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Worthy of The Cause
3 Out Of 5 Stars

A troubled young soul in need of redemption comes to a charismatic philosopher who claims to have the answers. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Lancaster Dodd, who is obviously loosely based on L Ron Hubbard and his cult of Scientology. When Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a World War II veteran who can't adjust to civilian life stumbles aboard Dodd's yacht party, the two find a sort of common bond with each other. Freddie has a need to find answers, The Master claims he has them. For the next two hours, the 2 men circle each other in a sort of tragic dance.

"The Master" explores the bond between Hoffman and Phoenix and it is a difficult bond to watch. Freddie has issues the run so deep that even Hoffman's "processing" can't draw them out. The two men metaphorically explore what it is like to be a cult follower in a cult leader. Hoffman in particular exudes charisma even when other characters point out that "The Cause" seems like it is being made up as they go along. At the same time Freddie is so desirous of a father figure/guiding light not only is he willing to follow "The Cause," he is willing to fight off anyone who dares question the Master's divinity.

The movie does a great job in showing what willing followers will do in search of the ultimate answer. Phoenix, as the troubled young Freddie, runs through the movie like a powder keg just waiting to explode. Even in the end, as the two men try to mend their differences, Phoenix can't hide that he is wound up tighter than a watch spring even as Hoffman attempts to console him one last time. "The Master" is not an easy movie to watch. Phoenix burns so darkly and with such intensity that it is hard to wonder if he is redeemable. He earned his Oscar nomination, as does Hoffman, who for the bulk of the movie remains unflappable in the faith of his beliefs. Dodd desperately wants his protege to follow his leadership while Freddie struggles between his love of Dodd and the leash that The Master keeps his followers on.

"The Master" doesn't explode. It is a slow burn of a film that reveals its greatnesses the hard way.

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Songs to Kill People By 
4 Out Of 5 Stars

300 Years in the future and folk music is still high lonesome depression. Guess "The Hunger Games" thinks that - other than watching kids kill each other for sport - we won't be changing all that much. These songs (mostly inspired by the film/book as opposed to being featured in said film), stick mainly to acoustic guitars and the sad laments of the participants. I find it funny in the odd way that kids usually pounding their way to hip-hop and punk rock will be lapping up country waltzes ("Tomorrow Will be Kinder" by Secret Sisters) and Appalachian cries like The Carolina Chocolate Drops doing "Daughter's Lament."

T-Bone Burnette, as executive producer, allows for few curve balls. Kid Cudi gives the disc its heaviest and most ominous song with "The Ruler and The Killer," which sounds more like the oppressive state that would find a real life version of "The Hunger Games" to be a day's TV dinner. Adam Levine is pulled away from his comfort zone, as Maroon 5 pick up a mandolin and ditch the synths for "Come Away To The Water." Taylor Swift sounds all grown up as she teams with the Civil Wars for "Safe and Sound" then The CW gets their own chance to shine with "Kingdom Come" ("Don't cry my dear, it will all be over soon").

The Alt-Rock crowd gets two dollops from Arcade Fire and The Decemberists. AF pounds out a militaristic drum tattoo on the threatening lullabye "Abraham's Daughter," while Colin Meloy keeps the Decemberists in REM territory for "One Engine." It also happens to be the most propulsive song on the disc, so maybe life in District 12 won't be so sad after all. It used to be that you couldn't turn on the radio without being pummeled by songs from a film, be they good or bad. Since that has changed and the deluge slowed, good soundtracks are harder to come by. "The Hunger Games" is one of the better one and hits more than it doesn't.


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Talking about the good life in the foodchain
4 Out Of 5 Stars
Werner Herzog was given a strange mission with the film, "Grizzly Man." How do you take 100's of hours of tape made by a delusional, self-centered and mentally imbalanced man who is ultimately killed (along with the poor woman he drags along after him) by his obsession with Alaskan Grizzlies and make him someone somewhat sympathetic? The documentary manages to do just that, with Herzog inserting himslef as a conscience/narrator into the tapes of naturalist and self-described "kind warrior" Timothy Treadwell. For over a decade of summers, Treadwell would haul himself to Alaska, embed himself in a State Park and try to become one with the grizzlies.

