Thursday, February 25, 2010


I never even heard of the film BRIGHT STAR until it was nominated for an Oscar for costume. Directed by Jane Campion, it's the story of John Keats' relationship with a neighbor girl. I think the fact that the cast is mostly unknown to Americans was a bit of a problem in marketing. There is one recognizable face, Paul Schneider of PARKS AND RECREATION is in the film, although a sitcom actor in a period drama would not be a big draw, although he is good in the film.

The film is pretty good, although a bit maudlin (reviews had made me think this was more of a comedy) but the love story is very good. It's not your typical costume drama, the characters feel much more contemporary. If there's anything to criticize, the film is a bit dry, and I think the music had something to with it. There's almost no music. Normally I would be a fan of that choice, but a love story seems to demand more.

Otherwise, I'd say this is a good date film.


Only one surprise tonight, my girl Ashley Rodriguez went home instead of Haeley Vaughn. Ashley sang terribly last night, and just as bad tonight on her goodbye, but had been a strong contender in previous weeks. The only reason I can imagine Haeley beat out two other women is that she was picked on Good heavens was she terrible. I can't imagine her lasting another week.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


FOOD INC may be the most important film of the year. It exposes the many holes in the American government that allow foods that are bad for people, animals, and the environment to monopolize our grocery stores and restaurants. The film had me from the start, with a very inventive main title sequence. It is very well shot and edited, and Mark Adler's music is great.

It's a tough year for documentaries, with THE COVE, there are now two films that have made me cry by showing animal abuse (although in this film it is only one of several important issues). I'm going to give the edge to FOOD INC. It's a better made film, less propagandist, and more importantly, it touches on many important issues (all food related).

We are really living in a time where I believe our government is broken beyond repair to have allowed such an unhealthy state to have developed only in order to keep the corporations wealthy. I suppose people felt that way before Upton Sinclair's THE JUNGLE was published, but I don't see this movie having the same impact. It's too bad, I really wish this message would get out to more people. When people vote with their wallets, ultimately, change will happen.


Simon was wrong last night, the boys are way better than the girls. Yet the judges were very harsh tonight. The vocals/music mix seems off so far on the live shows. THE WRAP complained that the vocals were too loud, but in 5.1 off DirecTV, they sounded very weak. They do mix the vocals dry, so they can't hide behind reverb, which makes them more present, but so far the vocals have not sounded good for either gender.

Simon seemed pissed all night; he kept looking off camera at something. It was kind of weird, it seemed like he was avoiding contact with the other judges.

Alex Lambert was truly terrible. In fact there were so many weak performances it's hard to pick who will be going home. John Park was like watching a drunken Asian businessman crucify a classic in karaoke. Billy Holiday is rolling in her grave. Jermaine Sellers is very dislikable after blaming the band last week (I'm surprised they let him through.)

Michael Lynche was terrible as well on the Maroon 5 song, but he's so likeable he's safe. Tim Urban was also very weak but his looks will probably keep him on. Tyler Grady was comically bad and again into the land of karaoke, or drunken wedding singer.

Simon was right that Lee Dewyze gave one of the better performances of the evening. Aaron Kelly, Andrew Garcia, and Todrick Hall seem to be safe as well.

The biggest surprise to me is that my wife's future husband, Casey James has a voice as good as his looks.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


It's official, the Ellen Experiment is a complete failure. She has no purpose on the show. I never thought I would miss Paula's insightful comments.

Wow, the show is really bad. After 9 years, it's time for v 2.o. They need new theme music and a new logo. And replace the judges. Of all of them, Simon should stay, and he's the only one leaving this year.

I know these kids get better as they go along, but tonight was almost unwatchable. I suspect the Beatles are regretting their decision to open their catalog to the show finally. has picked Hely Vaughn of Fort Collins as the worst, And I think they are right. I'm not sure why she was dressed like a nurse. Plus she's self-proclaimed black country singer, and she picks the Beatles? This was a match made in hell.

