THE FILM YAP » musical We Never Shut Up About Movies Mon, 20 Oct 2014 22:48:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Saving Mr. Banks Fri, 20 Dec 2013 05:51:26 +0000 Continue reading ]]> SAVING MR. BANKS

When it comes down to facts, “Saving Mr. Banks” might be nothing more than candy-colored hooey. It depicts the battle between author P.L. Travers and entertainment entrepreneur Walt Disney as they clashed on how to best adapt “Mary Poppins,” her beloved children’s novel, for the big screen.

Did Travers really toss a script onto the studio lawn in disgust? Did her icy demeanor briefly thaw as the Sherman brothers first sang “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”? Was the deal sealed only after Disney caught an impromptu red-eye flight to Britain?

Maybe. Maybe not. Doesn’t matter. No need for suspense here. Spoiler alert: They made a “Mary Poppins” movie. Perhaps you’ve seen it. Instead, “Banks” delves into more introspective, and interesting, details of how the film was finished, namely how Travers and Disney navigated a particularly thorny bramble of collaboration. Even if that’s also speculative, it’s where “Banks” finds all the authenticity it needs to work —  depicting tumultuous emotions that inspire, and torture, creative types.

What hopeful lies are spun in fiction to dull the pain of real life? Can an author give a cipher salvation that eluded the person who inspired him? And can any creator ever really escape long shadows cast by a work intended as a monument to a loved one?

“Banks” could’ve been two obnoxiously twee hours of a studio patting itself on the back to celebrate smooth-talking commerce’s triumph over spiky-tongued art. And it’s still very much a lighthearted, vibrant film that will work for the large audience at whom it’s aimed.

But it lets these thoughtful, complex questions about creativity propel its portrayal of the larger-than-life icons at its core, with help from Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith’s charming, perceptive script, sensitive direction by John Lee Hancock (thankfully working less in the schmaltzy milieu of “The Blind Side” and more in that of his masterful “The Rookie”) and some finely calibrated performances by Emma Thompson as Travers and Tom Hanks as Disney.

The film’s major flaw is that its many strengths arrive much too late to save the first act.

For two decades, Travers has resisted Disney’s entreaties to turn over the film rights to her bestseller about the nice flying nanny. His persistence, he says, comes from a promise to his children, long since grown up.

But by 1961, Travers has reached her financial limitations. In need of money if she’s to keep her house, she flies to Hollywood to take meetings with Disney and his creative team: screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and Richard & Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak), a sibling pair of composers/lyricists. At the airport, she’s picked up by Ralph (Paul Giamatti), a chatty chauffeur who embraces a challenge to pry loose her stiff upper lip for meaningful conversation.

Each of these actors is a delight in juicy character roles, but none more so than Giamatti. In one of the movie’s greatest scenes, he reveals that his daily observation of the weather is not just idle chitchat but a way to rectify a fear in his life — much as, we learn, Travers did with her novel.

As for Travers, Thompson initially plays her as an unrelenting shrew so oblivious to even the most cursory social graces that she seems as fictitious as Mary Poppins herself. Only at the absolute make-or-break point of losing the audience, and the movie, does Thompson expand this shrill, sole dimension to believably flesh out the motives behind Travers’ feisty self-reliance. It helps that we realize the big dream she’s packed within this thin book.

Before she’ll turn over any rights, Travers demands script approval. To Disney, DaGradi and the Shermans, her demands seem endlessly frustrating and finicky — forbidding animation, dictating production design, badmouthing the tongue-twisting “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” (Hearing the Shermans’ timeless songs in workshop status is among the film’s many inside-baseball pleasures.)

But none knows of her deep-seated obligation to protect the essence of “Mary Poppins” or her unspoken resentment of Disney — both rooted in her childhood.

In flashbacks, we see Travers as a young girl — on an itinerant trek across Australia with a father (Colin Farrell) adept at inspiring creativity in his daughters but incapable of keeping a job or his sobriety. As a man with senses dulled by woven fantasy and swallowed whiskey, Farrell finely balances whimsy and depression.

Subtle is the suggestion that Travers sees in Disney a man who forged an empire on the very fancifulness that doomed her family to economic and emotional hardship. Perhaps it’s why she takes such pride in being an immovable object to his irresistible force. Thompson and Hanks bring lively, old-pro zest and zeal to every clash — circling each other like conversational predators, each one waiting for the other’s guard to drop.

What Hanks lacks in a physical resemblance to Disney, he makes up for with full inhabitance of the mogul’s childlike wonderment, locked-in conversational concentration and guarded optimism. He’s a gregarious man, yes, but he also takes silent-but-visible offense to Travers’ characterization of Mickey Mouse as a “cartoon.” Is Mickey not to him as Mary is to her? The script suggests the hint of a storm in Disney’s artistic soul, too.

But it also remembers that, at the end of the day, Disney was a savvy businessman — particularly in a climactic monologue that’s an elegant mission statement, an unmannered confession and a well-worn sales pitch rolled into one. Honest as Disney is here, he’s trying to protect his investment. And given the film’s shrewd consideration of the public personae Travers and Disney so carefully calculated, a postscript at the film’s premiere isn’t so easily read as a feel-good reconciliation of their respective goals.

Ultimately, “Banks” is every bit the charming confection you expect it might be, but it’s also uncommonly and unexpectedly thoughtful about the troubles of the creative mind and the travails of the creative process. Consider them the spoonfuls of salt that make this medicine go down.

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Rock of Ages Thu, 11 Oct 2012 02:09:06 +0000 Continue reading ]]> “Rock of Ages” is a musical devoted to hits of the 1980’s. It’s about a small town girl moving to the big city with big dreams and a small bank account. Can you guess the closing number? The film is written around covers of famous 80’s hits, although those songs rarely teach us anything about the characters. Rather, the music exists for the sake of existing, while the dialog moves us from song to song. Neither mean anything. The film is as hollow and indulgent an entry into the nostalgia market as has ever existed.

I can think of only two reasons to see “Rock of Ages.”

The first is to enjoy music you loved in youth; to perhaps recapture the feelings of a bygone age. Music, in particular, carries strong emotional context. Every moment in the film is either a Billboard Hit or a contrived segue to another Billboard Hit. But be forewarned. The songs in this film are all middling covers and remixes. Some songs are spliced together just to give important actors screen time. Weird mixing ruins the flow of the songs, which in turn breaks the pleasant nostalgia required for any connection between the audience and this film. The soundtrack features twenty songs. Most of the original recordings are available on iTunes for $1 or on Youtube for free. Just listen to them there. Nothing in the film captures their emotion or significance. In fact, the film makes its music boring, inconsequential.

On a related note, the film is edited terribly. The actors are obviously lip-syncing and dancing to a pre-recorded soundtrack. There is no immersion to be found. The film’s weakness is surprising, given director Adam Shankman’s choreography background.

Another reason to see the film would be to satisfy the curiosity of seeing popular performers prance about outside of their comfort zone. While “Rock of Ages” mostly fails, there are a few notable performances. Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin’s characters share an unspoken mutual lust for most of the film, and their musical confession is a highlight. Tom Cruise as Stacey Jaxx is a sight to behold. He nails all his musical numbers. Unfortunately, Jaxx is demoted from “rock god” to boring clod midway through the film, ruining the weird demigod aspects of his character.

Cathrine Zeta Jones, Malin Ackerman, Julianne Hough, and Diego Boneta round out the primary cast. With the exception of Jones, the cast is quite adequate at singing and dancing, but don’t really bring anything special to a set of very bland characters. Jones’ character serves as the antagonist, but her role is rather minor and her conclusion undeserved.

I didn’t watch any of the special features on the disc. The movie wore me out. Most notably, my Blu-Ray included an extended edition. I considered it, but decided I’m not gonna take it.

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Pitch Perfect Sun, 30 Sep 2012 01:59:36 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

These days, geekery rules. A hit (albeit inconsistent) sitcom celebrates outsider teens covering pop songs. At at the fictional Barden University, male a cappella singers are gods – well, if you don’t count the jocks and frat boys. “Pitch Perfect” both embraces singer stereotypes and reverts them with snappy quips, with fun performances and plenty of sweet notes along the way.

Beca (Anna Kendrick) is a hip city girl (in case her eyeliner and visible tattoos didn’t tip you off) whose dreams of being a DJ are diverted by her Barden professor dad, who insists she take advantage of the free tuition. After a chance encounter (in the shower) Beca ends up joining the Bellas, a female a cappella group whose earnest leaders (Brittany Snow and Anna Camp) dream of winning the international championships. The only issues? The Treblemakers, the rival all-male a cappella group with a snarky frontman (Adam Devine) and a repertoire that’s more, uh, current than that of the Bellas, who favor Ace of Base.

Like “Bring It On”, 1999’s exuberant take on cheerleading, “Pitch Perfect” strikes a near-perfect balance of parody and flat-out adoration. Kay Cannon’s screenplay serves up laugh-out-loud clips and even a little gross humor, but with a self-aware twist (in other words, the polar opposite of “Glee”). The able cast runs with it: Kendrick, a Broadway actress since childhood, is subtle smirks mixed with soulful vocals. Skylar Astin (“Hamlet 2″, Broadway’s “Spring Awakening”) has some nice moments as Beca’s cinephile love interest, and Ben Platt gives good geek as Astin’s roommate, an amateur magician and a cappella groupie. John Michael Higgins and co-producer Elizabeth Banks shine in cameos as competition emcees (a cappella competitions have emcees? Sure they do, and here it works).

The two strongest performances, however, are Snow and Rebel Wilson. Whether she’s enthusing about her “lady time” soundtrack or tearfully overcoming a minor ailment, Snow’s bubbly optimism and total commitment are forever entertaining to watch. And as the self-proclaimed “Fat” Amy, Wilson mixes broad gestures and snarky asides and manages to visibly crack up her costars. Add in corny-yet-funky cover songs and “Pitch Perfect” is cinematic proof that lighthearted doesn’t mean stupid, and female-dominated material doesn’t have to center around fighting over men. No diggity, no doubt.

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The Burton Binge: “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” Wed, 19 Sep 2012 03:39:13 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Each Sunday with “The Burton Binge,” Sam Watermeier will look back at one of Tim Burton’s films, ultimately tracing the return to the auteur’s roots with the October 5 release of “Frankenweenie,” an animated adaptation of Burton’s first live-action short film. 

                                                                                                                              Sweeney Todd is a Tim Burton character if there ever was one.

With a lightning-white streak of hair and an equally pale face, he is a whimsical projection of pain. Bearing sorrow and cold, sharp hands, he is like Batman mixed with Edward Scissorhands.

He is also a man Burton’s muse Johnny Depp seems born to portray.

Oddly enough, “Sweeney Todd” is not a pure Burton/Depp creation but an adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 stage musical.

Although stylistically and thematically similar to Burton’s other films, it revolves around a much different character arc.

After he’s wrongly imprisoned and stripped of his family, the gentle barber wreaks havoc on the streets of London, slitting men’s throats and selling their bodies to an equally tattered meat-pie maker (Helena Bonham Carter).

In Depp’s hands, Sweeney is as scary as he is tragic — like a classic Universal monster. His singing is also darkly beautiful, more guttural than rehearsed.

Needless to say, Sweeney is not a gentle soul like Pee-wee Herman, Edward Scissorhands or Ed Wood. Nor is the film a playfully dark fantasy. It’s easily Burton’s grimmest work.

While his other films have a crude, childlike aesthetic, this one has a sweeping visual gravitas. Each frame has a rich, velvety texture — undoubtedly composed by Burton to show his love for the 1979 stage musical, which he saw several times as a Cal Arts student in London in 1980 (“Tim Burton’s Slasher Movie”).

One of Burton’s more organic worlds of the last few years, you can practically feel the soot of the London setting. However, the film is not merely a visual feast. It’s a grand tragedy of chamber-drama intimacy. As loud and lavish as this movie could have been, Burton boldly chooses to put stronger emphasis on the quiet moments. The most powerful scenes are those of Sweeney alone, dully lit by the stormy sky outside his rooftop barber shop, waiting for revenge with both rage and sorrow.

Unfortunately, Sweeney doesn’t have much chemistry with anything other than violence and his scarred past. Therefore, his emotionally detached exchanges with the other characters become a bit taxing and tiresome. The same statement applies to the film overall. It is so concerned with physical and emotional anguish that it forgets to have fun when it has the chance. For instance, it seems strange how nonchalantly the film handles the absurdist subplot involving human meat pies. Then again, I’m not familiar with the tone and execution of the original musical.

Overall, this is one of Burton’s better films of the last decade — and certainly one of his more exciting collaborations with Depp. (Who knew the man could sing?) In the end, though, the film doesn’t have the staying power of “Ed Wood” or “Edward Scissorhands.” It’s an impressive achievement but not an entirely involving one. Fortunately, style doesn’t completely triumph over substance here, but it comes as dangerously close as a shave from Mr. Todd.

Stay tuned this week, as I will tumble down the rabbit hole with Burton and “Alice in Wonderland.”

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At the Mountains of Movie Madness: Week Nine Tue, 28 Aug 2012 04:05:15 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Last year, I took part in an experiment in recommendations. When a friend recommends something to me, I typically remember it, but I also get to it when I get to it. So I spent one month last year sampling every TV show people recommended to me. I found that to be a blast, so I’m stupid enough to do it again this summer, but this time with movies.

Since so many movies were recommended, I’m not going to be able to get this done in a month. Every Tuesday, I’ll write about which ones I’ve watched and what I thought about them. The only rule to the recommendation was that they had to pick a film I haven’t seen. Some used that to pick great movies they know I haven’t watched yet and some used that to pick movies that look so awful they know I wouldn’t watch it. Either way, I’m watching them now.


Week Nine – My Family Has Interesting Taste


The Dukes of Hazzard (Jay Chandrasekhar, 2005)

Recommended by Brandon Lugar

My brother swore this was good. He said that it was funny. There are plenty of revenge recommendations on this list, but he honestly thought I would like this movie. Well, Brandon was wrong. Lame story, lame characters and not a single joke that landed. I actually like Seann William Scott and Johnny Knoxville as actors and with the right script, they would be fun as the leads. Yet they get nothing to do and the Broken Lizard guys go for the common dominator for cheap non-jokes. Also, Jessica Simpson was hysterical only because her acting consisted of only blank stares the whole time.

Counter-recommendation: “Top Gear” episodes

2 Yaps


Hello, Dolly! (Gene Kelly, 1969)

Recommended by Linda Lugar

Why isn’t Gene Kelly on the regular lists of Best American Directors? He made one of the best ever films (“Singin’ in the Rain”) and he knows how to direct the hell out of a dance number. The extended kitchen scene didn’t make a lot of sense story wise, but it was a wonderful spectacle. There is such scale to this movie that could have been a simple romantic musical. Not every song works, and giving Dolly a backstory isn’t necessary. Still, this movie knows how to create the happiest atmosphere. No wonder WALL-E liked it so much.

Counter-recommendation: What’s Up, Doc?

4 Yaps


White Nights (Taylor Hackford, 1985)

Recommended by Todd Lugar

At the end of the day, my dad recommended to me a ballet movie. Sure, there was sophisticated Cold War storytelling, a look at how a friendship is formed under impossible circumstances, and strong scenes of tension. Doesn’t matter. This is a dance movie and a really darn good one. Take out the dancing and you have a pretty solid movie, but with them you have some really impressive scenes of pure talent. Another great example for the kind of film I was looking for with this recommendation because I don’t know if I would have picked this up.

Counter-recommendations: Top Hat and Fail-Safe

4 Yaps


Airplane II: The Sequel (Ken Finkleman, 1982)

Recommended by Keith Jackson

“Airplane!” is one of my favorite films of all time. I adore that movie up and down. I’ve seen it way too many times and could quote it to you all day. I saw it when I was young, and at that time I found out there was a sequel. So I checked out the VHS from the library (I’ll explain both of those words later) but could only last 30 minutes. I didn’t know the word “blasphemy” at the time, but I do now. This falls under the same mistake as “The Hangover Part II” where instead of continuing surprises and absurdity, they repeat the exact same jokes. At one point, they literally show a clip from the first one so you’ll understand them repeating it again. The only things saving this movie were William Shatner in the last act, a gag involving a dog through security near the beginning, the title, and Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty being so darn amusing with their reaction shots.

Counter-recommendation: A Shot in the Dark

2 Yaps


The Day of the Locust (John Schlesinger, 1975)

Recommended by J.C. Smith

Hollywood satires are often difficult because the movies are made by Hollywood. This one tried to capture the destructive and expensive lifestyle of the 1930s filled with betrayal, fame and sin. A film like “Sunset Blvd.” works because as you see that nature consume the hero; you want him to break free. With this movie, I didn’t care. All of the characters were low and uninteresting and they wanted you to hate them most of the time. Nothing about their narcissism was captivating, especially as the film went off the rails in the end.

Counter-recommendation: A Star is Born (1954)

2.5 Yaps


Thankskilling (Jordan Downey, 2009)

Recommended by Paul Weller

Frak you, Paul. There have been plenty of bad films in this marathon, but most of them thought they were making something worthwhile. “Zombie Nation” thought it was being enlightening, “Digimon” thought it was making sense, etc. This movie is proud of the fact that it doesn’t care. Using the spoof genre as a defense in not trying in the slightest, this 70-minute film is just unbearable. It’s not funny, it’s not scary, it’s not even close to being filmed decently. Having a turkey kill people could be a fun topic, but not when the type of humor is having the turkey call the heroes “retarded.” Vile on all accounts, and don’t take that as an endorsement. It’s lazy, boring, awful, vile.

Counter-recommendation: The Grindhouse trailer “Thanksgiving”

0.5 Yaps


Skeleton Man (Johnny Martin, 2004)

Recommended by Zach White

My only thought throughout this whole film was “I’m not as angry as I was during Thankskilling.” That’s all I got. This is a pathetic “Predator” ripoff with terrible actors (and Michael Rooker), dialogue, plot, pacing, logic and characters. There’s really nothing fun or interesting going on. I’m sure they thought the filmmakers thought they were hardcore because they had people holding guns while staying things like “If it breathes, I can kill it.” Well, no. Obviously you can’t because some extra in a bad skeleton costume is riding a horse all the time and you can’t do anything. Very lame and not fun.

Counter-recommendation: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

1 Yap

I’m going to try not to have any more weeks off, but if I can’t get enough done for a solid article, I’ll skip a week. Silly workload…

Next week, I’ll try to find my car, make a wish on some dragonballs and try on a puppet.

21 to go….

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Sparkle Fri, 17 Aug 2012 13:00:29 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

The most interesting parts of “Sparkle” are as follows: Beautiful but troubled Tammy “Sister” Williams (Carmen Ejogo) is nearly 30, unmarried and living back home in Detroit after an unsuccessful stint in New York. Mother Emma (Whitney Houston) tried but failed to make it as a singer, settling for life as a strict single mother of three.

Instead of showing these struggles, director Salim Akil establishes them in hurried sentences, thus setting the tone for this utterly sanitized musical.

Also interesting: Wikipedia’s summary of the 1976 original, starring Philip Michael Thomas (“Miami Vice”) and Irene Cara (“Fame”), which suggests gangsters, intrigue and glitter abounded. There’s glitter in 2012’s “Sparkle,” and domestic violence so exaggerated it’s nearly comic, but no gangsters and very little intrigue. Instead, Jordin Sparks blandly whines her way through the title role, a wannabe songwriter content to sing backup for flashy Sister and struggling to balance artistic dreams with Christian obedence.

Sparks’ scenes with love interest Derek Luke (as Stix, manager of the Supremes-inspired sister act) fall flat, and Tika Sumpter, wonderfully snarky as the third sibling in the group, is given very little to do.

Ejogo deserves an A for effort, gamely screeching overdramatic dialogue and using her considerable sex appeal in sultry production numbers. In turn, Mike Epps ekes some funny moments as Sister’s lover, Satin. A gangster in the 1976 film, Satin is now a comedian with a coke addiction and a propensity for hitting women. And Cee Lo Green packs a vocal wallop in a single scene; if only his character stuck around longer.

“Sparkle” was meant to be a comeback for Houston; the late diva owned remake rights for more than a decade and served as one of the film’s executive producers. As final projects go, “Sparkle” is a mixed bag. Thanks to Mara Brock Akil’s shoddy script, Houston’s character Emma alternates between overprotective mother caricature and tragic figure with questionable motivations.

However, one sequence in “Sparkle” outshines the rest. Presented during a church service, with simple accompaniment and sans flashy costumes, Houston’s rendition of “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” is more moving than anything in “Sparkle” has a right to be. By the end of her life, Houston didn’t have it all. But she still had it.

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At the Mountains of Movie Madness: Week Five Tue, 24 Jul 2012 21:39:04 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Last year, I took part in an experiment in recommendations. When a friend recommends something to me, I typically remember it, but I also get to it when I get to it. So I spent one month last year sampling every TV show people recommended to me. I found that to be a blast, so I’m stupid enough to do it again this summer, but this time with movies.

Since so many movies were recommended, I’m not going to be able to get this done in a month. Every Tuesday, I’ll write about which ones I’ve watched and what I thought about them. The only rule to the recommendation was that they had to pick a film I haven’t seen. Some used that to pick great movies they know I haven’t watched yet and some used that to pick movies that look so awful they know I wouldn’t watch it. Either way, I’m watching them now.


Week Five – Is This Real Life or Is It Fantasy? It’s Fantasy.


Inside Moves (Richard Donner, 1980)

Recommended by Jennie Jacobson

This would make a great TV show. The movie very quickly sets up a nice batch of characters who are all crippled in different ways. The newest member of the group is Rory, a sad man who tried to kill himself by jumping out out a window. There isn’t too much plot; most of it is centered around the owner of the bar, Jerry. As much as I liked that, the best part is watching everyone operate as a group. This is rich material where everyone’s problems are taken seriously. I would watch this group operate on a weekly basis. You hear that FX?!

Counter-Recommendation: Wonder Boys

4 Yaps


Someone Like You … (Tony Goldwyn, 2001)

Recommended by Kayla Eiler

If you ever needed an example of exactly what the romantic comedy formula is, it’s “Someone Like You.” There isn’t a single surprise in this movie. The results of the romantic triangle, Ashley Judd’s character’s job frustration and even every single emotional beat can be figured out before the credits are over. However, everyone is really charming in this movie, especially the spark that comes from Judd. I’m glad I watched this, but I will have forgotten most of the movie by the time I finish this paragraph. Ta da!

Counter-Recommendation: The Philadelphia Story

3 Yaps


The Man From Earth (Richard Schenkman, 2007)

Recommended by Jim Robinson

Now this is a really cool movie. It’s a very low-budget movie that is just a long conversation between a group of friends debating the movie’s core question. As John is preparing to move the next day, he reveals that he is a caveman that has never died. The rest of the film is finding out if he is telling the truth by looking at the anthropology of what a man who may have lived for 4,000 years would have lived through. There are plenty of clever answers throughout, but when the movie delves into religion, it tries to be more than just an average Joe. By doing that, it loses something intimate. Still, this is a great gem and a movie that I have never heard of before this recommendation. Thanks, Jim!

Counter-Recommendation: My Dinner With Andre

4.5 Yaps


Paprika (Satoshi Kon, 2006)

Recommended by Cameron Schimmel

When I first saw “Inception,” I was really impressed but was surprised how straightforward the dreams were. It turns out that Cillian Murphy likes to dream about the nuances of business meetings, and that worked surprisingly well for a big budget action movie. “Paprika” is the flipside. There’s a device that allows people to access dreams, and the dreams are batshit crazy. Worlds and people meld together in pure creativity. Because of that, the plot is often very hard to follow, but visually, it’s very exciting. By the end, I think the film has too many themes and is only able to focus on a few of them.

Counter-Recommendation: Waking Life

4 Yaps


Akira (Katsuhrio Ohtomo, 1988)

Recommended by Beau Thompson

This is the only film in my contest that I’m repeating. I saw this a long time ago and I couldn’t remember a thing about it besides not being able to follow the plot. This time, I watched it with my friend who recommended it, and he was able to help me out whenever I had a question, which was often. It’s weird to say that a film needs to be longer, but this was the case. For the first third, the film cuts too much between stories without any idea about what’s happening. It’s hard to follow as well because I can never understand how the characters respond to their world, especially Tetsuo’s madness. However, once all of the pieces are in place for the big epic conclusion, and Akira’s secret is revealed, I was completely caught up in the story.

Counter-Recommendation: Logan’s Run

3.5 Yaps


Earth Girls Are Easy (Julien Temple, 1988)

Recommended by Jim Huang

This is a weird movie. It’s a musical in which three hairy aliens crash on Earth looking for babes. I buy that. It’s everything else about this that is just so insanely goofy. For one thing, Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis as sex symbols is something I could never fully comprehend. Then you watch the rest of the film through your hands as it darts out of its way to find the corniest line or cheesiest thing it could do. What makes it more awkward is that everyone is committed to this, especially Jim Carrey who actually does a good job. Michael McKean is supposed to be a pothead throughout the film, and I can’t tell you if he did a good job or not. This is a failure of a movie, but I could never turn it off.

Counter-Recommendation: Reefer Madness: The Musical

2 Yaps


The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia (Julien Nitzberg, 2009)

Recommended by Kayli Russell

Last week during my vacation, I watched the documentary about GG Allin, the insane punk singer who would defecate on stage and beat his face in with a microphone. The documentary showcased his irregular lifestyle, and I was worried that it was exploiting a crazy man. It never was because this was always exactly what GG wanted to be shown. That is even more of the case with the Whites. Produced by the guys behind “Jackass,” this is the most redneck family you will ever see. The reason why they are so entertaining is because in addition to being as dumb as dumb can be, they all have a weird quirk. There is more tap dancing in this film than you would expect. I laughed until it stopped being funny. Often, it felt like a bad reality show that would further encourage awful behavior, but this family has crafted a sturdy beer bubble around them that this film won’t change. Oh, boy.

Counter-Recommendation: Tabloid

3 Yaps


Next week I’ll investigate the Klan, get lost in Brazil and maybe watch “Lenny.” Maybe.

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Joyful Noise Sat, 14 Jan 2012 15:25:25 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

There’s a “South Park” from several years ago in which the devious Eric Cartman decides to attain fame and fortune by forming a Christian rock band. “It’s the easiest thing ever!” he crows to his cronies. “All you do is take popular songs and change the word ‘baby’ to ‘Jesus’!”

This very sentiment came to mind in “Joyful Noise” when the can-do church choir from Podunk, Georgia performs a joyful rendition of “Yeah!,” the Usher hit about scamming on one’s girlfriend’s ex-friend at a club and eventually getting her pregnant. Only rewritten with lyrics about going to church.

Earlier in the movie there is a song called — literally — “I’m in Love With Jesus,” making me wonder if the film’s writers had also seen that episode of “South Park.”

Fear not: “Joyful Noise” does have a plot that involves embittered single mom Vi Rose (Queen Latifah) who is promoted to choir director, much to the chagrin of plucky rich widow G.G. (Dolly Parton). Vi Rose is determined to raise small-town spirits by taking the choir all the way to the national competition without using any of those pesky pop songs favored by her daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer). But trouble’s a-brewing: Olivia is quickly falling for G.G.’s teen dream of a grandson (Jeremy Jordan), who is labeled as “trouble” because he is from New York and wears a lot of hooded sweatshirts.

But none of this matters. No one attends a movie about a choir competition featuring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton for the character development, the Romeo and Juliet-lite love story or lame, cheap jokes at the expense of a poor woman whose paramour passes away post-coitus.

It is physically impossible to hate Queen Latifah; all she has to do is break out into a beautiful smile and lift the clunky dialogue of “Joyful Noise” to an almost believable level. And though her much-doctored face takes some getting used to when blown up to mammoth proportions onscreen, Parton still has the charisma that elevated her to superstar status decades ago. When she bursts into song, no matter how weak the lyrics, she’s so committed I found myself humming along against my will.

With a script tailor-made for TV, “Joyful Noise” isn’t worth the exorbitant movie-theater admission price. However, when it inevitably premieres on ABC Family next year on a rainy Saturday night, countless fans of sassy singing will sigh, toss aside the remote and tune in.

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And the Nominees Were — 1939 Sun, 17 Jul 2011 02:04:59 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Austin Lugar, Keith Jackson and Kenny Jones started a podcast called “And the Nominees Are.” On this show they are attempting to review every single Best Picture nominee starting from the very beginning. Here, Austin recaps the plot summaries of each set while teasing the longer discussions.

In the history of the Oscars, there are a few years that stand out as really incredible. 1977 had “All the President’s Men,” “Bound for Glory,” “Network” and “Taxi Driver” all losing to “Rocky,” another beloved movie. 1939 is another of those years with so many films that are still watched today, especially by families. It’s almost unfair that some of these happened to come out in the same year because they could have easily won the gold among a weaker field.

“Dark Victory”

Just like Norma Shearer kept popping up in the earliest years, it’s expected to see Bette Davis every time. More likely than not, she gets a big sweeping “Oscar scene.” This is another movie to showcase her range as she plays a woman who is dying but may have gotten better. The melodrama is sometimes a bit much, but an interesting plot keeps it going.

“Gone with the Wind” – WINNER

What can’t be said about this movie? Its epicness still feels underplayed. It’s obviously a technical masterpiece as it pulls off the most impressive elements from the Margaret Mitchell book, such as when the mansion burns. Yet it really holds up well because all of the performances are grounded and the writing is really strong. Deserving of all its praise.

“Goodbye, Mr. Chips”

This one is not deserving of all its praise. It’s the go-to “inspirational teacher movie,” but it does not hold up well. Everyone is too cheesy, and the writing is devoid of any emotional connections between the characters. Too many moments aren’t earned, especially the way they raise up Mr. Chips into a messiah-esque teacher, yet Robert Donat still won Best Actor and it’s constantly referenced today.

“Love Affair”

Leo McCarey was rather consistent director at this time. He’d made some incredible movies, but this one is lesser in comparison. It’s his first version of “An Affair to Remember” with two actors who lack the spark of Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Still there is plenty of charm, especially the couple’s first day together.

“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”

Without this movie, nobody would know what a filibuster is. C-SPAN is never as dramatic as this movie, but that’s what Frank Capra does best. He shows the hopeful world we wish we inhabited. Jimmy Stewart is, of course, brilliant as the young senator who wants to make a difference. The film is so earnest that it is still inspiring and worth showing to children.


It’s been awhile, but Ernst Lubitsch is back with this one, known primarily because of how it used Greta Garbo. Instead of her moody uber-serious persona, she was allowed to be funny. Most of the humor comes from her being an extremely robotic Communist sent from Russia to disprove capitalis — and take part in a fun convoluted plot. Not as many laughs per minute as his other work, but this still a delightful movie.

“Of Mice and Men”

Most people have just seen the Gary Sinise version, but this one holds up as a solid equal. Adapted from the famed John Steinbeck novella, Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney Jr. play the two brothers traveling from ranch to ranch to find jobs. Sometimes it’s overplayed but not too often. They establish a great tone and even keep with the grittiness of the source material.


Orson Welles said he watched this movie 100 times to teach him everything he needed to know about filmmaking so he could produce “Citizen Kane.” It’s evident why. This is the John Ford we know and love. He uses Monument Valley with automatic expertise to film thrilling chases and landscape shots. Strangers are forced to know each other better as their stagecoach ride is full of danger, including the arrival of the Ringo Kid, played by John Wayne. Fantastic stuff.

“The Wizard of Oz”

It’s the bloody “Wizard of Oz.” Any faults you have with this film are minimized compared to it being “The Wizard of Oz.” It’s the ultimate family film due to the classic songs, beautiful surroundings and romantic quest. It’s scary, silly and has a likable message. Seriously, it’s “The Wizard of Oz.”

“Wuthering Heights”

Here marks the first, but not final, appearance of Laurence Olivier. He plays the brooding Heathcliff, doomed to take part in one of the most famous Gothic romances of all time. Not everything works in this adaptation, but there are plenty of acting gems throughout and keen direction by William Wyler

We discuss these movies in a lot more detail on our show, “And the Nominees Are,” as well as discussing the other awards from this year. This set was covered over two episodes, both of which can be found for free on iTunes. We’d love it if you left us a review! Our show is also on Facebook and Twitter and our brand-new website.

If you’d like to play along with us, the next 10 films for 1940 are “All This and Heaven Too,” “Foreign Correspondent,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “The Great Dictator,” “Kitty Foyle,” “The Letter,” “The Long Voyage Home,” “Our Town,” “The Philadelphia Story” and “Rebecca.”

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Free Films!: Netflix Instant Sat, 14 May 2011 04:05:35 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

I’m now one week into summer. I’m enjoying the lack of classes and the rare opportunity to get some sleep. In addition to working, this is also a great time to catch up on films. Like the rest of my colleagues, I’m on a limited budget, so every week I’m going to show everyone how to legally watch great films for no money.

This week is a look at Netflix Instant. Netflix regularly offers free trials to its service and it’s a great bargain. Their disc selection is dandy, but their Instant feature is what is drawing more people in. Instead of waiting for the disc to arrive, you could watch a film or a show on your computer or TV through the click of a button.

Their library is insanely big, considering a lot of major studios have made deals with Netflix. Just being on the site for a few minutes, you’ll find dozens of movies to watch, so I’ll just recommend some 5-star movies of which you might not have heard.


Netflix Instant



I seem to talk hyperbole about this film at least once a month. It’s the feature debut of Rian Johnson, the man behind “The Brothers Bloom” and the upcoming “Looper.” Telling a film noir in high school sounds like a hokey concept, but this script is so tight and so clever that it perfectly works. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Brandon, a kid who is on the outside after an incident that happened last year. When his ex-girlfriend asks him for help and then turns up dead, he works his way through the drug trade to figure out what happened. It’s visually beautiful and original from every angle.


“Chop Shop”

He’s only made three films, but Ramin Bahrani is astounding people with his ability to capture moments of the human condition rarely seen. This was the first Bahrani film I’ve seen and it may just be a perfect film. A young boy and his teenage sister struggle to better their lives by buying a food cart. The movie is so simple and so beautiful. Every performance feels so organic the film could be mistaken for a documentary. Please check it out.



This is my all-time favorite musical. This version is the 2006 revival starring Raúl Esparza in the lead role. It’s about a man named Bobby who is celebrating his birthday. What he thinks he wants is to be married, but his friends have doubts. The show is him interacting with his sets of married friends and his casual girlfriends as he realizes what he truly wants. It’s a really funny show, and Stephen Sondheim sure knows how to craft a song or two. Avoid knowing the final song if possible because it’s powerful.



This is actually a miniseries, not a movie. Steven Moffat, the genius behind “Coupling,” “Sherlock” and the current “Doctor Who” made this modern retelling of the classic Jekyll and Hyde story for the BBC. It starts off appearing to be a sequel but then evolves into something more complex. James Nesbitt is phenomenal as the titular character(s). Nesbitt isn’t very well known in America unless you’ve caught “Five Minutes From Heaven,” “Bloody Sunday”, the original “State of Play” or “Millions,” but he knows how to balance the calm and horrifying in the blink of an eye. Every one of the six parts is thrilling because Moffat does not just tell the story you’ve told before. He’s faithful by being inventive.


“Kicking and Screaming”

This is my favorite film. No, it’s not the one with Will Ferrell playing soccer. This is Noah Baumbach’s first film, about a group of guys who graduate college … and then don’t do anything. They don’t move out or move on. They just stay in arrested development and continue to do the usual things. The screenplay is incredibly witty and surprisingly romantic. There is warmth that is missing from a lot of Baumbach’s later films, which is too bad. Even though the film is criticizing its characters, it still invites you to have a lot of fun with them as they hopefully start to grow up.


“Let the Right One In”

I would simply say this was the original version of “Let Me In,” but according to the box office, not many of you saw that film. Both movies are worthwhile, but this one has an extra level of creepiness. Set in Sweden, it’s the story of a young boy who discovers that his new neighbor is not actually a girl his age, but a vampire. Walking the line between romantic and tragedy, this film makes an unsettling experience. Last year, I claimed this to be the best horror film of the last decade.


‘Mean Streets”

Either this or “The Last Temptation of Christ” is my favorite Martin Scorsese film. I like gangster films, but I never finish one wanting to be a gangster. So a film like “Goodfellas” doesn’t exactly work for me, but I responded more to Harvey Keitel’s struggle in this film. He wants to get out of the racket, but unfortunately, he’s good at it. He knows what to do to make sure everybody gets their money and to keep people in line, like screw-up Robert De Niro. This was a great place for Scorsese to test a lot of new visual tricks that showed the world what an exciting filmmaker was emerging.


“Man on Wire”

I love being inspired by movies. This is the Best Documentary Oscar winner from a few years back about the man who sneaked up to the top of the Twin Towers, placed a tightrope between them and walked across. Was it an act of madness or expression? Philippe Petit is such a cinematic subject that he electrifies the whole film with his genuine enthusiasm. This is also one of the rare examples when I really liked the dramatic recreations.


“Paper Moon”

Con movies are typically delightful. They’re about using cleverness to trick a person. I thought I had seen them all, but somehow I missed this one. Ryan and Tatum O’Neal play a possible father and daughter who travel across the south during the 1930s pretending to sell Bibles to make a buck. Peter Bogdanovich creates a very believable time that is oddly warm despite its odd circumstances. Madeline Kahn has a small part but hysterical part as a possible wife for Ryan O’Neal.


“The Producers”

Even with the Tony Award-winning show, it still feels this Mel Brooks movie (and the musical’s inspiration) is a bit forgotten. It’s my favorite of his films and maybe his funniest. Gene Wilder is Leo Bloom, a neurotic accountant who accidentally comes up with a scheme where you can make more money with a theatrical flop than a hit. Zero Mostel gets dollar signs in his eyes and together they create the worst show on Broadway, “Springtime for Hitler.” Everyone is at the top of their game, especially Wilder.


Other Five-Star Films Currently Available on Netflix Instant

“All About Eve”

“All That Jazz”


“Army of Shadows”


“Before Sunset”

“Duck Soup”

“Enter the Void”

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”

“Once Upon a Time in America”

“Sherlock: Season One” (I don’t care that it’s a TV show; it’s three incredible 90-minute movies, so they kinda qualify.)

“Toy Story 3″

“A Woman Under the Influence”


Former “Free Films!” Articles:


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