Yes, you're right...anyone with a lick of sense would see this as a fool's errand, and the movie doesn't even bother to hide that fact by mentioning at the beginning that Treadwell and lady friend Amie Huguenard become lunch for a "bear full of people and clothes." Treadwell fails to recognize what Herzog knows by instinct and a few millenniums of evolution; nature is "chaos, hostility, and murder." Treadwell looks at nature as some sort of Disney-fied harmony, where if you just dance with the animals, they'll be your friends and all will live in the big unity of the universe. This despite ample evidence to the contrary (adult males eating cubs to foster mating with females, the killing of one of his fox pup 'friends'); Treadwell rails on about the bear world versus the people world.

Herzog keeps Treadwell from looking like a blithering idiot by balancing some of the most intimate footage you'll probably ever see of bears in the wild and commentary from both the friends and enemies of Treadwell, and ultimately sacrificing an opportunity to exploit Treadwell and Amie's death. A narcissist to the very end, Treadwell had a camera running even as he and Amie were being attacked and killed, and Herzog makes the decision to not include the audio (the lens cap was still on the camera) or include the pictures from the coroner, going as far as to implore one of Treadwell's few friends to destroy the final tape and never look back. It's Herzog's sense of compassion for his subject (aided by a terrific score by guitarist Richard Thompson), even as he understands the madness, that makes "Grizzly Man" so compelling.


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We All Live On
5 Out of 5 Stars

Lovingly restored and recolored, the Blu-Ray of The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" is an opening of a time capsule, with the dust of years wiped clean. The mix of traditional animation and the Peter Maxian designs still holds a fascination to this day, with the sound quality now absolutely stunning. Granted, the imaginations behind much of the movie was lysergically enhanced, but it adds to the time-charm of the movie. I can't recommend this enough to Beatles Fans, who already know the songs and probably many of the scenes by heart.

Extra Credit due Dept: I really dig the 'cell' reproductions included in the Blu-Ray package. The bonus interviews with surviving members of the cast and crew are brief but delightful, but the VH1 Interview with the surviving Beatles from the '99 DVD release might have been a nice addition. You can choose between mono and 5:1 surround, depending on your purist nature, and the sequence for "Hey Bulldog" has been reintegrated into the film seamlessly. It's a must own, and I now anxiously await future Beatles' Blu-Rays.


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[info]moroccomole's birthday is today!
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A Good Fit
4 Out Of 5 Stars

This low budget gay classic has just the right touches of drama, humor and camp to be endearing and memorable. "Leather Jacket Love Story" was shot in 10 days in and around the Silverlake area of Los Angeles, as wanna-be poet Kyle tries to escape the pretensions of West Hollywood, and falls for dark and sexy construction worker Mike. Kyle is a awkward twink, Mike is a weathered older 30 something with the experience Kyle lacks.

The opposites attract almost immediately, and the sparks do fly. In particular, Christopher Bradley (as Mike) is charismatic and lights up everything he does. There are several nude love scenes, for those who buy "Gay Movies" based solely on body-part count, but Mike and Kyle give convincing fling. But can love bind two men so many worlds apart from each other? Hey, this is a gay fairy tale, complete with drag queens, sunny skies, packed leather bars (Los Angeles' notorious Faultline) and little capital D Drama. When the gay bashers inevitably show up, they get whupped in more a funny manner than anything else. The low budget soundtrack even tips its hat to the tacky sounds of 50's sitcoms.

"Leather Jacket Love Story" is a feel good movie and will give you plenty of smiles. I found it surprising that, in a very tiny way, I had a small part in the film. When Mike and Kyle head into a store to buy Kyle's first leather jacket, there are magazines on the background wall. To the left of the screen, ever so briefly, a copy of the eighth volume of "Rubber Rebel" magazine can be seen, a publication I edited and produced in 1996. It was a pleasant surprise and endeared "Leather Jacket Love Story" to me all the more.

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It's All Here Now
5 Out Of 5 Stars

This review is from: Blade Runner (Four-Disc DVD Collector's Edition). First off, I was surprised to see this set at such a low price. Ridley Scott's Science Fiction masterwork and possibly Harrison Ford's singular best acting job, four discs. and all three versions of the movie. The remastering is stunning, and makes it all the more stunning that "Blade Runner" was created before the CGI days.

In the future, Androids are called Replicants, but they also are smart and strong enough to go renegade. if they do, the Blade Runners shoot them down. Deckerd (Ford) is the best of the Blade Runners, and is called upon when an escaped group of Replicants returns to earth in search of immortality. Seems they have a built in 4 year expiration date. That is, except maybe for the one called Rachel, which Deckerd may be falling in love with. Played with smokey noir feminine wiles by Sean Young, she becomes the lynchpin in Deckerd's chase for the runaways.

