Tuesday, August 31, 2010

UTW review of Wild Grass + Eat Pray Love

Go here if you want to read a couple of reviews from my Urban Tulsa Weekly film column. This week it was a couple of dramas--the French Wild Grass and the Julia Roberts' star vehicle Eat Pray Love.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Get Low, Matinee + Zurdo

Get Low. I caught Get Low on my last night in Seattle at the lovely neoned Guild 45th. Great neon there. I enjoyed the film but I could never quite shake the feeling something was a little off as I watched it. The tone of it was just a strange mix of somber/reflective and quirky/whimsy. Director Aaron Schneider never makes up his mind what he wants and the film ends up being slightly less powerful because of it. Even the big payoff scene near the end isn't as effective as it could have been due to the bouncing from serious to humorous that precedes it. The 79 year old Robert Duvall gives a very solid performance as a Tennessee hermit who wants to have a big "funeral party" for people to come and tell a story about him before he dies. Duvall specializes in these rural rascal types of characters. The reality is he wants to tell his own story tied to why he became a hermit. Get Low is very lovely to look at, warm hues and the wooded 1930s Tennessee setting is quite striking. Bill Murray, Lucas Black and Sissy Spacek are all solid in support. Get Low is an odd little film that feels out of place in 2010 and that is a mark in its favor.

Matinee. I recently re-watched this charming coming of age film I first saw when it came out in 1993. If you are into b-films, the lost innocence of moviegoing, John Goodman, the Cuban Missile crisis or family friendly coming of age films--Matinee might just be for you as it is all those things. It's just a heck of a lot of fun as Goodman plays a William Castle type film director coming to Key West to screen his latest opus Mant! (half man, half ant!). While there he befriends a teenager who loves these sorts of films whose father is off on a ship dealing with the nuke stand-off between USA/USSR/Cuba. Matinee is a love letter from director Joe Dante to all the things from the 1960s for kids from this time period. Lots and lots of movie talk among Goodman and others. Indie hero John Sayles has a small part to which I'd forgotten about. Matinee is a sweet, heart-warming movie that any dear readers with kids in the range of 10-15 should show on the next family movie night.

Zurdo. Speaking of sweet, heart-warming movies, Zurdo is something unexpected and good from Mexico about a marble playing kid in a bleak city. I had no expectations for this 2003 film--a sci-fi with lots of marble playing scenes? Okay, I'm game but slightly doubtful. I was won over early in the story about a kid named Lefty who is the best "shooter" in his area who is challenged by an outsider in a match against "The Wizard." All the locals decide to bet lots of money on Lefty which creates a lot of apprehension, especially with a ruthless cop threatening everyone around him if he doesn't throw the match. Classic set up of underdog kid vs. powerful, wealthy adults. Don't expect great CGI here, Zurdo is low-budget terrain with effects bordering on the cheesy. That only added to its appeal for me. So was the funky "futuristic" clothes, the semi-dystopian aura of poor workers and yes, the marble playing. It has a good deal of the melodrama that Mexican films are chock full of but this time I didn't mind at all. Zurdo is a pleasant and fun little surprise and another good family film if the kids are up for reading subtitles.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

It's Scarecrow Video time!

I'm in Seattle and that can only mean one thing, photos of me at one of the greatest places on earth: Scarecrow Video!

First up is me standing in the foreign section, a massive collection of films from all over the planet. This photo doesn't have the entire section, that's how big this section is.

There's even a few films from Chad in case you want to brush up on your Chad cinema. Or pretty much any other nation on earth that's ever made/released a movie.

Upstairs gives you the choice of some strange genres. I'm standing in the section that has the genres "rednecks," "bikers" and "vrrrm." I'm holding up the classic Poor White Trash II on VHS. Scarecrow also has Poor White Trash (also a VHS rental) if you want to watch the original and let's be honest, who doesn't?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Movie tickets #18

Friday, August 20, 2010

UTW review of The Expendables

Go here if you want to read my review of the hit action film The Expendables in the latest Urban Tulsa. I'd say a good word to describe my review would be scathing but I do get to deliver a lot of humor in it. The humor comes out more in the films I can't stand it seems. I do love this Mexican poster for the film though. The movie? Not so much. A two word description from my review: weapon porn.

