Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Best Films of 2008

The best of films of 2008 that you most likely have heard of, and some that you might not:

1. Australia:
The most underrated film of the year. It upsets me so much that critics would tear this film apart, just because it had "too many endings" and "the director was trying too hard" and "It was just another Gone With The Wind". Of course Baz Luhrmann was trying too hard; he attempted to make a film that was so epic and melodramatic in order to reconnect us with the golden age of Hollywood filmmaking. In a time when films are trying to be faster with quicker takes and lazy photography, you have to give him credit for that at least. That point aside, I thought this film had tons of breathtaking cinematography. One of my favorite aspects of Baz Lurhmann's directing is that he works so well with his music supervisors in order to create a whole atmosphere between the music, sound, and visuals. This film is no exception. At many points throughout the film, I felt as though I was in a dream-like state, apart of the shot. Luhrmann and his photographic/art team do a wonderful job of capturing the awe and beauty of Australia's landscape.

2. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button:
One of the best made films I have ever seen. A cinematic masterpiece that will never be forgotten. I had been waiting to see this film for a long time, and it surpassed all of my hopes and the hype given to it by the media. With most films I see, there are usually a few shots where my reaction is "Oh, wow, thats a very nice shot". However, with this film, every single shot of the film my reaction was "Oh, my god. This is an amazing shot", and shivers would run down my spine. It was as though every single shot of the film were a beautiful painting. I had never seen that before from a film. Maybe it was a mixture of the genius cinematographer, the director David Fincher's perfectionism and his choice of using an all digital photography and editing process. Fincher is bound to win Best Director at the oscars for this film. His extremely strong direction with the film can easily be seen throughout the film. For example, there's a point in the film when Benjamin Button's love interest played by Cate Blanchett returns to see Button after he is grown (backwards) quite a bit from the last time they saw each other as children (and old man). Blanchett arrives at the house and sees Button, not recognizing him at first. Once she gets a better look at him, Blanchett's reaction change of recognition was so life-like and beautiful that it could only have been achieved by countless takes during shooting and a genius choice of a buy take by Fincher.

3. Let The Right One In:
A Swedish vampire horror film. One of the creepiest and most elegantly shot films I have ever seen. Based on a book, this film centers around a 12 year old boy who falls in love with a vampire who looks around the age of 12, but it turns out, is actually an elderly man who is a eunuch and has seemed to have gone through a sex-change to look like a 12 year old girl. Wooops, gave away too much. And the boy still falls in love with him/her/it by the end of the film. Yeah, its a messed up story. But that aside, there is some amazing photography with tons of genius uses of visual framing from tunnels, windows, and anything square. The director definitely knows how to shoot an amazingly shot creepy vampire film.

4. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist:
Stop calling it this years Juno! Just because its a love story with Michael Cera and the plot directly involves music, doesn't mean that this film can't stand on its own as a refreshingly original love story that is so much fun to watch. The director, Peter Sollett, creates such a true portrait of New York City teenager nightlife that it never feels fake for a second. Like Baz Lurhmann, Sollett works really well with his music editors to chose not only great alternative rock music, but music that fits so perfectly well with the great cinematography of a fast speed night in New York City.

5. Zach and Miri Make A Porno:
Yes, this film is all about the low-brow humor. But at least this film actually has great acting, and some great cinematography and art direction, unlike the low-brow humor film The Pineapple Express. Zach and Miri turns out to be a touching love story that is absolutely hilarious at the same time. Not to mention that I need to rep this film because I have a friend who worked on the art department for this film.

6. Cloverfield:
An absolute genius film. Just the whole idea of it was so original: a monster film shot from the point of view of a group of characters with a camera filmming the event as bystanders. Not to mention the genius marketing scheme with internet secrets and fake websites. I loved this film. So entertaining.

7. Be Kind Rewind:
Hilarious film that is just a gold mine for film enthusiasts. The whole movie is about people who start a business where they make their own versions of films sold in a movie store. Interesting commentary on the film and video business as well as on cinema as a media source. The end of the movie shows the power that film has on its viewers and its surrounding communities. Interesting side note, the film was shot in Passaic, New Jersey, where I lived for two months in the fall.

8. The Dark Knight:
Everyone agrees: This film was just amazing. Amazing cinematography, amazing acting performance by Heath Ledger (not so much Christian Bale or Maggie Gyllenhaal) and amazingly complex plot line and themes for a Batman film. One scene that really sticks out in my mind is when Gordon figures out that the Joker is going to kill three people that evening and then arrives at Bruce Wayne's fundraiser for Harvey Dent. Amazing use of music and increasingly fast editing as the scene progresses to create a perfect sense of suspense that literally ends with a bang. Just a great film from a great director.

9. Slumdog Millionaire:
Such a refreshingly original film. Incorporates some history lessons, a love story, a thriller, and a comedy, all in the context of a non-linear plot line involving flashbacks during an episode of the Hindi version of "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire", where every question is a reference to some past experience by the main character Jamal. Besides a great plot, there is some great photography, with probably the largest amount of canted shots I have ever seen in a film. Finally, the ending before the credits provided a great ode to Bollywood films including a whole song and dance number.

More to come....?

Buy the films:

Capsule Reviews on Milk and Gran Torino

Gran Torino, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, might have been the best film I've seen all year (either that or Slumdog Millionaire). It was truly an amazing and profoundly moving experience. The story is about a grumpy, foul-mouthed, and somewhat bigoted old Korean War vet in a rundown neighborhood who is at first resistant to the change he sees his community taken over by the Hmoung (ethnic group from Southeast Asia). In most films, the cinematography is designed to glamorize what's in front of the camera, but Clint's (or should I say Walt, his character's) neighborhood is starkly unpleasant to look at. It's one of those rundown industrial towns, like you find in Michigan. The neighbors are threatened by gang violence and when Walt saves them from being harassed by pointing a gun at the gang, he becomes a reluctant hero. Not wanting any special attention, he refuses all the gifts, but he gradually softens up as his neighbors keep tugging away at his heartstrings and starts to mentor the two kids next door, Sue and Tao. The film is a sweeping look at faith, shell shock, urban decay, culture clash, and especially ageism. Clint does battle and proves his worth to teenagers who are essentially writing him off because he's old. Maybe that's what every teenager does these days. This is the first picture I've seen to confront this so well. The film features Clint Eastwood's best performance.

Milk isn't particularly great. It's probably going to get one of the five Oscar nominations for best picture but aside from the acting, it's nothing special. Sean Penn plays a real-life figure who became the first gay person to hold a public office. He was elected to the San Fransisco board of chairman or something like that. Josh Brolin stars as his eventual assassin and the dialogue between Penn and Brolin is the highlight of the film. The two are a microcosm for the standstill that currently exists between the gay community and the religious right, who maintain that they are not homophobic and good people, but continue to deny the gay community rights (Mind you, I'm not taking a stand on the issue). Other than that, however, the film is a little long-winded and just didn't generally move me like some of the other films this year. It's a good film but just not great.

Review of Valkyrie

Valkyrie features Tom Cruise as star and producer of a true story about a group of German officers who made an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Hitler and launch a government coup over Germany in order to spare the country a more merciful surrender pact with the Allied forces. Despite a few setbacks, Valkyrie is an impressively well-crafted political thriller.

Chief among these setbacks is Tom Cruise, himself, which is somewhat a disappointment because this man has taken a lot of beatings from the press and general public over the last couple of years and I'm usually one of his starch defenders. Cruise doesn't even attempt a German accent and doesn't really inject any personality into the role. It's ridiculously hard to suspend your disbelief and think you're watching anything other than some strange time travelling story of Tom Cruise playing himself inserted into 1944 Germany. But Cruise produced and bankrolled the film and stuck with it through several release date delays, so credit goes to him on that. Fortunately on the acting front, Cruise is surrounded by a really solid cast: Among others, Bill Nighy, Terrence Stamp (My Boss' Daughter, Get Smart), and Tom Wilkinson, fresh off his amazing performance in Michael Clayton last year. Wilkinson's character as a top general with loyalties to Hitler could have been someone you could have built an entire movie around.

As in the X-Men series, director Bryan Singer doesn't just jump into the action but takes his time building suspense, even if the score is annoyingly over-dramatic at parts (it sounded like a horror film). If you're expecting an action film, you're bound to be disappointed. It's more of a backdoor political piece that reminded me a little bit of The Contender. For the first half of the film, Cruise is just going from Nazi official to Nazi official trying to find the right allies and gather signatures to enact his grandiose plan. The payoff is well-worth it, however. It's thought-provoking, tragic, and well-shot.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Top 10 TV Shows of 2006

Very soon, my review of Valkyrie will be up here (I very much liked it, 3 1/2 stars).

In the meantime, this is a retread of an article that NBC4 published in 2006. They just redid their website so a lot of my material might be virtually unsearchable at this point. You will notice that all of these shows with the exception of Studio 60, is still on the air:
1. The Office, NBC It’s hard to understate how much the show has outgrown its original premise of an office drone with haphazard career ambitions, the girl who’s taken that he fawns over anyway, the annoying cubicle mate he quarrels with, and the socially inept boss who desperately wants to be Mr. Popular. In the show’s second season and the start of its third, the Pam-Jim chemistry has become a more realistic portrayal of modern day romance than practically any movie in the last decade, Steve Carrell has given Michael Scott endearing traits and even Dwight has been starting to come around. Even better, the show has promoted most of the recurring guest stars to cast members this season, adding a whole new layer of depth. Overgrown valley girl Kelly (Mindy Kaling), politically correct Human Recourses man Toby (Paul Liberstein), and creepy Creed (Creed Bratton) add even more neuroses to an already hilariously chaotic workplace.

2. Grey’s Anatomy, ABC It seems an inescapable fact that there’s always going to be a medical TV show that’s going to be the source of water cooler talk everywhere you go, and as medical dramas go, none have a more well-rounded cast. Accomplished actors Isiah Washington (Hollywood Homicide) and Sandrah Oh (Sideways) along with comedic actress Kate Walsh (Kicking and Screaming, Showbiz Show) play meaty supporting roles, and Chandra Wilson as the resident disciplinarian is excellent. Contrary to popular perception, the show doesn’t ignore the hospital setting in favor of juicy romance stories, but it does effectively make the stories human by focusing less on the medical jargon.

3. America ’s Got Talent While it was clear that the answer to the question “Does America have talent?” would be an obvious yes because it is a big country, you would still be pretty amazed by the quality of the acts that chose to answer this reality show’s call. Some of the acts worth tuning into included the homemade hiphop-acapella group At Last, the tap-dancing-and-fiddling family act Celtic Spring, a rapping Granny, and the bluesy Millers Brothers among so many others. Combined with a vaudeville-meets-reality-TV atmosphere and a panel of judges that includes a Brit that actually makes sense when he talks in Piers Morgan and nitpicky star David Hasselhoff on a career rebound, and this was THE reality show of the year.

4. American Idol On second thought, don’t forget American Idol. This season, the show had one of its most talented from top-to-bottom and uniquely diverse casts. Despite Cowell’s insults to the contrary, Ryan Seacrest’s star power continues to grow and Paula, Simon, and Randy all still are prevalent icons in pop culture today. How much longer until this show runs out of talented singers is a mystery, but this season the show was as strong a facet of pop culture as ever.

5. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, FX The dialogue doesn’t skip a beat and underneath all the bickering, there really is a lot of love between the lifelong friends who own a bar in Philly and share a common narcissistic outlook on life. The addition of Danny De Vitto to the emsemble is pitch-perfect casting.

6. 30 Rock/Studio 60, NBC Each show, about the fascinating topic of backstage comedy, has something the other half doesn’t, so put together they make one excellent TV show. Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 tackles serious issues with insight, and it offers very fleshed out characters except for the fact that none of them have a sense of humor. Unfortunately, that is kind of vital to a show about comedy. On the other hand, 30 Rock doesn’t have as much depth, but its characters convincingly belong on a comedy show. It also boasts two of today’s most appealing comic actors in Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey. If only one can learn from the other, NBC would have a hit.

7. Ugly Betty, ABC James Poniewozik of Time Magazine had a good point in his November 20th article that Ugly Betty really is the new face of the American dream. “Smart and sweet-hearted, she embodies the Puritan-Shaker-Quaker principle of valuing inner good over outer appearance. She's as Norman Rockwell as a chestnut-stuffed turkey,” he writes. For those not wanting to look that deep under the surface, the show is a fairly entertaining dramedy about a fish-out-of-water that exudes a lot of charm.

8. Heroes, NBC At a point when the entire superhero genre in films and TV is pretty much made of recycled comics material, part of the appeal of Heroes is that it’s fresh, completely original, and entirely unpredictable. Played out as a serial like Lost was last year, the show grounds the world of superheroes firmly in everyday reality, revolving around a group of people scattered across the globe who are slowly discovering and coming to terms with their supernatural powers. The episode plays out through multiple storylines being weaved together and more often than not each individual one is interesting enough to be able to sustain itself. The show is also becoming known for the character Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka), the Japanese computer programmer who possesses childlike giddiness over his ability to teleport.

9. 30 Days, FX Morgan Spurlock’s shtick of investigative-reporting-by-experiencing is transferred from the movies (Supersize Me) to the TV screen with decidingly interesting results. Morgan Spurlock spends 30 days in a Richmond prison, and various other people spend a month outside their comfort zone. An abortion clinic director moves into a pastor’s motherhood clinic, a conservative moves into San Fransisco’s gay community, and an anti-immigration advocate moves into a bordertown with a family of illegal immigrants. This is one of the few reality shows to escape the sensationalistic clich├ęs of the format: people don’t lose or win, they just get enlightened and by watching them, we do as well.

10. Best Week Ever, VH1 Possibly the only good thing VH1 has ever done, the show works as an offbeat alternative to the now more mainstream Daily Show where clips of news events, celebrity shenanigans and the highlights of the week are shown and a collection of comedians take turns sounding off on them and as of late, they’ve gotten surprisingly good within their format. The quality is far better than commercialized nostalgia-fests of VH1’s Best Week Ever.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

X-men, a Film Series

I would like to discuss X-Men in a manner I have not seen discussed at length before; as a series of films. The X-Men comic is one of the longest and most complicated comic continuities in existence. Most fans look at the films as an interesting side note in the long popularity of the comic. I am not most fans. My introduction to the world of X-Men was the first film, and I loved it. As a big fan of sci-fi/action movies, I thought it had just the right mix of, action, characters, and plot. In particular I loved the core characters of the x-men vs. the Magneto group. Wolverine, Cyclops, Jean, Storm, Rogue, and Xavier; Magneto and Mystique as the villains. That is what I see x-men as. The fact that there was much more story then was being shown in the movies was clear, however comic book films are hardly alone in this. X2 continued the trend, picking up where the first film left off, and moving the plot in exciting directions.
    The problem with X-men 3 is it introduces way to many new characters, and doesn’t continue what was set up in the last two movies. Archangel may have been on of the original x-men in the comics, but to me he was just a random character introduced into the movie that had very little significance. At the same time Rogue, arguably the main character of the first movie had very little screen time. Another main character is killed off-screen. The Beast and The Juggernaut were fun characters that were introduced, but I still would have rather seen more of the characters that we have come to know and love over the past two movies. Why cut down Mystique’s role and introduce The Juggernaut when Mystique’s character has been built up so much? Maybe it’s just the way I look the series of movies as something that could be ongoing, while the writers may have looked at some of the character’s arcs as complete.

My other problem with this movie is there is way too much story crammed into a movie that is not all that long. Jean and the dark phoenix story could have had its own movie, and so could the storyline about the mutant “cure”. Magneto’s plans for Jean are never really explained as far as I can remember. I also felt like a few times in the movie they were just trying to throw as many mutants in the movie as they could, just for the hell of it.

What I did like were things that were set up in the previous movie and fulfilled. My favorite moment was seeing Ice-man put the smack down on Pyro. That was one hell of a pay off.

Feel like buying the trilogy? Click here:
X-Men Trilogy (X-Men/ X2 - X-Men United/ X-Men - The Last Stand)

Can you sum up autuers in one sentence?

I just started thinking of this just now:
Woody Allen-Highly prolific director whose films center around neurotic brand of humor although he's occasionally experimented

Robert Altman-Specialized in ensemble pieces and genre deconstruction. Played around with story conventions.

Wes Anderson-Characters are usually damaged from past relationships (usually family relationships), rich multisourced visual texture and score

Tim Burton-Specializes in animation or films with a strong emphasis on visual tone. Visual tone is Gothic in nature.

Mel Brooks-Low-brow film parodies

Joel and Ethan Coen-The brothers specialize in dark humor, filmic references to other genres, free association humor, offbeat characters, and evoking a strong sense of place

Sophia Coppolla-Experimental director with a strong feminist perspective

Kevin Costner-Drawn towards epics with a medidative pace

Cameron Crowe-His works are either a celebration of rock music or of a rock-n-roll free-thinking lifestyle. Notable for dialogue

Frank Dabranot-A modern-day Frank Capra, telling uplifting stories with picturesque cinametography. The Mist was somewhat of a deviation from this

Roland Emmerich-Tries to capture large-scale doomsday-like scenarios through telling the individual stories of a cross-section of society

Clint Eastwood-Spans all genres equally, films center around realistic human characters, emotions, and consequences.

John Ford-Specialized in Westerns and pieces set in his home country of Ireland. Although he evolved, his work was generally reinforcing of the American dream

Terry Gilliam-Films generally explore mythology, strong emphasis on his evocative fantasical mise-en-scenes

Christopher Guest-Comedies in an improvizational style with usually the same stock of characters.

