Tuesday, April 26, 2011

13 Assassins (2011-in the U.S., 2010 in Japan)

I first heard about this movie through Kim Morgan's Facebook page. Last week I had a conversation with a a friend, coworker, and fellow blogger about keeping on top of what is showing on On Demand because every once in a while you can catch a gem. This all happened in the span of a week or so, so I did just that and noticed that 13 Assassins was on my On Demand, but it was only going to be there until 4/28. Which means it would be perfect for watching on my birthday. Which is exactly what I did.

This is a samurai movie by Japanese director Takashi Miike, and from my experience, this has got to be one of his more subdued and less, well, crazy efforts. Who make no mistake, there are definitely some Miike touches, particularly in the early going. But what Miike offers up here is a mashup of well known elements from Samurai movies as well as the Western. It's set in the waning days of the Samurai in late 19th century Japan, and follows one group of Samurai as they try to get rid of the sadistic brother of a Shogun before he can take REAL political power. The problem? He is also guarded by a huge army of samurai. It's your average set up, and the first part of the movie is the slow burn as all these elements come together (getting the team together, the plan, etc.) Then it just explodes in this crazy battle which lasts for a good half hour to forty five minutes. Its really a sight to see, although at times it does get repetitive. All in all a really interesting effort by Miike.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Famous People That Share My Birthday

(or the Laziest Blog Post Ever?)
Also born today, April 25th:

Al Pacino

Renee Zellweger

Jason Lee


Did you know he is one of the skateboarders in Sonic Youth's 100%  video? Truth. He was a pro skateboarder before he was an actor and, sadly, a Scientologist.

Hank Azaria
Of course, he is legendary, at least to me, for all the voices he does for The Simpsons

He also created one of the greatest characters ever, Agador Spartacus in The Birdcage. Unfortunately, none of these videos would embed but check it out anyway

Talia Shire

Jeffery DeMunn
A character actor who, of late, has become one of the Frank Darabont Players. To whit:

The Shawshank Redemption

The Green Mile
The Mist

The Walking Dead

Peter Jurasik
Another character actor. His most famous role to me, was in 1982's Tron,  where he plays the actuarial program that Jeff Bridges is forced to kill in gladiator (i.e. futuristic jai alai) combat.

Ella Fitzgerald

Last and most certainly least, Michael Lohan (ugh), professional scumbag


Monday, April 18, 2011

Source Code (2011)

This is about 2/3 of a really good, sci-fi puzzler/thriller, it's an interesting combination of Quantum Leap and Groundhog Day. It's lean, it throws you right into the plot with a minimal amount of handholding. And the leads, Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monaghan, and Jeffrey Wright are all really good. The problem is, it just doesn't stick the landing, and it also depends on whether or not the audience buys part of the explanation of what's going on. (I mean the entire explanation is sort of ludicrous, but knowing it is a sci-fi thriller with a minimal of actual, real world science, no matter how much Jeffrey Wright throws around terms like "parabolic physics", you tend to just sort of roll with things.) I think it will really depend on your mood whether or not, ultimately, you like where the movie eventually leads you. Me? At the time, I thought it was sort of nice. On reflection, I wish they could have ended it as well as it began, but that seems to be an issue with a lot of thrillers, science fiction or not, these days.

Oh, one more thing, it might have been derivative, but I thought Chris Bacon, who did the music, did a really good job.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cropsey (2009)

