Thursday, June 30, 2011


In an early scene Robert Redford talks about his initial doubt about Buck Brannaman. Buck was brought in to help Redford with his film The Horse Whisperer, where he was one of the major influences for the novel. He arrived wearing his typical attire, Stetson and all. It could have been a gimmick but Buck is the truest cowboy captured in a modern film.

He isn’t a gunslinger who will kiss a girl in the saloon. He is the cowboy who knows a simpler way of life and he even knows some impressive rope tricks. Most of all, he’s a man who understands horses on an unprecedented level. He treats them with kindness and respect. He compares it to parenting, but with an animal there isn’t a traditional sense of dialog. Buck is able to interpret their actions to figure out what they’re feeling and responds to that with patience.

Buck travels around the country coaxing horses into a more agreeable state. The shows exist to help difficult horses, but most importantly is to teach the owners to treat the horses in a gentler way. He always looks like a magical guidance counselor. He doesn’t raise his voice or beat the animal. The methods he’s incorporating are changing the way of all the trainers operate.

Cowboys are not always men of a few words. They’re usually perceived as men with a lot to say, but just say it in a slower fashion. Buck easily spins down to Earth metaphors into every aspect of people’s lives. The more he symbolizes the horse as a human, the easier it is to treat it gently.

Hearing Buck’s childhood is one of the more difficult parts of the movie. The relationship he had with his father was very abusive on many levels. Such an upbringing can cause a repetition in generations, but Buck is kinder because of it. The hatred of his father is so different from the rest of his worldview, to the point where he almost refuses to give his father credit for his gentle personality.

A lot of credit should be given to director Cindy Meehl for not forcing a narrative into this documentary. All of the attention is spent trying to capture this man and she does a successful job about always keeping it interesting. The rest consists of smaller moments and interviews where people speak about epiphanies and praise towards Buck. The interviews grow stale after so many in a row. It’s the exact opposite for seeing Buck work; every horse is a new thrill and that’s why this movie is so easy to recommend.

Buck will start playing at the Keystone Landmark Theatre tomorrow and is currently playing in select theatres across the country.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

For the first time in the Transformers franchise, I was able to follow the story. I did not grow up with these characters, play with the toys or watch the cartoon. I’ve seen the first two films but struggled to find anything to like about them or even remember what was going on.

The latest film, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, is still not a very good movie. They keep bringing back the stupid characters and they continue to do stupid stuff. The movie evokes memories of Pearl Harbor, which is not a good thing. Also it’s still about robots who turn into cars because that looks cool.

That said, I’m not going to disrecommend this film. Michael Bay is actually doing something right. Perhaps it’s the inclusion of 3D or perhaps he actually read the reviews, but the action is very good. Sure every sequence goes on too long, but there is creative concepts and execution that doesn’t cause nausea. (Unless you’re queasy by patriotism and if that’s true you’re a communist.)

Shia LaBeouf returns again as Sam Witwicky, somehow the only person on Earth who knows what to do when Transformers are fighting. He’s trying to get a job and is having troubles. He is also a bit jealous of his new girlfriend (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) and her friendship with her successful boss (Patrick Dempsey). LaBeouf gets to play more of his comedic side that hasn’t been seen since Even Stevens.

None of this is important and dropped almost immediately once the transformers return! It turns out the Space Race was all about getting to the moon first to investigate an Autobot spaceship. (Doctor Who did a cleverer twist on mixing aliens with the moon landing this season. I’m just saying!)

Yadda yadda yadda, there is something in that ship that could determine the end to the on-going war between the Autobots and Decipticons. Only Sentinel Prime holds the key. He’s voiced by Leonard Nimoy playing an interesting variation on his Fringe character. Once it skips all of the stupid stuff involving Sam’s parents, John Turturro, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, and Ken Jeong the plot actually becomes a bit interesting. There are twists that pretty much make sense and a quasi-satsifying conclusions. (Although the final plan was also done in Doctor Who during Season Four of the new series. I’M JUST SAYING.)

Bay has said this will be his last Transformers film and he goes all out. Chicago is destroyed in the coolest possible fashion. He destroys a national monument that hasn’t been destroyed before (unless you count the Planet of the Apes remake). He’ll probably never be able to top the last hour of action. It’s just unfortunate it still feels that none of it matters as much as it feels.

The music is insane in how epic it is. There are so many shots of doom and finality. Sam needs to save his girlfriend because she’s “the one.” Having lines of dialog say how special this is needs to match up with the film. There were stretches of the film where it was unnecessary and worthless. If Bay actually had some restraint—I think we all had a good laugh at that concept—and edited out about 20-25 minutes of this film, this would be easy to casually recommend. Instead it’s almost sorta good.

Film Yap: Free Films! - Archive

For the past few months, I’ve been highlighting websites where you can experience a free trial or a deal that lets you see great movies for free. This time I’m showing you a site that gives you great films that are always free.

Films, like any work of art, has a copyright to it. Nowadays it’s very easy to make sure that the copyright is maintained forever, but there are many films that don’t have it anymore. They are now part of the public domain. That means any DVD company can clean up the copy and release their own version. Criterion made a really good version of Charade, but the original version of Charade can still be legally downloaded for free.

They aren’t in the best condition, but the movies still hold up as solid works of art. The best place to find these films is, a website devoted to be a internet library. Here are ten classics you should definitely check out. What do you have to lose?

Battleship Potempkin

A lot of the films on this list are going to be silent. It was at a time when film was a new medium and most of the movies made fell into the public domain. That includes this incredible silent Russian film. There was a director named Sergei Eisenstein who made a lot of powerful films about rebellion. This was his most famous as he depicted the uprising of a Russian battleship. The soldiers rise up from unjust conditions and violence begins.

One of the most famous sequences in the film is the Odessa Staircase scene. It’s a scene that mixes his incredible use of epic editing. It inspired a ton of filmmakers including Brian de Palma who completely ripped it off for a scene near the end of The Untouchables. Be sure to see what came first.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

There was a significant period in history when Germany was making the best films in the world. It was called German Expressionism where directors like Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau were reigning. They were films that had a creepy look and challenged the realism of the worlds. Their influence is still seen on all of Tim Burton’s work. One of my favorites of the film is the very odd story of a murderer and the creepy Dr. Caligari. The plot twists more than you would expect from a silent film with a really great ending.


D.W. Griffith is known for making The Birth of a Nation, an incredible achievement in cinema that introduced the idea of an epic film. Everyone should see it for its historical significance. Unfortunately it’s also crazy racist. Hearing the complaints, Griffith made this film, which I think is even better. It’s 3.5 hours long and spans the course of time. Showing stories from Babylon, the Bible, the French Renaissance and “modern” day. It’s surrounded by emotion and scope. Film fans today rarely get the chance to see hundreds of extras in a shot without any use of computer effects. Also it has the gorgeous Lillian Gish which alone makes this a must see.

The Kid

There are tons of Charlie Chaplin films in the public domain. It’s a lot of his comedic silent films and shorts. One that I think is overlooked is The Kid. Playing the Little Tramp’s sidekick is almost an impossible task. The character is so iconic and pitch perfect, how can someone play a miniature version? I don’t know how they found Jackie Coogan but I’m thrilled they did. Together they pull off little scams and experience incredible drama as they try to stay together.

