Comments on watching and making films.

Thursday, December 31, 2009


Well, 2009 seems to have really sucked for a lot of people. I know it had its ups and downs for me. I lost one job in Texas, and gained another one in California. I thought Indefinable Orbits would never get its final shots (its still short one, but I can get that one eventually). I took a trip to New York City, and absolutely fell in love. I made a couple of personal video's, my favorite of which is originated from my video footage from NYC -

Me Right Now - New York City from Stewart Schuster on Vimeo.

So, what does 2010 hold? It holds the completion of Indefinable Orbits, which I have promised myself to complete in the next few months. It also holds the completion of a new feature script, PHX, which I plan to shoot in Phoenix in the fall. I am incredibly excited about this. It will be my first feature, which is a surprise even to me, seeing as how I always thought The Definers would be my first shot feature, but, alas, my lack of money to be able to afford the Super 8 I need for that project is making it look like PHX may be coming first. 2010 will also see me doing a better job at keeping this blog up. In 2008, I had 124 entries. In 2009, I only had 57 (as of this writing). It's not that I watched less movies, it's just that I got lazy about updating, and I don't want to do that anymore. I want to keep up with this blog because its as much for me as for other people.

I am also hoping that 2010 will see the completion of more scripts, and especially some shorts, and maybe even the production of some shorts. We shall see. Canon has announced a 24p firmware upgrade for the 5DMkII, and I feel like, when that comes out, I will be doing more video work.

I look forward to this year. Amethyst (one of my best friends) and I were talking a few years back and we thought that 2008 would be the year that everything changed. It didn't. It kind of fizzled. Nothing too good or too bad happened to either of us. 2009, however, saw a lot of bad stuff happen to both of us. I think 2010, though, will see some good things. Even amongst all of the economic turmoil and other craziness going on, it really does feel like 2010 has some promise...

Philip Bloom's "Skywalker Ranch"

Skywalker Ranch from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

Vincent Laforet's "Nocturne"

Nocturne from Vincent Laforet on Vimeo.

Session 7 Media's " Gone Goodbye"

Gone Goodbye from Session 7 Media on Vimeo.

Eliot Rausch's "Last Minutes With Oden"

Last Minutes with ODEN from phos pictures on Vimeo.

DVD - My Effortless Brilliance

Lynn Shelton, by way of being at the right place at the right time, sort of fell into the whole Mumblecore scene by befriending folks like Joe Swanberg and others at various film festivals around the time that that movement began. Since then, she's had a roll in Swanberg's Young American Bodies, and Nights and Weekends, and followed up her debut feature, We Go Way Back, with My Effortless Brilliance, and Humpday. She continues to grow, and explore some of the more mature aspects of relationships that her contemporaries don't seem to scratch on.

Brilliance begins with the abrupt breakdown of a friendship between the characters Eric and Dylan. Eric is a writer who's ego has become too big for his friend Dylan to handle. Flash forward two years, and Eric has seen his share of let down, seeing the follow up to his debut novel crash and burn, and being humbled by the only mild success of his third novel. On a trip to Eastern Washington to give a lecture, Eric seeks to find Dylan, and tracks him down to a cabin in the woods. But has two years been enough time for Dylan to forgive and forget?

Effortless Brilliance is hard to nail down. On one hand, it is filled with long, rambling scenes that often times don't seem to go anywhere except to further establish the characters relationship with one another (which is pretty well done within the first half hour or so). On the other hand, I think the film is an amazing dissection of the way a friendship can dissolve because of one persons complete inability to really be the kind of friend the other person needs. I feel like I've been on both sides of this situation, and I feel like Shelton and her crew really managed to suss out a lot of what goes on between two people in that situation. Basil Harris and Sean Nelson fit PERFECTLY into their roles, and I think they are a primary reason, other than Shelton's direction, that this film succeeds as well as it does. My Effortless Brilliance is not a perfect film, but it is a good film with a lot of things to say and to think about.

Red Cliff

I do not know how to review this film. It was so big and epic, I can't even wrap my mind around it. I need to see it two or three more times before I can give an honest review.

Make Out gets "Best of the Decade" cred from Cinematical

My favorite movie blog, Cinematical, has named Make Out With Violence as one of the best Indie films of the ENTIRE decade! And there's only ten films, total, on that list, and seeing as how it encompasses ten years (or, I guess, nine really), I would say that's a pretty big compliment. Want to see the article? Check it out here. And you can also see my interview with the Deagol Brothers, the creator's of Make Out below -

Make Out With Violence Premiere - Interview from Stewart Schuster on Vimeo.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

A Wes Anderson film is one of those "events" for my generation. Most of us probably missed Bottle Rocket, and ended up seeing it on DVD after seeing Rushmore (at least twice). The Royal Tenenbaums was a complete kick in Hollywood's tail, and is still my favorite Anderson movie. The Life Aquatic and Darjeeling Limited were movies we waited patiently for, and did no less for Fantastic Mr. Fox.

The film is Anderson's first foray into animation, and is the story of Fox, played by George Clooney, who gives up his youthful hopes and dreams in order to settle down with his lady friend, Mrs. Fox, played by Meryl Streep. Jump ahead a few years, and Fox is working a job as a news reporter, has a little fox, Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), and is living underground in... well, a fox hole. He decides, during a mid life crisis, that he is going to buy a tree (that he can't really afford), and also take up stealing chickens and other things from the local farmers, as this was one of the things he gave up to start a life with Mrs. Fox. But, when the local farmers get pissed and decide to put the hurt on Fox, it starts a war.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is, like many of Anderson's films, about not wanting to grow up, and the trouble that can cause. Fox lives a perfectly good life, until he decides to start doing something he shouldn't, and this is what causes all the trouble for Fox and everyone around him. It also gives them an undeniable adventure, which is also a constant in Anderson's films. The animation was really cool, and seemed so real and natural, and the writing was, for the most part, pretty funny and enjoyable, but, ultimately, like Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox just lacked a certain amount of that early Anderson charm to make it a REALLY good film. It was okay, but it just wasn't as good as some of the other films. That being said, I had to watch Life Aquatic a couple of times before it really clicked with me. Maybe that's what Fantastic Mr. Fox is going to take before it can really blow my mind.


I was a little weary of this film when I first saw the posters popping up around L.A. I like Natalie Portman. I'll watch pretty much anything she's in. I don't like Tobey Maguire. The only things I've ever REMOTELY liked him in was The Ice Storm. There's the fact that its directed by Jim Sheridan, who I like, so that was a plus, but then there's Jake Gyllenhaal. No offense, but Jake hasn't done much that was worth while since Donnie Darko.

The film concerns the capture, and presumed death of Captain Sam Cahill (Maguire) while he's in Iraq. The Army assumes his death, and reports it to his wife, Grace (Portman), who ends up telling his Father, Step Mother, and brother Tommy (Gyllenhaal). Feeling guilty about being a screw up, while his brother bravely served his country, Tommy tries to make up for his feelings by helping out Grace in anyway that he can. In doing so, over time, Tommy and Grace begin to develop some rudimentary feelings for each other, which culminates in a case after they've smoked pot together. Before they can take it any further, though, Sam is rescued from his Iraqi prison and shipped back home. But the weeks of mental torture he suffered at the hands of his captors has left him fragile and angry.

Brother's is a remake of a foreign film, but Sheridan has managed to make it so incredibly American, that there isn't the faintest sense of its true origin. Maybe that's the strength and universality of the story, though. Tobey Maguire finally delivers a performance that's worth all of the hype that he's gotten over the years, and Portman is perfectly solid, as well as Gyllenhaal. The film feels like so much of what middle America is in this moment, and I think that is a huge compliment to Sheridan - That he has captured this moment, in both time and place, and captured the madness that war incites in everyone that has been touched by it. Brothers was intense, and furious, and engaging. A great film.

Crazy Heart

There's an old saying that goes - "There are no new stories". Basically, what that means is, its not the originality of the story, its what mark you put on it. As far as movies go, and movies about country music in particular, the idea of the weathered old musician, lost in a haze of alcohol, or drugs, or both, who gets a second chance, is not exactly new. But, its what you put into it. Scott Cooper brings a certain majesty and glory to this story in his new film Crazy Heart.

Crazy Heart stars Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake, a country western musician from another time of country stars like Waylon Jennings and George Jones. He has seen his career peak, many years ago, and is now broke and forced into doing shows in bars and bowling alleys. When he meets Jean, a young reporter played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, he see's a light at the end of the tunnel he has dug himself into. But can he see his way free from all of the things that made him Bad Blake in the first place?

Crazy Heart is an amazing and beautiful journey through the life and pain of Bad Blake, who is exquisitely played by Jeff Bridges. Bridges proves, yet again, that he is one of our best living actors. He isn't afraid to show all of the embarrassing aspects of Blake's life, including waking up in his underwear from being drunk the night before, running into the toilet, puking, and passing out on the floor. Bridges plays this role no holds barred - he is sweaty, bumbling, and old. He is fragile. He is broken. Gyllenhaal plays a woman who is absolutely willing to let her heart be broken again, but, when it is, she steps back, like a wounded animal, staying as far away from that which has hurt her as she can. Colin Farrell is a bit of a surprise as a New-Country star who's fortune and fame was built on song's Bad Blake wrote for him, and Robert Duvall shines as one of Blake's friends. This film is really great. I feel like every step that was taken here was just right, and the soundtrack overseen by T Bone Burnett is perfect. Well worth seeing.

Sherlock Holmes

There's two classic stories that I've been in love with since I was a kid - Harry Houdini and Sherlock Holmes. I think both of them appeal to young kids, especially boys, because of the sense of adventure and magic. Looking back on it, I can't think of any adaptations of Sherlock Holmes (at least live action, non-parody ones), nor movies about Harry Houdini. So, when I first saw a trailer for a hip new Sherlock Holmes film, I was intrigued. Guy Ritchie has had his moments, so I figured it has to be, at least, halfway decent, right? I mean, Robert Downey Jr., Rachel McAdams, and the wide variety of story to pull from had to have given them a lot to work with.

Sherlock Holmes concerns the relationship of Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law), as Watson is moving on in his life and getting ready to marry a young woman and move into full time medical practice. Holmes is left feeling abandoned, but doesn't have long to think about it because Lord Blackwood, a once dead nemesis, appears to have resurrected himself from the grave and be causing havoc in London. Holmes teams up with a reluctant Watson, and an old flame, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) in order to fight the dark powers of Blackwood.

Sherlock Holmes is one of those movies that you can see all the ways that it could have been better. Too long, with characters that are not always explored well enough, and one too many needless speed ramping shots, Holmes can come off as bloated and boring. While all of the actors do a good job, it's impossible to really enjoy a movie experience that feels like your having to tread through mud. that being said, the ending sets up an obvious sequel, and I will say that maybe, just maybe, the film suffers from Ritchie having not directed anything for a while, and problems in his personal life. Should there be a sequel, I would consider seeing it, to see if they could pull together all of the things that feel so loose in this one.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Make Out With Violence

You don't know how happy it made me to just be able to write those words in the title. It is rare that a person gets to be a part of seeing friends create something incredibly original and beautiful on the scale of a film, and a truly home made film at that. A few weeks ago, I got the chance to attend the L.A. premiere for The Deagol Brother's film Make Out With Violence. They had won the Nashville Film Festival, and part of their prize was that Regal Cinema (a Tennessee based company) would set them up with a showing in the home of movies in America, Los Angeles. Now, I'm sure there is a different story for every side, but the idea behind the prize, from what I understood was a week long run at a theater in Hollywood. Unfortunately, Regal, after much back and forth and almost NOT giving them a premiere AT ALL, finally stuck the Deagol's film in a theater in East L.A., in the relatively quiet enclave of Alhambra. Pretty far away from Hollywood, and one show only was pretty far away from a reasonable run. Let's put politics aside for a second, though, and talk about the film -

Best described by Deagol Brother Chris Doyle as a mix between a John Hughes and a zombie flick, Make Out With Violence sets up the story of Wendy Hearst, a beautiful young teenager who goes missing one day. The story is told through the view point of Beetle Darling, one of the three Darling boys. His twin brothers, Patrick and Carol, along with their friends Rody, Addy, and Anne Haran round out the cast. The film basically fast forwards to a month later when the locals are having a memorial service for Wendy, believing she's truly gone. As everyone leaves the funeral, going their separate ways to grieve, Carol and Beetle take a little side trip to the woods to have some fun and blow off some steam. In the woods, Beetle discovers the zombie Wendy. They capture her, take her home, and fill in Patrick, who has long harbored a crush on Wendy about everything that's happened. Carol and Beetle are at a loss as to what to do, but Patrick comes up with a plan.

Like I said, I truly feel that Make Out With Violence is one of the most original films I've ever seen. Sure, it apes certain elements of various genre's, but the Deagol's don't just copy these things - they borrow them, and make them their own, which is what the best filmmakers always do. Gorgeous cinematography (which is a compliment I almost NEVER give out for HD stuff), an amazing score by the Non-Commissioned Officers (along with a handful of other local Nashville bands), tight performances from a group of (mostly) non-actors, and assured direction from the Deagol's make this one of the best indie's around. It is not the easiest egg to crack, and that's what I LOVE about it, and what may frustrate some others. You see, Make Out is a zombie film, a coming of age film, a romantic film... It's also none of these things at the same time. It's an echo of elements that have all come together to create a new universe, a universe of youth, and love, and fear, and horror that coalesces into a singular vision, and if you could put it in words, maybe that's why I love it so much. It feels complete. It feels like a Wes Anderson movie, in that every bit of it feels thought out, as though the Deagol's lived in this world, and came out of it to tell this story.

You can find out more info and buy the soundtrack to the movie (which I can't recommend enough) by visiting the official website , and you can hear more about the film by watching my interview with Deagol's Andy Duensing and Chris Doyle here -

Make Out With Violence Premiere - Interview from Stewart Schuster on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Whip It

I'm always leery of films by actor's. When I heard Drew Barrymore was making a film, I had to weigh her career of somewhat crappy rom-coms and girl flicks against the fact that her production company has helped produce a lot of great independent movies, including Donnie Darko. When I found out that Ellen Page was in it, though, that sealed the deal.