Monday, August 16, 2010

UTW review of Winter's Bone

Go here if you want to read my Urban Tulsa review of one of 2010's best films so far: Winter's Bone. This is going to get a lot of attention when the awards start coming as it is an unflinching family drama set in the hardscrabble rural Ozarks. Filled with wonderful authenticity and terrific acting, Winter's Bone is highly recommended.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Elvis On Tour, Julie and Julia + The Pit

Elvis On Tour. This is going to date me or make me seem really old but too late, here goes: the first concert I ever saw was Elvis Presley at the Mabee Center in Tulsa during his 1976 tour. I was seven years old. My mom, who is a massive Elvis fan, thought my first concert experience should be Elvis. That was very nice of her as whenever the topic of "first concerts" comes up in conversation, I pull out that big gun and it's hard to top. Memories of that show: Elvis coming out with his orchestral theme song, a huge band on stage, getting in trouble for banging the person in front of me with the poster I bought at the merch table and seeing Elvis in varied sequin-studded jumpsuits.

Maybe because of this show, I've always loved Elvis' 1970s music. Huge in scope, wildly all over the map in style, bombastic and over the top--people mock it but I really like it. Moody Blue (which my mom has on blue vinyl and I wore out on our home hi-fi)? An amazing record! So, for one night only a few weeks ago, a few hundred theatres across the U.S. showed Elvis On Tour, a concert documentary on the fifteen night 1972 tour. I saw it in a packed house with who else? That's right, my mom.

Elvis On Tour is a wonderful blend of concert footage of songs from the era and some behind the scene action. It's a nice mix between music and Elvis hanging out in the limo or about to head on stage, nervously pacing off-stage. The impromptu gospel singing is always a treat to witness. Elvis truly loved his gospel. The documentary uses the "multiscreen" to set it apart--often using the visuals of multiple cameras on screen to give a complete experience of what the tour felt like. It's busy on the screen but makes it hard not to find something to watch/listen to as the film unfolds. Even if you think you don't like Elvis but are a music fan, Elvis On Tour might make you rethink your position.

Julie and Julia. This Nora Ephron comedy from 2009 is underwhelming in almost every way. Superficial and trite from beginning to end, I wasn't drawn in, I didn't think it was humorous, I didn't like any of the characters and even the food didn't do much for me. Amy Adams, who I'm generally fond of, is completely annoying as a whiny, self-absorbed blogger who attempts to cook every recipe in Child's landmark cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking over the course of a single year.

The story bounces back and forth between Child as she discovers her love of cooking French food in Paris and Adams' Julie as she discovers the power of the blog to escape from her disturbing day job as a counselor for victims of 9/11. Between the two, I'd choose to have just stuck with Child's story. Unfortunately, we get as much of Julie and this story is irritating as all get out. Ephron likes to deal in the world of fluff and her lighter than air tone just seems cloying to me most of the time. Julie and Julia is another example of that from her.

The Pit. Slumber Party 2: Join Us happened a few weeks ago but one of the highlights was the screening of this little seen 1981 Canadian gem The Pit. Of the hundred people in the theatre when it screened, not many had seen it and there were lots of guffaws, laughter and disbelief at what was happening in this oddball film. The Pit comes off as a kinked up, twisted, adult after school special circa late 1970s as there is a weird message buried in the midst of the story.

Jamie (awesomely played by a never to be seen again child actor named Sammy Snyders) has a hard time fitting in with adults and kids his age. He's happy to spend time with himself, his turtle, chatting it up with Teddy (his stuffed teddy bear) and trying to feed the unknown creatures he's discovered in a pit in the woods. They have glowing red eyes and Jamie tries all kinds of food for them--from candy to a darker source for meals.

The Pit is a fun film when you watch it with a few people but let me say that during the middle of the night, when no one knows what is coming at them--it is an explosive crowd-pleaser. The theatre was eating The Pit up from the pervy bits to the funny bits to the terrific ending. It's hard to find films no one has seen to screen as a secret film during Slumber Party but The Pit, like Hausu in 2009, is going to be hard to top when Slumber Party 3: Payback comes in July 2011.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

UTW review of The Kids Are All Right + Restrepo

Go here if you want to get reviews of The Kids Are All Right and Restropo that appeared in a recent Urban Tulsa. Kids... is a family dramedy about what happens when two adopted teenagers are introduced to the man their lesbian moms used for artificial insemination. It throws the family off their tracks of normalcy to say the least. It's good.

Also good is the war documentary Restrepo. It follows a troop during a 15 month deployment in a very dangerous region of Afghanistan as they attempt to set-up and hold an operation post. Told from the viewpoint of a selection of the men, it is a raw, intimate portrait of what being a modern soldier looks like.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Synth Britannia - Part 2/9

Here's part two to really suck you in, ha.

Synth Britannia - Part 1/9

Here's part one of Synth Britannia--the nine part documentary on electronic music in England during the 1970s and 1980s. Awesome!

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Synth Britannia

I love movies but I'm also a huge music fan. I was buying albums, hiding in my room listening to them loudly for hours on end and seeing concerts while in elementary school. For me, the decade from 1975-1984 had it all--classic, prog, disco, punk, post-punk, electronic, kraut, hip-hop, etc, etc. This era was unbelievably vibrant, creative and groundbreaking to the point that these groups are mimicked relentlessly by younger bands today. Of all those styles from that period, I loved synth-pop music the most.

When I first became aware of all-synthesizer bands in 1983 I was never the same regarding music. To hear songs made with nothing but machines was so mind-blowingly futuristic that it was like nothing I'd ever imagined. I just couldn't believe what I was hearing and seeing. Men standing behind a bank of synthesizers? Yes! Guitars were in the background; the machine was the focus. Electronic music was completely revolutionary to me. Synthesizer were the "real" punk rock--how truly original were all those bands using the same old instruments, the same old chords, the same old everything that had been used by bands for decades? Synthesizers were modern and the men who crafted songs from their knobs, keys and circuitry were the ultimate modernists. Virtually all my favorite bands from that time in my life were English.

When I stumbled across BBC Four's 2009 documentary Synth Britannia recently I was floored by its quality. Not available in America, I watched it in eight ten minute segments on You Tube (there is a part nine but it's been removed from You Tube; it can be found elsewhere online if you search for it). The synth-pop genre has been roundly mocked by the English music press since the bands first came onto the scene. The attacks on these bands were often vicious and without mercy. It's always gotten more honest appraisal in the rest of Europe and America. So to see a documentary from the UK that is not only respectful but glowing in its appreciation of this music was pretty surprising to me. Shocking actually, if you are familiar with how the fickle press has treated the bands from the late '70s and early '80s.

Starting in the mid 1970s, Synth Britannia includes most of the big bands from the period: Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, Daniel Miller of Mute Records, The Human League, New Order, Cabaret Voltaire, Gary Numan, Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark, John Foxx, Soft Cell, Yazoo and many others. There's great interviews from members from these groups and tons of wonderful footage from concerts or videos. You really get a feel of why these people were attracted to making electronic music--whether inspired by a hopeless urban environment, science fiction or the magical notion of what the "future" is. If you like music and want to get a detailed version of a genre of music not covered much in mainstream press, check out Synth Britannia online. All hail the synthesizer!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

UTW review of Cyrus

Go here if you want to read my Urban Tulsa review of Cyrus, a dark comedy from Jay and Mark Duplass that stars John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei and Jonah Hill. It's a little darker in tone than most summer comedies and has lots of cringe-funny moments. I like that phrase: cringe-funny.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Bad News Bears, Sex y Lucia + Micmacs

The Bad News Bears. No matter how many times I re-watch the 1976 comedy The Bad News Bears, it never fails to strike me as one of the all-time great movies. That's right, I said it. The film is absolutely note for note perfect and is funny, dark, scrappy underdogs battling on the field (literally) and full of so many wonderful little moments that add up to a timeless "baseball" film. One of my favorite things about it is the let it all loose '70s vibe it has--racial epitaphs, a drunken coach cursing out players and supplying beer to kids--and was scrubbed clean for "modern" audiences with a woeful and insulting remake a few years ago. I'm still in a rage over that one. This is really an adult oriented film even though I saw it when I was seven and loved it even then. Search for it in the archives and you'll find a list of my favorite baseball movies--this ranks as number one.

Sex y Lucia. When this film by Julio Medem came out in 2001 I was really into his films after loving Lovers of the Arctic Circle and Vacas. I loved Sex y Lucia too but re-watching it a decade later it hasn't held up as well as I'd hoped. It's got all the things I recall--attractive Spaniards taking off their clothes a lot (Paz Vega among others), a non-linear story about all of Medem's favorite topics such as fate, romance and sex. This time around the story was just too disjointed and didn't really hook me in emotionally. It's just a lot of beautiful people in beautiful locations either lusting or longing for one another. Still enjoyable but not as great as I wanted it to be from my memories.

Micmacs. Jean Pierre Jeunet could never make another film and he's already delivered one of the most charming movies ever made in Amelie. But, lucky for us, he keeps on giving us enchanting and quirky films and Micmacs is his latest. Immediately recognizable as a Jeunet movie--his films just have a certain look and flair regarding production design that is unmissable--Micmacs is an overdose on whimsy as it tells the story of a lovable guy who survives a random shooting that has him take a bullet in the "brain box." He joins up with a group of eccentric misfits (this is a Jeunet film after all) and the group attempt to teach the weapon industry who made the bullet (and lots of other nastier guns/bombs) a lesson that might change their ethics. I'm not sold on Jeunet trying to have a film with a message--a heavy handed one a little too blunt for my liking--but that's what he's done here. The villains are cartoonish (it's Jeunet!), the direction is over the top and the film is okay but not one of Jeunet's best. Worth seeing for his creative zeal though as Jeunet's style is very unique in the world of current cinema.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

July movies

It was a busy month. 33 movies, including the five horror films in a single all-night binge aka Slumber Party 2: Join Us. I was watching movies all month long though. Lots of highlights but one was watching Deliverance with SJ who had no idea what was coming her way (squeal!). Some of the others are coming up in the short capsule reviews I've been doing.

Knight and Day---2010---usa   **1/2
The Power and the Powerless--2009---usa   **1/2
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work---2010---usa   ***
Holly---2006---usa   ***
The Conformist---1970---italy   ***1/2
Despicable Me---2010---usa   ***
The Informant!---2009---usa   ***
You, The Living---2007---sweden   ****
Stonewall Uprising---2010---usa   ***
Deliverance---1972---usa   *****!
The Bad News Bears---1976---usa   *****!
Predators---2010---usa   **1/2
Inception---2010---usa   ***1/2
Out of the Past---1947---usa   ****
Sex y Lucia---2000---spain   ***1/2
You Don't Mess With the Zohan---2008---usa   ***
The Evil Dead---1982---usa   ****
My Brother's Wife---2005---mexico   **
The Evil Dead---1982---usa   ****
The Pit---1981---canada   ****
The Brood---1979---canada    ****
The Manitou---1979---usa   ***
Alligator---1980---usa   ***1/2
The American Friend---1978---germany   ***1/2
Micmacs---2010---france   ***
Logan's Run---1976---usa   ****
Man With a Million---1953---usa   **1/2
Synth Britannia---2009---england   ****1/2
Restrepo---2010---usa   ***1/2
The Kids Are All Right---2010---usa   ****
Elvis On Tour---1972---usa   ****
Is Anybody There?---2008---england   **1/2
The Brooklyn Heist---2009---usa   **1/2