Monday, August 31, 2009

Free Music From a Great Band

Yeah, this blog is film first, everything else second, but that isn't going to stop me from using it to promote a great band that gives away all its albums for absolutely nothing.

As a fan of music, Madame Blavatsky Overdrive is one of my most proud discoveries of super talent hidden among everything else. The band features Adam Gates, a man most often associated with the likes of Les Claypool. He played a huge role in Claypool's first film, Electric Apricot, and has been a long time collaborator with the legendary bass player under the moniker Bob C. Cock.

MBO is really a combination of everything that is right with music. A blending of respect for the past but rejuvenated by a sense of energy and wisdom. Gates previous band, The Spent Poets, works on a similar level.

MBO's first album, the blistering and refreshing Idiot Jones Will Have His Day, was released back in late 2006 and for free on their website. Their long awaited resurgence was brought on with the first release of a cycle of five EPs that have been recorded by the band. With
Hidden Masters Under Dead Suns in early July, Immanentize The Eschaton in early August and now Waking The Blind Idiot God, the band has delivered to its fans more great free music.

What more can you ask for? Do yourself a huge favor and give this band a listen.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Disturbingly Brilliant, 'Antichrist' is von Trier’s Painful and Personal Effort

The opening prologue of the extremely controversial Lars von Trier film Antichrist opens nearly in stasis, a beautifully intimate and intense black and white slow motion shot of sexual freedom between the only two actors in the film, Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. The extremely sexually explicit film quickly morphs into a tale of despair and grief after the loss of their only child, all of which takes place in the same stylish opening scene.

A lot has been made about the Danish filmmaker von Trier and his most line-crossing film yet, Antichrist. The film received cheers and jeers at the Cannes Film Festival, and even caused at least four people to pass out. He even was said to have suffered through stints of depression during the making of the film that almost jeopardized the production, and this personal level shows inside the film.

Perhaps von Trier’s most painstaking work of art, watching Antichrist is an ordeal for its audience. A lot can be made about whether or not the level of violence is okay and if the claimed mistreatment of women and misogyny portrayed is something better left unseen. Chapter by chapter, von Trier outdoes himself in the explicit detail of the film’s graphic moments. There are sexually exploitative scenes worthy of an NC-17 rating due to the abuse of sexual organs, not to mention the complete mental instability and breakdown of the film’s two characters as they stay secluded in the woods, facing fears and trying to save a marriage hurt by the accidental loss of their young son.

But I did love and appreciate this film, believe me. And not because I’m gung-ho on the amount of violence or could actually relate to any of the psychological pains the character faced, or even enjoyed watching them have to try to overcome them. The honest truth is that this is a very well made film. Position on the level of violence you can tolerate aside, I find it hard to ignore the level of emotional impact the events bring forward. The entire film is spent with two characters, and you are extremely invested in them emotionally because of this and a strong script. Whether you like them or not, you’re sharing something with them, and you feel it. With wow-factor in tact, the film is a literal edge of your seat horror film, if you want to call it that.

The core of Antichrist is this really simple but obviously complex interaction between a husband and a wife in the midst of a troubled marriage based on distance relations and now a grave accident with the loss of a child. Fear and biblical meaning surround the characters, and von Trier’s ideas about what scares us are unrelenting.

Responsible for carrying all the on screen weight in the film between husband and wife are Dafoe and Gainsbourg, who together make for a remarkable duo performance. Gainsbourg especially gave an outstanding performance of complete mental breakdown, a downright scary portrayal. Not knowing how the Academy will react to a film as grotesquely displaying as Antichrist, it will remain to see if Gainsbourg gains any kind of respect during award season.

Controversial subjects are best discussed after letting them sizzle in your brain. When it comes down to it for me, Antichrist was an extremely moving and intense film. Much like von Trier’s Breaking the Waves, another solemn study in marriage relationship, Antichrist is absolutely riveting, just for different reasons.

Perhaps the most original genre-bending psychological thriller and horror film of the year, Antichrist carries much weight by its side with emotionally invested characters coupled with scenes of intimidating, blunt and even at times pure strange imagery. Not for everyone, but those who are intrigued should find themselves jarred in one way or another as Antichrist is one of the most impacting and jolting films to come out in years as it contains enough pain to help it find its way onto many infamous shortlists of the most disturbing films ever made.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Thing of the Past, 'Inglourious Basterds' Is an Example of Marvelous Storytelling

The long time coming World War II project of Quentin Tarantino finally arrived, and in world class form at that. Tarantino had been working on the ever-evolving script of influenced ideas for nearly a decade. What began a spaghetti western in the vein of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly turned into an Italian exploitation war film influenced adventure styled after The Dirty Dozen.

Finally, what became of Tarantino’s self-described “bunch-of-guys-on-a-mission” film turned into a tale of a brooding squad of Jewish Americans set on scalping Germans interlaced over the course of five chapters with a French side plot of a former Jewish hideaway and her plan to pay the Nazi regime back for past inflicted pains. Inglourious Basterds is seemingly all about the brutality, revenge and racism of the battleground in German occupied France, and looks at the barbarism from all points of view.

