Friday, July 31, 2009


I'll be honest. I'm not a fan of BSG. Not for any other reason than I never watched the old version when I was a kid and did not get into it this time around either. But, here's a little more honesty for you. When a friend told me that the new Battlestar would be Esai Morales versus Eric Stoltz, I replied, "I'm fucking there." If you've read my blog before, you know that I have the highest admiration for Esai Morales. I'll see anything he does as I have regarded him as a hero of mine since I was young. And if he would present me with the chance to jump head first into a new world of science fiction, well, I'm on board for that too.

Caprica is the story about the origins of the world of Battlestar Galactica. Taking place some fifty years before it resembles a world almost like our own where terrorist attacks are carried out by religious zealots. Only these believers believe in one God, our God. Called monotheists, they are willing to sacrifice themselves because of their belief in eternal life. When you start to see the uncanny similarities to our world, like religion, the unchecked advancement of technology and the influence of corporations on politics. But really, as I have been told about the series, the underlying theme of Caprica is about humanity and the what makes us human. It is love or anger? Is it compassion or desire? For all the inventions and effects, the show has been criticized by die hard BSG fans as being a soap opera. But those themes are what drew me into the movie, made it topical and will probably gain a little bit more crossover, mainstream appeal for non-fans of the series.

Added to that is the classic look of the show that reminded me of Blade Runner in a way, with a stylized world reminiscent of classic Hollywood instead of noir. The show was intriguing enough for me to watch in when it beings to air regularly in January and I will write about it again then to tell you what I think. Until that time, check out the pilot on DVD and you can follow this link to see the Battlestar Galatica panel at Comic-Con with appearances by Esai and Edward James Olmos.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Public Enemies

I think that I may be in the minority of film goers that does NOT regard Heat as a great film. It's a lot of fun at parts, but it's not without flaws. It is however, a Michael Mann film to the core. And while I do consider Collateral and Ali to be his best films, I was slightly skeptical going into Public Enemies, fully expecting the film to be a Thirties version of Heat. To my surprise, it was and I liked it.

While the obvious similarities to Heat include the cop versus the criminal, two acting heavyweights chasing each other around a movie and sharing only one scene as well as brief, intense action sequences punctuated with long, exposition character pieces, they all work in this movie where I did not feel they worked in Miami Vice or Heat. The movie is all about Johnny Depp as Dillinger, clearly enjoy a mainstream movie that actually challenges him to act again without funny make-up or wigs. Bale does not phone it in, per se, so much as he does what comes easily to him, making FBI agent Melvin Purvis a brooding man, conflicted by the inefficiencies of his methods and the necessity of capturing Dillinger.

Unfortunately, I happened to see this film with a friend who was foolish enough to let her mobile phone ring, not once, not twice, but FOUR consecutive times during the final sequence outside the Biograph Theatre. I hope she reads this and relives her shame.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bei der Verteidigung Bruno

Or, In Defense of Bruno

Critics have been quick to dismiss the tepid reception of Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen's follow up to his comedy smash Borat, as either a flash in the pan or simply labeling Cohen himself as a one trick pony. After watching the movie the other night and laughing myself into hysterics, I have a much different opinion. Comparing the two films to each other is actually important because I believe the main difference lies between the xenophobia of the former and the homophobia of the latter.

While it might be a stretch to say that Borat captured the zeitgeist of the time, it did take this nation by storm for a few reasons. I believe that it presented the caricature of an immigrant in America at a time when the country was looking to find humor in such a device. Five years removed from 9/11, Americans were knee deep in a war they were mostly against and were about to oust the controlling political party out of power in the mid term elections that year. People were ready to move beyond the Bush doctrines and the narrow minded bigotry of anti-Arab sentiment. While Borat was clearly portrayed as Eastern European, his primitive views on women and Jews allowed Cohen to subtly mock the strict Muslim ideologies that were at war with the rest of the world. Borat gave us the laugh we were looking for. As if to underline his message, Borat starts his journey in New York City, where the citizens are terrified of both strangers and immigrants alike and proceeds across the Bible Belt, where he is either mistaken for an Arab or a homosexual. If he had begun in California, the movie would not have worked at all. Fortunately, the Golden State has remained unaffected by the terror attacks in this country, allowing us to live openly free of fear, which emboldens the largely held belief that most Californians are laid back, fun loving, pot smoking, tree hugging hippies who want to let gay illegal immigrants marry your baby for socialized medicine. Which is why Borat's story ended there and it is also where Bruno's begins.

