Monthly Archives: June 2012

Movie Review: Safety Not Guarenteed

WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED

It all starts with one of the greatest premises I’ve ever heard: a group of journalists investigate a classified ad stating, amongst other things: “Someone to go back in time with me.” No, the ad is not a joke, and while “Safety Not Guaranteed” is a comedy, it does not treat the subject matter as such. There is a big difference between being mean, and prodding delicately. 

“Safety Not Guaranteed” is a Mumblecore film that is light on the mumbles. To call it a straight-up comedy would be a disservice. To call it a dramedy also wouldn’t quite be the right word. It falls somewhere else in between.

Aubrey Plaza plays Darius, who can be added to her collection of sarcastic, anti-social sad sacks. While I feel I should be tired of it at this point, like I felt with Steve Carell in “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” I strangely feel like this is the only role Plaza should be playing. Every time she plays a character like Darius, it is as if she is revealing some new layer of her true self.

But unlike, say, April Ludgate, Darius has a kinder air to her, and a darker backstory. She begins the movie explaining her life story, which mainly consisted of her being an anti-social sad sack as a result of her mother’s death. It turns out she is not just explaining this to the audience, but also to a man trying to hire her for a job. Needless to say, she doesn’t get it. Darius is also a hard-working intern for a Seattle magazine, where she can be seen lifting boxes and changing out rolls of toilet paper. One day, Jeff (Jake Johnson), an overly self-assured writer, spices up a brainstorming session by bringing out the aforementioned classified ad, and then suggests turning it into a story. Jeff recruits Darius and another intern, Arnau (Karan Soni), who is only interning for the magazine because he thinks that it will look good on his resume. Can any other Biology majors attest to this?
“Safety Not Guaranteed” starts off as a detective story mixed with an offbeat road story of mismatched characters. It doesn’t veer toward sappy quirkiness or cliche in either case. The investigation takes them to the town of Ocean View. Jeff, however, has another motive for this mission: to track down his high school love interest. With this second story, the title takes on another meaning. Safety is not guaranteed, as this movie does not suffer from the cushion of predictability.

We are not introduced to the man who put the ad out for quite some time, but it is well worth the wait. The investigation leads them to Kenneth (Mark Duplass). Duplass gives such a surprisingly warm performance despite never letting a smile come across his face. Kenneth, despite being a middling supermarket employee, also may or may not be a brilliant scientist who may or may not have discovered time travel. Now, “Safety Not Guaranteed” could have chosen any of the three leading men to be Darius’s eventual love interest (they all seem possible), and gotten three very different movies. With Jeff, it would have been a brief and regrettable affair. With Arnau, it would have been a quirky yet corny mismatched relationship. But with Kenneth, it feels just right. These two outsiders who couldn’t connect with people needed to meet each other in order to be able to face the rest of the world.

However, “Safety Not Guaranteed” isn’t simply about two outsiders connecting over loneliness. “Safety Not Guaranteed” is about what we would change in our past, whether we could actually travel through time or not. The answers are not so simple. At one point, one likable character will turn out to be hiding a very big secret, and a very big lie. The movie doesn’t ask you to forgive the action, but certainly it does ask to accept the very possibility of turning over a new leaf.

For a film with such a small budget, it certainly has great ambitions to be much more than it appears to be. This is fitting, as it is about people who aspire to transcend their rough edges. It sure packs a lot of change and development into just 84 minutes. It feels long, but that is because it is slow burning, not just slow. And while “Safety Not Guaranteed” is a comedy, it is not a comedy in the way that anyone would expect. The funniest moment in the film involves Plaza trying to re-organize a shelf of soup cans while trying not to look suspicious. 

Little Miss Time Travel

While “Safety Not Guaranteed” brings out the very best of its small ensemble, there is still a lack of closure in certain areas. I wouldn’t have minded if director Colin Treverow had tacked on a few more minutes to the running time. Jeff’s story arc didn’t feel totally resolved. Also, one big late story twist isn’t really given enough time to sink in, and there seems to be something of a rush to the grand finale. For a film that takes its time to tell its story, and often gets lovingly lost in images of sun-soaked beaches, this didn’t feel right.

However, the ending is a small-scale marvel. For a film with this small of a budget, one visual feat is particulary impressive. What is really nice about “Safety Not Guaranteed” is its optimistic outlook. Films of this kind tend to view everything with through a cynical lens. However, “Safety Not Guaranteed” is not about a bunch of hipsters forever mad at people who don’t get emotional while listening to The Shins with Natalie Portman. This film does not want to punish the audience for its patience. This is now, and probably will remain, the most inspired and inventive film ever to be made based off of a classified ad. I can only hope that that the events in “Safety Not Guaranteed” played out the same way in real life. For now, I will just have to live with the notion that fiction is often a lot more interesting than reality.

Movie Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

This basically sums it up.

Don’t get me wrong, Steve Carell is one of the funniest, most likable actors working today. But with his past few features, and his latest, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” he has a created a new film archetype: The Sad Insurance Salesman.

The Sad Insurance Salesman is a male in mid-life crisis. His wife will have cheated and then walked out on him because their marriage has lost all sense of excitement. Basically, the Sad Insurance Salesman might as well say, “I’m really nice, but I’m also boring.”

This, in a way, can also define “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.” It is nice at parts but in the end, it is unsatisfying and lacks chemistry.
“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” begins at the end. Well, the end of the world, that is. An asteroid is hurdling towards Earth, and death is inevitable. Dodge (Steve Carell), a timid insurance salesman who doesn’t take a lot of risks, is abandoned by his wife (Nancy Carell, Carell’s real life wife), who doesn’t want to spent her last days on Earth with him. Her exit is marked with The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t it Be Nice” playing over the radio. No matter how many times that song is used ironically over a dark scene in a movie, it never gets old.

Dodge still shows up to work everyday, despite the fact that most of his co-workers have jumped ship. Here is a man who won’t step out of his comfort zone and enjoy life, even as all life on Earth is about to end. Dodge doesn’t want to face the end alone, but he also doesn’t want to be promiscuous, as per the advice of his friends (Rob Corddry and Patton Oswalt, both criminally underused). Instead, he first seeks solace in a dog that has been abandoned by its owner. The dog might have been the highlight of the movie, even if it felt a little like pandering at times. The dog might have been the best part for me for the sole reason that it is a dog. Dodge names the dog Sorry, because it shows his regrets in life, and blah blah blatant symbolism.

One night, Dodge meets another lonely tenant in his apartment building, Penny (Keira Knightley). Penny is deeply unhappy with her relationship to a penniless musician (Adam Brody). She breaks up with him, and her and Dodge find solace in their loneliness. Unlike Dodge, Penny is spontaneous and positive. She also carries around her baggage from the past: a collection of records, without a record player to play it on. Based on Penny’s collection, which includes Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed, writer-director Lorene Scafaria must be a pretty awesome person.

“Seeking a Friend” becomes a road movie with two separate goals: Dodge wants to spend his last days with his childhood sweetheart, and he promises Penny a plane that will take her to England to see her parents. Unfortunately, one goal seems to be completely forgotten and another becomes completely unnecessary.

As Dodge and Penny, Carell and Knightley are not bad, just underwhelming. Carell is one of the most infinitely likable actors around, but I think he does better as the lovable idiot character role that he perfected in varying degress on “The Office” and in “Anchorman.” Knightley, meanwhile, doesn’t quite settle in well to the comedic potential of her character. Her role would have been much better suited to Gillian Jacobs, the “Community” MVP who shines in a minor role as a waitress who lives too close to the edge. She displays all of the zany energy that would have made Penny as impressionable a character as she was meant to be.

For a movie about a meteor hitting Earth, “Seeking a Friend” ends more with a whimper than with a bang. Without giving much away, there is a fade to white, and the only reaction that immediately came to mind was, “that’s it?” Every conflict plays out in an anti-climatic matter, and not the kind of anti-climatic that skewers your expectations for the best. “Seeking a Friend” would have been better suited as a straight up comedy sprinkled with poignant moments. The movie is supposed to be a look at humanity with typical societal constraints removed. People overlook it, but oftentimes comedy is the most truthful way to examine mankind.

Also, it would mean a lot to me if you could check out this review on The Film Stage. I actually give it a letter grade!

On A Second Viewing: Moonrise Kingdom

One viewing of a Wes Anderson film simply isn’t enough. His films are like the aftertaste of a good meal that won’t go away, and you never want them to go away. Or, a painting where you notice more going on in the background with a more watchful eye. Or, an even more apt comparison here, like a symphony that sounds even better when broken down into smaller pieces.

In “Moonrise Kingdom,” young heroine Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) looks at everything through binoculars. She says that it makes things look closer, even when they aren’t very far away. She also believes it is her super power. I like to imagine that Wes Anderson looks at every film he makes through a pair of binoculars, and that he shares this super power with Suzy: he can see every minuscule detail of life up close in the most vivid of ways.

Through each one of his works, Anderson is inviting the audience more and more to stare into the binoculars at the idiosyncratic universe he has created. After seeing “Moonrise Kingdom” at Cannes, I immediately knew that one viewing wouldn’t suffice. And while I try my best to go in with little to no expectations, I knew I would like it better the second time around. And that I did. It is not that I didn’t like “Moonrise Kingdom” the first time around, it is just that I liked it for different reasons. The first time, I liked it because the Transitive Property of Wes Anderson* required that I like it. I liked it even more on viewing number two because I saw that once again, Wes Anderson defied his detractors and made yet another film in which the characters were more than just cutouts standing against pretty backdrops.

