Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 59 - Hoosiers (Guest: Joe Leininger from The Playing Field)


In this week's episode, Ben and Tyler are joined by Joe Leininger (from The Playing Field) to discuss David Anspaugh's 1986 film, Hoosiers.





Introduction
Character Name Game Intro -2:56

Media Consumed
Tyler
Series Premiere of "Free Agents"- 3:50
Series Premiere of "Revenge" - 6:33
Drive - 11:55

Joe
Series Premiere of "New Girl" - 13:50
Series Premiere of "Whitney" - 16:39

Ben
NBC Thursday Night Rundown - 19:10
Series Premiere of "The Playboy Club" - 22:57

Review
Hoosiers - 28:00

Wrap-Up
Next Week: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil -1:07:15
Listener Voicemail/E-mail/Twitter -1:07:57
Character Name Game - 1:10:36
Rutger Hauer Explosion Time -1:12:53
Where You Can Find Us -1:19:41

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Killer Elite

To answer the question you're probably asking, yes - action fans should be pleased with Killer Elite. It's got more story to it than many other selections in the genre, but just because it has more plot doesn't mean it actually has anything to say. For me, the best action films either offer something interesting to think about (Inception, the Bourne films) or are paper-thin excuses to jump from one action sequence to the next (see: every Tony Jaa movie ever made). In terms of Jason Statham movies, Killer Elite falls squarely in the middle of these extremes, more akin to The Bank Job than The Transporter.

Killer Elite
Director: Gary McKendry
Starring: Jason Statham, Robert De Niro, Clive Owen, Yvonne Strahovski


There's an interesting line of dialogue that comes late in the film, when a government agent seemingly captures Jason Statham and Clive Owen and says, "That's what we love about you lot - you only care about the action." I'm guessing this line spoke directly to much (if not all) of the audience for Killer Elite. Personally, I judge most action films on whether or not they meet one strict criterion: does it show me something I've never seen before? Here's a sweeping generalization: oftentimes the plot, characters, and visual effects are interchangeable in this genre, so, for me, the devil is in the details. One fight scene, car chase, or unexpected reveal can separate these movies from their brethren; in short, give me something memorable or GTFO. Killer Elite has two things I've never seen: Jason Statham's character uses a loaf of bread as a silencer for his gun at one point, and there is a sequence (shown in the trailer) in which Statham fights a guy while strapped to a chair. So, on some level, I'd consider this movie a success.


So there's no confusion, I'll sum up my feelings with a phrase I've come to despise: I liked this movie for what it was. Normally, I think that assessment is taking the lazy way out, trivializing the filmmaker by implying he/she set the bar lower than a "normal" movie. But when a film like this is so clearly trying to be a certain thing, there's nothing wrong with judging it as such. Action scenes aside, the rest of the movie was far from the failure I anticipated. Unlike something like The Expendables, which is loud, over the top, and just plain stupid, Killer Elite operates in a far more realistic world (as it should, considering it's based on true events). This is espionage, not a Stallone-era shoot-em-up where the person with the biggest gun wins. In fact, I'd argue there's almost too much story told here; so much happens, the movie feels a lot longer than its runtime suggests.


The leads were all enjoyable to watch, though they didn't share much screen time together. Statham turns in one of his better performances; the man's not known for his great dramatic work, but he pulls that off just as well as the action beats here. It's reassuring to see De Niro in a part like this again after his stretch attempting comedy in the Focker movies. Clive Owen is fine - he plays a guy named Spike, so of course he wears a leather jacket to secret society meetings. He and Statham have an impressive brawl in the middle of the film that wasn't quite as memorable as some other points in the movie, due mostly to director Gary McKendry's over-reliance on shaky cam. Yvonne Strahovski (NBC's "Chuck") shows up as a love interest for Statham, but ultimately doesn't have a lot to do. Though her backstory is expectedly cliched, she shows a lot more charm than typical action movie eye candy, and I'd like to see her spread her wings a bit with some larger roles. Try as any of these actors may, they're still slaves to this film's script, which offers its share of terrible dialogue. Some of my favorites:

"I'm done with killing." "Maybe killing ain't done with you."
"That's why we're called The Feathermen - because our touch...is light."
"B-I-N-G-f*ckin'-O."
"Killing's easy. Living with it is the hard part."
"Everybody knows the rules: there are no rules!"


Killer Elite has its moments, but ultimately it's a pretty forgettable outing in which the tight and economical action sequences play second fiddle to a story that drags a bit before reaching its easily predictable conclusion. Until next time...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Moneyball

If the phrase "inside baseball" was ever used to describe a film, this would be the movie in question - and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Moneyball (based on Michael Lewis' 2003 book of the same name) chronicles the story of Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and his unorthodox attempts to create a championship team with far less money than his competitors. In a way, the film itself is just as unorthodox as Beane's methods; we expect certain elements from this genre, but director Bennett Miller gives us a new angle to consider. Through good performances, a detailed script, and a fresh perspective, the movie tells an intriguing story of two men who went against the tides of baseball history and changed the game forever.

Moneyball
Director: Bennett Miller
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt


When teams with more money start poaching Billy Beane's players for themselves, Beane literally can't afford to compete on their level. During a potential trade meeting with the Cleveland Indians, Beane meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a Yale graduate who studied economics and has a different approach to rebuilding than Beane's over-the-hill scout staff. Beane adopts the youngster's philosophy and hires him as the new Assistant General Manager of the Athletics, much to the chagrin of his older co-workers. Much of the movie is steeped in the age-old "technology vs. human instinct" theme, but while most films take the human approach in this argument, Moneyball champions facts over intuition.


Moneyball successfully turns the sports genre on its head by exposing audiences to the detailed inner workings of a Major League Baseball team. Beane's acquisition of Peter is far more valuable than that of any one player, and for the purposes of this movie, the players on the field aren't nearly as important as the key "players" off the field. It's easy to hear co-writer Aaron Sorkin's influence in the dialogue, especially evident in a labyrinthine trade deal that comes midway through the film. It's smart and lightning quick at times, reminiscent of portions of Sorkin's Oscar-winning Best Adapted Screenplay from last year, The Social Network. Throughout the movie, we're shown flashbacks of Beane's days as a player and we see the effects his past has on him in the present time. The editing was sharp and effective, only concerned with the interesting aspects of the story and wisely breezing over sections that didn't need to be explored in depth on film.


This is clearly a Brad Pitt vehicle, and I'm already hearing some whispers of Oscar potential surrounding his performance. I think this is some of his best work in recent years, and though I don't quite agree that he's deserving of an Oscar for this particular performance, I thought he was...aggressively good. Not breathtaking, but still the kind of quality work that you expect from an A-lister. His supporting cast was impressive as well, with really solid work from Jonah Hill and small roles for Philip Seymour Hoffman as the embattled coach and Chris Pratt from "Parks and Recreation" as a catcher-turned-first-baseman. Beane's daughter is played by Kerris Dorsey (a spitting image of a young Katey Rich, friend of The Not Just New Movies podcast), an actress with a bright future who provides the muse for Pitt's character as he struggles through decisions late in the movie.


If you're a sports buff, you may know how this story ends before you see Moneyball's opening credits. But I didn't know how it would play out and it captivated me, so I won't get into the specifics of the ending here. I wonder, though: because I grew up playing baseball, much of this movie was easy for me to comprehend, but would someone who's never played or studied the game have the same appreciation that I do? Sound off in the comments and let me know what you think, regardless of your personal history with baseball. Until next time...

Monday, September 19, 2011

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 58 - Hobo With A Shotgun


In this week's episode, Tyler and Ben discuss Jason Eisener's 2011 film, Hobo With A Shotgun.




Introduction
Character Name Game Intro -2:24

Media Consumed
Tyler
"Party Down" - 3:00
Seasons 1 and 2 of "Children's Hospital" - 5:37

Ben
Netflix adds Qwikster - 11:10
Real life Weekend at Bernie's - 18:40
30th Anniversary Raiders of the Lost Ark screening, Q&A with Spielberg and Ford - 21:15


Review
Hobo With A Shotgun - 27:20

Wrap-Up
Next Week: Hoosiers -1:02:15
Listener Voicemail/E-mail/Twitter -1:03:15
Character Name Game - 1:05:18

Up Your Specs -1:08:30
Where You Can Find Us -1:13:25

Articles Mentioned: Ben's coverage of the 30th Anniversary screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark at GeekTyrant, Real Life Weekend at Bernie's article, Weekend at Bernie's NJNM episode, reviews of the Indiana Jones series can be found in the Archives section of NotJustNewMovies.com

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 57 - The Last of the Mohicans (Guest: Matt Patches from Hollywood.com)


In this week's episode, Ben and Tyler are joined by Matt Patches (from Hollywood.com) to discuss Michael Mann's 1992 film, The Last of the Mohicans.





Introduction
Character Name Game Intro - 4:22

Media Consumed
Tyler
Poltergeist II and III - 5:30

Matt Patches
Season 3 of "Parks and Recreation" - 11:45
Thor Blu-ray - 15:25

Ben

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman -18:30
Public Enemies - 24:56

Review
The Last of the Mohicans - 30:10

Wrap-Up
Next Week: Hobo With a Shotgun - 1:00:45
Listener Voicemail/E-mail/Twitter - 1:02:35

Character Name Game - 1:07:54
Know Your Specs - 1:10:40
Where You Can Find Us - 1:17:55

50/50

Based on real experiences from the life of writer and cancer survivor Will Reiser, 50/50 is a poignant, funny movie that blends comedy with the most serious kind of subject matter. I'd imagine it's difficult to bring humor into a story about a guy getting cancer, but with a competent script, solid actors well-suited for both comedy and drama, and some reserved directing from Jonathan Levine, the filmmakers accomplished their goal.

50/50
Director: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard


When Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is abruptly diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, his life radically changes: his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) distances herself from him, his best friend (Seth Rogen) encourages him to start using cancer as a pity tool for sex, his overprotective mother (Anjelica Huston) freaks out and constantly checks in on him, and he becomes the third patient ever for a young therapist (Anna Kendrick) seeking her doctorate. From the summary, it may seem as if a lot is going on, but in fact, the movie lounges easily from one point to the next, fading in and out of subplots as Adam struggles to retain his sanity in the wake of horrible circumstances. 


There's no shortage of jokes, the funniest of which come from Rogen, a comedian who wore out his welcome early with me but who I've actually found increasingly likeable in recent years. Gordon-Levitt plays the whole thing straight, but a lot of humor is derived from his occasional deadpan deliveries; his dips into the dramatic provide an anchor for audience relatability, giving us a canvas on which to project our own loved ones who may be suffering similar fates. Anna Kendrick plays her usual on-screen self - a charming, insecure girl who talks a bit too much - but I enjoy her work, so I didn't have any problems with her. And Bryce Dallas Howard, someone who (to me, anyway) is known for playing mostly likeable characters, goes against type here in a career choice similar to Rachel McAdams' in this year's Midnight in Paris.


Jonathan Levine, who directed the interesting Sundance indie The Wackness as well as the abysmal All The Boys Love Mandy Lane (I hope it stays shelved forever, that's how bad it is), takes a more reserved approach behind the camera than usual. His normal stylistic flourishes are left behind in favor of emotional character moments, and perhaps the best compliment I can give him is that 50/50 doesn't feel like a Jonathan Levine movie. He coaxes some really good performances out of his actors, and this is clearly the best film with which he's been involved. Michael Giacchino's score is beautiful, and this guy continues to show why he's nipping at John Williams' heels to become the best in the business. Somehow, the man is able to make a scene where trash is dumped out of a car incredibly romantic with just a few notes (you'll know the scene when you see it). He's pumping out iconic score after iconic score, and he's still in his prime.


I won't get into too many details, since most of this movie is more about the feelings it conjures and less about the individual scenes that accomplish said conjuring. 50/50 is as funny as a movie about cancer can be without turning into a downright farce, but it's real strength lies in the dramatic beats. JGL fans will be pleased. Until next time...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Contagion

Contagion doesn't feature insane killers, demons, or haunted houses, but it's one of the most effective horror films of the year. Walking out of the theater, my audience warily eyed each other, making sure not to touch anyone or anything as we went our separate ways. Steven Soderbergh continues to prove himself as one of the finest directors of ensemble casts working behind the camera today, and his controlled direction coupled with a fascinating script by Scott Z. Burns makes for a hell of a movie. It's unsettling, but it's also exceptionally crafted and well-acted, so I have no qualms about recommending it for everyone.

Contagion
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard


Before the movie came out, many (myself included) wondered what the point of Contagion was: doesn't it look too similar to every other outbreak movie of the past twenty years? But this film reminded me that the devil is in the details: it's not only about the subject matter, but how the story is executed, and I'm glad I checked it out. Soderbergh adds all kinds of touches that make the movie stand out, from his shallow focus compositions to an excellent montage showing the spread of the deadly disease across the world. There's a detached quality here, and the director does a good job of keeping the audience at arm's length throughout the movie and not falling into the trap of making the movie about any one character over another; the main characters are the disease and the fear it inspires.


The acting is fantastic from everyone involved. Matt Damon sells his character's emotional breakdowns, Kate Winslet makes a big impact with a smaller part, Laurence Fishburne does some of his best work in years, and Jude Law is fantastic as a renegade blogger searching for the truth. Even Gwyneth Paltrow (who dies in the trailer) does well with the small screen time she has. Tiny performances by Elliot Gould, Demetri Martin, Enrico Colantoni, Bryan Cranston, and John Hawkes didn't disappoint, but the standout actress for me (as much as I love Kate Winslet) has to be Jennifer Ehle, who is not a big name yet but certainly should be after this movie. She evokes a young Meryl Streep not only in appearance but in quality in her role as a doctor on a quest to discover the cure for the disease.


Marion Cotillard's character is the weak link here, but that's no fault of hers. The script seems to forget about her since she disappears for a huge chunk of the movie - close to 40 minutes, I'd wager - and then when she returns, her motivations have completely changed with a pitiful implication of why we're supposed to empathize with her climactic decision. This is a script flaw more than an acting complaint, so I just want to reiterate that I had no issues with Cotillard's performance. Because there are so many characters introduced, and because Soderbergh keeps the audience from fully engaging with any of them (except for maybe Matt Damon and his daughter), this problem feels particularly egregious. But I'll also reiterate: just because we don't get to truly know any of these people, that doesn't mean that Contagion is not a captivating thriller.


Cliff Martinez adds an eerie electronic-based score punctuated with grating feedback noises, subtly adding to the horrific atmosphere Soderbergh creates. Martinez has been doing some good work this year with this and the scores for Nicholas Winding Refn's Drive (one of my favorite films of 2011) and the Matthew McConaughey flick The Lincoln Lawyer (which I still haven't seen).


The escalating panic and hysteria that Contagion depicts are perhaps the scariest moments in the film; it's easy to assume this movie's cynical view of the world is pretty realistic if such a situation were to occur. The involvement of the internet in breaking news and Jude Law's character becoming a prophet for people is not outside the realm of believability, nor are the looting, violence, and destruction presented. Burns' script is captivating, frightening, and well-constructed, and Soderbergh's take on the material is a perfect visual partnership with the script's tone. Contagion is not anything that I plan on revisiting any time soon, but that's not because I didn't like it: it's just because everything it suggests is too unnervingly realistic. And that unsettling feeling is the film's greatest success. Until next time...

Monday, September 5, 2011

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 56 - Tombstone


In this week's episode, Tyler and Ben discuss George P. Cosmatos' 1993 film, Tombstone.





Introduction
Character Name Game Intro - 1:30

Media Consumed
Tyler
"Storage Wars" - 1:48

Ben
Season 2 of "The Shield" - 6:15
Season 8 "Entourage" - 6:52

Review
Tombstone - 9:00

Wrap-Up
Next Week: The Last of the Mohicans - 54:15
Listener Voicemail/E-mail/Twitter - 56:13

Character Name Game - 58:20
Up My Queue - 1:01:10
Where You Can Find Us - 1:07:24

Friday, September 2, 2011

Top 10 Van Damme Flicks


A Superkick Post by Alan Trehern

Listen, we all know Top 10 lists are bogus. Whether they be at the beginning of the year, or at the end of a decade, or whatever, what you're basically getting is some schmuck's dopey opinion for 10 bullet points. And unless you're a gelatinous Ditto who lacks the ability to form your own ideas, you probably disagree with some, if not all, of the items on the Top 10 list in question.

What I'm getting at is that you cannot disagree with this Top 10 list. The best Van Damme movies out there have been assembled for one night only at the greatest movie blog ever manned, NJNM.com. We don't even need a Top 10 list for that one. The Van Damme 10 is the apex of action and martial arts, and the epitome of hard work and maximum damage. Van Dammage!


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bunraku

Bunraku is one of the strangest films I've seen in 2011. Highly stylized and set in a post-apocalyptic world constructed out of constantly folding origami (!), it tells the story of a Drifter (Josh Hartnett) who teams with a samurai named Yoshi (Japanese pop star Gackt) to bring down the personification of evil, an oppressive Woodcutter named Nicola (Ron Perlman). The movie combines elements of samurai films, westerns, film noir, martial arts movies, and more, and the production design blends with those genres to create one of the most interesting cinematic worlds I've ever seen.

Bunraku
Writer/Director: Guy Moshe
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Ron Perlman, Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore, Gackt


To be clear: this is an interesting world, but not necessarily an interesting movie. Bunraku suffers from a case of style overload, attempting to blend far too many things; unfortunately, this results in every aspect of the film feeling not quite deep enough to matter. It's a purely visual experience, but in that regard alone, it's fascinating. The movie is shot entirely on sound stages with CG backgrounds, so comparisons to Sin City are sure to arise, but I feel like it's doing Bunraku a disservice to try to hold that visual comparison to just one movie. You can get the sense from the trailer that this origami world is unique, with a mixture of influences ranging from the canted angles of German expressionism to the paper mache whimsy of Michel Gondry.


There is a ton of action in this movie, but, like the film itself, it's all flash and no substance. The fight choreography is terrible, clearly trying to make the heroes seem like epic warriors who can beat their way through a hundred men without a scratch, but by relying on the typical "one guy attacks at a time" and "one punch knockout" cliches, it appears as if anyone with functioning limbs could fight just as effectively. (For multiple examples of how this can be done correctly, see Tony Jaa's The Protector.) There was one really excellent side-scrolling scene that shows The Drifter fighting loads of men down continuing levels of stairs in one long continuous shot, but it was essentially a vertical version of the same shot from 2003's Oldboy with video game sound effects pumped in. I'll give this movie one thing, though: it had an extended fight sequence in an abandoned circus before that takes place on a trapeze and the trampoline below it, something I've never seen before. (It would have been right at home in the gymnastics-based karate movie Gymkata.)


Josh Hartnett is no stranger to film noir (The Black Dahlia, Lucky Number Slevin, Sin City), and he does his standard thing here with a little more fighting than usual. Late in the movie, Hartnett battles a roving band of parkour jesters who dance around in the background as they attack him one at a time. Sigh. Woody Harrelson plays a bartender (remember "Cheers," anyone?) who is ostensibly there to guide Yoshi and The Drifter to the evil Woodcutter (Ron Perlman, playing basically any bad guy he's ever played, but one who actually has a scene in which he chops wood), but mainly Woody just sits in the shadows and creepily watches everyone fight in the rain. Oh yeah - and he also tells the origin story of Spider-Man through origami. Yep, that's all I need to say about that. Demi Moore also shows up for a few minutes as Ron Perlman's whore, looking so disinterested in everything that she must have been doing someone a favor by appearing in this film at all.

Another issue with Bunraku is length, clocking in at an absurdly long two hours and four minutes, far too long for a film like this. If the run time was closer to 90 minutes - even 100 minutes, like last year's similarly stylized The Warrior's Way - it would have been much easier to digest. But putting us through plodding action scenes, killing off Perlman's henchmen one by one, and adding a totally unnecessary subplot about a people's army forming near the end of the movie makes Bunraku more of a chore than a little piece of pop culture fun. The predictable ending is totally not worth the two hour wait, and at the point which we realize that almost none of the action scenes have any consequences, they actually become pretty boring and we just wait for the filmmakers to finish their masturbatory exercise and eventually finish telling the story.


Bunraku is filled with stock characters, bizarre editing choices, and a captivating backdrop. But because it blends so many different elements together into a massive hodgepodge of a movie, nothing stands out or seems truly important. I was never able to engage with any of the characters, and that may be fine for some people (especially in a film like this). As for me, I'd like to actually feel something about the people I'm watching on screen - whether that be rooting for them, hating them, something, anything - and this movie failed to provide me with a reason to do that. It's unique, but only you can decide if that's enough to be worth your time. Bunraku is available now on VOD and hits theaters on September 30, 2011. Until next time...