Sunday, January 29, 2012

Doomsday 2012: Mad Max + Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

Evidently, I'm not the only person celebrating the end of the world this year as American Cinematheque is having a monthly series focusing on the coming end times. Their first event was a triple feature of post-apocalyptic George Miller films with Mel Gibson as "Max" [I only stayed for parts one and two]. Gibson made an appearance for a lengthy Q and A that that I'll write a little bit about below. Future screenings in American Cinematheque's series will include such films as Planet of the Apes [the original first five will be screened!], Miracle Mile [which qualifies as a film for my Los Angeles Cinema AND Doomsday 2012!], A Boy and His Dog and many others. I have the sneaking suspicion I'll be at a fair amount of these.

Of the first two films in the four part series [a fourth film comes out in 2012 but it will not have Gibson as "Max," I'm not too sure of that myself], my favorite by a landslide is the second, dubbed The Road Warrior in America. I saw The Road Warrior before I saw Mad Max, and I bet that's pretty common in this country. In 1981, when the film came out, I was 12 and my father took me to see it at the Allred in Pryor, Oklahoma. From the first moment the action began to unfold, I was completely and utterly transfixed by the high-octane cars, the over-the-top mohawked and leather clad [with sun-burnt buttocks naked and exposed to extreme desert conditions] villains, the dark sense of humor, the violence, the nudity and pretty much everything about it. I loved this movie and watched it every couple of years throughout the 1980s. It's still one of my all-time favorite movies.

I saw Mad Max [1979] a year or two after I saw The Road Warrior and while it's a perfectly fine car-centric revenge film, it was just too silly, too low-budget and lacked the post-apocalyptic epic quality that I found in my beloved Road Warrior. I hadn't seen Mad Max since I was a kid before the screening at the Egyptian and after I watched them back to back, my opinion of the first one is the same. The Road Warrior is just a better movie in every regard--the cars are better, the action scenes are better, the villains are better, the story is better, you get the idea. It's better. Mad Max is just kind of goofy at times. While Road Warrior has some great bits of dark comedy and the villains are so deranged ["Wez" and "The Humongous" are two of the greatest movie villains to ever grace a screen], it was way more serious to me in the early 1980s and that feeling is the same as I watched the films back-to-back in 2012.

As I mentioned in the intro, Mel Gibson showed up between the two films for a thirty minute Q and A and lots of topics were covered. He's working with Randall Wallace [Braveheart screenwriter] on a new epic of violence connected to vikings called Berserker [when Gibson mentioned the title, there was rapturous moaning and applause in the audience]. He talked a lot about George Miller and said if the next Mad Max film was the same as the script he saw six years ago, it's going to be great [as I said earlier, I have my doubts]. He was asked about his troubled last few years and how he dealt with it. His response, and I'm paraphrasing here: "I'd wake up day after day and still be here, so after one morning just said to myself about getting back out there, 'what the f*ck.'" The crowd loved it. When Gibson was introduced and when he exited, roughly 70% of the crowd gave him a standing ovation, so he clearly still has his fans even after all the antics for the past few years. For the record, I clapped for him, but I did not stand up.

An added bonus to this event was the presence of a bunch of hard-core Mad Max fans, dressed in costume, wielding props and with appropriate haircuts. There was even a version of "The Interceptor" in the courtyard. Evidently, there is a yearly three-day event in the California desert that celebrates the post-apocalyptic vision of the film. Add Wasteland Weekend to the mix of oddball subcultures out there where people get together and geek out on their particular obsession. I love The Road Warrior and all, but I doubt I'll be heading out to the dessert, donning leather, a*s cheek baring chaps and getting into make believe fire fights and car chases with other fine people. Want to see some of the Wasteland Weekend? Check out the video below.

***If you are reading this post via e-mail, the imbedded video in this post might not work with your particular e-mail account. Click on the post title and you will be taken directly to CineRobot to view the video.***

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Stephanie Huettner's tops in 2011

Stephanie Huettner [aka Rumblefish in the comments section] gets to have last say when it comes to 2011's best moments in cinema. Regular readers have come to expect a great "tops" list as Stephanie has participated in this yearly event here and here and here. Now currently residing in Austin, Stephanie's a Tulsa native who has worked in a variety of roles in a bunch of independent productions and recently went to Taiwan as a producer of the upcoming short, Running Upside Down. Before we get to her favorites, there's the four question quiz to start us off.

1. If you could transport yourself into any movie in history and live the rest of your life in the film's story, what movie would it be? Oh boy, the eternal question for film lovers. I’d have to say Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Bobbing along, singing a song, on the bottom of the beautiful briiiiiiiny seaaaaa.

2. Can you recall the last movie that made you cry? What got you? Yes, I cried at the end of Hugo. Quite simply, Asa Butterfield’s amazing performance got me from the first minute to the last.

3. Can you recall the first movie you saw in a theatre as a kid? Who did you go with? I don’t remember if it was the first (my mom can probably tell you that), but I have strong, vivid memories of seeing both Pippi Longstalking (I don’t know where) and Back to the Future 2 (at the Admiral Twin Drive-In in Tulsa).

4. First movie star you had a crush on? What depths did you go to live out that crush in real life? [if applicable funny stories arise...] I had (and to some extent still have) a crush on Kevin Bacon since about age seven. Footloose, White Water Summer, The River Wild, Tremors, Quicksilver. What’s not to love? I don’t think I did anything in real life except watch his movies over and over again.

If you want to see Stephanie in a video, check out the following clip that includes not only some kick-a*s kung-fu action, but also a well-timed double take. The only thing that beats a double-take for me is an old-fashioned spit-take! Enjoy.

And now, onto Stephanie's list of 2011's best in the world of cinema.

Honorable Mentions:
Harold’s Going Stiff, In a Better World, X-Men First Class, Super, Jane Eyre, Midnight in Paris, Tabloid, Shame, 13 Assassins, Moneyball, Rango, Cold Weather, Meek's Cutoff, Buck, Bill Cunningham in New York

Haven’t Seen:
The Guard, We Need to Talk about Kevin, Project Nim, The Help, A Separation

12 – Hanna
Director Joe Wright leaves behind period pieces to take on this dramatic thriller about a young girl trained by her father to be an assassin. Saoirse Ronan is perfection in the titular role and Eric Bana is in top form as her father. Also splendid is Tom Hollander in a creepy, disturbing turn as a bounty hunter. As for Cate Blanchett, it would be just if she has as many Academy Award nominations as Meryl Streep one day. The story makes the most of its fairy tale allegory, some scenes occurring in a fairy tale theme park complete with a gingerbread house. What the script lacks in the third act the film makes up for in imagination and genuinely thrilling action scenes.

11 – Win Win
Thomas McCarthy’s third directorial effort is another satisfying drama. A tight ensemble cast works together flawlessly to create an array of nuanced characters. The story of a young runaway who becomes involved with a struggling social worker/wrestling coach is refreshingly free of cliches and engaging from beginning to end.

10 - The Trip
OK, I know that this one is actually a British TV series that was cut down for American audiences in to a 90-minute movie, (you know, we have those short attention spans blah blah blah) but I think it qualifies. I’ve seen it several times, and can’t wait to get my hands on the entire series, as I could easily take 4 ½ more hours of what was served up here. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon set off in to the countryside of northern England to dine at and review various restaurants. The plot is an excuse to get Coogan and Brydon in a car/room/restaurant with each other for long stretches, and that’s just fine with me, as all of their conversations are comedy gold. Michael Winterbottom’s film isn’t just meant to tap your funny bone, however. There is a through line of meditation about middle age, friendship, and what their careers mean to them at this point in their lives. Highlights include Brydon and Coogan’s Michael Caine impersonation contest; the two discussing which one of them makes a better Bond villain; and Coogan’s choice of Joy Division as their driving music. Don’t walk a-wwaaaaaay, in siiiiiiiilence.

9 – Page One: Inside the New York Times
The state of traditional news and the newspaper business in particular has been in a state of upheaval in recent years. Page One spends a year at one of the world’s most prestigious news outlets as it adapts to new methods of reporting. Media Desk Editor David Carr is the star of this documentary. His wry wit, journalistic integrity, and impatience for those who don’t shoot straight make him a fascinating character. One of the most rewarding scenes finds Carr rhetorically bitch-slapping an arrogant wanna-be journalist from Vice Magazine. The exploration of this brave new world of technology and how it effects the validity of the news we receive is a fascinating, tightly edited winner. Go to print!

8- Seamonsters
This British drama from first-time director Julian Kerridge made its debut at the 18th Annual Austin Film Festival in the Narrative Feature Competition. Adapted from the Royal Court play “Outside of Heaven,” the screenplay was adapted for the screen by Kerridge and Martin Sadofski (who wrote the play). The film gives a glimpse in to the daily lives of a group of young adults living in an English seaside town, none of whom have a clear direction in life. The screenplay manages a smooth transition from play to film, avoiding the overly staged feel that many such adaptations suffer. Where it truly triumphs is in its deft characterization of both the leads and supporting roles. At turns playful, melancholy, and captivating, the film effectively pulls the audience in and instantly makes it feel as though it has known this place and these people for many years. Those in the market for a solid drama that will make them both think and feel will not be disappointed by this import.

7-The Descendants
I didn’t expect to like this George Clooney drama as much as I did. I always like Alexander Payne’s films, but this one hit the mark for me in a way that his last few haven’t. Clooney is at the top of his game as Matt King, a descendant of the last royal family of Hawaii who is facing the possibility of being a single parent after his wife has a boating accident. He refers to himself in the voice-over as “the back-up parent,” who hasn’t picked his kids up from school for 7 years. When Matt gets several unexpected pieces of life-changing news, it takes his life, and that of his kids, in a whole new direction. Let’s talk about the kids. Shailene Woodley plays older daughter Alexandra and Amara Miller is 10-year-old Scottie. Both are excellent; Woodley in a studied and subtle way and Miller in a refreshingly awkward, naturalistic way. Nick Krause of Austin (yeah!) is along for the ride as Alexandra’s friend, Sid.

6– I Saw the Devil
Another ultraviolent film from South Korea that also happens to be one of the finest revenge films in years. Byung-hun Lee gives a stunning performance as a husband who goes beyond mere revenge tactics against his wife’s killer. The viewer is pulled in to a calculated series of attacks against the man and others in his circle, culminating in the final devastating shot of the film. The film recently won Best Foreign Language Film from the Austin Film Critics Association.

5 – The Artist
A traditional silent medium is used to tell the story of a silent film star at the end of the era. Sound is used occasionally to great effect. Jean Dujardin’s performance is the stuff on which old Hollywood careers were built. Personally, I could have used more Malcolm McDowell in black and white. John Goodman continues to move beautifully through this stage of his career as an agent who bellows most of his unheard lines. Full of heart, charm, and lots of good comedy with a dog (played by Uggie, who recently attended the Golden Globes in a bow tie). To paraphrase my old friend Vern Snackwell, “If you don’t like this movie, you may just not like movies.”

4 – Tree of Life
An ambitious, visually stunning film that employs Terrence Malick’s non-traditional storytelling method, which has been his weapon of choice since returning to the director’s chair in 1998. A mosaic of images from the beginning of time to the modern day, Tree of Life encompasses a lifetime of emotions through the experiences of one family. Bolstered by three brilliant new child actors (Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler and Tye Sheridan), Brad Pitt’s most mature performance to date, and a strong turn from Jessica Chastain, the film is a challenging and enriching experience. Fun fact: Sheridan, the youngest of the three boys, is the star of Jeff Nichols’s new film, Mud. If you don’t know who and what those last two things are, let me direct you to #3 on my list.

