Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"Avatar" Review

Months before I had seen so much as a vague concept sketch for "Avatar," I remember hearing that it would "fuck my eyeballs." This statement was never employed in any official capacity by James Cameron or his marketing team, but rather coalesced online from Hollywood hearsay and snowballing hype. After all, this was the film Cameron, geek champion of the early Terminator franchise and 'titanic' personage behind the highest grossing film of all time, had been taming for decades, patiently awaiting the maturation of computer generated imagery and developing dual-lens 3D technology to realize his initial dream in all its stunning audacity.

Well, the consumer-end product is much more subtle than the suggested act of ocular penetration would indicate. Cameron has indeed achieved a landmark in 3D storytelling, using the effect sparingly to enhance audience immersion rather than to superficially draw attention to the gimmick. Set against the risky backdrop of an epic sci-fi/action film, "Avatar" mercifully resists the urge to send bullets or arrows whizzing through the screen, or to dredge the forests of Pandora past the fourth wall. Convincing three-dimensional depth of field is his greatest triumph, and Cameron crafts a world both vibrant and vivacious. However, outside the technical mastery and aesthetic perk, the world beyond my curiously uncomfortable plastic glasses quickly unraveled.

To begin, "Avatar" is beautiful to a fault. Cameron's Pandora, home to the peaceful, humanoid Na'vi and gobs of subterranean 'unobtainium,' which draw mankind and its drills, is described by militant antagonist Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) as a perilous nightmare of a planet. "If there is a hell," he spits at a platoon of new recruits, "You might want to go there for some R&R after a tour on Pandora." Sounds terrifying, Colonel, but the visuals never really live up to it. Sure, our hero Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) comes to odds with some of the less friendly wildlife, but the forests themselves are always teeming with phosphorescent flowers and rich foliage illuminated by striking filtered sunlight. The bottom line is that Pandora is too utopian to ever feel like a real place, especially in contrast to the gritty live-action segments. There's a degree of intentional juxtaposition there, but the gap is ultimately too wide for a single creative world to bridge.

Besides being one-dimensionally wonderful, the design of Pandora's creatures and locales is seriously uninspired. As a love story, Cameron risks very little in making the Na'vi essentially nine-foot tall humans with tails, and the supporting creatures are textbook fantasy. You have your dragons, your (six-legged) horses, and your garden-variety re-imaginings of other familiar animals with supplemental eyes and appendages. Given that Cameron treats "Avatar" as an exercise in world building, its here that his film most disappoints. Beyond the intriguing concept of inter-species connectivity, which allows the Na'vi to link physically and spiritually with the flora and fauna of Pandora, Cameron's creatures are gorgeously rendered but safe and boring.

These predominantly aesthetic complaints may seem trivial in the greater context of the film, and to a certain extent they are, but "Avatar" is an effects vehicle, and those elements should be supporting the merely serviceable story rather than detracting from it. "Avatar," for all its unoriginality, still succeeds as a high-octane blockbuster, far surpassing forgettable summer fare like "Transformers 2," or the sorry state of the Terminator franchise Cameron founded. His film is confidently constructed, immersive, and often enjoyable, if overlong and unoriginal. It manages to weave its tale using a compelling new technology without feeling like a glorified tech demo, which is an accomplishment in itself.

"Avatar" may not be the monumental leap forward in storytelling some anticipated, but it proves 3D can be used for more than making an audience flinch. There's plenty to enjoy when you don't buy into the hyperbole, so mediate your expectations and let Cameron's latest looker do what it does best: fondle your eyeballs.


Monday, December 28, 2009

FARCE/FILM Episode 25: Sherlock Holmes

--> Episode 25: 12/27/09 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Sonic Kim, Brian Johanson

Intro – 00:00
Top 5 – 04:04
Sherlock Holmes
(spoilers) – 12:14
At-home Movie Round-up – 47:46
(“The Blind Side”, “Percy Jackson” trailer)
Second Opinion – 56:08
(“Inglorious Basterds”)
Events and Outro – 01:05:49

"Sherlock Holmes"

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

FARCE/FILM Episode 24: Avatar

--> Episode 24: 12/21/09 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Kevin Mauer, Jonathan Mauer

Intro - 00:00
Top 5 - 03:16
Avatar (Spoilers) - 09:42
Mauer Movie Roundup - 43:12
("Funny People", "Frozen" Trailer)
I Can't Believe You've Never Seen - 45:47
("Mulholland Drive", "Blue Velvet")
Events and Outro - 47:38


Monday, December 21, 2009

HBO Goes Mobile

Holy Hulu, when did this happen? Subscription-based cable network HBO looks to finally be countering criticism of their tepid online presence through the public beta of what’s being called “HBO GO.” The service offers an internet reservoir of the company’s original series, films, and late-night specials, though if the prospect of having the entire library of HBO programming at your fingertips sounds too good to be true, brace yourself, there are a few asterisks.

First, the service is available free of charge, but only to current HBO subscribers with Comcast or select Verizon beta accounts. The 'GO' homepage features a "Television Provider" drop-down menu with an “Other” option, but selecting it merely triggers a “Coming Soon” error message. It’s called a beta for a reason, folks.

Perhaps most disappointingly, however, browsing the available content reveals an identical offering to that which is already offered on the network’s Comcast “On Demand” channel, relegating the service at present to little more than an online convenience. Still, arriving at the handsome price of free, "HBO GO" will likely prove a welcome addition for those who already pay the cable premium, and will now be able to stream full screen, high-definition video from the comfort of (up to three) internet-ready PCs or laptops.

Registration information is available at hbogo.com, and current highlights on the service include cable premieres of “He’s Just Not That Into You” and “Body of Lies,” alongside the latest batch of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episodes and the first season of the bafflingly popular “True Blood.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Frank Miller Talks "300" Follow-Up

No one does hyper-masculine melodrama like Zack Snyder, and it looks like the celebrated director behind fanboy favorites “300” and “Watchmen” may be partnering with “Sin City” scribe Frank Miller once again to deliver more stupefying Spartan superfluity.

According to an article at cinematical, Miller spoke recently with the Los Angeles Times about the project, tentatively titled “Xerxes” after the notorious Persian king and antagonist of the first film. Miller reveals his follow-up will be a prequel, set roughly ten years before the Battle of Thermopylae, on which “300” was loosely (loosely) based.

