Friday, June 25, 2010

Double Indemnity

What do you get when you throw Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler on the same film? You get lines like “How could I have known that murder can sometimes smell like honeysuckle?” and one of the most compelling film noirs ever to grace the screen.

Set in Los Angeles, Walter Neff is a niaeve insurance sales man who calls on the wrong house. When he makes his call to the Dietrichson residence to try to talk Mr. Dietrichson into renewing his auto policy he encounters Mrs. Dietrichson and becomes enamored, soon the two create a lovers plot to murder Mr. Dietrichson and scam Walter’s company, by taking out accident insurance and utilizing the double indemnity clause on it, getting paid twice the normal policy amount after Dietrichson’s death. However, murder is no easy game and before long the coconspirators find themselves embroiled in a plot they can’t see an escape from and begin to do anything to keep from ending up in a gas chamber for their crime.

Double Indemnity is one of the finest films Billy Wilder, or anyone in the cast ever made. This film is pitch perfect from the ghostly opening credits to the very end and delivers every twist, turn and foul move with the deft and confidence only a premiere director like Wilder could deliver.

This film speaks to Wilder’s skill because no single major character in this film is remotely sympathetic, and yet you end up caring about their fate. Walter Neff is a good guy gone bad for a dame, a sin he can’t be forgiven for, and from the moment you see Phyllis Dietrichson walk into frame you know that she is Eve’s sin wrapped up with a bow. No one is innocent in this film.

I believe I’ve said it before, but part of where the magic of a Billy Wilder film lies is the timelessness of his stories. Even though this film is set in post-war Los Angles, the script could be taken, set in any major city in a contemporary setting and could work nearly verbatim as a modern picture. Wilder made stories whose plots didn’t revolve on technology, politics or personalities specific to his era; he made stories that were based in universal human emotions – love, greed, lust, wealth and relationships – the rest was incidental.

It’s said by Wilder himself that Chandler had problems adapting to screenplay writing. However, I cannot emphasize enough that the dialogue in this screenplay drips of the tongues of the actors in a way only the writing of Raymond Chandler could. It is lush, fast and complicated forcing the viewer to pay as much attention to the nuances of what the characters are saying as they are to the actions the characters are performing.

Double Indemnity stands high on the list of films I want to aspire to. If I could capture the artistic verve that Wilder & Chandler put into this film, I could put a story on screen that audiences wouldn’t be able to rip their eyes away from. That my friends is a lofty directorial goal.

Director: Billy Wilder
Writers: Billy Wilder & Raymond Chandler
Walter Neff: Fred MacMurray
Phyllis Dietrichson: Barbara Stanwyck
Barton Keyes: Edward G. Robinson
Lola Dietrichson: Jean Heather
Mr. Dietrichson: Tom Powers

Walter Neff: That was all there was to it.Nothing had slipped, nothing had been overlooked.There was nothing to give us away. And yet, Keyes, as I was walking down the street to the drugstore, suddenly, it came over me that everything would go wrong. It sounds crazy Keyes, but it's true, so help me, I couldn't hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

(500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer
Originally uploaded by swingcopate
Let me start by saying I totally didn’t mean to watch all of (500) Days of Summer again. Really. I didn’t. It’s just that the movie kind of draws you in. You see, I wanted to reference something from the opening of the film, so I popped it in, watched what I needed and started to work on something else while it will still playing and the next thing I knew I was multi-tasking: watching (500) Days of Summer and working. I fully intended to stop the film and put in another movie on my list and suddenly I was more than half-way through the film and you can’t just stop the movie after you’ve invested all that time. You just can’t.

Marc Webb. What have you done to me?

Tom: Did you ever do this, you think back on all the times you've had with someone and you just replay it in your head over and over again and you look for those first signs of trouble?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Originally uploaded by funkybrownchick
Uncertainty is a film that I shouldn’t have liked, it’s a film that shouldn’t have worked – but it does. It’s the kind of film a film professor of mine would have yelled at us for trying to make, he would have told us it’s too conceptual, too vague and lacked creativity. I hope he saw this film and ate his words.

The reason this film shouldn’t work & I shouldn’t like it is that it’s one of the most conceptual films I’ve ever seen. The premise of the film is in the name - Uncertainty. This is a film about a young couple, Kate & Bobby, who at the beginning of the film stand on the Brooklyn Bridge debating what to do on their fourth of July holiday. They can’t decide and so they flip a coin. What follows is two distinctly different films merged into one – in one scenario Bobby & Kate stay in the city, find a stray cell phone and end up running for their lives; in the other scenario they go to see Kate’s family and encounter the family dynamic that involves.

After seeing the second season of Project: Greenlight I was not a fan of directing teams, but for Uncertainty the pair of Scott McGehee & David Siegel works beautifully. As there are two completely different stories, the pair each tackles one series of events. The result is two plots that visually exist in the same story but each have a defined color palette, style and signature. It’s visually arresting and fun to watch how the two stories are cut together into one cohesive film, a film that is at once an interesting story on the surface and a metaphor for choices and the internal battle we go through in making them.

