Friday, January 21, 2011

City Island review

A 2009 family drama/comedy starring Andy Garcia and Emily Mortimer

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

About Ji-woon Kim

The South Korean director must really be something in his homeland to be making any kind of impression over here. Better still (for him) is that precious few...or TWO Korean directors who've carved a niche crowd in the U.S. are the applauded Chan-wook Park (Oldboy) and Joon-ho Bong (The Host).

Turning to the infinitely entertaining "Instant Watch" list of Netflix we can find two of Mr. Kim's better known films ("A Tale of Two Sisters" & "The Good, the Bad, and the Weird") who's success have lead him to his latest feature due out in SK theaters soon and a limited release over here in March. That film is "I Saw the Devil". Slash Film has compared the film to David Fincher's "Seven" and it's faced severe criticism in SK for it's graphic depictions of human atrocity.

*Sigh* Thank you Magnet for picking up the film for distribution over here.

By the word of mouth description of the movie I fell confident in dubbing this film as High Brow Exploitation. This is a sub-genre of exploitation films that targets not the teens and "cinema snobs" like "Saw" or "Hostel" do, but the more worldly, New Yorker types starting in their mid thirties.

Examples of such films include: The Cell, Law Abiding Citizen, Silence of the Lambs and its sequels, and of course Seven.

I loathe this genre. The allure is the grimy nihilism of exploitation neatly folded into a slick, smooth, often very well produced mystery film. This works as unlike exploitation, the mystery genre is all about withholding information to create suspense whereas the former simply threatens a grisly end to those pesky kids. A beer is a beer and splatter is splatter! It's a joke to hide behind high minded theme's of self reflection and society's flaws when you know, we know that we're all here just to seen Hopkins scoop brains out of a mans head.

*Ahem* Anyways, I'll be watching and eventually reviewing Mr. Kim's two available films on Netflix in preparation for (I suspect) the applause "I Saw the Devil" will receive among the filmcentric. If my top films list wasn't any indication of my tastes it should be said I prefer drama, comedy, and lighthearted entertainment more than lurid exercises in unpleasantness. But to be fair, I plan do plan to see Kim's new film, expectations low and biased.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Top Movies of 2010

Morning Glory Screenwriter Aline McKenna has made a career writing kitschy, girly comedies. Nothing wrong with that, but Morning Glory is much better than that. With my own experience working on a live news TV show I can tell you it perfectly captures the madness and frustration of production. Rachel McAdams is as always, very likable and sympathetic as she faces the difficult anchors played by Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton, a cruel and uncaring boss in Jeff Goldblum, and a staff all wanting to contribute to the show and her headache. It’s as good as the zany American comedy can these days and easily recommended.

Iron Man 2 I wasn’t a big fan of the first Iron Man. I thought the action was sparse and un-involving, both Terrance Howard and Jeff Bridges were miscast, and I about as comfortable watching U.S. soldiers being killed by road side bombs planted by the Taliban as I am watching Sarah Palin’s Alaska. The sequel knocks it out of the park. Bridges’ character is gone while the infinitely more likeable Don Cheadle replaces Howard. The action is bigger without overstaying its welcome, but by far it’s the casting of Sam Rockwell as a villain that works for me. Giving the bad guys their own smart ass is a perfect counter to Downey Jr. Easily the best blockbuster of the summer.

I’m Still Here Joaquin Pheonix and his brother-in-law Casey Affleck played one dirty, scandalous prank on the world. This realistic and heavy approach to the mocumentary chronicles the sudden and shocking transformation of Pheonix from mega star to prime time embarrassment (the infamous Letterman interview is just one such instance). The brilliance of the joke is just how believable Pheonix is as a rambling, self-absorbed brat and how to heart the public took this change. Never before has the falsity on screen been so personal. Andy Kaufman would be proud.

The Town
You see, a funny thing happened in 2006. Ben Affleck co-starred in a little murder mystery called Hollywoodland. The film was just OK, but Affleck was great, playing against type. Then in 2007 Affleck directed his brother Casey in his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, which is the best noir film since Soderberg’s The Limey. Affleck wanted to show he was still a relevant talent as both a actor and filmmaker with The Town he’s done both. While the plot is simple, even predictable at times, excellent casting, square jawed conviction, and direction from the films star that never indulges (save that one scene of him working out) and we have a smart, brilliantly executed romanticized caper. This was also one of the best date movies of the year: The guys will love the macho “My Town!” attitude and screeching gunfights and the ladies will get lost in the romance teetering between honest love and back handed betrayal. With all the post Christmas sales going on, this is one worth owning.

