Tuesday, June 30, 2009

MY SISTER'S KEEPER : EXPERIENCING THE EPIC WEEPIE

The "weepie" has been around, but I don't ever recall a film being so carefully crafted around the deliberate idea of making the audience bawl more so than Nick Cassavettes' My Sister's Keeper. The director's new film is like a symphony of ebbing and flowing set pieces, each one crescendoing into a climax of quietude so the audience can communally wipe each other's cheeks and dab each other's eyes before the next wave. It's quite the experience.

I saw it in a theater that was maybe a third full. There was a peculiar amount of trios that kept coming in. Female trios. Why three, and not two or four? I'm not sure, but my best guess is that three makes the ideal number for a "weepie movie support system". That way, when the huddling and crying begins, nobody gets left out. I sat up front to avoid the chatter (it's been my experience that most in-movie commentary comes from the back), but no seat could separate me from the sniffling, and huffing, and churgling that filled-out the ambiance of the theater. I didn't mind. Like screams or laughter, it's part of the theater experience.

But a thought came to me while I sat there taking in the cancer-stricken imagery from the front and the sobbing from the back: Did many of these audience members come here with the intended purpose of having a good cry? Meaning, the way someone may go to a comedy film for a good laugh or to a horror film to feel tense and frightened, do some fans of weepies look forward to the experience of sob-letting? After all, there is a natural high that follows a good cry much in the way there is with a hearty chuckle or a visceral rush.

Though I've never seen it, I realize that Cassavettes' The Notebook is one of this decade's most celebrated weepies. Now, after seeing My Sister's Keeper, I'm (sort of) anxious to watch The Notebook so as to make comparisons between their craftsmanship. Because, don't kid yourself, My Sister's Keeper isn't a movie. It's a narrated slide show with a soundtrack of strummed ukulele and ballads that have the words "Home" and "You" in the title.

The centerpiece to this slide show is when the terminally ill Kate takes us through her scrapbook of memories and good-bye confessions: (paraphrasing) "To Dad, I'm sorry I took away the love of your life" ... "To Jesse, I'm sorry nobody noticed that you were dyslexic" ... "To Anna, I'm sorry I made them hurt you". From here, we're whisked into a doomed-from-the-beginning flashback sequence about Kate's boyfriend Taylor, a fellow cancer patient who she adored more than anything, and who passes away the night after they have sex for the first time. But the coup de grace, the ten-tissue-clincher, is the beach sequence, 'the Final Days of Kate' where all she wants is a last look at the beach, a last look at her brother and sister feeding the seagulls, a last embrace from her mother's arms... all to the tune of that "Feels Like Home" song (how did a Coldplay track not make it into this movie?!?!).

I refuse to believe that Nick Cassavettes' heart was in the wrong place (after all, he watched his father slowly fade away), I just think he's making movies by the book and not from the gut. I wouldn't even be surprised if My Sister's Keeper was test screened with "cry-o-meters" measuring the level of audible sorrow in the crowd. If somebody makes you laugh, the next time around, he or she will just want you to laugh harder. Similar must've been the dilemma for the man who made The Notebook. So, if success is measured by the amount of tears generated, perhaps Nick Cassavettes has succeeded, but he shouldn't kid himself... he didn't do so by making a movie.

Monday, June 29, 2009

THAT'S SO FUNNY...

... I made that face when I saw the cast too!


I also made a face when I saw the trailer for Julie & Julia tonight, but it's totally a NSFW-face, so I'm unable to post it at this time.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

CHERI

I'm not sure if Michelle Pfieffer has had plastic surgery or not, but her face doesn't appear to wear it if she has. Because of that, Pfieffer is one of America's rare aged 50-and-older elegant leading ladies who has embraced her third stage of beauty with natural grace a la European lovelies Isabelle Huppert, Charlotte Rampling, and Catherine Denueve. I'm not here to judge any actress that does go under the knife; the pressures of studios, agents, publicists, etc. on the modern top-billing female can demand that she retain her taut, tight, and trim features lest she wants to keep working in Hollywood. But Pfieffer's performance in Stephen Frears' Cheri is a case against "staying young", especially since the camera begs so much attention from her face.

