Thursday, October 14, 2010


Red hits theaters with a sketchy combination of big-name talent and a dangerously vague title. You've likely seen the ads (and if you haven't, check out the previous post). You likely know the stars. Now the simple question the movie any good?

Check out my review at

Hunting you Down Tomorrow...

Red hits theaters this weekend, and the review is coming promptly. But while you wait, tackle this question: are you excited about a high-octane graphic novel adaptation which basically falls into the "Old-Guys-Still-Have-It" model?

Looking forward to the movie? Does the celebrated cast tip you into the "anticipated" category?

No judgment...just wondering. Review on the way.

Twinkle Fairies for Everyone!

Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue is now on Blu-Ray and DVD!

Ever wondered what happened to Tinker Bell before Peter Pan came into her life? No? Well your kids might, and that's why you should check out my review at

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bourne is Nowhere to Be Found...

...and he won't be found. At least, not in the next film that bears his name.

Tony Gilroy, brilliant writer of the first three Bourne pictures (and deserving Oscar nominee for writing and directing Michael Clayton) has completed work on a script for The Bourne Legacy, the fourth installment in the popular action franchise, set for a 2012 release. He will also direct, marking the first time in the series since the original (when Doug Liman shepherded the franchise into existence) that Paul Greengrass hasn't been behind the camera.

Also, no Matt Damon.

In fact, no Jason Bourne. Yeah, that ain't no typo -- Jason Bourne will not appear as a character in the film that bears his name.

Gilroy is a great in the making, so let's all just calm down and wait to see what he comes up with. But for now, there will be confusion.

For more, check out my commentary on

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


I Am Love, Luca Guadagnino's beautiful and brilliant saga of love, family, and sweet, glorious food -- and the film that was  unjustly robbed of Italy's Best Foreign Film Oscar submission -- is now available on DVD. One of the truly remarkable films of the must experience it for yourself.

Check out my review at

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Friday, October 8, 2010


The story of the Triple Crown's most legendary thoroughbred gets the Disney silver screen treatment, with great work from Diane Lane and John Malkovich. Gather the whole family together and buy some popcorn...but first go read my review at

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Social Network: The Anti-Twitter Review

This is "The Anti-Twitter Review" because it is so long and languorous and it took me so long -- with some stretches in between where I couldn't get to the keyboard -- to crystallize my thoughts on the many different elements of the film. Sorry for the delay, so now block off half of your day and start reading...

The Social Network
is a gangster epic that happens to be about a 21st-century internet phenomenon. It is Goodfellas for the Age of Internet Isolationism.

Now, hold on just a second: the above statement does not automatically mean the film is a classic masterpiece on the level of Scorsese, Coppola, or the like. There have also been critics who have mentioned the film being reminiscent of Citizen Kane, which is an equally gargantuan leap of critical affirmation, though there are ways in which it is structurally and thematically accurate (yes, this movie has its own version of "Rosebud"). But in the way in which it unfolds, The Social Network, directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin, is a great mob epic that chronicles the lightning-fast rise and grandiose fall of a young genius. That fall, by the way, has nothing to do with money, as the film's chief anti-hero, Facebook mastermind Mark Zuckerberg, still thrives as the world's youngest billionaire. No, Zuckerberg's fall is one of humanity. His is a loss not of innocence, since the man is not portrayed as having a ton of innocence -- or likeability -- to begin with, but a loss of the precious commodity that is human joy and connectivity. Kind of ironic for a guy who allegedly linked the entire electronic world together.

In essence, The Social Network presents the impetus story for one of the most infamous and iconic socio-boons of our current culture. It is part docu-drama, part character study, and part social chronicle. What perhaps keeps it from becoming an instant and enduring classic is its emphasis on the former two elements rather than the latter. As I've noted in a previous article, the birth and growth of the social networking craze possesses implications that run so deep that it seems nearly impossible to fully encapsulate its social significance, the ways in which the rise of electronic friendships has led to interpersonal isolation and other ills. This film feels like an epic, but its canvass is not broad enough (perhaps in this specific incarnation, it can't or shouldn't be broad enough) to encapsulate the cultural strains that Facebook and its like has infected, both positively and negatively (primarily negatively). But in telling this story, in focusing intently on these characters, in bringing a "face" to this phenomenon, The Social Network does find itself on the precipice of making a profound cultural statement, which in itself is mighty impressive. And the film is rendered with such magnificent prowess on every possible level that it would be monstrously entertaining even without the real-life social implications.