The Lodger

Before Alfred Hitchcock came to America with his Best Picture winner Rebecca, he made a bunch of films in England. Sure enough, these are the ones in the public domain. The site has some good ones like The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes, but I’m going to recommend his first great film, The Lodger. It’s his best silent film about a Jack the Ripper-esque killer. Everyone in the building thinks the new tenant is the killer. Is he?


Peter Lorre is a goofy looking dude. His voice and face is famous from his small but important parts in Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. It was in Germany when he had the part of his life. He is a child murderer who is pursued by the local police. Lorre plays the role, not as a villain but as a man. He’s scary and sometimes sympathetic and then scary again. This is considered one of the greatest films of all time and the hallmark of Lang’s career.

Night of the Living Dead

Yep, this is also in public domain. The zombie film that started them all messed up its paperwork and is now forever free to anyone. It’s not my favorite Romero film, but it does so many things right. There is a sense of dread and desperation that is now a staple of the genre. Told from the personal point of view of a few survivors, they are just trying to stay alive while the dead rise up again. It’s what every low-budget horror film hopes to be.

Sherlock Jr

If I mention Chaplin, I better mention Buster Keaton. The other king of the silent film has a good number of films on here as well. Some of my favorites are missing, but this one is spellbinding. It’s only 45 minutes long and has been another one that has influenced major directors, especially Woody Allen in The Purple Rose of Cairo. Keaton plays a projectionist who dreams of walking into a film. There are plenty of stunts and gags, but what everyone remembers is the film’s wonderful imagination.

The Thief of Bagdad

This film works because of one man: Mr. Douglas Fairbanks. It’s an exciting film full of adventure and spectacle as they play upon some of the Arabian Tales. The sets and effects are impressive, but it’s the endless energy from Fairbanks that makes this movie so much fun. The 1940 version is often talked about more because of the Archer’s use of color and thrills, but this one holds up as a equal.

A Trip to the Moon

It’s only 11 minutes long and can be found any number of places. The image of a rocket crashing into the moon is seen all over. It premiered in 1902 and further introduced the element of magic to the cinema. Not in terms of plot, because that is purely science fiction. Director Georges Melies was a magician before he started to make short films. He uses the concepts of creatively fooling the audience with his editing. With this short he makes an incredibly charming, inspiring tale of some men who dream to go to the moon and make it possible.

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Film Yap: Deliver Us From Evil

We’ve finally moved beyond the Quentin Tarantino rip-offs. The independent crime movement has moved towards a more stylish approach. The look of the film is manipulated through post-production tools. This is a great way to experiment and find your style as an artist, but it is a bother when the story doesn’t rank up.

In Ole Bornedal’s Deliver Us From Evil, he is not exposing the immoral polices of the Catholic Church but testing the morality of two Danish brothers. Lars (Jens Andersen) is a low life truck driver who accidently kills a woman while driving. He frames an African refugee who has mental problems.

Most of the movie takes place during a festival where emotions are starting to stir up. Johannes (Lasse Rimmer), Lars’s brother, continues to be ashamed by Lars but now he’s more worried about his actions. Tension begins to rise as people find out what happened and people start to become in danger.

The movie starts off with a cool feel to it. There is some cool juxtaposing dialog and the discovery of the body is really impressive. However then the movie loses interest. The plot stalls without any interesting character development and the last act becomes ridiculous.

The most memorable aspect to the movie is the look. The Netherlands are perceived with draining colors and a hopeless atmosphere. Everywhere they go it looks like this draining hue of blue, which works to inform the occasional town’s sick mindset.

Eventually the themes of revenge and xenophobia become actualized in a way that is less consistent with the world and more about trying to make a point. It allows for more creative filmic tricks, but as a story it lacks the attention to pull off an effective point.

The DVD has three featurettes: A very short one about the score, another one about the characters of the brothers, and the best of the set, a half hour one about the filming of the movie.

Film: 3 Yaps

Extras: 3.5 Yaps

Friday, June 24, 2011

Film Yap: Beginners

Quirk is often misunderstood. There are those who use this arty form of humor to dry attention to themselves, but others use it as an attempt to understand the complexities of the world around them. When Olivier (Ewan McGreggor) finds out that his father has terminal cancer, all he can imagine is a quarter. Then a quarter evenly divided into other coins.

He does that not to be clever or unique. It’s a honest moment of the mind going to a place that is safe and understood like knowing there are 25 pennies in a quarter. Throughout the film Oliver is in a difficult spot. A few years ago his mother died. He had a difficult relationship with her as he remembers moments that showed how miserable she was. After her death, his father (Christopher Plummer) comes out of the closet.

Then he dies as well. Oliver is left alone to deal with the paperwork and the sadness. At least he has his father’s Jack Russell terrier, a scrappy creature who is intensely loyal and just as sad. Oliver’s friends drag him out of his studio and to a costume party. Oliver, of course, dresses as Freud. There he meets the lovely Anna (Mélanie Laurent of Inglourious Basterds fame.) who is mute tonight due to her laryngitis. As she communicates through a notepad and pen, it ends up being the perfect introduction due to both of them appreciating the gaps of silence.

As Oliver struggles to understand what he’s feeling the story jumps around in time. He focuses back to moments with his parents in order to try to understand them. The last few months with his dad end up being the most revealing, as he finally is able to see his father completely happy.

Writer/director Mike Mills wasn’t able to capture the right tone with his first film Thumbsucker. With Beginners, it works because of how emotional it is. Oliver may sound like the typical moody protagonist, but unlike the insufferable heroes of films like The Art of Getting By, Oliver doesn’t have all of the answers. He’s likable, he’s caring, but this is a very difficult moment in his life.

Anna is now his pixie girl savior; she’s in a similar boat. They work together. They understand each other’s humor and times when they need to be alone. Their similarities can lead to being too much, though.

All three of the leading actors are incredible. They play on the subtle and the heartbreaking. A film doesn’t need the characters to continuously be looking deeply in order to be deep. The real understanding of who they are is to realize what they are thinking while they are doing. They all accomplish this with expertise and empathy.

It’s one of the best movies of the year because it’s able to have you connect with them on such a personal level. There are no surprises in the plot as the situation is lied out in the first few minutes. What’s important is what happens next.

4.5 Yaps

Film Yap: Bad Teacher

How bad is bad enough? When we watch our depraved protagonist how close do we want them to walk the line? Billy Bob Thorton achieved a cult performance as a horrendous Santa Claus, Danny McBride is mesmerizing as the biggest jerk in baseball, and Eric Cartman may be the worst of them all while only being in the 4th grade.

Cameron Diaz is trying to join their ranks as a “bad teacher.” She throws dodgeballs in the faces of her students, shows up to class hungover, and her only dream to get bigger breasts so she can snag a rich guy. She lies, cheats, and steals but never really pushes the envelope.

There are no serious repercussions for her actions or moments when the audience is truly disgusted by rooting for her. She remains a safe rapscallion much like Captain Jack Sparrow. Such a thing could be a problem if there wasn’t a consistent stream of jokes.

The film was penned by two of the writers of “The Office” and the men behind the horrid “Year One.” They work well in creating a series of quests for Diaz to get the $10,000 she needs for her boob job. Talented comedic actors like Justin Timberlake and Jason Segal provide a lot of entertainment as the possible men for her affection.

