest high school student, and a schizophrenic soundtrack: Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, and Muddy Waters (good), Howard Jones and Thompson Twins (bad). Then there's the laughably bad pop from schlockmeister Rupert Hine; he contributes several songs, including the saxophone-infected love theme "Arrested By Love" ("I've been arrested by love/Take me in")
It's the directing debut of the immortal Savage Steve Holland, who completed his feature film directing career with One Crazy Summer (1986) and How I Got Into College (1989). While he has had a steady career in TV, he has never directed a feature film again. (Powderhouse Park, Somerville, with Amy and Mary Beth)

August 19, 2010

Clooney Seal of Approval

My admiration for George Clooney has been growing the last few years, but I just realized how dependable he is when I saw a TV spot for his new movie, The American. I thought to myself "ooh, I gotta go see that." I like suspense thrillers with snipers, footchases, and exotic women as much as the next guy, but The American has real potential, thanks to The George Clooney Seal of Quality. Starting with From Dusk Till Dawn in 1996, George Clooney has averaged two movies per year. I have seen all but three of them, and 15 of 25 in the theater. He just kept on making quality films, one after the other, rarely falling into genre roles, usually modestly ignoring his good looks, and seeking out challenging material. Here are links to my Clooney reviews in this blog, with some superlatives:
I have also seen (on home video) Leatherheads, Ocean's Thirteen, Welcome to Collinwood, O Brother, Where Art Thou? Out of Sight, Batman & Robin, and From Dusk Till Dawn. I have not seen The Men Who Stare at Goats, Up in the Air, or The Peacemaker (1997).
  • Favorite Clooney movie (tie): O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Out of Sight, two movies I missed in theaters.
  • Least favorite Clooney movie: Ocean's Twelve

August 17, 2010

The Many Faces of Johnny Depp

I've seen 12 of the 24 Depps pictured here. Click on the photo to go to the original post. (I've seen fourteen if you count Capt. Jack Sparrow three times). The Depps I've reviewed in this blog:
I know a lot of people might say it's super-gay for a guy to be a fan of Johnny Depp, but c'mon, how often does Depp trade in on his handsomeness? He hardly ever exploits his good looks in his movies. I better stop now, I'm sounding gayer and gayer as I keep typing.

August 11, 2010

The Other Guys

As a grand experiment in first-time parenting, and for the first time since our last "rent a cabin in the woods" vacation (War of the Worlds in 2005), we went to the drive-in movies... this time, with a baby!

The Hollywood Drive-In, Wynantskill, NY is a family-owned business, with a real mom-and-pop feel. The program included a list of 101 things NOT to do at the drive in ("be sure to engage the parking brake so you don't roll backwards and crush the car behind you"). Modern drive-ins use a low-power FM transmitter to broadcast the audio: we were treated to music and goofy announcements from our own personal DJ!
I wish the movie was worth all the trouble. The Other Guys is a buddy comedy with Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. Speaking as a big fan of Will Ferrell in Old School and Anchorman, it's sad to see him devolve onscreen, from playing characters, to basically playing a pastiche of quirks and oddities. Ferrell's movies (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Blades of Glory) are constructed by shooting as much funny shit as possible, then editing together the best of the best. Whether the results made any sense has mattered less and less over the years, until now, Ferrell isn't playing a character anymore, he's just the sum of the funniest stuff they shot.

Mark Wahlberg takes his rogue detective from The Departed and torques up the stress and anger even further. It's awesome!
The plot was just complicated enough to be distracting.
The last movie of Ferrell's that I am glad I paid to see was Talladega Nights. We saw Blades of Glory on a Friday night when my wife was desparate for some work-week stress relief, and we only saw this movie because we wanted to try going to the drive-in again. My grade: C-PLUS.
In the end, we learned a lot about how to take the baby to the drive-in. The irony is, we have only gone to the drive-in twice in five years, so, at this rate, the boy will be going on six by the time we do it again!

July 29, 2010

I'm Still Thinking About INCEPTION

Compare Leo DiCaprio in Inception and Robert Redford in The Sting:

His ulterior motive for bringing down The Mark (Cillian Murphy):
  • Cobb: Redemption for wife's death
  • Hooker: Revenge for partner's murder

He convinces The Mark to work with him to bring down a rival:
  • Cobb convinces Fischer (Cillian Murphy) to take down Browning (Tom Berenger)
  • Hooker convinces Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) to take down Gondorff (Paul Newman)
He keeps a secret from his associates which threatens whole sting:
  • Cobb's dead wife haunts his subconscious
  • Hooker haunted by vindictive cop
He refuses his share of the take:
  • Cobb promises his whole share to the Chemist, Yusuf
  • Hooker declines to accept his share: "I'd just blow it."

My favorite Inception joke so far, from Savage Chickens

July 27, 2010

Guys Movie Night: Inception


Maybe it's because I barely made it to the theater in time.
Maybe because I was famished.
Maybe my full bladder is to blame.
The summer movie I had the highest hopes for did NOT blow me away.
Inception was really good, yes. A expertly crafted, thoughtful, intelligent movie which is about something. The rare non-sequel, non-comic-book, non-animated summer movie. But I did not receive the emotional whallop, or even the visceral "whoa" I was anticipating.
Leonardo DiCaprio is Cobb, the leader of a team of con men. Instead of stealing money from their mark, they steal ideas by playing the mark within his own subconscious, where he's more vulnerable.
Entering an individual's dreams is a lot like The Matrix: you lie down, plug into a magic box, and BOOM, you're in the land of special effects. In order to escape, there's no pay phones to help you; you have to either die in the dream, or your sleeping body (back in the real world) needs a "kick" to jolt you awake.
Cobb risks everything on "one last score", the classic "it can't be done" scenario: their client needs them to plant an idea in the mark's mind, instead of stealing one. There are no secrets in the dreamer's mind: that's why the team is there. When you insert yourself into the land of the subconscious, your secrets come with you. Cobb's dead wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) haunts him and threatens them all.
The cast was excellent all around. I have a lot of respect for DiCaprio, even if I want him to shave off that 2-day goatee.
Ellen Page is the novice who discovers Cobb's secret and to whom the workings of the dream world is explained. She's a solid presence in this movie, and a purely dramatic, non-ironic role too.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Cobb's right-hand man, trying to keep Cobb rational. It's a pretty thankless role, until his showpiece weightless fight scenes.
Apparently, I have seen Tom Hardy in several movies (Marie Antoinette, Layer Cake, Star Trek: Nemesis) but I have no memory of him. I was riveted by his cocky, mouthy "forger", who skirts the edge of loyalty with his willful aggressiveness.
Director Christopher Nolan is a master at multi-layer, puzzle box movies which eschew linear narrative.  Memento's plot is in reverse. The Prestige includes flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks. Inception's epic second half is the big con, with four adventures happening at once: The chemist is in a car chase, Cobb's right-hand man fights henchmen while floating down a zero-gee corridor, the Forger battles phantom soldiers on skis, and Cobb confronts his own obsessive guilt over his wife's death. These four adventures are happening in four nested dream-worlds, with each character asleep in the world "above". When the sleeper's environment is disturbed (rain, or music, or riding aboard an Econoline van during a gun battle), the sensory input bleeds into the dream. In Memento and The Prestige, the structure perfectly serves the themes of the movie, but with Inception, the structure is still supremely clever, organic, and perfectly executed, but doesn't purely enhance the theme of the film in the same way.
Nolan and his cast make a strong effort to make the doomed love story the core of the movie, but it just didn't resonate with me. Perhaps it's because we never see Cobb's and his wife truly in love, except for brief, shallow glimpses. Mal's "character" in the movie is a femme fatale, comprised of walking and talking memories from Cobb's mind, or flashbacks of their life together, which amounts to the same thing. We don't get much of a chance to see the real woman, and we see a lot of Cobb's guilt over her death incarnated in Mal, so it's hard to feel loss for a "woman" who scares the shit out of the audience repeatedly.
I was a little distracted by some references to the cast and their previous movies:
  • Cillian Murphy: Wears a bag on his head, like his Scarecrow
  • Ken Wantanabe: In one of the dreams, he's crushed by a beam falling from the ceiling, like Ras Al Guhl in Batman Begins
  • Marion Cotillard: Edith Piaf music is prominently featured; Cotillard won an Oscar playing Piaf
  • Leonardo DiCaprio: Washes up on a beach like Jack Dawson in Titanic 2: Never Let Me Go (okay I made that one up)
The first two I found actively distracting, the third might have bothered me if I had known it was Piaf on the soundtrack. Speaking of the soundtrack, Hans Zimmer's score (loud, brassy, single notes, sustained for 15 seconds each) was a little too reminiscent of his Dark Knight score.
And for those of you who are angry or stressed about the final scene of the movie, all I will say is, a note of ambiguity is necessary in a movie where we never know for sure what reality is, and if the movie had resolved with a purely decisive happy ending, it would have felt pat and fake.Nolan has made two highly profitable Batman movies for Warner Bros. He's earned the right to make a complex, dark meditation on death, dreams, and the subconscious. It didn't hit me in the gut: I'm giving Inception a B-plus, but I may give the movie another chance. I paid $11.50 the first time, will I do it again? With Jon, Jack, Jeff, and Marc, at Regal Cinemas Stadium 13 (Screen 13)