There’s always a lot to cover when talking about a Tarantino written and directed film. As a filmmaker he puts so much into his films, especially on personal levels. His entire filmography is almost a showcase for his affection of all different types of the world’s cinema. From noir-bled stories to an expansion on the blaxploitation genre, Tarantino is one of the modern artists that have been able to translate the blood, guts and viscera of past genres to today’s filmmaking, a key ability that helps translates this arduous script come to life.

Because of this, Inglourious Basterds breathes a few fresh breaths right from the beginning with the old styled title credits and the name of the first chapter, “Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France”, something you might find as the name of a Sergio Leone directed and Terence Hill acted spaghetti western. In fact the name of the film is inspired by the English title of Enzo G. Castellari’s classic war exploitation film The Inglorious Bastards, which also deals with a group of roughneck American soldiers during World War II.

This whole theme carries into the entire film, from the type of music to the violence to the characters named after famous actors and filmmakers. It’s strange to say that something that reminds me of films from the 1960’s and 1970’s is original and something I’m glad to see, but after mucking through far too many spiritless titles every week, this nod to another decade is something I welcome. Inglourious Basterds certainly seems to contain a whole lot of a respect for a whole lot of people.

But of course the most respect here should be given to Tarantino for finally making his back-pocket script actually a possibility. Like any film from the director, there’s plenty of dialogue. Of course, it’s all excellent dialogue, the kind only Tarantino and a select few others can really brings forth into their films. It’s the kind of wordplay, both completely serious at times and absurdly funny at others, that explores characters with good insight and holds an audience in its seats by building tension.

The real motivating engine of the film is the way everything unravels. Inglourious Basterds is seriously good storytelling at its finest. Even at 153 minutes the film has a conjoined feel where all the pieces fit together. The films multiple yet interlacing storylines are told through the course of five different chapters, all a bit different from one another, yet each acting to build the next one.

Not really a true ensemble cast, but still deserving of equally divided credit, the actors in Inglourious Basterds all pulled together and contributed to some truly remarkable performances. The film is stolen by Christoph Waltz as SS officer Hans Landa. The Austrian actor should be looking at some notice from the Academy come Oscar season with his truly evil, commanding and thoroughly entertaining portrayal of "The Jew Hunter".

Brad Pitt has really done a good job as of late turning in nice character performances. His silly role in the Coen Brother’s Burn After Reading led to a much more serious turn in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and finally into this serious yet darkly funny character Lt. Aldo Raine, a man subtitled “Aldo the Apache” for his love of scalping Nazis. With his quick-speak and impeccable Hillbilly-fashioned southern drawl, Pitt seems to be building onto a nice acting career sometimes overshadowed by his crowd-drawing name and good looks.

The rest of the performances, some a bit smaller in scale, impress just as well. Never was I huge Eli Roth fan, and on paper I could never see him pulling off a character nicknamed “The Jew Bear”, but he did it. German actor Til Schweiger might have given the most badass performance as quiet psychopath Hugo Stiglitz and other main protagonist Shosanna is wonderfully played by the gleaming Mélanie Laurent. Also of note is Mike Myers’ revitalizing performance, somewhat similar to the way Tom Cruise had a surprising and successful appearance in 2008’s Tropic Thunder.

This bastard child of multiple genres is a triumph for Quentin Tarantino. Inglourious Basterds is spaghetti western built with World War II mythos and an unrestrained, anything goes battlefield being trudged through by memorable characters full of arching dialogue and subtly dark humor. I’m not ready to say Inglourious Basterds is Tarantino’s best film, but it certainly is one of his most remarkable pieces of art, a true ode to many things past. Perhaps Tarantino was speaking directly through Pitt’s character when Aldo Raine speaks the line “I think this might just be my masterpiece.”

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Life after 'Halo' Spells Masterpiece for Blomkamp with 'District 9'

What a thrill it must have been for Neill Blomkamp. The South African native was named director of the Peter Jackson produced Halo film project back in 2007. Can a first feature film get more daunting? Unfortunately for Blomkamp, the project never happened. The Halo film was dead and according to Microsoft is still sitting on the shelves.

But as Jackson said himself, the day Halo died is the day District 9 was born. Jackson decided to give Blomkamp the directorial shot they owed him, and that shot turned out to be a feature length version of Blomkamp’s own short film Alive in Joburg.

In documentary-like fashion, District 9 follows Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley), a MNU bureaucrat assigned to evict and move the residing and stranded alien species to a new refugee camp in Johannesburg, South Africa. After being exposed to a less-than-desirable alien substance, Wilkus attempts to survive on the run from the very MNU agency he worked for as he tries to help the aliens flee from the planet.

All I have to say for the time being is forget Halo. Who needs a highly revered set of characters and stories when you have the pure genius and originality of Neill Blomkamp at the helm? District 9 is an extraordinary feature film debut for director/writer Blomkamp and the kind of science fiction film some filmmakers would dream to make. It breathes heavy with originality but doesn’t shy away from borrowing things from the classics, like the ongoing metamorphosis transformation of Wilkus being strikingly similar in ferocity to that of Seth Brundle’s excruciating change to fly in David Cronenberg’s The Fly. District 9 is a science fiction classic all by itself, and Blomkamp didn’t need the backing of a popular videogame to do so. In a perfect Hollywood, more District 9’s and less Halo’s would be made.

An outstanding aspect of District 9 is the absolute emotional honesty poured into the film. Blomkamp had first hand experience of apartheid in South Africa while growing up. Say what you will about the message seeping through the film’s pores, but Blomkamp’s vision of truth and honesty is evident and isn’t something you will find in most films of this kind. District 9 is truly a gritty breeding ground for degradation and pain, and the emotion is found from all parties whether it is human or alien. Both sides are given a fair shake at being good and evil, and the balance plays out well for the emotional tenacity of the film, a dimension some science fiction films about alien invaders don’t carry at all.

The true naturalistic cinéma vérité style of Blomkamp is executed as perfect as it has ever been done inside the science fiction/horror genres. Where other films come off as being unnatural and fake, Blomkamp’s direction and editing of the whole entire process is nearly perfect, making it truly feel as though the agents and people of Johanesburg are actually socializing and interacting with an alien species. Strange, I know, but this film looks great, proving a smallish budget of $30 million can bring great success at the hands of someone like Blomkamp.

One for the ages, District 9 is the best film I’ve seen all summer, and should serve as a blueprint for how to do the genre right in the 21st century. From a script that actually makes you care about its beings to great visual execution at a small price, Blomkamp proves you can make an engaging and heart-pounding masterpiece without the big names or the excessive wad of cash. Can someone please screen this film over and over again in front of all the executives in Hollywood? And please make them take notes.

DVD Picks of the Week: August 25th, 2009

August is coming to a close and school is starting up, so check out a few ways you can spend your last week of total freedom. That is, if you have enough money left over after buying all those books you probably will never use.

Adventureland [DVD][Blu-ray]

Some weeks I struggle deciding which film to feature first, but I had no trouble spotting Adventureland number one today. The film came out back in April but still reigns as one of the best films I've seen all year, after titles like In the Loop, The Hurt Locker and District 9 (*Note: I haven't seen Inglourious Basterds yet). Greg Mottola's self-reflective 1980's time piece plays more like Dazed and Confused for a different generation and less like Superbad, the way it was falsely advertised as, since Mottola directed both films. All for the better, I say. The film is extremely rewatchable, charming and enjoyable. It also let Kristen Stewart give a genuinely good and emotional performance outside of her Twilight spotlight. Give Adventureland a chance.

The Last Days of Disco [Criterion DVD]

By now you should know that I never let a Criterion Collection release slip past me. And why should I? With all I have to owe to the company for helping me expand my film library and knowledge with their additions to their ever-increasing collection of previously hard to find classics and under-the-radar gems, I can't afford to let a title slip by me. This week they released The Last Days of Disco, a film by Whit Stillman. Made in the late 1990's, the film focuses on highly educated young people living in Manhattan, just like in Stillman's previous film Metropolitan. The comedy-drama has performances from Chloë Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale.

Eclipse Series 17: Nikkatsu Noir [Criterion DVD]

Criterion's sister project falls under the moniker "Eclipse Series" and is the company's attempt at bundling important films by important artists at a cheaper price. Of course, this comes sans extras, something that many Criterion fanatics crave. But still, this lowers the price, and makes for an affordable package for all those interested. The series began with a collection of early Ingmar Bergman films and has stayed strong and popular ever since. Up this time around is a selection of film noir from the Nikkatsui film production company in Japan, the oldest film studio in the country. These titles all came out in the 1950's and 1960's, so the influence from American film noir can be found in heavy coats. I haven't seen any of the titles yet, but I already have a few ready to go on the trusty Netflix queue. I'm most interested in seeing how the Japanese translate the typical American film noir mythos into their own yakuza-blended spellbinders. Keep on reading the blog and I'm sure you'll find out what I thought.

Red Velvet [ Exclusive]

I saw a trailer for this film months ago. It actually might have been over a year ago. Regardless, the film looked so intriguingly original and so downright strange that my interest was invested in the title. The film really had no release information as it was pretty low on the food chain. Just now I've discovered that the title is being released via Amazon's DVD-R service, in which they do a legal burning of the film, in good quality and complete with artwork, after you order it. Now I'm not sure if I'm sold on spending $14 for a DVD-R of a film I've never seen before (and one that has hardly been reviewed at that), but damn do I ever want to see this film. Check out the trailer below and tell me, as a fan of original horror you have the same urge.

What else comes out this week: Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles- Criterion Collection, House, M.D. - Season Five, NCIS: The Complete Sixth Season, Smallville: The Complete Eighth Season, One Tree Hill: The Complete Sixth Season, Scrubs: The Complete Eighth Season, Californication : The Complete Second Season, Duplicity, Sunshine Cleaning, Lie to Me: Season One, Fighting, The Informers, Wanted Dead or Alive: The Complete Series, The Complete Billy Jack Collection, Children of the Corn [Blu-ray], Rudo Y Cursi, Goodbye Solo.

