Saturday, April 25, 2009

Status updates

Alas, this isn't a post to announce more frequent entries, as I still have far too many things taking up my time to give this blog the attention it deserves. But I will be doing my best to post more here; as the TV season winds down, I hope to have a little more time.

In the meantime, if you just can't get enough of my smiling (or scowling, more likely) face or lovely voice, two important notes: My weekly appearances on Vegas' Xtreme Radio (107.5 FM) have been moved from afternoons to mornings; you can now catch me Fridays at 9:15 a.m. Pacific time on the station's new DAM morning show, featuring former Xtreme Disorder co-host Dave Farra. It's a touching reunion for Dave and me.

Also, the Jamie Kennedy documentary Heckler, for which I filmed an appearance a few years ago, is apparently airing quite frequently on Showtime these days. I haven't seen it, but others assure me that I only appear for about a minute, and come off fairly well. Thank goodness.

Movies opening this week

Hear me chat about these movies with Michael T. Toole, contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies, on this week's Josh Bell Hates Everything podcast. And check out this week's video segment, on The Soloist.

Earth (documentary, dir. Alastair Fothergill & Mark Linfield)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I know it's probably mean-spirited to cut down this well-meaning educational film, but I did find it extraordinarily dull, and mostly devoid of anything useful or new. For kids who've never seen anything like this, I suppose it's not bad, and it's more impressive to see these images on a big screen than on a TV (where you can catch similar stuff regularly on Discovery and Animal Planet). But this is still a cursory introduction and a scattershot portrayal of the animal kingdom. Disney seems set on pushing this nature-film brand, so I hope that the teased next outing, Oceans, to be released next year, will have better focus and more in-depth insights. Wide release

Fighting (Channing Tatum, Terrence Howard, Zulay Henao, dir. Dito Montiel)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I still expect good things from Montiel, whose debut feature, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, I liked quite a bit. Despite intermittent efforts to do something artistic here, though, this movie certainly doesn't qualify. Howard is apparently angling to be the new Nicolas Cage with his oddball line deliveries, and Tatum gives Paul Walker a run for his money as the least charismatic actor working today. Definitely a waste of somebody's talent. Wide release

Sin Nombre (Paulina Gaitan, Edgar Flores, Kristian Ferrer, dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
So much well-meaning mediocrity this week. This was a big hit at Sundance, and it's not hard to see why: It serious-minded and socially conscious, and sympathetic to poor immigrants. It's also fairly flat and predictable, with a silly melodramatic climax. Not as irritating as a bullshit indie-formula movie like Sunshine Cleaning, but also not worthy of the mountain of praise it's gotten. Opened limited March 20; in Las Vegas this week

The Soloist (Robert Downey Jr., Jamie Foxx, Catherine Keener, dir. Joe Wright)
I keep waiting for Joe Wright to make a transcendentally brilliant movie, because it's clear from his past work that he's a striking visual stylist. The first hour or so of Atonement was a stellar fusion of form and content, even if the movie lost its way in the second half. This movie is just all wrong for Wright, though; it's an inherently small, internal story about the friendship between two very different men, and a writer's frustration at being unable to magically cure the schizophrenic street musician he discovers and befriends. Wright jazzes things up excessively, Foxx gives a mannered, nearly "full retard" performance, and only Downey holds things together with his typical jaded awesomeness. Someone give Wright another period epic or a dense sci-fi thriller or something where his grandiose visions will serve the story. Wide release

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Movies opening this week

(Apologies again for lateness. My hope for more free time in the last few weeks has obviously not come to fruition.) Hear me chat with Angela Abshier of the Las Vegas 48 Hour Film Project about these movies, as well as the Project itself, on this week's Josh Bell Hates Everything podcast. And this week's video, about State of Play, is much more straightforward than the last one. We're still working on that balance between informative and wacky.

Crank: High Voltage (Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Dwight Yoakam, dir. Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor)
I have mixed feelings about the Crank franchise. On one hand, it's definitely fun and visually inventive and unlike pretty much any other action movies out there. On the other hand, it's so misogynistic and crass that it's sometimes uncomfortable, and the relentless efforts to go over the top get pretty tiresome here. Like the first one, this is fun and exciting for 45 minutes or so, and then it's just exhausting. But rabid fans of the series will surely enjoy themselves, and I do understand why. Wide release

Gomorrah (Salvatore Cantalupo, Salvatore Abruzzese, Gianfelice Imparato, dir. Matteo Garrone)
I spent probably the first hour of this movie just trying to figure out who the characters were and how they related to each other, and even at the end I wasn't quite sure how the various organizations worked, or what was behind the main turf rivalry. Eventually, though, enough connections become clear that you can follow the action, and the second half is much more exciting and interesting. A lot of comparisons have been made to The Wire, but this movie reminded me more of something like City of God, with its focus on poor urban residents for whom crime is the only possible way of life. The police are little more than a spectral presence here, and there rarely seems to be a life beyond the confines of the neighborhood. This movie requires a little too much work to get into, and its characters sometimes seem a little like archetypes rather than people, but for the most part it's worth the effort. Opened limited Feb. 13; in Las Vegas this week

State of Play (Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck, dir. Kevin Macdonald)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I really do appreciate this movie's earnest efforts to bolster old-fashioned journalism, but unfortunately it's not actually nearly as exciting as what Russell Crowe practices here. Although they did effectively capture the questionable fashion sense of newspaper writers; I totally own the same calculator watch that Crowe's rotund colleague wears throughout the movie. Wide release

Friday, April 10, 2009

Movies opening this week

No podcast this week thanks to a scheduling mishap and a general lack of interesting things to discuss. There is, however, much wackiness in this week's video (possibly a little too much). Next week will probably be a little more straightforward.

Observe and Report (Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Ray Liotta, dir. Jody Hill)
This movie seems to be pretty divisive; the Weekly's own Mike D'Angelo professes a mix of respect and annoyance in his review, and I felt a little bit the same way, although I'm not quite as taken with Hill's integrity as Mike is. I had a similar reaction to this as I did to Eastbound & Down, which Hill created along with Danny McBride and Ben Best (both of whom appear in Observe). It's a bunch of assholes doing terrible things to each other for 90 minutes, and while it does have an uncompromising tone, it's unpleasant to watch and not funny. The narrative was also very limp; it felt episodic, like it could have been divided in thirds and functioned as an Eastbound spinoff. I give Rogen credit for playing against type and being willing to come off as completely unlikable, but I don't think the gamble really works out for him here. Wide release

Friday, April 03, 2009

Movies opening this week

Hear me chat about these movies with my most frequent guest, the man always willing to let me subject him to bad movies, Las Vegas Weekly Managing Editor Ken Miller, on this week's Josh Bell Hates Everything podcast. No video this week, as videographer Scott is out of town. Should return next week.

Adventureland (Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, dir. Greg Mottola)
I think some of my recent descriptions of this movie have made it sound not as good as it really is, but I honestly do recommend it, and I think it's a kind of sleeper that will appeal to a pretty broad audience. It is indeed familiar and largely predictable, but I don't think that's a huge problem. Part of the appeal is that this is a warm, heartfelt story that's easy to relate to, and that comes because of the familiarity, not in spite of it. Even though it's not hard to guess what the characters will do, they still feel like real people with real emotions, and you can easily get invested in what happens to them. Stewart does a much better job of portraying genuine romance than she did in Twilight, and Eisenberg is appealing as always. Like Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, this is a sweet, nostalgic movie about young love that recalls the John Hughes oeuvre (this one is even set in 1987). Call me a softie, but I wholeheartedly recommend it. Wide release

Fast & Furious (Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, dir. Justin Lin)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I stand by my assessment of the opening sequence as a bravura standalone set piece. It's no wonder they used a truncated version of it as the only footage in the trailer; the rest of the movie is repetitive and superfluous, a rehash of the other movies in the series (or at least the first two; I haven't seen the third). I don't think there's really anything more to say, although Karina Longworth does a pretty impressive job of bringing some rigorous analysis to this entirely disposable film (just ignore the boneheaded comments). Wide release

The Great Buck Howard (Colin Hanks, John Malkovich, Emily Blunt, dir. Sean McGinly)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I saw this movie at CineVegas nearly a year ago (a shortened version of my festival review is in this week's LVW), and I don't remember all that much about it except how utterly unremarkable it was. All of these famous faces, and yet no life to the movie. Malkovich, as always, hams things up admirably, but otherwise I can barely recall anything else worth mentioning. Opened limited March 20; in Las Vegas this week

Sunshine Cleaning (Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, dir. Christine Jeffs)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
A big week for Emily Blunt movies in Vegas, and she's good in both of them even if neither of them is a very good movie. This is one that I liked less and less the more I thought about it; despite the strong performances from Blunt and Amy Adams, this movie is dour, self-serious, manipulative and full of heavy-handed symbolism. It's as phony as any special-effects extravaganza, but in a way more annoying because people will think it's meaningful. The actors deserve better. Opened limited March 13; in Las Vegas this week