Sunday, December 29, 2013

Ugh of 2013

It’s time once again to let you know just how low I go when it comes to the pictures. In 2013, these are the depths I went to bring you an entertaining viewpoint from some pure and utter crap.


M. Night Shymalan must have found a monkey’s paw with about a dozen fingers on it, because despite 7 years and 4 films worth of failure, studios keep giving the old boy a chance at delivering another chin scratching blockbuster. This time, he had some Big Willie Style in his corner with now one but TWO hit making Smiths. Will Smith after a long hiatus made a decent return to popcorn fun with last summer’s MEN IN BLACK 3 and his little boy whom he named after his wife, Jaden somehow made a hit out of a remake of THE KARATE KID, so they were both in good standing with audiences before Night got to them and now who knows what will happen to them. Let me see what I can remember from last May. So there is a future world where animals smell fear and Jaden is a huge pussy just because he watched his sister get killed by a cgi tiger while he was kept safe in a glass no smell bubble. WHAT A WIMP. His father is an emotionless war hero and takes his son back to the polluted garbage Earth to find a something or maybe they crash land because Will Smith ends up stuck in the ship for the whole movie while Jaden squeaks through the adventure of the After Earth, learning not to give off fear smell so he can kill the fight beasts. Even with everything I just said, the movie still manages to be miraculously boring. Leaving so much goof potential on the table. Night has also forgotten to write dialogue that human beings can say. It’s kind of funny that this whole thing was designed to be a franchise with movies, tv and a book series to lull children around the world to sleep so their parents could have a moment to think a single thought for once in their now miserable lives. Oh, well parents. Gonna have to lean on Ritalin for just a little bit longer.


A film that was secretly filmed in not just Disneyland but also Walt Disney World theme parks, filmed so well that it looked like they got full permission to do so with the shots they managed to get but in the hurry to seem like little sneaky petes, they forgot to write a story so they very likely just made everything up as the cameras rolled because the result was an incomprehensible embarrassment that wasn’t much more entertaining than some 8th grader’s first cam corder snuff film. Made much more frustrating by the missed opportunity of making a movie in the most famous amusement parks in the world with any sort of interesting thing about it, and the realization that probably nobody will ever get this chance again.


I guess it’s a lot to ask for five movies in a row to be good, but I’m not entirely sure it’s the fault of franchise fatigue. Having watched the first Christmas classic recently, it’s so disheartening to see Bruce Willis at his prime and see the one that stars in seven movies a year now. I think a lot of it has to do with Bruno’s complete lack of interest in being the wise cracking everyman anymore. The John McClane in this movie is visiting his son in Russia (cinematically, and scientifically, the most boring country in the world) and he gets caught in yet another terrorist scheme but this time, the McClane boys get to battle it out together, and sometimes THEY BATTLE THEMSELVES, TOO. But really, even the fish out of water element they could have done here wouldn’t have been able to save it. McClane stayed in America and whoever Willis was playing in this movie wasn’t even a cool grandpa.


Not even as entertaining as Jay Jay The Jetplane, the preschool targeted cartoon that used to air on TLC that kept the lonely hour of 4am not so lonely for this dude. Set in the world of Cars, but something Pixar had no interest in making, we FINALLY get to see what all the planes were up to while Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater were hogging the spotlight. The main plane is voiced by Dane (!) Cook and is a crop duster but in his heart, just wants to race. Stacey Keach plays the old veteran racer that got his friends killed or something and vowed never to race again so they didn’t even bother changing the CARS storyline too dramatically. The rest of the voice cast includes Teri Hatcher, a cameo from the Top Gun cast members that aren’t Tom Cruise and Sinbad himself. So I can appreciate how this is a bizarro version of CARS from a nether universe where all Pixar movies were direct to video but I live in this dimension where it’s a piece of crap.


No more adapting teen fiction please. It’s getting much to painful to care about the allegory of fighting aliens with lasers and how it relates to getting hair on your parts. This one suffers from STUDIO 60itus though in that it hypes itself and the characters so much that the result can’t not be a hilarious joke. Also, seeing a bunch of doughy pre-pubescent faces in IMAX is not ideal.


I’m not even sure this is even an interesting idea, this girl falling in love with a zombie thing. Sure she can fall in love with a vampire, by stretch a mummy and maybe even a frankenstien. But zombies are pushing it. And I still don’t see why zombies are that interesting anyway. But to America, they are, and that’s why we get WARMS BODIES. Once in awhile, a comedy comes along and you’ve sat there for at least 15 to 20 minutes and you realized that you haven’t laughed once. Not because you’re being a snob, but because the movie literally hasn’t attempted to make a joke or introduce a funny situation once. I call it DARK SHADOWS syndrome because funny trailers mixed with this 15 to 20 minute lag can lead to some very dangerous follow through that will include naps, checking of watches and wondering if you just leave now, maybe you can catch some SEINFELD reruns before bed.


Having just rewatched RISE OF THE GUARDIANS, THE CROODS and recollecting how shocking it was that future FRANCES HA writer, Noah Baumbach made the third MADAGASCAR movie decent, it’s a real shame what TURBO does to us. A fucking snail that just wants to race and gets drowned in some Fast and Furious juice and gets a magic shell that makes him go fast. Fine, I can’t wait for the dramatic arc to make me weep. Ryan Reynolds snail, ok, I guess. And then they let the snail compete in the Indy 500, okay I’m pretty sure this is against some sort of rule. You at least need a car to race in the car race, right? Do we really blame the villain race car driver for not wanting to lose to a FUCKING SNAIL? Dreamworks partnership with China probably lead to a lot of smooth transition when making KUNG FU PANDA, but the handling of Mexicans and their fascination with the big metal vroom vrooms was pretty surprising for a cartoon. Also, they ape CARS even harder than PLANES for the final act. I guess we can spot Dreamworks a mulligan every once in awhile.


