Saturday, December 18, 2010

TRON: LEGACY Will Make Sweet Love to Your Eyeballs

My relationship with TRON goes back to the early ‘80s, but it wasn’t so much because of the movie -- it was because of the awesome handheld video game that I played constantly as a five-year-old. I’d seen the movie, but my young mind didn’t quite grasp its complexities at the time. The game, however, I loved -- so I knew all about light cycle races, disc wars and the Master Control Program from an early age. As I got older, I rediscovered the movie and appreciated it for the groundbreaking slice of awesome that it is.

tron-legacyAnd now, 28 years later, Disney gives us a sequel, TRON: LEGACY. I saw it last night in glorious IMAX 3D, and it was a sight to behold. Definitely one of the great visual cinematic experiences I’ve ever had -- the kind of movie where you sit there with your jaw hanging open the entire time, where you can probably watch the movie 100 times and never see everything there is to see. It takes the iconic imagery of TRON and pumps it up to ridiculous levels of magnificence, while dutifully expanding on the canon for a new generation. This has been a topsy-turvy year for 3D technology -- there have been some winners (TOY STORY 3, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON and TANGLED) and some big losers (CLASH OF THE TITANS, SHREK 4 and the new NARNIA) -- but if you can only pay to see one movie in 3D for the foreseeable future (preferably IMAX, ideally on the 80’ x 100’ screen at Loews Lincoln Square), it should be this one.

First-time director Joseph Kosinski does a fantastic job of treating the source material with reverence and the movie is loaded with iconic visuals. When Sam Flynn, the troubled, orphaned son of long-missing Kevin Flynn, first enters his father’s arcade and unsheathes the classic TRON arcade game, it’s a cool geek moment -- and this film is loaded with many, many such moments. The Disc Wars are particularly awesome and the updated Light Cycles and Recognizers are off-the-charts cool. Insanely detailed scenery, neon lights everywhere and adorning everything, hot chicks in tight white bodysuits… this movie is an extravaganza and defies description. Hell, even the “Walt Disney Pictures” intro is TRON-ized and earned applause from the electric crowd. And the whole thing is driven by a relentless, pounding, epic score by Daft Punk that is among the best and most essential I’ve heard all year (and this has been a remarkably good year for movie scores).

But the soul of this franchise is Jeff Bridges, thankfully reprising his roles as both the creator of the Grid, Kevin Flynn, and his rogue creation, Clu. Seriously, is there a cooler actor these days… maybe ever? He has long been the man (or the Dude, as the case may be), and he finally won his first Oscar last year for the excellent CRAZY HEART, but this year, between the Coen Bros.’ incredible TRUE jeff-bridges-tron-legacyGRIT (for which I believe he should win his second Oscar) and TRON, he continues to add to his legend. He is just the epitome of all that which is cool. Seeing his younger self on screen (thanks to the same technology they used in BENJAMIN BUTTON -- the only good thing to come from that movie) is nothing short of astonishing. Also great to see Tron himself, Bruce Boxleitner, back in action -- if Bridges is the soul of the franchise, then Boxleitner is the heart. Garrett Hedlund does a serviceable job as Sam, Michael Sheen is solid as a flamboyant, mysterious nightclub owner, and Olivia Wilde is smoking hot as Flynn disciple Quorra (though personally, I was digging supermodel Beau Garrett as one of the sexy sirens even more).

Story-wise, the movie is fairly basic… but it’s basic in the same way that AVATAR was basic, which in turn was basic in the same way that STAR WARS was basic. That is to say, they all have simple storylines, relatable archetype characters and easy-to-follow plots, the purpose of which is to draw the general public into new worlds that have all sorts of exciting, crazy, complex ideas bubbling under the surface. STAR WARS fleshed out its ideas in later installments, once the public was sucked in -- I’m guessing that is Cameron’s plan for his AVATAR sequels, and what Disney has in store for TRON, too. The original TRON actually has a very complicated story, which, combined with the groundbreaking special effects, made for a polarizing experience -- either you got it and loved it, or you didn’t.  I don’t want to say that TRON: LEGACY dumbs down the story, because there’s still a lot of complex stuff going on… but it definitely simplifies things and makes it more accessible for general consumption. This is not your computer geek cult favorite TRON anymore -- this is something that Disney hopes will finally become a major franchise.

And frankly, I hope it works, because I’d very much like to return to the Grid in the not-too-distant future.  In this geek’s view, TRON: LEGACY very much lives up to the hype. It’s a feast for the eyes that provided me with innumerable visual orgasms during the course of its two hours. It has a simple-but-engaging story that should appeal to old-school Tron geeks and newcomers alike. And certainly, if you ARE one of those Tron geeks, this movie should get your heart a-fluttering. Tron Rules!

Now, somebody please go on eBay and get me this for Christmas:

Please? I’ve been a good boy this year....

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Seen DEATHLY HALLOWS? Good, Let’s Talk!



I saw HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1 at midnight at Loews Lincoln Square in all its 80’ x 100’ IMAX glory and it was one of the greatest, most electric and bizarre movie theatre experiences I’ve ever had. The crowd was a wild mix of costumed Potter fanatics, wizard rockers and geeks of all kinds. It was a madhouse as we waited impatiently for this most-anticipated penultimate Potter film to begin, but once the lights went down, a reverent hush fell over the crowd and we were enraptured into the wee hours of the night.

To say that the movie is a unquestionable triumph of epic awesomeness would be an understatement.  To say that it’s the best Potter film yet would be overly simplistic.  In many ways, it is a miracle of a film -- finally, after ten years and six films, all the stars have fallen into perfect alignment, and they figured out how to make a perfect Harry Potter film. All of the techniques & ideas that they’ve been tweaking and experimenting with for the first six films finally fell into place. Tremendous acting, direction & writing.  Truly epic in scope and tonally perfect. The perfect balance of near-slavish devotion to the book and thinking outside the box. Easily the best musical score since John Williams left the series after AZKABAN. Gorgeous cinematography that I have to imagine will garner another Oscar nomination. More brilliant casting decisions. Fixing continuity issues. Etc., etc., etc.

harry-potter-and-the-deathly-hallows-running-poster_427x626I have no idea if Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson will ever be able to shake free of these roles that they have lived & breathed for the past decade-plus. Who knows if they will follow the path of, say, Harrison Ford or that of Mark Hamill. But regardless, they have come into their own as actors far beyond what anyone could ever have expected.  I mean, it was a casting coup when they found these three to play Harry, Ron and Hermione because they just LOOKED perfect. But who could have guessed that they (1) would continue to look perfect as they got older, and (2) would actually become really good actors?  Some tremendous performances on display in this film that really boggle the mind. The supporting cast, too, continues to be as good as any that has ever been assembled. Aside from looking as if they were literally sprinkled from the pages of the books, it is a veritable who’s who of some of the best actors Britain has to offer. From the evil creepiness of Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort and the complexities of Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape, to the protective mom-ness of Julie Walters’ Molly Weasley and the kids they found to play Fred, George, Ginny, Luna, Neville, etc.… everyone just continues to be jaw-droppingly perfect. New additions such as Rhys Ifans as Xenophilius Lovegood and Bill Nighy as Scrimgeour keep the streak of impeccable casting decisions alive. My biggest dream is that in Part 2, they hire every other British actor & actress who hasn’t yet appeared in the series to cameo as warring wizards during the Battle of Hogwarts -- that would rule.

DEATHLY HALLOWS is also a very different Potter film (and story) because it is no longer restricted to the confines of Hogwarts and the usual pattern, i.e., Harry leaves Dursleys, goes to school, gets into trouble, saves the day. Now, suddenly, the Dursleys are fleeing town, Hermione erases her parents’ minds for their own safety, the Weasleys are in hiding, and Harry’s own protective charm is about to wear off -- yeah, shit has officially gotten real. The fact that we now see these characters out there in the world, wielding magic at will (no longer restricted by underage magic laws) and going up against unspeakable evil with possible death at every turn -- it’s both thrilling and scary as hell. The story is so much more epic and the movie does a ridiculously good job of dialing everything up a few notches.

It’s also two and a half hours of almost unrelenting darkness, horror, misery and pain. It is a harsh film in every sense.

Now, let’s take a look at some specific scenes & moments that I loved about this movie:

Hermione’s Parents -- In the book, it was mentioned that Hermione obliviated her parents in order to protect them.  But actually seeing this in the movie -- in the opening scene, no less -- is powerful stuff.  Perfect example of how thinking outside the confines of the written word isn’t always a bad thing, when it’s done right.

voldemortVoldemort and his Minions -- Really friggin’ creepy stuff. I’ve seen Harry Potter detractors condemn the books & movies because the #1 bad guy is so rarely seen and hasn’t personally killed many people and so on. But that’s the whole thing! It’s the very THOUGHT of Voldemort and his rise to power that scares people. So on the rare occasion that we actually see him, whether it’s him sitting at the head of a table of Death Eaters and torturing a Hogwarts teacher, or glimpses of him searching for the Elder Wand, it’s all the more terrifying. The payoff in Part 2, when Voldemort comes front & center to wage war against Harry and Hogwarts… it’s gonna be huge.

Escape from the Dursleys -- Kick-ass action scene here. Love seeing the Order of the Phoenix in action. Love Hagrid and his motorcycle. Heartbreaking when Hedwig sacrifices herself to save Harry from the death curse. Scary when Voldemort appears. Good stuff.

harry-ginnyHarry and Ginny -- Yowza! Ginny asking Harry to zip her dress, showing off her bare back, and then the two of them going at it right there in the kitchen? That was something. (Hilarious when George catches them in the act, too). Ginny is cute but not in a traditional way. She’s kind of aggressive and sassy and athletic. And, apparently, a saucy little minx. Go Harry!

The Diner Attack -- Harry, Ron & Hermione square off against some Death Eaters in the middle of a Muggle diner! Great little battle scene that shows just how much danger they’re in.

Ja wohl, mein Umbridge! -- The Ministry break-in and escape was cool (though I am glad that’s the last we’ll see of the overused Polyjuice Potion)… but best of all was the return of Dolores Umbridge. God, she is so evil… and as umbridgedepicted in this movie, she’s not only evil, but she really is a goddamn Nazi! From the giant sculpture of Muggles carrying wizards on their shoulders, to all the anti-Muggle propaganda, to the folder containing profiles of Harry & his allies, to the McCarthy-esque Muggle-born registration hearings, they really went all-out with the imagery here, and it was incredible. When Harry finally lost it and stupefied her ass, it was an exultant moment!

Camping -- Like many people, I wasn’t a huge fan of 200+ pages of LOTR-style camping and hiking through the woods in the book. Wondered how they would handle that in the movie, and I think it worked exceptionally well. The cinematography was a big part of that -- it somehow felt sweeping & epic, yet appropriately isolated at the same time. There was also plenty of action to break things up… which, I suppose, was also the case in the book… so really, let’s all just shut up and stop complaining about the camping already. It’s not so bad.

NEVILLE LONGBOTTOM IS GOING TO KICK SO MCH ASS IN PART 2 -- He was only in one scene in part one, mouthing off to the Death Eaters on the Hogwarts Express, and it elicited cheers from the crowd. When his heroic character arc is fulfilled in part 2… sweet jeebus, it’s going to rule.

potter-poster-harry-hermioneHarry & Hermione’s Dance -- What a brilliant addition this was.  Harry and Hermione have always been close friends, and this scene added more depth to their relationship than the books ever did. Their friendship has always been somewhat physical -- holding hands when scared, hugging when sad, etc.  But this dance was something so much more intimate and personal and the fact that it very nearly resulted in a kiss -- well, let’s face it, they’re stranded in the middle of nowhere, very possibly on the brink of death without ever seeing their friends (or anyone) again -- why wouldn’t they consider, even for the briefest of seconds, taking things to another level? But it didn’t happen and the true power of their friendship was clear. Plus the dance was just plain fun. Meanwhile, on the other hand, there’s…

Ron & Hermione -- Tension between them is palpable at this point. Their big moment in Part 2 is going to raise the goddamn roof. But I digress.

Godric’s Hollow -- What a gamut of emotions I experienced here.  First I was tearing up as Harry stood over his parents’ grave. Then it turned into a goddamn horror movie when Bathilda Bagshot appeared. Holy shit, that was creepy. And when Nagini revealed himself and all hell broke loose, I nearly shat myself.

Ron’s Horcrux Vision -- In the book, when Voldemort’s soul tried to corrupt Ron’s mind in a last-ditch effort to save itself, it was f’d up. But in the movie, actually seeing these demonic visions, complete with naked Harry & Hermione snogging and groping each other, it was just… wow. This scene alone added more depth to Ron’s character than the previous six films combined.

dobbyThe Return of Dobby -- Dobby was kind of annoying in CHAMBER OF SECRETS (still the weakest installment, both in book & movie form), but he is a key character and it was odd that they chose not to bring him back in later films. Had to bring him back for HP7, though, and they did it very well, having him join forces with Kreacher to apprehend Mundungus (which I don’t think happened in the book…?).  Then of course his heroic, fateful rescue of Harry & Co. in Malfoy Manor. I admit it, I shed a tear for Dobby, a free elf who only cared about helping his friends!  (That being said, I’m still glad they left out the S.P.E.W. / house elf stuff in GOBLET OF FIRE.)

The Tale of the Three Brothers -- I’ve been wielding the words “perfect” and “brilliant” throughout this review like they’re going out of style, but they are just so fitting… and here’s another example. If Chris Columbus had directed this film, they probably would have simply showed Hermione sitting there reading the story -- instead, we got this breathtaking animated sequence. David Yates, you are the man.

Malfoy Manor -- One of the my favorite scenes in any of the books, and it was supremely awesome on screen. Bellatrix torturing Hermione is intense… Draco’s uncertainty… the overall sense of “holy shit, how the fuck are they going to get out of this??” even though we are well aware of how they get out of it. Tremendous climax to the first half of this story!

Heh, I guess that pretty much covers everything, doesn’t it? Honestly, I can’t even really think of anything specific that DIDN’T work. Kinda would’ve liked to have seen “Kreacher’s Tale,” in which he told the story of how he was forced to help Regulus find the locket Horcrux. Also, I really liked the scene in the book where, as the Dursleys are leaving, Dudley finally shows Harry some respect. Those are the only two omissions from the book that stick out in my mind (not counting the Dumbledore family/Grindelwald backstory, which I believe they will cover in the Part 2.)

Oh, I also kind of wish that they would have given a better send-off to Mad-Eye.  I realize that in the book, he died “off screen.”  But this is a MOVIE.  Easily could’ve thrown in a shot of him going down in a blaze of glory.  I hope they keep this in mind during the big Battle of Hogwarts (where even more major deaths happened off-screen in the book) -- we’ve grown to know, love AND hate these characters over the past decade in action, and if they must fall, we’re going to want to SEE it happen. But again, these are minor quibbles.

In fact, if I had to pick the two worst things about HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1, they’d be: (1) As much as I love the existing GOBLET OF FIRE, ORDER OF THE PHOENIX and HALF-BLOOD PRINCE films, now I kinda wish they could go back and redo them as two-parters, and (2) We have to wait eight long months for the epic conclusion! I want to watch it noooowww!

But until then, let’s talk about what we’ve got. What are some of your favorites parts? Thoughts on what we’ve seen and what’s to come? Random, incoherent gushing over this epic slice of awesomeness? Please share!


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Random POTTER Thoughts: Films 4 thru 6

Harry Potter Madness continues! I have practically been living and breathing these films all week long (I’ve even dreamed about the films at least once). As much as I’ve loved these films over the past decade, I love them even more now after watching them in succession like this. Collectively, it’s really one of the great cinematic achievements of all time. Now, here are some random observations that I jotted down while watching films 4, 5 and 6:

• That Fleur Delacoeur is one piece of ayshe. I know from experience, dudes.

• Mad-Eye teaching the kids the Unforgiveable Curses is such a tremendous scene. The look on Neville's face as he watches Moody perform the Cruciatus Curse is wrenching cinema. (Granted, it's not really Moody... but still.)

• Cho Chang is a hussy!

• "Why do they have to travel in packs? And how are you supposed to get one on their own to ask them?" I feel Ron's pain -- I failed to ask out a girl in college for this very reason. Damn her ever-present gaggle of girlfriends! (Of course, Ron was only 14 years old when he made this observation, and I was 21... but still... it never gets easier!)

• Hermione's arrival at the ball was more potent in the book, where she had never been cute and was suddenly hot. In the movies, she's always been cute!

• Moaning Myrtle is a saucy little minx!

• That tongue-flicking thing that Barty Crouch, Jr. does is really damn creepy.

• Cedric Diggory would kick Edward Cullen’s sparkly ass.

• The graveyard scene with Voldemort is just as disturbing and jaw-dropping on the screen as it was in the book. Brilliant stuff.

• ORDER OF THE PHOENIX is the Potter film I saw the most times on the big screen (3, including twice in IMAX). Could be my favorite of the series depending upon the time of day.

