Wednesday, October 12, 2016

I'm back! Kind of!

It's only been about 3.5 years since my last update and, as expected, not much has changed other than EVERYTHING. I mean, Jesus---I'm married, I have a kid coming in about 4 weeks, I live in Astoria, I work in a different department of the Museum, and I'm now in my freaking 40s! NONE of that was true back in March 2013.

So, about this blog thing. Kind of forgot it was here outside of my annual ransom to GoDaddy to keep it going, but so long as it is, no reason not to throw some crap up here nobody will read except for Russian spambots. So,zdravstvuyte, spambots

I make no promises as to either the frequency or the quality. I will likely write a lot about diaper changing because shit sells and that's about all I'll be doing come November. I will likely write about being a proud father while yet lamenting the absence of a future in MLB. Is it better to just start him on the road to being a place-kicker from birth? Too many parents shoot too high. What if I shoot just below the target? Surely parents who are determined to make their baby the next Adam Vinatieri succeed, right? I may also write about movies or politics or work or my beloved wife. Or I may not stop back for another 3.5 years. The possibilities are endless. And uninteresting.

One thing I do guarantee is that I will use this animated gif of a cat typing.

 via GIPHY



Friday, March 22, 2013

Trivia: Audio Round

Movies and tattoos not quite your thing? Then give this audio round I created a try. You'll hear 13 tracks---each by a band whose name was inspired by a work of literature. For one point, name the artist you hear...and for another point, name the author of the work of literature on which that band's name is based. I'll add the answers to the comments section.


Visual Trivia Round: Tattoos in Movies

Here's a trivia round I came up with recently. Have at it. Will post the answers in the comments section.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 in Books

The 2012 Book List



I'm not exactly one of those inveterate readers who knocks off 30 or 40 books in a year (see my friend John Williams for that sort of thing---he being a NY Times book reviewer and all), but the advent of the iBooks app for the iPhone might just get me a little closer. All five of the books above were read in their entirety on my iPhone. Not an iPad. Not a Kindle, not a Nook, not even a page from a hard-bound book. Many complain that it's just too small to read whole books on a phone, but with tremendous flexibility to change font size, brightness, and screen color, it's entirely possible to come up with an appealing combination that doesn't strain your eyes or your patience. I personally prefer the white text on a black background. Indeed, the days of schlepping books to and fro are over for me. It simply wasn't practical to lug around a 700-page book in the rain, in the snow, from borough to borough to wherever I go. And the end result of this "switch" is somewhat of a reading renaissance for me. The five books pictured above represent one of my most prolific years of reading in the last ten years. I actually look forward to long, late night subway rides just so I can squeeze in a few chapters. Yes, I realize five books is hardly the breakfast of champions, but let's for the moment celebrate the joy of rediscovering the written word...be it one book, five books, or fifty books. In the end, they all count.

I'm not going to give full-blown reviews of these books---I mean, this is the first blog I've written in just over 15 months and I don't want to over-extend myself, okay?---but I will give a brief sentence or two for the official record.

Breed (2012) by Chase Novak

This was supposed to be my guilty pleasure for the year---the kind of easy-reading book that is literally advertised in a subway car (as it was on my A-train)---but instead it's just guilty...of being a really, really poor book. I was lured to it by promises of it invoking Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby, and the deal was ultimately sealed when I learned that its climax centered around my place of employment, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. But in the end, it's just a silly book about parents trying to eat their children. Literally. Interestingly, in what you'll see is a theme with the few books I read this year, the movie rights were acquired just two weeks ago. Burr Stevens (Igby Goes Down, 17 Again) is slated to write and direct and, despite the general shittiness of the book, there is some modest potential here for a decent movie. The book never felt remotely dark enough, but in the hands of a competent director this could be a creepy, atmospheric thriller. This is one of those rare moments when you can easily predict before a single frame has been shot that the film will be better than the book.

Boomerang (2011) by Michael Lewis

Lewis is perhaps our country's most popular writer of non-fiction these days, and not without good reason. From football (The Blind Side) to baseball (Moneyball) to finance (The Big Short), Lewis makes the inaccessible accessible in often exhilarating ways. And it doesn't hurt to have two wildly successful film adaptations under your belt either. In Boomerang, Lewis continues his dissection of the global financial crisis in a sometimes whimsical journey across the globe, one that reads a lot more like a travelogue than a book about serious economic problems. On the one hand, his negative generalizations of entire countries comes across as a bit glib and too accepting of the worst stereotypes, but on the other hand...it sure is a lot of fun to see him mercilessly skewer Icelanders and Greeks. Without a doubt this was the easiest read of 2012. If you're not well-versed in global economics, Boomerang is a breezy, fun intro that doesn't dig deeper than you need it to.

Unbroken (2010) by Laura Hillenbrand

If you seek evidence that truth is stranger and more compelling than fiction, look no further. The true story of Louis Zamperini, as wonderfully chronicled here by Hillenbrand, is nothing short of amazing. From a troubled youth committing robberies in California, to an Olympic athlete in Berlin, to a WWII Air Force pilot in Hawaii, to a prisoner of war in Japan---and so, so much more---the life story of Zamperini is one so extraordinary that I checked Wikipedia at least a dozen times to verify the veracity of what I was reading. His tale is that special. If you only read one book, this is the one I would advocate you picking up. Whether you seek inspiration or exhilaration, Unbroken has it in spades. And, just last week, it was announced that Angelina Jolie will be directing the film version...a project which apparently has been in development since the 1950s! It's being described as Forrest Gump meets Life of Pi which instantly makes my body go numb, but I suspect it will be virtually impossible to fuck this one up. Louis Zamperini turns 96 next month and I hope he lives long enough to see the final project. I've not heard any casting suggestions yet, but good lord, Leonardo DiCaprio would eat this roll alive. And by the same token, Mark Wahlberg would be eaten alive. I'm going to get this on the record right now: Oscar for Best Picture of 2014.

The Leftovers (2011) by Tom Perrotta

The pitch is a winner: What happens to the people of the world who are left behind when a rapture-like event instantly causes millions of their friends and family to vanish into thin air? The catch is that the "rapture" doesn't seem to have discriminated in the people it took, thus leaving the "leftovers" with existential concerns about what really happened, why they weren't taken, and what happens to them next. It's an absolutely compelling idea that goes absolutely nowhere. I kept waiting for the next big plot point to be revealed, but instead it's just a bunch of meandering story-lines that slowly intersect one another and amount to NOTHING. Often I wish plot-heavy books would focus more on the characters, but it's rare for me to want the opposite. The Leftovers has all the makings of a creepy, thought-provoking sci-fi-like mystery, but instead it opts for character studies that never seem quite authentic or genuine enough. It's not hard to imagine why these people weren't taken. Who would want them? And, continuing this year's book theme for me, this, too, is being adapted---this time for HBO as a series with Damon Lindelof on board as a writer and producer. Considering Lindelof was the creative force behind ABC's Lost, he seems an ideal choice to helm a show that teases greatness but delivers very little (admittedly, Lost has lost a tremendous amount of my initial respect upon a second viewing).

The Terror (2007) by Dan Simmons

There's a lot to like in this 992-page epic tale of Arctic survival---a sort of Jack London meets Patrick O'Brian meets The Thing---but the final 200 pages or so are so overwhelmingly disappointing that it's hard to give it my ultimate approval. Blending historical fact with supernatural fiction, Simmons has a command of his subject material that is nothing short of impressive. This isn't cheap, disposable beach (or igloo?) reading. It's a thoroughly researched piece of work that is compelling as much for its historical accuracy as its Ten Little Indians the monster-got-another-one plot progression. But for the final act, this could easily have become one of my favorite novels. Alas, that final act cannot be unread, and following an investment of 700 pages that skillfully built up my expectations, the finale is all the more a bitter pill to swallow. Shockingly, despite its obvious cinematic value, there are no known plans to adapt this for the big screen.   

Monday, September 19, 2011

"31 Movies, 31 Days": #19 Harry Brown



Movie: Harry Brown (2009)
Budget: $7.3 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 65%
Format: Netflix streaming

I bet you thought I was done with these reviews, huh? Yet another long-term blogging project felled half-way through by my own laziness and disinterest? Yes, well, that was (and is) definitely a possibility, but here we go...back at it for the final 14 reviews.

The "revenge" thriller is a genre best served cold, and the British-produced Harry Brown dishes it out with icy efficiency. The venerable Michael Caine plays the titular character and brings a necessary gravitas to a genre that all too often devolves into pointless and gory schadenfreude. While two very different movies, think Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino," not Kevin Bacon's awful "Death Sentence."

Caine plays a quiet, aging widower who lives alone in his low-rent flat in a devolving neighborhood somewhere in England. It's a bleak community where drugs and thugs have ruined whatever calm may have previously existed there. A stunning open scene, one filmed in "found footage" format, absolutely terrifies as we see a random act of cruel, mindless, drug-fueled violence. It's a powerfully dark, one-off scene that has no specific relationship to the plot other than to set the mood---and what a mood it sets. The neighborhood hoodlums are like real-life versions of A Clockwork Orange's droogs. When Caine's best (and only) friend is killed by the local hooligans, Harry Brown takes matters into his own hands...etc, etc, etc.

The main thing separating Harry Brown from other vigilante justice dramas is the performance of Caine. Often criticized as being an overexposed actor, most notably during his prolific run in the 1980's (hello, Jaws 4!), Caine, now 78-years-old, exudes the vulnerability that can come only with age. His sagging, reddened eyes easily convey a broken man with nothing more to live for than the hope of justice for his friend, and a possible return to serenity for his neighborhood. Now, all of that said, Harry Brown isn't exactly a remarkable film. The revenge thriller genre is, in general, simplistic by nature...and Harry Brown doesn't remake the rules. And while Caine's somber performance is indeed compelling, the first half of the movie drags on for too long as they attempt to establish his character and motives. There's also a cliched twist at the end which seems tacked on and out of place for an it-could-really-happen type movie.

Of additional interest, however, is the final act in which a riot breaks out due to overzealous police action. Using the police brutality as a proxy for working class frustration, the riots are eerily reminiscent of this summer's U.K. riots.

If you're a fan of vigilante movies, Harry Brown is a satisfying spin around the block by virtue of not eroticising its own violence and because of a strong performance from Caine. Me? Not so much a fan of the genre, but I recognize Harry Brown to be better than the average "you done me wrong, so now I do you some wrong" thrillers.

Kraig's Rating: 6/10

Movie #1: Skyline
Movie #2: Killers
Movie #3: The Iron Giant
Movie #4: The Adjustment Bureau
Movie #5: Rubber
Movie #6: The Fighter
Movie #7: The Winning Season
Movie #8: World's Greatest Dad
Movie #9: Hobo With a Shotgun
Movie #10: The Lincoln Lawyer
Movie #11: Stake Land
Movie #12: Horrible Bosses
Movie #13: Brooklyn's Finest
Movie #14: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Movie #15: Devil
Movie #16: The Vicious Kind
Movie #17: Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Movie #18: 13 Assassins

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"31 Movies, 31 Days": UPDATE

I may have fallen well behind in my quest to review every movie I see for "31 Movies, 31 Days"---which, now that I think about it more closely, should probably be "31 Days, 31 Movies"---but I'm happy to report that I've not fallen behind in viewing the movies. In fact, through yesterday, I've knocked off 32 movies in 29 days. It's doubtful I'll add to that total over the next two days, but who cares? Insert "Mission Accomplished" banner here. I fully intend to finish out the rest of the reviews, so do keep coming back to check for those over the next week or two. I also hope to come up with a total "body count" for all the movies I've seen. It occurred to me, especially with the last several movies on my list, that I've seen a LOT of people get killed this month. Like a LOT. And I don't mean "a lot" like an asteroid strikes the earth "a lot", I mean like a hundred guys get knifed or shot or beheaded...individually...a LOT. In four of the last five movies I watched, the number is over 250 alone. I'm immune to violence now. Immune!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"31 Movies, 31 Days": #18 13 Assassins



Movie: 13 Assassins (2010)
Budget: $6 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Format: Netflix streaming

With an almost perfect rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a remarkable accomplishment given the bloody and ultra-violent nature of the film, 13 Assassins has been widely hailed as the best action movie of the summer...one seen on fewer than thirty screens in the US. Yet, for all of the enthusiastic reviews showered upon this remake of a 1963 film, 13 Assassins was merely passable fare in my mind...a recommendable actioner, but one that overstays its welcome and fails to leave a lasting impression.

The story of 13 Assassins is hardly an original one: A disparate gang of thirteen warriors band together to kill an evil feudal lord...a virtual suicide mission that will have them facing off against hundreds of samurai in order to complete their task. It's not quite The Dirty Dozen, but it's close. It's also close to about a hundred other movies with the "outnumbered in battle" theme. As you may know from reading some of my past reviews, absence of originality is not a deal-breaker in my book. Taking a well-established genre and churning out a polished product can be a satisfying experience worthy of praise. For the most part, that's precisely what 13 Assassins does. For the most part.

13 Assassins is at its best when the chief adversaries flex their intellect instead of their brawn. The clever gamesmanship works well on both sides and adds to the ever-increasing tension that precedes the epic, final battle. It's that battle, one lasting about 40 minutes long, where I diverge a bit from the movie's more enthusiastic critics. While parts of the battle are indeed thrilling, I was reminded of the over-rated Hard Boiled---the film which essentially launched John Woo's not-so-great career as an "elite" action director. In that 1992 Hong Kong film, there's an extended action finale in a hospital that lasts FOREVER. The first time I saw it, it was an amazing burst of extended action. The second time I saw it, I kept looking at the clock. The third time I saw it, I grimaced and concluded it's just way too long and redundant and that the 20-year-old Kraig who loved it was clearly an idiot without a life. Too harsh? Like the finale of Hard Boiled, 13 Assassins just doesn't know when to quit. It's like a hack-and-slash video game where the enemies keep comin' and you keep killin'. It gets old quick. Next level, please.

Now, if I sound overly critical, I don't mean to. There's a lot to like about 13 Assassins...from its beautiful cinematography, to its solid acting, to its engaging, action set pieces. But any talk about 13 Assassins being an instant classic should be put to rest. It's a fine action film, but it's no comparison to films like Hero or House of Flying Daggers.

Kraig's Rating: 6/10

Movie #1: Skyline
Movie #2: Killers
Movie #3: The Iron Giant
Movie #4: The Adjustment Bureau
Movie #5: Rubber
Movie #6: The Fighter
Movie #7: The Winning Season
Movie #8: World's Greatest Dad
Movie #9: Hobo With a Shotgun
Movie #10: The Lincoln Lawyer
Movie #11: Stake Land
Movie #12: Horrible Bosses
Movie #13: Brooklyn's Finest
Movie #14: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Movie #15: Devil
Movie #16: The Vicious Kind
Movie #17: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"31 Movies, 31 Days": #17 Cave of Forgotten Dreams



Movie: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)

Budget: not published, but very low---maybe $1 million or less

Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Format: in theater...in 3-D

Reviewing Werner Herzog's 3-D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a tricky endeavor. Herzog has taken on an almost infallible, god-like reputation in recent years. He's eccentric, likable, prolific, a fine filmmaker, and he's keenly aware of how he's perceived in popular culture. Since 1995, Herzog has had an astonishing eight films with a 90% or higher rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics love them some Werner Herzog. I do, too, but the very successful Cave of Forgotten Dreams forces me to make a distinction between filmmaker and subject. In so doing, the Cave wins...but Herzog loses.