I can’t imagine how this was to conquer as actors for Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Lynn Collins. While Kate & Bobby are still the same characters – a young couple struggling with life decisions that will affect their relationships – the stresses each plot puts them under is entirely different. It’s a testament to the actors and directors that what ends up on screen is distinct and blended into a film that ultimately leaves you thinking about the characters future as the credits roll.

I don’t know a lot about the production of this film, so I don’t know if McGehee & Siegel intend to continue working together in the future, but Uncertainty intrigued me enough that it will likely be added to my collection before long and I will definitely see any projects they put out in the future.

Directors & Writers: Scott McGehee & David Siegel
Bobby: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Kate: Lynn Collins

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Vanishing Point

As Vanishing Point drew to a close the first thought that struck me is that this movie is Easy Rider with a car. The story of an ex-cop/pro-driver who for no reason is in process of a car delivery and decides to piss off the law and run the police all over the desert, uniting the outcasts of society on his way – it’s counter-culture a few years post it’s death, a death that was shown in Easy Rider.

The character that makes the whole movie work is Super Soul. He’s a DJ out at a desert radio station, and he becomes the unofficial narrator of the piece. He discovers Kowalski’s flight from the police via an illegal scanner and begins to broadcast Kowalski’s progress to all his listeners. Super Soul turns Kowalski into the last heroic soul there is, escaping the law, searching for the last vestiges of freedom in the west and gets the remaining dregs of counter-culture, hidden throughout the desert on Kowalski’s side.

If you’re looking for a deep plot, layers of metaphor and a full-fledged character arch Vanishing Point is probably not the film for you. Easy Rider does a lot more of that than this film. However, Vanishing Point does have its place among films from that influential decade of the 1970’s. This is one of the first macho car films. This is a loving whisper to the faded adventure of the golden west.

What Vanishing Point did for me more than anything is make me want a Dodge Challenger. This car is put through hell and back in Vanishing Point and I swear, by the end of the film the car achieves sex symbol status. Anything that can take a beating like that and keep on ticking is worth driving.

Director: Richard C. Sarafian
Writer: Guillermo Cabrea Infante
Kowalski: Barry Newman
Super Soul: Cleavon Little

Super Soul: And there goes the Challenger, being chased by the blue, blue meanies on wheels. The vicious traffic squad cars are after our lone driver, the last American hero, the electric centaur, the, the demi-god, the super driver of the golden west! Two nasty Nazi cars are close behind the beautiful lone driver. The police numbers are gettin' closer, closer, closer to our soul hero, in his soul mobile, yeah baby! They about to strike. They gonna get him. Smash him. Rape... the last beautiful free soul on this planet.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Women In Trouble

Women In Trouble is an interesting little film by Sebastian Gutierrez. It’s the interwoven tale of several groups of women having a bad day in the Los Angeles area; porn star Elektra Luxx finds out she’s pregnant and ends up stuck in an elevator during a heat wave with Doris who is struggling with her sister Addy & niece Charlotte; Charlotte is seeing her mother’s shrink and Addy is seeing the shrink’s husband; two prostitutes run into the distraught shrink and help her get drunk to drown her sorrows; meanwhile in the air two flight attendants deal with Nick Chapel – Elektra’s boyfriend & a high profile rock star.

The obvious comparison here is to Perdo Almodovar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, but I don’t think this was Gutierrez’s full intention –his film may be more homage than American remake. While the cast of distraught female characters is there, and a bit of a quirky artistic flare, I do think that Gutierrez was trying to make a artistic statement about a day in the lives of these women in a difficult environment.

I’ve read a few reviews that based Women In Trouble for being a horrible depiction of women – hookers, porn stars, victims & dumb blondes. While I do agree that these women are all an extreme I didn’t find this offensive and I am a woman. To serve this film justice the characters in this film needed to be pretty extreme – otherwise it would have to be a serious drama like Far From Heaven or Revolutionary Road instead of being quirkily upbeat. Besides, if you’ve spent any time at all in LA – you’ve seen plenty of women like all of these women – even the naive shrink and too world-wise child.

All in all I enjoyed the quirky pace of this film. I’ll probably check out the sequel Elektra Luxx when it makes it’s way to me. Gutierrez painted a unique enough world that I would not mind visiting it again and finding out what happened to Elektra after the credits rolled.

Director & Writer: Sebastian Gutierrez
Elektra Luxx: Carla Gugino
Holly Rocket: Adrianne Palicki
Doris: Connie Britton
Addy: Caitlin Keats
Charlotte: Isabella Gutierrez
Travis McPherson: Simon Baker
Maxine McPherson: Sarah Clarke
Bambi: Emmanuelle Chriqui
Cora: Marley Shelton
Nick Chapel: Josh Brolin
Bert Rodriguez: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 (2010)
Originally uploaded by chicofireman2
As an adult I feel a bit silly saying that Toy Story 3 made me cry, but as a fan of the films since I was a child it’s completely understandable why Pixar would be able to tap into my emotions and use a product and characters I had grown up with in a poignant way.

