Saturday, 25 June 2011


Fastest man on wheels.

Senna is an excellent film because it does all the things a great documentary should do. It takes a world that few are initiated with and many simply aren't interested in and makes it fascinating and tells the story of an incredible human being in a way that's fundamentally universal. You could argue that its a slight lionization, that the Ayrton Senna presented here is almost too mythical, too gifted and whose journey is so classically tragic, it makes you almost suspicious of it. But then you just have to remind your inner cynic that sometimes there just are people like that, and there exactly the kind of people whose story should be told.

Senna follows the career and life of the Brazilian formula one racer, but primarily focuses on the rivalry between him and Alain Prost which I think is both a positive and a negative, A positive in terms of the fact that it makes for gripping drama and seeing Prost and Senna's various moments of battle and sabotage makes for electrifying cinema, but at the same time it meant the film almost suffered in terms of portraying the man and more than that made Prost out to be too much of a two-dimensional villain. Something that felt a little beneath this mostly excellent film. Similarly engaging is the way it presents the world of formula one, the level of corruption and politics involved in the sport, and often the scenes of pre-game meetings with the drivers and the various members of F1 royalty are quite illuminating in the way we see this enforced hierarchy, in which everything seemed to work in favor of the brass' favorite drivers, to the point where it seems almost incredible that this kind of thing could have gone on so openly.

I think the main attribute Asif Kapadia's film has though is Senna himself, whose such an engaging, earnest presence. A man who just wanted to win, and did so in the face of seemingly every obstacle thrown in his path, you could almost watch a film entirely about him simply sat in a room talking, which is exactly what you want in this kind of film. But thankfully his story is so wonderfully epic and ultimately tragic that it makes great watching for anyone, and what's doubly impressive is that by not showing any modern interview footage, instead using audio clips rolling over archive footage. Talking heads never take us out of the narrative, or more importantly takes away from Senna himself. It's a wonderfully made documentary that's in places both innovative and electrifying. Its perhaps a little too simplistic in telling us who the good and bad guys are, but its certainly a minor complaint against a film that manages to feel so epic.

Rating: 7/10

Friday, 24 June 2011

TV REVIEW: The Killing Season 1

The Killing, a show about stuff that didn't happen that we tell you did, only for it not to have actually happened.

Watching the progression of The Killing from critical darling to emerging disappointment to outright train-wreck has been one of the more interesting sample studies of how difficult it actually is to make great television. The Killing has all the ingredients of what we've come to define as great television in recent years, the requisite darkness, the requisite silences, the requisite character types. It's as if someone has been taking notes, and has got all the pieces in the right place yet when it came time to start moving them, well no-one had any fucking idea. Its a show that had no idea how to go forward, no idea how to develop character, no idea how to make its subject compelling. Everything suffocated in a bland concoction of cop show formula and imitation pathos. Yet back when I saw the pilot I could have not comprehended writing this review. That was a great episode, with a number of good performances and a heart-breaking conclusion. How it could have gone from there to here in 13 weeks is almost astounding.

I guess the only example I can think of even remotely comparable is Heroes, but that did the same trajectory over 3 years and not one, but still. The Killing didn't just go from suck to suck, it had good will to burn, from both its first episode and from the ambiance of being an AMC show, the place that's brought us Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Even the premise lends itself to intrigue, imagine an episode of CSI told in long-form, giving us a chance to layer the characters, deepen the mystery and enrich the universe. But the Killing chose not to do any of these things, instead all it seemed to know how to do was be that same episode of CSI, with the same broad-stroke characters and the same misdirective bullshit only it lasted 13 hours, so it was even more grating and formulaic. Instead of getting to know the suspects of the Rosie Larsen murder, or even Rosie herself, we just got red herring after red herring after red herring. All this amounted to was the show telling you information, then telling you that information was false, then telling your more information, then telling you that was bullshit and so on and so forth. It meant that every episode after the first and before the last was ridiculously disposable in terms of mystery.

Now I wouldn't have minded this so much if we were being told a compelling story in the mean time, but fuck we weren't being told that either. Meet Linden. She's going to Sinoma to marry Leoben from Battlestar Galactica, but then she's into the case, but then she's leaving, but then she's into the case. No clue is given really as to why she's so obsessive nor why she's marrying Leoben, no texture given to their relationship nor any evidence to say why she likes him at all. He's merely a plot point. An excuse to create hollow drama. And as for the whole Bennett Ahmed business, where he was continually flouted as a suspect long after it was clear he didn't do it. Errgh. Billy Campbell's politician has got to be high in the running for the most boring and falt characters television has ever known, and his entire plotline is not only pointless but badly told. It felt like some horrible catch-22 where characters were being sacrificed in lieu of plot, but there was no plot, just endless misdirection. And by doing this of course, the show makes who did it much more important then the journey, and the show chooses this issue to take its subversive stand on. Everything else is same old, same old. But when it came to tell you who did it? We don't feel like it, Go fuck yourself. Se you next year.

I think there's an alternate reality and an alternate version of the killing, when I find this to be the greatest piece of genius ever, but for this one, this hollow shell of a show, it was the only thing we had left. So all we've got left is to return the go fuck yourself in kind and then go on with our lives. I think the saddest thing is that I keep almost thinking I like this show, I like the central performances from Mirelle Enos and Joel Kinnaman. Particularly Kinnaman, whose from the street, rough around the edges stylings go against the clean cut cop norm, and his performance grew to be the most engaging and likable thing about the show. Indeed the episode 'Missing' which came way too late and completely kaput any momentum the show built, was a pretty good episode, a feeble imitation of Mad Men's ' The Suitcase' sure, but it was rewarding to see Kinnaman break through Enos' barriers and give the impression that a partnership was forming here. And then what do they to the only successfully realized character they managed to create, oh yeah they undercut everything by making him some political middle-man bad guy. So that's the mystery element checked off, and now the one interesting relationship we managed to build amidst our scrambling? Well that's gone too. See you next year folks.

This is a show that simply had no idea how tell a story, no idea how to subvert police procedural to serialized television and no idea how to create an engaging character of any kind. Oh except the one, which we promptly blow the fuck up. Terrible television emphasized by the sense of betrayal and disappointment. Under a different set of writers The Killing is a slam-dunk, a great show in a line of great shows. As it stands, its the fastest self-destructing show television has ever known. A monumental failure and a misfire to make one feel the need to apologize to Heroes. Well maybe not that far.

Rating: 5/10

TV REVIEW: United States Of Tara Season 3

I have at least eight, possibly nine people in my head.

United States of Tara was one of those shows I can't entirely say why I kept watching, I simply just did. Dealing with the adventures of wife and mother Toni Collette dealing with her family, whilst having DID, it always had elements and aspects I liked but was always frustrating and inconsistent in equal measure. Its first season was kind of more bad then it was good, the second ironed out a lot of the kinks and was fun to watch but didn't really go anywhere, with everyone off in their own subplot until everything converged in a big mess. I preferred it to the first, but something was still missing for me. I mean Toni Collette's performance was always great, but the writing always felt a little aimless. That and the Diablo Cody dialogue, which I'd say had about a 1/3 clever to smug ratio and really made the thing become unbearable at times.

But season three wasn't just better, it was decidedly so. It was as if the show had somehow gleaned everything that wasn't working, or most of it at least and finally began acknowledging everything that was fucked up about the premise. Multiple-personalities makes for some wacky hijinks certainly, but growing up with that around you and having that be part of your everyday life is something close to horrifying and I felt that this was never dealt with satisfactorily enough. It was a dark premise played for light comedy, with its more hardened qualities mostly washed over. But this year the show dove headfirst in to correcting that, becoming the darker, more twisted show it had flirted with before and put together one of the best seasons of TV last year had to offer, which played both as a dark family comedy and - as weird as it is to say - a slasher movie. It also brought the best out of Collette, who did the best work she's done on the show this year, playing both the hero and villain of the show and deserving an Emmy emphatically. Of course given the fact that it has been cancelled by Showtime, that probably won't happen, but still. It was awesome, and I can't recommend it enough.

