Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Soloist

Because of my wife's impending Comps I decided to be chivalrous and let her choose the movie of the week. I was campaigning hard for State of Play, and she seemed interested at first, but ultimately she fell under the sway of the brilliant loon Jaimie Foxx. Now in my book you can't ever go wrong with Robert Downey Jr. but something about this movie just didn't interest me. Ultimately I blame the trailers they were terrible. They were overdramatic and pandered too much for Oscar consideration. But as I walked out of the theatre I discovered that I really enjoyed the movie much more than I thought I would. It is definitely the best film so far for Director Joe Wright, at least in my book. It's half bio-pic and half social awareness film. The movie deals with Psychosis and homelessness and the detrimental effects of thousands of people living in poverty on the streets of LA.Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) hears classical music coming from behind a statue of Beethoven. He discovers a homeless man, Nathanial Ayers (Jamie Foxx) playing a violin on two strings. Lopez strikes up what one could call a conversation with the very intelligent but frenetic musician. Lopez takes a liking to him as he sets out to write a human interest story. Ayers attended Julliard but over time became lost in a sea of paranoia and madness. They become friends, in a sense, as Steve tries to help Nathanial to find his way off the streets and back into his musical career.The premise is pretty cut and dried. Lopez tries to understand this extremely gifted homeless man and how he could have ended up on the streets. Honestly it reminded me a lot of the Fisher King. Which is a far better film by the way. If you haven't seen it go and rent it. Directed by Terry Gilliam starring Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges. If you want to see a decent into madness, you won't find a better film than the Fisher King. The homeless shelter scenes, in the Soloist, I thought brought out the best elements of the film. You had some real characters in there but all felt true to life and I think it was a powerful thing to see. Also the performances from Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx were excellent, especially Downey with his sarcastic banter that never gets old. I also loved Catherine Keener, as Steve's ex-wife and editor, even though they didn't give her enought screen time. She was mostly relegated to holding the kleenex for Downey when he couldn't deal with Nathanial's unwillingness to help himself. The main problem I had with the film was the execution of the flashbacks and the directors attempt to crawl inside Nathanial's deranged mind. Both were awkward attempts. And even though there were quite a few scenes that I felt were overly melodramatic I didn't think the Director was trying to make a cookie cutter film. I won't give away the ending but I appreciate that he didn't have Steve solve all of Nathanial's problems for him or that Nathanial had some kind of quick happy ending recovery at the end. It was realistic and it got the point across about these two men and how they inspire each other.Tamar of course loved the movie--I think it's because she's a sucker for classical music--which they play throughout the film. Speaking of music they played a horrible version of Mr. Bojangles by Neil Diamond in the film. I don't ever remember hearing this version before and I think I realize why. Ugh, it just makes me cringe thinking about Neil D doing his talky croon thing mangling the life out of that great song. Now you would think a movie about musical inspiration would avoid putting a song this bad in their film. Nevertheless it was funny watching Robert Downey trying to dance to it. So if you can't get into Wolverine this coming weekend this is a nice drama with Downey in full on, "charm the pants off" mode. Plus there is a great scene where he's trying to get rid of a groundhog--I think my friend Q should take some notes for her Mom.

Grade: 3 Buckets

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Observe and Report

Saturday started off on a bad note when I turned on the TV to see my beloved Yankees getting reamed in just the second inning. When it got to 14 runs I just shook my head and turned the TV off. Since I couldn't bear to watch my team blow yet another home game by double digits I was determined to go see something funny. Tamar was busy with her crafting stuff so I figured I could go and see something really juvenile, with gross out humor. At least that is what I thought I was seeing. This was definitely different from most mainstream films--it certainly felt more like an Indie. This was Paul Blart Mall Cop meets Taxi Driver. And I'm not saying Paul Blart to compare the two films--the only thing that connects Observe and Report to Paul Blart is that they both revolve around stupid Mall Cops but after that all bets are off. Observe's Ronny is a disturbed/paranoid gun nut who has the same sense of self-righteousness as Travis Bickle and it is intense.Ronny (Seth Rogan) is the head of security at the local mall. He is joined by his motley crew of Mall cops, his right hand man Dennis (Michael Pena), the Yuen Twins (John & Matt Yuen) and newbie Charles (Jessie Plemmons). Ronny is obsessively trying to track down a serial streaker who has made it personal for Ronny when he reveals his bits and pieces to Ronny's would-be girlfriend Brandi (Anna Faris). Ronny also has trouble from the Conway Police Department and Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta). Ronny wants to be a cop and the only thing, in his mind, getting in his way is Harrison and his snooping around Ronny's mall.The movie is funny as hell no question especially the back and forth between Ronny and the patrons at the mall. Ronny is not politically correct in almost any situation. As one of the funnier sequences with actor Aziz Ansari who Ronny calls Saddamn. Is it American History X uncomfortable? Not quite, but the filmmakers definitely like to put a foot over the line every chance they get. Director/Writer Jody Hill must have a soft spot for dumb rednecks with misplaced confidence because this is now the third time one has headlined one of his productions. The first was dumb karate loving honky Fred Simmons (Danny McBride) from The Foot Fist Way. The second is potty mouth ex-baseball player and all around douche bag Kenny Powers for HBO's Eastbound and Down. Out of the three of them Ronny is by far the most tolerable. I'm usually from the school of, "If your main character is unlikable in almost every way the audience will more than likely not show up." The obvious reason being because if you can't give a shit about the guy why are you watching his story in the first place. But somehow Hill and his cohorts have been successful at this formula. The fact that there are some damn funny moments in all of these productions helps I'm sure. Ronny at least seems to have a sense of right and wrong but his bi-polar nature pushes him to act out when things don't go his way.Ray Liotta, Michael Pena and Celia Weston as Mom truly helped to balance out this dark comedy. Anna Faris has to be careful though she plays yet another vapid blonde chick not unlike her Brittany Spears character, Samantha James, in Just Friends. I think she's capable of doing more but until then she can sleepwalk through these roles and collect a paycheck for as long as she likes. Seth Rogan however really showed some chops that I haven't seen before. Yes Ronny is funny and stupid not unlike Rogan's cop character from Superbad. But as the movie unfolds you get to see more layers as Ronny slowly ticks away like a time bomb. He gets bad advice from his drunk Mother and he seems to be coming dangerously close to losing his sense of reality. Rogan also showed that he can throw a punch. He beats the shit out of some skater kids smashing boards over their heads with glee. He also gets a great sequence kicking some drug dealer ass. Danny McBride makes his cameo appearance as he has the unfortunate duty of being on the receiving end of this gangland stomping. Overall the movie was funny and extremely offensive. If you have a sensitive disposition Observe and Report is not for you. But if this doesn't bother you then what the hell are you waiting for? It's much better than Paul Blart: Mall Cop this I can assure you. Actually that should be the sequel Ronny Barnhardt vs. Paul Blart. Kevin James would be a greasy smear on the pavement after about five minutes.

Grade: 3 Buckets

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Happy Easter/Passover to everyone! It's been a busy couple of weeks but I think things are getting back to normal. My parents came up for the Holidays and my Mom got to experience her first Seder meal. The dinner turned out great and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. But it ended up being a pretty dreary and windy weekend. So since we couldn't do much outdoors we decided to go see a movie. I really wanted to see Observe and Report and oddly my Dad was interested in seeing it too. But my Mom put the kabosh on that idea. She thought it was going to be vile and disgusting. Hell I wasn't going to argue I knew it absolutely was and honestly I wasn't too pumped to see that kind of movie with my parents anyway. So we ended up seeing Duplicity instead. It is well written and sharply paced and Tony Gilroy really brings a sense of fun to the movie. Clive Owen and Julia Roberts have great chemistry and it shows in this slick Ocean's 11 style heist movie.Roy Koval (Clive Owen) is a former MI-6 spy. Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) is a former agent for the CIA. The story weaves from their past together as agents to their present as corporate spies working together to steal a new top secret product that could make them millions. The only problem is can they trust one another to get the job done? On one side you have corporate Mogul Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) who is trying desperately to hold onto his secret formula. On the other you have CEO Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti), a paranoid, and seedy exec who wants desperately to discover Tully's secret formula. Tully hires Claire to protect it and Garsik hires Roy to steal it. As you can tell there is a lot of backstabbing and moving and counter-moving. Some of the flashbacks make the story a little more confusing then it needs to be. But you do get a payoff for the flashbacks in the end.I'm always a sucker for a good heist movie like Ocean's 11 or the Sting. You have the Set-up and the Hook, which is the most fun, as you make your mark. In this case Claire and Roy seem to be deeply in love with one another yet their occupations make it difficult for them to truly trust one another. Although there were times with all of this scheming where I was thinking that Roy and Claire were not really that great at their jobs. Especially Roy who seems to really mess up a lot. Danny Ocean he aint. They certainly had the wit and ego for what they do but they both seemed bumbly throughout and maybe that's the point. I'm not entirely sure. But it was fun watching Giamatti squirm it reminded me a bit of his Pig Vomit role from the Howard Stern movie. It's a cute movie with great back and forth banter but that's pretty much about all you can say. It's not bad it's not great but it was enjoyable forgettable fluff.

Grade: 3 Buckets

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

NCAA Final Four 2009 - UNC Tarheels

The 2009 Season for College Basketball is over and the University of North Carolina has emerged victorious. This was quite a run for the Heels as they barreled through the NCAA Tournament dismantling teams to make it to the final game in Detroit, MI against the Michigan State Spartans. Before the first game was played the Heels were pre-season number 1 and some commentators would even exclaim that the Heels would March into Detroit undefeated to steal the crown. After a strong showing in the first few games Carolina experienced the first set back of the season when they lost Marcus Ginyard for the season because of a fracture in his left foot and star center Tyler Hansbrough had to sit out for a few games due to a stress reaction condition in his right shin. To make matters worse a month later Freshman big Man Tyler Zeller breaks his wrist and at the time is told he may be out indefinitely. (Zeller did return late in the season.) There was an early memorable game in December that mirrored the one in Detroit. UNC destroyed Michigan State in December in the very building they would go on to win their National Championship five months later.The hype on the Heels dropped like a rock when the Heels began the regular season in the ACC blowing two games early with losses to Boston College at home and Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. The talking heads continued to acknowledge the skill of this Tar Heel team but now had doubts about their ability to win it all. Coach Roy Williams never gave up on his squad as he pushed his team. Lead by the unstoppable Ty Lawson the Heels went on a 10-0 run. The Heels were proving once again why they were the best as they dominated the ACC to take first place in the league. The other big news to come out of that run was that Carolina had beaten Duke for the fourth time in Four years at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Take that Cameron Crazies!! But disaster was right around the corner again, after a big win during Homecoming against Duke the Heels lost their star point guard Ty Lawson due to a toe injury. Lawson sat out the ACC Tournament to watch the boys in blue lose in an awkward game to Florida State. UNC had won the regular season and even though they lost the ACC Tournament they were still able to get the number one seed in the South. March Madness had begun and everyone was filling out their brackets. It was great to see President Obama predict the boys in blue to win it all. Which obviously had to illicit a comment from the peanut gallery of Mikey K and the Dukies. (Although I will acknowledge it was in jest.) Duke of course got a second seed in the East after their big win at the ACC Tournament. Wake got a four seed in the Midwest and Maryland wound up with a 10 seed in the West. The Clemson Tigers and Boston College each received a 7 seed in the South and Midwest, while Florida State got a 5 seed in the East. The ACC disappointed big time. I was so sure they were going to represent but all but Duke and Maryland got booted out in the first damn round. Don't even get me started on Wake Forest and their choking in the Tournament. I had them going all the way to the big dance and they go and blow it in the first round to Cleveland friggin State, ouch.>Ty Lawson returned for the second game of the tournament against LSU and the Heels dominated late in the second half beating the Tigers by 14. The Heels would do similar damage to their next opponent Gonzaga. Hansbrough, Lawson and Wayne Ellington had a big night pounding Gonzaga by double digits for most of the game. Danny Green also put up big numbers shooting 3-6 behind the arc. The Heels won easily 98-77. The next challenge was the battle of the Big Men Blake Griffin and his Oklahoma Sooners versus Tyler Hansbrough. Griffin dominated in the paint but UNC was able to choke off any spurt or rally from the rest of the team. Lawson had a great game with 19 points and 5 assists but it was Danny Green who stepped up the 3 point shooting again with 19 points. He was 2-4 from behind the arc. Ellington and Hansbrough both were quiet for the evening but it didn't matter. There are just so many ways for this team to attack. I also want to point out that throughout this series the Tar Heels, who have been criticized for a lack of solid defense, played exceptionally well on the other end of the floor. From steals and turnovers Carolina racked up points so quickly that by the time their opponents had a chance to take a breath they found themselves down 15 to 20 points.The Final Four was now set. Detroit was welcoming home the (2) Michigan State Spartans. The same Spartans that dismantled the defending champions (3) Kansas, in the Sweet 16, 67-62. The Spartans went on to discombobulate overall number one (1) Louisville in the Elite Eight, 64-52. Michigan State had to face up against the rock solid (1) Connecticut Huskies. Uconn racked up a solid win against (5) Purdue, 72-60 and a powering win over (3) Missouri in the Elite 8 to make it into the Final Four. The final score was 82-75. These were all tough teams with excellent coaches and it was Tom Izzo and his Michigan State team that frustrated and harassed the dominating powerhouse Uconn defeating them 82-73 to make it into the final game. On the other side of the aisle the (3) Villanova Wildcats were working on a spectacular run of their own cruising past the Blue Devils of (2) Duke in the Sweet 16 77-54. Villanova added to their list of giant killers by beating (1) Pittsburgh in the elite 8 in a tight match-up 78-76. With Villanova's excellent defense and guard play they were just looking to give the Tarheels a run for their money. But in the end Nova just didn't have enough juice to work their way past the Heels. Coach Wright and his squad made it interesting when they brought the lead down to 5 early in the second half but they just couldn't buy a basket allowing UNC to push the score back up to double digits and the win, 83-69.
Tom Izzo and his Michigan State Spartans were getting support from their home turf in Michigan as they were burdened with the task of carrying Detroit's flailing auto industry and economy on their young shoulders. The way the press made it sound like it was the entire state, nay maybe even the country with its economic downturn and these blue collar Spartans against the Tarheels. It was crazy and really ridiculous that these comments were even made, it would have made an even greater story I guess if Michigan State had won----but that's not what happened. Michigan State led by Goran Suton, Kalin Lucas and Draymond Green came out of the gate flat turning the ball over multiple times in just the first 10 minutes allowing Carolina to get a 10 point lead almost instantly. The Heels played an almost perfect half doing to Michigan State what Kansas had done to them the year before. Michigan State had that same deer in the headlights look throughout the game. The Tarheels had a tournament record breaking half leading the Spartans 55-34. MSU did seem to awaken from their slumber in the second half with their famous pressure defense but by then it was too late, UNC won 89-72. Ty Lawson had a record 8 steals for the game. Junior Deon Thompson and Freshman Ed Davis blitzed Michigan State with a flurry of inside shots and rebounds. I can't speak for anyone else but the win was exciting for me and well worth the wait.It's fair to say that the end was anti-climatic. It's also fair to say that the Tarheels were on another level from anyone else. Will this 2009 Carolina team go down in the history books as one of the greatest college teams ever? The book isn't written on that one yet but it's a tough call. I will say that I have never seen a team as focused as this one. Ty Lawson set the tone and Ellington, Green and Hansbrough buried the shots, inside and out. This has to be one of the most balanced UNC teams I have ever seen. This is the teams fifth National Championship win and Roy Williams second. Roy Williams is the fourth active coach to win consecutive titles. North Carolina also has an all time record of 103 victories in Tournament play. Pretty impressive I must say. These were a great bunch of kids who I will miss watching next year. Tyler Hansbrough has proven his worth to all the critics who said he wasn't deserving of acclaim. Psycho T will forever have his jersey hanging from the rafters of the dean dome and there is nothing any of them can say or do about that. Congratulations to Coach Roy Williams and his excellent squad of players for an unbelievable season and I can't wait to see what's in store for next year. Go Heels Go!!