Saturday, December 26, 2009

Snowed in and watching movies on Christmas

I didn't plan on spending Christmas snowed in, not leaving my house and watching movies all day but that's just what I did. The original plan was to head home for the day/night but Tulsa and NE Oklahoma was hit by an ice/snow storm that dumped seven inches of the stuff on us. For Oklahoma, that's a paralyzing amount that shuts down businesses and streets. So, I'm housebound.

Luckily, I've got a few Netflix films and things recorded on my DVR, so I've been watching movies all day while taking hot baths, cleaning my house, eating nachos, homemade salsa and popcorn. Not a bad way to spend the day if you happen to be snowed in.

First up was the kind of cheesy 1976 science fiction Futureworld. This is the sequel to the far better Westworld and it isn't very good. Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner play reporters who go to the Delos amusement park to see if anything has changed since the robots went crazy and started killing people in the first film. No suspense, kind of dated, horrible acting by Fonda. I love Westworld but Futureworld shouldn't have been made.

Monster Thursday (2004) is something you don't see that often--a Norwegian movie that could be considered a "surf" movie! Norwegians and surfing don't usually go together but maybe there are great, but extremely frigid, waves that I'm not aware of on their coastline? Aside from the surfing, the film is a solid romantic drama as a guy pining for his best friend's girl gets the chance to spend a lot of time with her when he leaves the country. He may not be able to control his emotions.

I followed up Monster Thursday with another Scandinavian film, this time it was the charming Danish comedy/drama Chinaman (2005). I really liked this little film as it has this sweet story about a depressed plumber who is going through a divorce. With no wife at home to share meals with he begins to go to a Chinese restaurant across the street. Soon, he's helping them with their pipes, hanging out in their living room and contemplating marriage to keep one of the family members (the lovely Vivian Wu)  in Denmark. Chinaman looks great and the tender-hearted story swept me in right off the bat.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Me and Orson Welles/new poll

Go here if you are interested in reading my latest review for Urban Tulsa--Me and Orson Welles. The film is a nostalgic look at the 1937 Mercury Theatre performance of Julius Caesar through the eyes of a 17 year old actor (Zac Efron) as he tangles with New York City and Orson Welles.

There's also a new poll on the homepage: Where do you prefer to watch movies? A/ Home B/ In a theatre

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Yesterday at around 5.15pm I joined the growing line of people to see Avatar (me and Vern Snackwell in photo). We were fourth in line for the 6.30 start time, so I guess it is safe to say we were "nerding" it at the front of the line. How long have I been reading about Avatar? Six years? Seven years? A long time. Well, I've seen it and I can say that it did not disappoint as it delivers pretty much on everything that James Cameron promised by unleashing one of the most extravagant visual onslaughts I've experienced in a movie theatre in awhile.

On a purely visual level--Avatar is stunning. The audience is quickly drawn into a distant world that is fantastical, full of bizarre creatures, vibrant colored plant life and scene after scene of some kind of mind blowing aspect or other. At times it's as if Cameron has created a deep-sea universe on the skin of a planet and it's incredible to witness.

I was worried about the "3D" elements--would it distract me? Could I lose myself in the story? Eight foot blue aliens and a love story? Answers: no, yes and yes! In fact, only a few minutes into the film was I forgetting that I was wearing the bulky glasses and just let the 3D take hold. The 3D wasn't really forced in your face with gimmicks (thank you) but there were some scenes that were so breathtakingly gorgeous and riveting to watch in 3D I can't imagine seeing the film in any other capacity.

Avatar has some of the usual Cameron issues that plague a lot of his films. The story becomes too one note and predictable, some not so great dialogue and it teeters on the edge of just becoming too heavy-handed but then it delivers another awe inducing scene and you forget whatever nitpicking issue that may have been brewing in your mind. I know I did. The last section of the film is about as rousing a sequence you will ever witness in an action film. I was pumped up as I sat in the theatre.

Avatar is one of the more visceral experiences I've had in a movie theatre in years. It's pure visual spectacle and not to be missed if you like movies. Cameron has delivered the goods again. The 3D is so good it feels like you are immersed in this distant planet's story as it unfolds in front of you. Immersion 3D. This should really only be watched at IMAX in 3D--don't cheat yourself by seeing it in any other theatre or format as you are not getting the full visual extravaganza that Cameron has spent years and hundreds of millions of dollars to create for the film.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly scene to celebrate Clint's poll victory

Since Clint Eastwood beat John Wayne 10-6 on the latest poll...lets have a classic duel scene from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly!

This is such an amazing scene with a three person duel by director Sergio Leone.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Commercials by Roy Andersson

In my review of Songs From the Second Floor a few days ago I mentioned that director Roy Andersson was known for his commercials. Here are a short group that are quirky, bizarre and pretty interesting. Roy Andersson!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

UTW review of Brothers

Go here if you want to read my review in this week's UTW of Brothers. It's the new film from director Jim Sheridan with a cast of well known actors, family melodrama and war.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Songs From the Second Floor

There is nothing I like more than watching a film I have no expectations for and having the movie blow me away. I have to admit, it doesn't happen a lot because the more films you watch, the harder it is to be surprised, shocked and moved by what you are watching. The brutal truth of it is if you watch hundreds of movies a year for twenty five years in a row--you get kind of desensitized by the onslaught of what you watch.

But you also never give up hope that the next movie you watch will be the one that lights some unexpected spark inside your heart as it unfolds. While I enjoy many new films throughout the year, only a few times a year (if that many) does something come out of nowhere to leave me awestruck, dumbfounded and tingling with pleasure as I watch it. I just finished Roy Andersson's Songs From the Second Floor a few minutes ago and am in such a state. Wow!

Andersson has only made three feature films in forty plus years as a filmmaker (this is only his second feature, coming twenty five years since his first in 1975; he's also made numerous shorts and commercials in his native Sweden) which makes this movie all the more astonishing to me. Songs From the Second Floor is a cinematic work of art, fully recognized by decades of contemplation regarding content, message and design. It's something I might have to watch a second time to let every image sink further into me.

Songs From the Second Floor is not the easiest film to watch at times. It's a raw, no-holds barred indictment of modern society, utilizes no clear story or lead characters, has passages where little or no dialogue is uttered and embraces surreal, Kafkaesque scenes that deliver Andersson's bleak message for the world we inhabit. The main star of the film is the unbearable, pervasive malaise that accompanies much of the human existence in Andersson's world. Call me crazy but witnessing such unabashed doom and gloom has never been so riveting!

Andersson spends time concentrating on places where normalcy should reign supreme. We see hospital rooms, bars, apartments, lobbies and hallways--all lit with eerie, otherworldly artificial lighting that is hauntingly gorgeous and soul crushing at the same time. Andersson loves the long take (as do I). He bathes his characters in wondrous long shots with zero camera movement (another thing I prefer) as they stare off into space, lost in near catatonic dazes. There are traffic jams that stretch through every Stockholm street, young girls being sacrificed by the government and clergy for no reason, mass panic on the streets as the world seems to be crumbling around us all and other forms of unexplained events. None of it moves the story forward but it adds to the general sense of foreboding present in the film. This may not sound great or interesting but it is.

