Friday, November 12, 2010

Champion


Michael Midas: Champion of the World. An upcoming graphic novel from the mind of Jordan B. Gorfinkel (Batman, Birds of Prey, Everything's Relative).

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Nonsense Box: Not Just for Silly Adults Now Available on iTunes!

The Nonsense Box: Not Just for Silly Adults is now available on iTunes. The album features the talent of Admiral Plumbtree, Schwartzy and Pagana, Max (our sound designer), and a whole slew of the Cosmic Toast Studios family.
Nonsense Box Front Cover
Nonsense Box Back Cover Art
All 26 tracks are available for preview and purchase on iTunes!
The Nonsense Box: Not Just for Silly Adults - Various Artists

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hidden Gem: The Blue Tooth Virgin

| by Allan Stackhouse |



The Blue Tooth Virgin is a wonderful gem of an indie film released to DVD earlier this year. Director and writer Russell Brown with two handfuls of a production crew created a great character-driven story about what can happen when you criticize a friend's work. Anyone who is in a creative field will enjoy or at least be able to appreciate the screenwriting storyline. Stars Austin Peck and Bryce Johnson truly shine in this charming film.

Russell teamed with the amazing, oft teamed with Gus Van Sant, editor Curtiss Clayton (To Die For, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and Drugstore Cowboy). At first, I couldn't figure out what made this film so good. Luckily, there is a featurette included on the DVD that explained some of Curtiss Clayton's editing process. To make these dialogue-heavy, non-moving scenes more interesting, Curtiss would limit the focus on each character, not to the point where it would be just a bunch of back and forth boring cutting. The edits were made with regard to the emotion and tone the director was going for.

The characters in this film are so strong and defined in The Blue Tooth Virgin. Sam, played by former Days of Our Lives and As the World Turns actor Austin Peck, is a struggling writer who once saw success and is thirsty for success again. His friend David, played by familiar TV face Bryce Johnson, has always had it easy and lives a cushy life as a writer for a magazine. The conflict that develops between these two characters begins with Sam's request for David to read his recently finished screenplay titled The Blue Tooth Virgin. David HATES Sam's script and, just from the dialogue in the film surrounding it, it sounds horrible. David experiences a desire to be completely honest with Sam and then changes his mind, which of course Sam takes offense to and gets particularly nasty about it. The script proves to be an interesting test of their friendship.

The poor quality of Sam's script leads to even more hilarious characters. There are two confidants, one for David and one for Sam. Sam turns to expensive script doctor Zena, played wonderfully and eccentrically by Karen Black. Their dialogue is actually kind of off-putting at first but through the course of this initial uncomfortableness, it turns out to be all part of the process, a great reveal for both Sam and the audience. David's confidant is Dr. Christopher, played by Roma Mafia, who's just as no nonsense as David if not more. She is inclined to believe what David is telling her and sympathizes with what he is going through. Both of these characters added humor to the film but also an opportunity for David and Sam to develop outside of their conversations with each other.

I'm absolutely thrilled that E1 decided to distribute this, despite its release from 2008, because the film serves as an example of the fruit of independent filmmaking. A small cast of professionals, actors, and locations made a funny, engaging, and emotionally honest film that I am very happy to have come across.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New on Blu: A Prophet

| by Allan Stackhouse |



Someone raved about this movie some time ago so I admit that my perspective wasn’t completely fresh when I watched French writer/director Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet. The experience for me was a mildly entertained one but that could very well be because I completely lost interest in the film after the first act.

The great thing about A Prophet's script is that its conflict is set up so quickly. Malik El Djebena is sentenced to six years in prison and is almost immediately propositioned to kill someone or be killed. His appearance doesn’t entirely fit the dominating white presence in the prison nor the growing Arab one, allowing him to navigate both worlds. He does not have a choice about it because of the Corsican gang practically running the place, receiving instruction on specifically how to perfrom the kill as well. His attempts to get out of it are met with failure. These consistent and well-crafted raises in stakes were well-directed and enthralling.

This act's end unfortunately proved to be the peak of drama for the entire film. It is just after this incredibly exciting string of scenes that the plot becomes very watery and altogether unimportant. The film seemed to shoot its wad and then expected these slower paced scenes to be able to carry the rest of the film which, for me, was entirely unsuccessful. The end of the film attempts to regain the first act’s momentum with Malik’s sudden decision to improvise upon learning that his final targets are not going to exit their vehicle. This scene is actually quite brilliant stylistically with its choice of angles, slow motion footage, and sound design but even these traits cannot make up for the lack of interest I had when watching the scenes that lead up it.

The suspense built by the scene where Malik kills Reyeb is thick, that is not in question. The scene in which he kills him of course doesn't go to plan, further building the suspense. He earns the protection of Cesar Luciani. Malik’s climb up the gang ladder by turning into a porter for the Corsicans and then running favors for Cesar, his boss, and Jordi, his business associate in drug sales, did not prove to be anywhere near the stakes of his first foray into the prison world.

As the title states, we are made to believe during the film that Malik is a prophet of some sort but even that isn’t completely fleshed out. It as actually only addressed in the scene where he predicts the car accident. The drug dealer is in awe of his "gift" but there’s no other scenes to support the idea built by this one. Why have it at all? Why not have it earlier? Why not more consistently reference it?

As much as I wanted to enjoy this film, I simply could not. If you’re up for a well-crafted gangster movie, you will likely enjoy A Prophet more than I did. The recurring subject of race doesn’t completely translate for me but perhaps there are some nuances in gang-related subject matter that are ultimately foreign to me.

2.5/5

Monday, October 11, 2010

New on Blu: Iron Man 2

| by Allan Stackhouse |

Iron Man 2 is one of the worst movies I've seen all year. I was bored to tears with this, desperately hoping something interesting or exciting would happen but to no avail. The excuse idea that this film was rushed is not acceptable here nor ever, especially to someone who staunchly supports Marvel's many forms of media. X-Men: The Last Stand was given the rush job but it was at least somewhat palatable while this was completely bland, boring, and not even close to even a Michael Dudikoff B-movie. I look forward to these blockbusters every year because they're around my birthday and I couldn't be more glad that I skipped Iron Man 2 when it was in theaters.

The problems, many as they are, root from the script. There is no distinction between acts, the first act running right through the second, providing scene after scene of an unmasked Iron Man doing this an an unmasked Iron Man doing that. Jon Favreau, from his close personal relationship with RDJ, let him do whatever he wanted and the results were annoying and indulgent. It's absolutely bewildering to me as to why the successful fusion of Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby (Children of Men) and Arthur Marcum and Matt Holloway's scripts was discontinued and placed in the untrained and unworthy hands of Justin Theroux. I'm sure some great chemistry happened between RDJ and Justin on the set of Tropic Thunder, which Justin also wrote, but this change of gears did not work.

Sam Rockwell had a completely wasted performance in this film. He is sooooo talented and, similar to Hugo Weaving in The Wolfman, he had absolutely no character to work with. His character, Justin Hammer's, depiction as a rival to Tony Stark has no arc and is one of the many points of erosion in Iron Man 2's armor. A bumbling technological rival who isn't even funny as half of the conflict in the script? No. Sorry. Did not work. Even the scene with Sam's amazing dance moves served little to cover up the film's failure in capturing my interest. Just as ill developed is the conflict of Tony's palladium core keeping him alive and killing him alive at the same time. This was posed so poorly constructed that I couldn't have cared any less about it. And how does the film resolve this conflict? Instantaneously when his new atomic number 118 core is placed, which took all of 2 minutes to create! This notion of having to accept super hero movies as these flashy movies where nothing really happens is so condescending, especially when there is so much source material to work with and ideally improve.

The fight scenes amount to a whopping THREE and all are SO short: one where Iron Man fights War Machine, one where Ivan Vanko (another snoozer villain) attacks Tony in Monaco, and one where both Iron Man and War Machine fight some drones. The first one is so unwarranted. A million reasons or villains could have been used to have a fight scene with Iron Man, the star of the film, but what's the motivation: Rhodey needs to cool Iron Man down. WTF?!?!?!?! This so strongly stinks of machismo and does absolutely nothing for the plot of the story. The second one provided at least some drama, having Tony out of his suit but the battle is over as soon as he suits up. Why can't the drama be created when he's in the suit? The final fight scene, when Iron Man and War Machine get to show off in all of their technologically advanced mechanical glory is shown in a brief three minutes. I have absolutely no investment in the scene because 1. they're machines that don't even look cool and 2. because the film has didn't set up any attachments or feelings for me to feel.

I absolutely hated the portrayal of women as lapdogs for their male counterparts in this film. Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts was so unbelievably naggy in this film. A woman of education, power, and beauty is still nothing but a blabbermouth in the end according to this film. Even Gwyneth's idle dialogue that opened some scenes sounded very forced and unnatural, which is hard to stomach being a fan of hers. Scarlett Johansson did what she could but the misdirection and poor editing sank whatever potential she had. On paper, Justin Theroux may have thought he was making her a character to be admired: multilingual, well-educated, trained for combat, etc., but the focus of her role is always at tthe whim of men. Even her fight scene left much to be desired. A good edit could have saved her but it was so unbelievably awful. During Black Widow's main fight scene, there are so many cuts for such a small amount action.

Just to let me rant for a sec, Garry Shandling had SO many injectables in his face I was surprised it was moving at all during the panel scene in the beginning of the film. The distance from Tony may have saved him a little bit but the last scene of the film where he smiles between Tony and Rhodey has some frightening closeups. Looking young and good for the camera is one thing but to the point where the result is horrific is not good for the film. Jon Favreau should have seen this.

