Rinko Kikuchi in 'The Brothers Bloom'
Rinko Kikuchi in 'The Brothers Bloom'
Credit: Summit

Runners-Up 2008: #9 - 'The Brothers Bloom'

9. "The Brothers Bloom"

Following a lukewarm reception at the Toronto Film Festival, Summit moved this one to a May opening date. Two things occur to me regarding this. First, screw the reaction out of Toronto. This isn't a festival film, precious and dignified. Far from it. Rian Johnson's second film is a rowdy road comedy, a brotherly buddy movie, and a sweet daffy love story all disguised as a con man movie. In reality, the cons are the least important part of the film, a mere excuse to pinball all these characters off one another.  Ever since "The Sting," this genre has been an excuse to build a mousetrap and set it off, which can certainly be fun. But "The Brothers Bloom" isn't trying to con you at all. It's heartfelt and earnest, and if Summit thinks they can stand one more date change, can I urge you to consider Valentine's Day? Really sell the shit out of the interplay between Adrien Brody and Rachel Weisz, who does some of the loosest, warmest work of her career here. Everyone looks like they're having a blast, but I particularly fell for Rinko Kikuchi as Bang Bang, a very quiet little eccentric who packs a big punch, sort of like Harpo Marx if he were a really cute Asian chick. I love the look of the film, the sort of cartoon ballet that Johnson pulls off with it. It's very sweet, and I think this could turn into a "Princess Bride," a film that people grow very passionate about with time.

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Runners-Up 2008: #10 - 'Dear Zachary'

It's nice to know someone's reading. Seriously.

I got e-mails from several of you, or IMs, saying you enjoyed the list but asking me about why somesuch title wasn't on my list. And it's a fair question. There were some odd choices on my list, but for me, it's a matter of which of these movies I'd really want to own on DVD or, even better, BluRay right now. And which ones I'm most likely to watch again. So that top ten.. those are films I absolutely plan to revisit.

And I'll be adding this next ten to the rotation, too. That's the thing about lists... you're always juggling, and all of these were seriously in contention at some point for the top ten list.  I'll publish each one as its own blog entry as quickly as I can put them up tonight and tomorrow.

And even after you read this list, no doubt you'll say, "But hold on... you still didn't mention my favorite film of the year!" There are a number of films that I liked very much, films like "Doubt" or "Afterschool" or "Milk" or "Waltz With Bashir" or "In Bruges" or "The Class", movies like "Iron Man" or "Kung Fu Panda" or "The Visitor"... movies that I respect like "The Reader" or "Hunger," but that didn't quite knock me down the way I feel like they should have.

The year in film is defined as much by what doesn't make your list as by what does sometimes... for me, certain things strike a deeper chord or just plain hit my pleasure center with great accuracy. There's one tie on the list, for spot number five, but I think it makes thematic sense, and I love the films for the exact same reason. If the tie bothers you, I apologize in advance.

But other than that, I apologize for nothing.

Especially not for SPEED RACER.  But we'll get to that soon enough...

The last one here, number ten, is a film I doubt I'll ever watch again, because I'm not sure I could withstand the experience. It upset me that much. But because of the intensity with which I reacted, I felt like I absolutely needed to find a place for it in one of these articles.

10. "Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father"

One of the most brutally moving films of recent memory, there were certainly other documentaries this year that were more technically adept, but very few with the emotional heft this one has. Kurt Kuenne stumbled into the telling of this story because the film's central tragedy is his own personal tragedy, a friend lost, an entire network of friends shattered.  Kuenne's friend, Dr. Andrew Bagby, is gunned down by a crazy ex-girlfriend.  When she flees to Canada, a slow motion riot of the justice system at its worst is set into motion, and Kuenne starts out making one film, only to end up making a much, much sadder and more horrifying movie than he ever could have imagined being involved in.  And as dark and as crushing as the story gets, there are two heroes in the film whose existence leavens the worst of the various shocks in the film.  David and Kathleen Bagby, parents of the murdered doctor, emerge as pillars of strength and integrity, and much of what made me sob... and make no mistake, this movie will make even the most hard-hearted viewer weep... is the way they manage to bear up in the face of impossible circumstance.

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On 'Watchmen' (12.27.08)

Ho ho how the heck did that happen?

Yes, I know someone somewhere screwed up on the turnaround paperwork on "Watchmen," and I understand that the letter of the law may well indicate that Larry Gordon forgot to cross some t or dot some i. But I also think Fox played a classic ambush here, and it's a particularly ugly one.

Let me ask you something, Fox.

And I ask here because you won't even take my calls.  That's long established.  Forget screening me a movie ever.  Just the basic courtesy of communication?  Nope.  Company wide, evidently.

I assume they deliver the trades over at 20th Century Fox.  Somewhere on the lot.  At least one copy each of VARIETY and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, every single day.  Most conservative absurd estimate possible.  Even if it's just that one copy... then at several points over the last, ohlet'sjustsay20yearsforfun... you've had the opportunity to read "Watchmen" news.  It must have at some point crossed someone's radar.  Because it's only been ONE OF THE MOST WRITTEN ABOUT AND ENDLESSLY DEVELOPED PIECES OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY MAKING THE LEAP FROM SOURCE-TO-SCREEN IN THE LAST TWO DECADES.

Seriously.

You can't possibly say you didn't notice until Zack Snyder was finished making his movie.

"Oh, hey, wait, is that our WATCHMEN?  You mean the one we own?"

Foul.  Huge huge party foul on you, Fox.

If this is really the play, then I think it's a poor one.

And I hate the notion that there's a price that will make this go away.  And that the price has something to do with the perpetual DVD rights on another property altogether. I hope that's not right.

Will we see "Watchmen" in 2009?

Yes.

Will we see Zack Snyder's "Watchmen" in 2009?

I hope so.

Will we see Zack Snyder's "Watchmen" eventually?

Definitely.

Will we see the Fox logo in front of the film with the Warner logo?

Probably.  With Legendary, too.

Is all of this sort of unbelievable to observe from the sidelines?

Absolutely.

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The greatest holiday special never made.
The greatest holiday special never made.
Credit: The Litmus Configuration, via CHUD.com

Happy Holidays!

 

 

 

I owe Devin Faraci a shout-out for pointing this one out.  It appeared on CHUD originally, and was posted by a message board regular named The Litmus Configuration.  Any guy who names himself for an obscure "Midnight Run" joke is okay by me, but this?  This poster is my most fervent Christmas wish.  I wish this was real.  I wish this was real.  I wish this was real.

You can see a giant-sized version of it here.

Happy Holidays, and we'll be back tomorrow with more new content for you here on HitFix.

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Jack Black and Kyle Gass are Tenacious D
Jack Black and Kyle Gass are Tenacious D

My DVD Shelf: 'Tenacious D The Complete Masterworks 2' (BluRay)

So I've been friends now with my screenwriting partner Scott Swan for about 22 years.  When you know someone for that long, day in and day out, you've got a certain bag of party tricks that the other person sees a million times.  With Scott, he's got a long list of greatest hits, but one in particular is his signature, the big gun.  He does an impression of Andre The Giant.

Not just an impression, though.  He's like a medium.  He is Andre when he talks.  It's the craziest relocation-of-voice from an impressionist that I've seen.  Professional or otherwise.  It freaks people out the first time they see it, every single time.  And even more impressively, immediately after that, 100% of them say, "Do it again!"  It's so strange that you have to hear it a second time.  ANd a third.  And a fiftieth.  It's endlessly strange and funny.

But years ago, I could tell Scott dreaded the moment when I would mention "the voice" to new people.  So don't tell anybody any of what I just told you about his amazing Andre The Giant impression, and for god's sake, don't ask him to do it.  Ever.  Please.

Point is, Scott eventually put the voice on embargo.  And it only occasionally appears now, under the radar, without forewarning.  It's so much more fun that way, too.

It might be time for Tenacious D to consider that approach.

See, I've got real fan love for the D.  I'm old school.  I've been seeing their live performances as long as they've been giving them.  I'm amazed how much better Jack and Kyle have gotten playing together over the years, and I've always been a big proponent of the live shows.  The HBO show, the film, the TV appearances... none of that really captures the same thing that a live gig by the D does.  I think it's great that they filmed this particular show, the one they toured with around the time their movie came out, a big-venue full-band D tour unlike anything else they'd done.  I'm glad they've got a good version of that show on the record now.

And the documentary that's on the disc?  A real surprise.  It's not just some blowjob puff piece about the guys.  It seems to me to be very honest, almost unflinchingly so, about the real life dynamic of Jack Black and Kyle Gass versus the onstage relationship of JB and KG, the D.  It's raw stuff at times, especially concerning the box-office performance of their movie and the fame imbalance on talk shows between Jack Black, Movie Star and Kyle Gass, second banana.  I really did appreciate the disc and enjoy it, and in BluRay, the concert footage is sensational, particularly the soundtrack.

But if this were the last packaged D material for a while... if they were to place themselves under embargo, let's say... I think I'd find it a whole lot more satisfying to be a D fan again.

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Jean Dujardin in 'OSS 117: Nest of Spies'
Jean Dujardin in 'OSS 117: Nest of Spies'
Credit: Music Box Films

My DVD Shelf: 'OSS 117: Cairo Nest Of Spies'

This was released in 2006 is much of the world, but only made it to America in 2008 in extremely limited release before finally finding its way onto video.

So now you have no excuse.  Seek out "OSS 117: Cairo Nest Of Spies" as soon as you can, and prepare to enjoy one of the most seductively loony films in recent memory.  Director Michel Hazanavicius has goen to painstaking lengths to make a movie that looks like it is state-of-the-art... for 1964.  And in doing so, he roasts a specific era of spy movie history with precision, ground the first "Austin Powers" covered in a totally different way.  It's funny that giant moosey nutjob movie star Jean Dujardin looks like and plays up the Connery in this warm, daffy, oblivious train wreck of a secret agent.  He's an international incident in motion, less of a spy and more of a biological weapon turned loose.  It's all very silly, but it also makes continual cutting comment on the cultural insensitivies inherent to spy work in the first place.

The OSS 117 books were a hugely popular long-running series of novels in France (91 of them by creator and pulp machine Jean Bruce, and a staggering 143 more of them by his widow Josette) starting in 1949.  That means he predates Bond as a character, but obviously for Hazanavicius and his co-writer Jean-Francois Halin, their feelings about the ponymous Gallic hero are tangled up with their reaction to the ongoing international iconography of Bond.  That's what makes this such a rich comic creation.  It's comedy as film criticism, almost like what "Mystery Science Theater 3000" does taken to the next level.  By making such a perfect, effortless example of a film style they love, they have also completely perverted it, Mad-magazine-style, as spot on as Mel Brooks in his prime.  I'm a big fan of the film, and the disc by Music Box Films has a very funny gag reall and a brief production featurette.  I hope people take a chance on this rewarding gem, one of the best surprises I had in 2008, especially since the sequel's already finished shooting!

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William Hurt in 'Kiss of the Spider Woman'
William Hurt in 'Kiss of the Spider Woman'

My DVD Shelf: 'Kiss Of The Spider Woman'

Leonard Schrader may not get the same sort of press his brother Paul Schrader does as a filmmaker, but he's made some notable contributions in his own right.  And none made more of an impression than his Oscar-nominated screenplay for the 1985 Hector Babenco film "Kiss Of The Spider Woman," one of the first films that really bullied its way to the Oscar table despite its indie roots.  Based on Manuel Puig's novel, the film is a beautiful, wrenching melodrama about the way melodrama serves as a filter for people that allows them to make sense of the random pain and injustice of the real world.  William Hurt won the Oscar for his role as Luis Molina, and watching it now, twenty years later, I think it's some of his most relaxed and vulnerable work as an actor.  Hurt was defined by that almost alien intelligence of his, that way of looking at you like he's trying to decide whether to befriend you or eat you.  Molina brings something totally different out of him, something weak and bruised, and one of the things I find interesting about his performance is just how much of a shit Molina is in the end.  He does one or two decent things, but he's a manipulator, a shit with his own self-interest first above all else.  For the film to pain this portrait of this guy, with his sexuality front and center, and not turn him into a noble saint stereotype or the wise bitchy queen stereotype... that's the gentle innovation of the approach here.

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The Morning Read (12.24.08)

This is the last Morning Read until Monday Dec. 29th, so I can enjoy a little holiday time with the family, but when I find something worth posting, I'll put it up on its own, so there will still be plenty of content worth reading over the next few days.

