Saturday, December 27, 2008

Revolutionary Picture

Revolutionary Road is a film that punched me in the gut and stayed with me long after I walked out of the theatre, deeply moved by it.

Based on the Richard Yates novel of the same name, the film tells the story of Frank and April Wheeler, a married couple with children in the mid Fifties who find themselves questioning what to make of their lives up to this point. As April struggles to break from the banality of suburbia, Frank begins to find value in his mundane career and their lifestyle.

Within the first twenty minutes of the film, I was engrossed in it and when Frank uttered the line, "I'm a thirty year old Knox man," I felt as if I had been knocked back into my seat. Amongst all of the film's emotional pulls, I immediately identified with Frank's slightly sorrowful acceptance of what his life had turned out to be. But, later, when he is finally recognized for his work and begins to achieve a sense of validation at the office, he begins to wonder if a life as a supportive husband and father is enough for him. It is a struggle many people must face in life, but Leonardo DiCaprio brings Frank's confusion and frustration to life so vividly, I felt as the film were made just for me.

It was difficult to watch a seemingly loving couple get out of their car to argue on the side on the road. It was uncomfortable to hear try to talk his way out of a secretary's bedroom and back home on his birthday. It was upsetting to watch Frank recall his days as a veteran as a time when he felt alive. And it was heart breaking to watch him try to sustain a dialogue and a relationship with his wife who just tunes him out.

For although the novel is told from Frank's point of view, the movie practically belongs to Kate Winslet. As April, she is never as explosive as Frank, but instead allows her feelings to remain subdued and beneath the surface until she is pushed over the edge by Frank's earnestness and inability to effectively communicate with her. Whether as the beautiful girl meeting eyes across the room at a party, the wife and doting mother or the woman who finally cuts herself off emotionally from everyone around her, Winslet is amazing at making you simultaneously pity her and scorn her. She becomes in front of our eyes, every person you have ever loved that didn't quite turn out to be the same person you fell in love with. Some will say she is selfish, some will say she is honest, but she is a real character with very real human emotions and flaws.

The film itself however, is flawless. Directed by Sam Mendes, it is better than American Beauty and shot beautifully by Roger Deakins, it has the unique quality of making you nostalgic for a time period you did not live in. Although I cannot say it is my favorite movie of the year, I can say that
Revolutionary Road is the best film of the year.

I talked about it all night with my friend. We asked ourselves what the other would do in the same circumstances, why had these characters made these choices, what choices would we have made instead. Even now as I write this, I can see Frank in my head and myself in Frank. I can see his struggle as my own and the film makes me wants to try to lead a better life for myself. But, it has not told me which life is better. It has left me to discover it on my own.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Great White Sheik

Federico Fellini and I have had a rocky past. Before watching The White Sheik, I had only seen four of Fellini’s films including 8 ½, La Strada, Variety Lights, and Amarcord and had only liked the first two. 8 ½ and La Strada are both Italian masterpieces, the latter more acciable while the former is unique and requires several viewings. Unfortunately The White Sheik goes into the Amarcord and Variety Lights camp.

There were a couple good things about this film, well, more like great moments. The moment that stuck out the most was the film/comic book/ photo shoot scene on the beach. Any cinephile or lover of “film within a film” sub genre will love this scene and how Fellini constructs it. Its Fellini’s attempt to convey that art is a living breathing thing; showing a photo shoot played out as a film shoot. It shows the evolution of the image. The other scene that made me want to like this film, was the scene where Ivan starts to cry in a square due to the disappearance of his wife, then out of nowhere Giulietta Masina (Fellini’s future wife) makes a small appearance as Cabiria. Her presence just lightens up the film and puts a smile on your face. She starts to comfort him while at the same time intentionally ridiculing him. All I could say is that Giulietta Masina is a gem.

Overall, the film didn’t do much for me. As a comedy this film only made me chuckle, but in that Disaster Movie type of way. Italian comedies always seem to me as if the writer and/or director tries too hard conveying their type of slapstick comedy onto the audience. As the film was playing, the eyes of your fellow writer started to wonder to his cell phone checking the time every other minute. Never a good sign.

Fellini’s chauvinism has always been an issue and this film doesn’t sway from that conflict. From the beginning the husband is seen bossing his wife around chastising her for going into the elevator with the hotel porter. Wanda gets punished through out the film for going after a fictional character which ends up being a complete douche bag. The guy who played the White Sheik didn’t convince me that this young woman would fall in lover with him. Who in their right minds would go after a man who wears lipstick and masquera.

I have to say, this film was a perfect tie in with the previous film Knife in the Water, both of the films deal with a married couple and a third party who shakes their foundation. Even with my negative remarks about this film, I am glad I watched it. You could see where Scorsese got some of his camera movements and anything that reminds me of Scorsese is worth taking a peak at.

Extra thought:

Of course my mind went into overdrive while watching the scenes with actor who played the white sheik and I wondered who I would of casted as the White Sheik. Here I go: Just imagine walking on the beach minding your own god damn business where out of nowhere a group of ninjas attack you. Your defenseless, you accept your fate, then out of the ocean, ALAIN DELON comes galloping towards you and saves your life. He never utters a word and gallops back into the ocean. That’s how you start a movie.

I enjoyed watching Fellini's White Sheik. Probably not as much as I enjoyed 8 1/2, but it was a fine first film full of the filmmaker's future fingerprints. He guides the story ably and creates three complex characters with who we empathize equally. I also enjoyed the few parades sprinkled through the movie as the forerunner to the grand climax of 8 1/2, my favorite Fellini film.

Of course, being his first solo directorial effort I was pleased with half of the story being set with in the constructs of a set. Granted, in the film they are making a fumetti, "photographed comic strips with romantic stories," or soap operas in magzines. My favorite movies are about making movies and throughout his career, Fellini enjoyed deconstructing the construction of films.

If you have never watched a Fellini movie, you might as well start at the beginning with White Sheik. While it does not strive for the Italian neo-realism of Rosselini or DeSica, it does set up what would be Fellini's magical career in cinema.

Extra Thought!

While my reviews are usually lentghy, I do take a back seat when I have a friend like Alex sharing on a post like this. My awesome and loyal readers get a whole lot of my opinion on film when they read my blog, but I think Alex has some great insight and usually offers a different opinion from mine and I'm glad that you get to enjoy both of them.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Does Jesus Laugh at REALLY Funny Jokes?

Since Bill Maher's
Religulous opens in wide this weekend and Big Mike has already seen it weeks ago, he has held off on writing a review while referring to himself in the third person. And let me tell you, this is a movie that every person should see, regardless of race, color or creed.

Bill Maher of
Real Time and Politically Incorrect fame explores the concept of religion in almost every facet that he is granted too. Not only does he interview people from all faiths, but makes visits to the Vatican, Salt Lake City, Jerusalem and even takes his cameras inside the Kabba in Mecca. There are also trips to Amsterdam, Bible Land in Florida and a trailer church in the Carolinas. Being raised half Jewish, half Catholic to become a devout atheist, Bill questions people, not their faith. He goes out of his way to create an open dialouge in order to find out why normal, intelligent people behave in such an erratic fashion because of their religion. Bill likes to point out the wars, violence, bigotry and prejudice that is carried out by religious folk and believes that America's deep sense of organized religion is partially to blame for most of our problem's today, not least of which is a two term President who believed that God wanted him to run for office.

But at every turn, be it Christian, Muslim or Jewish, Bill is rebuffed and called ignorant, a non-believer and worse. He is warned that he will burn in hell, be left outside the gates of heaven for eternity or be subject to physical violence in this plane of existence. Bill remains underterred in his beliefs that the world would be a lot better of with LESS religion. While films like Borat or movies from Michael Moore like to shock their subjects, Bill prefers a more subdued approach and as a comic first, is never above making the easy joke. And, that is what's fascinating about this movie. Instead of making people squirm or laugh at easy gay stereotypes or shaking heads at CEOs caught up in lies and fiscal crises, Maher dares to challenge people on what they hold most sacred in their lives. When the movies begin its inevitable conclusion towards the end, literally and figuratively, Bill holds off on ending with a big laugh delivering a knock out punch meant to keep audiences talking after they leave the theatre. And that is one of the best things that a film can aspire to do.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Miracle on Bedford Avenue

Spike Lee is one of the most exciting directors for me to watch right now. Like Martin Scorsese, Lee continues to put out great films of a highly personal nature while continuing to explore different genres. A master of his craft, he has continued to push himself and his collaborators creatively with his last several projects including Inside Man, When The Levees Broke and Miracle at St. Anna. For anyone going into this film expecting a black Saving Private Ryan or for Spike to suddenly emulate the storytelling style of Eastwood, they are in for quite a surprise. Miracle at St. Anna is very much a Spike Lee joint with Spike using his own signatures but sadly, not the famous moving dolly shot.

