Monday, January 31, 2011

R.I.P. James Bond Theme Composer John Barry (1933-2011)

5-time Oscar winning Composer John Barry died yesterday of a heart attack at the age of 77.

Despite being best known for his soundtrack work on 11 James Bond films as well as writing the incredibly famous and much copied "James Bond Theme", Barry's Academy Award wins were for his scores and songs for BORN FREE (won both Best Score and Best Song), THE LION IN WINTER, OUT OF AFRICA, and DANCES WITH WOLVES.

Over the course of his 50 year career, Barry lent his distinctive touch to tons of movie and television projects, the last being the Dougray Scott/Kate Winslet drama ENIGMA in 2001.

Raleigh News & Observer music critic David Menconi wrote today that Barry "created some of the most iconic scores Hollywood has ever heard, none more so than 1967's 'YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (an orchestral hook later used to good effect on English pop star Robbie Williams' 1998 hit single 'Millennium')."

Many Raleigh residents have been enjoying Barry's 007 scores via the Colony Theater's revival series "James Bond Originals" which has presented 35 millimeter prints of the fan favorites the Thursday of every month since June last summer.

As 1973's LIVE AND LET DIE (showing on February 24th) has Beatles producer George Martin taking on the composing duties, 1974's THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (March 31st) will be the next in the series to feature a John Barry/James Bond score.

Incidentally as a kid I like many thought that singer/composer Monty Norman had written and arranged the "James Bond Theme" which first appeared in DR. NO (1962). This was because Norman was credited for it on many of the original soundtrack records.

A few lawsuits have occurred over the credit with both composers claiming authorship, but as Barry pointed out he was invited back to score many of the following films and Norman wasn't.

R.I.P. John Barry.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

BLUE VALENTINE: The Film Babble Blog Review

BLUE VALENTINE (Dir. Derek Cianfrane, 2010)

It's billed as "a love story", but BLACK VALENTINE is more accurately a toxic love story.

As a couple in the final stages of their marriage, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams go through the messy motions and as the film cuts back and forth from the beginning of their relationship to the present we see that they were doomed from the start.

In the present Gosling and Williams (who also co-executive produced the film) have a 4 year old daughter (Faith Wladyka) and live a fairly unremarkable existence in Pennsylvania- he paints houses; she works as a nurse.

In the past Gosling worked for a Brooklyn moving company and met Williams in a nursing home he was re-locating a senior to. Williams, there visiting her grandmother (Jen Jones) has a giggly spark when first meeting her later beau, and before long they're an item much to the chagrin of her former lover (Mike Vogel).

Williams is pregnant with Vogel's baby so there's that too.

In several sequences like one set in a blue-lit future-themed hotel room where Gosling hopes to re-ignite the couple's dying flame get into some emotionally wretching territory, but the film never wallows in misery.

Sometimes feeling like a series of sad snapshots of a doomed romance, "Blue Valentine" captures the tone and uneasiness of fading affection without a false move.

It's surprising that Williams got a Oscar Nomination for her work here and Gosling didn't. Don't get me wrong - William's nom is well deserved, but Gosling's restless intensity definitely equals hers.

A great Grizzly Bear soundtrack and graphic instances of sex and violence are intertwined inside the abstract construction of this film, but I bet what will linger more in the memory will be the raw moments between Gosling and Williams where they ache together yet still can not connect.

Like a heart made out of barbed wire, BLUE VALENTINE really stings.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Blu Ray/DVD Review: CATFISH

I missed this film, referred to by some as "the other Facebook movie", when it played in Raleigh last fall, but just caught it as it's out now on Blu ray, DVD, and available via Amazon Video On Demand. Netflix subscribers will have to wait until next week (February 1st) to rent it because of that damn studio delay deal.

CATFISH (Dirs. Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman, 2010)

There's a little bit of controversy about this film's validity, but the film makers who appear as themselves swear that it's all real.

