Wednesday, December 30, 2009

'the lovely bones' review, plus a catch-up on other December films

December got away from me a bit, so I'm behind on publishing Consumables. My latest column rounds up my reviews of The Lovely Bones, Invictus, The Blind Side, A Single Man and The Headless Woman. And in case you missed my Avatar review, that's right here. (And my thoughts on Sherlock Holmes are here.)

my top 10 albums of 2009

Over at the Metro Times, the music staff has made their picks for the best albums of the year. You can find my list there (scroll down).

Friday, December 25, 2009

saturday night live - christmas for the jews

Incredible to believe that the same episode of Saturday Night Live that gave us "Lazy Sunday" also birthed this excellent Darlene Love-sung tune. Merry Christmas, everybody.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

'iron cross' review

Actor Roy Scheider died in early 2008, but his final film, Iron Cross, is just now making its way to select theaters. I wish it was a more fitting farewell for the man. My review is up at L.A. Weekly.

Friday, December 18, 2009

the police - darkness

Fan-made video for the Police's grossly underrated "Darkness"? Hell yeah.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

'sherlock holmes' review

As was done already with the Batman and James Bond franchises, the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes has been remade on the big screen as a dark, mega-action superhero. I like Robert Downey Jr. as much as the next guy, but this Sherlock Holmes didn't work for me. My review explains why.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

'the hurt locker' wins best picture from LAFCA

The member of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association met today to pick the best films and performances of 2009. Here's what we came up with. And here's my review of The Hurt Locker from over the summer.

Friday, December 11, 2009

weezer - we are all on drugs

In case you hadn't heard, Rivers Cuomo hasn't had the best of weeks. But he seems to be on the mend, which is good news. To be honest, I got turned off of Weezer quite some time ago -- their music is so "ironic" sincere that it annoys me on contact. But they're good for at least one dynamite track per album. "We Are All on Drugs" springs to mind as one recent case.

avatar review

Saw Avatar last night. What did I think? My full review is here.

fringe: grey matters

Pretty darn good episode of Fringe last night. I go into the nitty-gritty details over at Vulture.

Friday, December 04, 2009

jay-z - girls, girls, girls

Happy 40th birthday, Jay-Z. I'll never forget hearing "Girls, Girls, Girls" at the House of Blues in Anaheim the night the Diamondbacks beat the Yankees to win the 2001 World Series. I was there to interview De La Soul prior to a gig they were doing there, and "Girls, Girls, Girls" came over the speakers before their set. Crowd went nuts. Great memory.

'brothers' and 'the last station' reviews

My latest Consumables column rolls up its sleeves and reviews Brothers, The Last Station, The Road, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Me and Orson Welles.

You may be wondering, "Hey, Tim, how come you didn't review Up in the Air and Everybody's Fine?" Ah, but I did! Check out my Up in the Air review from Toronto, and my Everybody's Fine write-up from AFI Fest.

fringe: snakehead

Last night's episode of Fringe was a battle between two separate emotions: awwww (Walter Bishop's struggle for independence) and ewwww (all those slithering parasitic worms). My recap of "Snakehead" is up at Vulture.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

'breaking point' review

Breaking Point is a crime-thriller that stars Tom Berenger as a disgraced former assistant district attorney looking for a shot at redemption. It also has Armand Assante in it. Oh yeah, it's one of those types of movies -- it's also got Busta Rhymes as a low-life thug. My review is up at The Village Voice.

Friday, November 27, 2009

band of horses - the great salt lake

Ben Bridwell, the main man in Band of Horses, has always given off a regular-dude vibe, but in case there was any doubt, check out this video for "The Great Salt Lake." He's sitting in the back of a truck! He's playing softball! He's just hangin' with his buds! This video makes me very happy ... how much longer must we wait for his band's next album?

Friday, November 20, 2009

fringe: august

Everybody on Fringe is either dealing with loss or trying hard not to lose someone. All of that came to a head in last night's episode, "August." My recap is up at Vulture.

yo la tengo - periodically double or triple

Do you know that Yo La Tengo have a new(ish) album out? It's called Popular Songs and, big surprise, it's pretty great. "Periodically Double Or Triple" isn't even the best thing on it, but it'll do for a Friday. Funky, nerdy, happy -- god, I love these guys.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

'red cliff' review

John Woo's five-hours-condensed-to-two-and-a-half-hours epic Red Cliff leads the latest installment of Consumables. Also reviewed, La Danse, Broken Embraces and the ghastly Planet 51. And if you missed my take on Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, you can read it here.

'blood equity' review

Blood Equity has noble intentions but shoddy execution. Among other honorable goals, this documentary means to expose the serious long-term damage (both physical and mental) that awaits football players after their careers are over. But after Malcolm Gladwell's great New Yorker piece on the subject, there's not much new to say. My full review is at L.A. Weekly.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

'bad lieutenant: port of call new orleans': can't you take a joke?

Glenn Kenny touches on something in his mixed review of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans that I think is worth discussing further:
For all of its strengths and weaknesses, Werner Herzog's movie, from a script by William M. Finkelstein, is best appreciated as a comedy.


[Nicolas Cage's] performance is a piece of virtuosic slapstick rather than the exhibition (exhibitionism?) of raw-nerve emotional torment that Harvey Keitel essayed in [Abel] Ferrara's [original] film. If you're not in on the joke by the time Cage's character gets the run of the property room from whence he filches a lot of his dope, whereupon his eyes go wider than Klaus Kinski's Nosferatu did at the sight of Jonathan Harker's blood, then you'll never get it.
This notion of "getting the joke" is odd to me when it comes to this movie. Taken as a crime drama, Port of Call is almost woefully inept. First off, it looks cheap. And its plot, as Kenny mentions, doesn't really build or evolve -- stuff just happens. As for Cage's performance, it's not that different than his turn in something like Bangkok Dangerous, although it's admittedly several notches zanier. And the film lacks the smarts of Herzog's last attempt to make a "studio movie," Rescue Dawn. But we're not supposed to let any of that bother us. In fact, if you point these things out, it's as if you didn't even get what the movie was supposed to be about. "Geez, lighten up! It's a comedy, OK?"

But is it? Are we supposed to take Cage's character's depraved, sometimes dangerous behavior as a big joke? But why? What's the object of satire? Crime dramas? Are we supposed to be impressed that Herzog made as chintzy a police procedural as some anonymous hack could?

