Reviews


    Before the stars begin traipsing down the red carpet, The Lint Screen proudly predicts who will clutch statues of golden glory and who will grasp fistfuls of disappointment and heartache.

Hollywood's catnip, yummiliciousness!

Hollywood's catnip, yummiliciousness!

    Let’s get straight to the biggie–best picture: and the winner will be Slumdog Millionaire. A tough, tough call. I saw all the nominees except Frost/Nixon, but I don’t think it’s going to win since Dick Nixon was never much of a box office draw (he was more of a behind the scenes guy).

    Stiff competition with the other pictures though. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was a spectacular film, but will be remembered more for seamless special effects than anything else.

    Milk was an amazing character study and acting tour de force for Sean Penn and Josh Brolin. But, we knew the story before sitting down. Not enough mystery to satisfy our insatiable curiosity.

    Then there was The Reader. Fresh, interesting story, great acting, directing, everything. But a little too too for an Oscar handshake. Too much of a downer.

    Which leaves us with Slumdog. This film had it all: exotic and mysterious locale (India), incredible storytelling in a non-linear and ever-poke-the-ol’-curiosity-way, terrific performances, romance, game show, good versus evil (Chuck Dickens would be proud), visually stunning, poo humor, Bollywood dance number, captivating music, etc. It’s the entire package. A fresh film from a fresh place Hollywood hasn’t yet exploited. Oh, and it was done by Brits. Hollywood is totally Anglophile, I say… it finds all things English to be quite brilliant. Yep, Slumdog is an Oscar lock.

    For leading actress, it’s a fight between Meryl Streep in Doubt and Kate Winslet in The Reader. My money’s on Meryl and her rosary beads. She sent shivers up the spines of any child who ever had a nun as a teacher (a performance so authentic, I had red imprints on my sweaty palms from phantom slaps of the ruler). Then again, Kate is British, so I could be wrong. I just hope it isn’t Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married, an over-hyped soap opera of self-indulgent shaky cam. It was a movie that made every minute seem like five. 

    For leading actor, it’s Sean Penn versus Mickey Rourke as heavyweight contenders. I have to say Mickey was pretty incredible as a washed-up wrestler, but I didn’t feel his playing a has-been on the ropes was much of a stretch for him as an actor. As for Sean Penn, his was an incredible performance of becoming Harvey Milk. Penn continues to amaze as he transforms himself into varied roles. I think this will be his second handshake with Mr. O. Then again, Hollywood loves the Rocky-style actor comeback plotline, too. If Mickey were British, it’d be an easier pick. But I’m betting Penn, the dark horse.

    In supporting actress, it’s a tough call. Could be Amy Adams in Doubt. Could be Viola Davis in Doubt (a relatively short time on film. but a legendary performance). Could be Marisa Tormei for baring darn near everything including her soul in The Wrestler. But wait, Marisa’s got an Oscar and we need a surprise pick. My money’s on Viola Davis. A long shot, I know, but I’m tossing the dice. 

It's tough to beat death.

It's tough to beat death.

For supporting actor, go with Heath Ledger. Nothing aids fame quite like death. Ledger was terrific, he did some of the best tongue acting of all time, and he certainly caused many people to fear pencils. It’s too bad he’ll be the walkaway winner because there were great competitors with John Brolin in Milk, Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt, and Robert Downey, Jr. in Tropic Thunder. But, it’s all Heath, babes. Too bad he won’t be there to get the gold man.

    For directing, Slumdog will win. Danny Boyle has a fresh eye, and it’s a brave film with wonderful performances. My quibble with it: too many Dutch angle shots, Danny-boy-o. They drive me nuts, like strong perfume in an elevator. Dutch angles try too hard. I think David Fincher deserves the award because Benjamin Button was a phenomenal story that required tons of special effects and pitch perfect performances, yet he pulled it all off in a perfectly natural way. A real magician’s trick and artistic touch. But, it’s the year of Slumdog. Hey, man, it is written.

    In best adapted screenplay, the winner is (oh, these envelopes are so hard to get open),  Simon Beaufoy for Slumdog Millionaire. No argument here, it’s a terrific tale well told. Well written. Can I milk this gag any more? Doubtful.

    For best original screenplay, give a little fellow to Martin McDonagh for In Bruges. No, I didn’t see all the nominees, but I did love this screenplay and movie.

    As for the other categories, well, I’ve got to go with Tony Smidlagg for Best Best Boy. I’ve always said “he’s the best.”

    Enjoy the show. Make your picks. Ciao, babe, I’ll be poolside at The Beverly Hills Hotel…

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    Ah, the classic Christmas movies: “Miracle on 34th Street”, “White Christmas”, “It’s A Wonderful Life”, “A Christmas Story”… our family watched none of these on Christmas eve.

   We watched “The Deer Hunter” instead.

   The movie had come from Netflix well over a month ago and had been lazily sitting in the basement; a 3-hour monster lurking in its envelope. The time had come to unleash the beast.

   I was the only one in our family who had seen it, but it was so long ago that the memories of it were more a fog than concrete images. I did sort of recall the film was pretty intense. As I watched it, I thought maybe I hadn’t seen the entire film. Maybe I’d just seen chunks of it.

Where's Jimmy Stewart when you need him?

"The Deer Hunter" is a bit more intense than "It's A Wonderful Life"

      This was the film that made director Michael Cimino red hot. His next film was the legendary bomb “Heaven’s Gate” that cooled his career down quickly. “The Deer Hunter” was released in 1979 and won five Oscars, including best picture. 

     It’s a pretty terrific film, albeit one that could use some major pruning. “The Deer Hunter” is slow to develop. Scenes linger, linger, then linger a little longer. A mood is set, relationships are established, plot points are planted, but it all could be done tighter, would be done tighter if it were made today.

    This is a buddy film, a war film, a love story, a coming of age tale, a think piece, a tragic tale. Hmm, maybe it does take three hours to do all that.

    Most of the alleged Western Pennsylvania steel mill scenes (where the buddies live and work) were shot in northeastern Ohio, where I’m from. The Youngstown, Steubenville, Cleveland area do an excellent job playing Western PA. They’re as authentic as cold Rolling Rocks on a beaten bar. However, the scenes of “The Deer Hunter” tracking bucks with his rifle do not fare so well. The alleged Pennsylvania mountains are overplayed by the grandiose vistas of Washington state. Come on Washington state mountains, dress it down a bit–– the Pennsylvania mountains are not that beautiriffic. 

    I won’t get into the story except to say some pals from the steel mills enlist to fight in Viet Nam. It does not go well. Lives are forever changed. War is indeed hell.

    If you haven’t seen “The Deer Hunter”, check it out. Classic performances from Di Nero, John Cazale (what a mug on that guy, the quintessential character actor), John Savage, Christopher Walken (before he developed his odd speaking inflections) and Meryl Streep. 

    No, it won’t become a Christmas tradition to watch it in our house, but it does get the Netflix envelope back into the mail.

   Merry merry and happy happy to all.

 

Careful Analysis Pays Dividends For You

My Careful Analysis Pays Dividends For You

Four movies for your two eyes, two ears.

“Burn After Reading”– You need to manage your expectations on this one, people. It’s being marketed as a comedy. If you walk in, sit down, fold your arms and say “O.K., clown-boys, make me laugh!” you won’t enjoy this movie as much as you should. Yes, there are some laughs in “Burn”.  Some laughs. But mostly it’s a quirky character-driven intricately plotted web of intrigue, vanity and stupidity. 

This is the latest offering from Joel & Ethan Coen (who some call “The Coen Brothers”, I call them “Those Kooky Coen Kids”). They’re hot off the Oscar-heavy success of “No Country For Old Men” and here they definitely toss a change up from the heavy drama of that jewel.

I’ll eagerly to see anything the Coens make, after all they’ve made some of the most interesting and enjoyable films of recent times:  “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, “Miller’s Crossing”, “The Big Leboski”, “Fargo”, “Raising Arizona”, “Blood Simple”, “Barton Fink” and more).