On the surface it's a documentary about New York photographer Nev Schulman spending months messaging through texts, Facebook posts, and phone-calls a 19 year old girl he met online.

Nev's brother Ariel and friend Henry Joost film with tiny hand held cameras the odd, and frankly creepy, relationship which started with a 8 year old mailing a painting she did of a photograph of Nev's that was printed in the New York Sun.

Nev friends the young girl whose name is Abby on Facebook, then also adds her mother Angela, her father Vince, and sister Megan who all live in Michigan.

Megan, as evidenced by her many photos on her Facebook page, is a pretty blonde and Nev is quite taken with her, that is, until he finds out that an MP3 she sent him if her playing guitar and singing wasn't her - it was taken from a Youtube clip.

Other claims that Megan made don't stand up to much scrutiny so the troubled trio decide to fly to Michigan and confront the mysterious teenager and her family.

This is where the story description has to end because to go on would spoil the film's supposed big twist - the promotional tagline even says: "Don't let anyone tell you what it is."

It would even be a Spoiler! to tell you what the film's title means so I won't do that either.

It's more out of respect for potential viewers of this film than for the film itself that I won't give it away. CATFISH is fairly involving as it builds to the reveal, but it really doesn't amount to much once it gets there.

It doesn't have insights into what's really hidden behind a Facebook profile or what the addiction of connectivity is doing to society, it pretty much only has whining strivers thinking a pathetic situation deserves documentation.

In one of the key scenes the puzzled protagonists approach Megan's mother's house. Mark Motherbaugh's soundtrack music, mostly effective in other places in the film, gets maddening with the same ominous piano key note being hit over and over. It's an annoying scene that sums up the manipulative methods at play.

If CATFISH is 100% real then it's much ado about nothing; if it's scripted and pre-arranged then it's, well, kinda stupid. These guys aren't completely without compassion, but their film feels as about as cheap as it looks.

Special features: Only a 25 minute Q & A with the film makers.

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DVD/Blu Ray Review: CLIENT 9: The Rise And Fall Of Eliot Spitzer


It's amazing that former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer sat down for Alex Gibney's (ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM, TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE, CASINO JACK AND THE UNITED STATES OF MONEY) camera for this probing documentary.

Especially since the tagline for it is: "Money. Sex. Power. Betrayal."

The scandalized Spitzer, often in extreme close-up, talks at length candidly, though he understandably holds back at times, about his once promising career, and it's a bit jarring at times.

Jarring because this is no confessional - he takes responsibility for his actions and makes no excuses.

Spitzer's interview in this detailed portrait of what led to the his downfall in 2008 when he was linked to a high scale prostitution ring is framed by a narrative told through archival stills, campaign ads, and many clips from CNN, MSNBC, and even The Colbert Report.

Gibney gets a number of Spitzer's cronies and foes as well as journalist and producer Peter Elkind, whose book "Rough Justice: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer" this film is based on, to also sit down to relay their stories.

One of the most lively interview subjects is Cecil Suwal - the co-owner of the Emperor's Club VIP escort service. Her giggly demeanor helps lighten the mood of this somberly told tale saying such things as: "Okay, the governor of New York is using our service, how bad can what we're doing be? Right?"

There's also the interesting case of the prostitute, called "Angela" here, who Spitzer employed many times who refused to go on camera or have her voice used so an actress (Wrenn Schmidt) performs the words of the woman's interview with Gibney.

The film is overlong and the tabloid nature of Spitzer's scandal has been well covered so there's not really anything amounting to a surprising revelation here, but "Client 9" is a solid and extremely thorough documentary in the ranks of Charles Ferguson's also intensely researched INSIDE JOB (which Spitzer was also involved in).

