January 31, 2014

Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchett is spectacular, as a woman desperately clinging to sanity and order as her world collapses around her ears. When her Bernie Madoff-type husband's Ponzi scheme finally evaporates, Jasmine's carefully constructed personality crumbles, and we discover that her life was a well-dressed shambles even before the money was gone. It's a work of art to make us feel sorrow and pity for a woman so repellent and complicit in her own demise.
The makeup crew did a great job with Blanchett's anxious sweat
and deteriorating eye makeup throughout the movie.
I found the structure and screenplay surprisingly flimsy- a key moment brings Jasmine together with her sister's ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay) on a streetcorner by completely unbelievable coincidence- I could almost see Woody Allen pushing Clay into the shot to deliver his monologue.
A real pleasure to watch Blanchett at work. She gets an A grade, the rest of the movie, a B-minus. (Amazon Instant Video)

January 13, 2014

146 All Is Quiet

  1. "Meet Me On The Equinox" Somehow this Death Cab For Cutie song appeared on The Twilight Saga: New Moon Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
  2. "Dance Hall Days" back in the 1980s a humorless New Wave band like Wang Chung could name their LP Points On The Curve and be taken seriously.
  3. "Shake" The Head And The Heart
  4. "I Can't Wait" [single remix] Nu Shooz
  5. "I Just Can't Wait" J. Geils Band
  6. "In the Morning" The Coral
  7. "The Love Cats" The Cure
  8. "Can't Buy Me Love" Paul McCartney; this free-spirited, casual countryfied acoustic performance is from a live TV recording at the Ed Sullivan Theater December 10, 1992.
  9. "Head Full Of Doubt/Road Full Of Promise" The Avett Brothers
  10. "Smoke" Ben Folds Five; Live on KCRW radio July 17, 1997.
  11. "Honesty" A Billy Joel ballad I never listened to much because it wasn't on his Greatest Hits album. For the record, it appeared on his 1978 album 52nd Street, and the single went to #24 on the Hot 100.
  12. "Abracadabra" Steve Miller Band
  13. "And Your Bird Can Sing" Wilco; from their all-request, all-cover songs show at the Solid Sound festival June 21, 2013... 
  14. ...but their first performance wasn't quite "solid", so Jeff suggested they do it again. It's barely two minutes, after all!
  15. "Half A Boy & Half A Man" Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit 1989
  16. "Rock And Roll Girls" John Fogerty
  17. "Toys In The Attic" Aerosmith
  18. "Geek Stink Breath" Green Day
  19. "Round And Round" Ratt
  20. "Sweetness Follows" R.E.M.
  21. "River Flows In You" Yiruma; what the hell is this, exactly? In a work meeting this month, we left the speakerphone on for over half an hour waiting for our colleagues overseas to dial in; a 30-second excerpt from "River Flows In You" was the "hold" music. How did I figure this out. It must have been a boring meeting, because I wondered "do you suppose SoundHound will know what this hold music is?" Yes, yes it will.

January 8, 2014

Timecop

Somehow I've never seen a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie before. Schwarzenegger, obviously. Jackie Chan, many. Steven Seagal & Sylvester Stallone, several, but Jean-Claude Van Damme never made the cut. Last night I watched TIMECOP on Amazon Prime, and it was a mediocre and badly dated relic from the early 1990s...but it was fun to watch anyway, if only for historical reasons.
TIMECOP combines your standard "crusading cop uncovers a ambitious dirty politician whose rise to power must be stopped" with Back To The Future: protagonist must go back in time to fix a mistake, and ends up vastly improving his own family's life in the process.
Needed more kicking!

Jean-Claude Van Damme's acting is as good as Arnold, Chan, Seagal, or Sly. The film was directed by Peter Hyams who directed many quality thrillers in the 1980s: Outland (aka High Noon in space, starring Sean Connery), 2010: The Year We Make Contact, Running Scared, The Presidio, and Narrow Margin. Hyams also acts as director of photography on his directing jobs, a rare feat. The movie looks great, with the exception of some fight scenes apparently shot in complete darkness.
TIMECOP even attempts to address time travel and alternate timelines, and it mostly succeeds, with relatively few plot holes.
The area where TIMECOP falls down, and this is no one's fault, is the very contemporary 1990s costumes, technology, and visual effects. The movie was made in 1994 and set in 2004, but here in 2014, their concept for 2004 was right on (electric cars with computer navigation, for example) but the execution (costumes and props) are laughably dated. When Jean-Claude Van Damme's wife appears at the end of the movie (in 2004) in "mom jeans" and his son's wearing a baggy plaid shirt, I had to laugh.
The "2004" computers included lots of splashy 1990s-style graphics and "interactive" screens. Remember when DVD players were introduced and the DVD features included "interactive menus" -"interactive" was the buzzword of the 1990s?
The visual effects are pure "post-Terminator 2 CGI" crap. The moment when 1994 Ron Silver and 2004 Ron Silver morph/melt into each other, and end up as a red/pink blob on the floor is hilarious.
Stub Hubby Grade: c-minus.

January 5, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

I'm not sure what the point of this movie was, but I felt like I got the point, bluntly and in no uncertain terms, after an hour or two. Unfortunately the movie kept making its point for three hours, so I was surprised to find myself wondering when a Martin Scorsese movie was going to end. DiCaprio (Jordan Belfort) was good, but he's been good in all his Scorsese movies. Jonah Hill is terrific as Donnie Azoff, a depraved drug addict who happens to be a stockbroker too. Margot Robbie (Jaime Pressly's doppelganger) is Belfourt's second wife, the perfect blonde who is craven enough to make all the dumb choices that dumped her into Belfort's life. The depraved bacchanalian excess displayed onscreen is more extreme than I've ever seen, and yes, many many women are used as sex objects throughout the movie, but I don't think it's fair to criticize Scorsese for denigrating women, when it's Belfort and his scores of amoral followers who denigrate them in every way possible. It is fair to point out that Belfourt conned hundreds of hardworking families out of their life savings, essentially bankrupting strangers for fun and profit, but he barely seems to understand where this money comes from. And then he squanders it all. I don't expect Belfort's character to be redeemed, or ever to acknowledge his monstrosity, but all we hear is the voices of a few suckers on the other end of a telephone. What's the point?
If this movie is a portrait of pure capitalism at work, then There Will Be Blood did a better job. I'd pay to see Jordan Belfort go bowling with Daniel Plainview. Stub Hubby Grade: C-plus.
(Landmark Embassy Waltham, in the freezing cold Polar Vortex)

Jack Reacher

A truly odd hybrid of thoughtful and clever with obvious and dumb, with giant head-scratching plot holes.
Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher, a vigilante fascist: a genius detective in the Army MPs, gifted and unbeatable in hand-to-hand combat, and an ace sniper too. He quits the Army, disposes of all his possessions, and lives simply, wandering the world, with only the clothes on his back. Kind of like David Banner on The Incredible Hulk TV show, he strolls into town when he's needed, the loner and epitome of self-reliance.
Reacher gets drawn into a horrible sniper shooting, where there's more to this seemingly random violence than it appears. Rosamund Pike (whom I love) is solid as the crusading defense lawyer who prods Reacher's humanity; David Oyelowo is great as a suspicious homicide detective; Jai Courtney is creepy as a wholesome, middle-America murderer.
"Is that a Blackberry?"
The clues and puzzles that Reacher solves are interesting, so the mystery-solving is satisfying, and the car chases are terrific; I read that Cruise did his own driving, and it sure looks like it. Also, the cars look, feel, and sound like real cars in real chase conditions- a real treat.
While solving the mystery is very satisfying, the solution is a conspiracy that doesn't make any damn sense, and the motivation of the villains is such small potatoes to make the whole movie seem, well, pointless.
The movie begins with an intimate perspective on a sniper killing five innocent civilians. This was very disturbing, and it would take a lot to win back the trust of a shocked audience. In the end, I found the whole enterprise a little disjointed. My grade: C-plus (Amazon Prime Instant Video)