Songs From the Second Floor is a magical realization of director Roy Andersson's vision. It's uncompromising, daring, beautiful, maddening, depressing, humorous, quirky and something that I won't be forgetting anytime soon. I'm now aching to see Andersson's 2007 film You, The Living when it comes out on DVD. If it's anything like this, I'm in for an exhilarating experience. Highly, highly recommended if you are into something outside the mainstream (or just really good movies!).

Songs From The Second Floor - Silent Song

This scene from Songs From the Second Floor is very typical of the film. It's got the mundane rubbing up against the surreal--this time with musical accompaniment. There are dozens of memorable, amazing sequences like this in this Swedish film.

Friday, December 04, 2009

UTW review of An Education

Go here if you want to read my review of An Education. It's an English drama set in 1961 as a precocious 16 year old falls into the romantic company of a much older man. It's really good.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

November movies, video blogging and poll results

I was looking at Cameron McCasland's blog The Red Headed Revolution and got to see him do a video post and thought to myself that I should do those every so often. So, look for that in the future. Thanks Cameron for that idea!

Most recent poll results: What was the best decade for movies? 1970s got nine votes, 1980s got four, 2000s got three and a single person thought the 1990s was the best decade. CineRobot readers got this one right--the '70s was the best decade for films.

New poll question is up: Who made better westerns? John Wayne or Clint Eastwood? Please vote. It's the American way.

A Boy's Life---2003---usa   **1/2
More Than a Game---2008---usa   ***
The Counterfeiters---2007---germany   ***
The Fourth Kind---2009---usa   **
Rear Window---1954---usa   *****!
The Men Who Stare at Goats---2009---usa   ***
Pirate Radio---2009---england   **1/2
Encounters at the End of the World---2008---usa   ***1/2
The Damned United---2009---england   ***1/2
Fat City---1972---usa   ***1/2
The Duellists---1978---england   ****
The Castle---1997---australia   ***1/2
Sleeper---1973---usa   ****
To Catch a Thief---1955---usa    ****
Tell No One---2007---france    ****
An Education---2009---england   ****
Sunshine Cleaning---2008---usa   ***
I Love You, Man---2008---usa   ****
3-Iron---2004---south korea   ****
A Serious Man---2009---usa   ***

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Herzog quote

There's lots of reasons I like German director Werner Herzog. This quote from his 2008 documentary Encounters at the End of the World is just another reason:
"I loathe the sun both on my celluloid and my skin."

Amen brother! Sunlight is evil.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Life of Brian, Budapest, 1995

In 1995 I spent some time in Budapest, Hungary. I saw a bunch of films there, usually on the very cheap, in tiny or makeshift theatres that weren't traditional movie theatres. There were dozens of small theatres all over the city and you never really new what was going to happen until you found your seat. One of my favorites, Blue Box, was a square room that utilized park benches as seats. The strangest screening I had in Budapest was for Monty Python's Life of Brian.

It started as it usually did when I'd see a film in Budapest--I'd make sure it was indeed in English with Hungarian subtitles and not dubbed. It was. I was told to sit near the front of the stage for the screening as I got my ticket. "Okay," I thought, odd request but I was fine with it as I entered the little room that had a screen towards the back of the theatre stage.

Seven or eight others were already in their seats and all were sitting in the first couple of rows. My Hungarian was extremely poor (it's a very hard language to pick up) so I can only guess that the others were as befuddled as I was about the directive to sit near the front. Maybe they knew what I didn't know but I don't think so based on their immediate reaction regarding what was about to come our way.

When it was time for the film to start, we found out why we were told to sit where we were sitting. A moveable cart with TV and VCR was wheeled onto the middle of the stage directly in front of us. They were plugged into an extension cord and turned on. I couldn't believe my eyes! "Surely not," I thought as I watched the two guys in their 20s on the stage fiddle with knobs. But it was true, one pressed play, lights dimmed and the film started.

This was incredible to me. This group of strangers were going to watch Life of Brian together IN a movie theatre but ON a portable TV and VHS tape! And, you know what? We laughed like crazy and had a terrific time. I may have enjoyed it more due to the unexpected way it was screened. If I had one story to sum up my time in Budapest, it just might be the night I watched Life of Brian.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

UTW review of The Damned United

Go here if you want to read my review of The Damned United. It's an English film set in the world of 1970s soccer. Based on a real story and a novel by David Peace, Michael Sheen delivers a wonderful performance as Brian Clough.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Blu ray

I've taken the next step when it comes to film watching pleasure--blu ray! Got it on Thursday and have already watched two films.

Total Recall looked pretty good but some of the 1990 effects were rendered a bit dated (it's a fun film but it has a lot of issues!). Werner Herzog's documentary set in Antarctica,  Encounters at the End of the World, was absolutely stunning visually. Wow.

I've already reorganized my queue on Netflix with a lot of things I want to re-watch.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

UTW review of Pirate Radio

Go here if you want to read my review of Pirate Radio in Urban Tulsa Weekly. It is a comedy set among a motley crew of DJs who broadcast rock music into England in 1966 despite not having a license to do such a thing.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Movie tickets #12

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Poll results

Based on the very spartan number of votes on the latest poll--romantic comedy picked up three votes as favorite film genre.

New poll question on CineRobot: what is your favorite decade for films? 1970s? 1980s? 1990s? 2000s?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

UTW review of The Fourth Kind

Go here if you want to read my sort of scathing review of the newly released alien abduction thriller The Fourth Kind.

Monday, November 09, 2009

I Heart Sam Rockwell

As I was writing the review of Moon (August '09 archives) I was struck at how much I liked the lead actor Sam Rockwell. He carries Moon and is in practically every second of the film. Without Rockwell's performance, the film loses its center and who knows how it might have turned out with a different actor. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have been as good. Rockwell has been adding quality to films for nearly fifteen years so I'm hoping he gets some award recognition for how great he is in Moon.

Rockwell isn't more known because he's chosen a career path of quirky indie films or supporting roles (my favorite but less appreciated by the mainstream) in larger movies. He's a young actor with the mindset of a veteran character actor in that regard. He also isn't bashful about changing his appearance dramatically for a role by growing beards or mustaches (check out his great 'stache in the photo!). Rockwell is kind of old school you might say. Because of these things, Rockwell is going to be acting in films for decades.

I first noticed Rockwell in the oddball 1996 Tom DiCillo film Box of Moonlight. Rockwell plays an eccentric (the first of many eccentrics Rockwell has played) dressed in buckskins, who lives in a half-trailer in the woods, that befriends a stuffy man with no imagination. I liked this little film when I saw it but was struck by the energetic young actor perfectly trading dialogue with the excellent John Turturro.

Other Rockwell films or performances I've liked are Lawn Dogs (1997), Galaxy Quest (1999), Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), Frost/Nixon (2008) and the previously mentioned Moon.

(scroll down a little to see Rockwell's screen test for Confessions...)

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sam Rockwell (as Chuck Barris) dancing

I'm about to post an "I Heart Sam Rockwell"...thought this clip of his screen test for CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND shows why I like the guy. If you've seen THE GONG SHOW, you can see how he nails Chuck Barris in this audition. George Clooney shows up near the end.

Friday, November 06, 2009

UTW review of More Than A Game

Go here if you want to read my review of the documentary More Than A Game. It's a basketball documentary that follows the early days of LeBron James in Akron, Ohio.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Poll results

What is your favorite John Carpenter movie?

Big Trouble In Little China: 9
The Thing: 7
Halloween: 5
Escape From New York: 1
They Live: 0

New poll question is on CineRobot home page.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

October movies

Didn't see a ton of movies in October. I actually saw the terrible Quarantine a month or two ago but forgot to write it down. That is a sign a film is not worth remembering. It was a good month anyway as I saw six films that I got paid to write about! I got to see one of my all time favorites that had a part of the first ever poll on CineRobot (The Thing) and SJ and I watched Pretty In Pink as part two in her Molly Ringwald trilogy. We've actually got a John Hughes education/appreciation rally at my house every so often.

Capitalism: A Love Story---2009---usa   ***
The Invention of Lying---2009---usa   **1/2
Zombieland---2009---usa   ***
American Harmony---2009---usa   ***
Bright Star---2009---australia   ****
Meet Bill---2007---usa   **
Sugar Hill---1973---usa   *1/2
Quarantine---2008---usa   *1/2
Pretty In Pink---1986---usa   ****
Paranormal Activity---2009---usa   ***1/2
The Thing---1982---usa   *****!
Good Hair---2009---usa   ***
Near Dark---1987---usa  ****

Saturday, October 31, 2009


CineRobot has a lot of new stuff recently so how about a short film I made? When in London in September I filmed a bunch of the city with a small, super8 styled camera I was carrying. I love the dreamy, over saturated look of the images of this camera and think it perfectly fits my memory of spending time in London.

Here is the first one of various little short things I plan on filming in the upcoming months--including LONDONISM2.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Subscribing vs. following

I think I posted something in error a few weeks ago. The followers list sign up might not send out e-mails to you when posts/comments occur. It is more a Facebook style app to see who is following CineRobot. I've had a few e-mails about people thinking they were going to get e-mail notices when posts were coming after signing in. For that, you will need to put the same info in the "sbscrb to CineRobot" box just below the poll box. You can choose to be alerted to posts + comments or just posts. Let me know if this doesn't work either.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

UTW review of Good Hair

Go here if you want to read my review this week in Urban Tulsa Weekly. It's the Chris Rock documentary Good Hair, which examines various social, cultural, political elements to the way African-Americans (mostly women) choose to wear their hair.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Channing Tatum: horrible actor & dream invader

It's bad enough when you watch some movie you don't like--at least that's done by choice and you can turn it off or walk out of the theatre. What happens when you wake up in the middle of the night and realize you have just had a dream about a movie and it was force fed to you against your will? That happened to me a few nights ago and let me tell you, it wasn't a good night's sleep. On the bright side, it may lead to a new film being adapted and turned into box office magic by adroit Hollywood insiders if they happen to stumble upon this post by sheer accident.

Any dream with lunk headed actor and Vanilla Ice worshiper Channing Tatum (see photo of the douche himself) in it can never be good. Ever. Tatum, who has been in such films recently as Fighting and G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra, seems about as bright as a brain-addled turtle. I've seen him a few times being interviewed and the guy has difficulty accessing the part of the brain to make these things we call sentences. I don't want to go out on a crazy limb here but his career owes more to that rockin' bod and his pouty face.

So, imagine my inner terror when Tatum shows up in a dream where I'm at a movie theatre watching a film. Get ready Hollywood producers and wannabe screenwriters for a doozy of a premise that I want a co-story credit (I'll use an pseudonym due to embarrassment, unlike the current spate of Hollywood types) if you steal this idea from my subconscious. I suggest casting Tatum in the lead too since I can attest to his ability to play this role to perfection--it's right in his range (the character's name is Duke and this will be Tatum's third role as "Duke"; this makes it easier for him to recall his lines) as he'll play a guy who grunts and never lets loose with dialogue with more than two syllables. Call Tatum quick!

The plot of the film early on is about skateboarders in their late 20s who refuse to give up the casual lifestyle they are immersed in. It's their life, their passion, their reason for getting up in the morning and taking to the pavement. The leader of the pack, a surly (yet sensitive!), gifted boarder (Tatum!) thinks it might be time to give up the board but he's torn between loyalty to his crew and the new found maturity he is pondering (pony up the money for Megan Fox!). Imagine the emotional fireworks as we cut to Tatum's face scrunched up in deep thought (he's trying to remember the short phrase he's supposed to utter) and he has a eureka moment and hollers out, "I'll get that G.E.D.!" Later on, Duke (uhm, Tatum, I'm getting confused myself) decides med school is the route to go as that will show all the haters!

Here's where the film takes an odd, but believable twist--at least believable in this day and age of filmmaking. While on a post-dawn skate, Duke/Tatum begins to do battle with these demonic creatures that rise out of the cement and attempt to pull people under the concrete and into the netherworld of hell. This is where the film can load up on the CGI that will coax all the males into seeing this PG-13 rated movie. Duke/Tatum gets to fight off all kinds of demonic spawn, naturally shirtless, with his skateboard in a flame ridden underground city.

Unfortunately (well, fortunate for my well being actually), this is where I woke up but I believe I've laid the groundwork for any filmmaker, producer or Hollywood type to take this idea and run with it. I know, it's not a sequel. It's not based on a graphic novel or a comic book. It's not based on a book or a TV show either. This is something you don't see a lot of now--an original idea via my dream state. I'm not sure I'd score it that high if I had seen it at a test screening but don't brush it off yet. Isn't the awesomely bad Channing Tatum, shirtless skateboarding scenes and lots of violent (but not too violent as we don't want that scary R rating that would cost us that precious teenage market) demon fighting be enough to PR/cross promote the shite out of it into a hit? Didn't you, dear Hollywood, just do that with soulless films like Transformers 2 and G.I. Joe? It can be done again and again and again and again and again and again and again. These idiot audiences of 2009 will never get wiser and they will lap it up every time.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

UTW review of Paranormal Activity

Go here if you want to read my review for Paranormal Activity in this week's Urban Tulsa Weekly. It's a low-tech horror film that taps into your imagination.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Poll questions + searches + other changes

I've updated CineRobot's layout and settings somewhat. New features include the ability to search CineRobot for particular actors, actresses, directors and films--there's posts going back over four years now so you'd be surprised how many names pop up in posts. Try a few searches and you'll see what I mean.

I've also added a poll question that I'll change every couple of weeks--unless no one ever answers the question. If that happens I'll scrap that. They are anonymous so there's no reason to be a lurker and to not answer it! The first one is relevant as I'm going to go see The Thing this week and Halloween is coming up soon--not to sway your responses.

There is also a link on the bottom of the sidebar to add yourself as a "follower" to CineRobot. This should send you a notification each time a post is made--so you don't have to come back and check every so often. Not sure if this will allow you to see the polls on the home page but you could always head over to the home page after you've read the new post.

There might be a few more changes on here too as the new layout offers other things that might make CineRobot more interactive, we'll see. Whether or not the interactive stuff stays or goes might depend strictly on you, dear readers.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Sewing Circle

Book review. The Sewing Circle is kind of a sleazy book about actresses during the 1920s-1950s who were lesbian or bisexual. Garbo, Dietrich, Bankhead, Hepburne, Stanwyck and many others.

The Sewing Circle is written by Axel Madsen and he writes with the air of an academic as he digs up the dirt on these Hollywoodians. He's not. This faux academia gives the book an ever sleazier edge as it pretends to be something it isn't. When the gossip and the details start flying, it makes them even more jarring.

