Monday, May 30, 2011

From the Queue: GasLand, Inception, Secretariat, Pushing Tin

The next time you're locked into a friendly political discussion about the value of government regulations, and the person sitting across from you argues that more bureaucracy is a bad thing, kindly show them the movie GasLand. Full scale abandonment of government regulation of the natural gas industry has created a gaping loophole that corporations are exploiting in nearly every state in the country. The effect? Some people have water so polluted by natural gas leaks that it is flammable. The footage of faucet water being lit on fire is gripping enough, but GasLand is a road journal about what's wrong with corporate interests deciding government oversight. A must, must-see. Five stars.

This was a movie best seen at the theater, where one could gain a full appreciation of its mind-blowing special effects. Much like Avatar, the brilliance of Inception is its visuals moreso than its story. Unlike Avatar, Inception is bogged down by a convoluted, yet imaginative, plot that is difficult to follow. Having already seen the film a year ago on the big screen, I found the replay value only so-so. Even though I already knew the plot, it was weirdly hard to follow. Still an excellent movie though and very worthy of its Oscar accolades. Four stars.

Diane Lane's intense performance couldn't save this B-grade sports movie from being so watered down by its Disneyfied storyline. If you don't love horse racing, and I don't, then there's nothing really here for you. The plot is skin-deep and the story is one you already know. Three stars.

Pushing Tin
I'm a fan of John Cusack, who I regard as a great actor in just about every genre, but when he misses on a film, boy does he miss. Pushing Tin is a weird movie about an alpha male rivalry between Cusack and, of all people, Billy Bob Thornton. What starts as a bar-room one-on-one for who can hold a lit match the longest, turns into a game of one-upmanship leading to Cusack setting his sights on Thornton's wife (Angelina Jolie in a shockingly bizarre performance). Let's just say that, hindsight vision being 20/20, I can see how the former couple of Thornton/Jolie were vials of blood around their necks. If you want to see a good film about the stressful air traffic control profession, you'll have to wait for something else. If you want to see three good actors (plus Kate frigging Blanchett, who is left to play a dull supporting role) shock and awe you with their awkward behavior, then add this to your queue. This falls into the what-the-hell-was-I-thinking-when-I-put-this-on-my-queue category. Two stars

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Top 25 bands, the preamble

One of the worst aspects of the current state of Rolling Stone magazine is its ever-increasing zeal for publishing pointless rock n' roll lists. Top 100 songs, top 100 albums, top 100 guitarists. I believe the most recent ranking I saw was a list of Bob Dylan's top 40 songs.

The lists are pointless, not only because they are inherently meaningless, but because Rolling Stone's point of view on pop music took a hit the day Eminem's album got five freaking stars.

Having said all that, I bring to you a pointless list of my own -- my top 25 favorite bands. It's sort of my answer to such meaningless rankings, my catharsis from the unnecessary and the menial lists that modern music journalists find so obligatory these days.

A few things about my pointless list, it will be decidedly slanted toward bands in the last decade, when my passion for music grew and where my current playlists are mostly rooted. Therefore, iconic bands like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin are nowhere to be found but, say, The National, has a fighting chance to make an appearance.

Solo artists were left off, which meant the likes of Johnny Cash and, my unquestioned all-time favorite artist of all-time, Alison Carmona, will not be mentioned.

So, in honor of my totally self-involved, utterly pointless, and undeniably meaningless countdown, let me leave you with two videos I really love of two equally cool songs:

Lykke Li, with a deviant, creepy date performance for the ages:

The rise and rise of the New Pornographers:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

From the Queue: A ton of movies because I got behind on this

So at the beginning of the year I tried to start using this site as an archive for movies I watched through my Netflix queue. It worked out OK until last month when our cable modem went down during an incident, which I've sworn under pain of death I will not discuss.

Anyhow, while the internet was out of service, Netflix was its same reliable self. Because I got so far behind, here is a very quick rundown of the movies that have arrived in my mailbox recently:

Inside Job: The Oscar winning documentary sought to explain the global financial meltdown of 2008. While the film did a great job of explaining the damaging effect of decades of government deregulation of the financial markets, it did a poor job of offering a fix. I don't think this film has mass appeal and I was especially disappointed that more prominent industry leaders like Allan Greenspan and Timothy Geithner weren't interviewed (by their choice) to offer a rebuttal. I struggle to understand how this film was a more important or better constructed documentary than Restrepo, yet I appreciate that it was willing to do what the mainstream media could not in the last few years: point the finger at the bastards who put the world on the brink of true financial calamity. Four stars

The Fighter: I believe this is one of, if not the, greatest sports films ever made. It shows the life of an athlete away from the spotlight in a brutally honest way that no sports movie ever has. The fact The Fighter happens to be a true story told with such delicacy, thanks to once-in-a-lifetime performances by Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, only makes the end result more impressive. This movie is for just about everyone, though it certainly is every bit as gritty as a crackhead-in-recovery tale should be. Five stars.

The King's Speech: Having now seen all of the Oscar nominees for Best Picture, I would say that The King's Speech was one of my least favorite films. The Fighter and 127 Hours were easily my favorites from last year. The King's Speech actually might have worked better as a play than a film. It was never boring, per se, but it was something less than captivating despite its astounding acting performances by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. Four stars.

Waiting for Superman: No one really doubts that our public education system is a sinful mess, but this movie still feels like a revelation when you see it. Having said that, it also over-simplifies some pretty complicated issues and seems to willfully ignore environmental issues like family problems that lead to troubled public schools. Three stars.

The Upside of Anger: One of my favorite Twitter feeds is Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert's. Besides hilarious observations about politics and pop culture, Ebert aggregates his reviews and posts archived reviews of old films. After reading his review of the Upside of Anger, I decided to add it to my queue, and I was not disappointed. As a general rabid fan of dysfunctional family films (for some reason?) I naturally gravitated to this one, but the leading performance Joan Allen is one for the ages. Please see this movie if a beloved family member has ever driven you to an internal rage. Four stars

In non-Netflix news, we also rented Rabbit Hole, the uber-depressing melodrama starring Nicole Kidman in an Oscar-nominated performance. The movie is about a couple coping with the death of their 4-year-old son so it's no knee slapper. Kidman plays the emotionally bankrupt wife and she deserves the accolades that earned her the Oscar nod, but the film was oppressively draining mainly because of its sadder than hell topic matter. Three stars