Friday, March 27, 2009

Why Richard Linklater Will Save the College Flick

While doing my daily browsing on, I made a very exciting discovery. Richard Linklater, auteur of the greatest high school movie ever made, "Dazed & Confused," has a new movie coming out about college. More specifically, it's about a group of college kids lost ("Dazed") and mystified ("Confused") during their first weekend of college in 1980.
Unfortunately, it doesn't follow the characters of "Dazed & Confused" into their first days of college, but it will hopefully create a cast of characters who are just as memorable. Since this movie takes place in 1980, it is no doubt a nostalgia film. Nobody captures nostalgia better than Linklater. I was not alive in 1976, but "Dazed & Confused" made me feel like I was right there, and knew pretty much everything about the 70s. From the Aerosmith soundtrack to the hazing and the pot smoking; the audience understood what it was like to be a teen in 1976. It was about the pressure, but also about the good times. Times have changed, but teens today could still related to the teens of "Dazed & Confused."
This is really why I'm excited to see what Linklater will bring to the college comedy. Over the past years, the genre has totally evaporated into brainless shlock. Every college comedy seems to show college as one giant party, and then of course the dean tries to ruin everything. Then, the kids bring the dean down and it's happy times for all. "Animal House" started this and they did it just right. So many filmmakers have tried to imitate "Animal House"'s style, but they all fail. Maybe it's because no scene of a bunch of inexperienced kids throwing up after drinking for the first time could match the subtle comic brilliance of watching John Belushi devour a plate of jello in one bite.
But, I digress. The reason this movie will revive the college comedy is because it sounds like "Dazed & Confused" set on a university campus. And I mean that in the best possible way. While "Dazed & Confused" captured the life of a group of varied high schoolers over one night, Linklater's new film will capture the life of college kids over just one weekend. The teens of "Dazed & Confused" found out that despite what social group they come from, none of them are too different. What better place could that lesson be taught then at a college on the very first weekend. This film will have depth and show that comedies can have depth. Overall, it's those tiny connections between humans that can propel a comedy from funny to masterpiece. This typically is the essence of a Linklater film.
Now, the college comedy hasn't totally died. Judd Apatow brought it back with touching humor and stark realism with his TV series "Undeclared." Unfortunately, it was cancelled after one season. Maybe it is because people don't like realism. They like ridiculous fantasy. But, I think this new movie will show that realism can be funny and entertaining, as well as enlightening.
Unfortunately, this movie, currently being called a "spiritual sequel" to "Dazed & Confused," has yet to find a distributor. Studio executives I beg you, take a risk and invest in Linklater's latest film.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are: An Awesome Movie Based on an Awesome Book

After months of reshoots and other controversies, "Where the Wild Things Are," based on the book by Maurice Sendak, finally got a trailer. And might I say, it looks awesome. Rather than putting it in the hands of one of the idiots who thought "High School Musical" was a good influence on children, the classic story is being handled by Spike Jonze. This is the same Spike Jonze who's wild imagination brought Charlie Kaufman's scripts of "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation" to life. 
Hopefully, Jonze will make a fantasy world seem as wildly real and plausible as that of "Spirited Away" while using this fantasy to mirror the darkness of reality like in "Pan's Labyrinth," minus all that bloody Spanish Civil War stuff.
For now, I just pray the studios haven't butchered the film like reports have claimed. Then again, the films that get butchered by studios usually prove to be the best ones (see: "Apocalypse Now").

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sign the World Isn't Ending: Hayao Miyazaki's Latest Film Comes to America