There's little doubt that the cave paintings discovered in France in 1994, the subject of Herzog's documentary, are of overwhelming historical and anthropological significance. Maintained in pristine condition, they date back over 30,000 years, twice as old as any previous similar discovery. That fact alone is enough to send chills up ones spine as you prepare for this rare look inside the cave. Once inside, the paintings themselves do not disappoint. They are sharply drawn murals of animals, and one image of a group of horses is especially magnificent. These are the earliest known works of art and it's a true privilege to be able to witness them in such a finely preserved condition.

The issue I have with Cave of Forgotten Dreams, however, is that there's very little else beyond the paintings. Herzog's narration is as loopy as ever and serves as more of a distraction than an amusement. Res ipsa loquitur. The thing speaks for itself, quite frankly. Additionally, while some context is given through interviews with researchers and scientists, I can't help but feel the information was woefully inadequate. And when relevant information was provided, Herzog couldn't stop himself from pondering the existential meaning behind it all. It comes off as silly time filler. As for the 3-D aspect, there is some added value in its use, but production constraints within the cave clearly limited its benefit. Some of the shots in 3-D are indeed fantastic, but at best it adds very little, and at worst it makes a dark cave all that much darker and blurrier.

I can't tell you not to see Cave of Forgotten Dreams because it's the only way you'll be able to experience such an amazing discovery. You should see it. But credit for the recommendation goes to the artists from 30,000 years ago, not the well-intentioned German artist from present day who simply pointed his camera and asks, "what does it all mean?"

Kraig's Rating: 6/10

Movie #1: Skyline
Movie #2: Killers
Movie #3: The Iron Giant
Movie #4: The Adjustment Bureau
Movie #5: Rubber
Movie #6: The Fighter
Movie #7: The Winning Season
Movie #8: World's Greatest Dad
Movie #9: Hobo With a Shotgun
Movie #10: The Lincoln Lawyer
Movie #11: Stake Land
Movie #12: Horrible Bosses
Movie #13: Brooklyn's Finest
Movie #14: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Movie #15: Devil
Movie #16: The Vicious Kind

"31 Movies, 31 Days": #16 The Vicious Kind



Movie: The Vicious Kind (2009)
Budget: not published, but probably about $1-2 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 70%
Format: Netflix streaming

The Vicious Kind is the "kind" of independent movie I love to stumble upon...the kind few people have heard of and even fewer people have seen. Within the first five minutes I knew this was a movie I would add to my indie lock-box, a treasure chest housing such personal favorites as Kicking and Screaming, Barcelona, and Simple Men. That's not to say The Vicious Kind is a perfect film, or even a great film for that matter, but it's one of those movies that instantly got inside my head and reminded me why, once upon a time, I endeavored to be a professional screenwriter. In particular, the bitter dialogue from the opening scene strongly reminded me of similar moments from Hal Hartley's Simple Men...the movie I largely credit for first getting me to put pen to paper over 15 years ago.

Two of the three movies I listed above, Kicking and Screaming and Barcelona, have a particular actor in common---Christopher Eigeman. Oh, sure, it's a "different" character in name and occupation in each movie, but Eigeman is well known for playing the overly intellectual smart-ass who turns every line into a wicked, biting, almost snobby comment...and that's who he plays in both of those classics. It's his persona which made those movies classics for me. The Vicious Kind stars the man whom I believe has now taken that "persona" mantle from Eigeman: Adam Scott. Scott is probably best known for his current work on Parks and Recreation, but hopefully you've also seen him as the star of Party Down, a hilarious show which ran for two seasons on Starz. Scott is not an actor with a lot of range at this point in his career, but the range within which he works is a sweet spot for both him and me.

In The Vicious Kind, Scott plays Caleb Sinclaire, a man who's recently had his heart broken by a cheating woman...cuz bitches always be doin' that. Piling on to his agony, his little brother's new girlfriend bares a passing resemblance to his ex, a matter further complicated by their apparent attraction to one another. The result of all these complicated feelings is a lot of "vicious", misanthropic remarks by Scott that are wickedly funny. He's the most likable asshole you'll never hope to meet. Now, if this description of the plot sounds like a quirky romantic comedy to you, let me assure you it's not. There's a darkness underlying Scott's character and the movie slowly shifts away from humor to the more serious issues which plague himself and his family. Indie regular J.K. Simmons has a nice turn (is he bad in anything?) as his estranged father, and Brittany Snow plays the brother's new girlfriend. She makes it easy to understand why Caleb goes off the deep end upon meeting her.

The biggest problem with The Vicious Kind, one which I was mostly able to overlook, is accepting Scott's more dramatic moments. It's a little like watching Bill Murray the first time he tried to tackle a serious role in The Razor's Edge. It's not that Scott (or Murray) isn't capable of being serious, but when all you've ever seen is the same kind of character, one usually engaged in sarcastic comedy, there's a bit of an adjustment when you see them turn violent, or begin to weep. Scott shows enough promise that I expect he, too, will be able to evolve as an actor as Murray did later in his career. As Scott's star continues to rise (he has no fewer than five movies in various stages of production), this role will rightfully be looked back upon as a major stepping stone.

Kraig's Rating: 8/10

Movie #1: Skyline
Movie #2: Killers
Movie #3: The Iron Giant
Movie #4: The Adjustment Bureau
Movie #5: Rubber
Movie #6: The Fighter
Movie #7: The Winning Season
Movie #8: World's Greatest Dad
Movie #9: Hobo With a Shotgun
Movie #10: The Lincoln Lawyer
Movie #11: Stake Land
Movie #12: Horrible Bosses
Movie #13: Brooklyn's Finest
Movie #14: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Movie #15: Devil

Saturday, August 20, 2011

"31 Movies, 31 Days": #15 Devil



Movie: Devil (2010)
Budget: $10 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 52%
Format: Blu-Ray DVD

Bashing the work of M. Night Shyamalan has become something of a blood sport over the last few years as moviegoers and critics attempt to outdo each other with their hateful criticisms. Some of it is deserved, I'm sure, but much of it is pure hyperbole. I've not seen his two most recent "disasters," The Happening and The Last Airbender, and those are supposedly his worst yet, but I actually enjoyed very much the critically reviled Lady in the Water and also The Village. And so we now get Devil, a movie which Shyamalan did not direct, but instead produced and got a story credit for. It has his stamp all over it, so it's fair to add it, I think, to Shyamalan's oeuvre. So does it represent a return to excellence for a once-promising director, or is it more fodder for his haters? Based on the mediocre RT score above you'd think the latter...but you'd be wrong. Trapped-in-an-elevator-dead wrong.

Playing out like an extended episode of The Outer Limits, Devil tells the tale of five strangers trapped in an elevator...one of which may or may not be the Devil. But rather than behave like a silly, gore-filled horror film, Devil is more like Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians. It's more mystery than horror, and this stylistic choice elevates a fairly basic premise. The glue to this movie is a very strong performance by Chris Messina, a supporting actor most often seen stealing scenes in independent movies, as he did in Away We Go. It's nice to see Messina get a leading role for a change, this time as a smart detective with a tragic past. If there's one way to get me to check out of a movie, it's having cops behave in stupid and unbelievable ways. That's not the case here. Everything Messina's character does seems utterly plausible, even when faced with an utterly implausible situation.