“Moonrise Kingdom” has had its fair share of detractors. Well, most negative reviews were actually positive, with some critical things to say. Many have complained that Anderson’s style and tropes have become too predictable. It is true that there are certain things you will find in every Wes Anderson film, but that is what makes him such a great filmmaker. He tells the same story only loosely every time he makes a film. Like his past works, “Moonrise Kingdom” is about adults who act like children, and children who think they’re adults.

Like any good director, Anderson is constantly trying to improve on the template he first created. On a second viewing, I realized the opening, is more than just a tour of the Bishop household and all of its members. It serves the same purpose as the opening of “The Royal Tenenbaums.” When looking at it through that lens, it makes it even more impressive: characters, and a story, are introduced without saying a single word. Here, we learn that Mr. and Mrs. Bishop can spend their time close to each other, without saying a single word to the other. Mr. Bishop (Bill Murray) lying in a fetal position shows something of a surrender to misery. Mrs. Bishop’s (Frances McDormand) arduous routine shows a predilection toward self-preservation. And then there’s Suzy, sitting above her brothers almost in a separate sphere, reading one of her many adventure novels. Well, everyone in this family seems to be in  the Bishop household seems to be in their own little sphere, with the exception of the three little boys.

Shortly after, we are introduced to the fourth wall breaking narrator (Bob Balaban). With the narrator, Anderson has to break a few cinematic rules in order to introduce the fictional island of New Penzance to the audience, as well as the future hurricane. At this point, Anderson has earned the right to break those rules, because he does it right. 
With the exception of “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Anderson’s other films took place in slightly fantasized versions of real places. In “Moonrise Kingdom,” Anderson invented a place that he can call his own. “Moonrise Kingdom” is a fantasy tale about two children trying to live out a fantasy of their own. 
Then, we are introduced to the Khaki Scouts, another thing that doesn’t exist, yet is a variation of something in reality. That is a good way to define much of Anderson’s work. We meet everyone from Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), who is a Scout Master first and a math teacher on the side, to the boy with the eye patch (we never do find out his real name). That the entire troop of scouts a family, and many other characters can be so well developed in just 90 minutes is a testament to the power of great writing. Usually, an entire TV series would be needed to delve in to this many characters. Anderson has the power to define someone’s entire personality in just one line of dialogue.

Anderson has another power that is known to most, but doesn’t truly come out until a second viewing. I realized this time around that the characters in all of Anderson’s films exist loosely in a similar world that is not quite our own. This is a world where people act pretty terribly toward each other, and have trouble expressing their true feelings through words. So instead, they define themselves through the clothes they wear, the way they decorate their homes, and the culture that they consume. Look closely and you’ll notice a heavy use of the colors yellow and brown throughout “Moonrise Kingdom.” You can see it in the Khaki Scouts, as well as Sam’s (Jared Gilman) foster home, from his foster father’s yellow and brown plaid shirt, to the chocolate cake that his foster mother is covering with yellow icing in the background. Perhaps it represents a world that is ripe on the outside, yet a little dark on the outside, or a cast of characters who are “yellow” (cowardly).

I also found the second time around that the film is much funnier than I first thought it was. Once again, and I cannot say this enough, it is all about the little things. For example, notice how Sam keeps an inventory list of all of Suzy’s things, or the group of kids in the background of one scene trying to play their recorders. Also, I will mention the very hilarious irony of seeing Jason Schwartzman play a preist. And yes, it’s also funny to see that treehouse, and it’s even funnier (and makes total sense) to see a kid carry around $76 in change. Every kid at one point or another had that much change on them for no good reason.

Working on a Wes Anderson film must be an actor’s paradise. He gives them so much good dialogue and characterization to work with. He has kick-started the careers of its two incredibly promising leads, Hayward and Gilman, who bring equal amounts of heart and humor to the film. I believe one day the two of them will run off once again to become Margot Tenenbaum and Eli Cash. The boy with the lazy eye will probably become Dudley.

Sam and Suzy also remind me of a younger version of Bonnie and Clyde, minus the bloodlust. The story of “Moonrise Kingdom” also felt a little bit like a twist on Terrence Malick’s “Badlands.” The indelible image of Sam and Suzy dancing on the beach to Francoise Hardy’s “Le Temps de l’Amour,” equal parts cute, creepy, and awkward, felt like the scene where Kit (Martin Sheen) and Holly (Sissy Spacek) dance along to “Love is Strange.” Both scenes contain the childlike wonder for trying something completely new.

Anderson’s films are often criticized for not having enough heart. But “Moonrise Kingdom” is one of those films that I just wanted to give a giant hug too. It is pretty on the inside, and the outside. Its intentionally cheesy special effects never make it seem dated. While some have said this film could have taken place during any year, I believe 1965 is the perfect fit. Seeing characters chart out territory on real maps is way more interesting than someone trying to figure out where they are going on Google Maps. Perhaps New Penzance is trapped in the past, just like all of its characters, while the outside world moves on. And for that, I actually think it is better off.

One more note I believe it is proper to end on: the music. It is true that “Moonrise Kingdom” does not have the most standout soundtrack of all of Wes Anderson’s filmography. British Invasion is replaced with British Classical, and there’s a tinge more French than usual. But maybe these characters aren’t ready for The Kinks yet, at least not until they figure out how to put Benjamin Britten’s orchestra together.

How I Rank Wes Anderson’s Films:
1. The Royal Tenenbaums
2. Rushmore
3. Fantastic Mr. Fox
4. Moonrise Kingdom
5. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
6. Bottle Rocket
7. The Darjeeling Limited

*If it includes elaborate sets and anything vintage, then it must be Wes Anderson, and it must almost always be good.

For No Apparent Reason of the Day: Bill Murray Gives a House Tour

Here is a video of Bill Murray giving a tour of the house in “Moonrise Kingdom.” “Moonrise Kingdom” opened a few weeks ago, and I’ve already seen it, so there seems to be no apparent reason that I’m posting it. However, this video contains Bill Murray.

 I can’t tell if Bill Murray is joking or serious most of the time he speaks, which is probably what makes him so mysterious and so awesome at the same time. I take everything he says as words of wisdom. Which is why, after this video, I will never wear short pants again, as according to him doing so is asking to get robbed. Genius.

Also, seeing the details that go into making a set on a Wes Anderson film never ceases to amaze me. I need to see “Moonrise Kingdom” again, and as soon as humanly possible.

Analog This: Mad Men Season 5 Finale

Jessica Pare: Humanizing French Canadians Since 2010.

Warning! May contain some minor spoilers for the season five finale. Read with caution.

Two years ago, when the previous season of “Mad Men” was drawing to a close, I claimed that the fourth season was the best season yet (I’m also not entirely sure I actually knew what the word “dissertation” meant). I take it back, because season five blew every other season out of the water. And unless season six can work miracles, and I know Matthew Weiner is good at doing that, it will be tough to top this one.

Yet, the season finale, entitled “The Phantom,” was a little bit disappointing. It was definitely not a bad episode. I think my expectations for “Mad Men” are a bit too high. But when a major character dies a week before, it seems a little peculiar to only mention the tragedy once the week after. And while throwing in Don’s brother was a nice touch (it tied in with his guilt over Lane’s death), it felt a little bit out of nowhere considering the fact that Don was less haunted than usual by his past this season. As did  the cliffhanger, which questioned whether or not Don would return to his adulterous days.
Nonetheless, it was still a fitting way to tie together a fantastic season. A lot happened this season, and I’m hoping this list below can account for as much of it as possible. Here are some of the reasons why season five was so damn good:

It took a turn for the surreal: “Mad Men” took some storytelling risks this season. It often felt less grounded in reality. One episode involved an elaborate dream sequence in which Don murdered a woman and effectively extinguished a piece of his soul. It also included an LSD trip. More on that coming up.
The New Don Draper: Chuck Klosterman wrote a very thoughtful peace on “The New Don.” I didn’t know if Don would be as interesting a person without his alcohol, copious cigarettes, and many affairs. Turns out that can’t be possible. The new Don is a better Don because of Megan (Jessica Pare). To borrow a line from “Jerry Maguire,” she completes him. She is the ying to his yang. She is filled with the youthful energy and ambition that he was beginning to lose as he reached middle age. Also, while we’ve seen Don going through many existential crises with his family life, this was his first major existential crisis at work. For a brief while, the life of an ad executive didn’t seem to be for him.
The New Betty and Sally: I have to hand it to “Mad Men” for making two of my least favorite characters likable this past season. Sally (Kiernan Shipka) gets better the closer you draw her to the adult world. Meanwhile, Betty (January Jones) seems much less empty and shallow when she has a real problem to deal with. 
Michael Ginsberg: Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce went through some major changes this season, including the hiring of its first African American, and its first Jew. Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) became one of the show’s best characters, with the ambiguous revelation that his backstory might include being born in a concentration camp. He also has an odd, outgoing, and unforgettable personality. Some might call him a Jewish stereotype, which to me is just another word for totally relatable.
John Slattery: As Roger Sterling, John Slattery walked away with every scene he was in with his hilariously sardonic sensibility. While evaluating his own purpose at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Roger became more valuable to the show than ever. He also had a few pretty big revelations this season. Speaking of which…
Roger Takes LSD: This season, the usually old school Roger attends a fancy party (surprisingly lacking monocles) and drops acid. It is not some stereotypically bad trip of melted colors, but rather one of the greatest scenes crafted on this show. It goes from funny (an orchestra playing every time Roger opens a bottle of liquor) to moving (Roger hearing the sounds of cars from his childhood). And it is all perfectly set to The Beach Boys’ “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times.” And most importantly, this wasn’t just some throw away scene: Roger really changed from it. And it effected him the rest of the season.
Something French: Season five kicked off with Megan’s memorable rendition of Gillian Hills’ “Zou Bisou Bisou,” met with a very awkward reaction from Don and company. The catchy song quickly reached the pop culture lexicon, and was even featured on an episode of “30 Rock.” Between this, and Francoise Hardy’s “Le Temps de l’Amour” making an appearance in “Moonrise Kingdom,” I hereby proclaim 2012 the year that 1960s French pop music became popular again in America.