Not great but luridly interesting if you like to read about this era of films as it dishes out all kinds of tales about women (and men) who lived secret lives outside of the glare and the glamor as cinematic stars.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

UTW reviews: American Harmony + Bright Star

Go here if you want to read my reviews for the week. I reviewed American Harmony--a doc about barbershop quartets--and Bright Star--the latest from Jane Campion set in 1818 London and around the poet John Keats. Bright Star is one of my favorite films of the year.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Recent films

Tricks. Poland. 2008. This is one of the sweetest tales of childhood I've seen in a while. I'm not a huge fan of coming of age films with really young kids but Tricks has a terrific blend of various elements connected to youth. Set in a small Polish town, a kid follows his pretty sister around while trying to figure out if the man who lingers at the train station is the father who abandoned them. Simple story that is utterly charming from start to finish.

Westworld. 1973. USA. When I was a kid Westworld and Logan's Run were a couple of my favorite science fiction films. I watched them over and over again as both are just really cool ideas. Westworld is about a theme park for adults populated by robots. Robots! Well, when their machine circuitry goes awry and guests start getting killed, that's a problem, isn't it? Original bald brother Yul Brynner plays a gunslinger who refuses to die. Directed by Michael Crichton, this is just pure 1970s fun.

Into the Wild. 2008. USA. I didn't see this when it came out because I read the book and therefore had been exasperated by this story once already. College grad with romantic, extremely idealized smarts burns money, wanders in the West before starving to death in the Alaskan wild. True story. Earnestly directed by Sean Penn with a direct On the Road for the 21st century quality. That's good. Into the Wild was a lot better than I expected, it has a great ensemble cast and Emile Hirsch is wonderful and charismatic in the lead role.

National Treasure. 2005. USA. Surprisingly enjoyable summer blockbuster action yarn that stars Nic Cage and his toupee out to redeem his family name from scandalous slander. Lots of historical scavenger hunt around the globe styled adventures--some more believable than others. Okay, mostly not believable. I watched part two a couple days later and it was terrible!

Friday, October 09, 2009

UTW reviews: Capitalism: A Love Story + The Invention of Lying

This week for Urban Tulsa Weekly I reviewed Michael Moore's newest Capitalism: A Love Story and the Ricky Gervais comedy The Invention of Lying. Don't be frightened but Capitalism: A Love Story is a 1,600+ word review! To read both of them go here.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Movie tickets #11

Sunday, October 04, 2009

September movies

Westworld---1973---usa ****
The Hangover---2009---usa ****
Big River Man---2009---usa ***
Coco Before Chanel---2009---france **
National Treasure---2005---usa ***
Fish Tank---2009---england ***1/2
Broken Embraces---2009---spain ***1/2
National Treasure 2---2008---usa **
The September Issue---2009---usa **1/2
The River---1951---france ***
Just Another Love Story---2009---denmark ***
Tricks---2008---poland ****
Sin Nombre---2008---mexico ***1/2
The Great Buck Howard---2009---usa ***1/2
Yes Man---2009---usa ***
The Express---2008---usa ***
Eagle Eye---2008---usa **1/2
Into the Wild---2008---usa ****
The Happening---2008---usa **
The Surrogates---2009---usa **1/2
Out of Sight---1998---usa *****!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

UTW Surrogates review

This week was my first as a film critic at Urban Tulsa Weekly. It's a weekly paper published in the Tulsa area. I'll be reviewing one or so films a week for them. I will try to publish the link to my reviews on CineRobot in case anyone wants to check those out.

You can go to, click on cinema to read all the reviews; or just click Surrogates and it should take you right to my review.

I don't know how long they keep their reviews archived in case it doesn't work a month from now.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A new record!

Mark your calender for September 18, 2009 as CineRobot history was made. On my recent trip to London I set a record--most expensive movie ticket ever paid by me for a new release. In fact, I broke the record a couple of times (London is expensive!).

The official new record: $20.64 (which is what the 13 pounds translates to on that day's exchange rate).

I saw Sin Nombre at the Apollo Picadilly Circus Theatre. Over $20? Madness!

Friday, September 25, 2009


Andy Kaufman is one of my favorite entertainers of the past thirty plus years. He took comedy to some odd places that it had never gone before but I had never seen his famously bad 1981 film Heartbeeps until recently. Wow. Heartbeeps lived up to the hype--it is bad, really, really bad. It's one of those rare creatures though, it's so awful, and you know it's horrible as you watch it, but you can not turn it off or look away. Train wreck city that leaves you thinking--how did this movie get made? So, in some weird way, it's actually good despite it being so crappy! Make sense?

Heartbeeps is something that could only have been made in the early 1980s. Straight to video is a term invented for a film like this. Kaufman and Bernadette Peters star as robots who escape a robotics factory and go on a walkabout. Okay, I'm intrigued with that so far. They build a baby robot for some reason (it does cute robot baby stuff!) and are joined on their journey by an old school borscht belt robot named Catskill. While they are gone they are pursued by a defective police robot known as Crimebuster Deluxe and a couple of bumbling factory workers (one of which is Randy Quaid). The pair engage in lots of robot based discussion about the world they encounter (one of them: what is a rainbow?) that expresses the similarities between human relationships and ones between artificial intelligence.

Heartbeeps is supposed to be set far enough from 1981 that it's very futuristic and modern yet it's 1981 technology on display. Rather than trying to come up with new things--we get large computer consoles with blinking green text on the all black screen, Atari 2600 joysticks, bad '80s rock band haircuts and outfits (Christopher Guest has a small role wearing some crazy overalls out in a junk yard and looking like he should have been on the set of Revenge of the Nerds set in alternate world). They do come up with things like beer in a bag so I don't want to completely rag on their imaginations. Beer in a bag, that's about it.

I'm glad I saw Heartbeeps as it's one of the few, if only, things with Kaufman in it I hadn't seen. It's terrible yet oddly captivating due to its cheesy, silly, over earnest ways. It is worth seeing if you like Kaufman or the genre of "it's so bad it's good." I can see why Kaufman was interested in making Heartbeeps as it taps into his love of innocence and childlike awe. He had those things in his comedy from day one. Too bad this wasn't up to the high standards he had set in his work in television and stand-up comedy.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I Heart Charlotte Gainsbourg

It's been awhile since I've written about a French actress so let's put a stop to that right now. Meet Charlotte Gainsbourg if you don't already know her.. It's been hard to avoid her if you like French or indie films as this has been a great decade for Gainsbourg. She's piled up a collection of interesting roles and has more on the way. She's balanced taking on everything from French romantic comedy to historical drama. There is a lot of buzz about her performance in the upcoming flamethrower of a film, Lars von Trier's Antichrist, so it doesn't look as if Gainsbourg is going to slow down anytime soon.

Gainsbourg, who is the daughter of influential singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg and English actress Jane Birkin, started the decade off right with My Wife Is An Actress (2001), a fun farce about relationships written and directed by her husband, Yvan Attal. She appeared in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's bleak fest 21 Grams and another French comedy Happily Ever After in 2003/2004. In 2006 Gainsbourg took on probably my favorite role of hers in Michel Gondry's surreal romance The Science of Sleep. I love that quirky film. I also liked the no-nonsense historical drama Golden Door (2006), a tale of immigrants trying to just get to New York and through the Ellis Island experience that wasn't always so welcoming.