This adventure for Andy’s toys revolves around the fact that Andy is no longer a child, he’s going off to college in a week and though Buzz, Woody and most of his childhood toys are still around they don’t know what their fate will be. When Andy’s Mom accidently donates the toys instead of storing them in the attic they assume Andy wanted to throw them out and refuse to follow Woody home in time to see Andy leave. Buzz, Sally & the rest end up trapped at the Sunny Side Day care Center under the eye of Lotso – a toy bear who rules the day care with an iron fist.

What I appreciate about the Toy Story series as an adult is that each film is a metaphor for a stage of life. The first film was about accepting a new member of your family, the second about a midlife crisis, and the third installment is about aging – they’re a beautiful message about family and love. I could write pages about the layer of meaning and metaphor in the films, and I do believe Pixar is able to pack so much meaning, fun and emotion into every film simply because of the way they make their films – doing draft after draft of visual and story before the final animation process ever begins.

While Toy Story 3 didn’t make me emotional the same way the story of Ellie & Carl did in Up there were two definite moments in the film that got me. The first was near the beginning when Woody and the toys discuss their missing friends; Woody claims they’ve gone on to new homes at garage sales, but any viewer who’s paid attention knows they are actually characters whose voice actor has died. The second emotional moment, that did make me tear up, occurs in the last scene of the film. I won’t discuss it here as it would be a spoiler but it has to do with Andy not being a kid any more.

I still can’t believe that I’ve literally grown up with Toy Story. It seems like just a few years ago I was a kid going with my brothers to see the first movie, but here I am now, a young director trying to make movies that impact others they way movies like Toy Story have impacted me.

Director: Lee Unkrich
Writers: Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich
Woody: Tom Hanks
Buzz Lightyear: Tim Allen
Jessie: Joan Cusack
Lotso: Ned Beatty
Mr. Potato Head: Don Rickles
Ken: Michael Keaton
Rex: Wallace Shawn
Hamm: John Ratzenberger
Mrs. Potato Head: Estelle Harris
Andy: John Morris
Barbie: Jodi Benson
Bonnie: Emily Hahn
Andy’s Mom: Laurie Metcalf

Sergeant: We've done our duty. Andy's grown up.
Soldier: Let's face it. When the trash bags come out, we army guys are the first to go.
Buzz Lightyear: Trash bags?
Woody: Who said anything about trash bags?
Sergeant: It has been an honor serving with you. Good luck, folks.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Brick (2005)
Originally uploaded by ∆P
I clearly remember the day in 2006 when my brother and I decided to see Brick. We didn’t know a lot about the film, except it was a detective film, was a hit at Sundance, and starred the kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun. This was why I was taken a bit back when I purchased my ticket and was handed a small Brick thesaurus. Needless to say, I was intrigued and frightened. What unfolded for me over the next two hours is still one of the single most inspiring films I’ve ever seen.

Set in a non-descript California high school, Brick is the tale of a young man, Brendan who answers the plea for help from his ex-girlfriend Emily. When he finds Emily’s body, Brendan is wracked with guilt because he did not act fast enough and decides to start shaking things up. As Brendan investigates the last few months of Emily’s life he unearths the shady underbelly of his city that he’s avoided and gets wrapped up with the Pin a local drug dealer, his main muscle Tug, and Laura who may or may not be on his side. As Brendan works through the mysteries surrounding Emily he gets pulled deeper into a void that he tries to keep from spiraling out of control and consuming him the way it consumed Emily.

If you haven’t experienced Brick yet, I cannot urge you enough to find it. This film is Rian Johnson’s feature directorial debut, and let me tell you it has rocketed him to the top of my list of director’s to watch. Brick was made for next to nothing in terms of budgets, but Johnson used every resource available to him, filled the cast with young but impeccable talent, and filled the screen with compelling visuals and uses writing and dialogue the way a painter uses oils. It’s a beautiful thing.

Brick works so well because it’s a hard boiled film noir that chooses not to worry about paying homage to its roots. When the story already has drugs, crime, a femme fatale and an anti-hero there’s enough going on that Johnson knew directly referencing any noir would be like hitting the nail on the head – too hard. Instead you are ushered into an odd setting for a noir, a contemporary high school and given all of the pieces of the puzzle as Brendan is given them and the journey is what drives the homage and the viewing experience.

I can’t get out of talking about Brick without showering some praise on the man that brings Brendan to life – Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Brendan is the role that landed Gordon-Levitt on the map of young actors to watch and provided a solid foundation for the years that have passed since; though he is young Gordon-Levitt doesn’t have to worry about a pay check and instead has chosen to appear in films that he selects based on content – this has kept him out of the trap of making work just to eat. In this, as with most of his films, Gordon-Levitt disappears into the role and what makes the skill involved here most believable is that the complex dialogue rolls off his tongue as if it were second nature. This is quite a feat on a film as unique as Brick.

I’ll finish up by saying it again, find this movie. Sooner rather than later. Maybe like me you’ll want to drive down to San Clemente and explore the sights you recognize from the movie too.

