Monday, November 29, 2010

Martin Scorsese's Fran Lebowitz Doc PUBLIC SPEAKING Now Airing On HBO

PUBLIC SPEAKING (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 2010)

"When I was a child it was called 'talking back' and now it's called public speaking, you know? But it's really the same. So, the thing I used to get punished for at home and in school...and get bad marks in school for it...then at a certain point in my life I got actually paid and rewarded for it. But it's the exact same thing." - Fran Lebowitz

This film is loosely a documentary really; it's mostly a sit-down conversation with noted author Fran Lebowitz at her favorite table at the Waverly Inn in Greenwich Village, NYC interrupted only occasionally with bio doc clippage.
Scorsese embraces Lebowitz at the beginning of the film and the back of his head can be seen as well as his laugh can be heard throughout the film, but this is a showcase for Lebowitz's gift for gab - and a damn good one.

We hear the outspoken woman, who comes across as the consumate New Yorker, as she offers views on race, gay rights, and the over abundance of bad writers in the marketplace and it's funny stuff. Intellectual insights galore from one of the few people to get their own Jeopardy category: "The Quotable Fran Lebowitz."

A highlight are Lebowitz's telling of the many meetings she had with Hollywood people over rights to her books which she never sold are as gold as anecdotes can get.

Among the clips of Lebowitz on Late Night With Conan O'Brien, Charlie Rose, various speaking engagements, and most amusingly, as Judge Janice Goldbergon on Law And Order, there is illuminating archival footage of influences such as James Baldwin and Gore Vidal as well.

As "Jeopardy" attains there are many great quotes in this doc such as:
"Here's the problem with being ahead of your the time everyone gets around to it, you're bored."

Maybe, but I wasn't bored for a second watching PUBLIC SPEAKING.
PUBLIC SPEAKING is now airing on HBO. Check your local listings for show-times. No word yet about when it will be released on DVD.

More later...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

CONVICTION: The Film Babble Blog Review

CONVICTION (Dir. Tony Goldwyn, 2010)

It's that time of year - time for a piece of Hilary Swank Oscar bait.

Last year Swank's performance as Amelia Earhart failed to get a nomination so she's back playing another real person - Betty Anne Waters - a working class mother fighting the legal system in this earnest yet fiercely mediocre melodrama.

Full of the kind of spunk that Lou Grant would definitely hate, Waters put herself through law school just so she could represent her brother, who was wrongfully convicted of murder in Massachusetts.

Sam Rockwell plays the brother, spending the bulk of his role in prison scenes with Swank. The film flashes back to the early '80s when the crime was committed with Rockwell being arrested by Melissa Leo as an obviously corrupt cop.

In a courtroom sequence Rockwell's ex-wife (Clea DuVall) and ex-girlfriend (Juliette Lewis) testify against the accused while Swank steams on the sidelines.

Over the next 16 years Swank struggles to earn her GED, a college diploma and a law degree while working as a bartender all the while investigating her brother's case.

Swank befriends a sassy Minnie Driver as a fellow student and spurned on by the prospect of new DNA evidence hooks up with the Innocence Project - an organization that overturns wrongful convictions led by Barry Scheck (a sauve but wooden Peter Galagher).

With a bad Boston accent and a strained expression for most of the movie, Swank sure doesn't deserve a nomination for this one. Rockwell fares better, but there's not really much to his character.

We see that he's a white trash ruffian always in trouble with the law - the kind who will start a barfight one minute then do a cheered-on semi-striptease to a redneck anthem on the jukebox the next.

We're supposed to be seduced by his wildness and in turn admire Swank's plucky determination to clear her brother's name, because, well, she's wild inside too.

Driver's accent isn't much better than Swank's, but as a Devil's advocate best friend she has a likable presence. Juliette Lewis makes the most of her short but sweet part - she's completely believable as tawdry trailer-trash with bad teeth.

As it was based on a true story this film is not without merit; it's competently constructed, but its bland TV movie mechanisms and treacly score kept it from getting anywhere near my heart.

Try as it might, CONVICTION isn't very convincing.

More later...

Saturday, November 27, 2010


(Dir. Michael Stephenson, 2009)

Meet George Hardy.

He's a dentist in Alexander City, Alabama who is much loved by the local community.

Hardy seems a normal nice guy except for one crucial piece of information: in 1990 he starred in a notoriously awful movie titled TROLL 2.