Cropsey is a documentary made by Joshua Zemen and Barbara Brancaccio who grew up on different parts of Staten Island, but both heard the legend of "Cropsey", who was either a boogeyman or a man with a hook for a hand who allegedly lived in the woods by an old abandoned hospital and would sneak out at night to kidnap and kill children. It starts out as a general essay about the folklore of the area, but soon takes a turn into an investigation of Andre Rand, who could very well be a real-life "Cropsey", and the modern history and character of Staten Island itself. Through the Rand case it starts to come out that there were a series of kidnappings/murders in the 70's and 80's, of children, who were all mentally ill in some way. The suspect was homeless and most of the bodies are still missing. I didn't know what to expect when I first started watching this, plucked at random from my Netflix Watch Instantly queue, but what I got was a truly chillingly effective documentary. Maybe its because it deals with actual people, but this really got me in the pit of the stomach in a way a lot of horror movies don't these days. It has a strong narrative which doesn't go where one thinks its going to go, and thats really welcome. A word of advice: don't watch it in the middle of the night, if you're anything like me you'll need to watch something light for a little while to come down from the experience. 


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Greenberg (2010)

I'm not quite sure how I let this one get past me. I remember being somewhat excited when I first heard about it. Generally, I am a Noah Baumbach fan, although his previous movie as a director, Margot At The Wedding, I actually didn't care for that much. Maybe, just maybe, I lost interest somewhat because Ben Stiller was cast as the lead and, I believe, Mark Ruffalo was originally the lead. I run hot and cold with Ben Stiller to be honest. All this is fascinating, I am quite sure. So that's a roundabout way of saying I caught Greenberg last night and was pleasantly surprised, and sort of annoyed that I didn't catch it in the theater before. Why was I pleasantly surprised? Well, as an actor I happen to enjoy Mark Ruffalo more usually, but Ben Stiller was just right as the grouchy, sort of off, Roger Greenberg. From what I understand, Ben Stiller is a real jerk in his real life, so this character seems sort of up his alley, but not in a cartoonish way he plays these sorts of roles in other ways. It actually felt more lived in and real. At any rate. her plays the title character who comes back to Los Angeles where he has to confront not only the life that he is living now, but also the mistakes he made which drove him away fifteen years earlier, even though he ostensibly is just there to housesit for his brother. This sort of thing if done a certain way can drive me up a wall, see the forty somethings in Sideways, where a man approaching middle age starts to get all resentful of the mistakes he made. But Greenberg seems to get it right. And for whatever for a chatty, grouchy, know-it-all, he didn't drive me crazy, and I think it all works out. I mean, in the end, he makes some baby steps towards improving himself, and I guess you could say, in life, thats sort of all we can ask for.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Max Fischer Players Present: Serpico

The passing of Sidney Lumet this weekend made me think of the Max Fischer Players putting on a high school production of Serpico  in Rushmore.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Win Win (2011)

I gotta say that I can forgive Thomas McCarthy for being in movies like 2012 if he keeps making movies like Win Win. Much more than his costar in that movie, John Cusack, he seems to actually take his money and really make his own small, personal movies. Win Win is probably a more conventional movie, so to speak, then The Station Agent and The Visitor, which sounds like a criticism against it but it's not. Paul Giamatti plays a small town lawyer whose small practice is losing money, so he makes a shady business deal around an elderly client to make some extra money. The man's estranged grandson (and eventually his estranged) daughter come back into the picture and, of course, things change. Paul Giamatti's other job happens to be as wrestling coach for the local high school, and the teenage grandson who, out of nowhere, comes to live with is grandfather also happens to be a wrestling prodigy. It definitely deals with Thomas McCarthy's favorite theme of lonely people finding one another, but its also about your actions and how they can come back and bite you. The acting is uniformly good, particularly Giamatti and Amy Ryan as his wife. Although Bobby Cannavale is a bit tonally over the top. It's interesting because Kyle, the grandson, is good here and it's his first and only movie. It seems his only requirement to be in the movie was winning the New Jersey State wrestling title. And the goofy kid he befriends on the team has only been in a handful of things. Its also nice to see Margo Martindale here as another small town lawyer. She, of course, plays Mags Bennett on Justified.