In “Burn After Reading”, you’ve got star power galore with Brad Pitt, George Clooney, John Malkovich. You’ve got nepotism with Frances McDormand playing a lead (she’s the wife of Joel Coen, but she’s always terrific and probably doesn’t need the inside connection). You’ve got great character actors in Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins and J.K. Simmons. You’ve got a free-wheeling story that just keeps spinning inter-connected plot lines and catapults the story along to a conclusion that is fulfilling, believable and as arbitrary as life itself.

I did miss Roger Deakins, who has been the director of photography for just about all the later Coen films. “Burn” does not have the cinematic grandeur and camera movement as previous Coen flicks, but it does keep you moving and guessing and enjoying the ride, so what the hell, enjoy your time off Mr. Deakins… but please come back soon. I miss you.

“Tropic Thunder”– There’s a reason this film is doing some serious box office business: it does what a comedy is supposed to do, give your lungs a healthy workout. This is one seriously funny movie.

But even if it wasn’t funny, it’s a pretty good action-adventure film thanks to some beautiful cinematography by two time Oscar winner John Toll and excellent directing by Ben Stiller.

Stiller co-wrote this yukfest with actor Justin Theroux and the incomparable Ethan Coen (moonlighting while Joel slept with wife Frances).

The premise of the movie is the making of a big budget movie based on a  best selling book about the Vietnam War called “Tropic Thunder”.  

The main attraction is Robert Downey, Jr., playing 5-time Oscar-winning Australian actor Kirk Lazarus. Kirk is the ultimate method actor so for the role of an African-American sergeant, he has a controversial skin- tinting procedure. Downey plays it to the hilt as brother fighting for The Man. But a white dude playing black does not play well with fellow actor Alpa Chino, who really is black, played superbly by Brandon T. Jackson. 

This is the year of Robert Downey, Jr. With this role and playing the lead in “Iron Man”, he stars in two of the best movies of the year, with another promising one (“The Soloist”) on the horizon.

Ben Stiller gobbles his scenes as the Sly Stallone-like mega-action-fading-star Tugg Speedman. His obsequious agent is ably played by Matthew McConaughey (who amazingly plays the entire role shirted).

Jack Black plays a drug addicted co-star who’s made his fame in a series of successful ‘fart films’ (can you say “Eddie Murphy”?) and now wants to be taken seriously as an ACTOR

And the big buzz of the film is Tom Cruise playing an obnoxiously overbearing ball-busting studio head. Cruise has great make-up, rage and screen presence, and you can tell he loved every minute of playing this outrageous jerk.

This movie is decidedly politically incorrect, raunchy, sophomoric and foul– so if you’re easily offended rent “The Sound of Music”, eat taffy and pray for a gentler world. But if you’re up for some good laughs and fun pyrotechnics, grab a chair and kiss a couple hours goodbye. It’s well worth the trip.

“Vicky Christina Barcelona” — Woody Allen is a machine who’s been churning out movies for 42 years. He earned his chops as a master of comedies, defiantly made a series of soberingly depressing dramas and has bobbed about with light dramas, comic capers and interesting character studies. This movie is one of his human stories.

Vicky is played by the beautiful Rebecca Hall. She’s a confident woman engaged to a Mr. Conformity in NYC. She is more pragmatist than poet. She believes she knows herself and her destiny.  She marches through life with firm footed certainty.

Christina is played by the luminous Scarlett Johansson. She’s a flighty insecure woman who is looking for love in all the wrong places but remains a hopeless romantic. She is open to possibilities and growth, unsure of every step she takes but knowing it will lead to something that could be better. She is an artist on her journey of discovery.

Vicky and Christina are enjoying a summer holiday in guess where– Barcelona (boy, the movie’s title gives away the entire story). They encounter an egocentric artist named Juan Antonio, wonderfully played by Javier Bardem (it’s hard to believe this is the same dude who lugged around the bovine-skull-crushing air gun in “No Country For Old Men”). He is on a hedonistic bender, on the rebound from a toxic relationship with his ex-wife, Maria Elena (played by Penelope Cruz).

Juan Anotonio proposes a threesome to Vicky and Christina. He loses that proposal, but gets involved with each beauty individually. He and Christina become an item, his unstable ex enters the scene, more things happen and then some other things happen, too.

I’ll say no more except this movie is a must-see for anyone who ponders the human condition and enjoys adult stories that make your brain contemplate life. Good on you, Woody.

“In Bruges”– You’ll have to rent this puppy, but go ahead and get it in your queue today. This tale of two hired killers in the Belgium resort Bruges is a fun romp well acted by Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell (his performance here is almost good enough to wipe away the stench and sin of starring in “Alexander”). Ralph Fiennes is their irate boss back in the U.K., and as you probably guessed, there is a racist dwarf (sorry, little person). 

It was written and directed by celebrated Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. This is an impressive debut for an incredible talent. It’s beautifully shot with a hauntingly beautiful musical score. Don’t even get me started on the impressive work of the Best Boy.

Give it a go. You’ll love being In Bruges, and won’t soon forget the trip.

 

What movies are worth your precious Hamiltons?

What movies are worth your precious Hamiltons?

Hollywood’s upped the ante to $10 for viewing one of their precious little “movies.” Add $54 for a medium popcorn, medium beverage and a box of Milk Duds (“The Blockbuster Bellybuster Valu Combo”) and we’re talking a pretty pricey couple hours. I’ll scribble a few lines to tell you which movies I believe are worth seeing and which ones aren’t worth your Hamilton.

“Pineapple Express”– I suppose if one’s really baked this movie lives up to the hype. Then again, smoke enough goof and staring at a brick is pretty funny. I was not terribly amused by this film so I guess I was obviously too sober.

Oh, it’s got a few laughs and some fun bits, but this is hardly a great comedy or action movie. Clocking in at almost two hours, this film could certainly lose some unsightly celluloid. It gets hyper-violent at the end, but it’s not hyper-amusing as it goes on and on and on some more. Then goes on some more, and a little bit more for good measure.

The movie’s not awful, it’s just awfully disappointing. I wanted more laughs, more amusement. Apparently the idea and the script were created by Seth Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg when they were 16 or so. It feels like it. Guess I’ m just not on the Seth Rogen bandwagon.

I have a little system I use to rate just how much I don’t like a movie. If in a week, someone said I could see the same movie for free, would I? No, not this one. Then how much would they have to pay me to see the movie? $5? $10? $15? $20?

Keep the bidding going on this one. Save your Hammie for something else.

“The Dark Knight”— Take that ten spot you banked not going to Pineapple Express and treat yourself to this big honking action/adventure extravaganza.

Yes, Heath Ledger’s as good as you’ve heard (shame he never heard the great reviews but his performance is probably a lock for an Oscar nomination). Yes, Christian Bale can raise some hell against people who aren’t his family members. And yes, Christopher Nolan succeeded in following up the high cinematic bar he set in “Batman Begins”.

Gotham City looks gorgeously gloomy, ably played by the up and comer city of Chicago with some heavy make-up and dour disposition. The plot is intricate and the supporting cast superb. Aaron Eckhart is suave and de-boner (albeit a bit two-faced), Maggie Gyllenhaal delivers the goods along with Morgan Freeman playing the standard Morgan Freeman character–- the wise one who enlightens the way for heroes while dispensing sage advice. But the movie is owned by Ledger who scowls, grimaces, laughs diabolically behind make-up that wears away throughout the film (the classic symbolism for one losing his mojo). 

Perhaps the best performance belongs to Ledger’s tongue: darting, licking and smacking about like an animal struggling to be restrained. It’s a tongue performance for the ages.

Sure the movie could shed some weight at two and a half hours long, and some of the sub plots don’t work completely, and it just seems a waste to have an incredible talent like Gary Oldman play a milquetoast character like Gordon, but “the Dark Knight” is a hell of a ride and a visual spectacle throughout.  Pony up the Hamilton, pay some more if you’re able to see it in IMAX, but by all means see what the buzz is about.

“Iron Man”–  Another from the comic books, this is one of the best films of the year with great special effects, casting and performances all the way around. The script is tight. The first 20 minutes packs an incredible amount of background into an easily digested and fun to watch appetizer that sets up the hearty banquet ahead. From the opening frame on, the film catapults forward and keeps you interested, engaged and amused.  Sure, the climax is a bit strained, but what do you expect from comic book characters? Robert Downey, Jr. is terrific. Thank goodness he’s clean and sober because his talent would have been tragic to waste. Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard have Downey covered for a fun show that’s worth seeing at least once, if not twice. Director Jon Favreau kicked out the jams on this one. Strap on a seat and keep your arms inside the car.

“The Incredible Hulk”– Yet one more movie from the comics (makes me wonder if the Comic Book Store Guy from “The Simpsons” is running the studios these days).

This movie didn’t get its due. While not in the same league as “Iron Man” or “The Dark Knight”, this film is pretty damn good and worth seeing. Edward Norton does what Edward Norton always does: own every scene he’s in. His Bruce Banner is one conflicted cat, just don’t anger up his blood.

The problem is giving Norton a lightweight heroine in Liv Tyler. She disappears in the scenes they share.  The rest of the cast is O.K., Tim Roth serves a hefty dose of evil, and the story moves along at a healthy clip with some cool effects. Not a great film, but certainly worth seeing if it comes to a buck-a-rama near you. Definitely rent and watch when it’s out on DVD.

“Mamma Mia!”–  Yes, I am a heterosexual male and yes, I saw “Mamma Mia!”. In fact, I’ve seen it twice, once on the stage and now on the screen. I really liked the stage production, I really didn’t like the movie version. The reason is simple: the voices didn’t serve the musical. I think they let ABBA down (it’s never ever a good idea to let Abba down, people– ABBA must be served, it is a palindrome for Pete’s sake!).

Yes, Meryl Streep is a very talented actor, one of our best (can anyone cry better than Meryl cries?), but she is not a top drawer singing talent. Respectable, yes– she can carry a tune in a bucket. But phenomenal? Hardly. Her daughter, played by Amanda Seyfried, fares better in the singing department but she doesn’t bring much charisma or magic to the role. Pity, that.

As for the three papa bears in this Goldilocks tale, well, here’s where Mamma Mia! goes way off the tracks. Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard and Pierce Brosnan are likable enough but ill equipped to sing and dance. In fact, we all feel the shame when Pierce opens his mouth to warble. One wishes Daniel Craig as 007 would enter stage left, throttle him soundly and exit stage right.

Nope, the sad thing is this movie does a big disservice to the stage production. It forgets that a musical is about the music. Voices first, voices always.

Save your money for a first rate stage production of “Mamma Mia!”. This movie’s a letdown… and still it’s a blockbuster hit. Guess it shows what I know.

“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”– Take the two 800 pound gorillas of Hollywood, Lucas and Spielberg, add a proven bankable star (Harrison Ford) and a rising bankable star (Shia LeBeouf) in a franchise that’s grossed ten bazillion trillion dollars worldwide (Indiana Jones) and what have you got?

A terrible waste of a lot of talent.

The script’s goofy, the action ho hum and the adventure M.I.A. One can almost sense Spielberg yawning from behind the camera as he goes through the motions. This fourth installment of Indy should put him to rest, if there’s any justice. It’s already spawned a new expression for the venerable Jump the shark; in this case it’s called Nuke the fridge. 

Fonzie, thank Indy. You’re off the hook for the near future.

The set design of the ending scenes are obviously fake and cheesy. It’s hard to believe so many big names collaborated to make such a forgettable turd. Please don’t enable this people with your money– they may just do it again.

“Get Smart”… and skip “Get Smart”. It’s nothing like the TV show (which had a little something called ‘humor’, or ‘humour’ for British readers). What a waste of Steve Carell, time and money.

 

What a long strange trip it's been.

What a long strange trip it's been.

Television teaches a lot.

To people outside the advertising industry, their view of our world was McMahon and Tate. What they knew of our profession was from watching “Bewitched” and seeing Darrin Stephens conjure up brilliant ideas and pitch them to clients as Larry Tate slapped them on the back and cheered Darrin on. Larry was no empty suit, no siree.

Oh, and “Bewitched” also taught that successful admen often marry witches and wacky hi-jinks ensued.

Today people have a new compass on TV to give some insight into our profession: “Mad Men” on AMC.

The time is 1960. The WASPy agency Sterling Cooper precedes the creative revolution of McMahon and Tate. Our main character is Don Draper, a brilliant adman who conjures ideas the old fashioned way: in thick fogs of cigarette smoke, bottomless tumblers of amber booze and tumbles between the sheets with women who cannot refuse his amorous pitches.

Don Draper doesn’t need his wife to twitch her nose. He sweats out his ideas, dammit.

He’s a man of mystery with a past as murky as beef stew in a black onyx bowl. He’s married to a beautiful woman and has two perfect children but his soul and conscious are MIA. Despite his flaws, Don is a corporate riser because he gets the job done dealing with weasels that populate his working life and charming clients endlessly. He’s smooth as a grease slick on satin.

These are the glory days of the agency business with big fat 15% media commissions and clients who not only seek their agency’s counsel, they actually heed it and are gratefully appreciative. It’s the days of account people who are so powerful they can hip pocket a hunk of business and carry it across town like a wounded bird, safely depositing it into a new agency nest.

It’s a time B.C. (before cable), there are three networks, no computers, no mobile phones, no modern day distractions like 5,000 daily sales messages. The public can be reached easily and they are not yet cynical or jaded–– people may actually believe what admen have to say! Imagine that.

Admen are the rock stars of the biz world. One bourbon breakfasts lead to three martini lunches stumbling into cocktail hours followed by slabs of beef, buttery baked potatoes heaped with gobs of sour cream and a few good belts of whiskey.

Order a couple nightcaps, weave your way home and hit the reset button. Tomorrow’s another bender.

The adworld of the early 60’s is a good place for a man to be provided he’s the right color, right religion, right educational background and he’s a real man’s man (there is a homosexual character who’s so closeted he probably smells of mothballs). It’s a time of narrow minds, open prejudice, open discrimination and sexual harassment galore. Women are objectified and nullified, unless they can type or take dictation. Sad, but true. We’ve all come a long way, baby.

Sterling Cooper is an old school ad agency. The Mad Men deride and mock the early Volkswagen Beetle ads being put out by the upstarts at Doyle Dane Bernbach. “Cute” and “creative” are code for ads that won’t work and ads that won’t sell. The Mad Men are miffed by ads that tell truth and poke a little fun at a product. But dinosaurs never see the meteors coming their way–– in fact, some agencies today are still wondering if interactive advertising is just a passing fad.

So why is “Mad Men” such a hit with fans and critics? Because it’s a slick period piece soap opera of a glamorous profession, well written, superbly acted and exquisitely produced. Yes, Virginia, advertising is still considered a glamorous profession to the outside world, and this show is a snapshot of the business in its most sumptuous and exotic time. The creative revolution is underway but the fat cats at Sterling Cooper have yet to feel the ripples. Rumor has it in season two that will change.

I love “Mad Men” and I hate “Mad Men”. It shows our profession in a glorious time as a business and an ugly time of society. But one thing’s for sure: people seem to have had a lot more fun back then. I’ll wager people were having a lot more fun when you first got into the business, too. Was it our youth, or has society just gotten less fun?

I believe there’s a drastic fun shortage in the business world today. Everyone’s over-worked, over-scheduled, over-connected. We mine our various screens for e-mails and messages and life slips by. I recently read where the average person laughs 15 times a day. Factor in sleep and that’s less than one laugh an hour!

How depressing is that? (Fortunately my wife tells me I laugh in my sleep, then again I also scream in my sleep–– maybe I need a new pillow.)

Catch “Mad Men” and vow to yourself that you’ll have more fun (without drunk driving or sexual harassment). This is advertising, after all, and if we’re not having fun then who the hell is?

When your friends, neighbors and Aunt Sue who watch “Mad Men” ask you about advertising and the constant drinking, perpetual smoking and incessant sexcapades, nod your head knowingly and tell them it’s all true–– except we don’t wear hats these days. That would be absolutely mad.