July 16, 2010

Despicable Me

A terrific comedy for adults and kids, Despicable Me is about a single dad balancing work and parenting, OR, if you're not interested in subtext, an awesome roller-coaster of physical gags, flying through space, and little "corn nuts" (see photo) whacking each other over the head.

The premise is an inversion of your typical children's tale: What if the orphaned children are adopted by the villain instead of the hero? Gru is an old-school Dr. Evil-style "blackmail the world" type villain who is struggling at work. Kind of like Steve Martin in Parenthood, he hasn't noticed that he's slowed down in his middle age: He can't keep up with the new generation of villains who are faster, younger, and hungrier for world domination. Gru travels from one nefarious scheme to another in a chrome-plated, rivet-hulled, rocket-powered hair dryer. Meanwhile, nipping at his heels, is Vector, an overeager puppy of a villain, stealing his thunder in a sleek, white & orange vibrator designed by Apple.
In order to pull off his latest heist, Gru adopts three orphan girls, who make an adorable wreck of his ambitions, while leading him to discover that it's better to be the hero to three little girls than the archenemy to the whole world. As a new dad (our son is eight months old) I got a little teary while Gru was saving the girls' lives during the classic "tightrope between two planes" bit. *I* want to be a hero to my son like Gru was to his daughters in that moment. Obviously I am not looking forward to my boy being abducted by my archenemy, so I can then save him (obviously!), but, I like to think I would walk out on the wing of my superjet to save his life.
My wife and I really appreciated the universality of the movie. I read somewhere that this was a mostly French production, and we noticed the anytime, anyplace nature of the movie. There were almost no pop culture jokes or topical humor. No "inside Hollywood" jokes. No "wisecracking" Borscht belt characters (see: the Donkey in Shrek; Timon in The Lion King.) Most of the fun comes from the "corn nuts" (thanks George): Gur's "Minions" are little yellow worker bees in overalls and goggles who populate Gru's evil underground lair.
The animation had that slick Pixar style, but unlike Pixar, a minimum of show-offy effects which Pixar compulsively includes. We also appreciated that the three orphans were characterized so well with ZERO maudlin saccharine backstory. I have not seen Toy Story 3 yet, but many Pixar movies have a soft spot of treacly tear-jerking moments; Despicable Me keeps he sob-inducing moments to a minimum.
I can't think of anything wrong with this movie- I found the disco dance-off at the end a little underwhelming? The theater was about half child-free couples and half kids; the kids loved the movie, and, speaking for the adults, I gotta give Despicable Me an "A" grade. It's not in the Hall of Fame or anything, but it does its job perfectly well, with laughs, style, grace, and humanity.
(Belmont Studio Cinema "in glorious 2D")

July 8, 2010

More Fun on Theater Marquees

Spotted in 2011
Spotted on a theater marquee this week:
GROWN UPS
ECLIPSE
THE KARATE KID


The marquee of the Lexington Flick last summer:
STAR TREK  SEE IT AGAIN!
ANGELS & DEMONS
GOODBYE SOLO HOT DOGS

At the AMC Burlington in 2005:

BATMAN BEWITCHED

Landmark Embassy Cinema Waltham in 2011:
BAD TEACHER BOSSES HARRY POTTER

ALSO: The web site Unreality has a great photo gallery of movie marquee mischief.

April 9, 2012: for Guys Movie Night we go see WRATH OF THE TIT:
Angus "We only got to see one of them; next time let's go for the double feature"
Jose "Should've gone 3D if we knew that was showing"
Jed "Uhhh...That's pretty cool Beavis!"