Howard Hawks-Crossed genre, but always had strong dialogue and strong male hero characters

Alfred Hitchkock-Specialized in the art of suspense. Could cater style to mysteries, literary adaptations, pure terror films, political thrillers, espionage stories, or black comedies.

Ron Howard-Produces solid middle-brow entertainment which isn't particularly bold or innovative but solid. Specializes in docudramas.

Lasse Hollstrom-Movies resemble flowery, baroque novels

John Huston-Adventurous stories shot in faroff places

Alejandro Inarritu Gonzalu-Uses intertwining stories (usually about 3) to say something profound about the human condition

Charlie Kaufman-Plays around with unconventional storylines

Elia Kazan-Specialized in classic literary adaptations. Socially conscious

Stanley Kramer-Socially-conscious films

Stanley Kubrick-Experimental filmmaker who reinvented each genre he dabbled without being particularly subversive of them

David Lean-Specialized in the epic. He was British and chronicled stories at the fringes of the British empire such as India, Southeast Asia and the Arabian Penninsula.

George Lucas-Films named Star Wars....no seriously, his body of work isn't particularly big, but there's obviously a focus on special effects and a clear interest in myths and drawing on cultural references.

Terrence Malick-Long surrealist mood pieces with emphasis on narration.

Sam Mendes-Works from the inside out: Creates a portrait of a world, then the characters who inhabit it, before moving to story

Anthony Minghellia-Epic-style literary adaptations, delicate novelized treatment of the subject matter

Vincente Minelli-Specializes in musical, stylized, subdued, and colorful tones in mise-en-scene

Mike Nicholls-Usually has good source material to work from, big on literary adaptations, certain comic tones in all of his work, favorite among actors

Sam Peckinpaugh-Bloody, gritty takes on the Western

Otto Premminger-Stark films shot in a noir style through different types of drama. Generally bleak stories commented on societal institutions

Rob Rodriguez-Work marked by creative approaches to action scenes, interest in visual experimentation.

Ridley Scott-Stylized big-budget movies. Equally at ease with sci-fi, historical epic or crime drama, but from the looks of A Good Year, he stumbles in character-centered personal stories.

Kevin Smith-Low-bro self-referencing and pop-culture referencing comedies

Stephen Soderbergh-Often socially conscious and highly experimental in everything from narrational point-of-view to film stock. Considered independent in style

Stephen Spielberg-Although he has made a few historical epics of consequence (Color Purple, Munich, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan), he specializes in blockbusters. Strengths are special effects and storytelling.

Barry Sonnenfeld-Stories with fantasical and imaginative concepts.

Quentin Tarantino-Films influenced by Asian martial arts film but are fused with other elements. Usually a heavy amount of stylized violence is in films.

Lars von Trier-Beleives in stripping down moviemaking of its artificial elements. Also, he is somewhat anti-American.

Peter Weir-Delicate and meditative film style. Good track record of stretching actors past their comfort zones.

Billy Wilder-Could alternate genres but specialized in film noir and subversive comedies with great ability to write dialogue

Rob Zemeckis-Veers toward adventurous and fun stories. Liked to combine different elements technologically and stylistically (An animated rabbit and a mobster story, 3D special effects with mythology, a retarded man with inserted footage of elements in history). Bold visionary.

Ed Zwick-Sophistocated action stories

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Love Guru (2008) Review: Ensemble Problems

Mike Meyers was once unstoppable at the movie theaters whether it was Austin Powers, Wayne's World, or Shrek. When you look at how quickly both audiences and critics passed over The Love Guru so quickly, however, it's pretty clear that the Mike Meyers brand of comedy isn't what it once was. I'm not sure whether the cause is one too many Shreks, the stinging failure of the Cat in the Hat, or maybe his being eclipsed by Will Ferrell and the brat pack, but that's just the way popularity works in Hollywood.

Having had the benefit (or the misfortune, if you look at it that way) of watching it after every other critic has already slammed it, I will go on record as saying that the movie isn't that bad. The basic premise, revolving around the quest of an overly commercialized self-help guru to become famous enough to be a guest on the Oprah Winfrey show through curing a star hockey player of his lovesickness, is one with potential. It's hard to say whether Mike Meyers' comic creation of Guru Pitka even has enough steam to have lasted multiple sketches as a popular character of SNL. His giggly demeanor can be kind of amusing, and his system of acronyms for everything and series of book titles that fit conviniently into conversation are funny in the same way that Austin Powers' non-stop barrage of double entendres are: They wear you down until you're consumed with silliness.

One thing that that is certain is that on Saturday Night Live, Meyers' old breeding ground, he would have had enough help to lift his character off the ground. Meyers doesn't really have any all-stars in his ensemble who can do that. Romany Malco (Weeds, Baby Mama) as the star hockey player of the Toronto Maple Leafs seems largely unaware that he's in a comedy and does little to play off Meyers' persona. Aside from being a black eubonic-speaking hockey player, a sight gag only good the first time you see him, there's nothing he really adds to the humor of the script nor does he do much as a straight man (which dimply requires him to react to Meyers). Justin Timberlake has had his moments on SNL but that was mostly as a result of good writers and the fact that as a pop star he had low expectations. It was a little much to expect him to bring a lot to the table as the second or third-billed star of the film (Did anyone think that him singing Celine Dion or talking about a Quebec Pizza were really that funny?). Verne Troyer is probably in the cast because inserting midget jokes seems to be Mike Meyers' go-to solution for not being able to think of anything funny to write. Jessica Alba is obviously ok as eye candy but someone who can play the leading lady with a little bit more of a tounge-in-cheek angle could have helped. Ben Kingsley was funnier than I expected but what was I expecting of Ben Kingsley to begin with? So in the end, Meyers surrounded himself with friends and novelty items (he became friends with Timberlake from the Shrek movies, for example) and that reeks of just a hint of vanity in thinking he could carry the movie by himself. The only solid role player in the film was John Oliver who's dry wit actually made him quite good as a straight man.

