Monday, August 30, 2010


This trailer is like an amalgam of every musical (successful and not) of the past decade put into a blender with Showgirls.  It could be the biggest disaster movie of the year; and I'll likely be there to go down with the ship.  An odd cast-- Christina Aguilera, Cher, Stanley Tucci, Alan Cumming and Kristen Bell in predictable, seemingly good-time "lets put on a show" vehicle.  I already see it playing in midnight screening around the country.  Yet I can't totally discount Cher, even if one must travel a couple of decades back in time for a worthy movie.  But when she's on (I'm thinking of Moonstruck, Silkwood, Mask, Mermaids and The Witches of Eastwick), it's a lovely thing indeed.

Emmy Winners

Comedy- Modern Family
Actor- Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Actress- Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Supporting Actor- Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family
Supporting Actress- Jane Lynch, Glee
Directing- Glee- Ryan Murphy
Writing- Modern Family- Steven Levitan & Christopher Lloyd

Falco's win for best actress in a comedy marks the first time an actress has won an Emmy for both comedy and drama (she's won three suckers for The Sopranos.)  The supporting races were exciting for the the very gay-friendly stance: the lovely Lynch is a lesbian in reality, while Stonestreet plays one half of a gay couple on Modern Family; the straight Stonestreet was up against openly gay actors Chris Colfer (Glee), Jesse Tyler Fergouson (Modern Family) and Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother.)

Drama- Mad Men
Actor- Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Actress- Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer
Supporting Actor- Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
Supporting Actress- Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife
Directing- Dexter- Steve Shill
Writing- Mad Men- Matthew Weiner & Erin Levy

This the third year in a row that both Mad Men and Cranston have been awarded very exhausting.

Movie- Temple Grandin
Mini-series- The Pacific
Actor- Al Pacino, You Don't Know Jack
Actress- Claire Danes, Temple Grandin
Supporting Actor- David Strahairn, Temple Grandin
Supporting Actress- Julia Ormond, Temple Grandin
Directing- Temple Grandin- Mick Jackson
Writing- You Don't Know Jack- Adam Mazer

As to be expected-- all products of HBO!

Reality Show- Top Chef

First time in the category's history the Emmy didn't go to The Amazing Race.

Variety Series- The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Was up against the short-lived The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, and while I'm sure that would have made for irresistibly unsettling television, can one really truly deny Mr. Stewart, even if he is heavily Emmy-ed to begin with.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The September Issue

The dog days of the summer movie season have been getting me down lately.  Last weeks offerings were wimpy and pathetic; and the unholyness of a film called Vampire Suck (from the acclaimed filmmakers of atrocities like Date Movie, Epic Movie and Meet the Spartans) making more money than the joyous and inventive Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is enough for me to scream.  And while I don't rule the movie universe, evident by the box office tallies for wonderful offerings like Scott Pilgrim, The Kids Are All Right and Animal Kingdom, I choose to look ahead to next month, rather than get jazzed about Piranha 3-D, or the greedily produced nine extra minutes of this weekend's Avatar: Special Edition; the film is only eight months old, and already made over $2 billion, is a reissue really needed?

But on to (hopefully) happier movie events, and the month of September (known for tremendous tragedy, as well as my birth) looks, at the very least on paper like it could be solid.  Here's 12 films next month I'm looking forward to-- be warned: if I like any of them, history has learned that's a kiss of death for box office profitability.  I'd like to apologize in advance to the distributors.


  • The American- George Clooney stars as an assassin taking one last job in what looks like might be an exciting noir.  With the Clooney factor, there's always a bit of Oscar buzz (since breaking bread with AMPAS in 2005 for Good Night, and Good Luck, he's received three nominations for acting: Syriana, for which in won, Michael Clayton, and last years Up in the Air.)  If nothing else, the pedigree looks solid-- its director Anton Corbjin's follow-up to his acclaimed 2007 Joy Division biopic Control, and its written by Rowan Jaffe, son of Roland (The Killing Fields.)
  • A Woman A Gun and a Noodle Shop- Director Zhang Yimou's remake of the Coen Bros. Blood Simple.  Yimou has wowed before: Hero, House of Flying Daggers, the Opening Ceremony of Beijing Olympics.  The trailer looks cool:

  • Catfish- A sensation at this years Sundance Film Festival, that based at least on the trailer looks like it could very well be the creepiest film of 2010.  I mean that in a good way; I think...I don't quite get it.  Is it an Internet cautionary tale?  All I can think of is I want to see it, and I'm not quite sure how I feel about that.

  • Easy A- This one could go either way, I see it already, however what interests me about this teen comedy remake of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter is not because it could potentially be the last on screen appearance of Amanda Bynes (rumored to be retiring from acting), but the eclectic and wondrously gifted adult actors including Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, Thomas Hayden Church and Lisa Kudrow.  Certainly not all of these fine actors would agree to take part if the script wasn't any good, right?  It could be teen comedy good, like Mean Girls or Heathers, not the the countless dreck that permeates the movie theaters often, right?  Also, leading lady Emma Stone is, I believe, a fairly strong light comedienne and might bring the right bite here. 

