Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Humor a la Suèdoise

by Nick
Figured I'd expose you guys to some different aspects of the "Swedish experience." Here are some comic strips from artist Jan Stenmark. Make you wonder why there are no great Swedish comics? (translations mine)
This last one was published the day after the long-ruling Social Democratic party lost the elections. Don't know if that has anything to do with it.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Only My 3rd Heroes Post

by Count Olaf
So, in my quest to prove I have diverse interests, here is my 3rd consecutive post about one topic....

I've decided to get in on the youtube "fun" and create my own video. If you remember the 80's, you'll probably remember the song. If you don't watch Heroes, well, you might not appreciate it.


Friday, October 27, 2006

Opening in Dallas, 10/27

by Brian
Catch a Fire (trailer): The only movie this week that I have a strong desire to see. Hopefully, it’s Good Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, Rabbit-Proof Fence) and not Bad Phillip Noyce (The Saint? Sliver? WTF?).

Running with Scissors (trailer): Looked funny the first time I saw the trailer, but my enthusiasm has been steadily declining since. Those negative reviews are just so easy to believe. Also, does Evan Rachel Wood ever play anything other than a brooding teenager?

13 (Tzameti) (trailer): Know nothing about it … Nick, anything on this one?

Deliver Us from Evil: Oddly, the trailer’s been pulled from the Apple Trailers site, and it looks like Lionsgate has taken down the official website, too.

Driving Lessons (trailer): Yawn.

Conversations with God (trailer): Yawn, part II.

The Genius Club (trailer at official site): What on earth is this? From the IMDb: “Seven geniuses, with IQs over 200, are plucked from their lives on Christmas Eve to try to solve the world's problems in one night.”. That must be the stupidest premise I’ve ever heard of in my life.

Saw III (trailer): Noted without comment. Not much to say anyway.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Lost, 10/25 episode

by Jackrabbit Slim
Discuss in comments.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Ten Last Movies I've Seen Worth Mentioning (no spoilers)

by Nick
La Moustache
A man wakes up and shaves off his moustache. When asking his wife for a comment she says that, no, he's never had a moustache. His colleagues don't react, and his friends deny that he's ever had one. Did he dream his moustache? And if his moustache didn't exist, what else doesn't exist?

There ain't a lot of existential comedies out there, and the premise of this one was fun enough for me to look it up. Vincent Lindon as the lead turns out to be the best part about the film. Has a pretty believable wtf-expression. Trouble with the film is that towards the end it does a 180 that leaves the viewer reeling and stranded, and though perhaps aimed to provoke afterthought, is more likely to provoke annoyance.

World Trade Center

Critical as I've been of where the film was coming from, I tried watching this without bias. And even though the first half hour is good, good enough, the last one and a half are boring as shit. Stone seemed to be going on auto-pilot. Seriously, how 'deep' was this film? Entertaining? Or did it 'move' anyone? I'm sorry, I don't care if that was what 'actually' happened, but there's only so much "I love my wife/husband" that I can take. Best part was staff-sergeant Karnes. A real original whose story one would have liked to have seen more of (thanks Brian for linking to that story).

Silent Hill
So, yeah, I was looking forwards to this. And it's a very pretty film... and, uh, yeah...

I'll agree with Chris that having played the first game I understood a bit more than someone without that kind of foreknowledge might have (poor bastards), but a good film should be able to stand on it's own, and this one doesn't even do that. There's some cool stuff, if like me you consider seeing a girl's skin getting ripped off in one tug 'cool,' but other than that the whole thing is a mess.

I've seen three Christophe Gans films now (this, Crying Freeman and Brotherhood of the Wolf) and all three have in the end had the same symptoms. Amazing-looking things, very moody, but with no grip whatsoever on story, either too much or too little, gaping plotholes and characters you ultimately don't care for.

But it's very pretty.

Election (Hak Se Wui)
Apparently some triads in Hong Kong have democratic elections. Don't know if this is true or not, but it's a hell of a premise for a movie. Trouble with the film is that it doesn't quite follow through on it. Branded as a 'political' gangster film, and a 'reinvention of the HK gangster film', the politics aren't that much part of the picture, sadly, as much as some of the still prevalent traits of a standard HK gangster film. I wouldn't call it 'reinvention' removing guns and having a grim, unheroic ending, when you've still got a martial arts sequence in the middle of a street and a larger part of the film is dedicated to a chase that seems totally arbitrary.

