Sunday, September 30, 2007

With a quarter to go, my top 20 movies of 2007. Some December '06 stuff is included - I don't care about when it first showed up at a festival so much as when your average film buff could have had a chance to catch it.

1. The Ten
You know how if you beat Super Mario Bros. you can play the whole game again in "hard mode"? This feels like comedy's "hard mode."

2. The Host
I reserve further comment until it comes off my store's "new release" section and I can rent it again for free.

3. Knocked Up
If there's a better plot-based comedy this decade I will be very, very surprised. The bonus disc is better than 90% of them. Try to complain about gender disparity or the fact that it didn't stop being funny in order to earnestly recreate your stance on abortion and I will take you to the mat. You will be forced to snivel about how you just didn't like it that much and how "everyone's allowed to have their own opinion" without a goddamn leg to stand on. I will own you with science. I know kung fu.

4. Planet Terror
The closest Hollywood has come to bringing an Electric Six album to life.

5. Superbad
It could have used a touching anecdote about their past to explain why Jonah Hill got so emo about his eventual split with Michael Cera (they could have swiped the one from Wedding Crashers); bromance doesn't get that co-dependent without some shared trauma. Aside from a desire to see women get a movie like this about their adolescence, that's my only complaint.

6. Spider-Man 3
Me, I think more movies should have so much emotion, razzle-dazzle and energy that they threaten to morph into a Bob Fosse production. In comparison, Batman & Robin threatened to morph into Andrew Lloyd Webber, and that's a truer sign of improvement in superhero films than any deadly serious adaptation.

7. Notes On A Scandal
Argues for the value of oscar bait by making a more entertaining Mary Kate LeTourneau film than Lifetime ever would. Even if TV had the gall to add an aging repressed lesbian to the story, I doubt they'd find anyone who could chew it up and spit it out like Judi Dench.

8. Breach
Director Billy Ray once again tells us the real-life story of an amazing liar and the guy who happened to be there when he fucked up.

9. Balls Of Fury
Highly recommended to fans of State humor, Christopher Walken and Kickboxer. The incorporation of ping-pong into action sequences is the reason CGI was invented.

10. Venus
The last chapter of a ladies' man, equally pathetic and graceful.

11. Reno 911: Miami!
"Any last words?" "Ummm... Uhhhh... Ummm, 'He liked it'? NO! Wait!"

12. Shoot 'Em Up
Clive Owen gives another ridiculous violent fantasy some heart by protecting a baby, only this one takes pride in its ridiculousness. Knocked up a spot or two for setting a shoot-out to the entirety of "Ace Of Spades" and making it work.

13. Away From Her
Another swinging sixties icon confronts the ravages of age. Expect more of this as boomers get autumnal.

14. Black Book
Paul Verhoeven's "serious" film is his second most exciting* since Total Recall. Another case for Oscar bait!

15. Bourne Ultimatum
I've run while holding a DV camera, and there's no reason for the screen to shake THIS much. But Paul Greengrass makes sure you still see what you need to. I'm hoping if they make a fourth that they'll finally create a climax that's as gripping as the end of the first act. I don't have to worry about Bourne not kicking butt and taking names.

16. Children Of Men
I might be drastically underrating this movie in hindsight, but as much as I enjoyed Clive Owen and the long takes, I'm still hung up on how much Hollywood they're hiding behind the cinema verite. Possibly the best dystopian sci-fi movie of all time, but it's still dystopian sci-fi.

17. Lookout
A great short film about post-accident disability followed by a tolerable heist flick.

18. Shooter
Mark Wahlberg still hasn't turned a movie into gold without joshing on the other actors, but his attempts are getting better.

19. Hot Fuzz
I can get over the fact that I'm supposed to find mass-murdering pronvicials hilarious as long as I focus on what was, namely Timothy Dalton and Nick Frost.

20. 3:10 To Yuma
If you're making a classy action movie and need someone to pull off a character whose motivation is unclear, Russell Crowe can make sure we don't really care while he's on the screen, even if we notice.

The other 20 I've seen so far this year, in order of diminishing preference: The Hawk Is Dying, I Think I Love My Wife, Zodiac, Alone With Her, Blades Of Glory, Alpha Dog, Letters From Iwo Jima, Black Snake Moan, 28 Weeks Later, Perfect Stranger, Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters, Death Proof, Rescue Dawn, Ghost Rider, Smokin' Aces, The Number 23, The TV Set, Dead Silence, Hannibal Rising and...*drum roll*...Fracture.

*I can't ignore Starship Troopers, as much as it gets in the way of my point. But I can make it an asterisk.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Over ten years ago, Beavis and Butthead refused to watch this video in its entirety. Thank you, Youtube, for finally showing us what we missed (and thanks to Eisbar on ILX, for hunting it down).

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Movies I watched last week, from favorite to least.

The first half establishes Ralph Nader as one of the most admirable, fascinating and influential men of the last hundred years. The second makes clear just how pathetic and misguided blaming Nader for the rise of the Bush administration is. Recommended to anyone who scoffs at either stance or merely takes them on faith.

Peter Fonda as a blue collar Henry Fonda paying for his son's crimes. Probably the best role of his career, and he does Dad proud.

Not as erotically provocative as hyped (I wouldn't be surprised to find out it pales to Paul Verhoeven's '70s work), and many of the double-crosses come off as Hollywood implausibility ("the events are true, the story is not" he says), but it's been a long time since he's made a film this lively without relying on camp for juice.

Mark Ruffalo and Peter Krause are respectively a passive-agressive douchebag and a passive douchebag. Laura Dern and Naomi Watts are their respective frustrated housewives. All check to see if the grass is greener on the other side. None of the actors play for sympathy or devolve into gross caricature, which makes it pretty respectable for a "marriage is hell" flick.

A problem with films about artists defending their work from commercial compromise is how hard it is to make us believe that the artist is defending something worthwhile rather than being pretentious. For instance, Call Me Crazy IS a better title than The Wexler Chronicles. Leila says Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip is even worse in this regard, which makes me wonder if that show at least achieves unintentional hilarity. The only funny things here period are David Duchovny drugged, the idea of Slut Wars, and Fran Kranz imitating Penn, DeNiro, Brando and Pacino at the same time. Everyone in this film needs a better agent.

Monday, September 24, 2007


The Cribs, "Men's Needs"

The Brakes, The Rakes, Arctic Monkeys, these guys and all the rest - sure Britain had Franz Ferdinand to jumpstart their DOR scene, but the Strokes were on album number two by then. Our lack of jittery, sequencer-imitating bands is inexcusable.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I have been waiting SO long for this movie. I can't believe it's finally coming out. How could the director of Donnie Darko actually get me excited for a movie? Well, he could blow all the Hollywood cred he got from that overrated sleeper hit by making a two-hour-plus apocalyptic epic starring The Rock, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore, and handful of SNL actresses, Seann William Scott (as TWINS), a BOTTLE BLOND Jon Lovitz, a BADLY WIGGED Wallace Shawn and a BADLY SCARRED Justin Timberlake. He could spend more than a year between its disastrous Cannes debut and its eventual release adding MORE visual effects while apparently KEEPING the musical interludes. Judging from a quick shot in the trailer, it appears that cars will STILL be having sex in the movie. Granted, part of why Donnie Darko disappointed me was how excited I got after the trailer, but I'm expecting something overbaked and superficial now.

NOVEMBER 9! So far away...and yet, so close.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Movies watched last week, from favorite to least.

Macbeth is one of the few Shakespeare plays I'm totally unfamiliar with, so I wasn't really watching this in relation to its source material. Still, I believe Pauline Kael when she says there's never been a Lady Macbeth as chilling as Isuzu Yamada. More ornately composed than most Kurosawa I've seen, but the performances are so grand and emotional you could hardly call it static.

Brad Dourif's evangelical athiesm baffles a southern town's religious hucksters (Harry Dean Stanton & Ned Beatty), as he eventually collapses under the weight of his fanaticism. It appears to be set in the '70s, though it's hard to imagine Dourif's character as a Vietnam vet (the novel's from 1952). The mood is so farcical (especially when the score gets zany) that there's a disconnect from the lead's anguish, but it's as enjoyably coarse and lively as John Huston's later Prizzi's Honor, only darker. Beatty's racketeer is possibly my favorite of his more gregarious roles.

Two friends, one suffering from homosexual longing (subtly implied by back massages, the occasional leer and a pink undershirt), go on a camping trip. In an extreme case of avoiding cliches without finding anything to replace them, writer-director Kelly Reichardt skips the hysterical confrontations of Chuck & Buck and Brokeback Mountain by removing the third act entirely, leaving the film seventy minutes long. Will Oldham follows my Dwight Yoakam rule, though, and listening to Yo La Tengo while searching for a hot spring seems pretty nice.

A weapons manufacturer's company retreat is interrupted by psychotic war criminals. The pick-em-off-in-the-woods horror sequences are handled well, even if the humor's weak and there's a big space where the political subtext should be.

Nic Cage in crazy mode (jellybeans in a martini glass, anyone?) and Eva Mendes in form-fitting clothing beats Superman Returns, Batman Begins and The Hulk, if not any movies that are actually good.

Bill Paxton licks a corpse's tit, pigpiles with three obese women, eats moldy chicken and spends most of the movie playing the accordion, laughing maniacally. No one else involved in this pointless weirdness seems too inspired, but Bill gives this shit his all.

I get why Frances McDormand's character would rather help Folk Implosion and some British dick pick the right Sparklehorse track to cover rather than confront her estranged son, but I don't get why the director thought the movie should revolve around said recording session.

This isn't the first time I've seen two actors I like produce a vehicle for themselves that was off-key and patently absurd even before the inexplicable twist ending - anyone else seen Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman in Under Suspicion? Of course not. You know better than to rent straight-to-dvd crap like this.

Monday, September 17, 2007


Rihanna, "Umbrella (feat. Jay-Z)"
Rihanna, "Shut Up And Drive"
Rihanna, "Don't Stop The Music"
Rihanna, "Hate That I Love You (feat. Ne-Yo)"

Is it her knack for obvious hits that has allowed Rihanna to release three albums in two years or is a smitten label prez rewarding a supplicating subordinate with a steady stream of obvious hits? Since fellow Def Jam signee Ne-Yo is two for two, I'm just guessing that Jay-Z (who dropped his first eight in eight) knows that it pays to keep the hits coming. This time it's all about crossover: Sinead-Alanis-Avril syllables over NIN synth scrape and a big beat (intro'd rather than interrupted by Jay cuz he'd only be in the way), suggestive/exploitive power-chord teen-pop, maddening dance floor stomp, and a campfire lament with Ne-Yo (there's that word again) that hides its Extreme ways behind a drum machine. It's not like she really had anywhere to crossover to, but I'm glad everyone involved is pretending. Rihanna's great talent is sounding unassuming, but comfortable, surrounded by this pop largess. Too much (or too little) presence would make "Don't Stop The Music"'s MJ interpolation a pretentious weight. With Rhianna, it's just another expensive gas.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Timbaland seems to think she has a teepee

In 2005, I felt like MIA's pop relied too much on concept/hype/persona, and my pick click on Arular was "Bingo," where the beat lulled below her enough to sound like some nagging Eno outtake. So when the slower, more esoteric Kala showed up a few months ago, I figured she was letting her art-school side show and better for it. Only when I went back to Arular, I finally heard it for the hookfest everyone had claimed it was.

I've always been unimpressed with people who took her for a poseur (Simon Reynolds' "don't be fooled by the brown skin" being the most heinous example), but the inescapable discussions about her politics and background made her actual output seem milquetoast in comparison, and unworthy of such fervored debate. Cooler heads said "pay attention to the bass," and I assumed they were suggesting it would contextualize the lyrics. What they were meant is that it was an end to itself.

It's not that they were saying one should (or could) ignore the words coming out of her mouth, but that the lyrical associations weren't where the joy was. Her reference s to global unrest suggest awareness not insight, and in the face of deafening buzz, those not sold on her could claim exploitation (most flagrantly in her cheeky comparisons to the KGB and PLO). And even if you don't begrudge her her symbolism (my glass house gets enough abuse as it is), "Hussel" and "Boyz" revolve around not just facile slogans but facile questions, the ultimate sign of a bad folkie. My favorite lyric of hers is "REM KLF," from early '90s rememberance "XR2," which implies it's possible she was directly influenced by fellow post-punk hanger-on turned dance-pop genre-masher Neneh Cherry (TS: "Trout (feat. Michael Stipe)" vs. "Come Around (feat. Timbaland").

So it's about the music, right? New Yorker cultural commentator Sasha Frere-Jones called it real "world music," ILX time-hater Ethan Padgett called it "fake dancehall," and I'd guess the truth is somewhere in between (helps that I don't think "fake" has anything to with "good" or "bad"). I'm the last person who should presume to know where these beats originated, but whether her music is innovative or a remarketing of other's innovations, it moves. As long as it does, the third-world bent of her internationalist rhetoric helps more than it hurts.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Movies I watched last week, from favorite to least.

Aside from a half-forgotten viewing of Masculin Feminin in college and a journey through Alphaville spent mostly in 2x ffwd (stick with "One Word"), this is the first Godard film I've seen. I want to see more before I can judge its relative success; for all its fourth-wall audacity and charm, I'm wondering if there are films of his I'd find more resonant.

An unsentimental, but thoroughly Canadian autumnal romance. Though Julie Christie may get an award for convincingly playing a woman with Alzheimer's, it's Gordon Pinsent's take on the conflicted and heartbroken husband that keeps us with the film whenever director Sarah Polley (who's been wise beyond her years since Baron Munchausen) flubs some attempt at visual poetry.

Both this and Brad Anderson's earlier Session 9 (the first film I bring up when people ask for a horror recommendation) are successfully creepy stories of blue collar workers driven mad, and the visuals here (the film is draped in a gray, subtly surrealizing pallor) are more ambitious, matched by a comparitvely ambigious sense of suspense. Unfortunately, the resolution is so anticlimactic and minor that it cheapens everything before it, something a BOO! film like Session 9 didn't have to worry about. Christian Bale's method emaciation has to be seen to be believed.

The Carradines have a more complicated, outgoing charm, but Walter Hill and those big-faced Keach brothers don't fuck with that Altman shit. The stunt casting (real-life brothers play the fraternal sets of robbers) is most effective when two groups are at odds, and there's some slo-mo involving horses I bet Sam Peckinpah was jealous of. Anybody know if Christopher Guest's brother Nicholas was the dad in "Janie's Got A Gun"? Google is no help.

Someone should give the first Troll a similar tribute, or at least post Michael Moriarty "dancing" to Blue Cheer.

The video box for Food Of The Gods Part 2 used to freak me out, but this movie (a late work by MST3K fave Bert I. Gordon) wouldn't have scared me at age 8. Lots of shots of cars driving onto and off a ferry. You get to make a lot of "giant cock" jokes, though.

I would watch Troll 2 ten times in a row before I'd bother finishing this ponderous valentine to the eternal beauty of Rachel Weisz. Hugh Jackman, who'd rather be dancing, evidently peaked with Wolverine. Boring, boring, boring.


Sunday, September 09, 2007


Amerie, "Crush"

I don't think it's a single, but I read somewhere that they might slap a "Genius Of Love" sample in the track when the album finally comes out in the U.S. (as if the song wasn't already an obvious pleasure), so let's enjoy this alternate dimension chart-topper while we can. The music reminds me of "Love Will Never Do (Without You)," Alfred of "Thieves Like Us," Rich of freestyle, and nobody's wrong. In the first verse, she dreams of licking your love off her fingertips and giving it to some other girl to taste, but after that attention grab she's locking you up and throwing away the key cuz "there's no one else but me and you." She's no skank, she's just setting the trap.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Ben Foster in Alpha Dog, ladies and gentlemen.

Ben Foster.

Ben fucking Foster.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Movies watched last week, from favorite to least.

Almost thirty years before writing and directing this sequel to the cinematic adaptation of his novel, William Peter Blatty scripted A Shot In The Dark, the best Inspector Clouseau film ever. This helps explain the oddly wocka-wocka banter early on, as well as the Spaceballs reference. Several cast members from The Ninth Configuration are present, along with Nicol Williamson (almost mute), Brad Dourif (rather talkative, with the pitch constantly shifted in post to imply demonic status) and George C. Scott (prone to gravelly shrieks). A worthy sequel to The Ninth Configuration AND Exorcist II: The Heretic.

Cruelty-free Todd Solondz. I appreciate how long they take to overtly acknowledge the fallacies of Christian fundamentalism (correctly assuming we need no help in spotting them), but I never laughed out loud once.

Somewhere between Eraserhead and Mulholland Dr., David Lynch went from dream logic to "it was all a dream" logic, something that bothered me more when I'd seen Mulholland Dr. but had yet to watch Eraserhead. Confident that he was once a truly inspired director, I can enjoy his half-hackery and retreads for their uncommon indulgences rather than begrudging his status as the one guy who gets away with this shit (still haven't seen INLAND EMPIRE). There's a lot of b.s. here, and like with so many docs you already have to know the story to care about the details, but I know the story and get off on watching Squirmy Cleaver up close and personal.

At first, you think the best part of this "troubled rich kids" crap will be Ben Foster's superlative overacting, highlighted by his frenzied cries of "I WILL TAKE YOU TO HELL WITH ME!" when dismissed from a telemarketing firm and an unexpected kung fu sequence. Then Justin Timberlake comes through with a giddy, compassionate performance that almost pulls the movie out of its cliches until Sharon Stone cries in her fat suit and all is lost. Bruce Willis and Harry Dean Stanton clearly wish they'd gotten to work with John Cassavetes, but should know better than to settle for Nick.

Over forty-five minutes of sub-Guy Ritchie badass character introduction, fifteen minutes of anarchic violence and a half hour of surprisingly emo speechifying about the human cost of these madcap mob antics - unusually heavy lifting for Jeremy Piven and Ryan Reynolds. Common and Alicia Keys give credence to my theory that musicians I couldn't give a shit about make for decent actors (the Dwight Yoakam rule).

Monday, September 03, 2007


Linkin Park, "Bleed It Out"

The lyrics describe the frustration of prolifically confessing your inner pain when your six-member, edit-crazy band will only let twelve of your poems reach the marketplace every four years. Poems you secretly know are shit. Ironically, the music is their loosest to date, gradually building off handclaps and giddy background chatter like some self-loathing hootenanny. "Loose" is relative, though; the song's so brief and the riffs so utilitarian you'd think they were aiming for Pink Flag. The air of novelty seems lost on Chester, whose marriage to a Playboy model sadly has had no audible effect on his sphincter.

One last observation about "Bartender": T-Pain reveals in the second verse that his "T-Pain + 3" rendevous happens on a Wednesday night. Cuz its so hard to get in the club on Wednesday.