R.I.P. Sidney Lumet

                                                               June 25, 1924-April 9, 2011

12 Angry Men (1957)

Fail Safe (1964)

The Anderson Tapes (1971)

Serpico (1973)

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Network (1976)

The Wiz (1978)

Deathtrap (1982)

The Verdict (1982)

The Morning After (1986)

Running On Empty (1988)

Before The Devil Knows Your Dead (2007)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Catching Up

So I watched a few movies this past week/weekend, none of them new, and I hadn't gotten around to writing about any of them, hence, "Catching Up":

Jackass 3 (no D) (2010)
Since we watched this at home, there was no 3D, of course. I've generally decided to boycott 3D movies these days, I might make some exceptions, its more of a guideline than a rule. But I would have 1) seen this in 3D and 2) would have enjoyed watching it in the more communal experience of seeing it in a theatre with other people. Watching with Tina was fun though, and it wasn't even my idea she chose to watch this. And, well, its pretty much like the first two, you know before you watch whether its something you want to experience or not. There are disgusting things, pranks, and people hurting themselves and having people laugh at them, and you know whether or not you want to see that. As I mentioned I would have preferred to watch this with a theatre full of people, but it was good quick fix when you wanted the dumbest movie you could find on a Saturday night. 

The Party (1968)
I know I am probably supposed to look through the prism of time to talk about this movie, but I am of two minds about it. Let me explain: Peter Sellers plays an Indian actor who accidentally gets invited to some bigshot Hollywood party, when he was actually supposed to be fired from the movie he was on. Chaos ensues, basically, as the night goes on. Now the two minds: the positive: on the one hand there is some great stuff here by Sellers, some great physical acting and showcases for his talents. On the other hand, I'm sorry, but I can't get over the fact that this is a white man in basically brown face doing a minstrel show imitation of an Indian man. Even though it is actually not so much mocking and it is very gentle, I suppose, its something I can't really get past, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I guess if anyone was going to do it it might as well be Sellers, and I realize it was a different time and yadda yadda yadda but I have to be honest it doesn't sit well. And it makes me think: what is up with Blake Edwards thinking it is so funny to have white actors playing cartoony ethnic roles?

Sex and the City 2 (2010)
I know, right!? Let me explain: I used to be a real hater of this show. But recently the E! channel has been rerunning it and Tina started watching the reruns, and I decided to be more open minded and try watching it too. And to be perfectly honest: it's not as bad as I used to make it out to be. Is it the greatest? Not by a long shot? Does the writing sometimes make me groan and roll my eyes? Oh definitely. But apparently to actual fans of the show, it does this too. So becoming "not too bad" when it once was "the worst" is a big step up. I'm not sure who turned on Sex and the City 2, but I had not seen the first one, and that didn't matter. I wasn't like George Costanza watching Home Alone 2 and being completely lost. It's just so weird that they keep making these movies (well, not so much, they make a lot of money) because really what else is there to tell about these people's lives? What is interesting, and I am not suggesting anyone see this because of this, is that this movie is actually kind of insane. The bookended parts in New York are fairly mundane, but then the ladies decide to go...Dubai? I think? Abu Dhabi? Some Middle Eastern country, and they are walking around in the desert and riding camels. Seriously the middle part of this movie is like a fever dream. And THAT's after Liza Minnelli performs a gay wedding and sings "Single Ladies" with her head perched on top of a CGI body. This is also their own Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan of the series, where they bring back someone from the series to create conflict (in this case Aidan, one of Sarah Jessica Parker's former flames). But its also pretty tone deaf? In that these ladies are rich in their crises consist of needing nannies to help them parent and wanting to catch a plane in time so that they don't have to fly coach? And there is also a scene where they help free the oppressed women of the Middle East. None of that is a joke. Also not a joke: when someone says something about "Lawrence of My Labia". Ugh. I wonder if they'll make a 3rd though? Where could they possibly go with these characters? Into space?


Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fool's Day Blogathon: Richard Ayoade

Richard Ayoade is a man of many talents. He's a British comedian, actor, writer, and director, who seems to pop up in some of the oddest places. Well, sort of, but someone at Community  or NBC must know his work because he directed the episode of Community, "Critical Film Studies", that I was talking about in the previous entry. 

