Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Return of the Trailer Trash

I know what you're saying, 2 posts in 1 day, what the hell? I couldn't help but bring a feature back from the ol' TRB. Mostly this is due to my love of the first trailer I'm going link up here. In all honesty you don't see many good trailers out there these days unless you go hunting for them. But as summer comes to a close we come upon prestige picture time, that special time between Labor Day and Xmas. And so a lot of these award grubbing guys have been putting out their trailers over the past month. I've collected a few of them here for our convenience...

No Country For Old Men -- All right. There's a pop up on this site that you just have to put in some information to get to a tasty red band trailer. Do it. You might have to turn off your pop-up blocker for the site to get to it. Honestly there's not much discernible difference between the red band and the green band one but hey, I have to appreciate the people who still put out the red ones. Anyway, fuck yeah. This is the movie I'm most jazzed for this year. CHUD said it best, as they often tend to do, "I don't know what evil spirit possessed Javier Bardem for the duration of this shoot, but here's hoping it can't pass the Texas state line." I probably enjoy the Coen Bros. more than I should, but I can't help it. While they do have a very unique style, they continue to surprise and they're anything but predictable (like Mr. Anderson is turning out to be, but we'll get to that in a minute).

The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford -- This one's a long time coming. I think the shotting for this was completed over a year ago. Some rumors started that there was some problems between the director's cut and what the studio wanted. I guess they weren't looking for a Terrence Malick picture when they got this talent together to make a western. Sadly, I haven't seen director Andrew Dominik's Chopper yet. It was one of those rare occasions when a Netflix DVD was a bit too chewed up to work in my player. But word on the street after a screening or two is that this is the movie that proves Casey Affleck can actually deliver and that casting Brad Pitt as Jesse James is a bit of type casting that actually pays off in dividends. We'll see -- the trailer looks gorgeous.

Michael Clayton -- Goddamn these HD trailers on the apple site look fan fucking tastic. I have nothing much to say about this except For better or worse I think Clooney's the closest our generation's going to get to a Steve McQueen. And all things considered he's probably a better actor -- though McQueen I don't think got quite the opportunities he would have liked, and that probably had a hand in his early demise. Anyway, I can't pretend to know what the fuck this movie's really about from this trailer; I think they're going to have to work on that if they want anyone to see it. Lord knows just having Clooney in your picture isn't going to sell tickets. I also have a lot of respect for Tom Wilkinson, terrific actor who makes everything he's in a little better. The same goes for Mrs. Bela Tarr, Tilda Swinton. As muddled as it is trying to give you some sense of plot/purpose, it still manages to be an effective trailer.

Darjeeling Unlimited -- Wes Anderson's new one. I don't know... The trailer does worse than nothing for me. I'd love to see Wes do something at least a little different than this. He seems to love picking at quirky families with issues. I wish he actually was working on some international thriller with bayonet tipped revolvers. Instead we have another set of brothers having funny arguments, working things out while semi-obscure 70's tunes play out in the background. Of course all this will be immaculately staged, shot and designed down to the fabric of the car seats, so yeah, I'll be watching it.

Into the Wild -- Sean Penn's adaptation of the book everyone's seen someone else reading at some point over the past 5+ years. Just kidding. I meant to read this one and maybe I'll borrow it from someone before this makes it to a theater near me. This is another one that's been screened already and word is very good. Zach Galifianakis plays a character named Kevin, and anti-social guy who teaches our protagonist some survival skills, which I think may cause my girlfriend's head to explode for reasons I probably shouldn't get into. The trailer falls into the worst kind of trailer cliches towards the end though, but I don't hold that against the movie.

Be Kind, Rewind -- Not so much of an award contender like these other ones but I figured I'd put it in here anyway because I get a kick out of it. I still think Padraic was off on his judgment of Gondry's Science of Sleep, and his next one here will probably be equally divisive. I think you have a great story -- and Gondry can't help but make a movie look good. I'm just hoping that the movie don't turn to syrupy sweet at the end. I'm all for a good time movie with a happy ending but we all have our limits.

Cassandra's Dream -- And so, as we've been doing here recently I'll finish it up with a youtuber. Woody Allen's next picture. Another dip into the cost of murder pool. While I didn't dig Match Point as much as some, for some reason I always root for Ewan McGregor to make another decent movie. It looks like he might actually achieve it here. Even more interesting, did Woody get Colin Farrel to play against type? Nicely done... as is always the case for me with Woody -- can't wait to see this one.

A Tale of Two Shows

Padraic's tale: Modest Mouse, Clipse, Band of Horses -- Philly 8/19/07

It seems like a long time since Pete left for San Diego to pursue his dream of becoming a golf professional. He had worked the bar with me in Philly and met one of the waitresses. They were going to drive out west to try to start a new life together. Before he left, Pete gave me a lot of his old things, stuff he wouldn’t be able to pack or just didn’t want anymore: an old set of golf clubs, some Mad magazines, and a rusty wine key. He also gave me a homemade ‘box’ set of a band he tried (and failed) to get me to listen to for over two years. I had heard their tortured guitars and shouted lyrics over the bar sound system every Tuesday and Thursday night, but hadn’t come around to the band Pete claimed as having saved his life. “They get their name from Joyce, man,” he often said to get me to appreciate how serious they were. It seems funny now, but when he handed me the set of burnt CD’s inside of taped together loose-leaf paper, I wondered if I would ever open it. By that time I knew who Modest Mouse were and a few records weren’t going to change anything. I was wrong, and after a long time of occasional listening, the Mouse has become one of the most played bands on the old Media Monkey.

This was maybe four or five years ago, and Pete is probably 27 by now. At the time, he was by no means the only fan of the Mouse, but the group was still relatively obscure, playing on indie labels and certainly far away from breakthrough status. They were up to four or five studio albums, and chances for a mainstream breakthrough were unlikely. So what, really, could be the chance they would eventually headline an outdoor festival for $40 per ticket? Or have throngs of kids a decade younger than Pete shouting out anthem after anthem in the rain? I would have thought pretty low, but that was before I saw the new Mouse last Sunday at the Festival Pier in Philadelphia.

While there are plenty of the band’s fans who are Pete’s age or older, none of them (except, of course, me and my friend, Ben) seemed to be in attendance by the time Isaac and company reached the stage. The beer lines were almost empty the entire time, smoking cigarettes seemed to be frowned upon, and the crowd’s familiarity with the band’s older, jammier, work seemed non-existent; these were kids! Not to be the old fogey, but since when did kids stop drinking, or allow other kids to hold umbrellas in the audience? There were a few friendly pot smokers, but they seemed to be from out in the country somewhere.

While I would have liked to see a slightly more raucous atmosphere, the band did deliver a competent (if tame) set, getting the big hits (“Dashboard” and “Float On”) out of the way early, thankfully shutting up the constant chants. If there was any problem, it was the set skewed heavily towards the most recent (Moon and Antarctica on) rockers at the expense of the more sonically adventurous jams the band produced in the early days. While Brock and new guitarist Johnny Marr certainly have the chops to produce Coldplay- and U2-level rockers, the constant full-on tone left the band nowhere to go after hitting emotional peak after emotional peak (although the techno-y song from “We Were Dead” did break up the second half monotony of the show). I wouldn’t go as far to say that the Mouse has (Sean cringes) sold out, but the amount of commercial success has clearly changed the band’s musical style and motivations—how could they not play “Spitting Venom” or anything from “The Fruit that Ate Itself”)—I doubt Pete, or may of his generation of Mouse fans have seen them on this tour. If they did, I hope they were in the bathroom when the slow ballads came on and Isaac chanted, “That’s what I’m waiting for/That’s WHAT I’m waiting for/ That’s what I’m waiting for/always.” For their sake, I hope they were.

It’s possible some of my grumpiness from the Mouse show came from missing the majority of the set by opener Band of Horses, whose 2006 album, “Everything All the Time” is the best non-Hold Steady/White Stripes/Drive By Truckers rock album in years. Ben and I had assumed that showing up an hour after the first band was scheduled to take the stage would be enough time for both Love is Laughter and Clipse to finish, but the organizers decided to switch up the announced schedule and so we arrived just as the first notes of the “The Funeral” rang out over the Delaware River. Literally running to the gate, we caught the very end of the song, one tune from the new album, and a solidly shaking Ron Wood cover before the band left the stage. Bummer.

But, the good news was that this allowed us to see the entire performance by Clipse, which was fantastic. “Hell Hath No Fury” and “It Takes A Nation of Millions” are currently the only rap albums I have on the ipod, and the dudes from Clipse delivered an excellent performance of songs like “Mr. Me Too” and “Keys Open Door,” highlighted by guests appearances from local Philly rappers who at times upstaged the headliners. The show was thoroughly enjoyable, so long as I was able to ignore the derisive comments by unappreciative Mouse fans. I don’t really expect kids to dig every band in a show like this, but there was clearly a lot of energy and heart put into the Clipse performance, and they deserved a better response. One kid and his girlfriend were so obnoxious that I almost started a fight…until, that is, his girl passed me a joint during intermission! Maybe the kids are all right after all.

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Sean's Tale: Download Festival -- Mansfield, MA 8/18/07

The last time I saw Modest Mouse they were playing the middle set of the Unlimited Sunshine Tour, an outdoor summer festival that lasted about two years before collapsing. This goes back probably six or seven years ago. I think it was right after Moon & Antarctica. Flaming Lips were on that bill too, but they weren't the headliners. That honor went to Cake. If you were to ask me then (or now) what was a more preposterous idea: Cake headlining a tour above Modest Mouse and Flaming Lips or the Mouse headlining it's own similar tour? I would chose the first scenario. But that was a good time to catch them, many songs off of Lonesome Crowded West were played (most importantly I was able to hear Trucker's Atlas live so I would have been happy if they walked off stage after that). I take it Isaac didn't slice himself open with a pocket knife at this show, eh? I guess he got that out of his system at the beginning of the tour.

While I'll admit to a slight decline in rockitude on their last couple of releases, I still admire the venom that continues to be spit throughout these albums. Reminds me of my thoughts toward those who say John Waters has lost his edge. While there has been a decline in the quality of some of his movies lately, he still manages to put full frontal male nudity and Tracy Ullman picking up a water bottle with her vagina into movies relased by major studios. And with Waters you get the feeling that this sort of mainstream subversion was the point to begin with. In Mouse's case, they probably do find some enjoyment in that but it's most likely a simple matter of refreshing the game plan. Built to Spill progressed from punky 3 minutes singles to 10 minute jammers. Modest Mouse's progression has been something like that in reverse, so it doesn't mean it isn't what they want to be doing. And the addition of Marr to the group would seem to confirm that intention.

But I digress. The idea of free tickets to Mansfield, MA's branch of the Download Festival (DF) seemed like a nice present from the fine folks at Harpoon Brewery. Surely the thought did go through my mind, "Man, they must be having some problem filling the seats at this thing if they're giving away no-strings-attached-tickets via email." I'd been vaguely interested in the line-up, remembered the prices were a little on the steep side, put my name and email address into the Harpoon website and that was that. After all, it had been six or seven years since I'd seen Modest Mouse, was too tired to do more than listen to Band Of Horses from across the park at last year's Pitchfork Fest, and I'd liked Wolf Parade's album quite a bit, so why not.

Well, all those reasons combined couldn't allow me to stay at the DF for more than a couple hate soaked hours. Holy crap, what a cluster fuck! First thought was, thank the heavens I had free tickets to this thing and I didn't suffer a brain tumor for breakfast and actually throw away however many dollars it would cost to get into this horror show of a "music festival".

It seems someone out there at the Tweeter Center hates music and the people who come out to see live music in a fun atmosphere. I could feel this hate beating down on me from all sides as I sat at the back of a fucking parking lot looking at a sad group of kids surrounded on all sides by advertising booths (Volkswagen! **with cars parked in the middle of where the kids are supposed to stand** Nikon! **can I aggressively ask you to get your picture taken standing in front of a smattering of our logos while holding a tambourine?**) being played commercials while they stood around waiting for the next band to come on. Because that's all there is to do at the old DF -- stand around and be advertised at. At least, that's what the schedule was for the first 5 hours. Like I said, I didn't last long.

