Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Man For One Season

So now that we are three weeks into the fall season, allow me to out myself: I love fall. It is my favorite season of the year. Though Andy Williams is quite correct when he sings that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, Christmas is not a season. Winter is a season, and as we all know, winter blows. Literally. White Christmases are lovely, that is, until you have to scrape ice off your car's windshield. That can suck the holiday glow out of just about anybody.

My love for fall began back in the early 90s when I was living in Chicago. I can recall walking along the north side during a typically blustery October Saturday. I was on my way to catch a matinee of the movie "Rudy." As I pulled my jacket collar up to cover my nippy ears, a thought popped inside my wind-blown head: I love this. The sweaters, the cool air, the walking against the wind, all of it. It's the closest I ever come to feeling like I live in a "Peanuts" holiday special.

Fall is actually the best time to live in Chicago, what with the mild temperatures and beautiful changing colors of the leaves. Spring is nice, but woefully brief. Summer can get way too humid. And a winter in Chicago is truly one of Dante's circles in Hell, albeit the kind in which Hell can actually freeze.

I live in Los Angeles and we don't really get much of a fall here. Fall in L.A. pretty much means rain, which, when you have sunny skies for 350 days of the year, you actually begin to appreciate. Its been raining for two straight days now and I could not be happier. I guess I'm more of an "every silver lining has a dark cloud" kind of guy.

So before I break into a Busby Berkely-esque dance number about my love for the weather between late September and late December, here is my list of reasons why you, if you haven't already, should fall for fall.

1. Pumpkins spice lattes ~ It seemed as if Starbucks used to have a monopoly on these babies, but you can get these pretty much anywhere that serves coffee nowadays. They're deliciously hot, creamy, and yes, a little spicy. For you bargain hunters out there, 7-11 has them for 99 cents - that's about three times less expensive than those big fancy places. You're welcome.

2. Fall TV shows ~ I'm more of a movie guy (see #3) but there is something inherently exciting about having new shows to watch this time of year. Sadly, the only new show I've seen so far this year is "Fast Forward," which is really trippy. It's hard to make time for the new ones when you can barely keep up with the old ones. I have all the existing episodes of "Modern Family," "Cougar Town," and "Community" backlogged on my DVR queue, so I have my work cut out for me.

3. Fall movies ~ Don't get me wrong, I love summer movies as much as the next popcorn-chomping member of Generation SW (Star Wars), but after three months of huge explosions, wall-to-wall CGI, and English-speaking rodents, it's nice to have some films that are least a little quieter. I'm really looking forward to BRIGHT STAR, the Coen Brothers' A SERIOUS MAN, and the George Clooney-Ewan Macgregor comedy THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS. Fall movies are often early Oscar-baiters, but at least their box office numbers aren't as hugely magnified as the summer tentpoles.

4. Halloween ~ This is another spot on the calendar I've come to embrace. Sure, I loved Halloween as a kid, but there inevitably comes that time in your late teens and early 20s when you're too cool for school and you stop dressing up. Those days are over for me - I think Halloween is like Mardi Gras for those of us who can't hike it down to the French Quarter. And, of course, Halloween leads me to my next fave...

5. Candy ~ Once summer ends, so does all of our promises to stay in shape (which, lets face it, didn't really come to pass, did they?) So with the approach of All Hallow's Eve comes our desire to eschew summer salads in favor of candy corn, marshmallow pumpkins, and those wonderful fun-sized candy bars. I think they call them fun-sized because we kid ourselves into thinking that eating fifteen of those suckers in a row isn't as bad as eating one regular size 3 Musketeers. Oh, the webs of deception us mortals weave.

You might have noticed that I left out football season. It wasn't by accident. I'm not a sports fan in any way, shape, or form. Still, I must admit, I do enjoy the sound of a football game coming from a TV I'm not watching. Why? Because it means there's a good chance I'm on my way to get a pumpkin spice latte before hitting a matinee at the movie theater with my pockets stuffed with mini-Milky Way bars. In which case, I'm having a very, very, good day.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Ugly Nerd on Prom Night

'Twas the night before Comic Con, and all through the apartment, not a swag-craving geek was packing, for he was too broke to go this year.

And...SCENE!

Alas, me hearties, 'tis true: I shan't be going to the 2009 Comic Con International in San Diego this week. Though financial limitations have never stopped me from going in previous years (this would have been my fourth go-round) I knew pretty early that a lack of full-time employment would make the journey quite unfeasible, if not outright impossible.

Actually, my not going was preordained a little over a year ago when the 2008 festivities had barely ended. I had just had the BEST. TIME. EVER. with my usual Con crew (plus lovely newbie Eileen) and we all pretty much agreed that it would be hard to top the four day extravaganza we just experienced. In an act that could only be described as divine intervention, our official travel booker snagged us a last-minute slot at the Marriott located next door to the San Diego Convention Center. This was truly manna from heaven, folks, as it not only cut down on the daily travel time, it also afforded us an oasis where we could seek refuge from the madding crowds (or is that "maddening?") Our gorgeous room with a kick-ass view of the San Diego marina also came with free breakfast and dinner vouchers, which certainly topped the mediocre/overpriced fare that the convention center slings each year.

So on this eve of what is known as Geekmas (Christmas for geeks) I am truly crestfallen that I will not be partaking of the groovy sneak-peek movie screenings, celeb-studded Q&A panels, and of course, the endless barrage of swag-laden booths lined up in the labyrinthian convention floor where con attendees appear in insanely innate (and often revealing) superhero/character costumes and huckster pitchmen/women lure passersby into impromptu contests to win all sorts of free crap.

Comic Con truly has something for every geek persuasion and there is never any judgment. To wit, my friends Debi and Sean who demurred at the jam-packed presentation for J.J. Abrams' STAR TREK reboot in favor of a Fans of "Little Lulu" panel. Heck, I even skipped last year's WATCHMEN panel (hadn't read the graphic novel yet) so I could attend a cast of "Peanuts" Q&A. (Did you know Peppermint Patty was voiced on separate occasions by both a boy and a girl? Neither did I.)

Don't get me wrong, Comic Con is also the biggest hassle in the known geek universe. Every year it gets bigger and bigger, as does the line just to get in the joint (note to Con virgins: always opt for the 4 day pass so you can pick it up Wednesday before everything goes to hell.) The pushing, and yes, sometimes even shoving that occurs when a celebrity pops up on the main floor or a certain swag item is going like hotcakes (i.e., last year's STAR TREK posters) is so redonkuloid that you wonder why you even bothered going.

But then something invariably cool will transpire, like Hugh Jackman making a surprise appearance to promote WOLVERINE (this was before we knew it sucked) or realizing that you're standing behind Ron "Hellboy" Perlman at the Starbucks in the hotel lobby. You just never know when you're about to have your knee-high tube socks knocked off.

My melancholic mood has been furthered fuel by the last-minute additions to this year's Con that keep popping up online, like the free screenings of INGLORIOUS BASTERDS and DISTRICT 9. Ooh, those really hurt. However, every time I see a photo of the latest Con exclusive (I'm talking to you, Darth Vader Toaster) I keep thinking of the money I'm not spending this year. Like they say, a penny saved, is a penny earned.

On that note, I'm going to go pick out a jar to hold all the pennies I'm saving this year. What will I be saving up for?

I think you know the answer already.

Monday, June 29, 2009

And The Oscar For Best Re-Tooled Award Show Goes To...

Sometime during the sad events of last week (that is, unless celebrity death pools are your thing) it was announced that, in an effort to boost ratings, the Oscars are retooling category rules for their most coveted prize, the Best Picture Oscar.

Oh, like making sure the Academy members see every nominated film in an actual (gasp) movie theater???

No such luck. The Academy, in their infinite wisdom, is actually adding more nominees to the Best Picture category - 10 to be exact.

No exact reason was given but it can assumed that more people will tune in to watch the broadcast if their favorite blockbuster is nominated. Yes, folks, the show that is perennially penalized by audiences and critics alike for being crashingly dull is trying to make up for it by making the list of nominations for the top prize twice as long. I guess THE DARK KNIGHT might have stood a chance if these rules applied to last year's show, but then again, isn't being the best out of ten half as impressive as being the best out of five?

You might be asking yourself: will there be clips for all ten nominated films and won't that eat up a lot of broadcast time?

Well, fret not, Oscar lovers, because, in an effort to shave the show's usually interminable running time, the Academy announced this week a couple more changes to the grandaddy of award shows. You know those lifetime achievement awards that Joe Q. Oscarwatcher uses as an excuse to refill his nacho bowl? Gone. Well, gone from the telecast anyway. The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Awards, whose winners have included such dullards as Jerry Lewis, Paul Newman, and Audrey Hepburn, and the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Awards, given to hacks such as Warren Beatty, Clint Eastwood, and Steven Speilberg, will now be handed out in a private ceremony attended by people who make way more money than you and I put together.