Perhaps part of the problem of Tara in the past is that none of the cast has been able to keep pace with Collette, and there's been no-one for her to act off but herself. Yet the addition of Eddie Izzard as a professor who takes an extra-curricular interest in Tara was a master stroke. Not only because it provided the audience with a character as fascinated by her condition as we were supposed to be, but because Izzard was just terrific. The best I've ever seen him be probably. A genius stand-up, I've never really been convinced by his abilities as an actor in the past, perhaps with the exception of his terrific performance in The Riches, but here he just knocked it the fuck out, and his scenes with Collette were amongst the best television to be found this year. It was almost detrimental to the rest of the show how engaging this became after a while.

Supposing it would be bad form to throw the slasher movie aspect at you without clarifying, Collette develops a new personality, to go with her quite expansive current collection, a 15 year old abusive boy named Bryce, who goes about killing the other personalities in an effort to claim her body for himself. In turn this spins the whole family into a spiral, impacting everyone's life and making her not only unpredictable to be around, but also dangerous. Bryce is a pretty terrifying creation, and while it seems obvious to say Collette plays the role incredibly, it makes the most interesting aspect of the show seeing his affect on other people. Particularly Izzard and John Corbett's Max, the latter being always the most impenetrable character on the series finally gets dealt with in a genuine way beyond, the long-suffering husband character. I'd still say the main problem with the show is that it doesn't know what to do with the kids, so it sends them on empty subplot odyssey's that tend to go nowhere, but Brie Larsen and Keir Gilchrist are strong enough actors not to make it too unbearable. And similarly, the show is tremendously enjoyable, the darkness building up throughout the season in lieu of lighter stuff at the beginning. It manages to be fun, not simply heavy.

But ultimately, I think this season of the show worked much more for me because it was the first year where they knew where they wanted to go, and it was a place that made for some fantastically engaging television. I criticize the Dexter model a lot, you know where everyone on your show is so shit you need to bring in a caliber guest star to keep up with your leading man, but here it was a terrifically beneficial step, and in a way allowing there to be an actor not blown of the screen by Collette made it an altogether more fascinating watch. That and a forty year old actress playing a teenage male serial killer and the whole thing playing out like a Brian De Palma movie with Juno dialogue.

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, 19 June 2011

REVIEW: Mother's Day

Something's not right in the RV.

Mother's Day is a film that's both interesting and sort of terrible at the same time. It's a horror movie that does ostensibly try and introduce a greater level of character development to proceedings, yet its also one that descends into empty torture porn every now and again. Its an attempt by director Darren Lynn Bousman, responsible for three of the six Saw films, to make something more substantial, yet that stuff sort of hovers around the fringes whilst the central stuff is essentially a Saw movie without the intricacy. I liked it in parts and liked its intentions, but its very much a hack storyteller's attempt to tell a meaningful story. Sure its better then what he's done before, and the ingredients for a good horror film are all here, its just Bousman can't quite stick the landing.

I think what irked me the most was the film's mid-section, when it almost forgot itself for twenty minutes to engage on some pointless sadistic torture porn with minor characters instead of focusing on its primary protagonists and antagonists. I think this film is much more interesting if there's not a basement full of friends existing to die in horrible ways, and its just the psycho family and its matriarch against the suburban couple. Because I think this wanted to be a film about empty violence its a shame it so often resorted to it to keep things moving. Performance-wise its mostly horror movie acting. Jaime King is about as you'd expect Jaime King to be, Shawn Ashmore has has moments, as does Patrick John Flueger, Rebecca De Mournay's title character is as hammy as it could possibly be,but I guess she had her moments. Everyone else just gets lost in the melee, perhaps because Mother's day is just way too crowded for its own good.

Still there's some horrifying moments and some interesting conceits, and for a horror to be about anything other the collecting a cheap forty million at the box office, one has to be appreciative. And I liked the idea that the family of villains didn't turn on each other and seemed to have genuine affection for each other, but at the same time they were all such broad archetypes that it hindered the notion that they would have any kind of depth. A noble effort, but one that couldn't quite resist cheap thrills when it conceivably could have been something more.

Rating: 5/10

REVIEW: Kaboom

Young people fucking, the movie.

