Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Taps (1981)

There are some classic movies you just have to see. Often they are popular because of the actors. Especially when they cast present-day stars early in their careers. In Taps, you get Timothy Hutton (fresh after winning an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Ordinary People), Sean Penn in his first feature film and a testosterone-fuelled Tom Cruise.

Cadet Major Brian Moreland (Timothy Hutton) is a made man. He’s now a Major, the highest rank at Bunker Hill Military Academy. After dining with General Harlan Bache (George C. Scott), he’s on military-themed cloud 9. That is, until Bache makes a devastating announcement—that Bunker Hill Military Academy will be closing its doors. The historic buildings will be razed and condos will be built. This drives the boys mental. Following a devastating incident,taps-764552 Moreland launches a siege to take control of the academy. They won’t let their 140+ years school be destroyed without a fight. Tension starts between best friends Moreland and Cadet Captain Alex Dwyer (Sean Penn). Dwyer doesn’t share Moreland’s and Cadet Captain David Shawn’s (Tom Cruise) idol worship of Bache. The situation escalates and soon, their war comes to a head, but how far are they prepared to go to save Bunker Hill? Taps plays like a modified incarnation of Lord of the Flies and, nearly 30 years later, is still relevant.

Director: Harold Becker

Country: USA

Genre: Drama

Run time: 129 minutes

Scale: 4

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Outsourced (2006)

When Seattle employee Todd Anderson (Josh Hamilton) finds out his fulfillment team at Western Novelty is being outsourcing to India, he has seconds to decide whether or no to go there himself and train his successor at the call center or lose his job.

OutsourcedWhen we see him next, he has landed in Bombay and is assaulted by the new smells, colors and chaos. As he makes India’s acquaintance, he likes it less and less. Idealistic and excited Purohit (Asif Basra), future call center manager, finds Todd as he arrives from Bombay. Cultural nuances follow as we learn that Todd has ventured to India without any cultural preparedness. As he opens up to India, his experiences change.

Josh Hamilton masters facial expression control and anchors Outsourced as the metamorphosing lead. We learn about Indian culture in thoughtful ways that don’t ridicule the characters or dumb down the story. You get the Indian perspective on experiencing training at the hands of foreigners who know nothing about India. Expect culturally specific humor rich in confusion and social commentary. The ending is not the usual saccharin type for this sort of dram/rom/com hybrid; you want things to work out for Todd but it’s alright that it doesn’t serve up a half-baked ending. Savory plot twists abound.

Director: John Jeffcoat

Country: USA

Genre: Drama-Comedy

Run time: 99 minutes

Scale: 3.5

Thursday, September 30, 2010

La Ventana (The Window) (2008)

As bedridden Antonio (Antonio Larreta) awaits a visit from his estranged son, Pablo (Jorge Díez), his bedroom window is his portal to the world . The yellow fields beckon him. On this most important day, Antonio instructs live-in help María del Carmen (María del Carmen Jiménez) of how the day is to play out. He has a 40-year-old bottle of champagne and he’d like to make a toast when his sonLa ventana a la libertad arrives. A fleet of hired help arrive to the house. The most important task is the tune-up of the old piano. Pablo is a world-class pianist and everything must be right. As everyone is busy making sure every detail is cared for, Antonio defies his doctor and caretakers by making a slow get-away into the fields for a walk. He takes in the serenity of the scene for what could be the last time time.
When Pablo and his girlfriend arrive, you get the sense it’s been an extremely long time away from the San Juan mansion. He’s regarding the old home like Antonio took in the yellow fields. You don’t get many clues nor explanations, but the suggestions are sufficient. This coming of death film has no action and it crawls, but it has a sensitivity that equates to that soothing feeling of someone brushing your hair.

Director: Carlos Sorin

Country: Argentina

Genre: Drama

Run time: 84 minutes

Scale: 3

The Switch (2010)

I don’t describe myself as a Jennifer Aniston fan. She needs a new agent, but the cast led by Jason Bateman tempted. Hearing that The Switch is an adaptation of a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides clinched the decision.
¿Que idioma? It rolls as single Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) announces her fertility is declining and without any tangible possibilities, she opts for a sperm donor. She shares the news with her best friend Wally (Jason Bateman) hoping for some vicarious excitement but that isn’t his forte.
She searches for a handsome and athletic sperm donor and finds Roland (Patrick Wilson)—a married teacher in need of cash. She throws a hippy harvest party, inviting pals, and Roland and his wife, Jessica (Kelli Barrett). There, Roland makes his donation. Also attending the party, Wally has a migraine. Debbie (Juliette Lewis) offers him an unidentified pill he readily swallows. In his unpleasantly intoxicated state, he finds the vulnerable sperm sample and fumbles it. The next day, he cannot even recall Diane Sawyer. His confidante, Leonard (Jeff Goldblum, who only gets deliciously better with age) tries talking him back. Kassie gets preggers and for Minnesota.
Fast forward seven years. Kassie’s back in NYC (Believability: Do you believe she’s been offered this “great job with the network” after nearly seven years in Minnesota?) with son, Sebastian (Thomas Robinson). Sebastian is precocious and anxiety-ridden, much like Wally. As the three spend time together, Wally and Sebastian forge a relationship. Kassie pursues a newly divorced Roland, who has absolutely nothing in common with Sebastian. As Wally sees more and more similarities between himself and Sebastian, he realizes he may need to come clean about a few things, but will it sacrifice his friendship with Kassie?
I laughed a lot and cried a little. Bateman’s dryness juxtaposed with Aniston’s comedic timing create enjoyable chemistry, but it’s Sebastian that steals the show amid a strong cast. Aniston redeems herself from her long string of lame movies to deliver a refreshing rom-com. And, may Juliette Lewis and her brand of whack stick around.

Co-directors: Josh Gordon & Will Speck

Country: US

Genre: Rom-com

Run time: 101 minutes

Scale: 4

Se7enta (Seventy)

This short film begins in a humble fashion. A few seconds pass before you realize that the man sitting before his birthday cake topped with two large pink candles (70) is alone and about to start eating. A boom box and a cake. An audio recording plays. Family members wish him birthday greetings. They offer positive words. Do they know he’s lonely? They promise next year things will be different. Are they worried about him? His daughter will try to raise the money to make the trip to see him. Melancholy visualized.

You never see his eyes, only the bottom half of his face. You watch him eat. He chews fast. His face reddens. He drops his fork. Hands move to his own neck. Is he choking?

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

He’s definitely choking. The boom box continues talking. His grandson hopes he enjoys the little surprise baked into the cake. His head drops face down, slamming against the table. He’s dead.

Three minutes, one scene, dark ending.

