My Month in Review: July '11

La passion de Jeanne d'Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc)
Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928
In my travels through earlier cinema, I cannot recall before being quite this captivated - or moved - by a silent film. Dreyer's predominantly close-up compositions define cinema's explicitly visual elements, his camerawork otherwise inventive, utterly affecting and wrought with Falconetti's barely fathomable, powerfully crude emotion. At times it's almost too much to take all at once.

Hannah & Her Sisters
Woody Allen, 1986
"Hannah & Her Sisters" has just about everything you could come to want from a Woody Allen film in all its best forms and proper doses. Is it already my favorite of the twenty-two I've now seen from the man? Too soon to tell, but it's a close contender.

Skin Game
Paul Bogart & Gordon Douglas, 1971
It's rare I discover a film I don't find notable for many of its technical or artistic aspects yet love just because it tells a great story. Typically story is secondary and I'll like just about any tale so long as it's told in an admirable manner. Otherwise we're probably talking about television sit-coms (incidentally, Paul Bogart did work primarily in television). Anyway, "Skin Game" indeed tells a very good story - one that captivated me in its opening moments and thoroughly entertained throughout, ranging from poignant social drama to sharply riotous sketch comedy. Incidentally, after a few brief test-runs with other titles this is the first full movie I streamed via Netflix Instant Watch to my Nintendo 3DS. Considering the handheld's capabilities, I found the video and sound quality perfectly acceptable - a fine way to watch a movie on the go!

Sayat Nova
Sergei Parajanov, 1968
AKA "The Color of Pomegranates". Personal identity. Cultural, inherited, personal, social. Free? Obligatory? Happy? Miserable? I can't pretend to immediately comprehend each of Parajanov's cryptic scenarios, but these stunted observations and queries sum up my interpretation of the auteur's best-known piece, which I am taking to be a impressionistically reflexive look through one man's journey across this mysterious life. Whatever the meaning, far more pertinent (to the point that potential meanings are practically rendered meaningless) is the beauty presented to the eye in this splendidly surreal series of essentially moving images.

The Return of Captain Invincible
Philipe Mora, 1984
It could just be all the Woody I've been watching, but this irreverent Australian rollick does often feel like what Allen's version of a superhero film would be. Alan Arkin is great as the hero whose kryptonite is alcoholism, Christopher Lee is Christopher Lee (with a great bit involving his "pets" and his signature booming voice highlighted to the extreme), the 2.35:1 scope is utilized involvingly, and just when you might think the schtick is wearing thin, a surprising (and surprisingly competent) musical number such as "Evil Midnight" or the particularly riveting "Name Your Poison" (video of the latter below) jolts your butt firmly back into its seat.

Tini zabutykh predkiv (Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors)
Sergei Parajanov, 1964
AKA "The Horses of Fire". I love a lot of what Parajanov has done here. I really do. This film is an absolute beauty to behold and several sequences, particularly that of the opening ten minutes or so, may even surpass the best moments of "The Color of Pomegranates" and "The Hoary Legends of the Caucasus" (thoughts on that one below) with their dizzyingly mystifying camerawork, lovely colors and emotional resonance. I just wish it was more consistent! The times I was not mesmerized I was simply bored by dullness. But hey, overall, "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors" is exceptional gorgeosity made celluloid.

A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy
Woody Allen, 1982
Éric Rohmer meets William Shakespeare... by Woody Allen? Woody's masterful sense for social nuance - particularly that that extends beyond the camera's frame and between the script's lines - and hints of his early "formless comedy" days make for a delightfully funny and affecting romp through love, lust, elegance and savagery.

Hobo with a Shotgun
Jason Eisener, 2011
Way to go, Eisener! This guy, from his original "Hobo" trailer that made it into the "Grindhouse" double-feature - alongside Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright and Eli Roth - and the short film phenomenon "Treevenge", is an inspiration and "Hobo with a Shotgun" is far and away his best work yet, perhaps even topping Quentin Tarantino's "Grindhouse" installment, "Death Proof", by coming off more authentic in its recreation of a dead wave of exploitation (in this case, Troma splatter-fests). Due to a handful of minor hitches including, but not limited to, weak villain characterization and awkward morality (a would-be motivational, should-be satirical declaration that preventing street crime is like housekeeping for homeless people) it's not quite a home run (tough to hit 'em over the Green Monster when your bat's covered in razor blades, I s'pose) but I'll be damned if it ain't a certifiably great and utterly twisted time with an absolutely killer aesthetic, both aural and visual. And yeah, Rutger Hauer is fantastic.

Woody Allen, 1990
Some of Woody's finest moving images I've yet been treated to, with quite a charming everything else. The flying lesson with Alec Baldwin is a bit much but we'll gladly let that slide, won't we? It's difficult to rank some of these Woodys against one another seeing as, for the most part, they're all so good for such similar reasons.

Shadows & Fog
Woody Allen, 1991
Woody beautifully emulates early 1930s thrillers - most notably to my own recognition, Fritz Lang's "M" - simultaneously honoring and using them as a playground for his own risibly farcical inventions - so much so that what would be one of those films' central plots humorously proves a MacGuffin, giving way to a roundabout of similarly, purposefully futile character and relationship portraits. Blink and you'll miss a pre-notoriety John C. Reilly amongst the fabulous ensemble.

Husbands & Wives
Woody Allen, 1992
Filmed in a documentary style now popular in television sit-coms such as "The Office" (though most recognizable to me in this regard, due to its far more dramatic implementation, from the psychological profile segments of the "Scrubs" episode "My Bed Banter & Beyond"), this coincidence of Woody's personal and professional lives opens with a phenomenal extended take that rockets it forth on great trajectory. While it comes close with many indelible moments, it never quite fulfills that trajectory and by the time Woody's character spoke his final line it felt perfectly appropriate as I was indeed anxious to leave, but this was only due in small part to my lack of emotional connection with the technically impressive film - I also wanted to get away from the characters, who were so successfully uncomfortable to deal with. As I continue wrestling toward a finite opinion as I am doing now through these typed words, I am sure to look back on "Husbands and Wives" with little but compliment.

Further first-time viewings:

Gong fu guan lan (Kung Fu Dunk) - Kevin Chu Yen-ping, 2008
Goofy as all get-out with loads of kung fu fun on the court. American action wishes to be this good.

Jing mo fung wan: Chen Zhen (Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen) - Andrew Lau Wai-keung, 2010
So vibrant and vivid I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. And as if I needed further proof Donnie Yen is the man! Qi Shu is fantastically bubbly. The characterization of the Japanese is rigid, but so it goes. I might do well to give "Ip Man" another shot (a proper one, this time)... not all modern martial arts films have to be "Dragon Tiger Gate".

Hollywood Ending - Woody Allen, 2002
From overt characterizations down to how certain scenes are lit, "Hollywood Ending" is a critique of American film business so harsh it almost makes me want to stop caring about weekend box office tallies, accompanied by sudden blindness as a witty dual metaphor and your typical - yet never old - Woody humor. This was the first "new" Woody Allen film I became aware of and intrigued by upon its release, though I never caught it in theatres so it's nice to have finally caught it now.