    • Never Let Me Go- I'm already kind of sick of the trailer, and certainly was no fan of director Mark Romanek's debut feature (One Hour Photo), but a prime Fox Searchlight Oscar bid can never really be ignored.  And the pedigreed cast is off the chart with Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, newcomer Andrew Garfield (already a person of interest, due to that little Spider-man movie he'll appear in), plus supporting roles by Sally Hawkins (criminally un-Oscared for Happy-Go-Lucky) and Charlotte Rampling.  Primp English setting mixed with creepy sci-fi clone premise-- could be good.
    • Jack Goes Boating- Another Sundance hit, this one starring and directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman.  I'm a bit torn here, because the premise seems a bit twee: mid-life crisis loser falls for pretty girl, played by Amy Ryan.  But reviews were solid from Sundance, it could be good.
    • The Town- Ben Affleck stars, but more importantly returns to directing after the solid debut of Gone, Baby, Gone.  This one too is a Bostonian crime drama, but the acting, at least from the trailer looks terrific.  It's easy to knock on Affleck, and I've done my fair share of it-- especially post-Good Will Hunting, with the cocksure pose, but whats admirable after his more than competent first film behind the camera is that Affleck surrounds the film with an exciting and super talented cast.  Center stage highlight for me is Rebecca Hall-- after Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Please Give, I'll follow her anywhere, at least now.  Plus Jeremy Renner, John Hamm, Chris Cooper and Pete Postlewaite-- that's a good cast.

    • Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps- Alright, I'm almost convinced I'm not going to like this one; Oliver Stone and myself have never quite seen eye to eye, even during his hot streaks, but here is a curiosity project, just because everything about seems kind of mismatched and I think at the very least it could wind up being a brilliant disaster.  Michael Douglas returns in his Oscar-winning role of Gordon Gecko, now released from prison.  Supporting him are Shia LeBeof, Carey Mulligan, Susan Sarandon, Josh Brolin and Frank Langella.
    • Buried- Another Sundance hit-- this one is the famous Ryan Reynolds trapped in a box picture.  Could be good\creepy\claustrophobic fun.  Or a monotonous tease of a movie; either way I'm officially curious.
    • Howl- The James Franco picture that likely won't merit any Academy consideration (that might be 127 Hours instead), but perhaps the more notable at least when thinking about the range of the decidedly bizarrely fascinating actor.  Here's he's channeling Allen Ginsberg during the obscenity hearing of the poem, "Howl."
    • Waiting for Superman- Davis Guggenheim, the documentary filmmaker behind An Inconvenient Truth and It Might Get Loud returns with what appears to be a searing indictment of the our country's education system.  "Bout time! 
    • You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger- Woody Allen's latest starring Antonio Banderas, Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins and Josh Brolin.  Who knows anything anymore on terms of quality with Mr. Allen; all I know is that for a brief, but important time in my youth, Annie Hall and Manhattan were scripture to me, and thus I return every time, I just have too...

    I'm excited...

    Wednesday, August 25, 2010

    Honorary Oscars 2010

    The Academy Governors have announced the winners of this years honorary Oscars.  For the second year in a row, they well be given out in a separate non-televised event.  This year on November 13.  In either a desperate move to cut down the show, or perhaps the perceived lack of interest in seeing old timers accepting non-competitive awards, I still feel shammed in that the general public isn't invited to watch.  However, whatever.  This years selection is:

    Irving J. Thalberg Award: Francis Ford Coppola
    • Coppola has received 5 competitive Oscars over his career
      • 3 for directing, producing and writing The Godfather Part II (1974)
      • 1 for producing The Godfather (1970)
      • 1 for writing Patton (1970)
     Whatever the motivation to give him a sixth Academy endorsed statute, one must claim that his career is safely coveted into the legendary category.  With The Godfather, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, One From the Heart, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and The Outsiders on a single resume, I'm more than fine with Mr. Coppola receiving another accolade. 

    Honorary Oscars:
    • Jean Luc-Godard- The French New Wave master was selected even though he's never been acknowledged at the Oscars, not once.  In a selection, perhaps like last year's mention of Roger Korman, it's a nod of paying homage to a career that the AMPAS wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole competitively.  Worthy is an understatement for one the living giants in the international film community, even if I personally am not a great fan of his work in general-- I probably shouldn't have typed that, I feel like the Fellini basher in Annie Hall already.
    • Eli Wallach- Superb actor whose also gone unnoticed his entire career in the Academy, despite six decades in the industry in such laudable films as Baby Doll, The Magnificent Seven, How the West Was Won, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, and The Misfits.  Still acting with roles in this year's The Ghost Writer, and the upcoming Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
    • Kevin Brownlow- British film historian and documentarian.

