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Weekend Film Recommendation: This is Spinal Tap (1984)

5 Aug

If you are a fan of heavy metal, rock music in general, or improvisational comedy, this film’s for you. If you haven’t already seen this movie and you love any of those things, I would actually question your credibility. Even if you don’t like any of those things, it can be equally humorous to see that culture spoofed in what is widely considered of the greatest comedies of all time.

This is Spinal Tap is a mockumentary about the fake British heavy metal Spinal Tap (played brilliantly by Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer) on their comeback tour. Their previous success has been eclipsed by their huge egos and an amateur filmmaker (Rob Reiner) is capturing their downward spiral in a hilarious commentary of the heavy metal culture.

While the movie is funny enough in and of itself, what adds to it is that most of the dialogue was ad-libbed, much like many of other films that followed from Christopher Guest and company (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind). Not only that, but Guest and McKean wrote all the songs for the band and everyone in the band is actually performing on their respective instruments on the soundtrack. Even though everyone in the film made up most of their own dialogue, only Guest, McKean, Shearer and Reiner received writing credit despite their best efforts to convince the Writer’s Guild Board of Directors otherwise.

Entertainment Weekly ranked this as the #1 Cult Film of All Time and Premiere voted this the #1 Comedy of All Time in 2006. You will find several references to this film throughout pop culture, mostly when talking about music, or anything for that matter, being “cranked to 11”. There are plenty of outstanding things to say about it and I was pretty sure most everyone had seen it, but recently I would mention it and several people said they hadn’t, so that’s why I am including it as a Weekend Film Recommendation.

Here is the trailer:

To add This is Spinal Tap to your Netflix Instant Queue, click here. If you get the DVD version instead, there is a commentary track that features the band doing the commentary and is considered one of the best DVD commentaries around.



Weekend Film Recommendation: About a Boy

22 Jul

When I was digging through the Netflix Instant catalogue, there were multiple categories that this film came up in. Several people in the reviews labeled this as a “chick flick”, but I don’t necessarily agree with that description. While About a Boy certainly has some romantic comedy elements it is really a coming of age tale for a man in his late thirties. Plus, it is really easy to tag anything that stars Hugh Grant as a romantic comedy.

Will (Hugh Grant) is a rich playboy who lives in shallow extravagance due to the royalties of a popular Christmas song that his deceased father wrote. He goes to single parent support groups and claims to have a child just to hit on vulnerable women. When he meets a twelve year old boy (Nicholas Hoult) who is the outsider son of a depressed mother (Toni Colette) his life begins to change drastically as he is forced to let other people into his life and grow into full adulthood.

The film received a solid 93% on RottenTomatoes and garnered a lot of praise when it was released in 2002. Hugh Grant usually plays a bumbling good guy who stammers a lot, but actually switches to a smooth-talking player for this role. The script is snappy and insightful, providing an intriguing look at someone in denial about having to grow up. There is a love story, which primarily provides the idea that this is a “chick flick”, but it is really more of a backdrop to Will’s evolution into a man. The trailer really doesn’t do this movie justice in that regard, making it definitely have the appearance and sound of a romantic comedy, dropping popular names like Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’ Diary, and playing that annoying Five for Fighting song. However, the actual film is thoughtful and a poignant character study, and probably the only role that I really like Hugh Grant in.

Here is the trailer anyway, even though I don’t think it provides and accurate picture:

To add About a Boy to your Netflix Instant queue, click here.

If this doesn’t catch your fancy, try Poolhall Junkies, which I just couldn’t feel justified about giving a full blown recommendation, but is a rather entertaining film.

Weekend Film Recommendation: Cop Land (1997)

15 Jul

When James Mangold was announced as the official director to take on The Wolverine, the next installment in the X-Men franchise, his work on Walk the Line, Girl Interrupted, and 3:10 to Yuma were often mentioned in the same breath.  While the often unmentioned Cop Land may not be his best or most recognized work, it deserves to be mentioned as one of Mangold’s many great movies.  Cop Land is the nickname for Garrison, NJ a small suburb of New York city that is the home to a number of NYPD officers.  The sheriff of the town Freddy Heflin, idolizes most of his constituents and their profession, but is limited to his role as Sheriff because he is deaf in one ear due to an accident.  His opinion of the officers and his abilities soon come into question as he starts to uncover corruption and conspiracy amongst them.  Aided by NYPD Internal Affairs officer Mo Tilden (Robert DeNiro), Freddy has to restore order to Cop Land.