• PHOENIX probably has my favorite opening sequence, too. Love the starkness of that weird playground where more-cruel-than-usual Dudley taunts Harry. And then of course the dementors... *shudder*

• Most grossly underused character in the films: Tonks. Not even a single “Wotcher, Harry”… such a waste. She’s like the Darth Maul of this series!



• “I must not tell lies”… God, Umbridge is so friggin’ evil.

• Love when McGonagall and Umbridge exchange choice words. What a confrontation of acting titans that is.

• Love the subtle shots of Ginny looking at Harry whenever he's paying attention to Cho. Happens a couple of times... so good.

• Dumbledore laying waste to the Ministry agents who come to arrest him rules. “You seem to be under the impression that I will go quietly.” So awesome. But again... Gambon's Dumbledore has always been a loose cannon so you could kind of see this coming with him. Gotta wonder how Richard Harris' soft-spoken Dumbledore would have been in this scene -- would have been such a great reveal, akin to the first time Yoda whipped out his lightsaber in ATTACK OF THE CLONES.

• Fred and George striking back against Umbridge is the best! Love all the decrees falling to the floor and the giant victorious “W” in the sky. Go Weasleys!

• The entire sequence in the Department of Mysteries and the ensuing battle is brilliant, ominous, f'd up, crazy. Love Bellatrix taunting Neville. Harry fighting alongside Sirius, and Sirius reflexively calling him "James." Mad-Eye kicking ass. And of course, Dumbledore vs. Voldemort smackdown!

• I could totally watch HP5 again right now. Really, really tough to pick a favorite between PHOENIX and AZKABAN. Both equally perfect, clearly superior to the other installments (so far).

• I like the idea of Harry hanging out in train stations to take his mind off things (as per the beginning of HALF-BLOOD PRINCE), but where and when exactly was he hoping to take out that Muggle waitress? C’mon, Potter!

• Harry and Ginny sittin’ in a tree… can’t wait to see some S-N-O-G-G-I-N-G! Y’know… the chick who plays Ginny is not a very good actress, but she IS cute… in an odd sort of way… and cool. I’d probably be into her, too, if I was Harry.

• Greyback is one scary motherfucker.

• Kudos to the filmmakers for bringing back the old joke of Seamus always blowing stuff up in his face! That’s good continuity.

• Li’l Voldemort? Also scary.

• “But I AM the chosen one”… that’s funny. I’ve heard people condemn this movie for all the lovey-dovey-dating stuff, but I think it’s great.

• Frankly, I like the scene of the Death Eaters attacking the Burrow. I know, blasphemy, because it wasn’t in the book… but this is a MOVIE. Can’t just have two hours of flashbacks and budding romances… you need a LITTLE action to break things up!  So I understand and agree with the decision.

• Harry vs. Draco! Sectum Sempra! Craziness!

• When young Tom Riddle first mentions Horcuxes… so intense.

• Dumbledore wielding the fire against the Inferi… f’ing awesome. That whole sequence is one of the best in the entire series.

• Snape kills Dumbledore! Death Eaters wrecking shit! “Fight back, you coward!” “I’m the Half-Blood Prince!” The Dark Mark over Hogwarts! God this movie is harsh. And for the record, the mini-Battle of Hogwarts in the book? Completely unnecessary and takes away from the power of the big battle still to come, so it makes sense that they cut it.

• In the end, I think that all the haters can kiss my arse because HP6 is outstanding and a tremendous lead-in to the grand finale…

…and on that note, off I go to Loews Lincoln Square to fight the crowds and get in line for the 12:01 a.m. show of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1 in glorious IMAX! YES!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Random POTTER Thoughts: Films 1 thru 3

Revisiting the first six films in preparation for the midnight screening of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1 later this week, and here are a few miscellaneous thoughts that have been popping into my head as I make my way through the epicness:

• SORCERER'S STONE remains an excellent, albeit imperfect, intro to the films. All of the first appearances of major (and minor) characters, locations, items and events are appropriately awe-inspiring and geek-out-worthy.

• Would have been cool to actually SHOW what the Sorting Hat saw when it made its decisions about where to place each student. As it stands, it’s a prime example of the filmmakers being way too literal and slavish towards the books. (No coincidence that the movies started to REALLY get good when they started thinking outside the box a bit!)

• Saw on IMDB that John Hurt, who played Ollivander in #1, is reprising the role for #7. That is some good continuity.

• CHAMBER OF SECRETS is still the weakest of the series, but it’s actually much better now that we know what we know.

• While I am a fan of Michael Gambon's Dumbledore, I can't help but think about how awesome Richard Harris would have been in the later films.

• Remember when gaining & losing house points was important? Seems like such small potatoes compared to, y’know, battling evil and saving the world. (Quidditch, too, kinda got old pretty fast.)

• Of all the impeccable (and fortunate) casting decisions throughout the series, how lucky were they that the kid who played Dudley stayed big & fat all these years? Gotta wonder if he was contractually obligated to NOT work out and lose weight… or if he made the decision himself to ensure he kept the role!

• Love the shot in AZKABAN of the bird flittering around the Hogwarts before fatefully flying right into the Whomping Willow. Little random bits of whimsy like that are what make take the third film to a whole other level of awesomeness.

• AZKABAN probably has the best musical score of the series -- tremendous stuff from John Williams.  Ever since he left the series, the scores have been decidedly unremarkable… which is why I was excited to learn that Alexandre Desplat is scoring HALLOWS PART 1.  Should be good, but I’d still love to see Williams come back for Part 2, though.

• How great is the scene in the Shrieking Shack, where Lupin, Sirius and Pettigrew’s history is revealed? Though, gotta wonder why the heck Lupin & Sirius couldn’t just immediately let Harry, Ron & Hermione that they were good guys, rather than acting so vague and ominous.

• Sirius rules.  And Werewolf Lupin would kick Taylor Lautner’s candy ass.

• Basically everything about AZKABAN is superior to the first two films in every conceivable way. So good!!!

God, I love these movies.  Be back soon (perhaps) with thoughts on 4, 5 and 6!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Milestones for Disney and Me

In June 2000, I moved out of my parents’ house in NJ and into an apartment in New York City. I had always loved going to the movies, but now, living in a city with a movie theatre on every other block, showing everything from current blockbusters to indie darlings to old-time classics… well, it unleashed the beast inside me. I started going to the movies voraciously (abetted by my girlfriend at the time, who was equally into it), and by the end of the year, I saw ninety-something movies and it was awesome. Then in 2001 (a remarkable year for movies, I might add, led by AMELIE, THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, MOULIN ROUGE and THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, all of which made my top 25 of the '00s), I went even crazier and saw over 100 movies for the first time and ended the year with an astonishing 120 big screen experiences. I’ve seen over 100 movies every year since, but never really came close to breaking that record...

That is, until this year. And yesterday, Wednesday, November 10 at 7 p.m. at the Loews Orpheum Theatre on 3rd Avenue between 86th & 87th, I saw my 121st movie of 2010, breaking my long-standing big-screen record. I know... kind of insane that I’ve already seen that many movies and there’s still over a month and a half left in the year. Not really sure why this year has been so substantially more prolific than any other year (though you can bet I’ll try to figure it out when all is said and done), but there it is. The old record has finally fallen and a new one will now be set with every movie I see between now and December 31st. Who knows where the final total will end up! I am a madman… a madman who likes movies!

tangled-posterSo, what was the record-breaking movie, you ask? Well, in a way, it’s poetic. On top of being a movie-lover, you may also be aware that I am a die-hard Disney aficionado -- so I was thrilled to receive an invite to an advance screening of TANGLED, which happens to be Walt Disney’s 50th Animated Classic! Based on the story of Rapunzel, it feels more like a classic Disney fairy tale than anything we’ve seen in many years. Much as I enjoyed THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, it was a more modern tale -- but TANGLED is a good old-fashioned Disney princess story in every sense, and it is a wonderful triumph in pretty much every possible way.

Whatever John Lasseter has been doing since taking the reigns at Disney, it’s working wonders. He’s only credited as the Executive Producer, but from a storytelling standpoint, Pixar’s influence is all over this movie -- not just creatively, but fundamentally. From the plot to the situations and action sequences to the characters, dialogue and voicework, it really feels like Disney has experienced a rebirth under this new regime. Going back to their roots is a big part of it. TANGLED has all the elements that made films like SNOW WHITE, CINDERELLA, SLEEPING BEAUTY, THE LITTLE MERMAID and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST great: There's a magic kingdom (complete with a palace that invokes Disney castles of yore), a captured princess, a wicked stepmother (of sorts), wacky supporting characters (drunken bar thugs!) and of course, some animal friends (a sword-fighting horse!). Fantastic score & original songs by the great Alan Menken, too, which is key to any true Disney classic. The heartfelt “When Will My Life Begin,” creepy “Mother Knows Best” and hilarious “I’ve Got a Dream” are all catchy, memorable and worthy of the Disney songbook.