Special features: An audio commentary with writer/director Alex Gibney, extended interviews, deleted scenes, HDNet: A Look At CLIENT 9, and the theatrical trailer.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011


DOWN TERRACE (Dir. Ben Wheatley, 2009)

"You're only as good as the people you know." - Bill (Robert Hill)

There is an uneasy feeling surrounding the grizzled Robert Hill and his scruffy unshaven son Robin Hill as they return to their shabby Brighton, England home after being acquitted of drug charges. The two, as Bill and Karl respectively who are real life father and son, don't know which one of their crew is a police informant though they have some suspects. Couch potato Tony Way is on the top of the list, but Kerry Peacock who shows up pregnant claiming it's Robin Hill's triggers skepticism as well.

Over the course of 2 weeks, big white letters inform us of what day it is throughout, the family (including Julia Deakin fromSpaced as the long suffering mother) pops pills, drinks, and argues - most of which is quite amusing.

A creepy Michael Smiley as the most brutal of the clan steals the film from the squabbling in its second half as he carries out some hits on those that could put an end to Hill and company's operations completely.

Comparisons to The Sopranos have been made and some scenes, like one involving Smiley and Robin Hill bickering over burying a body out in the countryside, do have that same macabre sense of humor, but with its folky music interludes DOWN TERRACE dances to a different beat.

The shaky cam low budget ambience works well for this bare yet blunt material, and though these are largely unlikable characters there's a wicked delight in watching their pissed off personalities collide.

Though heavy accented and murky at times (some story elements could have been fleshed out a bit more) "Down Terrace" is a decent debut by British television director Wheatley.

It doesn't re-invent the violent crime genre wheel, but its realistic feel and scrappy demeanor made it a worthy hour and a half of my time.

Bonus Features: Commentary with Ben Wheatley and Robin Hill, acting screen test, an extended scene, a deleted scene, "Tricks of the Amazing Wizards!!!" featurette, DOWN TERRACE teaser/festival trailer, and "Rob Loves Kerry" short film.

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Monday, January 17, 2011


FREAKONOMICS: THE MOVIE (Dirs. Heidi Ewing, Alex Gibney, Seth Gordon, Rachel Grady, Eugene Jarecki, and Morgan Spurlock, 2010)

Journalist Stephen Dubner and economist Steven Levitt's best selling book seems a ripe one to adapt into film, but with its simplified statements, glitzy graphics, and overall glib tone this creaking adaptation more resembles a collection of TV news magazine segments than a hard hitting documentary.

At the beginning Dubner says: "If there's only one element that I say is there in almost everything we do, is the idea that incentives matter and if you can figure out what people's incentives are you have a good chance in guessing how they are going to behave."

With 6 different directors, all noted documentarians, the authors attempt to explore that thesis through contained pieces entitled: "A Roshanda By Any Other Name", "Pure Corruption", "It's Not Always A Wonderful Life", and "Can A Ninth Grader Be Bribed To Succeed?"

Seth Gordon (THE KING OF KONG) ably and amusingly links the film together with transitional segments narrated by Dubner and Levitt.

Morgan Spurlock (SUPERSIZE ME) handles the first segment ("A Roshanda...") about whether parents' name choices affect their path in life, and while there some good points made, the jokey nature, unnecessary employment of actors, and people on the street sound bites overshadow any actual insights. Infomercial type animation doesn't help either.

Alex Gibney's (TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE) lengthy contribution ("Pure Corruption") concentrating on cheating in the world of Sumo wrestling fares much better. With well edited footage, insightful interviews, and stirring statistical info, "Pure Corruption" makes a fascinating case study.

However when journalist Yorimasa Takeda in the segment opines: "I read Freakonomics and thought it gave numerical evidence of something very difficult to prove" he could be stating the problem with the entire project.

Eugene Jarecki (CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS, ALL GOOD THINGS) takes on what is posited as one of the most crucial sequences of the film - "It's Not Always A Wonderful Life" - which deals with data that ostensibly indicates that the legalization of abortion in the 1970s is one of the primary reasons that crime rates were down in the 1990s.

Jarecki's segment makes a convincing argument, but its flashy use of cartoon framed footage just highlights that the bottom line theory just isn't that compelling.

