Sunday, November 30, 2008

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)

This movie capped the Thanksgiving holiday. You know the feeling, post-family conversations and catching up, you've lazed around all day and now it's post-function. You are tired yet not ready to hit the sack. That's the perfect time to start watching. Be warned. You will begin watching and it's brutal, and not in a good way, not at first.

Dewey in his diaper thongThis parody, loosely based on Walk the Line, pulls liberally from many musical genres and pop culture. With so many turns, where to start? At the beginning...once John C. Reilly enter the picture, the film shines. His acting is so genuine, he should have been nominated for an Academy Award (I was happy to learn that he was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy). Reilly not only embodies but exudes Dewey Cox. The songs are fantastic--most of them catchy with clever and witty lyrics. Reilly performs almost all the songs himself and even Jenna Fischer sings one. Reilly, Judd Apatow and others involved with the film penned the songs themselves.

Walk Hard is epic. It tells a layered story that isn't as flimsy as you'd expect. It traces the life of this made-up icon through his waltzes with different musical genres trying to find himself and wrestle the demons that torment him. Gratuitous fun is a plenty: the intro-to-drugs scenes led by Tim Meadows, the sink-ripping and references to being cut in half. This is no Scary Movie 4 (parts of which I did enjoy). The five of us watched this one and we loved it (except for the one who fell asleep); however, I wonder if I misquoted how much they liked it. Did we like it because we were sleepy and on the drink? I re-watched it yesterday and it passed the test. I enjoyed it more upon second viewing. The humor is good, the scenes are surprisingly fun. The Beatles scene is brilliant. It's fast, funny and original. The behind-the-scenes of this one is super interesting--depicting how they wrote the music and worked with Reilly as a singer. It's like watching a band documentary making-of. If you haven't seen this one yet, see it soon. If you've seen it already, see it again. I'll be adding movie and soundtrack to my collection. It's a brilliant musical comedy art piece. I would compare it to the Rocky Horror Picture Show but that isn't fair to RHPS, which is a masterpiece. Think of Walk Hard as RHPS's "little indie cousin who could."

There are so many cameos that you are sometimes distracted from the action trying to figure out who's who. You have not only Jack White and Jack Black (can't be a coincidence) but add to that Paul Rudd, Craig Robinson, Jason Schwartzman and many of the Freaks and Geeks alums.

Director and co-writer: Jake Kasdan (co-wrote with Judd Apatow)

Country: US

Genre: Comedy/Spoof

Run time:  96 minutes (felt like longer--in a good way)

Scale: 4.5

Boy A (2007)

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

If you only read the movie description on the DVD case, you'll be apprised of storyline but I'll write freely, so please heed the spoiler warning. Boy A, we learn, was a lonely boy growing up with a mother dying of breast cancer. She never leaves her bed and pushes away her son when he comes looking for motherly support. His father is completely checked out--sits in front of the television and barks at Jack to not bother his mother. We never see his face. The young pre-Jack boy befriends another lonely boy--a sociopath with a short fuse. Pre-Jack falls for the allure of a friend. You learn the sad path in flashbacks spread through the course of the movie. Jack and his friend are accused of the brutal killing of a 10-year old girl. The boys are tried, convicted and sent to prison for a long time.

After rehabilitating for approximately 10-12 years (I'm guessing), Boy A is set upon the world with his new moniker, Jack Burridge (Andrew Garfield). His caseworker, Terry (Peter Mullan) is fond of him. He's put everything into helping Jack. He remains as Jack's lifeline, guiding 24-year-old Jack through his new life identity and supporting him while Jack learns how to socialize in his new world, while keeping his former identity and violent past a secret. Jack finds a job, meets some mates and falls in love. A sub-plot involves Terry's son finding him and wanting to get to know him after years of estrangement. Seems that Terry didn't see his son or make an effort and now he's getting to know him as his son tries to figure out his dad's motivations for having been an absent father.