Hayao Miyazaki, the visual mastermind behind such anime masterpieces as "Princess Mononoke" and "Spirited Away," has made his next film. It is called "Ponyo," and it has been set for a U.S. release date of August 14.
"Ponyo" is about a goldfish that longs to become human. Now, that might sound a little strange, but Miyazaki has the amazing ability to take the most absurd childhood fantasies and turn them into something believable and mature. This is more than what can be said for most movies aimed at children nowadays (I'm talking to you, "Beverly Hills Chihuahua").
I'm usually wary of foreign films that get dubbed for their U.S. release because I'm a subtitle guy. But John Lasseter, another animation mastermind who created Pixar, is producing the English language version. He has produced most of the other English translations of Miyazaki films. Each film has made it smoothly from Japanese to English. I have no doubt this one shouldn't either.
I will try and forget the fact that Miley Cyrus's sister and a Jonas are in this movie, because the cast also includes Lily Tomlin, Cloris Leachman, Liam Neeson, and Tina Fey amongst others. Everyone knows you can't go wrong with Tina Fey, and the addition of Hayao Miyazaki just makes it all the better.
Story Found Here 
Trailer Below (it's in Japanese, sorry):

Friday, March 20, 2009

Quentin is Back: Inglourious Basterds Trailer

It's been five years since Quentin Tarantino's last feature length film, "Kill Bill: Volume 2" and two years since he collaborated with Robert Rodriguez on "Grindhouse." Now, the brilliant auteur who likes to take long breaks is finally back, with a film carrying the gloriously misspelled title of "Inglourious Basterds." Why is the title misspelled? This is one thing I cannot comprehend about Quentin's new movie. However, I can determine many things about this movie from merely viewing the trailer.
First off, "Basterds" is somewhat of a departure from form for Tarantino. This film leaves sunny souther California for Nazi-occupied France during WWII. It tells the story from a troop of Jewish American soldiers.
The cast of the film is even more perplexing than the title. The cast includes Brad Pitt, B.J. Novak ("The Office"), Samm Levine (a.k.a Neil Schweiber on "Freaks and Geeks"), and...Mike Myers. Quentin is known for re-launching the careers of many stars (John Travolta, Pam Grier, David Carridine, etc), so maybe he can make America forget that Myers ever made "The Love Guru."
The best thing to be said about the cast is that Samuel L. Jackson is listed as the narrator. Hopefully, Quentin will give him a few Bible verses to read along with some "motherf---ers" to shout.
Mainly, "Inglourious Basterds" looks more like a throwback to the movies Quentin grew up with than a war movie on the same line as "Saving Private Ryan." It seems more like a simple story of a bunch of pissed off Jews looking to murder some Nazis. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Tarantino has a way of pulling out such themes about the meaning of life and the value of forgiveness out of such simple ideas as revenge is bad, there's more to life than money, and stealing is wrong. Using his massive knowledge of pop culture, Tarantino will hopefully find something new out of the theme likely encompassing this story: war is hell.
I personally could not be more excited for this. Every time Quentin releases a new movie, it is an experience that shouldn't be neglected. His character driven stories and complex and hilariously pop culture driven dialogue have made Quentin among the greatest writer-directors in Hollywood.
Coming out August 21. Here's the trailer:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Breaking News: Natasha Richardson Dies

Actress Natasha Richardson, of the legendary Redgrave family and husband to Liam Neeson ("Schindler's List"), has died. She succumbed to brain damage that resulted from a skiing accident after being taken off of life support. She was 45.
Unfortunately, I am not as familiar with the work of Richardson as I was with another famous star who died a few months ago, Paul Newman. However, every time someone who greatly contributes to cinema passes away it is always worth honoring them. I do know now that I would like to see the work of this much-praised actress. For now, my condolences go out to Liam Neeson, their two sons, and the rest of Richardson's family.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Video of the Day: Worst Line Reading Ever

Ryan O'Neil might've carried the three hour weight of Stanley Kubrick's extraordianry "Barry Lyndon" quite well, but take away the Kubrick, and you have an actor who pretty much sucks at delivering lines. Here's a scene from "Tough Guys Don't Dance" in which O'Neil gives the worst line reading I've ever heard in a film. But, you can also blame it on the writing. What lazy writer thought the line "Oh God, oh man, oh God, oh man" was passable dialogue? See it to believe it:

Saturday, March 14, 2009

TV/Theatre Review: You're Welcome America, A Final Night With George W. Bush

Unfortunately, I could not witness this once in a lifetime experience live. But thank God for HBO, I was able to catch a show of "You're Welcome America,  A Final Night with George W. Bush."
In case you haven't heard, this show isn't about the real George Bush. It's about the fake George Bush, or the George Bush I prefer: Will Ferrell. Ferrell portrayed Bush during his years on "Saturday Night Live" (that role was filled once Ferrell left by not as accurate impersonations by Will Forte and Jason Sudekis) and did the best Bush impersonation anyone has ever done. In fact, it might just be one of the best celebrity impersonations ever.
Many SNL skits can't survive the transition from five minute short to ninety minute feature. However, Ferrell's Bush transitions quite smoothly, and he manages to hold our attention, and make us laugh, for the full ninety minute running time of the show.
"You're Welcome America" is focused solely on Bush, so it makes sense that it is a one man show. In it, a more relaxed, post-presidency Bush descends from a helicopter and shares his life story. He traces back from his early days of his birth in Connecticut (Connecticut firmly apologizes for that, America) to his party-boy college years and then to his presidency. He focuses largely on the War in Iraq, his Texas Ranch, and his strange relationship with his cabinet members, especially Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. 
Throughout the show, Bush serenades his audience with anecdotes of his past life, such as his experience being trapped in a mine shaft with his father and a certain relationship he had while going AWOL in Vermont. Lets just say that after hearing that story you'll never want to use the phrase "western grip" in a sentence ever again.
Pretty much the entire show goes smoothly. The only hitch was a story about a monkey army. It was funny at first and funny in theory, but the joke carries on too long and kind of looses its funny by the end of it. Maybe they could've used some more of that time to further poke fun at Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina and maybe a little bit of Scooter Libby and sprinkled with a bit of North Korea. Note: the name Osama Bin Laden is only mentioned once throughout the entire play. Way under my estimates.
But besides that, the entire show is excellent, and of course that is all owed to the brains behind it: Adam McKay and Will Ferrell. Their comedy movement is sweeping the internet, and now broadway as well.
But I can't finish this review without mentioning Ferrell's performance. It is nothing short of comic brilliance. As usual, he nails every aspect of Bush in his impersonation down to the last detail. He gets the voice down right and even his method of walking (in Texas, it's just called walking). He uses many of Bush's mannerisms, the biggest being the way in which he gives every person he meets a nickname. He never once refers to Barack Obama as Barack Obama, just as the Tiger Woods guy. 
Not once does Ferrell's performance feel hammy or contrived. I could sit there and watch him for another hour-and-a-half and still want more. In fact, there is a moment of near emotional relevance that occurs in the show. In it, Bush asks for a moment of silence for all of the dead Iraqis. That smirk has disappeared, and instead his eyes grow red as what appears to be real tears stream down. Ferrell has turned his Bush impression from a character to a real person. The overall point of Ferrell's Bush impersonation is now seen: Bush is not a bad guy. He's just a guy with speaking problems who just wants to party. It's the forces that controlled him while he was in office that are really to blame. Of course, all of this ends with a phone call from Michael "Brownie" Brown. 
Other highlights include Ferrell's hysterical Spanish accent (with an obligatory "Vicky Cristina Barcelona reference") and his soon to-be-famous nickname calling which was most likely improvised. Many critics who have panned the show (boo!) claimed that the best part was an appearance by an actress playing Condoleeza Rice dancing. Funny as it was, it was not the best part. It was Ferrell's show. And he owned it.
We might not be able to blame George Bush for America's problems any more, but we can thank him for inspiring some of the best comedy this country has ever seen. So instead of saying you're welcome America, say thanks, Bush.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Great Way to Start Your Weekend: Jon Hamm

Jon Hamm can be serious ("Mad Men")*. Jon Hamm can be funny ("30 Rock"). Now, he's seriously funny as Lex Luther in this parody of the current financial crisis from "Funny or Die." I was going to use this space to discuss my thoughts on Jon Stewart vs. Jim Cramer on "The Daily Show" last night but I feel like so much has been written about it that there's little left for me to say except, well done Stewart. It's early in the year but I already think you may be destined for an Emmy, a Peabody Award, or a Nobel Peace Prize, perhaps. Anyway, enjoy this clip. And I seriously believe that once "Mad Men" ends (hopefully not soon) Jon Hamm should pursue a career in comedy. He could make it:
*"Mad Men" review coming soon

