Sunday, February 21, 2010

Robot Chicken, Season Four

Newest review of this absurd animated show on

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Rescue Me: Season Five, Volume Two

The newest review for is now live.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Editorial: The 15 Best Films of 2009

The nominations for the 2010 Academy Awards were announced this morning, setting the final nail in the coffin for 2009's movie year. Here now, is my long gestating list of my favorite films of this past year, culled to 15 out of the 80 or so new releases I saw. Click on the film title for my review (if available).

15.    The Girlfriend Experience

Under seen, Overshadowed,  and brilliantly edited, this tiny film from visionary director Steven Soderbergh had a wit about it. The film's tagline, "See it with someone you ****" perfectly captured the ambiguous line between love and sex that Chelsea (Sasha Grey) faces balancing life both as a girlfriend and a for-hire simulator of The Girlfriend Experience.

14.    Trouble the Water

After a limited release and Academy Award nomination in 2008, this film finally made it to DVD this year giving me a chance to catch it. Heartbreaking, moving, and inspiring, Trouble the Water is a documentary that follows the Roberts family in New Orleans' 9th Ward as they survive Hurricane Katrina. The most remarkable thing is that Kimberly Roberts had been filming the whole experience with her own video camera, giving a firsthand view of the entire ordeal, before the professional filmmakers joined them and chronicled the rest of their story.

13.    Where the Wild Things Are

An emotional rollercoaster that plunges the audience right into the mind of a frustrated young boy like no other. Maurice Sendak's famous book is expanded and riffed upon to create a story that captures the emotions, from nervousness to anger to fright that one can feel when abandoned by the word they know. A technical achievement that felt much more real and weighty than the other CG meets actor meets performer film from this year, Avatar.

12.   The Boat that Rocked (Pirate Radio)

"It's fun, fun, fun 'til your daddy takes the T-bird away." So went the Beach Boys song, which sums up this electric, often silly film that tells the story of a pirate rock n' roll radio station off the coast of England in the mid-1960's. Propelled by the music of the era, it overcomes the faults in story that it may have by sheer will alone. The performances by a great cast full of comedians and a few serious actors (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kenneth Branagh) who are just looking to rock out. Unfortunately, I've heard that the U.S. version, renamed "Pirate Radio", had cut 14 minutes out of the film, which I imagine could only hurt it. Seek out the British cut if you can find it.

11.    Black Dynamite
I haven't laughed this hard in years. Black Dynamite is going to get the little orphan children off smack, solve a murder, and have time to have sex with many women at once. He will do it with his karate moves, a gun and some pimpness. For anyone who grew up watching shlocky kung fu or blaxsploitation movies, this is the one we've been waiting for. If you love the absurd humor of Anchorman or The Kentucky Fried Movie, don't miss Black Dynamite, who responded to my review with "I can dig it".

10.    Up in the Air

Of all the films I've reviewed this year, few feel like they capture living life in 2009 like Up in the Air. A perfectly played trio of stars under the direction of getting-better-every-movie Jason Reitman. The third in his trilogy of "America Now" films, which balance an emotional and comedic story simultaneously. George Clooney recently was quoted as saying he is only as good as the film that surrounds him, and that is true here of his capturing the character Ryan Bingham's life Up in the Air.

9.    Food, Inc.

Food, Inc. is looking to change the way you think of food. Some have claimed it is preaching to the choir, but that's downplaying how effective the statements made in the film truly are. My favorite documentary of 2009, what grabbed my attention is not only the message it sends about how we can improve the state of our food, but also how even handed it is. The film speaks specifically to its potentially harshest critics, who might claim the film as liberal left wing propaganda. The actuality couldn't be further from the truth, and on top of it all it is a slick, technically well made film.

8.    Adam Resurrected

One could have claimed prior to this year that the Holocaust film was dead, that after 60-plus years nothing more could be said to bring across the true horror that was inflicted under the Nazi regime. But Adam Resurrected brought such pain and such heart to the tale of a German Jewish comedian and performer who is treated as a dog in the labor camps and ends up being the hero of his mental rehabilitation center in Israel years later. It is a unique story that balances the comedy and tragedy that make up all great stories. Jeff Goldblum gives a career best performance under the direction of Paul Schrader, who is (believe it or not) lightening up for this film. I know it sounds like a very heavy subject matter, but I implore you to see this great film which has been unreasonably ignored.

7.    Moon

Sam Rockwell gives an amazing (and woefully ignored come awards season) performance as Sam Bell, the lone worker on a moon base that collects energy for use on Earth. His only companion is Gerty, coolly voiced by Kevin Spacey, a robot who helps manage the station. One day, just a few weeks from finishing his stint on the base and returning to his family on Earth, an accident happens. What transpires from this point is some of the most suspenseful and artfully accomplished moments in cinema this year. Part 2001: A Space Odyssey, part Primer, a great entry into the sci-fi genre under the direction of  first time filmmaker Duncan Jones, who said of my review "thank you sir, very enjoyable read".

6.    In The Loop

A worthy heir to Dr. Strangelove, In The Loop follows what happens when government employees are just as incompetent as the news media that blow their words out of proportion. A cast made up mostly of British unknowns to an American audience, save James Gandolfini as a military liaison, it is full of humor that anyone who appreciates a good satire can enjoy. Best of all is the screenplay, which is brought to life with a fitting documentary style, and a standout performance from Peter Capaldi, who has the most creative expletives you've ever heard streaming out of his mouth at every turn.

 5.    The Messenger

I suppose one could say I feel about The Messenger what the consensus seems to be about The Hurt Locker this year. It is powerful, brilliantly acted, and surprises you when you least expect it. It knows how to use the camera for each and every moment and feels true, not artificial, when showing you the life of the modern soldier. First time director Oren Moverman draws on his own experiences as a former military man to truly capture the feeling of life after war, and the effect that losing a loved one can have on people. Stars Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson were never better, and it's sad that they have been overshadowed by some other (in the case of Harrelson, he has been consistently the runner up to Christoph Waltz) strong performances this year.

4.    Inglourious Basterds

Speaking of Christoph Waltz, here he is in Inglourious Basterds, stealing every scene he is in by playing a character so well written in a screenplay full of gems. Quentin Tarantino's film is his best to date in a career that has pushed cinema forward while pulling from behind. Not the Jewish revenge film it was advertised as, it is instead a series of many slow building suspenseful vignettes, now a Tarantino staple, which all form one cohesive story out of building to violence after long, intricately written conversations. The message it sends in the end may be muddled, but the cinematic genius on display here is unmatched.

3.    L'Heure D'ete (Summer Hours)

Olivier Assayas' excellent film is about life, art, and family. I wasn't completely sold on this film going in, but it grabbed my attention and never let go, even as the final scene, which hammers home the beauty and the metaphor at play here. The film, and the portrayal of three grown children with families of their own now, shows how difficult it can be to finally transition from being a child to being an adult when your parents are finally gone.The art, and the summer home that houses it, shows us the worth that we ascribe to any number of objects that hold sentimental value to us, and how that too evolves as the generations do. Few films can capture so much about life as a whole and what it is like to be part of a family in the way that Summer Hours does.

2.    Up

It is a common and stereotypical slogan to say "I laughed, I cried" but Up did precisely that for this film reviewer. The first 20 minutes of this film is so good, that I have watched it over and over and over more than any film clip in recent memory trying to learn exactly how it works as well as it does. The rest of the film is an excellent adventure piece, which Pete Doctor does so well. The balance between genuine heartfelt moments and exciting movie stuff is struck, here even better than Doctor's previous film, Monsters Inc. and anyone who thought that a grumpy old man flying away in a house lifted by thousands of balloons was a bad idea for a film was proven wrong immediately. Every time I hear the Michael Giacchino's theme music for Ellie, which is but a part of the best score of 2009, I am lovingly transported back to the film in my mind.

1.    A Serious Man

I could write a thesis on this film, but I'll wait til you see it first. What can be said about this film that I haven't blathered on about to any person who would listen since it came out? Drama and comedy coexist in a perfect way taking on the entire Jewish concept of G-d and His works in such a brilliant, if backhanded way that I'm still in shock. No other film has encouraged such deep discussion amongst myself and my peers, while making us all laugh simultaneously.The ambiguity we are left with at every turn here is the mystery that those of us who search out meaning in our own lives deal with on a daily basis. The film is scarcely explains itself, but gives us each and every clue necessary to understand it all and that is why it is my favorite film of 2009.

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