TROLL 2 was a direct to video schlock horror flick that had no connection to TROLL (1986). The movie has inexplicably gained an audience over the years while maintaining its 0% rating on the Rotten Tomatometer.

Why? Well file this under case file: "it's so bad that it's good."

TROLL 2 is about a family taking a vacation in a small town named Nilbog (goblin spelled backwords) who are taunted and tortured by vegetarian goblins (not trolls, mind you).

As its reputation tells us, it contains some of the worst effects, the worst acting, worst writing, and worst direction of any film in history.

For the record though, I must say that I agree with Horror Movie Journalist M.J. Simpson who appears in this doc that there are far worse movies - but that's a whole other blog post.

This documentary, made by Michael Stephenson who was the child actor in TROLL 2, explores the minor fan phenomenon surrounding the supposed "Citizen Kane" of suck.

Stephenson follows Hardy as he attends sold-out revival screenings as well as interviews many fans and cast members including Margo Prey, Don Packard, Darren Ewing, Jason Wright, and Connie Young.

Ironic or not, the love for TROLL 2 is hilariously contagious as Hardy and the rest of the cast are treated like rock stars at these screenings, but the film goes from funny to fascinating to sad fairly swiftly.

Stephensen travels to Italy to interview director Claudio Fragasso (credited as Drake Floyd in TROLL 2) and his wife Rossella Drudi (who wrote the screenplay for TROLL 2 also credited to Drake Floyd). Fragasso talks pretentiously about the film:

"It's an important film which talks about the family, the union of the family resisting all of those things that want to destroy it and see it dead."

At a cast re-union/screening, Fragasso, who speaks very little English, has trouble answering a question from a fan about why there are no Trolls in the film. It had to be repeated a few times: "Why is it called 'Troll 2' when there are no trolls in the film?"

Fragasso only has this response: "You don't understand nothing."

After amusing scenes of cast members re-enacting scenes from TROLL 2, the doc starts to get sad as Hardy who's gung ho about enjoying his semi-celebrity status, visits a memorabilia convention in Britain manning a TROLL 2 table that hardly anybody visited.

Hardy to passerbys: "Have you seen 'Troll 2'? No? Aw, you're missing it - worst film ever made!"

Some cults only extend so far it seems.

Special Features: a slew of deleted scenes and extra interviews equaling over an hour of bonus BEST WORST MOVIE goodness.

If you want to see what the fuss is about - TROLL 2 is currently available on and streaming on Netflix Instant as it's celebrating its 20th anniversary.

More later...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Blu Ray Review: THE EXTRA MAN

Now out on Blu ray, DVD, and scheduled to be available streaming on Netflix Instant starting 12/16/2010:

THE EXTRA MAN (Dirs. Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini, 2010)

This film, which I initially thought was too quirky for its own good, grew on me quite a bit. Kevin Kline has been in so few movies lately that it's extremely pleasing to see him sink his teeth into a juicy role, and the role here is a beaut.

As seen through the eyes of Paul Dano as a young aspiring writer with delusions of "Great Gatsby"-ish grandeur, we meet Kline as Henry Harrison - an eccentric failed playwright who lives off of the splendor of rich old ladies as he describes: "A fine meal, vintage orchestra perhaps."
You see the scraggily gray haired mustached Kline considers himself an "extra man." He explains:

"You see women outlive men so there's always a need for an extra man at the table. It maintains a proper seating arrangement. Boy-girl, boy-girl."

Dano, who was kicked out of a teaching position at Princeton and came to New York to "find himself", rents a room from Kline and gets a job doing phone sales for an environmental magazine. Dano is fascinated by Kline's philosophies and tricks like how to get into the opera for free.

As a fellow flighty co-worker, Katie Holmes becomes the object of Dano's affection, but there's a little snag in his plans as she has an activist boyfriend and, uh, Dano has a bit of a cross dressing issue.

In one of the most off-kilter performances of his career, John C. Reilly appears in a small part as a grizzly wide-eyed neighbor of Kline's who speaks in falsetto. Reilly's part doesn't really fit in at first, but as the film goes on it becomes an inexactractable piece of the quirky quilt.

Though it's largely Dano's movie, Kline is who keeps it rolling with his witty line readings and chutzpah - a scene in which he teaches Dano how to take a leak while standing between parked cars on the street has more cheeky charm than one could imagine with that description.

What's less successful is the handling of Dano's sexual deviance. Scenes of the droopy sad eyed actor fondling brassieres and trying on women's clothes are cringe-worthy and don't add much to the more interesting material involving the wealthy women Kline is trying to woo.

A subplot involving Celia Weston as a wannabe socialite and somewhat rival of Kline's isn't explored fully, likewise Patti D'Arbanville's skimpy part as a dominatrix that Dano hires.

These flaws aside, THE EXTRA MAN is just amusing enough to be recommended. It's not as essential a film as director Berman and Pulcini's AMERICAN SPLENDOR, but it's fairly agreeable entertainment nonetheless.

Special Features: a commentary with Kevin Kline and author Jonathan Ames ("Bored To Death") who wrote the original novel, a second commentary with the co-directors + crew, a deleted scene, a clip of the voice recording for a cartoon clip, a behind the scene featerette of the musical score, and HDNet: A look at THE EXTRA MAN.

More later...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

FASTER: The Film Babble Blog Review

(Dir. George Tillman, Jr., 2010)

Apparently after a slew of kid's movies and commercial comedies, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has decided to put his goofy grin up on the shelf and get back to basics in a big dumb action shoot 'em up.

On the day of his release from a 10 year prison sentence "The Rock", who a title tells us is "Driver", sits down in front of a sympathetic Warden (Tom Berenger). Berenger in a one scene cameo goes on about rehabilitation and offers a helping hand. "Any questions?" the Warden asks. The Rock: "Where's the exit?"

This is our protagonist's first and only line for a bit into FASTER, which follows the extremely stoical ex con as he follows a list of those involved in the bank robbery that landed him in jail and who murdered his brother.

One informant after another is treated to a bullet to the brain. Meanwhile, a sleazy Billy Bob Thornton, only identified as "Cop", is trailing "Driver" and there's Oliver Jackson-Cohen as a slick high tech assassin labeled only as "Killer" who is also caught up in the chase.

Working from the inside loop with a strong willed police detective (Carla Gugino), Thornton is a divorced druggie - unfortunately a scene devised to enforce his character's messed up mindset is set to the First Edition's "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" which can't help but recall THE BIG LEBOWSKI (Dude! Don't steal from "The Dude"!)

Admiring The Rock's confidence and skills, Jackson-Cohen tells his girlfriend (Maggie Grace from "Lost") that his new worthy adversary is "faster" than he is, in case you were wondering about the film's title.

FASTER is ultra-formulaic and it takes itself way too seriously with only a few feeble attempts at humor to give us much relief. The Rock puts in a refined and solid performance, but it's not a very interesting character. We don't learn anything about him except his single minded mission and the heavily implied love for his brother.

And because he's as unbeatable as always - there's no edge or sense of danger present.

Thornton steals the scenes he's in - he and the brash Jackson-Cohen appear to be having fun with their roles which is good because The Rock sure isn't.

As for the mechanics of the plot there is a bit of a mystery about who pulled the strings in the botched bank job set-up with flashbacks and images on a videotape, but I seriously doubt the target audience for this film will care or be very shocked when the reveal comes. They'll probably just be waiting for the next kill like the preview crowd at the advance screening I saw this at who ate every bit of it up.

I will give credit to the fact that there were no explosions in this movie. For an action movie of this ilk that certainly can be seen as major restraint.

This is a movie for The Rock fans plain and simple. Those who want brains instead of blockbuster bloodlust may want to sit this one out.

More later...

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Review Of The Dreadful TAMARA DREWE

TAMARA DREWE (Dir. Stephen Frears, 2010)

I was surprised to see the credit “Based on the graphic novel” on the screen at the beginning of this British comedy clunker.

It seems every other movie this year was based on a graphic novel!

Nothing wrong with that I suppose, just unexpected with this type of Thomas Hardy-ish material which concerns a writer’s retreat setting in a quaint English village captured in the ever lasting golden hour.

In a tale told in seasons, aspiring authors congregate at the home of a bestselling writer (Roger Allam) and his hosting wife (Tamsin Greig) who has long learned to look the other way to deal with her husband’s affairs.

Allam is always pompously pontificating about his supposed literary talent mostly to a struggling neurotic writer played by a buffoonish Bill Camp.

Returning to the town for the first time since her nose-job, Gemma Arterton, as the title character, appears in skimpy cut-offs and red tank top and every man in sight swoons.

This includes Luke Evans as the gardener/handyman who had a fling with Artenton when they were teens we’re told in a racy flashback.

Artenton is a journalist covering a punk pop band named Swipe who break up after a row on stage in which the drummer (Dominic Cooper) is outraged over the coupling of 2 his band-mates particularly since one had been his girlfriend.

To Evan’s chagrin Cooper and Artenton quickly couple up themselves, all the while a couple of hiding chatty schoolgirls (Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie) watch it all smitten themselves with Cooper.

Allam gets into the game by bedding Arterton, Camp secretly pines for Grieg who he uses as a muse, and the schoolgirls cause trouble with a naughty email so there’s endless foolish shenanigans at every turn.

The film builds to a tragic last third, hints of which are dropped here and there throughout, but once it’s upon us its effect is mind-numbingly banal.

For all its energy and colorful imagery, “Tamara Drewe” never gels. It’s a completely charmless and painfully unfunny farce. Every attempt at wit falls flat and I could never deduce what the point of it all was.

No insights into restless writer’s mindsets or hearts – it’s all just misplaced vanity.

It also doesn’t help that the characters are all unlikable especially Allam’s who is just a transparent caricature of a womanizing cad.

The film doesn’t seem to be on anybody’s side so there’s nobody to care about. Despite the richness of the countryside and Frear’s ace sense of staging, its ultra-smarmy tone sabotages the entire production.

I can only hope that the graphic novel (and still going comic strip in the Guardian) by Posy Simmonds is more worthwhile than this dreadful tripe.

More later...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

FAIR GAME: The Film Babble Blog Review

(Dir. Doug Liman, 2010)

The true story of former CIA operative Valerie Plame and her husband retired diplomat Joesph C. Wilson is told in this thriller/melodrama based on Plame's book "Fair Game: My Life As A Spy, My Betrayal By The White House."

As portrayed by Naomi Watts and Sean Penn (in their third film together) we follow them through the dense details of how their reputations were besmirched by the Bush administration in the early aughts when Wilson reported that "some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."

Plame's CIA identity was exposed in the press and Wilson's work for the government is threatened, but the film seems to stress that what was more important is that their marriage was being torn apart.

It begins with Plame recruiting her husband to travel to Africa to investigate reports that Niger has sold 50 tons of "yellowcake" uranium ore to Saddam Hussein. Of course, he finds no trace of yellowcake and files a report to that effect as well as writes an op-ed piece for the New York Times entitled "What I Didn't Find In Africa."

The controversy surrounding the couple, stupidly dubbed "Plamegate", becomes extremely messy as does the movie. Many scenes are too strained and too choppy for the appropriate mood and there's an annoying inconsistent shaki-cam framing which detracts from its possible emotional power.

It's the stateside companion to Paul Greengrass's just as forced film GREEN ZONE in which army officer Matt Damon complains to an excruciating degree about not being able to find Weapons of Mass Destruction anywhere.

Penn and Watts make a convincing couple - their arguments over Plame's reluctance to go public with the facts are initially involving, but their attempts at intensity grow more and more tiresome as the film progresses to its predictable conclusion.

There is a wasted, and fictional, subplot involving an Iraqi doctor (Israeli actress Liraz Charhi) who works with Plame to find out the extent of Iraq's nuclear program. This also concerns the doctor's physicist brother in Baghdad, played by Khaled Nabawy, who Plame promises will be safely re-located if he helps out. We also get Chief of Staff Scooter Libby (David Andrews) and Senior Advisor Karl Rove (Adam LeFevre) basically just being evil as they plot to discredit the heroic couple.

Then there's a cameo by Sam Shepherd as Plame's wise father that's so badly shot that we can barely see it's him until halfway through the scene. With it's speechifying and constantly interspersed ominous shots of Washington locations (the White House, the Capital, the Pentagon, etc.) FAIR GAME has noble intentions, but its the cinematic equivalent of listening to hours of the liberal radio network Air America. 

Hearing the hosts bitching non-stop about how we were lied to in order to justify the Iraq war - even if you agreed with them - was painful and a large part of why that network failed. And it's the main reason this film fails too.

More later...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

INSIDE JOB: The Film Babble Blog Review

(Dir. Charles Ferguson, 2010)

"I don't know what credit default swaps are. I'm old fashioned that way." - George Soros

That makes 2 of us. There are many things like that in this documentary that I was completely in the dark about going in, yet in a sober (and sobering) manner INSIDE JOB explains the financial meltdown of 2008 in a fairly graspable way.

Matt Damon calmly narrates the film, taking us through segments entitled "How We Got Here", "The Bubble", "The Crisis", "Accountability", and "Where We Are Now". It's a lot of complicated information to take in, but through interviews with key players such as the before mentioned financier George Soros, U.S. House Representative Barney Frank, former NY State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, Economics professor Nouriel Roubini, economist Paul Volcker, and many others, the film does an impressive, if at times impenetrable, job of breaking it down.

Ferguson, whose previous film the Iraq war doc NO END IN SIGHT was just as exhaustive, has a real knack for assembling a powerful narrative out of a tangled web of sometimes extremely confusing criteria. We learn about corporate fat cats pocketing millions sometimes billions of dollars from corrupt loans.

We see power point presentation style graphics that help define CDOs (collateralized debt obligations), subprime lending, and all kind of mortage mayhem. We even get an interview with a former Wall Street "Madam" (Kristin Davis) who supplied investment bankers with prostitutes.

It's an excellent eye-opening documentary that thankfully uses a minimum of Michael Moore-ish methods like pop song punctuation.

Peter Gabriel's "Big Time" plays during the opening credit swoop through the Manhattan skyline, and Ace Frehley's "New York Groove" provides a backing beat to footage of excessive lifestyles, but such touches don't intrude at all on the thesis at hand.

INSIDE JOB is more informative than it is entertaining and its conclusion that criticizes President Obama for doing little to change the situation is depressing, but it's an incredibly well crafted and sharply focused work that got my mind reeling.

That is, even if I still can't tell you exactly what a credit default swap is.

More later...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lars von Trier's ANTICHRIST Now Out On DVD And Streaming On Netflix Instrant

ANTICHRIST (Dir. Lars von Trier, 2009)

This abstract horror film begins with a vivid black and white sex scene opening in which it looks like Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainesbourg are actually doing the deed. As a married couple copulating, Dafoe and Gainesbourg writhe in slow motion unaware that their baby boy (Storm Acheche Sahlstrøm) has gotten out of bed and is walking around their apartment.

Their son climbs to the ledge of an open window. He falls to his death in the snow below.

From there the film changes into color, but it's not that colorful. Dafoe and Gainesbourg Pale light bathes Dafoe and Gainesbourg's skin with gray tones setting the mournful mood.

Gainesbourg is going out of her skin over her son's death while Dafoe, a therapist, tries to tend to her with his cold and clinical methods. Dafoe decides they should retreat to a cabin in the woods because nothing says horror like a cabin in the woods! I half expected them to find the "Book Of The Dead" there.

Shadows and light move through many gothic shots of the nature surrounding them and yep, strange evil things start to happen such as Gainesbourg calling their surroundings "Satan's garden" and a fox with a voice out of THE EXORCIST saying "choas reigns" to Dafoe.

Many other weird and disturbing things happen to the couple, none of which I feel like relating.

Sexual madness is an overriding theme with excruciating scenes of genital mutilation. Gainesbourg had been working on a thesis about genocide in the same cabin the year before so there's that too.

ANTICHRIST is full of incredibly lucid cinematography and excellent acting by its 2 leads (who are the only people in the film after the son's death), but it's a disgusting and dreadful work that I could not see the point of at all.

Director von Trier has previously made thought provoking and vital films like DANCER IN THE DARK and DOGVILLE, but this is a wretched work that I wouldn't wish upon anyone - even the former co-worker of mine that recommended Paul Haggis's CRASH to me.

However Criterion deemed the film worthy enough to add to their mighty collection, and I see many folks on the internet calling it a masterpiece, but I felt absolutely assaulted by it. To each their own I suppose.

The Criterion Collection edition contains the following special features: an audio commentary by von Trier and professor Murray Smith, interviews with von Trier and the leads, a collection of video pieces delving into the production, a documentary called "Chaos Reigns at the Cannes Film Festival 2009", and a booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Ian Christie.

Or you can watch it with no frills on Netflix Instant. Just don't say you weren't warned.

More later...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


WINNEBAGO MAN (Dir. Ben Steinbauer, 2009)

So maybe you've seen or at least heard of this crazy clip (easily findable on YouTube) of outtakes from an industrial Winnebago sales film circa 1989 in which the spokesperson swears up a storm in take after take?

Labeled "The Angriest Man in the World" it began life as a VHS tape copied and passed around for years until YouTube came along in 2005 and made it a internet sensation - VH1 ranked it the third best viral video not long after.

In this more interesting than it has a right to be documentary film maker Ben Steinbauer parlays his obsession with the extremely profane man from the clip into a journey towards discovery - no, really!

Steinbauer tracks down the crew members that leaked the "bloopers" and even resorts to hiring a private detective in order to find Rebney.

Rebney turns out to be living in the mountains of Northern California and is - wait for it - an ornery profane curmudgeon.

Rebney's strong political views and anger towards those who have made him an object of humiliation on the internet make for more swearing sequences - so much so that I can see this DVD being put on for drinking game purposes.

Steinbauer and the normally reclused Rebney argue up until the film culminates in the director taking his half blind subject to a Found Film Festival appearance where the audience treats the perpetually pissed off wannabe pundit like a rock star.

WINNEBAGO MAN is very funny and it serves as a neat little history of viral video - one in which those that are laughed at can simultaneously be regarded as everyman heroes. We feel like in those horribly hot, fly filled conditions that made this one odd guy insanely curse like it was going out of style - we may have acted the same. So the clip serves as a sort of release.

A young girl approaches Rebney after he gets off stage at the Found Film Festival and tells him: "You have no idea - this clip, everytime I'm in a bad mood I watch you swear and it makes me smile."

Rebney smiles too and for the first time in the film he appears to "get" it.

WINNEBAGO MAN is surely to be seen by some as disposable documentary because of its silly subject matter and fanboy thrust, but as disposable docs go it's one of the most entertaining I've ever seen.

WINNEBAGO MAN was released Tuesday, November 2nd, on DVD. It contains just a couple of bonus features, but they are good ones: the "Completed 1989 Winnebago Video" (25 min.) and a NYC Premiere Featurette (16 min.).

More later...

Monday, November 08, 2010

DUE DATE: The Film Babble Blog Review

DUE DATE (Dir. Todd Phillips, 2010)

As surely every critic has said this is essentially a remake of PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES except the trains are replaced with drugs and much more scatological humor.

In the Steve Martin role is Robert Downey Jr. who is trying to get from Atlanta to Los Angeles for his wife’s c-section and he’s saddled with Zack Galifinakis in the John Candy role.

Galifianakis is an air-headed pot-smoking eccentric with a perm toting around a small dog who dreams of going to Hollywood to become an actor.

Downey Jr. is, uh, I forget his profession, but he’s an uptight jerk.

Mix in Michelle Monaghan as Downey Jr.’s pregnant wife and cameos from Jamie Foxx, Juliette Lewis, Danny McBride (the only one who’s slightly funny here), and RZA and you’ve got yourself a wasted cast.

Downey Jr. and Galifianakis wreck a rental car, get in a high speed chase in a stolen Mexican security vehicle, and get stoned as well as other not worth mentioning shenanigans.

All the while Galifianakis has his recently deceased father's ashes in a coffee can. Inevitably somebody accidentally brews it as coffee. This actually results in one of the few good lines when Galifianakis says: "Well, that's the circle of life - my father enjoyed drinking coffee, and we enjoyed my father AS coffee."

There are laughs here and there in DUE DATE, but not enough to make this anywhere near a solid comedy.

Like in “The Hangover” Phillips shoots like he’s making a drama with too many close-ups and unnecessary crane shots.

It’s the parts that try to get personal that fall flattest. The much much funnier PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES had a satisfactory sentimental tone in its earned conclusion, but this film’s heart is shoehorned in.

I mean what’s the point of giving Downey Jr. a serious monologue about how his father left when he was a kid? Oh yeah, I remember – it was a set-up to a lame joke by Galifianakis about how his father wouldn’t do that because he loved him. Ugh.

There’s also the badly handled subplot that Downey Jr. gets into his mind that his wife may have cheated on him with his best friend Foxx. Again that’s only there to set up another lame joke.

Both Downey Jr. and Galifianakis are likable credible actors, but here they are 2 guys that most people would want to stay away from. The same can be said about the movie.

But hey! If you like humor about slugging kids in the gut or masturbating dogs – this may be the movie for you.

More later...

Sunday, November 07, 2010

HOWL: The Film Babble Blog Review

HOWL (Dirs. Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman, 2010)

Allen Ginsberg's notorious 1955 poem "Howl" comes alive in this striking film that blends grainy black and white faux footage with animation and more conventionally shot color courtroom dramatization.

James Franco, in a career best performance as Ginsberg, recites the bulk of the epic poem throughout the film as it shifts through these alternating filmic strands in the stream of conscious manner of the original writing.

We go back and forth from Franco at his typewriter at the time of the poem's creation to being in front of a enthralled coffee house audience in 1955, and then as interview subject in his apartment in 1957 in which our subject's soft spoken answers to an unseen journalist serves as a sort of narration.

Franco's Ginsberg isn't present at the obscenity trial over the poem's content that same year, as defense lawyer Jon Hamm and prosecuting attourney David Straithairn argue whether the work has literary merit or should be deemed filth.

It's a mezmerizing ride enhanced especially by the dark animation done by Eric Drooker (also available in graphic novel form). Franco's keystrokes become musical notes that flow off the page into landscapes filled with worker drones in daunting factory settings or stacks of books that make up city skylines.

Further animated interpretations of many lines from "Howl" wind through the fractured narrative while Franco's impassioned readings flow freely.

Franco obviously studied hundreds of recordings of the real Ginsberg to get his inflections down and along with recreations of photographs and old film, "Howl" has the ring of authenticity.

Hamm uses his well honed Don Draper methods of persuasion to make the case for the poem in court under a compassionate judge played by Bob Babalan. Mary Louise Parker has a tiny cameo as an offended witness and Andrew Rogers as Lawrence Ferlinghetti doesn't have a single line but still registers in several close-ups.

The rest of the cast is pure decoration - Ginsberg's unrequited homosexual desire for Jack Kerouac (Too Rotondi) and Neal Cassady (John Prescott) give way to Aaron Tveit who becomes Ginsberg's life partner, but these relationships are dealt with as just sidelines to all the poetic action. And that's how they should be.

"Howl" is one of the year's best films and a shoo-in for an Academy Award nomination for Franco. It's also a great introduction to the era in which Ginsberg's words sliced through society with a vengeance.

More later...

Friday, November 05, 2010

NOWHERE BOY: The Film Babble Blog Review

NOWHERE BOY (Dir. Sam Taylor-Wood, 2010) The famous guitar chord that kicks off the song and the movie A HARD DAY'S NIGHT also begins this film in which we see a 17 year old John Lennon running down a Liverpudian sidewalk.

But he's not being chased by a crowd of screaming teenage girls - that wouldn't be for several years - he's apparently caused some mischief and it looks like the police may be after him.

As embodied by Aaron Johnson (the kid from KICK-ASS!) the Lennon of 1958 is a tall kid with an Elvis style pompadour. Jerry Lee Lewis's "Wild One" tells us what we need to know about his character during the opening titles.

Lennon lives with his Aunt Mimi (Kristen Scott-Thomas) and Uncle George (David Threlfall) who he’s really close to. Uncle George dies and at his funeral Lennon catches a glimpse of a red-haired woman named Julia. Beatles fans should know that this is Lennon’s mother.

Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), for reasons that aren’t clear, had left her 5 year son in the care of Aunt Mimi. Lennon has flashes of memories from his past but they’re too fleeting to be of much narrative use.

While suspended from school Lennon hides out at his mother’s house bonding with her as she teaches him how to play the banjo. When she finds out, Aunt Mimi is furious and Lennon decides he’d rather stay with his mother.

He also decides to start a skiffle band called the Quarrymen and recruits some of his fellow students. At one of their first concerts Lennon meets Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie Sangster) who says he’s 15, but he looks like he’s 8 years old.

However this isn’t about the birth of the biggest band in the world – which are never named incidentally – it’s about the young Lennon’s relationships with his mother and his Aunt and how these 2 diametrically oppossed personalities shaped his psyche.

Johnson carries the film with a convincing Lennon. His accent is dead-on and doesn’t come off as a thick or cheap impression at all. The British actor has got down the phrasing of sarcastic quips as well as Lennon’s brooding intensity that I didn’t think he had in him after seeing “Kick-Ass”. Not that he was bad in that previous film – there just weren’t hints of anything like this.

Anne-Marie Duff rises above the screenplay’s painting of Julia as a flighty flirty floozy. Scott-Thomas scowls effectively as the angry yet loving Aunt and she steals many of the scenes she’s in.

David Morrissey as Lennon’s step-father mostly just looks on disapprovingly while Sangster makes the most of the small yet pivotal part of Paul.

“Nowhere Boy” is respectful and heartfelt but it’s not without its shortcomings. The arc of the supposed mystery of why Julia abandoned her son is handled in a hazy way marring the impact of the payoff.

This doesn’t mean it’s not extremely worthwhile - Like Lennon himself its charms outweigh its defects. Especially considering its sensational ‘50s soundtrack including classics from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Gene Vincent, and one of Lennon’s greatest influences: Elvis Presley.