Director & Writer: Rian Johnson
Brendan: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Laura: Nora Zehtner
The Pin: Lukas Has
Tug: Noah Fleiss
The Brain: Matt O’Leary
Emily: Emilie de Ravin
Dode: Noah Segan
Kara: Megan Goode

Brendan: Throw one at me if you want, hash head. I've got all five senses and I slept
last night, that puts me six up on the lot of you.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

500 Days of Summer

500 Days of Summer
Originally uploaded by Profound Whatever
500 Days of Summer might be one of the most unique romantic films since When Harry Met Sally. Instead of being a story about boy meets girl and they live happily ever after, you find out moments into the film that this is the story of boy meets girl, but boy lost girl. As main character Tom wallows in his break-up from Summer the film jumps around the days in their relationship, exploring the good and the bad working its way until Tom makes peace with the relationship he had and lost.

As someone that’s used a time device to tell a story let me say first that making a non-linear film is hard. Trying to find a device that the audience will understand and stil be able to create a flow and development for the characters is tough – Marc Webb does an excellent job of jumping through time with 500 Days of Summer and never losing Tom and the core of who he is. Of course, as much as this is a compliment to the screenplay and direction, kudos must also be given to Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays Tom.

Gordon-Levitt is a new entry onto the list of actors I adore and want to work with. He’s always been hovering around that list, but I’ve rewatched a few of his films lately and they have firmly planted him on my list. Gordon-Levitt has a way about his craft that throws him in with the greats; he melts into his characters so that you can’t distinguish the acting from the actor – he becomes the character in a way that makes you as a viewer expect that’s who he is in real life, no matter if he’s playing a former whiz kid with a memory issues (The Lookout) or lovelorn Tom (500 Days of Sumemr). The bottom line is that this guy can act and luckily for those of us that have been watching him since Third Rock from the Sun we’ve gotten to be a part of his journey into being a new Hollywood player.

What sells 500 Days of Summer as a quirky romance-drama-comedy is the fact that together the cast and Marc Webb are able to take on every tonal shift throughout the film without missing a beat, making each of them feel as real and genuine as the what comes before and after them. While I feel this film firmly has it’s tonal feet planted in reality, I would have to say that my favorite scene is the one that follows the first time Tom spends the night with Summer. If you haven’t seen the film the scene involves a blissful Tom walking through the city, getting cheered on by the reflection of Han Solo, cartoon birds landing on his shoulder and a full on musical/dance sequence in the park. This doesn’t seem possible when I’ve described the film as being planted in reality does it? You’re going to have to trust me on this one, as Gordon-Levitt & Webb have found the core of Tom’s character the scene works because it’s a world that Tom has created around him, and it’s the reason he falls so hard.

My Netflix queue is filling up as we speak with more of Gordon-Levitt’s films, so be prepared for what’s to come. I am fascinated with Gordon-Levitt and if the last few films of his are any indication of his body of work, there are going to be more positive reviews in the future of this blog – and he’s going to climb higher on my casting dream list.

Director: Marc Webb
Writers: Scott Neustadter & Michael Weber
Tom Hansen: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Summer Finn: Zooey Deschanel
McKenzie: Geoffrey Arend
Rachel Hansen: Chloe Moretz
Paul: Matthew Gray Gubler
Vance: Clark Gregg

Tom: What happens when you fall in love?
Summer: You believe in that?
Tom: It's love, it's not Santa Claus.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

True Blood: Season 2

Eric Northman
Originally uploaded by Vampire_Bill
I know True Blood is only two seasons along, but I have to say I am already interested to see where they might end. As faithful yet different to the books as season one was, season two ups the ante on adaptations and I have a feeling season three will do even more.

Season two of this HBO series deals with Sookie & Bill being called into Dallas to help Eric uncover what has happened to a vampire sheriff even older and stronger than he, and back in Bon Temps people are again being mysteriously murdered and the people of Bon Temps are caught up in the throes of hormones and their inhibitions have supernaturally disappeared. On the surface this is pretty similar to the book – at least the Dallas part of the scenario – but where the series manages to deviate, and improve upon the books is the series of events in Bon Temps.

First and foremost I cannot tell you how thrilled I am that Alan Ball chose to keep Lafayette around. In the books he’s the first victim in Living Dead in Dallas; Lafayette was an interesting character in Dead Until Dark (the only Sookie Stackhouse book he appeared in) but in True Blood Lafayette is downright fascinating. Alan Ball has a knack for taking characters that represent the outer fringes and making them downright essential. I can also tell you that Tara is a completely different character than she is in the book series and I couldn’t be happier for it. I’ve been reading the latest Sookie book (Dead in the Family) and I keep having to remind myself that this Tara is different than the Tara in True Blood - that’s a sign of good creative juices on Ball’s part no?

In regards to plot where season two of True Blood deviates the most is the storyline with Maryann Forester. While Maryann’s character is in the book, as is her need to create and feed off of debauchery I have to give one more point to Ball here. While the storyline in Living Dead in Dallas is entertaining the whole Bon Temps storyline kind of lost me – especially how Maryann eventually left Bon Temps.

