Monday, November 29, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Thursday, November 25, 2010
This film, which I initially thought was too quirky for its own good, grew on me quite a bit. Kevin Kline has been in so few movies lately that it's extremely pleasing to see him sink his teeth into a juicy role, and the role here is a beaut.
As seen through the eyes of Paul Dano as a young aspiring writer with delusions of "Great Gatsby"-ish grandeur, we meet Kline as Henry Harrison - an eccentric failed playwright who lives off of the splendor of rich old ladies as he describes: "A fine meal, vintage champagne...an orchestra perhaps."
You see the scraggily gray haired mustached Kline considers himself an "extra man." He explains:
"You see women outlive men so there's always a need for an extra man at the table. It maintains a proper seating arrangement. Boy-girl, boy-girl."
Dano, who was kicked out of a teaching position at Princeton and came to New York to "find himself", rents a room from Kline and gets a job doing phone sales for an environmental magazine. Dano is fascinated by Kline's philosophies and tricks like how to get into the opera for free.
As a fellow flighty co-worker, Katie Holmes becomes the object of Dano's affection, but there's a little snag in his plans as she has an activist boyfriend and, uh, Dano has a bit of a cross dressing issue.
In one of the most off-kilter performances of his career, John C. Reilly appears in a small part as a grizzly wide-eyed neighbor of Kline's who speaks in falsetto. Reilly's part doesn't really fit in at first, but as the film goes on it becomes an inexactractable piece of the quirky quilt.
Though it's largely Dano's movie, Kline is who keeps it rolling with his witty line readings and chutzpah - a scene in which he teaches Dano how to take a leak while standing between parked cars on the street has more cheeky charm than one could imagine with that description.
What's less successful is the handling of Dano's sexual deviance. Scenes of the droopy sad eyed actor fondling brassieres and trying on women's clothes are cringe-worthy and don't add much to the more interesting material involving the wealthy women Kline is trying to woo.
A subplot involving Celia Weston as a wannabe socialite and somewhat rival of Kline's isn't explored fully, likewise Patti D'Arbanville's skimpy part as a dominatrix that Dano hires.
These flaws aside, THE EXTRA MAN is just amusing enough to be recommended. It's not as essential a film as director Berman and Pulcini's AMERICAN SPLENDOR, but it's fairly agreeable entertainment nonetheless.
Special Features: a commentary with Kevin Kline and author Jonathan Ames ("Bored To Death") who wrote the original novel, a second commentary with the co-directors + crew, a deleted scene, a clip of the voice recording for a cartoon clip, a behind the scene featerette of the musical score, and HDNet: A look at THE EXTRA MAN.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
(Dir. George Tillman, Jr., 2010)
Monday, November 22, 2010
I was surprised to see the credit “Based on the graphic novel” on the screen at the beginning of this British comedy clunker.
It seems every other movie this year was based on a graphic novel!
Nothing wrong with that I suppose, just unexpected with this type of Thomas Hardy-ish material which concerns a writer’s retreat setting in a quaint English village captured in the ever lasting golden hour.
In a tale told in seasons, aspiring authors congregate at the home of a bestselling writer (Roger Allam) and his hosting wife (Tamsin Greig) who has long learned to look the other way to deal with her husband’s affairs.
Allam is always pompously pontificating about his supposed literary talent mostly to a struggling neurotic writer played by a buffoonish Bill Camp.
Returning to the town for the first time since her nose-job, Gemma Arterton, as the title character, appears in skimpy cut-offs and red tank top and every man in sight swoons.
This includes Luke Evans as the gardener/handyman who had a fling with Artenton when they were teens we’re told in a racy flashback.
Artenton is a journalist covering a punk pop band named Swipe who break up after a row on stage in which the drummer (Dominic Cooper) is outraged over the coupling of 2 his band-mates particularly since one had been his girlfriend.
To Evan’s chagrin Cooper and Artenton quickly couple up themselves, all the while a couple of hiding chatty schoolgirls (Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie) watch it all smitten themselves with Cooper.
Allam gets into the game by bedding Arterton, Camp secretly pines for Grieg who he uses as a muse, and the schoolgirls cause trouble with a naughty email so there’s endless foolish shenanigans at every turn.
The film builds to a tragic last third, hints of which are dropped here and there throughout, but once it’s upon us its effect is mind-numbingly banal.
For all its energy and colorful imagery, “Tamara Drewe” never gels. It’s a completely charmless and painfully unfunny farce. Every attempt at wit falls flat and I could never deduce what the point of it all was.
No insights into restless writer’s mindsets or hearts – it’s all just misplaced vanity.
