Monthly Archives: September 2008

This Week’s Sign of the Apocalypse

Saw V…Coming out on October 24.

Saw? Five? Really? Yes, enough people actually line up to watch this “torture porn” that it’s actually merited a ridiculous four sequels. If there’s one movie (or movie series) I vow to never see in my life, it’s Saw (I-V). Someone needs to tell Hollywood that large amounts of blood and gore does not equal horror. Seriously, haven’t the Saw makers ever heard of someone named Alfred Hitchcock?

Paul Newman (1925-2008): A Man Who Will Always Be One of a Kind

My entire life, I’ve lived in the same town that Paul Newman inhabited. Ever since I first saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the 6th grade, I always dreamed of one day running into him in this very small town. Unfortunately, this never happened. Even though I never met him, I feel like I knew Newman better than ever today when I found out about his death. I realized he was not only one of cinema’s finest actors, but also a man who did as he pleased and one who gave back to the community. To me, this impact is felt so much for the small things he did throughout his life to make Westport a better place.

Newman died today after a battle with cancer. He was 83.
Newman was born in 1925 in Ohio. His early career consisted of small roles on stage and TV and he began to make an impression on film in the mid to late fifties with Somebody Up there Likes Me (1956). Somebody up there really did like Paul. In the years to come, he would hit a goldmine with lauded performances in films like Hud (1962), The Hustler (1961), and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). For me, Newman’s finest hour was with 1967′s Cool Hand Luke. In that, he played titular criminal Luke stuck in a Southern prison under a very strict warden. 
In this performance, he brought in a fine amount of humor, as well as heart. The scene in which he sings and plays a song on the banjo after finding out about his mother’s death is still one of the saddest and most moving scenes I’ve ever scene on film. 
Mainly, Luke was an outcast. A rebel. He keeps trying to escape. In this way, Luke and Newman were not too different. He never let anything get the best of him. In recent years, he became a race car driver (something few could do at any age). During one race, his car caught on fire. He was in his 80s and he just simply, walked out. And I’m sure he had a smile on his face even his last days, just like the one Luke had not long before his death.
In the late 60s and 70s, Newman went on to score huge box office success with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and Best Picture winner The Sting (1973). In these two movies, Newman formed one of cinema’s great on screen duos with Robert Redford. 
After being nominated for over 10 Oscars, Newman finally brought home a statue in 1986 for Hustler sequel The Color of Money.
In the last decade, Newman slowed down making movies. Although, he managed to pull of another Oscar Nomination with Road to Perdition and a box office hit with Cars.
Newman’s performance will never be forgotten but his most important achievement was his humanitarian work. With his food line Newman’s Own as well as the Hole in the Wall Gang, Newman raised over $200 Million. Every cent went to charity. Around Westport, Newman and his wife Joanne Woodward of 50 years helped make the Westport Playhouse what it is today. Living in a big (but not too big) house hidden in a nice area of town, Newman never tried to stick out as a giant movie star and blended in as a member of the community. And that’s what he was, not a big flashy movie star, but a man who acted as a part of the community, and gave back to it as well.
Newman is not only a model for how to be a good actor, but an inspiration on how to be a good human being. He lived a wealthy life but always gave back. With his famous blue eyes, he was always considered a hearthrob yet he always remained faithful to his wife. 
Paul Newman changed cinema. He was one of few living actors in line with (or maybe even better than) Marlon Brando and James Dean. And unlike many of the successful in showbiz, he gave back out of the kindness of his heart, not for publicity. Now that Newman is gone Westport will seem different, empty, and the movies will feel the same as well. Never will there be another actor like Paul Newman.
My prayers go out to Newman’s family and friends. Rest in Peace Paul. Your performances and your life will forever remain an inspiration to me.

Breaking News: Paul Newman Dies

Today, we lost one of Hollywood’s great. Paul Newman (1925-2008), The legendary actor who starred in such classics as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Hud has died at the age of 83 after a battle with cancer. Right now, I am still trying to collect all of my thoughts about a person as wonderful as Newman was and right now it’s difficult to express my sadness in words. A longer obituary on Paul Newman will be up later today or tomorrow. 