Whip It stars Page as Bliss Cavender, a girl in her late teens, who's mother has managed, through either guilt or force, to get her to take part in various pageants in and around their little town of Bodeen, Texas (which is outside of Austin). Not feeling like she fits in anywhere, she discovers roller derby, and sneeks out of the house with her best friend Pash, played by Alia Shawkat, to go to Austin to watch the derby. One night she approaches some of the girls to express her love of what their doing, and they invite her to try out (even though you have to be 21 to do so). Bliss decides to take a chance and lie about her age so that she can try out, and makes the team. Now she just has to figure out how to balance the lies she's telling to the team and to her parents to be able to live the life she's always dreamed of.

Barrymore does an incredible job as a first time director, and her ensemble cast of the team is incredibly well put together. The story is simple, but really inspirational. Ellen Page, as always, delivers an amazing performance, and is complimented by Shawkat, Kristin Wiig, and Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern as Bliss's parents. It is so awesome to see Daniel Stern in some stuff again, and he does a great job. Surprisingly, for a film that takes place in Texas, it was mostly filmed in Michigan, but you wouldn't know it. It definitely looks like Texas, and Barrymore picked some great stuff for the shots she did in Austin. Whip It is one of my favorite's of this year, and I wish more people would see it. If you don't get a chance to see it in theater's, though, definitely check it out on DVD.


The zombie comedy has had mixed results over the last few decades, starting with Return of the Living Dead and coming all the way through this years Zombieland. The thing about zombie's is, they're almost endlessly fascinating, and since they're great straight men, their's always humor to be found somewhere.

Zombieland's primary protagonist is Columbus (played by Jesse Eisenberg). When we meet Columbus, he is on the run, somewhere in Texas, trying to get back home to Columbus, Ohio (hence the name). After wrecking his car, he sets out on foot, and meets Tallahassee, a redneck with a penchant for zombie killing and painting Dale Earnhardt's number on the side of every car he drives. They decide to keep each other company, at least for a little while. When they stop at a grocery store to try and find some Twinkie's (Tallahasse's odd obsession), they meet two sisters, Wichita and Little Rock, and promptly get their car and gear stolen by the two girls. After catching up with them later, they fight a little, but eventually come to the agreement that they can do more together than apart, and decide to head for Pacific Playland, supposedly the last zombie free place in America.

This film is fun to its core. It's just a good old fashioned action comedy that uses the zombie genre as a back drop. While I found Shaun of the Dead to be a lot funnier, Zombieland's cast, including a surprise appearance by one of the greatest comedian's of our time, is just amazing. Harrelson was born to play Tallahassee, and Eisenberg is a perfect foil to him. Emma Stone's Wichita is a bit of a bad ass, for her age, and makes me think that she could take on some serious action roles in the future.

Gentlemen Broncos

Jared Hess did something you never want to do with your first film - He made something he would never be able to easily top. Napoleon Dynamite was Hess's debut feature, and it was an atomic bomb blast of comedy that came out of nowhere. He followed it up with the funny, but not as funny Nacho Libre shortly after, and then took some time off before bringing us his newest - Gentlemen Bronco's.

Bronco's centers around a timid young man named Benjamin, played by Michael Angarano, who dreams of becoming a well known sci-fi and fantasy author. His mother, who homeschools Benjamin, is incredibly supportive of his dream, and sends him off to a writing camp, to attend classes that are taught by his hero, Ronald Chevalier (played by Jemaine Clement, who starred in the awesomely hilarious Eagle Vs. Shark). While at the camp, he meets Tabatha and Lonny (both aspiring writers, and Lonny is also an aspiring film director). At the camp, Chevalier announces a contest, and the winner will get their story published. Benjamin enters his own story, one that he has let Tabatha and Lonny read. Chevalier, who is hard up for a new book, reads Benjamin's story and decides to steal it, while Tabatha and Lonny option the story for a movie (and go on to do horrible re-writes). Benjamin now has to face the accusation that he plagiarized his own book, while having to face the embarrassment of Lonny and Tabatha's adaptation of his work being a colossal failure.

Bronco's is not as funny as Napoleon Dynamite, but, then again, what is? I think if you divorce yourself from expecting another Napoleon Dynamite, you can REALLY enjoy this movie, because it really is very funny. Mike White is hilarious in his small role as a big brother type, and Clement is so sleazy, you can't help but laugh. My only complaint is that Michael Angarano has so much potential as an actor, and I feel like this film didn't really take advantage of that. I wanted to see Benjamin really go crazy, and not be so passive about everything.

Hess definitely suffers because of his marriage to a style in this movie, and, like Wes Anderson, would greatly benefit from doing something totally out of his element. David Gordon Green did that with Pineapple Express, and while the results were mixed, it proved that Gordon Green was not just a one trick pony. I'd love to see Hess do a straight up drama or something, just to see if he could pull it off.

The Road

Cormac McCarthy is one of those novelist's that filmmakers read their books and ache to turn them into films. Why it has taken so long for this to happen, I have no idea. Many years ago, we got All The Pretty Horses, which I never got to see (but my ex-coworker and friend Steve Crawford was in, as a body double for Matt Damon). It seems to be relatively hard to find on DVD these days, so, who knows when I will get to see it. The next one came MANY years later, in the form of the Coen Brother's fantastic adaptation of No Country For Old Men. Now, with Blood Meridian SUPPOSEDLY on the horizon (though I wouldn't count on it), we've got another McCarthy adaptation in our laps, The Road, and I got a chance to see a sneak preview of it at the American Cinematheque in LA.

The film revolves around a father, played by Viggo Mortensen, and his son, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, and their mission to make it south of where ever it is they are, down to "the coast". There really isn't any geography given in this film, so, its hard to tell exactly where they come from and where they're going, except for vague references. The Man (Mortensen) knows that, in this post apocalyptic world they are living in, where the trees, animals, and crops are all dead, he must protect his son at all costs from marauding gangs and cannibals. For all he knows, the two of them may be some of the very few surviving humans left, and they must keep the compassion of humanity alive at all costs, even when it means showing none.

Mortensen and Smit-McPhee are in, literally EVERY scene of this film, so, by the time its over, you feel like you've gotten to know their characters inside out. The film is undeniably bleak, with every hint of good that happens in these two's lives balanced by a heaping pile of horror. One scene, in the basement of a house, is especially horrifying (I won't spoil it for you). John Hillcoat, who directed the Neo-Western The Proposition, brings a masterful hand to the film and creates a world that cuts to the audiences very core. With the recent collapse of Wall Street, and mounting environmental problems, one is hard pressed to not leave the theater without wondering if, in five years or ten years or tomorrow, they could be one of the last humans alive, and walking down that same road.


Okay, so, this blog has not been kept up very well lately. I admit that its purely laziness on my part, BUT, I am going to try to do better from now on.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The short commercial work of Camille Marotte

These are all shot with the Canon 5DMkII, and all feature amazing music by an artist named Matthieu Ouaki. What a novel idea, to try and connect with your audience through feeling and art, as opposed to shoving a product down their throat... from Camille Marotte on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

DVD - The Girlfriend Experience

The Girlfriend Experience finally came out on DVD, which means I finally got a chance to see it. It came out for about a week, when I was still living in Texas, and I missed it, so of course I ended up having to wait to see it (which really sucks, because I like seeing as much stuff as I can in the theater, especially Soderbergh's work).