The only redeeming element to this film was Samuel L. Jackson. His presence is stoic and restrained, with lines to match his presence and body language. Nick Fury's scene time across all of the Marvel films can be counted in seconds yet I found his character here to have the most development and purpose. In retrospect, that's unbelievable since Pepper, Tony, and Rhodey all had a whole - and might I add good - film's worth of development to rely upon.

Even the high resolution of Blu-ray was not enough for me to enjoy this film/piece of garbage. I'm honestly heartbroken by its severely low quality. I can remember some years ago, feeling enthralled and inspired by Jon Favreau's humor and insights when he hosted Dinner for Five but this film let me down at almost every point. Maybe that man still exists somewhere but Iron Man 2 has to be one of his biggest failures in quality to date.

Slangman’s World Kids Program Teaches Foreign Language Skills via iTunes - Songs from the award-winning animated show now online

BURBANK, Calif., October, 2010 – Cosmic Toast Studios (CTS), producer of the acclaimed show Slangman’s World on Georgia Public Broadcasting and the American Forces Network, is proud to offer a collection of the program’s educational songs that teach foreign words, phrases, and language skills to children of all ages.

Now available for purchase on iTunes, Volume I includes 10 songs and additional spoken content for $9.99. Kids are exposed to foreign languages and cultures in an exciting way that makes them eager to learn more -- both in and out of the classroom. Join David Burke as Slangman, a fun-loving wizard/inventor and his best friend, Wordy, a language dictionary, on an around-the-world journey of language, exploration, and song.

"Singing is often the best and fastest way to remember complex information. That’s why jingles work so well on television commercials and why all children learn their alphabet by singing their abc’s, says Burke. "Slangman’s World songs do the same thing, inspiring kids to want to learn more about the people, languages, and cultures of the world. Fun is the key, and with rich music and sounds, kids can’t help but sing along."

Winner of the 2010 Telly Award for best local, regional, and cable television programs in the U.S. and the prestigious Parents Television Council Seal, Slangman’s World is a feast for the senses, offering children an immersive world of color and discovery.

Stay tuned for more educational entertainment, programs, and music from Cosmic Toast Studios.

For educational videos, games, and Slagman’s World episodes, visit www.slangmansworld.com

About Cosmic Toast Studios
Cosmic Toast Studios ("CTS"), located in Burbank, California, is a full-service production studio that specializes in animation, music scoring, and sound effects to create remarkable worlds and memorable characters. Every step of the pre-production, production, and post-production process is completed within the studio, including animation (both 2D and CGI), writing, storyboarding, animatics, shooting (CTS has its own green screen facility), editing, sound design, music scoring, and song and voiceover recording.

CTS also boasts a comprehensive portfolio of original intellectual properties for television, film, and print media, including comic books, graphic novels and motion comics. "Slangman’s World," a live-action/animated series currently airing on PBS and the American Forces Network (AFN), teaches children foreign languages and cultures.

www.slangmansworld.com

Visit Cosmic Toast Studios at www.cosmictoaststudios.com for more information.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Month 5 @ Cosmic Toast Studios

| by Allan Stackhouse |

With our largest service project in the can, everyone's been getting more sleep and has been free to work on other very funny and exciting projects for some BIG networks. September saw the departure of Miguel, a great animation intern. He's off to finish his degree at Cal Arts. Rishon, another animation intern, is pursuing other opportunities. We wish them both the best! Joining the team last month was Alonso whose sketches are nothing short of amazing. Check out his blog at: http://alonsothewise.blogspot.com/. We also formally announced David Kekst's appointment as Cosmic Toast Studios' Chief Executive Officer. He's been with the studio about as long as I have so I've witnessed first hand the directions he's been instrumental in taking us.

Buster, the studio puppy, is growing nicely but is still small enough to hold comfortably with one hand. My apartment is too small for a pet but it's nice to get my pet-fix everyday. Here's Ryan transporting Buster reverse Kangaroo style:
Ryan and Buster

The only feature I was able to catch in theaters this month was Machete, which I enjoyed immensely. My selection in Blu-rays/DVDs started off very well with Black Dynamite and Why Did I Get Married Too?, took a hit with The Book of Eli, and ended nicely with Me & Orson Welles. There's a bunch of movies that I'm really excited to see in October like My Soul to Take and Enter the Void.

The Facebook page reached 400 friends by the end of the month. If you haven't added us yet, please do. We're looking forward to growing our network to 500 and beyond! Getting some videos on that page is a work in progress so stay tuned. Slangman's World's songs are also now available on iTunes for your listening education and pleasure.

Outside of the studio, Ryan, our lead animator, returned from a much-deserved vacation in Hawaii while Marina had a nice vacation in Canada.

The last week of September began with some searing heat. Fortunately for us, the studio is well-air conditioned. Other than that, it's been business as usual with lots of progress being made on many fronts, all of which I'm unfortunately not at liberty to announce but stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Review: The Social Network

| by Allan Stackhouse |

Chalk up another marvel by David Fincher. The Social Network is an absolutely captivating tale of the rise of Facebook and the subsequent falls of those allegedly involved in its inception. This is one of the best films I've seen all year, despite the sweltering conditions of the Arclight in Hollywood Friday night. I remember my staunchly negative mindset during the film's promotion, thinking it was ridiculous to make a film about something so seemingly rudimentary as Facebook. How wrong I was. The tale that screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher spin is a gripping one of genius, betrayal, and social networking.

Aaron Sorkin wonderfully adapted Ben Mezrich's The Accidental Billionaires, forming entrancing monologues and witty dialogue for every character. Mark himself had some great lines but the incredulous expressions of Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss really took the cake. The script is driven by dialogue but it doesn't turn into exposition; it actually moves the story along and doesn't serve as patches for the plot. The story is riveting. Mark Zuckerburg is a genius programmer who's on the verge of developing what we know today as Facebook. The film is split between with lawsuit scenes, held in private offices. Each timeline feeds the other, adding drama to one and reason to the other. This is a brilliant and masterfully executed form of storytelling.

The music and score added to the hypnotic nature of the film. Trent Reznor is new to scores but found himself working again with Atticus Ross who produced for Nine Inch Nails albums, for whom Trent Reznor is the lead singer. That particular genre is light in my iPod but the post-industrial and dark ambient sounds for which they are both known could not have worked any better in the film. Under many scenes of dialogue was a piece of music that echoed the figurative darkness of the scenes. This attention to sound made the experience of watching the film so complete.

I particularly enjoyed the restraint in the depiction of Mark Zuckerburg's character. The film didn't demonize him, at least I didn't find that it did. Mark, in the film, is a genius, seemingly getting into Harvard on the merits of his own intelligence rather than the nepotism of the Winklevosses. In a matter of just a year, he coded his way to the top of social networking. His ousting of Eduardo Saverin from Facebook was a really dirty thing to do but the film forces sympathy when Eduardo and Mark address each other at their hearing.

The film is also a marvel technically. I could have sworn Armie Hammer had a twin brother but did not see another actor credited with his last name in the opening credits. After the film, I found out Josh Pence acted as the body double for Tyler Vinklevoss. Armie Hammer's face was then digitally placed over Josh's. The effect is seamless and a marvel in technology. Josh Pence and Armie Hammer expertly mimicked the other's actions, completely pulling the wool over my eyes. This effect is, I'll dare say, perfect. Perhaps I'd be able to point out a mistake after the movie is released on Blu but this act of having a stand in for a twin has come a LONG way since the old days of “double screen.”

The only flaw of the film was in Justin Timberlake's casting. Perhaps the producers felt that they needed a name to sell the film but, as talented as Justin is in everything else he does (singing, song writing, dancing, clothing design, comedic acting), he did not have the dramatic chops to convey the paranoia, seduction, and seriousness of Sean Parker. Sean's character starts off harmlessly enough but I still get the sense that Justin's focus is still too much on the delivery instead of getting into the character, which again, he does with ease for his many appearances on Saturday Night Live. Take for instance one of my favorites, Robin Gibb. His tone is kept timid and his straight face is retained throughout almost the entire sketch. In the scenes with Sean Parker, Justin's tone is always the same when expressing the breadth of his emotions.

In the end, I don't feel the film is either a sob story for Eduardo Saverin nor a witch hunt for Marc Zuckerburg. I believe the film was more about the bitter end of a friendship brought on by success. This theme is a common one in films about bands or musicians but to have the subject matter be about something that half a billion people use was a surprising parallel for me. The film is interestingly framed with Mark Zuckerburg talking with a girl who feels sorry for him. I feel this film is incredibly relevant to the youth of today because it illustrates the cost of losing oneself in a business, relationship, drugs, etc. after forsaking those that helped you get there in the first place.

4.5/5

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Review: Me & Orson Welles

| by Allan Stackhouse |

For the younger generation out there that is only seeing Me & Orson Welles for Zac Efron, they will be treating themselves not only to ninety minutes of Zac's statuesque looks but also to a classic film made in modern times. Orson Welles is a legend in early filmmaking and for this film to come along to remind - or introduce - us of his existence is terrific as not only a concept but also as an ode to to someone who helped forge modern filmmaking. I found this film funny, charming, and altogether very entertaining. Though the story line was on the simpler side, the drama played out quickly and succinctly.