What to stay away from: Fighting. There were a lot of stupid films released this week. I've heard terrible things about The Informers but can anything really stop a god damn film starring Channing Tatum about fighting simply named Fighting? If only all studios were this clever. Too bad Fast and Furious wasn't simply called Illegal Street Racing. Maybe the world would be a better place.

Catch you later.

Friday, August 21, 2009

DVD Picks of the Week: August 18th, 2009

Another week, some more great titles to look out for. Let's cut to the chase.

The Last House on the Left

As far as remakes go, this new version of The Last House on the Left is simply solid. Fans of the Wes Craven classic might be disappointed by the fact that this more modern telling of the classic revenge story is actually downgraded in ferocity. Still, on it's own the film is worth watching, as it features some compelling photography and a nice villainous turn by Garret Dillahunt as classic bad guy Krug. Try not to compare what you see here to the exploitative offering from Craven, because you won't get very far.

Playtime [Criterion Blu-ray]

Admittedly, I have yet to see Jacques Tati's Playtime just yet. Tati's films have been described as "gloriously choreographed and nearly wordless", making me strongly interested in what's in store for me as a brand new viewer. Criterion's offerings for this week include a few films reissued on Blu-ray. with Playtime being the first of the selection.

Kagemusha [Criterion Blu-ray]

I love Akira Kurosawa, I swear. I even own this film on the older standard Criterion release. I just haven't watched it. I bought it for $3 used from some insane sale a year ago, so give me a break on that one. I'd buy any Criterion for $3. This Blu-ray upgrade makes me think it's time for me to give Kagemusha the viewing it might deserve. Kurosawa is without a doubt one of the greatest of all time and classics such as Rashomon, Seven Samurai and High and Low can't be forgotten.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Invading from a 1950's Sky, 'Alien Trespass' Pays Great Tribute

Alien Trespass seems like it arrived to the year 2009 via time machine. If the technology to do that existed I might actually believe that this really was a lost 1950's science fiction film finally recovered for our viewing pleasure.

In true form, Alien Trespass recreates the 1950's era of genre filmmaking. The story is hokey, the acting is wooden, the humor is dry and the effects are decades old. Okay, normally a film with these qualities wouldn't receive much acclaim from a critical standpoint, but this time around we have a project that just does.

Despite being full of nostalgia aimed at those that grew up watching both impressive and corny science fiction flicks in movie theaters across America during the 50's, Alien Trespass is a breath of fresh air. It can't be easy to pull off a complete restoration of a forgotten style of filmmaking, but director R.W. Goodwin must have a direct channel to the years past because he did it perfectly.

Facing the fact that most films labeled under the science fiction genre these days are chock full of animation and CGI, Goodwin dared to go simple. A goofy looking one-eyed monster is the villain here, not a monstrous robot as big as most buildings. All that's needed to stop him is a visit from a lone alien invader and a sort of tiny laser that looks like it was quickly constructed out of a pipe. In all honesty, Alien Trespass just doesn't look or act like a modern film. And for Goodwin that must be music to his ears.

Goodwin devised a retro and saturated color scheme based off classic genre films such as the original The War of the Worlds. The set pieces are also, at times, sincerely forged. Goodwin's absolute love for the films he pays joyful tribute that shows. He has the concept down pat with the inclusion of small town drunkards, a dorky local scientist, young kids the adults won't listen to, a police chief not on top of his game and an out of this world plot.

The forced and wooden acting is only a lovable nod to the original stuff, and works as true homage. Robert Patrick, best known for his role in Terminator 2: Judgment Day works alongside Eric McCormack of Will and Grace fame. The two add name and talent to a film that doesn't have what you would call a wide audience.

Alien Trespass isn't really meant to be a spoof or a comedy, and that's important to remember. Sure, there is humor, and most of it seems straight from the 1950's. Obviously not similar to the style of comedy that reigns champion nowadays. Still, it seems Goodwin's full intention is to only recreate one of the most beloved genres in the history of the United States, not to poke fun of it like other films try to do. So if you're sitting there, watching and playing along with Goodwin's dreamish photography and vintage storyline, and you aren't enjoying what you're watching, make sure your intentions are leveled with Goodwin's.

Possibly for only fans of yesteryear's genres and styles, Alien Trespass is a triumphant and respectable form of flattery from a team who clearly loves what they do. It's lovable, fun and from a decade other than our own. Most importantly, it's a change of pace from the multimillion dollar CGI-fests that invade cinemas every summer.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Diving Deep Into the Criterion Collection

Let's be honest with each other for a minute. With 495 titles (and growing) in the Criterion Collection, it's easy to miss a few gems here and there. Unless you have loads of money to purchase whatever you want whenever you want, or you have all the time to devote to renting, watching and returning films via Netflix, you're going to have trouble wrapping your entire brain around all the tastes Criterion has to offer. Here are just a few (five to be exact) titles that I was lucky enough to not let slip under my radar.