    Disney vs. the Annie Awards

    The Annie Awards are the annual kudo-fest for animated features.  And now there appears to be trouble afoot as the Walt Disney corporation has seemingly bowed out of the organization.  Official statement from Disney-Pixar president Ed Catmull:

    “We believe there is an issue with the way the Annies are judged, and have been seeking a mutually agreeable solution with the board.
    Although some initial steps have been taken, the board informed us that no further changes would be made to address our concerns.”

    It's been addressed that membership requirements for the Annies are purchased, not voted on by governing peers, and gossip appears to have surfaced that DreamWorks Animation has bought each new employee a membership.  Perhaps it's unsurprising when in 2008 the animated feature category was awarded to DreamWorks' Kung Fu Panda, despite the competition of the vastly superior in every way triumph that was WALL-E.  It seemed that voting practices were changed after that year, but apparently not enough for Disney.  It remains to be seen what may come about for this years animated selection, which might potentially be free of Toy Story 3, now the highest grossing animated feature of all time, and what should be seen as a frontrunner, as well as Disney's fall animated film, Tangled.

    Annie Awards at a glance:

    2009- Up
    2008- Kung Fu Panda
    2007- Ratatouille
    2006- Cars
    2005- Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
    2004- The Incredibles
    2003- Finding Nemo
    2002- Spirited Away
    2001- Shrek
    2000- Toy Story 2

    Could this potentially just be sour grapes-- the Disney track record has been pretty strong this past decade.

    127 Hours

    The teaser has arrived for Danny Boyle's latest, 127 Hours, the true story of man (played by James Franco) who was trapped by a boulder on canyon trip in Utah in 2003.  The man, Aron Ralston, survived by sawing his arm off with a dull knife blade.  The only recent film that seems to spin up instantly is Cast Away, another lone ranger film of survival.  The teaser is anything is not bold and vibrant, highlighting past Boyle films, including the Fox Searchlight years (2003-present), his current hot streak of 28 Days Later (2003), Millions (2005), Sunshine (2007) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008).  I've always counted myself as a fan of Boyle's work (my favorite being Trainspotting), and while the Slumdog machine was not nearly my favorite Oscar victory, I do eagerly look forward to this one, especially since Franco is nothing if not an interesting actor at the moment. 

    In the last two years, Franco I believe has truly earned that early Freaks and Geeks and James Dean promise, with the notable range-y against type turns in Pineapple Express and Milk, segueing into the surreal with a role in General Hospital, as Julia Robert's yogi younger boyfriend in Eat Pray Love, continuing later this year with a turn as Allen Ginsberg in Howl, and this.  He will likely have the oddest box-set DVD collection ever at this rate-- I'm game.  127 Hours will premiere at the fall film festivals later next month (like Slumdog did two years ago), and open November 5th.

    Sunday, August 22, 2010

    Creative Arts Emmy Award Winner (Abridged Version)

    The winners have been announced for the Creative Arts Emmys.  Since I really only have an intermittent interest in the Emmys period, I'll focus on the winners care about.  For full results, click here.  Kathy Griffin lovingly calls them the "Schemmys."  She was nominated again for My Life on the D-List, alas didn't win, possibly for fear of more attacks on deities.

    • Guest Actor (Drama)- John Lithgow, Dexter
    • Guest Actress (Drama)- Ann-Margaret, Law & Order, SVU
    • Guest Actor (Comedy)- Neil Patrick Harris, Glee
    • Guest Actress (Comedy)- Betty White, Saturday Night Live
    • Voiceover Performance- Anne Hathaway, The Simpsons
    • Animated Program- Disney Prep & Landing
    • Short Form Animated Program- Robot Chicken
    • Drama Series- Mad Men
    • Comedy Series- Modern Family
    • Movie or Mini-Series- The Pacific
    • Reality Program- Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution
    • Reality Show Host- Jeff Probst, Survivor
    • Variety Special- The Kennedy Center Honors
    • Variety Show Writing- The Colbert Report

    <---Anne Hathaway is an EMMY winner!  Could this be her first step in joining the elite triple crown club (Emmy\Oscar\Tony)?  I enjoy her, and she has a nice singing voice, could she even manage the elusive EGOT club?  She's already in the Oscar conversation this year for Love & Other Drugs, and I believe is just starting to burnish the princess image, and establishing herself as an actress of true range; hopefully the magic she provided in Rachel Getting Married was no fluke.  Ironically her Emmy win was for voicing "Princess Penelope" on an episode of The Simpsons.

    Anyone shocked by Betty White's win?  Just wondering...not that I'm bad-mouthing it at all; her SNL appearance was event television without question.

    One small quibble from a noteworthy guest acting list (Harris was pretty sweet in Glee!)-- wasn't John Lithgow a key plot point on Dexter, and perhaps more worthy in supporting actor, than merely guest star?