The Social Network Without restating everything good you’ve already heard about the film, this is one’s going to echo in the Millennial culture forever. It’s not just about the birth of the most popular networking site ever. It’s about incredible power youth possesses. It’s about young men following what appears to be the most effortless path to success in business history. It’s about the unknowing betrayal of all your life’s work to have a social life. If you still haven’t seen the film and your age is between 15 and 28, you need to see this film.

127 Hours
What became an infamous story in the news and later a best selling book is now stylized retelling in Danny Boyle’s latest film. James Franco gives a believable performance as real life adventure seeker Aron Ralston who in 2003 had his hand crushed under a rock in the Utah canyons for five days and survived. A common rule of the chamber piece film is never break the atmosphere with a small cast and rarely if at all showing us the outside world in order to put us in the same uncomfortable position as Ralston. Boyle, perhaps unsurprisingly breaks this rule with his usual energy giving us a warming yet still unflinching movie about one man’s perseverance. The emotional ride we expect from Boyle is in full force here, showing just how big a small movie can be.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Here’s the skinny on why this film is so famous, yet you haven’t seen it: The late Steig Larsson was a Sweedish muckraker (I.e. scandal exposing journalist). In under a year, he hammered out three books known as the Mellenium Trilogy. The story while fiction is based on fact, looking deep within the seedy underbelly of seemingly innocent and cleanly Sweden. Dragon Tattoo is the first entry and introduces our prevailing heroes Lisbeth, the emotionally disturbed punk computer hacker of the title and Michael, a journalist pending jail time and is essentially Larsson himself. Together the uncover a mind-bending mystery in Northern Sweden. Less political than the sequels, Dragon Tattoo is a mesmerizing whodunit and more accessible than you might think. It’s not an action film, nor pretentious European drama. It’s also very difficult watch as the film forces you through the inhumanity the Swedish government would rather keep to themselves. Still, it’s worth it to experience the one of the most successful films in Europe’s history.

The Kids Are Alright Gay couples are still pretty taboo for the mainstream. The kids are alright gives us a unashamed, but tasteful look into a picturesque family with two moms. We see both the kids and the parents exploring their sexuality, the awkwardness of juggling social life with family, and best of all, on target drama that never delves into shouting, abuse, or overwrought conflicts. This is about as approachable and rewarding a soap can get: never too dry or moody and never too cheeky. Arguably the most pleasant adult oriented film all year.

Catfish The brilliance of Catfish’s marketing ploy was through relying on age old word-of-mouth and our underlying desire to see the big secret ending for ourselves. Is it a real documentary? Is it fake as hell? Don’t go into the film trying to dissect it’s production. Instead experience the film as it presents itself: a young man starts a relationship with a woman strictly through face book, texting, and the occasional phone call. Perhaps more than The Social Network, Catfish captures the distance our technology driven lifestyle promotes and then even better realizes our need for someone no matter the hurdles involved. See this movie, see it with your friends, loved ones and pass the good word on.

Greenberg No other film this year resonated with me more than Ben Stiller’s dramatic turn in Noah Baumbach’s masterpiece character study. Stiller’s character Roger Greenberg is an asshole. He’ self-righteous, bad to his friends, socially conservative, and oblivious to why things never go his way. I defy you to not see someone you know or even a part of yourself in Greenberg. He’s everything we hope not to be when we’re midway through our lives. Because of this, for every wicked, cruel thing that he says or does we sympathize with him. The character is so well developed and real it literally scared. An exceptional tribute to the depth of humanity.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Crimes of the Arizona Shooting

The tragedy of the Tucson, Arizona shooting is that we will not stand united as a country as Obama wished of us in his formal comment on the matter. We will, nay, have begun already to divide on the subject. This is not unreasonable of any of us as there is no clear resolution to be gained. No way to undo or properly prepare for the future. Not today at least.

Maybe Governor Giffords will live. Maybe she will resume office. Maybe gunman Loughner will be institutionalized instead of sent to prison. Maybe he will get the death penalty.

Maybe. But as the media swells with the matter (though only momentarily, before it becomes a faint memory) our minds split. All grounds will be covered, but nothing will be gained.

Those grounds are presented below. My facts come from the New York Time’s coverage of the shooting.