Also, the Best Original Song category, which has given us memorable moments such as Eminem's surprise win over U2, Three Six Mafia beating out Dolly Parton's transvestite song, and Rob Lowe serenading Snow White, is being given stricter guidelines to follow. Normally, Best Song nominees are vetted by a process in which voters rate on clips sent out to them by artists' representatives. The voters rate the songs on a scale from 1 to 10. The songs that get votes of 6 or higher are usually shoo-ins for a nomination. Now the Academy is requiring that songs get a vote of at least 8.25 to even be considered for a spot on the short list. And to prove that they mean business, the Academy announced that if not enough songs reach the hallowed 8.25 mark (not 8.15 or 8.03, mind you) then the Best Song category will be eliminated that year altogether. Okay...

I guess I can kind of see where the Academy is coming from. If none of the songs in contention aren't that good, then why bother having the category at all. The question is: why the stricter rules for just the Best Song category and not the others? Can you imagine if none of the Best Picture nominees made it to, say, a 12.16 mark (the numbers signify my birthday, plenty of shopping time left, folks) and they had to forego the Holy Grail of award show hardware? What about all the years critics bemoan the lack of substantial roles for women - why not prove their point by not having a Supporting Actress, or dare I say, Best Actress category that year? I'm sure that would go over like Sacheen Littlefeather, but you get my point.

I can appreciate the Academy wanting to make a leaner Oscars ceremony for the sake of ratings - it is show BUSINESS after all - but why change it by taking away the grandeur that some of the Thalberg/Hersholt recipients give the show? How else could Jerry Lewis be rewarded by the industry he gave so much to? Aren't the lifetime achievement awards the ones that all nominees should be trying to emulate?

If they're going to trim anything, maybe it should be the annual death crawl, which is also known as the " He Died??? Montage." Maybe they should just highlight the most popular of the dead celebrities. How about this - all Academy members have to vote on each of the deceased in terms of likability. If the deceased actor/director/screenwriter/agent in question doesn't rate an 8.25, then they don't make the cut.

Ok, I'm reaching here. It just seems like all these changes reek of desperation and I don't like to see an institution such as The Academy Awards pander to the masses. And you know what? I love my big, fat, overlong, Oscar telecasts. Why else do we tune in each year (other than to have a few laughs at the expense of the rich and famous) but to have something to complain about while we fill out our Xeroxed ballots during the Oscar party? Let's face it, if the Academy Awards came in at exactly two hours including commercial breaks we wouldn't know what to do with ourselves.

Here's my 5 point sure-fire plan to trim the Oscars without losing all the yummy excess we love to hate:

1. Only nominate foreign films that the Academy liked. Who cares what movie Istanbul thinks is the one that best represents their country? If the Academy nominates films the viewing audience has heard of, then maybe they won't switch the channel during that category. And, taking a cue from the Best Song category, if there are only three foreign films that year worth talking about, then only have three in that category. Why LET THE RIGHT ONE IN wasn't nominated last year will remain one of the great mysteries of all-time.

2. Get rid of the documentary short category altogether (we're never going to see them ever) and use the time to show the nominated animated shorts. I would say the same for the Live Action Shorts, but they often are anything but short. Plus, who doesn't love a good cartoon?

3. Apply the rules from #1 to the Best Documentary category. Don't punish films such as this year's surefire not-to-be nominated doc ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL for being too entertaining. Again, if people have heard of the film, they'll likely be more interested in the outcome of the contest.

4. Discourage, nay, forbid the winners from thanking people we've never heard of. Make these creative people actually be creative with their speeches and we might actually listen to them. If they go over their time limit, don't bother with turning up the band's volume - just give them the ol' trap-door. Now that would be something!

5. Ok, I thought I had 5 points to make but I don't. See? Always prepare what you're going to say, people.

If I had one piece of advice to the Academy it would be this: just be yourself. The Grammys and The Super Bowl might very well trounce you in the ratings each year but, frankly, who gives a damn? There is only one movie award show worth watching each year and it ain't the MTV one. People, like my parents, who don't even go to movies still watch your show just to have a little dose of glamor on a Sunday evening. We like you, Oscar, we really, really, like you!

Just give us a show worth at least an 8.25 and then we'll love you.

Friday, May 15, 2009

TWOTS Guide to 2009's Summer Movies

Summer is almost officially here, so that can only mean one thing. Ok, two, if the words "unbearable heat" just came to mind. Since summertime no longer means three months of sitting inside watching MTV and eating Doritos like they're going out of style, the rising temperatures (and shrinking garments of those darn California girls) make me think about the barrage of summer movies that have just begun to storm our local theaters.

Having realized just recently that not everyone reads Entertainment Weekly's Summer Movie Preview, I thought I'd do a little rundown of some of the upcoming offerings at the local googleplex. Since the economy is still in the toilet, I'm rating the movies with 1 - 4 dollar signs in terms of their entertainment value.

I'm not just here to entertain, people. I'm also here to help.


(In order of release date.)


WOLVERINE - This Hugh Jackman-starring "origin tale" is still slashing away much of the competition at the box office. It's just too bad it's not that great. Only somewhat better than the 3rd X-Men movie, but a far cry from the terrific first two installments. $$

STAR TREK - Remember last year how IRON MAN made you remember just how good and fun big budget blockbusters could be? That's what this reboot from director J.J. Abrams does. You don't have to be a Trekkie/Trekker to enjoy this, but it helps if you can tell the difference between a phaser and a lightsaber. $$$$

ANGELS & DEMONS - 2006's THE DA VINCI CODE was a Godsend for Columbia Pictures, even though most people didn't seem to care for it. Still, money talks, and it was good enough to convince Ron Howard and Tom Hanks to give Dan Brown's Da Vinci prequel (treated here as a sequel) another whirl. The word on the street? Wholly (not holy) forgettable. $$

THE BROTHERS BLOOM - This is one that will be harder to find but probably more worth your entertainment sheckles than most of the other offerings. Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo play con men siblings and Rachel Weisz is their latest mark - or will they be her latest victim? It's a lot like DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS just without the broad (read: funnier) humor. The second film from director Rian Johnson, who had an art-house hit in 2005 with the high-school noir mystery BRICK - a film I just could not get into. My bad, I'm sure. $$$

MANAGEMENT - Another smaller film though I haven't heard much other than Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn are in it. For me, Aniston is limited in range, but always appealing, and Zahn is one funny dude, though check out his more serious turn in the upcoming thriller THE PERFECT GETAWAY. $$$

TERMINATOR SALVATION - Why am I still not overly excited about this fourth installment of the hugely successful cybernetic franchise? Maybe it's because it's the fourth installment of the hugely successful cybernetic franchise. Mainly it's because it's directed by McG (CHARLIE'S ANGELS 1 & 2, WE ARE MARSHALL) a guy who has yet to make a decent movie. I ask you: has any single-named director ever made a great movie? Tarsem fans, please don't write me. $$

THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE - This is another one of OCEAN'S 11,12,13's Steven Soderbergh's no-budget, art-house, ventures, and the only review I've heard is from one of my favorite online critics, emulsioncompulsion.com's Scott Marks, and he's says it's terrific. Good enough to get my money. It stars real-life porn star Sasha Grey as a high-class escort. But will it play in Omaha? $$$

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN - Unless my niece Sophia absolutely ahs to see it over Memorial Day weekend, I'm going to take a Pasadena on this one. When there are more actors in the trailer than the one-sheet for THE CANNONBALL RUN, you know something's amiss. Families will eat it up, I'm sure. $1/2

UP - It's from Pixar. Are you really not going to see this? Naysayers think they are due for a flop, but word for the Cannes film festival is that this ain't it. See it when the kiddies are in school, though. $$$$

DRAG ME TO HELL - I've seen most of this movie and can't really comment. Suffice it to say pre-SPIDER MAN Sam Raimi fans will probably get the biggest kick out of it. Post-Spidey fans might just think it's a drag. $$

THE HANGOVER - Another one I've only seen parts of, but this bachelor party gone awry comedy starring four dudes most people have never heard of is slated to be the must-see R-rated comedy of the summer. Struggling actors note: this is the second film this year Mike Tyson appears in. Call your agents. $$$1/2

LAND OF THE LOST - Will Ferrell leads bumbling loser Danny McBride and "Pushing Daisies'" fetching Anna Friel back to Sid and Marty Krofft Land in this big budget movie-fied version of the 70s kids' show staple. I saw it. Should you? Only if you ever wondered what "Jurassic Park" would be like if was a comedy. Good, dumb, fun. $$$

IMAGINE THAT - You know how there's usually at least one summer movie that is an absolute stinkbomb that repels both audiences and critics? Last summer it was MEET DAVE. This summer, Eddie Murphy goes for two with this kid-friendly flick whose plot is strikingly similar to last Christmas' Adam Sandler hit BEDTIME STORIES. Why, Eddie, why??? Fifty cents at best.

MOON - Another arthouse option. This space mystery stars CHOKE'S Sam Rockwell as a stranded astronaut. The trailer has shades of CAPRICORN ONE and SOLARIS, neither of which were major hits. Looks interesting, though. $$1/2

THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 - Denzel Washington and John Travolta star in this remake of the popular Walter Maltthau '70s action thriller. Directed by hit-maker Tony Scott (ENEMY OF THE STATE, DEJA-VU) this will probably be a decent popcorn movie, though when Travolta plays bad guys, there's usually no scenery left to chew by the film's end. Good luck, Denzel. $$

THE PROPOSAL - Sandra Bullock stars as an icy Canadian book editor (aren't they always?) who traps her assistant (Ryan Reynolds) into marrying her so she can stay in New York. The audience I saw it with laughed like they were watching SOME LIKE IT HOT. I felt like I was on another planet. Still, with Bullock headlining, it's pretty much a license to print money. $$1/2

WHATEVER WORKS - Larry David starring in a Woody Allen movie? I'm there for sure, though Woody haters will certainly curb their enthusiasm. $$$1/2

YEAR ONE - When I was a kid, I thought CAVEMAN starring Ringo Starr was one of the funniest movies I had seen in my 8 years of living. Then I saw it again in high school. Never trust an 8 year old movie critic. Still, I hope this is good. It stars Jack Black, Michael Cera, and David Cross in a prehistoric comedy directed by the usually reliable Harold Ramis. Please, please, don't suck! $$$

TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN - I didn't care for the first installment, but I do admit to having seen it only on DVD. Still, I'm not charged up for this second go around, but will at least check out a matinee at the budget-friendly Vista theater. $$

THE HURT LOCKER - Anyone up for an Iraq War-themed action-drama? The answer's usually no, but this one stars Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pierce, and "Lost's" Evangeline Lily and is directed by Kathryn Bigelow of NEAR DARK, BLUE STEEL, and STRANGE DAYS fame/infamy. $$$1/2

ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS - Is it just me or are the teaser trailers starring the acorn-seeking rodent much funnier than the movies they're advertising? This looks like more of the same...but in 3-D! Pass. $1/2

PUBLIC ENEMIES - Another one I've seen and can't really comment on except to say despite Johnny Depp and Christian Bale's box office allure, this will probably please fans of director Michael Mann more than it will PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and DARK KNIGHT fans. It will probably be the biggest hit of the summer for the over 30 crowd at least. $$$1/2

BRUNO - Did you like BORAT? Then see this hysterically profane follow-up from creator/star Sacha Baron Cohen opening weekend. The explosive laughter that greets this fabulously un-P.C. film practically blows the theater walls off. If you hated BORAT, enjoy THE PROPOSAL. $$$$

I LOVE YOU, BETH COOPER - The plot for this post-high school graduation comedy, which is based on "Simpsons" writer Larry Doyle's novel, sounds terrific. A nerdy student exclaims the phrase from the movie's title during his valedictory graduation speech, much to the horror of Beth Cooper, played by the alluring, but oddly bland, Hayden Panettiere (TV's bland "Heroes.") The bad news is it's directed by Chris Columbus, whose movies are generally, well, bland. Here's hoping, at least. $$$

HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF BLOOD PRINCE - I've read all the books and seen all the films up til now, so I'm all in. Why did Warner Bros make us wait so long, though? Avada Kedavra on them! $$$$

ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE - There's usually at least one horror movie in the summer movie pile and this one has been on the backburner for at least three years now. Never a good sign, but the title is a killer. $1/2

(500)DAYS OF SUMMER - This romantic comedy starring Joseph Gordon-Leavitt (the excellent THE LOOKOUT, the aforementioned BRICK) and Zooey Deschanel (ELF, ALMOST FAMOUS, THE GOOD GIRL) could very well be the sleeper hit of the summer. And not just because it has the word "summer" in the title. $$$

G-FORCE - Another CGI-laden family film, this time involving butt-kicking guinea pigs (you read that right) that has kids-only written all over it. You'll crack up though when you realize which of the rodents Nicolas Cage is doing the voice for. Laugh if you want, but his acting is better here than in "Know1ng." Parents will feel like the real guinea pigs, though. $1/2

THE UGLY TRUTH - Another recent escapee from movie release purgatory, this comedy starring Katherine Heigl (KNOCKED UP, some hospital TV show) and 300's Gerard Butler will likely get lost in THE PROPOSAL's wake. And that's the ugly truth. $

ADAM - This little gem's paltry release will most likely make ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE look like TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN by comparison. Check out my review at: http://valleyscenemagazine.com/movies/ $$$

FUNNY PEOPLE - The latest from profane comedy auteur Judd Apatow stars Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, and SUPERBAD'S Jonah Hill as both successful and struggling stand-up comics. The trailer looks good, but oddly feel-good-y. Apatow always delivers the good though. $$$1/2

G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA - This buzz on this movie based on the original action figure is eerily low. The teaser posters look like the filmmakers are selling black spandex and not entertainment - and that's probably no accident. If WATCHMEN was a near-miss, this will be a gargantuan mega-bomb. Don't get snakebit. $

JULIE & JULIA - Who'd thought Meryl Streep would become a summer movie staple, but after THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA and MAMMA MIA! became counter-programming mega-hits, the former SHE DEVIL star, here playing famous chef Julia Child, is now box office gold. Having "It girl" Amy Adams playing Childs' modern counterpart doesn't hurt either. Guaranteed to be the biggest food-porn hit since BIG NIGHT. $$$

A PERFECT GETAWAY - Stylish action-thriller director David Twohy (THE ARRIVAL, PITCH BLACK) directs this perfectly entertaining thriller about a married couple, played by Steve Zahn and RESIDENT EVIL heroine/bad movie script-magnet Milla Jovovich, being stalked by a another, albeit murderous, couple led by the devilishly charming Timothy Olyphant (LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD.) Prepare yourself for some good twists. $$$

TAKING WOODSTOCK - This Ang Lee helmed drama which is set against the backdrop of the historic Woodstock concert is already giving me ACROSS THE UNIVERSE flashbacks - and that ain't good. I'm sick of actors playing 60s dress-up. Pass! $$

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS - I'm not usually one for supporting bad grammar in movie titles, but Quentin Tarantino directing a WWII action drama starring Brad Pitt? Here's my money. $$$$

H2 - Everytime I see this title I think of K-2. Then I think of K-12: THE WIDOWMAKER. Then I look at the mask and realize it's a reboot of HALLOWEEN 2, the way-inferior follow-up to the original HALLOWEEN, which was rebooted in 2007 as ROB ZOMBIE'S HALLOWEEN and it pretty much blew. I'm expecting the same, but I'll check it out with the same morbid fascination I do highway roadkill. $$

EXTRACT - The latest comedy from Mike Judge of OFFICE SPACE and "Beavis and Butthead" fame (will the word "Butthead" be mentioned in Judge's eulogy?) stars Jason Bateman, Ben Affleck, and the awesome Kristen Wiig. It concerns the goings-on at a flavor extract plant. Expect some good laughs and lots of empty seats. $$1/2

And the winner for the "Hardest To Find Award" will likely go to...

BLACK DYNAMITE - This was apparently a big hit on the festival circuit. The plot synopsis I read is as follows: " A 70s African American action hero fights 'The Man,' who murders his brothers and floods the ghetto with heroin and malt liquor." I'm in. $$$$

For you completists out there, I apologize if I left off any films you're excited about. Let me know if I overlooked any diamonds in the rough.

See you at the movies!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Nicolas Cage: Bad Actor

This past Saturday night I did something I haven’t done in a long while – I went to the movies. That might sound strange coming from the likes of me, but considering the ticket prices and the rampant lack of courtesy on display at most multiplexes, I usually try to avoid the weekend crowds. So I went and saw “Knowing” at the local AMC – I figured everyone else was seeing “Fast & Furious” (considering that movie’s $70 million opening, boy, was I right.) There was still a decent crowd for the movie though and thankfully there weren’t too many incidents of morons answering their cell phones or texting during the flick.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by “Knowing.” I thought the trailers looked pretty ludicrous – and the movie is indeed ludicrous – but despite a very, very, rough set-up, the movie took me on a ride that I didn’t see coming. The director, Alex Proyas (“The Crow,” “I, Robot,” “Dark City,”) is known for his visuals and the movie’s set-pieces don’t disappoint. While it’s still a far cry from the four-star review Ebert gave it, it’s also much better than the D rating Entertainment Weekly gave it. I would give it a two and half to three star review – or a B, for those who speak EW-ese.

Though the movie’s overall content is debatable, one thing certainly is not: Nicolas Cage is absolutely terrible in it. I mean, God-awful. There are moments when his acting choices bring the otherwise entertaining proceedings to a screeching halt. His emotions range from dead-eyed and somnolent to TALKING VERY LOUDLY IN THAT NIC CAGE KIND OF WAY!!!!! It’s too bad, too, because even though the movie is already a hit, it could have been his “Sixth Sense,” a genre movie that actually elevates the genre by featuring stellar work from its star, which in that case was Bruce Willis. Like that blockbuster, “Knowing” kind of came out from nowhere and is still making money despite heavy competition from other spring hits like “I Love You, Man” and the aforementioned Vin Diesel car-porn movie. To paraphrase David Letterman during his notorious interview with Joaquin Phoenix, it’s too bad Nicolas Cage, the Oscar winner, couldn’t have been there.