    Friday, August 20, 2010

    Fair Game

    Not to be confused with the Billy Baldwin\Cindy Crawford film of the same name, this Fair Game focuses on outed CIA agent Valerie Plame.  Directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne films, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) and starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, the film premiered at Cannes this year to mixed reviews, but a few nice ones for Watts.  More over, it's an important story of one of the least flattering portraits of Bush administration and the Iraqi War.  I'm hopefully the film delivers on some level just because the story is definitely cinematic in comparison to most biography movies-- you've got the war, government conspiracy, spy setting to work with.  It could also serve as a reminder of how powerful an actress Watts is capable.

    Animal Kingdom

    Any Darwinian inference to get made about the title of David Michod's exciting and decidedly unfussy Aussie mobster film is completely valid.  Only the strongest and fittest survive in this Melbourne underworld drama.  And what at times feels like just another riff on the GoodFellas or The Sopranos template of family crime dramas there's a surprising and endearing non-b.s. tone to the whole thing and an authentic camaraderie between the actors.  And so we enter the world of the Cody family through the eyes of innocent young Josh (played by newcomer James Frecheville.)  His mother has just died of a heroin overdose, and is soon shipped off under the care of his grandmother Janine (a terrific Jacki Weaver-- more on her later.)  With little knowledge of the ins and outs of the family's dealing, Josh comes up to speed quickly.

    There's his uncles to contend with, a shifty mix of unstable men, the shifty cops at bay, as well as the good ones.  Ruminating to closely on the plots circumstances I believe might diminish a lot of the power of Animal Kingdom, which won the World Cinema Prize at this years Sundance Film Festival.  But much of this gritty film focuses on the moral choices young Josh must make.  It's a classic struggle of family loyalty versus the right thing to do, and the film rightfully never takes the easy path, as it slowly and carefully maps out the path Josh goes on.  There's a palpable fear, especially as the body count rises, and even Josh's innocent girlfriend (Laura Wheelright) becomes a target, proving this isn't going to be a happily-ever-after Hollywood film.  Director Michod with great authority presents a mobster world that feels far truer and more lived-in than the cinema often provides, avoiding cliches or any winks to the audience.

    The ensemble cast in perfect Darwinian fashion are all survivors and ready for the challenge; there really isn't a weak link here.  The most heralded on these shores is surely Guy Pearce playing an honest cop who gives young Josh an outlook for his life, should he choose to accept it.  Pearce, always a strong asset to any filmmaker, is wonderful, eagerly pouncing and at ease with Michod's bull-free tone.  The strongest link, and thus the strongest to survive here or anywhere else is Weaver.  In a performance of extreme subtlety and dimension, she creates a woman who is on the outset so compassionate and benign, it may take another viewing to fully be able to revel when her predictable Lady MacBeth moment takes place.  Make no mistake this sweet and lovable grandmother type will eat her young and anyone else too.  The performance is almost too delicate and juicy that I crave to spend more time with this woman, even though I may fear it as well.  B+

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    Black Swan

    I'm falling into movie geek heaven as this lovely looking trailer plays.  The anticipation and expectation is palpable!!!!!

    I'm Still Here

    I'm Still Here is the mockumentary\documentary\freakazoid contraption centering on the last year of Joaquin Phoenix's life.  Directed by brother-in-law Casey Affleck, centering I presume about Phoenix's decision to retire from acting to segue into a rap star.  So was it all a joke?  A lark?  I'm still confused, and I'm fairly certain that no matter how good this film will be, I will remain so.  One thing is for sure, Phoenix's talent is inimitable, so at the very least it should be interesting.  Magnolia Pictures releases it in September.

    Love and Other Drugs Trailer #2

    It's seems a bit more somber second go around, but still soft and cuddly for maximum Gyllenhaal\Hathaway exposure.  A second trailer so soon; Fox must be starting early on the Oscar campaign.

    Sunday, August 15, 2010

    Life During Wartime

    Perhaps inspired in part by his 2005 experiment Palindromes, in which provocative indie director Todd Solondz cast eight different actors to play the same lead role in what was a semi-sequel to his acclaimed 1996 breakout picture Welcome to the Dollhouse, he chose to create a semi-sequel to his 1998 shock and awe yarn Happiness, casting different actors in the notable parts.  Perhaps it's all some sort of joke that I'm just not smart or hip enough to totally understand, but in watching Solondz's latest naughty bitty, Life During Wartime, there's nothing but a vacuum; a wannabe jolting piece of independent filmmaking more dragging than insightful, more boring than clever.  This is all a shame considering the wonderful ensemble of gifted actors willing to participate in his wordy diatribe about nothing, including Allison Janney, Shirley Henderson, Ally Sheedy, Ciarian Hinds and Charlotte Rampling.  It's also wasteful potential sense the origin story being Happiness, while a great many things, had something essential that Life During Wartime doesn't: a beating pulse.  And while there's a semi-interest in seeing Hinds recreate the suburban pedophile role made famous by Dylan Baker, or Janney tackle Cynthia Stevenson's take on his wife, Sheedy try and out out-bitch Lara Flynn Boyle, etc., ultimately there's little to ruminate on here, or much of a point.  There's a few pointed patches of dialogue centered around the nature of forgiving and forgetting (assuming everyone's past in the original film), and bit of post 9\11 politicizing, but there's not much reason in it's being.  Shockingly this drab and colorless remake (purposefully done by Ed Lachman, an undeniable talent-- his Oscar nominated lensing of Far From Heaven is best of the decade material, as far as I'm concerned) won the screenplay prize at last years Venice Film Festival.  On my account there's no story, only a basic rational for these characters converging yet again, an over-reliance of Happiness subtext (I liked the film, but come on, it was twelve years ago, I don't remember everything dotted I), and a rather pointless and meandering structure.  Perhaps Solondz should retire his classic characters and focus on new and more interesting provocations.  Clearly the talent to provoke and prod is still there desperate to come back to frighten and challenge a new generation of filmgoers.  D+