Youth of the Beast (#268, 1963)
dir. Seijun Suzuki

Famed Japanese yakuza filmmaker Seijun Suzuki tapped in the world of gangsters and the like with this early 1960's film that has been said to help revitalize the yakuza genre. What stands out above all else in Suzuki's films, Youth of the Beast especially, is the unique left field approach not seen in other films of the similar type. The artistic flair of Suzuki is most definitely something many great American filmmakers of the 1970's tapped into at one time or another. His hallucinatory and psychedelic trance-inducing visuals were something to behold for the early 1960's. Even the main crime boss eerily pets a cat similar to Ernst Stavro Blofeld (a character introduced in the same year) of the James Bond films did. Truth be told, there aren't many filmmakers in the genre, both Japanese yakuza and American gangster, who are able to couple visual variety with a sincere and gritty noir-based story. Youth of the Beast tells greatly and emotionally of a man's attempt to revenge what he thinks was a set-up of a close friend by infiltrating two crime syndicates.

Last Year at Marienbad (#468, 1961)
dir. Alain Resnais

Last Year at Marienbad isn't exactly an unknown film. It's actually quite well known. I do happen to think that it might be a bit overlooked by your average person. It certainly isn't for everyone, but I do think that everyone that enters into the mysterious puzzle that is Resnais' French new wave masterpiece gets a little something of their own out of it. This is a film that doesn't hand you anything, but one that must be worked at to receive anything out of. I've only seen the film once, far few times to actually grasp the understanding Resnais is working at. That is indeed something I don't think I'll ever understand. What can be understood is the absolutely unique story and narrative structure by which Resnais tells it. Last Year at Marienbad is the puzzling attempt by a man to rekindle a relationship that supposedly began a year ago with a strange woman. Resnais implements present and past into one, making sure the viewers are on their toes at all times. Two people, who may or may not have met before, with a mysterious flame being lit between them, and a troupe of odd and seemingly dreamy characters interfering around them.

Europa (#454, 1991)
dir. Lars von Trier

I seem to have a soft spot for the delirious and dreamy. Europa fits somewhere into the mold of the above two films. The hypnotic state of von Trier's is jet-setted from the start. Personal favorite of mine, Max von Sydow, opens the film with a downright unsettling and captivating voice over, coming into complete control of both you and the main character. If you don't settle into the mood of the film by the time von Sydow is done speaking, you might be in for a bit of trouble. This film is weird, slightly campy with erratic acting, but always interesting. It doesn't liken to much else, even as far as von Trier himself goes. He's a methodical filmmaker, particular to the touch and always challenging and engaging his viewers. Titles like Breaking the Waves do it in other ways than Europa does, but the idea is still there. The brunt of von Trier's imagery is a dark and soulless black and white, with color capturing key images and items along the way. Settle in on a lost night with this title concerning a sleeping car constructor aboard Zentropa railways, and let the troubled train full of mystery carry you along for a ride across a war-torn and destroyed Europe.

Wise Blood (#470, 1979)
dir. John Huston

Now just because I wrote about this film before on my blog doesn't mean I can't include it again. Wise Blood is certainly one of the strangest offerings from John Huston. The extraordinarily acclaimed filmmaker has had his hand in more than one classic film in his time, but nothing I've seen comes close to the strangeness served up here. Brad Dourif stars in this film based on the Flannery O'Connor novel as Hazel Motes, an ambitious, young and uneducated southerner who has just returned from the war. Motes is motivated, destined to do something important. At least he wants to. As opposed to the idea of being a preacher as he is, Motes becomes one anyway as he starts the "Church Without Christ". Motes himself is a strange character, forget about those who surround him and follow him. The entire trip is a odd one. Words can't quite explain the small town feel combined with the big town idea.

The Complete Mr. Arkadin (#322, 1955)
dir. Orson Welles

I never thought I would put an Orson Welles film on this list, but I do think Mr. Arkadin fits fine in the subject matter. The film is considered to be a sort of lost mystery. Welles never really got to finish the film in the intended way he wanted to, but the genius beings at Criterion created the "comprehensive version", creating a film as close to the intended vision Welles had at the time of the project. Included in the box set are three versions of the films, enough to satisfy all those intrigued in the mystery of who exactly Gregory Arkadin is. The film is a tale for the ages, and Criterion finally gave the world the best possible way of telling it to our eyes. Welles has always been a master of the mystery (his character in The Third Man, his dreamy documentary F for Fake) and Mr. Arkadin is no different.

That's that. I know these films are exactly all secret gems, but I do think they've flown somewhat under the radar to the average moviegoer. Home entertainment can fill a lot of voids mainstream popcorn crunching cinema just can't. The art, the mystery, the sense of time. It's all there. And remember, these are only five of the nearly 500 titles Criterion has to offer.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

DVD Picks of the Week: August 11th, 2009

I've been giving my thoughts on each week's DVD and Blu-ray releases since the beginning of March, and I've seen many weak selections. This week is certainly not the greatest, but I can let you know ahead of time that it is indeed more solid than some of the bummer-inducing weeks we've received over the past five months. On to the main event.

I Love You, Man [DVD][Blu-ray]

I didn't know what exactly to expect from this film when I first saw the trailer. I do like Paul Rudd, and Jason Segal is coming into his own as a comedic film actor, but the rest was a mystery. That said, I finally was able to view this film a few weeks ago, and impressed I was. It's a smart, lovable and very funny film from John Hamburg, the director of Along Came Polly. Slappa da bass.

The Ninth Gate [Blu-ray]

Getting its debut on Blu-ray this week is The Ninth Gate, the underrated Roman Polanski film starring Johnny Depp. Depp plays a book collector assigned to track down the one true authentic version of a satanic ritual related book, wanted greatly by Boris Balkan (Frank Langella). This film has become a true cult favorite of mine for the atmospheric visual created by Polanski and the overall entertaining story. It gets more hate than love, and I think that's a bit of a crime. It isn't the greatest film ever made, but it certainly is an achievement. Anyways, grab this one on Blu-ray, because for $13 (on Amazon) it is surely worth the upgrade.

The Class [DVD][Blu-ray]

A film near the top of my viewing list is The Class (or Entre Les Murs). The French film won the top prize at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for best foreign film at this past year's Academy Awards. François Bégaudeau plays a version of himself as a teacher in a racially mixed and tough Parisian neighborhood. Seems unique, and could be naturally powerful and moving as an inside the classroom type of film.

Alien Trespass [DVD][Blu-ray]

This is a film that seems to be in a misplaced decade is this 1950's replica alien invasion film that plays as a sort of spoof and homage to the genre that is long gone from the film arena. Stuff like this doesn't come around very often, and even if it does, it usually seems to fail at doing what it's attempting. From all I've heard, Alien Trespass has done it right, and I look forward to seeing it myself. Check out the trailer below to see what I mean.

What else comes out this week: 17 Again, 90210: The Complete First Season, Starman [Blu-ray], Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Film Collection, Katyn, Blue Thunder [Blu-ray], Are You Being Served? The Complete Collection, Chaos [Blu-ray], Gigantic, Replicant [Blu-ray],
Grindhouse Girls of the 1970s Collection.

What to stay away from: The Art of War III: Retribution. Another one of those unneeded sequels to an already unneeded sequel. Seriously? Three films in the Art of War series? Why do people let these things happen? At least Wesley Snipes was in the second film.

That's all for this week. See, there were a few good to great titles this week. Next week brings a few popular television shows and another remake to home theater formats. See you then.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wrap Up of Films Watched in July of 2009

I have finally found the time to sit down and look back on the films I watched in the month of July. The meat of the summer brought a lot of good films to my attention. In addition, most of my viewings were new viewings, with only one repeat viewing. This is what Netflix and a love for buying DVDs brings to someone.

I watched a total of 22 films over the course of July, a rather admiral number if I must say so myself. On to the list. * denotes a first time viewing and all links lead to IMDB pages for the specific film.

163. 7/2 – Public Enemies*
164. 7/3 – I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang*
165. 7/4 – Mr. Smith Goes to Washington*
166. 7/4 – MST3K: Final Justice*
167. 7/5 – Jackie Brown*
168. 7/6 – Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid*
169. 7/10 – Woodstock, 3 Days of Peace & Music*
170. 7/12 – I’m Not There*
171. 7/14 – Play Misty for Me*
172. 7/18 – Don’t Look Back*
173. 7/18 – Down by Law*
174. 7/19 – Almost Famous*
175. 7/20 – Bronson*
176. 7/21 – Trainspotting
177. 7/22 – Stranger Than Paradise*
178. 7/25 – I Love You, Man*
179. 7/25 – Big Time*
180. 7/26 – In the Loop*
181. 7/28 – Night on Earth*
182. 7/29 – Watchmen (Director’s Cut)*
183. 7/30 – The Hurt Locker*
184. 7/31 – Ivan’s Childhood*

Best Film (New Viewing): In the Loop
This was a tough choice. In the Loop is one of the best films to be released in 2009. It's smart satire filled with quick, biting and unrelenting humor. The film is an insider's look at the on goings in lower level government in both Britain and the United States. It's not quite the president, but these people certainly make important decisions. The absurdity, stupidity and downright audacity of the characters are entertaining enough, and this is without the witty and snappy dialogue. I could have picked a few films from the list to give this award to, but I felt In the Loop was the most impressive in its own way. Certainly, a few of the films I saw are more heralded classics and a few others might hold more "intellectual" substance, but this particular film was a surprising and remarkable treat.
Runners-up: The Hurt Locker, Ivan's Childhood, Down by Law, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Best Film (Repeated Viewing): Trainspotting
It was the only film I watched that I saw before, so it's a gimme. But even if I had seen a good amount of other films, this still might be my pick. It's a startling and stylish tale of drug addiction from Danny Boyle, and overall is one of his most impressive films of his career.

Worst Film (Any Viewing): Final Justice
I mean, the Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffing of the film was truly brilliant. The actual film? Of course it was terrible. So I guess for the sake of picking something, I'll go with this. Everything else on the list is far too good to stick next to the word worst in any situation.

Most Surprising Film: Bronson
The trailer for Bronson played like a sort of action/brawler film. The actual film, not so much. More of a character study of a very dangerous and troubled man, Bronson offers insight into the character without any of the glamorizing of violence that one might think a stylish and loud film like this might. I expected good things, but I didn't expect to get what I got. With great intention, the film is an impressive and forcing study of unrelenting nature.
Runners-up: Down by Law, Night on Earth, Stranger than Paradise.

Most Disappointing Film: Woodstock, 3 Days of Peace, Love & Music
This was a fairly good film documenting the first ever Woodstock festival, but it wasn't quite what I was looking for. The extended director's cut is very long and features a lot of great imagery detailing a fascinating and lost era. All this is great, but it didn't always captivate me. Some moments are fascinating, such as the warning over the P.A. system for folks to stay away from a certain bad drug that was being passed around. Others, such as random hippies dancing, were mostly filler. It's an impressive time capsule, but not quite the execution I enjoy.
Runners-up: None

Most Underrated Film: I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
Back in July I wrote about why I'm such a fan of the fugitive, and you can read all that here. This is a rather old film, but holds to be very impressive even to this day. It's highly influential, and for good reason. Do yourself a favor and take a look at this one.
Runners-up: Play Misty for Me, Down by Law, Ivan's Childhood.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Maturation, Revitalization with Apatow's 'Funny People'

If I were to tell you that an artist’s maturation piece was filled with genitalia jokes, would you believe me? Now take a second and realize that this artist in question is Judd Apatow, the man whose brand of humor and name seems to be attached to more projects than he really has creative hand in, and you wouldn’t be so surprised. Writing credits aside, Apatow has only directed three feature films, the third being his sort of self-reflective film Funny People.

Not completely all-grown-up, Apatow’s latest film is a rather serious stride for the funny man filmmaker. The comedy-drama focuses intently on the relationship of struggling young comedian Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) with the terminally ill and experienced comedian George Simmons (Adam Sandler). Before long, the relationship lacking Simmons attempts to bring himself back into the life of former flame, Laura (Leslie Mann), at risk of ruining her family.

Expectations can be a killer. No film, no matter how strong an artist’s ties are to a certain style or genre, should be expected to be what it isn’t. I said the same thing about the horrendously promoted Adventureland, which has turned out to be one of the best films of the year thus far. It wasn’t the Superbad-like film that the trailer made it out to be, just like Funny People isn’t a carbon copy replication of Apatow’s former work.

Apatow’s strengths in writing still exist in Funny People. Raunchy sex jokes about the size of one’s penis fused with pop culture references with names like Jon Favreau and Roger Waters dropped into various situations are what make Apatow’s style of comedy likeable and desirable. It pleases all crowds, even though some of the more dated references might not pass with the younger crowds. But still, it’s interesting to look at how Apatow has become our generation’s muse of comedy filmmaking, with a down to earth and often relatable style so replicated and so revered.

The significance of Funny People is in the return to form of Adam Sandler to quality comedic roles. Sandler has been in a mixed bag of serious dramas and lacking comedies over the past decade. With comedy, it isn’t always the actor’s fault. So necessary, to even the funniest person alive, is good material. Apatow is the type of vehicle Sandler can hitch a ride on in these later years of his acting career, and it was refreshing to see him use his opportunity here, as Apatow created a perfect role for Sandler to be able to utilize both his serious and humorous acting abilities.

What does set Funny People apart from the other Apatow branded films is a little depth and sincerity from Apatow. Not simply a formulaic comedy, this film is really a somewhat complex and fascinating concept. Sure, Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin both focused on what you could call “life issues”, but with no real honesty and no real meaning and in a more recognizable way. Funny People is an actual dramatic story, with actual consequences and actual conflict and resolution. There’s a clear distinguishable factor present in Apatow being able to keep the audience laughing while all the time making aware the serious nature of the issues at hand.

What I’m not completely sold on though is Apatow’s ability to write serious drama. The film is a little lengthy with a few scenes towards the end being a tad bit dragged on. The source of this problem could be result of Apatow’s attempt to keep the film both laugh out loud funny and contemplatively serious, a difficult combination to master. I almost wonder how the film could have been worked out without using the character of Laura to expose Simmons’ relationship problems. The concept is brilliant, a real thinker, but not perfectly executed.

Riding into the film on his one trick pony is Seth Rogen. Admittedly, I find Rogen to be a very likeable actor, even though his act is similar from film to film. He’s the Average Joe, the guy you can find something to relate to with. Providing a lot of the laughs along with Sandler and Rogen is a great supporting cast of Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Aubrey Plaza and Eric Bana. All these characters are fleshed out as much as they needed to be and placed into perfect spots in the film. I particularly love the casting of Aussie Eric Bana as the Australian husband of Laura.

Funny People really was an impressive film as far as what Apatow was able to achieve with a new direction. The mixture of comedy and serious drama is sublime and feels just right. Combining a quality project from an accomplished writer and director with Sandler’s talents, both humorous and serious, Funny People is Apatow’s most mature film yet and new successful ground for Hollywood’s supposed king of comedy.

DVD Picks of the Week: August 4th, 2009

We're late into summer, but that doesn't stop the DVDs and Blu-rays from flowing into stores. Here's what's new and exciting for this first week in August.

Flight of the Conchords: Season Two [DVD]

One of my favorite shows on television is Flight of the Conchords. The humor is sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle, but always as funny as can be. The show, for those of you that don't know, is a fictional show about a real music duo from New Zealand. The team of Jermaine and Brett have amazing chemistry, which is a given for the type of relationship the two have had over the years. The show takes place in New York, which adds a whole level of uncertainty for the two immigrants. The show is unique for its musical interludes featuring original songs from the group. If you haven't seen this show yet, do yourself a favor and get started on season one. If you love it like me you'll find yourself plowing through each episode.

The Soloist [DVD][Blu-ray]

The Soloist was a film that based upon its trailer alone screamed Academy Awards nominations. Unfortunately for Paramount the film must not have lived up to that level, as it was delayed from its initial release date during the height of the Oscar-wanting films to the first half of 2009. Still, the film looked interesting enough, and had enough star power (Downey Jr, Foxx) to yield enough interest. To boot, Joe Wright (Atonement) is an accomplished director. I still haven't seen the film yet, but it got good enough reviews to hold my desire in wanting to see it at a solid level.

Big Trouble in Little China [Blu-ray]

A supreme ass-kicking, heads fuckin' exploding, super secret magical powers, bad ass tour-de-force is exactly what Big Trouble in Little China is. The legendary duo of John Carpenter and Kurt Russell team together here to fuse fantasy, action and adventure (with a little campy humor) for one of the most memorable films of its kind. And there is no kind like it. I don't know what else to say about this film, other than the fact that if you haven't seen this yet, you should just go watch it now, Blu-ray or not.

Gomorrah [DVD]

One of the best foreign films of the last few years is this adaptation of the Roberto Saviano novel that landed the journalist in trouble with the organized crime he was writing about. The film is a seemingly accurate study on real organized Italian crime. I wrote about this film back in April after I first saw it and was blown away by Matteo Garone's ability to tell the unrelated stories as well as he was. It isn't a perfect telling of five unique and varied stories, but it is focused and engaging. This DVD release is region one, meaning it will work in your standard DVD player, but it seems to be an import from Canada, which leads to the price being a bit more than your average DVD. I'm not sure what the deal is with a U.S. release, but there is no doubt in my mind that it will receive one sooner than later.

What else comes out this week: Race to Witch Mountain, Obsessed, Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!: Season Three, Project Runway: Season Five,
My Cousin Vinny [Blu-ray], Ulysses, Mutant Chronicles, Sling Blade [Blu-ray], The Beast [Blu-ray], The Waterboy [Blu-ray], The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.

What to stay away from: It's gotta be Delgo, one of the biggest bombs in recent history. Attempting to cash in on the recent influx of Pixar-animated films came this trash from Fathom Studios, a division of Macquarium Intelligent Communications. Who is that? I don't know either. Anyways, the film actually has star power (Freddie Prinze Jr., Jennifer Love Hewitt, Val Kilmer, etc). but only managed to gross a little under $700,000. The film had a budget of $40 million. If 13 year old kids weren't stupid enough to watch this, you shouldn't be either.

Catch ya next week.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

DVD Picks of the Week: July 28th, 2009

Yes, today is the first day of August. Yes, I never completed the last week in July as far as DVD releases go. You didn't ask, but here it is anyways.

Combat Shock [Uncut DVD]

I am absolutely loving what Troma is doing with their "Tromasterpiece" collection. They've released a few titles under the new line including Cannibal The Musical, Redneck Zombies and The Last Horror Film, all essential viewings in the B-movie arena. The latest title to join the party is the debut film from Buddy Giovinazzo, Combat Shock (also known as American Nightmares). This release is loaded, and includes two versions of the films. The 90 minute one known as Combat Shock and the never-before-seen 100 minute cut known as American Nightmares. The two disc set also has commentary from the director, early short films and music videos from Giovinazzo himself and a healthy selection of other entertaining features. Troma has always put together some of the most interesting and entertaining DVDs and with their newest line of releases, the pattern seems to be continuing.

Repulsion [Criterion DVD/Blu-ray]

Seeing release via the Criterion Collection is Roman Polanski's Repulsion. If there's one director I shamefully haven't seen enough of, it is Polanski. Rosemary's Baby is a triumph of the horror genre, and titles like Fearless Vampire Killers shows his ability to turn horror mythos like vampires into comedy. Criterion always does a great job with their releases, so all is welcomed from them. Guess I'll have to see this along with Knife in the Water, another Polanski release via Criterion.

This Is Spinal Tap [Blu-ray]

We'll all finally get the chance to turn the video quality of This Is Spinal Tap to 11 with the Blu-ray release of a film that is one of the best music related films ever. Terrifically funny, this film seemed to help kick off the mockumentary genre. Would shows like The Office be possible without this title? Well, maybe, but it certainly didn't hurt to have this one around to help pave the way.