He first came to my attention as a small part of the ensemble in the epically weird and thoroughly funny, The Mighty Boosh where he played the shaman, Saboo. Here's an out-of-context taste where you can pretty much see the level of weirdness at play. But its also very funny, its one of the great discoveries for me of the past few years thanks to a British friend of mine

There's just a small taste of the sensibility from there.

Around the same time, the same friend introduced me to another odd and funny series, in a similar vein, and showcasing a bunch of the same actors, Garth Marenghi's Darkplace. It was a horror-spoof-comedy . He not only directed episodes but also appeared ass Dean Learner, Garth's publisher, and Thornton Reed, a camp hospital administrator who carries a shotgun and answers to hospital boss, "Won Ton".

Less successful for me, although I seem to be in the minority here has been his stint on The IT Crowd (I might not have mentioned it but these are all British shows) People, particularly anglophiles, seem to love this show, but I mostly thought it was pretty lame. That being said, they did have one amazing episode that was so good I wrote about it on my old blog. This episode was so good, that the rest of the show just seemed that much more disappointing in comparison.

So, Ayoade is a director (I believe I mentioned that a couple times) in 2010 he had his first feature length movi,  Submarine, which starred Paddy Considine. Be he also became famous for directing music videos . Here are a few of them:

So, I guess this a round about way of saying that I like it when my disparate choices in entertainment end up coming together.

Like the comedy nerd moment when Michael Scott met David Brent


April Fools Day Blogathon: My Dinner With Andre

These next two are basically a two-parter for last week's Community. Community is an odd show, in a good way, it's not always laugh out loud funny, but I like the way it pushed the envelope of what can and can't be done on a sitcom that exists on a big, cable network. But I do like it a lot. Last week was the Pulp Fiction episode of Community that NBC had been touting for weeks, with ads revolving around the cast dressing up as the characters in Pulp Fiction for their pop-culture obsessed friend, Abed's surprise birthday party. I thought that was cool enough, but what I really enjoyed, and what Community does so well is that they totally subverted people's expectations. Here you expected an extended riff on Pulp Fiction and/or Tarantino movies. But we got instead, outside of some Pulp Fiction-related gags, was a homage to My Dinner With Andre.  I think the episode worked for many people, but this seemed like an amazing Valentine to cinephiles such as Tarantino instead of it just being ABOUT Tarantino, if that makes sense.

If you aren't familiar with My Dinner With Andre, it is the 1981 Louis Malle movie featuring only Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory. The whole movie consists of a dinner conversation between two friends who haven't seen eachother in a long time. That's it. And it is actually pretty fascinating if you ever happen to come across it.

I love this movie poster. I would snatch it up in a second if I came across it.

Community obviously made me think of My Dinner With Andre which, weirdly,-actually, I was going to say it made me think of Roger Ebert. I thought I first heard about My Dinner With Andre through his books, but I realize I heard if it before then. Fascinating, no? When we got our first VCR from my Uncle who owned a Montgomery Ward store, we had three movies with it, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and, for some reason, My Dinner With Andre. Or maybe my Dad just rented it early on. That's when I first heard of it. But it was years before I actually saw it, probably some time in high school, going through my pretension film/cinephilia phase, but this movie was actually really good. (Sorry, Roger. I'll write more about your influence some day)


April Fools Day Blogathon: Amy Ryan

I am not quite sure if it is appropriate, exactly, to call Amy Ryan a character actress, although perhaps she is. I think it might be safe to say that she might be my favorite actress working today. She doesn't have the stunning good looks of your average movie star beauty, like an Angelina Jolie, she is pretty, don't get me wrong, but she is able to blend in and become a variety of characters. According to IMDB, her career, IMDB-wise, seemed to begin in 1990 on the soap opera, As The World Turns, and she just sort of went from there, beginning in television and moving on to film. I noticed too that she had a lot of detective shows under her belt, particularly Law & Order, but really everyone seems to have at least one Law & Order credit these days. More interestingly, to me, is that she was on Homicide: Life On The Street in 1999, I'd be willing to bet that's where she caught David Simon's eye. Which is awesome for her, since they she got to be on one of (if not THE) greatest shows ever, The Wire, of course, and even got to have an affair with McNulty on the show.