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Movie Review: American Psycho

Ever heard of the term skin deep? Patrick Bateman might seem shallow and merely skin deep, but not when you look from his perspective. But then again, isn't that the case for every human being? This is the focus of the superb "American Psycho."
"American Psycho" tells the story of Patrick Bateman. Bateman is played by Christian Bale, in one of the most electrifying performances of the best performances in the past ten years. Bateman is a young, very wealthy New York banking executive. On the outside, he's perfect in every way, and he wouldn't have it any other way. Bateman, like Travis Bickle, wakes up every morning and goes through a rigorous routine where he strives to perfect his body through sit-ups and different shampoos. He seems flawless on the outside, without a hit of insanity. But as the title suggests, that is not true.
Patrick Bateman, who is the perfect conformist, is also the most perfectly disguised serial killer. Why does he does he kill? Simply, a trapped inner lust for blood. A sort of fragile desire that can break out at any second. 
Some people might be put off by Bale's performance at first, as it seems kind of stiff and unemotional. But that's the point. Bateman has transformed himself into a conformist and molded himself in with the banker crowd, a man who can use a business card as a weapon as deadly as his chainsaw. It's Bateman's constant internal dialogue that truly proves Bale's extraordinary performance. Bale handles the narration kind of like Malcolm McDowell did in "A Clockwork Orange": revealing a young everyman as a hidden psycho before this element totally takes over their outer lives as well. This has been extremely relevant to Christian Bale today. But, I guess yelling at cinematographers isn't as bad as hacking random bankers in the face with an ax.
"American Psycho" is directed by Mary Harron, who unfortunately hasn't directed enough movies. She ups the suspense using many Hitchcockian techniques. The infamous chainsaw scene with the looming shadows and winding staircase looks like a scene right out of "Vertigo." Harron directs the film's graphic violence in a kind of ironically glorified way. It's not the kind of film that purposely glorifies violence by inspiring kids to go saw off people's heads, but it is rather a parody of the glorification of violence in American culture. She then ends the movie with the most perfectly devilish twist, the kind of twist that reveals a new truth about the character, but doesn't resolve anything. There is no correct answer to the cryptic final moments. You have to decide.
"American Psycho" shows the transformation of the serial killer film and a format that all horror films really need to follow. In modern films, serial killers have transformed from psychos in leather masks to psychos in business suits. Is this a creepy suggestion that perhaps a serial killer lies within everyone?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The 10 Best Films of 2008