July 3, 2010

Knight and Day

A very well crafted action-comedy, perfectly designed to fufill expectations and satisfy crowds around the world, only a jaded cynic like me can admire Knight and Day. It's entertaining, sure, but it pains me to like a movie so clinically designed to make money.

Cruise is a rogue secret agent who takes Cameron Diaz with him on his adventures, when she becomes entangled in his "keep the MacGuffin away from the bad guys" mission. Diaz is great in these roles, being funny and mostly incompetent while preserving her self-respect.

The movie is full of taut, gripping, mildly innovative action sequences. Early scenes take place in Boston, and I found them convincing. I could not say where every scene was supposed to take place in the Hub, but it sure felt like Boston. The remainder of the movie takes place in Europe, (including a motorcycle chase amongst the Spanish bull run), which improves its overseas marketability.

The only aspect of the movie which does not work is the so-called "romantic" parts. I think we're supposed to believe that Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise's characters feel some kind of romantic, or at least sexual feelings for each other. The problem is, Tom Cruise's acting has become so stunted, that he exudes all the sexual energy of a washing machine or blender. He looks deeply into Diaz' eyes, and they stand close to each other, so I assume there's supposed to be lust of some kind occuring. There's even a squirm-inducing scene where we learn that Cruise changed Diaz out of her clothes and into a bikini while she was unconscious. He awkwardly excuses himself by pointing out that "I can reassemble a machine gun with my eyes closed, I can get you into a bikini without looking." Well, that's troubling for two reasons. One, isn't stripping a woman naked with your eyes closed still, erm, sexy? And second, Cruise is so non-sexual these days, I didn't believe for a second that he would actually enjoy it. As I pointed out in my review of Valkyrie last year, Cruise "has devolved to the point where the only emotion he's capable of is single-minded determined certainty." He's a technically perfect action hero, I could watch him run and jump all day, but when he tries to put on the lovey-dovey eyes, he's as convincing as a puppy.

By the end of the movie, they ride off into the sunset together, but it felt more like a brother and sister on a road trip than anything romantic.

It's easy to get distracted by the "faux-mance", but the rest of the movie was a fun night out. My grade = B-minus.

May 12, 2010

Guys Movie Night: Iron Man 2

Great galloping guns! There's guys in metal suits all over this sequel, and there's weapons pointing in all directions. This sequel's ambitions for depth distract from the bang-bang, zoom-zoom, but the explosive battle at the end saves the movie. There's an epic quantity of ideas pulling in all directions, which leads to your typical bloated sequel. There were long stretches where the charm of Robert Downey Jr, and the quality repartee with Gwyneth Paltrow, distract us from the lack of shit blowing up. The good news is, this sequel's plethora of ideas are all good ones, and when the shit finally blows up, it blows up real good.
Mickey Rourke's Whiplash wreaks revenge and carnage on Tony Stark, Wrath Of Khan-style. His monologues make make zero sense, but I loved his Russian accent:
Ivan: If you could make God bleed, people will cease to believe in Him. There will be blood in the water, and the sharks will come.
(So is God bleeding in the ocean in this metaphor? Did God create lunch for a shark in his own image?)
Sam Rockwell is his usual hilarious self as a rival weapons manufacturer with a bad case of penis envy... wait, I mean "I want my own Iron Man suit envy".
Don Cheadle might be better than Terrence Howard as Stark's friend in the military. When he gets his own chrome-plated suit, he remakes his with tons of super-customizations, like those Honda Civics you see with a giant wing on the trunk lid: guns, guns, rockets, more guns, and don't forget the guns! I half expected to see a giant Chinese ideogram painted on the hood. Speaking of penis envy, Freud would love to analyze the scene where Stark and Rhodey wrestle each other in their matching metal super-suits.
"I need you to exit the Donut!"

Sam Jackson returns as the mysterious Nick Fury, bringing some much-needed lightness as the hard-as-nails, eye-patched, turtleneck-wearing leader of a secret superhero club which only comic book geeks care about.
George asks: Why do the women in these action movies always pose like this? (see Aeon Flux and Ultraviolet for more....)
Which brings us to Scarlett Johansson. She's the mysterious ass-kicker with the great body I've been seeing all over the Internet these last few months. She doesn't bring much humor to a part which otherwise consists of standing around with big lips. The ass kicking, when it finally arrives, is pretty fun, although the scene suffers from that cliche of kung-fu movies: why do the security guards arrive to fight her one at a time? Are they waiting in line for their turn?The five pitchers of margaritas were a great start to the evening, the only downsides were the obnoxious in-theater commercials, and the lack of good trailers. I'll give the movie a B-minus, and the evening an A!
TRIVIA: Jack wanted me to mention that the showgirls in the skimpy Iron Man costumes at the beginning of the film are credited as "The Ironettes".
MORE TRIVIA: The screenplay was written by Justin Theroux, whose only previous writing credit is for Tropic Thunder, but to me, he's best known as the evil, dreadlocked, breakdance-fighting D.J. in Zoolander. (AMC Boston Common screen 16 [DP], with George, Jack, Marc Pelletier, Harry, Jose, Murph, Ilan, and Phil)

