Saturday, May 28, 2011

Page One: Inside the New York Times

Page One:  Inside the New York Times is not a documentary about a day in the life of a newspaper.  Instead, it is more social commentary from the New York Times’ media desk about the current state of newspapers, their antagonizing relationship with news aggregators and social media, and a bit forlorn about how robust the New York Times used to be compared to their current staffing levels based on the combined loss of ad revenue and print subscriptions.  The majority of this film focuses on the paper’s media section, specifically on the cantankerous journalist David Carr, a former crack addict now social media watchdog.  He frequently goes to conferences and events to defend his newspaper against social media sites who proclaim the death of news print and the inevitable rise of the internet news leviathan.  Unfortunately for them, David Carr fights backs with some old common sense.  In the most effective scene, he holds up a hardcopy of Newser’s front page showing all of the news aggregated links on it.  His next exhibit has all of the links cut out of it which were ‘stolen’ from the mainstream media making the Newser’s front page look absolutely ridiculous and full of holes for all to see.

Too bad for the film’s audience though, David Carr comes across as more of an a**hole for most of the film and you welcome to other locales and issues the documentary focuses on when it’s not on Carr.  There are scenes of employee layoffs, contrite apologies about Judith Miller and Jayson Blair, and the continuing defense that without the large, networked mainstream media, these new social media / news aggregator sites would have nothing to link to on their websites.  These professional at-home bloggers do not have bureaus in Baghdad, stringers in war zones, and in an amusing side bit, they do not have people following their hometown zoning boards either.
Page One is effective at showing the audience that hardcopy newspapers are not dead yet and they still provide a considerable service to those who wish to remain informed.  Regrettably, the film spends way too much time on David Carr and the media section which bogs down the film and makes the audience wait for the next segment not involving Carr.      

The fugitive wanted for genocide is living next door?

In the past month, two of the world’s most wanted men were captured after very long and extensive manhunts.  The first, Osama bin Laden, was found in Abbotabad, Pakistan, a military garrison town known more for its military academies and golf courses than anything else.  The second, Serbian General Ratko Mladic, was found in the very small and non-descript Lazarevo village in northern Serbia near the Romanian border.  What do both of these locales have in common?  Their respective residents all proclaim a sense of shock and amazement that their backwater towns could have held such high profile fugitives.

In Lazarevo, the majority of the villagers claim Mladic’s arrest was staged by the government.  Nobody that well known could get away with being in such a small town without any of the nosy villagers ferreting him out.  I do not believe for one second Mladic’s arrest was staged; furthermore, I think people, especially in small towns, think their observation abilities are quite inflated.  If someone world famous were to move to West Seattle and take up residence on my block, I probably would not notice.  If a different car were to park on the street or in someone’s driveway, there is a chance I would become aware of it, but if a new individual were to arrive at any time of the day, walk into a house and stay there, there is no way I would ever know.  I realize that in small towns the residents live next door to one another for their whole lives and know pretty much everything which occurs, be it a birth, death, new job, etc…  However, if General Mladic arrived at a house late at night after everyone else went to sleep and then never left the house again, how on Earth would the villagers be aware of his presence?  Perhaps the diligent grocer would notice an uptick in Mladic’s cousin’s bakery order. 
In Pakistan, nobody is saying Osama’s killing was a government scam, but many people are asking the question of how Osama could live for years under the nose of the Pakistani military without their implicit help or their outrageous incompetence.  Osama was not hiding like Mladic either.  Mladic was hiding out on his cousin’s couch toting around a bag of mismatched medicine to try and recover from two heart attacks and an apparent stroke.  Osama had his own McMansion constructed with 12 foot tall barbed wire walls surrounding the place and a specific lack of communication nodes inside.  I would certainly notice a fortress being constructed in my neighborhood, but in a well known and settled military town, there is a good chance I would explain it to myself as just another headquarters building or under-publicized intelligence building.  For shame of the incompetent Pakistani military for not wondering why a civilian was building a fortress next door to their barracks.  Whether or not Osama’s residence there was due to a conspiracy or negligence, there is no reason the civilian residents of the neighborhood should or could have had any particular awareness of Osama’s presence in their town. 
My take away from all of this is I do not care how long you have lived in a small town or how truly eagle eyed a person thinks they are; your neighbors can and do easily hide things from you.  Nazi Germany probably had the most intense and effective neighborhood watch system ever put into practice; however, there were still thousands of Jews hiding out in their neighbor’s basements.  When the next globally recognized fugitive is caught in Nowheresville, population 43, I will not be surprised and I will yawn my way through the inevitable article describing just how shocked the town’s residents are and laugh at the skepticism at how someone could evade their advanced spidey-senses for so long.      