What happened to this once truly talented actor? After making a noticeable debut in the 80s classic “Valley Girl,” he came into his own with the Coen Brothers’ seminal comedy “Raising Arizona.” His portrayal of the clueless and hen-pecked H.I. McDonough is one of the best comedic performances of all time. Back then, he knew when to use his Nic Cage “tics” to his advantage and not just as a way to show off how clever he is. The movie is hilarious, even 20 + years after its debut, but its story of a childless couple desperate for a family is very touching, thanks to Cage's and Holly Hunter’s believably funny roles.

Honestly, I was never crazy about Cage’s work in “Moonstruck” or “Peggy Sue Got Married,” but they were still quality films made by talented filmmakers . Of course, “Leaving Las Vegas,” the movie that won him his Oscar, is his best dramatic effort to date. He played a very convincing drunk – not as easy as it sounds – one who was not only heart-broken but also heart-breaking to watch. He could be the “kling-klang king of the rim-ram-room,” but he could also be a guy you just felt very, very, sorry for.

I think David Lynch may be to blame. Cage’s role in “Wild at Heart” came at a time when the star had lost some of his heat. That film has never been one of my favorites, but even if the movie kind of struck out, Cage was at least swinging for the fences with his role as a Elvis doppelganger.

Ever since then, he has infused many of his roles with his bizarre antics, like the aforementioned shouting or his wild gesticulations. It kind of works in a movie like “Weather Man,” in which his character finds himself by becoming slightly unhinged; maybe it works a little in “National Treasure” in which he is kind of a geek, but it absolutely does not work in “Knowing.” He’s supposed the center of this apocalyptic storm – the world is coming to an end, people! – but yet he forces unneeded quirkiness into his work. Obviously, Cage is a huge star now. Only someone with his box office clout could star in something like “Bangkok Dangerous” and have it still open at number one, even though the movie looks and smells like number two.

Certainly, Proyas needs to shoulder the blame as well. He’s the director, one with a certain reputation to boot, so he should know how to reign in his leading man when he goes off course. Maybe Cage is too big to be properly directed now – does any director tell Julia Roberts anything other than to do what she does so well? I guess it doesn’t matter in terms of his shelf-life as a movie star – his movies are bigger than ever. I just wonder if Cage, the actor, knows that Cage, the movie star, isn’t always the person we are paying to see.

After seeing “Knowing,” I came home and turned on cable. Wouldn’t you know it, Bravo was showing “Raising Arizona.” Even in its edited, pan and scanned, format, I fell in love with H.I. and the rest of the oddball characters all over again. In those days, Cage still had what his ill-gotten son in the movie, Nathan Jr., had – that “look in his eye.”

Sadly, that look was completely missing at the movies on Saturday night.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Watch...Men!

It begins with Bob Dylan and it ends with My Chemical Romance, and somewhere in the middle lies the universe of WATCHMEN, a hyper-violent and ultra-stylized adaptation of the seminal graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons. For those not in the know about the importance of WATCHMEN in the pantheon of comic books (it's, like, a big deal) the ads for the movie might lead one to think this is just another superhero movie. Actually, without "Watchmen" the graphic novel, there might not actually be any of the superhero movies we're enjoying today.

Darker than THE DARK KNIGHT, cooler than IRON MAN, and way more fantastic than any of the FANTASTIC FOUR movies, the movie takes place in 1985, around the time the graphic novel was published. The world of WATCHMEN is an alternate-reality version of the United States during the tail end of the Cold War, except Richard Nixon is still President (he is serving a fourth term after ending the Vietnam War) and the U.S. and not the Soviet Union is on the verge of invading Afghanistan. Like that would ever happen.

Amidst all of this Superman Bizarro World-esque political intrigue is the main storyline that has the comic geeks salivating - the plight of the Watchmen, the last remaining members of an elite group of superheroes. Once heralded as society's heroes (they, not Nixon, actually ended the conflict in Vietnam) the Watchmen have now disbanded as the chaos and cynicism of 1985 has caused many a citizen to wonder "Who is watching the Watchmen?"

One of these fallen heroes is Edward Blake aka The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan from "Grey's Anatomy," a show I've never seen) and he is to superheroes what Billy Bob Thornton was to Santa Clauses. Overweight, jaded, and just an all-around s.o.b., The Comedian meets a grisly demise when he is pummeled within an inch of his life and thrown out the window of a skyscraper in a city very much like New York City. Who killed him and are the other Watchmen next? That's what the intrepid but disturbed Walter Kovacs aka Rorschach (Jackie Earl Hailey from "Little Children" in the movie's best performance, bar none) is determined to find out. He's no superhero (and actually, neither is anyone else, really) but he does considers himself a fellow "mask," as he is almost always cloaked beneath a cloth mask that continually forms creepy Rorshach Test-like shapes. As Scott Marks pointed out out in his review on emulsioncompulsion.com, if these characters aren't superheroes, then what's up with that otherworldly mask of his? Good point.

Rorshach sets out to warn the other Watchmen who include Dan Dreiberg aka Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson, also from "Little Children" - where was Kate Winslet during casting?) Laurie Jupiter aka Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman from "The Heartbreak Kid," like Nite Owl II, she comes from a superhero family) Adrien Veidt aka Ozymandias (Matthew Goode from "Match Point") and Jon Osterman aka Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup, the voice from all those "priceless" MasterCard ads.) Could one of the Watchmen actually be the culprit? Well, I've never been a spoiler kind of reviewer, but even if you have read the graphic novel, the mystery element was never the story's strongest suit.

What works best in the movie is it's ability to emulate the look and feel of the graphic novel without feeling restrained in any way. Director Zack Snyder, who previously adapted Frank Miller's graphic novel "300" to the big screen in a similarly stylized fashion, amps up the violence (perhaps he could have turned the dial to 9 instead of 11) as well as the hypnotic imagery, creating a world that is reminiscent of the Off World colonies of Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" but is no less eye-popping.

Besides Rorschach, the other memorable character in the film is Crudup's Dr. Manhattan. Once a handsome, idealistic, scientist, now a glowing-blue, cerebral, superhuman (with matching genitalia on full display, ladies) with the ability to destroy and reassemble matter, Doc Blue is a bit like the HAL-9000 in human form - he views the world in logical, not emotional, terms. The fact that both he and Nite Owl II are both involved with Silk Spectre II makes for a very odd love triangle, but when one boyfriend teleports himself to Mars, what's a girl to do on a Saturday night?

A lot has been made about the movie's 2 hour and forty minute running time - to wit, the a-hole in the movie theater I saw it in who yelled "Boring!" during one of the best scenes of the film (to those who have seen the movie, it's the flashback of Rorschach searching for the missing girl.) To paraphrase Roger Ebert," No good movie can be long enough, no bad movie can be short enough." There's so much of WATCHMEN that is good, that the stuff that is just okay (some of the dialogue and the oft-repeated chop-socky fight scenes) never quite brings the proceedings to a screeching halt.

WATCHMEN traverses similar territory to last year's bar-raising superhero movie THE DARK KNIGHT in that the superheroes are conflicted (some might even say cuckoo) individuals who are oddly compelled to don outlandish costumes (with the exception of Rorschach, the costumes in WATCHMEN are pretty ridiculous, but one can assume Alan Moore was making a point) and ultimately do the right thing even if the world's leaders are opting for more convenient options, such as dropping the nuclear bomb. Sadly, WATCHMEN doesn't have a villain as enthralling as The Joker to balance out the nutjobs who we are actually rooting for, but one can argue that the true enemies of the Watchmen are, in fact, themselves.

I've been asked whether or not people should read the graphic novel before seeing the movie. I would say, emphatically, YES. It is a such a ground-breaking and defining work that it really should be enjoyed first, as there is so much in it that a movie just could not ever do successfully. I do, however, think WATCHMEN the movie stands on it's own as a dark, dazzling, and exciting action movie that is, like it's end credit song suggests, a jolt of punk rock in an era of mainstream moviemaking that is just so much Muzak.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Jack Bauer Is The New John McClane

It's official - "24" is back. And not only is it back, it's better than ever. Sure, Dennis Haysbert will go down as the Best...President...Ever in the "24" universe (though Cherry Jones is doing a damn fine job) and Gregory Itzin will be hard to beat as the show's all-time best villain (hard to top the Prez being the heavy - a sure sign of it's pre-Obama-ness) but this season has been so action-packed and suspenseful, that it's almost as if the movie "Die Hard" has been cut up into hour-long episodes and stretched over an entire season. It's that good. Lord knows the same could not be said for last season. Boy, did that blow.

Kiefer Sutherland's reluctant, and, yes, weary, hero (does he ever get any sleep?) is very much cut from the John McClane cloth, just without the sense of humor and Jersey smart-aleck 'tude. Would it kill Jack to indulge in even the smallest amount of gallow's humor once in a while? I guess that's what tech-head Chloe O' Brien (Mr. Show's Mary Lynn Rajskub) is for.