There's something about New Orleans that brings out the loopy in major auteurs. Or maybe I'm just thinking of Robert Altman, who took a John Grisham story and turned it into The Gingerbread Man. (As opposed to Port of Call, though, that movie's a failure because it doesn't keep winking at us. Or something.) Now comes Herzog, who (I've been told) has delivered a stirring portrait of poverty in America by, uh, including shots of rundown houses. But whereas with Rescue Dawn, where he guided Christian Bale through one of his most restrained performances, Herzog seems to have let Nic be Nic here.

At this stage of his career, Cage is probably as un-direct-able as Jack Nicholson -- you cast him not despite his indulgences but because of them. But the "brilliance" of his performance in Port of Call reminds me of my film-school days when my classmates and I (knee-deep in fashionable college irony) would proclaim certain terrible films "amazing" and "genius" because, well, we got the joke. We knew they were awful, but, you see, we were hip enough to enjoy them for their awfulness. Or something. Eventually, I grew out of that mindset -- proclaiming terrible films "amazing" to random strangers is a good way to never make new friends. But when I watched Port of Call, I was reminded of how easy it is to fall into that trap. So, yes, I suppose I'm "in on the joke." I just don't think it's that funny.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

'idiocracy' at the New Beverly

Next Saturday night, November 21, the New Beverly will be hosting a midnight screening of Mike Judge's Idiocracy. Is it a great movie? No. But it is a very correct movie. I explain why at L.A. Weekly.

Friday, November 13, 2009

chicago - if you leave me now

I blame my dad for passing along the gene that makes me susceptible to liking the band Chicago. Most days, I can resist. But today, screw it.

fringe: of human action

Peter does battle with the Most Obnoxious Teenager of All Time on last night's Fringe. My recap/review is up at Vulture.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

'collapse' review

The unsettling, alarmist documentary Collapse leads my latest Consumables column. If that isn't your thing, maybe you'd be more interested in my reviews of Pirate Radio, The Messenger, A Christmas Carol and Treeless Mountain, which are also included.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

them crooked vultures album review

After my initial skepticism, I admit that I've been won over by the self-titled debut from Them Crooked Vultures, the supergroup made up of Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme, Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl and Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones. My full review.

Friday, November 06, 2009

the avett brothers - "i and love and you"

"I and Love and You" first caught my ear thanks to KEXP months ago -- I'd be lost without that station. I hadn't heard the track in a bit, and then it stumbled back into my life this week. Yeah, this is a damn pretty song.

fringe: earthling

My recap of last night's pretty-good episode of Fringe is up at Vulture. I have to be honest with you people: I wish I had come up with the article's headline. Pure genius.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

'the men who stare at goats' and 'precious' reviews

For my latest Consumables column, I take a look at The Men Who Stare at Goats, Precious and Paranormal Activity. Plus, I heap praise on an album that came out in March that I'm still loving, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' It's Blitz!

the yankees win the world series, and that's a good thing

Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci says what I've been thinking since the New York Yankees won the World Series last night:
After years of seeing upstarts, hot teams and cursebreakers win the World Series and playoff baseball reduced to "a crapshoot," we got an old fashioned, the-best-team-won World Series. In most every winning clubhouse players blather about how "no one expected us to be here" and "we had to overcome a lot of adversity to be here," but it was kind of refreshing to see the favored horse bring a win home by a comfortable margin.
My St. Louis Cardinals are one of those teams to which he's referring -- in 2006, they were just barely over .500 during the regular season (partly due to injuries) but got hot just in time for the playoffs to win the Fall Classic. But I think the fact that that Cardinals team were the champions says something about how difficult it is to win the World Series. St. Louis had better teams this decade, but none of them snagged the big prize. Likewise, the Yankees have had consistently great, deep teams in the '00s, but they couldn't win it all. And now that they're on top again, there's a popular grumbling around baseball (especially among Boston Red Sox fans) that it's boring or depressing when the Yankees win because there's nothing exciting or inspiring about it.

But I'd argue the exact opposite: I think there's so much pressure on the Yankees that when they do win it's a testament to being focused and to ignoring all the expectations thrown at you. You can have the biggest payroll and the best regular-season record, but you've got to deliver in the postseason. The Yankees are the only team that if they don't win the whole thing, it's a failure. Why? Because they are supposed to win. They've got all the riches and all the best players. If they don't win, there's no excuse they can point to -- if they lose, it must be because of some deep character flaw within their collective makeup. If you're a sensitive soul, that sort of psychological toil can really mess with you.

I know people hate the Yankees for lots of reasons. I've torn into those arguments before, but I'll say again that I really do love this franchise. Having a significant payroll is absolutely a factor in winning the World Series, but it's not the only one -- as Verducci says, a lot of unlikely teams have pulled it off in recent years. So it has to be more than just money that makes a winner. CC Sabathia could have tanked this season, and Mark Teixeira could have blown out his knee in April. Money certainly puts you in position to be successful, but it doesn't guarantee anything. It takes more than that to win the World Series and, this season, the Yankees had enough of whatever that is to do it.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

'everybody's fine' review

Last night I was at the world premiere of Everybody's Fine, the comedy-drama starring Robert De Niro as a retired widower who decides to reconnect with his adult children after his wife's death. De Niro is pretty good in it, but the movie's no About Schmidt. My review is at Screen International.

Monday, November 02, 2009

'city of life and death'

City of Life and Death from Chinese filmmaker Lu Chuan will open next year. I got a chance to see it Sunday during the AFI Film Festival. It's a remarkable, extraordinary film. I can't even wrap my head around it yet, so in the meantime here are some words from Scott Foundas:
Written and directed by Lu Chuan, The City of Life and Death is a startling historical epic, as brilliantly well-made as it is sociologically astute, set during the 1937 Japanese occupation of the walled Chinese city of Nanking. Latterly exposed in books and documentary films as China’s “forgotten holocaust,” the siege of Nanking brought with it a series of unspeakable (if all too common) atrocities committed by the occupiers against the occupied: the murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians; the rape of tens of thousands of women and underage girls; and, in one of the film’s most bloodcurdling scenes, the point-blank assassination of wounded Chinese soldiers in a convalescent hospital.

Shooting in black-and-white wide screen, Lu opens with a bravura combat sequence styled after Saving Private Ryan, but the moral ambiguity of what follows owes more to Clint Eastwood’s Iwo Jima diptych, with its unblinking depiction of heroism and barbarism, compromise and betrayal on all sides.
That covers it pretty nicely. For those of us who have become numb to Holocaust movies because there have simply been so many of them, City of Life and Death is a revelation, taking another human atrocity from history and making it fresh and vital.

If the film's opening recalls Saving Private Ryan, then much of what happens afterward is closer to Spielberg's Schindler's List: one startling black-and-white passage after another, with each sequence revealing people's best and worst instincts in poetic, understated images. But unlike Schindler's List, City of Life and Death is almost completely devoid of sentimental moments. There's no straightforward narrative to speak of -- the movie simply unfolds, and characters come in and out of the story like an expert ensemble drama.

One way to measure that a movie is working on me is when I start to lose sense of time and place -- I forget I'm in a theater, and I can't quite figure out how long I've been immersed in the film. That happened pretty quickly in City of Life and Death. I can't say enough about this amazing movie. If you can, see it, and try to see it in a theater -- the bigger the screen, the better.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Nirvana - "Aneurysm"

The Nirvana Live at Reading CD/DVD comes out on Tuesday. Folks, it's great. And it got me thinking about all the Nirvana songs that are less known because they weren't featured on the studio albums. Like "Aneurysm."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

afi fest 2009 reviews

As usual, L.A. Weekly is all over this year's AFI Fest, which kicks off tomorrow. The four films I reviewed for the Weekly were each quite good -- you can read all about Moscow, Reporter, The Secret in Their Eyes and Woman Without Piano here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

chuck klosterman speaks

I interviewed Chuck Klosterman about his new essay collection, Eating the Dinosaur, for Vulture. Here's a sample:
"There’s a really strange moment that happens for guys when you’re about 14 years old, and all of a sudden you find yourself thinking, 'I would rather be David Lee Roth than Larry Bird.'"
He also talks about his interest in the Unabomber. The whole piece is here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

peter weir and me

.... OK, maybe not quite. But this Wednesday, I'll be speaking at the Palm Springs International Film Society as part of its "Daring Debuts" series, which celebrates the first films of esteemed directors. My film will be The Cars That Ate Paris, from director Peter Weir. If you only know him from Witness or Dead Poets Society or The Truman Show, it's a real shock to experience this early grungy dark comedy of his. I think it'll make for a fun discussion.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

tony jaa of 'ong bak 2' speaks

Via email, actor (and now director) Tony Jaa answered some questions about his latest martial-arts flick, Ong Bak 2: The Beginning. The piece is up at Vulture. I loved his answer to how the Ong Bak films reflect his own personality.

In case you're wondering, I saw the film at Toronto and my review from back then is at Screen International.

Friday, October 23, 2009

michael jackson - I can't help it

With This Is It hitting theaters next week, I was thinking about Michael Jackson. You know his big smashes, but do you know his album cuts? For instance, do you know "I Can't Help It"? You should ... here it is.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

'antichrist' review

Once you've read Roger Ebert's dead-on-the-money take on Lars von Trier's Antichrist, perhaps you'd like to head over to my Consumables column, where I review Antichrist, Where the Wild Things Are, A Serious Man, (Untitled), and 35 Shots of Rum.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

'A Woman Under the Influence' at MoMA

Starting Saturday, New York's Museum of Modern Art will be screening the newly restored print of John Cassavetes's 1974 film, A Woman Under the Influence. Star Gena Rowlands will be there for Saturday's screening -- if you can make it that night, please give her a standing ovation for me. I discuss the film's impact over at The Village Voice.

Friday, October 16, 2009

'astro boy' review

If you can see the new animated film Astro Boy in digital projection, by all means do it. (And as my colleague Michael Rechtshaffen mentions, you also don't have to put on some annoying 3-D glasses to enjoy it.) Alas, I think the film's story is merely so-so. My review is at Screen International.

fringe: dream logic

Last night's Fringe wasn't one of the season's best, but, hey, at least the team took a little road trip to Seattle. My recap is at Vulture.

alice in chains - check my brain

I don't think I've mentioned how much I love Alice in Chains' new album, Black Gives Way to Blue. It's a really impressive piece of work. Quick story: I interviewed the band for Kerrang as they were finishing up the record in the studio. When my time was nearly over, they invited my to hear a couple cuts off the album. So, we all got into a big station wagon and Jerry Cantrell popped in a disc.

Now, I've listened to yet-to-be-released material in a band's presence before, and it can be a little worrisome. I mean, if you don't like what you hear, what do you say? That didn't happen here. The first song he played had this near-demonic guitar riff that blew my mind from the first second. I don't think I stopped smiling the whole time we listened to it.

That song sounds just as fantastic on the album. It's called "Check My Brain." Here it is.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

'opa!' review

Four years after playing at the Toronto Film Festival, Opa! gets a theatrical run in Los Angeles starting Friday. The movie stars Matthew Modine, who, incidentally, I've been told I look like. (I don't see it.) My review is up at L.A. Weekly.

Friday, October 09, 2009

fringe: momentum deferred

You needed a scorecard to keep up with everything that happened on last night's Fringe. Or you can just read my recap over at Vulture.

the velvet underground - sunday morning

Maybe I just heard it at the right time in my younger years, but this song always does feel like Sunday morning to me. And if you love this Velvet Underground track, the good news is that it plays twice in this YouTube clip.

'the damned united' and 'an education'

Two movies coming out today are based on true stories. But while An Education can't fully escape conventionality, The Damned United totally rethinks the sports movie. Both movies are featured in my latest Consumables column, which also includes reviews of The Informant!, Still Walking, Beeswax, and the criminally underrated Julia.

Monday, October 05, 2009

'nashville' at the new beverly

Robert Altman's Nashville will be playing Oct. 14-15 at the New Beverly. You know why it's a great movie, but if for some reason you don't, I take a fresh crack at it over at L.A. Weekly.

Friday, October 02, 2009

fringe: fracture

Last night's episode incorporated one of my favorite recurring bits of goofiness in the Fringe universe: the notion that Peter has a litany of "underground" contacts that he can utilize to make the seemingly impossible possible. I go into detail about this in today's recap at Vulture.

David Letterman - First Show After 9/11

Last night's Late Show will go down as one of the handful of truly unforgettable episodes David Letterman has filmed over his now-27-year career. Not because it was an exceptionally great episode -- it's just that Letterman talked to his audience about an extortion attempt regarding sexual encounters he's had with female staff members. That means it was big, juicy news, which means lots of people who usually don't care about David Letterman suddenly started caring about him a whole hell of a lot.