The film tells the story of a New York City escort by the name of Chelsea (played by adult film actress Sasha Grey), and how she handles her life, her clients, and her boyfriend, a well meaning but obviously dense guy named Chris (played by Chris Santos). Chelsea treats her escorting as more than just meeting men and having sex with them for money. She feels as though she is providing a full service package in which she goes out with these men, has conversations about whatever they want to talk about, and does whatever they want. She is not just a hooker by any means, and in order to prove that, she is attacking this thing that she does very professionally, which keeps her boyfriend happy. Until, that is, she does the very unprofessional thing of falling in love with a client.

The Girlfriend Experience is a tough film to crack, at least for the first half. It comes off as a seemingly random grouping of events that happen in Chelsea's life, and to a lesser extent her boyfriends life, until she meets this writer client that she falls for, which is when the film really starts to coalesce into a film (something with a more discernible story). You have to be patient with this film, and the last half of it is the pay off. The movie is carried, primarily, by Sasha Grey, which is unfortunate, because she really can't act that well. There is no enthusiasm in the role, at all, no difference between happy or sad, angry or glad. She delivers lines with a fairly wooden quality that any B-list actress would have been able to handle with, at least, some flair. I may be one of the few to say this, but it honestly comes off as her casting being a publicity stunt, as though Soderbergh was wondering if he could ruffle a few feathers and get people interested if he put a porn actress in the role, because, honestly, ANY actress could have played this part, and any actress could have probably played it better than Sasha Grey.

If you watch the DVD, definitely watch the alternate cut in the special features, if you're only going to watch one version. It leaves out some really boring and pointless scenes involving the boyfriend and some rich buddies of his on a plane to Vegas, and makes the film feel a little tighter, even though it runs about the same length some how... All in all, The Girlfriend Experience is definitely worth watching, but, I for one will be happy when Soderbergh gets back to making real films and stops goofing off with this stuff for HDNet.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Informant!

I'll go see anything by Steven Soderbergh. The first film I remember seeing of his was Traffic, and ever since then, I have gobbled up everything of his that I came into contact with. He is one of our best living and working filmmakers, and one lucky guy, in that he can pretty much write his own ticket (well, except for Moneyball, which was recently dropped by the studio Soderbergh was going to be making it for). I love everything from his mainstream stuff, like the Ocean's trilogy and Out of Sight, to his more "experimental" side with films like Kafka and Schizopolis. Yeah, I'll go see anything by Steven Soderbergh, but that doesn't mean I will worship everything he does. I didn't care for the first in his series of HD films for HDNet, Bubble. The Good German was okay, but nothing to write home about, and, ultimately, The Informant! falls into the same category.

The film stars Matt Damon as Mark Whitacre, a real life higher up at major food company in Illinois, who tries to sell his company down the creek by going to the FBI with a Lysine price fixing scam. But when Whitacre doesn't see things going the way he wants them too, he tries to lie himself out of the situation he's caused, which puts the FBI in a curious predicament.

The Informant! is based on a true story, and Mark Whitacre is a very real person. Soderbergh, though, being the playful personality he is, took some liberties in making Whitacre look like an even bigger doofus than he probably is in real life. Using little touches like a constant inner monologue, and Damon playing his best bafoon, Soderbergh takes what would, generally, be a rather uninteresting tale of corporate espionage, and makes it into an enjoyable and funny story about a man who just doesn't get it. Unfortunately, the film felt like it was a bit of a throw away, much like The Good German. It was definitely watchable, and enjoyable, but I'm not sure it's the kind of movie I would want to watch again. Soderbergh tries a lot of different things, though, and I'm glad this film exists, even though I probably wouldn't buy it on DVD.

DVD - Nights and Weekends

Joe Swanberg's films are always something I hold a certain amount of anticipation for. It's a little annoying that they, generally, can not be seen theatrically (except for SXSW appearances, and occasional special screenings, generally held in cities far, far away). One of the best things I think Joe has ever done is team up with Greta Gerwig, as evidenced in his third feature, Hannah Takes The Stairs, and his follow up Nights and Weekends.

Nights and Weekends stars Joe and Greta as James and Mattie (respectively), a long distance couple who only get to be together every couple of months. James lives in Chicago, and Mattie lives in New York, and they seem to get along really well, but there are cracks in their relationship, the kind of cracks that are exacerbated by the distance they are constantly fighting through. When James goes to visit Mattie in New York one weekend, she drops the bomb and breaks up with him. Fast forward a year or so, and James makes a surprise visit to New York, and ends up hanging out with Mattie again. But will the good or the bad of their old ways be what comes out in both of them?

Nights and Weekends is definitely Swanberg's most accomplished feature to date (He's already made and premiered another film at SXSW, Alexander The Last, at the time of this writing). He is moving farther away from the graphic, and somewhat meaningless, sex of his first feature Kissing on the Mouth, and moving closer and closer to actually mixing real and meaningful story with a realistic shooting style that includes nudity and frank depiction's of sex. Night's and Weekends real power is in Greta Gerwig's performance, when she manages to channel all of the nervous energy, paranoia, and indecision of a young person in love. Swanberg, who is fairly solid as an actor, delivers a good performance, as well, though I feel like he sometimes has this Jimmy Fallon-esque quality to him, where he's laughing at his own jokes. There are some GREAT scenes in this film, especially the one in Chicago where they're out in the rain, and the NYC hotel scene, near the end, with the bathrobe joke. Nights and Weekends is a fabulous journey into men and women and their inability to relate to each other over a long term relationship, especially when distance is involved. I loved it, and I can't wait to see his next one.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Lance Bangs' "Family Portrait"

Lance Bangs' Family Portrait is an intimate documentary series that delves into the Los Angeles bookstore Family. I've been to this bookstore, and it is AMAZING. If I had a lot more money, I would by half the stuff in there (or more). Unfortunately, Lance has turned off embedding on other sites, so to see it, just head on over to Part 1 on his Vimeo page.

Monday, August 31, 2009

On ALMOST meeting one of your biggest hero's

So, I ALMOST met Steven Soderbergh. I was standing outside of the Los Feliz 3 today, waiting for my friend Jeremy, because we were going to see Taking Woodstock, and I realized that I hadn't put away my GPS in my car. So, I'm walking up Vermont, towards my car, and I recognize one of two guys walking towards me. I'm not sure, but I think it's... and then he speaks, and the voice is unmistakable - It's Steven Soderbergh, and I am totally petrified. This is the guy who has consistently given me inspiration throughout every aspect of my career, and has regularly blown my mind with his work.

And I just stood there. Like a douche. I just stood there, and watched him walk by. And it wasn't until he was about twenty feet down the street, that I realized he was gone. I had missed my chance (unless I wanted to look like a freak fan boy, and maybe I should have). Oh well... Maybe one day lightning will strike twice?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Jakob Lodwick's "Skip"

Skip from on Vimeo.