This season, African terrorists (who knew?) have not only invaded American soil but they have found their way into the White House, forcing the current President, Allison Taylor (Jones) to nearly surrender. But this being a "24" episode, this isn't a cliffhanger that will be drawn out over Sweep's Week - it's just one of a hundred plot twists to unfold during a very unnerving Season 7. And there's signs aplenty that the President's daughter Olivia, who has just been appointed as a member of her mother's cabinet, might very well be in league with the mole who allowed the terrorists into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the first place. The only plot twist left that I can imagine is that Jack Bauer is actually a terrorist. Now that would really be something!

For my money, "Die Hard" is the best action movie ever made. Bruce Willis' everyman hero John McClane came along just as Schwarzenegger and Stallone's silly superheros were starting to show their bones. Combined with John McTiernan's taut direction, Jan de Bont's superb cinematography, the late Michael Kamen's immortal, sleighbell-tinged, score, and Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) the greatest movie villain since Darth Vader, "Die Hard" came out of left field and just owned the modern action movie genre. And it's a damn good Christmas movie to boot.

Though Jack Bauer's near-indestructibility has already passed the point of ridiculousness, "24" still has a lot of the same elements that makes "Die Hard" such an enduring classic. Bauer, like McClane, is exactly the guy you want in a crisis situation: tough, no-nonsense, and not afraid to cross the lines of political incorrectness to get the job done, the job usually being saving lots of U.S. citizens from certain doom. And talk about villains - this season alone has already had three (one of them being Tony "The Candyman" Todd!)

The females characters on the show...ok, maybe they're not the most three-dimensional characters ever written, though Rajskub's Chloe is a pretty genius creation. Her awkard social graces and blunt demeanor never fail to get a laugh. Jack's sidekick this season is FBI Agent Renee Walker (Annie Wersching) and so far, she's been a good match for him, though there are signs that she may very well be turning into a female version of Jack, which is really kinda neat-o.

It's just so cool to have a TV show that piles on so many action scenes but never really goes into "MacGuyver" territory (though the bit with Kim Bauer and that cougar in Season 2 - oy vey - came closest.) The "real-time" ticking-clock gimmick - well, it isn't really a gimmick. It's the heartbeat of the show - and it doesn't so much tick as it pounds. Creators Robert Cochran and Joe Surnow have created a show that has not only not overstayed it's welcome but has miraculously been resurrected into the top-notch entertainment it has been for at least five of it's seasons now. That's not too bad of a track record.

So if you're one of the unconverted and you like shows that keep you on the edge of your seat (literally) then get on the "24" bus, stat. 'Cuz unlike Jack Bauer, not all TV shows are indestructible and this season - possibly the best one yet - could very well be it's ride off into the sunset.

Tick...tock...tick...tock...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Nothing Good Ever Comes From Craigslist

When will I ever learn? This morning I decided to start the week off in a productive manner by checking all my online resources (all three of them) for new job opportunities. After going the legit route (my only response being an email informing me that my resume was formatted wrong - d'oh!) I decided to stop by that ever-reliable community bulletin board/wacko magnet and other "C" word, Craigslist.

Having had some experience with the site before, I like to call it "Crankslist," as most of the postings on there just cannot be trusted at all. But once again, I found myself returning to the less jaded version of myself that stepped off the Hollywood-bound Greyhound bus way back in '95 (ok, I arrived in a VW Rabbit, but I was far more idealistic in those days) and I ventured into the L.A. job listings thinking that maybe, just maybe, my dream job would be sitting there just waiting for me to apply.

Lo and behold, I found the listing - ok, maybe not THE listing, but A listing that had "me" written all over it. Even though it was sandwiched between postings seeking actors for a film in which they were expected to appear nude yet not be paid (hey, copy, credit, and free pizza goes a long way) and those who desire to "contribute to a blog about a traditional wooden Japanese ball-and-cup toy that is starting to become popular in the United States, especially among skateboarders and rollerbladers," (you can't make this stuff up) my interest was still piqued.

Lofty expectations aside, I figured, what the heck, you have to swing to hit the ball, so I answered this ad which was seeking writers for an "up and coming" entertainment magazine. Seeing as how I currently make zero dollars and zero cents writing this blog, a gig writing for a magazine could only add to my pot.

I spent the next half hour or so prepping my best writing samples, some of which needed some tweaking and reformatting (writing is, in fact, rewriting.) I then concentrated on writing a catchy cover letter/email that said more than just boiler-plate greeting stuff. After pressing the "send" button, I noticed the number 1 instantly appear over my Inbox icon. For a about a half-second I indulged myself in a fantasy in which the magazine editors were collectively staring at their email inbox, waiting for my submission to appear, then realized that made no sense whatsoever. So I clicked my inbox icon and what did I see? A response not from Up and Coming Magazine but from my dear friend, and perhaps yours as well, Failure Notice. My eager email had bounced back quicker than a check from Bernie Madoff. I immediately rechecked the address in the sent from box. It was correct, just apparently nonexistent.

Let's check the scoreboards, shall we? Craigslist Scammers: 5,748,269,112. Hopeful Online Job Applicants: 0.

The frustrating part was not the time wasted, but the knowledge that this was an all-too familiar scenario for me. As I declared in the title of this blog, nothing really good has ever come from Crankslist, er, Craigslist. I threw in the modifier "really" because some good things have actually come from it, which I will list in full:

My current rommmate Mark
My appearance on the game show "Starface" (total winnings - $0)
My first movie review gig (total earnings - zippo)
My appearance on the "reality" makeover show "TV Candy" (total prize winnings - a jacket, shirt, and pants designed by Ben Sherman.)

In the words of Porky Pig," That's all, folks." All that has resulted from my earnest submissions and glass-half-full optimism is a nice living situation, some elbow-rubbing with Danny Bonaduce and Melissa Rivers, and a nice outfit that is in dire need of updating (note: on said makeover show, I had to provide my own belt and shoes, so it wasn't a complete rake-fest.)

In the Silver Lining Department, however, my appearance on "Starface" ultimately led to my most recent single-episode stint on Fox's "Trivial Pursuit: America Plays," in which I bombed on the written test but ended up making a little over $500 for asking (not answering, mind you) a question I made up on the spot. Still, it's a little sad when you have to Kevin Bacon your good fortunes (i.e., that blind date in which you were left for dead on the side of the highway which led to the old codger picking you up which led to him willing you some money for being nice enough to listen to him jabber on unlike his ungrateful grandkids.)

Not that Craigslist is a complete waste of cyberspace. I successfully sold a pair of Jimmy Buffett tickets to a college girl who was anything but a crank (I could see in her soon-to-be glassy eyes though that our distrust was mutual.) And if you need a good laugh, check out the "Erotic" listings on the site wherein every possible sexual predilection is advertised, the laugh coming when you see the photo of the tranny who is doing the offering. Just be thankful that's the only thing in the erotic section that's coming.

Still, I feel the same way about Crankslist that I do about playing the California Lottery - somewhat proud that I'm in the game at all but a little more than embarrassed knowing full well I'm absolutely wasting my time and singles. At least Craigslist doesn't charge every time I submit myself for stuff. If that were the case, I'd have to sell my Ben Sherman duds and get on another game show, stat.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly of 2008

@#$%! I'm getting ready to sit down and watch The Big Show and I realized I never posted my Best & Worst of 2008 list. Actually, I was waiting to get one more big nominee in that I finally watched last night. It's a good thing I did because it actually made my Top 10.

Here's the list. Enjoy the show, folks!

Top Ten Films of 2008

1. The Wrestler
2. The Dark Knight
3. WALL*E
4. Let The Right One In
5. Slumdog Millionaire
6. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
7. Changeling
8. Frozen River
9. Milk
10. Tropic Thunder

THE GOOD: 21, Appaloosa, Australia, The Bank Job, Be Kind Rewind, Bolt, Burn After Reading, Choke, Cloverfield, Doubt, Encounters at the End of the World, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Frost/Nixon, Get Smart, Ghost Town, Gran Torino, Happy-Go-Lucky, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Horton Hears a Who, In Bruges, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Kung Fu Panda, Man on Wire, The Pineapple Express, The Promotion, Quantum of Solace, Rachel Getting Married, The Reader, Religulous, Revolutionary Road, Role Models, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, Sex and the City, Shine a Light (IMAX), Smart People, The Strangers, Transsiberian, U2-3D (IMAX), Valkyrie, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Visitor, W., Wanted, What Just Happened

THE BAD: The Day The Earth Stood Still, Eagle Eye, The Happening, The Other Boleyn Girl, Passengers, Righteous Kill, Seven Pounds, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Step Brothers, You Don't Mess With The Zohan

THE UGLY: Baby Mama, The Love Guru, My Sassy Girl

Guilty Pleasures: Hamlet 2, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, The House Bunny, Mamma Mia!, My Name Is Bruce, Repo! The Genetic Opera, Speed Racer

Thursday, February 19, 2009

How To Win Your Oscar Pool

Hey Oscar fans! Just because the economy is in the dumper and the world of legalized gambling is taking it in the pants doesn't mean us movie buffs can't put a little action down on the Academy Awards ceremony being televised on ABC this Sunday night (check your local listings - I never get sick of saying that.)