For the series Maryann is a god-like creature who arrives in the happy town and decides to latch onto Tara, and instead of feeding off the debauchery already present in the town she creates it in order to facilitate the rituals she needs. Only Sookie and Sam sense something different and dangerous about Maryann and neither can do anything about her alone.

Perhaps the single coolest thing for me as an avid reader of the Sookie Stackhouse series is that for the first time in season two of True Blood we get to see Queen Sophie-Anne and Hadley. I won’t tell you how they become important in the series but just keep an eye out for them as you lucky people with HBO get to watch season three unfold before DVD.

Chow: How much blood do you think he's lost?
Pam: Oh, I still think he has something to offer.
Chow: I hate to let it all go to waste like this. Seems a shame we have to wait for Eric.
Pam: Well, maybe one day you'll be sheriff and you can make the rules.
Chow: I doubt that.
Pam: Me too.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


There is no imagination quite like the imagination of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Jeunet exploded onto the international scene with Amiele, a unique and visual wonder and has been watched ever since. I appreciate the films of Jeunet if for nothing else because my artist sensibility can’t picture scenes and the world the visual way he captures it – colors are different, textures unique, his characters are vibrant & odd – it’s complete and wonderful.

Micmacs is no exception to this rule. It is visually lavish and filled to the brim with quirks and oddities that would make Terry Gilliam jealous. The only thing that kept from from fully falling in love with this film is that it’s a message movie.

The basic concept of Micmacs is that Bazil lost his father to a land mine, and was accidently shot in the head during a drive-by shooting and when he finally finds the manufacturer of the bullets and the mine he decides to extract revenge. I’m not supporting war mongering, but I never got attached enough to Bazil to really care about his revenge, and therefore care about his message.

I think the ultimate problem for me with Micmacs came down to the fact that this film is a satire, and I think when translated into English it’s missing its initial and cultural punch. I felt like I was incapable of understanding the real humor because I wasn’t French – I couldn’t get the nuances of the language or the political situation. It took a google search alone today for me to figure out that the name itself is probably a joke; if I understand correctly Micmacs is a term for some indigenous group in French Canada, and the remaining title (which is deleted from translation in America) means “non-stop madness”.

Don’t misunderstand me, I enjoyed the film. There is nothing like taking a walk into a visually rich world that is so different than your own – I just feel like my cultural experiences kept me from understanding what I wanted to understand. I almost feel that I won’t be able to have a full and complete understanding until I do a lot of research on it.

What I did start wondering after Micmacs is how well our satires have translated into other countires. Did half of Europe see Thank You For Smoking and wonder why we thought it was funny? Or did they watch Tropic Thunder and not understand Simple Jack & the controversy behind an actor in black face? I’ll be pondering that issue for awhile.

Jeunet is still one of my favorite filmmakers, and I am still discovering his films. I highly recommend him to anyone that wants to see a fantastic voice outside American film. I would also like to know if anyone else watched Micmacs and had a similar feeling to mine, please chime in on your thoughts of the film.

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Writers: Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Guillaume Laurant
Bazil: Dany Boon

Monday, June 14, 2010

Billy Wilder Speaks

I am adamant that Billy Wilder is one of the best director’s to have ever lived. He has a filmography that would make Spielberg jealous: Stalag 17, Sabrina, The Apartment, Some Like It Hot, Love in the Afternoon, Ace in the Hole, Irma La Douce, Sunset Blvd. and a myriad of other films that I know you’ve heard of. Luckily for me, I found a little documentary on Netflix called Billy Wilder Speaks.

In this case, the documentary is exactly what the name might imply. The filmmakers piggybacked onto a series of interviews Wilder was doing for a book and filmed them with the proviso that they not do anything with the footage until Wilder was dead; Wilder was traditionally pretty secluded and thought the footage would embarrass him if released while he was alive. I have to say I think this was a beautiful yet simple film that gave me the best present I could have asked for – a trip into Billy Wilder’s thoughts.

For just over an hour the film is a series of conversations with Wilder in both English and German, talking about his life, his films and why he made the works he did. Perhaps the tidbit that made me feel the best was when Wilder told of how the day before he was to start his directorial debut The Major & the Minor he went to Ernst Lubitsch his friend and mentor and admitted to him he was scared out of his mind; Lubitsch turned right back at Wilder and said that even though he’d made over seventy films he was still terrified on the first day of every one of them.

This is the kind of candid talk you can’t get from a press conference or an interview and it was wonderful for me to hear it out of the mouth of one of the filmmakers I respect the most.

I’m sure Billy Wilder Speaks is not for everyone, but for those that it will appeal to it’s a gem. I only wish I could find my Cameron Crowe book Conversations with Wilder so that I could really make a weekend of immersing myself in Wilder’s mind.

Directors: Gisela Grischow & Volker Schlondorff

Bottle Shock

While this is probably not the intention of this movie, Bottle Shock makes me want to go to Nappa so badly it’s not even funny. It’s the entire reason that everytime I am in a wine store I look for wine from Cheatu Montelena. I’ve only found it once.

This movie is spectacular, joyous and unique. It makes me happy to be a Californian and an American and makes me want to learn about wine and it’s history.