So what historic skirmish sets the stage for “Xerxes?” “It’s the battle of Marathon through my lens,” Miller says. “I’ve finished the plot and I’m getting started on the artwork.”

Thematically, Marathon makes for a fitting prequel to “300,” though some may contest that the context of the fight, which again sees the Greek army attempting to thwart a seemingly insurmountable Persian invasion, is too redundant to support an additional feature-length film. Legendary Pictures, on the other hand, might direct you to their gross revenue figures for the first.

Honestly, one bout of Miller and Snyder’s self-important shouting competition was more than enough for me, but if the prospect of more derivative, green-screen fight sequences featuring hundreds of men with sprayed-on abs appeals to you, by all means begin getting pumped.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"Up in the Air" Review

The problem with films hyped as award vehicles is that you watch them differently. I didn't have the opportunity to see Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air" on the festival circuit, so my interpretation comes pre-masticated by critics who heralded it as the film to beat come Oscar season. Those accounts peeled back the layers of genuine surprise I might have felt in the theater, warping the profound into the expected, and left me with the pit. Forgive me if I'm playing catch-up.

It's not that Reitman's third film, following "Thank You for Smoking" and "Juno," is outright disappointing. On the contrary, "Up in the Air" has vivid characters, fine performances, and a timely, good-humored recession-oriented story. In short, I agree with most of the praise the film has garnered, so why do I have this inclination to shrug it off as merely 'good?' I think because it simply failed to surprise me. So in the interest of salvaging the opinions of future viewers, I intend to part with as few hard details as can be spared in the following paragraphs. I hope for this analysis to be the perfect mediation between your expectations and what is often a frank and charming, if formulaic, comedy.

The pieces are all in place. You know what to expect from a George Clooney performance, and with "The Men Who Stare at Goats" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox" still playing theatrically, you needn't look far if not. He plays Ryan Bingham, a jet-setting corporate lay-off guru whose cherished lifestyle is threatened when an overeager young businesswoman (Anna Kendrick) devises a revolutionary video-conferencing system that will allow Bingham to work from the last place he would ever want to--home. The screenplay presents a straightforward, nearly transparent story, which is fortunately vitalized by the likes of Clooney and his love interest (Vera Farmiga), under the amiable sway of Reitman's direction. The narrative rigidity jiggers with the pacing later on the film, however, with false endings and climaxes that betray the structure of the rest of it. But unlike the Coens' "A Serious Man," which easily shoulders a jackknife narrative that keeps its audience entertained and guessing, "Up in the Air" doesn't feel like a deliberate build, it feels, maybe appropriately, lost.

Regardless, to harp only on its structural shortcomings is to ignore the film's most important aspect: its timeliness. As a cinematic snapshot of 2009, nothing else really comes close, and that's a big reason why it's a front-runner on so many best-of lists, my own (probably) included. What does it mean to lose your job? What does it mean when the guy who told you that you lost your job might lose his job? These are the themes scratching below the surface of "Up in the Air," but which unfortunately never penetrate in any immediately meaningful way. Rather, they render the film a shorthand for our recession, our attitudes, and our relationships now.

Ironically, it gets to a point where I have to agree that this is the film to beat come oscar season. I'd like to say that slathering it with superlatives on the merits of cultural relevance alone would be like giving "Crash" an Oscar just for addressing racism. But oh, wait.

It isn't just social context that makes "Up in the Air" look like a best picture to-be. Like 2007's "No Country for Old Men," or 2008's "Slumdog Millionaire," Oscar will love Jason Reitman's latest because it's a safe, inoffensive choice. I'm gonna go ahead and call it. It's not as violent as "Inglourious Basterds" or as contentedly anti-commercial as "A Serious Man," and though I would not be so pretentious as to suggest any of the above winners are unworthy of consideration in a discussion of great film (except "Crash"), the important, polarizing masterpieces that challenge convention are rarely, if ever, afforded cinema's highest honor. It's the broad strokes of vague emotion and unanimous praise, however reserved, that means pay dirt.

"Up in the Air" is a perfectly fine film, well above average, smartly cast, and consistently enjoyable. It never sticks more than a trembling finger outside of the box, but does well with an established formula in painting a postcard of America at its least assured.

I wouldn't call it a great film, but it's a significant one, and one I fully expect to hear read aloud this coming March 7th. But then again, it has one last chance to surprise me.


"Nine," "Inglourious Basterds" Lead 2009 Critic's Choice Nominees

Award season is once again in full swing and the best-of lists are coming out of the woodwork to honor 2009’s finest filmic achievements. The BFCA (Broadcast Film Critics Association) has recently unfurled their picks for the 15th annual Critic's Choice Movie Awards, with Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” and Rob Marshall’s “Nine” leading the pack, tied at a record ten nominations each. Both films received a nod for best picture, best cinematography, best art direction, best editing, and best acting ensemble, among others.

Rounding out the CCMA best picture category were “Avatar,” “An Education,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Invictus,” “Precious,” “A Serious Man,” “Up,” and “Up in the Air.” A complete list of categories and nominees can be found here.

Not to be outdone, the Associated Press and Time magazine’s Richard Corliss have also made their choices for best picture known. Via Ain’t it Cool:

David Germaine (AP)
The Hurt Locker
The White Ribbon
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
An Education
(500) Days of Summer
Passing Strange
Anvil: The Story of Anvil
The Damned United

Christy Lemire (AP)
An Education
The Hurt Locker
District 9
A Serious Man
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Passing Strange
Drag Me to Hell

Richard Corliss (Time)
The Princess and the Frog
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Hurt Locker
Up in the Air
The White Ribbon
A Single Man
Of Time and the City
District 9

Obviously there are quite a few crossover picks, though conspicuously none of the stand-alone critics shared the BFCA’s enthusiasm for “Basterds” or “Nine.” In fact, the only other unanimous picks were Pixar’s “Up,” and Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker.”

I’m frankly surprised by the amount of attention both of those films are receiving, as I consider “Up” one of Pixar’s less successful animated features, and “The Hurt Locker,” a topical but ultimately insubstantial action film. I am glad to see the Coen brothers’ “A Serious Man” mentioned by Lemire, among the likes of less traditional genre picks like “Moon” and “Drag Me to Hell.”

So what do you think? Are the critical picks justified? Are “Inglourious Basterds” and “Nine” the films to remember the end of the decade by? Is social relevance enough to warrant the excessive praise for “Hurt Locker?” Glaring omissions?

