Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Turkey Day

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! For an extra special thanks to everyone who reads my blog, here's a special Thanksgiving treat you won't soon forget (note: check out my "Quantum of Solace" review below):

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Movie Review: Quantum of Solace

Two years ago, the ailing Bond franchise, held down by ludicrous plots and over-the-top gadgets, was revived in a big way with "Casino Royale." "Casino Royale" held back on the gadgets, created a more believable story, and most importantly, brought audiences a darker, vulnerable Bond.
"Quantum of Solace" manages to bring back all of these fantastic new qualities of Bond for a satisfying new movie.
While most 007 movies started from the beginning at each movie, "Quantum of Solace" is the first one to pick up from directly where its predecessor left off. Last we saw, James Bond (Daniel Craig) was torn apart by the death of his love, Vesper (Eva Green) and is now swearing a quest of vengeance. 
While tracking down some enemies and conspirators in Vesper's death, Bond finds out that his enemies go far beyond Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). It's something called Project Greene run by a man named Dominic Greene ("Diving Bell and the Butterfly"'s Mathieu Amalric) who acts like a giving philanthropist but is really sucking the earth dry of many of its resources. The rest of the plot (without giving too much away and showing what I comprehend) has to do with oil. But despite the intimidating Greene, Bond's greatest challenges are M (Judi Dench) and his own recklessness.
Once again, Craig steals the show and proves himself a Bond almost as good as Connery. His comic timing allows him to deliver great one liners and sarcastic remarks perfectly, making him the funniest Bond without making him corny. Beyond the comedy, Craig helps show Bond beyond a man who simply defeats the bad guy and gets the girl at the end. Here is a man who is now seen as human. He can fall in love. He can be hurt. His mission is not always about saving the world, sometimes it's about fixing his broken heart.
Just like "Casino Royale," "Solace" contains no high-tech gadgets or giant rays that can harness the sun's power and melt the earth (or whatever happened in "Die Another Day") but instead contains a plot about a man exploiting all of South America's unstable governments and using them as a way to harness control of all of the world's oil. Sounds more like something ripped from a CNN headline than a Hollywood action movie.
"Quantum of Solace" like its strange title, can sometimes be a little odd and extremely confusing. Viewers looking for a typical simple Bond plot should instead wait for the next Michael Bay movie, because this one won't be for them.
"Solace" doesn't live up to "Casino Royale" for several reasons. Despite its more realistic plot and attention to character like its predecessor, "Solace" lacks the breathtaking action sequences that made up "Royale." The beginning sequence of "Royale" was crazed and everywhere, but it was filmed at a pace so the viewer could take it all in and follow every single movement. That is what made the scene one of the greatest chase sequences ever filmed.
"Solace" contains some great action sequences, but they aren't filmed with the same carefulness and grace as those in "Royale". Instead, the camera jerks too much and everything happens way too quickly. The viewer can barely appreciate any action going on and therefore the movie is nowhere near as thrilling as previous Bond chapters. A big reason for this was the fact that "Royale" was directed by a man who had directed several big Hollywood blockbusters while "Solace was directed by Marc Forster, whose known for directing dramas like "Finding Neverland" and "Monster's Ball." Forster does excellent on the drama and character parts of the movie, but he still needs experience in directing action sequences. If he sticks on for a few more movies, Forster should be able to improve in his action sequences.
"Quantum of Solace" is the next part in not only the revival but transformation of James Bond. And it does well on that. Unfortunately, it lacks some of the grittiness and brilliance that made "Royale" an instant classic but it's an extremely sufficient and even thought provoking two hours of entertainment.
 In a world of brain dead action movies filled with explosions, "Quantum of Solace" gives the world a blockbuster not only with a brain, but also a big, cold heart. If only the action was bette done, "Quantum of Solace" could've been "Dark Knight" of the holiday season.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Worst Job Ever=Best. Movie. Ever

Director Greg Mottola ("Superbad", a few episodes of "Undeclared" and "Arrested Development") is riding his deserving wave of "Superbad" success (yes, someone besides Judd Apatow was involved) for a new movie called "Adventureland." It's based partly of Mottola's real life job he had working at Disneyworld after college. And it stars such new age comic geniuses as Martin Starr ("Freaks and Geeks"), Kristen Wiig (SNL) and that kid from "The Squid and the Whale." Like "Superbad" it looks like it'll mix hilarious gross out humor with a sweet coming of age back story. Also, it'll most likely be a more realistic account of teen life than "The Hills", which I cannot stress enough.
Will this be the next "Superbad?" Judge for yourself with the trailer below:

Friday, November 21, 2008

"Sunny" Season 4 Comes to a Close

Watched it or not, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" had its season finale last night. A bittersweet one, I must say. While I was enthralled to see a musical made out the Dayman and Nightman songs in last night's episode, no more "Sunny" for who knows how long. Nothing at 10 PM every thursday to follow "The Office" and "30 Rock".
But, I'm sure none of you care about my suffering. You want to hear about this season. And what a great season it was. Blessed with a bigger budget and a certified following (which grows bigger by the day), creator/star Rob McElhenney was able to create new stories a bring the gang to new places that could never have been done with the budget of the show's pilot (which was between $85-$200). In this season, the gang sunk to new, strange levels of depravity. They ate and hunted people, waterboarded each other, faked their own deaths, kidnapped multiple people, took advantage of the homeless and worldwide crisis, and even managed to go back in time. These, amongst many other events this season, while tending a bar.
Season four didn't exactly reach the perfection of season three, but that's not to say this season was a new step up for the show, despite some flaws. Some things that bothered me this season was an absence of the McPoyles and an absence of jokes about Charlie's blatant illiteracy (however, Charlie's idiocy was not totally forgotten, thanks to some cat food and a mail conspiracy). As this season progressed, we saw the once successful Frank (Danny DeVito) sink lower and lower). He went from a once successful businessman opening sweatshops in Vietnam to a man disguising himself as Rambo not long before he began pooping everywhere and landing in a mental hospital (a fantastic inside joke on "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", which DeVito starred in). Nothing however will ever reach his lowest level of depravity in season three when he married his own daughter to get his hands on his wife's will.
Of the cast, I believe this season truly belonged to Kaitlin Olson. As Dee, the only woman of the gang, she managed to stand out and really bring both the character's craziness and vulnerability into full swing. I cringed in painful laughter (yet felt a little bad for Dee) as she dry-heaved her way through a pathetic attempt at standup. If the Emmys ever decide to lighten up a little and consider "Sunny", I think Olson should be a true contender for best actress. Seriously.
So season five, please come soon. If I have any advice for the show, it's that they bring back Charlie illiteracy jokes along with the McPoyles and Bruce Mathis, hit political/social themes even harder, keep bringing the Waitress back, and please bring "Nightman Cometh" to Broadway. But most importantly, please come back soon.
It's difficult to choose the best clip from this season, but here are three scenes that nearly brought me to tears:



Saturday, November 15, 2008

To See or Not to See: Amores Perros Edition

Usually when I write a review, I have a clear opinion of it to provide the audience; whether it is good or not. Whether you should see or not see it. Today I've hit a dilemma, and that dilemma is "Amores Perros" (which translates to "Love's a Bitch", not "Love Dogs" as I originally thought). I am so shooken up and split up by it that I thought I'd try something new. I'm gonna tell you my two-sided opinion on it, and I want you as a reader to decide for yourselves whether or not you should see.
To See: "Amores Perros" was the first feature by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu ("21 Grams", "Babel") and it's a hell of a debut film. Set in smoggy, sprawling, Mexico City it tells interconnecting stories that range from the rich to the homeless. Some characters include Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal) whose in love with his psycho brother's kind and gentle wife (Vanessa Bauche). Octavio wants to get away with her, but first he must raise money through dogfights (more to come on that) for the trip. There's also a homeless man with strange motives behind a strange murder and a rich model whose been tainted by a car crash. "Amores Perros" contains heartbreak and beauty. The imagery is stunning; from spilled blood sizzling on a grill to that final image. It portrays themes of hope and hopelessness, along with the possibility of change and forgiveness in such a cruel world. It asks us to look beyond stereotypes and into people's hearts. Inarritu's debut film shows the prominance in Latin American filmmaking which has arised this decade and is perfect for those of you who love interconnecting stories like "Crash" (minus the preachiness). But what is that essential flaw in here?
...or Not to See: Each seperate story of Amores Perros contains dogs as an essential part of the story. I love dogs, to a huge degree. So, why am I so hesitant about the use of dogs here. It was those cringeworthy dogfights. Now, I'm not for censorship and I understand the director wasn't condoning dogfighting. But I have a soft spot for animals (especially dogs) and watching them tear each other apart in bloody masses was just too depressing for me, and it's possibly the thing that may prevent me from watching this movie again. So animal lovers, beware.
There are also many flaws in the story itself. For one thing, it's a bit muddled. The lines between who is who can get a little confusing (follow those subtitles carefully, audience). Also, I was extremely bothered by how many characters who seemed so important at first were suddenly dropped and barely had anything to do with the end of the movie. Basically, the stories don't tie together well. While with Inarritu's masterpiece "Babel" not a single character from each story ever met each other, they all still reached some sort of conclusion at the end and you really felt a close connection between each story. Each characters purpose made sense. "Amores Perros" also lacked "Babel"'s stunning epic sweep.
That is the Question: Readers, decide for yourselves whether or not you should see this movie. Filmophiles, dig in. PETA members, step back. And for those of you who have seen this movie, am I right? Or does my love for dogs make my opinion a little biased and unfair? And if you like this movie, it doesn't necessarily make you Michael Vick.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Movie Review: Role Models