I think the fact that this movie has pervasively wormed it’s way into my life like this speaks volumes for it’s quality. How many movies have done that to you that are just cheap & flashy?

The A-Team

When it comes to special ops no one is better than Col. Hannibal Smith and his A-Team – B.A., Face & Murdock. The four can tackle any challenge with a crazy plan and accomplish the mission goal with a minimal body count. While getting ready to leave Iraq they are presented with the ultimate final mission by the CIA – rescue US currency plates and millions in counterfit bills from the insurgents moving them. However, even though the A-team succeeds the are double crossed and end up wrongly imprisoned in separate military facilities biding their time until Hannibal gets his team out and starts them on a mission to clear their names.

I may have been too young when The A-Team initially aired to remember episodes very clearly, but what I can tell you without a doubt is that it was my FAVORITE show for a very long time; when I found out it was being made into a movie, I was a tad bit scared that a piece of my childhood would be ruined – I mean G.I. Joe was nothing more than stupid fun, and don’t even get me started on Transformers. However, let me tell you this - The A-Team totally rocks.

From the moment the film opens you are sucked into a high octane, high fun world of action, intrigue, loyalty and friendship. There is not an unused moment of this film – there is absolutely no down time. The characaters never pause and neither does the audience. This could sound exhausting, but I think it was only about thirty minutes into the film where I decided I had to see The A-Team again because I was having so much fun watching it. Joe Carnahan and team captured the essence of the television show and made it twice as much fun as I remember it being originally.

The best way to talk about why The A-Team rocked is to talk about the cast of characters, because the show and the film are nothing is not lead by an assortment of fun and entertaining individuals.

Liam Neeson plays Hannibal. I don’t remember much about Hannibal on the television show besides a lot of laughter and chomping on cigars, but I think a man that’s played gods and assassins is more than qualified to play the leader of an elite army unit. Neeson was a fantastic Hannibal, he was cocky, street-smart and ready for anything that hit his team.

Quinton Jackson take over the very recognizable role of B.A. – originated by Mr. T. While the movies version of his being added to the team may be a little thin at best, there is no doubt from the first shots that Jackson more than adequately fills Mr. T’s shoes – the only thing missing are the gold chains.

Sharlto Copley may have hit the international geek spotlight when he starred in District 9 but that alone did not make him a shoe-in for my favorite character of the series – Murdock. Yet Copley does Murdock proud, finding the fun and insanity in a character whose loyalty and irreverence make him one of the most vital reasons Hannibal’s plans work. Copley captures that essence that makes you wonder if Murdock is really mad, or is only playing it that way.

Then of course there is Bradley Cooper as Face. I loved Bradley Cooper the moment I first saw him during his brief residence on Alias and I have to tell you I am thrilled that he’s gotten to an A-List standpoint – pun intended. Cooper is an amazing Face – cocky, ingenious, impulsive, creative and always ready to have a good time. He is the perfect choice for Face and in this installment of the franchise is the glue that hold the team, and the movie, together.

Anyone familiar with the show will be thrilled to see tidbits of the familiar littered throughout the film and I have to insist that you stay for the end of the credits to see several familiar faces pop on screen. Whenever I see cameo’s like that I always have to wonder if they are as thrilled as the audience that a character they made beloved is back on screen – even if they are not the one playing them. In this case I hope the surviving original cast is happy, because I know the audience is.

The one thought that struck me while I the credits rolled is that this years The Loser’s really was a cheap homage to The A-Team; it cannot hold a candle to the original and Joe Carnahan proved that while the original can often be imitated, nothing is like the real thing.

Director: Joe Carnahan
Writers: Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom & Skip Woods
Hannibal: Liam Neeson
Face: Bradley Cooper
B.A.: Quinton Jackson
Murdock: Sharlto Copley
Charisa Sosa: Jessica Biel
Lynch: Patrick Wilson

Capt. Sosa: They are the best, and they specialize in the ridiculous.

Friday, June 11, 2010

True Blood: Season One

Originally uploaded by truebloodnet
I watched season one again in anticipation of season two coming to DVD. I do adore this show.

Part of what I love so much about vampire shows and lore is that every tale can have it's own mythology and this show has a very unique one.

I encourage you to check it out.

Pam: You've already set her free. The same as Eric freed me.
Bill: Everyone she's ever known will recoil from her. Everything she has ever loved has been stolen from her.
Pam: Oh please! There's no comparison. You've given that pathetic lump of temporary flesh the ultimate gift. You're a maker. You're a hero.
Bill: I find myself doubting whether you were ever truly human.
Pam: Thank you.
To Love is to Bury

Hamlet 2

Set in Tuscon, Arizona, Hamlet 2 centers around failed actor Dana Marschz who is now a drama teacher at a high school there and hating Tuscon almost as much as he hates his lack of success. However, Dana valiantly lives for his drama productions at the school – which are self-penned, Hollywood blockbusters he’s turned into high school musicals. When Dana finds out drama is being canceled because of budget cuts he decides to save the program by writing a completely original play – Hamlet 2 – which brings Hamlet back to save the day thanks to Jesus and a time machine. The play stirs so much controversy that soon it ricochets out of control and everyone from the fire department to the religious right is trying to shut Dana down.

If you find the phrase “a sequel to Hamlet” remotely amusing there is a pretty good shot that you will like Hamlet 2. Out of the gate this film feels like an elongated South Park episode – and I mean that in a great way. The filmmakers were on South Park and Hamlet 2 is a better satire for it. This film is a dry comedy that uses everything from the barren landscape, the business of Hollywood and inspiring teacher movies to create a through atmosphere that runs the riot of comedy all the way from intellectual humor to slapstick.

Steve Coogan is without a doubt the anchor of this cast. If a less talented actor had been in his shoes, or a more obvious comedian, Hamlet 2 would have crossed a line and never recovered – it would have become terminally unfunny. However, Coogan is an expert at what he does and Dana Marschz becomes pathetic yet loveable because of it.

The single most infamous element in Hamlet 2 has got to be the song “Rock Me Sexy Jesus”. If you’ve heard of this song in the past few years, you now know what it is from. “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” is the most controversial element in Dana’s play and perhaps the funniest set piece as we get to see the actual staging (which includes teen girls fainting at the sight of Jesus in a wife-beater and Jesus kicking Satan in the rear), the audience reaction (a group of religious women running up to the stage to pray) and the protesters outside the building. It’s the perfect storm in the third act of the film that cements Hamlet 2 as a brilliant and fresh satire with bite.

A personal bonus for me in Hamlet 2 are the references to Tuscon. Dana and the filmmakers don’t’ like Tuscon very much, and the film bags on it so much that they actually had to go to New Mexico to shoot – which anyone that’s been to Tuscon can immediately tell. While I know Tuscon is a place beloved by many I have to say that my personal experiences in Tuscon and the surrounding area have not been pleaseant…so for me Dana’s distaste of the city and this knocks it receives were met with many understanding laughs.

This will undoubtedly become a permanent member of my DVD collection and a cult classic for many. I can’t wait until I force it onto my friends so I get to see what they think of Jesus and Hamlet.

Director: Andrew Fleming
Writers: Pam Brady & Andrew Fleming
Dana Marschz: Steve Coogan
Brie Marschz: Catherine Keener
Principal Rocker: Marshall Bell
Gary: David Arquette
Elisabeth Shue: Herself
Cricket Feldstein: Amy Poehler

Dana: Chuy, you're going to have a magical life. Because no matter where you go, it's always going to be better than Tucson.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sex & the City 2

I am a late comer to the whole Sex & the City franchise. Never having had HBO I catch all their series on DVD, so I wasn’t too into Sex & the City until it hit syndication. I then became a fan and before the first film my friend Kelsey let me borrow the entire series on DVD so that I could see everything uncut and in sequence. I’ve reviewed the first Sex & the City film before, and I have to say I was a fan. I thought the entire team did a great job of taking the series and simply making it transfer to the big screen in a glitzy way, while keeping the girls grounded in the world we love.

That being said, Sex & the City 2 is a waste of time and money. This film was made simply for the sake of having a sequel made, and no amount of time or thought was put into it’s crafting.

Let’s first start with the length – two and a half hours. I enjoy long movies, when they are worth my time. However, several scenes into this film my director’s radar started to go off. It felt like someone in post was afraid to make cuts in the film, almost as if they were so in love with the girls, or scared of the fans that rather than make directing or editing decisions, they just left ninety-seven percent of what was shot ended up in the final film. I can tell you right now, not only could at least half a dozen scenes have been cut out of the movie, but each and every scene could have been shortened by at least thirty seconds or more.

Since I think the details of this movie are what make it so bad, I am jumping into spoilers right now. My biggest problem with this film had to be the writing. Each episode of the television series had a point, maybe not a moral, but from the beginning to the end of the episode each of our fab four ladies had learned something new about each other, their relationships or the world at large. Sex & the City 2 does not do this. The film thinks it’s making a grand point about marriage but it fails epically and Carrie’s ending voice over is so non-committal and unfocused it’s dang near perfect proof that they had no idea what the point of the film was; after a gay wedding, Charlotte freaking out about motherhood and a tempting nanny, Miranda grappling with being a working Mom, and Carrie & Big dealing with not knowing how to deal with marriage the final message is basically “something different works for everyone and you just have to figure that out.” Duh is the resounding word that comes to mind.

So now lets start with the very specific things that didn’t work in this film, and let’s start at the beginning – the wedding of Anthony & Stanford. First of all, such a huge point is made by the characters and their spouses that this wedding is a WEDDING and not a GAY WEDDING is made that it becomes downright uncute and all you can think as a viewer the entire time is how very GAY this wedding is. In fact, this wedding is so incredibly over the top that for the entire fifteen minute scene it does nothing but SCREAM “you’re watching a movie!”. How over the top is it? Picture Miranda’s wedding to Steve in the little park, quaint, pretty and subdued…now picture the polar opposite of that. There is a gay mans chorus with sparkly top hats, swans & Liza is the officiates the ceremony. The only joke that works in that entire scene is one from Miranda about who when that much gay energy is in one room Liza just manifests.

