THE FILM YAP » Frances McDormand We Never Shut Up About Movies Thu, 23 Oct 2014 04:45:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Blood Simple (1984) Mon, 06 Jan 2014 05:25:31 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Blood Simple - inside

I really thought I’d like “Blood Simple” more than I did. Pre-Lebowski, when the films of Joel and Ethan Coen finally broke into the pop-culture mainstream, I was the lonely nut going around telling everyone how great they were. “Miller’s Crossing” remains one of my all-time favorite films.

We parted ways at “No Country for Old Men” — ironically, the moment when they achieved the pinnacle of their career with multiple Oscar wins. I found “A Serious Man” and “Burn After Reading” to be unworthy trifles, though they redeemed themselves with the mighty remake of “True Grit.” But somehow I had never gotten around to seeing their first feature, a neo-film noir set in Texas.

I found “Blood Simple” to be really pretentious and forced. It registers as exactly what it is: the jittery fumblings of promising first-time filmmakers. The Coens’ over-reliance on cock-eyed camera angles and moves seems like a transparent attempt to wow the audience by making the director(s) the star of the show.

The film’s heightened mood is often strung out too long, resulting in scenes that are languid rather than suspenseful. (The Coens would seem to agree, later issuing a director’s cut that was actually shorter than the original.)

The lead actor can’t act. The lead actress isn’t given anything to do. And much of the various twists of the plot depend on the characters not saying the most obvious thing a person would say in a given situation.

The ill-fated lovers, Ray and Abby (John Getz and Frances McDormand), each come to suspect the other of murder, but fill their interactions with pregnant pauses instead of useful exchanges of information.

How it would have gone in a logical world: “Why did you kill Marty?!?” “I didn’t kill Marty!” “…Oh.” And the film ends at the 47-minute mark.

And I’m still trying to wrap my head around the part where a gun fires simply by being stepped on. Does dynamite also explode if you stare at it balefully?

All this isn’t to say it’s a bad film, just not the great one I’d been led to believe.

There are many things to admire about “Blood Simple,” starting with its economy of scale. The movie has only four important characters, with one other (Meurice the bartender) existing simply to help connect the dots between the other people. I believe there are only two other speaking parts beyond that, plus Holly Hunter’s voice on an answering machine.

I also like how it seems as if every object we see is important in some way — a lighter, a stack of catfish, a shovel, a shoe. Early on, we see Abby fumbling in her purse for a box of bullets, finding exactly three. Each one of them will have a momentous future in the story.

Marty (Dan Hedaya) seems out of place, an obvious Northeastern ethnic type stuck in Texas running a latter-day saloon/strip club called the Neon Boot. He wears cowboy boots to fit in with the locals but seems to regard them as vile hayseeds and mostly stays inside his office in the back, emerging only to dispense threats to his employees.

Abby is his young, pretty kept wife who, as the story opens, is running away from Marty. Ray (Getz) is the good-looking bartender who works at the bar, giving her a car ride and letting Abby know that “I’ve always liked you.” This leads to a quick bedding, which is photographed by a seedy private eye.

McDormand is so young and smooth-faced here that she actually comes across looking rather generic, like just another Hollywood starlet getting her big break instead of a woman starring in a movie directed by her husband, Joel. Her face has definitely gotten more interesting as she’s grown older. She’s a completely reactive character, seeming rather dim and sad, and indeed she disappears from the story for long stretches, finally getting her moment in the clever final showdown with the private eye.

And Getz … well, he seems to be trying to do an impersonation of a “speak softly and carry a big stick” type of guy, except he misplaced his stick. His line deliveries are drawled and grating, practically a parody of a big Texas lunk. He sounds like John Wayne coming off a really groovy high with the Dude.

Most of the cast, in fact, speaks in a very deliberate way. The late, great Pauline Kael said it best: “The actors talk so slowly it’s as if the script were written in cement on Hollywood Boulevard.”