I'm sorry I missed this one in the theater. I was captivated throughout, watching the likeable Jack. Garfied creates a well rounded character. His vulnerability is worn self-consciously in his expressions and body language. He brings life to a boy who would be otherwise detested and unlikable. You, the viewer, are privy to his general crime but you don't get the specifics until close to the end and at that point, you are even more confused. Then, you are struck with the reality. Jack is complicit but also a victim. The ending is likely to spur an ethics debate about his role in the crime. That's what I loved about it. It leaves you confused about what he did or didn't do. It's a simple, yet layered story that questions, among other things, if innocence can be regained.

Not a feel-good; it's a well constructed dark movie that doesn't flinch at reality and the choices we make regarding good and evil.

Director: John Crowley

Country: UK

Genre: Drama

Run time:  100 minutes

Scale: 4

Pusher III: I'm the Angel of Death (2005)

Pusher III is the best offering from the Pusher trilogy. The more I contemplate, the more I like Pusher II, but Pusher III has complex emotional elements that were missing from I and II.

Pusher III takes place in the span of one day--a long and hectic day. Past-his-prime drug lord Milo (Zlatko Buric--who has a role in all three Pushers) is on day 5 of sobriety and seems likely to relapse as the tensions escalate the second the movie opens. His demanding daughter is celebrating her 25th birthday and he's to cook for the party of 50, while also trying to sell off ecstasy pills about which he's clueless. His colleagues are young and letting him know he's old and needs to evolve or else. He's presented with so many Gnarly crewhurdles that it's no wonder he's tempted to use at every turn. The tension building and plot complications are gripping. You're there with him at every stressful step. He's an empathetic and likeable character. You see him tiring of his life as each turn gets more difficult. I don't want to spoil the plot happenings but he does reach his breaking point and things get messy. The ending drags on; the violence is savage and hard to watch (think hammers and industrial garbage disposal), but this is a great movie. Gives the dark side of Copenhagen a peep. Even though Pusher was lame (IMHO) and Pusher II isn't as great as Pusher III, it works well as a trilogy...gotta have the potatoes with the meat.

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Country: Denmark

Genre: Action/Gangster

Minutes:  100 minutes

Scale: 4.25

Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands (2004)

Cheesy ink I watched Pusher well over a year ago. I don't remember many of the details, but I remember that most of the characters were unlikable. This makes it difficult to connect with the movie and you end up with an uncomfortable distance. The main character was a dealer. He was emotionally dead, except about his dog (if I recall correctly), but even that wasn't enough.

Earlier this year while at Dan's birthday party, he asked me if I'd seen the Pusher Trilogy. It was then that I learned that it had been a trio of movies about drug dealers. I told him I'd hated Pusher, so I figured it wasn't for me. He mentioned that Pusher II had starred Mads Mikkelsen, whom I admire. Mikkelsen is one of the Danish Golden Boys of Cinema. He's an excellent actor with great acting chops and an enticing face.

Tonny (Mikkelsen) has just been released from prison. Doesn't take long to figure out he's a screw up. What does he want most? To be a good thug and gain the love and appreciation of his hard-as-nails gangster dad, but daddy already has a favorite--Tonny's half-brother, Valdemar (approximate age: 8). Tonny can't make a right move. He's everyone's scapegoat and can't escape his loser-dom. No one respects him and he's used to it, joining in on the laughter. These moments are especially difficult to watch because although his motivations are questionable, you can't help fall for the fact that all Tonny wants is to be liked and respected, which eludes him. He's told he has a child from a past hook-up. Again, we learn that it's his fault, although it isn't certain the baby is actually his. He's reluctant to take the paternity test, although as the movie progresses, it seems he's more afraid of the child not being his. The only thing he seems good at is connecting with this kid; when he holds the baby, his reaction is palpable. The movie is cold and distant because of the world it plays in; it's violent and you realize this is no lightweight movie. It's favorable to stay in character and away from that maudlin vein that takes dark topics and glibly molds them into "touchy-feely" pieces of crap. I can't say that I'm not a victim of wanting a bit of that...a scrap to help me connect but this one was on my mind for a long time afterwards. The ending is especially symbolic. It speaks leagues to Tonny doing something to get the love that's been elusive.

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Country: Denmark

Genre: Action/Gangster

Minutes:  100 minutes

Scale: 3.5

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Big Love, Seasons 1 & 2 (2006-08)

The Big Lovelies 

This HBO series is about a polygamist and how he juggles the demands of three families, the business needed to sustain them and the issues that come up trying to keep his families satisfied while managing the endless issues that crop up. Bill (Bill Paxton) is well cast as the patriarch. First wife, Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and second wife, Nicki (Chloë Sevigny) are often at odds. Carefree third wife, Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) is the easiest for Bill to oblige. Polygamy can be a headache and Big Love delves into the constant trials faced by Bill, his ladies, his business partner, his extended family and all of their kids.

The show took a while to unravel and become compelling. Toward the end of the first season, it took a turn that I can only describe as Sopranos-light, but this made it just a little more interesting. It was more like the writers ratcheted up the conflicts. By the end, I wasn't sold on it but I was sure I was on board for season 2.

Season 2 was readily available at the library (a place that never fails). It held interest. Things have gotten much more sinister. I'd like to get into some plot details but they're all so sticky and tangled that it's hard to summarize in a few words. In conclusion, I'm looking forward to season 3, which happens to kick off on HBO (which I now have) in January (not long to wait). I wonder how long they can keep this going. It's no Sopranos or Six Feet Under, at least not yet. Will season 3 deliver? Stay tuned.

Broken (2006)

Aspiring singer Hope (Heather Graham) leaves Ohio for Los Angeles with big dreams. She meets bad boy Will (Jeremy Sisto) on a deserted beach. They start dating, fall in love, blah, blah, blah. He gets her hooked on heroin until she works her way out of his life and back to her depressing one as a waitress in a diner where people seem to only order drinks. The climax of this movie occurs in this very diner when Will returns to get Hope back regardless of whether she wants him or not. Michael Goorjian (Justin from Party of Five), a puffy and almost unrecognizable (post plastic-surgeried?) Linda Hamilton and Jake Busey appear in supporting roles).Despite two great leads, Broken is boring and pointless. A few scenes were visually stunning but the movie just doesn't deliver. The soundtrack was the most enjoyable part. Steer clear.

Director: Alan White

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 97 minutes

Scale: 1.5

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bleak House (2005)

In high school, I had some tough English classes. My junior year in Ms. O'Neill's class, most of our grade was to be garnered from a term paper on a famous work of literature. While exploring the idea of Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop, I read the first chapter. It was dense and hard to get through, so I decided on Tennessee Williams instead. (On side note, I recently learned that back in the day, authors got paid per word, rather than entire piece, which explains a lot, Mr. Dickens.)

Who's Who That said, the BBC adaptation of Dickens' ninth novel, Bleak House, made me regret my decision. Despite its length, 15 installments over three DVDs, I couldn't stop watching. So much going on in this tale. At its center, there is a court case Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. The case has been going for years and years caused by two contrasting wills. There are two minors at its center. Then, there is the orphan, Esther Summerson (Anna Maxwell Martin). Her character reminded much of Jane Eyre...she is a young girl of little means. She is identified as "not fair" in her beauty, yet she is a hard-working, strong and kind woman, who ends up winning the hearts of several men. Miss Summerson carries around pain from the cruel aunt who raised her and made sure to let her know that she had be her mother's disgrace. But, will Miss Summerson discover her past? Learning her past could destroy lives.

