Search This Blog

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"Everybody's Fine"

I approached "Everybody's Fine" with trepidation. I have a fondness for the original and the director of that film is best-known for "Cinema Paradiso," one of my very favorites.

I read two reviews prior to attending. The first review contained a long discussion of the difference between sentiment and sentimentality, this seemed to confirm my worst fears that they had transformed the somber tale of long-told lies into a typical 'home for the holidays' movie, as indicated by the trailer. The second review said the film was a 'victim of marketing' and I wholeheartedly agree with the latter assessment. Whoever put together the trailer should be shot, not only because it is so misleading, but also because it is an insult to both films. I can't fathom what they hoped to accomplish, audiences looking for holiday escapism will find its polar opposite, and those who enjoyed the original may avoid it entirely, fearing its ruination. One of the characters is an advertising executive and she remarks that clients pay her to "be economical with the truth", it's an apt summation of what is going on in the film, and I could imagine something similar being said as a rationalization for the trailer.

This version was written and directed by Kirk Jones, who made "Waking Ned Devine", the kind of film that demonstrates Jones would be equally capable of producing a lightweight comedy or a drama, further muddying expectations.

"Everybody's Fine" is a respectful and respectable remake, and one hopes that it will help spur the DVD release of the original.

Friday, November 13, 2009

"The Box"

"The Box" is written and directed by Richard Kelly whose debut feature was the nearly indecipherable, but ceaselessly interesting "Donnie Darko." He followed "Darko" with the equally indecipherable and completely uninteresting "Southland Tales." (To add insult to injury, "Southland" starred The Rock.) With these two films in mind, I was quite confident in my assumption that Kelly's penchant for impenetrable narratives was to blame when he takes the audience on an extended sojourn to what I can only guess was a version of purgatory. To confirm my suspicion that Kelly was unilaterally tacking on extraneous nonsense, I read Richard Matheson's short story and viewed the 1985 "Twilight Zone" episode from which "The Box" takes its inspiration. How right I was. Some of the best-looking scenes in "The Box" have absolutely no business being there. To be fair, not all of Kelly's additions are terrible. There are many apt references to Jean-Paul Satre's play, "No Exit." (I just happened to attend Imago Theatre's inventive production days later.) Kelly should know when to quit, he already had plenty of story to work with, given the tantalizing choice at the center of the film, and a perfect performance by Frank Langella. Instead, Kelly drowns the film in a sea of self-indulgence. Shame on him!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

"The Men Who Stare at Goats"

"The Men Who Stare at Goats" is one of those films which reveal the funniest moments in the trailer, moments like the one that inspired the title. George Clooney stares with hilarious intensity at a goat and manages to stop its heart. By the time that bit rolls around, you start to envy the goat.

It is true that what humor there is in "Men Who Stare at Goats" reminds one of a low-rent Coen Brothers imitation, but even that seems like undeserved praise. Jeff Bridges tries to channel "The Dude" from "The Big Lebowski" in his portrayal of a man trained in New Age techniques, but fails miserably. You'd be much happier renting "Lebowski" or better yet, making the trip downtown to Fox Tower to see the Coen's newest outing, "A Serious Man". Go for the real deal, accept no substitutes, especially one this poor.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

"Where the Wild Things Are"

In "Where the Wild Things Are" Spike Jonze has created a dreamscape so vivid and expansive that you wish you could visit. That's not to say that everything is peaceful in this land. There are some scenes that mildly frightened me, so I would advise caution when bringing little ones. (It seems that if a ruler of the Wild Things displeases his subjects, their next meal is served -ahem- ala King.)

Other critics have referenced recent live-action Seuss adaptations, "The Grinch" and "Cat in the Hat," usually with the prefix, "much better than", but then they proceed to say that the expansion to feature-length has still served to undercut the power of the source material. It is true that "Cat in the Hat" was nothing short of a desecration, and "Grinch" was mediocre and what's worse, completely unnecessary given the enormous shadow of Chuck Jones' animated classic. Still, to mention "Wild Things" in the company of those films seems a bit like comparing "Citizen Kane" to "Harold & Kumar go to White Castle." I believe that "Wild Things" is not only the antithesis of the Seuss films, it may well be the antidote. If an adaptation can not match the imagination and reverent care of this film, then the project should be scrapped.