I am the first to admit that I do not like period pieces because of the incessant melodrama and the poor choices in cinematography with characters so irritatingly pompous that they make me want to destroy something. However, this film had excellent cinematography, enough to convey a classic time without some stupid bleached out effect. The set design more than successfully created an old American environment and time. Its entire existence pleases me because nothing about it is "modern" but it still holds up as a film. The love story is a little on the dated side but it fits for this generation because there can be more to an adult love story than sex. The story follows Richard Samuels, played by Zac Efron, in his quest to become part of Orson Welles' theater production of Julius Caesar. A concurrent love story develops when Richard becomes interested in Claire Danes' Sonja Jones.

English actor Christian McKay fabulously portrayed theater director and actor Orson Welles. Just from the few movies and articles I've come across of Orson Welles, I gathered that this portrayal was wholly accurate while Christian did add some of his own panache to the role. His delivery of lines for the distinct fashion that Orson Welles spoke was spot on. While Richard's character was the only one to have any significant arcs, Claire Danes provided a great a supporting character to Richard.

Of Richard Linklater's previous works, I've only seen Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly but I found those brilliant and I think him incredibly versatile to have produced such avant garde films to a completely traditional film with Me and Orson Welles. The performances he garnered from the cast and the consistent building up of each character provided scenes that never lost their connectivity and never ceased to be interesting. In fact, I didn't pause the film once throughout my viewing of it.

The consistent conflict of the film is launching Julius Caesar, the play. Orson continuously pushes the opening date back, at the chagrin of the theater owner. All of the characters are trying to get ahead in this film: Orson wants to produce the best play that ever existed, Richard wants respect and the affections of Sonja, and Sonja wants to climb the theater ladder. These characters, having distinct motivations, were instrumental in creating such a complete film.

I found the story to be interesting because it's a cautionary tale of what life in theater or entertainment can potentially be like. It is entirely too rare for someone in entertainment to be looking out for anyone other than themselves. Zac Efron makes this mistake when he quits the play. Orson does come crawling back to him but only for the sake of opening day. After the first show, Orson sends him packing and doesn't even do it to his face. This might villainize the persona of Orson Welles but I believe it to be an accurate portrayal of what a man of genius can be like.

Narratively, the ending is appropriate. It doesn't tie things up in a nice bow, and what kind of message would it send to viewers about theater if it did? A bad one.

Despite my overall reluctance to watch this in theaters, I'm glad that I gave this film a chance. Even if you have absolutely no idea who Orson Welles was or don't care who he is, the film stands on its own two feet and proves itself as a cautionary tale while not restorting to any ridiculous gimmicks. The acting is great and the characters are interesting; a marvelous effort by director Richard Linklater.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cosmic Toast Studios Appoints New CEO - Former William Morris Agency General Counsel takes company reins

BURBANK, Calif., September 23, 2010 – Cosmic Toast Studios (CTS), a cutting edge, full-service production company that specializes in animation, music scoring, and sound effects, has appointed David J. Kekst a partner and chief executive officer.

Mr. Kekst will oversee the Studio’s business development and production operations as it grows its library of original content for film, television, and digital distribution and expands its work-for-hire business.

“David is a seasoned executive who brings strong management skills to our company,” says Cosmic Toast founding partner and animation head Kenny Gage. “His relationships within the entertainment and investment worlds will help us tap into new opportunities for growth, and his deep legal and business experience will be invaluable to our success. He’s a tremendous strategic asset.”

David previously served as Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the Beverly Hills-based William Morris Agency, the largest and oldest talent agency, until its merger with the Endeavor Agency last summer. For more than twelve years, he helped manage the agency’s administrative and legal affairs and supervised its legendary agent training program.

“With a stable of incredibly talented and creative people and a robust collection of original intellectual properties, Cosmic Toast Studios has significant untapped potential,” says Mr. Kekst. “I’m privileged to join the team and am looking forward to leading the expansion and diversification of the business into graphic novels, comics, and the corporate marketing realm while capitalizing on original content successes. In these difficult economic times, it is also an enormous advantage that we offer comprehensive, one-stop services that maximize budget and time efficiencies. We intend to broaden our reach by playing to these strengths.”

About Cosmic Toast Studios
Cosmic Toast Studios (“CTS”), located in Burbank, California, is a full-service production studio that specializes in animation, music scoring, and sound effects to create remarkable worlds and memorable characters. Every step of the pre-production, production, and post-production process is completed within the studio, including animation (both 2D and CGI), writing, storyboarding, animatics, shooting (CTS has its own green screen facility), editing, sound design, music scoring, and song and voiceover recording.

CTS also boasts a comprehensive portfolio of original intellectual properties for television, film, and print media, including comic books, graphic novels and motion comics.

Visit Cosmic Toast Studios at www.cosmictoaststudios.com for more information.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Coco Avant Chanel

| by Allan Stackhouse |

If you're completely lost when it comes to the French language, remember that avant means before in English. The French language film is immediately framed in a time when women were not treated as equals in society. It tells a tale of Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel's past, avant she becomes the household name she is today. Unfortunately, the events in this tale are not particularly interesting. As much as I cared about Chanel's character, the dramatic elements in the film that acted as the focus of the film were not very deep or meaningful.

Gabrielle and her sister Adrienne work in a brothel as singers when the majority of the female employees there work as prostitutes. The male patrons treat them as objects and √Čtienne Balsan expresses his distaste in Gabrielle's bold attitude. Gabrielle despises this weak image of women, expressing her disgust of it to the general. I found it hypocritical of her to have so vehemently denied the old image and roles of women yet slip into them herself later in the film.

I was largely disappointed with cinematography in this film. Perhaps the standard definition should take the blame but I noticed many opportunities where better uses of lighting and focus could have done wonders. The shot at the end with the models going down the staircases with mirrors was a golden opportunity to show something interesting instead of just a medium shot with Coco in focus and the models walking past her as she observes them. The lighting was basic and overly diffused, a technique that's so stereotypical of period pieces. Perhaps not having been able to see this film in high definition was a good thing since the image would have been clearer but the focuses and shots would look just as bland as they were.

Regarding the clothing as a visual tool, this was done very seldom. Her claim to fame being a fashion designer, I was expecting more of an appropriate use of this instead of just this recurring element that sets up drama with the other character but not here career. In one scene, Coco observes the clothing among the gentry-folk.

The catalyst to the explosion of Coco's design creativity is evidently placed on Boy's death. This was troubling for me because whatever momentum that Coco had left as a woman and designer after her willingness to be his mistress was gone at the action's of someone else, not through her own willingness. Because Boy died, she will now become the designer she was destined to become. If this was actually what happened, fine. However, as a film, this does not play out well. I think it's sending the message that men, no matter how independent women are, will always be needed by women in order to get further in life. Perhaps this was true at the time but the concept does not work here.

In the middle of the second act, I began to find this film overly pretentious with the characters' constant dance around what everyone was actually trying to say. Whether the love triangle between Coco, Balsan, and Boy happened in real life or not, I found this indirect way of speaking and doing things to be very irritating and stereotypical of period pieces. If you can stomach this old form of speaking and handling relationships, perhaps you will enjoy this film. The refrain from saying what anyone really wanted to set up long and irritating conversations that promoted this turn of the century melodrama.

As a side note, when you think of fashion's most famous houses, do you think of Calvin Klein, Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, Gianni Versace? What do all of those have in common? They're male-headed houses ironically for women's fashion. The text at the end of the film reads something to sort of, “She achieved success in a man's world.” This is a great fact to know but there was not enough of this in the film. What was there were these constant looks of disgust or disapproval.

The elements that I did find interesting were her interest in fashion, her relationship with her sister. Multiple times throughout the film, Coco mentions her parents and her time at the orphanage, the story always different than the last time. Did she experience shame over this? Adrienne came in and out of the story and her storyline was not concluded. Her last appearance in the film is at Coco's house/studio

I was not “gripped” by this film in the least, even though whoever wrote the back of the DVD claimed that it would be. The drama that's also touted in the film I found to be very pretentious and uninteresting. Where there was a lot of opportunity to make this film more visually pleasing, the film chose instead to focus on the melodramatic elements of Coco's story instead of playing up her independence and drive to succeed.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New on Blu: The Book of Eli

| by Allan Stackhouse |

If you're like me, you didn't bother to see this film. It may have interested you at the time of its release but it just wasn't enough to get twelve or however many dollars out of you to see some Denzel. Even with my $12 in tact, Denzel delivers in The Book of Eli. Not only is his acting great but the technical elements were visually stunning as well. I unfortunately had to rent this on DVD because the Blu-ray copies were out at Blockbuster but even displayed with an upscaled image, the cinematography was well done.

In its first eight minutes, there is no dialogue. Nothing but Eli's actions and the disarray and shambles of his surroundings tell a story. There are no people around him except the dead. Everything is barren, indicating some sort of post-Apocalyptic event. He searches in a cautious manner, despite the silence, for something we come to find out are shoes. This dependence on setting, props, costume, and cinematography to set up the story is brilliant. I wish more films would rely more on those features to tell their stories.

Eli as a character is complex - he is a fighter, intelligent, and religious. There is a scene where he slowly drifts into the shadow from a tunnel and, as just a silhouette, quickly dispatches seven armed hijackers. The action is beautiful. Body parts fall and blood flies from Eli's whetted blade. Eli is established early on as an anti-hero. He does not allow the hijackers female member to come with him. At the point when Eli sees a couple getting murdered, he does nothing except recite, “Stay on the path” while the woman screams for her life. This reluctance to assist others despite a small amount of effort to do so asks the viewers if he's really a hero or if his quest is really that important.

The fight scene in the bar was lively on its own with heads being offed left and right but the camera's movement adds another layer of dimension to it instead of this angle after that angle and another angle to feature this move, etc. The camera completes two 360s, mixed with some rotating closer angles, before Eli dispatches the last of his attackers.

The conflict of the film is centered around the book, its value worth taking lives to protect. That importance is unfortunately manifested in a very melodramatic manner in the film's second and third acts. Gary Oldman's Carnegie hurting Solara's mother (Jennifer Beals) to get her to tell him what Eli had? Call me very bored. The action fortunately makes up for it with its revelation that Eli is bullet proof, simply walking away from the gunmen and using no more than 1 or 2 bullets to dispatch each one. The reasoning behind this being holy is acceptable but the revelation that Eli was blind the entire time was too much.

One actor's acting that I did not appreciate was Jennifer Beals'. Her vacuous stare into nothingness and ability to still walk around unaided was so distracting. It wasn't until the end of the film that I realized she was blind. There could have been any number of things to help indicate to the viewer that she was visually impaired but I found the question to nag me like a mosquito. I understand that this was to give Carnegie his final blow but we see it coming and we don't care because it was so poorly constructed in the first place. Gary Oldman's performance is way too over the top. It's abundantly theatrical in comparison to Denzel Washington and Mila Kunis' restraint.

The sepia tones helped to give the sense of a barren atmosphere. It's not explained what exactly has happened to the earth, which is fine since the story is not a dying human race story. The brownish tones indicate some sort of massive pollution or something going wrong with the sun. The visual storytelling in this film was very well done. In one scene, Solara stops in the middle of their walk, still reeling from her attack. Eli comforts her, revealing growth in his character.

I was a little confused as to what the message the film was trying to convey. Was it save the environment? Save religion? I don't know. This ends up being the film's downfall. The story is not particularly exciting. Eli is trying to get to the copy of the bible to the west so it can do what? Save themselves despite the country being laid to waste? There's no actual stakes in this film which is very unfortunate since it was complemented by rich images and terrific action sequences.

Despite my high marks for its technical achievements, I didn't completely enjoy The Book of Eli as a film. The film's entire focus is on the importance of this book which, in the end, did nothing. Talk about anticlimactic. Had the story's choice been to use this anticlimax to highlight a more tangible or visual purpose, I would have understood. The film ends with book being published and placed on a shelf. Okay, so it's just going to sit there? It's not going to be spread to the masses and change the ways of the vagrants in the few and small towns that still exist? This importance completely gets away from the film when it could have easily provided an appropriate conclusion for an otherwise okay film.

As a side note, I adore that Allen and Albert Hughes, two African American brothers, are making a name for themselves with their now second big budget film but if they expect to make films higher than their average 6.8 rating on IMDb, they are going to have to be more aware of the direction of the story.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

True Blood: Season 3 Review

| by Allan Stackhouse |

While it's a little bit of a bummer for the last taste of an otherwise great season be the incredibly disappointing season finale, this season of True Blood was fangtastic. See what I did there? Glorious deaths, a slew of new characters, and character origins abounded in this season's tale of some nefarious characters seeking to do harm to our favorite residents of Bon Temps.

A plethora of characters were introduced and many met their “true deaths.” The body count was particularly high this season, much higher than the previous seasons. Also stepped up were the extremely well done special effects, providing very satisfying scenes to characters we hated. Franklin's midair explosion into gallons of blood was absolutely fantastic. Not only did it end the character who terrorized Tara but it was a marvel in traditional special effects. The use of live animals was taken just a smidgen further than a cow or pig from season 2 - in season 3, we got not only wolves but a ton of them graced the screen as well as a panther. How about the makeup on the near-burned to his true death Russell? And the orange glows where he was sprayed with silver? Woo!

What was different from the seasons before was the lack of sex scenes. I hope I'm not coming off as perverted by pointing this out but there were multiple suggestions of the act while not many actual scenes of it. There is less focus on Sookie's telepathy but perhaps that was because she spent the majority of her time around vampires. A welcome return for me were the reunions between Sookie and Tara. It's these unbreakable bonds between the human characters that are the show's core elements, one that can be returned to despite any craziness that falls upon them.

The focus of vampire politics carried through the majority of the season. There are some serious plays for power by Russell, the vampire King of Mississippi. The focus changes after Eric kills the Russell's lover Talbot. Bill and Eric had competing ulterior motives, one always threatening to expose the other. It was a big chess game with Sookie unfortunately caught in the middle. The balance on the scales of the vampire world were tipped to a shocking level as Russell beheads the magister. In an effort to contain Russell, Eric is completely honest to the Authority but it fell upon deaf ears, resulting in the killing a newscaster on live television, a single act that will no doubt shape the future seasons.

The delve into Sookie's origins, which we've been wondering about for two seasons, finally came to a head in a rather anticlimactic manner but the subsequent gradual build up to her significance as faerie (or her faerie blood) completely made up for it. The growing control of her powers happens at exactly the right amount of narrative time. Bill and Sookie's appearance in the ethereal faerie realm delivered in that it constantly asked questions, revealing only painstaking bits of information at a time. The finale's final scene is Sookie going with Claudine into a world possibly deeper than previously seen served as a great setup for season 4. If only the finale wasn't so full of these lengthy scenes for each and every other character, this would have made a bigger impact.

A standout performance was that of Alfre Woodard as Lafayette's mother, Ruby Jean Reynolds. Alfre is such a talented actress and made her character so memorable, despite only appearing in a few scenes. She gave her character so much life for a paranoid schizophrenic while still a loving mother on the inside. A contrast to this is unfortunately Crystal, played by Lindsay Pulsipher. She offers nothing to Ryan Kwanten's expertly played southern bumpkin. Honestly, what's so hard about playing white trash? I haven't seen any of her other work so perhaps she's actually a decent actress but this was really really not her role.

Speaking of Crystal, one storyline that I did not like this season was Jason's. This was a travesty to me since he's one of my favorite characters. He's not providing the same amount of humor that he was in season one and two which was a big let down. Too much effort is being made to develop Jason into an upstanding character. Savior to the inbred werepanthers? Give me a break. What's wrong with having just a normal funny character? The whole character of Crystal seemed a little undercooked and the show could have easily done without this particular story.

Despite the missteps, the season did well in telling a story about a quest for power. Russell, in just the span of one season, established himself as a vampire worthy of fear. He had history with Eric. As always, a king's blind quest for more results in his downfall. As always, Sookie's involvement with things is underestimated, her attackers unaware of her ability to prove herself useful as a human or faerie.

As in the previous seasons, hints at the following seasons are included but there were too many setups and not enough conclusions. As was pointed out to me, half the episode was more of a jump into the next season. I feel like Alan Ball's little prologue message was there to make up for the lack in quality of the last episode. The foreshadowing that was done to previous seasons' standards was in Arlene's possibly evil baby. And what was up with the doll in Hoyt and Jessica's house? *shiver* Witches are going take over Bon Temps and I'm only a little bit excited... okay, a lot.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Machete Don't Text (but it's a good movie)

| by Allan Stackhouse |

If you saw Grindhouse, you are aware of the sheer awesomeness of Machete just as a trailer. Now made into a feature film, Machete has nearly swept the weekend box office, coming in at #2. The over the top hilarity of the trailer continues on in the film. It has the makings of a cheesy B movie but it's written well and has enough money to afford some great special effects and stunts. Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis directed one heck of a ride with this film while still drawing viewers' attention to a very important issue in this country, one apparently very close to Robert Rodriguez. I will use the term 'immigrants' instead of 'Mexicans' because I know many Hispanic illegal immigrants are not Mexican.

The classification by Robert Rodriguez of this film as a Mexploitation film takes away from the legitimacy of the film's message of being aware of immigrants' roles in this country: dishwashers, day laborers, nurses, chefs, gardeners, you name it. While the action is of course entertaining, the most interesting element of the film was this social commentary on race in America. The inclusion of Mexican immigrants in all their various occupations in this country serves as a reminder to everyone that this particular group of people, regardless of your personal feelings on the matter, is very much ingrained in the function of our country. Extremists who want to keep all immigrants out, immigrants themselves, and everyday American sympathizers all have a voice in this film.

The portrayal of white characters highlighted one particular extremist group of white people. The ridiculousness of these individuals was accurate in my mind. For those white people out there that say this isn't an accurate portrayal of white people, I will say that this is likely not about you. And if you still have a problem with it, you should watch just about any live action film out there to make yourself feel better - many films portray black people as ghetto, Hispanics as servants, and Asians as brainy types. The film's language is often very crude and portrays the people who use this language of very low intelligence.

The violence in the film is on the gratuitous side and judging from the sudden fade outs from many of the scenes, I assume we've got a lot coming to us in the unrated version. By the direction, the violence serves both as a tool to convey humor and drama. The crucifixion of Cheech Marin's Padre is a particularly violent scene that is not intended to be funny. One sequence in particular that got the audience cheering at the show I caught was Machete's hospital escape. He uses the foreshadowed length of a human intestine to secure his escape and it's so over the top that just thinking about it makes me smile.

Michelle Rodriguez stole the show. Besides looking absolutely amazing in the film, she gave a completely convincing performance of Luz, the taco truck lady who secretly helps immigrants. Her transformation at the end of the film when she returns as She was hinted at during the opening credits but was nonetheless amazing. Just by name alone, the cast was jaw-dropping but the performances they gave lived up to each of their long list of credits. Danny Trejo didn't have many lines, just as many heroes in late '80s/early '90s films, but he did play a very convincing character whom I found myself rooting for in the film.

The story itself is fairly basic but having the perspective changed did provide a fresh viewing experience. The only part of this film that I didn't like was the third act. I feel like it was too straightforward and provided no real conflict to the main character, whereas the preceding acts had a lot of impossible situations. The kidnapping of Jessica Alba's Sartana was supposed to provide a sense of urgency in the film but it did not. Had there been a scene in which Steven Segal's Torrez tormented Sartana instead of just depending on the revelation to Machete that , more of the drama would have been heightened.

As much as I love Sin City for reminding today's youth of the wonder noir, I find this film to be Robert Rodriguez' most significant film to date. Despite the violent nature, Machetecame from a place of awareness of one's own race, deliberately pointing out the role of Hispanics in this country and their depiction in film. As a person of Asian descent and a filmmaker, I truly appreciated this as a film as well as drawing attention to a subject that many of today's American minds – young or old - don't realize is an important part of what the USA is made of.

4/5

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Black Dynamite = Dynamite

| by Allan Stackhouse |

Spoofs are a funny business. When they try to hard, they turn out like Epic Movie. When they're done with restraint, they turn out like the outrageously hilarious Black Dynamite. Though the film made fun of blaxploitation films of the 1970s. While there are no silver bullets to making a successful spoof, what will help is making a film that can stand on its own with the satirical elements as just the stitching for the garment as opposed to the actual fabric. Take for example Austin Powers - it's a hilarious film whose satirical '70s elements are wound across a cohesive tale of spies and super villains. The shots are not simply showcasing spoof after spoof of this recent funny thing in the news and that horrible movie. Black Dynamite is in the vein of Austin Powers but completely takes it to that next level that most big budget comedies shoot for yet only independent films seem to get (see Sunshine Cleaning).

There are two enormously funny winks in the scene with Michael Jai White's Black Dynamite and Kym Whitley's Honeybee. Kym herself is a master of comedic acting (Friday After Next) and she is a great scene partner for Michael. A boom mic drops into the shot above Michael and it seems like it's there for too long but Michael's glance at it resets the comedic clock. The genius in that is amazing is unspeakably brilliant. Honeybee, in a stressed exclamation to Black Dynamite, places an unlit cigarette to her lips and her subsequent smokeless exhale are simply too funny. The amount of comedy in such a small scene in dialogue, props, and acting all work together to provide such a richly funny scene.

Michael's physical prowess is noteworthy as well: ceiling high kicks, amazing nunchuku skills, and punches strong enough to break through brick*. The action scene following was surprisingly well done. It was pretty inventive to have the camera focusing only on one victim on the ground with bodies flying and falling around him. Black Dynamite's appearance only when that victim tries to escape was something out of a horror movie but made to work in a comedy.

The overacting in every scene was almost too much for me to handle. When on the phone with Black Dynamite, Aunt Billy calls him to inform him of his brother's death. She then sobs for a beat and then proceeds to berate him about a promise he made to his mother. That little purposely placed bit of crying was so hysterically funny that I had to watch it a few times. Overacting is a much better route to go down instead of half-witted pretty faces. Actors who are aware and capable of making their acting sound and look forced to the point where it's composed at the same time are truly skilled.

On the technical side, the film still managed to find a few to spoof itself as well. After struggling to hang up the phone with Aunt Billy, there is an obvious jump cut with Black Dynamite in frame. Also, Black Dynamite's dark skinned brother Jimmy is portrayed in a flashback by a lighter skinned actor – not the longest bit you could grasp the humor out of but still amazingly funny. Long lines of dialogue are kept to a minimum in normal films but Black Dynamite uses these lesser-used opportunities to garner humor from something of which you'd normally get a serious explanation: “This one child, I'll never forget. Poor little bastard was still alive. His little Chinese legs were blown clean off. Still see his little shins and feet hanging from the ceiling fan across the hut. He was charred from his head down to his little Chinese knees. He tried to get up but he fell over when what was left of his right leg broke off.” That's not the entire monologue but you get the picture. Everything is over the top but still pays mind to the film and not just the jokes.

At this point I must declare myself a fan of Michael Jai White. He has consistently proven himself as an actor in more than one genre, across years of films. I suppose it's not exactly by choice but it just came about somehow, just like it did with Gerard Butler. Now, as a screenwriter and producer, I admire Michael's many talents. As a film, Black Dynamite is a gem amongst a sea of lab-made stones. I am in total admiration of its filmmakers and their ability to make such a cohesive and hilarious film.

5/5

P.S. Thanks to Mr. Ben Jones of Sekretagent Productions for the awesome recommendation.

Friday, August 27, 2010

New on Blu: Dorian Gray

| by Allan Stackhouse |

I can't seem to pick any winners this week. Dorian Gray is another remade for modern audiences film whose story doesn't stand the test of time. Maybe in 1890, the story seemed fresh and shocking but today it is antiquated and boring. I chose to rent this and Repo Men and unfortunately neither could hold my interest.

Even if you enjoy period pieces, which I do not, I do not think you will enjoy this film. And if you're just interested in watching Ben Barnes for two hours, there isn't enough story to enjoy him in. The decay of Dorian's youth and character has no visual or narrative appeal. So this guy can't age, so f*cking what? The constant dialogue, which was not at all interesting, felt like I was watching the recording of a play. Conversation after conversation takes place over pretentious this and pretentious that.

The film attempts to break up the dialogue by over-sexualizing Dorian's character, one change to modernize the film. That doesn't aid the film in making it more interesting; if anything, it provides a momentary distraction to the fact that nothing is actually happening. The ambiguity of Dorian's sexuality might appear interesting on paper but it is not on film, especially for today's audiences. So he's making out with a guy, big deal. The orgy scenes make this nothing more than a stuffy soft core porn.

The curse on Dorian is far too ambiguous to establish itself as the main conflict of the film. That Lord Henry Watton inadvertently sold Dorian's soul while having a simple conversation with him is not believable in the least. This was one key opportunity for the screenwriter to give flesh to the key event that sets up the rest of the film. I'm sure it's a stretch in the book and for no one, in over one hundred years, to be able to flesh out this particular event that is supposed to set the pace for the rest of the film is absolutely ridiculous. For something like that to just slip through the cracks after rewrite after rewrite is incredibly frustrating.

The special effects in this film were abhorrent. The fake blood looked like red water. Call me an expert on blood but obviously fake blood is pathetic. It is the one thing in a film that can communicate horror and violence to the viewer and for it to look so awful is so substandard, especially today. I can walk to any Halloween store and buy a bottle of fake blood or I could just order some online.

I suppose one of the film's redeeming qualities is Ben Barnes' physical acting. When Dorian first arrives in London, Ben's shoulders are hunched forward, conveying his shyness and hesitancy to meet these interesting strangers. His body language is less noticeable in the scenes after Dorian sells his soul, relying on nudity to fill the gap left by the lack of story. Regarding the other elements in this film, the cinematography looked very direct-to-dvdish. The costumes were decent and the interior lighting could have used a lot of work.

After seeing this, I honestly don't know if gothic horror can work for today's audiences. If Dorian is an example of one that is supposed to work, I'd bet that it's over for gothic horror. My taste in horror doesn't sway to Jason or Freddy but I certainly did not find this film enjoyable in any respect. Perhaps it's fit for sixth graders learning about gothic horror but it is definitely not fit for wide audiences.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

New on Blu (but don't bother): Repo Men

| by Allan Stackhouse |

What is so hard about making a futuristic movie? Why I ever thought this was worth renting is absolutely mind boggling. If there ever were a film to deserve to flop this year it would be Repo Men. Jude Law stars as Remy, an employee of The Union, a company who appears good in their distribution of artificial organs. These artificial organs are very expensive so everyone must buy them on credit. Everyone ends up defaulting on their payments and Remy and his associates from The Union must go in and repossess them, effectively killing those people.

I don't want to sound too repetitive so I'll keep this one short...

The film's premise is to entertain the notion of a ton of people needing organ transplants in the future. Why? Medicine is constantly improving and to not explain why all of a sudden everyone's organs are failing is foolish. And despite this surge in organ failure, society is still in tact to the point of developing new technologies. That is fundamentally flawed and I do not buy it for one second. In theory, asking viewers to accept one far out idea isn't anything new but the idea must not have something in it that defeats itself. The concept of organ repossession has no feet to stand on without a reason why.

After the inherently flawed concept, the rest of the film completely falls apart. The characters in this film are worthless. Remy, having murdered a ton of people, having a change of heart, no pun intended? Give me a f*cking break. Him finding redemption in Beth only perpetuates the ridiculousness of his character. Were Remy simply a long distance killer by sniper rifle or bombs, I could see him rethinking his career but he was the kind to cut people open and leave them dying where they lay. I honestly could not have cared less for any of them.

If you insist on still watching this film, I assure you that the twist at the end provides no redemption. The revelation at the end that Jake rigged the defibrillator was predictable and not at all interesting.