One thing you'll see is my top ten list for 2008.  This year, the rules were simple.  Anything I saw before today, when I start working on the list, was eligible.  If it hasn't come out for a theatrical run yet, it's still something I saw theatrically at some festival this year.  So for me, it's my list of the ten films that I think were most important for me as a viewer this year.

There's one very big title that a lot of people seem to like that I haven't seen yet, but it's here in my house right now, and I need to see it, I suppose.  To be fair.

So that's what I'm doing after I finish reading what's brewing online.

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Jason Statham in 'Death Race'
Jason Statham in 'Death Race'
Credit: Universal Pictures

My DVD Shelf: 'Death Race: Unrated' (BluRay)

Not terrible.

That's a pretty big shock, actually, and I'm inclined to call this Paul "What Script?" Anderson's most competent film overall.  But still...

... and don't get me wrong.  I'm not a purist.  I'm not the sort of person who believes that no remake can ever improve upon the original.  Hell, I just saw the 3D remake of "My Bloody Valentine," and I'm dizzy in love with that one.  I just think that when you remake something, you have to make choices about what you do or don't adapt.  I think remakes offer some great opportunities to a smart filmmaker, and so each one has to be judged differently.  I don't have a blanket hatred for the mere idea of a remake.

But come on.  This is such a conceptual misfire, and in such a startlingly obvious way, that it makes me wonder if anyone involved in any level of the production has even the most cursory understanding of why the original works.

It's a race across America.  And you kill people with your car for points.  That's it.  Simple.  Easy to comprehend.  And totally vile and filthy.  It's iconic in its simplicity.  I know people who have never seen the original film who still get the point if you aim your car at a pedestrian and say, "10 points."

Yet in this film, there is no cross-country race.  And there are no points for hitting different types of pedestrians.  Instead, it's all about prisoners being forced to race against each other.  That's some weak shit designed to let the audience off the hook on a moral level.  The film pretends it has something important to say about reality TV, but that's a total bust as well.  It's a defanging of the basic idea that seems to me to be one of the most gutless revamps I've ever seen.

So, sure, the film's professionally produced and the car stuff is shot well enough.  Jason Statham gives the same exact tough guy performance he gives in everything, as does Tyrese.  Ian McShane's basically wasted as a wise-cracking member of Statham's pit crew, and Joan Allen takes the worst hit as the warden of the prison, delivering nonsensical profanity as if she's in a real movie.  I'm not sure if the terrible script for her character bothers me more or less than the plastic surgery that has finally rendered this remarkable actress immobile, but whatever the case, this may be the worst work she's ever done on every level.

The point is, this isn't "Death Race."  At all.  And when you start from a creative choice as wrongheaded as this one, nothing else really matters.

Universal tricked the disc out with a number of features that are exclusive to BluRay, and if you really did love this film, you'll be in heaven.  It's obvious that Universal is starting to really embrace the potential of BluRay now.  I just wish this film was worth the effort.

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John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell in 'Step Brothers'
John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell in 'Step Brothers'
Credit: Columbia Pictures

My DVD Shelf: 'Step Brothers' (BluRay)

Here's my original review of "Step Brothers" on Ain't It Cool.

I know I sound like a broken record on the Judd Apatow thing, but it's true:  these guys take full advantage of what DVD and BluRay have to offer.  "Walk Hard" was the first disc I saw with real BD Live content enabled, made possible by them shooting so much footage on each of their films that they always have more they can share, and also by the fact that they're so engaged in shooting new and unique material for each of their discs.  In the world of film comedy, they're absolutely the best at the whole package, and the BD Live music video editor that's exclusive to the 2-disc unrated Blu release is cool.  It's rudimentary compared to what I'm sure BluRay is capable of, but it's a fun show-off feature for now.

The single best special feature on the disc, though, is the commentary.  It's hard to describe just how bizarre it is, but I'll offer this as a partial explanation:  composer Jon Brion performs the original score.  For the commentary.  That's right.  The majority of the commentary is performed in freestyle song by Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, and John C. Reilly, and until you've heard them do a full length song about the guy who made Will's $10,000 fake nutsack, you haven't truly experienced STEP BROTHERS.

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