April 21, 2010

The Best Actress Curse?

With the back-to-back separations of Sandra Bullock and Kate Winslet from their husbands, one can't help but wonder if there's a Best Actress Curse plaguing the Oscars? When Halle Berry leveraged her Oscar win for Monster's Ball into roles in some of the worst movies of the decade, little did we know that Movie Karma would come around and spawn a curse! FUN FACT: The Rotten Tomatoes Freshness Rating for Monster's Ball is higher than the ratings for Gothika, Catwoman, and Perfect Stranger put together! Now it turns out, her curse has spilled over onto non-sellout Best Actress winners. The facts don't lie:
  • Halle Berry won Best Actress in 2002, marriage ended in 2005;
  • Charlize Theron won in 2004, marriage ended in 2010;
  • Hilary Swank won in 2000 and 2005, marriage ended in 2007;
  • Reese Witherspoon won in 2006, marriage ended in 2008;
  • Kate Winslet won in 2009, marriage ended later that year;
  • Sandra Bullock won in 2010, her marriage was over already, she just didn't know it yet.
It sounds pretty cold to be so cavalier about peoples' lives, but they don't read my blog, right?

April 6, 2010

Guys Movie Night: Clash of the Titans

The new Clash of the Titans takes itself way too seriously. A stiff and humorless adventure fantasy which stuffs all the ideas from The Lord of the Rings trilogy into 118 minutes. There's some badass moments here and there, but I wanted more trashy fun. Grade: C+ !

MITIGATING FACTOR: The Guys of Guys Movie Night were eager to get out of the house after a long winter of serious, Oscar-worthy movies. A baker's dozen showed up for dinner (ribs) and a movie (beefcake ;-) We had a fun night out, which more than made up for the so-so movie.

The original Clash Of The Titans (1981) was one of a plethora of sci-fi/fantasy adventure movies attempting to cash in on the Star Wars phenomenon. The 1981 CotT was no special movie- so why remake it with such grim seriousness and import? Why not let the characters have fun, or at least ham it up a little? It doesn't help that Perseus is played by the wooden and humorless Sam Worthington (left holding the bag, see photo): he's an Aussie, just like Russell Crowe, Mel Gibson, and Heath Ledger, but those three all had a fun side that's missing in Sam.

Liam Neeson totally rocked a gaudy, glowing, chromed suit of armor, which would have fit in perfectly in the 1980 Flash Gordon movie. I kept expecting Queen music to play whenever he appeared onscreen. Neeson played Zeus with the same thick, lionine hair and beard as when he played Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia. See the image below and compare for yourself?

Ralph Fiennes is Hades, a misunderstood villain, with matted hair, ashen, cracked skin, speaking in a whisper, like a sick dog who's been sleeping in the basement behind the furnace. He looked silly floating in midair, POOFing from place to place like a coal-powered teleporter, but frankly, the movie needs all the silliness it can get.

The new CotT applies the Lord of the Rings template, and the comparisons are NOT flattering:

  • Rag-tag fellowship voyages across varied landscapes, filmed from a helicopter? Check.
  • Leader carries a special weapon which he dares not use? Check.
  • Porcelain-skinned beauty, struggling with her immortality, offering moral support, and possible romance? Check.
  • Two Hobbit-esque bumblers offering comic relief? Check.

After reading Ty Burr's scathing review in the Boston Globe last week, I still hoped for a trashy and kick-ass experience, but I wanted to avoid the retro-fitted pseudo-3D. It took some digging online to discover that the Boston megaplexes were only showing CotT in 3D, and charging $15.50 per ticket! Meanwhile on planet Earth, the Somerville Theater is showing CotT in 2D for $8.50. Whatta bargain, AND they serve beer! As the organizer of Guys Movie Night, I successfully persuaded the Gang of 12 to pay less for a beer-fueled moviegoing experience.