There’s no pleasing everyone, but awards season is our op
portunity to hash out opinion at our most apologetically pretentious. Have at it.

FARCE/FILM Episode 23: Princess and the Frog

--> Episode 23: 12/14/09 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Brian Crawford, Tyler Drown, and Suman Allakki

Intro and Top 5 - 01:38
Discussion - 6:27
(Top Films of the Year)
Princess and the Frog - 22:12
Invictis - 45:21
Suman's Corner - 51:32
Crawford's Movie Round-up - 54:33
Events and Outro - 1:03:44

"Princess and the Frog"


Friday, December 11, 2009

Cage Match! Ten Nick Cage Hairstyles Enter—Which Make the Cut?

Actor Nicolas Cage may be known for his, shall we say, less than discriminating taste in what films he’ll appear in, or for his wild onscreen persona, but there’s one point on which even his greatest detractor must concede: the man has a versatile head of hair. Nearly three decades in the business have primped, combed, and cut dozens of memories atop Nick Cage’s noggin, and below are the ten most disastrous, laughable, and outright awe-inspiring feats of his hairstylists’ prowess.

10. The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Disney recently unveiled the trailer for its retelling of this classic poem, which casts a graying, bedraggled Cage in the role of the titular magician. When his salt and pepper locks aren’t tantalizingly hidden beneath his droopy hat, they’re blowing majestically in the night air and subtly complimenting his facial scruff. It’s really the perfect look for Cage to impart his wise wizardry to co-star Jay Baruchel… or at least to proposition him for change. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is due out next summer, and scores extra points for growing Cage’s hair to exciting new lengths.

9. The Vampire's Kiss
With as hot as vampirism is right now, there’s no ignoring the classic 1989 dark comedy, “Vampire’s Kiss,” which nips Cage with a slicked-back, Pee-Wee-Herman-with-bangs, look. Today’s moussed and mugging Robert Pattinsons would be wise to take note of Cage’s effortless (really, effortless!) style in this blood-sucking flick that proves, if nothing else, that vampires really can’t see their own reflections. The DVD cover art says it all.

8. Raising Arizona
You know, the mustache really brings the whole thing together. Individually, you have the caterpillar eyebrows, the 5 O’clock shadow, the almost-even sideburns, and a head of hair that looks like it could have washed up on the beach. Cage as McDunnough narrowly edges out his similarly disheveled character from “Moonstruck” in a heated tiebreak scenario for this eighth spot. I don’t want my judging criteria to become too transparent, but that mustache is really something.

7. Ghost Rider
Rumor has it that, like with the rings of a tree, an actor’s age can directly determined by the length of his hair (see: Marlon Brando Theory). Using this ingenious methodology in 2007, Nicolas Cage effectively reversed time for his role as Johnny Blaze in the critically abhorred “Ghost Rider.” The mat he sports here is short, dyed, and might as well have “Midlife Crisis” buzzed into the back. Sure, his face betrays a couple (dozen) years, but nothing melts those wrinkles away like a mane of fire. If you can find one of those.

6. Adaptation
Arguably the most bizarre and unique follicular appendage to snake its way from Cage’s cranium is the curly rug his dual characters rock in this second Spike Jonze/Charlie Kaufman collaborative weird-out. The twin Cages wear their frizzy ‘fros surprisingly well, and his hair delivers one of its top performances of all time, altogether redefining the art of the wig. Nicolas Cage’s hair needed this opportunity to branch out, and what results is probably the best film of 2002. Coincidence?

5. G-Force
It gets to a point where the animal kingdom must be consulted to find more unusual allocations of hair than Cage himself has come up with. He plays the role of Speckles the mole in Disney’s 3D rodent-espionage film, “G-Force,” an animated critter whose pelt even bears a pleasing (if zoologically inaccurate) resemblance to Cage’s natural color. There’s definitely something to be said, however, about a short-haired, star-nosed mole being only the fifth strangest fur ball on this list.

4. Valley Girl
The year is 1983, and there’s a new Nick on the block. Nicolas Coppola no longer, Cage both embraces his new surname and sets an immediate precedent for what is to become a lifetime of innovative coiffures. Perhaps blown back by some great, unseen wind-cannon, and accented with, yes, red and blue highlights, Nicolas Cage’s inaugural look is most impressive for upstaging the Chippendales get-up. The tagline reads, “She’s cool. He’s hot. She’s from the Valley. He’s not." ...From this planet.

3. Con Air
Taken at just the head in this next photo, Nicolas “Braveheart” Cage wouldn’t look out of place hovering in the background of a Drew Struzan one-sheet. His enigmatic smile is ensconced in a sea of certified Angus man-gruff, and as a light breeze catches his tussled tresses, he embodies a distinct aura I can only label, ‘Fabio.’ Cage might have been cast as the hero in this 1997 thriller, but it’s his bad-boy, Middle Earth penal system aesthetic that really wins me over.

2. Werewolf Women of the S.S.
Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu is reason enough to wish that Rob Zombie’s faux “Grindhouse,” trailer would someday come to fruition. Donning some deliberately awful fake-facial hair, Cage continues to surprise and alarm us with the range of multi-ethnic styles he’s willing to suspend from his face. “Werewolf Women of the S.S.” may attempt to satirize the career Cage has etched for himself, but after seeing him in unleashed in “Bad Lieutenant,” his turn as Fu Manchu seems positively refined.

1. Peggy Sue Got Married
Open any 1950’s high school yearbook and you’ll see this guy. Dozens of him. If Elvis is the king of Rock and Roll, than this stellar pompadour is unquestionably the mother of all Nick Cage hairstyles. Directed by Cage’s uncle, Francis Ford Coppola, who’s better known for the incomparable “Godfather” trilogy or the Robin Williams knee-slapper “Jack,” “Peggy Sue Got Married” not only carries an 88% positive consensus score on Rotton Tomatoes, but beats out its formidable competition to receive the crowning honor of best (or is it worst?) Nicholas Cage hairstyle.

And the list doesn’t have to end here. Cage’s head-turning headpieces are as numerous as a star smattered sky. Post your favorite omissions below.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Scott Pilgrim vs. The Editing Bay

Hey, where are Simon Pegg and Nick Frost?

Fans of director Edgar Wright’s previous films, “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead,” may be scratching their heads in regards to his latest project, titled “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” which aside from eschewing his traditional leads, is neither an original story nor an outright genre parody. It’s way better.

The film is based on a series of charming and often hilarious graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, about a 23 year-old Canadian slacker who, in order to date the girl of his dreams, must defeat in combat her seven evil ex-boyfriends. The tone of the comics feels perfect for a frenetic, good-humored filmmaker like Wright, who just recently wrapped principal photography on the film.

Prince of Sundance Michael Cera takes on the eponymous role, which following “Youth in Revolt,” looks to further expand his image from mumbling outcast to adorable badass.
MTV has spoken with Cera periodically over the production of the film, which he describes as taking an unorthodox approach to bringing the comic books' feel to the big screen.

“[Scott Pilgrim] has more air cannon and lightbulbs in it than any other movie I have ever seen,” Cera said, “It's a lot like the graphic novel. It's going to look like how the graphic novel looks.”

Sounds promising, but then again I’m one of the few who salvaged some enjoyment from the Wachowski’s “Speed Racer.” Virtually no footage has been released, but that hasn't stopped me from placing “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” at the top of my list for most anticipated films of 2010.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

'Gears of War' Hopes to Crank Out Decent Film Adaptation

Video games and film have had a tepid relationship at best. Movies that make the transition into the world of the interactive are often shoddy, second-rate promotional tie-ins, and games that make the transition to the big screen are almost invariably directionless, bludgeoning action films. Hope for perfect crossover spiked in 2007 when news broke that a feature film adaptation of the popular Xbox franchise, “Halo,” would be produced by Oscar-winning “Lord of the Rings” director, Peter Jackson, and helmed by Neil Blomkamp, now of “District 9” fame. The studios evidently didn’t share the public’s excitement, and put the project on permanent hiatus due to its escalating budget.

So while we may never see Bungie’s flagship shooter franchise in theaters, hope for the elusive competent game to screen adaptation may not be entirely lost. Wyck Godfrey, a producer for the upcoming film based on the Xbox’s other sci-fi shooter, “Gears of War” recently sat down with
makingof.com to hash out early details on why his film won’t be another “Super Mario Brothers” or “House of the Dead.”

"The hard part is to make it into something that doesn't feel like a world torn asunder and people just in battle. I think we really want to focus on the idea of a world that's running well and then it’s Emergence Day,” Godfrey said of game’s oft-referenced precursor, during which a subterranean alien menace known as the Locust Horde staged its first strike on the humanoid citizens of the planet Sera.

The script for “Gears of War” is currently being rewritten, and has not yet been given a release window. Len Wiseman, who last directed “Live Free or Die Hard,” has been tapped to direct the film for Legendary Pictures.

But even with a higher-than-usual profile production, there are still plenty of places the “Gears” film could go south, not the least of which is that the game series itself suffers from broad caricatures and cheesy dialogue between its intense action sequences. There's also the matter of Godfrey’s back catalogue of projects, which include “Daddy Daycare,” “Alien vs. Predator,” and the “Twilight” saga. Hmm.

On second thought, video game fans may want to assume the worst.

"The Twilight Saga: New Moon" Review

It really freaked me out when I first realized celebrities were getting younger than me. Two weeks out from twenty-three, I'm already starting to feel like an old fart. And so, in the interest of open-mindedly embracing my juniors' most recent box office obsession, or at least in an attempt to distance myself from those who've congested the internet with second-hand cynicism, I offered the Twilight Saga two hours of my time. Now, I've never read any of Stephanie Meyers' novels, and I haven't seen the first film, so my litmus test may be flawed from inception, but I gleaned enough from "New Moon" to not only catch up with its angsty supernatural love triangle, but also to deem it dead on arrival.

Chief among its misconceptions, "New Moon" is packaged as a blockbuster but deals heavily in the abstract. The heart of the film is loss and the desired effect should be a visual provocation of melancholy, but the story is often too silly (werewolfs) or too melodramatically pretentious (vampires) to earn the incessant pouting or self-pity of its egotistical protagonist, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart). The film attempts her brain surgery with boxing gloves.

This second installment in the series also presumes its audience is already deeply invested in Bella's relationship with the 109 year-old vampire, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), but as a stand-alone film, we're given nothing that suggests the legitimate profundity of their connection except for the sweet, cliched nothings they whisper to each other, one-dimensionally enamored in such a way as to suggest that the feelings they share are much too vague to be accurately filed, 'love.' If anything, their relationship seems only to reinforce the high school stereotype of overeager hormones as a surrogate for genuine affection. And as for Bella's centennial significant other, what does her grating persona offer that eleven decades of other women hasn't? Furthermore, where does this relationship fall in regards to pedophilia?

The film is further cheapened by its abbreviated visual shorthand for male attractiveness. Falling cleanly in step with the grand tradition of sexualizing women in boy's comic book films, The hunks of "New Moon" (which would make a great 2010 wall calendar), add little more than perfectly parted hair and bare, toned abdomens to the proceedings. Exhibit A: one Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), teenage grease monkey, wolfman, and all-around studmuffin, with whom Bella seeks solace after being left by Edward. The movie plays itself as a reconciliation piece for the majority of the achingly insubstantial second act, with Bella learning to cope with heartbreak and carry on. Her maturation is completely undercut, however, in that she won't allow herself to view Jacob as a replacement for Edward, and in a narrow elusion of Shakespearian tragedy at the end (call it Romeo and Juliet and Dracula and the Wolfman), is happily reunited with him. The excessive, plodding character development is rendered entirely ineffectual because everyone ends up precisely where they began.

--With one exception, which makes for perhaps the most ludicrously unnecessary cliffhanger in the history of franchise filmmaking. Bella wants in on the vampire scene, which like everything, Edward is moodily adverse to. In the final moments of the film, he agrees to grant her wish on one condition--her hand in marriage. Bella gasps, credits roll. I mean, shouldn't that go without saying? What else would this dunce call a life of eternal commitment? She'll swear her undying love and accept the curse of perpetual life, but has never considered the 'M' word? Are you kidding me?

"New Moon" is a film that will be enjoyed almost exclusively by fans that are either too familiar or too enamored with the source material to judge it objectively. The premise seems to have potential as a bleak independent film, but these characters are marginalized to the point of virtual nonexistence. The emotional core of the film, its relationships, are unconvincing, and as pure spectacle, the action is unexciting. The themes have been more eloquently expressed in a thousand better films, and the visual effects have been surpassed by nearly every other major blockbuster this year. In short, "New Moon" is a corporate impression of art that rings hollow with each simulated emotion. It exists solely to sell a label.