The only way Stallone knows how.

Mangold put together a phenomenal cast for this film that works really well as an ensemble, supporting Stallone in the leading role.  Throughout the film these characters felt really close to one another, and as an audience member it is easy to connect with their group and believe they are all neighbors and coworkers.  In addition to Stallone and DeNiro, who are outsiders to the ensemble due to their characters’ role; Harvey Keitel,  Ray Liotta, Peter Berg, Michael Rapaport, Frank Vincent , Robert Patrick , Noah Emmerich, John Spencer, and Janeane Garofalo round out the cast.

This is a surprising turn for Stallone, who plays a much more subdued and humble character than he’s typically known for.  He does well in the role but his physical stature at times did not feel it suited the role, ironic because he actually gained forty pounds for the part.  Still, it may be Stallone’s best performance to date; it’s a shame he hasn’t done more roles with this much depth over the course of his career

Then again, who needs depth...

Cop Land is a movie that can be enjoyed through repeat viewings, because it is technically sound but also very entertaining.  While still at the beginning of his directorial and writing career, it is clear that Mangold took notes from his predecessors (Martin Scorcese in particular) and adapted those notes well into his own work.  While not a masterpiece, Cop Land is a great film that is definitely worth a viewing on Netflix.

Click here to add Cop Land to your instant queue.

Weekend Film Recommendation: Chasing Amy (1997)

1 Jul

Jay and Silent Bob might be the most popular and recognizable of Kevin Smith’s characters, but they started out as just supporting characters to others like Randal and Dante (Clerks), Brodie and TS Quint (Mallrats), and my personal favorites Holden and Banky from his third major film Chasing Amy.  In Chasing Amy, Holden (Ben Affleck) and Banky (Jason Lee) are comic book artists. Everything’s going good for them until they meet Alyssa, also a comic book artist. Holden falls for her, but his hopes are crushed when he finds out she’s a lesbian (IMDB).

Similar to my own experience with Amber Heard

I’ve frequently chastised romantic comedies on this site, and technically Chasing Amy falls into that category.  However, what separates this film from the other more formulaic attempts out there is the development of each of the three main characters and the reality of their relationship(s).  The complexity of the situation and the complexity of the characters involved in the situation cause for a much deeper connection by the audience than in other rom-coms, even Mallrats – another Kevin Smith film.

Though it's hard to get much deeper than this

The themes of the film may turn some off to the film, especially the discussions on sexual identity, but again this is what separates Chasing Amy from others in the genre.  It’s a film for adults with adult sensibilities.  And it is also funny as hell.  While Affleck and Joey Lauren Adams play it straight for most of the film (no pun intended), the supporting cast delivers the comedy and keeps the fare light enough to make this a very pleasant watch.

Weekend Film Recommendation: Raging Bull (1980)

17 Jun

Netflix Instant is getting more confusing to use, but at least their collection is growing steadily. This week, I bring you another one of my 20 favorite films of all time, Raging Bull. I kind of feel like there should be a colon after that title, and that it should read: Raging Bull: A Martin Scorcese Masterpiece. If Spike Lee gets to call his films “A Spike Lee Joint”, I think that Scorcese has earned the honor of being able to add “A Martin Scorcese Masterpiece” after just about any film he does.

Raging Bull was a Best Picture Nominee, but lost out to Ordinary People, which is a good film, but failed to have the staying power of Bull. The film follows the story of real-life boxer Jake LaMotta, whose success in the ring is balanced out with a personal life that is in shambles due to his inability to control his violent outbursts. Robert DeNiro won a Best Actor award for his dynamic and brutal portrayal of the complex boxer. LaMotta is a despicable person, but his charisma, anchored in DeNiro’s performance, compels the viewer to follow his downward spiral.

Scorcese chose to shoot the film in black and white, which really enhances the gritty feel of the film and simultaneously creates some beautiful imagery. The opening credits are stunning and really contrast the fall from grace contained in the opening monologue (which can also be found in My 100 Favorite Movie Quotes). It also mirrors how LaMotta might see the world, black and white (even if his interpretation of them are drastically different from everyone else’s), but he only thinks in extremes and can never seem to find a comfortable middle ground.

This film also launched the career of Joe Pesci, and set the stage for many other Pesci-DeNiro pairings in other Scorcese films. For a while, those two actors seemed inseparable, feeding off the energy of the other, and it also earned Pesci a Best Supporting Actor Nomination.