Noir is a major operative word here. Los Angeles in 2019 is covered in smoggy rainstorms and decaying buildings. Only the rich can afford to build themselves a place in the sun, and they're the ones making the killer bots. Which means everywhere else is darkness, shadows and slivers of light. This is easily one of the most exquisitely filmed Sci-Fi thrillers in history, which means the original cut didn't pass muster with the suits. That version (the happy ending voice-over version is included), along with the 1992 director's cut and the Ridley Scott final version. One of the few DVD's I've found fit to actually own, "Blade Runner" is a marvel of a movie.

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This Moon is Made Of Cheese
2 Out of 5 Stars

"Apollo 18" takes the 'found footage' horror methodology (think "Blair Witch" or "Paranormal Activity") and takes it off world. You thought Apollo 17 was our last lunar mission? You think the Russians never landed on the moon? Got news for you conspiracy minded types out there; neither of these is true. Sent up under the guise of a National Security/Department of Defense kind of Top Secret mission, our three astronauts board the Liberty and Freedom vehicles for one more investigation of what's really up there. It ain't the Sea of Tranquility, that's for sure.

Before you know it, something is making creepy noises outside the Lunar Module. Samples are suddenly not where the explorers originally left them. And them dastardly things ripped up the USA flag! Not only are these critters scary, they're downright UnAmerican! Then again, they weren't too nice to the Ruskie that landed there before Apollo 18, and the unlucky astronauts realize that their government may not have told them everything about their journey or its intended mission. The handheld cameras soon begin jerking and spinning, the automatic cameras are going static, and the humans just might be losing their minds.

"Apollo 18" mixes just enough "now-you-see-it" spookiness to add some real scare jolts, but mostly, it's dopey space B-Movie fun. The Metal Munching Moon Mice from the old Bullwinkle cartoons were about as believable as the space bug monsters wreaking havoc on our helpless heroes, and some of the effects are laughably bad. There's plenty of stock footage in use to help make the original bits work chronologically, however, as a horror movie is concerned, the green cheese that is "Apollo 18"? It certainly isn't rocket science.


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Puppy Love
5 Out of 5 Stars

Denis is having a rotten week. He just lost his job of 11 years. His relationship is gone stale, and rocky. His Mother, a sweet and overbearing woman, is seriously ill. With all the turmoil going on around him, what does Mom suggest? "Get a dog." But when Dennis goes to the pound and can't decide which dog he wants, the one he finally chooses is gone when he goes back. When he finds out why, Dennis decides exactly what his modern mid-life crisis needs.

He makes his "Abrupt Decision" (the fifth feature from filmmaker Paul Bright) when he realizes that his creative collapse mirrors that of the dogs' dangerous lives. With some inspiration from his Mom (Cynthia Schiebel) and the reluctant support of his partner, Milosz (David LaDuca), Denis (Steve Callahan) decides that saving the lives of animals and educating people on their care is his way into a meaningful second act. You know how the saying goes, if you don't want to be upstaged in a movie, stay away from children and dogs? Despite the superb job by Steve and David, the pups are "Abrupt Decision's" scene stealers. But beware. Even with the cute pooches running amuck, this is a very emotionally striking movie.

In the new economy, where men like Denis can find their lives upended and discover that your expertise vaporized after 50 (along with a funny montage of a degenerating series of interviews -  featuring me), there are many among us who will relate to the impact of "Abrupt Decision's" story. As Denis struggles to find the right decisions in matters of utmost importance, you may put down the doggy treats and reach for the hankies. I'll certainly say that the film is a must-see for pet-lovers, but it also carries an intimate, personal life story.


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3 Out Of 5 Stars

Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are star crossed lovers. While that may sound like a set up for a romantic movie, in "The Adjustment Bureau," it could destroy the world as 'The Chairman' has planned. As loosely based on a story by Phillip K Dick, the adjusters come to Earth at the orders of the Chairman to quietly make little tweaks so the world runs just as it should. Trouble is, Damon and Blunt are not supposed to be in the plan.

In Dick's story, Damon's Dick Norris is not a rising polition, but some grey suit in an office who stumbles into the adjusters, who happen to be dogs. In the story, the dog is supposed to bark and delay Damon. In this case, the adjusters are given human form and magic fedoras that make John Slattery look like he just crossed the street from shooting Mad Men, but in the movie give them the power to navigate strange portals (a store door that opens to Yankee Stadium, for example) and make things work as the Chairman sees fit.

