Friday, July 27, 2007

I Heart Steve Zahn

One of the films I'm eagerly waiting to see this summer is Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn. The film is a harrowing tale of Vietnam War era jungle survival that has the leads Christian Bale and Steve Zahn going to extreme measures of method acting to "get into" the part. Bale has done this before and shown he can do a variety of things onscreen but what excites me most about this film is getting to see Zahn step outside the confines of what he usually does.

Zahn has specialized in comedies for the most part. Broken down even further he's been mostly in "buddy" comedies where he's the comic foil for other characters, usually a part bigger than his. I've been a big fan of Zahn's since 1994 when he was in the romantic comedy Reality Bites. Doing comedy suits Zahn as he's got incredible timing and can deliver sardonic one-liners with the best of anyone working in film today. While I've loved Zahn's ability to get laughs and play a series of goofy characters, I'm ready to see if he can do more serious work.

This may change with the two high profile dramatic roles Zahn will be seen in this year. Besides Rescue Dawn, he's also in the TV miniseries Comanche Moon, the latest adaptation from Larry McMurtry's beloved "Lonesome Dove" western novels. Zahn is playing Gus McCrae, so his work is cut out for him since Robert Duvall crafted the original McCrae in the legendary earlier adaptation in 1989.

Aside from 2007's Rescue Dawn and Comanche Moon, here are a few other films you should watch to see Zahn at his best: Reality Bites, the 1950s set comedy That Thing You Do! (1996), the gritty crime film Out of Sight (1998), the silly fish out of water caper comedy with Zahn sporting a giant mustache in Happy Texas (1999) and the teens in L.A. wasteland drama Suburbia (1996).

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


***I was looking at some older reviews I wrote when I was writing things for a couple of papers and came across this humorous review for Sahara. I was writing for the University of Oklahoma school paper as a lark for a semester and after turning this review in, was told by the main editor to change it, to decrease my anti-MM stance. I refused and was "fired". Enjoy the review that got me canned!***

When faced with a film like Sahara I attempt to tell myself after I’ve seen it: just accept this movie for what it is—action fluff and explosions made to satisfy people who aren’t asking for a lot in return.

I can’t do it. I try hard but fail. I’ve seen too many movies to let something as awful as Sahara slide by unpunished. I’ve seen too many “good” bad movies to let Sahara get grouped into that category. Sahara is just “bad” bad with virtually nothing at all that makes it worth your time and money.

Sahara is based on a Clive Cussler novel and stars famed bongo player and annoying Longhorn fan Matthew McConaughey as Cussler’s heroic Dirk Pitt. Even his name is cheesy. And believe me, McConaughey is one actor who can live up to the low bar set by everyone in this movie and Cussler’s fiction as a whole.

McConaughey is beyond a shadow of a doubt the worst actor alive who is getting high profile roles in Hollywood movies. How he gets leading role after leading role vexes me. Is he really that good looking to get these roles? I know his body is “ripped”, but unfortunately, his six-pack of abs are not doing the acting.

McConaughey’s entire career is littered with embarrassing performances in bad movies (go look him up on if you disagree and behold the sewer that is his list of films), so to see him saunter and swagger around in Sahara thinking he is channeling Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones is laughable.

I’m personally putting out a plea to every casting director in the land: please spare us the suffering of having to watch McConaughey “act” in another movie. Please. You’ll be doing yourself, the film you are casting, the director of that film, the people who financed it and the audience all a tremendous favor. Please, I’m begging you here.

Let me address the plot to Sahara and you'll need to try and stay with me here. A Civil War era Ironclad supposedly makes its way across the Atlantic Ocean to Africa with a single rare coin minted by the Confederacy in it. Pitt has to get onto this ship. He’s obsessed and coin crazy! Now, anyone who thinks that a Civil War Ironclad could make it to Africa with no sails, very little food on it is taking a big leap of faith I’m not willing to take.