“Why is someone like this not in a institution?” asked John and Ken on their radio talk show today. Is the center of the issue that a man publicly witnessed engaging in inappropriate behavior was not locked away? How do you judge a mans mental well being? The very argument of Frank Capra’s “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” is that we are all entitled to our eccentricities, so long they don’t harm anyone. Not a day goes by without words of cruelty spoken, death wished upon others, and pleasure gained from assertions of dominance. And what of the unspoken? What we don’t say to each other can often be much worse only if acted upon. To treat the constitution as a hierarchy, our right of speech is more sacred than our right to arms.

The irony of September 11, 2001 born nine-year-old Christina Green’s death at a political gathering. Not at the hands of a foreign enemy, but one of the politically minded child’s countrymen. The Green families loss is great, but so too is America’s loss of a youth so involved in political matters. I cannot imagine the kind of kid who would be so interested in her government to attend Grifford’s meeting.

What of Jared Loughner’s upbringing? Little is yet known of his reclusive family, whom neighbors described as unfriendly and rarely seen in public. This is a borderline ancient argument (of blaming the parents) that while still valid, is and will always be ripe for passing the buck. Loughner is twenty-two. He is legally responsible for his crimes as those in favor of the death penalty will remind us. Schools in America do not educate us to be good parents. Courses on parenting must to sought out of our own open-minded volition. Loughner’s childhood, no matter the details, is as any of ours was: a product of our media, the peers we could relate to, and whatever our imperfect parents can contribute in between.

If I must take a position, this is it: Gun control. An equally tired debate that has gone nowhere fast. Some have argued that Loughner would have acquired a weapon anyway possible. Illegal gun sales are common, even through conventions (Mexican cartels are often supplied through U.S. trade shows). Still, it was how Loughner acquired his weapon that disturbs me. He bought a glock handgun from a store. Legally. What I know of the Arizona gun ownership background checks is limited to the ironic 1994 repeal for small arms by Judge Roll who was one of the fatally wounded victims of the shooting.
Does this mean that there was no background check for Loughner’s semi-automatic weapon? If there was one, did it acknowledge Loughner’s drug abuse which cost him admittance into the army a couple months back? If the gun store was the first place he went for a weapon, could he have been discovered by the law as a potentially dangerous man with a recent history of aggressive behavior?

No. He would have walked out gun in hand one way or the other. Nothing was ever in his way to the meeting on Saturday. Just as the next shooting by a disgruntled youth is in no way in danger of failure. As I twist the knob of my car radio off I hear that talk show pundits changing subjects to the latest developments in Michael Jackson’s death back in 2009. Already, I feel my fellow Americans lead me to where I want to be in a time of tragedy and self-reflection. I want to forget.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

007 Blood Stone Review

007: Blood Stone is a thrilling, well produced title that only the dense will turn their noses to. Should this be you, then you’ve missed one of the best bond games ever made.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: I can’t even describe the plot to you as it left no impression on me whatsoever. The intent was to capture the erratic pacing of the Daniel Craig films, and to the credit of screenwriter Bruce Feirstein who’s worked on several other bond game scripts and the screenplay’s to three Brosnan Bond films, he does capture the sharp conversational dialogue of 007.

Visually the game banks on big set pieces and large detailed environments. Virtually every corner of the screen is alive in the moment-to-moment action and exquisite motion captured animation dominates. Racing fans get the best of it as Bizarre Creations notoriously excellent racing proficiency steals the spot light from time to time.

Now the actual on foot gameplay surprisingly-but appropriately-mirrors Uncharted more than Gears of War. After all, Bond is a far more visceral man than Marcus Phoenix. The melee is a context sensitive, but quick time free affair that compliments the gunplay better than a fully fleshed fisticuff engine.

The firefights are breezy and sweet. When pistols are drawn a skirmish usually doesn’t last more than a few seconds, and that’s if you win. I don’t want to sell Blood Stone short as a dumbed down experience as there’s still a challenge to be had. Personally as someone who only takes up the wheel in reality, I found the racing sections to be the greatest test.

With no incentive to replay the game beside achievements/trophies, the multiplayer comes off noticeably slower than the campaign. That said, once you adjust, the thrill of the gunplay is just the same online as it is off. There’s a solid if unremarkable XP system constantly spewing rewards in the forms of character skins, new weapons, and silver and gold paint for the weapons you use the most. My suggestion is to start out with the SMG for a balanced gun.

While Blood Stone didn’t meet my expectations of memorability, it’s still a great game in its own right. Now that most of you have already bought games like Black Ops, New Vegas, and Reach for the holidays, consider Bond’s latest adventure. As a rental, it’s one of the best gaming values you’ll get this winter.