Monday, July 27, 2009


"Have you been to the John Hancock building yet?" the woman asked, just as I sat down on the trolley seat in front of her. We were taking a stop-and-go tour of Chicago, and were both returning from a stop.

"Yes," I said as I leaned back to face her. "I was there just a couple of stops ago."

She paused, and her face sort of contorted into a look of puzzlement.

"And they didn't throw you out?"

"Nope, no one threw me out. Why would they?"

"Well, my husband was asked to leave a piano bar at lunchtime because of how he was dressed. I just thought..."

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Move over Damien Thorn, Issac Chroner and Charlie McGee. There's a new evil child in the movies, and she may be the baddest ass of all.


Isabelle Fuhrman, who plays Esther in Orphan, shows remarkable range and ability, especially in how she carries out the array of emotion required for this character.

Orphan is mostly predictable and incredibly disturbing--the opening scene sets the tone for just how creepy and discomforting this film is--but, there is no doubt that Fuhrman's Esther is one of the most evil children in film history.

It's gonna take me a little longer to get to sleep tonight.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Public Enemies

While watching Public Enemies and getting lost in the love affair between John Dillinger and Billie Freshette, I was reminded of one of the greatest mysteries of life: why do girls really dig bad boys?

Even the ones who don't look like Johnny Depp?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Hangover

I'm still laughing, 90 minutes after the flick ended.

Here's Ed Helms telling the plot in song. It's not the actual scene, just the song. But the scene in the movie is one of the best uses of a movie montage I've seen.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Angles & Demons

At first I thought I hated Angels & Demons--and when I say "hated it," I mean that literally--because I read the book several years ago and really enjoyed the read. As much as a guy who rarely reads fiction can enjoy it, anyway. But I've often hated movies that were produced from books I enjoyed. The Firm comes to mind, (and damn it, I wished it hadn't), what with its alternate ending and all.

I digress. My complaint was about this Ron Howard flick.

After thinking about this movie for a few days, I've come to realize just why I hated it. It's because 15 minutes into the flick, Mrs. Film Geek announced: "The [title of a specific character] did it." Nothing more, just a simple proclamation as to who really killed the Pope.

And she was right.

She figured it out for the same reason I hated this movie: all the characters were obvious, and many were stereotypes! Like in any nameless Lifetime movie, the audience knows when a well known actor is hired to play a supporting role, that actor is gonna be the killer. It's understood he's gonna get a meatier role later in the flick, as a psycho sociopath, or a sociopathic psycho. Whatever the phrase is, it's a formula that keeps on being used, even though it's tired.

And the formula played out in this Hanks' movie. It played out big time. Angels & Demons wasn't great literature, but the book was far better than the movie.

Far better.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


For more than a year I avoided Untraceable. Figuring it more Hostel- meets- CSI than a decent thriller, I passed it up at Blockbuster, and pushed it deep into the que.

Torture porn ain't my thing.

Faced with little from which to choose on a Friday night, I allowed Mrs. Film Geek to talk me into watching the flick. Her reasoning was solid: Diane Lane, the lead, doesn't have a torture port resume. And she seems to select projects that are slow-paced and tell good stories.

So, I gave in.

Widowed Special Agent Jennifer Marsh (Lane) and her partners are members of a federal task force that specializes in cyber crime. After stumbling upon a sophisticated web site that streams live executions over the Internet, Marsh leads the effort to track down the killer before he tracks down her.

Webmaster Owen Reilly, played by Joseph Cross, has developed a bizarre twist to his serial killing: how quickly his victims die is related directly to how many hits his website gets. After the first couple of murders, millions of people around the world log on, causing fast deaths for several of his victims.

That's before, of course, Marsh and the cyber-agents find Reilly and bring him down.

Untraceable is not a great movie, but it is better than I expected. It's not torture porn; in fact, the death scenes are often inter-mixed with other scenes, which serves to reduce the creepy factor and leave a lot to the imagination. The acting is okay, and the story is fine. But it's the message of Untraceable that stands out to me as the most important aspect of this movie.

We are drawn to the misery of others. That quality, added to the societal isolation that has developed during the last decade, allows us to desensitize ourselves to that misery. We may well be very close to the citizens of ancient Rome, who filled their arenas to watch violence and death.

Except our arena is the Internet.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Sometime around the age of 12, I mustered up the courage to ask the minister of my church about the concept of theological determinism. I didn't call it that at age 12, of course; I recall being very nervous, very inarticulate and really goofy as I tried to explain how I saw the concept to be in conflict with the title Free Will Baptist, the denomination of church I attended at the time.

How could we humans have free will if life and everything in it is out of our control? He patted me smartly on the head, then told me I'd understand better when I grew up.

But he was wrong.

I generally squirmed in my seat during sermons about how life and everything in it was pre-set, and was controlled by an all-involved God who seemed to have management issues. That life and the events of life are determined and not simply random occurrences made little sense to me then, especially when the concept was applied to an unexpected death.

"It's God's will," they'd say, "and it was his time. We can't stop God's will. His death was God's way of reminding us to live right, live a full life and love the Lord."

Well, fuck that. I figured if God wanted me to live right and love him, he should figure out a less traumatic way to remind me.

Like visit me and tell me.

If God showed up in person once during my lifetime, did a small miracle and told me the bible was true, I'd believe him. But killing a friend of mine in order to scare me into service...well, that's just sick and twisted.

John Koestler was paid a visit.