So call me an old fart or take this review as further proof that you don't need to know the series to hate it, I can't disagree. Like an actual new moon, there's really nothing to see.


Monday, December 7, 2009

FARCE/FILM Episode 22: Up in the Air

-->Episode 22: 12/07/09 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Tyler Drown, and Laura Rachfalski

Intro - 00:00
Top 5
- 03:51
Up in the Air (Spoilers) - 12:32
Second Opinion - 37:12
Tyler's Movie Round-up - 49:00
Events and Outro - 54:33

"Up in the Air"

Friday, December 4, 2009

Comcast One Step Closer to World Domination

If you don’t fall under the long arm of Comcast, a locale known euphemistically as “Comcast Country,” you’re generally considered quite fortunate by those who do. The cable, telephone, and internet provider is renowned amongst its patrons for fritzy technology and antithetical 'customer service.' So news that the corporation is expanding its global presence through the acquisition of a majority stake in NBC/Universal is especially troubling to us.

The merger, which sees a cool $37 and a half billion exchanging hands, was unveiled Thursday, and must now pass through what could be as long as a nine month approval process, during which a governmental regulatory body will determine whether or not it presents the cable operator with “undue advantages” over its competitors. Poor FiOS, somebody oughta stick up for you.

Meanwhile, ground level Comcast subscribers will likely notice little change if and when the merger goes through, though company chairman CEO Brian Roberts has lofty long-term goals for the acquisition. The purchase is his vindictive response to the troubling trend (troubling for Comcast) towards free online streaming services like Hulu, which all but negate the need for subscription based home cable. Via the NBC/Universal merger, Comcast will gain greater control over how, where, when, and for what price the public consumes their entertainment, including the popular NBC series “30 Rock” and “The Office.” It’s probably a little less ‘Evil Empire’ than it sounds, and the merger could offer potential benefits such as Universal Studios’ films arriving earlier on Comcast On Demand, but considering the company’s attempted hostile takeover of Disney a few years back, I'm inclined to believe these are the sort of cutthroat businessmen I’m already unhappy to be paying on a monthly basis.

My other fear is that Comcast will continue to annex media outlets, though Roberts says the NBC acquisition renders his company “Strategically complete.” Nevertheless, the last thing I want is the corporation that can’t keep my laptop connected to the internet awarding itself greater responsibility, and piling more and more media onto its plate. They’re overeating as it is.

To read about the merger in excruciating technical detail, I recommend THIS article at Variety.

"Fantastic Mr. Fox" Review

Wes Anderson's "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is a different breed of animated film. It bares a disarming emotional maturity coupled with a sweetly mischievous cartoony vitality that both renews my faith in Anderson as a director and reaffirms 2009 as a hell of a year for animation.

Things were admittedly getting rocky between the indie auteur and I. "The Royal Tenenbaums," the perfect nexus of Anderson's flamboyant cinematic technique, borderline obsessive-compulsive art direction, and satirically bourgeois humor, was proceeded by two films with all the technical and artistic flare of his best work, though his families of dryly depressive characters, often portrayed by a stock catalogue of recycled actors, began feeling increasingly redundant and masturbatory. His follow-up to "Tenenbaums" was "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," a puzzlingly defended film distinguished by breathtaking visuals, smarmy caricatures, and unrepentant vacuity. 2007's "Darjeeling Limited" surpassed that film in substance, but Anderson still felt like he was running on fumes, incapable of a single wholly original character or relationship. For his grandiose symmetrical photography and audacious camerawork, the guy could be a dead ringer for Kubrick if his stories were up to snuff. Anderson needed a change, and "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is everything he and his audience could have hoped for.

It's not just that the film revels in gorgeous traditional stop-motion claymation, rich with its tactile textures and charmingly rippling fur, or the magnanimity of the miniature set-pieces, or backdrops lit with the deep auburns and siennas of perpetual sunset. "Mr. Fox" has a story, and a pretty good one at that, courtesy children's author Roald Dahl, adapted for the screen by Anderson and Noah Baumbach. The director's meticulous perfectionism actually feels more at home in the world of animation, which from inception presents the heightened reality he strives for. The dolly shots and intricate sets suddenly service the storytelling rather than primp Anderson's aggressive showmanship.

But contrary to what the exuberant color palette and genial clay critters might suggest, "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is not really a film geared to young children, though they'll no doubt appreciate it for the animalistic silliness and amiable pace. Rather it's the subtext, Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and his midlife crisis, which will resonate most with adults. The film has a surprising amount to say about our own animal nature through the anthropomorphizing of its critters, who will frequently drop their civilized countenances to hiss or snarl or gobble down food, but which somehow makes them feel all the more relatable.

Case in point, Mr. Fox gives up his danger-prone life of killing chickens to raise a family (taking up a more pedestrian gig in the field of--gag!--journalism), but finds himself drawn back to his life's modus operandi for 'one last big score.' Dahl and Anderson are not afraid to portray unpleasantness, nor do they gloss over the fact that Mr. Fox does some not-especially-nice things to the birds he catches. The film never talks down to a potentially younger audience, and the difference is immediately refreshing when compared to children's films that are merely content to cast nasty creatures as pleasant surrogate humans.

"Fantastic Mr. Fox" is the deepest animated movie of the year, and I think the best, if only by a hair. "The Princess and the Frog" is a serious contender as well, though being a fairy tale, it often doesn't pack the punch or offer the rewarding surprises Wes Anderson's film does. It actually shares more in common with Spike Jonze's "Where the Wild Things Are" than this year's Disney, Pixar, or Dreamworks efforts. "Mr. Fox" is more effortlessly charming and poignant that that commendable film, and holds its own among the year's best live action as well. It's a film that pairs adventure with a markedly fresh family drama, tenderness and love with the unpredictable and the untamed.

In short, it's a wild animal.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

FARCE/FILM Episode 21: Fantastic Mr. Fox, New Moon

-->Episode 21: 12/03/09 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Suman Allakki, and Laura Rachfalski

Intro -- 00:00 - 02:04
Top 5 -- 02:05 - 10:02
Fantastic Mr. Fox -- 10:03 - 41:05
Twilight Saga: New Moon (Spoilers) -- 35:55 - 51:46
I Can't Believe You've Never Seen -- 51:47 - 56:43
Suman's Corner -- 56:44 - 01:01:42
Events and Outro -- 01:01:43 - 01:05:00

"Fantastic Mr. Fox"

"New Moon"

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"Coraline" Haunts 2009 'Annie' Awards

It’s that time again! The nominations for the 2009 ‘Annie’ awards were recently announced. No, it’s not an awards show for the likes of ‘Best Supporting Orphan,’ but rather a celebration of the year’s finest achievements in animation. Annie, get it? But silly name aside, 2009 was host to an unusually diverse and accomplished array of animated features, which makes the running more exciting than the usual Pixar blowout.

