Comments on watching and making films.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Michael Cera has been knocking his roles out of the park lately, and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is no different. Based on a novel written for the teen/young adult crowd, the film centers around the titular characters of Nick and Norah, who meet up at a New York City night club. Nick is playing with his band, and trying to get over his recent break up with Triss, while Norah, who goes to school with Triss, and knows of Nick, is at the club with her friend Caroline. When Norah is made fun of by Triss for being alone, she lies to Triss and tells her that she's there with her boyfriend. Triss calls her out, though, and Norah decides to ask a random guy to act like her boyfriend until she can get out of there. She accidently asks Nick, having never seen his face, but knowing who he is through the numerous mixes he's made for Triss. Caroline gets totally blasted, and Nick and Norah trust Nick's bandmates to get her home, but they end up loosing her along the way. This causes a chain reaction of all the characters making a search of New York City, while also trying to find out the location of a secret show by their favorite band "Where's Fluffy?".

Cera plays the same kind of character that he's played before in films like Juno and Superbad, but if you like him in those roles (which I do), you never get tired of it. Kat Dennings plays Norah as the indie girl of Nick (and my) dreams. I think that is, maybe, why I connected with this film so well. I saw a lot of my own insecurity in Nick and I saw a lot of the girl's I have always had a crush on in Norah. The two have a realistic adventure and find love in one of the most romantic cities in the world. 

Although the film reminded me a lot of other films, including Juno, it didn't really bother me that much. The young actors bring a lot of energy to the film, and what is NOT interesting about a film set in New York City? The soundtrack for this film is also amazing. I went out and bought it a few days later (weighing all of my options, I found out it was actually cheaper at Best Buy than iTunes), and have been playing it non-stop ever since. It makes me wonder if Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist will grow to be one of those cult-generational films like American Graffiti were people look back on it, and see the truth of the generation it portrayed. Maybe, maybe not... who knows? All I do know is, I'll be buying the DVD when it comes out and watching it for many years to come.

Mean Magazine Videos

I came across these, recently, because the Rogen/Banks one was on Cinematical. Their all kind of weird and interesting.

Seth Rogen & Elizabeth Banks In "This Is Not Sex" Directed By Tony Kaye from Mean Magazine on Vimeo.

Summer Bishil Battles the Forces of Darkness from Mean Magazine on Vimeo.

Mean Presents Bill Hader as The Bad Lieutenant from Mean Magazine on Vimeo.

Mean Magazine Presents Kate Beckinsale in Rollergirl from Mean Magazine on Vimeo.

Sir Ben Kingsley STOMPS into the shoes of Minor Threat's Ian MacKaye from Mean Magazine on Vimeo.

Mean Magazine Presents Anna Faris in Ocean of Tears from Mean Magazine on Vimeo.

Mean Magazine Presents Dennis Hopper from Mean Magazine on Vimeo.

Mean Magazine Presents James McAvoy in The Dream from Mean Magazine on Vimeo.

Mean Magazine Presents Emma Stone from Mean Magazine on Vimeo.

DVD - The Searchers

John Ford's The Searchers has come under some controversy over the last couple of years. It has been lauded by many famous filmmakers (including Scorsese and Tarantino) for being highly influential, and often times listed as one of their favorite films. Upon its DVD release, however, a lot of critics and writers began to cry out about the films (supposedly) racist tone.

John Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, an ex-Confederate soldier returning to Texas and his families ranch. Upon his return, a neighbor's herd of cattle go missing, and Ethan, along with several other neighbors and authorities (including a young boy named Martin, who Ethan's brother took in after his family was murdered by Indian's), go off into the wilderness to try and find the missing cattle. When they find one of the bulls dead, with no apparent attempt to salvage any part of the body (an odd thing for Native American tribes who make a habit of using every part of an animal), they realize the missing cattle are a diversion. The local tribe has used the cattle as a way to pull the strongest away from their homesteads in order to pillage and murder those that are left. When the search party gets back home, they find the Edwards family murdered, and the ranch burned to the ground. Upon realizing that two of the daughters are nowhere to be found, Ethan and Martin, along with another local boy who was in a relationship with the older daughter, go looking for the two girls.