Last night was riveting television, and for those of us who love the man, it demonstrated yet again what makes him a fantastic talk-show host: his charm, his integrity, his wit. The argument can be made that if he had more integrity he wouldn't sleep with underlings, but I think if one is going to acknowledge past failings, you couldn't have done it much better than he did last night.

This got me thinking of his most memorable Late Show moment, which has to be his first show after the 9/11 attacks. Forgive the mediocre video quality of the below clip, but I think the essence of the man's decency comes through regardless. Again, the argument could be made that to draw comparisons between one man's romantic infidelity and a nation's great sadness is perverse and a bit of a stretch. But I think that Late Show is at its best when Letterman talks straight with us. Last night, he did that. And eight years ago, he did it as well.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

'new york, I love you' review

New York, I Love You is from the same people who brought us Paris, Je T'Aime. It's not as great, but enough of the short films work to make the experience worthwhile. My review is up at Screen International.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

my new job title

Now that it's on the website for all to see, I can formally acknowledge that, yes, I'm the new vice president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. It's a real honor for me. The membership of LAFCA are a passionate, terrific bunch, and I just hope I do them proud.

The other three officers I'll be working with are people I like and respect a lot, and I'm looking forward to being part of the gang. (They've all been officers before, which makes me the New Guy, I suppose.) The business of film criticism is in dire straits these days, but I have to say I always feel better about things when I'm at LAFCA meetings. Being around such opinionated men and women, one can't help but think that this profession won't go down without a fight.

Monday, September 28, 2009

dollhouse: vows

Along with Fringe, I'll also be doing recaps of Dollhouse this season for the fine folks at Vulture. My first Dollhouse breakdown is up now.

Friday, September 25, 2009

fringe: night of desirable objects

Yup, I'm back doing Overnights of Fringe for Vulture. Last night's episode was a stand-alone one that was pretty entertaining. You can read my full rundown here.

al green - call me (come back home)

Sure, nothing beats the studio version, but hearing That Voice coming out of that body is a pretty amazing sight.

Also, Fun Fact: annoying concertgoers who don't shut up during performances existed in the 1970s, too. No doubt if I was at this show, I'd be sitting right next to this idiot.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

moby - wait for me

As Moby tours the U.S., I take a moment to reflect on his fine new album, Wait for Me. Can it really be 10 years since he released Play?

Friday, September 18, 2009

ranking the best and worst of the toronto film festival

Now that the Toronto Film Festival is over, it's a time for quiet reflection -- and list-making. From worst to best, here are the films I saw (including ones I screened prior to the festival):

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Leaves of Grass



Jennifer's Body

Youth in Revolt

Solomon Kane

Ong Bak 2

The Dirty Saints


Leaving (Partir)

Whip It

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

An Education

The Loved Ones

Fish Tank

The Invention of Lying

Farewell (L'Affaire Farewell)

The White Ribbon

Mother and Child


Up in the Air


The Damned United

The White Stripes Under Great White Northern Lights

I Am Love

What does this list suggest? That I still have a lot of films to catch up on. It never ends.

white stripes - dead leaves and the dirty ground

Heading home today from Toronto. My happiest discovery here was the excellent White Stripes concert documentary Under Great White Northern Lights. I hope it gets a theatrical release. (Note to self: finally get around to seeing It Might Get Loud, will ya?) Anyway, I've been a little Jack White obsessed since seeing the movie the other day. So here's this ....

Thursday, September 17, 2009

'the disappearance of alice creed' review

The Disappearance of Alice Creed isn't up to the level of Shallow Grave, but its who's-zooming-who thriller plot is comparably fun. And Eddie Marsan rules. My review is up at Screen International.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

'youth in revolt' review

I'm not as high on Michael Cera's latest film, Youth in Revolt, as others are. While watching it, all I could think was, Haven't I seen all this before? My review is up at Screen International.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

'mother and child' review

Four years ago, I interviewed writer-director Rodrigo Garcia about his film, Nine Lives. He's back at the Toronto Film Festival with Mother and Child, starring Naomi Watts and Annette Bening. I think it's his best film yet. My review is over at Screen International.

Monday, September 14, 2009

'whip it' review

Caught Whip It last night during the festival. Drew Barrymore's directorial debut is a very likable film with likable performances and a likable spirit. Will that be enough for audiences? I think so. My review is up at Screen International.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

'triage' review

Triage is a war film that's so glum it barely registers. That's a shame since it comes from Danis Tanovic, the director of the Oscar-winning No Man's Land. I break down Triage's flaws at Screen International.

'solomon kane' review

If you like sword-and-sorcerer films, may I suggest Solomon Kane. The Kane character was created by the same man who gave us Conan the Barbarian. Yeah, you know what I'm talkin' about. My review is up at Screen International.

'daybreakers' review

I thought the Spierig brothers' first film, the zombie-horror flick Undead, was pretty mediocre. They step up their game significantly with Daybreakers. I saw it in Toronto, and here's my review.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

'ong bak 2' review

The first Ong Bak was absolutely tremendous -- one of the great martial-arts films of the last 10 years. How's the sequel? My review of Ong Bak 2: The Beginning is up at Screen International.

'up in the air' review

I've never been wild about director Jason Reitman's films in the past. That changed with Up in the Air, which I think is easily the best thing he's done. It's not perfect, but it's charming and thoughtful. My review is up at Screen International.

Friday, September 11, 2009

the beatles - you've got to hide your love away

Thanks to, of all people, Chris Cornell for bringing this video to my attention.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

jennifer's body review

Greetings from the Toronto Film Festival. Here's my review of Jennifer's Body, which is premiering at the festival before it haunts regular theaters in a couple weeks. (Yes, I just made a pun. Har har.)

Monday, September 07, 2009

'gimme shelter' at the cinefamily

If you haven't seen Gimme Shelter in a theater, you owe it to yourself -- forget best music documentary of all time, it's just a fantastic film. And lucky you if you live in Los Angeles -- it'll be playing at the Cinefamily on September 17. I sing the film's praises at L.A. Weekly.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

'Smother' on DVD; or, Who Called It "Hilarious"?

Killing some time at CineFile the other evening, I came upon the DVD of Smother, the not-so-funny Diane Keaton movie I panned last year for The Village Voice. Imagine my surprise, then, when I noticed the blurb "Hilarious" on the DVD's cover attributed to the Voice. "Wait a second," I thought. "I remember thinking that Keaton was kinda funny in it, but did I ever use the word hilarious?"