The whole 3D kick has been getting real old, real fast, but this one was definitely done right. Tremendous use of depth -- the dam break and lantern festival are two particularly noteworthy sequences. Definitely worth the extra few bucks (though that’s easy for me to say since I saw it for free). As for the animation itself, I admit, it's a shame that it’s not hand-drawn… but it’s solid CGI that was painstakingly made to LOOK like traditional Disney animation, and it looks good indeed. As is the case with pretty much any Disney film, there’s never any doubt that you are, in fact, watching a Disney film. Whether it’s CINDERELLA or THE LITTLE MERMAID or even a stinker like HOME ON THE RANGE, a Disney movie is a Disney movie and there’s something magical about that.

TANGLED is funny, poignant, a little dark at times and loaded with great moments (glad they kept in the iconic line, "Rapunzel, let down your hair!" -- I remember hearing that they were thinking of not including that, which would have been ridiculous). It contains zero pretense or tongue-in-cheekiness -- which, as a vintage Disney fan, makes me very happy. (There's even some old-fashioned Disney political incorrectness: I was a little surprised that they went the evil witch/stepmother route, because I can envision a slew of mother-figure support groups calling to boycott Disney products -- but kudos to them for doing it because Gothel is a tremendous villain.) The film will open on November 24th with my highest recommendation for kids, adults and kids-at-heart. It is a joyous movie-watching experience, which, at my screening, was punctuated by scores of little kids literally dancing in the aisles during the closing credits. Gives me hope that that the world hasn’t yet become too damn cynical to appreciate such goodness. We need more pure Disney fairy tales -- and this one is worthy of being a milestone for both the Walt Disney Co. and me!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Harrison Ford is a Crotchety Old Bastard

Once upon a blog (I’m talkin’, back in the MySpace days), after suffering through yet another dismal performance and feeling physical pain at the thought of another nail being driven into his coffin, I wrote an open letter to Harrison Ford asking him to please to do us all a favor and retire so as not to further sully his legendary career.

Need a moment to read that letter?  Go ahead, I’ll wait.  All caught up?  Excellent.

harrison-fordNow, obviously, Mr. Ford did not listen to my plea, and he has gone on making movies for the past four years.  And, well, I probably don’t need to remind you that the results have not been so good.  As far as I’m concerned, FIREWALL was the rock bottom of his career -- the absolute worst piece of crap he has ever made, and indeed, my #1 worst movie of 2006 (not to mention one of the worst of the decade on my list). Then came INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL -- but once you got past the initial thrill of seeing Indy on screen again, the movie was a misfire beyond what anyone could have feared and clearly a mistake for all involved. After that came CROSSING OVER, a little-known, dull, and not-very-good drama about immigration issues that came and went very quickly. Next up was EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES, a gigantic flop in which Ford tried… well, I’m not exactly sure what… seems like maybe he tried to recapture the quirkiness he displayed in such films as THE MOSQUITO COAST, but in such a horrendous film, it just didn’t work. And so, things continued to look bleak for the former Han Solo, and I cringed as more nails were pounded into that coffin.

morninggloryBut then a funny thing happened. Tonight I saw an advance screening of MORNING GLORY, an upcoming comedy about a hotshot workaholic TV producer who tries to resurrect an dying morning news show. The movie is decent enough, with a few good chuckles here and there, and solid work from Rachel McAdams (at her most adorable, I might add), Jeff Goldblum and Patrick Wilson (not so much Diane Keaton, but that’s a whole other can of worms), but that’s not important right now. The important thing is that it also stars Harrison Ford as Michael Pomeroy, an award-winning, Rather-esque newsman in the twilight of his career who is forced to join the morning show against his will. Ford’s Pomeroy is a crotchety old bastard. He’s mean, pompous, self-centered, well aware that the morning show is far beneath a journalist of his stature… and, frankly, he’s pretty awesome. The former Jack Ryan sneers, snarls and grumbles his way through the movie and it is some of the best, most engaging and entertaining work I’ve seen from him in a long, long time.

I mean, sure, it’s no BLADE RUNNER or WITNESS or even AIR FORCE ONE –- but at this stage of Harrison Ford’s career, playing the crotchety old bastard may be his best bet.  Hell, I think he probably IS kind of a crotchety old bastard in real life, so why not go with it? From now on, when a movie calls for a crotchety old bastard, the former Dr. Richard Kimble should be Hollywood’s go-to guy. I’d almost forgotten that the world is a much better, brighter place when you can watch Harrison Ford on screen and not be overcome by sadness. I’m not saying we should remove the nails from his coffin just yet… but for the first time in years, we didn’t have to add any new ones, and that, my friends, is a step in the right direction.

Monday, October 4, 2010

M. Night Shyamalan is the DEVIL!

devil-poster Seriously, I think that is the big secret behind DEVIL, the latest piece of trash “from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan.”  The movie is about a group of strangers who get stuck in elevator. Seems harmless at first... then strange things start happening... then people start dying.  Could one of the prisoners be a murderer? Or is this the work of the devil himself?

Well, we know it’s the devil because the voiceover at the beginning of the movie pretty much tells us so.  It explains that sometimes, the devil likes to walk among us and take human form and wreak havoc on our bodies and poison our minds before ultimately claiming our souls. So that settles that.

The question is, which one of these seemingly-normal people is the devil in human’s clothing? Is it the burly security guard? The douchebag mattress salesman? The sassy hottie? The annoying old lady? The mysterious shyamalanscruffy dude? Having seen the movie, I know the answer... or, rather, what M. Night wants us to believe is the answer.  Because the real answer is that M. Night Shyamalan is the devil himself... and with each film that he unleashes upon the world, he will continue to wreak havoc on our bodies and poison our minds, just like the parable says. And someday soon, he will claim our souls.

Here’s some proof:  While this movie was based on an idea by Shyamalan, the screenplay was actually written by a guy named Brian Nelson, who also wrote the screenplay for HARD CANDY, an excellent, taut, well-written thriller that introduced us to Ellen Page several years ago. But DEVIL is... so... damn... bad.  It’s really astonishing.  Remember how bad the dialogue was in THE HAPPENING?  It’s that bad.  I now see that it wasn’t Mark Wahlberg’s or Zooey Deschanel’s fault that they sucked so much in that movie -- the devil made them do it.  Similarly, M. Night must have gotten into Nelson’s head and forced him to write this demonic drivel. Ridiculous characters abound and plot twists come and go that make absolutely no sense... or even worse, they do make sense but are completely fucking stupid.

If I’m right and M. Night Shyamalan is indeed the devil (further proof: ALL HIS MOVIES TAKE PLACE IN PHILLY!), I am not sure that he can be stopped.  He is going to continue to torment us with these movies, whether he writes & directs them himself or passes them along to another tortured soul as part of his godless “Night Chronicles.”  All we can do is be ready when he strikes....

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The End of a Season... and, We Hope, an Era

*sigh*... I guess I should write a few words on the end of the Mets' 2010 season. Well, it wasn't good. Record-wise, the team improved over last year, but really, it felt like more of the same old crap. There was a brief, shining stretch in June when things seemed to finally come together and the Mets actually reached first place for a day or two... but that quickly fell apart. The dead weight that the team has been carrying has never felt heavier. All sorts of off-field bullshit turned Citi Field into a circus and management continued to be more clueless than we thought. There were some bright spots, like the return of David Wright (too many strikeouts notwithstanding), the rise of Ike Davis, the emergence of Angel Pagan, the coming-of-age of Mike Pelfrey and the surprise awesomeness of R.A. Dickey. On the rare occasion that Jose Reyes was healthy, he seemed like his old self. Also, the overdue addition of more Mets-related stuff at Citi Field was nice (and the food options were still top-notch). These good things just weren't nearly enough to overcome the bad stuff.

And so, after today's fitting final loss (Ollie hits a batter and walks three to surrender the go-ahead run in the 14th inning... gimme a goddamn break), the season is mercifully over. Looks pretty certain that Jerry and Omar will be fired soon... maybe tomorrow. From there... who knows. Gotta hope that the team will finally bite the bullet and dump the dead weight. Hopefully they can manage to avoid paying K-Rod next year -- f’ing jackass. Probably makes sense to hold on to Beltran -- figure we'd have to pay most of his salary to unload him, so we might as well pay him to play for us. Gotta pray that Jason Bay rebounds next year, Reyes can stay healthy, Johan comes back soon, and the kids continue to grow, etc. Beyond that... I dunno. All I really want is for the Mets to field a team that is fun and exciting to watch, and if we creep back into contention, all the better. (Bringing back Bobby V would be a big step in the right direction....)