NEW EUPHEMISM for URINATION: "I gotta go release the Kraken!"

(Clash of the Titans, in glorious 2D, for $8.50, at the Somerville Theater, with Jon, Adam, Angus, Jack, Marc, George, Jose, Jeff, Ilan, Brian, Alex, and John.)

The Backlash Has Begun

Seen on the marquee of the Belmont Studio Cinema, this morning:

JOHNNY DEPP IN
ALICE IN WONDERLAND
PRESENTED IN 2D

March 20, 2010

The Ghost Writer

An intelligent, gripping, adult thriller. I was on the edge of my seat all the way through. Mystery and tension lurk around every corner, in every black car, in every evasive interview, in every telling pause, in every unexplained interaction. We talked about what we saw all the way home, and I was still deconstructing it days later.I really admire a movie with a "European" sensibility, which is code for "assumes you're paying attention", "does not explain everything" and "Ewan McGregor's bare bum" (I think he's contractually obliged to show his butt?)

Alfred Hitchcock would love this movie- it plays with your mind, wraps you around their finger, and is completely devoid of sentimentality. I give it an A grade.

Rated PG-13 for language (mostly British-style swearing), brief nudity/sexuality (Ewan's butt), some violence (hardly any violence at all), and a drug reference (a picture of a doobie!).

PREVIEW NOTE: The trailer for the romance Letters To Juliet is the latest preview to encapsulate the entire movie. There's no need to actually pay to see this film once you've viewed the trailer. The only part missing is the last 30 seconds of the film where the guy finally comes to his senses and tells the girl he loves her, presumably in front of a pretty Italian backdrop, or in front of a crowd who spontaneously applaud.

(Cinema De Lux, Legacy Place, Dedham)

February 24, 2010

Crazy Heart

A fine no-frills character study elevated by an excellent performance by Jeff Bridges. Bad Blake was once a successful and popular old-school country-western star, but many years have come and gone. A lifetime of alcoholism and four failed marriages has taken its toll when we meet him. Blake hits the bottom of the barrel around the time he vomits into a barrel behind a bowling alley- in the middle of a song he's supposed to be singing. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a the single mom who is charmed by his "crazy heart" and makes the mistake of falling in love. The plot is simple, the movie itself is laid-back and unpretentious. Bridges is excellent and unafraid to look pitiful- there are plenty of cringing moments, including his drunken attempts at retaining his dignity. The music is good, in fact, if it were better, or more "showy", it would distract. It's simple pleasures are an asset. The third act rehabilitation and pat ending are a little easy, but a movie as modest and honest as this can be forgiven. (Belmont Studio Cinema, with Sarah "Pickles" Hershberger)

February 13, 2010

The Wolfman

What could be more romantic for a Valentine's date night than The Wolfman? My wife and I weren't going to see Garry Marshall's Valentine's Day even before Lisa Schwarzbaum's F for "failing" grade in Entertainment Weekly, or 18% freshness rating from Rotten Tomatoes. We wanted something escapist, entertaining, and predictable. The Wolfman delivered on all three counts. (NOTE: The Wolfman got a B grade from EW and 33% from Rotten Tomatoes. the Stub Hubby gives it a B-minus.

The Wolfman 2010 is a aggresively old-school monster movie. The only concessions to the 21st century are the graphic evisceration of the werewolf's victims (oh, so THAT's what "rip your lungs out" looks like!) and some CGI effects mixed in with Rick Baker's makeup magic. Otherwise, it's all foggy English moors, decrepit estates, kerosene lamps, Indian manservants, and Gypsy travelers camping in the woods.

Benicio Del Toro, the swarthiest Oscar winner ever, is a peripatetic stage actor who returns to the aforementioned foggy English mansion/homestead when his brother is eaten by the Wolf. In residence amongst the kerosene lamps, playing his grand piano and reading his lines off cue cards, is a classically English Oscar winner who can be hired for ANY movie, Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins is Del Toro's father, reprising his Van Helsing role with less scenery chewing than I would have expected (and hoped for!) Hugo Weaving is fantastic as a sharp Scotland Yard detective who's willing to believe anything. The special effects vary wildly in quality from neat CGI effects to "a guy in a wolf suit" practical effects. I was surprised to discover the boring, indifferent score was by Danny Elfman? It didn't seem like his work at all.