Ben Stiller desperately wants to be taken seriously and he kind of ruined this movie in order to further this agenda. Original take is an ordinary guy who gets lost in his daydreams and that has the potential for many cool action set pieces with an array of comedic talent. But in this, he changed it to a guy that day dreams for a bit and then goes on an actual adventure in search of a picture from a dick photographer that can’t follow layout protocol. I get that Mitty finally got to live the adventures he always had in his head, but playing soccer with a bunch of brown people and skateboarding down a mountain is pretentious insurance commercial bullshit. Kristen Wiig gets to play the girl he pines for, and even though Walter does all that stuff for her, her feelings for him stay pretty much the same. What a waste of a lady. And every song that has shown up in an inspiring cellphone ad shows up in this because Stiller hasn’t heard a song since creating the REALITY BITES soundtrack. Long and unfunny and I never want us to speak of this again.


We’ve been having quite a few years with animation lately. It’s often been surpassing the live action movies for action, humor and story. Doing what can’t be done in the real world but still being seen as a kiddie venue. FREE BIRDS does animation no favors and highlights just how much crap has the opportunity to be made after a few successes in the medium. The story is of a turkey that gets pardoned by the President and then recruited by these turkey renegades to go back in time and stop Thanksgiving from ever including turkey. First of all, I am not behind this endeavor at all, and b, why are you trying to ruin Thanksgiving, FREE BIRDS? Why are you taking advantage of the lack of Thanksgiving themed movies and fooling me into seeing you? Why are you wasting Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson’s time when they could be voicing Dreamworks non-mexican characters? Why did the marketing make such a big deal out of this being the first movie Chuck E. Cheese deemed acceptable enough to feature their pizza in? Hey, guess what food replaced turkey in the new Thanksgiving timeline? Fuck you, FREE BIRDS.


Luckily for me, the first movie I saw of 2013 was the worst, getting that over with right quick. Marlon Wayans, wanting to keep his family’s once powerful strangle hold on parodying scary movies, set off on his own to create this mostly parody of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. Along the way, he also gave it to most of Screen Gems January releases of the last few years (Actually, JANUARY MOVIE would be a pretty good parody if you’re me and two other people). It wasn’t long into this movie that I realized I was in for a doozy and to it’s credit, it did make me laugh exactly once, but when I witnessed a full 3 minutes of Marlon Wayans fucking a stuffed animal I knew in my heart that this movie, first out of the gate, was the worst thing I will see this year.

Coming next: The top 25 in all of its glory. Stay Tuned

- D

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Bitches & Money: A recommendation in favor of seeing THE GREAT GATSBY

Hot summer nights, mid July
When you and I were forever wild
The crazy days, city lights
The way you’d play with me like a child

Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me when I am nothing but my aching soul?
I know you will, I know you will, I know you will

This is the chorus to Lana Del Rey’s Young and Beautiful. One of many great songs on the soundtrack to Baz Luhrman’s THE GREAT GATSBY. Co-written by Luhrman and Del Rey, it goes on to suggest the nostalgia and sadness brought forth by the rekindled romance of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. Some might say that this song comes from the melancholy and waif like perspective of Daisy but I think the song more reflects Gatsby’s point of view. 

So, THE GREAT GATSBY is required reading in most 11th grade curriculums. Few enjoyed required reading. South Pasadena High School, my alma mater was actually a school heavy with readers from all social standings. There were your Orson Scott Card nerds, there were your young pretty blondes reading those terrible Stephanie Plumb novels. And there was me, trying to convince Mr. Asher that QUANTUM LEAP spin-off novels were perfectly reputable reading materials to write a report about. We had very little room to digest CATCHER IN THE RYE and THE SCARLETT LETTER and god forbid the adventures of a bunch of well to do flappers from a decade that a bunch of 16 year olds were far from comprehending. Let’s get the facts straight. THE GREAT GATSBY is hella boring. The late great Andy Kaufman would actually punish rude audiences by taking out the novel and reading it in it’s entirety until either the end of the show or everybody had left, whichever came first. Not only is this the funniest thing that I’ve ever heard but I also believe it is rather apt. We were also subjected to viewings of several different film adaptations (which is probably the last effort at grabbing our attention from a public school’s viewpoint) and each was more boring than the last. 

But over the years I’ve adopted the philosophy that there is something to every story. A different interpretation to deliver the same themes and story to a more modern audience is not a bad thing. Most hoity toits would consider that as dumbing down or broading the material but I like to think of myself as someone who can detect a genuine effort. I certainly give enough time and thought into such things. Look, I’ve seen LOVE DON’T CO$T A THING. I know when I’m being talked down to. If an amazing 1920's style version of Crazy In Love is what I need to swallow down my medicine then SO BE IT.

And the gimmick of this version is rather simple and appropriate. Baz Luhrman got together with Jay Z to produce this wonderful soundtrack that takes the latest in popular music from several different genres and infuses some of them with a 1920’s moxie. Drinking and partying is a very universal theme. Using the soundtrack to highlight the excess and glamorous lifestyle of the characters was a very fun aside that doesn’t do much to hurt the core narrative, which is as follows. Nick Carraway is in a sanitarium, dictating to a doctor the events and the people that got him there. A simple bondsman who moves into the glitzy Long Island flapper neighborhoods of yore at the bud of an economic boom, and he gets sucked into the scene with little protest. It seems his super rich and super revered neighbor, ubermensh blonde haired and blue eyed white man Jay Gatsby has taken a liking to him. Leonardo DiCaprio probably gets one of the best introductions in film history as Rhapsody In Blue (a track that Gershwin created specifically for one of the climactic sequences in GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH) swells and fireworks go off behind the smiling mug of one of the most handsome men of our age. 