Ashik Kerib - Sergei Parajanov, 1988
AKA "The Hoary Legends of the Caucasus". I'm still determining exactly what to make of my first Parajanov (incidentally, Parajanov's last complete Parajanov). I love much of the soundtrack, the employment of the tableau vivant style I've come to enjoy through Peter Brosens' films and the overall sense of decidedly strange legend, but while throughout those elements there is a pleasing, if erratic, aesthetic in place, the tonal leaps and frequent interpretive dance sequences tend to buck me. The film's relative favor here mainly reflects its unwaveringly superb third act (talk about your final shots, wow).

Le frisson des vampires (Shiver of the Vampires) - Jean Rollin, 1971
AKA "Strange Things Happen at Night". Sex, fangs and rock 'n' roll! So gothic!

Manhattan - Woody Allen, 1979
This is going to go down as one of those I greatly respect for its form - particularly its cinematography - but don't really enjoy outside of its throwaway laughs, isn't it?

Manhattan Murder Mystery - Woody Allen, 1993
Is it mere coincidence that the opening few scenes of Woody's first post-Mia Farrow film are highly reminiscent of "Rosemary's Baby"? Probably. "Manhattan Murder Mystery", an absurd ode to noir, is entertaining from start to finish and often very funny, but for all its build in place of what might have been a more interesting deconstruction it doesn't wind up amounting to much. Lesser Woody is still Woody.

Wild Man Blues - Barbara Kopple, 1997
Just when I thought Woody's films were making me feel I don't listen to enough classic New Orleans jazz, I have Woody himself honking on the clarinet (a hobby I only just recently learned he pursues) and delivering between-show self-deprecation as only he can. It is interesting to glimpse the Soon-Yi Previn relationship.

Horrible Bosses - Seth Gordon, 2011
Is that "how you like me now" song in every movie these days? Anyway, "Horrible Bosses" is a lot more consistent than the other comedies we've been fed this summer. It may not quite reach the relative levels of funny certain moments of those others do, but it's a good (and thankfully, unexpectedly unpredictable) time throughout where, for example, "Bad Teacher" is only fun for about 45 minutes before screeching to a halt (though it is odd that these guys don't seem to have to go in for shifts at work for however many days it takes them to attempt pulling off a triple murder). Still, in a grander scope, this is just an average comedy that gets by mostly due to its cast (and, to be fair, I suppose, the fact that it manages to make the notion of an intent to kill humorous). Charlie Day (join me in watching this guy's star rise), Jason Sudeikis (say it like you're the "Saturday Night Live" announcer... come on, it's so fun) and Jason Bateman (I got nothin'... he's funny) do their respective tried-and-true schticks as Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and my man Colin Farrell have a bit of fun either playing somewhat against type or parodying former roles and reputations alongside a handful of fun cameos and bit parts. Aniston doesn't really take to her character's crude sex talk too well but she is more super-smokin' than ever and sometimes - at least on this level of super-smokin'-ness - that counts. Finally we have Jamie Foxx in an almost token bit part with what could wind up the year's greatest character name: Motherfucker Jones.

Princess Ka'iulani - Marc Forby, 2009
It's nice to see the lovely Q'orianka Kilcher back on the screen. She is again exemplary in this good-looking and overall above-average biopic.

Rubber - Quentin Dupieux, 2010
It's a credit to Dupieux' cinematography that I'd've gladly watched a film solely following the silent central tire's rolling exploits (I've kind of been on a "this movie would be better without dialogue" kick anyway). The fourth wall-obliterating human contingent does make matters far more accessible though I'm not sure the over-obviousness is entirely necessary. Why? No reason.

Captain America: The First Avenger - Joe Johnston, 2011
It's one country's ideal propaganda piece pitted against the disgraced former hero of another. Sort of. "Captain America" prospers in its developmental half, as a scrawny Steve Rogers makes his way to becoming the man he's always dreamed he could be, but pulls a "300" and goes into an uninvolving montage mode once the full transformation has taken place. Thankfully the humor works, the 1942 aesthetic serves the material extremely well and this is more than just a connecting piece to "The Avengers" - the connectors that are in place exist subtly (well, as subtle as they can within a Marvel product). And hey, David Bradley. The politics, however, make no sense. Okay, Red Skull has fallen from Hitler's graces because he no longer fits the Aryan mold (not a great excuse, seeing as Goebbels was scrawny and dark-haired and still Hitler's right-hand man...) but he's given parting gifts of seemingly limitless funds, his own badass army and an endless supply of secret hideouts? Anyway. In the end, it's an enjoyable superhero flick. Hear further thoughts as part of the July 24th episode of Reel Time.

The Pirate - Vincente Minnelli, 1948
For the most part it feels like something "The Dueling Cavalier" from "Singin' in the Rain" might have been only halfway through its transition into "The Dancing Cavalier" (and its content often foretells that of Don Lockwood's superior exploits), but is easily passable on Gene Kelly's endless charisma and a visibly intensified performance from Judy Garland.

TRON: Legacy - Joseph Kosinski, 2010
Though it had me worried for a while there, thankfully "TRON: Legacy" avoids the much-traveled path of an interesting concept gone to waste 'neath a trite good-versus-evil yarn, however the story never quite reaches a state of importance. The real stars here are the aesthetics - this is one groovy look 'n' listener with a relaxingly droning pace.

Monsters - Gareth Edwards, 2010
A fairly entertaining... immigration allegory? Okay, then.

Friends with Benefits - Will Gluck, 2011
Okay, seriously this time, is that "how you like me now" song in everything?? This newest friends with benefits movie (with the most creative title yet, eh?) doesn't have much to go on apart from decent eye candy for folks of any persuasion and plenty of lurid dialogue and borderline pornographic acts that will wind up in those folks' respective spank banks. It's got a few good belly laughs but nine out of every ten punchlines fall dead flat (and two jokes about the inside of Justin Timberlake's butt are two too many). There's a surprising and emotional subplot involving a father character played by Richard Jenkins but it goes absolutely nowhere, adding little to the main story. I'm trying to make heads or tails of how the flick predictably lambastes run-of-the-mill romantic comedies in its first half before, about as predictably, justifying them in its second. Oddly, that proudly formula-inspired second half, where I realized the two "Friends" had sneakily grown on me as a couple, is what makes the whole thing break even by the end. Whatever the case, the best parts are the supporting roles and cameos, particularly those of Jason Segel, Rashida Jones and the underutilized Woody Harrelson. Wow, I've actually seen all three of Will Gluck's directorial feature films thus far. I feel so accomplished. Hear further thoughts as part of the July 24th episode of Reel Time.

Girls Just Want to Have Fun - Alan Metter, 1985
When discussing cheesy teen movies from the '80s, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" is certainly one of the more rightfully culpable I've seen. Once the dance competition is underway, however, the fun side of the cheese takes over. Sarah Jessica Parker is super cute here (I don't care what "South Park" says, she's still pretty foxy today, too) and Helen Hunt... well, she hadn't quite grown in to her features yet.

Southland Tales - Richard Kelly, 2006
So is this more what that film I dislike so much I don't like saying its name (we'll just go with "D Squared") would have been like had the alleged alien (sub?)plot remained intact? In this case I do have big respect for what Richard Kelly is attempting to accomplish - the man clearly has a bold vision - but in this apparently unrestrained and unfiltered form it's a preposterous mess with too many briefly skirted ideas. I'm sure Kelly is passionate about each detail but some should have been left out considering their inconsequence that ultimately distracts from the core. Conversely, some of "Southland Tales" is so utterly strange and catching - the musical elements, specifically - that I almost want to like it.

