Thursday, December 20, 2007

And on to the Oscar contenders...

At this point, we know the gangster biopic forumla nearly as well as that of the musician biopic, and it's ensentially the same: clear-sighted guy rises to stardom by employing revolutionary skill, marries, negative side of success kicks in, he mistreats his wife and those he loves, his life unravels and results in either death or redemption.

We're aware of all this, and it's more or less what happens in Ridley Scott's American Gangster, but from the moment of intensity which opens the film to its rousing final shot, we're hooked. Directed by Scott with the usual flare, the story of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), the real-life leader of organized crime in '70s Harlem, builds competently, if a little slowly, but doesn't start to crackle until its second act.

Lucas's story is balanced with that of Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), a struggling cop who eventually heads the Bureau of Narcotics, and as each is faced with his own questions of morality, we see the good and bad in both men. Each's paths are destined for one another, and when they finally do meet toward the close of the suspenseful third act, the two powerhouses playing off of one another is truly something to see.

Washington and Crowe employ their schticks (stern-but-charming and schlub-trying-to-do-right, respectively) to full capacity, but Gangster excels by going deeper than a "good bad guy/bad good guy" scenario. By virtue of the fact that it's set in Harlem and primarily an African American story, it strives to get at the root of the conditions which allow those on top to stay on top.

Not a big one, but in case you don't - or don't want to - know what happens to Frank Lucas, you may want to stop reading. Upon his arrest by Richie Roberts, Lucas helps Roberts take down three-quarters of New York's corrupt drug enforcement officers, and Lucas's sentence is drastically reduced. This is a moral victory of sorts, though in the closing scene, in which Lucas emerges from prison and steps out into a different world - specifically, '90s Harlem - and Public Enemy leads us into the credits, we see that, yes, some things have changed, but, perhaps, some things never will.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Breaking News: Billy Corgan writes something weird and cryptic

Much like actual Philosophy undergrad students, when Billy Corgan posts blog entries, he's so sincere-but-annoying that I'm not sure if I want to give him a hug or yell, "Are you messing with me? What's your problem, pal?"

Couched in the latest ramblings of The Bald One (ever notice how often journalists employ this cutesy moniker? it kind of pisses of me off, yet here I am, using it like a sucker) was the news that Smashing Pumpkins will release a new EP, American Gothic, on January 2nd. Sweet! The set of acoustic songs will be released exclusively - initially, at least - via iTunes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The H is O: The Hobbit is On

Remember a few years ago, when Lord of the Rings was dominating everything with its awesomeness, but then the movies stopped coming out every Christmas, and a lot of people were like, "What? No more Lord of the Rings? I hate you, Peter Jackson - make The Hobbit now!" and a lot of other people, like me, were all, "I don't know, I'm not sure if that's such a good idea"?

And then, there was a really long, increasingly bitter, legal battle between New Line and Peter Jackson over royalties, and Jackson was like, "Maybe I won't make your little Hobbit movie after all, how 'bout that?" and New Line was all, "Fine, we don't care, we'll get Sam Raimi to do it," and Raimi was like, "Maybe, I guess, I just made Spider-Man 3, which sucked," and everyone went, "No! Peter Jackson has to do it!" and New Line was like, "We don't have that much time, our rights to Hobbit are almost gone - give that Jackson guy more money!"?


Well, now, apparently, it's definitely happening, although Jackson is just serving as executive producer, which was long-rumored...but wasn't the bulk of the dispute over the fact that LOTR was Jackson's vision, and everyone wanted him to direct it? It was hard for me to be convinced there was much of a point to this even when Jackson was going to direct, but now - combined with the fact that they're definitely filming it as a two-parter - it seems even more like merely another opportunity to make money off Tolkien's name.

But, then again, when I first heard LOTR was being made into a movie, I thought they should've started with The Hobbit first, so what do I know? Maybe it'll be amazing. No word yet on a director, or whether any Leonard Nimoy songs will be featured.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Yay, Batman

I'll admit it: It's difficult for me to not post something every time even the slightest news pops up about The Dark Knight (which, thanks to its agressive viral marketing campaign, happens about every five minutes). I'm a geeked-out fanboy when it comes to Batman, I thought Chris Nolan and Christian Bale nailed Batman Begins, and everything I've seen so far on its sequel has done nothing to deter that geekdom. Imagine my giddiness, then, when an honest-to-goodness trailer popped up online.

If you caught the 6 minute "prologue" to Knight playing before I Am Legend in Imax theatersor wandered around online to find ityou've already been assured this is going to be an exciting movie, and the trailer further confirms as much. The big question, of course, is how Heath Ledger's take on the Joker comes off; I'd say "pretty awesome."

This Joker is different from anything we've seen beforerisky, sure, but it's clear that he'll become a new, iconic embodiment of the character. We get plenty of his grimy visage and gravelly, Tom Waits-meets-Andy Dick delivery in the trailer, and even if (as I've said before) I'm not completely on board yet, he certainly doesn't disappoint.

I'm pumped.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Found in Translation? (Har har)

So, like a lot of people, I think Lost in Translation is a great movie, and much of that greatness comes from its subtleties - the things left unsaid and the lack of a pat, Hollywood ending for a story mostly about longing and connecting.

That being said, aren't you a little curious about what Bill Murray actually whispers to Scarlett Johansson at the film's close? Sure, I love that the audience doesn't need to - and isn't supposed to - know what the dialogue is, but thanks to Rotten Tomatoes, Slashfilm, and a YouTube user with some fancy digital processing, we can get right up in the characters' intimacy.