But the ending really is quite something, and the film has its compelling parts and actors. It just didn't quite deserve those amazing raves it's got from the HK film fan community.

Election 2 - Triad Election (Hak Se Wui Yi Wo Wai Kwai)
The first surprising thing to say about Election 2 is that you don't have to have seen the first one to see this one. The second surprising thing to say is that it's an amazing improvement over the first one. It's as if Scarface was followed by Godfather 2.

This could have gone on to become just a long series of brutal confrontations/executions, but instead it goes on to become what the first one should have been. It's a leaner (90 minutes), more twisted (shades of Abu Ghraib) and brainier film than the first, with a political message that actually hits home. Hits home in such a way that it's quite cool that the Chinese authorities let it slip past in this day and age.

I wouldn't say it's perfection, but this is a very good film. Well worth looking up if you ever see it on a cinema or dvd-stand.

Been looking forward to this for quite some time, and it did not dissappoint. Haven't had this fun watching a movie in a long time. Best beer movie of the year.

Da Vinci Code
Jesus Christ what a boring movie. After 15 minutes I just couldn't stand it and shut it off. I've read the book (enjoyed it for what it was) and still found the story hard to get a grip on. To not even speak of the murky, not moody, cinematography and the just wrong casting decisions (Hanks, Bettany and Molina). For fuck's sake, the thing was even crappily edited, which is something I usually only notice if it's a sub-par martial arts film.

Worst $750 million blockbuster of all time? You bet.

Nacho Libre
When I was a kid in Spain, I used to watch American wrestling on the tv. The commentary was in Spanish, and even though it was fun seeing people get hit, I couldn't quite figure out if it was for real or not. Something was obviously off. They were getting hurt, but it was like sometimes they wanted to lose. But if this was a jig, why were there thousands of people cheering like it was life or death? So one day I drag my dad to watch it with me, to tell me whether it's for real, and if not, what the deal is. He looks at it for a few minutes, and then looks at me; "Niclas, they are idiots."

I quite liked Napoleon Dynamite. It had an oddball vibe that should have made me switch off, but didn't. Hess doesn't apologize for his characters being weird, nor does he try to redeem them.

Nacho Libre isn't quite on the same level, but I did laugh at some things, and the film is sweet enough to not dismiss out of hand. By no means a very strong film, or a great comedy, it still has some funny scenes and loveable characters. If you're into Black's shtick, you'll probably like it more than I did.

Half Nelson
All those tired of hearing another over-fifty film critic's long lamentation of the passing of the 70s ("the last golden age of cinema") and the subsequent peremptory condemnation of all American films since Raging Bull - moistily reminiscing on the spare, dusty look of The Last Picture Show - please raise your hand. I like McCabe & Mrs Miller as much as anyone, but I mean come on. Hang up, get off.

That said, seeing Half Nelson is a breath of fresh air. Seriously, no show-off acting! No quirky, comic sideline-character! No third-act monologue! I might appreciate these things done well, but seeing a film that wasn't dependent on them to tell a good story felt revolutionary, of all things.

I remember Ryan Gosling from this shit TV show that my little sister used to watch, Breaker High, and thinking (hoping) that this fuckface would never have a career after 21. Man, was I wrong, and glad I was. The Believer (a great film about being Jewish) might have been a stroke of luck, but he really delivered here. Knowing one or two young, idealistic (some not so) teachers in troubled urban areas, his role here isn't far-fetched, nor does he play it false. But the thing to really see here is the kid, Shareeka Epps, who is one of the very few fully believable child actors I have ever seen. If you need one reason to see the film, do it for her.

There's no clear three act structure, no satisfying climax, and no standout scenes or bits of dialogue. But in all honesty, this film really got to me. There's something to be said for the qualities of many of the films made in the 70s. Doesn't mean such films ain't made no more.

The Queen
I work summers as a guard over at the Royal Palace in Stockholm, so the question of the monarchy's legitimacy in the modern world, while not exactly urgently on my mind, is somewhat pondered from time to time. The Queen doesn't answer those questions, but it does deliver an interesting perspective.

