Wednesday, June 30, 2010

UTW review of Toy Story 3

Go here if you want to read my 1,000+ word review of Toy Story 3 in the Urban Tulsa this week. To say that I liked it a lot would be an understatement as it is actually one of my favorite films of the year. It's really that good. Pixar has done it again.

Monday, June 28, 2010


I'm not the biggest proponent of change but CineRobot has taken on a new design after five years of having the same "dots" look. It's cleaner and easier (it's fresh!) to read in my opinion and hope you, dear readers, feel the same way.

Half year report

Incredible as it seems, 2010 is half over. My memory of the new films I've seen this year makes me think this has not been a stellar year for quality movies. After going through my Kinetoscope log I find that to be true--2010 has been a woeful year for new films!

I've got more clearcut possibles for worst movie of the year than I do for the best of category with Dear John and The Last Song pulling a double feature of proof of just how sucky Nicholas Sparks is as a novelist. I know that guy is popular but the film versions of his stories feel me with annoyance, frustration and anger at how he wants to tug those heart-strings.

There are only three films I've seen that could possibly be in consideration for my tops in '10 list: The Ghost Writer, Dogtooth and Exit Through the Gift Shop. The Ghost Writer has no chance unless the rest of the year is truly wretched but had to have at least three films worthy of consideration for the past five months or I would have been even more depressed at what 2010 has had to offer. Dogtooth is a haunting, strange movie from Greece that has been stuck in my brain for months. Exit Through the Gift Shop is a faux-documentary (or is it real?) from the creative mind of street artist Banksy. That's it. Three films.

Pick it up 2010. And hurry.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

UTW review of The Secrets in Their Eyes

Go here if you want to read my review of the 2009 Oscar winner for best foreign film. It's a sophisticated, intelligent mystery/romance from Argentina.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dennis Hopper poll question

I haven't done a poll in awhile so just put up a question regarding your favorite Dennis Hopper role. Is it Frank Booth, Shooter, Feck, Photojournalist, Billy or Howard Payne?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Dennis Hopper 1936-2010

I'm a little late in a post praising the recently deceased Dennis Hopper but wanted to say a few words about his acting style, photography and mention a few of his must-see films. Hopper was most known as an actor but he was a serious and avid photographer as well. His black and white photographs from the 1960s are intimate works by an obvious insider chronicling the counter-culture movement and include many prominent artists, musicians and actors from the era.

Hopper as an actor was one of those wild man actors where his "real" personality onscreen was as visible as the role he was playing. Hopper loved to chew up everything and everyone in a scene. Sometimes this worked, other times it didn't. Hopper has frankly been in a lot of junk over the years but when clicking, Hopper unleashed a series of strange, eccentric characters that are extremely memorable. It's hard to forget a classic Hopper performance in his best films.

Here are a selection of Hopper roles that need to be seen.

Easy Rider. While I don't particularly care for this seminal counter-culture film from 1969, it's connected to Hopper more than any other film he was in due to his involvement in the script and as director. The film, about a couple of biker hippies going on a road trip full of chemicals and stream of conscious conversations has not aged well at all. It did strike a chord with the youth upon its release that made it a beloved picture in the late '60s and '70s. Overtly anti-authoritarian and mildly ridiculous throughout, Easy Rider is a good place to start for a Hopper festival program.

Apocalypse Now. Francis Ford Coppola's manic 1979 Vietnam War epic had a lot of craziness attached to it so it makes complete sense that Dennis Hopper was in the cast. There were heart attacks, jungle typhoons, nervous breakdowns, Marlon Brando's giant ego (and shaved skull) and Hopper as a whacked out of his mind photojournalist. Come on, if you haven't already seen this one, get on the ball as this is quintessential American filmmaking.

1986 was THE year for Hopper as an actor: River's Edge, Blue Velvet and Hoosiers. Those first two are classic Hopper "out-there" roles but it was his turn as the drunken father who loves basketball in Hoosiers that really showed Hopper's range at tapping into damaged figures. His role as Frank Booth in David Lynch's Blue Velvet might be Hopper's most bizarre and deranged character ever. If only he was breathing in helium as Lynch originally intended! And in River's Edge, he provides more scary and weird character support for a host of young actors (Keanu Reeves, Crispin Glover and Ione Skye) in a frightening film about the loss of morality among American youth.

Speed. In 1994 Hopper leant his over-the-top personality to a box-office action hit in Jan de Bont's mass transportation bus with explosives film Speed. Hopper re-teams with Reeves (an incredibly different film than River's Edge) and delivers a performance that offers up so much psychotic charisma you almost start rooting for his character to just blow the damn bus up. Especially since Speed broke Sandra Bullock as a star. If he could have killed her off early on in the movie we wouldn't have to endure one of the most annoying stars in Hollywood. That's off topic though.

That's just a few of the good moments in Hopper's career and there were others. Even in some of his lowlights such as Waterworld or Space Truckers, Hopper is so wild and full of the quality of "Hopper" that his performance is entertaining, even if the film is a complete disaster.

***Image #1 is a Dennis Hopper self-portrait taken in 1962***
***Image #2 is a 1964 photograph by Hopper with Bruce Conner, Toni Basil, Teri Garr and Ann Marshall***

Monday, June 21, 2010

Movie tickets #16

Saturday, June 19, 2010

UTW review of Please Give

Go here if you want to read my review of Please Give in Urban Tulsa. It's a comedy involving various neurotics in New York directed by Nicole Holofcener. I liked it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I no longer heart Amanda Seyfried

Back in May of 2009 I wrote about Amanda Seyfried as an up and coming actress to pay attention to. Boy, was I wrong. For the first  time (and likely not the last) I'd like to rescind my praise and take back my "heart" for Amanda Seyfried!

My original post was based mostly on her work on two TV shows that I'd watched Seyfried blossom. While she had a nice role on Veronica Mars, it was what she did on HBO's Mormons in crisis drama Big Love that really made Seyfried stand out. I jumped the ship too early on her and should have waited to see what other kinds of things she could/would do.

Since my post Seyfried has been in some truly wretched movies! She was the lead in one of the worst films I'll see all year (Dear John), a movie that looked awful and that has been lambasted by critics (Chloe) and another saccharine fest with the recent Letters to Juliet. Seyfried's taste level in the roles she is choosing is clearly not up to par. Then she wore her dress backwards.

I hate that a fashion faux pas is the final straw to get Seyfried removed from my "heart" list but wearing a zippered dress backwards (see photo) + a series of crappy film choices is plenty of cause to get booted. I feel no guilt whatsoever. To get back on the list, Seyfried will have to choose good roles in good films, wear her clothes correctly and resist becoming one of the legion of skanky Hollywood starlets lost in a haze of clubs, drugs, scandal and twittering bikini photos of themselves. We'll see if Seyfried is up to the challenge.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

UTW review of Get Him to the Greek

Go here if you want to read my review of the rock n roll road comedy Get Him to the Greek in the latest Urban Tulsa. It's got Russell Brand and Johah Hill as a mismatched pair engaging in all kinds of debauchery.

Friday, June 11, 2010

When in Rome, Greenberg + Hoosiers

If not held captive on a cross-Atlantic flight, I wouldn't have watched When in Rome. Why should I? It's just another formulaic as all get out, mindless, imaginationless, silly piece of romantic comedy fluff from Hollywood. They churn these films out one after the other around February and none of them stand out from the other as they are practically carbon copies.

The story for this concerns a magic fountain in Rome with coins that cast a love-spell. Enough said. Kristen Bell is indeed adorable but take that away and this film is wretched. Plus, having to watch When in Rome while undergoing all the stress of flying is border-line passenger abuse by the airlines and should probably be investigated by the FAA cinema division. If those detectives don't exist, I'm offering up my services for the position of airline programmer but am only interested if I could choose out of the box selections. Imagine being on a flight getting to choose from good movies! What a concept that would be. This recent flight from London had nothing but dreck. Absolute dreck.