The film works best when the characters are just goofing off. The one-liners get the biggest laughs not because they’re “shocking” but due to them being funny and well timed.. When the movie delves down the predictable path of her inspiring the children or flirting with Segal—who is one of those actors who has great rapport with everyone—the momentum does not stop cold because it keeps the laughs going. They are there to make her more sympathetic and less of a “bad teacher” but they allow her to still be bad during the scenes.

The most entertaining aspect of the movie is the unexpected rivalry between Diaz and the persnickety chipper teacher played by Lucy Punch. Their pranks keep escalating in a rather demented fashion considering how little is at stake for them. They are both sorta fighting for Timberlake’s affection, but he’s too clueless to really understand what’s going. They keep at it because they hate each other.

Director Jake Kasdan (“The TV Set” “Walk Hard”) does a good job about keeping the teacher/student parallels from being too ridiculous. Instead he just lets them have crushes, misbehave, be sent to the principal’s office, and sneak off to do drugs like the amusingly adolescents the educators are. They aren’t the funniest group of people or the most risqué, but they remain entertaining and don’t over stay their welcome.

4 Yaps

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cars 2

I am a Pixar fanboy. I’ve gone off on endless hyperbole about how they are the best set of filmmakers working today and continue to be innovative storytellers by adding nuanced respect towards children. I’ve said they don’t fall on crutch themes like “Be yourself” and “Save the environment” like too many bland animated films. Every year a Pixar film is highly placed in my best of the year lists.

I am a fanboy, but I am a realized fanboy. “Love and Monsters” is a horrendous episode of Doctor Who. Ana Lucia was a big misstep on LOST. Torn Curtain, New York New York, and Fahrenheit 451 are all lousy movies. Early Beatles is a tad overrated and I’m still not a fan of Temple of Doom.

I’m able to love something but I still have a foot in reality to recognize when there is a flaw. This is a long build up to the reveal of how terrible Cars 2 is. I didn’t like Cars but I never hated it. It was just an odd rip-off of Doc Hollywood with a world that didn’t make sense. Still it was a bit charming and had a decent message. A colleague of mine mentioned after this screening, that Cars’s message is almost reversed with this manically busy film.

Cars 2 is almost a challenge they made amongst themselves to have the world make even less sense. Cars will randomly fly, change appearance, and travel on a rope. Boats will fire guns and then another car will be on the boat firing guns that are attached to the boat, but the boat can’t operate it? They aren’t cars anymore, but oddly shaped robots. Jesus…they’re transformers.

It seems like I’m nitpicking, but I’m only doing that because the story is horrible. Mater the idiotic tow truck (Larry the Cable Guy) is accidently recruited as an American spy when they all travel to Europe to race in the Grand Prix. Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer play British secret agent cars who are trying to uncover a very obvious plot. Meanwhile Owen Wilson returns as the nice guy racecar who wants to win the Grand Prix because an annoying Formula One car (John Turturro) taunts him for not being that fast.

This is all incredibly uninteresting because Mater is a lousy character. He was sorta tolerable in the first movie because the real focus was on Lightening McQueen’s arc about understanding the simple things in life. This time he is the main character and borderline unbearable. The humor is awful. It’s composed of terrible puns, obvious punchlines, and boring situations. There is an on-going joke about a bomb that would not end and as far as I know, could still be going on.

So what’s the message? The recent Pixar films have taught children to appreciate art and how to express themselves. There have been stories about understanding loneliness, death, and the afterlife. What is Cars 2 trying to teach children? The movie shoehorns this idea that it is okay that Mater is an obnoxious imbecile that causes trouble and that Big Oil is villainous.

Aka, you should just be yourself and save the environment.

And it doesn’t even do a good job about delivering either of those messages.

As if the film didn’t already feel like a colossal mess, they do one more thing to drive me nuts: they rip off my all time favorite animated movie. At one point some of the heroes are in the gears of Big Ben about to be smashed. Just like The Great Mouse Detective. Basil of Baker Street didn’t use random machine guns to get out of his trap, for the record.

This is what The Phantom Menace was like for hardcore Star Wars fan. There was so much love and anticipation. Then all of the money and energy was spent to make a product that was empty inside. Pixar works so hard to always be the best possible. There is care, love, and sweat in every one of their films. This film is so lazy and so awful, it’s an embarrassment to their brand.

I don’t hate Pixar like so many people turned on George Lucas. Their other 11 films are worth watching multiple times even without the kids. The teaser trailer for next year’s Brave looks beautiful and exciting. Their Toy Story short before this movie was cute. This is just the film that is ruined a very special streak they had. I wish it was a creative misfire, instead of this soulless venture.

Film Yap: Bill Cunningham New York

Early on in the film, there is a dawning that Bill Cunningham is the perfect documentary subject. He’s an old man in a cramped apartment in Carnegie Hall. He rides his bike to work, which is essentially the streets of New York. Armed with a camera he searches for people walking by he finds visually interesting. It isn’t the attractiveness of their body, but how they choose to display it with the clothes they wear.

They don’t pose for photos and they often aren’t fashion celebrities. Cunningham finds the trends and styles by seeing the creative way ordinary people display themselves. Then he goes to The New York Times and battles technology as he tries to get his page together. He’s a man who has done this for many years which has made him very insightful about the world.

Yet he doesn’t partake in it. He wears a silly blue jacket most of the time. He mends his clothes with duct tape and doesn’t seem to have a good time at the fashion galas and runways. He’s not interested in money. He believes that once you start accepting the money, then you’ll lose control over your vision. Then you have to abide by what they want.

He’s a man who’s adored by the fashion community because of his real love of clothes. It’s not about the overly expensive dress that is only seen in Paris. It’s about what people are wearing to convey whom they are when they think nobody is watching.

The film shows Cunningham’s methods, his evolving living situation, and an exploration of who he is. He speaks with fascinating articulation about trends and people. He’s the observer who is so sweet and kind. He keeps to himself and never causes trouble except when he tests the patience with those helping him design his page. He never speaks his mind unless asked. He’s comfortable.

Near the end of the film, personal questions are finally asked and he is at a loss for the first time. It’s heartbreaking but it reveals how much the movie has worked. Bill Cunningham is a fascinating specimen even to someone who isn’t interested in fashion. The best characters are the ones when the audience is rooting for them to be happy, not groaning that their happiness was predictable.

Bill Cunningham is making fashion a more accessible form of art. He knows the history of the subject so well that he can call out the designers who are mimicking something from months or decades ago. So he returns it to the masses by praising the people of New York. He is not a glorified paparazzi; he’s a loving critic.

4.5 Yaps

Film Yap: Louie Season One

Once a comedian becomes successful at stand-up, what’s the next step? Often times they become Hollywood actors headlining a variety of wacky films. If you’re “safe” enough, they could become sitcom stars. It worked for Tim Allen, Ray Romano, and Jerry Seinfeld to great effect.

Louis C.K. is not exactly like those guys. He’s vulgar, occasionally depressing, sexual, but also completely brilliant. He’s evolved into one of the most beloved stand-up comedians, especially from other comedians. He tried his hand as his own twisted sitcom with the HBO show “Lucky Louie” which was an attempt to juxtapose filthy storylines with a traditional three-camera set-up. Good idea, but it never worked and was canceled quickly.

Years later, C.K. has moved to FX with the show “Louie.” Much like “Seinfeld” every half hour is intercut from the story and his stand-up at a club. That is where the comparisons stop. “Louie” is one of the most fascinating shows on television because its subject matter has endless possibilities.

C.K. plays a very similar version of himself, a divorced stand-up comedian with two children he has joint custody over. Every episode is whatever C.K. feels like exploring. There is no structure with the series, instead every episode feels like he went out and made one or two short films. Some of them are hilarious like the one where he gets high with “Kicking and Screaming’s” Josh Hamilton or dealing with the hardships of a first date. Clichéd subject matters are reinvigorated through his lens of observation. The pacing is unique and

Or they can be very insightful. There can be long stretches of the show without any laughs and that’s intentional. A dissection of the word “faggot” and Louis’ emasculation from a bully were some of the best scenes of television last year.

It’s because this is purely Louis C.K.’s show. He writes/directs/stars in every episode. He’s challenging how comedy can be used on television while being meaningful and hilarious. I can’t think of another working comedian with this power to take a step back and look at a situation as well as stepping several steps forward into the most intimate of instances.

C.K. does not paint himself in the greatest light throughout the show. He is sympathetic because he is so human. The other sitcoms I alluded to treat the leads as comedic superheroes, but Louie is just a man struggling through. The struggle is refreshing and is what makes this one of the most underrated shows on television right now.

The Blu-Ray also serves as a DVD. It’s a weird box because instead of a leaflet showing the episode titles, it is behind the discs. It is slim on bonus features, but it has what counts. A lot of commentaries with Louis C.K., deleted scenes, and a short episode of “Writer’s Draft” from Fox Movie Channel.

Season: 4.5 Yaps

Extras: 3.5 Yaps

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Elijah Wood on Hollywood Studios

I read a great interview with Elijah Wood this morning. He was talking to The AV Club about his new show "Wildfred" and the conversation turned to the state of TV and film. He addresses my ever growing concerns about studios, budgets, and storytelling with sharp insight.

AVC: You mentioned that TV has opened up in the past five years. What have you noticed about the movie business over those same five years?

EW: Film’s in dire straits. It’s in a funny place. There tend to be these cycles where the studios are producing these groundbreaking, artistic ventures on a high scale. And then it shifted to where the great storytelling was happening in the context of smaller films. There was a huge independent upheaval that then led to all the studios having smaller divisions, which were essentially studio films. Then all those companies died out, and out of the ashes, the studios are doing the complete antithesis. They’re making these massive franchise, comic-book films, sequels—look, there’s always exceptions, because every year, the studios release a handful of great films, but last summer was dismal. There were movies that cost $200 million, where for the studios it was a sure thing, and they failed. It served to show that that equation can’t always work. I’m looking forward to when there’s balance again; right now, it’s either $200 million major tentpole, or $5 million or less for independent films. Those midrange films, which used to tell great stories and didn’t need $200 million, aren’t being made anymore. That gap needs to diminish.

There’s also this massive focus on 3-D as a medium to get people in seats, and that seems to be getting old as well. It’s a lot of tricks and efforts to get people to buy tickets, and less reliant on taking risks and telling great stories. But last year—when something like Black Swan can come out and not only receive critical attention, but also be successful on a box-office level, it seems like the beginnings of a shift. That’s exciting. You just want an even playing field, you know?

Please read the whole interview at....,57878/

Film Yap: Unknown

Thrillers should never be boring. “Boring” is always a very lame criticism because it refers too much to your emotional state while watching, not what the film is doing during that time. So what is Unknown doing wrong?

The mystery of the plot is introduced rather quickly. Liam Neeson is Dr. Martin Harris, an esteemed scholar in Berlin for a conference where he is scheduled to speak. Before he checks into his hotel with his wife (January Jones), his taxi crashes into the river.

He wakes up from a coma with a few missing memories and a few days of his life. He goes to the hotel and his wife doesn’t recognize him. She’s with another man (Adrian Quinn) who claims to be Martin Harris. All of the webpages featuring his work has this man’s picture. Has he lost his mind or is something sinister afoot.

When there is a puzzle plot like this, the question at the heart of the story has to be worthwhile and tangible. Wondering what is going on with Martin Harris is not very interesting because there are so man options for a conclusion. It can be supernatural, it could be insanity, it could be a conspiracy. Each one doesn’t offer a fun conclusion, but more of a doubtful reexamining of the previous sequences.

Having it be tangible is more important. There need to be clues that allows the audience to think they have a fighting chance in figuring out what’s going on. The best mysteries give you that hope and then one-up the audience while still playing fair. The best way to play fair is to not have the mystery’s conclusion be essential because everyone is more interested in the characters.

This film is not interested in the characters. Martin Harris changes personalities too often early on for him to ever be someone worth rooting for. It’s like the film is too worried that it could be boring. They ended up being right in that fear, but they fixed it with the wrong components. Instead of adding more dimensions to the plot, they keep adding worthless action scenes. Why be mysterious when you can be Taken?

There are way more explosions and car chases that account to nothing. The final half hour just becomes laughable in realizing how many other (better) films it’s ripping off. With all of these unsatisfying shifts, most of the talented actors are left in the dust. Quinn, Bruno Ganz (Downfall), and Frank Langella overplay the creepy factor because that’s all they have to work with. Neeson decided this is only an action movie so he’s angry a lot and Jones further proves she can only act if she’s on a Mad Men set. Aside from a questionable accent, Diane Kruger saves a lot of the scenes she’s in even though her character has nothing to do but be that girl who helps the hero for no reason.

There are movies with this premise like the French surrealist film La Moustache that decide to just be about the atmosphere. There are plenty of movies that use misplaced memories (and not as an inconsistent plot device) to explore greater themes of humanity. This just ends up being about nothing.

The DVD/Blu-Ray is very thin. Just two five-minute featurettes. One praises Liam Neeson for being a wonderful human being and action hero. The other praises the plot of the movie for being so clever. All hyperbole, nothing insightful or interesting. It’s less than ten minutes of footage and 2/3rds is clips from the movie and for the rest, they actually repeat quotes.

Film: 2 Yaps

Extras: 1 Yap

Film Yap: Free Films! - Indiepix Unlimited

I love movies, but I can’t afford all of the movies I want to see. It doesn’t help that some of them are in 3D even if they shouldn’t be! So it’s nice to find places on the internet where I can legally watch free films, especially when they’re really good.

This week I’m checking out the website Indiepix Unlimited. It’s a neat website that specializes in underseen independent films. Unfortunately this is another case where I haven’t seen any of the movies on the site so I had Richard Propes of The Independent Critic help me out. If you go on his site, you can get a one-month free trial to the site where you can watch these films.

Here is Richard recommending five films and then I’ll chime in with five more that I think look good as well.

Richard’s Picks

1. "The DeVilles" is a 56-minute documentary out of Denmark from director Nicole Nielsen Horyani about the not quite uncomplicated love story involving American burlesque stripper Teri Lee Geary (aka Kitten DeVille) and her punk rock singer husband, Shawn Geary. Teri looks like Marilyn Monroe, Shawn like The Clash frontman Joe Strummer and Horyani beautifully weaves together both a 1950's and 1980's vibe to capture a sweet, enduring love story that exudes a sense of timelessness.

2. "Candyman: The David Klein Story" is one of my favorite documentaries from the past year, an entertaining and poignant doc about the man who came up with the concept of the Jelly Belly jellybeans. Directed by Costa Botes, “Candyman” is a delightful and quirky indie doc that ran on the Documentary Channel in November 2010 and is now available on DVD with distrib Indiepix. Calling “Candyman” delightful and quirky feels, on a certain level, a bit unusual and even inappropriate. The story of Klein's decline from extraordinary showman and jellybean inventor to being fully excluded from the life of the Jelly Belly Company (Klein is not even acknowledged in the candy's documented history) is a sad, disheartening story that somehow never weighs down the film.

3. "Half a Bee" is another film reviewed by The Independent Critic not long after director Tim Busko finished the film. If you are a human being, a person who has experienced life and screwed it up only to find yourself back on track and starting to figure it all out, then you should definitely see this amazingly simple yet hypnotic 60-minute documentary about Eric Morder. Morder is a 30ish man, a small-town poet/musician whose music and musings are strikingly honest, real, simple, entertaining and beautifully presented by Busko's one-man wonder crew. These documentaries, and washed up/burned out musicians do deserve a documentary sub-genre all their own, can be remarkably pretentious and self-serving. 

Think “Wesley Willis' Joyrides”, a film that took a beloved and gifted man and reduced him to a cinematic cliche' by painting him as a sort of transcendent figure. The approach ruined the power of Willis's story and, along with it, the documentary that bared his name. Busko, on the other hand, simply turns on the camera and allows Morder to be Morder. Rather than creating anything resembling a dramatized situation or seemingly staged scene, what unfolds in “Half a Bee” feels like equal parts poetry, musical journey and a conversation with a beloved friend.

4. "Indestructible" won the Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature at the Lake County Film Festival, and my not quite favorable enough review of the film led to my receiving one of my harsher letters from the sister of Ben Byer, the director and subject of the film. At the age of 31, Byer was an aspiring filmmaker who'd studied journalism at Indiana University and film theory at the University of Paris. He'd worked in Hollywood for a B-movie producer and had gathered several acting credits in Chicago at such highly regarded theatres as Steppenwolf Theatre. His first play, "Take It Deep," was successfully produced and it seemed that the 31-year-old Chicago native was on the verge of a successful career in writing and acting. 

Then, in 2002, Byer was diagnosed with ALS and, as is true for the vast majority of persons diagnosed with the disease, Byer was suddenly faced with a death sentence to be preceded by a practically guaranteed deterioration of his ability to walk, talk, care for himself and his young son, act or even write on his own. 

"Indestructible" began as a series of video diaries in which Byer, sometimes with heartbreaking vulnerability and other times with flippant bravado, begins living his life searching for hope, searching for answers and, perhaps most of all, just trying to live for as long as he possibly can. Despite being unable to escape the feeling that Byer has been afforded opportunities largely unavailable to the wider public living with ALS, one must approach "Indestructible" with a tremendous sense of gratitude and a deep appreciation for the honest portrayals, authentic dialogue and beautiful cinematography that blend together to tell the story of Ben Byer, a young filmmaker who has faced overwhelming adversity with courage, honesty, humor and, thankfully for all of us, the willingness to creatively pursue his dream of making the film he undoubtedly wishes he'd never had to make.

5. A recent acquisition of IndiePix that I haven't seen yet is "Samson & Delilah," an Australian film directed by Warwick Thornton about two young people who live in an isolated Aboriginal community in the Central Australian desert. When tragedy strikes, the two turn their backs on their home and embark on a journey of survival only to find that life outside the community can be incredibly cruel. Despite being hungry and rejected, the two fall in love and realize that love is the one thing that will never let them down. "Samson & Delilah" won multiple awards at film festivals around the world, and looks like an absolutely incredibly film that I can't wait to watch.

Austin’s Picks

1. “All My Friends Are Funeral Singers” – I do love a good title. This one has a premise to back up its attention grabbing title. It is about Zel who is a fortuneteller who has grown accustomed to all of the spirits who live with her in her old house. Once the souls become restless she is conflict about helping them move on or stick with her odd family. Unique comedy and it got into two of the best film festivals out there: Sundance and South by Southwest.

2. “A Broad Way” – This is a documentary about a observing the street of Broadway from all of its blocks for one hour. This is one of those fun ideas that could either provide surprising insight to the human condition or be an entertaining attempt to do so. It reminds me of a few episodes of “This American Life” which is a very solid source to draw inspiration from.

3. “Hell on Wheels” – Roller derby is awesome. It’s something about the unique sports that have the ability to be more exciting. Perhaps it’s the freshness of seeing a sport that isn’t constantly talked about or maybe it’s the hot women fighting each other around a racetrack. No one can really know for sure. This documentary covers the women from Austin, Texas who resurrected the sport into the fun phenomenon it is today.

4. “Messengers” – This seems to have all of the elements for a good thriller. Interested protagonist, creepy small town, secrets that probably could be explained earlier, and just a small taste of the supernatural. It stars Michel Hicks, who was the Walton Goggin’s unfortunate wife in “The Shieldand Frankie Faison who was Commissioner Burrell from “The Wire.” My loyalty to actors from incredible shows is enough to give this a view.

5. “Rock, Paper, Scissors: A Geek Tragedy” – It’s amazing how little hope for this movie, but I’m still going to watch it. After the success of “The King of Kong” a lot of documentaries popped up about nerdy competitions. Some were good, but not all. A rock, paper, scissors competition? I admit, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this once on ESPNWhatever and I may have laughed more than I was interested in who won, but I….I don’t know why I’m going to watch this, it’s going to happen.

There you go! The site has more features and a ton of short films that look like a lot of fun. Reminder, the best way to get your one-month free trial is to go to and click on the banner on the left hand side.

Chime in on the comment section with more movies you’d recommend or think look interesting.

Previous Free Films articles


Netflix Instant


Film Yap: 13 Assassins

The quality of an action film can be gauged by how often you swear to yourself. It’s the thrills, the excitement, and the surprise. 13 Assassins delivered all of that.

After a sluggish beginning explaining all of the political complications of the period, the true conflict emerges. There is a man named Naritsugu who is one of the most vile villains in recent history. Since he is related to the Shogun (feudal sheriff), he can get away with some truly heinous acts. Once he crosses too many lines, the Shogun has to finally take action.

That is done by awakening the samurai. Specifically Shinzaemon. At this time there are plenty of samurai, but not many instances for the samurai to take action. The rules of the society are changing. The code of the samurai is still held in the greatest esteem. All of them serve their masters with all of their will, but are just waiting for the time when they can serve them best and die in battle like true warriors.

This is the mission for them. Shinzaemon gathers eleven men and together they are going to put an end to the horrific Naritsugu. The way he creates his crew is familiar from a lot of con movies like Ocean’s 11 and The Sting as he finds those who will be loyal to the cause and who bring certain elements.

Twelve characters is a lot to keep up with, not counting other families who have been affected and the villains. Director Takashi Miike (Audition, Ichi the Killer) and screenwriter Daisuke Tengan are wise in having them bond over their similarities. They all want to die a true samurai’s death, which entails fighting like you have no wish to die. A few of the characters are spotlighted into more of their history, but they operate best as a group.

With the action, all of their dedication is backed up. There are small teases of swordplay throughout the film, but it isn’t until the final encounter does Miike put all of his cards on the table. The fights are brutal, clever, extreme, astounding, and incredible. What could seem exhausting is brilliantly paced so the ebbs and flows of warlike trickery allow the audience to endure an experience longer than they’re used to.

Aside from just being a whole lot of fun, the film has a lot of fascinating elements to it. The way the samurai are depicted in comparison to a similarly plotted film like The Seven Samurai causes a lot of discussion. Much in the same way of Departures, this film embraces death as a beautiful and deserving finale instead of a moment of fear and confusion like most American films. This approach does not lessen the stakes, but adds new layer in examining what exactly is happening in a fight where is may not be just one stopping the other.

13 Assassins is playing at the Keystone Landmark theatre for an exclusive run. There was a midnight showing Friday night and one more Saturday night. The film will be on DVD this July, but this was the sort of movie that benefited from an excited crowd who—like me—were gleefully murmuring to themselves “Oh sh--….”

4.5 Yaps

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Green Lantern

Dear Green Lantern Movie,

I saw your film the other day and it came to my attention that you did not know what a story was. That’s fine. It’s nothing to be too worried about. I’ve dealt with a lot of children who couldn’t understand the basics either. Then again, they’re writing with crayons on a piece of printer paper and you made a 300 million dollar movie.

300 million dollars?!? Are you out of your mind? Why did you do that? You really couldn’t spend a couple thousand for a good screenwriter? Hell, I would have done it for twenty bucks and a Green Lantern hat.

Let me explain this to you. A story has characters who want something and from that a plot is developed often with an arc. Sorry, I got too complicated for you. Motivation + conflict = movie. In your movie you had a hero named Hal Jordan. I know he’s the hero because he’s attractive, he was introduced by being in bed with an attractive blonde, and then he is late for work. When heroes are racing to go somewhere, they’re sympathetic! He’s just like me!

Yadda yadda, he’s a test pilot who is reckless but brilliant and he breaks the rules to win the mission. Blah blah blah, he’s fired for being stupid. Boring boring boring, some purple alien crashes on Earth after being attacked by some yellow cloud thing and sends his floating ring across the planet to find some replacement.

So what does Hal Jordan want? He seems to be traumatized by the death of his dad, which was shown in the dumbest possible montage flashback (which also had a monage flashback within the montage flashback. We get it.) Does he want to resolve that? Nope. Does he want to be the best pilot possible? Doesn’t look like it. Does he want to be a Green Lantern. Nah. Is he trying to get the girl, who I assume has a name, but probably not? Not really.

Let’s look at Star Wars. No not the prequels. I don’t care if they are closer to your budget. Shut up. Star Wars is a world full of mythology and creatures and all of this stuff. Sure it opened with scrolling text, but that was not summing up the entire universe. Just the prologue to the story. Instead of shoving exposition down our throat of too much stuff that doesn’t matter, you should have just focused on the characters. Luke wants to get off his planet and see the universe. Luke wants to save the princess. Luke wants to destroy the Death Star.

Hal wants….NOTHING. There is a villain out there that looked expensive. He goes to a Green Lantern planet that looked very expensive. Turns out none of this really mattered. Sure the expensive villain may one day destroy the expensive planet but since our hero doesn’t care about the planet neither do we.

Also why add subplots if you don’t have a plot in the first place? Peter Sarsgaard plays a guy named Hector Hammond who becomes evil or whatever. The film beats it over your head that him and Hal are supposed to be comparable, but neither of them are actually consistent characters so that annoying juxtaposition is wasted.

I hate to harp on this again, but $300 million? Here’s a better idea. Make a $30 million Green Lantern movie. Find an actual plot. NOT ANOTHER ORIGIN STORY. You don’t need thousands of aliens that don’t matter. Focus on what really matters and if it’s strong and intriguing people will stick with the character. People liked The Dark Knight not because of the truck flipping over, but because the bank robbery was inventive and new. People liked Superman because it was romantic when he flew with her across the city, not because it was state of the art CGI.

These are not movies; they are demo reels. Nobody can’t wait for the sequel to a demo reel or can’t wait for their kids to grow up so they can see a demo reel. If you keep making these empty embarrassingly hollow vessels, you will kill the genre. You will blame the audience and blame the other studios for making too many comic book films. But, no. It is your fault.


Austin Lugar – A guy who loves movies.

The Art of Getting By

In independent films, there is a fallback into thinking your main character is too interesting. The world warps around them as everyone is fascinating by their every move and they all see their true potential. This only works if the main character is worth examining this much of the running time.

George Zinavoy isn’t worthy.

Everyone says he’s very deep, complicated, and thinks a lot but even with a voice over that doesn’t seem to be very true. He recently realized that he is going to die one day so what’s the point of doing homework. He says he thinks about important things instead, but we never hear about anything that important. He’s depressed because he says he’s depressed.

Really he’s just a poser. He’s an annoyingly simple person who treats others poorly. He’s predictable and dull. Yet this world can’t stop talking about him. Teachers are obsessed with him, students are in awe of him, and everything will work out for him if he allows it.

He doesn’t have any friends, but he runs into Sally played by Emma Roberts. Roberts has been stuck playing the same part for the last few films. She’s the independent young woman who befriends a moody teen who is “complex” and inspires him to feel better about who he is. See It’s Kind of a Funny Story and Twelve. That’s fine if she’s a catalyst, but she also needs to be her own character, not just a reactionary one.

What is there to learn if there are no consequences for his actions? He doesn’t do his homework for an entire year or pay attention during class. So the school bends over backwards to give him a get out of jail free card, equipped with a montage solution that doesn’t even faze George.

A few actors come out okay in this magnetized mistake. Blair Underwood gives solid work as the principal, Roberts continues to show potential if she ever gets the chance, and Freddie Highmore makes a nice return post-puberty despite not having a single good line of dialog.

With a backdrop like New York City and this cast, it’s painful to realize how boring the film is. This is one of those films that played at Sundance to negative reviews, but still got picked up because it has some market value to it. Unfortunately it’s too bland, too forgettable to ever find an audience, even with amongst those who classify themselves as “complex.”

More Housekeeping!

Hey Everybody,

Thanks everyone for continuing to read the blog. More movie reviews are on their way this summer and some exciting articles about mysteries books as well. Until then here are some more small things that aren't going to get their own page.

I was on The Film Yap podcast this week chatting it up about Marvel and DC movies. You can find it here and on iTunes very soon.

We had another episode of And the Nominees Are (finally) recorded and posted. Keith, Kenny, and I talk about the first half of 1939. The second half has been recorded and will be posted in a few days. You can find it on our website and on iTunes.

I caught Midnight in Paris, the latest Woody Allen film and loved it. Try to catch it in theatres and don't learn anything about it. Absolutely charming.

I also saw The Princess of Montpensier, which was very good. Unfortunately it is leaving theatres in my area today so I'm not going to write a full review. It'll be worth checking out on DVD especially if you're a fan of movies like I Am Love or Atonement.

Thanks again for everyone's support. Feel free to leave comments to start a discussion. Also I can't explicitly suggest that you do it but if there is anywhere on the page that you want to click that would be grand.


Film Yap: Jackass 3.5

The following DVD review was written by a guest writer, the acclaimed director Werner Herzog. In addition to making such great films like Fitzcarraldo and Grizzly Man, Herzog was also shot mid-interview and proceeded to continue the interview. This is totally not a parody.

Never before in the history of cinema has ones own mortality been examined through a lens protected from rogue bottles of diet cola. In their 7/2th expedition into the unknown, the “Jackass crew” continue to question what is suicidal and what is aspiring to be like gods. Do they wish to die or to live forever?

They appear joyous as materialized in their filmic opening with them running through the city with suitcases. Yet before some of the most horrific stunts, like the alligator snapping turtle’s encounter with Steve-O’s bare buttock, there is a look in their eyes of fear and regret.

For the first time, majority of the experience is spent with commentary by these men about what happened. They are foreboding and amused. Most of all there is pain. One poor soul, Dave England, critically harms himself so frequent that I have to imagine there is rarely a night where he doesn’t cry himself to sleep.

Is there humor from their pain? After every escapade, there is cheering and laughs and screams. They damage their scrotums, but are they damaging their souls? Scars and bruises make them like Greek mythical heroes, but when they lie on the floor whimpering they are like mice. When a stunt fails, were their prayers answered or does this further distance them from a protecting God?

Their sets are constructed circles of hell. The men live in a perpetuating state of paranoia and misery as their colleagues conspire against them with tasers and physical assaults on their genetalia. The film no longer becomes a film but an existence for these unfortunate creatures who shall not escape this lifestyle until they fall victim to it.

Its companion piece, their third theatrical forte into the unknown, has the more satisfying existential quandaries. 3.5 expands the mythology of their catastrophic psychological labyrinth and the childish minotaurs who rule within. With hope, a fourth exploration will be sailing into cinemas before too long.

The DVD documenting this trial is equipped with even more deleted scenes, outtakes, and more footage of their origins and continuations throughout time.

Film: 3.5 Yaps

Extras: 3.5 Yaps

Film Yap: Haven Season One

Haven is a show I’ve been rooting for even before it was picked up. There was a podcast that started years ago called Sam and Jim Go to Hollywood. It was about two men who left their restaurant business to move west and try to become television writers. Their podcast documented their struggle and gave advice. They were very nice and engaging guys. When they finally got a job, it was a great moment of triumph.

One of the things they often talked about was a pilot they had written based off a Stephen King novella. The novella was a book I liked called The Colorado Kid. It’s an odd one, but it gave an enormous amount of attention to a new publishing line called Hard Case Crime, a fantastic throw back to older pulp collections. A TV show will give even more attention to them.

Finally it happened. It looked like it could be with ABC, but it ended up being Syfy who turned The Colorado Kid into Haven. The result has its handful of flaws, but nothing too disastrous.

The show is about FBI Agent Audrey Parker (Emily Rose) who arrives in Haven, Maine to discover a lot of freaky supernatural things are going on. Entertained by the “weird stuff” and determined to figure out how this town connects to her missing mother, she decides to stay.

Every week she and her partner Nathan (Lucas Bryant) figure out how to stop what sort of freaky activity is plaguing the town whether it is all of the food instantly becoming rotten or men rapidly aging to death. The content is light and fun, but the show is missing the opportunity for its creepiness.

Everything is too bright on the show instead of having a few more shadows and mystery. The special effects are very under budgeted and sometimes become campier than they ought to be. (Audrey gets cocooned by a mystical blanket in Episode 2.)

It’s difficult to have a mystery when the world is so expansive with its mythology. The greater story holds more interest than a monster-of-the-week that could be werewolves or witches or another supernatural option they haven’t thought of yet. Buffy had her Hellmouth, Stephen King has Maine. Weird things will happen, but they can never be solved by the audience. Especially when it’s always because people are keeping a secret just to be mysterious.

The end of the season has quite a fun cliffhanger that will hopefully lead the show into a more serialized direction. Until then, this DVD set is a fun show to try out. It’s not great, but it’s working towards being “pretty good.”

The DVD and Blu-Ray has a lot of commentaries for the episodes including a lot by Sam and Jim. There are a few featurettes, blogs, interviews, and a sneak peak towards the next season.

Season: 3.5 Yaps

Extras: 4 Yaps

Film Yap: The Glades Season One

It is a show like The Glades that makes shows like White Collar and Psych look so much better. All of these shows focus on being light with characters that are always amusing while they solve a mystery within the hour. Except The Glades falls short in the “light”, “characters”, “amusing”, and “solve” parts.

Charisma-less Matt Passmore plays Detective Jim Longworth. As every opening credits explains, he used to be a cop in Chicago. Then after a stupid incident, he decided to move to Florida to work on his tan and golf game. For some reason he didn’t think that people would get murdered in Florida. Even in the promo for Season Two, he’s still surprised that beautiful people in bikinis die and he may actually have to do something as a homicide detective.

Like every other show he is constantly wisecracking, sees himself above everyone else, self-described genius, and will break the rules to solve the case. This type of personality could be charming if it was someone like Hugh Laurie or James Rodney was the know-it-all, but the writing and Passmore’s performance makes the character completely unlikable and obnoxious.

It doesn’t help the entire show is built on how much of a “wildcard” he is. Carlos Gómez plays a medical examiner who is friends with Longworth, but all he gets to do is to be frustrated with his CRAZY ANTICS and talk about those crazy antics for the rest of the episode. Kiele Sanchez (LOST’s Nicki) is a nurse that Longworth is obsessed with. They have “banter” but they will never actually be a couple because she doesn’t want to divorce her inmate husband for the sake of her child. That means they will forever be in “will they or won’t they” TV limbo.

Truly, most of this will be excused if the show succeeded at being the light show it desperately wants to be. It’s not funny and the mysteries don’t really make sense. He’s not much of a detective if he verbally accuses every single character and then it ends up being the random secondary guest actor in the last few minutes.

With so many elements not working, this can’t be a show to casually watch during the summer or something to have on while you’re working on something else. It’s just frustrating. It looks like a likable show, but it’s treating the audience like we’re idiots.

The special features include deleted scenes, audio commentary by the cast and crew, a couple of featurettes talking about how great the show is, and of course a gag reel. Oh actors not being able to remember lines.

Season: 1.5 Yaps

Extras: 2.5 Yaps

Friday, June 10, 2011

Super 8

I am a J.J. Abrams fanboy. And that’s okay! My love for LOST is ridiculous and I really love Fringe, Mission Impossible III and Star Trek. (The first season of Alias rocks too.) Much in the way of my other favorite directors, Abrams is a guy who is always thinking about the next way to entertain the audience with thrills and mysteries.

All of those other projects, Abrams was working with a team of other writers. With Super 8, he’s flying solo. It’s just him and the ghost of the not dead Steven Spielberg. This shows all of the purest elements of Abrams storytelling which includes his delight in destroying transportation devices, the mystery box(es), and realizing it’s always about the emotional stakes.

Set in 1979, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and his junior high friends are working on their zombie movie. Joe is the makeup expert thanks to reading all the right monster magazines. Charles (Riley Griffiths) is the bossy director who wants everything to be “mint.” The rest of the gang are actors including Alice (Elle Fanning) who was brought into their story so there is more weight to their story.

They have the focus of so many kids of this age. They gotta sneak out at night, tell secrets on their walkie talkies, and worry about your crushes. Even though there are bigger issues at hand like grief and fear, they know what they want to and that’s to make the coolest zombie movie and beat those 16 year olds at the film festival.

This is before they witness one of the greatest crashes in cinema history. (Abrams topped himself from the LOST pilot.) There was something being transported on that train that is now out. There is also a cryptic message from the man driving the truck on the tracks (The Wire’s Glynn Turman) and hundreds of weird white cubes.

Abrams keeps the whole film exciting by always moving forward. The second there is dialog that may just be a tad boring—BOOM—another thrilling scene starts. Most of the time with these sort of tales, all of the focus is wanting to know more about the mythology of the situation. Super 8 answers all of the questions it brings up, which is surprising from the producer of Cloverfield. The real questions I was asking were wondering if the family and the characters were going to be okay. Kyle Chandler plays Joe’s father, Jack Lamb. (Jack Shepherd was already taken.) Chandler is one of those brilliant actors who is so emotional and caring while never showing it.

The story is tied up too nicely, but it’s still a really nice story. It’s the sort of story that you want to show to people because it has twists and turns that aren’t spoiled by the trailer. It’s Abrams’ best film and the sort of movie that should be released every week during the summer. When people see Thor or Transformers they can already figure out what the whole movie will be like before it begins. The real blockbusters, the ones that will last throughout the decades and be beloved by a variety of filmgoers.

Film Yap: The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life suffers from being called a masterpiece too many times before anyone has the chance to see it. Terence Malick is a beloved filmmaker who is reclusive and only makes a few films in 40 years. The Tree of Life had plenty of rumors about its scope and use of dinosaurs. The trailer comes out and it’s beautiful so the anticipation grows. It appears at the Cannes Film Festival to glowing reviews, even picking up the Palm D’or. It feels like the backlash is going to begin before the film will be shown to the public. The problem is that the film is a masterpiece.

Here I am adding to the hype and misconstrued pretension. The reason why Malick’s film succeeds in being incredible is because it is pure. This is a deeply personal film that examines the search of God through moments in the life of a family. The film begins with them in panic. One of the three boys has died young. The parents (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) are devastated, as they feel burdened by the silence of God.

Tales of God usually have the characters experience joy or anger. Malick understands the relationship is a mixture and both are seen in an intimate and cosmic level. The questions shift as the film jumps around through time. Most of the time is spent when the sons are young, but Jack is also seen as a lost businessman (Sean Penn). The film also depicts some of the most gorgeous moments of the universe as creation is shown.

Beauty is everything in the moment. It is used as an extension of God as moments become art. There is a portion where it is questioned whether there is a God and the film’s argument is to show the wonders of the world. “How can this be without a God?” This is a spiritual film, but not one associated with specific religious symbols. Instead the film is like a prayer, a whispered prayer.

By itself the film moves like poetry, but through its messages there is a strong story at its core. The oldest son, Jack (Hunter McCracken) is conflicted about his upbringing. His mother is kind and gentle while his father is more abrasive. There isn’t a plot with them, aside from an ongoing story of the father trying to make his way in business. Instead the film captures moments with subtly and grace. There are real bottled examinations of the human condition rarely seen in the cinema.

As praising as I am, this film is not for everyone. The lack of plot and its use of metaphorical imagery won’t be accepted by a wide audience. It is sometimes slow and difficult, but the film is satisfying if you trust the journey you are on. If you like the structure of Enter the Void, you’ll like this film. If you like how characters evolve on shows like Treme, you’ll like this film. And if you love Terrence Malick, you will love this film because this is what he has spent his entire life working towards.

5 Yaps

Film Yap: Incendies

The story begins with the opening of their mother’s will. Or does it? The Academy Award nominated Incendies is a mystery where it isn’t clear if it should be solved. Twins Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette) are brought into Jean Lebel’s office (Rémy Girard). He is a Notary who hired their mother as his secretary. He cared for her quite a deal and is willing to obey her final wishes.

The will asks for Jeanne to search for their father and give him a letter. Simon must deliver a letter to their brother. Neither of them knew their father was still alive or they even had a brother. Once these tasks are completed there is a final letter for them and then the mother will finally be able to have a gravestone.

Simon wants no part of this, but Jeanne decides to start the quest. She travels from her home in Canada to her mother’s roots in the Middle East finding any clue she can about where her father could be.

There are plenty of films of older children who discover the past of their parents. Typically the discoveries help them respect the people who raised them. This is not the case with Incendies. At the beginning of the search there is plenty of people looking shady and unwilling to answer questions.

Aside from the eerie beginning, this part of the film feels standard. Yet once the answers start arriving, the film changes. Suddenly everyone started sitting up in their seats in my theatre because the results are shocking.

Writer/director Denis Villeneuve tells the story by jumping around in time to show Jeanne’s journey but also the story of their mother, Nawal (Lubna Azabal). Nawal’s portions are often very difficult to watch as her land is plagued by war, hatred and revenge. There can be understanding on why some of this happened, but there isn’t acceptance right away.

There are distinct ebbs and flows with the film. Sometimes Villeneuve’s use of silence doesn’t always pay off, but when it does it’s powerful. So much weight is on the leading actresses Désormeaux-Poulin and Azabal to add the emotional elements to the story. They achieve with incredible performances that stray away from the simplistic reactions, but are able to say so much about their characters with just a single look.

By focusing on the story of this family, it is able to do much more about the greater themes. Unlike the film that beat this for the Oscar, Incendies is strong enough on the surface that it’s able to work on many levels.

4 Yaps

Film Yap: X-Men - First Class

It wasn’t until X2: X-Men United did I see the real potential for comic book movies. After the 90s Batman films and Spider-Man films I was entertained by the superhero vs. the villain of the flick but because it was always the same setup, they never became great films. X2 developed a more complicated storyline and knew how to use its characters with intelligence. Then X3 came along and ruined all of that.

Since then we’ve had incredible films like The Dark Knight, but it’s the return of the X-Men to give me hope again. Director Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, Kick-Ass) was attached for X3 for several months and then famously quit after being frustrated with the studio interference. To have him return was a big deal.

The film is set during the 1960s when Professor Xavier still had hair and Magneto was just angry, not villainous. They’re played by two of the best actors of their generation, James McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland, Atonement) and Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds, Jane Eyre). They are both seeking Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) for different reasons. Xavier wants to stop a nuclear war from breaking out and Erik wants revenge for what happened to him during the Holocaust.

Using the resources of the CIA they recruit a team of young mutants to join forces. This includes Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) as the shapeshifting Mystique and Nicholas Hoult (UK’s Skins, A Single Man) as Beast.

First Class works more like a successful prequel story than an origin story. With most origin stories it’s about showing the quick transformation into a superhero and the rusty first battle. This movie, much like Casino Royale, shows more about what shaped these characters into the ones we know now. There are small teases and jokes that work well, but the real strength of the movie is the story it tells.

All of the characters are well used, which is difficult for a movie with so many mutants. The action scenes are exciting not just because they are visually innovative, but because every character has a small part to play that uses their powers in a relevant manner. This isn’t like a bad video game where the character keeps pressing the A-button to throw something metal. The movie plays upon the characters’ intelligence.

As the film builds towards a final confrontation, it’s genuinely exciting. It doesn’t just feel like another good vs. evil showdown with a lot of special effects. Instead the stakes are high and even though this is a prequel, lives are on the line since so many of them are new characters.

Sure some elements are a bit preachy and cheesy, but that’s what makes an X-Men movie an X-Men movie. Luckily the lines are performed by a great set of actors (and January Jones) so nothing is ever too distracting.

First Class finally brought some excitement not only back to the franchise, but to the summer. June is now upon us and we finally have a tentpole movie that is very easy to recommend. It’s funny to think that what looks to be the best Marvel movie of the summer is the one that wasn’t made by Marvel.

4.5 Yaps