Director: Paco Torres

Country: Spain

Genre: Shorts

Run time: 3 minutes

Scale: 5

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

If you’re considering a double feature, this is a perfect companion piece to Precious. Adapted from Cameron Crowe’s 1981 book written during the time he spent, faking it, imbedded in a high school. In reality, he was a Rolling Stone correspondent gathering information on the lives of teenagers. Crowe went on to become an accomplished director.Let's party

His coming-of-age story centers around a group of California teenagers and their social and sexual escapades. Main character Stacey Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a high school sophomore, is urged by her older and more experienced best friend Linda (Phoebe Cates) to hurry up and lose her virginity. Stacey gets brazen and goes on her quest, which introduces her to a rocky path to sexual satisfaction. Innocent Mark Ratner (Brian Backer) takes a liking to Stacey but when he gets scared off, his best friend Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) makes his move. Meanwhile, her brother, Brad (Judge Reinhold), star employee at a hamburger joint, has a crush on Linda. He’s considering breaking up with his long-term girlfriend when he gets blindsided on two frontiers. Nicolas Cage (billed as Nicolas Coppola) makes a quick cameo as a burger flipper. Forest Whitaker is a football star with a reputation for kicking ass. The standout character is Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn in his second acting role), surfer, stoner, slacker. His history teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston) has it out for him as Spicoli pursues his dream--making it as a professional surfer. I regret these two don’t have more scenes together. Eric Stoltz and Anthony Edwards have minor roles as Spicoli’s pals. Not only is it fun to see so many big brand names in acting sharing the screen, but, nearly 30 years later, this movie is still as entertaining as it is relevant.

Director: Amy Heckerling

Country: US

Genre: Comedy

Run time: 90 minutes

Scale: 4

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire (Flickan som lekte med elden) (2009)

She's back After seeing the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and then, reading the book, I felt like I’d seen two versions of the same movie. The book  filled in many details and rounded out the first movie. Details from the first book spill into the second movie and these details filled in many gaps. I don’t think the book is written particularly well (though it’s hard to tell whether it’s a subpar translation or poor writing) but the story grabs you with it’s fast pace and suspense. I’m certain I will read all three books.

This installation is Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) story (as compared to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which was clearly Mikael Blomkvist’s (Michael Nyqvist) story. We got background information about her childhood, her mother and father and what led to her guardianship. She has a temper and you wouldn’t want to see her when she’s angry.

Her hair is still fantastic, just longer now. She’s distanced herself from Blomkvist. He has continued trying to reach her but she’s ignored him, until she’s accused of MURDER and needs his help this time. This is where we get started. The movie moves at a quick clip and she is still an ass-kicker, but she meets a match that might bring her down. I won’t even do a spoiler alert here because I don’t want you to know what happens (except that it has a cliffhanger ending). To say that I cannot wait for the 3rd and final installation of this one is an understatement.

Director: Daniel Alfredson

Country: Sweden

Genre: Thriller

Run time: 129 minutes

Scale: 4

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009)

Clarice "Precious" Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is an obese teen living in Harlem with her sadistic mother, Mary (Mo'Nique). Mary rarely leaves the apartment. She treats Precious like cook, cleaner, errand runner and whipping girl. Although Precious is 16, she’s still in middle school due to illiteracy, but she scores high in math and other subjects. When the truth comes out about Precious’s second pregnancy, life gets complicated at school and at the welfare office. After beingThree generations of dysfunction suspended, she enters an alternative program to earn her GED. Mrs. Weiss (Mariah Carey) at the welfare office starts asking questions about her baby daddy. Meanwhile, Mary spends her time berating Precious about being dumb and a waste of space. Her new teacher, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), is determined to reset Precious’s self-hate odometer so she can see her own worth. Will Precious be able to overcome the odds?

As you watch Mary’s constant physical and verbal attacks on Precious, you want to escape this attempt at your own escape from reality. Mo’Nique is damn good at evil. Lenny Kravitz as sexy Nurse John is delightful (I didn’t know it was him until final credits.) Precious’s peers at her new school add a great angle and good humor to an otherwise, humorless movie. The scenes depicting Precious dissociating from her abuse are particularly stunning—it’s a cinematic feat the way her mental process is depicted as her body is being accosted. The acting is superb all around. The movie is based on a true story, but even if only a quarter of what happened in the movie was the truth, Sapphire, I salute you. See this but be prepared to feel like road kill afterwards.

Director: Lee Daniels

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 108 minutes

Scale: 4.5

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Inception (2010)

Leonardo, I used to love your movies—What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Basketball Diaries, Romeo + Julie. I even liked The Beach. That lame overhyped Titanic bugged me, as did Gangs of New York. You are a tease when you gift us with Catch Me If You Can. I loved you in The Departed and Revolutionary Road, but got my money back at Shutter Island (can’t blame you entirely; there were technical difficulties that stopped the movie prematurely). When I first saw previews for Inception with the exploding debris shards flying 360 in slow motion, I was curious. I sat in the theater, opening weekend, watching you guide young, fresh-faced Juno (Ellen Page) through the onion layers of your character’s theft plan and I liked you again.

Cobb (Dicaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) work as a team to get inside the deepest crevasses in people’s brains to steal and plant ideas. Ideas that could crumble multi-million dollar organizations. If possible, it’s brilliant. Cobb insists it’s possible because he’s actually carried out the complex procedure, but can he convince a crew to sign on and play a successful part in his scheme? For his coup d'état, he hires crème de la crème co-conspirators. Inception is best watched with little knowledge of the storyline; the less you know, the better. Go in with just this: The team must break into the mind of Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) and sideline and replace his father’s last words so he will change the direction of the company he inherited. In the process, dimensions are turned sideways, cars crash, buildings explode and Juno holds her own against an impressive cast of A-listers.

Keeping track of all the layers of consciousness and complexities is confusing the deeper you get but the visuals get more enticing. At nearly three hours, you will finish with a sore bottom and a mind full of kaleidoscopic explosions of colors, shapes and sounds. I liked it. Can’t say I understood it all but when a Hollywood movie dedicates so much time to psychology in a plot, it’s much more attractive. Definitely one to see in the theater, but best experienced at IMAX.

Writer/Director: Christopher Nolan

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 148 minutes

Scale: 3.5

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Somers Town (2008)

Two teens in London strike up a friendship and bond over a crush on the same waitress. Marek (Piotr Jagiello) lives with his father Mariusz (Ireneusz Czop), who works in construction. The two have recently relocated from Poland. Marek spends his free time taking pictures. His father works long days and drinks with his buddies at night. The two are close and spend their quality times together during meals. Tomo (Thomas Turgoose) has just landed in London’s Somers Town from Leeds with a few bags sans a place to stay.

The friendship between Marek and Somers Town’s new arrival Tomo  gets off to a rough start before developing. The two court French waitress Jane (Kate Dickie). This is a story about friendship and coming of age in a city where cultures meld The boysand clash. The story is simple; the details are rich and memorable. The leads are possess more than enough charm to keep you engaged. Graham (Perry Benson), a secondary character, is the surprise element. Each of his scenes are unique and entertaining. (Graham should get his own movie.) Excellent acting from all cast. Shot in black and white until the final scene which erupts in deep saturated colors that pop.

Somers Town is another excellent offering from Film Movement. Don’t know who they are? You should.

“Film Movement is a full-service North American distributor of critically acclaimed award-winning independent and foreign films. Film Movement has released films from 25 countries and six continents, including top prize winners from Sundance, Cannes, Venice, Toronto, Berlin, Tribeca and many other prestigious film festivals. Through partnerships with theaters, TV networks, wholesalers, retailers, institutions, and a first of its kind subscription service, Film Movement is able to get the films it distributes the audience they deserve.”

Writer/Director: Shane Meadows

Country: UK

Genre: Drama

Run time: 72 minutes

Scale: 4

Gigante (Giant) (2009)

Loner Jara (Horacio Camandule) lives with his sister and her son. He spends his graveyard shifts monitoring the CCTV screen at the supermarket where he’s employed as a security guard. Not much changes day to day until Julia (Leonor Svarcas), the “girl from the country,” joins the store janitorial crew and jolts Jara awake.

Jara He watches her during his shifts—views her foibles as cute, notices with whom she interacts and tries to get to know her—from afar. Jara begins working out to his metal music and following her after their shifts end. The two share commonalities, but he doesn’t dare approach her. There’s a scene where Jara follows her and ends up at the same restaurant while she is on a date.

It’s a fine line between obsession and stalking, but Gigante walks that line without crossing it. Jara is likeable and doesn’t intimidate despite his enormous height and frame. You do wonder, will he ever make his move?

Writer/Director: Adrián Biniez

Country: Uruguay

Genre: Drama

Run time: 84 minutes

Scale: 4

Monday, July 26, 2010

Dennis (2007)

Making up with MamaThis short film manages to tell a robust three-dimensional story in less than 20 minutes.

Soft-spoken Dennis (Kim Kold) is a bodybuilder with an inverted pyramid of an inked torso equipped with bulging muscles. Movie opens with him phoning a woman and asking her out to dinner. She doesn’t recognize him but agrees to meet him that night. He must lie to his mother that he’s meeting a male friend. She’s disappointed and gives him the silent treatment when she learns they won’t be sharing pot roast and playing cards.

The date is quiet but goes well enough that she invites Dennis to join her to meet a few friends. The girls are intrigued by his muscles and urge Dennis to take off his shirt and show off his muscles. They all start dancing and are full-on objectifying Dennis when two of their male friends arrive and Dennis makes a hasty retreat. He’s upset at the girl (did she invite him to give her friends something to laugh at?) and goes home. When he arrives, his mother is still sore. She remarks that his shirt is on inside out. The final scene ends as a distraught Dennis asks his mother if he can sleep with her.

THIS MOVIE IS A MUST SEE! It’s a short story come to life.

Co-writer/Director: Mads Matthiesen

Country: Denmark

Genre: Dramatic Short

Run time: 18 minutes

Scale: 5

Weeds (Season 5, 13 Episodes) (2009)

Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) can extricate herself out of any situation with creative flair. She surprises viewers by raising and re-setting the bar of how screwed up things have to get to save her. Claiming she is pregnant just as she is about to be brown bread, her Mexican mayor/cartel head boyfriend Esteban Reyes (Demián Bichir)doesn’t trust nor believe her (not after he has photo evidence she’s been talking to the Feds).

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

This season has Andy (Justin Kirk) realizing and declaring his love for his sister-in-law. There may be a glimmer of reciprocity, but Nancy prefers Esteban’s power, his money and also the life—after five seasons, she’s hooked on drama, crime, murder and mayhem. Rejected Andy rebounds with Nancy’s obGyn, Dr. Audra Kitson (Alanis Morissette), but is it love or revenge?

Celia (Elizabeth Perkins) is up to her usual scams...how does she get away with it? A constant thorn in Nancy, Doug (Kevin Nealon) and Dean (Andy Milder), she has the tenacity to work her way from the bowels of life to sit pretty for a while until the next bad thing happens. Doug and Dean are consistent—immature and perpetually stoned—working to figure out how to maintain their favorite state of consciousness. A crowded houseSilas (Hunter Parrish) persists in his entrepreneurial quest; he’s the hopeful one in this insane bunch who has a chance to make it. His calm disposition and head for business will help him succeed, if he can stay out of the clink. Shane is the biggest surprise—the boy who’s grown up flanked by violence and drug-dealing sheds his moral compass. Is he on his way to becoming a thug? We find out when season six premieres August 16.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Män som hatar kvinnor (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) (2009)

Dyno duo Based on the novel by Swedish author Stieg Larsson, the movie opens as journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) has been sentenced to prison for libel. But, before he starts serving his six-month sentence, he’s hired to investigate a 40-year-old cold case involving a missing teenager.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

Prior to the client hiring Blomkvist, he has him thoroughly vetted to make sure his nose is clean. Enter Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a hacker tasked with the “research.” She determines Blomkvist may have been framed. Despite her job being complete, Lisbeth continues her cyberspace snooping until she is no longer satisfied being a voyeur and enters Blomkvist’s life.

The cold case has substance that yanks you into the convoluted details but the unlikely duo of the tattooed goth and the calm journalist ignites the storyline. Both characters are cool; Lisbeth is tough, smart and trusts no one. Blomkvist is gentle, smart and tenacious. I liked this movie for reasons that surprised me…the story is decent (we could have learned a bit more about the characters) but watching the two characters interact and try to make sense of what draws them to one another is magic. I cannot wait for the next installment: The Girl Who Played with Fire. (Be warned: Movie contains two extremely violent sexual assault scenes.)

Director: Niels Arden Oplev

Country: Sweden

Genre: Thriller

Run time: 152 minutes

Scale: 4.5

Thursday, June 24, 2010

La nana (The Maid) (2009)

The write-ups for this movie sounded promising and full of laughs. That’s why, once I began watching, I was underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong…there were moments of amusement, but the main character was so fueled by bitterness and anger, it was difficult to connect with her, like her or understand why this movie revolved  around her. The woman is Raquel (Catalina Saavedra) and she is the live-in maid of a Chilean family. She has served the family for more than 20 years.Food possessive The movie begins on Raquel’s 41st birthday. She has been stricken with powerful headaches and dizziness. This fact, combined with her acrimonious relationship with Camilla (Andrea García-Huidobro), the oldest of the family’s four children, causes the family matriarch to add Lucy (Mariana Loyola), a young new maid to the household to assist Raquel. This sends Raquel into a tail spin and she resorts to juvenile shenanigans to haze the new girl.

The movie continues like this without any tangible arc for nearly an hour when suddenly magic occurs: Raquel displays a smile and laughter, but I won’t tell you how it happens because it’s worth watching it develop. The male writer/director has a knack for understanding the subtleties of familial relationships and human behavior. Although, he doesn’t turn these keen details into true subplots (which may have robbed focus), their mere suggestions align with and support the plot. The only spoiler I will provide you is that I yielded to tears at the end because Raquel, you won me over.

Writer/Director: Sebastián Silva

Country: Chile

Genre: Dramedy

Run time: 95 minutes

Scale: 4.5

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Dark Knight (2008)

Ying n Yang The Batman franchise has it’s own Bat Brand, which for some is a creative turn-off. Explosions get bigger, car chases and fight scenes get longer and the sitting time extends beyond two hours. As a kid, I loved the series starring Adam West. As an adult, I’m far from a Batman movie junkie. I don’t remember the early movies beyond knowing that Batman was played by Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney. I liked Batman Begins. It gave the Hollywood Batman a new edge and deeper history.

Gotham has a new hero, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), a good guy district attorney dubbed The White Knight. He’s kicking ass and taking names with clean hands. He could be the man who helps Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) end his days as crime fighter. If that happens, he can enter into a romance with childhood friend Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal), but the Joker (an unrecognizable Heath Ledger), a madman with an uncanny psychological sniffer, figures out the caped crusader’s weak spot. The Joker is unrelenting in his manipulative demand that Batman reveal his identity or he the Joker will produce a body count. Can good prevail over evil?

