Thursday, May 29, 2008
“Competition in academia is so vicious because the stakes are so small.” That quote (credited to everyone from Woodrow Wilson to Henry Kissinger) pretty much sums up this film about a cut throat struggle for a corporate grocery store manager position in the Chicagoland area. Unfortunately this one should have either been a whole lot funnier or a whole lot more vicious. With a cast featuring Seann William Scott, John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer and Fred Armisen one would expect the former and there are some really funny moments. More of the film though, feels like a first draft of a Mike White screenplay teetering on the dark comedy edge but with characters who aren’t really flawed enough to make for solid schadenfreude.
Scott is the assistant to Armisen’s manager at the outset and when a new store opens up in their chain Armisen says he’s a shoe-in. The wrench in the works come a few days later in the form of Reilly (in his lovable loser mode), another AM who has transferred from a sister company in Canada in order to try for a new life with his Scottish immigrant wife played by Lili Taylor. This makes for some truly awful accent play that seems to change from scene to scene. They both apply for the job and the rest of the film takes place as they compete for the spot. It starts out and simple competition and then things get a little nastier and the characters for frustrated at every little thing that goes wrong. The whole thing ends in a kind of bland détente that fails inspire enjoyment. Scott and his on screen fiancée Jenna Fischer though have great chemistry and it’s a shame that they don’t have more of that screen time together.
Chicago has never looked worse on film. This isn’t a criticism, there are certain parts of cities that are just not photogenic (the Philly shown in Unbreakable) and when filmed in flat lighting it does add to the drabness of the whole piece. But even the scenes downtown aren’t anything to write home about. Poster isn't bad though.
I'm not sure why they lead the trailer with one of the worst swing and a miss jokes in the film - the black apple bit. Over all this one is more rotten than fresh and I can’t recommend seeing it in the theater. A slow Saturday afternoon on cable? Sure.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Didn't love it, didn't hate it. Twas a fun, serviceable summer blockbuster but lacking the charm of Ark. When Karen Allen finally appears after an hour or so it feels right again but the plot is unwieldy and really only serves to backdrop the action scenes. (Jungle chase = cool).
Ford settles into the roll much better than Willis did last year - he's not really changed which is good. LaBeouf is eh... early on but when his plot line really kicks in he shines as well. Hurt, Winstone & Broadbent are criminally underused and Blanchett is just so-so (where is the leather outfits that were promised?)
Oh, and Spielberg finally nails an ending – more than that the beginning shot is hilarious as the Paramount logo (vintage 1981) literally fades into a mole hill. Giving an initial wink to just have fun and go with it. I’ll recommend the same.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
The EZ1 is also running the Pick 5 and Movieline games which will start in June and If you join the boards there is a "summer survivor" lounge game starting soon as well. All there are based on your Box Office prediction prowess, take a little less time commitment (you're spening time reading this blog anyway) and you can even compete against avid player and BO pundit/film reviewer the Weekend Warrior (aka Edward Douglas) from ComingSoon.net.
Browse around and have fun!
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Let's start with the return of N*E*R*D! The Neptune boys are back after a 4 year hiatus with their pocket protecting entourage and they have a nice funky new single that drops today. You can buy it at iTunes or if ya wish download it right there:
N*E*R*D - Everyone Nose (All the Girls Standing In the Line for the Bathroom)
Video is not yet out but you can see a sneak peek as well as some behind the scenes clips:
Catch 'em on tour at Kanye's Glow In the Dark Tour.
Next up is a triple hitter from Welsh rockers People In Planes. Out to conquer all media with the first single off their sophomore set (Due 6/24) they have tossed out a assault on your eyes, ears and index fingers. The track about suffering in silence comes with with a stylish video from the Walter Robot directing team:
Of course they are giving away the anthemic piano rocker away on their website:
People In Planes - Pretty Buildings (The b-side acoustic version is available as a 2-fer-1 deal on iTunes.)
And finally just to make sure you can't escape they've rejiggered an addictive flying game (naturally) from Net-Games with the track. Head over to play Metro.Siberia Underground: People In Planes Edition and see how far you can get. Got to past 2000 on my 3rd try.
