March 31, 2010

Underrated MOTM: Blue Chips (1994)

"Is there a national championship collegiate athletic program anywhere in the country that can truthfully say all of its recruiting was done entirely within the official guidelines? Just asking."

That's Roger Ebert asking, in his review of Blue Chips, a rhetorical question that most fans of college athletics would rather not consider. Seems like a month doesn't go by without ESPN reporting on alleged recruiting violations at a given school, but it's never front page news and it's always gone after a day. Rules are broken, wrists are slapped, and everyone - fans, coaches, athletes, administrators - moves on to the next season.

This doesn't explain how a movie like Blue Chips was ever made, but it does explain why a movie like Blue Chips (or its cousin, The Program, or its successor, He Got Game) is never discussed, especially around this time of year, when universities spend (and earn) millions of dollars on advertising during March Madness coverage. Commentators talk about "how much these kids love basketball" and "what it means to Coach so-and-so to get to this point in his career", but never could a word be uttered about the money spent and favors called in to create all of those One Shining Moments.

March 26, 2010

Getafilm Gallimaufry: A Prophet, Fish Tank, Robin Hood and More

[Note: This series includes scattered thoughts on various movie-related topics. I was looking for a word that started with the letter "g" that means collection or assortment, but lest you think I'm some elitist wordsmith, know that I'd never heard of "gallimaufry" and I don't even know how to say it, but it was the only other option the thesaurus provided aside from "goulash" (too foody) and "garbage" (no).]

A Prophet (A) 

A Prophet is the first must-see film of 2010. Maybe that's not saying much considering the caliber of movies that have been released in this first quarter. How about this instead: A Prophet is one of the best crime sagas in recent memory, and, along with last year's Lion's Den and Hunger, it has helped usher in a new era of harrowing prison dramas (the last truly memorable one being what, The Shawshank Redemption?).

Written and directed by Jacques Audiard, whose last film (The Beat My Heart Skipped) was highly acclaimed but unseen by me, A Prophet boasts impressive verisimilitude for a completely fictional story. Maybe it's not surprising considering former convicts were hired as extras and advisers, but Audiard himself has admitted that prison life is rarely depicted in French film and television. French citizens are apparently clueless about what goes on behind prison walls in their country, so it doesn't take much convincing to accept this story as reality.

Indeed, life on the inside is reflective of life on the outside: the old French/European power structure is fading as new immigrant groups - particularly Arab Muslims (that term should not sound nearly as redundant as it does) - are arriving and establishing their identities as the "new French". Symbolically speaking, this film is urgently relevant (it won nine of the record 13 César Awards for which it was nominated); cinematically speaking it is a masterful showcase of acting, cinematography, pacing (even at 150 minutes), suspense, music, action and, most importantly, global insight.

March 24, 2010

Short Cuts: "So is Pregnancy if You Don't Have a License"

Demolition Man (1993). Directed by Marco Brambilla; written by Joel Silver and Howard Kazanjian; starring Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock, Benjamin Bratt, Rob Schneider, Bob Gunton, Denis Leary, and Jack Black.

March 23, 2010

300 Words About: Green Zone

"Look, man, we had to know this would flop after DiCaprio couldn't even carry Body of Lies. At least we got paid up front, right?"

Green Zone is like Glenn Beck, or Keith Olbermann, or even Jon Stewart. It's incredibly loud, incredibly loose-tongued, and incredibly lacking in moderation or nuance of any kind. Incredibly, Universal Pictures wagered $100+ million that cash-strapped audiences would want to see cable news-styled hysterics within the context of one of the most unpopular film genres of our time: the Iraq War movie (remember that The Hurt Locker is the lowest-grossing Best Picture winner in history).

Granted, Universal did have the "Bourne in Baghdad" angle to lure audiences (how has no one made a mash-up trailer yet?), and Paul Greengrass previously directed United 93, one of the best films of the last decade. But as much as Green Zone had on its side in terms of star power, nothing can make up for an extremely dated and painfully retread screenplay by Brian Helgeland - one that overflows with Big Grand Statements, both said and unsaid by its caricatures.