Berklee girl Ashley Rodriguez was also terrible, but I suspect she is not in trouble. Why was everyone so nervous tonight? Was it the live audience?

Kately Epperly could not have picked a worse song or a worse outfit. She looked like a skanky wannabee extra for an off-off-Broadway revivial of Chicago.

Lilly Scott, sandwich maker from Littleton, was one of the best girl, although stylistically she has little range, which means she may not be around long.

Michelle Delomar was also one of the better singers tonight, which was somewhat unexpected after last week.

Two hours was too long for the girls. Tomorrow we see the guys.

Monday, February 22, 2010


IN THE LOOP is one of the smartest, funniest films I've seen in a while. It's like THE OFFICE, if the office in question was the state department when declaring war on Iraq. Perhaps the funniest line I've heard in a movie in ages was "Difficult, difficult, lemon, difficult." I don't think I'm ruining it for you, either, that's how funny it is.

The cast is excellent, but the script is what shines, and that's why it got a dark horse nomination for the Oscar. It's about as far from the typical nominee as you could imagine, it's a British film shot on video in the mock documentary style. I do wonder how much was improvised. I don't think it will win the Oscar, but the hopefully the nomination will draw in more viewers. A very funny movie. I almost hope for a sequel.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I think Alexandre Desplat is quickly becoming my favorite film composer, having done three of the best films this year, including JULIA AND JULIE, THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX, and COCO AVANT CHANEL.

The movie JULIA AND JULIE is quite entertaining. MerMeryl Streep shows her acting chops, playing a comic character without playing Julia Child as a parody. The whole cast is excellent, with Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, and Jane Lynch as standouts. Nora Ephron's script and direction are very good, and the song choices work quite well. It's a very involving film, and a fun film to watch. Enjoy it. And, there's a lot of great food to look at!


AMERICAN IDOL reaches its top 24, with a couple of Berklee students, and a few good singers. This is a tough level because at this point we haven't learned much about the singers, and I really feel I've heard so little music from them that I can't possibly judge them properly. Next week the show assumes its normal format, broadcasting live and using viewers to make the decisions, so maybe things will start to gel. At this point, I'm not sure there are that many people I care about.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


RED CLIFF is a Chinese historical epic about an early 3rd-century war directed by John Woo, and is the most expensive film in China's history. Just about everything about the film is impressive, the cinematography, the scope, the story, the acting, the sound design and the music all come together for one of the most impressive films of the year. Unlike most of the other two and a half-hour films I complained about this year, this film was well-paced and kept me involved throughout. If you are at all a fan of Asian cinema, I highly recommend the film.

Who Watched the WATCHMEN?

I didn't know much about WATCHMEN before watching it. I assumed that a 3-hour movie would be self-contained. I was wrong, the script is a mess. I had no idea what was going on the first two-thirds of the film. It started to come together in the final section, but by that point I had completely lost interest.

The cast was weird, there were not a lot of sympathetic characters, and the voice-over seemed to be deliberately designed to bore the shit out of the viewer.

The sound design was good, though.

Monday, February 15, 2010


PUSH is a really weak movie that attempts to capitalize on the X-Men popularity. In concept the movie could have been OK, and it's nicely shot. The sound design is exceptional, and there are some good actors cast, although you couldn't tell it from the way they act in this film. Both Djimon Hounsou and Dakota Fanning are embarrassingly bad here.

The script is extremely weak and the execution even worse. The climactic sequence is literally laughable. I get the feeling that they ran out of money, or somebody saw dailies and decided to pull the plug on the movie and finish as quickly as possible. This is another movie with an awful lot of ADR too, again, a sign of production problems either in script or performance.

Can't recommend it.

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex is a German film from director Uli Edel about the terrorist revolutionary group form the 70s.