There is a lot of pomp and circumstance in the first act of GATSBY, and that’s because there is a lot of boring exposition that Luhrman smartly jazzes up with sweeping shots of 1925 era New York. The parties are also pretty lavish. Full of glitter and charlestons as far as the stereoscopic camera eye can see. This is the only problem with the glorious soundtrack. There’s too much awesomeness and not enough actual screen partying to fit them all into, so sometimes Florence plus the Machine get burned off elsewhere. Luhrman also knows when to slow it down for the more intimate moments. I didn’t see this film in 3D but the first half of the movie kind of made it very clear that I should have. I wonder if it would have been distracting in the way the Star Wars prequels were when they had people acting in a completely computer generated setting. Anyway, it turns out Nick’s cousin is an old flame of Gatsby’s from before he went off and became a hero of WWI. WW ONE for crying out loud. So he gets Nick to get them to meet again and Del Rey’s song plays about five or six more times in the movie. I’m not complaining, it’s a great song. They even have a more jazzy up tempo version that they play during one of the party scenes. It seems this Gatsby fellow never got over Daisy and thinks that they can continue where they left off. Even though Daisy is in a marriage with Owen Lars. But it’s a loveless marriage so it’s okay. And he’s already cheating on Daisy, which is double okay. It becomes apparent that getting Daisy back has taken far more of Gatsby’s time and efforts than initially thought and he thinks that if Daisy just broke it off with Lars that everything can go back to the way it was.

The movie is 2hrs and 22mins. This is too long. And I think the movie delivered enough for me at the two hour mark that my body felt it was okay to go sleep for the duration. This led to some very comical points to wake up during if you know the story and it’s ending, which I will not spoil here. Suffice it to say, I wikipedia’d the rest of the movie and sleep was fine. It kind of ends in a melodramatic soap operaish way. The movie before all these dramatics did a really good job at setting an entertaining tone and vibe. They didn't get to all of the themes of the novel, that a lot of people think is about the death of the American dream or some such nonsense. But it’s an engaging love story filled with many good performances. DiCaprio is very charming. As the most successful cast member of GROWING PAINS, I think he's done us proud. And Carey Mulligan who plays Daisy is scary good. Adeline Clemens from that Keanu Reeves indie I saw last week is in it, so that was very exciting. Isla Fisher is great and Tobey Maguire continues to sound like my Aunt Helen. This is the first official team up of Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire who are industry best friends and founding members of The Pussy Posse. A 1990’s group of actors that laid more pipe around Los Angeles than the 1994 Northridge Earthquake rehab. Actually this isn’t the first movie they’ve done together. That same group of actors made a movie in 1999 called DON’S PLUM. This movie was meant to be more of a test or experiment or whatever because Leo and Tobey sued the director who tried to release it and it’s officially banned from the US and Canada. Yes, you can buy it in Mexico. Yes, this was Jenny Lewis from Rilo Kiley’s last acting role. Based on this footage you would probably be safe in assuming or pretending that this is a documentary. 

So GATSBY is a fun time and turned something boring into something watchable and still managed to get some of the original points in there too. It’s also a nice little change of pace in terms of where summer blockbusters are concerned. Big budget effects laden dramas are cool too, dudes. Baz Luhrman had something to bring to the material and that’s more than a lot of adaptations have behind them. I just want Steven Soderbergh to do a Michael Crichton novel now so I can die happy. I give the adequate Gatsby

*** out of *****

- D

Friday, May 3, 2013

IRON MAN THREE: A review filled with spoils

IRON MAN THREE is a super weird film. When Shane Black was first announced as the writer/director, he said he wanted to do a story that was more of a spy thriller and he more or less accomplishes this. The most important thing about the Iron Man franchise is how Tony Stark deals with his problems outside the armor and that is the most successful thing about this movie.

The movie starts out with a flashback to New Year’s Even 1999 that is off-putting for several reasons. The first being it called back Eiffel 65’s Blue and no one needed that. Second, because it brought back Yensin from the first movie for no reason, and it got me all sorts of excited for what sort of mysterious origins would be revealed for The Mandarin, finally getting put on the big screen. More on that later. The most interesting of moments in this flashback, is that it sets up Guy Pierce’s character, Alderaan Gillyweed, Tony’s main rival for the movie. He shows up looking exactly like Edward Nygma from BATMAN FOREVER, and saying the exact same things Edward Nygma said to Bruce Wayne at the beginning of that movie. This was kind of shocking as there is no way this wasn’t on purpose. He wants Tony to partner up with him on this new technology that will manipulate the brain. This is the plight of someone who manages to watch BATMAN FOREVER once a year. Things like this drove him to near insanity. 

Also, in this flashback, we set up that Not Jessica Chastain has done experiments on plants that make them re-grow their plant limbs. Problem is, they keep exploding. At no point does she think of how much money she could make in the novelty item business. Okay, now onto the present! Tony Stark has severe anxiety problems following the events of THE AVENGERS, that in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is known as The Battle For New York. Tony had enough problems that now he has to worry about gods and aliens showing up at anytime and threatening the things he loves the most. Mainly Pepper Potts, his one true. Tony is not sure how he can keep her safe in the way he wants to. This is all fine character development for Tony at this point and probably was something Marvel wanted to tap into. The thing is, Shane Black had other ideas.

There are a lot of points in this movie that show a passive aggressive disregard to Marvel’s mandated plot points. One of them being the handling of Happy Hogan. He is played by Jon Faverau, the director of the first two Iron Man movies. In this, Happy is rendered mostly useless and given a figurehead position within Stark Industries to keep him busy. I can’t help but think this is a comment on how Faverau is now seen by Marvel. They put his name on THE AVENGERS and this movie because he had a lot to do with how they were set up but they don’t really need him anymore. They even send him to the Chinese theater to get blowed up and dispatched for the rest of the movie. 

In the first two Iron Man movies, The Ten Rings was set up as this terrorist organization that was using Stark Industries weapons to take over small Middle Eastern territories and gain a strong foothold of power. This was an allusion to The Mandarin, who wears ten magic rings on his fingers of alien origin that each give him a special deadly power. He was set up to be the leader of this organization. A perfect juxtaposition to Tony Stark as two men who’s obsession with technology can make or break the world. Well, The Mandarin finally reveals himself in this movie and he is bombing the hell out of everything with these special bombs that leave no forensic evidence of its physical nature. This is where Happy gets caught up in his paranoid security concerns and almost ends up dying. This is the catalyst that puts Tony on the case. He declares a public challenge to The Mandarin and tells him his address and that if he wants a fight they can have it there. Well, The Mandarin accepts and bombs the shit out of the Stark Mansion and Tony is presumed dead.