Religious Allegory much? While that is never mentioned, Chairman = God gets obvious and tiresome as the movie stretches out. While Dick's original story was deeply misogynistic, at least Blunt is given a woman who could conceivably be the strong character Damon would fall for. Ultimately, the faith versus fate versus freewill argument consumes the movie and the holes begin taking up more space than the magic doors. Blunt and Damon have good chemistry, Terrence Stamp is a menacing adjuster, but the movie can't maintain a steady pace. "Inception" this isn't.

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Gasland Set your sinks on fire

4 Out of 5 Stars

You've probably seen all the America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) commercials of late, cheerfully consoling us that safe, clean, natural gas can be easily extracted from the ground while happy people live above, leading clean and healthier lives. The Oscar nominated GASLAND exposes the corporate lie of Natural Gas mining. From the start, where filmmaker Josh Fox receives a letter offering him something near $100,000 for the rights to drill gas from his mountain and creekside home in upstate Pennsylvania, to the end, where you watch New York City and State lawmakers fight to keep the watershed that provides millions of people from polluted drinking water, Fox explores how the Power Companies have managed to manipulate the system with the help of corrupt and gullible politicians the outright greed of the Bush/Cheney administration.

The central point of GASLAND is that, in 2005, the EPA made changes in environmental policy that are called "The Halliburton Loophole." That rule, snuck through by Cheney and his secretive energy board buddies (including then CEO of Enron, Ken Lay), exempted the Halliburton developed technology of hydraulic fracturing (now widely known as 'fracking') from regulations of the old Clean Water Act. The end result? Drilling for natural gas and the unbelievable amount of water and chemicals pumped into the ground required to create a well are all but completely exempt from regulations regarding the toxins that are needed to extract the gas.

Of course, all the companies involved say that they have nothing to do with hundreds of drinking wells across the country suddenly turning unsafe withing weeks of fracking. Or animals getting sick and losing their hair. Or the methane explosions of people's homes. Or the mass die-offs of animals and fish when chemicals leak into a stream. But Fox, who tried to contact companies and individuals in mining throughout the course of his investigation gets the same treatment as the folks in states across the country; either "no comment" or massive run-arounds. When a State Environmental Agency head in Pennsylvania tells Fox that he'd help Fox and other PA citizens of Dimok (the first town Fox visits), only to note when the meeting ends that the state slashed the office's budget and basically dismantled it.

But more revealing than anything else in the movie is the notorious flaming sink footage. When fracking shatters the aquifer of a peace of land, the gases seep into the water table. The chemicals used to pump the gas out also get into the water, and before you know it, you have flammable tapwater. It's not just that water that is getting mixed up, the air outside the well is loading up with toxins to the point where a rural area of Colorado where the population is approximately one person per square mile is as dangerous or more so than a bad day in Los Angeles. GASLAND serves as a warning and reminder; the same smiling advertisers trying to convince you that clean, accessible natural gas is not threat to you at all are the same folks that told you off-shore drilling was both safe and existing regulations guaranteed that even if the miniscule chance accident were to ever take place, they could stop it from becoming disastrous.

When you watch GASLAND, there will probably be a detractor ready to tell you that the film is just lefty propaganda. Just remember the last sentence of the previous paragraph, and make sure to remind your companion of two little words. Deepwater Horizon.

Inside Job  Fuel Food, Inc. Restrepo Blue Gold: World Water Wars
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The Company MenThe New Normal
3 Out of 5 Stars

Bobby (Ben Affleck) is your typical white collar success story. He has a great job at a conglomerate company, a pretty neat boss, Gene (Tommy Lee Jones), a good wife and two kids in a fabulous New England home. Then the crash of 2008 occurs and Bobby's job, despite twelve years at GTX (a transportation company of some sort), wasn't so valuable after all. Soon he has to figure out what his measure of a man truly is, and it's not pretty. "The Comapny Men" focuses mostly on Bobby's struggle, but it is an ensemble film with strong support from Chris Cooper, who struggles with the realization that a man pushing 60 in this job market is paddling upstream against younger and cheaper help, Kevin Costner, a contractor who is (IMHO) written into a cliched part, Craig T Nelson, the CEO making 22 million as he downsized left and right, and Mario Bello as the HR director who begins to doubt her ethics.

This is not an easy movie to watch, as it probably cuts a bit too close to the bone in a country facing 9% unemployment. Bobby and Phil (Cooper) soon finding that there are sacrifices both intentional and unintentional that have to be made for the sake of survival. There's also underlying messages about being prepared for the future and just how much we've thrown away for "kids working for a dollar a day" (as Costner's character unsubtly jibes Bobby incessantly). People are losing their cars, homes, families and lives in reality; "The Company Men" holds up an unflinching camera to this world. It's a good movie, just don't expect a feel-good wrap at the end.

 The Town State of Play (2009) Gone Baby Gone
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Passion PlayBirds of a Feather
4 Out Of 5 Stars  

This intriguing, if slight, allegorical drama features a cast that works a low key script effectively. "Passion Play" (and no, it has nothing to do with the Christian Ritual dramatic presentation about the Death of  Jesus) features Mickey Rourke, Bill Murray and Megan Fox in a love triangle over an angel. That angel happens to be Fox, who Rourke discovers in a carnival sideshow after surviving a mob hit ordered by Murray's gangster, Happy. But Happy isn't going to be happy unless he can keep this angel for himself. Roarke, who is playing a washed up jazz trumpeter Nate Poole, refuses to accept that this heavenly being is going to be stolen from him, and for that matter, neither does Rhys Ifans, who runs the Freak Show Lily (Fox) ran away from.

The surprising thing about all this is Fox, who plays Lily with just enough smoldering hurt that all my usual prejudices about her were dispelled. Each character is trying to escape their own rhetorical demons (Poole to free himself from his drug destroyed past, a life devoid of beauty and joy for Happy, and literal cages for Lily) that the noir-ish elements of the film work well. Murray, who can really do malevolence well (he's even better in "Mad Dog and Glory"), slithers his way through Happy's role with his usual low key smarmy. In his efforts to continue his come-back, Rourke does a decent job as the dazed Poole, even if it just comes off as a lower degree version of his character in "The Wrestler."

My biggest gripe was that I had the twist figured out by the time Poole finds the side-show. I won't reveal it, naturally, but if I could pluck that particular feather from "Passion Play," my guess is so will a bunch of other viewers. Don't let that stop you from watching this, though. Softly spun movies like this are hard to find.

  The Wrestler Mad Dog and Glory Angel Heart (Special Edition)  Scrooged
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Inside JobIt will take decades to undo this damage
5 Out Of 5 Stars

A few years ago, I watched the documentary "The Smartest Guys In The Room," about how Enron systematically duped the system, employees and the public into believing their fraudulent practices were a legitimate business. In 2005, they went from the USA's seventh largest company to bankruptcy, leaving a trail of death, debt and broke employees while the principles scooted away with the bulk of their fortunes. It was revealing to watch how they cozied up to presidents, regulators, and essentially eliminated anyone that caught on to the giant ponzi scheme the company was. I watched and wondered, how did they get away with this, and could we stop it from ever happening again. The Oscar Winning "Inside Job" answers that creeps like Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling were only the tip of the iceberg.

"Inside Job" takes an in-depth look at how, starting with Reagan and continuing with President Obama, the financial pirates of Wall Street bought their way into massive paper fortunes, played the markets like parlor games and then got the world to buy them free passes when the house of cards came down. Narrated by Matt Damon, featuring plenty of interviews by several key government players, including Elliott Spitzer and Barney Frank (who, the film does NOT mention, voted for the "Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000", which is a key bill in the slippery slope). Several of the key Government types get sudden convenient cases of memory loss when pressed for certain details that they were intricately involved in (see the financial lobbyist who gives his Wall Street masters a 'B' grade for their handling of the collapse), and how major ratings firms suddenly turn their respected viewpoints of Triple A commodities ratings for companies on the verge of collapse into "it's just an opinion."

Nobody, left or right, gets out unscathed. Reagan gets first whacks for elimination of regulatory agencies, put in Alan Greenspan as his ideological watch-dog, and opened the world up to Savings and Loans. It took about nine years for them to collapse (under Bush One), so Wall Street had to come up with something new. That became derivatives, which Clinton legalized despite strong strong objections (and the person objecting is told firmly to keep her mouth shut) under Graham/Leach in '99 and effectively repealing the Glass-Steagall act from The Depression. With all the regulatory firewalls removed, banks could now effectively make a poorly advised loan, bundle it to a whole bunch of risky loans, sell this to someone else, then that group could sell it up the chain, with the complicity of the bonding agencies that gave these ticking time bombs triple A ratings.

When it comes to deregulating, though, nobody did it better than Bush the second. In 2004, he got the Securities and Exchange Commission to drop regulations against predatory lending, unleashing a new wave of sub-prime lending to the poor even if it was obvious that the loans wouldn't be repayable. Just bundle it into securities/assets, sell it and the risk belonged to someone else. By 2004, banks could leverage funds beyond their wildest dreams, so they did; some up to 33 times their available cash. Then came the biggest hit of all, the watchdog arm of the SEC was cut to a single employee. In an industry that has 5 lobbyists for each elected official, there was only one person left to investigate wrongdoing.

"Inside Job" also tackles the thorny issue of morality; when is too much not enough? Banks began to figure out that these bundled securities weren't going to be able to withstand the market much longer, they insured themselves against their failure then sold them even harder to drive the profits up before the explosion. They could profit now, success or failure, and things began to resemble a competition. Who has the most jets? Who has the most houses? Who has a private elevator that no-one else can use? So when the explosion came, starting with Bear Stearns in Spring 2007, the bankers had already covered their own behinds. And again, thanks to Bush Two, when the bankers realized the house of cards was about to enter meltdown, when they came crying to the government with their hands out, AIG and Goldman Sachs got 100 cents on the dollar. No risk, all reward.

President Obama fairs little better. He is criticized for putting the same old robber-barons in place (Tim Geithner, Larry Summers) and not pushing for tougher regulations post-crash. Even scarier is how these old hands are now advisers to business schools AND financial groups, which means the same flawed rules they played by to create this septic situation are being bought and paid for by financial institutions and taught and sold for by educational institutions. That is what is so maddening and ultimately depressing bout "Inside Job." While Enron (and folks like Bernie Madoff, Bernard Ebbers (MCI), Allen Stanford and his ilk) give you a convenient and singular target, "Inside Job" shows just how spread the dominoes are, and just how eager most of the players are to reset the table just as it was before.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room  Wall Street (Insider Trading Edition) No End in Sight Taxi To the Dark Side

Easter Day

Apr. 25th, 2011 12:53 am
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Joel and I decided to head for the local Borders Bookstore, which is having a going out of business sale. I bought a few CD's, Joel got some books and music. It was a warm and sunny walk in the city. I picked up Steven Page (Barenaked Ladies' lead singer gone solo), Pernice Brothers, Elliott Smith, Sting, Violent Femmes, The Kooks and (no sniggering) a Toto CD.
Later, I had dinner with some friends, but Joel decided to stay home and avoid the temptation of non-Passover food (Passover ends Tuesday). Had some VERY tasty vegetarian Chinese in Philly's Chinatown. I had some non-chicken General Tao's Chicken with Brown Rice and soup, with Fried bananas for desert. It was probably good Joel skipped this, as there was way too much wheat in the non-meat.

We also watched some movies over the weekend, including "Inside Job" (Oscar winner deserved, but maddening), "Charlie Wilson's War" (Tom Hanks, terrific), "28 Weeks Later" (nihilistic and stupid) and "Triage," a very good war drama.
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Splice B Movies With Big Budgets

3 Out of 5 Stars

This movie is such a super-collided atomic mess that it us hard to rate "Splice" with just a single star for how endearingly awful it is; and for that reason, it's almost tempting to give it five stars for being such a stunning screw-up. Obviously, someone had high-hopes for "Splice;" by casting Oscar winner Adrian Brody and handing it to up and coming director Vincenzo Natali (best known for cult science-fiction classic "The Cube"), "Splice" had a high concept and old fashioned B-Movie science fiction plot going for it. Brody and co-star Sarah Polley are the scientists who decide to ignore all the rules and go against those stuffy conventions that they get the scientific breakthrough they wanted. The bad news is: they get the scientific breakthrough they wanted.

Yes, that's right. These ever so hip scientists (Brody wanders the lab with ironic t-shirts, there's Anime artwork in the couple's apartment) are genius DNA specialists that somehow match human DNA with amphibians, scorpions, birds and who knows what else to create Dren, which happens to be Nerd spelled backward. Like most science fiction monsters, Dren grows at a ridiculously fast pace, has super-human intelligence, childlike behavior and not much by way of moral turpitude. Of course, Brody and Polley soon lose all scientific objectivity regarding Dren and fall in love with their little monster, and that's when things go horribly wrong.