The weak, convoluted plot has the Joker scamming the mob. Soon, he’s got the mob working with him to bring down Batman. A lot happens and the story is bloated. After 150 minutes, your bladder is strained and your derrière is sore. You want those extra minutes to leave you shocked and wanting more, not wondering WHY?

You cannot discuss this movie without mentioning Heath Ledger. His performance was among the last before his death and he’s brilliant! His voice is unrecognizable, his makeup is mental and that compulsive licking is gross. If Hollywood didn’t tell you it was him, you may not have identified Ledger. His scenes vis-à-vis Batman are among the movie’s best. He’s nauseously intoxicating.

Co-writer/Director: Christopher Nolan

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 152 minutes

Scale: 3.5

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Jerichow (2008)

After Christian Petzold’s impressive last offering Yella (2007) and Brian’s staggering recommendation, I checked out Jerichow.

Three compellingly peculiar characters round out the story. Thomas (Benno Fürmann) is an ex-soldier who assists Ali (Hilmi Sözer) after an auto accident. Ali hires Thomas as his driver. Ali has several drunk-driving incidents and his license is suspended. To The playahs keep his snack bars operating, he must visit them daily and collect his cut.

Thomas meets Ali’s wife Laura (Nina Hoss). Sparks fly and an affair begins. The affair is conducted so riskily close to Ali that it begs the question, does Ali know? Has he set them up? Are Laura and Ali in collusion? Thomas’s and Ali’s friendship deepens as seemingly does Ali’s trust in Thomas.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

I couldn’t trust Laura’s motives. It was difficult to believe that she wasn’t going to turn. She was so guarded for so long that I was suspicious. In the end, the movie saddens. Turns out Ali has an ulterior motive but entirely different than what I’d expected. This movie carefully builds suspense as it takes its time telling its tale of loss of innocence.

Writer/Director: Christian Petzold

Country: Germany

Genre: Drama

Run time: 92 minutes

Scale: 4

Bad Santa (2003)

Before seeing Bad Santa, the reaction of those “in the know” was usually something like this: “That’s a great movie…it’s so wrong.” With these consistent reactions, how could I not be curious?

The playahs... Bad Santa is twisted, raunchy and hilarious. Conman Willie (Billy Bob Thornton), a mall Santa partners with con elf Marcus (Tony Cox) to gain entry to stores and rob them. Problem is that Santa is a foul-mouthed alcoholic kid-hater who often wets himself in costume. Marcus is tiring of Willie’s misbehaving and jeopardizing their scheme.

Mall manager Bob (John Ritter) gets wind of Santa’s debauchery and consults with security manager Gin (Bernie Mac), who takes on Santa and Willy himself for a cut of the action. That, or he’ll turn in the cons, who have a history of mall thieving.

Then, there’s The Kid (Brett Kelly) who seems oblivious to this Bizarro-world Santa’s dark ways and helps him out of several jams. There’s also the waitress, Sue (Lauren Graham), who gets off on Santa. The soundtrack of classical music works surprising well in the background during the acts of tomfoolery.

Did I love this movie? No. Is it enjoyable? YES. I especially relished the social commentary on the holiday season and how it brings out the worst in people. Disturbed minds will love it. You’ll never forget the 3Bs.

Director: Terry Zwigoff

Country: US

Genre: Comedy

Run time: 90 minutes

Scale: 3

Monday, March 22, 2010

Revanche (Vengeance) (2008)

This 2009 Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film presents you with the facts, the complications and the fall-out linking two couples on opposite ends of a socio-economic scale.

Austrian ex-con Alex (Johannes Krisch) and Ukrainian prostitute Tamara (Irina Potapenko) are enjoying a clandestine relationship in the city. She’s a prostitute working at a brothel where Alex works as an errand boy/handyman. When the boss wants to take Tamara out of the club to work appointments in an apartment, she is trapped. She owes the boss a huge chunk of money (30K Euros) and declining the offer proves difficult.

Couple Susanne (Ursula Strauss) and Robert (Andreas Lust) live peacefully in the countryside. Their marriage is struggling as a result of Susanne’s recent miscarriage. Susanne believes conceiving will not happen, due to something in Robert’s reproductive DNA not jibing with hers.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

Alex devises a scheme to rob a bank to get Tamara out of her situation. The earnings will payoff her debt and bankroll Another day at workthem into a life away from the city, away from the seedy boss and his henchmen. The robbery doesn’t go as planned and Alex loses Tamara. Now, an investigation into Robert’s actions and judgment at the robbery are called into question. He pulls away from Susanne and their relationship strains further.

Alex heads to the countryside to lie low and visit his elderly grandfather. He arrives stoic and introverted. His grandfather is friendly with Susanne who visits often and enjoys the grandfather’s accordion playing. She meets Alex and is drawn to him. She learns Alex is hell-bent on revenge, but doesn’t have a clue that his plan for revenge will strike close. The psychologically tangled plot is a winner that will keep you plugged in. The fantastic twist of an ending makes this one excellent.

Writer/Director: Götz Spielmann

Country: Austria

Genre: Thriller

Run time: 117 minutes

Scale: 5

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Un Prophète (A Prophet) (2009)

Just 19, Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) ends up in prison for six years. He knows no one inside nor has anyone awaiting him on the outside. While Malik is no stranger to the prison system, he’s just a kid and receives awakening—his shoes are promptly lifted off him and he’s beaten upon his arrival.

Malik listens to the propositionMalik is offered protection by the Corsican mafia who run a powerful prison faction but only in exchange for an extreme favor...a favor that will haunt Malik. While he receives protection, he is treated poorly for his Arab heritage by the Corsicans, but this doesn’t deter Malik. He forges alliances that guide him as well as put his good standing in the prison and the Corsicans in jeopardy. Yet these experiences shape his coming of age and rise to power within and outside prison. He takes advantage of school, begins associating with other Arabs and ascends to a position of trust with the Corsicans.

Social commentary is abundant, surrealism and allegorical elements are rich and the psychological arc of Malik’s rise within the prison system mafia are well storied. At just over 2 hours, 30 minutes, it’s long, yet I was never bored. There is so much going on in this movie; subplots are nicely paced and tie together, although several situations are left to interpretation (which I tend to favor). The movie’s climactic ending is worth the time commitment. The soundtrack is pleasantly varied. From the director of 2001’s excellent Sur mes lèvres (Read My Lips), this is a must-see.

Co-Writer/Director: Jacques Audiard

Country: France

Genre: Drama

Run time: 159 minutes

Scale: 4.5

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Basket Case (1982)

While visiting New York City, my gracious host, Marty, invited me to a Cult meetup event viewing of Basket Case.

The movie starts off with young, fresh-faced Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) entering a Times Square hotel seeking a room, toting a wad of cash and a wicker basket. The curious on-lookers ask the obvious question—what’s in the basket. He answers in a friendly manner: “Clothes.” Duane makes his way up the stairs to room 7. We soon learn that the basket contains a hungry tenant prone to violent and murderous fits of jealousy and rage.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

Turns out the small beast in the basket is Duane’s once conjoined twin, Belial. They two are in NYC to execute their revenge on the doctors that separated them years previous (at the request of their father). Duane has cared for Belial since the surgery (saving him from the garbage heap), but he can’t control his brother’s killing sprees. When Duane sneaks away on a date, Belial erupts into a murderous rage.