Surprisingly, the film that picked up the most nominations was Henry Selick’s “Coraline,” which saw release in early February, proving that at least some judging panels do have longer than a six-month memory span. Most notably of its ten nominations, the film picked up nods for best feature, best character design, and best voice acting.

Among the other best feature nominations were Pixar’s “Up,” which could very well take off with the top prize, though probably doesn’t deserve it over Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog,” or Wes Anderson’s Roald Dahl adaptation, “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Rounding out the category was “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” and “The Secret of Kells,” which I can’t imagine I’m alone in having never heard of.

I was disappointed to see Hayao Miyazaki’s film, “Ponyo” not honored (though the man himself is nominated in the ‘Best Director’ category), especially when bland fare like “Coraline” and “Cloudy,” received mention.

Outside of the Miyazaki snub, the list seems to be thoughtfully compiled, and in a year packed with so many great animated films, Pixar shouldn't be clearing off that mantle space just yet.
The full list of ‘Annie’ award nominees can be found HERE.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Another 'Hangover' Coming

As a part of my ongoing campaign to rain on the parade of the millions who cackled their way through the blisteringly uninspired Summer comedy hit, “The Hangover,” I now cast my sardonic shadow over news that broke via Entertainment Weekly yesterday, that the script for writer/director Todd Phillips’ objectively unnecessary sequel is roughly half-way finished.

Of course, news of a sequel isn’t really news at all, as “Hangover 2” had been green-lighted preemptively. “The movie tested so well, Warner Bros. came to me even before it was released and said, ‘Let’s do another one.’” Philips said in an interview with EW. No plot details on his follow-up have been released of yet, but Phillips promises the film will not be a cookie-cutter rehash of the first, “I think you can take those characters and put them in other situations, and you don’t need the sell of Vegas and a bachelor party and all that other stuff.”

But then, “The Hangover” wouldn’t be “The Hangover” without a requisite dose of alcoholic overindulgence and lowest-common-denominator teenage pandering. Expect plenty of “Home Alone 2” esque ‘We did it again!’ sequences with whoever-we-can-get celebrity cameos and juvenile, ‘Dude, I was so drunk that…’ humor.

I may be in the vast minority for my contempt of the original, but I think we can all agree that sequels are a slippery slope. It may not be long before “The Hangover 3: Band Camp” is cluttering the direct-to-DVD wall at video stores the country over.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Paramount Gets More Than 'Paranormal'

Director Oren Peli, whose debut film “Paranormal Activity” became the sleeper hit of Halloween, has reportedly already concluded principle photography on his next project, “Area 51,” which again co-opts a found-footage aesthetic for, as the name implies, an otherworldly trip to Nevada.

Considering the level of attention that “Paranormal” garnered, it’s a little surprising that outside of a generic press release and vague synopsis, the filming of “Area 51,” was able to fly below the radar, so to speak. The film is being made on a comparatively extravagant budget ($5 million to “Paranormal’s” $11,000), and was again picked up for release by Paramount Pictures, who handled the memorable marketing campaign and ‘demand’ based distribution that helped fuel the hype for Peli's film earlier this year.

However, the future for the up and coming director was not always so bright. “Paranormal” had been shelved by Paramount back in 2006 until Steven Spielberg discovered and took an interest in the comatose project, nursing it by way of additional post production sound work and alternate endings into the success story it is today.

"Area 51" will likely see release by Paramount this coming Fall. Ample time for us all to forget about the similarly themed but critically lambasted, “The Fourth Kind.”

Saturday, November 28, 2009

"The Princess and the Frog" Review

I would never have guessed it last summer, but Pixar's 2009 effort has, by my estimate, already been bested twice this year. I preferred "Ponyo" to "Up," which is the latest and unofficially last film by Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, and can now, however surprisingly, knock the airy adventure film down another peg, courtesy of the triumphant return of Disney traditional animation. It's admittedly been a great year for the medium, and I haven't even seen "Fantastic Mr. Fox" yet.

Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, the masterminds behind two of the best Disney cartoons of the early nineties ("Aladdin" for the boys, and "The Little Mermaid" for the girls--though to be fair, I love both), "The Princess and the Frog" is a film that bleeds nostalgia, and resonates with me for the same reason "Enchanted" did two years prior; this stuff is ingrained on my childhood. As a tyke at West Coast Video, if anyone even remembers those, parental requests for my film selection would invariably come back, 'Lady and the Tramp,' though with a more toothless diction. "Aladdin" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas" are a couple of the first movies I remember seeing in theaters. And I know I'm not alone in having had to fast forward through the parts in "The Little Mermaid" that featured the terrifying octopus, Ursula. "The Princess and the Frog" is not a revelatory piece of visual storytelling, but it so nearly mirrors the style, presentation, and ebullient energy of the classics that I couldn't help but fall in love. The music by Randy Newman, which encompasses a diverse range of New Orleans flavor, is catchy and the song sequences are inventive enough to rarely feel shoehorned into this modern family film. The magic is there, and more often than not it just feels right.

The hand-drawn animation is equally stunning, though occasionally suffers from overuse of an ugly computer-shading technique, and jazz age New Orleans springs to life via chugging steamships, sparkling cityscapes, murky bayous, and the brilliant costumes and colors of Mardi Gras. The Big Easy sets the stage for a twist on the classic 'Frog Prince' fable, which not only posits that a kiss from a princess will return a frog to his formal royal glory, but that a kiss from anyone but will spread the amphibious curse. Inasmuch, the majority of the film, and the love story between our protagonist Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) and the handsome prince Naveen (Bruno Campos), takes places between two frogs. The premise sounds anything but compelling, but the sequences prove too charming and clever to feel like a generic animated animal film.