It's a difficult film to watch, as the groups is basically a bunch of narcissistic asses who used extreme acts of violence against the innocent in order to further their propaganda. Instead of creating sympathy, they created anarchy and encouraged people to work against them, swinging the political pendulum in the opposite direction. Almost everyone in the film is completely unsympathetic, as the film is told from the terrorists point of view.

Nonetheless it is an interesting viewing about an important period of history. But it's not a film for everyone.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


It's hard to argue with success. This film made over $300M in theaters and even more on video, so there must be an audience for it. I would have assumed the audience to be in the single-digit age range, which was the age that I played with the toy, but I know a lot of my students went to see it.

There was a cartoon series with the same name, but I was too old to watch it when it was on, so I guess there's a nostalgia value for people who remember the series that ran in various incarnations between the mid 80s and 90s, similar to the Transformers. I was too old to play with the toys or watch the show when it was on. But for kids currently in their 20s there must be an appeal.

The movie had a decent script idea with a lot of funny pseudo-science, and a few funny references to the real world toy and shows. But this is not at all my style of movie. The huge amount of ADR in the film betrays script problems that appear to have been fixed with a lot of off-camera dialogue.

However, some nice casting raises the value of the film considerably, Randy Quaid, Marlon Wayons and Jonathan Pryce are good. Uncredited cameos are always a bonus as well. The movie did have a lot of nice sound design work in it, and I love Alan Silvestri's work. But I think I was just born too late to like this movie.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX is a fantastic animated film. It's also a throwback to traditional stop-motion animation, which I love, but which takes a little getting used to as you watch it. The cast is fantastic, the script is wonderful, and the animation is very inventive. The film has a lot of wonderful moments that are clever and involving. The score is very good as well. I've never been a big fan of Wes Anderson, but this film has changed that. The characters are definitely from his universe, but they also match Dahl's very well.

I highly recommend the film.


Watching the film THE PRINCESS & THE FROG is a bit like walking into a time machine. It's a Disney 2D animated film with plenty of references to other fairy tales, like princesses and wishing on stars. It is a bit weird that it is such a throwback.

But it's about a black woman who wants to run her own business. Which makes it even weirder, it's like some alternate reality where Disney made PC films. It takes a little getting used to, but once you're into the film, there's a lot that's wonderful about it. The characters are great, there's a lot of good humor and great music. It winds up with a very emotional ending.

This is a tough year for animation, with a number of excellent films that are all very different from each other.


NINE is a complete mess. It's a movie based on a musical based on a movie based on a director's life. That tells you it's too many generations removed from creativity even in concept. The movie 8 1/2 was so brilliant is it widely regarded as one of the best movies of all time. Making a musical of it is enough of a different genre that it might work (although frankly, it didn't, the songs are not very good). But making a movie from that musical basically forces you to remake the movie. Why bother?

Beyond that, there's the fact that the original movie is about Italian culture. But we're watching this movie, with a British actor, speaking English, doing a phony Italian accent and pretending to be Mastroianni. Mastroianni had a charm about him that is completely lacking in this film. The rest of the cast, for the most part, is completely miscast as well. Nicole Kidman is a blond Claudia Cardinale? Fergie is playing the homely homeless woman on the beach?

The music is all over the place. Nino Rota is so important to Fellini's films, and here he is replaced completely. One would have expected Italian music to be in the film, but instead there is a bizarre mix of American jazz and musical theater, Kurt Weill, and 60s kitsch including bossa/samba.

It's a shame, there are a lot of people out there who will never see 8 1/2.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


One of the most difficult movies to watch, THE STONING OF SORAYA M. is one of the most powerful and important movies made in a while. I did not expect the actual stoning to be so graphic, but it was necessary. The film is set 25 years ago in a transitional time in Iran's history. One might excuse a single incident as a bizarre aberration, but the truth is that stonings are still going on in countries all over the world. The film is an important reminder that there are plenty of vile, evil people in the work capable of the most cretinous and violent acts imaginable.

The film is full of amazing performances, most notably Shohreh Aghdashloo, who had been nominated for the Oscar previously for HOUSE OF SAND & FOG. John Debney's score is also excellent, and the cinematography suits the movie very well. Parts of the film may seem a bit melodramatic, but considering where the film goes, it's appropriate. I recommend the film, as long as you can handle the violence.


COCO AVANT CHANEL is a great film about the early life of Coco Chanel. A good script, great cast, and outstanding score by Alexandre Desplat make it worthwhile. Audrey Tautou is magnificent as always. It's a bit of a cream puff as movies go, but an enjoyable viewing nonetheless. Great chick flick.


My memory is getting so bad that not only can I not remember the plots of previous Harry Potter movies, I can't even remember which ones I've seen. So that didn't bode well for HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE. A lot of stuff happens, things fly around, magic is used, and as far as I can tell, somebody important dies.

I've really lost all interest in this series. The screener DVD the studio sent out looked like crap (very high video compression on it) and that didn't help. Did they send this same disc to cinematographers and visual effects societies? Or has the series gotten lower budget and it actually looks this bad? The film did sound good, though.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


SHERLOCK HOLMES is nowhere near as bad as the trailers had me fearing, but still nowhere near watchable. The first half was involving, but the second half quickly devolved into rubbish. Why cast three excellent actors in the male parts, and then cast two terrible actresses in the female parts? Although the script had some nice allusions to the stories (I've read them all multiple times), some of the references seemed forced and drew me out of the story, which wasn't hard, because there wasn't much of a story to begin with.

It's too bad, the promising start raised my hopes, only to cut them off at the knees.


Hollywood night 2 was everything expected and less. The judges continued to say nothing except "take one step forward/back" and the singers continued to be mostly bad with an occasionally halfway decent singer, although we certainly didn't get much of a chance to hear it. Drama was still manipulated and the show is becoming less tolerable with each episode. Ellen is worthless, she can't even come up with anything to say. Not sure how much longer I can do this.


AN EDUCATION immediately jumps onto my short list of best films of the year. Like some of the others, the less you know about the film going in, the more you are likely to get involved in the story, so I won't say too much here. But right off the bat it's a different type of film, where the audience is asked to think about morals in a different way. It's an interesting character study. The film is not for everyone, it's a film for adults, but I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


Well, the one thing we didn't need form a judge on AMERICAN IDOL is comedy. Ellen is worthless. The judges have been practically eliminated from the show editorially, their comments are hardly there at all.

Several of the people set up to be followed in the first round were quickly eliminated, destroying the fake drama that the editors had tried to create. But there were a few people to get through. There was the question of why everyone who played guitar was so damned out of tune, and why they didn't bother miking the guitars when they played, although I guess I just answered my own question.

Not sure how much longer I can watch this.

Saturday, February 06, 2010


THE INFORMANT! is one of the best films I saw this year. It's driven by a fascinating character study. It's best you go into the movie knowing very little, so I won't write much more about it, other than the fact that Damon gives one of the best performances of the year. As much as I liked him in INVICTUS, he should have been nominated for this instead.

Soderbergh does a great job with a relatively low budget creating the weird universe for the film, an amalgam of the real early 90s and his fictionalized version which is styled like the 60s and 70s. He also does a great job of casting comic actors in dramatic roles, giving the whole film an air of parody without actually becoming one. I lived Marvin Hamlisch's deliberately kitschy score as well.

This is definitely worth a rental.


I really went into AVATAR expecting to hate it, and was pleasantly surprised, as I have been a number of time this year with popular movies. You see, it pays to be a pessimist. You're constantly pleasantly surprised. It must really suck to be an optimist, you're constantly let down.

Anyway, even though the film was way too long, mostly in the first half, the story was very, very trite, and the main character was weak, I was still entertained. Most of the acting - other than the through-character - was actually quite good. But that's a pretty big weakness when the main character is bland, and it's tied tied to bad writing. (Good god, the voice-over was TERRIBLE. It was interesting watching THE INFORMANT in the same day, where the VO was brilliant.)

The visual effects were pretty brilliant. The sound design was amazing, and the music was pretty good too. From a technical standpoint it was probably the best film of the year.

We saw it in Imax3D at an AMC theater. Imax does not advertise which of the 3D technologies is on which screen. Unfortunately this theater uses the Real3D technology, which is the polarized lens system. The Dolby3D system is vastly superior. The glasses are electronic and use a shutter system to keep the two eyes in sync with the two projectors for a crisper image. The Real3D polarized lenses by definition allow half as much light through each lens, so the image is definitely darker. This was a big problem with this film, where much of it is in nighttime, and the characters have dark blue skin and all end up looking alike.

I am not at all a fan of 3D to begin with. I have poor vision, especially at night, and have always gotten headaches with the glasses. This was no exception. In fact, my headache started during the trailers for other movies and was in full force by the start of the feature.

I think 3D is a gimmicky fad which will pass again. It did not in any way add to the movie, and in fact detracted from it in many ways for me. It never looks like there is actual depth, instead to me it looks like a diorama, where there are a couple of planes of flat images, and not true depth. It's not like we're looking at a hologram. We're still looking at a two-dimensional image. The only places in the film where I noticed 3D were a distraction. There were quite a number of scenes where planes appeared blurred, or there appeared to be no depth at all.

I would probably not sit through the film again, but if I did, I would make sure it was in Dolby 3D. I'm not sure the Imax screen added anything. It was not shot in Imax, the only benefit was the size of the image.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


It certainly is.

It's weird yet fascinating watching Michael Jackson prepare for the concerts that never happened. I think what struck me most is what a natural dancer he is. Even when he's clearly going through the motions in rehearsal, his motion is so naturally graceful.

Overall the film is very successful, especially considering the fact that it was never supposed to be a movie at all. It's basically home video that was supposed to be publicity and backstage documentary footage for DVD extras. So it was never planned to be released as a musical. The audio was never intended to be heard this way. And it totally rocks.

There are performance weaknesses from Jackson though. When he's on camera rehearsing, there was no way around using his half-assed vocals in some cases. Perhaps the biggest shock is actually how good he looks. Rumors were that he was so weak he could hardly stand, let alone dance. In reality, he looks very thin and pale, but in terms of energy, he acts a lot younger than 50. One thing is certain, no matter how much tickets would have cost, this concert would have been worth it. I imagine he would have been great to work with.

God only knows what would have happened if he hadn't passed away so young.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


I was prepared for a lukewarm feeling about INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, but I was mostly wrong. It's a pretty brilliant film, although as always for Tarantino, highly derivative. I really only had two issues with this film, one was the seemingly endless basement bar scene. What is it about filmmakers that make them think that two and a half hours is a reasonable length for a movie? Tarantino is a brilliant writer of dialogue, but not brilliant enough to pull off a scene that long in a single location with no action (until the end).

The other issue: why is he so afraid of working with a composer? Although most of the music choices were good, they are all over the place, and a single theme would have been a nice unifying factor for an otherwise episodic script. Is he really that afraid of allowing someone else to have a voice in his film?

Otherwise, there is a lot of great stuff in the film. Tarantino seems to have been watching one of my favorite directors, Sergio Leone, at least for the opening sequence and the music choices. It's a strange style for a film about Nazis in Paris, but somehow it works. I did like the movie, a lot of great acting and visual design. But he still has a lot of room to grow as a director.


I can't believe I watched this. It's a friggin' clip show and we haven't even gotten to Hollywood yet. At least we get to make fun of Ellen next week.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010


You’d think that since tonight’s show was on the town I’m living in, that it would be watchable, but it wasn’t. They need to get to Hollywood. They are about two weeks overdue.