Saturday, February 28, 2009

100 Female Performances from

I found this list on IMDB's links of the day. It gives me some ideas for netflix choices.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Yes Man

Yes Man serves as Jim Carrey's return to concept comedy antics ala Bruce Almighty and/or Liar Liar. Liar Liar is a not-so-guilty-pleasure of mine, so I took a trip to the dollar theater with a friend and checked this out.

Yes Man is not as funny as Liar Liar or (I suspect) most of his more successful comedies. It has some charm (mostly from the out-of-place but still sublime Zooey Deschanel) and laughs (Rhys Darby is a hoot doing a take on his Flight of the Conchords character), but is too brisk and simple to make any lasting impression. There simply isn't anything terribly memorable from the movie. When it was over, I had to search deep into my memory to recall why I had guffawed during the movie (it was because of Darby and Deschanel and a neat little role from Terrance Stamp). It's better than most Hollywood comedies, but I must say I enjoy depth with my laughs and introspection from my Carreys. Yes Man has neither.

Highlights - Deschanel sings! Darby theme parties! Carrey and a Persian wife?! Stamp as guru!


The Salton Sea

I re-watched The Salton Sea for the first time in 4 or 5 years and really enjoyed it. I thought of my old review on the Wonderreviews site oh so long ago. Rather than writing something new (I'm lazy), I'll post it here:

It's difficult to do anything innovative with the film noir genre. It's hard to make a film involving noirish elements that's not derivative of all the other movies in the vast film noir history. So, taking this into consideration, "The Salton Sea" is all the more impressive. Sure, it follows the path set by other modern film noir pictures, but it's also highly original in its approach to its converging genres. Besides film noir, it also belongs in the "undercover cop in over his head" sub-genre. Add the "vengeful husband looking for his own brand of justice" sub-genre and you've got a melting pot of storytelling techniques. Stir in a who's who cast of character actors playing off kilter characters and you've got something special.

Val Kilmer ("Tombstone," "Top Gun," "Batman Forever") plays Danny Parker and Tom Van Allen, which one he is at the moment escapes him, as he tells in the opening narration. He is playing a trumpet while flames engulf the room around him. It's freaky and kind of unexpected, especially when the opening narrative is more cryptic than informative. But, like most good pieces of the genre, the script is aware that too much too soon can ruin a good story. So, we are introduced into the world Danny Parker has immersed himself in, that of the "tweaker." A "tweaker," as we find out through visuals and Kilmer's narration, is a crystal meth enthusiast/heavy user.

There are several plot twists and exposition devices that can help you understand the plot and make you want to see the movie, but I am wary of mentioning them even though they are mentioned on the back of the video. Let's just go at this in a general, basic sort of offensive.

Danny Parker/Tom Van Allen/Who Knows[?] has inserted himself into the underground tweaker culture in hopes of finding the men who murdered his wife. He was the trumpet playing Tom Van Allen prior to the tragedy, but that part of him died when he embraced the tweaker way of life, even resorting to large body tatoos and body piercings. Tom Van Allen could not watch himself lose himself, so he became Danny Parker because he needed an alias and, presumably, because it's a cooler name. That's the gist of the plot without giving away the twists and turns, of which there are many.

The film dances around time in a manner similar to that of "Memento," although it stays away from the reverse chronology concept. The visuals are gritty and bleached so that everything appears as though its shadows are about to swallow its light. It's a nice visual approach to such a unusual film.

But the real revelation is that Val Kilmer has not forgotten how to act, or for you skeptics, found a way to act. Kilmer is best utilized as a memorable sidekick or playful nemesis ("Tombstone" and "Top Gun"), rather than the leading man roles he often mistakenly takes at the behest of his ego. As Danny Parker/ Tom Van Allen, he shines in a kind of subdued cool role. He doesn't have the catch phrases and nicknames of past roles to fall back on, so he just has to draw it out naturally. Many may say Kilmer drawing cool out from himself is like trying to draw blood from a stone, but he's actually quite cool. It's one of those roles that can turn around a career headed to the straight to video sections of your local video rental establishment (editor's note: he is that straight to DVD guy now).

