Friday, January 30, 2009

the broken west - gwen, now and then

Sometimes I think I'm the only person who likes the Broken West's Now or Heaven. (Looking at the recent Pazz & Jop results, I guess I'm one of two people.) Here's my pitiful attempt to give them some recognition: a YouTube video of the band's radio performance of "Gwen, Now and Then."

what the darwins can teach all of us

Deborah Heiligman's excellent editorial in yesterday's Los Angeles Times, tied to the 170th anniversary of Charles and Emma Darwin's wedding day, is a great reminder of how faith and science can coexist. Charles was a nonbeliever, Emma passionately believed. And yet their marriage flourished -- she even helped him edit The Origin of the Species to make its points stronger.

But let's move this discussion away from religious faith for a moment. In general, the idea that two people in love can hold vastly different viewpoints on important matters is something I think we don't value enough in our society. That's not a weakness in a couple -- it's a sign of strength in their bond.

Heiligman sums it up succinctly:
Although they never were able to see eye-to-eye on the question of religion and God, they were able to reach their hands across the gulf. In the end, each of them accepted and, it seems, truly understood what the other believed.

If it is a sign of intelligence to be able to hold two opposite thoughts or opinions in your head, then it is a mark of a successful marriage to be able to truly see the other person's point of view. This is also the mark of a successful society.

the uninvited

Elizabeth Banks is fun playing the Evil Homewrecker in The Uninvited, but, yeah, it's another Asian horror film that's been turned into a so-so American remake. However, I should point out that it's better than last winter's cruddy remakes, One Missed Call and The Eye.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

taken: liam neeson as action hero

Taken is better than it needs to be, but not quite good enough to recommend. So the credit goes to Liam Neeson, who adds some dignity to the role of the retired government operative who has to save his abducted daughter by, y'know, kicking a lot of ass. My review is up at L.A. Weekly.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

indiewire's poll of the best and worst of sundance

I took part in indieWIRE's poll of the highs and lows of Sundance '09. The results are here.

Monday, January 26, 2009

about those pazz & jop commenters regarding beyonce's "single ladies"

I haven't sent in comments to Pazz & Jop for a few years, but I still enjoy reading other people's. This year's batch contained a few people knocking Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," mentioning that while they loved the song, they found its underlying message repugnant.

I've long complained about how cynical and alien Beyonce comes across when she attempts to evoke universal emotions, but I've never found "Single Ladies" to be about (in the words of one commenter) "one's duty to get married." Rather than being some "retrograde" (another commenter's opinion) sentiment, I think the song is in the grand tradition of "Respect," "I Will Survive" and other female-empowerment anthems. The guy should have appreciated his woman, should have made some sort of commitment to her, but he chickened out -- he acted like a dog. So she's out the door, and she's bringing her friends with her.

People who know me will point out that "Respect" and "I Will Survive" are the sorts of songs that drive me crazy at weddings. They've become cliches now, no question about it. After the 1,000 wedding it's featured in, so will "Single Ladies." But for now, enjoy it -- and don't feel guilty about it.

Friday, January 23, 2009

digable planets - rebirth of soul (cool like dat)

Seriously, what happened to these guys? (And I'm someone who liked the second album, Blowout Comb.) We miss you, Digable Planets -- and here's the song everyone knows from you.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

top 10 movies of 2008

So, at long last, here's my official top 10 films of 2008:

10. Taxi to the Dark Side
9. Synecdoche, New York
8. Shotgun Stories
7. The Secret of the Grain
6. Flight of the Red Balloon
5. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
4. Wendy and Lucy
3. The Class
2. Wall-E
1. The Dark Knight

If you've seen the Oscar nominations this morning, you can see that there's very little for me to get excited about for this year's awards show.

adventureland review

Adventureland is written and directed by Greg Mottola, who directed the overrated comedy Superbad. I prefer his new movie -- it's warmer and sweeter, although it's not nearly as raunchy, which I'm sure will hurt it at the box office.

dare review

Dare is an odd duck -- a high-school sex comedy that uses a sometimes-campy approach to talk seriously about self-worth, adolescence and belonging. It's a weird, uneven film, but I dug it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

manure review

The Polish brothers return with Manure. By this point, you know what you're gonna get from them -- knockout visuals, iffy story. Billy Bob Thornton sure helps the proceedings, though.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

pazz and jop

The Pazz & Jop poll is out. (My ballot is here.) My guess was that Dear Science and "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" were going to take the album and singles polls, respectively. I was half-right.

the winning season review

Sam Rockwell and Margo Martindale are the best things about The Winning Season, a defiantly old-fashioned Bad News Bears-style underdog sports comedy. Rockwell swears a ton, Martindale has some brilliant silent-comedy moments. The rest is pretty predictable.

brief interviews with hideous men review

John Krasinski, Jim from The Office, has adapted David Foster Wallace's Brief Interviews With Hideous Men for the screen. It's the sort of movie that will please everyone -- those who dig experimental, unconventional indie films will find plenty to enjoy; those who love to hate hip actors making their directorial debut will find plenty of flaws. I'm the middle -- I see the movie's problems, but I also see the enthusiasm and talent.

adam review

Adam is a love story between a writer and her neighbor who suffers from Asperger's. Writer-director Max Mayer's drama is a modest film that just didn't move me. Fox Searchlight disagreed: They just picked it up for distribution.

against the current review

I've seen a couple movies about grieving here at Sundance. The first was The Greatest, a story of a family falling apart after the death of their teenage son. A very different sort of example is Against the Current, which stars Joseph Fiennes as a man who decides to work through his sorrow by swimming the length of the Hudson River. It's a quietly off-kilter film, but eventually road-movie cliches get the best of it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

500 days of summer review

My happiest revelation at Sundance has been finding not one but two smart, funny, touching romantic comedies. The first was Paper Heart -- the second is 500 Days of Summer, which will be coming out through Fox Searchlight this summer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are both really delightful in it -- I can see this movie doing very well.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

paper heart review

One of the really nice surprises so far at Sundance has been Paper Heart, the documentary/fiction hybrid that stars Charlyne Yi and Michael Cera. Yi didn't believe in love and decided to make a documentary about it -- and then things go all postmodern when she starts dating Cera (who, in real life, is her boyfriend). I think indie-arthouse audiences are gonna luv this movie.

the greatest review

That headline might be a little misleading. I'm not saying this is the greatest review ever -- simply my review of The Greatest, the debut of writer-director Shana Feste that stars Susan Sarandon and Pierce Brosnan as a married couple coping with the death of their teenage son. Watching this film, I realized I'm partial to dramas about grief -- don't ask me why, because I'm not even sure I want to dwell on it too long. But despite some good performances, The Greatest is too uneven tonally to really connect.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

brooklyn's finest review

From director Antoine Fuqua, the man behind Training Day, comes Brooklyn's Finest, an ensemble drama about three separate New York City cops and the many moral gray areas they encounter in their lives. Starring Richard Gere, Don Cheadle and a very fine Ethan Hawke, Brooklyn's Finest has the ambition and scope to be a big-city crime epic, but the film is ultimately undone by too many narrative cliches.

'The Killing Room' Review

The first film I saw this year at Sundance was The Killing Room. Others have been very dismissive of this Saw-like psychological thriller about four strangers trapped in a scientific experiment more dangerous than they could have possibly imagined. Me, I found it to be nasty fun.

dead snow review

Greetings from the Sundance Film Festival, which I'm covering for Screen International. First up is my review of Dead Snow, the Norwegian zombie horror movie that's playing as part of the Park City at Midnight section. For fans of the Evil Dead, the movie is a lot of bloody fun.

Friday, January 16, 2009

mc hammer: turn this mutha out

What, you were expecting "U Can't Touch This"? I always preferred this song -- he is in effect, and you are not.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

paul blart: mall cop

I like Kevin James. I liked him on The King of Queens (most of the time), and I liked him in Hitch. Paul Blart: Mall Cop, his first starring vehicle, is something else entirely. My review is up at Screen International.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

owl and the sparrow

Owl and the Sparrow is a slight, lovely drama about three very different people living in Saigon and how their worlds come into contact with one another. It's not Crash or Babel -- it's simply told, without a need to pile on the narrative coincidences. With indie-film distribution being what it is, you'll only be able to see it at the Sunset 5 for a week before it eventually makes its way to DVD.

Friday, January 09, 2009

elvis costello: pump it up

"This is back when he used to actually be good," I'm sure some of you will say. I like This Year's Model a lot, too -- but what self-respecting Elvis Costello fan doesn't own King of America and Blood and Chocolate as well? Regardless, this song is now more than 30 years old. Let's take a moment to consider that ... but stop thinking about it when it starts to get depressing.

bride wars

It's January, which means it's Terrible Movie Month. I had some hopes for Bride Wars, but, alas, it's the sort of chick-flick that views women (its target audience) with an odd mix of contempt and condescension. My review is here.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

the curious case of benjamin button

I've been sitting on my review of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button for about a month. Here it finally is as part of my latest Consumables column, plus reviews of Waltz With Bashir, The Wrestler, Boogie Man, The Order of Myths and The Class.

Monday, January 05, 2009

village voice/l.a. weekly film poll

I voted in this year's Village Voice/L.A. Weekly film poll. Results are here. Individual critics' ballots aren't available online as of yet.