February, 14th 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard



The Bourne films have been called America’s answer to Bond, but that’s not quite accurate. There’s nothing quintessentially American about Jason Bourne. More accurately, John McClane is the American corollary. Instead of an international spy, he’s a New York cop. He’s not glamorous, he’s rough-around-the-edges. He doesn’t drink martinis, he chugs Budweiser (presumably.)

Which begs the question: Why is the Die Hard franchise so unsustainable (i.e., bad) when the Bond one never seems to grow old? One reason is obvious: They cycle in new Bonds every few years, so the franchise isn’t reduced to one big “I’m too old for this sh-t” joke.

But it’s bigger than that: There are endless ways to spin a tale of international intrigue and adventure. There are only so many ways a working class cop can get entangled in life and death scenarios without it just seeming ridiculous. The Die Hard franchise passed ridiculous three movies ago.

So what do they do this time? They essentially turn John McClane into an accidental version James Bond. Bad idea.

McClane travels to Moscow (so retro!) because he finds out that his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney, a kind of poor man’s...

4:04 pm Comment Count Tags: film reviews
February, 7th 2013

Identity Thief

From John Candy and Steve Martin in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles to Zach Galifianakis and Robert Downey Jr. in Due Date to virtually every film starring David Spade and Chris Farley, the comic spectacle of an uptight (usually skinny) man forced to make his way across country or spend time with a free-spirited (usually overweight) sidekick is nothing new. There are different variations of this theme—John Candy’s character was a sentimental doofus; more often, the sidekick is all raging, uninhibited id—but one thing has remained the same: The sidekick has been a man. Until now.

In Identify Thief, the loud, obnoxious cohort is played by Melissa McCarthy, and I’m literally not quite sure if this cause for celebration or dismay.

Where is it written that the embodiment of the human id can’t be a woman? Where is it written that there can’t be jokes about her girth, her insatiable appetites, her physical repulsiveness? I admit I felt a little put-off when Jason Bateman’s Sandy, an account executive who has the been the victim of identity theft at the hands of McCarthy’s Diana, shuddered at the thought of any physical contact with her. But that’s how it always goes...

3:57 pm Comment Count Tags: film reviews
February, 1st 2013

House of Cards debuts

Reminder! Netflix's original series, the locally filmed House of Cards, premieres today. Based on the trailer, it looks fabulous. David Fincher is one of our greatest living directors (nope, not hyperbole) and well, Kevin Spacey seems to slip into his role as a D.C. operator like he's wearing a particularly cozy pair of expensive gloves. Can't wait!




12:36 pm Comment Count Tags: Television
January, 15th 2013

Can We Be Heroes? What FLIGHT has in common with Lance Armstrong


Dopers, liars, and questionable heroes have been in the news a lot lately, thanks to both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens being snubbed for the Baseball Hall of Fame and Lance Armstrong getting set to finally admit to doping to Oprah Winfrey.

I’m fascinated by these men as uniquely tragic figures—Shakespearean almost: Lauded as heroes while harboring a secret that could be their complete undoing. It’s too simple to suggest that they are merely living dual lives—faking it in public, while privately racked with guilt and the fear of being caught. Because there is something else all three of these men share—massive chips on their shoulders. They know that they are great, with or without the drugs. They know that they worked extremely hard for their success. They know that other, less famous or talented athletes have done the exact same thing. (For the record, in the case of Clemens, I'm speaking of an alleged use of steroids. It hasn't been proven.)

I’ve always thought that this fascinating mindset—the daily horror of living a lie coupled with the endless mechanism for self-justification and rationalization—would make an excellent subject for a film.

And then I realized I already...

11:24 am Comment Count Tags: general film
January, 10th 2013

Argo Fly a Kite: On Oscar's biggest snubs


Every year, there are so-called Oscar snubs, people we thought were shoo-ins, or at least deserving of a nod, who got passed over for the nomination. It’s inevitable, if not necessarily fair to those who did get nominated.

But I can’t remember snubs quite as shocking and unexpected as the three missing names in this year’s Best Director category.

Let’s start with the biggest snub of all—Ben Affleck for Argo. I literally gasped when his name wasn’t read this morning.

For starters, Affleck racked up a ton of nominations from most of the other big voting bodies (Golden Globes, Directors Guild of America, Critics Choice, etc.). Also, he’s got a famous name. While the Oscar voters aren’t necessarily drawn to glamour the way, say, the Golden Globe voters are (the Globes are often seen as less a serious voting body and more an excuse to throw a really awesome party), one would think that name recognition alone would bolster his nod. This film was meant to represent Affleck’s shift from “actor who’s surprisingly adept on a film set” to “serious director with legitimate filmmaking chops.” In my mind, it certainly did—it’s one of my...

12:47 pm Comment Count Tags: general film
December, 31st 2012

I liked it BUT...2012: The Year in Film


For me, 2012 was the year of the BUT. (That’s one t, people. One t.)

I loved Zero Dark Thirty BUT was uncomfortable with its seemingly pro-torture politics.

I found Django Unchained to be audacious and bold entertainment BUT could’ve lived without the final bloodbath (and the profligate use of the “N-word.”)

