Sunday, November 28, 2010

Review: Black Swan

Deep inside every great artist, there is a lesbian ballerina stalker who wants to drug you and take your job. To attain greatness, you’ve got to stab her in the stomach and toss her into a bathroom stall. But not before getting it on with her. Because life is too short not to.

This is the main lessons I learned from Black Swan. Well, I guess it’s not right to say that I learned the lesson, because I’ve always known it, but I just needed the movie to remind me of the great truth.

Oh, and another thing I learned that I already knew: Director Darren Aronofsky is a frikkin’ genius.

Black Swan is a labyrinthine head trip that spelunks through the messed-up mind of an artist in the most fascinating way I’ve seen outside Federico Fellini’s 8 ½. I’m not one for superlatives, but as ballet movies go, this is even better than Center Stage.

By not only making a movie about ballet interesting, but somehow making that movie one of the best movies of the year, and furthermore by making a movie in which Winona Ryder is only the third hottest actress in the movie, and furtherermore having those two actresses make out, Aronofsky proves to be a true master of his craft.

Through just a few films, just about all of them masterworks of the finest order, Aronofsky has established a distinct, powerful voice so strong and probing that every time he releases a new film, it should be regarded as the cinematic holiday of Aronofskoliday. As time passes and euphoria fades into detached contemplation, Black Swan may prove to be his best work yet. It’s got the inner obsessive torment of Pi, the hopeless derangement of Requiem for a Dream, and lonely psychological struggle for redemption of The Wrestler. Most importantly, it’s got none of the sucky pointlessness of The Fountain. But even though The Fountain was terrible, Black Swan is so good I pretty much want to change my mind and like that movie from afar just as a way of paying tribute to it.

I’ll say little of the plot, only to share that it takes the story of Swan Lake, twists it around with psychosexual drama, and makes it seem resonant and exciting. Natalie Portman plays a ballerina who fears she’s nearing the end of her career, exuberant that she has the chance to replace a fading star (Ryder), while carrying on a dysfunctional romance with the company leader (Vincent Cassel) while trying to fend off a challenge from the mysterious new girl in the company (Mila Kunis).

OK, halfway through that last paragraph, it occurred to me that Black Swan, like Burlesque, is pretty much an exact copy of Showgirls. And while the Showgirlsness of Burlesque made me hate that movie, the Showgirlsness of Black Swan is amazing and perfect. Does that make sense? Well, if it doesn’t, don’t worry, because neither does the ending of Black Sawn on the literal level.

The beauty of The Black Swan is that it transcends the realms of logic and contrivance to make perfect sense on a metaphysical level. You watch the movie, recover from the gut punch of an ending and think, “Yes, that’s just right.” Then you gulp down some egg nog, open your presents and start counting down the days until the next Aronofskoliday.

Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Vincent Cassel, Winona Ryder. Written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John J. McLaughlin, based on a story by Andres Heinz. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. 107 minutes. Rated R.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Review: 'Tangled'

I am going to blab on and on, as I always do, but the only review you really need to hear about this terrible movie comes from my 3-year-old son, Luke:

“Daddy, can we leave?” he said in the middle of the endless movie. When I shook my head, he added the death blow: “I never, ever want to see this show again.”

This from the kid who can watch the same episode of Special Agent Oso four times in a row.

If not for the reinforcement by my offspring, I might have cut Tangled more slack out of concern that maybe the problem was more mine than the movie’s. The trailers made the movie out to be an irreverent, Shrek-like deconstruction of a famous fable, oozing with snark and in-jokes. The actual product packs about as much subversive punch as a Hallmark card.

Maybe the problem rests with the Grimm brothers story itself. There are only so many ways you can go in a tale about a girl with long hair stuck in a tower, and this Disney take seems like a bitter Pictionary player who’s stuck with a clue that’s too hard to describe so he ends up drawing a character that looks like a hybrid between a turtle and a question mark, then stares ashamedly at the ground until the timer runs out.

Mandy Moore voices Princess Rapunzel, who was kidnapped as a baby by a cruel old woman who uses the girl’s magical hair to replenish her youth. The king and queen miss Rapunzel so much that they set off an annual display of floating lamps to commemorate her birthday, but don’t yearn for her return so much that they have a search committee check all the towers in the region in which locked-away girls stare out the windows with longing abandon.

Zachary Levi voices Flynn Rider, the con artist adventurer who happens upon Rapunzel’s tower as a hideout, then through a twist of contrivance ends up agreeing to take her to see the floating lamps on her birthday if she’ll hand over a stolen artifact that she stole from him after knocking him out with a frying pan.

Yes, the movie proves that it is possible to get a brain freeze without eating ice cream.

No matter how silly and overly complicated the story, the movie would have been fine had it managed to generate any sense of rhythm – comedic, dramatic or otherwise. The film lacks any soul or purpose, much like a Jersey Shore castmember. But unlike a Jersey Shore castmember, it’s incapable of punching people in the face at random for your entertainment.

When I got home from the movie and put my son to bed, I just had to tell someone about the horrors I’d experienced. So I dialed up my dad, and told him “I never, ever want to watch this show again.”

Starring the voices of Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi. Written by Dan Fogelman, based on the fairy tale by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm. Directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard. 100 minutes. Rated PG.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Review: Burlesque

Burlesque writer/director Steve Antin was watching the movie Showgirls one night and thought, “Man, this is a great flick, but it would even better if I added Cher and subtracted the nudity!” And thus Burlesque was born.

The scenario in the above paragraph may have been completely made up, but it’s better than other possible explanations of how this movie was made, including “on a dare,” “by Mad Libs” and “on accident.”

I don’t want to say Burlesque is bad, but you know all those movie theaters in New York that are infested with bedbugs? Word has it the creepy-crawly parasites have abandoned the establishments for fear of having to be subjected to the movie.

There’s a chance you’ll like the film. Perhaps if you’re Christina Aguilera’s mom or the spirit of Sonny Bono reincarnated as a person who can tolerate awful movies. Or maybe if you’re drunk or high and hanging out with friends and in the mood to laugh at something, Mystery Science Theater 3000-style, for 100 minutes.

Let’s set the stage: Christina Aguilera plays NomiMaloneWhoopsIMeant Ali, a desperate, lonely Midwestern girl with no family or prospects who lands on heading west to make it to the big time. Being a woman of modest means, NomiMaloneWhoopsIMeant Ali has a loose definition of what constitutes “the big time.”

When she steps into a 1930s-influenced hole in the wall that’s so awful its patrons tolerate a lip-syncing Kristen Bell as its lead attraction, NomiMaloneWhoopsIMeant Ali decides that she will dedicate her life, Rudy-style, toward one day being able to sing and dance for minimum wage on that magical stage for a crowd of 15 people. Or make the Notre Dame football team. Whatever’s easiest.

A rational Midwestern NomiMaloneWhoopsIMeant Ali might see such a place as a brief steppingstone to something better – maybe a gig as a greeter at Chili’s or something. But to the movie’s heroine, this burlesque club is living the dream.

Understandably, the joint is losing money, much to the despair of its owner, played by Cher, and her gay best friend (Stanley Tucci) with whom she once hooked up back in the day, as revealed by a story that’s about as believable as Cher’s plastic surgery.

An evil land developer wants to buy the club for way more than it’s worth and turn it into something less of an affront to society, such as a bedbug incubation farm, and he’s also dating the Bell character. But then NomiMaloneWhoopsIMeant Ali starts singing and shaking it like a genie that’s spent far too much time in the bottle, and he wants to rub her the right way. But the bartender guy likes her too, and so there’s a love tri… uh…

Since I stopped caring about the plot midway through the last paragraph and Antin stopped caring even before he wrote it, I won’t trouble you with any more setup. Just know that the high points involve Aguilera busting out that fantastic voice of hers, the low point involves Cher’s one ill-advised song, and Rudy not only makes the team but gets a sack on the very last play. Oh, and Christina Aguilera is every bit as good of an actor as she was on the Mickey Mouse Club. OK, not quite as good. But she does have boobs now.

Starring Christina Aguilera, Cher, Stanley Tucci, Kristen Bell, Cam Gigandet and Eric Dane. Written and directed by Steve Antin. Rated PG-13. 100 minutes.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; Part I

Like University of Kentucky basketball players, Harry Potter and his pals have decided they can’t wait to finish school before going pro. You can’t really blame them for leaving Hogwarts early. Not only do shoe contracts and multimillion dollar paychecks await, but -- oh yeah – Lord Voldemort and his gang of evil, genocidal sorcerers want to kill them and they’ve installed the guy who killed the school’s previous principal as the new headmaster.

So there’s that. Don’t try and talk to Harry, Ron and Hermione about the importance of earning degrees and enjoying their fleeting childhoods. They’ve got to go get theirs – “theirs” in this case meaning hidden charms called horcruxes that transform into monsters that display smokey underage sex shows and double as Voldemort’s resurrection portals to boot. To destroy the horcruxes, Harry and the Harriettes must find a hidden magical sword that Harry may or may not need to ice-fish out of a random Antarctic lake in the middle of the United Kingdom.

And no matter how efficiently the kids do their convoluted job, they won’t be able to finish until next year, when the other half of their 5 hour movie will apparate into theaters.

The first few paragraphs are my way of complaining how convoluted and ineffectual the plotting of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I is. And despite its silliness, insanity and Blue’s Clues-like insipidness, it’s still a fast-paced, fascinating film that’s better than all 32,000 previous movies in the series combined, times two.

Harry Potter flicks have always suffered from a narrative akin to a sugared-up kindergartener who tells you pieces of a story without linking them together or explaining context. “Harry flew in a magic car and then he smiled at Hermione and then Dumbledore came in and showed them some magic and then…”

While the routine holds true in the 32,001st movie in the series, at least now there are real consequences and some chances for the not-so-young-anymore actors to strut their chops. To put it bluntly, I like this movie because instead of whining about possible death at the hands of Voldemort while barely any of the threats come to fruition, this is the film in which Voldey finally gets to pull out his nine and bust some caps. If you happen to be an irritating CGI character, you’d best not make reservations for the premiere of Part II. And oh yeah, retroactive spoiler alert for that sentence.

It’s just fun to watch wizards kill each other, shooting spells like bullets and throwing knives through magic wormholes that come out the other side and continue to get their stab on. I could watch this stuff all night, and practically did since the movie is so needlessly long.

I was actually impressed with the acting. All that time spent making love to horses on the British stage has clearly paid off for Potterboy Daniel Radcliffe, who now displays a full range of emotions rather than the bewildered false modesty that’s been required of his character for the first 32,000 films. The same goes for Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, who by now must be so sick of their roles they’d take just about any other job, including head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, just to break typecast.

Well, let’s not get carried away. No one in their right mind would coach the Cowboys because Jerry Jones is a meddlesome owner who sets employees up to fail. But they’re definitely ready to star in softcore Showtime porn or play substitute teachers on Glee. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for them, but before the future I need one more wizard slaughtering movie, pretty please with a horcrux on top.

Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Alan Rickman. Written by Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling. Directed by David Yates. 145 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Somewhere Out There Is A TV That Will Love Me

As you may have heard if you've encountered any video game site in the entire world in the last few days, I discovered the hard way that HDTVs are less than capable volleyball opponents. While they are excellent at blocking shots at the net, they can't take a hit and quit playing like crybabies, making you out to be the bad guy by crying rainbow unicorn tears as the world laughs at you.

So as things stand, I'm in the market for a new TV. And no, just to clear things up with those who asked, I wouldn't accept a replacement from Microsoft if it offered because that would unleash an ethical bag of monkeys I'd rather not spank. I will be buying my new TV, hopefully with as little money as possible.

Here are my requirements. If you happen upon a great deal that fits these parameters, leave a comment.

Size: 46 to 55 inches.

Kind: 1080p LED LCD. I would slum it for a plain LCD, but only if it's 55 inches or larger. Plasmas have nice pictures but too much glare and DLPs seem nice and all but I don't want to be buying new lamps every other year.

Price: $900 maximum.

HDMI inputs: 4.

Have at it, army of new readers. You're my only hope.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Yes, I Am The First Moron To Break His TV With Kinect

A public service announcement: Do not under any circumstances play Kinect Sports Volleyball at 1:30 a.m. while standing under a ceiling fan with a dangling chain for a light switch. You could conceivably spike it into your year-old amazing TV, causing it to die with a rainbow LCD teardrop dripping down from the impact wound.

Plus you'll lose the match by forfeit.

Addendum: If you feel sorry for me buy my book, Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel (makes a great Christmas gift) and help take the pain away.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Review: Due Date

This is posted over at OK.

Zach Galifianakis and Paul Rudd are the leading man-whores in the bromance arms race. Neither has any standards, and will give it up to just about anyone who asks.

All either cares about is giving as many different dudes as possible 90-minute sessions of hot, dirty, unprotected platonic bonding.

Galifianakis gets it on with Robert Downey Jr. in Due Date, the latest shot across the bow, not to be outdone after Rudd added Steve Carell to his harem earlier this year with Dinner for Schmucks.

This round goes decisively to Galifianakis, whose film is funny throughout and the only one to include the necessary element of a masturbating dog.

Due Date is a wholesale ripoff of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, with Downey as Peter, the snobby, uptight businessman forced to travel cross-country with the pudgy, slovenly Ethan (Galifianakis). Peter hates Ethan, mainly because as soon as they meet Ethan gets Peter thrown off his flight home to see his expecting wife (Michelle Monaghan). Ethan loves Peter, if only because Peter hates him and Ethan likes a challenge.

Galifianakis is so darned adorable as Ethan that it’s impossible to share Peter’s fury. A hapless lug who carries his recently deceased dad’s ashes in a coffee can, Ethan holds dear to his dream of becoming an actor and one day appearing as a special guest on Two and a Half Men. Kudos to the screenwriters for thinking of such a pathetic aspiration.

Downey is the Larry Appleton to Galifianakis’s Balki Bartokomous, putting hand to the forehead as Ethan engages in all sorts of hijinks, such as flipping their rental car off freeway overpasses, getting Peter beaten down by a cane-wielding Western Union employee and chased by Mexican Federales.

The material may not be as inspired as The Hangover, director Todd Phillips’ last outing, but it never bores and keeps the laughs in the theater so loud you’ll miss enough few follow-up jokes to want to see the movie again.

Now the ball is back in Rudd’s court. He’ll have to top that masturbating dog, perhaps with a masturbating monkey or something.

Starring Zack Galifianakis and Robert Downey Jr. Written by Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel and Todd Phillips, based on a story by Cohen and Freedland. Directed by Phillips. 95 minutes. Rated R.