Likewise for Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's (JESUS CAMP) concluding segment "Can A Ninth Grader Be Bribed To Succeed". It looks very interesting at first - the experiment of rewarding students with money for higher grades, but it doesn't give us results that mean anything. Some kids are pushed to work harder, some aren't. So what?

I haven't read the book yet, but I suspect its really where to go for the detailed and engaging lowdown on this material. As a film FREAKONOMICS is an mostly unappealing stylistic mishmash with precious little educational takeaway.

Bonus Features: Additional interviews with Levitt and Dubner, directors' commentary, producers' commentary, and HDNet: A Look at FREAKONOMICS

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Friday, January 14, 2011

THE GREEN HORNET: The Film Babble Blog Review

THE GREEN HORNET (Dir. Michel Gondry, 2011)

A $90 million dollar superhero movie dropping in the middle of January may seem like a bad sign, but "The Green Hornet" isn't terrible - no, it's just so standard issue, formulaic, and only occasionally funny.

Hmm, maybe it is a bad sign.

Seth Rogen, who also co-wrote and co-executive produced is our unlikely hero here. His character Britt Reid is a partying rich 20 something and fairly close to roles he's played before. He's slimmer here, but he's still the same schlubby loser who lives from buzz to buzz.

When Rogen's disapproving newspaper mogul father (Tom Wilkinson) dies from a bee-sting, our slang talking bozo inherits his entire estate including his mechanic/man-servant Kato (Jay Chou) who makes a mean cappucchino.

Chou outfits a black Chrystler Imperial with machine guns and bullet proof glass and what do you know - they've got a crime fighting duo thing a-happenin'!

Christoph Waltz (INGLORIOUS BASTERDS) is the drug kingpin villain who wants to rule Los Angeles with a crew of pimped out thugs and a double-barrelled handgun.

Through the film's fast pace, albeit one with too many montages, we see Rogen and Chou fight attacking foes, getting their gear together, and smashing up their Imperial so much that they need a line of back-up cars.

There's also Cameron Diaz in a nothing role as Rogen's secretary (at least there's one lady present in this boy's club I suppose), Edward James Olmos as the newspaper's long suffering managing editor, and a slimy David Harbour as the District Attorney who's motives you can see coming from a mile away.

Its a noisy mess of a movie full of destruction displaying very little of the visual style that Gondry has shown in such films as THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. The brief instances of Gondry's flair are lost in the slick shuffle - a segment with split screens inside of split screens in yet another montage hints at what could've been.

As much as I like Rogen and have been highly amused at his work - his jokey jargon didn't carry the movie through as amusingly as expected. He's, of course, not an actor that gets lost in a role - he's just Rogen playing dress-up - and that like just about everything else here gets pretty tiresome.

There's some entertaining chemistry between Rogen and Chou, but their dynamic seems a bit off at times. However a fight scene between them after a falling out is one of the stand-out set pieces of the film.

As the only one with grace in the cluttered comic book chaos, Chou is the film's true star. Though underwritten, again like everything else, Chou makes the most of his portrayal of a refined perfectionist who can level an army of gun toting goons.

THE GREEN HORNET is too big, dumb and ho hum to be the major fun its meant to be, but maybe for a mid-January superhero flick it can pass muster.

But just barely.

More later...

RABBIT HOLE: The Film Babble Blog Review

RABBIT HOLE (Dir. John Cameron Mitchell, 2010)

Married couple Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman are shuffling through the motions of daily life. It's been 8 months since their son was killed - hit by a car - and the lingering pain has yet to recede.

Eckhart thinks group therapy will help with their grief, but Kidman hates what she calls the "God people" in their sessions. Such overly religious folks like the sobbing parent who says of her deceased daughter "God had to take her. He needed another angel."

Kidman dryly can't help but respond: "Why didn't he just make one? I mean, another angel? He's God after all...why didn't he just make another angel?"

Kidman leaves the group after this, but Eckhart returns and makes friends with Sandra Oh as a seemingly more stable group member who has been attending for almost a decade.