Granted, Michelle Pfieffer is a well established life-thespian, and British veteran Stephen Frears works relatively free of the Hollywood handcuffs, but Cheri ends on a ten second close-up of Pfieffer's face that, while tragic in scene, is profound as a stand-alone frame, a naked image that confronts the audience with a feminine self-awareness not unlike the "I love you..." shot of Julianne Moore that closes-out Safe. Pfieffer's mouth & cheek lines and the noticeable sunken-in-ness around her eyes are almost shocking to see as we've been conditioned to expect that most our high-profile actresses will go out of their way to hide them.

It sounds as if I've making this whole "aging beauty" thing into a side issue of the film as a whole, but the fading away of youthful buoyancy is a central theme to Cheri. Michelle Pfieffer plays Lea, one of the most pronounced and pounced-upon prostitutes of the Belle Epoque era in pre-WWI France. Because this decadent era left the upper-crust so awash in disposable riches, even ladies working in the world's oldest profession could swing a high enough fee for their services. Though this work afforded them wealth in their retirement, we get the impression it was just as grueling and taxing as your more typical jobs would place on a twelve hour day hard-worker. In an opening salvo, Lea eases into her pampering cloud of a bed and moans to herself, "Is there anything more wonderful than a bed to yourself?". This may not be your traditional path to early retirement that the author of Rich Dad Poor Dad pushes, but you can't argue with the rewards.

But as with any demanding job, there are quality-of-life costs that may come with a career choice of leg spreading. One of those can be missing out on love, and another can be missing out on having children. Lea tries to reconcile both of those nagging birds with one stone by bagging the nineteen year-old Cheri, the privileged man-candy (yet of that very European androgynous variety) and son to one her prostitute friends Madame Peloux. Cheri was actually born "Fred", but was christened with that former rosy sounding nickname by Lea when he was still a child. In turn, Cheri branded Lea with the name "Nanoon", a nonsense word that nonetheless carries a maternal quality to it as in "Nana" or "Mema". It's more than a little off-putting when, on their first night of love-making, Cheri looks into Lea's eyes and whispers, "ohh Nanoon".

What's much more apparent and lingering in Cheri than, say, when David Fincher just passes-by it in Fight Club, is the social issue of men being raised by single women. No, Frears is not on any kind of probing or soap box mission here (his number one concern seems to be in telling and selling a story), but it's hard to ignore what is oh-so-out-in-the-open. When Cheri turns twenty-five, he is still being coddled and pampered by the woman he lives with. Lea pays for everything (even though Cheri has money), cleans-up after his messes, takes him shopping, and bathes him. All of this possibly relates back to Lea not having fulfilled her maternal instincts early in life, but it has coalesced into dependent man-child, a young fop of a lad with the moppy hair of a toddler. Again, there doesn't appear to be any intention of statement here from Frears, but rather just a bundle of behavioral complications that makes for an interesting character in Cheri.

In total, Cheri hasn't lingered with me as much as some of the little pieces that make it a complete whole, but that's not meant to be a dismissal. Like a trash novel or B-movie that doesn't hit on every point but still highlights moments more earnestly than some of its other well-respected peers, Cheri feels like it might have been an Oscar hopeful in its early stages of production, but let go of that ambition somewhere along the process. I think we (and it) are here, in the no-mans land award season of June, much better served because of that.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

THE ACADEMY AWARDS GETS A BOOB JOB

So, unless you've been reading about that thing in Iran or that dude in South Carolina, you've probably heard by now that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has decided to go TOP 10 with their Best Picture noms.

My first thought was, "well, this means they can at least throw a bone to the The Dark Knight crybabies this year by nominating something like Star Trek." (If Star Trek actually wins Best Picture this year, I will quit blogging for-ev-er ... write it down!). It's sorta like when the NCAA pats a BYU or a Utah or a Boise St. on the head ever year and gives them a BCS game (yes, I know Utah beat Alabama last year, but Alabama sucked, so just settle down. And please don't bring up that overrated Boise St./OU game, ok?).

Anyway...

So yes, what opening up the Best Picture category ultimately does is satisfy the people who cry "wtf?!?" on nomination morning every year. Let's say that we hit rewind and made 2008 a 10 Best Picture nomination year. What would have been added? Probably: Revolutionary Road, Gran Torino, The Wrestler, The Dark Night, and Wall-E. Right? No so hard to guess, I guess.