Memoirs of a Giesha: A misleading Oscar winner?

Oscar-winning director Rob Thomas' follow-up to Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) was highly anticipated as all sophomore efforts of Oscar winners are bound to be, so for a while the picture enjoyed a tremendous amount of Oscar buzz, especially since it didn't come out until the last weekend of the year, but as soon as the critics and audiences saw it, they fell out of love with the film rather quickly. It only scored 35% on Rotten Tomatoes and was pretty soon out of the running for best picture or director because it wasn't a good film.

The problem is that Memoirs of a Geisha while not a good film overall had some good elements artistically. Its cinametography, art direction, and costumes won at the oscars, so the film as a result could call itself a 3-time Oscar winner, which put it alongside Crash (the best picture winner) and Brokeback Mountain (the best director winner) as the most successful film of that year on Oscar night.

Does anyone see a problem with this? Memoirs of a Geisha can be marketed as a 3-time oscar winner when the Academy made a clear choice that a number of other films, such as Munich which was nominated for best picture among other awards and one no oscars, was superior.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

15 Best TV shows in post-Seinfeld history

Here's a list I've been working on. Criteria is it must be half-hour format for a sitcom AND I bend the rules a little on when it first came out vs when seinfeld ended, along with best season. I also think about a show when it's at its peak:

1. Arrested Development (2003), S2 or S3
The show has been pretty evenly excellent. The levels of neuroses that the Bluth family is so complex and hillarious at every turn. Seinfeld was about nothing but it had a twisted way from getting to start to finish. Arrested Development has those same kind of disparate story lines that connect, but it has to work through it's own internal logic much more since it has such a complex web of characters (including one of the best arrays of guest stars ever produced over a three-year run). It also has heart (or a sort of satirical version of it). The best thing, however, is that repeat viewings never ever disappoint.

2. The Office (2005), S2
At its peak, The Office was the most relatable show on television and the humor of tension and awkwardness was so masterful. How many shows have you so engrossed in a moment of tension that you're yelling at the TV. The show declined a little as Jim and Pam's romance has become pedestrian, but the Office has wisely expanded its ensemble so that it has characters on the back burner it can throw at the fire to spice things up.

3. 30 Rock(2006) S2
On 30 Rock, Tina Fey writes comedy with such dexterity and precision, that scripts to her show should be used as textbooks to aspiring TV writers because she layers her scripts every kind of comedy imaginable: screwball comedy, anarchic comedy, satire, parody, character-based comedy, rapid-fire-blink-and-you-miss-it dialogue, straight-man-funny-man comedy, self-conscious comedy, etc. The key to the show is Tina's overworked head writer Liz Lemmon being the only basis for normality in this wonderful universe she's created that's ever so slightly off-center.

4. 3rd Rock from the Sun(1997) S1 (technically, this show overlapped with Seinfeld by a season or two).
3rd Rock from the Sun is one of those fish-out-of-water premises like The Beverly Hillbillies that when handled well never gets old. The Solomon family is a family of four in Middle America but they're also a team of aliens sent to Earth to learn more about it. Actors as talented as John Lithgow, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, and Jane Curtain sold the material too.

5. Newsradio (1995): S2 and S3
The best of the Manhattan-based nondescript workplace comedies that came out in the late 90's (Working, Caroline in the City, the Naked Truth, etc. are more examples). Phil Hartman, Andy Dick, Joe Rogan and Vikki Lewis created malleable comic characters that could be funny in any situation you threw them in. Dave Foley and Maura Tierny had a screwball comedy for the ages (not to mention the hilarious sexual tension that arose out of that single sort-of-date between Joe Rogan and Khandi Alexander's characters). Throw in Stephen Root as the least sensible boss ( yet somehow the most successful) and you've got quite a show.

6. Futurama(1999) S2
I think it's safe to say that Matt Greoning's futuristic universe is one I'd like to live in. It looks so neat and it's apparent that the Futurama creators had just as much fun making that universe as you do watching it. Part sci-fi, part satire (a lot of references to 20th century Earth), part comedy, Futurama is a tremendous amount of fun. The characters (particularly Bender) are just a couple of tics away from completely narcisstic and dislikeable but the show has enough heart to overcome these gaps. The episode plots are always highly inventive as they play with the Rosewell incident (what sci-fi show doesn't?), alternate universes, university life in the 30th century, the lost city of Atlanta and more.

7. Spin City(1996) S1
Spin City was definitely not a very progressive sitcom but it made for a great ensemble comedy with fast-slinging dialogue and stinging humor coming from all directions. Michael J. Fox was impeccably cast to his role and made a great comic character and supporting roles by Alan Ruck, Jennifer Esposito, Connie Britton, Michael Boatman, Barry Bostwick, Richard Kind, Alexander Chaplin provided a colorful palette for humor. The show went downhill in later seasons when Fox started being eclipsed by Heather Locklear and eventually replaced by Charlie Sheen. Another source for the decline was when the characters started becoming less believable as city hall employees since they became increasingly goofy and caricatured.

8. Family Guy (1999) S6
When I start downloading an episode on itunes, I have doubts and ask myself, "Is this going to be worth it?" because I continually forget how great this show is. The sheer depth with which Seth MacFarlane and his staff can rip across pop culture is part of the fun, but it wouldn't be the same (for proof of this, just watch Seth MacFarlane's comedy clavacade) without the situational humor of the characters: Especially Brian and Stewie.

