January 22, 2009

We Jam Econo (Tim Irwin, 2005)

I needed to watch this film. It opens up with these three guys sitting in a non-descript front lawn in Pedro telling the story of how it all began with the Minutemen: D. Boon, Mike Watt, George Hurley. So Boon's mom, wanting to keep the boys out of trouble, picks up some instruments and tells them they've got to learn to play. At some point they move from Deep Purple and Creedence covers to something unique with funk, punk, rock and country elements all jammed together. These were real guys. Best friends...and at times worst enemies....who just wanted to make music. And the scene that embraced them (and scoffed and spit at them as well) was the California punk scene. So littered throughout this film are interviews by those who they encountered and influenced along the way from Black Flag and The Descendents to Sonic Youth and Slovenly to R.E.M. and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Minutement were the real deal. Real guys who didn't really want to be rock stars. Guys who did not abide by standard record making procedures. This is a nice after school special kind of story about boys who met when the big kid fell out of the tree on the other kid. It's also a story about the punk scene that emerged in the late 70's and early 80's. It's also a tragedy, about a band that loses it's voice tragically just as they reach the pinnacle of any mainstream success. It's about guys who stuck to their guns and stayed real.

Adaptation (Spike Jonze, 2002)

Charlie Kaufman has written some fascinating screenplays including "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "Being John Malkovich." Now we get "Adaptation" which is like Pirandellos "Six Characters..." in reverse. Rather than characters being abandoned by there author; we have an author who decides to join his characters. Nick Cage is brought on to play Kaufman and his slightly askew twin. Tilda Swinton and Meryl Streep are our other A listers who are on board for this otherwise "B" feeling movie. Never a dull moment though with Jonze visually delivering the goods on Kaufman's script; and Cage playing two variations of Kaufman's written character. The story moves from the world of the frustrated writer to the world of his dull subject matter, which turns out to be not so dull at all; but rather filled with murder, intrigue, mystery and spy-thriller style action as the nosy writer uncovers the secrets of his subject. I had seen this film when it was initially released, and it was nice to see it again.

Thunderball (Terence Young, 1965)

What is it about Bond and boyhood? I think I was probably 10 or 11 when I was first introduced to Bond via "Goldfinger" and "Dr. No" as weekend matinees at the local movie house or on television. Now my son is at that age where Bond is a big deal. Probably something to do with girls and guns. We just watched "Thunderball," which won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in 1966. Couple interesting twists to this Bond flick of the Sean Connery variety. First, if you scan the cast it was quite ethnically diverse pulling actors from a number of different countries. Second, there were lots of interesting special effects between 007's gadgetry (including a rocket pack) and quite a few underwater scenes--the biggest being this massive underwater fight sequence towards the end of the film. I admit I am still a sucker for a good Bond film, and we have worked through many of them in the past months. So what is it about Bond? It's definitely not the sappy love scenes that are gratuitously thrown in every 15-20 minutes. Probably more the elements of intrigue and suspense as we try to navigate which of the women he's sleeping with are pawns and which are his enemies. And you always expect someone to be lurking in the corners of any room 007 enters. It's about excitement that we would normally never encounter in real life. It is then an escape. A fantasy. A moment of movie magic. And we finish the film happy to know that Bond worked everything out in the nick of time (did we ever doubt him).

January 16, 2009

Smart People (Noam Murro, 2008)

I wanted to like this film, but that was really hard to do. First off, very hard to relate to anyone in the film: Denis Quaid as the washed out widower professor. It's like you want to tell his character to "get over it all ready." He's grumpy and does not undergo any transformation. Next, Sarah Jessica Parker, feeling like she just stepped out of "Sex and the City" and donned a Doctors robe. Not feeling it. Ellen Page carries over her "Juno" style acting as the doted on daughter. And Thomas Haden Church is the loser brother. Not a lot of chemistry. Quite depressing really. Poorly acted. Not much joy in any of these lives.

January 13, 2009

The Assassination of Richard Nixon (Niels Mueller, 2004)

Don Cheadle and Naomi Watts, set up a solid foundation for Sean Penn’s character study of Samuel J. Bicke—a classic “loser” whose marriage is floundering and who just can’t quite connect with the expectations of the culture surrounding him. We step into Bicke’s life just as it’s looking like he might buck the trend of screw ups. He’s working as a salesman and doing well; the this false security net soon is pulled out from under him and we watch as his job, his marriage, his dreams are eaten up until there’s no one left to blame but Richard Nixon. There’s no doubt of Penn’s abilities to conjure up complex characters like Bicke. The film is cleverly written, well crafted cinematically, but the subject matter is rather dour and there’s not much hope at all for the characters you meet in this film. While this is a technically excellent film, there is not much in the line of its characters with which we connect with. It’s hard to have sympathy for anyone in this film other than the ill-fated passengers on the plane that Bicke boards at the close of the film. Bottom line, worth seeing for Penn’s portrayal, clever writing, interesting cinematography; an uplifting or inspiring film, however, this is not.