The film has been the target of PC debate since Disney released the first concept sketches featuring its heroine, auspiciously the corporation's first black princess, a while back. The trailer also incited allegations of racism for its loose allocation of black stereotypes in certain characters, most obviously the lightning bug, 'Ray,' who's voiced by Jim Cummings, a white man. These claims are understandable based solely on the promotional material, but the film in earnest depicts its cast as immensely likable. In the same way any of the above films have poked fun at Middle-Eastern or European stereotypes, "The Princess and the Frog" is never guilty of more than gentle jest towards African Americans.

In revisiting these films from my childhood, I've developed an infatuation with the catalogue of Disney villains, including, reluctantly, Urusla. From "Sleeping Beauty's" Maleficent to "Aladdin's" Jafar, it's these characters that I can still unashamedly call 'cool,' and "The Princess and the Frog" has a great one. Enter Dr. Facilier (Keith David), also known as the Shadow Man, a voodoo witch doctor who consorts with his 'friends on the other side' to turn Naveen's slimy disposition into handy profit. David is brilliant as the dark doctor, whose scenes are smattered with popping purples and greens, and of whom my only request is, 'more, please.'

"The Princess and the Frog" tells a timeless story in style, and stands a gorgeously well-meaning and engrossing audience-pleaser that all but the most calloused cynics should enjoy. I suppose those who have either outgrown or never enjoyed the canon of classic Disney animated films will find few redeeming qualities here, but for the rest of us, "The Princess and the Frog" is a blast from the past complete with the warm and fuzzy feelings of Disney at its most magical. Enjoy.


"Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" Review

I might have felt underprepared for a comprehensive "Bad Lieutenant" review in having not seen the Abel Ferrara original, but then again, Herzog claims not to have either. The maverick German filmmaker is probably best known for his documentary work, though four of his last five features following 2005's "Grizzly Man" have been narratives. Whether this about-face comes on the heels of his disappointing Oscar loss to the crowd-pleasing "March of the Penguins," or perhaps from a well-deserved impression of medium mastery, the past several years have seen Werner Herzog at his most commercial. So along comes his pseudo-remake of "Bad Lieutenant," which the auspicious director would rather refer to by its sterile subtitle, "Port of Call: New Orleans," arriving with early reviews comparing the piece to the unrestrained work of his early career.

As a portrait of lawlessness, Herzog definitely borrows from his own "Even Dwarves Started Small," which is in truth a much stranger and more perfectly dystopian film, but "Bad Lieutenant" is no slouch in the bizarre department either, coupled with the sort of unhinged, loopy performance only Nicolas Cage can deliver. The guy has become a critical punching bag of late, as his recent overexposure and generally undiscerning taste in projects has overshadowed the gems of his career. Great comic performances in films like "Raising Arizona," "Moonstruck," and "Adaptation," will prime your palette for Cage as Terence McDonagh, and Cage is in fine, grandiose form under Herzog.

Their relationship is really mutually beneficial, as Herzog wrings the script, which may or may not have had as light a tone as his film, into the sort of winking, campy genre satire in which Cage's proclivity for stagey, caricatural performances finds a perfect home. You can feel the comic energy bouncing back and forth between the two as Cage summons a diabolically corrupt super-villain, and Herzog, along with longtime cinematography partner Peter Zeitlinger, paint "Fear & Loathing" esque drug-induced psychedelic reptilian music videos over New Orleans as a beautiful, crumbling Babylon. Klaus Kinski be damned, I think Herzog may have found a new best friend.

If there is a complaint to be had in the teaming of Herzog and Cage, it's that both are having too much fun to worry themselves with substance. "Bad Lieutenant" is a perfectly entertaining film, but is emphatically only that. This isn't a deep, incisive examination of the human condition. It's not "Fitzcarraldo." It's satire. Herzog's cynicism is front and center, prominently portrayed via McDonagh's deplorable behavior and incredible fortune. The plot frequently takes a back seat to his antics, which amuses in surplus, but is distinguished among Cage's repertoire only in that he portrays a cartoon character in a cartoony film. Here, his zaniness is a congruent piece of the jigsaw. Unfortunately, creating a character and a performance as memorable as Cage's McDonagh sets an unwritten precedent in the pacing that reduces the film to a crawl when the officer isn't one-upping his unabashed, ruthless insanity, and because of this, "Bad Lieutenant" occasionally drags.

The pacing issue is the greatest flaw of the film. There aren't quite enough jokes per minute for it to function as a stand alone comedy, and the comparatively serious moments may leave some viewers unfamiliar with Herzog's worldview and snide direction completely baffled. For Herzog connoisseurs like myself, however, the man is as interesting and unpredictable as ever, and watching him unfurl even a minor addition to his filmography is compelling. He's found an excellent creative partner in Cage, though it would be equally interesting to see them collaborate on a more straight-faced film.

Some may label "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" as inconsequential, egotistical silliness, and those are arguments I can't necessarily rebuff, but I think Herzog is the kind of director who's earned the right to goof off. For the most part, it's demented and entertaining stuff.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

3D "Zombieland" Sequel being Mulled

If a recent article posted on MovieHole is to be believed, it seems Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg may be reteaming with director Ruben Fleicher for a follow-up to this summer’s hit ‘Zomedy,’ this time with the aid of 3D technology and those irksome plastic glasses through which a healthy supply of zombie extremities are certain to fly.

The first film was an unusual success story for Sony and horror/comedy hybrids, which have a notorious history of underperforming at the box office (“Zombieland” grossed nearly twice that of Sam Raimi’s riotous “Drag Me to Hell”). Woody Harrelson himself has also proclaimed his performance in the original as the first in his filmography he actively wanted to reprise.

So while enthusiasm for a sequel seems high at this point, the franchise would still be unlikely to shamble back into theaters for another couple of years, as a script at this early stage is all but nonexistent. Also curious is how the character dynamics, which shift dramatically at the end of the first film, will shape a potential second installment.

Honestly, though, if it’s another two years before I hear the phrase, “Nut up or shut up,” it’ll be too soon.

"Greenberg" Trailer Review

I’ve become increasingly wary of coming-of-age type indie comedies. The generically ‘quirky’ characters and interchangeable suburban wastelands standardized in independent filmmaking over the past half-decade have driven me into a permanent suspicion of the genre. I don’t need to see another “Juno,” thanks. In fact, I feel like I see one every two or three months. Their attempts at droll realism feel increasingly tired and derivative, shedding all the charm that mumblecore--as some have come to call the market niche--was once defined by. While this is not necessarily a complaint of the trailer for Noah Baumbach’s upcoming film, “Greenberg,” I can’t help but watch the ad through a pane of cynicism.