Anyway, it turns into a convoluted dance of betrayal, with the private eye shooting Marty, who’s paid him $10,000 to kill his wife and lover. Ray comes to the bar to collect his back pay and finds Marty seemingly dead. Assuming Abby shot him — the private dick has conveniently left the .38 revolver Marty bought for her at the crime scene — Ray takes the body to dispose of it and discovers Marty’s still alive.

Ray buries the still-breathing Marty and tells Abby he “took care of it” without ever coming right out and saying what happened. Each ends up believing the other murdered Marty. Meanwhile, the private eye returns to clean up any loose threads, putting them both in his sights.

About that P.I.: M. Emmet Walsh is the film’s saving grace as Loren Visser — which is a terrific movie character name, though I’m not sure we ever actually get to hear anyone call him that. The Coens wrote the part specifically for Walsh, and he invests it with every ounce of creepy, nervous energy at his command. Visser has a tendency to break out into a high jackal’s laugh at the most inopportune moments.

Sporting around in an ugly polyester suit, bit Texas hat and dilapidated VW Bug, Visser seems like he wandered in from another, better movie.

Fans of “Blood Simple” have pointed to the intricacy of the plot, the way every move each person makes just sinks them all in deeper. As Roger Ebert wrote in his original review, “Every individual detail seems to make sense, and every individual choice seems logical, but the choices and details form a bewildering labyrinth.”

That’s accurate only if you buy the notion that these characters would only talk to each other in circuitous arcs utterly devoid of key facts, relying on intimation and intimidation instead. It’s understandable when Ray calls Abby on a pay phone after burying Marty to be circumspect because someone could be listening in. But their in-person confrontation a little later is an unbelievable waltz of screenwriter misdirection.

And that’s the big problem with this movie: The magicians hadn’t yet mastered their skills, so we know when they palm a card or where the ball is under which cup. Everything is so deliberate and paced; the stitch marks are too garish to ignore.

Obviously, the Coens went on to much greater things. They’re known as masters of genre-hopping, taking a specific set of expectations and standing them up on their head while also offering their own homage. I prefer to look upon “Blood Simple” as their training ground and leave it at that.

3.5 Yaps

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Promised Land Thu, 03 Jan 2013 14:36:20 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Promised Land - inside

“Promised Land” is the sort of movie that is so gratingly earnest, so righteous in its mission and so unwavering in its message that it undercuts the storytelling.

This drama about the issue of hydraulic fracturing drilling for natural gas, or “fracking,” contains some powerful moments and a few nice performances, particularly Matt Damon as a conflicted gas company rep. But the screenplay, co-written by Damon and John Krasinski (who also co-stars), sets up the conflict in such stark shades of black and white, we know exactly how the characters’ journeys will turn out.

To wit: I do not think I am giving anything away by stating that this film ends with Damon’s character, Steve Butler, undergoing a major change of heart, making a big speech in front of the townspeople in which he confesses his sins. This is because, given everything that has transpired, this movie could not have ended any other way.

Steve is the hotshot top salesman for Global Gas. His job is to go into rural communities where natural gas is lying in beds of shale rock deep below the earth and buy up the leasing rights to farms. Steve, along with his partner Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand), have a track record of signing more land at a fraction of the price compared to other teams.

Now he’s up for a big promotion, as soon as he closes the deal on the tiny town of Miller Falls. There he encounters a stubborn old farmer (Hal Holbrook) who used to be a big shot scientist. He warns people about the environmental dangers of fracking, and convinces them to hold an election in three weeks’ time to decide the issue.

This represents a nightmare scenario for Steve and Sue, who are used to descending on a small community, swooping up all the lease contracts and getting out before any opposition has time to coalesce. Even worse, a smarmy young environmentalist from some group called Superior Athena named Dustin Noble (Krasinski) shows up with dire warnings and horrifying photographs of dead cows after his family’s dairy farm was ruined by fracking.

The contrast between Dustin and Steve could not be more puzzling. For a fellow who is supposed to be the best there is at schmoozing and selling, Steve seems absolutely flummoxed by the tall, blithely charming environmentalist. As a result, the farmers keep getting sullener, transitioning from get-off-my-land rebuffs to fisticuffs in bars.