Meanwhile Kidman has to contend with a pregnant sister (the acerbic Tammy Blanchard), and their haggard yet still spunky mother (Diane Wiest) who had lost her son to a drug overdose - a comparison to Kidman's loss that she hates her mother to make.

Driving one day, Kidman spots a schoolbus and sees a teenage student that triggers recognition in her. She follows it and sees the student (Miles Teller) get off and enter his suburban home.

Stalking the student becomes a routine until the boy confronts her and we learn that he was the driver of the automobile that killed her son.

Also haunted by the death, Teller is apologetic and shows Kidman a comic book he's working on entitled RABBIT HOLE about parallel universes, time-holes, and alternate realities.

So Eckhart and Kidman don't cheat on each other, but they reach for others for support instead of each other and the film's unforced manner makes it easy to empathize.

It's one of Kidman's sharpest and most piercing performances with Eckhart matching her with some of his most nuanced acting to date. No predictions here, but I expect their names won't be left out in awards season.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire, the inescapable sense of pain is palpable in RABBIT HOLE, but it's not a depressing film.

Director Mitchell's (best known as Hedwig in the cult favorite HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH) naturalistic style and compassion for these characters creates an extremely well constructed and moving film.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

EVERYONE ELSE Now Streaming On Netflix Instant

EVERYONE ELSE (Dir. Maren Ade, 2009)

Lars Eidinger and Birgit Minichmayr as a couple of young newlyweds on a Mediterranean vacation are one of the most believable screen couples to come along in some time.
Believable because they are neurotic, suspicious and thoroughly mixed up yet still seem to have convincing affection for each other. However as our time with them ends and the credits roll it appears to be undeniably a doomed affection.

This is a largely formless film that basically just follows the copule as they flow through a few days - eating, drinking, making love, and endlessly making vague banter that hints to a poorly hidden sadness.

They run into another couple (Nicole Marischka and Hans-Jochen Wagner) and reluctantly try to socialize with them, but it only brings about insecurities about Eidinger's middling architectural career and their undefined class status.

"It's not embarrassing not to have profound dreams" Minichmayr offers at one point, and while she means it to comfort, it can't help but sting.

When the film explores the awkward yet affable dynamic of the 2 couples its easy to think a BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE thing might ensue, but don't worry - it's so not that kind of movie.

Though it drags slightly, the beautifully shot (by cinematographer Bernhard Keller) EVERYONE ELSE feels achingly real from the tense exchanges of the leads to the sex scenes, which add to the voyeuristic appeal in that they look too real to be faked.

Those who fret about subtitles and small scale character studies will likely be bored, but EVERYONE ELSE will do for those looking for an emotionally engaging film about people you might actually know, or in some cases might be.

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Friday, January 07, 2011

ALL GOOD THINGS: The Film Babble Blog Review

ALL GOOD THINGS (Dir. Andrew Jarecki, 2010)

Andrew Jarecki, director of one of the best documentaries of the Aughts (CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS), stays in the world of non-fiction for his first narrative drama based on what's been called "the most notorious murder case in New York history."

Loosely based on the life on real estate mogul Robert Durst whose wife Kathleen McCormack mysteriously disappeared almost 3 decades ago, this film begins as a love story with overhanded ominous overtones.

Through a framing device of later court testimony providing narration we meet Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst as the couple, renamed David and Katie Marks, who meet in 1971 and seem initially happy, well, if she looks the other way when he mumbles to himself.

Gosling's powerful NYC property owner father played with suave menace by Frank Langella doesn't care for Dunst or his son's hippy lifestyle (the couple smokes joints and own a health food store out in the sticks in Vermont called "All Good Things").

Langella wants his son to be back in New York working for the family business - work than mainly involves shady money pick-ups from sleazy tenants. Gosling gives in to his father and the couple give up the country for the big city.

We learn from Lily Rabe as a outgoing friend of Gosling's that his mother had committed suicide in front of her son . This may explain why he demands that Dunst immediately get an abortion when she tells him she's pregnant.