The same can not be said, unfortunately, of the trapped passengers. Those characters are a little more one-dimensional and forced, but not to a distracting degree, fortunately. There's a legitimate sense of claustrophobic paranoia in Devil and, at just 80 minutes long, it's a well-paced, brisk thriller that doesn't have enough time to get tired or stale. As with all Shyamalan films, there's a twist at the end, but it's a twist that works well within the themes of the movie and it's not as jaw-droppingly stupid as some of his others. The ending is, I can't believe I'm writing this, actually sort of moving.

Devil is not as scary as you might hope for or expect, but for me that was part of its appeal. I appreciated the mystery and storytelling, and it's simply better than a premise like this has any business being. Devil is not just surprisingly good---it's very good.

Kraig's Rating: 8/10

Movie #1: Skyline
Movie #2: Killers
Movie #3: The Iron Giant
Movie #4: The Adjustment Bureau
Movie #5: Rubber
Movie #6: The Fighter
Movie #7: The Winning Season
Movie #8: World's Greatest Dad
Movie #9: Hobo With a Shotgun
Movie #10: The Lincoln Lawyer
Movie #11: Stake Land
Movie #12: Horrible Bosses
Movie #13: Brooklyn's Finest
Movie #14: Rise of the Planet of the Apes


"31 Movies, 31 Days": #14 Rise of the Planet of the Apes



Movie: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Budget: $93 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Format: in theater

Let's get something out of the way very quickly: if James Franco is an Academy Award-nominated actor, so, too, should Andy Serkis be. Serkis, best known for his work as the CGI-created Gollum in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, a role many thought he should have been nominated for, is once again outstanding as an actor who isn't really on screen...and yet, is an actor who dominates the film with his presence. It's doubtful the Academy will recognize Serkis's motion-captured performance as Caesar, the leader of the ape uprising, but even skeptics of the acting chops required for such a character would come away from Rise of the Planet of the Apes suitably impressed. His performance is all the more worthy when viewed next to those of his living flesh counterparts---most of which might as well have been performed by robots. If there's one reason to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Serkis is it.

Luckily, there's more than just Serkis to recommend. As a reboot to a franchise I've always loved, Apes is a fairly intelligent, sensitive start to what I hope and expect will be many more additions to the canon. Interestingly, the best parts of Apes aren't the action set pieces so prominently featured in the trailer. Most of the movie is a slow buildup that forces us to identify with our eventual overlords (I hope that's not a spoiler---if so, that is a very big rock you're under, my friend). This part of the movie works VERY well...at first, because, let's face it, baby chimps are super cute, but later because Serkis is so damn believable as an ape of increasing intelligence and self awareness. I was most reminded of the underrated 1987 Matthew Broderick movie Project X, another film involving likable chimps and unlikable human taskmasters. Every scene with Serkis, and he's in about 70% of them, is utterly compelling. For that matter, so, too, are his ape brethren. It's fascinating (and maybe a bit sad, too) that ALL of the ape characters are more believable than the human characters.

Those human characters are what really keeps Apes from being a great movie. There's not one human character who is thoughtfully written or made to be more than just a cliched archetype. There's the greedy corporate exec, there's the two-faced asshole bastard who runs an ape preserve, there's the dick who abuses the apes, there's the short-tempered neighbor, and on and on it goes with the humans. I, for one, welcome our new Ape overlords. It'll be quite an improvement.

As for the action, it's not bad. It runs a little long, but it's well done and gives you that satisfying big budget summer spectacle you might be craving. For my part, though, I found the final act a little boring. Because of Serkis, I was far more interested in what happens in the next movie, when the humans and apes will interact in the way we're most familiar with from the previous movies. I hope Serkis gets to reprise his role as Caesar. Maybe then he'll get the full recognition he deserves.

Kraig's Rating: 7/10

Movie #1: Skyline
Movie #2: Killers
Movie #3: The Iron Giant
Movie #4: The Adjustment Bureau
Movie #5: Rubber
Movie #6: The Fighter
Movie #7: The Winning Season
Movie #8: World's Greatest Dad
Movie #9: Hobo With a Shotgun
Movie #10: The Lincoln Lawyer
Movie #11: Stake Land
Movie #12: Horrible Bosses
Movie #13: Brooklyn's Finest

Friday, August 19, 2011

"31 Movies, 31 Days": #13 Brooklyn's Finest



Movie: Brooklyn's Finest (2009)
Budget: $25 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 42%
Format: Netflix streaming

It's not exactly The Wire (though it shares several of its actors), but Brooklyn's Finest is a dark, gritty, ensemble police drama that successfully interweaves several stories around a drug-dealing housing project in Brooklyn. Whereas The Wire had the luxury of being slow and methodical, something which added layer upon layer to the characters and story, Brooklyn's Finest has but two hours to make it all work...and, for the most part, succeeds.

Skillfully directed by Training Day's Antoine Fuqua, Brooklyn's Finest can almost be viewed as an homage to the work of the recently deceased Sidney Lumet. There's a splash of Q&A here, a pinch of Prince of the City there, and a smattering of Serpico just for added flavor. It's a world where every character is deeply flawed---each afflicted with some tragic trait which weighs heavily on both them and the audience. Good people do bad things, and bad people do good things. Nobody is all good, and nobody is all bad. It's my favorite sort of theme, and Brooklyn's Finest has it in spades.

Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke and Don Cheadle all play police officers in different jobs and at different stages of their lives. Gere is a burned out, soon-to-retire beat cop who checked out a long time ago. Hawke plays a detective on the drug enforcement side and struggles to make ends meet with countless kids depending on him at home. No, really, I stopped counting his kids because two new kids would pop up in every scene! Cheadle completes this trio as an undercover cop who's been under too long and starts to identify a little too closely with his targets. While we've seen characters in these unoriginal situations before, the combination of all three, especially with the added intensity provided by Fuqua, and also in concert with a perfectly heavy-handed score (think Before the Devil Knows You're Dead by Lumet), makes it all seem oddly fresh.

Originality is not Brooklyn's Finest strongest quality. It's riddled with cliches and you can almost guess what's going to happen from scene one, but all of that matters very little when you have strong performances and a well-told story. Wesley Snipes and Ellen Barkin have great supporting roles, and Vincent D'Onofrio is outstanding in a bit part. If you like Lumet-style police dramas, Brooklyn's Finest is an underrated gem. With a 42% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I think the critics missed the boat on this one.

Kraig's Rating: 7/10

Movie #1: Skyline
Movie #2: Killers
Movie #3: The Iron Giant
Movie #4: The Adjustment Bureau
Movie #5: Rubber
Movie #6: The Fighter
Movie #7: The Winning Season
Movie #8: World's Greatest Dad
Movie #9: Hobo With a Shotgun
Movie #10: The Lincoln Lawyer
Movie #11: Stake Land
Movie #12: Horrible Bosses

Happy 500?

Evidently that last post was the 500th since I started BoyHatesGirl.com almost three years ago. It somehow seems appropriate that that milestone blog post was yet another entry in which I lament how much I have left to write. I've spent a great deal of time here writing about things I plan on writing. Here's hoping for 500 more postings that involve more writing than talking about writing. Happy 500th blog entry, BHG!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"31 Movies, 31 Days": UPDATE

It's taken awhile, but I've finally hit a bit of a wall in my "31 Movies, 31 Days" cinematic gorge-fest. Turns out that watching a LOT of movies is a good way to dull ones senses. Who knew? Over the last two days I've failed to add to my list of movies watched, and tonight figures to make it three days in a row. Still, thanks to an early burst which had me watching 19 films in the first 14 days, I'm still slightly ahead of pace with these movies already watched and awaiting review:

#13) Brooklyn's Finest
#14) Rise of the Planet of the Apes
#15) Devil
#16) The Vicious Kind
#17) Cave of Forgotten Dreams
#18) 13 Assassins
#19) Harry Brown

This weekend should polish off another 5 or 6.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"31 Movies, 31 Days": #12 Horrible Bosses



Movie: Horrible Bosses (2011)

Budget: $35 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
Format: in theater

I fucking hate Jason Sudeikis. The dude just isn't funny. Sorry, ladies, but he's starting to remind me a lot of Dane Cook--which is a comparison no man other than Dane Cook would ever want. Yeah, I guess Sudeikis is kind of handsome in a tall, midwestern blah kind of way, but he's so god damn annoying and I'm struggling to remember ever liking him in anything at all. 30 Rock? Maybe at first, but even that character seemed to become full of himself and less amusing with each successive appearance. While Sudeikis doesn't have to carry the entire comedy load in Horrible Bosses, his mere presence taints even further an already so-so movie.

Horrible Bosses, as you've probably seen from the amusing previews, is about three male friends (Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Sudeikis) who decide to kill each others boss in classic Throw Momma from the Train fashion. It's a premise rife with comedic potential, but the lackluster script mostly settles for overplayed, obvious jokes that a talented cast (except for Sudeikis---god, I hate him) just can't do much with. Are jokes about the hard-to-pronounce name of the Indian voice on a car's Guidestar system still funny? Were they ever? How about a scene dedicated to a golden showers joke? If so, Horrible Bosses is for you!

Jason Bateman does his usual schtick and does it well, and a small role by Jamie Foxx as murder consultant Mother Fucker Jones gets a lot of mileage, but the funniest moments are in the trailer and there are few other surprises to be had. Jennifer Aniston steals the show as one of the horrible bosses, a dentist who sexually harasses Charlie Day, but these few bright spots just can't change the fact that Horrible Bosses isn't as funny or clever as it thinks it is. It's worth noting, too, that the three friends we're supposed to like are, in some ways, almost as repellent as the bosses they are trying to kill. Forgetting for the moment that they decide to engage in murder, Bateman is a wimpy pushover, Sudeikis an arrogant pussy hound, and Day a moronic dental assistant whose sole aspiration in life was to become a husband. Day's character is also a registered sex offender, though that joke actually plays a bit. Who, again, are we supposed to like?

Horrible Bosses isn't horrible, but when you stack it up against, say, Bridesmaids, the difference is staggering. Yes, Bosses aims a bit lower than Bridesmaids...but not that much lower. It's a sometimes amusing comedy with a cast trying its damnedest, but it's utterly forgettable and a major disappointment given what could have been.

Kraig's Rating: 5/10

Movie #1: Skyline
Movie #2: Killers
Movie #3: The Iron Giant
Movie #4: The Adjustment Bureau
Movie #5: Rubber
Movie #6: The Fighter
Movie #7: The Winning Season
Movie #8: World's Greatest Dad
Movie #9: Hobo With a Shotgun
Movie #10: The Lincoln Lawyer
Movie #11: Stake Land

"31 Movies, 31 Days": #11 Stake Land



Movie: Stake Land (2011)
Budget: $625,000

Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Format: Downloaded from Playstation Network

With so many vampire and zombie movies making the rounds these days, it's getting harder and harder for filmmakers to keep the genre fresh and interesting...if they even try at all. Stake Land, a low-budget indie entry to the library, solves this problem by returning to the basics: characters, atmosphere, suspense. You can tell the same story over and over so long as you keep your focus on these essential film-making elements, and director/co-writer Jim Mickle never flinches. Stake Land is a taut, moody, scary, character-driven vampire movie which serves its genre well.

Whether intentional or not, Stake Land seems to channel the style and spirit of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Road." Two men, one an older mentor and protector to the other, take off through a post-apocalyptic American landscape in search of, they hope, a fabled safe haven. Along the way they have to dodge vampires and cultists while also encountering other people whose presence may be more burdensome than helpful. If you've read The Road, you know that's EXACTLY the same tale...except the vampires are cannibals. Like The Road, Stake Land is a bleak journey. There seems little doubt that the world's end is nigh, a reality that our characters become ever more aware of as their journey expands.

Featuring mostly no-name actors, Stake Land excels, in part, because we don't really know these faces. The actors are good, but it's definitely easier to walk in their shoes without that "oh, hey, it's Tom Cruise" obstacle viewers often face. The older, wiser, more grizzled character on the journey, known only as "Mister," is played well by Nick Damici (who also co-wrote the script). It's refreshing to see an average-looking guy, a no-name actor in his 40's (pictured above), get to carry the water for an action film. It's one reason why I love independent film. This film stands a decent chance at being remade by a Hollywood studio one day and, while it would probably be entertaining, it would be an entirely different kind of movie with Viggo Mortensen in the lead.

Stake Land doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel, but it does manage to take a nearly bald tire and give it some much-needed tread. Um, feel free to take this movie for a spin around the block. Uh, it's the Prius of vampire/zombie movies...inexpensive, efficient, quiet, effective.

Kraig's Rating: 7/10

Movie #1: Skyline
Movie #2: Killers
Movie #3: The Iron Giant
Movie #4: The Adjustment Bureau
Movie #5: Rubber
Movie #6: The Fighter
Movie #7: The Winning Season
Movie #8: World's Greatest Dad
Movie #9: Hobo With a Shotgun
Movie #10: The Lincoln Lawyer

Sunday, August 14, 2011

"31 Movies, 31 Days": #10 The Lincoln Lawyer


Movie: The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)
Budget: $40 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Format: Blu-Ray DVD

The Lincoln Lawyer, starring Matthew McConaughey in the titular role as a criminal defense attorney who offices out of his car, is very much a throwback to the lawyer/investigation thrillers that were so prevalent in the late 80s and early 90s. Whether that's a good thing or not is debatable. Some of those movies, like True Believer starring James Woods, were thoroughly entertaining, even with their over-the-top courtroom theatrics. But most of them, even ones that were well reviewed at the time--like The Jagged Edge, for one---were just popcorn-munching whodunits designed to titillate and to scare. There's nothing wrong that, of course, but I prefer my lawyer films to be a bit more substantial when it comes to the actual lawyering. The Lincoln Lawyer begins with the promise of being one such film, but a ridiculous third act sinks it into the also-ran category.

McConaughey is likable and cool, his character being the archetype for such films: rebellious, slick, willing to bend the rules, unflappable. Everybody likes a cool lawyer, right? He's aided by his cop-turned-hippy investigator, played nicely by W.H. Macy. Together, McConaughey and Macy are hired to defend a rich client against sexual assault charges. Ryan Phillipe does a good job playing the spoiled and entitled rich kid, but we've seen this character a dozen times before. The twists and turns are neither surprising nor believable, but they are at least somewhat fun to arrive at. The real problem with The Lincoln Lawyer is just how jarringly stupid it gets about halfway through the movie. Characters do things that make no sense, and the resolution is akin to something you'd expect to see in a made for TV movie.

Based on a series of books by Michael Connelly, I'd not be opposed to seeing McConaughey reprise this role---so long as the story is stronger next time. Roger Ebert liked The Lincoln Lawyer a bit better than I did (3 out of 4 stars), but this quote from his review essentially captures my thoughts: "The plotting seems like half-realized stabs in various directions made familiar by other crime stories. But for what it is, The Lincoln Lawyer is workmanlike, engagingly acted and entertaining." Yeah, what he said. Just less so.