It also doesn’t help that the characters are all unlikable especially Allam’s who is just a transparent caricature of a womanizing cad.
The film doesn’t seem to be on anybody’s side so there’s nobody to care about. Despite the richness of the countryside and Frear’s ace sense of staging, its ultra-smarmy tone sabotages the entire production.
I can only hope that the graphic novel (and still going comic strip in the Guardian) by Posy Simmonds is more worthwhile than this dreadful tripe.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Saturday, November 13, 2010
(Dir. Charles Ferguson, 2010)
"I don't know what credit default swaps are. I'm old fashioned that way." - George Soros
That makes 2 of us. There are many things like that in this documentary that I was completely in the dark about going in, yet in a sober (and sobering) manner INSIDE JOB explains the financial meltdown of 2008 in a fairly graspable way.
Matt Damon calmly narrates the film, taking us through segments entitled "How We Got Here", "The Bubble", "The Crisis", "Accountability", and "Where We Are Now". It's a lot of complicated information to take in, but through interviews with key players such as the before mentioned financier George Soros, U.S. House Representative Barney Frank, former NY State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, Economics professor Nouriel Roubini, economist Paul Volcker, and many others, the film does an impressive, if at times impenetrable, job of breaking it down.
Ferguson, whose previous film the Iraq war doc NO END IN SIGHT was just as exhaustive, has a real knack for assembling a powerful narrative out of a tangled web of sometimes extremely confusing criteria. We learn about corporate fat cats pocketing millions sometimes billions of dollars from corrupt loans.
We see power point presentation style graphics that help define CDOs (collateralized debt obligations), subprime lending, and all kind of mortage mayhem. We even get an interview with a former Wall Street "Madam" (Kristin Davis) who supplied investment bankers with prostitutes.
It's an excellent eye-opening documentary that thankfully uses a minimum of Michael Moore-ish methods like pop song punctuation.
Peter Gabriel's "Big Time" plays during the opening credit swoop through the Manhattan skyline, and Ace Frehley's "New York Groove" provides a backing beat to footage of excessive lifestyles, but such touches don't intrude at all on the thesis at hand.
INSIDE JOB is more informative than it is entertaining and its conclusion that criticizes President Obama for doing little to change the situation is depressing, but it's an incredibly well crafted and sharply focused work that got my mind reeling.
That is, even if I still can't tell you exactly what a credit default swap is.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
This abstract horror film begins with a vivid black and white sex scene opening in which it looks like Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainesbourg are actually doing the deed. As a married couple copulating, Dafoe and Gainesbourg writhe in slow motion unaware that their baby boy (Storm Acheche Sahlstrøm) has gotten out of bed and is walking around their apartment.
Their son climbs to the ledge of an open window. He falls to his death in the snow below.
From there the film changes into color, but it's not that colorful. Dafoe and Gainesbourg Pale light bathes Dafoe and Gainesbourg's skin with gray tones setting the mournful mood.
Gainesbourg is going out of her skin over her son's death while Dafoe, a therapist, tries to tend to her with his cold and clinical methods. Dafoe decides they should retreat to a cabin in the woods because nothing says horror like a cabin in the woods! I half expected them to find the "Book Of The Dead" there.
Shadows and light move through many gothic shots of the nature surrounding them and yep, strange evil things start to happen such as Gainesbourg calling their surroundings "Satan's garden" and a fox with a voice out of THE EXORCIST saying "choas reigns" to Dafoe.
Many other weird and disturbing things happen to the couple, none of which I feel like relating.
Sexual madness is an overriding theme with excruciating scenes of genital mutilation. Gainesbourg had been working on a thesis about genocide in the same cabin the year before so there's that too.
ANTICHRIST is full of incredibly lucid cinematography and excellent acting by its 2 leads (who are the only people in the film after the son's death), but it's a disgusting and dreadful work that I could not see the point of at all.
Director von Trier has previously made thought provoking and vital films like DANCER IN THE DARK and DOGVILLE, but this is a wretched work that I wouldn't wish upon anyone - even the former co-worker of mine that recommended Paul Haggis's CRASH to me.
However Criterion deemed the film worthy enough to add to their mighty collection, and I see many folks on the internet calling it a masterpiece, but I felt absolutely assaulted by it. To each their own I suppose.
The Criterion Collection edition contains the following special features: an audio commentary by von Trier and professor Murray Smith, interviews with von Trier and the leads, a collection of video pieces delving into the production, a documentary called "Chaos Reigns at the Cannes Film Festival 2009", and a booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Ian Christie.
Or you can watch it with no frills on Netflix Instant. Just don't say you weren't warned.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
So maybe you've seen or at least heard of this crazy clip (easily findable on YouTube) of outtakes from an industrial Winnebago sales film circa 1989 in which the spokesperson swears up a storm in take after take?
Labeled "The Angriest Man in the World" it began life as a VHS tape copied and passed around for years until YouTube came along in 2005 and made it a internet sensation - VH1 ranked it the third best viral video not long after.
In this more interesting than it has a right to be documentary film maker Ben Steinbauer parlays his obsession with the extremely profane man from the clip into a journey towards discovery - no, really!
Steinbauer tracks down the crew members that leaked the "bloopers" and even resorts to hiring a private detective in order to find Rebney.
Rebney turns out to be living in the mountains of Northern California and is - wait for it - an ornery profane curmudgeon.
Rebney's strong political views and anger towards those who have made him an object of humiliation on the internet make for more swearing sequences - so much so that I can see this DVD being put on for drinking game purposes.
Steinbauer and the normally reclused Rebney argue up until the film culminates in the director taking his half blind subject to a Found Film Festival appearance where the audience treats the perpetually pissed off wannabe pundit like a rock star.
WINNEBAGO MAN is very funny and it serves as a neat little history of viral video - one in which those that are laughed at can simultaneously be regarded as everyman heroes. We feel like in those horribly hot, fly filled conditions that made this one odd guy insanely curse like it was going out of style - we may have acted the same. So the clip serves as a sort of release.
A young girl approaches Rebney after he gets off stage at the Found Film Festival and tells him: "You have no idea - this clip, everytime I'm in a bad mood I watch you swear and it makes me smile."
Rebney smiles too and for the first time in the film he appears to "get" it.
WINNEBAGO MAN is surely to be seen by some as disposable documentary because of its silly subject matter and fanboy thrust, but as disposable docs go it's one of the most entertaining I've ever seen.
WINNEBAGO MAN was released Tuesday, November 2nd, on DVD. It contains just a couple of bonus features, but they are good ones: the "Completed 1989 Winnebago Video" (25 min.) and a NYC Premiere Featurette (16 min.).
Monday, November 08, 2010
As surely every critic has said this is essentially a remake of PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES except the trains are replaced with drugs and much more scatological humor.
In the Steve Martin role is Robert Downey Jr. who is trying to get from Atlanta to Los Angeles for his wife’s c-section and he’s saddled with Zack Galifinakis in the John Candy role.
Galifianakis is an air-headed pot-smoking eccentric with a perm toting around a small dog who dreams of going to Hollywood to become an actor.
Downey Jr. is, uh, I forget his profession, but he’s an uptight jerk.
Mix in Michelle Monaghan as Downey Jr.’s pregnant wife and cameos from Jamie Foxx, Juliette Lewis, Danny McBride (the only one who’s slightly funny here), and RZA and you’ve got yourself a wasted cast.
Downey Jr. and Galifianakis wreck a rental car, get in a high speed chase in a stolen Mexican security vehicle, and get stoned as well as other not worth mentioning shenanigans.
All the while Galifianakis has his recently deceased father's ashes in a coffee can. Inevitably somebody accidentally brews it as coffee. This actually results in one of the few good lines when Galifianakis says: "Well, that's the circle of life - my father enjoyed drinking coffee, and we enjoyed my father AS coffee."
There are laughs here and there in DUE DATE, but not enough to make this anywhere near a solid comedy.
Like in “The Hangover” Phillips shoots like he’s making a drama with too many close-ups and unnecessary crane shots.
It’s the parts that try to get personal that fall flattest. The much much funnier PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES had a satisfactory sentimental tone in its earned conclusion, but this film’s heart is shoehorned in.
I mean what’s the point of giving Downey Jr. a serious monologue about how his father left when he was a kid? Oh yeah, I remember – it was a set-up to a lame joke by Galifianakis about how his father wouldn’t do that because he loved him. Ugh.
There’s also the badly handled subplot that Downey Jr. gets into his mind that his wife may have cheated on him with his best friend Foxx. Again that’s only there to set up another lame joke.
Both Downey Jr. and Galifianakis are likable credible actors, but here they are 2 guys that most people would want to stay away from. The same can be said about the movie.
But hey! If you like humor about slugging kids in the gut or masturbating dogs – this may be the movie for you.
Sunday, November 07, 2010
Allen Ginsberg's notorious 1955 poem "Howl" comes alive in this striking film that blends grainy black and white faux footage with animation and more conventionally shot color courtroom dramatization.