Miracle at St. Anna showcases Spike in top form. Everything from the performances to the visuals and the score fit to tell the story of four black soldiers in World War II in an Italian villa surrounded by Nazis. Derek Luke gives a stand out performance as the staff sergeant Stamps. I was puzzled by the fact that Spike originally offered the role to Wesley Snipes because not only was Luke terrific, but I felt it was much better for the story to have a young soldier leading the other young soldiers. Furthermore, the international cast is outstanding and Spike subtitles almost two thirds of the movies in Italian and German making it feel more authentic. The battles that bookend the film’s war segment are also shot realistically but not so overblown that Spike might think he could outdo Spielberg or Eastwood.

And therein lies one of the major misunderstandings about the film. It is not epic, but it is more of a character piece in a wartime setting. Where the movie might have become generic in the hands of another director, Spike makes the movie the same way he made all his other movies for better or worse. Critics have dismissed the ‘paranormal’ element of the film as taking away from what might be a nod to Italian neo-realism. As if any educated person stepping into a movie with the word ‘miracle’ in the title would be puzzled by some supernatural theme, I completely understood what was really happening behind the eyes of the small Italian boy that the soldiers rescue. Furthermore, for being called a ‘reverse racist’ Spike, while he belabors the racial issue rather unexpectedly he takes great pains to show the German soldiers as he does the American soldiers. Not in the manner of race relations but in the madness of war and with growing distrust and empathy towards his enemies, Spike at times goes shot for shot for both the Allies and the Nazis.

With a few clever “40 Acres and a Mule Company Players” cameos at the bookends, Spike plays with both the expected and the unexpected. From the man who directed the Public Enemy video in which the song goes “Motherfuck him (Elvis) and John Wayne!” to open with the first face onscreen as John Wayne in a World War II movie got a chuckle out of me and I found myself nodding my head when Spike went back in time to show the racism the soldiers faced back home when in a ice cream shop with German POWs. In this way, however, Spike accomplishes what Spielberg did in Ryan by making the audience emotionally invested in the soldiers by time the final battle plays out. Spike has made a serious war movies dealing with a range of real issues to soldiers and civilians that will probably not get recognized with any awards but is definitely worth a few hours of your time.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Polanski was a Perfectionist

It’s time for another entry in my ongoing series about the Criterion Collection and my Essential Art House Janus Films box set. Only this time, I have something more in store for you, dear readers. You see kids, I learned long ago that it is not the destination but the journey. And that it is always more enjoyable to take a journey with someone else. For me, that partner on this journey is my friend Alex. We used to work together at DVD Planet and he still does. He is also a son of a bitch for purchasing the very same Janus box I own for one hundred dollars used. So, now we are going to be writing about these films together to give you more intrigue for your internet, more mojo for your modem and any other number of clever computer rhymes. While discussing the details over the phone, we giggled like school girls over the day when we would get to a film that we were severely divided over. Point in fact, it did not take use long to get there. Read Alex’s entry first, because my name is at the top of this page and I will have the last word, dammit!

Do you ever wake up in the morning with the feeling that something isn’t right? Everything is closing in on you while anxiety, claustrophobia, and dread creep inside you like a knife. Knife in the Water is that knife. Just like in Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski builds a solid thriller with slow hypnotic images that makes you wish every film was shot on black and white. If a somewhat slow paced film doesn’t spark your interest then stay for the beautiful and amazing cinematography that will feed your eyes with pure sweet sweetness.

The story is pretty simple; a couple picks up a hitch hiker while on their way to their boat for a fun day of sailing. It’s a good thing these Europeans have never seen a slasher film because they take him along on the boat ride. That’s the whole movie in a nut shell, except that there is this lingering tension that keeps on digging and digging a needle into your back and you have no idea where it’s going to take you.

With our knowledge of film, we all know that three is a crowd and one man has to go. A battle of testosterone ensues but in the European kind of way where your social class is attacked. The film is a hypnotic, thriller with social context, and to cap it all off it is also a feminist film that criticizes masculinity as both of the men go back and forth at each other while making themselves look pretty stupid. Not that I think Polish men are women beating assholes but the husband is king of a douche and it sure looks like he sends her straight to the moon on occasion. The film takes her point of view and puts the two men into her gaze for the majority of the film. Her gaze does focus on the young hitch hiker and she plays around with him by undressing right by him and trading a glance or two his way. Is this young man her way out of this marriage or does is he serves another purpose? Polanski does serve us with several references to Christianity but with only the young man in the frame. Maybe he is her savior, or maybe that what she wants him to be.

From the ghostly beginning credits to the final static image of a parked car, Polanski plays with our strings and never lets go. Unlike the majority of modern psychological thrillers, this film takes it bloody time developing the characters and building the tension between all three characters on the boat. And bloody enjoyed every single minute of this film. Good Day.

For what was billed as a ‘taut, psychological thriller’ I have not been more disappointed in ninety minutes of my life than I was with Knife in the Water. Indeed, the great composition of Polanski’s shots and the score that’s evocative of Bernard Hermann’s Taxi Driver theme does as much as possible to create suspense, but I haven’t watched a movie and felt so unfulfilled since The Seven Year Itch. Too obscure? Ok. Imagine Death Proof without the car chase at the end. That’s what Knife in the Water felt like, only in Polish. For over an hour, a couple and a hitchhiker ride a boat and do nothing. There are long glances, close confrontations and simmering sexuality that amount to very little. Few words are exchanged, even fewer punches are thrown and nobody gets laid. Not that I watch a movie for only those things, but they were leading up to it the whole time, only for none of it to come to fruition. Near the end, when it seems the hitchhiker might have drowned, my only wish was that it would have been me.

The underlying themes of machismo and the intellectual versus the primitive or uncultured were barely were paying attention to, as I was thoroughly uninterested in what became of the characters. I kept thinking back to Straw Dogs, which I found to be a far more satisfying movie about the same themes, up to and including the troublesome wife. Sure, I’m probably taking an extremely chauvinistic point of view here, but I have been a man for most of my life. Did you ever notice when two men meet in a film, they usually end up as buddies by the end? But, when you throw in a woman, suddenly they are at each other’s throat, vying for her attention, ready to kill each other for even the slightest hint of affection! How like life.

I got the next pick for our series and hopefully, I will choose a film that will give me something more to write about than just a few paragraphs about how much I didn’t like it. Nothing against the pedophile Polanski, but Chinatown this movie is not.

Knife in the Water is available on DVD from Criterion and also as part of it's new Essential Art House Collection.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bringing the Thunder!

I have to preface this review by admitting to the fact that I cannot stand Ben Stiller. I mean I downright loathe the guy. I never bothered with Meet the Fockers, tolerated him in Dodgeball and think that Zoolander is retarded. I use to wonder why people liked him – did somebody say Wonder?

Enjoy the Hanukkah cookie, man.

However, I went into Tropic Thunder willing to suspend all of that for a movie that I really wanted to like and I was not disappointed. Tropic Thunder is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year, hitting the comedy and the action on higher marks than almost any other movie I’ve seen attempt to do both. Opening with the final scene of the movie within a movie being filmed, the gunfire and explosions feel like a real Vietnam movie and the over the top performances are also instantly recognizable as staples of today’s large ‘event driven’ movies. I was hooked and loved every scene in this movie. The story moved along swiftly bouncing between characters and storylines and the dialogue was distinct and clever, especially for such a diverse array of characters who are all essentially the same kind of people; actors. From the opening shots, Stiller directs the movie confidently and with the help of Academy Award winning cinematographer John Toll, the film looks and feels exactly like the ones it’s attempting to parody.

The film is first and foremost a parody. That’s why Robert Downey Jr. was able to pull off something so remarkable in fashioning three amazing characters all in a single role, something not even Peter Sellers did. As Australian actor Kirk Lazarus, black Army vet Sgt. Lincoln Osirus and an Asian rice farmer, he was magnetizing to watch every moment he was on screen. From explaining the emotional sting of the word nigger to the only actual black cast member to flattering Speedman’s physique in order to deceive him, every line out of his mouth is comic gold. And, he would be the best part of this movie if it were not for Tom Cruise. Yes, Tom Cruise as Les Grossman is the wildest role he has ever taken in his career. I haven’t laughed harder at somebody dropping f-bombs since Steve Martin at the rental car agency in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. He’s so funny, it’s like watching Alec Baldwin in 30 Rock when you think to yourself, “Why haven’t they been doing this all along?” Dancing, cursing and balding, Cruise is as you never seen him before and worth a ticket price all on his own.

Ok, this bit is also pretty funny.

The rest of the cast is great too, including Jack Black, friend of the blog Bill Hader, Matthew McConaughey actually acting and quickly becoming a favorite Danny McBride. I’ve already seen it a few times and am desperately trying to take my mother to see it. She’s a huge Tom Cruise fan and we saw Lions for Lambs and Collateral together. I think she’ll enjoy this one as much as I did. While it looks like a busy fall season, I think Tropic Thunder has the legs to hold up as one of my top five of the year.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Vicky Michael Heaven

My favorite Woody Allen movies are the ones where someone else plays Woody Allen. John Cusack in Bullets over Broadway, Seth Green in Radio Days and Jason Biggs in Anything Else turn in my favorite performances of Woody. The man is such a character himself, that it is always a delight for me to see some else portray him, even Will Ferrell in Melinda and Melinda. So, I was head over heels when Rebecca Hall begins to deconstruct Javier Bardem in front of Scarlett Johansson in Woody’s newest film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. While you can tell that Cristina and Juan Antonio are attracted to each other, Vicky completely removes herself from the situation to comment on the absurdity of it and from that moment on, I was in love with her. Yes, both Scarlett and Penelope Cruz are gorgeous, but Rebecca Hall completely stole the film away from them and every time the story moved away from her, I could not wait for it to come back to her.

Of course, this is all to Woody’s intent. While the movie looked to be a simple sex comedy with Javier, Scarlett and Penelope in a love triangle, the real story is not about any of them. It becomes Vicky’s story and Rebecca Hall’s movie. I know people enjoyed Penelope more or perhaps thought that Scarlett was truly the star of the film, but it was Vicky who undergoes the real transformation in the story, becoming a different person by the end than she was in the beginning. And Hall moves from her very serious and underrated performance in The Prestige, to a light comedic role with an American accent. Right now, I am riding hard for her as my Supporting Actress of the Year.

But that does not take away from anyone else, as the rest of the cast turn in great performances as well. Javier is miles removed from last year’s No Country turn and turns on the leading man charm that has only previously been known to fans of foreign films. Scarlett was a terrific choice as a woman who never knows what she wants; only what she doesn’t want. Maybe it is just me but she always seem to have a slightly perplexed look on her face, like she’s not quite sure what’s going on, but just enjoying the ride. And while I certainly agree with all the praise heaped on Penelope Cruz, I thought she was far better in Volver and that she was barely in the movie at all. She was a force of nature, tearing through the film like she did in Blow, but I never got to really understand her, only what she meant to the other characters. None of my gripes took away from the film at all, as I felt it was an amazing return to form for Woody after films like Match Point and Cassandra’s Dream. The images of Barcelona and the beautiful actors glow as shot by Javier Aguirresarobe, cinematographer of such films as Talk to Her and The Others. The images and narration serve to lull you into a warm feeling similar to kind served up by all the wine enjoyed by the characters and it works brilliantly. I left the theatre with a smile on my face and a Spanish guitar in my heart.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Five Fast Film Reviews

Whew, the last month blew by so quick without blogging that I had a chance to go see quite a few movies. I plan on posting longer reviews on certain movies that I saw and really enjoyed but I wanted to post something about a few lesser movies that I also enjoyed. And by lesser, I mean smaller.

House Bunny

What I Liked About It - Anna Faris. I can watch her in almost anything. From Lost in Translation to Just Friends, I think she's great. Colin Hanks looks more an more like his father in every movie. Chicks, man. Hot chicks throughout this movie like nobody's business. Kat Dennings. And Emma Stone channeling her Superbad co-star Jonah Hill.

Star Wars: Clone Wars

What I Liked About It - Visuals you would never see in a George Lucas movie. More Obi-Wan kicking ass. Heavy on the lightsabers battles, easy on the space fighter battles.

Hamlet 2

What I Liked About It - Steve Coogan. Mexicans being portrayed as more than stereotypes. Elisabeth Shue, still gorgeous and brilliant as herself, not always an easy thing to do. Catherine Keener. Raped in the Face and Rock Me Sexy Jesus. And even David Arquette.


What I Liked About It - Bill Maher. Larry Charles dressing like a Hassidic Jew for most of the movie. The unbelievable access Maher and his crew achieved. Maher being a comedian first, a filmmaker second and never passing up a chance to make an easy joke.

Burn After Reading

What I Liked About It - The Cast. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, JK Simmons, the Coens going back to Raising Arizona and Big Lebowski territory and all those wonderful toys.

BACK! Caught You Looking At The Same Thing...

Yes, after an absurdly long absence, Big Mike is back and blogging bigger and better than before. All alliteration aside, I just wanted to let everyone know what's up with me.

Basically, the laptop took a huge dump on me and it took awhile before I could get it fixed. It was a simple fix in the end, but the lesson learned here is, I am going to buy a Mac.

Tomorrow, I am going to get up bright and early and try to get caught up on things I've missed in a month offline. I heard something about Harry Potter but no big deal, it will be out next month... Also, I will try to bring you up to date on what films I've seen in the last month which include, Tropic Thunder, Religious, Clone Wars, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Hamlet 2, House Bunny and gulp, Disaster Movie.

Anything else? If there is, I will get to it soon! Thanks for sticking with me guys. Being away from my blog has been akin to breaking up with your girlfriend then getting back together with her. Of course, my blog won't bring up old stuff like why do I still talk to other blogs or do I feel anything when I blog or do I just need to get off on it? Does that make sense?

Friday, August 8, 2008

M is for Masterpiece

I first saw M in high school and it opened me up to a whole new world of films. I developed an appreciation for black and white, discovered Fritz Lang, foreign films, German expressionism and became hypnotized by the pure haunting power of cinema. M is a film that defies genre definition, noir before the term was coined, horror without bloodshed, a crime film where no crimes are actually witnessed. It was the precursor to Se7en, to Hitchcock, to everything that came after it.

Once again, more than the sum of its parts, M stars Peter Lorre as a killer of children, terrorizing a city. When the police are unable to capture him, they enlist the aid of the criminal underground who wants the killer caught, in order to get the cops off the street and things back to the status quo. Director Fritz Lang weaves the story as a social parable in 1931 Germany against the rise of Hitler and the third Reich. Lang makes an incredible film that turns the viewer completely around. How many movies can make you sympathetic to someone who commits the most heinous of atrocities? This is such a film that over an hour makes you fear Lorre’s character and hope that the police, the gangsters, that anyone can stop him before he murders again. But, once the killer is finally brought to a trial of the common citizens, Lang makes Lorre the victim and the self-appointed judge, jury and community of executioners become the monsters of the movie. To this day, I cannot help feel a chill when I watch a slow pan across the faces of the entire crowd in the cellar, waiting in silent judgment of Lorre, sealing his fate with fear and a nod. Did Lang know how many of these very people would be responsible for the same horrors in ten years time? Was he ahead of the curve in seeing what the political power of National Socialism would do to his homeland? After the film’s release, Lorre, a Jew, fled Germany for America. Two years later, Lang, a Catholic, followed him. One year after that, German officials banned the film, originally titled The Murderers Are Among Us. That name says it all.

Technically speaking, the film can be dissected forever. It was Lang’s first sound film, the movie that made Lorre a star in his own country and had a huge impact on Hollywood that continues to this day. Although people will often cite Metropolis, I contend that M is Lang’s finest film. When I started to turn a friend onto my Janus Box, the first disc I lent out was M. After this, I told her, everything can follow.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

I Hate Pineapples, but Love Pineapple Express

The first film I’ve seen after about three weeks of Dark Knight was Pineapple Express. And the film from Seth Rogen and Co. delivers like the stickiest of the icky.

Starring Rogen and James Franco, the stoner action movie is actually lighter on the action and better with the story and characters. They successfully put regular guys who have seen too many action movies into action sequences, but never hit it over the head with the homages and references. But, the strength like always is the writing and acting. Once again they tap directly into what makes their movies different and appealing to audiences. It’s not just a movie about two stoners on the run from drug lords; it’s a movie about friendship. And not just between Rogen and Franco but their connection Danny McBride is thrown into the mix, as well as focus on the relationship between the two hitmen played by Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robinson. The scenes between the action with Rogen and Franco smoking and sharing with each other or Rogen trying to win back his girlfriend over the phone are the scenes that really draw the audiences in and tap into real life.

That’s where I have a problem with people who cannot see the forest for the trees when it comes to the films of people like Rogen or Kevin Smith. Knocked Up, SuperBad and the upcoming Zack and Miri Make A Porno are not defined by their crude language or ‘shocking’ behavior. Inside those films are real characters, real stories and in the case of the first two, real heart. Sure, people like nudity and dirty jokes, but without some substance to it, those movies would not be the huge grosser they are, they would become The Love Guru. To me, the real disgust should be directed at the people, who I cannot call filmmakers, who manufacture the same garbage time and time again and expect us to spend money on it. It’s failures that hurt the chances of a film that’s different from the norm even get made, let alone make enough to money to get a wide audience.

Not much else to say about the movie. I really enjoyed it and it could be the funniest movie I’ve seen so far this year. Of course, Tropic Thunder does come out next week.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

California Son

I was lent a copy of the first season of Californication from my friend Alex and have been devouring it in between work this weekend. David Duchovny is hilariously dry witted as writer Hank Moody, boozing and whoring his way through Los Angeles. Transplanted from New York, his loathing for the city is contrasted by the beautiful shots of the beach, Downtown and Hollywood. With dialouge like "Not only are you a cadverous lay but you got shitty taste in movies," Judy Greer letting Hank do blow off her half naked body and Hank getting punched in the face by a woman when she reaches orgasm, the series had me at the pilot.

With this scene here.

Californication is available on DVD.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Looking Into Our Crystal Clear Ball

Friends, readers and film lovers alike. We stand at a turning point in our history. And perhaps never before have we so clearly into what our futures holds, while have the advantage our knowingly repeating our past and being able to learn from it. I am speaking, of course, about Blu-Ray DVD.

By now, everyone knows and has accepted that Blu-Ray technology has cornered the market as the new high-definition format for home entertainment. In a few years, standard DVD’s will have been slowly phased out and BLR will have its chance at a long run in our lives and living rooms. Even the Criterion Collection has taken the plunge into the deep Blu. While the high quality of the format is appealing to movie fans both hardcore and casual, what does the disappearance of DVD mean to those same fans?

Playstation 3 with Blu-Ray player.

Does anybody remember the large VHS collection they used to own? Tapes could be dubbed and rented and it seemed like everyone you owned had a story along with it. I had tapes that my uncle made for me, tapes my father bought in Japan and tapes I sto- acquired from Video Time or the public library. Do you know where all those tapes are now? Neither do I. Sadly, after I graduated high school in 1999, I got a PlayStation 2 and never bought another VHS cassette again. I began to build my DVD collection that currently hovers at around 500 titles.

Ah, but cinephiles will noticed that I have missed something in this telling of format history. Laserdisc. The precursor to DVD, the laserdisc had a short, but spectacular run. Not only would we not have DVDs, but commentary tracks, the Criterion Collection and digital surround sound all came into being with the laserdisc. Far more expensive than even BLR is now, the laserdisc died when DVDs could deliver the same experience, smaller and cheaper.

The Casablanca Criterion CAV Laserdisc

But, it is worth noting the distinction between the death of VHS and laserdisc. Like moving from records and cassettes to CDs, the new format of DVD provided a superior experience to VHS, but an equivalent to the laserdisc. But, it’s a little different this time. Yes, Blu-Ray is significantly superior to standard DVD, but for the first time, our technology is backwards compatible, allowing Blu-Ray owners continued enjoyment of their collection. The combination of a Blu-Ray player and an HDTV actually increases the quality of your standard DVDs as well, something people might not be so knowledgeable of. This brings me to the point of my blog. Where are all those DVDs going to go?

Sure, you, me and everyone we know will keep our DVDs. But, what about the larger DVD buying population? Sure, Transformers and Good Luck, Chuck are coming to Blu-Ray but how many of our older favorites movies will also make the jump? Studios are making huge Blu-Ray releases for Casablanca, Taxi Driver and Dr. Strangelove but those are all seminal classic movies. What about other smaller movies that are just as deserving? If you don’t think it is worth worrying about, consider this list from Turner Classic Movies of films that have not been released on standard DVD yet!

Take a movie like The Island of Dr. Moreau. Sure, it’s trash but consider it for a moment. Directed by John Frankenheimer, starring Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer, it features creature effects by Stan Winston, Val Kilmer doing his Brando impression and the inspiration for Mini-Me. Why would anyone NOT want to see that movie? But, I have it in a bare bones snap case with a serious lack of special features. I’m not holding my breath for the Special Edition since the ten year anniversary already passed, but what are the chances that this movie will get the Blu-Ray treatment? Or for that matter, any number of movies that I loved when I was younger, like Heart & Souls or House Party?

I guess what I’m saying dear readers is try to treasure your DVDs for you never know what might happen. You can lose one, break one, damage it beyond repair and then it’s pulled from circulation, out of print, hundreds of dollars or merely gone. But, at the same time, share your DVDs. I just let my friend borrow a whole bag from my restaurant filled with movies for a bag from his work stuffed with more. Have viewing parties, introduce someone new to your favorites and above all else, remember that movies are a communal experience. There isn’t a film I can think of that isn’t more enjoyable when watched with someone else in the room or a packed theatre of hundreds.

Share your collection.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Big Mike's Lil' Update 8/1/08

- Just wanted to do a little Dark Knight wrap up. It's been a week and I haven't seen another film in the theatre beside it. Seven times, and I still have to take my parents to it.

- As of this writing, Thursday night, Dark Knight as grossed $342 and a half million dollars, making it the thirteenth highest grossing film of all time and it will probably cross the $400 million dollar mark this weekend. Suddenly, Titanic doesn't seem so far away, now does it?

- I think I may have finally gotten Batman out of my system, so next week, there will be some new things coming up, including getting into that whole Criterion/Janus thing I was talking about the other day.

- Please check out the LAMB Action Hero and vote for me and John McClane! You must vote, it's your sacred franchise!

- And for those of you who think I maybe too far in my devotion to Batman...

You may be right!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Spaced Case

If you have never watched Spaced, it almost defies description. Simply, it is a British sitcom about Tim and Daisy, pretending to be a professional couple in order to rent a small flat. But the show is so much more than that. It transcends the limitations of a conventional television series and became a meditation on all things British, pop culture and your mid-twenties. Believe me when I say that if you’re reading my blog, Spaced is right up your alley.

Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes (nee Stevenson) star as the title characters and wrote all fourteen episodes of both series. What’s remarkable about the show is that each series is written almost as a stand alone since they never knew if they would be another series. So, instead of ending with a big cliffhanger, each series ends with a more satisfying resolution. Also, every episode was directed by Edgar Wright, a rarity anywhere in television. He brings his style to Simon and Jess’s sensibilities and they created a show with a huge cult following in England and abroad. Finally, the show is available on a Region 1 DVD.

And what a DVD package it is. Not only are all the commentaries and extras from the Region 2 release included, but oh so much more. All new commentaries have been recorded for the American release with notable American fans coming into the booth. Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Diablo Cody and Matt Stone all discuss and share with Edgar, Simon and Jess on several episodes. For my money though, I like the commentaries in which Edgar is joined only by Patton Oswalt or Bil Hader. This lets them really talk more about the show instead of just branching off into other things as most Kev Smith commentaries tend to do. Patton, Bill and Edgar get to geek out over the Star Wars references, cursing and smoking on television and the lovely Daisy Steiner. There is also a feature length documentary about the making of Spaced which includes all the original cast members and key crew members, as well as a few critics and fans. Edgar, Simon and Jess revisit different locations and discuss all the hard work and fun that encapsulated the series’ run for three years.

So, what is the show all about? Simon and Jess pitched it as The Simpsons, X-Files and Northern Exposure. But, I think if you have ever wondered what a live action Family Guy might look like, imagine it with British accents and its almost as good as Spaced. Filled with references to film and television as well as cutaways, circular comedy and constant callbacks, it’s better than 30 Rock and as good as Arrested Development. Its chock full of great lines, big sequences and relatable characters. For anybody who has ever danced like a chicken, lived every week like Shark Week or used the phrase “Worst. Anything. Ever.” then you simply must see Spaced. I cannot say enough good things about this show that I am really a huge fan of it and want to give it the Big Mike Bump so that more people see it, love it and share it. Currently, BBC America is rerunning episodes nightly, so you can get a free taste of the show and I promise you, you will want to get the DVD set. It is art of the highest level, a prime example of the medium being used to transcend its means and touch the core of its audience on a very personal and intimate way. “Rabbits, rabbits, rabbits, rabbits, rabbits!”

It’s not finished!

It’s finished.