Connecticut: It’s nice to see that my homeland became a representation for suburban boredom. I can’t say that living here is as exciting as living in New York City, but at least I didn’t grow up in Cos Cob.

Pete Campbell: Even after five seasons, I still don’t quite know how to feel about Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), the ambitious child of privilege. On the one hand, he’s constantly selfish and conniving. On the other hand, he exemplified this season that even if you have everything you want, it’s possible to still be missing something. As Don became more and more of a moral compass, Pete transformed into the man Don once was [Editor’s Note: How could anyone possibly cheat on Alison Brie? How?]. Kartheiser is one of the ensemble’s best actors. Nonetheless, it was a great moment of schadenfreude to watch him get punched in the face.

Filed Under: First World Problems.
I can’t even say if this post does the entire season justice. What were your thoughts on season five? Were you satisfied by the finale? What questions do you need answers to? And did you finally figure out what this poster meant?

Movie Review: Prometheus

Look familiar at all?

Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” is like a sci-fi opus from a better time in the history of sci-fi films. And I would know, because I like to pretend I grew up then. 

“Prometheus” rises above because for once, it is a movie interested in actually exploring what lies in space, as opposed to just killing everything not from our home planet. If you give Ridley Scott a space ship and weird space creatures that like to impregnate people, he will create his best work. Basically, he needs to stay out of Medieval England and French vineyards.

“Prometheus” was sold largely as a possible prequel to the “Alien” franchise. It would be better suited as a prologue than as a prequel. It is not just expanding on the lives of a few characters and explaining trivial details that didn’t need to be explained (do I even have to say it? I’m talking about “Star Wars”). Instead, “Prometheus” is about expanding an entire universe.
Here is a movie that asks a lot of broad questions about the origins of life. They are the kind of questions that have been asked before, but “Prometheus” asks them in ways that you would never think of asking. At times, it doesn’t even feel like giving us all the answers. However, I was always down to stay on this ride until the very end.

“Prometheus” begins in some place that looks an awful lot a cross between Antarctica and Victoria Falls on a planet that may or may not be Earth. A bald man resembling Voldemort eats a black liquid goo, which alters his shape and DNA into something else entirely. 

Cut to the year 2093. Just like the explorers of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” a team of scientists on Earth are called to examine something that may explain mankind’s origin, located in deep space. Scott takes his precious time taking us to the new planet, and points his camera at infinite stars, and then tracks it around the elaborately detailed ship. The painstaking attention to detail and abounding curiosity shows Scott in his absolute element.

On Earth, a diagram of planets is found in old cave paintings by archaeologist couple Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and their team, which also includes Janek (Idris Elba) and Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). These planets may map out the beginnings of humanity. Or not. Another thing that makes “Prometheus” work is that it takes so much time to explore its characters, and make each of their personalities distinguishable. Yes, Vickers seems like the kind of person who would order a Vodka Up.

Cue the Weyland Corporation, where aging founder Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, in inexplicably silly old man makeup) funds the building of Prometheus, a ship which will take its crew to LV-223, a moon named after the toxic air in its atmosphere. I want to leave as much of the plot as a surprise as possible, but let’s just say that being trapped in a cave by yourself in LV-223 filled with creatures you can’t see is even more frightening than being trapped on the Nostromo with one creature you can’t see.

“Prometheus” is the kind of movie I could see myself watching and admiring with the sound turned off. This is not to say that the story is trivial, but that the worlds created are unlike anything I have ever seen. It just about puts Pandora to shame. The 3D is used in the best possible way: it is present, but not too flashy. It is there enough so as to give the stunning images a little more depth, but it doesn’t make things pop out in your face. It is immersive enough that the eyes gets accustomed to it and at times, it doesn’t feel like you are even watching 3D. I still prefer my images to be flat and removed, but “Prometheus” is a big step up for the technology.

Scott utilizes genre so well here as it is not just used as a means for action, but as a means of portraying an incredibly complex view of life. It both shatters and fuels creation myths. It asks many questions that will have you arguing on the car ride home. Does it matter how we were created? Would knowing the answers better or worsen mankind? We all come from somewhere, and the way “Prometheus” portrays it, it certainly isn’t as pretty as we’d like to think.

As this film’s Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) replacement, Rapace perhaps had the biggest shoes to fill. She is a worthy predecessor to Weaver’s throne. She displays Ripley’s bravery and ability to survive against all odds. Because at the end of the day, the ability to persist triumphs above everything else. While Shaw is certainly brilliant, part of her final battle at the end felt like a bit of a cop out, and didn’t allow her to outwit the enemy in quite the same way Ripley did in “Alien” (SPOILER singing it a lullaby while launching it into space? All of the motherly creation themes of the movie lie right there).

            Meanwhile, as David (Biblical name much?), Michael Fassbender is much more philosophical and sophisticated than the machines in “Alien” movies past. He is also one of the keys to figuring out what this movie is about. He plays a robot that is cold and mechanical, yet also very human. Like Scott’s “Blade Runner,” a very human robot can make us question the very definition of what constitutes human life. Can it be simply the ability to breath and make decisions? Does it matter if we are run by blood, or by gears?

In order to enjoy “Prometheus,” you don’t necessarily have to have seen the other “Alien” movies, but it would definitely help. Perhaps you just need to know that the ship is named after the Greek myth of a Titan who wanted to be a God, and was punished because of it. Or so a friend more educated than myself tells me.

The best part is that “Prometheus” actually provides answers that make the “Alien” universe far more interesting and complex. It will definitely create new fans of the series. Perhaps the one thing fans of “Alien” were waiting to see occurs in a very brief instant, and in a pretty ingenious way. It is as if writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof (“Lost”) were saying, “here this is what you wanted, right? Are you happy now?” Yes, yes we are. “Prometheus” might try and tackle too much some times, but the scope and intrigue puts it streets ahead of the average franchise blockbuster.


Here are a few of my thoughts on “Prometheus.” This section is made for anyone who has already seen the movie:

-The big revelation at the end, in which we discover how the Alien was first born. This was not just used simply because it looks cool. After leaving the theater, the true significance really struck me: the Alien came from the same creator as mankind. Therefore, Man and Alien are somewhat related. I will not be able to look at the original “Alien” movies in the same light again.

-The role of religion- In the end, Shaw puts her cross back on her neck, to which David asks, “after all this, you still believe?” Shaw doesn’t respond. Despite being a work of science fiction, “Prometheus” is heavily about God and faith. I can see the touch of “Lost” scribe Lindelof in the aspect. In the “Prometheus” universe, everyone seems to come from some kind of creator, and the fact that the human’s creator can be killed shows perhaps that God is not all powerful. Or, as more eloquently put by Hattori Hanzo, “if on your journey you should encounter God, God will be cut.”

-I think another overall theme of this movie is that creation is a natural process that should not be interfered with, and that creating new life will create chaos in natural order. From the beginning, it seems that the creation of humans was a mistake, and perhaps the reason that man’s predecessors wanted to destroy Earth was as a means of righting their wrong, and creating a new, better life form. After all, when one life form goes extinct, another one can come into existence.

-Here is a very good theory a friend of mine pointed out about David: David himself was disappointed with his own creators. Therefore, he wanted humans to be disappointed when they met their own makers, so he decided to “screw up” contact with the engineers as a means of shattering their illusions and beliefs.

-What did everyone think of the scene in which Shaw has the Alien seed removed from her stomach? As bad as the instance from the first “Alien”? Worse? Or lacking the essential element of surprise? Also, it displays a standard for horror that Scott helped set once upon a time: what we don’t see is scarier than what we actually do see.

Now, share some of your own theories. There is a lot to dig from here.

It’s Here! The Premiere of the Django Unchained Trailer

I definitely didn’t need a trailer to get me excited for “Django Unchained,” but I’m not complaining about the fact that the first trailer has finally been released.

While the trailer for Quentin Tarantino’s last film, “Inglourious Basterds,” misled viewers to believe that it was nothing but a Brad Pitt fest, the “Django Unchained” trailer seems to be showing exactly the kind of film everyone expected it to be. And no, that is not a bad thing at all. “Django” looks to have a perfect mix of serious and awesome action and hilariously inspired exploitation. It also opens with a Johnny Cash song and includes Christoph Waltz channeling Hans Landa and Leonardo DiCaprio saying “rambunctious” in the most sinister way possible.

But it’s time for me to shut up now, and time for you to watch this trailer*:

Note: This trailer comes via The Film Stage, a site dedicated to movie reviews and news. I began contributing to it today. Check out the site here:

The Reel Deal Tries to Become Internet Famous: Photobombing Salma

Being internet famous is not just any ordinary kind of fame. Achieving internet fame suggests that you may have done something that you wouldn’t normally do.

Well, I’m about to do something I never thought I’d do on The Reel Deal: post a meme. Or create one.
The following photo was taken at the Cannes Film Festival, and submitted to me by my friend Spencer Lucas (the girl in the photo I am still unsure of but if you find this, please come forward). The man is Ennio Morricone, cinema’s greatest composer. In the background is Salma Hayek. I don’t know what she’s doing, but she has pulled off one of the most hilarious inadvertent photobombs I have yet to see. 
Success is achieved only by doing, and you have the chance to make Photobombing Salma a reality. For all of you PhotoShop junkies out there, create the funniest variations on Photobombing Salma that you can, and send them to me ( I will post my favorites in an upcoming post. Just a tip: my favorites will probably be the funniest, so the more inappropriate and random situations that you can place Salma into, the better. 
Here it is, Reel Dealers. Photobombing Salma:

Mud & Killing Them Softly: The Lost Reviews of Cannes

The line for “Killing Them Softly.” But was it worth the wait?

While at Cannes, I watched “Killing Them Softly” and “Mud.” However, I never got to publish reviews of them. Here they are now.

Killing Them Softly

 When Brad Pitt is in your movie, you are bound to get plenty of attention from the French.

“Killing Them Softly” surfaced with some bad early buzz but received favorable reviews when it actually opened. I compare it to “Lawless” simply for the reason that they are both gangster films. “Lawless” has the makings of a minor American classic. It goes for something a little more old fashioned, yet very refreshing. “Killing Them Softly” goes for brutal and meditative, and gets halfway there.

Here is a film that has a standout script, but doesn’t bring its characters anywhere. The dialogue is detailed and familiar-sounding enough that it mimics real conversation. The banter between Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) gives “Killing Them Softly” a nice, humorous heart. While Brad Pitt is the selling point, McNairy and Mendelsohn are the film’s true stars.

That is not to insult Mr. Pitt’s role at all. Many people were unimpressed by his performance, but he did everything right as a very professional hitman. “Killing Them Softly” felt like a knockoff “No Country for Old Men” morality tale, with Pitt’s Jackie Cogan substituting for Anton Chigurh. Like Chigurh, he has an calculated and mysterious air to him. Unlike Chigurh, his moral compass is less fascinating and less defined. Without giving too much away, the title refers to Cogan’s standard of killing his victim from far enough away so as not to become emotionally attached. Strangely though, Cogan kills many people up close, and that doesn’t seem to change him in any way, shape, or form.

I’m Brad Pitt, and you’re not.

The story of “Killing Them Softly” is quite simple: it is about a hit being pulled off. And if you follow that brief premise, it delivers on that exactly. “Killing Them Softly” was directed by Andrew Dominik of “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” fame. “Killing Them Softly” replaces the open spaces of the west for the confined, gritty backdrop of New Orleans. What “Jesse James” has in silence, “Killing Them Softly” has in dialogue.

“Jesse James” ran over two and a half hours long. It is said that an original cut of “Killing Them Softly” is about the same length. I would very much like to see this version, as what was shown at Cannes felt like a summed up version of a much better movie. I’d like to see how much more depth, and what new directions, Dominik had intended for the characters. I’d like more scenes with Frankie and Russell, and more with the Bukowski-type Mickey (James Gandolfini), who has some of the film’s most entertaining scenes.

I admire “Killing Them Softly” for its ambition. The film takes place during the 2008 presidential election, and uses this event as a means of criticizing the greed of American capitalism. It seems to exist in a world of many Gordon Gekkos. I am not sure if Dominik’s point totally came through, but I believe a second viewing, and a longer running time, might clear some things up. I will say this though: the final line of “Killing Them Softly” will end up on an AFI Top 100 list one day.

After the Jump: Mud


When at Cannes, the distinction between American movies and movies from foreign countries becomes more and more apparent. Even the best of American cinema can succumb to trying to wrap dark little stories up in a pretty, Disney-colored bow. That is the Achilles heal of “Mud.”