The Searchers is not what I expected at all. It was not a grim meditation on violence or racism, as it had been called in other reviews. In fact, I don't think the film is racist at all. It doesn't show the Native American's to be particularly blood thirsty or violent (except for the one break off tribe that is causing all of the trouble), and the only character who is overtly racist is Ethan, and your going to tell me that it came as a surprise that someone who fought on the side of the Confederate's in the Civil War is not exactly the kindest person towards those who are not exactly like him? How is this a surprise? Racism was pretty prevalent at that time, especially against Native American's. Would you make a Holocaust movie where the German's were all really nice to everyone, and those shower's were just shower's and the oven's were used to bake french bread and pizza's? No, because its not accurate. People hate. People have always hated. The Searchers isn't condoning hate, its simply exploring it as a driving force behind Ethan and Martin's multi-year quest to find those girls. 

The Searchers is one of the most interesting Westerns I've ever seen. It is, at various times, humorous, vengeful, romantic and stirring. It is almost everything a film has the potential to be. Ford does an amazing job at telling a story that is obviously more about obsession than about hate. Decent performances are all around in this film (for a 1950's Western), though John Wayne is, ultimately, John Wayne - his walk, his talk. He's like DeNiro or Pacino, in that, it's very difficult to separate the man from the role. Ford does an incredible job, as always, capturing the look and feel of the "old west", or, at least, what many people thought the "old west" looked and felt like.

Thoughts on "Extras"

Ricky Gervais has come to be known in the States, primarily,  for being the creator of the British version of The Office (as well as being a writer/exec producer on the American version), for his role in the popular kids film Night At The Museum, and, for those fans of The Office, his second series - Extras

On the show, Gervais plays Andy Millman, a middle aged man with no family to speak of, who, upon getting close to turning forty, decides to ditch his job and follow his dream to become an actor. Where he ends up, however, is doing various extra work with his ever present friend, Maggie, who is also trying to make it as an actress. He also, occasionally, has to deal with an arch nemesis type character in Greg, a fellow extra who ends up getting more high profile work in the first series, and in the second series ends up becoming a legitimate actor. 

Each episode of the show is based around someone who is "legitimate" - Kate Winslet, Sir Ian McKellan, and Daniel Radcliffe (in my personally favorite episode), for instance. For thirty minutes we see how Andy and Maggie deal with having these stars around, and, basically, how they make asses out of themselves. The second series is a little different, as, by this time, Andy has sold his spec script to the BBC and has developed his own show. The only problem with it is the fact that his piece of high entertainment, has been commodified and made into low brow trash by the BBC. Andy spends the second series trying to regain some sense of artistic integrity and legitimacy, but, often times, ends up making things worse for himself. 

Extras is a hilarious cautionary tale about the realities of fame. I think the character Tre Cooper (Andy's new agent in the Series Finale) said it best when he said (something to the effect of) - "You can either be rich and famous, or you can be artistic and struggling, but you can't be both." While I don't believe that is particularly true, it is for Millman's character, because he wants the most of everything, even at the expense of a good life, and the few friends that he has. 

The point of Extras, I think, is to enjoy what you have. Every time Millman tries to force things ahead in his career, it ends up blowing up in his face. Every time he tries to make himself look better, he makes himself look like a fool. It's a great life lesson, really - be yourself. You may not be famous, but its better than being false, and the people who really love you will always stay with you if you're true to yourself and true to them.

I enjoyed Extras a lot more than I enjoyed the British version of The Office. Whereas Gervais was awkward and annoying as David Brent, as Andy Millman he was somewhat endearing, even though he was horribly clueless. I liked the relationship between Andy and Maggie and how it exemplified ambition versus a certain amount of passivity. I also liked how they skewered the whole film and television world. As someone who hopes to be "legitimate" at some point in time, it made me happy that someone was pulling out some of the truths of this world, and laying them out on the table. Stephen Merchant was also hilarious as the ever bumbling agent, someone who, like so many people in the film industry, found a nitch to fit in so that they were in the industry, even though they don't actually know how to do what they are supposed to be doing.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ghost Town

I meant to write this up a few weeks ago, when I saw it, but work, Daisy Chain, and being sick got in the way...