The cast is enormous and includes many eccentric characters. Even minor characters are quirky. They possess fabulous names, including Smallweed, Tulkinghorn, Clamb, Dedlock, Flite, Skimpole, Woodcourt. The actors relish in calling out these names in a bombastic, entertaining fashion. (I'm reminded of Newman saying JER-ry and Jerry saying NEW-man.) Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock is cast perfectly. The cold and emotion-less Anderson and her much older, craggy-faced husband are an interesting couple. Mr. Tulkinghorn (Charles Dance) is the scheming blackmailer. Mr. Guppy (Burn Gorman), as the young solicitor in training, is also a delight, except during his stalker moments, which thankfully don't persist.

Period pieces are not for everyone. Think of this one as a mystery/drama. I found it extremely watchable.

Directors: Justin Chadwick, Susanna White

Country: UK

Genre: Drama

Run time:  470 minutes

Scale: 4.5

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Visitor (2007)

Thomas McCarthy does a smash-up job portraying interpersonal relationships. His sophomore effort (follow-up to The Station Agent) is evidence. McCarthy is also an actor and a writer. He had a stint as an unethical reporter on The Wire's last season.

Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) is a dead man. He leads a solitary life devoid of passion and happiness. He possesses musical wont which he chips away at through uninspired piano lessons. The most encouragement his teaches gives her desire to purchase his piano, if ever he decided to quit playing, because, in her words, he isn't very good at it. He doesn't let anyone in and if anyone gets close, he send them on their way. As a college professor, he has stopped caring about much. He hides behind the farce of writing a book. When he leaves Connecticut for his apartment in NYC to further work on this book, he discovers a couple living in his place--they are strangers to him. Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) is from Syria and Zainab (Danai Gurira) is from Senegal. The couple discover they were tricked by someone into renting a place they thought was available (this plot point never gets resolved). Walter puts them out but when he realizes they have no where to go, he lets them stay You are really cool, Walter until they can find lodgings. During this time, Walter and Tarek forge a friendship revolving around music and the African drum. Tarek teaches Walter to drum and Walter comes back to life. Zainab remains indifferent to Walter, until Tarek gets thrown into a detention center and Walter is the only one who can help.

The Visitor is about friendship and finding happiness (without going down the sticky maudlin path). The movie is loyal to Walter, its protagonist, and to the changes he undergoes when his life becomes wrapped up in theirs. There's witty dialogue, colorful characters development and a steady moving plot.

Director: Thomas McCarthy

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Minutes:  103 minutes

Scale: 4.5

Danzig at Showbox SoDo (11.8.08)

One of my music regrets is never having seen the Misfits back in the day in Chicago. I saw many bands at the Metro, the Double Door, the Lounge Lizard, the Elbo Room to name a few. I saw flyers for the Misfits, but they never made my radar until well into the new millennium well after their break-up. Alack!

MUTHAAAAA!!! Last night, Danzig played, led by Glenn Danzig, the former lead singer for The Misfits. Danzig isn't punk; it's metal. There are a few metal bands I enjoy, but there is something about Glenn Danzig I love. It could be called an obsession. At 53, he's still rocking. I've spent more than one night watching Danzig vids with C&A ("who bought this??"), so when I saw the ad for Danzig's show, we three were on board.

We started our adventure at the Triangle in SoDo. It was quiet, unlike during Mariners games. From there, we headed to the venue to check the lineup. It was a night of death metal. The tour was named the Blackest of the Black. I don't know much about death metal but as an outsider looking in, I can appreciate the face paint, studded gear and themes of death and destruction. What didn't amuse was the line that ran about three blocks outside the venue. We waited it out at the Hooverville across the street. There we watched as the line didn't diminish. We had some fun there as well as meeting some scoundrels that were going to help us sneak in (it didn't work), thereby avoiding the very long line:

Clown crush 






Hi Glenn







New friends







No ignoring the clown tonight







Power Trio







Once we made our way over, the line went fast for the girls, but we made a terrible discovery--all cameras were banned! Andy's wallet chain was prohibited as well. These rules were not venue-made but requested by bands (which one??) This made things problematic as we took the bus to the venue. What to do? We left the line to strategize. Carrie hid her camera and Andy's chain in some bushes. I knew that I couldn't leave my camera, so I had to take more extreme measures. No need for detail but we made it in and all was well. (On a side note: The Showbox does not fool around when they prohibit cameras. Carrie saw one person getting dragged out for attempting to get a shot.)

