Watchmen is a curious beast, a big budget move that’s either the talkiest, most action-free action movie ever or the most absurdly pumped-up character-based drama ever. If you’re a firm believer in “adaptations must look exactly like their source,” it should be a revelation; if you’re of the mind they should reflect the concepts and ideas as much (or more) as the literal look, it might leave you a wee-bit wanting.

[Many spoilers after the break.] (more…)

Yeah, this one is obvious

There were a normal number of good movies released in 2008, but very few great ones. In fact, I’d only argue for my number one pick being a movie I’ll keep revisiting in future years.

OK, more ground rules: I didn’t see (yet, if ever): Milk; Synecdoche, New York; Rachel Getting Married, and god knows what others I might have liked.

So, here’s the list:
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Be Kind Rewind

“Be Kind Rewind” is a charming mess of a movie, but a mess nonetheless. It’s a typical story about how Jack Black’s magnetic urine—indie band name alert!—erases the entire inventory of VHS tapes in a small thrift store in Passaic, New Jersey, which forces Black and Mos Def to re-film every movie until the evil holders of copyright stomp out their creativity.

Director Michel Gondry is an inventive filmmaker and one of the most creative guys on the planet, but he needs a blacker soul like Charlie Kauffman to keeps his tendency toward icky whimsy in check. “Be Kind Rewind” feels like it’s mostly improvised, with Black doing his manic Jack Black thing, Mos Def mumbling a lot while trying to be a geek instead of a cool rapper, Danny Glover playing the Danny Glover character, and other people sort of coming and going. Its version of Passaic takes place in some sort of alternate universe, where there exists these kinds of perfectly quirky, idyllic neighborhoods full of contrived eccentric people who get along way too well. And it has a typical message about the evils of yuppies and condos and Starbucks.

Coming from a Hollywood movie that thanks companies like Apple in the credits, that rings a little hollow. Maybe if they replaced the ramshackle thrift store with an Apple store—all those poor people need iPods and Macbooks too!—everyone would be happy.

Ignoring the fact that they could probably re-purchase the entire stock of VHS movies for like $1, the re-filmed—or “Sweded,” as the movie calls them—movies are really funny. Gondry is known for his love of low-budget, analogue effects (see the extras on the “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” DVD), and some of the ways they re-create “Ghostbusters,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Rush Hour 2,” “The Lion King,” “Robocop,” “2001,” and others are incredibly cool and creative. I can’t wait to see the low-fi versions of them on BluRay.

(They missed out on an opportunity to Swede “Lethal Weapon,” though, with Black and Def doing Mel Gibson and Danny Glover… or maybe Danny Glover would do Danny Glover. Or better yet, he’d do Joe Pesci.)

Still, it’s hard to wrap your brain around how people recreating existing Hollywood blockbuster movies are an alternative to Hollywood blockbuster movies. But it makes it kind of a cousin to the other YouTube movie of the moment, “Cloverfield,” in that the YouTube generation is supposed to be making stuff and sharing it with others. The touching ending of “Be Kind Rewind”—where the neighborhood gets together to watch the first “original” film from the cast and neighborhood residents—is a stark contrast to the reality of showing original works. In the movie, everyone loves the amateurish creation; in the real world, someone posting something that lousy on YouTube would be savaged. Instead of supporting and rewarding originality—even if it’s kind of sucky—YouTubers are brutal. The criticism you get is just off-the-charts.

A friend of mine was doing a public access show in Vermont, and she edited together all sorts of things, created original segments using Barbie dolls and various other craziness, and started putting them up on YouTube to much derision. (And praise too, but I think the negativity took her by surprise.) People criticized her looks, complained about her being too old… it just got nasty.

Sensitivity to criticism and fear of sucking in public keeps me away from sharing most of the things I create, but my friend sticks with it because, as she says, you have to suck if you’re ever going to be good. And if there’s anything to take from “Be Kind Rewind,” it’s that if you’re going to suck, suck doing your own thing.

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Cloverfield

Cloverfield is an an OK version of Godzilla, where the Japanese people are replaced by the most diverse collection of people assembled. We have generic 20-something hot guy, generic 20-something hot girl, generic 20-something hot girl 2, generic 20-something ethnic hot girl, and generic 20-something not-so hot but funny and endearingly goofy guy. There’s the 20-something athletic guy, the 20-something kind of athletic guy, the 20-something arty-looking but athletic and good looking guy…. These people probably exist in some alternate universe in Manhattan, but for the normal people of the world, this is an alien culture of attractiveness and perfect teeth. (There isn’t a single gap or yellowed bicuspid on display.)

The first 20 minutes are torturous. They’re literally watching someone’s home movie, which is as boring and mundane as the real thing. No one’s interesting, no one seems to have a brain, no one is particularly funny… it’s just, “Oh, Rob, you’re so cool.” “Oh, that girl is hot.” “They slept together.” “OMFG, NO WAY!” It’s like the movie version of The Real World or Laguna Beach, without the contrived drama.

And then the contrived drama shows up, in the form of a giant lizard thing that attacks Manhattan. (more…)

This was taken by a co-worker at the Redmond Town Center theater today. Someone really digs the Dungeon Siege movie:

In Duh Name Of Duh King

Our office went to see the “movie” on Friday, and it’s another triumph for “filmmaker” Uwe Boll. Highly recommended. See it twice. Buy the DVD.

Top 10OK, more ground rules: I didn’t see (yet, if ever): Atonement (but I have read the book), The Savages, Sweeney Todd, 3:10 to Yuma, The Assassination of Jesse James By An Extremely Long Title, Michael Clayton, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, and god knows what others I might have liked.

So, here’s the list:
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So, I started my Saturday morning with a lovely, 11:20AM showing of No Country For Old Men, which is as bleak a movie as you may see this year. It’s about mythology, or at least how bullshit most mythology really is. It’s about romancing a past that doesn’t exist. It’s about fate, or at least its cousin dumb luck. It’s a movie about a guy who finds money, but it’s really just about a bunch of shit that happens. It’s about random violence, and horrible, horrible planned violence.

And it has Javier Bardem giving the year’s most chilling performance. And Tommy Lee Jones giving a profoundly sad one. And Josh Brolin giving a surprisingly subtle and fantastic one. And Kelly Macdonald doing an amazing job hiding her Scottish accent behind a thick Texas drawl, and breaking your heart in the process.

I’ve read the book (by Cormac McCarthy), and it’s a pretty faithful adaptation by those lovable pranksters the Coen brothers. But it’s by far their most straightforward movie in years. It’s not clever, it’s not snarky. It has black humor, and it looks gorgeous. It moves slowly, lingering over every pool of blood. And it has almost no music, just a lot of ambient sounds, like someone unscrewing a lightbulb. It’s full of tension, but has little action.

So, go see it, friend-o.

spoon.jpg

Somewhere in that blackness is Spoon playing at the Capitol Hill Block Party in Seattle on Saturday the 28th. I attended with the lovely and talented Ms. Sizzle Says. (Whom, as you can see in the accompanying photo, is like three feet shorter than I am.) It was an all-day event, but I wasn’t really familiar with any of the other bands. We caught a bit of John Vanderslice, who was… fine and OK and whatever. Spoon!

Ms. Sizzle is a fan of Against Me!, the band that preceded Spoon. They were also OK. They sure did shout enthusiastically. It was your basic angry punk music, sounding like a less Irish Dropkick Murphys. (Which isn’t a criticism; both bands shout a lot.) There were a lot of political messages buried in the mix a bit, ones which the crowd surfing furries (don’t ask) surely grokked.

The crowd got pretty big for Spoon, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. They rolled through a nearly 90-minute set, mixing in most of the tunes from their current CD “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” with some of the “greatest hits” from the past (“Everything Hits at Once, ” “The Fitted Shirt,” “Take a Walk,” “Me and the Bean,” “The Way We Get By,” and a killer version of “Jonathon Fisk“).

They were tight but not boringly polished. They had a lot of energy, and Britt Daniel was in fine voice. (And here’s a random Spoon/gaming fact: Daniel used to work for Origin Systems in their sound FX department. ) Spoon just sounds cool.

In other news, The Simpsons Movie. It’s worth seeing more for all the throwaway gags in the periphery, which is generally true of all great Simpsons episodes. My favorite line? The always quotable Ralph Wiggum, upon seeing a naked Bart Simpson riding through the streets of Springfield after a dare from Homer: “I like men.”

Awesome.

There’s something hotwired into the male strand of DNA that makes us like to blow shit up, and to see shit blown up. Since we spend the fourth of July celebrating the birth of our fine nation by blowing shit up, I figured it made sense to see Transformers, a movie made by a director (Michael Bay) who likes to blow shit up and based on a toy that is designed for boys who want to pretend to blow shit up.

SealBayI suppose I should confess that, as with most treasured geek things, Transformers means nothing to me. I’m a wee-bit too old to have played with the toys or cared about the cartoon; I’ve never even seen the show before, though I know the tagline “More Than Meets the Eye” from commercials. I know that some people my own age watched the cartoon but dudes, that was college… why weren’t you all getting all angsty watching The Seventh Seal. Philistines.

But I wanted to see big robots doing battle and that’s what I got. What I didn’t expect was a John Hughes 80s movie grafted onto it, but the humor actually made it more bearable. The film looks amazing, and the digital compositing is terrific. The robots really blend into the environments. But the fact everyone was goofing off around them made it all one extended joke, which thank god it was. I mean, it’s a movie based on a toy. And as Pirates of the Caribbean—the first, non-crappy one—proved, you can take the worst premise and turn it into humorous fluff.

(Some of the goofs on IMDB are awesome. People take this shit too seriously.)

Which isn’t to say Transformers is as good as Pirates of the Caribbean. There’s no central, “WTF” performance like Johnny Depp, though it appears John Turturro gave it his best effort. (He’s horrible.) And Anthony Anderson, who proved himself with his killer role on The Shield, reverts back to screaming all the time for humor. But Shia LaBeouf is a star, the generic girlfriend was hot, the plot was funny, and lots of shit blew up. It’s a good time for the entire family, assuming you’re OK with an extended masturbation joke. (Where’s Long Duk Dong to bring it all home for the Hughes fan?)

It would make a good double header with Live Free or Die Hard, which I saw over the weekend. If anything, Die Hard 4 is an even more over-the-top action film. And it’s less Michael Bay-esque, which is to say it’s not edited and shot solely for over caffeinated 11-year olds. The worst thing about it is that it’s turned John McClane—so memorably vulnerable in the first movie, particularly when it came to his foot problems—into generic action superhero man.

But it’s even more balls-out action than Transformers. It’s basically an extended sequence of action scenes with little bits tying them all together. While everything it’s all well and good, the last one involving the world’s most mobile fighter jet pegs the stupid meter at 11. And I can’t hate on Justin Long too much for his “I’m playing a teenager in this movie even though I’m nearly 30″ role, despite those horrible “I’m a Mac” ads. I signed an agreement to let CGM be used in a movie he was in called Accepted, though I’ve never looked closely enough at the movie to see if it actually appears anywhere in the final movie.

One of the nice things about being unemployed is weekday matinées. (The other nice thing? Law & Order at 2 and 3PM.)

Since I was out of town Thursday-Saturday, I checked out Spider-Man 3 today. It’s a perfect example of what happens when each sequel is expected to outdo its predecessor. The first two Spider-Man movies are terrific, with Sam Raimi bravely making them totally corny big-budget spectacles. (Seriously, what time period are they set in? It feels like Peter Parker transported in from the idealized 1950s.)

But Spider-Man 3 adds a bit to everything, and it’s a mess. There’s not one, not two, but three villains. Each has his own tragic backstory—everybody hurts in Spider-Man—and there are multiple incoherently edited set pieces. (Seriously, it’s impossible to track what the hell’s going on. Sam Raimi’s manic style is overcooked in these scenes, and the fab looking CGI renders the fights sort of meaningless.)

But the perfectly modulated corn of the first two movies has been ratcheted up to schmaltzy levels. Oh no, Peter is losing Mary Jane; Spider-Man has a new love interest. Harry is angry/sad/happy/lovesick. When the symbiote shows up to turn Spider-Man into Emo Spider-Man—replete with Peter Parker’s Fall Out Boy-style bangs—everything goes off the rails. There’s a dance number (?), and another montage of Peter showcasing his new look (in Spider-Man 2, it was funny; here, it’s… well, actually, it’s kind of funny too, since he’s trying to be all cool and everyone is looking at him like he’s a tool).

But Venom is cool. Had the movie just been about him, it would have been a lot better. (He’s a douchebag from the start.) Instead, we have Sandman and his unclear physical properties looking cool but laying it on a bit thick about his motivations. (It’s OK he’s killing people; he has a dying kid!)

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