Monday, May 23, 2011

SIFF (2)

I went to seven movies this weekend; a personal best.  Film festivals are at once a wonderful event and also a physical challenge.  I was drop dead tired last night after the last one.
The best film I saw this weekend is from Denmark and is called Smukke mennesker “Nothing’s All Bad”.  The movie weaves in and out between four different individuals as they each confront their various problems of loneliness, addiction, alienation, etc…  I hesitate to provide character descriptions and interactions because of how shallow it will make a very deep movie experience appear.  Just know, I give this film very high praise.
12 Paces without a Head is from Germany and is about pirates on the Baltic Sea harassing the Hanseatic League in the early 15th century.  The dirt and filth of the era comes across but bizarrely the movie falls flat because the main characters don’t fit well together even though they’re ‘pirate best friends’.  It’s monotonous and the script just lacks a good punch.  The festival staff were joking that Pirates of the Caribbean 4 was not the best pirate movie in Seattle this weekend.  I haven’t seen Pirates 4, but I am not going to automatically write it off after sitting through 12 Paces without a Head.
Fire of Conscience is a Hong Kong action flick with little action, a thousand clichés, a lame story, and a strong urging from this audience member for it to end already.  I always to like to sneak in a good martial arts thriller every now and then and am just disappointed that this film had so much promise, but failed in almost every way.  The best/worst part is during the climax where the hero has to stop fighting the bad guys to get down on his knees and deliver a baby.  He holds his hands between the woman’s legs as if the football is about to be passed.  Horrible.    
Beginners is the new Ewan McGregor film and he was in the audience with us to receive an honorary Golden Space Needle award, participate in a Q & A session, and was interviewed about his previous films with clips from Trainspotting, Star Wars, Moulin Rouge, and the Ghost Writer incorporated.  Beginners is a very good film from the director of Thumbsucker.  It is autobiographical as well about his recent widower 75-year old father (Christopher Plummer) who reveals to his son that he is gay and he doesn’t want to be passive about it, but be an active gay.  It is really two films in one weaving back and forth between the father/son and son/girlfriend. 
Finally, I saw a movie as part of the Secret Festival.  According to the rules, and the oath I signed, I can never divulge the title or discuss the screening in any way.  If I do, the Seattle International Film Festival says they will pursue legal action against me in order to recover punitive and financial damages caused by my breach of this contract.  I can say that the Secret Festival is composed of films that have not yet come out, are stuck in some sort of litigation, are lost classics, etc…  The audience has no idea what the movie will be until it starts.  There is a secret festival movie each Sunday during the festival so I eagerly await the next three. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

SIFF (1)

The Seattle International Film Festival’s opening gala was Thursday night, but its first full day of films was yesterday; I went to two of them.

Submarine was adapted from a novel and directed by a British comic, Richard Ayoade.  It is set in Wales in the mid-80s but the year isn’t too important; you only know it is the ‘80s because of a reference to the new movie Crocodile Dundee.  The main character who provides a lot of voice over narration is Oliver Tate, a 15 year old high school student who is quite adept at analyzing his popularity status and various options in wooing girls.  The film has a Rushmore vibe, but Oliver Tate is no Max Fischer.  The majority of the plot is an ellipsis around two poles, Oliver nurtures the beginnings of a relationship with the feisty Jordana and he suspects his mother of infidelity with the new next door neighbor who wears black leather pants and proclaims himself a mystic.  Oliver does not balance these two ‘problems’ very well and the pole involving his mother’s suspected infidelity feels forced and trite.
I do not recognize the two actors who play Oliver and Jordana, Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige, but I suppose if you watch TV in Britain you will.  The poster has a large “Ben Stiller Presents” at the top of it so the film has star-backing and I even think he makes a cameo but it would be very hard to see him.  Submarine is slated for a 10 June U.S. release but I am not recommending this movie; go watch Rushmore again.
The second film is from Denmark, Alting bliver got iben “Everything will be Fine”.  A script writer is involved in a hit and run incident and instead of staying at the scene to wait for help, the victim tells him to take his backpack and get out of there.  Inside are photos of Danish soldiers torturing what I assume are Iraqis.  A mystery and suspense thriller ensue with government agents, shadowy figures the protagonist cannot be sure he can trust, relationship problems, work stress, possible mental illness, and one of the worst endings imaginable.  The film had to end some way and this one lands with a loud thud.  Everything will be Fine was at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and currently has no U.S. release date; good, it would not make very much money here.  If crowds want to spend their money on crap, they go see the latest action or animated film.  Lackluster mysteries usually fall through the cracks.      