Emmys Go "Mad" for "30 Rock", "Men"

I’m going to make this quick, considering I still have some English reading to do. Mainly, the ceremony contained 5 awful hosts, a few big surprises, and a lot of “I saw that coming”. 

First off, whatever God there is answered my prayers and brought a 30 Rock takeover. Giving Tina Fey three awards and brilliant Alec Baldwin one as well. Maybe this (as well as Fey’s promotion for the show in her speech) will finally get people watching. But seriously though, watch this show. WATCH THIS SHOW.
Meanwhile, Mad Men predicatbly won. I can’t say much more about it, so I guess I’m going to have to start watching it now.
Meanwhile in other categories, Michael Emerson didn’t pull off the upset I hoped for as The Others’ creepy leader in Lost (or he may not be, I’m only in season 3). Stephen Colbert picked up his first Emmy ever for the writing of the always genius Colbert Report. However he lost best varitey show program to The Daily Show (however, either show winning would’ve satisfied me). What really bugged me though was Colbert being passed over for guest host for Don Rickles. I don’t care how old/legendary Rickles is. Colbert has created his very own person four days a week and has found a new place for humor in keeping such a straight face. But, you’ll get it one day Stephen. For now, you’ll just have to live with being Martin Scorsese of the TV host world.
A prevalent theme of the ceremony itself seemed to be nostalgia. Nostalgia for the shows of the good ol’ days of TV. But maybe that nostalgia instead should’ve been for better ceremonies of the past. Instead of a comedian (geez, they’re so rare nowadays, who is this Stephen Colbert fellow anyway?) they went with five reality show hosts. Each one was a lot more smug then funny. Couldn’t Seacrest use any of that funny he had in his Knocked Up cameo for hosting the Emmys? Guess not. This really shows how our society has sadly been taken over by reality TV. Next thing you know, the cast of The Hills will host next year’s ceremony and the cast of Disaster Movie will host the Oscars. Shutter.
As far as snubs go, there were many. Too many maybe. Amy Poehler should’ve taken home the best supporting actress Emmy for being by far the best part of the now crumbling Saturday Night Live. There won’t be much left of that show once she leaves for good after her baby is born. Meanwhile, the best comedy category could’ve used some improvement. While 30 Rock was a deserving win, the weak fourth season of Entourage wasn’t worthy and neither was Two and a Half Men. How about some love for the emerging sensation of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or the still underappreciated My Name is Earl
And how can you nominate 30 Rock but forget to mention it’s funniest character; Tracy Morgan’s portrayal of well…himself should’ve been a best supporting actor shoo-in, as should’ve Jane Krakowski’s performance as the very paranoid Jenna “Me Want Food” Maroney.
So that’s all. Hopefully, this ceremony taught you that 30 Rock is the best show on TV and needs to be watched. What else did I learn? That reality shows may be popular, but they still suck. Leave the hosting job up to comedians…they know what they’re doing. Until next year, happy TV watching.

The Emmys: Who Will Win?

In this year’s line-up: It’ll be Tina Fey’s show, with a little bit of Mad Men and maybe a break in the Senifeld curse. Meanwhile, will Stephen Colbert finally get the Emmy that’s been stolen from him two years in a row?
Best Comedy: 30 Rock

Best Drama: Mad Men
Best Actor (Comedy): Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
Best Actor (Drama): James Spader (Boston Legal)
Best Actress (Comedy): Elaine Ben…I mean…Julia Louis-Dreyfus (The New Adventures of Old Christine) Wildcard: Tina Fey (30 Rock)
Best Actress (Drama): Glenn Close (Damages)
Best Supporting Actor (Comedy): Rainn Wilson (The Office)
Best Supporting Actor (Drama): John Slattery (Mad Men) Wildcard: Michael Emerson (Lost)
Best Supporting Actress (Comedy): Amy Poehler (SNL)
Best Supporting Actress (Drama): Dianne Wiest (In Treatment)
Best Variety, Music, or Comedy Series: The Colbert Report Wildcard: The Daily Show
Best Writing (Comedy): 30 Rock
Best Writing (Drama): Mad Men
More coverage tonight following the awards ceremony

Movie Review: In Bruges

Bruges. Where the hell is that? Is it real? Is it fake? Who knows. Well, Bruges is real. It’s a city in Belgium that looks kind of like a run down version of Venice and Amsterdam. But it turns out it’s a city full of surprise, midget actors, and very dark secrets. No, I’ve never been to any of those cities. But In Bruges is such an accurate portrayal, I might as well have been in the canal with them.