    Saturday, August 14, 2010

    Love and Other Drugs

    The trailer to Love and Other Drugs, based on the book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, written by Jamie Reidy.  Directed by Edward Zwick, known in the movie world for big guys epics like Glory, The Last Samurai and Blood Diamond, and as the TV impresario of heartfelt dramadies, like thirtysomething, My So-Called Life and Once & Again; this is his first film that seems to play like his acclaimed television hits.  It's also a Brokeback reunion of sorts for Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway.  I can't tell much from the trailer; it plays like a fairly standard romantic comedy, even with the Viagra plot, but there's already early Oscar buzz for Hathaway, who reportedly plays a women with Parkinson's.  We will all have to wait until November 24 to see if it really has the goods.

    Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

    Fan boy movies are a dime a dozen nowadays, as are the Comic-Con endorsed flavors of the day, so it was with great trepidation, and expectation I found myself wandering into Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.  Expectation because it's directed by Edgar Wright, the wonderful British humorist of gleeful mash-ups like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.  Trepidation because many times these fan-boy only type movies have an aura of exclusion to them, as in only the cool and devoted are really let into this world; I'm thinking of nearly every comic book adaptation on this one, and myself having no previous knowledge of the source material (created by Bryan Lee O'Malley), I was a bit concerned.  However, once the film started, with the Universal logo transformed into a sweetly humorous homage set to the Pac-Man theme, I relaxed and nearly instantaneously surrendered to this joyously inventive confection, itself a delightful mash-up of graphic novels, video games, Bollywood, and pretty nearly everything and anything pop culturally relevant in the past decade.  And yet the sweet thing about the film is the audience (including the beginners) are let in on the joke early on, and also get to enjoy an earnest and honest love story set to a style and soul all it's own.

    In the beginning, we meet Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera, in a role really only he, or possibly Jessie Eisenberg could play.)  He plays bass in a garage band in Toronto, and he's also the unlikeliest ladies man in town.  Being snubbed before by a pretty blonde rocker chick girl, and in the midst of a semi-fling with a 17-year old Asian girl named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), Scott meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the pink-haired punk fatale of his dreams, literally.  After a playful appeal to win her affection, Ramona finally wears down and agrees to "hang."  In so the consequences begin-- Ramona has a past and Scott must defeat her seven evil exes to win her hand.  And let the games begin.

    Right away the film takes note of it's comic origins, the slices of film look like comic grids, heightened to Batman-esque wordage every time a phone rings, or Scott gets punched.  Yet it feels authentic in the story, not distancing the way other films have taken comic worlds to the screen (e.g.- The Hulk.)  There's also a lovely metaphor in the fighting Scott must undergo in winning Ramona's heart.  As their relationship deepens, they must fight each others baggage and fight to the finish if it's worth it at all.  In other words, we all slug the shit if the other person in worth a damn.  Here we just get an awesomely stylized literal version of said shit.  There's a nice organic chemistry between Cera and Winstead that makes it all worth it to the audience as well.  His awkward mannerisms haven't been in such good form such since Arrested Development, and her articulate free spirit chick gives way to a nice ebb to his flow.  All I kept thinking about Ramona during the course of the film was that she's kind of the younger version of Clementine, Kate Winslet's greatest creation in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; an impulsive, yet lonely creature; you can practically hear echoes of Clementine's "I'm just a fucked up girl looking for piece of mind," speech channeling Ramona.  Plus they both dye their hair often, so perhaps it's a lazy analogy.

    The exes themselves in which Mr. Pilgrim must defeat are a hoot and a half as well.  Nicely Mr. Wright (ever the generous scripter) gives each an identity and a different motif as well.  We get vain actor Lucas Lee (Chris Evans, an in joke in himself as he was also the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies) fights Scott with his league of stunt doubles.  Rival bassist Todd (Brandon Routh, previously Superman) plays a Vegan baddie brought down by half and half.  Roxie Richter (Mae Whitman, Cera's love interest on Arrested Development) is an ex of Ramona's during a brief bi-curious phase.  All of which leads to the evilest ex, dryly played by the always welcome Jason Schwartzman.  All of the battle scenes (and admittedly it does get a bit too battle intensive toward the end) are wonderfully and gleefully staged as video games.  Yet no previous knowledge of Zelda or whatever those kids play is necessary in savoring the humor or gleefully mad set pieces.  Movies have pretty much been ripping off video games for a least the better part of two decades, but Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is first film I believe I've ever seen that comes closest to transcending it.  There's too much pleasure in it, not incoherent mess like usual.