Kraig's Rating: 6/10

Movie #1: Skyline
Movie #2: Killers
Movie #3: The Iron Giant
Movie #4: The Adjustment Bureau
Movie #5: Rubber
Movie #6: The Fighter
Movie #7: The Winning Season
Movie #8: World's Greatest Dad
Movie #9: Hobo With a Shotgun

"31 Movies, 31 Days": #9 Hobo With a Shotgun


Movie: Hobo With a Shotgun (2011)
Budget: $3 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
Format: Netflix Streaming

Arguably the greatest movie title ever, Hobo With a Shotgun delivers exactly what its name promises---a hobo, played with compelling intensity by Rutger Hauer, blowing people away with a shotgun. Between this film and Rubber, I've now reached my monthly allowance on heads being, literally, blown up. I think those two movies combined have at least a dozen heads exploding like rotten tomatoes. But awesome title and exploding heads aside, does Hobo With a Shotgun live up to its Grindhouse spin-off expectations? Yes...and no.

"Hobo" is the second feature film to materialize from the gag trailers for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse double feature. The first spin-off, Machete, was a disappointing effort helmed by the so-overrated Rodriguez. In his desire to pay tribute to classic grindhouse cinema, Rodriguez inadvertently made a mockery of the genre by being too self-aware and encouraging intentionally bad acting. "Hobo," on the other hand, takes itself just a bit more seriously and, thus, more accurately captures the low-budget, gritty, exploitative aesthetic that a movie like this requires. Hauer plays his Hobo role absolutely straight, and the movie is a lot better off for it. I've always thought Hauer was an under-appreciated actor, a reality not helped by the many, many bad movies he's found himself in. Call me crazy, but I think Hauer still has an Oscar-worthy performance in him. He'll just need a director like Tarantino to give him a chance and get his career revived with some good material.

In Hobo With a Shotgun, not that plot matters, Hauer finds himself in the middle of a god forsaken shithole of a town, one ruled with a brutal fist by "The Drake" and his two Tom Cruise-in-Risky-Business lookalike sons. The villainous performances are gleefully over the top, sometimes to good effect, sometimes to annoyance. There's also a weird supernatural element called "The Plague," a mysterious, demonic bounty hunting duo whose bizarre presence nobody seems to question. It's a bleak movie, and the shitty Canadian town where they shot is up to the challenge as looking like a place I would never, ever want to visit. Anyway, bad things provoke the Hobo to buy a shotgun and take justice into his own hands. It's weird, it's violent, it's mildly entertaining.

Your enjoyment of Hobo With a Shotgun will depend largely (entirely?) on your opinion of grindhouse-style cinema. Let's be clear---Hobo With a Shotgun is not, traditionally speaking, a good movie. It's really quite stupid and the supporting performances are exceptionally amateurish. I'm not a huge fan of the genre, so I had a somewhat tepid response to Hobo. Hauer's performance is admirable, and there are some fun, clever parts in the middle---especially when The Plague is introduced---but otherwise the film just sort of drags, mildly offends, and is unpleasant to look at. I mean, really, it's a bleak fucking town.

Kraig's Rating: 4/10

Movie #1: Skyline
Movie #2: Killers
Movie #3: The Iron Giant
Movie #4: The Adjustment Bureau
Movie #5: Rubber
Movie #6: The Fighter
Movie #7: The Winning Season
Movie #8: World's Greatest Dad

Friday, August 12, 2011

"31 Movies, 31 Days": UPDATE

I probably won't be able to post any more reviews this weekend, but beginning next week you can look forward to more shallow reviews of the following movies:

#9) Hobo With a Shotgun
#10) The Lincoln Lawyer
#11) Stake Land
#12) Horrible Bosses
#13) Brooklyn's Finest
#14) Rise of the Planet of the Apes
#15) Devil

What I'd really like to see is Hobo With a Shotgun vs. Planet of the Apes. THAT is a movie I'd watch.

"31 Movies, 31 Days": #8 World's Greatest Dad



Movie: World's Greatest Dad (2009)
Budget: not published, but probably about $6-9 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Format: Netflix Streaming

World's Greatest Dad easily wins the award for World's Worst Ad Campaign. If you looked at the poster above, what would be your first impression? Mine, based on Robin Williams's awful track record of starring in miserable family-oriented films, would be that this was...a miserable family-oriented film. The font, the bathrobe, the generic title---all of these things suggest a movie we don't ever, EVER want to see. The only reason I even gave this movie a chance was because it somehow scored an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Reviews lavished high praise on World's Greatest Dad calling it dark, funny and deep. Really? A Robin Williams movie called World's Greatest Dad is dark? Why yes...yes it is. Very dark.

Dark comedies, especially unexpected ones, can often be a bit hard for me to process. I enjoy a good dark comedy, but sometimes it takes a second viewing before I begin to appreciate them and fully adjust to their comedic tone. It took me a good 25 minutes before I "got it," whatever "it" is. I'm still not sure, really. For this reason I expect I would enjoy World's Greatest Dad somewhat more on a repeat viewing than I did on this first go round. But then again, I truly detest Robin Williams...so perhaps not. If anyone else had played the titular character, World's Greatest Dad could have been something special. Instead, we're left with an uneven film that only hints at its own potential.

Williams plays a high school teacher with a fairly moronic and unkind teenage boy with raging hormones. Williams is also a failed writer and going through somewhat of a mid-life crisis when an accident leads to the death of his son. To the film's credit, the death of his son is not played for laughs. It's a serious moment which spins the movie into unexpected, dark territory. I won't give too much of the plot away, but Williams uses the death of his son to shamelessly advance his own writing career, as well as to seduce his on-again off-again girlfriend into bed. Did I mention it's a comedy? Written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait (yes, THAT Bobcat Goldthwait), World's Greatest Dad is a bold and ambitious comedy...just one anchored by someone not funny, nuanced or complex enough to make it all work. Sam Rockwell might've won an Oscar in this role.

I can't exactly recommend World's Greatest Dad, but it definitely deserves a nod for being different and for daring to mine humor from places most movies won't touch. It also features Bruce Hornsby starring as Bruce Hornsby...and that's kind of awesome.

Kraig's Rating: 5/10

Movie #1: Skyline
Movie #2: Killers
Movie #3: The Iron Giant
Movie #4: The Adjustment Bureau
Movie #5: Rubber
Movie #6: The Fighter
Movie #7: The Winning Season

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"31 Movies, 31 Days": #7 The Winning Season



Movie: The Winning Season (2009)
Budget: not published, but probably about $5-8 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 55%
Format: Netflix Streaming

Any movie starring Sam Rockwell is a movie I'm totally down with seeing, even if it is one about women's basketball. High school women's basketball, no less. And, true to form, Rockwell's performance is indeed the best reason to check out the otherwise pedestrian The Winning Season. Channeling a bit of Walter Matthau's Coach Buttermaker (The Bad News Bears), Rockwell plays an alcoholic loser who gets a chance to coach high school basketball. He's knows a good deal about the sport and has a lot to teach...but maybe, just maybe the girls can teach him a thing or two, too. Sorry---was writing cliched promo copy in my sleep there. But you get the idea. You know exactly what this movie is about.