The casting is ingenious, it is wonderfully disconcerting to hear the voice of Tony Soprano emanating from something that is almost cuddly despite his destructive rage. Max is played by Portlander Max Records, who imbues his character with surprisingly deep anger. The Wild Things themselves are brought to life by Jim Henson's Creature Shop, and I predict an Oscar win.

"Where the Wild Things Are" is beautifully photographed. Honestly, if the characters had done nothing but continue their Wild Rumpus throughout the length of the film I would have been satisfied, but they do much more. It is a film that encourages introspection, and one of the few that gives younger audiences the credit they deserve.

Note: I saw this film in the IMAX at Bridgeport and that it is the way it should be seen. Make the trip from wherever you are, you will not be disappointed.

You May Also Like:

"Adaptation" (Also directed by Jonze)

"Animal Farm" (1999 version also featuring the work of Jim Henson's Creature Shop)

"Being John Malkovich" (Also directed by Jonze)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"Paranormal Activity"

The buzz that preceded "Paranormal Activity" was deafening. There were tales of unexplained happenings, such as Steven Speilberg's door locking on its own after a screening. Does "Paranormal Activity" live up to the hype? Yes, it does. That being said, you do have to go in with the right mindset. There is virtually no violence or gore here, "Paranormal Activity" provides its scares with a masterful use of sound effects. Is it the scariest movie ever made as some have declared? Well, I guess that depends on what scares you the most. If your worst fear is to be haunted by malevolent spirits, then this film is a vivid realization of your nightmares. For the rest of us whose fears are a different sort, "Paranormal Activity" still has the ability to burrow deep beneath your skin if you let it.

At first I felt kind of cheated that I was not able to attend a midnight screening and had to settle for one with a sparse audience on a weekday afternoon, I had read that being with a large group of spectators enhanced the experience. I think it is actually better seen with fewer people, because the film is not about sharing a scream with the auditorium, it is about the gradually increasing sense of dread, and that is a solitary experience localized entirely within your own brain.

For those who haven't seen it, I can think of no better way to spend Halloween night....

Sunday, October 4, 2009

'Capitalism: A Love Story'

I’ve read a handful of reviews of ‘Capitalism: A Love Story,’ and regardless of whether the critic in question enjoyed Moore’s film, many of them call it unfocused. I, on the other hand believe that Moore has finally made the film he has always wanted to make. This seems to be his summation, the cinematic equivalent of an emphatic ’I told you so.’ Yes, Moore takes aim at a plethora of targets, but they are all in support of his thesis that there has been a catastrophic failure, that it is indeed time to write our beloved capitalist system a ‘Dear John’ letter with a vitriolic pen. Does that always make for a film with laser-like precision? Perhaps not. Yet, I am perplexed beyond words to read critics extolling ‘Bowling for Columbine’ as Moore’s most focused work. In ‘Bowling’ Moore explored everything from white flight to this country’s gentle treatment of corporate criminals, even going so far as recycling his Corporate Cops skit from one of his T.V. shows. ‘Bowling’ was so scattershot that it nearly lost sight of its titular tragedy. ‘Capitalism’ finally gives Moore a canvas big enough to paint in broad strokes.

Sure, Moore falls prey to some of the same pitfalls that have plagued his previous efforts. Perhaps the most irritating of these is Moore’s habit of making fun of Americans, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he is one as well. After a brilliant montage that juxtaposes the fall of Rome with prominent American figures, Moore falls into his argument-weakening condescension. ‘How will future generations remember us? ’ For this? He then shows a goofy internet video of cats flushing toilets. Or for this? as he shows his first victim of foreclosure. Is the brief giggle elicited by the flushing felines really worth poking fun at the country he proportedly wishes to help rescue? Though this is nothing compared to his assertion in ‘Bowling’ that the only safe weapon is one in the hands of a Happy Canadian. When will Moore realize that when he does these things he plays right into the hands of those who say he hates America? Wouldn’t his point be better articulated if rather than featuring the potty-trained pets, he had instead highlighted a uniquely American triumph, and then set that against the same scenes of foreclosure, because this country is unfortunately capable of both?

