Thursday, June 30, 2005

Movies opening this week

Ladies in Lavender (Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Daniel Bruhl, dir. Charles Dance)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
It seems like whenever they make one of these "let's put two legendary actors together on-screen" movies, they put all the faith in the actors and don't pay much attention to the script. There is a certain pleasure in watching Dench and Smith together on-screen, and if that's the only pleasure you're looking for, then you'll probably like this movie. The first half is dry and droll, but then it just kind of falls apart, and watching two great actors just wasn't enough for me. Opened limited Apr. 29; in Las Vegas this week

War of the Worlds (Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, dir. Steven Spielberg)
I have to admit: I am not much of a Spielberg fan. I have hazy memories of enjoying Jaws and E.T. and the Indiana Jones movies and even Hook when I was a kid, but I haven't seen any of those in a long time, and the Spielberg movies I've seen in more recent times have not done much for me. At best, they've offered some engaging escapism, but even Saving Private Ryan didn't do much to move me emotionally. I thought three of Spielberg's last four films (The Terminal, Minority Report, A.I.) were mediocre to bad, and although I liked Catch Me if You Can, it was certainly more on the mild escapist end of things.

The theme this week seems to be movies with strong first halves and weak follow-through; I thought the first hour of War of the Worlds was excellent, scary and exciting and genuinely breathtaking. Once Cruise and Fanning find themselves in a basement with Tim Robbins, though, the movie loses steam, and it never really picks its momentum back up. The ending, as widely noted in nearly every review, is a cop-out that undermines the darkness and seriousness of the rest of the film. Even so, this is the best big summer movie I've seen this year; the special effects are the best you will see anywhere and are used to augment the story, not overwhelm it. There are giant plot holes and motifs stolen from Signs and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but on the whole, this is one movie that's lived up to most of its hype. Wide release

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Goodbye, cruel Real World

I will not be watching tonight's second episode of The Real World's 16th season, filmed in Austin, Texas. After watching last week's season premiere, I finally had to step back and break the cycle. I have been watching this show for half of my life. Although I lapsed a little bit in the 10th season (Back to New York), I have seen virtually every episode, of which there are 342 at the moment. I would guess that I have seen over 300 episodes of The Real World, far more than of any other show I've ever watched. I remember watching early seasons and thinking in a strange way that it would be interesting to be on The Real World, back when people sort of like me were actually on the show, and then dismissing the thought because there was no way that the show would still be on the air when I was old enough (18) to be a cast member. I'm now too old to be a cast member (the maximum age is 24) and the damn thing is still on the air.

I hate the thought of reminiscing about the good old days - and it's not like The Real World was ever particularly brilliant in the first place - but the show has seriously declined in recent years, thanks to a number of factors. The cast members on the show are now of a generation who (like me) grew up watching The Real World. They know what is expected of them and how best to maximize their airtime. MTV, in turn, has encouraged the attention-grabbing antics by putting them all on-air. It's a vicious cycle. Where the show once cast a mix of superficial and thoughtful young people, people with their own independent lives and goals in life, it now casts almost exclusively hard-partying, empty-headed, sexually predatory people who look like models. The show quarantines the cast, not allowing them access to TV or most outside sources of information, and having them all work together in the same place rather than pursue their own interests. The Real World was, most likely, never strictly "real," but it has become less and less so as time has passed.

The sameness is only emphasized by MTV's greed in producing more than the standard 22 episodes per season, and, in recent years, airing two seasons of the show in one year. This is the show's 16th season but only its 13th year on the air. The last few installments have increasingly focused on the cast members going out every night and getting drunk, hooking up with each other and fighting excessively. The Austin season premiere was a microcosm of the last few seasons, with the roommates getting drunk at bars, getting into fights, hooking up and having a run-in with the cops, all in a single episode. The shallow nature of recent cast members and the show's own fame have worked to create an atmosphere in which residents of whatever city the show invades constantly harass cast members whenever they're in public, and security has to follow roommates whenever they're out on the town.