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Geraldine Brooks

Tonight, I drove up to Third Place Books in Bothell, WA to attend a reading/book signing by Geraldine Brooks.  She is on a book tour promoting her most recent novel, Caleb’s Crossing.  I read one of her previous novels, People of the Book, in early April and since it is so fresh in my memory, I went to go see her.  Ms. Brooks was so inspiring, intelligent, and interesting to listen to that the hour she spent talking to the audience flew by.  She started with some random anecdotes about flat screen TVs, Oprah, a brief autobiographical background about her childhood in Australia, Columbia University, and then how the idea for Caleb’s Crossing popped up.

She only read a brief passage from early in the book and then spent the next half hour answering questions.  Each answer she gave was easily spun into a kind of story which completely charmed and mesmerized all 100 or so of us in the audience.  I asked a question referencing the current issue of the New York Times Book Review which gave an outstanding review of her book this week concerning the authentic 17th century language she incorporated.  I wondered how she learned how colonials spoke back then.  She mentioned an extensive Oxford dictionary where each word you look up is annotated with what people used for it in earlier times.  For example, she was sure nobody incorporated the word ‘fetus’ in the 17th century so in the dictionary she found they said ‘shapeling’ instead.  Furthermore, Ms. Brooks said her research was limited because there are no journals by women from the 17th century.  Women did not write back then due to lack of education, access, social mores, etc…  She learned about their speech patterns and vocabulary from court records.  There are transcripts from female defendants explaining themselves to the judge usually against the charge of being a ‘scold’ which means being overheard in public criticizing a man.
Geraldine has lived on Martha’s Vineyard for the past decade or so which directly impacted her current subject matter.  Caleb refers to the first Native American to graduate Harvard University back in 1645.  The author’s usual M.O. for her historical fiction is to take an event or person and weave an entire fictional novel just for them.  In her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, March, she created an entire novel from the absent father from Little Women.  In People of the Book, it was fictional people who came into contact with the Sarajevo Haggadeh.  In Caleb’s Crossing, it is all about the narrator, Bethia, who witnesses Caleb’s transformation from Wappanoag Indian to Harvard student. 
I can’t wait to read this novel and feel incredibly lucky I just happened to stumble upon a brief blurb in the Seattle Times that she was going to be in Bothell tonight.  Bravo Geraldine Brooks.