“I’m not a bad guy,” he keeps telling people, until you suspect it’s not them he’s trying to convince.

Damon gives one of his best performances as a guy who’s plowed all of his energy into his job at the detriment of nourishing his soul. Steve came from a small town himself that was devastated by layoffs at the local Caterpillar factory, and was one of only two people in his high school who went to college.

Now he’s successful, and goes around the country writing big checks to dirt-poor farmers who he genuinely believes he’s helping. There’s a sense of altruism there, but also contempt.

Steve sees these fracking contracts as their one chance to cash in and get ahead. He can’t believe it when people turn him down. They’re just perpetuating a “delusional self-mythology” about rural America, he says.

Steve made it out, and thinks everyone else wants to, too.

This dynamic would have worked better if the movie’s internal logic wasn’t all bunched up in knots. For example, we keep getting reminders of how big Global Gas is – “We’re a $9 billion company!” is the phrase that’s repeated several times. Yet they seem to have the resources of a mom-and-pop.

As near as we can figure, Steve and Sue in their beaten-up rental truck and recently store-bought flannels – deliberately downscale accoutrements meant to help them blend in – represent Global’s entire presence. At one point, Steve gets the idea to hold a town fair to generate goodwill, and he has to set up all the tents, hay bales and fencing himself. Huh?

Director Gus Van Sant has a nice eye for the beautiful landscapes depicted – the film was shot lovingly by cinematographer Linus Sandgren outside of Pittsburgh. But his pacing is a little off at times, and characters disappear for long stretches or behave erratically.

For instance, the (inevitable) local love interest is played by Rosemarie DeWitt. Alice, a winsome schoolteacher brushing up against spinsterhood, shares immediate sparks with Steve, then starts flirting around with Dustin. As written, the character seems to have no motivations or opinions about fracking, as long as she’s got two gorgeous guys squabbling over her.

“Promised Land” may have its heart in the right place, but too often it sacrifices believability.

3.5 Yaps

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Moonrise Kingdom Tue, 16 Oct 2012 04:01:21 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

In 1965 on the remote New England island of New Penzanze, 12-year-old misfits Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop have run away together. Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) both feel alienated in their homes — Sam is an orphan who more or less lives at the Khaki Scouts camp, while Suzy barely gets any attention in the ramshackle house where her distracted parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) oversee a triplet of overactive boys.

Their escape sets the cloistered island folk into a tizzy, as they search desperately for the pair before they … what, exactly? It’s a tiny island, so they don’t really have anywhere to go. Their journey is about running away rather than going somewhere.

The latest from filmmaker Wes Anderson (“The Royal Tenenbaums”) is familiar to any who’s watched his twee little whimsical movies — disaffected characters speaking in deliberately flat cadences, punctuated by quaint snippets of obscure music, and highly stylized sets and costumes that make the whole thing feel like the inside of a precocious middle schooler’s diorama.

“Moonrise” doesn’t add anything new to the mix, so the result is a stale and turgid addition to the Anderson menagerie. After a career of making very personalized movies, this registers as an unattractive wallow in self-indulgence.

Bonus features, which are identical for Blu-ray and DVD editions, are rather modest. There’s a making-of documentary, a tour of the fictional island, and a set tour hosted by Bill Murray.

Movie: 2.5 Yaps
Extras: 3 Yaps

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Moonrise Kingdom Thu, 14 Jun 2012 19:36:18 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

I go back and forth on Wes Anderson. He’s a very specific kind of filmmaker, to the point that there is now a recognizable “Wes Anderson style” that is much derided but little imitated. (Do a YouTube search to view some fun-poking examples.)

From the disaffected characters who speak their dialogue in deliberately flat cadences, to the oddball time-warping fashion sense, to the now-obligatory reliance on obscure pieces of music to punctuate and comment on the proceedings, Anderson’s films are stylistic carbon copies of each other, merely swapping out storylines and characters (though many of the same actors reappear time and again).

The problem with that is there’s a dread sense of sameness to his movies. It’s like going to a bunch of different restaurants and ordering the exact same meal. There will be some variations in flavor, texture and certainly in quality, but you walk in knowing what you’re going to get.

I liked “Rushmore,” and liked “The Royal Tenenbaums” a lot, but “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” was so wretchedly unwatchable I didn’t even bother seeing his next one, “The Darjeeling Limited.”

Personally, I thought the best marriage of Anderson’s aesthetic with the material was the stop-motion animation gem, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Perhaps it was just because using fake furry critters instead of humans represented the first distinct break from his previous body of work, and that made it seem fresh.

His newest, “Moonrise Kingdom,” is a return to the rut.

The sole variation here is that the spotlight is on children while the adult characters populate the background. It’s 1965 and on the isolated New Penzanze Island off of New England, 12-year-olds Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop decide to run away together. Of course since it’s an island, they don’t really have anywhere to go, but it’s more a journey about rejecting where they come from than anywhere they’re heading.

Sam is an orphan living with foster parents, but actually spends most of his time at Camp Ivanhoe, a summer camp for the Khaki Scouts of North America. The man/boy commander, Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton), acknowledges that Sam was the least popular scout but is still chagrined by the resignation letter he leaves behind.

Suzy lives in a rambling multi-story house called Summer’s End with her three younger brothers and parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray), who are both distracted lawyers. Suzy wears neon-colored eye shadow (apparently impervious to the elements) and loves to read books where girls go on adventures in fantasy lands or on alien planets.

After meeting at a church play a year earlier, Sam and Suzy been corresponding by mail and planning their escape, which throws the entire island into a state. Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), whose position appears to be nautical but represents the only semblance of police power, is brought in to lead the search with the help of the Khakis. Hovering around the edges of the story is Tilda Swinton as Social Services — that’s how she refers to herself, no name — threatening to whisk Sam off to an orphanage.

Sam and Suzy are played by newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, respectively. They both seem like engaging performers, but it’s hard to judge their true talent since Anderson (who co-wrote the screenplay with Roman Coppola) requires them to say all their lines in unemotive declarations. They always sound like they’re announcing themselves rather than talking to each other.

(Both are also rather mush-mouthed, and I often struggled to understand what they were saying. I suppose you could make the argument this makes them sound more like authentic kids, but verisimilitude has never been Anderson’s bag.)

My biggest problem with “Moonrise Kingdom” is that it’s a coming-of-age story in which both children already behave like cynical, melancholic adults. If they’re this jaded and disconnected at 12, how are they going to stand each other at 42?

Consider this exchange of dialogue after a violent encounter with the other scouts, in which the Khaki mascot pooch has been slain with an arrow:

Sam: They got him right through the neck.
Suzy: Was he a good dog?
Sam: (pregnant pause) Who’s to say?

That sure doesn’t sound like any kid I knew. For that matter, why does Sam wear a coonskin hat, despite it being the scorching finale of summer? How come he smokes a pipe? Why is Suzy obsessed with Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” in which different pieces of symphonic music are layered upon each other one by one as a learning exercise?

I think these elements exist in the movie because Anderson finds them delightfully quirky, and includes them simply for the sheer juxtaposition of eclectic bits ‘n’ pieces. He’s like a hipster standing at the wardrobe of pop culture, plucking out things he likes and trying them on.

Often the ensemble is a genuinely innovative collage of colors and patterns, a bold new way of looking at old things. Sometimes, as with “Moonrise Kingdom,” the result is so blastedly twee and self-satisfied that we just want to sigh, pat the movie on the head and tell it to run along.

2 Yaps

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Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted Thu, 07 Jun 2012 14:09:38 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

I have not been a fan of the “Madagascar” animated films, but the third one won me over. Perhaps it’s a result of my becoming a parent, but I see now how the franchise’s combination of kid-friendly boingy action, annoyingly catchy musical numbers and cutesy, simplistic life lessons is never dull to the kindergarten-and-down crowd.