But to give credit where credit is due, Baumbach was doing the precocious young adult thing back in 1995 with his debut film, “Kicking and Screaming,” (not to be confused with the Will Ferrell/Robert Duvall soccer-comedy/embarrassment of the same name) which was picked up for release by Criterion a few years back. In the interest of full disclosure, it’s the only Baumbach film I’ve seen, outside of “The Life Aquatic,” which he co-wrote with indie auteur Wes Anderson, and which I found infinitely underwhelming despite its strong premise and piercing volume of adamant hipster praise.

“Greenberg” stars Ben Stiller as the eponymous Roger Greenberg, whom we meet ‘at a crossroads in his life.’ Though the first couple of scenes in the recently released trailer reference Stiller’s character’s age, the actor has been curiously outfitted with a hairstyle (or hairpiece?) that makes him look younger than he has in years. The ‘do has a discouraging Farrelly brothers–esque quality to it that evokes their broad slapstick films rather than, for instance, Stiller circa “Royal Tenenbaums,” (an Anderson film I can get behind). They say ‘don’t judge a film by its stylist,’ or at least I say that, and the content of the trailer shows promise.

Stiller’s Greenberg is reminiscent of the Ron Livingston character in Mike Judge’s “Office Space,” for his articulated desire to do nothing. He has an amusing, jaded pretension to him that suits Stiller’s sensibilities, especially when the actor has portrayed himself in the past, as in HBO’s “Extras” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” “Youth is wasted on the young,” a friend of Greenberg’s muses over dinner. “I’d go one further,” he retorts, “Life is wasted on… people.” Stiller’s delivery is convincing and it makes for one of the trailer’s funniest moments, along with a memorable scene featuring the writing of a sarcastic letter to Starbucks.

For the most part, however, “Greenberg” presents itself as a subtly ironic drama, and the remainder of the trailer features predominantly expository information about the character, sets up potential romantic interests (Greta Gerwig), and introduces a subplot involving a (potentially) terminally ill dog. One shot later on seems to border on the spoilerish, with Gerwig’s character addressing Greenberg from a hospital bed, but without context is impossible to fully interpret.

So, despite my initial fear that the prolificacy of indie cliché has usurped any legitimately quirky independent films, I think “Greenberg” could transcend the genre. I must confess to being a big fan of Stiller’s, even in his more broad roles, and have enjoyed the only Baumbach film I’ve seen. Consider me cautiously optimistic.

“Greenberg” hits theaters March 12th, 2010.

Trailer Grade: 3.5/5

FARCE/FILM Episode 20: Bad Lieutenant, Everybody's Fine

--> Episode 20: 11/24/09 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Brian Crawford, and Suman Allakki

Intro -- 00:00 - 04:54
Top 5 -- 04:55 - 19:07
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call (Spoilers) -- 19:08 - 35:54
Everybody's Fine (Spoilers) -- 35:55 - 57:24
Suman's Corner -- 57:25 - 01:04:39
Events and Outro -- 01:04:40 - 01:08:29

"Bad Lieutenant"

"Everybody's Fine"

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Everybody's Fine" Review

"Everybody's Fine." Yes, the title of the film is actually "Everybody's Fine." Excited yet? Apparently director Kirk Jones wanted to preclude the silly notion of narrative conflict upfront. While the truth may be that everybody isn't entirely fine, the title is still more than appropriate given that the world of the film is a sunny euphemism for life where good intentions reign and happiness is just a smile and an old photograph away. Even in portraying sexual solicitation or drug addiction, Jones can't help but do so with the utmost optimism. "Wanna see my legs?" a prepubescent conception of a prostitute asks a neutered Robert DeNiro. "Wanna see mine?" he quips back. Pause for effect. That's about the height of humor in this aggressively inoffensive holiday family film.

To preface, DeNiro plays Frank, a man who gets stiffed by each of his four grown children whom he's invited home for a family weekend. So, with a chip on his shoulder and against his doctor's recommendation (uh oh!), Frank sets off for a spontaneous surprise visitation circuit! The spunky old coot! His visits reveal that each of his children (Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale) has been lying to him about some major aspect of their life, and go to ridiculous lengths to sell their lies. Beckinsale as Amy invites her ex-husband over for dinner for fear of revealing their separation to her father, Rockwell as Robert is a percussionist who claims to be the conductor for an orchestra and has picked up smoking, and Barrymore as Rosie borrows a friend's Vegas flat to impress her father and suppress her lesbianism. You can't make this stuff up, folks. Somebody smashed open a pinata of cliches and "Everybody's Fine" is a God damn mad dash.

Then there's the matter of Frank's fourth child. I had wanted to spare you the tragic--No. No, it's best that you hear it from me. Poor Tom (James Frain) has gone missing from his apartment, and while his siblings bicker back and forth over what lie to tell their father, building obvious, heavy-handed tension as the film wears on, they hit a wall. Tom is dead. Sure, you never see him alive and thus form no emotional attachment, but it's sad. It's sad. He overdoses after 'buying drugs from a bar' in South America. The language regarding the incident is vague and naive, as though the writer himself can think of nothing worse than the indistinct concept of drug use. A middle-schooler could have thought of a more shocking transgression, and believe me, would love to.

However, the problems with "Everybody's Fine" far exceed its clinical detachment from engaging conflict, as it drops its toothy disposition in the final act and suddenly becomes a misguided tearjerker. Frank has a bizarre near-death experience involving his children (played in this sequence by actual children) sitting around a picnic table finally speaking truthfully about their lives. The pretension of the dialogue and the schmaltzy sentimentality of the premise make the scene downright embarrassing to watch. And as if you couldn't guess, Frank soon recovers and finally gets the holiday he's always wanted with his three, now emotionally honest children. The camera pulls away from the warmly lit dining room and Frank's voice over kicks in. Three guesses as to what the last line is.

"Everybody's Fine" is not funny, not moving, and not in the least bit original. It's troubling to see DeNiro take a film like this, as even the third-rate police dramas he's been churning out for the last decade maintain a degree of his dignity as a cinematic bad ass. Frank is just a wet noodle of a character and on the whole, "Everybody's Fine" is blisteringly uninteresting. To be fair, I suppose many big stars and great performers have received a free pass around the holidays to star in invariably shitty family films. So Merry Christmas, Robert, I hope it was worth it.