But the drawbacks... ohhhh, the drawbacks. What will the drawbacks be? :

1. About 20-30 minutes of added Oscars showtime.

2. The continuing "legitimacy" of so-so to below-average to just plain bad filmmaking.

3. Our theaters loaded up with Best Picture noms from December to Early March (I especially feel for the people who live in smaller cities... can you imagine Frost/Nixon holding up traffic for four months in a six-screen town?!? Eeeek! That makes me shudder).

4. Harvey Weinstein-style lobbying like you've never seen before.

5. A Nick Cassavettes movie getting nominated.

6. More molesting of DVD box covers.

7. More pulling of the hair by Arbogast.

8. More eye-gouging self-important interviews on The Charlie Rose Show.

... and that's enough for now.

Have a nice evening.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

YEAR ONE

Last week, my buddy Fletch predicted that I would proclaim Year One to be a "seminal work". Well, as much as I'd love to prove my man to be a genius predictor, that just ain't gonna happen. The comedic proposal offered up in this Jack Black/Michael Cera reluctant cave-buddy movie isn't a terrible one: that even since the beginning of time, a man's ambitions and actions have been led along by the tips of their penises. Now, that's not a new social theory, and it can probably explain why Guy Ritchie did a remake of Swept Away, but it makes for an interesting stepping off point for some low-brow humor (literally). After all, when else should society forgive a group of males for acting like a bunch of Neanderthals???

Like most comedies without a weighty script (ie, a script written by three people), Year One must rely on a cavalcade of cameos to carry it through. Don't get me wrong, Michael Cera is quite fine and even gets in some of the film's most memorable ad libs (while pondering why one of the female "gatherers" seems to fancy only "hunters", he concludes, "she's must be a self-loathing gatherer"), but when you're leaning on Xander Berkely, Oliver Platt, and the untalented member of Tenacious D to get you through dry patches, you're just in a bad spot. Even the typically sure thing scene-stealers of David Cross and Paul Rudd are a bore here, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse really needs to let go of the McLovin thing already.

Fans of the Old Testament may get some kicks from the second half of the film where Zed (Black) and Oh (Cera) make their way to Sodom and Gomorrah after escaping a circumcision ritual at the hands of Isaac (Hank Azaria), and deep down sicko perverts - like me - shall be shocked to see the film makers get away with a rimming and fisting joke that surely must have gone over the heads of censors who ended up granting Year One that crucial PG-13 rating. And yes, because head screenwriter Harold Ramis is an old man, his attempts at new school crude humor come off as desperate and/or clueless. Meaning, his sodomy jokes and homo barbs are tired and more juvenile than even his Animal House beginnings.

While watching Year One unravel, I couldn't help but think back to that scene in Knocked-Up where Seth Rogen has some "advice coffee" with his movie dad Harold Ramis. I'm sure the comedy veteran is honored that a younger generation holds him in such high regard, but why does he then feel the need to pander to their crowd with an attempt at their humor? It's like seeing Morgan Freeman with an earring or Robert Redford at a Kings of Leon concert. Let's get back to that Paul Newman-school of aging gracefully fellas, ok? I mean, is it far-reaching to wonder whether Mr. Carradine passed away from his risky sexscapades because he couldn't accept the fact that he had a 73 year old body?? It's true, these examples fall in line with the premise of modern man still being led around by the tips of their penises, but I'd bet that even their caveman ancestors knew when it was time to let the younger dudes do most of the clubbing.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

SUMMER HOURS

Olivier Assayas is an odd auteur to watch. His writing/directing career during the Aughts has been one of two faces: the family drama & the corporate sex-crime thriller. Les Destinees, Clean, and Summer Hours are in the first camp, while Demonlover and Boarding Gate belong to the latter. I've yet to spend the mind time and brain energy deducing whether there is a thread that connects all five of these, but for certain, I feel I can proclaim Summer Hours as the greatest among them. Both a personal and a worldly film, Assayas uses a scenario of sibling circumstance in the aftermath of a passing parent to mourn the fading away of culture and of his home country (France) as a whole... or, in the end, does he?

Beginning with the flickering image of a French country estate on a hill, the camera cuts to a stream of children zig-zagging through the estate's shrubbery fast into some kind of makeshift treasure hunt. In 10 seconds, Summer Hours has amassed 40 years of familial history. This day is the birthday of Helene (Edith Scob), the mother of three children, and the grandmother to even more. A modern economy has spread Helene's children out around the globe: Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) is in New York, Jeremie (the handsome Jeremie Renier) is in Peking, and Frederic (Charles Berling) still resides in France. Each of the sibling's immediate families and professional responsibilities have shifted their attentions away from their childhood home and rural past. Helene does not resent her children for a relationship that's been reduced to an annual summer visit, but she is lonely, totally aware that her life has been lived.

With subtlety, Assayas surveys the gaps between the three generations of native Parisians in Summer Hours, gaps that, he argues, may be wider than what existed in previous French societies. But Assayas is no snob. He does not mock the pop-culture tastes of an Americanized youth, or the passing casual interests of tourists being guided through museums of French art history. Rather, Assayas is acknowledging change, accepting an oncoming future where France is no longer the harbinger of influence it once was (it is no coincidence that Adrienne works in the United States and Jeremie in China... the two biggest hubs of international business). When Frederic shows his son a valuable painting hanging in his mother's house, the teenager shrugs and explains, "It's from another era". And when Helene unveils her collection of antique tea sets for Adrienne, she disclaims, "I don't want to weigh you down with objects from another era."

The title, "Summer Hours", recalls the plaintive headings Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu gave to his later-day films that narrowed-in on the widening cultural shifts between generations in post-WWII Japan. Like Assayas does in Summer Hours, Ozu often expressed a sadness for traditions and cultural norms that were on their inevitable way out, but he never showed contempt for a fast-moving and quickly approaching future. However, acceptance does not demand letting go as Frederic, the oldest sibling, does his last-minute best to preserve pieces of the past for his children to cherish. Frederic fitfully obsesses over a decision to sell his mother's two Corot paintings (weighing yourself down with objects from another era indeed), but his regret is countered by the discovery that Helene often used her valuable art furniture pieces for their practicality... such as storage of cleaning products.

It is Summer Hours' magnificent final sequence that brings the movie's sentiments full circle and hints that Assayas' earlier conclusions (or rather, ours) may have been premature. Frederic's children decide to throw a party at their grandmother's house before it's officially sold away. The teenagers behave exactly as we'd expect them to: smoking, blaring loud pop music from iBooks, bouncing basketballs inside the house, slinging around plastic bags of beer and snack food. Sylvie, Frederic's daughter, goes to find her boyfriend by the pond. They take a walk and she shares a memory about her grandmother, a reflection from a point-of-view we've been shut out of up to this point. Sylvie ends her story with, "My grandmother's dead. Her house is gone." That directness is more profound than anything expressed by one of the adults, but it is also quickly swallowed as Sylvie and her boyfriend climb a brick wall and run into the woods like young lovers do. The "summer hours" are these, the times the younger generation are enjoying now, and not the forgotten ones once shared with Helene. Or, maybe it's a continuation of them.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

TOERIFC # 6: SOMEONE TO LOVE (1987)

It's the best time of the month... TOERIFC time!

As a collective of movie heads, we TOERIFCians have made it strong into our sixth all-day film discussion. The comments over at Flickhead's place are already into the eighties (as of 10:29 AM CST), so hurry on over and join in on the best discussion ever had on Henry Jaglom's 1987 film Someone to Love (aka Orson Welles' last on-screen performance).

Again... TOERIFC - Sixth Edition is going on at Flickhead's blog. BE THERE NOW!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

THE HANGOVER

By doing a convincing mimicry-job of the rushing and hazing behaviors of on-campus fraternity life in his faux-documentary Frat House, director Todd Phillips must have either spent time as a brother himself or admired the "Greek culture" from afar, because The Hangover continues his affinity for widescreen frat house humor. That's not a good thing. Low-brow comedy can be just fine, but as one of its splintered-off branches, frat house humor rarely is. This is forgettable walk-by comedy, and in the form of a motion picture it's a barely passable form of entertainment that you can fold your laundry to (i.e. an irrelevant TV projection that you can take your eyes off of for to 30-90 seconds without missing a beat).

