Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In Defense of...Body of Lies (and War on Terror movies in general)

Recently, fellow FilmStager Jordan Raup posted his "Top 5 Disappointments of 2008," Ridley Scott's Body of Lies in the #4 position. I have finally seen the film and I have to respectly disagree with this criticism. Jordan wrote of the film: "I have seen all this before." While I see what he means in respect to the plot and its general coherence to the "spy thriller" genre, some of the stuff in this movie I have never seen offered up n the way it was before. In general, William Monahan's (who wrote The Departed) screenplay is a combination of several different films, ranging from Sydney Pollock's (R.I.P sir) 1970's paranoia thriller Three Days of the Condor to Steven Gaghan's masterful Syriana. However, Lies properly captures both the abundance and lack of information in today's military world. Everybody, it appears, knows everything, so nobody knows anything. Consider the title; what's a lie if it's true in the eyes of the person you're telling it to? And vice versa? Leo DiCaprio's Roger Ferris must combat with this ambiguity and universal lack of trust throughout the entire film, and he pays for it. Meanwhile, Russell Crowe's Ed Hoffman remains stateside, taking his kids to school and eating bowls of cereal while setting up espionage operations that overlap Ferris's groud operations, creating an ironic warzone built by two people from the same side. This eventually depreciates into the film's biggest point: what sides? When Ferris creates a fictional terroirist group using only hair dye, fast thinking and help from an American government computer whiz, convincing everyone that it is real in order to catch another real terroist group, what is he acheiving? What side is he on?

Granted, Monahan comes up WAY sort at the tail end, choosing to go one way when the film would've most likely been in my top 5 had he gone the other, but do not let this discount the rest of this film. The acting is good (not great - even Leo looks too professional here, only Mark Strong gives a memorable performance as the shady Jordanian Hani), but these characters are only pawns anyway. Had viewers cared about the pawns, the film would have been as good as Syriana, but just because they don't doesn't take away from the complicated message about this war we're fighting, and who exactly we are fighting anymore. As Hoffman says throughout: "Nobody's innocent in this war."

As for the rest of these "War on Terror" films, I'll admit they've been lacking in general. Good premises (Stop-Loss) are crippled by poor execution and solid acting (Lions for Lambs) is crippled by ineffective premises. Movies that should've been this generation's Deer Hunter (Haggis' In the Valley of Elah) play out more artificially than Heaven's Gate. Hell, even movies about older wars feel contrived. I'm looking at you Valkyrie.

Why does his continue to happen?

Instead of asking this question, simply consider another genre: non-fiction. While no one was looking, ambitious reseach filmmakers have given us documentaries 10 times better than The Deer Hunter ever was. Consider No End in Sight, Why We Fight or the 2007 Oscar winner Taxi to the Dark Side. These films are the product of facts that would have been untouchable during Vietnam and presented using filmmaking techniques that were not available 30 years ago.

These films touch on things that are far more important than Leo running through Iraq or Russell Crowe pretending to be a C.I.A mastermind. The real masterminds are getting interviews in these documentaries and try to explain themselves. Now, that's entertainment.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Netflix Movie Delayed? Get A Free Rental.

Netflix recently changed the DVD shipping process when your first choice movie is not available at the shipping center nearest you.

"We have 55 shipping centers throughout the U.S., including Anchorage, Alaska and Honolulu, Hawaii. Previously, if the movie you wanted was not in stock locally, we sent it from another shipping center. Since this DVD was shipped from farther away, it took longer to arrive and you could end up without a DVD for a few days. This was especially inconvenient for our members on 1-disc plans.

if your first choice is not available in your local shipping center, we immediately send the next locally available movie in your Queue, and whenever possible, we also send your first choice from another part of the country.

We want you to receive DVDs as quickly as possible, so we’re taking this extra step to ensure you have another movie to enjoy as a complimentary extra DVD rental if your first choice will be delayed. 

This change took effect Dec 11, 2008 and applies to all Netflix members."

This sounds great to me, just add more Watch Instantly titles so I can stream them to my 360!

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen Info and Pics

Yesterday Empire Magazine released the following photos:

Megan Fox and Shia Lebouf running through the desert (Check out his hand injury, written into the film).

I really want to know what is going on here.

...and of course Michael Bay would have a crane that big.

Today, USA Today brings us four more stills:

Hmmm. "Soldiers penatrate hidden bunker" I wonder what the blue orb is.

Look likes we will need two buckets of popcorn for this movie.

John Turturro yelling in the film? That couldn't be possible.

Directed by Michael Bay with a budget around $200 million and 40 robots gracing our presence this is sure to be one of the summer's biggest blockbusters. It hits theaters June 26th, 2009.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Spirit is Not "Something the World Needs"

The Spirit, based on a 1940s comic serial written by Will Eisner, is a smorgasbord of visuals and color coordination courtesy of writer/director Frank Miller. Miller, like Eisner, is a staple of the graphic novel, penning such classics as Sin City and Batman: Year One. Think of The Spirit, Miller's solo-directorial debut (he "co-directed" Sin City with Robert Rodriguez), as Sin City if it were 30 minutes shorter, felt an hour longer and took every ham-baked line and turned it into useless slosh.

Starring Gabriel Macht (a talented young actor who will hopefully go onto lead more substantial films than this one) as The Spirit, a superhero who was once a rookie cop named Denny Colt. Risen from the grave after being shot to death, The Spirit works with Police Commissioner Dolan to fight crime; most specifically the Octopus, over-acted to a tee by Samuel L. Jackson. After nearly two decades of performances, Jackson has proven himself as both an Oscar-caliber artist (see this year's Lakeview Terrace for proof of this) and a dimestore punchline. For proof of the latter pay 10 bucks to see him as the Octopus. In Eisner's comics, the Octopus remained faceless, only a pair of gloves to illustrate the character. Why Miller felt it necessary to put a face to the bad guy, especially a face as recognizable as Jackson's, is bewildering. Perhaps it was not his decision, but rather the producers'.

But then, if the studio had so much sway, why'd they let Miller get away with directing this thing in the first place? The screenplay is ridiculous to be certain, but that's the comic's tone more or less, and it'd worked with Rodriguez in Sin City. It's Miller's director's eye that is severely lacking, maybe even blind. This man has no idea how to frame a scene, much less pace a feature-length film. There are some cool shots here, but they feel like flukes because they emerge out of nowhere and dissapear as quickly into the background, forgetten moments of cinematic flare overshadowerd by blind ambition and a peculiar determination to revolutionize something - what exactly is unknown.

Miller still needs another, better director at his side to properly adapt these classic graphic narratives. Macht does his best, it most be said. The young man finds a sufficent growl in his voice to establish his noir superhero and has no problem wearing the black fedora and silly black eye mask. Even Eva Mendes uses her best attritbutes (her body) and thankfully avoids the rest to play Sand Saref, the childhood love of Denny Colt and a woman with a blodd-lust for diamonds. A noir-romance between these two may have been a very good film - think Batman and Catwoman if they were in Double Indemnity. Unfortuantely, Miller gives us this one, exercising his blatant inabilities as a filmmaker. Maybe the ambitious should channel said ambition into another graphic novel, co-write the screenplay and allow a real director to adapt it.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Benjamin Button examines time on earth, becomes timeless film

There is a scene towards the beginning of David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, in which a submarine emerges from the sea with the grace and other-worldliness of a giant squid's tentacles, that establishes the film as a visual masterwork to be applauded and studied for years to come. Every frame is so carefully imagined, every set piece placed so precise that, in fact, nothing feels precise at all. This is a world we are watching, full of splendor and life, and it's our own. Through the eyes of a man aging backwards, viewers are shown life in motion, always moving somewhere, the destination never certain. Inspired by a criminally short, and deliciously imaginative, story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Eric Roth provides an accessible screenplay for Fincher to work with. Roth is a staple of modern-day Big Hollywood, scribing such epics as Forrest Gump and Robert De Niro's under-appreciated The Good Shepherd. Roth writes economically, but on the largest of scales, giving his directors much room to maneuver with a sizeable budget.

Fincher makes the most of the free space. Taking the Hollywood Film by storm and bending the rules (he did the same for the crime thriller with Seven), the visual director is given characters worth observing and actors worthy to portray them. Brad Pitt gives yet another dynamic performance, comfortably wading into Benjamin Button and transforming into our protagonist as he himself transforms, from a man of 80 to a baby on his way out. Pitt has become comfortable in his own skin it seems, and this confidence shines through in his acing. In the last three years, the actor has delived the three best performances of his career (in Babel, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Button). An Oscar nomination is deserved here without question.

However, Pitt pales slightly in comparison to Cate Blanchett, who once again re-establishes herself as the greatest actress of her generation. With every movement of her face, Blanchett captures the viewer, accenting both her beauty and her conflict in a moment's twitch or twinge or blink. The central love between Pitt and Blancheet blossoms without so many as several lines throughout the film. This is Bogart and Bacall or Tracy and Hepburn: it just feels right.

And while Roth's screenplay feels a bit shallow at times (some lines, like the repeated "Can't see what's coming," sound like they were written solely to be recited viewers), their presentation on screen comes off more nostalgic than distractive, paying homage to Old Hollywood past and the grandiose lines that fueled the classics; think "Here's looking at you kid." Chalk this success up thanks to Fincher's direction and editor Angus Wall's quick cutting and fast-paced visual eye. The pacing is reminescent to Forrest Gump, only this movie does not feel as forced. Where Gump seemed to rely on gimmicks and mannerisms (and one hell of a performance by Tom Hanks), Button relies on characters with regrets and desires, not just stories.

The political backdrop of Fincher's film is also much more fine and subtle than Gump, and for this Roth should be commended. Setting the film's frame story during the beginnings of Hurricane Katrina is as effective as it is insightful and timely, speaking for a forgotten city at a time when compassion is a difficult trait to afford.

There are laughs to be had when viewers become tired by the long running time (2 hours and 45 minutes), well-paced throughout by the running narrative of an old man recalling the various times he has been struck by lightning. But as the old man, played by veteran Ted Manson, says of the lightning: "God let me know how lucky I was to be alive." Button reminds us of this luck, and how to appreciate what life has to offer. Although Pitt's Benjamin laments the fact that "nothing lasts," I happen to agree with the response Blanchett's Daisy gives: "some things last." The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is one of those things.

[The Music Stage] - Best Christmas Present Ever.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The 'Curious' Poster That Was Never Released

I'm wondering why Paramount decided to use the oddly boring posters of just Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett's massive heads when they had something like this on their hands. Maybe it was too creepy. Thanks to /Film here is a poster that was never released:

Here is a mock up /Film reader Bruno V did:

Directed by David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button hits theaters Christmas Day.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Worst Films of 2008

Here is my worst films of the year, followed by fellow writer, Dan Mecca's list.

This year brought a couple true masterpieces to the life of cinema, but it also gave us some pretty poor movies and one particularly horrendous movie. Here are the year’s worst films:

Disclaimer: I did not go see such caliber films as The Love Guru, Meet The Spartans, or 10,000 B.C. so those do not appear on my list. Also, there will be spoilers.

I’ll kick it off with some honorable mentions: Rambo, Flawless, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, Vantage Point, Speed Racer, Run Fatboy Run, and Hancock.

5) Nights in Rodanthe

In one part of Nights in Rodanthe Richard Gere’s character, Dr. Paul Flanner tells Adrienne (played by Diane Lane) that the hardest thing he has ever had to do was say goodbye to her. This is only days after they have met and even less time since he had to tell his patient’s family why their father and husband died in his hands at the operating table. Yeah, I’m sure saying goodbye was horribly difficult for you. Then we are led to believe, by a montage of disturbingly sexual letters, that the two have completely fallen in love since they departed. Many people will say this is standard fare for a one-note romantic flick, but I’ve seen it done well in Nicholas Sparks’ other movie adaptation, The Notebook. As the movie ended and I could hear tears hit the floor of every woman around me and the groans of the few other men dragged along I wondered how I managed to sit through this atrocity.

4) Jumper

This movie really could have been good. Doug Liman directed such outstanding movies as Bourne Identity, Go, Swingers, and even Mr. and Mrs. Smith; which was enjoyable. The premise is awesome: a person can teleport wherever he wants. Except that person is Hayden Christensen, and he can’t act. His relationship with Rachel Bilson’s character is just annoying and the action leaves much more to be desired. There is zero story, it’s just a bunch of consecutive scenes that the director thought would look cool. The worst part is there is supposed to be a sequel.

3) Righteous Kill

Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino are together again. This is first time since their small stint in Heat and starring, but not seen together, in The Godfather Part II. Sounds like a good idea, right? Well no one told the actors that they haven’t made a good movie in the last couple years, or that the director had another atrocious movie this year, 88 Minutes. Directed by Jon Avnet and released in April, it would be on my list if I could muster up the patience to finish the last 30 minutes. Fortunately, I don’t see that happening. The worst part of the movie is that DeNiro and Pacino have just devolved into playing caricatures of their former personas. Scene after scene (and yes they are in virtually EVERY scene together) they act exactly as one would expect them to act. The film does entertain in a couple of scenes, but with a script so cliché and directing so bland it can’t last for all 100 painful minutes.

2) Max Payne

The videogame this film is based on is all sorts of wonderful, and mainly because of the story. Somehow this film managed to botch it, taking out the best elements and adding in some of the worst. Director John Moore tried to push every scene to the maximum amount of grittiness possible and it comes off cheesy and laughable. PG-13 as well? Come on. At least it wasn’t Mark Wahlberg’s worst movie of the year.

1) The Happening

"Be scientific, douchebag"

Dan Mecca's Worst Films of the Year:

5. The Happening

For this one I can only say that the once-reliable M. Night Shyamalan did appear to try really hard. At achieving what I could not tell you. Featuring the worst performance of Marky Mark’s career, this film promises the best of Shyamalan in the first fifteen minutes and then literally does everything wrong, derailing into an ambitious, pretentious, asininely-written opus concerning – the environment? I mean, I guess.

4. Fool’s Gold

I just don’t even know how this thing was not “accidentally” burnt in the editing room. Probably because Matthew McConaughey’s too cute. Understandable.

3. Made of Honor

Before I lambaste this movie, let me just say this: I like romantic-comedies. I enjoyed 27 Dresses, I came to love The Notebook and When Harry Met Sally, It Happened One Night and You’ve Got Mail are all personal favorites. This movie demeans those movies (yes even 27 Dresses) so vehemently I almost walked out of the theater several times. But I didn’t, because I was with a lovely girl and I relished the thought of writing this. Don’t ever see this movie, no matter how many McDreams you’ve had about McDreamy. It will just offend you.

2. 88 Minutes

I remember when Al Pacino was the greatest actor of all time. He’s not anymore. Here’s the proof.

1. Max Payne

I remember when Mark Wahlberg was the greatest rapper-turned-actor of all time, even better (for a Departed moment) than Big Willie. He’s not anymore. Here’s the proof. Oh and The Happening too.

Land of the Lost & Fast and Furious Posters Arrive

Two new posters come our way today, both from Universal. The first, debuted by Cinematical, is for the 2009 adaptation of the classic 70's TV show, Land of the Lost. It stars Will Ferrell and Danny McBride and hits theaters June 5th, 2009. I think this movie has some great potential, can't wait to see it.

The next poster is for Fast & Furious.  It debuted on MTV earlier today. It's directed by Justin Lin and features the return of Paul Walker and Vin Diesel. It hits theaters April 3rd, 2009. Can't say I'm eager to see this, but let's pray the magic of the original revs up again.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Music Stage Edition - Top 20 Albums of 2008

The forum is dedicated to film and tv news but today I'm doing a one-time special countdown of my favorite albums of the year. As a note I do not count Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago and MGMT - Oracular Spectacular as 2008 albums.

Margot & the Nuclear So and So's - Not Animal


Of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping


Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs


Why? - Alopecia


Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours


The Cool Kids - Bake Sale EP


Goldfrapp - Seventh Tree


Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Real Emotional Trash


Islands - Arm's Way


Sigur Ros - Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust


The Hold Steady - Stay Positive


Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes


Deerhunter - Microcastle


he Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound


Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weeke


Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line


Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer


Girl Talk - Feed The Animals


Okkervil River - The Stand-Ins


TV on the Radio - Dear Science

Bring on 2009, and the upcoming album of (next) year, Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Top 10 Comedies of 2008

If 2008 did one thing right it was comedies. There was a hilarious mix all around, from Apatow to Smith to some new faces and even some crazy Canadians. Here are my ten favorite comedies of the year.

10) Step Brothers

Will Ferrell and John C. Reily prove to be the ideal comedic duo as they learn to love (and hate) each other as new siblings. While the film is nothing more than a long string of one-liners, it still brings more laughs than expected. There isn’t much story to find here, but if you still enjoy Ferrell’s man-child act, you will not be disappointed. Richard Jenkins is superb as Reily’s emotionally exhausted father, continuing his tremendous year after The Visitor and Burn After Reading. The film falters a bit leading up to the conclusion but I leave you with just four words: Fuckin’ Catalina Wine Mixer.

9) Hamlet 2

Steve Coogan stars as a diligent high school drama teacher that puts on an irreverent and disturbing play, the sequel to the beloved classic, Hamlet. It is his performance alone that carries the film. His charm and desire to make something worthwhile is fascinating and hilarious to watch. The film takes awhile to get going but it is all worth it for the extraordinary finale.

8) Trailer Park Boys: The Movie

Although this film came out two years ago in Canada it just made its way to US theaters this past January. I was recently introduced to these crude boys from Canada, and after watching all seven seasons, three specials, and the film I have fallen in love. The film follows the Trailer Park Boys as they come up with the next big plan to get out of their life of crime forever. Nothing else makes me want to swear, smoke, drink, have sex, and get in trouble more than this show. The movie itself doesn’t live up to the greatness of the rest of the show, but for a new viewer, or a long time fan it delivers more than enough laughs. It’s too bad all we have left is one more movie (late 2009), and then the fine boys from Sunnyvale are done with the series.

7) The Foot Fist Way

2008: The Year of Danny McBride. The man starred in two more films coming up on my list and showcased his talent in this small independent flick. The Foot Fist Way features McBride as a hopeless karate instructor at a North Carolina strip mall martial arts school. His obsession with karate master Chuck “The Truck” Williams leads to a hysterical culmination. McBride’s crude and blunt delivery elevate the film to more than just your standard comedy. Look for more McBride on HBO this February when his new show East Bound and Down premieres.

6) Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Kevin Smith brings us the dirtiest and one of the most sentimental comedies of the year. Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks star as childhood friends turned roommates who, strapped for cash, decide to make a porno. Their surprising chemistry, along with the likes of Craig Robinson, Brandon Routh, and Justin Long as great supporting characters make the film truly remarkable. It’s a shame the film didn’t make more money. If one listens to Kevin Smith’s newest SModcast episode they would learn he spent much of the last month in a “pot-induced” haze because of the box office failure of the film. It’s a sad tale but this movie brings more than enough laughs for us to remember.

5) Tropic Thunder

Ben Stiller’s big-budget movie about a big-budget movie proved to be one of the most entertaining comedies of the summer. Although some of the jokes fell a little flat there was more than enough greatness to make this one hell of a ride. Most of this is due to the spectacular set of characters from Golden Globe nominated Kirk Lazarus and Les Grosman to passionate director Damien Cockburn to action star Tugg Speedman and his agent Rick Peck; each giving us unique ways to laugh. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a comedy with such high production values and such memorable characters. This movie made my p-p-p-p-pee-pee tingle in more than one way.

4) Role Models

Any movie that can make a live action role playing battle more intense and gripping than a Lord of the Rings skirmish gets major points in my book. That’s not the only thing this comedy does right. Smart writing and outstanding performances truly elevate the film. Rudd and Scott are fantastic, but the real winner is Jane Lynch. She is the supervisor of Sturdy Wings; the Big Brother program Rudd and Scott must take part in for community service. Her matter-of-fact delivery and painfully funny dialogue make her one of the finest parts of the film. I’m equally happy for David Wain. As director, co-writer, and actor in the film he truly deserves a hit, after last year’s underappreciated The Ten didn’t do so well.

3) Sex Drive

Did anyone see this movie? Unfortunately, it’s only made $8.4 mil during 7 weeks of release. For one of the funniest movies of the year this is some sad news. The film follows 18-year-old Ian Lafferty on a cross country road trip with his friends and the desire to lose his virginity. Yeah sure, the idea sounds like a mix of Road Trip and American Pie, but the jokes are smarter and dirtier than both films put together. James Marsden and Seth Green both surprise as being pretty damn near perfect for their respective roles; as a homophobic older brother and a technically proficient Amish man. As Ian goes on his quest to lose his virginity everything that happens and everyone he meets culminate into a flawlessly written and hilariously executed finale. For the many that missed it in the theater, be sure to check it out when it hits DVD and Blu-ray on Feb 3rd.

2) Pineapple Express

Directed by indie auteur David Gordon Green, this action-comedy is so much more than just your generic stoner flick. I haven’t seen a film in a long time where the action compliments the comedy so perfectly. As the plot and the jokes get more ridiculous, so does the action. James Franco is the definition of excellence as a lovable stoner and weed dealer. The best scene of the film involves Danny McBride, Seth Rogen, and Franco in all out brawl. Imagine a fight where the contenders have no idea how to fight. David Gordon Green is able to perfectly capture the chaos and sloppiness of such an event. The whole film echoes this messy style, and it is so damn fun to watch. This film is a prime example of how beneficial a good director can be when it comes to comedies. With such a solid string of films, I look forward to what David Gordon Green does next, whether it is a blockbuster summer comedy or a low budget independent film.

1) Forgetting Sarah Marshall

This romantic comedy does everything right. Jason Segel hits it out of the park with his first produced screenplay and first lead role. Every line is so well crafted and each performance so enjoyable that it’s near impossible not to fall in love with the film. Who wouldn’t want to take surfing lessons with Paul Rudd, explore the island (and more) with Jack McBrayer, or sit by a campfire with Mila Kunis? Segel may be the lead here but Russell Brand steals the show as rocker Aldous Snow. He is rude, obnoxious and completely lovable. This film does more than just tell an entertaining story. The endearing dialogue and genuine relationships transport us right into the film; something most comedies strive for, but rarely do.