    But this is a different entity all together-- a fun and bright comic book adaptation, video game ensemble romantic comedy.  A weird and fizzy hybrid film that impossibly works even though each scene is staged in such a go for broke, and intentionally silly way.  Yet Mr. Wright still finds enough for everybody to do.  We get the Cera front and center, and a bright newcomer in Winstead, but there's still time for a strong supporting cast of talented actors to make their own in more thankless roles, yet given strong dialogue and clear precise characterizations.  It's in this generosity that extends to a level of inclusiveness to the audience, even ones unfamiliar of Street Fighter.  We can still relate and laugh with Keiran Culkin as Scott's gay and wise roommate, guffaw with Allison Pill as one of Scott's exes (in this film, everyone's baggage comes out on the table), and giggle with Anna Kendrick as Scott's younger sister.

    I'm not going to come out and say Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the greatest thing to hit a movie screen, but it is a lovely and original piece of pop entertainment.  It's so much fun, a word Hollywood likes to say a lot, but hardly ever offers, usually it gets compromised by jittery film types afraid of something different.  It's poster tagline promises, "an epic of epic epicness," and I'd say that about perfectly sums up the experience.  A-

    Friday, August 13, 2010

    Eat Pray Love

    Ryan Murphy, the current king of television thanks to Glee, and past butcher of film adaptations with Running with Scissors, directs Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling memoir-travelogue about a forty-something woman going on a globe-trotting adventure to do some serious soul searching.  Eat Pray Love, the chick-lite movie star vehicle for Julia Roberts, is a shallow, overly long feature with an overly diagrammed format.  Roberts plays Liz, who after a messy divorce packs her bags to eat heartily in Italy, pray peacefully in India, and find romance in Bali.  It serves its purpose, I suppose, as wish-fulfillment porn for middle aged women.  Ones of course who can afford a year-long vacation around the world.  The proceedings go down as pleasantly as, I suppose, they could have thanks to easy to swallow radiance of Ms. Roberts and luscious postcard worthy photography by Robert Richardson (JFK, Inglourious Basterds, The Aviator.)  What the film lacks is a hard hitting emotional maturity to fully ground Liz.  It's that kind of film that wants to be light, yet still make you cry, and as such loses sight on both ends.

    The action start in New York where we meet Liz, unhappily married to Stephen (Billy Crudup), whose fault is that he's a bit flakey, and considers grad school.  The reason behind Liz's unhappiness is never fleshed out, and it wouldn't so much matter if the movie didn't spend so much time with him.  We just know she's unhappy.  After separating Liz meets young hippie actor David (James Franco), an acceptable rebound choice given age and appearance.  They both fall for each other, yet she's still unhappy.  Feeling fragile and disconnected from herself and a higher form, Liz sets out on her year-long quest.

    Starting in Italy, there's the obligatory shout out to all that enjoy good food, even if it's fattening, and a few too many montages showing pretty scenery, but there's Roberts, ever bit the movie star, whether enjoying her gelato, and learning the language from an attractive tutor.  There's her trademark smile and laugh, albeit a bit subdued, and for a long while, there's a pleasant wistfulness to Eat Pray Love, rested solely on her movie star shoulders.  There's a pleasure, and perhaps even an unexpected grace to watching Roberts, the movie star, more so nowadays since she's not nearly as ubiquitous.  And just like last years underrated caper flick Duplicity, there's a natural attraction to watching her; her charm alone nearly gets away with the two-and-a-half hours of Eat Pray Love.  Nearly, not quite.

    There's two more men that rattle Liz before the predictable conclusion.  The first of which is in India.  As another American in search of himself, Liz meets Richard from Texas (played by the great Richard Jenkins.)  It's the first man in the film who doesn't initially fall in love with her, and the first to challenge her.  He's a guy with baggage, and like Liz is searching for love of oneself, but also forgiveness; at this point even Liz feels she treated Stephen wrong.  It's a testament to Jenkins' tremendous talent that his character works at all.  With dialogue that's full of self-help platitudes and all too familiar monologue of past hurt, he brings a dignity to the role when little of it was expected, or needed for that matter-- remember this is supposed to a light, summer escapist flick.  For the record, the isn't the first time Jenkins has managed such grand theft in the movie, or made a film infinitely better and far more watchable nearly on presence alone-- watch the otherwise dreadful North Country for that.