An intoxicated state-of-mind often reacts positively to such banality as a tazer gun shot to the crotch or a used condom being tossed around the car like a hot potato, and because the American mind on leisure time is frequently of that type, it's no surprise that The Hangover has been such a R-rated boobs n' brews smash. Balls too! Yes, in what's becoming one of modern crude comedy's easiest stock gags, The Hangover doesn't forget to include the requisite full-on floppy cock n' balls moment. The fact that that flaccid sex organ is attached to a raging, naked Chinese kingpin who comes flying out of a trunk with a crowbar and commences to bust skulls, makes this moment The Hangover's pinnacle frat house peak. The scene has the sub-genre's essential elements: uncomfortable nudity, foreign people, and hard violence.

Todd Phillips dropped out of film school at an early age and it continues to show. His technique consists of pushing "record", a style not learned, but discovered when any one of us is handed a video camera for the first time. Sadly, a recorded stand-up routine on Comedy Central or HBO has more cinematic flourish in its efficient, economic approach than what you will find in a Todd Phillips' film. There's certainly nothing wrong with a film mainly consisting of stunts or set pieces rather than a compelling storyline, but The Hangover is just plain unfun to look at. It's directed with a cloud of laziness that I'd imagine comes off of those sets where actors talk about "how much fun" they had while filming.

Never one to portray too pleasant a view of the ladies, The Hangover is Todd Phillips at his most female unfriendly. Heather Graham is not quite the "stripper with a heart of gold" but something more along the lines of a "pole dancer who's sorta sweet"; the other two prominently featured actresses play stereotypical balls-in-a-vice-grip bitches. While Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann's argument over fantasy baseball lies in Knocked-Up had a twinge of "really?!" to it, at least that marital conflict reached for genuine male/female relationship rocky-ness. From watching Phillips' films, I'm convinced he's never felt a thing for a woman, instead being too pre-occupied with pleasing his bros instead of connecting with the hos (check the way Phillips preens for the camera in his cunnilingus cameo in an elevator... if that was intended to be an Aerosmith joke, the dude's more pathetic than I thought).

In a last ditch effort to say something positive here, I will concede that Zach Galifianakis does his creepy Tim & Eric best to make something interesting appear on screen, and that Ed Helms turns in another consistent performance as a sideman. But god, as soon as something complimentary comes out of my mouth, the remembrance of that idiotic wedding singer sequence comes to mind. Oh, how fresh the shtick is of seeing an ironic white-boy singing 50 Cent's "Candy Shop" to an old dancing couple. Yeesh. Perhaps the key to tolerating The Hangover is to strap on some comedic beer goggles before entering the theater. Like the accessories that've come with the recent 3D craze, maybe movie studios and theaters should consider investing in some.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

STREAM-OF-CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION : LAND OF THE LOST

[NOTE: This is where the blogger gives himself a strict 10 minutes to rattle off whatever about a movie he just saw that he doesn't feel deserves a thoughtful edited review but still feeds the need to feed the animals anyway. Quality is of no concern.]

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My friend said "it wasn't as terrible as I thought." My wife said "it was worst than I expected. Land of the Lost sucked.". I agree with my friend on this one. And yes, wife, I did nod off a few times and probably snored, but I promise I didn't miss too much. Maybe a battle scene of some kind. Danny McBride is enough to give this film 2 stars, I think. Will Ferrell needs to be careful of whom he chooses to do movies with because his co-anchors end up making him look lesser. McBride outshines Ferrell. It's not even close. Then again, McBride usually steals the screen whenever he's on it. The only time I can think that he was humbled by anotehr actor was when Nick Nolte shared time with him in Tropic Thunder. I thought about the little guy from The Lonely Island and Hot Rod, Jorma Taccone, being all dressed up in that caveman costumer as Chaka. It had to have been incredibly uncomfortable and hot and sweaty with that make-up and hair suit. And I heard a guy on local radio bemoaning the fact that Land of the Lost - the movie - was too crude and disrepectful of the original. I don't know b/c I never watched the original. And, really, who cares. I mean, didn't Sid and Marty Croft used to sneak in pro-Timothy Leary messages into their shows back in the day anyways??? Is it really a big deal if the little monkey man squeezes boobs during the movie version of LOL? That's what cavemen do afterall. I mean, it's males at the basest levels, so what's the deal? I do wonder how groping can give you a PG-13 movie while cussing can move your film to an R. Very Odd. Running out of thoughts. Probably reflective of the ,movie. But really, it's not THAT bad. It's like a kids movie that tried to mix in your typical kid-friendly fart joke but went a little too far with boob talk and orgasm talk and vibrator talk. Guess that's too far, yeah. I don't blame parents for being miffed, but critics? What did they want exactly? Something honest? Something real? Will Ferrell's body is also still very weird looking when he takes his shirt off. I thought maybe he'd started working out since he got super famous, but no. That's ok.

