Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Single shaker of shame: The worst DVDs of 2008

“Why did I rent this?” These words echo across America every night. If you have to hit fast forward, it’s not a good sign. Here are 20 from this year that I wish I skipped.

1. Be Kind Rewind (2008) – Previously reviewed on this blog. Not so kind...

2. Daniel Tosh: Completely Serious - Comedians shouldn’t be assholes. Seriously.

3. The Game Plan- “The Rock” tries to emulate family-friendly Schwarzeneggers' career path, mugging embarrassingly with a child actor who should have hit him with a folding chair.

4. Get Smart (2008) - Previously reviewed on this blog. Back to your office Steve!

5. Grindhouse: Planet Terror – Rodiguez and Tarantino think that making deliberately bad, violent films is cool. It’s not and put out that doobie!

6. The Happening (2008)- M. Night Shyamalan has Marky Mark and friends trying to outrun the suicide-inducing wind. Say hi to your mother for me.

7. Heckler – Jamie Kennedy fakes us out; Instead of talking about heckling he quickly equates them with critics and then cries that they didn’t like his shitty films.

8. I'm Not There - Bob Dylan is played by a whole bunch of different actors in an attempt to capture his essence. My channels - they are a changing.

9. Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) – Looky it's 3-D! Brendan Fraser is in danger of becoming the next Nicholas Cage making bad big budget junk for a paycheck.

10. Lust, Caution –The Asian cinema cliché that really slow-moving films are more meaningful. I needed more lust less caution.

11. Married Life – Supposedly a murder-mystery that has neither.

12. Momma's Man (2008) – Like the “Step Brothers” but trying to take itself seriously. Grow up!

13. Ocean's Thirteen- The last two of this franchise milk the originality of the first with lame-ass pretty boy smugness.

14. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End – Sequel-itis again hits as big money trumps the fun with a ridiculously confusing plot and over-the-top nonsense action.

15. Redacted – Brian DePalma goes ‘Clockwork Orange’ on us and it’s an experiment in bad. War is horrific and so is this film.

16. Slacker Uprising – Michael Moore shows us how his “Slacker Nation” failed to get Kerry elected in 04. Is this relevant?

17. Sleuth – A two-man show with Michael Caine and Jude Law trading wits while boring us senseless.

18. Snow Angels - David Green makes good actors do bad things. Depressing filmmaking is not serious filmmaking.

19. Vantage Point – The"aren't we clever?" point of view can't save this conceited thriller that twists and turns into mediocrity.

20. Zoo – Bestiality attempted to be explained artistically. Yuck!

Let's have a happy new year and hope for more multi-shaker films in 09!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Four shaker roundup: The best DVDs of the year

I have no affiliation with SAG or any other organization for that matter, but much luck to Jessi as she frantically screens; I look forward to more verdicts.

Since it’s that time of year, I’ve rounded up my top 20. Of course a majority of these DVDs were released theatrically in 2007 (unless noted as a 2008 release); Like Jessi, I may have slipped a few theatrical releases in there -so sue us bitches!

You know, I saw a higher number of films this year than normal but it always amazes me how it seems constant that 75% of films made are just average or below, no matter how selective you are. Hopefully this list will help you weed out some bad ones:

1. American Gangster - Russell Crow and Denzel Washington have a lot of fun in a good old fashioned gangster flick.

2. The Dark Knight (2008) - I know Jessi heartily disagrees and it has its' bloated moments- but this was the best comic book film of the year, helped by the late Heath Ledger’s eerie Joker.

3. Eastern Promises - A knife fight in a sauna? Cool! Viggo Mortensen totally nails the Eastern European character in this great little mob film.

4. Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale - Ricky Gervais who gave us the original, succinct and far superior “The Office”, does it again by finishing his second series with a comic swipe at celebrity culture.

5. Frozen River (2008) - I second Jessi's opinion. Atmospheric and real, this look at poverty, human trafficking and cultural divide is an unbelievable indie with Melissa Leo really shining in the lead.

6. Kabluey - Previously reviewed on this blog. The funniest blue man since David Cross on "Arrested Development".

7. The King of Kong - Who knew a documentary on Donkey Kong competitors would be so compelling? The villain in this is unintentionally hilarious!

8. The Lives of Others – Humanity trumps conservative and oppressive bureaucracy in this timely German film on government vs. privacy.

9. No Country for Old Men - The sound design alone makes you want to see this film again. True the ending is unexpected and bizarre, but this film is a classic.

10. No End in Sight - This year gave us many fine documentaries on the Iraqi war, but this one is just a simple, straightforward presentation of facts as many high-level insiders openly condemn the action.

11. Persepolis - A rebellious Iranian girl comes of age in the political turmoil following the fall of the Shah. Amazing with original animation.

12. Ratatouille - The second of three animated films I’ve selected, is a great family film about a foodie vermin finding his inner chef. Brad Bird is a great storyteller.

13. The Savages – Previously reviewed on this blog. Yay dysfunction!

14. Starting Out in the Evening - Frank Langella rules as an old school intellect and author who’s become a recluse. Sort of a “Lost in Translation” for the literati.

15. Step Brothers (2008) - Will Ferrell’s best film to date and the best comedy of the year. John C. Reilly and he are man-boys who sleepwalk, fight and improvise the absurd fantastic!

16. Up the Yangtze. - Young employees on a tourist excursion boat face uncertain futures in a changing China. A unique documentary of the disruptive Three Gorges dam project as seen through their eyes.

17. The Visitor - Richard Jenkins who was the comic father in “Step Brothers”, shows his dramatic range playing a widowed, unpopular professor dealing with a crowded apartment and an empty life.

18. Waitress - Sweet as pie! A small film of dreams and the compromises of life. The tragic murder of the director and co-star Adrienne Shelly make it even more poignant.

19. WALL-E (2008) - A strange film since it is a Disney animation that would no doubt bore and depress children. If you believe in dystopia clap your hands!

20. Zodiac - I love true-life crime thrillers and this one just rocks! I am psyched that there will be a deluxe edition coming out. Plus it inspired Dirty Harry Callahan. See it punk!

(Oh- I didn't award any '5 shakers' except for "No Country.." this year and even that one's 'shakey')

Not to be Missed...Part One

Okay, so I'm in full swing on watching films in anticipation of having to vote for the SAG awards.
Here's a quick run-down of some of the best I've seen so far. Pass the salt and dig in.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
So far, this film rises far above the pack in Cinematography. A beautiful, heart wrenching, cinematic masterpiece. The story and direction are outstanding. Really, there are some films one sees that define the medium, and this is one of them. It's why we see films...and love them.

I've Loved You So Long (Il ya longtemps que je t'aime)
I'll admit that I'm biased when it comes to Kristin Scott Thomas---she is a remarkable beauty and talent. Compelling to watch. And here, in this moody, unraveling story, she is superb. For personal family reasons, this film probably affected me more than most. And the success in this French drama lies in the hands of Ms. Thomas. I loved it, tears and all.

WALL-E (2008)
A sweet, thought-provoking and engrossing tale about an animated robot? Yep. Score another big win for the talent pool at Pixar. I expect to be swept up in emotion by films with animated animals, but I didn't expect this reaction from WALL-E. An adorable, brave little...robot...and a future of obese, couch potato humans who've lost the ability to move? Sign me up. A smart tale, sweet story, and great film.

Frozen River (2008)
While Slumdog Millionaire gets my vote as a cinematic masterpiece, Frozen River shines as a gritty masterpiece. Melissa Leo 's performance is stellar. I can still feel the cold, hear the crunching of packed snow and ice, and anguish over "Ray Eddy's" life in a trailer in upstate New York. Bravo.

Doubt (2008)
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep in the same film? Truly, I must have died and gone to heaven. If you love film as much as I do, you must see Doubt. This is what all filmmakers aspire to. On every level, in every category, one of the best films ever made, in my ever so humble opinion. Streep and Hoffman are beyond brilliant. I couldn't believe that the film was over when it felt like only ten minutes had gone by.

Too much gushing for you? Tired of hearing "one of the best films ever?" Well, stay tuned...more to come. Including a palette-clearing summary of some not-so-wonderful movies.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Buried in DVDs...Stay Tuned

So this year, I was randomly selected to be part of the Screen Actors Guild nominating committee for the SAG Awards. That means I've been seeing a lot (yeah, a LOT) of films. I'm bleary-eyed but determined to see every one. Stay tuned as I share the good, the bad, and ...the mediocre.