The Inspector General - Henry Koster, 1949
Danny Kaye charms, of course. While that's not quite enough with all else being so flat, it's at least fuel for average entertainment.

Django - Sergio Corbucci, 1966
Cool enough for its dynamic moments and above-average in the realm of non-Leone spaghetti westerns. Nowhere near as good as Corbucci's Terence Hill-starring "Super Snooper" (AKA "Super Fuzz").

The Jezebels - Jack Hill, 1975
AKA "The Switchblade Sisters". Easily the best chick-gang flick I've seen, which is neither a great achievement nor a surprise coming from "Coffy" director Jack Hill (his competition in this case primarily being Al Adamson and Herschel Gordon Lewis). Just like other chick-gang flicks, though, it just doesn't hold the attention beyond a few of its better written scenes (the kinds one might imagine Tarantino pleasuring himself to).

Insidious - James Wan, 2010
"Insidious" being accurately hailed as one of the best of its kind in recent years truly signals the dearth of horror we've seen in as much time. The film harkens (occasionally through direct homage) in an even less aesthetically pleasing manner - that, unsurprisingly like the abominable yet miraculously genre-commoving "Paranormal Activity", highlights surveillance - to late 1970s, early '80s films such as "The Amityville Horror", "Poltergeist" and, most noticeably (though thankfully sans anti-scary electric guitar stabs), "The Entity" starring Barbara Hershey, who this film also features in what may or may not be coincidence. It is moderately scary, but should we rate horror based on scare quality alone? I recall just two months ago when so many labeled "The Hangover Part II" a bad movie but then more enthusiastically praised it for its laughs. Is this the same reaction in a different genre? Well, if one thing can be praised here, it's the score. Creeptacular strings! Can't save Rose Byrne's Lifetime Network-worthy performance or that awful ending, though, and I could do with fewer jumps. It's effectively eerie as is; we don't need so many startles to formulaically pay off a build and subsequently provide the comforting notion that everything's okay because the scary bit's over (even if that false calm is priming us for another startle) - let the mood persist! I should get my hands on a copy of "The Fourth Kind". Now there's a good contemporary horror movie.

Anything Else - Woody Allen, 2003
What was that I said about lesser Woody? Hm. "Anything Else" isn't painful just to look at (in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio rarely seen from Woody), but it sure is painful to watch, if that distinction is clear when considering Jason Biggs' and Christina Ricci's "performances". These two leads absolutely butcher the script, which is a far cry from the auteur's stronger efforts I've seen thus far anyhow what with, among other aspects, its apparent justifications of otherwise lambasted "pseudo-intellectuals" and its diffidently from-the-hip uses of psychoanalysis scenes, out-of-body soliloquy and talking-to-the-camera moments.

Slacker - Richard Linklater, 1991
Well, this is definitely from the same guy that made the excellently meditative and not so grossly verbose "It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books" and would segue in to making such similar yet superiorly profound works as "Waking Life" but without the emotional connection he would add to similar material with "Before Sunrise", it just kind of flops around on deck, hoping to get tossed back out of mercy.

Despicable Me - Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud, 2010
To get the obvious comparison out of the way, this is certainly no "Megamind". It is, however, an adequately amusing - if forgettable - jaunt. I think its main problem is that it never quite formulates into anything more than a series of celebrity-voice-assisted chuckles. To its credit it has helped turn me more positively toward computer animation as a respectable process for feature films in general. Of course since its release date I've adored "Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children" and it has remained the key exception to my aversion what with most other computer animated offerings being at the disadvantage of having to be "family friendly" but with how much I enjoyed "Megamind" and "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" and appreciated this one's character design aspects, I don't think I'll be quite so prejudice in the future.

Cowboys & Aliens - Jon Favreau, 2011
The opening scene of "Cowboys & Aliens" is stark (Favreau pun unintended), employs minimal dialogue and sets our story off with promise. Then the second scene begins a dumping of frivolous supporters and their various relationships so continuous it's never done justice within its two hours up against a quarter-assed story (not good enough to be half-assed) about ruthless extraterrestrials inexplicably participating in the Gold Rush. I'm sure these intricacies work far better in their source comic - a medium perfectly fit for building rich character histories. There is in this adaptation an obvious novelty to the fusion of old west and sci-fi (on a bigger budget than the great "Adventures of Brisco County Jr.") but it only goes so far before revealing itself as an action cliche drinking game - take a swig whenever someone miraculously appears with a kill shot in the knick of time. Hear further thoughts as part of the July 31st episode of Reel Time.

Enter the Void - Gaspar Noé, 2009
There's a lot to be said for the alternate depictions of sex - as life-defining, a commodity of pleasure and even a multifunctional social tool - but what is ultimately just an okay screensaver does not make for a more-than-just-okay movie, particularly when you factor in crap dialogue and cliché scenarios. Because you think you're so clever to take these scenarios on from a different perspective does not make your resulting art worthwhile, it puts you on a rung somewhere near "Southland Tales" (see above). To be fair, there is at least one shot that will stay with me, but if you really want to watch a great post-death, pre-reincarnation story (albeit still another that oddly depicts the beginning of consciousness as the moment of birth), check out Peter Brosens' masterful "State of Dogs".

Crazy, Stupid, Love. - Glenn Ficarra & John Requa, 2011
What is a dull drone of nothingness kept afloat by a few chuckles surrounded by seemingly obligatory post-"Hangover" crudity finally begins to click in act three... before crumbling right back down and becoming even worse than it was before. Useless plot developments, tone juggling, anemic character motivation and sheer contrivance drive this one straight into the ground. I'm hard-pressed to think of another film that forces so hard for a happy ending. It's bad enough when at the end of any Marc Lawrence comedy Hugh Grant can show up with a bouquet and all's hunky-dory. Here we have an entire film based on groundless conflict slowly spiraling into a sensible series of downer endings only to make way for a vexingly rosy epilogue. Hear further thoughts as part of the July 31st episode of Reel Time.

How to Train Your Dragon - Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders, 2010
How to gauge the value of a film with only one passable aspect when that one aspect is so bright? Between somewhat below-par animation and a story that builds to a nonsensical and undermining climax, all that makes "How to Train Your Dragon" worth sitting through is the very feline central dragon himself - a character with no proper dialogue who vastly outshines all his surrounding blabbermouths, forming an immediate emotional connection with the audience strong enough that I wish I didn't have to declare everything else so ignoble. This seems to be happening often with computer animated family films of late. "Rango", "Toy Story 3" and, to a lesser extent, "Up", all feature only brief segments of valuable substance with remainders constructed of re-hashed kiddie hijinks.

Sherlock Holmes - Guy Ritchie, 2009
Isn't it a bit contradictory for a Holmes film to be so accessibly dumb; or, more specifically, for it to lack all faith in its audience's intelligence? This rebranding is basically a buddy James Bond set in Victorian England with Robert Downey Jr. yet again playing himself, only this time with a British twang. Positives are a few minor giggles and Hans Zimmer's sprightly score (accompanied at one point by The Dubliner's rendition of the classic Irish jig "The Rocky Road to Dublin").

Picture Perfect - Glenn Gordon Caron, 1997
A generic exercise in the most generic of genericness. I'd like to think Hollywood's movie assembly robots have improved since, but I can't be sure.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon - Michael Bay, 2011
Thank goodness, I guess, that this time there's a little more motivation on each side of the "Transformers" battle than "the colorful robots are good and the dark robots are bad so they're gonna fight". Still, two hours is a whole hell of a lot of time to spend on exposition aimed simply to excuse a closing act of mechanical action, most of which is difficult to make out. I hope I've heard Shia LaBeouf scream "Optimus!!" for the final time. Read the full review.

Scream 3 - Wes Craven, 2000
Watching these movies is like getting Jack in the Box when you ordered McDonalds but actually wanted Whataburger.

Total first-time viewings: 44

Rewatches (4 total): Hannah & Her Sisters (Allen, 1986), Match Point (Allen, 2005), Bucktown (Marks, 1975), The Crow (Proyas, 1994)

-I've seen "Match Point" so many times now that it's starting to wear thin, but it's still full of super goodness and easily toward the top of my (as of yet imaginary and incomprehensive) ranked list of Woody Allen favorites (along with "Hannah & Her Sisters", "Cassandra's Dream" and "Midnight in Paris", not necessarily in that coincidentally chronological order). If only Scarlett Johansson's acting weren't so reprehensible. She at least, practically by default, pulls off her character's goal of being sultrily pouty and buxom, so she's passable, however I feel the need shake her off following her every scene.
-I'm sorry, "The Crow" is just so laughable. This rewatch was its long-delayed second chance and I couldn't quit chortling.


REVIEW: Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Michael Bay, 2011)

Thank goodness, I guess, that this time there's a little more motivation on each side of the "Transformers" battle than "the colorful robots are good and the dark robots are bad so they're gonna fight". Still, two hours is a whole hell of a lot of time to spend on exposition aimed simply to excuse a closing act of mechanical action, most of which is difficult to make out.

At the same time, it might have all been fun had it behaved like it was actually based on a toy. As a kid I was never in to G.I. Joe (or Transformers for that matter) but I found "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra", an ostensibly "bad" movie, to be bunches of fun for being so unabashedly silly. There's a character named "Heavy Duty" for crying out loud. That sort of thing is amusing in "Joe" but in the "Transformers" flicks names such as "Shockwave" and "Ironhide" are just as laughable as all the humanizations bestowed upon who are supposed to be complete aliens seeing as we're meant to take it all so gosh darn seriously. And what's up with all the littler robots being either Beavis or Tazmanian Devil clones?

On another note, Bay's streak of destruction here borders on disrespectful. When Ray Harryhausen attacks the Golden Gate Bridge in "It Came from Beneath the Sea", it's horrifying because it shows the titular beastie to be so powerful one of America's most recognizable manmade landmarks is but its plaything. When Roland Emmerich blows up the White House in "Independence Day", it's mortifying in its symbolism that nothing is sacred or safe with our new alien overlords in town. With "Dark of the Moon", Bay's mentality on the demolishing of precious architecture and meaningful sculpture and the recreations of such national disasters as the Challenger explosion seems best summed up with the mere phrase, "it's cool". I've respected the man's knack for explosions at an arm's length for some time, the climax of "Bad Boys II" being of particular note in that regard, but "Dark of the Moon" lacks any kind of finesse. Frankly, I'm not too surprised, considering "Pearl Harbor".

If Bay got overexcited and crammed a self-compromising amount of excess into the minutely superior "Revenge of the Fallen" to the point that it fell apart entirely at the halfway mark, he has now repeated himself but simultaneously appeared to have grown bored with the whole thing, in turn standing to bore audiences (while subjecting them to a notably dreadful soundtrack, no less... and we thought Linkin Park was bad enough before). Again, at least this one has a plot and that's more than its predecessors can claim, but it's not a plot worth sitting through all its own garbage for (though we are treated to a fairly random "Holy Malkovich!!" moment that I hope soon becomes an internet forum meme).

Finally, on top of the giant debacle, the on-set 3D Bay has been going on so much about may well be the worst I've seen to date, beating out "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides". Not only is it useless, it detracts from the experience. If Paul W.S. Anderson somehow fails to wow me a second time with "The Three Musketeers" (unlikely, as its trailer has been the highlight of many a trip to the theater of late), I may have to call "Resident Evil: Afterlife" a fluke and move on from the 3D craze. Then, we do still have directors greater than Michael Bay or Rob Marshall to see from. In the meantime, I can hope I've heard Shia LaBeouf scream "Optimus!!" for the final time.

INTERVIEW: Photographer Spotlight: Marc Cartwright

Excerpts from my interview with Marc Cartwright, published in the Summer 2011 issue of Icon Magazine.

If you remind celebrity photographer Marc Cartwright that a picture is worth a thousand words, he might respond, “Only a thousand?” A whimsical and introspective man with inspirations from nature and industry to silent films and surrealist paintings, Cartwright has set out to weave original stories with just a flash of his shutter by creating unique and therapeutic environments on his sets. Icon takes a look inside the mind and a glimpse at the work being set for a year-end show.

What in your own words signifies Marc Cartwright photography?
Words I like to hear people say are ‘classic’ and ‘cinematic’. I’ve always loved Hollywood and I’ve always loved film and the idea of storytelling but I also like the idea of self-containment - telling a story in a split second versus having to get a full movie crew together. I like people to look at my pictures and feel a sort of sultriness and a sort of depth.

Who are some of your favorite photographers or filmmakers?
My favorite photographers are Annie Leibovitz – I actually want her career – David Lachapelle, Tony Duran… I love Steven Klein. I always love the darkness of what he does. I don’t want to say ‘conservative’ but in my own life I tend to be very clean and safe and I think Steven Klein has inspired me to look at a darker side of things and introduce some of it into my work. As far as filmmakers, obviously Fritz Lang, it’s amazing what he did. I’m a big cheeseball so I love the ‘80s John Hughes films. It’s funny, a lot of those cheesy ‘80s films, there’s something about them that inspires me even though they’re completely ridiculous. I like movies like “Inception” and “The Adjustment Bureau” that make you think. I like different movies for different reasons; I don’t necessarily get into the work of just one person. For instance, “The Dreamers”, visually I thought that was such a smart movie, and then I think the whole noir genre of the ‘40s and ‘50s is really fun.

Do you have any pieces you are particularly proud of whether due to the end result or perhaps the means through which that result was achieved?
I would say my last two shoots were quite fun. One I called “Cabaret” – I wanted to do a piece about the 1920s and I had this whole idea for the set-up with all these lights… everything was going to be white… and then once I started shooting I started turning off more and more lights and just used the natural light for it. It came out so soft and ethereal; I loved it. It’s the first time I’ve really worked with all white and I’m really happy with what I got from it. And the “Mechanical Suitor”, because it was a sci-fi shoot and science fiction is one of my favorite film genres. Sara Paxton (“Last House on the Left”, “New Year’s Eve”) played the woman and she was just so fun to work with, her expressions were great and she really exuded that whole ‘40s feel. I feel I got the point across – we used CGI for the shoot and I got images that I just really, really like.

And how do you determine the direction of each celebrity shoot? You said you like to create bonds and break down barriers… is this different with celebs who come in with established personalities?
First I like to get an idea of what they want to see and where they are. For instance when I shot Tia Mowry she was known for “Sister, Sister” and she wanted to be more sexy and show people she was older so we wanted to challenge what people thought of her. She was so amazing, such a sweet person, and she came out gorgeous in the shots. Then with James Van Der Beek, again, such a sweet guy, everyone sees him as Dawson. I wanted to tap into something a little bit edgier and a little bit darker with him. People like experimenting with how they’re perceived. Of course you want to make sure it’s respectable and it’s going to go along with what the publicists want and what the people want their image to be but it’s fun to play with how people see themselves and mix my input with that.

Read the full interview in Icon's Summer 2011 Issue!

INTERVIEW: Hope Dworaczyk - Triple Threat!

Excerpts from my interview with Hope Dworaczyk, published in the Summer 2011 issue of Icon Magazine.

With the titles of creator, producer and co-host of a fashion program, a contestant on the latest “Celebrity Apprentice” and 2010’s Playboy Playmate of the Year, one might think Hope Dworaczyk has reached a pinnacle in her career where in fact she’s only just gotten started. The down-to-earth Texan’s successes thus far serve as stepping stones to further ventures including film roles and a line of bath and body products. She opens up to Icon about trials of the past, aspirations for the future and just how it feels to be Hope.

I shouldn’t be surprised, but I had no idea Robert Rodriguez was in fashion design. [You've walked for him], what’s his runway like?
I guess it’s very modern woman but it’s still that classic, sophisticated look for the most part and that’s what I’ve come to wear in my own wardrobe, so I like walking for him because I’m also a fan.

What sort of character do you play [in your upcoming film "Without Men"]?
It’s an independent comedy alongside Eva Longoria, who I had never met before but she was very, very sweet, and then Christian Slater who I had done charity work with before. All of the men leave the town for the Civil War and we’re left to fend for ourselves, and when they come back it’s a battle of the sexes. It’s based on book by James Canon called “Tales from the Town of Widows”. I’ve also guested on “CSI”, but really I’m a host and a model so it’s hard to adapt to some of these roles even though I’m taking classes and things like that, so I’m really excited for this first opportunity I’ve had.

I hear since becoming Playmate of the Year you’ve learned to be selective with what scripts you accept. What sorts of parts have you turned down?
I want to do comedy, but if it’s not the right director I don’t just look at the one-parters. It has to be right, they have to know what I’m going for and who I am and who I’m not. It’s less ‘turning down roles’ but looking at the entire cast, the background, where the movie came from… it’s just picking and choosing. There’s nothing specifically, it’s just that I’ve been naked before so I need a new kind of challenge. An actress that’s done ten movies who suddenly is doing it like when Kate Winslet did it, and she’s been naked in a couple movies, that was, I think, because she hadn’t done it before, but I’ve done it so those are the kinds of roles I turn down now because I want to prove myself in other ways.

Many haven’t so much as heard your voice; you’re widely known just for your body. How does it feel to know you’re revered in this manner?
I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think when I [first posed for Playboy at 23] I was more shy about that. I hated it, actually, to be honest. It kind of sucks to only be known for that. You want so much more. It depends on who you are, I guess, but I know I’m so much more so at 26 I’m like, okay, there’s no way you go out and show it all, it just takes time.

Was the 3D shoot you did handled any differently than what you’re used to?
Every shot was with different cameras. You had, I think, three or four… I’m not sure, even though it’s called “3D”, whether it’s three or four cameras. One will have blue, one will be done with red film, then it’s put together but they’re taken simultaneously. I didn’t know it was such a big deal to Hugh Hefner until he told me later. They told me this story before but when Hef tells you it’s just completely different with numerous details and things like that. The very first issue he did with Marilyn Monroe he wanted to do in 3D because that was the big thing, but he couldn’t afford to put in the glasses you would need to view it. 50 years later, yeah, we did do it, and it was like checking something off on his bucket list so I thought that was a very cool thing.

Read the full interview in Icon's Summer 2011 Issue!

INTERVIEW: Dr. Nakhla's 10 Tips for Healthy Summer Skin

Excerpts from my interview with Dr. Tony N. Nakhla, published in the Summer 2011 issue of Icon Magazine.

Dr. Tony N. Nakhla, D.O., F.A.O.C.D., or simply “Dr. Tony” to his patients, is a Los Angeles dermatologist, dermatologic surgeon, medical director of the OC Skin Institute and author of the upcoming “The Skin Commandments: 10 Rules to Healthy, Beautiful Skin”. Proficient in both cosmetic and medical fields, he is an expert on maintaining the skin you’re in. He states, “Not just myself but the American Academy of Dermatologists recommends you protect all sun-exposed areas on a daily basis. Even through windows on cloudy days the sun’s ultraviolet rays are extremely damaging to skin cells.” So before you break out that hot new two-piece, bear the doctor’s tips in mind.

Dr. Nakhla’s career in dermatology began when he sought a means by which to combine his artistic inclination with his drive to help people. On any given day he might see a cancer patient in one room and a skin rejuvenation appointment in the next. This dual expertise gives him a professional edge yet still doesn’t approximately define the man as he is also deeply passionate about the provision of medical relief in Third World countries. In Antigua Guatemala he filmed and hosted a pilot, highlights of which are viewable at OCSkinInstitute.com, in which medical students and doctors from various specialties including himself set up shop wherever they could and people lined up for blocks to receive simple well visits or to have serious unchecked illnesses treated – medicine in its purest form, with no bureaucratic middle men getting in the way.

Nakhla drew inspiration for “The Skin Commandments” from seeing many of his patients’ frustrations with an over-abundance of “stuff”. He says, “Whether it’s Justin Bieber or Cindy Crawford or even P. Diddy promoting a skin care line on an infomercial, or every department store carrying a magic facial brush or washcloth you can buy for a couple hundred dollars, there’s really no guide out there for people, and a lot of times people turn to non-professionals for advice. I want to offer simplified, down-to-earth solutions for skin care problems and give bottom-line basics for what is needed to achieve healthy and beautiful skin.”

“The Skin Commandments” will be available this September.

Read the 10 tips in Icon's Summer 2011 Issue!

ARTICLE: Melissa Molinaro - Life After Diddy

My introduction for DJ Memphis On Air's interview with Melissa Molinaro, published in the Summer 2011 issue of Icon Magazine.

For years the Toronto-born singer, dancer, actress and former front woman of Goddess, Melissa Molinaro, has strived for prolificacy through television program appearances, film roles large and small and, of course, recording efforts. 2011 is looking like it just may be her year, seeing the pop single “Dance Floor” from the ambitious two-disc solo debut album “The Love/Dance Project” and a major role in Universal’s “Honey 2” alongside Audrina Patridge. Our Memphis on Air sat down with the rising star to discuss the path to fame, current project specifics and how she feels about all those comparisons to Kim Kardashian. 

Read the interview in Icon's Summer 2011 Issue!

COVER ARTICLE: Aubrey O'Day on Music, Life & Love

My introduction for DJ Memphis On Air's interview with Aubrey O'Day, published in the Summer 2011 issue of Icon Magazine.

Singer, writer, dancer, actress and fashion designer Aubrey O’Day, whom you know from, well, just about everywhere, has breathed the entertainment world – from the studio to the stage – since she got her first taste at the age of four. Having departed the “Making the Band” girl group Danity Kane in 2008, she returned to the spotlight in Spring with a new reality show and is prepping to release her Adonis-produced debut solo album later in the year, the first single from which, “Automatic”, has already climbed the charts. She took some time out to dish to Icon about life in the public eye, inspiration, fans, going solo, the possibility of a DK reunion and just what colors she’s been dying her dogs’ fur lately.

Read the interview in Icon's Summer 2011 Issue!


My Month in Review: June '11

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, 2011
Two ways through life indeed. As "The Tree of Life" shows, these can be masked and assisted, perhaps necessarily, by one another - grace by way of nature or nature by way of grace. Does it ultimately come down to how we, as individuals and collectively as a species, choose or are raised to view ourselves? I didn't realize how right I was when, in anticipation, purporting the film as what appeared to be a cinematic version of a religious experience. With this I do not mean, however, to imply "Tree" is a "religious movie". It is narrated through its Christian characters' prayers and intensely portrays a symbolic heaven but can be taken from just about any perspective. No matter one's upbringing there is much to relate to; to feel. Never once is Malick attempting the provision of "answers" - his film is an exploration, questioning just as we are, through an ever-searching camera and consideration of "the big picture" (in, yes, a rather "2001"-esque fashion). The incredibly emotional experience reminds me the importance of focusing on family and life's simple things, seeing as nothing is guaranteed or even matters in the end. Finally, in reference to the wide audience controversy "Tree" has been stirring, really folks... I know from my three (so far) theatrical viewings of the man's work it's like some unwritten requisite that Malick films screen with at least ten people hurling ridicule at the screen but next time you feel like talking through the entire runtime, making the least intelligent retorts imaginable (and even checking your voicemail at the halfway mark), maybe you just stay home, eh? Or at least don't sit immediately behind me; your behavior is nigh intolerably cretinous.

Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen, 2011
As though it's not enough to efface his own oeuvre, Allen simultaneously details the irrationality of such an act in this wonderfully clever "nostalgia shop" of a comedy. I'm so glad I somehow managed to get to my showing before knowing anything of the plot - which, without any special effects, is effortlessly more magical than, say, a school for kid wizards - as I wound up presented with great surprise accompanied by great laughter brought on by brilliantly purposeful exaggerations and commentary likening fools to intellectuals and vice versa. And my, when he sheds the nerdy helm and greasy black hair worn by his Loki in this summer's "Thor", Tom Hiddleston is a handsome man! He and Michael Fassbender should play brothers.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Woody Allen, 2010
A lively and darkly hilarious version of Woody's usuals that reminds me a bit of "Burn After Reading". Woody's tragic characters tend to hit home and Josh Brolin's Roy is one of the best yet, though I am remiss not to mention nearly every other key player (Lucy Punch, Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Naomi Watts...). Really, my only complaint between this and "Midnight in Paris" is that I wanted to spend more time with the characters before the credits hit.

Woody Allen, 2006
Cute fun with Woody's expertly anxious sense of humor throughout. "I love you, really, you're beautiful; you're a credit to your race." And surprise, it's a post-"Lost in Translation" flick in which Scarlett's performance doesn't exactly suck. Something tells me Woody has a fear of touching his eyeballs, hence the contacts quip, repeated by proxy Owen Wilson in "Midnight in Paris". Does Kevin R. McNally always wear those magic muttonchops?

Green Lantern
Martin Campbell, 2011
A "Top Gun"/"Star Trek"/"Superman" hybrid (complete with iconic theme music), "Green Lantern" is pure, nerd-tacular escapism, taking the ready on a journey through a foreboding space including close encounters, childhood dreams come true and a metaphorical battle against the fear that comes with such things. Unlike this summer's prior, also duality-centric superhero films "Thor" and "X-Men: First Class" (thoughts on the latter way, way down below), "Lantern" takes time to develop its characters, their connections and their worlds, doing so through energetically rhythmic editing that entertains while mirroring its could-be heroes' potential paths and paying credence to both sides as opposed to the squander we see with Magneto's unfulfilled potential in the utter mess that is "First Class" and the arguably more heroic Loki's entirely narrow-minded portrayal against his dim, barbaric brother in the pace-blind "Thor" (hey, there's some more Michael Fassbender and Tom Hiddleston for you... they deserve better). I might add that the 3D felt well worth going out of my way for in spite of it having been post-converted. Leave it up to the comic book character whose power is conjuring green light in the forms whatever he sees in his mind to justify post-conversions, eh?

Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Sacha Gervasi, 2008
Metal or no, "Anvil!" accesses the soul of hopelessly desperate creativity trapped in a brutal world. I wavered in the beginning but became thoroughly convinced this was a fake documentary (though I hesitated to go as far as to believe it a "mockumentary"). The ridiculously redundant album covers are one thing but the drummer's name, Robb Reiner, is practically a "This is Spinal Tap" reference! I was impressed with how authentic - and authentically emotional - the filmmakers and "actors" made it all seem. Turns out it's all very real and I'd simply never heard of Anvil before, which makes it all the more hilariously and heartbreakingly inspirational.

Taxidi sta Kythira (Voyage to Cythera)
Theodoros Angelopoulos, 1984
"Voyage to Cythera" opens strong, with what can most obviously be compared to a sequence from "2001: A Space Odyssey". These quiet and instantly enrapturing shots don't seem to directly serve what is to follow, but they set an ethereal mood and could possibly be construed as reminders of the insignificance of our lives and the policies and possessions within and without them. Then, as if such an opening was not enough, our could-be lead awakens to a Soviet march, music I consider so closely tied with the essence of film that its mere inclusion enthralls me, particularly considering it's implication here that we may be dealing with ex-Soviets finding their way outside the structure of the CCCP.

Tom McGrath, 2010
Mega-amusing! I could have done with fewer overly blatant "in your face" 3D gimmicks but yeah, this is one perfectly swell time for a format I'm typically a harsh critic on - computer animated family films. On top of the fast-flying Superman parodies, a good voice cast is at work as well. Was Brad Pitt doing a George Clooney impression?

Richard Linklater, 1996
Darker than "Tape", more pessimistic than "Fast Food Nation"... there's a good sum laudable about this relatively lesser Linklater's palpably downtrodden view of young adulthood in America but it often feels half-baked as though the highly notable filmmaker came back from "Before Sunrise" thinking it necessary to simply enforce a reputation as a go-to hang-out movie man. That said, you certainly can't go in expecting "Dazed & Confused" - this is a stripped and almost hateful outing that, in a sense, likens to "St. Elmo's Fire", that is if you accept my often eyebrow-raising theory that "Fire" is a sequel of sorts to the superior "The Breakfast Club" (and, subsequently, that this is the same to the superior "Dazed"). If anything, it does hit some strikingly similar notes while slowly but surely becoming a worthy experience on its own accord.

Further first-time viewings:

The Thin Red Line - Terrence Malick, 1998
This could easily be battling Malick's latest for June's top spot without the 90-ish minute battle sequence in the picture's middle which, though indeed beautifully shot and seasoned with courageous performances and Malick's signature focus on nature, plays more generically than is desirable for such a duration. After I worried "The Tree of Life" had temporarily ruined other movies for me, I decided to finally, finally, finally watch this and oh, how perfect an addendum to the "Tree" experience it turned out to be, at least in acts one and three.

Super 8 - J.J. Abrams, 2011
They don't make movies like this anymore. Well, you know, apart from this one. No longer do we regularly see this kind of patience and restraint that emphasizes payoffs and focuses so much on character just for the sake of detail (and this one even tells you flat out that's what it's doing). Sure enough, "Super 8" is very much in line with "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". Even with imbued humor throughout, it's not quite as good - it lacks a solid icon a la the ominous, recurring image of Devil's Tower or the unforgettable five tones and as it unravels it wanes where it should wax, relying perhaps a bit too much on nostalgia value - but it is coated by its summer peers with a hearty lament for the modern state of the blockbuster and allows us to once again experience something like it for the first time. Through the John Farris/Stephen King-esque (and refreshingly well-acted) child protagonists caught in suspenseful mystery as a result of creativity combined with a camera and the memories of youth a film of this ilk is positioned to evoke in most of us, "Super 8" is a love letter not only to those post-"Jaws" movies of our yesteryears, but to the magic of filmmaking in general. Also, heehee, "Romero Chemical".

Adventures of Don Juan - Vincent Sherman, 1948
Flynn-tastic! What a cheeky sense of humor!

Larry Crowne - Tom Hanks, 2011
Good, innocent Hanksness with the great supporting actors George Takei, Malcolm Barrett, Bryan Cranston and Pam Grier (I don't care how relatively rough she's looking, she'll always be as hot as Coffy to me). Cedric the Entertainer is also, well, entertaining, and newcomer Gugu Mbatha-Raw does very well. The undercooked romance is shoehorned in but I'm okay with it - sometimes things in life happen suddenly, just like the film's catalytic firing that spurs the real story, a light and begrudgingly relatable tale of hitting life's reset button.

Bad News Bears - Richard Linklater, 2005
I know I mention "Dazed & Confused" with every blurb I write about Linklater, but in earnest the man's "Bad News Bears" remake - almost a mash of his own "The School of Rock" and writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa's "Bad Santa" (which, surprisingly, isn't on rinse-and-repeat mode here) - is quite probably the closest he's since come to revisiting a similar vibe of relatively small town middle America (Idaho this time, I think) with a killer '70s rock soundtrack. Now, I've not seen the 1976 original with Walter Matthau so I have no base of comparison, but I was actually quite surprised to find this version well above the dreck it was purported as through advertising (added to the appearance that Linklater was slumming to raise funds for "A Scanner Darkly" or "Fast Food Nation"). Linklater's eye lends an uncommonly classic atmosphere to what could easily have been material on the level of Dennis Dugan and Adam Sandler. The only real weak spots come in the forms of the boy actors but Billy Bob Thornton holds them together well, getting us spiritedly behind both him and them with the ever-excellent Greg Kinnear as his funny foil. "Bad News Bears", feel-good family fun for the PG-13 crowd, ultimately captures with accuracy the misery and reward in being part of a little league team.

Bad Teacher - Jake Kasdan, 2011
Hey, here's another "School of Rock"/"Bad Santa" mash-up with a rockin' soundtrack. More in line with "Santa", this teacher-with-ulterior-motives flick is based solely on amoral shock value, none of which is at all shocking but most of which works like a charm thanks to the way Cameron Diaz always seems to bring so much fun and camaraderie to her comedy sets (just look at "The Sweetest Thing" or "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle"). Watching Diaz, Justin Timberlake (whose personal history with the star adds to the humor), Lucy Punch (who, after this and "Tall Dark Stranger", has hit my radar of talent to watch), Phyllis Smith (bringing huge laughs with a somewhat new take on her "Office" character although the script occasionally seems to forget about her) and Jason Segel ('nuff said) ham it up and wink at the camera is well worth the one-off, at least for the first hour before a plot tries to kick up, rendering the proceedings rather exhausting for the remainder.

True Grit - Ethan & Joel Coen, 2010
Some appealing moral ambiguity gets thrown out (unfortunately) with some of what have become these filmmakers' redundancies (thankfully; I half-expected the horse dealer to deliver, "You can be a bounty hunter, too, madam!" - and I love "Burn After Reading") as this new "Grit" forms a Coen-flavored western with flair old-fashioned enough to counter certain tone-skewing moments (I.E. our first in-person glimpse of Chaney; that head hitting that rock). Regardless of its blemishes, it settles well. Why have people been criticizing Matt Damon's performance, which seems to me the most endearing aspect? Almost as baffling as the criticism that the picture is anticlimactic.

Harry Brown - Daniel Barber, 2009
A successfully uncomfortable thriller that methodically conquers an easily accessible concept with the help of unforgiving performances and, hehe, Dr. Isaacs.

Daybreakers - Michael & Peter Spierig, 2009
Tonally indecisive and lacking in the effects department but overall a nicely baiting examination of a mythically melancholy near-future world-gone-wrong (one like what might have been had Deacon Frost gotten his way in "Blade") with good leads, oft-striking visuals and the occasional, subtle nod to the past century's vampire classics. It is, more or less, "Gattaca" with fangs. Methinks these "Brothers Spierig" are an inspired choice to take on the ambitious "Power of the Dark Crystal".

Crimes & Misdemeanors - Woody Allen, 1989
I do enjoy Woody's elegance as he works through the dark and foolish aspects of human morality he so likes to deal with and "Crimes & Misdemeanors" is very far from being without merit in many departments, but simply for the (admittedly unfair) fact that I've previously seen the auteur take these themes on better more recently in "Match Point", "Cassandra's Dream" and even, in certain cases, "Midnight in Paris", I can't say my first go with this one has been anything I'm overly wild about. Alan Alda is remarkable, though, as Woody's typical pseudo-intellectual antagonist.

Les demoiselles de Rochefort (The Young Girls of Rochefort) - Jacques Demy, 1967
Based on only this and "Donkey Skin", I find Demy an apparent savant with the instant rendering of unbelievably fanciful ideas into believably magical worlds. These worlds may not be entirely my bag for reasons purely of personal preference (save for this instance's brief Gene Kellyness), but there's little arguing against their seemingly effortless naturalism.

Pump Up the Volume - Allan Moyle, 1990
Picking a concept and sticking hard, this forward-thinking question of rebellion and true definition - not necessarily just of young adulthood - stars Christian Slater as an anarchic high schooler once again, though this time given much better material than in the atrocious "Heathers". It might have been more interesting as a one-man show with only hints of what goes on outside the broadcasts.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Woody Allen, 2008
An examination of various cultures' wildly different ideas of love (and, by extension, art) that benefits from rounded characters (hey, whatever works, right?) but suffers from being occasionally obnoxious and moreover, quite simply, uninteresting.

Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows) - Louis Malle, 1958
Terribly atmospheric, thanks, yes, to the mise en scéne (I might go as far as to say the story is entirely non-issue) but in greater part to Miles Davis' score.

Rio Bravo - Howard Hawks, 1959
It's good... I guess? I looked at the screen, the movie happened, I didn't argue.

L'Avventura (The Adventure) - Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960
According to what I gather from Dino Risi's roundabout response to being asked how Antonioni responded to criticism from a character in Risi's "Il sorpasso", Risi was only being playful with his contemporary. I do upon my first venture in to Antonioni, however, find myself relating - though not literally - with the sarcastic compliment in question (in this case in reference to "La notte", "Bravo, Antonioni, I had a good nap."). You may call me a journeyman, I suppose. At any rate, for what it's worth, I don't see fit at all to rank this below "Superstarlet A.D.". Perhaps I'll prefer "Blow Up"?

Superstarlet A.D. - John Michael McCarthy, 2000
It accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish. In this case this is no Herculean feat, but a success is still a success.

The Ghost Writer - Roman Polanski, 2010
A graciously silent fart in the wind with occasional wafts of Polanski's definitive suspense element (in many cases here, blatant rehashes of "Chinatown"). Reminded me in a sense of "Michael Clayton". Does this mean Tom Wilkinson needs to be in better movies more often? A re-teaming with Todd Field, perhaps? The best part was determining before her close-up whether that was indeed Kim Cattrall or an uncanny British doppelgänger.

Chloe - Atom Egoyan, 2009
Its every note explicitly predictable from the onset, its every technicality unremarkably lacking, "Chloe" is actually far from the worst thing ever but it is ninety minutes you'll almost surely wish you had been doing something else through. At the very least you get to look at Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried.

Scream 2 - Wes Craven, 1997
Well, it's more enjoyable than the first one. The killer is even more pathetic this time and Jamie Kennedy's character goes in to the deep end of annoying stupidity ("The Empire Strikes Back" doesn't count as a sequel? And your reasoning for it... yeah, don't get me started). Still, the meta stuff, particularly during the first act, is quite amusing.

Phantoms - Joe Chappelle, 1998
What if John Carpenter's "The Thing" was a bad movie? Might look like "Phantoms", which I watched only because a certain someone told me "Affleck was the bomb". "Like a motherfucker" indeed. Rose McBorin' and Lame Schreiber, sure... but how did Peter O'Toole get roped in to this one?

The Art of Getting By - Gavin Wiesen, 2011
Here I go being unfair again, as I only saw a chunk of this film and not the entire thing (I'll spare you the details as to how come) but there appeared little hope for improvement with perseverance so here we are. I think it'll be a hit with any artistically-minded teens who give it a chance, but from what I can tell it doesn't have much more than that minimal appeal going for it.

The Newton Boys - Richard Linklater, 1998
Hey, remember when the name "Catherine Hardwicke" was an exciting one to see in a film's opening credits? Anyway, this is perhaps a bigger "who cares" than the only other dislikable Linklater I've encountered thus far, "Me & Orson Welles". Now on to "Slacker", "Woodshock" and... well, I dunno, are "Heads I Win/Tails You Lose", "$5.15/Hr." or "Live From Shiva's Dance Floor" worth checking out just for the sake of completism? Then, of course, "Bernie" later this year... although I'll have to get past the oddly derivative decision to name a movie about pretending a deceased person is still living "Bernie".

Fast Five - Justin Lin, 2011
Well, I finally managed, after having walked out of or switched off "The Fast & the Furious", "xXx", "Pitch Black" and "The Chronicles of Riddick", to sit through an entire Vin Diesel movie. This fifth lap for the "Fast" and infuriating franchise marks a move toward more widely accessible material but thankfully (I suppose), the only apparent redeeming quality from (what I tolerated of) the first installment remains intact - these are modern carsploitation films not unlike similar fare from the 1970s and as such they are proud. The detrimental issue with this unexpectedly second-gear two hours about a gang of hotheads with family values: the plot very boringly plays ring-around-the-rosie with inconsequence masked as pertinence simply to fill time before a climactic chase sequence that is so scatter-shot it all but entirely compromises its many essential car stunts before going all "Ocean's Eleven" (remake) on us. Yeah, the flick is basically about Vin Diesel spitting on the ground while planning a heist that never happens. Yay.

Salt - Phillip Noyce, 2010
Boring as sin. Whatever that means. Sins don't tend to be boring. Well, there is sloth. Yeah, "Salt" is boring as sloth.

X-Men: First Class - Matthew Vaughn, 2011
These X-movies keep getting worse and worse. The only things more preposterous than passing the X-Babies' central genetic mutations off as evolutionary science - a stretch here made notably uncomfortable for the ol' suspension of disbelief - are the mutations themselves, as perfectly highlighted during the scattered climax when a dragonfly lady zips, spewing bombs from her mouth, after an apparently pubescent boy soaring on the sound waves of his cracking shrieks. I take "Sky High" more seriously than I can this overly obvious (thanks for putting that "Moscow, Russia" text there, I'd never have figured it out what with St. Basil's in the background and all... same goes for "Las Vegas, Nevada" with the giant "Las Vegas" sign just behind... ever seen the opening of "Orgazmo"?), shoddily written ("I thought I was the only one," the human magnet said to the telepath while the super-teens randomly spouted, "We think your name should be 'Professor X', and you should be called 'Magneto'," right before the black guy died first), clearly rushed (where's all the '60s atmosphere? Or everything else that's missing, for that matter, such as Vaughn's stylings as seen in "Stardust" and "Kick-Ass"?) and lazily produced (the non-physical superpowers are depicted in the most juvenile fashions imaginable) coward of a film which by all evidence should have remained as it was in development, "X-Men Origins: Magneto", since Michael Fassbender's vengeful Magneto presents the only relatively worthy aspects (still probably would have stunk, though). If this isn't the most embarrassing new millennium Marvel hero film we've yet seen, it's at least in the bottom five with "Elektra", "Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer", "Ghost Rider" and, yes, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine". Oh, and after this laughing stock and February's "Unknown", I'm fairly positive January Jones is a robot.

Total first-time viewings: 35

- Screw it, these "notes" aren't all that ugly, so they're back, when I want them to be, for toss-away thoughts like... this: I'm sort of, kind of, not really considering adding television show viewings to these monthly posts, though I'm not sure how I'd format such an inclusion. Okay, really, I'm looking for an excuse after May and June only managed to reach 41 viewings a piece between first-times and rewatches (record lows for the year thus far... but really not all that bad, I suppose, particularly considering my two jobs and my daughter...) and television shows seem as good a scapegoat as any (better, at least, than "well, the 3D remake of 'Ocarina of Time' came out, so..."). Rewatches of select episodes from "30 Rock" seasons 1-4, "Scrubs" seasons 1-2 and "The IT Crowd" series 1-4 populated this month's idiot-box intake along with a first-time runthrough of all 12 episodes of "Pulling". All incredibly good and worth "wasting" the time on (I particularly recommend American audiences dash to their Netflix Instant accounts and watch "The IT Crowd" as soon as possible)!

Rewatches (6 total): Another Year (Leigh, 2010), Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (Fleischer, 1936), Bananas (Allen, 1971), Megamind (McGrath, 2010), Austin Powers in Goldmember (Roach, 2002), The Other Guys (McKay, 2010)

- As much as I loved "Another Year" upon my theatrical viewing in February, a rewatch showed how much must have passed me right by as I basked in what was my first Mike Leigh film (and still my only even though "Topsy Turvy" and many of the BBC "Plays for a Day" are on Netflix Instant... what can I say, I'm a busy guy... or a slacker, one of the two). I initially commented that it was less concerned with photography, its primary objective being the achievement of total performance freedom for the central actors, Lesley Manville in particular, but I now realize just how lovely a film it is not just for its free and true performances but also for Leigh's careful camera. An unexpectedly much-needed second go for an already-loved film that only seems to get better with age (like... and unlike, respectively... its characters).
- I rewatched other Popeye shorts this month but the fast-talking sailor's first one in color, "Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor", is so good I'm counting it here although typically I stray from including "cartoons". I watched it countless times as a kid and it's still just as entertaining today if not moreso seeing as I now have a greater appreciation for the characters of Bluto (I mean Sindbad... wait, scratch that also... he's "the most remarkable, extraordinary fellow!") and Popeye as supported of course by Olive Oyl and Wimpy.