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