While this might seem like boiler-plate science-fiction, "Splice" may be the first hipster Science Fiction movie. The best sci-fi/suspense/horror works when your monster somehow is an allegory for whatever the zeitgeist of the world is at the moment. "Splice" works that angle in that "Dren" begs us to consider what nasty creatures we may create if we start messing with Mother Nature, but soon starts going for new levels of irony. Before you know it, "Splice" is whipping questions of gender identity, circumcision, lust, love, parenting, rape and finally, the usual evil corporation profit mongers. With ever upping of the ante, as a viewer, you're left to wonder "did they really just go there?" The answer is yes, and the film just keeps on going. The final third of the movie is such a mess that you feel like you're watching the train wreck. It's not wretchedly bad (for that, you need "Alien Vs Predator" or "Battlefield Earth"), but "Splice" - which borrows so much from the likes of "Species," "Alien," "Prophecy" and even "Rosemary's Baby" that you may feel a bit of deja vu - will still leave you stunned.

 Species (Collector's Edition) Aliens (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) The Prophecy Battlefield Earth AVP - Alien Vs. Predator (Widescreen Edition)
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How many of these 100 movies have YOU seen? Copy the list, and mark those you've seen with a + sign. The winner is listed first for all past years.

127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
+The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

+The Hurt Locker
A Serious Man
An Education
+District 9
+Inglourious Basterds
The Blind Side
Up in the Air

+Slumdog Millionaire
+The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader

+No Country for Old Men
+Michael Clayton
+There Will Be Blood

+The Departed
Letters from Iwo Jima
+Little Miss Sunshine
+The Queen

+Brokeback Mountain
+Good Night, and Good Luck.

Million Dollar Baby
The Aviator
Finding Neverland

+The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Lost in Translation
+Master and Commander
Mystic River

+Gangs of New York
The Hours
+The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
+The Pianist

+A Beautiful Mind
+Gosford Park
In the Bedroom
+The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
+Moulin Rouge!

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
+Erin Brockovich

+American Beauty
The Cider House Rules
The Green Mile
+The Insider
+The Sixth Sense

+Shakespeare in Love
Life is Beautiful
+Saving Private Ryan
The Thin Red Line

+As Good as It Gets
+The Full Monty
Good Will Hunting
+L.A. Confidential

The English Patient
Jerry Maguire
Secrets & Lies

+Apollo 13
Il Postino
+Sense and Sensibility

Forrest Gump
Four Weddings and a Funeral
+Pulp Fiction
Quiz Show
+The Shawshank Redemption

+Schindler's List
+The Fugitive
In the Name of the Father
+The Piano
The Remains of the Day
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The Social Network (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)The Rich are Just Like You and Me...Only Much Younger
4 Out Of 5 Stars

David Fincher has a knack for seedy underbellies, and he finds a juicy one to stab in "The Social Network." Working from a wordy script from Aaron Sorkin and a bravura performance from Jesse Eisenberg (as Mark Zuckerberg), he boils the creation of the most successful internet site down to friendship, betrayal and insecurity, with side servings of jealousy and greed. It's the same old story you've heard a million times before, just updated for the 21'st century.

Eisenberg shows the kind of detached brilliance of the uber-nerd stereotype, and he makes Zuckerberg into a believably arrogant genius. His zingers are cruelly on target, even though many of them are delivered at deserving targets. (It also is worth noting that had these things been said in an actual legal deposition, the speaker would have been escorted away.) However, you see essentially a hurt young man whose brilliance doesn't impress many folks because he is an overbearing ween. This fact is set up in the brutally dark comedic exchange at the movie's opening, where Zuckerberg is trying to score points with a girl, all the while continually berating her. One drunken revenge hacking later, and the seeds of Facebook are planted.

But it is that isolated anger that fuels "The Social Network." When the spoiled rich Winklevoss twins (played with a bit of trickery by one Armie Hammer) are trying to sue on the grounds of intellectual theft, Zuckerberg snaps at the lawyer representing them that his thoughts are "back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing." Then to drive his irritation at the attorney home, he sneers "Did I adequately answer your condescending question?"