My personal record at Citi Field was actually not too shabby -- I attended 18 games and the Mets won 11 of them. Granted, there wasn't a whole lot to get excited about, regardless of the game result... but there were still a few standout moments: My triumphant return to Opening Day after getting getting shafted out of tix last year. Big Pelf shutting down the Phillies to complete an improbable three-game shutout sweep. A big six-run 8th inning comeback vs. the Nats. A 10th inning walk-off homer by Henry Blanco vs. the Giants. I got to hang out in the Acela Club on a nasty September night. And how about the fact that I won the Mets Speed Text Challenge not once, but TWICE! Christos Steakhouse, here I come!

(For the record, the worst game I attended this year was a 14-1 drubbing at the hands of the Diamondbacks, highlighted by one of Ollie's most dismal appearances. And it was made even worse by the fact that the game followed the Mets Hall of Fame induction of '86 heroes Darryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden, Davey Johnson and Frank Cashen. Oy.)

So, what will 2011 bring for the New York Mets? Beats the hell of out me. Youth? Promise? Stability? Fire? Basic fundamentals? Some combination of these things would be nice. As usual, the groundwork is there -- I'd build my team around Wright and Reyes every time -- now let's see if the youngsters can flourish and management can do what they need to do and put together a team that we can be proud of. It’s becoming increasingly more difficult, but I still believe. LET'S GO METS in 2011!

Oh, and here’s hoping for a Rays-Reds World Series! (Or, really, anything but the Yanks and Phils.)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Ben's Top 5 Most-Wanted Movies Inspired By Popular Websites

Just sitting here on this lazy Saturday night, listening to Trent Reznor's awesome soundtrack to THE SOCIAL NETWORK (which, by the way, you should really be seeing tonight instead of sitting around reading this blog), and thinking about other movies inspired by popular websites that I'd like to see.  Wait... what's that? You'd like to see a top 5 list? Well, glad you asked, 'cause I’ve got one. Ready? GO!

friendster 5.  A TESTIMONIAL TO FRIENDSTER -- A once fun, cutting-edge world becomes a desolate, post-apocalyptic wasteland almost overnight after precious resources are discovered elsewhere.  A handful of survivors linger, only to find themselves on the run when an army of extraterrestrials come down and claim the land for themselves.

Hampster_dance 4.  THE HAMPSTER DANCE... OF DEATH! -- Sometime in the not-too-distant future, a plague of man-eating rodents wreak bloody havoc on a sleepy Midwestern town.  The fabled Hampster Dance theme, thought to have been long forgotten since the late 1990s, will be a maddening death knell to all who hear it.

jesus 3.  THE BASTARD SON OF THE LORD HOMEPAGE: THE SECOND COMING -- A raunchy sex comedy and unflinching commentary on religion starring Nicolas Cage as Jesus H. Christ, Russell Brand as Satan and Jason Bateman as webmaster Steve.  The movie will be lambasted by Christian groups and the Pope himself, but the song "Put a Little Christ in You," as performed by the Magnetic Fields, will be nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar.

geocities 2.  GEOCITIES: THE MOTION PICTURE -- A computer geek is accidentally sucked into an alternate dimension filled with flashing lights and mismatched colors and bizarre images and endlessly repeating bits of music and sound clips and frames and pop-ups and things that have absolutely nothing to do with anything... and as he tries desperately to escape, he slowly descends into madness.

...and finally....

1.  A VERY OKCUPID MOVIE -- Basically the story of my love life between 2003 and 2008.  Starring me as me.  Rated R. ;)

Okay, Hollywood, get crackalackin’!!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

THE SOCIAL NETWORK and CATFISH: Friend Requests Accepted

At first, the concept of a movie about Facebook seemed a little silly.  For one thing, the site has only really been around for, what, six years?  Who knows what its place in the grand scheme of things will be six years from now.  (Remember, Friendster was a pretty big deal in 2003.)  Turns out, though, that the events leading up to the creation of Facebook were kind of fascinating, and in many ways, represent the fast-paced, detached-from-reality mindset of the early 21st century.  Directed by the great David Fincher, with an electrifying script by Aaron Sorkin and featuring a stellar cast of young talent, THE SOCIAL NETWORK has emerged as not only one of the best movies of the year, but one of the more important films of its generation.

socialnetwork The story begins with one of the most painfully awkward breakups you'll ever see on screen.  Harvard computer science geek Mark Zuckerberg sits in a bar with his girlfriend and they talk about... well, it's hard to say and even harder to keep up.  The conversation is loaded with double-talk and rapid-fire, back-and-forth dialogue -- Zuckerberg's mind clearly works at a ridiculously fast pace, tiring of topics and moving on to something completely unrelated even before the other person has a chance to respond.  It's a fascinating introduction and immediately displays that Zuckerberg may just be too smart and self-involved for his own good.

After the breakup, Zuckerberg embarks on a wild journey of vengeance, creation, wheeling & dealing, deception and incredible genius.  Reputations are made, friends are forsaken and douchebag frat boys are screwed over (from a certain point of view, this movie occasionally plays like REVENGE OF THE NERDS for the Internet age).  The surprisingly-enthralling plot unfurls like a whirlwind and Sorkin's script is so snappy & exciting, loaded with incredible dialogue, great drama and blistering confrontations that it sometimes feels like an action movie.  And Fincher's touch is no less magical -- the man has his finger on the pulse of humanity like few filmmakers working today.  His signature visual style fits the story perfectly -- this film could very easily have taken place in the same dark universe as SEVEN, FIGHT CLUB and ZODIAC.  Great score from Trent Reznor (!) and Atticus Ross, too -- one the year's best & most memorable (though I am still partial to that thundering INCEPTION theme).

Acting-wise, the movie is a revelation.  I've been a Jesse Eisenberg fan since seeing him in ROGER DODGER ten years ago, and I am confident that this will be the movie that finally erases his "poor man's Michael Cera" stigma and maybe even earns him Oscar gold.  It's a remarkable performance -- the perfect combination of complete social awkwardness and cold, calculating arrogance.  He's kind of an asshole, but damn, does he know his stuff.  Equally fantastic is Andrew Garfield as Zuckerberg’s best friend and Facebook’s co-founder, Eduardo.  I've now seen this guy in three noteworthy movies over the past couple of weeks (this one, NEVER LET ME GO and the RED RIDING trilogy) and it is clear that he is one of the best young actors around and will undoubtedly kick ass as the new Peter Parker.  Justin Timberlake, meanwhile, is a scene-stealer as dot-com superstar Sean Parker (remember Napster?), who gets into Zuckerberg's head and drives him to turn Facebook into something truly legendary.  Excellent supporting cast, too, including Armie Hammer in a dual role as the entitled Winklevoss twins, and Rooney Mara (soon-to-be Lisbeth Salander in the Americanized GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO remake) as the girlfriend in that scintillating opening scene.

Now, apparently this movie was written with no help from the real Mark Zuckerberg, so who knows exactly how much is real and how much is fabricated.  But I'm willing to bet that most of it is pretty accurate.  I don't doubt for a second that Zuckerberg stole the idea from the Winklevosses, screwed over his best friend and basically alienated everyone he ever knew... but he clearly turned the idea into something bigger and better than anyone else would have done.  In the end, who cares, because even after doling out however many hundreds of millions of dollars to make the legal troubles go away, Zuckerberg is still a billionaire many times over.  And that's one of the points of the movie:  In this age of instant information, if you have an idea, you'd better run with it immediately, because if you don't, someone else will.  I wouldn't be surprised if, in a few years, this movie is linked to the disconnected '00s the way that FIGHT CLUB is to the '90s, WALL STREET to the '80s, NETWORK to the '70s.  Yes, folks, the Facebook movie is that good!

CatfishBut wait, there’s more! Let's skip ahead a few years... Facebook has pretty much entrenched itself into society and become the leader of the social networking revolution.  For most people, at the very least, it has become a part of their regular daily routine, a place to share photos and catch up with old friends.  For others it is something that must be checked and browsed and updated throughout the day -- a running log of one’s daily life.  And for a select few, it is a place where one can create an entirely new persona and disappear into a twisted combination of fantasy and reality.  Which brings us to CATFISH.  If THE SOCIAL NETWORK is Facebook’s origin story, then CATFISH deals with the consequences.  It’s a story about how powerful Mark Zuckerberg's creation can be -- and how it can be manipulated for better or worse.

Simply put, it's a documentary about a guy who meets a girl through an unusual Facebook connection, develops an intense relationship with her without actually having met (lots of chatting and status-updating and photo-stalking ensue), and eventually discovers that things may not be exactly as they seem.  Determined to find out the truth, he and his filmmaking friends pay a surprise visit to the girl's house in the middle of nowhere... and then things get weird.

I am being intentionally vague about the plot because it's best to see this movie with as little knowledge as possible.  Once again (and fittingly, considering the subject at hand), there are questions as to whether or not the film is a true documentary, or if has at least been partially staged (personally, I think it’s mostly real with some cinematic embellishments)... but regardless, it is a gripping portrait of the kind of world that social networking, and Facebook in particular, hath wrought.

CATFISH is playing now in select theatres (with a wider release coming soon, I think), and THE SOCIAL NETWORK opens this Friday nationwide.  Both are must-sees -- but ideally, I recommend seeing them together in the ultimate 21st century double-feature.  LIKE!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What’s in the Box?? It’s Ryan Reynolds in BURIED!

Of all the movies I've seen so far in 2010 (and there have been a lot of them -- 96, to be exact, and it isn't even October yet), none have brought me to the edge of my seat more than BURIED, an incredible film by little-known Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes, starring a man who was previously best known for having killer abs and being Mr. Scarlett Johansson: Ryan Reynolds.

buried_poster Now, I have to admit, when I first heard of this film, I was skeptical.  How much could they really do with Ryan Reynolds trapped in a box for 90 minutes?  The answer is... well, quite a lot.  The most amazing thing about this movie is that it never cheats.  It advertises Ryan Reynolds trapped in a box, and that is exactly what it gives us.  No cutaways to government agents trying to track him down, or flashbacks to happy times with his happy.  We are trapped in that goddamn box for the duration, and the result is quite possibly the most claustrophobic movie ever made, featuring some of the most creative and intricate camerawork I have ever seen.

Reynolds, whose acting chops had never really been tested until now, plays Paul Conroy, an American contractor working in Iraq, who wakes up trapped in what appears to be a simple wooden coffin buried somewhere under the desert.  After an initial freakout, he surveys the situation and finds that he has been left with a working cell phone, a lighter, a pen, and several other trinkets.  He tries desperately to contact both his wife and U.S. authorities but is given the runaround as if he was trying to switch from Time Warner to FIOS.  He hears from his captor, who demands an insane $5 million ransom.  Other twists and turns abound -- some crazy, some infuriating, some hopeful, all of which add to the ever-building tension.  And it all occurs in this tiny confined area, with extreme close-ups of Conroy's blood, sweat and dirt-stained face, using amazing macro photography on the tiniest details.  As his race against time continues, the tension mounts... and as Conroy struggles to breathe, so do we.

buried-ryan Simply put, this is the performance of Ryan Reynolds' career.  I've always liked the guy in such films as VAN WILDER, WAITING..., and ADVENTURELAND, but this is the first truly meaty role of his career.  I mean, aside from some voices on the other end of the cell phone, this is basically a one-man show and he knocks it out of the park.  Absolutely riveting stuff.  His only real co-star is the camera itself.  What Rodrigo Cortes has done here is truly remarkable.  The camera moves in ways I never would have imagined, using bizarre angles and perspectives to make the most of every precious inch of that coffin.  Yet at the same time, it never feels like more than it is:  It's a fucking coffin.  It's tiny, Reynolds is trapped and cramped and suffocating, with sand seeping through the cracks like some kind horrific hourglass -- which, in a way, is exactly what it is.

Obviously the movie is loaded with all sorts of socio-political commentary, but really it's about one thing:  One man's desperate attempt to survive a seemingly impossible situation.  It's a fascinating film -- one that will, if you're like me, leave you on the edge of your seat and on the verge of a goddamn panic attack by the time things come to a jaw-dropping conclusion.  We are in the midst of an unprecedented month of September, loaded with tremendous films of all kinds... and BURIED is among the very best and a must-see on the big screen.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

My First Big-Screen Quadruple Feature

Believe it or not, after all these years of being a crazy moviegoer, I had never seen four movies on the big screen in a single day.  Tons of double-features and plenty of triples... but the quadruple had always managed to elude me, for whatever reason.  That is, until Friday, August 20th, 2010, when the stars and showtimes were properly aligned, and I found myself at the movies all freakin’ day.  And even more remarkable than the milestone itself... all four of the movies were actually good!  It was one of the all-time great movie-watching days, and now I will take you through the experience, one movie at a time....

switch Thanks to the glory of 1:00 summer Fridays at work, I was able to easily make the 1:45 showing of the THE SWITCH at the AMC Empire, and it turned out to be a pleasant surprise.  It's a romantic comedy that follows the standard romantic comedy format -- but the plot is refreshingly original, the dialogue is snappy and the cast is truly outstanding, including Jason Bateman, Jeff Goldblum (who once again proves that he needs to be in more movies), Juliette Lewis and Patrick Wilson (the perfect Baxter).  The kid is hilarious, and even Old Lady Aniston is better than usual.  Funny, poignant, edgy and all-around entertaining -- probably the best traditional romantic comedy of the year so far.

Afterward, I grabbed some lunch and then went right back into the Empire for the 4:40 show of one of my most anticipated movies of the summer: PIRANHA 3D!  I opted to see it in ETX format, which stands for "Enhanced Theatre Experience." This basically means that it’s better than HD, but not quite IMAX, highlighted by a larger-than-average screen that literally stretches from the floor to ceiling, so it sufficiently fills your field of vision.  Crisp picture and booming sound, too.  Definitely a better choice than the fake IMAX screen at the Empire (though a far cry from the true IMAX Experience at Lincoln Square)... and a buck cheaper, too.

piranha Anyway... PIRANHA 3D... yeah, it is pretty awesome.  From the opening scene with a very Matt Hooper-esque Richard Dreyfuss... to the non-stop cacophony of bouncing boobs and jiggling butts... to Eli Roth emceeing a wet t-shirt contest... to Elisabeth Shue as a kick-ass sheriff... to the naked underwater girl-on-girl ballet... to a truly geektastic cameo from Christopher Lloyd... to the grand climax featuring a solid 30 minutes of some of the craziest, unbridled bloody carnage I've seen in a movie since CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST... this movie is insane fun in every sense of the word and 3D technology at its absolute finest!  It’s interesting that for the first hour, pretty much all the blood & gore is CGI... but in the big climax, it’s all old-school blood, guts & gristle, which makes for quite a contrast.  Best death:  When the wire snaps and slices diagonally across a girl's body, undoing her bikini top and revealing a perfect breast -- only to have her upper torso slowly detach itself from the rest of the body and fall into the lake.  BRILLIANT.  Tremendous effort by Alexander Aja, who has already proven his horror chops with HAUTE TENSION (a perfect movie until the last five minutes) and the excellent 2006 remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES. Good stuff!

a_film_unfinished After that, I switched gears a bit and headed up to Lincoln Plaza for the 7:05 showing of A FILM UNFINISHED, a documentary that uncovers the truth behind the unfinished Nazi propaganda films of the Warsaw Ghetto. If you’ve ever seen a documentary about the Holocaust, you know the footage I’m talking about -- it has been used as a reliable historical document for decades, and many of the images are instantly recognizable. However, a few years ago, a long-lost reel was discovered that revealed the full extent to which the footage was intricately staged by the Nazis -- it’s basically an outtake reel containing alternate takes and a far more authentic, unedited look at the atrocities of the Ghetto. The Nazis’ true intent was apparently to show the world that there were plenty of well-off Jews who didn’t have it so bad and were indifferent to the plights of others, to the point where they would ignore beggars in the street and enjoy fine dining.  But the outtakes prove that all of this was intricately manipulated -- scenes of well-dressed Jews sitting down for dinner were staged from multiple angles, with looks of fear evident on the “actors” faces. Crazy shit. The footage is shown in its entirety and juxtaposed with scenes of actual Holocaust survivors watching it in an empty theatre and reflecting on their memories. As fascinating as it is horrifying, this is an important film and a must-see.