After the packed screening I attended, literally dozens of tots were shaking their booties in the aisles as they imitated the tunes, especially a particularly egregious ditty called “Afro Circus,” written and sung by Chris Rock. It consists of just those two words with a few “polka dot” throw-ins, but apparently to wee ones this is sublime comedic styling.

By all rights, we should judge our entertainment by a higher standard than just keeping our offspring distracted for an hour-and-a-half. But that’s the yardstick by which “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” operates, and judged in those terms, it’s slickly effective.

As the story opens, the gang from the zoo finds itself stuck in Africa, wanting to get back home to New York City. Their friends the penguins, who talk like spies out of the “Mad Men” era, have ditched them to play high rollers at the casinos in Monte Carlo, so that’s where they follow.

The group dynamic remains virtually unchanged since the birth of the franchise. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) is the ostensible leader, who puts on a brave face but has a neurotic craving for attention. His best bud, Marty the zebra (Rock), is the goofy sidekick who sometimes yearns to be leader of the pack. Hypochondriac giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer) and groovy hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) have hooked up into an interspecies couple, the sheer mechanics of which beggars the imagination.

While in Monte Carlo, they run afoul of Captain Chantel DuBois, head of the animal control unit. Voiced by Frances McDormand, DuBois makes for a dastardly Ahab-like villain who chases the gang all over the globe, jurisdiction be danged. With her hook-sharp nose, roomy hips and squared shoulders, DuBois is a formidable enemy.

Alex and the gang end up hiding out with the Circus Zaragoza, a motley collection of animals whose act has grown stale. Passing themselves off as fellow circus critters, the four friends resolve to add some Cirque du Soleil extravagance into the drab proceedings.

The new partners include Stefano, an exuberantly Italian sea lion (Martin Short) who dreams of being considered of average intelligence; Gia (Jessica Chastain), a feline trapeze artist who rests her hopes — and affections — on Alex; and Vitaly (an excellent Bryan Cranston), a Russian daredevil tiger and one-time star of the show, who got burned performing his signature act.

I should also mention Julien, the lemur king voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen, who’s back to sing his “move it, move it” song again and supply some mildly suggestive humor. The computer-generated animation is a smash, particularly a couple of the big circus show numbers, which grow pleasantly psychedelic for awhile.

Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath, who co-directed the first two movies, are joined by Conrad Vernon for a threesome that knows this material and its limitations, and focuses on what it can do best. Darnell also handles the screenplay, joined by indie filmmaker Noah Baumbach, best known for eclectic fare like “The Squid and the Whale” and “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” (Someone need a paycheck?)

I’m not sure if I’d call “Madagascar 3″ good bad movie-making or bad good. Either way, I grudgingly admire the way it expertly achieves its own low expectations. This positive review is not so much a recommendation as a surrender.

4 Yaps

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You Played It For Her, You Can Play It For Me Thu, 17 Mar 2011 02:53:43 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Music in film does something special. It strikes your senses in a unique way, creating a new connection. Certain filmmakers are really good at selecting an existing song and using it in a new way. They aren’t just picking what’s on top of the charts right now. The song can enhance a scene into a higher level of quality, so it’s important it is the right song.

This has been done well throughout the history of cinema, but today I’m just going to highlight the best ones in the past few years.

“You Make My Dreams” – “(500) Days of Summer”

“What I’ve got’s full stock of thoughts and dreams that scatter. You pull them all together and how, I can’t explain, but you make my dreams come true.”

I’m actually not a big fan of this movie. For every inventive scene, there seems to be a dozen stale ones, but this is the big scene that worked. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tom is in the point of his relationship where all of the colors around him are brighter and everything seems perfect — so that is played out through a musical number. He dances down the streets singing Hall and Oates and is even accompanied by a cartoon bird at one point. It’s a lot of fun and further shows Levitt’s range. He’s revived his career by playing heavy characters like the ones in “Mysterious Skin” and “Brick,” but here, he also shows his joyful energy and fun dance moves.

“Miles From Nowhere” – “The Brothers Bloom”

“I have my freedom. I can make my own rules. Oh yeah, the ones that I choose.”

This scene was good the first time, but really worked for me the second time I watched the movie. Con movies are always so much about the twists, it’s hard to watch the film and really believe it is about the characters and not the con. In this scene, Adrien Brody’s Bloom is finally free to really express himself. He isn’t playing a character or confused about his emotions. In this scene, he stops to actually appreciate the beautiful city he’s in and to steal an apple. Cat Stevens plays while he he’s being chased through the park, and Bloom recognizes how happy he truly is and who is making him feel that way.

“Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” – “Inglourious Basterds”

“It’s been so long, and I’ve been putting out fire with gasoline.”

Oddly enough, this song was first created for the horror remake “Cat People.” Like most of Quentin Tarantino’s references, he takes the tone of something he loved and now puts it into a new exciting setting. The entire movie — every strand of every plot — has been leading up to this confrontation — at a cinema, no less. The most fascinating character, Shosanna, pauses briefly and then puts on her metaphorical war paint as David Bowie revs it up. She is ruthless and ready to do what she has to do for revenge against the cruelty of the Third Reich. It’s incredibly invigorating. This shows how Tarantino used the subgenre of the “adventure war film” without ever discounting the horror behind it.

“Memories” – “Jackass 3-D”

“Memories make me want to go back there, back there.”

Yes, I like the “Jackass” films. I don’t need to go back and watch all of the TV show, but the films have this odd blend of fun and friendship. Sure, it’s a psychology major’s thesis about why they do the things they do, but that’s not the point of the movies. It’s about guys hanging out and coming up with the worst things possible they could go through. The films are engaging because they are creative, and there is this evident love for each other. At the end of this one, Weezer’s “Memories” plays as we see pictures of the gang as children. It’s shows how much they’ve grown and how much they haven’t. It’s a moment of sweetness in a film filled with some of the grossest things imaginable.

“If I Didn’t Care” – “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”

“If I didn’t care, would it be the same? Would my ev’ry prayer begin and end with just your name?”

This was a charming movie that unfortunately not too many people saw. Frances McDormand is the titualar character, who has an exciting day because she gets to hang around Delysia (Amy Adams), a fun bubbly girl who is also torn between marrying rich and hating that she’s actually in love with Michael (Lee Pace). She denies this, and Michael makes her confront her emotions by having her sing this song. Delysia tries to keep the persona for the crowd she desperately wants to be part of, but she can’t keep it up. Michael vocally supports her when she stumbles, and they create a personal moment hidden on a stage.

“Baby You’re a Rich Man” – “The Social Network”

“How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people? Now that you know who you are what do you want to be?”

The bitter irony of plots can be a bit tedious. You don’t know what you have until it’s lost. You get everything you wanted but you’re still not happy. These things make for exciting drama, but it’s too easy to become preachy when it’s time to make the point. “The Social Network” keeps it simple and very effective. The final shot, which I won’t spoil, starts to play this Beatles tune, and suddenly we view Mark Zuckerberg in a different way. He’s no longer the anti-hero but someone more sympathetic; whether he’s justified or not is the ultimate question.

“I Won’t Dance (Don’t Ask Me)” – “Step Up 3D”

“My heart won’t let my feet do the things that they should do.”

Seriously, this isn’t even a good movie, but man, I love this one scene. In the “Step Up” films, the dancing numbers are silly, but they are always entertaining, especially when they are completely ridiculous. In this third entry, homage is paid to musicals that paved the way for the series. The two most likable and charismatic characters dance to a song that brought them together. It’s Fred Astaire’s “I Won’t Dance.” Just like those movies with Ginger Rogers, these character dance down the streets of New York (in one shot, mind you), communicating and flirting through their common ground: their impressive dancing skills. It’s still shocking how charming this scene is in a movie called “Step Up 3D.”

“With or Without You” – “Tell No One”

“Through the storm, we reach the shore. You give it all, but I want more. And I’m waiting for you.”

My list isn’t ranked, but if it was, this would probably be number one. This is a French thriller based off the American crime novel by Harlan Coben. One of the variations from the book is how Alex Beck solves the puzzle to find the wife he thought was dead. In the movie, the password is from a U2 concert they saw together. Once he figures it out, he regains hope and runs through the streets of Paris. “With or Without You” is loudly playing as the wide shots fill the screen. Seeing it in theaters made it feel so vibrant and uplifting.

“Put On Your Sunday Clothes” – “WALL-E”

“Out there, there’s a world outside of Yonkers. Way out there beyond this hick town, Barnaby, there’s a slick town, Barnaby.”

I adore “WALL-E” and I’m not even a big fan of “Hello, Dolly!” It almost doesn’t matter. The movie, and this song, is just a symbol for how WALL-E sees the world. It’s the kindness and innocence that makes him one of the most sympathetic characters. He plays this song a few times in the movie because it’s one of his most beloved possessions. He loves the colors, the movement and the people in the video. In the best scene in the movie, he turns on the video once more to share his world with EVE and even puts on a little hat. It’s a beautiful moment.

“The Times They Are a-Changin’ ” – “Watchmen”

“There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’. It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle our walls, for the times they are a-changin’.”

I liked the “Watchmen”movie, but I wish it was its own product and not just an expensive reenactment of the graphic novel. The best adaptations are the ones that stand on their own while being tonally faithfully to the original source. Zack Synder teased us by doing that for one scene, the amazing opening-montage sequence. It showed how the alternate universe was different than ours by inserting these vigilantes into iconic moments of our past. More importantly, it did show how their time was fading and the difference the future will bring.

“Wake Up” – “Where the Wild Things Are” trailer

“If the children don’t grow up, our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up.”

Yes, I’m cheating, but I don’t care. This is my list and this is a song I shall forever associate with this movie. The movie is wonderful because it captures a certain element of childhood. There is a lively attitude to make-believe, but there is also a degree of sadness. It’s a confusing time, but it’s also an exciting time. Spike Jonze balances these with skill, but what’s even more impressive is that the trailer works as a brilliant short film. It conveys these themes while not spoiling major parts of the movie. One of the reasons the trailer is so artistic is because of how well this song was used over the edited material.

Honorable mentions include “Non, Je Regrette Rien” (“Inception”) and “All I Want is You” (“Juno”).

Also from television: “Way Down in the Hole,” HBO’s “The Wire”; “Don’t Stop Believin’,” HBO’s “The Sopranos” (not Fox’s “Glee”); “Breathe Me,” HBO’s “Six Feet Under”; “…Long Time Ago,” F/X’s “The Shield”; “Dancing Queen,” NBC’s “Community”; “Make Your Own Kind of Music” and “Wonderwall,” ABC’s “LOST.”

What are some of your favorites that should be added to the list?

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Heroes of the Zeroes: Wonder Boys Mon, 06 Dec 2010 03:39:33 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

 “Wonder Boys”
Rated R

Those who can’t do, teach. Professor Grady Tripp is on the wrong side of that comma and, despite tenure, not faring particularly well at that.

As 2000’s “Wonder Boys” opens, Grady says, “I lost a wife today.” No possessive pronoun, just an article that’s likely the latest in a series. It’s not all this one-time literary wunderkind has misplaced. No longer able to bend words to his will, Grady’s unfinished second novel checks in at 2,611 single-spaced pages.

Grady needs a brick wall, and plenty erect themselves in Curtis Hanson’s bizarre comic odyssey.

Its ghostly, wintry vibe pulsed Pittsburgh-in-February feelings through the fingertips and Steve Kloves’ Oscar-nominated adaptation of Michael Chabon’s novel stitched invigorating spontaneity into the shopworn sophomore-slump story. (With “Harry Potter” over, Kloves should be freed from that ghetto with creative carte blanche.)

Like a favorite novel, “Wonder Boys” gets more comfortably broken-in with each return, and Michael Douglas wears Grady’s scruffiness as sharply as a natty businessman’s clothes — addressing jealousy, panic and terror in creative complacency.

He’s hardly the best sponsor for James Leer (Tobey Maguire), a prodigy whom Grady’s words have reached and who leaves a trail of pathological lies a mile long. (Frances McDormand and Robert Downey Jr. also have terrific supporting roles.) As wild or woolly as “Wonder Boys” got, it remained tethered to Grady and James’ real-world problems and promise.

Douglas seems to get great renaissance roles every 10 years. Here’s hoping Douglas beats cancer and again dazzles us in late-septuagenarian days.


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Heroes of the Zeroes: The Man Who Wasn’t There Fri, 02 Jul 2010 04:01:06 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“The Man Who Wasn’t There”
Rated R

The Coen Brothers have long shown crack timing for cosmic jokes about life’s general disappointment. In 2001’s “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” they breeze through a barber’s banal life with visual panache, prickly wit and some of their most swooning gestures in their career-long love affair with the English language.

Spinning barber poles always create the same image, much like the turning world of taciturn Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton). Ed’s misanthropy has settled into a joyless marriage to Doris (Frances McDormand). Hell, his life’s work kills what’s meant to grow. (Only the Coens could fuse existentialism with hair.) After attempted blackmail backfires, Ed’s life collapses into criminal behavior.

Thornton’s sourpuss face and countenance are built for black-and-white, and cinematographer Roger Deakins renders sunlight an expressive expose — one scene forming a sort of cell out of shadows and sunshine. Meanwhile, Jon Polito’s spastic, sweaty shyster, Tony Shalhoub’s fast-talking attorney and a bit of UFO theorizing offer the Coens’ usual wacky grace notes.

But it’s the Franz Kafka fatalism and motif of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle that make “Man” singularly strange on the Coens’ resume. That principle suggests looking at something changes its properties. By envisioning escape, Ed binds himself more firmly to misery.

The principle holds for “Man,” too; few outside of Coen cliques paid this nihilistic neo-noir much attention. Perhaps that’s the Coens’ wryest, slyest punchline: To watch Ed Crane is to largely forget him and, upon returning to him, revisit the pleasures of meeting him for the first time.

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Heroes of the Zeroes: Almost Famous Tue, 12 Jan 2010 05:01:16 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films from 2000 to 2009.

“Almost Famous”
Rated R

Cameron Crowe’s quasi-autobiographical 2000 film about a 15-year-old Rolling Stone stringer seduced by 1970s rock ‘n’ roll teemed with evocative sequences.

The goofy giggles of the “I am a golden god!” speech. The unfairly maligned “Tiny Dancer” scene, which underscores an unabashedly sincere communal apology. Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) twirling in a concert’s afterglow to Cat Stevens’ “The Wind,” and, as she boards a plane, realizing she’s shifted from rarefied to recycled air.

But seek out “Untitled” — Crowe’s preferred title and cut of the film. Like the full version of a radio-edited track, there was more to admire and mull. And, as a title, “Untitled” better represented the individual interpretations we bring to our favorite music — a sentiment with which “Almost Famous,” in any form, was suffused.

Uncovering what moves him about others’ phrases, keys and riffs is all that gets William Miller (Patrick Fugit) through tempestuous travails of road life with Stillwater — a fictional collage of groups with which Crowe traveled. (As his mom, Frances McDormand’s delightful maternal clinginess never turned dysfunctional.)

Whether about disappointment or elation, Crowe’s observations are trenchant. Instinct is your greatest asset when idols let you down. That first gulp of passion in a profession you love can quench you for years. Quite often, bassists and drummers don’t have much to say. And, in the words of Lester Bangs (inimitably portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman): “The only true currency you have in this bankrupt world is what you confess to each other when you’re uncool.”

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