Friday, May 13, 2011


Unlike the film vampires you are familiar with who are articulate, handsome, and philosophical, the vampires in Priest are savage animals, almost like feral wolves.  Based on a series of graphic novels, the title Priest refers to an elite squad of vampire hunters who, working directly for the Catholic Church, battle vampires.  According to the back story, humans and vampires have been in direct and bloody conflict throughout history.  Due to the priest’s successes, the humans finally won the war but then walled themselves up in a towering city now under the thumb of a theocratic Catholic government.  There are confessional booths along the street which resemble public toilets.
The successful priest warriors were disbanded after the vampire wars and told to integrate with society and becomes regular civilians, something they do not excel at very well.  Suddenly, a frontier farmhouse is attacked and the family’s daughter is kidnapped by an alleged resurgent vampire horde.  Coincidentally, the family is related to the most dangerous and skilled priest, Paul Bettany.  Disobeying his elders who do not believe in the return of vampires, Bettany takes off on a quest to rescue his niece and is joined along the way by a sheriff, Cam Gigandet, who thinks he has what it takes to fight vampires, and a former priest colleague, Maggie Q, who provides Bettany’s priest with the expected sexual temptation to break his priestly vows of celibacy.
Unfortunately, the film makers did not make the decision to construct a serious, action/western, vampire film.  The director, Scott Charles Stuart, is primarily a visual effects artist and previously directed Legion, a better film also starring Paul Bettany.  The dialogue in Priest is a surefire nominee for worst screenplay of the year with atrocious dialogue and direct theft from very similar genre movies.  There are pieces of the Mad Max wasteland, the Underworld issue of cross breeds, the walled city of Judge Dredd, and the vampires resemble the ‘things’ from Pandorum.  The actors do their best to muddle through their mundane and predictable conversations; Bettany and Maggie Q come across very well as vampire hunters and stalled lovers, but Gigandet as the sheriff is saddled with a horrible role, the worst dialogue, and awkward poses.  The supporting cast mostly comes from HBO shows including Stephen Moyer from True Blood and Brad Dourif from Deadwood.  Christopher Plummer also pops up as the main authoritarian priest but it makes you wonder what Plummer is doing in a film like this. 
Overall, the 3D is not bad, it’s pretty crisp actually.  The fight scenes; however, are not up to par.  There are too many cuts and edits to logically follow any particular fight with fluidity.  You lose track of where the good guys and bad guys are and it usually becomes a jumbled mess until you finally see one of the bodies fall to the ground.  An awful script, choppy action sequences, and direct thieving from superior genre films all lead me to persuade you to stay away from Priest.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor is not a very good actress

I watched two Elizabeth Taylor films recently since her death (Cleopatra, Reflections in a Golden Eye) and it turns out she is an interesting face to look at, but is not a great actress.  In a re-released interview, Taylor said she never took an acting class.  I believe it.  She is thoroughly out acted in Cleopatra by Rex Harrison and Richard Burton and even though she does a bit better in Reflections in a Golden Eye, she plays opposite Marlon Brando who blows her out of the water. 
I am not going to write very much about Cleopatra, it is not very good.  It is far too long at four and a half hours and I saw both seasons of Rome which makes watching Cleopatra superfluous.  John Huston’s Reflections in a Golden Eye; however, is outstanding.  It is colored in a sepia tone and the hue is referenced in the film as the world being seen through the reflection of a peacock’s eye.  Marlon Brando is a Major in the Army and a very in the closet homosexual.  His wife is an Army brat, so much so that she gets away with calling the post’s commanding General “Old Sugar”.  She realizes what her husband is hiding and is having an affair with the next door neighbor, a Lieutenant Colonel. 
The ins and outs of the plot are not very important; it’s Brando’s character which is fascinating.  He becomes infatuated with a Private (Robert Forster) who in turn is infatuated with the Major’s wife (Taylor).  The sepia coloring chosen by Huston was wonderful to watch and it’s too bad audiences in the theater did not get to see it that way.  After just one week, the studio changed its mind and forced Huston to change the movie into straight up regular color which I think would take away from what he is trying to do here. 
This was also Brando in 1967, just on the cusp of giving up on his body and showing up obese in 1972’s The Godfather.  His voice hasn’t changed into that lazy drawl from The Godfather or Apocalypse Now; it’s crisper like On the Waterfront, but not as whiny and breezy.  He plays the Major as a hard ass as well, perfect posture and short, crisp words with a southern accent.  It is a very enjoyable performance to watch. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Aprarch 2011 Disc

There was not enough good music in just March of this year to justify its own disc; therefore, you get Aprarch 2011.  April + March = Aprarch.

1 - Paper Tongues - Trinity - I first heard this song in early 2010 but then forgot about it.  Luckily, I heard it again in March and it's good enough to bat lead off here.
2 - The Head and the Heart - Ghosts - We saw them last week at the Moore Theatre and this is by far their best song (in my opinion).  Everyone has their own favorite Head and the Heart song but this one is just musically and lyrically above the others.
3 - Snoop Dogg feat. T-Pain - Boom - Should definitely be a huge club song; anyone can dance to this.
4 - Crystal Castles feat. Robert Smith - I'm Not In Love - It figures the Crystal Castles would get around to paying their respects to the Cure.  Most of their songs do not have words in them so in the rare case one does, it might as well be Robert Smith doing the singing.
5 - DOM - Living in America - Pretty new and still growing on me
6 - A Silent Film - Driven by their Beating Hearts
7 - The Lonely Forest - Coyote - Finally picked up their disc after seeing last August.  This song might even be better than last year's stellar We Sing In Time.
8 - Grouplove - Colours - Thank you KEXP's John in the Morning Music That Matters Podcast.
9 - When Saints Go Machine - Fail Forever
10 - Portugal. The Man - People Say
11 - Wiz Khalifa - Roll Up - Definitely better than Black and Yellow
12 - The Raveonettes - Forget That You're So Young - Sounds like every other Raveonettes song, which is a good thing.
13 - The Vaccines - Post Break-up Sex
14 - Biffy Clyro - Many of Horror
15 - My Chemical Romance - Bulletproof Heart - Much better than the first single off of their latest album.
16 - The Pains of Being Pure of Heart - Belong
17 - The Sounds - Something to Die For
18 - Those Darlins - Be Your Bro
19 - Starfucker - Bury Us Alive - Best band name ever.
20 - Death Cab For Cutie - You Are A Tourist - First single off their new album.  Kate doesn't like it...why?

Queen to Play

Everyone has their ‘thing’.  For some it truly can be a passion.  Perhaps you know someone who reads all of the time, or a marathon runner, or a connoisseur of fine whiskey.  My ‘thing’ is film and to a lesser extent music.  I cannot stop watching and reading about movies.  For my wife, she cannot stop exercising and to a lesser extent reading.  For my new blog follower, her ‘thing’ appears to be a deep love of English literature dominated by Jane Eyre.
In Queen to Play (Joueuse), Helene’s (Sandrine Bonnaire) passion is chess.  Helene is Corsican and does not realize what her passion is until middle age.  She has a teenage daughter, a marriage which is just going through the motions, and a soul crushing job as a hotel maid which does not give her time for hobbies, let alone a passion.  While cleaning the room of a well to do American couple one morning, she eyes them from a distance while they play chess, a game she has only heard of, but never actually saw in action.  The couple is very much in love and radiates a sense of ease and relaxation towards one another which Helene probably never thought possible between couples.  Her brain now cannot stop studying the chess pieces, their respective movements, and the back and forth drama of a chess match.
Enter Kevin Kline as the tutor/mentor.  Helene is employed as his cleaning lady and notices he has a chess board.  Overcoming her natural shyness and aloofness, she asks to play him and they develop a sort of student/teacher bond over chess and later on, life.  The most effective parts of the film occur as Helene interacts with her family and the strain which chess eventually puts on them as it alienates her husband and sets her up for mockery around town.  The film’s pacing and the audience’s interest in Helene actually tapers off towards the end when she takes her newfound skills public and enters a tournament.  The rise of the cleaning lady busting through the glass ceiling of professional chess plays more as a cliché gimmick than a feel good self improvement moment.  The tournament lacks a certain amount of drama or suspense which is should have by that point.  In fact, all scenes actually involving the playing of chess and the wary eye movements as opponents observe each other doesn’t particularly work either.  More of Helene and her life on Corsica and less actual chess (unless the director figures out a more effective way to show it) would raise this film up a bit more.     

Friday, May 6, 2011

I Love You Phillip Morris

For a con man genre film, there are a lot of other elements packed in with I Love You Phillip Morris.  It is essentially a comedy, but there is enough stop the flow drama between the two main characters that it is not a true comedy or satire.  It is also a biopic about Steven Russell because this is based on a true story, but there is so much farce and laughable voiceover so the audience cannot take it too seriously.  In short, it is difficult to define exactly what this film is.
Jim Carrey is Steven Russell who begins the movie a family man, a cop, and an all around nice guy.  After a serious accident, Steven reveals his true self to be a flaming homosexual who was just repressing himself all along.  He receives the ‘life is too short’ jolt and jets off to become his true self.  His true self reveals itself to be a con man to fund his newly expensive lifestyle.  He needs a substantial income increase to keep his new boyfriend supplied with gifts and maintain the outward appearance that he is a very successful South Beach homosexual.  His multiple frauds catch up with Steven and he winds up in prison where he meets the titled Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor).  They naturally become cell mates and fall in love.
The rest of the film is spent following Steven’s unfailing willpower to keep both himself and Phillip out of prison at the same time, create new financial schemes to keep them very comfortable, and make sure Phillip does not realize the real sources of illicit income.  The best part of the film in fact is when it all crumbles down again and Steven hilariously and continuously discovers various methods to break himself out of jail.  This is one smart guy.  The film in its entirety though is jumpy with how it can at one moment be a farcical satire and then jump to a relationship drama. 
Some in the audience may feel a bit uneasy about how often the very recognizable Carrey and McGregor kiss and cuddle, but they are good enough to make it appear they truly find each other attractive.  Even though Steven is a fraudster, you find yourself rooting for him just so he can continue to protect and care for innocent and naive Phillip Morris.  It’s not Carrey’s or McGregor’s best work, but it’s done well enough for you to take the time to watch them work together.      

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Me and Orson Welles

Who had the larger ego, Orson Welles or Julius Caesar? I have heard about the legendary Orson Welles ego and the film 'Me and Orson Welles' does a good job at showing how overbearing and self important he could be. Set mostly in the Mercury Theatre while trying to bring his version of Julius Caesar to life, Orson Welles made sure everyone knows just who the lord and master is. He is the director, writer, star, set designer, composer, etc... God forbid if you actually were the one doing the work and asks for credit, no one dares try and take any credit when Orson Welles is involved.

Welles indeed comes across as somewhat of a brilliant man in this movie, but also a raging asshole. If he truly acted like that in reality, then it gives some amount of pleasure that he faded away into obese obscurity after Citizen Kane and the Third Man. It also shows, mainly through the character of Sonja Jones played by Claire Danes, just how far people will debase themselves to be close to what they consider genius.

Zac Efron tries to hold his own against a magnificent Christian McKay as Welles, but really comes across as an idealistic adolescent. He chooses love (lust) over career just as any inexperienced 17 year old would do, but perhaps it would have been a wiser move to cast an unknown as Richard instead of a well known teen idol. This is a very convincing film about the hardships of theatre life and the overwhelming Orson Welles, but everything else, including Zac Efron, falls a little flat.

Fair Game

Fair Game reminds me in 2011 that I am still upset about the events of 2003. A covert CIA operative's identity was revealed in the public sphere for political point scoring. This was during a time when the majority of people still expected to find evidence of a covert WMD program in Iraq, the main reason for the invasion.

The George W. Bush administration does not come across in a very positive light in this film, not that it does in any other arena either. 'Scooter' Libby and Karl Rove specifically are shown as calculating and evil men. This is a much starker portrayal of administration figures than Oliver Stone's W. where the key policy makers were more caricatured and mocked than seriously made to be inherently evil.

Sean Penn as Joe Wilson is the film's bright spot. He values the tenets of democracy, raises awareness of the cherry picked and faulty intelligence which the administration spun to convince the public for the need to go to war, and then fights the lonely man's fight. The case is deliberately refocused when the question is no longer 'Why did we go to war' but 'Who is Joe Wilson' and did you know his wife is a covert CIA agent.

The director, Doug Liman, has most of his prior experience in the action genre (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the Bourne Identity) but has worked with intrigue and suspense before. The script follows Valerie Plame's book of the same name quite closely, but focuses more on Joe and his role than her book does. Overall, this film upsets me. It is not about the fact that the reasons for the Iraq War were faulty, but that the administration went after the people who called them on their lies. This is an important film to remind the viewer to question authority, especially when they are as inept as the George W. Bush administration was.

Jane Eyre

I will never mix up a Bronte sister story with a Jane Austen. They contain similar settings and story arcs; however, the Brontes have an element of darkness and an extra dose of reality which Austen omits from her happy ending fiction.

The new Jane Eyre is a version which does not gloss over the troubles of Jane's life for the audience to get to the good and sunny parts. Jane's early exile from her aunt's home and the severe corporal punishment she receives at boarding school are unsentimentally served up to the audience to experience. It is quite a relief when Jane finally arrives at the forbidding and cavernous Thornfield House to the abrupt and obnoxious Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender). At least now Jane's torment is more mental than physical.

The director, Cary Joji Fukunaga (Sin Nombre), made an interesting decision to have Jane's temperament and situation affect the weather. This is a very dark and gray film. When there is depression or trouble brewing, the sky is naturally preparing for a thunderstorm. When Jane discovers Mr. Rochester's secret it looks like England suffers a hurricane. When Jane has that rare moment of happiness you will see the sun for the only time in the movie. Jane was not written as a classic beauty either and the cute Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, The Kids Are Alright) is made up to be especially plain and common. Fassbender, who appears to be in the majority of films released these days, tries his best to be a tortured soul, but it comes across as more self-pity and woe is me pouting. Wasikowska is far more convincing. Since it is an English classic, the requisite Dame Judi Dench shows up as the housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax to ensure there are no anachronisms in her period piece.

For those who prefer their English period classics with an extra dose of reality and melodrama, go no further than the new and improved Jane Eyre. If you prefer your classics through a rosy hue and assured happy ending, stick to Jane Austen.

The Extra Man

The Extra Man is ridiculous. Did someone sketch out the plot and scenes on scratch paper in a library cubicle and then stop after the first draft? It is disjointed, choppy, and just an all around complete mess.

Kevin Kline goes back in eccentric mode (think Otto from A Fish Called Wanda) but his eccentricities amount to nothing. He plays a modern day gentleman who has no particular employment except accompanying elderly women to formal dinner functions. He makes it clear he is not a gigolo, but an 'extra man' to maintain the female/male balance in the room. He also has no discernible past to explore or future to discuss. He is strictly an in the moment character who exists so other characters can react to just how eccentric he is being at this very moment.

Paul Dano becomes his roommate after getting fired from his teaching job when his cross dressing interest takes over unexpectedly one afternoon. This fetish of his pops up every now and then in the film and could really be an interesting facet and issue to figure out, but no, we have to continually go back to Kevin Kline and remind ourselves how eccentric and odd he is being. John C. Reilly also shows up as an odd recluse with an unnaturally high voice.

The Extra Man is directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini who brought us the amazing American Splendor. Did they run out of ideas? Did they think that just having Kevin Kline playing an odd guy would carry a film? They were wrong on all counts.

This over written and over acted performance destroys any possibility that the rest of the film could make up for it. It's not a buddy movie, it's not a mentor/student movie, it's not a try and get the girl movie, and it's not a move to Manhattan and find yourself is muddled and confused nonsense.


Limitless is about the best idea of the year so far. What if there was a pill which allowed you access and use 100% of your brain instead of the usual 20% we may use sans pharmaceuticals? You could recall every single memory, word you read, place you saw, conversation you had, etc... Unfortunately, the pill wears off in the morning and if you use too much of it, you're headed in a downward spiral and a bad ending.

The idea of a pill which could produce those effects is wonderfully original and fun for the audience to watch what a guy can accomplish on it. The guy here is Bradley Cooper, a failing and lazy writer. Cooper is not your typical leading man and it's a far cry from his early 'Alias' episodes. Robert DeNiro also shows up in a supporting role which took me out of the film while I watched Robert DeNiro instead of a character actor who would have most likely kept me more engaged. This is an odd role for DeNiro, very sidelined and not much room to show off. The camera work stood out as well with some nifty tricks as the camera proceeds along the streets of New York in seemingly one shot.

What does not work is a gangster plot line which interrupts the flow and throws a wrench a bit into how the smartest guy in the world could forget to pay off a loan shark and other bonehead moves but overall, here a great idea which is explored effectively for most, but not the whole, film.


I love the original script, but the film stutter steps around a little bit with a pacing issue. The film's first hour is as good as any this year; however, once it moves on to the middle third of the movie, it changes from action mode and frenetic pace to more of a wondrous adolescent coming of age experience. Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) was raised in the frigid woods of the north by her father (Eric Bana) since she was a baby. She has every outdoor, hunting, and fighting skill imaginable. She also speaks at least five languages. Unfortunately, Hanna was not exposed to certain modern characteristics such as electricity and loud noises. Because of this particular education deficit, the audience must endure Hanna's first frightening (and boring) experiences with the civilized world. How Hanna and her father arrived in the woods is revealed to the audience through bits and pieces in flashbacks. The role of the antagonist is effectively played by Cate Blanchett. She is so deliberately evil and singled minded that her character from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull comes to mind.

I wonder if the pacing issue is a result of Joe Wright's direction considering this is his first action film. He is paired with Ronan again (the two worked together on Atonement) and she is able to pull off the incredibly difficult role of a physically small, but lethal, young teenager.  However, even this young Jason Bourne does not have the power to save the middle third of this otherwise fine movie. 

The Tourist

The Tourist had a lot going for it even before it started filming: two of the best looking and most famous actors on the planet, an Oscar winner director, and two Oscar winning writers. Unfortunately, it feels a bit flat. The opening setup works with a very poised and stiff Angelina Jolie enticing a naive and inexperienced Johnny Depp. Once the characters arrive in Venice though, the surroundings swallow them up and mute their chemistry and performances. The dialogue takes a backseat in favor of action. In fact, the action scenes and chases in The Tourist are just plain silly and plodding. A boat chase scene through the Venice canals is just ludicrous. The plot starts to come off the tracks as much as the action chases through blatantly contrived settings. There is a very formal scene in a ballroom with tuxedos and gowns whose only purpose is to show the audience the two leading stars in fine attire. They have no other purpose there. If The Tourist wanted to be snappier and land a more lasting punch, they would dial it down; less action, less weaponry, less makeup on Jolie, and the surprise ending...definitely less of that.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Head and the Heart

We saw the Head and the Heart last night at the Moore Theatre.  I only listened to their album for a few days beforehand and was not particularly excited to sit through what I labelled as an 'old people's show'.  The Head and the Heart remind me of the Fleet Foxes, minus the harmony but more animated.  My favorite songs on their 10 song album, in order, are Ghosts, Sounds Like Hallelujah, Down in the Valley, and Lost in My Mind.  The rest all sound pretty redundant and are mostly forgettable, even Rivers and Roads, sorry Kate.  Rivers and Roads is Kate's favorite song and is what the band uses as their closing number. 

The show itself had a disappointing opener.  We missed the opening act, but Grand Hallway was the second opener and they make the boring Fleet Foxes look like Alice Cooper fondling a python on stage.  Every one of their songs sounds the same as the last one and the lead singer spent half the time just warbling notes as if practicing scales.  Thankfully, they didn't take up the stage for too long.  The stage decoration was pretty original though.  There were approximately 50 standard table lamps arranged around the stage and were set up on some sort of automatic on/off switches which was pretty amusing.

The Head and the Heart played their whole album for the show and saved Rivers and Roads for the encore.  The encore was by far the worst part of the show.  Jon Russell came out solo to play a song he's been working on for a very long time, and trust me, it still needs a lot more work.  The rest of the band then joined him on stage for a Jimmy Rogers cover which while poppy and animated, was just as worthless.  Thank you to Rivers and Roads for saving an otherwise miserable encore.

However, hooray to the Moore Theatre for providing an outstanding venue...truly a great place to see a show.  Boo to the sorority girls in the row behind us for talking through most of it and basically acting like jackasses throughout it.  Instead of the normal high-pitched 'wooo!' which most girls yell at concerts, these girls were shrieking as if being stabbed.  I don't think they go to many shows, perhaps they were there because the Head and the Heart are Seattle's 'it' band right now.  To end of a positive note though, the band played the hell out of Ghosts, Sounds Like Hallelujah, Down in the Valley, and Rivers and Roads.  They obviously were enjoying themselves and danced around the stage.  I don't know why Pitchfork hated their album so much; it really is nowhere near as bad as they say it is.  Pitchfork has the idea that the Head and the Heart are this poser indie band trying to slum it blue collar style.  I don't see that, as well as I don't see how Pitchfork can love Fleet Foxes as much as they do either. 

Here's to the hope that Fleet Foxes have to open for Head and the Heart in the future and not the other way around.