Friday, June 12, 2009

ALMOST KINDA CREEPY...

From Frank Borzage's Lazybones (1925) ...





...PHEW!!!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

KEN LOACH'S BOYCOTT BULLHORN

One thing about the decades long Israeli/Palestinian conflict that irritates me is when people think they've figured it out enough where they can stand solely with one side or the other in complete sympathy.

... and then they get cantankerous about it:

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“The massacres and state terrorism in Gaza make this money unacceptable. With regret, I must urge all who might consider visiting the festival to show their support for the Palestinian nation and stay away.”
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English filmmaker Ken Loach said the above about the Edinburgh International Film Festival, who had received the equivalent of 300 pounds from the Israeli government for travel expenses on behalf of Israeli filmmaker Tali Shalom-Ezer. Her film, Surrogate, is to premier there. The EIFF has since given back the money.

First off, when Loach says "massacres and state terrorism in Gaza" I had to wonder if maybe he was referring to the self-imposed killings and oppression put upon the Gazans by Hamas. But, no, we know what he meant. And he can mean whatever he would like to, but why punish a single filmmaker for fierce disagreement you may have with her government???

As Shalom-Ezer points out:

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"A lot of people didn’t support Britain being part of the war in Iraq — does that mean British art should be subjected to a cultural boycott?”
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Exactly. If we want to go down the road of boycotting the art of private citizens because of the sins of their state government, then every film circulating around the world right now would be at risk.

She continues:

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“For me, I make films as art and my art does not deal with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Now I feel I am in a strange position because I am answering questions that are related to politics as if I am a representative of the Israeli state and I don’t want to be that.”
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For more on this story, click here.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

THE BROTHERS BLOOM

Up until Robbie Coltrane makes his Lynch-like entrance as "The Curator" or, as he's referred to in the trailer, "The Belgian", The Brothers Bloom is an off-kilter but on-cue comedy with clever lines and a seductive cinematic rhythm. Writer/director Rian Johnson front loads his second feature length film with enough cherry moments to make any director (new or old) envious of his bounding spring from the starting gates. Before the first twenty minutes are finished, either a choreographed gag between Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody), the easy glide of the I'm-so-bored-but-tough-and-still-sexy Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), or the Crayola variety personas of Penelope (Rachel Weisz), will have you cackling or grinning like a camel that just came upon its first ever whisky flask.

With Ricky Jay's introductory narration taking us through the wonder years of Stephen and Bloom, the brothers, it easy to look upon the two young actors in their out-of-time quirky costumes, thrifty tastes, and charcoal drawn gameplans and think of Wes Anderson. But Johnson's angle is one more directly drafted from the play book of Peter Bogdonavich, a complicated careerist torn between his own personal adoration of movies and a desire to carve out his own name. Johnson's gobbling-up and digesting of outside influences may not be visible from his sleeve, but the impression they've left is intrinsically felt in inside-joke asides such as Bloom saying to Bang Bang, "A '78 Cadillac?... that's a controversial choice". It - presumably -means nothing, but it tickles your fascination nonetheless.

The film's title is much more directly descriptive than first believed. When we learn that one of the brothers is named Stephen and that the other goes by Bloom, the title - and nom de guerre they are known by amongst their colleagues - feels truncated. However, the sweet con is on us because the title, at its heart, refers to the flowering relationship between two siblings, brought to symbolic on-screen maturity itself when we see Bloom plopped-down in a field of blossoms next to Penelope as she coaches him through a revelation he's just had about Stephen.