Well JARVIS sends Tony, unconscious in armor to Tennessee because that was the last known flight plan Tony had made in an effort to investigate a potential Mandarin attack. It’s this huge chunk of the movie that can at least be described as not ripping off a single thing from any movie ever. Maybe Shane Black’s discarded drafts of LAST ACTION HERO. I don’t know. So Tony’s armor no es working and he befriends a local boy who’s got his own penchant for building things and hides out in the boy’s workshop. Actually, this is also MONSTER SQUAD now that I think about it. This is the ultimate Shane Black movie. Tony starts investigating the Tennessee bombing and the supposed soldier that was supposedly involved but never found. Here’s where Shane Black tries to make Tony a detective but unfortunately the mystery is completely transparent. At this point, the audience is way ahead of Tony in knowing that Guy Peirce’s fireman technology was taken from Not Jessica Chastain and given to The Mandarin to blow things up with. Any further sleuthing at this point is kind of boring, but two fire bad guys show up and shake up things in the small town. This is still cool because I love when Tony has to figure out how to fight super powered beings without his suit. He also gets away with the best line in the movie before he blows a lady up. It’s a shame, because in the comics she is actually Man-Thing’s wife. Poor Man-Thing. 

So with the help of the little boy, Tony manages to track down The Mandarin’s hideout, which is right here in the good ol’ USA in Miami, Florida. The government has also made War Machine into a new guy called Iron Patriot. No mention is given as to why they dressed him up like Captain America and Cap is also never mentioned. Bad form, Marvel Phase Two. Iron Patriot is also looking for The Mandarin but the US government keeps getting fooled by the wild goose chase he’s being sent on and he eventually gets captured. Anyway, in a very BOGUS JOURNEY like fashion, Tony buys a bunch of materials at a hardware store and fashions all these weapons to infiltrate The Mandarin’s hideout. Again, very cool. In fact, it also reminded me of Axel Foley. Now the next thing is probably the movie’s biggest flaw. It doesn’t necessarily ruin the movie for me but is a huge disappointment in terms of the build up the last two movies had and the way Marvel decides to handle one of the biggest villains in the Marvel Universe that they had no idea how to adapt into a movie character.

They reveal that The Mandarin is an actor hired by Peirce to provide the illusion of antagonist to the government so that he can play them against each other when he got Iron Patriot and the President in his pocket. The war on terror would never end and he would make millions with his fire tech that makes people evil and explodey. This I could not jive with. I know that The Mandarin has been portrayed as more of a symbol than an actual character in a bunch of Marvel Comics stuff but they had their own Bane/Joker and they completely played it off as a joke. A joke that wasn’t even funny.  Marvel has still yet to provide actual threatening and interesting arch-rivals beyond Loki and they could have given Tony Stark a pretty cool antagonist. Guess not. And I also find it really hard to believe that Guy Peirce was behind all that mess in the Middle East in the first movie. Again, I know what Shane Black was trying to do but the twist didn’t yield a good enough result to try it. Why was Yensin at that party? I kept thinking that they were gonna have some explanation but it never came. I just don’t think Shane Black wanted to deal with him.

So Pierce kidnaps Pepper (ugh) and is gonna use her as a bargaining chip to make Tony fix the fire virus and make it less unstable. This is really the only point where they could have connected him to being the Mandarin, as this tactic was used in the first movie, but if he knew what happened in the first movie and how Tony used it against them, he probably wouldn’t be making the same mistake again. Guy injects Pepper with Chimera and then sends the newly in his control Iron Patriot to go kidnap the president and blow up Air Force One. This is where the movie kicks into gear though, because Shane Black turns it into Lethal Weapon with Tony and Rhodey. But at this point, I realized that a lot of the cool asides and tricks that Shane Black wanted to do were ruined by Marvel’s marketing department by putting every cool thing that happens into the trailer. They full on break into Guy’s oil rig base with guns blazing like it is freakin’ DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE up in here. This is a good thing. When I first heard of Shane Black’s involvement in this I thought that we were finally gonna get the big budget fantasy story that he’s been working on for ten years at Warner Brothers but could never get made. It’s actually the reverse, he’s telling this story the only way he knows how. Through 90’s action beats that he has perfected over the years. It was kind of a cool surprise. Tony fights the fire army with his armor army and some great action caps the movie.

Tony’s anxieties about Pepper are never really solved. In fact, they kind of would be solved if they left her a fire being that could defend herself but in the end they have her fixed back into a regular person. Tony also goes ahead and decides to take the shrapnel out of his heart that his power chest has been protecting him from. Was this only an option now? Would have come in handy when his blood was being poisoned by the arc reactor in IRON MAN 2. In fact, that movie actually has a resolution to Tony’s eroding sense of self that this movie doesn’t. JUST DO ‘DEMON IN A BOTTLE’ and stop tippy toeing around Tony’s problems, Marvel. It would be great for the characterization of this guy and the new equilibrium would yield plenty of other places to take him. This movie more than any other Marvel movie convinced me that Marvel is not as ‘stick to a plan’ as their press would have you believe. And that’s not a bad thing, but they blew some great opportunities here. At the end of this movie, Tony takes his power heart and tosses it into the ocean because he has decided that the Iron Man was inside of him all along. He destroys all of his armor at the end as a way of saying that he’s going to spend more time with Pepper and less with saving the world, which is driving him nuts. I guess in a world that has already proved there were plenty of alternatives to him in the hero department, Tony has decided to take it easy for awhile. But that isn’t exactly the Tony Stark we have come to know in three other movies. Still, I very much enjoyed it. The Shane Black style was fun and entertaining and made for a great end credits sequence. It was very much it’s own film and since it was filmed pre-AVENGERS success, don’t look for this any time soon. I think the rest of Phase Two is gonna be very referencey and part of a much bigger picture.