There's no lower feeling than that of watching a movie that has been highly anticipated for months and months and getting that sinking feeling as it unfolds. You know, the film isn't as good as the build up in your mind? Greenberg is an an example of that for me. I looked forward to seeing Greenberg as soon as I heard about it as it was written and directed by Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding), stars Ben Stiller as a very neurotic guy stuck in stasis in California. Supporting cast of Rhys Ifans, Greta Gerwig and Jennifer Jason Leigh didn't dampen my enthusiasm.

But I didn't like Greenberg. At all. Due to the build up and my exaggerated expectations, this might be win the title of biggest disappointment of 2010 for me. Blaming annoying and exasperating characters in a Baumbach movie would be a tad ridiculous as that's a Baumbach trademark. The people in Greenberg do have those traits though. I found the film to be unfunny--I didn't laugh or even chuckle a single time, unemotional and didn't form a single attachment to anyone. While these aren't always needed for me to enjoy a movie--the lack of these things in this particular film created a mammoth barrier in front of me that restricted my ability to get lost in the story. Greenberg felt phony, artificial, forced and was working so hard I could see the strain of labor. The lesson to be learned--don't build up a film so much. Hard to do, I know.

I hadn't watched the inspirational sports film Hoosiers since it came out in 1986. The Blu-Ray format encourages re-screenings so a few nights ago I watched it on a stormy Oklahoma night and found it kind of hit and miss. The night was the perfect viewing atmosphere--tornados brewing in the area (the sirens were set off a few times during the film), hard rain and strong winds that knocked out my satellite dish. What else was there to watch if not the copy of Hoosiers sitting on my mantle?

Gene Hackman plays a volatile basketball coach who hasn't had a job in twelve years after punching a player in the face. In 1951, he takes a job in Hickory, Indiana, a small town whose social life revolves around their beloved high school team, the Huskers. Things don't go well for the new coach as he's short on players, the team loses games, he's ejected a lot, seeks the aid of the area drunk and the local phenom, Jimmy Chitwood, would prefer to make shots on a dirt, farm court rather than in a cramped gym.

Naturally, this being one of those tear-jerking sports related films, Hackman turns it around and the town rallies behind the team as they mow through the large city squads during the playoffs. There's lots of swelling music and ecstatic crowd shots as everyone is getting redeemed. I found Hoosiers a bit dated 24 years after I last saw it. Still entertaining, the tears did well up in my eyes as the rousing ending occurred, the movie is just too ham-fisted and simplistic to register a classic. That era was a more innocent time and Hoosiers tries to link into that but watching it this time, that innocence just comes off as naivete way too much.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

More summer releases

Urban Tulsa didn't print all my summer blurbs for upcoming films so here's a few more...

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World: If British director Edgar Wright is involved, I want to be there. Michael Cera plays the umpteenth version of himself while battling seven ex-boyfriends of the woman he loves. Wright, who helmed Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, will load Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World with lots of kinetic energy, cheeky humor and wall-to-wall fun. If a good time is not had, go get a check-up at the doctor. 

September 1

The American: The American has the most beautiful trailer you'll see in any movie this year. Bar-none. Acclaimed photographer Anton Corbijn's second feature moves him closer to the mainstream with George Clooney as an assassin who is performing one last job in Italy. It's always harder to stop being an assassin than the killer wants, so troubles ensue. If the film ends up as good as the trailer, expect a combination of artistic filmmaking + suspense. High hopes. 

September 3

Machete: Exploitation fans rejoice! Rising out of the fake trailers during Grindhouse, Machete becomes real. Danny Trejo plays the anti-hero who goes on a vicious rampage of payback to the bastards that did him wrong. Trejo, the heavily tattooed actor who has toiled away as the "bad guy" for decades, gets his most prominent role and delivers with gusto. Machete is going to be prime drive-in opportunity with its 1970s vibe of revenge cinema.

September 13

The Killer Inside Me: The only summer release with scenes shot in Tulsa, The Killer Inside Me, is a period film starring Jessica Alba, Casey Affleck and Kate Hudson. The movie has created some buzz for its merging of sex and violence--which should not shock anyone considering it is based on a novel by pulp writer (and Oklahoman) Jim Thompson. Unfortunately, Tulsa couldn't play itself as we had to sub for Texas, which is never a good thing. 