Okay, I know, it's already March. But I felt at some point it was necessary to talk about my top ten movies of 2008, and last week's Oscars made this slightly more relevant. And what a year it was. There was no "There Will Be Blood" or "Knocked Up" but there were many great ones. Films began to do one thing they haven't done in a while: give hope. And in this world, we could really use some more hope. Here it is, the top ten films of 2008:
1. Slumdog Millionaire- This was quite a fantastic year for movies, but after much thought I realized the award goes to "Slumdog Millionaire." This tale of a boy from a Mumbai slum who went on an incredible life journey to become a contestant for "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" is virtually flawless in every way. It contains a great portion of laughs, cries, and thrills that all coincide to create a perfect whole. Plus, the film's great editing and beautiful cinematography make it stunning to look at. Even though the audience might know Jamal's fate from the very beginning, "Slumdog Millionaire" proves that a film is more about the journey, than it is about the conclusion.
2. In Bruges- For those of you looking for this decade's "Pulp Fiction," look no further. "In Bruges" is a brilliant dramedy about an odd couple of gangsters hiding out in the medieval city of Bruges as they ponder the ancient architecture around them and reevaluate the meaning of their lives. It's deep, troubling, and hilarious. Oh, and Colin Farrell also punches a Canadian woman in the face and then head-butts a midget. What more could you ask for in a movie?
3. Milk- A biopic at its very best. "Milk" portrays the life of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician in America who led the way in the civil rights movement for gays. Sean Penn portrays Harvey Milk with accuracy and fierce, unrelenting anger. He is Harvey Milk, and he's here to recruit you. Mainly, Milk is just another one of Van Sant's lost, misfit souls. But he is one who wants to make the world a little better. This world could use more people like Harvey Milk. And "Milk" flawlessly shows us why.
4. Tropic Thunder- This is how satire is made. Ben Stiller's movie about the making of a movie was the definition of reflexivity and shattered all mirrors. It so flawlessly satires the many creative wrongs of modern Hollywood such as cliche war films, fart comedies, and unnecessary sequels. Yes, "Scorcher" might as well have been "Terminator: Salvation" and "Fatties: Fart II" might as well have been called "Madea Goes to Jail" and you never would've known the difference.
5. Religulous- The second movie this decade using guerilla documentary filmmaking (after "Borat") succeeds at it admirably. "Real Time" host and brilliant standup comic Bill Maher travels the world and interviews people involved in several religions to prove his thesis that religion is a corrupt force of greed and evil. And he more than proves it. Maher lets the humor of the interviews speak for themselves, but he also adds in his unique comic voice as a voice of reason amongst the madness. "Religulous" doesn't just prove the wrongdoings of religion, it also proves that the role of the stand-up comic isn't just to make us laugh, but to make us think. With "Religulous," Maher proves himself as the thinker's stand-up comic on the same level of George Carlin.
6. Gran Torino- Clint Eastwood will be turning 79 in May. That's old, but he shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. In "Gran Torino," Eastwood directs himself as a modern day cowboy stuck in the crumbling, gang-infested neighborhoods of Motown. Like his out-of-place, aging gun slinger, in "Unforgiven," he plays an aging Korean War Veteran and extreme racist living in a different world. He spurts out some racist terms you'd never thought existed. Yet he does it so real, and never really condemns or approves of his racism. At the age of 79, the man formely known as The Man with No Name has made a name for himself as one of the greatest filmmakers Hollywood has ever had.
7. Forgetting Sarah Marshall- One of the most underrated films of the year. This rom-com about finding, forgiving, and forgetting was probably the funniest, truest comedy of the year. Credit it all to star/writer Jason Segal, who had the audacity to bare his soul (and his naked body) to the camera. Segal also follows the model of his alma-matter, "Freaks and Geeks," and creates a comedy that shows you don't have to be mean to be funny. No, it's very possible in life that no one's the true bad guy and you just didn't deserve that girl. Or, she didn't deserve you.
8. Frost/Nixon- Why didn't Nixon burn the tapes? Because then this excellent movie would never have been made. "Frost/Nixon" re-creates the famous David Frost/Richard Nixon interviews verbatim while showing what happens behind the scenes. And Frank Langella commands the film as Nixon to the point where he becomes Nixon and turns him from "Tricky Dick" into a human being. And despite Nixon's corruption, after seeing this movie, I was fully convinced that I'd much rather live under a Nixon presidency than I would under a Bush presidency.
9. Wall-E- If a picture is worth a thousand words, then I could probably write a whole book about the first half hour of "Wall-E." The first half-hour is like a visual poem of a post-apocalyptic world, something you'd expect to see in a Stanley Kubrick movie, not a kid's film. The next hour of the film is a satire on big American consumerist culture. In the center, is a very human love story between two robots. With "Wall-E," Pixar has proved itself the best creator of children's films since Walt Disney himself.
10. Vicky Cristina Barcelona- Like Eastwood, Woody Allen has still got it. "Barcelona" tells the story of two different American women: one who wants a more free and risky life while the other just wants to settle down. While in Barcelona, they both have an affair with the same man, and their lives are turned upside down forever. Allen's screenplay crackles with humor, suspense, passion, and only the wisdom the sage old man like him could bring to a story about confused love affairs. And Penelope Cruz earned her Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
Other Great Movies: The Dark Knight, Iron Man, W., Pineapple Express, Frozen River