You can tell Peter Morgan - also writer of reality-based dramas The Deal and Frost/Nixon, both also about confrontations - has meticulously researched this as well as could be done, but in the end it's not exactly United 93 you're getting here.

All those things I said I loved seeing missing from Half Nelson, well, they're here in spades. This brings with it both good and bad.

Director Stephen Frears opts for entertaining, but it's intelligent entertainment. Considering that it's basically a film about a family's decision of whether to speak at a funeral or not, and that most people know the outcome, there's a considerable danger that the whole thing could just sputter and die. That it doesn't, and that it chugs along without braking, is a real credit to Frears. There's some great, snappy, British dialogue, and the main characters of this piece are all fascinating people in real life (Michael Sheen as Tony Blair, especially) and seeing how they supposedly act behind the media scenes is perhaps the greatest thing about the picture.

Still, even if no thing feels unbelievable, some of the people represented feel just a bit sugarcoated. Thinking back on how they're seen in the media, I imagine these people having a bit more balls in real life and somewhat less sympathetic motivations.

But Helen Mirren, in the lead, is sure to win Best Actress. This might not be the British queen as most believe her to be, but it's a great piece of showoff acting, and it's the kind that usually wins Oscars.

One of the more enjoyable films I've seen this year, so far.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Lost, 10/18 episode

by Jackrabbit Slim
Discuss in comments.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Opening in Dallas, 10/20

by Brian
I’m pretty excited, so I might as well get this up early. This may well end up the best weekend of the year, with five movies that I feel are must-sees.

The Prestige (trailer): Truth be told, I think the trailer for this is somewhat underwhelming, if by no means bad. But I loved Batman Begins so much that a new film from Chris Nolan is a major deal for me, sight unseen and unquestioned.

Marie Antoinette (trailer): Ditto Lost in Translation, if to a lesser degree. This one seems to have really split critics, but I can’t shake the feeling that the serious detractors are louder than they are numerous.

The Queen (trailer): New one from Stephen Frears, who has made good films. His last one, Mrs Henderson Presents, was revolting, but this looks strong. I’ve seen the trailer several times and still can’t really recognize Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II.

Little Children (trailer): Good trailer, and Todd Field’s In the Bedroom was very good if moderately overrated. Also, I’m a big fan of Kate Winslet, although I doubt that will make much of a difference when The Holiday opens in December.

Flags of Our Fathers (trailer): I’m always eager to see Clint Eastwood’s films, but I’m not sure I really understand what this movie is supposed to be about.

Heading South (Vers le sud): I think the headline for the top user review at the IMDb says it all: “Sex starved in Haiti! YAY!”

Flicka (trailer): What’s the deal with Alison Lohman? She’s 27 years old, and still playing teens. She doesn’t even look like a teenager anymore. Oh wait, I know what the deal is - when she plays a more grown-up role, like she did last year in Atom Egoyan’s Where the Truth Lies, she’s terrible. Downright laughable, in fact. So, never mind … forget I asked.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (trailer at official site): Being released in “Disney Digital 3-D!” I really like the movie - saw it for the first time during its last reissue in 2001 or so - but I can’t take 3-D. I hate, hate, hate, HATE it, and I’m having trouble thinking of circumstances that would get me to go see something in 3-D again.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Opening in Dallas, 10/13

by Brian
Not much going on this week, but next week looks like the best for movie openings in months.

Shortbus (trailer): One of these days, I’ll catch up with Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Until then, we get this odd bit of spiritually uplifting art porn.

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (trailer): I’ll probably go check it out, but nothing screams “generic indie film” like a title of A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.

Infamous (trailer): Looks like Capote: The TV Movie to me.

Man of the Year (trailer): Oh man. I was kinda, sorta looking forward to this until I actually saw the trailer. Let’s just get this out of the way - there’s NO WAY that the Robin Williams character, as he appears in the trailer, would win an election. It just wouldn’t happen.

The Grudge 2 (trailer): Didn’t see the first one … what’d I miss?

Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker (trailer at official site): Formerly known as simply Stormbreaker in its native UK, but was “rebranded” for release here in the States in an apparent attempt to facilitate franchise opportunities. Suuuuure, that’ll happen. And who was behind this decision? Do I even really need to point it out?

The Marine (trailer): The WWE’s breathlessly anticipated follow-up to See No Evil. I, for one, have been saying that more wrestlers need to be in movies since at least Santa with Muscles, and I’m glad to see that someone’s finally paying attention.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I Dig the Tagline

by Nick

Lost, 10/11 episode

by Jackrabbit Slim
Discuss in comments

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hooray For Stupid Action Movies

by Nick
Trailers for Tony Scott's Deja Vu and Rodriguez/Tarantinos Grind House are up. Feelings?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Last 10 Movies I've Seen

by Brian
All About My Mother: By far my favorite of the now 6 Almodóvar movies I’ve seen, and a great argument against watching his films on DVD. It’s cinematic in the best possible way, and I can’t help but feel that a lot would be lost in a home environment.

Half Nelson: A bunch of very good performances but I’m not sure how much else. As much as the filmmakers seem to want to avoid the typical “heroic inner city teacher” movie, I think they still fall into the trap. At the end of the day, they don’t really deal with the subject matter in a way that was meaningful to me.

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles: It seems funny, but the movie that was on my mind while watching this was David Lynch’s The Straight Story. Thematically, they struck me as fairly similar.

Law of Desire: An early Almodóvar, less successful than the others I saw during the Viva Pedro! retrospective. Obviously shares themes and subject matter with Bad Education, but it’s not nearly as sharp as the later film.

Hollywoodland: I added my comments in Jackrabbit Slim’s review thread.

All the King's Men: Not as bad as the reviews would make it seem, but still not very good. I actually didn’t have a problem with Sean Penn as much as I did with … nearly everyone else in the movie, come to think of it. Plus, it’s a really, really bad idea to have a movie revolve around someone who makes it a point to not know what’s going on.

Jesus Camp: Like with The Boys of Baraka, directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady do really great work with kids, but I would have liked to see this movie dig a little deeper than it did. One of the great strengths of Baraka was that we got to see the difference the school, and its closure, made in the lives of its students, but that’s not really the case here. The film really only scratches the surface of the role “faith” plays in these kids’ lives. A follow-up in ten years would probably be fascinating, though.

Matador: Another early Almodóvar, probably the most farcical of the ones I saw. Fun stuff, but somewhat aimless, and I don’t think the third act really works for me.

The Last King of Scotland: Very well-made and well-acted, and packing a considerable visceral impact, but the story problems are so great that it makes me think that the whole idea was fundamentally misconceived. Again, it’s not wise to build a movie around a character who is wholly ignorant of what’s going on around him.

The Departed: Mostly great, although as the end approaches things get progressively murkier, and the last shot especially damn near ruined it for me. The first two hours, though, are inarguably awesome, and Mark Wahlberg, of all people, really kills here in a supporting role.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Is This A Good Or A Bad Poster?

by Nick
Haven't been around lately, but this just had to prompt a quick question.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Opening in Dallas, 10/06

by Brian
The Departed (trailer): The first of two must-sees this weekend, as it’s apparently the “best Scorsese film since [fill-in-the-blank].” Personally, I’ve always thought that Bringing Out the Dead was extremely underrated, but the more common choices seem to be either Casino or Goodfellas.

The Last King of Scotland (trailer): Director Kevin Macdonald last made the quasi-documentary Touching the Void, which was probably the best movie released in 2004. See it if you haven’t.

Renaissance (trailer): Looks pretty good, I guess. Even with the Weinsteins gone, I find myself reflexively skeptical of Miramax stuff. Any chance that any of our European correspondents can shed some light on this?

49 Up (trailer): The latest of Michael Apted’s 7 Up documentaries, wherein he chronicles the lives of a group of folks every seven years. I haven’t seen any of the previous installments, but really ought to someday.

Employee of the Month (trailer): Dane Cook: not funny. Granted, I only have two episodes of “Saturday Night Live” to go on here, but I feel pretty confident about that assessment nonetheless.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (trailer): Will be better than The Descent: true or false? I’d give even odds, but I doubt heavily that I’ll find out.

Keeping Mum (trailer): Didn’t even watch the trailer for this. That probably seems harsh, but I can’t stand Maggie Smith. Or Rowan Atkinson. And the presence of Patrick Swayze sure as hell isn’t going to change my mind. Plus I hate the title.

America: From Freedom to Fascism (trailer): From the IMDB, this film “explores the connection between income tax collection and the erosion of civil liberties in America.” Proving that the fringe right-wing in America is far loonier than the fringe left.

Lost, 10/4 season premiere

by Jackrabbit Slim
Discuss in comments.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Some observations on Laura Linney

by Professor Wagstaff

I’ve been a fan of Linney’s for several years, going back to when I first saw her I first over a decade ago in the original ‘Tales of the City’ TV series. For a then 15 year-old kid who’d only experienced suburban Melbourne, this series really stood for me as being massively liberating and appealing for the society it portrayed. I recall feeling great empathy for Linney’s character who was an outsider who became part of this exciting new lifestyle. Undoubtedly Linney’s appealing and charming performance as Mary Ann Singleton was a great help in this regard and ever since I’ve followed her career and performances closely.

Then in films like ‘The Truman Show’, ‘Primal Fear’ and ‘You Can Count on Me’ she demonstrated that she was not only a quality and substantial acting talent, one almost had the faith that if she was in the film, then the film was almost automatically going to be worth a look.

But in recent films I’ve seen her in, my enjoyment and appreciation of her performances has been waning, especially in the Australian film ‘Jindabyne’ I saw her in a few weeks back. The film got a fair bit of critical praise here but in Australia while I appreciated some aspects of it, overall it was much ado about nothing and mildly tedious. And one of the most tedious aspects of the film was Laura Linney’s performance. Certainly her character – an emotionally disturbed mother in a rocky marriage – was a complex one to play. But I felt that Linney turned her into an monotonous, alienating character that prevented the audience from garnering any genuine insight or empathy for this character’s plight.

By itself, this performance wouldn’t really be worth getting in concerned about Linney’s career trajectory but in light of other recent performances I’ve seen of her, something more significant begins to emerge. But I began to notice this especially in ‘The Squid and the Whale’ – it was a film I liked overall and it had several good performances but Linney, while adequate, wasn’t one of the standout ones. And I think after seeing ‘Jindabyne’ its becoming clearer. I think she’s treading water in her career.

This may seem like an unfair call compared to other hack actors out there who will never amount to much but I think it’s notable because she is so talented that therefore she deserves to be judged more harshly. Through her capabilities, she’s reached a certain level of skill and excellence but seems to have plateaued at this level and gotten to the stage where she’s playing the same type of characters with same acting reflexes over and over again. In short, she’s playing it safe.

The last three films I’ve seen her in (Kinsey/Squid/Jindabyne) have her playing similar characters – too similar. I suspect she’s infused too much of herself and her own persona into her recent characterizations so that they lacked the standout features one expects from her performances

Linney’s situation got me thinking of the career of Jack Lemmon. Already established as a comic persona in the 1960s, he could’ve rested on his laurels and gone for the safety of playing easy comedies with Walter Matthau much earlier then he did in the 1990s. Instead, during the latter stages of his career he reached out and took risks with challenging dramatic roles. I recently rewatched ‘The China Syndrome’ not that long ago. It’s still a good film although it does seem a bit old-hat and melodramatic but the real standout feature is Lemmon’s performance. He is totally and utterly convincing in his role as the person who turns from the ever-reliable nuclear plant worker to a crazed hostage-taker. Even better is his performance in Costa-Gravas’ ‘Missing’ a few years later. His scene where he’s desperately pleading to the American embassy officials about the fate of his son is a brilliant piece of acting, the highlight of a fine film.

I’m not trying to argue that Lemmon is a better actor then Linney (or vice-versa). My point is that Lemmon had reached a certain level where he could’ve coasted along for the rest of his career but he chose at various stages to go beyond. Linney is now in a similar situation where she’s reached a certain level where she can probably get by for several decades to come but I think it would be to her detriment.

I hope over the next future that we get the unexpected from Laura Linney as she adds new features to her acting skills. She’s certainly capable of it.