The couple grow apart after that with Gosling in NY while Dunst stays at their weekend lake house pursuing a medical career.

Gosling has several violent outbursts aimed at his worried wife and after one particularly gloomy evening at their second home Dunst vanishes.

Throughout the film we see flashes of a dark figure hauling garbage bags that presumably have human remains onto a bridge in the middle of the night.

Despite the suspicion of many, Gosling is never charged with a crime and moves on until years later when he's charged with the murder of a cranky neighbor (the always welcome Phillip Baker Hall).

Though he claims self defense and is acquitted, of course, strong doubts linger.

The film gets a bit unfocused in its final third, but it was on shaky ground much earlier it must be said. Gosling is effectively cold and creepy and the film matches that demeanor beat by beat yet the overall take-away isn't one of eerie fascination.

ALL GOOD THINGS acts as if it has secrets to tell, but it really only has a few speculations up its sleeve.

It feels like a slightly glorified "made for TV" melodrama like those shown on the Lifetime network.

The supporting cast is capable - Dunst registers more realistically than she has before for me, and as her coke snotting best friend Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live) has a few moments as, I guess, light comic relief, but there isn't a lot of weight to this plodding procedural.

There have been great inconclusive films before such as David Fincher's ZODIAC and Jarecki's own doc CAPTURING THE FREIDMANS - films that passionately probe for the truth through a murky web of contradictions, but ALL GOOD THINGS simply doesn't have the hook or enough layers to make it anything more than a forgettable true crime thriller throwaway.

More later....

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Film Babble Blog Top 10 Movies Of 2010

Although there is still a slew of 2010 films I have yet to catch up on (films such as CARLOS, BLUE VALENTINE, SOMEWHERE, etc. have yet to come to my area) I decided to go ahead and make my list of the best of the year. Though in many ways a lackluster year, there were still a smattering of excellent films by film makers and actors at the top of their game. Here are my favorites:

1. THE SOCIAL NETWORK (Dir. David Fincher)
 Time Magazine's 2010 Man of the Year: Mark Zuckerberg - computer nerd visionary or just an arrogant asshole who ripped off his best friends? Whether Zuckerberg (played here by Jesse Eisenberg) is really Man of the Year or not, this scrupulous Aaron Sorkin scripted comic drama is my movie of the year because of its snappy narrative take of the phenomenon of Facebook. Read my review here.
2. TOY STORY 3 (Dir. Lee Unkrich) Pixar holds the #2 spot on my top 10 for the third year in a row and that's fine by me. This funny, exciting, and genuinely touching trilogy topper is a supremely satisfying sequel and another entry in the annual Pixar blows every other animated movie away sweepstakes. Take that HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, DESPICABLE ME, MEGAMIND, and TANGLED! Though some of those films had their moments. Read my review here.

3. TRUE GRIT (Dirs. Joel & Ethan Coen)
 Enlisting "the Dude" to take on the role made famous by "the Duke", the Coen Brothers make a Western epic that does grand justice to the genre. Jeff Bridges along with an ace supporting cast including Hallie Steinfeld, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin handle the humor and powerful pathos of this material mightily. Read my review here.

4. INCEPTION (Christopher Nolan)

I called this film "an incredible mind bender of a movie" in my rave review last summer and still stand by that. I also wrote "what wins out is that this film threatens to burst out of the screen into real life - just like the most lucid dreams." Read the rest of my review here.

For my reviews of the rest of the movies on the list please click on the highlighted titles:

5. 127 HOURS (Dir. Danny Boyle)

6. BLACK SWAN (Dir. Darren Aronofsky)

7. THE KING'S SPEECH (Dir. Tom Hooper)


9. THE AMERICAN (Dir. Anton Corbijn)

10. THE GHOST WRITER (Dir. Roman Polanski)

I may make a revised list later if I get to a film from 2010 that warrants inclusion.

More later...