Dimmi Borgir--the Norwegian death metal band was the last act to warm up for Danzig. I went to the front with the new friends. We entered the mosh pit. Having been out of pit practice, I was knocked down a few times, but this was a friendly crowd. I was brought back onto my feet by the crowd. The energy was fierce. The band played hard. When they ended, we had a break to prepare for the real moment of the night...the night that has been building since September when the show was announced. The Danzig pit was way too rough. These fans were serious, but I had to stay up there and watch Glenn and company in action. This band puts on a great show. Amazing to watch him, his energy, his love for the music. The huge smile plastered across my face all night probably made me look a fool, but I was HAPPY. Even though I never got to see the Misfits, this was a great consolation. I hope Glenn and Danzig keep rocking into his 60s.

Following was the only band-related picture--the band van. While we couldn't confirm it was the Danzig van, I'm going to pretend it is so.

Danzig tour van







11.8.08--A night to remember.

Volverás (You'll Be Back) (2002)

This one stayed with me well after viewing. It revolves around two brothers who haven't seen each other in five years. After a chance run-in (or was it?), they stand as strangers. Disappeared older brother, Carlos (Tristán Ulloa), is a has-been gambler borrowing against his poker debt, still looking for the big win that will set him free of his many debts. He's a pariah pitied in the gambling crowd. Baby brother Ignacio (Unax Ugalde) is a successful and esteemed architecture student with a promising future. He's days away from leaving Spain for Los Angeles to start an internship. He buys a ticket for his girlfriend to join him, but she's resentful because she'd doing well in her architecture studies. This leads to distance. During this increasing distance, little bro gets closer to his delinquent brother. It's hard to watch the snake lure the lamb. Carlos, aided by his girlfriend, creates the lair and Ignacio willingly enters.Ignacio possesses vulnerable blue eyes. Looking at them, you feel a pang of sadness and his thirst for Carlos' approval. You get the sense that even though Ignacio gets into trouble after finding Carlos, he feels alive--perhaps something he hasn't felt since Carlos left. The parents are cold and empty. They don't pay much attention to the kid as long as he's following his good son path. Sibling relationships are some of the most interesting. You share the parents, yet each child can have a varying experience.

Volverás leaves some pieces unresolved. This adds to its allure. The relationship between Carlos and Ignacio draws you in. Carlos has a goal and it revolves entirely around Carlos. It's heart-breaking but it keeps the viewer interested, albeit in an uncomfortable manner.

Director: Antonio Chavarrías

Country: España

Genre: Drama

Minutes:  102 minutes

Scale: 3.5

Friday, November 7, 2008

RocknRolla (2008)

I have exciting news for you: I didn't hate RocknRolla. In fact, I kind of liked it. Wakey wakey! CONS: It has it's flaws...could have been edited WAY down and tossed the needless characters of Lukacris and Jeremy Piven (Ari Gold has ruined Piven forever for me--he'll never be anyone else.) The flimsy plot device (involving a painting <yawn>) didn't excite, but it was a vehicle for a very fun threesome of: One Two (Gerard Butler), Mumbles (Idris Elba--"Stringer Bell" of The Wire fame) and Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy). From the start, their chemistry smolders and guides you though the silly and convoluted plot. You are on board with them because their friendship is solid. This is a movie about loyalty and family. The good friends try to make good but are foiled by a crime lord on a real estate scam. But, really, that's the dull storyline allowing Ritchie to write the story he really wanted to write--the one about the friendships. That's the story that shines.