To make you happy, the viewer is treated to several crazy characters, mainly that of Pooh Bear (expert character actor Vincent D'Onofrio). Also rounding out the cast are Luis Guzman, Deborah Kara Unger, Peter Sarsgaard, B.D. Wong, Anthony LaPaglia, Doug Hutchison, and Adam Goldberg. I realize the list of names by no means constitutes the stars you wanted to see in some movie, but they are all highly talented actors and will not disappoint you.

The best thing about "The Salton Sea" is that, just when you think you know what kind of movie it is, something surprises you. The only problem is a lack of control that director D.J. Caruso exhibits in certain scenes. His attention span isn't quite as short as Michael Bay's, but he does give you the impression that maybe he could have captured some shots with more direction, perhaps more definition. Alas, it still is a fine film with a nose for something new.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Let the Right One In

Let the Right One In is the vampire movie Hollywood would be terrified to produce. It's a character piece that moves at a slow pace as to allow its hero and heroine to evolve naturally. It has its moments of terror, fear, blood, and gore like anything Hollywood produces, but it is also content to follow quiet and honest exchanges between preteens. One of them just happens to be a vampire.

It's hard to place a horror movie, especially a vampire movie, into the category of realism, but Let the Right One In is the closest to vampires in the real world as I can imagine. Being a vampire is not cool. None of them are proud of it. It's like a mark of shame that separates them from anyone else except for their own kind. Unlike the more recent of successful vampire franchises, these vampires don't hole up in expensive mansions or live in covens or what have you. The young vampire girl lives with an older (and increasingly less useful) vampire in a crappy apartment building. She goes out only at night and is fearful of any real connection and her need to feed on human life (and apparently vampires have an unpleasant odor).

Calling the style "realism" cannot take away from the artfulness of the film. It's cinematography, acting, and plotting are all expertly conceived and executed. It's a lovely film in the midst of the its own carnage.

What sets it apart, among other things, is the care it takes to tell the story of the friendship and young love between a 12 year boy and the vampire girl. It's adorable and frightening. The quality is in the details that could be easily missed. The young boy's nose is always running. She is always quiet and looks sad and lonely, even after ravaging passerbys. Their connection, like most first loves, is awkward. This isn't a storybook romance. And it is a strange tale. You are likely to feel uncomfortable for some if not all of its runtime. But, as a beginning horror genre fan, I was happy to tag along. Even when the film approaches its sensational extremes, I was pleased to see it end the way it did. As it stands now, it is one of my favorite films of the year.


I saw this movie with the hope that it would be somewhere between Open Range and 3:10 to Yuma, the two best of the modern westerns (save for the Australian The Proposition). That's kind of a wide gap. Lots of room to fall into. Appaloosa falls behind Open Range and most movies. It's the worst movie I've seen since The Rocker, and this time, I have no excuses for the filmmakers.

Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen are fine actors. I enjoy both of them. But this script (from Ed Harris and a co-writer) offers nothing special for them to do. The plot seems to aim only for the lows of old Saturday afternoon western movies that played on Akron's worst local station. And it gets there. The only slightly appealing aspect of the film is Ed Harris and Mortensen's friendship (or "bromance" under modern terms). Even that falls short, however, because there are times when these two leads act completely out of logic or reason or accomplish unlikely strange feats. It seems that these two peacemakers and their newly sworn enemy Mr. Bragg (the barely registering Jeremy Irons) are only intimidating in theory. They talk a good amount of smack, but rarely do any of them deliver on their idle promises. In fact, I wonder why Irons took the role at all. There's nothing really for him to do. Except for the short burst of unlawfullness in the first two minutes or less, he is ALL talk.

And I'll only touch briefly on Renee Zellweger here. I must admit that my complaints here are less than objective. In Appaloosa, she's an eye and ear sore. I can't stand any moment she's on screen. I am not one to subscribe to the "Zellweger is inherently awful" theory. I enjoyed her in Chicago and Jerry Maguire and to a lesser extent Cinderella Man. But there is no redeeming quality to her work here. Her character offers nothing to the script save for unearned conflict. No one would fall for this character. No one would risk their life for this character.

And finally, Ed Harris must have cast his entire family or old bocce ball comrades in this movie because the bit players are some of the worst actors I can remember. I cringed every time one of them spoke. The only reason possible for casting such talentless actors must be a sense of duty Ed Harris must have felt.