The tale of Bruno and his quest to be an American celebrity is only half the story of a gay man looking for acceptance in society. The other half is entirely devoted to bashing the whole concept of 'celebrity' and fame. For all the laughs you can have as Cohen lets one pseudo-celebrity bash another or ask questions of celebrity charity PR reps that they can only answer slightly better than Miss South Carolina, you will shudder in horror as stage parents offer up their children to all manners of horrific situations in order to land a gig as a "baby to be dressed as a Nazi officer, pushing a wheelbarrow, with a Jewish baby, into an oven." If all the movie tried to be was an stinging criticism of empty, meaningless newsstand magazine type fame with sex tapes, anal waxing and carbo loading, it would probably have worked like gangbusters. But as is his fashion, Cohen pushes the envelope further.

In California, as in much of the rest of the world, gay rights is a serious topic. In only the past year, people have marched in the streets for gay rights, voted down measures against them and millions of dollars, countless hours of labor and so much more has been poured into the struggle on both sides. My state, which is as liberal and progressive as any other, does not find the hot button topic of gay rights and homophobia to be a laughing matter. To be sure, people like myself (straight, but friend of the family) are the key target for Cohen's work. But, the timing of the current political climate is working against him, where it worked for him so well before. When a openly gay character in a movie runs into a rally where picketers carry signs reading "God Hates Fags", his marriage is rejected, his child taken away and physical violence threatened upon him, not too many people are going to recommend the film to their friends. Five years down the line, I'm sure the movie will strike more people as funny than it does now, but hopefully, it will be because the prejudices and ugly hatred shown in the film will be a thing of the past.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker was a movie I was trying to see for a few weeks now and I'm glad I finally got to it. As a veteran of one tour in Afghanistan, I wanted to see how this film, which was being wildly acclaimed by critics, captured the reality of combat and the Middle East.

I knew the guys who were scared shitless and try to pretend like they weren't afraid of anything. I knew the cool, collected professionals who seemed invincible and were suddenly dead. I still know the guys who cannot seem to get enough of the life and leave everything behind just to go back for more. And I was the one who never thought there would be enough time in his life to do all the things that he dreamed of doing. The actors did not merely play these characters, instead they played real people who have lived and died in that environment over the past seven years. There were the special operatives like Ralph Fiennes who were so bad ass in our eyes until we found out how much money they made and the field grade officers like David Morse who lived vicariously through our fear and tension. But, inside of everyone, was a guy like Staff Sergeant William James, a man who, like the film itself, put politics to the side and got down to business. In their own way, I think that everyone was affected by their time overseas. While not everyone grieved over a misidentified body or charged headlong into the dark after the enemy, I did take up smoking during my time in the service and always sacrificed safety for comfort.

And in order to not turn this blog about movies into a blog about old war stories, all credit due to Kathryn Bigelow, director of such classics as Point Break, Blue Steel (huge Jamie Leigh Curtis fan), and unbelivably hot for being almost sixty. She captures the essence of this male dominated world perfectly. I marveled over the fact that a woman who had never seen combat, except for a brief marriage to James Cameron, could make the most realistic war movie since Jarhead. The sheer physics of the two large explosions that bookend the film are unlike anything you might have seen, but absolutely authentic to the things I have seen. The first boom boom sicked me back into the world, where I was deathly still during a sniper shootout and running immediate action drills in my head at every firefight. At the end of the picture, I was grateful again for being able to live the constantly dull life that I had hoped to see again when I was on the other side of the world. Not too many movies can make me feel that much better about my life and certainly not one that mirrored a previous incarnation of my own so closely.

If the Academy expanded the Best Picture field to ten nominees and The Hurt Locker is not nominated, then the gesture will have been meaningless.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The 7th Year of 24, or 168 Hours of Hell

I’ve been a fan of the television series 24 since it’s inception. But, over the years, I have remained one of the loyalists who do not simply watch the show on the air, but one who watches the ENTIRE season in one session when it arrives on DVD. In fact, I mentioned this in passing once to Dennis Haysbert, better known as President David Palmer, who merely told me, “Yea. There are a lot of you.” It is a fan fraternity that I am proud to a part of. 24 comes by once a year like Christmas and every year, it never fails to disappoint.

Season 7 moved the action to Washington, unless you’re from Los Angeles, in which case you would recognize most of the shooting locations for a lot of exteriors. Of course, to really enjoy the series calls for a much greater suspension of disbelief, so that should not ruin the show for anyone. After six years of Jack’s previous exploits, we find him facing a Congressional committee for his methods, which have now been deemed ‘torture.’ As even the ghost of Harry Caray will tell you, everyone knows that torture is wrong, but Jack is willing to face the consequences of his actions. Before the committee can really get underway in their questions, Jack is pulled from the hearings by the FBI, in order to help with a terror threat facing the country.

One of these men is supposed to be dead!

From there, the story takes us through its familiar refrain of twists and turns, deceptions and decoys, people deep undercover on both sides and working towards their own ends for both personal and professional reasons. As someone who hates procedurals, I wonder how I enjoy 24 year after year, since it is as formulaic as any cop show on CBS. They never reinvent the wheel on the show, they just continue to do it in a manner that is different every year and always pulls you in with Kiefer's intense portrayal of Jack Bauer. This season really test his mettle in purely sociopolitical terms. Since being off the air for nearly two years because of the writer's strike, the nation which required a hero like Jack is much different today. We elected a President who is staunchly against torture, closed Guantanamo Bay and even call out authorities accused of racial profiling. In this year of the show, Jack faces a system that desperately needs his help, but feels compelled to pull him back when he does what is necessary. Torture is wrong, but unfortunately, Jack is always right. Only one person in the history of the show has been tortured when they were not somehow involved in a plot against the country and Jack was not the person who did it. Jack Bauer is a hero to most Americans because he can do what we cannot bring ourselves to do. He lives to serve us, will follow our rules and submit to our punishment, but he does it all for the American people. Still, his moral dilemma was not the highlight of this season.

The hottest FBI agent since Karen Sisco (TV version).

The best part of this year was Annie Wersching as FBI agent Renee Walker. Like famous G-Men Eliot Ness and Melvin Purvis before her, Agent Walker finds herself slowly realizing that everything she knows to be true is false and people like Jack Bauer are necessary to stopping the people who do this country harm. She starts off by puling Jack into the day's events and keeping him on a short leash. But, she quickly begins to emulate him and finds herself under investigation before the day is half way over. She is the first character in the series to really represent the audience. On such a right wing show, this year is full of left leaning liberals who consistently questions Jack's ways and Agent Walker wrestles with the same issues that Jack has ignored for too long. By bringing the conflict front and center, the show struck a resonance that is has not reached since it's first three years. And the final shot of Walker closing the door to the interrogation room will put a smile on your face.

As will my favorite moment of the year, when a distressed Kim Bauer is failed by her cellular phone and yells, "DAMMIT!"

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Lovers, The Dreamers and Me

Living in California has some privileges, especially for a movie buff. There are tons of films festivals to attend, you always get to see limited releases first, you gotta an action star for a governor and there are all sorts of special screening you can find. One such event is the weekly outdoor sceeening at the Hollywood Forever Screening.

People attend with chairs and blankets and food and drink(wine and crackers, it IS Hollywood). Being a child of the 80's, attending the screenings feels likes the closest I would ever come to commune living. Every person there is united by a common love and a respect for cinema. It's the difference between a bunch of teenagers forced to go to a pep rally and people grabbing their friends and dragging a cooler of beer across a lawn on a Saturday night to watch The Graduate. Here, nobody will steal from you or pick a fight with you. Rather, they will share their food with you and kindly move their blanket to allow you more room. It is almost a family environment, which is why it was perfect for this Saturday's 30th anniversary screening of The Muppet Movie.

I hadn't seen the movie since I was a kid, but from the opening strains of "The Rainbow Connection", I felt like a kid again. And when the audience began to sing along, I smiled and sang a long too. I didn't stop smiling until the movie was over.

I felt like so many of the jokes were making me laugh for the first time, but of course, I was just understanding them for the first time. As a child, you love the Muppets and will watch them do anything, but as an adult, I loved all the lame puns and Vaudeville-type humor. I cheered for all the guest appearances of the actors who starred in the movies I watched over and over, like Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, Madeline Kahn, James Coburn and Steve Martin. Ah, Steve Martin.

I realized too, talking about the movie on the way over and before it started, that what was so great about those first few Muppet movies, were that they were actually movies. Those boring Muppet movies when they went to space or became pirates were not what the Muppets were about. Any plain puppets could perform in those pictures, but the Muppets were special. They were treated like real people. Muppets Take Manhattan could be a movie with human actors and the story would still work. The Muppets weren't a gimmick or a fad, they were the real thing and everybody in America just understood it. And that was what spoke to us as children. If a green frog can be treated like a grown up, then we have nothing to fear from the grown up world. If an unfunny bear, an obnoxious pig and a weirdo can make their dreams come true, then we can too. That was Jim Henson's message then and it is his legacy to us today.

Visit Cinespia to view their schedule of upcoming screenings.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Get Spaced!

I've written about it time and time before. And now, the genius comedy that is Spaced is available for free on Hulu. Click the pic!

No more excuses. Get Spaced.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

True Love for True Blood

After watching the first season of HBO's True Blood, I don't think that it does anything that hasn't been seen on television before, I just think that it does it better. I remember the show being talked about a few years ago, as Six Feet Under was finishing it's run and people were interested in Alan Ball's world of vampires and humans co-existing. Now, nearly five years later, his show has become more than just Twilight for adults, it's social commentary and blend of the mundane and the supernatural make it one of the most watchable shows on TV.

Make no mistake about it; vampires, shape shifters and telepathy aside, the show is mainly concerned with the romance between Sookie and Bill, as well as the personal life struggles of Tara, Sam, Jason and Arline. Without them going throught the same problems that everyday people face, the show would be nothing more than a Buffy retread. And while that might appeal to some, it would not have garnered the show the popular and critical acclaim that it has received. There is something for almost everyone, as all of the characters are so complex and multi-layered that they seem to breathe in real life and not jut exist on the screen. I really enjoyed each episode and went through the six discs pretty quickly.

Sam is my favorite character. Read into that what you will.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Away I Go

There are movies that bore me, movies that mostly entertain me and movies that make me laugh. Then there are films that speak to me. Themes that mirror my life, dialogue that rings in my ears and characters that come off of the screen and follow me home. Ironically enough, Sam Mendes makes a lot of these types of films.

The story of a young unmarried couple who find themselves pregnant and then travel cross country in an attempt to find their new lives really hit home for me. Particularly the character of Burt, who loves his woman and his unborn unconditionally and goes to great lengths to be the man he believes they deserve. From unleashing hilarious verbal tirades on everyone from his former schoolmates to Verona herself, everything Burt does is motivated by his concern for his family. I could really feel his joy and his pain, his fears and his courage in facing the new chapter in his life. Like DiCaprio's character in Revolutionary Road, Burt knows what he must to do for his family and puts his own insecurities aside in order to try to make them a better life. It becomes almost the inverse of that film, because everything turns out better for Burt and Verona than it did for Frank and April. It asked me the question again of what does it mean to be a man? What does it take to be a good man and a good father? As I left the theatre, I thought that the answer lied somewhere in Burt's words, "Your fucking uterus is a motherfucking secret?!"

Ladies, if you loved Krasinski in 'The Office', you'll fall in love with him all over again.

PS - I couldn't decide who I loved more in the their cameo, Maggie Gyllenhaal or Allison Janney.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Observe and Review

Observe and Report is a dark, black comedy that rings with Taxi Driver references from the opening scene. And that film's influence on this one is undeniable. Ronnie Barnhardt is a disturbed, delusional character who communicates in voice over, is overly aggressive and socially retarded. He is confused with his role in the world and his actions are fueled by selfishness and his own insecurities. But, by the end of the movie, miraculously, he is the hero.

It's funny, though. It's damn funny, if you can laugh at heavy drug abuse, extreme violence and date rape. The movie explores a side of the psyche in which a seemingly normal individual decides by any means necessary to do what he believes is the right thing. His heart is in the right place, but his methods are criminal and borderline psychotic. Whether it's conning Anna Faris into a date with him, accusing the Middle Eastern mall employee of terrorizing the mall or beating Patton Oswalt senseless against an oven, he is trying to fit into what society has taught him is a hero, someone who helps those that cannot help themselves.

I have read that many people were taken aback by the shocking nature of some of the scenes and preferred their cuddly, charming Seth Rogen who merely smokes pot and knocks up pretty girls. I liked that they made such an audacious film, particularly coming from Warner Bros. and Legendary Studios, who made this picture during the enormous success of their last picture, The Dark Knight. In many ways, it is a similar film where the protagonist is an unstable vigilante who administers his own brand of justice with a disregard for the proper authorities. By the end however, while Batman is on the run as an outcast, Ronnie has gained acceptance and fame as a hero for bringing the bad guy down. It's a movie that asks the question, where is the line and why do people cross it? Ronnie has only pure intentions and good motivations, but the results of his action have disasterous consequences. What is the right thing to do? I don't have the answer and neither does the movie.

Michael Pena steals the show with his Mike Tyson impression.