If you've perused the list of nominees and have found yourself stumped or feeling out of your league because you haven't seen most of the nominated films, then feel free to just copy my list of sure-fire winners below, which, in the interest of full disclosure, I copied from Entertainment Weekly. (They really do have the inside track most of the time.)

Just a little FYI, not having any idea what those Live Action and Animated Short nominees are really doesn't put you at too much of a disadvantage. I just saw them this week at the Academy and I still have no idea who's going to win. Here's a little hint though: one of them is made by Pixar, the animation world's equivalent to the Midas Touch, and the other one deals with the Holocaust, a subject that is almost always favored by the Academy. "Hooooogannnn!"

So here you go with my picks for the award winning pix. Keep in mind these are predictions and not preferences. If that were the case, we'd be talking about Dustin Hoffman's stellar supporting performance in KUNG FU PANDA.

Also, I apologize in advance for any monies lost or humilation that might ensue around the water cooler come Monday morning.

Best Picture - SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

Best Actor - Sean Penn, MILK (praying for Mickey though)

Best Actress - Kate Winslet, THE READER

Best Sup. Actor - Heath Ledger, THE DARK KNIGHT (double down on this one if possible)

Best Sup. Actress - Penelope Cruz, VICKY CRISTINA AGUILERA BARCELONA

Best Director - Danny Boyle, SLAMDANCE MAGICMAN

Best Original Screenplay - MILK

Best Adapted Screenplay - SLICKROAD MUSTYHUMP

Best Documentary Feature - MAN ON WIRE (rent it from Netflix - it's great)

Best Documentary Short Subject - THE WITNESS - FROM THE BALCONY OF ROOM 306

Best Animated Feature - WALL*E (go all in on this one)

Best Animated Short - PRESTO

Best Live Action Short - SPIELZEUGLAND (gezundheit!) aka TOYLAND

Best Farn Language Film - THE CLASS (France, ooh la la)

Best Cinematography - SLIPNSLIDE MUTTONCHOP

Best Art Direction - THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON

Best Visual Effects - THE CURIOUS CASE OF OLD BRAD/YOUNG BRAD

Best Costume Design - THE DUCHESS (Zzzzz. Huh? What?)

Best Film Editing - SLIMJIM MELLENCAMP

Best Sound Mixing - THE DARK KNIGHT (Pow! Bang!)

Best Sound Editing - THE DARK KNIGHT (I don't know what the difference between these categories is either.)

Best Original Score - SLIPSLAP MARZIPAN

Best Original Song - "Jai Ho" from SLAGHEAP MAPLELEAF

Best Makeup - THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON GETTING THE SHAFT AND ONLY WINNING THREE LOUSY AWARDS

Enjoy the show!

TWOTS

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Homicidal Maniac's New Mask

So Valentine's weekend has past and the dude who got the luckiest is not the one who married Salma Hayek, but the unkillable, hockey-masked, maniac who goes by the name of Jason. The latest FRIDAY THE 13TH installment opened this weekend and - surprise, surprise - it made a killing (Daily Variety, you know how to contact me.) Not only did it open well, but it apparently was the best holiday weekend ever for an R-rated film (can you name the second highest R-rated movie to open on a holiday weekend? Neither can I. Who cares???) Anyway, the idea of reinventing the F13 series obviously appealed to a whole ton of moviegoers. And they didn't even need a gimmick like 3-D to lure folks in like the MY BLOODY VALENTINE reboot did, though the movie did in fact open on Friday the 13th. The flick made just south of $50 million this weekend alone, including President's Day, natch. That's about $30 million less than the last Jason installment, FREDDY vs. JASON (or is that a Freddy installment?) made in it's entire U.S. engagement. So what is it exactly about a man in a hockey mask that's so irresistible?

Folks, I wish I knew. I've never been a big fan of the F13 series, though there have been a few bright spots, like the casting of Dudley from "Diff'rent Strokes" in Part 4: The Final Chapter (yeah, right.) Or was it Part 5: The New Beginning? Honestly, it's hard to tell them apart, except for the ones where he went to Manhattan and the one where he ended up in outer space. Yes...outer space. Scoff all you like about JASON X (no relation to Malcolm or Marci) but that otherwise forgettable installment did have one stroke of genius: the climax in which a virtual reality version of Camp Crystal Lake is created, giving Jason even more indestructible powers. You haven't lived until you've seen two female campers slammed together like orchestra cymbals while still in their sleeping bags.

I rewatched the original FRIDAY THE 13TH just yeaterday and it really isn't that great of a movie. However, it was the first movie to capitalize on the new wave of Reagan-era horror movies created by John Carpenter's 1978 masterpiece HALLOWEEN. F13 took the unstoppable killer theme a bit further by amping up the gore factor, which really was the best part of any given Jason movie, at least when makeup savant Tom Savini was involved. Sadly, the HALLOWEEN franchise jumped on that bandwagon and created what Roger Ebert likes to call "geek shows" and not psychological suspense films, which is what the first Michael Myers movie was.

I have a theory: if the producers of the new F13 movie (who include Michael Bay, the man who already gave the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE series an unnecessary makeover) called the movie FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 12, which is what it really is, then I doubt the weekend gross would have passed the $25 million mark. However, since this was billed as a "re-imagining" in which the only noticeable difference is that Jason moves a lot quicker than he has in the past, people came out in droves eager to see...well, I still don't know what. New gruesome deaths? A storyline far more intriguing than the previous eleven? Or is it the undying hope of the male moviegoing contingency that horror movies will finally start showing boobs again (from what I've heard, this movie more than delivers on that score. Sweet!)

So, look, I don't care that an insanely violent movie has once again topped the box office charts. American moviegoers loving violence should be as expected as much as the inflated prices at the concession stand (talk about scary!) I just want to know: what were people expecting that they didn't already get before? I spoke with a horror-loving movie critic friend of mine who lamented that the new F13, while totally delivering in the gore department, was a complete disappointment in pretty much every other category. Full disclosure: I received a pass for the new F13 and was curious to see what they did with it until I had what Samuel L. Jackson's character in PULP FICTION described as " a moment of clarity," in which I realized that the long line I was about to stand in was probably not worth the entertainment content I was likely to recieve. That God for those Spidey senses.

Well, folks, if you at all sympathize (empathize? I can never keep those straight) with my incredulousness, then get ready for another heaping helping: HALLOWEEN 2, which is actually Part 10, opens August 28th. What goes around, comes around, I guess.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Rough "Road" For "Revolutionary"

So with the Oscar nominations having been announced about a fortnight ago (see last posting - yeah, I know, I'm a slacker of a blogger. A slogger, if you will) we are full-on into Oscar season now. While the early favorites have clearly established themselves (I'm talking to you Benjamin Button and that slumdog millionaire nipping at your reverse-aging heels) other contenders are starting to lose traction (table for one Mr. Rourke or shall I seat you with the cast of DOUBT?) And then there are the films that never even got invited to the party in the first place. While I could go on all day about THE WRESTLER not being nominated for Best Picture, I'm also puzzled by the cold shoulder-treatment that was afforded to a film that in any other year would seem to be a shoo-in. I'm talking about REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, a searing drama directed by AMERICAN BEAUTY's one-time Oscar golden boy and otherwise-lucky-as-hell Sam "I'm Married To Kate Winslet" Mendes.

On paper, this movie should be up for as many noms as BENJAMIN BOTOX, er, BUTTON: besides the Mendes pedigree, it stars the two leads from a little indie called TITANIC, it's adapted from a well-received, though not necessarily Oprah-approved, book, and it's a period film with an unhappy ending. Basically, it's AMERICAN BEAUTY set in the 1950s and minus the flying plastic bags. So what's the diff, Academy voters? The flick was at least good enough for the Hollywood Foreign Press to bestow nominations for Best Drama, Lead Actor, and Director, as well as a Winslet win for Lead Actress at last month's Golden Globes. Winslet also won a Supporting Actress Globe for her role THE READER which, in the Academy's defense, was correctly placed in the Best Actress category for the Oscars, seeing how she is the female lead in the film. Sadly, though, Winslet's nomination for her sensuous but surprisingly dark turn in that film film cost her a nod for her work in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, a move that I think is shame, not because she has more screen time in RR, which she probably does, but that the Academy favoring a performance that requires her to age, have a foreign dialect, and, yes, have associations with the Holocaust, seems so typical. Winslet's work in RR is anything but.

For those of you who haven't seen the movie (and there apparently are a lot of you because, like Mendes' last effort, ROAD TO PERDITION, the film is currently falling on its ass at the ol' box office) Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio play an unhappily married couple living in 1950's suburbia. He has a job that gives him zero pleasure while she is discovering that raising kids and taking care of the house isn't as fulfilling as her life as an aspiring actress once was. The unhappy couple decide to move to Paris and live a relatively carefree, bohemian, lifestyle, a decision that goes over like a lead balloon with their gossiping neighbors. That's the plot essentially, but this isn't really a movie about plot. Sure, bad things happen later on, but the film is basically a pas de deux between two of our finest young actors playing a symphony of emotional notes. While it's no surprise that Winslet nails her role - though being a Brit gives her somewhat more of a challenge - DiCaprio truly amazes with a part that is the more unlikable of the two. He plays a man steeped in angst who is caught between his desires and his abilities. Honestly, he hasn't been this good in a movie since GILBERT GRAPE.