I feel like this is a really cool testament to experimentation with light, motion, and speed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Francis Ford Coppola is one of those people who I both look forward to their new film, and dread their new film... It had been a long time since Coppola's last film, until Youth Without Youth, which came out two years ago. Youth Without Youth was interesting, but... It was the kind of movie that I've seen, and I don't think I'd ever watch it again. His newest, Tetro, is similiar, in that its interesting, but its one of those movies that you almost crave to see it again.

The film centers around newcomer Alden Ehrenreich, who plays Bennie. Bennie shows up on leave in Buenos Aries, searching for his brother Tetro, played by Vincent Gallo. Tetro disappeared some years ago, and promised Bennie that he would be back, but never came. Bennie finds out Tetro has written parts and pieces of a novel, and Bennie decides to steal the pieces and make them into a play, for which he wins top honors. Tetro is hiding a deep, dark secret, though, one which could be a huge threat to Bennie.

Coppola's Tetro is his first original screenplay since The Conversation, and thirty years is a long time. Tetro sometimes feels long winded, and way to thought out, but Coppola manages to always keep the film interesting. Gallo does a great job as the title character, as well as Meribel Verdu, as Tetro's wife, Miranda. Unlike Mann's Public Enemies, Coppola uses HD to a fair amount of success in the film, shooting most of it in black and white, with flashback moments in color. The whole film feels like a (very expensive) experiment in visual style and storytelling, but one that, I can honestly say, I'm glad exists. Tetro is worth a watch, even if its just to say you've seen it.

Public Enemies

Michael Mann... Oh, Michael Mann... What happened? Were you high? Did someone smack you over the head, causing brain damage in the area that made you a good director in the first place? Or has getting older just made you lose your marbles?

Public Enemies was supposed to be a movie about John Dillinger, one of the most prolific bank robbers in American history, and an icon in its history. He was a celebrity in his time. Instead, what we got was an incoherent mess that was kind of about Dillinger, but was also about half a dozen other people. The film had no real narrative structure to speak of, and, instead, seemed like a simple retelling of (mostly) uninteresting events. Where were the bank robberies? Where were the fast cars? the women? All the stuff that Depp speaks so highly of in character as Dillinger? Where was the character development? I didn't care about anybody in this film, and especially didn't care when they got killed. Okay, Pretty Boy Floyd gets shot. So what? Baby Face Nelson kills some people, then gets shot. So? I didn't even care about Dillinger. I didn't even care about his girlfriend.

And then there's the technical aspects of it... Ugh... The HD? Looked like crap. HD already looks kind of half ass when blown up to 35mm, but this looked REALLY bad. Miami Vice looked better, and Miami Vice didn't look that good...

Oh Michael Mann... What happened?

Funny People

Everybody's looking for the end of Judd Apatow. Ever since The 40 Year Old Virgin came out (and people rediscovered the genius of Freaks and Geeks), Apatow has been somewhat of a golden boy in Hollywood. The only problem is the law of diminishing returns in Tinseltown, meaning, the more stuff you slap your name on, the higher the possibility is that the stuff your slapping your name is going to be crap. In a way, that's one of the things that Funny People is about, but its also an attempt, by Apatow, to marry his brand of humor with more mature storytelling.

Adam Sandler plays George Simmons, a famous comedic actor who is dying from an unnamed "blood disease". He's taken a lot of things for granted in his life, and he decides that in his final days, he wants to take as much advantage of life as he can. When he makes a surprise visit to a comedy club to do some stand up, he meets Ira Wright, played by Seth Rogen, a struggling comedian who gets some laughs for making fun of George's rusty attempts at stand up. George hires Ira to write jokes for him, and the two bond with each other as Ira helps George prepare for his last days. Everything begins to fall apart, though, when George finds out that the experimental drug treatment he has been taking is actually working.

Sandler is a decent actor, pretty much always (its his choice of roles that tends to keep him down), and I really liked Rogen in this film because it felt like he was finally not playing the same old douche bag that he does in every Apatow movie that he's been in (which is most of them). The direction is pretty good, but if I had one complaint about this movie, its just that the story is just not up to par. The first half of the film is pretty good, but then, when George learns he's going to live, every part of the film becomes this uber-predictable jumble of who cares? I feel that if Apatow would have taken a bigger chance and either killed of George, or took him to a place that wasn't so obvious, maybe he would have had his perfect "mature" movie, but, unfortunately, he didn't. Funny People's biggest fault, for me, at least, is the fact that it is funny but it is also terribly predictable.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

DVD - Werckmeister Harmonies

I have no idea what this film was about. I had heard Bela Tarr was this AMAZING filmmaker and that I had to see his stuff, so I Netflixed one of his more popular films. Needless to say, after two and a half hours, a lot of dancing, a giant fake whale, and a very confusing riot sequence, I still have absolutely no clue what this film is about. If you have decoded it, please drop me a line and let me know.

Matt Christy's "Desert"

Desert from matthew christy on Vimeo.

I helped make this. I love the way his mind works.

The Non-Commissioned Officers' "Sweet Eleanor"

Sweet Eleanor from MAKE-OUT with VIOLENCE on Vimeo.

Sweet Eleanor is one of the tracks from the Make Out With Violence soundtrack. The film was co-written and co-directed by fellow Watkins alum Chris Doyle. I saw an early cut of it (not the final one), and really liked it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

DVD - Scott Walker: 30 Century Man

Disturbed genius's are always good fodder for documentaries. Two of my favorite music doc's are DiG! which is partly about Anton Newcombe, the musical genius/crazy dude behind Brian Jonestown Massacre, and The Devil and Daniel Johnston about Daniel Johnston, an Austin musician who lost his mind and became an underground sensation. Scott Walker:30 Century Man is no different.

The film explores the career of Scott Walker, a man who has influenced generations of British and American musicians from Bowie to Blur and beyond. Walker started out his career as part of a trio, and grew into a solo recording career, before deciding to completely abandon the public aspects of being a "rock star", and retire to a life of solitude, only occasionally recording and releasing albums. His story is mostly told through reminiscence of those who have known him over the years, though Walker does fill in some of the blanks. While his music shifts between classic pop and stuff that is mildly unlistenable, Walker, himself, is always interesting and strikes you as the kind of person you could easily listen to for hours, if he would even be willing to talk to you.

DVD - If...

The 1960's were a time of hope and experimentation, and the idea of taking down the old systems, both in the US and abroad. Lindsay Anderson captures some of the spirit of the 1960's in England in his film If...

The film stars Malcolm McDowell, in his feature debut, as Mick Travis, a rebellious young teenager who attends a preparatory school in England. He and his friends could care less about all of the posturing and formalness that the school is trying to force down their throats, and do all they can to break away from it (even with the knowledge that they will be punished for their actions, and punished more and more severely the more they do). Mick is determined to live life his own way, though, and not give into his "masters".

If... is like a record of the final breakdown of the general acceptance of this upper class attitude in England. After this period, people of this class would never see the kind of respect they had always had, and people like Mick would be the one's to usher that in. If... is the perfect counter cultural movie for its time. It isn't preachy, it doesn't try to solve every problem. It simply presents a world and a time as its disintegrating.

