March 28, 2010

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind - 2002

Director: George Clooney
Writer: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, George Clooney, Julia Roberts

"I'm not killing people. My future's in television." Clooney's directorial debut, Confessions is based on the autobiography of the same title by Chuck Barris (Rockwell), creator of The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and The Gong Show, and describes his rise and fall in the television industry, as well as his claims of being an operative for the CIA.

Caveat: aside from Barris's personal claims, there is no corroboration that he ever clandestinely worked for any government agency. Most believe that during his downfall, personal dissatisfaction with his station in life caused him to concoct stories about being something more than he was. As the movie states, "Very few [in asylums] have delusions of being a guy down the block who works for an insurance company."

Putting the facts aside, this is a very entertaining film. Kaufman was in top form by this point, having already written Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, and the underappreciated Rockwell had starred in such films as Lawn Dogs and The Green Mile. Clooney's directing prowess on top of the two aforementioned talents completes the trifecta necessary for a quality product, and it's thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end. My personal favorite moments: a short scene involving whip-pans and a nigh-artistic use of the F word, as well as cameos by Matt Damon and Brad Pitt (favors to Clooney during promotion for Ocean's Eleven) as losing contestants on The Dating Game.

March 23, 2010

Big Fan - 2009

Director: Robert D. Siegel
Writer: Robert D. Siegel
Starring: Patton Oswalt, Kevin Corrigan

Siegel (writer of The Wrestler) brings us a Taxi Driver-esque film about the circumstances surrounding parking garage employee/sports radio caller/New York Giants superfan Paul Aufiero (Oswalt) being assaulted by his favorite athelete Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm).

This highly-saturated (in both color and message) film is a truly enjoyable experience, and a pleasant change in pace from Oswalt's usual comedic style. To say anything more would be a slight against the film.

March 21, 2010

American Beauty - 1999

Director: Sam Mendes
Writer: Alan Ball
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Benning, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari

"My name is Lester Burnham. This is my neighborhood; this is my street; this is my life. I am 42 years old; in less than a year I will be dead. Of course I don't know that yet, and in a way, I am dead already. Both my wife and daughter think I'm this gigantic loser and they're right, I have lost something. I'm not exactly sure what it is but I know I didn't always feel this... sedated. But you know what? It's never too late to get it back." The debut of both director Mendes and writer Ball, American Beauty follows the final year in the life of Lester Burnham (Spacey), who takes drastic action to suck the marrow out of life following a chance encounter with a friend (Suvari) of his daughter Jane (Birch).

There's no two ways about it: I loved this movie. Every performance is stellar, the dialogue is remarkable, it's technically skilled in terms of cinematography and editing, and makes some wonderful statements about the American middle class (and can be inspirational, if you think about it the right way). This film also has the best ending of any movie I've ever seen, but that's all I'll say for now. See it for yourself as soon as possible.

March 17, 2010

Great New Wonderful - 2005

Director: Danny Leiner
Writer: Sam Catlin
Starring: Olympia Dukakis, Jim Gaffigan, Judy Greer, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Tony Shaloub, Steven Colbert, Will Arnett, Edie Falco

Danny Leiner (Dude, Where's My Car; Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle) directs Catlin's writing debut, a character-driven piece taking place in the weeks leading up to the one year anniversary of a recent New York City tragedy (although that has surprisingly little to do with the "plot").

I use quotation marks because the film would probably work better with each of the five sections made as separate films, as they don't really connect in the manner of Crash or Babel.

  • An accountant (Gaffigan) undergoing a therapy session in the office of a passive-aggressive psychologist (Shalhoub).
  • Two immigrants from India on security detail for a visiting dignitary.
  • An ambitious pastry chef (Gyllenhaal) preparing a professional pitch that she hopes will make her the reigning doyenne of New York's competitive cake scene.
  • A Brooklyn housewife (Dukakis) fixes her husband's dinner and then sits at the kitchen table making collages out of old magazines while her husband sits on the balcony, smoking a cigarette.
  • Allison & David Burbage (Greer, Tom McCarthy) struggle to keep their marriage together while coping with their increasingly difficult and strangely self-possessed 10-year-old son.

Some of the characters share a brief elevator ride, but that's the extent of it. Despite the lack of a traditional plot, however, I mostly enjoyed the film. Definitely recommend a watch if you can find it. Two caveats: Shaloub's character ends on a very ambiguous note, and Gyllenhaal's one which leaves the viewer wondering her motivation. Maybe when I get around to watching it with the commentary track, I'll be contented with the answers I seek.

Oh, and this film is obviously the total opposite to the director's other film work--not only a drama, but an extremely subtle one at that. Also, I got the feeling early on that this movie was either over my head, or just trying very hard to be incredibly pretentious. Thankfully, it turned out to be neither.

March 14, 2010

Back to the Future - 1985

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writers: Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale
Starring: Michael J Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover

"Are you telling me that you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?" You've all seen this one: teen apprentice to mad scientist goes back to 1955, stops parents from meeting, and attempts to rectify said situation before it undoes his own existence.

After 25 years, this film holds up surprisingly well. Sure, one or two of the effects don't look as great as they used to, and a couple of the jokes are corny, but I'd still call it one of the few perfect movies. It's got action, comedy, romance, a little suspense, good writing, well-developed characters--definitely enjoyable for everyone. Glad to see it hasn't fallen to the recent pandemic of remakes, and I hope it stays that way.

