Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10

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Location: milwaukee, wi

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Hot Rod (Akiva Schaffer, 2007)

On the surface, Hot Rod looks like another bad Saturday Night Live spin-off. When I picked up a free preview screening pass at a record store yesterday for a showing yesterday night, I was pretty psyched (free movie and all), but not expecting great things. I think these past two seasons of Saturday Night Live, the last one especially, have been really solid all-around, but Andy Samberg is not one of my favorite cast members. I was expecting a quasi-funny, broad, stupid comedy, but what I got was a funny, broad, stupid comedy with surprising brains and teeth. Apparently the original script was written for Will Ferrell in his SNL heyday, but Lorne Michaels held onto it until he found a talent to star in it. Samberg is really perfect in the role as enthusiastic man-child Rod Kimball, who decides to save his dying stepfather (so he can kick his ass in a fight) by jumping fifteen school buses on his moped.

Everything about the movie, from the premise to the soundtrack to the awesome posters, very deliberately evokes 80s comedies, but when was the last time you saw an uplifting montage turn into an incredibly violent riot? Or a grilled cheese fighting with a taco? Samberg and the other Lonely Island guys (one co-starring, one directing, and all three having rewritten the script) inject 21st century humor into the retro concept, with pretty solid results. Sure, Samberg falls down a hill, but he falls and falls and falls and falls and keeps falling for about thirty seconds until you have to laugh. All the acting is pretty good; Samberg does smirk and pose a bit too much for my tastes, but Bill Hader, along with Jorma Taccone (a Lonely Island guy) and Danny McBride, are pitch-perfect as Rod's crew. Isla Fisher is cute and likeable, as always. Will Arnett and Chris Parnell both have funny, though too-brief cameos.

Watching the movie, I realized this is the first major film by people who have been influenced by movies like Anchorman and Wet Hot American Summer. Maybe that's why I liked this movie surprisingly much, because the filmmakers and stars are coming from the same place I am. The fact that Rod is a stupid, and even mean-spirited at times, hero, takes the film out of total cliche territory and brings something new to the retro-nostalgia genre. Even though the humor is just too broad for me at times, I definitely recommend this movie.


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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sicko (Michael Moore, 2007)

If you had asked me five years ago what I thought of Michael Moore, I wouldn't have been so complimentary. I would have said (and would still say most of it) that he's a pompus, pig-headed, blowhard who won't listen to a word against him. Five years later, with the administration as it is, the fallout from the war in Iraq and countless other scandals, and the advent of Fox Noise Channel (thank you Keith Olbermann), Michael Moore is nowhere near as revolting as his counterparts on the other side, and I appreciate his existence in stirring the pot. His new film Sicko deals with an issue I am incredibly passionate about, the American health care system, and, in particular, the for-profit insurance industry. There are countless testimonials from people who have been screwed over by insurance companies; Moore put out a call for such stories on his website and got all sides of the story, from people working for the companies to those who have been ill or have had families members become ill.

The most interesting part of Moore's process, to me, was the fact that he didn't make the film about the uninsured, but rather the people who, if you asked, would say they have good insurance, and are happy with their lots in life. The middle-class, those who think they have achieved the American Dream. It's impressive the way that Moore attempts to shake us violently out of our middle-class rut, and while many of the stories are absolutely infuriating and heart-wrenching, it's not a complete success. After the film, I was in a bad mood and sent rambling text messages to a few friends along the lines of "How can we treat people this way?!", and while I still am angry about the issue, Moore gives little to no solutions. Perhaps that isn't his role; he is just delivering the message and leaving it up to the audience to change things for themselves. But that role leaves the audience depressed and angry leaving the theater - I could have used a bit of hope along with hearing about how great Canada, France, and Cuba's systems are.

I'm still not a Moore acolyte, and I definitely think this film has major problems, but it redeems itself in my eyes by taking on an industry that is protected in this country today; even the more liberal politicians (Hillary Clinton) have taken money from the insurance industry. Now, all we need is to do something about it.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Holy Mountain (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1973)

If you had told me that I would love a film whose plot points included a reenactment of the conquest of Mexico by frogs, turning excrement into gold, a pet snake who wears a sweater, and a beautiful woman who has a constant monkey companion, I would probably have been insulted. Avant-garde filmmaking always treads that thin line between making a point (maybe) and being unintentionally funny, but Alejandro Jodorowsky, in his cult classic The Holy Mountain, portrays all those things and more in a way that is clever, meaningful, and exceptionally beautiful.

The plot centers around a thief who is crucified, but doesn't die and instead meets up with an alchemist and a group of eight others who are seeking the secrets of immortality. But the plot says little to nothing about the film itself, which is, without a doubt, the most beautiful I've ever seen.

The entire movie made my jaw drop, in its audacity and gorgeous visuals, and it ends by pulling back the curtain on the filmmaking process. Jodorowsky, whose Fando & Lis I really enjoyed, really hit it out of the park with this one. This film deserves the beautiful transfer the DVD has to offer, and the (too-brief) extras are entertaining. If you love avant-garde film, or if you don't, I definitely suggest watching The Holy Mountain. It will surprise you, and it might even leave you speechless.


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Thursday, July 12, 2007


I'm as surprised as anyone that I've been sucked into the JJ Abrams top-secret project with the code name Cloverfield. I mean, I'm certainly not a fan of Felicity, or Alias, or Armageddon, or MI:III, and I have to admit I've never really given Lost a chance (although now I want to). But this thing has a grip on me, and has for the last week and a half. If you don't know about it (I'm going to doubt there are many internet geeks who don't by now), check out the wikipedia page for info.

So, now that we know the Ethan Haas websites don't have anything to do with Cloverfield, and that has been found, what do we have? Well, nothing. At least, nothing more than Abrams wants us to have. Every speculation centers around the fact that Abrams (producing, although he's known to take control of productions) will be adapting already created material for the screen (such as Cthulhu - which I'm still cheering for - or Godzilla, which has been pretty well debunked), and while I do think that's a possibility, I also think that's only because if we were to assume it's something Abrams and crew made up, we'd have nowhere to go. So while Cthulhu and countless other things would be cool, I'm beginning to hope more and more that this is an original (though possibly based on something) monster/whatever, because then we can be shocked in the theater.

New, cryptic pictures are being posted regularly on the official site, which make this project scarier every time something new appears. The last photo, people running in a cloud of bright fog, is obviously reminiscent of 9/11 - what a bold choice in graphic! The pure obliviousness in the first photo, compared to the terror evoked in the other two, is remarkable. In short, everything JJ Abrams is doing for this film is sucking me in completely. I can only hope this keeps up for the next six months.

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