The days are long gone when former Real World-ers went on to become cultural critics (New York's Kevin Powell), comic book creators (San Francisco's Judd Winick) or even respectable actresses (London's Jacinda Barrett). Nowadays the most common career for a Real World alum is as a professional reality show participant, appearing over and over on the endless Real World/Road Rules challenges or, like Las Vegas's Trishelle, on various other demeaning reality show ventures. It may have been a product of MTV, but The Real World was once a genuine reflection of the lives and struggles of college and post-college age young people in America. These days it's only a distorted reflection of itself, and it's time for me to finally look away.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Weekend viewing

Mad Hot Ballroom (Marilyn Agrelo, 2005)
I think I have a fundamental flaw when it comes to my ability to appreciate this movie: I hate children. Since almost the entire appeal of this documentary is in the cuteness of the pre-adolescent children learning ballroom dancing, I was very much underwhelmed. Agrelo skirts some socio-economic issues but doesn't delve too deeply into them, and she doesn't create the kind of suspense or build up the distinctive characters of a movie like Spellbound. Very few of the kids were given enough screen time to be individually memorable, and I couldn't tell which of the three schools Agrelo follows we were seeing at a given time until two of them were eliminated from the competition. Yes, it's cute, and mildly amusing, but not much more so than a newsmagazine segment, and not quite worthy of all its glowing reviews.

It's Alive (Larry Cohen, 1974)
This strikes me as very much in step with the kind of movies David Cronenberg was making in the 1970s, although Cohen has a much more B-movie, whatever works, camp sort of style. But like Cronenberg's 70s work (Shivers, Rabid, especially The Brood), this film (about a killer mutant infant) deals with the horrors of being betrayed by one's own flesh, and the kind of awful things that modern medicine can wreak on an unsuspecting populace. Cohen is known for being campy (the only other movie of his I've seen is The Stuff, about killer mutant ice cream), but this is surprisingly grim and straightforward. The effects are obviously cheap, but Cohen hides that by showing only glimpses of the monster. It's actually sort of slow for a horror movie, and not all that scary, but it deals with some fairly complex themes that are ahead of its time (those Cronenberg movies actually all came later).

Sunday, June 26, 2005

New comics 6/22

Astro City: The Dark Age #1 (Kurt Busiek/Brent Anderson, DC/Wildstorm)
Busiek starts an epic Astro City story, 16 issues broken up into four four-issue chapters, about a dark time in the city's history in the 1970s. It's much less optimistic than most of Busiek's AC stories, and it seems that has turned some people off, but to me it's only natural that Busiek would approach this sort of material eventually, and there's still the sense of awe and wonder that his AC stories have. He takes a look at how that awe and wonder has a darker flipside, though, and after the relatively sunny Local Heroes mini, I think this is an interesting direction to take.

Dream Police #1 (J. Michael Straczynski/Mike Deodato, Marvel/Icon)
Wow, was this ever terrible. I didn't really know what to expect from this issue - I didn't even know when I picked it up whether it was an ongoing series or a mini or what (it's actually just a one-shot), and while I've liked some of Straczynski's work (Midnight Nation), I've had little interest in most of his Marvel stuff. The concept here is that a pair of hard-boiled cops (one is called Joe Thursday, har har) patrol the "dreamscape," regulating problems in people's dreams. It seems like an okay idea, but Straczynski goes with this weird deadpan comedy approach that does not work in the slightest. The story is just a bunch of terrible groan-worthy jokes that are all dream-related, and it just goes on and on forever. The deadpan tone gets old after a few pages, and the concept is played out even quicker. Deodato's dark, moody art, while very nice, is completely wrong for the book's tone. As a six- or eight-page short in an anthology, this might have been amusing enough, but as a longer than full-length comic, it's seriously painful to read.

House of M #2 (Brian Michael Bendis/Olivier Coipel, Marvel)
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...I'll probably buy the rest of your stupid mini-series. Yes, I am a total sucker for reading this, since yet again this issue offers nothing you couldn't glean from the previews or solicitation copy. In the new Marvel universe, mutants are in charge, and Bendis takes a tour of this alternate reality, showing what familiar characters are up to in their new situations. It's amusing enough (as long as you're familiar with a large number of Marvel characters), but I've read tons of similar alternate-world stories that pretty much accomplish the same thing. The last couple of pages finally get to what is presumably the engine that will drive the story - Wolverine figures out that something is not right - but at this point we are a quarter of the way through the series and still in the set-up phase. This whole event has been a huge disappointment.

Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere #1 (Mike Carey/Glenn Fabry, DC/Vertigo)
I never would have picked this up if it hadn't come from the DC publicity office. I've never read Gaiman's original Neverwhere novel, and I only read American Gods because I got a free copy when I worked at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. I thought Gods was mediocre, and Gaiman has never really done much for me. This issue, the first of a nine-issue series adapting Neverwhere, sets up a shadow world of fantasy in London, pretty much a standard sort of thing I'd expect from Gaiman. Carey struggles with adapting the novel to comics, using way too many narrative captions to just dump info, and if I really cared about the story I'd probably be better off just reading the novel anyway.

Noble Causes #11 (Jay Faerber/Fran Bueno, Image)
Just after I complained last issue that the alien adventure plotline was dragging on way too long, Faerber manages to tie it to the body-swap plotline and throw in some revelations about Gaia in the process. A very satisfying issue, plus the awful Opposites Attack back-up strip mercifully comes to an end, and Faerber promises more NC content in future issues. The plans for the upcoming storylines that he describes in the letters page also sound very promising. I'm excited for what's coming up.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Movies opening this week

Bewitched (Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Michael Caine, dir. Nora Ephron)
I have a serious love for the old Bewitched TV show, which I watched all the time on Nick at Nite when I was a kid. I think Samantha Stephens was a big part of my sexual awakening; I'm writing an essay on her sexual allure for next week's Las Vegas Weekly. I've been watching old episodes of the show on DVD and on TV Land to prepare for the essay, and while the show certainly isn't brilliant and often comes across as dated, it does have a fairly sophisticated wit at times, and a complex take on gender politics in its own way. Not so this movie, which is a blah Ephron romantic comedy dressed up with a few bits of magic and an annoyingly convoluted meta premise. I suppose Ephron deserves credit for trying something other than a straight translation of the TV show, but the show-within-a-movie format only opens up a bunch of plot holes. Kidman and Ferrell (basically playing a slight variation on his Anchorman "arrogant asshole celebrity who gets anything he wants" persona) have less than no chemistry, and Ephron totally misses what made the core relationship on the show work, which was that Darrin and Samantha were married and were partners. As TV adaptations go, it could have been worse (and it's better than Kidman's last "comedy," The Stepford Wives), but it still misses the mark. Wide release

Land of the Dead (Simon Baker, Asia Argento, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, dir. George A. Romero)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I hope I don't get any hate mail on this one like I did on Batman Begins and Revenge of the Sith. Romero fans are another subculture who can be very, um, vocal. And I am definitely a Romero fan, which is why I was so disappointed in how generic and pedestrian this movie is. I love Night of the Living Dead, I love Dawn of the Dead, I like Day of the Dead. I like zombie movies. And as a zombie movie, this is okay. It's got some good gore and a couple of decent scares. But it's totally sterilized, and I think a lot of people are just nostalgic for the (admittedly great) things that Romero used to do when they give this a good review. Wide release

Monday, June 20, 2005

Weekend viewing

Well, actually pre-CineVegas viewing, but I'm only now getting around to writing about it.

California Split (Robert Altman, 1974)
Since the last Altman movie I watched was 3 Women, I was kind of relieved that this is more of the kind of Altman movie I expect. Not that it's formulaic, but it's got the character-driven focus, overlapping, loose dialogue and naturalistic acting I've come to expect from an Altman movie. It's also really, really good, and a shame that it's not considered among Altman's masterpieces. Elliott Gould and George Segal are excellent as a pair of degenerate gamblers who, well, gamble degenerately. There's not much in the way of plot, but the characters are drawn so perfectly, and Gould and Segal (who've become sitcom caricatures in their late careers) are so excellent at capturing the characters that the movie is touching and fascinating even when (especially when, really) nothing happens.