I cannot praise this film enough, everything about it is perfect and it is one of those films that sticks with you long after you are finished watching. While the film is just over two hours long, the time flies by as you get lost in LaMotta’s bouts in and out of the ring. This should’ve been another chance for the Academy to give Scorcese an Oscar for Best Director, but instead he was passed over. However, to make up for it a little bit, he did earn the #24 spot on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years….100 Movies, his second of three films to make the list (Taxi Driver and Goodfellas are the other two).


To add Raging Bull to your Netflix Instant Queue, click here.

Weekend Film Recommendation: Very Bad Things (1998)

28 May

If you can’t make it to the theater this weekend to see Todd Phillip’s anticipated follow-up The Hangover Part II, you can always enjoy a few hours at home with this week’s Weekend Film Recommendation – Very Bad Things.  Before Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis took on Las Vegas in the original Hangover, Christian Slater, Daniel Stern, Jeremy Piven, Leland Orser, and John Favreau had their own bachelor party, with much grislier results.  When a prostitute is accidentally killed during the festivities, an elaborate and off-the-cuff cover up leads to some pretty hilarious and disaster results.

Very Bad Things was Peter Berg’s (Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom, Hancock) directorial debut,and unless next year’s Battleship tops it, it will stand as Berg’s best comedy.

Take your son to see it while the wife and daughter do the dishes.

Very Bad Things, however, is very much a black comedy.  Rather than glorify the uninhibited behavior associated with bachelor parties, the events are parodied by pushing them to their moral extreme and sociopathic limits.  Then in Hitchcock-like fashion, one mistake is compounded by fear, and poor decisions until an unbelievable end, that leaves no one (not even the bride to be) unscaved.

Nasty, violent, twisted, and hilarious, Very Bad Things may leave you unsettled and feeling just as morally corrupt as the film’s leads for relishing in their disaster.  Each actor turns in a great performance, especially Daniel Stern’s turn as a paranoid and remorseful accomplice and Christian Slater as the morally devoid ringleader.  Even Cameron Diaz, whose brief appearances as Jon Favreau’s future bride, is believable as a selfish and obsessive narcissist.

Any film where I can praise Cameron Diaz deserves a thumbs up

Click Here to add Very Bad Things to your Netflix Instant Queue.

Weekend Film Recommendation: Double Indemnity (1944)

20 May
This week it seemed that you could look anywhere and see an advertisement for the new and innovative video game L.A. Noire, which pays homage to the 1940’s era gritty cop stories like Maltese Falcon and more recently, L.A. Confidential. So it was only fitting to make this weekend’s film recommendation a tribute to what some call the “quintessential” film noir, Double Indemnity. When the film was released in 1944, it broke a lot of taboos for Hollywood, and helped usher in the golden era of noir films, with its devilish damsel, fast-talking cynical characters, trenchcoats and fedoras, and excessive use of the word “baby”.

Give me some sugar, baby.

Double Indemnity tells the story of sad sack, but successful insurance salesman Walter Neff (Frank MacMurray), who falls for the mysterious and sexy Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), while making a door-to-door sale. She seduces and suckers him into a murder scheme to kill her husband, who she recently took out a large insurance policy with a double indemnity clause on, with the promise of sex and money. The plan goes brilliantly until Neff’s co-worker and claims investigator, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) starts to suspect foul play.

 Raymond Chandler, one of the greatest detective fiction authors, helped Billy Wilder adapt the James M. Cain story into a lucrative screenplay, which was originally criticized for its depiction of such depraved characters. The structure of the story creates intrigue from the onset, starting out with an injured Neff dictating the sordid events for a message to be given to his co-worker, and then shifting back to the start of the story. This style was imitated in several other noir films that followed, and repeated by Wilder in Sunset Boulevard. The cinematography also became a staple in film noir, using  shadows to tell the story, and in their own way, shed light upon the characters.

 The lead actors, Stanwyck and MacMurray, were two of the biggest actors in Hollywood at the time, but what is interesting about their roles is that they were both playing against their stereotype. MacMurray was known for his upbeat and charming characters, while Stanwyck usually played static heroine roles. Both were afraid that it would hurt their careers, but instead it proved them as some of the most volatile actors in the biz.

Despite all the efforts of moral protestors, their criticism only spurred more people toward the theater to find out what the fuss was about, and the film was an instant hit. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but went home empty handed. Even though it didn’t win any awards, it still ended up being ranked #38 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Best American Films of the 20th Century, and #29 on the 10th Anniversary list.

Not too shabby, baby.

 To add Double Indemnity to your Netflix Queue, click here.