Gainsbourg decided to go the route of her father in 2007 with the release of a record called "5.55." Unlike some other vanity projects by actors/actresses (the list is too long to go into but you know who these people are), Gainsbourg, who teamed up with the French electronic duo Air on the album, produced a quality album of moody French and English language songs. While not as good as Zooey Deschanel's foray into the music world (She & Him), this might be the second best recent release by an actor/actress trying to create music. The song "Beauty Mark" sealed Gainsbourg into my mind for a long time to come.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Edinburgh film notes

I'm in Edinburgh, Scotland for a few days. It's a real change of pace from when I was in London. Less people, slower, easier to walk the city without looking at a map every five minutes, less to do, better accents. 

I've fallen in love with two art house theatres in Edinburgh--Cameo and Filmhouse. These two theatres are close to one another and specialize in indie, documentary, foreign and rep cinema--in other words, my kind of place. The Cameo originally opened as a Vaudeville house in 1914 and I love the ex-Vaudeville theatres. There's something so ghostly about those rooms to me. Filmhouse is a converted church! How cool is that? It sits on a bustling street with a pair of strip joints with lurid neon of women on poles in the window of one of them. There's nothing better than coming out of a theatre in an urban setting and having strip bar neon lighting up the sidewalks. 

I saw four films at the Cameo and Filmhouse on my visit and one thing I realized is they show a lot of commercials before the features over here. You think we have it bad in America with the pre-show commercials? Move to Scotland, it's much worse. One film started at 6.15 with the first commercial but between that and the trailers that followed the film began at 6.35. Twenty minutes of commercials! They seem endless and cover everything from Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream to Scottish travel to bank ads. If you see a bunch of movies this would drive you absolutely batty. I was fed up in just the couple of days I've been here. 

What have I seen here? I caught the new Pedro Almodovar Broken Embraces and liked it a lot. He's been on a creative roll lately. Penelope Cruz is a pretty good actress in her Spanish films. When she's in one with English she seems terrible but I love to see her in something from Spain and her and Almodovar are kindred spirits (this is film #4 for her and Pedro). I was pretty disappointed in the documentary The September Issue that is about Vogue magazine, fashion and its editor Anna Wintour. I thought it was kind of dull and uninteresting. I saw a Jean Renoir film I'd never seen with his 1951 set in India drama The River. It was a beautiful Technicolor film print that had the Filmhouse so packed I had to sit in the front row (right next to a guy who yelled at some people in the back for being noisy during the Citizen Kane trailer--my kind of guy!). I also fed my Danish fix by watching the over the top romantic thriller melodrama Just Another Love Story. Not great but it's set in Denmark, which is enough for me. 

I'm heading back to London for a few more days and have two or three things I'm wanting to see--a Polish film called Tricks and the French crime two parter Mesrine. A lot of other stuff I need to do there so not sure I'll get to them. I'll give it my best shot of course. 

Sunday, September 13, 2009

London film notes

I'm stealing the motto of London's Odeon's chain where they claim they are "fanatical about film." The new motto of CineRobot: psychotic about cinema! That just sounds a little more serious and frightening. Here's a blurry photo of me in front of the Covent Garden Odeon.

I've only seen three films the past week while in London because Sarah and I were just really busy. There's so much to do in London that we were ambushed by other things--walking the maze of city streets, museuming, eating, figuring out what to eat, shopping, resting, stopping and looking at the fold out map that rested perpetually in my right back pocket. We'd finally make it to a theatre and plop down exhausted and foot-sore after a day's activity.

Another reason we haven't seen a bunch is that I've crushed my personal record for most amount paid to watch a film--factoring in the conversion of dollars into pounds, it costs about $18 to watch a single movie. You got it, eighteen bucks! The previous high for me was $12 so there's a new benchmark that's going to be hard to top.

The three films Sarah and I saw were: Big River Man, Coco Before Chanel and Fish Tank. The best of the three is the gritty, British, teenage rebellion film Fish Tank. While there's been a lot of films similar to this--Fish Tank pulls no punches and is somber and intense. Coco Before Chanel, starring Audrey Tautou, on the other hand is dull, dull and more dull. I almost went to sleep during the first thirty minutes--maybe this was due the fact I'd traipsed all over London before I saw it? No, I don't think that's it as it's just not a great film and has lots of problems.

I'm up early tomorrow morning to catch the 6.19am train into London King's Cross Station; then I'm on the 8.00am train to Edinburgh for the next 3+ days. I've located a couple of theatres there so I plan on seeing at least one film there.

Saturday, September 05, 2009


The moment this post hits CineRobot I will be in a jet heading to the UK for a couple of weeks. I'll mostly be in the London area except for four day jaunt by train up to Edinburgh. I'll try to post things while on my trip--might be short posts, might be more frequent than once every three days, might just be photos of movie theatres or who knows what.

Friday, September 04, 2009

August movies

The film of August, and maybe 2009, was without a doubt The Hurt Locker. Recommended! District 9 was also very good. I enjoyed Inglorious Basterds more than Tarantino's last couple of films but still felt it was flawed in some aspects. I saw three films with the word "heart" in the title toward the end of the month which I didn't realize until I was writing the films down for this post.

The Hurt Locker
---2009---usa ****1/2
Prom Night In Mississippi---2008---usa ***
Harry In Your Pocket---1973---usa ***1/2
Barcelona---1994---usa ****
Shaun of the Dead---2004---england ****
16 Candles---1984---usa *****!
Evil---2005---greece **1/2
Hard Times---1975---usa ****
District 9---2009---south africa ****
(500) Days of Summer---2009---usa ***1/2
Heartbeeps---1981---usa **1/2
Paper Heart---2009---usa **1/2
Inglorious Basterds---2009---usa ***1/2
Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo---2009---usa ****

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Movie tickets #10

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Lensic

Sometimes you fall in love with a theatre the moment you see it and you keep on loving it even though you never or rarely see a film there. The Lensic is such a theatre for me. I missed its days as a movie theatre and have only seen a couple of films there while passing through Santa Fe, New Mexico. I've seen two films at the Lensic but it will be hard to forget either of those screenings.

Located very near Santa Fe's plaza and opened in 1931, the 834 seat Spanish Colonial theatre is now doing what so many old theatres do--musicals and theatre take up its days and nights. This always makes me a little sad for the projection booth and the movie screen. I like to see films in these places, not singing and dancing. The flickering arc of light is what these buildings were built for. The Lensic also has a balcony although I haven't gotten to sit in it as it was closed both times I've watched movies there. I'd love to watch something from the front row and middle in the balcony.

In the early 1990s I saw Silence of the Lambs at the Lensic. I'd seen the film once already but it's very good and worth watching a second time--especially in the walls of a theatre like this. My brother Luke, cousin Kenny and I somehow talked my mom into watching it despite the fact it isn't her kind of film at all. She didn't make it to the halfway mark before she took off for the exits, the sunlight and the lure of the plaza shops close by.

A few months ago I was in Santa Fe again and got to see my second feature at The Lensic: Jaws. Film print! It was screened as part of a summer series (American Graffiti was the other film) and the place was packed. The crowd was a mix of two types of people--those that knew and cherished Jaws and those who hadn't seen it. I was with SJ and she had her doubts to its greatness but left the theatre singing its praises after being jolted a few times in her seat by on screen bolts of fear. I left the theatre happy, I love Jaws but no doubt part of the appeal on this night was seeing it in downtown Santa Fe in a historic, beautiful theatre like the Lensic.

Monday, August 24, 2009

District 9 + (500) Days of Summer back to back

One of my favorite things about watching movies is the fact if you like a particular genre you can watch wildly different films in a row and enjoy them both. A few nights ago I did just such a thing. I saw a 7.15 screening of the science fiction thriller District 9 with Tim and when it ended, I went across the street to see the romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer with Sarah. These two films would seem to be at opposite ends of the movie spectrum and while that is true on the surface--they have one major element in common that make them a great double feature: they are both good movies. If the movie is going to be good, it doesn't matter if you watch it with one or two other films. Good movies are always a rewarding experience, no matter when or where.

I had high hopes for District 9 and it did not disappoint. The film's early portions uses the technique of faux documentary to set up the back story--1.5 million aliens from another planet live in the shanty ghettoes of Johannesburg, South Africa after their ship comes to a stop above the city. They've been there for twenty years and the locals are sick of them so a forced relocation is about to begin. The documentary follows this relocation until the story flips into a more traditional narrative with a South African and a couple of the aliens. I was pretty happy when the documentary portion ended as it is difficult for me to get emotionally attached to characters when that tactic is employed.

There's so many good things about District 9--the infection story, the crazed Nigerian gang in the slums, the apartheid connection, the science fiction aspect of aliens + space ship + technology, the story of human becoming alien and aliens wanting to get home. All of it good. The film is blessed with some amazing editing that allows it to piece together multiple stories in a lot of formats. District 9 gets better as the film goes along and when films pick up steam to deliver wonderful, powerful endings, that's a good movie. District 9 delivered a great ending.

What better way to follow up a dark, futuristic and violent science fiction film than going to see an indie romantic comedy? (500) Days of Summer is a sweet, smart, romantic ode to love, the loss of love and just being with another person. The story jumps all over the place in the relationship between Summer (Zooey Deschanel) and Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as we see their good, their bad and in between from the very start. The narrator warns us--this might not be the happy ending kind of love story that is a pre-requisite in most Hollywood romantic comedies and the narrator is largely right.

I loved the non-linear aspects of the script. The film is well-written, witty and Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel have a great chemistry and deliver nice performances as the star crossed couple. I loved the use of split screen a few times and the musical number was one of the most joyous scenes I've seen in a film all year. This scene filled me with happiness as I watched it. I was envious of Gordon-Levitt's endless supply of cool ties too.

Wild genre jumping won't work every time like it did with District 9 and (500) Days of Summer--you have to make sure you are in the mood and the films are both worth seeing. This time doubling up worked for me. One night, two great movies that made me feel a diverse stream of emotions. As we drove home I just felt so love with cinema and that is a magical feeling.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Porky's, Pryor Creek, 1982

It was a different world in 1982. This was a pre-Internet universe where films that offered a hint of nudity or debauchery were latched onto by teenage boys everywhere due to the difficulty of getting to see such things. There were no Google searches for us, as we had to work hard to see nude women on a movie screen. My friends and I knew about Porky's through word of mouth but we hadn't seen it. The more we heard it discussed, the more legendary it sounded to us. Porky's promised lots of skin and lots of filthy jokes--just the sort of thing any regular 13 year old wants to see. I was one of those 13 year olds.

The first time I got a chance to see Porky's was late at night at my friend Scott's house. His family had HBO and we'd mentally circled the late night screening the moment we saw it in the monthly guide. I got permission to stay over and hoped the rest of his family would be asleep by the time the movie started so we could watch it in the middle of the night. As it grew later Scott's dad went off to work the graveyard shift, his mom went to bed after the news and finally his sisters did too. It was exciting and an adrenaline rush. Could it be? Would we soon be watching Porky's?

This being 1982, Scott didn't have a remote control for their TV (this detail of the story makes me feel old!), so we had to come up with a plan to watch a film that we weren't allowed to see but were watching anyway. During an earlier super-late screening of Lady Chatterley's Lover (lots of flesh on display but a bit on the dull side for teenagers) we figured out we needed one person by the TV and one person to serve as lookout. I positioned myself at the edge of the living room so I could see anyone walking down the hall toward where we were; Scott took the spot right in front of the TV. A code word was agreed upon that would signal a quick channel change so we wouldn't be busted watching the infamous shower scene or during some other naughty shenanigans. We test ran it a few times and decided we had about five seconds to spot someone, say the code word and then flip the channel to avoid being caught.

It took seemingly forever for the last few minutes to go by and for Porky's to start. When it began Scott and I had giddy grins plastered on our faces and we gave each other an enthusiastic high five and took our assigned spots. Porky's delivered everything we'd heard about and more. Here's my synopsis: nudity, teenage pranks, near nudity, drunken antics and oh, yeah, nudity. When the movie ended around three in the morning we went to bed, thankful we'd pulled it off and that no one came down the hall to interrupt the film. Our plan had worked like a charm and we got to brag that we'd seen Porky's to our friends who still hadn't seen it. We were kings.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


The Egyptian
Seattle, Washington
May 2009

I'm thinking of posting some popcorn/concession related photos from various theatres I go see films in--this is the first one.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow has done something no one seemed to be able to do until now--make a film set in the Iraq conflict that is entertaining and worth watching. Other films based in or around this subject--Stop-Loss, In the Valley of Elah, Grace is Gone, etc--have mostly been a collection of mediocre, dour message films trying to hammer home a particular point from the writer/director. Bigelow dispenses with all the extraneous in The Hurt Locker and has made not only the best film about combat in Iraq but the best war film I've seen in years. The Hurt Locker is a non-stop adrenaline rush and is so expertly made I left the theatre in kind of a punch-drunk state of appreciation for what I'd just experienced.

The film is set among a small group of soldiers in an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit as they go out and attempt to defuse a variety of complicated bombs on the streets of Baghdad. Some of the bombs are very tricky and involve people, cars, garbage, bags and just anything that can go unseen or is able to draw out American targets for attack. Watching people defuse bombs is a built in tension generator so seeing this happen again and again in varying ways only aided the film's suspense level.

Written by Mark Boal, the film smartly doesn't try to address all the preconceptions or messages about war, either the Iraq War or war in general. In fact, Boal and Bigelow not only avoid those things, they embrace the entire nature of war and what it is to be a soldier by focusing on this small group and what they do everyday. War is dangerous, it is terrifying, it is exciting, it is destructive, it is a bonding experience and it is completely life changing for the people who have to go through it. Some people, as crazy as it might sound, are soldiers for a reason--they are good at doing something the vast majority of us could never do. The Hurt Locker puts all of these emotions on the screen in two hours without even trying to say "war is bad" and you know what--that's more effective, gripping and powerful when done with the absolute unbridled confidence that is on display here from Bigelow. The film tells its story and lets the viewer's intelligence make up its own mind. How refreshing!

The cast in The Hurt Locker is remarkable. Jeremy Renner, an actor I've honestly never even noticed before this, delivers a stunning, blistering performance as the leader of the team. Renner is riveting and dominates every scene that he's in and deserves talk of Oscars for this role. Very good support in the other two main roles is given by Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty. I love that the three leads are not well known actors that might distract us--choosing more anonymous performers to base the story around gives a tone of reality to the film. Three well known heavy hitters show up for small roles--Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes and David Morse--but I almost wish that their parts would have been done by unknowns. Although, seeing Morse chew up dialogue in one scene was one of my favorite things in the film as I am a big fan of his.

Bigelow, who is the only female director I can think of who has made a career of making tough, ramped up and interesting action films (Near Dark, Point Break, Strange Days) has unleashed the best, most thought out, and frankly, the most bad-ass film of her career. There are moments in The Hurt Locker when I was so entranced in what I was witnessing that I couldn't believe it when the scene was over. There's no better feeling when you watch a lot of films over the year to be blown away by a film from the start all the way to the finish. Bigelow does not let up on the throttle the entire movie and I'm incredibly impressed by her directing in this.

The Hurt Locker will be in the running for my best of in 2009. It's thrilling, honest, gripping, exhausting, tender, intelligent and aggressive. The film grabs you by the shoulders and throws you back in your seat from the moment it starts, never lets go and when its over, it stays with you. I can't stop thinking about it. That's great filmmaking. The Hurt Locker is a stunning piece of work and highly, highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

John Hughes 1950-2009

I became a teenager in the early 1980s and the teen comedy/drama may have hit its apex in that decade thanks to John Hughes. Teen marketed films released now pale mightily from what he did in terms of wit, charm, humor, romance and idealized realism. If you were alive and young in the 1980s, you were taken into the world of Hughes no matter your cultural leanings. His impact on what my friends and I watched was unavoidable as he unleashed film after film that made us laugh, made us feel connected to other teens, made us have serious crushes and entertained us. It's with great sadness that I write this as Hughes recently died of a heart attack.

Hughes' fingerprints are all over numerous classic films from 1983 to 1990 as a writer or director (sometimes both): Mr. Mom, Vacation, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, European Vacation, Weird Science, Pretty In Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Some Kind of Wonderful, Planes Trains & Automobiles, She's Having A Baby, The Great Outdoors, Uncle Buck, Christmas Vacation and Home Alone. All of those films in only eight years. Eight years!

Go over that list of films again and let it sink in. Hughes started to lose me toward the end of the list but nine out of the first ten are undeniable comedic benchmarks for the time (European Vacation is the lone exception). That's nine out of ten films (some might say ten out of ten) where Hughes just nailed it. Nine. Try doing anything nine times out of ten, it's a hard percentage to maintain with something small, now imagine nine out of ten when involved in massive creative endeavors. And to think this is the fickle, unpredictable world of Hollywood that Hughes accomplished this in? That makes it all the more amazing.

Even a couple of his later decade films I've always loved simply because Hughes put one of my favorites, John Candy, in a lead role. While Planes, Trains & Automobiles is worth watching repeatedly, lesser films like The Great Outdoors and Uncle Buck aren't considered "classic" like some of the earlier films, yet I think they are worth seeing as part of the Hughes/Candy trilogy of the period. Actually, I really like Uncle Buck a lot now that I think about it. Hughes also helped create the brat pack group in the '80s by casting a revolving group of young actors for his films. Most of their careers hit the skids the second he stopped writing material for them as they got older.

The John Hughes of my youth has long since gone as once the 1990s came he stopped writing/ directing films that entertained me or got to me. But, in the 1980s, particularly the early to mid 1980s--John Hughes owned me as much as any mainstream filmmaker could.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Movie tickets #9

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Method viewing

I'm a big fan of the acting philosophy known as "method." Some of my favorite performers have embraced this strategy, from in his prime Robert De Niro to Jennifer Jason Leigh to Daniel Day Lewis. These kinds of actors try to literally inhabit the character they are portraying--from gaining/losing crazy amounts of weight or learning strange skills for the role or getting into a similar psychological frame of mind just for this specific role. I love it.

Daniel Day Lewis is hands down at the top of the method ladder. From living in the woods and using muskets, learning butchering techniques from two hundred years ago, refusing to get up from a wheel chair, hiring street thugs to harass him all night to get that certain unhinged quality--he's done these things and a lot more (way more!) just to further understand his character. If you see Day Lewis in a film one of the things he brings is 100% commitment and authenticity to the role via method.

It's time to add a fresh term to film that is completely new: method viewing! Method viewing is a way of applying the method strategy of acting to the movie watching experience. It's a way for film fanatics to take their zeal for movies to a completely new level.

I've had two method viewing experiences in the past couple of weeks. After staying up all night for Slumber Party I went home and got a few hours sleep. In the afternoon I decided to go see Moon to test out my new theory. Moon is about a astronaut on the moon who might be losing his mind (see most recent post for full review). My sleepless daze was the perfect foggy mental accompaniment for a film like Moon. Method viewing helped the film go over like gangbusters.

My second method viewing happened unexpectedly but sometimes these things need to happen organically. While at the Circle about to watch Tyson, a documentary about pugilist Mike Tyson, I dropped a twenty-five pound cast iron kettle on my foot. I broke one of my toes and damaged several others. I hobbled into the theatre with a bag of ice, removed my sock/shoe and watched Tyson with ice on my foot/toes. I was in pain as I watched Tyson talk about painful events, beat up people in the ring and even bite off a chunk of Evander Holyfield's ear. Method viewing my friends.

There's a whole world of opportunity for future method viewings. It can be as simple as watching a movie where it was shot--recently Rumblefish was projected against a building in downtown Tulsa and that's method viewing. The Rolling Roadhouse by Alamo Draft House a few years ago offered up things like Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the Devil's Tower in Wyoming or The Goonies in Astoria, Oregon. Also method viewing.

Any experiences worth sharing? Any ideas for future screenings? I'm thinking of locking a couple of friends in my hot, dark, cobwebbed garage; starving them for a few days and then making them watch Rescue Dawn in the middle of the night. Any volunteers?

Monday, August 03, 2009


I like my science fiction when the "less is more" philosophy is embraced. Bloated budgets, rampant use of CGI and over the top action sequences aren't really my thing. Unfortunately, those elements grace the majority of the science fiction centered films now so I don't get to see a lot of them I truly enjoy despite my love for the genre. My favorite sci-fi is more connected to ideas, the future and the emptiness of space. Moon is such a sci-fi film.

Set in the future on a base on the moon operated by one man, Sam (Sam Rockwell) is nearing the end of his three year hitch on the energy farm. He lives alone, sleeps alone, eats food out of plastic pouches alone, checks outlying equipment on the moon's surface alone, wastes time on his various hobbies alone--all of which is starting to make him crack up. Sure, he has a mechanized robot helper to talk to (voiced by Kevin Spacey), his incoming video messages from earth and his TV to keep him company but it's a lonely life.

The best thing Moon has going for it is Rockwell. Always a solid actor, Rockwell may deliver the finest performance he's ever given and he's been good in a lot of movies. One thing that makes this a challenge for an actor is he has to carry the film. Other than the video sections, where has cuts back to Rockwell watching the screen so he's still in the scene, and a few flashbacks, Rockwell is in every second of Moon. At times he's even double good as he has to create multiple levels and personalities to the same character. It's an impressive performance.

Moon kind of gets lost in its own loneliness and I liked it all the more for that. It's spare, simple, gets the feeling of isolation down and is slow--all good things in a science fiction movie! Directed by Duncan Jones, he smartly dwells on the little things that make this interesting--the character, the workmanlike setting and the bleak but beautiful moonscape. The moon is the next frontier space and Jones' exteriors look as desolate as any dusty western. There's something about seeing a man in a spacesuit walking around on a planet's surface that gets me right in the heart.