This is an excellent movie to watch with a group. It makes for fun viewing with plenty of peanut-gallery ready moments including the busybody neighbors at the hotel, gritty NYC as the backdrop, the prostitute with the heart of gold and ‘80s era horror. What more could you ask for in a cult classic? Just see it (and if you like it, you have the option of continued watching with two sequels: Basket Case 2 and Basket Case 3: The Progeny).

Writer/Director: Frank Henenlotter

Country: US

Genre: Horror/Comedy

Run time: 90 minutes

Scale: 3

Monday, March 1, 2010

Cop Out (2010)

Tracy Morgan is a guilty pleasure. He heads up the 30 Rock success trifecta (along with Jane Krakowski and Alec Baldwin). Cop Out got plugged so often that their subliminal adverts did a number on me.

Paul Hodges (Tracy Morgan) and Jimmy Monroe (Paul Hodges) are partners on the police force and have been for 16 years when they get suspended for a bust gone wrong. They are each struggling with some personal matters. Paul believes his wife, Debbie (Rashida Jones), is cheating with their neighbor and takes some extreme measures to learn the truth. Jimmy is trying to finance his daughter’s costly wedding. To protect his ego and prevent his ex-wife’s rich husband, Roy (Jason Lee) from picking up the tab, he decides to sell a collectible baseball card that will fetch him close to 100K. With the earnings, he’ll have enough for the wedding and still have some leftover for himself.

When Jimmy arrives to sell his baseball card, the collectibles store gets robbed. The two thieves take money and Jimmy’s card. Jimmy and Paul track one of the thieves, Dave (Seann William Scott in a look and role reminiscent of Jack Black), who helps them locate the card. This leads them to Poh Boy (Guillermo Díaz reprising his role from Weeds), a gang leader with a penchant for baseball who isn’t giving up the card, unless they are prepared to find an valuable item of his that has gone missing.

The movie continues like this and while the plot is basic, the magic is in the details. Tracy Jordan is underrated on 30 Rock; he makes this movie. His vulnerability as the semi-village idiot works damn well. Jordan and Willis make an unlikely coupling. Seann WIlliam Scott does this mimicking thing that while junior high and obnoxious is hilarious. There is a cast of familiar faces provide laughs a plenty.

Director: Kevin Smith

Country: US

Genre: Comedy

Run time: 107 minutes

Scale: 3

Magic (1978)

Corkey Withers (Anthony Hopkins) has a lukewarm magic act that fails to attract attention until he morphs into a ventriloquist. Soon Corkey and his dummy, Fats, are living la vida loca. Corkey’s dreams are coming to life but so is Fats and Corkey seems helpless to shut out his sinister voice.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

When Corkey’s manager, Ben Greene (Burgess Meredith) expresses concern about Corkey’s mental health, Corkey ignores him and disappears for some R&R to the country getaway owned by his high school crush Peggy Ann (Ann Margret) and her husband, Duke (Ed Lauter). Corkey’s feelings, which haven’t faded, grow ardent. He confesses to Peggy Ann. Peggy Ann, in an admittedly unhappy marriage, starts falling for the old flame’s charm (she’s very amused by the creepy Fats). They reminisce and soon they are discussing running off together. As Corkey begins to display rage and erratic behavior, she goes with the flow. Seems Duke has his own issues with anger, so she might be accustomed to the behavior but as you watch, you want to yell at the TV for her to see the signs that this won’t end well. Instead, she uses phrases like “You bastard!” in a joking manner that are oddly amusing. Fats and Corkey are on a collision course with insanity and the climactic ending heightens to an almost unbearably suspenseful ending.

The acting is A+. The cover alone on this classic creeper is enough to make you shudder. Fats head is the same size or a bit larger than Corkey’s and as the movie progresses and Fats grows more forceful, I noticed it more. Adapted from the novel by William Goldman, the story does a good job depicting mental illness. Watch it alone, late at night in a dark room.

Director: Richard Attenborough

Country: US

Genre: Drama/Thriller

Run time: 106 minutes

Scale: 5

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Das Fräulein (2006)

Three women’s lives intersect at a cafeteria in Zurich. Each of a different generation, each harboring a struggle. When Ana (Marija Skaricic) is dropped off at a bus station, she packs her bag in a locker and takes up with strangers. She wakes up in bed with a man and a woman, just one in a series of one-night stands she engages in, providing her a place to crash. The next morning, she goes to the cafeteria down the road. When cafeteria worker Mila (Ljubica Jovic)cuts her finger, Ana steps in to help dress her wound and relieves Mila Surprise!with serving up the food for the customers. Boss Ruza (Mirjana Karanovic) is a hard-nosed manager who runs a tight ship and has no tolerance for deviations or fun. When Ana takes a job there, she soon learns that her missteps toward lightness are quashed by Ruza. Until Ana throws her a birthday party and Ruza’s guard begins chipping away. Through Ana’s actions, Ruza begins to be a picture of her old self…the one that enjoyed herself and possessed hope. Mila has worked at the cafeteria with Ruza since the start, but Ruza makes it clear she’s merely hired help, not a friend. Mila’s husband is soon to retire and they want to build their dream home back in former Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia is what connects them—the three women are transplant from the former republic. Their similar struggles end up bringing them closer but in the end, their fears of letting people get too close prove too strong for change. Poignant.

Director: Andrea Staka

Country: Switzerland/Germany

Genre: Drama

Run time: 81 minutes

Scale: 5

Vivian Girls @ The High Dive--2.13.10

After hearing the Vivian Girls on KEXP, I sounded like a fun band to see live. I asked my music-lovin’ peeps, Carrie and Andy, to go and after previewing the music, they were in.

We arrived to the High Dive for a band called Best Coast, one of the openers for the Vivians, but there were two problems—the sound system at High Dive wasn’t vibrant and all of the band’s songs sounded the same. When the Vivian Girls started their set, they had good energy. They played their songs with verve, swinging their hair but there was something missing. The all-girl indie band from Brooklyn (Cassie Ramone, Kickball Katy, Ali Koehler) had more variety in their songs than Best Coast but their voices weren’t that strong. Maybe the sound system was to blame for the lack of rockiness. Perhaps other folks in the audience were blown away but it was a sedate crowd. Did we (the crowd) let down the band…maybe the trio was waiting for the Seattle crowd to give them more, something with which to connect. Maybe I contributed to the problem, but I was waiting for the group to go first.

In the end, it was a blast, kicking it with my homeslices, but we all wished we’d gotten more band for our $12 duckets.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Twilight (2008)

This teen flick revolving around Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), two teenagers who share a real, albeit chaste, chemistry.

A modern cover picture for Flowers in the Attic When Bella leaves sunny Arizona for wet Forks, Washington, to live with her dad, she undergoes an extremely welcoming and well adjusted high-school-transfer experience. The kids at her new school fawn over her and she quickly endears herself to them. She is intrigued by lab partner Edward, who  can’t seem to stand her. After he saves her from a possibly fatal accident, their connection gets too strong. By then, smarty Bella has put it together—Edward’s pale-to-the-point-of-transparent skin, his ‘Flowers in the Attic’-like siblings, their sudden disappearance on sunny days—she’s like totally in love with a vampire.

Romance blossoms until the bad guys come a sniffin’ for Bella’s irresistible human scent. It’s too much for one vampire, James (Cam Gigandet) who begins stalking her. (I had a hard time buying that this vampire with the ability and strength to have anyone decides he must have Bella.) Now, Bella's family is also in danger. Can the league of benevolent vampires save Edward’s love interest? Will Bella be turned into a vampire and roam the earth with a vampire family? What about her lonely dad?

This is the least bloody vampire movie I’ve ever seen. The trend of the humans falling in love with the undead and their desire to be turned is a big part of the plot (as with True Blood). Edward has the power to turn Bella; then, they can be together forever. Bella wants it, but Edward, having been 17 for a long time, has worked through his impulse-control issues and seems to know better. However, with its open-ended finale, who knows what’s to come with this franchise.

Director: Catherine Hardwicke

Country: US

Genre: Teen drama

Run time: 155 minutes (this was extended version with 33 more minutes than theater version—felt too long)

Scale: 3

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Art School Confidential (2006)

ASC takes the piss out of art school with a satirical black-humored edge. Jerome (Max Minghella) has a dream…he wants to be a great painter like his idol Pablo Picasso. He scampers off to art school only to find that his art isn’t making the cut. How can this be? He’s a good artist, right? In fact, the only ones who receive the kudos the clichéd, talentless. He struggles, talks to his professors, including self-indulgent blow-hard Professor Sandiford (John Malkovich), but still, he seems to be failing in his quest as a legitimate artist. He even changes his style to try to appeal to his class, but that leaves him worse off.

He’s smitten with nude art model Audrey (Sophia Myles) and when it seems that the two of them may be on the verge of starting something, Jonah (Matt Keeslar) shows up—an artist whose lame art becomes the hot new thing. Jerome befriends Jimmy (Jim Broadbent), an older has-been artist whose art was all the rage only to be tossed aside and forgotten. He’s now a peculiar shut-in who rants and counsels Jerome about the art world pitfalls…that success is based on who you are screwing. When Jerome’s dreams seem to be disintegrating, he ups his game with a unique plan, risking it all for success and to win the girl. Oh and while all this is going on, there’s a serial killer doing his/her thing. The twist ending ties it all together.

Director: Terry Zwigoff

Country: US

Genre: Comedy

Run time: 102 minutes

Scale: 4

Ghost Town (2008)

When misanthrope dentist Dr. Bertram Pincus goes in for a routine procedure and insists on general anesthesia against the wishes of the hospital staff, he gets his way. Immediately afterwards, he starts seeing ghosts and they are asking for his help. He returns to the hospital to inquire about the procedure and why he is hallucinating. He learns that during his procedure he died for a few minutes.

When the ghosts figured out Pincus could see them, he became important. He could help them wrap up their unfinished business with the living so they could finally rest and not walk the earth in limbo. Problem is Pincus is a selfish creep who hates life, until Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), a tuxedoed ghost (what you die in becomes your uniform), asks for his help with his very living widow Gwen (Téa Leoni). Frank wants Pincus to interfere with Gwen and her fiancée, Richard (Bill Campbell), the lawyer with no sense of humor. Pincus refuses; helping or considering anyone else isn’t part of his sensibilities. After Frank’s strong-arming, he helps Gwen by performing a dental exam on one of her museum mummies. There, he has a moment of feeling. Will Pincus know what to do with these foreign feelings? Will he help the Verizon-network-like legion of ghosts tailing him? Will he stop wearing the dentist’s uniform outside his office?

Kinnear and Leoni have acting chops, but Ricky Gervais makes this movie. With his character’s sensitive gag reflex and snooty quips, I cracked up a lot. He does the snooty English humor via NYC sarcasm so damn well. He’s perfect opposite Kinnear’s character’s arrogance. To conclude, everything is better with Ricky Gervais.

Co-writer/Director: David Koepp

Country: US

Genre: Comedy

Run time: 102 minutes

Scale: 4

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Adventureland (2009)

From the director of The Daytrippers and Superbad (not to mention several episodes of Undeclared and Arrested Development) comes the newest piece, Adventureland, depicting post-high-school angst.

Games, games, and more gamesProtagonist James (Jesse Eisenberg) is an Ivy-league hopeful who expects to enjoy Amsterdam’s finest the summer before he begins college. When the family suffers a financial setback, James has to …gasp…work the summer instead of party. The only job he can find is running games at the amusement park, Adventureland. There he meets an assortment of folks (reminiscent of the Breakfast Club variety), including his bosses Paulette (Kristen Wiig) and Bobby (Bill Hader) and his crush object Em (Kristen Stewart). He likes her; she seems to like him, but maybe not as much as she likes Mike (Ryan Reynolds), the Adventureland handyman who likes all the young girls, using his tall tale about how he jammed with Lou Reed to hook them.

James is looking to update his virgin status. Will Em figure out that Mike is a lame before the summer ends? Will James be deflowered by Em? His summer may not have been spent backpacking in Europe, but he does some living.

I enjoyed this movie. It’s reminiscent of that time when you were a teen working a job you didn’t care much about, but you knew it wasn’t forever. You met odd and interesting people and became part of the drama and went to post-work parties (especially if you worked in the food industry or a place like Adventureland). The next day, you got up and did it again.

Director: Greg Mottola

Country: US

Genre: Drama/comedy

Run time: 107 minutes

Scale: 4

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Vacancy (2007)

As the opening credits rolled and the music began, I was scared. (Not as scared as after I let Brian and Carrie convince me that The Exorcism of Emily Rose wasn’t that scary.)

Vacancy begins as unhappy couple Amy (Kate Beckinsale) and David (Luke Wilson) find themselves lost and in their broken down car on a desolate road in the middle of no-where’s-ville. They’re at each other’s throats. At first, it’s off-putting as you have no background info with which to gauge what their beef might be. They walk to a secluded motel, devoid of guests. Creepy, right? It gets worse. The motel clerk (Frank Whaley) does nothing to ease the tension. He looks odd and acts strangely but the Foxes are so vexed by their predicament, they don’t give a damn.Uh-oh (Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

Things quickly go from eerie to dire as the Foxes are terrorized in their room. First, with forceful knocks at the door with no one there and then, with mighty bangs from the room next door. Unnerved and agitated David decides to pop in the VHS tapes on the television, hoping for some porn. What he finds are snuff-type movies seemingly filmed in the hotel—specifically their room. Now, the Foxes must try to figure out a way to get out of this mess knowing that their every move is being filmed.

Vacancy is a worthwhile horror flick. I did have trouble suspending doubts that no other guests were found at this place. But, the ways the Foxes try to outwit the predators was interesting and believable. They didn’t make Amy a bumbling incompetent as many horror movies are wont to do with the ladies (for example, why do most of the women being chased in horror movies have to fall?). Some unique spins in this horror yarn. Beckinsale and Wilson have a authentic chemistry as a couple on the verge of a split who must rely on and trust each other to get out of the jam.

Director: Nimród Antal

Country: US

Genre: Horror

Run time: 85 minutes

Scale: 4

Monday, January 25, 2010

PostSecret’s Frank Warren at Seattle University—1.14.2010

Being a long-time PostSecret fan, I was excited that Frank Warren kicked off his new tour in Seattle on a rainy night on the Seattle University campus.Warren reviewing postcards Warren is an excellent  and compassionate speaker. I should know this from his site and its mission.

PostSecret is a community art project/web site showcasing homemade postcards sent in anonymously from all over the world. The cards reveal secrets never shared. The idea is that if people unburden themselves, they let go of shame, guilt or simply the need to release. It’s also inspiring and motivating for readers, as they often find the courage to act, forgive or consider their experiences.

I look forward to seeing the new secrets every Sunday and viewing the fantastic artwork, especially the collages. Another reason I love Warren and PostSecret is that the man really cares. He plugs and donates to HopeLine (a suicide hotline and resource center offering “HOPE and the option to LIVE to those in the deepest emotional pain”), an organization for which he volunteered.

Warren also displayed postcards. He discussed that his mother isn’t pleased with his project and has refused his new book (a collection of recent postcards). But, the real highlight was when Warren offered the chance for audience members to reveal their secrets. I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s fascinating to watch and hear a person confessing to a crowd of 700 strangers that you are a 52-year-old woman invigorated because you’ve finally been diagnosed with ADHD after a lifetime of misery; a young woman still dealing with her best friend’s death after he jumped from the Aurora Bridge three years ago; a 20-year-old man who dreads Christmas because when he was 7, his mother and her sister (his aunt) got into a fight that turned into a Jerry-Springer-type family brawl; a woman who admitted she was dumped for a woman who was also in the audience; a woman who tells everyone how good her relationship with her father is, when the truth is, they barely relate.

It took huge efforts not to start crying listening to them be so vulnerable. I admire every single one of them for the courage it took to voice their secrets and release themselves. I hope they got what they needed. I still think about all of them.

Disfigured (2008)

I was intrigued by the DVD cover. You see the word Disfigured across the top. You see two women (neither disfigured), one tall and very thin, the other short and robust. Both attractive. My next question…how does the movie engage the two?

Lydia (Deidra Edwards) attends a fat acceptance group. When she dares start a walking group with some of the fat acceptance folks, she gets in big trouble from the group organizer. She’s accused of self-loathing and having a problem being fat. She should accept being big, she’s told. Lydia counters that everyone needs exercise. As the debate heats up, a skinny woman enters the room and sits down, as if to attend the meeting. Clearly, she must be in the wrong place. The organizer, frustrated with Lydia (and her valid points) asks the stranger if she can help her with something. Turns out skinny gal, Darcy (Staci Lawrence) is an anorexic in recovery; she sees herself as fat. She gets tossed out on her skinny butt for daring to join a group that won’t have her.

She signs up for the walking group and tries to help Lydia spruce up her flyer in order to get more interested parties. Lydia doesn’t understand why Darcy is gun-ho to be pals. Once they get through the initial pains, a friendship forms. This movie is complex and provocative. It could have easily veered into the predictable and cliché, yet it keep you thinking. Lydia confronts her own ideas about weight and poses a lot to Darcy, who has huge issues of her own regarding weight and body image. In the end, you get a friendship formed because of and despite body issues. It makes you wonder about the ideal body and the polarizing topic of women and weight. I really liked it.

Director: Glenn Gers

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 96 minutes

Scale: 4

Road to Perdition (2002)

Tom Hanks is a great actor but not one I get excited about or follow (I wish he played more bad guys). In Road to Perdition, he is Michael Sullivan, a henchman brimming with loyalty to his surrogate dad and boss John Rooney (Paul Newman). Rooney’s son, Connor (Daniel Craig), also a henchman for his dad, gets trigger happy killing someone he ought not to have. Peter Sullivan (Liam Aiken), Michael’s son, witnesses the hit and discovers dad kills people for a living.Don't mind me crossing the street with my rifle...

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

Connor is chastised by daddy in front of the entire crew. He gives him the cold shoulder, taking instead Michael into his confidence. Rooney lashes out at Michael (Connor’s move is extreme considering you don’t get clues he’s been harboring a prior grudge against Michael, but for the rest of the movie to work you have to believe that Connor was jealous enough to want Michael dead). Michael, however, is a few steps ahead and doesn’t walk into the trap, but most of his family cannot be saved from Connor’s wrath. Jennifer Jason Leigh (as Annie Sullivan) is short-lived in the movie as Michael’s wife.

Michael and son Peter go on the lam. Michael robs banks on the way, getting even with Rooney and Co. by hitting their interests. This is Peter’s story. His loss of innocence about dad and also his coming of age as he actually gets to know his dad. The show stealer here, though, is Jude Law playing a sociopathic hit man set on Hanks’ trail by the Senior Rooney. It’s a pleasure to watch him with his odd hair, looking demented and disturbed rather than pretty.

A decent movie with an excellent cast.

Director: Sam Mendes

Country: US

Genre: Drama/Thriller

Run time: 116 minutes

Scale: 3.5

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunshine Cleaning (2008)

Perhaps it was the title with a hint of cheer. The trailer contained a spark of what appeared to be comedy. But, while there are funny moments, this is a movie about people who’s dreams have been squashed. They are in a quagmire of sadness, trying to find a way out. None of the characters has given up; they struggle but are actively chasing something, especially single mom, Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams). Things have changed for her. A popular cheerleader in high school, she’s now holding down several jobs just to keep her and her young son, Oscar (Jason Spevack), afloat. She’s also the glue keeping her family together. She took over the matriarch role when her mother died young. Her dad Joe (Alan Arkin) moves from one failed money-making scheme to the next. Oscar keeps getting in trouble at school until they offer her an ultimatum: either get Oscar on medication or find him a new school. She yanks him out and moves on an idea sparked by her lover, Mac (Steve Zahn), Oscar’s father. A cop, he tells her that the folks who clean up bloody crime scenes (biohazard removal andcleaning) get paid very very well. Rose calls her new biz Sunshine Cleaning and recruits slacker sister Norah (Emily Blunt). The women find they have a lot to learn in their new venture.

Sunshine Cleaning plays like an indie with a big budget. Amy Adams delivers. Emily Blunt’s Norah is awesome. Adams and Blunt work well opposite each other. Steve Zahn’s (always a guilty pleasure) role is small. He’s fathered Rose’s child, but he’s married to and has a family with another woman and doesn’t acknowledge Oscar. Oscar is a good character. I especially liked his interactions with sweet Winston (Clifton Collins Jr). Not a movie if you can’t stand gloom, but the ending is hopeful without getting maudlin-drenched.

Director: Christine Jeffs

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 90 minutes

Scale: 4

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Coyote (2007)

This is an indie movie so humble that when it starts, you think it may require all your energy to stay focused. Instead, you are swept away into a dramatic documentary-style story.

At 31,successful entrepreneur Steve (Brian Petersen) retires and realizes his comfortable life is boring. He’s in search of his next venture, but unable to find the right fit. His best pal, J (Brett Spackman) hasn’t accomplished much and looks bored with his day-to-day life, but seems resigned to it. When Steve’s fiancée Katie’s (Carley Adams) friend’s son is deported to Mexico after a traffic stop, Steve and J devise a plan to smuggle him back into the US where he’s lived most of his life. This success leads to an entrepreneurial opportunity as coyotes—people who get paid to sneak undocumented immigrants from Mexico into the United States.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

The plan continues but like with any good story, not without some hitches. These hitches lead to the expansion of their business, which leads to more hitches and complications. The experience of crossing the border is fascinating--the success stories, the details which are often the richest pieces. You also hear about deportations and those who leave on their trek but are never seen again. Coyote has authenticity. The characters are believable; they take ample time in researching their business venture, which adds suspense and dramatic effect. Their friendship displays depth and complexity.The twist is the white man as the kinder gentler coyote (reminds me of the sub-plot Weeds used last season—coincidence?).

Co-writer and Director: Brian Petersen

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 94 minutes

Scale: 4

The Proposal (2009)

A cheesy one-dimensional rom-com The Proposal is not. It’s got a decent plot, excellent chemistry between the leads and a talented supporting cast teeming with comedic genius (that’s you, Mary Steenburgen, Bettie White, Oscar Nuñez and Denis O'Hare).

You have Margaret Tate (a wickedly wonderful Sandra Bullock), a ruthless and emotionally fortressed book editor who’s excellent at her job. Her employees can’t stand her, especially her assistant Andrew (Ryan Reynolds) who has been suffering for “Satan’s mistress” for the last three years. Andrew is hoping that by paying his dues, he will someday get promoted to an editor position.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

When Tate’s alien status (she’s from Canada, yo) expires and she’s set to get deported, she declares she’s getting married to Andrew. He is mortified but realizes this "opportunity” provides the needed leverage and bartering power to meet his dream of becoming an editor. When they fly to Sitka, Alaska, to meet his parents and celebrate his Grandma Annie’s (Betty White) 90th birthday, the true mess begins.

From start to finish, The Proposal is entertaining without going the sappy route.

Director: Anne Fletcher

Country: US

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Run time: 108 minutes

Scale: 5

Monday, January 4, 2010

Guest Blogger: Andy Nystrom: Overwhelming Colorfast at the Sunset--1.1.2010

Who needs New Year's Eve when you've got a brilliant gig lined up January 1?

After spending a mellow Eve at home with my wife Carrie and buddy Diana watching decent horror yarn "The Unborn" and VH1 music best-ofs and metal vids, we were primed for old faves Overwhelming Colorfast at the Sunset in Ballard.

According to pal Greg from openers The Small Change, Overwhelming Colorfast drummer Dan Reed lives in Seattle and big bro and vocalist Bob was visiting our fair city for the holidays. So why not concoct a free OC reunion gig? All systems were go and they recruited Nick and Heather of the Riffbrokers on lead guitar and bass, respectively, to pull this thing off.

Overwhelming Colorfast's Bob Reed Following fine sets from Paul Lynde Fan Club and The Small Change, OC plugged in and ripped into its arsenal of favorites including "Roy Orbison," "Arrows," "How it Should Be" and "Every Saturday." Prior to a cover of the Beatles' "She Said, She Said," Bob joked that he wrote that tune and John Lennon only wished he could have done so.

Now, OC has never been a model of perfection (no band can be), but they can do their Husker Du-meets-Beatles thing like no other. Because they haven't played out much since the '90s, OC was a bit ragged throughout and there were a few miscues here and there, but the wild, pogoing crowd didn't seem to mind. Smiles flashed among the sweaty throng and on the players' faces on stage. Flashback supreme.

As a bonus, Joe Reineke from other NorCal faves the Meices (and of Seattle's Alien Crime Syndicate) joined OC buds on stage for his old band's "Don't Let the Soap Run Out" and OC's "Try." And, of course, Seattle music man and barfly Kurt Bloch (who produced two OC albums) made an appearance, as well, and jammed with OC on a lengthy prog-rock cover that finished off the night.

Just the right dose of tunes to start off the New Year.

Andy Nystrom

Andy Nystrom has attended punk and rock gigs since 1979, when he won tickets on the radio to the California World Music Festival in Los Angeles and his dad took him to see Van Halen, Aerosmith, UFO, Eddie Money and Cheech and Chong. His first punk gig was Circle Jerks and TSOL at the Starwood in 1981.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

8 Mile (2002)

Whether you love or hate Eminem (is there another option?), he’s an accomplished hard-working musician and he’s Dreamin' got acting chops. I’d been curious about this movie, but hadn’t gotten around to it, until I saw it at Michelle’s and she recommended it. From the start, you’re drawn in. The cast includes several well-known talents as well as brilliant not-so-well-knowns that add the right amount of je ne sais quoi.

Jimmy ‘Bunny Rabbit’ Smith (Eminem) is a wanna-be rapper. The movie begins at a battle (a competition between rappers where they rap-off and the crowd votes for the winners during rounds), where B-Rabbit’s nerves win and he chokes in front of the almost entirely black crowd. He’s heckled ultimately leaves the stage. His most loyal friend, David 'Future' Porter (an excellent Mekhi Phifer) pushes him to get back on the horse but B-Rabbit isn’t having it. He gets beat up a few times and meets a woman of interest, Alex (Brittany Murphy—RIP). He starts working hard on his rhymes. He’s got problems that get in the way: 1) his mother, Stephanie Smith (Kim Basinger), and her economic woes, like paying the rent on the trailer he is back living at since his supposedly pregnant girlfriend kicked him out; 2) his mother is sleeping with a much younger Greg Buehl (played by always awesome Michael Shannon), a former peer of his from high school; 3) his little sister is neglected by their mother; 4) his own economic struggles and trying to not only hold on to his job but get more hours so he can cut a demo 5) Wink—who offers to help him cut a demo but B-Rabbit isn’t sure he can trust him. There are lively scenes in this movie but among the best is the second battle.

Movie takes elements from Eminem’s history but this is an excellent view of the world he comes from and still remains close to.

Director: Curtis Hanson

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 110 minutes

Scale: 4

Felon (2008)

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

During a home invasion, Wade Porter (Stephen Dorff) chases a burglar from the home he shares with his fiancé and child. As he’s being chased, the burglar grabs for something. Porter assumes it’s a weapon and smashes the man’s head with a baseball bat, inadvertently killing him. The burglar turns out unarmed. The fact he was outside the home, running away leads Porter to an involuntary manslaughter charge and a three-year  prison sentence. Not familiar with the ways of the prison system, Porter is thrust into the Darwinian environment to fend for himself.

In the clink Porter’s sits in disbelief in his tiny cell, apprehensive about his new life. Add to this the fact that he isn’t a big guy and knows no one on the inside. The terror of the door opening for Porter to join the other prisoners for outside time for the first time is scary but it’s quickly eclipsed when another prisoner follows him out and a brawl ensues. Turns out the prison guards have their own game.

When Porter gets a cellmate called John Smith (Val Kilmer), he starts learning the ropes. In the meantime, his fiancé Laura (Marisol Nichols) is dealing with life on the outside, trying to keep up with the bills. As time progresses, the money issues turn into a disaster. Porter begins to change as he makes alliances for protection, but it’s going to cost him everything unless he can come up with a plan.

This beauty of this movie is Dorff’s ability to show us the ordinary guy in jail. No career criminal, he’s out of his element. You see how a split-second decision can break a person and practically ruin his life.

Writer/Director: Ric Roman Waugh

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 104 minutes

Scale: 3.5