Having multiple stages at your festival is old hat. It makes sense -- it gives the kids options and/or allows for a staggering between the two so that one stage can prepare while the other is in action. At the DF, they do things a little differently. Why? I told you, they don't like you. At the DF they corral you in front of one stage (in a fucking parking lot!) for half the day (12-5) and then when they goddamn feel like it (5pm) they'll let you into the actual area you thought you were going in the first place. You know, the one with the seats and the grass, the nice big stage with the good sounds system -- the one that isn't a fucking parking lot that sounds like stirred lukewarm crappola.

Maybe two years of the Pitchfork Music Festival has spoiled me. With their $1 bottled water, $4 beers, good local restaurant food, entertaining crafty/music/art booths and overall lack of corporate advertising (not to mention that the average age at PF is upper 20s whereas the average age at the DF seemed to be 16) -- how could I not be completely offended by $4 water, $8 beer and horribly disgusting $10 sausage on a bun. Yeah, maybe it's just me, but after being able to withstand the utter sadness of my surroundings long enough to see Bang Camaro, I got the hell outta there. But I did get to marvel at the lead singer of Band of Horses beard on the way out. That thing is serious.

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Padraic's Final Thoughts:

Yeah, me and my scruff are a little jealous of Brad Bridwell, he is definitely making a run at Sam Beam for coolest looking indie guy.

After reading your review, I'm actually pretty pleased with my show. I would have been one of those idiots who was going to pay for the Download Festival, and I actually considered traveling from Philly to Boston to do it! I should have also mentioned that the Philly show was the same weekend as the Philadelphia Folk Festival, one of the all-time great festivals: bands I've never heard of from across the globe that blow you away, camping just steps from the stage, and all of the store-bought beer you can smuggle inside a cooler. And, for the most part, mature and appreciative crowds. While the Mouse may be "progressing" as you say to a tight, pop-hit, band (cool Dashboard rift aside, I don't like Marr's addition), they are likely going to be leaving us older folks at home. I think my days of Download Festivals and Festival piers maybe over, and I'll start to look more at things like Pitchfork and the PFF, looking for smaller bands, more intimate (and commercial free) gatherings.

This is two "big" shows in a row that have been relative disappointments (first: The White Stripes). While top-tier bands always give a solid performance, almost every great show I've seen in the past few years (Jens Lenkman, The Hold Steady, Dungen) has come in a smaller venue and featured a group I was unfamiliar with. I know people are usually unwilling to see something new, but I can't imagine the combined $90 spent on seeing Jack and Isaac wouldn't have been put to better use spread out over 10 shows at P.A.'s Lounge or The Middle East upstairs. The sound quality is usually superior, the band more willing to experiment, and, perhaps most importantly, at a bar show, everyone has to be at least 21.


[Sean: I like this one -- the shitty video serves it well]

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Fountain & Zodiac

Dir. Darren Aronofsky, David Fincher

Viewed: From the Couch

Similarities between Fincher and Aronofsky might not be apparent upon watching say The Fountain and Zodiac back to back, but there are more than a few lurking when taking a look at their bodies of work. While Aronofsky didn’t cut his chops making big budget music videos for rock bands in the music video golden age of the early 90s, you could put Pi into an Avid, synch it up to say, Downward Spiral, and you’d have something that would not look out of place next to Fincher's MTV work.


Now while Fincher has battled in the trenches of Hollywood, earning a reputation as a meticulous perfectionist that can be at times hard for actors and crew alike to work for, these obsessive qualities have made all his movies worth watching for even those one or two glorious cinematic moments. Those moments came together brilliantly to make Fight Club his first undeniably good movie and made Panic Room enjoyable enough to watch all the way through. But with Zodiac you have Fincher getting personal for the first time and I have to say it feels good.

Aronofsky has been personal from the get go. But just like Fincher he can put stylization in the way of his story. While Pi buzzed, flickered and burrowed into the receptive viewer’s brain with its grainy over-processed black and white photography to tell a paranoiac’s fever dream; Requiem For a Dream kept the viewer at a comfortable distance while telling the year’s number one bummer tale of addiction with zim-zam, split-screen, every-Avid-fart*-trick-in-the-book being used. Both movies were served well by these tools – if Requiem were presented as a fly-on-the-wall, Larry Clark type of picture, it would’ve been an exercise in endurance to try and make it through the end of its onslaught of bleakness. So it comes as a surprise that with a somewhat sci-fi picture, he would, like Fincher, hold off on a lot of the tricks of his trade and present us with his best and most personal work to date.

The Fountain had a long, troubled production history preceding its release. I only mention it because I think it speaks to the quality of the end result. The story breaks down as such: A man, a scientist, is coming to grips with losing his wife to a disease that he feels he should be able to cure. We see this story represented through him and his wife in the “now” time, through his wife’s story about him as a conquistador and her as his queen, and through a “what-if”-type scenario as him having found the eternal life cure he was after and the repercussions it brings. What once was a big budget epic production with Brad Pitt and (if I remember correctly) Gwenyth Paltrow as leads turns into a small budgeted modest picture with Hugh Jackman and the director’s wife, Rachel Weisz. And while I’m of course interested in what that epic would have been like, I’m in no doubt that these budget restraints and truncating what was projected to be a 2 hour plus story into a nice hour and a half, made the movie a better, more intimate experience.

The handmade special effects work perfectly. I will always believe that if you’re given X millions of dollars for special effects, find as many practical, physical ways to achieve what your after before resorting to the CGI. I don’t care how many leaps and bounds CGI makes over the years, it’s never going to look as good as something that’s actually occupying space along side the human beings in your movie. I don’t care if it is a muppet, Yoda had more of a soul when he was being floated around on wires. The scenes with Hugh floating around with his tree were created with the help of a guy who was found mixing different liquids and whatnot together on his table-top projector or some such thing and are completely unique and cool looking even on an average size tv.

