Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Hangover Part II

The Hangover Part II opens with a familiar scene. Tracy (Sasha Barrese) receives a phonecall from a frazzled Phil (Bradley Cooper.) He informs her there probably won’t be a wedding, all is doomed…again. The audience laughs because it was just like that in the first film, but now it’s probably worse.

The film proceeds to test how amusing that recognition is for this is the exact same film. It’s more of a remake than an actual sequel. The reason was such a hit was because it took three buffoonish characters and threw them into a raunchy mystery. With amnesia they had to sort out their maddening night with clues and leads so they can hopefully find their friend.

When the exact same thing happens again, even the characters find this to be routine. They’ve already played this game. Everyone remarks how similar this is, just in a different locale. It isn’t just the same premise, every plot point lines up to the first one including a kidnapping mishap, a visit to the hospital, authority figures hurting them, Stu (Ed Helms) being disfigured, songs, elevator shots, Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), Doug (Justin Bartha) not being part of the story, and even a last second cameo just to further remind you this is not an original film.

Despite them being intentionally unlikable characters, the trio are very watchable. So having a similar story could have been fine, if they just let the three of them guide the story. They don’t even have that. They all seem bored, mostly because they don’t have time to say very many jokes. All of their dialog is focused on the stale plot and continuously talking about the first film. The worst offense is Alan (Zach Galifinakis) who was the breakthrough star from the first film. Perhaps it’s because the original screenwriters weren’t part of this go-around, but it seems like they forgotten why this character is funny. He no longer seems real. This time he is too broad, too stupid, and often forgotten amongst the movie.

Comedies can have successful sequels if done right. Look at Community. (Please. I don’t want it to be canceled.) In their first season they had a brilliant episode called “Modern Warfare” which was a parody of action movie while they had a campus wide paintball tournament. It was a critical and fan favorite so during the 2nd season finale, they returned to paintball. Instead of being like Die Hard, they took a western motif, which evolved into a full-on war film. There were a few references to the first episode, but they were always quick and subtle. Instead they took the spirit of the first one and with creativity they took that into a new brilliant story with plenty of new jokes. If they just had done another action movie parody, then the episode would have flopped.

So please, The Inevitable Hangover Part III, I know your franchise is about characters making the same mistakes but…please stop making the same mistakes.

Kung Fu Panda 2

When the trailer for Kung Fu Panda came out, I thought it looked terrible. After finally catching up with it on DVD, I was pleasantly surprised how charming it was. It’s not Dreamworks policy to let a good movie stand on its own so Kung Fun Panda 2 was quickly put into production.

A bit too quickly unfortunately. Last week I said Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was Shadow of the Thin Man. Today Kung Fu Panda 2 is really Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze. Obviously.

Both films had characters who were outcasts who ended up being accepted after they saved the day with their awesome fighting skills. Instead of having a new adventure to advance the story, it’s time to look back into their past. After seeing a mysterious symbol, Po (Jack Black) has a memory of his parents. He realizes that he was adopted and decides to figure out who his real family is. He says he also needs to know “Who I am,” which is one of the more annoying character goals because it’s usually just who they always were. So just like when the turtles learned the secret of the ooze, the new information really didn’t matter and was already assumed. What an exciting story!

Meanwhile there is a new threat by ways of Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), a peacock with daddy issues. He uses gunpowder to make a weapon that will “end kung fu.” Lord Shen doesn’t really stack up as a worthy successor to the last villain, especially because he has a prophecy working against him. Whenever there is a prophecy in a film, it will always always always come true therefore removing any stakes and thrills.

Like the first film, the action scenes remain energetic and creative. One of the earlier scenes involving stopping some robbers is one of the highlights because it has all of the warriors fighting at once and working together. These scenes are good reasons for having so many characters, but when it comes down to plotting and dialog it feels crowded. I think Viper (Lucy Liu) and Monkey (Jackie Chan) only had one line apiece in the whole film. My favorite character from the last film, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) is absent for majority of the running time.

Much like Shrek 2 felt a bit stale, but still watchable this one will entertain most of the original audience. However the last scene is a blunt set-up for the third film and that film doesn’t seem very interesting. I would try to beg that this series doesn’t become diluted, but this is Dreamworks. There has already been a lame Christmas special, a video game, a direct-to-DVD short film, rumors of a TV show, and at least two more movies on their way. It’s only going to get worse from here.

Film Yap: Who is Morgan Spurlock?

This weekend Morgan Spurlock’s third feature documentary is coming out in theatres. Like his previous two, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is a entertainingly gimmicky premise about how he is making a movie about product placement and advertising while completely being funded by product placement and advertising.

These concepts is what helps make Spurlock so popular, but how does he rank as a documentarian?

Early on in Sold, Spurlock said, “I’m a redundant guy” after he blundered on an adjective. The same can be said for his films because he is his films. With the exception of Michael Moore, no other documentarian is prominently the face of their own movies. In many ways, that works because Spurlock is an incredibly charismatic guy. His boyish curiosity and sense of humor is what makes all of his projects watchable.

Spurlock is a wonderful host, but a lackluster journalist. What will happen when you eat McDonalds for 30 days? What do you think will happen? Instead of education and enlightenment, his essays just result in a “Duh” factor. In Sold, it’s even more vague. Instead of really delving deep into the affects of advertising for better or worse, it’s his goal to show that it’s out there. Everyone knows they are surrounded by ads; creating a satirical spectacle doesn’t show anything new about it.

The thesis for his films are simple enough that it’s difficult to refute them, but he never takes the extra step to create an iron-clad argument. They are very surface level films. That is not necessarily a bad thing.

With a range of lighter and darker fictional films, there should be the same spectrum for non-fiction. Instead of delving into a weighty Errol Morris film, is Spurlock is worthy popcorn documentary? Still, I think the answer is no. Spurlock crafts and edits a very pleasurable 90 minutes but the concepts still require deeper examination to be a worthy essay. Films like Man on Wire, Waking Sleeping Beauty, and Best Worst Movie all are able to be fantastic documentaries while being faithful to their subjects. It may seem impossible to make a more definitive and amusing documentary about arcade competitors than The King of Kong whereas Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? is not even the first place to look into Islamic tolerance.

I’ll continue to watch Spurlock’s films with low expectations. He has done well with smaller subjects, like in select episodes of 30 Days or his fun segment in Freakonomics. He has the potential to make a great film but until then he’s just making films that aren’t the best for you. Much like fast food.

Film Yap: Double Features Are Awesome

Double features are a mixture of two fun qualities: creativity and a love for cinema. Sure anyone could say something like “Hey let’s watch The Hangover and then The Hangover Part II.” Something like that or watching all of a trilogy in a row is fun, but there’s something special when you can juxtapose two films together. It’s a great way to revisit a movie, but also see it in a new context.

For example…

Double features can be a cool way to look at an artist’s range. Like…

· 10 Things I Hate About You / Brick

· Double Indemnity / Some Like It Hot

· Good Morning Vietnam / Good Will Hunting

· Groundhogs Day / Broken Flowers

· The Lady Eve / Once Upon a Time in the West

· Mr. Smith Goes to Washington / The Naked Spur

· The Next Karate Kid / Million Dollar Baby

Similarities in story or themes can make films great companion pieces

· American Graffiti / Dazed and Confused

· The Aviator / The Bad and the Beautiful

· Black Narcissus / Vertigo

· Casino Royale / District B13

· Clue / Murder By Death

· The Conversation / Enemy of the State

· Coraline / Pan’s Labyrinth

· Dog Day Afternoon / Inside Job

· Dr. Strangelove / In the Loop

· “The End” – LOST / “The End of Time Part 1 & 2” – Doctor Who

· Enter the Void / The Tree of Life

· The Frighteners / Ghost Town

· Galaxy Quest / Star Trek

· Get Shorty / Big Trouble

· The Great Mouse Detective / “A Study in Pink” – Sherlock

· The Guns of Navarone / Inglourious Basterds

· Heat / The Dark Knight

· Me and Orson Wells / My Favorite Year

· “Objects in Space” – Firefly / “The Doctor’s Wife” – Doctor Who

· The Others / The Orphanage

· The Private Life of Henry VIII / A Man For All Seasons

· Psycho / Magic

· The Red Shoes / Black Swan

· Saboteur / North By Northwest

· Scream / Behind the Mask

· Slacker / 45365

· There Will Be Blood / The Social Network

· This is Spinal Tap / Anvil: The Story of Anvil

· Topsy Turvy / Amadeus

· TRON / Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Two different takes on a subject can make for a great combo.

· 2001: A Space Odyssey / WALL-E

· Broadcast News / Morning Glory

· Carrie / Grease

· E.T. / Signs

· Ghostbusters / Casper

· Pocahontas / The New World

· Twilight / Let the Right One In

The best way to watch a parody film is when the referenced film is fresh in your mind.

· 28 Days Later / Shaun of the Dead

· All the President’s Men / Dick

· Airport / Airplane!

· Apocalypse Now / Tropic Thunder

· The Big Sleep / Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

· Point Break / Hot Fuzz

· Shaft / Black Dynamite

· Star Wars: A New Hope / Spaceballs

· Top Gun / Hot Shots

· Walk the Line / Walk Hard

Sometimes the remakes are different enough that together it doesn’t feel like you’re just watching the same film twice.

· 12 Angry Men / 12

· Blow Up / Blow Out

· Dawn of the Dead (1978) / Dead of the Dead (2004)

· Doc Hollywood / Cars

· Fitzcarraldo / Burden of Dreams

· King Kong (1933) / King Kong (2005)

· Hamlet / The Lion King

· Infernal Affairs / The Departed

· Macbeth / Throne of Blood

· The Seven Samurai / A Bug’s Life

· Sleuth (1972) / Sleuth (2007)

· The Thief of Bagdad (1924) / The Thief of Bagdad (1940)

· The Thing From Another World / The Thing

What are some more fun ideas for double features?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides has more in common with Shadow of the Thin Man than other summer blockbusters. Like a lot of TV shows, people sometimes keep returning to franchises not because of the new stories but just to see their beloved character again. Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow is now one of those characters.

Now the series is back for a stand-alone adventure. Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly weren’t invited back because their story was done or whatever. Instead we have Penelopé Cruz and Ian McShane as the Blackbeard family who need Jack to take them to the Fountain of Youth.

It wouldn’t be a Pirates film if the plot wasn’t unnecessarily complicated. They are also chased by Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa (now with one fewer leg) who wants revenge on Blackbeard and the Spanish who also want the Fountain. Throw in too many pitstops to satisfy the ritual for the Fountain including chalices from Ponce de Leon’s ship and a mermaid’s tear and you have an adventure.

Of course you may be wondering how can cups from Ponce de Leon’s ship be part of a ritual to use the Fountain of Youth since he was famous for searching for the Fountain and never getting there. How was the Fountain used before him? This is the crux of the franchise. Aside from the first one and most of the second, these films don’t make any sense.

This one is better than the third one because they kept the plotholes down to just two, from what I could count. There are plenty of scenes where characters lie or do stupid things for no apparent reason. There is a romance so annoying and contrived people will be begging for Bloom to return. The whole film is about 20 minutes too long.

Yet, I had a good time while watching it. Rob Marshall isn’t as equipped to handle action scenes as Gore Verbinski, but seeing Jack Sparrow dashing through London avoiding a league of guards is still fun. The humor is still charming. The film is very watchable and not offensive. When things don’t make sense, they’re at least attempting to be entertaining. It isn’t an onslaught of editing or product placement. Like Shadow of the Thin Man, it’s just another entry that will never be as great as the first one, but an enjoyable entry into the series that captures the likable spirit of the previous ones.

Film Yap: The Roommate

The following are all actual, chronological quotes from the film and bonus features.

“We tend to spike the punch”—Charming romantic lead

“I got you, I got you.”
“Who has you?”
“That would be me.”
“And who has you?”
“I guess that would be God.”—Witty dialog

“Is that your boyfriend?”
“Ex. It’s complicated.”—Dialog right before explaining the whole situation in under 20 seconds

“Let’s just say nothing is free at my house.”—Stuff people regularly say without any follow up question.

“This is my roommate, Rebecca.”
“Rebecca? How formal.” –Understandable because Rebecca is way too formal and if you don’t want to have one of their lame nicknames you’re probably a psychopath.

“It’s my job… to make you understand…that each of you…can be artists.” –Dialog perfect for Billy Zane.

“Frienderz” –Not Facebook. Seriously, it’s not.

“Clubs aren’t really my thing.” –More evidence someone is a psychopath.

“Do you accept a collect call from Sara Matthews?” –First sign to question what year this is.

“I want to show you something. This is my favorite.” –Something you shouldn’t say before showing a really demented painting unless you’re secretly a psychopath.

“It’s my older sister. She died when I was nine.” –Understandable justification for tattooing the name Emily on your breast.

“I know I probably broke like 40 different dorm rules but I can’t take it to a shelter, I just can’t.” –Inaccurate dialog because your room is so huge you’re living in a fantasy dorm anyway.

“Next time.” –Perfect wording to cancel a date via text. Oddly this wasn’t the psychopath.

“Something is up with your roommate.” –Understatement

“She was sitting outside my room like some psycho.” – What? NO!

“All the money in the world can’t buy you style.” –Of course Billy Zane will make that line sound wistful.

“How did you know when my class got out?”
“I’m your roommate.” –Psychopath! Oh wait, no that’s actually a good answer.

“Sara, last night I was just worried about you.”
“You don’t need to worry about me. I can take care of myself.” –- END OF MOVIE?

“You’re quite critical of a view.” –Sadly they’re not casually talking about lousy Roger Moore Bond films.

“Creeping…I can feel it breathing…” –Subtle lyrics

“Who was that?”
“My roommate. She can be a little overprotective.”
“Sounds like fun.” –Turns out it’s not.

“My design professor just kissed me!” –Overreaction; it’s an honor to be kissed by Billy Zane.

“There is a psycho walking around this campus!” –Assumption that she’s actually going to class. So far she just goes to the library.

“This is your home?”
“This is my parent’s house. It was never a home when I lived here.” –Another comment that doesn’t need a follow-up question.

“She’s taking her medication?”
“Well you girls have a lovely time.” –Totally normal dialog with your roommate’s parents.

“I love you so much.” –Definitely the words of someone who would be able to recognize the girl he loves from more than one tattoo.

“All I ever wanted was to be your friend.”
“I am your friend.”
“No you’re not!” –Touché

“Ahhhhhhhh!”—The film, not the audience during the “scary” ending.


“Quite a bit of the population has gone to college and had a roommate and it could go really good or really bad.” –Minka Kelly accidently being insightful about her film.

“It’s an edge of the seat thriller.” –Cam Gigandet not being insightful about his film.

“Seeing [Leighton Meester] going all the way is beautiful to watch.” –Director Christian E. Christiansen accidently being creepy about his film.

Film: 2 Yaps

Extras: 2 Yaps

Film Yap: Free Films - Netflix

I’m now one week into summer. I’m enjoying the lack of classes and the rare opportunity to get some sleep. In addition to working, this is also a great time to catch up on films. Like the rest of my colleagues I’m on a limited budget, so every week I’m going to show everyone how to legally watch great films for no money.

This week is a look at Netflix Instant. Netflix regularly offers free trials to their service and it’s a great bargain. Their disc selection is dandy, but their Instant feature is what is drawing more people in. Instead of waiting for the disc to arrive, you could watch a film or a show on your computer or TV through the click of a button.

Their library is insanely big considering a lot of major studios have made deals with Netflix. Just being on the site for a few minutes you’ll find dozens of movies to watch so I’ll just recommend some 5-star movies that you may not have heard of.

Netflix Instant


I seem to talk hyperbole about this film at least once a month. It’s the feature debut of Rian Johnson, the man behind The Brothers Bloom and the upcoming Looper. Telling a film noir in high school sounds like a hokey concept but this script is so tight and so clever that it perfectly works. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Brandon, a kid who is on the outside after an incident that happened last year. When his ex-girlfriend asks him for help and then turns up dead, he works his way through the drug trade to figure out what happened. It’s visually beautiful and original from every angle.

Chop Shop

He’s only made three films, but Ramin Bahrani is astounding people with his ability to capture moments of the human condition rarely seen. This was the first Bahrani film I’ve seen and it may just be a perfect film. A young boy and his teenage sister struggle to better their lives by buying a food cart. The movie is so simple and so beautiful. Every performance feels so organic the film could be mistaken for a documentary. Please check it out.


This is my all-time favorite musical. This version is the 2006 revival starring Raúl Esparza in the lead role. It’s about a man named Bobby who is celebrating his birthday. What he thinks he wants is to be married, but his friends have doubts. The show is him interacting with his sets of married friends and his casual girlfriends as he realizes what he truly wants. It’s a really funny show and Stephen Sondheim sure knows how to craft a song or two. Avoid knowing the final song if possible because it’s powerful.


This is actually a miniseries, not a movie. Steven Moffat, the genius behind Coupling, the current Doctor Who and Sherlock made this modern retelling of the classic Jekyll and Hyde story for the BBC. It starts off appearing to be a sequel, but then evolves into something more complex. James Nesbitt is phenomenal as the titular character(s). Nesbitt isn’t very well known in America unless you’ve caught Five Minutes From Heaven or the original State of Play, but he knows how to balance the calm and horrifying in the blink of an eye. Every one of the six parts is thrilling because Moffat does not just tell the story you’ve told before. He’s faithful by being inventive.