Date unknown for Tulsa

Love Ranch: The most exciting thing about Love Ranch? The welcome return of Joe Pesci! The first major role from Pesci since 1998's Lethal Weapon 4 has Pesci and wife (Helen Mirren) running the first legal brothel in Nevada during the 1970s. Joe Pesci chewing up dialogue with a bunch of prostitutes? I'm there on day one!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Previewing summer releases in UTW

Go here if you want to read a bunch of short previews of summer releases in the latest Urban Tulsa. Myself and fellow critic Joe O'Shansky discuss the major releases--both good and bad--from June through August.

Friday, June 04, 2010

American Psycho, What Just Happened + The Room

Short review time...

The satire American Psycho is kind of under appreciated based on how few people saw it when it came out in 2000. More folks should watch it. Based on Bret Easten Ellis' controversial novel, director Mary Harron took on the project that many thought was impossible to make and turned it into something dark, funny and a blistering statement on the superficiality of the 1980s. I watched American Psycho after a ten year gap in viewings and it has really held up well. 

Christian Bale plays a yuppie serial killer running amok in New York City.  Bale's rants about the incredible, positive attributes of people like Huey Lewis, Phil Collins and Whitney Houston are some of my favorite moments in the film. To hear him tout these vapid individuals while he's about to kill someone makes the scenes even more devilish as he's a crazed killer talking up a bland brigade from the era. The business card obsessions by some of the males is another terrific sequence. American Psycho, full of sex, violence and unexpected turns, is worth seeking out if you missed it and is good enough for a re-watch if you've not seen it in a decade like me. 

What Just Happened (2008) from director Barry Levinson is another satire but not nearly as successful as American Psycho. The film wants to unleash some barbs on the absurd, egotist ways of Hollywood but it can't rise above mediocrity due to a story that is too obvious and lacking surprises. Robert De Niro plays a producer who is forced to deal with a couple of troublesome film projects--one about what do do about a dog getting shot in the head at the end of the film; the second involves a massively bearded Bruce Willis ranting and raving about everything under the sun. While I'm sure there is a lot of truth in the story, What Just Happened never feels right. Something is off, turning the film into a satire without the bite it intended to have. 

I had not seen the cult 2003 film The Room from writer, director, star, producer, executive producer (he does both!) Tommy Wiseau until a recent midnight screening at Circle Cinema. I am glad I waited to watch it in the theatre with a bunch of other people in the middle of the night. The Room cost millions of dollars and is flat out horrible. This is one of those bad/good films where the fun is the shared experience of seeing this in a theatre. See it alone at home and it's probably not as funny or entertaining. The Room covers all the bases for bad cinema--overwrought melodrama, terrible acting, writing, story and directed on film and video at the SAME time! It's hard to believe this was done in earnest but I don't believe Wiseau, or anyone else in The Room, is talented enough to maintain a ruse of being this crazy awful the entire length of the movie. Best if watched by as many people as possible to heighten the comedy. 

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

May movies

The highlight for May was watching a Charlie Chaplin double feature in Miami, Oklahoma at the Coleman Theatre. It's always a special treat to see something there with the wurlitzer as the only sound companion. It was the short Easy Street and Chaplin's first feature, The Kid. I saw a couple of films during May that I had high hopes for but they disappointed--Greenburg and Harry Brown. I was let down by both of them for different reasons--some short reviews are coming up that will likely talk about them slightly more.

The Book of Eli---2009---usa   ***
When in Rome---2009---usa   **
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo---2009---sweden   ****
Reel Injun---2009---canada   ***1/2
Just Wright---2010---usa   **1/2
Greenburg---2010---usa   **1/2
Short Cuts---1993---usa   *****!
Hoosiers---1986---usa   ***1/2
Alice, Sweet Alice---1977---usa   ***
Kites---2009---india   ***
The Kid---1921---usa    ****
Broad Street Bullies---2010---usa   ***1/2
The Messenger---2009---usa   ***
Exit Through the Gift Shop---2010---england   ****
Harry Brown---2010---england   **1/2
City Island---2010---usa   ***1/2