I went home and looked up my review. Here's the opening of the piece:
Noah (Dax Shepard) has just gotten fired, faces pressure from his wife (Liv Tyler) to have a baby, and must contend with her socially inept cousin (Mike White), who wants to stay with them for a few days while he finishes his screenplay. That’s when Marilyn (Diane Keaton), Noah’s high-maintenance mother, announces that she’s moving in, turning Noah’s bad day into a presumably hilarious and awful one.
Yeah, that's what I thought. For future reference, it's important to read all the words in a sentence before determining if something's being used in a positive way or not.

Friday, September 04, 2009

rob base and dj e-z rock - it takes two

As immortalized by that romantic-comedy classic, The Proposal ....

Thursday, September 03, 2009

scott foundas on lacma's film series -- and on los angeles moviegoers

My editor and friend Scott Foundas gets it all correct in his terrific piece about LACMA's decision to end its 40-year film series, but this section is particularly important because it correctly puts part of the blame on us, the audience:

Los Angeles moviegoers, it must be said, have their work cut out for them too. When friends and colleagues have written and called over the past few weeks expressing their dismay about the LACMA situation, a typical refrain has been: “How could something like this happen in L.A., of all places?” You know, Tinseltown. The nerve center of the entire worldwide film industry. To which my response has been: “How could it not?” What I mean is that while L.A. certainly doesn’t lack for a community of passionate, informed, dedicated film buffs who value the programming at LACMA and the city’s other specialized film venues, even the best of us have a tendency to take this cornucopia of cinematic offerings for granted in a way that audiences in other major cities don’t. It’s almost as if, this being the company town, we feel we have free license to embrace movies when we want to and ignore them whenever it’s convenient, certain that they will always be there. Oh, another world-famous auteur is doing a Q&A at the Egyptian tonight? Yawn, I’ll catch the next one.

Part of the reason Los Angeles seemed so appealing in my youth was its access to the best of everything -- movies, music, what have you. It's why I still love living here. But Scott's right -- to use a personal example, how many times have I missed a screening of Playtime figuring, "Eh, it'll come back again soon enough"? But that's the thing -- there is no guarantee. We are extraordinarily lucky to be filmgoers in this great city. And we should never take it for granted. And that means supporting the institutions we care about as much as we can.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

thinking about the jim thome trade

Kevin Roderick of LA Observed is with me on the Dodgers' trade that brought in slugger Jim Thome. He tips his hand by titling his post "Dodgers trade for a DH":
Thome has played the field four times since leaving the National League in 2005, including not once this year or last. Tells you about his glove. So he give them a power left-handed bat off the bench and theoretically could fill in precariously for James Loney when offense takes precedence.
This decision seems to be built almost entirely on the possibility that the Dodgers will use him every game if they get to the World Series. But that's a long way off, isn't it? Is he really going to be happy just pinch-hitting in the interim?

For the record, I think the deal for pitcher Jon Garland makes more sense.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

justin timberlake and the open road

Hey, Justin Timberlake fans, do you know JT's in a movie that's out this weekend? Probably not -- Anchor Bay is very quietly dumping The Open Road into theaters. It's a father-and-son drama starring Timberlake and Jeff Bridges. It's not terrible, but it's exactly the sort of film Timberlake shouldn't be doing. I explain why in my review at L.A. Weekly.

Friday, August 28, 2009

the national - mistaken for strangers

I'll be seeing the National tomorrow night at the Wiltern. This will be the second time I've caught them live -- the last was as an opening band for R.E.M.'s Accelerate tour. I'm curious to see how their well-toned mope-rock works in an intimate setting. (They were good at the Hollywood Bowl, but the sun was still out, and most of the crowd couldn't have cared less about them.) They'll definitely play "Mistaken for Strangers" -- I think it's the best of their "for once, let's try to rock" songs.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

afi's davey havok speaks

AFI will be releasing their new album, Crash Love, on September 29. I spoke with frontman Davey Havok for Revolver about the making of the record, which is a return to focused guitar rock for the Northern California group. We discussed the cult of celebrity, sleazy riffs and why they decided to change producers during the recording. The article isn't available on the magazine's website, but here's a shot of the issue cover.

Monday, August 24, 2009

inglourious basterds review

Inglourious Basterds continues my streak of recent Quentin Tarantino films that do very little for me. I review it in the latest Consumables column, and I also say a few words about Funny People, Amreeka, Lorna's Silence, Humpday and Steely Dan's recent live show.

Friday, August 21, 2009

moby - pale horses

I'm going to be writing a piece about Moby's recent Wait for Me in the next couple weeks. To get me in the mood, I pulled up this video. This is beautiful stuff.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

'extract' movie review

I thought Mike Judge's Office Space was funny but sloppy. I thought Idiocracy was a brilliant idea that was terribly executed. So what do I make of his new film, Extract? My review is up at Screen International.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

x games 3d: the movie

If ever a film demanded an exclamation mark in its name, it's X Games 3D: The Movie. The filmmakers left it out, sadly, but don't worry: There's an abundance of "awesomeness" in this extreme-sports documentary. In fact, it's so unrelentingly "awesome" that I got pretty sleepy during it. My review is up at The Village Voice.

Monday, August 17, 2009

quentin tarantino's favorite films since 1992

It's funny: An hour ago, I was sitting here thinking about why I'm having a hard time caring about Ingloriuous Basterds, the forthcoming film from Quentin Tarantino. I've missed a few screenings, and competing screenings this week will keep me from seeing it before Friday's release. But I didn't find myself being all that upset about that fact.

You see, I'm clearly in the "scolding third-grade teachers" camp that Glenn Kenny talks about when he describes some of QT's critics as folks who insist that Tarantino would be a great filmmaker if he didn't make, y'know, the films that he makes. There's no point in responding to that until I see Inglorious Basterds, but I will say that I was sitting here feeling quite surly about all things QT -- and then I stumbled upon the below clip, which reminded me of what I do love about the man.

Beyond the individual selections Tarantino makes for his Top 20 Movies Since 1992, what I appreciate is that his tastes reveal a real enthusiasm and insight. I understand that these are largely pithy comments he dispenses, but it's worth pointing out that he does something that we film critics don't always remember to do: He relates to a viewer's passion for film without talking down to the viewer.