(500) Days of Summer

In his feature film debut, director Marc Webb weaves a modern tale of boy meets girl, gets dumped by girl, has no chance of ever getting back with girl, eventually realizes he may have a future.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Tom Hansen, a twenty-something who gave up on his dream of being an architect, and now works at a greeting card company, writing copy. One day, a new girl, Summer Finn (played by Zooey Deschanel), starts working at the company as the assistant to Tom's boss. They eventually, after a lot of high school antics, end up together, have a relationship, and then break up.

Webb wraps his tale in a very seering reality, and it feels like the things these characters are going through are things that all of us of that age have gone through, said the same things, felt the same things. Somehow Webb, and writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, connected into the zeitgeist of love at this very moment and managed to make it into something totally unromanticized or un-Hollywoodized. Much like Juno or Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, or even Lost In Translation, to some extent, (500) Days uses the perfect mix of clever writing, subtle and endearing art direction, and a mixture of pop and indie rock to tell our generations love story.

One thing I would like to point out, as well, is the writers GENIUS addition of the concept of Tom basing his belief in destiny by misreading The Graduate. It's not difficult to see the hard reality of love in that last scene of the movie, when Ben and Elaine have escaped the wedding, and their happiness dissipates as they get farther and farther away. Summer gets this, and see's it happening right in front of her, but Tom still believes, blindly, that his love will be enough for both of them. It's a hard reality that most people discover in the most awful times of their lives - sometimes love and good intentions just aren't enough to hold a relationship together.

The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow has made a name for herself as being, basically, the only ultra successful female action film director. With a list of films to her credit that includes Near Dark, Point Break, and the critical and commercial misfire K-19, The Widowmaker, Bigelow has spent over twenty years building her name in the industry with films that have been successful, whether that be commercially, critically, or both. Bigelow returns to form, after some time off, with The Hurt Locker, a film about a small unit of soldiers whose job is to disarm bombs planted by terrorists in Iraq, circa 2004.

Jeremy Renner plays the death wish loving Sergeant Williams, with Anthony Mackie as Sanborn and Brian Geraghty as Eldridge, the junior officer who's ability to deal with the war is breaking down as Williams keeps putting them in more and more risk. Williams is one of these guys who has nothing to lose, or at least feels like he doesn't. He has a wife and newborn at home, but whenever he calls them, he refuses to talk, leaving his wife, on the other end, wondering if its him before he hangs up. Sanborn and Eldridge, after having seen their previous Sergeant die before their eyes, are not about to let Sanborn take them down with him.

The Hurt Locker is a singularity among most current war films, in that it doesn't really make a judgement call on whether our involvement in Iraq is good or bad. It simply follows a group of soldiers who have one of the most difficult, most intense jobs in the entire world, and how that affects who they are, both physically and mentally. It is tense, and when Bigelow tightens the strings, she doesn't let up. She obviously has the pedigree to make these kinds of films, but, by the time Hurt Locker is over, there is no second guessing.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

David Carradine found dead

From the AP - 

BANGKOK – Actor David Carradine, star of the 1970s TV series "Kung Fu" who also had a wide-ranging career in the movies, has been found dead in the Thai capital, Bangkok. A news report said he was found hanged in his hotel room and was believed to have committed suicide.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, Michael Turner, confirmed the death of the 72-year-old actor. He said the embassy was informed by Thai authorities that Carradine died either late Wednesday or early Thursday, but he could not provide further details out of consideration for his family.

The Web site of the Thai newspaper The Nation cited unidentified police sources as saying Carradine was found Thursday hanged in hisluxury hotel room.

It said Carradine was in Bangkok to shoot a movie and had been staying at the hotel since Tuesday.

The newspaper said Carradine could not be contacted after he failed to appear for a meal with the rest of the film crew on Wednesday, and that his body was found by a hotel maid at 10 a.m. Thursday morning. The name of the movie was not immediately available.

It said a preliminary police investigation found that he had hanged himself with a cord used with the room's curtains. It cited police as saying he had been dead at least 12 hours and there was no sign that he had been assaulted.

police officer at Bangkok's Lumpini precinct station would not confirm the identity of the dead man to The Associated Press, but said the luxury Swissotel Nai Lert Park hotel had reported that a male guest killed himself there.

Carradine was a leading member of a venerable Hollywood acting family that included his father, character actor John Carradine, and brother Keith.

In all, he appeared in more than 100 feature films with such directors as Martin ScorseseIngmar Bergmanand Hal Ashby.

But he was best known for his role as Kwai Chang Caine, a Shaolin priest traveling the 1800s American frontier West in the TV series "Kung Fu," which aired in 1972-75.

He reprised the role in a mid-1980s TV movie and played Caine's grandson in the 1990s syndicated series "Kung Fu: The Legend Continues."

He returned to the top in recent years as the title character in Quentin Tarantino's two-part saga "Kill Bill."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Thoughts on the season finale of Breaking Bad

Note - There are spoilers involved in this post. If you haven't watched the Season 2 finale of Breaking Bad, and you are planning on doing so, don't read this post.

So, a couple of days ago I watched the season finale of one of the coolest shows on TV - Breaking Bad. The season felt like it had really been building up to a boiling point, with the opening of the season starting with Tucco going insane and kidnapping Walt and Jesse, and has gotten progressively more intense. One of the things that I loved was how they had been setting up something at the beginning of almost every episode - a black and white mystery of visual puzzle pieces that you just knew was going to revealed in the final episode. 

So, needless to say, Sunday was a highly anticipated night for me, but... I was left disappointed. First of all, the show was only an hour long. I'm sorry, but you could have easily have had a two hour episode (a la Lost), and had plenty to say to keep it interesting. The whole episode felt very anti-climactic. Skylar didn't seem to care about any of the stuff that had happened during the last two seasons, until Walt, under pain medication responds to her question "Where's your cell phone?" by saying "Which one?". Really? After all she went through to try and figure out if he had a second phone in the first place, and had finally got to a point where she accepted the idea that he didn't, and then she just totally freaks out when, under mind altering conditions, he infers that one exists? Just seems like they're stretching it a little... 

It felt like Walt Jr. was, somehow, under used... I don't know, it just felt like he should have had more to do in that episode. I loved the fact that we saw more of John de Lancie's character Donald, but I wish we could have seen even MORE of him. Who is he, really? I mean, other than Jane's father. I loved, in the second to last episode, how Walt and Donald ended up in that bar together, talking, without ever understanding who the other one was. I wish there would have been another meeting like that, and then, maybe, in season 3, they find out who the other is (I don't know... maybe that's cheesy...). 

I did like everything with Jesse, though. For the first time, I felt like we really saw him as a 3D character. He was always, sort of, the same for the last two seasons, and now, we finally see him breaking apart when the one person, the only person, he cares about dies.

But what really pushed me over the edge - the fact that all of those puzzle pieces they had been setting up during the whole season amounted to almost nothing that really had to do with Walt or Jesse, or Walt's family, or anything really related to drugs. When you find out that its a mid-air collision, and all of the stuff you were counting on to be some crazy thing that goes wrong, turns out to be something horrible, mind you, but still not related to Walt.