While The Winning Season mostly follows a tried and true traditional sports formula, it does strive to be a bit more "indie" by making Rockwell's character sadder, darker, and more pathetic than you might expect. Although I admire this attempt to break the mold, the result is an uneven mash-up combining a cliche-ridden, feel-good sports movie aimed at kids with...Leaving Las Vegas. I know---weird, right? The movie suffers from this well-intentioned identity crisis, but each identity is at least somewhat interesting in its own right. I mean, I'll be damned if I didn't want those girls to win the big game!

If you like Sam Rockwell, The Winning Season is worth a look...so long as you go in with modest expectations. If you like high school women's basketball, The Winning Season is also worth a look. Also, you're a loser.

Kraig's Rating: 6/10

Movie #1: Skyline
Movie #2: Killers
Movie #3: The Iron Giant
Movie #4: The Adjustment Bureau
Movie #5: Rubber
Movie #6: The Fighter

"31 Movies, 31 Days": #6 The Fighter



Movie: The Fighter (2010)
Budget: $25 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Format: Netflix Streaming

Now that I've finally gotten around to seeing The Fighter, I need just one more movie to complete my "have seen" set of the ten 2010 Best Picture nominees. I'll get to you soon, True Grit...just you wait. Given the fact that I'm a huge fan of director David O. Russell, as well as a huge fan of the sweet science (aka pugilism, aka boxing), it's somewhat surprising I waited this long to see The Fighter. As you may remember, though, I'm not a fan of Christian Bale, and I also find Mark Wahlberg to be a dull, one-note actor. Really, Wahlberg is just a prettier, softer-spoken version of Michael Rappaport. Wahlberg plays his one note well enough in The Fighter, but it's Christian Bale's Oscar-winning performance that finally earns him my respect.

Bale famously lost a LOT of weight for his role in the dark and disturbing The Machinist, and his body undergoes a similar transformation here. Playing a meth addict with a personality as big as his drug problem, Bale is simultaneously charming, hilarious, pathetic and depressingly real. One of the more impressive aspects of The Fighter is just how true to life it is. While there is some dramatization in the "based on a true story" script, the characters and events---crazy though they may be---are stunningly accurate. Bale isn't over the top---it's his real life counterpart that was over the top. The same is true of Melissa Leo's Oscar-winning performance as the mother of the two half-brother fighters. Leo hams it up real good, but folks, that's really how Alice Ward was in real life.

Another true-to-life aspect of The Fighter are the fights themselves. I remembered these matches from having seen them on television, and they were exactly as I remembered them. The resemblance was so uncanny, in fact, that I went back and checked them out on You Tube. Punch for punch, the fights are identical. They even used the actual commentary from ringside in the movie. Unlike in other boxing movies, there's no need here to create false drama in the ring. The truth was far more interesting than any fiction they could have created. This authenticity gives The Fighter a little "extra punch." Yep, I went there.

While the final act does become a bit too much like a traditional sports movie (hello, training montage), The Fighter is an exceptional sports movie with superb performances and a real-life story that is both moving and, surprisingly, funny. The Fighter is a "knockout." Yep, I went there, too.

Kraig's Rating: 8/10

Movie #1: Skyline
Movie #2: Killers
Movie #3: The Iron Giant
Movie #4: The Adjustment Bureau
Movie #5: Rubber

Blogging the Stock Market: Part 4

Like waaaaaay up.

Yep.

Blogging the Stock Market: Part 3

It's...up.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blogging the Stock Market: Part 2

Like waaaaay down.

Blogging the Stock Market

It's down.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"31 Movies, 31 Days": #5 Rubber



Movie: Rubber (2010)
Budget: $0.5 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 68%
Format: Netflix Streaming

Because of its absurdly funny gimmick, Rubber, a movie about a tire that rolls around killing people with its MIND, created a modest amount of buzz a few months back when the trailer debuted. What you can't quite tell from the trailer is just how absurdist Rubber really is. In addition to Robert---sorry, that's the name of the killer tire---Rubber also explores the movie viewing experience by having an audience in the movie. There's an opening monologue to the "audience" which basically warns the audience that it won't make one bit of sense. One review describes it as "Roger Corman by way of Samuel Beckett," and I'd say that's about right. The result of this bizarre mash-up is a unique horror-comedy that's as surprising as it is entertaining.

Although it had almost no budget, Rubber looks simply fantastic. French director Quentin Dupieux was his own cinematographer on Rubber and the movie is an absolute pleasure to look at. He also wrote the screenplay, did his own editing, and created the techno-based score. Dupieux seemingly did everything on the movie except act in it, and given how strong the performances are, he seems to have made the right choice not to. It's a cast of no-names, has-beens and never-will-be's, but they're all up to the task here. The worst actress is Roxane Mesquida, an attractive Frenchie who Robert (again, that's the tire) seems mildly obsessed with. But even Mesquida's poor acting seems to fit the overall aesthetic of Rubber.

Rubber is not for everyone, but it's a clever commentary on traditional cinematic expectations. It's also damn funny and a lot smarter than you'd ever expect.

Kraig's Rating: 7/10

Movie #1: Skyline
Movie #2: Killers
Movie #3: The Iron Giant
Movie #4: The Adjustment Bureau

"31 Movies, 31 Days": UPDATE

I'm falling behind on the posting of my movie reviews, but not on the actual watching of the movies. Through 8 days I've seen 11 movies, well ahead of schedule. Upcoming reviews to look for include...

#5) Rubber
#6) The Fighter
#7) The Winning Season
#8) World's Greatest Dad
#9) Hobo With a Shotgun
#10) The Lincoln Lawyer
#11) Stake Land

And tonight I will attempt to sneak into a double-feature of Horrible Bosses followed by Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

If only I took the rest of my life as seriously as I take this...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

"31 Movies, 31 Days": #4 The Adjustment Bureau



Movie: The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
Budget: $50 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 72%
Format: Blu-Ray DVD

The preview for The Adjustment Bureau did little to entice me when it first debuted, and positive reviews also failed to pique my interest. Quite frankly, it looked like a sappy romance about fated love, one jazzed up by a bunch of men in hats chasing Matt Damon around and saying his love was forbidden. In other words, it looked like a chick flick disguised as sci-fi. This pre-judgment proved to be, in fact, true. What I failed to account for, however, likely because of deep denial, is that I really enjoy a good chick flick...and this is, most definitely, a good chick flick.

Filmed entirely on location in New York City, half the fun of the movie is recognizing the many, many places they shot. From the New Leaf Cafe up near the Cloisters, to MoMA, to Yankee Stadium, to the Hell's Kitchen dive bar Rudy's, this film has more site-specific locations than I've ever seen in a movie. One clever gimmick which takes advantage of these many locations is the use of special doors which, when opened, transport the door-opener to an entirely different part of the city...sort of like the MTA on steroids.

For a movie like this to succeed, there has to be genuine chemistry between its romantic leads...and Matt Damon and Emily Blunt have it in spades. I'm not a "love at first sight" kind of guy, but the scene in which our two leads meet is witty, engaging and bubbling over with romantic tension. From that point on we very much care what happens to our would-be lovers, something which makes the obstacles they soon face all the more compelling. Damon is sensational as a young politician, and Blunt is believable as a free-spirited modern dancer who acts as somewhat of a muse for Damon's ambitions. Blunt, who had no dance experience prior to winning the role, does all her own dancing and does it very, very well.

From a sci-fi perspective, The Adjustment Bureau, based (yet again) on a story by Philip K. Dick, is somewhat meh. I believe in the separation of church and state, but I also believe in the separation of church and science...fiction. There is a religious and spiritual angle to the movie which I will not fully explain here, but suffice it to say that it's very, very silly. The mechanics of what the Adjustment Bureau team members do is very interesting, but the reasons behind them? Oy. It's best not to dwell on the overarching idea behind the movie and instead focus on the romance and the action...both of which are fun. John Slattery, looking and sounding a lot like Roger Sterling from Mad Men, and the always imposing Terrance Stamp, chew the scenery in their supporting roles.