Chasing after mysterious lost Ironclads isn’t enough to keep us entertained, so, let’s add in a plot about a deadly plague spreading across Mali to get Dirk Pitt a love interest (Penelope Cruz). A dose about rebels fighting their own civil war would be nice, “Done!” says the screenwriters. Still not enough of a plot, so let’s put in the possibility for a global catastrophe connected to the dumping of toxic waste. Now we’re getting somewhere. The writers of Sahara (and maybe Cussler, since I haven't read his books I don't know) take the more is more approach when it comes to story and they have the huge plot holes to prove it.

Sahara has a treasure hunt for a ship, deadly plagues, rebel fighters fighting nasty warlords, deadly toxins that could wipe out the planet and keeping it all together is the acting of Matthew McConaughey doing his usual butcher job on the entire concept of talent.

The only good things Sahara has to offer are Steve Zahn and the desert setting. Zahn is a funny guy and Morocco is a stunning, beautiful place with huge, gorgeous vistas of sand. Unfortunately, McConaughey is in scenes with Zahn and is in scenes with Morocco, so even those two things are ruined for me.

Of course, Sahara will make loads of money and people will drool over McConaughey’s dimples or abs and think the story is full of adventure, high quality explosions and good action scenes. Who am I? I’m just a guy who can’t stand underwhelming silly movies and who thinks Matthew McConaughey is horrible. Take a stand. You are either with me or against me.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Guilty pleasure confession time

Let me know the movie you've seen recently that proves you aren't a film snob. I re-watched Meatballs over the weekend and liked it! Come on, I know you've had a guilty pleasure recently that needs a confession of enjoying.

Say no to film snobbery

I watched a Federico Fellini film this weekend. It was the 1955 downer called Il Bidone (aka The Swindle). But I watched two films over the weekend and for proof that I’m not what you might call a “film snob” I will let out the other film I watched: Meatballs. Yes, the silly 1979 juvenile summer camp film with Bill Murray riffing scene after scene. In my CineRobot world why not follow up a “classic” like Meatballs with another like The Swindle? Makes sense to me as if there is one thing I can’t stand is a film snob or elitist who won’t watch something fun or goofy or absurd once in awhile. Just as narrow minded is the movie lover who won’t watch a documentary or foreign movie. I want to see it all…as long as it’s good. To me, Meatballs AND The Swindle fit that category.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Now, this is a charming little movie. I’d been eagerly waiting to see this smart and romantic Irish film from director John Carney and it finally came to a Tulsa theatre. I loved every second of it and it’s one of my favorite films of the year. Once is full of low-key performances, great songs and real screen chemistry from two performers who aren’t really actors but who deliver a level of honesty that I’m not sure “real” actors could.

Made on a shoestring budget, Once begins with a busker (never named but played by Glen Hansard) singing his heart out on the streets of Dublin and having to deal with all the annoying people who distract or want to rip him off. It’s not an ideal audience to sing your personal songs with a tattered acoustic guitar.

Enter the girl (also never named, played by Marketa Irglova), a direct yet wide eyed, hard working Czech immigrant. The girl and the guy connect and are soon thinking of playing songs with each other and maybe, just maybe, falling in love. There are complications. In movies and in real life, there are often complications.

One of my favorite aspects of the film is the way it uses whole songs to reveal the character’s personality and inner feelings. Hansard and Irglova actually wrote and perform all the songs in the film, which furthers the intimacy on screen. Hansard, from the Irish rock band The Frames (Carney used to also be in the Frames for what it is worth), definitely has a heart-on-fire as it aches kind of style which Irglova nicely tempers his passionate singing with low-key harmonies and lovely piano. I thought the amount of songs might get repetitive but it’s in the songs that these two people truly belong to each other whether they can be when the songs end is another question to be answered.

The lack of money involved in this was a bit distracting at first—Carney uses long zooms for some of the street busking scenes so Hansard would act natural, as would the people around him as he performed, but it produces some shaky camera and focus issues when he does this. The interiors were also severely lighting challenged a time or two. I got used to this though and it actually worked in the film’s favor by the end. It gives Once a hint of realness that a glossy, too pretty film might not have had.

Once is highly recommended and will certainly be in my top ten for 2007. Great songs by Hansard and Irglova and a sweet, understated romance between two people who meet on the Dublin street, use music as a catalyst to their relationship and then…I’ll stop as I don’t want to reveal too much of the story—this is a good one here people, I sure hope people get a chance to see it in a theatre this summer to combat the gluttony of action films and sequels the studios shove upon us as Once is the perfect antidote.

Friday, July 13, 2007


I like a good revenge flick. The simple act of enacting painful vengeance on those who have done you wrong has propelled stories of every genre from westerns to action films to Hong Kong throw downs. Shooter is firmly in the family of somebody tried to set me up to take a fall but I ain’t having none of that and will kill every one in my way on the path to truth genre.

Mark Wahlberg plays Bob Lee Swagger (based on name alone, how could I not like this film? Bob Lee Swagger? What a great revenge flick name!), ex-Army sniper bad ass that lives in the mountains with his dog and grows a mangy beard, long hair and surfs the internet. The government show up on his cabin doorstep and ask him to do his patriotic duty and help prevent the president’s assassination. Soon, he’s on the run, a patsy in a government conspiracy and looking to exact revenge on those who set him up. In other words, he ain’t having none of that!

Like most people seeking revenge in these kinds of films, they are usually skilled in the ways to kill and have no compunction unleashing their fury on the guilty or the innocent. Bob Lee Swagger is such a killing machine. He can deliver pinpoint death from a variety of weapons (the firepower on display will make gun fetishists highly aroused. I can see Michael Bay attending a screening of this and sitting on the front row with a giddy grin on his film-Anti-Christ face.) and ropes in a few others on his quest for payback (and a little truth too).

Shooter is extremely implausible with lots of holes in the story but since I like revenge films—I’m also into films about snipers!—I surprisingly kind of liked it. Shooter is what it is, a genre movie bubbling with testosterone and a really high body count. On the day I saw it, that was enough for me.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

June movies

The best film and the most fun I had at a movie in June was for a midnight movie at the Circle--Raiders of the Lost Ark. Aiding the atmosphere was the packed house who were completely into it. What makes Raiders of the Lost Ark such a timeless, wonderful movie is the combination of fun and adventure and technical skill shown by director Steven Spielberg. Spielberg is a master of setting up suspense or orchestrating thrilling scenes and this might be his high point in sheer diversity and control over what he is doing. Raiders of the Lost Ark is pretty much perfect.

I hadn't seen Raiders of the Lost Ark in fifteen or so years and watching it with a full theatre late into a rainy Tulsa night was absolute perfection and was a reminder of why I love the entire movie experience. It's not only about the movie--it's sometimes about who you watch the film with as you are sharing this couple of hours in the darkened theatre. At times, I'm offputted by my fellow movie goers and the talking/cell phone issues--but this weekend, watching Raiders of the Lost Ark, the eagerness and love from the audience toward this movie made the entire experience much more enjoyable. I see a lot of advantages in watching films at home on my big screen but watching them alone or with one or two friends can never approach this kind of bond when a group of people watch a great movie together. It just makes you feel good about being alive!

I also really loved Knocked Up--a hilarious, vulgar but kind of sweet--a tale about a mismatched pair who come together due to an unplanned pregnancy. Jud Apatow (The 40-Year Old Virgin) has made another very funny, adult aimed comedy rife with one liners, memorable scenes and a cast of reminders of his great TV shows Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. See this if you haven't already. Maybe the hardest kind of great movie to make is a comedy and right now Apatow is at the top of the heap in making smart, hilarious films.

I also saw Sicko and this is recommended as well. It's an important flamethrower into the shameful health care system we have in America regarding HMO's. We have a corrupt, money hungry system that values profit over human life and sort of makes me sick to see another reason why the government has sort of turned its back on the people in the race for $$$ and power.

Here's my June movies--a few of which I rewatched since I was in Helsinki and like watching films in other countries.

Death Proof (2007, USA)----2.5
Shooter (2007, USA)----3
The Departed (2006, USA)----4
Hot Fuzz (2006, England)----4
28 Weeks Later (2006, England)----1.5
Ocean's Thirteen (2007, USA)----2.5
Meet the Parents (2000, USA)----3.5
Paris Je'Taime (2006, France)----3.5
Knocked Up (2007, USA)----4
Gun Crazy (1949, USA)----3.5
Sicko (2007, USA)----4
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1982, USA)----5!