So, it was disappointing. Not horrible, but disappointing. BUT, the whole season was pretty good, so, I guess we can forgive the finale for not being quite up to snuff. Just a quick note to Vince Gilligan, though - Vince, next season, let's end it with a bang!

Saturday, April 25, 2009


With a film like Valkyrie one is left to ask... Why? What is the point of this movie? To give Tom Cruise another "hero" role? It's a historical "thriller", but, the problem remains that it is based on one of the most known events in all of history - Hitler's fate during World War II. So... What exactly is "thrilling" about it?

Tom Cruise plays Claus Von Stauffenberg, a Colonel who has come to the realization that Hitler is completely off of his rocker and is leading the German's to certain failure in this World War. After loosing an arm, an eye, and just generally getting BTFU in Africa, Stauffenberg returns to Germany to take a cush desk job, where he meets several soldiers and politico's who are trying desperately to figure out a way to kill Hitler, and disperse the SS. 

The problem with many of these films is that they are, ultimately, a lot more interesting as History Channel documentary's. At least in that format, their usually only an hour and a half long (commercials pop them up to two), and their not full of pointless and self important "drama" between characters that you never really get to know, and never really get to care about. Valkyrie was like watching paint dry, because, you already know what's going to happen - Hitler doesn't die. It would be like if James Cameron's blockbuster didn't flesh out the relationship between Jack and Rose, and actually tried to keep you in suspense as to whether the Titanic sinks or not. Bryan Singer, probably best known for the first two X-Men films, just didn't pull it off for me. I never felt interested in any of the characters, least of all Stauffenberg, and I found myself not really caring whether they succeeded at their plan or not (even though I knew they wouldn't). I think, on all counts, they just, flat out, made an uninteresting film, which seems to be happening more and more as the World War II film keeps coming back with a vengeance... It's like the Police Academy of genres... Maybe, someday, if we're all lucky, people will just let it go for a while, and, like Western's, we'll get a decent one every couple of years.

The Wrestler

Darren Aronofsky is one of THOSE kind of filmmakers. You know the type - The filmmaker that only releases something every once in a while (whether out of necessity or preference), and when they do, you end up salivating over the very thought of it for months before it comes out, and when you do, finally, get to see it, it usually fulfills all the expectations you had for it. With The Wrestler, Aronofsky doesn't disappoint.

The Wrestler is the story of Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a one time WWF style super star, who fell out of fame, and out of money, and now subsists on working odd jobs, wrestling on the B-circuit, and the occasional convention, where he sells memorabilia and autographs. He is a man with an undying passion, a passion that he is so dedicated too, he lets all other things in his life go by the way side.  But, when the Ram starts facing undeniable health problems, he begins to realize that he may not have as much time ahead of him as he thought, and now, in his middle age, it may be time to right some of the wrongs of his life and leave wrestling behind.

Mickey Rourke does an amazing job as The Ram. You sense every ounce of pain and nostalgia for his previous life seeping out of Robinson because of the parallels between The Ram's story and Rourke's own. Marisa Tomei is electric as the aging stripper who decides to take a chance on letting this lonely, broken man into her life, and Evan Rachel Wood is undeniable as Ram's daughter, who was abandoned in her youth, and who Ram is trying to rebuild his relationship with.

Aronofsky is a character guy. He's one of the best there is. He brings these people to life so fully and so realistically, that you never once feel like one is there simply to push the plot along. I mean, let's face it, the plot of The Wrestler is not exactly anything new, but Aronofsky builds his film in such a meaningful and heartfelt way that it doesn't matter. You feel like your meeting these characters for the first time, and you are sucked into their world. The Wrestler is beautiful - In the way it's acted, in the way it's directed, in the way it's shot. In every way, it is a must see.

The Definers is on IndieGoGo

Sorry it has been so long since I've posted. A lot of work stuff has been going on, but that has also been tempered with a fair amount of laziness towards this blog... Oh well. Time to play catch up.

Just to let you know, I have started an IndieGoGo page for Schusterfilms. The Definers is up on it, so, should you feel the need (and I would be ever so appreciative of you if you would, fine reader), hop on over, check it out, and consider donating to make independent film happen. You can donate any amount, and any amount is appreciated.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Shawn Morrison's "Forever's Not So Long"

This is one of the funniest and most endearing shorts I have ever seen. So good. Hope you like it -

Forever's Not So Long from garrettmurray on Vimeo.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

John Henry Summerour's "Chickamauga"

I recently saw this on Vimeo. It's really cool. Love the story, the cinematography, the editing... everything. Hope you like it - 

Chickamauga from Miky Wolf on Vimeo.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Me Right Now - Romero Weekend

I wanted to put this up right when I got back, but, unfortunately, I got sick, and then got caught up in a lot of other work that needed to be done. In February, I went to Charlotte to visit my good friends Wes and Kathryn, and attend "American Zombie - George A. Romero's Film Revolution", a Romero retrospective. Now, while I had to miss some of the lesser known stuff (I could only go to certain things because I was on a budget), I did get to attend the Night of the Living Dead screening, as well as the One on One with Romero, and the Dawn of the Dead screening, which had a Q&A with George, as well. He's a great guy. Really funny, really down to earth, and full of so much amazing information. 

If I can take one second to gripe about something, though, it would be this - The Light Factory and Reel Soul Cinema did an amazing job at putting this whole event together except for one thing - They showed DVD's of the movie! When your having a retrospective of someone's work, you ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY, NEVER EVER EVER EVER show something on a DVD unless that is the way the artist intended it to be seen, or a print is impossible to come by. To add insult to injury, during the Dawn of the Dead screening, the person working the DVD player in the projection booth of a VERY fancy theater, couldn't even turn the commentary off! It took almost half an hour for them to figure out how, while the audience was yelling instructions from the theater... Point being - always show a print, unless you absolutely can't.

Anyways, here's the footage that I shot with my little Canon SD1000 pocket camera - 

Me Right Now - Romero Weekend from Stewart Schuster on Vimeo.

Monday, January 26, 2009


I had reservations about going to see Frost/Nixon. I wondered whether or not the film would hold my interest, seeing as how it has to do with a subject that always felt, to me, like it would be more important to those that lived through it, than to those of us that were not even born when these events were happening. It has been getting raves, though, and I thought I'd give it a shot. I went to a VERY early show, expecting few if any people to be there, but was, instead, greeted by a throng of movie goers, all of whom were probably twenty to thirty years older than I was, and would have at least been kids when these events happened, if not young adults.

Frost/Nixon is the very simple story of David Frost, a British TV personality, and his quest to get an interview with the newly out of office President Nixon, who was forced to resign to avoid impeachment because of the Watergate scandal. It follows Michael Sheen (who played Tony Blair in The Queen), as David Frost, and Frank Langella as Nixon (reprising his role from the stage play that this film was based on). The two square off, with Nixon seeing Frost as an adversary, an opponent to be fought and to conquer, and Frost seeing Nixon as his ticket to a journalistic gold mine (even if it costs him everything).

