Monday, January 3, 2011

My Top Ten Movies of 2010

2010 has come and gone, and with it, some great and not-so-great movies. Like many, I’m assembling a Top 10 list for 2010 with some of my favorites from the previous year.

Things I seriously expect would be on my Top Ten if I managed to squeeze them in:
* True Grit

I like the Cohen brothers, and I like the John Wayne original. I am expecting good things, but am reserving any opinions until I see it, of course.

* Love and Other Drugs

I, despite myself, am still a heterosexual man, and I need little more impetus than “Anne Hathway is naked in this movie.” And, the thing is, I’ve seen Anne Hathaway naked before (cf. Brokeback Mountain, Havoc.) But it looks quite good, in addition to highlighting her particular features (Mr. Gyllenhaal, I understand it, is also quite the looker for those interested in Y-Chromosomes.)

* The Social Network

This looks simply incredible, and I look forward to seeing it very soon. I, in fact, regret not having seen it, if only because it definitely looks like one of the best things that came out last year.

These movies all looked wonderful and I look forward to seeing them sooner rather than later.

10. Macgruber

Macgruber wasn’t very well-received by a lot of people, and that’s because a lot of people don’t appreciate Will Forte. And shame on you for not doing so, the man is a brilliantly subversive comic and writer (his similarly incredible but marginalized The Brothers Solomon is the kind of thing you either get or you don’t.) It’s a silly homage to 80’s action movies in general and Macguyver in particular that has a lot of great laugh-out loud bits of business in it. Val Kilmer, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to be as surprised as anybody he’s playing the villain.

9. How to Train Your Dragon

Between this, Kung-Fu Panda, and the recent Megamind (which I also skipped this year but looks good,) Dreamworks animation appears to be hitting their stride. It still isn’t playing equal to Pixar, but at least they’re starting to bat in the same ballpark: the humor is more character driven, the stories more complex, and.

8. Date Night

My reasoning here should be eerily familiar for some reason...

But this movie really won me over, despite being a bit middle-of-the-road for my tastes. I love the two of them, and I genuinely felt they were an extremely cute couple. The action sequences are great, as well.

7. The Other Guys

Will Ferrell’s kind of humor is, again, not for everybody, but I think he’s hilarious in this romp, playing a lower key part to Mark Walberg’s explosive manic outbursts. Another action-comedy, although the action here is decidedly lackluster.

6. Machete

Machete is love-it-or-hate-it, as a lot of Robert Rodriguez’s work is. I loved it, the gore is over-the-top, the exploitation is hilariously tongue-in-cheek, and it has a delightfully twisted Latino sensibility (and many beautiful Latinas, in addition to Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez.) It was thoroughly trashy and enjoyable.

5. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Again, I wrote about this earlier, and I feel Scott Pilgrim is going to be hailed as a cult classic in years to come. It was very enjoyable.

4. Shutter Island

I’m not a big Scorcese guy, but this is one of my top movies of last year, despite a somewhat predictable plot twist, it’s an incredibly dark and involving suspense tail that kept me enthralled even as it researched its inevitable conclusion.

3. Inception

Chris Nolan has made equally enthralling explorations of the human psyche before (Memento, Insomnia, even Batman Begins explores fear in an interesting way.) This is no exception. One of the best made movies of last year, in addition to being an incredibly innovative and exciting and well-executed piece of cinematic craft.

2. Black Swan

Black Swan was, simply put, a remarkable film about obsession and madness that explores one woman’s mind as it deteriorates in front of our very eyes, set into the world of ballet and the story of Swan Lake. It has an incredible almost mythic and dreamlike quality to it and uses horror elements to explore the human body pushed to its limit and a mind strained past it. Visceral and disturbing but also completely enthralling, I greatly enjoyed it.

1. Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 is the kind of movie everybody should see, and everybody did. Wait, you mean you didn’t see it and cry at the ending? You need to go out and watch it right now. It’s getting the same “Best Picture” buzz that Beauty and the Beast got back in 1993, and, to be honest, I liked this even more than that high point of the Disney Renaissance. Without a doubt, one of the best pictures of all time.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

New Blog!

Hey everybody!

I plan on updating this blog infrequently (possibly mixed in with some new 11 Word Movie Reviews,) but you can check out my new blog Advanced Dorks and Deconstruction for movies, comics, video games, geek culture, all through the lens of humanities scholarship.


Saturday, May 1, 2010

"My Best Post" Blog-A-Thon

Courtesy of Scott over at He Shot Cyrus, I'm copying over what he wrote. Feel free to participate and spread it around!


Here's the lowdown on this event of the season. I want your best posts. The ones that make you the most proud. It's time to show off your skills, people. Everyone should participate because here's the best part: you've already written your entry!

You've got three weeks to make your choice. If you think you can write a post better than your fans have ever seen before then get to work! On May 21st, it's time to show the goods! E-mail your links to: or leave a comment here.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask. I'll be e-mailing certain bloggers whose work I really admire and asking them to participate. If, for some reason, I forget to ask you...don't worry, I love your blog too and you should feel almost obligated to show off your analytical and literary skills.

Also, a million thanks to my good friend Laura for making this kick-ass graphic!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Never Forget Remember Me

Seeing Remember Me was something of an unusual experience, to say the least. There were actually many positives to this movie: the performances were really strong (especially from Pierce Brosnan and Twilight’s own Rob Pattinson,) the story was, mostly, really strong and engaging, and it actually engages and grips on a visceral ending. That being said, it has one major negative: the ending.

The ending of this movie, without spoilers, is highly unexpected, devoid of dramatic conflict and resolution, and reeks of Deus Ex Machina. It is an ending so awful that I find myself truly at a loss for words describing it. The truly aggravating part of this is I actually got into this movie. I found myself liking it, despite myself. However, I found myself highly disappointed by the ending. I can only use analogy to describe my disappointment with this ending. If I had been reading the script, and gotten to the ending, I would have thrown down the script in disgust and reached for my cell phone to yell at somebody to rewrite the ending. How anyone agreed to make or perform in this movie, without changing this ending, eludes me. I was so upset I was seriously tempted to begin yelling at the screen, cursing out the movie itself for breaking my trust.

If I were Capt. Jean Luc Picard, this would be my expression upon seeing the ending to this movie. I hope I'm making this clear.

Remember Me is like a new acquaintance you really like who has some incongruous character trait that makes your friendship highly suspect (the example I came up with was an obsessive love of Dave Matthews Band, but you can come up with your own.) Or like a student who gets A’s all through the semester and bombs the final, earning it a grade of C. The ending has to be experienced to be believed, but you can definitely experience it at home in about four months. Or, better yet, just stop watching the movie before the final 10 minutes.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Still in Theaters (March 15th, 2010)

The following movies are still in theaters, and, instead of writing individually on all them (although all have 11 Word Reviews up) I’d rather just touch on them in brief.

Alice in Wonderland

I was going to mention how I would argue this fits into my masters thesis about Tim Burton movies being an exercise in abjection and masochism through the construction of filmic space, but, really, I’d rather not get too into it.

Basically, if you like Tim Burton, you’ll at least get some mild enjoyment out of this movie. A lot of liberties are taken with the adapted property, and the third act is pretty miserable, but it could have been way worse. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter have some interesting performances, but Anne Hathaway is horribly miscast.

Overall, I would personally rank Burton’s filmography as follows: Beetle Juice > Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure > Sweeney Todd > Ed Wood > Batman > Edward Scissorhands > Big Fish > Alice in Wonderland = Batman Returns = Corpse Bride > Charlie and the Chocolate Factory > Mars Attacks! > Sleepy Hollow > Planet of the Apes. (Note, I’m aware Nightmare Before Christmas isn’t on this list. That’s because Henry Seleck directed it, not Burton.) So kind of middle-level Burton work.

Also, don’t bother with the 3-D, it’s kind of bland. Save the glasses fee for something else, like candy.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

This was basically Warner Bros. desperately trying to reproduce the soon-to-be-ending Harry Potter franchise. It isn’t a bad movie, but its not necessarily a worthy successor either, and not exactly worthy of a sequel (or sequels.) Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Apprentice has a similar problem (although its far worse.) There’s nothing necessarily bad about this movie, but it isn’t exactly strong or memorable but for a few moments.

For example, Uma Thurman is in this movie, and she plays Medusa. Chew on that for a while.

You can probably skip this one.

Shutter Island

I’m not a big Scorcese fan in general, but I give this a big recommendation. The twist is predictable, and its hard to discuss without going into spoiler warning territory, but it’s a really solid movie and excellently crafted on pretty much every level. Some really excellent cinematography and use of light, shadow, and atmosphere. I’d already consider it an early contender for next years Oscars. Of any of the movies on this list, this is the one I’d tell you to run out and see.

Valentine’s Day

The major problem with this movie is there are way too many characters running around, and the movie loses focus really easily, and they are all interconnected in at times painful ways. I would have appreciated if more time had been given to certain storylines (the Topher Grace-Anne Hathaway one, for example, had a lot of promise) and left certain ones out entirely (Taylor Swift/Lautner’s storyline is completely without merit; and she, for the record, is a horrid actress. Both of the “teenagers in love” are actually very weak. Basically any character who doesn’t have some direct if not tenuous link to the Ashton Kutcher-Jessica Alba-Jennifer Garner triangle could have been cut with little consequence.) Gary Marshall isn’t what I’d call a maverick renegade filmmaker by any stretch, so its very by the numbers and inoffensive technically. Unremarkable, journeyman-level, work if there ever was one. Worth renting, especially on a date night.

In summary:
Alice...: Lukewarm recommendation. No to the 3-D.
Percy Jackson...: Skip. Rent if you have to.
Shutter Island: Must see.
Valentine's Day: Rent.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band


A hallmark of Rock and Roll music, The Beatles will most definitely be remembered in the history of 20th century music, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band will likely be remembered as their magnum opus (I prefer the White Album myself, or Revolver, but that’s just me.) While many of their contemporaries are fading into nostalgia, the Beatles’ music has retained a timeless feel that has them rediscovered by generation after generation, either through video games, or through movies, such as Across the Universe.


I didn’t much care for Across the Universe when it first came out. I appreciate Julie Taymor as a director, her version of Titus was great, for example. But the movie was ham-handed about its anti-war agenda, about 45 minutes too long, and tried too hard to use a lot of the Dada-esque John songs and not enough of the more straightforward Paul songs. I actually like all the songs they picked more, but they weren’t suited to constructing a cogent narrative. Which led to numbers like Eddie Izard singing “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” in a circus.

This is the moment where me and this movie stopped agreeing on what a musical based on the Beatles should be about (if you want an exact moment in this video, it was probably around 45 seconds, where I thought to myself “okay, now stuff’s just happening. Thank you, movie.”) I was not pleased with this movie, to put it lightly.


Then I watched Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Released in 1978, and produced by Robert Stigwood (the guy who produced Grease and Saturday Night Fever, so he at least has some good sense about how music can be used in a movie,) the titular band is made up of Peter Frampton and the Bee-Gees, is based loosely on the album and Abbey Road, and contains almost no non-singing dialogue except on the part of our narrator, played by George Burns, who tries to help piece together a plot about the Band being manipulated by music executive Mr. Mustard (who, if you are not aware, is not a very nice guy at all.) This is a blessing since we don’t have to deal with as much “real” acting from the Bee-Gees and Frampton.

They aren’t the only musicians in the movie: Alice Cooper plays Father Sun (he sings a rather bizarre version of “Because;”) Earth Wind and Fire play themselves (they do a good cover of “Got to Get You Into My Life,” and might be one of the few redeeming features of the film, besides a performance I’ll mention below;) and Aerosmith are the Future Villain Band (foreshadowing their career-that-wouldn’t-die of the mid-90’s and stretched on to today, they perform “Come Together.”)

The movie is punctuated heavily by scenes randomly sped-up (reminiscent of A Hard Day’s Night,) which is a a cute technique, along with the white superimposed inter-titles, but the filmmaker manages to grab it by the throat and drag it into the ground so often that you can’t help but wonder if they were trying to intentionally make an awful movie.

There’s a point where reasoning breaks down for me. Where any attempt to find anything redeeming becomes an increasingly daunting and depressing challenge bordering on the absurd. I would compare finding the bad in this movie as to finding a needle in a haystack, but that’s not a fair comparison. Trying to find the bad in this movie is like trying to find the hay in a haystack. And not just any hay, but one particular piece, and it’s lost in the sea of the same hay. If the bad were like a needle (or needles) in a haystack, at least then you could find something differentiated and go “Oh, here is your problem. This.” But this entire movie is the movie’s problem.

Steve Martin, by the way, is in this movie. Steve Martin. Because when I think of The Beatles, the first thing that comes to my mind is Steve Martin.

I have to admit this is pretty funny. Perhaps if this was the only thing the movie was then I would not be as upset about it. And then he’s gone. You cry out for Steve Martin to come back, but he’s gone, and he’s left you with an awful, awful, movie.

The rest of the movie has the same frantic nonsensical construction, but its mostly taking itself serious to levels that seem to border on the absurd. But there is no scene that doesn’t in some way awkwardly crumble, look poorly constructed, or just messy. George Burns at times looks amazed he is even in this movie.

The movie ends with a bunch of celebrities singing the reprise of the title track and posing in a manner reminiscent of the album cover. These include such 70’s luminaries as Heart, Leif Garret, Carol Channing, Bonnie Raitt, Minnie Ripperton, Tina Turner, Hank Williams Jr., Curtis Mayfield, and, of course, Sha-Na-Na. Wolfman Jack is there too, perhaps imagining this is the next American Graffiti. Unfortunately for the Wolfman, it is not.

This movie was apparently so bad that it bankrupted Robert Stigwood’s production company, and the Bee-Gee’s eventually sued him over royalties related to it. If I were them I’d suddenly be worried about the money running out too.

This movie is not redeemable, even for its camp value. It’s not “awesomely bad” or “so bad its good,” it’s just plain bad. I thought I knew what an awful movie was before seeing this movie, but it actually transcends narrative, filmmaking, and manages to defile the canon of one of the greatest rock bands of all time. I would not recommend it to anyone, to watch under any circumstances, even for a morbid curiosity to see how bad it is (which is why I watched it.) Do not watch this movie. I’ll repeat that. If you value your sanity, or think fondly of the Beatles in any way, do yourself a favor and not watch this movie. If you want to see a Beatles musical, see Across the Universe. Or wait for somebody to make a really good one.

It’s become increasingly obvious the more I think about it that, if only to avoid the possibility of having to endure a third Beatles music within the next 30 years, to create some kind of guidelines for future generations, taking on the problems of the problems of the 1978 and 2008 Beatles musicals. So take heed, filmmakers of tomorrow:

1) Try to draw more focus on the earlier pre-Sgt Pepper’s Beatles, and, if you do use the more psychedelic Beatles songs, focus more on Paul’s stuff (“Here Comes the Sun” would be fine too, “Octopus’ Garden” likely wouldn’t.) John’s songs aren’t very complimentary to narrative, and you end up with bizarre interludes. Under no circumstances is “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” to be used. Ever. “Strawberry Fields Forever” is a borderline case, because it isn’t as jarringly non-narrative as John’s other songs, but in both Across the Universe and Sgt. Pepper’s it gets used as an utterly dreadful ballad. But I think it could work.

2) Thematic diversity. Both films have a problem with taking a single issue and more or less defining the entire movie around it. Sgt. Pepper’s is about the corrupting nature of fame and power, while Across the Universe is an anti-war movie. There needs to be some variation, maybe a strong subplot not tied into that theme, or else try to create some more conflict with the theme (both of the above things are presented as bad, understandably, but that removes 99% of the conflict from the story. There needs to be disagreement and synthesis of ideas.) Otherwise it just becomes an overpowering series of intertwined Beatles songs.

3) Self-referential comments need to be low, if not to a minimum. The Beatles are such an integral part of pop culture that it’s easy to put references to characters or lines into the script. But it’s also really easy to go overboard with it too, because there’s so many iconic lines and characters. Across the Universe goes especially overboard with this, with every major character being named after some Beatles song or another. It’s ok to have a few characters that aren’t named after the songs, or to keep spouting random bits of Beatles lore. This makes the movie actually about something other than the songs, which, as important as they are to a musical, are not the entirety of the film.

4) Not every song needs to be on the nose about what it’s about, but at the same time, don’t attribute completely new meaning to a song. The first problem is “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” always been used as a part of a circus number (Sgt. Pepper’s including two guys in a rollerskating horse costume as Henry the Horse. I wish I were making that up.)

The best example of the opposite problem I can think of is “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” which in both films gets used in drastically different ways. In Sgt. Pepper’s it’s about the music people lusting after the band and the dangers of fame. In Across the Universe...

Yeah, heavy-handed much?

5) Actually, maybe just don’t make a musical about the Beatles, especially “based on the music of…” and save everybody involved a lot of trouble.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Princess and The Frog


Try and remember the last great Disney animated film that didn’t begin with that jumping Pixar lamp. This will probably vary depending on your tastes. For me, it was Lilo and Stitch, although I would consider Hercules, Mulan and Tarzan acceptable answers as well. This is not to say there’s anything technically or story-deficient in anything post, say, 2000 in non-Pixar Disney animated films. They just seem to be going through the motions, perhaps hitting a few clever notes but not getting into really solid territory.

The Princess and the Frog is probably not the greatest Disney film ever. But it’s good, exceeding expectations and harkening back to the better days of the Disney Renaissance (having the directors of The Little Mermaid doesn’t hurt that fact.)

There’re a lot of headier issues we could delve into here about representations of race and class in the context of 1920’s New Orleans (and what racism is acknowledged and how much is not.) Especially in terms of swarthy Lothario Prince Naveen’s fictional nation with European trappings yet just brown-enough skin to keep any Middle-American concern for interracial relationships somewhat at ease. But I haven’t invested the level of engagement to get to that point with the text yet, and we can definitely discuss this over in the comments.

That being said, I think, overall, there’s a good balance between trying to represent the particularities of New Orleans culture and the 1920s without going too deeply into stereotype or heavily covering up the issues of the time.

The story is, for delving into the rather limited Frog Princess story, rather deep, and there’s a lot of good characterization and flow. The overall messages of the movie, about self-determination and hard work, are definitely a step above waiting for an arriving prince, or even the non-descript “wanting more” of the Disney Renaissance princesses. The music also is probably the strongest since Beauty and the Beast and ties in very well with enforcing the messages of the movie while being good songs in their own right.

I have a soft spot in my heart for the Disney villains. As appropriate to melodrama, the richest and most nuanced characters are at times the more villainous ones. So, while at times a bit creepy, and overly theatrical, Disney villains get a chance to be the decadent and dark id to the Disney superego. And Doctor Facilier, the voodoo houngan who curses Naveen and desires a social status denied to him due to his heritage, could easily make #10 of my personal top Disney villains list. Being voiced by the rumbly baritone Keith David (perhaps best known as Goliath on Gargoyles, or for his part in They Live,) definitely helps.

The Princess and the Frog is, in my opinion, definitely the best animated non-Pixar Disney movies of the past decade (unless you include Enchanted, at which point it’s a strong #2,) and possibly the best since The Lion King. It’s a pretty strong movie with a great narrative thread. You shouldn’t be troubled taking your kids to the movie, and it has a strong appeal for all ages.