At the most recent Emmy Awards, the Best Drama prize went to AMC's "Mad Men," a terrific show that also takes place in the 50s, and like "The Sopranos," revolves around an unhappy man trapped under the weight of both his job and his family life. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD mines similar territory, but being a movie and not a TV show, adds a little more realism by featuring nudity and profanity, things that are certainly anathema of 1950s-set stories. My point is this: if "Mad Men" can collect that kind of hardware, where's the love for REVOLUTIONARY ROAD? Are the MM fans fully satiated by their desire for 50s angst, especially now that the show is set in the 60s?

I have heard grumblings from people who think the book is one of the best ever written but that the film just doesn't capture the immediacy of the characters' plights. I've also heard people say that don't want to see it because they've heard the movie is depressing. I've heard the same things directed towards THE READER, which, incidentally, isn't faring so great at the box office either. And keep in mind, the last two Best Picture winners, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and THE DEPARTED also had downbeat endings - that is, unless you tend to root for the bad guys. As I've always said, I'd rather see a depressing movie done well than a "happy" movie done miserably. PAUL BLART: MALL COP making over $70 million at the box office? Now, that's depressing.

Think I have it in for THE READER? Not at all. I thought it was a very good film. Kate Winslet deserves her accolades for her work in it. It's just not a great film, especially compared to REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, which, for the record, scored a 71% "fresh" rating on RottenTomatoes.com, while THE READER scored a 60%. The tomatoes never lie, people!

The Globes win notwithstanding, however, I'm just stunned by the nearly-universal indifference that RR has received by not just audiences but the Academy as well, especially when it seemed as if the movie was being served up mainly as Oscar bait (the supporting nod for Michael Shannon is dead-on, though.) The movie is better than that, and yes, it's even better than AMERICAN BEAUTY. It doesn't need flying paper bags or a shower of rose petals to illuminate it's powerful themes of heartbreak and disillusion. It only needs what it already has: two amazing performances by two amazing actors, neither of whom need any special effects or actor-y tricks to enhance their formidable talents. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD might not be up for Best Picture this year, but it's certainly one of the best ones I saw last year.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oscar Noms 2009 - a What-Not-To-Do List

On this Tuesday, January 20th, as we have witnessed the historic inauguration of Former President-Elect-Now-Just-Merely-President Barack Obama, let us not forget that this week brings another monumental event: on Thursday, January 22nd, the 2009 Oscar nominations will be announced. Ok, so maybe it's not quite on the par of inducting the first African American President into the White House, but if you happen to be Mickey Rourke or Danny Boyle, it might as well be.

As I gear up for my annual tradition of waking up at 5:30am (ok, 5:40am) to hear the nominations announced in real time at 5:45am (PST) it has occurred to me that this year marks something of a milestone for me as a die-hard Oscars fan. 1979 was the year I stumbled across the Academy Awards broadcast while sitting in a hotel room with my family. Back then I had no idea they even gave out awards for movies much less televised it. Even though I had never heard of THE DEER HUNTER, the movie that won Best Picture that night, just knowing it had won made me want to see it even more. So seeing as 2009 marks my 30th year as a full-fledged, never-missed-a-single-show Oscar watcher, I thought I'd kick off the festivities with a little forecast of the nominations-to-be, followed by some last minute pleas for the nominations that absolutely-should-not-be.

Best Supporting Actress:

Amy Adams, DOUBT
Penelope Cruz, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
Viola Davis, DOUBT
Taraji P. Jenson, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
Kate Winslet, THE READER

What Not To Do: Ignore Marisa Tomei's terrific performance from THE WRESTLER. Sure I'm biased against any performance by Tomei in which she appears in the altogether, but I actually think she has given her best performances in roles that require her getting naked, as in last year's BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD. A nomination for Tomei might also quell those nasty rumors that she won this category for MY COUSIN VINNY only because daffy presenter Jack Palance read her name off the nominees list. And why hasn't Cate Blanchett been mentioned for this category? She had the hardest role in all of BENJAMIN BUTTON but hasn't made anyone's short list for Supporting Actress. If only she had gotten naked.

Best Supporting Actor:

Josh Brolin, MILK
Robert Downey Jr., TROPIC THUNDER
James Franco, MILK
Philip Seymour Hoffman, DOUBT
Heath Ledger, THE DARK KNIGHT

What Not To Do: Adding Dev Patel from SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE to this list. He plays the lead character and he's in nearly every scene of the movie for cryin' out loud. So why is he listed as a supporting actor on the Screen Actor's Guild nominations? You don't have to phone a friend to know that's the wrong answer.

Best Foreign Film:

3 MONKEYS, Japan
THE BAADER-MEINHOFF COMPLEX, Germany
THE CLASS, France
REVANCHE, Austria
WALTZ WITH BASHIR, Israel

What Not To Do: Keep the Academy's ridiculous tradition of letting foreign countries be the ones to select which films should "represent" their respective country. Who cares which movie best represents them? Why not just nominate the best films period? Remember, Academy, you're the ones throwing the party, so why not invite whoever the heck you want to? Maybe that way some of 2008's truly best (not to mention popular) foreign films like TELL NO ONE, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, and I'VE LOVED YOU FOR SO LONG wouldn't be getting the shaft.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

Simon Beaufoy, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
David Hare, THE READER
Peter Morgan, FROST/NIXON
Eric Roth, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
John Patrick Shanley, DOUBT

What Not To Do: Forget to put Christopher and Jonathan Nolan's dazzling adaptation of THE DARK KNIGHT on this list. I mean, did John Patrick Shanley really do as good as they did? I...wait for it...DOUBT it!

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

Woody Allen, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
Dustin Lance Black, MILK
Joel and Ethan Coen, BURN AFTER READING
Thomas McCarthy, THE VISITOR
Robert Seigel, THE WRESTLER

What Not To Do: As much as it pains me to say it, the Coens got it wrong this time. Instead of the so-so screenplay for BURN AFTER READING, why not a script for an even better comedy, such as the imaginative and hilarious one Ben Stiller and Justin Theroux wrote for TROPIC THUNDER?

BEST DIRECTOR:

Danny Boyle, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
David Fincher, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
Ron Howard, FROST/NIXON
Christopher Nolan, THE DARK KNIGHT
Gus Van Sant, MILK

What Not To Do: Leave Christopher Nolan off this list. Without him, Heath Ledger might not have even been cast as The Joker. To exclude him from this category would be a very cruel joke indeed.

BEST ACTOR:

Richard Jenkins, THE VISITOR
Frank Langella, FROST/NIXON
Sean Penn, MILK
Brad Pitt, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
Mickey Rourke, THE WRESTLER

What Not To Do: As amazing as Brad Pitt's physical transformation is in BENJAMIN BUTTON, I think Leonardo DiCaprio's work in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is far more Oscar-worthy, so it would be a shame to leave him out. Without him, Kate Winslet might not have taken home the Golden Globe, which brings us to...

BEST ACTRESS:

Anne Hathaway, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
Angelina Jolie, CHANGELING
Melissa Leo, FROZEN RIVER
Meryl Streep, DOUBT
Kate Winslet, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD

What Not To Do: Have Streep's way over-the-top performance on this list. Put her hambone acting in DOUBT next to Melissa Leo's work in FROZEN RIVER and you'll see they are worlds apart. This is Kate Winslet-Porrill's category to lose, however, so it probably won't even matter.

BEST PICTURE:

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
THE DARK KNIGHT
FROST/NIXON
MILK
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

What Not To Do: As good as it is, I don't really think FROST/NIXON is one the five best films of the year. Why not THE WRESTLER or REVOLUTIONARY ROAD in it's place? Still, the one on the list most in jeopardy is THE DARK KNIGHT, which I think would be the most glaring omission of them all. Some think WALL*E could be an 11th hour thunder-stealer, but it's guaranteed Best Animated Film nomination will likely relegate it's Best Picture chances to the trash-cube tower.


So there you have it. Did I leave anything out or I has my moviegoing brain merely left me? Drop me a line and let me know. Or call me at 5:50am Thursday morning and we'll discuss - in real time!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

California Man Travels To Florida Just To Get A Chicago Style Pizza

So as you probably know by know, I'm in Orlando, FL doing the DisneyWorld extravaganza with my bro-bro's wife, kids, and in-laws. As with most touristy places, the eats situation has been a mixed bag. Friday we ate at Chef Mickey's - a helluva good buffet for a joint that caters mainly to the Webkins crowd. Saturday was a mix of PBJ's and chips brought to the park while the evening brought the inevitably overpriced and insanely mediocre bill of fare served at the park itself.