This film cost $32 million to make and where that money went, I have no clue. I suppose I must admire Miguel Sapochnik's leap from storyboard artist to feature length film but this film is terrible. It felt like such a pathetic attempt to be an assassin movie in the guise of a half baked futuristic concept. What's even more infuriating is that this film apparently copied Darren Lynn Bousman's Repo! The Genetic Opera. Darren is no darling of the silver screen (Saw II, III, IV) but no one deserves to have their ideas bastardized. For something this awful and mainstream to have ripped off a peer's work is shameful but to not even have done anything to be proud of is utterly revolting.

I can't, in good conscience, further waste your time analyzing the rest of the worthless elements of this film. Go watch something else.

Monday, August 23, 2010

New on Blu: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

| by Allan Stackhouse |

For a while, I couldn't stop hearing about hearing about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Remake this, casting that, etc. Now, with its recent release to Blu-ray, I was able to see for what all the hoopla was. The title is a bit of a mouthful (try it in Swedish) and the tattoo doesn't really have anything to do with the film. The film's original title is translated to “Men Who Hate Women” which is largely telling of the sentiment of some of the characters in this film. Despite the essentially non-descriptive title, the film provides an exciting foray into the mystery of what happened to Harriet Vanger.

There are some very interesting characters in this film. First, Lisbeth Salander. She's one tough cookie – not only in her leather clad appearance but also in her mind and spirit. She takes on a whole group of thugs in a subway station all by herself. Quite unexpectedly, her probation officer forces her to perform fellatio on him so she can be given money for a new computer after the thugs broke her old one. I questioned her portrayal as a positive character based on her willingness to be attacked again by Bjurman. The writer tricks us into believing this but then reveals after the attack that she was filming the entire event the whole time. I absolutely adore this trick because there is nothing in the script that leads us to think she is going to set him up. This sequence truly shows her spirit and her will to survive. It may be to an extreme length but her strength visually manifests in the plot and the vengeance she brings down upon her attacker.

Mikael Blomkvist is also an interesting character. He's the other lead of the film and I'm tempted to say that he has more screen time than Lisbeth, which muddies the reason for the title. After being sentenced to jail for six months for libel, Mikael willingly agrees to help Henrik Vanger in his quest to find out who killed his niece, Harriet. I questioned this motivation because the character doesn't need any money. He is only proposed a curious offer, the rewards of which he doesn't appear to be desperate for since the conversation with his ex-wife makes no mention of financial consequences.

Further regarding the casting, I admire that this film casted its characters based solely on their acting skill. I'm not at all saying that it's better to cast normal looking people who can act but it certainly is a better option than casting Justin Timberlake.

The beginning of the third act occurs right on time at exactly the 1:49 mark. One of the film's best assets is its story with its major twists and turns and the ending delivers. In this act, we discover that Martin is the killer of the women whom Harriet wrote down. This is a wonderful narrative turn though because it reminds us, as the viewers, that we are not seeking the murderer of these women who Harriet identified, we are seeking Harriet.

Even in the revelation of the killer, the expected exposition is short. Martin is a frightening character because he does not linger in the moment of our hero's death, like in the original Batman series. Instead, he beats Mikael, explains his actions in a concise manner over scenes of him committing these acts, and proceeds to hoist Martin up by his neck to strangle him. In a film of lesser quality, Martin would have recited line after line of explanations and conclusions and reasons, etc. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not so sheepish; it gets to the point and moves on. It returns to the important conflict of the history: finding Harriet, which coincidentally is mentioned VERY briefly by Martin. The script does not point repeatedly point things out and expects us to be paying attention and not need reminders with all the lights of Las Vegas.

Regarding the American remake, I do understand the reason for its creation and I will give it my stamp of approval, unlike insert horror movie remake here. I'm sure the translator did an excellent job but the speed of speech did lose me at times. I found myself getting lost in the subtitles especially since I don't know any Swedish at all. An American remake will reach a much wider audience and will hopefully shave off some of the length of the unnecessary length of the film. Who knows if the film will actually be good but I understand the appeal ($$$) of bringing the story to a wider audience.

I've been hearing that Noomi Rapace has been catching everyone in Hollywood's attention. I cannot say from one film, despite her great performance, whether she is worthy of all this attention but I did like what she did her character.

As a film, I'd give this a four out of five. The story had some narrative twists that I'd normally expect to be lost or watered down from the change of medium. The film is somewhat indulgent with its 152 minute runtime (180 on the extended cut!) but I really enjoyed the film. I did have to take a break (or four) since the film was a heavier drama but this film really delivers in storytelling, characters, and heightened suspense. If there are fans of the book, I assume this length is to preserve as much of the 600 page book's events and structure as possible. I am thrilled to have seen this and am very excited to see the other two films in the series.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Not Much to Do in the Evening: Cool Hand Luke

| by Justin Thomas |

Saying Cool Hand Luke is a great movie is hardly a newsflash, is it.

It’s already been included in the National Film Registry. It includes the key performance of one of the key movie stars in the history of Hollywood. It’s been analyzed for fact on The History Channel and has been targeted by the Mythbusters to see whether a bloodhound can be thrown off a scent through the use of curry powder. In its 43 years of existence, Cool Hand Luke has been applauded just about as much as a film can be applauded not only in its filmmaking but as an example of the national mindset of the time in which it was made.

Cool Hand Luke isn’t just a great movie. Cool Hand Luke is a cinematic treasure.

If I may, Luke’s ascendency to mythological status within the prison more closely mirrors that of Brian’s ascendency in Life of Brian than it does to Jesus Christ. Brian just happens to be on the periphery of the action and, without it being a goal, winds up gaining a following. Luke becomes the prisoners’ proxy not because he wants to show them the way, show them the light, but because he was bored, the same conscious act that got him in trouble in the first place. They see him as showing them the light, the way, they desperately need him to not break in the prison yard while digging his grave, but Luke is not a messenger. He doesn’t see himself that way. Until the Captain unleashes the rebel in Luke, Luke did nothing other than try to find a way to pass the time.

Cool Hand Luke doesn’t hide its hand at all. When we first learn about Luke, we know he became a war hero and progressed through the ranks but left the Army the same rank as when he entered. Long before he decapitated authority by decapitating the parking meters, he fought back against the military authority enough to have them take steps against him. So a character with known problems with authority is put into a prison.

Where can that possibly go? He’s in the yard when the other prisoners first take him during the boxing match with Dragline. To help the audience along, Luke does his digging in the yard with the other prisoners watching. The Captain gives the “What we got here” line and then Luke gives it, too. If you can figure out the end of Barton Fink, I applaud your ability to comprehend a frustratingly difficult concept. Cool Hand Luke is more accessible.

Saying Paul Newman was a good actor is hardly a newsflash, is it.

He hides well what Luke is really after even though he puts it right on the table. Does he at any point in the movie see it as his responsibility to help set free the other prisoners minds and souls? Until his mother tells him he was boring the Hell out of everyone maybe, maybe not, but once he determines he should stop being boring there is no doubt he’s not there to start a revolution. He just wants to make the time slightly more enjoyable as it passes. Would he have gone through the escapes if the Captain hadn’t taken the preemptive step of putting him in the box? Maybe, maybe not, but once the Captain takes that step there is nothing short of escape or death that will allow Luke to function. Newman had the smile and the eyes to, well, make Dragline’s final lines about that cool smile plausible. But he could also suggest things going on behind both the smile and the eyes without using a sledgehammer to make the point. In this role, Newman’s ability to do things without doing things helps sell it and sell the idea that Newman had something few others had.

He wasn’t just a great actor. He should be included in any conversation where people try to determine the best ever.

“Way to step out on a limb there, jerk,” is how most people respond when I offer that idea.

This week I got a chance to watch Newman in three movies and two of the three are hardly stretches into his filmography. Cool Hand Luke is a necessary film to not only see but know and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a ton of fun. Newman’s parts in those movies are career-defining parts and it happens to be the career of Paul Newman. Now and again I’ll go back and go a little deeper into his body of work, but where I started is a good place to start. Nearly two years after his death I came to one conclusion over the past week: the world is a little less interesting without Paul Newman in it. He certainly wasn’t boring.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sure, Sure: The Hudsucker Proxy

| by Justin Thomas |

On another day I might argue any movie with both Paul Newman and Bruce Campbell in the cast must be the Greatest Movie of All Time, but today is not that day.

If Joel Coen and Ethan Coen aren’t the most discussed filmmakers of their generation they certainly should be on the list. When they hit the mark, their films are dizzying in quality and sure-fire bets to be evidence as to why they’ll share lifetime achievement awards in twenty years or so. When they miss the mark, they miss it wide by miles and even though the Coen style and quality might remain, they ask too much of their audience to laugh at a joke it is not in on at all. But the point is, of all their films, there are precious few that can’t inspire discussion from joy to anger and every emotion in between.

Their films I divide into two categories – Normal Movies and Indulgent Movies – and while some might straddle the line between the body of work really shakes out that way. Normal Movies would be Blood Simple, Fargo, Intolerable Cruelty, No Country for Old Men and A Serious Man. Indulgent Movies include Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, The Hudsucker Proxy, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Man Who Wasn’t There and the contemptible The Ladykillers. Barton Fink I still haven’t figured out and for some reason can’t get through Miller’s Crossing but of the ones I can get my head around I slot them as such. When they decide to play with a genre rather than make a movie is when the Coens go places where it’s easy to cast them aside if they fail with the audience but, if the movie resonates, then it finds an audience that will defend it and them to the ends of the Earth.