In In Bruges, the phrase “In Bruges” is used many times (mainly with “I’m” before it). Many times the person saying they’re in Bruges follows this statement with a question mark, and other times with an exclamation point. In this sense, the audience gets a feeling that you and the characters have no idea where they are, and where they are going.
The story focuses on a pair of two very different hitmen. There’s the Irish Ray (Colin Farrell), the young one with a bad temper but a huge conscience, and his partner is Ken (Brendan Gleeson) who seems to have much more control of himself and the situation.
The movie begins with a brief narration that informs us that Ray accidently shot an innocent boy while on the job in London. Ken and Ray’s boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes), a man who is soulless, controlling, yet principled, sends them to lay low in Bruges until the situation is sorted out. Little do they know that they’re actually on assignment.
Ray and Ken’s views on the city help define their characters. At first, Ray is resentful to the city and finds himself getting in fights with ignorant American tourists. Ken however, cannot get enough of the city’s Medieval sites. Ray’s views begin to change when he meets a beautiful woman on a movie set. Once the boss butts in, things go a little crazy.
Many buddy comedies are made, and most are basically the same formula with a few exceptions. One of those exceptions being In Bruges. Ray and Ken’s relationship works so well not only because of the plot surrounding them. It is also the actors that portray them.
Before this movie, I had no idea that Farrell could act but he does it perfectly here. He is able to become the character by showing him as an extremely hilarious screw-up yet at the same time a man of many emotions. And even when he screws things up, his facial expression never seems to change. Always that look as if he just wants to go to the pub and have a few beers. But then as the change finally occurs, Farrell plays him as such an emotional roller coaster that we can really connect with his complex feelings.
With Farrell and the combination of Gleeson, the buddy comedy aspect of the film shines. Maybe it is also in the fact of how utterly different these characters are from each other. It is almost difficult to tell whether they were even friends before they ended up in Bruges, or even while they are there.
Their strange relationship adds a lot of mystery to the film. And yes, there is much mystery surrounding it. Despite the hilarious parts of the film, it is also brutally violent, as well as a look at the existence of God, Heaven and Hell, and how to cope with guilt. In Bruges certainly gives you more to chew on then most comedies being released nowadays.
And that’s the thing about In Bruges, it’s not like most typical comedies nowadays. In fact, it’s not even like most typical films. It embraces the most brilliant aspects of storytelling in an absolutely perfect way. It contains storylines that don’t make sense at first but come together perfectly when connecting with another storyline. And in later parts of the movie, characters who disappear early on come back to impact the story or be part of a subtle background joke (ex: the fat American tourist). In a way, In Bruges resembles an episode of Arrested Development. And you can never have enough Arrested Development.
A large area explored in In Bruges is cultural differences. It could be the differences between Americans, Europeans, and Canadians or it could be between a gap as small as the British, the Belgians and the Dutch. But In Bruges could have the potential to unite the European and American film worlds. With an explosive mix of British humor and Tarantino plotting, Bruges’s director does not rip off Tarantino’s style like many have but has more been inspired by it and created something extremely successful out of it. This is the reason why Guy Ritchie isn’t quite the new Tarantino yet (also, he made Swept Away) but maybe Martin McDonagh will be someday. And this is only his debut film.
Maybe the reason In Bruges didn’t do so well is because it was advertised as a comical-but-violent gangster romp when it is more like Departed/Pulp Fiction meets Lost.
In Bruges caught me wildly by surprise, and it without a doubt deserves to be recognized as one of 2008′s best movies. It could be considered something radically new, but it went totally under the radar.
While most films set in Europe take place in London, Paris, Venice, or Rome, this movie gives us Bruges. It is not a place that is glorified like those cities. It is strange, hellish, and perhaps, not real. Who are these people? Is In Bruges trying to tell us that Bruges isn’t real? Is this a dream or inescapable prison? As one of the character’s says “at least in prison and at least in death, you know, I wouldn’t be in fuckin’ Bruges.”
 The director is giving us no sort of comfort or answer here. Rather we must explore it. And debate will rage on. Maybe in 10 years, when critics and audiences alike finally embrace In Bruges as a new age masterpiece.
If you liked In Bruges…some other movies you might like: Pulp Fiction, Snatch, No Country for Old Men, The Big Lebowski, The Departed, Arrested Development (TV show), Lost (TV show)