Silver Linings Playbook was utterly charming BUT wished it had been a bit more rigorous in its depiction of mental illness.

The Impossible took hold of me and never let go, BUT I wished it hadn’t reduced the devastating tsunami of 2004 to one white family’s struggle for survival.

Argo was quite possibly the smartest film of the year, BUT the director (Ben Affleck) might've used a better lead (Ben Affleck).


Caveats aside, it was a great year at the movies. Here are my faves.


1. MOONRISE KINGDOM: Precocious 12 year olds in love and on the run from clueless, self-absorbed adults. On a simple level, Moonrise Kingdom is a classic love story about two perfectly matched young people waiting for the world to catch up. But it’s also, as all of Wes Anderson’s films are to...

December, 28th 2012

Django Unchained

Django Unchained


He’s 49 years old, but in some ways, Quentin Tarantino is still that genius kid in the video store. We can still see him rubbing his hands gleefully as he makes his films, drunk on film’s possibility. He makes up his own rules, smashing through genres, audaciously blurring time periods, laughing in the face of cinematic convention. He’s the filmmaker reimagined as part Mozart, part Willy Wonka, and part Sid Vicious. The end product is almost always obscenely entertaining.

But don't make the mistake of thinking that Tarantino is all raging id. There's rigor and even scholarship in his work. Indeed, it takes a lot of discipline to be so brilliantly anarchistic.

Tarantino makes me laugh at and revel in things I generally don’t like—extreme violence, for one; offensive language for another—which is one of his great gifts. Like all talented filmmakers, he’s a con-man, a grifter. He gets away with things because he’s that good. (Kids, do not try this at home.)

But I do think that, for all his mad scientist tricks, Tarantino’s greatest (and perhaps most underappreciated) gift is writing dialogue. Each character gets his or her on own patois, his own idiom, and delights in his own language—whether it...

4:07 pm Comment Count Tags: film reviews
December, 26th 2012

Les Misérables


Here’s why I shouldn’t be reviewing Les Misérables. Because I don’t like Les Misérables. There, I said it. Boom.

I don’t like the shameless melodrama, I don’t like the repetitive music, I don’t like the dopey second-half love story, I don’t like the absurdity of Javert’s obsession with Jean Valjean (at some point, Javert became a comic figure to me, a 19th-century Where’s Waldo).

I’m not talking about Victor Hugo’s novel, which I’m sure is miraculous. (The Cliff Notes were miraculous for me back in high school, if you know what I mean.) I’m talking about the musical, which is only a few steps better than an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. And don’t get me started on Andrew Lloyd Webber.

But maybe you’re different. Maybe you’ve seen the show, which held the record for the longest running play on Broadway, numerous times. Maybe you own the soundtrack, plus a Les Miserab-mug, have the Playbill framed in gold on your bedroom wall.

If so, I suspect  you will love Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables. Because it’s the musical, writ large. It’s angstier! The love story is shmoopier! The French Revolution is revolutionary-er! (Ahem). The...

12:30 pm Comment Count Tags: film reviews
December, 21st 2012

This is 40


Let’s get the awkwardness out of the way first, shall we? This is 40 is essentially The Judd Apatow Story, written and directed by Apatow, with Apatow’s wife (Leslie Mann) playing his wife, Apatow’s two daughters (Iris and Maude) playing his two kids, and, well, Paul Rudd playing Apatow himself. And yes, there are sex scenes in this film. (Wonder if Apatow gave Rudd notes along the lines of: “No, that’s not actually how I do it.”) Okay, so it’s weird. Can we all just move on with our lives now?

Because, This is 40, which bills itself as the “sort of sequel to Knocked Up” is actually pretty great. It suffers from a lot of the same problems of Apatow’s other (also great) comedies: It’s overly long, a tad self-indulgent, and it never met a bit it didn’t want to milk to death. But it’s also sweet, smart, funny, insightful and, not surprisingly, feels remarkably lived in and real. (If I didn’t know better, I’d say that was an actual family up on that screen. Oh. . . wait.)

Indeed, the American film it most reminds me of is Parenthood (the Steve Martin version; not the TV series), which had a similar mix of insight into the joys and heartaches of...

10:02 am Comment Count Tags: film reviews
December, 14th 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit


When I found out that Peter Jackson was planning on filming The Hobbit, the beloved prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it seemed out of order—the appetizer after the three-course entree.

But I was willing to play along. After all, the filmgoing public—and Jackson himself, obviously—has a great affinity for Tolkien’s characters and stories. Why not give us more?

That was before I found out that Jackson was planning on turning The Hobbit, a slim volume at best, into another film trilogy. What’s Elvish for “ripping people off”? (I’m just glad that Jackson didn’t have this extreme impulse toward gigantism 10 years ago, when he first started The Lord of the Rings trilogy—we’d probably be up to our 9th installment at this point.)

At the very least, you would expect that The Hobbit would be turned into three compact films. Wrong again! The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, clocks in at an orc-sized 166 minutes. Even Gandalf himself couldn’t get so much blood out of that stone.

For those who haven’t read the book, it focuses on Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a modest Hobbit living a life of creature comforts and...

12:46 pm Comment Count Tags: film reviews
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