March 8, 2010

Oscar night

And what a night it was! Almost all my predictions were correct (aside from Adapted Screenplay, which went to Geoffrey Fletcher for Precious); I think I need to make a wager or two next year. I'd clean up.

The Hurt Locker beat out Avatar in almost EVERY category in which they went up against each other (Avatar got Cinematography), but Bigelow was too proud to mention ex-husband Cameron in her speeches, which marked the first female win of Best Picture or Best Directing. Avatar had people making fun of it all night, though, so it was no great loss. One of the makers of Best Documentary Feature The Cove flashed a sign saying "Text DOLPHIN to 44144," but they quickly cut away from it. Oh, and T-Bone Burnett is probably the only person who can get away with wearing sunglasses with a tuxedo indoors.
And you all need to see this. It won for Best Animated Short, beating out a Wallace and Gromit film among others. It's called Logorama, and you'll quickly realize why.

Wonder what'll be deemed worthy by the Academy next year...

March 6, 2010

Welcome, one and all!

Hopefully, if you're reading this, you're here because you heard me on WFIT's The Shuffle (Show #10-09) talking about tomorrow night's Oscar ceremonies. It's a pleasure to have you here! Let me just run down my predictions, so no one can accuse me of cheating.

Lead Actor: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Inglorious Basterds
Lead Actress: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique, Precious
Animated Feature: Up
Director: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Picture: The Hurt Locker
Adapted Screenplay: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
Original Screenplay: Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
Original Song: "The Weary Kind," Ryan Bingham & T-Bone Burnett, Crazy Heart
Score: Michael Giacchino, Up

And if you don't like the fact that I have 11 categories here, go watch This is Spinal Tap. Enjoy the ceremony tomorrow. I'll be live-tweeting via if you're interested.

Alice in Wonderland - 2010

Director: Tim Burton
Writer: Linda Woolverton
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman

"You're entirely bonkers. But I'll tell you a secret: all the best people are." The latest jaunt into Tim Burton's scarred psyche, Alice is a unique spin on the works of Lewis Carroll; the film finds Alice (Wasikowska) at age 19, suddenly thrust into Wonderland with no memory of her prior visit 13 years ago. Despite the disorientation, she must quickly gain a sure footing to accept her destiny.

My expectations for this film were high. The cast list is all-star, it's visually phenomenal, and I've always been a fan of Burton's adaptations (everything from 1999 to now has been based on an earlier written work). However, Alice falls short. While weaving an origial, quality plotline based on someone else's work is a Herculean task (and was achieved to an extent by Woolverton) some...interesting choices were made.
  • The characters are given names beyond Red Queen, Caterpillar, Mad Hatter, etc.
  • Wonderland is actually called "Underland." I wish I were joking.
  • Depp's Mad Hatter oscillates back and forth between an English and a Scottish accent. He also does a very...peculiar dance.

I'll give the film points for the Wizard of Oz homage (people in the real world having analogues in Wonderland), but the writing falls short beyond that. A few good Carroll lines are in there ("I often believe in six impossible things before breakfast," etc), but they kind of bash you over the head with them, like the opening scene and its tenet of "Conformity is bad." Curioser and curioser...let's hope that the 1960s vampire soap opera adaptation works out better.

March 4, 2010

The Last Station - 2009

Director: Michael Hoffman
Writer: Michael Hoffman
Starring: Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren, James McAvoy, Paul Giamatti

The latest film from Michael Hoffman (Soapdish, The Emperor's Club) details the struggle of Leo Tolstoy (Plummer) to balance the wishes of his wife (Mirren) with his followers, including Vladimir Chertkov (Giamatti) and Tolstoy's secretary Valentin Bulgakov (McAvoy).

The Last Station is a bit slow-paced, and feels long in certain parts. Tolstoy is confusingly referred to as "Lev Nikolayevich" throughout the film. Also, for a film set in Russia and composed entirely of Russian characters, all of the actors sound British. However, the performances of Plummer and Mirren stand out, making the film worth a watch; both deserve their Oscar (and Golden Globe and SAG) nominations.

Sorry for the sparse details, but I'm a little burned out on all these Oscar flicks. I'm grateful this is my last one for a while.

March 2, 2010

Gigantic - 2009

Director: Matt Aselton
Writers: Matt Aselton & Adam Nagata
Starring: Paul Dano, Zooey Deschanel, Ed Asner, John Goodman

"You gotta swim if you wanna bang it home. That's reality. Remember that." Gigantic (not to be confused with Gigantic: a Tale of Two Johns, the documentary about They Might Be Giants) follows mattress salesman Brian (Dano) as he goes through the process of adopting a Chinese baby, with ample distraction provided along the way by Harriet (Deschanel), the daughter of an eccentric customer (Goodman) of Brian's.

I don't have much to say about this one. The pacing's terribly slow, and the when the plot decides to actually advance, it meanders; Aselton should have stuck to a movie either about the adoption or the romance, not both. There's also an uncredited appearance by everyone's favorite bearded Hangover star as a homeless man who randomly appears to beat up Brian for a reason that's never explained. Aside from perhaps Asner, all the performances are phoned in; everyone's done much better in other films.

The film itself aside, the background research I did sparked a question. Gigantic never played in more than 11 theaters at any given time during its brief release last April, making for a grand total of $102,700 at the box office. I wasn't able to find the budget details, but in perspective, Kevin Smith's Clerks was made for about $28,000; the visual quality and relative star power of Gigantic made shooting it for anything close to that impossible. So why release a movie in so few theaters where it'll be impossible to make a profit?