There's no new ground broken here, and no surprises at all, but the drama and thrills are satisfying, if familiar.

January 28, 2010

Guys Movie Night: The Book Of Eli

A fatally flawed Western set in a post-apocalyptic hellscape. Denzel Washington is Eli, the avenging angel/Christian pilgrim, pulled into a battle of faith versus greed when he crosses paths with small town despot "Carnegie" (Gary Oldman).
The premise, sadly similar to The Road Warrior, holds a sliver of promise: it's been 30 years since "the war" destroyed civilization. The survivors blamed The Bible for the war, and sought to destroy every copy on Earth. As a result, the populace born since the war is mostly illiterate, and the knowledge of Christianity has been forgotten. Eli carries a leather-bound King James Bible in his rucksack, reads it every night, and has faith in it. Carnegie, on the other hand, sees its power to control the desperate hearts and minds of the godless survivors across the desert wasteland of America.
The idea of a society where God has been forgotten, a hardscrabble subsistence culture where survival comes before humanity, could have been exploited to make a dramatic, powerful film. Instead, the Hughes Brothers (From Hell, Menace II Society) miss those opportunities, thanks to poor style choices and cliche'd plot elements.
One of the main thematic elements is the burning power of the sun. The war, 30 years earlier, "punched a hole in the sky", blinding many survivors with "the flash", and forcing the rest to wear sunglasses at all times to avoid being blinded. This ties in nicely with the idea that the godless survivors are "blind" to the knowledge of The Lord, but it creates a crippling dramatic challenge. The entire cast wears sunglasses all the time, forcing Academy Award winner Denzel Washington, wearing oversized opaque lenses, to do all his acting without his most emotive organs? Mila Kunis (Solara), whose talent surprised and impressed me in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, only gets two scenes without her Top Gun aviator shades. At least most of Gary Oldman's scenes take place indoors, but he dons ridiculous Truman Capote Wayfarers for the gun battles on Main Street.
Denzel's Eli is a man of few words. Even once he is forced to allow Solara to tag along on his journey, he speaks hardly at all about the world before the war, about the word of the Lord, or about his faith. What's the point in having a Christian alone in the wilderness if he refuses to spread The Word?
The most tedious element has to be Carnegie's henchmen. Once again, Oldman is playing the clever villain who is forced to order around his moronic henchmen. I love Gary Oldman, but he's played this exact part much better in The Professional and The Fifth Element.
The ending includes a clever plot twist, several geographic impossibilities, a physiologically unlikely scenario, and Malcolm McDowell with long white hair and a stringy mustache. I am not going to bother to explain how this movie goes downhill sideways in the last 10 minutes, because I beg you to avoid this movie anyway.
My favorite part of the movie was the score. The original music is credited to newcomers Atticus Ross, Leopold Ross, and Claudia Sarne. The score was a mix of droning atonal doom, reminiscent of The Shining, and quasi-Nine Inch Nails instrumentals, but on the whole they offered a evocative counterpoint to the barren landscapes of deserts, craters, and sepia-toned hopelessness.
I saw this with Marc, Jack, Jeff, and José- Jack talked me down from a C+ grade ("that's just below average!") to a D+ grade. Someone suggested that I was grading on a curve, but if that were true, it would have flunked completely as the worst movie I saw in a theater in the last year. (Regal Fenway 13, screen 2)

January 27, 2010

All-Time Ticket Sales Leaders

Box office grosses are a poor metric of a movie's success, even when comparing current box office results to movies released a year or two ago. When comparing a current film against all-time blockbusters, the comparison is meaningless.

This issue has come to a head with the success of Avatar. By any measure, it's a successful and wildly popular movie, but it's pointless to gauge Avatar's popularity based on box office gross, when the average price paid for a ticket is so much higher than any movie in history. Even box office leaders from 2009 or 2008 did not include huge numbers of IMAX and 3D sales.

The only fair metric to judge a movie's popularity in a historical context is plain 'ol tickets sold. Box Office Mojo has a nice interactive table ranking all-time domestic box office, by dollars, and by tickets sold. By that measure, Avatar, at 76 million tickets sold, is at #26 all-time. Be sure to read the Chart Notes at right- 15 of the 25 movies ahead of Avatar on the list have benefited from multiple theatrical releases- a common practice for blockbusters pre-1980, also Disney movies, and movies by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.