3 – Take Shelter
Jeff Nichols’s sophomore effort reunites him with Michael Shannon to create a haunting, heartbreaking, and deeply moving film. Shannon gives one of the best performances of the year as a man who becomes increasingly disturbed by visions and dreams of an apocalyptic storm. This performance combined with Nichols’s screenplay creates a character who remains sympathetic even as his actions become harder to justify. In personal news, I’m currently a Post Production Assistant (intern to the Assistant Editor) on Nichols’s third feature, Mud. I’ve even gotten to see a few deleted scenes! If you haven’t already, try to get your hands on his first film, Shotgun Stories (also starring Shannon), a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions. That plus Take Shelter have made Nichols one of my favorite new American directors. This film recently picked up a slew of awards from the Austin Film Critics Association including Best Actor (Shannon), Best Supporting Actress (Chastain), Austin Film Award (Nichols), and 3rd place for Best Film of the Year.

2 – Hugo
A brilliant adaptation of a beloved children’s book, Hugo is filled to the brim with brilliant performances, gorgeous set design, and the best use of 3D to grace the screen in the modern era. The perfectly cast Asa Butterfield plays the titular character, a young orphan who lives secretly inside the walls of a Parisian train station, winding all of the clocks as his uncle (who has since disappeared) taught him to do. You can read about the plot elsewhere if you like, but if you go in to the film not knowing anything (as I went in to the book), it’ll probably be a lot more fun. The cast, which includes Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Richard Griffiths, Ray Winstone, and Jude Law, are uniformly stellar. In fact, I’m quite surprised that with all of the acclaim Hugo has been given, it has yet to receive one nomination for Kingsley or the ensemble. While it doesn’t seem like it on the surface, Martin Scorsese’s love letter to cinema, Paris, literature, magic, and life is possibly his most personal work yet.

1 – Drive
Nicolas Winding Refn’s eighth feature film is a blistering tale of an enigmatic stunt driver who willingly walks in to a world of danger to help a man and his family. It is the most innovative and creative film of the year. Refn’s homage to 80′s action flicks combined with an elegant sensibility made this a visceral and beautiful experience. Gosling gives his finest performance since Half Nelson as "the Driver," and would get an Oscar nomination if there were any justice in this world. Ron Perlman is a nerd’s delight as "Nino," a Jewish gangster (!) who owns a pizzaria. Bryan Cranston (fresh off his three straight Emmy wins for Breaking Bad) is solid as a rock as "Driver"’s co-worker and the closest thing he has to a friend. He’s not really a father figure, more like a crappy uncle. Albert Brooks has become the front-runner for this year’s Best Supporting Actor for his on-the-money portrayal of quietly sadistic con man "Bernie Rose". Perhaps the most underrated performance in the film is Mulligan’s: subtle and quietly powerful. If anything, she’s more likely to get noticed for her loud and boisterous role in Steve McQueen’s Shame. But for my money, she and Drive itself deliver the goods while barely saying a word.

Best Supporting Actor:
-Ben Kingsley in Hugo
-My 1st movie star crush! Kevin Bacon for his combined work in X-Men First Class and Super.
-Albert Brooks in Drive

Best Supporting Actress:
-Shailene Woodley in The Descendants
-Cate Blanchett in Hanna
-Ellen Page in Super

Best Actor:
-Michael Shannon in Take Shelter
-Ryan Gosling in Drive
-Michael “Fassy” Fassbender in Shame, X-Men First Class, Jane Eyre and A Dangerous Method
-Jean Dujardin in The Artist

Best Actress:
-Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn

Best Director:
-Nicholas Winding Refn for Drive
-Martin Scorsese for Hugo
-Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist

***If you are reading this post via e-mail, the imbedded video in this post might not work with your particular e-mail account. Click on the post title and you will be taken directly to CineRobot to view the video.***

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Joshua Blevins Peck's tops for 2011

When I was compiling my list of favorite films, actors, writers and directors for the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle, I realized pretty quickly that a lot of the stuff I liked in 2011 was the more mainstream film releases. Odd how that happens sometimes. The serious, award garnering releases such as Shame, Melancholia, My Week with Marilyn, A Dangerous Method and others were either ones I couldn't stand [Shame] or films that didn't strike the same chord with me as they did with other filmgoers [Melancholia]. While I admired the heck out of The Tree of Life, it didn't make my top ten. There are some indies on my list, but only Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In is considered really outside the box of the mainstream. Was it being in the midst of quitting my job and moving to Los Angeles that made me embrace comedies, fantasies and romances? Maybe. Here's the entire list of everything I was asked to vote on in the OFCC--including all my favorite acting, writing and directing performances ranked from 1-5.

Top fifteen films
#1 Hugo 
#2 Drive
#3 Midnight in Paris
#4 The Artist 
#5 Win Win 
#6 Beginners
#7 The Guard
#8 The Trip
#9 Meek's Cutoff
#10 The Skin I Live In
#11 Moneyball
#12 Margin Call
#13 50/50
#14 Jane Eyre
#15 Bill Cunningham in New York

Five almosts: Cedar Rapids, The Descendants, Bridesmaids, Attack the Block and Carre Blanc.

Best first feature 
#1 John Michael McDonagh [The Guard]
#2 JC Chandor [Margin Call]
#3 Joe Cornish [Attack the Block]
#4 Eli Craig [Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil]
#5 Jean-Baptiste Leonetti [Carre Blanc]

The Obviously Worst film
#1 Heart Specialist 
#2 The Roommate 
#3 I Am Number Four 
#4 Something Borrowed 
#5 Just Go With It

The Not So Obviously Worst film [Or, the most disappointing; or, the most overrated, etc etc]
#1 Tiny Furniture 
#2 Shame 
#3 The Conspirator 
#4 My Week With Marilyn 
#5 Larry Crowne

Best director
#1Terrence Malick [Tree of Life]
#2 Martin Scorsese [Hugo]
#3 Michel Hazanavicius [The Artist]
#4 Cary Fukunaga [Jane Eyre]
#5 Alexander Payne [The Descendants]

Best actor
#1 Jean Dujardin [The Artist]
#2 Brendan Gleeson [The Guard]
#3 Paul Giamatti [Win Win]
#4 George Clooney [The Descendants]
#5 Joseph Gordon-Levitt [50/50]

Best supporting actor
#1 Christopher Plummer [Beginners]
#2 Kevin Spacey [Margin Call]
#3 Albert Brooks [Drive]
#4 John Hawkes [Mary Martha May Marlene]
#5 Isiah Whitlock, Jr. [Cedar Rapids]

Best actress
#1 Tilda Swinton [We Need to Talk about Kevin]
#2 Glenn Close [Albert Nobbs]
#3 Viola Davis [The Help]
#4 Kristen Wiig [Bridesmaids]
#5 Kirsten Dunst [Melancholia]

Best supporting actress
#1 Octavia Spencer [The Help]
#2 Melissa McCarthy [Bridesmaids]
#3 Jessica Chastain [The Help]
#4 Berenice Bejo [The Artist]
#5 Melanie Laurent [Beginners]

Best original screenplay 
#1 Woody Allen [Midnight in Paris]
#2 Michel Hazanavicius [The Artist]
#3 Kristen Wiig/Annie Mumolo [Bridesmaids]
#4 JC Chandor [Margin Call]
#5 Mike Mills [Beginners]

Best adapted screenplay 
#1 Aaron Sorkin/Steven Zaillian [Moneyball]
#2 John Logan [Hugo]
#3 George Clooney/Grant Heslov/Beau Willimon [Ides of March]
#4 Moira Buffini [Jane Eyre]
 #5 Alexander Payne/Nat Faxon/Jim Rash [The Descendants]

Best documentary
#1 Bill Cunningham in New York 
#2 Corman's World 
#3 Buck 
#4 Page One: Inside the New York Times
#5 Conan O'Brien Can't Stop

Best foreign language film 
#1 The Skin I Live In [Spain]
#2 Carre Blanc [France]
#3 13 Assassins [Japan]
#4 Point Blank [France]
#5 This was a light year for me watching foreign films, only choosing 1-4

Guilty pleasure 
#1 Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil 
#2 Source Code 
#3 Rise of the Planet of the Apes 
#4 The Beaver 
#5 Limitless

* This list was compiled on January 21, 2012. At the time of making the list, the following films were not among the approximately ninety new releases that I watched in 2011: Take ShelterTinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Carnage, Adventures of Tin Tin, War Horse, The Iron Lady and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sarah Jesse's tops in 2011

Originally from the mean suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, Sarah Jesse is Director of Community and School Programs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Sarah is especially fond of documentaries, dramas and good romantic comedies. Regular readers will recognize her name [often shortened to SJ] on CineRobot, as she watched 106 movies with me in 2011. Go here to read her picks from last year. Below is the movie related questionnaire that people have been answering.

If you could transport yourself into any movie in history and live the rest of your life in the story, what film would it be? Annie Hall

Name the last film you can remember that made you cry? Buck

First film you remember seeing in a theatre when you were a kid? The Land Before Time in 1988. I was 8.

First movie star you had a crush on? Christian Bale in Newsies in 1992. My twin sister Amanda and I both had it bad for Christian after seeing Newsies.

What % of the films you see in a theatre with Joshua does he make you worry he will get into a confrontation over noise, talking, texting or other bad behavior by fellow theatre goers? 90%

Here's Sarah's favorites for 2011 in alphabetical order.

Another Earth: Don’t be fooled by the sci-fi-heavy trailer. The story focuses much more on human aspects—the desperate need to maintain hope, loss of innocence, wasted potential and forgiveness. It is fascinating and thought provoking.

The Artist: This was nothing like the boring, silent films I endured in college. I was completely blown away by handsome Jean Dujardin, adorable Berenice Bejo and, of course, Uggie the dog. The film takes the best aspects of an films from the era—tap dancing, old-Hollywood glamour—and freshens them up in a delightful story.

Beginners: Such a sweet film. Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurent have wonderful chemistry and one of the best “meet-cutes” I’ve seen in a long time.  [I have to give CineRobot credit for that line in a past post.]

Bill Cunningham New York: Illuminating and slightly melancholic portrait of the eccentric recluse behind the street style and society sections of the New York Times.

Buck: A touching portrait of a real-life horse whisperer, Buck Brannaman. First time director Cindy Meehl sensitively captures the empathy Buck has for “horses with people problems” and makes an authentic, riveting film.

Corman’s World: I’ve never seen a Roger Corman film and don’t know that I ever will—yet I loved this documentary.  I was cracking up over the hilarious stories about Corman recounted by now-famous actors and directors who worked on movies he produced. It’s not all jokes though, as Director Alex Stapleton [rightfully] pays homage to the prolific filmmaker too.

Drive: Sexy, cool, slick and stylish. Pure escapism.

Pariah: A brave story about a girl’s identity struggle in the glare of a conservative upbringing. There are no outright villains in this complex story though, and that’s what makes it good. I found myself feeling compassion for both the young girl and the mother who can’t accept her.

We Need To Talk About Kevin: Tilda Swinton is extraordinary in this film that will make anyone question the desire to have kids! It’s a slow burner that will affect you long after the closing credits.    

50/50: Tricky subject matter adeptly handled with surprising levity and gravity.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Los Angeles Cinema: The Muppets + White Men Can't Jump

The Muppets. I started the New Year off right by journeying into the tourist masses on Hollywood Boulevard and watching a matinee of The Muppets at the El Capitan theatre. It's a sweet little joy of a movie full of enough retro muppet action to satisfy any fans of the furry creatures. I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun I had with The Muppets. Naturally, I can see the hesitation of connecting a movie full of muppets to Los Angeles, but this movie had recognizable locations all around the theatre that even I recognized despite only living in Los Angeles for three months. The El Capitan itself is featured prominently, doubling as the film's actual "Muppet Theatre" for the telethon at the end of the movie. Hollywood Boulevard, in front of the theatre, is the spot for a elaborate dance number. Also seen are Pink's Hot Dogs, Mel's Diner and numerous streets and neighborhoods as Jason Segel and Amy Adams try to save "Muppet Studios" from the evil clutches of an muppet-hating oil baron [Chris Cooper].

In the late 1970s and early 1980s I watched The Muppet Show on television fairly often. Favorite muppets: Animal, Gonzo and Fozzie. The show was an odd mix of childlike silliness, adult humor, songs and sketches with the human guest host. In this CGI universe, the non-CGI pure puppetry of the muppets is pretty out of style. That's why I was excited about muppet fanatic Segal's attempt to revive the muppets in popular culture with this film. I've been a big fan of Segal since the Freaks and Geeks days [I watch the increasingly annoying How I Met Your Mother just because of him], but I can not think of more un-cool thing for him to write, star in and gushingly promote. His love of the muppets is no joke--this is a wide-eyed love project for him. Just take note of the look on his face during some of the scenes of The Muppets for proof. It looks like he is thinking, "I can't believe I'm standing next to Kermit" or some other character throughout the film. His love of this world is infectious and the entire film is non-stop muppet worship. Thankfully, it's a good movie too. It's funny, fast-paced, has catchy songs ["Man or Muppet" was my favorite] and made me have a tingly, I love life feeling as I excited onto a buzzing, neon lit Hollywood Boulevard when it ended. Rating ****

While I enjoyed the movie, I have to talk a little bit about the place I saw it: El Capitan. Owned by Disney, the El Capitan only screens Disney films, so I'm not sure how often I will come here, but this theatre really ties into the nostalgia of seeing a film in a movie palace. The El Capitan goes all out. When you enter the house, there is an organist on stage playing a large pipe-organ. Old school pre-show entertainment! When the organist finishes, they drop into the stage. I love that sort of thing. Then the theatre has two minutes of historic screens raised to music [see video of that below] and some trailers. Then, the house lights came up and a very chipper man with a microphone came on stage and introduced both Kermit and Miss Piggy and the audience were given a ten minute medley of holiday songs and jokes by the two lead muppets. To end the pre-show festivities, the theatre actually snowed down onto the theatre! Wow. You have to hand it to Disney and the El Capitan, they try to give you your money's worth for this screening of The Muppets.

White Men Can't Jump. This is an odd pairing of Los Angeles related movies! A few weeks ago SJ and I found ourselves on the Venice boardwalk, amidst the freaks, oddballs, weightlifters, tourists, skateboarders, gawkers and other members of the diverse population of Los Angeles. We made our way to the basketball courts and muscle beach where oiled up guys donning red speedos got their iron-pumping on. It reminded me of the 1992 film that begins at Venice Beach, White Men Can't Jump. So, we watched it a few days later.

White Men Can't Jump [which has a terrible poster on the left!] is a basketball comedy written and directed by Ron Shelton [Bull Durham] and stars Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes and Rosie Perez. Harrelson and Snipes play bickering hoops hustlers who take to some Los Angeles playgrounds and pull the cash out of the their socks, hats and shorts in trying to make some money playing street-styled pick-up games. There's lots of race humor in this one as you'd expect in a buddy comedy set mostly on inner city basketball courts where one of the main players is a caucasian. Some of it is still funny, some of it is a bit dated. I'm a long-time fan of Harrelson [go here to read an "I Heart WH" post I did way back in 2008], but this is one of my favorite Snipes films. Snipes is a guy who could have done more comedy [Major League is another sports film of his I'm fond of] as he's got some comedic chops he gets to unleash every so often. He goes full-on in this one and maybe comes on a bit too strong at times. Shelton never reigns him in though and that goes for the rest of the cast, as pretty much everyone in this goes a little over the top in their performances. White Men Can't Jump is still a fun basketball film with a lot of Los Angeles locations spread throughout. Rating: ***

***If you are reading this post via e-mail, the imbedded video in this post might not work with your particular e-mail account. Click on the post title and you will be taken directly to CineRobot to view the video.***

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Jeff Martin's tops in 2011

Jeff Martin is from Tulsa, Oklahoma. He has written and edited My Dog Ate My Nobel Prize and The Customer Is Always Wrong and is the co-founder of the very popular Booksmart Tulsa. In 2010, he gave his tops for 2009 for CineRobot, go here to look at it. To get you in the mood for his favorites of 2011, here's a quick four question poll Jeff recently answered.

1/ If you could transport yourself into any movie in history and live the rest of your life in the film's story, what movie would it be? The Royal Tenenbaums 
2/ Can you recall the last movie that made you cry? The Tree of Life
3/ Can you recall the first movie you saw in a theatre as a kid? The first two I remember are the theatrical re-release of Disney's Peter Pan or Return of the Jedi, not sure which came first. 
4/ First movie star you had a crush on? Jessica Rabbit. Enough said.

1. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
2. The Tree of Life
3. Beginners
4. Midnight in Paris
5. Take Shelter
6. Martha Marcy May Marlene
7. Meek's Cutoff
8. Hugo
9. Another Earth
10. Contagion/Melancholia

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dylan Skolnick's tops for 2011

Dylan Skolnick has been a contributor for the "tops" posts three years running. Go here for 2009 and here for his favorites in 2010. Dylan is the Co-Director of the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, New York. Cinema Arts Centre opened in 1973 and it was the first movie theatre in Long Island that catered to foreign and independent cinema. There's a four part series on youtube about the history of the Cinema Arts Centre [it's about 12 minutes total if you want to watch the other parts] and below is part three, with Dylan talking about his series "Theater of the Wild".

Here is Dylan's ten choices of the not-to-be-missed in cinema for 2011.

A Dangerous Method. Smart and surprisingly funny, David Cronenberg’s latest forcefully captures the dramatic moment when Carl Jung [Michael Fassbender] and Sigmund Freud [Viggo Mortensen] first began to explore the unconscious. Keira Knightley is electric as Sabina Spielrein, whose journey from patient-to-lover-to-therapist shook Jung and Freud’s friendship and changed the direction of their work.

Shame. Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender, the director/star team behind the unforgettable Hunger [2008], re-team for this emotionally blistering drama about a sex-addicted executive. Fassbender’s stunning performance as a man driven by unquenchable demons is matched by Carey Mulligan’s brilliance as the sister whose visit shakes his obsessive life. And her haunting rendition of “New York, New York” is worth the price of admission all by itself.

Melancholia. Lars von Trier’s visually stunning portrait of two sisters [Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg] dealing with the possible destruction of Earth is wildly ambitious, totally intoxicating and extremely moving.

The Skin I Live In. Chilling, funny, and romantic, Pedro Almodovar’s latest fractured melodrama stars Antonio Banderas as a famed plastic surgeon who mysteriously keeps a woman imprisoned. Almodovar’s tale is filled with shocking twists and turns, but the Spanish master skillfully leads us to a heartbreaking finale.

Take Shelter. Mesmerizing performances by emerging stars Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain highlight Jeff Nichols’ quietly devastating drama about an ordinary family man whose life and marriage are turned upside down when he begins having apocalyptic visions.

Drive. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn [The Pusher Trilogy] boldly comes to America with this gripping new thriller. With a restrained but dazzling style, Refn coolly tells the saga of a professional driver [Ryan Gosling] who allows romantic feelings towards his neighbor [Carey Mulligan] to undermine the precision of his life.

Le Havre. An aging shoeshine man transforms his life, and the lives of his neighbors, when he decides to help a young African refugee in Aki Kaurismaki’s magical new movie. With a gentle touch and an irresistible rockabilly score, the Finnish master weaves this seemingly simple story into an unforgettable saga of redemption.

The Tree of Life.With each successive work, Terrence Malick moves further from traditional storytelling and closer to a cinema of poetry. His latest movie is at once his most personal and his most grandiose. The heart of The Tree of Life is a lyrical vision of his youth in 1950s Texas, but Malick complicates this with cosmic journeys into the afterlife and the age of dinosaurs.

The Future. Acclaimed filmmaker and author Miranda July [Me and You and Everyone We Know] wonderfully returns with this whimsical tale of a thirty-something couple whose decision to adopt a cat throws their lives, and perhaps the entire universe, into a tailspin.

A Separation. In Asghar Farhadi’s powerful drama, an Iranian woman’s decision to leave her husband unwittingly causes two families to be caught in a shocking series of events that reveal both the frailty of human beings and the harshness of Iran’s legal system.

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Movie tickets #28

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Clinton McClung's tops for 2011

One of my favorite regular series of posts on CineRobot is the January/February tradition of getting various people's "tops" for the previous year in cinema. Usually wildly eclectic, the people I've got making the lists include film lovers, theatre owners, programmers and dedicated readers of CineRobot. I'll be posting an exhaustive list as well at some point.

First up for the "tops" posts is Clinton McClung. Originally from Denver, Colorado, Clinton has programmed for theatres on the east and west coasts, but currently is a Cinema Programmer for the Seattle International Film Festival [a festival I know dearly as I've watched hundreds and hundreds of films at]. Clinton gets to do something and be paid for it that causes intense ravings of envy from many film nerds--he gets paid to watch movies, choose the ones he likes and thing bring them to a film festival. In short, he watches a lot of movies, so this list is a good beginning to restock your Netflix queue.  Everyone's queues should be bulging with choices after all the guests reveal their tops for the year. I've already added some of these on Clinton's list for my own queue.

"I spent most of this year watching new American cinema, documentaries, cult movies and maybe shortchanged some great foreign films and larger art house titles--but I think I had a pretty full year, so no regrets. I have yet to see several films that would possibly have made my Top 10: The Artist, Hugo, Uncle Boonmee..., A Separation, Incendies, Senna, Outrage, The Skin I Live In, 13 Assassins, Margaret (which I am waiting to come to town). But they will have to go on the "catch up" list, as I am already diving into what 2012 has to offer."--Clinton, Seattle, January 2012

Hollywood Films

The Muppets
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
The Descendants [calling this Hollywood thanks to the Clooney presence]
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy


Another Earth
Attack the Block
The Whistleblower
Jane Eyre
Natural Selection
Perfect Sense
Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil

Foreign Language

Elite Squad 2
Le Havre
In a Better World
Norwegian Wood
Sound of Noise


How to Die in Oregon
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Page One: Inside the New York Times
Life in a Day
Project Nim
Marathon Boy
Bobby Fischer Against the World

Undiscovered gem

Small Town Murder Songs

Best Performance in a not-great film

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Hesher

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Foto novels from the 1970s

A few weeks ago I was in the awesome cinema related bookstore Larry Edmunds Bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard when I came across something I had completely forgotten about: the foto novel. This was a late 1970s and early 1980s phenomenon that utilized actual screen shots from films and added film dialogue to tell the movie's story. Think of the form of a comic book or graphic novel, but with photos. I remember having a few of these as a kid including one of Close Encounters of the Third Kind that I looked at over and over again. Larry Edmunds Bookshop only had a few copies on the shelf. There was Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Ice Castles, Love at First Bite and The Champ in stock. If they would have had Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan or Alien in stock, I would have bought it right then and there. I did take a few quick photos of them if you want to catch a glimpse of teen heart-throb Robby Benson in his underwear in Ice Castles. Seeing these foto novels gave me an adrenaline rush of nostalgia. Does anyone else remember these? Did you own any?

Sunday, January 08, 2012

2011 statistics!

Here's the statistics for the year of 2011 in what I saw and where and who with and all of that kind of stuff. And yes, the yearly total for films with puking is in here too! It was a good year total wise with a healthy 256 amount. Spread amongst those was six different cities, nineteen people and involving movies from seventeen countries. Here's the full details.

By Month

January: 25
February: 19
March: 18
April: 16
May: 22
June: 24
July: 29
August: 19
September: 6
October: 15
November 23
December: 41

Total: 256

By Decade

1940-49: 2
1950-59: 5
1960-69: 8
1970-79: 20
1980-89: 33
1990-99: 6
2000-2009: 64
2010 +: 108

By Country

185--US and A!
17--England; France
4--Australia; Japan
3--Denmark; Germany; Mexico
1--Austria; Greece; Hong Kong; South Korea; Spain; Sweden

Who I Saw 'Em With

106--Sarah Jesse
98--Loner style
30--David Nofire
7--Lillian Blevins
6--Peter Klein
5--Mandy Durham; Stephanie Huettner; Brandon Pleake
4--Tim Spindle
2--Scott Booker; Larry Terry
1--Mary Beth Babcock; Carissa Cummins; Jane Estus; Aaron Mankekar; Jeff Martin; Kent Martin; Randy Patton; Greg Younger

Where I Saw 'Em

170--Tulsa, Oklahoma
78--Los Angeles, California
3--On a jet
2--London, England; Santa Monica, California
1--Dallas, texas; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

In a theatre: 110
Documentaries: 60
Tearjerkers: 13
Puke-O-Meter: 27 [9.4% of all films I saw in 2011 had a vomit scene!]
Midnighters: 9
At Circle Cinema: 24
At New Beverly Cinema: 20

Friday, January 06, 2012

Best Canine Acting in 2011: Cosmo or Uggie?

I'm not the first to mention the fact that there were a bunch of unusual, yet special, performances in supporting roles in 2011 as there are prominent Facebook and Twitter "consider" campaigns up and running for two of these actors. Human performers are used to getting their due when award season comes around, but more attention needs to go to non-human actors such as Cosmo and Uggie, two canine who were instrumental in the success of two of 2011's best films: Beginners and The Artist. I'm narrowing it down to two dogs, but could have added "Maximillion" in Hugo, "Dolce" from Young Adult, "Willie Nelson" from Our Idiot Brother or "Skeletor" in 50/50!

That's a lot of quality performances by canine actors in 2011. Anyone who has seen those two movies will remember Cosmo and Uggie as much as they will recall the other performers they shared screen time with. So, let's praise them both, but I'm going to pick a winner in the best supporting animal actor category for 2011's best in this post as I have a clear favorite. Here's a video of the pair of them [Cosmo is the larger dog] at a photo recent photo shoot if you want to see them "cuting" it up for the paparazzi.

I saw the performance of Cosmo first in Beginners. In the movie he plays a grieving pet who is forced to change residences after his caretaker dies. It's an emotional struggle for Cosmo on multiple levels. He has to express grief, the confusion of a new home and the struggle to communicate with his new roommate. Cosmo actually understands 150 words in the film and has the rare treat for an animal actor: subtitles! Usually, a canine performer gets the usual sort of screen time doing the double-take or the placing of paws over the face when they witness humans doing something stupid or dangerous. What makes Cosmo and Uggie's performances so groundbreaking is they both smash through the usual sort of canine cliche acting and take it to a higher level. Here's a short featurette where Cosmo gets praised by co-stars and director with plenty of examples of his work in Beginners.

While Cosmo delivers a sometimes sad, yet whimsical performance in Beginners, I have to go with Uggie in The Artist. Uggie has the more challenging role in two areas: he's making a silent movie and he plays multiple roles. There's no help of sound [it's odd that the dog starring in an actual silent movie is the one who doesn't get the subtitles; Cosmo gets them, not Uggie] for Uggie. He depends strictly on the physicality of his body and expressiveness of his face. There's no barking, even during the heroic scenes where Uggie is called on to summon the courage to risk his life to save another. Uggie must not only convey these emotions to the audience, he has to believibly make co-actors on-screen feel that too. Then there's the fact that Uggie plays multiple roles in movies within The Artist. When all is said in done, he's acted in at least four different roles by the end of the film. That's impressive range for any actor and combined with the silent nature of Uggie's performance [toss in the fact Uggie had another key role in 2011 in Water for Elephants], I've chosen Uggie as best supporting actor in 2011. If you don't think Uggie took his role in The Artist seriously, listen to lead-actor Jean Dujardin talk about the preparation the pair made before filming began in the video below.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Doomsday 2012: Waterworld + The Postman

As some of you surely know, the Mayan calendar ends on December 23, 2012. Will the earth suffer plagues and tribulations that will challenge the future existence of humans? Will the planet just explode, turning us all into space dust? Or, did the Mayans just get sick of updating their calendar? We might find out the answer to that question before we reach 2013. I've always had a soft spot for apocalyptic cinema. Blame it on my Southern Baptist upbringing with large doses of the rapture, end-times and plenty of fire and brimstone to keep your mind occupied. I expect there will be a lot of screenings of end-of-the-world or apocalyptic films in 2012, so I thought I'd watch a bunch of them to get in the spirit of what might come our way. I just bought a ticket to see a Mad Max triple feature [yes, triple feature!] at the Egyptian for the end of January. Expect that to be the second post in this new series I've dubbed Doomsday 2012. But, first up is two end-of-the-world epics from Kevin Costner that I had never seen despite their infamous reputation: Waterworld and The Postman.

Kevin Costner was clearly drinking some doomsday kool-aid in the 1990s because he was chiefly responsible for two of the biggest post-apocalyptic movie flops in the history of film in a three year span. In 1995 Costner starred [and helped directed without credit] an over-budgeted aqua disaster known as Waterworld. Hated by critics and avoided by ticket buyers, Waterworld turned into a punchline of many one-liners directed at Costner's inflated ego. Evidently, Costner is a stubborn ol' cuss, because two years later in 1997, he produced and directed another apocalyptic thesis known as The Postman. Deja vu? Yes. Lambasted by critics and rejected like the plague by audiences, Costner gave up on his vision to explore post-apocalyptic American water and landscapes for good. I'm kind of sad he didn't get the opportunity to make a trilogy, but no one in their right minds was going to give him money to make another of these colossal fiascos.

Let's get right to Waterworld, a movie I'd only known by its laughable reputation when it was released. The world is completely covered by water with people living on boats or floating metal communities while scouring the ocean floor for sustenance and tools for survival. Dirt is hard to find and treated like gold in trade. Like all post-apocalyptic tales in cinema, this is a harsh existence. No food, no water, bad hair, bad clothes, no dentists. Costner plays a loner who cruises around on his tricked out catamaran. It's got massive sails, low-tech weaponry and even a nifty water purifier that allows Costner to drink his own urine. Okay. So far, so good. That doesn't sound so bad.

I guess I should mention that Costner is sort of a mutant with gills and can swim like a fish. What? Now that's just absurd. The story gets convoluted in a hurry. There's a young girl with a map of land tattooed onto her back. There's a roving band of jet-ski riding psychos, led by the shaven-headed and sunburned Dennis Hopper. The villains want this map at any cost. Unfortunately, Costner's fish-man is thrown in water jail due to his status as a mutant, but escapes to take the tattooed girl and Jeanne Triplehorn onto his boat while being pursued by the nasties.

The script and the story of Waterworld is where the film goes deeply off the rails. If you just take it for a rip-off of The Road Warrior on water and watch the action scenes, it's not so horrible. It has possibly the most jet-ski action in it in movie history. There's water skiers all over the place too. They both jump in the air off ramps while firing weapons. It's kind of bizarre to watch. We're so programmed as viewers to see action scenes with land, to see nothing but water amid the boats, jet-skis, skiers and other people on water is a bit confusing. It's best to ignore the over-serious dialogue and attempts at drama by Costner and just go with the silly fun of the water stunt work. Costner's tone is deadly serious throughout the film. There's no sense of fun from him despite the fact he's playing a character with gills. Hopper hams it up accordingly, but not Costner. Waterworld is campy, cheesy, a serious waste of money and completely deserving of its reputation. It does have some terrific jet-ski action sequences though. Trailer below in case you don't remember this one. Rating: **1/2

The Postman. I can picture him pondering what went wrong with Waterworld and coming to the decision that it was obvious what the mistake was: water! So, he chose to make a second post-apocalyptic movie, taking out the offensive water element and making The Postman. The Postman is a truly horrible movie that makes Waterworld seem like the Citizen Kane of jet-ski, water-based action-adventure films it is so plodding, misguided and just plain old awful.

What are we to do as a species if we have no possibility of mail delivery? Are postal workers the first element of a democratic society? Can the deliverers of mail become symbols of freedom and provide the inspiration for revolution? Those are just some of the questions raised by director Kevin Costner as he plays the title character known simply as "The Postman". Early on, he's got nothing to do with the mail, he's a travelling actor who barters scenes for food. His acting partner? His mule. It's not what you'd call good theatre. Conscripted into a brutal military regime led by Will Patton, "The Postman" just wants to act with his mule, not fight and take tributes by force from local townships. Escape plans are hatched and accomplished. When "The Postman" comes across a mail truck on a rainy, cold night, the shelter it provides alters not only his destiny, but the destiny of the future of the United States of America.

What a mess The Postman is. Glacially slow, absurdly patriotic, silly story, no suspense and Tom Petty [!] combine to make one of the worst films I've seen in a long time. Terrible direction [the slow motions!], terrible script [jingoistic overload], you name it, this one is terrible. Did the US postal service have money invested in this one? If not, they should have as I've never seen a movie where people delivering the mail would be given such heroic screen time. The Postman should have been given a limited edition stamp as a promotional tie-in. Did I mention that the running time for The Postman is nearly three hours? Was Costner insane trying to release a movie this dull, this ridiculous and this lifeless into theatres and then making it three hours long? If he'd cut an hour off it, the film would have still been a lackluster failure, but it would have stood a fighting chance. As is, it's a complete and utter disaster.

Had I not been writing a post for CineRobot, I wouldn't have come close to finishing The Postman. It would have been stopped and returned to Netflix in less than an hour. But, I gutted it out. I suffered for CineRobot and for you dear readers for this one. Here's the trailer below if you want to get a quick glimpse of some of the more amusing speeches about the importance of the mail. Has anyone actually sat through this in its entirety? If you have, I respect your tolerance for cinematic pain that watching the full three hours of The Postman will deliver the viewer. Rating *

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Sunday, January 01, 2012

December movies

I ended 2011 on a full-on rampage of movie watching. 41 movies. That's how you end the year in style. It helped that I had a film-loving visiter in from Tulsa and that Edgar Wright had an eight night run at the New Beverly that I went to on six of the nights. But, this was a month of solid film binging even without those nights. Highlight of the month: 2001: A Space Odyssey in 70mm battling it out with The Bad News Bears. Seriously, that's how much I love The Bad News Bears. Low lights of the new releases: Shame and Young Adult. Both are overhyped and I didn't like either of them for a variety of reasons. Here's the full breakdown of the month.

Diner---1982---usa   ****
Albert Nobbs---2011---ireland   ***1/2
Just One of the Guys---1985---usa   ***
Margin Call---2011---usa   ****
Potiche---2010---france   ***
Last House on the Left---1972---usa   ***1/2
House on the Edge of the Park---1980---italy   **
Superman---1978---usa   ***1/2
Corman's World---2011---usa    ****
The Girl Can't Help It---1956---usa   ***1/2
Get Crazy---1983---usa   ***1/2
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World---2010---usa   ****
2001: A Space Odyssey---1968---usa   *****!
Christmas Evil---1980---usa   **
The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T---1953---usa   ***1/2
Kwaidan---1964---japan   ***
The Artist---2011---france   ****
Shame---2011---england   *1/2
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg---1964---france   ***1/2
Chungking Express---1994---hong kong   ****1/2
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance---1962---usa   ****
Ride the High Country---1962---usa   ***1/2
To Be or Not to Be---1942---usa   ****
The Bad News Bears---1976---usa   *****!
Hickey and Boggs---1972---usa   ***1/2
Waterworld---1995---usa   **1/2
We Need to Talk about Kevin---2011---scotland   ****
Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil---2011---usa   ***1/2
Bend It Like Beckham---2002---england   ***1/2
Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator---2002---usa   ***
Mafioso---1962---italy   ***1/2
Heartbreaker---2010---france   ***1/2
Bloods and Crips: Made in America---2008---usa   ***
Summer in Genoa---2008---england   **1/2
Catching Hell---2010---usa   ***1/2
Midnight in Paris---2011---usa   ****
Soul Kitchen---2009---germany   ***1/2
Young Adult---2011---usa   **
Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol---2011---usa   ***1/2
A Dangerous Method---2011---usa  ***1/2