Which brings me to the post-credits sequence. There has been a lot of speculation at this point about what it would be. Would it hint towards some particular GUARDIANS of our GALAXY or give us some much needed ANT-MAN like antics? No. But it was still great because during the movie I thought to myself how much their needed to be some sort of result to Tony Stark’s weird fascination with Bruce Banner and having him tell the story of the events of this movie to a completely uninterested Banner was not only great, but hints at great things to come. I give this movie:

***1/2 out of *****

- D

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Best of 2012: Part 2 - The Top Ten


A special forces team enters a crumbling tenement building in hopes to find and capture the drug lord that lives on the top floor. But the bad guys get the jump on them, lock down the building and alert dozens upon dozens of thugs and foot soldiers to their presence. Now the mission changes. Get out and stay alive. THE RAID is one of the best action movies of the last decade and gives France a run for it’s francs by raising the bar on stunts and choreography to more than just your average parkour monkey shines. It kind of takes a cue from the heyday of 80’s/90’s action and super charges it. The everyman vs. the evil army turns into the Supermen vs. the super evil army. It’s like watching gods clash with gods without having to hear Avatar guy’s terrible accent.


Tim Burton has been on the outs with fans for a while. After a few personal failures he kind of hid behind the sure thing. Doing adaptations that seemed too obvious to add his unique aesthetic to. But when ALICE IN WONDERLAND became a bigger hit than anyone involved was expecting, Disney offered him the chance to do whatever he wanted. His choice was the first surprise. He wanted to remake the live action short that not only got him his first jobs in Hollywood, but in an ironic twist, got him fired from Disney. But this time, make it feature length, in stop motion and in black and white. Trusting the man that made a billion dollars with funny hats and rubber Crispin Glover, they left him alone. This must have invigorated his creativity because FRANKENWEENIE is the best film he’s made since BIG FISH. The lead is a misunderstood boy living in a cheery suburb. His macabre fascinations earn him odd looks from neighborhood busybodies, much like Burton’s real childhood. When his beloved pet Sparky unexpectedly dies, he uses the power of alchemy and b-movie horror to bring him back to life. But this power gets put into the wrong hands and gets unleashed in the dark and creepy manifestations that Burton does best. As a guy who is generally not into animals, it always surprises me when I end up majorly falling for the relationship between an owner and his pet. I grew up with dogs and very few movies actually put forth the effort to portray an animal’s genuine personality. Instead favored approach is having them drive cars, wear sunglasses and high five the nearest kid when a robber slides into a carefully stacked display of pickle jars. Here, you end up caring for Sparky as if he were real. This should have opened the door for massive merchandising potential. But alas, the black & white stop motion movie could not drum up the interest that jabberwockying Johnny Depp does. It’s a shame because Burton does receive a lot of criticisms for his later movies, and this is such a welcome return to form. I hope on video, it finds its audience. Because it definitely has one. More super points for the awesome Karen O soundtrack jam, “Strange Love”.


During one of the many interviews that were conducted with the subject of documentary, star sushi chef Jiro, reveals that he regularly dreams he’s making sushi. He’s in his twilight years and he’s been devoting his entire life into perfecting this dish, that even when his body is at rest, his brain is still working. Jiro’s sushi stand is one of the most sought after eateries in all of Japan. It is small and modest, with a waiting list of about six months and a price tag equivalent to about 380 American dollars. For that you sit down, and experience the food that is chosen for you in the order that he wants you to eat it in. We get to see one such group that is lucky enough to eat food that has received the highest accolades and made by what many consider to be the best sushi chef in the world. Mid-way through the meal, when Jiro feels comfortable enough to converse with his patrons, he reveals that he’s cut his sushi in different sizes in proportion with each person, so they could all finish at the course at the same time. He also watches them and when he sees someone eat with their left hand, the placement on the plate changes accordingly. When that scene happens in the movie, my eyes just started to water. I’m not even sure why, but I was so profoundly moved by the man’s devotion not only to the food, but to how it is experienced. Right down to the individual. It’s a transcendence that a chef could never possibly hope to achieve, but there he is. Making sure what comes off of his board perfectly makes its way into your mouth by means that most people might not even bother to think of. Finding perfection is hard, but finding inspiration as it turns out, is really easy.

7. THIS IS 40

I think a lot about the bias I have when making up these lists. After all, any sort of ranking is nothing more than subjective. I have an incredible bias when it comes to the work of Judd Apatow and friends, as the quality of work that comes from them and the methods they use work best for me. The funniest comedy with emotional moments that resonate to what I feel is a universal appeal. THIS IS 40 follows the continuing adventures of Deb & Pete, supporting characters from KNOCKED UP and how they are coping with getting older, growing kids, sense of purpose and faults with each other. The family dynamic is one of the easiest ways to connect with a broad audience. Everyone has family and none of them are perfect. The comedy comes from honest situations and pop culture references that will delight the heart of even the most exhausted of Paul Rudd audience. It’s been criticized for being too mean or too yelly or being one long argument that never ends. But when I watch it I get a sense of comfort in knowing that I am not alone in my familial relationships. Rudd, Mann and both li’l Apatows hit it out of the park. He may be nepotistic, but he goes with what works.


Consciously or subconsciously, I’ve come to realize that my favorite genre of movies is the comic book superhero adventure. This sucks for me because, admittedly, 90% of all these movies are terrible. But it’s the shining examples of greatness that come around every once in a blue moon that make it the sweetest plumb. Marvel Studios went on the daunting task of taking the its characters that studios had been unable to develop, and develop them on their own in live action feature films, with the intention of throwing them all together in one giant team up movie under the banner ‘THE AVENGERS: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES’. Even though it sounds easy and even though they made it look easy, this is a near impossible task. And it had its share of speed bumps in the journey to our theater screens. The biggest being that Edward Norton is not there alongside Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson. But the big cuddly blanket and hot mug of cocoa that Marvel gave us, as if to say “Everything is going to be alright”, came in the form of Joss Whedon. Once he was in I knew not only was this going to be a giant hit, but it was also going to be good. Whedon understood that despite all the power and gifts that these characters possessed, it was only interesting if they had to battle something that their powers couldn’t take of. And Whedon faced similar hurdles. He had to wrangle many characters, with many arcs and storylines and different tones and styles along with the egos of all the actors playing them (RDJ walked in and told Whedon that the movie should begin, revolve, and end with him. Try telling Marvel’s super star ‘no’ on that one). He had to do it in a timeframe and a budget and all under massive expectations with just the experience of television and one film under his belt. In a more logical world, the results of his efforts should be rewarded with at the very least, a best directing Oscar nomination. Not only is it a spectacular visual spectacle to behold, but it has fantastic performances, one of which had to be translated through a special effect and despite being the character with the least popular theatrical presence, came away stealing the movie as it’s most dramatic and it’s most fun element. He even assembled Soundgarden again, for godsake. To put it simply, THE AVENGERS is chips on chips. It’s everything we ever wanted to see done in a way that doesn’t treat us like morons. It takes material previously classified as ridiculous and unfilmable and instead of trying to stuff it a paticular box, it writes it’s own code. Even at the end, it hints that the next enemy will come from the stars, alluding to the vast reaches of the Marvel universe that you never thought you wanted to see. Warner Brothers and DC got a big fat honking gauntlet thrown onto their lap, and hopefully a little distinguished competition will keep us entertained for the coming years.


This is the only “Oscar” movie on my list. Only a few times over the past few years, 2010 in particular, the Academy and I’s views have been roughly similar. Although, now I think that ironically, the only reason Quentin’s movies get nominated anymore is also the reason the Oscars have sucked shit for the past 15 years. Harvey Weinstein and his stranglehold on the voters. But let’s not focus on him or pushing a movie that was at first intriguing and then disappointingly cliché, and not even the best movie of the year to end in a dance competition. Let’s focus on Quentin Tarantino’s vision of the old west as seen from the south. In the 90’s, when up and coming indie filmmakers were being shepherded into the mainstream, the prospects of what they can achieve in the future was the most exciting aspect of these new rock gods.  We loved the crime thrillers that Quentin was making and would dream of what a Tarantino Kung Fu movie would be like. Or a Tarantino WWII movie. Or even a Tarantino western. Amongst the less incendiary criticism for this movie, was that he was just retreading territory from his last few movies. Probably because they consider these genre pictures just above novelty. True, these kinds of B-movie matinee grind house films were the movies that Quentin grew up on but they are also the movies that taught him character and storytelling. And through the pain, sorrow, heartbreak and ultimate redemption that can be found on the path to revenge, the man obtained the building blocks in which he brings us these masterful stories filled with fantastic performances and emotional musical interludes. Everything in DJANGO UNCHAINED was supremely crafted over a lifetime of loving film and was executed amazingly, notably by Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio. I make it a habit to read a Quentin Tarantino screenplay as soon as they leak, as it turns out reading and seeing the movie can be two different experiences. Omitted in the film, is the introduction of Dicaprio’s character, Calvin Candie. I was originally disappointed that it wasn’t there as it went a long way in showing you just how darkly intense and foreboding the character was but for whatever reason, they chose to leave it out. But they did write a whole other ending to the dinner scene that while different, highlighted every part of why I loved the character so much. I naively proclaimed to no one in particular that whoever played this role would be a shoe in for an Oscar, and while his name circled the airstrip, it never came in for a landing. Not only is this so high on my list just for sheer competence in movie making, but for having my favorite performance of the year.


There are two things that Wes Anderson excels at that keep me a die hard fan. His take on the family dynamic and his honest yet poignant nostalgia for childhood. In this movie, two young kids who have been, in one way or another, abandoned by their families find in each other their wounded little souls. And for the first time experience what it’s like when another person understands what you’re going through. Wes Anderson’s version of childhood can be embarrassingly accurate. The yearning to appear older and more experienced than you are is usually played for laughs but sometimes it can be bittersweet.  Everything is more intensified when you’re older. Instead of silently seething at hated coworkers, in childhood it seems like your enemies actively sought to cause you harm and destroy you. Your passions are your entire life. Your feelings always seemed to be dismissed because, after all, you’re just a kid and you don’t have real feelings yet. This all plays out by two gifted young actors of which Anderson always seems to find to fit his cinematic voice. If you watch other children characters from his movies, they all seem to come from the same crop of kids and always seem to perfectly belt out his dialogue. Like they’re all really his muppets and operated by him. Anderson has had problems in the past with letting the big style and set pieces of his imagination run away with the movie, but it strikes a good balance here. I think he would make a pretty bomb ass stop motion Peanuts movie. Anderson’s got the Peanuts voice in him. Listen, dummy. If you complain about every Debra Messing/Sarah Jessica Parker/Kathrine Heigl/Kate Hudson romantic comedy piece of garbage, but still have a heart and soul that needs nurturing than this hits some genuine beats while staying pretty original. No dead eyed, coked out, magazine whoring shill in this one to gum up the works. 


Richard Linklater is a mystery to me. He’s one of those directors that can walk on both worlds. Indies. Studio pictures. He’s had hits on either side. Multiple genres attempted. Sequels? Remakes? He’s literally done it all. Sometimes his choices are baffling. At first glance, this movie doesn’t look like much. Even if I told you the plot, which sounds like I’m spoiling it, it’s not a movie that doesn’t lend itself to explanation. You just have to see it yourself. And try as I might to sway anyone’s interest in seeing this movie or that movie, you pledge your allegiance to one Tyler Perry movie and people will never listen to you again. This movie was based on a true story and could very well be one of Aesop’s fables if he still did that kind of thing. Jack Black plays Bernie, a small town man, beloved by his community, who’s regular proclivity to being a kind and giving person is slowly sucked into the vortex of a bitter woman who uses her profound wealth to shield herself away from the world. He trades his companionship for lavish gift and exotic vacations. But she does not warm up and her venomous personality begins to poison ol’ Bernie until he finally snaps and murders her. This isn’t what the movie is about. When the town finds out, and Bernie stands trial, they only see the loving man that Bernie is and always was. And remember her for being a fucking nasty old coot. A situation they could understand and sympathize with more, there could not be. And thus, a world where moral ambiguity grows to fever pitch levels in this bizarre Coen brothers esque sort of town peppered with real live citizens of the real live town giving commentary as if this were a documentary. The line between reality and fiction also blur. Sure this all makes for rich dark comedy, but this really happened. Are you getting sucked into the proceedings or is this how you’d really feel if you were a person in this town? In any other hands, this would be a prime candidate for your run of the mill 4pm TNT Sunday movie, but Linklater and Black put a way more interesting and original spin on it that you’re just gonna have to jump into to fully realize.


