July 2010

Despicable Me

My family and I went from completely uninterested in to completely in love with the animated film Despicable Me in a matter of months. When we saw the first trailer, in which the pyramid was stolen, we all three had the same reaction—“Bleh.” It didn’t look very interesting at all.

As more and more previews were released, we grew to get slightly interested—even excited—about seeing it. The addition of children, Steve Carell, and those little green minions made it look much more enticing than the typical battle of man vs. man. Knowing that the hero was actually an anti-hero—not a common theme in a cartoon!—was also intriguing.

Away We Go

Going into this movie, I held high expectations—and I was not disappointed in the least. Comical, romantic, and light without being frivolous, Away We Go is a sweetly satisfying film about a young couple expecting their first child. After discovering that the father’s parents are moving out of country, they no longer have ties to their community and decide to travel across the country, searching for the perfect place to raise a family. (Spoilers ahead.)

Summer of Sam: A Phoned in History (Part One)

The range with which Spike Lee is able to tell a story is pretty generally startling. That being said, his work during the eighties and the first half of the nineties all carry with it a similarity mostly due to subject matter – an afrocentricity that the director alone represents in Hollywood. Setting his work in various parts of New York work to unify Lee’s efforts. And for basically that reason alone, Summer of Sam (1999) makes sense within the director’s other efforts.

Inception: A Film for People Who Aren't Intellectuals, but Think They Are

There’re a few different questions people ask each other when first meeting: Where are you from, what kind of music do you listen to and what kind of movies do you like. There’s obviously a pompous answer for each as well as one designed to make the speaker sound as intelligent or well informed as possible. In the realm of film, saying something like “I watch movies that keep me on the edge of my seat,” not only fails to denote what kind of movies you like, but unwittingly makes the speaker sound like a lame advertisement.

Either way, Inception, directed by the omni-obtuse Christopher Nolan, seems to be made for just that sort of person.

He Got Game: Fathers and Sons Play Ball (Part Two)

Along the way to earning his early parole, Denzel Washington’s Jake character ends up becoming involved with a hooker who counts as his neighbor. And while the hooker with a heart of gold thing should be well below Spike Lee’s mental prowess, it seems that He Got Game is attempting to critique women in society.

With Jake accidentally killing his wife, she should be seen as a martyr of sorts considering her death stemmed from intervening in a fight between father and son. So, she’s a good one, as is the hooker Jake befriends.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

I don't go to McDonald's for delicious, nutritious food. If I ever go there, it's because I want something fast, inconsequential and horrible in all those ways we tell ourselves we don't like, even if we do. In the same sense, I don't go to Disney movies for inventive, artistically meaningful cinema. Just like everyone who ever complained that McDonald's isn't healthy, everyone who knocks Disney for making empty, pandering spectacles is really missing the point. That's why The Sorcerer's Apprentice isn't exactly deserving of all its lukewarm reviews. It never makes any pretensions to being anything but an amusement park ride, so it's not exactly worthwhile to compare it to the better movies of the summer.

He Got Game: Fathers and Sons Play Ball (Part One)

When Spike Lee released He Got Game in 1998 basketball was already moving towards becoming the most popular sport in the States. The director, understanding this and probably feeling that it was a deserved shift away from baseball (which is horrendously boring to watch on tv), crafted a narrative intending to display the finer points of the game while still attempting to levy some social and political criticism on the country that birthed him.

Clockers: Stomach Problems and Drugs in the Projects (Part Two)

It’s possible that Strike’s stomach troubles stem from his day to day business and his eventual necessity to knock off another drug dealer in order to advance his career. Again, though, director Spike Lee is never heavy handed enough to state the impetus for these gut rumblings.

Assuming it’s Strike’s conscious getting at him, a scene deeper into the film where the drug dealer runs of a younger would-be dealer makes a bit of sense. Of course, the man’s belly doesn’t magically recover. So, we’re all left to wonder what it actually meant.

"Vampires Suck" Ain't That The Truth!

Trailer Review

"Vampires Suck," a spoof of the "Twilight" movies -- and I thought the "Twilight" flicks were spoofs. They can't be taken seriously as vampire movies!  The "Vampires Suck," movie is directed by: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer -- They needed two dudes to direct? The cast includes no one who I recognize: Matt Lanter, Jenn Proske, Chris Riggi. That's not a bad thing. New faces, you know? I expect to see new faces in horror movies, and in horror movie spoofs. But wait. The "Twilight" films aren't really horror movies. They are horrible movies, hybrids of horrible horror movies and sugar soda pop romance movies.

"Vampires Suck," movie is a comedy, says them -- the producers. Well, aren't spoofs comedies? And some are also funny.

Clockers: Stomach Problems and Drugs in the Projects (Part One)

Working from a Richard Price novel with the same name, Spike Lee’s Clockers appears to be the proper antecedent to The Wire, which Price had a hand in as well. As with any adaptation, it’d be difficult to aptly compare the film and the book seeing as each is housed within the realm of its own form. A book is not the same thing as a film and vice versa.