9. Just Shoot Me(1999) S3
Another nondescript workplace comedy that often gets overlooked. If I had to pinpoint one thing that makes the show so great, it's how well the five characters complement each other. Each of them has strengths and needs that the other wants. Maya is possessed with intelligence and the ability to think for herself, but she wishes she had the beauty of Nina and the interpersonal skills and love of her father. Jack, highly successful as a businessman and well-liked person among friends, has been successful at everything in life except being a good father. Nina, Elliot and Dennis are all childlike and helpless in different ways and need Jack as a father figure to guide them. What's really great about all of this is that this layer of wants and needs that drives the group together is balanced with a surface-level atmosphere of bickering, put-downs, office pranks, and even people stepping over each other to get ahead. But at the end of the day, it's about how what's most important is the sense of what each person brings to the people around him and the sense of family that's formed. Just Shoot Me is for every straight-A student who wishes she were prettier, every class clown who wishes he would have the respect of the valedictorian, every successful businessman who wished they could connect to their family, every nerd who wishes they could be friends with the prettiest girl in the room, and every overgrown child who wishes their boss could be more like the dad they never had.

10. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005) S4
The last season they really started picking the show up. First off, the show's dialogue is truly one of a kind: The way in which they all start talking over each other and gradually turning practically any civilized situation into complete chaos must be so difficult to write for. I love how these guys are so narcissistic yet so loveable at the same time. I think what's tacitly acknowledged is that the characters have some good qualities: They are, in their own way, more loyal to each other than anyone else is to them and they are unusually ambitious in their quest to better themselves. Of course they wind up screwing each other over by the end of the episode and they do things for the basest of instincts, but don't you want to secretly hang out with them? They are walking and talking affronts to political correctness in society. They're pretty much not afraid to broach anything. In particular, they have a lot of fun mocking the concept of the father figure for some reason.

11. American Dad(2005) S4
The show started out horribly but as it progressed, the writing shifted from political satire to a unique take on the American family sitcom where every cliche is driven to the extreme. Seth MacFarlane, showrunner of Family Guy, took this on as his sophomore project, and shows that he can make you laugh without using cutaways. Of course, like Family Guy, they add in two completely ridiculous additions to the ensemble to shake things up: Klauss, the talking fish, and Roger, the sexually-ambiguous self-involved alien.

12. Aliens in America (2007) S1
The show only lasted one season, unfortunately, but it was truly one of the most astute and painfully self-aware takes on the high school comedy genre I've ever seen. With the addition of Raja, the Pakistani exchange student, the show also doubled as a satire on "Middle American" ignorance.

13. Extras (2005) S1
This was a show like the British counterpart of "The Office" that ran way too short. The concept of fame and how far people are willing to go to obtain it was the source of this comedy about a guy who goes from film to film as an extra in hope of finally being able to break through to an acting career. The appearance of guest stars and the sheer unpredictability of what they would do added to the fun, but the show stood on its own merits as well.

14. 8 Simple Rules (2002) S3
As someone who grew up on family sitcoms, I'm a sucker for the traditional three-camera format and "8 Simple Rules" has been the best family sitcom of the last decade. The show started off particularly generic but when James Garner and David Spade joined the cast, things really started to gel and Katie Segal was already a pro. Again, it wasn't groundbreaking but who needed to expect anything better?

15 (tie). My Name is Earl (2005) S2
Part of the secret of comedy is that its about making us feel good inside, and at times My Name is Earl isn't a sitcom but a parable. At the same time, there's enough comedy in there to mine a sitcom out of due mostly to the solidness of the cast. Jamie Pressley, the bitchy ex-wife, is definitely the high point of the show and she won a deserved Emmy for the show. A lot of the show is making fun of trailer trash or lower income people and the comedy is kind of "look at how dumb these people are," but it's somewhat redeeming that by writing the characters played by minorities, Darnell and Catalina, as the smartest characters.


Big Bang Theory (2007) S2
Like a number of shows, it took a few episodes for the characters to develop and grow on us, but once that happened, Jim Parsons and Jimmy Galecki become pretty addictive as theoretical physicists with varying degrees of social ineptness. Kaley Cuckoo is charming as the girl next door (even though, honestly, how many girls that good-looking would hang around those guys in real life?). One problem is that for all the growth Leonard (Galecki) and Sheldon (Parsons) have made, the two side characters, Raj and Wolfowitz, have stayed pretty one-dimensional. Another one of those shows to watch just to see an example of how good stylized dialogue is written.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The worst wide release film ever


Movies.yahoo.com, took some liberties in proclaiming Delgo the least successful film ever in only 3 days. Animated movies do tend to have a longer shelf life past opening weekend and the drop-off should be lesser.

It's also worth noting that Delgo beat oscar contenders Doubt and Gran Torino.

The key to it? Delgo opened in 2,160 theaters so it's per screen average was incredibly low, only $237. The article suggests that at $237 per screen, assuming it was 5 showings a day at the average ticket price, you'd have something along the lines of 2 people seeing it per showing.

First off, a steady stream of two people per showing isn't that bad, I've seen worse. I'd also imagine since the primary audience was children, that more people saw super-discounted morning showings or matinee which would be cheaper. Lastly, it was such a crowded weekend with Day the Earth Stood Still, Gran Torino, and Doubt coming in, that I doubt Delgo got four showings a day.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mystery Men (1999) review

On the surface, Mystery Men, is a kind of a parody of your classic superheroes and villains. Greg Kinnear plays Captain Amazing, more or less copied off of Batman, he benefits from the comical stupidity of villains, he has an incredibly obvious alter-ego personality who's a billionaire, etc. When Captain Amazing's nemesis captures him, it's up to a group of 2nd-rate superheroes to save the city, played by an ensemble of underrated stars (Well, these days Ben Stiller might be classified as overrated, as he's played the same exact role in Along Came Polly, Duplex, Meet the Parents, AND Starsky and Hutck, but this was back in 1999, so back then this "Mr Furious" kind of persona, was original for him).