Moore’s most persuasive point in favor of sweeping change comes when he shows a clip of Franklin Roosevelt proposing a second Bill of Rights. (Call me biased if you must, but I think it’s no coincidence that this country’s first handicapped president was the first to realize the need for programs to help the common man and the disadvantaged.)

I enjoyed ‘Capitalism A Love Story’ and I actually consider the fact that Moore goes beyond the current crisis the film’s greatest strength, for it is merely a symptom of an ill whole, the inevitable collapse of an unsound structure.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Crippled Critic Concert Review: Monte Montgomery @ The Aladdin 8/14/09

I'll never forget my introduction to Monte Montgomery. I'd just purchased a copy of Edwin McCain's "The Austin Sessions" which contained a version of the Dire Straits tune, "Romeo & Juliet." I played this track for my father,

"Isn't that a good version?" I asked.

"Yeah, it is, but really you ain't heard nothin' yet."

With that, he popped in Monte Montgomery's version. My jaw dropped. Two words broke my nearly twelve minute stunned silence: "Holy shit!" From then on, I've been a certified "Montiac." I've seen Monte twice now, both times were at my favorite concert venue, The Aladdin Theater. The staff at the Aladdin is always incredibly accommodating to The Crippled Critic, making sure he has his favorite seat in the front row and a poster from the evening's performance. (This time Monte signed the poster.) Monte also delivered on "Juliet." It was his encore, and by the time it came I had the whole crowd chanting it. What a night!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Crippled Critic Concert Review: Jonny Lang @ The Roseland 7/14/09

Sometimes it pays to bring your own chair. In a standing-room only situation, the cripple is king. I was able to make a beeline for the front and position myself so that my footplates were touching the stage. It doesn't get any better than that. Or maybe it does, if you count the bonus of the mental chuckle I had watching the poor suckers around me having to stand for about 3 hours as I sat in a seat molded by computer to my back and butt.

I've wanted to see Jonny Lang for many years, but it never happened. I'd always talk myself out of it by remembering that the only Jonny Lang song I knew was "Breakin' Me."

In the intervening years, Jonny Lang released "Turn Around" which contained some wonderful songs. For some reason, he did not play the "hit" of the album, "Anything is Possible." This angered the critic from The Oregonian who gave this concert a lukewarm review. Although I too was eagerly awaiting "Anything is Possible", its conspicuous absence was far from a deal-breaker. He also didn't play "Breakin' Me" which was a shock, but still did little to dampen my enthusiasm for the show. Why? Because Jonny Lang's interaction with his band is amazing. If you can not appreciate "synchronicity" personified, than I pity you. (This was especially true in the largely instrumental encore.) Besides, watching Jonny Lang's face contort into expressions one would swear were only possible in animation is worth the price of admission all by itself...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"The Hurt Locker"

The cinematic treatment of the Iraq War has been a losing battle, even prompting jokes from Jon Stewart at the Oscars. The mildest of these was "Stop-Loss" which I thought let the government off the hook in the end. "The Valley of Elah" was well-made, but broached difficult territory perhaps best left until the real declaration of Mission Accomplished. Until "The Hurt Locker," my favorite of the Iraq War films was the unjustly maligned "Lions for Lambs" which made the simple but very true point that no matter which side you take in the argument about the war, brave soldiers are dying while the rest of us try to work it out.

"The Hurt Locker" decides not to burden itself with cumbersome, overt ideology. Instead, it opts to show the exhilaration of battle, and let the horror that accompanies that exhilaration speak for itself.

Call me prejudiced if you must, but I am dumbstruck that the most honest and brisk film about the Iraq War would come from the woman who brought us "Point Break." Yet, maybe that's precisely why it works so well. It's an action film, yes, but one that is unapologetically imbued with nightmarish realism. It is not hampered with the staginess of "Lions" nor the politicization of "Elah." The absence of these things allows "The Hurt Locker" to bring The War into a focus so sharp that it leaves a scar.

Note: As of this writing, "The Hurt Locker" is playing exclusively at Fox Tower 10 Cinemas. The wheelchair seats are wonderful in all auditoriums.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Why does the Ratings Board have an NC-17 rating if they will not use it? If "Bruno" does not have enough depravity to merit it, than such a film does not exist. There are scenes in this film that can not be sufficiently described with phrases like "unbelievably disgusting" and "instantly nauseating." Such phrases are laughable understatements. It is impossible to warn you adequately about the things you will see in this film. I will not attempt to prepare you. I will certainly not delve into detail, doing so would require me to recall specifics, and I am trying with all my mental might to forget what I have just seen. Will you laugh? Uncontrollably. Is it worth it? Absolutely not!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"Public Enemies"

The anticipation factor behind "Public Enemies" was sky-high. The trailer alone was almost worthy of applause. Was "Public Enemies" as advertised? Not quite. While your expectations need not be lowered, they may need calibration. When one mentally combines director Michael Mann and John Dillinger, what leaps to mind is "Heat" in the 1930's. Mann loves cat-and-mouse games and urban cityscapes, this project would seem tailor-made given his visual style and favorite themes. He specializes in making us like the bad-boys, and this isn't his first fact-based caper film. What is different here is that Mann is no longer satisfied with making us admire a criminal's cunning and skill. This time he wants us to study him and have deep sympathy for him. Mann moderately succeeds, the audience will gain a greater understanding of the man behind the legend, but it will come at a price. The mood and tempo of the film is rather downbeat. It recalls films like "Bonnie and Clyde." "Bonnie and Clyde" was a great film, but Mann isn't Arthur Penn. We expect more of a spark from him. As such, "Public Enemies" is sort of like a gorgeous ill-fitting suit.

Note: After staring dismayed at Tigard and Bridgeport's listings and finding that neither had it playing in a theater labeled as "Big Screen" I decided to make the trek to Lloyd Cinemas and its much-touted 67-foot screen. I hadn't been there since seeing a small film that was playing an exclusive engagement. I chalked up its inferior seating to the relatively small size of the theater. Surely, they would have modified the flagship auditorium?. Not so! In this HUGE, nearly-empty theater, the wheelchair seats are still in the very front and very back. I defiantly sat in the aisle. Lloyd Cinemas receives the dreaded Ramp of Shame!

Monday, June 22, 2009

B.S. Indeed

I watched the first season of “Penn & Teller: Bull**** on DVD and found it interesting. The quirky Vegas magicians turn an illusionist’s eye on those who endeavor to dupe people for profit. (TV psychics, for instance.) Easy targets, yes, but entertaining nonetheless.

Later, I found out that “Bull****” had done an episode on The Americans with Disabilities Act., entitled “Handicapped Parking”.

The first interview subject is Marianne Catrall, whose daughter is blind and has autism. She has taken it upon herself to photograph drivers who misuse disabled parking spaces. Penn argues that it is “way easy” to obtain a parking permit because all you have to do is get “some doctor” to sign it. To buttress this oh-so astute argument, Penn says that the ADA’s definition of disability is very broad, noting that the criteria includes those who have trouble keeping track of money and those who have trouble using the telephone. (Does he mean the mentally disabled, who just so happen to use that accounting assistance to maintain a level of independence?) Actually, there is a little bit of the titular substance in whom the ADA classifies as disabled: Substance-Abusers, a fact completely unaddressed by Penn and Teller.

Penn asks whether police officers “have better things to do” than enforcing “thoughtfulness.” Well, yes, that is precisely why the bulk of enforcement falls to deputized civilians. But, you can hardly argue the need for the space in the first place, can you?

Unfortunately, Penn does.

When an interviewee compares fight for accessibility to the civil rights movement, Penn denounces that as B.S. making the argument that Jim Crow Laws prevented black people from getting on the bus, whereas disabled people cannot board due to the Laws of Physics. Now, I have read how other people have dismissed this as the nonsense as it is, but I think we can learn something from following it to its logical conclusion, (if we can stomach it.)

So, in Penn’s view, the wrongness of segregation did not lie in the discrimination against someone on the basis of the color of their skin, but rather that such behavior was sanctioned by The Big Bad Government. As such, if a business-owner chose to, he could post a Whites-Only sign in his window. Imagine the outcry if Showtime had aired an episode arguing that.

The above illustrates one of the biggest problems we face as disabled citizens: It is still OK to treat us as concepts-as problems to be solved- rather than human beings with needs. They used to solve the “problem” of disabled people by shoving us out of sight. We were warehoused in terrible institutions. It is because of the ADA and earlier legislation that we are granted access to our communities. Wasn’t access the crux of the civil rights movement? Black people wanted access to the segregated schools, access to lunch counters, access to voting booths. Now we are not hidden away, but we fight against apathy and indifference, and those things do not lend themselves to being held up for public scorn. We must use the power of law because we have seen that only under threat of litigation do the changes get made.

Penn believes that business owners would make accommodations on their own because it is good for business, but sadly this is not the case. Take as a small example that a movie theater I attend is wonderfully accessible on the inside, but ask them for a door-opener and all you get is a polite nod. Businesses will only do what is required of them and nothing more.

In the course of the episode Penn manages to argue against handicapped parking, building/street accessibility, and adaptive public transit, citing cost concerns. What’s left? Well, the episode begins with Penn in a wheelchair, navigating the obstacles around the set, and he remarks, “Man, if I had to do this everyday, I’d never leave my one-story house.” This sounds like Penn’s advice to those of us that do….

“Handicapped Parking” appears on the 5th season DVD of Bull****

Side-note: I recently went on a trip to Vegas and because of this episode I boycotted Penn and Teller and chose David Copperfield instead. While searching for a seating chart, I Googled the venue and “wheelchair” It turns out that the MGM Grand had settled with the government over a claim that it was not in compliance with the ADA, during Janet Reno’s tenure. I can tell you that the seating is now excellent and I can thank the ADA for improving my experience.

Monday, June 15, 2009


"Up" marks Pixar's return to otherworldly excellence. This next statement might send me to Animation Hell for blasphemy, but Pixar's last few efforts have lacked heart, the worst offender being "Wall-E" where the short at the beginning had more humor and whimsy in its brief length than the feature. "Up" brings Pixar back to the Gold Standard established by "The Incredibles" and I am beyond grateful.

Ed Asner is perfectly cast as Carl Fredricksen, an old man who needs to escape from authorities who want to remove him from his home. He rigs many balloons to his house and takes off to honor a promise he made to his late-wife. However, Carl doesn't know that Russell-- a Wilderness Explorer intent on earning his Assisting the Elderly Badge-- has been stranded on his front porch. It would be horribly unkind of me to say much more about the plot, so I will end my summary here. But, I must add that much of Pixar's enduring charm is due to perfect little moments in their films. One such moment is when we see Carl get out of bed and begin cracking his back. (oh, how I relate....) Also, I feel obligated to warn you that the opening scenes are very somber, so be prepared.....

Note: I saw this film in 3-D at Bridgeport, the experience is certainly worth the extra cost. (Plus, the wheelchair seats are excellent.)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

"The Taking of Pelham 123"

Denzel Washington reunites with director Tony Scott for the first time since "Deja vu" Both of the Scotts are brilliant film-makers, but I believe Tony is definitely more fun than his brother Ridley. Tony's style is one that bursts with frenetic energy and is well-suited for the "thinking-man's" action pictures he is known for.
"Pelham" is remake of a film starring Walter Matthau and the story revolves around the hijacking of a subway train, Pelham 123. The chief hostage-taker is John Travolta at his unhinged bad-ass best. Denzel Washington plays a dispatcher in his battered-everyman style. If you're looking for anything new here, you won't find it, but if you are looking for an adrenaline rush with visual verve, look no further......

Note: In keeping with the title of this blog, I must mention that I saw this film in auditorium 1 of Tigard 11 cinemas, (the complex's biggest screen) the wheelchair seats are excellent in this auditorium, and decent in the other medium-sized auditoriums. The smaller auditoriums still have seats in the back only.