Le Petit Soldat (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)
Godard's second movie, and you can see a lot of what would later lead to themes in movies like Breathless and My Life to Live. The political subject matter kept it out of French theaters for three years, but what was more interesting to me was the volatile relationship between the main characters, a mercurial criminal and a sensitive, needy woman (sound familiar?). Also contains the famous quote "Cinema is truth 24 times a second." It's always strange to hear something in context that you've read so many times before out of context.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

CineVegas wrap-up

This was my third year covering the festival, and I managed to see 16 movies in nine days, five more than I saw last year. Of course, there were still plenty of movies that I missed out on, including ones that were intriguing but I just couldn't fit into my schedule, and others that I heard buzz on and would have liked to see but I was already committed to movies I agreed to review in advance. Overall, the festival gets bigger every year, and it's heartening in a town like this to see almost every screening completely packed, and tons of people walking around with locals passes or tickets that they bought rather than just filmmakers, press and sponsors. At the same time, the increased popularity means that some screenings were very hard to get into. I got in line an hour before showtime on a number of popular screenings, many of which only showed one time. I think one of the problems is that the festival is in this in-between phase where it's not yet popular enough to attract an audience based solely on the movies it premieres, so the organizers make deals with distributors to show popular movies from other festivals, but then those deals probably don't allow for more than one showing.

I was disappointed that the best movies I saw - The Aristocrats, Hustle & Flow, Murderball - were all those aforementioned festival favorites that all have distribution already. I'm glad I saw them, and it's good to have them in the festival, but I could see them all when they're released in Vegas over the next couple of months. What I'd really love to see at a festival like this is random obscure movies that are good that I'd never see otherwise. But most of the premieres and movies without distribution that I saw were either bad or mediocre at best. The most interesting was Buy It Now, a strange combination of pseudo-documentary and traditional narrative, whose first half was amazingly good and whose second half just kind of ruined what came before it. Still, the overall effect was a little underwhelming, and none of the other smaller films came even close to that level of quality. I think I might have just picked the wrong movies to review - I heard buzz about a number of smaller movies that I didn't get to see - and next year I should maybe strike a better balance between seeing unknown films and ones that I've heard things about but could catch later in regular release.

I was also disappointed that Standing Still and Vegas Baby, the two films that were produced by local production company Insomnia Entertainment, were so terrible. Unlike most local filmmakers, Insomnia has real financial backers and professional movie people, and they were able to attract some actual mid-level name actors for their two movies and afford pretty high production values. But both movies are poorly written and sloppily edited, and Vegas Baby in particular is just awful, a slapdash juvenile comedy that looks like something you'd find in the cut-out bin at Blockbuster. It's unfortunate that essentially the one local production company with enough money and experience to make real movies with a chance of national distribution is turning out such uninspired crap. After writing negative reviews of both movies, I got an irate e-mail from the head of the company and producer of both movies, calling me "another jealous reporter" and "just a very small time local writer who obviously has some serious jealously [sic] issues." Like nearly everyone who writes me hate mail about a review, he accused me of knowing nothing about movies and being jealous of people who make them. Sadly, his e-mail was about as original as his films.

I learned this year that staying for post-film Q&A sessions is always a bad idea. Toward the beginning of the festival I left before the Q&As because I had to get to another movie quickly or I just thought the film was bad and didn't care what the director had to say about it. But I made the mistake of sticking around for the Q&A for Buy It Now, and after two or three questions I couldn't take it anymore. The kinds of people who ask questions at these things end up telling their entire life story or spending three mintues formulating some obscure question designed to show off how erudite they are that the director then can't even answer. It's painful. Even the awards presentations that I went to - one for Christopher Walken and one for Wim Wenders - were pretty much wastes of time, as the discussions were mostly awkward and unilluminating. Of course I skipped any and all parties and again affirmed my philosophy that I just want to watch movies and not talk to anybody.

On the positive side, one of my favorite films from last year's festival and winner of the Grand Jury Prize, The Talent Given Us, is finally getting a limited release. It opened in New York this week and will be heading to other cities eventually, although there is no word whether it will open in Vegas yet. Roger Ebert just raved about it on his show this week (although Roeper gave it a thumbs down), and it seems to be getting mostly positive reviews. More than anything else, I think, the commercial and critical success of a movie that premiered at CineVegas and won its Grand Jury Prize will help bring legitimacy to the festival.

New comics 6/15

Cable & Deadpool #16 (Fabian Nicieza/Patrick Zircher, Marvel)
This is a sort of placeholder issue before next issue's House of M crossover, with Deadpool traveling to some random alternate realities to look for Cable and...not finding him. Not a whole lot going on here, but still manages to be fairly entertaining.

Captain Gravity and the Power of the Vril #4-5 (Joshua Dysart/Sal Velluto, Penny-Farthing Press)
I missed the fourth issue when it came out, so I caught up with both issues this week. It's still a fun, old-fashioned superhero story, but I'm starting to think that six issues was too long for this story. The plot definitely drags here, and Dysart is starting to lose my interest. It gets bogged down in too much seriousness, and once again I look at the parody ads in the back and think that they should have added some of that sense of humor to the story. The central character remains interesting in that he's insecure in his abilities as a hero, and Velluto's art is great as always. I'm just definitely ready for the wrap-up next issue.

Ex Machina #12 (Brian K. Vaughan/Tony Harris, DC/Vertigo)
Vaughan starts the new storyline off well, with a mysterious new villain who has ties to Mitchell's past. I like the way that Vaughan has made Mitchell unique in a world without superheroes, so I'm a little wary of his introducing another super-powered character, but this looks like the start of another involving mystery. The politics sort of take a back seat in this issue, and the idea of the mayor serving jury duty seems to have less potential than legalizing gay marriage, but next issue promises to amp things up a little.

G.L.A. #3 (Dan Slott/Paul Pelletier, Marvel)
It seems like Slott is just getting started on establishing some long-term plotlines, but the series wraps up next issue. With its fun sense of humor and love for obscure bits of the Marvel universe, this would make for a great ongoing series, but I think it's selling dismally, so my guess is next issue is the last we'll see of these characters for a while.

Mnemovore #3 (Hans Rodionoff & Ray Fawkes/Mike Huddleston, DC/Vertigo)
Rodionoff and Fawkes have progressed from vaguely creepy things happening to some full-blown weird shit, and it mostly works, although they're getting to the point where they need to explain what's going on or it's all going to fall apart. Less scary now that there's more action, but still intriguing.

Powers #11 (Brian Michael Bendis/Michael Avon Oeming, Marvel/Icon)
Bendis has really written himself into a corner with this issue, as he notes on the letters page. I like that while a lot of the first volume was all about Walker, this volume is turning out to be all about Pilgrim, and given how extensively we explored Walker's angst, it's nice to see her getting her due. I am a little concerned as to where Bendis is going with this storyline and that he's making Pilgrim into such a dark character that she won't be fun to read about anymore, but if there's one thing this book has always done, it's shake things up, so I imagine this will all lead to something interesting in the end. The pacing in this issue is padded to the max and perfect fodder for Bendis-haters, but I thought that the series of wordless pages did a good job of conveying the depth of Pilgrim's pit of anger.

Vimanarama #3 (Grant Morrison/Philip Bond, DC/Vertigo)
With this concluding chapter coming a few months late, the story has lost a bit of steam, and Morrison once again seems lost in a sea of his own weird ideas. At the same time, he manages to make the central love story grounded and real, and the best scenes are between Ali and Sofia when they just have little conversations. Bond admirably illustrates all the weird shit that Morrison comes up with, and unlike Seaguy I wasn't completely lost at the end, but ultimately this series doesn't come close to the power of something like We3.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Movies opening this week

Batman Begins (Christian Bale, Katie Holmes, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, dir. Christopher Nolan)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I am definitely in the minority in not liking this one, which is surprising to me. Not so much that having a negative opinion is the minority - this is the kind of movie that is so dour and self-important that critics starved for substance are bound to take it seriously - but that I have that opinion in the first place. This was probably the summer movie I was most looking forward to, being a comic book fan, a Chris Nolan (or at least Memento) fan and a fan of previous Batman movies (the Tim Burton ones). The trailers looked great to me. But I came away disappointed. It's not horrible, and I suppose you have to applaud a movie like this for being ambitious enough to take itself seriously at all, but it's so concerned with realism and respectability that it ends up being mind-numbingly dull. I much prefer a movie like Spider-Man 2, which manages to be both fun and meaningful, often within the same beat. Wide release

Kontroll (Sandor Csanyi, Zoltan Mucsi, Csaba Pindroch, dir. Nimrod Antal)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
A definite style-over-substance sort of deal, but what style. Like a Hungarian version of a David Fincher film, only more obtuse (but in a good way). Much more satisfying than Batman Begins. Opened limited Apr. 1; in Las Vegas this week

Saturday, June 11, 2005

New comics 6/8

Fables #38 (Bill Willingham/Mark Buckingham, DC/Vertigo)
Buckingham really shines in this issue with his depiction of the capital city of the Homelands. It's got amazing detail and appropriate epic scope. We get another step closer to finding out who the Adversary is, and the seemingly invincible Boy Blue finally meets his match. Another excellent issue.

Gravity #1 (Sean McKeever/Mike Norton, Marvel)
Marvel launches another great teen book, this one focusing on a novice superhero in New York City. It doesn't have the innovative premise of Runaways or the ties to established characters of Young Avengers, but it's firmly grounded in the Marvel universe, making nice use of former New Warrior Rage (the New Warriors are everywhere this week) and the general superhero atmosphere of Marvel New York. It reminds me strongly of Kurt Busiek's Astro City, but not in a rip-off way; it just has the same grounded tone mixed with a sense of wonder and anchored by a likeable main character. Norton's art is clean and bright, perfect for this traditional superhero style. A really good beginning.

New Warriors #1 (Zeb Wells/Skottie Young, Marvel)
I imagine that a lot of hardcore New Warriors fans are upset about this book (they're probably much more pleased with Rage's appearance in Gravity). It does make some serious changes to the concept and look of the characters, but at the same time Wells does a good job writing them consistently with how they've been portrayed in the past, and even making nods to Warriors continuity. While I enjoyed the original Warriors series and I love the concept of a team of C-list teen heroes, I'm not such a purist that I didn't like Jay Faerber's revival a few years ago, or that I can't like this new series. Wells puts the Warriors on a reality TV show where they help people around the country, and Young's kinetic, graffiti-influenced style has the characters looking like they've never looked before. At the same time, Wells knows how silly his concept is, and uses that as part of the plot. The Warriors are suspicious of Night Thrasher's motives for putting them on TV, and it seems like there is more than meets the eye here. Young's style is different, sure, but he uses classic designs for most of the characters, and the Warriors were theoretically always about youth anyway. On top of that, the issue is funny and tells a complete done-in-one story. Hardcore fans can scoff, but it's a pretty good return for the Warriors as far as I'm concerned.

The Pulse #9 (Brian Michael Bendis/Michael Lark, Marvel)
I am so bored with this book. This issue, the Secret War crossover finally wraps up, we learn absolutely nothing of interest, Bendis continues to turn Jessica into a helpless whiner, demonstrates how much better she was in Alias when he could use swear words, and writes Wolverine way out of character (or so it seemed to me). Next issue? A House of M crossover. That's five straight issues of crossover. I'm pretty sure House of M only lasts one issue, but if the next storyline isn't fantastic, I'm done.

X-Men #171 (Peter Milligan/Salvador Larroca, Marvel)
I said I would drop this book if Milligan's first story arc wasn't any good, and it wasn't, really, but I'm still here. And now this issue is all about the overwrought romantic tensions that Chuck Austen created and that I totally don't care about, plus introduces a lame new femme fatale character with the awful name Foxx (Milligan must love X's; there's also a new character in this issue named Onyxx). Still, Larroca's art is always nice, and Milligan is a better writer than Chris Claremont, and with Astonishing X-Men on such an erratic schedule, this is really the only monthly X-Men fix I get. I should drop it, but I might stick around a little while longer.

Friday, June 10, 2005


Today is the first day of the CineVegas film festival, which I'll be spending the next nine days covering exhaustively for Las Vegas Weekly. You can check out all my reviews as they are written (as well as those from other LVW contributors) here, and I'll try to post an update or two on the general festivities, what's good, what's interesting, and so on. This is as close to Sundance as we get here in Vegas, and it's actually grown to be a respectable festival. Dennis Hopper is the official figurehead, and actually shows up at many of the screenings. Other celebrities make appearances, and this year includes a few exclusive events that are worth notice, including the world premiere of Land of the Dead, and awards presentations to George Romero, Nicolas Cage, Samantha Morton, Christopher Walken, Wim Wenders and Ann-Margret. I'll probably be dead by the time the thing is over, but it should be a good time.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Movies opening this week

