Friday, March 30, 2012

Top 5 Awesome Movie Houses

Squatting in Fictional Abodes with Alan Trehern

Ya smell that? **breathes in** That's spring, baby! And in the spring I like to dust off the old Top 5 tome (it's leatherbound...jealous?) and add another riveting installment that makes it all the more readable. And since spring usually brings spring cleaning, wouldn't it be wonderful to spring clean your dream house? That doesn't sound like much of a chore, now does it?

Unfortunately, the houses I want to live in exist only in the imagination, because the following dream houses are only acceptable if I'm also living in the movie they're associated with. The real worlds sucks, my dude. So take a ride with me on my inter-dimensional golf cart as we showcase the best in cinematic real estate!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 82 - Double Dragon (Guest: Alex Billington from FirstShowing)

In this week's episode, Tyler and Ben are joined by Alex Billington (from to discuss James Yukich's 1994 film, Double Dragon.

Character Name Game Intro - 1:50

Media Consumed
The History of RPGs - 2:35
Game Theory: Zelda, Potions, and Power Bands - 5:15
Up Your Bookend: "The DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore" - 6:35

"Green Lantern: The Animated Series" - 8:30
The Sitter - 8:55

Tiny Furniture -10:41

Double Dragon -18:40

Listener E-mail/Voicemail/Twitter - 51:38
Character Name Game - 56:40
Where You Can Find Us - 58:23
Next Time: The Iron Giant - 59:51

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Hunger Games

Based on the wildly popular young adult series, The Hunger Games looks to be the natural follow-up to the Twilight franchise for Summit and the studio's new owners, Lionsgate. But unlike Twilight, which repels male audience members faster than you can say "glittery vampire," this film actually has a strong female lead character and considerable appeal past the teenage girl demographic. With a solid ensemble cast and an excellent script, The Hunger Games is much more than your standard "young adult" movie - it's also a clever riff on our celebrity-obsessed culture in a reality TV world.

The Hunger Games
Director: Gary Ross
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth

Director Gary Ross hasn't directed a movie since Seabiscuit back in 2003, but he didn't miss a beat here. He swings for the fences and crushes it; everything from the story beats to the character moments work wonderfully together, wrapped in an elaborately conceived world of fantastic production design and flamboyant costumes that lays out this universe in a compelling and convincing way. Nothing distracts from the storytelling, and it gave me that increasingly rare feeling that I was watching something special come together on screen.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is a young woman forced to grow up too quickly. Essentially raising her younger sister Primrose while their mother drifts through the world after the death of the girls' father, Katniss spends most of her time hunting in the woods on the outskirts of District 12, the section of the futuristic nation of Panem where her family lives. She hangs out with the studly Gale (Liam Hemsworth), and they talk about the future and getting out of their poor district one day. But when Primrose is chosen as the district's female tribute in the annual Hunger Games, Katniss saves her sister's life by volunteering in her place. Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), a boy who's had a crush on her since they were little, are whisked away to The Capitol to prepare for a battle to the death with the 22 other kids chosen at random from their districts.

It's a tried-and-true concept that's been explored on film many times: people kill each other for competition and it's broadcast to the world through secret cameras. The Running Man, The Condemned, and Death Race all use this story device as a social commentary, and the Japanese film Battle Royale even featured kids as the players. But The Hunger Games is the first film to really explore this territory during the modern age of reality television, turning that microscope around to examine our behavior as a society. "What if everyone just stopped watching?" one character suggests. But they don't, and neither do we; the parallels couldn't be any clearer. There are a couple quick glimpses into life on the other side of the screen: the tributes are showered with lavish things, a nod to the way our culture rewards stupidity, and Peeta expresses his hope to keep his individuality, but it's too late; once he was chosen, his privacy vanished. They make the rounds doing interviews and parade around all dressed up to secure public approval, and cameras document the contestants' every move once they're inside the arena. In the world of The Hunger Games, privacy seems to equate to life itself - and even if you survive the competition, the winner remains a permanent celebrity.

The movie doesn't follow the recent Hollywood trend of being "dark and gritty," but there's a certain realism to the way Ross presents this futuristic story. Everything is very matter-of-fact, so much so that even the insane costumes of the people at The Capitol feel natural; the entire movie has this natural vibe like, "of course that should look that way." Even the digital elements during the Games - when people in a NASA-esque control room conjure fireballs and creatures as obstacles for the tributes - look intuitive and functional. I don't think there's a ton of "futurism" in the designs, which add to the drama of the story by making the world these characters live in (and, by extension, the characters themselves) a bit more relatable.

Ross' direction is clear and concise, and despite the occasionally shaky camera, the film ditches another recent trend by making the action really easy to follow. From the training to the actual games themselves, the movie is exciting and genuinely thrilling, with the only misstep being Katniss' drawn out reaction to a certain character's death (THG is a touch longer than it should be, clocking in at 2 hours and 22 minutes). The romance between Katniss and Peeta works pretty well, but because Gale stays behind in District 12, random cutaways to him watching the games feel like forced setup for the forthcoming sequel. He's practically not a character in this first film - he certainly has no bearing on what's happening during the fighting - so there's no justified reason to cut to him. I hope the female fan base appreciates a heroine who isn't infatuated with a dangerous, unattainable man while chewing on her lip the whole time, but we'll have to wait for the box office numbers to come back to see if that sentiment holds true.

The cast is excellent, taking a concept that could be scoffed at and fully committing to it. Lawrence embodies Katniss with everything she has, and Hutcherson's Peeta hits the right balance between strong and emotional. The supporting characters in the story are a little eccentric to say the least, but veteran actors like Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, and Stanley Tucci are game for the shenanigans and turn in lively performances.

This kind of positive reaction to a film only happens a few times a year for me (if I'm lucky), and even heading into this one hearing a lot of positive buzz, I was shocked with how much I enjoyed it. When this movie was announced, I never would have thought that I'd care about it, let alone want to see more, but I've gotta say: bring on the sequels. The Hunger Games is a  riveting movie-going experience with energetic action, heartfelt romance, and something interesting to say about our the way we consume entertainment. This one deserves to be seen in theaters, but good luck getting in on opening weekend: some showings have been sold out for weeks already. But, as they say in the film, "may the odds be ever in your favor." Until next time...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 81 - The Hustler (Guest: Courtney Howard from Very Aware)

In this week's episode, Ben and Tyler are joined by Courtney Howard (from to discuss Robert Rossen's 1961 film, The Hustler.

Character Name Game Intro - 4:08

Media Consumed
"Happy Endings" - 5:32
"Unsupervised" - 7:44
Up Your Bookend: "Live From New York" - 9:36

In Time - 11:30
The Company Men - 12:58
"Ringer" - 14:17
"The View" - 15:44

The return of "Community" -17:15
Leprechaun's Revenge - 19:42

The Hustler -28:20

Next Time: Double Dragon - 55:56
Listener E-mail/Voicemail/Twitter - 57:17
Character Name Game - 1:01:09
Where You Can Find Us - 1:04:33

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Casa de Mi Padre

It wouldn't surprise me if many of you have never heard of Casa de Mi Padre. This parody of telenovelas is almost entirely in Spanish (with English subtitles), and its tiny budget didn't allow for a large advertising campaign. So what's the big draw? For me, it was Will Ferrell spending an entire movie speaking Spanish. If you're the type of person that finds that concept to be funny, then you'll likely find some other enjoyable elements to this movie. For everyone else, I can easily see how the gag could grow tiring very quickly. But even if the comedy isn't quite as plentiful as I would have preferred, there's something charming about this low-fi comedy. 

Casa de Mi Padre
Director: Matt Piedmont
Starring: Will Ferrell, Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal, Genesis Rodriguez

Friday, March 16, 2012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

I didn't quite know what to expect from Jeff, Who Lives at Home. I haven't seen the other directorial efforts of the Duplass brothers, but they've already built quite the reputation for themselves in the film world. Writer/directors of The Puffy Chair, Baghead, and Cyrus, the duo are widely acknowledged as key players in the mumblecore movement of the early 2000s. (Apart from being a writer, director, and producer, Mark Duplass has also broken out as an actor, starring in the FX series "The League" and one of my favorite films at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, the time travel comedy/drama Safety Not Guaranteed.) With established vets like Jason Segel, Ed Helms, and Susan Sarandon at their disposal, the brothers eschew brash, obvious studio comedy in favor of something a much more personal, and as a result they've crafted one of the most heartwarming films I've seen in a long time.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Writer/Directors: Mark and Jay Duplass
Starring: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

21 Jump Street

When I first heard about 21 Jump Street, I couldn't be more disinterested. I pegged the film as another in a long line of unnecessary remakes of 80s properties, nothing more than desperate grasping by studios to conjure and capitalize on nostalgia. Turns out my preconceived notions were proven incorrect; this movie could care less about nostalgia because it's far more interested in being a post-modern comedic commentary on both the buddy cop genre and the teen high school movie. It's action-packed, smartly written, and downright hilarious at times; in short, 21 Jump Street is worth taking the leap.

21 Jump Street
Directors: Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Dave Franco

Monday, March 12, 2012

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 80 - Machete

In this week's episode, Tyler and Ben discuss Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis' 2010 film, Machete.

Character Name Game Intro - 2:10

Media Consumed
David McCullough's "1776" - 4:00
"Tolkien's Ring" - 6:22
Amanda Seyfried in Gone - 8:21
Goo Goo Dolls concert - 12:20

Objectified -13:00
The Vicious Kind - 16:22
The Lincoln Lawyer - 19:08

Machete -22:50

Next Time: The Hustler - 56:39
Listener E-mail/Voicemail/Twitter - 57:46
Character Name Game - 1:03:35
Where You Can Find Us - 1:06:37

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Silent House

Oh, Silent House. How you captured my imagination before I actually saw you! Starring Sundance sensation Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene, Liberal Arts) and featuring an interesting gimmick - like Hitchcock's Rope, you are intended to play out in one long continuous shot - how could I NOT like you? Oh, that's right. Because as you reveal your twists and turns, your conceit makes less and less sense. Sure, you look good on paper, but ultimately you leave us with a shell of a movie, nothing more than a series of half-concocted ideas fleshed out in the cheapest possible way to manufacture jump scares.

Silent House
Writer/Directors: Chris Kentis and Laura Lau
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen

John Carter

Considered one of the most influential science fiction novels of all time, Edgar Rice Burroughs' "A Princess of Mars" opened readers' imaginations to interplanetary heroism, romance, action, adventure, and more. From all accounts, it has the best elements of any great piece of pulp fiction. Almost 100 years after the novel's release, the long-awaited film adaptation of this story exchanges pulp for stoicism and loses all of its fun in the process.

John Carter
Director: Andrew Stanton
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe