Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Monday, February 25, 2008

A Banner Year for Crap

A little over a year ago, the fine critics at The AV Club noted that, in their reviews, they rarely give anything an "F;" they're sort of like Pollyanna, always finding something to admire about all but the very worst films, albums, and games.

Well, that was then. In the first two months of this year, Meet the Spartans, The Hottie and the Nottie, and Witless Protection have all received the lowest possible rating. I'm not exactly surprised that these movies are awful; did anyone have high hopes for the latest lazy all-purpose spoof, Paris Hilton vehicle or Larry the Cable Guy fart-fest? But I sincerely hope that this just means that the worst films of the year are being unloaded early, and that this isn't the harbinger of the shittiest year in the history of cinema.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

What I've Seen: There Will Be Blood

Despite the title, blood is not the liquid that looms largest over P.T. Anderson's latest film. The first half is dominated by oil; prospectors wade through it, faces are covered with it, and at one point it rains from the sky. The latter portion of the film belongs to water, as characters swim in it and are baptized in it. Other beverages play a supporting role, with goat's milk and whiskey making recurring appearances. And then there are those milkshakes...

A few months ago, I was hyperbolic in my praise for Children of Men, admiring the way every element of its production came together to create an utterly convincing world. There Will Be Blood may be last year's equivalent of that film. The art direction and costume design make its dusty settings feel real and lived-in, and Robert Elswit's cinematography is gorgeous; his use of dimly lit interior shots and golden, magic-hour outdoor shots are reminiscent of Gordon Willis's work on the Godfather trilogy. And Johnny Greenwood's much-heralded score, while occasionally distracting, is overall quite effective in its driving percussion and eerie strings.

Anderson's direction abandons the elaborate tracking shots which were used in Boogie Nights and Magnolia; that sort of flashiness wouldn't fit in this kind of film, anyway. Instead, he uses long shots that frequently place the oil baron Daniel Plainview on one side of the frame, opposite another actor; he is a man in near-perpetual confrontation. In fact, the only character who spends a large amount of time by Plainview's side in the frame is his adopted son H.W., at least until a major event changes their relationship and Plainview begins to unravel.

Daniel Day-Lewis's portrayal of Plainview is the most discussed aspect of the film, and rightly so. The accent he adopts for the role has been compared to John Huston in Chinatown, but I'm not sure that's quite the right comparison. Huston spoke with a folksy voice in that film, playing a man who could bid you good morning and threaten to kill you without changing his tone. Plainview's voice is much deeper and darker, like a barely-concealed growl lurks behind each word. Add to that the fact the Day-Lewis is frequently shown sleeping on the ground, and the overall effect is an animal who has learned to imperfectly imitate the humans surrounding him.

The final scene of the movie threatens to take on a life of its own. I won't give anything away, but I did find that, while watching it, my jaw was involuntarily threatening to drop.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"I expect a zombie to show up on Sesame Street soon, teaching kids to count."

My favorite quote from an interview with zombie king George Romero.

Bonus PBS reference: Romero cut his teeth working on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

What I've Seen: War of the Worlds

When I was younger, I loved the slightly cheesy George Pal film of War of the Worlds, and today I have a queasy fascination with end-of-the-world movies. Considering those facts, it's a bit strange that I only just got around to watching Steven Spielberg's 2005 remake starring Tom Cruise. I recall the film getting generally good reviews, but it seems unlikely to be remembered as anything more than a good-enough Spielberg blockbuster. I won't argue that it should rank among his half-dozen or so masterpieces, but I will say this: Steven Spielberg has made more important films, more influential films, more entertaining, artistic, and personal films, but I don't think he has ever made a movie with such a sustained sense of dread and with so many utterly terrifying images. Unlike the briefs shots of the shark in Jaws, Spielberg uses slow zooms and long tracking shots to practically sear the images of carnage into your retinas. One of the movie's recurring themes is Tom Cruise's efforts to shield his young daughter from the horror surrounding her, and I sometimes wished that the director would show the same concern for the welfare of his audience.

And yes, the ending is a cop-out, but that's probably something you should take up with H.G. Wells.

"Today is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap."

If, like me, you're spending tonight watching Lost and need a little romantic music to Valentine up your Day, here's a couple of oldies that have been stuck in my head lately:

Josh Ritter & Erin McKeown - Tonight You Belong to Me

Fiona Apple (w/ Jon Brion & Nickel Creek) - Tonight You Belong to Me

Steve Martin & Bernadette Peters - Tonight You Belong to Me

[See also: Cold War Kids, The Bird and the Bee]

Sam Cooke - Bring It On Home to Me

[See also: Britt Daniel, Zooey Deschanel & M. Ward]

Monday, February 11, 2008

I'm Not Usually the Type to Say "I Called It," But...

...I called it:
"I'm going to go out on a limb right now and say that Hancock will win this one." - 12/6/07

"Herbie Hancock wins Grammy for Album of the Year" - 2/11/08

Monday, February 4, 2008

So, You See the Game Last Night?

My verdict: the ads were mostly dumb (although I did laugh at the one with Charles Barkley), the game was mostly dull (except the last five minutes, which were mostly exciting and Schadenfreude-tastic), Tom Petty was mostly good, and the Puppy Bowl was mostly adorable (except the Referee, who was trying too hard to be Zach Braff). Thus ends my sports commentary for the foreseeable future.

Super Bowl Ad Roundup

Actually, I missed most of the Super Bowl Ads this year, although I did catch this bit of weirdness. It seems that Coca-Cola has decided to tap into the white-hot star power of former Sen. Bill Frist, enlisting the man's awesome charisma to make America sit up in its collective Barcalounger and buy some Coke products.

Is it written somewhere in the constitution that Senate Majority Leaders are entitled to post-retirement career as soft drink spokespersons?

Bonus Joke: Based on a review of the videotape, I would say that the ad agency who came up with this commercial are in a persistent vegetative state.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Are You Ready for Some Chew Toys?

Well, it's finally time for that annual event in which people across the nation gather in front of their televisions and see athletes at the peak of physical perfection batting it out for supremacy on the gridiron. We mere mortals can only gaze in awe at the determination, stamina and sheer competition on display.

I am talking, of course, about Puppy Bowl IV.

I've got $500 on the line that the puppies will be adorable. Plus, I bet another $50 that a pug will take a dump on the field at some point.