High Tension (Cécile de France, Maiwenn Le Besco, Philippe Nahon, dir. Alexandre Aja)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I find it interesting that relatively few reviews of this movie seem to be mentioning its obvious homophobic subtext. Granted, I have mostly skimmed blurbs on Rotten Tomatoes, not perused every review, but to me it came across so strongly that there was no way I could ignore it. Maybe it's because it comes out with the plot twist at the end, or maybe people just don't see it. I don't know. It really bothered me, though, because until that twist (which also sort of invalidates a lot of the action and just plain doesn't make sense), I thought this movie was great, exactly the kind of horror movie I wish we had more of. It was simple and brutal, not overburdened with plot, and very exciting. The middle part still has those strengths, but the end left me so conflicted that I'm still not sure whether to recommend the film or not. Wide release

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Vince Vaughn, dir. Doug Liman)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
This seems to be shaping up to be a love-it-or-hate-it film, and I'm definitely in the love it camp. This is probably the funniest and sexiest movie I've seen in a long time, and while the plot holes are massive, the story gets the basic things it needs to do done right. Some people are seeing it as a suburban satire or a critique of consumerist culture; Karina Longworth at Cinematical called it "almost Bunuelian," and Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly offered this great assessment: "The film reckons that it's only by trashing the paradigm (and literally blowing up the McMansion) that we'll finally start seeing the other person for who they really are." I think they may be overstating it a bit, but any movie that allows for those kinds of freewheeling interpretations and is still giddily entertaining must be doing something right. Wide release

I am huge in Canada

For the last couple of months, I have been appearing weekly on the Charles Adler radio show, a Canadian talk show based in Winnipeg and airing on the radio station CJOB. Once again showing the strange power of the internet, Adler's producer, who is originally from Las Vegas, found a two-year-old story I wrote about stops on I-15 between Los Angeles and Vegas and asked me to come on the show to talk about it (why people in Canada care about roadside stops in the California desert, I'm not quite sure). Apparently my appearance went over well, and I told the producer I'd be happy to come on again if they ever needed any expertise on Vegas. I also mentioned that I was a movie critic, but I figured that if they wanted a movie critic, there must be someone at whatever local papers they have in Winnipeg.

Apparently not, since they had me on the following week, and every week since, to talk about new releases. I am highly amused to be a fixture on "Manitoba's Information Superstation," and somewhat horrified to find that people are actually paying attention to me and remembering what I've said from week to week. A few weeks ago I ended up taking calls from annoyed (but polite; remember, they are Canadian) Star Wars fans. It's all very surreal, especially sitting on the phone at my desk in Vegas and sometimes forgetting that I am being broadcast to all of greater Manitoba. I'm usually on at 3:30 Eastern/12:30 Pacific on Fridays, and if you're so inclined, you can listen to the show here.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Weekend viewing

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (Guy Ritchie, 1998)
After I reviewed Layer Cake, a co-worker insisted I see this movie, which, if I were a more responsible critic and had the luxury of not doing 9789086 other things besides movie reviews, I would have done before reviewing Layer Cake. I did have a general familiarity with Ritchie's signature style - I saw his second movie, Snatch, which was basically a remake of this one with a bigger budget and more famous actors - and, truthfully, Layer Cake really does forge its own path. Anyway, on its own this is an entertaining little film, although not the masterpiece that some seemed to think it was when it first came out. It's very Pulp Fiction, with its wise-cracking gangsters and circuitous plot and vintage soundtrack, but not in a bad way. It's more light-hearted than Pulp Fiction, and it doesn't leave as much of a lasting impression, but I found it thoroughly entertaining.

Sonatine (Takeshi Kitano, 1993)
I didn't know quite what to expect from this movie, and it surprised me in the way that it played with gangster movie conventions. A good third of the movie is set at a seaside house where a bunch of gangsters lay low, just hanging out on the beach, goofing off, playing frisbee and so on. It's a strange contrast with the extreme violence of the beginning and the end. Takeshi manages to insert a good amount of pathos into his lead character (whom he plays himself), with very little dialogue or exposition. The plot was pretty much incomprehensible to me, and I don't think I quite got the alleged beauty of Takeshi's work, but it was an interesting change of pace.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

New comics 6/2

House of M #1 (Brian Michael Bendis/Olivier Coipel, Marvel)
Yeah, I'm a sucker. Despite the rapidly declining quality of Bendis's still not finished crossover mini-series Secret War, I have a weakness for big epic crossovers and I even was a little excited about picking this up. Sadly, it's as mediocre as you might imagine, and the first issue accomplishes nothing that you didn't already know was going to happen from the advance interviews. The X-Men and the Avengers get together to decide what to do with the Scarlet Witch, she thinks they plan to kill her and she alters reality to make everything different. This is all set-up, but since it's eight issues I hope that some interesting stuff will happen in the future, and I am enough of a Marvel fan that I want to read this to know what important changes are happening in the Marvel universe. If this were the first issue of Infinite Crisis and were this underwhelming, I probably wouldn't read the rest, since I'm not as dedicated to DC continuity. But it's not, so I'll keep spending the money, and hope that Coipel's appropriately grandiose art and Bendis's certain continuity nods (including, apparently, to the conclusion of the current Astonishing X-Men storyline which hasn't, um, concluded yet) and sharp dialogue are enough to make it worthwhile.

Noble Causes #10 (Jay Faerber/Fran Bueno, Image)
Thank goodness the horrible back-up strip is concluding next issue and Faerber is bringing back the NC flashbacks to replace it. I like how he takes the body-switch plot and resolves it while opening a whole other can of worms; he really is getting to the point where subplots can gestate for a long time and then birth other plots. That said, the space expedition storyline has gone on way too long and really needs to reach some sort of point before I completely lose interest.

Y The Last Man #34 (Brian K. Vaughan/Goran Sudzuka, DC/Vertigo)
I like that after last issue's twist ending, Vaughan goes on and complicates things even more, to the point at which you're not really sure who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in this issue. This storyline doesn't have the urgency of the last one, but it's an interesting and suspenseful tale that's obviously taking us into a whole new world (that is, Australia) for the main cast.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Movies opening this week

3-Iron (Lee Sun-yeong, Jae Hee, Kwon Hyuk-ho, dir. Kim Ki-duk)
I loved about the first two thirds of this movie, and then toward the end it lost my interest a little. The two leads are silent almost the entire film, and Kim and the actors do an amazing job of conveying all sorts of complex emotions just with looks and gestures. The first half, with Jae as a drifter who sneaks into people's houses and does their laundry, takes pictures of himself and fixes household items, is mesmerizing, even more so when he meets Lee's damaged housewife and they form an unspoken bond. When Kim gets into metaphysics in the latter part of the film, it loses some of its simple beauty, but remains a poetic and haunting movie, very much worth seeing. Opened limited Apr. 29; in Las Vegas this week

Cinderella Man (Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger, Paul Giamatti, dir. Ron Howard)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Sometimes I wonder if I am too hard on films like this for being predictable and sentimental, because they are, in their own ways, effective at what they do. David Edelstein gives a good defense of liking this movie in spite of its overwhelming schmaltziness, and while I respect his opinion, I still come to the conclusion that no, I am not being too hard on this movie. Films that are accorded this much prestige and Oscar attention should be more daring and demanding. Even Million Dollar Baby, which I thought was horribly overrated, took more risks and did more interesting things. Wide release

Layer Cake (Daniel Craig, Colm Meaney, George Harris, dir. Matthew Vaughn)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
It's sort of a bummer that Vaughn dropped out of directing the next X-Men movie. Not because Layer Cake is all that good (it's not), but because a) he at least has an interesting style and a feel for acting and characters, and b) the supposed top candidates to replace him are Brett Ratner and John Moore, two ultra-generic Hollywood hacks who will turn the franchise into bland action claptrap (most likely). In the meantime, this is a mediocre crime flick that people will forget in a year or two, but it passes the time well enough. Opened limited May 13; in Las Vegas this week

Lords of Dogtown (Emile Hirsch, John Robinson, Victor Rasuk, dir. Catherine Hardwicke)
I haven't seen Stacy Peralta's documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, which inspired this movie (it's in my NetFlix queue), but from everything I've heard it's much better. Hardwicke shoots some great skateboarding scenes, and, as in her debut film, Thirteen, I like her colorful visual style and flair for atmosphere (it's no surprise she started her career as a production designer), but the script is seriously lacking. The characters are all barely sketched out, and there's no central conflict or story. When Peralta (who wrote this film as well) tries to bring one in, it rings false, and the characters are so thin that it's hard to care about what happens to them. I do have to give props to Heath Ledger for his awesome Val Kilmer impression as the skate shop owner who sponsors the kids. He has a great future as an under-appreciated character actor. Wide release