That’s my biggest love for The Fountain; it’s an honestly unique and original movie. It’s not inspired by anything but Aronofsky’s own story about a guy coping with the loss of his wife. It transcends genres and is able to be intimately personal while being completely existential. The fact that this movie works at all is a testament to the strength of Aronofsky’s vision. I also love the happy sadness of it. I think I’m a pretty tough nut to crack in terms of crying over a movie. There’s only a handful out there that have gotten these peepers flowing (Terms of Endearment and Planes, Train and Automobiles are the two biggest offenders) so kudos to this one for getting me all choked up. Unrelenting sadness (see Lars von Trier) is never going to make me cry – it’s the happy sadness that comes out of bittersweet scenes that are earned through good storytelling that get me, and The Fountain has some good ones.



Zodiac is a far different beast. Adapted from the book written by Robert Graysmith, played by Jake Gyllenhaal in the film, it sprawls its story out over two decades or so in the bay area as the Zodiac killer brings down a couple employees of the San Francisco Chronicle and one other from the SFPD into a spiraling obsession over the killers identity. As I’ve mentioned before, obsession is a tough sell in movies. It takes more than shots of chain smoking, drunken anger, and late night fidgeting to make it work. Basically, it takes a good actor who can internalize like crazy. Look at Hackman in The Conversation as one of the more modern templates for The Obsessive Character.

And while Gyllenhaal, Downey and Ruffalo all put in solid work, this is really Fincher’s and the writer’s movie. While obsessiveness is front and center the theme of identity is where the interesting part of the movie lies – the obsession is about identity – and this is all in the writing. The movie has a great creepy, suspenseful tone throughout, which culminates in a near perfect scene involving Mr. Roger Rabbit himself – Charles Fleischer, as well as an innate ability through good pacing and editing to keep the viewer propelling forward with only dialog and case work to latch onto.

The obvious comparison for this movie is All the President’s Men. I remember being a teenager and stumbling upon that movie and being entranced. If you’d told me what the movie was about beforehand I’d probably pass – nothing about it sounds at all suspenseful (in both of these movies more people than not know how the movie’s main story turns out) or even enjoyable to watch, especially to someone who’d be more interested in playing Sonic the Hedgehog. But All the President’s Men works. And so does Zodiac (albeit not quite on the same level as that film – I mean, few films are). It makes digging through boxes of case files seem heroic, the ring of a rotary telephone the source of epiphany and redemption, the clatter of a typewriter the sound of truthiness. I suppose this all is a benefit of the late 60s early 70s setting. A man hunched over, typing away at a Remington, smacking the carriage return, is the stuff of real drama – a man hunched over an ergonomic keyboard typing away on his desktop Compaq, waving his mouse around, is the stuff of absolute tedium.

Well, I’ve gone on long enough. The Fountain and Zodiac are definitely two of the better movies that I’ve seen over the past year. I’m jazzed to see Fincher’s Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a cool Salinger short story I often return to when work slows down. And hopefully it won’t be another six or seven years before Aronofsky resurfaces with something to show us.

What say you, Paddy?


(* the term "Avid Fart" is the sole intellectual property of Vern. bless you, dear man.)


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Padraic:


So, again, why did you pair these two movies? Because Aronofsky could have made music videos? Ah…whatever man.



To start, my review of The Fountain is going to be a little iffy because I saw it at least one month (and three states) ago on my small and inadequate dorm-room TV/VCR combo unit while baking in 100 degree heat. And I don’t have my notes from the movie. And I may have been hungover.

At any rate, I certainly have more appreciation for Aronofsky after reading your review Sean than I did immediately after seeing it. I completely agree about the originality of the script (which, for those who care, involves three overlapping stories about a scientist (Jackman) trying to stave off his wife’s cancer, a story written by said wife about a Conquistador (Jackman) searching for the Tree of Life, and a floating, ethereal guru (Jackman) meditating in space and sucking sap from (the same?) tree). I didn’t care about the latter two stories, but you are right that the story of Jackman and Weisz is touching, and helped by the fact that both actors are superb in creating a real chemistry; Aronofsky must be a confident dude to put his naked wife into a bubble bath with Jackman, because the intensity between the two was powerful.

Unfortunately, this story has a lot more going on than just a tearjerker about a dying wife. And for all of the epic showdowns in the jungle, the pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo and the movie-within-a-book-within-a-movie, The Fountain is still extremely slow and boring (and not in a good way) a large part of the time (I had to recheck that it was only 90 minutes, shocking!). The slow burn at the beginning was laborious, as were the constant replays of the same scene of Weisz bounding playfully off into the snow. And for all of that, what was the moral of the story? Spend more time with your family and less on work! Sorry, but did we need to give Jackman 18 different haircuts to get to that?

Ah, but there was Jackman, and I don’t think it is an overstatement to call this a breakthrough role. The guy who formerly had been one of my least favorite actors, and gets completely shown up by Bale in The Prestige is, I hate to say it, a revelation, bringing levels of intensity to his performance I had never thought possible. He and Weisz are not enough to make up for Aronofsky needlessly complicated and ponderous script, but it is rewarding to watch them try.

So the reason I bitched above about pairing these two movies is that I wanted to say a lot about Zodiac and was worried about seriously testing the (again, hypothetical) reader’s patience. I still want to say a lot, but I’ll begin here by just listing a few observations sans clever segues or context:

Mark Ruffolo does his best to channel Peter Falk, but still comes up short

Anthony Edwards looks like Costner in JFK

I’m even more terrified of Donovan now

Brian Cox’s character was well acted, but superfluous

Chloe Sevigny was wasted

Fincher does a great job allowing his actors the freedom to explore their roles

The reason the above list is centered on actors is because I think they are the strength of the movie, and make what could be a tedious crime investigation into a remarkable series of character portrayals. In Zodiac, Fincher actually inverts the successful formula of his first serial killer flick, Se7en, by starting with the criminal himself but gradually shifting the attention to his pursuers. In Se7en, we learn more about the murderer as the movie goes along until by the end, Kevin Spacy completely take over the picture, leaving Freeman and Pitt behind. Zodiac, however, begins with the killer but by the end of the movie, Zodiac himself is almost lost as the stories of Graysmith, Avery, and the SFPD take on more importance. Part of this is due, or course, to the very real nature of the events, but I think it is also a welcome recognition that the motives or psychology of serial killers isn’t nearly as interesting as those of the people that pursue them.