Briskly paced and featuring great performances, The Adjustment Bureau is a romantic sci-fi film worth checking out.

Kraig's Rating: 7/10

Movie #1: Skyline
Movie #2: Killers
Movie #3: The Iron Giant

"31 Movies, 31 Days": #3 The Iron Giant



Movie: The Iron Giant (1999)

Budget: $48 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Format: Netflix streaming

From an 11% movie to a 97% one, the early selections for "31 Movies, 31 Days" are certainly living at the extremes. The Iron Giant is a pre-Pixar animated film which, despite the amazing reviews, I just never got around to seeing. I rarely go see animated movies in the theater, and my enthusiasm for watching them at home is something akin to the enthusiasm I have for a well-reviewed foreign film...which is to say I know I'll like it, but hitting "play" is the hardest part. Twelve years after its release, I finally got around to seeing The Iron Giant...and I was not disappointed.

The first thing you'll notice about The Iron Giant is the old-school animation. We've all become spoiled by the clean, clear, crisp digital animation that Pixar and Disney do so well---so much so that the initial impression of the animation for Iron Giant is kind of negative. It's just not as vivid or smooth as we're expecting. The lines are uneven and wobbly. Eventually, our eyes adjust to the classic, hand-drawn approach, helped along by the decision to use CGI on the robot only---a nice juxtaposition. Within ten minutes you stop complaining about it not being Pixar-quality and start appreciating the genuine artistry of the animation.

The story, based on a 1968 children's book by British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, tells the tale of a huge robot and its friendship with a young boy. The book grew out of a story told by Hughes to comfort his and Slyvia Plath’s two children following her suicide. The tale is cleverly re-purposed here to take advantage of 1957 Cold War paranoia. Now, if the story feels like a Pixar film, that's because it was directed by Brad Bird--who also gets a story credit. Bird, of course, is the genius writer/director behind The Incredibles and Ratatouille, and is also an adviser on pretty much every other Pixar film. While the screenplay doesn't have as many sly, winking-to-the-adult jokes as you would expect in a Pixar film, its emotional core is just as strong...or stronger. I defy you not to shed a tear or two.

Overall, The Iron Giant didn't appeal to me quite as much as, say, Toy Story 3 or Ratatouille, but the narrative is strong and it's really just a perfect family film. It's also the perfect vehicle for Vin Diesel's over-sized acting talents. Diesel plays the Giant (duh) and only has to grunt a few words here and there. He really nails the robot-acting aesthetic! Oddly, the three main voice actors in The Iron Giant are known more for their on-camera attractiveness than their sound booth acting talents...but Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., and Diesel all do great work here without ever having to take their clothes off.

Finally, the movie seems to have solved one minor mystery for me. If you're familiar with the work of writer/producer/director J.J. Abrams (Lost, Super 8), you've probably seen his "Bad Robot" production company animation at the end of every episode or movie. While I wasn't able to verify online the origins of the "Bad Robot" name, it seems clear to me now that it derives from this movie. In one scene, the little boy chides The Iron Giant and calls him a "bad robot." That alone might be enough to make the connection, but J.J.'s next project is producing Mission Impossible 4 (he directed MI3). And who is directing the newest Mission Impossible installment? Brad Bird. Dun dun dun!

Kraig's Rating: 8/10

Movie #1: Skyline
Movie #2: Killers

Saturday, August 6, 2011

"31 Movies, 31 Days": #2 Killers



Movie: Killers (2010)

Budget: $75 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 11%
Format: Netflix streaming

It wasn't easy to find a film with a lower RT percentage than Skyline, but somehow I did it! And yet, not unlike Skyline, Killers simply isn't as horrible as it's obscenely low rating would suggest. I will not mount as vigorous a defense of Killers as I did Skyline, but 11% falsely implies it's a movie that fails on all levels and is downright painful to watch. That's just not the case. Killers has a few clever lines and a few scenes which work well...just not enough to earn it a recommendation...but still more than enough to say it's not a disaster.

Ashton Kutcher, playing a retired CIA assassin, and Katherine Heigl, as his unsuspecting, tightly wound wife, share only a modicum of chemistry...somewhat of a problem in a romantic comedy I'd say, no? Their interplay is far more entertaining in the second half than the first, but by that point it's pretty much too late. The set-up for the two of them meeting and falling in love is rushed, unbelievable, and very Hollywood. All of that is forgivable, of course, if the jokes work, but most of them fall flat or elicit, at best, a weak smile. The best thing I can say about some of the weaker jokes is that they aren't overplayed. Kutcher in particular seems to know that understatement is the surest way to wring the most out of weak writing (or to draw less attention to it, at least) and provides a surprisingly restrained performance here. Of course, early on, this restraint serves as more of a liability as he comes off largely wooden and stiff---not unlike his chiseled abs which are on display early and often.

The best laughs are provided by the always reliable Rob Riggle. A little bit of Riggle goes a long way, but here we get just the right dose of his aggressive, obnoxious, in-your-face comedy assault. It's a nice counterpoint to Kutcher's understated performance and gives you some hope about half way through that the movie is finally getting its footing. But alas, no...it's just a good sequence in an otherwise weak movie.

Killers is an action-oriented romantic comedy which is neither funny enough, romantic enough, or thrilling enough. But it's still better than The Bounty Hunter (7% 0n RT), and that's damning praise.

Kraig's Rating: 4/10

"31 Movies, 31 Days": #1 Skyline



Movie: Skyline (2010)
Budget: $10 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 16%
Format: Netflix streaming


With just a 16% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, not to mention a cast featuring second-rate television actors, Skyline seems like an obvious and easy "thumbs down". Except...not. Yes, Skyline shamelessly combines elements from Independence Day, Transformers, District 9 and countless other sci-fi invasion films, and yes, the acting leaves something to be desired, but a film like Skyline has a very simple criteria when judging it: Was that some cool shit or what? Answer: Yes. Yes, that was some cool shit.

It's clear that the $10 million budget was spent largely on the special effects, and it's money VERY well spent. The aliens and spaceships come in various sizes and are all very effectively rendered. The smaller creatures look directly ripped off from the squid-like robots in The Matrix, but they're creepy and look good roaming around the Los Angeles skyline. Most impressive, I think, is the sense of scale when looking down, at a distance, at the large, lumbering giant aliens. While special effects are not sufficient reason to recommend a movie, they do go a long ways in a movie like this.

Beyond that, however, Skyline does succeed in creating that all-important wonderment of "what's happening? why is it happening? is it happening elsewhere?" Information is very limited and for most of the movie we know only what our characters know. While those characters may not be the sharpest tools in the shed, they don't really behave in unbelievable ways. Their response to the crisis seems believable and plausible which, in turn, gives those aforementioned special effects just a bit more oomph. The ending, which I won't give away here, is surprisingly dark and twisted---not what you're expecting, even after I've told you it's not what you're expecting.

I'm not going to sit here and tell you that Skyline is a "good" movie, but it is, essentially, a great straight-to-DVD sci-fi movie which got itself theatrical distribution. With such a low budget, one entirely self-financed, I give a film like this just a bit more leeway than, say, Transformers. And beyond all that, the film is just kind of fun. It deserves a higher rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and if you enjoy well-made B-movies, this fits the bill. Grossing worldwide over seven times what it cost to make, a sequel is on the way...and I intend to watch it. Whenever it comes to Netflix streaming, that is.

Kraig's Rating: 5/10