Johnson's Bloom script is a much more ambitious undertaking than the previously breezy and pleasing breakout indie-hit Brick. Brick was a fine film, but it sometimes considered itself too cute. Still, the transferring of staid paranoia from film-noir conventions to the inner circle hierarchy within high school walls (ie, a Teen Beat-type crime syndicate) was both a fresh take on teenage anxiety and a send-up of modern faux-noirs like Sea of Love and LA Confidential. But The Brothers Bloom is a shift forward. If not complete in his vision, Johnson is confident in the risks that he takes, abandoning total control and exhibiting a refreshing confidence in the four top-billed actors. The Brothers Bloom declines in potency as the second half of the film rides on, but it's a film that strongly showcases a rising talent.

Also rising - in my book, at least - is Adrien Brody. I wasn't a fan until The Darjeeling Limited (in which he gave one of 2007's best performances). In fact, he irritated the living Diet Coke out of me! Then came Cadillac Records (great again, as Leonard Chess) and now The Brothers Bloom. Like Darren Aronofsky, Brody is an artist I had once routinely badmouthed, but am now so intrigued by that I gladly eat my crow. So, what changed with Brody? Personally, I think he's embraced his face. Meaning, like Peter Lorre, Brody has recognized that his slightly cartoonish facial features are his most valuable asset. You can even see the actor freezing his slim body, at times, in order to redirect your attention to his mug.

Much in the way The Brothers Bloom, as a whole, redirects our attention away from yet another dreadful blockbuster summer. Along with Drag Me to Hell (though not nearly as masterful), these were two May movies worth seeing.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

THE HACHI (OR, HACHIKO : A DOG'S STORY) POSTERS WON'T LEAVE ME ALONE

First there was this poster, and now there is the above (CLICK TO ENLARGE).

For the second time, the poster designer lined up Joan Allen's name with the image of a canine. Also for the second time, is an embarrassing looking Richard Gere staring into the eyes of a bored-looking dog. But can you blame the dog? Gere's probably rambling on about Tibet and the dog is all, "whatever man, I just wanna lick my balls." (I used to mumble the same thing to myself during Catholic mass on Sundays).

And what's up with the The Polar Express green screen?? Are the Japanese that easy to please? (Never forget this ridiculous Hancock poster...). According to the poster, Hachi comes out on 2009.8, which must be Japanese for August. If I can pull it off, I'd like to liveblog a screening of this film.

Poor Joan Allen (somewhere, Diane Lane is going "phew...").

Thursday, June 04, 2009

WHAT I'VE LEARNED SINCE I STARTED A BLOG ABOUT MOVIES.

One the godfathers of film bloggery, Greg @ Cinema Styles, recently posted a list of what he's learned from his personal love of film and from his like-minded cinema obsessed cyber-buddies who don't necessarily agree on things most of the time (that's one way we learn, right?).

Greg tagged me, and here's my list:

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1. There is too much unpaid talent out there. Too many witty, wise, intelligent, and original voices that go unheard for a lot of reasons that can be discussed later (or in the comment section).

2. Film bloggers are much more civil than political bloggers (and in many cases, much more knowledgeable about politics).

3. I, Fox, have a huge blind spot when it comes to sci-fi films.

4. When you compose a post that you perceive to be absolutely brilliant, be prepared for nobody to care.

5. When you fart out a post that you perceive to be filler, be prepared for a comment tsunami.

6. Gay film bloggers really like Sigourney Weaver.

7. Straight "female" film bloggers really like classy looking actors.

8. Straight "male" film bloggers really like actors with boobs.

9. I don't know any lesbian bloggers (I don't think...).

10. A scanner would be a good thing to invest in.

11. HTML for Dummies might be a good book to invest in.

12. Despite his decline in judgment, Roger Ebert is almost universally loved and/or respected by film bloggers.

13. Angry anonymous commenters are pussies.

14. The best resources for pre-1970's horror are film bloggers.

15. Karl Malden has a lot of fans that he's probably unaware of.

16. Professional football is much more popular with film bloggers than I would have suspected.

17. Jeffrey Wells is an idiot.

18. Comedy has a fresh outlet in photoshopping.

19. Strong cases for the under appreciated acting talents of John Wayne.

20. Every blogger I know well (see sidebar links) - and some that I don't - has introduced me to a film, director, genre, or book that I was previously unaware of. Spreading appreciation around... it's a good thing.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

TYSON

If it's not fair to call Mike Tyson insane after watching him carry on for 90 minutes in James Toback's new portrait documentary of him, then "mentally unwell" should suffice. When the infamous ordeal with Desiree Washington comes to topic, the topic that landed Tyson in jail for three years, he swears that he never raped "that wench". However, without hesitation or any awareness of gross contradiction and fault, Tyson lets out this sentence: "I may have taken advantage of women in the past, but not that woman." It's a disturbing moment, but also a key one in that it shows how Toback does not intend to simply deliver a biased docu puff-piece on a publicly disclosed close friend of his.

But because this is a documentary, bias, or rather, manipulation of real life is inevitable. That doesn't mean that Tyson isn't fascinating to watch, especially in its fever dream sequences where the former heavyweight champ struggles to enunciate through free associations on women, love, childhood, and loss. Toback does his best to match the scatterbrain monologues of Tyson by split screening the hell out of the boxer's iconic face (his eyelids heavy as if they are about to close permanently from the weight of his life). It's as if Toback is trying to find a visual rhythm that can walk in step with the machinations inside Tyson's brain yet he keeps having to hit the reset button.

If Tyson had solely consisted of Mike Tyson's unedited and extended ramblings laid atop looping montages of his life and career, then Toback's film might have approached greatness, defying documentary convention and applying a fresh way to present non-fictional material. But, sadly, Toback bends to regular bio-doc storytelling, giving us the arch of Mike Tyson's life and the replayed highlights of his pay-per-view career so that we may attempt to "understand" this man. But that's an impossible request to make of an audience when all you have in tow is 90 minutes of tricked-up celluloid to state your case. Sure, go ahead and toss Tyson in as another useful tool for research into the troubled man's life, but a work of cinematic portraiture art this is not.

Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler does a finer job than Tyson of culling emotion and humanity from the behind-the-scenes life of muscle bound glamour and big man sports, a subculture that Mike Tyson was a part of for the majority of his life. In The Wrestler, seeing the fictional Randy "The Ram" Robinson play with the Nintendo version of himself was a profound moment of a broken man facing down his legacy of becoming nothing more than an 8-bit afterthought after living a life of hedonistic hero worship. (Indeed, that particular scene made me think of Mike Tyson's Punch Out and wonder if the real Tyson ever stared at that video game with fondness and regret the way Ram does.)

In Toback's narrative films, there is typically a surrogate male character that espouses the deeply flawed, imperfect philosophies and ideals that the director sees in himself. Because these men are fictional stand-ins (Jimmy in Fingers, Jack in The Pick-Up Artist, Blake in Two Girls and a Guy) there is greater freedom for Toback the artist to self-examine, yet still entertain, without coming off as a narcissist doing confessionals for the camera. Tyson shows that Toback is still obsessed with the hyper-sexualized flawed man inside (Mike Tyson could be his stand-in), but with that fourth-wall now being torn down, the director's artistic argument isn't as compelling.

Monday, June 01, 2009

FROM A BLOGGER WHO ONCE COMMENTED ON THE SAME MESSAGE BOARD AS ROGER EBERT (PLUS, MY NEW FAVORITE MOVIE TITLE!)

My favorite marketing move, of late, by DVD distributors is to put "From the guys who brought you ______ ______ " on the box cover.

It's a shady tactic, but clever. I don't know how many people actually fall for it, but it's bound to have pushed enough product thus far because straight-to-DVD labels are really stretching out its prospects now.

Check out this beauty:

If you can't make out the blurb at the top of the poster (I like that it's above the title of the actual film), it says "From A Producer of The Devil's Rejects". That's right: "A" producer, meaning one, meaning of the twelve producers that worked on The Devil's Rejects, one of them also worked on Razortooth (which has seven producers itself).

Hell... I see opportunity here. A precedent has been set!:

"From a script girl who worked on The Notebook..."

"From the second assistant cameraman of The Firm..."

"From an actor* in The Bad News Bears**..."

(*extra in the bleachers)
(**the 2005 version)


So, if there is anybody out there who worked on The Dark Knight - in any capacity whatsoever! - please contact me so we can record something, anything, put your "name" on a poster, and sell some plastic cases on consignment in big retail stores. I bet we can at least break even.

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BONUS:

This might be my new favorite movie title (I can't believe it took somebody this long...):