We then move on to the crux of the issue with Big & Carrie. Somehow, because Big f’s up on her anniversary gift he turns it into a bigger issue. Carrie needs two days to herself to write an article for Vogue, and Big decides that should be their marriage model – two days apart a week and five days together. Sounds healthy and adjusted, and like he made an informed decision right? Totally not out of left field for a guy that in the last season of the show and the last film finally realized how badly he needed Carrie in his life and how much he loved her. Oh, and Carrie’s zest for being out on the town, totally not something Big would ever expect from Carrie right? Maybe we should send him the DVD of the show so he can get to know Carrie too.

Then of course Samantha manages to get the four of the ladies an all expenses paid trip to Abu Dhabi at a luxury resort. This takes up the majority of the movie, and let me tell you, after about twenty minutes you are wondering when the actual plot in the movie is…because it’s missing entirely from Abu Dhabi…it wasn’t in New York either, but you just kind of assumed based on the trailer and the huge build up of the girls going to the Middle East that once they got off the plane, actual plot-like things would be happening…but don’t count on it.

Once they are at the resort lots of plot-like things seem to happen. Charlotte stresses over Harry not contacting her, Carrie runs into Aiden, Miranda is a control freak, and Samantha is Samantha but with menopause and a country not in support of females or sexuality. So now I’ll focus on the characters…where the plot should be happening and moving forward.

Let’s start with Carrie. As I already said, Carrie & Big are in a strange place in their relationship. So when Carrie runs into Aiden on her girls trip she does the stupid single girl thing and goes to dinner with him, they kiss and she completely freaks out, telling Big and thus making Big freak out half a country away. I have issues with this. Number one, the way it’s staged in the movie – the kiss is totally and completely Aiden and not Carrie at all. He initiates, he’s doing the flirting, and she’s the one that stops everything and runs away; however, in the film they keep saying over and over again how it was mutual. I call foul. Then you have the final resolution when Carrie sees Big again in New York. He gives her a diamond ring – so apparently no fight or issue should actually be talked about or resolved – if you give a woman a big enough diamond it just goes away.

Then you have Samantha. Her entire plot from the opening scene revolves around how she is in menopause but with drugs has convinced her body it’s not. So when all her hormones get taken away from her at the air port she can’t do anything for the next hour of the film but complain about either being in menopause and getting old, why her libido is lacking, or why Abu Dhabi has such a problem with women and sex. She does nothing but offend the country she is visiting and it’s people OVER and OVER and OVER again – she’s a prime example of why a lot of other countries think we’re insensitive Americans and while she’s arguing about the liberated woman she sets feminism back about twenty years. It’s crass and not funny.

Then there’s Charlotte, now a mother of two with a nanny and nanny problems. Of course because no other joke seemed obvious with a nanny the writers decided to make the Irish nanny a free woman who doesn’t wear bras, so as if the fact that she were a blonde, foreign nanny weren’t enough to make her tempting to the males, Charlotte gets worried that all the males like to stare at her chest including Harry. Enter obvious plot line with the obvious resolution – in the end the nanny turns out to be a lesbian…because apparently…if you’re making a movie or a television show that’s the only think you can do with a hot nanny – make her gay. Charlotte however, does have one of the better character stories in the movie, because she at least is the stressed out mother of two young girls who is finding it hard to balance motherhood and life and the fact that she loves her family with the fact that they are stressing her out. It’s real at least.

Miranda is perhaps the best character in the film, and she is utilized the least. Miranda finally gets fed up with the new senior partner at her firm constantly shutting her down because she’s the strong woman & giving away her cases and quits. She then gets to be happy to be around Brady & Steve for a little while and in the end finds a job that actually appreciates her. I wish I could mention things that happened to her in Abu Dhabi, except that nothing seems to actually happen to her while on vacation. She just kind of plans their trip and acts as the queen of recreational activities.

The one scene in the entire film that actually worked was a scene between Miranda & Charlotte. The two have a little night in when Miranda realizes the internal mom-battle going on with Charlotte and actually makes her vent to her via a little mom bonding and drinking. Other than that, I can’t tell you another scene that I actually liked.

What’s really strange about Sex & the City 2 is that I can’t say it was completely unwatchable…it just wasn’t worth my time. I didn’t like it, I probably won’t watch it again, but I at least saw the spectacle once. I just really, really wish so much time and money had been used on a better movie – one that at least made sense. This was a sequel made for the sake of making one, and the desire to capitalize on box office dollars. All I can say, is at least it was only number 3 at the box office this weekend…maybe they won’t make Sex & the City 3.

My friend Erin also wrote a pretty entertaining review of Sex & the City 2 from across the pond, so take a read and you’ll know it wasn’t just American women that were upset with this sequel for sequel sake.

Director & Writer: Michael Patrick King
Carrie: Sarah Jessica Parker
Samantha: Kim Catrall
Miranda: Cynthia Nixon
Charlotte: Kristen Davis