Moon is a smart little film with a terrific acting performance by Sam Rockwell. It's complex yet restrained. It's futuristic with a retro edge. It's emotional yet still icy. It's a well done genre picture that knows its a genre picture but isn't afraid embrace what it is. Instead of trying to do too much--it looks inward and gives us a very rewarding look at life on the moon.

Friday, July 31, 2009

July movies

Obviously the high point of the month of July was the all-night, five film marathon that was Slumber Party. Wow, that was a lot of fun! If you were in the Tulsa area and didn't go--you missed a night of unhinged horror film related glee. I also really enjoyed the music documentary Anvil and thought Bruno was funny (and very filthy) but not the electric charge that was Borat. Two five star films: Metropolitan and Sullivan's Travels (Preston Sturges I am in awe of you!). Here's the rundown for the month.

Away We Go---2009---usa ***1/2
Lights in the Dark---2005---finland ***
Metropolitan---1990---usa *****!
Anvil---2009---usa ****
The Gates---2007---usa ***
Blue Thunder---1983---usa ***1/2
Dixie Dynamite---1976---usa **1/2
Return of the Living Dead---1985---usa ****
Hausu---1977---japan ****
The Burning---1981---usa ***
Night Warning---1983---usa ***1/2
Race With the Devil---1975---usa ***1/2
Moon---2009---england ****
Bruno---2009---usa ***1/2
Tyson---2009---usa ***1/2
Sullivan's Travels---1941---usa *****!
Funny People---2009---usa ***

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Warren Oates double feature

I love Warren Oates! If there is one actor that goes with the phrase "double feature"--that actor is Oates. I mention him a lot (or it seems I do) on CineRobot and for good reason--he's an extremely watchable character actor. He anchored the last film during Slumber Party recently in Race With the Devil so you know I must love him. The more you watch him, the more you appreciate him. Vern Snackwell and I had a Sunday night double feature of Oates recently and this is how it went.

First up was the 1983 helicopter action film Blue Thunder from director John Badham. I saw this when I was 14 but didn't remember it at all--I didn't remember who Oates was then I'm sure except he was Sgt. Hulka from Stripes (a film I love). Blue Thunder is a fun film that has held up pretty well through the years. It looks good with all the neon lights of Los Angeles at night and has some rousing helicopter action scenes.

How is Oates in this? He's sporting a great cop 'stache, plays an angry police captain and gets to snarl some good one liners such as: answer your fucking beeper! Blue Thunder is a solid genre film from the early 1980s that is worth checking out.

Film two for us was the 1976 low budget drive-in styled Dixie Dynamite. I love the title and the image pictured of Oates and two women on a motorcycle. The film is just so-so though. You'd think a film that has car chases, scantily clad women, really bad dialogue by not so hot actors, moonshine swilling, motocross racing, lots of sweating and numerous dynamite explosions would be off the charts entertaining in a 1970s sort of way. It wasn't.

Dixie Dynamite has some fun moments but it's PG rated. This screams for an R rating--more violence, more cursing and let's be honest, more nudity would have made it truly more worthy of its title and premise. It's a 1976 drive-in movie after all. How would adding any of the things I mentioned damage this film's marketability? It wouldn't. Those additions would have just made a better film and although it's worth seeing for Oates nuts like me and Vern, it should have been better.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Relationship with a film robot

Dating a film robot should leave the imprint of a glamorous lifestyle in your mind. Right? It's the secret world of endless trivia about such and such actor/ director/ producer/ actress/ writer/ production designer etc etc. It's the invitation to participate in conversations that start with things like: What are your three favorite sub-genres? What do you think of Errol Morris' interview technique versus traditional documentary questioning? Let's watch Hal Ashby's films in order of release! What's your favorite Whit Stillman film? These questions and statements are endless.

I've recently been seeing SJ (pictured, in the midst of a studying session), a culturally with it girl who likes movies but has never embraced them the way I have. They entertain her but she is "normal" as they don't consume her free time the way they do with me at times. In a way I feel kind of sorry for her when I want to blather on about some small character actor role or when I try to convince her of the artistic genius of The Bad News Bears or The Terminator (two no-brainers!). She listens, I'm just not sure she's really listening.

As you can see by the photo--SJ has taken to the challenge of being involved with a person who watches a couple hundred films a year. I have high hopes of introducing her to enough great older films that she will one day embrace my love for 1930s movies. First screwball and then who knows what? She loves documentaries, even the bleak and the depressing ones, so that's something we have to build our future on.

I also kind of envy her because as we talk more about film I discover what she hasn't seen that I will try to talk (or coerce!) her into watching in the future. After my exclamations ring out, "You haven't seen Pulp Fiction! You haven't seen A Fish Called Wanda! You haven't seen Hands on a Hard Body!" I add these films to a growing list that is tacked up on my frig: SJ's MUST SEES!!! I'm envious too because she gets to see incredible films for the first time and the first time, no matter what you are doing, is always the most magical, memorable time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

10 nominations for best film?

A few weeks ago the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (also known as the Oscars) announced that they were doubling the number of best picture nominees from five to ten. What a terrible, terrible idea! First off, they didn't just add one or two they decided to go all in and just double the damn thing to ten. I'm trying to make sense of it the best I can and admit I'm having a tough time figuring it out.

The first thing that pops in my head is that this group got in cahoots with film company bigwigs and came up with this bright idea to help promote more movies. It's all about increasing the box office of more movies. The more films in the running for the top prize means more people will try to see that year's better films. Usually there is a spike in tickets sold for the best film nominees after the nominations are announced. More films equals more public relations onslaught for the pictures, the stars, the directors, the magazines and websites devoted to celebrity culture and events--like I said: more money for the entire industry.

Do we really need to have ten nominations? The answer: no. Let's think about the film industry in the year 2009 and the majority of films that are hoisted upon us. Hollywood releases an endless stream of sequels, remakes, comic book or graphic novel adaptations or pure by the numbers formula pictures (just pick the genre and you'll be bombarded by formula). Every so often a wild card slips in like some bastard bad seed that takes off and shocks and surprises us with a nomination and wins (Slumdog Millionaire). The film industry at this point in time is a cesspool of mediocrity, regurgitation, strategic marketing and no imagination. It's usually a struggle to find five films that are truly worthy of best film status so to double it to ten is just plain crazy.

This move will cheapen the award for best picture by turning it into some kind of Golden Globes or People's Choice award where they hand out nominations at such a dizzying rate it's hard to keep up with just who wasn't nominated. Do you want to see the actual best films nominated (granted, I am using this term loosely because they have issues in this regard too but just for the sake of this argument I'm assuming that they nominate the best five films) or do you want to see some great films nominated, some good films nominated and then some that have absolutely no business being touted as lasting works of art?

Why stop at ten nominations? Why not increase the number of actors or actresses or directors to ten? More publicity! More happy botoxed actors/actresses! More money! Why not just increase the total to 15 or 20 nominations? Heck, with all these increases the film anti-Christ himself, Michael Bay, might find himself nominated for a best picture or best director. Naw, they'd have to increase it to 150 nominations per category for that hack to get a chance at an award for anything other than blowing stuff up (this wasn't a planned attack on Bay, honest, it just popped out at the end). Nice job Oscars--you've made your ultimate award mean less than it ever has before. That's smart.