Speaking of originality. Whoa. What a golden age of movies we have where this movie can not only exist but be as good as it is. Check your fan fiction negative nelly bullshit at the door. Just because this isn’t the Rockstar energy drink induced all night Street Fighter vs. Pac Man fist fight fantasy that you’ve been furiously and angrily masturbating to in a room full of posters of female wrestlers…doesn’t mean you can’t accidentally fall for a charming little tale of identity and friendship. In fact, the novelty of having real video game characters all live in the same world and interacting with each other was not over done and presents itself just enough before it starts getting boring. There’s even a lot of bonus and better-done candy references in the Sugar Rush video game world where a lot of the action takes place. The story involves two obsolete video game sidekicks who are out to prove, mainly to themselves that they have some worth by winning the in game awards that their machines provide but have been deprived of for so long by being kept on the sidelines. It’s funny how most people describe movies in order to get others to see it. You can talk about all the recognizable characters you’ll see, and all the funny jokes and gags that happen in world that’s a giant video game. But nobody says “The character dynamics were really well thought out” or “They all had great chemistry” or “The Production Designer was perfectly cast as a gumdrop”. Yet these are the things that I want to shout from the heavens. The thing is, with me, you don’t have to have a big song and dance to get me in the theater. The way I operate, I’ll see most anything that doesn’t appear particularly offensive. But it really is so refreshing to have these high concept ideas be handled with care and actually have all the well-greased cogs and sprockets working together in harmony. There’s a moment at the end between the two main characters that brought tears to my eyes, and it wasn’t because Donkey Kong and M. Bison could finally high five. It’s because of what two fictional characters meant to each other, cg or live action or go motion. And what a miracle that is when THAT is possible.


Have you ever seen a movie that completely rendered a genre obsolete? You walked out of the movie, dusted off your hands and went “Well, they’ve done it. Nothing more to see here”. That’s what THE CABIN IN THE WOODS has done for horror. They made the ultimate horror movie that makes you feel like your imagination is a dumb idiot that doesn’t work hard enough. That’s what Whedon does best. He presents these things to you that are so fulfilling and so obvious but you never in a million years would have had the mind balls to think of. A bunch of teenagers set off in a van for a lonely old cabin in the woods, prepared to drink and have sex and whatever else you can do in a cabin. But some sort of secret organization is engineering the events that unfold, turning it into your average slasher fest. Things don’t go exactly as planned and horror as we know it turns on it’s ear. Saying anything more will spoil the tricks and treats of THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. How much better of a recommendation can the best movie of 2012 be? It’s itself! There were points where I thought “It would be cool if…” and then something 11 times better happened. Even if you’re not a fan of horror, I can’t imagine you how you won’t be entertained by this. Joss Whedon not only mastered one, but two genres of movies this year. He should be in charge of Hollywood from now on. I hope with his newfound success, that Marvel will eventually let him loose long enough to take on other things. Watching his movies give me a brief glimpse of what it would be like to be a creative genius. If made in 1991, this would be a shoe in for an MTV Movie Award, but even THOSE are corrupt now. Good thing you all have me.

- D

Friday, January 11, 2013

23 Films Worth Watching From The Year Of Our Lord Two Thousand and Twelve: An Unexpected Journey

This is part one of our adventure, that like Peter Jackson, I thought would be better in cut in half. Oh, and that movie is nowhere on the list. And I promised I won't cut it into thirds at the last second.

I know 23 seems like a lot. This started as a top 15 but I felt there were still films of note to give some props to. So there is still a top 15 with a lead up of good movies you should check out beforehand. This wasn’t a great year. A lot of ground rule doubles and triples. This year Hollywood was Billy Beane and basically Moneyball’d its way to relevance. Let’s begin.


 A sorrowfully non-promoted film that was probably only in theaters for a week with an ensemble and premise that didn’t exactly have the box office albatross quality of AMOUR. Channing Tatum, Rosario Dawson, Justin Long, Ari Graynor and Andy from PARKS & RECREATION (among others) all gather back at their own hometown for their 10 year high school reunion. Funny and poignant, it stands up there as a decent entry to one of my favorite subgenres, the One Night Only movie. Movies happening over the course of one night. Also it features an awesome cover of Tonight, Tonight by Passion Pit. Rent it, please.


 A lot has been said about the plane crash that Denzel Washington’s substance abusing pilot character gets out of that spurns the events of FLIGHT, but it’s the intense emotional build up to one of the final scenes that blew me away. It’s refreshing to have Robert Zemeckis make good movies again and not spend years putting Jim Carrey’s face on a freaky looking candle.


 I think this will go on as one of the most criminally misunderstood movies of our age.  It was a big hit because ladies filled our local theaters drunk off their duff because they thought they were going to see a strip show. Men stayed away because we are still not secure in our sexuality. If either of them had cleared the crust from their eyes, they would have been treated to an awesome throwback to 70’s new Hollywood cinema that is shockingly not Tarantino. It even had the Warner Bros. worm logo. It even had the Warner Bros. worm logo… I guess having the best marketing campaign of the year didn't help things.