It occurred to me whilst watching Kaboom, A sort of incoherent, sort of fun end of of the world movie by Gregg Araki, how little money this must have cost. It looked almost jarringly cheap, and while this is to be accepted in certain areas of the independent film circuit, one would have thought Gregg Araki has paid his dues by now. He's made critically respected, edgy films for years and you could argue that Mysterious Skin was a breakout critical hit. Point being of course that by now, Gregg Araki should have no difficulty getting films made. Sure no-one going to be clambering to give him big budgets, but you'd think he'd get to make films for 5 million each time out. And yet Kaboom looks and feels like it was made on a budget to which the term shoestring would be kind. And it's incredibly indicative of the state of modern independent film-making, in which even established directors can struggle, let alone those who are unproven.

But sad state of independent film-making aside, Kaboom isn't what you'd call a great film. It's very messy and the plot is so incredibly contrived and lame its not even funny, and to be honest Araki is much less adept at crafting a narrative then he is at exploring sexual politics and character. That aspect of the film is pretty silly, to the point where the self-conscious ending seems to acknowledge this. Araki is better at getting likable and engaging performances out of his young cast, with Thomas Dekker acting as a pleasingly stable anchor to all the natural and supernatural craziness that goes on around him. Juno Temple, soon to be of the Dark Knight rises, gives a terrific performance as a nymphomaniac friend and there's some jarring and interesting scenes that deal with sexual identity. But it would be lying to call this anything other then a colossal mess.

Such is the consequence of writing such a stream of consciousness script I suppose, and there's an unfortunate subplot dealing with an ex-girlfriend who's a witch too, which its probably politer not to really discuss. I guess I liked the idea of it, and it held its Donnie Darko influence on its sleeve, and I got a slight nostalgic kick out of that, but still the thing makes positively no attempt to make sense and just ends in a huge shrug, particularly frustrating given how much time it spent trying to build up its plot. Not Araki's best film by long shot, but an interesting attempt by him to do something different. Yeah, he probably gets more wrong then right, but having said that it has an energy and sense of humor that mostly allow for the gaping gaps in logic.

Rating: 5/10

Friday, 3 June 2011

REVIEW: X-Men: First Class

And here we go again.

Outside of Batman, I think the X-Men is the most movie-suited comic book property there is. The ensemble nature of it means there are more stories to be told, and there's enough legitimately iconic characters in and amongst the material to be recognizable. There's even in-built political allegory. And yet. We've had five movies now and only one I think you can call outright successful. X2 worked perhaps because it was focused on what is the dramatic weight here is, mutants versus humans, and it remains the only film to have a human as the bad guy or a human as a major character in any respect. The crux of every film is humans reacting to what's different with fear, yet outside of X2 they're never given a chance to speak, just some terrified collective we're told about. Its always mutant vs mutant because darn its just more fun to have a mutant as the bad guy. It may look cooler, but every movie tries to exploit this conflict for gravitas without, you know, earning it. Anyways.

First Class probably hits the middle rank of X-Men movies, much better than Wolverine and better then X-Men 3, but not as strong as the first one nor its superior sequel. Its actually a big overblown mess of a film, with too many characters and way too much meandering. Another problem with the X-Men films is that people seem to cro-bar story about what mutants they want in the thing, which means always you get at least one character that's here for no reason at all. Here's there's probably about 5. If it were me I probably would have done away with the whole 'first class' entirely and just had the film be about James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, playing a young Charles Xavier and Magneto respectively. Because its then when the movie has something about it, when one of these two terrific actors is on screen. Fassbender in particular has the kind of commanding presence you can't buy, even more so then Hugh Jackman did in the early films. Early scenes where he's nazi hunting (don't ask) are pretty awesome and I'd watch an entire movie about that gladly.

But no, we've got to get Banshee and Havoc and Azazel and Emma Frost and Beast and of course Mystique in there to, none of which add very much to proceedings. I'd say Jennifer Lawrence is much better then Rebecca Romijn-Stamos if that weren't an entirely needless thing to say, and I did sort of dig Kevin Bacon as a bad guy who wants to destroy the world (seriously? He wants to destroy the world? Lazy.) But there's simply too much dead weight for it to ever really get going, and I'll just take the time to say that January Jones is so embarrassingly flat and wooden here its unreal. What a terrible actress. A movie you can enjoy whenever Fassbender or McAvoy is on screen, and perhaps if you REALLY enjoy superhero movies. Personally I found the action a little flat and disengaging, but whatever floats you're boat. Amazingly I think there are three superhero movies yet to come this summer, and it already feels like we've had a thousand. A long summer is sure ahead.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The 15 Best Episodes Of Television in the 10/11 Season

Only one episode per show to make it interesting. Let's do this.