Now, in their promotional tour they played an in-studio set in Chicago. Here is the first track from that set:
People In Planes - Mayday (Maidez) [Live in Studio at Stray Dog Recording Co. for BFN Networks Podcast]
Click here for the other full podcast episode with 2 more live tracks and interviews.
Kewl, that should keep ya busy for a bit. Enjoy!
Monday, May 12, 2008
USA 1955, 90 min
I couldn’t very well start this final weekend of the festival with anything else but Violent Saturday. The film played as part of the Noir Series but it really was more a heist film than a noir. Directed by Richard Fleischer (20000 Leagues Under the Sea, Fantastic Voyage, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Compulsion) this forgotten film centers on a gang (including Lee Marvin) who make their way to a small mining town in order to rob the town bank. We see them plot their deeds and also are treated to seemingly meaningless slice of life segments from different people in the town including the peeping tom bank manager, a librarian purse-snatcher, a young girl who works in the pharmacy, a wealthy mine owning couple with marital difficulties and a family with father/son issues. As the plot unfolds, mainly in the light of day, they all become key parts along with an Amish family who lives out of town on a farm which will serve as the robber’s hideout and scene of the final climactic shootout. The patriarch of this family? None other than Mr. Ernest Borgnine!
This is a recently remastered print in brilliant De Luxe Color, but the real shine on this gem comes from the film’s snappy dialogue. The audience was left chuckling quite a few times as sly insults are were hurled amongst the various flawed characters – whether they be real city criminals or the strange small-town peccadilloed folk. The film in not available in any format currently (a VHS was made sometime in the 80s) but the print source is listed as Criterion so I’m eagerly awaiting a shiny DVD release from the boys over there. If this one comes by your local festival or retrospective theater though, get a ticket right quick, you won’t be disappointed.
Son of Rambo
USA 2007, 95 min
Another Sundance hit (2007 vintage though) finally makes its way to Philadelphia accompanies by 3 grey suited security guys with night vision. A semi-autobiographical story from Garth Jennings and his Hammer & Tongs team, Son tells the story of creative but gullible Will. Living in Hertfordshire, UK (‘bout an hour north of London), he has grown up in a fundamentalist family who forbid TV & film viewing. When he sees First Blood for the first time it kicks his mind into high gear and he teams up with Lee, another outcast though in a totally different way, to create their own film in which Will is the titular son and is on a quest to spring his “father” from prison. An exotic French exchange student who has the British kids wrapped around his finger gets wind of the film and wants to play a role catapulting the boys to instant popularity and straining their relationship.
This is cute, smart and has a ton of heart and should do well with audiences… IF it weren’t being released at the beginning of May. Seeing as how it garnered the highest price ever paid for a Sundance film I’m really questioning Paramount’s release strategy on this one. It screams for an August buzz garnering platform release ala Little Miss Sunshine. I do hope people will seek this one out.
South Korea 2007, 122 min
Wow, its been a while since I’ve written anything on this and the mediocre films have rapidly left my memory. From the festival website I am reminded that this is a revenge tale about twin brothers (orphans?). We start in their childhood when one decides to rob a mobster. In chasing him down they end up catching the twin – thus the previously good twin becomes part of the criminal element while the previously bad twin becomes a cop. When they finally meet years later the criminal is now the titular legendary assassin with a price on his head but his brother is gunned down a few feet away. The twin of course assumes his identity in order to track down his killers and struggles to make people believe that he is not Soo but his brother. Once again the fault of the film is the fact that people get shot, stabbed, beaten, and even have their throats slit and yet somehow still stay alive. This comedic superhumanism really takes you out of the film. In fact up until the final (painfully elongated) showdown it’s a decent if not overly compelling yarn with good performances but the amount of blood and hobbling in the final minutes had the audience laughing at the screen.