The Wachowski people have a lot of red in their ledger. They botched one of the most universally loved franchises of recent times. But in the midst of Powerade tie-ins and video game companion pieces, and all other manner of studio infused merchandise were bold ideas. Ideas that were not afraid to fail (and they often did). Here, they are offered without pretense and allowed to be weird on their own merit and even after the lights came up, it ended up sticking with me muchly. They somehow managed to craft a movie that was impervious to boredom and that’s only one of the gems left to discover in this massive multiplayer online role playing game of a movie.


 Films are rarely made about teenagers that don’t exploit the angst and sexual discovery for emotional manipulation. Here you won't find anyone solving crimes or finding treasure. DAMSELS chooses to focus on the innocence and optimism of being an the adult but not really that we all were at the wise old age of 19 and the hilarious naiveté that we all purposefully forget but secretly want back. Greta Gerwig continues to elevate the material she's in.


 One of the best films about stand up comedy ever made. Highlighting the wonder of booking a gig and staying in a shitty motel room and eating horrible local pizza like it was a victory. Showing the efforts of a comedian’s act going from legitimately terrible to legitimately funny and all the troubles of the road that corrupt the show biz performer. Lots of movies and television shows have a hard time when they have to show off the talent of a character with the exceptionable hype they build up. What you get is often subpar but here it is genuine. And it managed to not demonize the lead when his path leads to darker actions because of how well it makes you like him in the beginning. Quite a feat. For some reason I have to give major kudos to Mike Birbiglia for coming up with a name for his character that sounds exactly as confusing as his while not being his.


 Impossible to decipher with trailers and any sort of plot summary.  Chris Pine plays a man who discovers that his father secretly had a daughter played by Elizabeth Banks with another family and  his attempts to get to know her without actually telling her who he is. Sounds cheesy and dumb but it’s just a good example of writing and performances and one of the most tear jerking embarrassing moments for me with it’s final moments. Again, by appropriately earned build up. I only saw it because it was by the STAR TREK guys and what a reward I got. No rewards for the public, who didn't see it. Nanny nanny boo boo.


The second amazing dramatic film that no one has seen from the creators of GREG THE BUNNY. A young girl lives in the valley and purchases an item at a yard sale from a crotchety old woman and finds ten thousand dollars in it. Trying to determine whether or not the old woman deserves to keep it, she strikes up a relationship with her which is no easy feat. You’ll never watch it, but the movie unfolds from here as each of their pasts slowly starts to reveal themselves to each other and a common and yet unsettling human truth is revealed by the time the credits roll. The ending was so moving and I needed to discuss it with SOMEONE, but alas therein lies the burden of seeing tons of movies that no one else wants to. I resorted to emailing online movie reviewers that saw the movie. Thanks, Capone at Ain't It Cool News.



 One of the richest families in the country attempted to build the most expensive private residence in the US. Their vast fortune came from the husband’s company Westgate, largest seller of timeshares to the American people. Then 2008 happened and the housing market collapsed. And the poetic justice of having a half built palace that was too expensive to complete yet too boorish to sell off is well documented. It’s kind of hard to feel bad for millionaires but you get to know the wife and family so well and see that she’s not that different than any other mother heading a household that you’re left flummoxed when you actually feel bad for her getting rid of all the Grecian antiques she had planned to fill her home with. Films offer us views of lives and people we will never know. The real trick is getting the viewer and the subject on the same level, no matter where the point of origins come from. This one pulls off one of the hardest versions of that trick.


 Rian Johnson is a genius. His previous two films, BRICK and THE BROTHERS BLOOM harken back to films that haven’t been made in decades. That’s not a bad thing but mainstream success eluded him. When this happens, your chances of making more movies gets slimmer and slimmer each time. With LOOPER, he finally got the right logline to get Sony to dump money into and the world finally gets in on the fun. A lot has been said of the logistics of time travel. There are many sci-fi nerds out there that swear by one of any number of different theories. But it’s important to remember one pivotal thing. Time travel does not exist. Therefore, it doesn’t have to stand to any scrutiny. To focus on that, is to distract yourself from the real theme of fate. In LOOPER, a young man comes into contact with the older version of himself. Being that they are both in different places in their lives, their agendas are completely different and have come into conflict with each other. In the middle of it all, is a small boy who’s destiny could conceivably go on to become a very powerful form of evil. LOOPER forms great characters with great performers, an exciting setting that enhances the plot and raises a lot of good questions. First and foremost being, why do they call shotguns blunderbusses?


 Based on the true story of a small town McDonald’s who’s manager was called by someone identifying themselves as the police and made them do a forced strip search on a young female employee. It’s weird that the best nudity is often in the most creepy of circumstances in the most fucked up of movies. It ALMOST takes all the fun out of it. If this wasn’t a very detailed and surprisingly accurate reenactment of a real event, you’d dismiss this as bullshit. No one would ever go as far as these characters did just because a vague shadow of authority was telling them to do so. But they did. Horrifyingly so.


Julie Delpy writes, directs and stars in the story of a French woman and her husband (Chris Rock) dealing with a visit from her zany French family, included is her real father and sister. As it stands, Delpy’s character has become Americanized enough that when a wave of French whimsy invades her life, not even she is ready for it. This is a sequel to 2 DAYS IN PARIS that features the same characters but none of the joy or comedy. I guess even the French are at their best when they are somewhere else being intensely French. That’s the only way to appreciate the Frenchness.


 Here’s where the two best performances of the year lie. Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep play a couple who have been married for decades and the wife is finally realizing that some drastic intervention is needed if she is to ever feel fulfilled by her relationship again. Tommy Lee Jones who woodenly got through his 10 minutes in MEN IN BLACK 3 plays the perfect stubborn curmudgeon that is completely content with his stagnant ways and finds all manner of spicing up the marriage to be offensive and disingenuous. It takes a lot to keep up with the chameleon known as Streep, and even more to outdo her. But she rises to the challenge and you get the feeling that you’re creepily watching one of a million marriages in this situation. What was marketed as a romantic comedy is really more of a light drama driven by character and performance rather than accidentally opening up a glove compartment that a rabid hamster flies out of. Steve Carell would have been good as the hamster though.

Tune in Christmas 2013 for the exciting conclusion!

- D