    The second life changing man is Felipe (Javier Bardem), a Brazilian transplant living in Bali with grown Australian children.  He's the suave charming man of Liz's unfulfilled dreams, and if the film didn't feel so programed there might actually be some tension between to two.  They meet cute-- as all would-be lovers in movies do-- she's bicycling around when his car hits her.  Bardem can play this part in his sleep, he's semi-coasting on the same road he did in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, but the actors comes with him an impeccable sense of humor, international sexiness, and an age-appropriate love interest for Roberts, with whom he shares a nice on-screen rapport with.

    I fully acknowledge that a twenty-something male is not exactly the target demographic, and having not read the book itself, I cannot judge the book to screen process.  I hope the book comes across as a fuller and emotionally stronger and not as rich girl goes exploring treatise.  That being said, there's enough in Eat Pray Love that makes me at least think it the film will be a nice guilty pleasure for the audience that enjoyed Julia & Julia and Mamma Mia!, and perhaps even the younger girl smitten by the Nicholas Sparks crap.  What I saw here was a 2 1\2 hour postcard with dialogue that felt like a pastiche from bumper stickers.  But then again my own bitterness is still warmed by the effervescent smile of Julia Roberts.  C+

    Saturday, August 7, 2010

    Step Up 3-D

    Here we have yet another sequel nobody asked for; the summer movie season is nothing if not consistent.  Yet in the case of Step Up 3-D, we have a case of a third part film that's actually a bit better than its predecessors.  Don't get me wrong, the movie itself is ridiculous, and not exactly good, but it's the rare 2010 feature where the 3-D is actually the best thing about it.  The dancing has no purpose, but it is kind of exciting in third dimension form.  There's a sort of joy and exuberant quality in the performances that at least technically seem slightly revelatory.  The problem is that the credited screenwriters felt the need to add a semblance of plot.  It's an old-fashioned cliche-ridden atrocity of the old school variety of "lets put on a show to save the old farm" mentality, here with incoherent 2010 hyper slang to sound relevant and hip to the youngsters.  There's a troupe of the regular types of dancers here, a nice ethnic-conscious group a struggling artists, all attractive and bland as can be.  However, when they shut up and dance, it's a fairly pleasurable experience, enhanced by its 3-D.  The problem with it is that the dance sequences are so repetitive that the novelty wheres off fairly early.  How many 3D-ed showcases of the robot does one film really need.  There's at least three in Step Up 3-D, at least two too many.  They start to feel cold and as un-engaging as the characters or story.  The only sequence that woke me up from the "in your face" moves as the two-minute one cut of our shaggy hero doing a little Singin' in the Rain ditty with the comely girl of his chaste dreams.  It's a corny as Mickey Rooney, but it's got a beating heart, and nice sense of play to it.  Here we have a situation of a film that can't in a way tangible way say is any good at all, but recommend wholeheartedly to the cynics and skeptics perhaps just for the ironic spectacle.  I'd also recommend a couple of beers beforehand.  C

    Tuesday, August 3, 2010

    The Kids Are Still All Right...Hopefully

    I may be sounding redundant, but I must continue on my love for The Kids Are All Right, really only because I'm starting to get a little worried.  As already stated, I'm not really interested in box office receipts because they have little if no merit in actual quality.  However, this past weekend, my beloved Kids (even better on second viewing) went nationwide, quadrupling it's theater count, becoming accessible in middle American and suburban areas, and saw its box office grow in a fairly minuscule way.  Playing on 847 theaters, it made $3.5 million with a $4,000 theater average.  It was good enough for twelfth place, even though last weekend it placed eleventh on 200 theaters.  The Twilight Saga: Eclipse on its fifth week placed above, as well as the kid-lit dud Ramona & Beezus; at the very least it bested the hideous and evil The Last Airbender.  It was thoroughly modest, and hardly the gangbusters numbers The Kids Are All Right exhibited in limited release.

    This is sadness to me-- while at the same time the thinky brilliance of Inception tops the box office chart again, the summer's unsung gem goes a bit wayward.  It's difficult not to think that the films failure to surge nationally isn't due to the subject matter-- in this case gay marriage and child rearing.  I have no interest in getting into the political debate here, but merely focus on the aspect of filmmaking.  In this case, the artfulness is so strong, so loose, so funny that I'd hoped the appreciation for a fine film in an awkward summer would compensate the alleged leftist agenda, of which is nowhere in the film itself.  The joy and universal pleasures of Kids are exactly that-- how a family works, not exactly how an "nontraditional family" works.  On that note, I ask what exactly a "nontraditional family" is-- I'm aware, perhaps even in a heterosexual coupling that possibly not exactly "normal,"  enough of this discussion; back to the movie.

