Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lonely Up In The Air

Return flight fired up macbook and dug into the underrated 17 Again (2009) starring flavor of our time Zac Ephron. Wasn't expecting much but really enjoy the hell out of this little teenage/adult rom-com. Definitely worth a look. Fact: I got a little dusty at the end.

Came home to Charlyne Yi's docu-drama Paper Heart (2009) also featuring one Michael Cera. It's touching and funny and also sad to a degree but well worth checking out.

Robert Rodriguez's Shorts (2009) was my return in-flight film but I actually watched it before my trip to L.A. and it's perfectly fine for what it is. More entertaining for the younger set and still found it very watchable yet ultimately forgettable. But it wasn't made for me, was it?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Closer Than You Think

Looking for a downer look no further than Collapse (2009). Acutely directed by Chris Smith, this documentary is a rather sedate Q&A with known and oft mislabeled conspiracy theorist Michael Ruppert in which he outlines the real decline of the western civilization (and global disintegration, for that matter) in terrifying detail. To say this is a wake up call is akin to arriving late to a party; the process is already in motion and the notion of this weighs heavy on the mind. It's a hard film to let go as one can see nearly everything mentioned here currently happening. Still can't knock it from my head as it's certainly changed the way I view many things in my own life. I've said more than once that this would make the ideal yet sobering double feature with The Road.

On a MUCH lighter (and needed) note, I also watched Richard Benjamin's My Favorite Year (1982) featuring the remarkable Peter O'Toole in yet another entertaining role as the famous onscreen swashbuckler Alan Swann. Good amount a levity to keep this afloat throughout. Thoroughly enjoyable!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing

Speaking of batshit insanity (sorry, there really is no other way to describe the lunacy that is Nicolas Cage), we have Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009), which is certain to make my top 10 list. Flick has it all including mystical iguanas and a breakdancing ghost. Need I say more? Cage tears up the screen and I found myself once again entranced by his mania. Herzog and Cage should team-up more often. Another eventual movie night champion.

Never heard a thing about the animated flick Dragon Hunters (2009) that was originally released in March 2008 in Europe and only popped up at one small film festival in the United States back in April. But now it's available on DVD/BD. WTH? Anyways, I mention all this because it's a quite all right little film and I would totally watch it again. Maybe the dragons & castles and large lead character draws comparisons to Shrek but really there's nothing similar. Good watch.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sweet Child O' Mine

Orphan (2009) is the flick (of recent releases) I've most wanted to see that I should've seen in the theater. Hot damn is this a ball of crazy and wrong. Isabelle Fuhrman, the "orphan" in the story, is absolutely amazing. No way of really discussing the insanity of this flick without spoiling it but let's just say that this is a strong contender my best of 2009 list. So, so, so look forward to spinning this on a future movie night. So. Fucked. Up.

And in the other corner comes The Uninvited (2009) a less inspired horror flick and remake of the much better K-horror thriller, Tale of Two Sisters. This isn't to say that this was a terrible film but it misses far more often than hits unfortunately.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Have Pregnancy, Will Travel

Sam Mendes' Away We Go (2009) has all the necessary emotional beats both heartwarming and humorous most of the time. But the film becomes tedious as this couple, marvelously portrayed by John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph, jump from situation to situation to develop even more life introspection. Not bad but expected a little more.

Ti West's throwback horror flick The House of the Devil (2009) divided critics as some called it terrible ("nothing happens") to others exclaiming its accurate note-for-note depiction of 70s era slowburn horror. Knowing this going in didn't alter my reaction because this is the film I wanted it to be. I love it. This film captures what I miss most in modern horror having grown up in the 70s and during heyday of the supernatural & slasher film.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Cancer? No Thank You.

Now in Los Angeles but sandbagged several movies for posting on these days where I won't be watching films. First up is Jason Reitman's Up In The Air (2009), a film I really enjoyed and also identified with as it reminded me ex-colleague road warrior. Clooney is excellent but the turn he takes is predictable and thus knocks the film from making my top 10 for 2009. In general a terrific examination of the social condition and how people fall in and out of that circle.

David Twohy's A Perfect Getaway (2009) is a high concept thriller with solid performances from all leads that manages to deliver enough suspense to make it worthy if not a little silly as well. Good rental.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Xmas In Transit

Packing for my flight to L.A. I'm channeling A Christmas Story (1983) on continual repeat.

Hours later: was extremely fortunate to get a decent flick on the flight. That would be Bandslam, a film I simple adore. Also I'm saddened this didn't more play during it's 2009 theater run. It's cute despite my issues w/protagonist totally bailing on the cute geek girl (Vanessa Hudgens). Look forward to a proper viewing eventually. Apologize for crushing on Alyson Michalka but she's way sexy in this.

Battle for Terra (2009) might be the most violent made-for-kids animated feature I've seen. I was perplexed while viewing this trying to understand the real audience as aliens and humans go all out blowing each other to bits. Because of that I'm not sure I really cared for this film. Oh, this one hit way back in 2007 at the Toronto Film Festival but didn't make to theaters domestically until 2009. And it fizzled.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Rise & Fall of the Sword

More kudos to Netflix Instant Watch for providing a couple more 2009 films to round out my year. First in was Humpday, a decent little film that deserves some attention. Enough quirkiness and awkwardness to make the plot work it's worth adding to your queue if you dig indie comedies.

Next was the science fiction indie oddity called Ink. Heard good things about this film but found the convoluted story and digital video quality distracting. There is something interesting here but needs some ironing to work on the wrinkles (in addition to a bigger budget). But not bad for a small budget sci-fi flick.

Staying on Instant Watch, attempted to watch Samurai Princess (2009) but like many Japanese films available it is the English dubbed version. Horrible. So I requested the DVD. Can sum it up by saying that the cover art is much better than the film. But it ain't terrible and certainly nowhere close to being as bad as Blood: The Last Vampire.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Duplicate But Not Equal

Thought Mike Judge's Extract (2009) was certainly watchable and mostly entertaining but also a little aimless in nailing its purpose. All the actors did a fine job (yet another '09 role for Clifton Collins Jr) with the exception of Kristen Wiig who was easily underutilized. Overall wish the flick was better on the execution side.

Another so-so 2009 film that falls from its weight is Duplicity. Julia Roberts and Clive Owen are attractive together but the corporate espionage storyline never really packs the necessary punch despite some fun moments from Tom Wilkinson.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Knowing You're Crazy

Extremely satisfied to finally watch another crazy Nic Cage in another crazy Nic Cage film Knowing (2009) and I loved it. Critics be damned 'cept one Roger Ebert. Cuz ole Roger also dug this flick (and not because he has a hard-on for Alex Proyas, I think). Yes, it's batshit Nicolas Cage crazy and his craziness just eats up the celluloid to such great delight. Must. See. Again.

Yes, you may recall that I'm attempting to watch all the Bring It On sequels having recently rewatched the original. On deck was Bring it On: Fight to the Finish (2009) this time starring Christina Milian as the spunky outcast, misplaced cheerleader who wins in the end. le sigh. Amazing how they can re-hash this story 5x now. Seriously, the "cheer-offs" are so damn hilarious. That said I will go on record as saying this is the best of the sequels. Make of that what you will.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Commanding Performances Indeed

Thank you Netflix Instant Watch for giving me Dolph Lundgren's 2009 Russian hostage flick Command Performance where Dolph is a drummer in a hard rock band who was once a biker and knows how to kick ass and beat kill terrorists with musical instruments. Takeaway: "Death is easy, Rock & Roll is hard." Again, thank you Netflix Instant Watch.

Also, thank you Netflix Instant Watch for providing a streaming HD presentation of The International (2009). Think I enjoyed this team-up with Clive Owen & Naomi Watts more than the critics. What can I say, I'm attracted to both of them. Solid flick about evil banks.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Shooting State of Gay

Finished Sacha Baron Cohen's Brüno (2009), which is not without it's ZOMG moments but too light on substance in an attempt to be purely shocking. I laughed but not as much as I wanted to.

Now onto State of Play (2009), featuring Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck, Helen Mirren, and others. Digging this thriller so far. Really like the soundtrack.

Killshot (2009) went direct to video (pretty sure on that) which is surprising considering the cast; Rourke (fresh after The Wrestler), JG Levitt, Thom Jane, Diane Lane, et al. But after watching the film you know why. Not very good.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Man with a Plan

Possibly one of the best sci-fi films of the naughts, Jerome Bixby's The Man from Earth (2007) is an entertaining lo-fi sci-fi film that might be the most provocative film per dollar spent (see AVATAR). Plot is simple: guy reveals to his university colleagues that he's been alive for 14,000 years. Then the weirdness ensues. Definitely one to seek out.

Endured the crummy weather to cruise out to S. Barrington AMC 30 and finally soak in John Hillcoat's The Road (2009). Pleased that it conveys the desolation described in Cormac McCarthy's amazing story. It's as sobering and bleak (thankfully). Only a couple of minor gripes but otherwise found much to love here despite the subject matter. If you're familiar with the book then you should have the same reaction. Viggo is amazing yet again. Fairly certain I could watch him in anything.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Best and Worst

Beating the weekend crush I dropped into MUVICO to soak in the latest James Cameron epic Avatar in 3D. It was everything I wanted it to be and yet much more. Yes, lame story and weaksauce characters but it's really everything else that chews up nearly 3hr runtime. Already looking forward to next viewing. Best of year? Not quite but Cameron will be lauded (again... sigh).

Possibly the worst 2009 film seen so far this year (and time is running out!) is Blood: The Last Vampire. Wow, what a disappointment. Even more disappointed in Koyuki who decided to accept her role in this terrible film. Nothing good or interesting here. Move along.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ah The Horror

Stacked a couple of 2009 pseudo-zombie flicks back to back. Carriers, featuring Chris Pine a.k.a James Tiberius Kirk, was dumped into a handful of theaters for a week (none in Chicago) and it's a damn shame cuz this was a pretty cool little end of days horror flick. Good one to seek out.

And to join the unnoticed is another indie horror Pontypool that only made its way around the '09 festival circuit. Not quite as good as some of the hype made it out to be it's still a good, albeit different, take on the post-apocalypse times all from one set piece: a radio station. I'd like to say this is a fresh approach to the genre but only half works. Worth a look.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bill the Butcher

Is it fair to say the possibly the only criticism of Gangs of New York is Cameron Diaz? Got nothing against the girl but onscreen next to Daniel Day-Lewis is a tall order for anyone. At least DiCaprio is capable here (and, dare I say, one of his best performances? Sorry, not a Leo fan). But hot damn is this a good flick and one, until now, I've seen in parts, clips & bits. Nice to finally view in its entirety and on blu-ray (even tho this isn't the best of transfers but not bad). A travesty this didn't when Best Picture in 2002. For real.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Still Coogan & Crawford's Claws

Watching William Castle's 1965 fluff thriller I Saw What You Did via TCM and I'm a little surprised this title is OOP and not included in the Castle boxed set. Considering it features Joan Crawford and John Ireland, you'd think they'd keep this one alive. And it ain't a bad thriller... and one where you'll find yourself siding w/the villain in hopes that he'll eventually murder the stupid annoying girls making prank calls. Crawford is delightfully ferocious.

Don't think I'll ever get tired of early Eastwood films. Coogan's Bluff is one such example. This 1968 film offers so much to love. Imagine taking the Man With No Name and placing him in Midnight Cowboy. Seeing Eastwood's Arizona Deputy Coogan navigate the streets and nightlife of New York City is far too excellent. And that Clint remains a player w/all the girls is more leverage than a flaw. "Still Coogan." Still great, Mr. Eastwood. And holy damn is Melodie Johnson freaking hot.

And if you thought I'd let the day pass without bad cinema I offer up Hal Roach's incredibly awful One Million B.C. (1940). Horrifically bad in every sense, this nearly silent caveman film is absurd on every level. I don't know where to begin yet I'm glad to have watched this courtesy of TCM. Featuring Lon Chaney Jr (again), the real star is Victor Mature (remember him from I Wake Up Screaming?), who does his best clean-shave, well-coifed caveman who saves the clan against the giant lizards and other disguised mammals. The effects, set-pieces, the attire, it's all bad. Since this is one of Mature's earliest roles, I can't blame him. Carole Landis is also cute as the blonde haired, fair skinned cave girl who managed to fashion herself a bra under those cave rags. There is one pretty good kill when I a cavewoman is engulfed in lava. Still stunned this was made and presented as any sense what the world and life was like 10,000 years B.C.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Oh My God, It's A Mirage

The fact that it took me three sittings to finish a 76 minute film should say more about me than it does about the film. In the case of Alfred Hitchcock's Sabotage (1936) I found the first 2 arcs exceptional but the ending (again) left me rather unfulfilled, esp. after the intense build-up. Hitchcock definitely knows tension and how to develop it until its crawling at your insides but I often find his resolution lacking by comparison. At least it makes the ride fun and here it's a good ride until the end.

Sex Drive (2008) is everything you would expect from a coming-of-age, road trip, modern teen sex comedy. And if you've seen any before this one then it's likely you've already seen this. That isn't to say this is a bad flick because it has its moments and I laughed a few times. But rather forgettable which I suppose is the point.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Drink Blood & Shop

Took two sittings (it's 2+ hours long) and some chapter rewatches but Park Chan-wook's Thirst definitely hits the mark. Interesting flick for sure and quite different from his previous work (altho equally as quirky as I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK). Was not excited about Ok-bin Kim (female lead) in the first half but love her character arc thru the finish. Very enjoyable but severely disappointed w/the terrible US DVD release (burned in subtitles? no features?). Hopefully they'll give this film a proper release that it deserves. Best vampire film of 2009.

OK, I'll admit to crushing on Isla Fisher as my excuse for watching Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009). Otherwise, this is as forgettable and silly as it gets for a rom-com. If you've seen the trailer you've seen the movie. But Isla Fisher...

When I first got my Instant Watch going on my PS3, I fired up Journey to the Magic Cavern based on the cover art alone. Didn't realize it was only one chapter in a series of films based on Josh Kirby... Time Warrior, a straight to TV or video fantasy sci-fi series from 1995. But I cancelled that viewing and my curiosity led me to add the first film... er, chapter to my queue: Josh Kirby...Time Warrior: Planet of the Dino Knights. Besides the cute Jennifer Burns this really isn't a very good film or series or whatever you wanna call it. It's like a made for kids Saturday morning throwaway that I probably would've enjoyed if I was 8 years old. Unlikely I'll watch the other 5 chapters anytime soon. Should be noted that a young Charisma Carpenter has a very small part in Chapter One.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Holiday of Horrors - Portage Theater

Tonight was the much anticipated Holiday of Horrors film festival at Portage Theater featuring a small crop of older cult Christmas/New Years cult films. Of the four events I've attended attended at Portage this year this was easily the 2nd best of the lot (Terror in the Aisle 2 being the best, natch). First up was Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), which I'm surprised to see is OOP as it truly is a cult classic and an excellent early 80s slasher w/all the familiar tropes. Great to see in 35mm on the big screen (w/a good audience).

That was followed by Christmas Evil (1980) after an erratic introduction by director Lewis Jackson, who clearly didn't know he had a microphone in his hand. This film is something to behold and clearly fucked up. It evolves around a clearly disturbed man and his obsession with Christmas, which goes to places unexpected. Afterwards, Jackson answered a few questions and discussed the process of making the film. Fascinating (took 10 years to write?!). Later I met Mr. Jackson when I bought the DVD and he signed my copy. Alcoholism has nearly gotten the best of him as he was barely capable of holding the sharpie.

Black Santa's Revenge (2007) was the next film up; a current day blaxploitation take on the holiday that was indeed humorous. Would like to see that done up as a full-length feature rather than just a short film but it works. The evening concluded with the god awful New Year's Evil (1980), which fits into that so bad it's good category. Starring Roz Kelly (Pinky Tuscadero!) and a psycho killer hellbent on murdering as the clock strikes midnight on New Years Eve in EVERY time zone. Yes, it's that ridiculous. So many things I could write about including the supposed "best New Wave song" countdown that somehow is forgotten and yet there is no "new wave" music in the film. This is just a terrible film but I laughed a lot while others around me snored... loudly.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Life is Strange

In my haste to nail down a few more highly ranked blindspots I became quite moved by Marc Forster's Stranger Than Fiction (2006). How or why Will Ferrell doesn't get more roles like this is a mystery as he was surprisingly good in this serious note. Also really dug Maggie Gyllenhaal. Overall this film impressed me. Was never really interested in seeing this but now I'm keen to see it again. Love when I movie does that.

One of Dylan McDermott's early roles was the 1990 horror/sci-fi flick Hardware. It's kinda amazing that he ended up with a respectable career after that film. This isn't to say that the film is bad but it's hardly "good" and more along the lines of cult favorite. The effects are rather amusing (Really? That's the best killer robot they could create?) but the soundtrack is pretty great (not only is Ace of Spades featured but Lemmy is a taxi driver in this post-apocalyptic world). Nevertheless an entertaining B-movie.