Fall TV Begins

Unfortunately, The Office and the underrated My Name is Earl don’t start up again until next Thursday. Even worse, 30 Rock won’t be returning until the end of October. However, if you haven’t started watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia yet, now’s your chance. Sunny’s season premiere tonight is at 10 PM on FX. And since creator/star Rob McElhenney is such a great guy, he decided to kick the year off with two new episodes. In these episodes, the gang develops a taste for cannibalism and then tries to solve the gasoline crisis. Knowing Sunny‘s sick, twisted sense of humor, these episodes will be outrageous, offensive, and brilliant. And I cannot wait.

To get a preview of Sunny’s sick little mind, here’s one of there best, most shocking episodes yet:
And to see why Charlie Day should be nominated for an Emmy already, watch this clip:

Movie Review: Burn After Reading

At a certain time in a director’s life, they’ve made so many movies that each one can be distinguished by the tiniest features in plot, setting, characters, themes, etc. Joel and Ethan Coen, who are among the few directing pairs left in Hollywood, can be added to that list.

“Burn After Reading” is in every way a Coen Brothers movie. After 24 years of filmmaking, the so-called “Two-Headed Director” haven’t lost their touch for making incredibly shocking and original films.

            The world of the Coens is a world of idiots. The less intelligent minds focused on in this film are the brain dead fitness instructor Chad Feldheimer (scene-stealing Brad Pitt) and his co-worker Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) at a D.C. gym. They stumble upon a CD filled with files that may be the work of Osbourne Cox (the always bizarre John Malkovich); a man just kicked out of the CIA who now wants to write a memoir.

            Believing the disc is valuable, Chad decides to return it to Cox in hopes of reward money and Linda joins in, desperate for cash to pay for her plastic surgeries in a goal to reinvent herself. It seems like a perfect plan, but it turns out the files are totally useless. Somewhere along the way, a man named Harry Pfarer (George Clooney) and Cox’s wife (Tilda Swinton) get sucked into this elaborate scheme. Trademark Coen Brothers chaos and miscommunication ensues.

            It would be impossible to compare any Coen Brothers movie to another without examining the musical score. A Coen movie’s music usually defines something about the characters. The Creedence filled soundtrack of “The Big Lebowski” shows that the Dude is still living in his burned-out hippie days. The music-free “No Country” represents an emptiness and Godless feeling in the world.

            “Burn After Reading” contains a score that is at times too intense for moments in which nothing is happening. This is used as a way to trick the audience, and make it impossible to know what will happen next. In this way, the directors succeed in making the audience feel as dumb as the characters.

            Some critics have complained that a problem with the movie is that it makes fun of its characters and it is therefore impossible to like any of them. It may be true that the audience is laughing at Chad as Cox punches him hard in the face as Chad begs for a reward. However, it is the directors’ point for the audience to feel a sort of emotional distance from the characters.

            The film is meant to be watched as the viewer not being put in the characters’ shoes but instead watching in utter shock from a third person perspective that some people are actually capable of doing things this stupid.

            This is different from the type of comedy popularized by Judd Apatow in recent years but in a way, some sort of sympathy can be felt for the characters. It is unfortunate to see that Chad, an overall good guy, doesn’t realize what a terrible trap he’s gotten himself into. Maybe he should learn what blackmail means first.

            “Burn After Reading” is Marx Brothers humor laced with a “Maltese Falcon” like conclusion. All this, put together with the Coen Brothers thoughts on the stupidity of humanity, the dangers of miscommunication, fate and freewill, and the idea that people think they can handle everything but actually have no idea what they’re doing.