For me, Amy Ryan is so reliably good that she makes everything she is in better. You might remember that at the beginning of the year I was really down on The Office. Don't get me wrong, I still think it should end sooner rather than later, but I have to admit that having Amy Ryan back this season, and her arc with Steve Carell's Michael Scott, have given the show a nice kick in the pants. Is it at the level of say Seasons 2-3? No. But it shows a marked improvement from last season, and having Holly (Ryan) around is giving Steve Carell a nice sendoff to the series. I really like her and I like their interaction, and I actually really liked last week's episode when they not only got engaged, I liked their engagement, but set the table for Michael Scott moving on. I like that it is because of Holly that he is going to be moving, thats as invested I can get in fictional characters

Her oscar nominated turn in Gone Baby Gone. This, to me, was a real departure for her. Playing a very South Boston mom whose kid has gotten kidnapped.

I forgot she played Ethan Hawke's ex-wife in Before The Devil Knows Your Dead.

Or the reporter in Green Zone.

And this I totally didn't remember since, overall, the movie was terrible, but apparently was "Neighbor with toddler" in War Of The Worlds.

Partially because of her, and partially because of the director Thomas McCarthy (who played the journalist who was basically making up his stories in the last season of The Wire), I want to see Win-Win. When I saw she was in it it pushed it over the top for me, since I already really enjoyed Mccarthy's other movies, The Station Agent and The Visitor.


April Fools Day Blogathon: Phillip Baker Hall

Television watching gave me a wealth of ideas last week. Here's the first: last Wednesday Modern Family had an episode that involved the youngest Dunphy child, Luke, becoming friends with an elderly neighbor who everyone was afraid of. Well, said elderly neighbor was played by none other than character actor extraordinaire Phillip Baker Hall. I have to say, I'm not sure what a tried and true maxim this is, but becoming a famous character actor has got to be almost as lucrative as being a leading man, if not more so, because it seems like you can just keep on working. Now, this has got to be true for Phillip Baker Hall. He stuck in my head because not only did I see him pop up on Modern Family, but I happened to be doing something and had Midnight Run on the background, and there he was a few days before as Sidney, Dennis Farina's mob boss' lawyer. I counted down his roles in both television and films since the late sixties/early seventies, and he has been about 159 different roles and/or TV shows or movies. Thats nuts, and he still seems to be working pretty steadily so maybe my maxim is true.

Seriously, here he  is in M*A*S*H*

Now, people might say that his career really kicked off playing Richard Nixon in the early eighties in Robert Altman's Secret Honor. Which might be true, it was a one man show with only him on the screen.

There's a whole host of places you might know him from. Such as playing Bookman, the library detective on Seinfeld.

This was probably his best scene (embedding disabled, sorry.)

Bookman 1

Bookman 2

He has a lot of authority figures under his belt such as:

The Police Commissioner in Ghostbusters II

The Attorney General in The Rock

In the nineties, he really hit his stride becoming one of the Paul Thomas Anderson players first with a more lead rule than usual
As Sidney(again) alongside John C. Reilly in Hard Eight.

Jimmy Gator in Magnolia

Floyd Gondolli in Boogie Nights

It's hard to find pictures of his stuff, but looking again through his IMDB page, its pretty amazing the amount of people he has worked with. He was in The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Contender, Zodiac, all 3 Rush Hour movies as well as:
Cradle Will Rock 

and The Insider.

I guess it goes without saying but I find he is always a welcome addition to anything I am watching.