Knowing's Koestler, played by Nicholas Cage, struggles with the debate too. The widower, single father and astrophysics professor at MIT thinks that "shit just happens," in life, and deals with it by drinking too much and avoiding his responsibilities. He knows he can't change the past or influence the future, so he simply hides in the moment. His house is falling apart and he doesn't notice. He forgets to pick up his son from school after a booze-induced afternoon nap. Koestler is simply going through the motions of his life: after all, he's not in charge of it, anyway.

Or is he?

Knowing shifts from a philosophical debate over determinism and randomness somewhere in mid-flick, when Koestler realizes the mysterious page of numbers he possesses is really a list of warnings about future catastrophes. The question Knowing then presents is: even if it's impossible to stop a pre-determined act or chain of events, can we influence events in some way.

The message of the movie is that we can. But to do so, we may have to change our definition of what we consider to be successful influence.

Knowing is shot in a digital format that seems to enhance color, and gives scenes a more realistic look than most film. While Cage's acting tends to cross the line into melodrama, this role is the best he's had in several years. The sci-fi aspects of Knowing are filmed with spectacular effects, and the moral dilemma Cage's character experiences in the finale is emotionally satisfying.

The ending, which suggest real peace comes from recognizing we have influence in how we choose to perceive and accept determined events, is dramatic and appropriate. Even if it's sad.

Sorta like real life.

Friday, July 10, 2009


A significant problem with viewing a flick like Passengers with folks that know a little bit about the mental health profession is they tend to get pissed off and talk to the screen while the movie's in progress.

Here's what I heard during this dud:

[spoilers to follow]

"Huh UH! She did not just flirt with the client."

"Someone should report her skanky ass to an ethics board."

"Unbe-freakin'-believable! No matter what, they can't be doin' THAT!"

"Ummm...well, I guess they can do that if they're really ghosts."

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Righteous Kill

The poster for Righteous Kill draws you in quickly:

You see it, and can't help but remember: The Godfather. Dog Day Afternoon. Raging Bull. The Deer Hunter. De Niro and Pacino are iconic talents who have helped make dozens of movies legendary; if you are even a moderate fan of film from the 70s and 80s, the Righteous Kill poster is like a drug. It calls your name, and compels you to see it.

"The ten minute, on-screen scene these two shared in 1995's Heat was just a taste, baby. Pony up $3.99 for this redbox of kronic talent!"

(I doubt drug dealers have ever used the phrases "share" and "pony up," but go with me on it.)

The problem is, Righteous Kill is more Backdraft than Taxi Driver, more 88 Minutes than Scent Of A Woman. It's a formula movie with an obvious swerve.

Although De Niro and Pacino deliver some very good moments in this flick, the movie just can't be saved. The awe of watching these guys work together wears off after the first 30 minutes, when you realize there's still an hour to kill and you've already figured out the ending.

It's more than disappointing.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner resonates with people who live with and understand regret.

Nearly a week has passed since I saw the film, and I think of the characters several times a day: Amir, who used the moment of cowardice he experienced as a child to transform himself into a brave, compassionate adult; Hassan, the optimistic youth who understood the power of forgiveness; and Baba, who lived his life with dignity even while others were trying to strip him of it.

The Kite Runner is a powerful, well-done movie about the ability all humans have to overcome our pettiness.

If we so choose.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Revolutionary Road

Sam Mendes is quickly becoming the artist who best reminds us that we should be careful what we wish for in life: we spend our youth anticipating and planning out what our adult lifestyle will be, then become disillusioned when we finally reach the goal. Like his films American Beauty and Jarhead, Mendes' Revolutionary Road illustrates the dissatisfaction and impotence that can develop once we achieve what we've been lead to believe is the American Dream.

In public, Frank and April Wheeler are everything considered good about middle class America in the 1950s. They're charming, socially active, and conform to the stereotypes of the ambitious male bread-winner and the happy stay-at-home mother. Inside their home on Revolutionary Road, however, the dynamic is different. Frank and April feel as though they've settled for a lesser lifestyle than they should have; that feeling has caused them to become disconnected and unhappy, but with little insight into how to remedy their emptiness.

From the perspectives of their friends, the Wheelers had it all. From Frank and April's perspective, their life was a miserable failure, the result of conforming and not being true to themselves.

The hopelessness causes each to act out dramatically, creating more and more dysfunction as the years pass. Leonardo DiCaprio looks the part of the 1950s male stereotype, but provides the audience with subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) hints into his personal demons. Kate Winslet is remarkable in acting out the range of April's emotions. Just when the character becomes understood by the audience, another layer of her complex emotional state is revealed and the audience opinion of her changes.

Michael Shannon, who plays a neighbor living with a mental illness, provides the audience with terrific insight into the real dynamic in the Wheeler relationship. (Shannon's short scenes were so powerful he was nominated for an Academy Award.) The couple have all their neighbors fooled, but they can't fool him.

Revolutionary Road isn't a feel-good movie. In fact, it is quite dark and can be uncomfortable to watch. In addition to the incredible acting and direction, however, the film is important in reminding us this: happiness--which is what the American Dream is all about--should be rooted less in conformity and ambition, and be more the result of how true we are to ourselves.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The One Where I Call Joe Jackson A Prick

In case you were curious how Michael Jackson's strange perspective on himself and the world developed, here's a 4 minute and 12 second tutorial.

I wasn't a fan of Jackson, but I am a fan of the concept of family. Joe Jackson should be ashamed...