Archive for the ‘2009’ category

Surrogates (Jonathan Mostow, 2009)


Surrogates presents some good ideas surrounding the concept of culture’s continuing interest in anonymity through technological advances in alter egos sans Facebook, Twitter, Chatroulette, etal.  A surrogate is a beautiful “robot” that takes the place of the real human and lives his life with the supposed benefits of being young and attractive.  Unfortunately the film is bogged down in its genre’s most annoying cliches.  As an example ONE fat guy / uber geek non surrogate (whose is of course, proud of his overweight, real presence) singularly controls surrogate surrvellience for the entire city of New York.  Make sense?  No.  Then we are lead to believe that the makers of this technology have advanced it to the point where the entire developed world is dominated by these alter egos whilest the owners of the surrogates sit in futuristic portal chairs in their dirty and unkept apartments and pop psychotropic pills during those unfortunate times that they exist without their golden doubles.  Ill equipped rebel groups (living in ridiculously conceived “ghettos” in the middle of New York) exist that may or may not want to bring the surrogates down in place of their better selves.   In better hands (perhaps Kubrick, who’s ideas from A. I. permeate ham handedly throughout), the cliches could have been avoided.  The redeeming factor in this movie is Bruce Willis and his very understated and believable performance.   Add to the performance list Rosamund Pike (Willis’ wife also seen in the excellent An Education) in another impressive performance who inhabits her surrogate with a complexity not found elsewhere in the film.

** / *****

Up In the Air (Jason Reitman, 2009)


A sweet, contemplative, and gentle story – Clooney should never have such relationship problems but it doesn’t take away from the film.  Understandable Oscar nods to George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick.  Superior to Juno without Diablo Cody’s pretentious diatribe, Junior Reitman makes a mature and enjoyable film.  Credit sequence would make Saul Bass proud.

**** / *****

Whatever Works (Woody Allen, 2009)


This one doesn’t work so well.  It does get a bit better with the arrival of Patricia Clarkson but its so inferior to the better of Woody’s more recent romcoms – Vicky Christina Barcelona, Melinda and Melinda and Mighty Aphrodite.  The mishmash of romantic entanglements never makes sense and the ham-handed portrayal of his southern characters is very pretentious especially, after five minutes of dialogue, they mutate into New York sophisticates.  Also, I was pretty disappointed with the performance of Evan Rachel Wood.

** / *****

5 Quick Pics



The Girlfriend Experience (Soderberg, 2009)

LOVE the way this film looks and I found the script very funny.  At the end the amateurish acting doesn’t distract.

*** 1/2 / *****


Drag Me to Hell (Raimi, 2009)

The scariest film I’ve seen in years.  Alison Lohman charms as usual and the kitsch works throughout.

**** / *****

In the Heat of the Night (Jewison, 1967)

Satisfying in the way Rod Steiger’s sheriff slowly develops a vague appreciation of Poiter’s Mr. Tibbs without being overly preachy in the slightest way.  Instilled with a wry sense of humor and stands up well to today’s better pictures concerning race relations.

**** 1/2 / *****


Body of Lies (Scott, 2008)

Even though I had to watch it almost three times to get most details I didn’t mind it.  Very cool treatise on modern day warfare.

*** 1/2 / *****

Downfall (Hirschbiegel, 2004)

Had to check it out after all the parody.  Bruno Ganz is a god of acting in a pretty straight forward run of the mill thriller.

*** / *****

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (Carlos Saldanha, Mike Thurmeier, 2009)



Back are the familiar herd from Ice Age:  The Meltdown for a pretty charming if forced narrative involving a “mystery” world of dinosaurs in this third installment of the animated series Ice Age.  Sid (John Leguizamo), the beloved and simpleminded sloth steals three eggs of an unknown species anticipating and jealous of the forthcoming birth of his “brother,” the son of his elephant leader Manny (Ray Ramano) and his “wife,” Ellie (Queen Latifah).  The eggs hatch and out come three baby tyrannosaurus rex, whoops.  Mommy rex finds the young and snatches them back along with Sid.  Thus begins the journey of Sid’s herd to rescue him – not before stumbling into a new world conveniently connected with the ice age by a simple pass-through – with all sorts of plant eating and meat eating dinosaurs on the other side.

The other familiar protagonists are there and I won’t name them here.  What follows are textbook anticipatory scenes of pre-labor (with elephants), trysts between squirrels Scrat and Scratte over that dastardly acorn and scenes of strife involving the dinosaurs climaxing with a really fantastic sequence involving a huge pterodactyl.  Enter new key character Buck (a scene stealing Simon Pegg), the wily pirate weasel, to save the day.

As I said, the conditions creating the world for the drama feel pretty forced (and so for the kind and gentle mother rex) but the film is charming kid fare and a 3rd sequel is an inevitability.

*** / *****

Flickchart (2009)



Flickchart is a new movie site thats pretty addictive.  In beta stage, the site goes about ranking films using a head to head match-up approach, e.g. which is better, Citizen Kane or Ghostbusters.  It allows you to change one or both of the films in a given match-up if you haven’t viewed them and also allows various filters so you may refine your rankings by year, decade, genre, or within your already established Top 20, Top 50, and so on.  One significant fix required is the removal a film that ends up too high on your ranking.  As it stands the only way to do so (other than the various filtering devices) is to delete it outright or let it match-up independently.  The problem with the latter is the user is given only three consecutive matchups between that film and three already in your “library” which is not effective.

One very fun element of the exercise is the various international movie posters that are displayed.

I spent enough time to rank 500 different movies using the standard tool and filters.  Here is my Top 50 so far, which is pretty off in places, but pretty interesting nonetheless (at least from my standpoint):


1 The Shining 1980 Stanley Kubrick Rated R
2 Lolita 1962 Stanley Kubrick Rated NR
3 Dr. Strangelove 1964 Stanley Kubrick Rated PG
4 Pulp Fiction 1994 Quentin Tarantino Rated R
5 No Country for Old Men 2007 Ethan Coen Rated R
6 Heavenly Creatures 1994 Peter Jackson Rated R
7 Taxi Driver 1976 Martin Scorsese Rated R
8 Magnolia 2000 Paul Thomas Anderson Rated R
9 The Last Temptation of Christ 1988 Martin Scorsese Rated R
10 Say Anything… 1989 Cameron Crowe Rated PG13
11 The Exorcist 1973 William Friedkin Rated R
12 Fargo 1996 Joel Coen Rated R
13 Wild at Heart 1990 David Lynch Rated R
14 Memento 2001 Christopher Nolan Rated R
15 2001: A Space Odyssey 1968 Stanley Kubrick Rated NR
16 Paths of Glory 1957 Stanley Kubrick Rated NR
17 Chinatown 1974 Roman Polanski Rated R
18 Blade Runner 1982 Ridley Scott Rated R
19 Ghost World 2001 Terry Zwigoff Rated R
20 Rear Window 1955 Alfred Hitchcock Rated PG
21 Tootsie 1982 Sydney Pollack Rated PG
22 The Aviator 2004 Martin Scorsese Rated PG13
23 Glengarry Glen Ross 1992 James Foley Rated R
24 The Elephant Man 1980 David Lynch Rated PG
25 Mulholland Dr. 2001 David Lynch Rated R
26 Eyes Wide Shut 1999 Stanley Kubrick Rated R
27 Psycho 1960 Alfred Hitchcock Rated NR
28 Lost Highway 1997 David Lynch Rated R
29 The Truman Show 1998 Peter Weir Rated PG
30 Raging Bull 1980 Martin Scorsese Rated R
31 Amadeus 1984 Milos Forman Rated PG
32 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 2004 Michel Gondry Rated R
33 This Is Spinal Tap 1984 Rob Reiner Rated R
34 Citizen Kane 1941 Orson Welles Rated NR
35 There Will Be Blood 2008 Paul Thomas Anderson Rated R
36 Catch Me If You Can 2002 Steven Spielberg Rated PG13
37 The Wizard of Oz 1939 Victor Fleming Rated NR
38 The Sound of Music 1965 Robert Wise Rated NR
39 Wall Street 1987 Oliver Stone Rated R
40 The Empire Strikes Back 1980 Irvin Kershner Rated PG
41 Full Metal Jacket 1987 Stanley Kubrick Rated R
42 Blue Velvet 1986 David Lynch Rated R
43 Lost in Translation 2003 Sofia Coppola Rated R
44 The Godfather 1972 Francis Ford Coppola Rated R
45 Born on the Fourth of July 1989 Oliver Stone Rated R
46 Beauty and the Beast 1991 Gary Trousdale Rated NR
47 Jackie Brown 1997 Quentin Tarantino Rated R
48 Matchstick Men 2003 Ridley Scott Rated PG13
49 Punch-Drunk Love 2002 Paul Thomas Anderson Rated R
50 North by Northwest 1959 Alfred Hitchcock Rated NR

Party Down (John Enbom, Dan Etheridge, Paul Rudd, 2009)



My favorite television series of late courtesy of Starz, aka Starz Entertainment, LLC, a wholly owned television programming subsidiary of Liberty Media Corp. This is scintillating funny stuff – the dude that stole the show in Stepbrothers (one of the more underrated films of 2008), Adam Scott, forges ahead as glum, pill and vodka shot popping Henry Pollard, a down on his luck actor who’s claim to fame is a particular commercial that has him exclaiming “Are we having fun yet?!”  Next to him are other struggling actors including those played by the brilliant Jane Lynch, Kyle Bradway, Roman DeBeers, Casey Klein and the guy that steals this show, Ken Marino playing Ron Donald the boss of Party Down, an LA catering company.  Party Down premiered on March 20, 2009 and played ten episodes of increasingly manic comedy.

Willow Canyon Homeowners Annual Party (Episode 1), the premiere episode, introduces us to Henry Pollard, the newest recruit to Party Down.  Henry is a young disgruntled actor, lost of his big dreams, and arrives at this suburban party with the observation that this particular homeowner’s set up isn’t that bad.  He explains as much to the homeowner, Gordon McSpadden played by Enrico Colantoni.  McSpadden isn’t as impressed by his own spread and caps off his evening as host by becoming extremely intoxicated, stripping off his clothes and cannon balling into his pool much to the dismay of the other homeowners.  Thus begins a very interesting series that casts a humorous eye on not only the employees of Party Down but on their clients who change weekly with the gigs and who are as colorful as the main protagonists.  Henry meets Casey (Lizzy Caplan) a similarly struggling actor who promises a romantic attachment for him.  Caplan is lovely and gives a wonderfully understated performance in this series.  Add Jane Lynch (Constance, the goofy, off-kilter B movie has been), Ryan Hanson (pretty boy Kyle missing a few brain cells who doesn’t flinch when told that Henry’s “agent” is State Farm), Martin Starr (Roman, a “screenwriter” of Star Trek knockoffs that’s way too good for this job but can’t get the (any) girl), and Ken Marino (Ron, the catering supervisor, inspired by famous management gurus of the stage and happens to be a recovering addict teetering on the edge).


Highlights are the premiere, Investors Dinner (Episode 4), Taylor Stiltskin Sweet Sixteen (Episode 6 with an absolutely balls to the wall turn by a wildly cursing J.K. Simmons as the daddy/music producer), Celebrate Rick Sargulesh (Episode 8, a hilarious take on a mob birthday party sparked by an impromptu performance from Steven Weber as the birthday mobster boy), and the Stennheiser-Pong Wedding Reception season one finale with a lovely cameo by Kristen Bell of Forgetting Sarah Marshall fame.


Great cameos throughout (yes, thats Sulu) the material is surprisingly moving as the series plays on and develops relationships and interplay between the principal characters as real people facing real career and interpersonal challenges.  I cannot wait for the second year as its been green lit by Starz.