Johnson does his own vocals throughout the film, but the real Nowhere Man is featured via an alternate take of “Mother” which plays on top of the obligatory yet unavoidable black and white archival photo montage conclusion.

More later...

Thursday, November 04, 2010


(Dir. Daniel Alfredson, 2009)

"It's like a classic Greek tragedy. Zalachenko tries to shoot his daughter, assisted by her brother. Then she rises from the grave to plant an axe in her father's skull." - Fredrik Clinton (Lennart Hjulström)

That's right - Lisbeth Salamander (Naomi Rapace) is back in the third and final edition of the extremely popular "Millennium" trilogy, but after the events of the last film she has to recover in a hospital bed, which kind of drags this movie down right from the get-go.

It's the same hospital that her evil father (Georgi Staykov) was taken to - you see that axe didn't quite do the job (or quite cut it if you want to go the pun route).

Meanwhile Rapace's old journalist friend Michael Nyqvist assembles a special issue of his magazine Millennium devoted entirely to expose that several authorities conspired against the dragon tattooed Girl who plays with fire to protect a pathological killer.

At the same time the old white haired men behind the crimes scramble to have Rapace placed back at St. Stephen's mental hospital where she was wrongly committed when she was 12 years old.

Oh yeah, there's also the supposed to be frightening factor that her half brother (Micke Spreitz)- a blond brute who again looks like a '60s Bond villain henchman is out and about killing and torturing folks on some kind of Anton Chigurish-bender.

When Rapace is fit for trial she emerges in completely punked out attire - tall pitch black faux-hawk, heavily pierced, black leather, black lipstick and eye shadow. Her so cold and sullen attitude does her or the movie any good though as the court room scenes have no edge. 

They take too much time in the drab back and forth questioning with a predictable playing out that makes this movie seem for a long chunk that it's "The Girl Who Treaded Water."

It's all leading to the inevitable violent showdown between Rapace and Spreitz in yet another dark warehouse setting.

In a overpopulated cast it's hard to keep everybody straight but the other notable people here are Lena Endre as a pregnant lawyer friend of Nyquist's, Annika Hallin as a flirty Millenium magazine co-worker, and Anders Ahlbom as another evil entity from the Girl's past - a corrupt psychiatrist trying to keep all wrong doings under wraps.

As you can probably tell - I thought this was the least inspired of the 3 films that make up this series based on the bestselling novels by the late Stieg Larsson, but I know it's still one that fans of the previous films will just have to see and will most likely find a fitting, if muted, end to the trilogy.

Having not read the books I don't know if it's faithfully handled but I just bet that there's more emotional resonance to the characters than what's on display here.

Maybe the English language version of the series, directed by David Fincher and starring Daniel Craig with Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salamander set for release in 2011, will figure out a more satisfying conclusion for all those who hate subtitles. We shall just have to wait and see.

More later...

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

LEBANON: The Film Babble Blog Review

LEBANON (Dir. Samuel Maoz, 2009)

Tanks are made of iron. Men are made of steel states a stencil inside of the Israeli tank at the center of this intense war drama set at the beginning of the 1st Lebanon war in 1982.

More than one critic has called it "the DAS BOOT of tank movies" and that's pretty apt except for the first and final shots that depict the tank in a field of sunflowers.

In DAS BOOT there were often exterior long shots of the submarine, here we're inside the tank non-stop for the 90-something percent of the film's 93 minute running time.

Through sweaty sometimes bloody close-ups we get to know the four members of the tank crew (Reymond Amsalem, Yoav Donat, Michael Moshonov, and Oshri Cohen).

Donat is manning the gunner's scope and doing a frantic close to incompetent job of it - accidentally firing upon a old man's chicken truck for starters, and his crew members are fretting just as frantically because of it.

You can't run a war in this mess Donat says at one point, but it seems a futile comment - it's not like there's a shower inside the tank. But on second thought - it seems a cutting commentary on trying to maintain some kind of order in the most extreme chaos.

Many war films have displayed that war is Hell, but in this film with in your face close-ups of face covered in sweat, dirt, blood, and army surplus salad croutons it's also grimy, disgusting, and incredibly demeaning every second of the way.

LEBANON is a gripping narrative that may be hard going, but it's definitely a essential entry in the modern claustrophobic thriller sweepstakes that includes Rodrigo Cortés BURIED starring an underground Ryan Reynolds and the upcoming Danny Boyle film 127 HOURS featuring a trapped mountaineering James Franco.

With it's sense of history and depiction of confined desperation "Lebanon" more than holds its own.

More later...