Kicking and Screaming

This is my favorite film. No, it’s not the one with Will Ferrel playing soccer. This is Noah Baumbach’s first film about a group of guys who graduate college…and then don’t do anything. They don’t move out or move on. They just stay in arrested development and continue to do the usual things. The screenplay is incredibly witty and surprisingly romantic. There is warmth that is missing from a lot of Baumbach’s later films, which is too bad. Even though the film is criticizing its characters, it still invites you to have a lot of fun with them as they hopefully start to grow up.

Let the Right One In

I would simply say this was the original version of Let Me In, but according to the box office not many of you saw that film. Both movies are worthwhile, but this one has an extra level of creepiness. Set in Sweden, it’s the story of a young boy who discovers that his new neighbor is not a girl his age, but a vampire. Walking the line between romantic and tragedy, this film makes an unsettling experience. Last year I claimed this to be the best horror film of the last decade.

Mean Streets

Either this or The Last Temptation of Christ is my favorite Martin Scorsese film. I like gangster films, but I never finish one wanting to be a gangster. So a film like Goodfellas doesn’t exactly work for me, but I responded more to Harvey Keitel’s struggle in this film. He wants to get out of the racket, but he’s unfortunately good at it. He knows what to do to make sure everybody gets their money and to keep people in line, like screw-up Robert DeNiro. This was a great place for Scorsese to test a lot of new visual tricks that showed the world what an exciting filmmaker was emerging.

Man on Wire

I love being inspired by movies. This is the Best Documentary Oscar winner from a few years back about the man who snuck up to the top of the Twin Towers, placed a tightrope between them, and walked across. Was it an act of madness or expression? Philippe Petit is such a cinematic subject that he electrifies the whole film with his genuine enthusiasm. This is also one of the rare examples when I really liked the dramatic recreations.

Paper Moon

Con movies are typically delightful. They’re about using cleverness to trick a person. I thought I had seen them all, but somehow I missed this one. Ryan and Tatum O’Neal plays possible father and daughter who travel across the south during the 1930s pretending to sell bibles to make a buck. Peter Bogdanovich creates a very believable time that is oddly warm despite its odd circumstances. Madeline Kahn has a small part but hysterical part as a possible wife for Ryan O’Neal.

The Producers

Even with the Tony award winning show, it still feels this Mel Brooks movie is a bit forgotten. It’s my favorite of his films and maybe his funniest. Gene Wilder is Leo Bloom, a neurotic accountant who accidently comes up with a scheme where you can make more money with a theatrical flop than a hit. Zero Mostel gets dollar signs in his eyes and together they create the worst show on Broadway, Springtime for Hitler. Everyone is at the top of their game, especially Wilder.

Other Five Star Films Currently Available on Netflix Instant

All About Eve

All That Jazz


Army of Shadows


Before Sunset

Duck Soup

Enter the Void

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Once Upon a Time in America

Sherlock Season One (I don’t care that it’s a TV show; it’s three incredible 90 minute movies, so they kinda qualify)

Toy Story 3

A Woman Under the Influence

Film Yap: Thor - Tales of Asgard

With the current release of their big budget film Thor, it was smart of Marvel to release their latest animated adventure Thor: Tales of Asgard in the same month. Unfortunately all I can do now is compare the two. It has been very public how involved Marvel Studios has been in the screenplays of their live-action films so they can maintain continuity within the series and respect towards the source materials.

The best prequels are the ones that set up the character we already know and tell a worthwhile story in the process. Thor: Tales of Asgard does not succeed on either account. The older Thor in the film was tough, arrogant, and willing to fight for his kingdom. So who is this younger Thor? He seems unwilling to fight people, unclear on why he’s disobey orders, and completely dull.

The plot consists of young Thor and Loki randomly going on an adventure because they think they are being too sheltered within their kingdom. This is because Odin, the god of war, doesn’t want them to get into danger.

They get into danger but it’s always difficult to understand the stakes. Thor loses his sword and takes a really powerful fire sword that causes a war among the realms. After seeing the effects of the sword, Thor believes it’s too powerful and nobody should be allowed to use it. This is from the guy who is usually seen with the most powerful hammer in existence.

There is also another subplot involving women who hate men who train to become warriors and bathe naked. I think this is supposed to be for children. Any attempt at a feminist message is quickly abandoned and reversed by the end.

Everyone who watches this will just be bored. The dialog is completely lifeless and none of the performances will save it. The story is not worthwhile and doesn’t even feel like it’s Thor and Loki. The animation is misguided. They want to focus on the grand elements like a battle or a big castle, but those always fall flat. They should have focused more on the characters because most of their animated reactions were clichéd and laughable.

There are two commentary tracks for this 70 minute movie, because that’s what people were asking for. There is also a 20 minute making-of documentary that confirms this was intended to be a companion to the live-action film. These documentaries are always odd, because I end up liking their sketches more than the final product. There is also an episode of The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes because why not.

Film: 1.5 Yaps

Extras: 2 Yaps

Film Yap: The Beautiful Person

So many high school movies are based around the affairs or the students wishing they were having affairs. La Belle Personne or The Beautiful Person is definitely in the earlier camp. It’s all circled around the new girl in school, Junie played by Léa Seydoux.

Junie is the object of attention and is with Otto (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet) but quickly falls for her Italian teacher, Nemours (Louis Garrel). Needless to say things get complicated as passion rises and more and more secrets are created.

The emotions doesn’t arise from wanting the lovers to be matched up, but more about the curiosity of whether or not the web can maintain itself. The problem is the web is too complicated, at least for a first viewing. Notes almost need to be taken because writer/director Christophe Honoré doesn’t make it easy. His treats the audience with respect by making the story feel as organic as possible.

The dialog and acting is all top-notch without being flashy. Honoré moves the camera in a voyeuristic like fashion by never being too close to its subjects. Most of the interactions are filmed in a wider shot to great effect. This allows the actors to be subtle and even hidden from the audience at times. Again, this creates disconnect from the story, but makes it all the more curious at the same time.

Honoré blends styles as he ranges from natural to a more artificial tone. The frame rate will move a little faster or a character will sing along with the non-digetic song. It is like he is commenting on the story as it unraveling. Honoré does not romanticize Junie. She could just be the new girl instead of The Beautiful Person. From this observation comes tragedy and consequences that could have been prevented depending on your interpretation.

This is a film that is difficult to recommend because so many elements are working, but there is a fleeting factor to the film. It’s not impacting in any way aside from an examination of the parts, not the whole.

There are no extras on the disc aside from the trailer.

Film: 3.5 Yaps

Extras: 1 Yap

Friday, May 13, 2011

Film Yap: Free Films - Hulu

Summer is upon us. When I say “us” I mean most of the colleges in Indiana. If there is anything that properly reflects college life it is getting the most out of cheap or free sources. Just because you’re on a fixed income, doesn’t mean you stop liking movies. It just means you are less likely to see Transformers: Dark of the Moon in theatres and that’s not a bad thing. This is the beginning of a new series showing where you can find great free movies legally. First up is looking at

Hulu is a website that was one of the first ones online that specialized in streaming TV shows legally. It’s still my go-to guide for catching up on NBC and FOX shows if I miss them when they air. Slowly they are trying to get more into movies.

Especially with the introduction of Hulu Plus, they are able to have a better library. They just made a major deal with the Criterion Collection to host their entire library. Hulu Plus is their paid service, but they are currently offering one week free trials and if you have a .edu email address you can try it for free for a month.

Here are a bunch of recommendations of films that are now available.


Bob Le Flambeur

Jean-Pierre Melville is one of the greatest directors of all time. His films Le Samurai and Army of Darkness often pop up as some of the best French films ever, but I’ve always had a liking to this one. It’s about Bob who is addicted to gambling. It’s a classier form of gambling where the stakes are really high. The film never seems to move in the direction you would expect and what result is a very enjoyable film.

Big Trouble

I love this movie way more than I should. I’m a big Dave Barry fan and this is an adaptation of his first novel. Much like Carl Hiaasen or Tim Dorsey, it’s about a lot of random people in Florida who get into a ridiculous farce. It fell off the radar because it was supposed to come out in late 2001 and one of the major plot points is about putting a bomb on an airplane. It’s not offensive; just wonderfully silly. Features Tim Allen, Rene Russo, Stanley Tucci, Johnny Knoxville, Patrick Warburton, Ben Foster, Jason Lee, and Zooey Deschanel.

The Daytrippers

Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland, Paul) got his start with this 1996 independent film. Inspired by a number of French New Wave films, The Daytrippers is about a wife and her family who decide to travel into the city to see if her husband is cheating on her. It’s full of actors who are great in films like this including Hope Davis, Parker Posey, Liev Schreiber, and Campbell Scott. It’s clever and always engaging.

Game 6

Just a further reminder that Michael Keaton still needs to be in more films. It’s an interesting film from a handful of years ago. Keaton is a playwright who should be focusing on opening night of his new show, but instead decides to watch game six of the 1986 World Series. Robert Downey Jr. plays a very strange theatre critic that doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the movie, but thanks to strong writing there are more strengths than misses.


I was surprised how much I liked this film. This is Doug Liman before The Bourne Identity. It’s about a set of stories all happening at once. After a spontaneous drug deal, the lives of a lot of people are dramatically altered. Very good performances by Sarah Polley, Timothy Olyphant, William Fichtner, and even Jay Mohr. It has a fast energy to it and is a lot of fun.

Husbands and Wives

This is one of the better Woody Allen films that people don’t about enough. It’s brilliantly acted by the leads (Allen, Mia Farrow, Judy Davis, & Sydney Pollack) and captures true relationships in the way his earlier films did. One marriage is ending which causes the others to look at their relationship in a true light. The writing is very strong and it is Pollack’s best performance in my mind.

The Living Wake

This is one of my favorite films from last year. Oddly there were two films last year about attending your own funeral while you are alive. This was way better than Get Low. This was a very odd but likable comedy with a new comedic voice. K. Roth Binew is certain that he will die at the end of the night. So he walks around his timeless town inviting everyone to his wake with the help of his loyal biographer played by Jesse Eisenberg. Hilarious, charming and surprisingly insightful. Please check it out.


Why do people adore Richard Linklater so much? It’s because he was one of the leading filmmakers in the 90s independent movement. His film Slacker was electrifying. It takes place during one day in Austin, Texas while the camera jumps around to various people in the city. The conversations range from comedic to dramatic. Bizarre to mundane. No one is a professional actor, but every moment is fascinating and inspiring. Everyone needs to see this.

Super High Me

This is such a flawed documentary, but it’s very watchable. Doug Benson is one of the more entertaining comedians working today. (If you aren’t listening to his hilarious podcast “Doug Loves Movies” you’re missing out.) Like the Spurlock documentary, Benson decides to test the effects of marijuana by not using it for 30 days and then using it all day for 30 days. The best content is when the camera is just following Benson. Too often it brings up issues it can’t really follow through on.

The Ten

I love this film! David Wain from “The State”, “Stella”, “Wet Hot American Summer” and “Role Models” directed this hilarious anthology film about each of the Ten Commandments. Paul Rudd plays the MC to the stories which include great bits like Winona Ryder who falls in love with a ventriloquist dummy and Liev Schreiber who becomes obsessed about buying MRI machines. One of the most underrated films of the past decade.

Other Films I Recommend on Hulu

Battleship Potemkin

The Blair Witch Project


The General


His Girl Friday


Lilies of the Field

The Pride of the Yankees

The Puffy Chair

The Stranger

Super Size Me

What’s the Matter With Kansas?

Wonder Boys

Hulu Plus (Available for a one week free trial, one month if you’re in college)

The Browning Version

This is one of the greatest stories about a teacher because it’s about a teacher who isn’t the best one at the school. It’s about the teachers who grow tired and grumpy with age. On the last day of the job he has a short connection to a student that has him reexamine a few aspects. There is time for a speech at the end, but the film never resorts to clichés. Great story.

Burden of Dreams

It’s the documentary covering Werner Herzog and his famed difficulties of making Fitzcarraldo, the movie where he took a ship over a mountain. Fans of Herzog have to check this out.

City Lights

There are a lot of Chaplin classics on Hulu Plus. My favorite is still City Lights. It has some of the funniest running bits like the man who only remembers The Tramp while he’s drunk. What it’s best known for is the romantic connection between The Tramp and a blind woman. The ending is still pitch perfect.

The 400 Blows

Perhaps the greatest first film ever made (and yes I do know about that Welles fella). Francois Truffaut tells the semi-autobiographical story about a child who has difficulty growing up. His parents or his school does not understand him so he causes mischief around the city. Sweet and realistic in a way that is almost impossible to capture. One of the easiest films to rewatch.

George Washington

Before David Gordon Green was the guy associated with Pineapple Express and Your Highness, he was one of the critically beloved independent filmmakers. This was his first film that shows the tragic story about a group of children who have to cope after a death in their group. The best filmmakers can capture the truth from non-actors and Green was one of the best.


Remember when I talked about Jean-Pierre Melville? Put Robert Bresson high up on that list as well. I don’t know why these two aren’t talked about as much in this country, but they are both very slick and very cool filmmakers. His most accessible film is this one which is about the romantic life of a pickpocketer.


I feel I keep talking in hyperbole, but The Criterion Collection really does have a great set of films. This is one of my favorite documentaries. It doesn’t have a narrator or editing to sway any point of view. It just shows the lives of door to door salesman and the sad lives they lead. It was always fascinating and it has a lot to talk about afterwards.

The Seventh Seal

One of my all time favorite films. It’s the best way to break into Ingmar Bergman’s filmography. It’s about a knight who returned home from the Crusades to find Death waiting for him on the beach. He delays his fate by challenging Death to a game of chess. While they take turns playing, the knight travels around the town seeing how the world is. It’s very emotional while also having time to be touchingly funny. Just a beautiful film.

The Thief of Bagdad

One of the earlier ventures by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It’s not a perfect story, but it’s so entertaining. It’s incorporating some of the elements from Arabian Nights to tell the famed story of The Thief of Bagdad. The special effects are still jaw-dropping because of the magnificent color and scale. Much like The Adventures of Robin Hood, this is a film that is a ton of fun for the entire family to watch.

Wings of Desire

Sometimes films are just beautiful from frame to frame. Wim Wenders created a wonderful tale about an angel that falls in love with a human woman. Yes, it was poorly remade with Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan but this is the one worth seeing. It’s a dream like movie that is just wonderful. Also Peter Falk is in it!

Other Films I Recommend on Hulu Plus


The Great Dictator



Modern Times

Pépé le Moko


Scenes From a Marriage

The Seven Samurai

Throne of Blood

Tokyo Story

Winter Light

Ebertfest Day Four

For the next few days Austin Lugar shall be sharing his experiences at the 13 thannual Ebertfest held in Champaign, Illinois. He’ll be giving short film reviews and reactions to the festival. For more random comments about the weekend follow him on Twitter at @AustinLugar.

Day Four

The one word to describe the day would be “intense.” Every applause was louder and longer not only because there were four strong films but the crowd was just really into it today. During one film, every single seat was filled with enthusiastic fans who amped up the energy for today.

A Small Act

This was the earliest we’ve had a screening. This started at 11AM so the doors open at 10. It was a documentary that no one has heard of, but was applauded by Ebert and made his list of the Top 10 Documentaries of last year. It was about an older Swedish woman who gave $15 a month to help support a young boy in Africa with his education.

The documentary crew found out who that boy was and he is now this amazing man named Chris Mburu. He wouldn’t have been able to afford schooling despite his high grades. He ended up going to Harvard and now works with the UN helping to promote education. What’s even greater is that he lives a lot in Kenya striving to improve the lives of these children.

The film really shows the power of simple acts of kindness and the importance of education. It isn’t as manipulative as other films about education and because of that it ends up being more powerful.

The director and the DP/producer were at the panel after the movie. Yet the one who stole the show was Hilde Back, the very sweet Swedish woman. Roger Ebert presented her a bouquet of flowers. As expected, most of the panel was about activism and seeing what we could do to help. Yet everyone was perfectly okay with this because most of the room had been moved to tears.

4.5 Yaps

Life, Above All

Chaz warned the audience that should keep their Kleenex handy for the next film. The director, Oliver Schmitz, came to the stage to say it’s very life affirming. I think those things were a little too much of a build up. The film is like the South African version of Winter’s Bone.

Khomotso Manyaka plays Chanda, a young girl who starts the film making funeral arrangements for her baby sister. Her drunk step-father blames the mother because she is sick. The rest of the film is Chanda moving around the village keeping all of the plates spinning to keep all of her life stable.

The film is very well acted and quite beautifully shot. The weird part of the film is its pacing. Instead of having a lot of forward momentum, it’s more interested in keeping secrets and avoiding confrontation. I was a bit slow on what was actually going on, but that means this film probably holds up beter on a second viewing.

The crowd loved it though. Schmitz and Manyaka were available for the Q&A afterwards. Most of the questions were oriented towards Manyaka about her performance, but she kept trying to say that it was naturalistic. No one seemed to believe that though…

3.5 Yaps

Leaves of Grass

I reviewed the DVD for the site a bunch of months back so I won’t go into too many details about this film. It works even better the second time. Most of the crowd had not seen it before and that was evident by the many gasps throughout the screening. The film is still very funny and structured in a way that shows this isn’t a typical crime comedy. Very smart and very underappreciated, which makes it a perfect pick at a festival like this.

Tim Blake Nelson was present after the film. He had the greatest interview and Q&A. He is so articulate the way he talks about forming a film and theories of direction. I like how he talked about the film being intentionally incoherent. He’s still experimenting as a storyteller and he’s very academic about the films he has worked on. He is not just the southern hick from O Brother Where Art Thou; he’s one of the underappreciated artists working in Hollywood.

4.5 Yaps

I Am Love

This was another one I’ve seen already, but I was really looking forward to seeing it on the BIG BIG screen. (No offense to the Landmark Theatre in Austin, but the Virginia Theatre is awesomely giant.) It’s a film I really love, not just because of the title. It’s a film that is so energetic with its visuals and music. It’s about a woman living in Italy who starts to find a passion in her life that she hasn’t experienced for a long time. Tilda Swinton is that woman. Swinton actually learned Italian and Russian for this part and it’s one of the best of her career.

Luca Guadagnino is such a masterful director that every frame seems magically organic and crafted by a master. Obviously a bird flying across the frame in such a way is not something he can’t control, but he presents it like it’s all like everything is on purpose.

Swinton was a delight. There is a reason why Ebert keeps calling her Saint Tilda. She was so warm and energetic. She had a love for film that was unmatched by anyone else at the festival. Winning an Oscar didn’t seem like a big deal. She loved that winning the trophy gave her the opportunity to rerelease one of her early films, Orlando, and to have the money to open a bingo place in Scotland. She seems heavily involved with her films, especially the smaller ones, but rarely takes any credit for it. She talked lovingly about working on films like Narnia and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button because she had this wide-eyed curiosity about the bigger budget films and working with different artists. She was one of the few panelists I wished would talk for an hour more.

4.5 Yaps

Since I had to head back on Sunday, I wasn’t able to make the screening for Louder Than a Bomb which is too bad. I’ll catch up on it when it hits DVD because it has been getting good reviews. It was a long week, but a wonderful one. I realized this was my first time at a convention where I wasn’t working during it. These write-ups were more for fun, than work. It’s a festival I highly recommend to everyone and I recommend even further to find these movies and start a discussion about them. That’s where it all comes from: the joy of cinema.

Film Yap: Ebertfest Day Three

For the next few days Austin Lugar shall be sharing his experiences at the 13 thannual Ebertfest held in Champaign, Illinois. He’ll be giving short film reviews and reactions to the festival. For more random comments about the weekend follow him on Twitter at @AustinLugar.

Day Three

Once again, the major concept that comes up during a festival like this is how much everybody loves movies. The filmmakers at the panels, the people in the audience, and even all of the volunteers are there because they love movies. The entire premise behind Ebertfest is to show movies that Roger Ebert wants more people to see. So even though tonight had the first film I didn’t like I still had a blast throughout the entire day.


After My Dog Tulip, this was the film I was most looking forward to. I knew how much Ebert had been praising this film and I knew it played on PBS but it was edited. Finally I was able to see it in its entirety and it was amazing. The title referes to the zip code of Sidney, Ohio. Directors Bill and Turner Ross spent a year filming 500 hours of footage of everyone in this small town. Without any narration, interviews, or traditional story the film perfectly captures an essence that is easily relatable.

The city I grew up in was bigger than Sidney but so many things were still elements I recognized. Everyone was so comfortable in front of the camera that nothing was artificially created. The dialog and the images were so personable that the film becomes something warm. It’s a tender and exciting view of a city through the eyes of everyone. There’s the cop, the criminal, the teens, the kids, the barbershop, the DJ, the judge, etc. It’s not about telling the arc of who they are or seeing who will win the big game. It’s recognizing something special and magical in the everyday elements.

It’s a documentary with its own voice but that voice never ever strays away from the subject matter. It’s a wonderful film that I want everyone to see, but unfortunately due to music rights it will remain difficult. Catch a screening if you can. The Ross brothers were in attendance for a panel. They are very humbled by the praise and I can’t wait for their next two films, which have been shot but not edited. These two are exciting new filmmakers.

5 Yaps

Me and Orson Welles

I don’t know why I hadn’t seen this yet. I like Richard Linklater, I like Orson Welles, and I seem to see everything. I remember the reviews—sans Ebert—were lackluster and now I can definitely say…they were wrong. This is a very charming movie full of great performances INCLUDING Zac Efron. Efron has always been unjustly labeled as a bad actor because people have only seen High School Musical(or more likely just heard of High School Musical).

Instead Efron encompasses a role that is a lot of fun, but not one that people will immediately realize is well acted. Through a course of luck and charm, Efron’s character Richard earns a spot in Orson Welle’s famed production of Julius Caesar. For the next week, Richard is awe-struck by the energy of the Mercury Theatre and all of the greatness that surrounds him. His naïve and attempts to stand up for himself are supposed to be very youthful. Efron really understands the character and does a strong job as a character whom others live vicariously.

The man who really steals the show is Christian McKay, who is the man/myth/Kane, Orson Welles. His voice is so perfect that if you close your eyes, it sounds like listening to captured footage. It’s not just an impersonation because the script gives a lot of unexpected depth to the character that balances between a god of the theatre and a secretly weakened man.

The script is very clever as it weaves a coming of age story with plenty of hints towards Welles’s future and a mixture of the Caesar story. This is such an underrated film that will be liked by those who aren’t as familiar with Welles.

Linklater was in attendance to talk about the film. He brought along his own soundtrack and poster for the film because he liked those more than what the studio made. He gave those to the audience members who could answer his trivia questions about some of the players of the Mercury Theatre. It was very fun to hear how Linklater found McKay, which was in New York when he was doing a one-man show in an very small theatre about different stages of Welles’s life. It was very clear how much Linklater appreciated the story behind the film through how much appreciation he has for the men involved.

4.5 Yaps

Only You

Alas, the first one that didn’t work for me. (See I’m not just about gushing all of the time.) This was a romantic comedy that Norman Jewison made in the early 90s. Marisa Tomei plays a woman who is obsessed with the name Damon Bradley. It was the name that appeared to her twice as a child which means that must be her soulmate. Days before her wedding to a dull doctor, the name randomly calls her house. So she and Bonnie Hunt fly to Venice to track down the man who could be her true love. It quickly becomes another entry for White Women Take a Holiday.

After many many confusions and a drive to Rome, they find Robert Downey Jr. who may or may not be Damon Bradley. The cast is great, especially Downey Jr. and Hunt, but the script is all over the place. There are basically three introductions to this film—none of them good. The dialog is annoying and the plot constantly stops its forward momentum for arbitrary reasons. The plot is too similar to The Importance of Being Ernest, but is never witty or speedy enough to be compared. Instead of being its own story, it constantly calls back to better romantic comedies like Casablanca or Roman Holiday. Innocent film, but very underwhelming.

Having Jewison present made the night something special. He is older and doesn’t remember all of his films right away, but he has the aura of a legend. Much like when I saw Elmore Leonard last fall, Jewison has lived a lifetime of making incredible art but now isn’t the best at being at a Q&A. He’s been asked the same questions over and over again like to talk about certain actors or his thoughts on injustice.

When he came alive is when he rediscovered something. He enjoyed seeing this film again after, perhaps, 15 years because he loves the romance of the film. His best story was one prompted by Ebert where the two of them learned all of the bars of Chicago and a whorehouse in preparation for Gaily, Gaily.

2 Yaps

Tomorrow is the biggest day of the festival. Two films I haven’t seen ( A Small Act and Life, Above All) and two I really like ( Leaves of Grass and I Am Love).

Film Yap: Ebertfest Day Two

For the next few days Austin Lugar shall be sharing his experiences at the 13 thannual Ebertfest held in Champaign, Illinois. He’ll be giving short film reviews and reactions to the festival. For more random comments about the weekend follow him on Twitter at @AustinLugar.

Day Two

Today is was time to pay dues. Jake and I happily stood in line for a couple of hours to preserve good seats for today’s films. Waiting for hours outside of a theatre does not sound ideal, but this is why I like smaller festivals. When it’s smaller venue it’s easier to interact with new people. We met a really cool guy who is very well read and actually played baseball with Stuart Kaminsky.

While events like this and Magna cum Murder are so beloved is because of these chance encounters. I was not here last time, but there is one film that everyone is still talking about one year later. It was the wonderful Japanese film Departureswhich won the Best Foreign Language Oscar a few years back. The way everyone is talking about how surprised they were by it and how much it affected them is why we’re all here. We all love movies and the opportunity to see films that we haven’t heard of is a nice treat that will stick with us for a long time.

Umberto D.

The first film was the Italian neorealist classic Umberto D. I had seen it before, but it’s one that most of the audience hasn’t. It’s from the director Vittorio De Sica who is best known for in this country as the man behind Bicycle Thieves. The story is about an older man who is struggling to stay afloat. He is losing his home and money seems impossible. He has a dog as his faithful companion, but he may even lose that.

The crowd really seemed to react to this movie. The ending is very powerful and a few of the panel admitted to crying backstage even though they have seen the film before. The panel ended up being very odd/entertaining. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky returned to talk about the film with more critics and the director of My Dog Tulip, Paul Fierlinger.

Having Fierlinger on the panel makes a lot of sense considering Tulipis also about an older man and his dog. Yet Fierlinger hadn’t seen Umberto D. before this afternoon and he wasn’t that big of a fan. Fierlinger kept insisting that this was a pre-war film despite the fact that it was filmed in 1952. Vishnevtsky was very confused by this. The crowd became split as people kept arguing both sides. A winner was determined after iPhone research determined this was in fact a post-war film. Fierlinger admitted defeat…eventually.

4.5 Yaps

My Dog Tulip

Despite how goofy Fierlinger was, I was still really looking forward to this film more than any other movie in the festival. The trailer was really good and the reviews have been fantastic. Sure enough, this was something special. The animated style was hand drawn (with the help of computers) and the whole film was drawn and colored by Fierlinger and his wife.

Christopher Plummer voiced the author J.R. Ackerley who befriends his German shepherd, Tulip. I’m a big dog fan and this film captured some of the elements that are ignored in other films. Loyalty is easy to capture, but not many films talk about how often these dogs go to the bathroom. Ackerley’s prose is so wonderful and Fierlinger kept everything vibrant by using the animation to be creatively inventive.

The film is a delight and worth checking out when it comes out on DVD in the next month.

The panel afterwards revealed that the pre-war/post-war debate was just a foreshadowing of what to come. Fierlinger told some of the greatest stories without any restraint. He told a long story about how much of a intolerable diva Plummer was during the recording of his voice that was really scathing. Then to end the panel he told a story about how he had to have his dog put down and then he ended up eating that dog. The crowd enjoyed the two hour ode to canines, but that story made them a little uneasy.

4.5 Yaps

Tiny Furniture

There was a long break before the final film of the day. It was the critical hit Tiny Furniture. This is another film in the ever-expanding genre of twentysomethings not knowing to do with their lives. Lena Dunham, the star/writer/director, was very smart in knowing how to do a different take on it. Instead of romanticizing that lifestyle to make her character seem deep and misunderstood, she really amplifies her pathetic nature.

It was still a very funny movie with clever use of references. Instead of a Diablo Cody script where everyone is as witty as can be, the references really reflect what type of character they are. The rest of the jokes were very organic in that they did not require artificial set-ups or big set-pieces; they were all realized characters bouncing off each other.

It does fall into a few of the tropes of films of this genre, but for every misstep there is something else that really works. I can’t wait to see the next Dunham project because I feel she’s only going to get better.

Unfortunately Dunham was not able to make it this night, but another actor, David Call, was present as well as the IFC distributor. Together they were able to talk about what a great shoot it was and how they were able to do things with a very minimal budget. There was a lot of discussion over the film’s ending—which could have been stronger—but that was more of a reactionary thing since it just aired minutes before.

4 Yaps

Today (I apologize for the lateness of this right up) is an exciting day. Three films I haven’t seen before: 45365, Me and Orson Welles and Only You. Special guests will include Richard Linklater and Norman Jewison.