When it comes to the actual list, well, it's entirely across the board, as you'd expect. I think he's absolutely right in what he says about Unbreakable and Dogville. I wish he had explained why Anything Else isn't just underrated but great. (And now I'm wondering if he's checked out Woody Allen's really underrated gem, Cassandra's Dream.) I think Battle Royale is terrible, but I can completely understand why he loves it. Most people who are gaga about Dazed and Confused are smitten with it for precisely the reasons Tarantino lays out. He articulated my conflicted feelings about The Matrix, and he actually made me reconsider Speed. That's a lot of intelligent, thought-provoking criticism in a short amount of time.

Now, the question has to be asked: If he wasn't Tarantino, would I care this much about his list? Probably not. But this six-minute clip made me very happy. And, I have to admit, it got me into a better mindset about seeing Inglorious Basterds.

Bonus: If you're interested in Tarantino's ballot for the Sight & Sound film poll from 2002, it can be found here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

coldplay - life in technicolor ii

This is not the most novel of novel concepts -- puppets in videos have been with us since Genesis's "Land of Confusion" and the Grateful Dead's "Touch of Grey." But I do find this Coldplay clip deeply amusing.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

roger ebert on 'district 9'

Roger Ebert sums up my feelings precisely about District 9:
“District 9” does a lot of things right, including giving us aliens to remind us not everyone who comes in a spaceship need be angelic, octopod or stainless steel. They are certainly alien, all right. It is also a seamless merger of the mockumentary and special effects (the aliens are CGI). And there’s a harsh parable here about the alienation and treatment of refugees.

But the third act is disappointing, involving standard shoot-out action. [...] Despite its creativity, the movie remains space opera and avoids the higher realms of science-fiction.

Most critics love the movie. As I said in my review, this is a genuinely thoughtful and upsetting film that eventually becomes a shoot-'em-up. That means it's not at the level of 28 Days Later or even (and I know I'm getting myself in trouble here) Cloverfield, which at least stayed tonally consistent throughout.

If you haven't seen the short film that inspired District 9, called Alive in Joburg, you should -- a lot of what makes the feature film great can be found there. And I have to say that the moments that don't work as well in District 9 are nowhere in sight.

Friday, August 07, 2009

pet shop boys - rent

John Hughes died yesterday, so consequently the radio has been full of '80s songs from his movies. They're all perfectly fine (albeit dated) tunes, but as a whole they represent the shallow, dopey, melodramatic excesses of the era -- which I know will be heresy to those who came of age during that time. But, listen, I did come of age during that time, and hearing those songs makes me cringe. For me, they're iconic songs, but they're not, y'know, good songs. So as a remedy, how about some smart '80s music that flaunted its shallow surfaces while slowly revealing its emotion and wit underneath? Yes, it's time for some Pet Shop Boys.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

a perfect getaway

If you want a solid B-movie thriller, may I suggest David Twohy's A Perfect Getaway? My hunch is that I liked it more than most critics, but it's a sturdy little contraption that worked for me. My review is at The Village Voice.

rob tannenbaum on steely dan

Rob Tannenbaum, my editor at Blender, "gets" Steely Dan in a way that I hope is accessible to people who are sure that they hate Steely Dan. (Lord knows I've tried and failed to convert people to this duo's genius.) In his Vulture review of their recent New York show:
Fagen and Becker’s songs are populated by putzes and shlubs, unreliable narrators who only think they’re having the times of their lives; these are filthy stories, lushly told. In a Jimmy Buffet or Kenny Chesney song, alcohol consumption symbolizes fun and community. For Steely Dan, it’s an augury of disaster, coming shortly after the last guitar solo has faded out.
Yes, that's exactly right. Steely Dan, Randy Newman and Fountains of Wayne are the holy trinity of ironic pop songwriters who dissect the dark underside of "let the good times roll" with deceptively happy music.

By the way, I'm counting down the days until I get to see Steely Dan's Gaucho show here in Los Angeles near the end of the month. I hope Fagen gets over his cold by then.

Monday, August 03, 2009

who will save nbc? the behind the music guy

Somehow, I had never known this about Jeff Gaspin, the new No. 2 at NBC:
In March 1997, Gaspin wondered, "Whatever happened to Milli Vanilli?" The 1980s pop music duo had been disgraced after it was revealed that they had been lip-syncing songs from their Grammy-winning album. Over lunch one day with producer Gay Rosenthal, Gaspin pitched his idea for a series about the rise and fall of pop idols. Rosenthal had with her a copy of People magazine that featured a story about rapper MC Hammer and how he had squandered $33 million. That also would make a great episode, they thought.

The idea evolved into VH1's breakout hit show "Behind the Music," which launched with episodes on Vanilli and Hammer and ran for nine years.
He also was a big advocate of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy over at Bravo. I don't watch enough TV to have a right to be smug about its limitations, but none of these revelations about him surprise me. In an era when reality television is becoming more and more important for the major networks, this is the sort of guy who acquires the perception of having the Midas touch.

Friday, July 31, 2009

atm machines, crime, and the lily burk killing

Maybe I'm missing something here, but in the light of Lily Burk's tragic killing, this suggestion from a letter-writer to the Los Angeles Times makes a lot of sense:
To help future victims forced by criminals to withdraw funds from ATM machines, I call on banks to offer the option of a customized emergency personal identification number linked to debit and credit cards. These would allow cash to be withdrawn but would also trigger a silent alarm.

Evie Tole

Rancho Cucamonga

warren zevon - keep me in your heart

Funny People opens today. I'll have my review up in a little while -- sorry, I've been busy with other work -- but since the movie includes this song, I had to throw it up on the site in the meantime. Just a beautiful tune.

(I will say that I think Funny People is better than most people do, and it's certainly Judd Apatow's best film.)

district 9

I was in love with District 9 after its first act. Then, the rest of the film happened. I explain what goes wrong in my review at Screen International.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

memories of lacma's wonderful weekend film program

I'm still getting over the news, announced yesterday, that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art will be discontinuing its weekend film series. Frankly, the only news that would have been worse would be LACMA deciding to do away with the Bing Theater altogether.