Nothing to Lose
Netherlands 2008, 88 min
Of course films like this tend to stay with you. Nothing to Lose is a dark tale of a mentally unstable man, Johan who escapes a criminal mental institution in Holland along with a friend by kidnapping a doctor. They go on the lam and when things turn south they split up. Johan kidnaps another young girl and set out to find his mother who he hopes will prove that he did not murder his father and sister. Along the way the director’s deft hand reveals details that change your perceptions of the characters and what they may or may not have done all coming to a final chilling climax that will have you on the verge of tears.
The film won the Best Picture jury prize for the film festival though it also finished pretty far down in the audience balloting and it’s not surprising why. What is surprising is that this is based on a series of real crimes that happened in the Netherlands due to a very lenient penal system. The director Pieter Kuijpers was on hand to reveal this in his Q & A after the screening. He also revealed that the film’s star Theo Maassen is actually one of the top stand-up comics in the country but that he cast him in order to throw off expectations. For his part Maassen is brilliant as the troubled and desperate Johan, the strongest single performance of the fortnight. This is not a film I’d watch over and over but is it a strong statement and a searing indictment of the Dutch prison system. Sadly one woman at the Q & A didn’t hear what he was saying stating that they were lucky to have the system that they do in comparison to that of this country.
Well after this I was scheduled to see an animated film called Film Noir that updates the genre in a really interesting looking style. However since an old college roommate was in town for the night I ditched that and drank the night away!!! (This lead to the missing of even more films on Sunday but more of that in the next chapter) .
Friday, May 09, 2008
The all to familiar lines reinterpreted 5 or so times during this film and running during the closing credits had a dozen or so hipster kids dancing in the IMAX isles and singing along as their nostalgia trip was aided by a little Wachowski LSD. Of course like most trips you start out with awe and anticipation and close with rapture as the destination finally comes into view 2.25 hrs later but there sure are some stretches in the middle when you’re about to fall asleep.
But let’s gush for just a bit. I spent the first 20 minutes of this film totally slack-jawed by the candy colored eye feast that sat before me. A solitary Speed sits in the locker room then cut to the track and real life in cartoon motion begins. The film flits between several differing timepoints in an ADD firestorm of editing techniques that would leave Michael Bay speechless. Collage, CG, 2-D, rotoscoping, wipes, slo-mo, ect. The Wachowski’s throw a kitchen sink of fun at you in all colors of the rainbow. Oh and the sound, much like a race track wipes from side to side along with the edits. Finally things settle down and we start to follow a single plot line. Unfortunately this is where the film get’s mired in its own story. The whole thing deflates to the kind of long windedness that had so many pissed at the Matrix sequels and it lasts for a good hour until we finally se a second race. For some reason the Ws like their baddie’s talkative which kinda kills their menacing powers. Roger Allam hams it up the way the villain in a summertime kid’s flick should but they have him saying too much and the main crux of the story he tells Speed which partially motivates him the rest of the film rings hollow especially as it feels like it is not justifiably paid off with comeuppance for all involved. I think the film would’ve moved along much better if this thread was totally abandoned. To add some action in this wasteland they dream up an imaginary fight that Spritle and Chim-Chim have with a couple villains on TV which really feels out of place but does show their effort in bringing Manga style animation to an unanimated feature. One of the most interesting things is how they incorporate Manga backgrounds and video game concepts. At one point while Speed is flying through a track he is remembering a record his brother previously set – they show this via a shadow car that can be seen in many racing games that shows where you are in comparison to a previous time and it’s a fantastic lift.
(Watch the first 7 minutes of the film)
Of course you gotta have a big finale – and we get 2!!! There is a penultimate multi-day rally race with a big ninja fight in the middle that really gets things going again and then the final race begins. Just when you don’t think there are any visual tricks left that could impress you Speed flies down the track at colors mix, characters collage and action blends into an orgasmic explosion that just has to be seen… then Speed drinks milk.
For their part the cast is decent in their intentionally over the top roles. Sarandon is completely wasted and Hirsch starts off pretty good but eventually falls as I feared he would in to uber-earnest territory which mirrors the tone of the film which starts out a family flick but then has some cursing (actual and bleeped) in the last 30 minutes or so which slightly hit the wrong note. Despite that dragging middle and unevenness of the whole thing this is really something that has to be seen on the big screen – preferably the biggest one available… IMAX!