First, let me be clear: I did not hate “Mud.” In fact, I liked it very much, and I recommend you see it when it comes out. Had I first viewed “Mud” during its actual theatrical release, I probably would have liked it much more. It makes most American movies look bad. But when paired up against the fare at Cannes, it looks a little trite. This is why no matter how hard you try, being a film critic can never be an objective job. If someone tells you otherwise, answer by saying, “shut up, Peter Travers!”

“Mud! Mud come back!” -Someone who misquotes movies a lot.

But I digress. “Mud” is yet another major American release at Cannes that took place in the South (“Moonrise Kingdom” might have been the only one that wasn’t). And it is the third release of 2012 in which Matthew McConaughey turns on his southern swag*. McConaughey plays the titular Mud, a runaway and a hopeless romantic living deep in the Arkansas woods. Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) is the object of his affection. The young Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are taken under his quiet, charismatic spell.

“Mud” is directed by Jeff Nichols. Nichols previously directed “Take Shelter,” which I have yet to see, but I hear that it is excellent. Nichols has a very restrained style of directing that lets the story, and not the style, shine. As Mud, McConaughey plays a character who seems to be a legend unfolding in every frame. Watching him, I was somewhat reminded of Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke.” Not to say that McConaughey is on Newman’s level, but they both had that same, relatable rebellious spirit.

Where “Mud” went wrong for me was in its ending. Maybe I’m just being a tin man, but I didn’t feel myself getting overwhelmed with emotion by the finale. The movie spent a lot of time trying to turn Mud into this mythical character and in the end, he feels nothing like that. What at first feels very satisfying in the end feels like nothing more than comfort food. Also, “Mud” suffers from the very easy to catch Multiple Ending Syndrome.

I would like to reiterate once more that “Mud” is a very likable movie. It feels a bit like a “Tom Sawyer” or “Huck Finn” type adventure, but a lot more family friendly (and by that I mean, a lot less racial slurs).

*Remind me never to use this word in any sentence ever again.

Analog This: SNL Without Andy Samberg and Kristen Wiig

Last night, Andy Samberg announced that he will not be returning to “Saturday Night Live” in the fall. This was a sad, yet expected announcement. Expected as in I expected this to happen much longer ago, as Samberg has been a star for many years now. But he needed to stay because without him, “Saturday Night Live” would have been a much different show.

Samberg may have saved the show from irrelevance by launching his first Digital Short, “Lazy Sunday,” in 2005. With the Digital Short, the show found a way to survive in the 21st century. Of course, promising new cast members and a Sarah Palin impression would also help, but let us not forget the importance of the Digital Short.

With his band The Lonely Island, Samberg has released two albums, and I pray that a third be on the way at some point in the near future.

Samberg does not get nearly enough credit for being such a versatile performer. He can sing, tell jokes, and act. While Samberg’s videos are usually what he is best known for, he could do a few good impressions, including one that got him in trouble with Mark Wahlberg. I worry for Samberg’s movie career if he chooses more projects like “That’s My Boy.” However, I am optimistic if he instead makes more movies like “Hot Rod.” “Hot Rod” mixes a whole lot of insanity with a whole lot of heart, and dozens of YouTube worthy moments.

After the jump: Kristen Wiig, and some video highlights.
This news is especially rough given that Kristen Wiig also left the show. Her departure was announced in a moving final segment at the end of the season finale, in which she danced with the cast to the tune of “She’s a Rainbow” and “Ruby Tuesday.” “She’s a Rainbow” was just about the perfect song to play for Wiig, as she was one of the most colorful performers the show has ever had, and she will light up the big screen in the years to come. “Bridesmaids” was her first, and most certainly not her last, mega success in film (I haven’t forgotten about her bit part in “Knocked Up”). In fact, I believe she will become one of the biggest movie stars the show has ever produced.

“Don’t make me sing!”

The big question right now is this: where does “Saturday Night Live” go from here? Recently, “Saturday Night Live” has built a talented ensemble that does not hinge on one or two people alone. Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, and Jason Sudekis have no plans to leave yet, but given their success in other television shows and movies, that may not last long. Seth Meyers remains a strong Weekend Update host, and featured players Vanessa Bayer, Taran Killam, and Jay Pharoah hold promising futures.

“Saturday Night Live” is an American institution. And for every Chris Kattan and Victoria Jackson that is put out into the world, they also produce an Eddie Murphy* or Will Ferrell. No matter how many times people try and put it down, “Saturday Night Live” is an important breeding ground for both comedy and comedians. And every once in a while, they give us someone like Andy Samberg and Kristen Wiig.

*”Norbit” not withstanding

It was hard to choose, but this is my favorite Digital Short made under Samberg’s watch:

Plus, the farewell to Kristen Wiig. One of the show’s most tear-inducing moments:
Plus, a bonus clip from “Hot Rod”: