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Monday, April 27, 2009

The Doomsday Machine: Episode 4

Two of the greatest filmmakers of our generation are Joel and Ethan Coen. I don't think there is anyone who has studied film that would disagree with that. Their work has always stood out amongst the crowd of the formulated Hollywood drivel we are treated to 90 percent of the time. I've always found their films to have a unique voice, as well as perfect technical execution. Growing up in the early 90's, they were, perhaps, the equivalent of what Paul Thomas Anderson has achieved today. That is, they had four films under their belt that were all perfect.

After that, it seems that budgets may have gotten bigger and perhaps we, as viewers, lost a little something in the intimate settings that we were used to. I think the thing I've always enjoyed about their movies is their ability to set a scene with perfect visuals as well as perfect sound, with little to work with. Their attention to detail gives their lower budget movies a true sense of being there. However, their next five films still were nothing short of brilliant. It wasn't until 2003 when 'Intolerable Cruelty' came out that we all started to look around and wonder if they mailed it in. Though after what they've given us over the years, I won't hold one or two sub-par movies against them. The fact is, even those movies are better than the previously mentioned Hollywood tripe.

In this episode we get into our favorites. For the most part I think we can all agree on the choices but it's interesting to see what some of us hold above others, but then again, trying to rank Coen Brothers films is like answering the question, “Which would you rather have...A winning lottery ticket, eternal youth, or superpowers?” There really is no bad choice.

If you can't get the player above to work you can find the show at or on iTunes. If you get the chance, please go to iTunes and leave some feedback on the show. Enjoy.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Comeback Kids

The best of recent cinema has been inundated with comeback stories. The Wrestler proved what we all knew—Mickey Rourke is one hell of an actor. JCVD was even more surprising in that Jean Claude Van Damme proved he could actually act. 
Rourke and Van Damme were '80s superstars who came on the scene as a hot commodity then fizzled, taking genre roles in stale films. But their latest flicks got me thinking: If they can do it, what other B-list '80s stars could also show off their unknown chops? 

1. Steven Seagal 
The aikido master was known for his roles in such nighttime fodder as Hard to Kill, Out for Justice and Under Siege. He was never much of an actor, and that's putting it so, so lightly. He was always more of a catchphrase type actor, ending films with that glorious one-liner. 
Now, he's overweight, starring in direct-to-DVD films that can't even garner a 2 a.m. slot on USA. 
But the dude's got fans. Vern from "Ain't it Cool News" wrote an over-300 page dissertation on the genius of his flicks. Sure, it's outlandish, but anyone who has a childish love for Seagal's trademark bone-breaking moves would be in line to see a dramatic turn from the silent martial artist. 
How about life after Under Siege? What does the cook Casey Ryback do post-battle? Perhaps he makes a badass chicken parm. 

2. Dolph Lundgren
The Russian. The one actor forever known as telling Stallone, "I will crush you." Afterwards, he was The Punisher, the villain in Universal Soldier, then he was demoted to lord-knows-what. 
While he doesn't exude personality in these flicks, he was one of the funnier commentators on VH1's "I Love the '80s." Let's give him a stab at a comedic role as a supporting actor. Something tells me he could be the affable tough/gay guy partner ala Val Kilmer in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or The Rock in Be Cool
Lundgren's an icon for being the one man who could bring down Rocky. I'm sure he can take time off from the gym to do an action comedy with Chris Tucker. 

3. Mr. T 
I pity the fool who doesn't make a documentary on this perplexing A-Team member. 

4. Christian Slater 
Many will balk at this entry. The guy's known for Pump Up the Volume and doing his best Jack Nicholson impression all the time. But his best flicks flirted with the action genre. Remember True Romance? Hell, even I'll admit Kuffs was a guilty pleasure, and it was ridiculously violent for a PG-13 flick. 
Nowadays, everything he does has action in it. The guy wants to be an action star. Sure, he's tried drama, but no one has cared. He will be forever known as the smart-ass. 
No more. Slater needs to go bald and play the worried dad who constantly reads a book and always chews his magnifying-lens-style glasses. Instead of Nicholson, he needs to start ripping off Richard Jenkins. 
Don't act like you're not intrigued. 

5. The Cast of Young Guns 
With Rambo 5,  Rocky 6 and Die Hard 4 all seeing the light of day, let's bring back the most ridiculous of the sagas—Young Guns. Bring the entire cast back and let Christopher Nolan direct it. 
Make it like The Dark Knight but with '80s teen idols Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen leading a group of newcomers through the Midwest. 
You're right, Nolan would never do that. But if it ever happened, you know damn right I would be there in the front row with a large popcorn. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

R.I.P. Jack Cardiff

One of the best cinematographers in film history died today. Jack Cardiff was arguably the best color cinematographer of the 40's and 50's. His groundbreaking work in the days of early color photography is still breathtaking and unmatched. Cardiff started out as a actor during the Silent Era and then worked his way from Clapper Boy to Cinematographer. He was a Camera Operator on Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Life and Death Of Colonel Blimp(1943). They were so impressed by him that they hired him to photograph their next three films and his best work. Powell, Pressburger, and Cardiff all collaborated on Stairway To Heaven:A Matter Of Life And Death(1946), Black Narcissus(1947), and The Red Shoes(1948). These films are masterpieces all around and probably the best looking films of the decade. The Red Shoes is one of my favorite films of all time. Cardiff left England and went to America after The Red Shoes and worked on beautiful films like The African Queen(1951), The Magic Box(1952), The Barefoot Contessa(1954) and War and Peace(1956). In the late 50's he turned to directing with Sons and Lovers(1960) being his biggest success. He returned to Cinematography in the mid 70's and worked until 2007. Jack Cardiff won a Academy Award for Best Cinematographer in 1948 for Black Narcissus and was nominated 3 other times including one for Best Director. In 2001 Cardiff received a Honorary Oscar for his achievements, he was 94. Below is a film still from Black Narcissus.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Best Basketball Films

The NBA playoffs are upon us and I thought this would be a good time to express the Best and Worst of Basketball in film.

Best High School Basketball Film: Hoosiers

No shock here, Hoosiers has been a
Basketball film staple since it's release
in 1986. This film had such a impact on the sports world that in 9th grade my Junior High School Basketball coach watched Hoosiers a dozen times and tried to coach just like Norman Dale.(Gene Hackman) We won 2 games that year, and he was gone the next year.

Best College Basketball Film: Blue Chips

Nick Nolte pulls off the best Bobby Knight impersonation ever! This film even has Bobby Knight in it and you want more Pete Bell. It's a very entertaing film about the corruption of College Basketball and has great performances all around, with the exception of Penny Hardaway and Rickey Roe. William Freidkin directs a great Ron Shelton script. I have been waiting since 1994 for Nolte and Shaq's next film collaboration, come on guys!

Best Street Ball Film: White Men Can't Jump

Ron Shelton hits again with this gem from 1992.
Wesley and Woody shine on and off the court as the best screen duo since Riggs and Murtaugh. Ron Shelton is a sports director and every film he requires that his stars know how to play the sport the film is about. According to IMDB the basketball instructors on the film said that Wesley and Woody reached the skill level to play Division 3 college ball, and it shows. No other film has got the trash talking or the race division in basketball down as good as this film did.

Best Basketball Player in Film History: WOLF!

This is a tricky one. Michael J. Fox's Scott Howard in human form is the best player on a team with a horrible coach and a player called Chubby. Scott Howard sucks, but when he wolfs out he becomes Lebron James and single handily murders the competition while Chubs eats on the court. Nobody in the history of basketball, not even Jimmy Chitwood, could beat Scott Howard's WOLF!

Worst Player: Hoops McCann
Hi Hoops! This guy can't even throw paper in a wastebasket.

Best Performance by a Pro Basketball Player In A Film:Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem is pure gold in one of the best comedies ever made. Look at Dan Marino in Ace Ventura:Pet Detective and then watch Kareem in Airplane! The guy should have won a Oscar in comparison. The pissed off look on his face along with the "The hell I don't!" speech with Joey gets me every time.

Shaquille O'Neil's Neon Bedaux in Blue Chips is a distant second to Kareem. Penny Hardaway's Butch McCrae from the same film is the WORSE performance by a Pro Basketball player in film history.

The Best Basketball Film: Hoop Dreams

In 1994 Steve James made one of the best documentaries ever made. The Film is about Basketball prodigies Arthur Agee and William Gates growing up with the pros and cons of having a talent for the game. It also focuses on the inner city, drugs, family, and everyone trying to sink their teeth into these boys who may make millions one day in the NBA. Great film and a must see, even if you don't like sports.

The Worst Basketball Film: Game Day

Oh this one is a doozy from 1999. It's Richard Lewis doing his best Rick Pitino impression while being a womanizing drunk. Movies like Coach Carter and Glory Road are bad films that follow a formula and are a dime a dozen. This movie is over the top with the acting, writing, and the scenario. The film takes place on the day of the championship game of the NCAA tournament, and Richard Lewis is the coach of the underdog team. What makes this film is the end, it is so mind boggling that you have to watch it 20 more times just to make sure it is real.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Quit Your Job: Punisher Movies over at Diggings

After watching Punisher: War Zone, I wrote about why there will never be a good Punisher movie. 

Check it out over at Diggings

Friday, April 10, 2009

AFI Dallas is not like SXSW

We don't have gay Target sponsored parties. People don't try to be cool here, they just are.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


The 3rd Annual AFI International Film Festival wrapped up this past week. For those who don't know, AFI DALLAS came to be when a local film dude with deep pocket wanted to open up a Dallas branch of the famed AFI Film Institute. What we got instead was a pretty decent film festival. It now ranks as one of the top 20 film festivals in the country and has grown pretty steadily in each of it's first three years. We pretty much get the same lineup more or less as SXSW and some of the top films from Sundance. Luckily, I work for a company that is a creative sponsor; we do a shit load of post work for the festival. That means that every year, I get my hands on a shiny Silver Star All Access pass. Here are my highlights (don't worry, NO SPOILERS):

1. BIG FAN is the directorial debut for THE WRESTLER screenwriter Robert D. Siegel and stars Patton Oswalt (yes that Patton Oswalt) in an amazing dramatic performance. This film reminds me of those fantastic, intimate character dramas from the early 1970s. Oswalt stars as a hardcore New York Giants fan, who's obsession with his favorite team and player completely defines him as a person, especially when faced with huge moral dilemma. 5 out of 5 stars.

2. 500 DAYS OF SUMMER takes the old cliched story of boy meets girl romantic dramedy and breathes new life in it. For anyone who's fallen head over heals for someone, only to find blank stares in return, this film is for you. Director Marc Webb does a superb job of blending together many genres and actually making it work. The film includes a great surreal musical number, as well as incorporating animation and an unconventional story structure. Also, the film wouldn't have been as convincing as it was without the performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. Gordon-Levitt is as close to gold as it comes nowadays, and Deschanel actally does more than stare at the camera for 90 minutes. 4.5 out of 5.

4-7. Great Documentaries: PROM NIGHT IN MISSISSIPPI (4 out of 5 stars) chronicles the first ever integrated prom in a small town in Mississippi (in FUCKING 2008!!!) thanks to Morgan Freeman. Racism lives on in the south! FOOD, INC. (4 out of 5 stars) shows us just where our food supply comes from (90% of it from 4 corporations, yummy!). ROCK PROPHECIES (4 out of 5 stars) showcases one of the most successful rock photographers of the past forty years. And ART & COPY (3.5 out of 5 stars) pulls back the curtain on big advertising and shows us the titans of the industry.

8. GIGANTIC was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize, and I'm not sure why. This film taps into almost every indie film cliche: quiet, loner, quirky lead; quiet, loner, quirky love interest; quirky, funny co-workers; loud mouth, over-bearing father of love interest; really cool parents who understand and accept said quirkiness; oh, and a hip indie music soundtrack. Paul Dano and Zooey Deschanel are wasted. John Goodman is funny at times. New York is beautifully photographed. Oh, and Zooey shows us her Deschanels for the fist time (half a point for that). 2.5 out of 5.

9. THE MISSING PERSON on the surface has a lot of promise. You take one of the great actors working today (Oscar nominated Michael Shannon), cast him as an old school private detective with a shady past who drinks too much and smokes like a chimney. Then you throw in some intrigue about a 9/11 survivor on the lam and PRESTO, you have yourself a great noir mystery. Eh, not so much. This film is so clunky, so misguided, so weighted down it takes forever to find it's direction (atmosphere can only carry a film for so long). Just a mess. 2 out of 5 stars.