scott_pilgrim So yeah, that was kind of a bummer. But undaunted, I headed a few blocks north to Loews Lincoln Square and snagged two tix for the 10:05 showing of SCOTT PILGRIM vs. THE WORLD! I met up with my lovely lady friend, Rachel, got pizza from our favorite pizza place on 68th, washed it down with frozen yogurt & coffee from a Frozen Yogurt & Coffee Truck we came across, and prepared ourselves for what we hoped would be two hours of pure, unadulterated epic awesomeness. And that’s exactly what we got -- SCOTT PILGRIM is another gigantic triumph for Edgar Wright, whose genius cannot be denied. It’s a geek’s paradise, loaded with video game references, non-sequiturs and ringer t-shirts, and bursting with some of the most creative visuals we’ll see all year. It’s also arguably Michael Cera’s best performance ever.  Now, I’ve made no secret that his lack of range has been annoying me for a while.  He’s basically been playing the George Michael Bluth role in every movie he’s ever made. But while Scott Pilgrim is still very much a Cera character, he is far more nuanced, more aggressive and confident in his own awesomeness... plus he kicks ass and rocks. Instead of being an awkward teenager who has trouble talking to girls, which is Cera’s forte, Scott Pilgrim is a slightly-less-awkward twenty-something who has success with girls in spite of himself.  It’s like the culmination of all of Cera’s performances to date and I can't imagine anyone else in the role (though now would be a perfect  point for him to go and do something COMPLETELY different next scott_ramonatime, so we’ll see how that goes). Fantastic supporting cast, too -- Mary Elizabeth Winstead is indeed dreamy and ultra-cool as Ramona Flowers, while you gotta wonder if maybe Scott would be better off with sweet, loyal, excitable Knives Chau. And the League of Evil Exes is unquestionably one of the great ideas in the history of great ideas -- each one is awesome, hilarious and well-developed (personal favorite: Brandon Routh and his vegan superpowers. Also, anybody else recognize the actress that plays Roxy Richter? I didn’t, but my girlfriend did. Hint: she’s worked with Michael Cera before!) and the fight scenes are outstanding and really make me want to bust out of my old Super NES and play some Street Fighter II. I don’t usually put much stock in box office performance, but honestly, the fact that this movie is turning out to be a flop is definitive proof that the general public has shit for brains. Suffice to say that I am very much in lesbians with SCOTT PILGRIM vs. THE WORLD and I can’t wait to revisit it many more times on Blu-Ray!

Well, folks, there you have it.  At around 12:15 a.m., I exited the theatre and headed home with four fresh ticket stubs in my pocket. My longest-ever day of movie-watching was complete.  I guess the next step is to see FIVE movies in a single day.  Difficult, yes... but not impossible.  We'll see what happens someday when I have a full day off and am feelings particularly cinematic!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Day I Met Doc Gooden

Back when I was a boy, I used to collect baseball cards, and as such, I used to attend lots of baseball card shows.  The mid-‘80s to ‘90s were the golden age of the baseball card industry and these shows were a big deal.  When I lived in Bayside, Queens, they would have baseball card extravaganzas at the Adria Motor Inn.  And later, in South Plainfield, NJ, they would take over the Middlesex Mall once a month.  These shows were like walking through baseball card heaven, and God only knows how much money I (and my dad) spent amassing my very extensive collection.

Oftentimes at these events, they would have baseball players on hand to meet & greet with fans and sign autographs. Aside from having many tens of thousands of cards, I put together quite a collection of signatures and photos, ranging from no-names like Hensley Meulens, to personal favorites like David Cone, to legends like Mickey Mantle.  I enjoyed meeting these players with a childlike sense of wonder -- but being a kid, I’m not sure I fully appreciated the experiences at the time.

It’s different nowadays, though. In my adult life, I’ve been fortunate to attend lots of movie premieres and things of that sort, which has allowed me to hobnob with movie stars like Bruce Willis and Paul Rudd -- and every single time, I find myself completely star-struck and reveling in the glory of the occasion.

But still... as much as I love movies, and as awesome as it is to meet movie stars on the red carpet... there’s nothing quite like meeting a real, live baseball player.  Especially one that you once idolized.  And so, tonight, when I met the legendary DWIGHT GOODEN, it was easily one of the biggest highlights on my surprisingly long list of my celebrity encounters.

How did this happen, you ask?  Well, we can thank the power of social networking.  Last night on Twitter, someone retweeted an announcement that Doc would be appearing at a place called Last Licks, a shop that sells -- wait for it -- ice cream AND sports collectibles (genius!) on the Upper East Side.  All you had to do was buy an item for him to sign and you were good to go -- the actual autograph was free.  So I went... and he was there... and it ruled.  It wasn’t like the baseball card shows of yore where there were huge lines and they rushed you in and out as quickly as possible.  This was a smaller, more intimate setting, and the crowd was not very large, so we actually got a few minutes to sit and chat.

doc_ballI had a pretty fun conversation with Dwight Gooden, who, along with Darryl Strawberry and Gary Carter, was one of my favorite Mets of the ‘80s (and, indeed, of all time).  When it was my turn, I shook his hand and handed him a ball to sign. First I congratulated him on his induction into the Mets Hall of Fame this past Sunday.  I told him that I was there and that it was awesome to see him & the others on the field.  He thanked me and said that it was fun to be there.  I added that by the end of the game, we were kind of hoping that they’d give him a uniform.  (The Mets were crushed 14-1 by the lowly Diamondbacks.)  Doc laughed and agreed that it was a rough one.

I then went on to tell him that the first Mets game I ever attended was one that he pitched. The date was August 20, 1985, when I was 8 years old. Doc went the distance and shut out the Giants 3-0 and struck out SIXTEEN.  Shea was rocking with every pitch, the K Corner was working overtime, and that was pretty much the moment I began bleeding orange & blue.  Doc seemed impressed by the story and said that he actually remembered the game, which I thought was pretty damn cool.

Finally, I asked if I could get a picture with him, and he graciously agreed.  Here is the result:


Look, I know Doc has had his problems over the years, and his career could have been so much more.  Who even knows if he has completely cleaned up his act yet.  All I know for sure is that on this night, at this baseball card shop, he was a class act, completely gracious and humble and a nice guy.  And this battle-hardened Mets fan was awestruck because, for God’s sake... it was DWIGHT GOODEN! Doctor K! One of the biggest sports figures NYC (and thus, the world) has ever known! The man!

The other funny thing is, I actually met Gooden once before, in 1987 or so, at (you guessed it) a baseball card show.  I got an autographed ball and shook his hand, and I may even have a photo somewhere of us shaking hands.  So now I have two Dwight Gooden baseballs -- one from the height of his career, and one a few days after his Mets Hall of Fame induction.  How poetic!

(P.S. Someday, perhaps over a drink or three, be sure to get me to tell the story (or sing the song) about the day I met Lenny Dykstra.  THAT one’s a doozy....)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

July Movie Jubilee

I hate to sound like a broken record, but damn, this has been a shitty summer for movies.  Crap movies have outnumbered great ones and mediocre ones have outnumbered everything.  Damn shame.  Fortunately, it’s been a great summer in pretty much every other aspect of life -- and it looks to get even better in 10 days when I make my triumphant return to LAS VEGAS!  But first, let’s take a look at the dozen or so movies I’ve seen in the past month...

I-Am-Love I AM LOVE -- I admit it: Tilda Swinton kind of freaks me out. She looks like walking death and if I saw her ghostly form approaching me in the middle of the night I’d probably shit myself. However, that she is a fine actress cannot be denied. And did you know that she is also fluent in several languages? Well, she is, and this talent is on display in this tragic melodrama from Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino. With its themes of family dysfunction and the power of love, I found the story to be compelling enough, but I guess I’m just not a fan of this guy’s style. Too many lingering close-ups of pretty objects and flowers (not to mention Tilda’s nipples), and the proceedings just drag like hell. Swinton is pretty fantastic, though, and slow as things are for the first 90 minutes, some climactic twists will eventually perk you up. If you’re jonesing for some art house fare, you could do worse than this. Great musical score, too, from composer John Adams.

Winters-Bone WINTER'S BONE -- Excellent noir-ish mystery about a young girl who attempts to track down her deadbeat father and prevent the foreclosure of her house before she, her young siblings and their mentally ill mother are forced out into the wilds of the Ozarks. Along the way she encounters a series of bizarre characters and attempts to unravel a web of deception, double-talk and threats to herself and family.  The lovely and talented Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree with mix of sadness and battle-worn determination -- she’s a girl who is forced to do too much, too soon.  Probably the best female performance I’ve seen so far this year, and hopefully one that the Academy will remember in a few months. But even if they don’t, geeks everywhere will surely be fawning over Jennifer after she plays Mystique in next year’s X-MEN: FIRST CLASS... nice.

kids-are-all-right THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT -- A heartwarming 21st century romantic comedy about a family with two moms whose lives are turned upside when the kids decide to track down their biological father. Hijinks ensue, love is put to the test and everyone gets a lesson on what it means to be “la famiglia,” as my own family likes to say. Julianne Moore and Annette Bening are a pretty convincing lesbian couple, while Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson (better known, respectively, as Alice from Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND and the kid from BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and LITTLE MANHATTAN) are fantastic as their curious kids. But it’s my boy Mark Ruffalo who really steals the show as the easygoing sperm donor they seek -- he’s so cool and charming, it’s almost hard to decide who to root for when melodrama sets in.  Mark Ruffalo has been one of my favorite actors for a long time -- hopefully this performance, along with being cast as the new Bruce Banner in THE AVENGERS, will help take his already-excellent career to the next level!

Predators PREDATORS -- It’s a little-known fact about me, but I LOVE the original PREDATOR. It’s one of my favorite ‘80s action movies, and in fact, I recently bought the super-special edition Blu-Ray and enjoyed reveling in its awesomeness all over again. It’s just one of those movies that was perfect for its time and place. The sequel was “meh,” and the Alien vs. Predator films were abominations, but when I heard about this standalone reboot, produced by Guillermo del Toro and starring some fine actors, including my boy Adrian Brody, my interest was piqued.  Unfortunately, it didn’t get the job done. It just wasn’t BIG enough. When you call your movie “PREDATORS” with an S at the end, I assume that it is going to be filled with balls-to-the-wall Predator madness. I mean, at this point, we know what a Predator looks like. We know what their deal is. We don’t need to go through the whole song and dance again. What this movie needed was more Predators and a LOT more action.  Instead, it had a few decent moments, but in the end it was just... kinda boring.

sorcerers-apprentice THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE -- I remember when the first PIRATES of THE CARRIBEAN movie came out and I had no doubt in my mind that it would suck. Then I saw it, and was stunned that it not only didn’t suck, but it was kind of awesome. Granted, THE HAUNTED MANSION was crap, and God forbid they ever make a SPACE MOUNTAIN movie... but for some reason I had a good feeling about this adaptation of the classic Mickey Mouse sketch from FANTASIA. Turns out that my feeling was correct, as this movie was solid entertainment. It was good that they didn’t take things seriously at all and just had fun with the whole thing.  Would have liked to have seen Nic Cage play it a bit crazier, but it was still fun to see him chew the scenery. Jay Baruchel was fine, though I still think he’s better suited to supporting roles. And yes, the scene with the brooms was there -- it can’t compare to the source material (one of the quintessential Mickey Mouse moments), but it still brought a smile to my face.

inception INCEPTION -- I honestly can’t write too much about this movie yet, because I have only seen it once and I still have way too many unanswered questions.  I’ll hopefully get to see it a second time soon -- not so much because I WANT to, but because I feel like I HAVE to.  It’s not so much confusing as it is incredibly dense and so full of intricacies that it’s impossible to piece everything together after one viewing.  That said, I still think that we’re all over-thinking the whole thing and the easiest solution is probably the correct one (highlight the following invisible text for a SPOILER: The top falls, dammit!) But this is without question a must-see. Christopher Nolan is a master craftsman, the plot is truly mind-bending, Leonardo DiCaprio is at the top of his game, the supporting cast is outstanding and the haunting score is arguably Hans Zimmer’s best since GLADIATOR. Definitely one of the best all-around movies of the summer, second only to TOY STORY 3.

dinner-for-schmucks DINNERS FOR SCHMUCKS – This movie is going to hold a special place in my heart because I attended the NYC premiere at the Ziegfeld and had a close encounter with my ultimate man-crush, Paul Rudd -- by that I mean, I inadvertently leapt out from behind a pillar and took his picture, momentarily blinding him with my camera flash... oops... but hey, the picture came out great!  Memorable experience, yes... but sadly, the movie wasn’t that good. Funny in the moment, but I’ve already forgotten most of what I laughed at.  Definitely a far cry from AUSTIN POWERS and MEET THE PARENTS, as far as director Jay Roach is concerned.  That being said, it is worth Netflixing someday, especially if you love Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and Zack Galifianakis (as I do) and require a fix of their combined awesomeness.

salt SALT -- A funny thing happened when I saw this movie... I actually liked it!  In fact, I'd go as far as to say that it's the most fun popcorn flick so far this summer... and frankly, it couldn't have come at a better time for Angelina Jolie.  By my estimation, it's been at least five years since her last halfway decent movie (MR. & MRS. SMITH... and even that was only really good because you knew that she and Brad Pitt were gettin' it on behind the scenes), and she was in danger of becoming completely irrelevant as anything other than tabloid fodder.  But clearly, there's a little life left in those luscious lips of hers!  Angelina kicks some serious ass as Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent who may or may not be a Russian spy.  The movie teeters on the edge of the ridiculous, but the action never lets up for a second so you never really notice -- and damned if it doesn't make you feel just a little nostalgia for the good old days of the Cold War, which was so much more fun than this whole Middle East debacle.  (I'll take ROCKY IV over THE HURT LOCKER any day!)

despicable_me DESPICABLE ME -- Moderately entertaining animated fare starring the voice of Steve Carell as Dru, a bumbling supervillain who engages in a battle of wits with a younger rival, bosses around a bunch of wacky little minions and adopts three little girls as part of his master plan.  Nothing terribly special about the movie... but certainly nothing terrible about it, either. I’m glad I got to see it for free (thank you, AMC MovieWatcher program), though, because if I had paid $17 to see this movie in 3D, I would have been pissed.  There was absolutely NO reason for it to be in 3D, as it adds NOTHING to the experience. It provided no discernable visual depth and didn’t even use any cheesy gimmicks to wow the kiddies. When used properly (as in AVATAR and TOY STORY 3, the two best examples of the technology thus far), 3D can be an awesome tool –- but for the most part these days, it is overkill and a massive waste of money –- and this movie is a prime example of the latter.

life-during-wartimeLIFE DURING WARTIME -- Here we have the latest from Todd Solondz, the very thought of which is enough to send a chill down my spine.  It's a sequel to HAPPINESS, one of the most disturbing movies I've ever seen -- a twisted ode to family dysfunction, pedophilia and self-loathing -- set ten years later, with different actors portraying the same characters.  The result is an absolute triumph for Solondz -- dark, poignant, chilling and, yes, hilarious, with brightly-colored backdrops that serve to heighten the misery.  If HAPPINESS took us on an insane, over-the-top journey through some of the most fucked-up situations imaginable, LIFE DURING WARTIME shows us the consequences of those situations and grounds them in a harsh reality.  The characters remain haunted by their past and left to fend for themselves in an uncertain future.  The cast is truly outstanding, including Shirley Henderson (whose voice is instantly recognizable as that of Moaning Myrtle from the HARRY POTTER series), Allison Janney, Ally Sheedy, Paul Reubens and Charlotte Rampling (still sexy at 64!).  But best of all is another one of my favorite actors, the great Ciaran Hinds.  He portrays Bill, the pedophile dad, now released from jail after ten years, a broken man in search of an absolution that he knows he doesn’t deserve and will likely never find. “This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no fooling around,” indeed....

get_low GET LOW -- Part true story, part folk tale about an eccentric hermit, Felix Bush, who decides to throw his own funeral party while he’s still alive. The plan is for everyone in town to come and tell stories about him (and enter a contest to win his land)... but as the layers are peeled back and more details of Felix’s life are revealed, we learn that this is really the story of an old man seeking redemption and forgiveness for his trespasses. It’s a feel-good film -- almost Capra-esque in an odd sort of way -- anchored by the best performance I’ve seen in any movie so far this year: Robert Duvall is pretty much assured of his sixth Oscar nomination, and as of this moment, he’s my favorite for his second win.  Bill Murray is also fantastic as struggling funeral director who gets caught up in Felix’s crazy scheme, and Sissy Spacek reminds us how good she can be as a woman who once played a part in Felix’s checkered past. My only problem with this movie is that it sort of plays like a swan song to Robert Duvall’s storied career -- but let’s hope that ol’ Tom Hagen still has lots of great performances left in him!

disappearanceofalicecreed THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED -- Look, I’ve seen enough thrillers, good and bad, to know that characters HAVE to do stupid, infuriating things from time to time, or else there wouldn’t be a movie. But goddamn... this little British yarn takes that stupidity to a ridiculous level. It’s about two guys who kidnap a girl and hold her for ransom. But people and things are not what they seem and twists and turns abound. The writer/director, J Blakeson, clearly has a gift for pacing and building tension, because I found myself on the edge of my seat a number of times -- unfortunately, it was often because I was so fucking furious with the decisions that the characters were making onscreen. Ah well. Fine performances, though, from all three players -- particularly the lovely Gemma Arterton, whom you might recognize from such films as QUANTUM OF SOLACE and the recent CLASH OF THE TITANS remake. She’s good... and pretty.

Coming soon: THE OTHER GUYS! SCOTT PILGRIM! THE EXPENDABLES! And, oh yeah... live reports from VEGAS, BABY, VEGAS!!!