15) Wildfire, The Walking Dead

While there was certainly some awful in amongst it there, I did very much like this episode of The Walking Dead. It seemed like it came from a stronger, more thoughtful show that I would watch every week without having to make allowances. Yet again I want a strongly written show about survivor psychology, and I'm pretty sure everyone else is fine with a dumb show about pawning zombies with crossbows. Why can't it be for both of us?

14) You Don't Know How It Feels, Cougar Town

A show whose title makes it nigh on impossible to advocate let alone admit to liking (I mostly socialize with film studenty types, and you know I have an image to uphold) But the anonymity of the internet is perhaps the perfect setting to say that this has in fact become a pretty good show, not world-bending necessarily, but a fun place to be for 20 minutes a week. And this episode, utilizing a terrific guest performance from Scrubs' Ken Jenkins, is the closest its got to balancing that sense of fun with actually being about something.

13) Pilot, The Killing

Its well known that The Killing didn't progress exactly as we would have all hoped, after a promising start it became very clear that this show didn't know how to be a serialized TV show, and instead frustratingly bided time for its entire run. To the point where I imagine you could just watch the first episode and its approaching last and see all the story the show has to tell. It's a shame, because I really did like the first episode. It told a familiar story sure, but it was bleak and pretty dark and featured some great performances and a very strong ending.

12) A Golden Crown, Game Of Thrones

Look, I don't hate this show. It's a good show by any definition, but measured against the best of the best, it falls flat. And I'm tired of people saying its the natural successor to The Wire and its the best show on television and that kind of thing. Because its not, its way too stupid for that. But what I liked about this episode is that it made a transition from stuttering drama series to confident action series. The show is way too expositional to do character in any interesting way, but a Golden Crown showed it could just stop trying to be great and be AWESOME instead and that would be fine. It contained a terrific spin on the usual fantasy duel trope, and had many grim moments of violence, including one that will stay with me for a while. Good shit.

11) Chicken N' Corn, United States Of Tara

Now me and the rest of the world had problems with Tara when it began. It was a painfully smug affair, albeit one where there was a terrific central performance from Toni Collette. But its another show that grew into something much more interesting once people had grown tired with it and this third season in particular has been great, becoming almost a horror series in principle, seeing Collette develop a new personality whose coming after the older ones. And this engaging, dark turn is punctuated nicely by the presence of Eddie Izzard as Collette's therapist, delivering one of my favorite performance of the year, and Izzard and Colette's Psycho-alter came to a head in this episode. By any measurement a great show these days, regardless of you're Diablo Cody feelings.

10) Subway Wars, How I Met Your Mother

Now this season of How I Met Your Mother has taken a lot of stick, and while it did have a pretty awful finale, there were many single one-off episodes that worked this year. My favorite of which was this, an episode that reminded me of younger days of the show. It was pretty high-concept, who could get to a restaurant first, but it was a fun, baggage free hour that I enjoyed immensely.

9) Sins Of The Past, Terriers

This Tim Minear scripted episode, which for my money was the best of this show's criminally short run, did some great filling in the blanks and showed why this show worked so well, the terrific performances by Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James.

8) The Outsider, Rubicon

Of the many cable shows that have aired this year, you get the impression that Rubicon is going to be the quickest forgotten. Every other show has its fans, yet I've still never met another living sole who watched this show. Again, perhaps because it started badly and became awesome later. Anyways this episode probably remained my favorite, mostly for an awesome scene where Michael Cristofer explains the reasons intelligence agencies have to exist via complimenting someone's tie.

7) Boardwalk Empire, Paris Green

Perhaps because Boardwalk didn't follow any kind of episodic structure, people really did hate on this show, in spite of the incredible stuff that was in it week to week. It had the best cast in television history, and in particular Michael Shannon, whose performance absolutely deserves an Emmy, and in this episode which saw him melt down of sorts. Well holy shit. Any problems I have with its structure don't take away from what it was capable of doing.