The film's true focus is on character, and in that pursuit is able to achieve that most laudable of narrative accomplishments: using the specific to influence and comment upon the general. The main protagonist, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg, in his best screen performance), is the nerdy Harvard genius whose billion-dollar empire was, according to this story, born of a relationship gone awry, a drunken moment of infantile vindication against a woman who rejected Zuckerberg's particular brand of narcissism. In that moment, depicted in the film's brilliant opening sequence (arguably its best, although it isn't accurate to say the film goes downhill from there), Mark's sort-of girlfriend, Erica (Rooney Mara, whose screen presence instantly commands star-level attention), rebuffs the repulsive arrogance that Zuckerberg bears naturally, and it sends the hurt and angered young, entitled genius back to his dorm room, where the initial seeds for The Phenomenon That Would Be Facebook were planted in a soil of alcohol, blogging, and mind-boggling algorithms.

Most interesting about the Fincher-Sorkin-Eisenberg distillation of Zuckerberg (since this film is proudly a compilation of reality and rumor, of documented reality and cinematic invention) is that he is not so much a driven megalomaniac but rather a boy genius who is driven by girlfriend revenge and henceforth intent upon being seen as cool. In The Social Network, Facebook is invented in order to get girls, make friends, be seen as cool. And that is the goal that drives Zuckerberg for the remainder of the film: he wants to be cool. Plain and simple. He makes billions, but it is coolness that he seeks, and that never fails to be his ultimate mission. It is an interesting psychological representation, and one that does speak to the ultimate nature of social networking as it has progressed (transgressed?) over the better part of the 21st century: people want to add to their friend lists, want to be liked and enjoyed by a wide swath of people. Coolness is the goal.

Eisenberg is brilliant in this role. He is always fabulous -- has been since his big-screen debut in Dylan Kidd's wonderful Roger Dodger, and that continued through roles in The Squid and the Whale, Adventureland, and Zombieland, among others. What is so brilliant about Eisenberg's embodiment of the cinematic Mark Zuckerberg -- indeed, what is so ingenious about Sorkin's creation of this character -- is the viciously sharp edge that is brought to the traditional Geek Hero. Zuckerberg is simultaneously the film's anti-hero and its chief villain -- he is a complete prick, hateful and full of arrogance. He comes by these traits naturally, as his genius is nearly unparalleled even by his Harvard classmates. He can create a web universe in a week's time, then turn around and spin verbal yarns that twist his foes into knots when they question the validity of his enterprise. He is a complete nerd -- the kind that usually is presented as so sweet and wonderful in most modern comedies, and the kind that Eisenberg has made a successful career at perfecting -- but the hard truth is that nerds have the same seedy underbelly, the same cutthroat desire for likability and success, the same reckless narcissism that pretty, popular people possess. It is such a precise twist on the perception of the Cinematic Geek, such a unique upending of expectations, and such a beautiful tweak to Eisenberg's typical persona that the character is divine. And Eisenberg is a shoo-in for a Best Actor nomination, and at this point is likely the odds-on favorite to win.

Eisenberg is joined by a stellar ensemble cast, including the breakout Mara (who will take on the title role in Fincher's upcoming Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake, and on the basis of her work here I believe she can do it justice); Andrew Garfield (the new Spider-Man) as Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg's best friend and co-founder of Facebook, whose mild-mannered business strategy is eventually flattened in the wake of Zuckerberg's big-thinking; Justin Timberlake, oozing slime from every orifice as Sean Parker, creator of Napster, who ushers Zuckerberg into the world of megalomania; and Armie Hammer, who comes out of nowhere to play twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, hulking members of the Harvard rowing crew who ask Zuckerberg to help them with a smaller, Harvard-based concept similar to Facebook, who eventually sue when he leaves them in the dust to pursue the much-larger worldwide phenomenon.

The film unfolds in a Rashomon-style multi-perspective style, which underscores the notion that there is no one answer to the Facebook conundrum. Many characters have many different ideas of how certain events unfolded, and none of these characters are truly, completely knowable. One thing that we know for sure: it is awfully lonely creating such a widely-embraced social enterprise, a fact that leads this Zuckerberg down the road of the aforementioned quick-rise, hard-fall gangster kingpin. He has "500 million friends," as the film's tagline cleverly exploits, and yet he is alone in a room, sitting in front of a screen. That is how his empire was created, and it is how his story concludes. It might seem ironic, but it is quite fitting.

There is a visceral excitement both within and surrounding the film, that sort of cosmic energy that tends to befall the films we think of as The Great Films. It is one of those movies where the beautiful combination of director, writer, cast, and crew that seems to breed unbridled greatness. Here the director, David Fincher, he of the gorgeous moody lighting, ambitious themes, and sardonic humor, has brought his particular cinematic attitude and worldview to a form and a genre that he has never before tackled. After a string of epic thrillers (Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac) and a throwaway literary adaptation (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Fincher finds himself squarely in the midst of a real-life drama. Because of the nature of this story and the attitude of this culture, Fincher is in many ways the ideal director for this subject matter.

In the same way, the writer, Aaron Sorkin -- he of the masterfully witty dialogue, unendingly intelligent characters, and tales of interpersonal love and struggle writ very emotionally large -- is a very interesting choice for this screenplay, which carries with it all the weight and implications discussed above. He brings a different sensibility to the table than one of the other big-name writers who might normally tackle the "Based On a True Story" cine-epics, like Eric Roth or Brian Helgeland or William Broyles, Jr. Sorkin brings a verbal energy and colloquial verve that automatically heightens the atmosphere, leavens the proceedings, injects a vial of sass. It automatically shifts the tone -- not from heavy to light, but from leaden to buoyant. At the same time, a guy like Sorkin could also easily cutesify the narrative with its talky nature and purposely heightened verbosity.

I've written forever, and yet there is still more to say. The conversation will surely continue for the rest of the year, as this film will surely be a frequent topic throughout awards season. The Social Network is an epic for the moment. It is not perfect, but its vast audacity and grandiose form lend it a certain magic that make it great. There likely is no way to make a single film that perfectly deconstructs the social networking phenomenon, but in tackling the myth head-on, The Social Network is about as ultimate as any such film could be.

My Nightmare: Another One of These Pieces of...

A Nightmare on Elm Street just landed on Blu-Ray and DVD. I didn't see the film in its theatrical release, primarily because I never bother to waste my time on regurgitated horror remakes when they are in theaters. It has always seemed like such a profound time- and energy-suck, not to mention a waste of blog space. Every once in a while one of them comes along that raises my ire enough to make disgusted comments (last year's Friday the 13th remake comes to mind). And that is sort of the case with this Nightmare remake, albeit on a different level.

Unlike the 2009 Friday the 13th, unlike Hostel, Saw, or any number of other modern pieces of horror-porn, this film does not blend elements of salacious sex with brutal, unrelenting violence. I suppose that is to its credit, since the blending of sex and violence is one of the more offensive -- not to mention dangerous -- trappings of that heinous genre known as "Modern American Horror." But the simple lack of softcore sex doesn't come close to excusing the inept lack of drama, the soulless copying of the original, the cynical attempt to inject some sort of sanctimonious moral to this story, or the basic thematic and emotional preoccupations that plague this and every other Modern American Horror film.

That is to say, the Narcissistic Slog of Role-Playing Catharsis.

If you watch the new Nightmare on Elm Street, you might be struck by how closely it skews to Wes Craven's original -- which itself is not so fabulous upon my recent revisiting, but at least took an original concept to then-unseen places. This new film, directed by music video director Samuel Bayer and starring the great, resurgent Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger, does literally nothing to alter much of its basic structure from the original, which would be fine if the film were intent on cleverly homaging the material and proliferating a sense of fun. But "fun" is not a basic tenet of Modern American Horror, but "repulsive, persistent nastiness" is. There is an attempt to add a backstory to the character (a la Rob Zombie's self-serving, repugnant Halloween remake), one that, without giving anything away, offers two possible explanations, neither of which is less cynical than the other. And it makes no difference either way, because the point of this film is not to make audiences feel, but to make them jolt at false shocks, thus giving them some brief sense of release.

The audience is where I want to focus in this particular discussion, because as one who willingly sat down to view this film, I was taken aback at how entirely not scary, exciting, or even remotely compelling any of the material really was. It is not only a carbon copy of Craven's original, but a psychic copycat of every other entry into the modern horror-porn cannon in recent memory, which is to say it only exists to lure the late teens/early-20s set into theaters to vicariously cheer death and dismemberment. Watching the film, I could picture the type of person who would find this film enjoyable -- the sort of person who spends their days "Like"-ing Facebook status messages and sexting their entire contact list. There is nothing in this film that caught me by surprise -- one enters each scene under the expectation that it will be "shockingly" revealed to be a dream, and that there will be terror and eventually bloodshed. It is entirely episodic and not remotely surprising or intriguing, and yet I can imagine packed theaters jumped and shrieking with "terror" (read: delight). And it makes me wonder why.