Ghost Town is a funny new comedy starring Ricky Gervais, Tea Leoni, and Greg Kinnear, and is directed by screenwriter David Koepp. Gervais plays a dentist, Bertram Pincus, who lives his life, in a very purposeful way, avoiding human contact as much as possible. When he dies for a few moments in the hospital, during an operation, he comes back to life with the ability to see ghosts. When the newly dead Frank Herlihy (Kinnear), finds out about Pincus, he tracks him down and tries to get Pincus to break up his wife Gwen (Leoni) and her fiancee, who are planning on getting married soon. Pincus' plan is to get Gwen to fall in love with him, which is not an easy task, considering that she has lived in his building for quite some time, and he has continuously made life difficult for her.

Gervais is at his best as the socially awkward doofus in this film. Pincus is the character that Gervais has been honing through his characters on The Office and Extra's. Kinnear makes a great instigator and foil for Pincus, and Tea Leoni is likeable as the girl Pincus is falling for. While the premise feels worn out, the films comedic moments are sharp and fresh, and the film is heartwarming without trying to be over the top or ridiculous.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Recommendation - A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope

The other day I was sick, and bored, and had watched all of my Netflix, so I was looking through my DVD collection for something to watch and came across a documentary that I LOVE and had not seen in a while - A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope. The doc is an hour long piece that includes the story of how a bunch of film school students, who just happened to be Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Walter Murch, John Milius, and others, came together to form the first incarnation of a production house which would go on to produce some of American independent cinema's greatest films (Apocalypse Now, American Graffiti, The Conversation, etc.)

The doc feels short because they skip forward over some of the post THX-1138 debacle period, but maybe that is what makes it so interesting - it's quick, to the point, and includes the best of the best when it comes to info, interviews, etc. With interviews ranging from Coppola and Lucas, to Steven Spielberg, to Warner Brothers exec John Calley, the makers of the doc really pulled together the people that were in the trenches during this amazing time in film history.

This piece is on the DVD for THX-1138, so, you'll either have to buy the special edition dvd, or see if they rent the second disc on Netflix (I've only ever seen the single disc version in Blockbuster). This doc is well worth your time, especially if you are a fan of any of the films or filmmakers listed. Even though they are about the same topic, basically, I enjoyed this doc a lot more than Fog City Mavericks, which is less about Zoetrope, and more about the San Francisco filmmaking scene in general, but which focuses primarily on Zoetrope.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Updates - 100608

Well, obviously there's a lot of new reviews up. I went from having barely anything in September, and nothing for October, to having 11 posts for October in one day. It's because I'm sick. All I can really do today is sit around anyway, so, why not play a little catch up?

Shooting on Daisy Chain went as well as could be expected. We could have used more equipment, and more time, but, when do you ever have what you need on a no budget or low budget shoot? Tim, the guy who ran the B camera, should be starting to edit in the next few weeks. It feels very strange, because, even though I wrote the film, directed it, and ran one of the two XL2's that we shot it with, the film is still not really mine, it's the groups. As such, I felt the need to relinquish some of the responsibility (or in this case, process) to someone else. It would be in poor taste for me to do everything, when there are other people in the group who want to be a bigger part of making this film than just lugging around lights or being set monkey's. 

I know I keep saying this, but I'm going to get the ball rolling on some of my own stuff. I'm getting more and more desperate to get some short films and spec stuff shot so that I can show people I CAN do something.

Bryan Poyser, of the Austin Film Society, sent me the comments on my grant application. I'm thinking about posting them here, though I haven't decided whether I will or not. I agree with some of what they said, though not with all of it. I feel like posting it, with my responses back to their comments, might be worthwhile, though I'm not sure if I want to have it up on the internet for everyone to see. The Definers is a very personal project, so, I feel like I need to be ready to post any outside criticism of said project.

I'm really excited about the possibilities of Canon's new 5DMkII - 1080p video capture (though it only shoots 30fps right now), and interchangeable lenses.

That is all, for now.

Judgements on films past

These are some films I saw a while back, that I never got around to writing reviews on - 

The X-Files: I Want To Believe - Disappointing. Seemed like it was going to be something more interesting, but ended up coming off as a much longer version of some of the not-so-great tv episodes. I was hoping for something as exciting as Fight The Future, even if they didn't want to do aliens, but it just didn't deliver. It was nice to see Mulder and Scully together, but I would have rather had them apart with a good story line.

Pineapple Express - Funny, but not as funny as I thought it was going to be. Still one of the better of the Apatow/Rogen movies. Not one of David Gordon Green's best, but better than Snow Angels.

Step Brothers - Hilarious. Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly cement their status as a great comedy team. Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen were great as the parents. The kind of movie you need in your DVD collection, so you can watch over and over again.

Hancock - Pretty good. Enjoyed it a lot. The whole surprise with Charlize Theron was great. It's not life changing or anything, just a good hour and a half of entertainment.

The Happening - I was ill when I saw this (should have waited until I got better). All I remember about it was thinking it was a little hokey, but still better than his last few films. Not that good, but not horrible either. I'll probably get it from Netflix and re-watch it, just so it isn't a weird, hazy memory.

The Strangers - Didn't really care for this much, except for the cinematography. It really seemed to stretch realism, a lot more than some similar horror films. I liked how it was a low-key starter, and how everything was centered around the single location (a house), ultimately it just came off as kind of ridiculous.

You Don't Mess With The Zohan - Took my mom to see this. She really likes Adam Sandler movies. It was funny. That's about it.

The Incredible Hulk - I thought it was pretty good. It didn't change my life, or get me all freaked out about the Hulk. I wasn't going around and trying to get my hands on all the Hulk comics I could, but it was enjoyable.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall - One of the funnier Apatow produced movies. Not as good as Superbad or The Forty Year Old Virgin, but better than Knocked Up or Walk Hard. Jason Segel is hilarious, Kristen Bell is hot, and Jonah Hill has a great, albeit small, role as an obnoxious, celebrity obsessed waiter. Russell Brand was annoying, and I wish they would have gotten anyone else but him to play that role.

DVD - In Bruges

In Bruges is a hilarious, slightly dark, comedy by writer/director Martin McDonagh. It stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as two hit men who are ordered to Bruges, in Belgium, by their boss after a hit goes slightly wrong. While their there, Farrell's character Ray reveals his inner pain over the mistake he made during the hit, and Gleeson's character Ken is ordered by their boss, Harry, to kill Ray for the mistake. When Ken refuses to do it, Harry (played by Ralph Fiennes), shows up in Bruges to take care of both of them.

In Bruges is a hilarious film about partnership, even when it is between hit men, love, finding beauty in the little things, and dealing with other people (especially midgets). I hate to say to much, because it feels like I would be giving away a lot. Gleeson is a great straight man to Farrell, and Ralph Fiennes is hilarious as the hot head boss who shoots first and asks questions later, even if its to his detriment. 

That's about it. That's all I feel I can really say without giving away too much. It's funny. It's a great movie. Go and see it.

DVD - Red Without Blue

Oddly enough, the recommendation to see this film came from Relevant Magazine, which is at least a little odd, when you first think about it. A Christian magazine giving a very good review for a documentary about two gay twins who reach an identity crisis when one of them decides he wants to under go sexual reassignment surgery? But that's why I love Relevant, because they give everything the benefit of the doubt.

Red Without Blue is a documentary about what happens when two identical twins, who are exceptionally close to one another, have to deal with one of the twins deciding that he wants to become a woman. Alex, who now lives as Clair, has been living as a female for a few years, but has finally decided to apply for sexual re-assignment surgery. Mark, Alex's twin brother, finds himself with a multitude of feelings about this, one of them being a certain sense of betrayal. If Alex is a mirror image of Mark, than does Alex hate Mark so much that he wants to become a woman to separate himself from Mark? These two faced bullies together, faced their parent's together, even attempted suicide together, and yet, in Mark's mind, he feels like Alex/Clair is trying to cut the bonds that they have suffered to build up. Alex/Clair, however sees becoming a woman as  the final step of a metamorphoses into what she truly is, and her goal, ultimately, is to get her family to accept her as a woman, and still have the kind of relationship she has always shared with her brother. But, is that kind of relationship coming to a close, now that Mark has found a long term boyfriend?

Red Without Blue is a fight for identity. It's a fight for family ties, that sometimes disappear when people change, whether it be physically or emotionally. I can't help but think there would probably be more things that could be gleaned from watching this documentary again, some truth's about life and family, but the one truth that was obvious was the most important one anyway - There comes a time in life when you have to let people go. You have to let them do their own thing, find their own way, and you can't expect them to be your family the way they were before. People grow up. People change, and, eventually, they may become something you don't recognize anymore (whether figuratively or literally), but you have to find your love for them, somehow, within that.

Thoughts on Dexter, Season 2

I recently finished watching Dexter Season 2, and I have to say I liked it. Season 1 was great, and really felt special, and I was really wondering how they were going to handle Season 2, because the whole "Ice Truck Killer" thing seemed like it could be a potential end all/be all for that series. Season 2 came along, though, and they hit another home run. Eventually, that is.

Honestly, I thought it started out a little slow. I felt like even though we're put into this situation where the evidence of Dexter's crimes are unearthed, the cat and mouse game didn't really get going until half way into the season. The first couple of episodes just seemed kind of slow, like you were having to lick your way through them to get to the center of the tootsie pop.

Character wise, I was really glad to see some evolution in some of the characters. It was good to see Rita be more than the victim, and really start to take charge of her life and her destiny. I liked the addition, even if for just a season, of Keith Carradine as Frank Lundy, and I thought LaGuerta became a lot more three dimensional. I thought it was interesting, as well, what they did with Harry and his code. I was a little disappointed that Angel hasn't really come into his own, but maybe we'll see more of him in season 3. And Dokes... Oh, Dokes... I'm glad he got what he got. I hated that character so much. So one dimensional, and so freaking annoying! The only character I'm glad didn't change?

You guessed it, Dexter's little sis, Debra - the beer drinking, cigarette smoking, obscenity spewing, perfect opposite of her brother (as portrayed by the incredibly attractive Jennifer Carpenter...). I like Debra because she's everything Dexter isn't, and it sort of makes me feel like there's a balance when the two of them are together. I only hope that if she starts to change in Season 3, that they change Dexter in a way that they stay balanced.

Miracle At St. Anna

While I do think that he is just as guilty of the racism that he attributes to everyone else, when Spike Lee makes a film, I go to the theater and watch it. He has a peculiar and interesting voice, and I really feel like he's one of the few independent's left where it feels like an event when they do something. Even She Hate Me, which was not a very good film, seemed like an event at the time.

His newest, Miracle at St. Anna, is a sprawling epic, at least for Spike Lee it is, about a group of black soldiers in World War 2, who, after surviving a Nazi barrage during a river crossing, somehow manage to make it to a small Italian village, where they hole up until they can get rescued. Now, the trailer would have you believe that the film is about the miraculous power of a statue's severed head that one of the soldier's carries around with him, but, oddly enough, the head really doesn't add up to much more than a device that Lee uses to brush aside some of the more other worldly moments in the film. How can a soldier, who shouldn't have the strength to do so, be able to save a little boy from some beams that have fallen on him, and for all intents and purposes should be too heavy for the soldier to lift? Well, he has a magic marble statue head, of course. And what saved the same soldier from getting shot during the river crossing, even though the guys got to be seven feet tall and three hundred pounds? He has a magical, marble head. The examples go on the film, but one has to wonder what the necessity of the head really was. You could have told the entire story without said head, and it would have made a lot more sense, and you wouldn't have risked the hokey ending that kind of ruined all of the credit Lee built up with the audience with the final shoot out scene. The four soldiers this follows were great - Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso, and Omar Benson Miller, and I hope to see all of them in future roles. 

Ultimately, I liked Miracle at St. Anna, but the two things that took this film from a great film to a mediocre film were the statue head sub plot, and the over long middle section of the film. Lee builds up a lot of excitement and pleasure during the opening sequences of the film, and does an incredible job with the final shoot out, but the middle section just feels over long and a little boring. There's a lot of things in the story that make sense, but after watching it, you kind of end up wondering - Who cares? Am I supposed to care that Bishop slept with the girl that Stamps liked? or that Train develops a father like relationship with the boy he rescues? And what of the Italian Partisans? They just seem like a device to connect some things together. In fact, there are a lot of things that seem like devices to connect things together.

I don't know... It's a film that I like, but I see a lot of flaws in. Lee has done a lot better, and will continue to do better, but Miracle at St. Anna is definitely not his worst.


Why do I get the feeling that I made a mistake by not re-reading the book before I saw the movie? Choke (the book), came out about seven years ago, so, it has obviously been a while since I've read it. There in lie's the problem with this review - I can't really review it based on the merits of the book, since I don't really remember that much about the book (except that I thought it was a lot weirder and more perverse than the film was...)

Choke follows Victor Mancini (played by Sam Rockwell), a medical school drop out, who pays for his ailing mother's nursing home bills by working as a "historical recreationist", and by conning people by choking at a restaurant and getting them to save his life. Then, when they follow up with him, he gives them a sob story, and they send him some money to "help him out". He's also a sex addict, who met his best friend, Denny (played by Brad Henke), in a group therapy session. They also happen to work at the same recreated Colonial settlement. When Victor's mom's health really starts to fail, though, he enlists Denny's help, and the help of a new young doctor Paige Marshall (played by Kelly McDonald) to find out the secrets of his past, after his mother reveals to him that the story she had told him was a lie.

So, because I haven't read the book in a long time, and don't have time to read it now, let's try to look at the film on its own merits. The performances in Choke were solid. I thought Sam Rockwell did a great job, as always, Anjelica Huston, as Victor's mother, is always a pleasure to watch. The one performance that surprised me, though, was Kelly McDonald as Paige Marshall. She seemed so wooden, and maybe that's what she was going for, but, I've seen much better come out of McDonald, so, why she would choose the direction she did comes as a little bit of a shock to me. Maybe it was a lack of direction, I don't know. The film was directed by Clark Gregg, a long time actor, but first time director. He may have let McDonald have a little too much room on this one.

The film, though... It left me feeling like there was a lot lacking. It didn't feel raw or cutting edge at all, though I don't particularly remember if the book did either... It felt like a really simple story that was wrapped in this idea that it was a little dirty and a little fun, but didn't really end up being either. There were funny moments, but the film fell kind of flat most of the time. Tim Orr's cinematography gave it a nice 70's look, and the soundtrack was cool, but, for the most part, Choke is one of those films that I'm glad I saw, but I probably wouldn't watch it again.


Don Cheadle has been kicking some butt and taking some names lately in the world of filmmaking. Not only has he been a solid part of Soderbergh's Ocean's films, but with roles in films like Talk To Me, Hotel Rwanda, and Crash, and having produced the documentary Darfur Now, Cheadle has been cementing his place, over the last few years, as one of the better, and more thought provoking, actors in Hollywood right now.

With the film Traitor, Cheadle manages to bring home a great performance as an explosives expert who's playing a lot of sides. Cheadle plays Samir Horn, a man who, as a boy, watched his Muslim father be killed in a car bombing. After that, he left the middle east to go live with his mother in Chicago, and upon coming of age, joined the US Army and became a bomb expert, only to drop off the radar and be suspected of selling explosives to terrorists. After being caught in an anti-terrorism raid, Samir is rescued from prison when he befriends a terrorist named Omar. After Omar and Samir escape, Omar invites Samir to join his group, and the two soon begin plotting bombing missions. Samir, though, unbeknownst to ANYONE, is still working for an operative in US Security named Carter (played by Jeff Daniels). 

I love the fact that the filmmakers don't bother trying to make this a "is he/isn't he?" film. For a little while, you think Samir is one thing, then you realize he isn't, but the thing that keeps you interested in the film is the question - How is it all going to play out? Jeffrey Nachmanoff, who's never done anything else I've ever heard of, does a great job in getting you interested in the well being of Samir. Instead of having the film hinge on which side Samir is playing for, it becomes a question of will Samir make it out alive? He keeps building his house of cards higher and higher, and you know, eventually, something's going to give. 

Cheadle's performance in the film is top-notch (not that I would expect anything less from him), and Saiid Taghmaoui (who plays Omar) digs into one of his best roles as well (though I will say that it is getting disappointing to always see him in the role of the Middle Eastern guy, whether it be terrorist or whatever. It just seems like every role I've seen him in, he plays the same type of character). Guy Pearce was a bit of a surprise, I didn't even realize he was in the film, but his straight talking southern baptist FBI agent gave an interesting contrast to Samir's faith and loyalty, while showing that we are all not as different as we thought.

Righteous Kill

This was a hard one for me. Should I go see it? I mean, having De Niro and Pacino in a movie together is not what sells me on a going to see something. Especially since most of what they've done in the past decade, or so, has been... well, less than stellar. To be hones with you, it also looked like a lot of other cop movies. Cop (or cops) decide to take the law in their own hands, and take out some criminals that have slipped through the cracks. Not much new there...

Righteous Kill, though, surprised me. I really enjoyed it. It was humorous, dramatic, and, even though it told you who the killer was in the beginning, if you weren't REALLY paying attention, you confused it with your first instinct (which was wrong). De Niro and Pacino play Turk and Rooster (respectively), two New York City police detectives that get caught up in a possible serial killing case. The killer, though, is targeting felons who Turk and Rooster, and even other cops, could not put away for one reason or another. All evidence points towards a cop, and maybe even one of the two, so another cop team, Perez and Riley (played by John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg, respectively), are on the case. Their chances on finding out whether it's who they think it is come to a head when a drug dealer who slips through the cracks, makes a deal to draw the killer out into the open.

Righteous Kill was well written, and I thought that De Niro and Pacino actually did a good job. De Niro managed to find a character in which he wasn't just playing himself, and Pacino tried his best to keep Pacino in check. It's been a long time since these guys have really ACTED, and not just played caricatures of themselves on screen (although De Niro stepped out of his own skin for a small part in his own film The Good Shephard). The only mistake in this film was casting 50 Cent in a role. I'm sorry, but, if you want a black guy to play a drug dealer, I'm sure there are plenty of black actors, who can actually act, that can play the part. Let 50 stick to rapping. Having Carla Gugino as the sex crazed forensics detective, though, balanced it out. I would like to say that I wish Gugino would have more roles in which she wasn't just the sexy professional woman, but... She's hot. Sorry, just a personal taste thing...

Burn After Reading

This is a little late, considering I saw this film almost a month ago, but, better late than never. Burn After Reading see's the Coen Brother's return to dark comedy after their cinematic adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men, and the more mainstream (but not very popular) Intolerable Cruelty and The Lady Killers. The Coen's have a bit of a reputation for a darker brand of humor, and have no problem jumping right back into it, even after the huge mainstream success of No Country.

The film stars Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt as a couple of dimwitted gym workers. McDormand, who plays Linda Litzke, is trying to get plastic surgery so that she can look younger and fitter, so that she can attract more men. Her insurance, however, won't pay for the procedure. When her doofus friend, and fellow gym employee, Chad (Pitt) finds a disk that he says holds secret government documents on it, they attempt to blackmail the owner of the disk, now ex-CIA agent Osborne Cox (played by John Malkovich) into giving them the money they need. Cox, though, isn't giving them a dime, and Linda and Chad's attempt at blackmail only leads them further down the rabbit hole.

Burn After Reading is hilarious. I mean, some of the jokes are only funny if you find off the wall, out of nowhere violence funny, but, hey, that's what the Coen's do best - make you laugh at things that shouldn't be funny. George Clooney is particularly hysterical as a sex crazed, ex-FBI agent, and JK Simmons is equally hilarious as an apathetic CIA boss.

While the film does drag a little, at times, I find that, for the most part, the Coen's always seem to deliver with something hilarious to keep you coming back for more. I really can't wait to see what they come up with next, and whether it's more serious, like No Country For Old Men, or more dark humor like Burn After Reading, I'm all for it. Or, you know, they could make a Big Lebowski 2. I know I'm not the only one who would be looking forward to that...

DVD - Night On Earth

One of a few Jim Jarmusch films that have been difficult to get ahold of the last decade or so, Night On Earth is a grouping of stories that take place in different cities, but all in taxi cabs. Some are hilarious, some are more serious and genuine, but all of them deal (surprisingly well) with the human condition. I say surprisingly well because I found it kind of hard to believe that such a great job could be done with character development and plot development while stuck inside a taxi cab for two hours. Granted, its not the same taxi, but, still...

The film follows five different stories in five different cities. There's a casting agent who meets a spunky, hard as nails young woman driving a cab in Los Angeles, a guy in New York City, trying to get from Manhattan to the Bronx with a cab driver who doesn't know how to drive a car, a blind woman who questions her drivers ability to truly appreciate life in Paris, a priest who catches a ride with a very strange, self obsessed Italian cabbie (with deadly results) in Rome, and a couple of drunks who catch a ride home with a driver who knows more about love and loss than any of them, in Helsinki.

My biggest concern going into this film was - Will it be interesting for two hours? I saw Coffee and Cigarettes a few years back, in the theater, and, while segments of it were interesting, as a whole, I just felt like it didn't always work for me. Now, that being said, Night On Earth was written, specifically, as a feature (that info comes from Jarmusch himself on the DVD Q&A), whereas Coffee and Cigarettes was a series of short films shot over twenty years or so, with no intent to ever be packaged together. Night On Earth, though, really kept my attention and interest throughout the whole film. I never felt like the "five stories/different cities/all in taxi cabs" thing was a stunt. It never felt trite or stupid. Every story had interesting, well thought out characters, and, to me, Night On Earth shows Jarmusch as an incredibly mature and talented writer.

Also, Jarmusch and I are both Cassavetes fans, so, I'm sure he got a kick out of working with her, but I got a huge kick out of seeing Gena Rowlands on the screen. I think she's an incredible actress, and, Jarmusch states in the Q&A that this was the first film Rowlands did after John passed away in 1989. She's really at the top of her game in it too. Roberto Benigni's Italian cabbie is hilarious as well. His delivery is flawless, and you believe even the stupidest things with his character (like the fact that he forgot he had his sunglasses on, even while driving at night).  Night On Earth is a great piece of 90's Independent cinema, and I'm really glad the Criterion Collection decided to put it out there for everyone to see.

DVD - Permanent Vacation

God bless the Criterion Collection. They've put so many films into my hands that I would not have normally had a chance to see without digging through used VHS bins, or buying pirated copies on eBay. God bless Netflix as well, of course, since that is where I get most of my Criterion's, as I can't afford to go out and just buy whatever they put out.

I recently got the Criterion DVD for Jim Jarmusch's film Permanent Vacation, his debut feature after having graduated from NYU's film school. Vacation stars Chris Parker as Allie, a young New Yorker with no particular hopes and dreams. Allie is the kind of kid who has no job, no distinguishable friends, and no direction in life. Even the girl he seems to share an apartment with is never identified as a girlfriend, or even a friend. Is she even real? Allie goes through his days dancing to jazz and blues records, talking to anyone who will listen, going to movies, walking around aimlessly, and creating mischief.

Jarmusch's feature, while owing to other films before it, could be seen as a blueprint for a lot of the American "indie" films that would come out after it - the dreamers dream. I mean, as an artist, who wouldn't just want to exist in a world where all of your bills are magically paid for, and yet you don't have a job to speak of. A world where everyone you meet has the potential of being your friend, and the streets are always empty. A world where all there is to do, or that needs to be done, is to laugh, love, and dance to your favorite music. Jarmusch, and those that followed him, may have defined the perfect American dream.

Did I like Permanent Vacation, though? Can't say I did, can't say I didn't. It's one of those stories that just unfolds in front of you. You have to take it at face value, because there really isn't anything greater going on than what you see on the screen. It was enjoyable, for me, to see it, because Jarmusch is a constant favorite of mine. I don't recall ever having seen a Jarmusch film I didn't like, so, ultimately, I guess I'd have to say that I did like it. It has a lot of the problems that no budget independents d0 - poor lighting, bad sound, questionable acting. What you get, though, is an incredibly interesting slice of this kids life, and an extremely interesting document of New York City, circa 1980. On the DVD is a program called Kino 84: Jim Jarmusch, shot for German television, that focuses on Jarmusch, Permanent Vacation (which was a hit in Germany), and Jarmusch's new film (at that time) Stranger Than Paradise. On the program, Tom DiCillo, who shot both films, talks about how much New York changed in just four years, and even Jarmusch points out a location (a decrepit building that Allie goes to visit), that had been raised and replaced with a huge apartment complex.

I always love seeing a director's first work, even if they aren't that good, and you can really tell how Permanent Vacation was already seeing Jarmusch cement a lot of his style. The film has a lot of those stationary camera shots, shots within shots, and that kind of ambling dialogue that is especially heavy in some of the early Jarmusch films.