The Conversation is a classic example of the investigator trumping the investigated; I hardly remember the actual case Harry Caul was pursuing. Zodiac tries it’s best to impart Graysmith with the obsessiveness of Caul, but in this respect, fails. We do see lots of stacked boxes and a marriage that falls apart, but let’s not forget, Graysmith did recover enough to eventually write the book on which the movie was based, and there is no hint of a complete mental breakdown. Paranoia, sure. Effort, sure. But by the end of the film, I got the sense that Graysmith could go on with life and that while he will always remember Zodiac, he isn’t exactly playing saxophone solos in a room stripped to the bone.

In fact, it is the peripheral characters like Avery, Toschi, and Armstrong who really suffer, possibly because they are also the first to give up. While the problems of obsession is a fairly obvious theme (after all, the tagline is ‘There is more than one way to lose your life to a killer’) the actors (aside from Gyllenhall) are so immersed in their characters that you can overlook the sometimes heavy handedness of shots of lone men boozing and smoking in the wee hours of the night.

For all of the thematic ambition of the film, many of its strengths lie in Fincher’s ability to depict tension in small scenes. One scene in particular that grabbed me was the television call-in show when everyone waits for Zodiac to call. While we get shots of nervous producers and police officers, Fincher’s best work involves setting up a camera behind the cameras, so that we can see the red lights which indicate which camera’s feed is actually making it to the TV. Instead of just cutting back and forth between the two people on screen, we can anticipate who will appear by the red light, feeling, in a sense, that we are ahead of the characters themselves. This immersion in the action permeates the film to the point that you almost always feel like you are ahead of the story, and that you will solve the case. You are always wrong, of course, but these small moments of anticipation are absolutely gripping.

While the whodunit factor is exceptional (at one point, I thought I was the Zodiac Killer), Fincher is smart enough not to entirely let his thriller rest on the killer’s eventual capture. Like the other movie Sean mentioned, All the President’s Men, the real drama lies not in the prosecution, but in the pursuit. In that movie, the action ends just as people are starting to wake up to Nixon’s crimes, but once something has been ensconced in public opinion, it loses much of its appeal. For example, Nixon’s cronies come off as far more frightening (scarier, even, then the Zodiac killer) during the investigation then they do now, and the eventual revelation of the real Deep Throat was one of the all-time disappointments. If there is one slip-up in Zodiac, it is in the film’s last few minutes, where Fincher tries to play one last time with the killer’s identity, in a few scenes that take place decades after the first killing. By this point, all the original players have either retired, died, or lost interest, and the film’s insistence on hopelessness, resignation, and the dangers of obsession are at their zenith. Fincher should have given up too.

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Sean:

First of all, I wasn't going out to try and force a comparison of the two movies, even though they are both about the tragic results of obsession. While I think I stated my observations fairly clearly in the first three paragraphs of how these two filmmakers careers can be seen as having similarities, I don't think there's anything wrong in writing a entry on more than one movie. Hell, the New Yorker does it every month and the movies they write about have less in common than these two.

Second, I hope you weren't talking about the hardware store scene in reference to the ending (I don't think you were) -- that scene was killer and I do consider it the real ending of the movie and love how it was telegraphed early on when Graysmith's wife asks him when his hunt is going end. I did find the coda interesting though because we get to see how the Zodiac effected (affected? -- where's my editor) the one that got away. He was really the only person we didn't get to see during the investigation, and I thought it was a good bookend in way as well as being another perfect bit of acting, writing and direction in that we don't even have to have this guy tell us what happened to him since his run in with the Zodiac, it's right there on his face.

Lastly, I can't see The Fountain being as great as it is without the conquistador bit. That angle on the story is really what ties the movie together -- taking any one of the three stories away would cause severe damage to the quality of the overall story; I mean, the conquistador's search for the fountain of youth/tree of life on behalf of his dying queen is ostensibly what the entire movie ends up being about (and how tragic the success in that search can be) and the fact that his wife is writing this story is a primary motivator for our good doctor. To a larger extent the movie is about yin and yang. A woman who is coming to terms with death and a man who will do no such thing. But also yin and yang in the sense of what life has always been about going back to the beginnings of civilization. I'd said earlier that one of the reasons I liked this movie is that it's stripped down to it's bones. There's nothing superfluous in this movie. That you thought it dragged and thought Jackman has 18 different haircuts rather than 3, maybe 4 -- I might be inclined to chalk that up to hungover and stewing in 100 degree heat.

Ok, one other thing: I found a lot to like in the spirituality of the movie. You know me, I'm the last guy to find enlightenment in religion. I mean, I was raised Catholic for Christ's sake. So, at the end of the movie we have this 2001 type "crossing-over" scenario that at first glance might come across as a lazy, let's throw in everything but the kitchen sink type stab at the spiritual aspect of this idea. But I don't think there's a lazy bone in Aronofsky's body and to me, a little bit of everything is a beautiful and interesting way to look at it. There's no one answer to life and death -- take something from over here and something from over there, mix them together and maybe we can get to something interesting. Few movies, never mind mainstream movies, would even hint at saying there's no one answer, religion, etc. (especially one that starts off with a quote from the bible) and few movies setting their sights on even trying to form a theory, so in the context of this movie and what it's trying to get at, it's perfect, and with the tone that this movie beautifully sets it doesn't come off as pretentious at all, and instead is simply a thoughtful statement.