    I ask, and beg, and beseech to moviegoers in all aspects of the country and throughout that desire a movie of substance, humor and genuine humanity to seek out The Kids Are All Right, and see it.  Even if begrudgingly-- I know movie prices are ridiculous-- seek it out.  If a curious moviegoer does, surely a delight will commence.  Even if only an appreciation for fine acting; the prickly tough love of Annette Bening, the intelligent flaky portrait by Julianne Moore, the hippish charm and sexiness of Mark Ruffalo, and the naturalistic incandescence of Mia Wasikowska (so much more comfortable here than in Alice in Wonderland.)  Or a fan of a tightly constructed screenplay (by director Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg.)  Or as a fan of finely observed comedy\drama that without any intention of changing political perspective, reconfirms that people are people with the same day-to-day problems parted into a humorous, delightful way.  Whatever the reason, I feel The Kids Are All Right should be a success, in a perfect world, it would be without question.  I'll stop my dithering advertisement.  I'd hate to think that if the film did catch Oscar recognition that it would become another example of how out of touch the Academy was with the rest of the world-- the film deserves better.

    Monday, August 2, 2010

    Countdown to Zero

    In what must be the feel-bad documentary of the year up until this point, documentary filmmaker Lucy Walker (Blindsight; Devil's Playgound) explores nuclear weapons in Countdown to Zero.  In the vein of An Inconvenient Truth (also produced by Lawrence Bender, the same man responsible for Quentin Tarantino's flicks), we are treated to another way planet Earth might come to a screeching end.  In suppositions of nations firing bombs at each, the film carries a heavy load and a great sense of panic to any human with a pulse, and properly shines a light that the first step should probably lie in education (the trailer for Davis Guggenheim's bad education documentary Waiting for Superman is hindsight was a great marketing decision.)  And as a mid-twenty year, I must confess the subject, as terrifying and feared upon as it is, hardly ever crosses my mind merely because of my generation, and a lack of attention of George W. Bush's rhetoric.  Being a child in the 1990s, the threat of nuclear detonation become a sort of Cold-War hysteria; passe if you will.  Of course, that's as stupid a thought as ever, since the technology itself could easily wipe away a part of the Earth in a manner of minutes.

    I had wished as a movie Countdown to Zero was a bit more illuminating on the history.  We see glimpses of the past, including particularly eerie archival footage of Robert Oppenheimer.  He of course was the scientific director of the Manhattan Project, and thusly known as the creator of the atomic bomb-- the birth of nuclear weapons.  We see grainy footage of a man honestly frightened by this new found power.  We also see a glimpse of the Reykjavik Summit where Ronald Reagon and Mikhail Gorbachev met for a dissolution of said devices, an attempt that failed.  Personally, I was hoping for more on this end; this being a subject that is greatly feared and discussed, but not particularly researched.  The glimpses were reminders of things I want to know more about, but not exactly intellectually engrossing.  Countdown to Zero also I fear could have used a bit more of showman quality in it's production, of which I only note because it's basically just a talking heads picture, and the subject is so gripping and admirable, that I fear it will wile away from most moviegoers, even the liberal-minded political sorts that the film is definitely gunning for.  A bit of cleverness goes a long way-- perhaps even a bit of Al Gore.

    What the film does succeed in, aside from general paranoia, is defining the insides of nuclear weapons in a clear, mostly cut and dry fashion.  We get the expected data of what countries have them (some might be surprising), and how many, but also a picture of allegedly how easy it may be for the technology to get, as well as the insides and outs of the weapons make-up.  It's noted that it's "not rocket science," by one expert.  The disorienting first act of the film-- basically a how-to guide on finding and smuggling weapons-- evolves into the bigger subject of the absurd power and ridiculous consequence that these weapons bring about, as well as the need for a solution to do away them altogether-- one of the few literal meanings of the title.

    Countdown to Zero makes in pointedly clear the potential doomsday in the criteria it illustrates often-- "accident, miscalculation, madness," the same of which that John F. Kennedy famously remarked.  Given the fragility of the elements, as well as the inevitability of human error, or even an unstable government in times of mania, all three phenomena has occurred, and how could that be stopped?

    What's admirable, if a bit dull, on the films part is that Walker achieves in making a film fairly non-partisan.  Even if it only really appeals to the more liberal groups on the coasts, there's nothing in the film that's taking a side.  Like An Inconvenient Truth, the point of the picture is that this is a global problem, not a democrat\republican one, nor a US\Iraq one, nor a Christian\Islamic one.  True there's great mention of the nuclear programs in Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran, but it's serving the greater worldwide problem, not an anti-agenda on any one's part.

    A great subject goes a long way in recommending this film, despite a fairly non-artful presentation.  For that, I suggest Errol Morris' The Fog of War.  However, the film certainly deserves credit for mixing a fine selection of talking heads, including Robert McNamara, mere months before he died, Mikhail Gorbachev, and out ex-CIA agent Valerie Plame, soon the be the subject of her own film starring Naomi Watts.  I'm hopeful that Countdown to Zero is seen widely enough to develop a certain need for action.  I'm also hopeful of the trend that 50% of all nuclear weapons were dismantled in the last two decades.  I'm more hopeful that I'll be able to sleep tonight.  B
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