There are snakes all over this grassy web, all trying to get to Zuckerberg's money, and at the same time, Zuckerberg stabs one of the only people to show him kindness, his co-founder (Andrew Garfield) Eduardo Saverin. It's hard to comprehend Zuckerberg's reasoning for trying to jam his one friend out of the business, although the snake oil spewed by Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake, who seems to be playing himself) seems a likely explanation. The way these three triangulate forms the emotional core of the film, with Parker playing demonic mischief maker, trying to grease his way into a spotlight that he envies Eduardo for having. The rapid-fire back and forth between all these spokes still centralize back on Zuckerberg, and "The Social Network" turns on how much you either believe the story or how much you can tolerate two hours of listening to these wealthy but morally bereft children spearing each other.

The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal The Social Network
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The Road
This is how the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Like a modern day "On The Beach," the movie version of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" takes a grisly look at the world nearly a decade after some sort of catastrophic event has turned it into a barren wasteland with what few survivors left battling for survival. Unlike "On The Beach," however, you get no real sense that anyone wants to pull together, or that small communities have formed to weather the end times. Obviously, some have checked out rather than even try. Instead, "Papa" (a desolately believable Viggo Mortensen) and "boy" (a spookily innocent Kodi Smit-McPhee) are trying to make their way to the ocean in hopes that maybe the climate will be safer and warmer.

You're never given a reason why the world is dying; was there a nuclear winter? Did some sort of space detritus strike the earth ala the dinosaur extinction event? Did all those Fox News Climate Change deniers get a really nasty wakeup call? Did something happen to the Teutonic plates to cause these earthquakes and eruptions? You don't know; you only know that Papa and boy are wandering a barren planet where the only other life you see is a solitary beetle. Oh yeah, and gangs of murderous cannibal survivalists. It's up to Papa to keep boy safe, and guide him through the drifting ashes and burning landscape.

Along the way we meet the occasional other survivors that don't want to eat you, including a scene stealing Robert Duvall, who tests the father and son's humanity, and a thief who breaks Papa's resolve. While a couple of the scenes seem forced (seeing the hunters run down a woman for killing makes no sense...if there's any chance for survival, reproduction would seem to be a priority, wouldn't it?), but for the most part, the 'every man for yourself' scenarios seem too close for comfort. With the world dying a slow death (boy's birth in the early portion of the movie puts the timeline about 8 to 10 years into the post-apocalypse), how generous would you be? Who would you trust? "The Road" answers resoundingly, not very much. Not too many. This is a movie whose images will haunt after the disc leaves the player.

Legion On the Beach The Day After
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The RunawaysCh...Ch..Ch..Ch..Cherry...BOMB
2 Out of 5 Stars

What might have been a decent sex and drugs and rock and roll movie turns into an utter snoozeout within its first 60 minutes. "The Runaways," based on Cherie Curie's book and executive produced by Joan Jett and Kenny Laguna might as well have been called "Cherie and Joan" for all the depth it gave the rest of the band. Poor bassists Vickie Blue and Jackie Fox are replaced by "Robin." Lita Ford, who did have a successful solo career post Runaways, is portrayed minimally, and then as a shrill, jealous harpy. Like Lita, Sandy West becomes a background figure who is mentioned only when Kim Fowley introduces her to Joan near the beginning of the movie. Then, in almost insulting fashion in the movie's epilogue, only Jett, Curie and Fowley's status gets mentioned.

While "The Runaways" does feature the band's best known songs (albeit re-recorded), it really shorts the band overall. There's way too much time spent on druggy hazes and a lesbian subplot when a bit more interest in the band might have made this more entertaining. It also allows Michael Shannon, playing Kim Fowley like a glammed up Dennis Leary, to steal the show. It's curious to note that, as profane and ludicrous as Fowley is made out to be in the film, in real life he was allegedly even worse. Like most sharks, he smelled blood money in the water and exploited it at every turn.

Fortunately, in real life Joan Jett survives the band's breakup, which is where the story concludes. Which also is a highlight of the movie; Kristen Stewart does a terrific job as Joan Jett, even down to the singing. Dakota Fanning at least washes her goody-goody away as Cherie, but her part is written to poorly to allow her to stand out. Watch this (if you must) for Stewart and Shannon, and then listen to the The Best of the Runaways: 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection. Just don't take the DVD as history.


The Best of the Runaways: 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection Greatest Hits Messin' With the Boys Edgeplay - A Film About The Runaways Lita Mercury Albums Anthology Runaways The Runaways Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway 


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September 2015

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