In a changing world of cinema, the Coen Brothers continue to make movies the way they want to. “Burn” might not earn the Oscars of “No Country” but for stark originality, unpredictability, and great entertainment it will earn a spot on the list of the year’s best films.

This review will also be posted in the upcoming issue of Inklings

Movie Review: Y Tu Mama Tambien

Every once in a while, a movie comes along that holds you in it’s grip for two hours, shatters you’re expectations, and leaves you breathless at the end; still not totally grasping this new view of life you’ve just been provided. Director Alfonso Cuaron did this to me once before with 2006′s Children of Men, and he’s done it again with his totally different, yet very similar Y Tu Mama Tambien.

Y Tu Mama Tambien combines the elements of many different genres, and blends them beautifully together into a whole. It displays the kind of humor and truthfulness you’d find in a Judd Apatow movie with the conflicted love triangle of a recent Woody Allen drama. 
The film is set in Mexico City, Cuaron’s hometown. The story centers around two rich teenagers, Aztec-named Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal). After their girlfriends abandon them for Europe for the summer, they hang around and drink and get high until they eventually grow bored. At a political event, they meet the enchanting, older Luisa (Maribel Verdu), a Spaniard visiting Mexico with her snobby writer boyfriend (Juan Carlos Remolina). Desperate for her attention and a getaway, the boys make up a story to her about a secret beach known as Heaven’s Mouth and invite her for a trip to the beach. Intrigued, she accepts and they set off on the road, barely knowing where they’re heading and unaware of the strange experience to come.
Narrated not by one of the teens but instead by a dull sounding old man whose never once present in the story, it gives off a feeling that the characters are being watched, perhaps by a God like figure or someone like The Big Lebowski’s Stranger; a man who has no relation to the characters but just finds an extreme fascination in their story. The narrator plays an important role in the movie, explaining backstories and bringing life to the vast Mexican desert.
As I mentioned before, Cuaron also directed 2006′s Children of Men, a film that is behind only There Will Be Blood and Kill Bill as the masterpiece of the decade. That film dealt with the horrors of an all too real dystopian future where humans are on the verge of extinction. Y Tu Mama Tambien on the other hand, is a modern day dark dramedy about two rich kids coming to terms with reality by leaving the confines of their safe homes and viewing the devastating poverty that makes up the rest of their country. 
Like in Children of Men, Cuaron incorporates subtle political messages into this film by filling them into every frame rather than discussing them. Seeing it rather than talking about it works much more powerfully, especially the fact that Cuaron is one of the great visual storytellers of our time. He pays great attention to small details in every shot. The rundown villages of Mexico look like the refugee camps of Children of Men, only these ones are real.
Like Men, in Tambien the greatest storytelling technique is quite simply the camera itself. Like a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, the camera is constantly moving around and barely stops. In this film, it works perfectly, helping move the characters move through the countryside while capturing the restless energy of the two teens and their endless curiosity that moves the story along. 
Y Tu Mama Tambien captures teenage angst like no one’s ever captured it before. It is daring and unafraid in it’s graphic portrayal of sex. The film finds a way to use that as both an element of drama and comedy, as well as a way to shape Tenoch and Julio’s relationship. The film doesn’t hesitate to go deep and hurt and disturb the audience as it is about false hopes and lost dreams. It looks beyond the world of the wealthy and goes deep into the harsh realities of life. Not all of the world is as rich as you are, and not every friendship is as perfect as Tenoch and Julio once though. Nope, sleep with an older woman you’ve never met before and things might change.
Y Tu Mama Tambien is probably the best film of the year 2002 and certainly one of the best of the decade. It is one that must be seen by those with a daring spirit. It is a movie that doesn’t escape you immediately after watching it. Director Alfonso Cuaron has joined the ranks of directors Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Alejando Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel) as part of the new movement of great Latin American cinema. 
Some say this might be Latin America’s century. Well, maybe not (it’s probably China’s). But with more films like Y Tu Mama Tambien this will most certainly become Latin America’s century in the film world.
Recommended for fans of: Children of Men, Babel, Easy Rider, My Own Private Idaho, Drugstore Cowboy, The Graduate, Superbad, Dazed and Confused, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Brokeback Mountain