Horror used to be socially relevant and spoke to a certain cultural malaise. In the days of early Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper and George Romero, there was sharp commentary and real terror being displayed on the screen. Horror was not only scary, but legitimately engaging on multiple levels. Now, in the age of Modern American Horror, the only commentary is that "pretty people should die," and the only people who find it scary or shocking are those who enter the theater seeking some sort of odd enjoyment from slaughter. In fact, I think most fans would willingly admit that horror is no longer scary, but a venue that showcases psycho-worship and empty violent catharsis. Roger Ebert has called this type of film a "geek show," and I couldn't say it any better myself.

The film is half-populated with good actors -- alongside Haley, who obviously decided to parlay his recent critical success into a big financial pay-day here, there is Rooney Mara as the lead, Connie Britton as her mother, and an interesting brooder named Kyle Gallner as "the boyfriend" -- and the other half consists of blank-faced 90210 rejects who are thankfully offed early, but not before they perpetrate heinous crimes against acting. Once Mara takes center stage, she is fabulously cinematic, a real breakout star with enormous talent (she's also flat brilliant in limited screen time in Fincher's The Social Network) who obviously saw this role as a way into the business, and she upstages the material at every turn. Gallner (the punk-boy victim from Jennifer's Body, a horror-satire that works in every way a movie like this fails) is also good as the emo-boy who researches the Freddy Krueger legend to aid his lady friend. Haley is not particularly fabulous, since Freddy doesn't talk much or interact in ways that don't involve screeching his blades against walls. He doesn't even get to chew much scenery with any great vigor. After he was Oscar-nominated for the brilliant Little Children, carried the weight of Watchmen on his back, and added great spice to Scorsese's Shutter Island, this just seems like a paycheck movie for Haley, which is unfortunate, but, I suppose, a rite of passage for the newly-minted star.

Whatever the case, this new Nightmare is a complete dead zone (no pun intended at all). It is empty, predictable, boring, and sort of sad. And to top it all off, in a year in which Christopher Nolan's extraordinary Inception so precisely and originally deconstructed the state of human consciousness and all the psycho and emotional weight that comes with it, this movie about a burn-faced specter who kills people in their dreams just seems so limp, so elementary, so irrelevant.

Emma Makes Spidey a Must-See. Seriously.

Sent a brief tweet about this when the news dropped yesterday, but a few additional comments are necessary.

I have not been a fan of the idea of a brand-spankin'-new Spider-Man franchise being crafted out of whole cloth. For proof, allow me to remind you about my posts from last year, first when I lambasted the very idea of starting a perpendicular Spidey franchise, and later when I discussed the hiring of Marc Webb as director, which was a good move given the guy's obvious filmmaking panache, but made me worry about his future career for jumping into a Spider-Man franchise that is attempting to ignore Sam Raimi's billion-dollar cash cow.

Of late, British actor Andrew Garfield signed to play Spidey, and lately he has made a splash as part of the brilliant young cast of David Fincher's The Social Network. Based on what I've seen of him, he will fit right into the Peter Parker persona.

And now, the news from yesterday: Emma Stone has been signed to play Gwen Stacy in Webb's new Spider-Man. And now I will be lining up early for this one.

Stone was the greatest possible hire that this franchise ever could have hoped to make. If you don't believe me or don't understand, go watch Superbad. Then watch Zombieland. And right now, while you can, go see Easy A in theaters, then stay to watch it again. It's brilliant. And she is especially brilliant.

Stone was originally rumored to be playing Mary Jane Watson, but Webb's film has moved on to another of Peter Parker's comic-book love interests -- a wise move, because it gives this new franchise a distinction from the Raimi films, which cast the wonderful Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane. Good for them for not imitating or attempting to over-match, and good for them for nabbing a casting coup.

Gwen Stacy did appear in Raimi's ill-fated Spidey 3, played ever-so-briefly by Bryce Dallas Howard, whose talents deserved better than the throwaway role she received. Now the character will get a full character arc, and will be embodied by the most infectious leading lady of the moment. No lie...Emma Stone has made me get excited about seeing the new Spider-Man.

Instead of dread, I now have anticipation. Instead of cynicism, I now have hope. And this development has also made me re-think the other pieces of the puzzle. Garfield is a very interesting actor, and it will be interesting to see him assume the Peter Parker role. As for Webb...(500) Days of Summer is a fabulous movie with oodles of style. That is just about undeniable. He will bring a very specific attitude to this franchise that will be fresh and interesting, especially with this cast.

For the record, I am still wary of jump-starting a new franchise only a few years after the demise of one of the most critically- and financially-successful franchises of the last decade. I would feel that way about any such endeavor (certainly the Ed Norton Incredible Hulk, which was horrible and unnecessary), and certainly about Spider-Man, which was so seamlessly and wonderfully crafted by Raimi, Maguire, Dunst, et al.

But maybe -- just maybe -- one of these reboot franchises can come together and work well. You can't make this many good decisions and leave me uninterested.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Barry Munday

Oddball indie comedy now in select theaters. Watch respected actors strut around like morons...if you dare. But first, be sure to check out my review at

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It's All Over, and Yet It Continues

It was expected for months, and last Thursday, it became official: Blockbuster has filed for bankruptcy, citing assets of $1.02 billion against $1.46 billion in debt.

So what does it all mean?

Undeniably, competition has been bad for Blockbuster. Netflix and Redbox have been swallowing a vast chunk of the rental market, due in great part, I think, to their respective outlets -- Netflix's mail-delivery service and Redbox's in-store kiosks. In addition, Netflix offers instant streaming on an expanding library of titles, which itself has become more solvent in recent months due to the increasing ubiquity of network Blu-Ray players and instant streaming discs for video game consoles like Wii and XBox 360. The companies have swiped business from Blockbuster in spite of facing a 28-day window in which new films for the majority of major studios are contractually committed to only renting from Blockbuster, meaning that renters are willing to wait an extra month for the ease and convenience of mail delivery or picking up a disc on their way out of the grocery store. Additionally, On-Demand service from cable and satellite providers is becoming an increasingly viable option for renters, especially since there is no 28-day window for On-Demand service and most pay-per-view films are now available in HD, meaning one could hypothetically access a new video release in Blu-Ray quality picture with the click of a button, for a small fee...and they don't even have to own a Blu-Ray player, or pay a monthly fee to a rental company (those pay-per-view fees start to accumulate fast, though).

For their part, Blockbuster Online utilizes its own mail-delivery service that is almost identical to Netflix, and is planting its own branded kiosks to counter the Redbox onslaught. The former renting behemoth also offers an instant streaming option, although each viewing costs a small fee, whereas the Netflix streaming is included within the monthly fee for standard membership (yet another caveat, though: Blockbuster streams everything, with an emphasis on all new releases, while Netflix's streaming catalog, while expanding, is still limited and doesn't include many new releases). And yet, while Blockbuster has been solid at utilizing the formats offered by competitors, that very fact is, in many ways, representative of its downfall: the company is great at adding the features of its competitors, but unable to break new ground in order to raise the stakes for those competitors. Netflix raised the stakes. Redbox raised the stakes. Blockbuster won't -- perhaps can't -- re-raise. And it has been borrowing itself into oblivion just to be able to meet the standards set by other companies. Now all that borrowing has caught up to Blockbuster.

So what happens now? Well, more borrowing. According to reports, the company has reached a deal with bondholders, led by billionaire NY investor Carl Icahn, in order to rebuild and reorganize. Apparently $125 million has been committed by investors to repay suppliers and employees for the duration of this rebuilding period. Blockbuster Powers-That-Be promise that they will once again be able to achieve solvency, and that there will be a newer, better Blockbuster.

But the Blockbuster Era, such as it was, is over.

No more market domination, no more rental monopoly, no more Blockbuster-as-usual, much as they will work to make it seem that way.

Several Blockbuster stores have been shut down, and hundreds more will follow in the coming months. The number of Blockbuster stores nationwide that is being frequently quoted in the media is 3,000. That number will probably shrink to well under 2,000 by this time next year. More Redbox-style kiosks will pop up all over the country. The mail delivery and instant streaming enterprises of Blockbuster Online will continue in earnest. And over time, we will see how the the former juggernaut intends to survive in this Era of Home Entertainment Access that, at some undefined point, leap-frogged Blockbuster's old model while they were asleep at the wheel.

Wow, what a difference.