February 2011

An American Comic Book Hero Movie

Trailer Review -- 'Captain America: The First Avenger'


And so the Captain America: The First Avenger, movie is coming. The Captain is an American. The role is played by an American. In this flick, there's none of this business with Brits pretending to be Yank heroes. The star is Chris Evans. And --

Explosions! Special Effects -- ZOOM, ZOOM, BAM! LOOM, Yeah! I like my comic book movies, like them better when the lead is a good actor and they story has a back story. Yeah, I like my summer funnies at least an inch deep, and give me a little broad humor too. I saw the trailer -- I , and over a million and a half other people in the one week that it has been on the Internet. Millions watched it during the Super Bowl.

Helvetica: The History of a Font Is Better Than It Sounds...Truly.

It does truly take an adept filmmaker to take the font Helvetica and turn it into an hour and twenty minute long documentary – and an engaging one.

First off, though, this is being typed in Helvetica. But on just about every piece of public signage there’s a pretty good shot that the text is going to be the font Helvetica focuses on. Anyway, even I was reticent to watch this particular effort even after being told it was a good view. The topic, clearly, doesn’t inspire wild visions of content. And really, the first fifteen minutes or so are passable, but nothing all that terrific. Yeah, it’s a problem when a film’s exposition is slow moving and barren. But after the historical framework’s all set-up, the rest of the film’s surprisingly interesting.

Just as a note, the term Helvetica was apparently derived from Latin for the country of Sweden, where the font was first realized. Soon after that gets sorted out in the mid-sixites, it seems that Helvetica played a tremendous part in the advancement of design across the world. Just hunt down some advertisements dating to the fifties and then think about what the Brits meant by using the term ‘mod’ and applying it to fashion, print and everything else within reach.

A Karl Urban Sampler

It has become a custom to view actors, or at least the top tier of screen performers, as larger-than-life artists. We fixate on highly selective method actors like Daniel Day-Lewis and glamorous starlets like Natalie Portman, performers who have definitely contributed a lot of memorable work to their art but almost always stand out in front. The worlds of TV shows and movies need more than just stars to be engaging and engrossing. They need working actors in supporting roles and background pieces to illuminate most scenes and give some depth to the inherent artificiality of filmed fiction. That's why I have a special appreciation for performers who are rarely the center of attention but always solidly contribute to the project. One such steady professional is Karl Urban. The 38-year-old New Zealand native has been enjoying a little more attention over the past few years thanks to a handful of high-profile supporting roles. Though he usually pops up in dialogue-light, action-heavy projects, Urban brings an admirable combination of dedication and humor to his characters that most actors in his position wouldn't bother lending.

Killdozer!: It's Almost a Joke, But a Good One

First written as a short story in 1974 by Theodore Sturgeon, Killdozer! has gone on to impact American culture in a number of surprising ways.

Aired as a made for television movie the same year as the story was first published, it apparently impacted viewers to the extent that Conan O’Brien made mention on his show resulting in some ridiculous YouTube stats. Before that, though, a band from Wisconsin went so far as to name their band after the story. That’s dedication. And dedication to a patently ridiculous scenario.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back: Liberals Run Amok

Expanding the fictional world founded in some of his earlier films, Kevin Smith returned to his best known characters in 2001 for Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Always quick to point out his inability to act well, or even look decent on film, the director more likely than not relished being the title character in a relatively large scale movie.

"Brokeback Mountain"

Two cowboys find more than what they bargained for - and each other - on Brokeback Mountain


All the way back in 2005, Ang Lee presented Brokeback Mountain, a Western unlike any other, based on Annie Proulx's short story of the same title. The love that dared not speak its name was given the stunning backdrop of the Canadian Rockies in the man's world of 1963, as two sheep herders' lives are irrevocably changed on the slopes of Brokeback Mountain.







Anti-Romance Movies

Hollywood is obsessed with love. Every year, theaters are flooded with romantic comedies, sexy dramas and even action movies with love stories shoehorned into their otherwise serviceable combination of explosions and pithy one-liners. That's why it's important to keep a few palate cleansers on hand for when you need to give the old bow-finger to the heart-rending business that is love. These anti-love movies each make a strong case for the merits of being single.

Dogma: Kevin Smith's Religious Epiphany

If you don’t happen to be tremendously familiar with the scriptures, Dogma probably won’t wind up helping you out too much. At the same time, though, having little or no background in Catholicism doesn’t detract from a viewing. Instead, director Kevin Smith takes the time to pretty plainly explain everything that’s going on and its ecumenical background. The writer and director’s admitted to not writing dialogue so much as a series of monologues. And he’s right. Getting to hear Chris Rock explain the ins and outs of saving existence is pretty amazing – and somehow well done. Comedians weren’t really ever supposed to be actors, but it works at time. And Dogma’s one of them.

Jersey Girl: Kevin Smith Makes Ben Affleck act with J-Lo

Avoiding Jersey Girl since its release in 2004 has been relatively easy. The Kevin Smith directed romantic comedy didn’t do too well in commercial release and hasn’t found a new life on DVD. We might all chalk it up to Ben Affleck’s career hitting the skids around the time the film was released, average performances turned in by the film’s actors or even the cheese ball soundtrack on which various women sing accompanied by acoustic guitars. But really, it was probably just that Smith was a bit out of his depth, attempting to insert more than a modicum of serious relationship discussion. Chasing Amy worked well enough, but that movie was actually consistently funny as opposed to being sporadically hilarious like Jersey Girl.

“Excellent droning,” says a teacher to her elementary school class after they collectively repeat some learned phrase without fully comprehending its meaning. Set in a Catholic school, the opening of the film feels deeply personal as Smith has been rather vocal regarding his relationship to religion. Of course, pretty much everything afterwards feels contrived.

That empty, vacuous feeling might be attributed to the performance, though. George Carlin is and should be considered an important part of American history. His just not a good actor and probably shouldn’t have been featured so prominently as the Affleck character’s father. Stephen Root, who folks might recognize either from Coen Brothers’ movies or his stint on Newsradio, would have done a far sight better instead of simply being Carlin’s sidekick.

Fast, Cheap & Out of Control: Pause for Reflection

The various films Errol Morris has constructed over the years have all included at least snippets of recreations, making his documentaries an odd combination of real and fictitious. Granted, everything the guy’s done has worked to install him as the pre-eminent director in his field. And a lot of that has to do with the guy’s ability to side step pratfalls affiliated with tossing in Hollywood-esque, actorly vignettes into his film’s. There’s no sight of Michael Moore’s useless politicking, Morris’ films have to do with storytelling.

Exit Through the Gift Shop: Banksy on Film, On Art

However Banksy was able to wrangle Rhys Ifans to narrate Exit Through the Gift Shop should probably remain a secret. If the truth was exposed, some of Banky’s bad-dude cache would probably be lost. Well, I take that back. During the film itself, there’s a scene in which the clandestine street artist cum international art star takes a guy named Thierry Guetta into his studio and shows him millions of counterfeit British pounds with Princess Di’s face on them. Apparently the guy passed a few off, but figured it was a pretty enormous offense to counterfeit such a sum of cash and stored it away.

Due Date: Galifianakis Gets Weirder

It’s gotta be bizarre for comedians who worked with Zach Galifianakis over time. He’s gone from doing relatively small club dates and college tours to starring in hundred million dollar movies. Of course, his success is well deserved. He’s a funny guy with a unique act and unmatched skills of absurdity. Due Date still sounds like a stretch if only expressed in verbal or written terms. Galifianakis’ character Ethan needs to be experienced visually in order to be properly impactful.

Cold Souls: Paul Giamatti as an Unattractive, Talented Actor

Not being an actor, it’s easy to just guess that playing oneself on screen is the easiest thing in the world. And it might be for certain folks. But becoming acquainted with Paul Giamatti over the course of his career, figuring the guy for a semi-neurotic shouldn’t take too long to accomplish. So, being cast in Cold Souls and having the necessity to lay bare personal sentiments regarding one’s own perception of self and relation to the world at large must have been relatively difficult.

Robinson Crusoe On Mars: Adam West's Minor Roles

As documented over the course of the last few years, I’ll watch pretty much any movie given the proper situation. There’s nothing out there, really, falling below my standards. Anything from Death Bed to cut-rate blaxploitation might find its way onto a television screen or monitor in my general vicinity. And with so many companies working to cull the history of international film, it’s been easy to remain flush with viewing options.

Catfish: An Accidental Scam

Before getting into how absolutely crazy Catfish wound up being, let me air a quick complaint. The film follows Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman and Nev Schulman on a bizarre, serpentine quest for love, initially found through the internet. That alone’s odd, right? Yeah. There’s a scene, in historically verite style where the three fellas are sitting around a hotel room one evening. It’s late and everyone’s about ready for bed – probably having already brushed their teeth and put on whatever clothing passes for acceptable when bedding down in a room with two other men. Nev, who ostensibly functions as the film’s protagonist is attired in nothing other than a pair of briefs. Totally fine in the company of a sibling and a guy who should presumed to be a close family friend.

Mystery Team: An Early Notice...for NBC

Released in 2008, Mystery Team preceded its cast members being thrust into (relative) sitcom stardom. But even back then, all of three years ago, there was such a wealth of NBC talent wrangled for this production that guessing at its star’s future ascendance to notoriety wasn’t hard to figure.

Donald Glover, who at the time was on the writing staff for 30 Rock, hadn’t as of yet landed a spot on Community. Similarly, Aubrey Plaza hadn’t cemented a creepy cult following by playing that stolid secretary on Parks and Recreation. And while Mystery Team won’t be something that either looks back on as a career highlight – surely, though it was fun to make – watching young actors work through early efforts is still pretty rewarding.

The Nightowls Of Coventry: Unknown Unknowns

It’s difficult to fault locally produced and shot films aiming at breaking through to a grand appreciation of place and talent. But here it goes.

Laura Paglin wrote and directed Nightowls of Coventry back in 2004, around the time Harvey Pekar was gaining national cache. And if you were to just glance at this feature’s cover, it wouldn’t be too difficult to imagine the Cleveland mainstay had some involvement in the production at some point. He doesn’t. And probably wouldn’t have if he was asked. It’s not that the film’s an awful piece of trash – some may believe that, though. It’s just that Nightowls feels dashed together and overly busy for a work only clocking in at an hour and fifteen minutes.


Emilio Estevez's fictional depiction of the night of Robert Kennedy's death


In 2006, Emilio Estevez wrote, directed and starred in Bobby, an ensemble retelling of the hours before the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy on June 5th, 1968. Seen through the eyes of a myriad assortment of characters in and around the Ambassador Hotel, Estevez's film attempts to explain what the killing of Kennedy meant for the United States; the second Kennedy brother was a beacon of hope for millions, gunned down in his moment of victory at the end of the country's most tumultuous decade. Unfortunately, what should have been a moving and poignant story is instead a very mixed result.