A Christopher Nolan Primer

At 40 years old, director Christopher Nolan is something of a wunderkind in the industry. With just seven full-length features under his belt, it's fairly stunning how many of them are among the best and most inventive films of the past decade. His most recent movie, the sci-fi noir thriller Inception has been getting almost universally positive reviews, so it looks like Nolan isn't planning on slowing down any time soon. He's got another sequel in his wildly successful reboot of Batman and he's also slated to give the update treatment to the Superman franchise as well. Before diving into Christopher Nolan's world of heroes and the darkest recesses of the human soul, here's a quick jaunt through his body of work.

Crooklyn: Through the Gaze of bell hooks (Part Two)

Woody Carmichale, the assumed head of the household, enjoys bringing treats – cake, ice cream and candy – home for the kids as well as dumping mountains of sugar into his beverages. Of course, it’d be troublesome to have your husband spend your money on food you don’t think your kids need. But hooks extrapolates that Woody’s tendency towards sweet foods hints at a drug problem, although, she concedes, it’s not shown on screen. hooks doesn’t specify what drug she’s referencing – weed, narcotics or what. But her guessing at Woody’s drug use seems to perpetuate black male stereotypes more than the film denigrates female contributions to the household in black culture.

Sports Movies That Aren't About Sports

Sports have been a popular subject in motion pictures ever since the invention of the medium. Some of the first films were about boxers and wrestlers, and many sports movies have garnered Oscar nominations, like Ali and The Natural. Curiously, there are a few really great sports movies out there that aren't really about sports at all. Whether it's because they focus on things related to sports in the periphery or because they just take a different approach to the subject, these films stand out from the rest of the genre.

Crooklyn: Through the Gaze of bell hooks (Part One)

The vast majority of references herein are from an essay the always thoughtful bell hooks wrote on Crooklyn and can be found here.

On with the show.

As a white guy watching Crooklyn, Spike Lee’s 1994 semi-autobiographical film focused on a family of three boys and a single girl set in – you guessed it – Brooklyn, it’s easy to gloss over the space occupied by women and simply focus on the portrayal of a black family during the seventies. One of the rare positive, or seemingly so, depictions of a black family on film.

Do & Don't: Philip K. Dick Adapations

Sometimes certain genres, writers, filmmakers and actors have weirdly distributed careers. They'll make a truly great film followed by three really terrible films, or maybe just a good film followed by a few that inspire indifference. The purpose of Do & Don't is to separate the successes from the duds, making a road map of all the places you ought to stop and, just as importantly, all the places you ought to pass by without a second glace. The first artists to get the +/- treatment is author Philip K. Dick, or more specifically those of his works that have been adapted to film.

Malcolm X: Long-Winded and only Somewhat Edifying (Part Two)

Run time and the material Malcolm X included aside, it marks one of the strongest and most consistent performances Denzel Washington’s ever turned in. There’s not a moment during the entire film, regardless of what Malcolm he’s inhabiting that viewers are conscious of Washington the actor. It’s honestly rather amazing.

The range of tone that the character affects – in early childhood, when Washington is obviously not the actor – while being told he’s smart, but black, so law isn’t an endeavor he should want to pursue, to the time spent working in a kitchen on a train, there’s a wide emotive gap to traverse. And the few actors who ape the character do it perfectly.

Leap Year is Bland and Forgettable

What an abysmal waste of Amy Adams, is all I can say.

I was really looking forward to this movie. I don’t know why; I guess after the string of highly enjoyable romantic comedies we had over the past couple of years (Definitely, Maybe, Penelope, PS I Love You, etc.) I was expecting, I don’t know; some sort of quality. And I absolutely adore Amy Adams—in everything from Enchanted to Doubt to Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day—so there was that factor of expectancy as well. (Spoilers ahead.)

But I should’ve known better. Didn’t I suffer through The Proposal, Valentine’s Day, and several other rom-com flops (well, flops in my opinion—many did very well at the box office) this year? Didn’t I already decide that 2010 was not going to be the year of the decent tearjerker, but of the banal, humorless waste of reel?

Malcolm X: Long-Winded and only Somewhat Edifying (Part One)

Never having read Malcolm X’s biography, nor being overly familiar with his early life, it’d still be easy to realize Spike Lee was necessitated to edit out significant portions of the man’s real life narrative. The movie was still three hours long.

It’d be impossible to completely portray any single person’s life over the course of a film. Even with Malcolm X’s being truncated by his 1965 assassination, Lee left out some good bits. But that’s the crux of film making: creating a palatable product while still including every necessary element to tell a story.

Jungle Fever: Race Traitors and One Bedroom Apartments (Part Two)

Along with all the social commentary, Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever is rife with well defined characters – apart from the attempt to render an Italian family in realistic terms.

What’s made clear – but not until pretty far into the movie – is that while white racism is alive and well, but black folks even have to deal with degrees of pigmentation, a concept gone over in School Daze as well. Compounding that are the various characters attempting to explain this instance of jungle fever to their loved ones.

Paul Auster's Blue in the Face or How to Make a Movie from Improvisations

Reminiscing (in tempo) leads to a spate of subtly related, almost lost to time ideas or past experiences. That’s almost what Blue in the Face, the kinda follow-up to Paul Auster’s Smoke, is comprised of.

Convincing Miramax to spring for a bit more film and the like, the cast assembled for Smoke, between takes, finds itself working to create a narrative snatched from bits of improvised scenes and guest appearances. It works sometimes. And sometimes it doesn’t. But for the most part, the performances aren’t too bad.