I figured something was wrong when Universal kept pushing the release date for Green Zone later and later (eventually past the 12/31/09 Oscar eligibility deadline), but wow, I haven't been this disappointed since about 10 minutes ago, when I saw that Brian Helgeland also wrote the upcoming Robin Hood reboot starring Russell Crowe.

March 22, 2010

Minneapolis Movie Madness

Spring in the Twin Cities is always a frustrating time for my movie life. I consider March, not January, the beginning of the new movie year, and every post-Oscar-night morning I look forward to a little respite from thinking about movies, especially as the temperature edges above 30 degrees and Daylight Savings begins.

Trouble is, March and April are two of the most jam packed months if the year for movie lovers in Twin Cities. It's literally impossible to see everything you'd want to in theaters, and you can forget about catching up with anything on DVD. Want to enjoy the weather outside? Fine, but know that you're missing some movies that will likely never be shown here again.

In addition to 6-8 new releases every week (already too much to consume), there is:

March 19, 2010

300 Words About: The Yes Men Fix the World

Meet ExxonMobil's most enthusiastic executives...

If Sacha Baron Cohen and Michael Moore teamed up to make a documentary, the result would be The Yes Men Fix the World, the new documentary about Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno's pranks on corporate America. These two guys created the film, of course, so to say it's one-sided would be a massive understatement. It's nothing more than a calling card for them to move on to something bigger and better (say, a TV show), but they are hilarious actors and despite the silliness of their pranks, their commitment to activism does seem pretty genuine.

Here's the set-up: Bichlbaum and Bonanno, leaders of an activist group known as "The Yes Men", worm their way into corporate meetings and conventions and pose as top executives for high-profile American businesses (Dow, Exxon, Halliburton, to name a few) - and sometimes even the American government. That they are able to actually get stage time and do interviews with the press using completely fake identities is not even the most impressive part.

March 16, 2010

Taking It Home: Garbage Dreams

Don't miss Garbage Dreams on PBS' Independent Lens this April 27th

I'm borderline-OCD about a few things in my life (or maybe more than a "few" things, depending who you ask), and one of those things is taking out the trash - especially trash containing food scraps. I just can't stand the smell when food begins to go bad after a day or two at room temperature, so the bag must be deposited outside in the dumpster (or composted, though I admit I'm behind the curve on that) as soon as possible, even if it isn't filled to the top.

The other day at work I was nearly brought to my knees by a stench emanating from the garbage can in our office kitchen. I hightailed it out of there, hoping that someone would be brave enough
(you don't have a custodial staff at small nonprofits) to eliminate this hazardous waste before it caused permanent olfactory damage for anyone in a 50 foot radius.

Alas, when I arrived at work the next morning and went to pour myself a cup of coffee, the smell in the kitchen was, in a word, unholy. I have a very keen nose and tolerate a lot of offensive scents on a daily basis, but I honestly haven't smelled something this nauseating in I can't remember how long (the formaldehyde-soaked human cadavers I dissected in college smelled like roses in comparison). I am truly convinced that whatever was in there was either decomposing or rotting alive; this was not simply someone's day-old beef with broccoli.

March 11, 2010

The 25 Best Soundtracks of the Decade (2000-2009)

[Note: This was a rather ambitious post with a lot of embedded content. Please excuse awkward spacing and timing lags.] 

Considering it's March of 2010, I guess I should clarify that I've made a list of the best soundtracks from last decade, 2000-2009. I started a draft of this at least six months ago but of course it fell into the netherworld of unfinished posts. As late as it is, here are 25 soundtracks from the last decade that I remember fondly, and I use the word "soundtrack" loosely since some of these movies had great songs that weren't actually on the soundtrack album. Also, note that these are soundtracks, not original scores.

First, here are some that I am setting aside because they fall into the following advantageous categories. Consider them in a class by themselves:

Musicals - Across the Universe, Dreamgirls, Moulin Rouge!, Chicago, Rent, Mamma Mia!
Biopics - Walk the Line, I'm Not There, Notorious, Ray
Documentaries - Dave Chappelle's Block Party, Tupac:Resurrection, Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony, Young @ Heart

Now, on to the list of 25, in alphabetical order with the exception of this first selection:

1. City of God (2002) - Was there any doubt my favorite soundtrack of the decade wouldn't come from my favorite movie of the decade? I've listened to this hundreds of times over the years and it never gets old. Antonio Pinto and Ed Córtes struck a perfect balance of soul, romance, funkiness, danger, and fun in their original score for City of God, but the supplemental songs really rounded out the album, such as "Convite para Vida" by Seu Jorge, "Na rua, na chuva, na fazenda" by Hyldon, and "Nem Vem Que Não Tem" by Wilson Simonal. Take a few minutes and enjoy a free trip to Brazil:

March 10, 2010

"Academy Award Winning Movie Trailer"

Outside of a few running features here at Getafilm, I don't often post one-off random viral videos du jour. But this one is good - good enough to get play here, there, and everywhere else. As is often the case recently, I saw it first at Switchblade Comb.

The nerdier you are about movies, and particularly movie trailers (recognizing the music, throwaway comments, even the production company lead-ins), the funnier this will be.

Apparently this duo is going to be presenting a short film at SXSW this month. Keep an eye on the name BriTANicK.

March 9, 2010

Women With Vision & Views from Iran @ the Walker

This spring the Walker Art Center will present nearly two full months of renowned international films as part of their 17th Annual Women With Vision International Film Festival (March 12-27) and their second annual Iranian film series, Views From Iran (April 9-30). 

This will be a chance for Twin Citians to not only see some high-profile local premieres (Claire Denis' celebrated 35 Shots of Rum, the Joan Jett biopic The Runaways, buzzed-about documentary El General, to name a few), but also hear from distinguished filmmakers, including the Iranian director Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, who will give a master class lecture on April 23.

Below are the highlights from both series. A number of these will undoubtedly fill up (The Runaways is already sold out), so I definitely recommend following the links for each film and purchasing tickets in advance.

March 8, 2010

10 Obligatory Thoughts on the 2010 Oscar Ceremony

 "Yep, believe it or not, that was the result of months of planning..."

I really didn't plan on continuing the Oscar discussion here into the "new year", but enough people asked me about my thoughts on the Academy's annual TV ratings grab during the last week that I felt compelled.

1. The opening - Horrendous. Neil Patrick Harris joked about why he was there before leaving us all to wonder: why was he there? I thought it was a fluffy, feeble, tasteless attempt at reclaiming some kind of Oscar showmanship that nobody is really nostalgic for. I longed for the pizazz of Billy Crystal's openings in 1997, 1998, and 2004.

March 5, 2010

March Lineup @ The Trylon microcinema: "Titans. Will. Clash. - The FX Magic of Ray Harryhausen"

Weekends in March @ the Trylon microcinema:

March 5 & 6
7:00 PM & 9:00 PM
"The classic Greek myth of Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece comes to life under Ray Harryhausen’s creative guise. The iconic skeleton battle scene, topping out at three minutes, took four months to produce. His first “A” list film, it was regarded by Harryhausen as his best film."
March 7
5:20 PM & 7:00 PM
"It’s all out war when a U.S. space mission rashly fires upon a mysterious alien spacecraft. Part classic sci-fi in the vein of War of the Worlds and part low-budget fun similar to Plan 9 From Outer Space, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers relegated Harryhausen’s talents to the less animated, but no less fantastical, effects of flying saucers destroying national monuments."
March 12 & 13
7:00 PM & 9:00 PM
"Although many film adaptations exist of Jules Verne’s novel, this version was by far the most popular. A small group of Union soldiers escape from a Confederate prison camp via hot air balloon only to find themselves stranded on a volcanic island inhabited with mammoth crabs, birds and bees. Presented in “superdynamation!”"
March 14
5:20 PM & 7:00 PM
"Driven from its natural habitat by hydrogen bomb testing, a giant octopus sets its monstrous sights on San Francisco, and the military is forced to pull out all its nuclear age gizmos to defend the west coast from ruin! Harryhausen did his best to disguise the fact that there was only enough money in the budget to construct six legs for the octopus that he jokingly referred to as the “hextapus.”"

March 19 & 20
7:00 PM & 9:00 PM
"Three intrepid turn-of-the-century voyagers are jettisoned to the moon via hair-brained science and DIY space travel. Not only do they discover a strange race of large bipedal insect aliens known as Selenites, but they also uncover their evil plan to conquer the earth! Harryhausen, a fan of the H.G. Wells novel, was personally responsible for persuading Columbia to fund this unique adaptation."

March 21
5:20 PM & 7:00 PM
"Humans unwittingly unleash the rage in the Ymir, a giant sulfur-loving reptile brought back from Venus and one of Harryhausen’s most iconic creatures. Shot on location in Italy—because Harryhausen wanted to vacation there—the film’s finale features the most unique death match the Roman Coliseum has ever seen."

March 26-28
Fri/Sat 7:00 & 8:25 PM; Sun 5:20 & 7:00 PM

"Often regarded (with "Argonauts") as Harryhausen's masterpiece, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad proved so popular it spawned two sequels. This one features battles with a Cyclops, a roc (the two-headed eagle), a fighting skeleton, and a dancing, four-armed cobra-woman, Harryhausen's favorite creature."
Tickets for all shows can be purchased online. Remember, there are only 50 seats so these go quickly. Additional film series run during the week (Trash Film Debauchery, Dreamland Faces, & Sound Unseen) - check the full calendar here.

Coming soon to the Trylon...
April: Alfred Hitchcock: Across the Decades
May: Before Tokyo: Comedies of Bill Murray

The Trylon microcinema is located at:
3258 Minnehaha Avenue S
Minneapolis, MN 55406
Info Line: 612.424.5468

March 3, 2010

The LAMB Devours the Oscars: Best Documentary Feature

[For the third year in a row I had the pleasure of previewing the Best Documentary Feature nominees as part of The LAMB Devours the Oscars, a month-long series profiling each of the 24 Academy Award categories. Head over to the Large Association of Movie Blogs to learn about the other 23.]

If there is a common thread among the (rather surprising) five nominees for Best Documentary Feature this year, it is that they herald the maturation of the "agit-doc", or activist documentary. Their purpose is not necessarily to tell a story in the traditional documentary filmmaking style, but to make you mad, call you to action, and encourage you to tell all of your friends that they just have to see "the dolphin movie".

If you're picking up on the sarcasm in my voice, forgive me - it's just that the runaway best documentary of the year, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, is not among this group of five. It's as if voters let their political compasses guide them above everything else this year; during these challenging times it's evident that we want to get mad, get even, and get to work about this social issue or that social issue. In any case, let's take a look at the nominees, in order of most likely to least likely to win:

March 1, 2010

82nd Academy Awards Winner Predictions

Although I saw fewer new releases in 2009 than in any year in the last five or six, and although the new releases that I did see were generally disappointing, it doesn't mean that I still don't love commemorating the end of another movie year. As I've said before, for me it's not about the awards, it's about the ceremony of finishing one year and beginning another - call it a movie birthday or New Year's celebration if you like. 

Only a handful of my favorite feature films and documentaries from 2009 were even nominated, so it's not like I have a lot on the line here, but predicting the winners is a February/March ritual that I've done every year for as long as I remember. Last year I correctly predicted 19 of the 24 categories - pretty good but not good enough to win a "real" Oscar pool, and an inflated number in a year that was pretty easy to predict anyway (Slumdog Millionaire was an easy favorite across the board). 

Outside of the acting categories I don't think there are nearly as many sure things this year. Nevertheless, here are my fearless choices, for no one's amusement but my own:

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