Ron Howard directs the film that, as I said earlier, was based on a stage play of the same name. The film is masterfully put together, feeling like the 1970's every bit of the way. Langella is perfect as Nixon and Michael Sheen shines as the excited, but crumbling Frost, whose world is coming together and falling apart at the same time. Fantastic supporting roles by Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon, and Sam Rockwell, make Frost/Nixon into a film that seems like it is the final word on the events that happened during that bleak time in American history when this country's people were no longer sure if they could trust the presidency, and that is really where Frost/Nixon's genius lies - It's a film about an event that took place some thirty odd years ago, yet the parallels between Nixon's administration and George W. Bush's administration are worn, tastefully, on the sleeve of this film. The boiling point is, of course, when Nixon is challenged by Frost in the last part of his interview about the President doing things that are illegal, and Nixon retorts to Frost "What I'm saying is, if the President does it, that means it is not illegal". Wow... Howard hit the nail of our last president right on the head.

The Spirit

How bad can a movie that is based on a classic comic book series, AND has Scarlett Johansson (the most beautiful woman in the world, as declared by the writer of this blog) in it be? Pretty bad. Frank Miller's big screen adaptation of Will Eisner's The Spirit is a wreck. With a boring plot, a villian so over the top and ridiculous that he's just annoying, and jokes that fall flat EVERY time, The Spirit is a film that should have never seen the light of day. Miller seems to use every filmmaking tidbit he may have learned from Robert Rodriguez during the making of Sin City, but he seems to have forgotten one thing - a great movie is all about a great story.

I don't know enough about The Spirit to be able to say whether or not the story was lifted frame by frame from one of the comics (like Sin City was), but I will say that, if it was, it shouldn't have been. You have to figure one thing - A comic, created in the 1940's, that hasn't been popular in fifty some odd years, might need some sort of update to it to make it meaningful to todays audience. The whole thing was idiotic and I just didn't care about it the whole time I was watching it. In fact, the only two interesting things in the film was Scarlett and Eva Mendes (Sorry ladies, but you don't get much eye candy, unless your a fan of both Gabriel Macht AND Samuel L. Jackson).

Honestly, I would say don't waste your time with this one. Of course, by the time of this writing, I don't think its even in theaters anymore, but don't buy it or even rent it on DVD. If its on TV, then watch it, but don't waste your hard earned cash in any other way on The Spirit.


Doubt is one of those power house films. You know the kind - it usually a period piece (meaning it takes place in a different time than now), it involves subject matter that is equally relevant to today as it was to the time it takes place in, and stars a lot of award winning actors. Boasting four Oscar nominated actors in lead roles (Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams). In fact, Doubt is the kind of movie that screams - Come and watch me! Even if the plot isn't that great, you know you'll at least get great performances!

The film centers around Sister James (Adams) and Sister Aloysius (Streep). Sister James is a teacher at a local NYC Catholic school, where Sister Aloysius presides as the stern, take no prisoners principal. She's the kind of woman all of the students are afraid of, while Adams' Sister James is much more light hearted and loving person. They both work with Father Flynn (Hoffman), who oversees the local parish, and teaches gym class at the school. When a young boy named Donald Miller (played by Joseph Foster) is called into a private meeting with Father Flynn, Sister James expects that some wrong may have been visited on Donald by Father Flynn (they never say it, but the insinuation is molestation). Sister Aloysius, having heard Sister James's concerns, makes it her mission, with absolutely no evidence, to nail Father Flynn to the wall for what he may, or may not, have done.

Doubt is a good film. Adapted from his stage play, writer/director John Patrick Shanley brings several amazing actors together to express the realities of living life in doubt of those around you and doubt in their capacity to do only good. Adams' performance as the eternally optimistic Sister James, whose very faith is shaken to the core by this whole incident, is noteworthy, as well as Viola Davis's performance as a mother trying to protect her son long enough for him to be able find his bearings before he is thrust out into the harsh reality of a world that will hate him on multiple levels for what he is (this is the 1960's, you must remember, when many prejudices were still the norm). Philip Seymour Hoffman creates a masterful performance as Father Flynn, never revealing the truth and leaving everyone, in the end, to wonder what, if anything, happened. Streep, as Sister Aloysius, is terrifying. Shanley has done an amazing job at translating his play to the big screen, though their are moments when you really do see how pieces of the story meant for the stage did not exactly translate as well onto the big screen. I enjoyed watching this film, and that's why I said it good, but not great. Honestly, I'm note sure I would be overly excited about watching it again, but it was good to see for the first time.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Gran Torino

Clint Eastwood has been the resident Hollywood bad ass for most of his working career. Is it any surprise that his (supposedly) last acting role would be as an aging bad ass who must reconcile the mistakes he has made in his life trying to live up to that image?

Gran Torino follows Eastwood as Walt Kowolski, a recently widowed curmudgeon who lives in an old neighborhood in or around Detroit, that is decaying, and has been over run by immigrants (whom Walt does not look highly upon). After a young Asian boy who lives next door, Thao, tries to steal Walt's cherry '72 Ford Gran Torino to gain entrance into a gang, Walt takes Thao and his sister, Sue, under his wing and tries to teach them about the American work ethic and way of life, while they teach him the beauty and importance of their Asian culture. When Thao is hassled by the gang that he failed to win initiation into, Walt takes it upon himself to protect the family. But, can one elderly man really protect anyone from a gang of machine gun toting thugs?

Gran Torino is laced, from start to finish, with racial epithet's and anyone who is sensitive to this will probably want to sit this film out. That being said, Gran Torino is truly amazing. As Eastwood's last acting stand (and, possibly, his last film period), it stands as a testament to a man who has, from the beginning, made an effort to always be creating, always be learning, always be strengthening. It is a truly American story, about those who were born American, and those sworn into being American, learning from each other and trying to make a better society. It is also a story of a man letting go of his past, of all the Asian faces whose lives he put in end to in Korea, of putting an end to the hatred he was programmed with in order to allow him to do so. It is probably the closest thing to a masterpiece of filmmaking dealing with the here and now that Eastwood has ever made.

Four Christmases

Vince Vaughn pretty much plays the same kind of guy in every comedy he's in, but, I don't care. He's hilarious, and he definitely doesn't disappoint in Four Christmases. Seth Gordon's comedy about a couple seeking to avoid the pitfalls of marriage, and dealing with their "crazy" family's, is one romcom that I could not stop laughing and enjoying from start to finish.

Reese Witherspoon plays Kate, and Vince Vaughn plays Brad. The two are inseperably in love, but believe that getting married will bring on all kinds of bad mojo into their relationship. They have a tradition of skipping out on their families each year (both come from divorced homes), and telling their relatives they are going on some kind of humanitarian mission, while secretly going to some sort of island paradise. When the fog in their home town of San Francisco keeps them grounded, and their family's see them on the news, they're cover is blown, and they get sucked into attending a Christmas with each mom and dad. As the day goes on, they face some of the most hilarious family situations they can, and end up questioning their relationship.

Four Christmases is a hilarious look at family, tradition, and the sacrifices that we make for each other. It's a movie that say's, in a subtle and funny way, that we all end up look like idiots sometimes, do embarrassing things sometimes, do mean things sometimes, but it is our love for each other that brings us through. Vaughn delivers non-stop hilarity, as always, and, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I really liked Reese Witherspoon. She's usually in throw away movies that I could care less about, but she held her own here, and I am looking forward to see her in higher caliber stuff.