Zodiac Opening Scene:




The Fountain 10 minutes from close to the ending: [obviously, it's not the best idea to watch this if you haven't seen the movie, but even if you haven't I don't think it ruins the movie -- it makes me want to see it again, and I figure it would make someone interested want to see the whole thing. Also, it reminds me of how awesome the music is and how perfectly it is used.]


Monday, August 20, 2007

Sean's Summer Round-Up Pt. 2 of 3

Ok. So the first Summer Movie Round-up caused a bit of friction among the ranks of the RFC. A lengthy discussion over a few beers proved enlightening, I think, to define our stances about some of the summer fodder. Hopefully Padraic will work out his Blogger issues and we’ll get that straightened out for the lost surfer or occasional reader. Short story – Paddy said something to the tune of, "A Super Hero/Pirate/Ocean’s Movie Will Never Be One of the Great Movies Therefore It’s not Worth My Time." My reply, "I Can Understand That Train of Thought But That Doesn’t Mean They Can’t Be Good Movies Worth Seeing/Reviewing." I think that’s about where the discussion on that whole ting should pick up – because to try and translate what followed that night would be pretty futile.

So where’d we leave off? Oh yeah…


Transformers


Lordy… Ok, yes, I was in fact looking forward to this beast of a movie. I figured it would be something similar to Jurassic Park or T2, but alas it was a hollow, noisy shell of a movie. Yes, it was in fact less than meets the eye.

Now what, Paddy may ask, makes Pirates 2 or 3 worth my attention and separates it from crap like Transformers? Well, for all of Transformers “hey look at that transformer transform and fuck shit up – man, that shit is cool” there’s no real imagination to it; or, for that matter, humanity to it. One good example is the scenes where we watch Bootstrap in the last two Pirates separate and reattach himself to the Davy Jones ship. These are beautifully directed, entirely moving as much as they are wowing, and the amount of creativity with the art department is impressive and the emotional baggage that they carry is not only a testament to the acting but also to the story. It’s not at all unlike watching the moments of Han Solo getting frozen and unfrozen in carbonite. There’s moments of this gee-wiz, gosh-wow moments throughout the Pirates movies – and yes they’re most often a part of the set design and how they manage to transport you, but it would not be sold if not for the acting chops of people like Depp, Stellan Skarsgard, and Bill Nighy giving great performances.

While Transformers has some welcome diversions for the likes of a bat shit crazy John Turturro and one or two relatively suspenseful robot confrontations, it has no humanity at all. I really don’t know what to make of Shia LeBouf. While he’s capable enough of supporting a move like this and it’s by no means of his talents (and he does have some) that this movie blows, I’m dearly afraid of what he’s capable of doing to the next Indiana Jones and most likely the Y The Last Man movie, which I know he’ll probably be officially attached to before this gets posted and it’s something that you, Padraic know I’m officially attached to as a reader.

I honestly don’t think I can pay to watch another Michael Bay movie. Sure, I know you Paddy have probably never done such a thing, but I don’t mind saying that the guy has given me a couple good, stoney Friday night movies in Con Air and Bad Boys 2. This one tips the scales permanently for me though. The Island was such a steamer that I should have drawn the line there, alas I’ve learned my lesson with the transforming robot movie. Let’s move on.


Ratatouille



The perfect antidote to Transformers. A movie that has so much imagination, so much heart, humor, and loving eye for detail that only a soulless bastard like Paddy could find fault with it. Just kidding there buddy. Ha! Funny, right?…

Anyway, there’s no doubt that this movie will go down with Bambi, Snow White, Fantasia, whatever else your childhood cherishes, as one of the great animated family movies. I’m at a loss as to any negativity at all to give this movie. It’s pretty much perfect from start to finish. It may fall into a couple of familiar storytelling conventions during its final act but the climactic dinner service for Peter O’Toole’s food critic makes for one of the most moving moments in film so far this year.

There’s so many phenomenal moments of animation in the film that it’s pointless to even begin. But there’s amazing storytelling moments as well – the entire sequence with Remy and Linguini by the river is simply a perfect scene of character development and still manages to awe in watching Remy’s little heart beat through his fur after he runs away. The fact that they manage to allow the viewer to know exactly what’s going through this little rat’s brain in all the scenes when he isn’t saying a word is amazing on the part of the animators as well as the vocal talent of Mr. Patton Oswalt in creating such a memorable and thoroughly real character.

It's a damn shame that pandering, dated upon arrival crap like Shrek 3 will have pulled in more of an audience this year than a movie like Ratatouille that I know in my heart of hearts is more entertaining as well as packing a unique message that kids and adults can both learn a thing or two from. Unlike the Shrek movies, Brad Bird makes movies that are timeless. There's no macarena jokes or one-hit-wonder pop songs in his movies, the focus is placed on telling a good story and creating meaningful characters. It seems so obvious but these kinds of movies are rare indeed and I think history will show that his movies were the modern classic family movies of our time.


Bourne Ultimatum



Another movie with a powerful message. Which is: Pity the fool that fucks with Jason Bourne. Also, like Ratatouille it gets right what most of the other movies in its genre over the past couple of decades have failed miserably at.

Until another movie kicks my ass so thoroughly (and the Bourne movies do come close) that I have to bring an inflatable donut with me to the movies for 5 years afterwards, Die Hard 0.1 will continue to serve as the high water mark for modern action/suspense movie. What that movie and the Bourne movies do -- and this is a simple thing that gets a while lotta mileage -- is make our hero real. During much of the 80's, for some reason (let's blame Reagan), we liked our heroes larger than life and virtually indestructible. It was the era of Stallone and Schwarzenegger. To make a decent foe (and subsequent decent movie) for Arnold we had to bring in an invisible body-building alien with wrist rockets from another planet. These were "heroes" that had no problem mowing down dozens of people with automatic weapons, hack and slashing anyone that got in the way of whatever the next plot point was. I think Harrison Ford was the only relatable action hero our generation had back then (I suppose their was the Eddie Murphy anomaly back in '84 -- but it should be noted that he only got the part in Beverly Hills Cop after Sly turned it down). But towards the end of the decade some people starting getting it right. We got a slim Alec Baldwin, who eventually turned into Ford, as a paper pushing CIA man thrown into international intrigue. Our campy, bloated Roger Moore became a leaner, more mysterious Timothy Dalton. But the masterstroke was a then lean, already thinning hairlined, shoeless Bruce Willis being tapped to take down a band of bad guys and save the day by whatever means necessary. This was a guy that you just saw on TV last night trading one-liners with Cybil Sheppard. He's not an "action star". And that's what makes that movie what it is today. And that's what makes Matt Damon perfect in these movies. Cast an actor first and turn him into an action star -- it makes the movie oh so much better every time. Nothing beats that first oh-shit moment in Bourne Identity when that guy from Good Will Hunting takes down the armed guards at that embassy in a blinding swirl of fists and feet. That kind of eye opener is priceless. Cast Jason Statham in that role and your just looking at your watching counting the minutes before he inevitably throws someones head through a door

More important than the casting itself is the context that they bring. These people don't willingly pop caps into bad guys' heads, and go on with their day. They don't look at group of guys, smile and cut them down with a machine gun and then flick a Marlboro butt on their bloody corpses. In short, they don't want to have to kill anyone. When Willis witnessed Takagi get his brains transplanted to the floor he freaked the fuck out. You could see going through his head was, "Oh shit, oh shit... I am going to have to use my gun. I probably will have to kill someone before the night's over. How the hell am I going to deal with this." Making a government trained killer the the guy who doesn't want to kill anyone, well that's an even cooler spin. While people complain that Jason Bourne is too "emo" (sigh). I say to them, give me an action hero with a good moral compass who's played by a good actor, surround him with other good actors, put in a plot that actually activates brain waves, don't skimp on him kicking some ass, and you my friend have the formula for a good movie. Add to that the brilliant camera work of director Paul Greengrass and his DP Oliver Wood, well you create actual moments of movie magic. Their use of these claustrophobic locations -- placing the camera in these tiny cars, bathrooms, crowded train stations and even going so far as to pass the camera off a roof and through a small apartment window to end one of the best chase sequences put to film; the way that camera movement, framing, and the movement within the frame are used so perfectly to create energy, well, kudos to you Greengrass to making the Bourne series easily one of the best trilogies in film history.

Alright.



So since I mentioned this Wicker Man edit in the comments I figured I'd post it -- I know it's been out there a long long time but it still makes me laugh, and yes, still makes me eager to finally getting around to watch it.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

Dir. David Silvermam

Padraic speaks:

There is no town in television or cinematic history like Springfield. Sure, the Simpson family themselves are great, but it is really the town that has always been the star of the show. The characters, which somehow manage to be completely original despite being based in the oldest of stereotypes, impart a depth of life and presence into the everyday struggles of Homer and company. One reason why blatantly derivative shows like Family Guy don’t stack up is their failure to develop likable (or even distinguishable) secondary characters. I’ve seen probably 50 episodes of TFG, and I remember Patrick Wardburton’s character and Quagmire and…well, maybe the creepy old lady, but nothing like the depth and diversity of Springfield.

I mention this because 20 minutes into The Simpsons Movie, I was ready for an hour and a half of pure comedy gold, with various bosses, shopkeepers, bartenders, drunks, and assorted ethnic-types orbiting the family Simpson. And the movie delivered…for a half hour. As most people know, the plot device for the movie is the contamination of Springfield Lake and the resulting quarantine by the EPA. The first half hour shows us the typical range of actions for the denizens of Springfield: panic, false hope, fatalism, and finally, inevitably, mob violence. It’s great stuff, and I was beginning to think that all of the lean years of the show (which disturbingly now make up over half of the oeuvre) were worth it, if only to capture a perfect 90 minutes of satire.

But The Simpsons have always been about more than satire. Ever since Groening first started drawing the spiky-haired kid, there has been a fairly conventional, and conservative, subtext of family values lurking behind the parody of dysfunction and self-delusion that is American suburban life. One conservative commentator I heard while listening to the radio (don’t ask) was shocked that 33% of the movies’ viewers were expected to be conservatives; after all, the show was greeted by scorn and boycotts from the right when it came out. But what viewers actually realized was that despite the constant tensions—Marge and Homer, Bart and Homer, or really Homer and everyone else—at bottom The Simpsons got right the only family value which really matters: love. And while I like the warmth (eventually) displayed by the family at the end of each episode, I go to cartoon sitcoms for scathing social commentary, not life lessons on loyalty, devotion, etc., so I was a bit disappointed to see the long second act of the film taken up by Marge and Homer questioning their commitment to one another for the umpteenth time. Don’t get me wrong, I think this element of the show has always been a strength; it's just overplayed in the movie.

The long focus on the Simpsons trip to (and back) from Alaska unfortunately comes at the expense of some of the shows mainstay secondary characters: my friend Ian pointed out that there wasn’t a single Principle Skinner line, and I personally missed having more from Apu. Instead, we get far too much Comic Book Guy (who is way overwritten thanks to younger fellow nerds now write for the show) and, inexplicably, President Schwarzenegger over President Wolfcastle. Maybe 90 minutes of rampaging violence over a toppled Jebediah Springfield statue would have been too much, but really, Sean, do you ever get tired of hearing Kent Brockman report from in front of a burning dumpster?

=====================================


Sean replies:


I agree that the first 15 minutes or so of the The Simpson’s Movie is a tough act to follow. But I have to appreciate the fact that in movie format they stick to their brilliant formula of starting off the movie in one direction (usually the first 5 or so minutes of an episode) before settling into the real story at hand. In the past 7 or 8 years (once Futurama happened is where I see the real drop in Simpson’s quality), these first five minutes are usually the best thing about an episode.


While the episode has it troubles keeping pace, it does stand up as one of the better Simpsons stories in recent memory (that past 7 or 8 years I was speaking of). I can admit that I might have appreciated this movie more because I was quite concerned once it became apparent that this movie would in fact see the light of a projector. The steady decline in quality of the Sunday night episode has been apparent to even the most apologetic Simpsons fan. Again, this goes to the point of the Simpsons debate that ended up facing the movie itself: how can you honestly live up to, in this case, seasons 4-8, which are arguably some of the best prime time comedy in the history of television. It’s a losing game but I suppose you can give the show kudos for staying in it. So going into it, my expectations were low, but hopeful – and therefore the movie exceeded, surpassed, and surprised me by being a hell of a good time.


I don’t think there’s any way, in 90 minutes, to tell a cohesive story and please everyone. Yes, it would have been nice to have Patty, Selma, Principle Skinner, Apu, Krusty, Burns, Smithers, whoever your partial to, to be a bigger part of the story; but apart from having a movie like the episode “22 Short Films About Springfield”, there’s no way everyone’s going to come away 100% satisfied. While it’s true that Springfield’s b-listers may be what sets The Simpsons apart from other shows and gives it great depth – we all knew that their first feature film had to primarily focus on the show’s namesake. And if we take that as a given, than putting the family through some internal dire straits is most likely in store. I felt the Springfield vs. the Simpsons part of the story was a good one – and I enjoyed most of the on the road and Alaska bits. In fact, I think taking the Simpsons out of Springfield has always been refreshing and ripe grounds for good bits (Simpsons in New York, in the witness protection program, at Duff Gardens, etc.). I would say Alaska was worth it for Homer’s trip home from Eskimoe’s Tavern alone, and by the way, the storyline with Bart turning to Flanders and then booze due to his daddy issues ranks among the best in the show’s history. I will back you up on the head scratching choice to make Schwarzenegger (I love how his name is in my spell check) the president and not Wolfcastle. I suppose the writers wanted the jabs they take at their governor to go directly to the source and have a little more sting to them… oh well.


So color me impressed and even hopeful that we can see another one of these in the not too distant future. The big screen is friendly to this family and I got a definite sense that the new rules the format gives them breathes some much needed life, inventiveness, playfulness and overall sense of purpose into the franchise. I mean, I don’t remember the last time I actually looked forward to a new season of this show, and now I’m honestly eager to see season 19 or whatever it is. I’m probably setting myself up for disappointment by doing this but what the hell, I’m a Red Sox fan, I’m used to setting myself up for disappointment.

=====================================


Paddy closes:

The way Gagne is pitching, I would be worried! Don’t worry though, I’ll introduce you to the Phightin’ Phillies, your future NL East Champions.


Nothing much to disagree with really on your review; I don’t think we are too far apart. But while I admit my perfect movie may have been overkill, I still would have liked to see the creators do something more experimental with the plot, rather than just expand a typical episode arc into 90 minutes. In this way, something like “22 Short Films about Springfield” would have been preferable, if only because it would have pushed the known boundaries of the show. If a different medium is really going to “breathe…much needed life…into the franchise,” they need to do something different other than bolstering the animation.


For example, while the alcoholic Bart was an interesting side story, does it really move that far beyond what we saw when Maggie was tempted to join the Flanderseses flock? And do we need a giant screen and surround sound to watch Lisa fall helplessly in love (again) with some charming and activist boy? I don’t really look forward to the upcoming season, because I think the (limited) success of the movie will allow them to be even more complacent.


While it would have involved a serious commercial risk, I think there is still enough creative talent around The Simpsons to make a far more ambitious film. I’m thinking of something along the lines of the Halloween episode, where Homer enters into the ‘real’ 3-D world after falling through the vortex in the living room. What makes the Halloween episodes so great is that they basically throw out the standard plots and characters, and build them up from scratch. It would be impossible within the confines of a ‘normal’ episode to have Willie haunting dreams or Mrs. Crababble feasting on boiled Uter, but the Halloween format gives them cover to experiment. I think something similarly deconstructive could have been done in the movie, with results that would have been far more memorable and lasting than The Simpsons. For all the work and effort that went into making (and promoting!) this movie, I doubt you will hear anyone talking about it (or quoting lines) in a year; people will be dishing out Ralph one liners from season 5 long after anyone even remembers the movie.


Again, I should say that I actually did enjoy the movie, and that it was better as entertainment than I expected, but that really isn’t saying much. Thinking back on the past decade of Simpsons mediocrity, the most disturbing part may be that it has so lowered our expectations, we are willing to define a thoroughly average film like The Simpsons Movie as a success.


[Please enjoy someones badly edited hodgepodge from Sean's favorite episode (which by the way hasn't been shown on my Fox affiliates repeats in many many years) The Monorail Episode (or whatever it's called).]


Monday, August 13, 2007

Tripel Karmeliet


Continuing with the summer beer theme – here’s another wonderful addition.

Tripel Karmeliet

“Authentic Belgian Ale” and yes, it is actually a Product of Belgium

It comes in a 1PT. 9.4FL. OZ. Bottle. The price at my Whole Foods was $9.99, meaning you can probably find it cheaper. Alc. 8.1%

On the bottle it tells me it’s, “Blond, robust, smooth and fruity, with a delicate spicy flavor. Bottle conditioned ale made with Oats, Barley and Wheat, a true “3 grain” ale. 100% natural. “Brewed by the Bosteels Family, brewers since 1791”

After this description it has a bit of it’s award winning heritage: Gold Medal in a World Beer Cup among a couple of others.

A World Beer Cup award doesn’t mean much in some cases, but this one stands up.

The aroma upon pour is brilliant. Clean, spices, lemon, maybe a little orange… There are some beers that upon pour, after a whiff, you think – now this is a fucking beer. This is pretty close to that when you’re looking for another good summer beer. Normally I wouldn’t be looking to the Tripel category but a good Belgian Ale can beat a wheat beer any day.

It’s got a lovely hazy orange body. Bubbly… I recommend either chilling your beer glass or letting the beer sit at room temp for a little while to avoid getting a bad pour. Either way, do it slowly.

Imbibing, the bubble tickles you upper lip, the taste is damn close to the bottles description – imagine that. There’s a nice citrus up front, with a spicy kick in the back. It’s a good beer to use for lying on the couch and watching a music documentary. I’d pair it with 2002’s Pavement: Slow Century.