6) God, Louie

Louie, airing all the way back to last summer, is probably going to get no awards recognition of any kind. In spite of being the most innovative and fearless comedy series television has seen in quite some time. To the point where its comfortable having an episode that isn't a comedy at all. God, instead is a pretty horrific example of what enforced religious guilt does to young children. And its pretty harrowing. It also contains a pretty legendary cameo from Tom Noonan, who gives a performance so good its ridiculous.

5) Critical Film Studies, Community

Community gets the term experimental shouted at it a lot, but this episode really earned its name. Essentially an episode about a conversation, as is its influence My Dinner With Andre, it is hypnotic and engaging and strangely dramatic in a way Community has rarely achieved. The performances by Joel McHale and Danny Pudi are fantastic and it remains one of the most singular episodes of a sitcom I have ever seen, or ever will see.

4) Placebo Effect, Archer

Because seriously, What is Cancer? This episode was an insane high point for Archer, a fringe show before this season, now a pretty unanimous critical success. Even if nobody watches it. Well they fucking should, because this was the funniest episode of anything in the entire TV season bar none. Ridiculously good.

3) Andy and April's Fancy Party, Parks And Recreation

On the whole I think Community and Archer are stronger, more interesting shows then Parks and Rec, but there's no doubting the brilliance of this episode. It may not have been as straight out funny as Placebo Effect, but it had a weird poignancy that you can't really explain, except its about watching people you love make a mistake and knowing you have to let them do it. Pretty incredible episode to be honest.

2) Brother's Keeper, Justified

This season of Justified was just a ridiculous upgrade in quality from the first season, to the point that outside of Mad Men I think I'd call Justified the best drama on TV. Its been that good. Much of the season's drama has revolved around Margo Martindale and her family of miscreants, and her performance has just been so good its not even funny. This episode was probably the season high point, because it both featured Martindale's best scene and a dark southern gothic story that had far too much emotional impact then this show has any right to have, and featuring fantastic performances by Kaitlyn Dever and Brad William Henke. Its just fucking great TV.

1) The Suitcase, Mad Men

But it couldn't be anything else but this, a masterpiece of the form and quite possibly is the best episode of TV ever made by anyone. Even if you don't like Mad Men, and while I think its mostly an mamzing show I do have my problems with it, there's no way you can argue anything against the majesty of this episode, which focuses on the creative relationship of Don and Peggy over one night. And it's spellbinding. Just watch the damn thing.

REVIEW: Julia's Eyes

Well she can see at this point, so that's hardly fair.

Julia's Eyes is the latest entry in the spat of Guillermo Del Toro produced Spanish horror films, and it seems said to say that this might be a studio with diminishing returns. While The Orphanage was for the most part about as good as these things get, manipulative as hell sure, but well-acted and legitimately scary, Julia's Eyes feels less impressive because it feels a lot more familiar and is working of a much weaker script. While there is a legacy of blind-girl thrillers being pretty terrifying Julia's eyes leans way too hard on forcing the tension, leading way too many moments feeling over-cooked and one can't help but feel that if it were not in Spanish, it would be a straight to Lovefilm type deal.

This is maybe a little unfair, as the production values are excellent and like The Orphanage it feels impressively cinematic for what it is and a couple of sequences manage to rap up the tension pretty effectively, and by all accounts its assembled a pretty effective cast. Belen Rueda was one of the main reasons why The Orphanage worked so well, so naturally she's been recruited again, fulfilling her transition into a later in life scream-queen. It also has Lluis Homar, so excellent in a couple of Almodovar films, but particularly Broken Embraces. The film flat out wastes him though, instead choosing to focus pretty much on Rueda solo, and while she does her best, a weak script and a pretty poorly drawn character make her irritating in places. There's also a weird tonal inconsistency, in that in the first half of the film it masquerades as a Supernatural horror movie and once it reveals itself not to be, it suddenly doesn't make a whole lot of sense. You can almost forgive this in an execution over content kind of way, but make no mistake this is a much stupider movie then it pretends to be.

Still, I enjoyed it in places and director Guillem Morales knows how to put together a creepy sequence. It perhaps would have been better if he could write a screenplay worth a damn, but often in the horror genre you have to take what you can get, and this has a pretty classy veneer and I think forced blindness is a concept that generally works in movies, at least at providing cheap thrills. So I think it's a recommendation, only one that has quite a few caveats. And yes the whole last 20 minutes is pretty ridiculous.

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 1 June 2011


You will not get pinned!

Remember that Roland Emmerich movie 2012, where John Cusack outran a Super-Volcano? Right, well remember how there was the step-dad pilot who repeatedly saved Cusack's family over and over only to be rewarded by being crushed by a massive wheel and nobody giving a shit? Well that was Tom McCarthy, the supremely talented writer-director of Win-Win. A kinder reminder of his acting career would be to point out he was also crooked journalist Scott Templeton in the final season of The Wire. Anyway, McCarthy's film previous to this was The Visitor, a fantastic character piece in which Richard Jenkins befriends a married illegal immigrant couple squatting in his second home. Jenkins received an Oscar nomination, but in a way it was McCarthy's work that stood out the most, a subtle but forceful director who drew tremendous weight out of the quieter moments.

Win Win is altogether a less bleak film then The Visitor, and perhaps a bit less impactful as a consequence, but its still classy, high quality indie film making. While McCarthy's films have the tendency to be slightly revel in misery at times, this one sees him take a more light-hearted, warmer tack, and its something he succeeds with. It helps that it has Paul Giamatti as its lead, an actor so inherently likable and entertaining you could watch him anything. Giamatti plays a down on his luck Lawyer/wrestling coach, who ends up being surrogate father to a delinquent teen who's grandfather he represents. I liked the film a lot for its coolness. There's drama but it pleasingly avoids the hysterical, and is quite affecting in its own way. Giamatti is terrific, and he and Amy Ryan have a terrific chemistry together. Former teen wrestler Alex Shaffer gives a fantastic account of himself in what it his first acting role of any kind. You'd think he'd been doing it for years. Supporting-wise there's a broad turn by Bobby Cannavale, and a better one by Jeffrey Tambor.

McCarthy has developed a specific language for his films. They are quiet yet involving, emotional yet not overly sentimental, and always contain fantastic acting across the board. Between this, The Visitor and The Station Agent, McCarthy must be pretty high on the indie movie hierarchy by now although the mainstream leanings of Win Win might diminish his credibility in that department. This is after all, an underdog sports movie. Just one that eschews cliche's in favor of pathos.

Rating: 7/10

REVIEW: The Hangover Part 2

We're here to take your money.

I think my favorite joke in the entirety of The Hangover part 2 is the fact that its called The Hangover Part 2, as opposed to the Lehman's 'The Hangover 2'. The 'part' suggests an adventurousness that this film actually has throughly no use for. Perhaps the problem is that The original Hangover had such a specific premise, that any kind of sequel has to either follow that premise pretty closely and be accused of being derisive, or be different and risk alienating audiences. So it took the avenue of giving the audience what they want and doing absolutely nothing new. And at least from a financial standpoint, that looks to be the right call.

It does mean that I watch this movie having already seen it two years ago though. And while The Thailand scenery is more pleasing to look at then the Vegas backdrop, and Bangkok presents a more visibly dangerous ambience, this is a movie made to make money, only and completely, and thus reviewing it is pretty much pointless. I will say I enjoyed Ken Jeong much more then I did the first time around. There his performance was over the top to the point of ridiculousness, yet here he appears to have toned it down somewhat, allowing him to comprehensively steal a movie where his only real competition is a monkey. Bradley Cooper continues to showcase his hollow douchebag shtick, and while I like Ed Helms a lot, I liked him in Cedar Rapids and think he's one of the better comedic actors going, not so much here. Zach Galifinakis I found to be the most trouble, in that he was a lot less funny this time around and a lot more sociopathic. He was playing his character from Due Date, not the one from the original Hangover, and I hated that performance and character. There was a fun cameo from Paul Giamatti though.

The movie doesn't just go through the motions though, it almost copies them step by step to the point where everything fails way to calculated to feel genuinely funny, and outside of Jeong and some scenes of Monkeys acting like people, I didn't find there to be much of value here. Its a money spinner through and through, and while I liked the original Hangover quite a bit, this has lost some of the magic and feels way too synthetic. Phillips is a solid director and makes the whole thing look suitably polished, but you know, so what. Like you give a shit, because you're seeing it anyway, along with everyone under creation.

Rating: 5/10