Tonight, however, was a different story altogether. Tonight, my friends, I ate a stuffed pizza from none other than my favorite Chicago pie shop, Giordano's. When I heard there was a Giordano's here in Orlando, I nearly fell out of my chair. I've only ever eaten at Giordano's while in Chicago. The last time was in April when I went to visit my girlfriend's parents in Freeport, IL. There's nothing quite like it. If you're one of those pansies who only eat thin crust, then stop reading this right now. This isn't for you. As a matter of fact, I don't think we can go on being friends any more. Just go. I'm not kidding. Go!

Ok, for the rest of you, Giordano's makes the best Chicago style pizza, and by that I mean stuffed pizza. The kind where the tomato sauce is on top, and beneath it...beneath it are layers upon layers of mozzarella cheese, your toppings of choice (which are no longer toppings, really, more like middlings) and more delicious tomato sauce. The pie is surrounded by a circular fortress of the thickest, butteriest, golden-browniest crust imaginable. The kind you look forward to eating after you're done inhaling the soft, gooey, center. Yeah, it's serious stuff.

So as I walked into the palatial confines of the Orlando Giordano's, I couldn't help but think why the {fork} isn't there one of these in L.A.? And not just L.A. but anywhere in the state of California? And then I remembered, oh yeah, years ago a Pizzeria Uno opened in downtown West Hollywood. What a time that was! Me and my buddy Jayce would meet there and relive our Chi-town glory days (which, granted, really were not that glorious, but we did eat well.)

Too bad the Uno's only lasted about a year. I can only guess that the stuffed pizza, grinders, and mozzerella sticks didn't quite jell with the sushi and tofu crowd. But do you know what eventually replaced the Uno's in West Hollywood? A friggin' DuPars, which is your basic hole-in-the-wall diner (though I hear their pancakes are to die for.) So where's the logic in that?

Anyway, my point is this: are there any good pizza places at all in Los Angeles? Yeah, we got California Pizza Kitchen, but then again, so does Alabama. And that's not real pizza, it's designer pizza. And designer pizza does not fly on Michigan Avenue, superfans.

I hear lots of displaced east-coasters have their favorite New York style pizza places in L.A. One of them, Mulberry Street Pizza, is even rumored to import their water from the east coast so their pizza crust is like the real deal. Now that's dedication!

Me, I'll just settle for one Giordano's in California. I'm even willing to travel. Orange County, San Diego, Palm Springs...I'm flexible! Please don't make me beg. Couldn't we lose a few Del Tacos and have a Giordano's or even a Gino's in their stead? The trannies on Santa Monica Boulevard might even appreciate the change in pace.

Just don't make me have to go to Orlando to get my Chicago pizza fix. Mouse ears and stuffed pie just do not go hand in hand.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Latte Fiasco

The following incident occurred at a Starbucks in Valdosta, GA sometime around 10:30am (EST):

I'm standing near the front counter staring once again at the vast array of hot steaming beverages choices. Vowing to not pay more than $3 for a cup of coffee ever again, but also feeling a bit crestfallen about Christmas being over so soon, I opted for a tall Christmas Blend. The barista immediately informed me that they are no longer brewing the Christmas Blend; rather, they are now serving the Anniversary Blend. Yes, friends, Christmas was indeed over.

I decided to play ball. "Ok, a tall Anniversary Blend," I said, whatever that entailed. For all I knew, "Anniversary Blend" could have meant they are using coffee grounds that have been sitting around for an entire year. But I've discovered that I'm usually in good hands at Starbucks so I powered through with the ordering process.

" Yes, a tall Anniverary Blend with the sugar-free hazelnut," I continued. Not only had I decided to spend less money on coffee this year but I also made a secret oath to cut down on nature's candy, ergo, less calories.

Here's where the story gets ugly.

My brother, captain of the S.S. Minivan, was treating for the java. "That what you want?" he asked me, looking somewhat incredulous. His father-in-law stood by quietly as I gave my brother and the barista the nod to go through with Project Hazelnut.

"Ok," my brother said as he laid down some greenbacks.

Quicker than you can say "macchiato," I was handed a tall Anniversary Blend. The barista repeated the order for emphasis.

Note he did not say "hazelnut." This is an important detail.

I walked over to what the less sophisticated folks call the "fixin's bar" where I could add some low-fat milk to what I was beginning to realize was just a poor man's latte. That's when I saw the omen. It was the color most omens seem to assume.

Black. Black-coffee-black to be exact.

The barista had not left room for any creamer-like substances. Something was not right. My brother joined me at the fixin's bar, unaware of my encroaching discomfort.

Then the barista said the words that sent my world into a veritable tailspin.

"Tall hazelnut latte," he said, as he blithely set down a lidded coffee cup on the "pick-up" end of the coffee counter. I stared at the phantom beverage, perplexed.

"What's that?" I said aloud, as if the drink was, in fact, an extra-terrestrial.

"That's the second coffee you ordered," my brother said somewhat sardonically.

"The second coffee???" I ejaculated. What alternative reality was I living in? Had Rod Serling himself foreseen the events that were transpiring?

My brother then broke it down for me. Here is his version of the story:

He asked me what I wanted to drink. I looked at the barista and ordered a tall Anniversary Blend. Then I paused, and added," And a hazelnut latte." My brother, taken aback by my brazen avarice, then said," You realize that's two drinks," to which I apparently replied, "Yes, talls." He paid for both drinks. End of his version.

Notice that both his version and my version share the same ending in which MY BROTHER PAID FOR BOTH DRINKS.

Even though I protested his absurd Gus Vant Sant-esque reimagining of my story, I asked him who the hell goes to Starbucks and orders two coffee drinks FOR THEMSELVES???

He did not question my logic. Rather, he charged that I had no logic to begin with while I was placing my order. But here's the kicker, folks.

His father-in-law also claimed I ordered two different drinks.

Remember that scene in ROSEMARY'S BABY when Mia Farrow's character realizes everyone in the apartment building worships Satan? That's how I felt at that moment, with Starbucks standing in for Beelzebub.

I had no leg to stand on. Apparently, even the barista agreed with my brother and his father-in-law.

But again I ask, if you offered to treat someone to cofeee and that person went ahead and ordered two very different cups of coffees, would you still foot the bill?

My brother seemed to think that part made sense. And I'm the crazy one of the family.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year! A Quick Look Back At 2008

Greetings readers! Seeing as 2009 is now upon us, I have decided that one of my new year resolutions will be to adopt the Stephen King rule, as taken from his most excellent book "On Writing," which is that I will write something, anything, at least two hours a day, every day, starting to-day. As I write this, I am sitting in a hotel room in Valdosta, Georgia, en route to DisneyWorld with my brother, sister-in-law, and their three rambunctious but adorable young'uns. Since I find myself on east coast time, I have realized that if I am to make good on my resolution, I have only a couple hours left to make it before the midnight deadline, wherein my laptop will turn into a pumpkin - or worse, a critic. Anywho, since I'm no way near compiling my Top Ten Movies of '08 yet, here instead are some Best/Worsts of yesteryear.

Best Movie: Though THE WRESTLER stole my heart even more than WALL*E, I think it's safe to say that the movie of the year is THE DARK KNIGHT. Though it initially fell short of my mammoth, fanboy-inflamed, expectations, my multiple viewings of it since have confirmed it as not just a masterpiece of superhero cinema, but also a terrifically labyrinthine crime drama that plumbs the darkest corners of humanity while holding a mirror up to our own two faces. Seeing it in IMAX was the best movie presentation I experienced all year long.

Worst Movie: RIGHTEOUS KILL - I'm sure it's not as bad as 88 MINUTES, but to think the last two movies Pacino and DeNiro did together were HEAT and THE GODFATHER II makes this stinker stink even more.


Best TV Show: I love me some "Lost," but last season was hard to beat, so this year the best show on TV by far was "Mad Men." Beneath the eye-popping costumes (helloooo Joan!) and production design is the most compelling portrayal of the work/family dynamic since "The Sopranos." Hey HBO, you passed on this but picked up that awful animated show? Really? No...really.

Worst TV Show: "Worst Week." One episode was enough to convince me to skip the whole week altogether. Just awful.

Best Song: "Dawn of the Dead" by Does It Offend You, Yeah? It's catchy and infectious, just like it's beloved namesake. Took me damned near forever to find it on INDIE 103.1's infernally confusing website.

Worst Song: "I Kissed A Girl" by Katy Perry. This song is also catchy and infectious, but when you hear it every single time you turn on the radio and television, you want to find some antidote - stat!

Best Over-All Moment: Election Night, Tuesday, November 4th. All of my worst fears stemming from the preposterous media-driven circus that was the 2008 Election were mercifully not confirmed on that glorious night, providing a hopeful ray of light that outshone all the inane Joe The Plumber-SixPack-Maverick-Main Street-Wall Street-Pit Bull-Hockey Mom histrionics. One caveat: we didn't need all the incessant cutaways to Oprah's adoring visage nestled on Joe Shmoe's shoulder to confirm how just how momentous the occasion really was.

Worst Moment: I could have done without the health scare in October, but thanks to the support of family and friends, I rode through the storm unscathed and came out all the stronger for it. You can never have enough reminders to take the absolute best care of yourself.

Best wishes to all for a happy and healthy 2009! Stay tuned....

TWOTS