(Spoiler: The line is a nice one, and would've been fine in the movie, but we still feel more shorthanded by hearing it than imagining it).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

No, I don't really see it as a series...maybe a movie

Jason Bateman (he of Arrested Development, Juno, and Teen Wolf, Too fame) gave Bluth fans more hope recently by telling MTV Movies that "The Arrested Development movie is not dead, au contraire."

For this rabid fan, it's actually one of the few shows that I think could work and be benefitted by a big screen adaptation. SpoutBlog has put together a nice list of possible "AD: The Movie" scenarios. Any ideas to add? A Franklin spinoff, perhaps?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Super Bon Bon!

If you haven't heard ex-Soul Coughing frontman Mike Doughty's Haughty Melodic (2005), you really ought to. Produced by ex-Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson (who helped bring the sound of Doughty's two previous sparse, solo records to a richer, fuller realm), and released on Dave Matthews's ATO label (new US home to Radiohead), it's a solid collection of pop songs that are decidedly more uplifting than Soul Coughing ever was, but weird enough to exist in the same family.

If the two new songs on Doughty's MySpace page are any indication, we can expect more of the same good stuff when his second ATO LP, Golden Delicious - produced again by Wilson - drops in February. In the meantime, you can check out his just-released live record, Half Smofe.

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Walk the Line" + "Ray" x Judd Apatow = ...

Catch the first 10 minutes of Walk Hard at Rotten Tomatoes. I heart John C. Reily.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Couple new trailers worth mentioning

One, of the my-girlfriend-will-make-me-go-but-I'll-still-want-to-know-what-happens variety; the other, of the wow-is-this-weird-looking milieu.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Getting sick of "Holly Jolly Christmas"?

Since I've already posted on both Sufjan Stevens' and Sleeping at Last's Christmas records, you can safely guess that I've got a serious soft spot for holiday tunes...or, in any case, for those that, as NPR highlights, are tolerable.

It's worth pointing out, though, that the
Bowie/Bing duet is, at least, a little bit...uncomfortable. But I suppose that's part of its charm. To their excellent list, I would also add Pedro the Lion/David Bazan's series of Christmas 7", Over the Rhine's pair of holiday LPs, and, of course, the Pogues' immortal "Fairytale of New York." Also, you can never go wrong with A Charlie Brown Christmas, right?

Other suggestions?

UPDATE: Also, Starting Monday,
Danielson and others at Sounds Familyre will be posting one free Christmas song a day on their blog. Sweet!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Q: So, like, why is there singing?

Got a question for Tim Burton or Johnny Depp? Leave it with Cinematical, and it just might get answered during their Sweeney Todd edition of Moviefone's unscripted interview series.

Sweeney opens December 21. In the meantime, watch the trailer here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

More news on...

-Obama (or at least his campaign staff) having good musical taste
-Me continuing to be jealous of Chicago for unique events...might as well mention Magnetic Fields' six(!) shows this spring at Old Town School of Folk Music, too. Lucky!

Jeff Tweedy, the Cool Kids, and others will play the Chi city senator's "Change Rocks" (don't you love it when politics try to sound hip?) event at Uptown's Riviera Theatre this Friday.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Judd Apatow: Sexist homophobe?

Katherine Heigl recently shared with Vanity Fair that she felt the year's biggest comedy hit, Knocked Up, in which she starred, was "a little sexist." She goes on:

"It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it, on some days. I’m playing such a bitch; why is she being such a killjoy? Why is this how you’re portraying women? Ninety-eight percent of the time it was an amazing experience, but it was hard for me to love the movie."

Now, 1.) I liked Knocked Up a lot; 2.) I'm certainly aware of the fact that as a straight, white male, I'm catered to in all kinds of ways — movies being but one small example — and I may certainly miss things that others don't; 3.) Knocked Up was made, mostly, by men — men who may have also missed things in their own film that others didn't; 4.) I haven't seen the film since it came out, and could benefit from another viewing with this idea in mind.

But I take issue with what she said. One of the reasons that I found Knocked Up so compelling was that it didn't pander to the audience by playing into our expectations. I didn't think Heigl's Alison was a "bitch" — like the leads of director Judd Apatow's last surprise hit comedy, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, she is a complex character who defies easy, one-note characterization.

Similarly, co-star Seth Rogen's Ben did not go from a simple point A to point B, as has been played out so often in other look-this-person-realized-something-important stories. Even though he and Paul Rudd's Pete are funny, goofy guys, they're also the butt of the movie's jokes. We identify more closely with the stable Alison, as she is faced with a number of difficult decisions throughout the story.

I should point out, though, that this is not the first such accusation leveled against the movie. Fellow brilliant comedy writer-director Mike White (School of Rock, Year of the Dog), who worked with Apatow on NBC's cultishly revered Freaks and Geeks, told the
New York Times:

"I definitely stand in the corner of wanting to give voice to the bullied, and not the bully. Here's where comedy is catharsis for people who are picked on. There's a strain in Knocked Up where you sort of feel like something’s changed a little bit. My sense of it is that because those guys are idiosyncratic-looking, their perception is that they're still the underdogs. But there is something about the spirit of the thing, that comes under the guise of comedy, where — it's weird. At some point it starts feeling like comedy of the bullies, rather than the bullied."

I take some issue with this, too, but for some reason, the words of White (who is bisexual), hit home a little harder for me — maybe, as mentioned, because his criticism is from a male's perspective, and the most immediate level on which I saw the movie was, obviously, on a male one.

Anyway, the combination of the two criticisms — and I'm sure there are plenty of others who share similar perspectives — are certainly enough to make me watch Knocked Up again, a little more closely. Thoughts? I'm particularly interested in hearing from women on the subject.