In that filmography are two certifiable masterpieces, as good a cinematic debut as I’ve seen and a movie anchored by a White Russian swilling genius that could just as well be used as a gospel it’s so brilliant. But there are also dogs, truly awful movies that I scratch my head and argue about with others who find something to applaud in the Coens. The Ladykillers is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, a misfire on every level, one that could make the Star Wars Holiday Special look like freakin’ Gone with the Wind. Where a Coen film shakes out between Normal Movies and Indulgent Movies doesn’t indicate its quality but it does indicate the types of characters and performances will be featured.

It took a long time to get here, but Paul Newman as Sidney J. Mussburger in The Hudsucker Proxy illustrates well what’s necessary to ground the “eccentric” characters featured when Joel Coen and Ethan Coen decide to indulge themselves.

Newman plays Mussburger over-the-top as per the script and direction but he’s not playing Mussburger as aware of the fact that he’s an eccentric Coen character. Both Jennifer Jason Leigh and John Mahoney, as dependable an actor as there is, fall into that trap. They don’t only go for it, they go beyond it and don’t realize they somehow need to be grounded more than they are.
Newman absolutely gets it in every single frame. Yes, he gives the wide eyes and chomps on the cigar just enough to be big, but then he also knows there is such a thing as giving wide eyes the right way. When the explanation as to why the glass in the boardroom no longer shatters, another actor in that role might have gone bananas but Newman simply says what happened and helps sell the joke, which is quite funny. It’s not that Newman goes subtle because he doesn’t; it’s that Newman understands the difference between going over the top and going over the top the right way.

There are more examples of what Newman does across the other films by the Coens. In other hands all three main characters in The Big Lebowski – The Dude, Walter and Maude – would be Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Amy Archer in The Hudsucker Proxy, all weirded up for no reason other than to be weirded up. But Bridges, Goodman and Moore absolutely nailed their parts just as Newman nailed Mussburger. Frances McDormand could have taken Marge Gunderson somewhere else but didn’t and was rewarded, rightfully, for the effort. George Clooney’s Everett in O Brother goes just about as far with a weird character without going too far as humanly possible. Tom Hanks pulls a Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Ladykillers and completely botches it; if it’s not the worst performance of his career it has to be close.

Not even Paul Newman or the incomparable Bruce Campbell, but specifically Paul Newman, can save The Hudsucker Proxy. The film fails because the Coens made a self-aware screwball comedy; they made one that tries to be a screwball comedy rather than understand the things that made the screwball comedy work in the 1930s, the mindsets, the people, the era itself, didn’t translate sixty years later. A screwball comedy could have been made in 1994 in The Hudsucker Proxy but it couldn’t be a 1930s screwball comedy in 1994. It’s the same thing that torpedoed The Happening because it was made “bad” like the old B Movies and the same thing that prevents any modern movie attempting to be film noir to be anything other than an imposter.

Twice in their careers Joel Coen and Ethan Coen didn’t make movies they are capable of making and at the time I might have agreed with Moriarty at Ain’t It Cool when he suggested they take a break from making movies after The Ladykillers. The Hudsucker Proxy was the first time they bombed. Of course, they also followed The Hudsucker Proxy with Fargo and The Ladykillers with No Country for Old Men, so thankfully, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen ignored Moriarty. It’s good advice to ignore the insane ramblings of an Internet movie writer and it comes straight from the Coen Brothers.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Greek Gods Redux: Clash of the Titans

| by Allan Stackhouse |

Clash of the Titans makes two new films I've seen this year about the Greek gods. Both, rated PG-13 or less, provide moderately entertaining viewing experiences. The film came out in April of this year, well into the time when everyone was still raving about Avatar. This overexposure of Sam Worthington, who I actually like, turned me off from both films. But Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson in one film? I can barely remember these two people are in fact TWO different people so watching both in one was a bit of a challenge. Regardless of the challenges and preconceptions I may have had, the film was decent and worth catching.

I'm a fan of Sam Worthington. Ever since the Australian crocodile film Rogue in 2007 and Terminator: Salvation in 2009, I've grown to admire Sam's dramatic prowess. In Clash of the Titans, he plays Perseus, another character who needs to save the future, humankind, alienkind, you know the drill. The similarities in characters must have made the performances easier for him which is quite obviously a bit of typecasting. Typecasting can be looked at as a good thing or a bad thing; it all really depends on your feelings toward the actor. As far as Sam, I enjoy his heroic performances. For Sandra Bullock, I do not enjoy her endless bag of pathetic characters seeking redemption through the procurement of a male suitor. Thus, Sam's casting in this film provided a heroic portrayal of Perseus. Perhaps it was not as ethnically correct as Harry Hamlin with his beach tanned skin and buzzed hair but he still gave a good portrayal and performance nonetheless.

I suppose from the trailer, I was given the impression that the entirety of the film would be shot on a green screen. To my surprise, the majority of the film was shot on elaborate sets and locations such as the Maspalomas dunes, the Canary Islands, and Wales. The majority of the locations weren't particularly impressive or expansive but they served the story in helping to convey some sort of journey. The pillar upon which Andromeda was to be sacrificed was impressive. The exterior and interiors of Argos were all designed very well too yet they were lit so poorly. I was not at all taken by it. Every scene looked like the inside of a Sears.

The fight scenes, thankfully were kept in wide shots, which Louis Letterier thankfully knows how to do. I think he's trying to break out of the fill-in director image and I don't know if he's done it yet with this film (especially since The Incredible Hulk was a let down) but he's done a decent job in this film. The film is somewhat a revenge story. Normally, I like these films to be rated R and extremely violent but the film does what it can. It had some throwbacks to old American action films and I appreciated them. The stereotypical camaraderie speech made me laugh. And you can't have an American action film without one liners. Having waited to screen this film at home, I avoided the 3D conversion which, according to Louis, was made to improve the experience yet still comes off as gimmicky since it clearly sought to ride Avatar's coat tails.

The stakes in this remake were raised with newer technology. CGI may still not be the greatest but at least Louis was smart enough to keep the shots short during the action. I suppose the CGI scorpions were lightyears ahead of whatever form of technology used in the original. In the dessert sequence where the scorpions were attacking Perseus and his group, the scorpions perform a wide variety of actions and angles but the obvious blend of CGI and live action was at least skirted around with shorter cuts. This is instantly appreciated because I cannot stand being taken out of a movie at any point point, especially its action sequences. Bad CGI is a major culprit of that. (See Blade 3 for examples.)

There's a nice bit of odds and ends that give the film some sparks. Nicholas Hoult's natural speaking voice and skin color are preferable to the fake and bake and atrocious American accent in A Single Man. The film also reunites Tony and Effie from the UK series Skins. The cute mechanical owl from the original film makes a nice cameo. As far as the battle of the “Release the Kraken," I'm going to have to give it to Bill Nighy. It was a pretty blah line delivery from Zeus.

Having a slight aversion to things that look terrible, I did not care to watch the original Clash of the Titans. Even without more recent memories of the original, I prefer its newest incarnation. While not a marvel in modern filmmaking, the film is far from terrible. I think these stories deserve the rated R treatment. However, this one might be good for some kids. Maybe a little on the forgettable side but it's at least entertaining. Nothing truly spectacular happens in the film but this is not necessarily a completely bad thing. I don't know how good I would have felt paying to see this but watching it at home was a nice way to spend a couple of hours of my weekend.

Who Are Those Guys: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

| by Justin Thomas |

Parts of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid haven’t aged well, which isn’t surprising when the most-recognizable sequence features a song penned by Burt Bacharach sung by B.J. Thomas. The ham chop sideburns that defined the 1970s, visible in the movie from 1969, date it too. The middle montage, after they’ve decided to head off to Bolivia, wherever that might be, probably shouldn’t be stills because we’re missing too much of Butch and the Kid but it’s “edgy filmmaking” for 1969.

Some parts of it hold up just fine, parts that could be called timeless, which is what happens when a timeless actor such as Paul Newman performs a role like Butch Cassidy.

Who else could have pulled off Butch and had it work? Who else has a smile so instantly recognizable and defining that all the camera needs to do is catch it for a moment to have it work completely and utterly? Who else could talk smack to a bicycle and have it not only add plausibility to the ridiculousness of it but make the audience say, “Well, that’s what Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy would say?” Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid would be nothing more than a cute little safe Western from 1969 had anyone else been cast as Butch.

If Butch didn’t know he was the poster boy for the end of the outlaw era then he certainly did know it after Sheriff Bledsoe informs him of as much when Butch and the Kid try to get amnesty. We already heard from Butch that he once wanted to be a hero, and he’s as affable an outlaw as there was, but he didn’t know the curtain was about to drop and his death would be the final act. Rather than adjust his behavior and go straight, the idea is to head off to a place where the era might live on for just a little while longer. He didn’t want the future, the lousy bicycle could have it, so the only thing left to do was go where he wouldn’t have to acknowledge it.

After they’ve finally given the posse the slip, Butch says, “If he’d just pay me what he’s spending to make me stop robbing him, I’d stop robbing him,” and that line gives everything necessary to know Butch because Butch believes it. Not only does he believe it, but in his mind it makes complete sense. None of Butch’s ideas seem ridiculous to him or to the Kid, who gives lip service to them being ridiculous but always follows along and would have been on the boat to Australia if not for the army waiting to butcher them. If they ever would have put his ideas to serious scrutiny they probably still wouldn’t have seen them to be ridiculous because Butch just couldn’t think that way.

Butch might not have been much of a stretch for Paul Newman, which is a polite way of saying he might not have done much acting in the movie, but it works. The lines don’t need to be said with conviction but with a wink indicating thought’s been given. The right course of action is to try to apply rules to a knife fight in order to win the knife fight. Newman could deliver that wink and not have it be detrimental to the movie.

There isn’t a case to be made that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is the “best” anything type of movie. It’s a good movie to put in with a friend or two when things aren’t going smoothly. It’s a good movie when you want to spend an hour or two in the company of bona fide movie stars.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Tom Ford's Newest Line: A Single Man

| by Allan Stackhouse |

I had a feeling that I should have just went ahead and bought A Single Man but no, I played it safe and clogged my Blockbuster queue. Tom Ford, who hasn’t even done a short film, has just schooled every gay director that made a film about his or her own kind.

Much unlike The Wolfman and Eclipse, there is an intelligent use of color. Upon finding something that triggers a memory of Jim in George, the picture is flooded with color. The gray and washed out pallets that are representative of George's despair blooms with warm flesh tones and a brilliant scheme. When Jennifer, the little girl, approaches George at the bank, the camera slowly pans up to reveal Jennifer's bright blue dress, ribbons, and eyes. The lead-in to this particular sequence is also visually captivating: an overhead shot of George going through his bag to find his identification while his gun clearly protrudes in the bag's side pocket. The gun is clean so even with the dark brown case over a bland bank's scheme, it stands out. And for the reverse shot to Jennifer, the pigment in George's face becomes so rich and alive. Dialogue is the default indicator of emotion but color can serve the same purpose. It is so rarely intelligently used at the level of this film.

The film was not so bold as to make sad scenes black and white. Tom Ford knows this too well. This attention to color and knowledge of its importance in human expression stems no doubt from Tom's longstanding career in high fashion. Instead of tailoring, fabrics, and dyes, Tom designs with angles, focuses, and color.

Not as pleasing to my senses is Nicholas Hoult's American accent. Nicholas is an amazing actor with his own natural accent but with his California accent, the emphasis on certain syllables made his performance less than believable. Perhaps Tom saw something in Nicholas as a director that I do not but an actual American actor or at least an actor who could more accurately speak with any American accent would have provided a much better scene partner to Colin Firth. In comparison to Matthew Goode's solid lack of any of his own English accent as Jim, I found the character of Kenny (Nicholas) very protrusive. Another unpleasant accent was that of Julianne Moore. This woman just was not born to do accents. She might look nice in a silk or satin gowns but her accents are simply atrocious. She mixes up the different kinds of English and Australian accents. Do not get me started on her Boston accents from 30 Rock. If I were from any place where she is drawing the accent from, I would be either embarassed or bowled over in laughter.

Just as unpleasing to my senses are the fake tans on Colin Firth and Nicholas Hoult. Their fair English skin looks absolutely ridiculous in the orange hues made by spray tans. Perhaps bed tanning would have been a more time consuming option but it was awful to the point that it took me out of the movie for a bit. As Kenny strips to convince George to swim in the ocean with him, even in the darkness the fakeness of the appearance of their skin color was very distracting. In all the day scenes where Kenny is speaking to George, I was just as equally distracted.

Among the wonderful things in A Single Man is its conflict. George is grief stricken from the death of his boyfriend Jim. In a hauntingly beautiful scene, George removes the gun from his wardrobe, examines it, and brings it to work with him. The conflict at that point could be called soft but if we’re really paying attention, we as viewers know that George is still planning to kill himself. Just to fully make the audience aware of his intentions, the gun makes a second appearance when George begins to remove it from his bag while in his car. Sadness from the loss of a spouse is communicable in any language and the fact that this particular relationship is between two men makes no difference in the story. Jim and could have easily been female characters and the story would not have been any less good. The fact that Jim and Kenny were men does add a certain element to the film since there are so few films that will feature these types of relationships.

The cinematography in this film is so enveloping in even just the simplest of shots. As George sits in his chair after being informed of Jim’s death, the camera picks up the red in Colin Firth’s face. His skin, in such a close shot, manages to provide a soft contrast from the fabric of the chair. Returning to the gun scene, these objects are treated as things of beauty. It’s not enough that we just see these objects. They are shot in a fashion that takes note of the detail and importance of these objects, people, location, etc.

Those who don't recognize Carlos, the prostitute at the liquor store, might not think anything of him but this is a nice bit of reverse sexism. Female super models have been cast in films just for their faces for many years and I'm sure it was a purposeful wink at women and gay men to have a male super model simply there to be pleasing to the eye. He, oddly enough, said some of the most memorable lines in the film: Sometimes awful things have their own kind of beauty. and Lovers are like buses, you just have to wait a little while and another one comes along.

Besides nice lines and use of color, the film has nice visual storytelling. After going to the bank, George returns home and neatly lays his affairs out. His instruction on a piece of paper reads, “Tie in a windsor knot.” That is significant in that it pokes fun of the pretense in fashion but also visually telling of this man's despair from Jim's death and desire to end his life.

The single (ha) flaw of A Single Man is the ending; unfortunately, that's a big deal. To make it worse, it's not a small flaw. The ending manifests itself in a horrible exposition. Had the film ended just two minutes prior, it would have been amazing. I know this is a flaw because having gone to film school, this was a common thing that students, including myself, made. It was an amateur mistake, one that I was not expecting Tom to make. Everything before this travesty of an expository ending was brilliant in terms of color, cinematography, and story. This providing the last taste in my mouth is tragic. George's voice overed speech was a cop out. The drama was never heightened to any particular point and if you're going to end a dramatic movie like that, which is not uncommon, you do not cheat the audience by telling them the signifance of the scene. Instead, why not challenge them with a cliffhanger or an open ending that would leave the audience to make an ending in our own minds. The end did provide some irony in that just upon his decision to not kill himself, he has a heart attack. Perhaps narratively, this worked out. In the book, it might have worked extremely well for the last chapter or two to have page after page of George's last thoughts but that does not work in this film.

Tom Ford, in an absolutely brilliant first venture in the world of film, has succeeded with A Single Man. I am crushed that the ending was such a blatant display of amateurism. What saves the film is the brilliant use of color, cinematography, and story. I highly recommend this film to anyone who is a fan of cinematography or tragedies. If you can look past the ending, which I am growing to do, you may enjoy the film even more than I have.

Let’s All Go to the Movies: Matinee

| by Justin Thomas |

The theory is known: George Lucas and Steven Spielberg did nothing more than make exceptional B Movies early in their careers. That would be the worst type of Wikipedia entry because I can’t attribute it to anyone, but if someone wanted to theorize as to what Lucas and Spielberg did, makers of exceptional B Movies would be a good theory.

Right.

B Movies weren’t very good. Matinee and the Mant! movie-within-the-movie show how bad B Movies were and why they worked. The brilliance of Lucas and Spielberg isn’t that they made B Movies as they were but B Movies as they remembered them because if they’d made B Movies as they were, we wouldn’t know their names. It’s the fundamental flaw of Shyamalan’s The Happening because he made a movie based on the quality of the B Movies and not how they were viewed by audiences at the time. Mant! enjoys of having the luxury of making a B Movie of B Movie quality because it’s necessary to tell the story of Matinee so Mant! can have the ridiculous exposition, the terrible acting and the ludicrous idea and have it work. There’s simply no way Mant! could be a standalone “real” movie today, which is one reason why The Happening failed.

What Matinee wants to do is show a part of the movies that no longer exists where showmanship played a key role. John Goodman’s Lawrence Woolsey not only wants to be Alfred Hitchcock, straight down to the silhouette and introduction of his movies to their audiences, but he also gets Hitchcock because he thinks about the audience. A lot. To the point of putting buzzers beneath their seats. This existed but it does so no longer, and if you wonder if it might still be around, ask yourself when you last saw a trailer where the director introduces his movie.

The Cuban Missile Crisis serves a backdrop to Woolsey bringing Mant! and his version of 3D to Key West and he uses the heightened state of tension to his advantage. Should he be concerned about showing an atomic bomb blast complete with manufactured heat and smoke to an audience viewing it 90 miles from Cuba in October 1962? Nope. It’ll help sell the experience, which is what he needs because he has the next big idea in movie showmanship. It’s not a lack of concern for his fellow man but a prioritization of his needs slightly above concern for his fellow man, which Woolsey shows he can reprioritize when necessary when he gives up the gate money to save his girl from a knife-wielding, ant-costume-wearing JD.

Goodman is good as Woolsey but it’s not much more than John Goodman as a character named Lawrence Woolsey. It doesn’t seem as though there’s much acting going on, but Goodman is so likeable he doesn’t need to really act. Goodman as Woolsey works just fine. He has the ability to act, which he’s shown on occasion, but Goodman on screen just being John Goodman is sometimes worth the price of admission. Walter Sobchak is just John Goodman written with a lot of caffeine in his system and weird personal experience stories in his background. The point: he might not be of the order of Daniel Day Lewis but John Goodman has a place in the movies and one need only see Matinee once to know why.

Does Matinee work as a movie? Yes, in the same way A Christmas Story works but without the backbreaking laughs. Matinee is also 10% better than it would have otherwise been because it includes John Sayles in the cast. I first saw it in 1994 and remember loving it to the point of always mentioning it and my affinity for it during conversations about movies. Then I watched the movie again but didn’t love it as much. It didn’t work as well, or I’d changed, or something happened and it wasn’t as good as it was in my memory, which is interesting given Matinee is about B Movies. There’s a joke in there somewhere.