James Franco, in a career best performance as Ginsberg, recites the bulk of the epic poem throughout the film as it shifts through these alternating filmic strands in the stream of conscious manner of the original writing.
We go back and forth from Franco at his typewriter at the time of the poem's creation to being in front of a enthralled coffee house audience in 1955, and then as interview subject in his apartment in 1957 in which our subject's soft spoken answers to an unseen journalist serves as a sort of narration.
Franco's Ginsberg isn't present at the obscenity trial over the poem's content that same year, as defense lawyer Jon Hamm and prosecuting attourney David Straithairn argue whether the work has literary merit or should be deemed filth.
It's a mezmerizing ride enhanced especially by the dark animation done by Eric Drooker (also available in graphic novel form). Franco's keystrokes become musical notes that flow off the page into landscapes filled with worker drones in daunting factory settings or stacks of books that make up city skylines.
Further animated interpretations of many lines from "Howl" wind through the fractured narrative while Franco's impassioned readings flow freely.
Franco obviously studied hundreds of recordings of the real Ginsberg to get his inflections down and along with recreations of photographs and old film, "Howl" has the ring of authenticity.
Hamm uses his well honed Don Draper methods of persuasion to make the case for the poem in court under a compassionate judge played by Bob Babalan. Mary Louise Parker has a tiny cameo as an offended witness and Andrew Rogers as Lawrence Ferlinghetti doesn't have a single line but still registers in several close-ups.
The rest of the cast is pure decoration - Ginsberg's unrequited homosexual desire for Jack Kerouac (Too Rotondi) and Neal Cassady (John Prescott) give way to Aaron Tveit who becomes Ginsberg's life partner, but these relationships are dealt with as just sidelines to all the poetic action. And that's how they should be.
"Howl" is one of the year's best films and a shoo-in for an Academy Award nomination for Franco. It's also a great introduction to the era in which Ginsberg's words sliced through society with a vengeance.
Friday, November 05, 2010
But he's not being chased by a crowd of screaming teenage girls - that wouldn't be for several years - he's apparently caused some mischief and it looks like the police may be after him.
As embodied by Aaron Johnson (the kid from KICK-ASS!) the Lennon of 1958 is a tall kid with an Elvis style pompadour. Jerry Lee Lewis's "Wild One" tells us what we need to know about his character during the opening titles.
Lennon lives with his Aunt Mimi (Kristen Scott-Thomas) and Uncle George (David Threlfall) who he’s really close to. Uncle George dies and at his funeral Lennon catches a glimpse of a red-haired woman named Julia. Beatles fans should know that this is Lennon’s mother.
Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), for reasons that aren’t clear, had left her 5 year son in the care of Aunt Mimi. Lennon has flashes of memories from his past but they’re too fleeting to be of much narrative use.
While suspended from school Lennon hides out at his mother’s house bonding with her as she teaches him how to play the banjo. When she finds out, Aunt Mimi is furious and Lennon decides he’d rather stay with his mother.
He also decides to start a skiffle band called the Quarrymen and recruits some of his fellow students. At one of their first concerts Lennon meets Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie Sangster) who says he’s 15, but he looks like he’s 8 years old.
However this isn’t about the birth of the biggest band in the world – which are never named incidentally – it’s about the young Lennon’s relationships with his mother and his Aunt and how these 2 diametrically oppossed personalities shaped his psyche.
Johnson carries the film with a convincing Lennon. His accent is dead-on and doesn’t come off as a thick or cheap impression at all. The British actor has got down the phrasing of sarcastic quips as well as Lennon’s brooding intensity that I didn’t think he had in him after seeing “Kick-Ass”. Not that he was bad in that previous film – there just weren’t hints of anything like this.
Anne-Marie Duff rises above the screenplay’s painting of Julia as a flighty flirty floozy. Scott-Thomas scowls effectively as the angry yet loving Aunt and she steals many of the scenes she’s in.
David Morrissey as Lennon’s step-father mostly just looks on disapprovingly while Sangster makes the most of the small yet pivotal part of Paul.
“Nowhere Boy” is respectful and heartfelt but it’s not without its shortcomings. The arc of the supposed mystery of why Julia abandoned her son is handled in a hazy way marring the impact of the payoff.
This doesn’t mean it’s not extremely worthwhile - Like Lennon himself its charms outweigh its defects. Especially considering its sensational ‘50s soundtrack including classics from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Gene Vincent, and one of Lennon’s greatest influences: Elvis Presley.
Johnson does his own vocals throughout the film, but the real Nowhere Man is featured via an alternate take of “Mother” which plays on top of the obligatory yet unavoidable black and white archival photo montage conclusion.