Underneath the surface of this movie is kind of a postmodern superhero movie, echoed by the setting, which reminds me of a rust belt city, an aging town marked by decaying downtowns, abandoned amusement parks, a general lack of vibrancy and youth, but a clear picture that the city, was once long ago important. Similarly, the heroes in this movie are people who grew up watching those famous heroes Batman, Superman, Wonderwoman, etc, and are trying to invent catchy names and themes for themselves, and struggle to define themselves in an original way. Of course, as we see in the scene where the Mystery Men are cornered into a back alley by some thugs and start laughing at the thugs for being too cliched in their choice of weapons and costumes before getting the crap beaten out of them, the heroes eventually realize that they have to actually be able to fight in addition to having cool costumes.

However, out of all this comes a moral, which comes to Ben Stiller's character, Mr. Furious, who tries with no luck to pick up a waitress at a diner by impressing her with his superhero persona. For example, he talks about how dangerous the city is and suggests he walk her home because she might need protection, which she obviously doesn't buy. The waitress (Claire Folani) eventually starts liking him, but she plays pretty hard to get, and he only starts getting anywhere with her when he drops the superhero persona and starts being his self, and that's kind of the moral, which i think is a little more all-encompassing than this film. It's all about growing up with certain role models and becoming dissapointed about not living up to them. The other moral kind of comes out of William H. Macy's pep talk when everyone decides to give up, and he establishes that #1, we're not really the best heroes in the world, and #2, however, we are the only guys who can do the job and whether we accept it or not, it's up to us to stop the villain. This kind of touches up on the idea that no one really is asked to be a hero, sometimes they just have a job to do.

Anyway, I think this movie in addition to being both intelligent and hilarious, is really fresh and original. If you've read through this review, and are thinking "huh?", you'll know what I'm talking about, cause just the main idea and so much else in the film are really just so far out there compared to so much else.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Some capsule reviews of 2008

I haven't reviewed as many pictures this year so allow me to hammer out a few mini-reviews for you:
Baby Mama, directed by no one of importance*, written by Tina Fey and Michael McCullers: I just saw this on DVD and I'd rank this up there with For Your Consideration, The Ladykillers, 10000 BC, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, and Barry Levinson's Man of the Year as having among the lowest ratios between level of satisfaction and level of anticipation. Sometimes a reliable brand, be it Christopher Guest, the Coen Brothers, Roland Emmerich, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Barry Levinson, or in this case Tina Fey let you down. On 30 Rock, Tina Fey writes comedy with such dexterity and precision, that scripts to her show should be used as textbooks to aspiring TV writers because she layers her scripts every kind of comedy imaginable: screwball comedy, anarchic comedy, satire, parody, character-based comedy, rapid-fire-blink-and-you-miss-it dialogue, straight-man-funny-man comedy, self-conscious comedy, etc.

With all this in mind, it's near impossible to think that Tina Fey with so many weapons in her arsenal can miss the mark and fail to produce laughter out of us. Baby Mama, however, is a watered-down version of Tina Fey's brilliance. The only truly brilliant comedic creation was courtesy of Steve Martin who plays an incredibly pretentious health nut. The film is supposed to be anchored by Amy Poehler and Tina Fey's buddy comedy antics but the laughs in that area kind of few and far-between with a pretty by-the-book romance between Fey and Greg Kinnear. If Tina Fey is so boldly endeavoring to reinvent the buddy comedy with cross-gender appeal by inserting females in the lead, couldn't we do without a schmaltzy romance?

Slumdog Millionaire: I loved it, but I had no idea that the rest of the critical community would embrace it so, so it is an added thrill to see this film be embraced by The National Board of Review named it film of the year. The rags-to-riches myth that defined the American spirit is transplanted to India (and how ironic that it's an American game show he's playing on). The format of having him answer questions that correspond to his life is mostly just a gimmick to attract people to the story, and by no means a substitute for the story itself, which has so much to offer. For one thing, it's such a tremendous sensory experience, you're just entranced visually but you can almost feel, smell, and taste what the streets of India are like as well. Part of movies is about escapism in a very literal sense. Movies that take you to faraway lands in the spirit of David Lean, John Huston or Douglas Fairbanks (although, to be fair, the latter probably used a lot of sound stages)and I can only think of a couple exceptions for films in this decade that have transported me to another place. Another thing is that this is just a very romantic film. Obviously, there's a lot of killing and misery in the story to make this the date movie of the year, but this boy is willing to do anything for this girl and as a tribute to the actor, he does it in convincing fashion.

Step Brothers: There's a difference between Step Brothers and Baby Mama. Step Brothers is not up to par with the best work of the Will Ferrell-Adam McKay writing team, but it is not like Baby Mama in the sense that it has made me lost faith in the brand. Many critics seem to not know the difference. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby made 7 films together. Would critics have given this film a bigger pass if Will Ferrell and John C Reiley's film were called Talladega Nights II? What I'm getting it is I thought this film was plenty funny and certainly inventive enough. In fact, I stayed in the theater and watched it twice. The big stars of the film are not John C Reilly and Will Ferrell but Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins for holding down straight faces and being convincing as a loving dad and a loving mom of such silly characters. You could insert the characters played by Jenkins and Steenburgen into something like Cheaper by the Dozen or Gilmore Girls and it would still pretty much work.

*The director is Michael McCullers, who also wrote the Austin Powers films, but I don't want to bombard my readers with too much frivolous knowledge. Some directors are important to know and some aren't. The auteur of Baby Mama is Tina Fey.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

7 Reasons why print media trumps the internet

1. Selectivity-I like to know that the people who are writing what I'm reading are all specifically trained to write and have acheived the highest echelon of the world of journalism (i.e. The Washington Post) through experience. I kind of see the upside of everyone being a journalist through web 2.0, but then again that sort of makes no one a journalist (like that guy in the film "The Incredibles" who threatens to end the superhero profession by making everyone a superhero). Well, I still like the idea of journalists out there, and I think that there should be devices out there that seperate the men from the boys. I think there should be a gate keeper of some sort, and I don't believe there was ever much of an unjust barrier of entry to the print media industry to begin with. If you are a good enough writer and have had enough experience, you will make it. I believe all Web 2.0's blogging revolution does is empower the inexperienced and less able.