Recently, I thought I was beginning to lose faith in the comedy genre. Over the past year, the genre was completely revived. However, in the last few months we got the disaster that was "Sex Drive" and a totally unjust Apatow/Rogen backlash forming. My love of comedy was restored last night with "Role Models".
"Role Models" succeeds because it follows a completely original idea. It only falls into cliche territory a few times, but it mainly stays on course for an inventive and inspired ending. 
"Role Models" gives the audience the usual pair of slackers. Danny (Paul Rudd) is a spokesman for a Red Bullesque energy drink company. Like Peter in "Office Space" he lives a pretty miserable existence which gets worse when he realizes that he's gone nowhere in life. His business partner Wheeler (Sean William Scott) doesn't seem to realize this and just enjoys prancing around in his bull costume.
After Danny starts to loose it, he tries to propose to his girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks) and does some other pretty unlawful acts that land him and Wheeler in community service. To fulfill their hours, they're put into a child mentor program. Danny is assigned Augie (Christopher "McLovin" Mintz-Plasse), a Dungeons and Dragons/WoW geek, while wheeler is assigned to the foul-mouth Ronnie (Bobbe J. Thompson). Mischief, chaos, and a lot of heart ensue.
"Role Models" is directed by David Wain. Some may know him better as David of TV's brilliant comedy "Stella", also a comedy trio consisting of Wain, Michael Ian Black, and Michael Showalter. Wain shows as much charisma and hilarity behind the camera as he did in front of it. "Role Models" contains that random, over-the-top, slapstick humor with a heart that made "Stella" so great. Wain makes a too short cameo as the typical man on a camping trip who tries to play the acoustic guitar.
There are three things that make a great comedy work: writing, directing, and acting. If you have all three, you're set. The performances in the movie make Wain's script and directing even funnier. Rudd has proved that he has what it takes to be a leading man. He has a gift for making dramatic seem funny. He played mopey and depressed flawlessly in "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and brings it to a new level here. Scott shows a comic talent I never thought he had. He could probably make a great career if he sticks to good material like "Role Models" and stays away from any "American Pie" sequels. Mintz-Plasse pulls another fantastic performance here. It is almost identical to his McLovin performance, but two McLovins is barely enough. He brings that extreme awkwardness including stutters and long pauses to make the audience uncomfortable, but he controls it so Augie isn't totally resentable or laughable. Thompson is a new face to look out for.
"Role Models" works better than recent comedies like "Sex Drive" because even its dirtiest jokes don't feel too gross or raunchy. The best dirty jokes are subtle or hidden in innuendos (the best one: "I am here to service these young boys!"). If "Arrested Development" taught us anything about humor, it's that you can never have enough innuendos. 
What also sets "Role Models" apart is that the whole time you feel like you're rooting for the underdog. Not to mention, even if the characters do awful things, we continue to feel for them. The connections that Wheeler and Danny find in the kids they are forced to mentor is something even deeper than you'd expect in an R rated comedy with Sean William Scott.
So if you're in the mood to hear a debate about Kiss lyrics, and see and ending that will make you remember "Freaks and Geeks", go see "Role Models", one of the funniest movies this year.
Recommended for Fans of: "Superbad", "Knocked Up", "The 40 Year Old Virgin", "Office Space", "Clerks", "Freaks and Geeks" (TV), "Arrested Development" (TV), "Stella" (TV)

Friday, November 7, 2008

It Has Arrived: Lost Season 5...

...No, it hasn't started yet (tear), but ABC has released a trailer for "Lost"'s upcoming fifth season which will begin Wednesday January 21, 2009. The last time we saw our favorite castaways, Ben successfully moved the island, Jin and the freighter were blown to smithereens, the Oceanic Six could barely handle life back in the real world, and the mysterious man in the coffin who Jack was so sad about was none other than John Locke. 
Based on this trailer, season five will pick up directly where season four left off. Jack finds out that some very bad things happened after he left the island and Locke said he needed to go back. Ben tells him the only way to return is with everyone else who was rescued. The real question is, what kind of "very bad things" happened after Jack left? Where did the island go?What must they do when they return to the island? How did Locke bite the dust? With the faith vs. science debate that has made up Jack and Locke's bitter relationship throughout the series may be telling in Locke's death? Is it Jack and science, not Locke and faith, who should truly rule the island?
Now that the series finale has been determined, creators Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse now know where everything is going, so these final two seasons will be more directed, and hopefully brilliant. That is, combining the character study of season one with the mythology of season three and hopefully avoiding some of the clunkiness that made up season two.
Here's the moment you've all been waiting for:

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Movie Review: Harold and Maude

"You've gotta make you're own kind of music.
Sing your own special song.
Make your own kind of music
Even when no one's around."
-Mama Cass
These words from the Mama Cass classic "Make Your Own Kind of Music" are a few simple words that define independence and individuality that defines "Harold and Maude", a fantastic little romantic comedy that...
Wait? Did I say romantic comedy? That's a little shaky. Romance? Yeah. Comedy? Sure. Black comedy sounds a little more accurate. All together, romantic black comedy. 
This black comedy begins with Harold (Bud Cort), a teen-something in a fancy room hanging himself. His mother (Vivian Pickles) walks in, notices her son gasping for life and goes back talking on the phone. Somehow, Harold survives. So what does he do after that? He kills himself again. And again. And again. Until mommy sends him to a psychologist who can't do much for Harold.
Harold is actually a rebellious child, a smart boy capable of individuality. However he doesn't really know this, so like "Fight Club"'s narrator and Benjamin Bradock he floats through life and lets it pass by way too quickly. The only thing that makes him feel alive is the many random funerals he attends, and even there he doesn't feel much. This is of course, until he meets Maude (Ruth Gordon).
Maude is close to her 80th birthday, but she's not your typical buby. Sure, she drives like one, but she acts like a 16 year old. She really is Mama Cass's "Make Your Own Kind of Music"; she'll steal a tree to replant it in the wild and outrun cops just to say she's beating it to her own drum. Her and Harold form an incredible connection, change each other's lives, and fall in love, breaking down the age barrier.
There have been so many love stories about two random people meeting each other through coincidence, going through a turbulent relationship, and eventually falling in love, but there have been few to none quite like "Harold and Maude." "Harold and Maude" shows that love can exist in any form, as long as the two people involved love each other. Race, gender, age, who cares? In a year where a man running for president is African American, this test of society's tolerance remains ever the more relevant. 
The film is directed in a style that most likely influenced Judd Apatow (I don't think I can go one review without dropping his name) and "The Office"; it feels like the director grabbed a camera and followed around two random people for a few days and got an honest and candid shot of their lives. We see them first in the middle of an event, and we leave them in the middle of an event. We don't need to see anymore, but we've taken out a lifelong lesson over just a few days in Harold and Maude's life.
It's easy to understand why "Harold and Maude" has grown such a huge cult following. Beyond the extremely quotable dialogue (Harold: You sure have a way with people. Maude: Well, they're my species!) lies a subtext on the passing from life to death and feeling alive for the very first time. Harold keeps trying to commit suicide in order to kill himself from the dead like state he's been living in (Harold looks awfully white throughout the film. Is he dead already? Debate this Lost like theory amongst yourselves as I try not to give much more away).
The anti-hero protagonist of Harold is no doubt inspired by "The Graduate"'s Ben Bradock and has no doubt inspired that theme of re-awakening seen in "Fight Club" and "The Visitor" amongst others.
In these re-awakenings the main character goes from lazy and uncaring to becoming their own person. This is usually triggered by some event or person. Harold's trigger is Maude. If an 80-year-old can live life to the fullest, so can he.
Besides Mama Cass, "Harold and Maude" evokes many other songs, mainly those of Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel. That could be because the movie is like a song and poetry put together. This effect is emphasized by its beautiful score by Cat Stevens (aka Yusif Islam) whose songs perfectly compliment the movie's message of individuality and rebellion. 
In a time when government and media corrupts our country and tries to tell us how to act, a sense of individuality should never be forgotten.
In "There's Something About Mary", Mary states that Harold and Maude is "the greatest love story of our time". And it is, of the time of 1971, and the time of 2008. It feels real because the relationship isn't focused on two way too perfect Hollywood celebrities, the best jokes aren't one liners but people lighting themselves on fire, and the message goes far beyond just true love being more important than anything. It is that love can be found anywhere, if we take risks, try new things, and never conform. Always make your own kind of music, even when no one's around.
I've been so carried away by the movie's powerful message that I really forgot to analyze the movie itself. The way Hal Ashby shows the differences between life and death through imagery (blooming flowers fade to tombstones) is beautiful. Ruth Gordon, who brought humor to her incredibly creepy role in "Rosemary's Baby" brings that same wacky hilariousness to this role but with less creepy and more humanity. Why she wasn't nominated for an Oscar is beyond me.
Recommended for Fans of: "The Graduate", "Fight Club", "The Visitor", "There's Something About Mary", "Knocked Up", "The 40 Year Old Virgin", "Superbad", "This is Spinal Tap"