The violence level is conservative for Guy Ritchie. That was a surprise. Thandie Newton...oy...what is happening to you? You were awesome in your indie days of Flirting. Now, you have resorted to 1-D caricatures (see review for W). No no no! I can't take it. Make it stop. Tom Wilkinson is hardly recognizable as Lenny Cole. And, there's something appealing about the heroin addict but he doesn't carry the movie as he's supposed to as a plot complication. However, I remain very open to the possibility of the next installment! I cannot deny it...I enjoyed RocknRolla.

Director: Guy Ritchie

Country: UK

Genre: Action/Gangster

Minutes:  114 minutes

Scale: 3

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ils (Them) (2006)

The opening scene of this French horror film is terrifying. It plays upon fear of driving through dark wooded areas at night when the unexpected may happen (and does). This scene gets you good and warmed up. It's the best scene; the rest of the movie doesn't hold up to this, but if you see it, you'll understand.

Why won't you play with us? We are introduced to a couple living in a large, secluded house in the country. Lucas (Michaël Cohen) and Clementine (Olivia Bonamy) have had a nice relaxing evening afternoon after the workweek. When Clementine decides to get some work done while Lucas sleeps, odd things start occurring. She gets a call with strange noises on the other end. She eventually re-joins Lucas but awakes to different noises coming from downstairs and outside. As they start investigating, the learn they aren't alone. The story moves along as Clementine and Lucas battle the mysterious hooded figures to survive. That's really it for plot. The simple, yet frightening sounds add to the unease. The house is reminiscent of a European version of the hotel from The Shining. The house itself becomes a character, playing a role and adding to the tension, but what is most eerie is the ending when you learn that this movie is based on true events. I won't give it away but it's unsettling.

Directors: David Moreau and Xavier Palud

Country: France and Romania

Genre: Horror

Minutes: 90 minutes

Scale: 3.5

Arranged (2007)

Arranged is distributed by Film Movement. FM is almost always the sign that lets you know that you will mostly see a quality film. Plus, there's always a film short included on the DVD.

This is the story of Nasira (Francis Behnamou), a Muslim, and Rochel (Zoe Lister Jones), an Orthodox Jew. Both women teach at a Brooklyn school. Their students expect the two to clash due to the tension between the two cultures. Instead, the two become friends and bond over their shared expectations that they will enter into arranged marriages. There are some lovely friendship moments. This movie was fun to watch, especially as you see them experiencing the process of getting arranged. The relationships with their families during the process are strained. It's not a simple process. You see Rochel's bad meetings with prospective husbands and Nasira's disappointment at her first suitor. Family pressures and disapproval propel the women into a stronger friendship. Nasira is particularly funny and creative. Arranged is interesting on many levels. It might be geared toward women, but the cultural aspects make it fascinating for all.

Directors: Diane Crespo and Stefan C. Schaefer

Country: US

Genre: Dram-Com

Minutes: 90 minutes

Scale: 5

In Bruges (2008)

Rubbish about two hitmen hiding out in Bruges after a hit goes wrong in London. Ray (Colin Farrell) wants to drink and cavort; Ken (Brendan Gleeson) prefers to sightsee while they wait for further instructions from their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes). Ray is a flat character. Ken is more interesting. Their differing views on how to spend time in Bruges worked, as most can relate to a trip becoming difficult with a bad travel companion.

Bruges is lovely but the movie is flat. The usually enjoyable and compelling Colin Farrell is annoying. The movie thrives on its violence. The scene where the hit goes wrong happens in a church without a silencer. Come on! There are some quirky bits and there's a twist that gives the movie a final shot of adrenalin but by then, you could be dozing. The plot starts moving in the last two scenes. There's English humor and it has its moments, but it just wasn't enough to sustain it. Bleh.

Director: Martin McDonagh

Country: England

Genre: Dram-Com

Minutes:  107 minutes

Scale: 2