2. Not a second wasted searching-I don't have to wait a second weeding results through a google search to find pertinent or relevant information. The newspaper divides it up quite nicely into sports, style, metro, international, and national news. And you always know where to find everything.

3. Not too much information, not too little information-I don't want a humongous expose on the state of basketball, nor do i want short sentences littered with pictures, i know what to expect and the newspaper's articles are geared towards stories that you can read within the time your attention span maintains its interest.

4. Knowing what to expect every week-I know that Friday will be movie reviews, Wednesday will be TV ratings right-ups, Sunday will be a style contests, Saturday will be political cartoons. You can also attach yourself to writers like Dana Milbank, Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon and see what new they have to say. Now blogs and website have options where you can subscribe to new posts so I would call this an improvement

5. Mobility-I imagine that with power outages, the monthly costs of cable, connection problems that frequently plague computers, that noone can be completely dependent on the internet today and get that information wherever they go. The newspaper is great to read on the bus, while you're at a restaraunt, in the park, etc. It sort of ruins the mood if you're in the middle of a park and logging onto your laptop.

6. Not looking at a screen-Going along with the mobility reasoning, as the internet becomes more and more prevalent in our lives, we are looking at a screen more often while sitting still. For the sake of the health of your eyes and legs, it is useful not to spend too much time in front of a screen. Now more than ever, as much as I like what the computer and internet can do for me, I see anytime I can spend away from a screen as a good thing for balance's seek

7. I'm promoting a good cause-If I believe that the existence of professional journalists is a good thing (although some of you might disagree), then it's good to support the newspaper with a mere 50 cents a day, which is one of the best bargains around in terms of entertainment value.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

6 Reasons why I'm not looking foward to the new Star Trek film

I've watched a decent amount of Star Trek but I don't really feel like the new film has much to offer. Here are some reasons:
1. Star Trek already had an origin story in the TV series Enterprise as I understand it and I don't believe we need an updating of the characters. There have been a million films exploring the relationship between Kirk and Spock, enough already
2. John Cho plays Sulu and it's hard to picture him as anyone other than the guy who set stereotypes of Asian-Americans on screen back several decades as the lead in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.
3. There appears to be a pretty awkward sex scene in the trailer between Chris Pine's character and someone else. I'm not opposed to sex scenes but it doesn't seem very original Star Trekish. Also, Kirk appears to pick up every girl in sight in the opening couple of scenes. Kirk did have several love interests but he wasn't going out of his way to look for them. He just happily stumbled upon them: Hence the illusion the show created that space exploration is romantic.
4. I'm tired of franchises reinvnenting themselves to make an extra buck. I don't care of it was done well in Batman and James Bond. To me, using the brand name of the franchise with a completely different style of filmmaking reeks of commercial pandering to me. If your movie series has run its course, let it die or reinvent elements within your established framework. I believe a large-scale do over is kind of like cheating.
5. It seems so generic. Captain Kirk is basically made into some James Dean stereotype who's rebellious before he ends up being a devoted captain. Oooh, didn't see that plot twist coming.
6. They're calling it Star Trek. How pretentious is that? Not Star Trek VIII or Star Trek whatever number they are in the series. No they want to erase the memory that there were any Star Trek's before this one.

Arguments for and against movie remakes

This article was ranked #1 on helium.com:

In the last few years, Hollywood has been flooded with so many remakes and sequels that the popular perception that Hollywood is out of original ideas is being rapidly reinforced. With that in mind, if mainstream Hollywood wants to avoid perpetuating the image that its output is overly commercialized and looking in substance, it must be very careful about allowing too many remakes to be greenlit. In addition, the Hollywood studios must be sure that the films are quality pictures and have a good reason to be made.

There are many good reasons to remake a film but a good reason not to is because it seems like an easy money idea because it relies on a familiar brand. Although this is counterintuitive, remakes don't always lead to success at the box office: In the last four years, "The Bad News Bears" grossed an abysmal $32 million, "Invasion" grossed $15 million, "Alfie" grossed $13 million, and "Slueth" grossed less than a million dollars domestically.

As these figures show, films need to have something else to offer beyond the standard "this is a remake" ploy, because that isn't enough to bring viewers in. If a remake isn't that much different than the original than what prevents moviewatchers from just going out and renting the original? So the first thing a remake must do is seperate itself from the original and provide a new take. This could involve updating the remake for modern times. "Manhurian Candidate" for example, replaced the villain from being a Communist military sect to being an oil company with a stake in the affairs of the Persian Gulf, which made a poignant political point. "You've Got Mail" was a loose remake of the 1940's film "Shop Around the Corner" and updated the concept of two penpals in love to two email pals in love.

The present state of filmmaking also offers greater opportunities than the past so there is also the ability to do more in the present. For example, Peter Jackson's version of King Kong was a resounding success because it was able to attract the best actors of its day and it was able to employ 21st century special effects into the story. At the same time, the limited ability of the past might also be the appeal of the story. The 2003 film "Down with Love" is a loose remake of the screwball 1960's comedies of Doris Day and Rock Hudson it sought to make use of the fact that more sexually explicit dialogue can be used today, but the film came off as an unspired because the charm of the originals were there innocence.

However, the best way to avoid issues of comparison that plague reviews and attendance figures is not to make remakes of popular films. They were already done great the first time so why fix something that isn't broken? Some remakes attempt to realize the potential of a subpar film within a great genre. Examples incluide Casino Royale from the Bond genre, 3:10 to Yuma for the Western genre, or the Shaggy Dog from Disney films. Other remakes do a great service by reintroducing younger audiences to an underwatched classic such as "Guess Who" (remade after the 1967 social issues' film "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?"), "Sabrina," "The Manchurian Candidate" or the Adam Sandler film "Mr Deeds" (based off of the Frank Capra film "Mr. Deeds goes to Town")

Remakes are a tricky minefield to navigate but if the filmmakers because they have already lost points for originality, but there is room for at least a couple of them a year if the filmmakers have purpose and passion behind them,