Some of my favorite moviegoing memories of the last 10-12 years are in that theater. Off the top of my head ...
  • Having the entire theater to myself for one whole day last summer when I reviewed the restored seven-hour version of Sergei Bondarchuk's War and Peace for L.A. Weekly. I got to live out some last-man-on-Earth fantasies that day.
  • Catching a double feature of Safe and the Bob Flanagan documentary Sick in the late '90s. During Safe, there was a weird buzzing going on -- was it the print? the speakers? -- that only added to that film's hypnotic hold on the viewer.
  • Seeing Robert Altman's Short Cuts for the umpteenth time and being convinced that this might be the greatest Los Angeles film ever.
  • Watching Jeanne Dielman for the first time this past April and being convinced that this might be one of the greatest films ever.
  • Sitting a row in front of Chris Parnell a few weeks later for Carlos Reygadas' Silent Light. The film's flaws aside, this is the sort of movie whose power simply cannot be duplicated on DVD. It's not that you need to be sitting by Parnell, but you need strangers around you, all silently soaking in the same images as you are at the exact same time.
  • Finally getting my wish to show my wife Edward Yang's Yi Yi last October. Again, it's a movie you have to see in a theater the first time.
  • Discovering 1946's The Murderers Are Among Us, the opening-night selection of LACMA's "Two Germanys" film series from this past winter. My wife just had a feeling it was worth seeing, so we went. She was right.
  • The Preston Sturges retrospective of the late '90s. From the sold-out audience's reaction to The Lady Eve, you'd swear the film was just as fresh and relevant as it ever was.
  • Being baffled by Don't Look Now on my initial viewing.
  • Seeing Sleeping Beauty again for the first time in forever.
  • Wishing I wasn't so exhausted while trying to absorb Robert Altman's Vincent and Theo.
  • Getting lost all over again with McCabe & Mrs. Miller.
I know I'm forgetting some, but I'll just stop right there. I didn't go every week or every month, but I liked knowing that LACMA's film program was there. Now it's gone. I wonder what it's like to have hobbies and passions that aren't constantly undermined by financial woes and fickle audience tastes. Must be nice.

Friday, July 24, 2009

radiohead - sail to the moon

This week was my niece's 7th birthday. For whatever reason, this song always makes me think of her -- I think it's the line "Maybe you'll/be President/But know right from wrong." If my memory is correct, Hail to the Thief was recorded around the time Yorke had his first child, and the album's concerns seem to be coming in part from the perspective of a parent worrying about the future of a planet he's leaving behind for his offspring.

Anyway, those are my impressions of "Sail to the Moon." Here's a superb live version ...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

american cowslip

American Cowslip is the type of movie for people who think slightly over-the-hill actors camping it up as small-town local yokels is hysterical. My review is at L.A. Weekly.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

karina longworth on antichrist

She's one of the few film critics I really agree with on Lars von Trier's Antichrist:
You can put me on the “pro” side on Antichrist, although I’m not without my reservations. I’m certainly not offended by it, nor do I think other members of my gender necessarily should be. (Before I saw the film, a male journalist told me, in a way that suggested it was beyond opinion, that “no woman” could possible feel positively about it; this statement of “fact” strikes me as more sexist than anything Von Trier actually put on screen.) [...] Antichrist frustrates attempts to dismiss Von Trier for somehow not knowing what he’s doing.
There are big problems with Antichrist, which I think Longworth nails pretty well. But the sheer confidence and skill put into the endeavor are impossible to deny. And as she notes, he's a filmmaker who knows what he's doing -- even if you have issues with his methods and attitudes (and lord knows he opens the door to such complaints), there is no doubt that he's expertly saying what he wants to say.

I'll post my own review closer to the film's release in October.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

paris, je t'aime

Paris, je t'aime, the charming 2007 omnibus film set in the City of Light, will be making a return appearance this weekend at the New Beverly. I explain why it's worth a second look at L.A. Weekly.

Monday, July 20, 2009

the ugly truth - the review

She thinks he's uptight, he thinks she's a prude -- it's The Ugly Truth! My review is up at Screen International.

Friday, July 17, 2009

white stripes - blue orchid

I'm thinking about my favorite songs of this decade. This is one of them.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

vinessa shaw remembers stanley kubrick and eyes wide shut

Great piece over at Movieline -- today is the 10th anniversary of the release of Eyes Wide Shut, and to mark the occasion, S.T. Vanairsdale interviewed actress Vinessa Shaw, who played the prostitute Domino in the film. The whole thing is worth reading, but here's a quote I liked in response to the potential frustration for an actor in doing take after take after take:
It could have been frustrating for another actor, or even me at another time in my life. But because this was the first movie I’d done as an adult — I’d really just done kids movies before this — it was my first real movie where I felt, “Wow, there’s such a process behind this.” A development of character and letting the scene happen rather than forcing it to happen — that’s what Stanley taught me about while we were making this movie. Honestly, at that point I wasn’t sure I wanted to act anymore because I hadn’t seen that kind of magic. What would really happen if you slowed everything down? Every moment, or the planning of every scene? The writing, or the rewriting? I felt like I was finally understanding what movies were about. If you let something unfold, it could be very magical, like an athlete getting into the zone. I felt like after doing it multiple times, I was in this zone that was very different than me remembering my mark or remembering my line. It just became this organic moment. I think that usually only happens with actors who do theater, perhaps. Or who do a Kubrick movie. It was a very special world that could have driven a lot of people mad.
She was only 21 when she worked on Eyes Wide Shut. She hasn't come close to being part of a project quite as special since, although I thought she was great in the superb Two Lovers.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Neko Case - 'Middle Cyclone' Review

Neko Case continues her North American tour with a stop in Detroit on July 22. To honor the occasion, I discuss her latest album, Middle Cyclone, for the Detroit Metro Times. The piece starts like this:
Neko Case wasn't made for these times, but if it's any consolation to her, she probably wouldn't have fit in well in any era.
The rest is here.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

on the emotionally powerful taking chance

Two key quotes in a February interview with L.A. Weekly's Scott Foundas from the filmmakers behind Taking Chance:

From Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl, whose memoir inspired the film:
“To me, this is not a movie about Iraq,” Strobl says, “this is a movie about America.”
From director Ross Katz, who wrote the screenplay with Strobl:
“I remember one particular night after reading [Strobl's memoir],” Katz says, “I turned on CNN and yet another roadside bomb had ripped through yet another Baghdad market, and I sat there and I didn’t feel anything. I was extremely angry with myself, because I thought, intellectually I know how tragic this is, but I don’t feel anything, because for years I have been seeing this 24-hour news/cyber/cell-phone footage. I walked out on the street and life was just normal. I thought, there’s a parent who just got a knock on the door, and why does everything look the same? It just didn’t add up to me, and so that was kind of my leaping-off point.”
Taking Chance, which premiered at Sundance before airing on HBO in February, tells the true story of Strobl's journey in 2004 to escort the body of Lance Corporal Chance Phelps, who was killed while stationed in Iraq, to his family.

The film spends most of its short running time revealing the detail-by-detail process that goes in to preparing a dead soldier's body, and the story's emotional restraint (highlighted by a terrifically understated performance from Kevin Bacon) makes the journey both illuminating and almost unbearably poignant.

No speeches, no showy passages, no grand summations -- Taking Chance may be a little too small-screen in its execution, but its formal modesty belies the deep veins of emotion that are pulsing underneath. As Strobl correctly states, this isn't about Iraq -- it's about America and, perhaps more specifically, how difficult a time we have grappling with death. Plus, the movie's clear-eyed respect for the country's military communities -- the small towns where service is passed down from generation to generation and is as ingrained into the fabric of society as the Friday night football game and the senior prom -- is a thing of beauty. All the movie asks is that you feel, and by resisting the story's inherently manipulative elements, Taking Chance accomplishes its mission. It's not an "Iraq War movie," but that's part of the reason it's so terrific.

Friday, July 10, 2009

randy newman - i love l.a.

Since I nominated Randy Newman's "I Love L.A." as the definitive Los Angeles song earlier this week, I thought I'd track down the video. Everything I said earlier about the song goes double for the video, plus it's part of that honorable subgenre of videos made in the early '80s by established artists whose attitude toward MTV seemed to be, "These video things are completely stupid, but screw it, if it'll get some stupid kids to buy our album, let's make one."

By the way, for those who haven't been to Los Angeles in a while, the Disneyland sign looks a little different now.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

the dead weather - horehound review

Another day, another new side project for Jack White. This time it's the Dead Weather, which is a collaboration between him and the Kills' Alison Mosshart. The Kills always sounded like a meaner, filthier White Stripes, so this team-up makes a lot of sense. I review the band's debut album, Horehound, at About.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

who wrote the definitive song about los angeles?

From an interview between Tom Waits and Beck:
Tom Waits: Not every town gets their song. Actually, Sinatra tried to do a song about Los Angeles. It was really lame. Really lame. It embarrassed the s*** out of me.

Beck Hansen: That was in the 80's right?

TW: "LA, You're a Lady." It was one of those lame, awful... Maybe it's the rhyme or the rhythm of the name Los Angeles.

BH: Yeah I don't think anyone has written a definitive LA song.

TW: Maybe it's the rhyme or the rhythm of the name Los Angeles.

BH: Yeah, I don't think you can...

TW: But Chicago or St Louis, such cool sounding names. New Orleans. So many songs about New Orleans.
Without thinking about it more than three seconds, I'd pick Randy Newman's "I Love L.A." The satire, the bad-'80s quality of the production -- it still feels absolutely right in its depiction of this town. But maybe I'm forgetting a better choice.

Friday, July 03, 2009

dj jazzy jeff and the fresh prince - summertime

Happy Fourth, everyone. Here's a version of summer that never, ever happened to me. But it sounds pretty great, right?

kambakkht ishq review

Kambakkht Ishq is a Bollywood romantic comedy set in the world of Hollywood stuntmen and, er, Santa Monica surgeons. It involves a real Don Juan type who encounters the one beautiful woman who is immune to his charms. The movie is all singing-and-dancing fluff from there, but it's really, really fun fluff. My review is at L.A. Weekly.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

the king of comedy

This is a newish feature called Blind Spots that I do occasionally on this blog. It'll give me a chance to write about movies or albums or whatever that I missed during their initial run. I'll write them in the style of Consumables and, ideally, this exercise of going back will help me fill in some gaps. I'll write these whenever the spirit moves me.

The King of Comedy

How can you tell that I'm not a dyed-in-the-wool Martin Scorsese fan? The King of Comedy and The Last Waltz are my two favorite movies of his. It's not that I'm opposed to the four Scorsese films everybody else holds up as his masterpieces -- Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas -- but none of them fully works for me. (Their men-are-men pathos can get a little thick for my taste.) Hence, The Last Waltz and The King of Comedy, which are certainly centered around men as well but aren't quite so enthralled with masculinity that it dominates the proceedings. The Last Waltz pops up enough on cable that I feel pretty confident of its greatness, but I haven't seen The King of Comedy in probably 15 years.
So I re-watched it, curious how it would hold up...

There's nothing like that uncomfortable feeling of knowing that you initially overrated a movie, but, then again, uncomfortable feelings are this movie's reason for being. There are few films that work so hard to make you actively hate all its characters, particularly its thoroughly unpleasant protagonist: Rupert Pupkin (played by Robert De Niro). But where Taxi Driver (another Scorsese film about a loser driven to take matters into his own hands) always felt like a glorification of nihilism, The King of Comedy seems to know full well that these people (even Jerry Lewis's popular talk-shot host) are all miserable wretches you don't want to emulate. And as opposed to another '70s film I find overrated, Network, The King of Comedy continually grounds its satire of television and celebrity in reality -- frankly, I'd be amazed if some lunatic hasn't tried copying this film's kidnapping ploy to get him- or herself on TV.

Still, this movie isn't as perfect as I remembered. De Niro's string of self-loathing performances with Scorsese continues here, and it's hard at points not to wonder what awful thing he did in his personal life that inspired such a willingness to berate himself in front of the camera. With that said, though, he is playing a character who's an acquired taste, and you have to credit the actor for not worrying about making us love him deep down. Plus, I'd forgotten how well De Niro performs Rupert's big monologue -- you believe that this slimy creep really has some (but not all) of the tools to become a stand-up comedian, if only he could learn to self-edit a little.

Sandra Bernhard in the best of circumstances is a dicey proposition, and a little of her goes a long way here. But Jerry Lewis really is fantastic -- without overdoing it, he conveys the sense of a man who got what he wanted in life and is depressed to realize how unfulfilling a realized dream is. He's only slightly less completely miserable than everybody else in the movie.

And then there's the ending. I'm in the camp that believes that everything after Rupert's arrest at the bar is a fantasy -- it has to be, right? No, in fact it doesn't have to be, which is one of the movie's great strengths -- it makes the case that lowlife freaks become famous all the time for the weirdest of reasons. Just about nothing in Network feels believable in 2009, but The King of Comedy still feels ahead of the curve.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

the hurt locker, and the los angeles film festival

I'm not due for another Consumables column for about a week, but I've seen so much good stuff lately that I decided to publish the new one now. I review The Hurt Locker, The Girl From Monaco and Soul Power, but the real highlights are the three movies included in the Los Angeles Film Festival's "Films That Got Away" series: Musica Nocturna, United Red Army and especially The Silence Before Bach.