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Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake in Crazy Heart

I’m a fan of country music. Real country music. Not the fake plastic stuff you hear on most “country” stations these days. Music that tells stories of life on the road, stories about trains, stories about love and loss. Music sung by men and women who have spent their lives travelling the country, collecting tales for their songs and living life to the fullest. Music that’s soaked in whiskey, steeped in blues, and drenched in heartbreak.

So it stands to reason that I would enjoy a movie that follows an old country musician while he plays out his career in tiny bars, in remote places, to dwindling crowds. And I did. A lot.

Jeff Bridges plays Bad Blake, a country legend whose star has faded and fanbase has aged. He’s been married four times. He drives a beat up old pickup truck. He’s an alcoholic. In other words, he’s a living country music cliche. His agent books him a tour of the Southwest, playing dive bars and bowling alleys. He’s eeking out a living, doing the only thing he knows how. Something he once loved, and maybe still does, but something he doesn’t seem fully engaged in anymore.

Since Crazy Heart is a modern independent movie, it’s safe to assume there is some grand epiphany and some major changes in his life. Both happen, but neither is handled in a trite way. The story is solid, the acting good, and the characters well-sketched. But, for me, what made the movie was the music.

Jeff Bridges and Colin Ferrel do an admirable job singing and playing guitar, but what really impressed me was the songs. T Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham wrote original songs for the film, and they are universally good. “The Weary Kind” won the Oscar for Best Original Song, and it is certainly deserving, but my favorite was “Fallin and Flyin”. The opening line of the chorus, “It’s funny how fallin’ feels like flyin’ for a little while”, sounds like something Hank Williams, Sr might have written. The songs are simple, straightforward, and everything that’s good about country music.

At one point in the film a reporter asks Bad Blake what current artists are “real country”. He dodges the question, but the implication is clear: Bad Blake is real country in way not many current artists are. And that’s a real good thing.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Woody Harrelson in Zombieland

Some movies are art. They exist to enrich culture, to inspire thought, and influence their viewers. Zombieland is not one of those movies. It’s about two things: making you laugh and making you go “OOOOOOHHHHH!”. And it does both of them. Very well.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are

My anticipation for Where the Wild Things Are wasn’t based on my love for the classic book. While I’m sure my mom read it to me as a child, I don’t have any specific memories of it. It wasn’t based on the prospect of a well-crafted fantasy world. That, by itself, isn’t enough to get me excited about a movie. It wasn’t based on the special effects. Those are rarely a reason for me to want to see a film. It wasn’t any of these things that piqued my curiosity about this movie; it was what director Spike Jonze could do with all of them. Jonze has guaranteed my interest in his project with his unique and creative vision in Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and scores of classic music videos. But would his quirky sensibilities work with a children’s story? Would he be able to capture the wonder within Sendak’s book? Or would he end up making it something that inspires awe in adults, but children can’t appreciate? Or, even worse, would the film simply be uninteresting to all parties?
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Jeremy Piven in The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard
From the first time I saw a trailer for The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard I figured it would either be funny as shit or a complete train wreck. I was right. It’s funny as shit. It’s not complicated or sophisticated, and it’s pretty predictable and formulaic. But it’s fuckin’ funny. If you like movies like Anchorman and Talladega Nights, you’ll like this.
Rating: ★★★½☆

Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo "The Apache" Raines in Inglourious Basterds
Quentin Tarantino’s movies tend to be polarizing. His fans love his trademark snappy dialogue, while his critics regard it as artificial and overwrought. His unflinching, stylized violence is loved by his fans, loathed by his critics. His fans love his homages to other films and genres, while his critics point to them as signs of weakness, of an artist reduced to copy his influences rather than building from them. In short, the very things that bring him legions of loyal fans also cause scores of people to dislike him. With his latest film, Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino brings all of his signature elements to a WWII story. Will he be able to finally convince his critics that his ultra-violence, foul language, and film cliches are actually art? Or will it simply be more fodder for the fanboys?
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Adam Sandler, Seth Rogan, and Leslie Mann in Funny People
It didn’t come as a surprise to me that I liked Funny People. I’m a sucker for Adam Sandler, Apatow movies, and Seth Rogan. So the combination of all three is guaranteed to get me.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s seen Punch Drunk Love, but Adam Sandler can actually act. And not just act like a fool. Don’t get me wrong, Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison are great movies. But they feature Adam Sandler The Clown. In the last few years he’s been breaking away from that role with films like Spanglish, Reign Over Me, and the aforementioned Punch Drunk Love. Funny People continues his progression, allowing him to mix The Clown with The Serious Actor.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that’s seen Knocked Up that Judd Apatow can make an effective comedic drama. He manages to take a story that’s grounded in real, dramatic situations and infuse it with funny. Funny People works equally well as a comedy AND a drama, a tough feat to pull off.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that hasn’t lived in a cave for the last few years that Seth Rogan is in a lot of movies these days. So many, in fact, that you could see how people would be getting sick of him. Sure, he’s funny, but he tends to be kind of the same in all of his movies. Here he benefits from playing second fiddle. The relationship between his character and Sandler’s is believable, awkward at times, and funny. His standup bits range from painful to hilarious, which is perfect for the role. It seems like not having the weight of the movie on his shoulders freed him to play a more complete character, not just Seth Rogan as a pot-smoking slacker.

If you’ve been reading it won’t come as a surprise that I liked Funny People. Quite a bit. It’s not perfect, but it’s damn good.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Joseph Gorden-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer

Sometimes you go to the movies expecting to be entertained. Sometimes you go expecting to be challenged, moved, or have your perspective on something changed. Rarely do you expect all of these things to happen. But that’s exactly what happened to me with director Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer. The story begins by telling you what is going to happen: it’s a boy-meets-girl story, but it’s not a love story. So rather than the story hinging on what happens, it focuses on why and how it happens. By freeing itself from the conventional structure of a romantic comedy the film is able to delve into psychological and emotional depths rarely seen in modern cinema. And the result is breathtaking.
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Johnny Depp as John Dillinger in Public Enemies
I’m kind of a sucker for gangster movies. There’s something about the interplay between cops and robbers that makes for a good flick. So when I heard that Michael Mann was making Public Enemies, the story of real-life bank robber John Dillinger, and it starred Johnny Depp, I was intrigued. Tack on Christian Bale as the G-Man assigned to track him down, and Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard as Dillinger’s girlfriend, and I was completely hooked. Would Mann be able to spin this all-star cast into the same kind of gold he made with Heat, or would he be stuck with the dull straw that was Miami Vice?
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Jack Black and Michael Cera in Year One
Year One is a comedy that sets itself up as an epic, but turns out to be an epic piece of shit. It’s 90 minutes of Jack Black playing Jack Black in a funny costume, alongside Michael Cera playing Michael Cera in a funny costume. It’s a movie that consistently goes for the easy joke and still fails. I’m a little baffled that the same man who wrote Stripes, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day wrote this piece of dung. Then again, he also wrote Caddyshack II, so maybe it’s understandable. Unless you’re really desperate to see a movie, or you have an even more infantile sense of humor than I do, avoid this at all costs.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

the cast of JJ Abrams' Star Trek
I don’t know very much about the Star Trek franchise except that:

  1. I haven’t really enjoyed anything I’ve seen of it since I was about 10 years old
  2. The whole mythology doesn’t really interest me
  3. I don’t like most of the people I’ve met who really enjoy it

So it took a little coaxing to get me to see J.J. Abrams’ addition to the Trek canon (which explains why the movie has been out for over a month and I just saw it…). Fortunately for me, Abrams’ makes sure that even people who aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of Vulcan/Romulan relations can have a good time with the movie. It’s good summer escapist fun. There are laughs, explosions, and suspense. The two hour run time goes by incredibly quickly. And while the plot is a little convoluted and contrived, there’s enough other stuff going on to make it seem like it’s not that big of a deal. Basically, if you’re looking to be entertained for a couple of hours, you could do far worse.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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